Tag Archives: Don Quixote

Weekly Photo Challenge: Threes

Consuegra Windmills Spain

Three Windmills, Consuegra, Spain…

The windmills are tall cylindrical towers capped with dark cones and four big “sails” that move with the wind.  In days gone by, farmers would haul their grain to these windmills where the structures harnessed the power of the wind to grind grain.

The windmills and the skill to operate them were passed down from fathers to sons. Windows placed around the tower of the windmill provide great views today. But that was not their original use. From these windows, the miller could keep watch on the shifting winds. When the winds changed, the miller would have to move the tiller beam to turn the mill. If he didn’t a sudden strong wind could strip the sails, rip off the top and the whole building could be destroyed by a gusty wind.

Read the full story…

Northern Spain – Pilgims and the Way of Saint James

The Camino Way Spain

Sir Walter Raleigh wrote:

Give me my scallop shell of quiet;
My staff of faith to walk upon;
My scrip of joy, immortal diet;
My bottle of salvation;
My gown of glory (hope’s true gage);
And then I’ll take my pilgrimage.

Burgos lies on one of the principal pilgrim routes of the Camino or the Way of Saint James and during our visit we had to share the streets and the restaurants and the hotel with dozens of foot weary walkers all sharing their hiking tales as they walked towards their ultimate objective – the city of Santiago de Compostela.

Santiago de Compostela is the capital of the autonomous region of Galicia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is located in the most northwest region of Spain in the Province of A Coruña and it was the European City of Culture for the year 2000.  I didn’t know this but after Jerusalem and Rome it is the third most holy city in Christendom and the cathedral is the destination today, as it has been throughout history, of the important ninth century medieval pilgrimage route, the Way of St. James.

Santiago is such an important pilgrimage destination because it is considered the burial site of the apostle, James the Great.  Santiago was one of the twelve disciples and a devout follower of Christ but in 44 A.D. he became the first of Apostles to suffer martyrdom when Herod Agrippa I arrested and (according to the story) personally beheaded him (this seems rather unlikely to me) in Jerusalem.   According to legend Santiago had preached for a while in Iberia prior to his execution and after his death his own disciples returned his body by boat back to the peninsula.

On the way they were caught in a storm and almost certainly doomed when a ship miraculously appeared, led by an angel, to guide them to land and safety.  They buried the saint near Compostela, ‘field of stars,’ where Santiago lay forgotten for nearly eight hundred years.

The tomb was conveniently rediscovered in the ninth century in a time of great need when Christian political and military fortunes in Spain were at their lowest ebb after they had suffered defeat time and again at the hands of the Muslims, until that is God revealed the Saint’s remains, and inspired them with the confidence that he was on their side, fighting in the battlefield with them through the heroic figure of Santiago and the holy saint became a warrior.

002

People continue to take the Pilgrim trail and there were many here in Burgos who could be instantly identified by the pilgrim staff and the symbol of the scallop shell.   The shell is the traditional symbol of the pilgrimage because the grooves in the shell, which come together at a single point, represent the various routes that pilgrims travelled, all eventually arriving at a single destination.  It is also symbolic of the pilgrim because just as the waves of the ocean wash scallop shells up on the shores of Galicia, God’s hand also guides the pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela.

I have been giving some thought to perhaps tackling the Camino myself one day and have been looking at the various different routes.  I have to say that I may have a preference for the one that starts in Plymouth in the UK because that would seem to include rather a nice cruise on a P&O ferry across the Bay of Biscay and an evening in the duty free bar followed by a just short stroll from A Coruña to Santiago de Compostela.

Way of St James 1

St James the Apostle is the Patron saint of Spain and if El Cid represents the secular aspects of heroism and military conquest during the Reconquista the spiritual hero representing the religious justification and the Christian ethos of the crusade against the Muslims was Santiago.  In ‘Don Quixote’ Cervantes wrote - ‘St. James the Moorslayer, one of the most valiant saints and knights the world ever had … has been given by God to Spain for its patron and protection.’  Since the reconquest ‘Santiago y cierra España’, which means St James and strike for Spain has been the traditional battle cry of Spanish armies.

