Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Holy Toledo! (Pronounced TOH - lay - doh)

The traffic and chaos of Madrid slips away on the A32 as we head through the Castillian countryside toward Toledo. (Confessional time, I have chronic travel disease …Autobuscomanus – commonly known as ‘Bus Coma’. It doesn’t matter if I am on a bus going 15 blocks or 150 miles, get me in a warm comfortable bus seat and I am asleep within minutes.  However like the prairie dog who pops up from the earth to check out his surroundings, as soon as I get within a few minutes of arrival I awaken to hear …” And that’s the entire history of Spain (or Greece, or Italy or whatever).  I awoke to see the medieval skyline as it came into view.  We stopped just before entering the city to get a panoramic view. The late November palette of umber, brown and mustard combined to provide an almost golden hue. The almost monochromatic background made the textures of in some cases almost one thousand year old building materials become front and center. The natural materials of rock, granite, brick and wood stood out in the morning sun. Romans, Visgoths, Jews, Moors and the ‘reconquistador’ Christians have all made their mark on this city.
(Pictured Toledo skyline)

We had to approach the city center on foot. Unlike Madrid founded in the 1500s style of wide boulevards that open into a multitude of squares or plazas, Toledo is a rabbit warren of narrow twisting streets. Where each turn provides a new surprise of an amazing door or archway or view of the valley below. After about 20 minutes climb we reached our destination – the cathedral of Toledo an UNESCO world heritage site.  Easily visible from many points, the 13th century cathedral’s spires rise majestically above the rest of Toledo. Our local Madrid guide, Teresa joined my small group to give us insight into the cathedral’s history and art treasures.   One on one time with someone who not only possesses the historical background but the cultural understanding is invaluable to a traveler wishing to not only ‘see’ a place like this but actually experience it.  I have found the right guide is worth the expense.  Catholicism is the prevalent religion for many European countries.  Many guides relying on their own personal experiences expect their audience to automatically understand the Catholic religion.  Teresa our guide made sure as she was explaining the art or history of a chapel or sacristy or baptistery of the cathedral also explained the area’s practical use.  Seeing works of art by Velazquez and home town boy El Greco in the sacristy took on new meaning once we realized it was the area where priests prepared for their masses.  And all those locked chapels I have seen all over Europe, they aren’t locked to keep tourists out, they are locked to keep everyone out as they are private property.  A place for family worship and burial.
(Pictured: 1. Streets of Toledo. 2. Pam and David in front of the Cathedral of Toledo)

Our final stop –Pasteleria Santo Tome the oldest producer of Toledo’s famous marzipan, located since 1856 at #3 Santo Tome Street.  According to the Santo Tome website – legend and fact about Marzipan in Toledo collide.  Due to the Almohad (Arabic) raids on Castilla (the Spanish province of Castille) the population took refuge in Toledo.  As the cities resources were depleted and began a great famine.  The Toledo cathedral’s wealth included land and from that land great reserves of Toledo almonds.  By combining ground almonds with fruit sugar they were able to feed the hungry.  Today’s recipe is very much as those from almost 1000 years ago (1085 a.d.) Santo Tome Marzipan still consists of almonds, honey and sugar.  Unlike the multi colored Marzipan I have encountered in other parts of Europe, Toledo’s Marzipan is primarily the natural shade of a baked almond product and the colors of Toledo itself.  The shapes not as elaborate but  more of a celebration of everyday life, fish, bread and crescents.  This is what draws me back to Europe year after a year.  A 159 year old company making an over 1000 year old recipe every day.
(Pictured:  1. Teresa our guide in front of a Marzipan recreation of the Cathedral of Toledo in the Santo Tome shop window.  2. Traditional Toledo Marzipan in shapes of fish, bread, chicken leg and crescent).

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