If you are staying in Madrid, Toledo is only a 30 minute train away! You can catch the train from Atocha (the hub) or Chamartin, which is another big train spot. RENFE is the train of choice and tickets are about 10 euro 60. You can purchase the tickets in advance at the RENFE train station counter or through the kiosks. I paid a little more for the ticket by going to El Corte Ingles’ (department store) Travel Agency. They spoke English. I was able to ask them more about how the trains worked in Spain. While I was there I also booked my long distance ticket to Sevilla and to Granada. For those of you budgeting, go through the train station. For those of you that are inquisitive about knowing how much ticket prices are before you go on your trip, you can go to the main website for RENFE and plug in dates and locations. You can’t research months in advance. It’s usually a day thing. Beware of major holidays/events as trains will become booked up. Example: Running of the Bulls or the Jazz Festival in San Sebastian. http://www.renfe.com/
I stocked up on a large water bottle and a few snacks for my trip to Toledo. In my day backpack, I included my SLR camera, a shawl to wear for the cathedral and a couple things of extra clothes for just in case. Of course, I had my maps and a clear mind. I really didn’t know what to expect and I purposely kept it that way for the surprise/shock factor. I brought my Rick Steves book to get me around the most important sights. So, I had no idea what to expect on the train ride. I brought my passport just in case and I’m glad that I did. You go through a checkpoint and they scanned my backpack. Then you wait in line. I got there about 45 minutes before the departure time. They usually start boarding you at around 15-10 minutes before the departure time. No one stands on the platform, which I feel is brilliant and also more for safety. When the time came up, they made an announcement to start boarding. They scanned my ticket and I walked down to my train. I quickly looked on the outside of the train for my number. It was an easy find. Then I entered the car and looked for my seat number and sat down. I busted out my earphones and eagerly awaited my journey to the medieval mystery town of Toledo.
I saw many agricultural fields and houses with pieces of junk as we rode to Toledo. The train was super smooth and it was great to hear Spanish and other languages around me. It was a 30 minute train ride, not bad at all. The train station is SUPER COOL. It let me know that I was definitely some place of historical significance.
I wasn’t sure what to do, when I got off the train. I saw a turista office (tourist office) and received a map. Then I walked outside of the station and looked for where the masses were going. There was a bus, I just jumped on it and away we went. We swirled our way up large hills and all of a SUDDEN, BEAUTIFUL FORTRESS WALLS! AMAZING.
The bus dropped us off at the top. Wasn’t sure where to get off, so I just waited until the masses got off. I then decided to take a path not taken by others and wandered down some cobblestone steps in a narrow alley way. I heard no one, I saw no one and I wasn’t scared to “get lost”. I had a hard time walking on the cobblestone with my sandals and some of the stairs walking down were super steep. I then started walking by people’s homes and saw people using their brooms to push aside leaves or trash around their stone homes. People did stare at me and I definitely did not look like a local. I enjoyed hearing the sounds of local people, I was in HEAVEN.
I started seeing some more people as I snaked around the beautiful old streets of Toledo. I hung a left and started going up a larger pathway where I met up with other tourists doing the same. I was in awe as I saw a gorgeous street with large banners, hanging plants and decorations.
Looking at this unexpected street was a treat for me. It reminded me of parts of Venice, Italy.
I walked myself right up to the steps of the Toledo Cathedral. An audio guide cost me 3 euros. It was reasonable and for me worth it. The cathedral asked for no flash photography. There was a lady who totally disregarded this rule and she pissed me off. She kept flashing her camera. People don’t realize that flash ruins some of the old statues etc. I was also upset that the church did not make sure that girls were wearing shawls. Out of respect, I covered up my shoulders. PLEASE, I BEG OF YOU that when you travel in other countries, do your best to read up on cultural etiquette. I was upset that many Americans were disrespectful of being in a Cathedral. I saw a high school trip where girls were wearing spaghetti strap tank tops. Totally unclassy. There was a large Chinese tour group when I was there.
I highly recommend going into the Archbishop’s and Cardinal Room. It has wooden cabinets everywhere and pictures of the annunciation to Christ’s death. The sacristy room had amazing paintings ranging from El Greco, Caravaggion, Van Dyk, and Titian. It was truly inspiring to see pieces of artwork that I studied in college. There were a large amount of people but nothing like what I experienced at Versailles (France) where I couldn’t even walk straight. I was happy to see a painting of the San Diego Mission Del Alcala as I am a native San Diegan. It was painted by Ribrera. Also thoroughly enjoyed the Cardinal Robe Room.
I started feeling exhaustion as I toured around the Cathedral. I had to sit down in the pews and rest my feet. I took my shoes off to sooth my aching feet on the slippery and cold marble. I did enjoy the grandiose size of the Cathedral and could truly appreciate the cathedral without masses of people. There definitely was a Muslim influence on some of the ceilings. With the exhaustion, hunger started to settle in. I had had so much ham and meat that I was craving vegetables. I wandered through the streets again and found a cute little restaurant tucked away in a cave type setting. They had pictures showing all their dishes which helped justify my reason for eating there. I ordered a via maxima (salad) which was 5 euro 90. Little did I realize that this would be one of the BEST SALADS that I ate in Spain. The vegetables were SO FRESH and so FLAVORFUL. My salad consisted of corn, white asparagus, carrots, tomatoes, olives & lettuce. At first when I received it, I was disappointed. I asked for “salsa” or some kind of salad dressing. I could tell that when I asked for it, I shouldn’t have asked for it. A cultural taboo for asking! The server pointed to the olive oil. AHHHH, YES! I am in Spain and what decent person wouldn’t eat their salad with their delicious olive oil. I FELT STUPID. So I got the olive oil and added some vinegar. MAN, I TELL YOU….The SALAD WAS HEAVENLY and every vegetable melted in my mouth. The olive oil was to die for! I took my time, looked through their menu and thoroughly enjoyed taking my siesta in the Cool Cave restaurant. I thanked them and was on my way.