Córdoba, Spain

 

Friends were visiting from the States and it was their first trip to Europe. Over the past few months we have spoken about what we might do together during their time in Portugal. It probably would have been enough for them to stay local, however, it wouldn’t have been enough for me. I wanted them to fall in love with my country and that meant seeing the country that borders Portugal to the east. We decided on two days in Sevilla (two hours by bus — see blog from 2019) and two days in Córdoba. Why Córdoba you might ask?

Not too long ago I made a decision that has proven to enhance my life and make for a better experience for my guests. Whenever friends or family visit me from the States (or anywhere for that matter), we go someplace I have never been. If I keep going back to the same towns and cities, I will resent my guests and be bored to death. Don’t get me wrong, there are places I love to visit over and over again:  for example Tavira, a town about 30 minutes away from where I live — a French bakery, La Baguette Artisan Boulanger Français, and a pottery shop, Aroma Ceramics. These two places alone make Tavira worth a visit. There are also several restaurants I never tire of. My guests are rarely disappointed; of course, that makes me happy.

So Michelle, John and I did some touring around Faro first. They arrived New Year’s Eve day. To my surprise, the long journey from New York to Faro did not stop them from wanting to explore and sample the food of Faro.  I cooked, certain that they’d want to remain home to rest. The idea of staying up to bring in the new year seemed out of the question. I was shocked to see that they were perky and eager to stay awake and enjoy their first New Year’s celebration in Europe.

They dragged me kicking and screaming to the Faro marina where a lively band played and a fireworks display did not disappoint. I was surprised to see a few thousand locals enjoying the night together.

 

 

Being the morning person that I am, I’m not sure how I managed to stay up for the count. I spent last New Year’s eve in Morocco with friends and I still can’t remember whether or not we brought in the new year together. I’ll have to call Patrick and Sue to ask them.

Back to Michelle and John . . . After a few days staying close to home, we headed for Spain. I won’t be blogging about Seville because I have been there several times and although I love the city, I do not have much to say this time. I will mention that it was colder there than I thought it would be (close to freezing at night) and that Airbnb Adventures offered a paella rooftop experience that was outstanding. We had a challenging time leaving our Airbnb to get to the rooftop location. Our key got stuck in the door and we had to figure out a way to leave the key in the door, leave the door open and escape through another opening. I’m not sure why these things happen to me, but I’m beginning to wonder if I bring them on myself. No matter, we got out safely, made it to our dinner on time, and dealt with the lock issue later in the evening. I must admit I was a bit cranky, but my friends know how I am and put up with me.

 

Córdoba

The first thing I want to say about Córdoba is that everyone should visit this magnificent city. It has a rich history, it is walkable, it is breathtakingly beautiful, and it is very affordable.

 

 

We took a bus from Sevilla to Córdoba. It is an easy and comfortable two hour ride at about 24 euros round trip. The bus takes you to the city centre and then you can either walk or Uber to your destination. Google maps showed that we were about 23 minutes from our Airbnb by foot, so we decided to walk. Technology is only great when it works and this time it did not; we were taken about 1.5 kilometers from our Airbnb and I had to find another means of getting there. About 10 minutes later and none the worse for the wear, we arrived at our Airbnb. This two bedroom, two bath apartment was on four levels. We had a cozy living room and kitchen on the first floor, a bedroom and bath on the second and third floors, and a rooftop terrace on the forth. Honestly at $217 for two nights (all total), I think the place was a find (click for listing).

 

Salón con muralla Romana auténtica

Casa de diseño a 200m de la Mezquita

Casa de diseño a 200m de la Mezquita

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That stoned wall you see in the first picture is actually the original wall built by the ancient Romans — it is the wall that borders the Jewish Quarter and built in the first century; how’s that for experiencing history.

I will once again reiterate that I am not a travel writer, therefore, I will not share the history of this beautiful city or everything we did while visiting. There were some highlights in our 2.3 days in Córdoba and I am happy to share those with you. Part of the reason travel is so much fun for me, is that I do not chronicle every moment. I am happy to pass along details to any of you, please ask.

