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Granada, Spain

Our last city to visit was the infamous Granada. It seems fitting that we ended our trip in such a well-known place. This was a spur of the moment decision, since we had previously decided to go back to Valencia after Málaga. We rode our bikes to the bus station, boarded the charter bus, and were there within two hours. The ride was smooth and comfortable. I was anxious to see the Spanish countryside, but it was quite similar to Southern California.  You could hardly tell the difference at times.

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We rode our bikes to the hotel, as usual. Even in the daytime, the weather was already much colder than it had been in Málaga, since Granada is inland quite a bit. We knew it would be really cold at night, as it had been in Ronda.

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Our hotel was really nice; one of the best we stayed at during our whole trip. We settled in, then left to get something to eat. Afterwards, we ventured out into the city to get the lay of the land. Admittedly, both of us were already disappointed because we expected Granada to be a small city, like Ronda. I don’t know why we thought that though. After experiencing Ronda, then having culture shock in the big city of Málaga, we were looking forward to being in another cozy town again. Alas. Granada wasn’t quite as big and busy as Málaga or Valencia, but it still had the city vibe and wasn’t as quaint as we were hoping for. We rode our bikes around the downtown area and then chose random alleyways to go down to get out of the traffic. Without foresight, we came upon a very, very steep pathway that led up to the most famous site in Granada – the Alhambra.

We went up the path, which looked just like any nature path in a park, and found ourselves at the entrance to the Alhambra. Unfortunately, we arrived at the exact moment that the complex closed, so we didn’t get to see it that day. Instead, we walked further up the hill and found a dirt path leading to a lovely viewpoint overlooking the city. The sun had just set so it was getting quite cold, but we stopped to take some pictures anyway.

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There were beautiful snow-capped mountains behind us which turned out to be the Sierra Nevada Mountains! After living near the Sierra Nevadas in the US, it was nice to see the original mountains in Spain.

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It was absolutely freezing (to me, of course) by that time. We rode our bikes down a very long hill with the wind in our face and went back to the hotel. We thawed in the room and then did some more laundry in the sink. We ordered dinner in since neither of us felt like heading out again.

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Before we went to sleep, I did some research to find out if visiting the Alhambra was worth it. It’s highly touristy and the number one spot in Granada, but we wanted to be sure. In the end, we decided that we might as well see it since we were there, so we bought tickets online to have them ahead of time. We found out that you can visit it at anytime during their business hours, but there was one section (the Nasrid Palaces) that could only be accessed at a specific time. Apparently this spot was so popular that they had to give you a designated time, and then you were only allowed to be there for one hour! If you missed your slot, then you had to buy another reservation. We chose a time later in the day so we could see the city a bit in the morning and then finish up at the Alhambra.

We started out with a morning walk through the city. I love my dad’s new nickname for Casey: the Jumping Bean! It’s so perfect.

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We saw a hilarious little carousel with kids riding horses made from rubber tires. The guy in charge of the ride was pedaling on a bicycle in order to spin the kids around. Pretty clever and really funny!

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This sign made us laugh. What does it mean? I can think of a number of interpretations.

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More beautiful gothic architecture! Just gorgeous.

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This cathedral was just amazing from the outside. The curvature is such a neat design.

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Our front desk clerk at the hotel told us to go to a certain lookout point where you had a great view of the Alhambra high up on hill. We followed a map and eventually found it. It was packed with people! But it did offer a great view. The only downside was that everyone was just lingering and loitering, sitting on the low wall, so that you couldn’t get close enough to take a decent picture of the view. Or you had to stand right next to people and hover over them to take a picture. Meh.

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We left after a few minutes since there was no place to sit, and I was getting mad that people wouldn’t move out of the way. There was a small café where we got a snack.

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It was almost time to venture to the Alhambra. We had walked all the way up to the viewpoint (which was a long ways up), so we took a bus down the hill, and then took another bus back up another hill to the Alhambra entrance.

