Thursday, 18 January 2018

SPAIN: Visit Zaragoza And See A Bullfight, When Cierzo Blows Do Not Regret Not Having Warm Clothes

Zaragoza is the capital and largest city of Aragon in Spain, and one of Spain's five largest cities, yet arguably the least known outside of Spain.

Founded on the river Ebro in times of the Roman Empire as Cesaraugusta, Zaragoza now holds a large cultural and architectural heritage attesting to 2 000 years of affluence and importance.

The city is most known for its Basilica del Pilar, built to venerate the apparition of Virgin Mary to Saint James in earliest Christian times, which became a major cultural identity fixture of Christian Spain.

In most recent times, the city was again put on a global map by the 2008 Expo, which left it with a whole new modern part developed further for various purposes after the exhibition closed.

Strategically located between Madrid and Barcelona on a high-speed railway line, Zaragoza enjoys relative economic affluence yet, due to its low profile, remains often overlooked by tourists and thus prices for e.g. accommodation remain much lower than in either of Spain's most famous cities.

Therefore, it makes for a great stop along your way, or even a destination in its own right.

Zaragoza, also called Saragossa in English, is the capital city of the Zaragoza province and of the autonomous community of Aragon, Spain. It lies by the Ebro river and its tributaries, the Huerva and the Gallego, roughly in the center of both Aragon and the Ebro basin.

On 1 September 2010 the population of the city of Zaragoza was 701,090, within its administrative limits on a land area of 1,062.64 square kilometres (410.29 square miles), ranking fifth in Spain. It is the 32nd most populous municipality in the European Union.

The population of the metropolitan area was estimated in 2006 at 783,763 inhabitants. The municipality is home to more than 50 percent of the Aragonese population. The city lies at an elevation of 199 metres (653 feet) above sea level.

In 2013 there were 107 864 foreign citizens in Zaragoza, which represents 15% of the total population. From 2004 to 2013 immigration rose from 43 355 to 107 864 inhabitants.

The district with the biggest number of immigrants was the district of Delicias, with 25,428 immigrant inhabitants, which represents 23% of the population of the district. The Old Town of Zaragoza registered 11 881 immigrants, which represents 25% of the population of the district.

Zaragoza city on the Ebro river was originally founded at the turn of the millennium by the Roman Emperor Augustus, and named after him as Caesaraugusta. 2,000 years later, the architectural remains of large public buildings indicate Caesar Augustus’ influence over the city.

Today you can still admire the city’s Forum, Thermal Baths, the River Port or the Great Theatre, archeological remains which reflect the splendour of the city as it was during the Roman Empire.

It was on the banks of the river Ebro that Saint James called Santiago in Spanish reportedly saw the apparition of Virgin Mary on the pillar, which is seen as the pivotal moment in the foundation of the Spanish Christian heritage.

Zaragoza hosted Expo 2008 in the summer of 2008, a world's fair on water and sustainable development. It was also a candidate for the European Capital of Culture in 2012.

The city is famous for its folklore, local gastronomy, and landmarks such as the Basilica del Pilar, La Seo Cathedral and the Aljaferia Palace.

Together with La Seo and the Aljaferia, several other buildings form part of the Mudejar Architecture of Aragon which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Fiestas del Pilar are among the most celebrated festivals in Spain.

In addition to the advantageous geographic situation, an Opel factory was opened in 1982 in Figueruelas, a small village nearby. The progressive decline of the agrarian economy turned Opel into one of the main pillars of the regional economy, along with Balay, which manufactures household appliances; CAF or Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles S.A., which builds railway engines for both the national and international markets; SAICA and Torraspapel in the stationery sector; and various other local companies, such as Pikolin, Lacasa, and Imaginarium SA.

The city's economy benefited from projects like the Expo 2008, the official World's Fair, whose theme was water and sustainable development, held between 14 June and 14 September 2008, Plataforma Logistica de Zaragoza (PLAZA), and the Parque Tecnologico de Reciclado (PTR).

Furthermore, since December 2003, it has been a city through which the AVE high-speed rail travels. Currently, Zaragoza Airport is a major cargo hub in the Iberian Peninsula, behind only Madrid, Barcelona, and Lisbon.

Zaragoza is home to a Spanish Air Force base, which was shared with the U.S. Air Force until 1994. In English, the base was known as Zaragoza Air Base. The Spanish Air Force maintained an McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet wing at the base.

No American flying wings with the exception of a few KC-135's were permanently based there, but it served as a training base for American fighter squadrons across Europe.

It is also the main headquarters for the Spanish Land Army, hosting the Academia General Militar, a number of brigades at San Gregorio, and other garrisons.

After the fall of the Empire, the city along with the rest of today's Spain, has been conquered first by the Goths and later by the Moors.

Zaragoza has been the northernmost stronghold of the Moorish caliphate and after its breakfup emerged as a capital of its own kingdom, or Taifa.

