16. Home Again… The End of a Perfect Vacation

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I cannot believe how fast two and a half weeks had passed. Here we are – getting ready to go to the airport to take our flight back to Frankfurt.

But there was consolation: Our flight back to Germany was scheduled for 3 pm and we would not need to leave the hotel before 1 pm.

To round up the experience for M. and B., Manfred and I have planned yet another walk – even though a shorter one – in the morning, to a direction where we had only been by Metro on the second day.


After the usual breakfast in the Room Mate Laura and after having re-packed the suitcases, we left the hotel. M. and B. had become quite familiar with the surroundings of the hotel and M. guided us to “Puerta del Sol”.

It was early in the morning – the best time to start a walk in almost any city. You are only amongst the locals rushing to work, a styrofoam cup of to-go coffee or sitting in one of the many breakfast cafés with a café solo and a “bocadillo” in front of them, checking messages on their smart phones or chatting with the people around.

I just love this time of the day! As we stuck out with our short pants and T-shirts from the crowd of urban white collar workers in their suits or office dresses, people looked at us thinking: “What’s this… tourists in the streets at this time of the day… weird”

Only 8:30 am but the city had started to heat up, though it was still pleasant to walk and despite the fact that we had to go back today, we were all in a brilliant mood.

Our plan was to pay “Plaza de Cibeles” a visit – with the Palacio and the Fountain. As a special surprise we’d  visit the Palacio inside and climb up to the roof from where you have a breathtaking view across Madrid.

Plaza de Cibeles with its fountain greets all visitors arriving from the airport by taxi – we, as well, had passed by the place on the day of our arrival – however it looked even more beautiful in the morning light.

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Named after the goddess “Cybele” the place, its fountain and the palacio are viewed as the most important landmark in Madrid (probably after the Royal Palace).

While Manfred got the entrance at the ticket office (the early bird catches the worm) at the Palacio, M., B. and I strolled towards the “Prado”. Stopping at the Neptune Fountain, yet another gem – with all the prestigeous hotels, the “Ritz” or the “Westin Palace”

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Despite the early hour, the place in front of the “Museo del Prado” was swarming with tourists waiting for the ticket offices to open their counters. What a madness – well, the reason for the rush: a high-profile exhibition of the work of Hieronymus Bosch aka “El Bosco”.

If we had walked straight on, we would have arrived at “Atocha” train station – and you recall that B. and I had met M. and Manfred at the day we left Madrid to go on our “Tour de Spain”.

But we wanted the climb the roof of the Palacio de Cibeles (former Palacio de Comunicaciones) and that is why we turned left to pass by The Spanish Royal Academy, walking through streets with up-scale condos – certainly a part of the city where one would like to have a condo, if one could afford it.

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We were at the gates of the Palacio de Cibeles right on time when they opened at 10 am. The visitors terrace on floor 7 was scheduled to open half an hour later, time for us to explore the impressive building that used to be the central post office of Madrid and now houses parts of the “Ayuntamiento de Madrid” – the Madrid town hall, but more importantly a variety of impressive art exhibitions.

When you are in Paris, you visit “La Fayette” to see “Le coupole” – in the “Palacio de Cibeles” you get to see something equally beautiful.

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Really worth a visit – but as I had menitoned earlier – the early bird certainly gets ahead of the masses of visitors and gets to see this without the fuss and the noise of other visitors around.

Still 20 minutes to kill – so why not look around. We found a great photo exhibition on the first floor on the topic of: Equal rights for men and women – quite some impressive artifacts to be seen there.

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“All the issues around the physical and psychological abuse of women have only one origen: “el machismo”

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In another room we found an exhibiton on 3-D printing and I was blown away by the possibilities you seem to have with this technology. WOW. In the old days chairs were made by a cabinet maker – today you “print” one.

Clock stroke 10:30 am so we took the elevator up to the roof top. The administration of the Palacio organizes the visits of the terraces strictly in timed group visits. You miss your slot, you lose. We were the first (of course) and hence had the terrace almost exclusively to ourselves.

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When you visit Madrid, this is a must-see/must-do.

Well, time flies when you are having fun, but our plane will not wait for us. Manfred and B. wanted to do some “ham shopping” before leaving – and you cannot go wrong doing that in one of the “Museo del Jamón”. Please, note – the shops, which are part of a food chain have nothing to do with a museum, other than they have great exhibits – with the advantage that you can buy them.

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The branches are spread around the city of Madrid, the one we did our shopping in was on our way back to “Puerta del Sol” in Carrera de S. Jerónimo.

The “Museo del Jamón” not only offers a variety of ham to buy and to take home, they also offer food and tapas around ham, and of course “caña” – the beer that our friends had grown fond of.

Getting closer to “Puerta del Sol” – I all of a sudden developed a graving for Churros con Chocolate, and there is no better place for that than at “San Ginés”. Manfred looked at me as if he wanted to say: “Are you serious, do you know what time it is…” – tough call that one.

We decided that Manfred headed back to the hotel to do the last fine tuning on the packing, while B., M. and I indulged in hot chocolate and some churros and a “caña”, to me a worthy end of our trip.

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Back in the hotel, everything went like a clock work. We got our suit cases down from the rooms and waited for the pre-ordered taxi to the airport.

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Smooth sailing to the airport, I had done the check-in online two days ago. All we needed to do was to drop off our luggage and to wait for boarding.

LATAM flighs from Termial 4 concourse S – which stands for “satellite” which can only be reached by an airport underground train. Depending on the queues at the security check, it can easily take up to half an hours to get from the departure hall of T4 to concourse S.

For all of you who got the impression that all was well planned and (almost) perfect – there was one glitch tough at the end:

I had checked M. and B. in row 17 seats A and C, and Manfred and myself in row 18 seats A and C.

When we boarded our seats were available, the seats in row 17 had already been taken by two elder women coming from Chile, hence the first to board the plane. Fatal knock on: M. and B. stood in the aisle, while I fought my way to the next available flight attendant through the paxes trying to get to they seats, traveller’s nightmare.

Long story short – the elder women would not budge, the flight attendance was helpless (minus point for LATAM here), M. and B. were asked to move to the end to the plane, row 29 would be completely free (false), but on the bright side, they ended up in row 25 which had bulk head seats – some consolation.

Rest of the flight eventless, smooth – ahead of schedule. We touched down on a finally sunny day in Frankfurt, it seemed as if we had imported some summer after all the cold and rain.

15. Déjà vu 2

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We had agreed to get up early to have a chance to give Guadalupe a tour in the morning light – which we had found to be the better light to take pictures.

We had only taken one suitcase with us the day before… the second had already the laundry in it – no need to move that one.

As you may have imagined already, I was keen on having breakfast, which in Guadalupe is served in a dedicated breakfast room and not as in most Paradores in the “comedor” of the Parador. This breakfast room in Guadalupe must have been the former “refectorium” – the dining hall.

Breakfast in Guadalupe however turned somewhat out as a disappointment – no freshly prepared huevos fritos (fried eggs), the service was slow and not very attentive – the selection on the buffet somehow limited: there were no bread rolls, no croissants…

Well, you cannot always have it all – the Parador itself and the surroundings were so beautiful that I decided not to fuss too much about it.

After breakfast, M., B. and Manfred armed themselves with their photo cameras, I said I’d be staying in the Parador and upload some Blog entries in the meantime.

45 minutes later the photo hunting party returned – Manfred reported on a pretty nice market on one of the “Plazas” where he was able to shoot some scenic pictures

Time to get going though. We checked-out, loaded the cars and were on our way higher up to the Sierra to our “final destination” – Madrid. To be able to spend some of the afternoon in Madrid before dinner, we had agreed to drive without too many stops.

We’d be driving 80 km or so through the Sierra, the highway from Navalmoral de la Mata straight into Madrid.

One stop was scheduled at the outskirts of Madrid, where we would switch co-drivers to ensure that M. did not get lost in the traffic entering the city center of Madrid.

As responsible travel guides we had all luggage arranged in a way that we could quickly unload it in front of the Room Mate Laura; there was seldom space to park the cars – Manfred and M. would continue to the car rental agency while B. and I would take care of the luggage and the check-in.

