Extremadura, Spain: Trip report

Mar 26th, 2004, 10:46 AM
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Extremadura, Spain: Trip report

Last weekend, I spent four wonderful days in Extremadura, Spain. I am surprised that this area remains relatively undiscovered by foreign tourists. It is truly wonderful and offers extraordinary insights into Spanish history. In four days I barely skipped across the lily pond - an enticing and exciting introduction to a region that deserves a longer and more intensive exploration. I would like to thank the wonderful Maribel and others (car, CathyM, PVB, Maria) who introduced me to the region and offered valuable advice.

Tour books: I could not find ONE book dedicated to this region. I extracted a little information from various guides, including Michelin Spain Green Book, and the Spanish Tourist site (http://www.okspain.org/). The most helpful source was the Spanish Tourist Office in Toronto, providing an excellent detailed map, pamphlets describing interesting driving itineraries and information on Caceres and Merida).

Language: Little English spoken (caveat: I was there in the off season, this might be different in the tourist season). This is NOT a problem, and should NOT discourage you from visiting this region. I was absolutely delighted with the kindness and helpfulness I encountered. Language is such a minor issue when you encounter a people proud of their heritage and willing to share it, and you are enthusiastic to learn.

Driving: If you have never driven in Europe before, then this would be a good place to start. Excellent roads, most of which have been newly laid or refreshed, the very best sign posting I have ever encountered (so logical and well-designed that I did not once consult a map in the entire four days). Well-mannered drivers who abide by the rules and are incredibly forgiving of the idiot tourist.

Hotel in Caceres: I had wanted to stay in the Parador, within the walls of the old city and second choice was the Melia. Both are four-star hotels. Both were full. The Marinas hotel, 5 minutes walk from the historic centre, was available. It is just on the edge of the pedestrian area, and I would recommend it, if the other two hotels are not available. Room rate was 117 Euros per night for a double room. I was given room 205, a nice large room. Oddly, the bathtub was IN the bedroom and there was a separate room for the toilet and bidet. The TV offered only Spanish channels, there was a minbar and Internet access through the phone-line. (http://www.hotellasmarinas.com/).

Hotel at Madrid Airport: I spent the evening I arrived in Spain at the hotel Tryp Diana (http://reservations.airporthotelguid...10217194O.html), just on the edge of Madrid airport. It is a four star hotel, has a shuttle service to and from the airport every 30 minutes, CNN and BBC world Service on the TV. The room was typical four star business standard hotel and, at 90 Euros per night, a real bargain. On arrival at the International terminal, leave the airport, cross the road and turn right to pick up the hotel shuttles. A sign indicates the hotels that have a shuttle service.

Drive from Madrid to Caceres
Leaving the airport, I took the M 40 (a ring road) south toward Madrid and then the A5/N5, which will brings you all the way to Trujillo. I had anticipated a three hour drive to Caceres but crawled along for hours in awful traffic. I had not realized that Friday was a holiday, hence the problem I had in booking an hotel in Caceres. I also had not anticipated the traffic problem associated with a long weekend. At some point it cleared, and I was on my way. It took me 4.5 hours to get from Madrid airport to Caceres, most of the drive was through very pleasant countryside.

I find the most difficult challenge on any trip is to locate the hotel. I always get this deep depression as I enter the town or city, knowing that I could spend as long finding the hotel, as I did flying from Toronto. I was really lucky this time, I accidentally drove by the back of my hotel. I couldn't stop, as there was a line-up of cars behind me and it was a narrow one-way street, just the width of the car. I drove back to my starting point and approached the hotel for a second time, this time mounting the curb I put my flashers on, and prayed that no large vehicle would try to get by. I hopped out, banged on the back door and , luckily, the receptionist heard me, opened the door, dragged my luggage from the boot and pointed me in the direction of the parking lot at the top of the street.

I parked the car and retuned to the hotel to check in. The bags were already on my room. I unpacked and set out to explore the town.

Next: Exploring Caceres

Regards ... Ger
OReilly is offline  
Mar 26th, 2004, 01:14 PM
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I am so glad to hear you liked this little area that is an undiscovered gem.

I chuckle reading about the problems finding hotels and driving in the cities. Usually I travel alone and use public transportation but when I travel with friends we rent a car. Sometimes with the time we spend driving around trying to find the hotel (and getting mad at each other) we just as well could have taken the bus and arrived quicker and less stressed!

