Here’s the thing about going to Europe when you’re from the “new world”: it’s culture overload. You are coming from a place where anything over a hundred years old has a heritage plaque on it and suddenly find yourself in this alternate universe where they talk about renovations that happened in the 15th century.
And like a person who has just found water after years in the desert, at first you gulp it down. You step out of that airport and you look at every building and doorway and Vespa and you photograph the heck out of the place. (Or video it, or sketch it, or write odes to it. Pick your poison.)
And then, if you like to think of yourself as an intellectual or at the very least an appreciator of the finer things, (and let’s be honest here folks – if you’ve shelled out for a plane ticket to Europe, you probably think of yourself that way. Otherwise you’d be in Disneyland or something.) you go to see the things. Every city has different things. In Europe we’re usually talking about cathedrals, palaces, government buildings, ruins, and art galleries. There might be a stone circle or two.
But the problem with Europe, and Spain is no exception here, is that it has a LOT of things. It’s not like when you go to my hometown as a tourist and know exactly where to go because here is the water and here is the pretty and historic hotel and here is the attractive government building and here is the street of boutiques and now we’re good. If you like you can take a drive out of town to see the fancy garden. (I am exaggerating here. Yes, I know. Victoria is lovely.)
No. Europe is glutted with things. You go to a place like Madrid and suddenly here is a palace and here is a cathedral on a huge gorgeous square but oops, you just went around a corner and here is another cathedral on another gorgeous square. And hey, this one has a pretty dang fancy fountain to boot. And there are how many art galleries? Seriously, around every corner is a new wonder for you to behold.
And if you try to see it all, you will quickly get what we like to call monument fatigue (although I’ve also heard it called “another f&@%ing ruin syndrome,” which has a certain poetic accuracy to it as well.) Basically, you can only take so much in. Your brain, your eyes, your feet, whatever. It stops being amazing and becomes something of a chore. You stop saying things like, “Oh my god, look at that Picasso!” and instead start saying things like, “Oh my god, how many paintings did bloody Picasso paint?”
Some may have greater thresholds than others, but trust me – unless you are very particular in what you go to see, European monument fatigue will get you in the end. Europe is old, it’s dense, and it has numbers on its side.
And so, I am going to take you on my tour of Spain and give you the highlights and must-sees according to Stephanie. Our first stop was Toledo.
Toledo is a small walled city on a hill, only a short high-speed train ride from Madrid. Like pretty much everywhere in Spain, it has a big central square and a big gorgeous cathedral. (Word to the wise – don’t eat at the restaurants on the big squares. They are always attractive and obviously well situated, so they don’t have to try very hard to get people. As a result, the food is almost always overpriced and average.)
Claims to fame: Pretty walls; pretty cathedral; Don Quixote, who, yes, is a fictional character, but in Toledo, that just doesn’t matter; El Greco, the painter, who was a big artistic fish in a small artistic pond in Toledo. (This is a paraphrase of something we read in the El Greco museum. It is not a value judgement. Although I admit that El Greco is not my favourite artist in the world. He is better than me though.)
Things we saw: Wonderful panoramic views, charming narrow streets, big cathedral, Sefardi Museum, El Greco Museum. We skipped the inside of the cathedral but went to the museums.
Things to see that you shouldn’t miss: Just wandering the streets is good. Toledo is lovely and fun to get lost in.
Specialty Food: Marzipan. They are very serious about marzipan. There was recently some kind of contest where replicas of local monuments were created out of marzipan. While sitting in a cafe, we were treated to a looping video on the making of marzipan. If you want marzipan, this is the place.
If you want to buy it, buy it here: Suits of armour and/or swords, anything related to Don Quixote, chess sets, chess sets with characters from Don Quixote
Worth going, on a scale of one to five: 5