Tag Archives: Roman

Outside Madrid: Castilian Town of Avila Spain

Town walls or murallas of AvilaLocated 100 kilometers from the capital city of Madrid is the beautiful town of Avila, Spain. A hundred kilometers might seem far, but it is actually not even if you must commute to get there. It is a mere 1 1/2 hours by train and a maximum of 2 via bus, and so you can´t blame me if I add this town to my list of convenient and affordable day trip destinations.

A part of the community of Castile Laon, Avila is a charming Castilian town, serving as the capital of the province that bears the same name. And by the way, trust me when I say it´s charming. Avila´s as charming as it can be. It immediately won my heart — a pounding one at that — the minute I stepped into the town and finally gazed at the wall gates near the Iglesia of Saint Peter. What a sight to behold! The wall, or the muralla de Avila, is such an entrancing monument, and comparable to Toledo´s Alcazar or Segovia´s Acqueducto Romano.

To be in Avila is like being transported to a 16th-century Spanish town filled with cobbled roads, medieval churches, royal houses, not to mention that the ancient walls that surround it.

When it comes to the wall, a quick inspection tells you that it is in perfect condition. It should be even after all these years, as this major Spain attraction, was built to serve as a strong enclosure to protect the town from invasion. The wall singularly puts Avila in the tourism map; it certainly is the reason why people – locals and tourists – come to visit the town in droves.

The town, whose beloved saint is St. Therese of Avila, is known for its numerous iglesias. I must have encountered one everywhere I go, which is why a number of them are featured in this article, such as the Iglesia de San Pedro, standing at the  major square of San Theresa, outside the walls; the Gothic-style Cathedral of Avila; and the Basilica de San Vicente, another highly popular church that’s located outside the muralla.

Indeed, the town of Avila has so much to offer in terms of fascinating tourist sites and attractions. Here are some of them that you will surely enjoy:

The Muralla or the Town Wall

imageFacade of the town wall, which was built to serve as protection and shield of the medieval town of Avila from the attacks of the Moors.

The Walls along El Rastro

imageWalk the pathway along that part of the wall at Parque El Rastro one late afternoon, and you´ll be mesmerized.

Basilica of San Vicente

imageNo words can describe the utter grace and solemnity of the Basilica of San Vicente. The Romanesque church, a national monument since 1882, was constructed using granite rocks. Also known as the Basilica of Saints Vicente, Sabina and Cristeta, it is one of the top church sites among tourists, and second only to the town´s Cathedral in popularity.

Church of Saint Peter

Iglesia de San Pedro, Avila, SpainThe photo shows the side gate to the Church of Saint Peter or La Iglesia de San Pedro. Notice the intricacy in the designs of its door, stone column, and arch components. Declared a monument of cultural interest in 1914, the church is located on one end of the Plaza de Santa Teresa de Jesus.

The Cathedral of Avila

imageKnown as the Catedral del Salvador de Avila, both Romanesque and Gothic designs were applied during its construction. The cathedral holds the distinction of being the first Gothic church to be built in the country. Its apse is a part of the muralla, and is considered as the most important turret of that section of the wall.

Convento de San Jose o de los Madres

imageBuilt in the beginning of the 1500’s, Convento de San Jose served as a convent for the Carmelite nuns of the town. It was declared a historical site and national monument in 1968.

The Town Ayuntamiento

imageWhile average in height and appearance, the beauty of the Ayuntamiento of the City Hall of Avila cannot be denied especially when its facade is lit up in the evening. The historic town hall, together with other establishments, enhance the beauty of the square, Plaza Mercado Chico.

Iglesia de Santiago

imageLa Iglesia Parroquial de Santiago is a breathtaking Avilan church that displays both Roman and Gothic styles. Thanks to its octagon-sided bell tower, Iglesia de Santiago is recognizable even when viewed from the distant mirador at Parque El Rastro.  The church was declared a monument of cultural interest on the 13th of April, 1983.

