Madrid sits amidst some of Spain’s most historically significant and picturesque locales. That means a short train ride in almost any direction will deliver you to views worth capturing. Over the weekend, our troupe of Anglos, all in Madrid to study Spanish and/or teach English, took advantage of the city’s ideal location.
Our destination: Toledo, Spain.
We met at the Atocha Cercanías, a Renfe train stop and major hub at the southern tip of the city center. Well, the intention was to meet there. In reality, our fractured group, arriving from all directions, barely made it on to our 10:20 train. As the minutes ticked away, we found ourselves frantically zigzagging through the terminal, trying to determine our point of departure – receiving no help from the Barney Fife of Spain – and, when the dust had settled, well, some of us didn’t make it. Travel is a tough business.
Luckily there was an 11:20.
Toledo is literally an ancient city, one of Spain’s oldest, and like many of the older cities in the country, it was once protected on all sides by a massive wall. Built atop a towering hill, it currently overlooks a web of surrounding homes as well as the el rio Tajo (Tagus, as it’s known in English), which runs around the city center. Tajo is the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula, crossing from Portugal through much of Spain.
Buses are available to take you up to the city center, but our group opted to walk, following a painted pink ribbon along the road that led us to a series of escalators to the city center.
In addition to the spectacular views from this towering vantage point, one of the main draws of the city is the architecture, influenced by the three major religious groups – Christians, Muslims, and Jews – which many centuries ago co-existed within the city’s walls (an edict in 1492 was enacted to expel non-Catholics from the region).
Though Toledo is now mostly a tourist destination – with a squadron of double-decker buses swooping visitors by the main historical sites – the city was once the regional capital and one of the most important trade and travel destinations of its time. It is a city of definite historical importance and a window into a past of relative (to the centuries that followed, at least) religious harmony.
Also, it’s pretty.
(Click on an image to enlarge.)
The city houses a number of museums devoted to both its artistic history and its religious roots. The El Greco museum sits in a recreation of the renowned painter’s home, and some of his works are on display, but many of the art pieces on display are not his works, as the proprietors have used the space to exhibit paintings by other, lesser known Spanish artists.
Many of the museums are free after a certain time, and even those that cost money are affordable for visitors on a budget. For instance, it only cost 4€ for us to check out the demented creatures, sadistic torture devices, and phallic celebrations of la Brujería (witches exhibition):
For all of its reverence to history, though, Toledo is still a Spanish city, which means countless bars and restaurants breaking up the souvenir shops. Plenty of chinos, too. As our group wandered, mostly without consulting the map, we’d often cross from heavily tourist areas to streets that looked like any other neighborhood in Madrid, never more than a few steps from a cerveza.
Now only a shadow of its former economic prominence, tourism surely accounts for much of Toledo’s current economy. In many similar towns, that often results in a garish mix of cheap plastic mementos and overpriced “destinations,” but not so (or, at least, not much so) in Toledo. If you’re in the area and looking for a day trip, especially considering its close proximity to Madrid, it’ll prove a rewarding visit.