|During our stay in Madrid, we decided it might be necessary to split along male/female sexes for one day to ensure the long term amicability of the family. The girls immediately settled on shopping, having noticed more than a few shoe stores in our previous days' travels. Cole and I being men, only require one pair of shoes, and hence saw no practical need to do likewise. Instead, we decided to seek out a more informative, historically based activity.
We had read that the legendary city of Toledo was nearby to Madrid and within a reasonable daytrip distance. Undaunted by the tripe language incident and wanting to demonstrate our independance to the girls, we confidently elected to head out of town. Cole has repeatedly demonstrated his natural navigator instinct, from the Tube in London, to the Souks of Marrekech, so it was no surprise when he ably determined the proper subway then train selections. (Note, Cole has supplanted Francine as my key go-to navigator, as just as his skills have improved, somehow Francine's have gotten worse). As it turned out, there was a dedicated Madrid to Toledo train leaving the main station every 2 hours or so and after a cumbersome dialogue with the Spanish ticket agent, Cole and I had our tickets for the 9 am train. We selected the 5 pm return thinking if we completed our visit early, we could always exchange it for an earlier train. After a one hour ride we arrived in Toledo, which has a small, but quite possibly the prettiest train station we have seen yet with collage murals and colourful tiles throughout. From the station to the historic part of town required a bus which again Cole ciphered out.
Toledo had on two separate occasions, spanning a combined 620 years, functioned as the capital of Spain in essence playing a more prominent role in the development of the country than perhaps any other city. During these years as the capital, a diverse group of peoples ruled including the Visigoths, Moors, and eventually the Christians following the Spanish Reconquista in 1492. Toledo was well known for the peaceful cohabition of Muslims, Jews, and Christians (at least until the Reconquista) and for this and the resultant architecture and art formed from this open society has been named a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The town itself is situated on the top of a hill, with its most significant structure, the Alcazar Fortress situated strategically on the crown. The current version (it has been rebuilt many times over the near 2000 year history of the city), is a massive structure constructed in the 16th century. Its most recent activity as an actual fortress occurred merely 80 years ago in 1936, when it was besieged by the Republican Army during the destructive Spanish Civil War. The other dominating building contributing to the Toledo skyline is the Cathedral - a grand Gothic church constructed during the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries featuring numerous Baroque statues and masterpieces by El Greco and Goya. In addition there are a number of smaller churches, synagogues, and museums depicting various periods in Toledo's past.
Cole and I first decided we would have breakfast Spanish style, so we found a cafe, sauntered up to the bar and ate our toast, drank our coffee/chocolate standing up, all the while making sure we looked like we were in a most extreme hurry. Once complete it was off to the tourist office to get a map and some advice on what to visit. Unfortunately, once there, the polite man advised that half the town's sites were under renovation at this time, including the Alcazar Fortress and millitary museum it now houses. As this museum was one of the primary reasons we had chosen to visit, we were a little disappointed. Instead we visited an exhibition on the Visigoth culture, climbed to the top of a local church steeple for some more arial photos and visited the Cathedral of Toledo. Although the cathedral, like most of the major churches in Europe, houses numerous artistic pieces from master artists, in this case EL Greco and Goya, we are probably suffering some church fatigue. As Cole put it - "just another church". Hence we didn't stay long and after a leisurely lunch found ourselves ready to return to Madrid early in the afternoon. Thinking we could still make the 3 pm return train we hustled down to the train station, only to have the ticket agent express it was sold out? Unless we could find a way onto the train, we would have to spend an extra 2 hours at the station. This is where Cole and I went offside with each other. Although the ticket agent didn't mention or indicate (he didn't speak English) anything about a standby list, I thought perhaps if we stay near the ticket sellers, if a space opens up, he will remember our request and offer us the spot. Cole on the other hand thought we should wait by the lineup to enter the train. Although the boy has lots of sway, I, being the Dad, overruled his suggestion and we waited in the building. When it got to within minutes of the train leaving with no sign of recognition from the ticket agent, I conceded to Cole and we moved outside to find a small line of passengers with a similiar request to ourselves had formed. By now Cole was in full "I told you so" mode which only amplified when the first 3 people in the standby line got on the train - spots that Cole rightly pointed out we would have had if I had listened to him in the first place. Too late now, and not enough time to get a bus back in to town, we grabbed a spot on the patio for a beer and soft drink. Cole demonstrating that uncanny ability to sleep anywhere, was quickly snoring hunched over his chair in the shade of a nearby tree. The two hours passed with the help of a couple more beer, our train arrived, and before we knew it we were back in Madrid.