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:

Bienvenido Debbie, y que calor hace!

I promise not to do the British thing and talk about the weather all the time, but for the last couple of days it's kind of dominated things. It's been steadily climbing for about 4 days, starting around 32, but yesterday hit what must have been 39. When I walked back to the flat at 10.15pm, the electronic readouts all said 35. There were some promising rumbles of thunder, some fantastic forked lightning, a few fat drops of rain, but it came to nothing! My poor body is having trouble adapting, if I'm honest. It's so dry that my throat constantly sounds like I've been shouting for days - it's really croaky and first thing in the morning, practically not there at all. Just occasionally it manages the "sexy Mariella Frostrup" kind of effect, but not often! The top of my left foot and left ankle bone look like a pin cushion. Hugely swollen!! Lovely, eh? Baffled as to why my right foot is absolutely fine though. It's hard to know what to do to try to sort it out. I'm drinking loads of water, but I'm aware that if I drink too much, I'll wash any beneficial sodium out of my body (given how much I'm losing anyway, due to the heat). But various websites suggest that one of the best things to try to get rid of or prevent swollen feet in the heat is to avoid salt/sodium wherever possible! So if I try to replace the salt I'm losing in sweat (!), I'm probably making my foot worse. I've never actually tried to live in this kind of climate before - 35-odd degrees is great when I'm on a Greek beach where there's a breeze and if I get too hot, I can just hurl myself in the sea for half an hour. But here? There's no real escape. No AC in the flat, just one small fan which successfully spreads hot air round the room! The next 4 days will be fun - my first week of teaching 4 students, which will mean lots of walking/Metroing round the city getting from lesson to lesson. Not tiring on its own, but the heat makes it much more draining!!! Anyway, enough of my boring weather chat!

Yesterday, Debbie arrived. At last!!! I met her at a Vaughan Town in Feb 2008 and we've been in touch ever since, even though I only saw her once more, last summer. She's here to do the teacher training (yes, the one I quit!) so I'm wishing her all the best with it. I met her at the airport yesterday and went with her to her accommodation for the next 2 weeks. My friend Pedro is putting her up in the spare room in his flat, which is very sweet of him. The flat is like a time capsule (no offence Pedro!) - I swear it hasn't been decorated or changed in any way since about 1955. On one of the kitchen walls, it has the oldest cabinets I've ever seen! But it's quiet, convenient and has WiFi! As an obligatory welcome to Spain, we went out for a 3 hour lunch, followed by a short walk, then 3 more hours over beers talking about anything from vivisection to euthanasia and rather a lot in between!

Oh, and on the way to lunch, we went over to the Bull Ring as it's so close to her flat, and she wanted some photos. There were a lot of people milling around and it appeared that the main gate was open and you could go through. Despite the fact that I felt very uncomfortable about going in somewhere I disapprove of so thoroughly, I followed the others towards the gate. Rather a lot of people in matching red T-shirts were handing out small leaflets. A very fierce woman thrust one into my hand whilst saying something. I have no idea what she said, but I said "Non, gracias" referring to the leaflet. However, presumably she thought I was saying no in answer to the question I hadn't heard! I continued forward but she came after me, shouting. I understood "It's not a bullfight", which I'd already worked out and said that was fine, but it clearly wasn't fine with her. And equally clearly, she wasn't going to let me get any further so we all left. Afterwards, we found that apparently some Christian preacher was doing his thing in there so presumably she'd asked me if that was what I was there for. I'd said no thanks! Still, lucky escape if you ask me!

Anyway, it's nice to see Debbie again, especially as she's waited so long for this to be sorted out. It's clearly something she really wants so I'm sure she'll do well.