Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day Holiday - Zaragoza and Tarazona

As Beth is coming next weekend and I'm going to be traveling a lot with her, I decided not to travel too far from Teruel for the long holiday that we had this weekend. It turned out to be pretty exhausting anyway. I ended up going to Zaragoza, as I was invited by one of the Italian teachers at the language school, Mirabel. She introduced me to her son, Gabi, who is about the same age as me and has very similar musical tastes. He plays guitar quite well and does a great job imitating the English/American accents when he sings.

Mirabel fixed some pasta for lunch using one of her authentic Italian recipes. It was delicious. Her husband is Italian and they lived in northern Italy for a few years, so she apparently cooks Italian-style dishes quite often. Her daughter is about a year older than me and is studying her final year of chemical engineering in Copenhagen, Denmark, so I got to stay in her room. It’s so much bigger and, despite all of the girly photos and whatnot, is still manlier than my tiny Tweety Bird room in Teruel. I also had the opportunity to study the Periodic Table of the Elements in Spanish.

Mirabel struck me as a very nervous woman. She was constantly worried about whether or not I was comfortable or satisfied with any given situation. I tried to explain that I'm usually content with whatever situation, but she didn't seem to understand. This was a trend the entire trip and became quite tiresome for me. Apart from that, we got along just fine and she was extremely hospitable.

Later in the afternoon, I met one of Mirabel's seven or eight siblings and we visited part of the 2008 Expo. Having been to Zaragoza a couple of times before, I had already seen most of the major sites, but we checked out some parts that I had yet to visit. I also got to take a picture standing under the Alma del Ebro (Soul of the Ebro, the river that runs through Zaragoza). It's an interesting statue, one of the many strange and wonderful things they added to the city when they hosted the Expo. Unfortunately, economic crisis has pretty much prevented that part of the city from being used to its potential and it kind of just serves as a memorial to their big event a few years ago.

For dinner, Mirabel invited two of her friends over and we ate pizza. We had some nice conversation and exchanged ideas about American and Spanish culture. And the pizza was great because it was homemade with Maribel's Italian recipe. I've been craving American style pizza for a while now, though, so it didn't quite hit the spot for me.

On Sunday, I went with Mirabel to see La Seo, a cathedral in the same square as the Basilica de Pilar. I had seen the outside several times but hadn't ever been inside. I didn't get to see it inside Sunday either because they were doing some kind of ceremony. Instead, we walked around some of the art and antique markets that were set up nearby. There were some really cool antique cameras, swords, old tin medicine cans, and all sorts of trinkets. 

In the afternoon, we headed with another of Mirabel's sisters and sister's husband to Tarazona, a small city about an hour from Zaragoza. It's situated on the border of three different regions of Spain and at one time was quite important, as all of the old roads ran through it. The biggest attraction was the 12th century cathedral, which was apparently closed for quite some time for renovations and recently opened back up. The front of it is still covered on the outside because they're still working on it. I went through the whole church snapping photos without realizing that it wasn't allowed. Fortunately, when someone finally told me, they didn't really seem to care all that much. I wasn't using flash or anything damaging, so I guess they just wanted to cut down on people publishing photos of the place. I tend to want to respect those rules, but I also think that people should have free access to the world's art, so I'm kind of conflicted about it. The cathedral was one of the more interesting ones I had been in and had a lot of really cool art. The cathedral sports some components of Mudéjar architecture and Gothic style. The history of Spain is quite bloody and terrible but it has made for some beautiful art styles.


We walked through the city a bit after visiting the cathedral, which had some really old buildings that probably need to be renovated. They weren't in the greatest of shape. We visited the old Plaza de Toros (bullfighting arena), which has since been converted into an apartment building with little bars at the bottom. It would be an interesting place to live, I suppose. We also got a good view of Moncayo from the higher part of the city. Moncayo is a popular mountain in Spain. It was covered in snow still.

