Date: 26 September 2018.
Location: Tabanco Plateros, Jerez, southern Spain.
It’s time for the annual pilgrimage to the land of sangria and eating meals six hours later than any other country could stomach. Hola, Spain! (The ‘pilgrimage’ is completely accidental. Turns out I really like Spain — shocker, I know — and it’s drawn me back year on year: wild times and villa life in Ibiza in 2015, mellowing out with gin and catching summer’s final rays in Menorca in 2016, and then playing at being ballers on a mega yacht in a Barca before meandering the Costa Brava in 2017. I think this should be a thing. I’m making it a thing.)
I get into Seville town around 10.30pm on a Friday night. Exhausted. Teeth-chatteringly, bone deep, exhausted. Work has been chaos — so demanding that I needed to take a car to the airport rather than the train like a normal human because I had back to back calls up until my flight time and needed to mark up documents at the same time. Hellish. Horrible. Really particularly awful when you’re relying on Luton airport free WiFi.
But then, suddenly, I’m in Spain.
At Seville airport I connect to another terrible but lifesaving free WiFi and send off a board paper. Then I’m free!
Bonus: Now I get to hang out with Kitty!
She’s spent a few weeks travelling around Portugal and Spain solo and is, I sense from her text messages, ready for some company. Even us introverts occasionally need someone to share a bottle of wine with.
Kitty has dropped a pin for the location of our Airbnb. My cab driver explains to me in mash of Spanish and hand gestures (despite the pilgrimages, my Spanish remains terrible and food-focused) that it’s a pedestrian mall, but he can drop me nearby. We both laugh a lot during the process and this is just the exorcism I need, my work week stress leaves the body.
Kitty and I meet on a street corner near the cathedral. This may sound a little bizarre, but it’s oddly romantic. Isn’t there something beautiful about meeting an old friend you haven’t seen in a year, on a street corner late on a balmy night in Seville? If you think not then you’re dead inside. She looks amazingly relaxed. I look like a battered hag, the ‘before’ image of an overworked understyled schoolteacher that the teens make over halfway through the movie.
We hug, we get dinner and wine, I almost fall asleep in my prawns. I’m so grateful I could cry when Kitty leads us back to the flat and it’s the most beautiful flat you could wish for. Her bedroom has a tiny balcony overlooking the majestic cathedral (less majestic come Sunday morning and its incessant bells) and mine overlooks the tree-lined main street. I fall into crisp white sheets and oblivion.
The next day dawns bright and hot. 37 degrees hot. Hola Spain indeed.
Just the day before, back in London, we’d squeezed in a cheeky pub lunch at The Albion and, because the wisteria was still in bloom and the sky looked clear and we had jackets, we opted to sit outside. Ha. By the time our drinks arrived we were being spattered with ice cold droplets. By the time our meals arrived we were being pelted by freezing rain. I’m telling you this for context and partly to remind myself that Winter Is Coming to London and that 37 degrees could and should be enjoyed.
But 37 degrees is, woah, hot. It’s not quite the take-your-breath-away oven heat of an Aussie February but it’s enough to come as a shock to me. Masochistically, I quite like it. It feels fitting weather for exploring the ancient city of Seville.
All else I can say about Seville is that you should just go. Forget Madrid, even forget Barcelona (for now). Seville is your place. It’s dominated by that stunning cathedral and lorded over by the palatial, mysterious Alcazar. (The latter was the filming location for Dorne on Game of a Thrones and, whilst there was some helpful CGI in the show, the real deal is no less beautiful.) In the summer heat, its pale stone buildings glow, its wide piazzas look to their best. We have just one full day there and it’s not quite enough to eat everything we want to eat.
From Seville we take a surprisingly modern train down to Cadiz. I’m sure I’d have nicer things to say about Cadiz if we hadn’t just been deposited there from the beauty queen of a town that is Seville. It does not show to advantage in that contrast. For me, Cadiz will be defined in my memory by two things. First, the big hulking cruise ships and the cumquat-coloured Brits they disgorge onto shore. Second, the truly wonderful Casa Manteca which is the most classic Spanish tapas bar you could wish for. It’s run by two brothers, the sons of a famous matador, and it’s hot and crowded and the walls are lined with bottles of sherry and bullfighting tributes and paraphernalia. Having read about it on a blog, we seek it out around 6pm on a Saturday evening. There’s nowhere to sit. You order at the bar. A beautiful Spaniard points and tells you to wait and, soon, metal platters of greaseproof paper and cured meets and manchego are before you. The floor is littered with balls discarded greaseproof paper — a good sign. For me, this little corner bar, with patrons sipping little glasses of sharp sherry and spilling out onto the pavement from every door into the dark night towards the beach, will be my Spanish archetype. It is perfect.
The next day we get back on that surprisingly modern train and head up to Jerez. Jerez (from the Arabic şereş and pronounced by the locals as ‘heress’) is a little town at the apex of the Spanish Sherry triangle. It is also, we discover after a tipsy google translate search trying to work out how to place our drink orders like locals, the Spanish word for ‘sherry’. (“What?” “It’s Jerez.” “I know we’re in Jerez. But how do I order sherry.” “It’s Jerez. Jerez is sherry.” ”So, we are in Jerez …and I need to go order two Jerezs?” “Um yeah…”)
Like Bordeau or Champagne or Rioja, the drink of this region has become its identity and its name is protected. Seriously, who knew? Isn’t learning fun?
Where Seville felt rich with oasis-like fertility, its palace gardens lush as any king could dream and its streets green with orange trees, its city rich with contemporary culture and great brunch spots, Jerez is more arid. Its charm — and it has plenty — is in quiet traditionalism. The town is a network of sunny piazzas and shaded calles. There’s a church on every second corner and a tribute to a saint on every other. It’s also the home of the tabanco, the sherry pub. We learn how to order a sherry above and beyond just tentatively asking for ‘Jerez?’ and the difference between the olorosso and the fino, on a tour of the Gonzalezes Byass bodega, drink 5 of the tiny glasses back to back. It didn’t look like a lot but we walk out into the fading daylight ever so much more knowledgable about Sherry. And just a wee bit drunk.
Every day here is so hot that it makes daytime blur and bleed at the edges. At first we fought this, exploring through that middle of the day heat. Now, though, we’ve relaxed into it. The hours after lunch pass slowly, and us slowly through them. So, by day two in Jerez and day six in Spain, retreating inside for a siesta feels normal, but so does chilling out with a book on a rooftop or, in my case, a dip in the Arabian baths. I’m so relaxed I could just stay her forever.
Some places we loved:
Oveja Negro in Seville has the coolest tapas you will eat in Spain. I said it.
Apartment Living by Cathedral in Seville is a hard to beat apartment.
El Pasaje in Seville is a tiny sherry bar with live flamenco. Go early and get a table.
Casa Manteca in Cadiz is the tapas bar you imagine would make a perfect movie set.
La Vaca Atada in Cadiz is a lovely, airy, modern cafe.
Tabanco Plateros in Jerez for the sherry flight.