July 1, 2010 - Posted by Erin in Food and wine, Traditions, Travel, Travels in Spain

I like lots of different kinds of fruit, but I don’t like cherries. There’s something about the texture and ragged little pit that just doesn’t work for me. So when I was told the region we would be visiting last weekend for a wedding was known for its cherries, my reaction was that it mattered a cucumber to me (a Spanish expression meaning that you are indifferent – apparently they don’t care much for cucumbers). Well, ok, I was of course enthusiastic as I always love road tripping around Spain, but the cherry part didn’t get my mouth watering.

So it was off to the community of Extremadura where we first headed to the Monasterio de Yuste, where King Carlos V spent his dying days. Most interesting to me about the small, humble monastery/palace was Carlos’s bedroom located just to the right of the church altar. It is there that he had a window to the altar so that he could be as close to God as possible during his final days when he could not make it out of bed.

Following our tour of the monastery, we took our chances and headed in the opposite direction of home (the hotel) to find ourselves a pueblo (read: we wanted to fill our stomachs with some local cuisine). Sure enough, nestled in a little valley, we came upon Garganta la Olla (translated as throaght pan….I don’t even know what I could possibly conclude from this). Arriving in the town it was obvious that its cherries took center stage. Apparently this whole region within Extremadura is known for its amazing cherries – the region is called “La Vera” and many of the cities within its limits are named something “de la Vera.” The streets were speckled with discarded cherries and pits as if the evening before there were some sort of big cherry party, when, in reality, every day during this time of year is a cherry party. Each shop proudly displayed its freshly picked cherries, and cherry picking trucks dominated the narrow streets. In one shop they were sampling their juicy little gems – I hesitated, but given my grumbling tummy, I succumbed and tried one. Perhaps I never gave cherries a fair shake, but let’s just say that the two us now have a beautiful relationship. Since then I’ve been woofing down cherries and contemplating all the magical things I could make with them in the hypothetical world in which I love to cook. So far, I’ve just added them to my morning oatmeal, which I’d like to pretend is very, very creative and culinary of me.

That evening we made our way out to Plasencia for the wedding, which was held in the city’s grand cathedral. After the ceremony, and after finishing my workout for the day (standing, sitting, and standing and sitting some more through the whole Catholic ceremony), we headed to the ranch where the outdoor reception would be held. During the whole 20-minute-plus drive, ominous clouds were hovering overhead. We knew what this meant given the warm June evening in Spain – heavy wind, followed by lightening, thunder and torrential downpours, and then about 30 minutes later the skies would clear and all would be right in the world again. So would it rain, or would the weather gods give us a reprieve considering that there was ZERO back up plan for the outdoor dinner and reception? It didn’t look like we would be so lucky. We arrived as the wind continued to howl, passing the cocktail hour with signs falling over, the towering flower arrangements being removed from the tables and all of the wine glasses turned on their sides so that they would not be swept away. The storm was imminent and seemed to be waiting right until we were seated to unleash its furry.

We sat for dinner while the wind swirled around us and yet still not a drop of water had fallen. As the sky darkened and we took in the view of the expansive valley below, we could see that rain was pouring in just about every direction, with strikes of lightening bursting across the valley. For me, the rain wouldn’t be such a big deal – after all, I didn’t bother going to the hairdresser to get a fancy hairdo like many of the Spaniards (for some reason I always seem to feel severely under-made-up for these occasions – you know, no long Oscar-like dress, nor any glamorous headpiece). The lightening on the other hand has always troubled me – with these darn metal rods in my back I’m somehow convinced that I’m a human lightening rod just waiting to be struck! I watched the valley wearily, ready to take cover at the strike of any nearby lightening.

Before we could even be served our first course, however, the wind suddenly died down, signaling that the storm had somehow passed and completely missed the ranch! With that the party really began. In my effort to detox prior to my own wedding (and by detox I mean not eat like a cow nor drink like a fish), I spent the evening drunk on caffeine until 3:30am when my feet finally told me it was time to call it a night. Apparently shortly after our departure, many of the guests, including the bride and groom, ended up in the pool (which reminds me – thank goodness there will be no pool at my wedding).

The following day we took the scenic route home, passing through all the “de la Veras” and finally stopping in one little pueblo called Oropesa where we visited the Parador (a famous line of hotels in Spain that are typically located in historic buildings) and did a little grandpa site-seeing (one of my favorite pass times given my fascination with pueblo culture and particularly the sweet little grandpas). The best part of the drive was the massive box of fresh cherries in the back seat which sustained us during the two-hour trip home.

This whole experience reminds me that there are just THREE weeks left until my big day! And I am nerviosísima! Following the big event, La Tortuga will be heading to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand for three weeks, so expect a change of reading scenery soon!

June 17, 2008 - Posted by Erin in Travels in Spain

I’d been north, east and south of Madrid, but had never traveled west, so this last weekend we headed to the province of Extremadura. The first highlight of the trip was the amazing weather – almost too warm at times. It was so warm that we were even able to lay out at the pool for awhile!

Our trip started in the small historic town of Trujillo. It was there that we stayed both Friday and Saturday night in the Parador of Trujillo. The Paradores in Spain are a chain of hotels that usually occupy old historic buildings. Trujillo’s Parador is in an old monastery with tranquil courtyards, fountains and even a chapel turned into a restaurant. Trujillo is a typical Spanish town with small narrow streets that are rocky and cobbled. The city is sprinkled with many small churches and then a castle at the top of the hill that looks out upon the valleys all around it. Both nights we had dinner on terrazas (patios) in Plaza Mayor, the main square. The weather each evening was so perfect and the Plaza so vibrant that we couldn’t have asked for anything more.

On Saturday, after walking through Trujillo and visiting the castle, we made the small drive to the town of Mérida. While Mérida the main city isn’t anything to write home about, it’s Roman ruins are. The city’s Roman ruins reminded me very much of my recent trip to Rome, but of course on a my smaller scale. Mérida’s ruins include a coliseum, an amphitheatre, an aqueduct, bridges, and more. It’s amazing to see the far reaching influence of the Romans all over Spain and Europe thousands of years later.

Sunday brought the most impressive part of the trip – Cáceres. Cáceres is another city in the province with an absolutely charming historic town. Jacob had not yet been in the historic town so he and I were both blown away. The city’s small winding streets are constructed out of an almost radiant color of orange rock, and the buildings seemed to be made of a variety of colorful types of rocks. It gave the city a certain glow that I haven’t seen in the other ancient Spanish towns. That coupled with the blooming bougainvillea and ivy crawling on many of the street walls was enough to make me fall in love with the little town! Definitely a “must see” place here in Spain.

As if we hadn’t packed enough into our small weekend, we decided to drive through a national wildlife preserve on our way home. The park is known for a certain area where you are able to watch the many vultures hovering over the valley. We drove there and discovered that we could hike up to the top of a mountain where there was a small 11th century castle/tower (of Arabic origin). Once reaching the top we were actually able to climb inside the castle and stand on top of it, at which point we had a 360 degree view of the entire landscape around us, including the Tajo River as well as the many gliding vultures. It was quite a sight.

Now I am back in Madrid, with the clouds teasing me with rain again. The forecast indeed says that it may rain today. I guess I can’t complain after such a fantastic weekend though! By the way, has anyone heard about the crazy gas strikes by the truck drivers here? If so, the footage they’ve been showing on TV in the States has been of the freeway right here where I live! I even saw the building of my English school company in the background on the Today Show (which I download daily)! Such a small world!