Chapter Sixteen: Holy Toledo!

26Chapter Sixteen: Holy Toledo!

Day Sixteen – The Corpus Christi Effect, Sensational Sacristy, Marzipan Central, Another San Salvador Trip, Are These Guys Going To Kill Us, An Interesting Synagogue, Hey We’ll Open this Place For you Guys, Sol Searching, A Surprisingly Great Museum, A Bridge Too Far, Where’s The Damn Escalator, Choo Choo Through Toledo, Remarkable View, How Come All Our Walks Are Uphill, The Last Table and Don’t I Get To Eat, Too

Not wanting to wait in a long line, we arrived at the Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo (considered one of the greatest Gothic structures in all of Europe) a little before its 10 a.m. start time, only to find a rather long line. It moved quickly, especially for a few women in habits who walked right past us.

P1020671Channeling my inner Black Knight from Monty Python and The Holy Grail, I blurted ot, “Nun shall pass”…and they did.

35Bad news was confirmed when we reached the ticket area and were told that the famed Retable would definitely not be open to the public due to the upcoming Corpus Christi celebration. Once inside, using her best Mary Lou Retton gymnastic abilities, Tracy vaulted over a few chairs and somehow balanced herself to take a photo of part of the retable that was started in 1497 and finished in 1504.

P1020813The center panel is five stories tall, and we’ll just have to wait until we hopefully return in late 2016 to see it in its full glory.

P1020814Located behind the main altar is El Transparente, and although that would make a great name for a Spanish magician, it’s actually a beautiful Baroque altarpiece. After being sculpted, El Transparente kind of got lost in the cathedral shuffle due to the darkness of the area surrounding it, however its sculptor, Narcisco Tomé, had a “bright” idea.

36To give it a more prominent view, Tomé put a skylight above it and cut a hole in back of it so that sunlight would strike it just right. “Let there be light!”

Transparente_of_Toledo_Cathedral_-_full_view_1The photos we took were only of the bottom half, but the photo above (from a public domain site) shows how tall El Transparente really stands.

22Next we headed to the Sacristy, which doubles as an incredible art gallery, starting with its painted ceiling.

30Standing out among all the paintings is El Greco’s El Expolio (The Disrobing Of Christ),…

IMG_2582…hanging in the Sacristy’s High Altar.  El Greco took nearly two years to complete this work.

32Also in the Sacristy, we were impressed with Titian’s 1543 painting of Pope Paul III…

31…and St. Joseph and The Christ Child, a 1599 painting…also by my main man, El Greco.

P1000971A copy of La bibbia di san Luigi (The Bible of St. Louis), which dates back to the early 1200s, is also located in the Sacristy.

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There were many other interesting pieces in adjoining chapels, and afterward we had even more of then to explore (I think the cathedral has more than 20 chapels).

P1020848We stopped in the Capilla de Reyes Nuevos (Chapel of the New Monarchs), a chapel constructed between 1531 and 1534.

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Here we paid our respects to the kings and queens whose remains still remain here.

IMG_2584Ducking into the Capilla de la Descensión, we viewed an altarpiece by Felipe de Vigarny that depicts the appearance of the Virgin Mary to San Ildefonso, which (so they say) occurred where the Chapel of Descent is located today.

P1000965Walking through the cathedral past more religious pieces of art…

P1020841…we arrived at the cloisters, whose walls were decorated with some gorgeous frescoes.

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Next up, a chapel that needed some restoration work; Capilla de San Blás. This chapel was completed in 1399.

P1020852We entered through a Gothic portal. In the center of the room are two white marble tombs; one being the Archbishop Pedro Tenorio and the other being the tomb of Vicente Arias Balboa, bishop of Plasencia.

1I’ve never heard of them either.

3There is a stunning ceiling…

IMG_2586…but humidity has taken its toll on the walls of the chapel, so many of the paintings have faded away on the cracked walls, although the ones that remain are colorful.

