Posts filed under ‘Toledo’

Toledo, Spain (Part 3)

Today we crossed the river to see a Medieval festival happening in one of the parks. We walked into the park and stepped back to the days of knights and soldiers. There were pavillions set up that were right out of a medieval market. Knights were eating meat over a barbecue and drinking from these great goblets. Some were explaining how their weapons were handled and what they were designed for.

Given the setting, it was quite fun. There were groups of merchants selling their wares and every one of them was dressed from days long gone (thankfully).

We returned to the main square and headed back to La Tabernita where we sampled some more foods from the area. Desiree made me a tinto de verano which I loved. She showed me how to make it and now I drink it at home, muy bien.

We started back towards our hotel and had to pass through the same square that the fashion show was held. Wonders never cease. This time there was a group of singers with a band. They were performing Disney songs and again, the performance started at 10:00 (must be magic hour) so we made sure to be there. Actually, we were back around midnight because we had such a good time at La Tabernica. Yes, we went back there for dinner and yes we had a lot of fun meeting the locals. One fellow, who was a newspaper photographer, was helping me with my spanish. He kept correcting my pronunciation and giving me hints about the proper wording. Another was a professor of french studies in Toledo. There was a couple, he was from Chile (actually, an american is disguise) and she was from Germany. They lived in Frankfurt and I had to keep the conversation away from english. I felt that this was a local place and a refuge from the throngs of tourists that visit Toledo. It was more polite to keep the conversation in Spanish (even though it was killing me). Anyhow, when we get back to the square, the show is going full tilt. Keep in mind that this is outside in a very old setting.

That was it. Only 2 days in Toledo but we had experienced so much it felt like a week. We headed off to the train station the next morning to catch our train back to Madrid.

We caught the metro to Avenida des America where we could catch the bus to the airport. It was VERY hot and in the metro station they had fans going full tilt. What was different was the mist of water that these fans blew out. I couldn’t take a picture because it was too dark but it certainly was an eerie scene. We got to the airport early, tried to change to an earlier flight but it was way too expensive. We explored the new terminal 4 …….

We got home around 9:00 and went for a walk ……………………..

June 15, 2006 at 6:31 pm 1 comment

Toledo, Spain (Part 2)

After visiting the cathedral we went looking for a place to get some food. That’s when we found La Tabernita, a small tavern-like place that the locals visited. We met the owners but you’ll have to read Alex’s log for that story. When we finished eating we started to walk downhill towards one of the city gates. Approaching the gate was like a maze. This was a military installation and the reason for the maze-like approach was to prevent enemy troops from attacking straight on.

It was evening by the time we started back and as we headed towards the hotel we came across workers setting up a stage and sound system in the square behind the cathedral. We found out that there was going to be a fashion show starting at 10:00. We came back to watch and it was amazing. I had never been to a real fashion show before and was impressed.

Show MCs

Apparently, the MCs were well know television personalities and it showed. The way they presented and anounced made me feel I was watching a movie. Once the models started coming, loud, high energy music filled the square.

This was clearly a high end fashion show we stumbled upon. I was sitting there, looking around, feeling the music and couldn’t help thinking that this was totally surreal. The cathedral tower was lit up and eye catching but took a second seat to what was happening in front of me.

In between model appearances was high end entertainment. A company of flamenco dancers had us completely captivated. I didn’t realize how sensuous flemenco dancing was, and so fluid. I had to pinch myself uite a few times that night.

The show ended well after midnight and we left in a bit of a daze. I could never put down in words what it was like. Sitting in a medieval square, surrounded by buildings from the 16th century and earlier and having this spectacular show of sound and light and movement was simply awesome. We walked back to our hotel with only the street lamps to light our way.

The next day we visited the old Jewish quarter. Alex’s studies are all about the coexistence of christians, muslims and jews so it was a must to visit the old synagogues, mosques and churches. You’ll have to read her blog to get more details. The mosques and synagogues were converted to churches when the original worshippers were forced out of Spain. Here’s a photo of a synagogue converted to a church. The roof beams in this building are over 800 yrs old.

We visited many places that day and saw many beautiful things. Here are some photos of building details in the many sites we saw. The first photo is the ceiling in a hall around the cloisters of a monastery. It’s all wood and the different patterns are created with inlaid wood. This ceiling is around 500 yrs old.

The next photo shows one of the supporting marble arches.

This next photo is of one of the many gargoyles that surround the cloisters. It was refurbished in 1888 and the detail is gorgeous. Every one of the 20 or so gargoyles was different.

I guess I’m going to have a part 3. There’s still a few stories to tell and this entry is getting big. Here’s some general photos that I think are interesting.

Some Toledo ironwork

Toledo Ironwork

View of the surrounding country from one of the old towers.

View of the cathedral from a narrow street (shot by Alex)

A couple of cousins ………

And finally, more Toledo ironwork …….

Until next time……………..

June 15, 2006 at 8:48 am Leave a comment

Toledo, Spain (Part 1)

We took the train to Toledo, which is 70 kms from Madrid. The trip took 30 minutes so we had to be traveling at least 200 kph at some points along the way.

It was interesting to see how the station handled passengers. It’s just like at the airport. There’s security to go through for ticket holders and once inside, there are gates that correspond to different trains heading to different destinations. You present your ticket to the gate agent and pass through the gates. I found it interesting that the two modes of transportation had evolved to similar boarding methods. The train interiors were very comfortable and colorful.

Sure enough, in 30 minutes we arrive in Toledo. The train station itself was built over 100 years ago but it looked like it had been built yesterday. The platforms themselves were new but the building and it’s interior were nothing short of amazing. It was built in mudejar design. The picture doesn’t capture the intricate details and the amazing woodwork and inlays.

