Una mañana en la otra Guadalajara.

I’ve always been curious about the capital city of Guadalajara, population 84,803. Everyone always talks about Segovia, Toledo, Ávila and even Cuenca, but Guadalajara flies under the radar. It doesn’t have any hanging houses, it doesn’t have three cultures, and there is no aqueduct or alcázar to boast of. However, it does have its charm. Siempre he tenido una curiosidad de Guadalajara capital, población 84.803. Todo el mundo habla de Segovia, Toledo, Ávila y incluso Cuenca, pero nadie conoce Guadalajara. Ni tiene casas colgantes, ni tiene tres culturas, ni tiene acueducto para atraer visitantes. Sin embargo, tiene su encanto.

I’d been to the province a few times, to Sigüenza, to the Pueblos Negros and for a hiking excursion, but I’d never made it to the capital. While I was in Madrid in August, I decided to visit the city to see what it’s like. Había visitado la provincia unas veces. Ya conocí Sigüenza, los Pueblos Negros y también hice una excursión de senderismo allí, pero nunca había ido a la capital. Mientras estaba en Madrid en agosto, decidí visitar la ciudad para ver como es.

It was a hot day in the middle of August, and I felt the heat every second. I caught Cercanías from Recoletos in Madrid. The journey to Guadalajara takes about an hour, and the station is about 1.5 kilometres from the city centre. Era un día caluroso de medias de agosto, y sentí el calor cada segundo. Cogí el Cercanías de Recoletos en Madrid. El viaje tarda sobre una hora, y la estación está a unos 1,5 kilómetros del centro de la ciudad. 

The city has some quaint churches and the River Henares adds to the experience. The co-Cathedral Santa María is another highlight. La ciudad tiene muchas iglesias pintorescas y la Ría Henares añade a la experiencia. La co-catedral Santa María es otra cosa que hay que ver.

My plan was to stop in the more famous Alcalá de Henares, birthplace of Cervantes, but due to the heat and the fact I had been there once before, I decided to seek air conditioning before the afternoon. Mi plan era parar en la ciudad más famosa que está a lado, Alcalá de Henares, donde nació el Cervantes. Al final no paré dado al calor y como ya lo conocía. Quería buscar aire acondicionado para la tarde. 

The Spanish Guadalajara may not be as famous as the Mexican one, but it has its charm and would be a great day trip combined with Alcalá de Henares for Madrid visitors to discover a different Spain. La Guadalajara española no tiene la fama de la Guadalajara mexicana, pero tiene su encanto y sería una buena excursión combinado con Alcalá de Henares para los turistas de Madrid quien quiere ver una España diferente. 

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Destino: La Serranía de Cuenca.

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Situated in the northeast of the province, the Serranía de Cuenca is home to some beautiful places. During the first weekend of April, I went with the València LGBTQ+ sports club Samarucs for a joint venture with Cogam, a LGBTQ+ NGO based in Madrid. Situado en el noreste de la provincia, la Serranía de Cuenca tiene bastante sitios preciosos. Durante el primer fin de semana de abril, fui allí con Samarucs, un club deportivo LGBT+ en Valencia en una colaboración con Cogam, el colectivo LGBT+ de Madrid.

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Friday afternoon, we left València to arrive at our pensión in Tragacete, a village of 267 residentes in the heart of the Serranía. The town has an altitude of 1283 metres (4209 feet). The Hostal El Gamo was located in the very centre of the village in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento. The tourist apartments were nice, and they served the typical breakfast and dinner of the region. Viernes por la tarde, salimos de Valencia para llegar en nuestro alojamiento en Tragacete, un pueblo de 267 habitantes ubicado en el corazón de la Serranía. El pueblo tiene una altitud de 1283 metros. El Hostal El Gamo está donde nos alojamos está en el centro del pueblo en la Plaza del Ayuntamiento. Los apartamentos turísticos estaban bien, y el restaurante sirvió comida típico de la región.

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Saturday morning, after breakfast, we set off for our destination, the Cerro de San Felipe near the Nacimiento (birth) del Río Júcar. We left the cars at the nearby albergue and began our trek, starting at the Fuente (fountain) de San Blas. The cool, crisp water from the fountain was a nice start and end to the trek. El sábado por la mañana después de desayunar, empezamos el día de senderismo. Nuestro destino era el Cerro de San Felipe, cerca del Nacimiento del Río Júcar. Dejamos los coches a lado de un albergue cercano de la ruta. Empezamos la ruta en el Fuente de San Blas. El agua fresquito era una buena manera empezar y terminar la ruta.

 

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First we took the detour to the Nacimiento del Río Júcar, which added about 4 km to the day. This trail leads through the Paseo del Infierno, a narrow stretch of trail through some interesting rock formations. The actual Nacimiento leaves a bit to be desired, but the views were well worth it. Empezamos con un desavío hasta el Nacimiento del Río Júcar, que añadió unos 4 kilómetros al día. El sendero pasa por un Paseo del Infierno, un tramo estrecho por unas formaciones de roca interesantes. El Nacimiento actual decepcionó pero las vistas merecen la pena. 

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After the detour, we stopped for the morning snack and got to know each other a bit better. Twenty minutes later, we set off to the day’s highest destination, el Cerro de San Felipe, 1838 metres/6030 feet tall. The views were spectacular, and it wasn’t too difficult. Granted, after Puig Campana the week before, it was going to seem easy! Después del desavío, paramos para descansar, almorzar y conocernos mejor. 20 minutos después, seguimos la marcha hasta el destino más alto del día, el Cerro de San Felipe, con 1838 metros de altura. Las vistas eran espectaculares, y el camino no era muy difícil. Bueno, después del Puig Campana la semana anterior,  cualquier subida iba a parecer fácil.