Plaza de Santa Teresa de Jesus

imagePlaza de Santa Teresa is also known as El Grande, and is one of the two recognized main squares of the town, the other being the Plaza Mercado Chico, found within the walls and home to the city hall. In the photo, the statue of the Monument to St. Therese faces the Puerto de Alcazar, one of the Wall Gates.

Yemas – Los Pasteles Traditionales de Avila

imageAvila can be dubbed as the town of delicious sweets and pastries, with the yema as its traditional Spanish food delicacy. I bought a box of 6 piece at Chuchi, one of the popular pastelerias around and enjoyed some of the best-tasting sweets I must have had in a long time. Most shops sell them at 6 pieces for 2.50 euros, and 4.50 to 5 euros for a box of 12.

More Avila sites and scenes

imageWith its yemas and other delicious sweets, Avila wins the title of ¨Spain´s Pastry town”
imageFrom the mirador, or the viewing balcony of the Parque de Rastro, you will be enthralled by the breathtaking view of the Ambles valley and all else that your eyes can see as everything is illuminated by the soft glow from the setting sun.
imageStatue of St. Therese de Avila with bountiful offerings of bouquets of flowers
imageBeautifully lit and animated fountain inside the courtyard complements the walls in adding mysticism to the surroundings
imageAs the sun’s rays kiss the orange granite stones of which the wall is made of, it magically turns golden

imageWhat an exciting day trip destination Avila is! I’ve seen so much, but there is more to explore — more churches, more sections of the muralla, and more truly spectacular views from atop this town wall (if you access it). Needless to say, much can be explored and discovered in Avila. It is not surprising that people who’ve been there would love to do a second visit. I myself is planning one, definitely soon.

Want to Enjoy a tour of the Wall?

Accessible tramos or sections to the public: Casa de Carnicerias, Puerta del Alcazar, Arco del Carmen and Puente Adaja

Entrance Fee: General Price is 5 euros; Reduced Price is 3.5 euros

Free entry: Tuesdays, from 2PM to 4PM

How I traveled to Avila, Spain:

One can reach the town via Renfe (train) or by bus. I opted for the latter, as always, as I find it convenient and less “invasive” compared to the train. Albeit, bus ride do take more off your time.

1. Via Autobus:

In Madrid, take the Metro station Linea 6 and get off at Mendez Alvaro. This station is found inside the Estacion Sur, the biggest and the busiest bus station in the city. If you’re in the vicinity of Atocha, take the EMT autobus 10 and alight at the Avenida Ciudad Barcelona – Pacifico parada, near the Pacifico Metro. Ride the train at this station, and get off at the next one, which is Mendez Alvaro.

I opted for the Jimenez Dorado bus, which arrived and departed on time. A plus: They offer video and music playing gadget in front of your seat. Too bad I didn’t bring my earphone.A one-way ticket to Avila Spain is around 7.50 euro, but if you buy an ida y vuelta (round trip) ticket, you´d spend less, at 13.61 euros. Be advised that tickets are not sold on the bus, but at the Estacion Sur ticketing counter. I made the mistake of falling in line at the darsena (platform) for nearly an hour only to be refused. After acquiring tickets from the counter, I had to wait for another two hours for the next scheduled trip.

Other Bus Companies offering trips: Avanza bus Company is also found in Estacion Sur. Visit its website for prices and bus schedules.

2. Via Train:

RENFE have regular trips to Avila. Please check costs and schedules on its official website.

Map:

Go on a Day Trip Adventure to Segovia Spain [And Explore Its Alcazar and Roman Aqueduct]

Do you feel you’ve seen enough of Madrid, Spain and wish you could visit places outside the city? Raring to go to other beautiful Spanish regions but wary about the long hours of travel that your chosen destination demands? Fret not as there are many towns near the capital that you can go to, such as Toledo, San Lorenzo de El Escorial, and Alcala de Henares. In other words, there are tons of amazing day trip options from Madrid.

Day trip means you travel to your destination, explore it to the fullest, and return to Madrid — all within a day.

Still another destination, and a highly recommended one at that, is Segovia, Spain.

imageThe spot I climbed at the aqueduct wasn”t even the highest point one can possibly reach, yet I was already afforded spectacular views of the town

Found south of the capital, lying atop an elevated land a mere 30 minutes away by train from Madrid is Segovia, small compared to other towns, but unique nonetheless.

