The Weekend of Many First

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Last weekend I did many things for the first time, we had a puente, long weekend and each day I did something new.  Normally if I’m not traveling or trying to save money I end up doing nothing, so this past weekend was a really good one.

My first new experience: Visiting a bodega in Jerez.  Jerez is the birthplace of sherry and over the last two years I have consumed liters of sherry, but until Saturday I have never visited a bodega here.  Bodegas are where they produce and create the wine, which is a little different from the term bodega back home.  Saturday morning at 11am Jamie and I toured the Lustau bodega.  Lustau was founded in 1896 and today it is considered one of the worlds best wineries ranking 7th worldwide in 2012.

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My second experience: Biking the Via Verde.  Vias Verdes are greenway cycling/walking routes located throughout Spain.  In 1993 the Vias Verde plan was introduced to turn more than 6,000km of abandoned railway lines into environmental friendly tourism within rural areas.  So far it has been a success and the route my friend Miriam and I did on Sunday is considered the most beautiful, it was voted the best Greenway in Europe in 2009.  It’s located in the mountains of Cadiz and is a 36.5km path connecting the towns of Puerto Serrano and Olvera.  We only road to about the halfway point at 15km and even if we wanted to we couldn’t have gone further.  About 1km from the halfway point in the middle of a kilometer long tunnel my front tire went flat.  Luckily we weren’t far and only had to walk a short distance, once there I was able to get it repaired.  There’s a bike rental place along with a playground and restaurant there. I was worried it wasn’t going to hold the whole way back (to walk 15km takes about 4 hours), but it did and it even got me to and from school today.

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My third experience: Visiting Setenil. Setenil is a place I have wanted to go to for a long time now, we were suppose to go in December, but a couple of days before it fell through.  Five months later, with no school on Monday I had a second chance! Jose, Jamie, James and I made the trip to the town under rocks.  Setenil is a very small town (pop 3,000) located about an hour and a half from Jerez.  Historically it played an important role as a line of defense for the Muslims region of Granada against the Christian north, its watch tower, dating back to the 12th century is one of many that dot the region.  However, people don’t go to see the watch tower, they go to see the buildings tucked into the rocky cliff face.

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Ronda and Zahara de la Sierra

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This weekend has been a puente, so we didn’t have school on Monday and we also don’t today.  Puente means bridge and in Spain it is either a 3 or 4 day weekend.  It’s called this because it’s the bridge/break until the next vacation.  Normally a 4 day weekend is the perfect opportunity to travel for a few days, but I was trying to save money for Christmas break because I’m going to be traveling to Italy, so, I spent the weekend in Jerez.  Right now during December there are these things called Zambombas, which are gatherings of people to sing Christmas songs.  They are a lot of fun and everyone is drinking, singing and having a good time.  It was a fun weekend to stay around here.  I did however, get to do some traveling.  Some friends and I went to Ronda and another town call Zahara de la Sierra.

Zahara de la Sierra is a small town in the Mountains of the Sierra about an hour away from Jerez.  It is a small, beautiful town situated atop a mountain overlooking  a valley and a man-made lake.  At the highest point there is a defensive tower and the remains of a Moorish castle.  The views atop the tower were incredible and provided a complete view of the valley below, the lake and the surrounding mountains.

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After Zahara we went Ronda.  Ronda is about 30 min from Zahara and overall about an hour and a half from Jerez.  Ronda is one of the oldest cities in Spain and is famous for its puente nuevo connecting the two halves of the city.  *Sometime last year when I came across a picture of Ronda. When,  I saw a picture I knew I had to go there to see it in person.*  Ronda was better than anything I expected and 100x more magnificent than I could have hoped.  The bridge is spectacular and breathtaking.  It is a massive structure flanked on both sides by cliffs with historic buildings; beneath the bridge is a nameless waterfall that tumbles 25 meters below.  This alone creates a fairy tale-like composition, but, to make it even more beautiful, the whole city is situated in a valley atop a plateau, surrounded by mountains.  It’s one of the most beautiful awe inspiring places I’ve ever seen.  We viewed the bridge from so many different angles, we could probably reconstruct it from memory.

Aside from the many hours we spent admiring the bridge and the landscape we also visited the Palcio del Rey Moro and the historic Secret Mine.  The secret mine was built in the 14th century when Ronda was continuously being besieged due to the attacking forces of the Moors and the Christians.  The mine is reached by  300 steps carved in a zigzag pattern out of the rock.  At the end, you emerge at the bottom of the gorge with a scene of undisturbed tranquility, with the sounds of above forgotten. Ronda is truly a magnificent place unlike any other.