Alive in Spain

A travel diary

Archive for the tag “Toledo”

Highlights — Toledo

On my last day here, I decided to post pictures of what to me were some of my favorite things about Toledo.

I’m starting with a picture of something that is not in Toledo, but I found it captivating (and hope you will too). I thought I could get away with posting it here.

The Back Window of the Tropical Gardens at the Madrid Train Station.

The Back Window of the Tropical Gardens at the Madrid Train Station.

The picture is a little dark, but it was the only way to capture the beauty of the ironwork.

I came to Spain hoping to better understand my heritage (both sides of my family have Spanish lineage). My first impression of Toledo was that it was like no place I had ever known. But as I walked around, I came to see how much of Spain may be found in Latin America, and how much of Latin America the Spaniards had brought back.

Plaza Zocodover is at the center of Toledo. Though I’ve read that it’s a gathering place for locals and tourists, most of the people I saw seemed to be tourists, except on Saturday, when all of the Toledanos seemed to be enjoying the city and its many bars, restaurants, and cafés. On one side of the plaza is a large building that made me think of the buildings one finds in Colombia.

Building at Plaza Zocodover

Building at Plaza Zocodover

Off the plaza is a street named after Cervantes. A statue of the author stands at one end overlooking the street named in his honor.

Statue of Cervantes at the Top of Calle de Miguel de Cervantes.

Statue of Cervantes at the Top of Calle de Miguel de Cervantes.

All over the city are statues of his most famous creation: Don Quijote. This is one of my favorites. I love his expression.

Don Quijote and I.

Don Quijote and I.

As I said in my prior post, I didn’t do too many of the touristy sights, though I probably took pictures of most of them. The main cathedral is perhaps the most visited. Although I didn’t go in, I passed it several times each day from all different angles.

Santa María de Toledo Cathedral

Santa María de Toledo Cathedral

The two major to-do’s on my list, other than buying marzipan and tasting local food, were visiting the El Greco Museum and the Sinagoga del Transito.

Exterior of Museo El Greco

Exterior of Museo El Greco

Below is El Greco’s painting of St. James (Santiago). According to tradition, after Jesus’s death, St. James made his way to Spain to preach the gospel. He then returned to Jerusalem, where he was ultimately beheaded. After his death, his remains were brought back to Galicia to be buried. They now rest in a lovely old cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, a town named after the saint.

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This is La Sinagoga del Transito. I love that it is a synagogue built by muslims for Jewish worship.

Main worship hall of the Sinagoga del Transito.

Main worship hall of the Sinagoga del Transito.

When the Jewish people were ousted, it was turned into a Catholic church. Then, when the altar was removed and the building turned into a Jewish museum, to everyone’s surprise, a section of the original floor remained where the altar had been. It’s as if the Jews knew they would be coming back.

Segment of Original Synagogue Floor.

Segment of Original Synagogue Floor.

Finally, I thought I would post some pictures of doors around the city. I am fascinated by old windows and doors. I wonder about their past, the people who have walked through them and those who now walk through them. I’m also always curious and like to imagine what life is and was like behind those doors. So much history!

There are tiny entrances – about 5ft high – in many buildings all over the city.

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Toledo is a very clean city. I’ve been impressed with the care given to it.  This is one of the few instances of graffiti I found.

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One final and important door: The back door of the El Greco Museum.

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Yemas & Pastas

I take at least two long walks each day — one, usually for exploration, the second, a combination of fun and function, always ending with a stop by the market where the cashier now knows me as a regular.

Yesterday, while on my 5pm walk (or, 17:00) I went to El Convento de San Antonio de Padua, a Franciscan convent.

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I’d read in a travel book that one can buy marzipan at almost all the convents. But it was late afternoon and the display counters were sparsely filled, mostly with things I didn’t recognize. I pointed to some round, yellow, sugar coated things. “Yemas,” the nun behind the counter told me. I pointed to some cookie-looking things in the other case and asked what they were. “Pastas,” she said. At about four-foot-ten in height and wearing a long habit tied by a coarse rope, the nun reminded me of an eighty-year-old version of the dolls in the window of the much fancier Café de las Monjas (The Nun’s Café) down the block, except that her habit was a dull, dark brown.

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I bought a box of pastas and a box of yemas. As I handed her the money, A- asked if he could take a picture of her and me. You can take a picture of everything in the store if you like, she responded in Spanish. Then, with a friendly but firmer voice she said, “pero a mí, no. No puedo.” (I can’t.) We respected her privacy and figured she had probably taken a vow of humility. Taking a photo would be too vain an act. We thanked her and took our boxes of sweets.

As we walked out the door A- asked me, “so, what did we buy?”

“I have no idea.”

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Toledo

When I decided to come to Spain, my main objective was to experience life as a resident, rather than observing it with touristic distance. So, it’s funny that I should start my trip in one of the most touristy places in all of Spain.

City View from the Alcázar

City View from the Alcázar

Toledo, the former Spanish capital, is a small city atop a mountain. The city is a conglomerate of Moorish, Jewish, and Catholic architecture that embodies Spain’s rich and tumultuous past. Although there is a Jewish neighborhood, a Moorish neighborhood, and monasteries and Catholic churches scattered throughout, the influence of each religion and culture is present everywhere.

Hebrew Letter Tiles Are Inserted Along the Road in the Jewish Area

Hebrew Letter Tiles Are Inserted Along the Road in the Jewish Area

Because a law prohibits the modernization of building exteriors, walking through its narrow cobblestone streets feels like walking into the past, or it would, if it weren’t for the tourists and the cars that amble the roads in reverse anachronistic discomfort. One quickly learns to duck into a doorway or press against the side of a building to allow vehicles to squeeze past. It’s just a part of life, just as walking its steep narrow streets darting tourists and souvenir vendors is a part of life.

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When I arrived at the train station, despite clouds and rain, the passengers took out their cameras and iPhones in a flurry to snap pictures of the railway building. It was only at that point that I realized what travel books mean when they say Toledo is a place that lives on tourism. Well, when among tourists, do as Spanish tourists do. Besides, the building is lovely.

Toledo Train Station

Toledo Train Station

Except for that one moment, I can’t say I’ve behaved like a typical tourist. I don’t eat at trendy restaurants with bilingual menus or feel the need to take a tour of the cathedral, the Army Museum, or any of the other smaller museums, with the exception of the Museo Casa El Greco and the Alcázar. I have always admired El Greco’s paintings and could not let this opportunity pass me by. And the Alcázar is a former Roman castle that now houses the regional library in its top floors. That’s were I sit as I write this. The Alcázar is a large square structure on Toledo’s highest point, and at various windows of the hallway leading to the main reading room, individual arm chairs have been placed so that one can sit and read or write while admiring the view of the city: Spectacular! The other thing that sets me apart from the average tourist, or from anyone around, is that, not owning a smart phone, I take all my pictures with my iPad.

Connecting to Wi-Fi at Biblioteca Castilla-La Mancha at the Alcázar.

Connecting to Wi-Fi at Biblioteca Castilla-La Mancha at the Alcázar.

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