Holy Toledo!! Supposedly, this saying came into being because of Toledo, Spain. And, after choosing it as our first sightseeing trip outside of Valencia, I can certainly see why. Toledo was Spain's religious and political capital until 1561, when King Phillip changed the capital to the middle of newly formed Spain, attempting to also create more separation between church and state. In the eyes of early Spanish catholics, kings and queens were ordained by God, so their rule was holy. They appointed archbishops and priests to carry out their will. So, the Church was tied to the State and generated funds for the State. Subjects were required to make payments to the Church, hence to the State. Each monarch tried to increase the opulence of cathedrals and holy spaces during their reign to demonstrate their power and remind citizens of their connection to God. The cathedral in Toledo is a perfect example of this propensity for grandeur.
The history of Toledo represents the history of the Iberian peninsula. It was occupied by many different religions and groups before becoming Catholic. It is a walled fortress on a hill, surrounded on three sides by the Tajo River. For centuries, Toledo was a Roman transportation hub with a thriving Jewish population. In A.D. 554, it became a Visigothic capital. In 711 the Moors, or Muslims, made it a regional center. Then, in 1085, the city was reconquered by Christians. Because of this history, styles from every group can be seen there today. In fact, like so often happened when Christians conquered a non-Christian land, new cathedrals were built over old mosques to help the new religion supplant the old.
It felt strange for me to leave our town of Puzol and go to a place that people go strictly as tourists. The Toledo that is visited by tourists is a fortress on top of a hill. The town where most people actually live and work is below. Even though Toledo is full of tourists we only heard one group from the United States. Most people were speaking Spanish, Russian, Japanese, or German. If anything is in English, the picture of a United Kingdom flag is beside it because Spain gets so many visitors from England
Taking the train to Toledo was an adventure in itself. We found that you can't really buy tickets or find a schedule online, so you just have to go to the train station and wing it. This is always a little stressful with a time schedule and lack of language, but we tried to think of it as an adventure. Almost all trains go through Madrid, so our route was from Puzol to Valencia, Valencia to Madrid, and Madrid to Toledo. Now we feel equipped to travel by train, but the first time was a comedy of errors, from sitting in someone else's seat, to taking a bus to another train station. But, after figuring it all out, we felt like professionals on our way back.
Upon arriving to Toledo, we made our way to Restaurante Placido, a restaurant in an old monastery with a shady terrace, run by a granddaughter and grandmother. We ordered the menu of the day and relaxed for the requisite two hours. After this we visited as many places as we could in the Santo Tome part of town. This included several chapels, the El Greco Museum, and the San Juan de los Reyes Monastery. The streets were steep and cobbled, the buildings close together, and the shops sold knives, swords and mazipan, the local dessert delicacy.
After a brief rest in our hotel beside the gate to town (complete with arches and metal doors) we headed out around 9:00 for tapas. In Europe, hotels are very different. They are small and often only sleep 2 people. For a family of 4, you either have to hope that one of the "family rooms" is open, or purchase two rooms. The latter is what we had to do. We went to two different tapas restaurants to sample drinks and tapas, stopping in one to watch the Real Madrid futball game on inside. Even with best intentions, it's almost impossible to get to bed before 11:00 pm (or 23:00) in Spain, so after a day of hiking up and down the streets of Toledo, we were exhausted.
The next day we were ready for the main tourist attraction in Toledo: the Cathedral. Even though the outside is rather baroque and modest, almost nothing can prepare you for the majesty and opulence of this symbolic structure that took over 250 years to build. My advise to other travelers is to save the best for last. If we had been to the Cathedral first, all the magnificent buildings we saw the first day would have seemed like nothing. The Cathedral is that spectacular. Some think it is one of the most magnificent in all of Europe. Eight Kings before the reign of Ferdinand and Isabella are buried there, and Queen Isabella herself designed a portion of the gilded gold section of the Cathedral. After a morning spent in the Cathedral, we juxtaposed this experience with a a visit to the Instruments of Torture Museum devoted to the Spanish Inquisition. The duality of religious history represented in Toledo is fascinating, so much so that I will dedicate a separate blog post to this topic.
Coming back from Toledo was uneventful and enjoyable on our high speed train. The climate along the Mediterranean is humid and warm compared to the flat, hot, desert farms of Madrid and Toledo. It made me realize that we are settling in here when coming back to Puzol felt like coming home.
Hotel Abad - Rustic rooms with stone walls and wooden rafters at the base of the walled city's Bisagra Gate.
Restaurant Placido - Long lunch a block uphill from Santa Tome'. Traditional family fare and set menu with calamari, chicken legs, gazpacho, deer stew, and lemon mousse.
La Otra Boveda - Small alley tapas cafe for drinks and jamon y melon.
El Mentidero - Tapas cafe for tapas set menu of pork and peas, hake fish, paella, and rice pudding.
Cathedral - One of Europe's finest Catholic cathedrals blending gothic, baroque, renaissance, and neoclassical.
Plaza de Zocodover - Main square that once served as a livestock market and Inquisition judgements.
Instruments of Torture Museum - Museum dedicated to torture methods during the Spanish Inquisition.
Knights of the Templar Museum - Museum dedicated to the reconquering of Iberea by the Christians.
Santa Tome - Chapel that houses the masterpiece, "The Burial of the count of Orgaz," by El Greco, Toledo's most noted artist during the 16th century.
El Greco Museum - Reproduction of the famous artist's home, plus museum of paintings, including the "View and Plan of Toledo."
San Juan del los Reyes Montasario - Church/monastery intended as final resting place of Isabel and Ferdinand.
Sally and her family have moved to Spain for a year starting July 2017. They are living in a little town called Puzol, which is about 12km north of Valencia. Her kids, Carson and Celia, are attending the American School of Valencia, an International School located in Puzol. The goal for the whole family is to experience another way of life, and learn Spanish. This blog tracks their travels and experiences.