Toledo is an ancient and remarkable city and we can scarcely believe this is our first visit. It won’t be our last.
Set off early, well early for me, stopped at bottom of road for coffee and toast which wakes me up and ready for anything.
Journey along motorway going past the many hills and villages, lovely. Police stopped all traffic on motorway, lots of policemen, big dogs, all wearing full body armour, (no, not the dogs), and police cars parked across the road so we had to go around the narrow gaps between the cars very slowly. The police stopped every car, a man with a machine gun looked inside and in the boot. They let us go and didn’t even mention how untidy our boot was. Phew!
G said, ‘could you possibly look more guilty?’ I know, I go bright red and would be a hopeless smuggler. Every time I go through security at an airport they pull me to one side, make me empty my bag and put that bleeping stick all over me. They look very disappointed when I am just an innocent tourist. They never stop G, which is annoying.
Getting into Toledo with sat nav telling us to ‘take the eighth exit on the next roundabout’ and things like that was a bit of a nightmare as we got tooted at a few times for late decisions due to both of us arguing with sat nav, but not with each other, about where to go. Sometimes Hillary (sat nav) doesn’t know as much as she pretends to and is very bossy. She sounds like Hillary Clinton and I imagine her standing up in the sky above our car, wearing a pastel coloured trouser suit, pointing at people she pretends are waving to her and grinning. Just do your job, Hillary, and get us into Toledo before it gets dark.
The old part of the city, driving in, was wonderful, we glanced at huge gates and high walls surrounding the city, so our appetite was whetted.
Hotel is very modern with a huge bed, and a glass lift. We arrived at the desk with our usual luggage, three carrier bags and a bag of munchies. The man on the desk said ‘is it for just one night?’ I think he was expecting someone with Louis Vuitton suitcases. Wish we could travel a bit more tidily, but will never happen. Our room has a fantastic view of the city so very happy. The hotel has five stars and the outside is lovely, all Roman columns and a huge wooden entrance door, but we had to walk a long way to our room, far enough for us to wonder if we were still in the hotel or had taken a wrong turn and were now in the next postcode.
Most of the rooms we were passing must have been empty as there was only one other car in the big car park. G said this was the hotel getting their own back for us haggling them down on price. By the time we found our room, number 6,865 – no, not really, but it seemed like it – I was wishing we’d paid full price and wondering how I’d ever find my way back to Reception again. Not asking Hillary as she’d probably direct me to Peru.
Self off for Toledo by taxi as the very helpful man on the Reception desk said, ‘only a mad person would try to park a car in Toledo’ and rang for a taxi. Only a few euros. Stunning place, all the first shops we saw were selling swords and armoury. For 160 euros I could have bought a brilliant sword. Would be handy if they’re still looking for extras for Game of Thrones.
Found the War museum, which the man in the hotel had recommended, which was in a huge, ancient building and even better it was free to over 60s. G was thrilled that the girl on the desk asked us to prove we were genuinely ancient by showing our passports, but she was only about 17 so everybody will have seemed old to her and she probably asks everybody.
Toledo is most famous for swords and we found lots of info about them and some of those on show were covered in jewels and diamonds. A bit over the top, but apparently that’s what you get given for a pressie if you are rich. Then there was the armour, modelled for everybody, from big fat blokes, down to children, and the horses wore it as well. Must have all sounded very clanky.
Outside, in the courtyard, there was a tank and an army helicopter guarded by a very tough looking soldier with a shaved head and a fat girl soldier who looked as if she normally guarded doughnuts, not very well.
The main building is huge and a bit like IKEA as you have to follow arrows to find your way around and if you decide you want to leave now the only exit is about three miles away from wherever you are at the time.
Loads of shops in the town selling hams hanging from ceilings. We found one where you could taste, but it was a bad decision, as the ‘ham carver’ wouldn’t shut up talking, instead of carving, and we just wanted to go. Fortunately another couple came in, so we scarpered, without having to buy any ham. To be truthful, judging by the miserable scraps he was giving as samples, it was a bit salty and chewy.
Stopped for a drink at a lovely little bar just off the main square and had free tapas. Don’t know what was in them but quite delicious.
