Subject: Weekend in Central Spain
Hello Ziners,

when people come to Spain, they do it mostly looking for the art in Madrid, the flamenco in Sevilla and the modernity in Barcelona. When they talk about the real Spain, most people donīt realize that they are speaking about Andalucia, one of the regions in Spain, with quite a difference in the culture and the way of living to the north or to the centre of the iberian peninsula ... Flamenco and gipsies and Madrid "ham museums" are part of Spain, but there are other sides to this country, and Iīd like to show you another part.

We discovered a couple of weeks ago that we could go away for the past weekend. The Monasterio de Piedra, a natural park located in the south of the Zaragoza province, was a place we were looking forward to visit but never managed to find the moment. After this yearīs rains, we thought that it should be a good moment. Nearby there are two lesser-known provinces : Soria and Teruel. They have lost many population due to the migration to the big cities. We are talking about places with a magnificent scenery (did you know that part of the siberian scenes in "Doctor Zhivago" were set in Soria?), but with a harsh climate and with difficult transport. They are also places with an interesting story, places where the Reconquist was fought during the High Middleages, full with castles ( San Esteban de Gormaz in Soria ) and monasteries. Soria is also forever linked to the memory of two of the greatest poets in Spain, Gustavo Adolfo Becquer and Antonio Machado (ask any person in Spain about the elm, and they will reply with the "Ode to a dry elm", from Machado, a sad story joined to the deathly illness of his young wife).

There have been an increase in rural lodgings, and small, reasonable hotels in the towns. Also, the food is quite good. You can find a good selection of vegetables, and if you like fish, they are getting fresh catch from the spanish northern shores, and there is an influence of the basque cuisine that has a lot to do with that rebirth.

So, here you have a long report of our weekend.

We left home a bit late last Friday, lots of traffic and lots of rain. We drove along the motorway to Zaragoza and the N-II from Zaragoza to Calatayud. This last road is the main road from Madrid to Barcelona and the french frontier, it is really awful. I couldnīt believe the conservation state of that road, and with all those lorries ... ViaMichelin recommended two other roads (leave the motorway in Gallur and drive along secondary roads to Calatayud, or pick up a national road in Zaragoza to Cariņena and Daroca), but we preferred the N-II (easier)...

I had booked a small place in Daroca called "Posada del Almudí" . We were going in the morning to the Monasterio de Piedra, and we could have stayed in Calatayud (found an interesting place there ... ), but my family wanted to try another place. Daroca is a very small walled town located in the south of Zaragoza. It has 7 churches, and it is famous for a "miracle" that happened during the time of the Reconquista, the miracle of the Corporales. During a battle against the Moors, the priest saying the Mass had to hide the Bread in some white clothes. After the christian victory, the priest found out that the white clothes were stained with blood (supposedly from the Bread). They put everyting on a mule, and the mule stopped in Daroca, so they built a church and there were lots of pilgrims. Corpus Christi is a famous festivity there. We had already been in Daroca, around twenty years ago. We arrived around 9 oīclock in the evening. The main street was closed because they are renewing the electrical conductions, so we had to go up and down across the tiny streets, until we found the hotel, just off a square with a big fountain in the main street. The people at the hotel had previously explained me quite well how to arrive to their place. We parked, and dropped our bags in a gorgeous room, spacious, decorated in the Aragon rustical way. Big bathroom and a small balcony with two rattan chairs and a table. The swallows were flying away, and there were 4 or 5 cats in the small garden. Right by our room there was a sitting room with a fireplace and lots of books, and a spacious balcony.

The kitchen closes early, but we were able to have dinner at 9:30. Mum had green beans with potatoes, and asparagus au gratin. My sister had cream of leeks and pork loin cordon bleu, and I had the asparagus and lamb cutlets. Two beers and sparkling mineral water, and yoghurt and lemon ice-cream for dessert. That was the day menu, but they have some interesting things in the "a la carte" menu, but I am afraid we were a bit tired after the 4 hours in the car. At 10:30 at night we asked to the girl in reception for a map of the town, and they gave us a small map and a booklet with the description of three walks across the town. The night was beautiful and we were able to complete the monumental route, walking along the different churches, the main wall door, a square that was previously the mosquee ... it was interesting, and so calm ...

Next day we woke up early (breakfast from 8 to 10). Breakfast was good, coffee or tea or chocolate, orange juice, two toasts drenched in olive oil with apricot jam and a typical pastry from Daroca, rosquillas : huge, rounded puff pastryes similar in form to a doughnut. Everything, including dinner and the taxes, was 100 Euros. We stayed for a while in town, we went to the bakery to get more rosquillas to bring home and bread and other different buns ... It had rained in the morning, and the whole day the weather was very changing.

We chose back roads to go to the Monasterio ... and they were "very" back roads. Drive to Used near the Gallocanta wetland, and then up to Nuévalos. Just a couple of villages, and an empty landscape. Due to this winterīs rains the fields are amazingly filled with flowers, specially red poppies in wheat fields. When we arrived to the Monasterio there wasnīt a lot of people there (we were early), but the amount of people increased during the day. We pay 10 Euros, and mum payed only 6 (pensionists are lucky ...) . It is a beautiful place, but not the best place for people who cannot walk a lot or have problems with the knees (although there were a lot of oldies walking around, and complaining afterwards :) ). One must walk up and down, down a cave and the narrow stairs leading to the Horse Tail Waterfall, that was really cool and too wet :) The tour around all the park lasts around 1 hour and a half or two hours. There are a couple of toilets around (very useful giving the insane amount of water you see and hear), and there are many different kind of trees (we still donīt know the different names...). The entry ticket includes the visit to the former monastery. There are guided visits in spanish, but they also give sheets to the foreign visitors. It was almost destroyed between 1835 and 1840, the Carlist War, the selling of eclesiastical goods to the public (rich people, of course) ... right now there is a hotel and it is a popular spot to celebrate weddings. And before I forget, there is a tiny museum dedicated to the wine in Calatayud and surroundings, not bad at all.

