Friday, 11 January 2013

El Camino de Santiago - Levante Route: Three days La Puebla de Almoradiel to Mora

"Why sometimes I've believed in as many as six impossible things before breakfast"  The Queen to Alice in Wonderland:  

And what, you may ask, has that got to do with the price of fish?  Well, people have been asking me again about walking the Camino with the dogs and it sprang to mind because I believe that anything is possible with the right attitude, mind and commitment.  Our lives are the creation of our minds and as it has often been said, we are only limited by our imagination - or rather lack of it.  So reading that it is "not possible" to or "ill advised" to walk the Camino with a dog, I set out to prove that you can - you just have to think a little outside the box sometimes and prepare in advance!  The adventures you have are different from those when you go alone and dogs are great for meeting people and starting conversations.  So, whatever your dream, believe it is possible and make it come true!  

The terrible trio - Sasha in the lead - exploring the
vineyards outside of La Puebla de Almoradiel
We set off from Chella around 09.30 on 3rd January and planned to do a 6km walk from our last finish point - La Puebla de Amoradiel.  The final day of this trip was due to be almost 25km long and with quite a few hills, so the idea was to use part of the travel day to take off 6km in advance and then walk three days of around 20km each, more or less.  When we started out the sun was shining and soon we were very hot over the flat expanse after La Puebla.  The way was easy to follow and there were many vineyards.  It was such good going we decided that three dogs would go with me on this short section - the two usual girls, Akina and Kaishi and Sasha.  They were able to run off leash most of the time but when they put up a rabbit I slightly regretted my decision!

Our lovely cosy and warm, pet friendly room
Kitchen at Posada de Peregrinos
They disappeared over the horizon, fortunately no hunting in the nearby vicinity, and I called after a few minutes to see if they would now hear me as they were likely to have been coming to a slower pace as the rabbit no doubt would have gone to ground by now.  I saw them returning to me and was delighted as Akina came into view first and headed straight for me... then I caught sight of Sasha and Kaishi, a little distance away from Akina but also coming to me at great speed.  I felt loved and wanted and full of joy at my dogs coming to my call... until I saw that they were coming back to me at great speed because they had two other dogs hard on their tales!  Not love at all, but "HELP!"  As soon as the other dogs - they looked like a kind of hunting dog - saw me, they pulled up and then mooched about calmly on the edge of the field, while the girls puffed and panted and were more than happy to go back on leash and walk calmly the last kilometre to the car.

Ana in the dog parlour next to the Posada de Perigrinos
We then headed on to Toledo where we had decided to make our base for the next three nights so that we could keep the dogs with us and have a warm room and hot shower with the chance to explore Toledo in the afternoons after the walk.  It seemed an ideal opportunity to take the opportunity to be tourists for a few days as well as walk the Camino and it was well worth it.  We discovered the wonderful history of the city, the amazing architecture and some of the culinary delights!  We are looking forward to our next three days there as we will do the same again for my walk into Toledo and beyond on the next part of the Camino.  This will give us the opportunity to visit some of the museums and so on that we missed this time.  Next to the Posada de Peregrinos where we stayed they have a grooming parlour and Ana who was our host was working in there too.  They also have a lovely little shop with treats and so on and as Kaishi had found something particularly "ripe" to roll in (!) and we had a small, warm room to sleep in where she would turn even more ripe - we bought some kiwi scented wet wipes for dogs.  Perfect!  We were happy and Kaishi smelt like a kiwi for the next two days.  She however looked as though she would have preferred to smell more of "dead thing" than kiwi - but life's tough sometimes!

Private Entrance to the Posada
de Peregrinos
Ana was fabulous and such a lovely, friendly lady.  She had read the blog and chatted to me about the dogs and although usually only one small pet would stay in the accommodation, she allowed us all to stay.  I hope we did not let her down - certainly the girls were very well behaved and the best part is that Ana has let us book the next three nights in the same room. The accommodation is perfect for Peregrinos as it is right on El Camino, the route running almost literally past the door.  It exits the Bisgara or hinged gate which is right outside the accommodation and the hostel next door is called the Bisagra.  It is in easy walking distance of the whole city and good little inexpensive restaurants and delicious bakeries are also on the doorstep.  Bisagra means "hinged" and this magnificent city entrance with its "hinged gates" is right next to the Posada de Peregrinos.  To book, you can go via or contact Ana - check out the website

