Portugal and Cordoba Sept 2019
Lisbon, Portugal is only a 7-hour drive from Nerja. I had heard from friends how nice Lisbon and Porto were to visit. My friend from my work in Baltimore, Mike Milbradt and his wife Taylor had let me know they would be in Portugal on vacation at the end of September. We planned a driving trip to see them in Lisbon and then go on to Porto and stop in Cordoba on the way home. Because we don’t need to do a long drive in one day, I planned a stopover at Huelva, Spain on the way to Lisbon and at Badajoz, Spain on the way to Cordoba.
This historically important city is about three hours from Nerja. Important because Columbus left this port city on his voyage to discover American in 1492 with most of the ninety sailors on his three small ships local residents. The city of about 140,000 originates from Phoenician times with its two rivers opening to the Bay of Cadiz. We found a nice modern hotel, the AC Marriott on the edge of the city and because we only had part of the next day to visit, we chose the Muelle de Las Carabelas (Dock of the Caravels).
Located on the river about 10 minutes from the city at Palos de la Frontera , the museum features reproductions of the La Niña, La Pinta and La Santa María, which were built in 1992 to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the discovery of America. The ship reconstructions are very well done, and you get to board each one, getting a real appreciation of just how small they are and how courageous the sailors were to head west to the Atlantic and the unknown. In addition to the replicas of the ships, its main tourist attraction, there is an interpretation center, a medieval quarter (recreated around the dock) and the Encounter Island, in which it recreates the indigenous culture of Guanahani Island, the first island on which Columbus landed on October 12, 1492, which he named as San Salvador.
We spent about 3 hours at the museum area and after a nice lunch at their outdoor cafe in the medieval quarter, we were off to Lisbon.
After another 4 hours on the highway up the coast of Portugal we crossed the impressive, Golden Gate like bridge into the center of Lisbon. We had two days to see some of the sights and had a well-located hotel to help do that, the Sana Executive. We had dinner close by where I tried the signature dish of Lisbon, Pastéis de Bacalhau (cod casserole) and we planned the next two days.
The next day Katherine got a morning run in and then we did the Big Bus tour to see the whole city. That was helpful as we then walked back to the waterfront to see some of the famous locations on our own. While there we happened to run across a beer museum attached to a large restaurant. Not your typical attraction but well worth it. We walked through all the exhibits while sampling a glass of the local beer. Old Lisbon is very hilly with a medieval look containing narrow and winding streets but then opening to large plazas along the river front.
That night we had dinner with Mike and Taylor in a local restaurant near their AirB&B. They got to meet Katherine and I got to do some work catch up with Mike and we planned to meet again in Porto. After dinner Katherine and I made a late-night visit to the Casino. This is a nice one and compares favorably to the one in Seville. Between Katherine’s roulette and my blackjack we broke even.
Our second day in Lisbon was spent to the west of city center in the Belem district near the mouth of the wide Tagus river (longest river in the Iberian Peninsula). Within several large parks along the river we visited a specialized military museum and then walked to see the Belem Tower. The museum is in an 18th century fortress (Fort of the Good Success) located right on the river. The fortress was constructed to protect the city of Lisbon from invaders. The "Museu do Combatente" is dedicated mostly to the rank and file Portuguese soldiers. There are uniforms, various weapons, and personal belongings of Portuguese soldiers starting from the colonial wars. Outside the museum building we could see a M3 Stuart tank, a 75 mm WW I French field gun and other guns and armament used by the Portuguese Armed Forces.
Nearby was the Belem Tower (officially the Tower of Saint Vincent), a 16th-century fortification that served both as a fortress and as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon. It was built during the height of the Portuguese Renaissance, composed of a bastion and a 100- foot tower. It is often portrayed as a symbol of Europe's Age of Discovery. Research told me that It has incorrectly been stated that the tower was built in the middle of the river and now sits near the shore because the river was redirected after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake. In fact, the tower was built on a small island in the Tagus river near the Lisbon shore.
Just next to the Tower and along the river was a spacious outdoor restaurant where we stopped for a late lunch before travelling further up the coast to Porto.
An easy drive of a few hours got us up some more hills and the down to the valley containing the very old city of Porto on the Douro River. Porto is one of the oldest European centers. Its settlement dates back two millenium, when it was a Roman outpost. Its combined Celtic-Latin name, Portus Cale, has been referred to as the origin of the name Portugal. Port wine, one of Portugal's most famous exports, is named after Porto, since the metropolitan area, and the cellars of Vila Nova de Gaia across the river, have been responsible for the packaging, transport, and export of fortified wine for centuries.
