December 09, 2007 GMT
Jerez de la Frontera

4 Dec 07 to 10 Dec 07

After spending too long wandering in new parts of Granada, Mike had to rush to be sure he was back at the BMW dealer at the appointed time to collect the Elephant. That is, if the servo unit had arrived from Madrid and the mechanics had managed to fit it and if the collection time hadn’t been confused in translation.

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Our friends on the Transalps recognised us at the lights when we waved and snapped their photo.

Arriving at 1550, the place was deserted. In Australia, we would take this to mean that the surf is up and everyone has knocked off early. In Spain it simply means that no one was back from lunch yet. At 1557 they poured in with a roar of bikes and cars and flooded the workshops and offices with noise and movement. The dealership is open until 2000 each day.

The Elephant was waiting, still needing a wash, but looking good for a blue. The Service manager, Emilio Garcia, is surprised when Mike is so happy the job has been done on time. Dealers in Oz have left us easily pleased.

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Emilio: “What part of manana don’t you understand gringo?”

Granada was just too cold for us, and we had already extended our stay because of the breakdown, so we packed and skedaddled. There had to be somewhere warm in Spain and our mission had become to find it. We headed west towards Cadiz and the coast.

On the excellent Spanish A roads we made great time flying up through the mountain passes and across endless plains of olive trees. The size of the plantings is amazing and we chatted about our friends Azzat and Nola wondering how their olive oil business in South Lebanon is going and how John Cominos is going with his Queensland olives.

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It was about 4 degrees C with a wind chill of 130 kph when Jo took off her gloves to take this shot of olive groves. It was going to be published regardless of quality.

Our destination was the town of Jerez de la Frontera (the locals pronounce it Heireth). Not on the usual tourist short list but of interest to us as it is the home of the world sherry industry and all of the large sherry houses (called Bodegas). It is also Andalusia’s horse capital and is a hot-bed of flamenco due to the large gitano community. The town has about 185,000 inhabitants, lots of rich bastards thanks to the sherry industry, but high unemployment because the sherry industry is all there is.

Our decision to stay 4 days in Jerez was less related to the town’s attractions and more to the fact that Thursday 6 December and Saturday 8 December are both public holidays, and as we found on All Saints Day in Barcelona, the locals were sure to take the Friday off and make it a four day weekend. We decided the best option was not to be looking for food and lodgings at this time.

Within a few hours we had walked the town and discovered that Jerez has:

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Lots of nice public spaces and expensive shops…

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…most of which have been spoiled by graffiti.

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A great 2nd hand book market on Thursday nights…

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…and lots of orange and jacaranda trees shading the streets.

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We find lots of tourists in the town on the public holiday, but the vast majority are Spanish discovering their own country. The English and Germans come in the summer. This little tourist train is sponsored by one of the large bodegas, Gonzalez Byass, which produces the Tio Pepe brand.

The town has considerable English influence and several of the bodegas are English owned. The financial investment in Jerez dates back to the 17th century but really took off in the 19th century when the English army brought back a taste for sherry after the Napoleonic war. It has brought wealth to some, but many poor areas of the city remain and, as the photo above shows, spill over to the wealthy parts of town.

The great thing about travelling off season is that you often have nice things for yourself. This proved to be the case when we were the only starters for the English language tour of the Gonzalez Byass bodega. We had the guide, Andrea, to ourselves for the tour and no need to fight the crowds.

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The English language guide, Andrea, was from Slovakia, spoke excellent English and Spanish and was informative company for the 90 minute tour. She looked a million dollars in her smart corporate overcoat too, with us in the same old riding gear.

After the stinginess of the French, we almost laughed out loud when we were given a table in the tasting room and had an un-opened bottle plonked down with the instruction to try this one first, a sweeter one would follow. We are not sure how the Spaniards define “tasting”, but this was more like “drinking” where we come from.

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Mike makes a start on the chilled Palomino Fino.

We rolled out with a rosy glow after two hours and headed home for a siesta pleased that we had spent our €18 well.

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The public statue of the founder of the Gonzalez Byass bodega, Manuel Gonzalez Angel.

Not wishing to be seen as only interested in wine, we stepped out to visit the Alcazar of Jerez. This was the citadel and residence of the emir during the Arabic period from the 12th century. Like many national monuments in Spain, this one was well presented and organised without being over-done. Of particular interest was the original olive oil mill.

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The olives were crushed by a mill stone pushed around by a donkey...

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…. The resulting paste was then put onto round woven mats, stacked under the press then squeezed using an 18 m lever pushed up with a screw. The oil was allowed to settle in a sump to allow the impurities to settle to the bottom before being siphoned off for bottling.

Elsewhere in the palace a complete 19th century pharmacy had been restored. Ever the scientist, Jo was very taken with:

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…the beautifully restored and presented display of containers…

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…strange ingredients we were sure you could no longer get in a chemist like “Extracto de Opium”…

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…and great old machines.

Our final visit for Jerzez was to be the National Flamenco Museum. Unfortunately we made the mistake of visiting on the Feast Day of the Annunciation only to find that it was closed during the public holiday.

Normally we would have been surprised that a museum was closed during a public holiday, but since the times for opening and closing of all manner of things had completely eluded us during our month in Spain, we shrugged our shoulders and went looking for a tapas bar instead.

In some way, however, the closed museum was emblematic of our time here. We turned up, but it was closed.

The day we left Jerez for the short ride to the coastal port of Algeciras and a boat to Morocco, we planned to have breakfast at a nice café just around the corner from the hotel. We packed the bike and rode around the corner to find the placed closed and a couple of locals peering in and checking their watches. Spain can be like that. We didn’t stop but kept riding south with Mike humming an old Dylan song in his helmet. The verses were a little confused, but the pretty tune was strong and melodic:

Spanish is the loving tongue,
soft and gentle like the rain.
Was a girl I learned it from
while travelling down Sonora way…

Posted by Mike Hannan at December 09, 2007 06:47 PM GMT

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