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Toledo and a bit of Madrid – trip report, January 2013

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Bucharest
posts: 460
reviews: 31
Toledo and a bit of Madrid – trip report, January 2013

Hello everyone,

Here is the trip report of a very short stay in Spain, in January 2013. We were two females, aged 50+ (myself) and 30+, intended on visiting Toledo and spend a short time in Madrid (for shopping and visiting Prado).

I made separate reviews for both hostels we stayed in, Alcazar in Toledo:

tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-g187489-d264317…

and Pereda in Madrid:

tripadvisor.com/…CHECK_RATES_CONT

Both were budget accommodation, basic but clean and with nice personnel, perfectly located for our needs.

Since we were two women traveling, I will address first the safety question, that is raised many times on the forum: in both cities we felt extremely safe, we walked with no problems from early morning to late in the evening and never felt in any way threatened or unsecure. People around were nice; not much English spoken, but my Italian worked fine enough to make myself understood and – being a Romanian fluent in both French and Italian – my basic understanding of Spanish was enough, especially since all the people we asked questions were nice enough to rephrase the answers several times until they found words that I could understand.

Usually my trip reports are extremely enthusiastic; not this time however. Although I can’t say it was a bad trip, it was bellow my expectations. I mean that Toledo is so famous that I was looking forwards to an atmospheric city, and I was a bit disappointed with it, especially compared with glorious Salamanca and charming Segovia, that I visited the previous winter.

Nevertheless, we saw some nice things and people around were welcoming, therefore I decided to write this trip report intended as a thank you for all the ones we met during our trip and that tried to help us as much as they could.

I’ll divide the story in two parts, one for Toledo and one for Madrid, to make it more manageable.

Alia

Bucharest
posts: 460
reviews: 31
1. Re: Toledo and a bit of Madrid – trip report, January 2013

Toledo

We flew to Madrid Barajas by Blue Air, Romanian low-cost airline, the flight was in time and we landed at 4:30 pm. Checked out and took the airport bus from terminal T1 to Atocha train station. Then we got our tickets to the AVE train to Toledo; it might be not known, but there is a small discount for trains connected with an international flight, I was told about this last winter, in the Segovia train station. So I showed the boarding passes and got tickets at 10.60 instead of 12:50 eur. It is not much, but I suppose for longer trips it might amount to more.

Then we spent about 45 min in the train station; usually a train station is not the place to spend your time, but Spain is kind of an exception, with some very special train stations. Atocha has an iron and glass ceiling and inside there is a palm trees garden, with a small water pool where tortoises are slowly moving around.

The train was very comfortable and we reached Toledo in 28 minutes; we took a taxi to our hotel that we discovered with pleasure that was located on a charming small street, so narrow that the car could not pass through it. We carried our rollers for the 10 m to the entrance of Hostal Alcazar and we got the keys to a room with a balcony (that I requested in a mail sent to the hotel, after booking, since I am a smoker and my friend is not).

We left our luggage, refreshed and got out to discover the city. We got a map from the reception and made a tour (by night) trying to have a first orientation, to identify the main places we intended to visit next day and to get a first feeling of the city.

At that time it was quite peaceful and deserted, we were on Calle Comercio at the hour when shops were closing, then we went around the cathedral and continued to the Jewish quarter on streets that were mostly deserted. It is such a special sensation, when you visit out of season, since many times you feel that you have the whole city just for yourself.

Then we found a place to eat not far away from our hotel, called Gran Café de la Plaza. They had two menus, each offering a first, a second and a desert to choose between several alternatives. We opted for a 10 eur menu and a 13.50 one, and ordered a Sopa Castellana (thin vegetable soup served with a piece of bread in it, a platter of assorted tapas (very good and very large, including some seafood, cheese and vegetables), lamb with fries (delicious) and carcamusa – a local speciality that I’ve read during my research, kind of meat and vegetable stew with tomato sauce. We had to try it, but honestly we did not like it too much; not that is was not cooked well, just not on our taste. Deserts (crème caramel and custard desert) were delicious. And after eating so much, we were happy that our hotel was just 5 minutes away, since we became sleepy and intended to have a good night rest before going out again to see Toledo in the daylight.