Its tiny size is compensated by the many fascinating attractions. A quaint town overflowing in valuable history and enthralling beauty, it isn’t surprising that Segovia is a World Heritage site (as declared by the UNESCO).

What makes Segovia an ideal tour destination?

imageFor one thing, the Roman Aqueduct alone is enough to make your journey worthwhile. There’s also the Alcazar, that Castilian edifice with a fairy tale-book like facade. Enthralling is how one would describe the sprawling Cathedral of Segovia. You’d be in awe gazing upon the church from the town’s Plaza Mayor. And before going back to Madrid, remember to dine at a Segovia restaurant that offers conchinillo (which wouldn’t be a problem since most establishments include this dish in their menu).

I love traveling alone. But I need to go to exceptional destinations to keep me, as a traveler by his lonesome, excited and filled with energy all throughout. I assure you Segovia is one of them.

What to see in Segovia Spain

1. The Roman Aqueduct

The aqueduct is one of the most important structures in this town and perhaps the whole of Spain. Composed of perhaps thousands upon thousands of granite blocks, it is the most important symbol of the town. The today, the Romano Acueducto is determined to be well-preserved and still capable of transporting water from the Rio Frio river to the city.

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2. The Aqueduct, from Fernandez Ladreda Avenue

From the bus stop, I walked thru the Avenida Ladreda, a main Segovian street filled with touristy restaurants and cafes. Iglesia de San Millan is right along  the avenue. Ultimately it brought me to the magnificent site of the Roman Aqueduct.

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3. Catedral de Santa Maria

The Santa Madrid Cathedral is the last Gothic-inspired church to be built in Spain. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary, it is such a magnificent site from afar.
Catedral de Santa Maria, Segovia, Spain

4. Plaza Mayor

The square may be small in size but is the town’s designated area for important local activities and events. One of the most frequented spots by tourists, the square boasts of old-town, rustic restaurants and souvenir shops.

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5. Teatro Juan Bravo

One of the attractions at the Plaza Mayor of Segovia, the town’s principal theater was built in honor of Juan Bravo, a  beloved local hero.
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6. Puerta de San Andres

On my way to the Alcazar Castle, I passed through this gate that dates back to the early 12th century — Puerta de San Andres. Its vicinity offers great views of Las Murallas (City Walls) surrounding the important sites of the town. The ancient gate itself leads to the Jewish Quarters.

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7. Centro Didactico de la Juderia

The Didactic Center of the Jewish Quarter located at Calle de la Juderia Nueva, is a reminder of the once active Jewish community in the city. Once thriving area for the Jews was at Plaza de la Merced. Another popular Jewish street is the Juderia Viejo.
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8. La Casa de los Picos

La Casa de los Picos is a 15th century mansion by Pedro Lopez de Ayala, and considered by many  as unique because of its granite-built facade that features more than 600 pointy peaks. It boasts of a classic Renaissance courtyard within its interior. Once, an opulent residence, it now houses an art school and acts as a venue for regular exhibits.
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9. Puerta de la Claustra

Puerta de la Claustra is a 2-arch entrance, the only existing one leading to quarter of the cloister. Note the depiction of the Pieta on top of  the arch. The other similar entrances were taken down to give way to wedding of Philip II at the Alcazar de Segovia.

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10. Iglesia de San Andres

Iglesia de San Andres, a charming Roman Catholic Church, is located at the Plaza de la Merced, which you will pass by on your way to the more popular Santa Maria Cathedral.

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11. La Iglesia de San Martin

A Roman-styled early 12th-century church, La Iglesia de San Martin continues to attract tourists everyday mainly because of its strategic location, between the Segovian Aqueduct and the Sta Maria Cathedral. Standing near this small church of Moor origin is a local hero, Juan Bravo.

