Day 13 - Wednesday, April 5, 2017 - Travel to Madrid; Walking Tour to Explore Toledo, City of Three Cultures
It was a beautiful day in the neighborhood with the temperature already 47 degrees. We left the land of the olive groves and headed north toward Madrid. We traveled through La Mancha, meaning flat and dry land.
Rikardo gave us more explanations about the languages of Spain and the different regions of Basque and Galician. He also explained our day's itinerary, another long day but with two very special stops along the way to break up the travel day.
We drove on a minor two lane back road and then connected to E-5, one of the major arteries to the capital, Madrid. Our morning stop was at the highway junction.
Rikardo explained that the laws for bus drivers in the EU are very strict. Every four hours the driver must have a 45-minute break. The break can be divided into 15 and 30 minutes segments.
We had the last glimpses of Andalusia before crossing into Castile-La Mancha, another major province. The landscape changed dramatically with no more olive groves but oak trees and also pines in a huge national park.
There were rocky hillsides dotted with a few small farms and then around the next bend we saw expansive fields. This land was very diverse with vistas of dark red soil, fields of newly sprouting grain, vineyards, and bright green pastures.
Solar panels and wind turbines replaced most of the old style windmills that Don Quixote battled. Power lines crisscross the flat plains bringing electricity to each small farm.
We entered the humble town of Puerto Lápice to visit the area famous as being the land of the stories from Don Quixote. We had about 20 minutes to use the rest rooms and look in the little shop.
Vic climbed up to a vantage point to be able to take a photograph of the traditional windmills with the round white grinding mills topped with the black peaked roofs and the four huge blades of the medieval structures.
Back on the road again at 12:00, we continued our journey to the big city of Toledo. Luis took us on a short tour of the city, once the center of the world and all of Spain until 1492. Toledo was the capital of Spain until 1561.
The River Targus was a natural defense for the city; Toledo was never a walled fortress. We stopped at an overlook for another group photo. The sky was perfect, just a few clouds for a little contrast.
We had lunch at a local restaurant called Venta de Aires that was founded in 1891. We enjoyed a large salad and the specialty of the region, paella. Cooked in shallow pan in a huge oven, paella is a rice based casserole type dish. The ingredients are rice, vegetables, seafood, chicken, and sometimes sausage.
After lunch we met our Toledo guide, Carlos. We took the bus a short distance and then used the six escalators to climb to the top of the old city. Toledo was a wonderful walking city and we hiked from the escalators to the Cathedral.
The city has 79 churches and one cathedral. Carlos reminded us of the phrase, "Holy Toledo" - the city has more churches than the population of 80,000 can support. Built over a 267-year span of time, the cathedral was completed in 1493.
Carlos gave us a very detailed tour of the cathedral and then we experienced the “Easter egg", the sacristy where there were over 15 original paintings by El Greco. This priceless collection was a museum in itself.
Until 1492, Toledo was known as the city of tolerance. Carols reminded us that before the Inquisition that Muslims, Jews, and Christians lived in the city together in harmony. This was a concept that many of our guides have stressed throughout the trip.
Our walking tour took us to the Church of Santo Tomé to see one of the most famous El Greco paintings, The Burial of the Lord of Orgaz, painted in 1586.
Our last stop on the tour was the Santa Maria Blanca church, an active synagogue as early as 1220. The building was built by a Muslim architect specifically to be a synagogue but after the Jews were expelled the Christians took over the well built structure.
We completed our tour at 5:30 and then walked across the Puente de San Martin, St. Martin's Bridge to meet Luis and our bus. The 45-minute drive to Madrid took us until 8:00 because of several accidents and the heavy traffic getting into the city.
Luis had a long day of driving and when we arrived at our hotel, we all thanked him for keeping us safe. The day was full of highlights; it will be difficult to choose the best photos that represent our activities.
Just seeing the land of Don & Sancho was a real treat. It might be time to reread their adventures. To review:
"Don Quixote: Dost not see? A monstrous giant of infamous repute whom I intend to encounter.
Sancho Panza: It's a windmill.
Don Quixote: A giant. Canst thou not see the four great arms whirling at his back?
Sancho Panza: A giant?
Don Quixote: Exactly."
Don Quixote, Cervantes, 1605
Accommodations: Emperador Hotel - - - Meal: B & L
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I've been to Toledo, but didn't see so much on our own. OAT gives so much information and depth to travel!
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Sounds like yet another great day and the Paella . . . wow. We have had tons of snow but it is pretty much melted and provided lots of moisture.
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