“There’s a Spanish train that runs between Guadalquivir and Old Seville, and at dead of night the whistle blows and people hear she’s running still…” Chris de Burgh, 1975
And there we were, travelling over the Rio Guadalquivir. There are, in fact, day time trains connecting Cordoba and Seville, but I’m doing it again, getting ahead of myself…
We packed up and moved away from El Chorro. From our spy-hole over the lakeside, nestled in the olive groves, we left the rust coloured soil defying the blue-deep sky and the clouds keeping count of the score.
I’ve got work to do. The campervan makes the most amazing mobile office. I sit, brain focused on internal thoughts whilst my eyes let the blues, greens and sand coloured images flash past them. I am preoccupied and at the same time absorb just how special, how entrancing this country is.
We pull into a small town some 20 miles from Cordoba where there’s a camper stop (to deal with the ‘you-know-what-box’).
This is La Rambla, not to be confused with Las Ramblas of Barcelona fame. The singular variety, La Rambla, is a small encampment that’s famous for it’s ceramics. There’s been a market, but we arrive at 1pm, so we missed it. Likewise, all the shops and cafes have shut up shop, in ritual for the siesta. Lunch is in the van and then we take Stan out for a walk, a ramble around the tiny pressed concrete streets so previously injurious to the van’s engineering.
It’s a beautiful place.
There are several small parks, each with ceramic picture tiles set into in the public seats, encasing the fountains, on top of the signage and above the aviary in one sheltered corner. Across the whole town, all of the ceramics are both colour and pattern co-ordinated and they are all, each and every one, completely, intact. There’s not so much as one chipped vase, not one cracked urn, not one tile around the fountained areas that’s been damaged.
In our local area of England, the council took two years to replace the wooden bridge that youths burnt away. The replacement steel bar bridge lacks charm but has survived similar arson attacks. It’s hard to imagine that such delicate decorations would last a week, much less the decades that these gentle items have withstood the tinkling of the fountain-fall of water.
We are charmed. Stan trots alongside us as we trace our way around a footpath, circumnavigating the small town. It’s siesta-quiet and the warm sunshine lulls us to a wandering pace.
But our plan is to make Cordoba. It’s on the secondary list (not a want, but a nice to get to) so after lunch we bundle up the van and move further inland.
Less than an hour later and we rise over the gentle hill that offers access to Cordoba. The city is huge. As we take in its enormity, our hearts sink.
The connurbation has spread as far as the eye can see, like someone dropped a pecan and chocolate chip ice cream that melted all over the valley floor. The white-cream-brown lumps have seeped into the corners of the verdant buttresses, spilling over the river-banks and around the moderate foothills that try to contain the city’s sprawl.
But, in fact, Park4Night finds us to a large flat dolomite car park, fenced in by high-rise flats and the dual carriage-way on three sides. We settle the van and head off, crossing the ancient bridge to enter the hallowed city.
At the entrance to the jumbled collection of streets, houses and shops, stands aloft and separate, the building that back in the 780s was a mosque until (can you guess?) the Christians turned up. They plonked a cathedral on the side and largely erased the Arabic texts and decorations.
The mosque itself is a four-sided building, housing a central area. Access on three sides is through three great, metal covered doors, each standing over 20 feet high. Whatever the bustle on the outside of these walls, inside they have a hypnotic effect. We are stilled, other tourists similarly so. Families with small children slow down, becalmed.
The outer walls are arched, creating covered walkways, offering shady shapes, arcs of shadow against white-washed walls. In the main area of the square, low olive and citrus trees offer the first layer of arboreal canopy, protection from the sun. Above this, the palm trees waft gently in the breezes we can only see, and standing majestic in the centre, are spire-tall cypress trees, taking your thoughts directly up to heaven, just in case they couldn’t get there by themselves.
I resent the glowering cathedral dominating one side of the square. It interlopes, intrudes, impacts the tranquility of this respite built some 1500 years ago.
Eventually, it’s time to move away. We’re hungry. Searching through Google, M finds us a place for lunch. The waiter is charm personified and for the first time in my life, I surrender critical faculties and control over the bill. I hand back both our menus and say:
“Ok, choose what you think we will like”
Michael looks horrified as Alberto the waiter smiles at me, glad that I have acknowledged his superior understanding. He proceeds to supply us with food and wine and later, the bill… What the hell – it’s Valentine’s Day after all…