This past week I went to Toledo, Spain with my class as a field trip. A couple friends and I decided to stay the night to explore a little bit, and an extra day was worth it! Toledo is best known for its metal-working, whether it be steel for swords (their claim to fame), gold plates or iron. Toledo is skilled when it comes to metallurgy and many skilled artisans live here and sell their metal creations. In fact, for all of you Lord of the Rings fans, the swords used in the movie were MADE HERE! So yeah, it’s a pretty big deal.
Lovely view of Toledo!
Before I talk to you more about Toledo, I want to let you know what a godsend Skype was since I came here. Since there are undoubtedly always bank problems and school issues that need resolved via phone call I decided to invest in some minutes through Skype. So what I did was a bought a year of unlimited minutes to ANYWHERE in the U.S to landlines and cells—not just Skype numbers. So now when I have a problem, I can call the states rather than tediously sending out e-mails and waiting for responses that never come. I’m so glad I bought them! Also, when I’m back in the states I’ll be able to use them too, which will end up saving me money on my actual phone bill in the long run. The cost was $70.00 for the unlimited for a whole year, which I think is definitely worth it. I have called my parents, my sister and my best friend a couple times and there were no service issues at all, which was a great change from the usual breaking in and out of my usual Skype calls. Worth it!
Another thing that Toledo is known for is El Greco, who was a famous Spanish painter ironically from Greece (hence the name—“the Greek”) El Greco painted a lovely view of Toledo, the “caballero con la mano en el pecho”, which I’m sure many of you have seen:
And the “Entierro de Conde Orgaz”, which I got to see in person!
El Greco painted with a unique style, elongating each character in his portraits. There was also a sharp contrast between light and dark colors, representative of the Baroque period (1600’s). Not everyone was a fan of his work though. My favorite Spanish painter, Salvador Dali stated more or less that El Greco was like a snail. Everyone loved him because he absorbed whatever flavors (art styles) he was around, which was true. Wherever El Greco lived, he adapted to that area’s particular styles of art. Another comment Dali made was that also like a snail, when you picked it up the figure elongated—much like the people in El Greco’s paintings! What a witty and snarky comment, Dali! We’re going to have to get some aloe for that burn.
My favorite part of Toledo was the mazapán, or in English, marzipan. So basically what marzipan is is a doughy, clay-like substance made from almond paste, eggs and sugar (and sometimes vanilla). This is easy to mold into shapes and it is absolutely delicious! Just like Starbucks in New York City, you can’t walk 10 feet in Toledo without encountering a marzipan shop (or sword shop for that matter.) Since almonds are rather expensive, it makes marzipan quite pricey as well. A little piece cost about .80 in euro which would be about $1.40 more or less. I’m talking a bite-sized piece here.
There are some variations as well. You can get it “relleno” (filled), with other flavors added or shaped as little fruits, which is obviously even more expensive. I just stuck to the original. Oh, and I bought a box to bring home and MAYBE share. Depends on how strong my willpower is!
Bought some to bring home–El Greco brand…how original, Toledo!
We saw many recreations of castles and palaces composed entirely of marzipan, which were very impressive!
This is all made of marzipan!!
Storefront with many varieties of marzipan for sale
Since Toledo is located in Castilla la Mancha (the medieval region of Spain with windmills, castles and the route of don Quijote), I saw lots of antique-looking buildings and castles. Toledo also likes to capitalize off of the whole don Quijote thing, and I saw statues and paintings of him and Sancho Panza everywhere. When we first arrived, we stopped to get some pictures at the top of the hill, overlooking Toledo and its sandy brown buildings against the countryside.
Let’s follow the route of a fictional character!
One of the many don Quijotes.
Our first day was spent wandering about the curvy, steep cobblestone streets talking about specific areas and their impact on Spanish literature. My favorite was the “pozo amargo”, the bitter wishing well, as it translates.
What the story behind this is that a women, a “dama” was looking into the well and thought she saw her lover’s reflection at the bottom so she jumps in and kills herself. *sigh*. It is dummies like that that give us women a bad name. But anyway, it was a comical story. And just in case anybody decides to try it again, they bolted the well tightly shut.
The roads were constantly an obstacle for us, since cars would go up and down these crazy roads and we would have to push ourselves against the walls single-file to avoid getting hit. Oh Spain…
Such cute, but dangerous little roads.
Plus, the hills killed my thighs and calves and they ached for days after!
Another thing we saw was the Monasterio de los Reyes Catolicos, which was a monastery for Catholic Kings. It reminded me A LOT of the Alhambra based on its architecture. Take a look at the similarities!
A little Gothic
This was super Alhambra for me–tiles, and tessellations!
Wow, that just screams Arabic influence!
We saw the Catedral, as well which is a big part of Toledo. Since I am strongly against paying to go into a church, I ended up just taking pictures from the outside.
After all of the school-related stuff, my 4 friends and I who decided to stay decided to take advantage of the nice weather and we walked along the Río Tajo, getting some nice pictures of the outdoors along the way.
El puente antiguo y el rio Tajo
Then we headed back to our hostel, which was a very small little place on a side street run by one man who lived there and an older lady. They were super sweet and very helpful when we asked about ideas on places to go. This hostel was only 13 euro on a weekend night, a bargain price. It was called Albergue and if you decide to stay here, I have some recommendations:
1.) Dress warm. This hostel was absolutely FREEZING. During the day, the heat is not on and they only turn it on at night for when people are there sleeping. Even then, the heat automatically turns off at 3:00am and I noticed when I woke up around 4:00am shivering. So yeah, that’s good to know.