OK, if you are still with me ... We left at around 14:00 direction Calatayud. Our idea was having a picnic, and it was a bit difficult to find an appropiate spot. It was windy and a bit cold, but we managed to find a table, open our basket, and eat before the rain began again to pour.

We took the N-II direction Madrid until Medinaceli. The actual old town is located up in a hill overlooking the plains. There is a roman arch which used to be seen from the road, but right now they are restaurating it, so the only thing to be seen is a plastic box. The tourist office of Medinaceli is open the whole year. The girl there gave us a leaflet indicating the most important things to see. We walked up to the castle (reconverted in the local cemetery) and then into the sleepy village. Itīs a strange place, a huge baroque church and some palaces, and then grass and stones and derelicted houses. A big main square completely empty, an abandoned monastery (better say, a beguinage like the one in Brugge). Of course, the weather didnīt help. A black cloud was coming from the north, and suddenly it began to rain cats and dogs. We ran into a small bar, and waited there while having a coffee until 5 oīclock more or less, when we decided that we werenīt going to stay there forever and ever, so we ran into the car, and got drenched in 3 minutes.

We still didnīt know where to stay at night, so we decided to get to Almazan, not far away from Medinaceli, and take our decision there depending on the weather. Local (and almost empty) roads took us to Almazan, a very rich town due to the furniture industry, and we took a monumental walk around the wall and up to the ruins (well, a little hill covered in poppies and nettles) of the arab castle. Almazan doesnīt have a lot of places to visit, but it has good views over the Castille plains.

>From Almazan we had two options : Soria or Burgo de Osma. My sister preferred to go to Soria, the capital of the province, and we were lucky that the first place we called had a room with a big bed and a supletory bed, just 61 Euros. Soria is just 30 minutes driving from Almazan, and we arrived without problem. The place we had booked, "Hosteria Solar de Tejada", was located near the peatonal center, and we had a difficult time trying to find it, because it was located in a tiny street and I couldnīt see the name. But once a family indicated it to us, we realized how well located it was. There was a big public garage behind it, so we parked and in less than 5 minutes we were checking in. It was so beautiful ... We had a corner room on the first floor, with three balcons and a poster bed. It was decorated in white and blue, with toile de jouy and tiles with clouds and stars in the bathroom. A glass sink and a good hairdryer, a tiny armchair in stripes ... Really pretty place, and I saw that they had AC for the summer (not a bad idea, although Soria is never a hot place). They donīt serve breakfast, but in the first floor they have a sitting room with games for the children and one of these automatic coffee machines. But in Calle Collado, just in front, there is a good cafe and you can have pastries, chocolate con churros, savoury things ...

We had arrived late, but there were lots of people in the streets having something to eat and drink. Lots of children celebrating their First Communion. We ended up having dinner at a restaurant not far away from the main street, Fogon del Salvador . Their main fare is roasted pork and lamb, with lots of fish . I shared with my sister a dish of cecina (cured cow meat, it was originally made of horse, but not any more), and then mum had a huge salad, Ali had a menestra ( fresh vegetables such as artichokes, green beans, spinachs, peppers all cooked with a bit of ham ) and I have a castilian soup (bread, ham and egg). Afterwards mum had the menestra and Ali and me shared (thanks God we shared) a dish of bull tail cooked in Ribera del Duero wine. It was so good and soft ... We couldnīt have dessert, and it was a pity, because the desserts looked very good. We just had camomile for everybody. It was only 50 euros, a very good price.

We returned to the hotel, and we had a late night watching the different programs "destroying" the royal wedding.

The next day we had breakfast in front of the hotel, picked up a lot of leaflets about Soria and the province, and went for a walk to revisit the church of Santo Domingo (beautiful romanesque entrance, you can even see the Three Wise Kings sleeping while an angel tells them not to go and visit Herodes) and the cloister in the San Pedro concathedral. It is very interesting, but one should be careful, specially if visiting during the winter. In winter it can be really cold, and the poor woman that takes care of it told us that she only opens at around 11:00 am. Summer and weekends it is much easier to visit.

We took the car again to go across the river Duero and visit the former monastery of San Juan del Duero. There is a small church, and the most interesting part is the cloister, opened to the air, without roof, and every side of the cloister different. There are influences of the arab and sicilian architecture.

Near San Juan del Duero there is a church excavated in the stone called San Saturio. The best part of it are the views over the river Duero, and the book where the people of Soria asks things to the saint. Girls asking for boyfriends ... and asking for the local soccer team to win :)

And our return trip went across Vinuesa and the Black Lagoon, and towards Burgos. The Black Lagoon is located up in the Montes de Urbión, among the pine trees. Its dark waters are the stuff of those typical legends of monsters and shepherds. The Montes de Urbión are a very important part of Soriaīs richness, the wood.

OK, I now it has been awfully long, but we had a great, great time, and I wanted to tell you about these places. They are not so popular with foreign visitors (unless we are talking french or german people), and they can be great, and an opening view into a Spain different to the typical one...

BTW, if someone is tempted to move away from Andalucia or Madrid (and I do recommend it), this is a good beginning, the URL for the Castilla y Leon Tourism Office : They have a good list of lodgings, including rural houses, websites if they exist, and if not, pictures and contact numbers.

Bye, Covadonga Bilbao - Spain