The next morning we got out of the hotel at 8, with the first ray of light of the day. As usual, I wanted to have a stroll through the city before the opening hour of the monuments. It is the time when you do not need a map, just go where you feel it’s attractive, allow for surprises, absorb the details. And it was still quite empty, just some locals hurrying to their business… First was Zocodover square, where we made some nice pictures in the Arabic-style arch that opens between the buildings, and then going behind the arch towards the statue of Cervantes. Then we wandered on the side streets until we reached the road on the extremity of the old town, with nice views to the Tajo River. We continued along until reached San Juan de los Reyes (very beautiful views all around) and then re-entered the city making our way towards the Cathedral.

What disappointed me was the fact that, although the city preserves its original plan, most of the buildings have been renovated; for me all those neat walls, with precise angles, were a bit depressing since I expected old stones. When I planned the trip I had in mind Glorious Salamanca, visited one year before (also in January) but Toledo, although impressive, was less atmospheric. Not that I did not like it, we saw many beautiful sights, just I was expecting something else, very difficult to explain what…

Our first visit was to the Cathedral. When entering I remembered the (many) visits to the St Peter Basilica in Rome, when I was following the range of metal stars on the floor, that marked the lengths of the main Catholic churches, as compared to St. Paul. All the time I was following the names, and making mental lists of those I’ve visited and those who I did not yet reached. And here I was, in front of the entrance of the “Toletana” Balsilica… I marked a star in my travel note-book and went to buy tickets. The ticket includes a very informative audioguide, that gives not only information but makes sure you did not miss any important point. And in such a large cathedral it is easy to lose yourself. So many places to stop and to absorb the details: the glorious beauty of the almost translucent “Transparente”, with the red dots of the cardinal hats hanged form the ceiling over their owners tombs, the richness of details of the marble carved altar, the beauty of the wood carvings in the chorus, the painted chapels, the renaissance-style decorated halls of the Sacristy… And above all, the majestic arches of the vaults… One can loose himself there, between the columns, and forget the notion of time…

But the time was passing ant there were many other things to see. We went to San Juan de los Reyes afterwards, a gothic church with chains hanged on the façade; they were brought there after the conquest of Granada, from the Christian slaves delivered from servitude.

The church itself is small but with exquisite decoration and has a delightful cloister. Each of the columns of the two-storeys arches that line it has a different decoration, and I took dozens of photos of the details carved in stone. Fantastic animals, flowers, children playing… everything was there. And the garden had oranges with fruits ripening on the branches, something extremely exotic for Romanians, since citrus trees do not grow in our country (too cold climate).

Followed the Moorish and Jewish inheritance. Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca and Sinagoga del Transito have Moorish architecture; the same arches that I liked so much in Cordoba’s Mezquita were here also, but this time painted in white; this made the buildings look more serene. At Sinagoga del Transito the main hall has plastered walls in the Moorish style and an interesting display of Jewish pieces. Another similar place, that we visited later the day, but I prefer mentioning here since it shares the same architectural style, is Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz, a much smaller place but with the same type of Moorish arches supported by elegant columns.

The third part of our visit was linked to the art treasures of the city. First in Casa Museu El Greco, a restored medieval house that has also two halls with El Greco paintings and then Museo de Santa Cruz. The last was one of the gems, a splendid gothic façade, a beautiful courtyards and an elegant staircase plus a wealth of pieces displayed in the museum: porcelains, ceramics, paintings (more el Greco). Another El Greco Painting was “The burial of the count of Orgaz”, on display in the Church of Sao Tome.

With all those places to visit, disposed more or less all around the old city of Toledo, the day did pass and when we exited the last one it was already dark outside. We spent some more time hunting for some souvenirs to bring home (I found some nice ceramic plates and the mandatory magnets, plus the delicious marzipan of Toledo, that all my friends home did appreciate) and then stopped for dinner at bar il Coralito, near Zocodover. It was not too cold and they had gas burners on the terrace, so we had a very pleasant evening around a piso and rabo di torro. Then we returned to the hotel to pack our luggage, since the next morning we intended to leave early.

So we took a taxi at 6:30 am that brought us to the train station, another beautiful building in Mozarabic style, with carved wood ceilings and ceramics on the walls. And as early as 7:25 am we were in the AVE for Madrid.

Toledo was a welcoming place, with plenty of things to see, nice people and good food. Not as beautiful as Salamanca and Segovia, but still worth a visit.

Alia

Bucharest
posts: 460
reviews: 31
2. Re: Toledo and a bit of Madrid – trip report, January 2013

Madrid

We reached Madrid at 8 am and used the metro to reach the Hostal Pereda, on Gran Via. For those traveling with luggage keep in mind that the Gran Via station has some flight of stairs with no elevator/escalator alternative; fortunately there were some people nice enough to help with my quite heavy suitcase.

