Tuesday, June 18, 2013

17 Jun 13 – Day 11 (Toledo and Madrid)

This morning we set off to Toledo, which was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage and place of coexistence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures. We stopped just outside of Toledo to appreciate the city as whole from afar where we could see the Tagus River. Took photos and walked over to the Puente de San Martín or St Martin's Bridge in English, which is a medieval bridge across the river Tagus to get into Toledo.

After that, we continued on by coach to get to a Damascene workshop where a staff showed and explained to us how damascene was made. Shortly after, we were brought to the showroom where there was lots of damascene jewelry of various levels. The first level is mainly factory made and as the level progresses, it indicates that the piece of jewelry has more workmanship. I bought a level one bracelet for M while I bought a pair of level two earrings for myself. There were also wrist watches and pocket watches for sale but because the shop is more on damascene artwork and not on watches so I didn't see the point of getting one.

We were supposed to leave by certain timing but some of the group members were still busy choosing their pieces while some were trying to made arrangement for the tax refund. Finally we left after much delay and go further into Toledo and along the way; we passed by the Puerta de Bisagra. Then we had to go on foot to the Toledo Cathedral. It was a cloudy day and so I had a hard time getting the perfect photo on the cathedral. Inside the cathedral were many chapels and we were only introduced to a few. We saw the Retable of the Cathedral, the vaulted ceiling, high altar, and reja of the main chapel, in one of the chapels, we saw the grand stand that was used to hold the bible and there were two levels of chairs with different carvings. Also saw painting in the ceiling and the El Transparente of the Cathedral. Unfortunately, the dark lightings didn’t allow us to appreciate these in full. Done with the cathedral and we went to the souvenir shop just across the street for some of us to use the toilet and while waiting, I managed to get another pair of damascene ear-studs. Cut through more small alleys and then we were back to the coach to go back to Madrid.

Reached Madrid and we were driven to the restaurant where we had tapas for lunch. There were altogether 8 dishes which consisted one on seafood; one on salad, one on Tortilla Española, one on sausages, one on mushrooms, one on squid, one on paella and one on creamy potato (I think) and finally end off with a small bowl of ice-cream. After lunch, we headed to the Royal Palace of Madrid and saw a street performer dressed in uniform pretending to be headless. Went into the palace and local guide said that big haversacks had to be put into a locker and so Mr Goh and I followed the local guide to the locker place where I put a 1 Euro for a big locker enough for two haversacks. The local guide pushed the door to the upper locker closed so that I wouldn’t knock my head after collecting the key. So happened that a 1 Euro coin dropped out from that door and she handed it to me, saying it was my lucky day. After that, we joined the rest at the entrance to the palace. A tourist took a photo at the entrance and was told by the security guard that no photos allowed. Apparently, no photography is allowed inside the palace and not even near the entrance of the palace. So this was one of the palace tours where all of us paid full attention to the local guide’s explanation.

After the tour ended, Madeline and the local guide reminded me to collect the haversacks from the locker. So I hurried over with Mr Goh to collect the haversacks and my 1 Euro coin which I had deposited earlier. Then we were given time in the souvenir shop to use the toilets and to do some shopping. Nothing to get so went outside to the Plaza de la Armería to take photos of the Royal Palace of Madrid and the Almudena Cathedral. It was a day with nice blue sky and white clouds and with the black and gold street lamps at the plaza, I took many shots. So glad with the invention of the digital camera, otherwise, multiple shots would be impossible.

Then we made a trip over to the Plaza de España (Madrid), where we saw the Cervantes Monument dedicated to Spanish novelist, poet and playwright Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra. The tower portion of the monument includeed a stone sculpture of Cervantes, which overlooks bronze sculptures of Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Next to the tower, there were two stone representations of Don Quixote's "true love", one as the simple peasant woman Aldonza Lorenzo, and one as the beautiful, imaginary Dulcinea del Toboso. There was a fountain behind the monument and so Kim and I hurried over to the back to try to snap a few shots. However, we could get far back enough to capture the whole monument with the fountain and also we were facing the sun, thus getting that perfect photo was impossible.

After we boarded the coach, Nancee told us that driver has kindly agreed to take us to see the Madrid Stadium, which was also called the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium. This was to satisfy some of the die-hard Real Madrid football fan. We alighted outside the stadium and again, all of us tried to take photo of the stadium. But because we were too close to it, the best we could do was to take a photo of the name of the stadium and the logo of the Real Madrid F.C. Then we continued our journey to the Plaza Mayor, passing by the Puerta de Alcalá. After we alighted, Nancee told the group to gather back at the pick-up point at 8:30pm sharp because it was the driver’s last day with us and if there was going to be any delay, it would be against the law or some sort. She was pretty firm about punctuality this time, saying that if she didn't see us at 8:30pm, the driver would just drive off. After having said that, she also assured the group that they would have plenty of time to shop at the airport the next day.

The local guide then led us to the Plaza Mayor and along the way, we saw the Kilometre Zero of Spain, which was in the centre of the Puerta del Sol of Madrid and we also saw the Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree which the local guide told us has since became a representation of Madrid. Reached Plaza Mayor and there was the Casa de la Panadería. We also saw three street performers at the plaza pretending to be three heads on a dish on a table. From there, we were given free time to roam around till 8:30pm.

So Kim and I roamed around, trying to be systematic in our roaming. Along the way, we saw more street performers who pretended to be floating on air. Then we went to the Kilometre Zero spot for photos before doing more shopping. There were a lot of people everywhere and so we didn't really pop into any shops, only randomly popped into one souvenir shop to do some last minute souvenir shopping. After we were done choosing and paying for our purchases, there was only about 45 minutes left before 8:30pm and we were not even half done with the Downtown, plus we still needed to hunt for dinner. Kim still had one more cup noodle to finish, so again I had to get snacks as dinner. In the end, we decided to go to the traditional pastry shop recommended by the local guide to get some pastries and then to KFC to get more snacks. The pastry shop was so traditional that they used paper and string to wrap our purchases instead of using paper boxes.

Slowly made our way back to the pick-up point and stopped by at the Statue of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree for some photos. There were 15 more minutes before 8:30pm, so Kim and I just wandered around the place and took some random shots just to keep ourselves occupied. Finally, the rest of the group gathered back and surprisingly, all of us came back. Got back to the hotel, Nancee told us there was a small super mart near the hotel and so a few of us followed her there. As Kim and I had nothing to buy, we went off on our own after knowing the location of the super mart.

Once we got to the room, we quickly checked the floor. The visible tag was gone but Kim said the one at the side of the bed was still there. It seemed that the so-called housekeeping was only to clean what was visible. The only consolation was that the floor wasn't dusty anymore. I bought three pieces of pastries and one of them was so sweet that I didn't finish it. Fortunately, the other two were quite nice and tasty. After eating, did some packing so that we didn't have to rush through the packing the next day.

Thoughts: Toledo was a nice place and I was very interested in the art of damascene. It would have been great if we were given more detailed explanation of the art and also a demonstration of it. I supposed it was such a fine art that workmanship is high so much so that the finer pieces are very highly priced. If little big sis is still working and one who likes to wear jewelry, I would have bought a nice piece for her. The weather was not good enough for us to appreciate the Toledo cathedral. If possible, I do hope to return there for a visit again.

I was really happy about picking up the 1 Euro. Strictly speaking, I didn’t pick that up; it was the local guide who did. Still, it was really nice to be told that it was I who did and that truly made my day. Madrid downtown was really crowded and unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to plough through those people to explore the place.

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