Holy Toledo!

[the title is so very punny, I know…]

After spending the night before in a state of “merr” (better noted in my previous journal entry), I rolled myself out of bed bright and early, and made my way to Vicálvaro metro station to meet up with USAC for our group trip to Toledo. Part of me was excited to experience another city, while the rest of me was really debating whether this adventure would be a good idea, especially considering my antisocial state of mind. However, I sucked it up and put on a brave, sociable face as I climbed the stairs of the tour bus that would take us to Toledo, an hour’s drive south into Castilla-La Mancha.

Thankfully, as I headed to the back of the bus to find an empty seat away from everyone else, I was greeted by my dear friend, Ashley, who had laid claim to the five seats in the verrrrry back. Since she and I are almost always on the same wavelength, I warmly embraced the opportunity to ease into being social with an hour-long conversation with her, really venting my need to be out of the chaos of the city as well as my need to embrace something more quiet and serene for the day. As our bus brought us closer and closer to the city, the view let me know that I wouldn’t be disappointed. The bus stopped for a picturesque photo-op of the city of Toledo; from the hill, we could see the winding city roads, the church, castle, and city walls that surround the inner city. Here, the air smelled fresh and alive, so much unlike our beloved Madrid. I knew without a doubt that coming on this trip was a wise choice indeed.

A grand view of Toledo
A grand view of Toledo

After our brief stop, we entered into the city to split up into two separate tour groups: one English, and one Spanish. My first instinct was to beeline to the smallest group, which sadly led me into the English tour. However, despite not getting an opportunity to practice my Spanish comprehension, I was pleased with my choice overall, since I was actually able to hear and absorb the history of the city of Toledo from our guide, as well to separate myself from the crowd of students (a much needed action for that point in time to be sure). As we made our way into the inner city, I learned that at one point in Toledo’s history, the three Abrahamic religions were once openly coexisting within the city walls. Additionally, due to the city changing hands a number of times, the architecture within the city varies from the Gothic style (seen in the cathedrals) to the arabesque Mudejar style. The juxtaposition of these two beautiful and very different architectural variations certainly make for an intriguing city to visit, visually speaking.

Our first major stop was a visit to the Synagogue de el Transito, one of the two remaining synagogues in Toledo. Our tour guide explained that the Muslims were hired by the Jews to build this particular synagogue, which was why the Mudejar style was apparent within. The synagogue was later converted into a church after the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, and now houses the Sephardic Museum. The fact that so much of the original architecture was still intact within this centuries old house of worship is phenomenal, especially since unlike the Gothic churches, the Muslims built with cheaper materials such as wood, stone, and stucco. The Sephardic Museum was an interesting walk-through as well, and contained numerous artifacts from the 1400s and earlier. Our second stop was at the Iglesia de Santo Tome, a church which was also constructed in the Mudejar style, and visited because it houses El Greco’s Burial of Count Orgaz. The painting was quite beautiful, but due to the small church being so cramped and full of tour groups, the experience of appreciating the piece was diminished.

Once we approached the Cathedral de Toledo, we were given city maps and instructions to meet after our “free time” break for lunch and exploring without the supervision of our tour guides or program advisors. Ashley, Andrew, Phillip, and I managed to split off from the group and found ourselves seated on the terrace of a quaint restaurant which served lunch with a more traditional flavor. Our lunches were paired with wine (or, in Phillip’s case, beer), good company, and conversation. Not a single person at our table was disappointed with his or her meal as each dish was artfully seasoned and cooked to perfection. After browsing the nearby shops a while as our food digested, we made our way back to the meeting point to take a tour of the cathedral.

Similar in majesty to the one we visited in Segovia, the Cathedral de Toledo is a Gothic styled church that has been converted into a museum, and yet still holds services for the patrons of the Church itself. Toledo’s cathedral, however, seemed quite a bit larger, and houses a beautiful “treasure room” called the Chapel of the Treasure, which contains beautiful pieces of gilded books, crowns, religious items, as well as the Monstrance of Arfe (a huge and intricately designed sculpture of gold and gilded silver that measures approximately 10 feet tall). One of the most interesting aspects of this cathedral was that it, like the city of Toledo, incorporates architecture of the Mudejar style; in fact, before the church was expanded to its current size, the main mosque of Toledo stood in its place (the mosque was not destroyed, but later converted into a church).  I really would have loved to have had a little bit of free time to be able to explore the cathedral on my own, and enjoy the areas that the tour guide neglected to take us due to time restrictions, but c’est la vie–it was a beautiful place to experience nonetheless.

With our final tour being that of the cathedral, we bade the city farewell and made our way home. After walking up and down cobblestone streets for the good part of the day, the bus ride was a welcome relief, and I was eager to get home to unwind and enjoy a quiet evening at home. Though we unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to visit the Museo del Greco or the Alcazar, I enjoyed Toledo enough that I would be willing to repeat the visit a second time to see a wider variety of sights, as well as revisit some of the ones from this trip on my own terms.



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