Wednesday, July 3: After I eat breakfast and check out of bcn fashion house, I carry my suitcases back to Placa Catalunya where I get on the Aerobus to Terminal 2 at the airport. There I wait in quite a long line to get my rental car, which I booked online through Europcar. I thought I was getting an economy car, though the price is certainly NOT economy. Instead I get a brand new Peugeot. It’s quite a nifty little car.
After Monday’s overwhelming train fiasco in trying to get to Montserrat, I decide at the last-minute to rent a car to drive to Toledo. People tell me it’s a 6-7 hour drive. It’s so strange how we in America think of European countries as being similar in size to one of our states. I had originally figured it might take 3-4 hours. But the people who told me 6-7 hours were right on.
Somehow I envision a drive that cuts across the diagonal of the country to Toledo, missing Madrid altogether. Little do I know that I will have to go to Madrid to get to Toledo. I just have to figure out my way around the ring road so I don’t end up in the center of Madrid, which would be my worst nightmare.
The drive goes pretty smoothly except when I get to Lleida, where I’m supposed to switch from the A2 to the AP2, which happens to be a toll road. The sign I pass for the AP2 seems so insignificant for such a major road, that I think it cannot be the right one. Soon after that exit that I don’t take, the A2 turns into a two lane road clogged with slow-moving trucks, which makes for very slow going. Finally, about 60 km from Zaragoza, I see another insignificant sign to the AP2, and I make my escape. I’m happy to pay the toll to be able to move along at a faster pace!
Along the way, the landscape is quite beautiful, with wheat farms, vineyards, and plateaus everywhere. Atop many of the plateaus are huge wind farms, with sleek windmills twirling in the breeze. I wonder what Don Quixote would have thought of these modern-day windmills.
About 60 km outside of Madrid, I stop at a gas station to ask directions to Toledo. This turns out to be a very smart move! I would have never known to look for the M50 off the ring road, which has NO SIGNS mentioning Toledo, if the nice guy at the gas station hadn’t given me directions. He only speaks Spanish, but he writes down the important names on a piece of paper; I follow his instructions and don’t get lost. I feel proud of myself, and that guy’s great directions, that I was able to get to Toledo without a hitch.
I printed out a MapQuest map for Toledo with directions to the hotel, but when I follow those directions, though I get off at the correct exit in Toledo, I am told to take the 3rd exit off of several roundabouts and find myself deposited right back on the highway heading away from Toledo. It takes me quite a while to find my way back and then quite a while more to find my way to the hotel. I park at a garage near the Alcazar and roll my suitcases a long distance down some very steep cobblestone streets, with a nice Spanish lady helping me along the way, and I find my hotel, La Posada de Manolo, on a very narrow winding street.
La Posada de Manolo is a hotel in the historical center of Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage City, in a completely renovated building. Rooms are distributed over three floors that thematically represent the three cultures that coexisted in Toledo (Arab, Jewish, and Christian). From its two terraces, we have views of the Cathedral, the San Ildefonso Seminary and the Cigarrales.
After getting settled in briefly, I head out to find a cafe because all I have eaten during my drive is a small bag of Tostidos. I find a nice outdoor corner cafe, Restaurant Alcazar, where I order paella de verduras, or vegetable paella, and a glass of red wine. When I order a second glass of wine, the waiter kindly fills it up to the top! Nice. 🙂
At the cafe, I get into a long-running conversation with an older Spanish-speaking couple who ask me to take their picture. The woman goes on and on telling me about something, and though I don’t understand, I nod as if I do. I speak to her in English and she nods as if she understands and continues to speak in Spanish. We talk and talk with neither of us having a clue what the other is saying. The woman shows me a video on her phone of a little girl singing and dancing. I take it that the girl is her granddaughter. It’s quite a lovely conversation, despite having no understanding whatsoever!
After dinner, by this time around 11 p.m., I head to the main square, Zocodover Square, and begin walking. Toledo’s streets are a maze of narrow winding streets, plazas and patios, many lacking street signs.
After dinner and my two glasses of wine, I can’t make heads or tails of the confusing map and I end up wandering around the streets totally lost. I begin to fear I will never find my hotel, and at one point I think I might start crying. But I don’t. I bear on, wandering and wondering, until I see a familiar sight, the theater, then I know I’m close. I make it to the hotel, where I settle in for a long cozy night.