travel

Back in England

I am sitting writing this back in my home in England, fighting off the sleep which has arisen as a result of a very heavy lunch my sister and I had in Cambridge. Rather than get through a not particularly difficult to-do list (write a thank you card to my granddad, reply to an email about a job prospect I am not interested in, tidy my room, pack for the next trip I am going on), I am reclining on the sofa writing this and flicking through this month’s issue of Vogue.

On my last full day in Spain, I explored yet more places. The mother of the family took me next door and asked the neighbours if they wouldn’t mind me having a look around their wine cellar. Many of the houses in the region boast wine cellars, some of which continue to be used, and they are often of a substantial size, running the whole length of the under part of the house. The neighbour’s wine cellar no longer served its original purpose since its owners no longer make wine, but it still retained many antique objects, including large wooden barrels as well as dust and cobweb-covered old bottles with wine still in them. The stone underground rooms were amazing and I felt as though I had stepped back in time a hundred or so years.

After another afternoon at the pool (this time the time actually seemed to pass very quickly), I went on a walk with the girl, Elena, who I had met up with quite a few times. We walked amidst the mountainous scenery to a nearby Roman bath site which had fallen into ruin, trees now shooting up amidst its walls. It was incredible to see, sitting inconspicuously as though it was an ordinary feature of the local landscape. It was strange to think it had once been a bustling site, used for several hundreds of years by people erroneously convinced of the waters’ healing properties. I told the dad of my au pair family that I was surprised that the baths had not, like so many of the other buildings and objects in the region, been maintained. But he reminded me that there was not the money to do so. Sure, people were able to keep objects in their house, unable to throw them away. But after a lot of civil unrife which led to civil war, with economic problems continuing to occur after Franco had come to power, making sure some unused stone did not fall into disrepair was not, understandably, the top of people’s priorities. And even without the civil war, the Spanish countryside was incredibly poor. It was only with tourism that the Spanish economy really took off and money eventually trickled into regions like Aragon.

As soon as I came back from the walk, and bid farewell to Elena, wishing her all the best in her future endeavours, I jumped in the car with the family to head to the grandparents’ second home, in the town of Almunia. Before going to the house, which enjoyed an enviable location on a hill overlooking the rest of the town, the mother took me to yet more wine cellars. One of them was run by her cousin, who makes organic wines I later tried, taking two small bottles back home with me. I also had a look around the town, which was more modern and far less pretty than the town of Estadilla. Dinner that night was eaten on the terrace and included pan con tomate, chorizo, serrano ham, spanish tortilla and, for dessert, some of the most delicious, freshest nectarines I have ever eaten.

It was very late by the time dinner was over, but knowing it was my last night in Spain, I was running too high on emotions to be tired. We returned to Estadilla and the father took the two daughters to bed, while the mother and I walked around the town to help digest dinner, stopping off at the local pizzeria for a drink. There, I saw two of the boys I had met at the  pool party and sat down to chat with them. ‘I am going to go and sit with the old people,’ the mum said to me, joking, joining some of her friends at a nearby table. She left home a little bit before me, shortly after one of the boys had also left, but I decided to stay with the boy who had remained. We chatted for a bit before he kindly suggested, despite the fatigue which was manifesting itself through the bags under his eyes and his yawning, that we go for a walk. We climbed upwards to a park, enjoying the coolness of the night. When I thought it was probably time I got back home, I jumped on the back of his bicycle and whooshed down the steep, downward streets of the town. ‘I don’t want to die on my last night in Spain,’ I reminded him as our speed increased.

The next morning, I woke up and took the two girls to their activity club and bid them farewell. I was sad to say goodbye but tried to keep my emotions in check. I then popped into one of the town’s small supermarkets to buy some food to take back to England with me and have my family try. ‘It’s my last day,’ I told the lady behind the counter, who I had spoken to on several occasions, visiting the shop almost every day whenever the mum asked me to pick something up on my way home. ‘Aww how sad!’ she said. ‘But you’ll be back!’ Going into the supermarkets there and chatting to people, or striking up conversations with people on the street, was something I knew I was going to miss.

Overall, it was a great trip. I signed up to the au pair program because I missed speaking Spanish and wanted to live with a family to get a real feel for the culture of the area. By the end, I felt like I had had a paid holiday. I was taken to stunning places which I had no idea were in the region I was visiting – until I double checked with the family, I had somehow got it in my head that I was visiting the northern city of Asturias, and thus had done no research which would have given me an idea of what lay in store for me in Aragon. Traveling is also one of the greatest things you can do in life. It allows you to meet new people, live new experiences and means you’re constantly out and about, making the most of the time you have in the area. When I came back to England, I couldn’t face sitting in the house all day. Walking, hiking and swimming in Aragon was so much fun, and so beneficial for my mental and physical health (the effects were palpable), that I went on a long, long walk the day after my arrival. I must say, the countryside cottages which I saw on my walk, with flowers bedecking their windowsills, did not compare unfavourably to the buildings in the beautiful towns I saw in Aragon. Traveling teaches you to have an open mind; you learn that no place or culture is better than another. Each location has its own charm.

 

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