Sometimes life has risk. Selling our stick and mortar home, investing the remaining value, and leading a life chasing warm weather sounds easy. But it still involves trusting your choices, the smart trustworthy money managers looking after your investments and the hope that where you go will have fair-weather, no earthquakes, no volcanic eruptions and sensible drivers. There are bumps. Life is a challenge and happiness is often spent seeing the grass greener in other pastures that you don’t have to cut. Fortunately for us, these are fleeting thoughts and our decision to live how we do has been what we hoped.
There is a rule that states that Canadians do not need a visa to travel in Europe within a designated time frame. We can stay in Schengen countries for 90 days of 180. At the outset of this travel endeavor we knew we were hoping (and planning on) a stay in Schengen countries that would exceed 90 days. In an effort to comply with the rules (being law-abiding citizens after all) we made numerous attempts to meet with the the Portuguese Consulate in Vancouver to no avail. We did get the attention of a consulate personnel via email and obtained a few workable responses that we printed and kept at the ready. Essentially the email string contained directions to complete a buggy form online that at the end would determine if a formal visa was required for our travel duration. We came up with a positive result indicating that for our purposes we didn’t need a visa for our 6 month stay. Perfect! It seemed too good to be true but being realists we decided that if we couldn’t stay in Portugal for a longer period we could go home or to a non Schengen country and spend our pensions there. England is cold, Albania is up and coming. Turkish Cyprus is also non Schengen. We had relatively ok options. During the first six weeks of our stay we visited the Portuguese Immigration and Borders Service (SEF). The sleepy, uncaring employee as much as said go away and come back end of December. Great, still within 90 days. So just after New Years our Portuguese speaking friend called the SEF again and asked if we could get a visa to stay longer. They said we didn’t need one because they were still working on evolving Brexit relations and policies for a post COVID world so, yes, we could stay. But don’t leave the country. Cool!!! But…
In October, we accepted a housesit in Spain not far from southern Portugal which fell beyond our 90 days in Schengen. We had many conflicting reports regarding longer stays so we decided the risk was worth it. Then the edict. Cancel the sit? We could but 2 things gave us pause. We had committed and we wanted to go there. With confidence we had also booked 4 nights in Seville following the sit with that gotta-go-back lure. And we had also booked a car for the time that we were at the sit so we could daytrip it out to the region. Both were booked without cancellation. Cheaper, and well, we were confident we were going!
We were uncomfortable with canceling and breaking a trust of our commitment to this lovely host at the 11th hour. Logistics then became a challenge. Public transport was problematic as passports would be required to book travel, fly, bus or train to Spain and same for rental cars and hotel stays. In short we worked out an amicable solution to our complicated circumstances. But the 90 day rule had to be broken and we lost those bookings of the car and our stay in Seville because technically we weren’t there. Our rational was that if push came to shove no one would mind our contribution to local economies for living expenses, fees for tourist attractions visited and local transit needed to explore these. Right? We found a ride. So off to Spain and the solemn promise to not be a burden while there.
Risk, trust and our sincerity to the commitment were prevalent in this endeavor. No passports to show… We loaded up with cash in Portugal and put our credit cards away. Adventure ahead. We were off to learn about the area of western Spain at Chiclana de la Frontera. While flying under the radar.
Risk is also writing this down and posting it publicly. Trust is hoping it doesn’t bite you in the ass! Stupidity is when a decision wasn’t worth it. I guess we may cross that later. Wisdom is sucking it up. Enough philosophy!! Maybe we overthought it but it’s who we are and the Wild Blue Yonder is terribly alluring.
Chiclana de la Frontera is south of Seville, northwest of Gibraltar, bedroom community to Cadiz and Jerez and bursting with evidence of the Phoenicians, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Napoleon, Hercules, Julius Cesar, and sherry!! Who knew (we lived a sheltered life)!? It would never have been on our destinations list but we fell in love with it.
First off the housesit. Our host, Margaret, was a lovely British ex-pat who was off to Costa Rica to holiday with some relatives. Her dogs were Buster (14 years), Lucy (4 years) and Bonnie (9 months). Sisters Lucy and Bonnie are adorable, smallish (think Jack Russel size and demeanor) rat hunters. We actually had to put them to the test when we discovered a rat was visiting the inside of Margaret’s car and the dogs could not leave the car alone.
