Seat Toledo

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March 2nd 2008
Published: March 4th 2008
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Happy Mother's Day to our Mums!


This weekend we decided get out of Madrid and explore some of the surrounding countryside. So we got up early on Saturday morning (for the first time since we arrived here) and jumped on a bus to Toledo. No, not a Seat Toledo, or anything else to do with cars, but to the medieval walled city in the region of Castilla-La-Mancha, about 1 hour South of Madrid.

Goths, Moors and Catholics

Toledo is known as the 'city of three cultures', because during its history it has been an important Visigothic city (the Germanic tribe who brought us goths, black eyeliner and Marilyn Manson), the main city of Muslim Spain and the seat of the Catholic church in Spain. The blend of such diverse cultures has resulted in a city of contrasts. When you arrive at the bus station, the city towers above you on a hill, with the huge imposing Alcazar and the grand Gothic cathedral dominating the skyline. As you climb up the hill you pass the old city walls, go through the Moorish archway and enter the centre; a maze of narrow twisting lanes with cobbled streets, apparantly typical of Arab cities, leading to small plazas and winding around the city. In the centre is the Plaza de Zocodover, a large square lined with cafes, their tables spilling onto the street. It has acted as the location for markets and bullfights in the past, but now seems to be a gathering place for tourists. The Macdonalds in one of the buildings ruins the Spanish-ness a bit though. At the very top of the hill is the Alcazar, a 10th century fortress. It was closed when we visited because they are moving the army museum there. Our guidebook said it was due to open in around 2006; in typical 'manana' style, in 2008 it is still not finished....

Views from the fortress

The Alcazar is built on the brow of the hill and there are some great views from it of the surrounding countryside. Roads wind around neighbouring scrub covered hills, some with castles looking out towards us. It was an absolutely beautiful day yesterday. It was about 20 degrees, hot and sunny. I was wearing a vest for part of the day and Kris was just in a t-shirt. This is still amazing us, we are only 2 hours from the U.K yet the climate is so much milder. It's March, and it's that warm. We took the opportunity to lie in the sun looking at the views from the Alcazar. It also seemed like a perfect day to sit on a terrace outside a restaurant and eat we were on holiday. So we did. We found a little plaza between some windy streets (that we will probably never be able to find again, it truly is a maze) with a restaurant with tables outside and ordered some typical Spanish food - calamari and chips for me and grilled pork and chips for Kris. Washed down with a beer. Yum.

Gothic and Greeks

After lunch we wandered around the city exploring. We found the Museo de Santa Cruz in a 16th century Gothic/Renaissance church. Around the cloisters were religious paintings and statues, with other religious artefacts. There was also an exhibition on ceramics. Tiles and pots basically. It was very pretty, but I find it hard to get worked up about pots.

When we got to the cathedral, we found that it was 7 Euros to get in . It seemed a lot of money and we discussed whether it was worth it, and whether to go in. In the end we decided to, we just got paid after all! It was more than worth the money. The cathedral is incredible. The sculptures are amazing and the carvings are so intricate. Its a massive building with lots of little side chapels to explore, full of more beautiful paintings and carvings. There are also separate museums, one in the sacristy that houses paintings by Raphael (the painter, not the turtle), Caravaggio, Goya and El Greco. As I'm sure is evident from our previous blog on art, we are no experts in art history, but we have heard of these guys. And many of the paintings of Saints and the Holy Family were familiar from cards and pictures (to me anyway with my Catholic up-bringing). El Greco was actually apparently Greek, but Toledo houses many of his works, including the Asuncion de la Virgen (you may think you haven't heard of it but I'm sure you would recognise it).

After exploring the cathedral and the museums, we went for a 'nice sit-down' and a drink on another terrace. We basked in the sunshine while drinking a beer and eating free tapas. It was the perfect end to the day, so we walked back down the hill to the bus station and slept for most of the journey back to Madrid.

"Call that a knife?"

Toledo is famous for swords. You don't need any guidebook to tell you that, there are shops everywhere selling swords and armour and helmets and chainmail and basically, everything you're modern knight would need to do battle. I have to wonder who buys all this armour, I mean, it's all very funny bringing home a small sword from your holidays, but a full knights outfit complete with scabard, chainmail and visor? It's not exactly something you are going to wear to the office or to the local for a pint with the lads. It's abit combasom. Although it does make for some interesting window-shopping. And where there are quality swords made, there are obviously quality knives. I'm sure there is a market for the huge range of kitchen ware they have on display. But then they also have pocket knives and flick-knives of every variety and size,

Just some of the huge selection on sale. Knives for all the family...
from tidy 'child-size' knives to giant knives that could do battle with a bear.

So you now know where to go when you need a knife or sword....

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4th March 2008

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