After several months of staying home in Maine, I am traveling again! Yay! Funny, when I arrived home last May from my last trip, I was so happy not to be traveling for awhile. Little did I know that “awhile” would turn out to be 7 months. Traveling is in my husband’s and my blood. After months at home, I was ready to pack my bags and fly off.
Madrid was a great choice! We really enjoyed all the city had to offer. Great architecture, history, art, sangria, food and beautiful green spaces. Our apartment, which we rented through Airbnb, turned out to be in a great location.
The center of Madrid is considered to be Plaza de la Puerta del Sol. It was about a 15-minute walk from our apartment. There was a fountain in the center of the plaza that offered a place to sit if you wanted to take a break or do some people watching. There are some interesting characters in Madrid!!!
I took this picture at night of Puerta del Sol. The statue is of King Charles III (1716-1788) who is known for improvements to urban policies by beautifying squares with fountains, established a public school system, authorized underground sewers, built the Prado Museum and opened the royal’s private Retiro Park to the public.
The building is the Governor’s Office. On New Year’s Eve, it is where revelers come to ring in the new year. We took a “free walking tour” around Madrid one day and our guide told us that they do a “dress rehearsal” on December 30th, to make certain the clock will strike midnight at the proper time. Also, it is a tradition to eat 12 grapes, one for each strike of the clock at midnight, to have 12 lucky months in the new year!
People watching is very entertaining in this plaza. There are several “human statues.” Some were quite creative. Cartoon characters entice children for a photo with them so they get a “tip” from mom and dad. Always, there were gypsies walking around begging.
Madrid Art Museums
Our apartment was close to the art museums and El Retiro Park. We were a 5-minute walk from the Prado Museum (El Museo del Prado).
This is the entrance to the Prado. No photos, of the artwork on display, were allowed. I visited the museum twice and still didn’t make a dent in the 1500 pieces, from the collection of 7,000, on display. There were some great European masters on display – Titian, Velazques, Murrillo. I remember the first time I saw a Murrillo painting. It was on my first trip to Europe back in 1977!!!! I love Murrillo’s style of using light to accent the children in his composition. Of course, they had some art by El Greco and Goya. It was very exciting to visit the Prado museum after years of hearing about it and how amazing it is. I certainly wasn’t disappointed.
Another 5-minute walk south of our apartment was the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, the modern art museum that displays Picasso’s La Guernica. Ever since I learned about this mural that was created by Picasso as a protest against Franco’s fascist regime, I have wanted to see it. The subject is very disturbing. It is about the bombing of innocent women, children and elderly in the village of Guernica, April 27, 1937. Franco gave permission to Hitler to test out his new air force. They dropped bombs on these innocent people. Picasso was in Paris and had just been commissioned by the Republican government – Franco’s opposition in the Spanish civil war, to paint a picture. He decided to abandon his original plans and bring the bombing atrocities to the world’s attention. La Guernica showed the world the destruction and cruelty of the fascist movement. The mural went on tour to help raise money for the Republican cause. Until Franco’s death, the mural was displayed at New York’s Museum of Modern Art.
Although photos were allowed throughout other parts of the modern art museum, no photos were allowed for La Guernica. I was going to try to attach a photo from the internet of Picasso’s creation but they all said that they may be subject to copyrights. So, if you are interested in learning more about La Guernica or viewing the painting, I encourage you to google “La Guernica by Picasso.”
At the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, I saw some other works by Picasso, Miro and Dalí.
Time and again, I have confessed that I am not a huge fan of modern art. This time was no different. I do like Miró…I visited his museum in Barcelona. I like the simplicity of his lines. I don’t care for Dalí’s art.
In my opinion, the absolute BEST museum in Madrid is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza – the locals simply call it “the Thyssen.” To think that I almost didn’t go to this museum!!! This AMAZING museum was a 10-minute walk north of our apartment. All these museums are relatively close to each other.
The Thyssen-Bornemisza is the private collection that Baron Thyssen (of German descent) and his wife (a former Miss Spain) sold to Spain for $350 million. The best way to view this museum is to start on the top floor and work your way down. The way the art is displayed, it is a visual walk through art history. The display begins with Italian Primitives and as you wander through the various galleries, you will eventually end in the last gallery that displays “pop art.”
My favorite art period is the Impressionist and this museum offered beautiful paintings from this period. Evidently, it was Baron Thyssen’s specialty which is very evident! I am just sharing a very few of the many photos that I took.
Finally, near our apartment was the Caixa Forum….what a gem of a find! This exhibit hall was a 5-minute walk from our apartment. I feel as though we hit the jackpot with the location of this apartment and the art museums! We were walking by Caixa Forum and I noticed that there was an Andy Warhol exhibit. Wow!! I grew up in the 60s and Warhol’s pop art! I love Andy Warhol! Plus, as a bonus, David my husband; who rarely goes to art museums with me, said that he would go to this exhibit with me!!!!
This exhibit offered 350 pieces of Warhol’s art and the tickets only cost 4 Euro which is about $5.00!! What a deal! The exhibit was everything that I associated with Warhol’s art….bright colors from the 60s. Here are some of my favorite pieces that were displayed.
Parks of Madrid
David and I agreed that El Parque del Buen Retiro is one of the prettiest parks we have ever visited. This 350-acre piece of land was developed by King Felipe IV in the 1600s. It was a nature reserve for kings, queens and their guest. In 1868, it was opened to the public.
As you walk through the Puerta de Felipe IV (Felipe IV Gate) and look to your left, you will see the oldest tree of Madrid.
Walk straight along the path and you will come to the man-made lake.
Some of the wonderful features of the park.
Since being open to the public, many international exhibitions have taken place. This building, the Mining building, was used for one of the exhibits.
