A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

Madrid visits

Cathedral, Basilica, Ermita, Temple, Museum and CaixaForum

sunny 23 °C

The Royal Palace and Royal Theatre are omitted from the subtitle because I did not visit them, although I had planned to do so. The Royal Theatre only had guided visits in Spanish for about an hour, which I felt was a bit more than my Spanish would stand. The Palace had tours in English but it would mean waiting about two hours or returning. I meant to return after a look at the Cathedral and the Basilica de San Francisco el Grande (St Francis of Assisi). Howeevr, having walked to the cathedral and realised the sheer size of the Palace I changed my mind.

Initially I had not thought a visit to the Cathedral Museum was my cup of tea but, having missed out on the above two visits and having noticed that the Cathedral Museum ticket also gave access to the Cupola, I changed my mind. The views from the Cupola were terrific. One of the most stiking buildings was the above basilica with the fourth largest dome in Europe. Then the descent led to the cathedral itself. I have been to many cathedrals and my interest in ecclesiastical architecture is as great as my enthusiasm for religion is small - VERY in each case. This cathedral was only inaugurated (if that is what one does to cathedrals) in the 1990s and the mixture of traditional Baroque with very modern was unique and fascinating.

I had already visited the Ermita de San Antonio de Florida, where the main interest for me was the painting by Goya - a total contrast with the 'Black Paintings' at the Prado. The fact that his remains lay there did not add to the appeal! I had also visited the Templo de Debod, a genuine Egyptian temple of the second century BCE donated by the Egyptian Government as a thankyou for Spanish help with the Aswan Dam. I found it rather more interesting than I had expected.
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I was disappointed to find that the Basilica de San Francisco had unusual visiting hours and that having missed the early session i could not get in until 17.30. I took the Metro to Serano to see the Archaeological Museum. This was being extended and will be excellent when the work is finished. meanwhile there is free entry to a single large exhibition hall. If the exhibits on show are typical of their collections, it will make a superb visit.
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My desire to see the Basilica de San Francisco was strengthened by the fact that I could walk back via the Cava Baja, a road with a million or so good restaurants - or so it seemed. I arrived to find that a talk was being given in Spanish by an official guide and to my surprise my Spanish was up t most of it so I joind the group and went all round the rooms behind the Basilica.
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I did not see the CaixaForum (sic) until my final morning. It is a free cultural centre without any permanent collection but with stunning exhibition halls. The exhibition on at the time was one about the works of Richard Rogers, the Architect and with any number of models and literally hundreds of photographs it was excellent - and I repeat free.
There is also a fine auditorium which is used frequently for concerts. I thought it a great asset for Madrid. Outside it there is a most fascinating vertical garden by Patrick Blanc with 15,000 plants of 250 different species.

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Posted by davidx 09:21 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Madrid Art

Museum and sculptures

semi-overcast 21 °C

I went to two of the 'big 3' museums as I had seen the Museo de Reina Sofia previously.
Prada I had been warned not to attempt to see everything at the Prada. There is simply too much - far too much. In Madrid the Spanish artists have to call and I had seen a lot of El Greco's work in Toledo. Now was the turn of Velasquez and Goya.

Predictably I enthused in my mind over Las Meninas but I think The Drinkers and The Spinners impressed me even more. As for Goya's Black Paintings, I can't say I enjoyed them; I hope I am not mad! Eating children does not fill me with jubilation - but how powerful they are!

I was advised that I would find the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza more manageable. I am not sure I should not again have been advised on what to see and what to pass quickly. It's a brilliant museum but I felt as though I should have had a crash course in the history of art before going. Having said that, i should not want to leave any impression of not having enjoyed my visit - just that I could perhaps have got still more from it.