IMG_2588The holes in the walls reminded me of my apartment near the end of our junior year in college, although it did not have the classic Dogs Playing Poker painting that adorned our living room wall.

IMG_2592Still, this was a cool room (except for the humidity thing) to stop in, so don’t miss it when you visit.  This a worthwhile extra step on your tour.

P1000969Stepping back inside the church, we visited the Tesoro. The Treasury houses the Monstrance of Arfe (sounds like heavy metal band name), also known as La Gran Ostensoria de Toledo. Standing more than 10-feet tall, it comes out (with a little help from its friends) and rides through the streets of Toledo on a float during the Feast of Corpus Christi. Legend says it was built using the gold that first arrived from America (Monstrance of Sutter?).

P1020845There are other striking artifacts to be seen as we walked through the cathedral.  We took one last look at the Rose window and strolled strolled through the interior toward the exit…

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…and bid “good Knight” to a guy in shining armor.

IMG_2599Soon we were back outside.

Leaving the cathedral, Mary was “approached” by a strange, but seemingly genial man who spoke perfect English and somehow convinced Mary to follow him down a small alleyway (I believe that’s how Kim got her to go on their first date). To make sure that Kim did not become an instant widower, we followed in close pursuit.

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As it turned out, he took us to an Artisans workshop, where, according to Mary, “the locals work their magic with gold wire and tin.”

P1020861And the magic (and the spiel) worked…

5…trinkets were purchased.

6Next, Mary, Tracy and Kim walked into one of the famed marzipan stores, where the holy Sisters were churning out the sweet stuff. I’m sure the product is “second to Nun.” Can’t get enough of those in.

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While they scoped out marzipan, I ducked into the Iglesia de El Salvador (€2.50), located not too far from Santo Tomé. There’s not much to the interior of this prior mosque built to face Mecca. However, there’s a passage which leads to past excavations. Thankfully, Tracy didn’t join me or the trip could have been in ruins.

P1020873There was one more synagogue that had piqued our interest, so we headed over to Sinagoga Santa Maria la Blanca (Synagogue of Saint Mary the White… €2.50).

8This was an important synagogue for the Jewish population of Toledo when it was constructed in the 12th century.

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Situated between the Museo El Greco and San Juan de los Reyes, this synagogue was converted into a Christian church in the 15th century, but the structure retains a lot of the original architecture.

7Walking around this section of Toledo afterward, there were lots of colorful windows and flowers adorning the sides of buildings as the town awaited Corpus Christi.

P1020881The overhanging awnings that keep out the sun’s rays are quite helpful on hot days like the ones we during our stay.

P1000995It was finally time for lunch…and an ice cold beer.

Tracy and I returned to our hamburger joint (Gourmet Burgers Burger Show) in the Mercado de San Augustín Gourmet Market…

…where (on one floor) we spied a restaurant that had Mary’s name (Mrs. Fish) on it.

P1020887Meanwhile, Kim and Mary had lunch at a nearby pub where, by the looks of this photo, Mary dined on beer, French fries and a giant plant directly out of Little Shop Of Horrors. Actually, her lunch consisted of a deconstructed Caesar salad served with a scissors to cut the lettuce (aren’t all lunches?), cone of chicken and vegetables in a light batter.

12The giant plant was an entire head of lettuce, roots and all, served in a clay pot. Mary’s gardening skills were put to the test before she could eat.

17We met up afterward and started down a hill toward Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz (Mosque of Christ of the Light…also €2.50).  Although the sign said it was closed between 2 and 3:30 (it was a little after 2 p.m.), they let us in. I guess they needed the business.

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Once upon a time, this was a small Visigoth church that became a mosque during the Moorish occupation (can’t tell the religious takeovers in Spain without a scorecard).  It got its name quite accidentally according to the Scared Destinations website. “The chapel derives its name from a legend…when King Alfonso VI rode triumphantly into Toledo in 1085, his horse fell to its knees out front (a white stone marks the spot).”  I’m surprised they didn’t call this Mane Street.  Allegedly, the first Mass of the Reconquest was held here.

