Wednesday, June 25, 2014
We are back in Valencia after a six-day stay in Extremadura. We were in Cáceres for four of those days attending the Spanish National Magic Convention and after the event we spent two more days doing some sightseeing in the towns of Trujillo and Mérida. It was our first visit to this part of Spain and we were glad on many counts to have spent almost a week there.
We started our journey of Wednesday, June 18th. The easy part of the trip was the Valencia – Madrid link on the AVE. It took us less than ninety minutes to reach the Atocha Station. From there we took a cab to the Chamartín Station where we boarded the Intercity train that would take us to Cáceres. Unfortunately, when I made the reservations I did not notice that the first stop on this train was the Atocha Station. Lesson learned. The trip lasted four hours and by the time we got to the hotel it was a little after 8:00. We unpacked and then went in search of a bite to eat. We discovered a tapería across the street from the hotel and we headed there.
As we approached we spotted an old friend of ours, MagoMigue, at a table with a number of friends of his. They invited us to join them and we did. We shared a number of plates, all of which were delicious. Another old friend of ours, Ramón Ríos, joined us towards the end of the meal. It was good to catch up with old friends.
The convention started on Thursday with a couple of lectures in the morning that dealt with close-up card magic. We opted to make our way to the Palacio de Congresos where most of the other events were to take place and to pick up our credentials. We saw a number of old friends and then decided to walk to the site where the lectures were being held. A few blocks away we stopped at a bar called Al Andalus and sat down for some liquid refreshment. We discovered that this bar takes the idea of a free tapa with your drink to the extreme. Shortly after our drinks were delivered we were presented with an enormous plate filled with French fries and steak tips. Our bill came to 4 Euros. We then understood why this place was so popular with the locals and the visiting magicians.
Feeling energized and well nourished we made our way to the Complejo Cultural San Francisco where the lectures were taking place. In spite of being told that it was close by the Palacio it wasn’t and that was one of the reasons that we walked closed to 8 miles on that day. The lectures were just about over and so we decided to take a look at the historic building that had been turned into a cultural complex. The building was originally a monastery and the architecture was fascinating. It was also our first opportunity to see many of the stork nests that abound in Extremadura.
We took a cab back to the Palacio so that we could join our friends, Ramón and Carlos for lunch. We ended up at Al Andalus again and lunch was a series of free tapas and the one dish we actually ordered. After lunch we decided to head back to the hotel to rest up a bit before the evening’s gala began.
Our hotel was the Hotel Extremadura, a four star hotel that was about a fifteen minute walk away from the epicenter of magical activity. Our 75 Euro per day hotel room included a very generous breakfast buffet. The hotel itself is a bit tired and monochromatic with excessive amounts of wood paneling. That being said, the beds were comfortable, the AC worked and the shower provided copious amounts of hot water. The hotel’s personnel were all very attentive.
We left the hotel in time to walk to the Palacio for the first evening gala that began at 10:00. It featured a duo born in Spain who currently live in Belgium. Doble Mandoble has won a number of awards for comedy magic and comedy magic was indeed part of their 90-minute presentation. There were many elements of acrobatics and mime in their act. A rubber chicken had a prominent part in the show and was used as a running gag. I could have done with less chicken and more magic. After the show we had a light snack with our friends, Carmen and Antonio, and we did some magic for the staff and that was greatly appreciated.
Friday morning we decided to visit the casco antiguo of Cáceres. We made our way to the Plaza Mayor and did a bit of exploration. We had a charming lunch at an asador in the plaza and when we finished we made our way to the Palacio for the second half of the stage magic competition. As is true with most competitions the quality of magic that we saw was quite variable. We were there to see on of Valencia’s magicians, G Alexander, compete. He has a new manipulation act and, to be perfectly honest, it knocked my socks off. Unfortunately the judges did not agree with me and although he was awarded third place I think he deserved a better fate.
The gala Friday night was dedicated to close-up magic and there was a large projection screen in place so that all of us who were seated in the theater could have a close-up view of the proceedings. The magic was outstanding, but the format left something to desire. Close-up magic, as its name implies, is meant to be done close up. No matter how close the camera comes, it is the camera that is close up and not the spectator. Nonetheless, we saw some incredible card magic performed by Miguel Ajo, José Que Soy Yo, Miguel Gómez and Dani DaOrtiz. There was a show and lecture by Juan Tamariz at midnight, but to be perfectly honest, although my spirit wanted to be present my body had other thoughts. I gave into my body’s demands and went back to the hotel and went to bed.
On Saturday we made it to the Palacio in time for Jeff McBride’s lecture. Jeff has been an important part of magic for the last 30 years. I have seen him perform a number of times in a number of different venues and he always entertains his audience. He has his own club in Las Vegas called the Wunderground and he frequently invites other magicians to perform there. His lecture was quite informative and I learned a number of valuable things from his presentation.
We had a lovely lunch at Eustaquio Blanco and then made our way back to the Palacio to see a presentation by our good friend, Juan Gurrea. Juan is an award-winning magician who has appeared in every venue where magic can be presented, including the circus. He received a standing ovation from his audience and, as always, it was well deserved.
Before we knew it, it was time for the evening gala. It featured Amelie who did an acrobatic act. It seemed out of place and perhaps would have been more enjoyable had it been placed between the magic of Yunque and Jeff McBride. Yunque had just returned from a two-month tour of Chine and he is probably the magician with the highest energy level I have ever seen. He manufactures his own magic and his ideas are amazing. Jeff McBride closed the show and he killed. There was some of everything in his presentation and he received a well-deserved standing ovation from the audience.
After the gala we all enjoyed a non-stop parade of appetizers and drinks that were the preamble to the dinner. There was an abundance of jamón ibérico, chorizo, salchichón, cheeses, and foie. I think we were almost sated when we made our way upstairs for the remainder of the dinner. The Spaniards at our table were able to finish everything that was set before us. Susan and I were only able to finish half of the main course. The dinner was followed by the award ceremony and by the time that ceremony ended it was 2:30 in the morning.
We slept in Sunday morning and then made our way to the bus station for a forty-five minute ride to the town of Trujillo, the home of Francisco Pizarro. Like many small towns in Spain the Plaza Mayor is the hub of activity and that is indeed the case for Trujillo. A number of Trujillo’s children had had their first communion that Sunday and there were celebratory groups at the many restaurants the bordered the plaza. We sat down at one of the terraces and had a drink and then proceeded to board the little tourist train that took us up the hill to the castle that dominates the town. We made our way down on foot and got to appreciate several other historical features of the town.
Monday we were at the train station in time for the 12:15 train to Mérida. Mérida was where Roman legionnaires went to retire and it abounds with remains of the Roman occupation. The jewel in the crown is the Roman amphitheater that accommodated 16,000 spectators. Next to it is the theater that hosts a summer drama festival. After visiting the complex we hopped on yet another tourist train to get an idea of the other treasures that Mérida housed including the remnants of an aqueduct. Lunch followed our train trip.
After lunch we headed down the hill and saw the Temple of Diana and several other Roman ruins. Susan observed correctly that rather than being confined to just one area of the city the vestiges of Rome are found throughout the city. We caught the 6:00 o’clock train back to Cáceres. We had a light supper and then went back to our room to pack our bags.
Our Tuesday train trip was uneventful. We got off the train at Atocha and it was a mere five-minute walk to the area where the AVE trains depart. We had a quick bite and then boarded the train to Valencia. We were back home a little before 4:00. It certainly was an event-filled week and we are glad that we decided to attend the convention and explore a bit.