Bisagra Gate - right next to the Posada de Peregrinos.
Turn left from where the picture is taken (through
the square entrance seen here) and you are there!
Although our official arrival into Toledo will be next time, I will include some of what we did here and recommendations for restaurants that we visited, purely because Toldeo is so full of interesting places to go and because there is so much choice, I want to cover as much as possible and also because it does fit in nicely with the dates of our visit.  For example, one reason we booked to stay in Toledo over this weekend was because on January 6th Spain celebrates the "Three Kings" and this is far more like Christmas for them.  It is when the kings arrived bringing gifts for Jesus.  There is a parade on the evening of the 5th and sweets and goodies are thrown to the children who line the streets to watch.  The procession passed by the gate and entered the city just opposite our accommodation, so we had a short walk across the road to stand on the edge of the little park where we had a lovely (and safe) view of the parade.  I say safe, as many will tell you, you can get quite bruised from flying sweets!

Marzipan Art!
The lighting is lovely and we wandered the streets the first night looking at all the lovely sweet shops and nativity scenes set up around the city.  It was very cold and frosty and so the lights were sharper than ever in the night sky.  We spoilt ourselves by purchasing more of the little "pastas de almendras" cake like sweets that we had first found in La Roda and letting our mouths water at the wonderful hand made sweets and chocolates in the shop windows.  Most are made of marzipan or contain marzipan and the whole atmosphere and look is like something out of Charles Dickens and the "idealised" side of a Victorian Christmas.

One of the amazing marzipan
creations - a kind of eel in
a box!
There was a little park walking distance from the accommodation and so this was perfect for taking the dogs for their last leg stretch at night before heading back to bed and getting a good night's rest before the next day's walk.  The dogs were great, including Sasha, with the traffic, the noises, the people wandering in holiday spirit, the pushchairs and the fire crackers that sometimes went off quite close to us.  We were even stopped on one occasion by some tourists who wanted to take photos of all the girls together.

Day 1:  6km from La Puebla Amoradiel to 6km the other side of Villacañas:

Lights of Toledo
We set off early as the walk was about an hour and a half from Toledo.  Brrrrrrrrrrrr - although the car temperature guage here shows -6C we had just passed through -7C before I took this!  Luckily for us there was no wind and so after wrapping up we quickly got warm walking briskly on the Camino.  The dogs are the ones who do not cope so well - they like to run to warm up but as some of this stretch is very close to the road, we could not risk letting them all off together and often could not risk them being off leash at all.  To put up a rabbit and head off under a car would be unthinkable and on some mornings the hunting was really quite furious and not far from where we were walking.  Kaishi seems to hardly notice but Akina really does get chilly - so I'm looking for a jacket for her, but it must be something that will suit her and not one of these silly "Hollywood Pooch" things with a hood and serious amounts of bling!!!!  Ndzilo feels it a little because she is older and Sasha generally doesn't notice at all - as she has her own jacket attached to her!

Soon the light came up and we were heading into the first small town, only 4km from our start point, La Villa de Don Fadrique.  There were some workers bars open and M went in to get us a bocadillo that we could eat later for our breakfast as he was there after we had passed through.  Apparently the door on one side of this church is decorated with scallop shells but even though I walked around it I failed to find them.  Akina kindly shivered her way into posing for this picture, but was glad when we were on the move again.  The town has directed the Pilgrim around all the old town historic buildings although it is not the route marked in the guidebook!  It is easy to follow though and a nice little detour so we did not mind too much.  The following is taken from Wikipedia and explains maybe why they are proud of their town and buildings as it has featured in Spain's history:

La Villa de Don Fadrique is a town and municipality located in the province of ToledoSpain. The town is named after Fadrique Alfonso of Castile who conceded the "Carta-Puebla" (the document reporting the foundation of the town and granting the special privileges to it) on April 25th, 1343. Prior to that date the small group of houses was under Corral de Almagueradministration.
According to the official data, La Villa de Don Fadrique has a total population of 4,214 inhabitants and a surface of 83 km². The population density was 49/km², in 2001. The economy of the town is based on doors manufacturing and agriculture.
La Villa de don Fadrique is located in the southeast of the Toledo province between Cigüela and Riánsares rivers. Buildings of interest are Nuestra Señora de la Asunción church, built in classical style, and Laras House.
This municipality was a stronghold of the Spanish Communist Party, (PCE) before the Spanish Civil War and some revolutionary riots took place in 1932 which required the intervention of theGuardia Civil. Because of this background it was even known as "Little Russia" during the Cold War years. Currently, it continues to be a regional stronghold of Izquierda Unida, which follows the traditions of PCE.

