Two Days in Madrid, Five Days in Toledo and Just One Book

After a difficult winter which seemed never-ending, we were in dire need of a bit of sun and some relaxation so took ourselves off to Spain, flying to Madrid early on Thursday evening. Our second visit to the city started much like the first with a walk around the botanical gardens. Irises were in glorious full bloom then but this time it was tulips of which I’m not hugely fond – some are a little too gaudy for my taste – but the lovely watercolour exhibition from the Society of Botanical Artists together with a few particularly luxuriant camelias made up for that. The other notable difference was the frantic cacophony at the frog pond where the mating season was apparently in full swing.

We plumped for lunch at the CaixaForum just across the road. Owned by one of the big Spanish banks who go in for supporting culture in a way that I wish ours would, it was hosting an exhibition about Adolf Loos. A contemporary of the Viennese Secessionists, Loos was an architect who believed in putting humans rather than design first and as a result his architectural plans are very pleasing. Sailing Boat (Edward Hopper)

The following day was also something of a rerun, a trip to the wonderful Thyssen-Bornemisza walking past the long queue standing in the rain (yes, I’m afraid so) for the Prado. The attraction of the Thyssen is Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza’ s collection of fabulous pieces by artists you may well never have heard of. My favourite, though, is Edward Hopper’s gorgeous ‘Sailing Boat’, as lovely as I remembered it. Its radiant light made a stark contrast with the increasing gloom outside.

A thirty-minute train journey took us to the ancient walled city of Toledo and La Hacienda del Cardenal, once an 18th century bishop’s palace but now a hotel.  Hard not to gush about this place which reminded me of a Moroccan riad with its walled gardens full of secluded corners in which to lounge and rooms with touches of Moorish architecture, a welcome contrast to our hipper-than-thou Madrid gaff. These five days were to be all about taking it easy, preferably loafing in the sun but an early Easter put paid to that. Being British we were prepared: Monday’s riverside walk through an impressive gorge was taken wearing four layers and a beanie before the rain set in. We stiffened our upper lips and consoled ourselves with a particularly delicious lunch. Toledo is in Castilla-La Mancha, Don Quixote country and the home of scrumptious cheese: we didn’t find any windmills to tilt at but we did eat a lot of scrummy food, some of it Manchego. 

When we weren’t eating and it wasn’t raining, and sometimes when it was, we wandered around this beautiful city whose history can be read in many of its buildings which blur Muslim, Jewish and Christian architectural traditions, nicely exemplified in the Synagogue of Santa Maria La Blanca, possibly the oldest in Europe, whose name Toledo stationsays it all. This pleasing Mudéjar style suggests that all three religions lived in harmony and so they did for many years but sadly the usual skirmishes, violent suppressions and massacres intermittently reared their ugly heads not least in the form of Spanish Inquisition. Other Mudéjar highlights included the Iglesia de San Román whose gracefully arched interior reminded me of the mezquita at Cordoba, the fabulous station and the tiny but near-perfect Cristo de la Luz once a mosque then a church.

Back to Madrid for our last day which ended very pleasingly, buying an American import of William Stegner’s Recapitulation at the excellent Central bookshop we’d visited four years ago. A very pleasant break, then, although not entirely what we were hoping for in the way of weather however here’s a little reminder from the entrance to Toledo’s Monastery of San Juan de los Reyes to enjoy life while you can. I suspect that’s not quite Cover imagethe message the artist intended, though.

And the book? That was Ethan Canin’s A Doubter’s Almanac, an erudite, absorbing brick of a book which carried me through most of the holiday. It’s about a man cursed with a genius for maths, an addictive personality and a distinct lack of humility whose son inherits the first two traits and worries about passing them on to his children. Well worth reading, but not so much that I wasn’t relieved to lose its weight from our luggage.

21 thoughts on “Two Days in Madrid, Five Days in Toledo and Just One Book”

  1. My husband was just saying the other day that we should go to Spain. I’ve never really considered it, mostly because we have no language skills, but it does look like there are beautiful cities as well as natural spots to explore. I always enjoy your tempting travel posts. I have the Canin novel on my Kindle but had quite forgotten about its existence.

    1. Thank you. I can throughly recommend Madrid. Not much English spoken there but provided you arm yourself with the basics you can get by with smiles, and Toldedo is well worth a visit. I’m keen to visit Salamanca and Bilbao, too

    1. It’s certainly a relief that spring seems to have finally started. Perhaps you should arrange a research trip, April! I’m encouraging my partner to learn Spanish. How are you finding it?

      1. It’s supposed to be the easiest language to learn and it does seem fairly straightforward, so far. I was quite confused at the beginning, though, because I have a little Italian and there are more similarities between the two languages than I was expecting.

  2. Sounds like you had a lovely trip, Susan. That Hopper is beautiful. I’ve been to Madrid before but not Toledo – the architecture and feel of the place certainly appeal.

  3. I found the melding of religious traditions through their places of worship fascinating in Toledo, Jacqui, and the Hopper has whetted my appetite nicely for the Ashmolean exhibition.

  4. Helen MacKinven

    Always enjoy your travel posts. I’ve been to Madrid but not Toledo and I fancy adding it to my extensive ‘must visit’ list.

    1. Thanks, Helen. It’s a beautiful, very interesting place and even more lovely on the rare occasions we saw it sunlit. I had a particularly nice pudding on our last day in Madrid!

  5. I always enjoy hearing about your trips – so much history. My daughter is taking Spanish in school right now – she seems to have a talent for languages. I think she’ll make it to Spain before I do!

    I’ve come across A Doubter’s Almanac before, but am still not sure if I’d like to read it. It sounds interesting, but would the male-focused genius eventually get on my nerves?

  6. So wonderful being so close the the European mainland. We have been to Spain and travelled around on the trains but it takes forever to get there from Australia. It was very hot when we were there so would have welcomed the rain at times. Sounds like a wonderful break.

    1. We’re very lucky, I know. We’ve been wondering about a train journey around Spain although the next one planned will be from Amsterdam across Germany and Poland later this year.

  7. Lovely blog. I was in Madrid recently for work, so didn’t get to see much, but it’s a beautiful city. And yes! Those queues for the Prado! Never been to Toledo but it looks gorgeous. Glad you had a nice time, in spite of the weather.

  8. We had a week in Lisbon after Easter and I had to buy an umbrella! But lovely interesting city and some very impressive bookshops.

    1. Lisbon’s one of my favourite cities – all that faded grandeur. For some reason, although I know it rains in Portugal I always forget that it can happen in Spain too!

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