Cádiz is a place which I knew absolutely nothing about until the day our ship docked there, and had it not been for that one day I doubt there’s any reason that I would ever have considered visiting. It’s just not one of those places you hear very much about, is it? Set on a little slice of land hanging off of the South-West corner of Spain- it’s the oldest most continually inhabited city in Europe, and is therefore just full on drenched in history and the classic Spanish culture that I full on LOVE. A highly unstable and costly on-ship wifi connection meant that we hadn’t been able to research what to do or where to go, so with a mere day to explore, upon arrival my pal and I headed for the tourist information centre to ask a few questions and work out what on earth we should do in this crazy town of Cádiz. It was at the point that we arrived that STRANGE things began to happen. STRANGE, AWESOME, UNIMAGINABLE THINGS! Well. Sort of. And it took us all day to get to the bottom of it.
We were pointed in the direction of our very own Yellow Brick Road (which was actually a purple line)
In mid-April the weather was already rather on the warm side, and there were plenty of people piling onto big red sightseeing buses to sweat it out together and cram in as much as they could to their short time in the city. After careful consideration we decided to leave it, adamant that you can get to know a place better if you’re on foot despite the fact that neither of us really knew where we were. But we were in luck because Cádiz is well-equipped for the on-foot-sightseer. Several different coloured lines have been painted to form various routes around the city, taking you on self-guided and full on interesting walking tours which wind in and out of narrow alleyways, through hot sunny squares and back along bustling streets. It’s a GENIUS idea, and the part I particularly enjoyed is that several times our line of choice faded out completely, making it necessary for us to squint and scout the floor of the surrounding area earnestly, like someone who’d just lost a contact lense but not informed anyone around them. It was a right laugh I tell you.
A mystery began to unfold as we entered a church
The first thing we came to on our magical mystery tour was the Convent of Nuestra Señora del Rosario y Santo Domingo (what a lengthy name), at the door of which we casually covered up (you know, no bare shoulders in church and all that Jazz), and headed inside to snoop around a bit. Well the church was full on beautiful, but the most beautiful part of all were the incredibly large displays of scenes from the New Testament mounted on platforms and featuring a whole lot of gold and silver amongst the life-size figurines of JC and co (that’s Jesus Christ and Company, btw). Magnificent, a little bit freaky in a Madame Tussaud’s waxwork kind of way, and with bouquets of flowers spread out along the bottom of the one holding a pale-looking Virgin Mary in a velvet cloak. We were so confused and simultaneously pretty awe-struck, attempting to read the plaques in Spanish on the walls in the hope that they’d reveal some clue about what on Earth these giant shrines were for, but alas…my A Level Spanish exam was a very long time ago and it definitely didn’t help me at this point in time.
Things took a turn for the worse when we realised everything would be closing early
A twist in the tale! As we merrily strolled along through the winding streets, we started to notice more slightly out of the ordinary signs of Something We Couldn’t Quite Put Our Fingers On. Palm leaves above front doors, rows of seats put out across the whole square in front of the cathedral…and signs in shop windows declaring that they WOULD BE CLOSING EARLY DURING SEMANA SANTA! That’s when it finally hit us like a tonne of highly religious bricks. It was definitely Easter that coming Sunday, and of course as Spain is a highly religious location it would naturally follow that they would therefore commemorate the entire Holy Week. Don’t get me wrong, I’m well up for Spain celebrating Semana Santa but at that point in time I was feeling rather down about the fact we’d arrived on a day that we couldn’t even see inside the cathedral. We did, however, manage to climb the bell tower of the cathedral, which gave us some pretty amazing views of the city, complete with green parrots sitting on a nearby statue’s head.
Having been told that fish from the market was one of the most important things to try in Cádiz, we headed over there (not long before they were closing) to attempt to find some good stuff to eat. Be prepared, you guys- the queues for these places can be incredibly long. In a way this is a good sign, but when the sun is beating down and you’re on the brink of starvation that’s really not much of a consolation. But. The fish we had was definitely worth it. Fried cuttlefish and shrimp omelettes which I highly recommend…SO. GOOD.
Post-fish, it was naturally time for coffee, so we found one of the few remaining open coffee shops and sat down to contemplate our next plan of action.
Whilst enjoying a casual coffee and cake, writing a postcode and feeling perturbed, we began to notice EVEN MORE STRANGE THINGS OUTSIDE. Every now and then one or two people in full robes and carrying a cone-shaped KKK style hat would stride past purposefully like they had somewhere extremely important to get to, on the double. Not just adults, children and teenagers too. In different coloured quite alarming outfits. My spidey senses kicked in.
‘Something’s going to happen.’
I just bloody knew it I tell you! When people are dressed oddly whilst striding purposefully, that is always the start of SOMETHING. The only logical thing to do next was to follow one of them. So that’s exactly what we did, only unfortunately the fellow in question was a teenage boy which in hindsight might have seemed a bit weird.
We worked out WHAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN
We were following the direction of the lad in question mainly in the hope that he’d lead us to whatever magical event was about to unfold, but it all got a bit awkward when he entered a sweet shop and we had to make a decision about whether to risk looking extra creepy by loitering outside, or attempt to carry on solo in the knowledge that we must at least be a bit closer to wherever he was heading. It was tricky to tell at that point whether we were more detectives or stalkers; it appears there’s a fine line between the two, who knew!?
Luckily a trio of girls also in robes appeared just in the nick of time and we decided we’d just have to bloody well ask them otherwise we’d never get to the bottom of it. My pal (who is braver than me at speaking Spanish; I’m more of a silent but encouraging hype man for her), did the talking and between us we managed to figure out exactly what all this craziness was about!! (On a side note, the Spanish girls were just downright lovely for being so helpful.) And it turns out, I was right- SOMETHING WAS INDEED ABOUT TO HAPPEN!! In approximately an hour there would be a massive parade, and it became imperative to us that we should be there to watch it.
We decided to try a different pathway and ran straight into THE THING THAT WAS ABOUT TO HAPPEN
With an hour to spare before the mysterious parade began, we decided to pop on up to the Roman Amphitheatre ruins on the off-chance that they would still be open. (They weren’t) But, lo and behold- what should we run into but the beginnings of the parade taking place early! Either that, or it was actually a different event all together.
The people of Cádiz hold massive processions in mourning for J.C. during Holy Week, marching for hours and hours, sometimes barefoot, and carrying heavy floats on their shoulders- it turns out these were the massive things that we’d seen in the church at the beginning of the day. Back in the extremely olden days some of them used to also go around whipping themselves to prove just how sorry they really were, but I’m pleased to say they don’t tend to do that any more. I’m doubley pleased to say that the cone shaped hats with eyeholes have absolutely nothing to do with the KKK which for obvious reasons is a huge relief, although it didn’t make them any less scary to look at. The people carrying the floats work in shifts, marching together in perfect time but hidden by a big curtain so you can only see their feet; every now and again they stop to drink water fed to them by small lads, or to swap over with a different team of float-carriers. Brass bands play and the people in robes swing incense back and forth.
Let me tell you this for free, the Semana Santa procession is unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed before but a real sight to behold. My time in Spain before this has been limited to the Costa Blanca and Barcelona, and although I’ve spent more time in both of these places, being in Cádiz for a mere day during Easter was an amazing insight into Spanish culture.