A Chair on the Wall and a Surfeit of Palaces

Restaurante Choco, where we ate last night, turned out to be up to the very latest minute in chi-chi gourmet food. We had the tasting menu, and every dish was presented in some artistic manner. It also happened to be delicious, which is kind of the point. Oddly, it’s in kind of a run-down neighborhood of Cordoba. You can’t see it from the street. There is a tapas bar called Choco Bar. If you inquire at the bar, someone walks you around the side of the building to a most unpromising entrance fronted by filthy cobbles. Inside, everything is avant-garde white on white, with odd embellishments like a chair on the wall, backed by painted cardboard and encrusted with what looks like someone’s homework.

The chair on the wall at Choco

The chair on the wall at Choco

I don’t remember all the courses, but each one was presented with some artistic flair. There were cornichons of dried seaweed filled with pickled vegetables and presented on a large piece of white coral. There were raviolis stuffed with something yummy that we don’t remember, draped over a piece of driftwood. There were coddled eggs in the shell, presented in a nest-like basket. I had been hungry when we arrived, but after a while, I became somewhat worried about finishing. The servings were tiny, but there were a lot of them, and after the final dish was served, they came by with more–little cookies which I surreptitiously wrapped in paper napkins I had in my purse for emergencies and tucked away for future consumption.

Coddled egg at Choco

Coddled egg at Choco

Duck "pasties" at Choco

Duck “pasties” at Choco

We returned to the hotel quite late and headed for bed. I slept until almost 10 am this morning. We ate breakfast and headed back to the old town to see the Alcazar of Cordoba. Today, the temperatures were more like what we had been warned about–it got up to at least 100 degrees.

Our first stop was the Museum of Al-Andalus Culture–Moorish culture–the museum that had been about to close when we visited the day before. It is not large, being lodged in an ancient Moorish defensive tower at the end of the Roman Bridge. They had some wonderful models of the Mezquita and other buildings in Cordoba–as well as the Alhambra. I actually think one of my favorite parts was a room where there were four wax dummies representing Maimonides, the 12thC Sephardic Jewish philosopher; Averroes, a Moorish philosopher and polymath (real name: Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rušd); Ibn Arabi, a Moorish Syufi mystic; and King Alfonso X, called “the Wise.” As the spotlight rested on each in turn, a recording played a quote from each man . All of them had astonishing insight for their day about acceptance, inclusion, the role of science and religion, and more.

This is actually a tiny model of La Mezquita, showing it as it was originally built by Caliph Abd al-Rahman I. In the Museo de Vida Al-Andulus, Cordoba.

This is actually a tiny model of La Mezquita, showing it as it was originally built by Caliph Abd al-Rahman I. In the Museo de Vida Al-Andulus, Cordoba.

Before we left the museum, we asked where the bathrooms were. They were behind this tiny, Alice-in-Wonderland door, then down a flight of stairs.

Before we left the museum, we asked where the bathrooms were. They were behind this tiny, Alice-in-Wonderland door, then down a flight of stairs.

If you plan to come to Spain and want to see some palaces, I recommend starting with the Alcazar in Cordoba, because after seeing the Alcazars of Seville and Granada, the Cordoba Alcazar is pretty disappointing. It’s an ancient Moorish defensive castle, heavy and grim, that was gifted by Ferdinand and Isabella to the Spanish Inquisition–and it retains some of that feeling. Kind of dungeon-ish, though the gardens are beautiful.

Tom and me in the gardens of the Cordoba Alcazar. A nice French couple took it.

Tom and me in the gardens of the Cordoba Alcazar. A nice French couple took it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By now, we desperately needed hydration. We walked through the winding streets to a nearby restaurant that Tom had researched, El Churrasco. This was nicely air-conditioned, and we sat in a pretty (enclosed) patio. I ate a cooling lunch of water, gazpacho, water, wine, water, salad, water, and a drink made of sparkling wine and lemon sherbet. And then we had some water.

Patio ceiling, El Churrasco, Cordoba

Patio ceiling, El Churrasco, Cordoba

We had talked over visiting another palace next, but decided to skip it. I did some shopping on the way back to the car, but had lost my enthusiasm for more palaces. I am sure I’ll recover, though.

Walking in Sevilla and Getting Damned Tired of It. (Walking, Not Sevilla.)

We’re in Cordoba now, having spent three nights in Sevilla, during which I was too tired to post anything.

I slept quite late the first full day, which was a Sunday, so there wan’t much open in any case. We walked around, took some pictures, got rained on, had some tapas and tried to get oriented.

One of Sevilla's tiny streets in the old Jewish Quarter

One of Sevilla’s tiny streets in the old Jewish Quarter

We actually didn’t do much in Seville except for walk. Our hotel was reasonably near the Alcazar and the cathedral–but we never made it inside the cathedral. We spent a lot of time walking through the narrow, winding streets of the old Jewish Quarter (pre-expulsion). The houses are four stories high, and in some places I could almost touch the houses to either side of the street with outstretched arms. Cars can access some (but not all) of these cobbled streets, and when a car came along, we stepped into a doorway or onto the narrow sidewalk, if there was one. In addition to negotiating the Medieval and Renaissance walking surfaces, we had to keep a sharp eye (and nose) out for horse and dog poop. There are a lot of horses and lovely carriages in the old city that tourists can hire for merely exorbitant prices.

