2019 tour travel blog

Aljafería Palace

Basilica Our Lady of the Pillar

Zaragoza railway station - long platforms!

16 May – Thursday

The hotel has a good breakfast, there is even bacon and eggs, though the scrambled eggs look a bit old. There is a huge range of pastries and cakes, something else that we find difficult to get used to having for breakfast. They even have a fancy coffee machine behind the counter, so Tony feels that he cannot have too much coffee today because it is not self-service. Bugger. It is a leisurely breakfast again, we don’t have to be out until midday, and with the train station across the road there is no hurry.

At the station we get mixed messages about the train, but soon sort it out. We have to have our luggage scanned before going through to the platform, and there is a whole list of stuff we are not supposed to take on board. It would have been helpful to know that before now (they probably told us in Spanish!), not that it would have made any difference, what else are we going to do with our gear? Bags scanned and all is ok until Tony presents the mobile tickets on his phone, but something is missing. Apparently they need a barcode, and the barcode that is on there is the wrong one. It takes a while to sort out, but eventually they find what they need and let us through. It is a VERY long platform, and as it turns out the train is huge. We are in carriage two, but there is nowhere to say where to wait for it. The few people waiting don’t speak much English, and a couple of others are also confused as to where to wait. The worry here is if we are in the wrong place it will take a while to get to the right carriage, fingers crossed that we will be able to jump on any carriage and find our way from there.

It is a bit of a scramble to get on, and we are annoyed that the luggage racks are filled with little bags taking up lots of space, and there is no room for our gear. Tony manages to shift some around and find room for his, and he puts Cynthea’s pack behind the seats. Tony chooses a coffee when cart comes round, and promptly wears milk when he tries to open one of those little pottles of milk. Bugger. And it stains his shorts and t-shirt, laundry duty tonight. Two tickets for the train are NZ$82.

When we arrive at Zaragoza things don’t get much better. The staff at the tourist office are really nice and helpful, and then it all goes downhill from there.

This place pretty much pissed us off as soon as we hit town, it is not making a good impression, lol. We got directions for the metro, bought the tickets, and proceeded to follow the BIG permanent signs through the gate down to the VERY VERY VERY long platform. The led signs showing when the next train is coming is not lit up, we think it strange, but this IS where we have to be. And so we wait for the train, but when it shows up, it is at a different platform. FFS. There is no point chasing it, so Tony leaves Cynthea to go and find out what is going on. He had to "leave" the station to find a person to talk to, as he does, he spots a (very) small sign that gives platform numbers. Our train, that has just left, shows a different platform number to that shown upstairs when we got the tickets. Tony goes back to take photos of where we had been, signposts, ticket machines, etc as evidence of and to try and explain what happened, and then spend ages walking from one end of the station and back again - because the ticket office I found was only for buses, and of course the train one was at the complete opposite end of the effing station. Did we mention that this is a VERY VERY VERY long station? Stood for ages in the queue waiting for the info counter, and get there to find they no speaky de English. Show them the photos, and eventually get through what happened, and they tell Tony he should have followed the electronic notice boards (tiny little effing boards that they are). The electronic board he is shown changes and gives yet another platform number for the next train. It is still different to what we had been told up on the concourse. Tony goes to use his ticket to get in to get back to the platform where Cynthea is still waiting, and the bloody thing won’t work, because it had been "used" already.

The funny thing here is that the electronic gates were open, and we didn't need to use (or even buy) an effing ticket in the first place, but because (sometimes) we are honest about this shit, we put them through at the already open gate. Tried to tell them we haven't used the ticket, and why, but no, he needs to buy another. Too many guards around to jump the gate, so he decided to go aaalllllll the waaaayyyyy back to the other end of the very very VERY long station, to the original gate, in the hope that is was still open. And it was. So he just walked through. Luckily we only had to go from one side of the platform to the other, so it was no big deal this time, but Tony was furious by then. We are standing under the ELECTRONIC sign (that is now turned on - it wasn't before), and the effing train goes right past us, stopping at the far end of the effing platform. The language was not pretty, and we took off running. Luckily there was a security guard on the train, and he held it from leaving until we got on. With these trains only every half hour we could have walked where we were going! We get off at the next stop, and make our way to Pensión La Ferroviaria, near Portillo, €61 for two nights, NZ$104. No breakfast included at this one.

