Tag Archives: Don Quixote

Travels in Spain, Madrid to Belmonte via Chinchón

Regions of Spain

Some time ago now we set ourselves the ambitious task of visiting all of the seventeen Autonomous Communities of Spain and to begin our quest we chose Castilla-La Mancha, the land of Don Quixote, windmills and wide open plains.

It was an early morning .flight and in razor sharp skies the plane crossed the Atlantic Spanish coast somewhere close to the city of Santander and below us we recognised the two thousand five hundred metre high peaks of the Picos de Europa and then  crossed the massive northern mountainous regions of northern Spain.  It was brown and rocky with huge mysterious pine forests and blue shimmering lakes, long roads negotiating the mountains and valleys and snaking between towns and villages and from above it was possible to begin to appreciate the immense size of the country and of the task that we had set ourselves.

Closer to Madrid the predominant browns gave way to vibrant greens and then into a mosaic of contrasting colour  as the aircraft made its final descent and landed at the airport.  It was rather disorganised but the customs were brilliant and the United Kingdom immigrations control could learn a thing or two about getting passengers through an airport quickly from these guys.

Then collecting the car was gloriously simple as well and within forty minutes we were heading out of the city on the A3 motorway and on our way towards our first destination, the town of Chinchón, about thirty miles south of Madrid.

Chinchon x 4

Not far out of the city the scenery suddenly became more attractive with acres of olive trees and stumpy black vines slumbering in the fields each with the contorted face of a medieval gargoyle concealed within its gnarled and knotted trunk.  In the trees and on top of pylons there were stork nests and in the sky buzzards hung above us on the thermals looking for easy lunch in the fields below.

We arrived in Chinchón at about half past one and ignoring the edge of town tourist car parks steered the car towards the Plaza Mayor at the very centre of the town.  Parking has rarely been easier and there was a perfect spot right in the Plaza and I was sure there must surely be a catch.  There was a glorious blue sky and big sun and it was warm enough to change into summer holiday linens although this did take some of the locals by surprise as they were wrapped up in woollies and coats and still obviously uncertain about and distrustful of the early Spring weather.

Chinchon

The Plaza is in a marvellous location with a big irregular shaped square that is used for town festivals and the occasional bullfight; it is surrounded by a hierarchical arrangement of buildings of two and three storeys with two hundred and thirty-four wooden running balconies, called ‘claros’ and shops, bars and restaurants on the ground floor all spilling out onto the pavement.

It was the location for one of the opening scenes, a bullfight as it happens, in the 1966 film, ‘Return of the Magnificent Seven’ and was also used as a location for the film ‘Around the World in Eighty Days’.

Magnificent 7.Around the World in 80 days Chinchon

After a few minutes spent soaking up the atmosphere we compared menu prices in the bars and selected the cheapest tables on the sunny side of the square and settled down for lunch where we enjoyed salad, calamari and tortilla and after a couple of glasses of Spanish beer set off to explore some of the tiny streets running like a spiders web off of the square.

First through narrow lanes of whitewashed houses to the very top of the town and to a castle with excellent views over the houses and the surrounding villages and countryside but the castle was in a state of serious disrepair and closed to the public so we left and after calling in at the Parador hotel to see how wealthy people spend their holidays we walked to the other side of town and climbed again, this time to the church which had equally good views over the tiled roofs of the houses which in some way reminded me, in an ochre sort of way, of Tuscany.

Chinchon Castle

Beyond the houses there were the surrounding villages and the predominantly buff and grey coloured countryside stretching as far as the horizon.  From this elevated position it was possible to appreciate that despite its close proximity to Madrid that Chinchón is essentially a small Spanish village and despite the Plaza, which grabs all the attention this is a living and working community.

From the castle we took the road back into town which took us through lazy whitewashed streets where elderly ladies in black dresses sat gossiping in the doorways and men folk sat on benches discussing important matters of the day.  In the centre of town along streets leading off the Plaza there were a few shops, a mini market, butcher, grocer and a fishmonger, an electrical shop that didn’t look as if it had sold anything for a very long time, a florist and a photographer.

And we were back at the car park; we liked this place and wished that we were stopping longer but it was time to leave now and make our way to our accommodation in the provincial town of Belmonte.

Chinchon Windows

Travels in Spain, The Plains in Postcards

ExtremaduraAvila Postcard MapMadrid PostcardLeon Spain postcard

Travels in Spain, Icons

Don Quixote and Sancho PanzaRonda Bullring 1paellaFrancesco Pizzaro Trujillo Extremadura SpainConsuegra Windmills SpainEl Cid Burgos SpainEl Quinque Flamenco Show

Travels in Spain, Valencia and The Costa Blanca

003

I am fairly certain that I have mentioned here before that I have a travel ambition to visit all of the seventeen Autonomous Communities of Spain.  So far I have managed fifteen but still need to add La Rioja and Navarre to my  list.  I could have chosen to go there this time but instead I went to the east coast where I have been previously.

