Following La Ruta de Don Quixote

October, 2005

by Jessica Dunn

Una Introducción

by Barbara Lopez-Mahew, associate professor of Spanish and chair of the foreign language department.

11-2162005 marks the 400th anniversary of the first publication (1605) of Part One of Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote de la Mancha. If you aren’t familiar with Don Quixote, this fictitious older gentleman apparently went mad because of excessive reading about the adventures of medieval knights. He set out with his squire, Sancho Panza, throughout La Mancha trying to “right all wrongs,” with little success. This spring, 10 students and five chaperones from Plymouth State University followed in his footsteps along La Ruta de Don Quixote (the route of Don Quixote) throughout the Spanish central region of Castilla/La Mancha for 13 days (May 25-June 6).

The trip built on a Spanish seminar course I taught in the spring on Don Quixote, and also provided students the opportunity to earn one to three credits for projects directed by adjunct Spanish faculty member Barbara Mitchell or me, connecting their trip experience with their majors. Spanish majors Martina Macakova, Heather Parsons and Ryan Rush, along with criminal justice major/Spanish minor Colin Leblanc had taken the course as preparation for the trip. The other students had diverse majors with at least a Spanish minor: Casey Ajello (early childhood studies), Colleen Forsyth and Amanda Gutowski (communication studies), Jessica Dunn (English), Lynn Limauro (biotechnology) and Carrie Shinego (Spanish). We were joined by President Donald P. Wharton and his wife, Carol, and Professor of Art Terry Downs.

To help keep the cost reasonable, I decided to make most of the arrangements myself rather than use an educational tour group. A rural tourism agency, the CoolTourClub, made our reservations for lodging and transportation on the Ruta de Don Quixote. We had the freedom to go where we wanted and explore at our own pace. We were fortunate to receive a financial donation from a very generous gentleman, R.E. Collins, who was at the top of our postcard list!

I believe that we each brought back memories of an incredible trip, a special moment or meal, and new places that we won’t forget in Castilla/La Mancha. Following, Jessica Dunn shares excerpts from the journal she kept of the trip as her for-credit project.

El Primer Día
cervantesAfter checking in and going through security we ended up waiting at Logan Airport longer than we were on our connector flight to JFK. The plane was the size of my little Ford Focus, and that has bigger windows! Arrival at JFK found the 15 of us with our various carry-on bags parked in front of international gate number 21. Our five-hour layover would have been six had the rain not delayed us in Boston. We were able to pass the time by taking turns watching each others’ luggage while we found dinner and bathrooms, and exchanged currency. To our dismay the exchange rate at JFK was only .71 Euros to the dollar, plus commission. Finally, we boarded the seven-hour Delta flight to Madrid.

Segundo Día
We landed at Barajas International Airport in Madrid and made it through customs and passport control (a surprisingly easy process) by 10:15 a.m. Madrid time. (I feel like we lost a day somewhere. Guess that’s what happens when you have a night flight.) A bus picked us up and drove us 20 minutes to El Hostal Centro Sol where we would be spending the first four days of our trip. The Hostal is small, but very accommodating. It occupies three floors above a small T-shirt shop on La Calle Carrera San Jerónimo near La Puerta del Sol. We could not have asked for a better location for any hotel! We are literally in the center of everything—I can’t even begin to count the number of bars, cafés and currency exchange houses on the neighboring streets.

After we got settled into our double rooms and showered, most of us napped before meeting at 7 p.m. for dinner, which we ate in La Plaza Mayor. At my table, we ordered tortillas españolas and sangria, which reminded me of having red wine with breakfast, as a Spanish tortilla is a lot like a potato-based cheese omelet. The rest of the group were a little more adventurous and ordered tapas (mini portions of regular meals) to share. We all noticed that the waiters didn’t seem pushy at all. In fact, everyone seemed to be pretty relaxed and not in any real hurry. Later we split up into pairs or small groups to take unofficial walking tours of the city. It is about 12:45 a.m. now; I guess I should be going to bed, even if the rest of the city is staying up for a few more hours. I think we’re going to the Prado tomorrow. I can’t wait!

Tercer Día
Oh my gosh! We went to the Prado! Okay, let me start at the beginning. First, Colleen (my roommate) and I were late meeting the group because the outlet converter didn’t put out enough power to keep time on my alarm clock. No matter, we just missed eating breakfast with everyone. By 11 a.m. we were all on a double-decker bus taking a tour of the city. I must have taken over 70 pictures! The tour ended at El Museo Nacional del Prado, the art museum I have been waiting to visit since I signed up for the trip in November! President and Mrs. Wharton, Colleen and I all got a personal tour from Art Professor Terry Downs, who explained the history and techniques used in many of the paintings. It was really exciting to see in person some of the paintings we had studied in my Intermediate Spanish class because, let me tell you, the text book does not do them justice. When we stopped in the gift shop, I bought a mouse pad of Goya’s “Half Submerged Dog” and a keychain of Velazquez’s “Las Meninas.”