The truth was that as the Northern Kingdoms began to assert themselves they needed spiritual assistance and justification and in this era of crusading reconquest there was a need for the living presence of a religious-national figure as an emblem of Christian strength and supremacy that was capable of rallying around themselves the Spanish Christian forces.   This was to be Santiago whose image fulfilled the desire of the Iberian Christians for heroes to emulate, and unite them in their struggle for political and religious independence from Muslim rule.

An important manifestation of the crusading mentality during this time was the creation of an iconic patriotic creation of Santiago and the mythical military contribution of St James to the Reconquista was the inspirational presence of the Saint on the battlefields of the peninsula.

The most famous of these was the legend surrounding the battle of Clavijo in 844, where the vastly outnumbered and demoralised Christian forces were inspired by the appearance of St James in a full suit of armour riding on a galloping white horse with a sword in the right hand and the banner of victory in the left.

Modern historians dispute that there ever was such a battle but the story goes that the night before the encounter, Santiago appeared in a dream to the leader of the Spanish forces, King Ramirez of Castile, and promised him a victory over the Muslims.  The following day, at the height of battle, the warrior-saint appeared on the battlefield, leaving behind him the defeated infidels that he has slaughtered and crushed to the ground and in front of him what remained of the terrified enemy promptly surrendered.  Thus was born the legend of Santiago Matamoros, the Moorslayer.

Camino Way End of The Day

In 1998 I won a competition in the Times newspaper for an all expenses paid weekend to a chateaux in Cahors in France.  This was the result of answering three simple questions about the Apostle Saint James and the Spanish city of Santiago de Compostela, which were about pilgrimages and seashells

Northern Spain – Alcalá de Henares and Cervantes, The World’s Greatest Novelist!

Cervantes Alcalá de Henares

On returning home I did as I promised and bought a copy of Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’.  I found it on Amazon for the bargain price of £1.99, I ordered it together with a book on the history of Spain and it arrived three days later.

Since publication in 1605 it is reputed to be the most widely read and translated book on the planet after the Bible. I tried to read it once but found it a bit heavy going so gave up quite quickly but as we walked along I resolved to give it another go upon returning home.

I opened the package and then I remembered why I didn’t finish it at the last attempt.  The book has nearly eight hundred pages and I estimate about four hundred and forty thousand words long and it has that tiny squashed up typeface that makes a book sometimes difficult to read.

It is the story of a man who believes that he is a knight, and recounts his adventures as he rights wrongs, mistakes peasants for princesses, and  “tilts at windmills,” mistakenly believing them to be evil giants.  As one of the earliest works of modern western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published.  In 2002 a panel of one hundred leading world authors declared Don Quixote to be the best work of fiction ever written, ahead even of works by Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.  Cervantes has also been credited with shaping modern literary style, and Don Quixote has been acclaimed as “the first great novel of world literature”.

So, just in case I start it and abandon it again I have decided to carry out some research and do some preparation to try and understand exactly why this is such a good book and why I should enjoy reading it.

don-quixote-book-cover

According to one reviewer Don Quixote is “so conspicuous and void of difficulty that children may handle him, youths may read him, men may understand him and old men may celebrate him”.  I hope that I am at that “men may understand him” part of life whereas previously I was only at the “youths may read him” stage and that this might make a difference.  I think it will also help that I have now visited La Mancha and have some small understanding of the place and the people and this will explain the book when I begin to read it.

The novel begins with :

 ”Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing…

…His fantasy filled with everything he had read in his books, enchantments as well as combats, battles, challenges, wounds, courtings, loves, torments, and other impossible foolishness, and he became so convinced in his imagination of the truth of all the countless grandiloquent and false inventions he read that for him no history in the world was truer.”

