Cadiz, Andalucia, at the terminus of road and rail, is surrounded by the sea except for a narrow isthmus. It is reportedly the oldest continuous settlement in Europe and still very much alive. It’s a stunning city, where relics of centuries of buildings serve up a pot-purée of architectural styles: a Phoenician garden, a Roman amphitheatre, the first Christian church dressed to look like a mosque; an archeological carnival with countless wonders and much yet to be revealed including a monstrous suspension bridge under construction linking with the mainland but no one knows when it’s going to be complete. Mañana most likely or some future Christmas.
It’s all to do with location and trading, being at the right place at the right time.
I did something I’ve never done and took a free walking tour of the city. I learned a great deal in a short time but was disappointed the guide made no mention of 1806 and the naval battle at Trafalgar such is the wealth of history pouring out of this tiny city as a result of its location. Cadiz has come and gone many times over the centuries none more so than when Italian explorer Christopher Colon set off with the blessing of the King of Spain to open up the New World out across the ocean. Since the port of Seville was silting up, Cadiz took full advantage and as a result it boomed.
Church bells strike the hour, half and quarter but no- one seems in a hurry this Saturday morning. I’m off on an excursion on Wednesday to Las Pueblos Blancos at 08.30; I certainly won’t need an alarm clock.
An unattributable quote comes to mind:
‘Each letter of the alphabet is a steadfast loyal soldier in a great army of words, sentences, paragraphs and stories. One letter falls, and the entire language falters.’
Travel is about culture, about putting yourself at mercy, immersing yourself willingly in the unfamiliar sometimes with no means of escape. You learn from it; travel broadens the mind, mostly you dither at the edges of the cultural river, nibbling, your lifeline firmly attached to a familiar shore; as confidence grows you venture into deeper water.
At the splendidly ancient and colonnaded central market divided into all things from the sea down two central isles, butchery and pressed meats along a side, cheese along the other and fruit and veg on another, I selected a cheese stall and asked in my faltering Spanish for some goat cheese only to receive a stony silence, an incredulity. It turns out I was asking for some leather; el ceuro instead of el cueso. In spite of the obvious, with that slipped consonant we were at an impass and had to resort to pointing and wearing horns and stroking my goatee. The cueso was delicious and the next day I went for more with new confidence. As it often happens, another mixup occurred when from elsewhere I ordered a cow (vasa) instead of a glass (vaso) of orange juice with my breakfast…
Mistakes like this happen a lot (with me). How do foreign language students cope with our homonyms?
As I explore the wonders of this ancient city, narrow lanes opening into green courts and squares, divided into a dozen barrios or neighbourhoods, I practise in my head the subtleties of Spanish.This awkwardness makes me I feel as if I’ve dressed for the day with shirt buttons done up the wrong way; buttons not in corresponding button holes, others missing altogether. I’m uncomfortable as a result.
One day I’ll get all the buttons in the right place, but might find the shirt’s on the backwards.
Surprisingly there is very little English spoken in Cadiz.
Summer lasts until October/November. In September the city is full to its briny brim. Massive Cruise Liners slide silently in and out blocking views and cast long shadows. The rattle of wheeled cases echo in the narrow allies, caged canaries twitter in contest against chattering locals like a population speaking on mobile phones all at once. There’s plenty of room for all. In common with most popular places 80% occupy 20% of the place. There’s plenty of excellent en-suite accommodation at 30-40 euros and range is from five star to back-packing hostels. Don’t worry. The beaches are almost deserted and there’s lots to do, especially to eat. Tapas is ubiquitous, and fish especially tuna and cabellas (large sardines) are a speciality and fresh fruit is in abundance.
One significant advantage of Cadiz is it is small enough to walk around in a day. Shopping for whatever you fancy be it food culture history entertainment or peace and quiet, it’s impossible to get lost. Cathedrals and churches are your references and if you get tangled up like washing on a long spin, the sea is always there to help orient you. If like me the unexpected is always a reward, I deliberately return home a different way as often as I can. It’s a good way to get a mind map.
There are of lot of young people here and some of the cutest characterful dogs I have ever seen. No connection intended!
In the days to come I’m sure this beguiling city has much more to offer.