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We began the descent. The route was circular, and we stopped for lunch near another cool rock formation. The final four kilometres weren’t difficult, and we finished the route about 16:00. Empezamos la bajada. La ruta era circular, y paramos para comer a lado de otra formación de roca chula. Los últimos 4 kilómetros no eran difíciles, y terminamos la ruta sobre las 16.00. 

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Most of us drove to the nearby Nacimiento del Río Cuervo, which was a much more beautiful beginning to a river than the Río Júcar, although a much less important river. The falls were beautiful, and as there is a car park/parking lot nearby, there were a lot of families. We didn’t come across a single hiker during the Cerro de San Felipe trail. The walk is about 20 minutes from the car park. La mayoría de nosotros fuimos en coche al Nacimiento del Río Cuervo, que estaba cerca y es un nacimiento mucho más precioso que el Río Júcar aunque es un río mucho menos importante. Las cascadas eran bonitas, y como hay un parking a lado, había bastantes familias. No cruzamos con otra persona durante la ruta de Cerro de San Felipe. El camino es solo unos 20 minutos del aparcamiento. 

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Certain people returned to El Gamo to discover the keys were missing. There were various suspects of who lost the keys, but I at least knew I hadn’t touched them. Through some brilliant sleuthing second only to Sherlock Holmes, the keys were discovered to have been misplaced by the staff and not one of us. Algunas personas volvieron a El Gamo para descubrir que faltaban las llaves. Había varios sospechosos de quien había sido, pero al menos sabía que no era yo como lo las había tocado. Después de una investigación lista en el estilo de Sherlock Holmes, la persona culpable era los empleados del hostal y no uno de nosotros. Hay que cuidar las llaves. 

Saturday night was reserved for dinner and socializing. La noche de sábado era para cenar y socializar. 

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Sunday morning, we had a bit later start. We left the pensión about 9.45 to arrive to the village of Uña, which only has 103 inhabitants according to 2016 statistics. Finally, a village smaller than my own Ohio road atlas dot. The village boasts of a famous lagoon. Empezamos un poco más tarde el domingo. Salimos de la pensión sobre las 9.45 para llegar al pueblo de Uña, que solo tiene 103 habitantes según las estadísticas de 2016. Por fin, un pueblo más pequeño que el mío de Ohio. El pueblo tiene una laguna bastante famosa. 

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However, the lagoon wasn’t the purpose of the day’s route. We climbed the  nearby cliffs for spectacular views of the nearby area and lagoon. The route took us along the cliffs edges for dramatic views. When the trail snaked through the forest, it was also full of beautiful views. Sin embargo, la laguna no era el objeto de la ruta. Subimos los acantilados para vistas espectaculares de la zona y laguna. La ruta pasaba cerca al borde de los acantilados para vistas dramáticas. Cuando el sendero pasaba por el bosque, todavía era preciosa. 

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The descent was a bit tricky, but it was also fun. The path is narrow and goes along rock and through rocks. The landscape reminded me somewhat of the Red River Gorge in Kentucky, but Uña is more spectacular, especially with the lagoon. La bajada era un poco difícil, pero también era divertida. El sendero es muy estrecho y pasa por las rocas. El paisaje me recordaba del Barranco del Río Rojo en el estado de Kentucky, pero Uña es más espectacular, especialmente con la laguna. 

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After lunch, we had our relaxing cafés con leche before heading back to Valencia (or Madrid for the madrileños). It was a fantastic weekend full of great people, fun, and amazing routes. Después de comer, tomamos un relaxing café con leche antes de volver a Valencia (y los madrileños a Madrid). Era un fin de semana fantástico con buena gente, diversión y rutas maravillosas. 

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Hike/Ruta: #10 y 11/40 of 2017
Date/Fecha: 1 y 2 de abril de 2017
Kilometres hiked: Day 1: 14 Day 2: 10
Mountain/Route: Day 1: Cerro de San Felipe Day 2: Laguna de Uña 
Difficulty: Day 1: Medium Day 2: Easy, although the descent could present problems

(Crec que no tinc un nivell de valencià-català suficient per escuire també en aquesta llengua tan bonica, perdò! Potser un dia…)

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Albacete, the Set Meravelles

Although the capital city might leave a lot to be desired, the province of Albacete has a lot of hidden treasures waiting to be explored. Aunque la capital de la provincia no me impresionó mucho, la provincia de Albacete tiene muchos sitios preciosos para explorar. 

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Catedral de San Juan de Albacete

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The Cathedral of Albacete is a joy to see. It was built in 1515. During the Spanish Civil War, the bells were melted and replaced in 1947. It didn’t gain cathedral status until 1949 when the Diocese of Albacete was formed. The lateral façade was finally finished in 1960. La Catedral de Albacete es una joya. Construyó la catedral en 1515. Durante la Guerra Civil, las campanas eran derritidas y eran recolocadas en 1947. No era declarada catedral hasta el año 1949 cuando estableció el Diócesis de Albacete. La fachada lateral era terminada en 1960, por fin. 

Pasaje de Ladrales

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The Pasaje de Ladrales connects Calles (Streets) Tinte and Mayor. It was created in the image of the popular Italian galleries in the early 20th century. There are a few shops and cafés in the short covered alleyway. El Pasaje de Ladrales une las calles Tinte y Mayor. Era diseñado en el imagen de las galerías italianas populares en el principio del Siglo XX. Hay unas tienas y cafés en el paseo corto. 