I visited Cacares, Trujillo and Merida in late September 2002 and also found little english spoken but extremely friendly people (and great food).

Can't wait to hear more details!
CathyM is offline  
Mar 26th, 2004, 02:30 PM
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Great report OReilly! I am a fellow Canuck and am planning a trip for my wife and I to celebrate our 10-year anniversary this year. We are going to Spain and Portugal for 2 1/2 weeks and the end of our trip has us travelling from the Algarve through the Extremadura area on our way back to Madrid. We will be staying one night in Caceres (staying at the Parador there) and the second night (the last night of our trip - sigh) at the Parador in Oropesa. Both are castles and both look amazing from their pictures.

My wife has no idea of where we are staying during the trip and knows very little other than we are going to Spain and Portugal - the details she has left to me. I have had a ton (or in Canada a "tonne") of fun planning the trip and have relied on this forum greatly for much of my learnings. The two Paradors we are staying at during our final two nights are both converted castles and I am very excited to see her reaction as we pull up to each one.

I am encouraged to read your report on the Extremadura area as this is a bit of an unknown within my travel itinerary, but reading your excitement about the area coupled with Maribel's current travel there has me convinced that our trip will end off very well.

Thanks to everyone in this forum for all that I have learned from you as our trip (departing May 27) nears. I will certainly fulfill my obligation upon returning with a full and detailed trip report - it will be entitled "How a husband fared in taking on the challenge of planning an anniversary trip all by himself", or the shortened version will be "What went well and what I screwed up"
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Mar 26th, 2004, 06:43 PM
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A couple of years ago, when visiting Seville, my hotel was right in the middle of the town. I picked up the car in the morning at the airport and drove around for the day. I could not find my way back to the hotel that night. I got SO frustrated, I eventually drove back to the airport, parked the car and took a taxi to the hotel, then took a taxi back to the car the next morning

You sweet romantic! What a wonderful plan. You are incredibly lucky - Maribel is in Extremadura right now and, when she returns, she will be able to give you the very best advice you could possibly get from ANY source. I have several of her Spain files, and treasure them.

If you are in Toronto, have you contacted the Spanish Tourist Board? They are at Bloor & Yonge and very helpful. Alternatively, you can call them and they will post the information. If there is anything that you are particularly interested in, if I have the information, I can copy it/scan it and send it to you.

You are SO lucky to stay at the Caceres Parador ? I am positively GREEN with envy!

regards ... Ger
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Mar 26th, 2004, 09:22 PM
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10YearAnniversary- We stayed at the parador in Cåceres last year and it was wonderful! (Sorry to rub it in, O'Reilly!)

Make sure to check out the storks nesting on top of the buildings!
marcy_ is offline  
Mar 27th, 2004, 09:14 AM
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The Tourist Office is located at Plaza Major, 3 (Weekdays: 9-2, 5-7:30; Weekends: 9:15-2)

This is a town that can trace is ancestry back to the dawn of man - the Celts, Romans, Visigoths, Moors and Christians have all left their mark. It is a pleasing, compact town with many pedestrian streets, which makes exploring enjoyable.

Old Caceres, the historic center, just off the Plaza Major, appears unaltered since the 16th century and undisturbed by the clamour of the new town that surrounds it. The pavements and buildings are built of a warm, golden stone that looked even more stunning in the glow of the afternoon sunlight. The town invites you to meander and explore. There are several plazas, in front of the churches and major buildings, giving the town a feeling of lightness and openness.

The most extraordinary sight in the old town, however, was not architectural, but natural. Atop every majestic spire and turret were massive cranes or storks (I think) tending their enormous nests. I met flocks of these birds several times during my visit. Apparently this region is a paradise for bird-watchers, particularly at this time of year.

The entire town is a complete delight and any good guidebook can offer better advice than I, but here are some of my major highlights:

Museo de Caceres (Tues-Sat 9-2:30; Sun 10:45-2:30)
The 15th century mansion houses an excellent collection of local archeological items, dating back to Neolithic times. The current building was built over a 12th century Moorish structure and the basement contains the best-preserved cisterns in the region.

Santa Maria Church
With a very pleasing Romanesque/early Gothic exterior, the main Cathedral of Caceres has been the burial place of Caceres for centuries. Don?t miss the altarpiece and the door to the sacristy. That afternoon, an Andean folk group were playing in the main square outside. I just adore that haunting music, gaiety tinged with longing and sadness.