14The presbytery has some damaged fresco paintings.

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We walked around inside for a while checking out the frescoes and interesting ceiling.

P1020900In back were some gardens that also afforded a nice view.

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After exiting, we walked a short distance down to Puerta del Sol, which was once the principal gateway into Toledo. Our notes say that it was previously known as the Gateway of Herrería and San Ildefonso, and the name was changed in the 18th century because the sun and the moon is depicted in the center of a triangular shield on the first arch.

P1020907We made the long uphill walk.  Lesser travelers (wimps) would have called it a day, but we pressed on past the Plaza de Zocodover and soon afterward found ourselves at the Museo de Santa Cruz (€5).

P1020909This turned out be a major surprise, and were all glad we mustered up the energy to walk across town to see it. Museo de Santa Cruz was originally a 16th-century Spanish Renaissance hospice founded by Cardinal Mendoza (“the third king of Spain”).  He’s the guy who helped Ferdinand and Isabella gain the throne.  The first thing we noticed was the outside of the building, still with the bullet holes and cannon blast damage it received during the Spanish Civil War.

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Although there is no audio guide, the museum is laid out nicely, and we were very impressed by the artwork contained within its walls.  There are lots of El Greco paintings, including La Sagrada Familia con Santa Ana y San Juanito.

20His most famous paintings here are Asunción de la Virgen (The Assumption Of The Virgin)….

19…and La Inmaculada Concepción vista por San Juan Evangelista (The Immaculate Conception seen by St. John the Evangelist).

P1020924There were numerous other interesting paintings and assorted artwork, such as Bestowment of The Chasuble on Saint Ilfenso.

P1010008We spent much longer than we had first thought we would exploring this great museum.

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We strolled back to the apartment, but not before I tilted at some windmills with Cervantes (or at least his statue).

IMG_2609Back at the apartment, I was antsy while the others just wanted to put their feet up and rest. I decided to walk down to see the Puente de Alcántara, a bridge destroyed in 1257 by floods only to have Alfonso X order its reconstruction the following year.

P1020929I could have taken an escalator down to a spot near the bridge, but I decided to walk down to the river and take the escalator back up. It seemed like a fool-proof plan, but we are not dealing with your run of the mill fool here.

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After seeing the bridge, which was really no great shakes to begin with (especially since we’d get a better view from the train later)…

P1020933…I walked up (and I mean “up”) a street where I thought I would run right into that now much needed escalator. It was nowhere in sight.

I finally reached a cute hotel with a great view, and a now weary and sweating maitaitom breathlessly asked the hotel clerk where the escalator was located.

I assume this is not the first time he’s been asked this question, because he got a wide grin on his face, pointed toward the parking garage and said, “50 meters.” I might have been in a lot of churches on this trip, but this guy truly was my savior (I was so tired I didn’t have the energy to take a photo of this important transportation mode, but fortunately that is why the internet was created by Al Gore back in the 70s…public domain photo below).

Escalator_in_Toledo,_SpainI popped back up, and on my way back into the apartment I ran into Maya, who had been the very nice and helpful person I corresponded with by email before I left.  She apologetically told me she had been ill for a few days and didn’t want to get any of the guests sick. I decided not to relate the tales about my last Paris trip.

We chatted for a while, and I told her the group was looking for a nice and relaxing outdoor restaurant for our last night in Toledo.  She gave me the name, we bid each other farewell, and in the five minutes from that time until I returned to the apartment, the only thing I could remember was that the restaurant was uphill from the apartment and it started with an “E.”  I could tell my traveling companions were considering abandoning Tom’s Tuscan Tours thanks to their senile tour leader’s memory lack of memory retention.

P1010015Before dinner, however, we had a train (well, sort of a train) to catch. Back we strode to the Plaza de Zocodover to ride the TrainVision tourist train from the plaza out to Mirador del Valle and back (€5.50). The train leaves every 30 minutes and the entire round trip takes 40 minutes or so.

This had been a must-do for us as people had told us of the magnificent views back toward Toledo. They were right on.

