Wednesday 11 January, 2006

zaragoza, saragosa, ttharagottha

Filed under: Claire's Entries — claire @ 7:02 pm

Whatever you want to call it, it’s a great city! The land of Aragon conjures such mythical images in my mind that I feel it must be fictitious or at least a very very loose truth, you know like the Paris End of Collins St. But the vision of the momentous domed Basilica, as though superimposed onto the skyline, as you drive towards the city, the abundant architectural evidence that both the Romans and the Moors spent quite of bit of time there, makes history feel far less surreal.

I’d come across my favourite sort of travel article, one written by a food writer! Jill Duplex had lots of good things to say about Zaragoza and lots of recommendations, I figured if it was good enough for Jill it was good enough for us. So after sorting accommodation we obtained a map, plotted our course and let her lead the way. It was very cold when we first headed out and we were a bit depleted after time spent driving and sorting accommodation so when Jim suggested refuelling with Spanish hot chocolate and churro I was very keen. I was desperate to try the hot chocolate ever since I heard that the spanish serve it so dangerously thick and luscious your spoon can stand up in it! And joy of joys it wasn’t an urban myth it’s true!! If that isn’t heaven enough you then get to dunk churro in it. There are churro cafes that sell nothing but churro,though in two sizes, coffee and hot chocolate. We got a tip from a local who sent us to a very popular one, busy in the mornings with people stopping in before work, retirees partaking in their morning ritual and new mums initiating their toddlers to the way things are done by shoving churro in their chubby little hands. Despite the deliciousness of it we still craved something savoury for our breakfast so always followed up with a warm tortilla bocadillo. Barcelona did do Tapas but it is not a Catalan speciality, but wow did Zaragoza do it and how they did it, it is true we did not eat a plated meal the whole time there. Come to think of it Barcelona was the only time we ate traditional courses off a plate and Zaragoza would be the last time we ate sitting down. There are just too many food highlights from Zaragoza to mention though Jim would like special mention made of the superb jamon we had served thinly sliced with the spanish version of brushetta, lightly toasted bread with a tomato rub and a little olive oil. It was the most expensive meal we had in Spain, 16euro for the serve with two beers, but is was superb, the best jamon either of us have had.

The first night despite returning to the hotel late and after many drinks and tapas we failed to pass out and had a rough night of it. We were trying to cut costs on our accommodation and thought we had done alright in the clean pension we had chosen run by a friendly woman who dressed as you would imagine a retired flamenco dancer would. The problem was in between checking in and returning for the night, one by one the entire population of Zaragoza had popped by our room for a quick fag or 500. Jim is the more passionate anti smoker than I, it is he who visibly stiffens when someone lights up around him, I can cope sharing a restaurant with a smoker, while it takes all Jims might not to get up and walk out. So I am still perplexed how Jim managed without to much complaint to stay in that room, probably because I hogged the quota for the over the top reaction in this scenario. You have to understand this room reeked of smoke, I mean even when I attempted to breathe through the sheets it only made things worse as the smoke had long been part of the fabric and obviously a constant presence. I thrashed, I flayed my arms about moaning I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe! Jim how can you stand this? I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe! I got up in the early hours of the morning dramatically lunging for the window for some fresh air. At this point I saw a woman out walking her dog, she had heard me at the window but clearly wasn’t sure where the noise had come from. She stiffened and turned as if on guard, called her dog over and raised her weapon of choice….an egg whisk !!! When I was telling mum about this amusing scenario she had me in stitches coming up with possible explanations, being the quick wit she is, she said she felt if it had been an English speaking country then naturally it was just the result of a mispronunciation, as well as a misunderstanding. You’re taking a risk whisk walking alone at that time of morning!

At the time the woman and her whisk didnt even get a smile out of me, by 7am I couldnt take it anymore and I got up and headed out. The retired flamenco was up dressed in all her glory at the desk as I left, I asked her if it was a smoking hotel Si, Si she happily announced. Somehow I conveyed to her through manic gesticulation, some English, some French and a little Spanish that I felt like I had slept with my head face down in an ashtray. She understood, she was concerned but she begged me to follow her, Por favour, Por favour she beamed happily at me, she had the answer and presented me with a gift of my very own can of Glen20! We checked out that day and promptly booked a room that displayed a very large no smoking sign and a wonderful view of the Basillica.

Jim knew someone in Zaragoza so we were lucky enough to have our own personal tour guide and very charming and funny one Virgina was. She took us to some wonderful art galleries, a fabulous photographic exhibition, many notable buildings and churches and shared the company of her fun friends.

It is a mystery to me how Zaragoza has escaped the notice of tourist, we couldn’t recommend it enough.

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