A Postcard from Toledo

November 15, 2016

Greetings from Toledo!

A choir of voices ring from my memory, “you can do Toledo in a day.” This was the common sentiment among the travelers I met before I ventured to the petite city of Toledo, Spain. “You can do Toledo in a day.” The longer I reflect on these words the crasser they become. I have only been on the road for a month, but already backpacking to me is not a series of one-night stands with cities and towns, but rather a lifelong relationship with the world and all she has to offer. For the past four days, Toledo has entranced me with her still elegance.

Unencumbered by relentless motorbike honks and pushy club promoters, Toledo is a relaxing breath compared to asphalt-addled huff of Madrid’s mad dash located 46 miles (75km) to the north. I wonder if centuries of inhabitants decided to expel the corrosive hands of modernity from entering the walls of this hilltop city, knowing that one day Toledo would serve as a necessary reprieve to the claustrophobic, din of big cities.

My body gains levity as it soaks in the dazzling display of noon-time sun, whose streaks of light seem to invigorate the ancient city. Religious structures rise in prominence above rows of convex tile-roofed houses. Churches, synagogues, and mosques remain visual marks of Toledo’s rich, tri-cultural history.

I left Madrid because the November 14th super moon was on the rise and the light pollution in a city of that magnitude would transform this astrological event from brilliant to lackluster. I purchased a five Euro bus ticket and headed south; my moon-gazing desire beckoned me to Toledo like Peter Pan’s extended left hand.

As night fell on the fourteenth, I power-walked the spiraling streets, with a gnawing in my belly to find the best place to watch the moon rise. I walked past the open square where I marvel at the slow, easy-going smiles spread across the old-timers’ faces as they catch up on the morning gossip. I walk past the church steps where I savor my daily cheese and bread and watch with amusement as the pigeons race each other to swoop up the morsels I throw to them. I walk past the grocery store where I gained the knowledge (by doing it the wrong way) that in Spain people weigh and label their produce before they bring it to the checkout counter.

I walk to the east, up, up, and away from people until I found a wall unadorned by passers-by and I bathed in the milky glow.

Unlike Liverpool, London, Barcelona, Valencia, and Madrid there are no hostel staff-led pub crawls to attend in Toledo. Instead, La Ruta De Don Quijote will lead visitors around the area. This dirt-path is part of the route that Don Quijote, the famed literary protagonist from La Mancha, traversed on horseback centuries ago, and I traveled by foot today. It was surprising to see Quijote spelled with a j instead of an x, but considering that Toledo was declared a UNESCO World Heritage in 1986 for its rich cultural history, I was not going to question the spelling. 

The route led me beyond the city’s keyhole-shaped gate, across the bridge that bows over the River Tagus, and around multiple grassy hills in switchback fashion, before leading me to a cement bench hundreds of yards across from the city, where I now sit.

From my recessed position, I see that the steep hill Toledo was built upon is surrounded by the Tagus which serves as a natural moat. Although the city is small, it is packed with two story buildings that terrace and spill all the way down to the water’s edge. This gives Toledo the illusion that it is rising from the river, floating upon the land.

Walking within the city is like navigating a topographic labyrinth designed by MC Escher. The narrow, stone streets of Toledo are lined with buildings, and often punctuated by sets of steps four or five high, just enough to feel a twinge in the glutes the next morning. The tight corridors snake up and down while simultaneously curving left then right, one corridor coils into another, leading me in circles back to where I began.

It delights me to learn my way around the city by trial and error because the streets never appear the same way twice. The staunch, grey-toned, stone walls act as beautiful backdrops, contrasting scenes of warm, easy-going, unassuming people going about their daily lives. Adding to the happenstance dynamism, that makes the streets worth a second pass, is the sun. As its position changes in the sky, tight corridors become exquisite pools encasing golden, glamor.

As my tushy and the cement bench become better acquainted, I gaze upon the city, and reflect on my flower-child inclination to see the super moon. My tranquility is paused by the roar and screech of a tour bus. In the past hour, this has happened four times.

In two shakes of an open door, I find myself amongst a sea of tourists. Clicks of smart phones and iPad cameras fill the airwaves. The people strike a pose then flip from subject to view-finder operator in a frenzy while the bus driver smokes a cigarette. Despite the chaos, I watch, steadfast, in quiet observation like a buoy that remains upright no matter how choppy the waters around it become.

After a few minutes, the driver stamps his butt, boards the bus, and the camera obscura is over as soon as it began. I came to Toledo for the super moon, but the waves of rushed photos helped me realize that, although some people can see Toledo in a day, I desire to move slow.

I want to stay in one place long enough to learn its natural rhythm and hum and become part of the melody. Like a fresh cut rose bud in a vase of water, I long to soak up the spirit and flair of a city and allow the energy to unfurl my petals.

Am I an anomaly? I ponder this notion, feeling closer to the answer the longer I sit and soak in the tremendous view…


That Blonde Vagabond

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