España 2022 Day 14

Mérida, 12 March

I woke up to overcast skies in Mérida, so I took my time getting ready for the day, in hopes that it would clear. By 9:30, it was obvious that I was in for a gray day, so I headed across Plaza de España to get some breakfast. I sat at a table outside of La Catedral, a café on the plaza, and waited for a server. I got the usual tostada con tomate, café con leche, and the zumo de naranja that I sometimes add to make it a trio. It made for a good start to the morning, and I added a second cup of the coffee before leaving.

My adventure today would primarily consist of ancient history; the city was founded by the Romans in 25 BC, and was one of the most important cities in this area of the Empire. What is left behind is evidence of the status of Mérida more than two millennia ago. After taking a wrong turn, and unexpectedly visiting the long, narrow Parque López de Ayala, I got back on track, and entered the tourist office. Here I bought my combinado ticket, which would let me visit several sites in the city for one price.

The first is the Anfiteatro Romano, the Roman Amphitheater. Much of the amphitheater, which was dug into the earth, is in ruins, but what remains is impressive. I stood in one of the entrances, and looked down into the elliptical arena, imagining what it must have sounded like when the stone bleachers were filled with fifteen thousand spectators. In the middle of the arena is the pit, where animals were held until they were needed for the next event. I made my way around the top of the bleachers, those that still existw are in fact at ground level, in a clockwise direction, stopping to take photos, then following the stairs down, then across a row of seats, then back up again.

The western end of the amphitheater is in better shape, and the entrance hallways are still there. I walked in and out of a couple of the low arched corridors, and again tried to imagine the thrill of attending a spectacle there; trudging through the dark entry, then stepping out into the concourse, blinded while your eyes adjust to the bright sun, your ears ringing with the sounds of thousands of voices. It must have been overwhelming, especially if it was your first visit.

Along one of the corridors were life sized images of the different types of gladiators, their purpose, and descriptions of their clothing and weapons. I turned left out of this hallway into one of the chambers where the gladiators would wait their turn. The ceiling here was low, and angled even lower down to the arch that the would emerge from. As I stepped out into the arena, it occurred to me that this was a very awkward way to enter into battle, and certainly gave the advantage to an opponent who was already out on the grounds.

As I stood there contemplating the way things might have been, I was constantly taken out of the moment by large tour groups pushing past. Hurriedly walking from one point to another, stopping for a few moments while the guide explained something, then filing on to the next spot. For the first time since the trip began, I felt conspicuous. The other places I had visited, despite being an outsider, I felt like I was part of a living community. Here, I felt I was part of some big display, a tourist in a tourist zoo. I did my best to shake the feeling, but the number of people brushing past, or stopping to stand directly in front of me made it difficult. I would patiently wait for them to move on, as it never took long, then examine something a little closer, or take a photograph.

When I had completed my circuit of the amphitheater, I walked through a series of brick arches which led to the Teatro Romano, the Roman Theater. When I stepped out of the entrance, I was mesmerized. In front of the semi-circular seating was a huge stage, at least and a hundred feet wide, and about twenty feet deep. At the back of the stage were two levels of columns, more than three dozen of them, with intricately carved capitals. Between some of them stood statues, which I later learned are reproductions, but were appropriate, and helped set the scene. At each end of the horseshoe of seats were special areas for benefactors, and their names can still be faintly read where they had been carved into the granite.

There were fewer tourists here, and I made my way down to the stage, then walked along it until I came to the towering door that led from the backstage area out to the stage. Again, I imagined standing here, waiting to perform, and seeing the masses crowded together in the tiers that sloped upward out of view. It’s a feeling that is still experienced today, as the theater is still used for the Festival de Mérida, the oldest classical theater festival in Spain, which was begun in the 1930s.

I wandered back and forth around the theater for a while, taking photos, and sitting for a while in one of the higher seats, to get a better feel for what it must have been like to attend a play here when Mérida was still a young city.

After leaving the theater, I looked around a small site of still active excavation, before heading to the exit of the complex. It was interesting to see the slow careful way in which they dig into the soil in very specific places. It must be nerve-wracking at times, trying not to destroy the very things you are trying to preserve.

When I left, the Museo Nacional de Arte Romano was before me. I contemplated whether to go in or not, but ultimately decided not to. after having walked in history at the anfiteatro and teatro, and the places I still had to come, I felt the original sites were a better experience than a museum. If I had another day here, perhaps I would have changed my mind and visited, but I don’t regret my decision.

My next stop was about ten minutes away, and having spent nearly three hours in the complex, I was quite thirsty, so I stopped into a small mercado and bought a Coke and a water to drink on the way. I put the water into one of the pockets of my camera bag, and drank the Coke as I walked. About a block later, I came upon an older lady complaining loudly about her drunk and lazy husband to no one in particular. As I passed, she asked me what I thought, with a laugh, I agreed, then quickly continued down the street.

My destination was really a two for one, for the second time today. First was Plaza de Toros, where I stopped to take some photos of the beautiful white, gold, and red building. I found the design of the building very interesting, with traditional arches over the doorways on the ground floor, then moorish style arches on the first floor, and the upper most windows had only a slight curve at the top. From noon to midnight a Mercado Gastronómico, housed in the building, and in this instance I do regret not going in, but I was excited for the second part of this pairing of sites.

Just across the street is Casa del Mitreo, the remains of a large Roman house. I was very interested to see more typical things from that time after seeing the large monuments. I showed the man in the booth my ticket, and he waved me inside. Within the gate is the excavated home, you view it by following a raised steel platform around the edges. Every so often is a sign that has information in English, French, Spanish, and German. Almost immediately, I got stuck behind a tour group, this was a much different group than the types I had encountered earlier. The guide was going on at length about every tiny detail, and handing around diagrams and photos; photos of things that were mere feet from where we were standing. After stopping at two of the signs, I really just wanted to get ahead of them, so that I could continue at my own pace, but hat was easier said than done. It took a number of times saying perdón and ¿puedo pasar? before they moved enough for me to squeeze past them.

When I had passed, I stopped at the next information board, and glanced at it as I looked at what was below me. The house itself is very large with a number of different rooms; partial walls and columns still exist, and you can see where there was at one time an interior courtyard. The thing that most struck me was a mosaic on the floor and how well it was preserved two thousand years later. Much of the middle is obscured, but it depicts sunrise and sunset as well as the oceans, earth, and heavens. The colors are simply fantastic, as is the artistry that created it. In the lower right corner, next to the script Oceanvs, is what appears to be the likeness of Neptune, god of the sea. The detail is magnificent, and I caught myself looking at it for so long that the tour group nearly caught up to me!

As I moved on to the next area, I read the sign describing the small subterranean rooms that were in front of me. The rooms were used in the summer months where their small size and underground location kept them cooler. They seemed less ornate, and I don’t know if that was by choice, or because the ornamental features had been lost to time. After reading the sign, I thought I’d look at again, in Spanish, to see how much I could understand. When I shifted my eyes to the next column, I was confused; this paragraph was in English too, and it said the same thing. I glanced back, trying to figure out why they were the same. I did this a couple more times, until I realized that the first time that I had read it, I had read the Spanish version; my brain just couldn’t reconcile that it had understood it so well, that it tricked me into thinking it was in English.

I made a couple more stops around the edges of the excavated home, before taking a metal ramp down to ground level. In addition to the house at this site, there is a funerary, which is located at the end of a long, tree lined, gravel path. As a light rain began to fall, I made my way towards the two small buildings that I could see. There are two stone crypts here, as well as examples of carved stone caskets. There are also large glass enclosed display cases, in each one are a number of things that had been excavated from the site. The most interesting to me was a collection of ancient medical implements. The patina of the tools suggested that copper was, at least in part, a component of the devices.

Once I had looked at all the displays, I returned to the casa, where I completed the circuit around the house, stopping for a bit to marvel at a mural on one of the walls that had survived so long, and trying to make out the images that the information sign told me were there. As hard as I tried, looking at it with and without my glasses, squinting my eyes, and even turning my head sideways, I could not see the designs.

When I left Casa del Mitreo, I walked back past Plaza de Toros, and continued down the street in the general direction of my hotel. I stopped to take photos along the way, mostly of street scenes, but they just didn’t speak to me quite the way they had in the other places I had visited. As I continued on, I was able to help someone with directions to Plaza de Toros, and then I spotted the location where I’d have a small afternoon meal.

I took a seat of the terraza of Bar Salas, in Plaza Santo Domingo, it was fairly busy, and shortly after I sat down, a group of eight women arrived and took the tables next to mine. When the sever finally got a moment, she came over to me, and I ordered a water, a cerveza, and migas extremeñas.While I waited, I sat back, and looked around. To my left was the street I had just come down, and the nondescript restaurant was in front of me. Continuing clockwise, was Calle John Lennon, just behind the group of women, whose laughter and animated conversations, echoing off the surrounding buildings, made the plaza spring to life. I’m usually not a fan of loud groups, but here, in this place, it seemed right; overwhelming joy and happiness. Hearing them joke and tease each other made me smile. Finally, behind me were the ruins of an old church.

When the waitress came back, I turned my attention from my surroundings to the food in front of me. The migas extremeñas were excellent, with bits of ham, and topped with a fried egg. While I had been waiting, I had also been looking at the dessert choices, written in chalk near the door to the restaurant, and when the waitress returned, I already knew what I wanted; tarta de casera arándano, cheesecake topped with blueberries. It was incredible; sweet and creamy, with a blueberry sauce, and four tart berries served with it, one on top and three in whipped cream on the side. It was so good, that I had to force myself to eat it slowly, savoring each bite.

When I had finished the café con leche that I had ordered with my dessert, I paid the bill, and was about to leave when I realized the waitress had only given me change for a ten, when I had paid with a twenty. I went inside, and explained; she was very apologetic and immediately gave me the rest. Before leaving, I went back to the table and left an extra couple of one euro coins behind.

Having taken care of that, I still stayed near the plaza for a bit longer taking photographs. My first subject was the crumbling church that I had mentioned earlier; I love the detail in deterioration, but often wonder how a place came to be like this. Sometimes I’m able to get answers, other times I’m not. This was a case of having to leave it to my imagination. After capturing several images of the church, I next turned my attention to the street sign for Calle John Lennon; there was no way, as a Beatles fan, that I could stand here and not take a picture of it.

When I had finished indulging the music fan in me, I decided to head to the main shopping district to see what I could buy, it had been, after all, a couple of days since I’d bought anything. I mainly stuck to window shopping; looking at shoes, electronics, and jewelry; quickly bypassing the shops carrying low quality items from overseas, and pausing a little longer at a few clothing stores. I particularly liked the styles that I saw in one on the corner of Calle Santa Eulalia and Calle Alonso Zamora Vicente, called HIMM. I stepped into the brightly lit store, and the man at the counter greeted me quickly, before going back to helping the customers he was with. I began looking at the shirts, and really liked some of the designs they had. I took one off the shelf, and checked the label, and what I saw made me happy; Hecho en España, Made in Spain. The sizes were a little confusing to me, they were numbered 1 through 8, I could tell that they got larger as the numbers increased, but was unsure, of how they related to the sizes I’m accustomed to. I could tell that the first two I had taken down were much too small for me, but I did find on that I liked in a 6, which appeared to be somewhere between medium and large. I brought it to the counter, and waited while the man there finished helping the mother and teen son who ad been there when I walked in. The boy seemed to be preparing for a big event of some sort, he was getting an entirely new outfit from shoes, all the way to a jacket.

