Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Toledo - City of three Cultures

Monday 9 February

What terrible new we awaken to this morning with the mounting toll of the loss of life to fire back home. You are all in our thoughts as we are more comfortable in cooler climes.

And just before we leave the hotel this morning comes the news of a bomb blast by Basque seperatists in East Madrid just after 9 am. At least they have the decency to phone warnings in and so there are no casualties.

Today we are heading for the City of Toledo just over an hour south of Madrid. Listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Register, this ancient city is testament to the peaceful co-existence of Christians, Arabs and Jews who lived together here for centuries. If only we could see reference to this past in the troubled world of today.

It has been raining again overnight and so the morning is a little warmer and we have no need for the thermals today. Michael is driving today and I am navigating. One wrong choice sees us having to backtrack and make a diversion in the most terrible traffic (legacy of the bomb blast I think). Otherwise, the trip down to Toledo is uneventful. We see very little traffic once we are out of the urban area of Madrid as has been most of our trip over the last few days.

We are booked in to the Hotel Maria Christina which is on the site of an old convent. We find it easily and as usual have trouble getting parking while we register - luckily a car pulls out of a space right in front of the hotel on our second drive by! Thankfully, they can provide secure parking underneath and so we quickly check in and then head out to the streets and the tourism office. Not much is available in English and we are told the streets are too narrow for busses up into the old town where we are told we must see the Catedral! so we graba cab outside and wend our way in and out up and down until about 7 minutes later we are in the Catedral Square - and all for the princely sum of €3.55. Toledo is a walled city built on seven hills and you can forget the 4% slope we spoke of near Millau - some of these streets are nearing 15% - no kidding.

We find it to be like many of the other old cities of its vintage and can compare it to Avignon and Carcassonne. There are a wealth of musuems in the City - but sadly many are closed for renovations and repairs - the lament of travelling in winter and the off season - and this includes the famed Catedral!

But we do manage to get into the Church of Iglesia de San Idelfonso built by the Jesuits in the early 1600s where we are again blown away by the scale and the decoration. This church was built with the funds of two brothers inheritance and includes relics and icons from a previous church long since destroyed. It is breathtaking in scale and grandeur - in a smaller space it would be gaudy and kitsch but here it is just beautiful. Again, this church is filled with natural light - such a difference from some of the large cathedrals that are so well known. And it has the most amazing cupola over the apse - which Michael get a great photo of.

It has twin towers and you are able to go upone of them for panoramic views of the city. Michael cimbs up (i take one look at the stairs and decide to have some quiet contmeplation time in a pew - stairs - I have had enough!) Too bad about the blessed pigeons - th necessitate the addition of bird wire around much of the open areas of the towers, but the views are truly panoramic and picturesque.

Back down into the streets we go and spend about an hour wandering in and out of narrow little streets that are barely wide enough for two people to rub shoulders in let alone a horse and cart negotiate - and you can forget about cars - even the seld propelled arm chair variety!

And remember those 15% slopes - well I reckon we climbed at least five of Toledo's seven hills in our journey today. The cobblestones are worn and some are even loose making the walking quite hard (although the young university students that are hurrying to class don't seem to notice). My feet are killing me and the calf muscles are screaming! After 5 hours of pounding the beat, I head back to the Maria Cristina and bed while Michael continues to roam.

The Restauranté el Absidé (The Abbey Restaurant) opens tonight at 8:30 pm. We head down for dinner just before 9 pm and we are the only ones there. In fact, despite its excellent reputation (and a very full car park suggesting good occupancy) we are the only ones there at all. We leave just after 10:15 pm having seen no one but the wait staff and the chef who keeps putting his head around the kitchen door and it closes at 10:45 pm - how strange. But it certainly lives up to expectation and we have a wonderful meal.
Setas con espárragos a la plancha (Grilled mushrooms and asparagus) Michael
Crema de verduras (Vegetable cream) Maria
Merluza al horno con ajada (Fresh hake baked with garlic) Michael
Medallones de solomillo de ternera al estragon (Beef tenderloin medallions with tarragon sauce) Maria
Biscuit de higos sobre cream inglesa y canela (Figs ice biscuit on a cream sauce sprinkled with cinnamon) Michael
Brazo Gítano Toledano (Toledo’s marzipan cake – local speciality) Maria

I have a small bottle of local house red - a 2000 vintage no less! Very nice - Señorio de Guadianeja Reserva ‘Tempranillo’ while Michael makes do with mineral water con gas (with gas). Espressos round it all off and Michael heads out to get some night shots while I head up to bring the blog up to date with the Madrid and Toledo posts.

Michael has an encounter with the local constabulary while out taking pics tonight - they want to know who he is -where is your passport? Handed over for scrutiny. What are you doing - taking some photos. Why? Because I like to get some night photos as well. I suggest you go back to your hotel and take your photos in the daytime like everyone else!!!! - suggestion taken.

Interesting day! Tomorrow we continue our journey south to Granada and the Alhambra.

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