The first goal for our day trip to Toledo was to get ourselves to the station, which was just a little bit past the Prado, near the end of Calle Atocha. It was an interesting building, reminiscent of the classic late 19th century glass-and-iron stations, but built in more recent times. We especially liked the people movers that we dubbed “slope-alators.” They were a cross between an escalator and a moving sidewalk, and moved you up or down a level in the station. They worked pretty well for people who were lugging a lot of baggage. Luckily, we had a little time to grab some breakfast, and found a surprisingly yummy chocolate croissant and someÂ cafÃ© con leche.
The ride to Toledo was uneventful, and the train station there was quite cute, built in a Moorish style with lots of tile. However, getting to the center of town was the start of what became a very wearing day for me. We were the last two people allowed on the bus into town. It was jammed full of tourists in shorts, Tevas and backpacks, all carrying cameras and guidebooks, just like us. I was still feeling poorly and moving very slowly. When we got to the Plaza Zodocover, we stopped for a drink and a rest.
With somewhat recharged batteries, we headed up to the Alcazar. Good grief, what a boring place. Sure, it’s big and historically important, but the current structure was rebuilt in the 30’s after the original building was blown up. It housed a pretty large collection of guns, swords and military uniforms, which could have been interesting.Â However, none of the descriptions were in English, and no photography was allowed. As I’ve said before, I don’t expect museums to bend over backwards for foreign visitors. Unlike art, though, this stuff is a lot harder to appreciate without some background and context.
We finished looking around inside and walked around the building a little bit. It was hot, really hot. There were many flies buzzing around and landing on my face. Ugh. Time for lunch, another rest and some hydration. We found a friendly little bar on the Plaza Mayor, the tiniest plaza ever. Our server was friendly, and the food was basic and pretty tasty, though I was beginning to be a little tired of ham and cheese sandwiches and sausages.
At this point, I was feeling totally wiped out. For the last few days, we’d been hauling ourselves around to “see all the sights.” We were both fighting off colds, and feeling a little bit stressed out. We were on the tourist treadmill, and this day in Toledo was the low point.
We continued on to the Cathedral after lunch.
After walking nearly all the way around it, we were unable to discover the alleged free entrance we kept hearing about. According to the books and the woman in the shop, you only need the 4.80 euro ticket to get into the “museum” portions of the cathedral. Well, the only door that was open wouldn’t let you in without a ticket, so we gave up and bought two so we could get inside.
The Cathedral was massive and lovely, but once again we were not allowed to take any photos. We dragged ourselves around, stopping frequently, and poked our heads into the four “museum” areas.
One was a fairly small room full of painted portraits of all the cardinals of Toledo. It was an odd collection. Since each painting had the same basic subject matter and composition, the variations really came down to the distinguishing marks of the particular cardinal, and the style of the painter. Some of them were downright strange.
Another of the museum areas contained a collection of funny hats and costumes, presumably worn by the cardinals. We were feeling pretty irreverent at this point. Yet another section housed a collection of paintings by El Greco. By now, we were in something of an art overload, and were not duly impressed. As Dan said, they all looked the same, dark and smeary.
After the Cathedral, we did some wandering aroung the town. It was windy, hilly, and crammed to the gills with touristy gift shops hawking swords, marzipan, and damascene objects of varying quality and price. I was disappointed; I’d been expecting Toledo to be really inspiring. I had been finding it hard to get shooting again on this trip, after a long period without doing much photography. I was hoping that the sights of Toledo would help me regain some of my enthusiasm. Unfortunately, though, it all just seemed brown and dusty. Every time a scene started to look interesting, I’d get closer and discover some kind of tacky shop that marred the composition.
No doubt it’s clear by now that Toledo was not my favorite stop on this trip. We did have one amusing experience there, though, when we stopped at a convent to get a box of marzipan. This was done by going into the indoor courtyard of the covent, and sort of speaking into a grating to request the type and amount of marzipan you wanted. Someone behind the grating, unseen and presumably a nun, shuffles around and then a box of marzipan appears in another window. You send the money back the same way. This was kind of fun, and we were glad to sample this local specialty.
Our last real stop of the day was at the Synagogue of Santa Maria de Blanca.
Santa Maria de Blanca is a pretty ironic name for a synagogue. It was lovely inside, with rows of white arches that had intricate designs in the stucco above them. Alas, photography was once again forbidden. Dan managed to snap a few covert shots before getting busted by the guard, but I was too much of a goody-goody. Since I had slow slide film in my camera, it didn’t seem likely that I’d get good results anyway.
We took a nice long rest in the garden of the synagogue and talked about our plans for the rest of the trip. I expressed my feeling that what we’d been eating was getting a bit monotonous. I think this mainly stemmed from the fact that I didn’t understand a lot of the options on the menus, and so would order from the limited set of things I could identify over and over again. We also agreed that our carefully planned itinerary to go to Sevilla, then Cordoba, then on to Salamanca, Coimbra and Nazare before ending up in Lisbon, was way too much. We decided to simplify the itinerary and take things a little easier.
So, we devised a new plan for eating and a new itinerary. I would speak up when I had opinions about the restaurants we were considering. We also agreed that we didn’t have to eat Spanish food every day just because we were in Spain; we would partake of other cuisines from time to time. One can only eat so many sausages, tasty though they may be, and a body needs vegetables! As for our itinerary, we would spend two extra nights inÂ Sevilla, stick with our day trip toCordoba as planned, and then go on to the Algarve in the south of Portugal before proceeding toLisbon.
After our rest, we realized that we needed to start heading back to the station so we wouldn’t miss our train.
Outside the Wall
We wandered through a gate in the city wall, and had a nice walk along the outside of it. It was quite pretty out there, with a nice view out over the river. The walls themselves were also interesting. One section had giant, sleek and futuristic-looking escalators to take pedestrians from the parking lot up into the city. It seemed quite out of place on this very old city wall. We made our way back to the Bisagra gate, where we had entered Toledo earlier in the day.
We re-entered the city at the gate, and started hoofing it up the hill to Zodocover Plaza to catch the bus. Did I mention how HOT it was in Toledo that day? We quickly decided that the more prudent course of action would be to catch the bus down by the gate instead. Easier said than done.
The notice at the bus stop said that the buses came every 15 minutes. We waited for a bit, and watched a bus from every single route mentioned on the schedule go by in the opposite direction. Nary a bus came past us. We waited some more, growing more and more certain that the bus would be by any minute. Finally, we checked the time, and saw that we’d been at the stop for about 17 minutes. At this point we began to get nervous about catching our train.
After a brief consultation, we agreed that nothing would be more certain to make a bus appear than for us to begin crossing the roundabout to head for the taxi stand, so off we went. Sure enough, no sooner did we get far enough away as to be unable to run back for the bus, then not one, not two, but three buses appeared in rapid succession. Sigh. We got into our cab, and then much to our chagrin ended up following the bus the rest of the way to the station.
All that worry about time ended up being for naught. We got back plenty early, and ended up having a bit of time to kill. We spent it taking photos around the station and platform, much to the amusement of the pair of old men sitting on a bench at the platform.
The train ride back toÂ MadridÂ was uneventful, and then we had a successful adventure on the metro that landed us nearly on the doorstep of our hotel. For those of you wondering about the fate of my pants and the other missing laundry, rest assured that they made it safely to our new room.