So first, what we now call campfall – the arrival on a new site and new pitch. The journey was easy – a mere 200 k – and the weather had improved steadily as we dropped off the alta plana. But you have to go up in Spain to go down – in this case up to 1200 metres amid much adjacent snow. Now down to 380 metres.
But Camping Caceres is a bit of a shock really. It is clearly a 'municipal' meaning it was the council run site and is now – probably - an arm's length private business (that Thatcher – her recipes went everywhere!). It contains 80 pitches in uniform rows of ten either side of four roadways (and you asked why I thought it was municipal!). Each pitch, which is a generous 9 metres on a side has its own small building – a bungalow. Each contains a wet room shower, loo and wash basin with a gas powered water heater an outside veg prep cold water basin. Brilliant really and all for 16 euros a night – less even since there is a “get four; buy three” offer!
The set up saves us gas and water and makes it easy to use the site loos instead of our own. But we would hate to be here in summer when it would look more like a caravan sales area than a camp site. And it is not big enough since they have added three rows of 10 more similar pitches at the top of the site. There is also a bar and restaurant – open all the time; menu del dia 15euros along with all the other usual stuff.
But we wanted to see ancient Caceres and so drove confidently into the city expecting to get signs to the Centro Historico or similar. An hour later we gave up and tried our sat nav. It worked fine right up to the moment she said turn right and the signs said no right turn; no entry! But we knew then where we were and were, at that point, close. Problem was the road went for a kilometre in the wrong direction and with NO turnings.
All we wanted was the Plaza Mayor but the sat nav resolutely said No Matches Found (sic) for that! So we resorted to RAPW's technique: spot one vaguely promising indicator and drive to it. We ended up in Parking Don Miguel. We exited the car park and found no signs to anything. After a few aggravated minutes we plunged up Calle San Domingo and in 150 metres felt utterly lost until a Spanish gent said “Plaza mayor?” we said Gracias with a lot of the AS bit and he said in Spanish but we got it: “50 metres, turn right, straight on”. And he was correcto! Muchas gracias!
To a degree some explanation for our difficulty now revealed itself. The magnificent Plaza mayor was outside the city walls; that is outside the old city. Odd but surprising for one flank of the long rectangular square was composed of the old city walls, towers and grand palacios. The other three were flanked by a fabulous array of white four storey 18th and 19th century buildings of grace and quality. The result is quite lovely.
After cafe cortado at a splendid cafe bar we crossed the square to the wide and graceful steps which led up to the main entrance; impassable to motor traffic. And that explained more of the difficult access – they simply do not want nor cannot get tourist traffic into the old city. But it is still inexplicable that they provide almost no guidance as to what or how we should reach I, even on foot! For reach it you must if you can.
Inside the full enclosing walls and towers are what is missing at Aviles -the palacios and churches and other edifices that would have graced such a medieval city. They are all linked by splendid cobbled street which are almost empty of wheeled traffic. What is around is of the approved variety – fire vehicles, police, some delivery vans and a very few cars, mostly it seemed associated with the many municipal museums, galleries and other offices that fill the space. There are a few, a very few, cafes and little else that is commercial. Thus and unlike Carcassone for example this is a place of refinement and tranquillity. Close to the inner walls are some less buildings and a little activity but for the most part the impressions is of a splendidly preserved museum, looking right but lacking the smell, mess and chaos that would have characterised its actual days.
The buildings are superb,some from the early 15th century, many of the 16th and 17th. All are in the same soft apricot sandstone that characterised Salamanca but here the inclusion of mica are greater, resulting in a white shine, more silver than gold.
And yet, just a few yards from this city of the past is a city of this day which is so busy, so chaotic and so poorly traffic managed that driving it is, unlike Salamanca a total nightmare. We shall return but it may be on Sunday for in this country Sunday is still, well Sunday and hooray for that.
We did return and we walked the rest of the walls round the poorer quarters – notably the Jewish Sector! But if the houses were meaner and the doors lower they still sported impressive stonework! We end back among the palacios and Janet stopped me spending 26 Euros on a Spanish plate – now that is a first.
Part six – to Merida, 2000 years passed in a dream
For the fourth successive day there is not a cloud in the sky. The sun beats down but the wind whips the temperature down. Out of it a comfortable 15-16 can be had; in nit its is more like 6-7. But it is Sunday, November 24 and today we head for Merida, exchanging medieval and baroque for Roman antiquities. And we are not disappointed.
This is not Rome or Pompeii of course but when the Romans chose this site for their major city in the Iberian peninsular they built pretty impressively. And amazingly a vast amount remains and, to the benefit of the city, it is all fairly close together. For a change I missed the best parking spot and with Janet driving there ensued a battle between me, the city traffic managers and Dot. Janet won and we re-found the spot at which I said “No, we can get closer than this”.
Wrong – the splendid remains of the amphitheatre and the even more impressive four storey high teatro were right alongside us. At first entry to the park it seemed impossible that so much remained but the reality was that the ground level had risen in 2,000 years by about 30 feet. Once that was dug out in 1915 all was revealed. The ring is a pretty large one, with about six metres of wall still standing and plenty of seating.T he arena is also more complete than many since it shows the sunken area over which the boarded fighting area was placed. Grimly this must have allowed the blood to drain away freely.
Mostly this arena was used for gladiatorial contests in which the carefully armed and trained combatants were matched to achieve maximum excitement and test of skill with in fact minimal injury. Fighters won 15-20 times for winning as a centurion in the legion did in a year. And survive five years and they won their freedom.
But if this macho arena of potential brutality tells us one thing about Roman society the teatro next door, right next door, tells an entirely other story. Although to be fair we learned to some surprise that most of the plays were performed in Greek for which the audience had zero ability. Horace reports it mattered little since the din made the words inaudible.
Neither of these remains is much compared with Rome or Pompeii for example but in our (humble) experience Spain has not been kind to its ancient past – major Roman remains and Visigoth are few and while there is much that is Moorish a lot is interwoven with later and mostly Catholic additions. But one exception are aqueducts and in Merida, about half a kilometre from the teatro is a superb stretch of aqueduct arching out over a river valley for at least a kilometre and up to about 15 or even 20 metres high. And across the road is a more impressive Circus than even Rome can offer, where little but grass can be seen. Here there are stone bankings, some pavement and much foundation work for the grandstands and ancillary stuff. Sadly we missed the boat slightly – best place to see it is from a raised platform above the visitor centre. It closed while we parked the car and had lunch! Being Sunday it was not due to re-open that day.
So after a super day we headed back to the van to begin a slow pack ready for the run to Cadiz on Tuesday. And the sun shines on.