Thursday, January 28, 2010

Cadiz, Madrid, Manitoba

Jill and I spent almost 3 days in Cadiz. When we arrived on day one we walked the coastal route. Cadiz city is a peninsula so is almost completely surrounded by water. As it was a major trading port and where many ships set sail, jealouse nations attempted to plunder it several times. This means that today visitors can walk the rampart route around the town where lookout towers and heavy stone walls would protect against invaders. The old town is the most densely populated city in Spain. Streets so narrow that it's a wonder any car can fit down them. A maze of pedestrianized streets. And dozens of squares where people who live in the apartments around come to walk their dogs, sit on park benches, eat, drink, chat, children play in the squares and the streets. Elderly people walk by holding arms while walking little dogs that the kids in the street stop to pet. When you get rid of big houses, back yards and 2 car garages, it's amazing the kind of community that you get in return. I can't imagine anyone feeling lonely in this city. Solitude would be found in people's homes, behind closed shutters and in rooms off of the main squares. But community is found on every street, in every square, and every cafe nearby,.

Our second day in Cadiz was bright and sunny so we took advantage to take the ferry (one euro) over to a little town across the bay called El Puerto de Santa Maria. This is one of the main towns in what is called the "Sherry triangle". Like Parma ham and Champagne, Sherry wines can only be called such if they are aged within the specific Sherry triangle. An area between Jerez de la frontera, El Puerto de Santa Maria and SanlĂșcar de Barrameda. The white grapes grown for the sherry can be grown outside of this area, but for the fortified wine to be called Sherry, it must be made (pressed and aged) within this area. Apparently it's the proximity of the sea while aging the sherry in oak barrels that gives it a particular taste.

So off Jill and I went on a tour of a Sherry bodega in town. There, our lovely guide gave us a splendid tour in English where we learned everything that we ever wanted to know about sherry. Sherry is made from white wine mixes with distilled grape liquor, thus is a fortified wine. Sherry is aged in barrels that are stacked no less than 3 high. As aged sherry is removed from the bottom row for bottling and sale, the more mature sherry from the middle row is used to refill the bottom row, and then the top less mature sherry from the top row is used to refill what was taken out of the middle row. Fresh unaged fortified wine is added to the top to make up the volume difference and then the workers at the bodega wait for the sherry to age before starting the process all over again. This is why bottle of sherry never have a year written on them. As only 20% of a barrel is emptied at a time, it is the sherries of many different years that mix in final barrel before bottling, making the dating of the wine impossible.
There are different kinds of Sherry, from a dry fino (yuck) to the very sweet pedro ximinez which is distilled from dried grapes, nearly of raisin consistency making it a syrupy sweet drink with prune and fig tastes. Not to my liking but the tour was facinating. We spent the rest of the day wandering around the town before taking the ferry back to Cadiz and having supper at our favourite restaurant. The translation of the restaurant's name would be "The fat lady makes you eat" and Jill and I obsessed over it. A wide variety of tapas for 2 euros each, with portions meaning that 2-3 tapas made a good meal. We were in heaven as we could finally taste a wide variety of Spanish dishes without the big fear of ordering brains by mistake. We basically ate there for every meal while we were in Cadiz.
Good thing that we had taken advantage of the great weather for our boat ride as our last day in Cadiz was pelting rain all day long. We still braved the weather and headed out to see the local Saturday market (very cool), and visit the crumbling cathedral, and its open air bell tower (great views of the town, and an excavated roman site. As the weather was not supposed to take a turn for the better we decided to book out of town on Sunday, on to Madrid.

I'm usually not a fan of big cities. When traveling I hate to admit it, but I often give most large cities a miss or a measly 1-2 days on my way into or out of a country. Madrid made me rethink my opinion of big cities. With 4 million people (6 if you count the outlying towns) Madrid is buzzing. It had a cheap, efficient and coprehensible metro system. Its downtown is walkable. Old buildings abound and are cherished but are lived in, used as apartments, restaurants, grocery stores. The city has spent a lot of money subsidizing tours meaning that Jill and I got 2 awesome historical guided tours(2 hours each) of the downtown with highly trained historians for the grand price of 3.5 euros each. The prado museum is free after 6 pm. There is a police presence that is heavy enough to be comforting,(you could ask them directions) but not so heavy as to be worrying. The food was affordable and delicious, there are over a hundred squares in the city where residents hang out, AND the 2 main parks take up almost one THOUSAND acres of prime real estate. Meaning that everyone has the opportunity to enjoy some greenspace in a densely populated city. Very cool, very livable, very friendly.

In our time there Jill and I took 2 walking tours, went to the prado museum, another fine arts museum whose name I forget, wandered the streets, went through the royal palace, visited the squares, rode around on a tourist bus snapping photos of the amazing buildings, and generally had a bang up time.

On to our 19 hours of travel back to Manitoba, and now here I am. With one week at home before Marc and I head off to South America. And all I have to do in that time is meet with 3 people, do my January month end, do my year end, get my photos on a disk to send to Monica, stop my mail, take the insurance of my car, pack the cats off to the sitters, contact some may be a busy week home. Stay tuned for Chile and Argentina in about 10 days!

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