Attractions: The Alcazar is located just off of the Plaza de Zocodover at the highest point in the city. It is an old fortress which now houses the Biblioteca de Castilla-La Mancha and the Museo del Ejército. Admission to the Museo del Ejército is free on Sundays. The Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada, referred to more commonly simply as la Catedral, is one of the most important buildings in Toledo. It is located in the middle of the Casco next to the Plaza del Ayuntamiento and plays an important role in several celebrations throughout the year. It is also an architectural marvel.
The Consorcio is a lesser-known tourist office which is dedicated to the recovery, restoration, and sharing of sites that have contributed to Toledo’s cultural heritage. They offer one tour in the morning and one in the afternoon every day of the week except Monday, when they are closed. Each tour goes to a different site and some of the sites can only be accessed with the Consorcio’s tours. The tours are free, but you should schedule ahead of time to reserve a space in the group. Another important thing to note is that all tours are conducted in Spanish. If you want to see a bit more of the hidden history of Toledo, the Consorcio is a great resource.
The Plaza de Zocodover is a great meeting place. This is where buses drop people off and pick people up in the Casco. The main shopping street, la Calle Comercial, is located just off the Plaza. There is also a McDonalds if you are craving some familiar food.
Food: This will be an adjustment at first. Breakfast is served at a fairly normal time by American standards, right before everyone heads off to work and school. However, lunch, the main meal of the day, isn’t until 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon. Due to the late lunchtime, it is common to have a snack during the morning. Dinner is normally served between 8:00 and 10:00 pm.
Local Celebrations: Entierro de la Sardina — This event marks the end of Carnaval and the beginning of Lent. A large sardine is paraded through the streets of the Casco starting in the Plaza de Ayuntamiento and ending at the Río Tajo. At the end of the procession, the sardine is put in a boat, sent into the middle of the river, and burned. Then there are sardines for people to eat while watching the fireworks show.
Semana Santa, or Holy Week, is a very important time for all of Spain. In Toledo, there are several processions on Good Friday during which different religious orders in the city carry old, treasured pieces of religious art through the streets and dress in traditional outfits for the occasion.
Corpus Christi is a Catholic feast day celebrated at the end of May or early to mid June. It is one of Toledo’s most important holidays. Leading up to the main celebration, the entire city is decorated with flowers and there are several smaller events such as the offering of flowers at the Catedral and the Parade of Giants. The main celebration consists of a procession in which the ten-foot-tall, solid gold and silver Monstrance of Arfe is carried through the streets of the Casco.
Misc: When it comes to improving your ability to speak, read, write, or understand Spanish while you are abroad, you really do get out of it what you put into it. It is true that, regardless of how much effort you make, your Spanish will probably improve at least marginally just because you all of the classes are in Spanish. However, how much it improves beyond that is entirely up to you. If you make an effort to only speak Spanish and to talk to the locals, then your Spanish will improve significantly. If you spend most of your time with other American students from the Fund speaking English, then your Spanish will not improve nearly as much. If you are looking for a challenge and you plan to be in Toledo during Lent, try giving up English for Lent. It’s difficult but it can be (and has been) done and you will definitely notice a difference if you actually stick with it.
Wifi and printing — The Fund has WiFi for all students. The signal is not always the most reliable but it works well enough for most daily tasks. However, if you are buying plane tickets or DARTing and want to be absolutely sure that you have a reliable connection you have the option to plug into an ethernet cord or use one of the computers in the computer room. The Fund also has a printer that students can use located on the ground floor in the reception area. To use the printer, students must purchase a print card from the library. If you do not think you will use a whole print card, share one with a friend.
Books — Host families sometimes have books for Fund classes that previous students have left behind. Ask your host families if they have any old books before you go buy your books for the semester.
Transportation and Travel:
Madrid to Toledo :The most cost effective way to reach Toledo is to take the bus that leaves every half hour from Plaza Eliptica in Madrid. Bus tickets are a little over five euros and the trip from Madrid takes about one hour on a direct bus. An indirect bus costs the same but takes about 30 or 45 minutes longer. The bus will drop you off at the bus station at the bottom of the hill outside the Casco in Toledo. A train ride costs more than a bus ride, but it is also faster. A one way train ticket from Toledo’s train station to Puerta de Atocha in Madrid costs a little less than 13 euros and takes about half an hour.
In Toledo: Inside the Casco, walking is the best (and usually the only) way to get around. The hills and cobblestones can be hard on your legs and feet at first, but you’ll get used to them eventually. However, your shoes may not live to tell the tale.
Buses arrive and depart regularly from the Plaza de Zocodover. The buses are very reliable but can be crowded. If you plan to travel very far outside the Casco, this is a great way to get around. The bus schedule and routes are posted at the bus stop.
Taxis are another option for getting around both inside and outside the Casco. However, if you plan to use a taxi inside the Casco, make sure that the driver can actually reach your destination. Toledo is full of very narrow, winding streets and some are not big enough for cars. Taxis are most often used by students who live outside of the Casco to get home after the buses have stopped running.