When they had paid, and collected their numerous packages, he motioned me forward, and I asked to try the shirt on. He took it from me, looked at the collar, looked at me, then to the collar again, then back to me again before saying, “no, no, no, siete“, and motioned to my shoulders. It shocked me that he was able to quickly look at me and determine that my shoulders are slightly wider than normal, which often makes buying shirts difficult. He walked back to the shelf where I had found the shirt, rummaged through a few of them, before pulling out a 7. I asked if I could try it on, and he said “por supuesto”, of course, and began removing the pins from the shirt. When the last pin was out, he handed it back to me, and pointed to one of the two changing rooms around the corner. The shirt fit very well, a little looser in places than I had hoped, but I was sure that after washing it would shrink a bit. I paid for the shirt, then headed back to the hotel to drop it off before continuing with my exploration.

From the hotel it was just a short walk to the Alcazaba. Again, I showed my ticket to a man inside the booth at the entrance, and he waved me through. After passing through the two gates that I had seen the night before, I was inside. The mostly empty area inside was immense, and I stopped for a moment to take it all in. Within the walls there were olive trees, a small building directly in front of me, a large area of excavated ruins, and a building that was much newer than the rest of the structure.

I first headed to the small building, it was made of stone and about five meters wide. The doorway had heavy rectangular columns with carvings on each side. I entered the dark interior, and discovered a sloping passageway to my right. I followed it to the bottom, where I estimated that I was six or seven meters below ground. Here there was a small aquamarine pool filled with carp, illuminated by a shaft of light from above. I would learn later that this was an aljibe, or cistern. There is an underground tunnel that leads to the river, which keeps it filled. It was quite beautiful and serene, and I waited here for a while, taking photographs and enjoying the silence.

Back on the surface, I climbed to the top of the little building. From here I could see the spot where the light had entered the chamber, and was amazed by the distance that I had traveled underground at least thirty meters. The building had, at times in its history, been a minaret where the Muslim call to prayer was performed, and also a Christian chapel. This is very common in Spain, you will often find buildings erected by one culture, repurposed to fit the needs of another. Both of those structures are now gone, leaving a flat observation area, which once served as the floor of those structures.

I descended from the top, and began a slow walk around the ruins that stood below. There were walls of varying heights, age, and construction, and again, I was drawn to the multi-colored stones that they were made with. I took a number of photos as I made my way around the raised metal walkway. Near the completion of my revolution, the metal ended, and I was on a stone path; here I was able to get very close to those walls, and stopped to take some photographs of the detail.

Beyond the ruins is a building more than four hundred years younger the everything else here. Built in the thirteenth century, the former convent now is the seat of the council of the Comunidad de Extremadura. Arranged not far from that addition were a number of displays of items that had been found here; a large stone olive press, with a sign showing how it worked, Roman columns, some of which had rude comments in Latin carved into them, and many remnants of other stone construction debris.

When I was done meandering through these artifacts, I took another set of stairs to the top of the wall. This was the section of wall that I had been able to see from across the river the previous night. I was quite high up, and the walkway fairly narrow, but the view was amazing. I was able to see the entire complex, as well as the river, and Puente Romano. I took even more photographs from here, before going back down the stairs. Once I was on the ground, I looked at the time, and realized I had spent nearly two hours wandering around here, and decided it was time to go.

On my way back to the hotel, I photographed a few windows and doors that I encountered, then continued to my room, where I took a well deserved nap after a busy day of adventures.

When I awoke, it was dark, and there was a light rain falling. Dinner was next on the agenda, and I decided to leave most of my camera gear behind, only bringing the camera itself, and one lens. I left the hotel, and crossed the busy Plaza de España, headed to the nearby restaurant that I had chosen for this night; Mesón El Lebrel.

I found it with no problem, and when I entered, it was empty except for an old man doing a crossword at the bar. The place was small, with six or seven tables, and had a very traditional, family feel to it. After a few minutes, a woman came out from the kitchen, ducked through an opening under the bar, greeted me, and showed me to a table. I chose a seat that would let me see nearly the whole place at once, ordered a vermut, and began looking at the menu. Despite already knowing what I wanted, I took the time to read the all of their offerings, in case there was something that would change my mind. When I had looked at everything, I went with my original choice; conejo de campo; wild rabbit. When the woman returned with some bread, I placed my order, she nodded, then yelled back to the kitchen; a voice from the back replied that they did, in fact, have some. She scribbled a few things in her order book, then hurried back to the kitchen.

While I waited, another older gentleman came in, and sat at a table on the other side of the room. The man with the crossword got up from the bar, poured him a cerveza, and joined him at his table. The tow began chatting, and occasionally one would point to the crossword, and another clue would be filled in.

My meal arrived, and it looked wonderful. The half rabbit was served alongside golden fries with salt flakes sprinkled over them. I had never had rabbit before, and was unsure what to expect. The meat was tender and juicy, but there were a lot of bones to avoid. Unfortunately, I missed one, and a small sliver got caught in my throat. I started choking a bit, and being in the times of COVID, I didn’t want to cough too loudly, but through a number of smaller coughs into my napkin, and a good deal of throat clearing, I was able to dislodge it. Nobody seemed to have noticed my slight issue, and I was able to finish my meal without further incident.

As I had been seated at my table, I was able to see not only the restaurant, but out the front door as well, and the intensity of the rain had been steadily increasing while I had been there. I could see young people passing by some without a care in the world, and others trying in various ways to protect themselves from the rain. By the time I had finished my coffee and paid, the rain had turned to a deluge. I stepped out of the restaurant, took a left turn, and walked with a purpose down Calle John Lennon, back to the hotel. I took advantage of the cover of shop awnings, and the arcade in front of the restaurant that I had visited the night before to get back to the hotel without getting drenched.

When I arrived, I carefully packed everything up, except for the wet clothes, the toiletries that I’d be needing in the morning, the next day’s clothes, then went to bed. Tomorrow would be a day with a lot of driving, and I wanted to be well rested.

To see all of the photos from this day, click here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzMyFd

España 2022 Day 13

Badajoz/Mérida, 11 March

It was another beautiful day in March when I got up, but to me, every day in Spain is a beautiful day. I packed the last things into my suitcase, then set out to get breakfast. There had been rain overnight, so the streets had a shine to them that made for some great photos, although it made for slightly precarious footing at times.

I had originally planned to return to Cervecería Pepe Jerez on Plaza de España for breakfast, but at the last minute, changed my mind to try a new place. I ventured onto one of the side streets to the west of the plaza, and came to Casa Rosendo on Calle Felipe Checa. I took a seat under the awning on the sidewalk, as the rain had begun again, and waited for a server. When she arrived, I ordered my café con leche and tostada con tomate. While I waited, I checked my itinerary for the day; it would be a short drive to Mérida, less than an hour, but I had a brief stop planned along the way.

When the food arrived, I ate slowly, listening to the conversations around me, and watching the light rain fall. It was a very tranquil morning in the city, and I wasn’t in a hurry, so once I finished eating, I walked around for a while taking photos.

Around 11:00, I returned to the AirBnb, loaded the suitcases into the car, then did one more check around the apartment to make sure I hadn’t left anything behind. I left the keys on the table, mounted the dashcams to the windshield, and prepared to leave. It was a little difficult to exit the parking area without the remote; I couldn’t pull all the way up to the door switch without blocking the beam that prevented the door from opening if something was in the way, so I had to back up, squeeze out of the car in the narrow space, hit the button, then awkwardly get back in the car.

Once I was out on the street, everything went smoothly. On the outskirts of Badajoz, I stopped for gas, and had a nice conversation with the attendant there about fuel prices and the war in Ukraine, which was still dominating the headlines and television news. Happily, I had no problem understanding him, and he said that I spoke very well.

After adding 50€ to the tank, I got back on the road. It was a gray day, but the ride was still beautiful and enjoyable. A half hour later, I pulled off EX-209 into the town of Montijo, and navigated the narrow streets to Campo de la Iglesia, where I found the last spot in the public lot on the square. After parking, I took a few photos, including a couple of Iglesia de San Pedro Apóstol, the imposing church that filled most of the plaza. I then crossed the street to Mesón Las 3 Estrellas to have another café. I was certainly the only non-native here, and went up to the counter to order. The young man behind the bar greeted me with a smile, and then turned to make my coffee. I placed my things on the smallest table I could find, I feel strange taking up more space than I need, and looked around a bit while I waited. The place was very traditional, with menus written in chalk on slate hung on the wall. They had good options for their coffees, and a respectable selection of cerveza as well. I sat at my little table for about 20 minutes or so, having my café and just watching people come and go. When my cup was empty, I took it back to the bar, left two 1€ coins on the counter, and went back outside.

Under the overcast skies, I took a few more photos in and around the plaza, then headed back to the car to continue my trip towards Mérida.

Within fifteen minutes I had crossed Puente de Lusitania and had entered the city. This is a really interesting cable stayed bridge. Traffic passes on the left and right hand side of a wide area where the cables are anchored, and serves as a pedestrian walkway across the Guadiana. Once I had passed over the river, things got a little tricky. Hotel Ilunion Mérida Palace had sent me an email a few months before to let me know that the usual route to the hotel was detoured because of construction. I had taken this into account when planning the route, and had to manually adjust it a number of times to force the navigation to take me the way that I needed to go. After turning off the main road, I was on extremely narrow streets that were normally pedestrian only; but had been opened to certain vehicles, including those heading to my hotel. Three or four turns later, I arrived at Plaza de España, where Mérida Palace is located. I pulled into the loading area, got my things out of the back and handed the keys to the valet; this would be the only time on the trip that I didn’t have to park the car myself and walk to my destination.

The outside of the hotel is beautiful, with moorish inspired details, and café seating out front, but the inside was even more impressive, with a large interior courtyard featuring a number of arches, and intricate tile work. I checked in, got my key card, and took the elevator up to my room. When I opened the door, I was immediately blown away. The room was huge, and featured an excellent view of Plaza de España. The main room had an oversized king bed, a small table and comfortable chair, a bench at the end of the bed, a desk, and an armoire, which contained the TV and mini-fridge, as well as drawers for storage. Across the small hallway, which also served as the entry, was a walk-in closet Inside were two large fluffy robes, slippers, and plenty of room to hang all my clothes; the in-room safe was also located here. The bathroom was also big, with the sink and shower/tub combination in the main section, and a separate area with the toilet and bidet.

