in front of Zaragoza’s Cathedral and Caesar Augustus Museum
View from the Basilica del Pilar’s tower; afternoon light inside
I knew when I decided to move to Spain that it wouldn’t all be sunshine and rainbows and jamón. I also knew due to my prior experience dealing with Spaniards (who are truly lovely but do not understand the meaning of “urgent” or “quickly”) that obtaining legal documentation to live here wouldn’t be a walk in the Parc [Guell]. But being mentally prepared for a sticky, not to mention infuriating, situation and actually living through it are two completely different things. I have started literally pulling my hairs out one by one and it’s gotten to the point that my boyfriend has to sit next to me and grab my hands when we’re watching tv or reading just so I won’t go bald.
I have absolutely nothing to complain about though because I am enduring this immigration-war-of-attrition (which is how I think of the situation between me and the Spanish Consulate in Washington DC at this point) from one of the most beautiful cities in the world – Barcelona.
Pablo Serrano/Modern Art Museum
Even so, there comes a time when a girl just has to get out of town for the sake of her sanity, her boyfriend’s sanity, and her remaining hairs. This thinking led my boyfriend and I to plan two short weekend trips – one to Zaragoza, Spain and one to Rome, Italy. Our trip to Rome was scheduled for this weekend but given the current global situation – terrorist threats and worldwide travel warnings – we decided we didn’t want to travel to such a popular international city if we could go another time. Our trip to Zaragoza however was a few weeks ago and with all the stress, sadness, fear, and hatred in the world right now I figured this would be a good time to share some beautiful photos and peaceful thoughts from our one-night getaway to Zaragoza. (And also because I have lots of free time right now since I don’t have to pack for Rome and it’s the Spanish Consulate’s turn to make a move regarding my visa.)
Details from inside Zaragoza’s Alfajeria Palace
We chose Zaragoza for a few simple reasons: Neither my boyfriend nor I had ever been there, the bus tickets were incredibly cheap, and the Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar is there and it is one of Spain’s most beautiful churches, possibly even one of its most beautiful buildings.
Zaragoza is in the province of Aragón in the Northeastern part of Spain, and as my boyfriend was quick to point out, the people there have “weird accents” compared to Catalunya (honestly it’s all Spanish to me). Zaragoza is not considered a big tourist destination and apart from the attraction of the basilica I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a particularly beautiful, but it was absolutely worth the visit. Like all cities it has its pros and cons and as we discovered in a fascinating (for me) exhibit at the modern art museum, the local government, city planners, and architects have done an incredible amount of work in the past decade to give the city a face lift and improve quality of life for its citizens. The exhibit was about the changing city fabric over time, but focused heavily on improvements made for the International Expo of 2008 held there. Again, Zaragoza is no Granada or Bilbao (two cities in Spain I adore), but this exhibition gave me a new appreciation for the city as we walked the streets.
Architecture (and weather!) mash-up
We also got incredibly lucky with the food there – for a city that lives on tapas and everything breaded, fried, or simply placed on top of bread, I ate some great gluten-free dishes. One of Spain’s easiest and oldest dishes is huevos rotos, or broken eggs, most commonly seen in the Canary Islands, but also enjoyed in different regions around Spain (I have not seen this in Catalunya as of yet). Potatoes are pan fried with jamón or mushrooms and at the last minute two sunny-side up eggs are broken over the top and served. In tapas bars with delicious and cheap wines, this plate was a life/night saver for me, if you know what I mean.
We were also drawn to a restaurant that displayed its meat/carcasses in glass freezers at the entrance of the restaurant. While it may sound unappetizing or even morbid to some, my boyfriend and I loved the industrial feel and cool factor this provided. The waiter was also incredibly knowledgeable about celiac disease and informed me that almost anything I wanted could be prepared on a separate grill. And then he offered me “celiac bread” (which is what they call gluten-free bread here because no Spaniards other than the celiacs want gluten-free bread).
*Side note: The bread most restaurants serve when they say “celiac bread” is from a company called Airos. It comes in individual, oven-safe packets that include a list of ingredients and are then heated up. On several occasions my boyfriend has told me this oven-warmed Airos bread is better than what he is given and I must say I agree. While in general fresh bread in Spain is amazing, Airos can give more than a few bakeries a run for their money. It can also be found in local supermarkets (not the tiny mercados or “quick&easy” grocery stores) around Spain – for me this means my favorite Carrefour.
So it was here at La Lobera de Martín that we enjoyed huevos rotos with jamón yet again, only this time the waiter breaking the yolks open right in front of us. Everyone took great care of me and I felt very safe eating at la Lobera. Maybe even a little too safe – as I tried to take a bite of my boyfriend’s Argentinian cut beef (from the grill, so I assumed “it’s safe! YAY!”) our waiter happened to be walking by and said “stop! We did not cook that special for you!” Having been duly chastened, I returned to my own plate and mopped up every bit with my celiac bread.
Handsome man and our meal at La Lobera
Another hidden gem for the gluten-free among us was 3 Lunas Taberna, which we chose for our first meal in Zaragoza mainly because there were empty tables and we were dying to sit down. Despite the lack of clientele, this restaurant served great arroz negro (literally “black rice” colored with squid ink) and simple yet delicious Spanish dishes. The staff here also took great care in preparing for me and making sure it was “okay” if they did my potatoes different from my boyfriends because they didn’t want to chance any cross-contamination. Oh, and we got two mini oven-warmed “celiac” baguettes for free since I couldn’t eat the “normal” bread that came with the €11 menú del dia.
Zaragoza from above in 2008
All in all, we had a really nice gluten-free (and cold!) weekend. I think we both agreed that the best part was paying €3 to go up in one of the basilica’s towers… The view from the top was absolutely breath-taking (both figuratively and literally because I was panting a little due to my fear of heights). Our tapas crawl sprawled through the old town but it was centered around Calle Libertad, which is packed with Zaragozanos any given weekend. ¡Buen provecho!