One afternoon, I decided to leave the hustle and bustle of Madrid’s dusty streets in search of a secluded and cultural adventure. Destination? Toledo. As the bus pulled out of the station, I realised I had no idea what to expect from Spain’s former capital, but settled back into my seat for the forty five minute journey, watching the outside world get more parched and desolate.
We pulled up in an underground bus station, which was situated below a highly air conditioned transport portal located, pretty much, in the middle of nowhere. Stepping outside, my first thought (or feeling) was how Toledo must be the hottest place on earth. I kid you not; I had a difficult time breathing for the first half hour as my lungs accustomed themselves to the achingly hot, dry air. My second thought, once I had regulated my breathing, was how barren the landscape was. Admittedly, I had just arrived from Madrid, which was a constant hub of activity and interesting scenery. Here, however, the outlook was bleak. The ground was all the same colour – brown – and nothing broke the horizon for as far as the eye could see. To add insult to injury, the only sign of life at this point was a withered old Spanish man and his dog trying to get into a battered, ancient car. I’m sure there was probably some tumbleweed at some point too.
I did not let this faze me, though. Onwards and upwards, they say. (Little did I know how very much upwards I would be going, but I’ll save that for later). Having found a city map which was almost certainly a mirage in the desert, we began a laboured walk in the direction of the city centre. We noticed a bridge in the distance which seemed to offer spectacular views, and made it our point of focus. On our way, we passed a man relieving himself in the field below. At first, we were a bit disgusted, but shortly realised that every little helps on the water front in the desert, and carried on trundling along the quiet and desolate road.
At the end of the bridge stood a restaurant; the only sign of tourist influences in the area. Feeling drained, we decided to grab a drink, passing a small, chugging visitors train making its way slowly (and loudly) up the hill, on our way. Turned out, however, that we couldn’t sit in the restaurant to enjoy our drinks because we hadn’t ordered food. Instead, we had to lurk in the cramped, dark bar area whilst the barman (who obviously wasn’t used to visitors) polished glasses and scowled at us. But oh no, we did not let this get our spirits down. We were here for a cultural adventure, and a cultural adventure is what we would get.
In finding the bridge, we had somehow managed to veer off track and were now a fair distance from the escalator – yes, escalator – that took people up to the city centre, which was located slap bang on the top of a hill. Here’s where the upwards comes in. Ignorantly unaware of this novelty way to reach the centre, we found some steps leading upwards that clung to what I can only describe as a small mountain. So, we climbed. And climbed. And – yes – climbed. May I remind you once more of my earlier difficulties with the heat? Times this by ten and you have the hot, tired, and very sweaty me that emerged at the top. This momentary lapse in fitness was short lived, however, as across the square we could see row upon row of marzipan shops. Heading over, we disappeared into each, returning with bags of sweets and stuck together teeth (is there such a thing as too much marzipan?).
Deciding that this wasn’t exactly the cultural adventure we had planned, we set off exploring the winding, cobbled streets lined with quaint little shops selling all kinds of trinkets. Our goal was to visit at least one of Toledo’s museums but, alas, we had arrived right across siesta time meaning they were all well and truly closed for the afternoon. Instead, we stood outside the cathedral, none of us willing to pay the entrance fee, admiring its structural beauty and listening to the faint harmonies that emerged whenever the door was opened. I have to say, though, that it’s almost not necessary to visit the cultural ‘tourist’ traps in Toledo, as the city itself automatically oozes culture and rich history. Some of the buildings are amazing and walking along the cobbled streets was like taking a step back in time. Of course, we didn’t leave before having yet more of the sweet food that Toledo is renowned for. Our trip to Spain’s old capital was, it turned out, less of a cultural adventure than a food tour. I was, however, extremely grateful for the escalators when it was time to head back (full belly and blazing sunshine is not a good combination for a small hike).
As the bus pulled out of the station to take me back to lively Madrid, I had to smile. Toledo was certainly nothing like I had expected. But, then again, I’m not exactly sure what I expected.