I unpacked everything, and set up my laptop to download the video from the trip here, then stretched out on the huge comfortable bed while I cleaned my camera lenses. Rainy days, especially mist, require a little extra attention to the glass, and I wanted to make sure they were clear before beginning my exploration of the city.

When everything was situated, I went down the stairs and out into the cloudy afternoon. The morning showers had stopped, but the overcast had remained. I took a couple of photos, then crossed the plaza to get some lunch. I chose El Callejón, right on the edge Plaza de España, asked for a water, and ordered from their menú del día. While I waited, I let my gaze drift over the plaza. It’s a rectangular open area of gray stone, the northwest and southwest sides are bordered by small streets, and the opposites are lined with buildings, including the Mérida government building to the northeast. At the center is a large fountain that was being turned off just as I left the hotel, and there are palm trees spaced around the perimeter. A brightly colored carousel sits on the southeast side, and at each corner, on the plaza itself, are small cafés or restaurants.

My first course, enslada rusa, a type of potato salad, arrived, and it was very good. This particular version was on a bed of lettuce, and topped with a hard-boiled egg and olive. I’ve had this dish a number of times throughout Spain, and I really enjoyed it. My second was pollo con patatas fritas (chicken with fries), which was also served with a tomato and peppers. The chicken was mediocre, but the tomato and peppers were excellent. To this point in the trip, this was my least favorite meal, but for 11€, it still was satisfactory, and filled me up. When the waiter brought the check, I took out my credit card to pay, but he told me that they only accept cash for menú del día. This was the first time that I’d encountered this particular practice, but I always have euro with me for unexpected cases, so I gave him a 20€ note, and waited while he went to get my change.

After lunch I began to familiarize myself with the city, and my first stop was Templo de Diana, an ancient Roman temple, built around the first century. It was called the Temple of Diana by a historian in the 17th century, but further excavation and research have determined that it was most likely a temple dedicated to the imperial cult. In later years a palace was built and attached to the temple, part of that remains as well, and when restoration efforts took place, it was determined the the “new” palace had enough architectural merit to be left in place. The enormous pillars of the temple are impressive, and it was humbling to be standing in front of something so old, that has survived so many years. This stands in stark contrast to the very plain concrete building the stands to the left of the temple and runs the entire length of the plaza, it’s an uninteresting structure to look at, and is already showing its age.

Once I had wandered around the temple, and taken some pictures, I began walking back in the direction of my hotel, towards the Arco de Trajano, which is located a couple of blocks beyond Plaza de España. I took a few more photos as I passed through the plaza, then stopped to admire the arch. Again, this dated to the first century, and it is enormous; about 45 feet tall and fifteen or so tall; at one time it formed the gateway through the wall, only a small piece of which still remains on each edge of the arch.

Just beyond the arch is Plaza de la Constitución, a lovely little park, ringed with trees and benches, with a fountain at the center. Like in Elvas, they used contrasting colors of cobblestone to create designs in the walkways. I took a few photos here, including a stork nesting on top of the parador.

Here and there the sun had been poking though the overcast sky, and it did so again as I walked towards the Puente Romano. This bridge, built in the late first to early second century, is the longest bridge in the world still standing. From end to end it measures more than half a mile, and has sixty arches. About a quarter of the way across, as you leave from the city, there is a ramp that leads down to a small island that the bridge passes over. I followed the ramp down to get some water level photos of the bridge and its arches. I spent nearly an hour on the small piece of land taking pictures, not only of the bridge, but also some nearby ruins, and local waterfowl.

As sunset drew near, the clouds parted slightly, and the light shone through. The colors over the bridge were some of the most intense that I had ever seen; so much so that when I was editing my photos, I had to decrease the saturation on the oranges and yellows because they didn’t look like they could be real. I stayed on the bridge taking photos of the sunset over the river until those bright colors faded to pale purples and pinks, then turned and walked back into the city. As I got to the foot of the bridge, I peaked inside the Alcazaba, which I would be visiting the next day. The gates were at right angles to one another, so I couldn’t see much, but I was intrigued.

I went back up to Templo de Diana to gather a few more photos in the blue twilight; the sky was much more interesting now that it wasn’t a solid blanket of clouds, and the temple looked even more impressive with the pillars being lit from below.

On the way back to the hotel, I again stopped in Plaza de España, which was filling with people, both young and old, as the evening began. I stopped near the restaurant where I had eaten lunch to take some photos of the carousel. It was in operation now, filled with laughing children, and the multi colored lights lit up the area around it. I leaned against a post to steady myself, and took a few long exposure photos; some as long as half a second, which is just about as slow as I can go without the help of a tripod, or something to set the camera on. The slow shutter speed added to the feeling of motion in the scene, and I was happy with the result, but still took a few more, one from the opposite side, with the trunk of a palm tree in the foreground, and another that incorporated the fountain, which had been turned back on, and was now lit in a rainbow of colors.

I stopped at the hotel briefly to get cleaned up before dinner, and when I came out of the hotel, there was a procession making its way through the street to Santa Iglesia Catedral Metropolitana de Santa María la Mayor, the cathedral that’s next to my hotel. I stopped to watch them pass though the doors, and took a couple photos with my phone before continuing on to the restaurant.

It was just after 21:30 when I entered Mesón El Pastorejo, which is also right on Plaza de España. This was the busiest restaurant I had been in during this trip, it was wall to wall people; but since I was alone, there was a a tiny table available along the wall near the bar. Despite being busy, the staff was on top of things, and very shortly after I sat down, a waitress brought me a menu, and a tapa of the restaurant’s namesake, pastorejo, which is meat from around the head of a pig. It was delicious, and I was tempted to order more, but wanted to get a variety while I was here. When the waitress returned, I asked for a water, a vermut, and placed the order for both my first and second, in order to save her time since it was so busy. I chose the croquetas de jamón, and the lengua, which is tongue. The croquetas were excellent, and were served on top of crunchy potato sticks, which was a different presentation than I’d seen before. Shortly after I finished, a waiter brought the lengua. There didn’t seem to be assigned tables, as I would end up with three different servers throughout my stay, but I never felt like I was unattended to, the staff here really hustled, and kept a smile the entire time, no matter how busy they were. The lengua that he brought was delicious, thinly sliced, and served with a lemon for flavor, The dessert selection was fairly limited so I chose an ice cream bar, which was simply a prepackaged treat. I didn’t linger very long when I was done; they seemed to be getting busier, and I didn’t want to be taking up a table that they could be seating someone else at.

I went straight back to the hotel after dinner, which was less than a hundred meters from the restaurant. There would be quite a bit of walking the next day, so I wanted to get some extra rest. I hung the clothes I’d be wearing the next day in the bathroom, sprayed them with wrinkle release, then turned off the lights and was almost instantly asleep.

To see all the photos from this day, click here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzMpn7

To see video of the drive from Badajoz to Mérida, click here: https://youtu.be/HTNR7c765WM

España 2022 Day 12

Badajoz and Elvas, 10 March

Today I would be leaving Spain, if only briefly. I slept in a little, since nothing that I was doing today had a specific schedule to worry about. When I got up, the first thing that I did was to take a proctored COVID test. While the rules had been relaxed a little, and there was no border check, I wanted to be able to show proof in case I was asked. I ran into a slight problem, as the first BinaxNow AG kit was missing the reagent; luckily I did have a second test, and had to use the liquid from that one in order to complete the test. My results were negative, and I was told that in addition to the COVID pass, I would be receiving an email about a refund for the first kit. I got the pass, but never saw anything about a refund.

Now that I was good to go, I grabbed my camera and bag, loaded them into the car, and pulled out onto the streets of Badajoz. It would be a short, easy drive to Elvas, less than half an hour, with about a third of it on highway. On the 20km trip, I passed through twenty roundabouts, which I found amazing. We have a few here, but in Spain they are everywhere. I find them to be much more efficient than traffic signals, both in time saved, and the flow of traffic.

When I reached Elvas, I passed under the aqueduct, and up the hill towards the city. I had become accustomed to narrow streets, but here there was a new twist. Some of the streets were only wide enough for one car, but traffic could travel in both directions. There were signs posted at different locations, with two arrows: one pointing up, which is your direction of travel, and the other pointing down, indicating the oncoming traffic. One was red, the other black; the black indicated which direction has the right of way. Luckily, I only encountered a couple of cars coming towards me while I was in the city.

I found a parking spot right by the Castelo de Elvas, and began my exploring there. The first thing that I did was to walk around the plaza here on the top of the hill. The views were stunning, you could see for miles in three directions. To the east, you could look down onto Elvas, and see Badajoz in the distance. I took a few photos, then made my way to the western view, where you could see the enormous star shaped Forte de Nossa Senhora da Graça, one of two such fortifications protecting the municipality, about five kilometers away.

Once I had my fill of the views, for the moment, I entered the castle; but not before encountering a couple more cats. There was a quiet man at the counter that I paid the small admission fee to, and he directed me to the door that led out to the walls. On it was posted a sign that they are not responsible for any injuries, and as soon as I stepped outside, I could see why. The stairs were very narrow, and had not been restored like many I have experienced, so there was uneven wear, and even some pieces missing. Thankful that I had been made aware, I carefully climbed the steps up to the top of the wall. The view from here was even more stunning than from the plaza below, and I made my way slowly around the perimeter, stopping often to take photos, and to climb down into the darkened interior of one of the towers.

After I had made my way around the walls, I descended another set of stairs, which led me to where I had begun. I looked briefly around the gift shop before leaving the castle, but didn’t see anything that really interested me. I left the castle just as a tour group walked through the gate, and was glad I had finished looking around.

My next stop would be Praça da República, and I headed in that direction along the cobblestone street, past a school where I could hear children playing behind the wall, then through the shadows on a narrow street next to Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Assunção, before emerging into the bright sunshine of the plaza.

The plaza itself is quite beautiful, with cobblestones of different colors forming geometric patterns throughout the main part of the square, with a border of traditional ones. At one end of the plaza is the church I had just passed by, and the rest is surrounded by two to three story whitewashed buildings with bright yellow trim, some of which date back to the 1500s. This is how I had pictured Portugal in my mind. Similar to what I’ve experienced in Spain, but the bright colors giving it a distinct look.

I had skipped breakfast, so I decided to combine that with an early lunch. I found a table outside of Restaurante O Grémio, right on the plaza, and waited for a server. She came out within a matter of minutes, and I ordered a café con leche, sumo de laranja, and a bocadillo de jamón. I wasn’t particularly hungry, but didn’t want to overdo things on an empty stomach. It wasn’t long before she returned, and I sat there in the shade of the building, enjoying my food and drink, watching people pass by. A few people, who seemed like regulars, came and went while I was there. I really do enjoy being in places that have a groups of locals who visit; I know that I’ve found a place that those who live there enjoy.

When I felt I had been sitting long enough, I paid my bill, then left the plaza through an arch onto Rua da Cadeia. Here, the buildings also featured the white and yellow motif, but additionally, there were some bright blue buildings mixed in. Surrounded by these vibrant colors, happiness seemed to spring from the architecture, and a small water feature bubbling along one side of the street added to the feeling of contentment.