Alcalá de Jucar (Yet to be discovered)

Alcalá de Jucar is a village of 1442 residents that is constantly on lists of the most beautiful villages in Spain. It’s a Bien de Interés Cultural and has a castle and the River Jucar, which gives it its name. It’s not well communicated with public transport, but for those who are patient, there is a bus from the province capital. Alcalá de Jucar es un pueblo de 1442 habitantes que siempre sale en listas de los pueblos más bonitos de España. Es un Bien de Interés Cultural y tiene un castillo y el río Jucar, que da el pueblo su nombre. No está bien comunicado con transporte público, pero para los pacientes, hay un bus de la capital de la provincia. 

Almansa (Yet to be discovered) 

Almansa, population 24,837 people, has a name that comes from an Arabic name meaning “halfway of the road”. The road was probably the Via Augusta. The Castle of Almansa dates back to the 14th century. Almansa, población 24.837, tiene un nombre que viene de un nombre árabe, “mitad del camino.” El camino probablemente era el Vía Augusta. El castillo de Almansa es del Siglo XIV. 

Castillo de Chinchilla (Yet to be discovered)

Only 15 kilometres from Albacete capital, the Castle of Chinchilla, located in Chinchilla de Montearagon, is another famous castle of the province. It probably dates back to Roman times, but the current castle was built in the 15th Century. It is a Bien de Interés Cultural. A solo 15 kilómetros de Albacete capital, el Castillo de Chinchilla, situado en Chinchilla de Montearagon, es otro castillo famoso de la provincia. Había algo en el sitio durante los tiempos de los romanos, pero el castillo actual era construido en el Siglo XV. Es un Bien de Interés Cultural. 

Hellín (Yet to be discovered)

Located in the south of the province, Hellín, population 31,262, is close to a Contestani archaeological site. It’s the second largest city in the province and is home to numerous churches and an important Semana Santa celebration at Easter. Situado al sur de la provincia, Hellín, población 31.262, está cerca a un sitio arquelógico de Contestani. Es la segunda ciudad de la provincia y hay muchas iglesias y una celebración importante de Semana Santa. 

Castillo de Caudete (Yet to be discovered)

Caudete, population 10,163, was an important place for both Aragón and Castilla in the time of the Reconquista. Until the 19th Century, they spoke more Valencian than Spanish (despite it not pertaining to Valencia). The Castle was important in the War of the Two Peters (things always sound better in Spanish: Guerra de los Dos Pedros). It was restored in the early 2000s. Caudete, población 10.163, era un sitio importante para Aragón y Castilla durante la Reconquista. Hasta Siglo XIX, se habló más valenciano que castellano, aunque no perteneció a Valencia. El castillo era imporante en la Guerra de los Dos Pedros. Lo restauraron en los años 2000s. 

Albacete….do what and leave?

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Albacete has a bad reputation throughout Spain. En España, Albacete tiene mala fama.

Many times, after I tell Spanish friends about my goal to step foot in every Spanish province, they try to convince me that the 20 minute rest stop at the Albacete bus station counted. Muchas veces, cuando les cuento mi reto de pisar todas las provincias españoles, me dicen que la parada de autobús de 20 minutos era suficiente y cuenta.

They even have an expression that rhymes in Spanish (but not in English.) Albacete: sh** and leave. (Albacete: cágate i vete.) Incluso, tiene una rima de Albacete: Albacete, cágate y vete. 

To be honest, Albacete was not my favourite city when I visited this weekend for the day. I’m sure the largest city in Castilla La Mancha is a great place to live when you have friends and family there. For a day trip, there just isn’t a lot to do to keep tourists’ interest. Para ser sincero, Albacete no era mi ciudad preferido cuando la visité este fin de semana por el día. Seguro que la ciudad más grande de Castilla La Mancha es un buen sitio para vivir cuando tienes amigos y familia allí. Para un turista, es otra historia porque no ofrece mucho para hacer. 

I caught the 9:00 bus from the Valencia bus station and arrived around noon. The bus station is about a 15 minute walk from the city centre, where the beautiful cathedral is located. The city has 172,693 residents (2013 statistics) and comes to life during the annual Feria in September. Cogí el autobus a las 9 de la estación de autobuses de Valencia y llegué sobre las 12. El centro de la ciudad es sobre 15 minutos de la estación de autobuses. En el centro, se encuentra la catedral bonita. 172.693 personas (datos de 2013) viven en Albacete, y la ciudad se anima mucho cada septiembre durante la Feria de Albacete.

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On a cold (but sunny) January day, the city was quiet, outside of inside restaurants, which all seemed to have been reserved. I walked around for quite a while trying to find one with a menú del día that wasn’t reserved.  I finally found one near the windmills. En un día frío (pero asoleado) de enero, la ciudad estaba callada (fuera de dentro de los restaurantes. Me parecía que todos estaban reservados y me costó mucho encontrar un restaurante abierta que no estaba completo con un menú del día. Encontré uno barato cerca de los Molinos de la Feria. 

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My first stop, after leaving the Oficina de Turismo, was the Catedral de San Juan de Albacete, the highlight of the city. It dates back to 1515. Later, I walked around the city centre, enjoying the shops. La primera parada después de la Oficina de Turismo fue la Catedral de San Juan de Albacete, la mejor parte de la ciudad. Empezaron a construirla en el año 1515. Después, exploré las calles de la ciudad y haciendo algo de compras. 

