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Sketches of Spain

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In May, I joined several UW alumni and friends on a WAA-sponsored, 12-day tour of southern Spain. The weather was perfect, the towns were rich with culture, and the sights were spectacular. We traveled to many towns and indulged in the delicacies of Spain. Who knew in such a short time you could soak up so much rich history and culture?

Ronda is a beautiful town, and we stayed at the Parador de Ronda, where every morning you wake to views of a 400-foot deep gorge, the Puente Nuevo Bridge and beautiful white-washed buildings. We visited the Plaza de Toros, one of Spain’s finest bullfighting rings, and then enjoyed lunch at a local restaurant and were introduced to Flamenco dancing.

The city of Jerez de la Frontera is home to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art which prepares horses and riders for international dressage competitions and teaches horsemanship and the care of the horses. Our group saw a demonstration of the “dancing horses,” the beautiful Andalusians and their riders. Following the show, we visited Pedro Domecq, a wine cellar where we enjoyed Jerez’s second claim to fame, sherry. Our tour guide detailed the history of sherry and brandy and showed us around the historic facility. The tour was complete with a tasting and a tapas lunch.

Cordoba’s La Mezquita was a group favorite. Now a Catholic cathedral, the former medieval mosque is one of Spain’s grandest examples of Moorish architecture. The cathedral was built with iconic red-and-white arches that highlight the marble columns and tell the story of how the cathedral was built, dividing it into five different areas, each corresponding to the different expansions that have occurred. Afterward, we walked through the city’s narrow streets and decorated patios and balconies.

In Valdepeñas, our group spent a mornings at Bodegas Dionisos, a small winery in La Mancha, one of the largest wine-growing regions in the world. Employees at this family-run, eco-winery still pick all of the grapes by hand. We learned how the “Cosmic Calendar” — the turn of the seasons — plays an important role in the harvesting of the grapes and the production of wine. Our tour concluded with a wine tasting and tapas.

Our final stop was Madrid, and the hustle and bustle of the city was quite the contrast to the small towns we had visited earlier. Madrid had so much to offer that even three days there didn’t seem to be enough. As a group, we visited the Prado Museum and the Plaza Mayor and had a panoramic tour of the city. We filled our free time with shopping, eating and taking in the beauty of the city. Several of us visited the Reina Sofia and walked through the Parque del Retiro. I was introduced to chocolate and churros at Chocolatería San Ginés, an absolutely delicious treat.

Spain was an amazing adventure, a perfect combination of learning and relaxation. I am so thankful for the experience and new friends.

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