The city itself is situated on a hill, and I followed the stone streets up and down, stopping to take photos, including one of my favorites from the trip. I’ve mentioned that I love taking photos of windows, and that extends to doors as well. I found a set of three doors side by side, at an intersection, which allowed me to back up a little to get all of them in the frame at the same time without distorting their shapes. I took a quick test shot to check the exposure, then waited. I knew someone eventually would walk by which would create a dynamic image. After standing there for a few minutes I heard footsteps approaching from the left, raised the camera to my eye, and a lady, dressed all in black, entered my vision. I held off until she was almost a third of the way into the frame, and held down the shutter. She heard the noise, and turned to me, and apologized for being in my way. I smiled, and told her not to worry as she continued on her way. I quickly looked at the results, and the third picture out of the seven that I had exposed before she turned to me, was exactly what I had been hoping for. She was a third of the way into the frame, between two of the doors, and was looking away from me; which is what I prefer when taking photos that include people in situations like this.

I continued on, taking more photos of buildings and streets, until I came to Porta da Esquina, which was the archway that I had driven through when entering the city. It’s actually a pair of gates, with an open area between them, which I’m sure was a safety measure back when it was constructed. Of all the gates and arches that I have seen, this one was truly unique. I had mentioned how narrow it was, only wide enough for a single car at a time, but I hadn’t described it further. The wall that the gate passes through is painted a beautiful yellowish gold, and stands about five meters high, but the most interesting thing about it is what stands above the arch. Starkly contrasting with the warm yellow of the wall is a dazzling white chapel with trim of the bluest blue I have ever seen; Capela Nossa Senhora da Conceição. It’s quite small, only about seven or eight meters from where it sits on the wall to the top of the bells, but everything about it was so interesting, from the wrought iron gates, to the tiny widows, to the two bells, on large and one small, that I found myself unable to move on for nearly half an hour.

When I finally did tear myself away, I continued along the top of the fortification for a short while, until I got to one of the points of the wall. Here, again, the views were spectacular, with the city laid out before me, and Forte de Santa Luzia to the east. This fort is very similar to the one that lies to the west, but smaller. I spent time here, using every lens in my arsenal to capture the beauty of this area of Portugal; the city, the walls, the fort, the gate, and the aqueduct, which was situated just south of where I was standing.

Eventually I followed the sloping wall downwards to a point where it intersected with Rua Faceira da Cisterna, then continued back through the city. My wanderings eventually took me back to Rua da Cadeia, and I walked up the street on the opposite side that I had come down, meandering along the arched arcade, looking in shop windows, and taking photographs.

When I came to the corner of the pedestrianized Rua de Alcamim, I took a right hand turn and began down the street. I love the geometric designs made in the cobblestones, they are very distinct, and add to the feeling of a slower paced life. Rua de Alcamim is lined with shops, and there are a number of cafés with tables out front; I stopped at one of them and had another café con leche and a water.

When I was done resting, I continued along, passing a few shops, going into ones that seemed intriguing. In one, I bought a couple small bottles of vinho do Porto (port wine), and in another, a cheese board made with a beautiful white and blue tile set in light colored wood. My final purchase was from a souvenir store; my mother collects thimbles, and here I found one made of cork. In each store, the people working there were very friendly, and happily tolerated my Spanish that I mixed with the very few Portugues words and phrases that I know.

With a couple of bags of new treasures, I left Rua de Alcamim, and crossed Praça da República, headed back to my car at the opposite side of the city. On the way, I stopped to look around at an artisan collective, but unfortunately, the items I found were much too large for me to bring home. I took a few more photos on the walk back, then began the slow drive out of town. Once I was beyond the walls, I made one more stop, in a small parking lot at the base of the aqueduct. This water bearing structure is much younger than the one in Segovia, by about 1400 years, but it’s still quite impressive in its scale and engineering.

After taking a few photos here, I got back in the car, and pointed it west, headed back to Badajoz.

Half an hour or so later, I was back at the AirBnb. I packed up my clothes in anticipation of leaving the next morning. I’ve come to the conclusion that while I’m a very neat packer, I don’t always unpack quite as well, so there were a number of things scattered about the apartment that I had to gather together as I arranged everything between the suitcases.

Once I had taken care of that task, I ventured back out, and up to Plaza Alta where I took a few more photos, then stopped in at La Cacharrería for a cerveza and olives. I relaxed there for a bit in the late afternoon, then walked around the area a while longer before going back to the apartment. Until I had taken the break at Plaza Alta, I hadn’t realized how tired I was, so I took a quick nap before dinner.

When I got up, I headed south, back to Plaza de España, where I took even more photos, then took one of the small side street that branch out from the plaza. On Calle Muñoz Torrero I found the restaurant that I had chosen for the night; Gastrobar El Tronco. It was a quiet Thursday night, and when I entered, there was only one other couple inside the long, narrow restaurant. The man at the bar took me to the back of the establishment and seated me at a table that had been crafted from a shipping pallet. As I looked around, I noticed the the wall sconces had also been made from bits of pallets. I liked the aesthetic; everything just seemed to fit, creating a theme, without being overdone.

I ordered a water and a cerveza, while I looked over the menu. The server also brought me a tin pail with bread in it; which as usual, in my experience in Spain, was really good. I ordered croquetas for my primera, and they were served with a couple of fries and a small salad. The croquetas were crispy on the outside, and smooth and creamy on the inside; just the way they should be. For my main course, I chose the solomillo al ajo tostado (sirloin with roasted garlic). This was certainly a treat; the garlic was incorporated into a cheese sauce that was layered over the meat. The taste was almost beyond description; there was a sweetness to it that complimented the sirloin perfectly. The dish was perfectly proportioned, for every bite, there was sauce to go along with it, and at the end of the meal, the final morsel still had both flavors. The meal had been quite filling, so I opted for a coffee instead of dessert this time.

The dining area I had been in was so far back within the stone and brick walled restaurant that the portable payment machine wasn’t able to get enough signal to work, so I followed the server to the bar area at the front where he was able to process my payment by raising it slightly over his head. I’ll take this opportunity to mention that at restaurants in Spain, the server never takes your card; they bring the payment machine to your table, and you complete the transaction right there. As a second aside, if your card is from a non European Union country, when they ask if you want to complete the sale in euros or your home currency, always choose euros, and let your own bank do the conversion.

While we were waiting for the machine to work, he asked me why I had chosen to come to Badajoz, and I explained my fascination with Extremadura due to the book I had read in high school. He seemed genuinely happy that I had had wanted to explore his area of the country and emphatically insisted that I must go to Mérida, his hometown. I smiled and told him that I would be leaving Badajoz the next morning, and that Mérida was exactly where I was going. He was pleased, and gave me the name of a restaurant that I should try.

I left El Tronco, and took a few more photos on my way back to the AirBnb. As I was walking, I realized that during this interaction I hadn’t had any difficulty communicating with him, and was glad that I had started to become familiar with the accent here.

Unfortunately, by the time I got back to the apartment, I had forgotten the name of the restaurant in Mérida that he had recommended. Despite this lost piece of information, I was sure to have a good time there. I took consolation in that as I drifted off to sleep.

To see all of the photos from this day, click here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzM83k

To see video of the drive from Badajoz to Elvas and back, click here: https://youtu.be/vS3kZOMk6ss

España 2022 Day 11

Badajoz, 9 March

After an excellent night’s rest in probably the most comfortable bed I’d ever slept in, I was ready to explore the city of Badajoz. I started by setting up the drying rack for the second load of laundry, then left the AirBnb, headed towards Plaza de España, and breakfast.

It was only about a five minute walk to Cervecería Pepe Jerez, in Plaza de España, and I chose a seat on the terraza, then waited for a server. I ordered my usual café con leche and tostada con tomate, and while I waited, a let my eyes wander around the plaza. While most places called Plaza Mayor in Spain have a similar wide open appearance, those called Plaza de España vary quite a bit. In Madrid, it is a park featuring a monument honoring Cervantes, complete with statues of Son Quijote and Sancho Panza. The one in Sevilla is a large semi-circle, with a beautiful building along the curved side, and a canal that you can row boats in. Plaza de España in Badajoz is dominated by the fortress like Catedral de Badajoz, and the bright yellow Ayuntamiento de Badajoz (Badajoz City Hall) stretches the width of the north end of the plaza.

After a relaxing breakfast, I took a few photos in the plaza before straying onto the side streets. I was headed to to the Museo de Bella Artes (MuBA). It took me a while to get there, as I kept stopping to take more pictures, and I walked right past it once, as I wasn’t paying attention. Once I did get there, I was greeted by a friendly gentleman, who gave me a brochure, and informed me that the was no photography allowed inside. I was immediately impressed by this museum. As soon as I turned the corner into the first gallery there where two amazing drawings; one by Picasso, and the other by Dalí. The rest of the collection was equally great, with a heavy emphasis on artists from Extremadura. I enjoy going to museums and exposing myself to art that I’m not familiar with. I think my favorites were by Antonio Juez; his paintings often feature a mujer fatal (femme fatale), in classic scenes, such as Venus springing from the shell, or ancient Egypt. What I like most about them is the Art Deco style that they are painted in, reflective of the time period that he created these works.

Often, in places that don’t allow photography, I’ll still find a quiet corner that doesn’t include artwork or artifacts, and take a quick selfie. Before I left MuBA, I did just that in a stairwell as I was heading back down to the ground floor to leave.

When I left the museum, I walked through the narrow streets in the warm spring air, back to the northern section of the city to visit the Alcazaba and its walls. I entered through Puerta de Carros, and climbed the stone stairs to the top of the wall. The views from here were incredible; you could see across much of the city, and all four bridges that cross the Guadiana could be seen from here. There were a number of young people gathered on the ramparts, enjoying the beautiful weather. I said hello as I made my way past them to explore the towers, stopping to read information posted at different points along the wall.

As I made my way along the wall, and through the ruins inside, the sun climbed higher in the sky, and the temperature was rising. I was regretting wearing my leather jacket, and it was now draped over my camera bag, adding unnecessary weight. I stopped often to take photos of stonework, distant vistas, and of course, a cat. Along the most northern section there are a low line of shrubs with purple flowers lining the pathway on the inside facing pathway inside the wall, they are quite pretty, but also a haven for bees, one of which stung me on the back of my neck. I hadn’t had an encounter with a bee like that since I was eleven years old, and had completely forgotten how painful it could be.

Continuing on through this giant fortress that was built in the twelfth century, it was interesting to be able to see additions and subtractions that had been made throughout the centuries. Arched gates that now go nowhere, different construction techniques and materials, and the bells that were added to the top of Torre de Espantaperros by Christians in the sixteenth century.

In the direction that I was walking, the Alcazaba route leads directly into Jardines de La Galera, a wonderfully kept garden area with trees, flower beds, and dirt paths that was created in 1938. The sixteenth century building adjacent to the gardens, La Galera, had been at times a government building, a school, and a women’s prison. I took refuge in the shade for a while, taking photographs of the plants, orange trees, and yet another cat.

