Zoom in on Zaragoza


ZARAGOZA, Spain — Stepping out on a lazy Sunday, I stroll past remnants of a Roman wall and watch couples taking selfies with a statue of city namesake Caesar Augustus. Then I’m brought up short by the shimmering reflection of a 16th-century tower caught on the sleek glass walls of a very modern fountain celebrating the Hispanic world.

That’s 2,000-odd years of history in about a block, and just one of the reasons Zaragoza should be on your list of Spanish cities to explore.

Sure, it may be best known as the halfway point between Madrid and Barcelona. But with its treasure trove of architecture, art (and tapas, too), Zaragoza is worth a closer look.

Click here to read this story, published by Associated Press.

Of Mice and Men and Sherry


A glass of sherry w/ladder awaits the mice of Gonzalez Byass /Photo Michelle Locke
A glass of sherry w/ladder awaits the mice of Gonzalez Byass /Photo Michelle Locke
“The best laid plans o’ mice and men,” wrote the poet Robert Burns, “gang aft agley,” which is Scots for “get totally FUBAR.”*

But Burns evidently never visited the Gonzalez Byass winery in Jerez de la Frontera.

GB, makers of the popular Tio Pepe fino, or dry, sherry, have a fantastic cellar at their headquarters in Jerez that, among other things, includes a glass of sherry left out daily for the winery mice. There’s even a tiny ladder propped against the side to make it easier for the mice imbibers to get a little nip. The story is that years ago one of the workers, toiling alone all day, made friends with the field mice that occasionally skitter about the sandy floor and decided to lend a helping hand.

I visited the cellar as part of my recent trip to Jerez and the Rioja hosted by GB and found the cellar one of the most interesting I’ve seen. Beyond the mouse glass there are a number of barrels that have been autographed by famous visitors ranging from Winston Churchill to Cole Porter. (Oddly enough, they did not ask me to sign. Probably didn’t want to make the rest of the group feel awkward.)

Another high point is the room full of huge barrels named after the 12 apostles. The apostles flank a truly gargantuan barrel that was made for the occasion of a royal visit. The big barrel holds about 33 butts of wine (3,600 gallons), and therefore was nicknamed after Christ who died at age 33. The apostles were brought in as natural companions. I was surprised to find “Judas” stuck in a corner, you would have thought he would have been apostle non grata, but it was explained to me that the barrel was actually named after the other, non-silver-pieces-betraying guy. known in English as Jude.

Tio Pepe, named after the founder’s “Uncle Joe,” was the first registered trademark in Spain and that’s not the only first associated with the winery, which dates back to the 1830s. A grandson of the founder, Manuel Maria Gonzalez Gordon, Marquis of Bonanza, wrote the book Jerez-Xerez-Sherry, still considered a guide, and was the first manufacturer in Spain to install electricity in his plant. (Far thinking Jerez and Haro in the Rioja were the first Spanish cities to have electricity.)

Also, Marquis de Bonanza? I’m completely jealous of that name. And I say that as someone who is legally Mrs. Ho.

Waiter, there's a mouse in my glass! /GB photo
Waiter, there’s a mouse in my glass! /GB photo

*FUBAR=A military expression, Fouled Up Beyond All Recognition. Although usually not using the word “fouled.”

Terror on the cycling trail


Barreling down the rutted, stony track, my heart in my mouth, another part of my anatomy bouncing up and down on a bicycle seat from the spring line of Torquemada Sporting Goods, I couldn’t help asking myself: Why, Michelle, why?

It had begun as such a modest proposal. Would I like to bicycle through vineyards in Rioja? Well, certainly, I would. Perhaps I could have remembered that I ride a bike about once a year, and then not very well, but one doesn’t want to be a wet blanket when visiting one of the world’s great wine regions. Besides, I had visions of spinning lazily along a quiet country lane on one of those bikes that look like La-Z-Boys on wheels.

As it turned out I was outfitted with something a tad more rugged. Naturally, the first thing I did was gouge my left calf on the pedal or gears or some sticky-outy thing,

“You’re bleeding,” pointed out another member of the group, and indeed I was which held us up a bit as our kindly leader found some gauze and antiseptic and mopped me up.

But what do a pint or two of blood amount to? Plenty more where that came from so off we pedaled through the narrow streets of the town of Haro — sunbaked sandstone buildings nestled into folds of green — and out into the countryside.

There was a slight hitch as I tried to figure out the gears which theoretically could be changed by pushing a lever with one’s thumb while pedaling. In practice, one’s thumb had to be a lot stronger than mine so I decided whatever gear the bike was in was the gear the cycling gods wanted me to be in.

Note to self: I don’t think the cycling gods like me all that much.

“It won’t be hilly will it?” I asked. No, there’s just one hill was the reply. Which was technically true, but only because the entire ride was ONE, LONG, DAMNED HILL.

Note to cycling gods: The feeling is mutual.

And that, friends, is how I ended up flying down the aforementioned track, mountain* biking for the first time at the ripe old age of … ripe.

Spanish words I learned: collina (hill), coche (car), peligro (danger), sangre (blood).

English words I taught: censored, censored, whoa, really censored,

How was it? A blast. I mostly walked up the hills and occasionally walked down them when my nerve gave out, but it was still a beautiful way to enjoy a beautiful area.

The scenery was fantastic, vines highlighted with bright green spring leaves and long vistas of darker green fields set against snowcapped mountains. And the stop at a picnic table loaded with salty, fatty snacks and chilled white and rosado Beronia wines (my host for the trip) was quite delightful.

So, if you happen to be in Haro, I would highly recommend checking out a bike tour. Just limber up that thumb and don’t omit the sunscreen.

Oh, and here’s a bonus vocabulary word that may come in handy post-ride: cojin. That would be Spanish for cushion.

Cheers, sportily.

*OK, if you want to be all literal about it, it was more like moderate slope biking, but why ruin a good story with facts?


What: Ojasport
Where: Linares Rivas 44, Haro, Es. Tel. 34 607449650 www.facebook.com/turismoactivojasport