Sunday, 14 June 2009

Dia del Corpus Christi en Toledo

On Thursday, it was a national holiday in Spain - Corpus Christi - being a non-religious type, I won't pretend to know what it means other than the fact it meant NO WORK! For me or for Eve, my flatmate. She had been planning to go to Toledo ever since she arrived last September, and decided that Thursday was a good day. Uninvited, I tagged along!!!

It took almost as long to get to the bus station at Plaza Eliptica in Madrid, as it did to get to Toledo! But it was all very easy - return trip was 8.42 Euros (I have got to find the Euro symbol on here!), bought the ticket and hopped on the first direct bus. They go every half an hour but you have to be careful to get the "directos" (direct), not "pueblos" which goes via several other villages on the way and takes longer.

45 minutes later found us in Toledo. It is beautiful although I am going to make a point of going back on a normal weekday out of season at some point as it was hard to really appreciate it with the sheer number of people there.

From the bus station, it's a steep climb to the city itself, aiming for the city walls. Once inside the walls, it's a mixture of styles - from a medieval church, Moorish buildings, the cathedral, and a maze of winding cobbled streets, to the obligatory touristy souvenir shops. We wandered aimlessly for a while and found ourselves in Plaza Zocodover (Zoco to the locals), the main square. There was clearly something due to happen as the buildings were draped in various multi-coloured flags, and there were loads of people lined up along a marked procession route. It was reminiscent of the Easter processions and, given that it was a religious holiday, we assumed the same kind of thing. We wandered the maze of streets a little longer, then headed back to the square. We joined the crowds, which had now swelled to probably double the size of half an hour earlier. We managed to find out that "it" was due to start at 2.30 - 25 minutes away, so we decided to wait. True enough, at 2.30, the people at the front and on the surrounding balconies started to applaud and we craned our necks to see what was going on. A very surreal 4 minutes ensued - a small group of uniformed police headed the procession, followed by about 250 soldiers marching with machine guns and bayonets, and that was it!!! Yup, this time no robed priests, no gigantic idols being carried by 30 men, no incense. Maybe we missed the relevance of it all, but after those 4 minutes, the crowds turned and wandered off. They appeared satisfied. We were bemused. And being a pacifist, slightly hippy type, I felt somewhat cheated that I'd waited half an hour to watch soldiers clutching weapons of death walk past!

Another wander through the streets found us at 2 churches opposite eachother, but they couldn't have been more different. The first was decorated on the outside by gorgeous arrangements of lilies, and was full of people doing what I guess you would expect - sitting on the pews quietly, praying or thinking. Somehow, I am still always surprised to find that, being used to going into churches just because they look nice, take a few photos and maybe test out the acoustics! So when I find myself in one being used for its intended purpose, I tend to feel out of place. Hypocritical even. So I left and headed across the road to the church opposite. This was somewhat different. It had been turned into a single piece of contemporary art. Now normally, that phrase would have me yawning and losing interest straight away but I could see inside. Basically every inch of the walls and the ceiling had been covered in shimmering, gold sheets of paper. It was like being inside a giant chocolate bar! There were, I can only assume, fans or AC behind the sheets because they were constantly moving making the gold catch the light differently all the time. You probably had to be there!!!

And so it was time for lunch! Or so we thought. Apparently, so did everyone else in Toledo. We walked back outside the walls and headed down towards the river, thinking there would maybe be a nice place to eat on the banks of the river, which would be a little cooler. We found one small place but there were already about 10 people queuing and the wait was apparently an hour. So we climbed the steep slope back up into the main city (by now it was the hottest part of the day) and carried on trying. We entered a restaurant which 2 guys had recommended as they left, only to be told after 10 minutes of waiting that the kitchen had closed 20 minutes earlier. Back out into the crowds with us, another attempt found us standing right at the back of a bar/taberna, with a narrow wall-mounted shelf as our planned table, right by the toilets! We tried to order at the bar but were told to go back and wait where we were "sitting" and a waiter would come to us. Or not! After 15 minutes of being ignored, we left there too. By this point, sense of humour failure was setting in and we did something I can honestly say I've never done before - had a kebab for lunch!!! OK, to be fair, it was a damn nice vegetable-stuffed pitta kebab, with chips and salsa brava. I couldn't help but laugh when Eve banged her head several times on the counter when she was told they didn't serve beer! 15 minutes later, in the middle of our long-awaited lunch, she started laughing and pointed to the various bits of Arabic writing all over the place, and the Islamic-style art on the walls upstairs and realised why they didn't serve beer!

Feeling better for some food, we headed off again. Without a map, we had to do what a couple of websites had suggested - we just wandered the ancient streets and got lost. Several times. More by luck than judgement, we stumbled across a place we'd been looking for earlier - the Exhibition of Ancient Instruments of Torture! Now that sounds like fun, I thought. And only 4 Euros - bargain.

It was pretty self-explanatory - various original and reproduction torture devices ranging from the ordinary looking scissors that were used to amputate fingers and toes, up to full size racks etc, and everything you can imagine in between. And Eve's favourite - the skull crusher. A metal hat on the top of the head, your chin clamped to a rest underneath and on the top a large screw which was gradually turned, crushing the skull. Slowly. With the added effect that the brain would start to escape through the orifices of the head.

Maybe it was the concentration of all the stuff in one building but by the end I was staggered by the treatments humans have come up with over the years, to subject others to, either as "legitimate" punishment for crimes, or for simply being different.

So we emerged from the exhibition in need of, what else, beer!? A perfect spot was found at a small corner bar, with a table outside but in the shade. One beer turned into two, which turned into three and in Eve's case, four! Which was just as well, because the walk to the bus station was a killer! We'd clearly ended up way over the far side of Toledo because it took us 50 minutes of alternately climbing and descending, to get back there! It explained why, when I asked the barman "Which way to the bus station?", his first words were "How much time have you got?"

So, after 3 months here, I've finally managed a 2nd day out of Madrid.

This may or may not work as I have trouble with links on this blog, but these should be my photos of the day:


  1. alt+ctrl+4 = €

    All the best

  2. Corpus Christi in Spain links 'divine will' with 'royal will' and is inextricably linked with celebrating Spanish colonialism and the divine right to invade and overpower non-catholic countries e.g. South America, Central America, West Indies etc.

    Hence the soldiers...

    All the best

  3. Aha - thanks for the info, not so anonymous Jeremy!!