Semana Cervantina / "Celebrate good times, come on!"

If you have spent some time in Spain, you've probably heard the phrase pasarlo bien. Literally, it translates as passing it well, but is used to communicate the idea of having a good time. And if you've been to Spain or know anything at all about Spain, you know that this country likes to pasarlo bien frequently. This week is a perfect example of people coming together to enjoy life, food, history, the arts, and the art of the fiesta. This week is Semana Cervantina (Cervantes Week) in Alcalá de Henares, nearly a week-long party dedicated to the writer Miguel de Cervantes (author of Don Quijote); tomorrow is a local holiday, marking the day that he was baptized in 1547. This local holiday means a four-day weekend for us, and we are looking forward to hosting some friends from Madrid here in our town and enjoying the festivities with them.

Tonight we went to the center, just minutes from our apartment, to check out the beginning of the Medieval-themed party and market. And oh, it was magical.

Colorful banners were strung high above the cobblestone main street, woven back and forth between buildings. Booth after booth demanded our attention: the pungent smell of fresh goat cheese piercing our nostrils, flakey pastries behind plexiglass making me salivate, the sweet and salty crunch of just-roasted, honey coated sunflower seeds a welcome free sample. Intricately crafted jewelry, homemade soap, any spice you could possible wish for, all on display. Families stood in line for pizza, kebaps, sausages, baked potatoes, falafel, and sweets galore, babies in strollers and little ones toddling toward the old-fashioned fair rides. Children eagerly grasped the neck of donkeys, burritos, for a ride through the main plaza, just 3 euros. Street musicians banged on drums and sounded flutes, wandering through side streets and crowds of tourists and locals alike. 

We wandered slowly through the crowds, admiring new sights and commenting on the plenteous food and drink options. We chose a dinner of baked potatoes (I had no idea that was even a "thing" here, though they sure do eat a lot of potatoes) loaded with all kinds of strangely delicious toppings like olives, cheese, ham, beets, and carrots. We sampled pulpo (octopus), smelled the huge grills (see below) piled high with every kind of meat you could imagine, and planned what we will try when we come to the festival next. ¡Viva la fiesta!

The view of Calle Mayor, one of the main streets here in Alcalá.

The view of Calle Mayor, one of the main streets here in Alcalá.

Baked potato bar? Yes, please!

Baked potato bar? Yes, please!

I don't know what's in all of these sausages, but I can tell you I'm not planning on eating the dark one--it's called blood sausage for a reason. :)

I don't know what's in all of these sausages, but I can tell you I'm not planning on eating the dark one--it's called blood sausage for a reason. :)

"Pulpería" = pulpo (octopus) + -ería = place that sells octopus. And heck, they throw in a nice over-easy egg with your octopus for good measure.

"Pulpería" = pulpo (octopus) + -ería = place that sells octopus. And heck, they throw in a nice over-easy egg with your octopus for good measure.

Allow me to introduce you to the ham leg, a popular staple here in Spain, especially in many Spanish kitchens (not ours, sorry). See the hoof? This little piggy came to market and is ready to be shaved and put on a sandwich for you!

Allow me to introduce you to the ham leg, a popular staple here in Spain, especially in many Spanish kitchens (not ours, sorry). See the hoof? This little piggy came to market and is ready to be shaved and put on a sandwich for you!

I realize this isn't the best photo, but I had to get a picture of the "Paseo en Burrito" sign (Donkey Rides). The little kiddos riding the donkeys through town were absolutely precious.

I realize this isn't the best photo, but I had to get a picture of the "Paseo en Burrito" sign (Donkey Rides). The little kiddos riding the donkeys through town were absolutely precious.