From Algeciras I got the train to Ronda, a little town I’d decided to visit after seeing some incredible pictures. I had booked a hostel that was supposed to be a bit of a hike from the centre of town but which apparently had an amazing view. Ronda is built on this high cliff top surrounding a gorge that basically splits the town in half with a river running through it. My hostel, Los Molinos, was located down in the valley looking up towards the cliffs, the town, the gorge and the bridge that crosses it.
The path that zigzags from the top of the cliff to the valley floor was not marked on my map, and there were a few times it branched off and I got very confused. Eventually I saw a guy about to walk past me and before I could ask him for directions he stopped, obviously seeing me in my sweaty condition with my travel pack and clearly not out for a pleasant stroll, and he asked me if I was going to Los Molinos. He works there, his family owns it, he gave me directions, he’s the best.
The next day he practised his magic card tricks on me and then gave a group of us hostellers a recommendation for a bar in town that sells tapas for €0.80 each and beer for €1 (El Lechuguita) – thanks Fernando! With two of the others from the hostel I went to El Lechuguita for dinner and had a whole range of things, from chicken skewers (pinchos) to warm goats cheese with raspberry to the signature dish “lechuguita” which is basically the best lettuce you’ll ever eat.
Things to do in Ronda:
1. Hike. There are lots of hikes to do around the valley and along the river with waterfalls and incredible panoramic views.
2. Look. The awe-inspiring sight of the city of Ronda in its imposing location overlooking rolling hills of fields with a mountainous backdrop… It never ceases to impress. A cool thing to do is visit La Casa del Rey Moro (the House of the Moorish King) with its beautiful gardens and its mining tunnel which takes you down to a lookout at the base of the gorge, just above the water level of the river. The walk is so nice and cool on a hot day, but entry is €5.
From Ronda I took the bus to Cadiz, an oddly located city that is almost completely surrounded by ocean, jutting out from the mainland. It is the oldest continuously inhabited city in Spain, being first settled by the Phoenicians around 1100BC. From the Phoenicians to the Romans to the Moors etc it’s no doubt that Cadiz is steeped in history. I visited the Archaeology Museum (€1.50) which was completely in Spanish but still really cool.
Things to do in Cadiz:
1. Beach. Cadiz has two beaches, small Playa de la Caleta at the pointy end of the city used in the shooting of James Bond film Die Another Day, and the 4km stretch of Playa de la Victoria which is reminiscent of Rio’s Copacabana with its pristine sand and expansive view of the Atlantic Ocean.
2. Eat seafood. I don’t know if the restaurants in Cadiz sell anything other than seafood. Obviously that’s an exaggeration but there really is so much seafood, and it’s all completely fresh. I didn’t try any myself but I wouldn’t have had to look hard if I’d wanted to.
From Cadiz I got my first Blablacar to Seville. Blablacar is a website used in Europe and the UK where people who are driving between cities post their intended trips a few days in advance and people can contact them through the website to get a seat in the car and arrange pick-up and drop-off locations. It’s used by both travellers and locals and there are many rides available between many cities. The rides aren’t free but they are usually much cheaper than buses and trains and certainly much faster than buses as well, being direct. Sometimes the drivers will even pick you up from or drop you off at your accommodation, others just at a central location in the city.
My first Blablacar dropped me just around the corner from where I was staying in Seville: with my first Couchsurfing host. Couchsurfing is a website where people offer to host travellers on their couch or sometimes even in a spare room for free. Many people use it while travelling and then host people at their own place when they go home. It’s a great way to meet people from around the world, learn about different cultures, and experience a city with the aid of a local.
I was staying with Alejandro, Antonio and Richard who have been hosting couchsurfers for more than two years and have hundreds of references on the website from people they’ve hosted. The first thing Alejandro did was take me to the pharmacy to get medicine for my ridiculous cold that had been sticking around for way too long, and then he shared his delicious leftover pasta with me for lunch. Then I had a glorious nap on my bunk bed in my private room.
The next day I took one of their 6 or 7 bicycles for a tour around the city. I went to the Archaeology Museum (of course), through Parque de Maria Luisa which is absolutely filled with orange trees, and stopped outside Plaza de España with it’s beautifully designed building, bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain, and mosaics representing each of the 50 provinces of Spain. This location was used in the filming of Star Wars Episode II. From there I cycled through the Jewish Quarter with it’s narrow streets and small squares to the Alcazar (royal palace originally built by the Moorish kings) and Cathedral of Seville. You can go inside for a fee, and the Alcazar especially had a very very long line of people waiting in full direct sunlight to get in. I should probably mention the temperature was about 36 degrees. Besides the heat, Seville is a great city for cycling as it is completely flat. After riding past the Cathedral I continued on to the river and crossed over the Puente Isabel II, the first solid bridge in Seville. I headed down the other side of the river through the neighbourhood of Triana before crossing back over another bridge and heading back to the flat all hot and sweaty.
I arrived back at the flat just in time to shower before some fellow Couchsurfers turned up who were staying the next two nights with me at the flat. Two American girls, Arielle and Liz, who ended up travelling with me for a few days after Seville, and even a few more days after that weren’t planned!! Arielle requested that I describe this as a true love story 😛 We certainly loved making fools of ourselves that night when Antonio and Alejandro took us out salsa dancing!
The next day I didn’t do very much besides ride for two hours to buy a tent just in case I happened to want to go camping while I’m in Eastern Europe. In the afternoon I booked an Airbnb in Córdoba for me and my two new travel buddies as we were all planning to go there next for two nights. That night we went out for tapas with Alejandro and then he took us on a night time city tour on the bicycles.
For our final morning in Seville we did a trip out to Italica, an ancient Roman city founded in 206BC and the birthplace of emperors Trajan and Hadrian. It had a well preserved amphitheater and several reconstructed houses with mosaic courtyards. I spent four hours hunting for gladiators and pretending to be a tour guide for Liz and Arielle as I shared all my knowledge on Roman history and architecture, and modern methods of archaeology and restoration. It was the best day, it felt so great to remember all the things I learnt at university, to see the methods in action, and to share my enthusiasm with my new friends.