At this point, the blog lends itself more to photos than writing, but I’ll give you some background first. The Alhambra is made up of five general sections: the Generalife gardens, the Alcazaba, the Towers, the Nasrid Palaces, and the Charles V Palace. We weren’t able to see everything that day, unfortunately. Casey didn’t want to spend all day there, so we didn’t go early enough to see everything. I would have gone earlier, but I admit that we were both getting a little tired of seeing the same type of old, Spanish buildings. Of course they were all different, but they were all similar in a way. Maybe if we had come to Granada first, we would have gone earlier and seen the whole Alhambra complex. But it was what it was. We only got to see the Generalife gardens and the Nasrid Palaces, so that is what you’ll be seeing today as well.

Many different rulers resided there and contributed to building the Alhambra, either by adding onto it or destroying parts of it. The Generalife gardens were built as a sort of sanctuary for the residents to stroll around and relax. It was a nice place. It seemed like it would have been quiet and tranquil hundreds of years ago. Since the gardens are on the highest part of the hill, there was a great view of the city and of the rest of the Alhambra.

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It was now almost time to see the Nasrid Palaces! Remember, they give you a specific time, so we didn’t want to be late. We had to walk about ten minutes across the whole complex to get there though, so it was quite the trek. On the way, we saw tree-lined paths, a little building called “Hotel America,” and the outside of Charles V Palace. We also briefly went inside an old, Arabic bath house. There were lovely star-shapes cut into the ceiling to let in light, so I took a quick picture of that. Then we stood in line to enter the Nasrid Palaces and finally went in.

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Honestly, I don’t know why the Nasrid Palaces are so popular that they need timeslots to accommodate people. It’s basically a palace with lots of rooms, patios, and courtyards. I’m probably dumbing that down completely, but that’s essentially what it was. The main thing that struck us, and everyone else around, was the immense DETAIL in the architecture. The walls, ceilings, columns, floors, everything was completely covered in detailed tilework or incredibly intricate carvings. We had seen beautiful detailed work in other buildings, in other cities, during our trip. But I guess this was the ultimate in detail and design. Maybe that’s why it’s so popular. Anyway, on to some photos!

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While walking through the rooms, I noticed how cold it was in there without any breeze at all. I could just imagine how wonderfully cool it would be in the hot summer.

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I read online that a lot (maybe all) of these carvings are actually poems! Isn’t that cool?

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Here are couple more of those built-in shelves, if you will. Still adorable! You might not be able to tell, but they mimic the room that they are built in. Meaning that they look like a miniature version of the room that we were standing in. It was so cute.

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The ceiling in this next room was just gorgeous. Well, the whole room was gorgeous since it was completely covered in tile and carvings. Not one inch was bare. Casey and I kept wondering how long it took them to carve these intricate details into the walls.

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This next room was extremely unique. The ceiling rose up into a huge, star pattern and looked like it was dripping with stalactites. It’s called “mocárabe, honeycomb work, or stalactite work.” It consists of multiple layers of vertical prisms slowly rising up into an apex of tiny arches. The tiny windows at the very top also let in strategic angles of light in order to see the dozens of honeycomb curves.

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This ceiling was really built at an angle (like a rhombus). It wasn’t me taking a picture at an angle.

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Casey spotted this pretty stained glass ceiling. It was roped off so no one could see it, but he leaned over and found it. After that, many people after us also leaned over and took a picture.

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What is this, a llama? I don’t know, but we saw this guy numerous times around the Alhambra. I think he’s the mascot or something.

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And then it was over. It was almost closing time, so they pushed us out into the night again. We ended our tour in a little garden, and then had to find our way out. We wanted to go back to the main entrance, but the gate was locked and we ended up feeling locked in for quite a while. We walked back and forth trying to find a way out, and it took some time to spot the pedestrian path leading back down the hill. We were tempted to just spend the night at the Alhambra and see more of it the next day. After all, they locked us in, right?

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There were more persimmon trees here, just like we saw in Ronda. I loved them quite a bit. They still remind me of Halloween for some reason. I wonder if they would grow in Washington??

