An October 2003 trip
to Madrid by travelprone
Quote: We would definitely return to this city, which is so visitor friendly, with splendid art museums and efficient, cheap transport. This sophisticated senora is indeed the hub of Spain, displaying glorious riches from the past and a "never sleepy" present on the move, improving its tourist appeal.
So ornately immense, the Palacio Real is actually a museum of the Spanish Bourbon dynasty displayed in all its regal splendor; Juan Carlos I and his family wisely decided not to live in this all-too-monumental mass of granite that nowadays is the site of official functions as well as tourist trampling.
The museum with the tongue-twister name Thyssen-Bornemisza is a splendid supplement to the Prado’s gargantuan collection of art. It’s not as massive or replete with masterpieces, but what it possesses is representative of major artistic movements, especially Impressionist and Expressionist art.
Beaubourgian-like twin glass elevators make the Reina Sofia stand out in the busy Atocha Station area. A showcase for Spanish art, its careful lighting and airy atmosphere enhance appreciation of its art. For Picasso lovers, this is THE PLACE where "Guernica" finally resides!
Our rental apartment was heavenly, especially comforting when two of us became ill during our stay.
Where did I get this treasure? The Carlsbad Library Bookstore sells used books that members of the Friends of the Library donate. I picked this gem up for 2 bucks a few years back, KNOWING I would someday visit the Prado. Tourists return from abroad and discard guides such as the above-mentioned book. These guides, usually written by local art experts, are expensive purchases at museum bookstores and often not available for US purchase, though that’s changing in the Internet Age. A hundred of the 181 artworks illustrated in this sturdy paperbound book, translated, are in color.
Madrid is so compact that we found that the 10-trip ticket per person lasted for 3 days. We explored on foot most of the time and used the metro to get to and from to the sites of that day. Not only did we arrive on a Sunday, but it was also a public holiday, Columbus Day, and I was apprehensive that we would encounter infrequent metro service.
A groundless fear, as Madrid’s 10-line, color-coded Metro is fast, cheap, and frequently available, even on national holidays. For our next pleasant surprise, the metro train from the airport to our transfer station, Ministerios, boasted luggage racks! Within a half-hour, we arrived at the Plaza de Espana, and then walked about 3 blocks to the apartment. Needless to say, on departure, we reversed the process, and the transfer went as smooth as silk.
I always download copies for all of us of the metro systems in the big European cities we visit.
Each day, we gazed at reproductions of famed paintings from the three major art museums we were to visit, all skillfully coordinated in color (Ghirlandaio’s "Portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni," a Thyssen treasure, presided over the elegant living room’s fireplace, with its salmon walls replicating those of the Thyssen.) Velasquez’s "Infanta Margarita" dominated the wall near the dining alcove. Kandinskys highlighted one corner of the spacious, long living room with its two separate comfy seating areas. Curtain sheers in gold, red, green, and blue covered the stately, tall windows facing the street. The vibrant, inviting dining alcove off the living room was similarly stylish.
At the end of the apartment’s main corridor was a modern white kitchen, the scene for breakfasts and takeaway food to be microwaved on nights when we were too tired to eat out at any of the three restaurants on the street.
I found this 1,700-square-foot gem on www.homelidays.com, on which the prospective renter has to sign in, a rare procedure that weeds out looky-loos. When I found this marvel, at $160 a night, I whooped with joy and set hubby in motion immediately to register and inquire if available.
Although we were in the middle of every commercial convenience imaginable, with several food shops and a Corte Ingles a few blocks away, our apartment was a quiet enclave at all hours. The master bath in brilliant blue-and-white tile was simply so striking that my husband took umpteenth pictures of it. The second bathroom in a sea-foam green was not bad either, and the beds in all three bedrooms, of which we only slept in two, were comfortable and nicely fitted with duvets.
The rate is still 1,200 to 1,300€ a week, with possibilities for partial-week stays. Though pricey now because of our depressed dollar, this apartment is definitely worth every euro. A maid even came in during our stay at no extra cost to us. The heading for this apartment’s listing is "Mansion 6 rms." There’s no dryer, but we found we could use a clothesline from the hallway window near the kitchen and dry things within a day.
All in all, it was a treasure of an experience we shall remember as artful lodging fit for a king and queen - and a prince, too.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on May 19, 2005
Conde del Duque apartment
Attraction | "Museo El Prado"
Especially useful for us as we began our tour of the Prado was the three-page description with five color illustrations of Hiernomymus Bosch’s "The Garden of Delights" that I’d read in the profusely illustrated art book I’ve mentioned in the Overview. This extraordinary Bosch painting was a hot spot, around which a crowd was gathered at all times during our 3-hour visit. This startling work is full of medieval symbolism, some of it contrary to contemporary symbolism. For example, the owl, to us a creature of wisdom, as it was to the classical Greeks and Romans, represented evil to medieval minds. My husband was taken by this extraordinary work, and I was able to explain to him what some of the images might represent in this work and in Bosch’s "Table of the Seven Deadly Sins."
Portraiture faded in importance with the advent of 20th-century art, but I feel that some of the Prado’s greatest paintings are in this genre. We didn’t see any of the Black paintings of Goya, as time limits made me focus on works I HAD to see, and I prefer Goya’s less dark, often satiric earlier paintings. As if on cue, my husband took a look at Goya’s "The Family of Charles IV" and asked, "These people. Who were they? They look stupid. " My husband knew nothing about Charles and his infamous wife, but Goya’s art so captured Charles’s bland looks in such contrast to the smug, chin-jutting countenance of his consort that he instantly grasped the insipid nature of this royal ménage.
