There’s been an air of expectancy around Cádiz for the last 24 hours. Neat stacks of folded chairs lined the streets and squares. Suited men and high-heeled women walked with purpose either coming from or heading to somewhere important. It was like the city was at a wedding but the bride and groom were nowhere to be seen.
We arrived at our hotel after about an hour of circling through the maze of one-way streets that might well have been pedestrian – it’s hard to tell. It’s a former Dominican convent with an amazing tiled cloister and an air of holiness about the place that makes even holding hands a tad embarrassing. After parking the car and the bags, we hit the town for a wander.
Religious fervour in Cádiz
First stop was a glimpse at the sea and a stroll along the promenade. It reminded me of the Malecon in Havana so I wasn’t at all surprised to learn that the Bond movie Die Another Day was filmed along that very stretch of coastline, with Cádiz the city double. Then it was back into the melée to see if we could figure out what was going on. It was Friday. And a first Friday at that, but every church we passed had teems of people going in and out in a very Orthodox fashion – not at all RC like. Curiosity got the better of us at the Santa Cruz church, the oldest in the city, and a former cathedral. There was all sorts of singing and blessing and milling around going on – so very un-Catholic. Three huge processional floats were on display with people taking lots of photos. It reminded me of Malta.
The priest and his entourage stopped in front of what looked for all the world like a statue of Jesus Christ – complete with long hair (which, I found out later, is very real). And he was black. I asked half a dozen people if they spoke English but no one fessed up. One man did confirm that it was Jesus… and a translation of a Spanish site tells me that it was commissioned by the Campe-Martíns and is a copy of a famous carving of Cristo de Medinaceli de Madrid. It is an amazing piece of work. But that didn’t explain all the fervour, as only half the people there were paying any attention.
The city, said to be the oldest in Western Europe, has a lot to offer the energetic tourist. Our map showed no fewer than 68 places of interest. Dark narrow streets cut between high buildings open onto large sun-filled squares. It’s a great city to wander but I didn’t have the wherewithal needed to muster up enthusiasm for museums and the like. I had no idea Spain was so loud. Energy-sapping loud. The art of speaking softly or singly is one that hasn’t yet been mastered. One look at the long list and I had just one pick – the Central Market, to see the fish. And yes, it would give Pike Place a run for its money. The fish stalls are inside the great hall. The fruit and veg stands run around this outside, and the outer perimeter is the meat and speciality stalls. It’s all very, very orderly.
At, on, and by the water in Cádiz
After that, it was on the Catamaran over to El Puerto de Santa Maria to find some sherry bodegas, some tiled buildings, and maybe even a beach. El P apparently is where Christopher Columbus sailed from, the second time he set out for America. The 30-minute boat ride was lovely (and a snip at €2.75). But it was the middle of the day, and it was hot. We forgot about the sherry, gave up on the tiled buildings, and headed for the beach.
We caught the No. 3 bus which was packed to the gills with beachgoers. It’s a great way to see the suburbs – and the bullring. The Spanish know how to do beaches. Entire families – three and four generations – had brought chairs and tables and umbrellas and were camped out with coolers of food and plenty of booze. It was bedlam. And deafening. And as we were leaving at 6 pm, they were still arriving. There are plenty of beaches to choose from – we simply decided by getting off the bus when everyone else did – at Las Redes along Santa Catalina beach.
Of course, we could have gone to any one of the many beaches on the Cádiz side, but we wanted the on-water experience.
Prayers and processions
Back it the city, there was definitely something going on. Our hotel – the convent – is right beside a church and there were hundreds in the streets waiting outside. We even had security on the door and had to show our keycard to get in. The processions had begun. We watched as foot by foot the massive statue of Jesus was edged out through the church door. It took 42 men to carry it, walking in drilled precision, swaying from side to side to keep it moving and balanced. This was just one of many processions from the various churches in the city that all passed through the main square. This was what all the folded chairs were for. Apparently, it was the 750th anniversary of the Diocese and reason enough to bring everyone out to the streets. It made watching the World Cup quarter-final between Croatia and Russia quite surreal. The penalty shoot-out played as the statue of Jesus carrying the cross filed by. God was definitely having a laugh.
And some trivia
Probably one of the city’s lesser-known famous sons was General George Meade. Meade’s father, who was Irish by the way, was working in Spain as a naval agent for the US government. His son George, who was born in Cádiz, commanded the Army of the Potomac, which defeated General Robert E Lee at the Battle of Gettysburg. There’s one for the next table quiz.