Friday morning, May 25th and we are headed to Cadiz, situated along the south west coast of Spain. Cadiz is thought by some to be the oldest continuously inhabited settlement in Europe, founded in 1100 BC by the Phoenicians who called it Gadir (means walled city) and traded Baltic amber and British tin, as well as Spanish silver. The city subsequently became a naval base for the Romans before fading into obscurity until 1262 when it was taken from the Muslims by Christians. It is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and is united to the rest of the Peninsula by a narrow isthmus.
The real boom period was with the discovery of America as Columbus sailed from this port on this second and fourth voyages. Much later the city experienced a golden age during the 18th century when it enjoyed 75% of the Spanish trade with America. It then grew into one of the wealthiest and most cosmopolitan cities in Spain which is reflected in the city’s fine buildings from this era.
As of 2017, the population of Cadiz stood at 118,000 and is at 11 meters above sea level (36 feet). It is said that Cadiz has one of the highest unemployment rates in Spain and young people continue to move to larger centres to find work. The main economy is tourism.
Our drive from Cordoba took about 3 hours. Rolling hills then valleys seeing wheat (?) crops, potato fields, some sunflower fields and lots of fruit trees. Not as many olive trees as in previous areas. Saw our first vines. Must say they eat a lot of potatoes here, so now all the potato fields make sense. As we approached Cadiz, we spot the bridge that we will be going over, Puente de la Constitucion de 1812. I read that the bridge cost a half billion Euro’s and took eight years to build (twice the budget and five years late). It links Cadiz to the port of Puerto Real and is said to be one of the tallest in the world.
The old town of Cadiz is made up of four barrios. The Bario del Populo (cathedral area and original medieval settlement), Barrio de Santa Maria (the old Roman and flamenco quarter), Barrio de la Vina (a former vineyard that is now the fishing quarter) and Barrio del Mentidero (rumour street!). We arrived at our hotel in the old quarter around 1:30pm and the hotel shows us the parking garage, just across the alley. Relatively easy to get into, and as I said previously, would certainly not like a big car here in Spain.
Once again, we spend our first afternoon getting familiar with the surrounding neighbourhood. The hotel staff here are very friendly and they take the time to go over a map of the old town, local points of interest and recommendation for tapas and dinner. It takes about 20 minutes to walk from one side of the old town to the other. The map we are given shows various walks one can take (colour coded) and the streets themselves, that are part of the walk, have a coloured line corresponding to the map. There is an small artisan fair taking place in the square Plaza de San Juan de Dios, in front of the city hall (Ayutamiento) so we take this on before walking towards the sea wall. We wind our way through the narrow streets and find ourselves in front of the cathedral. More walking and finally back to the hotel for a siesta.
These siestas are becoming habit forming……quite lovely actually. We decide to go out to the roof top terrace of our hotel to enjoy a glass of wine before venturing out for dinner. The terrace is private for guests only and one has to bring your own wine. A lovely quiet spot and we join an Australian couple who are travelling through southern Spain by train. Great hearing stories and sharing information with other travellers.
Off to dinner at a seafood restaurant, the Alamar, recommended by the hotel. I must say you can’t go wrong on the recommendations of the hotels or landlords, better than trip advisor in a lot of cases as they tell you about the local restaurants and not just the tourist places. Outside the restaurant is a viewing case of the fresh fish they are offering today. All the fish is fresh and is bought each morning from the fish market. As in the rest of Andalucia, we are served a tapa on the house, Boquerones fritos, fried sardines with salt. You eat these whole, including the head! We then share an appetizer Pulpo a la Gallega con aceite do Oliva sasl y pimento picante (Galicean octopus with olive oil, salt and spicy paprika), I opt for the Atun (red tuna which is a local specialty and in season) and Robin has Corvina (sea bass).
