Thursday, November 11, 2010

Nan and Gramps.

It was almost 3pm, almost time to go home, and I was daydreaming about how I would be with my grandparents this time in a week, when I got a text from my Gramps saying, "We are in Barcelona. Text back ASAP." I snapped out of my dreams about what we'd be doing in a week, and instead stared at the message, wondering what it meant. Had they changed their minds and come a week early? Were they staying in Barcelona a week before they came to Tudela? Or, did I get the dates mixed up? Not knowing which it was, as soon as the bell rang, I ran out of class, texted them back, and they quickly replied saying they were just picking up the car and would be in Tudela in about 3 or 4 hours. I got my answer: I had mixed up the dates.


I rushed back home, wondering how my host family would cope with the knowledge that my grandparents were coming a week early. Luckily they were fine with it, and I relaxed a little. But I still felt very shaken up. I hadn't seen my grandparents for nine months. Nine whole months. And I was going to see them that day, unexpectedly. I felt like I needed some mental preparation, to get my head around that people so important to me were going to see my town, my host family; my life for the past three quarters of a year. I had expected that I would have another week to prepare myself, but was only given three little hours.

I felt nervous. Showing and bringing people into what you now call 'home' is a little daunting I find. It's incredibly exciting, but also daunting. I wanted to introduce them into my town, for them to walk through it and experience it the way I do. To fall in love with the small little streets, the lady who serves me coffee every day, the river, the Jesus statue. To see my town through my eyes. I felt nervous that they wouldn't see that, or like it. But, I felt relaxed, knowing that they would like it, because it was my town, my life.

At seven I was eagerly waiting for them to arrive.

At seven thirty I was waiting for them to arrive.

At eight I was impatiently waiting for them to arrive.

At eight thirty I called them.

They were lost.

After a few calls and many wrong turns, they finally made it into Tudela, but to the other side. After a couple of minutes, I called them back and told them to go to the main street and I'd pick them up, taking them to my house.

I raced up to the main street, and was hopping about, mainly out of excitement, but also because I was cold, when I saw them. They were driving down the street, so I started to wave and did a little scream of excitement for them to pull over. They didn't pull over. I started chasing them down the street, and they quickly pulled over. I opened the door and gave Nan and Gramps a big big hug. We hopped in the car and started driving towards my house, and they told me that they heard me rather than saw me when they pulled over. It was so lovely to be in their company again! When we arrived home, I introduced them to the family, but as they already had visitors over, we had a quick dinner, headed downstairs and caught up on each others lives. It was so lovely to see them again, and really made me realise how blessed I am to have such active, fun, loving grandparents.

Nan and Gramps outside my house.

The next morning we woke up, had breakfast and made our way out to see the town. We walked along the river, through the old town, to the Cathedral, where the kids do music, and to my coffee shop. We sat down, had a coffee in my usual seat, and had a nepolitana, a chocolate croissant like sweet that I love. It was just lovely to be able to share these little things with them, for them to be a part of such an important year and stage in my life.

Us having a coffee at my coffee shop.

We then walked up to the Jesus statue that overlooks the whole of Tudela. It was a stunning view, and had been something that I had been really excited to share with Gramps especially, because I had seen it to be a place that we could paint together later on. This was followed by lunch at Bar Aragon, a cafe in the main square of Tudela.

Lunch at Bar Aragon.

It felt so normal for them to be there, to be sitting in a cafe that I have spent many hours at, sharing conversation over a beer and lunch. I'm sitting here quietly grinning just at the memory.

We spent the rest of the day relaxing, enjoying each others company, planning the rest of our trip. Nan and Gramps had a week in Spain, so we decided to make the most of the week and the rental car they had. We decided on two days in Zaragoza, a city that I often visit, two days in the Pyrenees, and two days in Barcelona.

