The Alcazar and Barrio Santa Cruz

CollageCredits:  Template by J Sprague Photo collage; Paper by Scrapmuss Designs

After a night of soulful music and dancing, elated from the cultural assimilation, we were back on the street the next day for more. The Santa Cruz district, also known as Barrio Santa Cruz, the old Jewish quarters, is just a hop away from our hostel.

Best known for its small plazas—Plaza de Santa Cruz, Plaza de los Venerables,

plaza-alianzaPlaza Alianza
plaza dona elviraPlaza Dona Elvira

Plaza Alianza, Plaza de Dona Elvira among others—hidden around the lively labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys awash with shops not only of touristy souvenirs

shopSangre Espanola–burnt my MC here.

and bars indulged too by locals,

bars

it is a natural gathering of visitors and the community alike. Picturesque lime-washed houses added to its charm.

And in this district stands 3 UNESCO World Heritage sites:

cathedral-from-triunfoThe Cathedral from Plaza del Triunfo

the Cathedral and its Giralda, the Archivo de Indias (which we failed to enter), and the Alcazar.

On the southeast side of the Plaza del Triunfo stands the Real Alcazar, supposedly the oldest European palace still in use.

alcazr-from-triunfoThe Alcazar from Plaza del Triunfo

Walking through the Alcazar is like walking through the history of Seville.

alcazar-collage

Art and architecture designs throughout the palace are marked by the diversity of cultures starting in Moorish times to the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, Baroque, and the XIX century.

Before it became the royal palace of Christian Kings, it was once a Moorish fortress. Today, it is still used as a part-time residence of the Spanish royal family, although only a few rooms are closed to the public.

alcazar-2

Built by Moorish architecture, the structure standing today still has details of a medieval fortress.

gardens

The gardens are outstanding, but I say that the picturesque Patio de las Doncellas, the Ambassador’s Hall,

patio-de-los-doncellas-2

patio-de-las-doncellas

patio-de-los-doncellas-3

with its tranquil pond that reflects the Mudejar plasterwork will transport you to another time. The intricate carvings and mosaic will leave you in awe.

The castle is huge, which took up half of our day. All the walking left us craving for tapas. And my notes tell me that Bodega Santa Cruz is the place to be when in the area.

bodega-santa-cruz

The bar wasn’t swarming with people yet, as it was only half past 11, so we easily found a table at the corner, in plain view of our bartender who wrote our orders down in chalk.

Bodega-sta.-cruz-dishesLeft to right: pringa, berenjenas con miel (fried aubergines with honey and salt), lomo chipiona

One by one, he calls out our orders, pringa, lomo chipiona, alitas de pollo, berenjenas con miel… all good that left us gratified.

And after wandering through the barrio, we were back for more tapas, al fresco this time.

Cafe-Alianza

We settled for Café Alianza at the plaza of the same name.

Restaurant-Alianza

Satisfying early dinner in a lovely square, a great way to cap the day.

Useful Info:

Bodega Sta. Cruz
Calle Rodrigo Caro, 1A
+35 954 21 32 46
 
Café Restaurante Alianza
Calle de Rodrigo Caro, 9
+34 954 21 76 35
 
Royal Alcazar of Seville
Patio de Banderas
+34 954 50 23 24
 
Sangre Española
Calle Santa Teresa, 4
+34 954 22 72 26
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Matsumoto

I peered from the balcony of our room, amused by the change of yesterday’s warm hues of autumn.

snow-frm-balcony

Today, I wake up to the white of winter.

Our agenda for the day was to spend it in the castle town of Matsumoto.

snow-on-the-road

The scenery from the bus, now covered with snow, looked different from yesterday.  Then we entered the tunnel and just like that, we were transported back to autumn – quite magical, really.

scenery-enroute

For a moment, I thought I walked into the wardrobe like the characters of the high fantasy novel by C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia.  The wonders of this world continue to amaze me.

The ride from Hirayu to Matsumoto was a gorgeous one-hour journey.  Compared to Takayama and Hirayu, Matsumoto’s bigger roads and taller buildings exude a much modern feel despite having one of Japan’s premier historic castles in its midst.

cityscape

That and the Japanese Alps are the main pulls of the town.

matsumoto-castle-moat

The Matsumoto-jo or Matsumoto Castle, as it is simply known, is one of the most complete and beautiful among Japan’s original castles.

matsumoto-black-walls

The 400-year old castle earned the nickname Karasu-jo, the Crow Castle from its striking black lacquered walls

roof

and its roof that resembles wings spread out, boldly standing out against the magnificent backdrop of the Japanese Alps.

view-from-the-topA view of the perimeter of the city from the 5th floor — the strategic office.

The lofty 98-foot structure can be seen from almost anywhere in the central city which makes it easy to find.

Unlike many of the Japanese castles, which is either built on hills or near a river, Matsumoto was built on a plain.  The extraordinarily high strong stonewall, interlinking walls, gatehouses,

view-of-the-moat-from-the-top

and the moat form an extensive system of defense given the lack of natural defenses the castle was built on.  A fascinating design of the castle, which could have been a strategy to keep the floor safe from the enemies, is a floor hidden from the outside.

matsumoto-from-grounds

The 3rd floor has no windows and sometimes called the “dark floor”.  Another feature that could have “defense” in mind is the steep incline and the high rises of the stairs.  This prevents from climbing fast.  In fact, slippery wooden floorboards and socks (as we had to walk around carrying our shoes in a plastic bag) makes for a terrifying climb on those stairs.

Listed as a National Treasure, this well-preserved castle is a good example of a hirajiro, and many of it is still as it was – the moat, the gate, the various bailey and the sub floors minus, however, the furniture and furnishings.  The tenchu or the keep though holds an armory and weapons museum.

It was a nice (warmer) day well spent exploring a well-preserved castle that provided a glimpse of how it was like during Japan’s feudal past,

cityscape-3

walking the streets of this modest size city showcasing a cozy corner of suburban affluence surrounded by mountains,

sushi

and sampling excellent sushi in between.

snow

And through the same tunnel to Hirayu, we found ourselves back in winter.

Useful Info

Matsumoto Castle
4-1 Marunouchi, Matsumoto City
Opening hours:  8:30-17:00 (entrance closes at 16:30)
Fee:  Adults ¥600; Children: ¥300
* It is a 5 minute bus ride or a 15 minutes walk from the Matsumoto Station