Saturday, May 26th and we are once again doing a walking tour of the city of Cadiz. Our guide today is Pablo and is very informative and has a good sense of humour. We meet at the City Hall and he explains the history of Cadiz and I will add to my previous comments. He points out the three flags flying on City hall. The flag of Spain, the flag of Andalucia and finally the flag for the city of Cadiz. Both the flags of Andalucia and Cadiz portray Hercules standing between two columns. Our guide tells us that according to Greek mythology, Hercules created Cadiz after splitting the the two continents of Europe and Africa and the two pillars represents the continents.
We continue and stop to look at some ancient walls, Roman ruins, along the way that are built with oyster stone from the ocean. Pablo tells us that this stone is characteristic of Cadiz, but today, not obtained from the ocean, it is manufactured. Many buildings are built using this stone. They also found remnants of Garum sauce, a condiment made of fermented fish guts which was used in ancient Greece.
Pablo points out a restaurant/bar through an arch and tells us that this bar dates back to ancient times. It is called Cafe Teatro Pay Pay. It was said to have been a brothel where sailors would frequent after long voyages at sea.
We are now by the sea wall and we can see “new Cadiz”, the locals call is Puento Terra. Pablo tells us that the weather has been cooler than normal and this winter they had extremely strong winds and high tides and some of the streets in the new town were under water. Two thirds of Cadiz residents live in the new town. Not sure if you will recall, but I mentioned that Cadiz is a city as well as a province. Pablo says that if you ask someone in Andalucia where they live, they will say Cadiz (the Province) then the name of their town. So if you happen to live in the city of Cadiz, one would say…..Cadiz, Cadiz. He tells us that the people of the old town take it one step further they say they are from. Cadiz, Cadiz, Cadiz! They also call the residents of the new city, Bedouins or Nomads as they are not part of the old city. Pablo says that the people of Cadiz have a “different” sense of humour.
The seawalls around the old town are said to be reminiscent of Havana, but since we haven’t been there, can’t comment. But what I have seen in pictures I think this is correct. A lot of the houses surrounding the sea wall are brightly coloured. There are two stories surrounding the colourful houses. One is that they are painted brightly so that the sailors coming home would be drawn to the houses and not the brothel Pay Pay! The other is that the wives changed the colour of the houses as they didn’t want their husbands back!
Onto the Roman theatre which was only recently discovered and has been preserved. Still more work to be done, but for the time being the government has run out of money for this project. This theatre dates back to 43 BC and is said to be the second biggest in Spain.
We are now on the back side of the Cathedral along the sea wall and we are looking at the Parroquia de Santa Cruz, which used to be the Cathedral, till the new one was built. One can see the top of the building has domes that are definitely Moorish so this tells us that this building was previously a mosque. The inside is quite lovely, the altar area has beautiful woodwork and Pablo tells us to look closely at the statue of Christ in one of the side chapel’s. This statue represents Christ with brown skin and the statue has a wig. This isn’t the first time we have seen it and many believe this may be more representative of what Jesus Christ truly looked like.
Must mention that I asked Pablo about a Jewish community and he said that none existed in Cadiz.
In Plaza San Martin we come across the “Admiral’s house” which was one of the first palatial homes in Cadiz. Unfortunately it has fallen into ruins, but Pablo believes that it has been purchased and will be converted to a hotel. On one of the corners we see the remains of an ancient cannon on the corner of a wall. These cannons are imbedded in corners all over the old city and they are there to preserve the buildings so that cars, carts and motorcycles do not hit the corners of the buildings. Apparently the cannons were left here by the French army around the time of the Battle of Trafalgar.
Pablo talks a little about the weather. He tells us that they have had a late spring and very strong winds this past winter. He says they can be bitterly cold as it is also very damp. The winds are called “Levante” and comes from the straits of Gibraltar and are also present in the summer. Sounds like everywhere around the world, weather patterns are changing.
Today in this area there are numerous salt farms and is one of the products that is exported. In ancient times, salt was used as a currency and it is believed this is where the term “salary” comes from.
When we visited the Cadiz museum with the theatre ruins, Pablo showed us an inscription on the bottom of one of the ancient stones. It is propped up and a mirror is placed below so one can see the inscription at the bottom. The inscription refers to the fact that the “rich patrons” of the theatre that sat on these seats, were indeed robbers/embezzlers.
