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Clare
Clare

Day 11: Toledo

Our plan for today had always been to visit Toledo, but perhaps because it was at the end of the holiday, I hadn't put quite as much time into planning the logistics of it as I had some of our earlier days. This manifested itself first of all this morning over breakfast, when we realised that we didn't actually know which of the Madrid stations the trains to Toledo leave from. Oops!

Tim consulted the Renfe website and eventually we established that they leave from the station Puerta de Atocha, not to be confused with the nearby metro station of Atocha. It was eight stops to get to Puerta de Atocha on the metro, which didn't sound too bad, but we keep underestimating the sheer size of Madrid. It turned out that, including the walk from our apartment to the relevant metro station, it would take the best part of an hour to get there. The first train to Toledo we were therefore going to be on time to get was the 11.20.

We figured that would be okay and set off. There was another slight blip in our plans when, having bought the metro tickets, I accidentally inserted mine in a turnstile machine which was out of order. The turnstile gave me the ticket back, but when I tried to put it through a properly functional turnstile, the machine beeped and wouldn't let me through because it thought the ticket had already been used once. I was temporarily stranded!  Tim suggested that, seeing as I did technically have a valid ticket, I should climb over the turnstile barrier. There was no way I was going to be able to do that. In the end I managed to crawl under it xD

The metro journey was long and we arrived at Puerta de Atocha with about 10 minutes to spare to buy a ticket. We thought this ought to be fine, but we were wrong! First of all, our lack of experience with Spanish train stations meant that we initially started trying to use the wrong sort of ticket machines. It turns out that there are two types of Renfe ticket machines; one for local trains and one for long distance trains. When we eventually found the correct machine to buy tickets for long distance trains, there was still technically enough time to buy a ticket and get to the train... but the ticket machine told us that the 11.20 train was full O.o

A train being full is not a concept we have in England, where there is no relationship between the number of tickets they sell and the number of seats on the train. But the Spanish trains seem to operate like the fast trains in Italy, where you can only board the train if you have a ticket with an allocated seat, and so trains really can become "full". We were rather disappointed, but we really did want to go to Toledo, so we decided to buy tickets for the 12.20 train instead. Luckily that still had some spaces left!

This unexpected delay meant that we had just over an hour to kill in a Madrid station. That didn't seem the most appealing prospect, although the station building itself is quite impressive.

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We decided to go outside for a stroll. Upon exiting the station, the first thing we saw was the incredibly grand building of the Ministry of Agriculture.

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Consulting the map, we realised that the station wasn't far away from one of Madrid's large parks: Buen Retiro. We remembered it from our previous visit to Madrid and so decided to go for a stroll.

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It's a really beautiful park.

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I particularly enjoyed walking around the rose garden.

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We also found a pleasant lake... 

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...with an artificial waterfall.

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It's a big park, so we only succeeded in seeing part of it before we realised that we needed to head back to the station if we were going to successfully catch our 12.20 train. We thought we knew which way we needed to go, but we took a wrong turned and ended up having to retrace our steps, which cost us several minutes. We arrived back at the station with 10 minutes before our train departed. That sounded like it ought to be fine...

We'd reckoned without the complexity of Spanish train stations, however! We knew our train was departing from platform 14 and we saw a sign pointing to platforms 13 - 15 almost straight away. But then it turned out that there are difference entrances/exits to platforms depending on whether you are departing or arriving, and we were walking in the direction of arrivals. Then we realised that it order to get to the departure platforms, we needed to go up several flights of escalators. We managed that and got to the entrance of the platforms with a few minutes to spare... only to belatedly remember that to get on a train, you have to pass through security! Luckily there wasn't too much of a queue and it was just a case of showing our tickets to a ticket inspector and then passing Tim's bag through a scanner.

With two minutes left until our train departed, we had a mad dash along the concourse towards platform 14. I didn't think we were going to make it but thankfully we did, managing to jump onto the train about 30 seconds before the doors closed and continue walking down the carriages as the train pulled off until we found the one we were supposed to be sitting in. Phew!

