Of all the Puente weekends we Spain-residing workers are fortuitously bestowed, February’s is, in my opinion, the most prized of them all. While in most other parts of the world two working months without respite may not exactly seem difficult to endure, here in Spain, such a lengthy Puente-less period, once accustomed to, can prove rather arduous. So when this year’s finally came around, I intended to fully make the most of it.
Where to go and what to do? So many places unchecked on my list. Salamanca? One glance at the sorry-looking weather forecast and my decision was made for me. Valencia, perhaps? Nope. A €110 return bus fare pre-payday was out of the question. I faffed and ruminated for several days, before eventually deciding that I would go to Ronda – somewhere that had been on my radar for some time, yet had remained unexplored due to that omnipresent ‘I’ll save it for another time’ sort of approach. Well it would remain unexplored no longer! It was Wednesday, and I would leave the following morning. I booked a hostel for two nights, met with some friends and embarked on a night of unreserved binge drinking, pleased with my decision and looking forward to hitting the road, or train-track, as was the case in point.
“Ronda es una cuidad colgada del cielo sobre una montaña partida en dos por obra de los dioses”
– Walter Starkie (1894-1976)
Morning came, and despite the truly horrendous hangover I awoke to, I quickly packed a bag and left – on time. Half an hour later, I arrived at the train station to discover a hulking queue tailing back into the lobby. There were fifteen minutes to spare. Not enough, as it turned out. I heard the train whir away from the platform as I stood, helplessly, in third place. Bollocks. First night at hostel squandered and hangover for nothing. I bought a ticket for the next afternoon, trudged back home along the snow-covered streets (yes, snow in Granada!), and spent the day reeling in disappointment and physical pain.
A Ronda backstreet
Socorro Church, Plaza SocorroHercules and his chirpy companion
I’ll get on with it now. Next day I caught my train and successfully navigated my way to Ronda, feeling a damn sight chirpier about it. A ten-minute saunter down a dusty backstreet and I found myself leaning over a railing 750m above sea level, overlooking the capacious countryside in front of me. It was spectacular to say the least. I’ve climbed Machu Picchu, gazed out onto the Rocky Mountain peninsular and even been up the Sheffield Ferris Wheel at Christmas, and this vista was right up there with them. I hadn’t even got to Puente Nuevo yet and I was already falling for it. Twenty long, camera clacking minutes later and that’s exactly where I was, eyes fixed and jaw suitably limp. The stone bridge, completed in 1793 after taking 42 years to build and claiming 50 lives in the process, towers 120m above the El Tajo Gorge. It is a feast for the eyes, and almost impossible to turn away from.
My hostel, which, despite having charged me for my first night’s stay (my fault, mustn’t grumble), was in the most idyllic of locations. It faced the bridge, offering a view that others could only have drooled over, as they saw me clacking away from the balcony. Checked in and all that, I explored further afield in order to view the bridge from every possible angle, though not until after the shadow of a mountain somewhere in the distance had crept up the face of the giant edifice as the sun dipped beneath the horizon. Had I known better, I’d have hiked to the facing lookout point to catch the perfect snapshot. Unfortunately, I was too slow off the mark and missed it. Still, can’t complain with snaps like these:
That night, random Indian guy from hostel and self headed out for dinner and drinks. Nobody else had wanted to come, despite the hostel being full.
“Ronda is a quiet place. No parties happen here, especially at this time of year”, explained the receptionist.
She was absolutely right. The place was dead when we left the hostel at 10pm. I wasn’t after a party anyway, just a wedge of a pizza and perhaps a couple of large jars to wash it down with. My wishes were fulfilled by way of an enormous bbq chicken pizza and (shoot me I’m a guiri) three litre-sized Weissbiers in a local Irish pub. God they were good. And the music was bloody good too! Live music, I might add, and the only sign of it along the cricket abounding promenade.
The third of our beers and a round of tequila slammers were proffered to us by the most affable of fellows: one Jack Boris Rodriguez García. The man’s driving license had to be seen to be believed. That really was his name – among the best I’d ever heard. Apparently his first name was given to him in owing to a long-standing family tradition (his father, grandfather and great grandfather had also been called Jack) that had started due to an American of the same name saving his great, great grandfather from execution during the Peruvian War of Independence in the early 19th century. Boris was the name of his mother’s father, who was Russian. He now works in the military and plans to spend the rest of his life in Andalucía. Smart guy. I was enthralled by his story. Well the first bit anyway. But as much as it pained me to bid Jack Boris Rodriguez García good night, I eventually forced myself to do so, for the next day was the only day I planned to spend in Ronda, and there was yet much to be done!
Breakfasted and showered, I headed straight to the tourism office to enquire about day excursions to some nearby Roman ruins I’d heard about. I was dressed too, in case you were wondering. Unfortunately there were no such excursions to speak of upon my arrival. I could have jumped in a taxi and paid the man to take me there but that was obviously not going to happen. Instead, I plumped for a leisurely stroll in and around the city’s Plaza de Toro, famed for being counted amongst the country’s oldest of bullrings.
I’m against bullfighting, but I’m not against learning about it. Until this trip I had never actually learnt the historical significance of the sport and how it came to be. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty, as I don’t want this post to turn my blog into a debate forum, but a good half an hour spent reading plaques and brittle newspaper clippings proved incredibly educational. The bullring itself was equally as absorbing, though the added element of bull-imitating French exchange-students took the gloss off a bit. When they eventually disappeared, I was, for just a moment, completely alone inside the eerie dome, sort of feeling like Spartacus or a chained lion might jump out at any moment and chop me up into bits. I seized the moment to take my favourite (bridge excluding) photo of the weekend:
After that, I wandered down to the lookout point for the second time, for a thoroughly good read. I’d say I picked a rather nice spot. Wouldn’t you agree?
Moorish gate that can be seen from the bridge
Eventually I had to be going, but not before I stopped off at Daver bakery to sample one of the city’s local sweet-tooth specialties. It was a grueling decision to have to make – almost as tough as the other one I’m currently faced with – but in the end, I went for La Miloja Chantilli. It was delicious. So delicious in fact, that I forgot to take a picture of it. This is what Google image search came up with, but it honestly doesn’t do the delectable treat justice.
I’ll be back to Ronda for sure. It is without doubt one of the most stunningly beautiful places I have visited since moving to Spain, though next time I’ll take a car. There’s much to see within the city if like me, you don’t stay for longer than a night, but if you’re intent on visiting Roman ruins or off-the-beaten-path hiking trails then renting a car is by far the best way to go. It’s also a rather couply place, so be warned if you are easily annoyed by overexuberant canoodling and/or are going through/have just gone through a painful break up. Especially depressed/brokenhearted people and readily accessible, 120m tall bridges is perhaps not the most sensible of combinations.
Have you been to Ronda?