I am in the living room of my house, eating a sandwich that I just prepared with manchego cheese and chorizo Iberico. This is really great! It is a mix of flavors, the cheese is at first glance strong, in some ways similar to how Manchego people are, but just like them you learn to like this flavor. The manchegos are not bad people, actually they are hospitable and friendly, they just need some time to get to know you, but when they open their hearts they are your friends forever.
I have loved Don Quixote since I was a little kid. I came to know the book the day that my older brother decided to throw it in the trash can! Yes that’s right! He was supposed to read the whole book for his literature class, but he preferred to play soccer with his friends. I was tempted to give a look to such a big book, and from the first lines I was captivated: “In a village of La Mancha, whose name I do not want to remember…” This was my first book, I did not stop reading it for days. I loved the stories of Don Quixote and his eternal Idyllic love Dulcinea. I was touched by the fidelity of Sancho and of course I loved the stories of this knight fighting against wind mills: “Those are not wind mills Sancho, those are giants!”
Since I was ten years old, I made a firm intention of some day making a personal tour of La Mancha. Recently, I was able to convince a couple of friends and we did such a trip. We decided that the best way was to rent a car in Madrid. The airport of Madrid Barajas is a very impressive, nice airport, especially the terminal four. It looks like a big luxurious stadium. We took our car there and we started driving to our first destination, not yet in la Mancha. We really needed to make a stop in the suburb city of Alcala de Henares the home town of Cervantes.
Alcala is a lovely little city. With a great, very old Cathedral, the city hosts as well one of the most prestigious and ancient universities of Spain, the University of Alcala de Henares. To walk in the main street is a very pleasant experience. A lot of cafes, restaurants, stores, everybody is happy, Spaniards are very expressive, and they speak aloud. They really do not care if you speak English or French they will come and ask you in Spanish Where are you from? Mira que viene de Argentina! Look, this one comes from Argentina is what this guy yells to his family and all of them wave their hands for us in the mean time that they say: “Enjoy Spain.”
But there is a little place, a house, it is almost the center of the town, because outside it has the statues of two great characters Don Quixote and Sancho. This is the House of Miguel Cervantes!
The following day we continue our journey. This is a very different panorama, the soil is red and arid, but is has a beauty that is difficult to describe. After an hour and a half driving we arrive to Pastrana. It is a town of no more than one thousand people, but it has tremendous history. The first building that calls our attention is the ducal Palace. This was the residence of the Famous Eboli Princess. One of the most interesting characters from Spaniard history. She was grandmother of the queen of Portugal, it is said that she tried to kill the king of Spain “Don Fernando” and she even tried to be a nun… it seems that she was not very successful in any of these adventures because she was in jail in her own bedroom of the palace for her last years of life.
Pastrana is a beautiful town: monasteries, beautiful churches, small tiny streets, stone houses, great restaurants. To walk around Pastrana is like go back 500 years. This is a land of noble families and saints, the famous Saint Theresa de Jesus and Saint John of the Cross were here. There are several places to stay in Pastrana, I particularly like the hospederia Real de Pastrana. It is a beautiful hotel, located in one of the oldest monasteries of the area that has been restored, the view of the mountains and the valleys around is amazing.
From Pastrana we continue our trip to Toledo. We stay there in the Hotel Kriss, we arrived in the night, and it was raining, they assured us that our room has a view of the city, but since it was so foggy, I was not able to see anything. The following morning I opened my window and…. What amazing view: Toledo is a medieval city on the top of a mountain. The walls around the city are impressive and the cathedral is so beautiful. But if seeing Toledo from far away is a great experience, it is even better to walk around the city. Toledo is located in the heart of La Mancha, it was the capital of Spain for centuries… Palaces, Cathedrals, Synagogues, Mosques one after another, and each one even more beautiful than the others. Toledo was an example of peaceful coexistence for the three big religions. Especially beautiful is the Cathedral, with an incredible golden main altar.
Toledo is as well famous for the fabrication of swords. We did not resist the temptation and each one of us bought one .
One of main motivations to be here in this part of the world was to see for myself the famous windmills of La Mancha. Of course I asked around and it was sad to hear that there are not too many now, they gave us the name of a place where to look for them. Finally we just decided to continue our adventure in the best Don Quixote style, we started driving all around the little towns. We went to El Toboso, we did not find Dulcinea though! We were able to see some old wind mills around but nothing too impressive. In another city we saw a little store that offers Manchego cheese and chorizo, we stop there. The Lady (a very old one) was just setting out all the cheese that had just arrived that day. She was so happy when she came to know that we were visiting her store from far away, immediately she offered us some of her famous Manchego cheese and it was there when I felt in love with it. Of course we ended up buying some to take home with us. We were almost at the end of our trip and we were making our way back to Madrid, that night we were supposed to sleep in a hotel close to the airport. And then! Like magically in the middle of nowhere, in a little town of La Mancha that I even do not know the name, we saw a mountain.
On the top was a castle that it was really beautiful, but around the castle there were a lot of windmills. It was amazing! We started looking for our way to the mountain, we drove trough a little town and then we were there. It was already around 10 pm. The lights around the castle and the wind mills made the place look marvelous. It was like that everything at that point had been transformed into one of the scenes of the famous book. Now I can see what Cervantes was thinking when he describes these windmills like mythical creatures. I was almost able to see Don Quixote trying to fight with them! We were there for hours, the view from the top of this mountain was extraordinary. My dream was fulfilled!
It is nice to visit different places around the world, but it is even better when these places have been already in your imagination since you were a kid. You have grown with them, you have seen them in your dreams, but now it is no any longer a Dream, it is reality and you are contemplating that place with your own eyes! This is something that money simply cannot buy!