 I have read that first page a couple of times but have not yet felt completely ready to carry on so perhaps I will keep it for a holiday read?  I am determined to do it soon and I will let you know how I get on but for now I have got to finish my Bill Bryson book, which isn’t quite such an important work in the history of World literature but has the advantage of being very easy to read.

Alcalá de Henares Bithplace of Miguel Cervantes

Northern Spain – Alcalá de Henares and the Rain in Spain

Alcalá de Henares Madrid Spain

In respect of the fire I should not have been so smug because once again at about one o’clock it surged into life, flames started to leap from the grill and fuel pellets started to spew into the combustion area.  We really couldn’t sleep through this so I repeated last night’s switch off routine and eventually it died down and stopped and we slept undisturbed until the next morning.

The sun was shining for the first time when we went for breakfast but by the time we had finished and returned to our room to pack it had stopped and grey clouds had swept in from the mountains and by the time we checked out, paid and left it was beginning to spit with rain.

The plan today was to drive back to Madrid and the airport and stop-over in either Gudalajara or Alcalá de Henares so that we would be close to the airport for the return of the hire car, check in and the late afternoon flight home.  We took the road back to the A2 Autovia through several kilometres of road improvement works and as we drove west the weather just kept on deteriorating until the whole landscape ahead of us was smothered by a cold grey blanket of cloud that obscured the view of the great plain of Castile.

When we arrived at the junction for Guadalajara Kim was asleep in the passenger seat and the weather was awful so even though it seemed rather rude I just kept on driving past the provincial capital and made a decision that we would stop in Alcalá de Henares if for no other reason than this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we had visited one yet on this visit to Spain.

Each new trip to Spain seems to inevitably include a visit to World Heritage Site so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that out of the forty-four sites on the UNESCO  list (second only to Italy with forty-seven) and four more had been added since my last visit. I had previously been to twenty and here was an opportunity to add one more.

Modern day Alcalá de Henares is a busy sprawling industrial suburb of Madrid but at its heart is the world’s first planned university city founded in 1293 by King Sancho IV of Castile. It was the original model for the Civitas Dei (City of God), the ideal urban community which Spanish missionaries exported to the New World and it also served as a model for universities in Europe and elsewhere. Alcalá de Henares is Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale but I wouldn’t have guessed this as we drove towards the city centre through grimy streets, clogged with growling traffic and with unattractive high rise apartment blocks and small industrial units lining the road.

Alcalá de Henares Spain Madrid

After we parked the car in an underground car park we made for the Centro Historico and started first at the cathedral which, as in Sigüenza had the religious floats on display in various side chapels and after the cathedral we walked to the centre of the red brick city to the Plaza de Cervantes so named because the Spanish novelist and author of Don Quixote was born here in this city in 1547 and then it started to rain, gently at first but quite soon it was becoming heavy and we were forced to abandon the open spaces and seek the shelter of the elegant stone colonnaded pavements that surround the plaza and the main street, the Calle Mayor.

Since leaving Sigüenza we had dropped over four hundred metres in altitude and despite the rain there was a more Spring like atmosphere with flowers in the civic park, pink blossom exploding from the trees and storks busy attending to their untidy nests on top of the churches and other tall buildings.  The population of storks in Spain is rising, from six thousand seven hundred pairs thirty years ago to an estimated thirty-five thousand pairs today.  In fact there are now so many White Storks in Spain that it is now second only to Poland who with fifty thousand birds has traditionally been the country with the most pairs in Europe.

All along the Calle Mayor there were shopping distractions for Kim so while she looked at shoes and sparkly things in jewellers shops I made my way to the end of the street to the birthplace museum of Cervantes and waited in the company of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza for her to catch me up.  It was raining steadily now, which was a shame and this being a Monday the museum was closed which was an even bigger shame but I had anticipated this so wasn’t desperately disappointed.

