Chase-ing Spain: First excursions, wrong turns


Photo by Chase Hollenkamp

The beautiful city of Toledo in Spain. It is known for its rich cultural and multi-religious influence.

Chase Hollenkamp, Staff Writer

¡Hola! Apart from attending class and settling into my new home, I have managed to continue traveling, sightseeing, hiking and eating some of the best food of my life. These past few weekends, I traveled to the historical city of Toledo and the hiking destination Cercedilla.

Taking the fast train to Toledo, my friends and I embarked on an adventure to a city full of history and culture. Like many Spanish cities, Toledo is composed of Roman, Arabic and Jewish culture connected by the winding streets and stones that hold up the city. Constructed on a hill towering over the surrounding landscape, it is characterized by a surrounding river-turned-mote that was used to protect the city from invasions.

Going underneath the archway to get through the city walls and climbing the staircase to the Plaza de Zocodover, the main plaza of the city, we felt as though we had entered a different world completely. Awaiting a guided tour, we met a friendly Moroccan man while we spent some time looking through shops selling swords (souvenirs and life size) and Don Quijote merchandise.

Our tour guide took us through the narrow streets of Toledo while explaining the different characteristics that make the city unique. Filled with history, the streets of Toledo are so unimaginably narrow that, according to our guide, getting wedged between streets is nothing strange for a native from Toledo. If a car comes while walking down the street it is almost obligatory to stop completely and press against the wall so that you aren’t run over (which I imagine isn’t a rare occurrence either).

After the tour guide gave us a great overview of the city, we then started to revisit the attractions that we wanted to get a better look at. Sadly, two of the most famous buildings, La Mezquita and El Alcázar, had already closed for the day, but the medieval cathedral remained open.

The Toledo Cathedral made up for our misfortune with the other two buildings. Originally a mosque, it was turned into a cathedral in the thirteenth century. The building boasts a seemingly eternal display of art, history and centuries of religious practice. With displays of gold structures, elaborate paintings and unthinkable domes, the structure was breathtaking. After two hours wandering through the building and its many rooms, we were left with the feeling we still hadn’t spent enough time there to take everything in. 

El Transparente, a Baroque alterpiece in the Cathedral of Toledo. (Photo by Chase Hollenkamp)

To wrap up our day trip, we set out to buy the typical marzipan from Toledo and watch the sunset over the city. We found a local shop ran by the nuns of the cathedral and then set out to a mirador* that overlooks the valley. We had a perfect view over the valley below the city to watch the sunset. The view was so perfect that I was able to ignore getting pooped on by one of the pesky pigeons flying throughout the streets. 

I will undoubtedly be returning to Toledo, not only to visit the other historic structures that I wasn’t able to explore at the first go around, but also to experience that wonderful feeling of stepping into a place where time seems to  stop.

The next trip outside the city was to Cercedilla (pronounced ther-the-dee-ya), a rural town situated next to the mountains. The main objective of this trip was to go on a hike through the countryside next to the village, but what quickly became the highlight of the trip was the lunch in between hikes.

Our first hike began at 10 a.m. and lasted nearly two hours. The tranquility of the countryside was a very nice change from the noise of the city that I have been growing accustomed to. It brought back a feeling of home in southern Illinois that I hadn’t expected but was grateful for.

Hiking through the Ceredilla countryside. (Photo from Chase Hollenkamp)

Back down the mountain we went for an unforgettable lunch. The first plate I was served was pote serrano* the perfect plate after a chilly calorie burning hike. The second plate was cordero asado* with potatoes and onions. The meat fell off the bone and paired perfectly with the potatoes and onions. After filling up, I still had to leave room for the apple pie topped with dulce de leche*. I don’t think I can ever forget this apple pie. It was almost a mix between a pie and a cake with melty apple slices and perfectly sweetened by the dulce de leche* topping.

Stuffed to the max, we then set off for the second and last hike for the day. This trail was originally constructed by the Romans as a commercial route, with stones and walls crossing the mountain streams. To our mistake, we began the hike in the wrong direction. Too late did we realize that the correct direction went downhill, so for nearly an hour we were only climbing and never going down. Exhausted from our little mistake, we made our way back to the station and collapsed on the train back to Madrid.

The nostalgia of being in nature stayed with me throughout the train ride and made me realize that in times of homesickness or being overwhelmed there is always a small refuge just an hour away. 

Mirador = viewpoint

Pote Serrano = a stew cooked with pig bones and made with various vegetables, pork, chickpeas and chicken or beef

Cordero Asado = roasted lamb

Dulce de leche = a caramel type of sauce made from milk