Chapter Nine: A Journey To The Pueblos Blancos

Day 9KJK - (13 of 31)Chapter Nine: A Journey To The Pueblos Blancos

Day Nine – I Thought All New Cars Have GPS, Aztec Basketball And Driving Do Not Mix, Help Me (Find) Ronda, Parking Faux Pas, Never Eat At A Place Just Because You Have To Pee, Gorgeous Gorge, Horsing Around, That’s A Bunch Of Bull, Mixed Church Reviews, Watch Out For That Tree, Mariano Rivera Couldn’t Do It Better, Who’s Afraid Of The Lonely Goatherd, GinTonics By The Lake and Another Spectacular Dinner

It was time to say adios to Granada. Today’s driving adventure (and with us in a car, it always is an adventure) would take us on a route to the Pueblos Blancos (White Towns).

We were picked up by a taxi at the Apartamentos Turísticos Alhambra, drove down the hill past the place we almost stopped by to see some flamenco, and were dropped at the Hertz office. Kim commented (and we agreed) that Granada, although a little gritty, was a fun city to visit (exceeding out expectations). If you come to Granada, give it at least a couple of nights…there’s a lot more than just the Alhambra to see (although the Alhambra is incredible).

P1000314Being caffeine deprived, we forgot to inquire whether our car was equipped with GPS…

IMG_2331…but we did get directions out of town (easy) and we were on the road to Ronda…sans GPS, of course. No problema…we had Maapman (Kim)…Mary, who always has a back-up map within her grasp and Tracy, who is the world’s best sign reader (well, road signs anyway). We also knew the exit to take toward Ronda.  What could go wrong?  Oh yeah, it’s us.

As we traveled along the highway, Kim and I started talking about prospects for San Diego State (Harvard Of The West) basketball.

SDSU-Basketball-Aztecs-Logo--29232752_14145_ver1.0_320_240I guess we got caught up in our “hoops talk,” because in about 45 minutes, from the back seat, we heard the words (from Mary) you never want to hear. “Guys, we’re headed in the wrong direction.”  Being stupid guys, we did not believe her at first, so I drove on until we reached an exit that proved Mary’s hypothesis correct. “Help me Ronda,” I said, and Kim replied, “I guess this proves you shouldn’t Be True To Your School.”

5069-A Be True To Your School Scranton KlaasTracy looked a little concerned, and I wanted to say. “Don’t Worry Baby, we’ll be in Ronda shortly and have Fun, Fun, Fun,” but you can only do so much Beach Boys’ humor when you’ve taken your group the wrong direction.  Our driving miscue only cost us about 30 extra minutes total, and a little before noon, Ronda (known for its gorgeous gorge)…

1…was in our sights.  Enter driving Miscue #2.

We knew we were supposed to come to an underground car park when entering town, and we felt quite fortunate that it was right in front of us.  Unfortunately, as were to find out later, this was the incorrect underground car park.

That error led to our next error.   Kim said that he desperately needed to use the bathroom. We entered Restaurante El Patio, and he utilized their facilities. The back dining area looked cute, so being famished (and lazy) we just decided to eat there rather than move on to the gorge. Big mistake.

Day 8-9-10 - 6Although I’ve recently read the reviews of this restaurant (which are mostly positive), outside of my melon and jamon, the lunch was nothing to write home about. Ronda was not starting out on the right foot.

P1020032We walked down the main drag and made a left at the bullring (more on that to come) out to a precarious viewing area…

P1020042…and then to the Puento Nuevo, whose construction started in 1759 and was completed 34 years later.

4The original bridge opened in 1739…

P1020045…and collapsed two years later, killing 50 people.

P1020037We looked back at our first viewing area…

IMG_2332…and felt fortunate that it hadn’t collapsed.

5There were also some restaurants with lovely viewpoints that we would have probably dined at if (1) we’d parked at the correct garage and (2) someone’s bladder was not ready to explode.  Live and learn.

3From here, we took in the views of the El Tajo Gorge.

P1020044The views were interesting if not overly spectacular, but we did acknowledge it would have been better for our Ronda experience to have lunch on one of the outdoor view patios.

