Bring On The Dancing Horses

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March 25th 2018
Published: April 4th 2018
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Bring on the dancing horses, as Mr McCulloch sang with his Bunnymen. The lyrics were unlikely to have been inspired by our destination, but makes a handy blog title. The train pulled into Jerez pretty much on time despite the slightly late departure. Jerez is famous for horses, motorcycle racing, sherry and flamenco -- but not necessarily in that order. I doubt that many visitors see the other thing it should be known for - the most fantastic railway station. In Seville, the visitor numbers to the Plaza Espana must run into the hundreds of thousands in a year. The Jerez De La Frontera railway station building is by the same architect. I doubt many regular commuters even spare it a thought and even less visitors know of its existence, but it features the same fantastic tilework seen further north. It is a shame about the bus station next door.

Jerez grew rich on sherry. The quest to supply the UK produced a good profit. Whilst the town is something of a backwater today, it wasn't always so. The town was the first in Spain with that height of urban sophistication - the electric street lights. It also boasted the oldest savings bank, the first proper functioning fire station and was only pipped by Barcelona and Madrid in welcoming the railways. The cunning plan to fortify their wine and make it last longer, fueled an export market and furnished an extravagant lifestyle.

Sherry was a drink I can recall from my youth. The tipple of my mum amongst many others ...... and here we are in the cradle of Croft Original and Harvey Bristol Cream. I kind of imagine that the brands above disappeared from favour - consigned to alcoholic history with such as Double Diamond and Cherry B - but here we are with a white washed wall with the words "Harveys Bristol Cream" plastered on it. I learn that there were originally 230 bodegas or sherry houses in town, but that number has shrunk to about 30. The buildings of course remain, some nothing more than an advertisement for the brands and others converted into every conceivable use. The high ceilings and small high level windows designed to keep a constant temperature comes in useful. We noted that the chimneys had also found a modern day use. The storks of Jerez had turned them into high rise prized nesting sites. Sherry is a deraritive of the Arabic name for wine - seres - and is still immensely popular, even if it doesn't strike the same chord in the UK. There are bars Jerez that serve nothing else. 1 €uro buys you a small glass of fino - the finest. Whilst sherry drinkers are not known as troublemakers, the product has caused a spot of bother in the past. It transpires that, whilst Cadiz was busy holding out against Napoleon on his European rampage, Jerez was busy making money and supplying the French with a tipple or two. As a result, the residents of Cadiz and Jerez are apparently known not to get along. The port of Cadiz was closed, but it was business as usual using Peurta Real.

We dropped the bags at the hotel and went to find another of those free walking tours. I had emailed ahead and "Our Man in Jerez" turned up bang on noon. He was finding the recent weather not to his liking - he had a bad throat, which had meant participation in only 2 fags since the weekend. Fortunately for him, we
Jerez De La Frontera Jerez De La Frontera Jerez De La Frontera

Tio Pepe Statue with Cathedral background
were the only punters. The Other Half is less keen on such low numbers, as it leaves us vulnerable to a bigger tip. The meeting point was outside the tourist information place in Plaza Arenal - the main square. The square was once the home of tournaments and bull fighting, but now forms the roof of a large underground car park. An obligatory statue of a man on a horse watches over proceedings. This is Miguel Primo De Rivera - former dictator of Spain - who was born in Jerez. He ruled Spain in the pre-Civil War, pre-Franco period. Dictators have their favourites. Franco tried to make sure Real Madrid dominated. Primo De Rivera pumped money into Jerez.

The three main landmarks in central Jerez are within a stone throw of Plaza Arenal - the Alcazar, the Cathedral and the home of Gonzalez Byass. The Cathedral is another of these hotchpotch of styles - partially due to years of construction and partially due to an earthquake meaning some modifications were required. The Cathedral is only a recent honour for the town. A campaign to get recognised by the power brokers in Rome was met with constant refusal and the title was only bestowed on the structure as late as 1980. Of course compared to Seville, the Cathedral is tiny. The doors remained firmly shut. The locals were preparing for Santa Semana or Holy Week -. each major church in town was preparing their float to parade round town.