The founding of the Taifa in the 11th century was marked by the construction of the Aljafeira Palace, which remains one of few relatively intact monuments from that era. Despite being often on the front line, Zaragoza continued to develop as a major art and science centre.

The city was called by the ancient Romans Caesaraugusta, from which the present name derives. The Iberian town that predated the Roman city was called Salduie.

As Zaragoza was regained by the Christian kings of Aragon, the development continued and the relative tolerance which Christians enjoyed under the Muslim rule was extended to the Moors initially.

The Moorish artistic and architectural tradition was incorporated into the local architectural style called Mudejar, of which many examples survive in Zaragoza. The Christian rule saw the rise of Zaragoza's two cathedrals, the original La seo and the Basilica del Pilar, constructed to venerate the Virgin Mary apparition.

The city's importance and affluence in the subsequent ages is reflected in its rich architectural heritage and many improvements given to its most important buildings, which gives them a number of layers of appeal.

In recent times Zaragoza retained relative affluence by becoming a major industrial hub, with factories spread over several industrial parks around the city, as well as a big logistics hub named PLAZA, or Plataforma Logistica de Zaragoza fuelled by its strategic location on the railway line between Madrid and Barcelona and its airport, focusing on freight.

A key event in recent history was the EXPO 2008 universal exhibition held in the city, which resulted in massive development of its Western outskirts into exhibition grounds, now repurposed for business, civic services and as public recreation grounds

Zaragoza has a Continental Mediterranean climate, very dry, with cold winters and hot summers. With an average of 318 mm per year, rainfall is a rarity mostly occurring in spring.

There is drought in summer with only a few storms in the late afternoon. In July and August temperatures are typically above 30°C (86°F), reaching up to 40°C (104°F) a few days per year.

On those days you will quickly pick the idea of siesta: hiding away after lunch, during the hottest part of the day, to enjoy later the evenings and nights at a delightful 18-22°C.

In winter the temperatures are low, usually between 0 and 10°C (32-50°F), with some frosts during the night. Snow only shows up once every couple of years but fog is not uncommon,about 20 days from November to January.

However, the only bad part is the Cierzo, a cold and dry wind blowing from the NW that is quite common on clear days, and can make your stay really unpleasant. Beware also of sunny days in spring and autumn, if the Cierzo blows, you will regret not having warm clothes with you.

The best time to visit Zaragoza is during spring (April to mid-June) and autumn (Sept-Oct). In late June and July the days can be quite hot but in the evenings the city is bustling with people going out for dinner or having a beer with friends in a terrace.

In August the city is almost deserted, with most people being on holidays at the mountains or the coast, and more that half the bars, restaurants and small business closed.

The major city festival is El Pilar that takes place every year the week of the 12th of October, with lots of concerts, performances and street animations. It is also the best time to see a bullfight in Zaragoza.

The Easter week, although not in the same league that the Andalucia or Calanda counterparts, is very scenic, with several processions going over the city centre every day with their dramatic sculptures, black-dressed praying women and hundreds of hooded people playing drums.

It is a Spain's Festival of International Tourist Interest since 2014.

Christianity took root in Zaragoza at an early date. According to legend, St. Mary appeared miraculously to Saint James the Great in Zaragoza in the first century, standing on a pillar. This apparition is commemorated by a famous Catholic basilica called Nuestra Senora del Pilar or Our Lady of the Pillar.

The annual Fiestas del Pilar last for nine days, with its main day on 12 October. Since this date coincided in 1492 with the first sighting by Christopher Columbus of the Americas, that day is also celebrated as El Dia de la Hispanidad or Columbus Day by Spanish-speaking people worldwide.

There are many activities during the festival, from the massively attended Pregon or opening speech to the final fireworks display over the Ebro; they also include marching bands, dances such as Jota aragonesa,the most popular dance of folklore music genre, a procession of gigantes y cabezudos, concerts, exhibitions, vaquillas, bullfights, fairground amusements, and fireworks.

Some of the most important events are the Ofrenda de Flores, or Flower Offering to St. Mary of the Pillar, on 12 October, when an enormous surface resembling a cloak for St. Mary is covered with flowers, and the Ofrenda de Frutos on 13 October, when all the autonomous communities of Spain offer their typical regional dishes to St. Mary and donate them to soup kitchens.

Holy Week in Zaragoza, although not as elaborate an affair as its Andalusian or Bajo Aragon counterparts, has several processions passing through the city centre every day with dramatic sculptures, black-dressed praying women and hundreds of hooded people playing drums. It has been a Festival of International Tourist Interest since 2014.

Zaragoza's main football team, Real Zaragoza, plays in the Segunda Division. Founded on 18 March 1932, its home games are played at La Romareda, which seats 34,596 spectators.

