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Waking Up in Toledo on a Saturday Morning – Jun 20, Sat
It is true. The harder you work for something, the more you treasure it. As we looked around, in the city of Toledo – an ancient capital established by the Visigoths in the 6th century AD, we were proud to have found our way into Toledo, on a rented car.
Cynthia remained unimpressed with the hotel Eurostars. The weak air conditioning, the hotel staffs who don’t speak English, lack of parking facilities, and the decoration is kind of old. I am OK with Eurostars. It was just an one night stay. In retrospect, we should have stayed in Toledo for a bit longer. Maybe for another night. But our schedule was packed. Looking at the street-by-street guide, over breakfast, I picked three star attractions for us to cover – a Cathedral, a Church, and a Museum.
Driving into the Heart of Toledo
I often joked with Cynthia that all those crazy driving in Barcelona and Valencia, the highway and the small city drive on a manual left-handed European car prepared me to drive in Toledo. Lots of uphill, downhill, and the roads are in general narrow. Parking on the side streets remains as a challenge. Fortunately we took the full insurance for the car. Looking back, I am still amazed that we returned the car in Madrid with not a single scratch. Unlike the car we have rented in Mallorca later in the trip …
OK, I will get to that in another day.
We thought of Assisi in Italy when we first entered the heart of Toledo. The old and the new building structures blend well with one another. All brown, all not painted. I reckon it is possible to tour the entire Toledo city center on foot. But that would involve a lot of walking (2 hours I estimate from one end to another end of the town), under a very hot and scorching sun. The entire city is full of Churches and Museums. People say that Toledo was a melting pot of Christian, Muslim, and Jewish cultures. So if you are into the history of religion, you would be impressed by the cross influence exhibits in some of the ancient structures within the city.
At the time of our visit, the El Greco Museum was closed for renovation. Boo! I love El Greco’s work. Maybe just my luck. First, Picasso. And now, El Greco.
Catedral (The Cathedral)
The construction of the beautiful Gothic style Cathedral of Toledo started back in 1227, built over the foundations of the Visigoth Cathedral of the 6th century, which had been used as a Mosque. It is hard to visualize how a Cathedral can be converted into a Mosque and then back into a Cathedral. Listening the stories from the audio guide helps. And hence, a strong recommendation if you plan to learn more about the history of the Cathedral.
Photos are not allowed inside the Cathedral, and almost all the attractions in Toledo. The Cathedral, like many others in Spain, contains different smaller Chapels along the main area. There two notable areas in this particular Cathedral. The area for the Choir, as well as the Treasure.
The Choir directly faces the Main Chapel (or Altar) consists of the higher and lower stalls. The higher stalls on the left were crafted by Felipe Bigarny while the right by Alonso Berruguete. The lower ones by Rodrigo Alemán. The craft works tell the story of Granada’s conquest. If you look closer to the mood portrayed by the different artists – one is of violence and one is of peace – on the same topic, you too would be as impressed as me. This Choir is said to be the most beautiful of all the European Cathedrals, which may as well be true.
The Treasure contains religious items sealed inside glass window display and of all the items, the 2.5 meters high monstrance constructed by Enrique de Arfe is perhaps the center of attraction in this Cathedral. It is the same monstrance that is displayed on the streets of Toledo during the Holy Feast of Corpus Christi. This beautiful monstrance is divided into three sections, made of 5,600 pieces joined by 12,500 screws and is decorated with 250 enamel and golden silver statues. It is magnificent to look at, and to admire.
Iglesia de Santo Tomé and Museo de Santa Cruz (A Church and a Museum)
Due to the lack of photography opportunities, all I can remember of is the beautiful painting of El Grecos masterpiece The Burial of the Count of Orgaz inside the Church of Santo Tomé and another one of his works The Assumption in the Museum of Santa Cruz that unfortunately we could not locate.
Looking back, navigating through the small streets on foot was fun. It was like a treasure hunt. Most of the time, I let Cynthia to navigate while I took pictures of the surroundings. Maybe it was the hours of siesta, the streets were mostly empty. After 4 hours of walking, in the city of Toledo, we called it a day, headed to our rented car at 4 pm, and we moved onto our next destination – Madrid.
We Love Madrid with a Capital L
Ah, Madrid. The capital of Spain. As we approached Madrid, we both fell in love with the capital. There is a feeling of sophistication that is hard to describe. For months we have been learning Spanish. And we were at the heart of Spain – Madrid. Our expectation was high. And so far, the first impression did not disappoint.
We followed the road sign through tunnels and large avenues to Plaza de España, where our hotel Vincci Via 66 is located. We learned that in every major city, there is a Plaza de España. And in every major city, there is also a road called Gran Vía too (directly translated as Grand Street). After a few attempts, we found Vincci Via, right along the street of Gran Vía, next to a theater. We parked our car underground and checked in. Boy, we love the hotel. The staffs are very friendly, the decoration is unique following a theatrical theme. The entire lift shaft is exposed, protected by glass doors. Next to the lift is a spiral staircase. The carpet is red and at the front door of each room was a full length mirror. The interior decoration may seem a bit plastic to some. But we love the modern design.
Wanting to buy some Spanish books, we wasted no time and found ourselves inside FNAC, just minutes away from the hotel on foot. I for one was happy to leave the car behind and do some city travel by public transport or take the bus 11 (OK, in my native language, bus 11 = 2 legs = on foot).
We bought a whole bunch of Spanish books that I doubt we could finish before our next trip to Spain.
Hard Rock Cafe and Estación de Atocha
Sponsoring the printing of a tourist map may indeed turn out well for your business. Right in the middle of the city map we obtained from the hotel, there was a big sign that said: Hard Rock Cafe. Lovely. We took a drive into Plaza de Colón and was greeted by a huge crowd of people. Perhaps all guided by the advertisement of HRC. We flashed the All Access VIP pass at the reception area and skipped the queue. Yay!
After our dinner, we took a drive to Estación de Atocha (a train station), get familiar with the road as we would need to return our car tomorrow morning at nine at the station. I so looked forward to ditching the car for a change.
Madrid, here we came!
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PS. Thank your for reading our journal and feel free to drop a comment or two. You may wish to view our photo collection for day 7 too.