Crap Travel Diaries: stranded in Ciudad Real

The plaza with its historic clockIt was entirely my fault. I had looked for a place to stop a few hours east of the Portuguese border. Ciudad Real immediately jumped out of the map at me. “Royal City”: it sounded promising. I further compounded my mistake with a quick search on Google images: a grand looking plaza, a few fine churches and a couple of windmills and I was sold. Barely a minute of research over, we made our plans to include a stay in Ciudad Real.

Ciudad Real, Plaza MayorIt took us around 10 minutes of walking around to work out that this was not the place we had expected. The splendid looking buildings around the plaza were in fact mainly constructions from the 1960s and more reminiscent of Milton Keynes than Madrid. A small building with a clock occupied the corner of the spacious square, but it was all quite unremarkable.

La Puerta de Toledo, Ciudad Real

The streets of any Spanish city at 3pm are likely to be quiet and it was certainly true here. Within an hour we’d found the old Toledo Gate, the statue of the region’s most famous son Don Quixote and the firmly locked cathedral. Our train out wasn’t until lunchtime the next day. What to do?

Don Quixote

As any good tourist will advise you, we did what the locals do and took a nap. Venturing out again at 6pm the town had thankfully come to life. Shops were busy, the streets were buzzing with people and the cafes were doing brisk business. We took a look inside the impressive cathedral, having arrived just as the gates were being swung open. Things were at last looking up. The plain looking clock in the plaza turned out to be a very elaborate animated clock (as good as the one in Prague in my opinion), with three life size figures coming out to do their thing for a full five minutes in front of a tiny group of local children with their disinterested parents. There was something to Ciudad Real after all!

The Don Quixote Clock in full swing

Finding somewhere in Spain to have dinner before 9pm can be difficult, but we stepped into an inviting bar that appeared to have been converted from an old music venue. It was lively, pleasant and the food was very good. A stroll through the centre again after dinner and the plaza now looked a little better in its illuminated glory.

The old casino, Ciudad Real

Ciudad Real is not cut out to be a tourist town. That doesn’t make it unpleasant in any way; on the contrary it appeared to be a highly agreeable place to live, with its ample shops and its strategic position on the high speed line between Madrid and Seville. Does it deserve a place on the main Spanish tourist trail? It would be a stretch for even the city’s most ardent supporters to make this claim.

I found out later that Ciudad Real doesn’t manage the briefest of mentions in the Lonely Planet Spain book. But if, like us, you find yourself stranded there for a day, don’t despair; take it easy, buy yourself a drink and settle down to enjoy the Don Quixote clock. You could even go one better and look for windmills…


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One Response to “Crap Travel Diaries: stranded in Ciudad Real”

  1. At least you made the best of a not so desirable location.

    May 10, 2011 at 6:54 pm