Saturday, July 6: I take a taxi this morning to the Alcazar parking garage, where I collect my Peugeot and head out on the road by about 8:15. I’m supposed to meet someone named Barry from Tour Andalucia at Malaga Airport by 2:00 today, and I’ve been told it takes less than 5 hours to drive to Malaga. I figure I’ve built in an extra 45 minutes to make petrol stops and to see the windmills of Consuegra.
Consuegra is in the province of Toledo, Castilla-la-Mancha, about 60 km south of Toledo. Right along the highway, I can see the town’s famous windmills perched on a hill next to a 12th century castle. The castle and the windmills are Consuegra’s most important monuments.
Most Spanish windmills, like those described in Cervante’s Don Quixote, can be found in the province of Castilla-La Mancha. The best examples of restored Spanish windmills are found in Consuegra. The castle was once a stronghold when Consuegra was the seat and priory of the Knights of San Juan.
When I drive up the hill, I pass people who seem to be part of a running club, people walking their dogs, bicyclists and a tour group. It’s a lovely morning with a cool breeze. What an excellent place to get some exercise on a weekend morning!
Consuegra’s windmills became famous in the 16th century, when Don Quixote was first published. The windmills were introduced by “Caballeros Sanjuanistas” to help millers. The machines used the wind to grind grain, most commonly wheat. The windmills were transmitted from fathers to sons. They stopped being used at the beginning of the 1980s (Wikipedia: Consuegra).
After my brief stop, I continue on the highway toward Malaga.
Friday, July 5: This morning, I am once again annoyed by my habit of waking up at 5 a.m. I lie in bed and check emails and mess around with my blog, but, eventually, I find myself getting drowsy. I fall into a welcome slumber. I must be exhausted because this doesn’t happen often. I sleep until nearly 10:00. 🙂 Finally, my body is getting the hint that I’m on holiday.
I have to get up and get dressed, otherwise I’ll miss breakfast which is only served until 11. I eat breakfast on the terrace right under the wire, and then I spend some more time lying around reading and relaxing. I don’t know how much energy I have to tackle the sweltering streets of Toledo. I decide I’ll go in search of Mezquita Cristo de la Luz, have a late lunch, and then come back to my room and nap. I may as well: the afternoon siesta in Spain happens for a reason. It’s too hot to do anything else. In the late afternoon all the shops are shuttered and the streets are quiet. Only foolhardy people like myself wander about at these hours. I think I’m finally learning to fall into the rhythms of life in Spain.
I wander through the streets and decide to walk up toward the Alcazar garage, where my car has been parked. I ask them what time they open in the morning, because I want to get an early start tomorrow morning to drive to Malaga. They tell me they’re open 24 hours. I also am debating driving to Consuegra to see the windmills. I debate and debate and ultimately decide against it because Consuegra is right along the drive south. Why bother driving there today? I’ll just need to build in an extra hour to make a stop there.
I take some more photos of the Alcazar from the outside.
I then go up the elevator to the library to see the views from a small shabby cafeteria. All I want to do is to take pictures, but the cafeteria people look at me like I’m an interloper since I’m not buying any food. I think a place like the Alcazar should have a public viewing area; after all it’s the highest point in Toledo and could offer magnificent views. But there’s only one small open window; the others are closed. Here’s what I see.
On my way back to Zocodover Plaza, I stop to sample one piece of Marzipan Delicia. Toledo is famous for its marzipan, so I figure I should sample some while here. It is quite delicia!
I continue strolling through the streets of Toledo. I seem to be moving a lot slower lately.
I go back to my room after making a stop to buy two cute tops at a shop near my hotel. I relax for a bit, then head back out to Mezquita Cristo de la Luz.
This 1,000-year old mosque was built in the Caliphate period. Two centuries later, it was transformed into a church and an apse was added, following the Mudejar style of the old building.
