Before too much more time passes, I better wrap up the story of our trip to Spain. Towards the end of our week in Madrid, we took a day trip to Toledo, only about 1/2 hour a way by train. I think it might've been the only day of our stay where we didn't go to a museum, but that's only because the entire city of Toledo is like a museum in itself.
The capital of Spain prior to Madrid, Toledo is a medieval walled city on a hill surrounded almost completely by the river Tajo. The city is split up into Jewish, Christian and Muslim areas and apparently before the inquisition (thanks Catholic Church!) all three religions co-existed peacefully. Arab-inspired Mudejar architecture is everywhere you look, including in the synagogues and churches.
We started out in the Christian area with a visit to the Church and Monastery San Juan de los Reyes. The church itself is an intricately carved gothic-style stone structure, but the Moorish influence is apparent in the cloisters, especially in the tiled floor and fantastic painted wooden ceiling. The sunny interior garden, with its huge orange tree, was truly a place that made you want to sit down and reflect (mainly on how religious extremism end up screwing things up for everybody.)
Our next visit was to the El Transito synagogue. Transformed into a church after the Jews were kicked out of Toledo, the synagogue was eventually reclaimed and restored and now also houses a small Jewish museum. Much of the original decoration is missing, but there are still some beautiful carved Hebrew inscriptions high up on the walls and another impressive Mudejar ceiling.
The last stop on our "house of worship" crawl was the Cristo de la Luz Mosque. One of the oldest mosques in Europe, it was built in the 10th century, but converted to a church in the 12th century. Nonetheless, it remains distinctly Moorish in structure and is much smaller and more intimate than the churches or synagogues we saw. A peaceful garden adjoins the building, offering a great view of the ramparts, Puerto del Sol gate, and the city beyond.
Visiting Toledo's sacred spaces was like stepping back in time. But for our last day in Madrid, we took a great leap forward by going to see Madrid's modern art museum, the Reina Sofia. Cold, cavernous, and confusing to get around this was by far my least favorite Madrid museum. The one highlight was seeing Picasso's monumental Guernica, which is truly a powerful anti-war painting.
With a few hours left before our plane, we decided to take advantage of the sunshine and walk around the Huertas area, the "literary" neighborhood where many famous writers like Cervantes lived. We followed the colorful, winding streets to a huge plaza where the kids played and ate ice cream while Amy and I had some delicious sangria and wondered what it would be like to live at the Spanish rhythm all year round (how do they get any work done? When do the kids eat at school? do people really go home for naps?) If anyone knows anybody who's spent a lot of time in Spain, let me know!
Finally, it was time to say adios Madrid, bonjour Paris. Luckily, by the time we got back, the cold spell had broken. Unluckily, Julia came down with a high fever right away so Amy's last couple of days were spent hanging around the apartment. Still, as Amy would say, there's always the cheese store, so it wasn't a total loss for her. Come back soon, Amy. There's lots more of Spain to explore!