Subject: Weekend in Zaragoza
Hi friends,

We spent the last weekend, which in Italy is a long weekend due to National Liberation Day On April 25th , in Zaragoza, Spain.

We chose to take advantage of the flight that Ryanair has recently made available from Milan Bergamo to Zaragoza. It is a very early flight that leaves at 6:30 a.m., but this, while forcing you to an early wake up, gives you the opportunity to spend tha whole day in your destination city.

Zaragoza is cited in travel guides as a city that, while not having as much as Madrid or Barcelona to offer, is appreciated as one that has retained all its typical spanish atmosphere, and this was exactly our final impression. Saturday, April 23 was the day of St. George, patron of tha Aragona region, and every Zaragozean seemed to be walking in the streets or enjoying the free concerts given in the central Plaza del Pilar, or the course of historic characters ( that we missed) in Paseo de la Indipendencia ( the main avenue). Even on Sunday walking up and down every central street seemed to be the favourite pastime of the local people, and this is very spanish ( it reminds us also of southern Italy).

Plaza del Pilar is home to the huge Basilica del Pilar, pilar meaning pillar. The Holy Virgin appeared here (on a pillar thet materialized instantly) to San Tiago who was trying to raise the first community of Christians in the iberic peninsula. Tha Basilica boasts a Baroque chapel where a XIV century wooden statue of the Virgin is venerated. This statue is very tiny but is surrounded by a feast of gold and precious stones. The huge, magnificent marble retablo of the main altar is from the XVI century .

Another intersting church is the city cathedral, La Seo, that was painstakingly restored in the last decade to bring to magnificence its mixture of architectural style, again with a prevalence of baroque.

We stayed at nice 5- star Hotel Palafox, Calle de Casa Jimenez right off Paseo de la Indipendencia ,

where we had a very nice room that falls in the lower of three room categories, Planta Hotel, Planta Club and Planta Ducal. The very affordable weekend tariff, including a sumptous buffet breakfast, was 95,00 Euros for double occupancy.

Our saturday night dinner was at the very rustic, and very well known, Restaurante el Fuelle, calle Mayor 57, that specializes in meat dishes.

On Sunday we had a simpler dinner in Bar Marpy, Plaza de Santa Marta, which is more like a tapas and raciones place that sells out much seafood.

Both were satisfying, with a more attentive and friendly service at El Fuelle.

Maybe the top attraction of our weekend was the Sunday excursion to Monastero de Piedra.

We had rented a 7 seat car ( we were actually a party of six), from Hertz at the airport using the rates given on the Ryanair website. It cost us 210 euros including full insurance.Monasterio de Piedra is a former monastery that lies 110 Kms south of Zaragoza or 28 Kms southeast of Calatayud( where the terrific Santa Maria church , mudejar on the outside and psichedelically baroque in the inside is well worth the visit).

The monastery was built starting in the 11th century and on to the 17th and later dismantled when in the 1830's the monks where chased out, and now is semi dilapideted. It is quite interesting anyway,and it hosts an attractive museum devoted to the culture of vines in the region.

But the real attraction is the park. You pay 10,50 Euros for the entrance ticket, but it's worth every penny. The whole tour takes about two hours and it goes among waterfalls, caves, romantic lakes in an absolutely idillic and peaceful setting. You need comfortable shoes and good legs since there are many steps to deal with. The flora is beautiful, but we were especially enthusiast of the waterfalls.

There is also a display of birds of prey that make demonstrative flights thre times a day, and a interpretation center on pisciculture. Pisciculture was the main activity here after the monks were jubilated.

All in all, a relaxing and interesting weekend in one of the areas of Spain that are yet to be discovered by mass tourism.

Leonardo Scalfi from Italy