Sunday, November 15, 2009
Struggle Goes Medieval
While there are certainly enough things to do in Madrid to keep a person occupied for quite a while, I mean, the street performers alone deserve at least a month-long tour, it can be nice to get out of the city, if only for a day. So earlier this week when wandering around Madrid and thinking for the 10th time that day that Madrid is bizarre, I decided that it was time for me to spend a day away.
One of the delightful things about Madrid is that not only is it a gorgous city in and of itself, but it's frighteningly well located. Within two hours from Madrid are at least 10 cities, five of which are worth seeing. Sorry, other five, but I think you know that to be the truth. So when you want to take some time apart you've got a lot of options. I myself, for my first day trip out of the city, decided to venture to the beautiful city of Toledo, whose winding cobblestone streets and golden stone buildings make the place look like it just time traveled from 1305. Luckily for those who visit Toledo today, they will not be required to invent the horse collar or do anything involving midden. Instead, what they will find is a claustrophobic little place with twisting turning paths and a 500 year old church around every corner. That is, if they can even REACH Toledo, because, as we all know by now, getting anywhere by train in this country is the equivalent of inventing the wheel, it's not impossible, obviously, it can be done, but DAMN is it a struggle!
When I arrived at Madrid's Atocha Train Station I made my way quickly to the ticket office. Now, it should first be said that Madrid is clearly a very modern city, and the Atocha Train station is a very modern train station. Clean, relatively, and full of signs in both English and Spanish, at first glance the station doesn't appear to be a mess on top of a struggle. How deceived I was, my friends, how deceived. As you enter the main ticket office, which issues all tickets for trains going outside of Madrid more then 20 minutes, you might observe what feels like ten million people waiting. After a few moments, you might also realize that everyone is holding small slips of paper with numbers on them. Okay, that makes sense, right? Taking a number? But where could the number machine be? Certainly it wouldn't be in plain site, in an easily accessible location, that would be CRAZY. No, it's got to be in the corner, half covered by a plant, an unsung hero living in the dark. And is the machine a nice clean new object that looks like it was made in the last 40 years and is being held together by more then tape? Why, of course it doesn't! When I finally got my number it turned out that there were 37 people in front of me in line. Say it with me, can you? STRUGGLE.
So perhaps it isn't that Toledo is so beautiful, but rather that after the ordeal of buying the tickets and waiting for the train and walking 20 minutes uphill to reach the city made getting there such a relief that it could have been Pittsburgh and I woul have been thrilled to see it. Luckily, Toledo is not Pittsburgh, so I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt.
I spent the day strolling, or rather, climbing the hilly little city which is chock full of tiny Mosques, huge Churches and medium sized Synagogues. It's a regular monster-mash of sacred spaces, really, all beautiful and all chock full of tourists staring at maps. I myself was among them, to be fair, as I got lost no less then 5 times in the space of five hours. By the time I returned to Madrid Saturday night it was almost a relief to find myself back in a big city, because at least by this point I know the way back to my bed. Sometimes, well, that's all you can hope for.