The club has spent the majority of its history in La Liga. One of the most remarkable events in the team's recent history is the winning of the former UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1995. The team has also won the Spanish National Cup or Copa del Rey six times: 1965, 1966, 1986, 1994, 2001 and 2004 and an Inter-Cities Fairs Cup (1964).

A government survey in 2007 found that 2.7% of the Spanish population support the club, making them the seventh-most supported in the country.

Zaragoza's second football team is CD Ebro. Founded in 1942, it plays in Segunda División B – Group 2, holding home games at Campo Municipal de Futbol La Almozara, which has a capacity of 1,000 seats.

Zaragoza CFF is a Spanish women's football team from Zaragoza playing in Primera Division Femenina.

The main basketball team, Basket Zaragoza, known as Tecnyconta Zaragoza for sponsorship reasons, plays in the Liga ACB. They play their home games at the Pabellón Principe Felipe with a capacity of 10,744.

Stadium Casablanca, or Mann Filter for sponsorship reasons, is the Spanish women's basketball club from Zaragoza that plays in the Primera Division.

The main futsal team, is Dlink Zaragoza, plays in the LNFS Primera Division. They play at the Pabellon Siglo XXI with a capacity of 2,600.

Zaragoza's handball team, BM Aragon, plays in the Liga ASOBAL.

The Spanish Baja or Baja Aragon is a Rally raid event held in the region of Aragon in northern Spain. This event was launched in 1983, and chose the desert of Monegros because of the scenery and availability of service infrastructure in Zaragoza.

Zaragoza was strongly associated with Jaca in its failed bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics.

There are three Rugby Union teams playing in the regional league:

- Ibero Club de Rugby Zaragoza

- Fenix Club de Rugby

- Club Deportivo Universitario de Rugby

A permanent feature built for Expo 2008 is the pump-powered artificial whitewater course El Canal de Aguas Bravas.

The University of Zaragoza is based in the city. As one of the oldest universities in Spain and a major research and development centre, this public university awards all the highest academic degrees in dozens of fields.

Zaragoza is also home to the MIT-Zaragoza International Logistics Program, a unique partnership between MIT, the Government of Aragon and the University of Zaragoza.

There is also a private university, Universidad San Jorge, which is located in Villanueva de Gallego.

There is a French international primary and secondary school, Lycée Français Moliere de Saragosse.

Zaragoza Airport is located in the Garrapinillos neighborhood, 10 kilometers from the city center.

It is a major commercial airport, its freight traffic surpassing that of Barcelona El Prat in 2012, and serves as the home of the Spanish Air Force's 15th Group. It was also used by NASA as a contingency landing site for the Space Shuttle in the case of a Transoceanic Abort Landing (TAL).

Zaragoza Airport is a relatively minor airport when it comes to passenger flights, but a major cargo hub seeing the world's largest airplanes land regularly.

Since the new terminal was inaugurated in 2008, ZAZ has seen the establishment of a number of regular flights, mostly by budget airlines such as Ryanair and Wizzair.

Ryanair flies to its main bases across Europe, including London-Stansted, Bergamo, Beauvais and Charleroi, while Wizzair and several other airlines focus on Romania, where many of the local workers originate from.

Other destinations are mostly seasonal flights to holiday destinations in Spain and abroad.

Transfering to/from the airport: The cheapest option is the airport bus 501 stopping at Los Enlaces, Delicias train station, Avenida de Navarra, and Paseo de Maria Agustin 7, in the city centre only 45 minutes ride.

The bus costs €1.85 and runs every 30 minutes Mo-Sa and every hour on Sundays and holidays. Alternatively a taxi will cost around €25-30 and take around 20 minutes to the city centre.

As Zaragoza Airport only sees limited flight connections, it can be more convenient to fly to Madrid or Barcelona airports, from where you can reach Zaragoza in less than 3 hours.

From Madrid Barajas Airport: go to Atocha RENFE train station either by taxi (30 minutes, around €25) or by metro (45 minutes, €2) and then take the high speed train AVE to Zaragoza (1h30, around €50).

A cheaper but not so comfortable alternative is taking an ALSA coach that runs between Barajas terminal T4 and Zaragoza every 2–3 hours (3h45 trip, single/return: €15/€26). If you are in terminals T1 T2 or T3, take the free airport bus shuttle to terminal T4.

The bus to Zaragoza stops in the same place as the airport shuttle. The ALSA ticket counter can be found inside the terminal and a vending machine with ALSA tickets is close to the bus bays.

From Barcelona Airport: The easiest way is to take the half-hourly RENFE C-10 suburban train to Barcelona Sants (20 minutes, €2.20), and then take the high speed train AVE to Zaragoza (1h45, around €60).

If you already have your AVE ticket, you can get the suburban train ticket for free in the automatic vending machines, by typing the code for “cercanías” that appears in your AVE ticket.