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12. Monumento a Juan Bravo

The striking monument at the Plaza de San Martin, beside the Iglesia de San Martin, is dedicated toJuan Bravo. Bravo is a Castilian nobleman who played an important role in the war within the autonomous Castille region.
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13. Las Murallas

The town’s Murallas is the thick wall that surrounds the perimeter of the elevated land that cradles the town. The tallest structure in the photo is the Catedral de Nuestra Senora de Asuncion y de San Frutos. Facing the Murallas and the town itself (not shown in photo) is an low-lying expanse of land where the Jewish cemetery is situated.image

14. Alcazar

The flag of Spain flies high atop the 12th century-built Alcazar or fortress. A former official residence of the Castilian kings of earlier times, the Alcazar is said to be the inspiration for the design and creation of Disney’s own castle. It has Romanesque and Gothic styles in its facade while the interior evokes a strong Moorish design.
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Time for Some Segovian Food

Going to Segovia give you the chance to taste its famous cochinillo. While Madrid has its share of asador restaurantes, nothing beats Segovia as far as the roasted suckling pig is concerned. It is a gastronomic haven where most restaurants are known to serve only the tastiest cochinillos asados.

Restaurante Meson Don Jimeno

I chanced upon this tiny yet quite cozy meson restaurant on my way to the Alcazar. I must have found the perfect spot to have lunch (and to taste suckling pig), since they boast of heavenly succulent cochinillo. But, what’s more important, they serve portions.

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Judiones de la Granja

Judiones is a bean-based dish with added chorizo slices. What I love about it is its thick consistency and rich flavor. De la Granja means from the Granja, which is a town near Segovia. I’m not sure if the beans ingredient is from the Granja, or if the dish itself originated from the place. What I’m sure is that judiones is delicious!

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Cochinillo Asado!

The sight of that golden-brown color of the roasted piglet’s skin makes one’s mouth water. You know that the dish was roasted just right by its perfectly crisp skin and tender yet moist meat underneath
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Natillas

I was stuffed yet I couldn’t allow a morsel of this homemade Natillas (custard) to be left uneaten. A Spanish dessert of milk and egg, the popular Segovian postre is perfect to cap off a deliciously filling lunch.
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How to go to Segovia Spain

imageThis is the Guiomar Train station, where your Renfe train from Madrid stops and your tour of Segovia begins. From here, auto bus no. 11 will take you to the city proper (and near the aqueduct). Fare is 2 euros.

By Train

You can buy Renfe train tickets online at their website. Or you can buy them at Chamartin station, which you can reach via auto bus no 5, among others.  While train rides are expensive, they’re the fastest and most efficient way of traveling around. I left Chamartin at 12PM and arrived at Segovia Guiomar station at 12.25PM.

By bus

Perhaps, you’re not pressed for time, and more importantly, wanted to save a few bucks in travel fare, I suggest that you take the bus instead. You will be able to enjoy nice scenery and views during your travel to your destination. Tickets can be had at La Sepulvedana office at Moncloa Station. Price for  ida y vuelta is around 17 euros.

Map

My Great Andalucian Adventure: Cordoba

Many believe that Spain is all about Madrid – that the city is the best place to be if you’re in the country. The fact is that there must be hundreds more regions, cities, pueblos, and barrios to see and explore in this Iberian peninsula other than its capital – and one of them is Andalucia.

Where is Andalucia?

The region, which because of its exotic qualities has made it a favorite setting of popular movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones and many more, is found in Spain’s southern point. It is undeniably world-class as a tourist destination, where every area must reek in countless amazing sites and attractions.

The region also boasts of the ideal climate all throughout the year – hot in summer and mildly cold in winter – perfect for those once-in-a-lifetime vacation adventures.

In other words, you need not be stuck with Madrid as Spain affords you at least another option. If you’re someone who rares to experience the most unique Spanish culture and tradition, Andalucia is the perfect choice.

andalucia maps
The 8 provinces of Andalucia are clumped together down the southern tip of Spain (Map courtesy of www.theodora.com/maps used with permission.)

Andalucia has eight provinces – these are Cadiz, Cordoba, Almeria, Jaen, Granada, Huelva, Malaga and Seville. Each one is beautiful and breathtaking – ready for any tourist to explore and appreciate.

