Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Zaragoza at last!

Roman ruins and, beyond the indoor market in Zaragoza

We made it! 8:00am start from Pechaud, Dordogne and we were in Zaragoza at 3:15pm, after getting a little misplaced on the cross country route to theA65 motorway south. Four hours of our journey in France were through gently rolling hills, then we saw the mountains of the Pyrenees looming large and we headed on up winding roads through the foothills and then the higher mountains, eventually threading through a high valley and pass on the D9 through splendid scenery.

A water feature and pool in Plaza del Pilar. Does it look like an earthquake to you?
On exiting a long 8.5km road tunnel through the mountains we noticed different road signs and a 100km speed limit sign, different from the 90km speed limit on National roads in France. ‘Are we in Spain now’ we thought, must be, but there was no obvious border, until just a little way down a couple of Spanish police cars were stopping the traffic. He spoke reasonable English (fortunately), wanted to see our passports, looked in the back and waved us on. Looking for illegal immigrants? Who knows, but I suppose our white faces made them ask no more questions. A little further on and the heavens opened in a huge rainstorm with massive amounts of water falling causing us to really slow down on the motorway, which kept going until we were virtually at our destination. Fortunately it had stopped by the time we arrived but the puddles showed they had not escaped.

Jackie in the Plaza del Pilar (water feature behind us). On the left is the immense Basilica del Pilar
Outside the Palacio de la Aljaferia, Cortes de Aragon
Zaragoza is in the area known as Aragon and is on the Rio (river) Elbe, which is navigable right through to the Mediterranean. It’s been strategically important for many years, the Romans built a city here and called it Caesaraugustus and there are many Roman remains including a river port and an amphitheatre. The Moors invaded in 15th century, Spain became Islamic and a mosque was built on the banks of the Elbe in Zaragoza. The Iberian people re-conquered Spain in 16th century and the mosque was converted to an immense Catholic church, now called the Basilica del Pilar and, in more recent times, in 1808 it was the scene of a siege by Napoleon as he invaded the country at the start of the Peninsular Wars of which the Duke of Wellington became famous in assisting the Spanish in kicking out the French.

Inside the Palacio in the restored Islamic and original part, built by the Moors
The ruins of the Caesaraugustus Roman amphitheatre
With all this history there is a lot to see and we’re stopping at the Hotel Paris Centro, which is in the old city with very narrow streets making driving and parking here quite difficult. Having prepared our arrival by looking at Google Street View we managed to park in a 10 minute unloading spot near the hotel, checked in and then paid for secure car parking, which involved driving into the next street and taking the car down one level under the street in a lift and parking somewhere under other buildings. 
There the car has remained while we’ve been here and we’ve been walking everywhere.

The original stone bridge into the city and, behind it, the Basilica. It was over this bridge that Napoleons forces stormed in 1808, were repulsed in a bloody battle but eventually made it across and took the city
The Basilica by day with the Rio Elbe in front
We had a bit of the day after we arrived yesterday and all of today and we’ve seen a lot of the sights and sampled some pretty good Spanish tapas, beer and wine. We’ve enjoyed it and there are some splendid sights, but it’s also ‘tower block city’. Everyone seems to live in a tower block, there aren’t any normal houses, and the streets are so narrow with everything so close together. Although they are not as bad as some of the high rise areas of 60’s Britain they are all very ‘samey’ with not much architectural flair, so on a relatively dull day some areas looked a bit depressing and we were surprised to see some litter about and a lot of dog owners not clearing up after their dogs, so it has a slightly untidy side too.

Same view by night
A friendly toad we saw quietly minding his own business
This is our second and last night here and in the morning after breakfast we head off south to Altea on the Costa Blanca to stay with Richard (Jackie’s dad) and Elizabeth. It’s about a 5 hour drive so lazy breakfast and easy drive (hopefully) and we should be there mid-afternoon.

This seems to be a local delicacy here. A thick hot chocolate drink and sweet churreria sticks to dip. Jackie is showing how thick the chocolate is on her spoon...
But I think my spoon illustrates it better. you don't get many drinks that you can stand a spoon up in!

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