When I left the gardens, I went back through nearby Plaza Alta, and followed the street down the hill towards the Guadiana. I continued along the river until I reached the pedestrianized Puente de Palmas, and crossed to about the halfway point before turning around to take some photos. I slowly made my way back, until I had again reached the shore, then sat on a bench there enjoying the afternoon. I took some more photos here, looking back out at the bridge, and also of the large Puerta de Palmas, using a variety of lenses, including the selective focus one.

It was around lunchtime when I got moving again, and I headed straight to a little neighborhood restaurant on Plaza de Portugal called El Chiringuito del Parra. I took a seat at one of the outdoor tables that were shaded by trees, and ordered a caña (small beer) that was served with a tapa of rice. A number of other people showed up while I was there, and everyone, including the server, seemed to know each other. I placed my order, and asked for another caña; this one came with a croqueta. In a short while, my food, estofado de toro (bull or ox stew), arrived. It was served with fries; as you may have noticed, a lot of main courses in Spain are served with a potato side of some sort. It was extremely good, and I took my time eating it; both to savor the flavor, and to make sure that I didn’t overfill myself in the heat. When it was gone, I chose my dessert, baba de camello (a caramel custard dish typical of Portugal), which was simply amazing. I took small bites, so that I could enjoy it for as long as possible. It was one of those desserts that you are tempted to ask for seconds of. The proximity to Portugal was especially evident here, as some of the advertisements on napkins and other things were in Portuguese.

After lunch, I strolled through Plaza de San Francisco, back towards Plaza de España, then up Calle San Juan to my AirBnb on Calle Concepcíon Arenal, it had been a busy morining, so I took a short siesta, after taking the clothes off the drying rack.

When I woke, I walked to the opposite end of the city to visit Museo Extremeño e Iberoamericano de Arte Contemporáneo. The museum is housed in the remains of a former prison, and with that knowledge, you can actually picture it as it would have been, especially the cylinder shaped hub, which used to have corridors aligned as spokes that contained cells. The main exhibition on display was works, both visual, and written, by Timoteo Pérez Rubio; an artist who was born in the province of Badajoz, but later moved to Brasil. This exhibition was focused on his work after his arrival in Brasil, and it was fascinating not only to be able to see his paintings, but also to read his words. Admittedly, some of the nuances of his poetry may have been lost on me as a non-native speaker, but I thoroughly enjoyed his word choices, and the rhythm of the verses.

The other featured artist was Belgian Patrick Hamilton, who spent time living and working in Spain, and Chile. The exhibition had two parts; the first featured works from El Ladrillo (The Brick) a collection of pieces exploring the economic policies of Pinochet era Chile. Geometric shapes, in bright red and black, along with mason’s tools formed the heart of the work. The second grouping was from his Redressed series, in which photos of Santiago were used as the base for his art, with additions such as contact paper covering certain parts. It was interesting to see the two completely different styles, and how well he was able to move between them.

As I left the museum, the sun was getting low in the sky. Continuing to explore the city, I walked past Palacio de Congresos, where people were waiting to get into a performance of some sort. I never was able to figure out what exactly was happening, but I believe it may have been a preview performance by the Orchestra of Extremadura featuring pieces by Mozart and Schumann that was listed as opening the following evening.

After wandering through some side streets, and stopping for a moment to listen to a band rehearsing inside one of the ground floor apartments, I arrived at Plaza de Cervantes. It’s a quiet plaza, with a church at one end, a hotel at the other, and a statue of the author in the center. At a little cafe on one of the corners, I found an open table on the plaza, and had a café con leche while while enjoying a birthday celebration amongst a group of old friends at the next table over; they even offered me one of their sweets. After finishing, I sat on one of the benches, listened to the tolling of the bells, and watched the sky turn to a pastel purple.

I wandered the streets for a while longer before turning back towards the southern part of the city, past Plaza de España, and into Plaza de Minayo. I spent some time here, photographing Teatro Lopez de Alayo, and Parroquia San Juan de Bautista as the sky darkened to a deeper purple. To pass the time before dinner, I took a seat on a bench and watched a couple of teens skateboarding, and children running to and fro while their parents chatted in the gathering dusk.

I was thankful it was nearly dinner time, I had worked up an appetite with all the exploring that I had done since lunch. I took the short walk down Zurbaran to Mesón El Nuevo Boche, went inside, and was shown to a table on the sidewalk under the awning. The server brought me a menu and bowl of olives, and I ordered a water while I decided what to have. I chose the pluma ibérica, which was served with fries and vegetables. I really do think that if I had to choose one cut of pork to eat, pluma would be it; every time that I have ordered it, it has been delicious, and this was just as good as the rest of the times. For dessert I ordered the tarta de almendra (almond pie), which was unlike anything I’d had before. It was excellent, sticky and sweet, with a hard consistency that was better eaten with the fingers than to try to use a fork.

Satisfied, and no longer hungry, I paid the bill, and started the slow walk back home. I stopped to take a couple of photos on the way back, including one I really liked along Calle San Juan.

Back at the AirBnb, I downloaded the photos from the day onto my external hard drive, picked out the clothes I would wear the next day, and headed to bed; anticipating the journey into Portugal in the morning.

To see the rest of the photos from this day, click here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzLSL6

España 2022 Day 10

Cáceres and Badajoz, 8 March

It was another early morning, and I photographed the the bright colors in the east from my hotel room before packing the remaining things into my suitcases. Out on Plaza Mayor, I took some more photos of the long shadows, then found a spot for breakfast on the plaza. I ordered the usual, and sat for a while on the terraza enjoying the warmth.

I spent the next hour or so wandering around. I had planned to climb Torre de Bujaco, which was supposed to be open this morning, but wasn’t. I had carefully researched, but it appeared as though sometime between preparing for the trip, and arriving, the day the tower was closed had changed from Monday to Tuesday. It was odd that I hadn’t noticed it being open the evening before when I passed by. No matter how carefully you plan, unexpected things will happen, and it wasn’t the end of the world. I continued through the streets until I arrived at Museo de Cáceres. This museum is an excellent value. For only 1,20€ you are treated to artifacts that date back to the stone age, then up into the bronze and iron age, before jumping to the Visigothic and Roman history of Spain. The museum itself is well laid out, and the artifacts are beautifully displayed. I enjoyed learning of the history and prehistory of the peninsula. In addition to the artifacts, there’s a wonderful courtyard, an aljibe (cistern), and, in a separate building, a collection of fine art. I took my time in each of the spaces, especially among the art.

It was close to checkout time once I left the museum, so I went back to the hotel, returned the key, and left my bags in the consigna (bag check). I had a nice little conversation with the manager after he complimented my Spanish, and told him about my wonderful high school teacher who had instilled in me a love for Spain and the language.

I had some time before lunch, so I wandered a little more, and did some shopping. In my planning I had found a shop that features local artisans. I made my way there, and there were so many incredible things that I ended up spending an hour looking around, going around the entire establishment twice, before finally deciding what to buy. I chose a silver and stone bracelet, a leather wallet, and a glass tray; if I wasn’t worried about what the final weight of my bags would be for the flight home, I would’ve bought a lot more.

It was almost 13:00, so it was late enough for an early lunch. I chose Restaurante Cáceres, right on Plaza Mayor, next to my hotel, and again sat outside and enjoyed the weather. I had a water while I contemplated my options. I ended up choosing a mixed salad for my primero, having some greens with my meal was a nice change. For my segundo, a had solomillo de cerdo (pork loin), which was good, but a little underwhelming after some of my other meals. I finished with a café con leche, then took one more photo of Plaza Mayor before retrieving my bags and walking to the parking garage. If I had been able to extend my trip by a couple of days, Cáceres certainly would have been one of the places that I would have added a day to.

The next drive was a fairly short one, and when I planned the route, the roads didn’t seem quite as interesting overall as others that I’d traveled. On the journey between Cáceres and Badajoz I had a couple of stops planned in places that had caught my eye on the map. The first one was at Llanos de Cáceres, a nature preserve. A large sign listed some of the local wildlife, mostly birds, but also rabbit. The highway at the spot that I had chosen had been rerouted slightly, but they had left the old bridge over Río Ayuela, intact. I photographed it, and its arches, before turning my attention elsewhere. I spent time creating compositions of the wide open spaces, and also of the cows and sheep that were grazing on farmland bordering the preserve. The area where I live is very hilly, and it’s the most forest covered state in the country, so it’s rare for me to have such large flat areas to work with.

About twenty minutes further down the road was an amazing overlook, Puerto de El Zangano, with incredible views. There is a small area on the side of the road that is just big enough for a couple of cars to park. I pulled as far to the right as I could, and carefully crossed the road. The elevation here was just over 400 meters, but the view seemed to go on forever, something that I’d have to be high on a mountain back in Maine to see. I took some photos of those views, and also of some small flowers along the edge of the road before continuing on to Badajoz.

This was the largest city I’d been in since I had left Madrid, it also had the heaviest traffic, although still much less than I often experience at home. I made my way through a couple of roundabouts, and across Río Guadiana. As I passed over the bridge, I could see the pedestrianized Puente de las Palmas to my right, and the Alcazaba ahead of me. I continued around the outskirts of the city formed by the walls of the Alcazaba before turning onto the narrow streets at the northern end of the city. I followed them up to where my AirBnb was, again, the timing had worked right, and I passed the partner of my host, who was walking up the street, just before arriving.

She showed me around the ground floor apartment, which was exactly how it had seemed in the photos; a small kitchen, a bathroom with a shower, a bedroom with a large bed, and a nice little living room. The dialect and accent are a little different in Badajoz, so at times I had some difficulty understanding her, but eventually we were able to figure everything out. I would have this same difficulty a number of other times in Badajoz, and I assumed that it is due to the proximity to Portugal. Surprisingly it was the only place that it happened during the trip, although by the time I left the city a few days later, I was doing much better.

After she left, I pulled the car into the courtyard, then squeezed it into the space between a post and another car that was assigned to the apartment, and brought my suitcases in. The first thing that I did was to put my dirty clothes into the washing machine. I had purposefully chosen to stay in an AirBnb in Badajoz, because these days would be the halfway point of the trip. Being able to do laundry would let me make the most out the the amount of clothing that I had packed to bring with me.

While I was waiting for the cycle to complete, I took a very restful nap for a couple of hours. I enjoy being out and seeing as much as possible, but with a trip this long, I realize it’s important to pace myself, and not overdo it. When I woke, I put all the wet clothes on the drying rack in the bathroom, turned up the space heater, and closed the door. I’d save the final load of laundry for later that night.

It was just before sunset that I left the apartment to begin exploring the city. As I stepped onto the sidewalk, I noticed a homeless man in the doorway across from mine. Apparently, he’s a fixture in the area, a man was dropping off a small bag of food and water for him. I would see him many times over the next few days, but never once did he ask me for anything. I headed north up to Puerta de Mérida, where I took some time to photograph the area during the blue hour, including another cat. which seemed to have become a theme during this trip.

