Based on what was becoming an endlessly growing number of recommendations, we decided to forge into unchartered waters and spend the day in Cádiz. We caught an early taxi to the train station, spending a few minutes discussing the noisy car tires with the driver who informed us that it was due to the wax from the candles of the marching Hermandades. Another mystery solved.
I tried to be clever and buy the tickets from the kiosk but failed as the trains we wanted were not listed. Resorting to buying them from an actual person, he told me that the machines were solely for AVE (high speed) train tickets. It was barely 10AM and my capacity for learning new things was nearly met.
Cádiz is the oldest city in Europe, having been founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 BC to support the trade of precious metals which were extensively mined by the local, Celt-Iberian culture. Over the course of the ages it has belonged to the Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and finally the Spanish who eventually turned it into the main port through which passed all the spoils of their American colonies. It sits on a narrow peninsula that protects a vast mainland wetland system from the ravages of the Atlantic.
We’d checked the weather report when we left and my assessment was that we would more or less have a decent day. That notion was dashed as we traveled further south where the sky was choked with dark gray low moving rain clouds, taking the opportunity to douse the train windows every couple of miles. The fact that most of the trees and bushes were essentially bent over double wind didn’t bode well either, and when the train made a broad sweeping right turn onto the peninsula, the white capped ocean closed the case. On one side of the train we had the Atlantic, stretching all the way unhindered to Massachusetts. One the other, extensive docks and container handling cranes, reminding us that Cádiz remains one of Spain’s busiest ports. Far off across the lagoon I could see a big transport plane lumbering up into the wind, having left the US military base at Rota.
The train station was only a few blocks from the beginning of the cool part of town so we hunched ourselves forward and forged ahead into the wind. It was lunch time and we grabbed a seat in one of the first restaurants we found. Good thing too because 30 seconds after sitting down the sky opened up and rain began coming down in buckets. The outside tables were protected by a canvas tent and we were pretty much protected until the water started building up on top and pouring down inside where the roof met the walls. I had to inch our table towards the center of the room to prevent water from running down my back. We had pork cheeks stewed in Amontillado Sherry and Salad Ruse, a big potato salad formed into the shape of a round castle and drizzled with mayonnaise. By the end of lunch the rain had stopped but the wind was still howling so we walked in a block from the main square to avail ourselves of the protection the buildings.
MLW was cold so we were scouting stores to find her a scarf. We saw one on a rack and I looked inside to ask about the price. Seeing that the clerk was Chinese, I asked her “duo shao” and she got a big grin and said “san ge” or, “three.” One more cross cultural opportunity to not be wasted, I asked her a few questions in Chinese and she smiled and stared, not understanding a single word I was saying.
Our goal for a break from the weather was the Cádiz Museum which was supposed to be on Plaza de Minas. Arriving there, we couldn’t find it so we went looking for someone to ask. Another Chinese store clerk! MLW asked about the “museo” and the young woman, clearly fluent in Spanish had no idea what MLW was asking. So I whipped out my iPhone, brought up my Chinese language app and asked her where the “binyouguan” was. Funny thing too because a couple of weeks ago I had almost removed the last of my Chinese apps, figuring those days were over. But no! They still can come in handy in this crazy multicultural world. She still had no idea where it was but her newly arrived husband did, across the square with the main entrance closed. I got that out of him in Spanish, the utility of Chinese having run its course for the day.
We found the temporary entrance around the side, having walked right by it on the first pass. It turned out to be a very nice museum with tons of nice artifacts from the Roman and Phoenician periods along with some very cool Paleolithic treasures including a couple of Neanderthal hand axes that looked like nothing more than a couple of big rocks you’d trip over without thinking twice. By now the sun was actually showing itself so we headed out towards the ocean, stopping to take some photos of the Dragon Trees, a local specialty with a giant crown and crazy crenellated trunks in the Plaza España before really putting into ourselves into the wind for a walk along the old city walls. Built in the same style as those that can be found in New World places like Havana and San Augustine, they were supposed to keep guys like Sir Francis Drake out and did so with limited success. Commerce was more honest in those days – you have a tower full of gold stolen from the Incas? I think I’ll sail down from Portsmouth and take it off your hands. We strolled through the Parque Genovés, a nice little outside botanical garden with some crazy trees and stopped at the Castillo Santa Catalina for a quick look. Across the bay we could see the Castillo San Sebastian, located on a little spit of land that once held a Roman lighthouse. Continuing on we cut cross country for a break from the wind and ended up at the cathedral.
Unlike many here, this one was very modest considering its size and station in Cádiz’s history. Started in 1722 on the foundation of a much older church, it was completed in 1838. It did not have all the ornate gold ornamentation of the cathedrals in Toledo and Sevilla, instead just lots of gray stone and modest side chapels. Probably due to Cádiz’s position as a city of commerce versus a seat for royal and church power.
We found the ruins of the original Roman theatre a block up the street, more or less inaccessible due to fences and construction. Such is my lot with Roman theatres, first the one in Italica and now this – right there but not fully appreciable. A bit further down the street were some exposed ruins from the original, post-Islamic city walls. Nice to see and right there on the street.
We stopped for coffee and a Napolitano, having earned both. After a short stroll along the waterfront we walked back to the train station and caught our ride home.