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davidx Toledo - A travel report by David
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Toledo,  Spain - flag Spain
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davidx's travel reports

Unique Toledo

  15 votes
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I suppose any town worth seeing has to be unique – but rarely does that quality prove the first to hit the visitor. In Toledo it’s like the kick of a horse.

Plaza Zocodover
Plaza Zocodover
The old city of Toledo is sited on top of a hill with the river winding round a major part, very steep in the remainder. Hence anything modern is outside this area. This is a fact that has occasioned adverse criticism of the old city as a ‘dead’ place, given over wholly to Tourism. Certainly there is a constant flow of visitors – one of the reasons to stay overnight if you can, although a day trip is far better than nothing – but I didn’t feel that it was a place without a life of its own. If you walk downhill from the Cathedral and then let yourself become lost in the winding lanes, the houses look like ‘real people’s’ houses to me. The number of religious buildings is staggering. I think nearly all have served as churches for a time but some have been mosques and it’s the only city in Spain that can boast two synagogues. It is hard to think of a style that is not represented. Sometimes, as in the Cathedral, there is both Gothic and Baroque of top quality. Then the Church of Santo Cristo de la Luz was built as a tenth century mosque – obviously immensely photogenic, had it not been swamped by scaffolding. Then there are Mudejar buildings to the south of the old city. It would be strange to think even for a nano-second about Toledo without El Greco. It’s a cliché to say that the view of Toledo appears familiar at first sight or even to point out that El Greco’s famous view is not photographically accurate but that doesn’t alter the truth that the first statement remains true in spite of the second. Then there’s his and museum, his pictures in the Cathedral and, the generally acknowledged pinnacle of his work, the Burial of the Count of Orgaz, on its own in an annexe to the Church of Santo Tomé. To my mind a brilliant picture of a burial with superb portraiture [the bottom part] is spoiled by some absurdities at the top. To many the part at the top depicting the Count’s reception into Heaven proves the versatility of the artist in human and spiritual themes.

Favourite spots:
Toledo Cathedral
Toledo Cathedral
Toledo Cathedral, as might be expected in a city regarded by many as the religious capital of Spain, is something exceptional. Both the Gothic stone and wood carving in the Choir and the Baroque Transparente are outstanding representatives of their respective genres. The fact that I could gaze at the first for hours and want to leave the latter after seconds is quite beside the point. Don’t hesitate about buying a ticket [at the shop opposite the main entrance]. It would be a crime to miss the sights of the choir and the El Grecos and even a humanist like me can gasp at the skill of the art work in the Treasury’s garments and gold and silver ware. The chapels have much worth seeing but I return to the Choir [Coro] for my very favourite part. The stalls are separately carved on the upper and lower parts, the upper showing Old Testament stories and the lower showing episodes in the Reconquest.

What's really great:
View from tourist 'train'
View from tourist 'train'
It’s Toledo itself that’s special, the whole being far more than the sum of the parts. In Salamanca I’d wondered how to spend my remaining days, so I asked. Caceres? Good, but not up to Salamanca’s standard. Toledo? Ah, good. As good as Salamanca? - [long pause and grudging response] Yes. It’s imperative to get lost and wander for a while with little or no purpose, not that getting lost is a problem! Even if you hate the things generally, take a trip from the Plaza de Zocodover in the tourist ‘train’. You will get the fabulous El Greco type view of the city from across the river and see the scenic bridges. You may even, like me, get so much pleasure from it that you have a repeat trip, when everything can be seen floodlit. If uphill walking is a problem, go to the very helpful TIC in the cathedral plaza and ask them to mark in the low bus stops on the map they give you. Then walk down, knowing that you will ride back.

El Transito
El Transito
Have a look at the Taller del Moro, which crops up on the way to almost anywhere. [14th century Mudejar]. Then you’ll want to see those synagogues and you’re conveniently located for the first, El Transito, purpose built but for much of its existence somewhat converted for use as a church [now reconverted]. The upstairs Women’s gallery gives onto a museum of Judaism in Spain.
The other one, 100 years older, is just down the street. Again it was used as a church after the expulsion of the Jews in 1472 and retains the name Santa Maria la Blanca. However despite its history as synagogue and church, you could easily think you were in a mosque from the arches! Both these and the wonderfully tiled floor are most impressive.

Old bridge
Old bridge
A bit of a funny here. I always take a database with me so that I can book ahead when I know how long I want to stay and where. The first two places on my list were full so I tried a place that a Spanish friend of a friend had suggested. No problem; plenty of room. I took a taxi from the station and asked the driver, who insisted no such place existed. He was quite unmoved by the fact that I had spoken to them on the phone. I got out at Zocodover and found my way to the TIC near the cathedral. To cut a [very] long story short, it was in Toledo Province 45 km away! The TIC staff then set about finding me somewhere for the three nights – and most were full. To cut an even longer story short, the place they found was the third of those I found myself – and it was excellent.
Hotel Imperio, Cadenas 7. [very near Zocodover] (00 34) 925 22 76 50

Towards Cathedral from Zocodover
Towards Cathedral from Zocodover
Some are not obvious – and even less obviously pubs – but they seemed to me to include some of the best. One I only found by following a local couple and did I enjoy my cheese salad as well as my drink! Could I find it again? I hope so but I’m none too sure!

Old gate to the city
Old gate to the city
I’ve no idea of the name – but the local speciality is partridge, which I’ve never had anywhere else, and it’s available almost anywhere at a reasonable price.
Another speciality in eating goodies [shops rather than restaurants – but I can’t think where else to put it] is marzipan.

Other recommendations:
San Andres
San Andres
Three other buildings scream to be visited. One is the Museum of Visigothic Art in the remarkably beautiful San Román Church. The other two are museums with the name Hospital, linguistically a false friend since they were palaces. One is the Hospital de Santa Cruz in Zocodover and the other the Hospital de Tavera in a park outside the city walls.
Some less noted churches are worth a look. You can make me jealous by getting into the Santo Cristo de la Luz – and if you don’t write about it on this site, I’ll haunt you. Two others I’ve only seen from the outside because they were in use for their main function. These were the Mudejar Church of san Andres and the Mozarabic church of san Lucas, both well to the south of Toledo old city.
If you see all this and the bridges, you’ll be well knackered but very satisfied. I’ve no interest in the Citadel but you might want to add it.
Last bit of advice: the train’s the best link with Madrid. The bus is dreadfully tedious.

Published on Monday February 7th, 2005

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Tue, Oct 18 2005 - 01:13 PM rating by jorgesanchez

this is a very fantastic report!!!

Sat, Sep 10 2005 - 01:38 PM rating by horourke

I love the 45 km error. Happened to m ein Moscow wiht the Olympic Penta Hotel - nowhere near the Olympic village as believed by the taaxi driver

Fri, Jul 29 2005 - 03:54 PM rating by whereisliz

David, a truly comprehensive and (from my memory, at least) very accurate report. I only wish I had thought to take that tourist train at night to see the lights -- oh well, maybe next time!

Sat, Feb 12 2005 - 08:26 AM rating by marianne

Mon, Feb 07 2005 - 05:10 PM rating by rangutan

Fantastic, special pictures here - wish them in the gallery too!

Mon, Feb 07 2005 - 02:07 PM rating by magsalex

Yet another fully comprehensive report.

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