Tuesday, January 17, 2012

where things get a little complicated

A morning of rain, an afternoon of sunshine. A last full day of Andalucía then, suddenly, not that at all. A day that plays tricks on us. A day where I say to Ed – so now we know... the way to get to make fewer mistakes when traveling is to travel more.

It’s Monday evening. The train is just pulling into Jerez. There’s a rush hour buzz as people, likely tired after a day at work, are edging toward the doors. We’re coming back after a day in Cadiz. Ed says to me – it’s a shame that we have to leave tomorrow and spend the last night in Madrid. Do you think it’s possible to change that? And leave Jerez Wednesday, straight for Madrid airport?

I do a quick calculation. I don’t think so. Our flight out is in the morning, I know that. There would have to be a pretty early train out of here.
He doesn’t give up on the idea. Could we check?

At the train station, the clerk confirms what I said. First train out of here is at 8:30.

At the hotel, I check our flights. 11:30. Not even close to possible. But I offer another idea – we could go tomorrow halfway. Not to Madrid but to Córdoba. Spend the night there and get an early train out to Madrid the next day. Surely there’ll be one from there.

Córdoba is the city in Andalucía that I would have put on the itinerary for us, but I felt we were already city-heavy. A night there – though hardly a proper way to see it, would, nonetheless, be hugely satisfying.

Ed does the web search of train connections, I do the hotel search. We can do it!

We go back to the train station and thank goodness it is such a lovely station (and it is that)...


...because we surely are spending an inordinate amount of time there today. The agent takes our tickets, sighs at the complicated nature of the transaction, does some fast typing and tells us in Spanish that it will cost us more to change now.
How much more?
Click, scribble, click some more. The line of patiently waiting people is getting longer.
30 Euros. Uff. That’s a lot. Still, the hotel in Cordoba is at least that much cheaper than Madrid. We’ll do it.
The line is now so long that we are both sweating with guilt. The station manager comes out, looks at the line, looks at the clock. They’re okay, he says. No train out of here for another twenty minutes.

Our agent groans, clicks and begins to issue new tickets. And at the end of it all, he comes up with a difference that is even more than 30 Euros. The discounts we had gained by purchasing earlier disappear now with the change. Ed and I are too cheap to let go of discounts readily and we may have said – forget it, just gives us back the originals, but, on the other hand, we already feel like the most dreadful, agent-hogging tourists of Jerez as the line grows and multiplies and so, for the sake of world peace and good international relations, we put down the cash and take the new tickets.

And we sit down on a bench to think through what just happened.

A very lovely Jerez resident – a woman who was next in line at the ticket office, comes up to us.
You look so confused and puzzled – she says in English. Can I try to explain what the agent said? I was listening... She talks about this discount and that discount and tries to make sense herself of the complicated discount system they have on Spanish trains.
We thank her for her sweet kindness. I comment – you speak such good English!
She smiles. My boyfriend is American. From Philladelphia.
But you live here?
Yes. He travels a lot. Right now he is in Malaysia. He’s coming back soon though.

Ah, a young man, smitten by the Andalusian smile.

She hurries off.

I say to Ed – at least these aren’t penalties. We just have ourselves normal fares – like what we purchased the first day, for travel to Seville.

I recount this story now in great detail, too much detail, I’m sure, because it is one of many such stories you gather up as you ramble from one country to the next. In Poland, prepaying for tickets on the Internet was costly. A same day purchase at the station was cheap. In France, changes to reservations are easy and free, unless there’s a reserved seat and even then, the cost to change that is insignificant. Spain requires a different, more committed travel strategy. Who knew.

At dinner – yes, yes, same place! Of course! If you love a meal, why would you not repeat it one last time? So, at dinner at La Cruz Blanca, the place with the mirror on the wall that advertises sherry and reflect the funky artwork on the wall...


I ask Ed – did you like Cadiz?
Yes, I did.

We had decided to go in to Cadiz because the morning was such a rainy one that there was no point to remaining in Jerez. There are the white stallions of Jerez – we could have gone to watch them rehearse. (It’s like the Viennese stallions only in Spain. Or, more accurately, the stallions in Vienna have their origins here.), but I’ve seen this stuff several times after being enchanted as a girl with the movie “the Miracle of the White Stallions.” And Ed is not one to get excited by horse ballet.

In Cadiz, on the other hand, we can walk – rain or shine.

Equipped with a hotel umbrella, we set out on the noon train. And as we get off in Cadiz the clouds part.

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It becomes a glorious day of puffy clouds and strong sunshine. The wet sidewalks and puddles glisten in the bright light, the people roll up their umbrellas.

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The old town of Cadiz is a pentagon of land, surrounded on four sides by ocean waters. And so no matter which way you head, you’ll eventually come to the sea. Lovely and turquoise, against a now blue sky.



We have a map from the tourist office and it offers four different walks around town and we do them all. So as not to miss anything.



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Toward the end, Ed suggests we let go of the map. Getting lost, following your nose has its appeal. We come to the park at the edge of the sea and sit down on a bench, still wet from the morning downpours, and look at the world around us. Ed dozes, the sun warms my face – it is a good moment.


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One more look out at the sea, at low tide now...


...and we turn inland, always looking up at the lovely balconied windows of the homes here.


On our return to the station we pause at a madre y padre tapas place. Their seafood salad taps is excellent (2.5 Euros each). In this oceanic city, it is so fitting to end with chunks of octopus and pink shrimp.


It’s Tuesday morning now and we are about to go out for a final and important walk in Jerez. After, we have a dizzying amount of travel, sightseeing and dashing to make our flight connection. Will we make it?

The moon shines brightly over Jerez. It will shine brightly over Córdoba and, too, all places thereafter.