Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza and Toledo Day Trip

Lest readers think that I hate art given my review of the Prado, I can assure it is not true.  I just didn’t like the style of art in the Prado and I pretty much knew that going in.  The same thing was true years ago in Amsterdam in regards to the Riijksmuseum.  I knew I didn’t particularly care for the “Dutch Masters” but it is hard to not go and see given the reputation of the institution.

Before leaving Madrid, I knew I wanted to visit the Thyssen-Bornemisza.  The second of the “big three” art museums in Madrid, this collection spans a wide range of the art continuum from old masters to impressionism to the Hudson River school to modern art.  In other words, there is something here for almost anyone’s taste in art making it many people’s, favorite in Madrid.  Obviously, I am firmly in this camp [I’m not even going to the Reina Sofia, the museo de modern art as I already know how that will be].

Having exhausted most of the things I wanted to do in Madrid, I took a quick daytrip to Toledo – a 30 minute trip by high speed rail – departing from the nearby Atocha station.  Toledo is famous for its pivotal role in Spanish history with influences from Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions.  Toledo was a much more important city in central Spain than Madrid for most of its existence.  Built on a massive crag and surrounded on three sides by the Tagus river, it was a strongly fortified city that experienced many a siege.

It is also the origin of the phrase “Holy Toledo!”  The cathedral in Toledo is one of the more spectacular ones I have seen, at least on the interior.

toledo

It is hard to take in the exterior as it is surrounded by buildings all bunched up against it.  But, the altar, the choir, the Transparency, and the overall effect of the building is as impressive as I have seen around the world.  Pictures really don’t do it justice.

The rest of the time in Toledo can easily be spent walking the narrow alleys of cobblestone streets and looking in on the famous swords and blades of Toledo lore.  It is really worth a day trip from Madrid, if you have any time to spare.

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The Westin Palace – Madrid

The contrast between the two hotels I used for this trip in Madrid could not be more dramatic.  From the hostal, La Perla Asturiano (below), to one of the grand dames of Madrid, The Westin Palace.  As previously commented, I had a great stay at La Perla but wanted to use some points for my last three nights in Madrid and experience a different location.

La Perla Asturina, Madrid

La Perla Asturina, Madrid

View from my balcony

View from my balcony

The Westin Palace is a Starwood property and I was redeeming 12,000 points per night in lieu of the cash rate of 389 euros a night – a price I could never imagine paying for a stay.  Commissioned by King Alfonso XIII in 1912, it is located across the street from the Museo del Prado, Museo de Thyssen-Bomemisza, the Congress buidling, and short walking distance to Plaza Cibeles, the Reina Sofia, Atocha Rail Station, and the Puerta del Sol.

The Westin Palace

The Westin Palace

While the location is great, the neighborhood – not surprisingly, I guess – feels a bit stuffy.  When looking for a restaurant or tapas bar, I inevitably ended walking back up by the Puerta del Sol and Plaza de Santa Ana areas.  I did not try the restaurant but did have a 13+ euro beer in their bar, if that gives you any idea of prices.

All in all, it was a very nice stay, as one would expect, but I would have to hit the lottery before I stayed here for cash and, even then, I’m not so sure..

Museo del Prado – El Greco, Goya, y No Voy a

Actually, I did go but “Voy a” worked a lot better with Goya than “Ojalá no hubiera ido” which means “I wish I had not gone.”  The Prado is considered one of the most important art galleries in the world and the best representation of Spanish art anywhere.  In addition to El Greco and Goya, there are numerous works by Velasquez, Titian, and Rubens.  But, I can save you the entry fee of 14 euros if you’ll just read along for a few minutes.

Probably 90% of the art here falls into one of three main types of paintings.  This is about all you will see at the Prado..

1.  Paintings of Christ – the birth of Jesus, the crucifixion of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus.  Room after room after room of paintings of Jesus. I mean really, even the most devout painter must have gotten tired of this subject.

Wife: [to husband as he hangs up the phone] “What was that all about?”

Artist: “Another commission for a painting.” [sighs]

Wife: “That’s good news, right?”

