As an occasional crossworder I couldn’t resist the anagram – apologies. Not so good on the ear unless you do oo, oo and oh, oh. Hey on with the the story. After the excitement of travel, results of cricket and football on Sunday I ate on the parador’s elegant restaurant terrace looking across at the city. The building itself is based around a typical Toledo cigarral the large hilltop houses the rich built for themselves overlooking the city.
On Monday morning I drove in to town, found a good parking spot – 2 euros for four hours – and went to explore. Now in most of Spain Monday means closed so the El Greco Museum would have to wait. However the city guide app informed add me that his masterpiece The Burial of the Count of Orgaz could be seen in the San Tome church so that’s where I headed.
From the other side of the river Toledo centre looks like it will be pretty flat once you’ve got there. That is an illusion of the cruellest order as I was immediately confronted with steep streets and then steps to achieve the church. A modest 2.80 euros gained entry and it was worth it although crowded with multi-lingual tour guides explaining it’s subtleties.
It is a stunningly large work and has a heavenly half and a mortal half in which brilliant portraits of the great and the good of Toledo at the time surround the interment scene, including the artist himself. Along with the Disrobing of Christ in the cathedral also open on Mondays but a steeper 10 euros, these two were some of his earliest paintings and were brilliant business cards for his work as a portraitist to the nobles of the city.
From San Tome to the high gothic Game of Thrones-worthy cathedral was not too bad but it was another steep schlepp up to the Alcazar, that huge fortress at the eastern end of the city. Worth it though as each facade is different, the views down to the Tajo are excellent and there are bars nearby.
I concluded that unlike many cities it has no real centre but a number of quite small areas where shops and restaurants congregate. It’s quite hard to get a grip of which is probably why there were so many raised umbrellas escorting tour groups. Maybe I should have done the city tour bus. Beer and tapas downed I walked blissfully down to retrieve the car and go back to the parador for a swim and a read.
I got a cab back into town and was deposited in Plaza Zocodover the central meeting point near the Alcazar. It’s Monday and most restaurants are closed except the two that sadly dominate the square MacDonald’s and Burger King – oh Spain I weep for you.
They of course were open but I persevered and found a little local bar where I thought I’d take a tapa before finding a restaurant. There was a quarter of a tortilla left and a big dish of wild mushrooms after which I made a joke that actually worked in Spanish along the lines of ‘I asked for a snack and got a meal’. Great hilarity and a glass of wine on the house as we watched the US Open tennis on the TV – a change from the very popular bullfight channel that plays in most bars – and had a bit of a conversation about the effects of Brexit – hard to avoid when you say you come from the UK. In one bar someone did actually say ‘If you don’t like us why are you here?’ My remain vote sort of placated him but there’s a degree of rancour. A copa in another bar and a walk back, up of course, to Zocodover to find a cab and complete Toledo Day 2.
On Tuesday I returned to my same parking spot and walked up to the El Greco Museum which was well worth the wait. I have even more respect for him now as a painter after perhaps glibly dismissing the elongated blue and purple figures I knew. His technique and brushwork up close are fantastic for the time and the various videos playing around the house are very informative. The museum is in a reconstruction of a house like the one El Greco might have lived in and is near the area where he is know to have lived. His business prospered and he had a studio with assistants who would knock out small scale copies with the price adjusted to how much actual painting the maestro had done himself. His last house had 22 rooms so he did OK as an entrepreneur as well as a painter. Oh and he sold prints from engravings too.
Outside the museum was a Corten steel sculpture of the apostles that El Greco was so famous for. As a Richard Serra fan I was quite taken by it and by the steel letters dotted around the museum itself. There was also a well placed restaurant with a 12 euro menu so why not? On the menu were carcamusas which I’d never encountered despite extensive travels in Spain. It’s a dish of lean pork fillet with tomatoes, garlic, pimiento and wine, I think, anyway it was good. Next was a trip to another synagogue, mosque cum church in this eminently three faith city: San Juan de Los Reyes which had a great cloister, fabulous ceilings and bizarre stone work.
Touristed out I found the car, drove back to the parador and swam lots in the warm evening air. Also read a bit. Back to Zocodover for the evening and fund the bar in the city. Craft beer – one most appropriate given my background – and a queue to eat that would take a while. So passing the blandishments of the chains I found the nicer square where there were some local bars – again just tapas as I’d had a menu for lunch.
It was fine but I felt I’d never really got to grips with Toledo, It’s this odd mix of reverance for the three religions history and an attempt to become a tourist destination. The parador and its inviting skinny dipping pool was great, the city did not add itself to my must rush back list.