Toledo

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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Drinking Domus in Toledo

Put down that Mahou. Right now.

Mahou

I mean it. Put it down.

Newsflash for all you non-beer drinkers: Mahou, Spain’s most popular beer, is not that good. Most large-scale Spanish beer isn’t that good. (But never fear, Spain! Neither is large-scale U.S. beer.) For example: San Miguel, Estrella Damm, or Cruzcampo. (Cat, please don’t kill me for this statement, and I promise I will buy you all the Cruzcampo you want.) The one good thing it’s got going for it is that it’s refreshing. Mmm, watery beer. According to this review,

I can’t find anything that would distinguish it from a hundred others … Well, maybe one thing—it’s way too gassy for my liking … It’s refreshing enough if served ice cold and as it’s pretty inoffensive … bland even.

But good news, Spaniards and expats living in Spain! Not all is lost. The microbrewery craze is finally hitting Spanish shores (and inland, too). If you don’t know, a microbrewery is a brewery that produces beer on a small scale. For instance, in my favorite town of Bloomington, IN, a great microbrewery is Upland. In Madrid, there are several new(ish) breweries around. In Madrid, I have had La Cibeles and Lest.

But better than both of those was a beer I had this weekend while on a trip to Toledo:

Domus

Cervezas_DOMUS02

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Domus is a handcrafted beer from Toledo. The name Domus means “home” in Latin and refers to its homemade quality. On the beer’s logo you can see the two-headed eagle from Toledo’s coat of arms.

Domus was launched in 2009 in Toledo’s modest Santa Barbara neighborhood by Fernando Campoy. Campoy had been a beer fan from a young age, and the idea of launching his own company came to him about five years before he began Domus. Thus, he set out to learn and research by talking to different brewmasters from around the world and visiting microbreweries in order to learn and understand every possible detail of the process.

Mario and I tried two beers, the Regia and the Summa. However, we are excited to try more of the varieties soon!

Domus Regia

Domus Regia

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Domus Regia, Mario’s favorite, is a classic: everyone will like it. As a toasted and top-fermented beer, the roasted malt shines through. With 4.3% ABV, the Regia is a lovely shade of amber, and its turbid appearance is due to the yeast, which is suspended in the beer, as it is not filtered.

Given its smoothness and balance, this beer could accompany just about any meal or snack, as it is able to balance high-contrast foods as well as enhance the aromas and flavors of otherwise relatively bland foods (white fish, soft cheeses, etc.).

Domus Summa

Domus Summa

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Domus Summa, my favorite, is not for the faint of heart or for those who don’t like beer. Its higher alcohol content (7.2% ABV) makes it a rather more complex beer than the Regia. The Summa is brewed with roasted malt, but it’s the touch of honey that gives it a subtle sweetness in both its aroma and taste. Its style could be compared to the Belgian abbey ales. It’s also darker than its sister beer, more of a dark-brown burgundy shade.

Unlike the Belgian abbey ales, however, the Summa is not quite as full bodied as one would expect. It is, perhaps surprisingly, quite easy to drink despite its 7.2% ABV. It would go quite well with strongly flavored dishes, like jamón or chorizo, stews, or red meat—not to mention chocolate!

Domus Aurea

Domus Aurea

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Domus Aurea, which we did not try, is an India Pale Ale (IPA). In the 19th century, the English found themselves in need of a beer that would last the whole voyage from England to India. Thus, they came up with a beer with lots of hops and alcohol, which allowed the beers to stay good on the long journey. Nonetheless, the Aurea has rather lower levels of hops and bitterness than a typical IPA. Its scent is very spicy, with the hops being very present. Its lightweight body and carbonation make it a beer that is very easy to drink.

As with Regia, it can be enjoyed with a variety of dishes, from fresh cheeses to desserts.

Domus Greco

Domus Greco

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Domus is also launching a beer for the fourth centenary of El Greco. If you don’t know, El Greco (literally “The Greek”), was born in Greece and resided in both Venice and Rome, but he set up shop in Toledo in 1577, spending the rest of his life there. In that time, Toledo was the religious capital of Spain and one of the greatest cities in Europe. El Greco painted some of his best and most famous pieces there, including El entierro del señor de Orgaz (in English: The Burial of the Count of Orgaz).

Where Can I Find It?

Unfortunately, I think that Domus is only available in the Toledo area or online (with high shipping costs to boot!), so it’s not easily accessible. Nonetheless, if you happen to visiting Toledo for a weekend—it’s a great day trip from Madrid!—stop by one of the many establishments that sell it and enjoy un tercio (33 centiliters) or una caña (draft, smaller portion).

