Extremadura: No Era Extra-Especial – Extremadura: Was Not Extra Special

The final USC trip of the program was to Extremadura, a region in the west of Spain bordering Portugal. USC said they took us to Extremadura – specifically Mérida, the capital city, and Cáceres, a principle province – because it is a place where our own travels were less likely to take us. They wanted us to venture to a less-explored region of Spain…but after this weekend, I think there’s a reason it’s less-traveled.

The trip was Thursday to Sunday – one day longer than most of our USC-sponsored trips. But by Sunday, we were more than ready to be back in Madrid.

DSCN1476Thursday’s main event was a visit to El Museo del Pimentón in Cáceres. Yes, we had a guided tour of a paprika museum. After spending more time than one would think possible learning about paprika’s history, cultivation, value and use, we hopped back on our loyal bus.

You’ll soon learn that too much of this weekend was spent on the bus. This region of Spain is much less developed than, cities like Madrid, so places of interest are few and far between, requiring looooong drives DSCN1479from Point A to Point B.

Destination #2 was  El Monasterio de San Jerónimo de Yuste. It was a 15th-century monastery. The grounds, gardens and buildings were beautiful. To keep ourselves entertained, Emily and I pretended we were wedding planners and the monastery was our venue. We imagined where the ceremony and reception would take place, what kind of decorations we’d have, and where guests would wine and dine.

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Lunch was in a parador, then we finally headed to the hotel. Emily and I were roommates for this trip, so that was a nice change. After a little R&R, we joined friends for dinner in the main plaza.

The next day, we took our trusty bus to the site of an ancient Roman theatre and amphitheater in Mérida – a nearby city. After exploring the ruins, we spent (too much) time in El Museo de Arte Romano.

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It was then more time on the bus to get us back to free time in Cáceres. I spent my free time just laying low and resting. That evening we had a IMG_5825guided tour of Cáceres where we learned about the new and the old, the competing cultural influences, etc. You know, the “uzsh.”

Our tour guide did point out some premier tapas restaurants and a popular heladería. That’s where my friends and I went for dinner and dessert.

The next morning, we were where else? Back on the bus. This time it took us to the creepiest museum in the middle of nowhere. If we got lost out there, would anyone find us? After exploring the museum, my guess is no, and we might not be the first tour group to go missing… (I think I’m kidding.)

Museo Vostell en Malpartida de Cáceres featured exhibits of dilapidated cars, scrap metal and old motocicletas. The “artfully-crafted” exhibits reminded me of a haunted junk yard. For once, I wanted to be back on that bus to get the heck out of there!

Our next leg of the road trip
took us to Parque Natural Tajo Internacional. In the nature reserve, we boarded a tour boat tour of Río Tajo.The river is one of the natural borders between Spain and Portugal, and we were sailing right down the middle. It was overcast, but it’s always nice to be on the water. DSCN1499DSCN1497

Out of nature and back on the bus, we crossed the border into Portugal. Where we had lunch in Marvão.

After lunch we explored the city and climbed up to the castle. It began to rain and 13th-century stairs shouldn’t be trusted in the rain anymore, so we descended and returned to the bus for the drive back to Cáceres.

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We had the evening free so Emily, Sofia and I opted for a night in with  our American pop culture fix. Cuddled up in our bed, the three of us found a link to then-Bruce Jenner’s interview with Diane Sawyer.

The rain in Marvão the day before was nothing compared to the downpour we’d experience on our final day in Extremadura. It poured! We left the hotel and wheeled our suitcases through cobblestone streets with water rushing down the sides.

Our desire to return to Madrid was going stronger, but there was still more on our itinerary. The bus took us to a small city called Trujillo. The schedule had us visiting a church and some other sites, but Luís and Loli allowed us to opt out if we’d like. Instead of trudging through the puddles, I chose to stay in a café with some compañeros where we were warm and dry. I used the time to work on my political science research paper. It’s getting hard to believe that finals are around the rincón.

Lunch was in another parador and libations were aplenty. Not naming names, but someone in our group had too much to drink and threw up on the floor of the bus on the way home. What a way to end the weekend…

So the weekend wasn’t that bad. The hours in the bus, rain and finally vomit were not ideal, but I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’m not. I’m thankful to the program for touring me around such a diverse country and allowing me to see places I really wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I mean how many people can say they’ve been to a paprika museum? However, when all was said and done, I was happy to be back in Madrid.

That nightI met up with Aunt Karen and Aunt Cathy. That’s when we had our dinner at Quintin and FaceTime with mis abuelos as I mentioned in my earlier post.

Time is going by so quickly. I can’t wait to see what the finals weeks of my study abroad experience will bring.

