¡Holy Toledo!

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I’m really starting to feel like this trip should be called “Shannon trying to justify her five on the AP Art History exam.” (#humblebrag?) Seriously, every place we go makes me think that maybe I should just be an Art History major instead of a Latin American History one. I love seeing so much artwork in so many incredible places.

Toledo — a beautiful, slightly touristy spot outside Madrid — is filled with paintings by El Greco. And, in Madrid, everyone seems to be celebrating El Greco because it’s the 400th anniversary of his death. Kind of weird to be celebrating his death, if you ask me, but the powers-that-be in Madrid didn’t.

Toledo is a pretty quick train ride from Madrid, and it was fascinating to see the kinds of people on the train. While Toledo is a spot that draws quite a few tourists, most of the tourists on the train were Spanish. I guess it’s like how New York draws people from California, although I’m not sure whether New York City is a UNESCO World Heritage site like Toledo is.

Looks like it’s straight out of a fairy tale.

When you arrive in Toledo, you’re immediately greeted by this magnificent train station that is splendid-and-a-half. I’m seriously getting spoiled by all the beauty over here; going home is going to be a culture shock. Sunsplash and the Galleria Mall really need to step up their game, or I might just refuse to leave Europe.

We walked to the heart of the city from the bus stop, and, although it was a bit of a trek, Clare and I thoroughly enjoyed the phenomenal views we got to take in.

Toledo used to be the capital of Spain before Madrid, and Toledo is split up between different quarters: the Catholic quarter, the Muslim quarter, the Christian quarter and the Jewish quarter. So, as you might imagine, the buildings are just a bit eclectic. It was super interesting to see how each religion styled its buildings and how each religion influenced the others.

See what I mean about the rooftops?

All the roofs in the city seemed to be that beautiful terra cotta orange that immediately makes a place seem charming. It lends a certain warmth to a place in a way that tiled, dark brown or black roofs don’t. Toledo seems like it came straight out of a book. Actually, it kind of did. Toledo was a large part of Don Quixote’s route on his route to restore chivalry and to prove his love for the beautiful (depending on whether you believe Don Quixote or Sancho Panza) Dulcinea. (Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to try and fight any windmills.)

Toledo is also famous for its steel; all the swords from the “Lord of the Rings” movies were made there. So, of course, that meant that every street bombarded visitors with a reminder of that.

Along with all the (mostly) adorable little shops, Toledo also has some absolutely breathtaking sites. As we walked into the central, most famous cathedral, Clare paused for a second then let out a pretty loud “wow.” The gothic arches were incredible, but the

I think this place might actually secretly be Heaven.

most awe-inspiring thing was the altarpiece with carved wooden statues on a golden background. It would probably be enough to make even the staunchest atheist believe in God right then and there.

Clare has become a master at using TripAdvisor, which has made the trip so much easier. Seriously, I’d be lost without her. (Literally.) Both she and Emily recommended that while we were in Toledo we get some marzipan, and Clare managed to find a spot people claimed had the best marzipan not only in Toledo but probably in the whole world. Neither of us had ever had marzipan before, and we had no idea what it was. Clare gingerly bit into hers, and I stuffed about half of it in my mouth. SO good. I’m adding another food to my list of things Clare has to learn to make when we get home, which is looking like it’s going to be a pretty long list.

Here’s Clare’s contribution to the blog, acting as me. (I was playing solitaire on her iPad).

She also found this restaurant called Alquila. She did some amazing, very detailed research that took her hours (for which I’m so appreciative) and ended up finding this place through TripAdvisor. It was the No. 1 ranked restaurant, so we figured we tried it. It was off of the beaten path, so we had to go to the tourist office to get some help. They first had this look on their faces like we were crazy and they’d never heard of the place. But then they said: “Oh, Alquila,” and they gave us a map to get there. It was this cute little place without many other restaurants or stores around it. We walked in, and we were one of only two other groups in the place. It was a Muslim restaurant, so I felt a bit bad being in just my tank top. I even tried to put my hair down at one point, but it didn’t cover my shoulders very well. We decided to split two things. The first was feta cheese stuffed in a puff pastry with some sort of plum dipping sauce. Clare was a genius for being able to detect the plum in the sauce. I just agreed with her. The second was some beef stuffed in what looked like some pita bread with another sauce. No idea what the second sauce was, but it tasted great. The meal, as a whole, was delicious. It was a bit on the small side, but the food seemed very authentic. They even brought these two complimentary desserts for both of us with the check. Again, no clue what was in them, but they were savory and quite good.

