The first few weeks of my new life in Jerez go by slowly, as there are many new things for me to discover. When I am not at home helping with the family, I head to the city center and allow myself to get lost in the maze of tiny, winding Jerezian streets.
Where is Everyone? Oh, It’s Siesta Time!
During this season, Jerez is colder than throughout the rest of the year, but the Andalusian “cold” weather still cannot be compared to the snowy winter in Croatia. For this area, 5-10°C is very cold! The days are mostly sunny, and it feels good to be out in the streets during the day. If you decide to take your first stroll around the city on a Sunday afternoon during the siesta time (like I did!), you will discover that the streets are mostly empty, with a very small number of people having coffee or beer in one of the open bars. Almost everything closes after 3 or 4 pm, and then opens again after 5 or 6 pm, so having lunch outside your home during this time of the day is not very common (unless you choose to spend your time in the shopping centers).
I take my time enjoying my solitary walk and I marvel at the buildings that surround me. For the local people, these houses are the most normal, everyday thing, but for me some of the simple details appear so beautiful because they are different from what I am used to seeing at home. I look up at the walls and windows of random houses, I choose my way through the streets randomly, and I discover a new church behind the next corner every few minutes.
The most magnificent of all these churches is, of course, the Cathedral of San Salvador, a roman catholic church built in the 17th century, a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassicist style. There is an exhibition inside with some interesting pieces, so the entrance has to be paid for, but it costs only 2 euros and it is worth checking out. Once inside, you can hear some quiet choral music and enjoy the vast space almost entirely on your own, since there there are usually just a few tourists.
Not far from the Cathedral stands the Alcazar, an old Moorish fortress, dating all the way back to 11th and 12th century. I still haven’t had the time to discover the interior of this gem, but it is definitely on my list!
The historic center of Jerez offers a vast variety of adorable squares (plazas), lively fountains, ancient churches and monasteries, as well as cozy cafes, bars and restaurants. I follow my map to find Plaza de Mamelón, Santo Domingo convent, Plaza de la Asunción, Plaza del Arenal, and to check out the location of recommended tapas bars such as Tabanco El Pasaje, Tabanco Plasteros, El Guitarrón, 100 Montaditos, Damajuana, and others. As I wander around, I recognize some of the sights that I googled earlier, but the rest of the time I simply let myself walk astray into some secluded streets, and I find more interesting places.
Friendly Outgoing Locals
If you, however, decide to wander the streets prior to siesta, you will have an opportunity to observe loads of people in the streets, selling different things, playing instruments for money, eating out, having drinks, chatting, yelling or simply minding their own business – and sometimes also yours. People here are very open towards contact with others – as you pass by, they will sometimes look at you openly, they will not hesitate to approach you and speak to you shortly about some trivial thing, and you will hear some men saying clearly that you are “guapa” (pretty, lovely) as you pass by. This almost never happens to me in my home town. I still can’t decide whether this amuses me or annoys me, as the majority of the men who will do that are slightly older and mostly not very handsome.
Far from saying that the people are not hot! Oh yes, they are! Prevailingly dark skin and dark hair; girls and women well dressed, attractively curved; guys with intense look in their eyes as they check you out, sexy beards wherever you turn. And if they have, by any chance, also nurtured a skill of singing flamenco, or playing a guitar at night in the local bars… Well, you’re bound to find yourself in the middle of a little playful romance during your stay here in the warm southern sun. Just be careful, you might get burned if it gets too hot! If you enjoy trouble, like I do, then I’m pretty sure you’ll get along just fine!
After the siesta, during the evening, the center of Jerez goes alive again. People enjoying cañas, or famous Jerezian sherry wine with tapas are to be found in every corner, inside and in front of the taverns. One thing I do not like about Jerez, however, is that here you mostly have to pay for tapas, they don’t just came for free with the drinks you ordered, like in some other parts of Spain. But some of the taverns have a really excellent and diverse offer of tapas, and after some research and knowing the locals, it is easy to find the ones that are both good and cheap.
Almost every evening, you can find live music in at least one of the taverns and bars. One evening my new international friends and I enjoyed some Brasilian music in El Guitarrón de San Pedro. However, you are more likely to stumble upon a flamenco night in one of these taverns. Flamenco is a form of Andalusian folk music and dance, often associated with gypsies. It includes guitar playing, singing, dancing, and hand clapping. I still haven’t gone to a professional concert, but a few times I was having drinks and tapas in different taverns of central Jerez, and these places breathe flamenco. A group of people will sit in one part of the bar, take some guitars, play and sing some flamenco, often with singers changing between songs. These spontaneous gatherings similar to jam sessions are called juergas.
I must admit I really enjoy this flamenco atmosphere. These people sing with so much heart and passion in their voices and their whole bodies, that it is impossible not to feel it seep under your skin, penetrating all the way to your bones and to your very soul. You don’t even have to understand a single word of the song – the feeling is there in every note of this music. Flamenco is not a mere song. To my ears, it is like a loud cry in the solitary quiet night that raises goose bumps on your skin, reminds your heart of every melancholic or bittersweet moment it has ever gone through, and finds the hidden part of your being where the incomprehensible sadness resides. And if the notes are not all correct, even better – what matters is that it manages to provoke something primal and instinctual within you. Such raw beauty.
Foreign, yet Familiar
My days so far have mostly been filled with productivity and leisure – work related to my host family and the children, Spanish language classes, time alone with my guitar, short and sweet reunions with two dear Erasmus friends, coffees and cakes, wandering and writing. My nights are slowly becoming flavored with a touch of hedonism – newfound international friends, intriguing personalities, delicious sherry wines and tapas, sounds of chatter, laughter, and flamenco.
There is no room for boredom when one starts anew in an unfamiliar place. Everything is fresh, everything is exciting – and yet, somehow, it all feels so normal and natural to me now that I have decided to move to a new place again. It seems as if every time you make a move like that, it becomes a part of you more and more, until finally you feel like you’ve mastered that challenge. I am still on my way towards that place though. And this journey towards that goal is what I am in love with.