By Parson Thru
I suppose it began with half a plan to catch a bus out to Delicias – the bus and train space-station on the edge of Zaragoza. I’d asked about buses in the tourist information office on Monday evening. They told me I needed the number thirty-four, which went past the hotel.
I’d slept well, which was a relief after Monday night. Either it was quieter, or I was so tired I just slept through anything.
I stopped to speak to the concierge on the way out – to be sociable and to practice my Spanish. I told him I was going to Huesca for the day. He grabbed a street map and showed me a bus stop about a five minute walk away. The Huesca bus stopped there. There was a ticket machine at the stop. He marked it out for me on the map. I thanked him and headed out of the door.
The street was busy with people coming and going. I hadn’t realised that the narrow streets off the road I was staying on were residential. It was a bustling community. There were cafes, shops, supermarkets all the way along the road and down the alleyways. Small terraces were crammed in anywhere they would fit.
I walked under the trees to keep out of the sun and crossed a square with groups of people chatting on benches in the shade, then cut between a low, heavy Baroque church and the plaza de toros. I found the bus stop and the ticket machine and bought a return – ida y vuelta. There was one other person waiting. We were twenty minutes early. I went for a look around the streets.
By the time I made it back, there were maybe ten people sitting or standing around the stop. I wondered how full the bus would be. I needn’t have worried.
It takes around an hour to reach Huesca. I listened to Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks” and looked out at the empty landscape. Up ahead, beyond Huesca, is where the Pyrenees begin. I’d originally planned to visit some villages in the mountains, but there wouldn’t have been time.
The bus and train station was more modest than the one in Zaragoza, but it seemed plenty big enough. There was one other bus at the stand. The train station was inside. It looked like a single track line brought the train from Zaragoza.
I didn’t have a map, so walked along the street until I found a signpost. The old town is basically straight up the hill through the modern centre, past a broad white council building – the Ayuntamiento. At least that’s what it looked like.
Pretty soon, I was pulling through an open square – all painted pink – and on through to a smaller plaza. The graffiti was interesting: “Liberacion” and a hammer and sickle. Anarchist and communist graffiti is a fairly common sight on walls in Spanish cities. I’ve seen it around Italy, too.
A large wooden door set in a wall forming one side of a triangular plaza turned out to be the church of San Pedro el Viejo. It looked interesting. Old. I opened the door and looked in. There was the usual huge altarpiece to my left. To my right, at a small table, sat the warden. She looked up. I smiled “Buenos dias!”
She was wearing a blue Levi jacket, which I thought was a nice touch. I asked if there was an entrada. She told me it was two euros or two euros fifty. Then she told me she'd be closing for lunch in ten minutes. I didn’t want to hurry. There was the building itself to take in, the cloister and a lot of history. The early kings of Aragon are entombed there. She said she’d be opening up again at four-thirty. I thanked her and told her I’d be back. The place had a tranquil atmosphere.
I carried on up the hill, eventually coming to a square hemmed in tightly on all sides. A fountain splashed at its centre in the shade of mature trees. Along one side was the cathedral. At the opposite end stood what looked like a residence. A group of kids were playing – running around the fountain. Two girls were stretched out on the fountain wall, reading. A bicycle was wedged into a rack. I sat in the shade of the trees and took out the snacks I’d brought and a bottle of water.
The kids’ ages ranged widely, the youngest maybe four years old. He had a water pistol and was chasing the others. One of them climbed into the tank of the fountain and fell over. The youngest screeched for a while, but it didn’t seem to be connected. An older kid – maybe his big brother – gave him a rub on the back and said something to him and all was well again.
There was a steady coming and going of vans cresting into the square at one corner, leaving at another. Odd jobs. Deliveries. The kids were racing around in kaleidoscopic mayhem. A grey-haired man in dark clothes went into the residence. He might have been a priest. There was a number three about six inches high over the door.
The game suddenly petered out. If someone had called them for lunch, I hadn’t heard it. The kids straggled down one of the lanes off the crest of the hill. I could see apartment buildings with graffiti on the walls just beyond the square. The girls on the fountain wall were as still as lizards.
I saw a light being turned off through the open door of the cathedral entrance. Two women and a man came out and one of them locked the door. They headed out of the square towards the town.
I sat listening to the fountain and the breeze in the dry foliage above, just letting my thoughts run, and scribbled four pages of nonsense into a notebook.
After a while, my stomach began to rumble and I got up to find some lunch. I left the same way the kids had gone, past the graffiti and murals on the painted walls. Open windows emitted the smell of cooking and the sound of families around their tables.
There was a signpost directing me down the hill towards the Arabic wall. I followed it for a while, but wasn’t sure in the end if I’d seen it or not. I eventually reached the lower town again and swung left into one of the main streets. I randomly picked a café and sat outside.
Around four-thirty, I walked back up through the pink square and on to Iglesia de San Pedro el Viejo. The warden was back at her desk. I said hello and she looked up and smiled, like I’d kept my end of some solemn pledge. I paid her the money and she took me on a short tour. There was no one else except for three men chatting in the cloister outside.
The church is XII century, but the crypt is older. That’s where the Kings are buried. I sat at a pew in the nave to just look around and take the place in. It was so peaceful I could have stayed there all afternoon. I wandered out into the cloister. The warden was down in a shaded corner chatting with the men. I looked in the crypt and at the tombs then walked through the columns of the cloister and back into the church.
The warden followed. She reminded me someone I knew in the UK – in Weston, I think. They could have been sisters. I bought a couple of postcards of the interior – I didn’t want to take photos. She showed me a fresco above the entrance, explaining it to me. I’d just about understood what she was saying earlier, but now I wasn’t getting it. She asked if I'd understood. The heat and tiredness made everything too much effort. I said yes. She knew I hadn’t. It was a shame. We said goodbye and I headed out through the door. The warden went back to the cloister.
I walked on to the cathedral plaza. It was still quiet. The girls on the fountain wall had gone, but the bike was still there. The museum door was open. I went in.
I paid for the museum and cathedral. The tower was extra and I told the girl at the desk I didn’t have time. She took me quickly through the guide. The museum was filled with religious art, including a silver altarpiece as big as a house and a roughly-carved crucifixion figure from the early Christian period.
I walked through to the cathedral proper, too tired to take it all in. A man had just lit the incense burner and was backing away from the altar, bowing. A small round nun in a grey habit was carrying a flower along the aisle. I gave her a cheerful “Buenas tardes!” She put her finger to her lips and issued an explosive “Ssssh!” But her eyes twinkled.
The girl at the entrance directed me back down through town to reach the bus station. I had twenty minutes to make the bus.
Maybe I should have stayed in San Pedro el Viejo.