San Gregorio
Our meeting point was just over a bridge after the Hermitage of San Gregorio.  We were running a bit ahead of the support vehicle so Akina had her breakfast and then we continued on until it caught up with us.  We had a lovely bathe in the warm rays of the sun while the dogs all played for a while and we warmed ourselves with cafe con leche from the bar, put into our flask by the bartender.  At this point I had also found a different Camino sign - this time the swords of the Order of Santiago.  It made a nice and colourful change.  

Way out of Villacañas
The "rickety, rackety, bridge" but not trolls!
From here I took Kaishi with me and we made our way onto Villacañas where we were able to collect a stamp from the Ayuntamiento and have a nice cold beer in the lunchtime sun.  It was a tad scary entering the town and Michael had sent a message to say that there was a "scary overpass" but it was "OK".  I also got the message to "take a picture".  My curiosity was up and when we arrived at the overpass I knew exactly what he meant!  The rails were missing from the very top path!  An older gentleman came across with us and chatted away merrily about the dogs, was amazed we were walking the Camino and had another 800km to go.  He thought it was good to have dogs as companions and greeted Michael as he and Ndzilo headed towards us.  After we had said goodbye we turned to look at the bridge more closely - and much to our amusement noticed a sign that was not displayed on the side from which we had just crossed:  Bridge in disrepair - do not cross!  You don't say!!?!

A case of shutting the stable door after
the horse has bolted - we saw this
crossing the scary bridge!
The markers were again easy to follow out of the town, but it was all uphill and we can see the change in scenery as we approach Toledo and the flat terrain turns into hills.  In the not too distant future these will turn into some serious climbs and tracks but for now, we are getting our legs (and mind) prepared for harder walking.  The way out of town is mostly on the tar road and passing by a series of windmills - of the electricity generating kind - and then onto a track which runs alongside the main road.  From earlier in the day and I think the brisk walk in the frosty morning, I had pulled the muscle in my right calf.  It was bearable but quite sore and I was glad for the support vehicle and the lift back to Toldeo at the end of the walk.  The last few km were not really pleasant - the way out of town is a typical road side with factories and verges scattered with broken glass and tins.

In this part of the world there seem
to be more of these new Camino
signs with the white tiles and gold
scallop shells
I had taken Ndzilo on this part of the walk, but got her picked up early as I was worried about her paws.  On taking the road back to Toledo we could see the various Camino markers along the roadside and were very aware of how the path followed right next to the road for almost 6km.  This was not going to be a nice dog walk and also hard for them to have to stay totally on leash all along the road when it was likely to be very cold the next morning.  We were concerned that the day would be a totally "non dog walking" day and we were wondering whether Michael should take them on elsewhere.  However, as we reached the 6km point, the path strayed a distance from the road so we decided that I would walk from this point.  Also, I would reduce the distance for the next day by going only 11km rather than 18 planned and give my calf a rest.  We had a "wheat" pack with us that I could microwave and some anti-inflamatories, so the idea was to rest my leg and keep it warm through the evening along with doing lots of physio stretches and  massaging in physio cream.  I would then warm it up intensively the next morning before heading out and then repeat the process the next day after a shorter walk.
Caminos Naturales

During the walks we have noticed a number of Caminos Naturales signs.  These appear to be old disused railways that are now routes kept for non-motorised use and to encourage healthy activity and enjoyment of the outdoors and set up and maintained by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment.  You can find out more on:  

In a time when the importance of nature grows unstoppably in human consciousness and outdoor exercise is increasingly promoted in the new concept of health, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment is to contribute to observation and conservation of our natural areas, by recovering currently disused infrastructures that allow the enjoyment of the natural environment. This is accomplished by "Natural Trails Program".
The Natural Trails Program 
The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment, since 1993 has been developing the Natural Trails Program. Based on this program the Ministry has made 8544 km of nature trails, of which 1236 have been greenways -  the name given to run on old railways.

Reusing old transport infrastructure, trails, railroad platforms, towpaths, disused traditional paths, or opening new paths, and allowing people to get close to nature and the countryside in general, satisfying a growing demand for Field Eco-recreation use among the population. 
Back in Toledo we decided to head up to visit the Alcázar where you can go up to the roof to see views of the city.  It's the highest building and so commands excellent views of the whole city from all angles.  We also thought it would be a good idea to rest up a bit and as the following day would be shorter, we would do more tourist stuff then and also it would mean that we would be in good time to be organised for the Three Kings Parade or "Cabalgata" (cavalcade).