They kept themselves entertained continually and would chase a throw toy then play tug of war with it. Buster was just like our old hound Fani. Mostly just wanted his belly scratched and to be fed 5 times a day. We felt right at home and felt that Buster had given us his OK too. The house was beside a very reliable bus route so this became our second most used transport, our feet being primary. We bought a reloadable transit card and our first bus ride rewarded us with the ticket that said sixty two cents per ride. Wow!! Our 20 Euros lasted the whole two and a half weeks. And we went all over the place.
Our first few days in Chiclana were spent getting to know the dogs, their needs, and tagging along with our host to the vet, out for tapas with friends and having fun at a trivia quiz fundraiser event for wayward cats. She took us into town where we were able to visit the Mercado, tourist info and find a barber for Albert’s hair. We went to one of the large sandy beaches that define Spanish coastal tourism and in January these are void of tourists. The Chiclana tourism office was across from the Mercado and was also a wine and salt museum. Destiny, so much goodness in one place. We put that in our mental checklist for later. They also directed us to the bus station where we could buy the bus pass.
While Margaret was doing last minute errands we arranged to meet at a café/bar at the market. We noticed locals having wine in a sherry glass. The significance of sherry production here was hard to miss. Albert went into the bar to ask for a local sherry (easy-peezy!). Jerez, nearby, is the sherry mecca that we were familiar with. And, it turned out, so were most of its neighboring towns. Confidently strolling up to the bar and ordering three sherry was a task I could accomplish (maybe better than most LOL). The blank stare I received was not expected. The bartender didn’t know the word sherry. Um, now what? Pointing at the glasses of other well seasoned male patrons around the bar and mostly drawing more attention to the task than desired, I fumbled on. Ah, stammering, maybe Jerez is the word for the product? nope, um duh… maybe the most common internationally recognized brand name Tio Pepe would solicit positive results. The bartender looked confused when I nodded nay to the Tio Pepe bottle he presented, we didn’t really want Tio Pepe, I can buy that back home, we wanted something “local”. Margaret saved me from further embarrassment by politely asking in Spanish for three Finos. The obviousness and the important localness of this drink gave me pause and consideration for what the culture for sherry was here. I would not make that mistake again. He gave us Fino de Chiclana once all the confusion was over. Dry, somewhat floral, definitely nutty, some dried fruit notes and musty from barrel aging with a crust layer of Flor: a mold that allows a minimal amount of oxidation while in partially full barrels. Aged in American oak it does not have the vanilla that French oak has. Interesting, and different from what we understood as a dry sherry. A multitude of variations exist here. With so many Sherrys and so little time not to mention the very civilized cost of 1 Euro per glass we did our best to immerse and blend in with the locals. Fino would be our “go to” libation bringing us closer to these residents and revelers of Sherrydom!!
We drove Margaret to the Seville airport, stopped to do a big provision at the Mercadona, and parked the car for two weeks.
Our first bus ride into town had the mission of visiting the Wine and Salt museum. Not only did we find out about the process and grape varieties, the wind and earth involvement in making sherry, we found out about fino, amontillado, cream and sweet sherries. Wines. Solera blending. This method, is also used in production of some Ports and traditional Balsamic vinegar. Who knew? The salt story has a very significant history that goes back to Neolithic times for humans. The Phoenicians brought salt making to the Bay of Cadiz where we found an abundance of active salt pans still in production. The museum presentation also featured illustrative examples how the salt flats were organized, when the water was captured in the “pans”, and the demise of the heyday for this area’s industry, forgotten as once an essential currency. Sal-ary being a sal-t payment scheme.
We finished with the requisite tapas and fino while waiting for our bus route to start its afternoon runs. Ensaladilla de chocos – Surprise, its a mild and very mayonnaisey potato salad with octopus in it. Puntillitas – fried baby squid. Atun en adobo – Tuna lightly pickled then coated and fried crisp. Delicious! But our favourite was the “Cazón en adobo” – dogfish prepared the same as the tuna. It literally dripped moisture as you bit into the crisp coating. With two glasses of fino it came to 10 Euros. Memorable flavours too!!
