Life and Death in Southern Spain

While Morocco had long been the primary destination for this anniversary adventure, Spain certainly held its own when it came to beautiful scenery and amazing adventures.

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The train ride to Seville showed us the beautiful countryside we longed to see, with its idyllic mountains and rhythmic olive groves. The capital of Spain’s Andalusia region, it’s known for its flamenco dancing, its ancient cathedrals, and, of course, its barbers.

Mike let his hair grow longer than usual in eager anticipation of receiving a haircut from a barber of Seville. One thing we didn’t consider? Being in Seville on a Sunday, when barbershops are closed.

Another thing we didn’t consider? Which way we should walk when we left the train station. We wandered about a bit, marveling at the orange trees brimming with fruit, and decided we were hungry and in need of a rest.

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Thank goodness for getting lost. The tapas we stumbled upon in Seville were the best we had in Spain. It was a tiny restaurant filled with locals who couldn’t help but stare at our luggage (and Mike’s crazy hair, no doubt).

We enjoyed our late lunch and walked back past the train station in the correct direction for our hotel, which was on the outskirts of Seville’s shopping district.

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A crowded street in Seville’s main shopping district

And do Sevillanos love to shop! The shoe store capital of the world, Seville’s central streets are lined with store after store selling everything from handmade items to designer wares. It felt like Black Friday at an American mall, but with much better architecture.

After wading through the throngs of shoppers, we finally reached what we came to see: the Old Town, with its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Alcázar palace, the Archivo General de Indias, and the Seville Cathedral, which houses the remains of Christopher Columbus and his son, Diego.

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Gated entrance to the Seville Cathedral

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Touching history in Seville, Spain

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If Mike was excited about the Seville Cathedral, I was excited about Mezquita.

One of the most accomplished examples of Moorish architecture, Mezquita, or the Cathedral of Córdoba, is also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba, and therein lies the fascination.

According to traditional account, a small Christian temple originally stood on the site. In 784 AD, Muslim ruler Abd al-Rahman I ordered the Great Mosque to be built, and it was expanded over the years by subsequent Muslim rulers. When Córdoba returned to Christian rule in 1236 AD, the building was converted to a Roman Catholic church, and a Renaissance nave was built in the center of the mosque in the 16th century.

So, it’s a cathedral wrapped in a mosque that was later filled with a church. A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, if you will.

We arrived to our hotel in Córdoba late at night, and Mike had, once again, planned things perfectly. From our room, we could practically touch Mezquita across the narrow street.

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Mike and his non-barbered hair were quite excited about our hotel room’s proximity to the great Mezquita in Córdoba, Spain

After an early breakfast the next morning, we walked across the street and entered the cathedral’s courtyard. It was beautifully landscaped with palms, cyprus and orange trees, and hand-laid stone walkways that were who knows how old.

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Upon entering Mezquita, the handhewn Moorish architecture took our breath away. Perfectly formed arches and columns stretched as far as the eye could see, and every nook and cranny was filled with incredible religious artifacts spanning the centuries.

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Making our way to the cathedral at the center of the mosque, we discovered we were just in time for a Catholic mass, which was heralded by the magnificent gothic organ.

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As parishioners took their seats, a hush fell over the crowd. Catholics and Muslims alike paused to give thanks, and we said our own prayers of appreciation for this incredible meeting of two worlds that had stood for ages in beauty and peace.

We spent hours in Mezquita admiring the architecture, the antiques, and the magnificence of the place. When we emerged into the sunshine, we knew we needed some time to process the experience. We made our way across an ancient Roman bridge crossing the Guadalquivir River, originally constructed in the first century BC.

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We found a quiet cafe that was still open before the afternoon siesta, and we sat in silence as we processed everything we’d just seen. I remarked that it was nice to find someplace not playing American music, since all we’d seemed to encounter thus far was top 40 pop. Not a minute later, “The Tennessee Waltz” began to play. It broke the reverie, and we couldn’t help but laugh.

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The incredible tomato soup topped with jamón ibérico and local olive oil at El Olivo in Córdoba

Over lunch, we talked about Spain, Gibraltar, and Morocco, and how different we felt after every trip, foreign and domestic. Leaving home and the routine of daily life, we both remarked on how alive we felt, seeing new places and meeting new people in a part of the world that hadn’t existed to us before this adventure.

After enjoying our late lunch, we walked to the Córdoba train station to head back to Madrid. It was a beautiful day at the beginning of a new year, and the world seemed full of possibilities.

As we entered the station, we suddenly noticed people rushing into a cafe. First, managers, then police. We were shocked into stillness as we watched a man suffer a sudden heart attack and die within moments.

His wife, who was with him, seemed frozen.

Just minutes before, they were on a trip like we were. They may have been having a conversation much like ours. They certainly weren’t planning for their world to be torn apart with a tragedy no one could predict.

Our ride to Madrid was mostly silent.

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On the last day of our first big adventure, we walked the streets of Madrid and found ourselves in a beautifully landscaped park near the center of town.

We watched children playing with their parents, police patrolling on horses, and couples walking hand in hand in love.

We were one of those couples.

We’d seen new parts of the world, and we’d done it together. What began as an exotic engagement request had led to a turning point in our relationship. We were in love, with each other and with the world.

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