Plaza de San Jorge
The church of San Francisco dominates the space and is the only piece of architecture in the town that I found obtrusive.

The doorways
I was absolutely fascinated by the doorways on the cathedrals, the mansions and even the humble dwellings. There is no doubt that these doors were built to withstand an armed assault. Wandering on a late afternoon in March, with only the sound of nesting cranes breaking the silence, this is an interesting detail to remind one of the town's ferocious and bloody history.

The simplicity and humility of the architecture
There are no ostentatious displays of secular wealth or power. I found this interesting, considering the history of the city; the fierce battles with the Moors to reclaim it; the extraordinary wealth brought back from the Americas by the Conquistadors.

I spent a couple of hours wandering around the streets of the old town and then moved out to the very large and impressive main square. There are many restaurants and shops sheltered within the porticos of the Plaza Mayor. I stopped for a coffee, but passed on the enticing cream cakes and deserts that being devoured by everyone else. Feeling refreshed, I wandered through the pedestrian areas outside the old town. As I wove my way through the crowds, out for the evening walk before dinner, I was struck by how relaxed and easy their progress. Here was I, ploughing my way through the waves like a battle cruiser, and they were gently weaving and bobbing like small boats moored in a calm harbour. I decided that I had to study and perfect this weaving and bobbing motion.

I slackened my pace and wandered up to the main street in new Caceres, the Avenida de Espana. It is a very wide and grand street, with a lovely green-space that runs through the middle. Shops and office buildings line both sides. Obviously, the contrast between old and new Caceres, within 10 minutes walk, is quite shocking. There is the contrast of the materials - the warm, rough-hewn stone of the old town and the perfectly precise edged steel and concrete of the new. There is the different concept of space and light - the confined, restricted and protectiveness of the old town and the open expanses of the new.

Back to then to the Plaza Mayor for a short rest and a glass of wine at a café opposite the Bujaco Tower. Built in the 12th century by the Moors, legend has it that 40 Christian knights had their throats cut on the parapets.

A sudden exhaustion came over me. I had missed an entire night's sleep a few days previously, getting off a night flight and straight into business meetings. On the way back to the hotel, I picked up a slice of pizza (fine dining ), crawled into bed and enjoyed 12 hours of uninterrupted sleep.

Next ... Merida

Regards ... Ger
OReilly is offline  
Mar 27th, 2004, 11:51 AM
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What wonderful writing! So evocative! You make me want to add this area to our October itinerary for Spain! More, please.
Mary_Fran is offline  
Mar 27th, 2004, 02:39 PM
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What type of weather did you encounter at this time of year? Were things green and blooming? When we leave Minnesota in March we like to go someplace that isn't so dead and dormant.
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Mar 27th, 2004, 03:21 PM
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I have loaded some photos onto ofoto.com. Try the following link (if it does not work by clicking, copy and paste it into your browser):

I am passionate about Ancient Rome and all its remnants and detritus. If I believed in former lives, then I have to believe that my passion results from a very positive and affluent former life experience in ancient Rome.

When I explore the past, the only period in which I could imagine being comfortable is the Roman period. I love to explore Roman towns, arrogantly built in valleys, for this extraordinary civilization feared no other tribe or force of nature. That arrogance and complacency was to be their downfall, but while they flourished they did so magnificently. Every time I visit these Roman sites, I always wonder ?What if?: What if Rome had NOT fallen- what would the world be like today if Rome had NOT fallen to the barbarian tribes?

I adore the elegance and simplicity of Roman architecture and the colorfulness and intricacy of the mosaics and wall paintings. I am astounded by the artistry of the statuary ? after Rome fell, nothing of the like was seen again until the great Renaissance sculptors.

Merida is about an hour from Caceres and it is a truly lovely drive. . Spring was here in all its glory and the land was lush and green. There were acres of pastoral fields on each side of the highway, gentle undulating hills and imposing castles sitting atop the highest promontories. The sky was cerulean blue, with wispy white clouds and it was warm ? at least in the high 70s. Apart from the extraordinarily good highway and the hydro wires, it is certainly possible to believe that this land had changed little in eons. With just a little imagination, one could imagine the Roman legions marching toward Merida or the conquistadors gathering for their great adventure.

