Thursday 22 September. Three cities, three tours, three cultures, three times the fun!

Once upon a time I studied Latin in highschool. I was fascinated by the Roman Empire and its culture entwining across Europe. Once upon a time I also was a mad keen player of Age of Empires (yup, I’m a history nerd). My favourite campaign was El Cid Campeador… I loved the characters and the story.

No surprises then that when I discovered a Viator day trip to Toledo, Segovia and Avila, I jumped up and down in glee and booked it on the spot. Three cities jam packed with history in one day? Bring it!

The day began before dawn, travelling several Metro stops to be at the meeting point by 7.30am (oh, the pain). But watching the sky lighten over Plaza de Toros de las Ventas was an unexpected bonus.

Very early start indeed.

Three cities, three tours buses? There was confusion. Eventually we discovered one bus was a different company, and two were for our group (one Spanish only, one English and Spanish). Not greatly encouraged by the bus company name (Chaos…! Apparently a Galician variant of Charles đŸ€”). Much entertained however, by the knowledge that our trip with Amigo tours was facilitated by three guides. You guessed it. Husband immediately dubbed them the 3 Amigos. Several amusing moments spent on the bus debating which was Dusty Bottoms…

First stop – Toledo – was about an hour’s drive and we soon discovered the easy pattern: snooze til about 10 minutes out, waken to the melodious flow of Spanish introduction then sit up and pay attention to the English version. We were able to repeat this without difficulty for each city, resting our feet (and eyes) ready for the next whirlwind walking tour.

Actually, not too whirlwind. Some of the reviews I’d read warned of much walking and little time to look around (what else would one expect when you’re packing 3 cities into 13 hours??) I was pleasantly surprised at the pace, and in each place there were times at leisure to wander, even briefly.

The jaw dropping moments began as we approached Toledo, crowning the rocky outcrop it has graced for thousands of years. Pre-Roman, the local tribes knew that strategically it was an ideal spot to fortify. Though not impregnable – it passed through the hands of Visigoths, Ummayyads, Berbers and Catholic rulers.

Looking across the Tagus valley to Toledo.

Toledo is also a city of intertwined cultures. It was renowned for centuries as a place where Christian, Jewish, and Muslim people lived amicably and collaboratively. Still, it has endured great conflicts: battles and conquests, the tragic expulsion of Jewish residents, the ensuing horrors of the Inquisition, and more recently the Spanish civil war. Somehow it has retained its tripartite culture and historical legacy to captivate visitors old and new.

A brilliant innovation for us newer visitors is escalator access from car park to city level (about 6 long flights). We gratefully emerged into the eastern side, Zocodover Plaza, with energy intact for our walking tour through the old city. And we needed it. Our excellent guide Khan led us through tiny, twisty, cobbled streets, across ornamented plazas, past soaring towers, under lofty archways.

The Spanish speaking group took an early lead, but we narrowly beat them back to the bus. The guides are a tad competitive!
Ceramic street tiles and markers through the city recognise and honour Toldeo’s Jewish heritage.
Islamic architecture is seen in the shape of many arches like this one.
Monasterio de San Juan de la Reyes, on the western side of the city.
St. Michael’s Bridge. Built in the fourteenth century as only the second bridge over the Tagus into the city.

In our free time here we snaffled some second brekky (Spaniards eat on a hobbit-like schedule, huzzah!), wandered plazas and perused souvenirs. Toledo is also famous for swords and steelwork, so I couldn’t resist buying my own weapon. Fear not! Merely a choice little pair of embroidery scissors (securely sealed and wrapped, so I devoutly hope they will safely return undamaged through our travels – and customs).

Next stop was a Damascene sword workshop and demo (amazing) with copious souvenirs (less so). I was more grateful for the baños (loos) as we now had a 2 hour drive on to city 2: Segovia.

Fascinating forge work…
…and the usual souvenir market. En garde, wallet!

For more information about this tour visit Viator – I highly recommend their informative site and flexible options.

For more pics and informal updates check out my Instagram @maedharanael or Facebook!

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