Friday, June 20, 2014

Teruel y Albarracín

Last weekend we made a trip to Teruel, where I lived in Spain before. I attempted to make contact with a few old friends, but we primarily hung out with Ana Belén and her new husband, Jorge. It was sad that I didn't get to spend some time with all of my old friends, but in a single weekend, it's nearly impossible to meet up with everyone. Ana and Jorge were amazing hosts, though. They got us a hostel room across the street from their apartment, just above a tavern. They bought us all kinds of food and took us around Teruel and even to Albarracín!

We ended up taking the bus to Teruel, which was every bit as long as I remembered. We somehow arrived thirty minutes ahead of schedule, despite it still taking nearly five hours to get there. I took Susan on a quick walk through part of the city center and the Plaza del Torico so she could get a glimpse of everything. Then we doubled back and met up with Ana at the bus station.

Although her life has changed quite a bit, she seemed mostly the same. She was noticeably happier with her life (she's headed to Kansas in July to teach Spanish for the foreseeable future) and she very recently got married to her boyfriend (mostly so he could accompany her to Kansas, though they seemed to be in love). The biggest difference I noticed was that I could now understand her much better. It's not that I didn't understand her before, but I could pick up on all the slang that she was using without nearly as much trouble. I believe I was automatically tuning out some of her slang before in order to pick up on the important bits of what she was saying. I was proud of my progress.

Once Jorge arrived, we all went to eat lunch in the Óvalo, a beautiful lookout area at one edge of the city center where a bunch of restaurants are. We got a lot of pescatarian-friendly raciones for Susan, but I had little choice but to order some Delicias de Teruel. The jamón serrano was every bit as good as I had remembered. Jorge and Ana ended up paying for all of it, refusing to let us help out.

After lunch, we took a little tour of the city center. We showed Susan the main sites - the ayuntamiento, the churches, and the Mudéjar towers. Ana explained the history behind Los amantes de Teruel and behind the leaning tower of San Martín.

We also checked out the huge staircase that leads down from the Óvalo to the train station. It's also decorated in the Mudéjar style and sports a nice little portrayal of the legend of the death of the amantes de Teruel.

Like any good Spaniard, we ended up watching the Spanish soccer team in the World Cup outside of a bar. Although the game was ultimately a bitter disappointment (Spain lost 1-5 versus Netherlands), we had a nice time chatting and eating bocadillos. Our waiter was an older man from Andalucía who liked joking with us, though none of us understood him very well (including the native Spaniards).

On Saturday, I took Susan to a tetería for breakfast unlike any she had visited before. It's part of a hotel, but the basement area contains a little room for having tea and a secret passageway that supposedly connects to the church. During the Spanish Civil War, it was used by women and children to hide during the bombings.

After tea, we headed across the bridge to the ensanche, the outer part of town, where I showed Susan the park, the school where I worked in the afternoons, and the area where I used to live. Not a whole lot was different, but I did see that a lot of the Chinese Woks were a lot fancier and that they had recently built a McDonald's right across from where I used to live. I was kind of disappointed in that latter fact. When I left Teruel, there were only two franchise restaurants, Telepizza and Lizarran (a Basque-style pinxos bar), and now they've gone and brought McDonald's there. For shame, Teruel.

In the afternoon, we met up with Ana and Jorge and headed to a paella out at a campsite outside Teruel. It was hosted by the Amigos de la Jota, Ana's traditional dance group, the very same that I hung out with on occasion during my stay in Teruel. It was nice to be welcomed like an old family member. Ana's parents immediately recognized me and gave me a warm welcome. Her dad wasted no time in making sure I had beer and delicious jamón serrano. We ate so much food that I expected I would pop. We had paella, jamón serrano, various types of sausages, watermelon, bread, cured cheeses, and all manner of drinks, including a delicious lemon slushy with champagne. And then they served three or four rounds of desserts, most of which I couldn't eat because of my nut allergy (thankfully...). Ana's dad made sure I always had something to eat, regardless of how much I protested.

In the afternoon, Susan and I visited the mauseleo de los amantes, where the supposed remains of the Lovers of Teruel are located. It was a mini-museum that recounted both the legend and the journey of the remains of a couple who are believed to be the lovers. The remains are now housed under statues of the dead lovers and you can peek into the side of the statues and see the skeletons. Very romantic.

After checking out the amantes, we made one last little tour around part of the center that we had yet to check out, including the acueducto.

In the evening, we had a light dinner with Ana and Jorge in the tavern below our hostel. Susan requested a small tapa of tortilla de patata and they brought her one the size of a hamburger. We all helped her nibble on it. After finishing up some coffee, we split up. Susan went back to the room and I went out to meet up with some of the teachers from Albarracín and a couple friends. They caught me up on a lot of the things that had changed in the little school there and informed me that most of them were headed to new schools in the next year. It was nice to see them again. After chilling with them for a couple hours, I accompanied my friends María and Jorge to Luviten, a sort of hipster bar that I always enjoyed before. I recognized the owner and some of the people in the bar. In fact, one of them was a student of mine. I talked to him about his work at the nearby observatory and his upcoming conference in Toronto to present his work on observing/detecting dark energy.

After leaving the hipster bar, we headed across the street to a heavy metal bar. The contrast was amusing. There were a group of guys planning an American-themed party for las vaquillas (a three day festival in Teruel in July). María seemed to have more ideas than I did, sadly. I ended up talking to one of the guys about the differences between living in Madrid vs. Teruel and then a great deal about Game of Thrones. He said my Spanish was de puta madre and complimented me on my efforts to read the Game of Thrones series in Spanish. María and Jorge walked with me back to the hostel before bidding me farewell. I'll most likely run into them again in Kentucky, as María is working on a PhD at UK (where I've hung out with her several times), so our goodbyes were not so sad and permanent.

I got about four hours of sleep before we woke up and headed to Albarracín with Ana and Jorge. The curvy roads to get there were rough on my stomach, but seeing the beautiful little village again was worth it. I think Susan fell in love with it quickly after walking through its narrow, cobblestone streets.

I wish we had had more time there, but we had to make it back to the bus on time. I am so glad I got to go back and see the place I lived in for a year. It was a weekend full of nostalgia but also the rekindling of old friendships and a nice look forward to what is to come. I'm happy that Susan was able to visit and get an idea of what my year in Spain was like.

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