Saturday, December 31, 2011

I'm Lost in the Prado!


Ah! Sunday in Madrid! David and I awoke in our rather posh hotel, cozy in our bed with a fluffy down comforter and crisp white sheets, king size pillows to match the king size bed. Apparently, the Melia Castilla has quite the conference center, and has an auditorium that can seat a million people. Of course, I am kidding. I honestly don't remember how many, but I remember being impressed and wondering where they would put them all. It was also fun to stay someplace that provided a bevy of toiletries: a dental kit complete with toothbrush, floss, and toothpaste, a razor, of course a shower cap, a comb! I was running a little low on shampoo at this point so all these items were tucked into my luggage for use at the apartment. Yay!


I also spied this interesting ad (?) in our room. Roughly translated it means something like, "anyone tell you like watching television". That's how google translate does it anyway. This baffles me. Is this an ad for a movie or something that Harrison Ford and Diane Keaton were in? Or just another example of how American movie stars do lots of ads in Europe and Japan? Why does Harrison Ford look so annoyed? And Diane Keaton...perky as always. What is going on here?


David and I were hungry and decided we should wander about the neighborhood and find some food. But first, I had some ironing to do. No, I don't think you really are interested in the minutiae of my day, but I do want to introduce you to the most annoying iron and board combo I've ever met. The iron was actually attached to the board - which makes sense in a deterring iron thieves. However, it makes setting up the iron incredibly difficult. You've got this heavy thing with a pointy end dangling and swinging around, whacking you in the thigh as you attempt to get the legs of the board fully extended. Ugh,


Ironing out of the way, it was time to find a little breakfast. The breakfast buffet at the hotel was one of those 20 euro or something crazy deals and we had declined the upgrade for the room to include the buffet. We weren't really sure where Lea and Amit were, so we headed out. It was a cool morning in Madrid, and David and I decided we would only head one block in each direction from the hotel and if we didn't see someplace nearby to get coffee and pasties, we would just go to the little cafe in the hotel lobby.

We didn't find anything. Our hotel, however, was surrounded by foreign embassies, which was kind of neat. I definitely saw some people in the lobby that looked as though they were foreign dignitaries. That and a lot of flight crew looking folks. We went to the little cafe and I did my "dos cafe con leches and dos....(point at a croissant)" and then we enjoyed our little morning snack. Lea and Amit joined us shortly thereafter. They had been a bit more adventurous and did find someplace nearby to get a more substantial breakfast. Jealous.

We had some time to kill before we had to meet the others so we chatted in the lobby and did some Madrid research on the internet. I think we were able to drop our stuff off at the apartment around noon or something. Kym and Kyle were going to head to the Prado first thing in the morning. I'm not sure what Alan, Erin, and Kelly were going to do. But, we all planned to meet at the apartment where we could drop our stuff before officially checking in later in the afternoon.

We all made it there safe and sound! It was great to see everyone. We had missed them.



I was in a pretty good mood. Our new apartment was just across the street from a Metro station and El Cortes Ingles which you may recall is a huge department store that also has a grocery store. There was also a little cafe/bar right next door.


All in all, it was a great location. We had a little balcony, plenty of beds for everyone, two bathrooms. And, it was an easy 15 minute Metro ride to the heart of Madrid. Perfect. Did I mention it was also dirt cheap? Yup. Look at Kym and Erin looking all cute in their boots.


We had to wait just a few minutes to be let in the building and then we pretty much had to drop our stuff and leave. Not a problem at all because we had a lot we wanted to see!

Madrid has an awesome subway system...the Metro. It is incredibly easy to navigate. Even though we were not staying close to the things we wanted to see, it never felt like we were far. Our first stop for the day was to be el Rastro, essentially this huge flea market that is held every Sunday. See some pictures here. This is another one of those places where you are advised to keep a close eye on your wallet as it is quite crowded. Was it ever! When we got closer to the park, the entire area was packed. We were all pretty hungry and decided to get lunch first. Finding a place where all nine of us could eat was a bit if a challenge. I'll admit - I doubted it could be done. But, we did happen upon a place that if we sat inside could accommodate all of us together.


It had this sort of weird blue and gold interior, with wrought iron chairs, sort of like it was trying to be some kind of French Victorian theme or something. But, the food was very good. David and I ordered way too much of it.

I started with the cold tomato soup - it wasn't really gazpacho, I think it was missing some key ingredients, but it had some ham and olive oil drizzled on top and was really amazing.



We also ordered this bread with tomato which was simply delicious. We didn't realize we'd get so much of it.


Nor did we think we'd get so much Spanish omelet...but it was delicious as well. One of my favorites while we were in Spain.

 

And I think this is actually what Alan had. I don't remember what it was called, but it was potato, egg, and  tomatoes maybe? Oh my...it looked so good. I loved what I had, but I also wished I had eaten this.


After lunch was over, we headed back towards Parque del Rastra, but many of the booths were being shut down. I think the flea market was only open until 2:00 p.m. and it was close to that time when we wandered over. A lot of what was left was...not anything I would want to take home with me. Socks. Some old belts. Dolls with googly eyes. It will just be one of those things I'll see the next time I'm in Madrid.