Another highlight was the Paseo de Lodares, a quaint passage between two streets that seemed much more Italian than Spanish. I had a coffee there and watched the world go by for a while. The passage offers some shops and cafés. Otra cosa chula era el Paseo de Lodares, un paseo pintoresco entre dos calles que parecía más italiano que español. Me tomé un relaxing café ocn leche y vi el mundo pasear. El paseo dispone de unas tiendas y cafés. 

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I also visited a few of the parks, including  Parque Lineal and Parque Abelardo Sanchez. The Molinos de la Feria (Fair Windmills) were another highlight. También visité algunos de sus parques, incluso el Parque Lineal y Parque Abelardo Sánchez. También molaban los Molinos de la Feria. 

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The province capital has an AVE station connecting it to Madrid and Valencia, and buses connecting it to many other Spanish cities. There are more than a few villages I would have liked to have visited, but without a car, it was kind of hard. These villages will be talked about in the upcoming Setmeravelles entry. La capital de provincia tiene una estación de Ave que la une con Madrid y Valencia. La estación de autobuses la une con muchas ciudades españoles. Hay muchos pueblos que quisiera visitar, pero sin un coche, las cosas pusieron difíciles. Voy a mencionar eses pueblos en una entrada futuro sobre las Setmeravelles de Albacete. 

Is there more to do than use the toilet in Albacete? Yes. Is it the best city in the world? Far from it. Am I glad I went? Yes….but I wish I could’ve seen the villages. ¿Hay algo más en Albacete que usar el baño? Sí. ¿Es la mejor ciudad del mundo? Desde luego que no. ¿Me alegro haber ido? Sí, pero ojalá pudiera ver más pueblos de la provincia. 

Now I only have Huesca, Zamora, Lugo and Ourense to go! ¡Ahora solo me quedan Huesa, Zamora, Lugo y Ourense!

Spain. The Set Meravelles of the Greatest Peninsula in the World.

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Today is the one-year anniversary of Set Meravelles. Hoy marca el primer aniversario de Set Meravelles.

Thank you to my readers (averaging 300 hits a month! Yay!) and the people who support me and my crazy Quixote dream of staying in Spain in time of CRISIS. Gracias a todos mis lectores y las personas que me apoyan y mi sueño de locura de Quijote de quedarme en España en tiempos de crisis.

Originally, I was going to do a revisit to the Set Meravelles of Vizcaya, as it is unfair to have grouped Bilbao and Vizcaya in the same entry as there are so many Meravelles in the province. (That goes for every province though!) Estaba pensado en hacer otra vez las Set Meravelle de Vizcaya, como es injusto hacer en la misma la entrada con Bilbao y toda la provicina como hay tantas Meravelle en la provincia.

Then I thought, as I am running out of provinces to write about, and I was planning on writing up the Set Meravelles of Spain to conclude the series, perhaps I should go ahead and just name the Set Meravelles of Spain to celebrate the occasion. (Mallorca, León, Cádiz and Álava are coming, and then when I finally get to visit Lugo, Ourense, Zamora, Huesca, Albacete and Sta. Cruz de Tenerife, they will be done after I have at least spent more than 20 minutes at the bus station (Albacete, looking at you!) Después, me pensé, como ya me queda poco provincias, y estaba planficiando escribir un blog sobre las Set Meravelle de España para acabar con la serie, ya debería nombrar las Set Meravelle de España para celebrar el aniverario. (Mallorca, León, Cádiz y Álava ya vienen en entradas futuras, y cuando por fin visite Lugo, Ourense, Zamora, Huesca, Albacete y Sta. Cruz de Tenerife. Voy a esperar hasta que visitarlas (y no cuento Albacete hasta que haya estado más de 20 minutos en la estación de autobuses)

This is going to be hard. Impossible. In a country as amazing as Spain, you can not name just seven wonders. Impossible. So before I hear “You left out Lepe!”, keep that in mind. I tried to choose from a wide variety of interests for this list. I’m sorry for leaving out whichever wonder, but I can’t write about all  193829382938293918192383982495492 wonders of Spain.

Es imposible elegir solo siete maravillas. Por eso, no te quejas que se me olvidado Lepe o tu maravilla preferida. Lo siento mucho, pero no puedo escribir de todas las 193829382938293918192383982495492 maravillas que hay en este país tan espectacular. He intentando incluir cosas de todas las intereses para esta lista.

There are 17 autonomous communities in Spain, and each of them has a ton of history and amazing places to visit. I tried to spread the love, but the north seems to have more due to my love of the natural beauty found here. I also love Andalucía. Hay 17 comunidades autónomas en España, y cada uno tiene mucho historia y sitios preciosos para visitar. He intentando incluir un poco de todo, pero hay más en el norte porque me encanta la belleza natural del norte. Pero también me encanta Andalucía, tranquilos. 

What are your choices for the Meravelles of Spain? I’ll probably agree with whatever you write as long as it’s not Madrid city! ¿Cuáles sitios elegiría tu para las Meravelles de España? Probablemente voy a estar acuerdo, menos los que dicen Madrid capital xD. 

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Camino de Santiago

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No matter which Camino you take, how you do it, where you leave from, how much of it you do, the Camino de Santiago is a unique experience. Most people who have done it say it was one of the best experiences of their lives. I’ve only done about 120 kilometres so far, but I cannot wait to arrive in Santiago. No matter wherever you are in Spain, you’re not far from some Camino to Santiago.