We headed off the next morning, with bags packed, smiles on, and excitement rattling about. We got to Zaragoza with no problems at all between myself and the GPS assistant, fondly named Matilda. Gramps had a few arguments with Matilda over the issue of speeding, as she would kindly remind him, "You are over the speed limit", to which he would disagree.

After arriving in Zaragoza, we had to move the car, which resulted in a quick tour of the city, due to Matilda giving us wrong directions, stressful city driving and getting our left and right's confused! After a good half hour, we finally managed to park about three blocks away, and made it back to the apartment safe and sound. We headed out, walking through the Paseo de Independencia, through the old town and to the Basilica del Pilar. When it reached lunchtime, and everything was shutting down, we went and bought some food, came home and relaxed for the rest of the night. Nan and Gramps had brought English books, which were like treasure for me, having not read an English book in months. I would wait until Gramps had finally fallen asleep before quietly reaching over and plucking the book from his hands as he slept away peacefully.

The next morning we headed off to the Palacio del Aljafería, an old Islamic palace that I had visited earlier on in the year. On our way, we walked through the old winding streets, filled with culture and made me smile with how blessed I was to be able to walk through this city as a local, knowing it's ups and downs. As we arrived at Aljafería, we saw people holding up signs on the other side of the road, and police. As we went to enter the palace, we were told that it was closed for government business. It was a little disappointing to not be able to go in, but we were still able to walk through the park and see the garden.

Gramps and me outside the Palacio del Aljafería.

We walked back toward the Basilica del Pilar, and had a coffee con churros in a cafe outside of the plaza. It was lovely to just sit down and talk, chat away about trivial and important things, making me feel delighted about the joys of family. We ended up really enjoying the cafe, so came back for dinner as well, as they had a great deal for a three course meal for 6 euros each. Definitely well worth the money and a nice way to finish our little trip into Zaragoza, having dinner right in the centre of the city.

The next morning we got up early, packed out bags and headed out of the city, heading towards Huesca. We arrived in Huesca, a city of about 100, 000 and were pretty dissapointed, so left to go towards Jaca, right on the French border. Leaving the dry and arid country of Tudela meant a completely different style of countryside, which was absolutely stunning.

Rigos de los Mallos

It was filled with mountains, rock formations and green valleys with rivers and was absolutely gorgeous. Something that I loved as well, was Nan and Gramps at each little stop; taking out their cameras, filming, the typical tourists. It made me remember how fun it is it to be a foreigner, to travel and explore. When we in Tudela my host family could not get over the fact that Nan and Gramps walked everywhere, that they didn't use the lift in the house, that they still went on holidays, gallivanting around the world. I don't know if it's just with my host family, or Spanish culture in general, but they see growing old as a curse, that once you hit 45 your life is over. I am glad that I have such active grandparents who are so eager to conquer the world, and that are still living life, rather than just sitting back and watching, thinking their life is over. I want to grow old and still live young, just like Nan and Gramps!
We headed up to Jaca, stopping along the way at a couple of different places, enjoying the spectacular views.

We decided to stay in Jaca, a sweet little town on the French border, at a hotel right in the centre of the old town. That weekend there was un concurso de tapas - a competition of sorts of tapas. For those of you who don't know what tapas are, they are small dishes to accompany a glass of wine or beer. Normally when you buy a beer or wine, you get a complimentary tapa. Some examples of tapas are croquetas, patatas bravas, tortilla de patatas (click on them to see photos). They are extremely delicious, small and appetising, filling you up quickly. Many Spanish people go bar hopping, eating these tapas as their meal. So for dinner that night, we ventured out, went to a crammed bar, had some tapas. They were quite yummy, but we didn't get to choose what we wanted as they laid out their best tapa, and we had to vote. It was a lovely and traditionally Spanish way to end a lovely night!

Jaca by night.

We woke up at about 8am the following day, the Saturday, and left at nine, to find no one out on the streets.

Us on the deserted streets of Jaca.