You may take the superfast AVE train to get to Zaragoza from Madrid or Barcelona in less than two hours
The first line of the Zaragoza tram, Valdespartera-Parque Goya is fully operational.

Zaragoza is served by the high speed train AVE that reaches Madrid in approximately 1 hour 30 minutes and Barcelona in approx. 1 hour 45 minutes. There are up to 19 trains a day in each direction for Madrid and 12 for Barcelona.

Regular rates start at about €50 to Madrid and €60 to Barcelona, but you can get up to a 60% discount if you book through the web 15 days in advance.

Zaragoza is a part of the Spanish high-speed railway operated by RENFE, AVE, which connects Madrid and Barcelona via high-speed rail. Madrid can be reached in 75 minutes, and Barcelona in approximately 90 minutes.

The central station is Intermodal Zaragoza Delicias Station, which serves both railway lines and coaches. In addition to long-distance railway lines and the high-speed trains, Zaragoza has a network of commuter trains operated by RENFE called cercanias.

A cheaper way to get to Zaragoza from Barcelona is using the Regional Express, a slow train going on an ancient track, stopping at every small village and some those post-industrial ghost towns, and really astonishing landscapes. The ride takes 5 hours, costs €22.

Other neighbouring cities like Huesca, Teruel, Pamplona, Logrono, Bilbao or Valencia are connected by a few daily conventional trains.
Note, there isn't a single cafe/bar with wifi in the station.

All trains and buses arrive to Delicias station. The city centre is some 2 km away from, and can be reached using urban buses 34 and 51 or by taxi 10 minutes, around €10.

The city has a network of buses which is controlled by the Urban Buses of Zaragoza (AUZSA). The network consists of 31 regular lines,two of them circle lines, two scheduled routes, six shuttle buses but one is free, and seven night buses operating on Fridays, Saturdays and other festivities.

Zaragoza also has an interurban bus network operated by Transport Consortium Zaragoza Area (CTAZ) that operates 17 regular lines

You can reach Zaragoza either from Madrid or Barcelona in 3:45 hours. The coach company is ALSA and the single/return ticket costs around €15/€26. Zaragoza is also well communicated with other main capital cities, such as Valencia and Bilbao.

There is possibility of getting to Zaragoza from France by bus. The main lines travel from Lourdes, Tarbes, Pau and Oloron.

Zaragoza is very well connected by free speedways with Huesca (1h), Teruel (2h), Madrid (3h), and by toll highways with Barcelona (3h, €30), Pamplona and Bilbao. Traffic around the city is relatively light except on some weekends and holidays.

Free parking in the city centre is very scarce. Most streets have metered parking limited to 1 or 2 hours. Underground paying parkings are scattered in the entire city and usually have free places.

Distances to/from Zaragoza: Madrid 312 km, Barcelona 307 km, Bilbao 305 km, Lleida/Lerida 150 km

The city is connected by motorway with the main cities in central and northern Spain, including Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Bilbao, all of which are located about 300 kilometres (200 miles) from Zaragoza.

If you stay in or near the old town, most of the main attractions are within easy walking distance.

A transport card costs €7 at any tobacco kiosk including an initial fee of €2, and credit of €5. With the card you can change lines within an hour without being charged again. Single tickets are €1.35.

Most bus routes have audio announcements and next stop displays inside the vehicle.

There is currently one tram line Tramvia which runs from the north to the south west, through the city centre. The tram uses the same fare system as the buses, touch your card on a reader when boarding. More tram lines are projected to open soon.

Sightseeing bus is another option. They provide more than just a great way to travel around the city, available to all pockets. It costs €7 free if you have the Zaragoza card and the ticket can be used the entire day.

The taxi drivers are plentiful and mostly honest.

Zaragoza's bicycle lanes facilitate non-motorized travel and help cyclists to avoid running into pedestrians and motor vehicles. The city council also has a public bicycle-hire scheme; the bizi zaragoza which consists in the payment of an annual charge.

There is a shared bicycle system called Bizi. It has a fairly good website in English which allows you to get a temporary subscription online beforehand. This subscription is valid of three days and costs €5,28.

As with most shared bicycle system, the first 30 minutes are free after which you'll pay €0,52 per additional 30 minutes. This is up until 2 hours, after which you'll have to pay a penalty of €3,16 per hour.

The deposit is €200. After getting a temporary subscription online, you receive a subscription number which, together with your pin code of choice, enables you to take a bike immediately upon arrival in Zaragoza.

Bike availability is usually good, and there are plenty of stations in the city centre, as well as near the Delicias train station and the expo area. However,the screens of many bicycle stations are not proper, they are broken, unreadable text, and flickering.

Since this makes it impossible to enter the subscription number and pin code and therefore also impossible to borrow a bike though it probably still works for annual subscribers who have a contactless card, the system becomes somewhat unreliable.