24The train first took us down the hill from Toledo, which gave us a great view of the Alcázar.

28It then crossed the Tagus River…


…and the views were much better from the train than they were from my ill-advised, hot afternoon stroll.

P1020958On the train, I proved that I could be just as goofy sober as I am when I’m  drinking…

21…although the other riders must have thought I was drunk when I nearly fell out the door of the train as we reached Mirador del Valle.  “Old Man Maitai” indeed!


26The views back to Toledo were even more magnificent and dramatic than what we expected.

P1020943It’s lucky that digital is the order of the day in the 21st century…

P1010031…because we would have used up two rolls of film to shoot the shots back towards town.

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The train stops there for about ten minutes.

IMG_2624Do not miss this, and if you can, go as late in the day as possible.

P1020940In a short while we were back at the bottom of town passing by the Puerta de Bisagra Nueva (“New” Bisagra Gate). Although it says “new,” the Moorish gate was actually built in the mid 1500s.

23Now it was time to head in the direction Maya had shown me on the map of a restaurant that started with the letter “E.”

P1020963We headed uphill (it seems like in every town we are always walking uphill…I don’t know how that works) to a part of town we had yet to explore.

P1020967In about 15 minutes at about 8:30 p.m., we stumbled upon a lovely outdoor dining area that was already packed with people (I’m telling you this 10 p.m. “Spain-must-eat-time” is a myth).  Amazingly we were at a restaurant named Embrujo Toledo (“E”). Tom’s Tuscan Tours was saved as we scored the last outside table.

Although it has been stated on the Fodor’s Travel Board that the Spanish do not drink GinTonics before dinner; not being Spanish, but becoming increasingly thirsty from our day’s activities, Kim finally had a GinTonic (€5) here…as did I…before dinner!

29Tracy ordered a lobster salad, but when Mary attempted to order a pork dish, the waiter said, “No, I will bring you a better pork choice…one that is typical from this region.”

Kim decided on the pork slices with caramelized onions.

I waited patiently to order, but our server left without acknowledging me (and yes, I had showered).

P1020968Soon he was back with a giant salad that we all shared…and the sliced pork and onion dish, which was a definite “Wow.”   Still I could not gain his attention for me to order anything.

Next up was the pork typical of the region that, unfortunately for Kim, had tomato sauce (Kim does not like tomatoes).  Fortunately for me that meant I got to eat more than my fair share of that dish since I guess it looked like I would not be ordering dinner on this evening..

As it turned out, the waiter knew what he was doing, because those three dishes were enough to fill our stomachs and more. When we return next year, if the waiter lets me, I want to order the “Duck Chest With Cherry Sauce.”  The entire meal (wine and GinTonics included) cost €60. This is a place I would also recommend.  If you go, tell me how the duck tastes.

Since my Fitbit showed I had walked about 13 miles on this day, stopping for some helados on the way back to the apartment was a no-brainer.

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Our time in Toledo had ended, and I am so glad I followed my instinct to book three nights here.  It was a great experience, and no one ever forgets their first Blue GinTonic…

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…or pooping monkey for that matter.

24We could have even extended our time here for one more night, but we had an additional metropolis to explore for the next four days.  Tomorrow, I would once again get us up way too early to catch the train to Madrid, where we would check into an astounding apartment with a shower that I want to install at home.

That afternoon, we’d tour one of the most strikingly beautiful palaces I’ve ever entered (although we didn’t know that Kim and I would be involved in a Stanley Cup game while inside), an incredible nearby cathedral and a fantastic mercado located near a famed plaza.  Then after picking up our art museum passes at the Prado for later in the week, we would end our first day in Madrid dining at the oldest restaurant in the world. Yeah, life is good!

Next: Day Seventeen – On Track Early, I Could Live Here, Hip To Be Square, Pleasing Plaza, My First Sangria, Regal Royal, Turning Japanese, There Are Never Enough Cathedrals, The Barber Of…Madrid and Dining Like It’s 1725.



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