|September 8, 2000
Slept late, in an attempt to fight off this damned cold (this is day 3). We're on our own until 1400.
We breakfast with Tooraj and Janet, and hit the streets by 11-ish.
We look for, and finally find the local market. It's basically a small supermarket, with a handful of produce, fish, fresh meat, and cured meat shops. I find some breakfast cereals (these are apparently making headway into the Spanish diet) with interesting, and not necessarily politically correct illustrations. The omnipresent jamon is also in evidence, both behind the counter and in the packaged meat displays. Fresh goat, rabbit, and partridge are available, as are several organ meats (brains, sweetbreads, and several things I can't identify).
On a nearby street, we find another fish market. The food displays start, literally, 3 feet from the curb line. (Have I mentioned the street layout in Toledo? The streets are often incredibly narrow -- perhaps 7 or 8 feet wide, wall to wall. They are shared by pedestrians, motorscooters, cars, minivans, ambulances, and even buses! When walking, you keep an eye and ear out, and prepare to squeeze into a doorway to let motor traffic by. Watch out for those side mirrors!) Anyway, flies and dust are sharing the fish with customers. Brigid is fascinated with the humongous knife wealed by the fishmonger. She watches him work for 5 minutes, obviously envious of his instrument.
We wander aimlessly, until reaching the main plaza, Zocodover. We peruse the cafe menus. Now drooling, and trying to work up an appetite after our late breakfast (magdalenas -- a greasy sponge cake, coffee, juice, and a roll), we go do a litle more shopping and walking. Toledo is famous for at least two products: Damascene (spanish: Damascinado) handiwork and marzipan. We'll be seeing a good Damascene shop later on, but I want to taste some marzipan (to see if I still dislike it), and to possibly buy some for a gift. We check out the most famous marzipan shop. They have beautiful stuff, and the prices aren't too bad. Just for comparison, we look at the less expensive store suggested by the guide book. The quality is so much lower, I don't ask about the prices.
Now we are ready for some tapas. Back to Plaza de Zocodover, we seat ourselves in a cafe, order a pitcher of sangria, and decide what to order from the menu. I know we want the Pulpo Vinagreta (marinated octopus in a vinagrette dressing, with onions and peppers). But we can't seem to figure out which of the two versions to order: "mesa" o "barra". The "mesa" price is always around 50 pts higher. I know that "mesa" is "table", but what is "barra". It's not in the phrasebook, either. Finally I realize my stupidity. There's no need to decide which one to order -- we've already done that by choosing to sit at a table ("mesa") instead of at the bar ("barra")! Duh.
We are delighted with the octopus -- it's fabulous. They also serve some bread. Along come Marie and Jack H., and we invite them to share our table and goodies. They order a couple of items (Marie gets a ham/cheese pizza-like thing, and Jack orders a really tasty potato salad. We order a plate of meat stewed with peas. I think the meat may be beef. It was a semi-random selection, but not a bad one. After paying the bill (3,000 pts = apx $16), we separate to buy our marzipan.
After buying the marzipan gift (and a sample for us to taste -- I no longer hate the stuff, but neither do I find it particularly tasty), we try to get back to the hotel. Dang! We have managed to get lost! After a couple of "Dondé esta la Cathédral?" intercessions, we arrive at the hotel in time to find the group coming toward us, in tow behind Senor Fernando Garrido. Fernando is a hoot. He's humorous, and almost self-lampooning. We fall in with the rest, to see:
The Cathedral: This is the second biggest cathedral in Spain, and the 4th biggest in the world. Fernando trots out his full supply of superlatives (usually addressing us as "the group of the embassy", to our amusement) to describe the various aspects of the Cathedral. One interesting item: In order to light the tabernacle in which the "host" wafers are kept, a hole was broken in the roof, and a skylight put in. Around the skylight is a thoroughly rococco setting, with statues and frescoes. The back wall of the tabernacle is also heavily illustrated, with a sun-like opening to allow the light through. The cardinal who ordered this modification had his hat hung from the opening (dubbed a Transparente), below which he is entombed.