Time was running out now and there was only just over an hour left before we were due to return the hire car so we shared an umbrella as we walked in the rain, stopping for a very short time in a tapas bar that we didn’t especially like and where the prices were high and the staff unnecessarily persistent and then we left the drizzle of Alcalá de Henares and returned directly to Barajas Airport for the late afternoon flight home.

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

Northern Spain – The Ruta de Don Quixote

Consuegra Windmills

Don Quixote is the national glory of Spain.  No one who does not know that has the right to call himself a Spaniard.  There is a monument to him in Madrid…he was our first revolutionary.”                                                                                             Gerald Brenan – South from Granada

My previous post described a short encounter with the Ruta de Don Quixote on a drive between the neighbouring towns of Sigüenza and Atienza but this was not the first time that we had followed other parts of the route…

In 2009 we were staying in Belmonte, further south than Sigüenza and it was going to be a long day so we rose early ready for a quick start and as usual my first job was to check the weather.  The air felt fresher and from the hotel window I could see cloud to the east, which was a bit of a worry, but the lady on Spanish breakfast television seemed confident that it was going to be fine and out to the west it was clear blue and that was the direction in which we were heading. 

After breakfast and check out we packed the car and started on the one hundred and fifty kilometre drive to Toledo.   I instinctively knew that it was going to be a good day.

In the hotel there had been pictures of a castle and a row of windmills at the next town of Consuegra so as it came into view we left the main road and headed towards the top of the hill where they stood like watching sentinels overlooking the town.  From below, the castle looked magnificent but on close inspection it was in a bit of a sorry state of disrepair but from here there were terrific views over the great plain of Castile and it was easy to see why this was once a very important military place as it guarded the direct route from the south to Toledo and Madrid.  The castle was once a stronghold of the Knights of San Juan, the Spanish branch of the Knight’s Hospitallers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

Now we were on the ‘Ruta de Don Quixote’ which is the golden thread that binds the Castilian tourist industry together in a ribbon of castles and windmills stretching all the way from Cuenca to Toledo.

As well as the castle, Consuegra is famous for its windmills which remained in use until the beginning of the 1980s.  They were originally built by the Knights and were used to grind the grain that was grown on the plain and they were passed down through the generations of millers from fathers to sons. The eleven Consuegra windmills are some of the best examples of Spanish windmills in Castilla-La Mancha and although it was a little cool at the top of the hill it was a good time to see them because there were very few visitors this early in the morning.

Don Quixote is a novel written by the seventeenth century Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and is regarded as the most influential work of literature to emerge from the Spanish Golden Age.  It is the story of a man who believes that he is a knight, and recounts his adventures as he rights wrongs, mistakes peasants for princesses, and  “tilts at windmills,” mistakenly believing them to be evil giants.  As one of the earliest works of modern western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published.

In 2002 a panel of one hundred leading world authors declared Don Quixote to be the best work of fiction ever written, ahead even of works by Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.  Cervantes has also been credited with shaping modern literary style, and Don Quixote has been acclaimed as “the first great novel of world literature”. 

Since publication in 1605 it is reputed to be the most widely read and translated book on the planet after the Bible. I tried to read it once but found it rather heavy going so gave up quite quickly but as we drove along I resolved to have another attempt upon returning home.

Cervantes Alcalá de Henares

Weekly Photo Challenge: Free Spirit

Windmills of La Mancha

”Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing…

…His fantasy filled with everything he had read in his books, enchantments as well as combats, battles, challenges, wounds, courtings, loves, torments, and other impossible foolishness, and he became so convinced in his imagination of the truth of all the countless grandiloquent and false inventions he read that for him no history in the world was truer.”