The Spanish aren't known for their early mornings! We hopped in our car, and headed off towards the east. We wanted to get to a small town called Aínsa, and along the way we saw some gorgeous views along the way. When we arrived at Aínsa we saw that it was a small town on the top of a hill (like most Spanish old pueblos). We drove the car up to the top of the hill, and entered into the quaintest, little village. The main plaza was beautiful, and they had an old horse and carriage that you could take around town. Of course, the lady driving was smoking and talking (yelling) to everyone she passed. Spanish stereotypes are often very similar to the actual people of Spain! We sat outside one of the bars, and Nan and I had a shandy whilst Gramps had a beer. We were chatting along, when suddenly we heard a series of extremely loud bangs. It was incredible - such noises! The were so loud! We realised that there was a wedding, or some event happening, and they were letting off fireworks in broad daylight, in the middle of the plaza. Every couple of minutes another set would go off, seemingly louder than the next. We took this as our cue to go, so headed back to the car to continue on our journey. About ten km away from Aínsa we saw a small township, that advertised food. Being hungry, we decided to stop there and enjoy the view. The town consisted of one hotel/restaurant, and we quickly sat down eager to eat. In Spain most bars have a 'menu del dia' - menu of the day, which is run all day and consists of a first plate, a second plate, a drink, dessert, and bread. I'm a vegetarian, so I haven't had a need for knowing what beef or lamb or veal is called. So, I had a little trouble ordering the food for Nan and Gramps! Gramps wanted Lamb, and I had no idea what it was called. So, I instead called it, "el carne de ovejas" - "sheep meat". Of course, I had to confuse the poor man even more, but getting ovejas confused with orejas. Instead of saying, "I want sheep meat," I said, "I want ear meat." The guy looked at me for a couple of seconds like I was crazy, before realising what I said and correcting myself. As I retold the story to Nan and Gramps we were introduced to a Dutch couple who were also eating there. After chatting for a while, we found out that they were the owners of a bed and breakfast in a small town that we had visited to try and find some food, that we thought was deserted. They owned a 16th Century abbey, that had been restored to become a bed and breakfast. Of course, Nan and I jumped at the idea to be staying in such a historically interesting place. After a little bit of convincing, Gramps agreed, and we headed off to the small town. This town was also situated at the top of a hill, and Gramps was a champion as he drove down the so called 'streets' to finally find the old abbey nestled at the very back of the town. We found out that town was not abandoned, but had 14 or so residents. Small towns, pueblos, were extremely popular years ago, and were populated all the time. As cities became more important, the children moved away to study and to live, only coming back to the pueblos during the summer. This meant that many pueblos died, as there was no one there to live in the houses, as they had all moved to the cities. So many towns are now empty, slowly decaying, as the people move to the bigger cities, whole communities and towns being lost. There are some, now, where people are coming back and restoring their old houses, and using them as holiday homes, meaning some of these dead towns are slowly coming back to life. The small village we were in had 14 residents, some doing up the houses, some retirees, but mostly just empty. The views were spectacular, and we had a quick (!) tour around the town.

View from the village we stayed at.

The abbey was absolutely gorgeous, filled with small doorways, wooden roofing, stone walls. Everything had an old feeling to it, that each thing had it's own story to tell. We were given the honeymoon suite, that had a double bed and a single bed, a living room and a bathroom. I thought it was just stunning, and made me so happy that we had decided to stay there for the night.
My bed in the abbey that we stayed at.

We left early the next morning to start to head toward Barcelona, and took a scenic route to get there. It was such stunning countryside (I seriously cannot remember the word I mean, all I can think of is paisaje!), filled with so many colours and stunning rock faces. I really loved seeing this side of Spain, as where I live, in Tudela, is on the edge of a desert, so it is quite dry and arid. Seeing the greenery once again, made me fall in love a little bit more with Spain, and with the countryside, the wide open spaces.

