Toledo wasn’t on my travel bucket list, but I could find no rational reason not to take a trip to the Ciudad de las Tres Culturas. So I used my travel “relaxation” day to explore La Ciudad Imperial.
I decided to book the Toledo Full Day on your Own with Walking Tour via Viator because the price wasn’t expensive, and they offered an English-language tour for the day and time I was able to visit. Again, I chose an early morning tour to maximize my exploration time. The tour price was $23, with a $10 option for a tourist wristband. I chose the optional wristband because it included admission to more than 10 museums and monuments.
On the day of the tour, I left my hotel early to walk to the meeting point. Though the walk took me about 30 minutes, it was the first highlight of the day. Because of the early morning hour – 6:30 a.m., I was able to see Madrid before the city awoke for the day. I took my time walking and snap a few photos along the way to remember the stillness and loveliness of this metropolitan city.
Because of the Horrors of Travel, I hadn’t been able to do my peace and tranquility walk. I smiled widely as I strolled through a very quiet Puerta del Sol, watching individuals prepare the city for its daily activities.
I reached the meeting point, checked-in, got my ticket and wristband, and boarded the bus to Toledo … Spain, not Ohio.
Following a quick roll call and safety briefing, in Spanish, English, and French, we made our way out of Madrid.
About 30 minutes into the one-hour bus ride, we made the mandatory “comfort stop,” at a roadside café for tea/coffee, water, bathroom break, and of course a little souvenir shopping.
Funny, the café took up barely one-fourth of the building and was little more than a row of coffee pots and a refrigerator with water.
Back on the bus 15 minutes later, and onto Toledo … Spain, not Ohio.
Soon, we arrived in Ciudad de las Tres Culturas. Our tour guide(s) told the city’s history as we drove around the city, stopping at Mirador del Valle for a quick photo shoot.
I learned Toledo is known as Ciudad de las Tres Culturas due to the influence of its successive Islamic, Hebrew, and Christian occupants.
Finally, we reached the tour drop-off point and after receiving instructions on when and where to meet the bus, the walking tour began. I was ready to explore this delightful city.
What I wasn’t ready for were the steep hills we had to walk up to reach the city centre. Seriously, the whole historic part of the city is on a hill. I knew my legs were going to hate me for the rest of my Spanish adventure.
And the weather was very HOT! I mean HOT. Not fish grease hot, but hot enough to make you say, “forget all that walking. Where’s the pub?”
Oh well, all part of the adventure.
The guided walking tour officially started in the town square.
Overall, the tour was okay. Our tour guide, Mary, was very knowledgeable about the city, pointing out little known architectural aspects, historical facts, and little tidbits as to how Toledo became the Ciudad de las Tres Culturas — the City of the Three Cultures.
Our group was small, around 11 people and I was the only English-speaker. At first, it was a little awkward, but Mary put me at ease. She would say, “Go take photos. I speak in Spanish first, then I’ll give you the English version.”
And that’s what I did.
This was great, and although I’m not fluent in Spanish, I did have my translator and it helped me understand most of the tour, thus allowing Mary to keep us on schedule. Nevertheless, at the time, I felt I was treated to my own private tour when she would do the English portion.
Of course, at nearly every tour stop, we were offered Marzipan, one of Spain’s most popular foods.
Mary explained the relationship between the sugary sweet confections. In Toledo, Marzipan’s origins are attributed to the nuns of the convent of San Clemente. After a famine, there was no wheat to make bread. So the nuns created dough using almonds and sugar, which were the only products they had in their food stores following the famine. The resulting dough was to feed the undernourished people of the city.
I have never liked Marzipan, and after sampling some during the tour, I still don’t like it. I did love learning the history of the popular food. I did sample a honeycomb-type snack, and that was delicious.
Mary also explain the little tiles scattered throughout the streets of the Jewish Quarter. One is a menorah, another is Hebrew for ‘life,’ and one is the name of the ancient language of the Jews who used to lived here—a cross between Spanish and Hebrew—in the shape of the Iberian peninsula.
The best part of the tour was the end. No, not because it was over, but because our group was treated to a free sandwich and soda. This was a nice surprise because lunch was certainly not included in the ticket price.
I guess Mary knew the sandwich shop owner and she likes to treat her groups to a nice little snack as a thank you. Whatever the reason, it was a nice and filling snack. Better yet, it was free.
The rest of the day was at leisure.
I spent the next three hours walking around the town, camera in my left hand, and my cell phone with Google Maps loaded in my right hand.
Yes, Google Maps.
