Two days in Jerez. Before we set off, someone said to me, ‘you must go and see the horses.’ Jerez is best known for sherry, but also for the very fancy named Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art and I got a bit of a bee in my bonnet about it because the woman who told me to go said it was the best thing she’d ever seen.
Wanted to go to horse show today, when we arrived, but they don’t do it today. Sulking now. Never mind, been talking to some Americans. Talked posh so they may think I am Royal. They never mentioned Harry and his fiancé once.
We just ‘negotiated’ a deal with the hotel, on the same terms as when we booked, so we are staying over in Jerez and going to the horse show tomorrow.
It’s December, the hotel is very big, very lavish and most of the staff are standing around doing nothing so they are happy to do a deal. Our system is to find the right person, offer to help them out by sleeping in one of their many empty rooms but paying very little as a little is better than an empty room earning the hotel nothing. Oh, and we’d like breakfast as well.
I should add that when I say ‘we’ haggle, I mean G haggles and I stand about ten yards away looking as if he’s nothing to do with me. I’m the same when we go to Morocco where G barters, not me, as I’d just say ‘okay’ to the first price they mention.
We promise to keep quiet about paying a lot less for our room than everybody else, there would be a riot, and the girl on the desk even gives us sweets. So, that’s two nights in a plush hotel for a lot less than everyone else paid for one night. Our system only works in the winter months though, but can’t have everything.
There’s a piano bar with a man playing to an empty room so we sit and listen for a bit, but as soon as he gets an audience he thinks he’s Liberace and starts flouncing around, so we don’t stay long.
Today we walked for miles all around Jerez. We passed a convent called Convento de Capuchinos – ancient order of coffee drinkers, perhaps – and later on found a church with a sign outside. G said it said something like, ‘closed due to foot and mouth epidemic,’ but a man told me it said the church was closed as it was being decorated. I assumed he meant for Christmas, but he was working there and said ‘come in.’ So we did.
His workmen were supposed to be painting the walls, but they were sitting in one of the pews smoking. He started shouting at them, but they took no notice and he went away grumbling. The men all laughed after he left. It’s a gorgeous church, even though it’s called something like St Gertrude the Unworthy or something very like that and may be even nicer when they finish painting the walls. May be a year or so at this rate.
I was supposed to bring a map from the hotel, but I forgot, and we couldn’t get a signal on the phone so we were soon lost. Never mind, it was a nice place to walk as long as we walked in the sunny side of the street. In the shade it was perishing. We sang ‘on the sunny side of the street’ as we walked along, but had to stop when we got a stern look from a policeman. He was smoking a cigarette so it was a bit much to give us a dirty look just for being cheerful.
We came across two statues, busts really, one of Cervantes, fair enough, but the other was Shakespeare, not so obvious. They both bore me rigid, but I have been told, many times by many people, that is my fault.
We followed a sign that said Cathedral as we thought there would be lots of cafes around there, but found some enormous buildings instead which turned out to be sherry bodegas. We went inside the one that supplies Harvey’s, it’s massive, and wandered around the shop for a bit. G knocked a cupboard with his elbow as he walked past and one of the display bottles wobbled but he caught it in time. The girl on the desk looked a bit alarmed. When we saw the name, the Imperial Reserve, and the price, three hundred and ninety euros, we gulped and scurried off before we knocked into anything else.
We walked past a bar, a really dingy bar, but there was a man on a motorbike outside and on the back was a grinding wheel and when he ran the engine the wheel whizzed round and he was just finishing off sharpening knives for the man in the bar. I wished we had a knife for him to sharpen.
We did a tour of Fundador, a massive place with thousands and thousands of barrels. Walked around with a very friendly girl, practising her English, and didn’t have to pay, but no free samples. Never realised so much sherry was drunk, but they export all around the world and their biggest market is South America, the girl said
. Then we went to Tio Pepe, even better as they gave us tastings, but we had to pay a few euros to go inside the warehouses and look at lots more barrels. Outside, the walls are stained very dark. We have seen this before, in Cognac, as a percentage of the alcohol evaporates into the air and over a hundred years or so stains the walls. In Cognac they call this ‘the angels’ share,’ which I always thought was a nice idea.
We found the Cathedral, more walking, and ended up at the bottom of a really steep flight of steps. We both looked at each other, but decided we had better go up them as we could perhaps see where we were better from the top. After about 500 steps, may have been less but felt like 500 we were in a big square with a huge Christmas tree, about a hundred little school kids eating packed lunches, a brass band and, best of all some cafes.