We start to get the feeling we have chosen the wrong area to stay in. It is a bit further from the centre of town than we thought. On top of that we had been told not to bother even coming here, but we like to go off the beaten track every now and then. This is probably one time we should have listened, but we had already booked in here. We are very much in a residential area, lots of high rises, and not too many bars or cafes. Those around do not take “plastic” either, we have not seen any with a “Visa” sign on the door. At the “pension” we arrive to find they are renovating, but that shouldn’t worry us as we don’t plan to be in much. We check in, and the staff speak as much English as we do Spanish, i.e. bugger all. We are used to the usual check-in procedures, but the owner gets frustrated when we don’t understand that she wants €20 in cash for the key deposit. We get no information on what is available here, no point really, with us not speaking the lingo. We are given our key and she points to the room number, we are one floor up, no lift. The snack vending machine under the stairs was out of order.

It is a small room, and the “balcony” they advertised is there, but not a lot of room out there, it is about a foot deep, no room for the only chair that we had in the room. The beds are small, yeah, beds, plural, there are two of them, one a small double, the other a single. They look like camp beds, but a closer look reveals they are futons. There is a fan heater and a tall fan, and extra blankets if we get cold, and it is a bit cooler here than we have been used to. YET AGAIN, no tea/coffee making in the room, nor is there anything in the hotel. There is a microwave outside in the hall, Tony found that looking for the loos. Or should that be loo, there is only one on this floor, and it also has the only shower as well. We are hoping that the other seven rooms on this floor are empty tonight, and that there is no morning rush.

We head out for a look around, to find a coffee and a supermarket or somewhere to eat. We also need to sort out Cynthea’s phone, and see about getting a local sim for Tony. We are not too impressed with the area, but tomorrow is another day. We find a café and try to make ourselves understood, Tony has a coffee, and Cynthea a hot chocolate with churros for us both. The coffees here are bloody small, even when you ask for a large one, at least they are drinkable. Cynthea’s chocolate is not what we expected, so thick you could stand the spoon up in it. It was ideal for dipping churros in though, no hope of actually drinking it. It filled a gap too.

We head out for a look around, to find a coffee and a supermarket or somewhere to eat. We also need to sort out Cynthea’s phone, and see about getting a local sim for Tony. We are not too impressed with the area, but tomorrow is another day. We find a café and try to make ourselves understood, Tony has a coffee, and Cynthea a hot chocolate with churros for us both. The coffees here are bloody small, even when you ask for a large one, at least they are drinkable. Cynthea’s chocolate is not what we expected, so thick you could stand the spoon up in it. It was ideal for dipping churros in though, no hope of actually drinking it. It filled a gap too.

We called in at the supermarket and grabbed some essentials – two cans of Heinekin for €1 was a good start. We got some granola to eat dry for breakfast – no point buying milk or yoghurt because there was no fridge. We also got some fruit – strawberries, bananas, apples. We decide to buy water (we are not filling our bottles out of the handbasin in the toilet!). There are some big bottles 6.5 or 8 litres, but they are took much, and we are not carting it around when we leave. Tony sees some cheap fizzy water, and gets a couple of them. Cynthea is happy, she likes the fizzy water. We also get some baguettes, choritzo and tomatoes to have for tea. €10 ($17) for tea tonight and breakfast and snacks tomorrow is not too bad.

Tony has a shower, and washes the milky clothes in the hand basin. He hangs the clothes up in the room, and turns the fan on to get some drying happening. Tony has to drink both beers while they are still cold, not that they were that cold to start with. He jokes that he better not chuck out the cans in case the bathroom is tied up in the morning. Cynthea opens the fizzy water – it is diet lemonade! No obvious clues on the bottle, though. The fan is too noisy and breezy to keep on overnight, and there is a thunderstorm brewing. Temperatures are dropping, and it is soon blowing and raining.

