Monthly Archives: December 2011

Spanish Lavender

As the warm light began to creep over the landscape, it played across the undulating contours of the hills. Large, sculptural groups of rocks  scattered across each hill, while under foot the stony surface lay just beneath the lush grasses. Shades of gold, bronze, pink, bluish-green, gray, violet and deep green graced the tall, thick undergrowth. Gently swaying clumps of Spanish lavender scented the crisp morning air as a soft breeze swept across the land.

“Spanish Lavender” is a 12″ X 16″ original oil painting on canvas.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Merida to Aljucen

We left  Merida before the sun rose in order to arrive at our destination before it became too hot. Once we were past the Roman Reservoir, we traversed rolling hills of deep multi-colored grasses sprinkled with rich dark violet Spanish lavender and yellow broom.    The oak trees grew among huge sculpted groups of rocks.

Deep blue streams snaked through the rocky outcroppings, reflecting the changing colors of the sky. The air was cool and many Pilgrims were walking early. It was an enchanting, colorful walk with cool temperatures and good company. We are trekking along with Alan and Judy, so full of life and good cheer.

We walked into the tiny town of Aljucen at 11:30 to find the Albergue in chaos. It was under construction, and every bit of furniture was stacked outside. There were men with ladders building walls and painting. Everything was covered in dust and draped with plastico. Undaunted, we threw our packs and sleeping bags on some bunks, showered, and hung out our laundry to be permeated with plaster dust. The young woman who runs the Albergue, Ana, is very friendly. She has great dramatic body language because she speaks no English. With a smile on her face, she cleaned and put all of the furniture back in place . She was tireless, and did not stop working until 8:00 PM, when she was satisfied that her Albergue was once again a home.

This will be such a cute Albergue when it is finished. The walls outside are bright orange-yellow with nicely detailed trim painted in dark blue. The walls inside of the main room are a bright green and there is a purple couch. The kitchen will be cobalt blue. There is a little terrace out front with a view of the valley, and a patio in back. But most of all it is the welcoming spirit of Ana that makes this a special place.

We spent several hours at the spa, then lounged on the patio of the local bar.  We laughed as we ate and visited in the sunshine. I so enjoyed the easy camaraderie as people from Holland, Germany, Paraguay, England, Australia, Norway, America, Canada, and other far-flung places around the globe, came and went from our table. Today was just about as perfect a day as one could ask for on the Camino.

Distance from   Merida to Aljucen=10.5  Miles / 17 Kilometers

Actual Distance Walked= 12.3 Miles / 20 Kilometers

Accommodations= Municipal Albergue, 10 Euro per person per night. 18 places. Kitchen, common area. Small friendly town.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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Early Morinings and Aqueducts

We slept until 7:30 on this lay-over day in Merida, then were off like a shot in the cool morning sunshine. We happened into the local market where we bought dates, bananas, nuts, bread, and other scrupulous treats. The local markets are an adventure in color, texture, the scent of fresh food, and the fun of trying to make yourself understood. The prices are very reasonable and the shopkeepers are always helpful.

Right next to the market we found the Casa Benito, a bar founded 150 years ago. It was filled with bullfighting memorabilia and photographs. There was a bronze bull on the bar and a real bull head on the wall. A little girl about 5 years old was pulled up to the bar drinking her cola-cao (hot chocolate), business men in suits, and us! Typical of bars across Spain, this served as the social center of the hour with people of all ages congregating over a meal and drinks. They served a great breakfast and rich cafe-con-leche, completing  a wonderful slice of an early Spanish morning.

We trekked up to the Casa de Amphiteatro ruins and found it “Cerrado”, or closed. Fueled by caffeine, we decided it could be centuries before they opened. We formed a plan to sneak in the back gate where people were working. The “estudentes archiological” yelled at us and ran us off, foiling our brilliant plan. Those ruins will have to go unexplored. Undeterred, we crossed under a railroad track and a freeway and came face to face with an amazing sight.

Standing in a field, now surrounded by modern roads and apartments, stood one of several aqueducts that were part of a water system that supplied Merida’s commercial and residential needs in Roman times. Five kilometers (3 miles) out-of-town they built a granite block dam 425 meters long and 21 meters thick to trap rain water and the flow from several streams. The Embalse de Prosperpina was the largest reservoir in the Rome’s Mediterranean Empire. The water from the reservoir was channeled through a series of underground , barrel-vaulted tunnels, complete with valve systems to direct and control the flow. When the water reached the point that it needed to span the valley, a series of elaborate, multi-arched aqueducts were constructed to deliver water to the various parts of the city. The aqueducts had to be built at a perfect, gentle angle to control the water flow until it reached the city. If the slope of the water channel was too steep the water would spill out, and if it was too gradual gravity would not pull the water in a steady flow toward its destination. When the water reached the city it went through a settling and purification process before being placed in holding tanks until  needed by the citizens of Merida. Construction on these aqueducts was begun in the First Century BC, and some were not completed until the Third Century AD. They spanned over 1 kilometer (.6 mile) in length and the vaults rose to a height of 75 feet.

