The final day trip we took we from Madrid (although we didn't know it would be so at the time!) was to the small town of Manzanares el Real. It's about 30 miles (50 km) north of Madrid, and we were able to get there very easily and cheaply via a bus we caught from the center of the city. I was free thanks to my transport pass, and Danny was only about 2.40€ each way.
We went to Manzanares for the castle, but the little town is kind of quaint as well. We started at the tourist information office, where we were surprised to find out that one of the staff spoke great English, and was happy to give us a map and some ideas on how to spend our day. He suggested a few paths to take around town and told us how to get to the lake and to the castle, and we were on our way.
Construction began on El Castillo de los Mendoza in 1475 using the stones from the town's castle at the time, or what is now known as Castillo Viejo (literally, Old Castle). Castillo de los Mendoza is one of Spain's best preserved castles, and we personally felt like it was one of the most "castle-y" castles we had ever been too. It just looked like a classic castle, with it's turrets and windows and stonework, and we really loved it.
D - I really feel like if you looked up "castle" in the dictionary, a picture of this one should be there. I think that's one reason why I really enjoyed this little excursion - I could really indulge my inner child and pretend I was about to go fight a dragon or something.
We paid the 10€ each to go inside the castle, which meant we got to climb around on top and go in the exhibit and rooms, but for non-Spanish speakers, it's hard to feel like you're getting your money's worth. All of the exhibits on the castle and knights and I'm not sure what else were in Spanish, and while we could still enjoy the decorated rooms of the castle, there weren't many to go through (maybe only four or five). I'm still glad we paid to go through, though, because it was fun to climb around, and we got great views of Lake Santillana and the surrounding mountains from the top too.
We had a PB & J picnic outside of the castle and then we walked through town to the Castillo Viejo. There's really not much left - most of the stones of the old castle are now a part of the Castillo de los Mendoza. There is a bit of each of the four corners, but other than that, it's just a large green space. We could tell that the previous castle was smaller than the current castle, and likely much less grand and decorated.
We kept walking, encountering some cows and exercise equipment along the way. Now that we're in Scotland, some of these pictures look quite similar to how things are here: animals, the countryside, green pastures, stone walls. So peaceful and pretty.
D - I always love random outdoor exercise equipment. This particular set reminded me of our time in China. They're all over the place there!
We arrived at Lake Santillana and walked around the rocky edge for a while. It was windy and chilly, but it was so nice to be out of the busy city of Madrid for a bit that we didn't mind too much. Lake Santillana is actually a reservoir that connects with the Manzanares River and supplies the city of Madrid with much of its water. It's quite popular with fishermen, and we saw a couple on the day that we visited.
We missed a bus heading back to Madrid by about 30 seconds, so we wandered around Dia (they had a really huge one!) for a while until the next one came about 50 minutes later. It was while we were waiting that we saw this advertisement for cochinillo, or suckling pig, a popular dish in Spain where a piglet is slaughtered between the ages of two and six weeks. We've seen them in restaurant windows and felt shocked, but in a sale ad it was a bit saddening too. Oh Spain.
D - If you think that the piglet is served in a different pose or form than pictured below, think again. It basically just gets splayed out on your plate that way. Appealing, huh? I feel like if people ate all meat like this there would be substantially more vegetarians in the world. Who wants the eyeball!?
We had a good time in Manzanares el Real. The weather wasn't stellar, but the castle was really great, and the lake was a nice surprise too. If we end up back in Madrid again, we'd love to explore the area some more as we hear there's quite a few hikes that begin in the town and go into the mountains, and perhaps once our Spanish gets (much) better, we can go back to the castle and read all the exhibits! Manzanares el Real is a great quiet day trip from Madrid - cheap, easy, quick, and very close.