Monday, October 24, 2011

We're all stuck out in the desert and we're gonna die.

The weekend of October 14th - 17th was the dreaded excursión to Extremadura. I say "dreaded" because Extremadura, a desert province in southwestern Spain, is more or less unanimously voted the lamest place in the country. When I told my host mom the program was taking us there, she said, "Why would you ever go there? The program is robbing you, you know that, right?" Apparently it's know for three things: extremely hot summers, extremely cold winters, and pigs. And no one likes any of those things. I decided this would be the anthem of the weekend:

We're All Stuck Out in the Desert by Johnathan Rice

Thankfully, I did not die, but it did turn out to be kind of a bummer of a trip. We left Madrid at 8 am, which meant I had to wake up at 6:30 am...which is the absolute worst. Thankfully this time I was prepared with my inflatable neck pillow, and I slept like a baby for the entire three-hour drive. Our first stop was Carlos V's palace in a city called Plascencia. It was the most dismal palace I've ever seen, because the king had it built expressly so he could go there to die. He had severe gout as a result of eating nothing but beef and beer, and was also extremely depressed because his wife, Isabel I of Portugal (reportedly the prettiest princess in all of Europe) had died in childbirth a few years prior. There were portraits of her all over the house, and the tourguide told us that when Carlos lived there, every single wall in the house was covered with black drapes. Talk about bad feng shui. 

I couldn't take pictures inside, but there wasn't much to take pictures of, as absolutely EVERYTHING was a copy (and I'd already seen most of the real items in the Museo Prado). Because the palace is located in the middle of the woods, if thieves broke in and stole some important artifacts, it would be impossible to retrieve the stolen items. So I guess there was a good reason for all the facsimiles, but it was still a little odd we were brought there.

The only thing in the palace that wasn't totally morbid
The monks' cloister
Nelson looking very angelic

Thankfully, the tour didn't last long, and we headed to the main part of town for the traditional fancy lunch. Once again, I forgot to take pictures, but I had beef carpaccio for the first time! I only had a few bites because pretty soon my brain couldn't handle the fact I was eating what's essentially raw beef, but it was pretty good. My favorite was the garlic shrimp--I think I ate almost the whole plate (which was supposed to be shared among four people). For the main course, I had a sort of pot roast cooked in plum sauce with apples, and dessert was chocolate mousse and raspberry-blueberry ice cream!

Oh hey!
¡Amigos! Not pictured: Inés' future seeing eye dog under the table
I ate it all. No shame.
The restaurant was on a cute street
There was a delay after lunch as Michael talked to the tour guide, so we sat on the street and played with Laila, Inés' futuro perro guia (future seeing eye dog). She is the best thing in the ENTIRE WORLD.

She's teething.
Then it was tourin' time! The tour guide was really hard to understand and it was also quite hot out so I really don't remember anything. Whenever I would try to listen she'd just be talking about some family who harvested chicken feathers so I would inevitably tune out. It was frustrating because there is so much INTERESTING history, and this woman would choose to focus on these extremely boring details no one cared about.

Danielle & Sami taking a break from listening ;)
The cathedral
Moldy orange tree
Gargoyles are rad.

Then, for god knows what reason, we went on a tour of a hotel lobby. I think the hotel actually used to be a castle, but now it just looks like a slightly classier version of the Excalibur Hotel in Las Vegas.

Painting in the hotel of Jesus holding a very ugly baby

There is sooo much graffiti in Spain
We then got back on the bus and drove for an hour to Cáceres, where we'd be spending the night. We had a very pleasant surprise upon arriving when we discovered we'd be staying in a four-star hotel, right on the Plaza Mayor!

[photo cred: Google]
View from Kat's & my room
The room was inexplicably dark, but there was an awesome collection of tiny toiletries in the bathroom, so I stole took them all :) Unfortunately, we only had about half an hour in the room before we went for a night tour (what?) so Kat and I watched Bob Esponja (Spongebob Squarepants). It was an excellent use of time.

This night tour was probably the dumbest thing we've done on an excursión so far. Not only could I not follow what the tour guide was saying, but I couldn't see what she was pointing at. I wish we could have explored by ourselves, because Cáceres is a beautiful old town and was very hard to experience while traveling in a group of 35 people.

Buildings on the Plaza Mayor
Medieval bridge?
People pretending to pay attention

When the tour finally ended, we were let loose upon the city to find food. Every single restaurant seemed to have the same menu, so we decided to find the cheapest place. I ate pasta for the first time in too long, and even though the tomato sauce was strangely sweet, I cleared my plate.

Lucy & me
Empty plates, empty glasses.
Me, Kat, and Aubrey
We tried to find some nightlife, but couldn't seem to find any, so we ended up calling it an early night and went back to the hotel around 2 am. (Last year, I would have thought 2 am was insanely late, but in Spain, that's NOTHING!)