We walked out of Merida the following morning before daybreak because the day was predicted to be nearly 100* F. We were wearing our headlights and stumbling along in the dark. Just as the sun rose, I found myself standing on top of the Dam at the Embalse de Popsperpina! It was quite astonishing to stand atop a wall built by the Romans and watch the sun turn the sky from a deep violet to orange, to a warm yellow at the horizon. What an amazing way to say goodbye to the Roman city of Merida and walk into a new day dawning bright and warm.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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It’s a date!

As we were having a lunch of paella in a sunny sidewalk cafe, Julio spotted us lounging under our umbrella. He asked us to join him in the Plaza at 7:00. That evening we met and had a pleasant cold drink. Sadly, I have switched from wine to juice, trying Judy’s theory that alcohol makes us retain water. My feet are very swollen, so I will try the juice, but I do not like it! We continued struggling along in basic Spanish with Julio, and playing pictionary on our napkins to fill in the gaps. After an hour we excused ourselves to go shopping and said goodbye to Julio.

Judy was seeking sweets, and  all sorts of cute clothes and trinkets which she knew she could not carry, and I needed a straw hat for sun protection. Soon Julio found us and singled me out just as I was purchasing my sombrero. It was clear he wanted me to meet him alone for dinner. I had a date! When I told Judy why I had to disappear, she said, “Crikey! What does a man SAY? Especially when he can’t speak your language?” It was actually quite simple: there was much pointing in a “you/me” fashion followed by meaningful eye contact. Soft whispering “Solo. Plaza de Espana. Nueve. Comida.Bebidas.” This roughly means, “Alone in the plaza at 9:00. Food. Drinks.” This was sealed by a squeeze on the arm, a wink, and more soulful eye contact.

I think many romances happen on the Camino. This is a prefect situation for many people. I am sure it can be fun and  interesting,  perhaps even resulting in a longer term relationship. Who am I to judge what others do, or what is right for them? I only know that for myself, this is not the right path. It would be a bad way to treat my best friend and husband who trusts me. Besides, I like to avoid feeling guilty!

Judy was certain she would have to lurk around the corner and rescue me if it went wrong. I promptly assured her that I do not put myself or my friends in that position. It probably would have been fine, but why put yourself in a  situation that could easily go bad? We fantasized that Julio regarded us  Goddesses, and it was flattering and fun to be propositioned. But seriously, this is a Pilgrimage! Aren’t we supposed to be downloading sins, not accumulating more? We better get out of town before the pagan influences take over completely.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

Museo Romano

Merida has a fabulous museum right in the heart of town. It incorporates a basement area that preserves the in-situ city ruins intact and a road under the building. The main part of the building is comprised of huge brick arches soaring to 75 feet, reminiscent of the original Roman building techniques and materials. The arches are the same height as the ones that they mirror on the Milagros Aqueduct that brought water to the city.

The original sculptures and huge colorful mosaics adorn the walls. There is an extensive collection of glass, coins, household utensils and pottery, and numerous other artifacts portraying a wonderful glimpse of the times. What a rich life they lived, filled with art, theater, running water, a varied diet, painted houses, beautiful jewelry, fine clothing and shoes, and a stable political system.


If you are enjoying this journey along the Via de la Plata and would like to see my artwork, please visit my website at

Merida’s Pagan Past

Although the city is layered in a rich and varied history, it is the Roman influence which is most evident today. The city of Merida preserves more important ancient Roman monuments than any other city in Spain. Wandering through the meandering streets, we came upon the lovely Temple dedicated to Diana. It sits in what was once the forum, or main public area of the  ancient city. The Temple of Diana was built with local granite and still possesses a regal beauty. Around each corner we saw mosaics, triumphal arches, cemeteries, and houses from the Romans.

Standing directly beside the theater is the Amphitheater, which was more popular with the common people. It was inaugurated in 8 BC, used for Gladiator contests, fights between wild animals, and between men and beasts. The grandstands held approximately 15,000 spectators, with  stairs and hallways that connected the different parts. There was a pit in the center,  covered with wood and sand, used to house animals that later would face the gladiators. There were circuses and wild times until Christianity became the official state religion. They frowned on the blood thirsty pagan spectacles and thought the theater was immoral, so both extraordinary structures were abandoned, and the party ended.