The Merida Tourist Office is located at the Plaza Jose Alvarez (Weekdays: 9-1:45, 4-6:15; Weekends: 9:30-1:45), where I picked up a map and guidebook in English. The road to the Amphitheatre is a hub of excitement, with lots of interesting shops and restaurants. The shops sell a wide variety of bric-a-brac; reproduction roman vessels, coins, jewelry, souvenirs.

I purchased an entrance ticket to five major sites for the ridiculously low price of 7.20 (The Theatre/Amphitheatre, Casa Amphitheatre, Santa Eulalia, Alcazaba, Casa Metreo, Moorish Zone, Roman Circus). The Theatre/Amphitheatre is open 9-1:45, 5-7:15/4-6:15 in Summer). I immediately hurried to the theater.

Photos never do justice to the overwhelming power and grandeur these sites exude. The Romans understood the power of architecture and the importance the message the architecture delivered to the far-flung provinces. The shear scale of the endeavor; the order and precision with which it was executed, exhibits power, organization, rule and order. Provincial Roman towns delivered a clear message to the conquered tribes: Accept the rule of Rome and you will be guaranteed law and order, peace and prosperity; deny it, and face the consequences.

As I turned the corner into the theatre, I heard an old familiar tune. A mixed choir, of perhaps three dozen middle aged Spaniards, was perched on the edge of the stage, belting out an old favorite of mine ? Va Pensiero from Nabucco. I took my seat and was transported back to my teenage years when I was in a choir ? this was the first opera chorus we learned. I remembered an impromptu concert, at an international festival, when three choirs, ourselves, an all-girl choir from Ireland, two all-male choirs from Poland and Russia, rearranged ourselves into parts and sang this piece over and over again until we finally got it right.

The choir then entertained us with a Spanish folksong, followed by a liturgical piece. It was a truly extraordinary experience. The acoustics were excellent and I felt elated to have found myself in that place at that particular time. I would have been happy enough with the architecture alone, but this impromptu concert was indescribably moving. My feet barely touched the ground for the remainder of the morning J

The amphitheatre was a little bit of a disappointment by contrast. It was, however, amusing to watch two small boys reenacting ?Gladiator?, fencing with a pair of sticks. I was quite sure that two millennia ago, small boys did exactly the same.

The Casa Amphitheatre, just next-door to the theatre/ Amphitheatre site, shows the basic layout of the typical villa and there are some rather interesting mosaics.

Next stop was the museum (Tues-Sat: 10-2, 4-6; Sun: 10-2). I have never seen Roman artifacts displayed in such a sympathetic setting. The building itself is simply spectacular and the statuary, mosaics and displays are carefully chosen and arranged to maximize appreciation of the items, avoiding the usual visual overload. Important statuary is allocated its own alcove, which allows one to appreciate each piece in isolation. The mosaics are spectacular and the multi-tiered, open floors, allows one to view the works from various angles. I have not seen such a great collection of mosaics outside of Rome. Some mosaics have an interesting, almost naïve quality (compared to those that one sees in Rome), but what they lack in artistic execution, they more than make up for in vividness and gusto. Don?t miss the glass exhibition ? there are pieces there that you would not be surprised to see for sale in today. In the crypt of the museum, you can see the remains of a Roman House, uncovered during the excavations for this building.

Later ? more Merida

Regards ? Ger
OReilly is offline  
Mar 27th, 2004, 03:25 PM
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Thanks Mary Fran!

Julies: It was green and warm and sunny and wonderful
OReilly is offline  
Mar 30th, 2004, 08:39 AM
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More Merida

It was approaching 2pm when I left the museum. Before I had entered, the streets were teeming with visitors and there was a lively buzz. The streets were now almost empty: It was quite eerie, as if aliens had vacuumed the entire population of Merida, plus day-trippers, into the Mother Ship. It was so pleasant to wander around the almost deserted streets. But for my gnawing hunger, I would gladly have forgone lunch in favour of exploration. Also, despite the fact that it was only mid-March, it was getting a little too hot ? it must have been in the low 80s and the sun was very strong.