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This is Charles V Palace. Apparently he demolished a huge section of the Alhambra to build his palace. On the way out, I saw a teeny tiny little sign noting the “Alhambra.” The sign was about six inches across and three inches tall. You’d think such a huge, popular place would have a bigger sign!

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We descended the steep path and walked through the park, through the city, into the night, back to our hotel. We saw some interesting graffiti and murals as well.

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And that was it. That was the Alhambra. That was Granada. The next day was uneventful. We went on a walk, found a science museum, and took pictures with Albert Einstein. Both of us didn’t feel like doing anything special. We were honestly worn out from sightseeing, if that can be possible.

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We did find a cute bakery where we treated ourselves to a croissant filled with whipped cream. Mmm. We also tried a Spanish specialty called pionono. It’s a small cylinder of sponge cake that you can eat in two bites. It’s really tiny. We had no idea what they would taste like, so we ordered an original pionono with a crème brulee cream topping and another one with a mandarin orange cream topping. WOW! That’s all I could say. As tradition dictates, sponge cake is generally always soaked or brushed with some type of liquid to moisten it. These cakes had been completely soaked in something so it was 100% moist and soggy. Personally, I couldn’t eat it. The soggy texture was way too strong for me. Casey didn’t mind the texture as much, but they weren’t his new favorites either. We’re glad we tried them though. I loved their menu  with pictures of all the desserts and clear prices for all of them. Great idea.

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The day slowly passed and we took the night train back to Valencia. I wrote about this in depth already in a previous post: Back to Our Home Away from Home.

I guess in my conclusion I should state that we had a really wonderful time. We are so glad that we chose to go on this trip and see new cities in Spain. Next time, I think we both might plan a little more ahead of time so we know what each city has to offer. On the other hand, we really had a good time just doing it live and seeing what we wanted when we wanted. We both love to explore cities like locals and just enjoy whatever our feet or our bikes lead us to at the time. So who knows what we’ll do next time.

Well, I’m done! You’re done! That was our Southern Spain Trip! I thoroughly hope you enjoyed reading about it and seeing our pictures. I’m going to put the rest of them on our photography website so you can browse through all of our photos if you want to. Since it was hard to insert galleries into each post (like I did for the post on Sevilla), I think this will be the easiest way.  I’ll let you know when they are all uploaded and ready for viewing. Thanks for reading!!


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Ronda, Spain

Ronda, city number three, was really the only place I was anxious to see during our trip. I had looked up pictures of each city online before we started, and Ronda stood out among the rest. It sits on top of a huge cliff and overlooks El Tajo, a 328 feet deep canyon, and it has a gorgeous bridge called Puente Nuevo.

We had breakfast at the Córdoba train station; I had the usual toast with jam, and Casey tried a toasted sandwich with jamón and an egg. The fresh-squeezed orange juice all over Spain is just delicious. Sometimes it’s sweet, other times it’s more sour, but it’s always good. We really got spoiled with that. We plan to squeeze our own juice more often when we get back home now and treat ourselves.

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We took a relatively slow train this time and leisurely weaved our way through the hills and up the mountain to our destination. I posted a similar picture earlier, but here’s another shot of this completely white town and a tiny castle perched on top of the hill. Quite adorable actually.

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Dark clouds were starting to roll in, so we knew we’d get some rain later on in the day. It reminded us of being in Washington again with all the greenery and overcast skies.

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We finally arrived in Ronda and Casey unloaded our bikes! This was the smallest city we visited on our trip, and the tiny train platform confirmed it. We were used to bigger, covered stations, but this was quite cute. You can see the train conductor, or whatever he’s called, in the hat with a red stick. He makes sure that everyone is off or on before the train leaves again. A lot of stops are extremely quick (2-3 minutes), so you have to be ready and on the ball to get off the train in time.

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As usual, we didn’t know what the town had to offer or really where anything was located. Casey found the hotel on his phone and we rode there in style.