Other superb portraits I admire include Anthony Van Dyck’s "Self-portrait with Sir Endymion Porter," Rubens’ "Maria de Medici," Antonio Moro’s piercingly poignant "Mary Tudor," and El Greco’s "Nobleman With a Hand on His Chest." Titian’s self-portrait shines among the entire Titian collection of the Prado, along with his superb Emperor Charles V at Muhlberg. Raphael’s "The Cardinal" is also a potent portraiture.
Of course, great museums demand more than a 3-hour visit. By focusing beforehand on what you really want to see, I find you enjoy less but the things you do see more fully. Next year, the Prado’s expansion will be complete, and the new Prado promises to be more exciting than the old one we saw. Truly, Madrid is an art lover’s dream come true - a city that wants to make its treasures accessible to all.
Prado Museum/Museo del Prado
Calle Ruiz De Alarcón 23
Madrid, Spain 28014
+34 91 3302800
Attraction | "Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia"
If you read Spanish, do pick up the free brochure "MNCARS La Coleccion Permanente," as it gives you the room numbers of artists’ works on floors 2a to 4a. There’s a Big Three featured in this museum devoted primarily to Spanish artists, which includes Picasso, Miro, and Dali. The "star attraction" is Picasso’s "Guernica," an enormous oil-on-canvass that the ill-fated Republican government commissioned for the 1937 Universal Exhibition in Paris. Unexpectedly and horrifically, Picasso’s subject matter for that commission stemmed from his angry response to Fascist atrocity. On April 26 of that year, Nazi aircraft simpatico to Franco bombed the Basque town of Guernica, killing and maiming civilians in a bizarre preview of efficiently devastating blitzkriegs to come. Ironically, the muted grey, white, and black memorial of that event depicts no bombs, no guns, and no soldiers. Bullfighting symbols occur, but there are no symbols of war. And lots of gaping mouths abound in this scene of the effects of technological indifference to humanity.
This famous cartoon-like work occupies the center of the Sofia’s second floor. Like the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, "Guernica" draws the most attention from visitors. Since I had seen it years ago, in the ‘50s, when it was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, I was more interested in the nearby photo collection by Dora Maar that captured the stages during Picasso’s execution of the work. After Franco’s and Picasso’s death, it still took time until "Guernica" returned in 1981 to a non-Franco Spain as the ardently anti-Franco Picasso had stipulated. Later, when the Sofia opened up in a reconverted hospital, "Guernica" was moved appropriately to this contemporary Spanish museum.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on May 19, 2005
Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
Santa Isabel 52
Madrid, Spain 28012
+34 (91) 7741000
Some of my favorites at the Thyssen are as follows: Monet’s "The Thaw at Vetheuil" (a glorious blue-white winter scene); Degas’ "At the Milliner’s" (I like practically everything by him); Kaspar David Friedrich’s "Easter Morning" (strikingly dim sun shining wanly over almost barren trees); Bramantino’s "The Resurrected Christ" (cadaverous, more realistic resurrected Christ); Ruben’s "The Toilet of Venus" (gorgeous, flesh color and a play on a half-reflection in a mirror); and Carpaccio’s "Young Knight in a Landscape" (a compendium of medieval motifs that serves as the headliner for all of the museum’s publicity).
To a degree, the oft-repeated criticism of this museum as having minor works by major artists and major works by minor artists has some relevance I would say. Van Gogh’s "The Stevedores in Arles" lacks the exciting brushwork and vivid color of most of his other Arles canvasses and Goya’s "Asensio Julia" cannot compete in vibrancy with other portraits of his in the Prado. But Grosz’s "Metropolis 1916-1917," in all its blaring redness, triumphs for me as an expression of a modern big-city claustrophic effect.
On the museum’s website, you can take a virtual tour room by room or check out their 50 Masterpieces section. You can also view some of the landscapes in Carmen’s collection that reflects her belief that landscape art in particular is like travel that takes you to other places and other times.
Paseo Del Prado, 8
+1 34 91 3690151
Attraction | "Palacio Real"
Behind regal gates facing the south lies the Plaza de Armeria that seems to stretch out inordinately before the visitor.
Both its exterior and interior seem designed to impress any visitor with a sense of the power and wealth behind its creation. The Sabatini staircase you ascend upon entry is eye-poppingly regal, glittering with gold and surrounded by frescos, chandeliers, and tapestries, all opulent. A symphony of red and gold, the Throne Room, with its plush thrones on a dais encircled by four lions, is simply over-the-top in embellishment, with an alfresco Tiepolo painting, red damask walls bordered by handsome silver mirrors, and extensive red carpet.
Equally ornate, the late 19th-century dining room can accommodate 145 dinner guests amid bronze and crystal chandeliers, old Flemish tapestries, frescos, and porcelain, flanked by marble columns. Of course, elegant dinner service adorns the table as it would be set for a state occasion. Really baroque, its epitome is the Porcelain Room, featuring the work of the Buen Retiro Tile Factory of Madrid. No surface is left unembellished. If, like me, you dislike baroque’s claustrophobic clutter effect, this room will merit a quick pass. Don’t miss the 6 stradivari in Alfonso XIII’s music rooms - true works of art.
Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real)
Calle Bailén, 6
Madrid, Spain 28013
+34 91 5475350