Getting Lost (Literally) in the City of Three Cultures

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 alley

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!

Santa María La Blanca, the oldest synagogue in Europe still standing, built in the 11th century

Santa María La Blanca, the oldest synagogue in Europe still standing, built in the 12th century

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…).

Storm of Swords

Storm of Swords

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.

toledo building by water

toledo lampost

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!

Why this is served in restaurants I don't know

Crumbs masquerading as a meal

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)? 



10 thoughts on “Getting Lost (Literally) in the City of Three Cultures

  1. In Jamaica I ordered blood soup and Quail for the first time. The Quail was delicious, but it wasn’t much different than a small roast turkey (due to all dark meat & tender)…too small in my opinion. I enjoy Quail as a living bird, than as food. As for the blood soup, no thank you! It had the texture of blood and clung to my lips, what did I expect?! I couldn’t imagine sipping blood, so I guess I thought it was so named for not being blood literally, just in color. I was wrong.
    The waiter saw I wasn’t eating it and kept offering to bring me something else. I am a fair woman and told him that I am sure it is the finest blood soup around and that I just discovered I do not enjoy any blood soup, and that I ordered at my own risk. He was not satisfied. I believe I had to let him bring me a salad to help him keep his job for providing “customer satisfaction”. No more blood soup for this girl!

  2. The cheese in Honduras was a shock for me! They served it in slabs on your plate and I bit into it expecting something delicious but instead was sent into a state of food shock at the sour taste. I’ll never know what animal that cheese comes from but I hope to never cross paths with it again. Also in a side note I also was served fried bologna in Honduras and no matter how many times my host family said the name in Spanish I could not master ot! No catchy oscar mayer theme song to help with that one

    • Sour cheese, oh no! That definitely sounds unexpected, I wonder what animal it came from..or maybe it has to do with how it’s made? I loove all the different kinds of cheeses they have here, so if you visit we’ll make some new cheesy travel experiences to override that one =)

  3. I had cow utter in Ecuador, it tasted disconcertingly similar to American cheese but with an utter like texture. :/
    Black (blood) sausages are wonderful.

  4. Pingback: Getting to Know You: Madrid | The Road Goes Forever On

  5. Ahh Migas, I love it. I have to say the best ones aren’t usually found in restaurants but made by some one’s abuela. The school where I taught , has a migas feast for staff every year. Pepe, who has been making it for over 30 years and one lucky assistant(aka poor soul sweating over hot flame) would start several hours before school even opened and continue well into the day. Once the final bell rang it was on! No matter how hard I try to make it, I never can get the bread and the flavors to be quite right.
    Now morcilla(tried once) I’m still trying to get a taste for; I always try things at least 3 times before I declare it off limits. The first time could be great or horrible depending on who and where and the second time the same thing, so the third time seals the deal. Yeah I’m food obsessed. lol!

    • You’re so right – I’ll have to give migas another chance, but outside of a restaurant! I guess it depends a lot on the flavors to make the bread more delicious. That sounds like such a great event, I wish my school did something like that!! And you’re more adventurous than me, I haven’t been able to try morcilla. I’ve never been much of a meat eater so eating chorizo and jamón when eating out is a lot for me! I did venture to try caviar the other day; such an incredibly strong taste, I don’t know if I can do the 3x food test on that one!

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