Wednesday, December 21, 2011


a view of Toledo

A classic day trip from Madrid, many people told me I shouldn't spend more than one day on Toledo, but personally I think it's worth an overnight stay if you have the time. The capital of Castilla la Mancha is a point of cultural intersection between Spanish, Arabic, and Jewish cultures, a history that has earned it a UNESCO world heritage title. Plus, it boasts more museums relative to its size than anywhere else in the world. If those aren't enough reasons to stay, read on.

Toledo is a classic "city on a hill," and that is no small statement; some areas are even equipped with escalators to temper the steep inclines! Even with mechanical assistance, it was difficult for me to imagine the tiny Spanish señoras climbing hills with their daily purchases as I huffed and puffed my way around. On the evening of my first day I decided to stick to flat land and circumnavigate the labyrinth of city streets by following the river around the city.

theTagus River, which surrounds Toledo on three sides

the elevators of Toledo

To enter Toledo, there are several important gates that allow cars and pedestrians inside. La Puerta de Bisagra is definitely the largest. After a full day of walking up and down I returned to the hostel exhausted, only to have the owner inform me that the best time to see the city was at night! So a new friend from Chile and I set out to see the city illuminated. The gate was spectacular, but just as we stopped to "ooh" and "aah" at the cathedral, the lights shut off for the night!

la Puerta Bisagra

inside the Bisagra Gate

la Puerta de Alfonso VI

la Puerta del Sol

la Puerta de Cambrón

Inside the city, Toledo's general charm comes from its narrow streets and pleasant shops. When asking directions and attempting to navigate, I often assumed that the tiny alleyways and callejones were much too small to be the ones mentioned on the map, but, no, that's just a regular street in Toledo! Particularly interesting and sinister names, like la calle del infierno, add some extra character.

Even with a second day, hitting every museum and cathedral in Toledo is a challenge. The aesthetics alone make it an enjoyable effort, and if you're interested in Spanish history and culture there's nowhere better to see it first hand. The Jews, the Christians, and the Moors form the pillars of Spain's cultural heritage, and Toledo hosted them all in relatively tight quarters, as evidenced by the variety of architecture.

Can you guess which culture each of these cathedrals belongs to?

The scenery was stunning and the museums were riveting, but what is the best thing about my first trip to Castilla la Mancha? Manchego cheese, of course! I bought some right from the source in the Plaza de los Reyes. The shop owner was so friendly that some clients had sent her an illustration of their experience.

To conclude, I absolutely loved Madrid and Toledo. There is a long walk between some of the nearby cities that I would like to try, and I hope that I make it back someday to see the rest of the museums and take in more beautiful vistas--and to ride the escalators again, of course!

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