Leaving Andalucía and heading north we entered the region of Castilla-La Mancha where we decided to take a very brief side trip on our way to Madrid. This is the land of Don Quijote, a nobleman who imagined he was a knight and his sidekick, Sancho Panza, a farmer who served as his squire. These characters from the 17th century novel Don Quijote de La Mancha written by Miguel de Cervantes carry out an array of crazy knightly adventures including one of the most famous that involves windmills. When Quijote encounters the windmills, he is convinced they are evil giants and tries to fight them albeit rather unsuccessfully as he is thrown off his horse and injured. As part of my Spanish literature studies in college, I was assigned this book and made a valiant effort to get through all 863 pages. Don Quijote has had a great influence on literature and language inspiring other novels like The Three Musketeers, the word quixotic (extremely idealistic; unrealistic and impractical), and the idiom tilting at windmills (fighting imaginary enemies). Even if you haven’t read the book, you are probably familiar with the story due to the fame and recognition garnered by the 1965 musical The Man of La Mancha and its uber-popular theme song, “The Impossible Dream”. As we drove through this area, it appeared we had been transported to Quijote’s La Mancha…
The capital of La Mancha is Toledo, home of El Greco and one of the most well-preserved medieval towns. In fact, the entire town was given UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986. We exited the motorway, easily found a place to park in this heavily touristed town, and took a quick walk up a very steep hill and through the narrow cobblestone streets to check out a few of the sights.
Finally, we stopped in for lunch at La Malguerida where we enjoyed some traditional local dishes including a very tasty gazpacho and a delicious pork and pea stew called carcamusas with a side of potato chips which seem to be Spain’s current favorite snack.
After returning to our car where we were greeted with a parking ticket on the windshield (Oops! Parking for residents only – no wonder it was so easy – but where was that sign??), it was time to complete the day’s journey to Madrid. Wow, that was an expensive stop but definitely worth it!