Leaving Guadalupe we got a last glance down to the city and the monastery and the so-called Geo-Park around it. This region is popular with hikers and cyclists.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

It was a pleasant drive and a great way to say “Good bye”.  I wanted to get the group to arrive in Madrid soon, that is why I did not stop the convoy even though there was a real huge snake on the road. I knew that M. and B. would have liked to take a picture of it but I accelerated the car and drove on.

As a consolation however I stopped not far from the highway as there were storks just arranged in a way as if they had been paid to sit there and to wait for tourists to take pictures of them. (And yes, they were alive)

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Courtesy: Manfred

At this occasion – of course M. complained that I hadn’t stopped for the snake.

We  stopped one more time – as planned to switch co-drivers, then entered Madrid and arrived at the hotel without any major issues around noon. Unloading of all luggage took place like a clock work – flying splice.

Manfred and M. took off to return the cars, B. and I carried the luggage up to the air-conditionned reception area of the hotel. There is one down side to the Room Mate Laura – the 10 or so stairs from the street up to the hall – they should install a luggage lifter. This is about the only low-light about the Room Mate Laura and the friendly welcome made me forget the stair were even there.

All was prepared, and we got – yet again – two upgrades. Another great duplex with view to the Plaza outside for Manfred and me, and a studio on the fourth floor for M. and B. It always pays to be a regular customer.

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After we all had freshened up and relaxed a bit – we took M. and B. on another tour to Madrid – this time showing the “Almudena” from a different perspective.

We started – yes, well guessed – towards “Puerta del Sol”, turned right into “Calle Mayor” headed towards the “Palacio Real” where we kept on the shadow side of the street. Again the heat in Madrid was almost unbearable, but surely we did not miss the cold and the rain in Germany.

Now, dear reader, I must admit, while we walked in the hot afternoon past a couple of chocolate stores with the finest merchandise, I succombed to an old addiction of mine – “Yes, my name is Lothar and I am a chocoholic!”

There it was, the flagship store of Torrons Vicens. Manfred knew from the look on my face that I had a relapse – however, I was able to discipline myself while I was inside – maybe I was not a lost cause after all. I “only” spent 9 EUR.

With my blood sugar in balance again I was able to assume my duties as responsible travel guide – M. and B. had waited patiently outside, Manfred had escorted me inside the shop, ensuring that I would not spend our travel budget on sweets.

We continued down the street, passed by “Plaza de la Villa” with the “Casa de la Villa” a part of the city administration of Madrid behind which the “Casco Historico” of Madrid is situated.

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Further down “Calle Mayor” we arrived at the “Palacio Real” where we turned left into “Calle de Bailén” to cross “Calle Segovia”.

To the right – just after the bridge – there is a public garden with bars and cafés – the gastronomical quality of these places is dubious, though the reason why you should have at least one drink there is the great view on the “Almudena“.

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We had – as you may have guessed already – a couple of “cañas” which weren’t real “cañas” but bottled bear, an espresso and sparkling water. The usual mix so to say.

It was about time to head back to the hotel, taking a rest, freshen up for dinner. Why not taking a quick dive into the “casco historico” on our way back to “Room Mate Laura”.

Crossing the “Caille Bailén” we took “Calle la Moreria” down to “Calle Segovia” to just walk around the small streets, looking at impressive buildings and churches – all spread out there. This part of the city is worth a day of touring – we will certainly explore more next time M. and B. decide to pay Madrid a visit. So, esteemed reader – stay tuned.

Our mind was really set on dinner and I could sense that there was not much hunger for new discoveries in M. and B. that day – so we just took another round of refreshments close to the “Plaza de Puerta Cerrada” – interesting for us to see that two young guys rolled their joints in the open light in the middle of the day just across from us in front of the Spanish Fast Food chain “100 montadillos” – and within seconds the sweet odour of grass whiffed over to our table…

Before getting too high on passive consumption in combination with the beverages we had consumed we moved on. Up “Calle Cuchilleros”, through “Calle Cava de San Miguel”.

Almost as a tradition – and you have to bear in mind that if Germans do something at least twice, it is called a tradition – we payed “Plaza Mayor” a visit, which was as beautiful and grand as always. Writing these lines I cannot help but thinking of the “Place de Vosges” in the 4ieme arrondissement in Paris, France.

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You, dear reader having followed this blog carefully, you know by now your way back to the hotel without me re-iterating it – right?

9:00pm – ready to get food into our systems. Our friend Luis met us in front of the “Room Mate Laura”, he was joining us for dinner again.

We had made booking in a quite traditional restaurant this time, the “Casa Jacinto”. They claim “La tradición de la cocina en su mesa” – so to say: home cooking.

With Luis as the trusted local guide, Manfred and I could take it easy. The restaurant is in the “Calle Reloj” close to the “Teatro” and – more interestingly, the Spanish Senate. Even Manfred or I had ever been here – so, you always learn something new.

The “Casa Jacinto” is a truely authentic place and not frequented by tourists so much – it is off the tourist trails and actually should not be mentioned here.

We entered the small guest room where only one guest had an early dinner (mind you it was past 9:00pm). The restaurant would not fill up that night – it was middle in the week, even the better for us. We had four waiters taking care of us, and the entire kitchen staff focussing on our orders.

Looking around in the guest room I personally found the place a bit too authentic-folkloristic with all the pictures of bull fights and stuffed heads of bulls hanging around – though I always appreciated the Spanish tiles the “Azulejos”.

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Source: Casa Jacinto’s official web site.

As starters we ordered:

  • a sampler of starters:
    • “Cecina de Vaca Leonesa” (dried cow meat)
    • “Croquetas de Jamón Ibérico”
    • “Ensalda de Quinoa con Mozzarella” (Quinoa Salad with Mozzarella)

The main courses were:

  • two “Cogote de Merluza” (Codfish)
  • “Merluza a la Romana” (Codfish)
  • “Rabo de Toro” (Oxtail)
  • “Solomillo de Vaca” (Cow Tenderloin)

Beverages:

  • Sparkling Water
  • Cerveza
  • Red Wine from the Vadepeñas Regeion
    • Finca la Estacada
    • Finca Antigua – crianza
  • Espressi

Check for the night: EUR 185.45

  • Food – 4 of 5 stars
  • Beverages – 4 of 5 stars
  • Location –  4 of 5 stars
  • Service – 4 of 5 stars

The food was good – a bit too down to earth for my taste, but that is what we had wanted.

As it was still early (as far as evenings out in Madrid was concerned) we all agreed on having a night cup – which we did take in one of the many bars around “Plaza Domingo” – it always had surprised us how generous the liquor is served in Spanish bars (even more so outside Madrid). I actually had to ask the waiter to stop pouring Tanqueray Gin in to the “big belly” glas to fit some Tonic in. Luis did not seem to be surprised at all – he had taken the precaution and had told the waiter that he wanted his Gin “suave” (mild).

We sure took our time savouring our drinks, enjoying the company, telling Luis about the trip and how much we loved his country before we went back to the hotel. Needless to say that is was past 1:00am when we put our heads to rest.

14.2. Summary – Guadalupe

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Parador:

Room Number:

4

Cleanliness Room:

5s

Overall Appearance:

5s

“WOW” Factor:

4s

Internet Access:

3s

Breakfast:

3s

City:

“WOW” Factor:

4s

Remarks: The WOW factor for Guadalupe is due to the “Real Monasterio” and Guadalupe’s location in the Sierra. Guadalupe does not have as many historic buildings and monuments as Cáceres, however deserves the 4 stars.

Wireless Access to the Internet was decent in the room, pretty good when sitting in the Patio of the Parador.

The breakfast – in comparison to the Paradores that we had visited on our trip was only average. No freshly prepared huevos fritos – the service more concerned with his paper word, the selection of food items rather restricted.

Now, I get it that each of the Paradores features food from the region and that breakfast in the Extramadura might be somewhat more “crude” than in other regions. Having said that M. and I were of the same opinion – there was a noticeable drop in quality as far as the breakfast was concerned.

