Even if you aren't a great fan of modern art - you will still love the near unpronouncable Museo Thyssen-Boremisza's. Which along with the Prado and the Reine Sofia makes up one of the corners of the golden triangle of Madrid art. Combined with a trip to the city's showpiece square - the Plaza Mayor, and a wander through the old town surrounding it, - you can experience some of the best Madrid has to offer.
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....