The weather forecast for the next day was decidedly suspect. Clouds and showers, followed by rain. We headed to the Royal Andalucian School of Equestrian Arts - the home of the dancing horses. As with the Cathdral status, the school is also more modern than you might think. I was under the impression that it had been around during a couple of hundred years, but was actually formed in a public park in 1973. The royal charter was only handed out in 1987 by the former King Juan Carlos. The school now occupies quite an extensive site about a 10 minute walk out 6 the town centre and is based around a mansion designed by the same guy who gave us the casino at Monte Carlo. Fortunately, they are less fussy about who they let in here. The ticket windows opened 10:00 am sharp. 11 €uros gets you the standard tour, entry to the big house where there is a small museum, entry to the carriage museum and a chance to watch the training. In most weeks, there are 2 actual shows for a premium price - Tuesday and Thursday - although photographs are not allowed unless you opt for the 50 €uro VIP tickets. After a short introductory film about the histological horses and riding styles in Andalucia, we got a short personalised tour being the only English speakers around at the time. I am not actually big horse fan. We had relations who owned a riding school and these large for legged creatures used to scare me to death. I think I have only been on an actual horse 3 or 4 times in my life. The guide sympathised. He agreed and had never been on a horse even once. "I am just paid to talk", he chuckled.

There are a total of 130 horses on site at any one time. They are all stallions. The presence of mares was quoted as a distraction. The horses arrive at 3 years old, are assessed for suitability at 5 years old and usually reach a peak of performance at 10 years old. The oldest horse still on site is a veteran of 23 years. When a horse is rejected or retired, they are usually auctioned. The school accepts a mere 6 students a year for the 4 year course. The students can be spotted wearing green. A number of older students do a masters course. They wear red. The teachers or instructors are attired in blue. As well as riding, the school offers courses in leather work and saddle making. You can wander in at your leisure and watch them at work. The guide accompanies you into the stable area, where some really fine calm looking horses were having a spot of breakfast after their morning exercise. I think my fear of horses might have been overcome, if these animals had been offered up as an option when I was younger. A number of other horses were going through their paces in both the indoor arena and outdoor practice areas. Photography was banned inside, so I concentrated on what was going on outside. It was all quiet and relaxed, although I sense on show days and when tour buses land it could get hectic. The carriage museum is on a separate site in an old sherry bodega about 5 minutes away. We stopped for a cafe con leche on the way. The Other Half declared it the finest coffee of the whole trip and we would visit more than once. If carriages are your thing, the display is quite special. The main attention was focused on the royal carriage used for state occasions and weddings. I popped across into the stables, where those horses who specialise in carriage eventing were housed.

I took some photos of the Sandemans bodega across the road and we walked back into town. The grand houses once owned by the sherry barons show the wealth that once existed. However, the walk also highlighted how things have declined. For sale signs are everywhere. Bars. Houses. Flats. Business premises. Even 5 star hotels. All closed. All for sale. After our usual tapas lunch, the day got progressively worse from a weather perspective and by mid afternoon rain was lashing down. The Outlaw had been on a cruise a few years back and visited Tio Pepe - probably the largest of all the bodegas. The Other Half decided we should keep dry and follow this lead, if only to have a discussion point on the next trip north. Tio Pepe - Uncle Jose - is actually the name of the famous product of Gonzales Byass. The company was the collaboration of the local Spanish entrepreneur and their English agent - a Robert Blake Byass, who was so impressed by the quality of the fino he bought into the capital of the business. The tour clearly catered to the mass market of th groups and cruise liners and was a bit superficial in the detail for the cheapest price of 15 €uros. Whilst we waited, adverts ran for the Tio Pepe sponsored music festival. The lead singer of 70s band Supertramp was the only "international artist" I had heard of. The actual complex covers an enormous site to one side of the town centre and to keep the tills flowing to the maximum, you are bused about on a little train. We managed to pick the only carriageway with a faulty door handle, so we're grateful when a fellow passenger allowed our escape. The main production plants are now on the edge of town, but these bodegas are retained for storage in the traditional way. A barrel made of American oak holds about 600 litres, although they are only filled to 500 litres to allow a special film to develop on the surface. The barrels are held together in the traditional way with it iron rings. One of the bodegas holds vintage years to maintain quality, whilst others hold barrels signed by the famous. Bobby Charlton sits alongside Franco, Ayrton Senna and Orson Welles. Meanwhile, the Iron Lady even has her own special reserve. At the end of the tour, it is sample time. Our tour was the minimum 2 samples - Tio Pepe and that British favourite owned by the company, Croft Original. If you are keen to taste others, they are available at 1:50 €uros a glass. I would be tempted to nip into a bar in town instead and save yourself some money.

