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We are home and planning our next adventure because the compass never stops spinning. Check out my Future Adventures tab to see some of the possibilities! I’d love your feedback and ideas.

Ronda

view from the new city

view from the new city

Ronda, one of the oldest cities in Spain, is also one of the most dramatic mountain towns. Nestled deep into the mountains, it has this crazy gorge – a dizzying 380 feet deep – that separates the old Moorish city of La Ciudad (dating from the 8th century) from the new city of El Mercadillo (15th century). [Interesting to think that “new” for Spain is before Cristóbol Colón set sail from Spain to discover the Americas.] The gorge features so prominently in the topography of the city that they gave it a name: El Tajo, or The Pit. Uh-huh….

Moorish minaret/Christian belltower in the old city

Moorish minaret/Christian belltower in the old city

Ronda was a headquarters for bandeleros from the 18th to early 20th centuries, bandits who would prey upon travelers passing through Andalucía. I remember Washington Irving mentioning the notorious bandeleros as he traveled to Granada in his Tales of the Alhambra. I wonder if he was passing through the mountains of Ronda.

We loved the views of this verdant valley from our vantage point in the new city, but crossing the narrow gorge into the old city was spectacular. We crossed on the Puente Nuevo, the New Bridge, built in the 18th century. Its design really accentuates the depth of the gorge as the supports extend to the bottom. Prior to its completion, the citizens of Ronda had a choice of the older Puente Viejo (not surprisingly, the Old Bridge) or the even older Puente Árabe (Arabic Bridge). After viewing El Tajo from the Puente Nuevo, I can’t imagine crossing it from an older bridge. My knees were weak enough as I looked through an opening in the wall to the Guadalevín River below!

Puente Nuevo

Puente Nuevo

Ronda has one of the oldest and most prominent bullrings in Spain, thanks to the Romero family, local matadors who were instrumental in defining the modern style of bullfighting. Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles, both bullfighting aficionados, spent quite a bit of time in Ronda. In fact, Orson Welles’s remains were buried on bullfighter Antonio Ordóñez’s property in Ronda.

at the bullring

at the bullring

The city was a haven for other artists as well, and not just for the bullring. Many poets and writers, or viajeros románticos (romantic travelers) as they were known to the locals, spent time in Ronda inspired by the beauty around them. I am in complete agreement, as long as I have firm ground underneath my feet.

Puente Viejo

Puente Viejo

the Costa Brava

the Costa Brava

the Costa Brava

We are on the Mediterranean coast now, and each section of it has its own name. The northernmost Spanish coast, between the French border and Barcelona, is called the Costa Brava (Strong or Wild Coast). Just the name draws me. We thought we’d check it out.

Cadaqués, home of Salvador Dalí

Cadaqués, home of Salvador Dalí

Our first stop was Cadaqués, home of Salvador Dalí. We stopped at a little place called the Bar Marítim, which was listed in Fodors, and checked out the menu placed out front for passersby to review. Looked good, so we selected a table right on the beach. We ordered beverages and asked for the tapas menu. No menu; chips or olives. He must have misunderstood me; we saw the menu. Marcus went inside, retrieved one, and brought it back. We made our final selections, waved the server down, and ordered. No, only chips and olives. ¿Por qué? Because the kitchen is closed. ¿Por qué? Because the kitchen is closed. He walked away. At lunchtime? On a Tuesday? We finished our drinks and decided to head inland from the beach to find an open kitchen.

olive groves

olive groves

olives turning from green to black

olives turning from green to black

We found a cute little place with tables in a cover courtyard called Don Quijote. What’s not to like? At least the owner has a love of literature. We were the only people in the place. It was a bit early by Spanish standards, 12:30. The Spanish lunch “hour” is from 1:30-4:00. [They used to call it siesta, but I was corrected when I called it that. I think Spaniards are trying to up their image and not appear too sedentary or noncompetitive.] We had a delicious lunch of fried eggs, French fries, and pork filet (me) and chorizo (Marcus). Some of the most flavorful food we’ve had in Spain! [They always warn us when food is picante, or spicy, and it always so mild we can barely taste the spice.]