Cathedral Door
Door detail - at the Cathedral
The city's buildings are a little schizophrenic as of course they combine Christian, Jewish and Moorish architecture, in particular where the Mosques and Synagogues were turned into churches.  It's fascinating to see them and the city is a tribute to an age when once all these faiths shared knowledge and learning and lived in peace together.  The main cathedral however is a tad expensive - at 8 Euros per person to enter it seemed a bit steep, so for this time we appreciated it only from the outside.  As we turned for our accommodation, we came across a tent erected in one of the squares near the cathedral, at first thinking it was a kind of beer tent or bumper car arena.  On closer inspection we found that it was an "ice rink" as beneath our feet outside the tent was salt, scattered to prevent slipping from the ice that found its way out from the tent and onto the cobbles of the square!

Mosque turned church, Toledo

Ice Rink in the square near the
Cathedral - Toledo

We also decided to treat ourselves to one of the delicacies of the town - suckling pig.  Something we had never tried but which requires long and slow cooking.  We found a place that was recommended and were not disappointed.  It was actually part of their menu del dia and very reasonably priced.  They also offer accommodation and are very central.

If you want to give it a try - check out Palacios -  They can be found on Calle Alfonso x El Sabio

 It's worth just taking a stroll around, there are shops like Aladin's caves and which take one right back to the past.  Their displays are works of art and they just invite you in and say "buy, buy, buy!!"  Oh if only the lottery numbers would come up!  I'd buy the whole shop!

Day 2:  Outside Villacañas, where the path drifts from the main road, through Tembleque and 7km the other side of Tembleque

Making the turn toward
Tembleque, the track moves
a better distance from the
We set off early again for day two although being a shorter day we allowed ourselves the chance to get going in the daylight.  Also, being another 26km closer to Toledo from the day before cut off some of the time from our journey.

As often happens with these shorter walks, they somehow seem more challenging and tiring!  It's very strange but very true!
The 12km seems much further in many ways than 20 or 23km.  It never fails to surprise me but of course it is all to do with the mind and expectations and also one is "checking" more and "expecting the end".

On longer walks, one goes with the flow more and step by step, just walking in the moment - shorter walks tempt the mind to think of "when it is going to end" and of course, this slows time!  Time of course being more a concept of the mind than real!  As you can see from this picture, the trail runs directly alongside the road for a long distance.  Even though we chose start at a point that drifted more from the road, the path still took us from time to time alongside the highway.

Camino shell on a road sign as
you enter Tembleque
As you turn toward Tembleque you see two windmills, without sails, ahead in the distance.  They are a lovely sight and gradually come closer as you advance upon them.  As we turned through a farmyard where sheep were corralled there were seven dogs, some hunting dogs, sadly very thin and running barking at us.  It's hard to see them but you should expect to come across it during the walk.  Sometimes there is a friendly dog, lonely and barking for attention, not aggressively and we sometimes go to say hello to them or leave a treat for them.  One on this journey even play bowed to Kaishi through the fence, desperately wanting her to play.  It's not many dogs who meet and within less than a minute are inviting friends, especially when they are confined and alone, but this dog took to Kaishi and she bounced along the fence with it for the short time they could be side by side.

The church in Tembleque which
apparently a chapel that combines
a wayside cross and juridicial
marker.  As we arrived a service
was finishing but within seconds the
door had slammed shut and we had
missed yet another church!
What a magical find Tembleque is!  We really are finding the hidden Spain on this route.  I'm happy to have them all to myself but it's also a shame that so few visit these places!  The town has one of the most beautiful and original in Spain and it was built in the reign of Felipe IV.  The town belonged to the Order of St. John of Jerusalem but apparently made its début back in 1163.  The square appears as though it is one giant kind of "Globe Theatre" and when you read the town's historic info it seems as though that's exactly what it was:

Two-storey houses with whitewashed walls and large courtyards are located around its picturesque town square, following the schemes of the architecture of comedy theaters and inns, applied to a functional purpose: to serve as a meeting place for the people in their shows holidays

Perfect for your coffee and refreshment stop - the Camino shell is right
there on the wall!
Just before getting to the square, just after the church and just before the Camino turns left in the village to head out into the country again, there is a great little bar with the most delicious churros!  We also had a completely mouth watering crispy fresh tostada with ham, the local olive oil and tomato.  Do make this your breakfast stop or refreshment stop on your way through!  I had to find my way through the streets of the town, just aiming at getting to the church (which is not difficult) as there is restoration work going on around the church itself.  The Camino goes right through this building work and although you can see the sign on the wall, there is wire fencing preventing you from going through.  There is also a sign board on the edge of town which explains that the South East Route and Levante Route part company for a time here.  It's interesting to see that they run kind of parallel to each other but pass through different countryside and different towns.  In some ways it is tempting to follow the SE Way of St James for this stretch due to the fact that the Levante runs along so much of the main highway.  One route runs out of Valencia on a more Eastern route, heading out of the North of the city, and the other, the Levante, runs South of Valencia and then South East before turning East.    