By now it is nearly 2:00 and I want some respite from the heat and lunch. I find this little restaurant, Posada El Cristo de la Luz. It’s not air-conditioned, so I almost leave, but the owner is so charming, he convinces me to stay. It is cooler than outside, and it becomes quite pleasant after I sit for awhile and rest near a fan. I order a glass of chilled white wine because I plan to nap this afternoon.
I also order some Tagine because I think I overhear the word prawns, but it obviously does not have prawns. It does have plenty of beef though. It is so delicious, with it’s cinnamon flavored gravy, that I feel like each bite is a small taste of heaven.
On my way out, I ask the owner where he’s from and he says Aleppo, Syria. He misses his country tremendously and fears for the safety of his family members. Luckily, he’s safe in Spain.
After lunch, I go into the museum of Mezquita Cristo de la Luz and into the mosque.
The vaults are partial or total reproductions of the vaulted ceilings in the mosque of Cordoba, the capital of Al-Andalus.
The presbytery is decorated with Romanesque fresco paintings. On the vault, Christ in Majesty is surrounded by the four symbols of the Evangelists.
After visiting the mosque, I decide to return to my hotel and take a rest. I actually take a nap for a couple of hours. Only around 8:00 do I head back to Restaurant Alcazar, where I order a set menu of gazpacho, hake fish fried in batter with potatoes, accompanied by una cerveza and followed by flan for dessert, all for 10 euros.
Back at the hotel, I start preparing for my trip to Malaga tomorrow morning. Before I go to sleep, I visit the hotel terrace to see the Cathedral all lit up.
It’s a lovely day, and I’m really glad I got a lot of rest. I need to learn to relax more while traveling and not run myself into the ground. 🙂
Thursday, July 4: After visiting the Sinagoga, I head up the street to the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes. This monastery was built by the Catholic King and Queen, Isabel (Elizabeth) and Fernando (Ferdinand) to commemorate their victory at the Battle of Toro (1476) over the army of Alfonso of Portugal.
The Church is dedicated to Saint John the Evangelist, patron saint of King Juan II. Common opinion says that it was intended to be used by the Catholic Monarchs as a pantheon (royal burial-place), but this idea changed after the conquest of Granada in 1492. They were actually buried in the Chapel Royal of Granada Cathedral.
The Monastery was built in the Gothic Flemish school of architecture. Construction began in 1477. The building is of solid granite stone.
The lower cloisters, with 24 Gothic vaulted ceilings and distinct ‘mudejar’ influence, open out into the garden through five large windows with center partitions which has decorative tracery. The Gothic-form arches rest on pillars with relief carvings of flora and fauna.
I adore the cloisters of this monastery.
The ceiling is constructed of highly crafted larch wood, painted with the motifs and coat of arms of the Catholic Monarchs – the initials F and Y (Fernando and Isabel).
Since 1978-79, San Juan de los Reyes has been a fully functioning parish church.
I head back through the streets of Toledo, where I stop at a cafe near my hotel for a light dinner of salmon salad. I’ve been drinking white wine in Toledo, something I don’t normally drink, because the chilled wine is the perfect antidote to the high temperatures. 🙂
For dessert, I treat myself to a stracciatella gelato.
I’m starting to get a little worn down from all my travels and from trying to do too much. I go back to my room early tonight, around 10:00, and relax in my air-conditioned room. I think tomorrow in Toledo, I will sleep in and make it more of a restful day. 🙂
Thursday, July 4: From the Toledo City Tour bus, I’m deposited off a small square near the Alcazar, where I find this strange sculpture.
Then I tackle the colorful streets of Toledo in search of the Catedral de Toledo, which I know happens to be close to my hotel.
Spanish fans are for sale in many shops, but I love these lacy ones.
I come upon an entrance to the Catedral, but obviously this one isn’t the right one, as you can only walk into the entryway and you can’t proceed further because of a locked wrought iron gate inside.
As I walk around the other side of the immense Catedral, where the official entrance must be, I decide to stop and have a little Tortellini Finas Hiervas & Granizado de Limon at Bar El Rojas.
Finally I walk around to the other side of the Catedral, where I must pay 8 euros to get in.