We plonked ourselves down and a waiter, dressed like a punk with spiky orange hair, took our order and talked us into having a Spanish omelette, between us, as he said it was delicious. It was.
We sat basking in the sunshine, wondering why all the little kids were so well behaved. We reckon their teacher must’ve been a real dragon but when she stood up and clapped her hands they all went and stood in neat lines and the teacher was tiny, not much bigger than them, and looked very sweet. She took a group photo and then asked our waiter to take another with her in it as well and she was pulling faces and all the kids were laughing.
All of a sudden the sun went behind a big building and everyone put on an extra coat. All except us as we were wearing all we had brought with us. We had no idea how to find our hotel again and I told G I had a blister. He didn’t look convinced by this sudden blister, but we went and found a taxi. The driver drove down cobbled streets that looked as if they were too narrow for cars, but he did it anyway, and came out on the big roundabout near our hotel, only about a mile away at the most. We must have walked three or four times further than that.
‘I preferred the scenic route’, G said, but I was too busy scurrying into the warm hotel to reply.
‘Your blister seems better now,’ G said and I only just stopped myself from saying, ‘what blister?’
Fab breakfast this morning and a big ‘Hola’ from the girls on the desk who are our best mates now we are ‘regulars,’ well, this is our second day here. The most chatty one speaks English with an American accent as she has a boyfriend from Texas and came over to us last night when we were reading our Kindles in one of the lounge areas and said, ‘would you like a gin and tonic? They were doing a photo shoot yesterday and she wheeled over a trolley with lots of bottles of gin on it.
‘Not sure whether they are coming back for this or not,’ she said, pouring us both a big measure and another for herself. She fetched tonic, ice and lemon from the bar and sat chatting with us for over an hour until her boyfriend turned up and she went home. She wheeled the trolley of gin away too before she left. Just as well as when I got in the lift I noticed I had a very red face.
Today we went to the dancing horse performance. We looked on the map and it was only five minutes walk away. Good job as we might have ordered a taxi to take us just up the road and it might have been the same one as yesterday which would have been embarrassing.
There was only one woman in front of us at the ticket office, but about fifty others standing around. Trouble was, she was buying tickets for everybody and it took ages.
The main building was like a mini chateau with lovely gardens all round it and there were lots of stables and a big open air exercise ring. The performance was to be in a building that looked like a covered bullring, very old and when we went upstairs there were seats all round a floor area of raked sand. There was a Royal Box, empty, and a VIP section in front of it. There were only three VIPs and they didn’t look very famous at all and one of the women was eating crisps. Call yourself a VIP?
The woman in charge of our stairway told us where to sit, in a very bossy manner.
It was due to start at noon and I said to G, ‘bet it’s late starting. This is Spain.’ At half past twelve, half an hour late, they played some very loud music to wake everyone up and then there was a message over the loudspeakers in three different languages which took ages. It was ‘forbidden’ to talk, take photographs or leave your seats during the performance and the bossy woman glared at everybody as the message ended as if daring us to do anything ‘forbidden.’ One little boy tried to take a photo as the horses came out and she wagged her finger at him and glared so much I thought he might start crying. I think I would have done.
The horses looked fabulous, were obviously well cared for and the riders, all middle aged men and very serious, rode around the ring while the horses did clever things. After that there were a pair of horses pulling a carriage with two men and another set of four horses pulling another carriage. They whizzed around, missing each other by inches as they passed and it was all very clever and impressive.
I looked at G and he didn’t look very impressed. ‘You don’t like it, do you,’ I said and he shook his head.’
‘Neither do I,’ I said.
It was very clever, but we weren’t happy to see the horses being asked to do so many unnatural things like walking backwards on their hind legs and every time the rider flicked them with a whip they jumped in the air kicking their legs out. Everybody clapped and seemed to enjoy it so it seemed to be just us that was unhappy.
We don’t like the idea of having performing animals like elephants in a circus either and this seemed very similar. When there was an intermission, we decided we’d go somewhere else.
‘My bad,’ I said when we got outside. Just like our gin swigging friend last night would have said as it had been my idea, but G just said ‘this is lovely though’ and we walked around the gardens, looked at the horses in the stables and almost got run over by the men driving the four horse carriage who came up behind us and we never noticed.
We are hitting the tapas bars, for lunch not for drinks as G has to drive, before we leave for Seville. Last time we went to Seville they told us to drive our car into what we thought was going to be an underground car park but turned out to be a very narrow box, only just bigger than the car. When the door behind us closed, they sent our car up to the roof in a rickety old lift and we had to drive out and park on the roof. Hopefully we will be staying somewhere more modern this time.