Granada y La Alhambra

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Granada remains one of my favourite cities in the world. Although I’ve only been to the Alhambra once, I’ve been to the city four times, and I am looking forward to a fifth time in the future. For me, the best of the city lies directly opposite the Alhambra: Watching the sunset from Mirador de San Nicolas.

Valencia y las Fallas (y paella)

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Ay, mi Valencia (i la seua caloret). I wanted to include a festival on here, and after living through the Fallas in March 2011, no other Spanish (or any place) festival compares with the awesomness of the Fallas. And the paella is amazing for the foodies.

San Sebastián- Donostia

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Ay, Donosti. I agree with the guide I read during my first visit to this city. There may not be much to see, but it’s a place you have to see. I probably have offended every single person I know in Bilbao by listing it and not Donosti, but I will also remind them of Miguel de Unamuno’s quote about Donostia being beautiful but insignificant. Although it’s difficult to find good weather, their beaches are among the best in the peninsula for me. I love sitting along the rock along the river watching the wave crash into the shore.

Toledo,

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Segovia

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y Ávila:

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Tres capitales castellanas

The best thing about Madrid is its connection to three amazing Castillian province capital cities. Toledo is beautiful and medieval, Segovia has its Roman aqueduct and Alcázar that inspired Disney’s Cinderalla Castle, and Ávila is also a charm that’s a bit more off the beaten path.

Cangas de Onis y Covadonga

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When I saw this bridge with its cross where the Reconquista of Spain supposedly began, I felt moved. I can’t explain it. The nearby Basilica of Covadonga and the church in a cave are also jewels  of Asturias, and I can’t wait to see the lakes of Covadonga. But it is the bridge and the Asturian cross that somehow spoke to me most.

El Quijote

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 What would Spain be without Quijote? Although a fictional character, Don (Sir) Quijote says so much about Spain. I think my dream of staying in Spain long-term is becoming a bit quixotic itself. Many Spaniards boast of never actually having read this brilliant novel, but they are most definitely missing out.

Ciudad Real…21st Century Spanish History come alive.

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The fields of Daimiel

The summer of 2010, the Spanish football selection made history when Andrés Iniesta scored the winning goal against the Netherlands. (It’s we not discuss the bleakosity of the 2014 World Cup). Spanish football fans will always be asking where you were when Iniesta scored the goal and Spain brought home the Cup. It was my first real moment of a shared Spanish cultural experience.

I was in Daimiel, Ciudad Real, working at a summer camp with a bunch of teens (who are now all in their early 20s) who went absolutely mad (crazy mad, not angry mad) when Spain won. While I regret not being in Madrid or Valencia (I was in the process of moving from Madrid to Valencia), I couldn’t ask for a more authentic experience.

Needless to say, this summer camp is my only real experience in Ciudad Real. I’ve canvassed the province many times via bus or train on trips to Andalucía, but I haven’t spent much time there. It is definitely “España Profunda”. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Don Quixote himself looking for ways to impress Dulcinea even today (after the siesta and fútbol match, of course).

Ciudad Real probably doesn’t spring to one’s mind when they think of Spain or even Castilla. Toledo and Cuenca are far more popular, even amongst the Spanish, who are travelling through Castilla (which is the heart of Spain…and the equivalent of the heartland.) It’s agricultural and rural, ranking 46 out of 50 provinces in population density. It has two national parks (one I’m listing as one of the meravelles). Much of the province is a plain (La Meseta Central), yet has extremely dry summers. Just pointing out that Professor Henry Higgins and Eliza Dolittle are LIARS. (I’m a bitter sun-chaser located in the rain of the Basque Country that would drown even Noah at this point.) The south of the province features the Sierra Morena (the Black Mountains). The capital city has 75,000 habitants and is located 185 kilometres (115 miles) from Madrid.

A lot of the places I’ve seen from the train and bus crisscrossing the province look enticing to me. They may disappoint when I finally get to visit them, and they may impress me. But for now…a list of potential seven wonders for the province of Ciudad Real.

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Ciudad Real y el Museo de Quijote

The province capital, Ciudad Real, which is also a stop on the AVE (high-speed train),  dates back to the 13th century and Alfonso El Sabio (the Wise). Their cathedral boasts the second largest nave in Spain and their Plaza Mayor is quite attractive. They have two walls from the time it was a walled city, and they also have an infamous airport for sale for only 80 million Euro (mocked in Pedro Almódovar’s Los pasajeros amantes.)  And for me, the most attractive thing in the city would actually be a museum. The Museum of Don Quijote. I love the Quijote.

Daimiel

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Daimiel

Daimiel, the only place I can say I really know in the province, is a quaint city of 17,000. I remember it being very hot as I was there in the month of July. I never got to see the Tablas de Daimiel National Park, which despite being the smallest Spanish national park features some beautiful wetlands. The wetlands are important for birdlife. Daimiel is famous for the Venta de Borondo, which is mentioned in Quijote, perhaps as one of the places he stayed at during his journeys. (Quijote was fictional? Who knew.)

Calatrava, la Vieja y la Nueva

Located 60 kilometres apart (36 miles), the two Calatrava Castles from the Order of the Calatrava are a tourist attraction for castle aficionados. The original castle dates back to 785 and was once part of the only important city in the Guadiana River valley and guarded the roads between Córdoba and Toledo.  It was originally Muslim and conquered in 1147 by Alfonso VII. It was reconquered by the Moors but reconquered again by the Christians for good in 1212. However, the Order of the Calatrava moved to Calatrava La Nueva in 1217.  The “newer” castle is located in Aldea del Rey (the King’s hamlet for those who don’t speak Spanish) while the old one is located in Carrión de Calatrava.