Believe me, I needed it. And when you visit Toledo, you’ll learn why … and you’ll be happy to have Google Maps.
I visited every site on the tour’s attractions list. Trust me, my legs were hurting walking up and down those hills trying to find the attractions. Thank goodness I remembered to buy some liniment before leaving England.
Since I had chosen the wristband option, I was granted admission to many of the museums and attractions, including:
Synagogue of Saint Mary the White
Located in the middle of the Jewish quarter, the Sinagoga de Santa María La Blanca, was built around 1180, as stated on and inscription on a beam, and is considered the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing. According to the information brochure — inside the synagogue consists of five naves divided by 28 horseshoe arches over brick pillars painted with lime, highlighted with decorations based on pineapples; and larch coffered ceiling or Plateresque.
Iglesia de San Ildefonso Jesuitas
A very beautiful church and the largest baroque temple in the city. Iglesia de San Ildefonso Jesuitas is named in honor of San Ildefonso, the patron saint of Toledo. The building’s twin towers over 50 meters high and offer awe-inspiring view of the medieval city and the imposing Cathedral of Toledo. I didn’t walk up the narrow stairs to the top because my legs were already hurting. Nevertheless, there was plenty to see on the ground floors.
Iglesia de Santo Tome
Mosque of Christ of the Light
The Mosque of Cristo de la Luz is one of the most important monuments of the Hispanic-Muslim and Mudejar architecture in Spain, and the most important exhibition of Islamic art in Toledo. In the the 12th century, it was turned into a Catholic church.
Iglesia del Salvador
The Mezquita-Iglesia de El Salvador is a small church on the edge of the Jewish quarter. It can be considered the oldest in the city due to the rigging and the preserved remains, and the second in importance. Walking through the excavations was surreal and very eerie.
Real Colegio Doncellas Nobles
It was interesting to learn that The Colegio de Doncellas Nobles was once a girls’ school and founded in 1551. Of course it’s purpose was to educate young women to be good mothers. Nevertheless, it is a beautiful site inside and very mesmerizing.
Time to Eat
By 3 p.m., I was exhausted. I figured a good meal would give me another burst of energy since I didn’t have to be at the pickup point until 6:30 p.m. There were plenty of restaurants around the city. I was in the town square at the moment, so I chose a restaurant with indoor seating to escape the burning sun and heat.
I decided to try a restaurant called El Foro de Toledo. The restaurant wasn’t very busy, despite the town being packed with people. I didn’t give the lack of customers more than a moment’s thought, especially since there was McDonald’s next door, and it was packed.
I ordered a hamburger and fries mainly because I was planning to have seafood for dinner that night in Madrid, and didn’t want to have seafood for lunch.
How was my El Foro experience?
HORRIBLE!! ATROCIOUS!! DISGUSTING!!!
I asked for my burger to be cooked well done.
The outside of the burger — and I use the term loosely — looked as if it had been cooked the way I ordered it, but the moment I bit into it — YUCK!!!
The burger wasn’t well done. In fact, it wasn’t cooked at all. The inside was so raw, it bled. On top of the uncooked burger, my fries were microwaved. How could I tell? If you’ve ever had microwaved fries, that’s a taste you never forget, and your tongue immediately recognizes microwaved fries.
The service was also very slow too, but I had time to relax, so I was going to sit back, review my photos and have a nice cold drink, non-alcoholic of course.
But then they offered me some of their homemade marzipan.
Oh yea, time to go. I paid the bill and left. I knew I should have tried Totoro Sushi.
Grade for El Foro? Really, do you have to ask?
A photo safari completed my day and I made my way to the pickup spot. Along the way, I found a nice café and bought a chocolate pastry and a cup of hot tea. My stomach thanked me.
By the time the bus arrived, I was exhausted and ready to head back to Madrid and my hotel. However, I endured one more headache as one of the tour representatives refused to let me board the bus. Apparently, you had to present your original ticket before being allowed on the bus.
I had my ticket and produced it, eventually. That wasn’t what upset me. What anger me was the fact no instructions were given about having to keep the ticket to get back on the bus for the ride home. Not in English, Spanish or French. Yes, I kept my ticket because I quirky like that, but what if another tour member tossed it?
I noted this fact in my feedback to the tour company. I was surprised when the company wrote back and apologized for the oversight.
As I sat back, enjoying the ride back to Madrid, I smiled. While this city wasn’t on my bucket list, I was glad I decided to visit.
I truly enjoyed my adventure in Toledo …
Spain, not Ohio.