Ten days before Christmas, I am on my way to St. Jean de Luz in France from the Costa Blanca in Spain with a quick stop to see a bit of Zaragosa in the Region of Aragon in Spain. Wasn’t too sure what I would find here. I had a quick look online to see what the city might have to offer but nothing really appealed to me.
A bit of fear hit me when we arrived at the Bienvenido sign in Zaragosa. Quite unattractive entrance into the city with non-descript apartment complexes and boulevards — not at all the kind of vistas I imagined when I decided to spend more time in Europe. Luckily, just like many Spanish cities I’ve been to in the last few years, the outskirts of the Old Towns do not reflect, at all, the treasures found within the historical centers.
Checked into Catalonia el Pilar, a clean and centrally located 4 star hotel in a beautiful little plaza called Plaza de la Justice, next to a baroque church and an adorable little fountain. Word to the wise, it is never good to enter a Spanish city during siesta time and I can’t help but complain (again!), I cannot, after so much time in Spain, wrap my head around this time of day, gosh everyday, when most shops close to enjoy a leisurely lunch and maybe even take a nap before going back to work or school. Streets are empty and storefronts are dark.
As dusk fell, at around 5:30pm there were more people on the street and storefronts began to light up. I parked the car underground and I am always amazed at how clean and organized the underground carparks are here. Stepped onto the street after holding my breath as I climbed the steps from the underground – I usually do this as I have on many occasions, all over the world, experienced such foul smells in public stairwells. I was so surprised and absolutely giddy with what I found in front of me. I could hear lovely Christmas music in the distance and could see beautifully hung Christmas lights. As I walked towards the music there were cute little stalls selling all sorts of bric-a-brac but what really struck me was the grand promenade, if you will, in front of the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar (Nuestra Senora del Pilar) and the La Seo Cathedral. Amazing! Gorgeous! And just what I wanted to see right before Christmas. Perfection!
I have seen many churches in Europe and just when I think I couldn’t possibly be impressed by yet another large church, here I am, totally awestruck by the Basilica of Our Lady of Pilar! I have never seen internal domes inside of grand, glittery domes! And the scale of it, just amazing. Seventeenth century baroque in such great condition.
Ok so onto food, one of my greatest joys. Lots of little stalls selling local cheese, olives and of course mountains of candy that the Spanish just love. What I spotted though was something near and dear to my heart. Chicharron, Pork Rind or Crackling!!! Yum! Had to have a bit of this which I ate greedily while feeling my arteries begin to seize.
I tucked into El Real, a cafe with a distinctive art-deco ambiance. Clean, good service but this was when my food journey began in Zaragosa. You see, I’ve been in Spain most of the last year and a half and when I was discovering this country , I had so much tapas and churros that well, I just had enough of the stereotypical tapas and churros that Spain is so famous for. That is, up until tonight. Maybe it was the fatty crispy chicharron that got my tastebuds ready but the tapas at El Real were fantastic. Soon thereafter, at one of the stalls in front of the Basilica I thought, let’s give the churros fresh out of the hot oil a try and to my surprise I fell in love, again, with sugar sprinkled tube shaped dough that were hot, light and so crispy!
Don’t know where I will go tomorrow, maybe to the banks of the Rio Ebro before getting back in the car on my way to France but I do hope that I fall in love again with authentic Spanish treasures. Living on the coast, as wonderful as it is and believe me it is pretty great… driving inland and experiencing the authenticity of this country is what Spain is truly about.