06.02.2011 - 13.02.2011
February 6-13, 2011
Madrid doesn't sleep, at least not those in the three-to-four block radius around the Puerta del Sol (Gate of the Sun). The Puerta del Sol is the center square that is the heart of Madrid (and incidentally, the symbolic center of Spain also, according to its "kilometro cero" plaque). It is the starting point of many roads that fan out into various neighborhoods, shopping districts, and parks.
Our small family-run hotel was a fifth floor walk-up (that's right, 88 vertical steps) in a building about two blocks from the Puerta del Sol. To say that the area around Puerta del Sol is busy would be an understatement--it is pulsating activity 24/7--part New Year's Eve, Mardi Gras, frat party. The weather was warm, even in February, so there are a lot of people walking, eating at tables along the streets, and gathering in the squares. The restaurants, shops, bars, and clubs are often indoor/outdoor; we loved the paella and tapas. It's very social: there's music, and lots of loud, exuberant talking. People have energy and gusto ("It's Spain!"), sort of like their favorite artists: Picasso, Goya, Velasquez, Dali.
Madrid restaurants start serving dinner around 9:00pm and the clubs get going around 1:00am. No matter what time we walked out the front door there seemed to be a party on the street. Madrid is also a city of interesting contrasts. On one small street we came across a shop for priests and nuns, and right across from it, a shop for matadors. Really.
Getting around Madrid was easy. As I noted, the streets all fan out from the Puerta del Sol. Street names are displayed in graphic tiles, ostensibly so that the "illiterate" could read them. They are helpful, and pretty!
The buildings were ornate--lots of sculptures and decorative elements.
Madrid has three major art museums (les grandes museos de Madrid). The Prado and the Thyssen-Bornemisza were interesting because each are essentially private collections (King Ferdinand IV and the Thyssen-Bornemisza's), so the art is such a strong reflection of the personality and tastes of the collector.
But the surprising gem for us was the Reina Sofia (Museo Nacional Centro de Arte). First, it's in an old, solid stone building with wide hallways and a central courtyard with classical and modern sculpture.
Reina Sofia staircase and central courtyard
The Reina Sofia focuses on more modern art, mostly but not entirely Spanish, and many of the exhibits are multimedia, combining the paintings/sculptures with continuously running videos, movies, TV shows, radio programs, etc. that relate to the art. For example, one exhibit had John Cage drawings, writings, and musical scores with a video of his appearance on the old TV show "I've Got a Secret." Surreal, fascinating, entirely enjoyable. Here's a sampling:
I liked the painting below. Here's the full painting and then a portion, close up.
I was fighting a cold in Madrid, so one morning when we came upon a restaurant with oranges in the front window, we went in for some fresh orange juice. While waiting for the juice I observed the host serve three gentlemen at the bar what looked like cups of chicken broth that he had ladeled from a pot on the stove. Great, what luck! "Pollo sopa?" Brad asked. "Si." Great--he ordered one for me and eggs for himself, and we settled in for breakfast. Awhile later the host proudly served me a very large half a roast chicken (with french fries). Oh my! What's one to do? Of course, I ate the chicken . . . never found out what was simmering in the pot.
Our favorite place in Madrid was the Parque del Buen Retiro. Started as a royal retreat in the 1500s and turned over to the public in 1767, the Retiro Park is like Golden Gate and Central Park, except without cars. It has grand walkways, formal gardens, forested areas, fountains, a large lake (popular for row boats) and small ponds, soccer fields, tennis courts, and buildings for exhibits and performances. It was such a delight to explore this park that once we found it we tried to go there every afternoon. Near the park are some swanky neighborhoods that are also fun for walking and a market area with fresh produce, meats, and bread vendors--who supplied us with picnic dinners many evenings.
Palacio de Cristal at the Retiro
Here's a fountain at the Retiro. Followed by a close-up of what is there. Hmmm, turtles. OK, Savannah, Lisbon, and now Madrid . . . with turtles holding up the statuary. Very interesting.
So far we haven't wanted to go to the hassle and expense of shipping souvenirs home. And we don't want to carry anything else with us, so we haven't been tempted to buy the beautiful things we are seeing. Instead, I take pictures of pretty things in store windows. Here are some dresses in Madrid shop windows.
Adios Madrid. On to Italy!