Calle Major, Alcalá de Henares
The historic centre of Alcalá is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and justifiably so. The area surrounding Cervantes Square has been largely preserved. The main street, Calle Major, is the longest porticoed street in Spain and remains essentially medieval even though it houses buildings constructed anywhere between the 1st and the 19th centuries. One house of particular interest is the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes, author of The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha. Of course, I have heard of Don Quixote but did not know the name of the author much less where he was born and we probably would have walked right past the pretty 16th century house without a second glance had it not been for two brass statues on a bench outside. Even before we noticed the brass book on the bench we had commented that one of them looked like Don Quixote. The house, an intriguing mixture of Roman design and Moorish decoration, was more of a museum to 16th century living but it did contain a collection of Don Quixote works translated into various languages.
Don Quixote statue
Alcalá also proved to be a good base for visiting Madrid (our intended destination). The local bus service was frequent, reliable and very reasonably priced. The bus journey took a little over 30 minutes each way. We actually spent quite a lot of time sitting on buses; in addition to visiting Madrid twice, we transferred to and from the airport on the bus and toured Madrid on the Hop-on, Hop off Tour Bus. There were two separate tour routes; we purchased a two day ticket and did Route 1 one day and Route 2 the next (we’re adventurous like that!).
When not sitting on buses, we spent much of our time sitting at the afore-mentioned restaurants, cafés and bars. Food and drink was predictably expensive in Madrid but was much more reasonably priced in Alcalá. Regardless of expense I could not resist the culinary delights on offer at Madrid’s answer to Oxford’s Covered Market, Mercardo de San Miguel. The cast iron and glass building is a visual feast as well as a Smörgåsbord of tasty morsels and I wish I had foregone breakfast that day so that I could have sampled more.
Unlike most of our holidays, where we rush around trying to see and do as much as possible, there was something about Alcalá that compelled us to just relax and take it easy. Or maybe it was the unseasonably warm sunshine … or the abundance of good food … or the abundance of good wine!