Learning to Live in Spain

Have you all read my interview over on Expats Blog? If not, head on over to read my interview and leave a comment on my profile page if you’re so inclined.

Other people to visit: Erik, Erin, Hamatha, Lauren, Cat, and Christine.

One of the questions I was asked in my interview was “If you could pick one piece of advice to anyone moving here, what would it be?” It’s a difficult question for me, because I’m not one to give advice, at least not without advising you to take whatever I say with a large grain of salt. You see, everyone is different, and I don’t think my experience is the only one, or that you’re like me, or anything of the sort.

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Maybe you don’t like garlic. But why would you come to Spain then?

But when I first came to Spain, to study abroad in Toledo in 2008, I was very unprepared for what was ahead of me. I was excited to travel and to see Europe, but I had no idea how it would be to live in a culture that is like your own but unlike it in so many subtle ways. Perhaps it’s silly for me to say that it might be less shocking to go somewhere in Asia or Africa, because at least then you’d be expecting big culture shocks.

I had to learn to live in another culture, a culture that feels more and more familiar every day, but that will never be truly my own. I had to learn to embrace it for what it is—and not what I wish it could be. I had to learn to stop blaming Spain or Spaniards in general when something went wrong.

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They’re not so bad, Spaniards

Right now I’m tetchy about the numerous and unending strikes—huelgas—in Spain. So far we’ve had three transportation strikes, a general strike, a health-care workers’ strike, and now we’re set for an Iberia (the airline company) strike for Christmastime. I understand that things are tough in Spain right now, but messing with my Christmas plans? Understandably, I’m irked. Everyone needs to be home for Christmas (if they want to), am I right?

Before this year, I would have readily and easily placed the blame on Spain or Spaniards in general, forgetting that many Spaniards don’t agree with the strikes and dislike them as much as I do. In the past, I would have let that negativity overwhelm me and color my view of Spain for a good long time. But this year, this year I’m trying something new and difficult: not placing the big bad blame on Spain. Someone’s to blame, sure. But nothing bad has even happened yet!

Learning to live in another country is easy for some, not so easy for others (me). It has taken me four years, but I’m finally getting the message: you’re in Spain, Spain’s not home, and that’s just fine. Take it as it is. After all, we all know: Spain is different.

Of Little Significance

Have you ever met someone who’s profoundly affected you and then lost contact? Of course you have; we all have. But there are probably dozens more people that—after all’s said and done—ended up as not-that-important. You know, the person you meet on the train or the airplane and have a fun conversation with, but soon forget about, except for every once in a while when you think, Hmm, I wonder what happened to her.

In Spain, I’ve had loads of those sorts of encounters:

  • The Korean lady who ran an alimentación shop in Toledo. Study abroad isn’t really about studying, in case you haven’t heard. Inside the walls of Toledo, there wasn’t even a Carrefour or Eroski, so we did all our late-night shopping there, buying liters of Mahou or boxes of Don Simón sangría.
  • Pablo, a Spaniard, who studied in Cologne. Pablo chose la Fundación José Ortega y Gasset (which we affectionately referred to as “The Fund,” pronounced with the long Spanish “u”) to stay during a vacation. I can’t even remember why anymore. We lived in a renovated convent, and, while it was located in a rather idyllic place, it was still a dorm. We talked about politics (why we had reelected George Bush and whether Obama would be elected), Spanish food, and studying. I don’t remember much else.

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A view from my room.

  • My first intercambio, Carlos. We were a true intercambio—we spoke one hour in English and one in Spanish. Always. He gave me my first insights into the true Spain, not just the idealized version I had read about in books.
  • My Spanish teacher in Salamanca. I can’t remember her name anymore. She at first thought I was horrific at Spanish, but soon realized I am just shy. She finally coaxed it out of me. When she heard I was dating a Spaniard, she told me, “¡Qué bien! Es la mejor manera de aprender un idioma.” Or something like that. I finished my classes with her and never saw her again, except once—through a window. She smiled knowingly, the kind of smile where you realize you don’t have much to say to the other person, but you had indeed shared something.
  • The waiters at this certain bar in Zamora. It was close to my house, comfortable, and free wifi. (Remember, in Spain it’s pronounced wee-fee.) I would usually head there in the late evening, grab una copa de Elías Mora for the ridiculously good price of 2€, and settle down for a nice Skype date (but maybe not as often as my mother would have liked).

People come and go; I’ve come and gone from several different places. We all change, and in some ways we all stay the same. I’m still me, after all. It’s jarring to think of these people, people I laughed with, ate with, talked with … existing somewhere out there without me. They live and go on. So do I.

Do you have these sorts of people in—well, out of—your life?