Thursday, June 5, 2014


Up until last weekend, it had been about two years since I had seen my Spanish roommate and his girlfriend here in Spain. When I last saw David, he was dropping me off at the airport in Valencia at about 5 a.m. (which saved me a five hour bus ride to Madrid and a hotel stay). I was so glad to have the opportunity to hang out with them again after all this time, as they were always so good to me here in Spain. David patiently put up with my ferocious appetite for learning Spanish and for visiting Spanish Civil War sites (and even took me to a few). He cooked me dinner, made me a cake, and toured the medieval festival in Teruel with me for my birthday. He was one of the most open-minded and laid back Spaniards that I met here. Thankfully, none of that has changed in the past couple years.

David and Irene received us like kings. Upon arriving in Huesca, they picked us up at the train station and took us to their house outside the city, in a little town called Tierz (which, if I'm not mistaken, is related to the Latin for 'third' according to David). They moved here about a year ago, but we had visited Huesca together before in May 2012. We dropped off our backpacks and headed straight towards a historic site (they know me well), El Castillo de Montearagón. Atop the castle site, we took in the beautiful Aragonese landscape, a welcome change from Madrid's endless view of rooftops. It reminded me a lot of my time spent in Teruel. I may have had a little nostalgia trip for most of the weekend. But not everything was familiar. Even though I had seen this castle from a distance while visiting some civil war trenches, I had never actually seen it from this perspective.

The castle itself hasn't been very well-preserved, unfortunately. I guess run-down castles in the poorer provinces are less of a priority in the face of an economic crisis. It was still a nice place to visit. We were the only ones there, apart from a couple of cyclists who showed up as we were heading back down the hill. 

For dinner, we headed to a restaurant called Comomelocomo on a street that Irene described as "gossip street." It's so named for the frequency with which you meet or see people you know, I guess. I feel like several streets in Huesca could easily have that same title, as it isn't all that big. The food was delicious. We shared three different raciones - a salad with honey-topped goat cheese, huevos rotos, and chipirones (cuttlefish). For dessert, Susan and I shared a divine serving of chocolate mousse.

On Saturday, we headed out in the morning to a little town called Castejón del Puente. It was extremely small and most things were closed, including an interpretation center that housed a lot of historical information and art that David wanted me to check out.

David works as a physical education instructor for kids. Due to the isolated nature of a lot of the pueblos in Aragón, many teachers work in several schools in the area, especially ones whose specialty is losing importance in the school curriculum. Castejón del Puente is one of the schools in his rotation, which is how he found out about the center and the nearby civil war trenches. However, to access the trenches, one must have a key to open several of the doors in the area. To our surprise, David went into a local grocery store (about the size of my mom's kitchen) to ask about the key. The owner was an older lady who was more than happy to call around to all the locals in search of the key. It just so happened that one of the other couples in the store was about to tour the trenches as well, with a guide who had the key. We were lucky that they were in the mood for bread.

We ended up following a small group of middle-aged folk from Zaragoza and a local tour guide who worked with the town hall and tourism committee. She was excited to have two Kentuckians there and repeatedly came to us after each section of the trenches to make sure we had understood everything. I especially enjoyed her thick Aragonese accent, which brought back a lot of memories.

The trenches were well-preserved and recently restored. Some of the bricks had been stolen by locals after the war to use in their house or gardens, so those had to be replaced. I suppose that's why they have locked doors around the trenches now. Part of the reason for their good condition was that no actual battle took place here. The trenches largely served as an air control center instead of a bunker. There was a hidden air field located a couple miles away from the trenches, which turned out to be an excellent location because none of their enemies would have expected there to be one in such a random place in the middle of nowhere. The Nationalists didn't find the air base until after they had taken over the village.

Note the snow-capped Pyrenees in the background.

After our historic hike through the trenches, we headed to a nearby town called Monzón. This one was much larger, though still quite small. Its main attraction was a castle that sat atop a hill overlooking the city and the surrounding countryside. We had lunch outside a little bar near the local city park before taking a stroll around town.

As is common in Spain, we stopped for coffee after lunch. Although it looked like it would start pouring rain at any second during our coffee break, it never did catch up with us. We enjoyed a dry hike up the mountain to the castle.

This castle was obviously better-funded than the one in Montearagón. They had a tourist office, some maps in various languages, and signs everywhere.

I think we saw one other couple arrive a little bit after us, but other than that, there was no one else there. In that regard, the castle was very similar to that of Montearagón. David made a remark about the Kentuckians being the only ones spending their Saturday afternoon touring trenches and castles while the Spaniards were eating, drinking, and taking siestas.

David and I tried out the little throne in one of the buildings. He started yelling out commandments for his new world order. I was mostly just worried about breaking the old chair, but it made for a fun picture.

After leaving Monzón, we headed to yet another village. It was called Alquézar, so named for its former defensive position for the nearby town of Barbastro. It is frequently compared to Albarracín, where I used to work. However, Alquézar is largely made up of newer buildings and houses made to match the older portion of the town. In this regard, it is very much unlike Albarracín, which sports the real deal. Alquézar was still a beautiful little town and it had a nice church at the top of the hill that we managed to tour.

We had two separate tour guides for different parts of the church. The first was much easier to understand and obviously had a passion for what she was talking about. It's always a lot more compelling when someone is excited about what they're talking about, even if it's something as potentially boring as the positioning of Jesus' feet in portrayals of the crucifix throughout the centuries (though I assure you that it was not at all boring for me). Our second guide was, unfortunately, supremely lackluster. She spoke in an unenthusiastic, monotone voice and with an accent that I could barely understand. Regardless, we saw some beautiful art that depicted various religious concepts and stories.

The city of Alquézar was certainly cute, but the surrounding landscape was breathtaking. If we'd had more time, I probably would have insisted that we go hiking around.

Within the village, we heard more French than we did Spanish. I guess its proximity to France (being in northern Aragón) makes it a prime tourist location for people looking to relax or go hiking. I did my best to speak broken French with a horrendous accent whenever I was sure none of them would hear.

On Sunday, we took it a little easier. In the morning, we headed up to what is known as El Salto de Roldán. According to legend, Roldán (perhaps better known to us as Roland), was retreating to France. In order to escape from his enemies, he spurred on his horse and managed to jump from one giant rock to the other, leaving an imprint on the rock where he landed. It's an interesting story, but it doesn't come close to matching the allure of the gorgeous surrounding landscape.

The big rock in the background is where Roland supposedly started his jump.

Even though we drove most of the way up the mountain, we had to hike and climb up to the very top. For whatever ridiculous reason, someone chose the top of the mountain to build a church.

Insane yoga pose.

From here, Roland supposedly jumped to that other big rock.

I had to hike down to the edge and check out the view. We were higher than many of the birds were flying.

After hiking around, we headed back to Tierz. As it was Sunday, we went for a caña at the little bar near David and Irene's house. I don't think the Spaniards ever stop going for cañas, they just invent various reasons to drink. We relaxed until afternoon and then took a quick stroll through Huesca before hopping back onto the train to Madrid. I'm so glad I got a chance to hang out with David and Irene again and to be back in my element, exploring historic sites and hiking around.

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