Merida, Moors and Motorway Madness!

Monday 6th May

Caceres was shrouded in mist as we drove out of the city. By the time we arrived in Merida the mist had cleared, and the sun was just deciding whether to bother making an appearance. We had found some great on street parking, through the Park4Night app, for a quick visit to the city famous for its Roman heritage. The Lonely Planet Guide to Spain entry for Merida describes it has having Roman remains sprinkled throughout the city, and indeed they are. You stumble over them at every turn. Some are large and clearly significant while others are often overlooked, overshadowed by their showier siblings.

The Acueducto de los Milagros

We began with the Acueducto de los Milagros, a giant construction of an aqueduct still standing after 2000 years. It was visible as we approached the city and we parked almost underneath it. We walked into the town centre, picked up a map from tourist information, and headed straight for the Teatro Romano and the amphitheatre. In most cities the amphitheatre would be the main attraction, the site of gory fights to the death between gladiators, animal fights and the slaying of whoever had upset the governor of the day. However next door was the stunning Roman Theatre, partially restored to all its glory and still used today for plays and concerts. 

The Teatro Romano
Merida’s slightly crumbly amphitheatre

From here it was forward in time 800 years to the Alcazabar, the Moorish fort on the banks of the Guadiana River. When Merida was retaken by the Christian forces it eventually became a convent and then an olive grove. It is slowly being excavated, certainly not at a pace that would have pleased Tony Robinson! The keep has a cistern underneath which in the past provided the fort with a water supply, now it is a goldfish pond.

The fort commanded the entrance into the walled town by the Roman Bridge and its entrance into the walled town. Though it has had some sympathetic renovation, it is still in use after 2000 years and looks in better nick than Swarkestone Bridge does which is a mere youngster in comparison at 900 years old.

Puente Romano

On the way back to the vans we passed a small bakery in a back street selling three loaves for €1.20 and some great apple Danish pastries, which made for a great picnic in the park under the aqueduct.

By the way, if you ever visit Merida, and I strongly suggest you should, you can buy a ticket that gives you entry to all the town’s main attractions from the first site you visit for only €15.

Now, after four days, it was time to say goodbye to our good friend the A66 and head out west, on our own as we were Portugal bound.

By now the sun was cracking the pavements, but there was a cloud hovering over Portugal, a metaphorical cloud that is. Ever since our troubles with the ‘Go Box’ in Austria last year, Wendy seems to have developed a deep consternation about travelling on smart toll motorways that require some sort of prepayment or electronic box solution. She had spent days before we left the UK researching the Portuguese Easy Toll system and had identified a place on the Spain/Portugal border, where we could register our van for an automatic payment system. The problem was that we had changed our plans along the way and now were entering the country from a different direction and there was no Easy Toll facility on the A6 from Badajoz. Oh No! Jeopardy!

Fortunately, there was a back-up plan. The Portuguese Motorways website told us that we could buy a prepayment card from the services in Estremoz. Phew! That’s a relief! Estremoz, by the way is a very pretty, walled, hilltop town that is the biggest producer of marble in the world. No matter, we had no time for that sort of nonsense, we had a prepayment toll card to buy, so we sped past on the motorway and screeched to a halt at the services. Here Wendy marched up to the cash desk and asked to buy her desired €40 toll card (she had spent the journey from Merida trying to estimate the amount we were likely to use during our time in Portugal) and waved her credit card to underline her sincerity. 

“No!” came the woman behind the till’s reply. “We don’t sell them here.”

“But you do, it is on the motorways’ website!” squealed Wendy. But the woman was adamant; there were no prepayment cards to be had, not for €40 or any other value. We walked out and Wendy was disconsolate. I am sure she thought that we were not going to be allowed to leave the motorway and would have to drive around the motorways of Portugal for ever, racking up higher and higher charges as we did so. A special place in hell that even Donald Tusk wouldn’t wish on the likes of Gove and Johnson.

You will be pleased to know that we did get off the motorway, fairly easily as this was an old-style version; one where you had to collect a ticket at the beginning of your journey and hand it over at the end. The only hiccough was when Wendy’s go to debit card was refused and she had to use another.

Shaken, but not stirred we arrived at Evora, an historic town in the middle of the Alentjo region of southern Portugal. Wendy and Lesley booked us in at reception and Andy and I drove the vans round the site to find a couple of pitches close together. Andy niftily reversed into one and then got out to help me reverse into the neighbouring pitch. He jumped back into his van to drive it on to the levelling ramps, only to jump straight out again. Unbeknown to either of us, my pitch was covered in fallen mulberries. He had walked over these blackberry like fruits as he guided me back and then had trodden the sticky, black mess all over his van’s carpets as he had walked through to the driving seat! Time to move; and quick as the site was rapidly filling up. Andy found another pitch and I did to just opposite. He and Lesley whipped their mats out immediately and gave them a good scrubbing. I tried to plug our van into the electric hook-up only to find that there wasn’t a socket in reach.  So off we drove again to find the only remaining pitch that did not suffer from the curse of the mulberries and was in reach of an electric point. That pitch was under a black poplar tree that was busy shedding its fluffy white seeds over everything below it. Ah well, the lesser of two evils. At least the fluff was something new for Wendy to worry about.

I did think of naming this entry ‘Wendy Goldilocks Jones and the three pitches’, but I like a bit of alliteration in my titles.

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