A September 1999 trip
to Madrid by actonsteve
Quote: A city which define the excitement and exoticism of Spain. . With fantastic architecture, delicious foods, amazing works of art and a seductive culture - Madrid is one of the most exciting capitals in Europe.
Attraction | "El Escorial - Devout palace of Catholic Spain"
To reach it is simple from the capital. The subway station Moncloa houses a bus station for northwest Castile. At its lower level is the Herranz bus 644 which departs every half hour to the village of San Lorenso de Escorial. The town itself is very pretty and perches on the edge of the Guadarrama mountains and the journey itself takes you past the infamous Valle de los Caidos - Valley of the Fallen - a giant cross that houses Franco's tomb.
To get a feel for El Escorial then you must remember it was the creation of the most powerful man in the world - Phillip II. The monarch of worlds first global superpower - Catholic Spain in an empire that stretched from Manila to Cuzco. This devout monarch seeked a refuge from his congested capital and built a palace where he lived a penitent hermetic existence. With treasure ships bringing gold and silver from South America - he could afford to indulge his whims. But his religious fervour is what always is remembered about him and his use of the inquistion.
From the outside, it looks like an austere rectangular prison topped by a baroque dome and towers. But inside it is built with cool Colemar stone and leads from green courtyards up to royal rooms decorated with pictures by El Greco and Titian. Each room is simple in its austerity and decorated with blue azulejas (tiles). The place is so large and winding that it is easy to escape the crowds and have pictures of Rivera and Degas all to yourself.
The royal apartments were the most decorated and overlooked the valley of Escorial on one side and directly onto the chapel on the other side. It was said that King Phillip liked to listen to mass from his bed. His gout chair stood nearby. More interesting was the Salle de Batalla. Great picture of Spanish battles adorned the walls usually taking place in the Netherlands. Then you follow the hordes down to the Pantheon Real - the final resting place of the Habsburg and Bourbon monarchs. Saicophagi of the Spanish monarchs lined the walls in little niches in a room decorated in gilt, red and black marble and jasper. And the tomb of the infantas was designed to hold the remains of sixty royal babies - it was already half full.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 15, 2000
Monasterio de El Escorial
Avenida Juan De Borbon y Battemberg, 1
San Lorenzo de El Escorial, Spain 28200
+34 91 8905902
Attraction | "Nightlife Madrid: Vibrant Cheuca and Malasana"
To experience the Spanish capital to the full - you must partake of the nightlife. In the height of the Castile summer were the heat does not die down until 11.00pm the Madrilenos begin their nights on the town. But to have a really good night out you must stay up until dawn. There are so many places to experience this in Madrid. The best is probably Malasana and Cheuca - two working class districts north of the Gran Via. The best way to enter them is from Call Hortaleza, its southern end is the Gran Via metro stop. Calle Hortaleza will take you through the heart of Cheuca which is the most flambuoyant part of Madrid. Leading up this street were Tapas bars, gyms, restaurants, sex-shops, discos and alternative bars. The residents stood on balconies and enjoyed cigarettes while watching the circus down below.
Cheuca and Malasana have quite a buzz. If you want direction to your wanderings (and be careful this is still the red-light district)then head for Plaza de Cheuca. This is the heart of the gay community in Madrid and numerous bars around attest to this. But Madrilenos of all persuasions gather here to have a good night out. During the day there is are cafes and fishmongers, when night falls it becomes alive with fire-eaters, musicians and while we were there an inpromptu fashion show occur with scantily clad hunks and women parading up and down.
If you really want a true taste of Cheuca and to get a feel of the bizarreness of the Almodovar movies - head for the LL Bar. At midnight they have entertainment. And I'm telling you, you have not lived until you have seen a flamenco drag queen! Viva Cheuca! Viva Madrid!
Nightlife In Madrid
Attraction | "The Pride of Madrid - Museo del Prado"
As with most of the other great European art collections it was built up by royalty - in this case the Spanish Habsburgs. It mainly deals with art acquired in the Spanish occupied Catholic countries although a couple of Durers and Constables sneak in.
Highlights include Peter Breughal the Elders 'Triumph of Death' which shows skeletal hordes massacring the inhabitants of a Flemish village. El Greco's 13 Mayo where the instigators of the 1808 uprising are shot against the wall by Napoleonic troops, and Titian who was court painter to the Habsburgs and on view is his portrait of Emperor Charles V on horseback with that famous extended lower jaw. Also doing portraits of the Spanish Bourbons was Valasquez, and his portrait of the family of Carlos VI made them look like inbreds or idiots (which they practically were at the time) How did he get away with it?
Often cited as the greatest painting in the world is 'Las Meninas, with the royal children and a particularly ugly dwarf. It's sense of perspective at the time was considered breathtaking. And my personal favorite was 'Los Barrochos' - the drunks, which made a nice change from the stuffy royal portraits. One thing about the Prado is that the captions are only in Spanish, so you must brush up before you come.
All in all, a mesmerizing gallery which will leave you stunned by the quality and heading for the giftshop to buy postcards of your favorite painting. Nearby is the elegant Buen Retiro with its gardens and lakes, a nice place to rest before hitting the nightlife of Madrid later that evening.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on December 16, 2000
Prado Museum/Museo del Prado
Calle Ruiz De Alarcón 23
Madrid, Spain 28014
+34 91 3302800
The best place to start is the Puerto del Sol. This is the geographical centre of Spain and all distances are measured from it. It has heaps of atmosphere like all great squares should have, and is surrounded by renaissance 17th houses and overlooked by the famous 'Tio Pepe' advertisement. The plaza is thronged with tourists, pigeons, newstands, lottery-sellars, fountains and an equestrian statue of Felipe III. If you head west you enter the Madrid built by the Spanish Habsburgs and a quick step to the south brings you to the Plaza Mayor. But if you head west along the narrow Calle Mayor you will eventually hit the Palacio Real (Royal palace). Calle Mayor is fascinating with its fishmongers, tapas bars, nightclubs, fastfood joints and the famous Museo de Jamon - with its forest of hanging hams.
