Friday, July 1, 2016


The Madrid symbol of a bear eating fruits from a strawberry tree.
This symbol originated from its coat of arms from the Middle Ages.
This statue is on the western side of Puerta del Sol.
Madrid is the capital of Spain and composes its own community. It is pretty much right smack in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula with the communities of La Mancha and Andalusia to the south and Catalonia to the northeast by the French border. It felt like any other European old city with its large park-like islands in the middle of wide tree-lined streets  and smaller shop-lined streets that lead from one plaza to another. There were many palaces, gardens, and churches to visit, and interesting neighborhoods or important main streets to walk down.

I bought the Paseo del Arte tickets which includes the tickets to all three of Madrid's main art museums (El Prado, The Thyssen, and Reina-Sofia). You usually specify which day you want to visit one of the museums when you buy your ticket through the museum website, and you can enter the other two museums within a year of purchase date. You can buy this type of ticket through whichever of the three museums, but you must go to the museum you bought the online tickets off of first to exchange for a physical voucher that will get you into the other two museums. 

Most of the museums in Spain do not allow photos inside. This I found to be surprisingly refreshing in this selfie-taking age. Here I could not visit the museums simply as a means of boasting my seeing certain masterpieces. Instead, I had to enjoy the pieces of art for their own sake.

All the museums were hard to navigate because they were usually in large impressive buildings of yester years; this meant if the rooms were on a 3 by 3 grid or 4 by 6 grid, they were all connected. This makes for circumnavigating each room and visiting every room without back-tracking difficult.

The Prado from Phillip V Street side.
El Prado, or The Prado is formally called the Museo Nacional del Prado. It houses a ton of master paintings. I went to see one of its most prized paintings "The Garden of Earthly Delights" by Bosch which they moved to a special timed exhibit as part of the 5th Centenary of Bosch's passing. There ended up being 53 pieces in the exhibit, some by his followers and his workshop; but there were many ink drawings and large triptychs by him! His colors are amazingly luminesce and the rendering sharp, that they feel very modern. 

I was also there to see my favorite artist, Pieter Breughel the Elder who has two (out of only 45 authenticated) paintings there. The problem with the Prado is that there are way too many masterpieces there. There are Raphaels, Goyas, Velázquezs, El Grecos, Titians, Tiepolos, Rubens', and more! Can you imagine?! It was an ecstatic experience walking through the museum and even recounting the paintings I saw leaves me breathless. I can't believe how lucky I am! It is hard to choose favorites, but I loved Goya's "black paintings" which made me like him all the more. There is something very emotionally honest about that series of dark paintings.

Museo Reina Sofia and Lichtenstein's Brushstrokes. 
Museo Reina Sofia and its other entrance.
Museo Reina Sofia is the one that houses more modern and contemporary art. I was too tired to see the entire collection so I tried to go straight towards Picasso's Guernica. I don't think it is Picasso's best work, but it certainly was striking in its size and subject. Though seeing that painting was the goal, I couldn't exit the museum without inadvertently passing by Dalí, Miro, and Serra. The ability to renovate buildings and add interesting new structures to impressive old ones is a skill that excels here. Every building has its own character.

The Thyssen
The Thyssen, or El Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza is the museum I almost skipped. Since I already had the ticket, I decided to make it a few days later. As I walked through the collection, I kept saying to myself "JUST STOP IT ALREADY!" There was Hopper, Hall, Braques, Picassos, Degas, Balthus, Chagall, Delacroix, Magritte, and more. What was enlightening are early works by Picasso, Gaugin, Monet and their contemporaries that show the development of their content and style. The Thyssen did allow photos to be taken of the paintings inside, but oddly not the galleries themselves.

Puerta del Sol
Puerta del Sol- This is only one of many large plazas around Madrid. With Palacio Real demarcating the western edge of the city and the Prado on the eastern edge, this plaza marks the city center with many streets fanning out from it. 

Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is a large square plaza a few blocks southwest of Puerta del Sol. There are many other popular plazas like Plaza de España or Plaza de Oriente as well as innumerable smaller ones on corners of multi-street intersections.
Santiago Bernabéu as viewed from Zen Restaurant 
Santiago Bernabéu is where the ever popular fútbol happens! I didn't really visit the stadium; instead I was inside the fancy Chinese restaurant called Zen Restaurant that is actually inside the stadium. There are tours that will take you inside, or even better, go see an actual game! The Chinese food at the restaurant was good but over-priced for not being the fanciest Chinese food one can get.
Temple of Debod
Temple of Debod is a legit Egyptian temple that was gifted to Spain. It is set up in the middle of a park that isn't right beside any other points of interest. 

There are only two other places in and around Madrid that I would try to visit that I haven't already. One is Palacio Real which is the official residence of the Spanish royal family and the Escorial which is also a royal family retreat/monastery. The Escorial is hard to get to but looks amazing in pictures. Large tour groups to Madrid often only stop at the Prado and the Escorial.

The interior of the  Casa Hernanz Alpargateria with woven grass soles lining the wall. 
The line outside Casa Hernanz Alpargateria by the time we left.

Espadrilles are traditional Spanish shoes worn in the summer, but bought now by tourists rather than locals. We went to Casa Hernanz Alpargateria around 16:20 and it wasn't to open until 16:30. We sat in a nearby cafe for a drink and saw from far away that a few people were gathering. The shop seemed to open a few minutes early and once we walked to the front door, we were already the 6th or 7th in line. It took half an hour for our turn and an hour before we had our purchase. By the time we got out of the store, a very long line had formed. It isn't a wonder why people would buy espadrilles as they are well-made, comfortable, and cheap. But I noticed almost all shoes made in Spain highlights comfort. I guess in a culture where walking is a necessity, comfort is non-negotiable.

The view of Mercado San Miguel as you exit the southwest side of Plaza Mayor.
Fried seafood mix, assorted olives, and sangria at Mercado San Miguel.
Mercado San Miguel is a covered market that is a great for grabbing a bunch of different things to eat. You can buy tapas, seafood, olives, sweets, and everything you need for a satisfying meal. It may be hard to find seats during lunchtime, but having to stand at the corner of a table with others contribute to the atmosphere.

Acorn-fed Iberian ham.
Jamón Museums are everywhere and sell cuts of cured ham in paper cones. But the best of the best is supposed to be acorn-fed Iberian ham. Don't judge jamón by its hotel breakfast cousin.

Tapas for newbies.
Tapas seemed like an abstract concept until actually facing it on every street corner. I realized that tapas aren't any specific or set dishes, but is small-portion-eating very much like Chinese Dim Sum. They can be anything really and can be innovative in newer restaurant, but traditional tapas dishes are fried seafood, various potato creations, olives, or hors d'oeuvre-looking stuff-on-open-faced-bread.

Sangrias are a must. But I ended up questioning whether sangrias are popular with locals and therefore tourists drink it, or because tourists think it is popular with the locals, drink it and therefore it is popular. You can find it on every menu, individual-sized or as a pitcher to share.

Churros con Chocolate is something you can buy in many cafes and breakfast places. It is basically a cup of hot chocolate with a small stack of churros. Except these churros are not the straight, cinnamon-sugared things in the U.S. Churros in Spain are also fried star-tubed dough but looped and unflavored. You are supposed to take the churros and dip it in the hot chocolate before taking a bite. Dipping really makes a difference!

This is front door of the Atocha Station.
 This entrance is not accessible except by foot and far from the platforms.
An inside view of Atocha from the second floor.
There are two main stations in Madrid: Atocha and Charmatín. When traveling to Barcelona, we left from the Atocha main station; We departed from the smaller Charmatín station for Segovia. Google Maps App is usually good for all my transportation needs, and it was so for the metro and bus in Spain; but for all the trains and times (AVE, AVANT) available to smaller side cities, download the Renfe App. 

Metro and Bus are €1,50 for each ride but you can buy a Metro-Bus pass for 12,50/10 rides to share. It's really easy to buy on the machines at any metro station and at newsstands. I used google to tell me what lines to take and what stops to get off. I was more certain of where I was going than even some locals are. 

Taxis are very affordable in Spain and makes a lot of sense if there are 3 or 4 of you. It is a set price of 30 for the 30 minute ride to the airport. Within the city, it is usually within 10 to get anywhere you want to get to.


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