Spain, the rest of Andalusia
Next stop in Andalusia was a town named Córdoba that's claim to fame is the Mezquita, a Mosque-Cathedral. I arrived in the evening and explored around a bit, finding the town to be almost completely deserted but did take some nice photos of this Roman era bridge and tower.
The Internet tells you you should try and get to the Mezquita early in the morning so you can get photos without all the crowds, but the Internet doesn't factor in not being able to get to sleep until 5am in the morning, so I instead got up around noon and went and had lunch for breakfast, a dish with ox tail that was extremely nice.
After I'd eaten I headed over to the courtyard outside the Mezquita, a huge open space full of orange trees. In fact, all of Córdoba is pretty well decked out in orange trees; they seem to be a very common decorative plant in Andalusia.
I actually peeled one and tried it, and let me tell you: it tasted terrible. The oranges on these trees are incredibly bitter and unpleasant. I asked someone about it later to find out if maybe they just weren't ripe yet, but it turns out they're just not the eating kind. I didn't even know there were not-eating oranges. That person thought they might even be toxic to humans, so it's lucky they taste awful enough that I spat out my first bite.
Anyhow, I paid my admission and went into the Mezquita and it seemed that afternoon was the perfect time for a visit. The place was nearly deserted, giving me a chance to get a bunch of "postcard" shots without tour groups cluttering them up.
The building is absolutely massive, probably 150-200 Meters long and the same again wide, and decked out with hundreds of columns, all topped with candy cane coloured arches. It's very picturesque!
The building was actually originally built as a mosque, and is apparently regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture. Córdoba was later captured from the Moors by a Catholic king so the building was converted into a Catholic cathedral, adding many Christian features to the building and converting the minaret into a bell tower.
There was also this epic double organ with things up either side of the nave (let's hope I'm using that word right, I saw it on Wikipedia but didn't care enough to actually read the article), with pipes jutting out that made me think of crazy drag-racing car exhausts.
After I'd taken 50 billion photos of arches I started playing around with my camera settings and super long exposure shots to let me get some low ISO photos with the fairly low lighting. A tripod would have been awesome, but I don't own one and they specifically disallow them there, so I made do with putting the camera on various ledges.
After doing a few I had the idea of running into the shot part way through the exposure and standing still like a stature to try and get a transparent ghost-like effect.
I then tried doing even longer exposure shots and running around stopping in multiple places so I could be in the same photo two or more times, no Photoshop required!
I probably ended up spending more time messing around with crazy ideas for photos than I did actually looking around the Mezquita. I had heaps of fun figuring out what worked, and I think some of them turned out pretty awesome if I do say so myself.
After Córdoba I got one of the speedy Renfe trains to Seville. A little digital display in the train told me we were going 250km/hour, but it was still wonderfully smooth and quite the whole time. I wish we had decent trains back home in Australia.
I went on yet another free walking tour, led by a student from Columbia. The tour itself was alright, but everyone on the tour seemed to be travelling in groups of 2-4 and there wasn't much inter-mingling so it didn't feel very social compared to some of the tours that I've really enjoyed.
I had heard from Amanda and Luke that Seville doesn't really live up to it's reputation and I have to agree. Nothing we visited on the tour really stood out for me, so here's a token photo of Plaza de España with all the water drained out.
They did however recommend a fancy tapas place called La Azotea which was absolutely fantastic. I had some smoked cheese, cooked wild mushrooms, and pork cheek; and all of it was amazing. It was hands down the nicest tapas I came across; so good that I came back again for dinner the same day.
I did get a tip from the tour guide that if I only visited once place, that the Alcázar should be it, so after some difficulty actually locating it (Seville is like a maze in the old part of the city) I checked it out.
The Alcázar is a stunning building and a royal palace. It has been added to by each of the monarchs who have occupied it leading to a mix of a lot of different styles from a lot of different periods in time.
I'm really starting to appreciate the Moorish style of decoration, where because their religion prohibits them from creating a likeness of things they have lots of intricate geometric patterns and carvings as decoration. I find it much more visually pleasing decoration than paintings and statues.