Every café and restaurant in the centre of town appeared crowded with families, and there was not a table available. I wandered further a-field and eventually found a restaurant in a side street where a few tables had become vacant. Restaurant Arroyo (Mariano Jose de Larra, 38) is quite close to amphitheatre in one of the smaller side streets. The menu announced that ?on parle Francais?, so I did, much to the consternation and confusion of the waiter that took my order. Eventually the owner, who actually DID speak French, came over to chat to me. The price for two cold beers, a bowl of Gazpacho Extremano, followed by pork chops and chips (I could have sworn I had ordered lamb) was a mere 15 Euros. The food was plain, but good.

The streets were still deserted at 4 pm when I left the restaurant. My first stop was the Columbaria. The Romans buried their dead on the roads leaving the city, so that forever travelers riding by might see them, remember them and offer up a prayer to the Gods (Cast a cold eye, On life, on death. Horseman, pass by!). The best examples of these tombs are in Rome, of course (Via Appia Antica ) and Arles. The Merida Necropolis, is not as elaborate as either, but excavation continues. There is an interesting open-air display on funereal rites and customs.

Next door is the Casa Mitrea, built in the late 1st century AD, it is still being excavated and what they have uncovered to date is impressive. The layout of the house can be seen quite clearly and the mosaics are both sophisticated and colourful.

Next stop was the Alcazarba, which was built in the 9th century over existing Roman and Visigoth structures. Excavation continues at this site ? there are great slabs of mosaics lying up against the walls and parts of the original Roman ruins can be seen taking shape. From the outer walls, there is a fine view of the absolutely magnificent Roman bridge, which looks as solid today as when it was built. In the background, is the light and delicate Lusitania bridge and the contrast between the two, in terms of materials and design, is as pleasing as it is surprising. Outside the enclosure, a green pathway lined with Cypress trees, runs alongside the walls and turrets and offers welcome shade on a hot afternoon.

Merida is a town rich in history and wonderful for just wandering; around every corner is a new surprise from its Roman, Muslim or Christian past. The contrast between the ancient and the new is often remarkable. Trajan?s arch remains a dominant feature at the crossroads of four otherwise ?modern? streets. The Temple of Diana is a striking structure, surrounded by 18th-20th century buildings. The Roman bridge surpasses any I have seen before and has proudly spanned the Guadiana for 2000 years. The late afternoon, before the town wakes up from its siesta, is the best time to enjoy and appreciate all it has to offer.

I finished my visit in the beautiful Plaza Espana. There is a large fountain in the center, surrounded by tall palms. Most buildings in the square date from the 19th century and, in addition to the usual handsome public buildings, there are many small shops and restaurants. As the sun set, the square came alive once more and the outdoor restaurants filled. I sat for a while to enjoy a coffee before setting off back to Caceres. On my way out the town, I stopped for a few minutes to admire the massive Aquaduct.

It had been a fascinating day, filled with discovery. I had anticipated that Merida would be a highlight of my trip and it surpassed my expectations.

That night, I dined at the El Figon del Estacuo in Caceres. I arrived at 10pm and the restaurant was already busy. I enjoyed the meal immensely (Mushrooms in bacon to start, followed by lamb chops, fresh strawberries, a half-bottle of decent wine and coffee) and though it very reasonable at 30 Euros.

Next ? Guadalupe

Regards ? Ger
OReilly is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2004, 04:49 PM
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Guadalupe is about a two-hour drive from Caceres. The trip from Caceres to Trujillo is pleasant enough, but the drive from Trujillo to Guadalupe is simply stunning. Predominantly a rural community there are only a handful of hamlets and small towns scattered along the highway. The last 30 minutes, as the road climbs upwards into the mountains to Guadalupe, is particularly delightful. There are excellent views across lush valleys, already in the grip of spring, and layers upon layers of mountains, some rocky and gray and some wrapped in deep green foliage.

I arrived in Guadalupe at noon, and was surprised that the town was already crowded with visitors. I was really annoyed at myself ? I should have set out earlier. The town itself was much smaller than I had expected. I drove though the main street and was immediately confronted by a stunning glimpse of the facade of this great Cathedral. The Plaza Mayor was teaming with people and the steps of the church overflowing with celebrants. I felt like an interloper at the party that had arrived too late to enjoy the main event.

I negotiated the car through the crowds and a traffic cop directed me to my left, where I apparently could find parking. I descended the hill, thinking all the time that the further down I went, the longer the climb back to the square. There was a small parking area to the right and a parking attendant, with an official-looking hat, waved me into a parking spot. I was just about to leave when I noticed a sign that clearly screamed ?No Parking? I thought to myself that he must know more that I, so it must be OK to park. I was just about to leave the car park when I decided that the last thing I needed was for my car to be towed away. How the hell would I get back to Caceres from here with not a word of Spanish?.