The journey from Madrid to Toledo is pretty short, taking around 35 minutes, so we arrived just before 1pm. When we stepped off the train in Toledo, the first thing we wanted to take photos of was the train station itself!

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It's a really amazing building, with stained glass windows that wouldn't look out of place in a church.

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It also has a really ornate roof.

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There were various tour guides standing outside the station, trying to sell tickets for various tourist buses around the town. One of them threatened that it would take 35 minutes to walk from the station to the old town. We decided to risk it, confident that after the steep streets in Portugal, we ought to be able to handle any hills Toledo had to throw at us :)

As we walked along the road away from the station we got our first glimpse of the town. Wow.

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Toledo is situated on the Tagus river, which is the one that we'd seen entering the sea at Lisbon earlier in the week.

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The train station is on the opposite side of the river to the main town, so first of all we needed to cross the river via the Puente de Alcántara.

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This beautiful bridge was originally built by the Romans and now has two fortified gates, one at each end.

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As we crossed the bridge we had a wonderful view up towards the town and the Alcázar.

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Once we were on the far side of the river, we began our ascent up to the town. There was a staircase we could have taken but it looked really steep, so took a gentler route following the curve of a road. 

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There were some great views as we climbed. In particular, I loved this church with the patterned roof tiles.

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Eventually we made it up to the town centre. We calculated it took as about 20 minutes, so not as long as the tour guides had been telling people down at the station.

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As it had taken us so long to get to Toledo it was pretty much lunch time, so our first priority was to find somewhere to eat. As we walked through the narrow little streets of the old town looking for restaurants, we got a tantalising glimpse of the cathedral.

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Some of the restaurants in Toledo looked quite expensive, but we found a cheap little pizzeria that was completely empty when we arrived at 13.30. In England that might mean that there was something wrong with the food there, but in Spain it just meant that we were too early for the lunchtime rush; it was full by the time we left an hour later!  The pizza was delicious but Tim wasn't very happy when the one he ordered unexpectedly came covered in some sort tomato and gherkins salsa.

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After lunch we set out to explore more of Toledo and soon tracked down the cathedral.

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The cathedral is absolutely enormous, and very beautiful.

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Because of our late arrival, we didn't have as long as we'd hoped to spend in Toledo, so we didn't sight-see in a very structured manner, instead just wandering through the streets and admiring the different buildings.

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There was a lot of very interesting architecture.

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The most striking building in Toledo is the Alcázar, a large fortification which was originally a Roman palace and then restored by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the sixteenth century.

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 It was also the site of a famous siege during the Spanish Civil War, during which the building was badly damaged. Today it has been restored and houses a military museum.

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From a viewpoint on the edge of the town, we could see across the river towards the castle of San Servando.

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This was initially a monastery, which was converted into a fortress by the Knights Templar to protect the bridge into Toledo against a potential Muslim attack.

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Near to the castle, on the same side of the river, is the Toledo Infantry Academy, a centre where officers in the present day Spanish army receive training.

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Too soon it was time for us to climb back down towards the bridge.

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We went out through the Alcantara gate...

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...and across the bridge once again.

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Luckily our journey back to Madrid all worked smoothly and we were ready on time to meet up with our friends in a suburb of Madrid at 19.30. We visited their home first of all and then went out for dinner at a local restaurant. We had some beautiful chorizo to start with, followed by steak and some amazing lemon pancakes. It was a lovely evening and a lovely end to our stay in Madrid.

Tomorrow afternoon we will be flying back to Birmingham, with the Spanish airline Iberia. We've had a great holiday, discovering Portugal for the first time and revisiting Spain. I've loved everywhere we've been, but I think the absolute highlights were exploring the Buçaco forest and seeing the wonderful palace at Sintra. I think we will definitely be back to this part of the world one day (and hopefully next time plan our visit to Toledo a bit better!) :)

 

Edited by Clare




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