Toledo, Spain - May 17, 2012
Had a great day off wandering around Toledo. And wandering is the correct word to use here as being lost seems to be part of the experience. The old part of the city where my hotel is and where all the action is is quite the maze. It's the first city where truly the urban planners of the time were apparently inspired by a plate of spaghetti. Wasn't spaghetti an Arab invention? Yes, then that would make historical sense. Spaghetti. I took my GPS out with me last night for insurance but it didn't help much as there is little opportunity for a signal. I saw a guy wandering around with a copy of a Rick Steve's Spain, craning his neck around and consulting his map, but I didn't approach him as I was equally lost. But eventually one sees something recognizable or locatable on the map. Or, you can just stop and eat.
Anyway, an absolutely beautiful ride through the countryside from the campground in Castello Branco to here yesterday. Or at least the morning was fantastic. Cool, clear, nice road, no traffic, rocky terrain with sheepherders and their flocks. Tree-lined roads. Roman bridges. Just perfect. Then as the afternoon heated up and I saw that it was going to be an exceedingly long day at that pace, I hopped onto the freeway. Sometimes you just have to make tracks. Good thing I got here a bit early as getting around Toledo was quite the exhausting proposition. I'm surprised I didn't dump it a few times. Besides being narrow and one way, the streets are very steep as the city is built on an outcrop of rock surrounded on three sides by the river. Sometimes the traffic direction is such that you have to make a very acute angle turn in the Y. And everyone walks in the street because that's all there is. I squealed the brakes at quite a few pedestrians who stepped out in front of me. The GPS was having trouble keeping up because of the narrow streets and poor signal, and so I missed several turns, or was instructed to turn the wrong way down a one way. I got into a square from which there was no exit other. Really, I never figured it out. I finally went the wrong way down the shortest one-way I could find. When I thought I finally had the street that the hotel was on, it was blocked off by bollards... no cars, too narrow. I should have squeezed the bike through anyway though as it was the street the hotel was on and I wound up doing a city tour to try to get to the hotel from the other direction. Eventually I just parked the bike somewhere... again no easy feat because you have to be pointed just the right direction or the bike leans too much with the kickstand down and everything topples over. No flat spots here really. But with three points on a sloping plane you can get something that works. Found the hotel after about 10 minutes walking around in all my gear in the heat, checked in, but then had to go find the bike again. Crimey. Oh, also unlike other cities, the cobblestones here are made of river rock. All rounded tops. Hopefully the forecast rain will hold off until after I get out of here tomorrow. And the brakes are back to squealing like crazy! Aarrgh!
Roman Bridge at Alcantera, Spain
So the two big attractions are the Alcazar from the days of the Moors and the Cathedral... obviously from the days after the Moors had all been slaughtered or run off. The Alcazar was rebuilt in the 1940's and relined and so you don't really know that you are in a building that dates to the 1200's. But their collection of authentic knight's armor and horse armor was the most complete I've ever seen. Very nice. The Cathedral, however, was quite the mind-blower. This morning I went into a side chapel for free where you can get a glimpse into the main part. Wasn't planning on going into the main part but later decided what the heck. When will I be in Toledo again? It's basically its own art museum with paintings by El Greco, Rafaello, Titian, Van Dyck, Carravaggio... and Cardinal vestments dating back to the 1200's. Pretty cool seeing any clothing of that time period. The treasure room had things made from the first gold brought back from the New World. The Cathedral's alter and all that were pretty much way over the top and silly but other areas, like the fresco-lined cloister, were pretty nice. Well worth it and glad I decided to go in.
So I was sitting in front of the hotel last night trying to get a spot location off when I was approached by a rather rotund lady and her skinny little daughter asking for money. I was a little on my guard because the daughter came right up and sat next to me as the lady was asking for a euro. Well, to make a long story short, I didn't really have one anyway but she was pretty persistent. I had left everything up in the room as I was only coming out for spot transmission. But she seemed genuinely distressed over something. She kept asking people who walked by, then started ringing doorbells and calling up to people in apartments. Said she just needed a euro. Lots of desperation. She tried to call someone on her cell phone but no juice apparently. Anyway, this just didn't seem like the normal street beggar situation, so while she was off asking someone else, I thought what the heck, there have been lots of people who have helped me and there is something going on here that I don't understand. So I went up to the room, got 2 euros and was on my way down to give them to her when I saw her and her daughter in the hotel lobby, feeding coins into the cigarette machine! Oh well, hard for me to say what constitutes an emergency for someone else. I'm sure squealy brakes are pretty low on her list.
The Hotel - scene of the cigarette caper
Interesting stuff in the souvenir shops. In addition to the normal artisan fare and the knight stuff, this seems to be quite the center for knives and other violent things. There is actually a Torture Museum. Just down the street from the Olive Oil Museum, which I wouldn't have minded seeing... but everything was in Spanish. But you can still get knives emblazoned with the swastika and of course you can still find in addition to other military dolls, a doll of Hitler. Spain was neutral during the war and proud of it... and that tradition continues to this day I guess.
Local Knight Supply Store
Toys for Girls and Boys
So I am eastbound tomorrow towards the Pyrenees and back to France via the Pyrenees National Park. Unfortunately, the forecast is for thunderstorms throughout the entire area for the next few days. Can't really complain as I have been having pretty nice weather since coming south, but with no more big cities to visit for a while, I was hoping to get a stretch of camping to give the budget a break. At least I'm out of Portugal where the gas was over $9/gallon. Think I was paying $2.51 CDN per liter there for a while. A little better in Spain. Unfortunately, leaving Portugal also meant leaving the cheap wine behind.
The odometer just went over 77777 yesterday, which got me thinking about where I was when it turned 66666, 55555, etc. So I looked up in my little Titanic Expedition book and it turned 66666 just after eaving St. Moritz two years ago (and the three-day camput in the rain) and 55555 between London and Leeds. I'd have to look up in some other stuff I have at home for the other values. When I see something like that I always wonder where I will be at 88888, 99999 etc. Hopefully by then haven't been run over by the super-tailgaiters that call Spain their home. No, I should be far from here by then.