Toledo Train station

We caught a city bus since we didn’t know how far or more accurately, how high, the hotel was. Here is an excerpt from Wikipedia, giving a brief history of Toledo.

Toledo was originally a Roman Empire outpost ( end of the 2nd century BC though its Celtiberian past could put it 2 centuries before that ) under the name Toletum. It later served as the capital city of Visigothic Spain, beginning with Liuvigild (Leovigild), and was the capital until the Moors conquered Iberia in the 8th century. Under the Caliphate of Cordoba, Toledo enjoyed a golden age. This extensive period is known as La Convivencia, i.e. the Co-existence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Under Arab rule, Toledo was called Tulaytulah (Arabic طليطلة, academically transliterated Ṭulayṭulah).On May 25, 1085 Alfonso VI of Castile took Toledo and established direct personal control over the Moorish city from which he had been exacting tribute. This was the first concrete step taken by the combined kingdom of Leon-Castile in the Reconquista by Christian forces.Toledo was famed for its production of steel and especially of swords and the city is still a center for the manufacture of knives and other steel implements. When Philip II moved the royal court from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the old city went into a slow decline from which it never recovered.
Toledo’s Alcázar became renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries as a military academy. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 its garrison was famously besieged by Republican forces.
In 1986 the UNESCO declared Toledo a World Heritage Site.

We arrived at our hotel (Hotel Santa Isabell, a 14th century noble house) and dropped off our bags. We headed uphill toward Alcazar but when we got there we were told it was closed until 2008 for renovations. We were only slightly disappointed as the city had so much to offer.


The cathedral was right around the corner so we decided to take a tour. It’s really a weird feeling when you realize that you’re in a building that was built over 700 years ago and some parts of the foundation are over 1000 years old. They still had tools that were used in the construction (at some point) and an example of a wagon used to carry building materials.

medieval wagon

Inside were many paintings by el Greco and this cathedral is one of the christian churches with the wealthiest collection of artworks in the WORLD. Move over Rome.

We started wandering the streets and found too many things that were interesting. Almost overwhelming, we felt like little kids who didn’t know what chocolate to choose. The streets are very narrow and you have to find a doorway to tuck into when a car goes by.

city street

We have to watch the futbol game because Brazil is playing Croatia and being married to a Brasilian, well, we have priorities.

I’ll continue tomorrow with Toledo, Part 2

June 13, 2006 at 8:52 pm 1 comment

Impresiones madrileñas

We arrived in Madrid in the middle of a heat wave that had temperatures soaring to 40C. Unusual for early june, it was nonetheless a killer for those of us recently out of a Canadian winter.

The heat no doubt coloured a bit our perception of Madrid, which Alan and I define as a much “harder” city than Barcelona. It just seems a little less relaxed. And despite its grand 17th and 18th-century architecture, it’s also not as pretty. But let’s not fall in the trap – too late it seems – of comparing two unique cities.

Madrid at 8 AM

Madrid seems to be a city of contrasts. Its streets wind up and down hills, without the benefit of shady trees under the inclement sun, forcing the city hall to ingeniously stretch panels across the top of the buildings in the old city to ease the effects of the sun. I guess the sight of tourists collapsing could undermine its popularity abroad. 😉 I don’t have a picture of it but according to the news, they do the same in Seville.

In contrast to the hustle and bustle of its streets, the parque del retiro is indeed a haven. Some of its paths have the smell and feel of the deep woods. Indeed, a welcome retreat and where we took refuge from the heat in our first day. To see how it went and more pictures of the park, check Alan’s blog. He spent a lot of time exploring the park while I was at the conference.

Windows near Plaza Mayor

Our time in Madrid was short – I was there for a conference – so we didn’t spend much time visiting the sights. The only tourist spot, properly speaking, that we visited was the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia and the Plaza Mayor. The rest of the time was spent lining up for tickets to Toledo at Atocha train station (buy it in advance!) and sipping beer and eating tapas.

Beer bar in Madrid

Now, here is one area where Castilians excell – their tapas and cool drinks! Don’t get me wrong, one can find good tapas in Barcelona (particularly basque tapas) but it isn’t part of the culture as it is in central Castile and parts of Andalusia.

The word tapa comes from the verb “tapar”, meaning to cover, and initially it referred to a piece of bread, often topped with some cheese or sausage, that was given free of charge when one ordered a drink. It has now become a plate of finger food (slices of jamon serrano, chorizo, potatoes, etc) and, as everything now, it is far from being free. Or at least that’s what we were told and what we experienced in Barcelona.

In Madrid and Toledo the tradition seems to be quite alive.

Every cerveceria we went to gave us a little saucer of chips, canapes or whatever they felt like it. Sitting at the bar was great fun. The barmen were incredibly friendly in both cities and in our last night in Madrid we were even given a free drink (whisky with galliano) after we paid our bill. In Toledo we walked into what seemed like the most popular bar among locals. La Tabernita is a tiny little place with a restaurant downstairs and amazing food. We made friends with Desiree, Manolo and Esteban, who introduced us to “tinto de verano” and amazing castilian specialties such as cierdo a la plancha, morcilla manchega, and stuffed mushrooms from Murcia. Here are some pictures of the mushrooms and Desiree, our more than friendly waiter:

hmmm, stuffed mushrooms

Desiree and tinto de verano

Some Madrid tshirts:

Stay tuned for more info on Toledo, the city of the three cultures!

June 13, 2006 at 4:05 pm 1 comment

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