After dinner, Colleen and I found our way to La Chocolatería San Ginés for chocolate con churros (like cinnamon donuts in a stick form that you dip in a thick, very rich chocolate sauce). We bought some postcards on our way back to the Hostal to send various friends and family tomorrow.

Cuarto Día
Toledo is the oldest and most interesting place I have ever been in my life! Although it reached 104° F there today, aside from buying a little extra water, no one really seemed to notice. The trip by train from Madrid to Toledo was a little boring as the countryside during this time of year is fairly dry and depressing. We had to take a bus the last few miles because the rail lines are under construction. Then we walked I-don’t-even-know-how-many miles from the train/bus station to get to the city, which is on a huge hill. But, once that was done, we were quickly absorbed by the charm and rich history of the old city.

The buildings are primarily made of stone and date back as far as the 14th century, and the streets are mostly cobblestone. The views from the edge of the city really gave us a feeling for what Toledo must have been like when it was the capital of Spain.

whartonLynn, President and Mrs. Wharton, and I were invited to a local artisans’ workshop by a gentleman handing out flyers in the street, who also walked us down. He told me he spoke “small English” and I told him, “Somos estadounidenses y entendemos un poquito de español” which means, “we are from the United States and we understand very little Spanish.” I had been afraid I would forget all of my Spanish vocabulary once I was put on the spot in a real situation, but I was absolutely astounded at how well I did! Once we got talking, I began picking up on things by the context they were used in. By the time we got to the workshop, Barbara Mitchell had caught up to us and was kind enough to translate the process the artisans used to make the jewelry and other crafts displayed in their shop. Of course, we bought some.

After lunch, the whole group went to Casa del Greco to see his paintings of saints, which were simply striking. Afterwards we went to the church La Iglesia de Santo Tomé and saw “El entierro del Conde de Orgaz,” which is perhaps el Greco’s most famous painting. I had forgotten the dimensions of the painting, which we had learned in class, and was startled to see its enormity in person.

After some final window-shopping and ice cream, we meandered back to the train station, hopped a train, connected to the metro, and were back at the Hostal in Madrid by 8:45 p.m.

Quinto Día
A small group of us left the Hostal around 10 a.m. for El Rastro, an outdoor flea market held every Sunday morning. There was so much stuff to look at, paw through and haggle over-my mom would have loved it! We all met for dinner at a bullfighter-themed restaurant called La Taurina. We all ordered something different and shared. There were fries and ribs, stuffed mushrooms, calamari, shrimp with garlic (excellent), some kind of breaded popcorn fish thing (also very good), chorizo (sausage), tortillas españolas, pulpo (octopus, yuck), and some unidentified dish I dared not try (which turned out to be tripe). We ordered dessert in the same fashion, thank goodness, or Casey and I might have missed out on the exquisite chocolate cake! Then Colleen and I walked around the city some more, exploring the area near where El Rastro was held before calling it a night.

Sexto Día
windmillToday we packed ourselves into the bus and drove for what felt like years until we came to Argamasilla de Alba. This is the town where Miguel de Cervantes was incarcerated and began writing Don Quixote de la Mancha. We toured the very small town, stopping at La Iglesia de San Juan el Bautista, a statue of Cervantes, and finally Casa de Medrano (the jail where Cervantes was held). We also stopped in a small shop to buy souvenirs and I posed for a photo with an iron sculpture of Don Quixote. Afterwards we drove to Campo de Criptana to see the windmills that, according to the novel, Don Quixote tried to fight, thinking they were giants. These 16th century stone structures were absolutely amazing! We even got a picture of Ryan “fighting” a windmill with a stick!

After lunch we drove to Consuegra and toured a castle! I don’t think I have ever taken more photos of one building. We were pretty tired when we left, but still had one more stop, at La Venta de Quixote. This was the inn that Don Quixote (thinking it was a castle) stood guard at all night, hoping to be knighted in the morning.

Then we stopped at a little village grocer to pick up provisions for our picnic dinner, which we ate at the first lodging on route called La Blanquilla. We were all a little uneasy about La Blanquilla. It was very isolated and rustic looking. However, once inside the courtyard we quickly changed our minds as it was a charming place and had excellent service. We ate dinner in the courtyard and ordered café con leche (which I have become addicted to! I love Spanish coffee!) from the little restaurant. Bedtime involved six of us girls negotiating shower time in the morning, as we all shared one large apartment with only one bathroom.

Séptimo Día
Today we had breakfast at La Blanquilla then boarded the bus to Las Tablas de Daimiel national park, where everything was very dry and brown looking. Next we stopped in the neighboring town of the same name for coffee (yea, more coffee!) and cough drops. Two p.m. found us in Almagro, a medieval town internationally known for its Classical Theatre Festival in July, where we would be spending the night. The town is mainly restaurants and touristy shops. Having eaten such a late lunch, most of us passed on dinner. The 10 of us students are sharing one apartment while the faculty members are sharing another.

