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Monday, May 13: Day 21 – Hop On, Hop Off

Today I set out on my own to explore Jerez de la Frontera. I bought a hop on/off bus pass for one of those gaudy bright red double decker topless buses seen carrying tourists in cities around the world. It allowed me to ride all the way around the old city and get an overview. However, for sightseeing, it didn’t turn out to be a good investment. There was only one bus, and it made a circuit each hour. I wasn’t sure when it would arrive at each stop next. I didn’t see the bus again. Back at our Airbnb Brenda was doing her own hop on/off and felt better by the end of the day.

After the bus circuit I walked to the Alcázar (fortress) built in the 12th century by the Almohads (Berber Muslims) who took over southern Spain. A hundred years later the Christians retook the city. At various times the Alcázar headquartered troops and rulers and protected the city.

Then on to the Jerez Cathedral just down the hill from the Alcázar. It is the last Gothic (flying buttresses) church built in Jerez. However, since it took so long to build, a Baroque facade and Neoclassical elements were added.

The churches and cathedrals that we have seen in Portugal and Spain are less ornate than ones in Italy and central Europe. The soft religious music they pipe in makes me feel reverent.

The bell tower of the cathedral, reminiscent of a minaret, is a separate free standing building.

I climbed to the top among four bells.

At 1:00pm I braced myself for a resounding clang, but a recorded bell sound played nearby instead. Disappointing!

In the afternoon I was able to make the hop on/off pass pay off by using it to gain entrance to the Gonzalez Byass winery. It was founded by Manuel Maria Gonzalez Angel who came to Jerez in 1835 at age 23 to start a sherry-producing company. Sherry is a white wine that is fortified after completion of the fermentation process. Today we know his brand as Tio Pepe.

The land to the north and west of Jerez contains a soil called “albariza” which can be up to 60% chalk, making it ideal soil for growing sherry grapes. This is the only region in the world where sherry is allowed to be produced.

This bodega (winery) has 4,000 casks that ferment in a cool, dark cathedral-like silence. The casks are kept at ground level, slightly off of the floor, in a building with high ceilings, thick walls, and large windows. This keeps the temperature in an ideal range without any heating or cooling.

Diego was an excellent guide who explained the chemistry of their various products. At the end – the PAYOFF – two glasses of sherry to compare dry with sweet!

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