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Un breve hola – A quick hello

While my aunts were in San Sebastián, my dear friend Allison was making her way through Spain. She is studying in Galway, Ireland, but was passing through Madrid and then headed to Barcelona for her birthday. She had invited me to Barcelona, but I couldn’t make it because it conflicted with my final USC trip to Extremadura (more on that trip in an upcoming post).

Knowing time was not in our favor, we were still able to get together twice in two days. We first met up at Namit Gastrobar, my favorite local joint by school. We grabbed a quick cup of coffee between my fieldtrip to the Hernan Cortés exhibition and theatre class.

The next day I had more time to spend with Allison. In between my classes I met up with her and her friend from home, Nica, a Berkeley student who was also studying in Madrid. The three of us revelled in the warmth of that April afternoon and rowed boats in Retiro! It was my first time and it was great. For about 6 euros, the three of us paddled around the lake.

As quickly as she arrived, I had to leave. Though it was probably my shortest friend visit, it was great. I love how everyone makes an effort to see friends abroad if even for just a few hours! Is that how people are at home? If I had an out-of-town friend in the LA area for such a short amount, would I work around my schedule to go see her? I sure hope my answer would be yes! And after having these experiences, I’m even  more certain I’ll do that in the future.

Mis tías – My Aunts

So soon after I received my acceptance into the USC Madrid program, my aunts Karen and Cathy and I began discussing dates for their visit. How lucky am I to have aunts who will fly across the world to see me during my semester abroad? Once the dates were set, I could hardly wait. They were to be my first family members to visit me!

They arrived to Madrid the day I returned from Morocco. I was familiar with their hotel, Hotel Wellington, as it was where they stayed when visiting Nick (and it was just next door to one of my favorite clubs). I walked by it earlier in the week just to confirm its location and its lugar could IMG_1906 (1)not have been better! It was in the heart of Salamanca and a walk less than five minutes from my apartment!

Moments after returning from Morocco, I changed clothes, brushed off any excess desert sand and pretty much ran all the way down Calle de Alcalá to one of Madrid’s nicest hotels. I zipped through the revolving door and practically flew up the stairs to the landing where they were waiting. It was so grIMG_1907 (1)eat to give each of them a giant hug! After a long and slightly teary embrace, we sat in the hotel’s lounge to charlar, catch up and plan out our first evening together.

We chose a restaurant called Alkalde for dinner. We shared wine, tapas and as many stories as we could. After a long day of traveling for all of us, we called it a night and I walked home in the warm evening air. Did I mention spring finally found its way to Madrid? Following instructions from my aunts, I texted them once I arrived back at Gloria’s.

IMG_1923 (1)The following day we made plans to meet at the Instituto and grab lunch together. Having been to my school when Nick was a student there, they knew where to go. Together we walked my route home toward Salamanca. Since it was Monday, that meant Euromania at 100 Montaditos, which meant 1 euro and 0,50 euro sandwiches! We shared a few platters of bocadillos before heading to meet Gloria.

Gloria was so excited to have visitors and my aunts’ IMG_1927Spanish impressed us all. I gave them a tour of my home, showed them my little pink room and then all of us chatted in the main room. My aunts brought some treats from La Mallorquina as a hostess gift to Gloria so we all enjoyed those. Over the past few months I’ve been gathering hints that Gloria used to be some sort of socialite. Though my suspicions were never confirmed, the stories andIMG_1931 photos she shared with us about her associations with the royal family, her homes in the mountains and by the beach, her handsome pareja, and her participation in las ferías of various cities, pretty much gave it away.

Before Gloria’s son passed away, she said she had more than 40 flamenco dresses and shawls. She got rid of most, but kept a few and she IMG_1945 (1)decided to bring them out and dress up Aunt Karen. Tía K was very patient as Gloria placed hats, shawls, earrings and flowers on her as if she were a life-size muñeca.

The following day, mis tías dropped of their maletas at my apartment because they were traveling north to San Sebastián and didn’t want to travel with all their luggage.

When they returned from the north of Spain the next weekend, we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Quintin. Following the scrumptious dinner, we returned to their hotel to FaceTime with my abuelos! My abuelo was so cute when he said “I love this magic machine,” referring to the iPad via which we were communicating. But it’s true! Technology has come so far! It was great to catch up with my Grandma and Grandpa.

IMG_1950 (1)On the night before my aunts’ departure, we enjoyed some postres at VIPs and reflected on our favorite times during their stay in Spain. The next day, I headed to their hotel one last time to say goodbye. It was hard to say adiós, but my parents, Nick and Courtney were set to arrive in a little more than one week. I am so thankful my aunts visited me in Madrid. They have always been so involved and interested in what I’m IMG_1948 (1)doing, so I was so happy to be able to share my time in Madrid with them, too. How lucky am I! I will never forget their visit.