Hypothetical question: what would you do if someone were to tell you that you’re about to have a five day weekend?
That was a question I got to ask myself in reality when the bilingual coordinator at my school handed me my class schedule and holiday calendar and I realized that I had five days off the following weekend.
My mind began racing with the possibilities of places I could visit - beaches, mountains, even other countries. After a couple hours of research, I ultimately decided to capitalize on one of the best parts of living in a country like Spain - festivals!
I was lucky enough to be able to make it to the last day of Semana Cervantina in Alcalá de Henares as well as the last day of Festival Pilar in Zaragoza.
Alcalá de Henares is a quaint little town that lies about forty minutes to the north-east of Madrid (cercanías lines C-2 and C-7). It is the birthplace of famous Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, whose house is still intact and can be toured for free!
Cervantes is best known for his work Don Quijote de la Mancha. For those that haven’t heard of it, here is my very humble and very simplified summary: a man who has a bit of an obsession with books about knights and chivalry wakes up one morning and declares himself a knight named Don Quijote. Don Quijote then convinces a farmer named Sancho to be his squire, and the pair set off on a string of haphazard adventures, including fighting “giants” (read: windmills) and rescuing “damsels” (read: loose women).
Naturally, Spain loves a good Don Quijote reference, and Alcalá de Henares is the motherland of paying homage to this fictional character and his creator. As a literature nerd who has taken an entire class on the novel, I was perhaps a little too excited to attend an entire festival dedicated to Cervantes.
And let me tell you, Semana Cervantina did not disappoint. Mere minutes after leaving the train station I stumbled upon the “Mercado Cervantino” in Plaza de Cervantes, where artisan stalls lined the streets selling trinkets, clothing, jewelry, pastries, and locally produced cheese and jamón. Medieval style flags were strung up in the air above the streets, which were bustling with people, many of whom wore medieval costumes. Children ran about and squealed with delight as the carnival rides spun them around and around. The atmosphere positively buzzed with energy and spirit.
But the best had yet to come. Just as I was getting ready to head back to Madrid, I heard music coming from down the street and noticed a herd of people gathering. I approached the melodious sounds and pushed through the crowd of people until I came face to face with Don Quijote himself - shield and spear in hand - riding his white steed, and Sancho Panza - flask in hand - riding his donkey. The characters were parading the streets, accompanied by musicians and two men holding a live snake and eagle. I nearly burst out laughing at the sight and couldn’t help but admire their level of dedication.
All in all, an amazing day! Stay tuned for a follow-up post about the Pilar Festival in Zaragoza!