Saturday, January 07, 2012

from Granada to Ronda

I had been meaning to get up for a sunrise this entire trip and I think I forever would have felt the regret of not doing it here, in Granada. Especially since we are a five minute walk from perhaps the best vantage point in town toward the east and toward the Alhambra. And, too, in this part of the world, the January sun rises at a hefty 8 o’clock.

And yet it’s not easy to get out of bed. Our guest house, among its other stellar qualities, has the best pillows I’ve ever slept on (by contrast, at home we have the oldest, lumpiest things in the Midwest and possibly the whole continent). Still, it is our last morning here and I note a thin band of clouds at the horizon – always a good thing at sunrise. So I’m up.

I walk up to the small square by San Nicolas. A handful of our old hippie friends are there, drinking coffee, talking amicably.

We wait and watch.

Perhaps my memory is not serving me well, but truly, I can’t think when I have ever seen such blazing color in the sky. (The photos here are exactly right – I compared each one to the scene before me.)

It’s a trilogy of stunning vistas that grabs your attention – the fire in the sky, the white peaks of the Sierra Nevada, not so white now in the light of the rising sun, and of course, the Alhambra, taking the back seat at first, emerging ever so slowly from the shadows of the night.


I can’t get enough of it (and therefore, you’re likely to get too much of it).


Slowly, the color fades and the sky becomes lighter. I leave, but the image is now set in my head: Alhambra, dramatically emerging, under a blazing sky.


The morning is quiet for us. Because it’s a holiday, the breakfast helper is off and the matriarch is there, tending to the morning buffet and I chat with her (no, I do not speak Spanish, but I understand it because it is so very close to Italian and in any case, she speaks fluent French) about this great project of the hotel.

It’s a family business. Mom and dad, both doctors, two daughters and a son – all lawyers. Six years ago, the house of their dreams, of her dreams really (an old Arab sultan’s home, predating at the foundation even the Alhambra, she tells me), is finally for sale. They give up their professions and together plunge their efforts into the running of the guest house.

To say they do a fantastic job is the understatement of the year.

But she wont part with the recipe for the orange liquor.
Too complicated, she tells me. Besides, you can’t get the base liquor anywhere but here, in Granada. It’s her mother’s secret recipe. Darn.

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For the remaining morning hours, Ed and I work, each in our favorite place (I’m downstairs in the living area, he’s upstairs, propped by the puffy pillows).

And then it’s early afternoon: time for our hike to the train station. We pass the café where we had lunched twice during our stay here. The owner waves and wishes us a good day. I have a tiny regret about leaving. We could idle away another day, another week perhaps? No, not this time.

Down we go, past the morning scenes of a southern city in Spain, where oranges are as common as potatoes are in Poland and where people wear thick coats and wooly scarves when the temperature dips to a cool... fifty-five.



The train is there, waiting. A last wave to Granada and we board the local for the 2.5 hour ride to Ronda.

Say what? Where’s Ronda? Well, if you went toward the Mediterranean coast on a diagonal, two thirds of the way there, you’d pass Ronda.

Traveling in the off off season is interesting because much of the world of inns and guest houses closes down for the ‘cold months.’ Since we avoid big hotels like the plague and our budget is deliberately quite small, but my taste for clean and honest quite high, this poses limits on where we can go. I spend many lonely hours on the Internet in early fall tracking down places and writing emails to see who would be open for business. Ronda, a hill town quite known for its very unusual location, has one such place.

So we’re speeding along to Ronda, past....


...right: olive groves... and I think how easy it is to get attached to places. I missed Seville when we left it and now I’m thinking how terrific it would be to sit on a sunny bench in Granada.

Never get too comfortable, never get too comfortable...

We get off the train in Ronda and my immediate reaction is quite negative. The town is too big for us! It’s fine to be in Seville, in Granada – you expect cities there. But here, in Ronda, I was hoping we’d find quiet.

We walk from the train station to our even tinier hotel (Ed is delighted – it’s a one star place, meaning, the bottom of the heap) and along the way, we bump against the festive crowds. So many people! For a town of 30,000, Ronda seems to have gathered all of them here for one last hurrah.

So I’m a tad disheartened by this. Ronda was to be our escape. Instead, it feels a bit like a smaller version of... a bigger town. Pretty, yes, definitely that. But it takes a good while for the street to clear of the rush of cars so that I can take a photo.



Except, as my senses adjust to the new reality (it’s not Granada and it’s not a quiet), a good, kind face begins to emerge.

Start with the hotel – called the Ronda. A family home, recently converted to a guest house, with spirit. Similar story as in Granada, but the Ronda is humbler, much much humbler. The owners live on one part of the house still. There are five rooms that they rent out and each has a splash of color and a contemporary art piece. It’s very very simple, but truly delightful.

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On my Escanaba scale, it’s half the price of an Econolodge (coming in at 66 Euros per night, with great WiFi!).

The owner is intrigued by my name and background. Poland... ah, Poland. Nice country. But you seem more American... she says. Do I? I suppose I’m no longer surprised.

Then, too, you have to know this about Ronda: it’s location is crazy fantastic. It’s perched at the edge of a deep gorge.


Who would build a city here is beyond me, but there you have it – Ronda is actually one of the oldest towns in Spain, having, too, a Moorish past, greatly influencing the present character of the town. It brags at being also the town that made bullfighting fashionable, but we'll pass on exploring this further. There is, however, an old arena here and bulls are... prominently featured all over town.


We get our bearings in the late afternoon and note that Ronda has more eateries concentrated in the center of town than possibly all of Madison. Perhaps that’s an exaggeration, but not a huge one. And they are very well priced. Set menus (3 courses) for 10 or 11 Euros, tax and service included. No wonder the whole town is engaged in a continuous moving feast.

Yes, it’s a holiday (Three Kings) and people are out and about, buying up the cakes...


...pausing at cafés, shifting then to tapas bars, and finally to the bodega for a full evening meal. And I see that fashion runs high here. At least in the shoe department. Women like their heels, even when pushing a baby carriage over cobbles.


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And children are dressed up. Girls wear ribbons in their hair.


This is the way of the old world. Put on your fine apparel and spend your day in the company of others. No wonder we appear so... American, me with my comfy walking shoes that do well in cities and mountains alike, Ed -- well, he’s looking a lot spiffier since a friend took pity on him and gave him some dollar barrel t-shirts. So far, no tears.

Ronda's looking lovely. And the same moon shines over her as the one over Granada.


We go out again, after nine, in search of dinner. This small bodega wins...


...for its menu -- with paella and shrimp pal pal. We’ve become great fans of both.

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The bodega is, predictably, family run – a five table place that fills quickly with people who probably prefer to have someone do the cooking for them on this day, on most any day.

It’s a delicious feast for us and we leave happy, bantering about what place to eat on the next day and the day after.

Ronda. What a splendid little town!

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