While walking, we passed by an interesting-looking restaurant, Sagardi. It had a small foyer for tapas, and a restaurant in a large, enclosed atrium. We checked out the menu and decided to come back when we were hungry. We had dinner there, and it was every bit as wonderful as we had hoped. We vowed to return for tapas another time.

Atrium roof, Sagardi restuarant

Atrium roof, Sagardi restuarant

Magnificent old tree in central Sevilla

Magnificent old tree in central Sevilla

The hotel we stayed in, La Casa de Maestro Boutique, was an old house on one of the non-car-accessible streets, but we did get a parking spot nearby. The hotel has oodles of charm, but the room was small and the shower miniscule. Once in the shower, if I dropped my shampoo (inevitable, as there was very little place to put anything), it was nearly impossible to pick it up. However, the room was clean and the bed was comfortable, and that counts for a lot.

Driving in this part of Seville is madness for a tourist, so we walked to the Alcazar the second morning. Flamenco is very big in Sevilla, and there are stores selling very high-quality Flamenco-related goods such as fans, silk shawls, dresses, castenets, etc. (You can also get el cheapo versions of these in gift stores). My sister wanted a Spanish shawl, so I went into one of these upscale stores to find one. While there, I saw the most gorgeous shawl I have ever seen in my entire life, or hope to. I have extremely good (read “expensive”) tastes: it was the equivalent of $1500 US. It was love at first sight, but it will have to be a long-distance relationship.

Lusting in my heart for this shawl. Wouldn't this be a lovely Christmas present for me? I thought so, too.

Lusting in my heart for this shawl. All hand-embroidered in silk. Wouldn’t this be a lovely Christmas present for me? I thought so, too.

The Alcazar of Seville was build by King Pedro the Just or Pedro the Cruel, depending on whether you were one of the people (the Just) or an aristo or member of the clergy (the Cruel). Pedro really liked the Moorish style or architecture and ornamentation, and used it throughout his palace. It is fronted by a 12th-century gate, very rustic and antique-looking, considering the elegance lying just beyond. You walk into a vast plaza, flanked on three sides by different buildings. One is Pedro’s palace, one was the house of someone else important–the mayor of Seville?–done in a more traditional Spanish style, and one is another wing of the palace built by a later monarch who very much disapproved of Pedro’s taste in architecture, because it is a thoroughly Italianate Renaissance building. So it’s a rather odd mishmash. Pedro’s palace is rich in lacy Moorish stonework (even bearing the name of Allah in this most Christian palace), brilliant tile work, Moorish arches, carved, painted and gilded ceilings, and fountains. One room, the Ambassadors Hall, is completely tiled up to the ceiling, three stories up.

The Alcazar, showing Pedro's palace to the left, and the important person's house to the right.

The Alcazar, showing Pedro’s palace to the left, and the important person’s house to the right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ceiling of the Ambassadors Hall, the Alcazar Seville

Ceiling of the Ambassadors Hall, the Alcazar Seville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hall of Ambassadors, Alcazar, Seville

The Alcazar is the residence of Spain’s current king and queen when in Sevilla, but we had an impression that they don’t stay here much. Hard to imagine they would want to stay at a place that is overrun with tourists all the time. We bought tickets for the private royal chambers, which are upstairs, but I’d be willing to bet they have other, much more private chambers there for their actual use. These rooms reminded me of other palaces in other places, with many oil paintings of ladies in voluminous dresses and men in tight white pants, crystal chandeliers, gilded clocks, etc., etc.

Reflecting pool, the Alcazar

Reflecting pool, the Alcazar

There are many lovely courtyards, reflecting pools and fountains throughout the palace, and the whole is surrounded by yet more gardens. It’s a gorgeous place, but I have to admit I was not as thrilled as I should have been because my feet hurt. A lot. I disappointed myself in my unwillingness to do more exploring, but there we have it. We found the cafeteria and had some wine and split a sandwich, then left. We found a horse and carriage next to the cathedral and got a ride back to the hotel, which I thoroughly enjoyed, largely because I wasn’t walking, but I do enjoy the clip-clop of horses and yes, the way they smell.

Gorgeous antique fan on display at the Alcazar

Gorgeous antique fan on display at the Alcazar

Later, we walked to Sagardi for tapas and wine. The tapas were delicious, but we decided to find another tapas place–it’s what people do in Sevilla. While wending our way through the tiny streets trying to find another tapas bar (a specific one; there were plenty of tapas bars. It made me wonder if anyone cooks at home in Sevilla.), I realized I had a blister. A quick trip to the pharmacy solved that problem, and we eventually found our tapas place, situated on a plaza across from City Hall. We had more excellent tapas, but by this time, we were both full. We did stop on the way back to the hotel for small ice creams, but this hardly counts. I feel like we should have gone to the cathedral–it’s the largest in Spain (that means very, very large)–but couldn’t work up enough enthusiasm.

Then it was early (for Spain) to bed, with Cordoba awaiting the next day. I mean, after we pick up our laundry, that is.