I had been meaning to go to Toledo for ages, and thanks to my padres coming to visit, plus Hallowe’en getting me in the holy mood (#CatholicStuff), it was the perfect opportunity. The trip absolutely merits the half-hour train ride from Atocha station, and the 20€ fare (I think it’s cheaper if you want to take the bus, but the journey is longer, which is important to calculate when you need to wake up early on a Saturday morning). We sped south away from the Madrid early morning sunshine, into the fog and, indeed, the haar.
Toledo train station itself is actually very cool – it’s this crazy Neo-Mudéjar building with a clock tower and is filled with Moorish tiles and windows. Somebody wrote on Tripadvisor, “I never thought that I would submit a review about a Railway Station.” And if this wasn’t high praise enough, somebody else opined, “If you’re going to or from Toledo by train, you can’t avoid this station… Generally efficient.”
But enough about the train station – although as the above reviewer, rightly points out, we’ll need to return to it later. You can take a cab to the centre, or if you walk then you hike for like 15 minutes until you find a very Game of Thrones-style gatehouse and the San Martin Bridge. “Who would pass the Bloody Gate?” We headed straight for the Cathedral, obvs.
I have seen a lot of cathedrals, but the Cathedral Primada is something spectacular. It’s massive and overwhelmingly ornate. It took like three centuries to complete, and has a crazy amount of things inside. Stained glass windows, chapels, a retable, cloisters, sepulchres of monarchs; it’s all here.
There’s also a Sacristy filled with paintings (El Greco! Goya!), statues, an Italian painted ceiling, and what the audioguide charmingly described as “rich pontifical vestments”. There was also the cross which the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella were supposed to have paraded into battle with, when they were busy conquistadoring. Ferdinand and Isabella also couldn’t resist some mad carvings in the choir stalls of the fall of Granada in 1492.
Unable to resist, we also got tickets to climb the tower. At the near-top there is a belfry (such a underused word) which houses a ton of bells, unsurprisingly. A mahoosive one is right in the middle, called La Gorda (“ya fatso”). In 1750-something, they decided once it was hauled into place to test it out. It promptly cracked right down one side and became unusable. They decided, in true Spanish fashion, to just leave it there.
There are a lot of very old hats once belonging to cardinals, dangling like dusty red jellyfish from the roof.
One of my favourite bits was this carved skylight, called El Transparente (plus one of those hats):
Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes
We love a cloister in a monastery, and this had it all: peace and quiet, a garden with orange trees, carvings of saints, animals and plants over the columns and walls, gargoyles, and Mudéjar ceilings. It was built by our pals Ferdinand and Isabella again, so it’s got their coat of arms all over the place (and carvings of chains and shackles on the exterior, just in case you forgot about the conquest of Granada that time…).
After the monastery itself, we went next door to the church where there was a wedding going on. We sat and watched that for a while, and critiqued people’s outfits, and then headed to the mirador beside it to look out onto the countryside and the River Tagus. The fog-and-haar by now was gone but never forgotten.
Museo de El Greco
Post-lunch, our appetite for food was sated but our appetite for El Greco was not. We headed to the Museo de El Greco. The painter known as El Greco (nobody could apparently be ersed to learn his actual name) was born in Greece, and moved to Italy before ending up in Spain where he decided to try and convince King Felipe II to let him be his court painter. Felipe was trying to get El Escorial finished at this point, and Titian had just died, so the moment was ripe for El Greco to show up and convince Felipe of his skills. Felipe decided after a while that he actually was just more into lomo photography (citation pending) and so El Greco stormed off to Toledo, where he painted many masterpieces, and sulked.
The Museo has a reconstructed version of El Greco’s home, and after wandering around it for a while not being able to find any of the actual paintings, we came across some of his portraits of Jesus and some of the saints, which were great. There were also a few copies by his followers. It was a small museum, but we also got in for free (so I bought a ton of postcards to compensate). That said, if you want to leave Toledo feeling like a proper ‘El Greco fangirl’, with a t-shirt and stuff, go to the Cathedral and to Iglesia de Santo Tomé (which we’re just coming to).
Iglesia de Santo Tomé
Our last stop of the day was the Iglesia de Santo Tomé, where the famous El Greco painting The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is housed. You pay your 2,50€ or whatever it was, walk into the church, and BAM, there it is. It’s absolutely massive, and you could spend a long time looking at the details and El Greco’s completely whack colouring. He also did what I love, and add himself in the painting. I like to imagine that he was thinking, “whatever, stupid Felipe, not making me the court painter. I’ll show him, look who’s gonna be in the painting – that’s right, not him – me.” I suppose if you weren’t an El Greco fan then there wouldn’t be much enticement to come to the church. But then again, if you weren’t an El Greco fan then you probably wouldn’t love Toledo full stop.
Is there anything which isn’t El Greco or a church?
I think there’s a Cervantes statue kicking around Toledo because, as Dorothy perhaps said, “we’re not in Madrid anymore”. Castillla-La Mancha is of course the stomping ground of Don Quixote, and a cue for flashbacks of some horrendous Spanish Literature classes. Tripadvisor review: “Not sure why this is featured.”
Next time I come back I’ll aim to see the synagogues, mosques, and the 600 other churches there are lying around. Apparently there is also a zipline tour you can do! Tripadvisor review: “I went because a date paid for it, but it was nice.”
There are a bunch of marzipan shops and artisanal blahblahs kicking around. I think if you went in the height of summer, Toledo would be very touristy. It’d be especially difficult navigating the tiny streets, or trying to have a look at the Count of Orgaz or something.
Back at the World’s Best Train Station, drafting a Tripadvisor review, we had time for a cerveza before heading back to Madrid.