I was up bright and early (as usual) to head to the railway station.
My plan was to await my train in Atocha’s rainforest garden. A superb plan: I think we can all agree upon. However, the execution wasn’t quite so smooth.
The train I was catching wasn’t departing from the section of the station where the garden is. So I found myself sitting in the more standard departures area. It just wasn’t the same.
On my return to my hostel last night, I discovered that two of the Spanish women had left, and the lower bunk opposite me was occupied by Columbia. She had spent the day in Toledo, which was my destination for today, while she would be heading for the airport later to catch a flight home.
We discussed acceptable travel risks. She has spent the last year studying a Masters in Barcelona and has applied for a visa to live in Spain permanently. However, her student visa will expire before a decision is made, and though the Spanish authorities prefer residency applicants to be in the country while the decision is made, she is not comfortable being here illegally… though a return to Columbia may affect the outcome of the decision.
It’s Catch 22.
Columbia explained that she had met a lot of Colombians who had out stayed their temporary visas. She just wasn’t comfortable taking that risk.
I could understand that completely.
When I applied for a visa to visit China, apart from spending six hours filling in the paperwork and providing my family tree and history, I also had to provide train tickets and hotel bookings. It wasn’t enough to provide a plan. I had to produce receipts. As I travelled to China, I met English people who were casually changing their plans and destinations – now that they had the visa.
They reasoned that it was highly unlikely that their visa submissions would be checked against where they actually went. I agreed.
However, I wasn’t going to chance it.
As a child, my younger brother was once caught out in a small fib (cycling all the way up Medolmsley Bank for the Great North Bike Ride) – he ended up on the front page of a local newspaper (pushing his bike all the way up Medolmsley Bank for the Great North Bike Ride). That kind of bad luck has to be familial, so I wasn’t going to mislead the Chinese authorities by being cavalier with my visa.
The other Spanish girl was leaving today, too. Early. She asked Columbia to explain to me that she would be up “stupidly early” and apologised in advance should she wake us. She was pretty devastated when we broke the bad news that, no, Barcelona wasn’t currently warmer than Madrid.
So today, I was off to Toledo and, with temperatures four or five degrees higher than experienced so far, it was going to be the first time since arriving in Spain (and Paris) that I would not be wearing my Big Coat.
It’s only a 30 minute train ride to Toledo from Madrid – a very easy day trip.
Toledo is known as the “City of the Three Cultures” for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims, and Jews throughout its history. It was the capital, from 542 to 725, of the Visigothic kingdom, which followed the fall of the Roman Empire. Toledo was labelled the “Imperial City” due to the fact that it was the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor in Spain (and most of Europe).
The Old Town Centre is almost entirely a UNESCO Heritage Site and there is so much to see – the walls and places of worship and the original cobbled narrow streets. Toledo was the capital of Spain until a decision was made to move it to a quiet little town called Madrid in the 15th or 16th Century.
Madrid was a disappointment to the royal court at first- it needed so much work to make it a capital befitting the Spanish empire. Toledo had it all, but it was a medieval town, and a modern nation needed a capital that matched. They would just have to get building.
Toledo was bustling today. Aside from being a short train ride from Madrid, there are coach tours and school trips brought here and the town’s main square was heaving with crowds and tour guides touting for business. By 5pm it was much quieter, almost comparable to seaside towns when the cruise ships move out.
Columbia had warned me that she had done a lot of walking here. Today was the first warm and sunny day I’ve had all week – the Big Coat is hanging up in the hostel – so on a day of blue skies, walking the city, its walls an its gorge was no hardship at all.
There was less history-geeking than usual- very little in the way of English-language signage – and I was mostly enjoying a walk around the walls and by the river. Medieval cities always provide great circular walks.
By the time it was time to catch my train, I’d enjoyed a beer by the Alcazar with a view of the river gorge. I walked down the hill to the Alcantara Bridge, and from there, I was at the beautiful railway station in plenty of time for the train.
There were far more people there than I would normally expect to see. Readers with a memory know that, at least when travelling internationally, I will ensure I arrive at railway stations early.
The Spanish seem to get there even earlier than me… with good cause. For this small train that would take only 30 minutes to reach Madrid, boarding started 25 minutes before the journey was scheduled to start.
The tickets have to be checked. The bags have to go throught the security scanner. One difference with this morning – because we were outside on the platform, nobody was asked to take their coats off and put them through the scanner.
It was a bit nippy in the dark.