One of the best opportunities to have while traveling is to see new places with someone who is a local. You can be the most knowledgable travel expert, but you will never be able to have the same experience as you could if you were being shown around a city by someone who actually lives there. They will surely know the ins and outs and all the best things to show you.
Of course, this is not always possible. If you are traveling to a new place and you don’t know anyone there, you have to just do your research and try your best to see all that place has to offer. However, if you are able to find a local guide or you happen to know someone who lives there, you will have the absolute best time with them rather than trying to figure everything out for yourself.
We were lucky enough to be invited to Toledo this week by a co-worker/friend of Jacob’s. We went to Toledo once on our own shortly after we arrived in Spain and although we didn’t know much about the city, we could tell how old and beautiful it was as we just walked around and explored. The second trip was especially enjoyable as we basically had a free walking history tour, thanks to Jacob’s friend, Sergio. You’ll find that many of the themes of my 10 reasons to love Spain post will be present here, of course.
Toledo is an ancient Spanish city south of Madrid in the region of Castilla-La Mancha. It is known for having simultaneously been home to Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures. Today, you can still see where the town was divided into sections for each group by admiring the architectural styles on the buildings or tile markers on the street.
How to get there
We took a bus from Madrid to Toledo and thanks to our metro cards for young people, the ride was free! I believe the bus is only a few euros from Madrid without a public transport card and typically takes about an hour. However, the direct bus that usually runs between the two cities was temporarily canceled, so we had to take a different bus that stops in all the small towns or pueblos along the way. This was not our plan, but we were able to see lots of new towns and eventually, we made it to Toledo.
As much of Spain usually is in the summer, our day spent in Toledo was extremely hot. I will fully admit, though, that coming from the Northeastern United States makes me much less tolerant of the heat than your average person. Due to Coronavirus concerns, masks were worn as we wandered the narrow city streets, and to our disappointment, almost everything was closed.
Sergio, being the good tour guide that he is, checked the websites of all the places he wanted to take us to beforehand, but they weren’t properly updated. It wasn’t until we arrived to each place one after another that we discovered they were all closed. We still managed to see lots from the streets and learn so many interesting little facts about the city that we otherwise never would have known.
For example, we learned that some of the buildings in Toledo have small stone spheres on the corners, which indicated to firefighters centuries ago that the building had a well inside to use for putting out fires. Also, if you know to look for it, you’ll see some of the buildings in the city have painted on brick patterns or even windows. They look real from a distance, but when you get closer, you can see that they are actually painted to give the appearance of a brick wall.
What to do
Some of the sights we saw from the outside were the well-known cathedral, the alcázar and San Martin’s Bridge. The cathedral in Toledo is the second largest in all of Spain. It’s been under construction both times we’ve seen it, but still breathtaking nonetheless. The alcázar is a large stone fortification, built in the 3rd century and later restored, located on the highest point of the city. Thankfully and unlike most other things, the bridge wasn’t closed and we were able to walk across for some amazing views of the city and the river below.
Throughout the day we stopped for some delicious food and tinto de verano, which is a popular summer drink made of half red wine and half lemon soda. I tried Salmorejo, a cold soup made of pureed tomatoes, garlic and olive oil and served with bread. This was one of my favorite foods I’ve tried in Spain. It is a perfect, refreshing dish for summer.
Jacob had a dish made of tomatoes, onions, green and red peppers and olive oil, called pisto. It was served with a fried egg on top. We also tried Carcamusas, a dish consisting of pork with a seasoned tomato sauce, served over potatoes. Like the majority of Spanish food we’ve tried, everything was fresh and tasty and I can add these new foods to my list of favorite Spanish dishes!
The one building we did manage to see inside was a jewish synagogue built around 1360. The most notable aspect of this structure was the detailed ceiling. The museum attached outlined the history of the jewish culture in Toledo and the role it has played in the city’s history.
Following the synagogue tour, we headed out to the other side of the river to see the sun setting over the city. We didn’t manage to get out that way on our first trip to Toledo. This was probably my favorite part of the day.
The view was absolutely incredible and like nothing I’ve ever seen. Due to the cliff being just across the river, you’re close enough to really see the spectacular sights of the city. If you are planning a trip to Toledo, even just for a day, make sure you go out to see this amazing spot.
We ended the night at a restaurant on the edge of a cliff in the city with some more tinto de verano and delicious bites. We talked about Spanish and American culture, language and laughed about some funny aspects of them all.
This was our first trip outside of Madrid since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and although there were some bumps along the way, it was such a great time. One nice part of the day was that there weren’t so many tourists as usual roaming the streets, so it was much less crowded than it typically is, according to Sergio.
As restrictions continue to loosen around the world, more attractions will begin to open again and things will become more and more like normal. A lesson that I took from this experience was that as countries find their way back to normal or to a “new normal” there may be delays on certain things, like opening museums or other attractions.
When we begin to fully travel again, I hope these issues don’t continue, but it’s best to be patient and make the most of the situation you are in. I think we did that in Toledo and we managed to still have a really fun day!