Spain is full of memorable and exciting cities. Cruises that visit the country call at ports from Barcelona to Malaga and Madrid to Cartagena, with each one offering a unique experience filled with culture, history and grand architecture.
A recent issue of Mariner Magazine for our Mariner Society members showcased Cádiz, a city with a strong Moorish influence. For those of you who don’t receive Mariner Magazine, you can check out the edition online by clicking HERE.
Cadiz: Spain’s Happy, Hearty Soul
By Bridget Freer
Below photos by Chris M. Rogers
The gem of southern Spain is famed for an influence whose reach is as far as Latin America and as near as the next bottle of sherry
If you stand on the seafront in Cádiz and squint into the pink-tinted light emanating from the Atlantic, you’d almost think you were looking at Havana. There’s an unbroken line of stately buildings of off-white sandstone aging picturesquely to the left, a crescent of golden sands and azure seas to the right.
Cádiz is planted on the southern tip of Spain, but this Cuban apparition is no accident or fantasy—Cristóbal Colón (the guy you know as Christopher Columbus) set out for the New World from here in 1493, and again in 1502.
Admittedly that was a long time ago, but the connection isn’t merely about dusty old maps and history books; many facets of Cádiz’s structure and architecture have been reproduced across Latin America, while goods, people, ideas, and influence have been coming back into the port believed to be the oldest settlement in western Europe.
Cádiz’s similarity to Havana hasn’t escaped the attention of the eagle-eyed, including the highly trained Bond, James Bond. Or rather the production team of the 007 movies, who used Cádiz as the location for Havana in Die Another Day. This means that standing on La Caleta beach affords you the rare chance of comparing yourself with Halle Berry, who hauled herself out of the clear blue waters in breathtaking style and fetching orange bikini.
It’s a comparison I feel I survive rather well despite my humble, unstarry aspect. But then the optical quality of that rose-tinted light is extraordinary, and I’ve had a few sherries, which are also known to soften the vision.
To while away time on the Cádiz seafront is to award oneself one of the finest opportunities for people watching anywhere in the world. And if you choose to do this during one of the aperitivo hours (there’s one before lunch as well as one before dinner, the former being the bigger deal), you can watch a stream of human beauty that is the good people of Cádiz in pursuit of a tapa and a drink.
Ask a visitor what they think is the best thing about Cádiz and they’ll probably offer a few words about sunsets or seafood and beaches or bars. But ask a Spaniard the same question and they’ll usually answer that it’s the people, or gaditanos. Citizens of Cádiz are known as gaditanos thanks to the port’s original name of Gadir, meaning “closed area,” given to it by the Phoenicians.
“Gaditanos are famous for their openness and sense of humor,” says Encarna Muñiz, 32, who’s relaxing on the esplanade, waiting for a friend. “They are special for not letting a bad situation get them down. We always try to laugh and take things in the best humor possible.”
As I lean on the seawall, watching the world go by it seems that about a quarter of the population is clad in yellow shirts and blue shorts: the colors of their soccer team, Cádiz CF. I ask a passing person in blue and yellow if the team is playing at home today.
“No,” the guy says, introducing himself as Juan Zozoya, a 19-year-old local student. “Since I was a kid I’ve loved the team so much, I dress like this all the time, not just the days I go to the stadium.”
He’s not the only one. Despite Cádiz’s population of more than 120,000, the 25,033-seat local stadium sells out every match. Traditional soccer power Real Madrid voted Cádiz CF the best visiting team because of the festive atmosphere their fans create regardless of the match’s result (usually a loss; they’ve historically not had much success).
This famed local sardonic humor has stood gaditanos in good stead. Even in difficult times, life in Cádiz remains comfortable and happy.
“This is a place where you can live well,” says Diego Villalobos, 51, who speaks to me while standing on the sea wall and throwing a fishing line in a beautiful arc into the ocean. “We have everything—the sun, the sea, the fish in the sea, and most of all, family.
“Families here have always helped each other out. They do it without thinking; it’s our way of life.”
A sense of shared drama is deployed in almost every part of gaditano life, perhaps especially in the pouring of a glass of sherry. Having walked down the narrow cobbled streets of nearby Jerez de la Frontera to visit a wine shop, I move between oak barrels arranged in straight lines across the massive cellar.
I’m offered a taste of oloroso, a delicious amber sherry that has hints of walnut and autumn. Instead of holding the glass beneath the barrel’s tap, however, my server holds it at hip level, miraculously managing not to splash our shoes.
Later he proffers a taste of pale, dry fino from a bottle. But again he doesn’t pour it straight in. Instead he brandishes the bottle above shoulder height and holds the glass by the opposite thigh, meaning, he has to concentrate hard on his aim.
In Bar Manteca, run by two sons of a matador, I watch as this pair of attractive, solid middle-aged men perform a ballet of service for their customers. They have plates of every kind of ham, and cured meats and cheeses, which they twirl and toss over and around customers with gusto along with overflowing glasses of beer, wine, and sherry.
There’s much banging and shouting, but miraculously no crashing or smashing. The commentary and banter from the brothers is constant. Each transaction is completed with a bellowing laugh from one or both of them.
They’re the living definition of service with a smile, and the same ethic is on display in all the many cafés and bars in the city. Few people bother with meals in restaurants and there’s little in the way of “fine dining,” just tons of great places to grab a drink and a plate of fresh seafood. Cádiz’s most prized snack is a portion of mixed fried fish— baby soles, calamari, massive shrimps, slices of hake—served in a cornet at the Freiduria las Flores.
At the Museo de Cádiz are friezes of the less grand denizens of ancient Gadir; and would you believe it, every single one of them is smiling or laughing. In this city even the long-dead appear to be living, breathing, and still having fun.
There’s an old Spanish saying: “Life is four days long: on one you’re born, on another you die, and in the two in between, you have to have fun.”
For some reason I’ve kept thinking of this while I was here. Now it’s clear to me that it’s true and that it’s because gaditanos not only exemplify this attitude but leave the fun behind them for others to enjoy.
Coincidentally, I’m in Cádiz for four days and, almost true to form, on day one I arrive and on day four I leave, but on all four days I have fun. I even get to feel like a Bond girl, if only for a couple of minutes.
Have you visited Cádiz? What did you like most about your time there?