For longer stays, I recommend to take one of the superior rooms (100 and up) which offer the splendid view at the monastery.

14.1. … Guadalupe

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What a great “entrée” – taking a right turn at the end of the “Avenida de Conde de Barcelona” being actually hit with the impressive and bigger-than-live beauty of the “Real Monasterio de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe”. This is how the roman-catholic church has always managed to keep the believers in awe and in line. Driving up  “Calle Grégorio Lopéz” you know how pilgrims must have felt – after a long and exertive pilgrimage through the heat of the Extremadura up to the mountains of the Sierra.

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Directly opposite the “Monasterio” – there it was, the destination of our stage of the voyage today – the “Parador de Guadalupe”. This is the second time for Manfred and me – the first improvement we notice is the parking that the Parador offers (EUR 12 a day). I recalled the hassle finding a place to park the car during our first visit.

After having parked the cars, unloaded the trunks we entered the Patio of the parador which was exactly the way I remembered it – a place that invites you to rest and to contemplate. The little fountain as its center piece – quite “Zen” I would say. Even the group of German bicycle tourists gathered around a TV screen watching one of the EURO master football matches was not able to distort the peace and quiet of the place.

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The check-in procedure was the same as in any of the other Paradores we had been to on this trip – they offered us Superior rooms for EUR 20 more per night – we declined. The Superior rooms  have a splendid view on the “Monasterio” (we had one on our first trip), but we figured that we would get to see plenty of the building on our walk.

But the standard rooms were quite nice and absolutely sufficient for a stay of one night.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

Quite frankly… the long trip had taken its toll on us. We were tired – not so much from physical activity but from all the many and many beautiful impressions that our sub conscious mind had collected during our drive to Guadalupe and it was trying to process.

Even though it was already 5:00pm it was still extremely hot out there – what we all needed was a break and a shower. However we did not want to deprive M. and B. from a first walk and excursion of Guadalupe.

5:30 pm we met in the lobby to first take a comprehensive tour of the Parador. Guadalupe does not only have a wonderful garden,

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Courtesy: Manfred

but also a quite nice swimming pool.

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You, as loyal followers of this Blog – you may already have guessed that I have failed to mention an important ingredient of every day on the road. You are correct: “Where will we have dinner tonight?”. To me and my fellow travellers as essential a question as “What is the meaning of life?”

Manfred had done some research on the Spanish version of Tripadvisor: “El tenedor” (the fork), hoping we would get more Spanish evaluations than American or British (the Carmona experience still stuck deep).

There were two options mentioned:

  1. La Posada del Rincon
  2. La Hospederia del Monasterio

We never received an answer to our booking requests from either place – I guessed that these folks don’t really care about online bookings as they have plenty of walk-ins.

During our walk through Guadalupe we found that La Posada del Rincon seemed to be closed either for good or only for a certain period of time – one could not tell as there was no sign informing the potential clients.

You may recall that I wrote earlier: Visit Oropesa for the Parador and visit Cáceres for the city. Guadalupe is worth the visit for both aspects (including the Geo Park around the city).

But back to our walk:

Leaving the Parador you cannot help but to go to the cathedral which draws you towards itself like a giant magnet – and you start feeling like a pilgrim having been exposed to the heat and now being welcomed and overwhelmed at the same time by a mystical interplay of light and dark and being gratified for all the heartship with a merciful coolness.

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Courtesy: Manfred

The cathedral inside appeared quite differently from the outside – apart from the altar – the rest of the church looked quite humble, simple and quite small.

Opposite the altar there was the space for the common believers – citizens of Guadalupe and the many, many pilgrims – above all of them a gallery offered exclusive space for the friar to assist the service. God forbid they mingle with the common crowd.

We left the cathedral and got hit by a wall of still hot air even though the hands of the clock had moved after 6:00pm. I was really interested to take one of the guided tours to the actual monastery – unfortunately, the last tour of the day was given in Spanish – M. and B. would not have benefited much and neither Manfred nor I were good in simultaneous translation – obviously.

We started our tour around the monastery – the streets were still empty, only a few of the bar owners started to set up tables and TV screens (let’s not forget the soccer EURO Master was still on) – Spain was to play that night.

Since we hadn’t heard from “La Posada del Rincon” and we were clearly getting hungry, our next (well my next) priority was to fix dinner before doing anything else. On our way along the impressive walls of the monastery we passed by the “Hospederia del Monasterio” our second choice.

Manfred volunteered to make the booking, while M., B. and I waited in the shadows. We watched him climbing the stairs up the “Hospederia”, hoping that there’d be no issues getting a table for that night.

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All a storm in a tea cup – plenty of tables available as Manfred reported, we were good to continue our tour.

We took a right at the end at the next intersection and started a rather steep incline still alongside the walls of the monastery. There were some interesting attractions as we were informed by respective signs.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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We passed by the Parador – however decided to have some drinks in one of the bars at the “Plaza de Santa Maria” – which we did. No big surprise – Caña, mineral water (sin gaz) and olives.

You should have seen the look on the waiter’s face when I asked him if he carried “aqua mineral con gaz” – I should have known that outside bigger cities, sparkling water is just not available. The caña was good, the non-sparkling water at least cool.

So we sat there enjoying the afternoon, talking about what we had seen – the plaza started to fill up with people, and all the activities of a normal day started: delivery trucks driving through the small streets – fast. Others loading and unloading goods and supplies for the restaurants and bars around the plaza.

We strolled down Calle Sevilla – I thought I remembered a fountain down there – one I liked the first time we were here. It hadn’t moved and it was still there – patiently waiting for me to take a picture of it.

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Time to return to the Parador, to rest and to freshen up before dinner.

Manfred had made the booking for 8:30pm.

The “Hospederia” is great place to dine.

The tables were arranged in the arcades of the inner courtyard of the old monastery (now a hotel and restaurant) – the dimensions of the place were enormeous – all designed to make a man feel small: Ancient mass manipulation – and it still has its effects.

So we litterally took a walk (of 50 Meters or so) from the entrance over the courtyard to the dining area at the far end.

Claustro gótico del Real Monasterio de Santa María de Guadalupe

Source: Wikimedia Commons

We were greeted friendly and shown to our table – and we knew that this dinner would be the “icing” on a wonderful day.

As starters we ordered:

  • half a “tabla de quesos” (cheese from the region)
  • half a “tabla de ibéricos” (the sampler of various ham and sausages from the region)

This was plenty – one serving of either cheese or ham would have been sufficient for the four of us. We were tempted by the bread rolls of impressive size, but smart enough to share one roll per couple.

The main courses were:

  • “Chulettas de Cordero” (Lamb Chops)
  • “Solomillo de Cerdo” (Pork Tenderloin)
  • “Cochinillo” (Suckling Pig)
  • “Filete de Tenera” (Veal Tenderloin)

We had a great red wine: Attelea Crianza and “Aqua mineral CON GAZ”

Check for the night: EUR 95.10

  • Food – 4 of 5 stars
  • Beverages – 5 of 5 stars
  • Location –  5 of 5 stars
  • Service – 5 of 5 stars

A close-to perfect experience. The location was great, the service fast, attentive and professional, the wine excellent and the food was of good quality and nicely cooked.

Now this was no “nueva cocina española”, but down-to-earth authentic extremaduran cooking.

My recommendation – when you ever go to Guadalupe, have dinner at the “Hospederia”.

After the lovely dinner in the “Hospederá del Real Monasteria” we felt like finishing all the red wine that we had bought in Rota but never managed to consume. M. and B. still had two bottles left – why not enjoy them in the Patio of the Parador.

While M. and B. went upstairs to fetch the wine, Manfred to get the cork screw – I went to the bar of the Parador and managed four red wine glasses. I set them out on one of the tables on the Patio – it was a wonderful night, quiet, still warm but the stuffiness of the day had gone.

When we were all gathered at the table we started to sacrify the red wines on the altar of happy holidays. We discussed the last two days, well actually one and a half – and it was a bitter-sweet moment to see the end of your little round trip coming to an end. Before drifting too deeply into depression we decided to cherish the moment – cheers.