I then made my way to Plaza Alta, which was a place that I’d been dreaming of for years. The plaza was large, and nearly surrounded by connected buildings on all sides, much like the one in Madrid. It was just as awe inspiring as I had imagined. The bright red and white geometric patterns along the east and south walls were incredible, even though the darkness muted the color a bit. What I didn’t expect were the beautiful arches, windows, and columns along the north side. I spent quite a bit of time photographing them. They were wonderfully lit, and made for some striking compositions, especially when silhouetted figures would pass between them and my camera. I wandered back and forth across the plaza for more than an hour, taking pictures, and just enjoying being where I was. During that time, I ran into my AirBnb host, Antonio, who took me back to where I was staying to show me some very interesting history that’s only visible from the parking area in the courtyard. During the Guerra Civil, Badajoz was the site of an early, and particularly brutal battle, which included the massacre of more than a thousand civilians by Nacionalista forces. Here, just below the large cylinder shaped dome of Iglesia de La Concepción is a small window surrounded by bullet impact craters from nearly a hundred years ago. It was a sobering moment; by not repairing the damage, it has become a de facto monument to that dark time in Spanish history.

As we walked back to Plaza Alta, Antonio pointed out a few other things along the way. I was grateful for the insight, and it was obvious that he really loves his city, his enthusiasm for it is infectious. When we got back, I played with his dog for a bit, we said our good-byes, and he told me to call him if there were any problems, or if there was anything I needed.

Inside La Casona Alta, the restaurant that I had a reservation for, I was taken to a table near the back, and ordered a water while I looked over the menu. The restaurant has a comfortable neighborhood feel to it, yet at the same time it seemed like a place people would choose as a destination from other parts of the city. Of course, being on this beautiful plaza, I’m sure they see their fair share of tourists as well, although I heard no languages other than Spanish while I was there. While I was still deciding, the waiter appeared with a tray of jamón ibérico and olives, as well as a cerveza. After a little bit of communication in a mixture of Spanish and English, (as I said, I was having trouble with the the local accent), I figured out that it was a welcome gift from Antonio. All three were very good; the ham practically melting in my mouth, and the olives had just the flavor that I’ve come to expect in Spain. I finally had chosen what I’d have for dinner, but unfortunately they were out of it, so I opted for my second choice; entrecot de vaca gallega, a la brasa, (grilled sirloin from a cow from Galicia). The steak was amazing, cooked exactly how I like it, with just the right amount of fat. The salt flakes sprinkled across the top dissolve as you take a bite, adding to the richness of the experience. The potato and spicy peppers that were served with it were excellent as well. Because of Antonio’s generous gift, I was, unfortunately, far too full for dessert, so I paid my bill, and slowly made the short walk back to the apartment. When I got back, I took care of the now dry laundry, put a second load into the machine, and went to bed, eager for an exciting day ahead.

To see the rest of the photos from this day, click here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzLu9p

To view the video of the drive from Cáceres to Badajoz, click here: https://youtu.be/ojkHxV2CU2I

España 2022 Day 9

Trujillo, Cáceres, 7 March

I woke to an interesting sky over Trujillo, which quickly gave way to bright sunshine. Having learned my lesson the day before, I grabbed a quick cup of coffee on Plaza Mayor, and then sat in the sun for a while near the statue of Pizarro. The weekend was over, the plaza was again opened to vehicles, and tour buses began arriving, disgorging their passengers.

I went back to the hotel, packed, then took my suitcases to the car before checking out. Once I left the lot, I drove about a hundred meters to an overlook that faced west, away from the town. I took a few photos of the ruins below, before heading the the entrance of the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortification built between the ninth and tenth centuries, that stood behind me. I paid the entrance and stepped into the large fortress. I spent about half an hour inside, climbing to the top of the walls, exploring the subterranean aljibe (cistern), and walking around the parade grounds.

Back at the car, I installed the cameras, and started the descent through the narrow streets. I got stuck for a few minutes on Calle de la Victoria while a man delivered bread to the restaurant I had eaten at the night before, just one the hazards of tiny streets. When we were moving again, it wasn’t long before I was out of the old city, and on the road to Cáceres.

The route, along the A-58, was only about forty minutes, but after about 15 minutes, I turned south, onto more interesting roads. I made one stop along the was, just off EX-206 in the town of Torreorgaz, to photograph the small Plaza de España and iglesia there. I had originally planned to get something to eat there as well, but wasn’t hungry, so I continued on to Cáceres.

I arrived in the provincial capital at almost exactly the time I had planned to, found a spot in a parking garage, and made the five minute walk to my hotel, right on Plaza Mayor. On most trips, I don’t splurge on accommodations, since I don’t spend much time in the room anyway, but on this visit, I had paid a little more in some places for views and amenities, although the prices were still very reasonable.

Hotel Soho Boutique Casa Don Fernando is beautiful, inside and out. I had reserved a double superior room, and it was well worth it. The bed was big and comfortable, there was a large bathroom, and two floor to ceiling windows that opened onto small balconies above the plaza below. I took some photos of the room, and the view, before unpacking and heading out to explore.

The first thing that I noticed about the city is that it is very hilly; even the plaza slopes downward from right to left as I stood in front of the hotel. I climbed the stairs opposite me, through Arco de la Estrella, and into the ancient city founded by the Romans, and surrounded by Arab walls and towers.

The streets in this part of the city are a maze, and often I found myself passing the same spot multiple times, or having to backtrack at a dead end. I was enjoying the aimless meandering, and there were limitless opportunities for photos.

Around 14:30, I made my way to Restaurante La Cacharrería on Calle Orellana; it’s a little difficult to find, but entirely worth the extra effort. There was a sign next to the gate with instructions to pulse el timbre, so I pressed the buzzer and waited. A few moments later, a man came to the door and told me that it would be about a ten minute wait. I spent the time photographing the outside of the restaurant, and soon he returned, opened the intricate gate, and I followed him inside to a beautiful little restaurant, filled with people, and loud conversations.

While I looked over the menu, I sipped on a water, and watched the people around me; everyone seemed to be having a great time, and the bits of conversations I could hear were all in Spanish, other than a German couple seated to my left.

I ordered salmorejo to begin, and while I waited, the server brought some delicious bread in a small cloth bag to the table. The salmorejo, typically a dish from Andalucía, was very good; thick and creamy with excellent jamón on top. When I had finished, my croquetas arrived. These were made with patatera, a mixture of pork fat and mashed potatoes, and also included dates. The five morsels were served on a long narrow tray, separated by thin slices of apple, with half a cherry tomato at each end. It tasted just as good as it looked, and I was satisfied with my choice. I chose the flan for my dessert, it was just as beautiful as the other two courses; golden flan, with dark brown caramel, and topped with grapes, strawberry, and a blueberry, all of them dusted with powdered sugar. This was the first time I’d seen a blueberry, so common in my home state, in Spain; it wouldn’t be the last.

It was time to get back out into the city, and after the door was opened for me, I continued through the twists and turns. I had made a walking map for myself, and followed it, more or less, to each of the points of interest that I wanted to see. Some of the streets were little more than narrow passageways, others consisted of steps, and many were very steep inclines. Everything just seemed so interesting to me, every plaza, torre, and iglesia gave me something new to admire and photograph.

Eventually I passed through Arco de Cristo, on the opposite side of the walled section of the city from where I had entered. I crossed a bridge over Arroyo de la Ribera, and climbed a long set of stairs to a mirador (viewpoint), that according to the maps and Street View, should have given me an excellent view of the city. Unfortunately, it was completely overgrown, and I was only able to see the city from on the stairs themselves; not the impressive vista I had hoped for.

I spent a few minutes here, then went back down the stairs, across the stream, and through the gate. My next destination was very close, Casa Museo Árabe. I paid the small entrance fee, and was transported back in time to the twelfth century. The man inside saw my camera, and requested that I not take photos, so I’ll do my best to describe what I saw. The original house itself was gorgeous, with curved ceilings, brightly painted yellow walls with beautiful greenish blue tiles that reached from the floor to about midway up the wall. Most of the doorways were Arabic style arches, like the ones I’d seen in Granada, Sevilla, and Córdoba. The mudéjar style arch is very distinctive, aesthetically pleasing, and can actually hold more weight than the standard U shaped arch. In addition to the wonderful architecture, the museum has period specific items throughout. There are examples of clothing, wall hangings, weapons, and household items. I really enjoyed this little stop, and seeing parts of Spain’s history that are not as well publicized.

I continued exploring the city after leaving the museum, finding many interesting little corners of Cáceres to photograph before ending up back in Plaza Mayor. It had been a busy day so far, and I felt like I needed a little rest, so I went back to my room for a nap.

When I got up, it was early evening, and from my window I could see a demonstration happening in the plaza below. The journalist in me got the better of me, and I quickly got cleaned up to go see what it was. There were two television crews covering a domestic violence rally, so I talked with them for a little bit before moving on to take photos of the area at night.

I didn’t have to stray too far from Plaza Mayor to find many opportunities to capture many great photos; some of my favorites were taken from right on the stairs at Arco de la Estrella. When I’m photographing a scene, I know as I’m shooting it whether I’ll process it as a color image, or black and white. Many that I took on this night were the latter. Something about Cáceres at night just felt like it should be in black and white.

At about 21:00, I arrived at the restaurant where I had my reservation; Restaurante Tapería 8º Arte. The reservation wasn’t really necessary, they weren’t busy at all, but it’s better to have one, just in case. The restaurant reminded me of the brew pubs back home, with a large L shaped bar, plenty of seating inside and out, and a few industrial touches. I ordered a cerveza, and perused the menu, trying to decide what I would try. I ended up having a couple things I’d not had before; the first was pimientos con perdiz roja (peppers stuffed with red partridge). The dish was beautiful, and was bursting with flavor; if I have the opportunity, I’d definitely get it again. For my main, I had cochifrito, which is fried pork, and was served with fries. It tasted really good, crunchy on the outside, and juicy inside. It’s a popular dish in Spain, but not one of my favorites. For dessert, I had a wonderful cheesecake with chocolate mousse.

By the time I left, it was getting fairly late, but I wandered a bit more, and took a few more photos before heading back to the hotel to get some sleep before another big day tomorrow.

For the rest of the photos from this day, click here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzK9Xi

For video of the drive from Trujillo to Cáceres, click here: https://youtu.be/jyGWs5zNHAA

España 2022 Day 8

Trujillo, 6 March

Sunday morning in Trujillo began with bright blue skies and sunshine. I had woken up refreshed, and ready to explore more of this town.

I started by doing something I never do. I had breakfast in the hotel. I enjoy finding local places, and the idea of a mass produced meals never appealed to me, however, it was included, so I thought I should try it. I regretted it almost immediately. The self-serve coffee, while fresh ground, still tasted stale, the toast was not bad, but the tomato spread, in a small sealed container, was watery and flavorless. I finished quickly, went and retrieved my camera gear, and stepped out of the hotel into the quiet morning.