Perhaps my comments above may make it seem less surprising that in some ways I enjoyed the Museo Sorolla most of all. Sorolla's name was unknown to me until I was researching my trip and I have spoken to people with far more knowledge of art than I who had never heard of him. Shame on us all! A Sorolla exhibition at the Prada, which I missed by days, was their best attended in ten years, the attendance well surpassing that for many names better known outside Spain.

http://museosorolla.mcu.es/!Sorolla was an ardent collector as well as a painter and the lovely house in which he lived (the museum) has fine furniture and porcelain in almost every room. As far as his paintings go, he seems to have been a master of the use of white. I was massively impressed by Madre which came from the painter's early period.
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Lastly the sculptures: the Museo.De.Escultura.Al.Aire.Libre is nt a museum at all in the normal sense. One road crosses another at considerable height and there are several flights of stairs from one to the other. On both sides are fine sculptures - completely free and never closed. It's a good idea and it was worth hopping off the tourist bus but as a resident of Yorkshire I must say that in my mind this did not hold a candle to our fabulous Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
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Posted by davidx 10:57 Archived in Spain Tagged tourist_sites Comments (0)

Live break - September/ October 2009

4 days in Madrid

semi-overcast 23 °C

I had stayed the night in Madrid once and seen Picasso's Guernica at the Reina Sofia museum and I had used the airport as a start to seeing points west. We had changed planes there en route to Lima. That was it though - and the desire to see more of Madrid was growing on me.

Add to that a flight from Liverpool return for under £50 and how could I have turned down the opportunity? I know that I am not a city animal and I took the trouble to discover how to have a day out in the country. Then I obtained advice from friends on what I should definitely see, what I should try to see and what to forget.

In short: the first day I spent largely getting an overall impression by hopping on and off the Madrid Vision tourist buses. It was pleasing to get half price as an ancient - I think they called it something a bit more polite. I wish they would change there name for the disadvantaged - I guess they don't know the impression non-Spanish people get from the term 'menos validos.'
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I found it difficult to relate Madrid to other European capitals I had seen. For some reason it seemed mor like London than do Paris, Rome, Brussels, Stockholm, Helsinki, Lisbon, Prague or Oslo. Possibly it is the squares that are more reminiscent of London squares - but in the end it is Madrid. I don't want to get into the rather arid debate of which is best of Barcelona and Madrid - I suspect it would always be the one I had seen most recently - but it would seem odd if the capital of Spain were a city in which Castillian Spanish was not the native language.

I'll have more to say about specific places on other pages but I make two general remarks here.
1. Let's get the bad one (from a visitor's perspective) out of the way first. Obviously roads have to be repaired and, equally obviously, that is bad for traffic. However the volume of obras in the centre of Madrid was far and away greater than anything I have seen anywhere else - ever! Do they avoid them in the blazing hot and freezing cold months or was it just a historical curiosity.
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2. Now for the unexpected good thing. I was amazed by the attitude towards myself that I found in bars crowded with young people. I ave more than once been made mightily unwelcome and felt the need to leave quickly in this country. There I was found a seat - nearly as rare as hens' teeth! - without ever asking - in more than one bar and real people in their 20s and 30s were more than ready to converse.

Posted by davidx 07:57 Archived in Spain Comments (0)

Approaching 1995

Mainly France - and a month in Zimbabwe

sunny 29 °C

We took to taking the car to France in July and our trips included the Eastern Pyrenees, Alsace, Normandy, Brittany, Languedoc and Doubs. That sounds a lot but just glance at a map of France and it will be apparent that there are huge areas we barely touched.

The trip to Zimbabwe was made by pam, our daughter Rebecca and myself and we stayed with a former student of mine and his wife. I avoid being too specific here because I guess friendship with Brits is not something highly esteemed in Zimbabwe at the moment and I don't want to land my friends in trouble. Sufficient to say that as well as harare we went to Bulawayo, Masvingo and Great Zimbabwe, Matopos, Hwange, victoria Falls and Mutare. We only had any dealings with other whites in shops and casually in Hwange National Park. Hence we really felt we were getting to know a bit about the country but it would have taken a lot longer and a variety of seasons to know it well. Some creatures that I had never previously seen in the wild became more or less familiar but I never lost my thrill at seeing elephants or rhinos - and we did not see enough lions for them to become familiar.

Posted by davidx 07:31 Archived in Zimbabwe Tagged family_travel Comments (0)

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