Europe 12.07.16

Tuesday the 12th

Today we were in for a treat! No petrol stations or service stops were in store for our travel day this time round – instead we were being spoiled with an off-the-itinerary visit to a municipality untainted by contemporary industry or infrastructure which retained the essence of historical Spain. The entrance to Toledo was through a stone archway and bridge across the river which encircled the region, like a moat around a castle. This castle-like quality was thematic within the architecture we witnessed from our viewing point outside the city, as the first row of houses were cut into the mountain and winding, sometimes dead-end, streets wove their way throughout the residential areas to the alcazar. The alcazar and cathedral were two defining landmarks which surmounted the peak of the choppy terrain. The presence of both placeholders on the skyline to Toledo demonstrated the balancing powers of the military and the church and thereby shaped the tradition of this town posited in the very centre of Spain.

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We marched across the bridge and navigated the network of intersecting pathways before we arrived at the central clearing wherein a complex of eateries and souvenir shops resided. Immediately, we gravitated to a sweet store wherein a local delicacy, marzipan, was scattered in a variety of colours and patterns in the display case. Equipped with a tale speculating its origin, the Santo Tome: Obrador de Marzipan was said to sell the best marzipan in all of Europe. These almond-based treats are the rumoured invention of the nuns of the Convent of San Clemente of Toledo, and have a slightly crumbly texture which melts in the mouth with a subtle sweetness. Initially used to nourish the impoverished poor at a time of reconquest and famine, today this delicacy is an indulgent dessert. The store offered crescent shaped pieces, snails filled with jam, fruits with a liqueur praline centre, and pastas covered in nuts.

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As we walked around the citadel, we were shown where Miguel de Cervantes wrote a section of the iconic novel Don Quixote. A statue of the author now marked the location of the restaurant wherein this occurred but no longer resided due to renovations and rebuilding. We traversed the exterior of the cathedral and circled onwards to the Jewish Quarter. Marked by a placard cemented between tiles on the cobblestone walkway, this region of Toledo segregated those of Jewish religion from the Christians and Muslims. Small tiles, almost hidden within the pavement or between the stones in the walls, mapped the route through this residential area. They depicted symbols significant to this religious ideology such as the menorah, the Star of David, the lettering for chai and various other scripted drawings.

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Upon leaving the walls of the fortress which defined the boarder around the municipality, we travelled to one last attraction before resuming our journey to the next major destination. The steel workshop showcased a variety of metalworks ranging from delicate jewellery to heavy swords cultured for battle. Toledo gained a reputation for its unusually hard steel and sword-making abilities in the time before the Roman occupation of Spain in 500 BC. We witnessed the workshop in the process of metallurgy unique to Toledo, which featured repeated heating and shaping to create the high quality alloy wrought sword. Decorative detail was hand-chiselled into the finished sword, using materials such as leaf silver and plated string to weave delicate shapes into the handle. Swords of incredible majesty were on display which some of our company dared to wield – and quickly put down because they were so heavy. Unfortunately we could not deliver such art through airport customs and all the way home for it would have made an impressive souvenir!

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