Plaza del Pilar is the main square, just south of the River Ebro. On the square are the two cathedrals and the Fuente de la Hispanidad, a fountain and sculpture representing Columbus' discovery of the New World. The tourist office is located here as well.

Near the basilica on the banks of the Ebro are located the city hall, the Lonja an old currency exchange, La Seo or the See in the Aragonese language or Cathedral of San Salvador, a church built over the main mosque partially preserved in the 11th-century north wall of the Parroquieta.

With Romanesque apses from the 12th century; inside, the imposing hallenkirche from the 15th to 16th centuries, the Baroque tower, and finally, with its famous Museum of Tapestries near the Roman ruins of forum and port city wall.

Some distance from the centre of the old city is the Moorish castle or palace Aljaferia, the most important Moorish buildings in northern Spain and the setting for Giuseppe Verdi's opera Il trovatore or the Troubadour. The Aragonese parliament currently sits in the building.

The churches of San Pablo, Santa Maria Magdalena and San Gil Abad were built in the 14th century, but the towers may be old minarets dating from the 11th century; San Miguel (14th century); Santiago (San Ildefonso) and the Fecetas monastery are Baroque with Mudejar ceilings of the 17th century. All the churches are Mudejar monuments that comprise a World Heritage Site.

Other important sights are the stately houses and palaces in the city, mainly of the 16th century: palaces of the count of Morata or Luna Audiencia, Dean, Torrero or colegio de Arquitectos, Don Lope or Real Maestranza, count of Sastago, count of Argillo,today the Pablo Gargallo museum, archbishop, etc.

On 14 June 2008, the site of Expo 2008 opened its doors to the public. The exhibition ran until 14 September.

more sights are:

- Labordeta Grand Park

- Puente de Piedra

- San Ildefonso church

- Santa Engracia Monastery

Museum of Fine Arts Zaragoza, with paintings by early Aragonese artists, 15th century, and by El Greco, Ribera and Goya, and the Camon Aznar Museum, with paintings ranging from Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Velazquez and Goya to Renoir, Manet and Sorolla.

Cathedral-Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar or Nuestra Senora del Pilar. The arguably more famous of the two cathedrals is the one on the bank of the river Ebro.

Holding an additional rank of basilica, this cathedral venerates the Virgin Mary who reportedly appeared to Saint James the Apostle on said riverbank during his travels in Iberia.

Mary appeared on a pillar, which led to her being venerated under this particular name and also gave origin to the unusual Spanish female given name Pilar.

Saint James is believed to have had a small shrine constructed by the pillar, of which nothing remains, but subsequently a large basilica was built on the site in the 3rd century under the rule of the Roman Emperor Constantine.

This basilica has seen many reconstructions over the years finally becoming a Gothic church in the 15th century. The present-day version of the church superseded it and was constructed on the orders of King Charles II of Spain between 1681 and 1872.

The protracted construction has been caused by frequent redesigns, including a reorientation, additions of towers and cupolas. It also allowed for the domes to be painted by Francisco Goya a century after the construction started, and the vault paintings are now one of the main attractions on the inside of the cathedral.

Cathedral of the Savior of Zaragoza or La Seo de Zaragoza. summer: 10:00-21:00, winter: 10:00-18:30. Located on the Plaza de la Seo, the cathedral is referred to as la seo or the see to distinguish it from the other cathedral, el pilar.

La Seo has originally been constructed one the site one of the first mosques during the Moorish domination of Aragon, built perhaps as early as the 8th century, and destroyed to make way for a romanesque church in the 12th century.

Zaragoza became an independent diocese in the 14th century and the church became its cathedral, immediately being afforded renovations in the gothic and moorish or mudejarstyles.

Many other reconstructions followed, due to both changing tastes and architectural necessities, as parts of the cheaply-built cathedral began to fail over time, including the collapse of the its in the 15th century.

In the 17th century, the church has been involved in a canon law battle with the newly-reconstructed Basilica of Our Lady on the Pillar over which should be the seat of the diocese and thus the cathedral, which finally saw Pope Clement X declare them joint cathedrals with special provisions to make sure both enjoy equal status.

La Seo is now a mixture of styles spanning between 12th and 19th centuries, and features an exquisite collection of tapestries. Entrance closes sometimes during the day when there's mass. €4.

Iglesias Mudejares or Moorish churches. Mudejar is a style that mixes Christian and Muslim tradition. Good examples of that are a part of La Seo cathedral, Magdalena church, San Miguel church and San Pablo church.

Iglesia de Santa Maríia Magdalena. Distinctive for its square tower and polygonal apse, la Magdalena stands out within the old town of Zaragoza as one of the few relatively intact examples of Muejar architecture of the 14th century.

Its interior was renovated in the baroque period. Santa Maria Magdalena, Zaragoza.