17th May – Friday

Not a good night last night. The room was too hot even though it was cold outside. So we opened the door to the balcony, but it was noisy out in the street, and the room got too cold. We eventually settled for the balcony door open a crack, and hoped for the best. Unfortunately the beds were the worst ever. Tony was in the single bed and could feel every spring in the mattress. Cynthea’s bed was not much better. The bathroom on our floor smells of cat pee, but as we haven’t seen a cat we figure it must be the cleaner that they use. We are feeling stuffed up with a cold as well. Breakfast is dry granola and fruit, and we just cannot be biffed getting out, it is still windy and cold outside.

We decide we need to get out there regardless of the weather, so rug up and head off. We are looking for the hop on, hop off bus and figure if we go to the castle there will be one there eventually. We call in at the railway station to check the schedule for tomorrow, we have to be at the bus station by 10.30. The timetable on line was hard to follow, and at the train station it is just as confusing. We finally figure out that with changes for weekend services there are four trains between 8.30 and 9.40, but the next is more than an hour later, and will be too late for us to catch the bus. We decide we have to aim for the 9.15 service, and if we miss that, then we still have a back up. Or we can always walk!

We continue on to the palace, it is impressive, but there are no signs to say where the entrance is, and no sign of a bus stop. We decided to turn left… should have turned right – not that it made any difference because the bloody thing was closed between 2pm and 5pm. Damn siesta time again. We are waiting for the hop on hop off bus, and there is no sign of it, and we are getting cold standing around. We have a closer look at the timetable, and finally the penny drops, it does not run every day. Not happy. We head down to the river, and start to cross so that we can get photos of the cathedral from half way… but there is a built up cycle way running down the centre blocking the view. We decide to go all the way across anyway, and a very kind local eventually gets the point across to us that we are going the wrong direction, if we want the cathedral we need to go back. Tony tries to explain that we want to go across, and thanks him for his help. He is probably wondering what the hell we are doing here anyway. There are wee bronze frogs all along the top of the bridge rails, and one or two scattered on the footpath as well. Some toe rag has spray painted a couple of them.

Back on the right side of the river it is a boring walk to the cathedral – all the shops are closed for siesta (maybe?), and the place is rather dead looking. And cold, bloody cold. The cathedral is another stunner, it is huge. But by now we have had enough, and we are ready for a feed. We find a buffet open, €27 for two. It is also a tapas bar, but they are not included in the buffet. There is plenty to choose from, and we take our time, mainly because we don’t want to go back out in the cold, but also if we have enough, we won’t need much tea. We were there about an hour before they started closing up. We find a BK and grab a couple of coffees, €1 each. Around the corner is Orange mobile, the phone company we have been looking for. Tony asks for someone who can speak English, The guy can speak a little, and between us we manage to get through to him. Google translate helps! We stay calm and polite – it wasn’t his fault, and he is trying to help, but we are a bit peeved that what we were sold is not what we had been told it was. Tony still needs a sim, and asks for a discount because their staff at the other store screwed up. He goes to ask the manager, but is told no. Oh well, worth a try. We pick the cheapest plan, because with both having data we can contact each other without minutes in the plan. There is a lot of confusion when Tony is asked for €10, when the plan is only €7. The guy tells Tony the machine will only take a €10 top up (the other store took the right amount, and we cannot understand why it is not the same here. Tony remembers we had this problem in Malaysia, and if they try to add on tax after this there will be hell to pay!). Tony tries to get through to him that having a credit will not help, because we are not renewing anything when the 30 days is up, we will not be in the country.

So we end up buying the €10 plan after all, even though it includes more data than we need. And the usual €5 charge for the sim is waived. At least if Cynthea uses all her allocation (only 3Gb), we can hotspot the phones and share Tony’s. The whole process seems to take for ever, but at least we can now contact each other should we get separated like yesterday. As we get near where we are staying, we see another Orange store, it was just metres from where we were last night when we stopped for a coffee, we think we could have got the phones sorted last night, but then think not, this area is not that well set up for tourists!

We call in at the supermarket for some fruit for tea, and a couple of snacks for tomorrow on the bus. It has warmed up a bit, but is still cool. At least it stayed dry while we were out.

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