2.) Plan on eating breakfast elsewhere or bringing your own food. I don’t know if this is a Spain thing or just for this hostel, but the breakfast was very small. Although it was a sweet gesture, mini-muffins and tea/coffee is not a well-rounded or filling breakfast. It was cute though, because they actually served us at our seats, which is not something any hostels have ever done (that I’ve stayed at).
We went out for some dinner that night too for my friend’s 22nd birthday and I got an egg soup, pork dish (which I wasn’t too fond of due to the fatty content) and rice pudding, which was delicious!
A pork dish. This helped me realize I don’t like pig products. Although delicious, it was SUPER fatty.
I LOVE rice pudding!
So Saturday was ours to explore Toledo at our pace. The day prior, we bought cheap tickets to some exhibitions in the area. I got a 3 euro ticket to an exhibition all about torture devices used during the Inquisition. Just…woah. Looking at each thing made me cringe in pain for the people who had to suffer such atrocities. And of course, I got some pictures!
The Iron Maiden
This will give ya nightmares.
We also went to an El Greco museum, and I’m glad it was free because it wouldn’t have been worth paying for.
Remember our little talk about Granada? (Previous post! A must-read!) Like Granada, Toledo is a city of three cultures, with Christians, Jews and Muslims living together peacefully under one rule at one time. There was even a Sephardic museum (a Jewish museum), which was a refreshing break from the Catholic churches and propaganda everywhere. We went into the Sephardic museum and I learned a little about Judaism from the artifacts and from my friend who is culturally Jewish.
The most fascinating part for me even as a Protestant Christian was seeing Ester’s ACTUAL scroll!!
Wow, what a piece of history!
For lunch before leaving, we stopped at a restaurant that served relatively cheap meals and I was tempted to get pasta, but I told myself that when I eat pasta (tortellini, specifically!), it would be in Rome (2 MORE WEEKS!). Instead, I got scrambled eggs mixed with ham (of course, it’s Spain. EVERYTHING has ham.).
I ordered bottled water and they gave me this huge 1.5 liter bottle although that’s not what I asked for. Then they tried making me pay for it because I shared it with my friends (I couldn’t drink all that!). I didn’t know there were more than one size of water bottles. There was only one size on the menu and that’s what I ordered. I may be a tourist, but I’m not dumb. Lesson here: I guess you have to be super specific when ordering!
Side rant: That’s ONE thing I miss about the United States. Free water. Crazy, right? Water being free?? Yeah, that’s not a thing in Spain. When you go to a restaurant and order “agua del grifo” (tap water), they will flat out tell you “No.” You have to purchase overpriced bottled water. I can understand this with tapas, since when you order a tapa, you’re paying for the drink and not the food. (Otherwise, you’d essentially be getting free food.) I have no problem with that whatsoever. But if I’m ordering a meal, I should be able to have a glass of (God-forbid, FREE) water with it. Rant over.
My overall experience at Toledo was pleasant; the mood was dampened (literally) due to the rain, cold temperatures, and wind, and I feel that I would have enjoyed my time there more had the weather been more agradable.
Well, other than the whole water incident, here are some other differences I’ve noticed!
In Spain, as in most of Europe and around the world, if you happen to get sick, you won’t be destined to be poor the rest of your life. (Imagine that!) My host abuela and I were discussing the differences in health care, and I realized it’s a shame that America is so closed-minded and so afraid of a free public health care system (yay, capitalism!). My host grandmother told me that she had cancer at one time, and guess how much she paid for her entire treatment?
In America, a night in the hospital will cost at least 500 bucks! Don’t even get me started on a helicopter ride to the hospital.
For those of you who support private health care, they have that too!! Not everyone has to have the public care. They have the choice to their own health care, and if someone wants a private practitioner, that’s all fine and good–they just need to pay for it. Everybody wins!
Gone are the days where I could pull an all-nighter in Milne, go to the library on weekends (or during the “siesta” time of 2-5), or go to the store before class. 24 hour establishments? Seldom seen. Any business open before 9:00am? Forget it. Where am I supposed to study? I miss you, Milne.
In fact, my gym closes at 3:00pm on Sunday–my favorite lifting day (since there’s nothing else to do!) Sigh….oh well.
Long story short–businesses open later and close earlier. Convenience isn’t top priority here. Plan accordingly!
The one thing I like here is that there were few books I had to buy for my courses. In addition, there is a place called the reprografia, which is a copy room, essentially. What the professors do is they scan copies of important readings and questions and compile them into their own little spiral book that you purchase for a fairly low price at the reprografia. The price depends on the number of pages.
This is what they look like!
TAPAS OF THE WEEK
Bocadillo de tortilla y chorizo (aka a hot dog and omelet on a baguette). Strange, but delicious!
Salmon y pan
Revueltos y jamon. Gettin’ dat protein.
Pescaditos (fried fishies!)
Sandwich vegetal con papas. The funny thing here is that their idea of a vegetable sandwich still includes tuna and egg. “Vegan” and “vegetarian” are not in their vocabulary.
Tomorrow, I’m off to ROME, ITALY!! Keep your eyes peeled for a post on that, coming soon!! 🙂