Iglesia de San Miguel de los Navarros. Another example of Mudejar architecture, with a square tower and polygonal apse reminiscent of that of la Magdalena. It retained a richly-gilded Renaissance high altar by Damian Forment, but its tower did not escape a baroque intervention in the form of a spire.

Iglesia de San Pablo, Calle de San Pablo 42. The third Mudejar church features a gothic portal and another altar by Damian Forment, as well as an pyramid-spired octogonal tower, whose shape is echoed by two lanters flanking the portal.

Basílica of Santa Engracia.

Palacio de la Aljaferia (Bus 32, 34 or 36 from the city centre.) A Moorish castle with intricate decorations including ceilings of gold. The castle now houses the Aragon regional parliament. €5 or free with Tourist Card.

Las Murallas. Parts of the ancient wall that surrounded the city are still standing.

Caesaraugusta route. A route of 4 museums with a joint ticket is available in better price than separately. The route exposes monuments from times of Caesar August.

Museo de Zaragoza, Plaza de los Sitios 6. The municipal museum is free and is very much worth a visit for both its impressive mosaics from Caesaraugusta and its celebrated collection of Goya.

Museo Goya (Ibercaja Collection). Museum displaying a collection of Goya and temporary exhibitions. €4 adults, free for concessions, free with Tourist Card.

Educational Museum of Origami in Zaragoza (EMOZ), Centro de Historias. A gallery devoted to the craft of origami within the Centro de Historias. €3 or free with Tourist Card.

10 Expo 2008. In 2008 Zaragoza hosted an international expo for which a new area was opened with many new buildings designed by famous architects such as Zaha Hadid. It is now possible to stroll around this area. The only facility open to tourists is the aquarium.

River Aquarium.

Parque Grande Jose Antonio Labordeta (Parque Grande Primo de Rivera) (Tram: Emperador Carlos V). A vast city park from 1929 with impressive features, arrangements and a monumental fountain staircase.

Originally named after the dictator Miguel Primo de Riveira, it was renamed in 2008 following the death of the prominent Aragonese singer-songwriter, activist and politican Jose Antonio Labordeta. The city's Botanical Gardens are included within the park's grounds.

Puerta del Carmen or Carmen Gate. A surviving example of what once were 12 entry gates to the walled city of Zaragoza. The gate looks ancient, but was actually built in 1789 in neoclassical style, hence its resemblance to Roman ruins.

The gate's dishevelled appearance documents its role in several sieges of the city and this is why the gate was not restored to its original glory, although minor repairs were carried out in 1997, when a bus collided with it.

Puente de Piedra or Stone Bridge. The central bridge of Zaragoza, built in the 15th century and reconstructed many times afterwards to repair flood damage and reinforce the construction.

Today it is restricted almost entirely to pedestrian traffic and features four pillars at its ends with lions, symbols of Zaragoza.

You can buy a Zaragoza Card, a prepaid product for tourists visiting Zaragoza that combine many of the services tourists are likely to use in a prepaid package. You can buy cards valid over 24h (EUR 20) or 48h (EUR 23) online or at the tourist office.

The card includes:

- Free entry to major museums and monuments.

- 24 hour unlimited use of the Tourist Bus.

- Prepaid public transportation, 5 trips with the 24h card, 7 trips with the 48h card.

- Including guided tours and the services of the roaming tourist guides.

- One free drink and tapa in selected bars.

The Parque Grande is excellent for a walk or a chill. Huge in size, you forget the city, and the many fountains adds to distraction.

Swimming pools for hot days

Summer days can be very hot in Zaragoza. If you prefer relaxing by the swimming pool over a sightseeing program, here are a few suggestions.

Public swimming pools in Zaragoza are generally clean and well maintained. The entrance fee is some €3 for an adult. Open-air pools are open until 9 or 10PM in the evening.

Centro Deportivo Municipal Actur, C/ Pablo Ruiz Picasso s/n near Avenida de los Pirineos. Multiple swimming pools, large lawn area. Few trees, hard to find a place in the shadow.

Centro Deportivo Municipal Salduba, Paseo de Mairano Renovales s/n, Part of Parque Primo de Rivera between Calle de Manuel Lasala and Paseo de San Sebastian. 50m pool, the right place for serious swimming.

Palacio Municipal de Deportes, Calle de Luis Bermejo. Small pool, plenty of trees for shadow.

Zaragoza has much to offer in the way of shopping, with most central streets being lined with shopping opportunities. Shopping area stretches from Residencial Paraiso in Sagasta to the Plaza de Espana.

The most exclusive shops are on Francisco de Vitoria, San Ignacio de Loyola, Cadiz, Isaac Peral and the streets crossing them. Craft and souvenir shops are located at Anticuarios de la Plaza de San Bruno, where Sunday mornings a small flea market takes place.