The only other thing I really wanted to be sure I did that day was go to the Prado. If you do not know...the Prado is an art museum. They have quite an impressive collection with many works by Spanish artists. They also have the "best painting ever!" (note Kyle wrote on the map he and Kym gave us) and it is incredibly large and easy to get lost in. But more on that later.

First, we had to get there. Back onto the Metro to the Banco de Espana stop and then a short walk to the Prado. Spain is so lovely because as you walk through the city, there are all these lovely parks and green areas you walk through. Here in Minneapolis, it's just a lot of concrete.

 
Below are some more pictures of things we saw on the way to the Prado.



Remember how I mentioned when we were in Barcelona, we saw all kinds of street performers on La Rambla? And they had crowds of people watching and giving them money? They had that in Madrid too...lots of living statues, one of a guy who was like a creepy baby in stroller, another guy as Edward Scissorhands. But in Madrid, people kind of ignored them. It was a little sad. People just walked on by. Myself included, which is why I have no photos of them.

And then we arrived at the Prado! I think this is it anyway. I have to be honest. At this point, the trip was three months ago and it's all a blur. Must keep travel journal next time.


So, I think on Sundays, after 5 p.m. the Prado is free. We got there around 4:15. The Prado has multiple entrances and it was really unclear to us where you went for the free line. Then I saw that it was 12 euro to get in and David and I decided that rather than wait around, we'd just pay. I'd been under the impression it was like 24 euro to get in. For 19.50 you could get admission and the Prado Guide. I let the cashier know I would like this and she pointed me to a small stand a few feet away where a Prado Guide was sitting. She wanted to be sure I really wanted it. Why? Well, the Prado Guide is just shy of 500 pages and weighs about the same as a gallon of milk. It's huge. And on the cover, it has "the best painting ever!"

Of course I got it! I also have the guide for the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Smithsonian (which is suspiciously small...it would fit in my back pocket). I really recommend these as souvenirs. And...it will be very handy as I now tell you about some of the paintings we saw at the Prado.

We had to head to the gift shop to pick up the guide. We opted to not do the audio tour, although I think next time I would do that. Instead, we had the map that Kym and Kyle had used earlier that day and they had circled their favorite paintings and where they were. We decided to just stick to their plan.

I didn't take any photos inside and I'm not going to post actual pictures, but you can go to the links to see the painting.

Bosch's The Garden of Earthly Delights was fascinating. Click here for many images. There is so much going on...it reminded me of a "Where's Waldo" scene drawn for an adult audience by someone with a sort of creepy imagination. I am sure an art critic somewhere is just slapping their forehead right now. The Table of the Deadly Sins is similar in the sense that there is so much detail. You could spend hours on just these two works of art. Click here for images of the table.

We also saw Goya's Black Paintings, a series of works from the later years of his life.I believe many of these be painted on the walls if his house. I have no idea how they got them into the Prado. You may be somewhat familiar with the painting of Saturn Devouring his Son, which is genuinely disturbing. There is also a painting called The Dog in the same room, which I rather liked. It's a dog after all. I got my mom a bookmark of this image. Then I later read that the dog is drowning. That may be just one interpretation. I prefer to think he is climbing a hill in search of a treat.

Continuing with the theme of rather depressing art, The Triumph of Death by Peter Bruegel the Elder was another that I just couldn't stop looking at because there is so much detail and I really, really wanted to find someone on that painting who was kicking Death's ass.

Of course, it is not all doom and gloom. There is of course the "best painting ever!"...Las Meninas by Velazquez. Kyle had read someplace that this was the best painting ever. I'll just let you read the Wikipedia article. I find the whole scene charming. I also really liked the Adoration of the Shepherds by El Greco. The colors and use of light was striking (don't I sound like an art critic now?).

I am also reminded now that I am paging through my Prado Guide that I really wanted to learn more about Queen Joan the Mad as we saw a couple paintings that depicted her and I was very curious about her life.

I could go on and on. The Prado has no shortage of magnificent paintings. However, museum fatigue does set in after a few hours and David and I decided to head back to the apartment. The problem was....we were lost in the Prado. That led to this Facebook exchange with my brother:
Me: How do I get out of the Prado?
Matt: Did you try the door?
Me: But where. Where is the door?
Matt: It's right there behind you, straight ahead and to the side.

Ah---Facebook. Sadly, my brother was in MN and really didn't know what he was talking about, although in most other cases he is spot on. So, we wandered about a wee bit more and eventually we found our way out. I of course stopped at the gift shop and stocked up on magnets and considered getting my sister a puzzle of "the best painting ever!" but decided against it because the box was rather large and wouldn't fit well in my luggage which already needed to bring home about six bottles of wine. She got some magnets instead.

Back to the Metro, short ride to the apartment. I'm sure we then did the usual - enjoyed some wine on the little terrace, ate some cheese. Someone made pasta with pesto for dinner. Yummy! It was an early night to bed. The museum fatigue had done me in.

One full day left in Spain. Check back in a few more days to find out how we spent it.

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