We’re winding down—only four days to go on this Grand Tour of Spain—and it’s getting harder to get excited about venturing out. While I love my Roman ruins, Moorish fortresses, and medieval walled cities, how many can you continue to experience with enthusiasm after three months? We had exhausted Mérida’s offerings the day before and didn’t like the thought of staying in the apartment all day, so we went ahead with my plan to visit the ancient city of Cáceres.
These walled cities, perched high on a hill overlooking what was once their domain, are always exciting on the approach. As the car enters the Casco Viejo (Old City), the roads become increasingly steeper and narrower, the massive stone buildings grow a bit closer together, and the parking spaces are fewer and farther between. There have been many old city streets that we have declared too narrow to be navigable only to see someone’s car parked outside their home farther up the hill. How do they get them up there? Nerves of steel.
We tried driving to the top—car in first gear, mirrors tucked in tightly, breath sucked in, and ears tuned for that dreaded scrape of metal on stone that miraculously never comes. There comes a point where we wonder if we could actually wedge the car into a space so snugly that we wouldn’t be able to get out. That’s when we lose our nerve and look for a road—any road—heading back down the hill.
Safely at the bottom, we found a parking garage in the more modern and open part of the city and set off on foot to climb the hill. We arrived out of breath in the heart of the Old City and made our way toward the Plaza Mayor. As we walked, booths popped up here and there on either side of the narrow alleyways. By the time we reached the plaza, we were in the middle of a full-blown souk, or zoco as they call them in Spain—a Middle-Eastern market. Vendors, dressed in historic garb, were selling all manner of artisanal crafts. Unbeknownst to us, this was the first day of the Mercado de los Tres Culturos, the Market of the Three Cultures—Muslim, Jewish, and Christian. Spain is very proud of their four centuries of prosperity under Muslim rule when all three cultures coexisted peacefully, and well they should be. We could use a little more of that in today’s world.
We had so much fun shopping: saffron and smoked paprika, olive oil soaps, meats and cheeses—all handmade in Extremadura. The food booths were extraordinary—whole roasting pigs and paella pans full of rice and vegetables, local wines and even craft beer. What an absolutely lovely day we had—the kind that makes you glad you ventured out!