El Corte Ingles. The iconic Spanish department store chain has its outlet in Zaragoza on Paseo de la Independencia close to Plaza de Espana.

Aragonia. A modern multi-functional centre in the southern district of Romareda.

Centro Comercial Augusta, Avenida De Navarra 180 next to Delicias train station. Shops, restaurants, cinema and free WIFI access in a centre behind the Delicias station.

GranCasa, Calle de la Poetisa María Zambrano, 35. Shopping mall where you can find everything including shops, restaurants a bowling alley and cinemas.

Mercado Central (Launza Market). On a site which has been a market place since the Middle Ages. It is the perfect place to buy Zaragozan products as well as observe the atmosphere of a traditional Spanish market. Go there if you are looking for food and fresh produce.

Plaza de Toros de la Misericordia (Misericordia Bullring), Calle Vicente Gomez Salvo, 58. The place to go on Sunday as it is the venue for the traditional flea market.

Rastro de Zaragoza (Parking Sur Expo). Largest open-air market.

What foods to eat in Zaragoza, some of the best known regional foods are:

- Bacalao al Ajoarriero, cod-fish with garlic and eggs,

- Huevos al Salmorejo, eggs with cold tomato cream,

- Longanizas y Chorizos, highly appreciated kinds of sausages,

- Ternasco Asado, roasted young lamb,

- Pollo al Chilindrón, chicken in a sauce of cured ham, tomatoes, onions and paprika,

- Cordero a la Pastora, lamb Shepherd's style,

- Lomo de Cerdo a la Zaragozana, cutlet,

- Migas a la Aragonesa, a dish made of crumbs scrambled with an egg and chorizo,

- Huevos rotos con foie, scrambled eggs with foie gras, often served with roasted potatoes and slices of smoked ham (jamon)

- Borrajas is a vegetable which can only be found in Aragon. It is usually eaten with olive oil,

- Melocotón con vino, peaches in wine, is a good option for dessert, though sometimes it is hard to find a restaurant serving this.

Zaragoza is well known because of its many tapas bars. A Tabla is a wooden plate in which different tapas like cheese and sausages are served, often with a bottle of wine in the price. The best place to get tapas is El Tubo, a group of narrow streets overflowing with small bars and restaurants.

- Casa Lac, Calle de los mártires 12. 1:00AM-4:00PM, 8:00PM-12:00AM; Sundays - 12:30AM-5:00PM. An excellent choice for higher-end tapas.

- Taberna de Doña Casta, Calle Estébanes, 6. Known for croquetas

- Gran Taberna Tragantua, Plaza Santa Marta. A little bit more expensive but the food is of high quality.

- Casa de Mar, Calle San Andres, 9. A four person meal with two bottles of wine costs less than €12 each.

- Los Victorinos, C/Jose de la Hera, 6 alley off Calle Don Jaime I. Probably the best tapas bar in town, although surely not the cheapest. Try the Boletus Edulis tapa.

- 6 Palomeque, C/. Palomeque. A classier, unusual take on a tapas bar, but not overpriced compared to some of the other high-end tapas.It is advisable to call ahead, as this is a very popular restaurant. €10-€20 per person.

- Taberna La Piedra, Cortes de Aragon, 64. Delicious if a bit pricey. The Piedras and Solomillos are highly recommended. Great for beef lovers or lovers of very traditional Spanish food. €50 per person.

La Tertulia Taurina, C/ Pignatelli 122. Traditional Castilian-Aragonese cuisine restaurant in the old part of the city. Slow Food with great selection of meats. Menu of the day €12 local wine and desserts included or a la carte for around €36.

Amorino, Paseo Independencia, 25 Near Plaza Espana, down the stret from El Corte Ingles. High quality Italian style ice cream. Somewhat pricey. One scoop €3

There is a number of good wines produced in Aragon.

Tareas of Calle de Espoz y Mina and Calle Mayor, which are a stone's throw from Plaza del Pilar, have plenty of varied bars from which to choose.

Cafe Praga, Plaza de la Santa Cruz 13, El Tubo. Great local favorite that has live music playing in the main bar, or you can retreat to the upstairs terrace and enjoy a tasty beverage overlooking the plaza.

La Cucaracha, Calle del Temple 25, El Tubolla. Laidback and casual student hang out that doesn't really get going until the early hours of the morning.

Rock and Blues Cafe, Cuatro de Agosto 5-7, El Tubo. Unleash your inner rock god at this long standing favorite, where live music plays throughout the week.

La Campana de los Perdidos, Prudencio, 7. 21h - 3h. Enjoy a beer while listening live music, theatre, poetry from Wednesday to Sunday.

Accommodation is a reason to visit Zaragoza in itself, if you plan to visit both Madrid and Barcelona taking advantage of the fast train connection, you can choose to stay here, halfway between them.