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Our next stop took us to what is touted as the oldest bullring in Spain, Plaza de Toros de Ronda.  The bull in front gave away its location.

P1020051Before touring the bullring, however, an old man (that would be me) decided it would be fun to pay a couple of Euro to get up on a horse for some pictures.

secretariat-2Mind you, the last time I tried to mount a horse was before Secretariat’s Triple Crown run.

Day 9KJK - (41 of 5)                               Day 9KJK - (44 of 5)

Trying to get up on the horse, I felt a little un-stable. I harnessed all my energy and made it (barely) without killing either myself or the horse, who was looking rather bemused by the entire ordeal.

Day 9KJK - (42 of 5)Sadly, Kim was able to get off a series of photos of my posterior for posterity.  Let’s just say, I will never live this episode down and will forever be the butt of many jokes.

IMG_2334Finally upright on the horse and after a dozen or so photos were snapped, I got down (carefully) and made a promise that this would be the last time I’d pony up money for one of these photo ops.

IMG_2347We hoofed it over to the ticket office.  The Plaza de Toros opened in 1785 and is home to a famous school of bullfighting. Admission is €6.50.

P1020054Although I am anti-bullfighting, it was interesting to see something that some cultures believe to be a worthwhile “sporting” activity. I could never go to one, however, because I would be rooting for the bull. Toro that!

9We saw the paddock where the bulls race out from…

10…to their certain death…

P1020057…then walked through a long narrow passageway.  We took the bull by its horns…

P1000569…and walked out to the dirt arena.

P1020059Fortunately no bulls were let loose during our visit.

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Tracy and Mary were scared a Picador might chase after them…

11…so they both ran for cover.

P1020060This is where famed bullfighter Pedro Romero Martinez killed many of the 6,000 bulls during his career, which is either quite an accomplishment or quite disgusting, depending upon your point of view.

12 There is also a museum of bullfighting paraphernalia, including numerous colorful outfits.

P1000571 Stepping outside were the statues of famous matadors.

P1000572Our last stop in Ronda was the Collegiata Santa María la Mayor (Church Of Holy Mary), a church that Tracy and I enjoyed, but that Kim and Mary found to be a little depressing. The cost is €4, which included an audioguide.

15We probably spent a little less than a half hour touring the interior, which has a beautiful altar…

14…and many exquisite pieces displayed throughout.

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They included the Virgen de la paz patrona de ronda…

P1000574…and the Virgin of The Greatest Suffering…

P1000577 (1)…and a big hymnal.

P1020071On the way back to our car…

P1020081                                           16

…we scoped out a little more of the town (none of us were big Ronda fans)…

P1020082…stopped in the plaza for a few more photos…

P1020083…and were soon on our way to our final stop of the day, Zahara de la Sierra, where we would spend the late afternoon and evening doing something we never do on one of our trips…relax.  I am a benevolent dictator.

It was an easy 45 minute drive from Ronda to the white village of Zahara de la Sierra along the “rutas de pueblos blancos,” but it would not be a driving excursion if we didn’t provide at least a little drama. As we drove alongside the lake…

IMG_2348…we made the left turn into Zahara and up we traveled until we hit the center of town looking for our lodging, Al Lago.

P1020087There were lots of signs for places to stay, but none for us.  Of course, had we just looked at their email, we could have figured it out, but why make it easy?

P1020085We stopped in the Plaza Mayor, Zahara’s charming main square, right in front of the 18th century Church Of Santa Maria de la Meza, where we tried to get our bearing. It was apropos we were in front of a church because it didn’t seem like we had a prayer of seeing our hotel.

P1020084Quickly utilizing our power of deduction, since Al Lago means “to the lake,” we headed back down...“to the lake.”  Sure enough, we saw the sign, I made a quick left turn and parked at a downhill space near the hotel with a tree sitting about four feet in front of me.  Mission accomplished (well, not quite).

P1020088As I exited the car, Tracy said, “Tom, back the car up and straighten it out.”  Suddenly, but not unexpectedly, I became Spain’s worst driver. I put the car into reverse (so I thought), hit the gas and moved a few feet forward, slamming on the brakes before I became España’s version of George Of The Jungle.

