How many earnest high school drama students have poured their hearts into singing “Ã¢Â?Â¦ to dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe Ã¢Â?Â¦ to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go?”
It must be a considerable number. Maybe it’s me, but the words can easily bring a lump to my throat.
In 2005, Spain celebrated the anniversary of the character that inspired those words, Don Quixote, and his creator, Miguel de Cervantes. Published 400 years ago, the book definitely has a long shelf life, especially if you consider the play it inspired, “Man of La Mancha,” continues to be performed on stages from high school to summer stock to Broadway.
Part of the commemoration is a newly designated 620-mile Route of Don Quixote. All or parts of the route can be followed with special maps indicating the stops. The area lies primarily within the Castile-La Mancha region, and I traveled to Spain in May to get an overview.
After flying into Madrid, we drove to Toledo, where our visit officially began. Toledo, declared a World Heritage City by UNESCO in 1987, can keep you occupied for several days.
Be sure to see the attractions associated with the artist El Greco. Depending on the time of day you visit, lines can form to see his masterpiece “The Burial of the Court Orgaz,” created in 1586. It’s a large work with many aspects, much written about and discussed by art experts.
Next, we continued to the less well-known Cuenca, where “hanging houses” dramatically cling to the steep cliffs in the historic section.
The hilly old town can be a challenge for those not accustomed to cobble streets and numerous staircases, but it’s worth the effort. Our stay was at a lovely Parador, formerly the Convent of San Pablo, built in the 16th century. Paradors make creative reuse of significant buildings, providing lodging with atmosphere.
Our final city was Almagro, long known for the tradition of lace-making. In case you have any doubt about its importance, the city has erected a statue of a lace-maker diligently working her pins and spools. Finished lace for sale hangs on display in many windows. Light and easy to pack, I purchased a small piece as a gift.
During our week, we pondered the ancient, whitewashed windmills fictional Don Quixote believed were giants and ventured into the cavelike prison where author Cervantes was briefly held. As if on cue, a shepherd and herd of sheep passed our way, bringing to mind Quixote’s evil army.
We sampled a centuries-old dish called “Pain and Suffering” – mentioned in the book. There are several versions of how this meal got its odd name, how the dish is prepared and even different variations of the name itself, depending upon translations. Everyone seems to agree early recipes contained eggs and brains.
The route of Don Quixote is a fascinating blend of history, fiction and reality, adding a new dimension to travel in Spain.