The “pièce de résistance” at the park was the Crystal Palace. It was glorious! It was built in 1887 for the Philippine Islands Exhibition and was first used to display flower species indigenous to that area.
Just a couple of parting shots that I took in the park…….
Parque Del Campo Del Moro
This park is near the Royal Palace at the other end of the city from Retiro Park. It was much quieter here as there were fewer people. It was almost like having our own private park.
As David and I left this park to head back to our apartment, we passed another smaller park where the men were playing a game. It turns out that it was called Pétanque (pronounced more or less: petanka). I must say that this was definitely one of the highlights of the whole trip. We must have sat there for a half-hour watching the neighborhood men enjoy this game, which I would dare to guess is a daily ritual.
It was fun to experience some of the local culture. I imagine that the game ends and they all make their way to the local pub for some tapas and a glass of wine before heading home.
Buildings of Madrid
The skyline of Madrid was beautiful. There were these wonderful “gems” of architecture everywhere. Here are some of my favorite photos that I took as we wandered around the city.
Madrid at Night
Part of the local tradition is for people of Madrid to take a nightly stroll. We stepped out a couple of nights and the streets were very crowded with friends, couples, and families wandering along the pedestrian-only streets as well as the sidewalks.
These evening strolls are part of the culture, especially during the summer; when the stifling daytime heat curtails any activity. It is in the cooler evening hours that people will come outside to enjoy socializing with neighbors, visiting the local bar or allowing the children to run off some pent-up energy.
The glorious buildings of Madrid were enhanced with lights. Everywhere you looked was a “Kodak moment!” Here are some of my favorite photos:
One of my all-time favorite plays is “Man of LaMancha” so it was a great surprise and joy when we wandered past Plaza de España our first day out exploring. It was just a small plaza tucked among giant buildings, close to the Royal Palace area.
Plaza Mayor in earlier days was Madrid’s main plaza. It has worn many “hats.” It was a marketplace and later, in the 17th century an open-air theater where bullfights, royal pageantry and executions from the days of the Spanish Inquisition – a dark time in Spain’s history where people were executed for their religious beliefs.
Today, many of the buildings surrounding the plaza are private apartments that cost a small fortune!! A small attic, studio apartment runs close to $500,000. A 2,500 sq ft apartment can cost over $2 million and up!!! Honestly, I cannot imagine spending that amount of money to live in an area that is full of noisy tourist day and night!! The drapery over the statue was a temporary decoration. It was removed a few days before we left Madrid. There was an interesting story that our tour guide shared with us regarding the statue. It honors Philip III who converted this square from a marketplace to the Baroque plaza it is today. For a long time, there was a horrible odor emitting from the statue. No one could figure out the source of the odor. During the early years of the dictator Franco’s reign, many objects relating to the earlier government was destroyed. Philip’s statue was one of the casualties. When the statue came tumbling down, it broke and out fell hundreds of small bird bones. It seems that the birds entered the statue through a small opening but was unable to escape once inside. So, they died and the smell was the bird decomposing. When the statue was restored, they made certain that all openings were closed.
Sundays in Madrid
If you are in Madrid on a Sunday you need to visit El Rastro, which is believed to be Europe’s largest flea market. At this flea market, you can find everything from clothing to tacky souvenirs to antiques. The guidebook said that there are many pick-pockets so be very aware. I didn’t seem to have a problem. I guess that it was mainly because I never carry a purse with me. I wear a Scottevest that has pockets on the inside of the vest so I keep all of my money, passports and credit cards on the inside. There is no way that anyone could pick my pockets! If you are an avid traveler, I recommend that you seriously consider getting a Scottevest. I have had mine for 5 years now and LOVE it! Here is the link to their website: www.scottevest.com
There is a little something for everyone. It is a great place to spend the morning.
Another unique event for Sundays in Madrid is that the major road, in front of the Prado Museum, was closed for most of the day. It seemed strange to see people strolling, jogging or biking along this major street and no traffic. It made for such a relaxed atmosphere not having to worry about dodging cars!
Food and Drink
There is a lively bar and restaurant scene in Madrid. I think I read that for every 10 people there are 6 restaurants. It is amazing that they are all able to stay open! Compared to us Americans, the Spaniards eats very late. Breakfast (between 7 and 9 AM) is the lightest meal of the day with a small roll, churro, and coffee or hot chocolate. Mid-morning snack is from 10:30 to 11:00, which is more like the US coffee break. Lunch, the largest meal, is between 2:00 and 4:00 PM….many Spaniards still observe “siesta time,” especially in the smaller villages. Mid-afternoon snack is from 5:30 to 7:30 and is more of a social time for friends to visit. People often lean towards a small sweet at a cafe. 8:30 to 10:00 is the final meal and time when the popular tapas bars open. If you are like us and eat more around 6:00 PM, you won’t have much luck finding a restaurant open for dinner.
In all honesty, I found the tapas/bar scene very intimidating. The bars/restaurants always appeared very crowded and I really didn’t understand how to order. In some places, the tapas are displayed like a buffet. You serve yourself and pay by the number of toothpicks left on your plate; while other places you can order from the menu. I am sorry to say that we didn’t have the tapas experience in Madrid but we did enjoy tapas in Barcelona.
We did enjoy another popular dish, tortilla de papas (potato omelet) for lunch. It is good comfort food.
Madrid is a beautiful city. If you are planning a trip to Spain, I would recommend that you spend 5 or 6 days in Madrid, do an overnight trip to Toledo – which I have written about in a separate post. Also, make certain you plan to visit Barcelona. Spain has such wonderful places to visit. I hope you get to explore this beautiful country.
Until the next time, I wish you blessings.