Between the terrible internet and so many exciting things to do, I didn’t manage to post the rest of our trip to Spain, but I’ve been writing posts as we went along, so I’ll post the rest of our vacation over the next week or so.
The morning after our day at the Prado, we got up bright and early and had the iconic Spanish breakfast: hot chocolate and churros. It’s as decadent as it sounds, and the Spanish chocolate is thick and creamy enough that it’s perfect for dipping. Surprisingly, nobody ended up with an upset stomach.
After breakfast we retrieved our rented car from the underground dungeon where it had spent our entire time in Madrid, and headed south into the province of La Mancha. Of course I had a kid-friendly translation of Don Quixote at the ready. I remember my mom reading to us during long car trips, and it was fun to spend some time doing that. We arrived in Toledo at around eleven in the morning and took advantage of having a car to do a quick tour all through the winding medieval streets. It reminds me a lot of our favorite Italian town, Saluzzo; a place untouched by time.
We parked our car right next to the Alcanzar, the old fortress that defended the city. In the interim it’s been turned into a public library and a museum of the army, which seems strangely appropriate. Then we set off through the cobblestone hills to explore.
The most beautiful cathedral I remember seeing in Spain, and possibly the most beautiful religious edifice I’ve ever seen in my life, is the Cathedral in Toledo. It’s a towering dream of Gothic splendor. Yet somehow, even with all the opulence it doesn’t seem like too much. The proportions are too perfect, and there are plenty of contemplative open spaces. Even the intricate carvings don’t seem overdone; instead, they pull the viewer into a distant world of chivalry, grandeur, and faraway beauty.
After seeing the cathedral, we had lunch, where this time upon ordering a glass of wine they brought me an entire pitcher full. After lunch, we decided it was time to it the tourist shops. Toledo may be the most delightful place in Spain to buy souvenirs. Toledo steel is famous for making the best swords, and so the town is full of them, as well as suits of armor, daggers, and—unaccountably—scissors. Axa and Raj were entranced by the swords, and we couldn’t resist buying them miniature versions (after solemn promises not to poke their own or each other’s eyes out with them).
Tragically, the miniature weapons were confiscated by security at the airport a week later, an event which precipitated tears until Tony promised to find identical replacements for them online.
Axa also spent a whole month’s chore wages on a delightful wooden bow, accompanied by arrows tipped with cork. This did make it through security, although we had a mini-emergency when it was discovered that we had left one of the arrows on the plane. Tony dashed back heroically and retrieved the arrow.
Another famous Toledo souvenir is plates or jewelry of damascene workmanship; a regal combination of black background with gold intricately etched in delicate patterns like birds, flowers, or endless iterations of Don Quixote. Tony bought me a pendant and bracelet that I am in love with. In fact, I’d say jewelry was our top favourite souvenir this trip.
My guidebook informed me that Toledo is often overlooked by tourists, and I am left wondering why anyone would visit Spain without stopping in Toledo. It’s the most delightful combination of atmospheric streets, quaint shops, and truly world-class religious and cultural sights, all less than an hour’s drive from Madrid.
Speaking of driving, we still had over three hours of driving left to get to our house in the south of Spain. So we reluctantly left Toledo and drove south, passing through countryside that reminded us of Nevada and southern California—except dotted with random castles and picturesque villages. Having come from Amsterdam, where sunset is presently occurring around 16:30, it seemed to us that the day went on forever, and the sky was a bright cerulean blue right up until the moment the sun dipped below the rolling, olive grove encrusted hills. Even as we drove in the dark, we could sense our passage through picturesque little villages, each one presided over by a lovely little Catholic church. Our journey into Andalucia had begun.