Staying in the centre of Córdoba, in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, was a good call. We were minutes from everything you’d want to see and experience while visiting. Arriving on a Sunday made it somewhat difficult to shop for groceries (eg., coffee, milk, wine), but with perseverance, we did find a Chinese all-in-one shop. To our pleasant surprise, the shop even had an Iberian paté we all three thoroughly enjoyed. We were also smart enough to bring some cheese, jamon and crackers from Sevilla. We were hell bent on enjoying our rooftop terrace while the sun was shining and we could experience the tiny bit of warmth we had left. It was all glorious:  our friendship (over 20 years), the view from our terrace, the historical significance of the place, the sun, and the fact that we’d made it there. These are the moments in life we live for.

We had tickets for a genuine Flamenco concert — music and dance — that evening and we were priming for it. We had dinner at a beautiful tapas restaurant close to our Airbnb. It wasn’t the best meal I’ve had, but I certainly enjoyed the atmosphere and the Spanish wine John selected. The Flamenco concert,  was to be performed within the Arab baths of Santa María dating over one thousand years.

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The concert was about 90 minutes in length, the performers were all sick with a cold (except the guitar player), and we had front row seats (there were only 9 people in the audience). I have often wondered if I would enjoy a Flamenco concert and it would be unfair not to comment:  I will say that first of all, I’m glad we did it and second, I would not do it again. I might also add that John caught whatever germs were spread that night.

The next day was very special and truly unforgettable. It would be our only full day in Córdoba and I was determined to make the most of it. I woke up early and went straight to The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba).

 

If you do nothing else in Córdoba, you must visit this significant landmark. It dates back to the 12th century and it is Islamic, Roman, Byzantine, and Christian, all rolled into one truly magnificent place of worship. You can spend hours and hours exploring this historic site. Afterwards, I ventured out to see the city by day.

The Roman Bridge may have been my second favorite site.

Image result for The Roman bridge in Cordoba

The bridge flows over the Guadalquivir river; grand and gorgeous is all I can say about it (last photo from stock pics on the internet).

After a bit of lunch back at the Airbnb, I walked about three minutes to a hammam where I had an appointment for a warm bath, a sauna and steam, and a massage. The Hammam Al Andalus, is one of the most beautiful I have ever been to and worth every euro I paid (70).

 

I returned to our Airbnb just in time for a pre-dinner cocktail. We had reservations at Casa Mazal Restaurante Sefardi; Middle Eastern, Jewish, Spanish and very authentic. We did the tasting menu and once again John chose the wine — I can pick a good wine, but John knows wine better than I do. The restaurant was quaint and the service excellent. I would have to say that I enjoyed the appetizers far more than the main dishes, but overall, this restaurant did not disappoint. My friends usually claim that they will only take a small taste of dessert and more often, eat at least their share; I’m used to that.

It was an unusually chilly night is Spain, so we hustled back to our apartment and headed straight for bed; very comfortable beds I might add.

Córdoba is a place I will someday return to. I could have spent a week walking, exploring, eating and drinking. It’s only four hours for me by bus (3.5 hours by car) and I know there was more to experience. The history and the melding of so many cultures over the last two thousand years, makes Córdoba a city to behold and cherish. It’s Unesco World Heritage Centre will be forever etched in my travel memories.

 

Paco

This is Paco, my new companion. Paco is a rescue dog; I will be officially introducing him to you next week. The importance of adopting a pet, rather than purchasing one, has been an urgent message I have been wanting to relay for quite some time.

 

 

South Wales in August

 

 

 

Not everything in life can be explained. Why I have always had a desire to see Wales is not something I can easily put into words. Not unlike my father’s birthplace in Italy, I have dangled Wales in the corners of my mind for decades; like a treat I was savoring for another day.

Moving to Portugal made Wales an easily attainable adventure and I was ready.

