Friday, November 23, 2012

Medieval Times

Each of the last two weekends, Amanda and I set out on our own from Alcalá for day trips to medieval cities here in central Spain.  First up was Toledo, the city of swords!  Amanda managed to find some cheap tickets for the AVE train from Madrid, which made the whole day super convenient.  The trip was so quick that we barely had time to enjoy the luxury of the quiet, spacious high-speed train.  We arrived in Toledo, Castilla y La Mancha, at the beautiful station with its stained glass windows and set out in the direction that we hoped would take us to the city center, where we would be able to pick up a free map.

A short walk later, we rounded a bend and found ourselves looking down at the river.  An ancient Roman bridge spanned the distance from where we stood to the historic heart of the city of Toledo, which is located on the hill in the bend of the river.

The streets of Toledo are narrow and winding, and the names change frequently, so it’s difficult to navigate.  Luckily, the huge cathedral, the walls, and the river on three sides make it possible to stay oriented even when the streets don’t take you quite to the intersection you expect.  We wandered through the city for several hours, taking advantage of most of the attractions since many are free on Sundays.  We visited la Iglesia de San Roman, which is also a museum about the Visigodos, or the Visigoths, the people who inhabited between the Romans and the Moors.  We also went to a 14th century Jewish Synagogue, el Museo del Greco, and el Monasterio del San Juan de los Reyes.
 In addition to its many museums and religious sights, Toledo is famous for its swords.  Espaderías, or sword shops, line the streets, as common as restaurants.  The other famous product of the town, both less dangerous and more delicious, is its marzipan.  I’m still not entirely clear about what marzipan is, but I did learn that I like it!  There is a variety of types and we tasted and enjoyed a few of them.

Next up, Ávila.  Located in the community of Castilla y Leon, this town is home of some of the best preserved medieval walls in Spain.  We decided to go on Friday because the weather was supposed  to be good.  Luckily for us, this decision coincided with one of the few days of the year when it is free to ascend the wall top, so that unexpectedly saved us a few euros!  The view from the wall is incredible.  We also walked down alongside the river by a picturesque mill and yet another Roman bridge.

Other sights and activities in Ávila included the huge cathedral, an outdoor food market, and eating chocolate and churros in a café.  Another successful adventure!

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