I have been to Valencia and Murcia before and I have always said that it isn’t my favourite part of Spain but now my sister lives there so this provided an opportunity to visit and possibly make a reassessment.  I resolved that if possible that this should be a voyage of discovery.

This part of the east coast of Spain is called the Costa Blanca now but it is still quite often referred to by its once regional name of Levante from a time when the Moors had colonial ownership of the Iberian peninsular and had a heavy presence all along this Mediterranean coastline.

It is said that the name Costa Blanca was originally conceived as a promotional name by British European Airways when it first launched its air service between London and Valencia in 1957 at the start of the package holiday boom.  I think this may explain why I have always been a bit snooty about it because I have always associated it with concrete holiday resorts and as we flew in over Benidorm, gleaming like a shiny pin-cushion I was fairly certain that nothing short of dynamite was going to change my opinion.

Alicante Castle

This opinion exposes my prejudice and ignorance because the problem that I have is that I find it difficult to get an understanding of Valencia because you need to dig deep to find the true heritage of the place.  Nothing shouts out to me like the Flamenco of Andalucía, Don Quixote of Castilla-La Mancha or the Conquistadors of Extremadura, of Gaudi in Catalonia, the Camino Way of Galicia or tales of Saint James and the Reconquista in Castilla y Leon.

The only flimsy thing that I have ever had to go on was the story of El Cid and the battle with the Moors over the city of Valencia

Benidorm Spain

Allow me to go on; it has always concerned me that there are a great many British living in this part of Spain, in Torrevieja alone there are about twelve thousand which accounts for about thirteen per cent of the entire population.  In fact the Spanish themselves are in the minority at only forty-eight per cent and soon it is estimated that in total there will be one million Brits living on the Costa Blanca.

It is not only British but also the Scandinavians and the Germans and the Dutch and even the Spanish themselves because as more immigrants arrive then more people from other regions of Spain head east for the jobs that are created. Valencia has some difficulty retaining and protecting its own identity and many local people lament the loss of heritage and language and tradition.

So I got a bigger spade and started to dig a bit deeper to try to learn something about Valencia other than the story of El Cid.

paella

I suppose I have to start with paella because although it has come to be regarded as the national dish of Spain it originated right here in Valencia.  When the Moors reached Alicante in 718 they discovered a pleasant climate perfect for growing crops that wouldn’t grow in the deserts of North Africa and set about turning this part of the peninsula into a centre of horticulture.

They developed a system of irrigation and exploited the wetlands that were created to grow rice.  Not just any rice however, not your supermarket economy rice, not Uncle Ben’s ‘boil in a bag’, but arroz bomba introduced from the east which has the perfect constituency to produce the dish.

These days people will add almost any ingredient to a paella but the true Valencian meal is always made of chicken, rabbit and white beans.  Most things work but I have a friend who adds liver and that doesn’t but then again I have strong culinary views on liver – avoid it at all costs – it takes offal.

valencia-oranges

The period of Moorish occupation was to last nearly four hundred years and normally I would look for palaces and castles as a reminder of this time but in the Levante you have to look at the countryside because the Moors created the landscape of the region. After the irrigation they planted citrus groves and peach and almond orchards. The terraces seen on the hillsides throughout the region are an everlasting Moor legacy.  There are no olives or vines in Valencia just acres and acres of fruit that stretch as far as the eye can see.

In holiday brochures this might be the Costa Blanca but it has a less well-known alternative name – the Orange Blossom Coast which owes its name to the sharp, sweet smell of citrus that hangs in the Spring air.  Spain is Europe’s largest producer of oranges and two-thirds of these little balls of sunshine come from the region around Valencia.  The millions of orange trees are shiny green the year round, clothed in delicate white blossoms in spring and bright orange baubles in the autumn when each tree groans under the burden of some five hundred fruits.

We landed in Alicante in bright sunshine around about lunch time and after a short drive to the urbanisation of Quesada we immediately settled in to local life by finding a bar with some local tapas.  It was good to be in Spain once more.

Tapas Alicante

Travels in Spain, Windmills

Spain WindmillConsuegra Windmills SpainDon Quixote Alcala de Henares

Road Trip – Portugal to Andalucía 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 we surprised the car by piling in and starting it up at an obscenely early hour 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 only stopping when the car could take no more, 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!

Even though there was no motorway in 1986 the one hundred kilometre drive to the border was quite straight forward at this time in the morning but the lack of an offsite headlight did make things a little bit precarious at times.   We drove inland for about half the way and then joined the coast road for the final section of the drive towards the border with Spain, which we reached more or less on schedule.

That was the last time!

The border with Spain is the Guadiana River and these days a bridge takes the motorway straight across but for centuries before that the ferry link between Vila Real de Santo António in Portugal and Ayamonte in Spain was the only way to get across.  There was a slight delay waiting for the next available ferry but nothing too serious and as we took the twenty minute, two kilometre journey the sun started to come up ahead of us and we arrived in Spain just in time for breakfast.