My next two blog posts (including this) will be about Cordoba
Spain
and Granada, the first two Andalucian provinces that I had the pleasure to see and experience.

Off to my Andalucian Adventure

A city that was declared a World Heritage site, specifically the Historical Center of Cordoba, it was first ruled by the Romans until the Moors took over in the 8th Century. It was said to be the start of the blossoming of a city, the greatness of which easily rivaled other Moslem territories, like ancient Damascus and Constantinople.

And as Cordoba experienced being immersed in both Roman and Moorish cultures, what resulted is a place that exudes the strong characteristics of these two as evidenced by the massive edifice of worship that accommodates at least two religions; the Moorish-inspired whitewashed towns complete with Catholic cathedrals, basilicas, and parroquias; and the lively fiestas and celebrations that honor both Christian and Islamic traditions, among others.

First Stop: Cordoba Spain

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Thru the initiative of an adventurous bunch of Filipinos (their common denominator is that they attend masses at Iglesia de Nuestra Sra. del Espino, along C/ Conde de Serrallo near Plaza del Castilla), a Saturday trip to Andalucia’s Cordoba and Granada was organized.

Leaving the church premises at 1AM, the bus arrived at Cordoba before 6AM, stopping near the foot of the Puente Romano and the Gate of the Bridge. It was still early in the dawn, but a number of people are already around and checking the place. We just came in, yet it was easy to to tell that the place reeks of magnificent attractions — and the following are just some of them.

Cordoba Spain Attractions

1. La Mezquita

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Try to start a discussion about Cordoba, and surely, La Mezquita will be mentioned. It is to be expected as the edifice is of utmost importance to the Cordobans, it being a highly-revered Arab-Andalucian treasure.

Mesquita means Mosque, and its complete name is Mezquita Catedral de Cordoba. It is called as such because it was originally a mosque, but now serves as a Catholic place of worship. Mesquita is unique in that the Moslems also want to have it for their own, proving its immense significance to the Islam religion. In fact, it is recognized as the most important Islamic structure within the Western world.

One look at the façade and you see how it reflects Moslem and Baroque designs. It is a huge mosque, and touted as the third largest in the world. Judging from our walk around its perimeter, the building must cover an area equivalent to a few city blocks.  No doubt, it is one of the most fascinating landmarks that you can see in Cordoba.

2. The bell tower of Mezquita

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This is the present bell tower and is open to the public if you’re touring the Mesquita-Catedral. During the days of the Moor occupation, the tower was originally a minaret or a place where the call to prayer is made.

Built by Abderraman III, the leaders of the cathedral decided to convert it into a bell tower, with the last of the series of reconstruction happening in 1664. If you want great views of Cordoba and the grounds of the Mezquita-Cathedral itself, it is a must that you climb up the bell tower.

3. Puente Romano

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In English, it means the Roman Bridge – an impressive structure that crosses the equally great Rio Guadalquivir. This is known to be the sole bridge of the Ancient Cordoba region for a long time. A colossal work of architecture by the Romans way back in the 1st century A.D., the Spanish government reconstruct it into its original state to preserve its historical importance.

Watch the above video of the Puente Romano de Cordoba as it was featured in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Notice its appearance markedly altered thru the use of computer-generated effects. (Video is courtesy of Cordoba Film Office).

4. Torre de Calahorra

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After the Moslem took reigns of Cordoba, they added a tower to the Roman Bridge in order to protect it and the city itself from invaders coming from the south side of the banks. Inside you will find a museum that displays artifacts from the three great religions – Christian, Jewish, and Moslem. It is open to the public, starting at 10AM. Price of regular admission: 4.50 euros

5. Plaza de la Corredera

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This is one of the city’s famous squares, built right within its midst. The plaza presents a strong Castilian style and is said to be modeled after Madrid’s Plaza Mayor. The square is rich in ancient Roman history, evidenced by the pieces of mosaics found in the site at the time of its construction.

Today, especially now that is summer, the terrace becomes a place where great drinks are enjoyed such as a chilled Fino. On one side of the plaza is found the entrance to a popular Cordoba mercado – El Mercado de la Corredera.

