After a quick breakfast at the hotel, we got on the tour bus and started for Granada, a city on the southern tip of Spain. Incidentally, this tour bus would remain with the choir for the rest our time in Spain, driving us between cities, tourist destinations, and concerts. I was still tired from the early wake up time, so I slept for the first 45 minutes or so of the ride, then continued reading Death at Pemberly, which I had started on the plane ride. It is a Pride and Prejudice fan fiction novel. I am slightly ashamed that I was willing to read fan-fiction, but the book is actually an impressive imitation of Austen’s period and style. After a rest-stop and a three-hour drive, we arrived in Toledo, a town known for the brief, peaceful coexistence of Muslims, Jews and Christians, its swords, and its marzipan.
First, we visited a famous sword shop which had created props for Braveheart, Lord of the Rings, and other film and television shows. Unfortunately, I was late off of the bus and got stuck behind a bunch of tall people for the smithing demonstration. I did, however, get to see the gold engravings, and after playing with some of the swords in the shop, I decided to purchase…a letter opener. Not the most exciting souvenir from a sword shop, but I didn’t want to pack a sword in my luggage. Two of my friends did decide to buy a sword, and some of the girls picked up gold jewelry. On the bus, Suzanna surprised us with marzipan, which the sword shop also sold. I had a piece with pumpkin filling, which was delicious (Now that I think about it, I ate a good amount of pumpkin on this trip.)
Next, we picked up the tour guides who would show us the city and drove to the scenic view of the city on the opposite side of the river. Toledo sits at a turn in the river, surrounded by water on three sides. We were able to see the fortress (destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, but rebuilt to its full scale) and the cathedral, which was built with only tower (instead of the usual two) because the round was too soft. After getting back on the bus, we completed our circ
le around the city and took a series of escalators (or stairs, depending on your inclination) to get to the actual entrance to the city. Some interesting facts: The Jewish Quarter is demarcated by blue tiles with menorahs or Hebrew characters inscribed on them. Isabella and Ferdinand (those Catholic monarchs) were to be buried in Toledo’s church, but switched their grave site to Granada. At this church, the choir had the opportunity to sing in the cloister. As is fitting, we sang O Quam Gloriosum and Hush, two of our quieter songs. After that impromptu performance, we visited the synagogue, which looked like a mosque because Muslims had designed and constructed it. Ironically, the synagogue was also used by Napoleon as his local headquarters during his campaigns. Our last stop of the city tour was the cathedral. It’s huge rose window was impressive, and there was even a relic: a rock which the Virgin Mary was supposed to have touched when she descended from heaven. One, more pedestrian, fact, that I found interesting was that Toledo, Spain has two sister cities in the U.S.: Toledo, Ohio and Corpus Christi, Texas. At the time we were visiting, Toledo was preparing for a festival in which they carry a “holy host” (a piece of bread) in a monstrance (a large, gilded sculpture) through the city. Similar ceremonies also occur in Toledo’s sister cities.
We were given just 50 minutes for lunch before we had to get back on the bus and one of my friends was hankering for a hamburger, so a group of us went to a mom-and-pop place that served diner food. With the exception of the fried eggs (seemingly ubiquitous in Spain), the food was exactly the same as it was in the US. Meat, french fries, and salad. After enjoying a homey lunch, we boarded the bus and headed for our final destination of the day, Granada.
We arrived at our hotel (which had a real grass Paddle ball court!), unpacked, and went right back on the bus to visit El Alhambra, a complex of palaces used by the Sultans who governed the area back in the day. We were all a bit tired, in the way that you are after traveling for a long time, but it was still an enjoyable experience looking at the colorful palace ceilings (an “explosion of imagination”), the Arabic poetry written on the walls, and the numerous fountains and pools (which were “very dirty. You will have to be taken to the hospital). There is also the famous Court of the Lions, which contains a fountain supported by 12 unique lion sculptures. Unfortunately, it was so dark that it was very difficult to take any pictures.
At this point, I must digress from the straight forward narrative to describe the best tour guide of the trip: Maria Dos. Since the choir was such a large group, we had to split up in order to see the palace. The first group went with Maria Uno, the second, with Maria Dos. I was blessed to be in the second group and experience Maria Dos first hand. A few quotes (you must read them in a Spanish accent for the full effect):
“The first sultan lived for thirty years. The next one, for six months. They were poison-ed. They were murder-ed. They were torture-ed. They died…of natural causes. But the important thing to remember is that they were killed…because they were…the sultans.”
“I studied Arabic for three years, but I gave up because I had to re-learn the alphabet every time…the first time was exciting, the second time was annoying…the third time…was exasperating…I just gave up.”
“Do not touch the walls. The Alhambra is very old and the human hand only destroys. In the next room, you can touch what everything you want.” [walk to the next room] “Please do not touch the walls.”
“Do not go into the water. It is very dirty. It has viruses, and bacteria, and if you fall in we will have to take you to the hospital right away.”
At the time, she seemed like a terrible tour guide. Now, she is legendary. Upon our return from El Alhambra, my roommate and I discovered that the tea in the room was free! Never ones to let free tea go to waste, we brewed a pot before going to bed.