Alas, Saturday, the 12th, was our last day for exploring in Madrid. We checked out of our hotel and walked to the metro with our bags. Two metro rides later and a 3 1/2 block walk, we arrived at the Hertz Rental Car facility where our small Toyota awaited. Unfortunately, they had no GPS available — and they had no maps! What kind of Hertz dealership was this! They assured me that any gas station would have a good map (Of course, the first one I stopped at had none.)
Our next hotel stay would be in Toledo. But, we took an indirect route through the area of Spain known as La Mancha. This flat, arid, yet fertile plain (2,000′ elevation) lies south of Madrid and southeast of Toledo. It is, of course, best known as the location for the exploits of the knight errant, Don Quixote, and his sidekick Sancho Panza. We set our sights on what is considered the epitome of Don Quixote Country, the town of Consuegra. Sans GPS and map, we were temporarily lost and spent 20-30 minutes riding on dirt roads through miles and miles of vineyards. Eventually, we found our way to the town and up to the castle and windmills above. We could imagine the literary knight jousting with these giants which stood before us.
We toured the 12th century castle which belonged to the Knights of St. John (12th-13th centuries) and is associated with their trip to Jerusalem during the Crusades. The view from the castle was amazing. One could see how a lord could dominate the surrounding area. It was one of several medievals castles that dot the plains of La Mancha.
From Consuegra, we made our way back to the north to Toledo. Along the way, we passed by miles of vineyards on one side of the highway and miles of olive groves on the other. The scenic road eventually led us to the “city of three cultures,” where, for centuries, Jews, Muslims, and Christians lived together in relative peace. During the reconquista, the Jews and the Muslims were driven out, leaving Toledo a totally Christian city. It’s a beautiful place filled with narrow, cobblestoned streets barely wide enough to drive one car through (ask me, I know!). After dropping off the ladies and the luggage at the Hotel Eurico, one block from the Cathedral, I went in search of parking. Eventually, I found a garage several blocks away and found my way back to the hotel within a half-hour or so.
Our sight-seeing in Toledo was light today. We strolled past the cathedral and made our way to the Santo Tomé Church, where, in a simple chapel, El Greco’s most beloved painting, The Burial of the Count of Orgaz is housed. It is still in the same church where the artist placed it 400 years ago. It was in Toledo that El Greco lived and worked, and the city is filled with his art. Count Orgaz was a very holy man who lived in 1323 and was buried in the chapel. The painting, commissioned in 1586, hangs above his tomb. The count was so saintly that Saint Augustine and St. Steven themselves (in the painting) have come down from heaven to lower him into the grave. An angel transports the count’s soul to heaven, where Mary and John the Baptist introduce him personally to Jesus. It’s quite a work of art. Pictures were not allowed in the chapel, but I’ve included an internet copy.
We then walked down to the San Juan de los Reyes Monasterio (St. John of the Monarchs). The beautiful interior is in the Flamboyant Gothic style. It was initially intended to be the burial site of Ferdinand and Isabella (hence, the name), but they were buried in Granada after the Moors were expelled in 1492. On the way back to the hotel, we stopped for drinks in El Botero Taberna, an eatery/tavern just around the corner from our temporary abode.