Yesterday I had a fantastic time exploring the city of Toledo with the ESN. Toledo is a three-hour coach journey from here and I doubt I would have bothered going on my own without the ESN, as any train journey has to pass through Madrid which is a pain.
It was such a beautiful, sunny day. It felt so ‘southern’ in comparison to Salamanca as it was even warm enough to walk outside without our coats on. It was a welcome change to the freezing-cold temperatures I have had to get used to here over the last few weeks.
The panoramic view of the city is a must-see is you come to Toledo. The city, positioned on a hill near the Tagus river, has many small streets and houses that look like they are built on top of each other. And when you enter them, they are small, cobbled and winding streets that I definitely got lost in. In the distance you can see the Alcázar and the Cathedral which dominate the landscape which really highlights the past significance of religion and the military in Toledo.
Toledo is home to over 60 churches. That is a lot of churches for such a small place. It also once was home to 11 synagogues and also boasts Moorish influence. For this reason, it’s known as the ‘city of three cultures’. You would expect these three cultures to clash in architecture, but Toledo has blended all of this together over the centuries and is something quite unique. Toledo was once famed for religious tolerance and because of this, Toledo had large communities of Muslims and Jews until they were expelled from Spain in 1492 and 1502 (not so tolerant after that!).
What was interesting was how our guide compared the city to Jerusalem; not just because of its religious importance, but also because of its landscape, which is quite arid and hilly. It was strange looking out towards this religious city in Spain and think of Jerusalem. This reminded me of my very first glance of Jerusalem in August 2014; we were led off the bus with eyes closed, only to open them all together as a group to look out onto the Holy City. The view of Toledo was not as emotionally-stirring but it was still a beautiful view.
Our first stop was a sword factory. Toledo is famous for its production of swords, however I don’t really understand why we went. We saw a 2 minute demonstration of a man banging some metal nosily and then we were seen into the gift shop for 25 minutes where everything was at least 40€. It seemed to be the opportunity for people to handle lots of heavy, dangerous weapons and take disturbing pictures with them (someone pretended to behead someone). We joined in with a bit of the fun and found a nice small blade which was actually quite pretty, a lot of detail on the metal. It was 40€ though and it serves no purpose. I am sure people come here to buy one, only to put on their walls and say ‘I got that in Toledo.’
Personally, our visit to the Sinogogia Santa María la Blanca (originally Ibn Shushan Synagogue) was one of the most interesting parts of the day – a bit different to looking at pointy sharp opjects. It took then the name of Santa María la Blanca in the early 15th century when it was converted to become a church, and that’s how it remains to be known to this day. Built in 1180, the synagogue it is disputably considered the oldest synagogue in Europe still standing. It was constructed under the Christian Kingdom of Castile by Islamic architects for Jewish use and remains a symbol of the cooperation that once existed among Christians, Jews and Muslims during the Middle Ages in Spain. It ceased to be a synagogue in 1411. As well as being a place for worship, it has had use as a monastery, an armory and warehouse.
Upon entering the synagogue, I was expecting the interior to be very plain, much to what I know of any synagogue I have ever visited. However this synagogue is quite possibly the most beautiful I have seen. The main feature of the synagogue is the gold clam-shell topped arch at one end of the building, which was probably the location of the Torah Ark. The building is divided into five aisles with 32 columns. The arches in the columns feature intricate, hand-made detailed designs with finely carved pine cones among other images of nature. What is most strange about this synagogue is its lack of a women’s gallery (it is expected women sat separately in a side aisle, hidden by a sheet separating them from the men. There is also no sign of the Magen David anywhere to be found.
After our tour around the city, we had a few hours to relax and have lunch before getting the bus back to Salamanca at 5pm. The café/food culture in Toledo, we were told, is nothing compared to that of Salamanca. I 100% support this opinion. In Salamanca, it is easy to find a Menú del día for a reasonable price, good service and with some variety. In Toledo, there were not that many restaurants popping out at us, and also, as I can’t eat pork/seafood and because Carrie is veggie, this made ‘Operation: lunch in Toledo’ just a little bit harder. It took us a good 45 minutes to find somewhere. After waiting a long time to be served and sitting like lemons, whilst the tables around us was being seen to, we felt the waiters at the particular place we had chosen were just too rude. We decided to find somewhere else, despite being famished. We eventually found somewhere that did a Menú del día for 10€ and plenty of non-meat options, although we did have to wait 15 minutes for a free table. The food I had wasn’t anything to write home about, but it filled us up for our return journey.