The Holy Church Cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary in her Assumption to the heavens. Construction began in 1227 over the foundations of the Visigoth Cathedral of the 6th century, which had been used as a mosque. It’s constructed in a Gothic style with a French influence and is 120 meters long by 60 meters wide. It contains 5 naves supported by 88 pillars and 72 vaults.
The Cathedral is the Mother Church of the diocese because it holds the chair or See of the Bishop. The Eucharist and other liturgical celebrations are held here.
The main chapel is stunning, with its main altarpiece made of polychrome and golden wood, completed by numerous sculptors over a six-year period (1498-1504). The atrium of the altarpiece is finished off with a huge Cavalry surrounded by a starry sky.
The Choir was built to accommodate the cathedral’s clergy. A beautiful Gothic French sculpture from the 16th century called The White Blessed Virgin looks over the altar.
The lower stalls tell the story of Granada’s conquest.
The organ in the choir towers overhead.
I love this amazing painting in one of the domes.
After I finish at the Cathedral, I go back to my hotel to relax a bit. All the shops seem to close in the late afternoon, much like they did in Oman, probably because of the high temperatures (100 degrees F) in the afternoon. I’m exhausted and need to learn to slow down and take an afternoon off now and again.
Manolo at the front desk of the hotel.
I go out walking again to continue my stroll through history, in search of the two Jewish synagogues. By the time I go back out in the afternoon, it’s sweltering. I would have been better off had I come out later, as the sun was going down. On the way to the synagogues, I pass by the cathedral again, as it’s right around the corner from my hotel.
I pass by more inviting balconies; I think everyone inside is still napping, which is the only thing one should be doing in this heat. 🙂
I walk to an overlook near the Rio Tajo.
Finally, after taking quite a convoluted path, I arrive at the synagogue of Samuel ha-Levi, also known as the Sinagoga del Transito, which houses the Museo Sefardi. This synagogue was built in the mid-14th century. When the Jews were expelled in 1492, the Catholic Monarchs ceded to the Order of Calatrava the “main synagogue the Jews had in Toledo, in exchange for the Alcazar and Palacios de Galiana with the Church of Santa Fe, possessions of this Order.”
By 1494, the building was no longer used as a synagogue and became part of the Priory of St. Benedict.
After I leave the Sinagoga del Transito, I head next to the beautiful Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes.
Thursday, July 4: The next place I go on my walking tour is the Alcázar of Toledo, a stone fortification that sits at the highest part of Toledo.
In the third century, it was used as a Roman palace. Abd ar-Rahman III built an al-qasr (fortress) here in the 10th century; it was later altered by the Christians, according to Lonely Planet Spain.
It was restored under Charles I and Philip II of Spain in the 1540s. In 1521, Hernan Cortes was received by Charles I at the Alcázar, following Cortes’ conquest of the Aztecs. (Wikipedia: Alcazar of Toledo)
The Alcázar was largely destroyed during the siege of Franco’s forces in 1936 but Franco had it rebuilt and turned into a military museum (Lonely Planet Spain).
It’s a bit strange going in this place because it’s just a huge military museum. It’s easy to get lost! Only when you first enter can you see some excavated ruins. Otherwise, inside it’s just like any other museum.
There is no place to climb for a view unless you go through the library entrance and take an elevator up to a small, shabby cafeteria.
I’m not that interested in military history, so I find the whole thing a little disappointing. My favorite part is taking pictures from the garden outside.
After leaving the museum, I get on the hop-on, hop-off Toledo City Tour for 9 euros. Because of its narrow streets, Toledo is mostly a walking city. The tour actually takes you out of the city and across the river, the Rio Tajo. There really are not any real hop-on, hop-off options like in most cities. The only positive to the tour is that it takes you across the river where you can get some amazing views of the city.
Our first stop on the Toledo City Tour is the train station in Toledo, built in the Neo-Mudéjar architectural style using horseshoe arches and abstract shaped brick ornamentation for the façades.
We then cross over the Rio Tajo.