Cervantes – Don Quixote

Read the full story…

My Personal A to Z of Spain, W is for Windmills

P3210539

It was going to be a long day so we rose early ready for a quick start and as usual my first job was to check the weather. The air felt fresher and from the hotel window I could see cloud to the east, which was a bit of a worry, but the lady on Spanish breakfast television seemed confident that it was going to be fine and out to the west it was clear blue and that was the direction in which we were heading. After breakfast and check out we packed the car and started on the one hundred and fifty kilometre drive to Toledo.

We drove first to the town of Alcázar de San Juan but this wasn’t because of any sort of research just an instinct that it would be interesting based on what seemed to be a promising name. I should have carried out some research because it didn’t seem very appealing at all, there wasn’t a castle to be seen and the clouds had caught up and overtaken us and there was a bleached out sort of chalky whiteness to the sky so we rather rudely carried on without stopping. Somewhere just west of the town we crossed the old A4 highway and that reminded me of the mad drive through Spain with my brother and two friends in 1984 when we drove from southern Portugal to the French border in thirty-six hours in a ten year old clapped out Ford Escort.

Back in the hotel there had been pictures of a castle and a row of windmills at the next town of Consuegra so as it came into view we left the main road and headed towards the top of the hill where they stood like a string of sentinels overlooking the town. From below, the castle looked magnificent but on close inspection it too was in a bit of a sorry state of disrepair but from here there were terrific views over the great plain of Castile and it was easy to see why this was once a very important military place as it guarded the direct route from the south to Toledo and Madrid. The castle was once a stronghold of the Knights of San Juan, the Spanish branch of the Knight’s Hospitallers of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem.

As well as the castle Consuegra is famous for its windmills which remained in use until the beginning of the 1980s. These were the very windmills that Cervantes allegedly had in mind when he wrote Don Quixote and it is easy to see why because they sit in a ragged line along the top of a steep hill and they look down on the flat red dirt plains of La Mancha.  I say allegedly here because although Consuegra clings to the Don Quixote connection because it is good for tourism, scholars now agree that the site Cervantes was describing was at the small town of Campo de Criptana which is east and South of Consuegra.

With their sails tied down and no longer spun by the wind they are almost smug in what is now their supremely safe tourist protected environment – one is a visitor information centre, one is a museum and one is a souvenir shop. They were originally built by the Knights and were used to grind the grain that was grown on the plain and they were passed down through the generations of millers from fathers to sons. The eleven Consuegra windmills are some of the best examples of Spanish windmills in Castilla-La Mancha and although it was a little cool at the top of the hill it was a good time to see them because there were very few visitors this early in the morning.

In fact the weather was getting progressively cooler and showing no signs of improvement and as we walked over the uneven rocky ground between the black sails and admired the bulk of the castle nearby we drew strange glances from bus tourists who were wrapped up in coats and scarves and gloves that were much more appropriate than our linens and short sleeves.

After leaving Consuegra we rejoined the road and headed north to Toledo and on the way the clouds evaporated and the sun poured through and we passed more castles at Mora and at Almonacid but we didn’t stop again. The scenery began to change too as it became more untidy and scrubby as we left the chequerboard fields and their delightful colours behind. Just before midday we reached the outskirts of Toledo and at the top of the city we could see the Alcázar and the Cathedral and we followed the signs to the historical centre and found a very large and convenient car park right on the edge of the city and in my league table of Spanish city car parks Toledo went straight to the top. At the bottom by the way remains Seville!

My Personal A to Z of Spain, Q is for Don Quixote

“Don Quixote is the national glory of Spain.  No one who does not know that has the right to call himself a Spaniard.  There is a monument to him in Madrid…he was our first revolutionary.”                                                                   Gerald Brenan – South from Granada

After a few kilometres there was a dusty track that left the road and led to the medieval castle of De Haro that was situated in a good position on the top of a hill and we drove to it but up close its condition was not what it seemed from a distance and it was not open to visitors so we retraced our steps and carried on. Now we were on the ‘Ruta de Don Quixote’ which is the golden thread that binds the Castilian tourist industry together in a ribbon of castles and windmills stretching all the way from Cuenca to Toledo.

