A tale of two cities: Valencia and Toledo

Posted by Julia Leef


One aspect of high school that I actually miss is the joy that comes with a field trip, often not because of the destination, but simply because you're missing class to do so. Field trips, if they occur in college, almost always require a paper or reflection assignment that takes the fun out of the adventure.

And that's why I'm glad to have these opportunities in my abroad program in Spain. Not only do we get to go on homework-free field trips, but we also get to see some pretty cool places.

I just got back from a weekend trip to Valencia, which was the second trip the program scheduled after our time in Toledo in the beginning of February. We've got one more vacation planned for Segovia in April, which I'm looking forward to, as it seems like a very beautiful city and weather will definitely be warm enough for outdoor excursions.

I think out of the two cities I've seen so far, Toledo is my favorite. It's one of those old-fashioned European cities built on a hilly peninsula with cobble-stoned, narrow streets and two or three massive gothic churches. The hotel where we stayed, Hotel Alfonso VI, was located on a hill, with one side of the building overlooking the city so that those with balconies (such as myself) enjoyed a really nice view. The balconies were just large enough for a small table and two chairs. The hotel, medieval in architectural style, featured suits of armor in the stairwells (with price tags attached, just in case you were interested in buying one) and wooden thrones in one of the rooms adjoining the dining area.

When walking around Toledo, there are two things that immediately catch your attention. You have to keep an eye out for cars because the streets are so narrow that when one goes past you have to press up against the wall to avoid getting hit. The other notable thing is the incredible amount and variety of weapons for sale in the city.

Every third shop boasts an array of swords, daggers and battle-axes, which would have been so tempting to buy if they weren't a nightmare to get through customs. Toledo has long been known for its weapons, especially for its swords, which were used by the armies of Hannibal and Ancient Rome.

In fact, there's a sword smith's firm in Toledo called "Marto" that reproduces weapons seen in films and television shows. Several of the shops I passed displayed replicas of the various weapons used in The Lord of the Rings films, everything from Gandalf's staff (both as the Grey and the White) to Gimli's axe.

Valencia is a much more modern city, with only a handful of churches to break up the present-day buildings. Still, that certainly doesn't mean it's lost its sense of tradition.

The weekend that we visited, the people of the city were celebrating the Las Fallas Festival, the main part of which, as I understand, takes place in mid-March. This holiday involves a carnival of bonfires, fireworks, and parades with giant papier-m??ch?? figures and adults and children dressed in traditional attire.

While I didn't get to see the parade, I certainly heard the fireworks. At every street there were groups of people, mostly children, throwing firecrackers onto the ground so that the gunshot noises reverberated throughout the city. It's a bit startling at first, but there are so many of them that you quickly get used to it. And then there's the period of several minutes during the afternoon in which explosions go off continuously in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento as part of the la Masclet?? event. I was in the next plaza over during that event, and I had no problems hearing the noise. During this time, the plazas are about as crowded as Times Square during New Years, or the Dining Hall during Wafflefest.

Both cities were a lot of fun to visit, and best of all, they gave me a break from work so that I could just relax and enjoy myself. Definitely a great way to spend the weekend, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to go.

Un abrazo,

Julia Leef is a junior at Skidmore currently studying abroad in Spain. She worked for the Skidmore News as Editor in Chief in the fall and is a contributing columnist this semester.  

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