November 27, 2010 | | Comments 5

Madrid: A Memorable Day In Toledo

Day 5 is the day we travel outside of Madrid for the day.

The plan was to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Toledo. Toledo is one of the historic capitals of Spain.

Toledo is about 70 km outside of Madrid. The best way to reach it is by train.

We took the train from the Atocha Railway station. It is the same station we arrived in Madrid a few days earlier. We thought that we might just go straight to the railway station to have breakfast as we were quite sure there were some options there.

Actually there was not a lot of options there. There were just simple cafes with pastries and coffee and nothing fancy at all.


Since we had communication difficulty again, it was just a flash of two fingers with the words Cafe Con Leche and random pointing to the pastries on display. The pastries were pretty satisfying.

While there, I was still reading up on Toledo and was still unsure why we are going there besides that everyone telling us we must visit Toledo. Anyway, we wanted to get outside of Madrid.

Suanne, as usual, plays the tourist and I play the role of her personal tour guide. She did not have to do a thing and let me handle everything for her. Lucky girl.

After the breakfast, it was still early. The station was eerily quiet. Being a major train station I had expected that will be busy.

The Madrid’s Atocha station has got to be one of the best train stations I had been to. It is calming and we love the garden inside the station. We just waited at the garden right next to the turtle pond waiting for the time to board the train.

We can see it was mainly tourists who were getting onto the train to Toledo. How do we know? It is the … waist pouches, backpacks, bottled water, walking shoes with maps and guide books in hand.

Renfre! That is a high speed train, again! Although Toledo is 70 km away, with this train it just took us less than 30 minutes to get there.

It was a weekday and I guess that is the reason why it is mainly overseas tourists going to Toledo. We could pick and choose the car we want to ride on, not just the seat.

The tickets were quite cheap too. It was less than $10 CAD each way.

The coaches were wide, very clean and the ride comfortable. Canada needs something like this.

I was thinking that if they create a high speed rail like this connecting Vancouver to Seattle and Portland, this will create a lot more cross border visits overnight. Seattle-lites would be able to come to Vancouver to eat Xiao Long Bao for lunch in Shanghai River and be back home by 2PM. In reverse, I would be able to get on a train at 9AM in Vancouver and be in Portland for early lunch at the street cart and be home by 2PM the same day. That sort of thing.

Obama did say he wanted to create several high speed rail corridors including one for Portland-Seattle-Vancouver, didn’t he? I think Canada and US better get on the act in creating high speed rail and catch up with the rest of the world on this. The oil that sustains the car-highway system all these years will not last forever. The peak oil production for the middle east is predicted to be within this decade.

The Toledo Train Station is a small but beautifully designed station in the style of modern Moorish architecture.

This building is very well maintained even though it is almost 100 years old. The train station is like a tourist attraction by itself.

Be warned. Toledo is a very … VERY … hilly town. There are several ways to get to the Toledo old city. I half wanted to WALK but Suanne refused to. She was right. It was awfully hot that day and it is crazy attempting to climb the steep stairs up the old city. I can virtually break a sweat just looking at the trails from the train station.

Most people stepped onto the Hop-on Hop-off tour buses. But that was not us … hehehe … I wanted to do it the harder way. On hindsight, I should have just taken the tourist buses. At least it has narrations and you know where you are going to and all.

Instead, we along with a few fool hardy tourists (you know, the smart pant ones like us) decided to walk off to the stand outside the station and take the local bus there. Just like the locals. I could feel a bit of jealousy when the air conditioned tourist bus pulled past us while we were standing under the blazing sun waiting for the bus which we have no idea how long the wait would be.

The bus to Zocodover came after 20 minutes. I know. Suanne was just trying to keep calm while wiping away her sweat every 30 seconds. She did not say a word but I know she is saying “smarty pants” in her mind. Actually, I had no idea if this bus is the right one. I got on just because all the tourists got on.

And “smarty pants” did not know where to get off.  Smarty Pants overheard the other tourists “let’s get off half way and walk up”. Smarty pants followed.

Suanne and I got off the bus and then when we turned the corner we saw a LONG flight of stairs staring in front of us. You know who was not too pleased. Good thing that after the flight of stairs, there were escalators all the way up to the top. Whew. That was a close call.

We finally made it up to the center of Toledo. This area is called Plaza de Zocodover. By the time we got there, it wasn’t fun anymore.

Anyway, the special thing about Toledo is its famous for its religious tolerance and have large communities of Christians, Muslims and Jews. This city contains numerous religious monuments and synagogues, mosques and cathedrals.

Good thing we know the meaning of the word “Casa” (house) and “Mapa” (maps). We got a map, some brochures and directions. The directions were not too useful because we could hardly understand the strong Spanish accent with their English. We were too polite to constantly asking him to repeat himself.

Our first point of visit is to walk to the Cathedral of Toledo. This is the “primate” cathedral of Spain which is sort of saying this is the national cathedral in all of Spain … the seat of the church in Spain. Now, that would have been worthy of a visit isn’t it?

Guess not! For some reason which we don’t even know, the Cathedral was closed. Major damper.

OK fine …

… we back tracked to Zocodover and wanted to go visit the Alcazar of Toledo. Of course this has to be at the highest point of Toledo this being a fort and all. It was supposed to house a library and Museum of the Army.

