Over the holidays, Matt and I took our very first European trip since moving. Matt’s brother and his wife came over for a week to visit, travel, and be with us during the holidays. On our list of things to do: check out the amazing gorge in a mountain town called Ronda, head over to Gibraltar to “hang” with the monkeys, ski in the Sierra Nevadas (my first time!), and spend New Year’s Eve in Granada. Whew!
Before taking a vacation for a real length of time, we wanted to find a day trip that would be both close and interesting. Ronda was recommended to us, but I’d also read positive things about it in Rick Steves’ – Spain. Getting there wasn’t exactly easy, though. My traveling cohorts are prone to motion sickness, and the drive to Ronda…well let’s just say it’s on a two-lane road, precariously perched on the side of the mountains, and winds like a snake would in motion.
Once there, though, we had a great time. The ravine, called El Tajo, is 360 feet down and 200 feet wide. The views are absolutely spectacular from the bridge dividing it. The whitewashed town, the Spanish mountains in the distance, and the overall awe of nature was well worth the drive. We even enjoyed a beer on a patio built into the side of the gorge belonging to a popular hotel. Following the gorge, we made our way to the first great Spanish bullring – Ronda is the birthplace of modern bullfighting. We took pictures in the middle of the ring and explored the bullfighting museum. Full of culture and interesting history, I was glad we stopped in.
It was an absolutely gorgeous day when we made our way into Gibraltar to see the famous barbary apes at the top of the rock. And they did not disappoint. This is a must-see attraction when coming to Gibraltar. You can either take a taxi tour of the rock that stops for you to see the apes, or you can take a cable car to the top. We opted for the cable car so we could do our own hiking in the beautiful weather. Once at the top, it was only a matter of seconds before we were face to face with an ape. A woman in our car had mistakenly packed a bag of snacks, which the ape sniffed out and stole from her immediately. This is quite a common thing to see, though tourists are warned not to willingly feed or touch the apes, lest you get charged a fine or an extremity bitten off…
That evening, as our day coincided with Matt’s birthday, we grabbed a Guinness at an Irish pub and then enjoyed a fantastic dinner at our favorite spot – Gaucho’s. Gaucho’s is an Argentinian restaurant where the atmosphere is exotic and the food is deliciously prepared. A hot stone sprinkled with sea salt is placed on the table when your meat is served, giving the patrons an opportunity to sear their cut to their liking. The appetizers were divine, the meat cooked just-right, and the wine a perfect compliment. We finished our evening off with a round of bingo at the casino (don’t judge us) and a celebratory glass of champagne with friends.
The next day we went into the mountains to Sierra Nevada. A quaint and small town at the very top of the mountain, I was eager to put on my first pair of skis. After touring the town and enjoying hot chocolate on day one, I took a private lesson the next morning while Matt and his brother watched on. Boy was I hooked. What seemed a little daunting and scary at first, became thrilling by the end of the day. Matt and I went back up after lunch to put my new skills to use and I didn’t want to come back down! We only skied that one day, but I cannot wait to go on another ski vacation. I may not have graduated from the bunny slopes yet, but I don’t care!
Granada was our final stop on the trip. We spent the morning exploring the Alhambra, the last Moorish palace. We walked for about 20 minutes through the perfectly manicured gardens to the Palacios Nazaries, the royal palace. The stucco in this palace is so old world and so well-preserved. I found that it was great to have Rick Steves’ book with me, because I don’t like to use the headset tours; I don’t know how well they’re cleaned after use, and he gives such a great and detailed history lesson to read as you explore. As he says in his guide, “imagine it furnished and filled with Moorish life…sultans with hookah pipes lounging on pillows upon Persian carpets, heavy curtains on the windows, and ivory-studded wooden furniture.”
Our final activity for 2011 was to celebrate the New Year in Granada. Ironically, Granada didn’t seem like it publicly wanted to celebrate New Year’s Eve with us. The streets were absolutely empty and the tapas bars closed. We ran into some of Matt’s coworkers at one of a few open places and proceeded to find none other than an Irish pub to celebrate the count down. We had a great time until about 3:30, at which point Matt and I decided to call it a night/morning. I definitely want to go back to Granada to have the real experience, because the city is beautiful, clean, and as we’re told, loads of fun. The streets are cobblestoned and have charm, bars will give you a free plate of tapas every time you order a drink, and we hear it pulsates with fun energy all night long.
We dropped off our guests at the train station the next day, and came back to our sleepy and peaceful little town. Needless to say, exhaustion set in pretty quickly, but it didn’t kill my travel delight completely. After only a couple days of rest, I was off planning my next trip: a visit to Dublin at the end of January! But I’m getting ahead of myself. In the meantime, I think I should focus on taking the Christmas tree down. 😉