Travels in Spain before Covid: Madrid Day 2


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Europe » Spain » District of Madrid » Madrid
October 20th 2020
Published: October 20th 2020
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MADRID 10/21/19

We began the day with an amazing self serve breakfast at Catalyna Atacha, what a delicious spread of culinary treats from Spain! I loved the fuet salami, the fresh bread with ovo and tomato salsa as well as the many varieties of hams and cheeses. The delicious Bocadillos, mini sandwiches with peppers and lettuce, were a surprising treat for breakfast and the creamy fresh yogurt with goji berries, nuts, bee pollen and chia topping options was a nice plus. Lots of fruit, fruit juices and delicious coffees were there to compliment it all. If only I could repeat, repeat. Instead I have added many of these options here at home to our daily routine.

After breakfast we embarked on our first tour of the day walking toward the Plaza Mayor and through the major historic and popular areas in Madrid. Our group stopped outside Restaurante Sobrino de Botin on Calle Cuchilleros, a favorite of Hemingway’s mentioned in A Sun Also Rises, where we learned about the history of this restaurant, founded in 1725 and listed as the world’s oldest operating restaurant, but unfortunately our tour continued without stopping to eat or even go inside. I never realized there was so much I’d want to see in Madrid. Now I will have to return.

We continued our walk through this historic section then began our bus tour near the Gate of the Sun or Puerta Del Sol, Madrid’s famous pedestrian square, a popular and often crowded meeting place in Madrid. In the Middle Ages there was a tower with a sun that was next to the gate, identifying and giving importance to the main entrance to the city. A statue of King Carlos (Charles) III, seated on his horse, reigns supreme in this, the oldest area of Madrid. Our guide Ama said Charles III was the best mayor in the history of Spain. I did see the Tio Pepe sign but missed Madrid’s famous coat of arms, a statue of a bear and a strawberry tree located at Kilometer Zero, the point from which all the main roads of Spain radiate.

Our bus went further into the city where we could see the influence of the French beautifully displayed in the many examples of architecture in view. The Bourbons from France were responsible for much of the construction of the buildings in the French style that reminds one of Paris. The shady tree lined Prado Promenade divides the main road that js flanked by elegant neoclassical buildings from the late 1800s. Nearby the National Library of Spain takes up a lot of space on Paseo de Recoletos. This library houses more than 28 million books and is the largest library in Spain and one of the largest in the world. From here we passed the enormous monument to Christopher Columbus in the Plaza de Colon, (Colon translates to Columbus in English). The bus provided a peek at “Julia” the recent temporary sculpture added here by Catalan sculptor Juame Plensa in 2018, now on the pedestal previously supporting the statue of Columbus. Julia will stand here until December 2020. We saw gardeners replacing old plantings with new flowers for the fall. There are around 3,000 gardeners in Madrid working annually maintaining public gardens. My head was beginning to spin as I rapidly took notes, listened and tried to understand where I was. Independence Square was soon followed by the Entertainment District where on another rainy day in 2011 my husband and I learned that the Spanish evening meal is consumed beginning at 9:30pm, way too late for us.

Ama pointed out a Military Casino, which in addition to the gambling reference also means private club, especially in this instance. We passed Zara, a Spanish owned department store company. The originator of this company is now one of wealthiest men in world. There are 10,000 protected building facades in Madrid giving this city its elegant representation of a cultured and sophisticated Spain. New building is happening here too. Construction costs can run around 20,000 euros per sq ft. Many wealthy Mexicans and South Americans have been buying here driving prices up noted Ama.

Like many locations in southern Spain, Muslims founded Madrid. Due to its gateway to Europe, everyone passed through Spain; the Romans came first followed by the Muslims who brought with them their cultures, foods and religions. In 1808 Napoleon invaded Madrid damaging much of the city including the old Ambassador Gate. Most foundations in Madrid were made by Muslims and Romans. The blending of the physical and cultural gifts from these people are very much present here today.

Our bus dropped us off near the entrance to the Alcazar (an Alcazar is a fortress sometimes referred to as a castle, built by the Arabs, a Castillo is a castle built by Christians). This was the former residence of the Hapsburgs from 1765 to 1931. During end of that dynasty, during the Second Spanish Republic, the palace and grounds were declared an Artistic Historical Monument and were opened to the public. Franco never used the palace and, similar to what happened in Soviet Russia, he turned former palaces into government buildings. The Royal Palace, as it is known now, simply “represents” the monarchy and is used for celebrations and prestigious receptions of the Spanish Crown. Spain’s current King Felipe VI lives in a house outside Madrid.

