After a light breakfast at an open-air café on Plaza Mayor, we returned to the airport, picked up our car and drove down to Toledo…..a hill town surrounded on three sides by the Tagus River. As always, we booked a hotel that was in the center of the old town…..so we drove in through the town gate and then wound our way up, up, up a busy, narrow street to the top of the town….and the parking lot recommended by our hotel.
The busy parking lot had customers waiting to enter, so we joined the queue and patiently waited our turn. It took about 15 minutes, but a space finally opened up and we were allowed to enter the underground lot. After circling a few times….and then descending a few levels….we found the space and pulled in. In Europe, this isn’t as easy as it sounds. These spaces are so narrow, that you have to back into the spot…..but only after your passengers have left the car and you’ve pulled your mirrors in. I can’t do it…..I don’t even like to watch…..but Craig wheels into these skimpy spaces like a tailor treading a needle. He never ceases to amaze me.
After “we” finished parking, we pulled out our luggage and started walking to our hotel. I had printed the directions and map from the hotel’s website, but signage was non-existent and the Earth view map wasn’t quite as definitive as we thought it would be. We walked downhill….then uphill….then downhill again….unsure of where we were going. All we knew for sure was that the hotel was near the cathedral. We thought we’d be able to use it’s spires as a guidepost but, in these narrow lanes, all we could see were the buildings on either side of us.
Obviously lost, and huffing and puffing as we pulled our suitcases behind us, we relied on the kindness of strangers to guide us along the way…..we finally found it….a quaint building with 14 rooms. In honor of Toledo’s past, each floor represents one of the three major faiths….Judaism, Christianity and Muslim. Thankfully, we were on the Christian floor…..not because of any religious preference, but because it was on the ground level…..no carrying suitcases up flights of stairs!
Eager to start our sightseeing, we left unpacking for later and walked around the corner to the cathedral. We’ve seen a lot of churches in Europe, but not one (except perhaps the Vatican) could compare to the opulence of this one.
As Craig pondered this abundance, he commented that it made Notre Dame look like a barn….and wondered why so many sexually abused children receive so little help from the Catholic church. Well, either the church or last night’s crayfish soon got their revenge. We had to cut our sightseeing short and head back to the hotel…..where Craig was sequestered in the bathroom for most of the night.
He still wasn’t feeling well the next morning, so I went sightseeing on my own. Toledo is an easy town to get lost in….wandering seems to be the best way to find anything….so that’s how I found the Santa Cruz Museum. In a graceful 16th century Spanish Renaissance building, it showcases antiques, tiles and paintings, including more of El Greco’s works.
With a fresh outlook, I spent more time really looking at his work…..and was slowly won over. With his use of colors, fluid lines and symbology, these paintings had a surreal, dreamlike, quality that seemed to capture the esssence of spirituality.
With my spirits high, I went for a ride on the Hop-On/Hop-Off bus….wondering where, in this city of narrow, twisting roads, this bus could possibly go. My curiosity was soon answered as the bus headed out of town and made a loop around the city….
Back in town, I went to check on Craig. He was feeling better, so we went off exploring together…..in search of the Church of Santo Tomé…..and what’s considered to be El Greco’s greatest work, “The Burial of Count Orgaz.”
With trusty map in hand, we searched high and low for the church…..finally finding a narrow alleyway that led to the plaza that the church was on….but nothing on the plaza looked like a church. We pulled out the map, checked our bearings, checked the map again and decided that the small, nondescript building right in front of us must be Santo Tomé. We walked over to it. A hidden ticket booth let us know that this was, indeed, the church who’s only claim to fame is the El Greco painting inside.
The painting, considered to be El Greco’s best, was commissioned to commemorate the death of Don Gonzalo Ruiz, the Count of Orgaz, who died in 1312. In his will, the Count left a considerable amount of money for the poor in Toledo and to the Church of Santo Tomé……so, 250 years after his death, the church decided to use some of this money to honor him. Legend had it that during his funeral, as a reward for his generosity, Saint Augustine and Saint Stephen appeared and helped to bury the Count…..El Greco used this as his inspiration.
We stopped for lunch at a nearby outdoor café, Craig nursed his queasy stomach with a 7-Up while I tried their Tortilla Espanol (a potato omelette served with a mild sauce) and an apple pastry with violet ice cream for dessert…..the delicate, crunchy pastry was the perfect counterpoint to the sweet, perfumed taste of violets.
We strolled back to the hotel…..not really paying attention to the map….it didn’t work anyway. No need for dinner tonight…..Craig wasn’t up to it and I wasn’t hungry…..so we spent the evening getting ready for tomorrow’s destination, Sevilla.
“Art is everywhere you look for it, hail the twinkling stars for they are God’s careless splatters” ~ El Greco