Octavo Día
¡Dios Mio! After leaving the apartments in Almagro we went to Nuestra Señora de la Antigua y Santo Tomás de Villanueva, a wine co-op where we took an impromptu tour with a man named Julio. We learned how red and white wines get their color (red wine is fermented with the grape skin, while white is not). We got to see how wine is made commercially. The co-op also produced olive oil. Mrs. Wharton said she was surprised to learn that refined olive oil is actually the worst quality you can buy, because it is basically very acidic oil that, if not used in shampoo, is refined with sunflower seed or some other oil before being bottled. Also, apparently most “Italian” olive oil is not actually Italian. Julio told us there are very few olive plantations in Italy, so most of their olive oil comes from Spain. We all bought some olive oil on our way out. Back on the bus most of us napped during the two-hour ride to Toboso, the hometown of Dulcinea, the lady of Don Quixote’s dreams.

In Toboso, we stopped at my favorite place on the entire trip, so far: Casa de la Torre, an 18th century farm house that has been completely renovated by a woman named Isabel Morales around the theme of Don Quixote and Cervantes’ Novelas ejemplares. With help from only her family and friends, no professionals, the entire restoration has taken nine years! Each bedroom is based on a different chapter from the Novelas. Local artists have contributed drawings and paintings of castles, characters and scenes from the novels to decorate the walls. Isabel keeps a room dedicated to all the different language versions of Don Quixote that she has collected. She will be compiling all of the chapters into a international edition of Don Quixote de la Mancha, hand written by some of her favorite guests. I am excited to say that she has invited us to contribute by copying chapter 10.

For dinner Isabel accompanied us to a restaurant belonging to a friend of hers, called Mesón la Noria de Dulcinea, where we ate the best food we have had on the entire trip and celebrated Casey’s 22nd birthday.

Noveno Día
We had an excellent breakfast this morning, courtesy of Isabel. She invited me to take as many pictures as I liked to share with Plymouth Magazine and my family back home. After kisses on the cheek for everyone, we said a sad goodbye to Isabel and headed for Castillo de Belmonte, which was even more impressive than the one in Consuegra. Never in my life did I think I would be comparing the quality of castles!

Then we ventured on to Cuenca, a rather neat little city clinging to the side of a cliff. We had to walk up a long, steep hill and over a long, very high footbridge to get into the city. The views from the far side of the bridge were worthy of a postcard.

After Cuenca, we made several wrong turns looking for our fourth lodging, Casita de Cabrejas. At least our bus driver got a chance to demonstrate his amazing driving skills as he negotiated a 47-point turn out of a small village. This inn has a very nice rural charm that reminds me of home.

Décimo Día
We bought provisions and had a picnic in a rural park near a town called Uña today. We all had a good laugh when we realized that “uña” translates to “fingernail.” After lunch we went to el Nacimiento del Rio Cuervo, the origin of the Rio Cuervo. We later drove into a town called Priego, which almost seemed to be abandoned. There were lots of buildings, but hardly any people. After a group photo near the main square, we got back on the bus and left for Beteta and our fifth lodging on route called Hotel los Tilos.

Día Once
I sprained my ankle this morning! Everyone was very nice about helping me find an ace bandage to wrap it with once we got to Alcalá de Henares, the birthplace of Cervantes. We stopped at the house where Cervantes was born, which contained dozens of copies of Don Quixote in different languages.

We returned to Madrid today and made our way back to el Hostal Centro Sol where we will remain until our flight out on Monday. Colleen and I did some gift shopping near La Plaza Mayor before hobbling back to meet the group for dinner, again at La Taurina.

Día Doce
We’re going home tomorrow! Colleen and I finished our gift shopping today. We stopped at the grocery store in el Corte Inglés and found some really cheap saffron for our mothers—won’t that be a treat! We all met around 7:30 for one last group dinner in La Plaza Mayor. Most of us were exhausted at this point and decided to pack our suitcases before calling it a night.

Día Trece
We have been up for almost 24 straight hours. I woke up at 6 a.m. in Madrid this morning, which would have been midnight in the States. We ended up getting back to Boston by 3:30 p.m. and waited for what seemed like a day for our luggage. Boston seemed so small after our long trip, but certainly a welcome sight. My boyfriend was kind enough to take a short work day to pick me up at the airport. I never thought I would be so happy to hug someone. But, then again, I have done a lot of things in the last 13 days that I never thought I would do. By the time we dropped Lynn off in Concord to meet her parents and got to my parents’ house for dinner I was ready to sleep where I stood. It is now 10:37 p.m. U.S. time and I am going to bed!

Jessica Dunn, is a senior English major from North Sandwich, N.H.

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