First a little background…
Even as a child, I had a strong desire to travel. Interests in biology & chemistry pointed me to medical school… but that proved only to be a distraction in the long run. I remember wading through the foreign language section in Memphis libraries for albums in Russian (yeah, that long ago!), books in basic Hawaiian or whatever French material I could find. Yet at the age of 27, I’d only managed to go as far as the Bahamas, Canada & México. When my ex landed a job as Assistant Director for the University of Washington’s Spanish program in Cádiz, I was all for it. Finally an opportunity to go to Europe! The year was 1998, & I knew the experience would change my life.
Personal issues aside, Cádiz at that time was a dump. Neglected & in need of major repair, perhaps it wasn’t the best place to begin a European adventure. Or maybe it was… trial by fire seems to be how I do things 🙂 My Spanish was intermediate at best, & I was thrown into an accent & culture that had little resemblance to anything I’d ever experienced. Every day was a challenge. Seriously. From understanding one-thousand-four-hundred-and-sixty-two pesetas in rapid gaditano Spanish at the grocery store to building my first webpage in order to stay in touch with family & friends, each day taught me at least one new survival skill.
Fast forward ten months. A language exchange partner had helped me with the finer points of local Spanish. I’d guided students through the former mosque in Córdoba & earned their respect. When we were in Lisbon as a group —lost & wandering aimlessly through the Alfama— one student asked: why aren’t you in charge here? Ah, the beginnings of a tour guide. But I left Spain in 1999 after breaking up with my partner of four years, & Cádiz is one of those places with so much personal history that I hesitated going back.
As fate would have it, I returned for the first time with a Rick Steves tour group. How can I forget the date? 09. 11. 2001. It was my first time leading a fully-guided tour through Spain, & a stop in Cádiz wasn’t part of the program. But we had some free time & interested tour members wanted to see more of Spain. Standing in front of my former front door, old neighbors yelled down from balconies above: “Did you see what happened in New York?? We’re sorry!” We passed images on tv screens along the main commercial street of the first tower on fire, but no one knew anything more so we went on our way. Only later in the day did we find out how serious the situation was.
Since then, I’ve taken several groups to Cádiz. Just for a brief visit, a lunch stop, a plus, something extra. It’s always fun to see the Atlantic Ocean, & the view of the cathedral from the malecón is truly impressive. But I’ve never stayed for a longer period or had the chance to walk around & revisit those old, familiar sites on my own. Until this year.
Between tours, I thought I’d spend a few days in Cádiz. On arrival, I couldn’t believe how much the city had changed. Pedestrian streets ruled instead of incessant motorcycles. The history of Cádiz had been emphasized in several spots, & the care-free attitude gaditanos are known for was still present. Many old haunts remained intact. The city seemed invaded by more cruise ship crowds than I remembered. Since the port is very near Plaza de España, they all see the gorgeous monument to the first Spanish constitution signed in Cádiz in 1812:
Another big draw for tourists is the beautiful collection of the Museo de Cádiz on Plaza de Mina. 3,000-year old Phoenician sarcophagi, Roman statues & mosaics, modern art… even Hercules:
The market was in need of serious repair when I lived in Cádiz, but the new version has products as fresh as anywhere in Spain:
By far, the best feature of Cádiz is the city itself. An isthmus surrounded on three sides by water, the entire seawall is walkable. And with the last major fortifications built in the 1700s, Cádiz is an intact, Baroque fortress that not even Napoleon could defeat. You can jog, walk the dog, relax in a park, fish, watch storms come in, tan on the beach… such an amazing place!
The following pics are a few other random sights around town, including a plaque on the house where Argentina’s first President died in exile (now a consulate/art gallery), a Franco-era tile panel & a fantastic scale model of Cádiz inside the Museo de las Cortes:
After long walks, I’d return to the hostel & read through my journal entries from when I lived in Cádiz 15 years ago. Sometimes I laughed out loud, sometimes I felt like crying. While not exactly the happiest moment in my life, revisiting this particular time & place did me a world of good. Not only could I recognize several mistakes I’d made, but also learned to place new value on both the good & the bad while living there. Travel may be good for the soul, but sometimes it’s even better for exorcising demons.