I decided that August would be a good month for my getaway; it’s hot in Faro and I thought it might be cooler in Wales. I was hoping for some rain since I was certain it would be quite awhile before we had any rain to speak of in southern Portugal. I looked at airlines and Flybe had an inexpensive flight to Cardiff, the capital, in both directions. I hate to be negative and bitter, but I’m fairly certain I will not be flying Flybe again — they nickel and dime you, charging you for your seat and everything else that is not part of the aircraft. They informed me at check-in that my bag was larger than the regulation size and I had to pay 98 Euros (total both ways) to check it. I bought this particular “small” bag because I thought I had learned my lesson after flying RyanAir. What pisses me off more than anything, is that airlines continue to report record profits and they never lower their prices. I guess that’s what’s called capitalism and we have no choice but to just watch the airline CEOs make millions off the backs of the average Joe and Josephine.

Back to Wales. I decided on an Airbnb for this trip, thinking I could have breakfast and lunch in my apartment. I was able to rent a one bedroom .5 miles from the city. It was a modern flat with a queen size bed and an owner who was very hospitable. Mike provided great tips for dining and excursions. The place cost me less than $100 a night and a hotel room would have been twice that.

My friends in Cardiff told me that the weather would have been better in June, however, I did have two beautiful days and I felt fortunate.

The apartment in case you’re interested (click for details).

My flight was delayed nearly two hours forcing me to take a taxi to the apartment (it was after midnight and the city bus wasn’t running and I couldn’t find an Uber nearby). Fortunately, the apartment had a lockbox so I didn’t have to wake the owner. Thank goodness for cell phone flashlights or I’m not sure how I would have gotten in. It was 1:30 a.m. before I got to go to bed on my first of four nights. Once again, I will never fly Flybe again if I can help it.

After a solid seven hours sleep, I ventured out for coffee and a bite to eat. Mike told me about a Portuguese bakery just around the corner from the Airbnb. I was in a neighborhood called Adamsdown (see below) and the bakery was Nata & Co on Clifton Street. The coffee and pastries were excellent and I felt as if I had never left home.

History of Adamsdown (history everywhere you turn in Wales)

In mediaeval times, Adamsdown lay just outside the east walls of Cardiff and was owned by the lords of Glamorgan. The area may be named after an Adam Kygnot, a porter at Cardiff Castle around 1330 AD. The Welsh name Waunadda derives from (g)waun (a heath or down) and the personal name Adda (Adam). This name appears to be a recent creation, and there is no evidence that Adam Kygnot was ever called ‘Adda’. Y Sblot Uchafis the Welsh name of Upper Splott, a farm that stood on the site of the later Great Eastern Hotel (demolished 2009) on the corner of Sun Street and Metal Street (the very spot where my Airbnb was located.)

According to an 1824 map, Adamsdown was largely a 270-acre (1.1 km2) farm. A replacement for a prison which was located on St Mary Street opened in the area in 1832, and a cemetery in 1848. In the following year, an outbreak of cholera affected the area. As the cemetery became full, it was converted into a park. In 1883 the “South Wales and Mounmouthsire Infirmary” was opened at a cost of £23,000. Many were refused from the hospital, such as those with infectious diseases and women in the advanced stages of pregnancy. In 1923, the hospital became the Cardiff Royal Infirmary. Source:  Wikipedia.

 

 

 

My new friend Rachel was picking me up at 2:00 p.m. so I decided to stay close to my apartment. Clifton street had some great thrift shops and a good deal of local color. I was able to buy two great novels for under three quid (slang for one pound sterling). I also found a fully stocked grocery store and was able to shop for the apartment; beer I never drank and snacks.

 

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Rachel and I in our matching Birkenstocks; same color even and totally by accident. She’s a pip.

Rachel pulled up to retrieve me at exactly 2:00 p.m. and off we went on our adventure. I only met Rachel a few weeks ago sitting by a pool in Albufeira. Cardiff had already been booked and she was happy to show me around and cook me dinner. This is why they say there is no such thing as a coincidence.

 

 

 

 

I spent my second day just walking around Cardiff, seeing the sights, and enjoying the weather (75 degrees fahrenheit).

My last full day in Cardiff was meant to be an organized tour of the Gower Peninsula. The tour was cancelled because there were not enough people signed up for it. It would have been an eight hour tour because four hours would be traveling to and from. I think it would have been cancelled due to the weather anyway. It was a rainy, low visibility day.