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Upon arriving at the hotel, they asked to see our passports so we could check in. Every hotel asks to see your passport, and some ask to see your credit/debit card. We prepaid for all of our rooms online, but they usually want a copy of the card just in case. Fortunately, this hotel in Ronda did not ask to see our debit card… because we lost it! In fact, we lost the whole wallet! (Remember the cute little wallet Casey bought me in Córdoba? That was it.) We went up to our room and unpacked all of our things to see if we had it, but to no avail. It was lost. We backtracked in our minds to try and think where it could be. I deduced that it was probably still on the train in the overhead compartment, and it had fallen out of the backpack when Casey unzipped a pocket. We had a moment of silence filled with anger, frustration, worry, and sadness. Then we decided that the only thing to do was go back to the train station, tell them what happened, and see what they could do for us.

We rode our bikes there and talked to a man on duty. Luckily, our Spanish was decent enough to describe what had happened. We told him which train we were on so he could look up where that train was at the time. He understood our problem and made some phone calls to the next station. He told us to wait a few minutes for the station to call him back. Casey and I kept going over and over what could have happened, just in case it wasn’t on the train. We had a good amount of cash in the wallet, but that could always be replaced. We were more upset at losing my debit card because that’s what we used to withdraw money in the first place. And we were also very sad about losing the wallet itself! We anxiously waited about ten minutes, and finally the man called us back over to his desk and said that they found it! It was still in the overhead bin, exactly where we thought it would be! Yayyyy! We felt a huge rush of relief. He said that the train would be back in Ronda in about two hours, so we had to come back then to retrieve it.

We left the station with smiles on our faces and thankful hearts. Since the town was so small, we could ride around the city and back to our hotel with plenty of time to spare before we needed to be back at the station. We decided to get some lunch and relax in the meantime. We found a wonderful bakery in the center of town where we got some sandwiches and drinks. Casey ordered a deli sandwich filled with jamón, tomato, cucumber, and lettuce, as well as a super thick and creamy mocha frappuccino dolloped with a heavy dose of whipped cream. That was like a mocha mousse more than a frappuccino. I ordered a simpler pastry filled with tomato sauce and cheese (like a pizza Hot Pocket) with more fresh orange juice. Mmm. Needless to say, we were happy and relieved.

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After lunch, we went back to the hotel and rested for a while. Both of us didn’t feel like venturing out into the city just yet. We wanted to get the wallet back in our possession before we could roam and be tourists again. When we returned to the station, the train pulled up, and an employee stepped out with our cute little wallet in hand. We felt like parents picking up their child who has spent a semester abroad. (I held the wallet in my jacket pocket for the rest of the day as well.)

With the deal done, we set out to explore the city in our rain pants and raincoats. The storm clouds had gradually settled over the town, so there was now a soft drizzle of rain coming down. Unbeknownst to us, we had left the lovely climate of Córdoba and come to the extremely cold Ronda. And I do mean it was COLD! I can’t remember exactly, but I guess it was in the low-40’s that day. Casey would tell you it was just cold, since he stays much warmer than I do, but to me it was COLD. Anyway.

We rode our bikes through Old Town to get the lay of the land, as usual. This took us straight to the Puente Nuevo, the New Bridge, that is the most popular photo spot in Ronda. It also gave us a great view of El Tajo, the huge canyon below. These pictures were taken looking out into the countryside from the main side of the bridge. There is a small river below called the Guadalevin River too.

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Then we crossed to the other side of the bridge where we could see more houses and the rest of the town. And one side of the massive bridge, of course! It was just amazing to see how the buildings are built so close to the edge of the cliffs. The deep green foliage really stands out against the rock face.

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Casey was all dolled up in his rain gear as well. He looked like a spy in all his black, minus the bright blue shoes. Even our bike bag wore its neon green rain cover.

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In this Old Town section, the streets were so narrow, hardly big enough for two cars, and most of the sidewalks were even narrower! Two people could not pass each other without one moving out of the way. The roads were also extremely hilly. That coupled with the narrow roads and drizzle of rain made me decide to walk my bike out of town instead of riding it.