Given my past history with cars, when on vacation (which will remain a secret) I decided not to take the chance. I turned right out of the car park and proceeded down the hill, hoping to find anther area to park. The road twisted like a snake and, at one point, I almost drove over the edge of a precipice, as I was driving too fast for the curves. My heart was in my mouth for another few miles. It was a very pleasant drive though, and I ended up in the low valley, driving under a massive viaduct, so the journey was not a complete waste of time. I eventually found myself back where I started, at the entrance to the town and, once again, drove through the square. This time drove through the car park to the hill streets beyond. I found a space and had to parallel park, backwards, on a hill. Suffice it to say that I probably did irreparable damage to the clutch! It was only about 5 minutes back to the square, all uphill, and I was pleased that I had decided NOT to wear my Manolos J.

The Cathedral façade dominates the square but, despite its massive size, it is warm and inviting and exudes good humour and illuminates the square. This building does not oppress or threaten; on the contrary, it encourages the spirit to soar and the heart to celebrate life.
The excitement and energy in the square was extraordinary and infectious. I was not a part of the celebrations, I was only an observer, but I experienced a sensation of being sucked through a time warp. The plaza in front of the cathedral was overflowing with celebration and commerce, just as it did in medieval times. The merchants flogged their wears, the innkeepers served food and wine, the people eat and drink and buy and worship. For the first time in my travels, I truly understood the importance of the cathedral in medieval life and the healthy co-existence of the spiritual and the secular; a time when the Cathedral square was the hub of all activity in the community for worship, commerce and ribald entertainment.

I heard the unmistakable wail of bagpipes and there, surrounded by a crowd of admirers, were a group of musicians and dancers. It was a wonderful and unexpected spectacle ? eight pretty girls in local costumes performing folk dances and equally attractive young men belting out the tunes on primitive bagpipe and accompanied by drummers .

I wandered around the town for a while and decided to lunch early, so I could enjoy the town when everyone else was taking shelter from the heat of mid-day. The service in the restaurant was friendly, the food rather ordinary. By the time I emerged from the restaurant, the streets had emptied into the restaurants and I had the town to myself. I find this the best time to enjoy a Spanish town. The silence is quite shocking and you can hear the buzz of the insects. I paid a brief visit to the Parador and kicked myself for not lunching there. The tables are placed around a small inner courtyard with a central fountain, surrounded by orange trees.

I explored the narrow, twisting medieval streets and was delighted by the ostentatious display of plants on the balconies and in front of the tiny houses. Few were blooming, but what an amazing cacophony of colours there must be in early summer. Once again, I was struck by how little things had changed in this town. I wondered if those families I could hear inside the houses, chatting away over Sunday lunch, were the descendants of the 15th century residents.

Next ? more Guadalupe
OReilly is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2004, 04:58 PM
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What a terrific report , as usual, Ger. Now to check out your always beautiful photos.
cigalechanta is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2004, 05:25 PM
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Ger, what great pictures! I only have a point and shoot. You must have a good camera because I can almost feel the texure on those buildings and the metal bas reliefs.was that a local fete you have captured?
cigalechanta is offline  
Apr 2nd, 2004, 05:35 PM
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Mimi - truly, I AM a point and shot type of photographer I DO look for texture and am fascinated by building materials, as I studied architecture many moons ago. I have a small Pentax digital camera that I am please with.

I have no idea what the Fete was about. It was a long weekend, so I am sure it was celebrating some saint.

regards ...Ger

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Apr 3rd, 2004, 01:54 PM
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Guadalupe Part II

The doors to the monastery (0930-1; 3:30-6:30)opened on time at 1530. Obligatory tours are conducted in Spanish, and leave every 30 mins. Entrance fee is 3 Euros and an additional 2 euros for an English guidebook. The tour takes approximately 70 minutes; far too little time to enjoy the treasures.

It is an excellent collection, well-displayed and unlike anything you are likely to see elsewhere. The works are also in the right setting; they are all associated with the church and its history, the faith and the region. The items are displayed, not as artifacts for the gawking tourist, but in a context that emphasizes their religious importance, their time and place. For me, this was a very different experience to viewing religious objects in the Louvre or other secular museums; the context increases the significance, the message and the value.