Manzanares

Manzanares, population 19,186 as of 2009, looked quite nice from the Madrid-Linares (Jaén) train when I passed it my first year in Spain, and I’ve always wanted to stop here and Alcázar San Juan. Manzarares has a castle, the Museum of Manchego Cheese (Museo de Queso Manchego) and several churches and ermitas. It’s located 60 kilometros (36 miles) from the province capital.

Villanueva de los Infantes

Villanueva de los Infantes, population 5727, is, according to the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, “el lugar de La Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero recordarme” (the place of La Mancha whose name I don’t want to remember). For those who haven’t read el Quijote, those are the starting words of the novel. It is also the place where Francisco de Quevedo died, which means it is a Spanish major’s dream place to visit.

Alcázar de San Juan

Although the windmills from Consuegra in Toledo are more famous, the small city of Alcázar de San Juan, population 30,675, also boasts windmills and is a good base to explore the Ruta de Quijote. It also has a tower and a few churches. It was formerly a major railway hub.

Puertollano

Although known to be an industrial city, Puertollano, population 50,000, looked very interesting from the AVE Sevilla-Madrid in 2012 when I passed it. I have no clue why some things catch my attention, but this city did. The “puerto” in its name is for “pass”, not port, as it’s far from any water. It’s located on the slopes of the Sierra Morena, so it’s not flat either (“llano” is plain). It’s the home of some botanical gardens, a few churches and a place to rest from hiking in the Sierra Morena.

Cuenca and some hanging houses.

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Cuenca is a province in Castilla La Mancha, halfway point between Madrid and Valencia. I’ve unfortunately only been to the capital once, but I have criss-crossed the province by bus (and a few times by AVE) between Valencia and Madrid more times than I care to count. Castilla is the land of Quijote, and even today you can still imagine our favourite knight in crazy armour crossing the hot and dry (or cold and dry in the winter) land in search of ways to impress his beloved Dulcinea (most of the important places are in neighbouring Toledo though).

My visit to Cuenca was a Sunday in May in 2011 right before I was about to leave my beloved Valencia. I caught an early train from the San Isidre station, as they were still working with the then recently-opened AVE that runs between Madrid and Valencia (it’ll already celebrate its fifth anniversary this year?) . The train ride was about two hours. Now I could catch said AVE (and probably could have that day but was running low on cash). I walked around town, having my tostada con tomate and café con leche in a run-down bar near the Plaza Mayor and walked around some before arriving at the Hanging Houses. The houses were amazing, as is the Casco Viejo or Cuenca Alta. I hiked a little bit around the river to see some of the most amazing views of the city, and I crossed the bridges a ton to look at the city from different angles. I was tired so I caught an early train back, vowing to return with a fresh face. I am still waiting for that return visit.

I found this in my private journal from the day I went. I doubt myself too much, as that self-doubt still happens! It is sometimes good to look back and see how I’ve grown as a person and hopefully as a writer (although the private journal *is* for my eyes only!).

I went to Cuenca today. It was a three-hour train ride from Valencia. I nearly didn’t go. I couldn’t sleep last night. I woke up in a bad mood. I kept giving excuses not to go. I got to the train station to find out it left from Sant Isidre and not Valencia Nord. And the automatic ticket machine kept refusing my card (I need to get my new card before I move). So I caught the metro again. I stood there looking at the schedule not sure if I should go. And then I made myself buy the ticket. I slept some on the train but not much. Cuenca is a beautiful city in the mountains, very green, and very Medieval. It has “casas colgantes” and beautiful views. I ended up eating at 100 Montaditos, a now former fave because of all the changes they have made that are not conducive to my diet. Ah well. I caught the early train back due to all the metro issues in Valencia and because of how tired I am.

One thing I must point out to non-Spanish speakers here. Be very, very careful how you say you’re looking at Cuenca when describing it to a peninsular Spanish speaker. There is quite a difference between “estoy mirando ir a Cuenca” (I’m looking at going to Cuenca), “Estoy mirando Cuenca” (I am looking at Cuenca right now” and “Estoy mirando para Cuenca” (I want this site to stay work safe so I’m not saying!)

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Las Casas Colgadas

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High above the Río (River) Huécar, these hanging houses are Cuenca’s most famous landmark. In the 15th century, this type of architecture was quite common in Cuenca. Today, only a few remain, and these three are the most famous of the few. Today they house a mesón (restaurant) and Museum of Spanish Abstract Art (I thought that was unofficially the Guggenheim? [ /ignorant sarcastic remark about art ])

Cuenca Alta

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In 1996, Cuenca (population 57,000) was named a World Heritage Site for its historic centre, Cuenca Alta. Cuenca has castle ruins, the Mangana Tower (Torre Mangana), Paseo de Huécar, Arco de Bezudo and many miradores and plazas to enjoy. It’s a great place for a Sunday afternoon stroll.

Ciudad Encantada (Yet to be discovered)

La Ciudad Encantada is not an actual enchanted (or haunted) city but a place where nature (weather and the Júcar River) have created some pretty interesting rock formations, such as the Mushroom Rocks, the Stone Sea or the Hippopotamus. The rock formations date back to the Cretaceous Period. It is located near Valdecabras, about 30 kilometres (18 miles) from Cuenca capital.

Alarcón (Yet to be discovered)

Alarcón, population 159, is a tiny hamlet 87 kilometres (52,2 miles) from the province capital on the Río Júcar. It boasts of a castle that is on the list of Spanish Bien de Interés Cultural.

