Emerging from the Somport Tunnel into the Spanish Pyrenees, Canfranc Station stands before us. Now a plush hotel, is impossibly grand for this tiny border post. Once a safe refuge for those escaping Nazi controlled France, the station is haunting.
Canfranc Village is atmospheric, the ancient stones in the alleyways worn to a shine from years of pilgrims – this was the border crossing for pilgrims to Santiago. Centuries upon centuries of travellers have gone before us.
If you would like to read my piece of flash fiction based on Canfranc, check out Borderlines on this link: https://campervanbard.com/2023/04/18/borderlands/
Soon the snow-capped Pyrenees disappear, but this is mountainous Spain, so they’re replaced by an evocative, mountainous desert.
Zaragoza’s municipal campsite is full, because this pair of shambolic ramblers haven’t realised that the town holds the largest Good Friday procession in Spain. A quick google and we park up with hundreds of other campers at the free Area Autocaravanas. A tram fare of €1.50 takes us from Campus Rio Ebro into the heart of the city, to crowds thronging outside the Cathedral’s majolica domes and minarets.
We stand by the statue of Augustus Caesar and the ancient Roman walls to watch the floats, and hooded confraternities start out on their marathon procession, the drumming so deep that it reverberates inside your rib-cage.
The Madonna is dressed suspiciously like Queen Isabella from the 14th Century’s Conquistador years.
Jesus is dressed in claret and gold velvet, reminiscent of royalty too. Women process all in black, lace mantillas on their heads, like the one my mother wore to mass on Sundays.
As the procession winds into the night, 3,500 drummers drum and Jesus is stripped of his velvet robes, his back scourged, Roman soldiers nailing the crown of thorns to his head.
We wander through the atmospheric alleyways and boulevards, lined with magnificent palaces and churches, to the Roman theatre, the museum’s bar overlooking it. It’s not often we sip a beer in a Roman theatre.
We bowl into a bar to devour the freshest garlic and tomato salad, a platter of mixed fish and, the star of the evening, a chocolate mousse with Malvern sea salt and olive oil.
But Zaragoza isn’t just an ancient Roman city, its modern architecture, green spaces, and tree-lined avenues are worth exploring: from the cubist television station, to the delicate white suspension bridge over the Ebro to the Parque del Agua Luis Bunuel.
The Park is surrounded by imaginative modern buildings, all glass, steel and curved lines. Its reed bed is full of waterfowl, the waters full of carp.
Add in olive groves and gardens, ranging from sensory herbal ones to vegetable plots; a beach; kayaking; outdoor gym equipment; a family restaurant; cycle tracks; benches designed for laying out full length; picnic tables and it’s clear to me that this town is designed for the people.
I wish some of our politicians would emulate such a vision as we watch a stork flying overhead and sparrows ducking and diving through the reed beds.
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