With the end of Carnaval comes the beginning of Lent, marked by Ash Wednesday. (Marked…get it? Gosh, I crack myself up.) Ash Wednesday Mass was celebrated at the Catedral de los Santos Niños with 24 altar boys, 10 priests, and one arzobispo. It was legit. The cathedral was packed and it was a beautiful service. One significant difference I observed at this particular Ash Wednesday Mass: the ashes were sprinkled on top of our heads, instead of having our foreheads marked with a cross.
But the holidays don’t end with Carnaval: everyone’s favorite holiday is next, February 14th—Día de San Valentín, or as some of us prefer to call it, Singles Awareness Day! Valentine’s Day isn’t incredibly popular here (Spain doesn’t have Hallmark), but it still exists. Throughout the day, I saw several different guys walking down the street carrying large bouquets of roses. I really want to flag one of them down and say, “Hello! I’m right here!” but I refrained. Thought that might get a little awkward.
We couldn’t stay out too late for Valentine’s Day because we had to be up and at it early the next morning for #FieldTripFriday. This excursion, planned by CIEE, wasn’t like a normal excursion; it was for the whole weekend. The destination of our excursion was Extremadura, a province on the west side of Spain, right on the border of Portugal, about 4.5 hour bus ride from Alcalá de Henares. To be completely honest, I was not particularly excited when I learned the destination of this trip. Extremadura? What’s in Extremadura? I was a little disappointed that we weren’t going to Sevilla or Toledo or Córdoba. You know, somewhere epic and well-known. Looking on the bright side, it had been awhile since our CIEE group had met, so I was looking forward to “getting the gang back together again”. Still, I couldn’t help but think that it was going to be a long, somewhat boring weekend.
I stand corrected.
Extremadura was off the hook. Totally EXTREME, as to be expected.
After arriving in Cáceres, we checked into our hotel (a renovated PALACE—kind of a big deal), ate lunch, and rested before our first adventure of the excursion: a tour of the city of Cáceres.
Remember when I said the Alhambra was old? Compared to the history of Cáceres, the Alhambra was built yesterday. Cáceres is basically prehistoric, with the first record dating all the way back to 34 B.C. Until the city was incorporated into the Kingdom of León in 1227, it was the target of numerous barbarian invasions, leaving a large part of the city completely destroyed. Most of the reconstruction and new construction of the majestic buildings and homes in the city were built under the reign of the Reyes Católicos in the late 1400s.
Before I left for Spain, a very wise role model of mine (Madeline!) gave me several excellent pieces of advice, one of which was: “Make time to do things you love, even if they’re the most American of things.” After a long day of traveling and touring, we were all exhausted on Friday night, so we did a pretty American thing: pizza & pajamas in the hotel room. Girls night in, for the win.
The next day brought about new adventures in a new city: Mérida. Founded in the year 25 BC, Emerita Augusta was the capital of the province of Lusitania within the Roman Empire. The name Mérida is derived from Emerita. The city of Mérida has more Roman artifacts than any other city in Spain.
One of the most important Roman monuments in Mérida is the Amphitheater, or Anfiteatro, the location of the gladiator fights. In order to fully appreciate the Amphitheater, we decided to act out a sample situation, for purely educational purposes.
The bridge in the background of this picture is the Puente Romano (literally translates to “Roman Bridge”). This bridge is the longest of Roman bridges in existence.
Another amazing sight in Mérida? The Acueducto de los Milagros. (“Aqueduct of Miracles”) Bringing water to people is pretty miraculous, but check out that sunset—that was our miracle for the day.
After an amazing day of beautiful weather in Mérida, we headed back to our hotel in Cáceres for the night. We had one final destination to conquer on Sunday: the city of Trujillo. Trujillo also dates back to prehistoric times, but being the birthplace of Francisco Pizarro is its claim to fame. Pizarro, conqueror of Peru, was born in Trujillo around 1471.
After a crazy weekend, we boarded the bus to head back to Alcalá. The bus was completely silent on the ride home—every single one of us was sound asleep for almost the entire trip. Reflection on the weekend? It was such a blast and I am anxiously anticipating our next CIEE weekend excursion in March.
Thought of the day: Going to Spain and visiting Extremadura is like going to the United States and visiting Wisconsin. It’s probably not your first choice, it doesn’t seem like there is a whole lot there, and it’s somewhere that you never would have chosen to visit on your own. But believe it or not, there are a lot of really cool things in Wisconsin. (Did you know that Neenah, Wisconsin is the leading producer of man-hole covers worldwide? SO to the Nah.) Extremadura isn’t Barcelona or Valencia, but it is still one of the coolest places I have ever been. This trip reminded me of the importance of having a positive attitude and an appreciation for every opportunity I have here. You never know what you might find!