We only stayed a few hours in Tarazona, which was probably enough to see most of it. I talked with Mirabel's brother-in-law quite a bit. He is retired and plays golf all of the time and seemed quite laid back. Naturally, we got along well. He was a little confused as to why I was in Spain if not to complete a requirement for school. A lot of people have that reaction, actually.

The couple ended up coming over for dinner, and I met Mirabel's husband, who had been on a bike tour for the past couple of days. We had a bunch of leftovers from our previous meals, which was fine with me. They were all delicious. Mirabel kept insisting that I eat more. People never take me seriously when I tell them I'm full. Later, I tried hanging out with the men and watching soccer, but I quickly got lost and a bit bored. Eventually, we watched some kind of American forensic drama. It was difficult to keep up in Spanish. I do okay in the theater because I can focus only on the film. In a living room with a bunch of guys talking at each other, it's not so easy.

Gabi invited me to go out and meet one of his friends after dinner. They planned everything out really well. We ended up getting soaked from the rain and trying to find a place to hang out at around midnight on Sunday. Surprisingly, there was a little bar open called The Bull or something similar. It advertises itself as a place for people to practice language exchange. There are flags from all kinds of European countries hanging up everywhere. Gabi told me that there were always foreigners there, but it took me a while to find any. In fact, we were sitting right next to some British people but because they were so drunk and their accents were so thick, I didn't even recognize they were speaking English for a solid ten minutes. Gabi's friend, Alex, was a nice guy to chat with. We talked almost exclusively about video games and music, which was okay with me. Alex used entirely too many colloquial phrases, though, so it was difficult for me.

Yesterday, we had planned to go to Belchite, a town that was completely destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and was abandoned by the survivors. They built another city nearby and left the old one standing as a monument to the war. Rumor has it that it is haunted ground. I had planned to go with the other Italian teacher but her father passed away the night before, so we didn't end up going. Instead, Mirabel and her husband took me to La Seo. This time we were able to enter. I didn't take any pictures, as I don't think it was allowed, but it was very impressive to look at. There was also a museum of sorts upstairs that included a collection of old tapestries. They had some stories of old kings and queens of Spain. Mirabel and her husband explained all of the stories to me and it took a long time, but it was worth it.

Last night, I met more of Mirabel's family and went to dinner with Gabi and his cousin. She is studying for her high school exam that sounded similar to the ACT but with a wider variety of subjects. She wanted to practice English a bit, so it worked out well. Gabi bought us all sandwiches and his cousin told me about her summer in Chicago. She talked a lot about a theme park she went to that I'm pretty sure was Cedar Point, but she wasn't positive. After dinner, Gabi attempted to teach us some Japanese and Italian. I don't remember a word of it. I have a greater general interest in learning about languages as a result of learning more Spanish, but I'm also very focused on Spanish at the moment, so it's difficult to retain random Japanese and Italian words too.

This morning, Gabi and I went to a little bakery and bought churros for breakfast. It was a breakfast that rivaled the unhealthiness of Americans' breakfasts, which I kind of appreciated. There's nothing like deep fried dough dipped in hot chocolate sauce to start your day off. And to top it all off, Gabi drank his chocolate. I attempted to follow suit, as this is apparently a normal custom, but it was like drinking molasses. I don't understand how they do it.

I caught a train back to Teruel pretty early. I had some issues getting the ticket printed in the station, as I had bought it online the night before. I think we were actually in the wrong station now that I've reviewed the information they sent to my phone. Luckily, there was a train headed to Valencia that stopped in Teruel and left only a few minutes later from the station we were at. The conductor man was confused and frustrated. He gave me a lecture about needing to arrive early to the station and print out the ticket and all that. I didn't bother arguing or anything, I just told him I was confused and it was my fault. He looked at the information on my phone for a bit and then just told me to have a seat. He didn't seem to care after that. I definitely prefer the train to the bus. I got a much nicer view of the Aragonese countryside and the ride was much smoother.

This week, I only work two days in the high school and two evenings in the language school. Then I'm heading to Madrid to meet Beth Anne. We haven't seen each other in about four months, so I'm beyond excited.

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