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During the next few days, Emily and I continue to visit the sights, explore the neighborhoods (we are especially struck by the architecture and colors of Madrid de los Austrias--the Austrian, or old, quarter)

(here's a map that tells you the location of the Austrian Quarter, where we have some apartments for the Madrid Untour)

and, of course, sample the food. We sample churros y chocolat, (this is a silly Youtube video of some little girls enjoying this food, back home in the USA) a Madrid specialty and mentioned in both our guide books, and after one disappointing patatas bravas are intent on finding the best patatas bravas in Madrid (we believe, incidentally, that they can be found in Chueca).

When our feet start to wear out, the fast and clean metro in Madrid saves us; when we feel thirsty the many terraces give us solace; and when we realize we need to explore beyond Madrid the AVE takes us to Toledo in 30 air conditioned minutes.

Taking the AVE in Madrid is much like boarding a plane. Emily and I are unprepared for the security and get on the train with only one minute to spare. At precisely 10 am the train starts rolling from the tracks. The trip is short and scenic—the arid landscape around Madrid (think asparagus and strawberries) rolls by outside our window at a deceptively relaxing speed. As we get out of the train we are greeted first by the Toledo train station, a work of art in itself.

The walk from the station is mostly uphill and it is hot. We walk through the gate to Toledo and sit under a small, verdant fig tree to eat lunch while we ponder the map we've picked up at the tourist office. Because we both love fresh produce, we visited the market this morning to buy supplies for our lunch. The fresh olives are green and ripe and the oil cured manchego and local tomatoes cut their saltiness.

Emily has read about a guide called Te Descubre, which suggests walks through Toledo, but in order to get this guide we've got to walk to a different tourist office near the Cathedral. We start winding our way through Toledo. Drapes are hung overhead across the streets. In the heat of the day, the hottest day we've had so far, we are infinitely grateful for their shade.

We pick up the Te Descubre guide and review the Rutas Historicas they suggest. Each walk is meant to help you explore the diverse character of the city. We decide to focus on Jewish and Islamic Toledo. Both of us are stunned into silence by the simplicity of the Sinagoga de Santa Maria La Blanca, built in the 13th Century and then consecrated as a Christian church in 1405.

Oh, and along the way, we discover Les Delices de Toledo, because, well, how can we really resist?, delicious mazapan (marizipan) sweets from Toledo. These sweets are unlike anything we've tasted before. I love the almondy exterior and how it slowly gives way to the rich egg yolk center. Before we know it the box of delices we have bought as a gift has disappeared.

We are just bold enough to want to buy more, but not quite bold enough to return to the same store. Lucky for us the Routard guides us to what we lovingly call the "nun prison." Through a small grate nuns sell us marzipan that they've shaped into small animals and which you can only buy during certain hours of the day.

Though there is dispute about the origins of mazapan (some say it came from Iran, some say China, some, in fact, say Toledo) it is omnipresent in Toledo. So important is it considered, that the quality of the mazapan is regulated by a special council. On this hot, beautiful day in Toledo, Emily and I are infinitely grateful to the council.

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Comment by Bill Kover on September 13, 2007 at 4:32pm
Very well written! I especially like your description and photos of the food. That is very helpful. I have never been to Spain. But your description makes it feel like I am right there with you.

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