Holy Toledo!—Attractions in Spain’s Former Capital

Toledo from afar / Toledo desde lejos

The Alcázar, as seen from afar

Toledo entrance / Entrando en Toledo

Walking up one of Toledo’s many hills to the city entrance

Flowering trees Toledo / Árbol floreciendo Toledo

Trees are beginning to bloom

Cristo de la Luz Museum Toledo / Museo de Cristo de la Luz

Mosque of Cristo de la Luz

Santa Cruz Museum Toledo / Museo de Santa Cruz Toledo

Museo de Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Museum Toledo / Museo de Santa Cruz Toledo


Toledo Cathedral / Catedral de Toledo

Toledo Cathedral / Catedral de Toledo

Iglesia de San Ildefonso (Los Jesuitas)

San Ildefonso Church / Iglesia de San Ildefonos (Los Jesuitas)

From San Ildefonso’s mirador de las Torres, one can see all of Toledo.

Alcázar de Toledo noche / Toledo Alcázar night

Toledo Alcazar / Alcázar de Toledo

Located at the highest point in Toledo and once used as a Roman palace, the alcázar was held by the Nationalists under great siege by the Republican army. Today it is the site of the Army Museum.

San Juan de los Reyes Musem Toledo / Museo de San Juan de los Reyes Toledo

San Juan de los Reyes Musem Toledo / Museo de San Juan de los Reyes Toledo

Have you heard of Los Reyes Católicos? If not, you must not have visited many places in Spain, because they are everywhere. The Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, are often credited with the unification of Spain after the Reconquista.

Isabella and Ferdinand built this monastery to celebrate the birth of their son and their victory in an important battle. It was initially meant to be their eventual mausoleum, but they changed their mind and were later buried in Granada.

Tanto monta, monta tanto

Tanto monta, monta tanto, the Catholic monarchs’ motto

Of course, Isabella and Ferdinand had a motto: Tanto monta, monta tanto, Isabel como Fernando. What it means: Isabella and Ferdinand were equals. All along the ceilings in San Juan de los Reyes, you can find their initials (F for Fernando and Y for Isabel, as Y was used in the old Spanish).

San Juan de los Reyes

San Juan de los Reyes

Tagus River Toledo / El Río Tajo Toledo

Tagus River Toledo / El Río Tajo Toledo

The Tagus River is the longest in the Iberian peninsula, beginning in central Spain and emptying into the Atlantic ocean near Lisbon, Portugal. Its impact can be heard in Portuguese songs and stories: “My hair getting white, the Tagus is always young.”

Kaley Mucho Más Toledo

Toledo will always have a special place in my heart. I studied abroad there as a 21-year-old junior in college, and its narrow streets hold a mystique that hasn’t been diminished by the years. I still love wandering in and out of shops, catching a glimpse of the Middle Ages or the Renaissance or the Gothic. I love hearing the cathedral bells chimes, eating marzipan, and wondering at the beauty of a city quite unchanged by the passage of time.

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About Study Abroad

I owe a lot to my study abroad experience.

Toledo Alcazar

This whole “Spain thing,” if you will, started about three years ago in the fall of 2007, when I took the first steps toward applying to a program in Toledo, Spain. I had been studying Spanish since I was a 15 year-old sophomore in high school. From the very beginning, I loved it – Spanish, that is. In school, we learned Latin American Spanish, didn’t even bother with a verb form called vosotros, the second person plural. (It’s like our “you guys.”) The teachers scoffed, telling us, “You’ll never use it.” Well, they were right – in something like 95% of the cases. The other 5% of us did need it. My friend Lauren went to Spain in the summer of 2007, half a year before me. She certainly needed it. She had to learn the Spanish pronunciation, slang, vocabulary.

