Monday, April 06, 2015

The Real Alcazar on a rainy day

Not feeling particularly adventurous we took a safe bet last night and went back to La Tradicional, the restaurant where we had enjoyed the pork cheek stew the night before. The same waiter was working and he directed us to almost the same table. I came in wanting the lamb chop tapa but he talked me into the meat sampler along with a plate of grilled vegetables. It turned out to be a good choice, a heap of zucchini, onions, bell peppers, eggplant and mushrooms charred on the grill and doused in a bit of mild olive oil. The meat sampler was superb, three kinds of pork loin, some slices of chicken and a handful of the tiniest most delectable lamp chops that I’ve ever tasted. A cold beer and, having learned a lesson about local wine quickly, a glass of Muga Rioja, a brand we like at home. In the past we’ve had good luck simply ordering a “copa de tinto” but this year there have been a few duds. If the restaurant offers a wine by the glass list, spend the extra euro and get the most expensive one.
The waiter was chatting with other guests in Spanish, English and French so the next time he came over I told him in French that his French was very good. That got us talking and he told us that he was from Casablanca where he’d learned French first, then Arabic then English and Spanish. We told him about our daughter living in Rabat for the Peace Corps , and that got us talking about China and Chinese, whom are once again the most popular tourists. Another one of those great tourism moments where you make a genuine connection with another person, prompted perhaps by some service or retail activity that blooms into something more.
There was a big thunderstorm in the night, reminding me from my China days how much louder they are in a city environ. I think the buildings amplify the noise. We woke up to pouring rain that thankfully abated just before it was time to leave (we had to be out due to the maid coming at 10.) We went out looking for coffee and passed another horde of tourists lined up at the taxi stand across from the cathedral, the second exodus of Semana Santa visitors. It still being dreary we decided to re-visit the Real Alcazar, the palace of King Pedro the Cruel, who ordered it built in 1364 amidst the existing palaces of the recently removed Almohad rulers. Done in the Mudejar style by Moorish, Spanish and Jewish artisans who had worked for the Muslims, the place is a feast for the eyes when it comes to detailed surfaces. Every wall, ceiling and floor is covered with tile and carvings. Subsequent Spanish rulers expanded and refined the place but the Mudejar core is the real reason for visiting. In fact once you step out of it and into the later, 16th and 17th century wings, you’re instantly struck by the lack of sensuousness. We had visited before in 2012 and thought it would be nice to go back to take an easy stroll through, the best kind of visit you can have when you’re not in a rush to absorb all of it. We got in early which turned out to be lucky because perhaps a half-hour after we’d gone through, the waiting line was all the way across Plaza Triunfo.
The whole place is special, but we have a couple of favorites. The Room of the Ambassadors is extraordinary with a huge concave dome of gold and blue. Historically, this is where Ferdinand and Isabella met with visiting dignitaries and it is the place from which Columbus was sent off on his first voyage. Being in a place where such momentous history occurred is humbling in itself.  Upstairs there is a small museum dedicated to the Art of Azulejos, the tiles for which Sevilla is so famous and with which this wonderful place was decorated. The Courtyard of the Maidens is a spectacular example of Mudejar architecture, a long reflecting pool surrounded by graceful arches topped with carved panels and a pillar lined second story. A beautiful example of the synthesis of the Islamic and Reconquista styles. Exactly the same when viewed from both ends, except for a little bit of the top of a tower visible just above the roof. In my opinion, the Alcazar rivals Granada’s Alhambra and its more famous Courtyard of the Lions. In fact, we like is a bit better. We spent perhaps an hour wandering around looking at tourists, taking better photos of the things we missed last time and marveling at the really wonderful items they had in the gift shop. Another host of cool refrigerator magnets was acquired. We chatted with the young woman running the cash register in one of the shops who told us that Cadiz was worthy of a day trip because it looks just like Cuba.
Leaving around noon we shopped for postcards at one of the local shops before stopping by the Santa Teresa Bar for tapas of pork with tomato and potatoes with tuna. We had the same waiter as the other day but today he was a bit off. We asked for small plates to share the food and he sort of lectured us about not mixing the two dishes on the same plate. At least that was sort of what we got from his rapid fire Spanish. Sometimes one gets in trouble by using the local language - people start assuming that you actually speak it. 























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