I had some time before the first museum I wanted to visit would open, so I spent the time walking around and taking photographs. On my walk, I passed by the Casa Museo Pizarro, and noticed a number of stray cats outside the door. I had just pulled my camera up to my eye when the door opened, and a man came out. The entire group followed him, like tourists on a walking tour, down to the corner, where he pulled food from the bag he was carrying, setting it carefully on the ground. Despite being strays, the cats were beautiful, and for the most part looked healthy. A few had slightly matted or missing pieces of fur, but nothing too bad. I spent some time with the cats, photographing them in the morning sun, watching them interact and have their breakfast, all while warily watching me.

Casa Museo Pizarro, is a small museum dedicated to the life of conquistador Francisco Pizarro, a native of Trujillo. This was the family home of the explorer’s father, and parts have been designed to show what it would have been like during his lifetime, and others display his history and conquests. I found the family tree on the wall near the exit very interesting. Pizarro had two wives, but because they were indígenas (natives), the church did not recognize the marriages, therefore one of the best known conquistadors had no legitimate heirs. As I said, the museum is small, and even though I took my times, I only spent about half an hour inside.

My next stop wouldn’t open for another half hour, so I spent the time photographing some ruins, and little used streets here on the edge of Trujillo. I found this quiet section of town to be very relaxing, with grass and moss growing between the cobblestones, and a wonderful plaza, Plaza de los Moritos, beyond Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor. which features a number of olivos (olive trees). I sat here for a while, enjoying the tranquility and beauty. It may not seem like it from all that I have written about, but I often take moments like this; to just be in the moment, with no worries or concerns.

While I was waiting, the 11:00 hour was approaching, and church bells around town began ringing. I thought It would be a good opportunity for some street photography, and went down the hill a bit to the maze of streets surrounding Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor. One of those streets, Calle Santa María, had a very interesting diagonal bit of light between the shadows on either side, so I found a good spot, and waited for people to make their way up the incline. I had taken a number of photos, but they didn’t have the impact that I was looking for, so I shifted my position a little and waited; hoping that more of the congregation would soon arrive. It was beginning to seem as though I had missed the opportunity when a lone figure, dressed all in black, turned the corner towards me. I waited until he was centered in the shaft of sunlight, and held the shutter down, capturing six or seven photos in a couple seconds. As he passed by me, he greeted me, and as I returned the “buenos días”, I noticed he was a priest, heading to mass at this old church at the edge of town. I sat on the steps of the church for a while, listening to the singing from inside, and looking at the photos I had taken.

When the time came, I left the church and made the short walk to second thing I had planned for the day. Most things in Trujillo are nearby, it’s a very compact town, which makes it east to see a lot in a short amount of time. Museo de Coria, is another small museum dedicated to the conquest of the New World. It’s located in an old convent, and has a beautiful courtyard. It features a number of large paintings illustrating the accomplishments of the conquistadors from Extremadura, as well as some artifacts; the most unusual being a reproduction of Francisco Pizarro’s skull.

The rest of the day I had reserved for wandering, exploring, and a little shopping. I began by following the street back down to Plaza Mayor, where I stopped at a shop that sells productos extermeños (products from Extremadura), mostly food items. After looking around for a while, I bought a couple of cervezas that are brewed with bellotas (acorns), which I thought was interesting, and was looking forward to trying them when I got home. I then crossed diagonally across Plaza Mayor to Calle de las Tiendas, which true to its name, has many little shops. There were leather goods, meats, fruits and vegetables, clothing, and more. The street was bustling, and full of life, and I enjoyed a leisurely walk, while seeing what each place had.

I did have a destination in mind, Artesanía Bordado con Fieltro, an embroidery shop. I had seen their things online, and thought they were beautiful, so I wanted to get a few gifts. When I entered, I was greeted by the owner, Chari, who gave me a quick overview of what they had. At first I was the only one on the shop, and I carefully considered each item; they were even more beautiful in person than in the photos. Soon the little store filled with people, and I selected three things; a ring, a brooch, and a change purse. After I’d paid, I photographed Chari at work, said goodbye, and left; very happy with the little treasures I’d found.

I didn’t want to lose or break anything, so I took my purchases back to the hotel. On the way, I noticed that the harsh midday sun, was making for some scenes, that would look great in black and white, so I stopped and made what I think is a nice three shot series.

After dropping the things off in the room, I went out the upper door of the hotel, and back towards Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor. I circled the area where I had been spent my morning, then headed down the steep hill to the town below. This section of Trujillo is high on a hill, and the elevation changes so quickly that some sidewalks are actually laid out as stairs.

I didn’t have a destination, and was just wandering aimlessly, so I ended up in the newer part of the city. I took photos along the way, passing through a couple of small parks, before turning back towards the old city. It was about lunchtime when I found myself at Plaza San Miguel and spotted an interesting little restaurant at Hostal Cuzco; the menú del día on the small blackboard out front looked good, so I went in. It was busy but not quite full, and I was seated at a small table. Thirsty from my walk, I ordered a water and for my starter migas extremeñas, which is a fried bread dish served topped with a fried egg. Sometimes there will be meats, and vegetables involved too; this one had peppers, pork and chorizo. It was the first time I’d had it, and immediately loved it; I knew I’d be ordering it more on this trip. When I had finished, the server brought my segundo; secreto ibérico. It was good, but not the best I’d had on this trip. The atmosphere, friendly and loud, made up for it; I even guessed a couple of the puzzles correctly on the Spanish version of Wheel of Fortune, La Ruleta de la Suerte, that was playing on the large TV in the far corner of the room. I loved the fact that this version of the game show also features a live band. When my meal was gone, the server listed off their dessert options, and I chose the flan; It was very good, and was served with a generous amount of nata, whipped cream. I really enjoy finding places like this, beyond the areas where most tourists go; it helps me feel more of a part of the place that I’m visiting, and I have felt very welcomed in each of the places I’ve found.

It was just a short time later that I passed through one of the arched passageways, and was back in the bright sunshine of Plaza Mayor. I took a few more photos, including a few windows, then went back into the hotel to my room for a brief siesta.

When I woke, I once again left the hotel by the back door, and spent the next couple hours taking photos. First the sunset, then the deep blues of twilight, and finally in the darkness of night. I went up and down many small streets, capturing the shapes and textures of my surroundings, as well as more cats.

The time for my dinner reservation had arrived; this was my most anticipated meal of the roadtrip, at the Michelin Bib Gourmand recognized Alberca Asador. I was enamored as soon as I stepped thought the door. The walls were a mix of stone, brick, wood, and white painted plaster, the tables and chairs a heavy dark wood, covered in white tablecloths, with bright red napkins.

I ordered a water, and a glass of verdejo, from Ruiz Torres, a vineyard in Extremadura, near Guadalupe, while I connected to their WiFi and opened the menu. I am slightly allergic to wine, so I don’t drink it often, I do enjoy it, and this particular wine was crisp and refreshing. The server brought a selection of breads, and I chose the pan mediterráneo. This bread was amazing, and I’m one who really enjoys good bread. I ordered the solomillo de venado con frutas (venison sirloin with fruit), and when it arrived, I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever seen a plate so beautifully presented. The saying “beauty is only skin deep” certainly didn’t apply here. Every bit seemed to have a new, fresh flavor. The meat was tender and juicy, the blackberries and raspberries added a sweetness that was just a little tart, and the sauce, that incorporated those berries, was light and sweet; a perfect match for the venison. The dessert that followed was just as good; a creamy chocolate cake with orange flavoring. I paired it with a café con leche for a perfect ending to this meal.

Full and happy after that excellent meal, I headed back to the hotel to get some rest before moving on to Cáceres the next morning.

All the photos from this day can be seen here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzJEeN

España 2022 Day 7

Jarandilla de la Vera, Plasencia, Trujillo, 5 March

After a great night’s rest, I was again up early. I packed my suitcases, then walked around the grounds of the parador taking photos, then went in search of breakfast.

I ended up at El Café de Lino, which has been in business since 1965, and found a table in the corner, amongst the locals. Again, the men in reflective vests, and the old man at the counter sipping on a café told me that I had chosen well. I ordered my usual, and sat for quite a while; savoring it, and watching the news of the war in Ukraine on the television mounted to the wall. I had not turned on a TV since my arrival in Spain, so the reports were quite shocking, to say the least.

When I had finished, and thanked the man behind the counter for pointing out the 50€ note that I had dropped on the floor, I stepped back out into the morning sun. I walked slowly along the sidewalk, taking photos along the way. I ended up all the way back at the other end of town, where I could see the back side of the parador. I decided to take some photos with a specialty lens that I own, a Lensbaby ControlFreak, which is a selective focus lens. It is completely manual, and features a bellows that allows you to change the angle of the focus plane, dropping some areas into a blur, while leaving parts of the photo in focus. It’s a difficult lens to use well, and has a very distinct look, so I don’t use it often, but I enjoy the results that I can get with a little bit of work.

Before leaving my room, I took a few parting photos, then checked out, and loaded up the car. On the way out of town, I stopped to add some more fuel to the car. Gas prices were rising, and here they had reached 1,87€ a liter. A woman came out, pumped my gas, then I followed her back inside to pay. I must admit, I was a little anxious, hoping the my card would be accepted; it was, and a drew a breath of relief that the previous time had been an isolated incident.

Back on the road, I began the journey towards the city Plasencia on EX-203. The road was filled with hills and curves, but the pavement was smooth. I stopped a couple times along the way, in Aldeanueva de la Vera, and Pasarón de la Vera to take photos of the countryside, villages, and a hermitage. The drive was quick, only about an hour, including the stops, and I found myself in Plasencia. I parked in a free lot down along Río Jerte, and walked up the hill towards the walled city.

I entered through Puerta de Trujillo, and instantly knew I would enjoy this medieval city. The streets were narrow, winding, and hilly. The denseness made it difficult to see even the imposing Catedral Nueva fully from one spot. I continued on, capturing scenes as I went, until I reached Plaza Mayor. The plaza was typical for a Spanish city; large, with multi-story buildings surrounding it, and arched entrances giving access from the narrow streets leading to it.

The plaza here does have a unique aspect to it though. On the bell tower is Abuelo Mayorga, a two meter statue with a hammer in his hand, who rings the bell on the hour. It was almost noon, so I wandered the plaza, taking photos, and doing a little reading about Abuelo Mayorga.

He has been a fixture on the bell tower of city hall since 1743, although, neither the building, nor the statue are originals. The building is a recreation, and the statue was destroyed in the early 1800s by French forces. It was removed in 1936, and replaced in 1975, years that happen to coincide with the Guerra Civil and the rise to power of Francisco Franco, and his death.

You could easily tell the locals from the visitors here in Plaza Mayor at the noon hour. The residents continued on their way, without hesitating, while others, like myself, stopped to watch the ringing of the bell.