14. Keep Moving…

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10 days of sun, wind, great day trips to the most beautiful places in Andalucia – I guess it was time to get moving again.

Time to say: “Good bye” to the “Hotel Playa de la Luz” after a good breakfast and after having loaded the trunks of our cars.

You may recall that we had offered M. and B. to take the road through the “Sierra Norte de Sevilla” on our way to Guadalupe to make a stop in Constantina to visit the “Castillo” as well as the city.

We’d be crossing the Sierra, Andalucia and the Extremadura on country roads – lots of nature to be seen but also a quite long drive.

We let the hotel behind us at 9:30am direction Seville – we have made this route millions of times and could drive it blindfolded.

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I had researched the “Castillo de Contantina” – we had seen it on our way to Carmona, but did not have the time to visit – and according to my sources the Castillo was open for visits this day as of 9:00am on.

Now, when we left we did not know that we were in for a little adventure in our attempt to visit the Castle. We entered the city of “Constantina” and followed the instruction of the Sat Nav (aka Google Maps) which led us into extremly narrow streets which also started a rather steep incline – a fact that made our blood pressure rise slightly and made us sweat despite the airco on.

Had I not been to busy helping Manfred to navigate I would have taken some pictures – so, just take my word for it.

All would have been OK, if – as a reward for the adventurous ride – we would have reached the Castillo. All of a sudden we encountered a car parked in the street, no way to pass it.

We stopped – I got off the car to find a gate to the Castillo and stairs leading up to it. The gate was locked and a sign explained to me that the site was closed.

Picture the situation: A narrow street – just broad enough for one car to pass – one car parked, two cars (ours) on an incline in the same street. (The view was great – though.)

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To cut a long story short. We had a challenging time turning the cars around – we succeeded though. As we could not visit the “Castillo” – maybe we could at least walk through the streets of Constantina, take a coffee somewhere, watch the inhabitants and just enjoy.

None of that happened that day – one might start to think that had been a conspiration against us. Litterally NO parking place was available for us to park the cars and to walk around. The streets were full with cars, people – actually one could start to think to be downtown Frankfurt at rush hour.

After 20 minutes of trying to find a place to legally park the car we surrendered to our fate and decided to leave Constantina – tough luck for them.

On our way out we got to know the reason for the busy situation down town. There seemed to be a market-day. Just outside the city, there was a space to park the cars. I asked Manfred to stop here and to take M. and B. back to at least get some pictures of the market and hopefully some other interesting views.

I volunteered to guard the cars.

It did not take long for them to return – quite disappointed. Manfred managed to take a picture of the “Castillo” but not much more.

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Courtesy: Manfred

Best to move on and not to waste more precious time here.

We have good memory of “San Nicolas del Puerto” – the little village with the public beach swimming area. M. and B. had seen water snakes and crayfish which they wanted to take better pictures of. But before we did that – I insisted in having a cup of coffee, that is why we stopped at the village church, looking for a bar to have something to drink.

“San Nicolas del Puerto” is a small village but charming – with the white church in the middle and storks waiting for us on one of the church towers.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

We did not have to look hard – as in most villages, all bars, restaurants, cafés are situated around the center of the village: the church.

The heat was sweltering again – we started to miss the “Poniente” – the wind that brought the cool to Rota, they could use some here as well.

The bar looked “closed” – blinds down, door shut – quite normal in this heat. We entered and appreciated the cool inside, well facilitated also by an airco humming from the wall. I ordered at the bar – the owner looked at us a bit surprised I suppose, “San Nicolas del Puerto” does not receive too many foreign visitors.

After 1 litre of mineral water (no sparkling water outside the touristic hubs), two café solo (Jesus, you could wake the dead with them) and a “caña” we drove down the road to the village exit/or entrance – depending from where you were coming – to look for water snakes and crayfish.

While Manfred, M. and B. researched the water where they had seen the water creatures last time I walked around taking some more pictures about the river beach.

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As I had said in my first blog entry about this project – I think this was money well spent.

Being the responsible tour guide I keep an eye on the watch and I remind my fellow travellers that it is time to hit the road again. M. and B. were unsuccessful in their picture hunt for water snakes and crayfish – I hope they will not hold us responsible for that, after the “Castillo” desaster this morning.

We leave the “Sierra Norte de Sevilla” and and also the autonomous region Andalucia to enter the plains of the Extremadura.

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Quite a change in landscape but that was the purpose. We would not have benefitted from this had we taken the highway.

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Passing by oceans of sun flowers and barrier lakes – a necessity to provide drinking water for the population in such a vaste space.

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Courtesy: Manfred

It was already 3:00 pm when we entered another Sierra, nested in which there it was the village of Guadalupe dominated by the Monastery and the Basilica.

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Courtesy: Manfred

13. Castellar de la Frontera

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Today’s trip took us to the south of Andalucia, visiting the beautiful castle of “Castellar de la Frontera”.

This was planned to be a “round trip”:

  • on the outbound leg we’d cross the country and pass by “Medina-Sidonia” and the “Parque Natural Los Alcornocales” down to the Mediterranean Sea,
  • and on the inbound leg, we’d be paying the “Strait of Gibraltar” a visit following more or less the Atlantic coast line home.

A great day trip and unlike our visits to Seville and Córdoba one we could take it easy and enjoy the beauty and the diversity of Andalucia – combined with a touch of history.

Travelling through Andalucia you encounter a lot of city names with the extention: “de la Frontera” (transl. on the border) –

  • Jerez de la Frontera,
  • Castellar de la Frontera,
  • Vejer de la Frontera,
  • Conil de la Frontera,
  • Chiclana de la Frontera,
  • Arcos de la Frontera.

This denotes that these cities actually have been demarkation lines between the moorish territory and the movement of the Spanish “Reconquista” in the 15th century.

We left the hotel around 9:30 pm – of course after a good breakfast – drove down the new A491 which now directly connects Rota with the highway to the south of the province.

It had been decided that we’d go straight down to Castellar – without stop in say: Medina-Sidonia or in the Parque Natural. M. and B. had visited this area in 2013 on a self-guided tour when participating in Manfred’s and my 25th anniversary celebration.

Leaving the “Parque Natural” behind us we could see the rock of “Gibraltar” to our right, but our first destination for today required us to take a left turn to the North-East.

The “Castillo de Castellar” is – as you may have guessed already – a more moorish than christian fortification and was declared Spanish Property of Cultural Interest in 1963. Manfred and I have already been there three or four times and we are enchanted by it every time we go there.

It is very well preserved – actually a little village of its own, with a hotel (I wonder why it has not yet been converted to a Parador) and people living inside the fortification complex.

One is not surprised to find that a good share of the village dwellers are artists of some sort: painters, sculputors.

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Source: Google Maps

There are actually three or four narrow streets – all inter-connected to eventually lead you back to the point where you started.

Standing on the thick exterior walls we took a moment to enjoy the beauty of the landscape around us. This region is very popular for “Senderismo” – hiking.

It does not really make sense to give you a blow-by-blow description of our movements here – that is why I decided to let the pictures tell the story.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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The only way in.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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The former donjon

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Trying to keep the place clean.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Even though I would consider the place a gem, in all the times Manfred and I had been here, we had never seen more than a handful of people roaming the streets – which, I think, is a good thing.

I guess what attracts me to the Castillo is the peace and quiet compared to the buzz and noises of Seville or other touristy sites.

As for food, we were to get something to eat in a charming restaurant at the botton of the hill on top of which the Castillo resides:  “Venta Jarandilla” . Unfortunately, – we were in bad luck that day – the venta was closed, so we had to think of something else.

When we came back from a rather disappointing day trip to Tangier in 2014 we had explored port “Tarifa” and had found a very nice bar/café with good food at a reasonable price. Quite unusual a combination for a tourist town such as Tarifa. We would take M. and B. there.

On our way to Tarifa we stopped at the “Mirador del Estrecho” a lookout point that offers – weather permitting – a great view onto North Africa – and the “Strait of Gibraltar”.

While it was sunny and cloudless “up north” in Rota, the Mediterranean part of Andalucia is defined by more clouds, strong winds and skittish weather. At the mirador we were exposed to really strong winds and the view onto the other side was somewhat “hazy” – not much to see, nothing worth taking pictures of.

