Well that was Toledo’s status until the upstart village of Madrid down the road began to take on airs and pretensions. It was the Visigothic capital of Spain and remained so until the Arab conquest. As a result it is packed full of old stuff and, as readers will already know, DonQui is particularly fond of old stuff.
Toledo may not be a bustling hive of modern activity so those seeking exciting nightlife and cutting edge fashion should probably go elsewhere. DonQui, however, is in his element trotting up and down the narrow, winding, cobbled, medieval streets. Around every corner there is another church, monastery, convent, synagogue or some other edifice which had been around since the time when most Anglo-Saxons were living in mud huts.
Best of all is the Museum of Visigothic Culture set in the old Church of San Roman which had been a church, then a mosque and then a church again. The walls are covered with 13th century paintings which remind DonQui that at one time all medieval churches were painted like this.
The Visigoths have not left much from their 300 year reign but DonQui is obsessed enough to get quite excited by the smattering of inscribed columns, coins and other artefacts. The explanations are in Spanish only but the setting is worth the trip alone and the normal €1 entry is waived.
Not so at the main cathedral where entry is €8. DonQui hesitates for a moment. The helpful lady explains that this includes an audio-guide which produces a barely disguised look of disgust as DonQui cannot abide audio-guides. DonQui digs deep into his pockets, produces the required cash and trots inside. It is, of course, quite magnificent and the cathedral is held up as the epitome of the Spanish Gothic style (which has nothing to do with the Visigoths). In layout and decoration it is very much like the cathedral in Seville — designed to be an awe inspiring demonstration of church and state.
The battle scenes carved on the backs of the wooden choir chairs are a not so subtle reminder of the connection between temporal and spiritual power. Depicting the reconquest of Spain by the Christians they show towns being besieged, Muslim defenders falling from the battlements and their leaders kneeling in capitulation.
DonQui actually much prefers his military to ecclesiastic history so he is delighted to learn that the old Alcazar — the great citadel — has been transformed into a most excellent military museum covering the entirety of Spanish military history from the Roman conquest through to modern Afghanistan.
Very well laid out over several floors with good explanations in both Spanish and English it keeps DonQui enthralled for a good couple of hours.
There is even a whole exhibition devoted to the history of toy soldiers with some magnificent dioramas and displays. Those who know DonQui well will understand how much he enjoyed this.
There is not much going on in the evenings. With dinner starting no earlier than 9pm, and most locals arriving after that, there are worse ways to pass an evening than sipping on a drink or two and sampling the tapas — the latter coming in larger than normal portions. El Trebol and El Embrujo are DonQui’s favourites.
One evening as he makes his way back from dinner DonQui comes across a local Rolling Stones tribute band playing in the cathedral square. The setting is incongruous and the band not very good but DonQui finds it delightfully entertaining none the less.
DonQui is in Toledo for 3 days. Much of his enjoyment in a new place comes from simply wandering around the streets and seeing what he can find. He never takes guided tours, preferring to sacrifice efficiency for exploration and quiet contemplation.
He is quite surprised, therefore to see that the tourist board seems to have set up a number of signs to help him find his way around.
These lead eventually to a statue of Miguel de Cervantes — author of the story about DonQui Oaty’s namesake. This is La Mancha after all.
For those less obsessed with old stuff than DonQui a day or two would probably suffice.
Toledo is easily reached by the fast efficient train from Madrid Atocha station which takes 33 minutes when the Spanish railway workers are not on strike. Every time DonQui has been in Spain there has been a strike but fortunately on the days he travelled his journeys were not disrupted. A car would be worse than useless as Toledo is a medieval city far more suited to Donkeys than automobiles.
DonQui secured a wonderful apartment in the heart of the old city through Airbnb. This is now his first port of call when looking for a place to stay as for less than the price of a hotel room he can have more space, greater privacy and the advice of a local to recommend good places to eat and drink.
As in most parts of Spain there are plenty of cafés and restaurants but the number of places to sit outside and watch the world go by are unusually limited. Most stick to traditional opening hours with lunch between 2-4pm and dinner after 9pm.
DonQui found it quite difficult to find a place to sit down for a drink in the late afternoon or early evening. Breakfast options were even more problematic with no bakeries close by nor any cafés offering anything suitable. DonQui had to make do with bread he bought the night before. His was grateful that his apartment was suitably equipped for making coffee.