Monday, May 21, 2012


On Friday, I headed with my roommate, David, and his ladyfriend, Irene, to Huesca. Huesca is Irene's hometown and also the capital of the Aragonese province of the same name. The Pyrenees mountains run through the north of it and it makes up part of the border between Spain and France. The city of Huesca has about 20,000 more people than Teruel is much flatter, but overall isn't that drastically different in atmosphere. Zaragoza is definitely the outlier of the three Aragonese capitals.

We arrived late in the evening, so I didn't get a chance to see much of the city outside of some dimly lit streets and tapas bars. Irene introduced us to one of her best friends and took us to a local tapas bar called Da Vinci. It was quite the popular venue. We had to stand around a little table in a sea of people and yell our orders to an impressively composed waiter. He recited all of the specials without skipping a beat and added up our bill in his head by listing the price of every individual tapa from memory and giving us the sum. All of this was while he was getting beat and battered by passersby in the cluttered little bar and waiting on no telling how many more people aside from us.

I got to meet Irene's parents and they gave me a little room to sleep in. Her mom was ridiculously worried about me being comfortable and having enough blankets and whatnot. I guess that's just how moms act. It really puts me on edge sometimes, though. I told her all I needed was a bed or a couch and I'd be fine. She took that as a suggestion that I would rather sleep on the couch instead of a comment on how little maintenance I required.

On Saturday, we saw a bit of everything. In the morning, Irene fed us various fresh fruits and some coffee and then we headed to see a castle not too far from Huesca. It was called Castillo de Loarre and was supposedly featured in the film Kingdom of Heaven. I've never seen the movie and I imagine it has been heavily modified by special effects to the point of being unrecognizable anyway. I was more interested in the castle itself than its movie cameos.

The castle was started around 1020, almost a thousand years ago, as a defensive fort to protect the region from Muslims. In about 1071, the monastery was constructed. It wasn't until 1287 that the surrounding walls were built. I learned all of this from the brochure. David and Irene spent most of the time running around posing for silly photos rather than making any attempts to educate me. Irene's friend and her boyfriend were equally helpful.

After looking around the castle a bit, we headed back to the cars and went to another nearby village called Ayerbe. We stopped there for the sole purpose of grabbing sweets from a little bakery. It was worth standing in line behind a long line of typical old Spanish men, strutting around with big bellies, toothpicks hanging out of their mouths, commenting on this or that in an unintelligible accent.   I have no idea what I ate. The names of the sweets here are as varied as their names for fish and seafood. I'll likely never learn all of it. It was sweet and delicious, so I suppose that's good enough for now.

After passing through Ayerbe, we continued to Riglos, where there are giant rock formations for people to climb and hike around. The scenery was beautiful and it provided an excellent view of the countryside. We didn't hike up too far, which I was somewhat grateful for, still being a little tired, but I imagine the view from the top is incredible.

David and Irene

Afterward, we headed to Jaca, a city a decent distance away. David worked there for about a year (at least 8 years ago). He showed us where he used to live and took us to a little restaurant situated under his former apartment building. It was excellent. I had some kind of green vegetables and potatoes, salad, steak, and fries. We were stuffed to the point that we actually waited to have coffee and dessert until later, which in my experience is somewhat rare for Spaniards. 

David tried to show us a key sites of the small town. They have a Pentagon-like building that serves as some kind of military museum now I think. It's Pentagon-like in shape but not so much in any other regard. We walked through the city center and I took a few photos before it began to storm and rain. We decided that was a good time to duck into a cafe for coffee and dessert. 

The weather this weekend was ridiculously manic. I think we passed through just about everything except for snow while making a giant triangle route from Huesca to Ayerbe to Jaca and back to Huesca. The old country roads through the mountainside was beautiful and terrifying. The roads seemed like they were hugging the mountains tightly for fear of falling to their certain deaths. 

Before arriving back in Huesca, we took a slight detour and visited Tierz. Irene partly owns a townhouse there that she bought with an ex-boyfriend. She is trying to pay the other half and claim full ownership of the house because they never decided what to do with it when they split. She showed us around, I think in hopes of convincing David to move in there eventually. It was a really nice place. The highlight of Tierz wasn't her townhouse, though. They took me up on top of a giant hill outside of town and we walked through some civil war trenches. 

Castillo de Montearagón (another 11th century castle)

I don't actually have that much interest in military history but being able to walk through the trenches makes the things I've been studying seem that much more real. It's nice to be able to look at the relics instead of just reading and theorizing about all of it. I think David and Irene got bored while I was crawling through passageways and caves, though...

On Saturday evening, we ate dinner with Irene's parents. As is customary for Spanish dinners, they cooked enough for twenty people even though only five were eating. Irene's mom commanded me to eat well beyond my limit. She also referred to me as child a lot. It was strange.

On Sunday morning, David and Irene went to the swimming pool. David gets really antsy if he doesn't get to exercise after a day or two. Meanwhile, I went hiking around Huesca. I found the cathedral and had a look from the outside. I decided to grab a coffee and some breakfast in a nearby cafe. It was run by an Asian man and was filled with all sorts of foreigners. In fact, if I had to choose which of us were actually Spanish, I would have chosen myself. I was sipping coffee and reading a newspaper at the bar like the old Spanish men in Teruel. 

I went back through some of the places I had been to on Friday night. The main plaza was much better lit by the sun, of course. 

I also went through the park, which houses a monument to Huesca's little paper bird mascots, Pajaritas. I suppose they're kind of like Teruel's Torico, only less amazing.

Eventually I met back up with the others and we made a final walk through the city, most of which I'd already seen. 

For lunch, we went to Irene's aunt and uncle's apartment. If I had to choose someone to represent an authentic Aragonese man, I'd probably pick her uncle. He was the loudest, most disgruntled, and most animated man I've met in some time. I'm fairly certain that me yelling would pale in comparison to his default volume. And his accent was incredible. I understood maybe every five words that came out of his mouth, but it was enough to determine that he was upset with the government and that he really liked eating and drinking. 

Fortunately for him, we spent the better part of two hours eating to our heart's content. Irene's aunt had prepared a feast fit for forty. I had bread, ensaladilla rusa, salad, fried chicken, ice cream, and coffee. There was also a rabbit and other assorted fruits and vegetables that I didn't get around to stuffing myself with. By the end of the weekend, I felt like I had spent the better part of my time eating rather than walking around looking at stuff. 

I made it back yesterday evening in time to go have dinner with some of the teachers from the primary school in Albarracín. They wanted to have dinner with me this week because on Saturday they are leaving for Turkey as part of the international project they're working on. They won't be back in time to catch me before I head back to the States. We had lots of tapas and they talked about the big strike that is going to take place tomorrow in Spain against the education cuts that have been made and proposed. Many of the teachers are striking, which I completely support, but I imagine it's going to leave me and the director hanging out with fifty kids. I'm sure that will be a blast. 


  1. Neat adventure. You know you'll have a lot of reverse culture shock when you come back to the States.

  2. As strange as that seems, I know you're right. When I came back for Christmas, I experienced some culture shock. Though that may have been because I landed in Georgia.