Finally entering the city of “Tarifa”, blood sugar level had sunken to a dangerous low – we all needed food. We parked the car in a small public parking in “Calle San Sebastián”, crossing “Avendia Andalucia” and walked down the street to actually “enter” the former medina of Tarifa through “Puerta de Jerez”.

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Now what a difference to “Castellar de la Frontera”, the streets really looked, felt and smelled like a bazaar. Mainly young tourists – “surfer dudes” and “surfer girls” mostly – Tarifa and the adjacent Atlantic coastline are surfer’s paradise – the Hawaii of Europe.

Small shops and boutiques with hip young cloths and surfer’s wear, hip cafés offering all sorts of healthy, young food to the strollers.

We made our way down “Calle Nuestra Señora de la Luz” rather fast, to turn left on “Calle Sancho IV el Brave” to the “Parroquia de San Mateo”.

A little touch of history here – as promised in the pe-amble of the blog entry.

Sancho IV of Castille (aka Sancho IV el Brave) was king of Castilla in the late 13th century after the Spanish “Reconquista”. His link to Tarifa is that he rescued the city from the siege of the moroccan Sultan of Marinids – who, and that is the delicate fact – took the city by invitation of Sancho’s brother Juan trying to snatch the thrown from Sancho. (There had been an earlier attempt, which had failed – even though Sancho had forgiven his brother Juan, the bastard turned on Sancho again – this is the stuff, modern telenovelas are made of. Some themes never seem to vanish.)

Well, the Sultan was defeated by Sancho and his troops, which engraved his name in the city’s annals.

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While I was telling you all this – esteemed reader – our travel party had made a full turn in front of the Parroquia and had walked down Sancho’s Road to another point of (more) interest: the place I had told you about before – el Bar “El Francés”. And before you are misled – the owner Andrés Iglesias had worked in France for over 30 years – reason enough for his friends to call him “El Francés” (The Frenchman).

We were lucky and got the last table outside and were served fast by a native German waitress (certainly one that came down here to live in a more surfer-alternative life style – a late hippie if you want).

We had a couple of “cañas” and lots of aqua mineral con gaz – along with great food such as:

  • Salmorejo con Remolacha
  • Albondigas (you may guess, who had ordered those)
  • Gambas de ajo (you may guess, who did not order those at all)
  • Tortillas de Camarones

We finished up a delicious lunch with a couple of café solo and felt in peace with the world and strong enough to face the rest of the trip.

We walked down to the seaport, which is as well a yacht habour as the port of the Catamaran to Morocco,

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Courtesy: Manfred

and passed by the Castillo, where Guzmán el Bueno had lost his son during the siege by the Sultan (see above).

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Courtesy: Manfred

We then strolled down “Calle Guzmán el Bueno” to enjoy some a bit calmer – though not less touristy – streets.

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Courtesy: Manfred

In front of one of the boutiques waiting outside we met this little fella. The expression on his face  – I guess – says it all: I am tired of all the fuss and it is too hot.

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Having taken in what was to be taken in of Tarifa, we returned to the car just to admire the quite unorthodoxly way of moving around the parked cars to fee up space for leavers and joiners.

In no time we were on our way – headed home, decided not to take the country road along the coast but to follow the main road N340.

Shortly after we had entered N340 we could see the long and broad beach with white sand glistening in the mid day sun- predestined for all sorts of wind related sports.

No four star hotels could be found here… N340 is lined with camping grounds and low profile cheap surfer lodging. I guess when you are young, hip and a surfer you do not need the comfort and amenities of a good hotel – all you need is:

  • wind,
  • your surf board,
  • a couple of friends to have sex with
  • something to smoke in the evening

But maybe I am thinking too late-60ies here and these guys are all tucked into bed by 8:00 pm.

During one of our first trips down here, Manfred and I had enjoyed the Trafalgar Lighthouse. Why not stop there and share that experience with M. and B.

To cut that story short – no access anymore to the lighthouse. We could have walked some miles along the beach, but a) there was no parking and b) neither of us felt like walking in the afternoon sun.

So, we turned the car around, passed by “Vejer de la Frontera” – one of the white towns on the “Ruta de los Pueblos Blancos” – you can plan an entire vacation around taking this route connecting the White Towns of Andalucia. Manfred and I took part of this route during our very first trip to Andalucia and we enjoyed it immensely.

At 4:00 pm our car came to rest for today, safely parked on the parking of the “Hotel Playa de la Luz”. As it was Sunday – we had done our week end shopping the day before.

Taking it easy for the rest of the day – enjoying a Vino at the swimming pool (me) and the beach (Manfred), what could be better.

 

 

12. Sévilla

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Here we are, on June 16th – just one day after our trip to Córdoba. Originally we had scheduled one day of “rest” between the two trips but due to the train operators’ strike and a booking for the Cathedral of Seville we had to go today.

If you have ever been to Seville you know that the waiting lines in front of the ticket office (1) tend to become endless – especially in the mornings.

That is why I had booked four entrance tickets online at the Cathedral’s official website. Even though the whole booking process is far from what you might be used to from sites such as Amanzon or other booking systems – it is worth going through the process as visitors with pre-paid tickets get admission through a separate gate (2).

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We would be taking the car this time. It is a one hour drive “door-to-door”. Affordable public parking is available at 300 meters from the Cathedral and all the major sites. Feed your sat nav with Avenida Paseo de Cristiana. You cannot miss the Parking sign reading “Avenida Roma” – this is a bit unleading but you enter the parking from Paseo de las Delicias through Avenida Paseo de Cristiana.

Like Cádiz, Seville is a must-see when you are in Andalucia. Manfred and I visit her every time at least once, often twice. The city never gets boring and offers a lot.

If I am not mistaken, it is the city with the highest density of World Cultural Heritage Sites, but also beautiful museums, places just to stroll through or gardens just to get away from the heat of the city.

Like Córdoba, Seville can become VERY hot in the summer – if you are lucky or unlucky even you get hit by temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius. And the temperature is a common and very popular topic of conversation – actually in summer:

Oju, Qué Caló

is the most used expression in Seville. (Trans.: Gee, What a heat!)

Weather forecast for today though showed that we’d only be facing mild temperatures in the mid-20ies.

The heat is one reason why to visit Seville early in the morning.

This time we left the hotel at 8:30 – AFTER breakfast and took A4 from Jerez de la Frontera until the gates of Sévilla. Coming this way you leave the high way at Sévilla Oeste and after what felt like 2,000 roundabouts you hit Paseo de las Delicias which is the main entrance road and which gets you right in the middle of things.

M. and B. had visited Sévilla with us three years ago when Manfred and I celebrated our 25th anniversary. Back then we had visited the Alcazar of Sevilla, Plaza España, and General Archivs of the Indies and the Parque Maria Louisa.

We did not get a chance to visit the Cathedral in 2013 – so this was top on our list for today’s visit.

My suggestion is, dear reader: If you stay a week or even longer in this part of Andalucia, don’t try to pack too much into one visit to Seville. Manfred and I at least go twice, selecting one or two specific activities.

Taking the highway in Andalucia is delightful – wouldn’t there be the toll (EUR 7.20 one trip per car). We arrived around 10:00am and before entering the parking, I dropped my fellow travellers and asked Manfred – armed with the online booking – to head for the Cathedral.

The city was still quiet and in stoic (should I say Andalusian) anticipation of the masses of tourists that would swarm around the sites and streets. I guess a city that coped with invasions of Visigoths, Romans and Umayyads cannot be impressed by bus loads of Germans, French, Japanese and Chinese.

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Leaving the parking – there it was, “La Giralda”, the bell tower of the cathedral and a World Cultural Heritage Site on its own. You may have guessed, it used to be a minaret in muslim times.

Walking up the street, I admired yet another time the buildings,

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stopped at my good old friend, the General Arives of the Indies, to take a picture of the doves (yes they were alive)  on the fountain in front of the building.

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When I paged Manfred to find out their whereabouts, I learnt that trying to be “the early bird” will not exactly work, if one does not verify that it has the expected benefits. In other words, the Cathedral would not open before another hour.

