I won’t even begin to try and describe the difficulty we had getting out of Madrid (no we didn’t break down and buy a GPS) but at last we were on the right highway, headed south towards Toledo. When we went there the first time we had taken a local bus in order to see the surrounding countryside and the small towns, and had ridden back on the high-speed train in less than a half hour. It didn’t take much longer to drive to this fortress city on a high rocky promontory, but it was nice that we didn’t first have to take the metro all the way into the centre of Madrid in order to reach the train station.
After our experiences driving our rental car into the narrow, winding streets of some of the small towns in western Spain, we didn’t hesitate to plunge into similar streets in Toledo in order to find a place to park. Big mistake. The streets were no less narrow, but because Toledo is such a popular tourist destination, there is no public parking within the city walls and we were forced to find our way back out of the labyrinth of streets and park long the river near the base of the hill. This meant that we had a very steep hike back up the streets we had just driven down and we were more than ready for lunch when we finally reached the Plaza Major.
I know we are in Spain, but instead of heading for a typical meal of ‘paella’, I suggested to Adia that she might like to eat a Middle Eastern meal at a restaurant where we had eaten on our first day in Toledo. She was only too happy to dig into some huge dishes of all the typical dishes: hummus, falafel, dolmades, fatouche salad and pita bread of course. Tummies full, we set off to explore the city in the few short hours we had available.
We enjoyed walking through the streets and admiring the stunning stonework however, we couldn’t help but be struck by the changes we saw, most likely brought about by the deepening economic crises compounded by the fallout from the volcano spewing ash over most of Europe. It happened to be a Sunday afternoon, and perhaps that would explain why the streets were almost deserted, but that wouldn’t explain why many of the few shops that were open displayed signs advertising drastic markdowns on the typical handicrafts of the region as well as the tourist souvenirs.
The volcanic ash had grounded most flights for the past 10 days and the few tourists who were visiting Toledo didn’t seem to be in much of a buying mood, certainly not like the tourists who visited during the bygone heydays of previous years. If we were a more typical tourist couple, we would have been taking advantage of this buying opportunity, but as you know, we travel light and prefer to continue to do so. Adia isn’t much of a shopper herself so I’m afraid we may have been viewed as part of the problem, rather than part of the solution to the storekeepers’ woes.
However, I did make a point to slip into a shop that sells swords, works of art that have been crafted in Toledo for centuries. I had read that all of the swords used in the making of the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ trilogy were real swords, made in Toledo using ancient techniques and decorated with inlaid metals in a time-honoured way. I had missed taking photos of the swords during my first visit, and wanted to get some shots. This did mean that I had to go into a shop and ask permission to take photos, knowing full well that I wasn’t going to be buying one for myself. I explained this to the shopkeeper, and she agreed to let me take a few photos, but then she almost begged me to buy some jewellery. I really felt badly leaving empty-handed.
The sun was getting low in the sky when we made our way back towards our parked car. As we started down a narrow pedestrian street, I stopped to take a photo of the beautiful passageway. An elderly couple walking behind us, paused and waited until I was done. It was clear they were local residents and they wanted us to enjoy their beautiful city as much as they do. I waited for them to pass us and then when I noticed them taking each other’s hands as they walked, I quickly pulled out my camera and snapped just one more picture. It’s one of my favorites from that day.
Our real adventure came when we tried to get back to our hotel in Madrid. The drive was pleasant enough until we missed our exit and became hopelessly turned around. By this time, the sun had set and it was impossible to recognize landmarks we were familiar with. So many of the freeways in Madrid circle the city center and it becomes hard to tell which direction you are travelling in after a while. Suddenly, I came up with an idea. We knew our hotel was within a few minutes drive of the airport, and we knew our way from the airport to the hotel. We simply drove around until we saw a sign indicating the direction to the airport and followed the subsequent signs.
After making a loop through the departures level of Terminal One, we headed off to our hotel with little difficulty. We parked the car on the street near the hotel and headed to our room to indulge ourselves in a tapas meal consisting of cheese, olives, fresh bread and a bottle of tasty red wine. It had been an eventful day and we had seen some wonderful sights. Adia had a restless night on the hide-a-bed; the mattress was substandard, surprisingly so because the rest of the room was furnished so comfortably. We decided we would talk to the staff and see if there was anything that could be done about it. The room had a small kitchenette and we didn’t really want to move. Oh, the trials and tribulations of foreign travel.