Toledo

Ahh, Toledo. What a wonderful city, straight from the Middle Ages. Sort of. Well, clearly the city has strong building codes to ensure rebuilt houses and new ones all look similarly old. We had an Airbnb house.

 Narrowest house I’ve ever seen but with some interesting features. Ground floor has a loo and the entrance enhanced by a smell of mustiness and Toledo drains. Up noisy wooden stairs to the kitchen-lounge and then up more stairs to the bedroom and bathroom. Much stronger smell of Toledo drains. (Using the bathroom and heating it improved the smell a bit.) The top floor was a sun room with access to a roof patio that looked out onto the Cathedral, the main one.

The last floor was not usable, a basement, down steep metal stairs, with the foundations of very a old Córdoba building still visible. The owner said they were Roman. Some were clearly more recent but, who knows. That part of Toledo has been populated for a very long time.

Toledo is a hill with its own little hills and with a horseshoe shaped river curving around on its southern side. So beautiful.

 

 Houses are shades of ochre, yellow, brown and, like ours, pinkish. The paint on many is uneven, some looking as though they need new damp proofing.

 Toledo has many narrow streets, almost all cobblestoned and running off at weird angles and down the slopes. Makes navigating hard as, with house heights of about 4 stories, neither the cathedral spires nor the huge, overarching Alcazar are necessarily visible.

 Thinking of cobblestones: it rained on and off for two of our 3 and a bit days. Scary what rain does to cobblestones that are like river stones embedded in differing amounts of concrete. No concrete plus green slime = take out insurance against orthopaedic injuries. No concrete = be very careful and walk slowly if over 10 years old or wear protectors to pad you up during falls. Through to the best: cobblestones miraculously dried again and with concrete and no green moss = a great hilly walk with thousands of other tourists. However, day tripper tourists are ushered by their guides through the same routes, leaving the remaining streets for locals and stay-over tourists. Like us. So we did OK. Up hill, down hill. Up again etc.

Three times we walked to some hills overlooking Toledo. Did you guess it was daylight once to reconnoiter, and before dawn, twice?

 Yes, life with a passionate photographer ensures a demanding schedule, photos must be shot before the sun..or after the sun…. And you need an initial trip to see what you might want to see and from where and through what lens! Yes. Complex eh.

And keeping to a solar schedule means you can see albino snails on the way home in the early morning light. The elderly Spanish couple out walking near us muttered about the photographer taking photos of a snail in some amazement. I surprised them by responding in Spanish so she then pointed out a smaller snail further down the hill. And they kept walking no doubt wondering about a world interested in snails (a Spanish word I know thanks to Córdoba, where they are a speciality!). And no, the photographer decided the small snail was too small.

 One hill up overlooking Toledo has long kept archaeologists busy: they’ve found evidence of Bronze Age people living there. So for tens of thousand of years people have lived on at least one side of the Tajo River flowing in a horseshoe shaped track beside ‘modern’ Toledo.

I love the contrast:  the huge Alcazar to the right, over the river and overseeing the entire city of Toledo and the Bronze Age settlement on the opposite side of the river looking equally determinedly over at the Alcazar, strengthened by its sheer age.

 I found a flint up on the hill. What fascinated me was how comfortable it was to hold. It just fitted beautifully between my right thumb and next two fingers. It could work as a scraper. As we left I threw it into some grass and maybe an archaeologist will one day find it. I’m sure they have plenty from that site.

 A mere few weeks ago I started walking from Toledo to Avila, with the most uninteresting section being through really modern Toledo with its housing looking like people-warehousing. But, the benefit was more time in Toledo so I can now reliably find my favourite cafe and a few other places without using Gaia GPS, the best offline map program. Yes! So good. Stopped JP carrying on about our last visit when, I confess, I did get lost a few times. Maybe quite a few, she’ll say. 😚

So, we did churches. And more churches and a ‘synagogue’. Well, it was last a synagogue nearly 1,000 years ago, later a church, military housing then military storage. And now a tourist trap. Such is the life of an old building in a tourist town.

  Another church had a phenomenal cloister with a strong smell of orange blossom.


The underside of the roof around that cloister was wooden and beautiful, befitting the Catholic Royals who used it when in Toledo.

  The small carvings in the door surrounds of the cloister had the oddest images, strange beings, very strange.

Best was the Jesuit’s church. We could climb up to its bell tower, after paying, of course. Good view from up there over the city and its a very interesting church inside.

And it kept on raining. Oh well.

 We visited a mosque that became a church too. With the beautiful mudjedar shape, the remnants of a water based garden it was impressive, an adaptive mix of Muslim and Christian religions and conventions.

A highlight for me happened outside the old Toledo walls, at the Antiguo Hospital Tavera, a church with a museum. We paid to go into the church with its El Greco paintings. Yes, it has his last, an unfinished and a particularly grotesque one. Not my favourite painting as he distorts humans ridiculously, apparently to prevent the foreshortening of bodies in a hung painting. Hint: not a good technique and sensibly not adopted by many others, his contemporaries or subsequently.

Back to the church, our guide, the woman who makes sure you don’t steal the paintings, was fabulous. She has degrees in history and in art history plus speaks multiple languages. Well, finally, I could ask all the questions I’ve had about Spain from the 15th century until the civil war in the 20th. She and I chatted for ages while JP lined up puddles in the courtyard to get their photos taken. Or was it wisteria. Perhaps both as the guide and I talked quite a while as it was a slow tourist day for her and she clearly had little to do. What a great chat for me and, she seemed to enjoy having some one to chat to. After Spanish history we moved onto modern Spain, salaries and costs. Apparently €640/month is the minimum wage, she gets €900/month, etc and a number of her generation are living elsewhere in the world as they can’t gets jobs in Spain. Tough place for many people at present. Anyhow, all very interesting, the past and present.

On the way to the Tavera we passed two arches covered in wisteria. Yes the photographer noticed. Even better, with her new, ultra cheap, camouflage umbrella no one could see her taking street shots of them anymore. See? No?

 Almost invisible she was. 

Suddenly it was our last morning in Toledo. After the dawn shots of Toledo, and a snail but not two, we had time for breakfast at La Pepas before the train to Madrid and then Córdoba.

La Pepas is a trendy cafe/coffee shop in a backstreet of Toledo. Locals meet there throughout the day and it’s open long hours. Our landlord, Germán, recommended it, so did my last landlord in Toledo and about three visits before that I’d stumbled on it anyhow. Until this trip, refinding it has always been the problem. Now, no more having to go back to the Zocodover and start from scratch each time. Hooray. I can reliably find it! Toledo is a great place once you are away from the tourist traps with all the shops selling knives, swords, inlaid items, miniature knights with and without horses and, tea towels and postcards.

So, out of ‘our’ pink house
And, farewell again to Toledo for 2016!  

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