I love places that resist the urge to become complete slaves to tourism. And, thankfully, Toledo is just such a place. Of course, I do accept the potential hypocrisy of being a tourist and decrying tourism, but I can justify that by saying I never buy t-shirts with a town name on, fridge magnets, or dine at a restaurant with a menu in any language other than the indigenous one (well hardly ever).
So why has this city remained so original. I mean it was the capital during the greatest period of the Spanish Empire, is still the supreme religious city in Spain, and boasts fantastic food. Well it has been eclipsed by the likes of Grenada, Cordoba, Madrid, Barcelona… And, best of all, it’s just 30 minutes by train from Madrid so most of the tourists come at about 10am, get swept up by the lunchtime closing and siesta from 1pm to 4pm, and then go back to Madrid. So if you are out in the morning or evening, you can be in amongst the Toledenos going about their business. And here you have to remember that you will be pretty much totally alone before 9:30am when things start to open up, and trying to find anywhere for dinner before 9pm is a tough call.
Just this morning, I wandered through the narrow streets where anything bigger than an economy hatchback has a hard time squeezing through, and ended up near the local courts. The cafe opposite was doing a roaring trade at about 10am in cafe con leche, and various forms of toasted baguette – to the point where they had about 30 coffee saucers artfully stacked across the bar so that the coffee cup could be placed on the one nearest the customer. It was a real meeting place. And cheap! $3 including tip for a coffee, toasted crusty bread with olive oil and balsamic in salad servers.
The cathedral is unsurprisingly full of the massive riches plundered from the Americas. A treasury filled with jewel-encrusted crosses and artifacts, and a sacristy with the mitres and capes of archbishops dating back about 500 years – all lavishly embroidered.
The food has been fabulous. Whether by luck or design, I found a restaurant that is tucked away in a crypt and must do upward of 200 covers for lunch. This because the $15 menu of the day is stunning value with wonderfully prepared dishes – my favourite being confit of duck with a sauce made out of reduced dried fruits (very Moorish – or Moopish if you follow Seinfeld). Which is not surprising given that before Philip and Isabella ‘reconquered’ this part of the world, it was a major centre where Moslems, Jews, and Christians managed to live together in reasonable harmony. In fact when in 1492 the Jews got expelled (or rather given a choice of converting to Catholicism or leaving Spain), there were about 80,000 followers at that time. And so began the Spanish Inquisition (which we never forget – per Monty Python) which was mostly preoccupied with weeding out false converts (one of the tests being whether they lit a fire on the Sabbath or not).
So try to pick which is a mosque, which a synagogue and which a church out of the following…