Saturday, May 13, 2017

On the road to and through Zaragoza

Zaragoza is our last stop on our month-long trip to Spain. 

Our winter 2017 trip to Spain is coming to a close. As we cross the Castile-la-Mancha region, we make a few somewhat "meh" stops at sites recommended in my guidebook, spend a night in a motel in a tiny village that turns out to be a delightful surprise, and find ourselves smack in the middle of Carnaval crowds in Zaragoza, our last stop before France.

To ...

On the plains of La Mancha we see windmills off in the distance and make two brief stops in Belmonte and Consuegra before heading to our destination.

This castle in Belmonte, Spain, was built in the 15th century
by the Marquis of Villena after the king gave him the town.

Statue of Don Joaquín Poveda Sánchez in Belmonte, Spain

Windmills on a ridge above Consuegra, Spain

We've planned the trip so we don't have too many long days of driving. I reserve a room in a cheap motel in Saúca because it's equidistant between Toledo and Zaragoza. Our expectations are low: a clean room and good WiFi will satisfy, but pleasant surprises await us at the El Cercao Hostal. We've arrive a little early so we have a coffee in the bar and watch game shows on TV while we wait for our room. Our host explains that since the regular rooms lack heat, she's upgraded us to a family room. The charming, spotlessly clean room includes a kitchenette and an extra bed as well as the usual amenities. I don't usually include shameless plugs in this blog, but if you ever find yourself in the Guadalajara province and need a place to stay, this is it.

We couldn't have been more pleased with our stay at El Cercao Hostal in Saúca.

Saúca's church is the tiny village's only landmark.

Another view of the church in Saúca, Spain (pop. 70)

El Cercao isn't serving lunch today, so our host points out the shortcut to Sigüenza, about 10 minutes away. We have a number of restaurants to choose from, and after filling up, we check out the town. There are two main attractions here: the cathedral and the castle. The castle's foundations date back to the 5th century. The Moors then the Christians expanded it, and today it is a hotel. We're allowed to poke around the courtyard, but to see more, we would have to check in. (Another time, perhaps.)

Sigüenza Cathedral

Castillo Sigüenza

Courtyard of Sigüenza castle

One last stop worth mentioning is one we make between Saúca and Zaragoza in the Aragón region. The village of Calatayud is overlooked by a huge Moorish Fortress, visible from the motorway. We spend about two hours here ... enough time for walk through town, a snack and a café solo.

Ruins of an 8th-century Arab castle in Calatayud are visible for miles around.

Colegiata de Santa María in Calatayud

Storks and a nest atop a building in Calatayud

Through ...

The cupolas of the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar
dominate the skyline of Zaragoza, Spain.

We have arrived in Zaragoza — our final stop in Spain before heading to Toulouse to see my sister and then home to Lauzun. We're staying across the Rio Elbro so our first view of the city also is the best view — from the Puente de Piedra.

Zaragoza's Plaza del Pilar

A few years ago some friends suggested we visit Zaragoza (Saragossa is its Spanish name). They had been most impressed with the city's huge plaza, and indeed, the Plaza del Pilar is pretty amazing. Landmarks here include the Basilica de Nuestra Señora (El Pilar), La Lonja de Mercaderes (an exhibition space that originally was a merchants' market exchange), the  Ayuntamiento (city hall) and La Seo cathedral. Whimsical sculptures and a modern fountain (Fuente de la Hispanidad) seamlessly blend with the traditional and historical buildings that rim the plaza. A televised tapas cook-off is taking place while we're here, and I am surprised there aren't more people out and about on this mild sunny day. But wait ... the throngs are coming.

Fuente de la Hispanidad in Zaragoza has the silhouette of South America.
The fountain, by architect Ricardo Uson García, was built in 1991

Despite our travel-weariness, we manage to explore a good part of Zaragoza in our afternoon here. We are starving by 5 p.m. and have trouble finding a bite to eat. (We never do manage to acclimate to meal times in Spain.) At last we find a restaurant and order tapas ("one of each, por favor) and drinks to fortify ourselves for our last night out.

Fuente del Dragon in Zaragoza

A huge Caesar statue in a Zaragoza shopping center

It's the last night of Carnaval celebrations here, and we have vowed to stay up late and enjoy the festivities. We aren't exactly sure of where the parade will take place but we follow miniature superheros and princesses as they head to what we assume is the start of the parade route. Eventually we realize that the celebration will wind through the city and the sidewalks are soon clogged with people.

My limited view of the Carnaval festivities in Zaragoza

I am not a big fan of crowds, so we hang back, have some ice cream and wait to see what will happen. As the parade passes the Plaza de España, we manage to catch glimpses of the floats and costumes. But I've seen enough, and my brave and clever husband manages to get us across the street so we can return to our hotel.

Zaragoza at night from the Puente de Piedra

Congratulating ourselves for staying out so late, (It must be nearly 10 o'clock!) we turn our attention to a good night's sleep before tomorrow's drive north over the Pyrénées.

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