“Sometimes the Spaniard will resent your attempts to use it (Spanish). Sometimes he believes it to physically impossible for an alien to understand it. Sometimes he cannot actually convince himself that you are speaking it…” Jan Morris – ‘Spain’
Mérida is the capital city of the Autonomous region of Extremadura and is set in the heart of the Province of Badajoz. One of the most important Roman capital cities at the height of Roman occupation of Spain, the city today has one of the best preserved collections of Roman monuments anywhere in Europe.
This is why we were here of course but right now all we wanted was a table in the early evening sunshine, a drink and a plate of olives so after we had approved the room we left immediately to the Plaza Mayor right outside the front door.
The Plaza was vibrant and busy with families enjoying the weather (it had rained the day before, the receptionist told us), young boys playing football and girls pat–a-cake and skipping. In the centre was an extravagant fountain and it was surrounded by arcades, shopping streets leaking away into shadows and tall colourful buildings decorated with palms and exotic plants. At each corner was a covered café so we choose one in the sun, next to some boys playing football and using palm trees for goalposts and sat and enjoyed the atmosphere.
What was noticeable was how well behaved the children were, how well dressed everyone was and how this seemed like one giant drawing room where an extended family was meeting up at the end of the day and having a sociable hour or two together.
As the afternoon turned to early evening we remembered that we needed some supplies for the room because being a five star hotel there was no way we were going anywhere near the mini-bar. There were no shops around the square so we finished our drinks and joined the crowds of people walking through the main shopping street of the city. There were all kinds of shops but no mini-markets and we walked over a kilometre through the pedestrianised centre until we came to a busy main road, the Avenida de Extremadura, where we were certain there would be a shop because we had seen people with carrier bags, but being unsure which we to turn, left or right, it was time to ask directions.
There was a man on the pavement just watching the world go by and minding his own business so I asked him a straightforward one word question, “¿Supermercardo?” He took a step backwards as though he thought I might have an infectious disease and his face went curiously blank and I think that sudden shock came over him that happens to us all when someone speaks to us in a foreign language when we are not expecting it, or applies an unfamiliar accent to our own, and he was completely thrown off balance. He looked around for help but there was none so he shrugged his shoulders and rattled off some words in Spanish at top speed which I took to mean that he wasn’t sure, he was uncomfortable being accosted by foreigners and that we should leave him alone.
We decided to walk on and within twenty metres we were outside a huge ‘Discount Supermercardo’ and I don’t think I could have been so unintelligible that he couldn’t have understood that this was exactly what we were looking for.
The beer and wine was very reasonably priced although we had to buy a corkscrew again which bumped the bill up but it was all still quite cheap so having paid for our purchases and given a beggar, who was hanging around the door, €1,we made our way back to the Mérida Palace for a freshen up and a rest before going out again for evening meal.
The hotel was fine and there was no argument with its five star status but to be honest we were no more thrilled with it than last night’s one star Hostel El Cerro with its delightful room and beautiful view.
It was getting late by the time we had finished off a bottle of Rioja and were ready to go out so being unfamiliar with the city we didn’t walk too far and found a restaurant close by that seemed just about right. Actually it turned out not to be very thrilling and there was an elderly English couple in there complaining about the food and the service and although I wouldn’t have gone back it really wasn’t that bad and I enjoyed a Extremadura lamb stew and Kim a beef steak. We declared it delicious, there were no complaints from us!