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Published: October 15th 2021
There is just something about train travel….not exactly sure what that is, but maybe it’s because we’re Americans who grew up in the suburbs of our respective cities in the 1960’s and ‘70’s and as a result always arrived everywhere by car. America is a nation of highways. That was America back then…you want to go some place, you simply jump in the car and go. There were no train stations in your town anyhow. So now when we have the opportunity, we really enjoy train travel and Europe in this case Spain, has provided that opportunity. Renfe, the train company in Spain, has become our main source of transportation.
All that being said…..we took the train from Granada to Ronda for a couple of days and then on to Seville and subsequently to Toledo. For us train travel has a certain romance about it. Gasoline is much more expensive in Europe and fewer people own cars. We suspect that for Europeans, it is routine but for us it is exciting. Just to kick back and watch the countryside go by is a small treat, but a very nice one. Our photos as we ride simply do not
do justice to what we are seeing. The topography is ever changing. The rolling hills, olive trees, the farms and quaint villages dot our path. It is tranquil and the train rocks along the tracks….sometimes gently, other times not so much.
As with all the trains we rode, the middle-distance trains are nice and clean, but the tracks can sometimes cause a fair amount of pitching back and forth as the speeds approach 70 mph (120 km/hr). Middle-distance trains are for traveling shorter distances within Spain as opposed to the high speed trains, which ride smooth as silk and you do not really notice how fast you are going unless you take a peek at the reader board in your car and realize that you’re moving at about 140 mph (240 km/hr).
After enjoying a smooth ride, we arrive in Ronda, which is a smallish town of some 30,000 in Andalusia that draws visitors from around the world. We read that it is the third most visited town in Andalusia. Who knew? Ronda is perched at the top of a gorge which provide incredible 360-degree views and top to bottom views as well. Many hotels and restaurants sport
a view of this historic village. You’ll have to read up on the progression of changes, from the Neolithic Age, to Phoenician settlers, through the Roman ages, to the Spanish Inquisition…. some say Hemmingway’s fictional village in For Whom the Bell Tolls,
is reminiscent of Ronda. Orson Wells also fancied this town.
It proved to be a good two-day stop for us. Today, Ronda has a beautiful park called Alameda del Tajo, which is well suited to a shaded stroll if just to avoid a bit of heat in the mid-day. It also contains a nice view of the valley below. Ronda also has a bull fighting museum which is on a fairly grand scale. We don’t profess to know much about this sport, but it has deep roots in this part of the country. The audio tour does a favorable job giving the history, including a few generations of families who have dedicated themselves to this sport. The bull ring itself is fairly impressive and holds over four thousand spectators. In older times, the king and other royals would sit in their private box. Today, many places have outlawed bull fighting, but Ronda celebrates this ancient endeavor.
When in Ronda, don’t miss an opportunity to go to the Ronda Guitar House. This was our favorite! Performing for us at the House of Don Bosco was Pablo Seco, an international classical Spanish guitarist. Pablo captured our attention from the first minute with his intense strum of the strings and emotions he emanated. As our friend Keith pointed out, it would be great if we could have bought a video of his performance. His facial features and expressions intensify the musical experience. Bravo is all we can say…. don’t miss this place.
As is our continuing luck, once again we stumbled on a restaurant where the food made our taste buds dance! If you are in town, take your appetite to Casa Ortega. We’ve adapted to the Spanish eating times. We are not eating breakfast so we will be hungry to have our big meal mid-day. (130pm or 2) We relax with a bottle of wine and analyze the menu to try a new item each day. At Casa Ortega, we took recommendations from the owner and enjoyed the tomato salad in herbed oils with the freshest tuna. He was excited because the tomatoes are from his farm.
Words cannot describe the freshness. We followed it with a pear stewed in wine. All in all, a great meal because somehow we ate the majority of the basket of bread with our tomato, soaking up all the juices and local oils. In the evening we eat lighter enjoying local tapas. They are all pretty good. Each town seems to serve many of the same tapas. The following evening, we went for some tapas that were unsatisfactory, so we abandoned our food and went back to Café Ortega. We ordered a light scrambled egg with jamon and truffles. They served it on French fries. They use a lot of potatoes in this country. When served,our waiter cut and mixed it for us. Simple but amazing. We were forced to follow it with the cherry cheesecake. We were attempting to soothe ourselves because of the bad tapas, with success!
The focal point of the town is the gorge and the bridges that cross it or provide scenic views. Everyone is drawn to photo this natural wonder. For 15 euros, a cab will take you down from town to have a look at the bridge. There are hiking trails which we
Fine artistic talent on the Spanish guitar
He played so well and his emotions added to the music
considered taking but it was a very hot day.
One thing we had been surprised by in Ronda is none of the bars serve tapas when you order a drink. This is the first we have encountered this while we have been in Spain. Who do we report this to?
