I'm going to have to stop that dog getting on this laptop, it's getting ridiculous. If we don't watch out he'll be giving away all our secrets, little clipe that he is, like the time we reversed into the concrete post in Greece, or the time we drove straight into a washing line, or the time we arrived at our destination (in goodness knows where) to find a swallow embedded in the front grill of the van.
So, north again, but this time the weather forecast looked a little better, if you think snow is better than rain, which we do. The plan was to aim for Aranjuez, about 40km south of Madrid. We left Isla Cristina a little reluctantly, but were keen to get on with our adventure again. We headed past Seville (again), and past Cordoba (again), and then we were on new ground, leaving Andalucia and heading onto the massive, desolate, barren plains of the region of Castilla-La Mancha.
Now then, class, when I say Don Quixote, what do we think of? Yes, ok, Nick Kershaw, very good, you are in good company with that answer. What else? Hotey is a good name for a donkey. Yes, hmmmm, well ok, but not really what I was looking for. What's that at the back? Cervantes' epic novel of the knightly tales of Don Quixote and his faithful servant Sancho Panza, set among the plains of La Mancha, with much tilting at windmills? Published in two volumes a decade apart (in 1605 and 1615), widely regarded as the most influential work of literature from the Spanish Golden Age in the Spanish literary canon? Yes, ok, no need to show off.
I must admit my own knowledge of the novel was sadly limited so we downloaded the audiobook [unabridged, too, woooohhh cock-in-a-frock] just so we could give it a go. We've just about got through the preface.
However, we did see many windmills as we drove through the plains, including the famous silhouette of the castle and the 12 white windmills on the hill, which we tilted ourselves at, just to join in.
And so we arrived at Aranjuez, a wee hidden gem as far as I'm concerned. Aranjuez is to Madrid what Versailles is to Paris i.e. it's where the royal court decamped to each summer when the city became unbearable. It has a massive and stunning palace, along with beautifully laid out formal gardens and various other smaller palaces, fountains, and pavillions. The town sits on the river Tajo, and if you are interested, the campsite is very nice and just a ten minute walk from town along the river.
On the down-side, the weather was bloody awful, although we didn't get any snow, just hail and then rain. Lovely.
Today, however, dawned bright and sunny, if very cold, and we were off to Toledo. You are going to have to stop me going on about this place, because it was absolutely stunning. It sits high on a hill surrounded by the Tajo for the most part, with an incredible city wall, and the most beautiful town inside. Wherever you look, it's gorgeous, with old buildings, churches, mosques, synagogues, bridges, walls, and gates at every turn. It's been the home of Iberian tribes, Romans, Moors and then the Christians, reaching its zenith in the early 16th century when it was the residence of the kings of Castile, only losing its status when King Philip II transferred the capital to Madrid in 1561.
For art lovers, there's one major connection: Toledo was the home to the artist El Greco (real name Domenikos Theotokopoulos fact fans), who came here from Crete. Can't really say I'm a fan, but we went to the Iglesia de Santo Tome to see his The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, one of his most famous works. Lots of men with pointy beards is what I took away from that.
So, a great day of wandering, looking around, ooohing and aaaahing, drinking cafe con leche, and laughing at Doug on the escalators. Yes, Toledo is so high on a hill, that the lovely council chaps have seen fit to build an outside set of escalators, built into the hillside, to get you up to the old town. Honestly, it's not as bad as it sounds. Even the escalators are fab in Toledo. Happy times.
Here we are, then, Saturday afternoon, sitting in the almost warm sunshine, planning the next leg of the journey. We head off again tomorrow, stopping for one more night in Spain, before heading over the Pyrenees through Andorra to France, and we meet up with my parents and Nick's mum on Wednesday for a week in Provence.
Oh, you want to know more about the concrete post, the washing line, and the swallow? Not bloody likely. Haven't you had enough laughs at our expense?
Bye the nooooooo.