Zaragoza, Spain

Zaragoza 12-14.5.17

Zaragotha, home to an Origami Museum.

What did I do when I arrived in Zaragotha? I was welcomed by my host Yvonne and we went for a drink and something to eat! Whoever said that you cannot be a vegetarian in Spain?

Almond soup – cold. Delicious.
Baobab vegetarian restaurant.
http://www.restaurantebaobab.com/
View from the balcony of the flat where I stayed.

When I announced I was visiting Zaragoza, I was often asked why, even by people who live there! I think there is a popular idea that it is a predominantly industrial city and an army base. But, I can tell you that it is worth seeing.

The main square, Plaza del Pilar, is enormous, with not one but two cathedrals: the Basilica Nuestra Señora del Pilar, a very old church inside a less old, bigger one; and the Seo, Cathedral of the Saviour (Catedral del Salvador) with its spectacular tapestries.

Basilica.
Bas-reliefs on the outside walls of the Basilica.
The Spanish coup of July 1936 fractured the Spanish Republican Armed Forces and marked the beginning of the Spanish Civil War.
Down one end are the fountains backed by an expansive metal plate down which the water runs when it is on.
Catedral Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
Tradition holds that on 2 January 40 AD, while Saint James was deep in prayer by the banks of the Ebro, the Mother of God (Nuestra Señora) appeared, gave him a column of jasper and instructed him to build a church in her honor.
Statues outside by Pablo Serrano.
Highly Baroque.
Vaulted ceilings.

Romanesque, Gothic and many other styles can be seen in this venerated place.
Francisco Goya and his relatives decorated the ceilings.
Floor decoration.

Confirmation taking place so we could not view the main altar.

In the past, the two cathedrals vied with each other to display the most impressive riches, but the Basilica is the only one with a canon ball hole in its front wall. As far as the parishioners are concerned it was an act of God that it did not explode when it came through during the civil war.

The Seo.
Also known as the Cathedral of the Saviour (del Salvador).
Or Parroquial de la Seo.
With its wonderful Moorish decoration.
Stunning tapestries upstairs – many are 15th century, stolen from Belgium.

Rooms of glorious tapestries.
Really ancient, fascinating scenes telling intricate stories with divers characters.

When I was in Normandy I met a paper sculptor and he told me I must go and see the Origami Museum in Zaragotha. But where was it? My hosts who had lived there for years did not know.

Ah, there – this advert for it was right beside us! See below.
There are modern pillars advertising the city and its other sights.

There are fountains, sculptures, the tourist information, exhibitions,  and plenty of space to sit or run around.

Large groups of immaculately dressed families celebrating their children’s the first communion.

That place alone takes a day or more to view properly.

Origami sculpture.
Goya himself, a famous inhabitant.

Within 5 minutes walk from there are ancient remains to be seen – an amphitheatre and clearly excavated dwellings.

There are beautiful lanes, squares and courtyards with cafes in. We had paella sitting outside in the warm shade for lunch.

Cafe y mirador del Museo (museum).
With palm trees.
Candy yellow and pink houses.
Archways leading to new delights.
You could spend dappled days wandering and stopping for drinks.

Watch other people strolling – you might not be able to see the pom poms on the little boy’s socks.
Yvonne and Danny.

Anywhere where music is played in the multi-storey car park as well as the cathedral is OK with me.

Here are some more of the origami and paper exhibits.

Made by Beata Kupczak, Poland.

Thanks to obliging Yvonne, who drove at top speed to catch the security guard before he closed the museum, I reclaimed my mobile phone with its 1000s of photos!

Other highlights included an evening walk along the Ebro, being shown the  contemporary architecture of the 2008 Expo with the Pabellón Puente bridge designed by Zaha Hadid, and the Aragon Pavillion with its effect of woven glass panels. (No photos because I had not got my phone back at this time).

I extend my thanks for the hospitality, keen conversation, and sightseeing I received in this impressive city.

The next day I took a Bla Bla Car along the autovia del Nordeste (A2) between Zaragoza and Madrid, passing by Guadalajara and the Panteón de la Duquesa de Sevillano. Knowing it was the Fiesta San Isidro that day, the biggest and best of the year, and with extra unexpected time in Madrid, I made the mistake of attempting to walk from Chamartín to Atocha stations to try and see the street celebrations. Well, I had been in the car for a long time already, and was going to be journeying a further 5 hours to Seville later the same day so I figured I could stretch my legs! Readers, do not try it – it is mostly motorway and you cannot walk on the motorway, so I took a detour and somehow managed to get lost (in immense heat, on a Sunday afternoon) in an industrial estate. Oh dear, I had to retrace my steps and take the metro. It was a disaster and I did not get to see any of the carnival.

After the most troublesome pick-up I have had with Bla Bla Car, I eventually managed to get my lift. The driver was a wheelchair using, cannabis-smoking athlete with a wicked sense of humour. He played me Luis Fonsi’s raunchy Latino ‘Despacito ft.’ and we translated from the Spanish to English, line by line, all the way to Seville, arriving much later than planned, and being met by the patient Pedro. See next blog – Seville.