Not far away, past the Teatro Real, is the magnificent Palacio Real. The royal palace of the Spanish Bourbons is enormous and built of white Colemar stone (see photo). On a sunny day (pretty frequent in Madrid)the effect of the sol on the stone can be so dazzling that your eyes water. The Spanish Bourbons built the palacio in 1764. Their desire was to make Madrid as elegant as other European capitals and to make themselves secure as they had only recently rested the throne from the Spanish Habsburgs who had inbred themselves to extinction. The current monarchs, Juan Carlos and Reine Sofia, only use its 3,000 rooms for state occasions prefering to live somewhere more modest.
The palacio itself has a setting on the edge of a cliff and from the elegant Jardins de Sabatini you can see the green/brown Campo de Moro (field of the Moor)stretching into the distance. Once you enter there is the great stone expanse of the Plaza Almeria, two baroque wings of the palace enfold this massive area and there is a columned balcony overlooking the Campo de Moro. Inside you can take a tour or wander around on your own viewing the Hall of Halbardiers or the Hall of Columns. The Throne room is very impressive with glittering chandaliers, brown and gold decor and brown marble lions guarding the two thrones. The dining room was the most impressive with giant chandeliers hanging so low they almost touched the dining table.
Once you leave the best place to head is back to the Gran Via for something to eat and drink. Here, the possibiliites are endless with its restaurants, bars, cinemas, car showrooms, banks and department stores. It is the capitals showpiece avenida and stretches to the Paseo del Prado to the east to the Plaza Espanya in the west. This plaza (see photo) is magnificent with the towering monolithic gothic of the Edificio Espanya looming over all. In the centre is a monument to Cervantes with his famous creation Don Quioxte. But I made a real discovery in this area. If you take the subway in the southwest corner it will take you to the Parc Oreste. This peaceful park contains the 4th century BC Egyptian Temple of Debod. But if you pass this there is a fence giving a magnificent view of the Campo de Moro. Here is a vista of the rear of the Palacio Real, with its domes and the scrub and trees of the Campo de Moro. Spain is very lucky to have such a amazing view in the centre of its capital.
All tourists head for the beautiful Plaza Mayor (see photo) which is the most attractive plaza in Madrid. To reach it from the Gran Via or Puerto del Sol head down Calle Mayor towards the Palacio Real and turn south when you reach the porticoes and speciality shops leading to the square. It is vast cobbled Renaissance square grandly set off with scarlet baroque balconies and sweeping arcaded columns. Built in the 17th Century and used as a bullring, royal jousting arena and a court for the inquisition - it is very beautiful. Baroque towers watch over its southern side while the northern side has the balconied Casa Panederia with its 17th frescoes. The cobbles themselves house cafes, restaurants, portrait artists, and Peruvian musicians - all watched over by the Guardia Civil.
Surrounding Plaza Mayor and stretching all the way to the Paseo del Prado is the 17th century town. This is area is full of narrow streets, tiled bordegas and tapas bars. If you head directly south from Plaza Mayor to Plaza Cascardos and keep on going you will reach El Rastro market. The best day for this is a sunday when it really comes alive. When we were there there was still plenty to see with furniture, dusty books and antiques all on display. The dark spired church of San Isidro is not far away. The interior atmosphere of this church was very dark and catholic. Little priests sat in carved brown confession boxes while wax images of the virgin Mary stood above the altar clothed in sparkling tinsel. That's what fascinates me about Spain - the contrast between the deep piousness and the exuberance shown in Cheuca or the Puerto del Sol.
If you head east through the narrow streets you will end up at the Paseo del Prado. At its northern end where it becomes Paseo de Cibeles is Madrid's most photographed building and the one appearing on all the postcards - the main post office (see photo). This wedding cake fantasy looks more like a palace then a post-office and its interior resembles a cathedral. To the south along the beautiful tree-lined Prado is the Museo Thyssen-Borneiszas housed in the Renaissance Palacio de Vilermosa. Once owned by the super-rich Baron Thyssen, the Spanish government fought off serious bids from Germany, Switzerland, the Getty Foundation and the British royal family (they sometimes have their uses)to buy the collection for 21 million dollars. The fact that the Barons wife was a former Miss Spain may have had something to do with Madrid eventually getting it.
For 700 pesetas you enter an extraordinary Museum. The walls are salmon pink and elegant skylights illuminate the interior. Never have paintings been better lit. Now don't get me wrong - I am no art expert. I usually focus on something in a painting that interests me - "Oh, so that's what cows looked like in 16th century Holland..." But I enjoyed the Thyssen. Modern expressionists included Picasso (his harequin), Cezanne, Dega, Hockney and Georgia O'Keefe. The old school were there with Boucher, Reynolds and a good Constable. But the serious league art was upstairs - gorgeous Canalettos of Venice, Breughals 'Garden of Eden' and the most erotic Adam and Eve I have ever seen.
The Thyssen is worth an afternoon of anyones time, even just to see the collection which gathered such esteemed bidders. After that I recommend sitting down at a pavement cafe, ordering up a glass of sherry and some calamares - and just sit and watch the world go by....
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