Well, dear reader – I know – what kind of travel guide am I? Being smart enough to purchase the tickets online but not diligent enough to check the actual opening hours. Fair point.

I met the others in front of the main entrance, which was still closed and devoid the masses of tourists I had expected to line up there.

We had one hour to kill – so, why not prepone one of the “agenda items” for today and visit the “Judería” rather now than later. Said and done:

We immersed ourselves in the maze of small and narrow streets in the former Jewish Quarter of Seville which seems to have more significance here than in Córdoba.

While it was quiet in front of the Cathedral the “Judería” was swarming with groups of Japanese tourists – I guess they all killed the time until the Cathedral would open its gates to the public.

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Courtesy: Manfred

Quite an enjoyable walk – despite the tourists – and we made it back on time – well, 15 minutes to the hour and were the first, litterally the first to set food in the Cathedral that day. The glitch with the missed opening hours was forgotten and forgiven.

M. was keen to get up “La Giralda” as he wanted to be there “first” – my advice was to visit the Cathedral first while it was still empty and climb the Giralda later. Here is the logic behind it: Most people want to see the inside of the Cathedral, least of the visitors really feel like climbing up the ramps of the Giralda – in other words, it is never really crowded up there, but it gets crowded really fast in the Cathedral – and then you have hordes of tourists obstructing the views onto the precious altars and other sights.

Here is my advise: If you do have the luxury of being the first in the Cathedral – benefit from it and visit the Cathedral in realitve peace and quiet and take all the pictures you want rather undisturbed and climb the Giralda on your way out.

Well, there was no stopping M. – actually I have never seen him run this fast as long as I have known him. As a good travel guide I had to follow my “client”.

There are no actual stairs up to the top of the tower – as I said earlier, there are ramps rather that “back then” could be used on the back of a horse – approx. 104 meters high.

The way up allows interesting views through the narrow windows.

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And certainly the top of the tower awaits the visitor with some rewarding views onto the beautiful city of Seville.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy Manfred

While the tower originally was the minaret of the mosque, it became the bell tower in the course of the history. Different religions have different ways to call their believers to service – I suppose.

Manfred, M. and B. being busy taking photographs I climbed down. Arriving in the Cathedral it was as I had described earlier – groups of tourists congregated around the main attractions of the Cathedral, the altars and the tomb of Christopher Columbus.

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As an interested reader you have certainly been reading the entry about Córdoba and you most certainly recall how taken I was by the beauty of the Mezquita, now I must say – the Cathedral of Seville has the same effect on me, being the biggest Gothic-style Cathedral in the entire world, besides being a World Cultural Heritage Site.

I guess, it really does not matter where spirituality dwells and to which higher instance it is directed to – if one is a mindful human being.

I strolled around ignoring the buzz created by less mindful people around me.

As it became more and more crowded I fled into the Patio of the Cathedral, admiring the building from outside – it sure looked as impressive from here than from inside.

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Courtesy Manfred

When I got back inside I met the others, M. and B. captured by the beauty of “La Catedral” – if figured that it would take a while to release our fellow travellers from their trance-like state. I informed Manfred that I would wait outside in a café until our friends were finished with their visit.

We all had noticed  quite some noise outside the building, penetrating through the thick walls – drum beats, whistle blowing and the ear-piercing sound of horns operated on compressed air.

When I got outside I got confirmation for what I had suspected: A large group of protesters marching in the street along the Cathedral – the right place to draw attention to one’s cause.

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I must admit, witnessing demonstrations, seeing the crowds, listing to their rallying cries and all the other protest sounds, evokes strong emotions in me – a strange mix of feeling sympathic and aggressive… Well, being a psychologist I should be able to explain why I get launched on these things.

I decided not to pursue the thought but to get something warm to drink and a quiet place where I could wait for the others.

Now, when in Rome – I usually do as the Romans – forgive me the moment of weakness when I walked into a café belonging to a Seattle-based company and not into one of the local pavement cafés. I…

  1. …was longing for air-co
  2. …wanted standarized quality
  3. …wanted free WIFI to check mails and to plan our next moves (I needed to avoid that we ended up standing in front of closed doors again that day)

People, a travel guide deserves a treat every now and then (even though he did not get the opening hours of the Cathedral straight)… and here I was having an extra large cocoa with extra whip cream.

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My fellow travellers joined me half an hour later – M. and B. were very satisfied with their visit and their photografic quarry. I was pleased that they were and that they started to develop an equally strong attachment to the city as Manfred and I had.

It was around 1:00 pm and unlike me – my friends had neither rested nor did they have any carb intake since breakfast.

Opposite of “El Archivo” there was one of the restaurants that offered food and “bocadillos” with ham and cheese or a combination of both. Manfred and I – usually reluctant selecting food places too close to tourist attractions – had visited this place during one of previous trips and had rated it: OK.

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We went in and had a platter of various ham and cheese as well as a tostada (for me) – lots of aqua mineral CON gaz and cerveza.

Manfred and I speak Spanish well enough to place a simple order (Manfred had passed the DELE Intermedio) – the waiter – the insolent bastard, pardon my French – pretended not to understand us, and addressed us in English even though we had spoken to him in Spanish. What an Andalusian show-off.

In a previous travel journal I had devoted an entire chapter to Andalusian men working in the service sector – a sad chapter I should say.

But the day had worked so well so far that this rather poor service experience could not taint the overall experience. Food was good by the way and the price reasonable.

Over lunch Manfred and I discussed the next visit options:

We could either go to “Plaza de España” and “Parque de Maria Luisa” again, which they had introduced to during their visit in 2013, or take one of the narrow shopping streets down to Calle Alfonso XII on which we would take a left turn and visit one of my favorite museums of all times the “Museo de Bellas Arte de Sevilla”.

I love this place – not only because of great pieces of art being exhibited there, but more for the fact that the museum used to be a monastery before – with all the patios and the arcades inviting the visitors to rest and to contemplate. Makes the museum visit quite an intense experience.

The dice were cast – and the latter of the options were chosen by M. and B.

So leaving the restaurant we turned left and walked down “Avenida de la Constitución”  along the tracks of the Sevilla tram past the Gothic prodigy known as “La Catédral de Sevilla” admiring beautiful buildings along the street.

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In front of us the “Ayuntamiento de Sevilla” – the Seville Town Hall.

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Sevilla as a city is laid out very generously and spaciously. The Town Hall is located on a vast “Plaza” where a lot of city life can take place.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

As we were there a group of young and talented muscians gave a street concert which captured us and even made us donate some Euro.

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We dove into one of the narrower shopping streets with all the “tiendas” and pavement cafés, some of them covered with canvas to protect the strollers from the piercing Andalusian sun. (We were lucky this day. The UV index as well as the temperatures were bearable)

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

At the end of “Calle Sierpes” there is a real trap, called: “Pastelería La Campana”. Having eaten ham and cheese (OK, I admit I had a tostada) you could not really say that there had been too much carb intake really… well, I stop trying to make excuses – the will was strong, the flesh however was weak.

B. and I went in and got ourselves an assortment of “meringues” with various flavours – I had picked a cinnamon-flavoured one for me. Before I could protest, the “meringues” – which were meant for immediate consumption – found themselves professionally packed and wrapped with a properly knotted string around it. Surely very handy if one was to carry the delicacy home.

B.’s and my plan however was to actually enjoy them right now, right there and that is how we ended up like two addicts with severe withdrawal symptoms desperately trying to untie the knot without harming the fragile content.

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It took us more than five minutes to get there – very much to the amusement of M. and Manfred.

“Meringues” in Spain are much softer than in Germany where they are as dry as powder, so eating them while walking made somewhat of a mess, but they were delicious nontheless.

We arrived at the “Museo de Bellas Artes” by the time we were finished indulging and went in.

Now – in Spain, very often in museums that received or receive funding from the EU, European citizens get free admittance – provided they can produce an official ID.

Manfred and I – of course – had our ID on us. M. and B. did not. Tough luck, that is what I call it. Playing by the rules they had to pay for the entrance.