Origami Museum website http://www.emoz.es/language/en/

 

Pontorson, La Berniére, Port de Pornic, Zaragoza – France/Spain 10

Pontorson 10.5.17; Brittany circular, coastal walk / ‘les balades’ (rambles) / ‘les randonnées’ (hikes) – La Bernière to Port de Pornic 11.5.17, both France.

Journey via Bla Bla Car to Zaragoza, Spain 12.5.17.

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Youth hostel, Pontarson, Normandy, France.

On the Camino Francés in Spain, the hostels are where you meet other backpackers and exchange tales. Up until today, I had not encountered anyone in France, but the two women I had seen the previous night were breakfasting when I got down to the youth hostel kitchen. After being initially engaged in (French) conversation with a rather interested man who told me he did all sorts of work, anything he was asked to do, and then kissed me goodbye (yes, the dangers of being a single female traveller!), I was invited to sit with them for a while. They asked me what I was up to and after explaining, I was enthusiastically given a piece of paper by Lysiane, with her name and address on it, and told that if I ever visited Brussels I could stay with her in return for Shiatsu. Almost everyone I meet and talk to knows what Shiatsu is and likes it; it really is quite notable compared with the UK.

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Station, Pontorson from where I got my first and only train during this month. Goodbye Normandy!

Myself and a number of others arrived at the station before it opened. It was unclear to us all how we should get tickets and where to go, until a brusque woman came to open up. We waited in the gorgeous sun before realising we needed to cross the tracks for the stopping train to Rennes which I had booked online the day before. A Japanese couple regaled us, as we waited, with a comparison between the efficiency of French signposting and the contrasting confusion in Britain.

My day’s walk on the Brittany coast began in the rain at La Bernière-en-Retz, a small town where a lot of street work was being carried out, but that was otherwise deserted. The sea was well out, revealing broad sands with low stone walls. I felt immensely light-hearted, as happy as I was when walking in northern Spain in the  Autumn of 2016.

The path was easy to find and varied. Sometimes it was on cliffs, at others beside dwellings. Always there was the expansive view of the water, with miniscule collectors of seafish in the distance. After a while there was a series of platforms from which hung voluminous lift-nets. I was told that when the tide is in, these fill with fish.  These traditional ‘carrelets’ are expensive apparently, but bring high yields and are found all along this coast.

‘les carrelets’c/o Olivier on Pinterest

The low stone walls are also demarcations related to fishing, left over from many years ago, and easily seen at certain times of the day.

Elegant hotels and old people’s homes line parts of the shore.

Grassy paths wound up and over the rocks, seagulls shrieked, and the fresh breeze bought welcome fragrances of the cypress trees.

Not a cypress.

Picnic lunch was taken (illegally, it transpired) under ancient stones to shelter from the wet.

Dolmen de la Joselière.

Port de Pornic with its gentle harbour, silver grey turrets, and small yachts came as a surprise. Rather quaint and sophisticated by turns, it is quite a centre but I did not investigate. Instead, here I turned and headed back the way I had come, stopping to divest myself of waterproof trousers as the sun started to show itself, seeing things from back-to-front and in a different light, literally.

The next day I took a Bla Bla Car from Bordeaux, via Bayonne, Irun, and Pamplona to Zaragoza to stay with the genial Yvonne.

Bordeaux station. France.
I needed a brandy while waiting in the extreme heat of midday.

Bla Bla Car is generally unknown in the UK. It is a fantastic system, originally set up so that someone who is making a long-distance journey has company while they drive. Nowadays some complain that it has become a sort of glorified taxi service, but on the whole I found it to be a social thing.

On the way.

It operates in France and Spain, and there is a website where you search for the setting-off point and destination, and then identify who you might like to go with. Like air bnb, the drivers are vetted and reviewed, and you can guarantee that the cost is less than the cheapest mode of public transport for that same journey. Sometimes the driver reserves the right to choose, and although you have paid (I used PayPal for safety), you can be rejected, and then the fee is repaid immediately.

In fact, it was often tricky to find a train or bus which goes went a to b at the times I was searching, whereas it was always possible to find someone who was driving, once you got the hang of the site. And of course I met fascinating people. On the first leg, from Bordeaux to Bayonne, I sat in the back with a young woman who told me all about her life, parents, health and loves, showing me photos and shedding a tear now and then.

Bayonne station, France. Most of the Bla Bla Car pick-ups happen at well known sites.
Passing through Irun on the mountainous border.
Massive trucks doing paperwork.

At Pamplona  we said good luck to two gentlemen who had both injured themselves on the Camino, been home to recover, and were re-joining it there. Then Charles, the car owner, and I made the final leg to Zaragoza, arriving at the radio station with messages flying between myself, my expectant host, and the driver. I have found all the drivers this month to be courteous and obliging. It was good that I had my daughter’s old Nokia with a topped-up Spanish SIM in it as we were late and so I was able to communicate by text and phone.

I had been asked several times why I was bothering to go to Zaragoza. It seems to have a poor reputation with tourists as a predominantly industrial city. My reasons for going: Yvonne kindly invited me when I met her at her father’s funeral and that was my plan – if I am invited somewhere I go, that’s how I choose between all the possible amazing places in Spain. Result: it was a fascinating and enjoyable place to visit, made considerably better I am sure by being shown around and treated like a queen by a resident!