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We left the touristy section and found ourselves by a staircase that went down to a street which led out of town. Casey wanted to check it out, and he offered to carry both bikes down the stairs, so I agreed to that proposition. The clouds were also starting to break up and let some light through, so that was a nice sign in the sky.

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There was a large stone fortress to our right that was used for military purposes since it had a vantage point of the whole south-western side of the city. It looked formidable against the stormy sky and dim lighting, but the sheep grazing in the field toned it down. Casey “bahhhed” a few times and got them to look up at us with curiosity.

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I was still COLD, and the road was really steep, so I decided not to ride any further. The cobblestone road also made it more uncomfortable to ride since the bike vibrates so much compared to being on a smooth surface. I stayed behind while Casey rode on for a little just to see what was around the bend in the road.

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I noticed that I was standing by a haystack… a horseback riding rental place (“Horse Riding Tours”)… and three horses. They all turned their heads to look back as Casey was riding up the hill. PC033692PC033697PC033702PC033709

One of them even came closer as Casey was coming up. The white one was definitely a horse, but the black one could have been a donkey. Which means this brown one below might be a mule. (I had to do some research to figure that out.) Either way, it looked at us very seriously and curiously. PC033713

Casey was hot after riding his bike up a crazy steep hill (I walked), so he took his jacket off and then carried our bikes up the stairs again. What a guy. The bikes look kind of small in comparison to him huh!

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This church was pretty against the dusty blue sky and the bright, white moon. The cross almost looks like it’s hovering above the building rather than being attached to it.

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On our way back to the hotel, we caught a glimpse of the beautiful, white town on the other side of the bridge as well. I love how strikingly white these buildings are, up close and from afar. We ventured down into that area of town on the next day, so you’ll see those pictures in a bit.

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Once we got back to the hotel, we changed out of our rain pants to go to dinner. I was still holding onto that wallet for dear life. We didn’t know where dinner would be, so we bought a loaf of bread to nibble on while we walked around looking for a restaurant. It’s so convenient and tasty to buy fresh bread every day. I think I will also incorporate that into my “new” life back in the US. Fresh-squeezed orange juice and fresh bread. Yum. Who wouldn’t love that? We ended up at an Italian restaurant that, all-in-all, was not very good. They tried with the food, but we’ve certainly had better. We were simply not having good luck with the food in these towns! Oh well. We finished up with a slice of ice cream before going back to the hotel and getting a good night’s sleep.PC033729PC033733PC033734PC033737

The next day was a bit sunnier, a bit warmer, and a bit more exciting than the first day had been. Our usual breakfast of toast, juice, and coffee was on the menu. Then we walked through the main street of shops towards a park overlooking the countryside. All of these Spanish towns decorate their streets with lights and Christmas decorations. It’s really lovely.

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It was a glorious day, can’t you tell? :) In the picture below, the Puente Nuevo is directly to the left in between those two cliff faces. You can’t see it, but that’s where we were standing the day before looking down into the canyon and out into the valley. The building on the left is a hotel, so you can just imagine how expensive those rooms are with a view like that! It must be nice to be a farmer in these parts and be able to look up at Ronda every day as well.

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I liked the gazebo and the single, pink rose that was still blooming as winter drew near. We noticed well after the fact that we took all those pictures above while standing on a very thin platform! Look at that! We had no idea that it stuck out into the valley all on its own. I don’t know if I would have walked on it had I known how thin it actually was. Eek! Also, the foliage is something to note because there was a really interesting mix of plants in Ronda. There were dark green evergreen-like plants, but there were also plenty of cacti. I didn’t know that cacti liked cold, rainy climates. They certainly do here though. All of those light green plants below are cacti.

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There was a path leading down to the river which provided a great view of the Puente Nuevo, so we continued on and tried to find it. I knew without a doubt that I’d have to get a good picture of that bridge! That metal sign says “Warning! Way In Poor Condition” and looks about as old as the town itself. The nicer, tiled sign says “City of Ronda, Door of the Mills.” Apparently there used to be many flour mills below the bridge, so that is what that means.

