Eurotrip Day 37: Toledo, Total Tourist Trap

Spanish buses are horrible. In fact, all European buses are terrible. The best bus I’ve taken resembles a school bus, apparently, it's just one small step ahead of the public bus. Europe should learn from Malaysia how to make long-distance coach travel better.

Anyway, I was in a bus from Madrid to Toledo which I didn’t enjoy because I was sweating and feeling so stuffy. There wasn’t any ventilation, and the air-conditioning (yeah, it was hot in the bus even though it was 20 degrees outside) was not turned on either.

But it wasn’t a long trip and we got to Toledo in just 45 minutes. Lovely view as I walked up the slope to the old town, which really occupies a strategic position, on a hilltop peninsula carved out by the flow of the river around it, which wraps around the old town on three steep sides.

Edinburgh has a competitor: Toledo. I don’t know which dumb travel guide I read the following passage from: "Toledo is an often overlooked gem by visitors to Madrid”. Toledo is anything but overlooked. It seemed like the only people in the Old Town were tourists, and there were tons of them. It doesn’t matter if it's a great town, but really, it's now an empty, hollow shell – a 100% tourist trap. Expensive restaurants with English menus stand side-by-side with ubiquitous medieval-castle-themed shops selling armour and swords. Does this bring to mind Edinburgh and its proliferating Tartan souveniour stores? Toledo has lots of shops hawking shields, knifes, swords, armours, “traditional handcrafted lace” and things that a local probably wouldn’t be caught dead buying.

The town is somewhat attractive, I guess. Architecturally, it is the closest to an old town in the UK that I've seen so far in Spain. The buildings resemble the architecture of those in the UK, and the weather was pretty cloudy and gloomy the entire day too, just like the UK (okay, bad example, I know). But at the same time it was distinctively Spanish, and on the spectrum it definitely lay closer towards Spain than England/Scotland. Lots of old cathedrals and synagogues, but really, I’ve had enough of churches already. And lots of obvious tourist trap attractions scattered around, like some museum commemorating medieval times or knight armour or whatever.

Add to that the gloomy weather, and I soon began to feel bad. I realised I was truly homesick for the first time on the trip. Being a backpacker on a budget sucks sometimes. I would really, really love to have a bowl of laksa instead of terrible Spanish processed food, overpriced cafe food or that same pasta dish that I keep making in the hostels. Sat on a bench in a city park overlooking the emerald-green river and houses on the hill on the opposite bank. It was a good view, but I wasn’t in the mood for it. I felt like I had seen so many amazing things already on this trip, and Toledo simply failed to excite me. I just sat there for a while, thinking about Singapore, how nice it would be to stop travelling for a while, and I confess I felt rather melancholic.

Then suddenly the mood was gone. I had somehow cheered myself up, without even attempting to do so. And then the sun appeared from behind the clouds for a moment, and everything seemed fine and nice again. Really. It was almost magical. From that point on, I never thought about wanting to be back in Singapore, and enjoyed the rest of my brief stop in Toledo walking along the road running by the side of the hill, taking in the good view of the riverbank. This was definitely not one of the oft-visited parts of the town, and it was nice to get away from fellow tourists. How strange it is that as a tourist, you'd often want to see less of your fellow travellers as possible. Sometimes, this is true especially true for people from own your country. I have a feeling that every Singaporean dreads staying in the same hostel or hotel as another Singaporean group, particularly in a land as foreign in Europe. This isn’t unique to Singapore, by the way, Daniel told me that he doesn’t really like meeting Spanish people outside of Spain as well.

Back in Madrid, I was much happier. Spent a great evening doing nothing but walking down the shopping streets. Usually while travelling, shopping is a big attraction for me, but the length of this trip meant that the excitement of shopping in a foreign land had already died down. Still, I was really enjoying myself just walking down the streets, people-watching, window-shopping, and admiring Spanish architecture once again (I also saw a very hideous building at one point). At some point, I walked into one of those upscale residential districts (didn’t look particularly expensive, but you can tell by the type of shops and the extremely good location) with lovely bars, cafes and bookstores full of character lining the streets.