After our lectures about Muslim influences in architecture, I was standing in the courtyard of the Royal Palace and in the distance I saw a beautifully colored dome which I automatically imagined as a mosque. Afterwards I did some digging to find it was not a mosque but the Byzantine style dome of the Saint Teresa and Saint Joseph Church. It certainly makes a statement in the distance.

As one would expect of a Royal Palace, the sparkling interior was massive and meant to impress. Room after opulent room of gold, crystal, white porcelain, historic paintings and frescoes, with large mirrors to amplify it all, was at once jaw dropping. The ceilings and chandeliers were most impressive and because there were few rooms we could take photos in, these I will simply have to remember.

We had been to Madrid several times and finally, this time, had the opportunity to visit the famous Prado Museum. On our way to the Prado we saw vans parked near the road with men working to scrub graffiti off the walls; no “modern art” here. The Prado dates back almost 200 years and houses the collections of works favored by kings from Spain’s 16th and 17th centuries, especially those of El Greco (who worked hard for approval from King Phillip II), Titian, Rubens, Goya, and Velasquez. The museum does not feature modern works like those of Picasso, Dali and Miro.

Each room of the Prado had a very specific collection of works. The kings had controlled the organization of paintings by colors and then by the numbers in the lower left corner of the painting as they still are represented today. Our guide Ama gave us lots of historic details that made viewing and understanding the paintings very helpful. She reminded us that the art works of the period were designed for religious reasons because of the strong Catholic influence. We learned that sadly, El Greco’s wife died having her baby. El Greco (the Greek) was so distraught over her death that he painted his wife’s likeness as the Virgin Mary in his painting The Adoration of the Shepherds, his most famous work. This striking painting was moving but I was captivated by the intense color of Greco’s Saint Andrew and Saint Francis c.1595.

King Phillip never appreciated El Greco so Greco stayed in Toledo where he was better received. An interesting fact: the queen of King Carlos IV lost her teeth because she was pregnant 23 times, yet we see her riding a horse and remarkably fit for someone who has gone through that kind of ordeal. The museum does, however feature long lines, so yes be sure to buy advance tickets or you will waste a lot of time in line as it is always crowded.

Dave and I walked up Calle de Atocha to look for a place for a quick dinner. We found the cute Pinocchio Pasta & Pizza Bar conveniently across from the Reina Sofia Museum, a perfect perch for me to look for my friend Kathleen who had planned to accompany me on a tour of the Sofia later. Dave had a delicious meat lasagna and I had a very generous portion of creamy gorgonzola gnocchi. I didn’t dare have wine or I would have fallen asleep and not been able to go to the museum that night (but the heavy dinner didn’t help to keep me awake).

The famed Reina Sophia Museum was free after 7PM so we planned our dinner and entrance accordingly. Even so, there was quite a line to get in but thankfully I spotted our friend Kathleen who had agreed to tour this with me (letting Dave retreat to our room) and so saved me a spot in line.

The interior is a series of levels that open into “picturesque gardens” in an interior courtyard, which at night was not easy to see. The building was once a hospital and now houses some of Spain’s most famous works of art from the 20th century including Picasso’s famed Guernica masterpiece located on the 2nd floor. We started there because I wanted to be sure to see this famous and powerful rendering of the Spanish Civil War. Guernica was a town in Paid Vasco in the north of Spain that was a symbol of democracy. Franco had wanted a bomb developed in this region and requested that Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy bomb the Basque Country town. Picasso wanted to denounce the civil war and its horror and violence. Although he didn’t fight in the war, Picasso’s most important contribution was his now-famous Guernica painting which is an important statement against the violence and tyranny of his own people.

I was surprised to discover how enormous Guernica was. Painted in sad tones of black and brown, at over 25 feet long it covered the entire length of the long room. The fact that there was no color only amplified the tragedy and sadness that Picasso so painfully painted.

On other floors we saw more works of Avant-garde, Surrealism and the beginning of Abstraction in Spanish Pop Art form. A short film written with Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel briefly captured out attention but it was a bit abstract for my liking. Truthfully this is not my favorite period but I am very glad to have seen it.


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