There were lots of beautifully decorated court yards, and some huge green gardens outside, but rain that day impeded me from exploring the external parts of the palace very much.
In the evening I went and explored one of the stranger, modern attractions of Seville: The Metropol Parasol. It's a huge wooden structure, several stories high, apparently the largest wooden structure in the world. It looks kind of like those wooden dinosaur kits you'd beg for at museums when you were a kid (or was that just me?), except instead of a dinosaur they got some crazy mushroom looking thing.
At night it's all lit up with coloured lights and looks pretty funky. You can pay a few euro to get up on top of it and walk around the path, there's even a few bars up there and you get a free drink with your admission!
My next and final stop in Spain was in Málaga. It wasn't a place I'd ever really even heard of before, but I was flying out from there so I thought I'd give it a look.
The hostel I stayed in had a thing running that night where you could help their cook make paella and then get to eat it afterwards, although it ended up move like watching the cook make it while getting to meet some other people in the hostel: Annika, a German girl studying in Spain, Joni, a Finland guy on holidays, and another guy from Finland who's name I didn't get, but who was shit-faced drunk, quite rude, and kept mentioning how he had an alcohol problem.
Those of us who weren't complete alcoholics went out for a few drinks (the irony) after dinner and ended up in a pub trivia competition after meeting up with a friend of Annika's named Lilia and her brother Thomas. I don't remember how we went at trivia, almost certainly not well, but it was a really fun evening out.
When I got back to the hostel I found another girl who was staying in my dorm standing sort of awkwardly outside the door. Apparently the raging alcoholic was asleep in someone else's bed, as he'd wet his own bed and the one below it, and quite rightly she didn't want to be in there alone with him. The fun people you meet in hostels! We went down to reception to see would could be done and they very apologetically sorted us out and moved us into another room.
The next morning I went on yet another free walking tour which was given by an Australian girl Natalie. It happened to be her birthday it was and it was her first time giving a tour, so her sisters Vanessa and Shelly who were visiting from London got us all to sing her happy birthday at the end of the tour.
The tour was good, went around Málaga and showed us the sites, although I was probably a bit more interested in socialising. After not really meeting anyone in Seville or Cordoba so it was nice to have some people to talk with.
The tour visited this little tiny bar where you buy a glass of wine, straight from the barrel. They had white wines and reds, sweet and dry; what I tried was pretty good stuff.
We also went into a market full of tasty delis, with all the olives a person could want, unless they didn't like olives in which case it would probably be too many.
We stopped under this cathedral which was supposed to be symmetrical but they ran out of money and never finished it, so it has only one completed tower. I think it's a bit more interesting this way anyway.
My afternoon consisted of a tapas lunch and a few beers with the Aussie girls from the tour, then practicing spinning poi in a park for a while before going home and having a nap. Then I went out for dinner with Annika and another girl she'd met, Iva from Canada, at a little seafood place near the port, before meeting up with Lilla and Thomas again for some €0.40 beers. It's a hard life being a traveller sometimes. :P
On Sunday I made a long walk up the hill to visit the Castle of Gibralfaro, which was thankfully mostly shaded. I arrived just after 2pm, and conveniently for me it happened to be free after 2pm on Sundays so I got in for nothing. The castle was pretty peaceful, and you were able to walk around the tops of many of the walls and have a nice view over the city.
The square-ish bits at the top of the wall were topped by triangles (check out that terminology, they don't call me a castle-ologist for no reason!), which someone told me is something to Moors would do to make Roman walls their more Moorish or something.
The very last thing I did before leaving Spain was to hack off my 6-7 months of beard growth off. It just felt like it was time to show the world I still had a face under all that hair.
Of course I didn't cut it all off right away :P I'd been working on growing out a handlebar moustache from the beard for a few weeks and thought I'd let it stand on it's own for a little while, as a bit of a laugh for the friends who I was going to spend Christmas with. I still get a smile looking at this photo, thinking about just how over the top it is! It really felt like I was wearing a fake moustache disguise when I first cut it back to this.