Since I was near the restaurant I had found during my planning, I decided to have an early lunch. I found the narrow street off the plaza easily, and stepped into El Rinconcito; a modern looking restaurant with some classic touches. I ordered a water, and looked over the menu. The first thing that I wanted wasn’t available, so I chose the caldereta de cordero (lamb stew). When it arrived, I was glad I couldn’t have my original choice. The stew was delicious and well presented, with four wedges of potato around the edge.

Because it was early, I had the place to myself for most of my meal, and was able to listen to the server and chef discussing what the specials would be that night. I ordered the house flan for my dessert, which was amazing; I had yet to have a poor dessert on this trip, and was having fun teasing the people back home with Instagram posts of the sweets.

I left the restaurant to continue my exploration, just as a couple of groups were making their way inside. I followed the cobblestone streets to the northeast, until I came to the Murallas de Plasencia (walls of Plasencia). There is a small museum here, which also allows access onto the walls. I made my way through the museum, reading about the history, and construction, then made my way from the tower to the walls. The views from here were quite impressive; the walls seem taller than the ones in Ávila, and while I enjoyed the experience, my heart is with the fortifications back in Castilla y León.

When I had walked the length of the wall and back, which is fairly short, I descended the staircase and headed in the direction of the parking lot. On the way, I passed through Puerta del Sol, and into a specialty shop I had seen online. I browsed for a bit before selecting a bottle of aceite de oliva (olive oil) from Extremadura. Olive oil is my weakness. The taste of the oil that you can buy in Spain is superior to anything I’ve had here in the United States. I have my favorite variety, but will often try new ones as well; I make sure to leave plenty of room in my suitcase to bring back a few bottles from each trip.

Once I had made my purchase, I took a few photos in the nearby Plaza de San Pedro de Alcántara before heading down an escalator, across a pedestrian bridge, and down the stairs to my car. I loaded everything up, reinstalled the dashcams, which had been working perfectly, and set the GPS for Trujillo; with one stop in mind before I would arrive.

Once I left Plasencia, my route along EX-208 would be largely uninhabited; much of it through wilderness, and a National Park. Despite the remoteness, the roads on the way to my first stop were still really good, and fairly straight. I stopped once, not far from my destination in Parque Nacional de Monfragüe to photograph a rocky hill that rose out of the plains where the road took a sharp bend to the right. A few minutes later, I was at my stop. Really it was two different locations, but they were close enough together that I grouped them together in my planning.

Salto del Gitano (Jump of the Gypsy) is a really interesting pair of rock formations along Río Tajo, with an even more interesting story. Legend has it that a gypsy was being chased by the Guardia Civil (Civil Police) for a number of crimes, but jumped from peak to peak, over the river, thus escaping capture. Aside from the wonderful story, this is a beautiful location, and very popular among birdwatchers. I was lucky to see large numbers of Griffon Vultures circling while I was there. I’m not usually a bird photographer, but my stork encounters earlier in the trip, and now the vultures, had been quite fun and challenging.

When I left the birds behind, I had only a short drive to a parking lot on the opposite side of the road, which would lead to the ruins of Castillo de Monfragüe, high on the hill above. I took some photos from the base of the hill before driving the very narrow and twisting road to a smaller lot near the top. When I arrived, there was a sign stating that the trail to the castle was closed because of a washout. I saw some people ignore, or were ignorant of what it said, who continued past the chain. The shoes I was wearing were not meant for a messy hike, so I took a few more photos from here before descending the hill.

I wasn’t too disappointed at missing the ruins, I had another one that I would be visiting later in the trip, and I was excited for a section of road that lay just ahead. About 5km down EX-208, the road becomes very narrow, and a there are a number of hairpin switchbacks leading up the hill. As I approached the bridge where the sharp turns would begin, I noticed a pair of motorhomes in the distance, coming in the opposite direction, so I pulled into a turnout, and took some photos of the bridge while I waited for them to pass.

I’m glad that I did. The road barely has enough room for two cars to pass; it would have been impossible to continue with the large vehicles coming at me, and would have had to find a spot to pull over anyway. Once they went by, I pulled back on to the road, and pointed the car over the bridge into this exciting stretch of road. It was only about a kilometer long, but it was exhilarating. Shifting up and down as I approached each blind turn, reaching speeds of 80kph on the straight sections before slowing to a crawl as the road nearly did a 180 degree turn.

Once I was past this spot, the road straightened, and I could see well into the distance, which makes it easier to spot places to take photos. The first one that I came to was a cattle farm called Santa Amalia, and I spent a few minutes taking pictures of the cows and calves in the fields, and the whitewashed stone and wrought iron gate, as well as a perspective shot of the long straight road that I had been traveling.

Less than 10 minutes down the road, I pulled into a rudimentary rest area within a bird refuge that has a great view of Río Almonte from above. I took a little time to enjoy the view, and photograph the shallow river, surrounding olive trees, distant mountains, and interesting cloud clover. This was my last stop before getting to Trujillo, which I was excited for, so I didn’t linger too long.

When I finally arrived on Celle Ballesteros in front of my hotel, some of the drop off parking was blocked off, and another guest was arriving at the same time, which caused quite a little traffic jam. I quickly brought my suitcases into the lobby before rushing back to the car to move it to the hotel’s parking lot, high on the hill overlooking the town. These were the most narrow streets I had driven on to date, with building walls and arches just inches from my mirrors. Medieval towns definitely weren’t designed with cars in mind, but it was a fun moment, navigating the twists and turns.

Once the car was parked, an employee of the hotel, who had ridden with the guests that had arrived just before I did, led us down the stairs, into the back door, and down two separate elevators to the lobby to check in. I did the paperwork, then went back the way I came, past the door we had just entered, then to the end of the hall to my room. Here, at Eurostars Palacio Santa Marta, I had exchanged some comfort for the view. The room was small, but still big enough for me and my things, without feeling cramped. Out my window though, was the real treat. The bell tower of Iglesia San Martín, one of the focal points of Trujillo’s magnificent Plaza Mayor loomed large through the glass.. The tower was also home to a number of storks, so I took some time to photograph them after opening the window.

Before leaving my room, I began the process of transferring the video for my dashcams onto my external hard drive, which had been part of my ritual since beginning the trip. I exited the hotel though the back door, so that I could walk back down the street that I had driven to the parking lot. I stopped to take a few photos from this great vantage point, then began the descent.

In the very short time I had been in Trujillo, I was already enamored with it. The cobblestone streets, the textures and colors of the building walls, the clear air, and the laid back feel. I turned a corner, went under an arch, and followed the street the diverted to the right, and found myself in Plaza Mayor. I had arrived at the place that I had visited in my mind many times before. The descriptions in Michener’s Iberia were spot on. From where I stood, at one end of the plaza, I was facing the magnificent iglesia that I could see from my room, with the statue of Francisco Pizarro on his mount in front of it. A little closer to me was a large fountain, and on this Saturday afternoon there were children running and playing around it, while others rode their bikes in the large open space. I walked out into the bright sunshine, and turned in a full circle, taking it all in. To the right of where I had entered was the Administración de Justicia (Justice Building), with its unique set of arches. Again, it was just as I had pictured it. There are three levels, each shorter than the one below it, but the arches remain the same width, almost as though the building had been compacted from above.

I wandered around Plaza Mayor for quite a while, taking photographs, and just enjoying being there. I was using the specialty lens again when the man who had checked in at the same time that I did approached and asked me about it. We got to chatting, and he said he was from Bath, England, and I told him my significant other is from Bath, Maine. He told me that he has friends in Maine, and when I asked, he said that they live in Gorham; my hometown. It really is a small world.

When we parted ways, I headed to one of the cafés that line the square, then sat and enjoyed a café con leche as afternoon slowly turned to evening. When I was done, I spent some time photographing the golden glow of sunset over Trujillo.

Back at my room, I prepared to upload the driving video to the cloud, and found my one real complaint with the hotel. The WiFi was agonizingly slow. So slow in fact that the estimate was twenty-two hours to upload from just one of the cameras. I decided that it would have to wait, no sense in working the external hard drive that long.

When I had cleaned up a bit, it was nearing time for dinner, so I went down through the maze of the hotel, and out through the lobby to the darkened streets. I love the glow of the old-fashioned street lights, and wandered around a few side streets, across the plaza, and along the arched arcades. It was close to my reservation time when I happened past the restaurant, so I went in, and they seated me immediately.

Meseguera is a beautiful restaurant along one end of the plaza, with some very nice touches, including the dinnerware and napkins. I was seated at an intimate table beneath the stairs, which felt very cozy. There were a couple of other tables filled, some already eating while they watched a fútbol match on a mobile phone, and others still deciding what to have.

The menu was a QR code that was nicely displayed on a small wooden box; I scanned it, and looked over the offerings. I ordered a vermut while I made up my mind, and ended up having Pluma Ibérica, which is a cut of Iberian pork, taken from the back, near to the neck. Pluma means feather in Spanish, The name of this selection comes from the shape of the cut; it comes to a point at one end, much like a feather.

The meal was plated wonderfully, with zucchini, potato, carrot, and tomato on a small skewer, next to the wonderfully done pork. It was cooked just as it should be, seared on the outside, and medium rare on the inside, with salt flakes across the top. The flavor was perfect, and I had to force myself to take my time and enjoy every bite.

The dessert menu had so many choices, many of which I had tried before, so I picked something I’d not had before; the milhojas con mousse de chocolate y frutas rojas (mille-feuille with chocolate mousse and red berries). The flaky pastry was filled with a light chocolate mousse, covered in strawberries, with dark chocolate chips alongside. To say that it was heavenly would be a disservice to exactly how good it was.

When I was finished, I paid my bill, and left the restaurant. It was nearing midnight when I got back to the hotel, and after a long, busy day, I was looking forward to a good night’s rest.

To see the rest of the photos from this day, click here: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjzJDuL

For the video of the drive from Jarandilla de la Vera to Plasencia click here: https://youtu.be/WhBzqwGXwBo

For the video of the drive from Plasencia to Trujillo, click here: https://youtu.be/kMf3jMweM6I

España 2022 Day 6

Ávila, Talavera de la Reina, Jarandilla de la Vera, 4 March

I didn’t get up quite as early this morning, and the sky was already light by the time that I opened the curtains. There was a layer of snow coating the ground, and a motorized street sweeper was doing its best to clear the plaza.

I finished packing the rest of my things, then made my way back out into Ávila. I walked to the south side of the city, and out through the gate. There’s a great view of the countryside from a park, just outside of the Puerta del Rastro, and I took a few photos of the snow covered landscape from there before going back within the walls.

I followed the curving cobblestone streets to the Iglesia de Santa Teresa, the patron saint of Ávila. She is also the favorite saint of my high school Spanish teacher, who first brought me to this wonderful country more than thirty years ago, instilling me a love for everything Spain. With patches of snow on the ground, church, walls, and plaza, I was able to capture some interesting photos of the monochromatic scene.

After I had contemplated this spot for a while, I headed deeper into the city to Plaza de Mercado Chico for some much needed café. In the plaza were stalls selling various fruits and vegetables; I love a good market, so I wandered around and shot a couple more photos.