Sherry & Stormy Weather

Woke early. Danny checked the tyre pressures, refilled the mis-behaving tyre and wandered off to watch a boat being lowered into the marina. Not long after we saw a lovely sailing boat being manoeuvred by a smaller boat into the cradle and then lifted out of the water to go into the boatyard. They make it look so easy. Fascinating, and we would happily have stayed but needed to move on for our appointment with ancient Cadiz and young Mr Murray. Headed off at 9.15am and within a mile we had passed the Aldi we failed to find the day before – but to be fair it wasn’t safe to walk on those roads. Once clear of Seville, we were back to uncrowded, good quality dual carriageway. We did find ourselves paying up  at a toll booth without understanding why but what the hell – I’m sure they know what they’re doing. The attendant did double check we weren’t fibbing about how many axles we had though, cheek!

Saw our first sunflower fields of the trip, their golden colour completely different to the brighter yellow of rape and buttercups. All went smoothly and we pulled up at Las Dundas around 11.15. First impressions – a bit over-controlled. We were issued passes with our photos on that had been scanned from our passport and advised to show them when leaving and entering. We never did. Then we were guided to a pitch, no choice given possibly because we were on ACSI rates, possibly because they are just like that. Set up on our dust-patch over-shadowed by huge eucalyptus trees then headed down to the on-site supermarket – closed – so went for a snack at the site restaurant/cafe where Danny treated himself to huevos e patatas fritos – 2 eggs with chips – very traditional!

Fed and watered we headed to explore, locate the ferry terminal for next day’s catamaran to Cadiz, and to find a supermarket. We managed all 3 but, obviously, the Tourist Information was closed. There are some nice old bits to the large working town of Puerto Santa Maria – population 80,000 –  and during our visit the many jacaranda trees were covered in their purple-blue flowers which gave a lovely look to the streets and squares. As did the huge oranges on the trees lining one of the boulevards towards the station. We did 9.3 miles the first day just bumbling around on the bikes.

Having chased the sun down here, that night the heavens opened and it rained, on and off in heavy, unseasonal downpours for 4 days until finally drying on Sunday morning. Thunder and lightning sometimes kept it company. By early Wednesday morning after 6 hours of continuous rain our dusty plot had turned into liquid sand and moving on was not an option until a couple of dry days to harden the ground. We did however have a good view of the site tractor helping to get some smaller vehicles off their pitches.

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Fortunately for our plans, on our first full day the rain stopped for a few hours which allowed us to walk the 20 minutes to the ferry terminal without getting drenched. It was a grey, blustery 30-minute journey to Cadiz with great views of the impressive, modern road bridge. Cadiz in fact is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain and one of the oldest in western Europe. Founded by the Phoenicians, some say is the most ancient city still standing in western Europe. We found ourselves a little bar for sherry and tapas while we waited to hear from Trevor. Soon enough Trevor arrived in the square on his bike, followed by Stevie, Pete &  Craig. Cold beers were called for and drunk with gusto. While they went for a shower at their accommodation we had a nice leisurely walk around the old town, finding ourselves on the beachfront overlooking the Atlantic. Definitely the best part of town.

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Did some people watching from the steps of the cathedral before meeting up with the boys again for a bit more beer before saying our ‘Adios’. At which point it poured again. Took refuge in a bar – Kogira – close to the terminal whole we waited for the ferry. It was packed with people watching the Real Madrid – Atletico Madrid game – a huge TV at either end of the long bar, with the supporters for each team sitting together. We ended up in the Real Madrid end who were very quite through 2 goals scored by Atletico, whilst the other end went wild!

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Had to leave before the end for the dark, damp sail home.

Thursday we explored Puerto Santa Maria, which as part of the sherry triangle (along with Jerez de la Frontera and Sanlucar del Barramundar) has 4 main bodegas where the sherry is stored, and a lot of other old buildings including churches, some of which are decaying quite badly. Some storks are using the towers of the old churches as nest sites and seem very comfy. We kept saying how much it looked like Mexico, although of course its the other way round. Got soaked in a downpour and hid in a small bar filled with men for a small sherry. When the rain stopped we sought a suitable lunch spot and found one down towards the river where we had a very nice, filling and rather odd lunch – prawn omelette, mushroom omelette, chicken breast, fried squid and potato salad. Washed down with a chilled red wine.

Friday was dedicated to Jerez de la Frontera for a tour of a sherry house – Tio Pepe being the target in honour of mum’s liking for it. A 45minute walk to the station and a 10 minute train ride through the countryside saw us emerge onto the platform at Jerez to be greeted by Stevie & Pete with their bikes. They pointed us in the direction of Trevor and Craig who were killing time in a little bar be the station as only 2 bikes could be taken at  time and they we’re getting the next train to Seville, having finished their cycling tour. Stayed with them for a while before moving on to grab a light lunch of paella and ox-tail, before doing the 2pm Gonzalez Byass tour. Like most such things it was very interesting, and we were educated in some of the detail including the fact that the dry fino sherry develops under a crust of yeast, and also that there are no vintage sherries as the casks are constantly having old wine removed and new wine added. They also explained how they keep the casks cool in the summer – the architecture and a floor of sand that is wetted 3 times a day when the temperatures are 40-50C outside. There were a lot of casks signed by famous people such as Orson Wells, British royalty, sportsmen, singers, and Winston Churchill, that they keep for show, like a visitors book. The smell of the sherry in the casks was fantastic.

Oh, and there was a tasting too of course – Fino, sweet oloroso, dry oloroso and a Croft Original. All fine except the Croft original – not great, but still sold in large quantities in the UK.

On the walk back from the Puerto Santa Maria station we called in for a plate of freshly cooked prawns and a huge portion of tortillas de camarones at what we think is the oldest seafood restaurant in town (since 1952). The tortillas were amazing. Tiny shrimps, 2 types, in a deep fried, very light batter. They looked like golden lace and tasted fantastic. A real find. Later, on the way back to the site, Danny discovered (in another little sherry bar) the delights of the tiny snails they eat in such quantities here. Served in a glass, warm, with it’s own stock and a supply of toothpicks to assist with persuading them into the diners mouth. Kate declined but Danny developed such expertise he could suck them from their shells without a toothpick!

Saturday was a lazy day in expectation of the Feria de Caballo de Jerez we had decided to go to on the Sunday. This is the annual festival of the horse, with andalusian horses – dressage and carriages – flamenco, sherry and a funfair for the young and young at heart.

On Sunday, the rain having given a last overnight downpour, we joined the masses at the station, surprised but delighted by the number of women in full flamenco dress, accompanied by smartly dressed men in jackets (Kate had made the effort and was in shorts and a vest). At Jerez station we followed the masses on the 20 minute walk to the Feria site. Just like we had seen it on Booze Traveller (another of Danny’s great finds on satellite TV). After a cold beer to recover from the walk we discovered the delights of a Rebujito – a fino sherry and Sprite conception sold in large jugs with plenty of ice of at €6.50. We walked, ate tapas, watched everyone dance flamenco, admired the caballeros on their horses in traditional outfits and the ornate carriages promenading and giving rides to all comers.

There were old riders, child riders and women riding side-saddle all immaculately turned out in traditional outfits. Beautifully groomed horses gleamed in the sun and their riders drank glasses of sherry to keep them going, provided free of charge wherever they stopped. Children were having a wonderful time – without a single scream or tantrum – everywhere we looked. And this was set to go on until near dawn!

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Too old – we quit as it was going dark and took the train back to our town, a nightcap with a Czech barman in a local bar, and home to sleep.

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