Levante and Southeast Way is a route which links the Mediterranean, specifically the city of Valencia, with the capital of Santiago de Compostela (Galicia) through five autonomous regions, Valencia, Castilla-La Mancha, Madrid, Castilla y Leon and Galicia. This route is still collected in 1546 in an old travel guide written by the real postman Pedro Juan Villuga and published under the title "code of all roads in Spain until now you have never seen in which you will find the travel which you want to go  very helpful for all travelers.

The delicious churros with cafe con leche
in Tembleque, opposite the church

As we headed out of the town, the signs are good but then suddenly they disappear.  As I was glancing at the map and peering under the eaves of the houses, a lovely lady pushing her shopping trolly asked me if I was looking for El Camino de Santiago.  I was delighted and she directed me down a road to my right and told me that I should then turn left and follow the yellow arrows.  I would pick them up again there.  The route I had taken through the town ended up on the main CM-410, but actually if you turn right when you get to it and look at the armco on your right, there is a yellow arrow on the inside of it by a building and on the other side of this building there is another yellow arrow indicating the way.
View back to Tembleque - the hill is not steep but it is long
and the day was hotting up.  I was glad not to be doing this
in summer

You can therefore reach it along the main road, but the arrow will be out of sight if you don't quite know where to look for it.  It was just after this point that we met with the friendly dog who asked Kaishi to play and then with a young man who warned me to keep Kaishi on her leash as his dog had run off and it attacked other dogs.  He said the leash should be fine and asked me in a mix of English and Spanish.  He drove off in a cloud of dust again whistling for his dog, and I got out my new "extendible walking stick" which I had bought on the way to Toledo for just such an occasion!  My "energy" stick to surround myself with a bubble of energy to hopefully keep other dogs out of our "zone".  I needn't have worried though for a few minutes later the young man was back again, this time with a large German Shepherd in the back of his car that was barking like crazy.  He told me all was OK because the dog (he indicated the barking GSD) was now with him.  He wished me well and shot off again in another cloud of dust.  Some minutes later I passed a house with a wheeled wagon, a bit like one of the old style gypsy caravans, and there he was again, this time asking two more dogs to stay with him while we passed.  I thanked him and smiled and waved, the smallest of the two barking like mad and showing a lot of bravado but not daring to come too near.  Kaishi did not seem to notice any of this and walked calmly with me as we went on our way.

From here we passed a water plant where another young guy came out to greet us and asked us where we had started from and where we were going.  He also offered Kaishi water, as he said it was a long way to the next river.  I thanked him and she wagged, and explained that I had water with me.  He wished us well and we started up the long hill out of Tembleque and up into the hillier territory ahead.  Fortunately the track had moved away from the road a bit and Kaishi could have a run, but she did put up a rabbit and I was glad she headed away from direction of the road.

Knobbly rock with hard to see marker arrow!
Generally the Camino is well marked and the finger posts appear at regular intervals along the way but there is one point where the path forks and it is tempting to take the right fork away from the road, however it is the left fork that is correct and indicated by a "very" faint arrow on a knobbly rock!

We must have been high up as there was a triangulation point at the side of the path, displaying our directional markers and where Kaishi flopped down after her rabbit chase!

I messaged the support crew and they started their walk to meet us.  I could see them in the distance and when they were released to join us.  There is nothing like this greeting during the walk when they race to say hello to me or whichever friend is walking, stopping and pausing to sniff and greet before bouncing around in pure joy of reunion.

The finish point was a lovely open space with good parking - an excellent place to start the final day's walk and with good running for the dogs to warm up.

We headed back to Toledo going via the lovely cake shop near to our accommodation where we picked up a special "Three Kings Cake".  The plan was to treat ourselves to some naughtiness while I put my leg on a hot pack and rested it before taking a gentle stroll around the El Greco Museum.  If there is such a thing as a gentle stroll anywhere in Toledo - as being as it is built on a very steep hill!!

