It's a little while since I wrote anything, because my wife and I have been travelling independently in Andalucia. It took up most of November, but we managed to see Malaga, Ronda, Seville, Cordoba and Granada. I came away with several impressions of the area jangling in my head. Unfortunately, one was of the effects of the recession on the poorer parts of Spain. The North/South divide there is the opposite to England - the North is more prosperous, and the South poorer. In all the major cities we visited we saw people begging on the streets. They were not the usual homeless men encountered in the UK, but from my rough translations of the placards they held up, ordinary people who had fallen on hard times. One woman we saw regularly on a corner in Granada held up a sign that said she had a mother and three children to support but could not find work. In Cordoba we saw a husband and wife sitting on the street together begging for help. But that was only one aspect of Andalucia.
The overwhelming impression was of a unique culture that is still vibrant and exciting. The buildings we saw reflected the blending of Moorish, Islamic, and Christian history that identifies the region. How exciting to walk into the Mesquita (Grand Mosque) in Cordoba and at first see the original layout of columns and arches that are typical of the Arabic culture that held sway for centuries. And then to find in the centre of it all a Christian cathedral! It looked as though it had been dropped into the middle of the mosque by some spaceship. I know it's presence gave hints of the bloody conflict behind the Reconquista, but it also suggested the present-day feeling of two cultures blended together. A small museum nearby attempted to explain the value of Arabic science, medicine and culture to the West. Something I learned a lot about in my researches into medieval history. Also in Cordoba, we spent a relaxing two hours in a Turkish hammam wandering from cold room through warm room and pool to hot room and steamroom, with a massage thrown in. Though I have to admit I only dipped a toe in the baths in the cold room! We also saw lots of Arabic courtyards preserved in private houses,where they exist alongside European styles of building. It all felt like being amongst a people who took the best of both cultures and rejoiced in them. And that is something to hold on to in a time when fundamentalism threatens us all.