The Embroidery museum:
These rare, intricate works of art, dating from the 15th to 19th century, are in pristine condition. Capes, surplices, mantels, alter clothes, and other paraphernalia (that I should be able to name, but I can?t) were obviously works of total dedication and devotion to the divine. This is a veritable treasure trove for anyone interested in textiles and ?applied? art. Elsewhere, an entire museum would be built around this collection alone.

It is moving to see the name of the monk associated with the piece of art he embroidered. I thought of the artistically gifted 16th century monk, creating this magnificent work of devotion to his God. Could he have possibly imagined that, over 500 years later, his work would be worshiped as art? He would probably been horrified at the thought!

While most vestments on display are extraordinary colourful and celebratory, one particular favorite of mine, created between 1668 - 1672, was a series of vestments, gold and silver embroidery on black velvet, with a skull and skeleton motif. Given the time, I can only assume that the Black Death was at its height, and the population of Guadalupe, like others all over Europe, believed that the end of the world was immanent. These works are as beautiful as they are shocking. They are also actually rather fashionable in an interesting "GOTH meets Versace" kind of way!

The Book Room:
Music lovers will surely think they had died and gone to heaven. Gregorian chant plays softly in the background as you weave through displays that reveal pages of the enormous manuscripts, intricately decorated, from which the monks sang.

Painting and Sculpture Room
Shocking, emotional and disturbing. There are three El Grecos , and they are wonderful, but they were not the works that grabbed my attention. There is a sculptured group, "Calvary", from the 15th century, by Egas Cueman that is a most disturbing work; it perfectly captures the pain, grief and desolation of a mother that has witnessed her son?s ignominious death. Ecce Homo, a bust of Christ, crown of thorns on his head, that shows his humanity; you can feel his pain and torture. The most striking of all is the sculpture of an emaciated Christ after the crucifixion. The lips are slightly parted, showing the teeth and tongue; it is as if you are witnessing the escape of his last breath or his soul. These works are masterpieces and all focus on Christ the man, not the divinity. .

We passed through several rooms with interesting "grotesque" paint effects on the ceilings - very fine examples. The Reliquary is an octagonal room displaying artifacts associated with the Virgin with some excellent examples of artisan crafts in gold and embroidery.

The veneration of the Virgin:
We were brought into a circular room with a baroque cupola. Around the walls were (not very good IMO) paintings of the Virgin's life. We were passed from the guide to a monk, who explained the significance of the paintings. He then moved to a small anti-chamber and he turned a panel around to reveal the Virgin of Guadalupe. The crowd fell silent. He started a prayer (I assume it was the Hail Mary) and all started to recite. I was standing at the back of the group, and there was very little room in the chamber, but as those at the front had their fill of the image, which was obviously extraordinary meaningful to them, they left and ushered others forward. I was gently guided to the front and saw the face of the virgin and infant. It was a simple, naive representation of the human face. It was carved either by a peasant or a great master, because there is such great simplicity and beauty in the face that it talks directly to the heart. It was surround by gold and pink satin and jewels, yet this tiny face dominated its paraphernalia.

I left then, retrieved the car, burnt a bit more off the clutch and headed back to Caceres. The return journey back was even more stunning than the approach. I felt elated, as I wove my way down the mountain, and so glad for the day. I wished I could have spent longer looking at the black face of the Virgin and the magnificent sculptures of Cueman, but I was so happy that I had been given just a glimpse of these treasures. I was glad that they rest in a place for which the original artists created them, so we can appreciate the faith and passion that inspired them. How cold and lonely are the medieval Virgins in the Louvre and, other museums throughout the world, behind the Perspex in their climate-controlled environment!

Next: Trujillo

Regards ? Ger
OReilly is offline  
Apr 14th, 2004, 02:06 PM
Join Date: Jan 2003
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Just got back from my Semana Santa trip and love reading this report! I missed Guadalupe (not possible using public transportation as a daytrip from Trujillo unfortunately) but will definately plan to visit next time. It sounds enchanting.

Looking forward to your next post!
CathyM is offline  
Apr 15th, 2004, 08:11 AM
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Hi Cathy:

Where did you spend Semana Santa - in Seville?