Pablo thought this was quite relevant considering the fact that several Spanish bankers were just found guilty of embezzlement. The case caused an outrage in Spain, where it was uncovered at the height of a severe economic crisis that left many people struggling financially – made all the worse because Bankia later had to be nationalized.
We then walk to a small alley, which is now locked off. The El Callejón del Duende is a curved street, like almost all the streets of Cádiz, which were made to fight the wind. Duende means “quality of passion and inspiration or spirit” and the term is often used when one refers to flamenco.
One of the stories of this street, is that pirates would come here to make illegal transactions. Another legend tells us that during the Napoleonic invasion a French captain fell madly in love with a beautiful woman from Cádiz. The couple would sneak into the alley to make love, but they were discovered. The captain was killed and she died of grief … and they say that … the night of the dead, every November 1, the lovers are seen hugging in the alley. Today there is a small gnome in the alley with a small pail. People throw coins into the pail for their wishes to come true. I think someone has come up with this. I say….”start a legend….make money!”.
We then stop by the Catedral de Cadiz. Just viewed the outside, but we will come back later to view the inside. The outside of the cathedral is made of two different stones. Marble at the bottom and limestone at the top. It took 122 years to be built as they kept running out of money. Both baroque and neo-classical styles due to the time frames involved. Our guide tells us that you can climb the bell tower; but he warns us to be very careful as the bells chime every 15 minutes and can be ear shattering if you happen to be at the top when they ring. Took the picture of the interior when we visited the next day.
A few blocks from the cathedral is Plaza de Flores. At one end of the square is the beautiful main Correos (post office). Pablo points out one of the buildings in the square which has a few windows bricked in. We have seen this in other European cities. The towns used to apply a tax which was based on the number of windows. People would brick up the windows to save on taxes. Pablo tells us that the historical society here in Cadiz will not let owners of these properties open up these areas as they are classified as a historical feature, so some of these homes are quite dark. Pictured below is the Correos (post office).
Pablo points out the Flores Taberna and says it is a must for tapas. Filled with locals as is not very fancy.
Most of the apartment blocks in the old town are 4 to 5 stories high. The highest floor have lower ceilings than the remainder of the floors. We are told that in ancient times, the highest floors were reserved for the servants, these were also the hottest rooms in the summer and the coolest in the winter!
Around the block from this square is the Mercado Central. This place is so busy with both locals and tourists. It is mainly a fish market with hundreds of stalls of fish mongers and all types of fish, some very different than we have ever seen. A few vegetable vendors along the perimeter of the building. On the outer area of the market are all eating stalls and people will order food and drinks from various vendors and all stand all high tables around the perimeter, quite unique. We are told to try the local cheese made out of goat’s milk, will certainly have to give this a try at a tapas bar.
Pablo points out some towers that are built on top the top of some of the apartment buildings and houses. He tells us that there is a total of 127 towers remaining in the town. These towers were built by merchants so that they could see when the sailing ships were coming into port and get ready for trade.
We head to the Barrio de la Vina. This area is where the local Carnival takes place which happens just before Easter every year. Similar to what we were told in Malaga. Local “brotherhoods” carry around the sacred statues and after their processions are over, the party starts. He says people get dressed up for the occasion and if you know where to go, you can party till five o’clock in the morning. The party goes on for one week. He did tell us that some go on to party for a second week and they refer to them as “Carnivalists”, suppose that is something like a “party animal”!
Centuries ago there was a massive earthquake in Portugal and the effects were felt even here in Cadiz. They actually experienced a Tsunami and the water level reached 2.50 meters (8 feet) and there is a marker on one of the buildings. I did a little reading on this. The tsunami took place in 1755 and the article went on to predict that another large earthquake and tsunami will definitely happen in Spain/Portugal……hopefully that will not happen any time soon!
Pablo stops in front of a taberna which is not yet open. He gives us a list of his favourites eating places and bars. He tells us that if we are unsure about an establishment, to enter and go near the kitchen. If it smells like old fish or old oil to go somewhere else.
