Today marks the first time I’m writing to you by train. We’re on our way from Madrid to Barcelona, where I’ll get to revisit the sights I saw when I studied abroad there. I want to spend today telling you about our day trip to Toledo, Spain’s historic capital.
We woke up fairly early to get to the Madrid train station to catch an early train to the city. Its a short trip (only 30 minutes) and runs regularly, so we weren’t concerned about getting tickets. Upon arrival we went to get our bags scanned and had the woman tell us that our train was departing downstairs. I didn’t catch most of what she had said but the point was conveyed nonetheless. As we got to the correct checkpoint, a man hurried past us and asked to cut the line (speaking incredibly quickly). I assume this is what he was saying because I understood none of it. We let him go and had no further excitement getting onto our train.
We caught the first commuter train into Toledo and arrived before 9:30AM. Unfortunately I had forgotten to download an offline map onto my phone, which caused us a slight hiccup upon arrival. We decided we didn’t need a map of the city because I had read that “the sights are all uphill from the train station”. Apparently I didn’t get the memo about *which* hill, and after half an hour of wandering around the wrong part of Toledo we swallowed our pride and went back to the train station to buy a map. Hence we spent the first hour of our time in Toledo thoroughly lost.
Looking at the map, we quickly realized we had been in the wrong part of town because the map clearly showed we needed to cross a river, which we had not done. Having gotten our bearings, we set off in the right direction and confirmed our suspicions when we saw a tour bus heading in the same direction (a universal good sign when lost). We hiked up the correct hill this time and were treated to some nice views of the old city walls and overlooks of several pretty neighborhoods.
Chelsea’s friend Rachel had given us some recommendations which we referred to regularly. We were both hungry (having skipped breakfast to catch the train) and realized we were close to a cafe she suggested which was in an old military complex in a tower overlooking much of the city. The view here was great – it was the highest we ever saw Toledo from and was a good first stop as it gave us a chance to familiarize ourselves with the map and rectify what we were seeing.
After our quick bocadillos de jamon, we made straight for the ornate cathedral which was in the center of many historic buildings to see. The cathedral was beautiful on the outside with intricate carvings and detailed facades. There were some temporary vendors and a merry-go-round set up in the plaza just outside the cathedral, and everyone was having Christmas celebrations. It’s nice to see that people here celebrate the Christmas season and not just the single-day holiday as we do in the US.
We found an old synagogue which (had we not been informed) we would have assumed was a mosque which had been converted. Luckily for us, we stumbled in on a tour guide giving an explanation – he said that the building had been comissioned to be built by muslims but was initially a jewish house of worship. He explained how when they were comissioning the building that the muslims had no concept of what a normal synagogue looked like, so they built the house of worship as they would build a mosque, facing mecca with open space for prayer. The style looks wildly out of place in a Spanish city but highlights a common theme we saw in many of the buildings we visited in Toledo – a Moorish influence. You could see buildings which looked Spanish, but also arches and decorations which looked to be more Turkish or even African in style. This blending of styles reflects the importance of Toledo as an old capital, and the subsequent blending of cultures.
We stopped into a small restaurant nearby to grab a snack of patatas bravas and churros con chocolate. Apparently we told him we had been wanting a full meal and were seated on the wrong side of the dining area. When we explained what we had wanted to order, he seemed confused and a little frustrated and had us move over to the cafe side of the dining area where he seemed happy to serve us what we wanted. I don’t fully understand what prevented him from serving snacks where we had initially been seated, but nevertheless we were happy to eat again.
Continuing our circling of the city, we passed a few convents and religious buildings as we made our way around. The prevalence of the church in historic Spain is always surprising and impressive. It felt like at least three quarters of the buildings we were seeing had some sort of religious purpose. I realize all of these places have their own history and names. But for me to look all of them up would not be true to how we experienced them. We had a general sense of the history of Toledo but did not take the time to research each site in detail. Rather than trying to be comprehensive and fill in all the details after the fact, I’ll just post some pictures and let you experience Toledo like I did.
After we finished up touring the city, we took a train back to Madrid where we followed more food recommendations. We tried a nearby place called Meson de los Chanpinones, which served specialty stuffed mushrooms. As we have found to be the norm in Madrid, they were delicious. We continued on to get churros con chocolate at a famous place our tour guide had mentioned and were not disappointed. The chocolate was served hot, but was thicker and richer than you’d think of hot chocolate.
Satisfied, we returned to our hostel to pack up for the trip to Barcelona. More on that later!
Best wishes and safe travels everyone,