Another attraction for the common people was the huge Roman Circus . It seated 30,000 people who wanted to see the Chariot races. It was built around the time of Christ and used for 600 years. It was a race track on a grand scale: 440 meters long and 115 meters wide, ringed with stands complete with shade for the spectators. The central structure of obelisks and a long platform around which the chariots raced is still present. It is one of the best preserved circuses from the entire ancient world. There was once a building like a barn forming the far end of the circus. It was called the parade area, but I wonder if it was intended to be used like a starting gate for the chariot races. It was a long stretch of track from the structure to where the center platform designated beginning of the official track. I can just picture the chariots bursting forth and fighting for position on the rail as they headed into the first stretch. I could almost hear the roar of the crowds and smell the dust. In the museum there is a huge mosaic depicting a charioteer with 4 magnificent prancing horses in harness. It was christened “Marcianusnicha”! This must have been my former life. I have always loved horses, fast driving, and excitement.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

Merida’s Moorish Influence

After the fall of the  Roman Empire in the west, Merida maintained much of its splendor. During the Visigothic  period,  especially under the 6th century domination of the bishops,  it was the elegant, thriving capital of  Hispania.  In 713 it was conquered by the Muslim army , and remained the capital under a different culture and a new set of rulers.  The  Arabs used and expanded  the old Roman buildings. A prime example of this is the Alcabaza, the first structure of this type in Moorish Spain, begun in the year 835. It remains one  of Spain’s oldest Moorish buildings. Sitting above the Rio Guadiana, it incorporates part of the city’s defensive walls and offers a fine view of the surrounding country and the Roman Bridge. The walls are 30 feet high and 8 feet thick. Inside there is a perfectly preserved cistern, or well,  that is a type rarely seen outside of north Africa. We stepped carefully down a long passageway, descending from the hot sunshine into the cool dark depths. At the bottom was a lapis blue to turquoise pool, alive with gold-fish, pierced by shafts of natural light spilling down from the  vaulted window far above.

The city returned to the  Christians  in 1230, when it was conquered by Alfonso of Leon.  It became the seat of the priory of San Marcos de León of the Order of Santiago. A period of recovery started for Mérida in the 1400’s. In the 19th century,  many monuments of Mérida and of Extremadura were destroyed or damaged during the invasion of Napoleon’s forces.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”


Merida’s Roman Heritage

It seems that all roads in Roman Hispania led to Merida: The Via Pecuria from Sevilla in the south to Astorga in the north, the road west to Lisbon and east to Toledo and Zaragoza, and the road southeast to Cordoba all crossed right here. The city was founded in 25 BC and became the social and economic center of the province of Lusitania. Today it is a thriving town featuring a treasure trove of well-preserved Roman ruins, and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

We entered Merida over the fantastic, long, arched bridge, the Puente Romano. It crosses the Rio Guadiana with 60 perfect stone arches spanning a distance of almost 800 meters, or 2400 feet. That is nearly 8 football fields! It has been restored through the centuries, but it’s core foundation and design remains from the original Roman construction begun around 25 BC  with the founding of the city. It is the longest bridge ever built by the Romans, and remains the longest surviving bridge from ancient times. It is still used by pedestrians, and at night one can walk along the banks of the river with the lights illuminating this beautiful structure.

The Teatro Romano, or Roman Theater, has been partially restored and is still used for performances and concerts. Until excavation began in 1910, most of the theater lay hidden beneath the ground. Only the very top of the seating area was exposed. The local population referred to it as “The Seven Chairs”, because of its resemblance to giant seats. Legend said that these were the seats of the 7 Moorish Kings who deliberated the fate of the city. As the excavation progressed, refined and expressive marble statuary, mosaics of incredible beauty, stately marble pillars, an orchestra pit, a classical stage, and seating for 6000 people was unearthed. Built into a natural hillside, the structure was extended to form a perfect semi-circle. The building techniques that have lasted throughout the millenia are clearly evident. It is complete with arched passageways, marble seating, red marble stage parts forming a base for 2 tiers of blue-gray marble Corinthian columns. What must it have been like 2000 years ago to sit in the hot nights, under the stars, and watch the performances?

What did the people think and talk about as they strolled through the lavish gardens partaking of beautiful food and wine throughout the evening? What a sophisticated society reigned here, only to be lost from memory and buried from sight by the shifting earth for nearly 160 centuries. It chills me to think of the knowledge, beauty, and incredibly advanced lifestyles that can be lost, sometimes forever, with the fall of a government.

Lay Day in Merida

Actual Distance Walked= 8.99 Miles / 14.5 Kilometers

Accommodations= Hostal Senero. 16 Euro per person, per night, in a double or triple room with an en-suite bathroom.

There is a new Albergue near the river. 12 places, 5 Euro per person. We chose to stay in a hostal because we were staying 2 nights.

If you are enjoying this trek along the Via de la Plata, and the imagery, please share this blog with your friends and family. Visit my website at to see the complete collection of my artwork or purchase “The Artist’s Journey.”

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