Last week the boyf was in town, so we upped sticks and went on a wee jaunt to Toledo, a city about half an hour south of Madrid. According to Wikipedia, Toledo is a World Heritage Site as of 1986, which doesn’t surprise me considering the sheer quantity of old buildings there. It was a major city in the old Spanish empire, and so has a fort/castley thing (the Alcázar) and a fat cathedral and city gates and walls the like. It’s also built in a meander of the river Tajo (or Tagus, in English), so it’s surrounded on three sides by a kind of natural moat. This also results in half a dozen or so bridges, both ancient and modern, dotted around the periphery of the city, which all have loverly views of the old city on its hilltop.
Which brings me to the fact that a visit to Toledo is EXERCISE. The hill up to the centre is massive, and if you happen to be staying a 20 minute walk away (as we were) there are hills over there too, so I was a sweaty mess by the time we actually made it to the Cathedral. The walk itself was very pretty though, allowing for plenty of picture-taking (read: excuses to catch my breath). We were also fairly late getting to our hotel, so by the time we walked into town the sun was setting, and the whole thing was exquisite.
The streets are a bit of a maze, but we managed to find the main square, Plaza de Zocodover:
For such a touristy city, there wasn’t much choice of places to eat. Well, there was, but all the ones on the way into town were empty, and there were only a couple of places in the main square (not including the McDonald’s). We sat and had a drink at the Café y Té, which is a kind of cafe/bar/foodie chain, and people-watched. Toledo has a wee tourist train which starts and ends in the square, and purportedly goes all round Toledo, so there were plenty of tourists from all over flocking to it. The square is also surrounded by benches, which (like my lovely wee benches in the Plaza de Cervantes in Alcalá) are populated by old Spanish people gossiping until late into the night. All the children of the young parents at the restaurants had merged into one giant group, having some kind of skipping tournament.
The one with the green top was the one who bossed everyone around and told them what to do, and the poor little girl in pink at the back kept getting hit by the rope, but didn’t understand that that meant you were out of the game. There were a few teenagers hanging about, but unlike the UK, their hoods were down and they were all wearing their rucksacks on both shoulders, so couldn’t look even mildly threatening!
We went on a gander through the labyrinth of streets and alleyways to the Cathedral via the Alcázar (which, at 8pm, were obviously shut >.<) and eventually made it to a little restaurant just outside the Plaza where we started. We plumped for the Menú del Día, which appear to be in absolutely every Spanish restaurant for super cheap.
Turns out there’s a museum just to the left, and tickets were free!
From the ground floor, we could see why it was free. It was just loads of grey wall, with a few Spanish quotations on it from a guy who sounded like a bit of a douchebag that had half rubbed off anyway, and then a side room full of pots. I mean, they were pretty pots, and probably very old (there was no sign attached) but it was a bit empty to call itself a museum.
On our way out, however, we noticed some stairs at the side of the lobby. Intrepid explorers that we are, we ventured through the door, and found some actual exhibits!
There’s a beautiful courtyard full of statues and creepy four-hundred-year-old tombs, and loads of old tile arty things upstairs. There was another sneaky side door in the corner of the upstairs bit, which went through to a whole wing of artefacts which I assume had been unearthed in Toledo, which has been a town since the Bronze Age. They had loads of stuff from like, 200BC, and more pots. Well, you can never have enough pots. There was another wing of statues from the Middle Ages, all Bible-themed and varying from creepy and missing some limbs, to oddly modern and cartoony. The next wing was of paintings, mostly of Christ suffering and dying and other gruesome themes. While most were a bit samey, there were some that were absolutely beautiful, and definitely worth seeing.
We began our journey back out of Toledo to the train station, and came across the most beautiful city gates, with a fort bit and a wee old bridge. Our way in had been along the motorway bridge, so to find this on the way back was wonderful. We spent at least an hour wandering about taking pictures of old things, by which time the sun was setting again and it got EVEN PRETTIER.
We were about an hour early for our train, so we camped out in the café at the train station. The train station is this beautifully old, churchy looking building, but decorated in the Moorish style, and the café was no less gorgeous. A wee bit expensive, but you know, what can you expect?
All in all, Toledo gets a massive thumbs up. As does the Spanish train system, which was much cushier and more reliable than I expected! I definitely plan to go again 🙂