The hotel was right at the exit from the subway, at the second floor of a monumental building. The person at the reception told us that the room is not ready and no, it does not have a balcony. I asked him if he could find one free room with a balcony, explaining that I am a smoker and my friend does not smoke, and somehow a small miracle did happen, they had a free room with a balcony and that room happened to be ready for an early check-in.

So our Madrid time started very well, we left the luggage in the room and then went for a churros and coffee to a nearby bar; finished just in time for the opening of the shops, because that day we both decided to spend it shopping. Not a very touristic use of time, but we were two women and from time to time this is something that the women do.

So that day was spent going in and out all the shops on Gran Via, towards Puerta del Sol, then on Calle Fuencharal and in the Salamanca district, where we also ended our day on the terrace of “Lateral”; they had an assortment of tapas and we choose goat cheese with peppers, hamon with fondue, salmon rolls - all delightful, and we paid 12 eurs for both of us, which was really cheap.

The next day we packed our suitcases (much heavier after the “raid” on the previous day), left them at the reception and took the metro to Prado.

We stopped for some photos in Plaza de Cibelles, but the sky was covered and the day was cold. To be perfectly honest, I was not too impressesd by Madrid. This is however just me, imposing building and large boulevards are just not my “cup of tea”, I am much more attracted by the small old cities. That’s why, for instance, I will always choose Cordoba over Sevilla.

This being said, my decision was to have Madrid “bit by bit”, I mean seeing some of the museums and monuments every time when I use Madrid airport, but considering the main destination of the trip another city easy to reach from the capital. (Avila is the next one on my list).

Prado was the first part to visit, and we used the 3 hours between the opening and the moment we had to leave for this museum.

3 hours is a very short time for such a large and fantastic museum. So there was a selection to be made. The Italian masters had to be “sacrificed” – I visited extensively Italy, so I was familiar with renaissance art. I concentrated on Velasquez and Goya, and the “black paintings” were my favourite, I could not convince myself to leave that hall for at least one hour. I added to this the Flemish masters, especially the Bosh paintings, that can keep you in front of them for hours.

The rest was browsed in quite a hurry, I saw some nice sculptures but did not have time enough to look closely; I will return, for sure, there is so much to explore there..

And then it was time to leave, we collected our luggage from the hotel, took the metro to the airport and slept all the 4 hours until reaching Bucharest. The next day I was down with flu; a small blessing was that it did not begin during the trip.

My final thoughts about this trip are a bit mixed; usually my reports are enthusiastic, this one is less. I can’t say I did not see interesting things, but something was missing, more in what concerns the atmosphere than the sites. But it was a good experience and for sure both Madrid and Toledo deserve a visit. And of course, for me Madrid is a city that has yet to be discovered…

Alia

Wales, United...
Destination Expert
for Fuerteventura, Istria
posts: 7,738
reviews: 53
3. Re: Toledo and a bit of Madrid – trip report, January 2013

Another detailed and informative trip report. It was interesting to read your thoughts and opinions of both places, I have been to Madrid but not had the opportunity to visit Toledo. Thanks for sharing. Enjoy Athens next month, look forward to a full report.

Adelaide, Australia
posts: 785
reviews: 35
4. Re: Toledo and a bit of Madrid – trip report, January 2013

Alia, enjoyed reading another of your reports. You pack a lot into your short trips (how I wish we could fly over there in a few short hours.....Australia to Europe usually means 24 hours flying and transit).

Bucharest
posts: 460
reviews: 31
5. Re: Toledo and a bit of Madrid – trip report, January 2013

Thank you Ozzie2010.

I grew up behind the iron curtain and for the first 30 years of my life I thought that all the wonders of the world will remain just pictures for me, since we were not allowed to travel abroad. So when I was finally able to pass the borders it was with a kind of "hunger" of seeing everything, of packing as much as possible in the time I have. But there are different styles of travel, and to each one what's more comfortable.

I hope the information was helpful,

To many happy travels,

Alia

Adelaide, Australia
posts: 785
reviews: 35
6. Re: Toledo and a bit of Madrid – trip report, January 2013

I get that Alia, my father escaped from East Germany and has travelled extensively since. ..."hunger' is a great way to describe it.

PS your English is fantastic, you mention not being a native English speaker in your reports, yet you use lovely evocative descriptions.

7. Re: Toledo and a bit of Madrid – trip report, January 2013

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