Here are tow important pieces of advice:

  1. When trying to pay with a Credit Card in Spain, produce your ID – they may not accept your card if you cannot

  2. Carry your ID if you plan on visiting cultural sites such as museums, exhibitions etc.

As I had mentioned earlier, this museum is a real gem. A bit away from the main attractions of Sevilla, in a former convent.

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Courtesy: Manfred

Beautiful outside – packed with significant art from the past. I am not an art buff, nor could I “read” any of the pieces in the exhibtion. However I do enjoy walking through the exhibition halls every single time we are in Sevilla.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

The real highlight of the visit though is when you leave exhibition hall IV and find yourself in the former central nave of the covent’s church.

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Courtesy: Manfred

Even though no longer a church you can still feel a certain spirit in it – the pictures being the altar today. I can wonderfully relax just sitting on one of the wooden benches admiring the things that surround me.

We “only” explored the ground floor with M. and B.- the entire art exhibition extends over two vaste floors of the building.

Outside again, we decided to go back to the car, so we headed towards the Guadalquivir to walk back to the parking along the river side.

However – a couple of “café solo”, “acqua mineral con gaz”, and “caña” needed to be consumed, which we did in a small pavement café close to “Plaza de Armas”, where we sat outside – the afternoon traffic on “Calle Marqués de Paradas” in our backs.

Time to finally return to the car. Walking alongside the river Guadalquivir passing “Torre del Oro” (Gold tower) which houses a small maritime museum. We had visited the Torre on one of our previous trips and have marked the museum as insignificant and not worthy of a visit – that is why it only appears as prop but never as a major agenda item. It has its roots in the era of the Almohads in the 13th century and was one of the defense mechanisms against the “reconquistadores” who were trying to “liberate” or “cease” (depending on your point of view) on the river.

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Courtesy: Manfred

Crossing the “Paseo de las Delicias” we entered the public parking, where the car has waited for us patiently. We had paid approx. EUR 6 for the parking (8 hours).

Reversing our inbound trip we arrived back “home” at 5:30pm – time enough either to put the feed up, to do some shopping at Mercadona or to pay the beach a visit.

11. Córdoba

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Even though the “Costa de la Luz” tempts the traveller to just hang out by the beach and do nothing, our little travel party was more determined to discover and to explore the cultural beauty of Andalucia.

Part of our travel arrangement was a trip to yet another gem in Andalucia’s tiara – Córdoba.

You may recall – dear reader – that I had suggested to always go to Cádiz by catamaran and not by car, my recommendation now is to always take the train to Córdoba and not the car.

If you are German you will certainly appreciate travelling by Spanish Railways – called RENFE – the acronym for “Red Nacional de Ferrocarriles Españoles“. They beat German trains comparing punctuality, travel comfort and the overall condition of the trains. Not so much – I am afraid – as far as their suspectability to strikes is concerned.

Let’s take a step back:

We had booked the train ride online and well in advance on RENFE’s official website. In combination with their mobile App we held the e-tickets for the four of us in Manfred’s phone. Quite straight forward and very handy – just like handling plane tickets these days.

As a rule of thumb for all visits – get there early. An early start repays you by avoiding the masses of tourists hitting the main sites from 10:00am on.

In the past years Manfred and I were lucky to catch one of these great, very sleek high speed and high comfort direct trains that would only stop in Sevilla. This time we  we had to get on one of the trains that transport the day-commuters from Cádiz to Sevilla instead. But even these trains are heaven compared to what you usually find in Germany. On our way back however – we were able to get on a high speed direct train. Have a look at our itinerary below.

But as mentioned in this blog on a couple of occasions – “The journey is the reward” – so we got to stop in small cities and villages that we only knew from the signs on the highway.

As I said earlier – tickets were purchased in advance and stored safely in the bowels of Manfred’s Android – what I have not mentioned yet: the trip was scheduled to take place on Tuesday, June 14th.

Yes, dear reader, do not be confused to find this blog entry under Wednesday, June 15th.

Here is what happend: On Sunday, Manfred received an email sent by RENFE to inform us that there would be a train operator’s warning strike on Tuesday, June 14th and that the scheduled trip was at jeopardy.

We were offered a later connection for the day but also given the opportunity to cancel or to reschedule the trip to one of the following days. Cancelling the trip was out of the question – of course. We decided to postpone it to Wednesday, June 15th.

To cut a long story short: Changing the booking online did not work (for some strange reason, I suppose the strike threat came on short notice and the respective booking systems could not be updated fast enough). Manfred got in the car and drove to the train station in Jerez de la Frontera and got it fixed. Sometimes – and even I realize that – you have to do the things “old school”.

So, here we are back on the 15th of this lovely June 2016, leaving the “Hotel Playa de la Luz” at 6:00am – without breakfast. Empathetic readers such as you feel for me, knowing how important breakfast is for me.

We said we would find something to eat in Jerez before getting on the train. We got to the train station right on time to only find that the public parking of the station was closed. Very weird, so we turned the car around and were lucky to find a place in “Calle Méndez Nuñez” – no obvious signs that we were not allowed to park here.

There were a couple of bars/caféterias already open around “Plaza de la Estación” to serve early commuters – though the food offering was not that great, we settled for a “café solo”.

Jerez train station is a beautiful building – I just love the Spanish tiles used to decorate the surface.

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8 stops and 1:11 later we got off the train at the “Sevilla Santa Justa” train station, the travel hub in Andalucia, connecting high speed trains serving the “Cádiz-Madrid” line with all the other connections into the region.

In fairness to Deutsche Bundesbahn – the Spanish railways network is by far not as dense and as frequented as the German network.

Changing trains – going to our connection to the high speed train on a different track. I looked at one of the station clocks, enough time left to get food into my system.

The sandwich I got in one of the cafeterias in the foyer of the train station tasted dreadful. Hoping for dinner was the only consolation at this point in time.

I used the analogy to air travel at the beginning of the blog entry – boarding a high speed train in Spain is like getting on an air plane… you have to pass your luggage through an x-ray, your tickets are being checked at the entrance of the platform.

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Having left Seville – the train sped up to 300km/h. No surprise we arrived at Córdoba 45 minutes later just as scheduled.

The barometric column had already risen above the 25 degree mark – Córdoba is one of hottest Andalusian cities.

We started to walk towards the “Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba” one of the most impressive contemporary witnesses I know.

But before we get there, let me contemplate a little on the city of “Córdoba”. History is not my field of expertise and I highly recommend that you do some research either online or by reading (old school) books about it – believe me, it will enrich the experience.

Let me share with you what I know: eventful history influenced by Carthagians, Romans, muslim conquerors, Jews and Christians. Ancient capital of the Emirate, later Caliphate of Córdoba, 500,000 inhabitants at a time and – I think it is fair to say – one of the first major cities in Europe.

Depending on what colour the glasses have, through which you see life – Córdoba was either the place that demonstrated that muslims, jews and christians lived in peaceful co-existence and hence are responsible and facilitators for a flourishing trade, culturual and scientific life, or – all that peaceful co-existence was only the result of a trade and a tax: “Dhimma” that secured the right or residence and was imposed by the muslim occupiers upon all non-muslims living in the Caliphate.

The Caliphate fell victim to the “Reconquista” – the reconquest of occupied regions on the peninsula – in 1236 – the “Mezquita-Catedral” is a living witness to that – if only it could tell us the story.

The building is – again, depending from where you look at it – either an amalgamation of islamic and christian architecture/culture or an atrocity to culture and architecture. Be that as it may – I see both, but accept that history cannot be undone, however we should learn from it.

We had started walking and had entered the park nearby the train station and made our way  to the Mezquita. Given the heat, Manfred and I quickly revisited the “agenda” and decided to eliminate two sites and to keep the visits restricted to the Mezquita, the Alcazar, Torre de Calahorra and the “Juderia”. While the area around the train station is predominantly modern development with all the major modern department store chains, there is great historic substance spinkled in and even more so moving towards the river Guadalquivir.

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And there it was – sourrounded by those thick and impenetrable walls – frightening almost from the insight but nonetheless granting access – through the four gates – to a courtyard with fountains and wells, with trees planted all in a strict geometric order as it seemed.

