Going to Extremes
random trip report
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After 30 minutes of standing in the cold, it's still not there. I go back in the airport and try to get money for a taxi from the ATM, but it's broken. I call the hotel again, trying to convey the gravity of the situation. Finally the shuttle comes.
The High Tech has four stars, perhaps because it has glass-walled bathrooms and a very expensive restaurant. The basic amenities aren't that great - the bed is hard and the walls are so thin that a snorer in the next room wakes me up for good at 3:30 AM.
The drive to Merida is pleasant but unspectacular. The scenery is an arid rolling plain with some mountains in the distance.
I spend a lot of time trying to find something acceptable on the radio. The commercial stations are the same pap/crap as everywhere. Fortunately I locate Radio Nacional Espana, which has both an excellent classical station and a world/new music station.
As I near Merida the plains are dominated by large trees that turn out to be oak; pigs eat their acorns, producing a local ham with a special flavor.
I get to Merida and locate the Tryp Medea hotel at 1:45. Paco and Daniel (his PhD student) are waiting there. We have lunch at a place that specializes in big piles of grilled meat.
We drive to Alanges, a group of steep rocky hills near the head of a gigantic reservoir. There is rock climbing here, but we don't see any climbers. We drive around to the far side of the hill, where there's a small village (Alanges) and a path leading up to some medieval castle ruins on the hilltop. Of course I go off the trail and clamber up some rocks, and Paco and Daniel follow for a little but then decide I'm crazy and return to the trail.
We drive through Alanges to a 5-star hotel (Aqualanges) next to some ancient Roman baths. The place is pretty much deserted, but Paco finds an attendant who's happy to give us a tour of the baths. The main attraction is a pair of pools in large (30') underground domes, with small windows at the top. These are original - 2,000+ years old, and still operational. The domes are incredibly reverberant.
We've come in two cars, so that Paco can continue to the village (Alemandralejo) where he lives. I drop off Daniel back in town, then park near the river and walk around the old part of the city, enjoying a beautiful dusk.
I like Merida - it's a bustling, working-class Spanish city, with a lot of character and tradition.
I return to the hotel. Restaurants don't open until 9:30 or 10:00, so the only dinner option is a nearby MacDonalds (ugh).
At the top of a hill near the center of town there are side-by-side Colliseum and Amphitheater, both very large and fairly well preserved. The Amphitheater is still used for various types of performances.
We walk through town to a nice restaurant featuring Extremena cuisine. I'm still full from breakfast, so I have a bowl of soup, which turns out to be Extremely large.
We visit the Roman archaeological museum, which is huge and impressive. It's built like a cathedral, and features a variety of statuary, mosaics, pillars, friezes, and coins. Underneath is a dimly-lit crypt; it's built above a graveyard. Daniel is quite an expert, and provides excellent commentary.
At 6:30 PM I return to the University and give a talk for a group of about 50 students. Then Paco, Daniel and I have dinner at an extremely nice restaurant in town.
I drive back to Madrid. Even with the GPS I have considerable trouble finding a gas station and the airport. The young man at the Avis kiosk is wonderfully nice, but then I have two unpleasant experiences. First, I go to a cafeteria and have to wait for about 10 minutes at an empty counter for someone to serve me. The meal is bad, and as I eat I feel nausea creeping in.
Then, not wanting another 45-minute wait, I get a taxi to the hotel. At least, I try to; the driver tells me this is the wrong place to get a taxi to the hotel; I need to go to the upper level. I do that, but there are no taxis there. He was trying to get rid of me because the ride to the hotel is very short, not enough profit for him. What a jerk!
So I call the hotel, and this time the bus comes fairly quickly. I settle into my room and realize that my nausea is not just from the food - I've succumbed to the stomach virus from Noah and Erica. I spend the night on the verge of vomiting, and in the morning I barely have the strength to lift my backpack and shuffle downstairs. On the plane, I locate an air-sickness bag and hope for the best. But I relax, breathe deeply, close my eyes, and everything is OK. I manage to rest a bit and by the time I reach Frankfurt the worst is past, and the long flight back to SFO is bearable.