The owner of the restaurant was sitting at a table reading his newspaper. After we finished, Marcus went up to him and thanked him for the great meal and service. He leaped up from his table, shook Marcus’s hand, slapped him on the back, thanked him, turned to me, thanked me, shook my hand. OMG! I think we made his day!

Cap de Creus

Cap de Creus

We drove on to the northeastern-most point of Spain, Cap de Creus, only a few kilometers from the French border. If I had known how gorgeous this place is, we would have spent the whole day here hiking! (Okay, maybe not. Our feet were killing us from the four straight days of personal-best walks in Spain: 18,000+ steps.) So many amazing trails with so many gorgeous views!

us

Plaza de Toros

Plaza de Toros, Zaragoza

Plaza de Toros, Zaragoza

plaza de torosI’ve read a bit about bullfighting by aficionados, animal rights activists, and people who fall somewhere in between in an effort to understand what really goes on in the ring and why some people think it’s an art. I have to say I still don’t get it. I despise everything about it. How anyone could separate an animal from the comfort of its herd and then torture it until death is just beyond me.

But I have to confess that there’s something powerful about the plaza de toros by virtue of its perfectly round design alone. You can tell by the beautiful condition of this ring that the Zaragozanos love their “sport.”

Zaragoza

remains of the Roman wall with the Mercado Central in the background

remains of the Roman wall with the Mercado Central in the background

Zaragoza, capital of the Spanish province of Aragón, was established as a river port by the Romans in 25 BCE. It was named for Caesar Augustus. If you slur his name a bit and truncate the syllables, you can almost get from “Caesar Augustus” to “Zaragoza,” especially if you lisp the z’s like you’re supposed to in Castilian Spanish. While you’re practicing that, take a look at some of the photos Marcus took of the city. 

the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar - I just call her Pilar after my favorite character in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar – I just call her Pilar after my favorite character in For Whom the Bell Tolls.

 

closeup Pilar's beautifully tiled domes

closeup of Pilar’s beautifully tiled domes

 

lovely fountain in the Plaza del Pilar

lovely fountain in the Plaza del Pilar

 

recently excavated Roman amphitheater

recently excavated Roman amphitheater

 

Puerta del Carmen - site of a key battle in the Napoleonic War in which the Aragonese kicked butt!

Puerta del Carmen – site of a key battle in the Napoleonic War in which the Aragonese kicked butt!

 

El Tubo (The Pipe) - the site of some of the best tapas in Zaragoza

El Tubo (The Pipe) – the site of some of the best tapas in Zaragoza

 

migas - a mix of breadcrumbs sautéed in olive oil with bits & pieces of delicious things & topped with anything from the kitchen you choose

migas – a mix of breadcrumbs sautéed in olive oil with bits & pieces of delicious things added & topped with anything from the kitchen you choose. Our choice was a fried egg. Pure comfort food!

Azkuna Zentroa

Azkuna Zentroa

Azkuna Zentroa (exterior)

Azkuna Zentroa (interior)

Azkuna Zentroa (interior)

This building, built as a bodega or wine warehouse in the 18th century, is unassuming from the outside. Blends right in with the rest of the neighborhood. But the inside is something else altogether! In the early 20th century they gutted the building and built three brick buildings inside it, each so simple in design yet so striking in comparison to their outer shell. And they placed the inner buildings on 43 unique columns constructed of wood, brick, ceramic, stone, and metal. The collection is intended to represent “the infinity of cultures, architectures, wars, and religions man has gone through over history.” Each is beautiful in its own way.

one of 43 columns

one of 43 columns

The three inner buildings house auditoriums, concert halls, art space, restaurants, cafés, and – best of all – a three-floor media center. I used to work in a library that called itself a media center in an effort to sound more grandiose and forward-thinking. We had a few videos and books on tape. But this is a media center in the truest sense of the name. In addition to books, it contains a plethora of films and television, video, and audio recordings to browse through and listen to. The place was packed with people tucked into nooks and crannies and taking advantage of this amazing resource. Can’t blame them. If I lived in Bilbão, this is where I’d be.