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Yes, I was still COLD, even though the sun was shining and there was no rain. We didn’t think it’d be so bitterly cold in Southern Spain, so we didn’t bring our thermals, gloves, or hats. I bought some cheap gloves that morning though because my hands were still freezing, and I had to take pictures today! It was only cold and windy in certain parts of the city though, so it got much better once we descended the wide, cobblestone path and emerged into the glistening sun.

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Everywhere we looked, there were old stone relics, crumbled buildings, and piles of rock from years past. Who knew how long ago they had been built. I think this door/archway could be one of the “doors of the mills” that they were talking about. It stands alone now.

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We followed that quail-like bird up some very steep steps to reach a lookout point. I wriggled into what I imagine is an archer slit used during the days of conflict and invasions. Tiny space! Maybe it wasn’t used for that purpose after all. We took a great photo of us overlooking the valley! And then we got to the goods… the breathtaking Puente Nuevo!!

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These pictures just don’t do it adequate justice, although they are still pretty. It was huge and truly magnificent. I took many good-quality photos, so I’ll try to edit those and blow them up into large, printable sizes. Maybe you’ll want one? Hehe.

I know I posted this picture earlier, but Casey is just too cute: all blissed out, extremely happy, and warm! Lucky him.

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We kept walking on the path and went underneath the bridge to this old powerhouse of sorts. I think they used to take the water from the river here and used it to run the flour mills. Just a guess. The river was very slow here and pretty deep too. Keeping in line with the foliage discussions, there were incredibly tiny, green plants on the side of the building. I took some up-close pictures of them.

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The sun was already ever-so-slightly starting to go down, so we hiked back up the path and into the city. It was time for a snack by now, so we wandered into a sleepy café and ordered a coffee and a raspberry tart. (In case you were wondering, I don’t like coffee, so Casey is the only one partaking in all of these frothy beverages.)

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After having such a fun time at the Puente Nuevo, we decided to try and find the Puente Viejo, or Old Bridge. We went back to the hotel to get a new battery for the camera, and somehow night had fallen by the time we arrived in this side of town. The dark blue sky was just beautiful with the golden, twinkling lights!

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I took two pictures of this curvy road: one on its own and one with Casey.

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You can barely see the Puente Nuevo in this picture below. It’s the bright yellow spot far away from us. We were a good distance away from it. The Puente Viejo is the second picture below, which you can see is a much smaller bridge than the popular, new bridge near the entrance of town. This old bridge is kind of tucked away.

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I spotted this tree and just had to take a picture of it! I loved the little grassy plot it was in, and I loved the bright moon behind it. For some reason, the whole scene reminded me of Halloween. It took us forever to figure out what kind of tree this was too. It looked like oranges, but we really didn’t think oranges would grow here in such a frigid climate. Finally, a few days later and in another city, we realized that it is a persimmon tree! Cool!

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At this point, it was nighttime, we had done our sightseeing, and it was nearly dinnertime. So we wandered back toward town with no idea of where to go, as usual. We got lost at one point and found ourselves in a dead-end courtyard full of cats. There were at least six cats, if not more. They were running around, chasing each other, or having brief cat fights. Adorable in their own way.

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Casey pretended to drink out of this seriously old drinking fountain. We did read that the water is safe to drink from these things though. And the final picture of the night was this church or school or office building, I’m not sure. It was pretty and peaceful.

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As you might be able to imagine, we didn’t find any Spanish food that caught our eye that night. After all things were considered, we ended up at McDonald’s for a familiar meal. We might not speak highly of fast-food in the US, but it really fills the void when you’re in a foreign country with unfamiliar foods, and your mouth craves a bite of something comforting and understandable. That could be one of the hardest things about travel: not knowing what to expect from your food (or hotel room). There is something to be said about knowing how food is going to taste and knowing what you’re going to receive when you order it.

Well that was Ronda! We really enjoyed being there for the beauty, but we would have preferred to go when the weather was a bit warmer. It was definitely one of the most unique cities we’ve ever been to though, so we really loved that aspect of it. We were halfway through our trip at this point and having lots of fun! I have two cities left to tell you about, so stay tuned!