Toledo, Spain: Off the Beaten Track

My family has been bugging me to write about my most recent trip for a couple weeks, but mid-terms studying and a lot of reading for my literature class kept me more than occupied. At long last mid-terms are complete! 5 tests, 4 of which were in Spanish and all of which were straight memorization, opposite of what I do in my political science classes at TCU, over the span of 4 days. After our phonetics exam (our last one of the week), Annie, Kathleen, and I certainly enjoyed our well-earned celebratory gelato (You know those fancy Ferrero Roché chocolates? That comes in ice cream form).  After a long siesta and the first good sleep in a week, I started buckling down to write about my trip. It took me two hours to journal about one city, because it was that full and amazing of a day.

UPO had a five-day weekend February 26-March 2 for Día de Andalucía, which commemorates the establishment of the region’s status as a Comunidad Autónoma (autonomous community; similar to US states, only larger and with more sovereignty, but still subsumed under Spain), but according to the locals it’s really just a reason to have a day off of school/work. One of my priorities here is not to stray to a million countries to check off a list of capitals/major cities, but to actually spend time enjoying and learning about the country I chose to study in. So for this long weekend, Alayna, Courtney, and I traveled to Madrid and took day trips to the nearby cities of Toledo and Segovia (easy, short, and inexpensive bus trips-the transportation options here are fantastic). We kept Madrid as our home base, and it was nice to return to the apartment we rented after long days of exploring. We came back exhausted and somewhat painfully aware of homework assignments that we didn’t manage to do on the six-hour bus from Sevilla to Madrid (the Spanish countryside is beautiful), but it was worth it for the awesome trip we had.

To keep this from being one novel of a blog post, I’ll split it up and do a post per city. First up is Toledo, which has been one of my favorite trips all semester. We saw and did so much, yet somehow time passed slowly and it never felt rushed. We had plenty of time to discover some less-touristy experiences, stop to sip some tea, and just have fun wandering the hilly, narrow old streets of Toledo (thankfully, there is a long line of escalators out of the bus station up the hill/mountain to the old city, because we did more than enough walking the rest of the weekend).

When we arrived, we set off for the Catedral de Toledo, but we didn’t end up going inside. Instead, we stumbled upon an antique bookstore across the street called Balaguer, Librería Anticuaria, and this was just the beginning of our luck finding unique experiences in Toledo. The tiny shop was overflowing with shelves of Spanish classics, world literature (they even had Jane Austen en español), textbooks…it was a dream. I found a pretty copy of Don Quijote, which is from this region of Spain. Courtney asked the bookseller about old Bibles, which turned into a history lesson as he explained to us that after the Protestant Revolution, the Catholic Church ordered the Bible to be printed in large sets of volumes to leave room for their text analysis (so that people would read the Bible the “Catholic way”).  He then showed us an illustrated Bible and taught us how images were made by etching special paper in the pre-photography era.  He was so patient with us making sure we understood his Spanish, but once he saw that we understood he got so excited explaining the history behind the books he loves so much.  I love getting people talking about something they’re really passionate about; it’s just great to see the life in their eyes.

Along the same road, someone told us about a place where we could see artists making traditional Toledo art rather than finding the manufactured versions in a touristy shop. He gave us directions, and along the way another person actually walked us to the Burgueño, Artisanía Toledana, even though it was out of his way (everyone we met in Toledo was so nice). Inside, we watched an older and a younger man making intricate designs out of gold thread, which they molded onto dark blue plates, jewelry, etc. They also made old-style swords and daggers that reminded me of The Chronicles of Narnia.


Our next stop was La Iglesia de los Jesuitas. Naturally, because we are in Spain, there are churches upon Catholic churches, and the insides are very similar, at least to my untrained art history eye. What we really came to this church for was the view at the top of the tower. Located in the center of Toledo, we could see the city and beyond into the countryside from the top.  We stopped for a picnic bocadillo lunch at the park/playground outside the church, and I convinced Alayna and Courtney that we had to swing on the swing set.  Because you’re never too old to be a kid sometimes 🙂


After having seen so many Catholic buildings, it was a nice change of scenery to check out the Jewish Sinagoga del Tránsito and the Museo Sefardi. The simple wood designs in the ceiling and gardens outside were refreshing after the sheer ornateness of the cathedrals, and I enjoyed learning about a religion that I don’t know very much about. Inside they also had a museum with scrolls, clothing, and other religious artifacts.

Near the synagogue is El Museo del Greco. The person who built this thought that he was using the location where Spanish painter El Greco actually lived…turns out it was the wrong spot, whoops. After following a trail through a small garden and cave, we  entered a replica of El Greco’s house with a cool inner courtyard and some of his works. I’m getting a serious art education in Europe, y’all. I think I’ve been to more art museums this semester than throughout the rest of my lifetime, but it’s fun learning about something I knew nothing about before! I will say I think I enjoyed the art of the architecture more than the paintings at this particular place, however (mostly religious portraits here).

We did get back to Catholic buildings once again and go to El Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes, but the monastery was much more unique than the other places I’ve visited. The detail of the carvings in the moldings is mind-blowing, especially when you consider that all of it was done by hand. The courtyard was beautiful, and somehow a combination of the building style and our exhausted yet energized state of mind led to a round of singing songs from The Sound of Music. I guess we’re as bad as Maria, singing in the Abbey and whatnot 🙂  (P.S. I’m going to Salzburg at the end of the semester, so there is much Sound of Music rejoicing to come!)


Our musical trio continued as we were surprised with the Killers’ “Mr. Brightside” inside the tetería (tea shop) we stopped in, as we crossed the Río Tajo and hiked down the riverbank a little, and as we wandered the streets on the way back to the bus station. Broadway hits, Taylor Swift, 90’s classics…if I won’t sing in front of people I know, then I may as well take advantage of the fact that no one knows me in Spain, right?

Posts about Madrid and Segovia coming soon!





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