Toledo – About Swords, Bread Crumbs and Greek Painters

Heading from Madrid to Toledo, in La Mancha, already brings a certain excitement. Thinking about following the same paths Don Quixote did gives you that feeling of walking thru history.

Toledo is stage of more than 1,800 years of history, including Visigothic kings, Roman Empire province, Muslim visirs, Jewish settlements and more.

Since I didn’t even knew I was taken there until a couple of days prior, I didn’t have the chance to do much research, and in a certain way, was a good thing. I was visiting this marvel of history just with the little knowledge I had. And this was:

  1. Is in La Mancha, home of El Quixote, one of the most important novels ever written in Spanish language, that I had to read as part of the regular literature program in high school.
  2. The best steel and swords in Medieval, Renaissance and later times comes from Toledo. Captain Alatriste, the novel character created by Arturo Pérez-Reverte, carries a “Toledana” long sword, and a “Vizcaína” shorter one.
  3. The Alcázar was sieged badly, but never surrendered, and the famous painter known as El Greco lived here until he died.

With this little knowledge we went around. It was a discovery day, were none of the original plans really happened, but letting it flow, and waiting for the unexpected to happen was the best we could do, and became a great experience!

Steels and swords

Wondering around, at the end of an alley I saw a sign “Fábrica de espadas” and old style swords workshops, open to public, belonging to Mariano Zamorano, who humbly took us thru his workshop, where he still manufactures steels, knifes and swords as been done since ever, and might be the last handmade swords workshop in Toledo.

During the conversation with Don Mariano I learnt several things. Swords from the medieval times were not sharp. They were not to slice, was more of hit and pierce than anything else. Movies lied. There was a wide display of different knives. Each of them with their history, and going thru them, with Don Mariano, was a very enriching experience.

Bread crumbs, old men, and their young muses

Lunchtime is coming. With so many swords, and stories about gentlemen, knights and kings, I was tempted to say “winter is coming”, but is lunch time. We wanted to go to Lo Nuestro, renowned because of their tapas and particularly their service, but the place was closed. It was their weekly rest day.

After reading a little of the traditional Toledo dishes, I wanted to try carcamusas. The carcamusas is a pork stew, seasonal vegetables, tomato, bay leaf, and is spicy! Carcamusas are served with fried potatoes.

Is been said that carcamusas were created in the Bar Ludeña, in the heart of Toledo. The name comes for a word-game in Spanish. Allegedly the dish was very popular among old men (in Spanish slang: carcamanes) and young girls, which were the old men muses (in Spanish: musas) from there the mix: carcamusas.

The Bar Ludeña was absolutely packed with locals, and the wait time was about an hour, on a week day. The ambiance was great, the dining room was packed with people eating, drinking, chatting and laughing. Same thing in the outdoors patio and the bar counter. Suggestion: book a couple of days in advance if you want a table, or go early if you want to sit at the bar. We did none, and couldn’t eat there.

We ended, by a local’s advise, going to the new star in town: Bar Tierra.

We opted for their lunch menu, that included migas manchegas, which is an old dish based on bread crumbs, sautéed with olive oil, garlic, bacon, chorizo and parsley. On top of all that: a sunny side up fried egg! Tasty, hearty and affordable.

The migas manchegas and the carcamusas are from what in Spain is called “cocina de aprovechamiento”. This type of cuisine, created during the war and after war days, are dishes that are to use everything that was available. Those were famine days, and whatever that could be eaten, was going to be eaten… and let’s face it, if you put garlic, bacon, chorizo, olive oil and fried egg to anything, is going to taste good.

After such a great meal, we wanted to go for a walk, and a coffee. We were pointed to go and see Andrea, at his coffee shop Il Cappuccino. Andrea is Italian, and Barista. Just because opening the door of his little, quaint and cozy coffee shop, we were automatically transported to Sicily.

Then we took the car back and drove back to Madrid…

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