Museums in Madrid and Chasing Quixote in Toledo

Madrid, Spain

When putting my itinerary together (a few days before traveling to any destination, that is), I was a bit apprehensive about visiting Barcelona and Madrid back-to-back.  I knew going into it that eventhough Madrid is the capital city of Spain, it wouldn’t have the panache and flair of Barcelona, the amazing culinary scene, any markets like La Boqueria, or even a beach to wile away my afternoons.  Madrid still made my list, however, for one very specific reason: it is one of the best cities on the planet to go museum-hopping.  But more on that in a little bit.  First, here are a few scenes to help cement an image of the city itself in you’re minds:

An adjoining street to La Grand Via (the main street, though not as scenic unless you like corporate chain stores)

Plaza Puerta del Sol — and if you look closely, you can see that each panel on the facade it actually a painting

Plaze de Oriente

I happened to randomly stumble upon a what appeared to be a political protest of sorts, but given that I can’t understand folks shouting Spanish through megaphones, I didn’t stick around long enough to figure out what it was all about

Now back to those museums.  Given how powerful and influential (not to mention, the state of being in constant strife) the Spanish nation has been for the last millenium or so, it is no surprise to learn that many of the most influential artists in the Western world have hailed from Spain.  And so naturally, the capital city houses several museums exhibiting world-class works of art.

The first stop for me was the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, with its collection of mostly modern, Spanish artists — led by notable artists such as Pable Picasso, Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, and Daniel Vasquez Diaz.  Surprisingly enough, photographs (without flash, of course) were allowed in several of their galleries.  A few of my favorite scenes can be seen below:

The exterior of the Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

a basic example of Picasso’s work

Girl at the Window by Salvador Dali

Number 179 by Luis Feito

(unknown artist and title –> meaning, I forgot to write them down)

Cubist Self-portrait by Salvador Dali

The clear highlight of a visit to the Reina Sofia, however, is Picasso’s materpiece, Guernica.  This  acted as his protest to the bombing of the town of Guernica — which, at the time, was predominently populated by innocent women and children — during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s.  This is largely thought of as one of the most significant works of art ever produced, and as such, it is housed in a room all by itself (also partially due to it’s enormous dimensions) and draws in more eyes than any other work at the museum.  Unfortunately, photography wasn’t allowed in this particular wing of the museum, but if you don’t know of which painting I’m speaking, I’ve provided a convenient link below to the Wikipedia article, so you can share in the experience, if you like:

After the Reina Sofia, it is only a few blocks to the Caixa gallery, which is most well-known for the 4 story garden on its exterior wall, but it also houses a variety of rotating exhibits inside.

The hanging garden of the Caixa Forum

A quick look at the interior

Again, just a few blocks away is the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, which can act as a great learning tool or introduction to the artistic world, as the pieces are laid out in chronological order, beginning with medeival art and working its way through history all the way up to modern times.  There aren’t any paintings or sculptures housed here that are quite as noteworthy as the other museums, but some of the featured artists include the likes of Van Gogh, Titian, Rubens, Monet, Renoir, and Rembrant.

The exterior of the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

And directly opposite the Thyssen-Bornemisza is the big daddy of museums in Madrid: the Museo Nacional del Prado.  This one museum alone will consume an entire day, if only to casually glimpse the endless stream of masterworks.  Though it does exhibit quite a few international works, the collections of Francisco Goya, El Greco, and Diego Velazquez are the most extensive.

The exterior of the Museo del Prado

Though there are many “take your breath away” moments when walking into new rooms and glimpsing works of art that you have studied extensively or to which you’ve always felt an emotional connection, a few of the highlights for me were as follows:

Francisco Goya’s The 3rd of May, 1808:

Diega Velazquez’s Las Meninas:

El Greco’s The Holy Trinity:

and lastly, Heironymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights:

It is a bit of an obscure reference, but the rightmost panel (that which is depicting hell) in the latter painting by Bosch always reminds me of Shivas Irons’ assertion that this was really portraying the torture and pains one experiences during a lifetime of playing golf (from Michael Murphy’s Golf in the Kingdom).  Whether or not this was Bosch’s true intention is unclear, but any golfer out there can relate, I’m sure.

Though I ran out of time to visit, I hear that the Palacio Real also houses a manificent collection throughout its 2,800 room complex.  Further, Madrid is also home to weekly bullfights during the warmer months, though I didn’t plan well enough ahead and didn’t find myself in town on Sunday, when they traditionally take place.  As mentioned previously, you should always save something…

Toledo, Spain

Besides just bouncing from museum to museum, near Madrid is the area known as Castilla-La Mancha.  For those literary-minded folks out there, you’ll instantly recognize this as the stomping grounds of one Don Quixote and his loyal squire Sancho Panza.  Having dedicated what seems like a year of my life to reading this dense tome about The Man from La Mancha (I did enjoy it, by the way), I had to swing over to check out the countryside.  One of the best ways to do this is to take a day trip to the town of Toledo, which is only roughly 30 minutes by train.

The town itself is relatively small, but its hilltop setting casts a beautiful vista across the landscape.  This is the type of imagery that I had in mind when I would think of what the Spanish countryside and its historic towns would look like.  Plus, much like Brugges last week, this is the type of town in which you simply allow yourself to get lost in the winding and hilly streets and back-alleys.

The view of Toledo shortly after exiting the train station

The Catedral, in the heart of the city

An example of the streets in alleys in Toledo

A view of the surrounding countryside

An alternate view of the buildings and houses

A final view of the city before heading back to Madrid

And in case you’re wondering why I haven’t said a word about any culinary feats throughout this entire post, after the budget-busting bonanza in Barcelona, I’ve tried to lay low on the eating front for a while.  Sadly, this means that I’ve had to miss out on specialties of the region such as roast suckling pig or the hearty stew known as cocido madrileno, but I’m telling myself I’m just getting prepared for the feast that is likely to be my next destination.  I did save room for a drink and a quick dessert, however:

At most Cervezerias, they serve a complementary snack with each beer. In this case, I was delighted to have a plate of cured pork belly

Churros con Chocolate – a favorite late-night snack for folks in Madrid. Basically, it is a curl of fried dough that is dipped in a syrupy hot chocolate –sometime simplicity is the way to go

Tomorrow marks the beginning of my temporary holiday away from Europe, as I’ll be heading to a new continent: specifically the country of Morocco on the northern coast of Africa.  I am as excited about this side trip as I’ve been about any destination so far, but I am a little nervous for the extreme cultural contrast that I’m expecting to find.  Regardless, it’s all part of the experience of traveling, and is exactly what I signed up for.  Good night, and I’ll be back shortly with my next post from the imperial city of Marrakesh.

About andrewamiet

I'm a 29 (now 31) year-old former desk jockey who is now making my way around the world, experiencing all of the sights, sounds, tastes, people, and culture that the world has to offer.

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