Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Trip to Toledo 12/4/08

A Trip to Toledo 

Thursday the 4th we and the Bowdens took a bullet train to the old Spanish capitol, Toledo. Spain has a wonderfully modern train system run by Renfe. "Renfe Operadora" is the state-owned company which operates freight and passenger train networks of the Spanish national railway infrastructure company ADIF (Administrador de Infraestructuras Ferroviarias).

Each car has a number and your ticket specifies your car and seat number. These folks are organized. Even the bus we took on Friday sold its tickets with specific seat numbers. This trip took about 25 minutes and goes the 70 km south to Toledo without a stop. That means we were traveling at 145 kph. The Bowdens hardly had time for a nap when the train slowed and stopped at the Toledo Train Depot.

After a false start or two, we found a bus to take us up the hill (one Euro, one way) to the old town center and to a tram that took us on a 45 minute rumbly-bumpy tour of the historic sites on 12" hard rubber wheels across cobble-stone roads around the hills that Toledo is built upon. It just about put Elder Bowden in the hospital because he has some serious back problems from an old injury.

Here is a little background on the city from our old friends at Wikipedia. "Toledo (Latin: Toletum) is a city and municipality located in central Spain, 70 km south of Madrid. It is the capital of the province of Toledo and of the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage as one of the former capitals of the Spanish Empire and place of coexistence for Christian, Jewish and Moorish cultures. Many famous people and artists were born or lived in Toledo, including Al-Zarqali, Garcilaso de la Vega, Alfonso X and El Greco. It was also the place of important historic events such as the Visigothic Councils of Toledo. As of 2007, the city has a population of 78,618 and an area of 232.1 km² (89.59 square miles)."

The story of Don Quixote is set in La Mancha, this very place, and figurines of the famous don and his side-kick are to be found in every store. His full name was Don Quixote de la Mancha and he is the central icon of La Mancha. The character of Don Quixote became so well-known in its time that the word quixotic was quickly added into many languages. Characters such as Sancho Panza and Don Quixote’s steed, Rocinante, are also to be found everywhere. The phrase "tilting at windmills" to describe an act of futility similarly is derived from a scene in the book.

This area was also famous for sword making. Again from Wikipedia: "Toledo was famed for its production of iron and especially of swords and the city is still a center for the manufacture of knives and other steel implements. When Philip II moved the royal court from Toledo to Madrid in 1561, the old city went into a slow decline from which it never recovered." It covers several hills, much like Rome, to make it less vulnerable to attack and as you can see it is very tightly packed with centuries-old buildings.

Toledo's Alc√°zar became renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries as a military academy. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 its garrison was famously besieged by Republican forces. It was closed now to visitors for the season, but was formidable even at a distance.

The city is surrounded by a wall on three sides and the river on the fourth. It is said that parts of the City Wall are made of Jewish headstones after the Christians decided that Spain was exclusively for Christians. Before that time, this was truly an ecumenical city, with Jews, Christians, and Muslims living together during its Golden Age.
Here we look through one of the city's gates onto one of Toledo's narrow streets that were never intended for automobiles and don't accommodate them very well. At this gate, cars must stop in either direction and wait for the gate to clear before going through.

Here we are posing on another street in the city center as we looked for some curio to take as a remembrance of the city. We finally found a painting of the city with the bridge and castle. It is a little pale, but quite representative of the colors actually in the city. Being made of local stone and plaster, it blends into the landscape very well.

Toledo is not a city to be taken lightly. It is full of history, story, and romance. It also has its own McDonalds, right next to the main street where we ate dinner under umbrellas and those "lamppost heaters". You cannot discount a city with a McDonalds.
We loved Toledo. They have preserved the old city within the walls and kept the modern development outside. Evan the craft fair on the central plaza was devoid of trashy modern items. Here the Bowdens considering a loaf of bread from the baker. Across the isle, several local cheeses were for sale along with roasted nuts, and even the curios were in keeping with the city's historical theme.

It was not until we decided to leave for the train station that we again encountered modern Spain. As we were an hour early for the train, Sister Cindy asked if we could just ride the bus for a while. As it turned out, we rode it into the next town and began to get a little nervous so we got off the bus, crossed the street, and waited for a bus going the other way. We waited, and waited, and waited, getting more nervous all the time. When a bus with the same number finally came, yep, it was our original bus that had made a U-turn somewhere and was headed back to Toledo. We made the train with 5 minutes to spare and had a restful ride back to the train station in Madrid.

I have been impressed with Spain. They have preserved the integrity of their historical sites, at least this one, and not compromised their history, beauty, or uniqueness with tinsel and trash. I sense a genuine respect for the past and desire to show it to others. Our next trip would cement that opinion in my heart.

What a nice country.

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