This is when we came across our first problem.  We needed some fuel but none of the petrol stations that we passed accepted credit cards and it soon became obvious that this was quite normal in Spain.  It was a problem because as we only planned to be in the country for a short time we didn’t have many Pesetas between us.  Eventually we had to resort to plan B (to be honest we didn’t really have a plan B, or even a sensible plan A) and we pooled all of our Spanish currency for fuel purchases and that meant there was nothing left for food and reluctantly we had to skip breakfast.

And then there was the second problem because although the map indicated that we were driving on a motorway it wasn’t a motorway in the UK M1 sense of the term and this single carriage road went straight through the middle of every busy little town and village on the way and with every mile that we travelled we fell slowly further behind schedule.

Still, at least the weather was nice and we were in Andalucía, which is possibly the most typically Spanish of all of the regions of Spain, the land of Carmen, Don Juan, bull fighting and flamenco and we drove on relentlessly towards Seville a hundred miles or so from the border.

Andalucia Spain White Town

By the time we arrived it was getting hot and we were quite surprised to find that the fourth largest city in Spain didn’t have a  bypass and the road took us directly into the centre past the bull ring at the Plaza de Torres along some busy roads, past the railway station  and on the road out the other side.

Seville did look absolutely splendid and everything that I imagined about Spain; bulls, flamenco, guitars, palm trees and beggars but being hopelessly behind schedule we had to abandon the plan for hot chocolate and churritos.

At some traffic lights two scruffy boys without shirts, blue-black hair, burning eyes and ribs like radiators started to wash the windscreen with a dirty rag and completely ignored our instruction to stop.  Having completed the unnecessary task one of them put his hand through the window and demanded payment, ‘Cien’ he shouted and then just in case we misunderstood ‘Cien’ again

I was nervous because we had all sorts of things lying about on the dashboard within reach of thieving fingers and I quickly calculated that a hundred pesetas was actually quite reasonable so I gave him a coin.  This didn’t satisfy the ungrateful little urchin however and he demanded more from the others in the passenger seats while his pal stood in front of the car with arms outstretched on the bonnet in a sort of roadblock sort of way.

Cien, Cien’ he kept shouting and this I thought was unreasonable and as there was practically no chance whatsoever of Tony parting with a hundred pesetas (he would rather swim with sharks or wrestle alligators) I decided to make a getaway from the hold-up, hit the accelerator pedal and drove on.  The boy on the bonnet rolled theatrically to the side to feign injury and his pal chased us as far as he could until we were out of sight.

postcard-map-andalucia

We were pleased to be out of Seville and on our way to Córdoba another hundred miles away and on a road that followed the course of the Guadalquivir River and we passed through the city at about one o’clock and it was then that I had to concede that we would probably not make Madrid for lunch time tapas.

Since leaving Alcantarilha we had been travelling relentlessly east and after Córdoba we had to continue for another hundred kilometres or so before the road finally started to turn north through the Desfiladero de Despeñaperros, which is the only mountain pass that leads out of Andalucía and onto the endless plains of Castilla-La-Mancha, the Don Quixote country of windmills and castles and miles and miles of absolutely bugger all!

Have you ever been over optimistic about travel times?

Travels in Spain – Statues

Francesco Pizzaro Trujillo Extremadura SpainBurgos Weary PilgrimDon Quixote Alcala de HenaresEl Cid Burgos SpainAntequera King FedinandPhilip IV and the Palacio Real

Travels in Spain – Consuegra, Windmills and Castles

Consuegra Castle and Windmill

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain.  And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Fortune is guiding our affairs better than we ourselves could have wished. Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. “

“Take care, sir,” cried Sancho. “Those over there are not giants but windmills. Those things that seem to be their arms are sails which, when they are whirled around by the wind, turn the millstone.”

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

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 on the left we left the main road and headed towards the whitewashed Castilian town squatting low down on the plain.

From what we saw of the town of Consuegra as we drove through it is rather untidy and uncared for, the streets are grimy and the roads full of precarious potholes but rising high above all of the disappointment is a line of whitewashed, blue domed windmills standing sentinel over the town and the adjacent plain like regimental guards overlooking the town.

Consuegra Windmills Spain

Across the crest of the hill, they march like giants.  No wonder the delusional Don Quixote pulled his sword  and charged in combat to fight these windmills.

Originally, there were thirteen whitewashed mills lining this hilltop. Now only eleven remain of which four still retain their working mechanisms. Known as “molinos” in Spain, the windmills are each named — Sancho, Bolero, Espartero, Mambrino, Rucio, Cardeno, Alcancia, Chispas, Callabero del Verde Gaban, Clavileno and Vista Alegre.

The buildings 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 here where the structures harnessed the power of the wind to grind the corn. The windmills and the skills 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 he 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 an aggressive wind.

From below, the castle looked magnificent but on close inspection it too was in a rather 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.

Although the sun was shining there was a sharp chill at the top of this exposed ridge and the wind moaned through the sail wires and as we walked 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.

Shortly after that we left the windmills of Consuegra and continued our journey towards Toledo.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Life Imitates Art

Burgos Pilgrims Weary

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.

Read the Full Story…

Weekly Photo Challenge: Grid

Consuegra Windmills Spain

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…