Saturday, October 20, 2007

Barcelona - Toledo 22nd September 2007

This morning we were up and having breakfast by 7.15 and on the road by 8am. It took us a little longer than we had hoped to get out of the city - sometimes Gloria doesn’t know where she is going !!!!! When we both agreed that what she was saying was wrong - we went our way and just made her recalculate her way !!!! Nothing like being the boss and making her change her mind.

We decided to drive down the coast to Valencia and then across towards Madrid before taking the turnoff to Toledo. We didn’t have very good weather with rain on and off the whole day. Plus we seemed to go through I don’t know how many toll roads - maybe we will have to tell Gloria not to take us on the toll roads when she is calculating our route for us !!! The scenery was very different to what we saw between Madrid and Barcelona - that was funny because there would be mountains on one side of the road and flat plains on the other. Often there were fields and fields of very well racked stones - what they grow there is anyone’s guess but the soil looks like it couldn’t support a colony of ants never mind grow anything. We did see olive orchards and grapes - not sure which of those can grow in yellow cracker dust (because that is exactly what it looks like with some bigger stones thrown in for good measure !!!)

Today the scenery was a lot more green - between mountains they seem to have more rain and therefore more greenery around. But we still went through some barren stretches where it looked like nothing would grow.

We have pictures (curtesy of Al) of I don’t know how many castles and churches on hill tops - most of them too far in the distance to actually be able to see what they are !! I think the same can be said for narrow alleyways and balconies (this one curtesy of me !!!) What happens is we see a castle on a hilltop / narrow alley / balcony and think - gosh that is amazing and forget about the other 10 ‘amazing’ sites we have already photographed !!!!

On the way we were wondering if it was going to be worth the trip as it was a little out of our way - well, we couldn’t have been more wrong. It is just magnificent - I thought I had left my heart in Madrid but now I have to bring half here and leave it here. It is like stepping into a time machine and going back 1000 years. The city of Toledo itself sits on the top of a hill - parts of the city wall still stand and a fair proportion of the city is surrounded by the Rio Tajo. As we drove past we were amazed at how old the buildings are - they have a festival on here this weekend (from what we could understand) it is the festival of no cars in Toledo. So, if we had managed to get accommodation within the city walls at a hotel which had parking, we could have driven in today but then not been able to take our car out until Monday. Needless to say we couldn’t find any accommodation within the city limits and the first place we stopped at wanted to charge 70 euros (+- A$125) per person per night. We had sort of got an idea we couldn’t afford it when we walked in wearing shorts and thongs and people walked out in suits and fancy dresses (not ha ha fancy dresses - real fancy dresses) with their hair all done and really dressed to the nines - all off to mass at the cathedral. Anyway, we eventually managed to find a lovely little hotel not too far from the city at a very reasonable price so we dumped our gear, put on our walking shoes and headed off.

After last night we wised up to the use of public transport and managed to get a bus to take us into the City Centre (a rather long walk if done without the help of the bus) and managed to find out that the last bus left at 11pm. We had our map and off we set - I wasn’t paying as much attention to where we were going as what I should have been as I spent too much time picking my jaw up off the floor at the sights !!!! We landed up on the outskirts of the city on the side we didn’t really want to be on so we walked back up to the City Centre (Plaza Zocodover) and started all over again. This time I gave the map to Kaitlin so that I could spend more time looking at the narrow cobble stoned roads and the amazing architecture. I can’t say enough about how amazing it is - the trouble is that the photos really don’t do it justice either.

I was reading in the Lonely Planets guide that the city is slowly dying as nobody wants to live within the city limits and eventually they expect it will consist only of souvenir shops, ice-cream parlours, cafes and bars. Everyone is moving down the side of the hill, outside the city limits, and living and working in the surrounding areas. I have to say that I can’t imagine living there and having to battle to find parking each day (I know some people in Sydney who have to do this anyway !!!!) - driving down street barely wide enough for your car at the same time as having to miss hitting the tourists who flock there in their thousands. It seems to me that a lot of the people who live there are elderly people who have maybe lived there for years and years and don’t want to move away. It had the feel a real community living - something which the Spaniards do very well. Unfortunately there was still a lot of graffiti around which was sad to see.

We stopped at one cafĂ© for dinner - Al had spaghetti bolognaise, Kaitlin had fettucine fungi and I had paella - it was delicious. They served it in a cast iron skillet and it was just wonderful. We decided to make this Al’s birthday dinner as we hadn’t really had a birthday dinner for him when we were out with Ignacio. We managed to catch a bus at about 10.20pm and after the walk from the bus stop to the hotel got here, showered and the other two are in bed and asleep. The bath is the smallest bath I have ever seen (or used) it is even smaller than the bath we used to have in the house where I grew up !!!!!!

I really feel that if I had to go home tomorrow, I would have had my money’s worth on this holiday - it has been such a fantastic experience. There are many times when I have compared Spain to other places we have travelled to - there are many similarities but there are also so many differences. We are still not used to having to put up with people smoking wherever we go - we got into the hire car on Thursday and the first thing Al said was “People have smoked in here” - I really appreciate the stance that Australia has taken with people smoking in public places. I truly believe you have to travel before you can fully appreciate what you have at home.

I would also like to have some down time - this past week has been totally exhausting. Between the long flights over - 3 days of jumping on and off buses - together with all the walking we have done - plus with Al not used to the roads and not knowing where we are going, I haven’t been able to do my usual ‘get in the car and 20 mins later I’m asleep’ trick as it wouldn’t be fair to leave him to try to navigate it all by himself. I guess I could sit in the back and leave Kaitlin in the front except she has been sleeping a lot of the time in the back herself !!!!!! I would rather she slept and didn’t turn into Miss CrankyPants than I slept and make us both have to live with her !!!!

It is now 1.10am and if I am going to want to get up tomorrow morning to do another whirlwind walk through Toledo before leaving for Malaga, I had better get to sleep - it should be a fun night as not only are we in a double bed (we are used to a king size bed) - we only have one looooooooooooooooooong pillow to share between us (instead of our usual 4) !!!!

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