6. Puerta del Puenta

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In English, it means Gate to the Bridge. Puerta del Puenta was constructed in 1570 with Hernan Ruiz II at the helm. Its imposing presence was meant to greet King Felipe II during his Royal visit of the city.

Located at the end of the Puente de Romano, the arch also served as the entrance to Cordoba; hence, the name. The one that stands today was a replacement to the Moslem Gate, which then also replaced the original gate created by the Romans of Julius Ceaser’s time.

7. Roman Water Wheel

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Walk to the right of that part of the bridge near the Gate, and you will see the giant (wooden?) water wheel constructed during the ancient Roman times. It was initially intended as a mill wheel, but the Moors later used it as a way of bringing water to the palace. It is said that the one standing today is a replica. The original wheel was dismantled as the noise it created was deemed a nuisance by Queen Isabella.

8. Triunfo de San Rafael

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This is an old Monument with a locked gate found near the Mezquita-Catedral. It is built to honor the protector of the city, Archangel San Rafael. It is near the Gates to the Roman bridge, a strategic position which I assume as a way for San Rafael to oversee and protect the city.

9. Cruz del Rastro

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Cruz del Rastro, or the Flea market Cross, is a reminder of that part of history when the Christians and Jews were pitted against each other. The end of the conflict between the two groups and in honor of Alonzo de Aguilar is remembered with the construction and installation of the cross in the Middle of the flea market.

10. Statue of San Rafael

imageAn addition to the Roman Bridge, way back in the 1600’s, is still another magnificent statue of San Rafael. Created by Bernabe Gomez del Rio, it stands right in the middle of the bridge. In front is a candle stand on which visitors and tourists may light a candle in honor of the Patron Saint of Cordova

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Cordoba is, needless to say, an Iberian city that’s unique because of the harmonious blend of Roman and Moorish cultures. Apart from the Roman and Moslem built structures, towns, and bridges, the place is above all proudly Spanish; it exhibits strong Iberian tradition that was handed down through numerous generations, like the famous flamenco dances and the celebration of Spanish fiestas.

Particularly awaited by many during the month of May is Cordoba’s Patio festival. It’s a major event in which the town residents open their patios or yards wide to entertain tourists and guests.

There’s always the next time, I can only say. If ever I get the chance to return, I must do it outside the hot summer months – as the less punishing weather will allow me to see more sites and really enjoy endless trekking with friends, hopping from one whitewashed Andalusian town to another. Here’s hoping to see more of Cordoba once again.

How to Go From Madrid to Cordoba:

imageThe blackness of predawn and the silhouette of the palm trees add to the somber depiction of the Torre de Calahorra

Bus: Mendez Alvaro is where public bus services to different cities and regions, including Cordova, are available. Basic bus tickets are worth 15 euros; however, be prepared for a long travel, which is approximately 5 hours. If you don’t mind the long journey, then go and book a bus seat now at Madrid’s premier bus station at the Intercambiador, where its own metro train stop, the Metro Mendez Alvaro, is also found.

Train: Want to reach Cordova faster? Take the fast train service of AVE, and you will arrive at your destination in under two hours. Tickets, of course, are much more expensive at 70 euros.

Join Informal Group Tours: I paid 40 euros for the whole trip, and this amount even includes the entrance fee to the Nazaries Palace of the Alhambra complex. And so, one clear advantage is that you are saved the trouble of getting the entrance tickets – the organizers do it for you. Information about these types of tours are usually posted at message boards of local churches.

The only downside of these tours is that time is very limited; we were allotted only 3 hours in Cordoba as we were also scheduled to go to Alhambra of Granada. Hence, we didn’t visit many other important sites like the Juderia and Medina Azahara. We weren’t even able to witness the magnificent interiors of Mezquita since it opens at 10AM and we had to leave at 9.30AM. (The entrance fee is 8 euros.)

Therefore, to make the most of your travel, my advice is to take the bus at Mendez Alvaro, and go online to buy a professional guided tour package that covers much of Cordoba Spain attractions.

My next post: Alhambra of Granada