One of the guidebooks did mention that this was not an easy area to tour without a car, with limited train and bus links. As I mentioned, it is the easiest driving I have ever done in Europe, although I WAS the slowest thing on the highway

I'll add the last installment later this week.

best regards ...Ger
OReilly is offline  
Apr 18th, 2004, 01:58 PM
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On the Sunday, after returning to Caceres from the wonderful trip to Guadalupe, I spent an hour wandering around the old town, as the golden dusk transitioned into the black night. It is a marvelous experience and should not be missed. The streets of the walled city were almost deserted and the silence was such a contrast with the growing cacophony of the town square, just outside. I wandered aimlessly and without purpose, just happy to be there and to enjoy the perfection and silence of this old town. As I approached Plaza de San Jorge, I once again, heard that plaintive pipe music of the Andes. The Peruvian group that I had heard a few days before, were practicing their art. I floated around the periphery of the square, pretending to appreciate the architecture, as I enjoyed their impromptu concert. I ended the evening with a glass of wine in one of the outdoor restaurants in the Plaza Mayor.

The following morning, I rose early to make the most of the day. The plan was to spend a few hours in Trujillo before heading to the airport and home.

Getting the baggage into the car proved to be an adventure all of its own. If one travels light, it is possible to just schlep the luggage from the hotel to the car-park. THIS girl, never travels light, so it was necessary to, once again park the car at the rear of the hotel. However, this was the middle of rush hour and as soon as I mounted the footpath and parked the car, a big red bus appeared. It was obviously impossible for the driver to negotiate the bus passed my car, so I sat there, extremely embarrassed, as the staff loaded the bags into the boot. The bus driver was extremely patient, but eventually honked his horn threateningly. Once the luggage was loaded, I took off like a bat out of hell, knowing that a whole bus-load of people in Caceres would blame their late arrival at work, that Monday morning, on an incredibly inconsiderate tourist that travels with excess baggage.


Here are the photos:

Trujillo stands on top of a rocky outcrop on the road from Caceres to Madrid. Its history dates back to Celtic times and it has seen a succession of invaders; Romans, Visigoths, Moors and was finally reclaimed by the Christians in the 12th century. It was during the 16th century that Trujillo enjoyed its height of glory, as the city that produced the conquerors of the new world.

The Tourist Office is in the main square. There, you can purchase tickets (5-7 Euros for various packages) that will allow entrance to the town's major historic attractions, and an accompanying map and tourist guide. As it was Monday, some of the public buildings were closed. I was blessed with the weather on this trip, and today was no exception ? the sun shone in an azure sky and there was just the gentlest of breezes, which made the walking pleasant.

The Plaza Mayor itself is grand, glorious and gorgeous. Trujillo's favorite son, Pizzaro, appears in all his conquistador' glory, on a magnificent steed, to the right side of the square. Just behind him, is the church of San Martin. The exterior of the church has two doors, one Renaissance and one Gothic, that are not to be missed. There are two campaniles attached and you are encouraged to climb (not attempted on this trip).

Following the tourist information provided, I entered the walled town. The 13th century former church of Santiago has an interesting display on local history (in Spanish) and a fascinating series of photographs depicting the Plaza Major through the 20th century.

It is a little bit of a hike up to the Moorish castle, bring good walking shoes, but it is well worth the trek. There are excellent views across the town and the surrounding countryside. The Pizzaro Museum is situated in the house that he grew up and contains a collection of artifacts and exhibits connected with the explorers life in Spain and South America. The church of Santa Maria is a very impressive Gothic church renowned for its ornate altarpiece, which was unfortunately covered with scaffolding that day. A most interesting feature of Trujillo are the fortifications and the gates; built by the Moors and updated in the 15th century.

The town was wonderfully quiet during my Monday visit, although some of the larger sites were closed. Before leaving, I had a coffee at one of the outside restaurants in the square and enjoyed the warm, spring sunshine. The drive from Trujillo to Madrid airport took just under 3 hours.

It was a wonderful weekend and my only regret is that I did not have longer to spend exploring. I certainly know that I will be back there, next time to explore the Northern region of Extremadura. I would highly recommend this area to those of you that are seeking a Spanish experience, off the beaten path.

Best regards ? Ger
OReilly is offline  
Apr 18th, 2004, 02:10 PM
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Onc again , thank you for the off the usual route report. Your photos dpo show you once studied architecture. The facades and intergrity of the buildings
you show.
cigalechanta is offline  

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