Kill28I tried again…to no avail…I had actually inched closer to the tree. As I was performing my own near-demolition derby, a local gentleman sitting nearby was laughing and shaking his head, something I have seen in way too many countries when it pertains to my driving skills.

Enter the relief pitcher (I mean driver), Kim.  Against all odds, he was able to somehow get that car in reverse without hitting the tree, and our car (and insurance) were spared.

Unscathed, we checked in.  Al Lago is a family run hotel/restaurant owned by Stefan Crites and his wife Mona (she was the one who had emailed me the great directions that I had neglected to peruse before heading out of Ronda).  Stefan, who is also the chef, hails from Columbus, Ohio, and cultivated his culinary talents for a dozen years in New York City.

NYC is also where Mona (originally from London) worked as a textile designer, and who also had her own boutique.  They moved to Spain and found their calling in Zahara de la Sierra.

We were escorted to our very nice rooms overlooking the lake, and a short time later we found ourselves sitting at the Al Lago outside patio.  OK, maybe there is something to this whole “relaxing” thing.

23On the Al Lago website it says they have a “friendly local staff,” and I will have to say that is an understatement. There are many establishments who should send their employees here to see what good customer service looks like.

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The same young lady (Ava) with the “Julia Roberts smile” who took us to our room was now in the hotel’s “Bar Mona.”  I entered and ordered…you guessed it…a refreshing GinTonic. Since we didn’t have reservations at the hotel restaurant until 8, I also decided to have a late afternoon piece of cake.

P1020091At one point Kim and I headed across the street for a closer view of the beautiful, azure lake, when I swore I started hearing Julie Andrew’s voice in my head.

tlg21Yep, there in front of us was a lonely goatherd, “Lay ee odl, lay ee odl-oo.” I kid you not.

P1020095The goats were grazing in the grass having blast, probably knowing that Kim and I are Friends of Distinction.  Can you dig it?

P1020101It was great just hanging out at such a bucolic (always have to look that word up to make sure it means pastoral and not an eating disorder) spot.

22Al Lago was the perfect place to refresh our jets after a week of non-stop walking, and before heading out for our last 11 days in four towns that would expend a lot of our energy.

P1020092We talked about climbing to the castle above town the next day, but it was now time for dinner…and this meal was one of the tops we had in Spain. Obviously the time Stefan spent honing his skills in the Big Apple paid off.  Before ordering Mona stopped by the table to chat for a bit. She gave us the inside scoop on Spanish olive oil and related their journey to Zahara de la Sierra.  It was time to order (and Kim’s food photos make me want to go back now).

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Kim started with a chicken soup that Mona said was her husband’s family recipe that included saffron and cinnamon. He also had the pork cheeks.

25Mary’s daily double soup choice was Gazpacho, but she could not stay away from the water for dinner ordering the sea bass.

27Also going the soup route was the Tracy trifecta choice of onion soup. She followed that up with a chicken full of Moroccan spices.

26To round out the Soup-erfecta, I opted for the chilled Almond and Garlic soup with watermelon granita, and then a fantastic steak au Poivre. It really was a delicious dinner, and if you need a respite from the hustle and bustle of Spain, this is a terrific spot to spend a night or two kicking back.

28We walked off our dinner taking in the lake views once more before heading to sleep at this beautiful locale.

29Our trip would quickly resume at a frenetic pace tomorrow, but not before we checked out one more of the “Pueblos Blancos.”  We would then drive through a maze of sunflowers (don’t worry, no sunflowers were damaged on this excursion) to Seville and our great apartment. We’d even have time to check out the cathedral where old Chris is buried and take in the view from its tower, while still finding time to enjoy gelato and potato chips…yes, potato chips.

Next: Day Ten – Feeling Sheep-ish, Gorgeous Grazalema, Is That Legal, You Might Be Headed In The Wrong Direction (Again), We’re Going To Kansas City, Spacious Digs, Our Gang At Alfalfa, A Confusing Street Plan, The Largest Gothic Cathedral in The World, Back From Cuba, Ramping Up For A Defibrillator, A Visit To San Salvador, In The Chips and Tree-Lined Dining

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