No but actually. I’m not trying to use some cliche phrase about “getting lost” in a place, losing yourself in the wonder of the magical experience – blah blah blah. No. Most of my time in Toledo was spent actually getting lost, as in, not completely knowing where I was. Which in fact is the point of Toledo, and wandering around the tiny streets is a necessity in order to get to know the city. It’s pretty small so you’re not ever really lost, not in the panicky sense that you are in foreign country and have no idea where you are, but in the leisurely, ‘Oh, I’m not exactly sure where I am on the map or in relation to anything but that’s fine, I’ll find my way back soon enough.’
Toledo is known as the City of Three Cultures because of its historic (relatively) peaceful co-existence of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim peoples. For this reason, the old town of Toledo was declared a UNESCO site in 1984. Walking around the hilled city, the mixing of the three cultures everywhere is evident, with medieval churches, synagogues, and mosques everywhere you turn. Plus Toledo was the capital of Spain during its rule by my favorite Visigoths, so it was quite the important place in its day!
Toledo is a medievalist’s dream, with the swordsmith shops everywhere. Actually there were a bit too many in my opinion, as it made the ancient tradition a little too commercialized. But if you are in the market for a sword, Toledo is your place. They even had a Lord of the Rings shop, specializing in swords and jewelry from the movies (I reined myself in but as I’m typing this I’m thinking of going back…).
After going to Toledo, I learned one of my favorite Spanish words, callejear, which is brilliant, as they basically just turned the word calle (street) into a verb and have it mean to wander the streets aimlessly. Toledo is best enjoyed doing just this: meandering around the small alleyways, where only those native to Toledo dare drive (and if you hear a car coming down the street, you’d best find a doorway to step into!). Around each corner is a new delight, whether it be a small, tranquil square or a beautiful medieval wall to admire.
The most amusing experience in Toledo was not in fact anything to do with the city itself, but the food. In my classes we had been talking about traditional food, and one girl said her favorite dish was migas, or crumbs. It is a traditional dish that started when food was scarce and people had to use all they had. So when migas was part of the menú del día (meal of the day), I thought, let’s try this, let’s eat like a local!
I was not prepared to be served a bowl of crumbs. Yes, I know what you’re thinking: but you knew what it was! In theory. One does not expect to be served a plate of food usually given to birds at a fairly nice restaurant. After a few moments of befuddled blinking at my plate, I dutifully ate my way through the entire (almost) dish – once all the good bits (potatoes, chorizo, peppers) had been eaten, the mildly flavored breadcrumbs weren’t terribly appetizing. But it proved to be an amusing incident, though one I don’t think I will be repeating. Don’t get me wrong, there are many parts about Spanish cuisine that I love, but this dish is not one of them (sorry Spaniards)!
All in all, Toledo is a perfect day trip from Madrid: it’s only a one hour, 9 Euro round trip bus ride away, and it is small enough that you can easily get a feel for the city in a day. Though if I could recommend one thing it would be to go during the week if possible, as during the weekend it turns into a pure tourist town and you will wonder whether anyone else lives there!
Had any amusing food experiences in another country? In what other places can you see culture blending and mixing (past or present)?