I'm firmly back in Austin while writing this. It was my every intention to write up the rest of this either in the hotel room the last night in Spain or the Sunday of rest back in Austin. Turns out between being shell-shocked from the trip and hitting the ground running in Austin I didn't have time. However, I wanted to get my thoughts out before the memories fade.
We start day fourteen in Figures. Waking early and packing up the car and making sure we left the AirBnB just as beautiful as we found it. For the route back I decided to take the slightly longer path back to Madrid which went around the other side of Barcelona. This was on purpose as I knew it would be more scenic, and I was right. Shortly after getting on the AP-27 we began our ascent into the mountains. An hour into our trip after jaunting though Olot and Joanetes to get us on the C-37 we were firmly into the mountain ranges. We stopped at a very scenic cottage that served breakfast and coffee in the mountains. It was on the edge of a cliff and overlooking I believe the Fageda de la Grevolosa. This was truly beautiful and some of the most gorgeous forests I've seen anywhere in the world. Seriously google pictures of that place.
This was unlike the strings of suburbs in the Madrid province that gave way to the farmlands of the Cuenca province that then turned into the coastal mountains of Valencia. This was more inland, more north and more heavily forested in the provinces of Girona and Barcelona. Once back on the road we began the descent into the plains of Lleida. This was a different kind of farmland more orchard and century-old olive trees. As we made our way to the heart of Lleida which is through the principal city of the same name we were still descending. Just how high up did we climb in those mountains?
Evidently, quite a way as we merged on to the A-2 towards Zaragoza and entered the Aragon region. This region's terrain ranges diversely from permanent glaciers to verdant valleys, rich pasture lands and orchards. However, we entered through the arid steppe plains of the central lowlands and crossed the Cinca River. So far that's from the coast, over the forested mountains to the orchards and grasslands down to the arid central lowlands and across the river... To grandmothers house, we go? We're not even halfway done yet.
Around halfway there we arrive in Zaragoza. This is a much bigger city than I expected. We decide we need to stop and have a bathroom break and grab some snacks and of course a cafe con leche. Not expecting such a big city I was a little thrown off so I made it little over halfway through the city on the highway before I decided to turn off randomly. Evidently, I chose correctly because we ended crossing the banks of the Ebro River to the Catedral-Basílica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar.
According to ancient local tradition, soon after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, Saint James was preaching the Gospel in Spain but was disheartened because of the failure of his mission. Tradition holds that on 2 January 40 AD, while he was deep in prayer by the banks of the Ebro, the Mother of God appeared to him and gave a column of Jasper and instructed him to build a church in her honor "This place is to be my house, and this image and column shall be the title and altar of the temple that you shall build."
About a year after the apparition, James is believed to have had a small chapel built in Mary's honor, the first church ever dedicated to her. After James returned to Jerusalem, he was executed by Herod Agrippa in about 44 AD, the first apostle to be martyred for his faith. Several of his disciples took his body and returned it for final burial in Spain. This first chapel was eventually destroyed with various other Christian shrines, but the statue and the pillar stayed intact under the protection of the people of Zaragoza.
Numerous churches have been built upon this site through the years. The present spacious church in Baroque style was begun in 1681 by Charles II, King of Spain and completed in 1686. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 three bombs were dropped on the church but none of them exploded. Two of them are still on show in the Basilica. Also, of course, is the famous pillar of Jasper that was left from St. James original church.
We ended up finding our way to an English soccer bar for snacks and coffee called the Canterbury Club. We didn't make our way inside the church because it was closed by the time we got there. That was probably a good thing as it would have been a long detour. On our way out through the city, we passed by the Puerta del Carmen. A Neoclassical style doorway that was one of the twelve entrance gates to the city. The very short time in Zaragoza left an impression. We will be back to explore this city more thoroughly.
From here we were back on the road and into the Castile–La Mancha region or more specifically the Province of Guadalajara. This much like the province of Cuenca to the south that we had driven through previously was a low limestone mountainous region filled in with the farmlands where they can fit in. It was a short jaunt through here and into Madrid and the Crowne Plaza Hotel by the airport.
Here was a night filled with room service and baths and pampering while preparing for the long flight home in the morning. The morning came too quick, but checking out, getting the car back to Sixt and checking in all went pretty smooth. It was after that things went south. Nothing really went wrong just your typical pains in navigating an extremely large airport. I did get pulled aside for extra security checks the typical harassment.
The flight back on Iberia was long but more comfortable than the flight there. Iberian airline has more leg room than American Airways. Remind me to always book my flights across seas on British or Iberia. The layover in Miami was awful, better than Chicago O'Hare but they need to have better directions for getting through. Half of the time we were lost on where to go or what to do next. When we asked we constantly got told to go to the wrong place or the wrong line. Once through that ordeal, we went to Versailles for a medianoche. This is my prize for making it back the ultimate Cuban sandwich. The rest of the trip was fairly uneventful with the exception of a gate change that made us have to go to the other side of the terminal and some small delays.
Back in Austin, we were on edge and exhausted. We made it through the threshold of our door at 11:59 PM. Being up since 6 AM with the travel that made for us being awake and on the move for 25 hours all in the same day. My bed had never felt so good.