Tomorrow afternoon, I will be officially signing up for my classes at the university. I had to book an appointment to see the secretary in the Faculty of Translation – saves queuing for four hours like I had to do in France!! After I get this sorted, I can go to the Erasmus office and receive my student card. Over the last 2 weeks, I have tried a number of classes, some good, some ok and some just plain horrifyingly difficult/impossible. Some classes, you are expected to do a final exam, a ten-page essay, 3 presentations and weekly homework/tests, for THREE credits. I wish I was joking. Luckily none of the ones I have chosen are like that! As I only need 18 ECT credits this semester, I am taking 3 classes:
- Spanish Civil War Literature. The teacher is welcoming to international students which is always a big tick when it comes to choosing classes. Although it’s a lecture, he writes a lot on the board, and explains the meaning of difficult words/ideas which thinks his foreign students may not understand. On top of this, he speaks slowly in a beautiful and clear Spanish accent. I have nothing to complain about.
- History of the French Language. This one is in French which is good – I can DO French! This is probably my most interesting class (out of a massive 3, I know). It’s a lecture/seminar and the teacher gives out all the content in paper and online, so you know what to expect for the exam.
- Portuguese literature: This is in Portuguese and this class intimidates me a little. I have only studied Portuguese for a year and it can be difficult to follow at times, but the teacher is friendly and understanding so I don’t stick out too much. It will be good to improve my Portuguese though and learn some Portuguese culture/lit. There is no exam for this class which made it appealing. Just a group speaking presentation and online activities/tests every other week.
I’m quite pleased with my choice of classes, especially because I have one for each language I am studying. Every class has a calender of what to expect to study each week for the semester, the exam dates are already available and the content is all there online. The organisation is wonderful. I may sound a little too excited by this, but after having spend a semester in a French university, after not knowing when my exams would be until a week before they took place, I am feeling very appreciative of the efforts the teachers go about to keep us in the know here.
The only thing I can be negative about is the Spanish Language Intensive Course for Erasmus students I am taking with the international office. The Hispanic department in Sheffield make it a requirement for all students studying in Spain on the Year Abroad. This is additional to my classes at the university and I had to pay 160€ for the privilege – luckily we can get reimbursed by Sheffield for it. It’s two hours a day, every day, for 3 weeks. We had a leveling test on the first day which was a multiple choice, grammar test for half an hour. It was not that difficult but it didn’t challenge our reading/writing/speaking skills. I got put in the ‘advanced’ class, but the teacher is focusing on what past tenses are and how how to conjugate them. It’s very basic and I have done this stuff many times before. It’s a seminar but it feels more like a lecture as we have very few opportunities to talk or practice any Spanish. I sit for two hours a day, staring at a woman who makes Spanish grammar sound very confusing and uninteresting. She hands out millions of pieces of paper every class which are useless and killing trees for no reason. If I didn’t have to do this course, I would not bother going. I have done 8 hours of classes so far and I don’t think I have learnt anything, which is a real shame as I thought it would really help my Spanish. I feel that the Erasmus classes I had in France were better than this, and they were free. I have survived one week, only two to go!
In more positive news, I am going to Lisbon next weekend! I have wanted to go to Lisbon for ages and I am so glad I am going NEXT WEEKEND! In less positive news, we are getting a night train. It leaves at 1am on Saturday morning from Salamanca and arrives at 7am. We are staying one night in a hostel and then we are catching the train back to Salamanca at 10pm, which arrives at the very early time of 5am. I have never taken a night train before, so this will be interesting. I just hope I am not a zombie come Monday morning. Luckily I won’t have classes until 4pm! I have a deadline for my French essay in Sheffield on the Sunday, which means I will have to finish and upload it online before I leave on the Friday, I have time though. We haven’t yet decided what we are going to do, but we would like to go to Sintra on the Sunday.
Until next time,