Where we stayed: AirBnb
Restaurant we recommend: Restaurante Casa Ortega Sevilla
A couple of relaxing days in Ronda gave way to the larger environs of Seville, which is the largest city in Andalusia. The city and surrounding area have about 1.5 million people and it contains some great history as you would come to expect. What we’ve discovered is that most of the Iberian peninsula is a story of conquest and domination. The usual order was along the lines of the Carthaginians (sometimes the Phoenicians), the Romans, the Muslim Moors and finally, the Catholics. This usually all takes place in the first millennium and a half. It leaves some incredible architecture and tales of suppression and racial hatred. This was perhaps best manifested in the Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition, perhaps better known as the Spanish Inquisition. Needless
to say, this did not work out well for the Jewish or Moor residents.
Sevilla (we like the Spanish pronunciation better) found us not staying at an AirBnb, but rather at a Hilton Hotel so we could use up some Hilton points for a free stay, which meant we did not stay in the center of town. We found that although it provided more creature comforts, we had to taxi into the center of town and back, which made for some longer days for us. After all……we are not in our thirties anymore! We pressed on, however and enjoyed the Alcazar, which are examples of the opulence that local royalty would construct over the centuries, incorporating both lavish designs along with a means of defense as it would seem some army was always trying to depose the king, mostly in a violent manner.
There is also an edifice in Sevilla called the Metropol Parasol (Las Setas de la Incarnacion), which is essentially six large parasols connected to resemble a mushroom. La Fungi is what the locals call it. It is made entirely of wood and is located in the old quarter of the city. Pay about 5
and you can go to the top of it and get some nice views of the city. This was designed by a German architect and he did a fine job.
Sevilla is a charming town.
Sevilla also has fantastic cuisine and we took advantage of a suggestion by our Travel Blog friend LiliRam and were rewarded with some incredible and unforgettable tapas. This place is located on a small narrow street in the old quarter and if you did not have previous knowledge of it, you would not simply just walk by it’s blue door. We stopped in and had to make a reservation for a couple of hours later as they were already booked. Well worth the wait….thank you LiliRam!!
We also took the opportunity to take a cooking class, which was held at the Mercado (the market) where we learned how to make paella and couple of other taste treats. Our fellow students were almost all Americans and one Canadian. Looks like Americans are looking to travel, just as we are. Incorporated into the class was the history of paella and they provided recipes at the end.
Where we stayed: Hilton Homewood Suites with
free Hilton Points.
Restaurant we recommend: La Brunilda
Cooking Class: Taller Andaluz de Cocina Toledo
The next train journey took us to Toledo, which proved to hold lot of history, both personal and for the nation of Spain. Dave is from Toledo, Ohio in the U.S. and Toledo Spain has been a sister city for many decades. There are not many “Toledos” in the world, but this one is the oldest and by far has the richest history. It is an ancient city just an hour south of Madrid. In order to get there by train, you must first change trains in Madrid and take a smaller train to Toledo. The train station in Toledo is architecturally amazing for such a small place. Rather that stepping off in a sterile transportation hub, it almost looks like a step back in time, with its carvings and windows. Our taxi took us up the hill to the old city, where we would stay for three days.
Our apartment was very nice and had a tropical flavor, which was entertaining as we were not sure why, but was ideally situated for exploring a city that pre-dates the first
century. At some point in the Visagoths gave way to the Moors and then they gave way to the Catholics, a familiar theme and the city, perched on a hill and well-fortified by a wall, became a cultural and religious center for the region.
We spent our days there wandering the streets, visiting the impressive cathedral and taking in the general flavor of the old city. The cathedral has incredible chapels, greco paintings an opulent choir room. Hard to wrap your head around the amount of work and money involved in creating this building. Because they are fun, we also took a small, motorized train ride which provided us some wonderful vistas of the city from the hillsides outside of the walls. These little trains are funny to look at but were a great way to see this city. On our visit to the tourist information center, Dave told the nice lady that he was from Toledo, Ohio. She let us know that there was a street named "Toledo Ohio" in the old city....we found it.
As a side note....we are traveling in times of COVID, and while all you had to do for entry into Spain was
provide proof of vaccination, our next stop is Portugal, which requires a COVID test within 72 hours of arrival. With the kind assistance of the young lady at the Hilton in Sevilla, we were able to find a lab in Toledo. So on our second day, we had to make our way down the hill to the testing center. The walk was made much easier because of seven escalators and we made it down and back with no problem. We will have to be tested two more times on this trip, but it is well worth it....after all, we're traveling!
Just next door to our apartment was a fabulous restaurant, La Cabala, which provided us with some extraordinary cuisine. We are thrilled to have stumbled onto many high quality restaurants on this trip. The freshness and creative use of spices continues to make our taste buds dance.
Where we stayed: AirBnb
Restaurant recommended: La Cabala Taberna Restaurant
But for now….it’s time to head for Portugal…and reunite with Brendan in a few days!
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