[Gower or the Gower Peninsula is in South Wales. It projects westwards into the Bristol Channel and is the most westerly part of the historic county of Glamorgan. In 1956, Gower became the first area in the United Kingdom to be designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Wikipedia]gower peninsula fullday south wales tour from cardiff

I guess it just wasn’t meant to be this time. I had just met my new friend Rachel’s husband Mark at their place for dinner the day after I arrived. Mark felt that by staying in Cardiff, I wasn’t getting a true sense of what Wales is like. Cardiff is a fairly modern city and in many ways, it resembles many other cities. He offered to take me to Brecon and the hillside about 45 minutes from Cardiff. Let’s face it, a private tour is always better than a group tour. Sometimes I believe I was just born lucky. Despite the poor weather, we drove through beautiful hills and quaint towns and we got to walk around a bit. And the best part was stopping for a truly authentic pub lunch. I ordered fried fish and I couldn’t have been happier. Mark shared a good deal of Welsh history throughout the day and I got to talk American politics — a perfect day.

 

Places that I got to visit in Cardiff and enjoyed immensely:

Cardiff Bay

The Port of Cardiff

Cardiff Market

The National Assembly for Wales

Caerphilly and Caerphilly Castle (Rachel gifted me some Caerphilly cheese which I brought home. It’s even better than cheddar).

Penarth and the Penarth Marina

Bute’s Castle

National Museum Cardiff (museums are always free in Wales)

Many Arcades in Cardiff Centre

The Rainbow Casino (should have stayed away)

City Hall

Cardiff Castle (I believe I visited four castles — all amazing)

 

There was more to see, but I only had three full days on this trip. It’s a very walkable city and the people are a pleasure to talk to. It was also a fairly diverse city; certainly rich in history. I will return to Cardiff someday.

 

My two favorite restaurants in Cardiff Centre:

Thai & Asian Delish Café

This Thai food booth at The Central Market blew me away. I had the Thai coconut milk and chicken soup; creamy, smooth, spicy and delicious.

 

 

 

Elgano Italian Restaurant 

I’ve had a lot of pasta’s in my life and I have to say this one ranks in the top 10 (see below). I also had mussels in a garlic and tomato sauce and they were very disappointing; flavorless in fact. The owners were a husband and wife team. He was rushing around, acting very pretentious and she was sincere. I watched the husband spill wine on a customer because he was going too fast and not paying attention — you can tell I didn’t like him. They were, however, from Italy and the food was authentic. Maybe the husband was in the kitchen and the waiter was just some random Italian guy; I don’t know for sure. Click on the name of the restaurant above if you plan on going or you’re just curious.

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Tagliatelle with shrimp, radicchio & a creamy spicy tomato sauce

Porto and the Duoro Valley

 

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A view of Porto and the Duoro River from the Museu Romântico.

 

I have to begin by admitting that it took much too long to get to Porto. When I first visited Portugal, I knew that I wanted to live in the south because I had done research on the favorable climate and the robust, affordable economy.  I concentrated on exploring areas in the south and since Porto is north of Lisbon (about 3 hours by train — see map below), it was not in my travel plans.

Side note:  traveling throughout Portugal is a pleasure. Public transportation is usually easy to navigate, the airports are not overcrowded, and most people speak English fairly well. It’s good to know some Portuguese because as with all natives, they truly appreciate any attempt to speak their language.

 

Porto

I had some friends (Neal & Winnie Borden) coming into Porto on a cruise ship on Tuesday of this week and that gave me an excellent excuse to fly to Porto. I have been trying to keep these short distance excursions to three or four days. I believe three days is plenty of time to get a feel for a place and if there are parts I do not get to see, it gives me a good reason to return.

I rented a studio Airbnb in the city centre — I usually stay in the center so that I can walk out of my apartment and visit many places on foot or use public transportation — this particular apartment was in the back of building and it was quiet and had a magnificent, large terrace.

 

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Neal and Winnie are true foodies. Their son Adam and I met at the James Beard House in Manhattan over 20 years ago and we bonded over our love of fine food; he gets it genetically from his parents. I arrived to Porto on Monday evening so that I could meet them at the cruise port early Tuesday morning. We only had about five hours and there was lots to see and do. We had decided that lunch would be the only pre-arranged item on our itinerary. I made us a lunch reservation at Antiqvvm (a one Michelin starred restaurant) and decided we’d discuss the rest of our time together over coffee.

