Go West! (part 2) Cádiz

The landscape of Western Andalucía is such a dramatic change to the central south with its arid landscape, even in winter. 
Having passed along the depressingly industrial and dingy strip of road that took us past the ports at La Linea and Algeciras, we made our way through rolling green hills with cattle grazing on the herbage that was salted not by Mediterranean winds but by those of the
Atlantic Ocean. Across the ridges of some of those hills strode the outposts of a vast army of wind turbines. As the land flattened out, and the light sands of Tarifa's coast beckoned, we drove an almost empty road (though in the summer I dread to think what the single lane road would be like behind a caravan of caravans) past campsites, ventas and battalions of turbines. I don't see these machines as a blight on the landscape but a necessary and actually quite memorising addition. They stood, in their hundreds, as if positioned for battle; as if a great hand was re-enacting Custer's last stand (you'd need the hills for that, I believe) or the Battle of Hastings on Tarifa's fields. Long-horned cattle grazed untroubled among these giants.

The map of Cádiz is deceptively large. At first glance I thought it would take about half an hour to walk from our hostal to the Cathedral and so headed off on a leisurely stroll in what I thought was the opposite direction only to end up emerging from a narrow street into a plaza, confronted by the Cathedral. Although the Cathedral is not the only church in the plaza it dominates with its Baroque façade. The €5 entrance fee seemed a little steep for a cathedral which, while large, is not full of outstanding works of art nor ornately decorative. However, the cost becomes a matter of little consequence once you've walked the 72 'ramps' up the bell tower.

The climb is thankfully not with steps but a slope which makes it easier on the knees of us who have entered middle-age. That is not to say that the climb did not leave me a little short of breath and that every other step wasn't accompanied by a grinding sound from my left knee. That aside, the view is spectacular. The arches of the bell-tower frame a panorama of the city across flat roof-tops and out to sea. Sadly, the day was not clear enough to glimpse sight of Africa, but it's there to be seen if you are lucky enough to get a haze-free day. With the setting of the sun we returned to the car, in Plaza de España, to feed the meter before setting out for dinner.

I've always said that getting lost is a good way to discover a city, and our wanderings took us first to the Plaza San Antonio and then onto Plaza Mentidero where, quite romantically for us, we sat by an up-lit fountain and dined on very generous tapas of gambas and pork. Our subsequent post-prandial walk was considerably longer than anticipated. Night had fallen and one street looked much like another, only differentiated by the style of Christmas illuminations. The trouble was I couldn't remember which style of lights hung in our calle. One hour later, after finally asking directions (remember it only took us 10 minutes to walk from one side to the other earlier in the day), we arrived back at the hostal. 

I like Cádiz, its streets and plazas, even the darker, dingier ones; only the lack of immediate countryside would prevent me from living here.

The night had either been wet or the streets had been cleaned during our hours of lying supine on our rock hard mattress; evidence was there in the form of puddles that had gathered in the uneven cobbles. Having fed the meter for the next half day we headed off for a walk along the perimeter. Starting at Plaza de España we climbed onto the sea walls, past the canon which had once defended the city, and onwards to the various castillos dotted along the walls. Coffee is a necessity even when tea-making facilities are available for early morning libations, when one has been denied even that basic pleasure then it is imperative that coffee is drunk before wandering too far. The cafe bar 'Primera de Comillas' provided a perfect ambience with marble-topped tables and wood-lined walls. Next to it was the Iglesia del Carmen which in turn stood opposite the Baluarte de Candalería, one of the battlements still standing though now it is used as an exhibition space. Neither were open.

Botanical gardens are one thing, a grotto with an empty duck pond inhabited by living ducks and plastic dinosaurs is another. But there it was, in a corner of the gardens, incongruous and ugly - nowhere is perfect.

