We loved Toledo last year when we visited it for the first time and as always when you return to somewhere special you’re worried that it will have lost its lustre. We needn’t have worried. From El Greco Campsite, the honey coloured towers, palaces, convents and churches is a jewel as it always was.
The campsite is hopping with families enjoying Semana Santa. Incongruously, U2 blares from the pitch beside us and we’re surrounded by chatter and laughter.
Toledo sits on a crag, surrounded by the majestic River Tajo that runs all the way to Lisbon, emptying into the Atlantic as The Tagus.
We cross the Moorish bridge to the town and circumnavigate it from the bottom of the river gorge, on the Don Quixote Walking Trail. Out on the river, herons stand, fishermen reel in their catch, geese, ducks and cormorants throng the water, a kingfisher dives past in an iridescent flash.
Stone bath houses, palaces, hermitages, convents and church towers punctuate the skyline.
Way up high in the gorge, we follow the path, until we’re looking down on the river far below.
A woman as nervous of heights as myself has a little stand-off with me as neither of us want to give up hugging the cliff face to move around the other, even though there’s an iron fence and enough room. Our respective long-suffering spouses smile in sympathy with each other.
When we do wander into the old town, we can’t resist the museum of painted musical instruments, Museo de Cromática, in the still working Convent of the Immaculate Conception.
€9 buys us entry and a free drink in the underground bar. The saxophones, guitars, mandolins and fiddles are painted with wild images from Othello and Desdemona to Jack Nicolson’s Joker; from olive trees to cherry blossom.
A woman plays a Medieval dulcimer, a forerunner of the pianoforte, hitting the strings with consummate skill. It is a surreal experience to listen to Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah played as if we’re in a Medieval court.
Afterwards, I have to link arms with the statue of my pal, the writer and creator of Don Quixote, Cervantes. The La Mancha region is not only home to great writers but El Greco’s house and museum too, where his savvy business sense set up a school dishing out altar pieces and portraits and making him a pretty penny. The garden is an aromatic bower and, as always in Toledo, Roman caves lurk just below the surface.
The town was home to Jews, Arabs and Christians and they all lived happily side by side until the 14th Century purges. Testament to this legacy is the beautifully restored synagogue and the Moorish arched doorways everywhere in this city.
Many of the convents sell the local almond pastries and homemade jams. But I’m shy of knocking on the stout oak doors because some of the prices in the shops suggest that the produce may be pricey too and, as I was educated by Servite Sisters, how could I possibly refuse Sister Immaculata if she tries to slip me a jar of marmalade for a tenner?
We end the evening in El Greco’s bar with Toledo lit up like a fairy tale city on the crest of the hill. If you want to read my piece of flash fiction based in Toledo click on this link: https://campervanbard.com/2023/04/21/the-new-banksy-in-toledo/
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