We decided to wander around some more after lunch. We found an area on the map that showed us where the Jewish Quarter was. Clare had said that, from her research, it seemed like a pretty area. We found a great spot to take our video for Jordan. It was overlooking an area where you could see all the different colored rooftops and the landscape in the back. Only, other people seemed to figure out what a great spot it was as well. We tried taking the video several times, but each time, it seemed like another group of people would walk up, and we’d feel very awkward taking the video.

Kay, I’m back. As you can tell from the previous paragraphs, Clare is amazing. At least she thinks she is 🙂

Clare’s giant water bottle only cost one Euro. The U.S. needs to step up its game. 

After we checked out the Jewish quarter, we kept walking around, and it seemed a little bit like we were walking in circles. We kept coming back to this central plaza and, as beautiful as it was, it was never the place we wanted to be. At this point, most of the museums and buildings were closed, although some of the gardens of these buildings were still open.

It was in one of these buildings that I saw, perhaps, the biggest difference between American and European cultures. You know how when you walk up to someone or a window or something in the U.S. you just start talking? For example, at a movie theater, you just go up to the ticket window and say “Two tickets to see Frozen?” I tried that same approach in Spain, but the guy I talked to wasn’t having it.

Here’s how the conversation went:

“Cuanto cuesta los boletos por esto?” (“How much do the tickets cost?”)

He looked at me like I had three heads.

“Buenas tardes,” he told me. (“Good afternoon.”)

Embarrassed, I immediately responded with a, “Buenas tardes, señor” and asked him how his day was going. About two minutes later, he answered my original question.

 I look like I just woke up (I didn’t), but at least Bear looks cute. 

It never even occurred to me to do something like that, but it really does make sense. The culture back in the States is so concerned with always moving at a fast pace that we rarely take time to just see how someone is doing. It wasn’t hard for me to say “buenas tardes” when I first saw the man, but I didn’t. I’m going to try and adopt this mentality when I get home.

After our little foray into the museum garden, we kept walking around. Clare and I had been so concerned that we weren’t going to have enough time in Toledo that we actually allowed a bit too much time there. So, we kept shuffling around, walking up and down the same streets and admiring the general splendor of the whole place.

Eventually, it was time to head back, and Clare and I both fell asleep on the reasonably short train.

They actually had the correct spelling of her name! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before. 

Emily and Dionisio suggested we walk just down the block to one of their favorite restaurants, and Clare and I got to see the benefits of going with people who knew the place. It was a bit windy, so we wanted to sit inside, but there were no tables available. (A photography exhibition was happening in one of the rooms.) After about 15 minutes, the room was cleared, and one of the bartenders/waiters/owners/important people set up a single table in the room, just for us.

I like knowing people who know people who know good food.

We ordered a whole host of foods, because more is better. Obviously. Especially when everything is so delicious that I just want to gobble everything up like Godzilla on a really bad day. (I’ve actually never seen “Godzilla,” but I imagine that’s how the whole thing goes. Unless it’s one of those feel-good movies where he’s really just misunderstood and the right person can help him see the light and help him reform.) We — and by “we” I mean Emily and Dionisio, who actually knew what the heck the menu said — decided upon these chicken meatballs (sounds kinda strange, tasted incredible); tortilla; this salad with mozzarella, kiwi, cherries and arugula; and something else just as amazing that, of course, I’m spacing on at the moment. Then, we tasted these four amazing cakes, and because Emily and Dionisio are so well known at the restaurant, they brought out this super sweet desert wine that was different from anything I’ve had before.

Clare wasn’t as overly fond of it as I was, but we already know she’s weird.

It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, so Clare and I are just going to check out the Madrid museum scene.

Because I take too many photos and can never narrow down the ones I actually like:

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