When we got outside I said ‘we should have ordered a proper meal’ and G said ‘just pick somewhere you fancy then.’ I spotted a restaurant with a big awning outside and those tall heaters going full blast. G didn’t look very impressed, said it would be full of people smoking and looked like a place for ripping off tourists. I said it was my choice and we went in.
We sat next to one of the heaters and looked at the menu which was written in German. I rummaged around and found one in Spanish which was a lot better as the words were a lot shorter. G went off to look at a book shop and left me to order for us.
There were a lot of people smoking, but I tried to concentrate on the menu and hope I was the only one who’d notice when G got back. The couple at the next table had their backs to me, but looked very interesting. The man was really, really fat and wearing a fur collared parka and his mother kept passing her plate over so he could help himself. He’d already eaten a pizza and by the looks of the cardboard container it came in it was one of those that serves ten people. The mother was not as fat as her son (impossible) and had long grey hair with a flower broach in it. She had a walking frame next to her and every time the waiter came past he had to climb over it.
When they left I had two shocks – the ‘mother’ was only about 35 so must have been his wife and the walking frame was for the man as he was too fat to walk on his own.
I’d been too busy watching the couple to concentrate when ordering food and when G came back and asked what we were going to eat I said ‘the speciality sandwiches and two glasses of Tinto Verano’ and he seemed happy enough with that. When the waiter came he brought two big jugs of Tinto Verano. We said we hadn’t ordered these and he said, ‘only serve Tinto Verano in one litre jugs and you ordered two.’
Persuaded the waiter to take one of the jugs away. He came back with ‘sandwiches’ which were supposed to contain smoked salmon. There were a couple of thin strips of smoked salmon, a lot of green slimy stuff and lots of mayonnaise. We ate them, of course, supped the litre of weak red wine mixed with flat lemonade and were both very unimpressed. I’m not going to say what the bill came to, but G’s suspicions of it being a tourist rip off weren’t far off the mark.
We walked through the narrow little streets and found the cathedral, but even though we were prepared to pay the admission charge there was nobody on duty to take our money and they were only letting people with pre - booked tickets inside. We could have booked a guided tour, starting in 40 minutes and only in Spanish, for 18 euros each. We didn’t bother!
We walked round the back and found a door that was open. This allowed us inside, but only just. The main area was behind iron railings but we could get some idea of how magnificent a building this is. It was first founded in the 6th century, turned into a Mosque after the Moorish invasion and turned back into a Cathedral when the Moors were driven out. They knocked down the existing building and rebuilt it as is today in 1227.
Inside the whole building is supported by massive stone pillars, 88 of them, and there are over 750 stained glass windows. I know all this because I found a leaflet on the way in.
A man wagged his fingers at us and said, ‘no photos,’ even though there were lots of people taking photos on the other side of the railings, the part you pay to go in. G said it was ‘elitist’ and took two photos, very quickly. There are pictures by El Greco and Goya on display, apparently, but we were unable to confirm this. ‘Seen one Goya, seen ‘em all,’ I said. G said he was impressed by my philosophical attitude to unavoidable cultural deprivation.
It was starting to get cold and dark by now, so we hailed a taxi and set back. The driver went back by a different route, driving very fast over cobbled streets, and we were back at the hotel in no time, extremely shaken and stirred. All we had to do then was find our room again. Should have brought a ball of twine!
Next morning at breakfast a great number of Chinese teenage girls arrived with masks on. There must have been pollution in the hotel which we didn’t know about. Wondered if they would take them off to eat and drink. Should we should put a napkin over our noses to go in the lift?
Chinese people are great tourists these days. They do like to take a photograph or two, don’t they? One of the girls ran past us, squealing, to take a photo of Toledo through the window. What’s the rush, I thought, Toledo has been here for a thousand years or so, it’s not going anywhere. It started to snow as we finished breakfast and this sent the teenage hordes into a frenzy. Lots more photos, absolute bedlam.
I’ve missed out loads, there’s so much to see here, and we didn’t get to see the historic Jewish Quarter at all. Will save that for our next visit. One of my favourite places in Spain. We will return.