Castillo de Belmonte (Yet to be discovered)

The Castle of Belmonte is part of the Ruta de Quijote and has been a National Monument since 1931 according to the Bien de Interés Cultural. Construction began in 1456 and is one of the best conserved castles in the peninsula. They sometimes reenact medieval battles.

La Ruta de las Caras (Yet to be discovered)

La Ruta de las Caras is a path in Buendía, population 438 according to Wikipedia on March 8, 2015, that passes by many faces sculpted into rocks. Some say it’s the Rushmore of Spain, but to me, the faces are quite different. I just found out about this awesome route today while researching Cuenca, and I may have to go back to Cuenca just to see these faces carved into the rock. It’s an easy route that takes about an hour to complete, and Buendía is located about an hour from Cuenca capital (83 km/49.8 miles). It looks like you need a car to get there, unfortunately for those of us without a car.

Segóbriga (Yet to be discovered)

The archaeological park of Segóbriga was once an important Roman city and the ruins are one of the most important on the Spanish mesita. It’s another National Monument on the Bien de Interés Cultural and has been since 1931. It’s located near the village Saelices, 76  kilometres (45.6 miles) from the province capital. It has a Roman amphitheatre, theatre, fountain, acropolis, aqueduct and circus.

Guadalajara. Not just in Mexico.

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When someone talks about Guadalajara, chances are they’re referring to Mexico’s second largest city, unaware that there is a city and province that gave the more famous one its name. Castilla La Mancha has four provinces, and two of them lent their names to bigger cities in the Americas, as Toledo also gave its (very butchered pronunciation) name to the real mistake on the lake in Ohio. (Cleveland just has burning rivers. They don’t have toxic algae in 2013, folks. My hometown is about halfway between the two, but Toledo, Spain, is my Spanish “village”.

Lying just north of Madrid, the province of Guadalajara is a treasure of medieval villages, beautiful scenery and the “pueblos negros”, villages made of slate. Most of the time, Guadalajara just serves as a dot on the motorway/highway that connects Madrid, Zaragoza and Barcelona. While I haven’t visited the capital city, I have gone on hiking excursions, visited some of the most special villages in the World’s Greatest Peninsula and seen the great pueblo named Sigüenza.  The entire province only has around 250,000 people, and the capital city is much smaller than the famed Mexican location with only 85,000 people. Guadalajara comes from Arab, meaning a stream bed or valley of stones. The name applies.

My first real visit to the province came in 2012 on a hiking excursion with my gym through the hills in the Parque Natural del Barranco de la Hoz del Río Dulce (Natural Park of the Ravine of the Hoz of the River Sweet). I have fond memories of this hike, despite not knowing anyone as most of them were from the other branch of the gym, and I tend to not speak to anyone at the gym due to my shyness. I’m there to get fit, not have a conversation. The hike lead us through stunning scenery, and the grass was green, despite the typical arid climate of the region. There were a few sparsely populated villages along the way, but most of the trip was through the scenery. We stopped a few times on the bus ride back to Madrid to take pictures of the ravine (and for a relaxing café con leche, you know those madrileños like their relaxing cafés con leche!).

My second trip came the weekend of San José in March 2013 on a very rainy Saturday. Sigüenza is about a two-hour train ride north of Madrid, so I woke up early to catch the train. While the city is beautiful and on the Ruta (Trail) de Quijote, a rainy Saturday in March is not the best day to go. Silly me buying the ticket in advance on Renfe to take advantage of the cheaper, unchangeable fare! I still loved the city. The Parador is enchanting, and the medieval feel of the place made me feel like I was stepping back in time.

The third trip was another excursion, this time with a group of gay Christians (Crismhom) of Madrid, to a place that had been on my Madrid Bucket List for quite sometime but is quite inaccessible without a car. The Pueblos Negros! These are small villages in the heart of the wilderness of Guadalajara made entirely of slate, similar to Patones de Arriba in Madrid. While not many people live there, the villages are a popular day trip for madrileños and as there is a lack of public transport, there are not as many tourists as there are in other medieval gems like Toledo and Segovia.

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Pueblos Negros

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Campillo de Ranas, El Espinar, Campillejo, Majaelrayo, Roblelacasa and Robleluengo are some of the villages constructed from slate. These villages are isolated, and the only way of reaching them is by car. They are in the middle of nowhere but well worth the visit. They remain one of the most unusual things I have seen in a country that does not cease to amaze me with its nonstop list of unique things. They serve as a reminder of a life gone by. And it is rather fun to have a relaxing café con leche in a bar made of slate as the señoritos talk about how “España iba mejor con los Reyes Católicos” too. (Spain was better when the Catholic Kings were around.)

Castle de Atienza

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The actual castle (this one is nearby, as I didn’t have any pictures of the actual one. I want to kick 2012 me for not labeling my photos more carefully.)  is more impressive and was fought over for centuries by the Catholics and the Muslims, and its location high upon a rocky hill means it can be seen from kilometres away.

Barranco del Río Dulce

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The ravine of the Río Dulce offers some spectacular views, but the Parque Natural is best seen on foot. It borders the municipalities of Algora, Mandayona (Aragosa), Mirabueno, Saúca (Jodra del Pinar), Sigüenza (La Cabrera y Pelegrina) y Torremocha del Campo.

Sigüenza

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The small medieval town of Sigüenza, population 5000, is a charming hamlet not far from the autopista that takes you from Madrid to Zaragoza from Barcelona and is well worth the pitstop. It boasts an impressive cathedral which houses the sepulchre of Martín Vázques de Arce, named the Doncel de Sigüenza by the Generación de ’98 and is an example of Spanish Medieval art. The medieval flare adds the beauty of the city.

