If you read my previous post, you’ll know that at the beginning of June I flew to Madrid for a four-day mini vacation. Four days isn’t a long time, but it’s surprising just how much you can see, do and experience in that time. I spent three days in Madrid and one day in Toledo, a nearby city.
I was very impressed by the Madrid public transport: the Metro subway, which I took most days to get around the city, was clean, fast, easy to navigate and incredibly cheap at €1.50 for a single journey (about $1.65).
Admittedly, I was with a friend who knows her way around Madrid so I didn’t have to worry too much about getting lost. But compared with my experiences on the Tube in London, the Madrid Metro is a breeze. It is also air-conditioned, something that many Tube trains are not!
It was also a novelty to me to travel via intercambiador (interchange) stations. Madrid has some stations which combine bus and subway services in one station with lots of different levels. So you get on a bus which is underground and the driver weaves through the subterranean roads to arrive out into the Madrid sun.
Trains run regularly to Toledo from Estación de Madrid Atocha — the main railway station. But on day two of my trip, we decided to take the bus to Toledo in the autonomous province of Castilla-La Mancha (a region famed for the Don Quixote connection). It was cheaper and only took half an hour longer than the train.
The landscape between Madrid and Toledo is almost completely flat. And the well-known children’s rhyme, “In Spain, the rain falls mainly on the plain”, is lying. In Spain, the flat plains of Castilla-La Mancha are parched and dry.
As the old capital of Spain, Toledo is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the city is beautiful. Built on the side of a steep gorge of the Río Tajo, it sits on a rocky hill. The streets are cobblestone, steep and winding…and very, very narrow. We had to squeeze ourselves into doorways a few times to let cars pass on streets that were originally built only for feet!
Toledo has an ancient history — captured by the Romans in 192 BC, over the centuries that followed it became the home of Moors, Jews and Christians. For years, they lived together in equality and prosperity. But the Spanish Inquisition, founded by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1478 to maintain Catholic rule, drove out Muslims and Jews from Toledo. In the sixteenth century, Madrid became Spain’s capital.
Toledo is a compact city, so we wandered around taking in all the beautiful architecture and historic buildings. Many shops sell marzipan and dulces, traditionally made by the nuns in Toledo’s convents.
The historic centre is full of churches (iglesias), chapels, synagogues and other religious buildings, with La Catedral Primada at its centre. The cathedral took 267 years to build and was finally completed in 1493.
The architectural detail and stonework on the cathedral is amazing, as this photo of the Last Supper shows:
Despite its relatively compact size, at the end of the day we had walked 12 km (7.5 miles). It was great fun to explore the city — walking around the centre; a stroll by the Río Tajo on a path which is connected with the Camino Natural hiking route; lunch at a small restaurant shaded by trees; eating lemon ice cream and people-watching in the main square of Plaza de Zocódover.
The weather, of course, was beautiful — sunny and hot without being humid. This will sound strange, but I love the fragrance that rises from the warm earth and dry grasses in the Mediterranean heat. I wish I could live with that kind of weather all the time!
Next time, in my third and final post about my Spanish vacation, I’ll share more about my travels in Madrid — visiting an Egyptian temple and walking along a street of poems.