In respect of the fire I should not have been so smug because once again at about one o’clock it surged into life, flames started to leap from the grill and fuel pellets started to spew into the combustion area. We really couldn’t sleep through this so I repeated last night’s switch off routine and eventually it died down and stopped and we slept undisturbed until the next morning.
The sun was shining for the first time when we went for breakfast but by the time we had finished and returned to our room to pack it had stopped and grey clouds had swept in from the mountains and by the time we checked out, paid and left it was beginning to spit with rain.
The plan today was to drive back to Madrid and the airport and stop-over in either Gudalajara or Alcalá de Henares so that we would be close to the airport for the return of the hire car, check in and the late afternoon flight home. We took the road back to the A2 Autovia through several kilometres of road improvement works and as we drove west the weather just kept on deteriorating until the whole landscape ahead of us was smothered by a cold grey blanket of cloud that obscured the view of the great plain of Castile.
When we arrived at the junction for Guadalajara Kim was asleep in the passenger seat and the weather was awful so even though it seemed rather rude I just kept on driving past the provincial capital and made a decision that we would stop in Alcalá de Henares if for no other reason than this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we had visited one yet on this visit to Spain.
Each new trip to Spain seems to inevitably include a visit to World Heritage Site so when I counted them up I was interested to discover that out of the forty-four sites on the UNESCO list (second only to Italy with forty-seven) and four more had been added since my last visit. I had previously been to twenty and here was an opportunity to add one more.
Modern day Alcalá de Henares is a busy sprawling industrial suburb of Madrid but at its heart is the world’s first planned university city founded in 1293 by King Sancho IV of Castile. It was the original model for the Civitas Dei (City of God), the ideal urban community which Spanish missionaries exported to the New World and it also served as a model for universities in Europe and elsewhere.
Alcalá de Henares is Oxford and Cambridge, Harvard and Yale but I wouldn’t have guessed this as we drove towards the city centre through grimy streets, clogged with growling traffic and with unattractive high rise apartment blocks and small industrial units lining the road.
After we parked the car in an underground car park we made for the Centro Historico and started first at the cathedral which, as in Sigüenza had the religious floats on display in various side chapels and after the cathedral we walked to the centre of the red brick city to the Plaza de Cervantes so named because the Spanish novelist and author of Don Quixote was born here in this city in 1547 and then it started to rain, gently at first but quite soon it was becoming heavy and we were forced to abandon the open spaces and seek the shelter of the elegant stone colonnaded pavements that surround the plaza and the main street, the Calle Mayor.
Since leaving Sigüenza we had dropped over four hundred metres in altitude and despite the rain there was a more Spring like atmosphere with flowers in the civic park, pink blossom exploding from the trees and storks busy attending to their untidy nests on top of the churches and other tall buildings.
The population of storks in Spain is rising, from six thousand seven hundred pairs thirty years ago to an estimated thirty-five thousand pairs today. In fact there are now so many White Storks in Spain that it is now second only to Poland who with fifty thousand birds has traditionally been the country with the most pairs in Europe.
All along the Calle Mayor there were shopping distractions for Kim so while she looked at shoes and sparkly things in jewellers shops I made my way to the end of the street to the birthplace museum of Cervantes and waited in the company of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza for her to catch me up. It was raining steadily now, which was a shame and this being a Monday the museum was closed which was an even bigger shame but I had anticipated this so wasn’t desperately disappointed.
Time was running out now and there was only just over an hour left before we were due to return the hire car so we shared an umbrella as we walked in the rain, stopping for a very short time in a tapas bar that we didn’t especially like and where the prices were high and the staff unnecessarily persistent and then we left the drizzle of Alcalá de Henares and returned directly to Barajas Airport for the late afternoon flight home.