Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wednesday the Fourth of July - Madrid and Toledo

I must note that even though we were in another country, we were not without our American patriotism! I had packed two of the Old Navy flag shirts. I had a short sleeved one and a sleeveless one, figuring I'd pick whichever one was more appropriate to the weather to wear. It was hot enough for a tank top, so I wore that one and I offered L my short sleeved one for the day. So she borrowed it and we showed off the fact we were proud to be an American!

We had found a local tour guide to give us a private tour of Toledo in the morning. He met us at our hotel about 9:00 AM or so and we proceeded to get a whirlwind tour of Toledo. This was quite fascinating since there is a significant amount of history here. Toledo is an old medieval city and much of the old city wall is still in existence. The entire city is also built up a mountain so that gives quite the opportunity for some exercise. Everywhere we went was Uphill. Part of the reason the city is so exciting to learn about is the religious history there. At one time, centuries ago, Toledo was a strong mix of Christian, Jewish and Muslim. Until the Christian royalty in Spain took over and forced everyone who wasn't Christian out. If I remember
correctly, Toledo once had the largest population of Jews in the entire country. Now there are barely enough to consider it a Jewish community and justify one single synagogue. In an effort to erase all remnants of non-Christian residents of the city, all the old synagogues and mosques were turned into Christian Cathedrals. It was especially interesting to walk around and see old remnants still in existence from the old religions there. One spot there was a picture perfect moment to capture churches of all three religions lined up back to back. The angle was just right and looking up, you could see the towers one behind the other of each kind of church. And they looked much closer together than they really were.

Toledo is a fairly small city now (well Toledo proper is anyhow) and though it does cater somewhat to tourists in some places, there's not a whole lot of "touristy" stuff to do outside of the walking tour and visiting the Cathedral. There were some absolutely gorgeous religious artifacts to see though and some artwork by some of the most famous painters in Spanish
history, the most famous of which is "El Greco," who's not Spanish at all, but Greek. There is much to the story of how he came to Spain though and his rise to popularity, all of which was fascinating.

After the tour, our guide (who was wonderful. Extremely knowledgeable about his city and its history and very proud to tell us all about it), always thinking, took us to a small metalwork shop. Toledo is very well know for its metal working, especially it's sword-smithing and gold-smithing. Our guide told us that no self-respecting bull fighter would EVER buy his sword
from anywhere other than Toledo. The store we went to had a goldsmith there working on a small plate so we got to watch how the gold leaf is applied to make the beautiful designs you find everywhere over there. We watched for a little bit and of course being women with souvenir shopping on the brain, we went to town buying all sorts of stuff to bring home. Most of mine will be Christmas presents though I did pick up a couple small items for myself.

After we had shopped to our heart's content there (the shop owner loved us!) our tour was finished and our guide dropped us off at the train station so we could head into Madrid.

We got to Madrid about lunch time but weren't quite hungry yet so we hopped on the tour bus and did some sightseeing. We stuck primarily to the historical Madrid tour this day and saw many sights. We started at Plaza Mayor again (nice central point to get to everywhere). Of all the places we could visit we chose the Puerta de Toledo (Toledo Gate), Puerta del Sol (the
very well known Sun Gate), Jardin Botanico (this is the Royal Botanical Gardens), Museo del Prado (I guess you could call it the Louvre of Spain), Puerta de Alcalá (Alcala Gate). We just rode by the gates, but we stopped at the Prado Museum as that was the one museum that everyone absolutely has to see in Madrid and spent a couple hours there. After we finished up in the museum, when we realized the Royal Botanical Gardens bumped up to it, we walked through there. I'm a sucker for a good botanical garden so that was one of the "must-see" sights in Madrid for me. Unfortunately, we were not there during peak season for most of the flowers so I was a bit disappointed. But there were still lots of blooming flowers that I had to explore (and smell) fully. We had fun here posing at several different places with flowers making gorgeous backdrops.

By now it was about time to head back to the train station to hop our train back to Toledo. So we got back on the tourist bus, passed by several more sights (many more than I listed) until we got to the train station. After we got back to Toledo and our hotel, we cleaned up a little bit, dropped off our purchases, and headed out to dinner for yet more tapas. There is a slightly funny story to go along with this. I may have mentioned in earlier descriptions about this trip how I love sangria and was bound and determined to have a glass or two as many nights as I could. Well the place we went for dinner this night, they didn't sell sangria by the glass, but by the liter. L is not a fan of sangria but since she knew I wanted some she told me she'd TRY to help me drink the liter but no promises since she really doesn't like it. So I went ahead and ordered it. Keep in mind here that we were outside all day long in high heat and humidity and that though we did stop for meals that day, I never really ate a whole lot at any of them, and that our dinner was tapas, which is finger foods and not a lot in any order so it was a small dinner. So they brought the liter of sangria, L took one sip decided she couldn't bear to drink anymore, and left the rest to me. Well it isn't cheap and I really did not want to waste any of it so I just kept drinking it and drinking it. After about 4 or 5 glasses, there was still enough left
for at least another glass or two. (A liter doesn't seem like a lot till you are drinking it by the wine glass full.) By now I was feeling quite good and I was afraid if I had anymore the room would start spinning and I'd be in danger of getting sick. So I couldn't stand the thought of wasting the last couple glasses, but I also knew it would not be wise to drink any more. So L
took what was left in the pitcher and gave it to the young couple at the table next to us, who were very grateful for the free alcohol. I was quite tipsy at this point and was a little bit wobbly when it was time to leave.

So we had fun laughing at me the next day over my getting drunk on sangria. But boy did it taste good!

Next post, Thursday our last day in Madrid...


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