Saturday, May 19, 2012

Beth Anne comes to Spain (Part Two)

Following our day trip to Valencia, Beth and I returned to Albarracín for another day of work. Fortunately, I only had to work for the first bit of the day and we were able to explore a bit of Albarracín at the expense of our delicate skin. Summer in this part of Spain (at least from what I have seen) is devoid of clouds. There is the occasional wimpy fuzzball of a cloud here and there, but nothing to protect you from the sun. We were already a little burnt from Valencia, so getting burnt again was anything but pleasant.

Representing Kentucky with a gift from Mom.

We had some more Delicias de Teruel in the city center and walked around a bit. The cathedral had closed to visitors about twenty minutes before we arrived and would be closed until around the time we had to catch a ride back to Teruel, so we didn't get to go inside. Beth got to see the streets of the “most beautiful village in Spain” (or so I've heard people claim). We also got to go up to the walls that surround the village, something I had yet to do.

The hike to the top was a little steep and really hot but provided some great opportunities for photos of Albarracín from above. I wish I could have made it up there when it was snowing, as it would have been an excellent photo opportunity as well (albeit more dangerous, most likely). The walls are well-preserved for something that has been standing for what I believe to be a thousand years or a little less. They once protected the Arab-ruled Kingdom of Albarracín, in the tenth or eleventh century and were kept intact through the centuries, even after the Christians conquered it.

The thing that surprised me most was the lack of railing atop the walls. I suppose they didn't want to disturb the structure as it was but it required some careful navigation so as not to fall to your doom. I don't think they would allow anything like that in Kentucky, though we don't exactly have thousand-year-old walls either. Beth Anne wasn't too happy with the lack of safety precautions but we walked along the top of the wall for a while and I got some pictures of the surrounding countryside. I'm really glad to have gotten the chance to go up there before I leave Spain, even if it cost me burnt forearms and a disgruntled girlfriend.

In the late afternoon, we headed back to Teruel and went up the Salvador tower in the city center. I had never been up it for one reason or another and I'm glad we were able to check it out. It provided a unique view of the city, if nothing else. There were little exhibits about Mudéjar architecture and the history of the towers on each floor. Fortunately for us, we reached the top of the tower at the top of the hour and were serenaded by the bells for a solid minute or two. I'm sure we have permanent ear damage from it.

On Friday, we had to return once again to Albarracín for an even shorter workday. Afterward, we caught a ride back to Teruel and took a bus to Zaragoza. We didn't have enough time to look around and the bus station is far enough away from the city center that it would require us taking a bus or something. I like Zaragoza, so it would have been nice to show Beth Anne around, but our final destination was definitely more exciting.

We changed buses and made the four hour journey to Barcelona. The route we took was only a little more expensive and took the same amount of time that I had previously taken during Semana Santa. We were able to arrive Friday night instead of Saturday afternoon, giving us more time to wander around one of my favorite cities in Spain.

On Saturday, I showed Beth around the Plaza Espanya and the old Plaza del Toros that has been converted into a shopping mall. There is a movie theater inside and I was excited about watching The Avengers but they didn't show it in English or with subtitles. For some reason I thought they might because we were in Barcelona. Had Beth not been there, I still probably wouldn't have watched it because I have a weird thing about the Spanish voice-overs they do. It started when I saw an episode of House here. Hugh Laurie lost all of his neurotic charm when they played a poorly-dubbed Spanish man's voice over his. I imagine the same would happen with Robert Downey Jr. I guess I'll have to wait a couple more weeks to see it in the States.

We ended up buying croissants instead of movie tickets and carried them with us for later. I think Beth Anne developed an addiction to croissants in addition to Delicias de Teruel and coffee while she was here. I'm going to have to learn how to make them, or at least find a good place to buy them.

I showed Beth Anne the outside of the art museum, the Palau Nacional, near the Plaza Espanya and we bought slushies and walked around a bit. I wanted to go up Montjuïc and see the castle/fortress at the top, but we made a little detour first (kind of on accident) and ended up in front of the Olympic Stadium. Beth Anne decided to take a break in the grass out front.

Later, we made our way up Montjuïc. We saw an area for model car racing and another for model airplanes as we were walking. It looked fun. After a while, we stopped to enjoy our croissants and figure out where we were going exactly. We ended up making it to Castell Montjuïc at last and we had a look around. The view from Montjuïc is quite nice, both to look at the city and the port below. Beth took some photos of me with a big cannon too.

We thought about taking the lift back down the hill but it was ridiculously expensive. Instead, we took a similar path back down as the one I had taken during my previous visit. I showed Beth Anne some pretty gardens that I knew about. There were more people out and about this time around.

Once we reached the bottom, we took the metro to the Sagrada Familia. I think Beth really liked it. Gaudí was a strange and amazing artist. I would like to see it finished at some point, but that could be more then twenty years down the road at the current pace, I think. They've only been working on it since the 1880s. It's one of those buildings that you could stare at for hours on end and still probably not get every detail or symbolic meaning.

We had dinner at a little bar not far away from the Sagrada Familia. We ate outside, where I was hassled into buying a rose from a Pakistani man for way more than it was worth. He wouldn't tell me how much it cost until after Beth had it in her hands and was admiring it. She didn't really want it but I wanted him to go away and I figured he needed the money more then I did. Plus, Beth got a pretty flower.

