In the planning stages this bicycle tour went through a number of iterations. At first we were starting in Agadir to meet Zane and Kurt for some riding in Morocco. However, Zane flew to Guatemala instead. Then we were starting in Málaga to see Andalucia before meeting my parents for an auto tour in Portugal. However, my parents decided they didn’t have so much time to spend in Portugal. Then Ferda and I decided to fly to Faro and just bicycle in Portugal. However, once we started planning the route, we realized there was a stretch between Elvas and Monsanto without much of interest. If we headed east a bit, we’d get to see Mérida, Cáceres, a corner of Extremadura. So that’s how we ended up spending nine days in Spain on our tour of Portugal.
In Portugal we came to expect sunny, cool, dry weather. It wasn’t till we were within spitting distance of the Spanish border that the rain started. It didn’t rain every day in Spain, but almost. However, as I’m writing this, it’s quite clear that it can rain in Portugal as well. We’re holed up in Penacova for a few days waiting for the sun to come back, giving me some time to write.
We left Elvas, shortly crossed the border, and were in Badajoz not much later. Badajoz, I think, will be the biggest city we visit on this tour until we end our riding in Lisbon. However, it was very quiet when we rode into the city on a Sunday afternoon. It was fun to be in Spain — Badajoz felt like a real, lived-in city, very different from the quiet villages we’d been riding through in Alentejo. Also, communication is easy in Spain! It’s fun to be able to talk with people in their own language. 🙂
I remember finding the people a bit cold and not so outgoing in NE Spain. Extremadura was not like that at all, a difference between southern and northern Spain, someone suggested.
caught up with us a bit before Lobón, and the helpful folks at a cafe there had a discussion and sent us off to the abandoned warehouses so we could pass a dry night.
Mérida was the first UNESCO-listed place that we visited in Spain, listed because of the extensive Roman ruins within the city. There’s a circo (“circus” in English; easily confused with stadium which we see at some sites in Turkey like Aphrodisias or Kibyra; circus are bigger), a couple forum (“agora” in Turkey, from Greek rather than Latin), a couple aqueducts, a bridge (the world’s longest bridge surviving from ancient times), some baths, a villa outside the walled city, a theatre, and also an amphitheatre. I think it was the first Roman amphitheatre I’ve seen. There are lots in the western Roman empire especially in present day France and Tunisia. However, there are only three known amphitheatres to have existed in all of Turkey, and none remain.
Ferda questioned whether it was really worth it to come from Turkey to visit Roman ruins in Spain. Indeed there are many more impressive sites in Turkey than Mérida, and I might have been disappointed with the city had we not stayed with a terrific warmshowers host, Jesús. Jesús knows a lot about Mérida, Roman history, and especially the Roman history of Mérida. He is a teacher and is excited to share this knowledge. He spent two days showing us around the sites in Mérida. He’s also a bit of a linguist speaking his native Spanish, also Italian, French, Occitan, and English. Thank you again, Jesús, for making our time in Mérida wonderful. Hopefully Ferda has a better photo of Jesús than I do.
Ferda and I also got a little Spanish tradition in Mérida — a bull ring, tapas, and an old church.
We had a couple days of pleasant riding before our next destination.
I don’t think anyone can be disappointed with our next UNESCO World Heritage Site, the medieval city of Cáceres. Walking around the historic center it’s certainly no surprise that parts of Game of Thrones were filmed here. A month into our trip now, if I had to pick one thing, I’d say Cáceres is the highlight.
Another Game of Thrones filming location was Los Barruecos, not far west from Cáceres. This is where the Battle of the Dragon in the 4th and 5th episodes of the 7th season was filmed. Imagine the dragon flying over this rock:
Jesús taught us the Spanish word, dehesa, which is the landscape of rolling hills dotted with cork trees that we’ve ridden in for so many days in Alentejo and Extremadura. Apparently the word is the same in Portuguese, but it doesn’t seem to be in use here.
I had read that there were still Roman mile markers existing in this region. I wonder if that’s what we’re seeing in these photos:
In Brozas we lucked out — not only did we arrive during the (weekly?) market, but because of a funeral, the church was open so we were able to get a few minutes inside one of the largest churches in Extremadura.
Heading northwest back to Portugal one of our final villages was Alcántara, Arabic for “the bridge”. We first came across the old monastery, San Benito, built about 500 years ago,
but it’s the Roman (of course, the Romans!) bridge that the city is named after. According to a sign on site, this bridge, still in use, was one of the major Roman engineering accomplishments. Construction of the bridge was 1400 years before the nearby 500-year-old monastery! What did the Romans ever do for us??!!
A bit further on was another bridge, not so old (I think!), this one marking the border between Spain and Portugal:
It seems appropriate to end a post about Spain with a few more church photos (these ones are in Villa del Rey, Santuario Nuestra Señora de los Hitos, and Aldea del Cano).