Friday, August 12, 2011

You say To-lay-do and I say To-lee-do

Since I am a diligent (read "demented") worker and, for reasons I do not really understand, I decided I could only tack three days onto to my July London business trip for personal travel, I had to make some stark choices about where to go this year. I had never been to Spain and started to look at options of where I could spend those three days.  Notwithstanding a warning that I would be there at the hottest time of the year, I decided to go to Madrid and take a day trip to Toledo to get a feel for an older Spanish town. Toledo is about 40 minutes away on the Renfe (AVE) high speed train from Atocha Station in Madrid which itself was about a 10 minute walk from my hotel, the Westin Palace.  The trains run fairly regularly so I planned to go to Toledo early on the second day of stay in Madrid, hoping to avoid the midday heat.

Unfortunately, one more change in time zone kept me up late and caused me to sleep until almost 9:30 a.m.  I saw there was a train at 10:20 so I raced out of the hotel, grabbed a coffee and sandwich and headed off to Atocha Station. The Atocha Station, sadly now known as the scene of the 2004 terrorist attack, is a beauty.  The interior is a parksize greenhouse where people can sit on benches and enjoy the almost constant water spray on what seem to be tropical plants.  I arrived at 10:00 a.m. and made my way to ticket sales area where there were three lines open and about a dozen people in each line.  Normally I figured that would be no problem but Spaniards seem to take a long time when they are purchasing tickets-- apparently discussing every nuance of price and what you are getting for your Euros. (I noticed the same thing in the Prado when someone was renting one of those audio tour devices).  So every transaction took much longer than it should have taken and I arrived at the desk 10 minutes after the train had left. (It was sold out anyway).  The next train was two hours later so I purchased round trip tickets, never wanting to stand on line again.

With two hours to kill, I headed to the Reina Sofia which was across the street from the Atocha.  I will discuss my Madrid museum-o-mania in a separate posting.  I made the train on time and sat across from a young Spanish man whose presumed girlfriend kept ringing his cell phone every two minutes.  After a few bars of something like "You are a sex machine", he would hit the off button and two minutes later the process would start over again.  Eventually he answered, saving us all from obsessive compulsive girlfriend behavior and a very bad ringtone song.

Once in Toledo, I hailed a taxi and was taken to Plaza de Zocodover, which my Lonely Planet tour guide book recommended as the starting place for a walking tour.  I walked around the Plaza and took a picture of  Arco de la Sangre but instead of heading through the old Arab wall gate down to the Alcazar (which supposedly had wonderful views of the Rio Tajo which surrounds Toledo) I wandered off in search of a vegetarian restaurant off the Plaza.  Taking the first of many wrong turns of the day, I wound up on the Calle del Comercio, which is the main shopping street--not the place you want to visit at the beginning of your walking tour of a city when you are already lugging a heavy camera bag.  I resisted the gorgeous authentic Talavera pottery (the Latin American version is named after the craft made in Talavera la Reina, outside of Toledo) and made my way to the Catedral de Toledo.  I did not go inside unfortunately given the short amount of time and energy I had.  And I still needed to eat lunch.

After wandering around back streets for a while, I found a restaurant named Palacios which was in my guide book and located on the map in an entirely different place than I thought I was.  By now it was almost 2 p.m and I was hot and very hungry.  Palacios served the best gazpacho I have ever had -- perfect for the hot dry weather of that region of Spain.  I also ordered various tapas which wound up being too much food but delicious and suitably vegetarian.

When I left I headed toward the Jewish quarter of Toledo and got lost once again with everything closed up for siesta.  Luckily I found myself on top of a hill above Monastery San Juan de los Reyes where I got the view of the Rio Tajo I missed earlier.  Across from the Monastery there was a shop open where the proprietor was watching the Tour de France.  I talked to him in my pidgen Spanish, took advantage of the cooler air for awhile (it must have been over 100 degrees F outside) and decided to buy from my new friend souvenirs, including a faux talavera bowl which was "signed" but was clearly too inexpensive to be authentic.  At least it didn't say "Made in China".  The proprietor gave me directions to the Sinagoga del Transito which was right down the calle.  Unfortunately it was closed and I could not muster the energy to tour the El Greco museum next door.  Instead, I called a cab and returned to the train station where I enjoyed the wonderful decor inside and then relaxed with an aranciata in the outdoor cafe while waiting to return to Madrid.

One last note.  The trains in Spain have metal detectors like we have in airports and one poor tourist was not allowed to bring on the train Toledo swords she had bought in the store at the station.  Why do they sell them there if you cannot take them on the train?

Inside Atocha Station

Plaza de Zocodover

Arco de la Sangre

On or near Calle del Comercio

Approaching Catedral de Toledo

Catedral de Toledo

Palacios Restaurante

Oh no!  It's siesta time and I am lost

View of Monastery San Juan de los Reyes and Rio Tajo

Monastery San Juan de los Reyes and the store where I rested

I love these Arab influences in the buildings

Sinagogo del Transito

Interior Toledo Station

Interior Toledo Station

Waiting for the train and drinking aranciata

El tren

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