Our first big walk was to the Natural Parque Bahia Cadiz, an estuary about 4 k from our house. This bay is an organized salt marsh that has harvested sea salt for millennia. Upon doing a little research we found a birdwatching blind where we could watch a flock of flamingos. An iridescent kingfisher flitted past. At home our kingfishers are shades of grey, black and white. In the salt marshes on the Iberian peninsula, they are a shimmering mother of pearl, turquoise and blue and way too fast to photograph.
Have you heard of Melkart? AKA Phoenecian for Hercules. Wandering the streets, marshes, beaches, trailways brings you to multiple Melkart statues along the “Chiclana Rota Origen Fenício” featuring the many industries and origins of the area.
One day we hopped on the bus and headed for a small community called Sancti Petri. This borough looks out at the fortress on the Isla di Sancti Petri, an island, where the Phoenicians had built a temple and stronghold protecting Cadiz (called Gadir back then). It seemed more a port and marina than a community. This foundation was conquered by the Romans, Moors and Crusaders. We got off the bus early to walk the beach and sand dune park. We stumbled on the point of land that was the Hercules temple looking out to the island. Julius Cesar had also been there centuries before and a 700 year centenary plaque announced it. In the summer this is a bustling tourboat destination but in January, sporting shorts and a t-shirt, no tourists and buzzing with kite surfers. We stopped for memorable tapas at the local fisherman club before heading to the busstop and back to our canine wards.
The transit trip into Cadiz involved using another transit system. There are in-town busses and out of town busses. So we bought another reloadable card and transferred onto the bus to Cadiz from our trusty line. Within an hour and a half, 3 Euros down, we were at the Cadiz tourist information center with a map of this peninsular town and some sites to see. A cruise ship was in port and the streets were buzzing. It was 6C and we were bundled in our down jackets. These poor cruisers were in shorts, sandals and T’s. Yikes.
We headed for the Cathedral as it was out of the wind and recommended. It was impressive to me because it wasn’t the typical cross shaped church but had many chapels surrounding a central nave. After paying and getting a login to the online tour, we were able to have an English interpretive walk through this very impressive building and her artworks. My favourite was this carving by Luisa Roldan a 17th century woman sculptor who died poor and didn’t show up in classical art history curriculum. Fortunately her work was featured at one of the altars.
Cadiz has colour coded walking tour maps that correspond with paint on her streets. We found our way to the outer wall of the old town and followed the pathway all the way around. The sun was warm, our bus had arrived, we were out of time for further explorations on this day. We returned a few days later and toured the Roman theatre ruins that were discovered as recently as 1980.
When we were at the Chiclana museum a video presentation of the the area showed a nearby set of hills with a town called Medina-Sedonia. The video boasted that this town was the oldest in Europe. We had to go see. I also googled “oldest European town” and lots of other places came up. Who cares, it was old and a stronghold for Napoleans French armies when Spain wanted it back.
The bus to and from our residence involved some planning. The first bus to roll past the house left Chiclana at 9:30 am and took a lunch break from 1:30-4pm. We always wanted to be back to the dogs by 5. No bus after 1pm on Saturdays and no bus at all on Sundays. If we wanted to do anything distant we had to make sure we worked within the bus schedule. The Mercado closed at 2. Much of the town also closed for siesta between 1 and 4. We often found ourselves waiting for the 4 pm bus to carry us home. We found a bodega near the bus station that was open during our wait. So a fino and a tapa to while away the time was always fun.
When Margaret arrived back, she lent us her car to go to Jerez to see the Andalusian horses. According to the three American equestrians sitting in front of us (I had to ask…), there are four schools of note in Europe and one is the Royal Academy in Jerez.. These accomplished students ran their own schools in the US and were learning more tools for their varied toolboxes in their own training. Ah, I said, “professional development”. They liked that. An expensive hobby let alone career.
We had a great trip to Chiclana de la Frontera. It was definitely not on our radar before this housesit. We vow to return and revisit Seville again and see more of Spain (Madrid). We learned that Andalucía is rich in ancient history and beautiful climate enhancing the abundant beaches. We want to go to Gibraltar which we missed as it is in the English commonwealth and requires a passport to visit. We really want to visit Cordoba as it has a lot of beautiful Moorish influence. We heard that the Ronda is worth a visit. Let’s not leave out Morocco while in this area. Ah, So much!!!
Rules were broken, decisions justified, as contributing to the local economy. We made a friend and the dogs were really fun and very entertaining. One day, we may return and hopefully we will be welcomed… There is so much more to see.