Similar to my whirlwind 24 hours in Madrid, I visited Zaragoza after our tour of Basque country, as a stopover on the way back to the airport and ultimately home. Sometimes the absolutely best trip is one where you have no idea what is there, why you’re going, and what you’ll see. Zaragoza is one such example. All I knew was it was between Haro, my starting point, and the Madrid airport, my destination. OK, why not? Let’s check out Zaragoza for 24 hours.
The city is eclectic – a different atmosphere from Madrid and certainly from Basque country and wine country. Spain with its vast idiosyncrasies and regional changes surprised me again. Hotel Avenida is on a street with snaking tram lines crossing the pavement, quite ordinary, nothing special. The night was promising rain so I hurried to ask the reception which direction I should walk. I left the hotel and passed by more of the amazing balconies which were quickly becoming a common feature on the trip. Following the tram lines, I made a left and suddenly, looming in the distance, was the mammoth spire of the Basilica. Our Lady of the Pillar is jaw dropping. The footprint alone is vast, and the feature I completely fell in love with was the tiled roofs on the exterior. Vibrant blue, yellow, and white geometries interlock on the roof, lending an exotic feeling to the otherwise traditionally Baroque cathedral. None of my pictures do the roof justice but the shot below from a Texan in Spain gives a better idea.
Save for the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, this quickly has become my favorite cathedral in all the land. It also happens to be the second largest cathedral in Spain, trumped only by Seville. Apparently, way back on the 2 January, 40 AD, St. James was preaching the gospel along the Ebro river, and become disheartened. The virgin Mary appeared to him and gave him a column of Jasper, with instructions to build a church in her honor. And so he did, which is the modern-day Lady of the Pillar.
With the skies opening up and rain pouring down, I scrambled around the exterior of the building to see it all before taking refuge in a passageway. A passageway full of bars of course, because you´re in Spain and that is the number one activity. Directly across from the cathedral is a covered arcade, lined with old-school cafe stools and wine barrels. The perfect spot for a glass of wine and a little nibble.
For other fun city activities, check out the Museo Pablo Gargallo, a wonderful collection of sculptures by the famous artist. For you energetic people, a jog along the river is a wonderful way to see more of the city, when you’re short on time. I went for a run Saturday morning, and the air was fresh and still full of that great after-the-rain scent. The banks of the river are lined with a modern promenade, dotted with playgrounds and sculpture installations. The sun was up in full force, giving the city a very different feel compared to the rainy evening before. I never take anything with me on a run, so sadly, pictures are absent 😦
For a true taste of the local, head to Mercado Central – conveniently located within 100 meters of my hotel and bustling with Saturday morning shoppers. The market is full of fresh local products – head to the dried fruit and nut stands for the famous Spanish Marcona almonds, or a slab of Turron, a Spanish sweet with Arabic roots. The base is normally almonds, sugar, honey, and egg whites, with many flavour variations. I grabbed one each of the nougat version and dark chocolate truffle.
Head to the fish monger for some giant prawns, or the butcher for some of the famous Spanish ham. I guarantee you will find any food product you might desire in this market.
Sadly, I had no more time to spend in the city, and it was off to Madrid to fly back to South America and the realities of work and a schedule. Luckily, I got one last glimpse of gorgeous Spanish countryside en-route – the perfect ending to a fabulous trip.