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¡Holy Toledo! July 18, 2010

Posted by awheble in Travel Log.
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My first Saturday was spent on a group trip to Toledo, which used to be the capital of Spain. As we neared the city, our bus followed along the Tajo River making a giant circle around the hill that Toledo sits upon. At first, we were all squinting for good views trying to angle our cameras to get a clear shot, but as soon as we reached the Southeastern side of the city, the beauty of Toledo left us all speechless. The grand Alcazar (the huge, former fortress and imperial residence) dominates the top of the hill and is surrounded by the layers of terracotta and stucco houses that are bounded by the edge of the hill and the river. Finally, the whole city is protected by a great wall (the kind you always think of when you imagine castles). All I could was stare with my mouth wide open.

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We started our visit with a walk up through the Jewish neighborhood. While many Jewish neighborhoods in other parts of Spain faced the terror of the Inquisition, Jewish people in Toledo where left largely unbothered. When some of these Jews immigrated to the US, they coined the phrase holy Toledo because to them Toledo was the holiest Jewish city in Europe (or atleast that’s what my guide book says).

After stopping at Santo Tomé for some of Toledo’s acclaimed delicacy, Mazapan, we set out to explore the sites of the city. We started at the Alcazar. Due to construction you can’t go inside of it, but it was worth the hike up the hill to see how it towers over everything else around it. Next we visited El Museo de Santa Cruz, an art museum that houses some of the biblical works of El Greco, who called Toledo home. We finished the day looking at the magnificent Catedral de Toledo, which is absolutely beautiful and my favorite site in Toledo.

On Saturday night, we went to El Estadio Santiago Bernabeu (where the soccer team Real Madrid plays) to watch Spain play Paraguay in the quarter finals. There was a fan fest area with 2 giant screens set up in the plaza in front of the stadium for the game and by 8:30 it was completely full of people all dressed in their red and gold. The best thing about watching the game in that big of a crowd is every gasp, yell, etc during the game gets multiplied through the whole crowd. It doesn’t matter who much you know about soccer because as soon as you are surrounded by at least 1,000 die-hard fans you get hooked in an instant. When the game ended with Spain ahead by 1 courtesy of David Villa, the whole place erupted with excitement and everyone from the plaza poured into the streets cheering, singing, and running through the streets (completely ignoring any oncoming traffic). My personal favorite was the group of boys who walked into the middle of the road and held out their flags like matador capes for the cars to drive.

We ended the weekend with a day trip to Segovia, a beautiful town north west of Madrid. Wanting to feel like true Europeans, we took the Ave high-speed rail through the surrounding country side and under the mountains north of the city. We arrived in Segovia at the huge aqueduct built by the Romans 2000 years ago. At 100 feet tall and 2,500 feet long, the ancient structure towers over you and makes you wonder how on earth those people could build that without modern machinery. They didn’t even use mortar to hold up the 167 arches.

We then wandered into the heart of Segovia, whose narrow, cobblestone streets create a feeling of quaintness and elegance that is hard to find in the states.  After stopping at the beautiful cathedral of Segovia, we came to the Alcázar de Segovia, which was a palace for the monarchs of the Spanish “state” of Castile and supposedly inspired one of Disney’s castles. It was almost hard to believe that places like that really exist and it is exactly what I picture when I hear the word castle, turrets, moat, and all. Wandering through the castle, I was absolutely amazed by the decadence and elaboration. Each ceiling had its own unique pattern of crown molding and the throne room made me want to kneel down, king or no king. However, the thing I am most jealous of the Royals is the view, for from the windows you can see many of the neighboring towns and farms. And for an even better view, we climbed the 152 narrow, winding steps up the top of the castle and stared out for miles around us.

All in all, it was a perfectly spent first weekend in Spain!

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