The sea air of the Atlantic is far more bracing and, most likely, health beneficial than the Mediterranean Sea air. The smell of seaweed, the taste of salt - it was like being back in Britain. Walking along the causeway out to the Castillo San Sebastian is like something from
stories of the Knights of the Round Table - I could imagine riding my horse up to the castle gates with the sea spume rising around me as I delivered news of great import to the castle's commander. This is a place where you can let your imagination run wild.

By the way, they don't close the castillo for bad weather just meteorological inclemency.

The Castillo Santa Catalina didn't require a lengthy walk along a causeway, which was a shame really, but it is more complete and you can climb to the top of the walls to pretend you're looking for advancing enemy ships. As both of the castillos have free entrance it really isn't an issue that there is little to see except the actual architecture of the edifices. Sandwiched between the two castillos on the beach is the Royal Baths. This white stilted structure brought to mind Brighton - a mixture of pier and Royal Pavilion on a smaller scale. It is now part of the Junta de Andalucia's network of offices. 

The morning's exercise complete we returned to the hotel for a brief respite for ageing limbs and to take on board some fuel for the afternoon's jaunt. We had walked approximately 1/3 of the perimeter of the whole city and a quick dart through the centre would let us carry on from where we had earlier turned back. At this juncture I'll give you a low-down of our hotel/hostal/place (details below) where we rested out heads: it was brilliantly located on Calle San Francisco, it was clean, it was cheap, the room was flipping small! I'm just under 6 feet tall, another three inches of leg length and I would not have been able to get my knees under the basin in order to sit on the loo, and the shower had as much power as an engine-less car. However, as it was only for 2 nights and we only slept and showered there it sufficed.

Timing is everything. Having spent one of the most boring days of my life in Bratislava due to poor planning (everything was shut on Mondays in Bratislava in 2000), I make sure that galleries, churches, museums etc. are open before planning the trip. No Bratislavan issues here, everything was open as it should be. The Roman theatre's remains were partially viewable from the street, scattered as they were with snacking workers, and the adjoining centre which was full of information on the roles and structures of theatres in Roan times was also open and offered another view of the theatre's remains. However, that was all we could see of the theatre from behind a railing, behind a window or through a glass well in the floor. The helpful lady on reception informed us that in 2016 the theatre would be open for people to walk round the ruin itself and this was borne out a newspaper article I noticed stuck to a door of a derelict building round the corner, dated October 2015. The article was confident in pronouncing that the theatre would be available to the public three months hence, that would make it January - in theory. That meant a couple of weeks later and a more intimate experience with the ruins could have been enjoyed. Such is life! 

The roman theatre was not photo-worthy, scattered as it was with workmen.
Here's a pigeon on a statue instead.

I'd never seen a camera obscura before I went to Cádiz. I still haven't. The Torre Tavira is one of the city's watchtowers and at the top is the first camera obscura to have been installed in Spain; from there you can get a moving view of the surroundings at that time - like being inside a film.  Of course, our timing was out, the last viewing of the day was in half an hour's time, the viewing lasted 15 minutes, we had 40 minutes before we had to feed the meter again...there will be other chances to view one.

.Our last night in Cádiz was spent looking through a bottle of local red wine, Barbazaul, - well mine was anyway - across the bar at Balandro. We dined very well on Crujientes de queso, puerro y bacon con reducción de Pedro Ximenez, Flamenquín de lomo, aguacate y bacon con crema de cacahuete picante and Milanesa de Pollo Rellena de Salmón y Queso con Bechamel. This is a very popular place. People were queueing at 8pm when the doors opened to get a place at the bar, that's how popular it is. By the time we left at 9.30pm the bar was heaving, standing room only, with the restaurant doing a fairly good trade as well.

Cádiz is a lovely old city where statues dance off their podiums, with interesting and varied architecture and excellent local food and wine. What's not to like?


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  2. Great post about my city! :) I'm happy you enjoyed it there. Only one thing... It's Castillo de Santa Catalina (not Cristina) ;)


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