On my very first guidebook assignment in 2006, I was sent to Spain for six weeks for research. While I had many regions to cover, including Basque Country, Navarra and the Pyrenees, I made my base in the heart of Aragon, starting first with Jaca, the almost site of the 2010 Olympics. (Damn you, Vancouver!)(I kid, I kid, my love affair with Canada is quite evident.) It was insane. I’d get up at 8am, grab breakfast, run around to all the shops and attractions before they closed for a four-hour-long siesta each day, then check out the restaurants and other outdoor sites that didn’t require admission in the interim, return to my hotel and shower, go out for dinner with locals, then to a pub, then to a pre-club, then to a real club (one that only opened at 2am), get in at 6am or later (after being called lame by said locals for going in too “early”—at night, not in the mornng, they meant), nap a couple hours, get up and start it all over again. It was an exhausting time. Good thing for that whole Spanish siesta bit. When I absolutely couldn’t find anything else open, I’d go and take advantage of that quiet time with a book or my computer in some plush park.
I can’t think of a friendlier, more welcoming bunch than the Spanish. I’ve visited various parts of the stunning country over the past six years and have yet to find an international locale where I’d rather live…if, you know, money, proximity to family and job weren’t an issue, of course. (Sometimes I’m far too practical for my own well-being.) Only, this time ’round, in Zaragoza, when I would introduce myself with my full name, people would give me really strange looks. Look, I realize I have a Spanish last name and all, and I can’t help that I couldn’t look less like a Spaniard, but blame my dad and his genes, not me, OK? He got all the dashing Spanish traits; I got a pointy nose, too-thick thighs and broad shoulders. It took days until I happened to meet a history professor from the University of Zaragoza, his wife and two-year-old daughter in a bar after midnight (I know, right?? Spaniards are crazy like that!) that I found out just why I was getting such funny stares: At one time, the royal family in Zaragoza was the Luna family. So either these people thought me a descendant, or else they figured I was trying to pull one over their heads. (I would assume the latter, given the blonde hair and lack of overall exotic Spanish looks, for which I would kill.)
This is El Pilar, their my family castle and one of the most distinguishable monuments in all of Zaragoza.
Here’s another view, this of La Seo wall.
Upon further inspection, I discovered that indeed the family crest—the moon, natch—was embedded in the pattern. Neat. I always told my mom I was a princess.
But finding out I’m Spanish royalty aside, my favorite part about the whole experience was my new friend Erika, whom I met up in Jaca and who invited me to stay with her later when I was passing through Zaragoza (pronounced THAR-uh-GOH-thuh by Spaniards) and even offered to be my tour guide. And show me around, she did—and in style, at that. We zipped all over the region in her shiny pink Vespa, her dog Richie always strapped on to her front.
Although I was always, first and foremost, working, it was the time of my life.
**All photos taken with a Canon PowerShot A700, after my A520 was stolen—or rather dropped somewhere—while hitchhiking in France.