It may sound like a bizarre thing to say about a river cruise, but in all honesty, the MS La Belle de Cadix, in merely two days, has begun to feel like home.
I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s the chorus of enthusiastic “Good morning Christina!”s that I receive on my way down to breakfast everyday, the warm cushiness of my double bed, the impossibly friendly crew members or the hilarious passengers who fill my days with bad jokes and delightful conversation. In all likeliness, it’s a combination of all these factors, but regardless of the reason, there is an unshakable satisfaction in feeling perfectly at home, even though I’m 5000 miles away.
Today, this floating home opened its doors to Cádiz, a beautiful port city surrounded by the sea. Within a few seconds of stepping off the boat this morning, I was treated to a fantastic view of the city’s whitewashed buildings, sandwiched between layers of blue sky and water. A few minutes of walking brought us to the city’s historical centre, accompanied by a charismatic German guide who has called Spain home for over 15 years.
It’s not difficult to see why Cádiz is a preferred escape for visitors all throughout Europe. As the sunniest destination in all of Spain, it receives 3100 sun hours throughout the year, with milder temperatures than the rest of the country due to its coastal location. With sandy beaches, picturesque viewpoints, charming architecture and a lively nightlife, Cádiz has something to offer all its visitors, a fact that we would soon discover during our half-day tour of the city.
This morning’s tour brought us all around the city, to various points of interest including the Town Hall, the new and Old Cathedrals, through the historical centre and then around many of the city’s main squares. Our guide explained to us during the tour that “the Spanish way of life is all about living in the moment” and this emphasis on life enjoyment is crystal clear in Cádiz. As we navigated through its winding narrow streets, we passed countless locals enjoying the ambiance of the city’s outdoor patios and cafes, soaking in the heat while enjoying the gaditano specialties like fried fish and churros con chocolate. During our free time, some of us even got a brief look into a typical Saturday morning at the city’s fish market, where stalls of fresh seafood are beautifully displayed, in impressive variety and scope. My only regret during our visit is that we didn’t have time to visit the beach, but then again, that’s one of many excuses for me to return.
After having lunch on board, our day continued with a journey out to los Alburejos, a family-run estate found in the heart of the Jerez de la Frontera countryside. Here, we were greeted by a member of the Domecq family, who has run the estate since the early 19th century. After filing into a shaded seating area, we got to witness a demonstration featuring the estate’s cows, oxen, calves and Andalusian horses, who treated us to performances of classic dressage, impressively synchronized to classical music. I must admit, watching all the animals gallop out through a cloud of dust was like something straight out of a movie, and even in the 40 degree heat, it was a really fun way to spend the afternoon.
We rounded off our day of excursions with a stop in the city of Jerez, which, in the peak of the siesta period, was quiet and lazy in the summer heat. Nonetheless, it was still easy to admire the city’s charm through a quick walking tour of its streets and main plazas.
When we returned on board, it seemed clear that we had a very Spanish evening ahead. The MS La Belle de Cadix was decked out in cute miniature flags, while all the crew – in true flamenco style – walked around dressed in red and black. Dinner was an absolutely phenomenal feast of tapas and seafood paella – a taste of Spain easily described by many as love at first bite. Luckily, for those wanted any, the crew had a giant platter ready for seconds:
Our evening wrapped up with a classic flamenco performance, featuring a troupe of Spanish dancers and musicians who filled the lounge bar with a ferocious spectacle of song and dance. The intensity in the room was absolutely unreal. I mean… just look at their faces:
And so, with a new found appreciation for Spanish cities and culture, this whirlwind adventure continues tomorrow with a visit to El Puerto de Santa Maria., where a city tour and sherry tasting promises another great day!
Talk to you all soon,