The sherry was actually better than I thought it would be, but no substitute for a decent beer. Unlike Seville which is totally dominated by Cruz Campo, Jerez had a number of bars serving Estrella Galicia on draught. A much less fizzy and tasty drink. We had our two favourite places - daytime in the square opposite the Palicio Garvey Hotel and nights in the Gorila Bar. Garvey is one of many English names left behind by the sherry families and it is good to see their descendants making a comeback in the ITV series, Benidorm. In pursuit of something else other than tapas, we dined in an Italian eatery nearby in the old town. However the fave meal of the whole trip was at Parillla La Pampa, where I reminisced about times in Buenos Aires. Empanadas to start and a steak to die for, all accompanied with a fine bottle of Malbec. Vegetarians need not apply.

On Saturday morning, we headed to the Alcazar. A small but satisfying example of how the Christians converted the old Muslim fortress to their tastes. The old mosque is well preserved, as are the baths. What is missing is the ornate tilework found in Seville and Granada. The locals here favoured a less flashy brand of Islam. Plain and simple was good enough for them. There were probably a maximum of 50 people inside, so the peace and tranquillity was preserved. The calm enhanced by the gentle sound of running water in the gardens. It is possible to walk on a section of the battlements and climb the octagonal tower at the high point. Whilst it does not seem so out on the streets outside, this has a superb vantage point over the local countryside. The size of Tio Pepe can also be fully judged, including the weather vane in the shape of their brand - allegedly the largest in the world. The entry to the Alcazar was 5 €uros and for an extra 2, a visit to the camera obscura is included. As veterans of the oldest working example in the world - in Dumfries, Scotland in case you are interested - the lense and mirrors give a 360 degree view of the wider town in real time. The Other Half had been lucky up to this point to avoid all sporting events. It was an international week, so big league options were thin on the ground. The lower leagues were skirting around holy week commitments and 2nd Division Cadiz had been moved to Monday night for TV. We walked down to the local club Deportivo Xerez, who despite plying their trade in the regional 4th Division, have an
Gonzalez Byass BodegaGonzalez Byass BodegaGonzalez Byass Bodega

......home of the Tio Pepe
obscenely large ground - Estadio Municipal De Chapin. A huge horseshoe, albeit with an athletics track, is broken by a gap where a hotel sits. The good lady behind the reception allowed us out on to the terrace balcony, so we could survey the whole scene. The lady who had just cleaned the floor looked less than impressed. Alas, Deportivo were away at Sevilla C that weekend. I would have to settle for the indoor football team. The game of futsal is massive in the wider world, but not at home. A healthy crowd of 800 was declared as Xerez maintained their lead at the top of the league. The reduced admission price had helped to fill the stands. The visiting Infante FS, short on subs or in need of a bigger minibus, finally ran out of steam. The early missed chances cost them. We came outside to witness a very strange scene on the streets. It was the start of holy week and all the local churches were parading through the streets. The locals had been erecting stands alomg the routes during out stay and tonight they would be filled. The streets were full. Roads were closed If we had been in the deep south, I think there might have been a bit of an uproar. The outfits clearly had different meanings, but there was a definite room for misunderstanding. We retreated for an excellent Argentine meal at the Parrilla La Pampa.

Appendix 1

Futsal Espana Segunda B (Group 5) 25th Round

Xerez Toyota Nimauto Futsal 5 Infantes FS 2

Date : Saturday 24th March 2018 @ 1725 Hours

Venue : Pabellón Ruiz Mateos, Jerez de La Frontera, Andalusia, Spain

Attendance : 800

Xerez Toyota Nimauto: Manuel, Germán, Cristian, Mario, Antoñito Subs:Juanlu, Paquito, Raúl, Christian, Samuelito, Antonio & Juan.

Infantes FS: Álvaro, Diego, Juan Miguel, Andrés, Takuma Subs: Rubén, Daniel, Víctor & Kevin.

Goals: 1-0: Germán (10'); 2-0: Paquito (17'); 2-1: Álvaro (20'); 3-1: Paquito (20'); 4-1: Juan (33'); 5-1: Christian (36'); 5-2: (Mario p.p.) (37').

Referees: Bernabé Sánchez y Julio Gallardo (Ceuta).

Additional photos below
Photos: 85, Displayed: 32


4th April 2018
Jerez De La Frontera

Love the stork's nest!
4th April 2018
Jerez De La Frontera

Penitent hoods?
4th April 2018
Jerez De La Frontera

Stop it! I'm dying here LOL
4th April 2018
Jerez De La Frontera

4th April 2018

Great album! Several winters ago, I spent 2 mos in Fuengirola on the Costa del Sol. At the end, I booked a great bus tour to Morocco's imperial cities which left from Fuengirola. We passed through Jerez de la Frontera on the way out. I now wish we could have spent much more time there.

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