Saturday, June 27, 2015

Toledo y El Escorial

We have continued exploring the areas around Madrid before heading to Salamanca, which is about 3 hours away. On Tuesday, we visited Toledo, which is about an hour south of Madrid. Our program organizes the transportation for all of our excursions, so a coach bus picked us up near our hotel.

Toledo is built on the top of a hill and is surrounded by a river on three sides and a wall on the fourth side. Only about 10,000 people live actually in the center of the city, but many more live across the river or outside of the wall. The entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage City and it is easy to see why. It is known as the "Imperial City" and is famous for the co-existence of Christians, Jewish people, and Muslims. Toledo is the old capital of Spain.

As we arrived to Toledo, we met our guide and rode the bus up to get a panoramic view of the city. You can see for yourself that it's pretty incredible:

After taking some (read: quite a few) photos, we took the bus down to a bridge and began our walking tour of the city. Our guide told us that there are more than 100 churches in the city, many of which are now museums. The chains hanging on this church were hung in the late 14th century and symbolize the triumph of Christianity in the campaign to conquer Granada. 

Next, we went in a synagogue and got to see the ornate decorations. It is amazing how well preserved everything is.

Toledo is also the home of El Greco's masterpiece, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz, which is found inside a small church. It was amazing to see how large this painting is, but photos were not allowed.

We continued through hilly Toledo to the main cathedral. This cathedral is consideredand most important in Spain and is the second largest in the country. It was constructed between 1227 and 1493.

One of many small side chapels inside the cathedral

The high altar

The choir and one of 10 organis inside. Spainish organs have both vertical and horizontal pipes

The Transparent, behind the high altar

El Greco's The Disrobing of Christ in a side room of the cathedral

This ceiling was painted in just 9 months

After our free time, we headed back to Madrid. A group of us went to a covered market near our hotel for a tapas dinner.

And then we went to the most famous chocolateria in Madrid for some churros con chocolate. They were delicious!!

The next morning we had to have our bags all packed and leave the hotel. It was a little hectic because we all had giant suitcases and the hotel elevator only fit one person and their luggage at a time. Then we had to take our bags out ino the super busy Puerta del Sol and wait for the bus to pick us up. Vehicles aren't technically supposed to stop in that area, so we had to load our luggage and get on the bus as soon as possible. While we were waiting for the bus, however, I got some nice photos of the Puerta del Sol.

The bus ride directly to Salamanca from Madrid is about 3 hours, but we took a side trip to El Escorial to visit the palace/monastery there. This is one of the royal sites in Spain. The complex was built in the mid 1500s by the king as a summer home, church, and school for the royals. The building also houses the remains of the Habsbourg and Bourbon rulers (1550 to present). It was really amazing to see, but we were not allowed to take photos inside. I think my favorite room was the library, because the books are so old and so pretty, plus the art in there was gorgeous.

After finishing our tour of El Escorial, we continued to Salamanca to meet our host families. The landscape of the countryside reminded me a lot of Eastern Oregon.

Crossing the Rio Tormes into Salamanca.

When we arrived in Salamanca, our host moms were all waiting for us at the bus stop. My roommate Lynzee (from Wisconsin) and I are living with a 70-year-old lady whose name is Vicenta. She is the sweetest! We live on the 5th floor (well really it is the 6th because the ground floor is 0) of an apartment builiding across the street from Salamanca's train station. There is also another American student living in our house (from another program) until July 11. We had the rest of the evening to unpack our suitcases and get situated in a new city that will be our home for the next seven weeks.

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