Saturday, December 14, 2013

Travelling Spain: Cádiz

After the sparseness of Tarifa, I arrived in Cádiz happy to be back in a busier spot. The sea-surrounded city is one of Europe's oldest population centres. But historical emphasis lies on the eighteenth-century, when it replaced Seville as the region's main port. Maritime is the definitely the primary theme, and I spent a considerable amount of time on the old fort of Castillo de San Catalina, captivated by the sight of Atlantic waves crashing furiously against the rocks.

On drier ground, the nineteenth-century Cathedral conformed eagerly to the opulent standards set by the other Christian temples I've encountered so far, though a baroque style was something of a departure. Descending into the crypt was definitely the highlight. On a Tuesday afternoon in early December, I was all alone amongst darkness, crucifixes, and portraits of dead bishops. Compounding the mystique were the strangest acoustics, apparently induced by the nearby ocean. That alone was worth the €5 entry. 

Day two saw me visit the Torre Tavira, a viewing point once used to monitor the arrival of ships carrying cargo from the new world. Here I was treated to the amusement of a "camera-obscura". But the young guide reciting her rehearsed script was equally entertaining. At once, I played the part of adult and child, reacting excitedly to her tailored statements. Toward the end, she used a card to "pick up" people walking around the city. Being familiar with her line of work, I did all I could to show that I really did care.

In Cádiz, I stayed at the Rough Guides recommended Casa Caracol. This hostel felt like the most alternative of all I've stayed in so far. The people running it reminded me of the buskers in Granada, and there was definitely more of an emphasis on recycling and shared responsibility for the upkeep of the hostel. Like La Banda in Seville, delicious food was provided every evening by staff. Initiatives like this make the hostel experience much more worthwhile: nothing breaks the ice like talking about how nice food is. 

Leaving Cádiz marked the end of my visit to Andalusia. My impression before was formed by literature that informed how it was Spain's poorest, yet most charming, region. There were surely signs of economic hardship, and an atmosphere of decline permeated throughout. My euros were also noticeably more valuable than in Ireland. But there wasn't manifest poverty. Andalusia instead conveyed itself as a resilient place, possibly assisted by traditional virtues of family values and charity. Adding dynamic culture, vast history and very tolerable weather, I find reasons for not visiting hard to come by. 

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