We end our tour at Caleta Beach. A beautiful beach with two fortresses, Castillo de San Sebastian and Castillo Carolina. We will try to come back to this area. We are told that you used to be able to walk out to San Sebastian for some great views of the city, but due to winter storms, part of the walkway out to the fortress was washed away. The city is presently repairing it.
The Havana scenes of the James Bond movie “Die Another Day” were filmed in Cádiz. He said the most famous scene was that of Halle Berry (Jinx) walking out of the water. All the men on the tour say they remember this well! Several other locations in Cadiz were also used for this film due to the sea wall and fortresses being similar to Havana.
Another great walking tour and must say, this one was more intimate. Their was only eight of us, so got to know people in the group.
We check out a taberna that Pablo had told us about; but it is jam packed with locals and tourists. No tables available and one couldn’t even get near the bar, decided to pass.
Robin and go in search of some place to eat lunch and head back to the Barrio de Vina. Pablo had told us that this barrio was the place to eat as prices were more reasonable and more locals ate here. We are offered fresh fish once again. The waiter comes out with a tray of various fresh fish and each has a different price depending on what you choose. At a seafood restaurant on our first night here, we were also given a choice of how many grams of fish we wanted. They will also cook it any way you want. They serve a lot of fried foods here, but we usually choose it grilled; much more to our preference.
You will see this picture of Robin below drinking tea……it is not always wine! Check out his new sunglasses, I think he looks pretty cool! He bought them in Granada.
I have come across a very refreshing non-alcoholic drink here in the south of Spain and it is called Aquarius. A bottled drink which is in essence watered down lemonade which I really like, not too sweet and not carbonated. It also comes in an orange flavour.
Stop by the Mercado again as we had seen some art by a local artist on the walls of the market. Love them all!
The main point of discussion this evening, as we are having a glass of wine on the hotel terrace, is where are we going to find a place to watch the Champions League Final. I google pubs, so we head out to find one. As we are leaving the hotel, we spot the tv in the lobby and Robin asks the hotel clerk if he would be able to watch the match when we got back. The lady said absolutely. Although she personally did not like football, she would call her kids and find out what channel it would be on, and she said she would see us later.
We find a local taberna, Los Flores, only about 5 minutes from the hotel. We had been told by both the hotel and our guide that this taberna was good. It is a local bar which serves basic food. We weren’t that hungry, so we shared a couple of tapas. Probably the best seafood salad we have had. The small tv was on in the bar, and local men there watching the match, it had just started. We head back to the hotel and Robin settles in to watch the rest of the match and soon a Spanish couple come along to watch as well. I work on my blog in the lobby while he is watching the game. A happy guy!
Sunday the 27th and we take things slow. Anyone who spends time in Europe will tell you that all towns and cities basically close down on Sundays. It is a day that locals spend with families. Long lunches, lots of walking, spending time in parks and along the beaches. Both Robin and I always admire the “family” aspect of European life. Many generations live together and help one another. They respect the elderly. Each night before dinner, they are out in force having an aperitif before their meal with the children playing alongside. Perhaps a good lesson to us to slow down and enjoy the small things in life!
We head to the Cathedral to view the interior. Not very spectacular, but time for some meditation and prayers. We then continue along the sea wall and make our way to Playa de la Caleta. Many families enjoying the sunshine, ocean and beach. We then continue onto the Parque Genoves, the Botanical Gardens. Beautiful trees and plants and some water features. A recently built structure appears to be half completed and has fallen into disrepair, possibly another scenario where the government has run out of funds. There is a bandstand and we wander over as we hear music. Appears to be a “Cadiz had talent” performance going on. Young children, teenagers and older adults playing the piano, drums, guitar, etc.
Continue our walk along the sea wall and back to our hotel. Lots of walking today, enjoying the quiet aspects of the city. Out for dinner tonight to a small unassuming bar/restaurant which was rated quite good on Trip Advisor. We both had fresh Dorado and the waiter went beyond expectations and even filleted our fish for us. These are the type of places that you would normally walk by, but glad we came.
Next destination – Grazalema