ZaragozaFebruary 2 in Spain
Zaragosza, the regional capital of Aragón, is Spain's fifth largest city and one the Lonley Planet recommended visiting. We drove the short distance and parked up on a rough ground car park under one of the many bridges crossing the Río Ebro. There was an amazing two-way cycle track with low friction surface leading along the river to the very heart of the city 2km away.
The first sight that really made an impact was the waterside Basìlica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a huge church with domes, spires and 4 towers, one at each corner. At 130m x 67m it was a large building and its white, yellow and blue patterned domes made a striking impression. Securing the tandem in a bike rack off the large main square, we entered the Catholic basilica. In contrast to Barcelona's light, airy and colourful church, this had rather an oppressive feel, despite the light stone pillars lining the aisles. Photography wasn't permitted but we'll describe it the best we can. Chapels branched off the aisles and mass was taking place in a central chapel at the south end of the nave. People gathered to echo prayers projected via speakers and we passed someone kneeling at a confessional, pouring her heart out to a richly robed man seated in the small, ornately carved wooden box. Domed ceilings contained frescos by Francisco Goya and there were a lot of carved stone statues on the walls. Much of it was darkened with age and the smoke of incense from silver censers suspended high up.
We made our way to the north tower where we secured a ride in the glass elevator with a surly assistant. It shot up and we stepped out to an open air and windy section of the tower, with views over the basilica roof, river and city to the hills beyond. From here we climbed ever narrowing stairways and eventually emerged from a tight spiral of metal, wood and glass, to a panoramic view through windows. The space was cramped but there were only a couple of others with us at any one point and we were able to spend time taking in Zaragoza's sand coloured buildings stretched out below.
From the vantage point we spotted a small market in the square below and made a beeline for it after the basilica. This stalls specialised in organic produce, so we got some local eggs, a small box of saffron and some goats cheese flavoured with this spice, which we thought might be interesting to try.
Time was getting on and we had looked up a vegan restaurant for lunch. The city had quite a few vegan or vegetarian eateries, as well as organic and healthfood stores. We are still trying to adjust to Spain's opening hours and as El Plato Reberde didn't open until 1pm we whiled a little time by walking the surrounding neighbourhood and being buzzed into a hippy shop by yet another surly looking assistant. It was difficult to put a finger on it, but we weren't getting a good vibe from the city. People seemed self absorbed and Vicky had been bumped into more than once. Despite having checked the restaurant's opening hours and Facebook page, 1pm came and went, but its doors remained closed. We were less than impressed but headed towards another nearby that had been recommended by users on the Happy Cow app. La Retama was a veggie restaurant the 1st floor that seated around 20. We were the first to arrive and the dining room was cold but the staff friendly. We ordered the 3 course options menu but didn't receive any bread as promised. Will is still building confidence in his Spanish so we didn't point it out. The food was well presented but bland and we left disappointed.
The final attraction we wanted to visit were four underground museums showcasing parts of a Roman city. Arriving at the first, the remains of public baths, we found it to be closed. The opening hours were 10am - 2pm and 5pm - 9pm. We decided we didn't have the energy to return in several hours time and made our way back to the van. We could have stayed where we were but despite the highlight of the trip up the tower, we hadn't had a particularly positive experience in Zaragoza and wanted to move on.Read more