Thence to Synagogue de Santa Maria la Blanca. Huh? Well, in the 11th century, the Muslims, Jews, and Christians were living in relative harmony in Toledo. The Jews wanted to build a synagogue, but, so the story goes, they had nobody capable of doing it. So, they hired the best in town -- which happened to be Muslim. This synagogue, which might be the oldest one in Europe, was therefore built very much in a Muslim style, with arabic arches, and no gallery for the womenfolk. When Isabel and Fernando (the 15th century one) decided that Spain was only big enough for Catholics, there was no longer any need for a synagogue (all Jews either left, converted, or made the appearance of having done so). So, this place became a church of Santa Maria la Blanca. This place is still ostensibly a church, though it is not currently active. I forget myself and take a couple of photos before the hall monitor stops me. There is, of course, no longer any evidence of Judaica here. The tabernacle, the repository for the torah, was ripped out in the 15th century.
Another synagogue (Synagoga del Transito) still stands in Toledo (there may have been as many as 10 synagogues at one time). It is now a museum of Sephardic Judaism. There is no Jewish community in Toledo, according to Fernando (probably because of 15th century Fernando). I'm now a little sorry we didn't visit it this morning, but I really needed the sleep, anyway!
Thence to Artesania Santa Ursula, a shop specializing in Damascene work. The process seems very simple. Roughen a steel surface, rub in a gold thread where you want to put a line, pound it in place, then chemically blacken the exposed steel.. Not very interesting to me, but Brig likes it, and buys a few pieces.
Eventually, we proceed to the the church of Santo Tomé, to see one of the finest El Greco pieces, and one of the few large pieces still displayed in its originally intended location. Fernando waxes eloquent (still to the "embassy group", much to the guards' amusement) about the painting.
We walk over to the same church we saw last night (San Juan de los Reyes, I think). Fernando explains that this church was built to celebrate a victory over the Moors. Originally, Fernando & Isabel intended to be buried here. But, when they managed to expel the Moors from all of Spain, at Granada, they changed their minds and were buried there. Fernando's explanation of the chains differs from Susan's though. He says these are the actual manacles used by the Moors on imprisoned christians. (Frankly, both explanations seem dubious. Those chains would have done serious damage if used for self-flagellation. And I don't think that exposed, unpainted iron will last 400 years. Perhaps these are symbolic chains, replaced every so often?)
We fiinish the tour at Fernando's daughters' gift shop, (Maribel Raposo Artesania), where one can (and Brigid did) buy a copy of "the best guidebook on Toledo". No, Fernando didn't write it. He just did much of the photography. He did autograph our book, though...
Dinner is at Hostal de Cardenal Restaurante. We share a cab to the restaurant, for a different view of travel through these narrow streets. The restaurant is just outside the city wall, and we are served in the garden, under the gibbous moon, with a balmy breeze.
For 2,875 pts ($16) apiece, we had:
First plate, Russ had trout (I hadn't realized they prepare it battered and fried -- Brig was generous to trade with me, though she fed most of her half to the exceedingly polite pair of cats that silently and patiently attended her); Brig had "hors d'oeuvres", which turned out to be more of an antipasto, with several kinds of cold cuts, asparagus, potato salad, chunks of tuna (probably from a can, and mostly ending up in kitty stomachs), and artichoke hearts.
Second plate: Russ chose a stewed partridge, hoping to repeat the previous night's dish. Sorry, no beans this time. Instead, it was in a rich onion broth. When I got done, I soaked most of it up with Brig's leftover bread. Brig had very good pork cutlets in a wine sauce with green & red peppers, and spanish fries.
Dessert: Russ had a piece of mocha cake. This was just okay. It was cake layered with pastry cream and mocha butter cream. Brig had two flavors of ice cream, topped with walnut pralines.
You had a choice of 1/2 bottle of wine, beer, or mineral water. I took the water (con gaz), Brig had vino tinto. And bread, and the omnipresent olives (very good!).
We walk back, and the main square is still buzzing at 2240, with young children out playing soccer.