the Aljaferia (
Palace of Joy
Zaragosa town square
Monasterio de Valvanera
near the Hotel Marques de Riscal at Elciego
Eliza enjoying lunch at the Guggenheim
Time sure seems to fly and before you know it, almost six months have gone by. The winter was short and reasonably pleasant in
, with only several weeks in January/February that had temperatures dropping to single digit at night. There was a couple of weeks of rainy days, and other than that it was mostly sunny and pleasant. Besides enjoying our time in the city, we’ve also been busy traveling – a trip to Barcelona UK, and two trips across . In the most recent trip, we rented a car with a couple of friends and headed north, to Spain , near the Atlantic coast. Bilbao
We spent the first two days of our north-bound journey in Zaragoza, the capital city of the region of
. The city has many interesting old buildings, including a huge cathedral set in a beautiful square. It’s called the Basilica de Nuestra Senora Aragon del Pilar, with the town hall (ayuntamiento) and the Lonja (commodities exchange) nearby.The next day, we walked and visited the Aljaferia ( ), an enormous Moorish palace built in the 11th century. The Aljaferia is really impressive, beautifully done. On our last day at Palace of Joy Zaragoza, we had a nice dinner in the city and celebrated our friend’s 60th birthday. Continuing north, we drove through the mountains into Basque region and into the land of Rioja, one of the well-known regions for its wine. The climate and scenery were markedly different once we crossed the Sierra, and became cooler and much greener. The moist air of the Atlantic is stopped by the tall mountains and this part of Spain is very different from the Mediterranean Spain that we are used to. This is the region of monasteries and wineries, and we drove an hour through winding roads to see a monastery-the Monasterio de Valvanera, located 1,000 m above sea level, in a secluded forested valley and backed by the jagged peaks of the Sienna de San Lorenzo.. We spent a night at a small city called Navarrete, in a valley near the Hotel Marques de Riscal at Elciego, a famous hotel designed by Frank Gehry (of the Guggenheim fame). The Basque separatist movement must have settled down, as we see no military presence anywhere. The Spain today is very different from that in the ‘80’s, when machine-gun totting soldiers were everywhere. Actually the country seems quite prosperous, with very little sign of high unemployment.
We stopped at the Basque capital city of Vitoria. The city is built at the highest point of the region, and the buildings there have a completely different style, almost Northern European. Basque claims to have one of the oldest cultures in Europe, and one can easily mistake this to be a different country. The cuisine is also quite different; apart from the usual tapas, there’s also plenty of meat and fish dishes. Our trip cumulated at Bilboa, where we stayed for two days at a hostal-style hotel in the old town, near the winding Rio Nervion. Bilboa is a river city, close to the edge of Atlantic, by the
; one can almost smell the ocean air. We spent almost a full day at the Guggenheim, including a delightful lunch at its famous restaurant (since we can’t afford the 70 Euro dinner). The museum’s architecture is indeed fascinating, but its modern-art exhibits are also very interesting. Bay of Biscyne
We took a slightly different route for the return trip, and turned north-east ward, hugging the mountainous region of Aragon, near the French border. Our main interest was to visit Ainsa, considered as one of the most beautiful towns in
, and it has retained its charm with houses built with brown stones. To get to Ainsa, we drove through Jaca, home to the Ciudadela de Jaca, a massive pentagonal citadel built in the 16th century, and one of the two of its kind remaining in Aragon Europe. And along the way, up a white-knuckle winding drive near the Parque Nac de Ordesa, called the Roof of Aragon, the roads cutting through a beautiful stretch of green valleys with snow-capped mountains not far away. Then the green fields give way to the arid, brown landscape of Mediterranean Spain, and we are on the home stretch.