If you’re ever going to meet friends at a cruise ship, leave yourself lots of time. I discovered that being drop off at a pier doesn’t necessarily mean you will be close to the ship. I had to walk over a mile to get to where the ship was docked.

Fortunately, I arrived in time to greet them as they disembarked. We took a taxi from the pier to the historic part of Porto. I had heard about the Majestic Café and thought it would be a good spot for planning.

 

 

 

The Majestic Café, opened in 1921, this absolutely gorgeous and charming café should not be missed. [note:  for those of you who are new to my blogs, you can click on the names of restaurants and places for more information. Also note that I do not share every place I eat or visit; only those that are exceptional or awful are mentioned.]

The historic center was perfect for walking, but be aware that many of the streets are hilly and should be carefully navigated. We decided to head out and see as much as we could see on our way down to the river where the “colorful houses” were located.

 

The incredible colorful houses in Ribeiria (a UNESCO world heritage center) on the riverRelated image

Sites in Porto you will not want to miss:

 

 

Stay away from Puro 4050 — awful “Italian” food. Viva Creative Kitchen was interesting, fresh food, in a cozy contemporary setting.

Antiqvvm

Antiqvvm is a one Michelin star restaurant minutes from the center of Porto. Spend a few minutes at the garden overlooking Porto right outside of this beautiful glass and stone building — it’s a magical experience and you will not want to miss a moment. A memorable meal is all about the mood of the day, the people you are dining with, the quality of the food, and the service and ambiance of the restaurant. This was one of those meals where everything was as you hoped it would be. I am savoring this memory and I know it will remain with me for a lifetime.

A big thank you to Neal Borden for these gorgeous photographs of the food we were served. The soft shelled crab, lobster and veal were just some of the highlights.

 

 

 

The Duoro Valley

If it’s true what they say about doing things when you are supposed to do them, then I was not destined to explore wine country in Portugal until now. I’ve been enjoying Portuguese wine for awhile. The best thing about Portuguese wine, besides the great taste, is the value. I have taken several wine classes, but I am far from an expert. There is so much to know; however, I only know enough to appreciate it — I have a lot to learn.

Airbnb offered a full day excursion I could not resist. José, our guide, was knowledgable, friendly, funny and a very good driver. The last part is important when traveling through the Duoro Valley:  with its mountains, curvy roads and narrow streets. Sometimes group tours can be a bust — too large, obnoxious guests; you know the score. This was a group of nine people from five different countries. All of us were delighted to experience the Duoro Valley on this perfect weather day. I honestly enjoyed getting to know all eight of my fellow travelers.

The Duoro Valley is most famous for Port wine. We were fortunate to do a tour and tasting of Quinta do Tedo vineyards. This beautiful vineyard is a boutique winery selling 80% of its product to consumers who visit the vineyard. We were given a very thorough tour, followed by a generous tasting. We tasted tawny port, ruby port and late bottled port. I have always been a big fan of port wine. Good ports are easy to find in the States and I have been enjoying them for many years. I’ve also been fortunate to taste several fabulous vintage ports.

The Spruce Eats — an informative piece on Port wine.

The best part of the day was the drive to the top of one of the mountains. It was a clear, gorgeous day and the vista was breathtaking. We were also treated to a boat tour on the Duoro River. We drank a sparkling Duoro white and marveled at the beauty of the land and water.

My take away from a marvelous day in the Duoro Valley is that this place is a well kept secret. I learned of several train trips I can take for a weekend getaway or pleasant day trip. I have a feeling I’ll be blogging about this wine region in the near future.

 

 

 

 

It’s going to take me a very long time to truly appreciate the breath and beauty of Portugal, but heck, all I have is time. The next stop? Well, who knows.

 

MAP of the Iberian Peninsula

Portugal And Spain Map From Kolovrat 1
So you can see how far Porto is from Faro (about 7 hours drive). It’s actually not far from the Spanish Galician border.