Parador de Sigüenza

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The Castle of Sigüenza, now an official Parador (one of the castles that have been converted into a hotel), has a history of being changed and added on to. The Visigoths built it in the fifth century, and the Moors built a bigger version of it in the eighth Century. Bernard de Seriac conquered it from the Moors, and Alfonso de la Cerda and Ferdinand IV de Castilla battled for it in 1298. In the 15th Century, it was fortified against attacks from Aragón and Navarra (the actual Kingdoms responsible for today’s indepentistas of their respective Catalunya and Euskadi (Basque Country, I must remark…if you want to annoy a Catalán or a Basque, remind them that it’s Aragón and Navarra that were the Kingdoms responsible for them becoming Spain!) Later, during the War of Spanish Succession, the French looted it for riches. And now it’s a hotel with a café con leche for the mere price of 1.70€ (normal in Castilla La Mancha is 1.20!)

Guadalajara Capital

60 kilometres or 37 miles north of Madrid, you can find the capital of the province Guadalajara. Although the main cathedral is in Sigüenza, Guadalajara has many churches, including the “co-cathedral” St. Mary. It also has a river, Henares, with several interesting bridges, and it has several parks.

Pastrana

45 km or 25 miles from the province capital lies the medieval town of Pastrana. The Princess Éboli (NOT EBOLA) was imprisoned here by Felipe II in 1573 at the Palacio Ducal. Rumour has it she was allowed to look out the window for an hour a day on the town’s plaza, giving it the name Plaza de la Hora. The village has a population of around 1000 people today.

Toledo. Not just a city in Ohio.

Toledo 2013 061       My introduction to Spain in 2003 was Toledo, a beautiful medieval city located just an hour south of Madrid (or half hour if you take the AVE high-speed train). It was here I fell in love with Spain and here where I decided that I would have to live in Spain.

Despite being the capital of the Toledo province, it has a very small-town feel (its population is 60,000, smaller than another city in the province, Talavera de la Reina). Toledo is known as the City of the Three Cultures as it has been under Catholic, Jewish and Muslim control, and influences from all three major Western Religions are present today.

Another interesting fact about Toledo is that it was once the capital of Spain until King Phillip II (Felipe II) decided to move the capital to Madrid. It also was one of the first major cities to fall to Christian troops during the reconquest of Spain. It’s one of the most important cities in Spain from a historical standpoint, and in my opinion, offers a lot more to see and experience than the giant metropolis to its north.

Most people discover Toledo on a day-trip to Madrid, but as I lived there for three months, I know there is much more to experience that can be done in one day.

The Alcazar (fortress) is now home to a library and an Army Museum. It was a symbol of Nationalism during the Spanish Civil War due to an important victory by the Nationalist (Nationalist is Team Franco) troops.

The Cathedral is one of the most important in Spain, and you can see the work of El Greco, who once called Toledo his home, in the Church of Santo Tomé.

Toledo still conserves the medieval walls that once protected the great city. You can take the escalators from the new part of town to the Old Part, or, if you know the back way, you can walk there in about 15 minutes from the bus station.  Of course, this shortcut bypasses one of the main gates and takes you to Puerta del Sol gate instead.

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By continuing climbing the hill, you will end up in the most important plaza, Plaza de Zocodover. Yes, there is a McDonald’s there. However, why eat there when you have all kinds of delicious Spanish food nearby? Although it is not exactly in Zocodover, I recommend Palacios for sentimental reasons. (It was where my study abroad class ate daily.)

toledo retiro torres kio20Toledo Palacios

The charm of Toledo, like so many Spanish and European cities, is getting lost in its streets. Closer to Zocodover, you can discover many shops and buy swords, which Toledo is known for. I know how to get to the Jewish Quarter from here, but I couldn’t explain it to anyone in any language for the life of me.

The River Tajo snakes around Toledo (before eventually making its way to Lisbon and the Atlantic Ocean). Many places along the medieval wall or high on the hill offer beautiful views of the river and the surrounding Castilla La Mancha landscape.

The province of Toledo is located in the heart of Castilla, the Castilla of Cervantes, the Castilla where Cervantes saved the Iberi   an Peninsula from the dangers of windmills. (They are giants, I SWEAR they are giants.) Although his travels are supposedly fictional, there are many places along the Ruta de Quixote (Quixote’s Route) that can be visited. Those famous windmills are located all over La Mancha, but it is Consuegra that markets them as the windmills Quixote fought.

Sixty kilometres from the capital, Consuegra is a bit off the map but well worth the effort it takes to arrive. Next to the windmills overlooking the town of 10,000 habitants are the ruins of what once was the Consuegra Castle. And who wouldn’t want to travel to Toboso to see the home of Dulcinea, that beautiful woman who inspired Quixote to save La Mancha from giants and other misadventures?

Toledo the province offers the best of Castilla La Mancha , and Toledo the capital offers the best of the province. Toledo is the crown jewel of Castilla.

Set Meravelles 

This one is hard to just do seven.

1. Toledo Itself

Toledo

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2. Alcázar (hello GH fans who found this googling Ted King. I like how I have no close up photos of the Alcazar. That is what I call an epic fail 🙂 )

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3. Catedral

Toledo Catedral

4. El Río Tajo

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5. Plaza del ayuntamiento

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6. Los molinos (windmills) de Consuegra

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7. El Castillo (Castle) de Consuegra

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