Holy Toledo! And Áahhvila, Spain!

If I had a euro for every time someone asked us if we’d been to Toledo (pronounced tə-LAY-doh) Spain yet, I’d have a couple more euros. But it truly is one of the favorite places of some of our friends, and one of our sons says it has been a lifelong dream of his to visit there. So we did it for him.

Toledo is a city full of so much history that the entire city was declared a UNESCO Heritage Site. It’s located on the banks of the Tagus River, which means if we’d wanted to we could’ve procured (a fancy word for “stolen”) a boat and sailed all the way back to Lisbon. But then we remembered that Marco, our beloved VW Polo, can’t swim, so we opted to let him take us home on land.

Many Americans have heard of Toledo mostly due the phrase “Holy Toledo!” I looked up the origins of that phrase and found a reference to the 1920’s & 1930’s, when Toledo, Ohio was an agreed-upon sanctuary between cops and gangsters. But I also found another reference saying that it arose due to all the churches in Toledo, Spain.

However, it is actually Ávila, as you’ll see below, that is known for having the highest number of Romanesque and Gothic churches per capita in Spain. Still, I think we can all agree that “Holy Toledo!” sounds a lot better than “Holy Ávila!” especially since most Americans wouldn’t pronounce Ávila correctly anyway. But I tend to think it’s probably the gangster story that’s true. I haven’t heard any Europeans ever utter the phrase, even when confronted with something as amazing and weird as my bald head, so I’m pretty sure it’s an American thing.

So we viewed some of the obligatory cathedrals, etc., but truth be told, the cathedrals in Toledo kinda put us over our European Church and Cathedral Limit (aka the dreaded ECCL). Maybe it’s appropriate that it happened in “holy Toledo.” Truly, some of those religious structures are amazing, some display incredible riches (which we always find a little hypocritical), and many of them display the full extent of the architectural abilities of the peoples of that time. But after a while, they all start kinda looking the same. While I promise the above photos were taken in Toledo, you and I both know I could have pasted any photos from almost any cathedral and no one would’ve known the difference.

But the rest of Toledo was as beautiful as advertised. It’s quaint, charming, pretty, and clean.

A couple of hours away from Toledo is another town that looks a bit like a mini-Toledo, called Ávila.

Back when we lived in the states, I had never heard of Ávila. And I would’ve pronounced it “Aveela,” as most Americans would be inclined to do, especially since most of us find accent marks annoying and totally ignorable.(Oh those silly Europeans, can’t they just memorize the pronunciations?) But the accent mark on top of the “Á” tells us that it’s pronounced “AAHvila,” or if you’re old, sleepy, and Spanish, probably “Aaaaaaahvila.” And that’s exactly what it provided for us, an “aah” moment, as we appreciated the town’s beauty and splendor, highlighted by very well preserved medieval city walls.

When it was all said and done, we enjoyed strolling around Ávila (while mostly ignoring the churches, despite those being part of its claim to fame), and we loved walking on the city walls (where we took most of our pictures).

Orson Welles once named Ávila as the place in which he would most desire to live, calling it a “strange, tragic place.” The link there shows a very short clip of that part of his interview, but it’s kinda funny because it seems as if he has absolutely no idea why he’d want to live there, plus it sounded like he’d never even been to that part of Spain. Regardless, we kept looking for Rosebud, thinking that we may finally found the answer to that mystery, but alas, we remained Rosebudless.

The main landmark in the city is the imposing Walls of Ávila (11th–14th centuries), construction of which began in 1090. The enclosed area is 31 hectares (77 acres) with a perimeter of 2,516 meters (2,752 yd), 88 blocks of semicircular towers, 2,500 merlons, curtain walls 3 m (9 ft 10 in) thick, with an average height of 12 m (39 ft), and 9 gates. The walls represent the largest fully illuminated monument in the world. It is possible to walk upon the walls for roughly half their circumference. (per Wikipedia)

And of course no visit to any town would be complete without a Door of the Day.

We never could figure out why Toledians (Toledoites? Toledocans? Toledoese?) hate Texas so much that they prohibited the whole city of El Paso. We kept asking the locals, “Why do you hate Texas so much?” They only returned puzzled glances in response, and if they were with children they wrapped their arms around them protectively while doing so. We tried to tell them we weren’t Texans, only curious, but by that time most of them were trotting in the other direction. Anyway, I guess you won’t find any direct flights from Toledo, Spain to El Paso, Texas, but we’re at a loss to know what El Pasoans (El Pasoites? El Pasocans? El Pasoese?) did to deserve it.

Lastly, as most Bald Sasquatch devotees know, we rarely pass up an opportunity to wander through a castle. There was a ripe one ready for the pluckin’ just about an hour out of Madrid, called the Castle Manzanares el Real, because it is, of course, very real, so they had to let us know that in the name.

Turns out it was the most expensive castle we’ve ever visited because it’s where Carolyn lost her prescription glasses. So if you happen to be wandering around Castle Manzanares el Real and find a pair of glasses, please contact us right away. We’ll even give you a free subscription to baldsasquatch.com just for finding them!

Construction of the New Castle of Manzanares el Real began in 1475, and is now one of the best preserved castles in Spain, as well as a leading repository of lost glasses by former Oregonians.

…And we close with the last door of the day!

I think Carolyn has a future as a door model.