We were ordered to be ready to leave by 9:40 am the next morning, and so after a delicious breakfast in the hotel (six types of bread! unlimited fruit! fresh-squeezed orange juice!), everyone was waiting in the hotel lobby--everyone except Michael, who likes to lecture is about punctuality. Ohh, hypocrisy at its finest.


After Michael finally sauntered out from the dining room, we headed out to do exactly the same tour we did the night before. Seriously, Spaniards do not understand the concepts of efficiency/time-saving...

Little bird, little biiird
Kat was not pleased with this redundant tour.
Lyz & Kelsey
A wishing tree
St. Jerónimo--legend has it that if a girl kisses the statue's toes, she'll get married soon
Old woman begging

I walked Laila for a little bit!

[photo cred: Kat]
The oldest water cistern in Europe
Kat & me

We went to a museum and I fell in love with this painting
Flamenco musicians
Holy Week priests' costumes from the middle ages. The tour guide didn't understand why all us Americans were so afraid of the pointy hoods...
"Black Jesus"
After the tour was over, we headed back to the Plaza Mayor for lunch. Laila met a friend in the plaza and I watched them play for a good five minutes.

Bouncy dog!
And then a baby came to watch and there was too much cuteness
Inés & the strange puppy
"Real democracy, now!"
And then I ate the grossest lunch in the history of lunches: fried eggs, potatoes, ham, bread, and beer. 

Who am I kidding? It was absolutely delicious...albeit highly artery-clogging.
I felt like Ron Swanson from Parks and Recreation when he goes to a diner to eat his feelings:

After lunch, it was on to our second-to-last destination, Mérida--or as I would learn to call it, Mierda (translation: "shit".)

Bye, Cáceres!
It took about two hours to get to Mérida, and apparently we did a panoramic tour in the bus once we got there, but I slept through the whole thing. Thank youuu, noise-canceling headphones! Once we arrived, we went to the only interesting thing in the entire city: the ruins of the Roman theatre, from the 1st century BCE. I hadn't seen ancient ruins before and was super excited about it.

Entrance to the theatre
Statue of a muse
In one of the tunnels the gladiators would use to run out into the field!

Archaeologists think there was a third or even fourth story

Taylor went on the stage and sang an improv love song to Conor. It was very bromantic
Lucy, Sami, Kat, me, Danielle
Can you spot the fake steps?
We went to a museum after the theatre, but we all had borderline heatstroke so I went into a boredom coma and didn't revive until we got to our hotel...which was nowhere near as nice as the hotel in Cáceres. It was highly disappointing. I think my bed was made out of least it was clean!

I think this is a "main" street of Mérida...sad.
Once back at the hotel, I cut Kat's hair in the bathtub! It turned out really well, and further fueled the comments that I should drop out of Vassar and go to cosmetology school (HAHAHAHA...ha...ha...ha)

Armed & dangerous.
Makeshift salon.
When it was time for dinner, we spent over an hour trying to find a restaurant that didn't look gross. We settled on a place called Candela, which was a little expensive but didn't make Spanish food, so I was quite happy. We ended up spending about three hours at the restaurant...there was literally nothing else to do in the whole city.

Me & Lucy
Walnut-pear risotto...heaven on a plate

The next morning got off to a depressing start, as the "breakfast" in the hotel dining room consisted of bread, boxed donuts, and bad coffee. I had plain bread and three cups of coffee. A+ for health, Katie! The good news was we had a different tour guide, who looked a little bit like Elvis Costello and was throughly awesome. Instead of telling us about the family tree of chicken-feather-collectors like the other guide, he told us about the fashion of Roman prostitutes (short skirts, high heels--not much has changed), and how to find a Roman brothel (just follow the penis-shaped rocks, duh).

Temple of Diana, 1st century BCE

Me, Kat, and Danielle
Roman arch
The guide
Penis-shaped rock pointing towards a brothel
Plaza de España
Me & Nelson on a 1 km long Roman bridge!

El puente
Thennn it was time for yet ANOTHER drive to our final destination, Trujillo.

Me & Kat, bus budz 4 lyfe. Doesn't her haircut look great?! ;)
Plaza Mayor de Trujillo
Gianttt well
Me sitting on the edge of the well
Since there are no sidewalks in small towns/any small street in any city, whenever a car comes someone starts yelling "¡COCHE! ¡COCHE!" and you have to flatten yourself against a wall
Well, at least it's greener than the Mojave.
Me & the Danielles
Stuck between a rock and...a rock.
Ancient Spanish forts = great playgrounds
Dad, is that you?
Statue of Pizarro was an interesting weekend. I'm just really disappointed the program didn't take us to a famous place, like Granada, Barcelona, or Sevilla. Maybe the program really is stealing my money.

I did buy a bag of candied almonds in Trujillo, though, so I guess the weekend wasn't a total waste of time!