On Sunday, we went to the beach, something Beth had been really excited to do. We took the metro down to the Olympic Port and walked around. We bought some ice cream from a little stand to eat while we hung out at the beach. Being smooth as always, I walked just around the corner and dropped my ice cream on the ground. I didn't drop the cone, I just took a lick and the ball of ice cream fell off. Thankfully, the woman took pity on me and gave me another scoop for free.

We ultimately didn't plan on swimming, which was probably a good idea because the water was still really chilly. The beach was strange because the sand dropped very steeply all of a sudden into the water instead of a nice, steady incline. We ended up getting nailed by a couple of waves on more than one occasion while trying to walk along the slope with our feet slightly in the water. Beth was fascinated by the sand, which had shiny little specks in it that kept sticking to her.

After going to the beach, we headed to the nearby Gothic quarter of Barcelona. Our first stop was a little bakery where we tried some desserts. Then we wandered around for a while, looking for a place I had been before with my CouchSurfing host. We ended up going past the town hall and down part of Las Ramblas, the main commercial street of Barcelona. We finally found the place I was looking for, located next to a wax museum.

Our destination was a little shop filled with clever but not super-useful products and a cafe. The best part was the hidden magical fairy forest that I would never have known about if not for my host. It would be difficult to find if you didn't know where to look, really. Beth Anne thought I was smoking something when I told her that we were going to a magical fairy forest, but that's about the only way to describe it. It's basically a bar/cafe filled with trees and waterfalls and magic.

After having lunch in the magic forest, we took a walk near more of the Gothic quarter and found another metro stop. We headed towards another of Gaudí's works, Park Güell. I really like this park and I think Beth enjoyed it quite a bit too. We went up a series of escalators and entered through the back of the park, a route that my CouchSurfing host had also showed me. I showed Beth the Alice-in-Wonderland-esque entrance area as well. If I'm ever rich, I want to commission someone to mimic Gaudí's style and make me a park even half as weird and amazing.

We had a nice dinner at the top of the Plaza de Toros mall that evening. We sat between two other couples who spoke different languages (and neither were Spanish or Catalan). I really like that sort of atmosphere, though I couldn't understand anything. There is something charming about such a multicultural setting like what you can find in Barcelona. We ordered a few different dishes to share and it ended up being a lot of food. We had a toasted tomato bread with garlic butter, grilled asparagus, a plate of assorted meats, and a chocolate cake with orange sauce. Later, we had a gorgeous view of the Plaza Espanya and a light and water show in front of the Palau Nacional.

On Monday, we decided to take the AVE high speed train from Barcelona to Zaragoza. What took us four hours by bus took us only an hour and twenty minutes. It was way more expensive but it saved us a lot of stress and time and was a much smoother ride. It kind of spoiled me and made the two hour bus ride to Teruel that much worse. It's really sad how poor the connections are to Teruel. I understand completely now why people were protesting a few years back to be recognized by the government in order to get funding and better transportation (see: ¡Teruel Existe!).

We had dinner with David and Irene again, though this time at a new restaurant in El Ovalo. There are now two “foreign” franchises in Teruel. Telepizza has been there since before I arrived and now there is a pinchos bar that originated from the Basque Country (or is at least mimicking their style). You grab whatever tapas you want and then you pay by the toothpick. If the tapa is bigger, it has a bigger toothpick and you have to pay more. I didn't realize this until after I had eaten one of the really big tapas. Afterward, we went for ice cream in the Plaza del Torico. I think I ate more ice cream and desserts while Beth was here than I have for the rest of my entire stay in Spain.

On Tuesday, we headed back to Madrid by way of the five hour bus. We spent the evening walking around an area not too far from the Puerta del Sol, where a few days earlier there had been 40,000+ people protesting. We just missed it all by a few days before and after. Somehow we also missed the 30,000+ protesters in Barcelona too, even though we were there while it was going on. It was probably for the best, though I would have enjoyed getting pictures of that.

We had tapas for dinner, including fried squid tentacles and a toasted bread covered in vegetables. It took us a while to find a place because a lot of things were closed down. It was a festival for the patron saint of Madrid, I believe. It's crazy how many days they have to celebrate different saints here. They don't have the same holidays in Teruel as in Madrid, but if you were traveling around the right places at the right time, you'd run into a festival everyday somewhere, I'd imagine. For dessert, we found a little bar and had the least light and flaky croissant ever with some coffee.

Early in the morning, we made the journey to the airport via metro, which was really crowded and busy. I was really sad to have Beth go back. Even though I've only got a couple of weeks left until I get to see her again, I was still upset. It was awesome having her here to share my Spanish experience with. After getting her to the security checkpoint, I headed to the metro and to one of the train stations in Madrid. I wanted to catch the slow regional train to Zaragoza instead of waiting around until the afternoon for the slow bus. It ended up costing more money and taking longer but I got to see more of the Spanish countryside and I had something to do besides walking around Madrid. That sounds kind of bad because there are plenty of things to see in Madrid, but I was tired of walking around Madrid at that point.

I've only got a couple of weeks left here in Spain, which gives me mixed feelings. I enjoy having a job that is in high demand and being naturally good at it. I enjoy being able to practice and learn a language in a native setting. I enjoy being a stone's throw from castles and civil war trenches. At the same time, I'm ready to go home and see my family and friends again. It's been quite a while since I've seen them and it is taking its toll on me in some ways. I'm enjoying what time I have left though and trying to see a few more sites and hang out with everyone before I head out.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Kyle. Another wonderful travelogue.