Escape of the Week: Merida’s Roman Statue

Tucked into the westernmost part of Spain is the Extremadura region. A land heavy on the nature, light on the bustling city. A place where people go to get away from the big cities and take a few more minutes to sip their coffee. A place where people go to explore the local wildlife (bird watching is huge here). And, a place where people go to take in the sites. Merida, a small city in this region, boasts some of the oldest Roman ruins in Spain, including the shell of an aqueduct, the Temple of Diana (you know I loved that one!) and a theatre.

I was fortunate to receive a guided tour of Merida’s historical gems, courtesy of the local tourism board and my friends.

I snapped this shot in the museum.

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A week of Spanish

When an editor e-mailed me waaaaay back in February about VaughanTown, and I applied and was accepted to a program, I never, ever imagined how greatly it would change the course of my life (and by life, I mean this great ol’ adventure I am on).

But, it sure did. In a beautiful and amazing and wonderful way.

First, it was Anthony. Then, it was Silvia and Emma. And then it was an entire group of fabulous people from Merida. Before the second VaughanTown, I had no intention of going back to Madrid. And Merida? I never had heard of Merida, let alone could point to it on a map.

But, VaughanTown changed everything.

And now, six weeks after the “see you soons” uttered into ears, I was headed to Merida, located in the Extremadura region of Spain (don’t worry … by the time you are done with my adventures, you will be an expert in all things Extremadura, promise) to spend some time with Jose, Alfonso, Maria, Jesus, Macarena and others.

I had no plans as to how long I would stay. I figured a few nights. But, as soon as I got to Maria’s that Sunday and we spoke of visiting Cacares later in the week, the few nights turned into much longer.

By day, when everyone I knew was working, I would wander into the city center, crossing the longest Roman bridge in Europe (it measures in at nearly one kilometer) and meet my friends for coffee or lunch. Or, I would sit at Jose’s and write. One day I even borrowed Jesus’s adorable pup, Lucky (“Puppito” as I call him) and explored the islands on Rio Guadiana.

But, by night … I became a part of something so magical. I became a part of my friends worlds.

Jose and I spent the most time together. The four nights I stayed with him, we would sit outside until the early morning (by my American standards, not Spanish) and talk of life, our families, our relationships, moments that defined who we are today while sipping on Tinto de Verano … or whiskey… or beer.

Other nights, I spent with Maria, hitting up delicious traditional restaurants showcasing the region’s amazing gastronomy and talking about love and life.

All the while, slowly working on my Spanish.

The week in Merida went by way too quickly. I explored a little, wrote a lot and got to solidify friendships with people who, two months ago, never existed in my world.

So, a very special thank you goes to these people: Jose, Maria, Jesus and Alfonso. Thank you for making me a part of your lives for the week. I will NEVER forget it. I am so fortunate to call you my friends.

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Motor bikes in Merida

I’m not the bravest girl in the world.

YES, I am traveling alone, and YES, that is brave. But, I am not brave.

For instance, I will NEVER jump out of an airplane. OK. Maybe not NEVER, but not any time soon.

I will NEVER bungee jump. NEVER.

And, up until the billiard hall’s grand opening party (Alfonso’s dad owns it), I never, ever imagined I would ever ride on a two-wheel motorized vehicle.

That’s how un-brave I am.

It’s a good thing I am flexible.

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Back back back to Extremadura

Nearly six weeks after my initial trip into Extremadura, I was at it again. This time, the bus was replaced by a nice four-door sedan, and the 20 Anglos were replaced by two Spaniards — Marcos and Jesus, a friend of mine from the Monfrague VaughanTown program.

Just like the first time on the bus, I sat with my eyes wide, staring out the window, marveling at the beauty of Spain’s countryside. This time was even more magnificent.

Snow still clung to the mountain peaks, and the fields below were still a vibrant green with yellow flowers blankets the ground. And then, there were more colors. Purple! Red! White! All competing with the yellow, blending into one of the most picturesque sights against the cork and olive trees I have ever seen.

“This … it is just so … amazing,” I explained to Marcos and Jesus, searching for the right words to convey the beauty I was witnessing.

“Si,” they said.

It went on for hours … this gorgeous countryside. Every now and then, we would pass ruins of old castles or palaces, little cities on hills, fields of horses and cows and bulls. Each minute, my heart wrapped itself more and more firmly around the country.

I have to live here.

Jesus and I had been working for a month on finding a job for me. I had even redone my entire CV and written a cover letter on how I wanted to work and live in Spain. And Jesus, bless him, had translated it all into Spanish for me. Up until that Sunday afternoon (the day of the Formula One race in Monaco (Alonso placed sixth), the tennis match with Federer and the Barcelona v Madrid futbol game), we had no luck, but my fingers were crossed.

And now, we were headed to Merida, where I would have a Monfrague reunion of sorts — seeing most of the people who played such an important role in my life during that one week … Jesus, Maria Antonio, Jose, Macarena and  Alfonso.

“We are home,” Jesus announced as the car pulled up in front of a white apartment building. The two men, being the polite and wonderful men they are, hauled my bags and buzzed Maria to let us in.

“Hi!” I squealed when Maria, head full of curls, greeted us at the door to her flat. We hugged, and walked into her beautiful home, leaving Jesus and Marcos to continue their day.

That was just the start of the impromptu (and awesome) Monfrague reunion in Merida.

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