Saturday, 17 November 2007

Today we got on a train to Toledo, just a half hour down the road. This used to be the capital of Spain, and is now a cool little town with few cars, lots of hills and narrow winding roads, and lousy taxi service. We arrived and got ourselves off the train and through the beautiful train station (it had stained glass and was very pretty) and decided to wait for a taxi since our hotel was a far walk from where the bus would drop us off. We waited, and waited. We gave up and walked to the bus stop, then saw three taxis leave from the station so we hurried back to wait. And wait. And finally give up again and take a bus.

We then trooped through Toledo with our duffels and backpacks. It was really cold and the kids and I were wearing our hats and gloves and sniffling like crazy. It took a really long time, and I think my arms are significantly larger after pulling that duffel up and down the hills. They are way too heavy, but we make ourselves feel better with the knowledge that they will get progressively lighter as we travel. We acquired a lot of guide book pages and tickets in a package Clay’s parents sent to Madrid (as well as some Christmas presents), and the load is large. We can’t wait to start unloading them and get lighter as we travel onwards.

Once we finally got to our hotel Clay collapsed on a bed for a quick cat nap, while I got out the guide book and planned the day. We only have one night here, we leave tomorrow morning for Sevilla, so I wanted to make good use of our day. I shook Clay awake and he got out the map and we set out. We visited a sword maker and watched him make the handle to a sword. He showed us all around his workshop (Clay wished his Gramps could have seen it, it was chock full of interesting tools!), and told us how he makes the swords. He doesn’t actually make them on Saturdays, but it was still cool to see his workshop. He did make a handle to a sword while we there, wrapping it in gold and silver wire, and he explained how swords are not sharp on the sides (I always thought they were). They are used to jab with their pointy ends, or smack people over the heads with the full force of their weight, “to break, not cut”. The man was missing a couple of fingers, and I hated to think how it happened. I was a little glad he didn’t make swords on Saturday. He explained that his father, grandfather, and great grandfather had also been sword makers. His shop wall was lined with all sorts of swords and the boys drooled all over them, trying to convince us why they really did need one to take home. We settled on some miniature toy swords that said “Toledo” (pronounced toe-LAY-do). They could still inflict damage, but no limbs will be lost. Perhaps an eyeball or two.

Then we grabbed some lunch and went to the Cathedral, where we marveled at El Greco paintings, the ornate altar covered in real gold (“real gold!” the boys kept whispering), and a treasury with more real gold and jewels. We found out that when a cardinal dies here, he gets to choose where he’s buried and hangs his hat above the spot, to remain until it rots away. It was fun to find these funny red hats with long tassels hanging from the ceiling, high above. We saw an El Greco painting of Joseph with Jesus, a scene you don’t normally see. Another was painted at the moment Jesus’ clothes are being taken and gambled for, and another when Judas is about to kiss Jesus in the garden. El Greco has such an interesting perspective.

As we were leaving we noticed some flickering lights near a pieta. Alayna went closer and realized that these weren’t candles, but little light bulbs, like Christmas lights. When you put a dime through a slot, one of the lights was supposed to light up. I have to say I prefer candles, but it was an interesting machine, we haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else.

We left the cathedral and found a craft shop where they make damascene. This is a black plate (or other surface) that is then carefully inlaid with gold or silver in intricate designs. We watched a man patiently cut a design, then hammer it to an iron spike, put a waxy substance over it and hammer some more, then peel off a tiny gold flower, that would later be fixed to the plate with hundreds of others. It was pretty and interesting, something I would never be good at. My flowers would get bigger and bigger as I grew bored and frustrated, and my plates would never sell. We found out later that a dessert size handmade plate, one not done by machine, would sell for about $1,000!

As we made our way back to the hotel we popped into a small cathedral to see The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, El Greco’s most famous painting. It is cool to see a painting in real life that you’ve seen so many times in books. The kids were impressed, but glad this was the last stop of the day for them. While Clay went back to the room to exercise and the kids played for a while, I took a quick trip to a nearby museum to see some sculpture. While the sculpture was nice, my favorite part was getting to the museum by skinny little streets. I always love finding myself in places where people actually live, little peeks into other people’s lives. Their doormats and the sounds coming from open windows are so fascinating, I always want to know more.

The museum had a patio and terraces that looked out over a huge gorge where a river ran below and across the way houses dotted the hills. Spain is drier than Italy, the hills are brown. For some reason I compare the two of them, maybe because we took trains in Italy and we’ll take trains in Spain. I like train travel, it’s like a dot to dot across the countryside and you get to see what connects you to what. When traveling by plane it’s like you get picked up and then set down again in a different time and place, but with trains, you see the passage of time. You see what’s in between.

Tomorrow we’ll see what’s in between here and Seville, heading south. It’s been a quick trip, but Toledo was nice. I wish we could stay longer and explore a little more. We did get a lot done in just one afternoon. Just now we heard a popping outside the window and opened it to see the last of a sunset and fireworks in the distance. Earlier today, when we were lugging our duffels through the city, we passed some people all dressed up. Their heels teetered on the cobblestone and their silk and satin rustled, grandma’s steadied themselves on the arms of young girls or their husbands. I felt a little strange, passing by with my backpack and travel clothes. Our worlds collided for just a moment, they looked like they were on their way to a wedding. I wonder if they are there, at the fireworks, celebrating a new marriage and dancing in those high heeled shoes.