Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Spain 2011, Consuegra, Tembleque and Aranjuez

I realise that this isn’t the correct technical meteorological term but when we woke up the next morning, 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.

After a second equally good three course breakfast we reluctantly packed our bags and checked out of the hotel. It was still hammering down outside and when we emerged from the underground car park we were trying to find our way in driving rain and in some places through flooded streets. For some reason we found it more difficult than it really should have been to find our way out of the labyrinth of one-way streets and with wind screen wipers on double speed I am certain that we did two or three circuits of the town before we found the main road and a filling station and then plotted a course north towards Madrid with a couple of stops planned along the way.

To begin with our route took us along some nerve jangling minor roads but eventually we found some proper highways and the pace picked up as we continued to travel north. The rain was easing and with better weather to the west I was becoming increasingly confident of my eleven o’clock prediction.

After an hour or so we started to get close to Consuegra, famous for its castle and windmills and after getting confused at a motorway junction we eventually began to approach the outskirts of what can only really be described as a town of extreme contrasts. From what we saw of Consuegra it is scruffy 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. Don Quixote’s windmills sit in a line along the top of a steep hill and they look down on the flat red dirt plains of La Mancha, 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.

The weather was wild and showing no signs of improvement 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.

It was cold so we didn’t stay long and drove back through the untidy town and rejoined the Autovia heading north. Our next stop was the town of Tembleque but when we pulled in and parked, although it had finally stopped raining we were not terribly hopeful. It was dreary and overcast and the Plaza Mayor that we had stopped to see with its balconies, painted colonnades and stone pillars (not unlike Almagro but without the sunshine) looked disappointing and dreary and sadly won’t be going into our top five so after a quick visit to the tourist information museum we were soon back on the road.

We were on our way now to Aranjuez and the site of a Royal Palace of King Juan Carlos but the road passed by the town of Ocaña which is famous for two things, a Peninsular War battle that was the biggest defeat of the war for the defending Spanish army and for having the third largest Plaza Mayor in Spain after Madrid and Salamanca. I am not sure about that because we never actually got there but it might well have the biggest prison in Spain right next door and on account of the dodgy looking men hanging around the gate and the dreary weather we gave it a miss and drove straight by.

And so in mid afternoon we arrived in Aranjuez, parked the car, stopped at a café where we sat near the window and lamented the woeful weather and then walked the short distance to the Royal Palace. King Juan Carlos has eight Royal Palaces to choose from but I suspect he doesn’t stay at this one very often because it didn’t look very ‘lived in’, if you know what I mean; most are close to Madrid and one is on the island of Mallorca. We walked through the gardens and then paid the entrance fee to go inside and take the tour through a succession or rooms (all the same, by the way) and then some exhibits about life at the Royal Spanish court through the ages.

To be honest the day was in danger of becoming a bit of a let-down compared with those that had gone before and I think we were both a bit disappointed when we returned to the car and set off for our final destination, Chinchon, which we knew well on account of visiting there a couple of times previously. However, by some minor miracle as we drove the short distance the grey cloud began to shatter and disperse and by the time we approached one of our favourite places in Spain there was at last some welcome blue sky and although my eleven o’clock prediction was at least four hours overdue we were glad of that!

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