We can see fabulous views of the Alcázar and Toledo’s skyline, including the Cathedral.
We can also see the San Juan de los Reyes Franciscan Monastery.
After I hop off the bus tour, I head through the streets of the city in search of the Catedral de Toledo.
Thursday, July 4: I normally wake up every morning at 4:30-5 a.m. and can’t go back to sleep. While on this trip, I have still been waking up at 4:30 or 5, but after I get up and mess around on my blog or read emails, I find myself getting sleepy again. I allow myself the luxury to drift off again. This morning, I do the same, wake up early, then fall back to sleep, waking for the second time at 8:30, which is pretty nice for me. 🙂 I love being on vacation. I really don’t have to get up at all if I don’t feel like it!
Breakfast is served at La Posada de Manolo from 8:30-11, so I shower and go up to the terrace where I have a wonderful view of Catedral de Toledo. I have some coffee, eat some cold cuts (which seem to be the norm for breakfast in Spain, at least in the two places where I’ve stayed), drink some orange juice and enjoy the view from the terrace.
I head out to walk, following Lonely Planet Spain‘s Walking Tour: A Stroll Through History. On the way, I pass a ceramic plate in a shop doorway with the monuments of Toledo pictured.
I first head to the Plaza de Zocodover, which is the central point for everything in Toledo. The square is lined by cafes that are prime spots for people watching. According to Lonely Planet Spain, from 1465 to the 1960s, Zocodover was the scene of the city’s Tuesday market and successor to the Arab souq ad-dawab (livestock market), hence the name. For centuries, toledanos enjoyed their bullfights here, or gathered to watch public burnings at the stake during the Inquisition.
It’s too bad about that McDonald’s.
From the Plaza de Zocodover, I pass through the Arco de la Sangre on the eastern side of the square, heading to the Museo de Santa Cruz.
The 16th century Museo de Santa Cruz combines Gothic and Spanish Renaissance styles. I love the cloisters and the carved wooden ceilings. I walk through the museum, enjoying the mosaics, the porcelain plaques, the woodwork and the religious paintings and tapestries. I also enjoy the air-conditioning, as Toledo is quite hot. While Barcelona was about 25 degrees Celsius every day I was there, Toledo is about 38 (100 F). On these narrow winding and steep streets, with stone all around, the heat is trapped and I feel like I’m in an oven. Any chance I have to dip into air-conditioning is a sweet relief.
After leaving Museo de Santa Cruz, I head to Toledo’s famous Alcázar.
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 renovatedbuilding. Rooms are distributed overthree floorsthat 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.
Tuesday, June 11: I’ve planned my time in Spain, but, so far, I haven’t even begun to think of Portugal. I know I better start thinking about it soon because I have to fly out of Lisbon on July 25.
Here’s my itinerary so far.
June 28-July 3: Barcelona, Spain, including Montserrat. I’m staying at BCN Fashion House: (bcn fashion house)
I decided to skip Madrid altogether.
July 3-6: Toledo, Spain. I’ll be staying at La Posada de Manolo. Last summer when I was traveling in Greece, I met an inspiring South African lady, Marie-Claire. She had come to Greece after traveling all over Europe, but especially in Spain and Portugal. She highly recommended I stay more than one day in Toledo. Since I have a small group tour lined up in Andalucia from July 6-12, I booked 3 days/4 nights in Toledo.
Meet at Malaga Airport and subject to arrival time, spend a few hours in Mijas, a lovely mountain village overlooking the Mediterranean, then travel and check in to the Villa.
Breakfast and travel to Seville. Visit the Santa Maria Park to see the amazing Plaza Espana, the site of the American Exhibition of 1929. Walk from the park past some of Seville’s most historic buildings to the Barrio Santa Cruz. Wander through the narrow lanes of the Barrio and take a delicious tapas lunch ‘Seville style’ in one of the lovely small Plazas. In the afternoon visit the largest Cathedral in the world followed by the fabulous Alcazar, one of the oldest Royal Palaces in Europe. An elegant City, Seville was once one of the wealthiest in Europe.
