Our First Overseas Wine Tasting in Ronda, Spain

We have had the opportunity to enjoy wine tastings in several countries, but our very first experience was in the wonderful town of Ronda in Spain.  We took a tour from Estaponia, which is located in the Costa Del Sol, to take us from the beach to the mountain town with it’s historic bridge.  It was an amazing time travelling throughout the region and exploring the many sites that the area has to offer.  We rented a car while we were there, but when we visited Ronda, we hired a guide to drive us and take us to an organic wine vineyard as well as one of the many olive vineyards that dominate the hillsides.  It was probably a wise decision not to drive that day as the wine tasting was rather generous.

Wine Tasting
Wine Tasting
Gorgeous View of Ronda, Spain

We traveled to Spain in November, so it was the off-season as far as tourists goes, so we ended up with a private tour and tasting at the Joaquin Fernandez Vineyard.  The wine was amazing and the views from the vineyard were spectacular.  The vineyard was completely organic and at the ends of each row of vines were a variety of plants that attracted bees and insects that were natural predators to insects that could harm the grapes.  After the tour was the tasting.  For each wine, we were poured a full glass and the owner explained which grapes were used and why.  In addition to the wine, we had a meat and cheese tray as well as bread sticks to help cleanse our palate.  The owner would not continue on to the next wine until we finished our glass, so we were feeling quite good by the time we finished several glasses of wine.

Wine Tour
Wine Tour
Joaquin Fernandez Vineyard
Joaquin Fernandez Vineyard

From there we were off to visit an olive vineyard where they still hand press the olive oil.  It is a slow process where they continuously add pads to the press as they slowly crush all of the oil out of the olives.  Tasting freshly pressed olive oil was amazing, there is truly nothing like it.  It is truly a labor of love, but at the same time, it is definitely labor intensive.  In addition to pressing their own olives, the surrounding vineyards would sell their olives to them to be pressed and sold by them.  Everywhere you go in southern Spain, you are surrounded by olive trees and we were tempted several times to just pull our car over and grab some fresh from the branches.  After being spoiled by having such fresh olives, we have found ourselves to be very picky about the olives that we eat here in the States.

Olive Presses
Olive Presses
Dona at Olive Vineyard
Dona at Olive Vineyard

Ronda, itself, is a beautiful town with an incredible bridge that connects the old and new parts of the city.  It is home to the oldest bull fighting ring in Spain, although it is much smaller than ones that you can find in Seville or Madrid.  Sitting high upon the cliffs, the views from Ronda of the surrounding area is unbeatable.  It is certainly worth making Ronda a destination to visit if you’re in southern Spain.  It has all of the charm one would expect of a village, but has the amenities of a small city.  We sat and had coffee in one of the hotels and simply soaked in the atmosphere.

Bridge at Rhonda
Bridge at Ronda
Bullfighting Ring in Rhonda
Bullfighting Ring in Ronda

There were many things about our trip to Spain that were remarkable, but visiting Ronda and doing the wine tasting was definitely one of the best experiences of the trip.  Living in Colorado with all our mountains, it was surprising to us how similar the terrain of Spain was to much of the southwest.  The drive to Ronda, through the rugged mountains, was an adventure itself, but well worth the effort.  The wine tasting in Ronda was a perfect introduction to tasting wines during our travels and we look forward to our next opportunity to sample wine and tour a vineyard in another exotic location, it is an experience that can’t be beaten.

Lake Near Rhonda
Lake Near Ronda
View from Vineyard
View from Vineyard

A One Day Excursion to Bratislava, Slovakia from Budapest, Hungary

There are several options for taking a day trip out of Budapest, Hungary, some within the country and some to neighboring countries. One of the most popular is to Vienna, Austria, which is about 3 hours from Budapest, but since we have been to Vienna previously, we decided to go to Bratislava in Slovakia. Located about 2 hours outside of Budapest, Bratislava is an interesting city with a rich history. It is the largest city in Slovakia as well as the capital of the country. In addition to getting to visit the city of Bratislava, it also gave us an opportunity to see the Hungarian countryside.

Bratislava Castle
Walking the Narrow Streets of Bratislava
Inside of St. Martin’s Cathedral

The history of Slovakia is somewhat complex as it was part of Hungary for centuries until Hungary was broken up into Nation States and the country of Czechoslovakia was created in 1918. Then, in 1993, the Czech Republic and Slovakia split and Bratislava became the capital of the new nation. As one can imagine, with a history that spans back centuries, but with their independence being relatively young, their is a true sense of national pride. Although there is some mistrust of Hungary due to the fact that Hungary retook the region during WWII, it seems that recently they have come to appreciate the relationship and the tourism that comes from Budapest.

Fisherman’s Square in Bratislava
Modern Bridge with UFO Restaurant
Statue of

Our tour started by visiting the Slavin War Memorial, which honors the 6,845 Soviet Union soldiers who died freeing the country from German occupation. The highlight of visiting the memorial are the amazing views of the city, the Bratislava Castle, and the modern bridge with the UFO restaurant suspended above it. From the views of the city, it is clear that Bratislava is a city that is growing and many modern skyscrapers are starting to dominate the skyline. Obviously, our tour was focused on the historic areas of the city.

Slavin War Memorial
Modern Skyscrapers
Statues of Soldiers at the War Memorial

Following the memorial, we stopped at the Bratislava Castle. Although you can’t enter the castle as it is now the home of government offices, walking the grounds is quite beautiful with its gardens and fortress walls. The original castle was destroyed and the current castle was rebuilt in the 1950’s, although a few of the original features remain. There have also been recent renovations to the castle, including the adding of a statue of King Svatopluk I, who was a Moravian ruler.

Michael’s Gate
The Dome of St. Martin’s Cathedral
Historic Building

Finally, we spent time in the old town area of Bratislava. St Martin’s Cathedral is certainly the focal point of the area and was actually where the kings of Hungary were crowned for over 300 years. The tower of the church is modeled after the Hungarian crown and is another example of the complex history of the area. As with most cities in Europe that were once surrounded by medieval walls, the walls were taken down centuries ago to allow the cities to grow, but one of the gates, Michael’s Gate, still remains and is one of the most interesting features in the city. There are also many historic mansions that were built by the wealthy aristocrats in the region that have now been converted into stores, restaurants, and hotels.

Memorial for Victims of the Holocaust
Gardens at the Castle
Famous Statue Called the Watcher

We had originally scheduled our tour for earlier in the week, but the weather forecast for the day of our tour called for rain and cold temperatures, so we rescheduled it to later in the week. We were definitely happy with that decision since the weather was decidedly better, although still cool and overcast. Bratislava is definitely worth visiting if you have the opportunity and we are glad that we decided to add it to our itinerary.

View of Bratislava Castle
Bratislava Castle Up-Close

Riding Bicycles in the Ninh Binh Province of Vietnam

One of the things that was included in our tour of the Ninh Binh Province in Vietnam was riding bicycles through the countryside and along the rice paddies. Well, at least that was the description in the tour literature. We did ride bicycles, but it was not through the idyllic countryside, but rather through construction. Vietnam is known for it’s use of bicycles from the 1950’s, which aren’t as stable as modern bicycles. Add to that, we had to dodge construction trucks and ride over stones instead of a smooth path. It may be something that most tourists expect when visiting Vietnam, but we’d have preferred a quiet ride in the countryside versus a ride through a construction zone.

Stones on the Road and a Truck Up Ahead
It Would Have Been Pretty Without the Construction
More of an Adventure than a Quiet Ride
This is Closer to What the Tour Guides Would Like You to See