Pilar, Pilar, Pilar. There always seems to be so much going on in Spain at one time I can never keep up! This weekend (October 11th) some friends and I decided to take a day trip to the city of Zaragoza, Spain to experience the famous Pilar festival.It was really inexpensive because we booked our trip though a local CityLife agency in Madrid that plans lots of events for students (whether local or foreign) that live in the city. A total of 8 busses were filled heading over to the festival and although we were supposed to leave Madrid at 11:00am sharp, due to the lack of organization and the fact that we’re on “Spanish time” we didn’t end up leaving until a little after 11:30am.
It took us a total of 6.5 hours to get to Zaragoza when it only should have taken us around 4, but this was due to a couple of reasons:
1. We hit some heavy traffic on the outskirts of Madrid, and
2. There was not a bathroom on any of the busses so naturally we had to stop half way to let 8 busses full of people use the bathroom at a rest top which took 1.5 hours in itself.
But once we arrived in Zaragoza (around 6:00pm- mind you) it was all worth it. They even extended our stay saying the buses would leave at 3:30am now instead of 2:30am giving us more time to experience the festival. The main feature of the city is the stunning basilica located near the river and downtown area.
This basilica is essentially the face of Zaragoza and where the main events of the festival are held. Most of the events are concerts put on for the city that range anywhere from traditional to contemporary music, but there are other types of entertainment events such as magicians, a mini Oktoberfest, and fireworks.
The weather was great in Zaragoza! Almost a whole 10 degrees (F) warmer than Madrid considering it was closer to the coast. When we first arrived we walked towards the main stages of Pilar, but there wasn’t anything too exciting happening so we decided to walk through the basilica and admire the beauty of the church from within. Obviously, there were a lot of other people in town for the festival doing the same, but I still managed to have my breath taken away by intricate decoration and attention to detail of the basilica’s interior.
There was also a service going on at this time which was really cool to see but I felt bad since the masses of people seemed to be a little disruptive of this. The Pilar festival itself is a religious celebration in honor of the Virgin Mary of the Pilar of which the basilica is named.
After admiring the basilica we integrated into the crowds of people and walked up and down the city streets admiring the festival go-ers as well as the numerous amounts of street venders selling anything from balloons to Calvin Klein underwear on the streets (yes, you could casually purchase underwear at the festival if you desired).
Another one of the main attractions in Zaragoza is an Islamic palace called Aljatería. Once we finished wandering about the city streets and festival, we decided to take a little detour to visit this castle- where we had no idea was located. However along the way, we happened upon what looked like ancient ruins located in the middle of a square in the city center. It was really cool how the ruins where integrated in the city in the way they were because people where able to climb and sit on the ruins as if it was a piece of abstract art created for the city itself.
But as we later learned at the tourist center nearby, the ruins were of the Roman empire which also has ties to the city name itself. “Cesar Augustos” was the name of the city during this era, but as time passed the name became more slurred and eventually morphed into the city’s current name “Zaragoza”.
When we finally found the palacio de Aljatería (thanks to a map of the city provided by the tourist center), it was getting ready to close to the public. Luckily, we had just enough time to purchase a ticket (1 euro for students, but free on Sundays) and see the palace- which was been remarkably preserved. In fact, this is the only large building of Spanish Islamic architecture from the era of the Taifas.
What was really cool about visiting the palace was that we were able to put our architecture knowledge that we learned in the “curso intensivo” to use; mostly when it came to identifying the types of arcs, columns, and specific style of interior decoration. It’s always fun to see what you learned in a classroom come to life.
Even though we felt a bit rushed and our time was cut short in the palace, it was still an extremely rewarding experience and I’m glad we found it and had the chance to go.
Hunger was starting to set in on us so as we made our way back to the city center we stopped at a little restaurant/bar to have dinner, some coffee, and get ready for the rest of the night. It was a very cute restaurant but was also very crowded due to the number of people in town. As a tapa, I ordered something called a capírote de langostino which I had never heard of before, but was very delicious!
We then met up with our friend Kate (also in the WIPT program) who came to Zaragoza for the weekend rather than the day. She was with her cousin Jacob who had actually lived in the city of Zaragoza during his junior year in high school- and he was very excited to show us all the cool things he knew about the city and act as our tour guide. We met up in the city center- which proved to be a challenge considering the amount of people- and Jacob then took us this zen tea bar that he used to go to all the time when he lived here. The owner and him are actually really good friends! It was an interesting place and it was nice to have a few drinks with everyone and experience more of the local life outside of the festival festivities.
Then it was more tapa time! Jacob introduced us to the food district where we were able to buy little tapas (like snacks) and move from one place to another trying all different kinds of food.
My favorite place was this tapa bar called “El Champi” which is a place that specialized in these amazing mushroom tapas. That is literally the only kind of tapa you can get there and they are aMaZinNG!! I would return to Zaragoza for those mushrooms alone.
The rest of the night was dedicated to experience the festival, walking around the city at night, and enjoying each other’s company. It started to rain in the early morning hours which unfortunately thinned out the crowds of people and cancelled the concerts on the main stage, but it couldn’t get us down. It was lovely walking around the city and seeing the reflections of the light on the wet pavement.
When the night came to an end, we all got churros and hot pudding dipping sauce, and headed back to the bus. Luckily the busses were on time, and due the lack of traffic/ efficiency at the half-way stop, it allowed us to return home in 4 hours (8am).
I’m so happy I got the chance to experience the Pilar festival in Zaragoza because it was so nice to see the basilica, the palace, and create memories with friends. Also, if Zaragoza was the place to be in Spain this weekend, of course I wanted to be there. If anyone has the chance to go to the festival in the future, I would definitely recommend it because it’s one more element of Spanish culture that you get experience!