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  • Brian Johnson

Spain: Toledo, March 24-26, 2024

March 24, 2024

Our donkey driver (is that what they’re called?) loaded up our luggage at 7 a.m. and we set off back down the mountain to catch our taxi back to the Marrakech airport. We had a different driver going down than coming up, and he pushed the pace, whipping his van around hairpin turns on the narrow road. I glanced over at Lynn a couple of times and she looked a little green, but she dealt with it like a champ. In several spots we had to edge around large rocks that had fallen on the road, and I couldn’t help but wonder how strong the van roof was, but we made it to the airport without incident and boarded a little jet for the hop across the Mediterranean to Madrid.

We had a car arranged to pick us up at the Madrid airport and take us the 68 miles to Toledo, the final stop on our little adventure. It is apparently our day for speed, because our driver here put his foot on the gas too. I dozed in the back seat, but a couple of times I awoke and glanced up at the speedometer and it hovered between 140 and 150 kilometers an hour (84 to 90 mph). But at least he wasn’t texting, so I nodded off again.

Our hotel in Toledo is right next to the huge cathedral, and is another weird and wonderful little place. There’s nothing to see on the outside, and you enter through a wooden door cut into a larger wooden door, but once inside you are transported to a private hideaway. I guess it’s really a guesthouse and not a hotel, and the few rooms are arranged on two floors around a central courtyard open to the sky. When the nice lady who owns the place showed us to our room we gaped open mouthed. Wooden beam ceilings supported a chandelier over the bed, and the room next to the bedroom held not only a huge double shower, but a monstrous tiled square tub that comfortably accommodates two. We didn’t linger though, as we were excited to explore the old town, and were also ready to find some tasty adult beverages and a little something to nosh. We wound through the narrow cobblestone streets until we came out into the main square, the Plaza de Zocodover, and parked ourselves in a little outdoor cafe, where we ordered tapas and sangria, for Lynn, and a cerveza for me, while we people watched. The town is hopping this week, as apparently Easter week is quite the big deal here, and today, Palm Sunday, is the kickoff.

Toledo is an ancient city built on a bluff, with the Rio Tajo curving around the city on three sides, making Toledo a very compact and walkable place to explore. After our repast of tapas we wandered to an overlook at the edge of the bluff, where we were treated to views looking out on the river and down into the lower town. As we headed back into the center of town we happened to pass an Irish pub, of all things, called O’Briens, with a Guinness sign hanging out front. Since we had been in Morocco for St. Patrick’s Day we decided a little belated celebration was in order, so we stepped in and ordered a pint. I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy the Casablanca golden lager I had in Morocco, and thirsty beggars can’t be choosers, as the saying goes, I think, but man did that Guinness hit the spot. Now quite content with ourselves we flowed back out into the night and ran smack dab into a Palm Sunday processional, complete with a float with a figure of Jesus on a donkey, attendants carrying large palms, and a band. What to do? Why, we filled in behind the band and joined the procession, of course.  It was a good way to walk off our beer. We followed the procession all the way to its destination at a beautiful little chapel, which was open to the public, so we went in to enjoy the festivities. Perhaps that’s not the right word, but I’m not Catholic, so this was all new to me. Lynn, on the other hand, is Catholic-ish, so she was enamored. On the way back to our guest house we stopped at a little bar for a nightcap to round out our celebrations. The key to being a good traveler is to be adaptable to place and circumstances.

March 25, 2024

The Primate Cathedral of St. Mary of Toledo, begun in 1226 and completed in 1493, is one of three great High Gothic cathedrals in Spain. Our little guesthouse is located down a narrow alley less than 100 feet from the entrance to the massive cathedral, so it was an easy matter to be at the entrance, tickets in hand, when the doors opened at 10 a.m. We’re suckers for a good cathedral, and this one was top notch, comparable to Notre Dame or the Duomo in Florence. We spent over an hour wandering the sanctuary, chapels, and five naves as well as the peaceful cloister. The artwork was magnificent, and we couldn’t help but be awed by the soaring vaults of the main chapel, but Lynn remarked on the enormous resources that must have been expended to create masterpieces like this, and wondered what good might have been otherwise accomplished. I don’t think you’re supposed to say that in church; they throw you out if they hear you.