I’d no desire whatsoever to go to Latin America. If you look at this post, you’ll see that, unfortunately, on the coolness scale, Europe ranks low. “It is also important that you understand the study abroad ranking system.  Europe/Australia form the base level, then Asia, then South America, and finally the trump card of studying abroad in Tibet.  Then there is the conversation killer of studying abroad in Africa.” Yeah, I obviously did not care. I had always dreamed of Spain, its ancient cathedrals and winding streets, its Castilian allure. (I later learned about the ham.) So, Spain it was. Before my arrival, I had dreams of fluency, millions of Spanish friends, and a ticket back after graduation. I’d no idea most study abroad programs are designed for two things: travel and partying.

Travel: It’s nice if your daddy’s rich because, my dear, if not, your weekends will be spent in relative solitude. You see, all the other students have money enough to travel (almost) every weekend. They’ll go to Rome to eat gelato, Paris to climb the Eiffel Tower, London to mock the Palace guards, Prague to seem oh so Bohemian, and Amsterdam to discreetly (or not so discreetly) smoke pot in a “coffee” shop. I went to Lisbon one weekend and was shocked at the cost. Traveling to and from the airports is what kills you. It’s the unexpected, lurking cost that sneaks up behind you, wraps its bony fingers around your mouth, and silently chokes you. So, the best thing is if Daddy gives you $10,000 upfront.

Partying: Did you know the drinking age is lower in Europe? There is alcohol, and lots of it. In Spain, there is even the phenomenon known as botellón, where the collge/high school age students gather outside to drink out of 2-liter Fanta bottles mixed with cheap vodka or whisky. Since school is easy (usually), partying happens. And when I say happens, I am implying a conscious effort to party 5 days out of the week. You are in Europe, for God’s sake. Drink until you can’t see straight -it’s only natural. Plus, it perpetuates the ugly American stereotype and we can’t have that dying out, now can we?

But really. The main problem with studying abroad is the lack of contact with the local culture. It seems quite silly. You are in another country and yet you hang out with Americans. You can see them any day, walking along your campus’ tree-lined pathways. But you choose, time and again, to spend time with people who don’t speak the target language and aren’t that interesting anyway. This, I believe, is study abroad’s fundamental problem. We try to make students stay with families, but this system fails too. In Spain, the families are paid, naturally, and many do it for the money, not to introduce a foreign student into the local culture. It’s a shame, really, because knowing one Spaniard intimately can get you in the back door of Spain. (I do love Rick Steves.)

So, how do we solve this? I don’t really know. It’s frightening enough to put 20 year-olds in a foreign culture with 30 other companions. To put them somewhere completely alone? I don’t think it would work. But there has to be another way.

Alternately, you could just do what I did. Find a significant other. Best way to learn a language and a culture.

Why Did You Go?

I was born in Podunk, Indiana. I love my hometown, but it’s not worldly. I grew up sheltered and went to college at a small, private Christian school. After a year, I realized such an environment was counterintuitive to my own ideals. I decided to go to Indiana University Bloomington. It was a great place, full of local food, ethnic restaurants, and diversity. It was still in Indiana, but it was honestly the best place for me. I blossomed there. In the spring of 2008, I went to study abroad in Toledo, Spain.


It was a life-changing experience. I loved speaking Spanish, being on my own, experiencing new things. I admit, I was a bit homesick, a fact to which my mother can readily attest. Yet I knew there was something, however deep down the sentiment might have been.

I came back and spent my senior year thinking of my future and Spain. I couldn’t get it out of my mind. I desperately wanted to improve my Spanish and learn to survive on my own. So, I decided to do an internship in Salamanca in the fall of 2009. I moved there, knowing no one, and started to work.

Unfortunately, the internship didn’t work out. But my relationship with Spain did. I met Mario. I fell in love. I got way better at Spanish. I went through an ordeal that no one should go through. I still came back. I applied for a job through the Spanish government and they said YES.

I thank you, Spain, for being a country that still accepts me, even if I try to enter without any good reason. I thank you for producing Mario. I thank you for jamón serrano. I thank you for good red wine.

I’m returning. I don’t think I’ll regret it.