Christmas in Seville: Day 2 – The Alcazar

So today is the day that we were going to discover the Real Alcazar aka the reason behind Seville being on my radar as a place that I really had to visit. Now that I am here, I have to say that I am really loving most of what I have seen so far. This may be coloured by the gorgeous Christmas lights, but that’s by the by.

A trip to the Alcazar demands a good breakfast and the one that we had La Cacharreria really helped to set us up. One large toast with Serrano ham, one with old cheese and a mug of vanilla rooibos tea. Truly a delicious breakfast and so reasonably priced, little wonder that this place was completely packed by the time we left.

List item: Visit 100 of the Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travelist
Progress: 94/100Sight: Real Alcázar
Location: Seville, Spain
Position: #235

Filled it was time to venture to the Alcazar, which was even more extraordinary than I had imagined. Given its position on the Lonely Planet list, the mind boggles at how much more extraordinary the Alhambra would be. That’s a trip for another time though, so let’s focus on the Alcazar.

In total we spent about four hours here, it could have easily been longer but limited time and all that. The majority of the time being spent navigating the many rooms of this royal palace. The way that the tour and audioguide is organised is clever because you could easily end up in the most impressive rooms straight away and everything else would slightly pale in comparison.

That isn’t to say that these earlier rooms aren’t beautiful to look at, because they are. The Hunters’ Courtyard featuring the front facade of the main building is a gorgeous piece of architecture unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s just that beyond that door lies the The Maidens’ Courtyard and that’s where suddenly you need to adjust your expectations.

The Maidens’ Courtyard is stunning and, like a lot in the Alcazar, there’s no real way that you are able to get it onto camera. So much of what makes it the landmark it is is the general feeling as you are surrounded by such grand pieces of fusion architecture. It’s hard to imagine what it would have been a foreign dignitary waiting there for an audience with the king, but it probably did the job of intimidating a lot of them.

The other massively impressive room in the Alcazar is the Ambassadors’ Hall, which also has the nickname of the ‘half orange’ room because of the ceiling. The ceiling alone is enough to make this room worthy of note – this massive dome with gold and star features is an absolute stunner. The rest of the room, with its portraits of past Spanish kings, tile-work and gorgeous archways is no slouch either, but it’s everything together that make it noteworthy.

Once we’d finished with the main buildings it was already over two hours in, which meant time for coffee and sweets at the really reasonably priced cafe. I mean, what cafe in a major attraction does a 2 for 1 on their donuts? This one apparently, so we were there with lemon cream custard donuts looking at the gardens and dodging the many peahens who were using the cafe as a thoroughfare.

Not to be outdone, the gardens of the Alcazar are also very beautiful and expansive. To get some of the best views of these, you have to go up the Grotto walkway which gives you a high up view of most of the grounds directly next to the palace. The styles of the gardens vary widely with some taking on Italian, French or even English influence. They all fit well together with meticulously maintained grounds, although the English garden does feel rather sparse in comparison.

As with the rest of Seville, some of the stars of this garden were the various citrus trees. Also, the smell that you get when you have rows of citrus trees intermingled with a number of other species. When in the gardens it’s worth tracking down the hydraulic organ and try to be there for when it’s actually performing. We managed to come across it when it was playing and later saw that this is one of only four in the world, so is worth finding.

Truly I could spend a long time talking about the Alcazar. It’s why I came here to Seville and it’s going to be the way I try to sell this to other people when talking about places to visit.
When we left it was about 2:30, so we really wanted a late lunch. Specifically one of the really gorgeous looking ham sandwiches that we kept seeing on our way to the a
Alcazar. Could we find one when we wanted one? Hell no, it took us 40 minutes to track one down. Pretty damned gorgeous though and this search ended up being a mixed blessing.

Turned out that Seville Cathedral was closing their doors to visitors two hours early today – so it saved us from the aggravation of a visit cut short. Guess we’ll have to cross our fingers for Monday that we’re able to get in before having to leave for the airport.

As a last minute replacement activity we swapped something scheduled for another day by visiting Casa de Pilatos. Where the Alcazar was a peak example of a Spanish royal residence, this is the same but for dukes. This is still technically a residence for the Dukes of Medinaceli, but the current holder currently resides in Madrid. The price for access is about the same as the Alcazar, so feels a little bit steep but it’s a really interesting house to visit.

We probably spent longer than expected here as the audioguide was incredibly verbose. The flip-side of that is that it forced us to look at each room in detail in order to kill time. So, ironically, we got more out of this visit because of the overly long guide. During this visit there are two big highlights and one strange curiosity to be found. First there is the main courtyard, which feels like a more attainable version of the Alcazar’s Maidens’ Courtyard. Just instead of needing millions to copy it, you’d need a few hundred thousand.

The other big highlight is the tiled stairway to the upper level , which we didn’t visit as the accompanying tour doesn’t operate on any sort of schedule in the off season. It was still worth a visit up the stairway because of the beautiful honeycomb domed ceiling and the extensive vibrant tile-work. This brings me to the curiosity, of a portrait of a topless bearded woman with a baby and her husband in the background looking on, as the guide said, with “resigned bitterness”.

We had a bit of an explore of the surrounding Santa Cruz before heading back to the hotel for a rest. En route we found a place with a queue and gigantic churros with chocolate sauce. We shared this box between the three of us as it was massive – God knows how some of these small children were able to have a whole box to themselves. Hot, fluffy and delicious.

By the time we left the hotel again, it was dark and the streets were filled with thousands of people. As the Christmas markets here have been, to be blunt, disappointing we paid a visit to the largest El Corte Ingles I found nearby to check out their Christmas stuff. I was amazed at how much I wanted and left with a new star for the tree and some new tree ornaments. There was a statue of a carol singing elephant that I liked, but we’re drastically running out of room in the flat as it is.

We walked around admiring the lights and visited another Christmas market – which was a bit like the first one we saw yesterday before venturing back to the nativity market near the cathedral where we caught a rather strange procession of bored looking bugle players and some overly zealous drummers. Never did find out who they were, but it was too weird a thing to not document.

Dinner was at a place a few streets away where, after sharing a nice plate of calamari, we all had various cuts of pork grilled medium rare to the point where it was melt in the mouth and utterly delicious. I opted for the presa, mainly because I hadn’t heard of it, and was wowed by the flavour and the tenderness. Definitely something I would want to try again when I am back in Spain.

Then it was a quick hello to the amazing angel lights before heading back to the hotel via a bakery where we bought some cookies for dessert. Tomorrow will be a day where we learn more about the history of Seville by visiting the archaeological museum and by venturing over the bridge into Triana. For now though, it’s late and time to rest after another long day with plenty of walking.

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