Breakfast and travel to Ronda. One the way, we stop at the historic site of Teba Castle, scene of a famous battle with the Moors. In Ronda we walk you into the town and leave you by the magnificent bridge over the gorge to explore and sightsee on your own. Maybe take a ride around the old town in horse-drawn carriages and wonder at the sheer magnificence of the town perched along the cliff top of the Tajo gorge. Wander through the elegant narrow streets of the old town and visit some of the magnificent houses and the museum of Ronda. Visit the famous Ronda bullring home of the Matador and the oldest in Spain, now a museum.
Breakfast and travel to Malaga. On the way we visit the spectacular El Torcal National Park. Set high in the mountains there is a 45 minute walk through the amazing limestone formations. Arriving in Malaga at lunch hour we go to one of the great value seafood Chiringuitos by the sea. Sample fantastic sardines barbequed on an olive wood fire next to the Mediterranean. We take you into the centre of Malaga near the Cathedral and leave you to explore the town, maybe visiting the magnificent Cathedral, the large Moorish Alcazaba and Roman Theatre. And don’t forget the Picasso Museum since Picasso was born locally and his parents’ house is now the Picasso Foundation and open for visits.
Breakfast and travel to Cordoba. We walk through the old City Walls and into the pretty Barrio San Basilio and see one of the typical patios that Cordoba is famous for. The Royal Stables shows us some of the famous Andalucian horses in a lovely set of buildings. Onto the Christian Alcazar, nowhere near as grand as Seville, but designed in the Mudajar style, a fusion of Moorish and Christian Gothic and the scene of famous historic events including the planning of the voyage of Columbus. The 1,000 year old Arab baths built for the Caliphs remind us of a society long gone and we wander through the Juderia visiting the old Jewish Market & the Synagogue. A great tapas lunch in the Bodega Mesquita followed by the highlight of the day, the spectacular Mesquita, the greatest Mosque in the Western World and the only one with a Cathedral right in the centre of it. The famous Puente Romano bridge awaits demonstrating why Cordoba was the capital of the Roman empire in the Iberian Peninsula.
Breakfast and travel to Granada. Normally the highlight of our tour, we walk into the Bib Rambla, part of the old Silk Market and now the Flower Market of Granada. Here we suggest you sample some of the best Chocolate and Churros in Andalucia. Walking through the square we pass the Bishops Palace and walk into the Alcaiceria, the well-preserved old silk market. The Royal Chapel, commissioned as the burial site for the famous ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Ferdinand and Isabella, is now a museum and worth a visit. The beautiful Cathedral is one of the lightest inside that you will see. Have a light lunch and then we drive up to the Alhambra to spend a few hours wandering the gardens and buildings before entering the amazing Nasrid Palaces. After the visit we drive around the City and up to the top of the atmospheric Albaycin where we have dinner at Jardines de Zoraya who host an excellent Flamenco performance with local talented young musicians and dancers. A five-minute ‘after dinner’ walk takes us to the viewing point at San Nichols where we see the beauty of the Alhambra lit up at night set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
Breakfast and, subject to departure flight times, we visit the historic City of Antequera, home of the impressive 5,000 year old Dolmens and the first Alcazaba to fall in the reconquest of the kingdom of Granada. Return to Malaga Airport.
July 12-14: After my tour, I’ve been invited to spend two nights with Marianne, and her husband, of East of Málaga …. and more!. She lives in the countryside (el campo), in a beautiful area east of Málaga, known as La Axarquía. I’m really excited to meet a fellow blogger who now makes her home in the south of Spain.
July 14-25: Heading to Portugal. I think I will try to rent a car in Malaga and just take off toward Portugal, ending up my last four nights around Lisbon. While in Lisbon, I want to go to Obidos and Sintra, both highly recommended by my friend and fellow traveler, Marie-Claire. I also want to explore the Alfama in Lisbon. No specific plans for Portugal yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something before I leave Oman. 🙂