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While we were approaching the Mezquita, Manfred had left our little travel party to give us a head-start at the ticket counter. When M., B. and I arrived he had already purchased the tickets.

Even though I love the Mezquita, I skipped the visit inside as I wanted to head to the Alcazar to get the entrance tickets for there. As we were early all the sites were still relatively empty, Manfred and I knew that this would change dramatically in about 45 minutes when the masses of tourists unloaded from their tourist busses on the other side of the Guadalquivir would make their way across the “Puente Romano”.

So, Manfred, M. and B. went off to visit the inside of the Mezquita / Cathedral.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

It was a good call to come here so early – Manfred, M. and B. could take pictures from the inside of the Mezquita without having to avoid too many fellow visitors, and I could take some pictures from the outside of the Mezquita, the “Puerta de la Puente” and the “Puente Romano” itself.

But first of all – I walked the 500 meters over to the “Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos” to get the tickets. No lines – had the tickets within 10 seconds and had time now to walk back to the Mezquita, cross the “Roman Bridge” to double check the opening hours of the “Torre Calahorra”.

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These pictures were taken around 10:20am.

When our travel party crossed the bridge again at 11:00am – it was flooded with tourists swarming in from the other side of the river.

The “Torro Calahorra” used to be part of one of the many entry gates to the city of Córdoba – today it houses the “Al-Andalous Living Museum”. It is one of my favorite Museums as it portrays all the facets of Andalusian history. The exhibition is state-of-the art: media-rich, well structured, informative, educational and entertaining at the same time.

We were more in sightseeing mode today and a proper visit of the museum takes an hour’s time at least. So, we admired the tower and made our way to the Alcazar.

You may have guessed it – there was a long queue at the ticket counter of the Alcazar. Not for us: We showed our tickets and cut the line, it pays back to plan ahead.

If you ask me, Córdoba’s Alcazar is nice and most certainly worth a visit, however it is not half as impressive and breathtaking as the Alcazar in Seville.

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Even though its name suggests an arabic origin it has an equally eventful history as Córdoba: Visighoths, Umayyads and finally in 1236 the Christians. It served as primary residence of Isabella I and Fernando II. The center piece of the structure is the garden.

Climbing on one of the towers also offers a great view across Córdoba.

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Inside artifacts from past times and tennants can be admired.

At the time of our visit, the restauration of the old baths was in progress.

Even though it had become really hot, we felt pulled towards the garden as its attractiveness cannot be resisted.

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

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Courtesy: Manfred

Moving on: The Alcazar in our backs, the Mezquita ahead of us, we took a left turn to walk towards the “Jews Quarter” with the remainders of the synagogue. Walking through narrow streets – though not quiet as there was this constant stream of groups of tourists from all over ther world. Each group trying to distinguish itself by a special telltale sign wrapped around a stick the guide wore like a sword, risen above his head as if he was to strike the competitors any time soon.

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Compared to the wealth of the muslim and christian legacy in Córdoba, the “Judería” appeared small and rather insignificant. Not so surprising once consulting the respective chapters in the history books of the history of the “Reconquista”. And I guess it has to be stated that the Christians were not much different in the take on who was “a believer” and “who was not”. The “Dhimma” kept the social system in peaceful balance under muslim occupation, I am not aware of any such concept installed by the Christian “reconquistas”.

Dear reader, you do (painfully) recall that:

  • I had to forego breakfast,
  • the substitute consumed in Sevilla was dreadful
  • I thought I could last until dinner

Guess what – the flesh was weak – in other words, I needed food – soon.

Manfred and I had never eaten in Córdoba during any of our past visits, in addition we were on unknown turf in the “Judería” – the worst that can happen to a travel party is to be without destinct course, almost like a ship with a captain who lost his bearing.

We continued north bound, kept to the right as we did not want to get back to the train station too soon. The streets were pleasant to wander and there was a lot to see – and by just wandering around the understanding and the appreciation of how ancient/medieval cities functioned grew.

All the narrow streets all connected like a neural network, opening out into small “Plazas”, where the social interaction of the inhabitants and tenants took place. Small self-sufficient urban units all forming the bigger whole. Fantastic.

Finally – at the “Plaza de la Trinidad” – I saw a friendly-looking cafeteria “O mundo de Alicia”. I left my fellow travellers no choice really as I had entered faster than they could watch.

We had lots of “aqua mineral con gaz”, cañas, coffee and serveral platters of food.

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Courtesy: M. and B.

Like a baby that has been fed properly I was happy man and ready to face the rest of the day. We stayed a while and as the time was nearing 2:00pm we got back on the street and walking again.

Above “Plaza de la Trinidad” we entered the “Plaza del Doctor Emilio Luque” – a small plaza, half-round with nice looking buildings  – and a bust of the “Doctor Emilio Luque”. As we were looking at the bust, a Córdobese woman explained to us that Emilio Luque is the local hero, a saint as he had helped the poor and had provided medical care to those who could not afford it.

Moving on we eventually reached the “Plaza la Tendillas” with its splendid looking buildings.

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Courtesy: Manfred

On our way to the train station we paid the local “Corte Inglés” a visit, looking for a leather bag for a friend of ours. We left the department store with no purchases made, took a right and entered the park we had already crossed this morning.

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We stopped at a quite unusual memorial – easy to be missed – commemorating “two good people, their humbleness and their sacrifises in life…”

Back at the train station we had to wait for “boarding” – the train arrived on time and brought us back to Jerez de la Frontera without having to change trains. We all were a bit tired and took a nap while the train made his way through the Andalusian lowlands at 300 km per hour.

5:03pm we stood on the platform of Jerez de la Frontera train station again headed towards where we had parked the car. Manfred and I stopped at one of the little “supermarkets” to buy essential supplies: mineral water and red wine. We were all in a really good mood with all the impressions, the great things we had seen, the train ride and all…

You, esteemed reader, should have seen the looks on our faces when we discovered an offically looking piece of paper squeezed behind the blade of the wipers of our car. Yes, you guess correctly: it was a parking violation ticket.

The thing though that really aggravated us was the amount of fine looking at us:

EUR 80

My adrenaline level rose in fractions of seconds and I started to see myself storming into the city administration with a pump gun – the headlines of tomorrows newspapers before my mind’s eye:

German Tourist Upset with Ridiculous Parking Fine Runs Amok at City Hall!

With my face to it in hand-cuffs.

Well, well – those of you who know me are aware of my melodramatic side – of couse I did not plan a blood-shed – at least not with a pump gun, but I had begun to draft an acid and baneful letter to various recipients.

By the time we reached the hotel, my mind had returned to normal and we did of course what grown-up people do: We asked for advice at the front desk.

As I had correctly assumed – they knew the solution:

  1. Go back to the street where you parked within 24 hours
  2. Look for the next parking meter in that parking zone.
  3. Enter the PIN given on the ticket along with car’s registration number,
  4. Pay the amount indicated
  5. Forget the ticket

Actually – and I am not ashamed to admit it: Had we read the ticket carefully while being in Jerez, Manfred would not have to return that very evening.

The procedure worked and we paid only EUR 8.89 which was OK and corresponds to the amount we would have paid, had we parked in the train station’s parking.

In retrospect I am impressed with this system compared to the bureaucracy and paper shifting a parking violation ticket causes in Germany.

Before dinner that night we took it easy – some sun on the beach, letting pass the day in our minds.

All in all another just perfect vacation day.

10.1. Cádiz = Havanna de Cuba?

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After having introduced “Cádiz” to you, dear reader – I would like to draw your attention to an analogy often drawn between the city of “Cádiz” and “Havanna de Cuba”.

Believe it or not – “Cádiz” had indeed served as “stand-in” for the the captial of Cuba and should be perceived as secret movie star.

Parts of the James Bond movie “Die Another Day” (2002) featuring Pearce Brosnan as Bond, James Bond, were shot in “Cádiz” on the “Playa de la Caleta”.

But also songs compare “Cádiz” with Havanna – it is up to the Gaditanos to decide whether or not they feel flattered by this comparison.