Back on the street - no, we left voluntarily - we decided to find our way to the bridge on the west side of the city and from there traverse Toledo to the bridge on the east side. On the way we stumbled across the Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes, begun in 1477 and originally intended to be the burial place of the Catholic monarchs, although they later decided on Granada instead. As I have mentioned, we’re suckers for a lovely church, so we wandered through and admired the impressive main chapel and the cloister.

The Puente de San Martin was built in the late 14th century to provide access to the western part of Toledo. Both sides of the bridge have medieval towers, and it spans a small gorge which has a zip line running across it. The guy who runs it made a pitch at us as we passed, but we politely declined. From the bridge we made our way back through the narrow, twisting cobblestone streets until, just as we were starting to feel a bit peckish, a little outdoor taverna magically appeared tucked into an unexpected little corner. Pizza and beer for lunch, or Sangria, if that’s your choice; that’s how you do vacation.

After lunch we passed through the Plaza de Zocodover on our way across the city, detouring at the western edge to walk through an open art gallery and see some…really weird stuff. I find some modernist art compelling, but much of it leaves me wondering whether I’m just not smart enough to get it, or whether I’m not seeing the emperor’s clothes that really aren’t there. They let us use the restrooms though, so it was a really worthwhile stop on our way across town.

We soon reached a nice viewpoint looking down at the Alcantara Bridge, which spans the Tagus River on the east side of Toledo. It was built in 104 A.D., although parts of it have needed to be rebuilt at least four times over the centuries, because people seem to keep wanting to try to blow it up when war breaks out nearby. The views from the hill looking across the river were nice, but our luck ran out before we actually made it down to the bridge. It was a cloudy day, and the forecast rain finally arrived in the form of thunderstorms as we made it to the bridge and took shelter under the tower along with a dozen other refugees. Lynn professed not to be as impressed with this bridge as with the first one, and judged it rather plain and ordinary, but I think it may not have shown in the best light, what with the sheets of rain falling on both sides of our little shelter.

Eventually the rain eased enough for us to make a dash back for our guesthouse. We were wearing raincoats, but our lower parts got wet, and the water flowed in torrents down the sloped cobblestone streets, so that our feet were soaked by the time we made it to our room. Thankfully a good soak in our large, tiled bathtub made everything better, and we were ready to go find some dinner by the time the storms had passed. I had set my heart on paella, but in Toledo many restaurants are closed on Mondays, so our choices were somewhat limited. We eventually settled on a little restaurant on the Plaza de Zocodover with a second floor looking out over the square. It was cozy enough, and the Mixto Paella was decent, although I suspect there were better choices out there. It had calamari, mussels, chicken, pork on the bone, and whole shrimp in the shell. From observing other diners, apparently you’re supposed to bite off the head of the shrimp and suck out the juices. That’s where the most flavorful parts are supposed to be, like the brains and the eyeballs, but I wasn’t that hungry. It was a pretty filling dish, even without that little bonus, and I was saving room for the ice cream cone Lynn had promised me.

On our way back to our room we found our way blocked by crowds apparently waiting for another Easter Week procession. We had to take the long way around the back of the Cathedral, where we found a marching band formed up by the alley access to our guesthouse, waiting for processional participants to come out the doors. We watched from the back until eventually, at an unseen signal, the band started to play and robed marchers slowly filed out the doors of the cathedral and turned right, away from where we stood. On our last night in Toledo, our last view was of a life sized, white robed figure of Jesus, born aloft by the faithful, marching off into the Toledo night, serenaded by a 40 piece marching band.


We’re home from our adventure now, after a thankfully uneventful journey. For the record, TSA Global Entry rocks! With carry on luggage only we wizzed right through. We have been fortunate this entire trip as far as both air and ground transportation go. For all the trouble we had booking flights, the trip itself went off with nary a hiccup, with seamless arrangements, beautiful lodgings, and warm, friendly people to help us on our way. We’re already looking forward to our next adventure, wherever Lynn decides that should be. As I’ve said before, there’s no telling what that crazy woman will come up with next, so stay tuned.

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