Not only will you pay less for the combined train tickets to Zaragoza from either city than from the entire Madrid-Barcelona AVE ride, but you will also benefit from the much lower rates hotels charge in Zaragoza. And all the attractions of Zaragoza are an added bonus on top of it.

Albuerge Zaragoza. C/ Predicadores 70. Refurbished in 2008, this hostel is styled in an old medieval building that retains its charms of previous years. Free internet and kitchen available for travelers, with dorms rooms from €16.60 per night.

ibis budget Zaragoza, Av. la Jota, 2.

Tulip Inn Zaragoza Plaza Feria. The Tulip Inn is set in an industrial and commercial area on the outskirts of the city and thus recommendable to those travelling by car, who can shave off a few dozens of Euros off the price of the night in a proper modern hotel by choosing to stay in a remote location. €38.

AC Hotel Zaragoza Los Enlaces, Pilar Miro, 1 (Bus 501 to Aeropuerto from the Delicias station, alight at Via Hispanidad (303), walk 450 m down the road).

Convenient if you plan to use Zaragoza as a stopover on your Madrid-Barcelona train ride, as it is only 5 minutes by bus from the Delicias station or half an hour by foot, if you feel like walking 2 kms. Great value for an AC property, even if a bit older and quite away from the city centre,30 mins by bus. €42.

Hotel Avenida, Avenida Cesar Augusto 55. Clean hotel near the central market. €60.

Eurostars Plaza Delicias. The hotel is actually a certain distance from the Delicias train station,note that there is another Eurostars hotel actually AT the very station, and the walk is not very pleasant, but the hotel is reasonably modern if certainly not luxurious. €49.

Eurostars Rey Fernando. On the outskirts of the Platforma Logistica commercial / industrial park, the hotel overlooks a park but one needs a car to comfortably get between the hotel and the city of Zaragoza proper. €43.

Eurostars Zaragoza. Confusingly named, it is distinct from the other Eurostars hotels in Zaragoza and actually located at the Delicias train station although the name would not suggest so.

Do not confuse it with the other hotels when booking, especially the remote and run-down Eurostars Boston. The hotel is modern and very practical for those arriving by train, but one needs to note that some rooms only have windows towards the Delicias station hall and no outside view. €50.

Hesperia Zaragoza. €49.

Ibis Styles Zaragoza Ramiro I. As with the other Ibis Styles, breakfast is normally included in the room price, but watch out for some special prices that eschew breakfast. €55.

Ibis Zaragoza Centro, Calle de Sobrarbe 2. A standard if a bit dated Ibis hotel, whose highlight is the location right in front of the Puente de Piedra, which means not only closeness to the historic centre across the river, but also fairytale views of the bridge and Pilar basilica from some of the rooms. €48.

Hotel Sauce, C/ Espoz y Mina, 33 In the commercial centre, near the Plaza del Pilar. Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. €49.

NH Ciudad de Zaragoza. €59.

Tryp Zaragoza. €65.

Melia Zaragoza. Avenida Cesar Augusto 13. One of the most luxurious hotels in the city, this 5 star hotel is close to the Carmen Door. €83.

NH Collection Gran Hotel de Zaragoza. €79.

Hotel Palafox, Marques de Casa Jimenez, s/n. Inviting decor of beige stone/marble, dark wood and soft lighting. All the rooms with wireless internet, minibar, room service etc.

The attention to detail is noticeable, from the construction of the building to the decor and service it provides its guests. It was designed by Pascua Ortega and constructed from materials native to the region using traditional methods. €85.

Where to visit in Zaragoza:

Madrid and Barcelona are easily reached by car, train, bus and plane.

Monasterio de Piedra, Charming monastery built in 1194 dc surrounded by an amazing park full of waterfalls. 90 minutes by car. Excellent guided tours, a two-hour attraction.

Fuendetodos, Birthplace of the great painter Franscisco de Goya. 80 minutes by car.

Moncayo, A fascinating mountain view. 80 minutes by car.

Monasterio de Rueda, Romanic monastery which belonged to the cirtencens order.

Monasterio de Veruela, Romanic monastery which belonged to the cirtencens order.

Aramon, As the Pyrenees are just 2 hours away from Zaragoza, head to the ski slopes there.

Teruel and Huesca are easily reached by car, train or bus.

The following places are located in the Huesca province, not more than 2 hours by car and in the middle of the Pyrenees. Charming places in the middle of the nature.

Loarre Castle, One of the best Romanesque castles in Europe, recently the site for Ridley Scott's film, Kingdom of Heaven.

Ordesa National Park, is particularly spectacular in autumn and decorated with waterfalls.

Alquezar, A small village situated in the Sierra de Guara National Park.

Villanueva de Sigena, The Monastery of Santa Maria de Sigena is located next to the town. Birthplace of Michael Servetus, the discoverer of pulmonary circulation with a museum dedicated to his work.

Tourism Observer

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