Day 07 - Thursday, March 30, 2017 - Cross Into Spain; Explore Extremadura; UNESCO World Heritage Site of Mérida; Travel to Carmona
The sunrise was incredible this morning with shades of reds and blues. The temperature was 46 degrees with another high humidity day of 94%.
The pousada was almost empty because of the overnight stay of the president. Security personnel, the Portuguese army, and the local police were guarding the premises as well as on the narrow roads leading up to the hotel. We felt so safe!
Luis was not able to drive the bus close to the front door so a small van took the bags down to be loaded. We managed to leave just a few minutes later than our predicted 8:45.
Driving east on the beautiful new highway, we were almost alone as we traveled on the toll roads toward Spain. Rikardo gave us even more details about the history of the Iberian Peninsula.
The landscape featured rolling hills with emerald pastures dotted with grazing sheep and cattle. Groves of cork trees were prevalent as were the small white farms decorated with blue trim and topped with the traditional red tiled roofs.
As we approached the small villages, we could see the ancient castles that dominated the tops of the hills and the distinctive spires of the Catholic Churches. This was also a land of vineyards and olive groves. No wonder the area was known as the Gardens of Europe.
At a few minutes before 10:00 we crossed the border into Spain. The border town was Extremadura, in the province of the same name.
There were large fields of grain, grazing cattle and sheep, and olive trees but no cork trees in this part of Spain. On the tops of many chimneys and power poles we saw nesting storks. Storks are a protected species and even the power companies are not allowed to disturb them.
There are 47 million people in Spain. Everyone in Spain has at least one cell phone. Rikardo gave us his Spanish cell number and told us that if we got lost anyone in Spain would be happy to help and call him for us.
When we crossed the border we had to change our clocks and watches again. Spain has a different time as a holdover from Franco' allegiance to Hitler and their time zone. At 11:45 we made a restroom stop at a highway oasis before we got to Mérida.
Mérida, an ancient Roman city is the capital of the province. The 2042-year-old city has been under Roman, Moorish, Christian, and Portuguese rule.
Many ruins have preserved the Roman influence and they are in various stages of disrepair. New construction in the city is difficult because when they begin excavation there are often treasures below the surface and this delays any future project work.
We began our trek back through the millenniums at the Roman amphitheater where the first bullfights were held and the gladiators fought. We continued our walk to the reconstructed theater. The archaeological location was one of the most famous UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
At 1:15 we finished the guided portion of the excursion and Rikardo gave us until 3:15 to explore more of the ruins, have lunch, and walk on our own to the city center, or down to the river. We took more photos of the ruins, talked to a family from São Paulo in Brazil, and then walked down to the Guadiana River and walked on the ageless Roman bridge.
Back on the national highway again, we drove north and east and then south through more of the bright green rolling hills. The trees along the roadsides were oak trees. The acorns from these trees were used as a special food for the black pigs that are raised for the famous and SO expensive Iberian ham.
At 3:30 we stopped at a Leo truck stop for our 15 minute afternoon break. Mimi bought toffee for each of us and Rikardo shared chocolate covered figs, a specialty of the area.
Rikardo talked about the political history of the corrupt monarchy and then the overthrow of the government by the head of a North African army and the Spanish Civil War. Finally in 1939, Franco became a dictator of Spain until 1970's.
We drove through the city of Seville and saw the remains of the International Expo held in 1992. Many extravagant controversial buildings were built at great public expense, but are now either abandoned or are taken over by the university.
We continued to Andalusian town of Carmona, our destination for the next two nights. Upon arriving at the city, we took a walking tour. We saw at least 8 churches, many parks, and the plaza where families were gathering for the late afternoon get-togethers. We had a chance to talk to many of the local people, all very happy to share their time with us.
It was almost 8:00 when we arrived back at the hotel. Our luggage was already in our rooms and we had just enough time to set up our computers and log on to the Internet. Dinner was served at 8:30, late for us, but very early for dining in Spain.
Before we knew it, the time was 10:00. We hustled back to our room to finish the journal and to sort the hundreds of photos of the day.
Our lodging for two days was a fourteenth century Arabic fortress. Many of the Muslim and Moorish designs can be seen throughout the parador. Each day we learn more and more about the influence of the Arab community from the time they controlled Spain. Adding to what we know:
Most of Spain was under Muslim domination from 711 to the mid 11th century. The Spanish Inquisition, which aimed at converting non-Christians to Christian Catholicism, started in the 13th century. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella issued the edict that expelled all Muslims and Jews from Spain.
Accommodations: Parador de Carmona Hotel - - - Meal: B & D
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WOW - the documentation of todays travel is absolutely fascinating. How do y'all remember everything? Very interesting day for sure. Love that church tower - that is beautiful!
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All so fascinating! Great sights. Thanks for the interesting history information.
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