I think these wonderful candied peels and sugared cherries
etc are supposed to be "crown jewels" but I don't know
for certain!
Roscón de Reyes Cake - also known
as "King Cake"

The Wikipedia info below gives the history and tradition behind the cake.  As Michael and I did not know about the "figurine" that lies within, when I discovered it, I thought I had hit a hard piece of fruit and we both tried sawing through it!  I'm not sure therefore that either of us will be blessed with the good luck we are supposed to receive from it!!!

Rosca de reyes or roscón de reyes (kings' ring) is a Spanish and Latin American king's cakepastry traditionally eaten to celebrate Epiphany.
Although the name indicates that it should be round, the “rosca de reyes” generally has an oval shape due to the need to make cakes larger than 30cm across for larger parties. Recipes vary from country to country. For decoration, fig fruit, quinces, cherries or dried and candied fruits are used.
It is traditionally eaten on January 6, during the celebration of the "Día de Reyes" (literally "Kings' Day"), which commemorates the arrival of the three Magi or Wise Men. In most of Spain, Spanish America, and sometimes, Hispanic communities in the United States, this is the day when children traditionally get presents, which are attributed to the Three Wise Men (and not Santa Claus or Father Christmas). In Mexico before children go to bed, they leave their shoes outside filled with hay or dried grass for the animals the Wise Men ride, along with a note.
The tradition of placing a trinket (figurine of the Christ Child) in the cake is very old. The baby Jesus, when hidden in the bread, represents the flight of Jesus, fleeing from King Herod's evil plan to kill all babies that could be the prophesied messiah. Whoever finds the baby Jesus figurine is blessed and must take the figurine to the nearest church on February 2, Candlemas Day (Día de la Candelaria). In the Mexican culture, this person also has to throw a party and provide tamales andatole to the guests.
In Spain, due to commercial interests, roscones bought in cake shops hide in their interior a figure - either of Jesus or others like little toys for kids and a dry faba bean. Whoever finds the figure is crowned and becomes the "king" or "queen" of the banquet, whereas whoever finds the bean has to pay next year's roscón.

The vaults below the palace buildings from the 14th
Century Jewish Quarter of Toledo
After our naughty cake moment, we headed out to the El Greco museum, a house from the 14th Century restored as it is thought Greco's house would have been and which houses many of his paintings.  It is in the Jewish quarter of the city and there are still surviving cellars from the palace erected by Samuel Levi who was the treasurer to King Pedro I.  Distributed over two floors, they were vaulted galleries that formed the basement and lower ground floor of the palace.  As the basement was raised above ground level, it gave the palace greater height and it became a landmark in the Jewish Quarter and the city itself.  It also featured a number of storerooms and an important ritual bathing area with various cisterns.  The cellars were discovered on the site of the building purchased by the Marquis de la Vega when he thought he was buying El Greco's actual house.
The house which was thought to
be that of El Greco (but was not) and
now houses a museum of his works.
It is styled as his home might have

El Greco did rent three dwellings in the compound somewhere in the surrounding area close by the house shown here from 1585 to 1589

El Greco (The Greek) real name was Domenico Theotocopuli and he had an original style which had started as part of his painting icons in his home town of what today is known as Heraklion on the island of Crete.  From Crete he moved to Venice and in only three years he mastered the technique of painting with oils.  In the museum is housed "The Apostolate", a set of thirteen paintings whose position was not predetermined, the exception being of Christ which occupies the central position.  El Greco painted several apostolates of which three complete works have survived and the set in the museum in Toledo is the one of the greatest value and demonstrates the artist's ability to pain individuals - as the information explains, they are incredibly human and full of dignity and nobility.  The one I have shown here is (of course!) Santiago!

The label says:

"According to Hispanic tradition, this apostle who came to Spain and whose body would subsequently be taken to Santiago de Compostela for burial, is not portrayed as an obvious pilgrim, but merely holding a small staff in his left hand"

The era and Greco's time in Toledo was very important because a few years before he arrived in Toledo the court had moved to Madrid and the previous capital of Spain lost its status.  This brought about some interesting changes in the city and El Greco made his own contribution.

The ruling classes wanted to recover the city's position as capital and so started on a programme of modernisation - re-organising public spaces, laying on a public water supply, erecting new buildings and restoring old ones.  At the same time the intellectuals created a new image for Toledo to make it more deserving than any other city to become the secular and religious capital of Spain.  To do this they drew attention to its unique past, its links to Ancient Rome, its privileged position in the Visigoth kingdom and its traditional loyalty to the Catholic Church.  Because it did become the religious capital and because of its importance, it managed to survive many wars and avoided destruction.

