I hadn’t seen my cousin Jen in… we think about sixteen years. We know it was more than fifteen, because Jen had never met Julie, which is weird because Jen is one of my favorite people. She’s my dad’s brother’s daughter, and we’re the same age/grade. So when we were growing up and our families would hang out (usually in San Diego, which makes sense because her family was in West Virginia and we were in the Bay Area), we would be closest in age to each other and have stuff to talk about.
Jen did a year in Argentina as an exchange student after high school, and a master’s in Vermont with the second year in Burgos, Spain. The last time I visited her was twenty years ago on my trip around the world – we stayed up late on a Friday in Burgos, and then caught a ride to Aguilar de Campoo, a little town an hour or so north of Burgos, where her then-boyfriend lived.
Twenty years later, she lives in Aguilar with that same boyfriend, who is now her husband, Jose, and their two children, Lucia and Manuel. Visiting Jen was one of the tentpoles of our time in Spain; I really wanted to be able to visit, and we worked our timing around going to Aguilar for a weekend. And what a lovely weekend it was.
Without having a friend or family member in Aguilar, you probably wouldn’t go there, unless you’re a mountain biker in for an event (that was going on while we were in town) or had a thing for off-the-radar medieval sites. That’s not a knock, as it’s a perfect mid-northern Spanish village:
- Gorgeous old church with amazing interior that still does services? Check!
- Plaza with a few restaurants and bars where seemingly everyone in town gathers in the evening before dinner? Check!
- Pretty river with a playground on an island? Check!
- Ruined castle on a hill above town? Check!
- Cousin with a super rad apartment with a view of the river and kids who love smaller kids and are willing to hang out for hours playing Candy Land?
Well, I’ve got that. You may not. Your mileage in Aguilar may vary accordingly.
The point is that we had the best weekend in Aguilar, just hanging out on Friday and Saturday. We had drinks in the plaza, enormous late lunches, Jose’s tortillas (they are the best, most iconic version of Spanish tortillas I have ever had. I’m sorry you can’t eat them, because they are perfect), and trail runs along the river (that was me…).
It was great. And then on the last day Jen and her family took us to see something incredible. It was a Sunday walk, not billed as anything too special. We started in a tiny town outside of Aguilar, so small that it had no commerce, just a crumbling church. The walk took us through a thorny path to a larger trail through the hills, with views of yellow-gold rapeseed fields and snowcapped mountains. We walked down through a forested valley and over a river to a small hill…
… to a circa-10th century necropolis, with stone graves of all sizes. Adults. Children. In-between. It was eerie and wonderful, creepy and amazing. Two hours’ walk from a tiny town, on a perfect spring day. What a wonderful experience.
Then Jen fed us another amazing lunch (fiduea, which is basically paella with noodles), let us dry a bunch of clothes (in a dryer. In Europe. Her place is heaven), and sent us on our way to the mountains. We were sad to leave – she and her family took such good care of us.
That’s one thing that we hadn’t really anticipated when we started this trip. It’s just the three of us most of the time, and we’re taking care of everything: planning where to go, figuring out what to eat or cooking it, entertaining each other, all of it. For three days in Aguilar, we didn’t have to. My cousin and her incredible family handled it. We needed it.
Thanks, Jen. We’ll be back. Hopefully sooner than twenty years from now!