Don Quixote is a novel written by the seventeenth century Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra and is regarded as the most influential work of literature to emerge from the Spanish Golden Age.

It is the story of a man who believes that he is a knight, and recounts his adventures as he rights wrongs, mistakes peasants for princesses, and “tilts at windmills,” mistakenly believing them to be evil giants. As one of the earliest works of modern western literature, it regularly appears high on lists of the greatest works of fiction ever published. In 2002 a panel of one hundred leading world authors declared Don Quixote to be the best work of fiction ever written, ahead even of works by Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Cervantes has also been credited with shaping modern literary style, and Don Quixote has been acclaimed as “the first great novel of world literature”. Since publication in 1605 it is reputed to be the most widely read and translated book on the planet after the Bible. I tried to read it once but found it rather heavy going so gave up quite quickly but as we drove along I resolved to have another attempt.

don-quixote-book-cover

On returning home I did as I promised and bought a copy of Cervantes’ Don Quixote. I found it on Amazon for the bargain price of £1.99, I ordered it together with a book by one of my my favourite modern authors – Bill Bryson.

I opened the package and then I remembered why I didn’t finish it at the last attempt. The book has nearly eight hundred pages and I estimate about four hundred and forty thousand words long and it has that tiny squashed up typeface that makes a book sometimes difficult to read.

So, just in case I start it and abandon it again I have decided to carry out some research and do some preparation to try and understand exactly why this is such a good book and why I should enjoy reading it.

According to one reviewer Don Quixote is “so conspicuous and void of difficulty that children may handle him, youths may read him, men may understand him and old men may celebrate him”. I hope that I am at that “men may understand him” part of life whereas previously I was only at the “youths may read him” stage and that this might make a difference. I think it will also help that I have now visited La Mancha and have some small understanding of the place and the people and this will explain the book when I begin to read it.

The novel begins with :

”Somewhere in La Mancha, in a place whose name I do not care to remember, a gentleman lived not long ago, one of those who has a lance and ancient shield on a shelf and keeps a skinny nag and a greyhound for racing…

…His fantasy filled with everything he had read in his books, enchantments as well as combats, battles, challenges, wounds, courtings, loves, torments, and other impossible foolishness, and he became so convinced in his imagination of the truth of all the countless grandiloquent and false inventions he read that for him no history in the world was truer.”

I have read that first page a couple of times but have not yet felt completely ready to carry on so perhaps I will keep it for a holiday read? I am determined to do it soon and I will let you know how I get on but for now I have to finish my Bill Bryson book, which isn’t quite such an important work in the history of World literature but has the advantage of being very easy to read.

Spain 2011, Consuegra, Tembleque and Aranjuez

Consuegra Windmills Spain

I realise that this isn’t the correct technical meteorological term but when we woke up the next morning, it was as though the sluice gates had been opened and it was absolutely chucking it down!

From outside there was the sound of (very) heavy rain and when the shutters were opened we were confronted with a blanket of thick grey cloud and horizontal precipitation thrashing against the window – it was all a bit dull and dismal and did not look at all promising.  But, I have great faith in the expression ‘rain before seven, clear by eleven’ that I was reasonably confident of improvement as we mopped up the wet tiles under the balcony door, dressed and went for breakfast.

Read the full story…

Road Trip – Portugal to Andalusia and Seville

 

Because there was quite a long way to go we planned for a very early start and it was still dark when we left just after five o’clock in the morning.  Tony had the rough guide to Europe map and had sorted the route and there was a very simple plan, we would take it in turns and drive non stop all the way, it would be tapas in Madrid at lunchtime, Bordeaux in France for evening meal, and a bottle or two of nice red wine, a night in Evreux in Normandy, and a visit to some friends who lived there, and then on to Dieppe in plenty of time for the ferry in just over forty-eight hours time.

So simple it hardly needed a plan at all!

Read the full story…