Bay resident shares experience from Toleda, Spain
IF YOU'VE ever wondered what Robin is referring to when he says, 'Holy Toledo Batman', it's the Spanish city which was renowned as a centre of Christian culture and religious tolerance.
Pronounced 'Tol-ah-doe', it is the capital of the region and contains many medieval Arab, Jewish and Christian monuments inside the walled old city.
It has a picturesque Roman bridge and the Plaza de Zocodover is a vibrant town square dominated by the 13th Century gothic Santa Iglesia Cathedral.
Toledo is a popular tourist destination, not just for foreigners, but also for locals from Madrid who pop up there for the weekend or a charming night out at a tiny tapas restaurant tucked into a cobblestoned laneway.
That's why it is vital to purchase train tickets online, or cross your fingers when you go to the ticket counter at the main railway station - which is what we did and managed to secure the last two tickets for the day.
It cost about $40 (Australian) for a return train ticket on a Renfe fast train.
Just 25 minutes later we were at the end of the line and amid a crush of visitors spewing on to the streets below the city.
Like many medieval towns, Toledo was built on a hill to protect it from invaders. So we were expecting a challenging steep walk up to the city centre.
Fortunately six long escalators have been installed in a series of tunnels which take you up the hill.
The views are spectacular over the surrounding countryside dominated by the Tagus River, which is the longest river in the Iberian Peninsula at just over 1000km.
We were taken with the quaint cobblestone alleyways and their surprising variety of stores with no showy window displays or neon signs, just an ancient doorway to a tiny and discrete retail sanctum.
Many contain souvenirs focused on the medieval past. So there are suits of armour, ornamental swords, knives and shields.
The craftsmanship is superb, and it was very difficult to resist buying something for the wall back home. But with customs going into Morocco later in our journey, and in Australia, I kept my euros in my pocket.
Before leaving Australia I'd booked a subterranean tour of Toledo.
The first challenge was finding the office of the guide among the alleyways of doors.
The second challenge was that the tour was only in Spanish and the guide was perplexed when she discovered we didn't speak the language.
I assured her that we just wanted to visit the underground tunnels and ruins and would be able to understand enough to satisfy our curiosity.
I wanted to see the Cave of Hercules, a Roman-era cavern beneath a former church and the historic archaeological site featuring ancient subterranean vaulted storage facilities.
There were four of us on the tour, two spoke Spanish, plus the guide.
Despite her concerns about the language difficulties she happily went through her lengthy spiels, then asked, "çomprende?" We'd smile and nod.
Fortunately we knew enough about the subterranean water channels, wells and houses to actually understand much of what she was saying.
We visited five subterranean sites. On one occasion our guide unlocked what looked like a hatch on the pavement. It revealed a dark stone staircase, which we descended to an ancient well.
The immersive experience in both the language and the subterranean depths of Toledo was an awesome experience and an excellent introduction to our time in Spain.