The water was amazing. Because of the snow, the rocks give way and make their way into the water, turning the water into an opaque green-blue colour. It was mesmerising to look at, and added a surreal type feel to what we were driving through.

Gramps and I on the drive.

We slowly came down the Pyrenees, and as we did, we said goodbye to the mountainous ranges and colourful lakes. I fell asleep, and before I knew it, we were driving into Barcelona! We got a little stressed about finding a hotel, as we didn't have one planned and none of us really knew where we were going. After a couple of roundabouts, pulling over, re-entering highways, we finally made it to a town about twenty minutes out of the centre of Barcelona. We found a hotel straight away, parked and sat down on our beds and sighed, "Aaahhhh." We had made it. With stomachs grumbling, we went and tried to find a restaurant. Being a Sunday, absolutely nothing was open, bar a Chinese restaurant. After a filling meal, we came back to the hotel and rested for the night, anticipating our arrival into downtown Barcelona the next morning.

Matilda is not to be trusted.

Matilda, our handy little GPS, wasn't equipped for the road works that plagues the Barcelona roads. After getting into a little flurry, we quickly became lost, and had to park with our hazards on as I got out and asked a few people how to get to Las Ramblas, where Nan and Gramp's hotel was. After finally getting some directions, we headed off and quickly realised how heavy traffic was, and the difficulty there would be to unload our car of its luggage, try and find a park and check into the hotel during peak hour traffic. We turned on our hazzards, and we all jumped out, throwing our bags into the hotel, hoping that the car wouldn't be hit or towed away. The concierge quickly told us where to park, so Gramps drove the car around the corner to a small lane, and left me to guard it, and deal with any problems that arose while they checked in. As soon as Gramps left, a line of vans came up behind the car and started honking, telling me to move the car. Oops. I quickly hopped out and said that my Grandpa wasn't there, that he'd have to wait for him to come back and move the car. They weren't too happy about that, as there were about 4 vans that were backing up onto the main street of the Ramblas, causing a small traffic jam. They kept on telling me that we couldn't park there, getting more and more agitated, so I quickly called Gramps telling him to come that second to move the car! About two minutes later him and Nan came rushing down, we quickly hopped into the car and drove off. We dropped off the car at the rental place and relaxed over a cup of coffee. We then caught the metro to the Sagrada Familia. This was my third time to the Sagrada Familia, and it was still stunningly amazing to me. There was a heap of people there, so Nan and Gramps didn't want to wait to enter, so we just stood outside and looked. It was really nice to come back and see the Sagrada Familia, as it was something that I had studied in art, and was something that seemed to take my breath away every time I saw it.

The Sagrada Familia

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch, meaning that my time with them was nearly up. We walked along Las Ramblas and quickly found a restaurant that satisfied our tastebuds. We reminisced over a couple of beers, and I realised that not seeing my grandparents for another four months was going to be easy. I had already spent eight months without them, these next four months would go quicker than I could imagine. We left the restaurant with full stomachs and full hearts, as we headed back to the hotel for a quick rest before I left for Tudela.

Nan and I at the restaurant with our 'shandys'.

Before I knew it, it was time to head home. I said my goodbyes, and headed off to the train. I was grinning the whole way home, feeling extremely blessed for the family I've been given. Talking to them, a month later, they now know where I mean, when I tell them I'm going for coffee at my coffee shop, or going for a walk to the bridge and back. I had the most lovely week, exploring and discovering an aspect of Spain that I hadn't seen before.

It is now November, Christmas is coming soon, and with that, winter. It is currently around 5 degrees outside, and rainy, and I'm about to head off to school! With only about 80 days left of my exchange, I'm really getting ready for my trip home, and my travelling that I'm planning on doing later.

Romans 3:4-5

More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,


  1. That was such an awesome post!
    Your nan and Gramps are really cool!

  2. Haha! love your comment about Matilda. My Tom tom can't be trusted either. He doesn't know best at all!

    Beautiful writing and photos as always.