Today we took a sidetrip by train to historic Toledo, which has a rich history as a stop on the Roman transportation route, a Visigoth capital, Regional capital for the Moors and finally as capital of Spain until it was relocated to Madrid in the mid 16th century. It remains Spain's religious capital. The city itself is perched on a hill surrounded by ancient walls and ringed by a river. The city is the subject of many works of art by El Greco, a Greek painter who took Toledo as his home.
Upon our arrival, we hiked part way uphill from the train station and took a series of escalators to the old city as they say all streets in Toledo run uphill (they may be right). This took us to a section distant from the main square but we happily wandered the narrow winding streets, poking around some small shops and getting totally lost. Unable to find out destination, we ducked into an old restaurant in a cavern with somewhat out-of-place modern decor. After a quick bite of traditional Spanish tortilla, which is a potato omelet, not the familiar Mexican tortilla, we got some vague directions from our waiter and soon found the main square which was abustle of activity.
After browsing some more shops, we toured the magnificant Toledo Cathedral, resplendant with gold ripped off from the western colonies of Spain post-Columbus. The gold gilded enclosure around the main altar was particularly amazing. The Sacresty in the Cathedral contained many works including a number by El Greco and challenged many of the finest art galleries anywhere.
Next we visited the Museum of Santa Cruz which had free admission and offered a welcomed air conditioned environment. Within the museum was a charming little cloister with a lovely garden and fountain. One could imagine the nuns saying their vespers.
After checking the bus schedule back to the train station we figured we had enough time for a sangria stop. The bus didn't show at the appointed time and as a result we missed the train back to Madrid by a few minutes. Rather than wait 4 hours for the next train, we hoofed it to the bus station and boarded almost immediately for our return trip.
We then efficiently navigated our way through the maze of the metro back to our hotel. Along the way we noticed the red and yellow clad masses gathering along the Gran Via for the welcome parade for the soccer heroes. We realized that they would be passing directly in front of our hotel so after a quick shower and change we selected our choice spot on the Via thinking the parade would soon appear.
Along the sidewalk the crowds were swelling and the antics were good natured. That is until two families with a wagonload of kids showed up and parked themselves directly in front of us. For the next 3 hours we waited with grumpy kids incessantly blowing a more obnoxious version of the vuvuzela, crying for food and drink and clamoring up their mom who happened to be sitting very close to us. Pretty soon we were surrounded by whining chicos and unable to move an inch. People in the buildings above thought it was great fun to empty pails of water on the hordes below. We were relatively unscathed but were not amused! Just sour-puss Canadians I guess.
The heroes finally showed up in a red double decker bus to an appreciative roar from the crowd. Once we had our historic photos we quickly ducked inside our hotel for a well deserved respite from the swelter and racket of the crowd. The partying continued at the stadium with a huge rally,singing (yeah K'Naan) and fireworks and a crowd estimated at over a million including those who lined the streets and those assembled at the stadium. We could hear the fireworks and celebrating well into the early morning as we dozed off.
We will post some pictures later. Stay tuned.