Sometimes the best trip is one where you have no idea where you’re going. Besides knowing that Zaragoza was in Spain, I was in the dark. Breaking up my train trip from Rioja country to Madrid was the main motivation for picking it as a stopover. So, like my whirlwind 24 hours in Madrid, I had a day to explore.
By train: Convenient train connections from all over Spain.
The skies were foreboding to say the least – clusters of charcoal grey clouds were closing in fast on the remaining patches of blue. Scurrying from Hotel Avenida with the priority of seeing the Old Town before the downpour.
Turning down the main pedestrian street, I passed by some of the amazing Northern Spanish-style balconies which were quickly becoming a favourite architectural feature of mine. Looming in the distance was the spires of the amazing cathedral.
Our Lady of the Pillar is jaw dropping. Vibrant blue, yellow, and white geometries interlock to make up the tiled 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.
Our Lady of the Pillar firmly took second place on my “favorite cathedrals” list, only beaten by the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. It also happens to be the second largest cathedral in Spain, trumped only by Seville. The idea for its creation came on the 2nd of January, 40 AD. St. James was sitting along the Ebro river and feeling a little down. As luck would have it, the virgin Mary appeared and gave him a column of Jasper, with instructions to build a church in her honor. And so he did.
Already spitting with rain, the perfect refuge was directly across from the cathedral – a covered arcade filled with bars. The perfect spot for a glass of wine and a little nibble.
The city is eclectic – neither having the grandiose superiority of Madrid or the casually hip feeling in Bilbao. It’s something different yet again – Spain with its vast idiosyncrasies and regional changes are amazing.
In contrast to the previous night’s rain, the morning arrived clear and sunny. Leaving from the hotel, I jogged past the Mercado central and headed for the river. The Ebro, wide and clear, cuts through the city, lined with well-maintained promenades, walking paths, and parks. The air was thick with that amazing after-the-rain dewiness, making the jog all the more refreshing.
Seeing the cathedral from the opposite river bank is a sight in and of itself. Circling around and crossing back over the river, weaving through narrow streets lined with cafes and shops, I truly wished I had more time to explore here.
Refreshed and with one hour to spare, I headed to Mercado Central. Conveniently located within 100 meters of my hotel and bustling with Saturday morning shoppers, the market is packed with fresh local products – Spanish ham, giant prawns, fish waiting on ice, vegetables, and fruit. Grab some of the famous Spanish Marcona almonds, or a slab of Turron, a sweet with Arabic roots, made from a base of almonds, sugar, honey, and egg whites.
The Museo Pablo Gargallo houses a wonderful collection of sculptures by the famous artist. Despite my best attempts I couldn’t fit this in – I’ll just have to go back 😊
With 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.