Sorry, “under renovation” … so the sign said. It was beginning to be a frustrating trip. The heat was also unbearable.

So we randomly went into a restaurant to seek refuge from the heat and rest our tired feet. We only came into this one because this one looked the oldest.

It was small and there were no customer. The young girl in the front was disinterested with serving us from her expression. But we did not leave because we just need to rest and get back some energy.

Castilian Soup. We had this a few times before. We love it. It is bread and egg soup.

The Baked Suckling Pig meat was tough and simply not as good as the ones we had in the world’s oldest restaurant.

And tiramisu cake.

All these three items were part of their Menu del Dia (The Menu of the Day). Expensive at 15 euros and I have the nagging feeling this is a touristy restaurant. We just ordered one to share and got more water to drink.

It was not easy walking on foot in Toledo.

Firstly, the directions were quite useless as the layout of the place is haphazard. The directions were good just only to the next corner 20m away. So we got lost a lot. Suanne did not talk much while I led the way walking quite aimlessly.


Secondly it is extremely hilly. Every time we turn a corner and we see another climb ahead of us, we just wanted to turn around.

It is just not fun looking at old buildings from the outside and not being able to go in and learn.

The heat … oh the heat!

After a while we decided to just give up trying to locate the synagogues and mosques and thought we will just walk down to the embankment which has elevators … elevators that we found did not work. At least it was going down hill.

Look at the picture above. We just took a long way round the hill from the top to this point where we took the bus back to the train station.


Frankly, it was just more stone walls. We just wanted to get back to Madrid but it was still too early for the train back.

I dare not ask Suanne to go check out the stores at the foot of Toledo. Under the circumstances, it is best to let her sit by the hard steps under the shade of the wall … don’t say a word … just let her be while she deals with every drop of sweat that breaks through her skin.

I went to the Marzipan store. Marzipan is Toldeo’s specialty and reportedly the finest in the world.

Everything was so expensive. So I bought the cheapest available. Showed Suanne it. Not interested. So I stashed it into the backpack and bring it out again when she’s feeling better.

The bus came. Got onto it. Arrived at the Train Station super early. There were hardly anyone there.

We needed refuge from the heat and the train was still 1.5 hours away.

Across the street was “Restaurante Hong Kong”. It was the ONLY restaurant within our visual sight.

Yes, we did go. Yes, chowtimes did go. I know … I know … you don’t have to say a word about it.

We just went OK?

Just shake your head, forgive us and move on.

No customers in sight. We were the only ones there. The workers in the restaurant spoke loudly in Mandarin. Talked to us first in Spanish but then changed to Mandarin when he found out we spoke it.

Nice table setting for a Chinese restaurant huh? It’s not that we did not see chopsticks and a bowl. It is that it has fork and knife. What Chinese food can you eat with a fork and knife anyway? Fork and spoon, yes, that I can understand but not fork and knife. LOL!

Hehehe … wonton soup. Better known as Supa Wun Tun!

Can you beat that? Chowtimes had faux wonton soup in a Chinese restaurant in Toledo.

Why there is even ham and lettuce. It is mostly skin and hardly any filling at all.

The wonton soup even came with a side of steam rice. For all my life, wontons go with noodles but never with rice.

Nothing wrong about it but it just struck me when I saw wonton served with rice.

We ordered also the Rice of the House. In Spain, they call this Arroz de la Casa.

It turned out to be just fried rice.

Let’s put it this way. We ate every single grain of rice here. It wasn’t fantastic at all. If anyone served a fried rice like this in Vancouver, they will probably be out of business within a week.

But it was a satisfying meal. I think this picture of Suanne picking the food from between her teeth says it all.

You have to understand us, OK? It had been over 2 weeks already and it is 8500 km from Vancouver. Considering all things, this has to be the best Chinese food there is.

Price was good too.

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  1. HM says:

    When I was in Toledo in Apr, it was cool & nice. I agree the pebbled, hilly, narrow & winding streets of Toledo especially that of the old Jewish quarters are a pain, but I enjoyed the architecture of some of the old buildings there. Did you visit the El Greco museum? We did but no cameras were allowed. He was truly a great artist!

  2. nova says:

    There is no shame in eating Chinese food abroad, because technically, it’s Chinese food for Spaniards – like a regional specialty :)

  3. Jean says:

    Yes, most likely Chinese food like that would be bypassed in Vancouver and Toronto. I was in Europe for 4 weeks this summer and pointedly and truly did not go into any Asian restaurant. In Germany, Denmark, Czech Republic…no. Instead I was going to take every advantage of the local cuisine. After all, I was with someone, visiting his birth country so it was a great opportunity to take advantage of his cultural /food understanding.

    But I did eat at the one and only Chinese restaurant in Iqaluit, Nunavut in the Canadian Arctic. It was not bad!

    too bad the local Chinese restaurant in Toledo didn’t think of fusion-Spanish. Great culinary opportunities. Maybe that would end up abit more Filipino..in cuisine style??

  4. pinoy gourmet says:

    My sister in law is Spanish.According to her,The Spanish love their ham and about 99.5% dont know how to use chopsticks.It is not proper,So from a Spanish viewpoint,A proper wonton soup should ALWAYS have ham.Spanish style Chinese food just like Green Lettuce Indian style Chinese food

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