We had two days to spend in Porto and could have used a few more. Our hotel, The Grand Porto, was in the old town section and was as named, a grand 145-year old hotel with an elegant lobby, bar and dining room. The location made it easy for us to walk down the steep streets to the riverfront for our first morning when we did a bike tour of old Porto and Gaia across the river. I should mention it was an electric bike tour because the many hills we climbed would have been quite a challenge to keep up with our guide without the motor assistance. With that plus feature it was a very good tour and we saw a lot of the city even when we had to navigate the traffic.
Porto has many monuments and plazas honoring its past heroes and a Romanesque cathedral from the 16th century. The 3-hour bike tour got us to almost all the major sites plus added good exercise. We walked across the bridge back to Gaia for lunch and a nice walk along the long riverfront full of cafes and sidewalk kiosks. The way back to the hotel include walking up 200 steps to get above the river, more exercise! That night we met Mike and Taylor at their AirB&B and then found a nice spot for an outdoor dinner and sharing of adventures of the day.
Our second day included a visit to the Clerigos Church with its tall bell tower. The church was built in the early 18th century and was one of the first baroque churches in Portugal to adopt a typical baroque elliptic floorplan. The altarpiece of the main chapel, made of polychromed marble, is very unusual. It is a small but very elegant church. Before we left, we did some wine shopping and of course picked some varieties of port for gifts and home use.
We left after lunch and stopped about half-way to Cordoba at a large city just across the border, Badajoz. We didn’t do much visiting there except for a long walk to dinner that night and then off early the next morning for the short drive to Cordoba.
We had been looking forward to seeing Cordoba since we moved to Spain and it did not disappoint. Córdoba, in the southern region of Andalusia is one of the oldest cities in Europe and the capital of the province of Córdoba. It was an important Roman city and a major Islamic center in the Middle Ages, best known for La Mezquita, an immense mosque dating from 784 A.D., becoming a Catholic church in 1236. We also had two days there and the small boutique hotel, Eurostars Azahar was on the edge of hotel, only about a 10-minute walk from the Mezquita.
Cordoba has a wonderful arrangement of narrow streets line with small cafes all around the river front near the Mezquita. After dinner on our first evening we walked around the Mezquita area and crossed the Guadalquivir river on the Roman bridge to the other side of the city. The best pictures of the Mezquita are from across the river. The next two days we did a lot of walking through all of old town. I would rate Cordoba even better than Seville based on the much older feel to the old town and the majestic impression of the Mezquita. The three important sites we visited were the San Francisco Church, The Palace of the Christian Kings, and the Mezquita.
The church of San Francisco and San Eulogio is a Catholic temple founded by the Castilian king Fernando III in the thirteenth century. Its original name was that of the convent of San Pedro el Real and was managed by the Franciscan Order, hence its current denomination. It sits in a small plaza surrounded by trees and the church interior is small but covered with baroque artwork.
The Palace of the Christian Kings (or the Alcázar of Córdoba), is a medieval alcazar (palace) located near the Mezquita on the Guadalquivir River. The palace/fortress served as one of the primary residences of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. Its construction was ordered by King Alfonso XI of Castile in the year 1328, on previous constructions of a Muslim palace and a residence of the Roman Governor. The highlight of the tour is the magnificent gardens and courtyards that maintain its original Mudéjar (Arab) inspiration.
The Mezquita is truly impressive and historically very significant. The Cathedral of Cordoba, also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba, has the ecclesiastical name of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. The structure is regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture. According to a traditional account, a small Visigoth church originally stood on the site. In 784 the Muslim Ruler, Abd al-Rahman I, ordered construction of the Great Mosque, which was considerably expanded by later Muslim rulers. Córdoba returned to Christian rule in 1236 and the building was converted to a Roman Catholic church, culminating in the insertion of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the 16th century. Today it is unique being a Christian Church built within an existing mosque. I had originally thought that it was even more significant in that the mosque was in use along with a church. Research found that is not true, in fact since the early 2000s, Spanish Muslims have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the cathedral but so far this has been rejected. The mosque’s massive prayer hall is dominated by 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, granite and porphyry and it almost conceals the chapels and nave of the beautiful church built within.
We left Cordoba in the late afternoon after spending about two hours at the Mezquita and got back to Nerja in time for dinner. Our trip to Portugal between two stops in parts of Spain we had not seen was a rewarding one. Driving made it easier and less stressful as we purposely took our time, best way to vacation!