Straw nativity
Toledo Nativity
After the museum we took a stroll through the city, taking in a few more local traditions and sights before getting ready for the Cabalgata - the Three Kings Parade.  Just up from the El Greco museum was a marvelous nativity made out of straw and in the church close to where we were staying there was the most amazingly detailed nativity, part of a competition and this had won first prize, which had little glowing fires, flowing water and various other moving parts, all based on "Toledo".  I have included a little video to give an idea of the scene and the atmosphere created in the church which displayed it.

Toledo - a taste of history:

Spain is awash with historic cities, so what makes Toledo special?  Barcelona, Seville, Granada, Córdoba, for example, all have their historic quarters, but these are swallowed up by the modern city.  Toledo, on the other hand, is all history with its narrow, winding, cobbled streets (that sometimes lead nowhere), steep gradients, and ancient buildings, all circumscribed by the old city walls. Anything else?  Well, you might also hear that   “Toledo captures the essence of Spain,” or that “Toledo is the soul of Spain.” The city has been compared to Jerusalem and its landscape called biblical.  Like Jerusalem, it was a city of three religions, with Muslims (more commonly called Moors in Spanish history), Jews and Christians all adding to the mosaic that made up Toledo.  However, it is the Christian churches, monasteries and convents that now dominate, although Moorish influences are everywhere, and there are two historic synagogues.  Overshadowing the city, and almost in the centre, is the huge Gothic cathedral, built on the site of the former Grand Mosque. Not far away (nothing is far away in old Toledo) looms another massive building, the Alcázar (fortress, now military academy). Cross to the other side of the river Tagus, where the Parador (state-run hotel) of Toledo stands, and look back and you can see how the cathedral and the fortress dominate the skyline.  They symbolize perfectly the decisive role the church and military had in shaping Spain’s history.  And Toledo was at the centre of much of that!

Toledo stands virtually in the centre of Spain.  It is strategically situated on a rocky bluff dominating a gorge, and surrounded on all sides but the north by the fast-flowing Tagus. The Romans captured it in 192 BC, but it was the Visigoths who launched it into prominence when they established it as their capital in middle of the 6th century.  By doing so, they located political power in the centre of the peninsula for the first time in Spanish history.  A series of church councils in Toledo from 589 also established the city as the country’s religious centre.  This, together with Toledo’s political status, set in motion the symbiotic relationship between Church and State that has –with some exceptions in modern times—been a constant of Spanish history.  It‘s here that we have the beginning of the myth that identifies Toledo with the “soul of Spain.”  But not all Spaniards are happy with that generalization. Many Catalans, Basques, Galicians, even Andalusians and Extremadurans equate Toledo with Castile and Castile’s historic penchant for centralization to the detriment of their cultures.
Bisagra Gate - detail from inside
Toledo was taken by the Moors (who called it Tulaytula) in 712, but a significant number of Jews and Christians remained and enjoyed freedom to practice their religions. The Christians (Mozárabes) continued practicing their Visigothic church rites, a pre-Latin liturgy that is still celebrated today in the Capilla Mozárabe of the Cathedral.     
With the collapse of Córdoba, capital of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), in 1031, Toledo enjoyed a brief period of relative independence as a small Muslim kingdom (taifa) before being reconquered by Alfonso VI of Castile in 1085. As the southernmost Christian city, jutting into the heart of al-Andalus, Toledo’s strategic position made it the most important city in Christian Spain.  Its conquest meant that the centre of the peninsula was back in Christian hands for the first time since the early 8th century, and it was the return of Visigothic Spain's capital and spiritual centre. Under Alfonso it now acquired the title of Imperial city (a designation that it has claimed ever since); he styled himself Emperor of Toledo, King of the Three Religions and as if that were not enough, Emperor of all Spain.   
The tradition of tolerance continued under Christian rule and a famous school of translators was soon formed in the city, taking advantage of the wealth of Arabic libraries and its established Jewish population, which was fluent in Arabic. Indeed, the role of the Jews was so significant at that time that Toledo was even called “the Jewish city.” 
Although the Christians tolerated the Muslims and Jews who remained after the conquest, they quickly established their authority converting mosques into churches, and then adding monasteries and convents. 
Taken from - for more visit the website and get the full details.  

