Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Visit to Toledo - Battleaxe goes it alone

I'll just do one more quick post on Spain before catching up with Hastings life. You remember from the last post that Philosopher was poorly - now has terrible cold - and I was going to Toledo by myself? Well, I went, on the high-speed train from Madrid.
    These days, it is quite unusual for me to take an unaccompanied trip into the unknown. When I was at work I used to travel all over the place, but now I seldom explore new things without either Philosopher, or friends. It felt quite strange.
     First, I had to navigate the huge and alarming Madrid Atocha Station - on three levels, serving three different categories of train... I wanted the AVE high-speed, which turned out to have its own booking office, concourse etc. It was like catching a plane. The train was a long-snouted bullety affair that did the 75km to Toledo in 26 minutes, for 20 euros return. Amazing. Makes our British public transport look a bit sick.
Spanish high-speed train

     Toledo has the most fantastic old Moorish style station. The contrast between futuristic train and station was a bit bizarre. Here are some pictures:
Toledo Station
Booking Hall, Toledo Station
Through this door - to the futuristic train
Refreshment Room
Old ticket windows

     The old city is about a mile from the station, on the top of a steep hill, surrounded on three sides by the Tagus river. I duly caught a bus but was so excited when it rattled through a gate in the ancient walls that I jumped off, forgetting that it still had to climb the hill.
First sight of Toledo

     I immediately lost myself in a maze of narrow cobbled alleys running in all directions between tightly packed old houses. I had assumed that I would be able to navigate by sighting the Cathedral, or the Alcazar (fortress) on the very top of the crag, but I couldn't see either of them above the high buildings. It was very interesting and very pretty indeed, but I wandered for what felt like ages, totally lost, and not meeting anyone who spoke English who could help me. My Spanish is severely limited, I can go 'Per favor, donde esta...', but I hardly ever know the Spanish word for the what I want to find. Eventually had to resort to navigating by Google maps.

     Toledo has a fantastic history - Romans, Visigoths, Muslims, Jews, Christians.... There are any number of ancient monasteries, synagogues, mosques, palaces and of course the Cathedral, supposedly one of the largest in Christendom. 

     Toledo was also the home of El Greco - his house is a museum, which I didn't visit, and his works are all over the city.
      I stopped for a beer in a cafe, and eventually found myself sitting in the sun outside the Cathedral eating my sandwich, probably the sunniest moment of our entire trip.
Toledo Cathedral

      The Cathedral was indeed very large and impressive, but not like our Northern European Cathedrals. It was more solidly massive, like peering through a forest of enormous columns resembling the bases of huge old trees. 
Giant columns

     You couldn't stand at one end and look down the aisle, the view was obstructed by high screens and sanctuaries all festooned with gold, marble, paintings and rioting statuary.

     The side chapels were bigger than most churches. Doors led off the main edifice into a maze of cloisters, some totally silent and empty, with orange groves in the middle. 

     I found a gallery full of El Greco paintings...

      After getting lost yet again in the cloisters I tried to set off back to the station. On my way up in the bus I had noticed people crossing the Tagus on a high, arched old bridge, and thought it would be good to us that route back to the station. Could I find it? Sometimes I'd emerge on a path above the bridge, sometimes beside it, one time below it... I was hot, tired and anxious by the time I eventually found it and crossed the river.  It was worth the effort for the views of the city.
     Worn out, I headed back to the station.

      The verdict?  Toledo - totally worth visiting. It probably needs longer than a day. Take plenty of water and a good street map! I was sorry that Philosopher missed it, otherwise it would have been the highlight of our holiday.
       However, I was relieved to discover that my appetite and capacity for solitary exploration remains intact...
       We flew home the next day - me already starting to develop Philosopher's cold, and needing to be on parade for the grand WI Jumble Sale.....