We made a painful separation with the creature comforts of life – hot showers, flushing toilets, and hardest of all, wifi!
Leaving the Valencia region, we had two main routes we could take – via Barcelona, or via Madrid. We’ve both been to Barcelona several times – and loved it – but hadn’t visited Madrid before. Again, getting to Madrid there were several choices of detours along the way – all of which sounded beautiful.
In the end, we chose to miss a few key towns, like the hanging houses of Cuenca, and just visit the giant windmills of Consuegra.
We’d forgotten how noisy and bouncy our car was after spending a few days in a friend’s modern car. It did give us plenty of time to look out at the scenery. The vineyards here looked really different. The plants looked like tortured stumps. More like a bonsai than a grape vine. I’m sure if you visited a vineyard on a tour, you’d learn why.
The area south of Madrid is famous for these old giant windmills. It’s also famous for the trail that Don Quixote travelled, with countless links and connections to the story. I have to admit, I’ve never read the book, so I don’t understand the references. To be completely honest, I didn’t know much about the story at all. TL;DR – he’s a delusional older gentleman, who misses the chivalry of the past, and pretends to be a knight and takes off on a conquest. There is a film I’ve been waiting to see by Terry Gilliam, which if we’re lucky will be released this decade.
The tiny town of Consuegra is said to have the most photogenic set of windmills, so obviously, chasing pretty photos, we headed there. They were visible from quite some distance away, high upon a hill, complete with a rather rugged looking castle.
We drove up and had a quick walk around the last few windmills. It didn’t feel windy in town, but up here was incredibly gusty. It shouldn’t be surprising that there was strong wind in a place people had built windmills – it’s like they knew what they were doing.
Walking to the end of the row, and looking back along the ridge, was by far my favourite perspective. They were undeniably beautiful, and unlike any of the other sights we’d seen to date.
It wasn’t just the windmills that were things of beauty, the view out over the agricultural countryside was also stunning. It was a patchwork of velvety greens and light browns, stretching out towards distant hazy mountains.
We were going to visit Toledo in the morning, but at the last minute, decided to just head in to Madrid. I think we were looking forward to visiting, and didn’t want to prolong the wait.
This was our first really big city – sure, Lisbon was large, but Madrid is huge. It also meant that we’d have to work out logistics with our camper. Amazingly, there is a campsite reasonably central in Madrid, and within a short walk to a train station – I just had to accept that big towns will require us paying for accommodation.
We parked, got dressed up, and caught the train into town, getting off in the centre, near Opera. We followed a rough walking tour suggestion from Lonely Planet, taking in quite a few of the central sights in quick succession, including the Plaza Mayor and the rammed San Miguel Market.
The Plaza didn’t do much for us, and with the heat in the sun (and lack of shade), we didn’t spend much time there. The market though… It was rather amazing. It was crammed with dozens of small restaurants selling all kinds of delicacies. It was however, also quite expensive. We were meeting with an old friend (from Niseko) for dinner, so we couldn’t ruin our appetites. It was a little torturous walking around and taking in all those amazing smells.
We continued the walk, out towards the Royal Palace, which definitely felt like a Spanish version of Buckingham Palace, and being Spanish, of course there was a cathedral within stones throw of the front door.
We suddenly realised that Madrid was (relatively speaking) a modern city, and it didn’t have the feel of somewhere like Barcelona.
We relaxed in the Oriental Plaza, waiting for our friend to finish work and join us. He then took us on a whirlwind walking tour of the city, starting in the Parque de El Retiro, with its beautiful large lake, filled with people in boats. I saw how many boats were in reserve, and could imagine the chaos during summer weekends!
We briskly walked through the streets of town, making our way back towards the San Miguel Market. We passed by the symbol of Madrid, a giant bear pushing a tree, as well as the marker that indicates where all road distances are measured from (in Spain).
We snacked on some local snacks, bocadillo de calamares, (calamari sandwich), and it was pretty much exactly how you would expect it!
We saw the statue of Don Quixote, and his faithful companion, Sancho.
It was finally dark, and time to eat. We had a few small tapas, as well as a Madrid speciality, huevos rotos. We got it with a little black pudding, as well as some capsicum. Our friend then set about cutting it into as many pieces as he could, like a very coarse blender. It’s not photogenic food at all, but it was delicious – even if we didn’t pick the best restaurant to eat it from.
We were now a little lost, as we thought that we were going to need at least two days in Madrid, and had felt like we’d seen all that we wanted to see (we weren’t interested in the art in The Prado). We decided to pack up and continue our travels in the morning.