Above - the nativity scene that won first prize in the church close to where we were staying

Three Kings Parade - stunning setting under Toledo's
lighted monuments and walls
The evening atmosphere in Toledo was great as everyone prepared for the Three King's Parade.  The dogs were great in the crowds and as the room was close to the activity and they are used to noise, we thought they would be happier there than in the car with everyone walking past them which can sometimes unsettle them a bit.  We decided to take it in turns to be with them and check on them.  We briefly popped out to see when the parade would start and as we did the first float rounded the corner, with wonderful and beautiful Spanish horses following.  Next came camels and surprise, surprise - a REAL flock of geese being herded through the streets!  We were a bit taken aback and had no idea why, but it was great to see.  The sweets were raining down on the crowds and we were a safe distance standing on a tree stump with a great view from the park.  We were about to go back to the dogs when the parade ended!  Very short but sweet, it must have only been around 30 minutes!  A few floats, a fair few horses and then everyone dispersed!  The impressive thing was that within minutes an army of street sweepers and tidy uppers were out with brooms in an efficient and organised operation and it was as though the parade had never happened!  The cordoned off areas were removed, the police disappeared, the rubbish had gone and the city went about its business again!  Simply astonishing and actually very impressive!

Day 3:  Outside Tembleque and into Mora:

One of the dreaded nests!
Another very, very frosty morning but a perfect one for walking.  The dogs could have a good run on the field where we had parked the day before and warm up before we reached a belt of pines.  They were all small ones and totally infested with the dreaded "processionary caterpillar" nests.  The area will be a nightmare to walk in once they start hatching and processing!  We kept the dogs on leashes as the nests were so low down the dogs could have bumped into them if they had run through the branches playing, and information says that this can scatter dangerous dust and hairs, even before they hatch.

From here we headed downhill while the others went back to the car and we passed some of the cave houses that we could see from the road.  Here the path crosses the main road and goes along it for a short distance before you have to hop over the barrier and continue along an old, disused road and over a bridge.  The area starts to get very picturesque, especially in the frost and the trail climbs up through more pines.  This was therefore a long leash section before we hit the olive groves.  

Lovely frosty path heading into the hills and toward
the olive groves
The road before you hop over the

The beautiful olive groves

This area is the largest olive growing region and the trees stretch for kilometres.  This was a really peaceful walk, holding such atmosphere, despite being a little tiring on the up and down that we were now doing over the rolling hills.  Good practice for the legs as they will have a lot more of this to come and not so far from here, on the other side of Toledo, the hills will grow into some quite steep climbs!  We met the support vehicle and Kaishi came with me for the second leg of the day's walk.  However, it was not long before it became apparent that a lot of this stretch would be along the main road.  Ahead (and up another very long hill) lay the castle of Peña Negras (Black Rock) and the Camino winds slowly up to it and then passes beneath its imposing walls.  I called the vehicle to come and collect Kaishi and headed upwards.  Michael kindly suggested driving ahead and waiting for me if there was a path that took us off the tar.  If there was, I would collect Kaishi again and continue on with her again.  I was delighted as I rounded the corner and there they were!  The path, winding its way up hill (even steeper now) lay to our left and was what I call a "real trekking trail"!

Peñas Negra
We now had even better views of the olive groves stretching far across the valley to our right.  The sight was impressive.  The day was getting hot and we rested regularly along the path.  This is only a small hill compared to those we will need to climb later on the Camino and I was again grateful to be walking this on a day with winter sun and not in the heat that beats down on La Mancha later in the year.

The path makes its way under the castle and then splits - one way would have taken the pilgrim into the castle itself and the other is the way we headed, down the slope and into the town of Mora lying ahead of us.  From here the walking was easy and as we entered the town we saw that the Ayuntamiento was open because it is where the police station is located.

The winding path heading up and under the castle
Although a public holiday being the 6th (Three Kings Day) we were still able to obtain our stamp and the atmosphere as we entered the main plaza was of holiday spirit, with children out playing with new bicycles or balls and parents and grandparents chatting and watching over them.  The church was just finishing a service as we left the Ayuntamiento and we went in to see what it had to offer.  Inside they little choir were singing out the last of the congregation and I recorded the event as it was quite uplifting and everyone was in a joyful mood.  I have included it below for you to catch a little of the experience.

Canine refreshment wagon!

The castle is very imposing, especially
in silhouette as you pass below it

Entering Mora

Winter walking!


  1. Fantastic!!!!!!!!!!!
    I too have Rhodesian Ridgebacks & my husband is planning on walking the Camino de Santiago this April. I just must show him your blog, he will be fascinated

  2. Hi there!

    Thanks so much for posting and it is great that we have made contact by e-mail and are chatting more. I really hope we meet up in the near future! Thanks too for sending the wonderful pictures of your RR's! All the best for your husband's Camino! Buen Camino!