Artist:  “It is another request for baby Jesus. Why can’t anyone ever ask for a ship at sea or a field of flowers in France?”

Wife: “Well, it pays the bills.  What are you going to do differently this time?”

Artist: “I have no idea.”

2.  Paintings of a rape incident, an attempted rape, or punishment of someone for rape.  When not painting Jesus, the masters drew upon a rich heritage of myths from the Greeks and Romans.  While I know the major gods of Olympus, there are some sick story lines that most of us are not that familiar with.  I counted at least three different paintings of Tityus being punished for attempting to rape one of Jupiter’s lovers.  His punishment includes having birds eat at his liver fro eternity.

Wife: “At least its not another order for one of those rape paintings.”

Artist: [to himself] “I kind of enjoy those.”

3.  Portraits of corpulent patrons that are apparently designed to make them look ridiculous.

That’s it in a nutshell.  You’re welcome.

Europeans and Protests – A busy day in Madrid

One of the things you can count on in European capitals is a high likelihood that someone will be having some kind of protest while you are there.  Today, there was a cornucopia of protests to observe around the Plaza de Cibeles.  First, I ran into this group who were marching for the right to water.  I didn’t even know Spain had a lawn watering ban in place.

protest1

Then, we actually had a few protests stacked up on each other.  I didn’t catch what the first group was marching for but his one was marching about fibromyalgia.  I assume they think it is a bad thing but could not make up what they are seeking.

protest2

The most entertaining group was protesting against the banks and fraudulent finance folks.  They were the most entertaining because they brought a small band to accompany them.  I’m not sure what music you can play on drums to signify your outrage at the bourgeois but it attracted attention.

protest3

If the Spaniards are anything like their neighbors, the French, they are probably sitting on la terraza by now drinking wine.

MadrEAT – Fiesta de comida

I did something last night that one is not supposed to do in Madrid – I went to sleep at 11:30 p.m. on a Friday night.  Madrid is famous for their late nights with dinner being served at 10 or 11:00 p.m. and clubs not getting busy until 2:00 in the morning.  But, I just couldn’t hack it.  A bunch of wondering around last night tired me out and set me up for some quiet time walking around the streets of La Latina this morning with hardly another soul on the streets until about 10:30 a.m.

Today’s main event was an annual food festival, madrEAT, which is held in the Plaza de Pablo Ruiz Picasso near the Santiago Bernebeau stadium in the financial district.  It also gave me a chance to hop on Madrid’s metro which is clean, convenient, and inexpensive.  A ten-journey ticket costs only 12.20 euros and can be shared by multiple people.

It was somewhat ironic that one of the “hot” items this year were gourmet hot dogs.  This is not dissimilar to the craze in London last year over Five Guys burgers.  I guess every food is exotic somewhere.  It was not, however, as ironic as small village Irishmen drinking Coors Light in their local pub which I witnessed back in September.  The other popular item was squid with at least five stalls and trucks selling them to long lines of people.

madrEAT3madrEAT2

It was a beautiful day and a crowded event by 2:00 p.m. in the afternoon.  Lots of families and locals enjoying a nice relaxed Saturday.

Now, I’m simply waiting for a paella at a local restaurant and then it will be time to find a place to watch the Barcelona game and, hopefully, the UK Wildcats in their SEC tournament match.

Madrid – Tapas, Sunshine, and Futbol

For the next week or so, I will be traveling around Spain and having the opportunity to see a few new things.  In my quest to use my points, miles, and loyalty programs, I was able to arrange roundtrip business class, The Westin Palace in Madrid, and Le Meridian in Barcelona for free so that made the decision to go to some of my favorite cities fairly easy.

My first trip to Madrid was about 13 years ago and I’ve had a chance to come back on business a couple of times.  When I first started traveling internationally, I was very conscious of costs and did not have very many points and miles to help keep expense down.  As a result, I took a backpack, always took public transportation and stayed in some real low cost accommodations.  For instance, the place I stayed at the first couple of trips to London was razed a couple of years later due to the asbestos exposure.  No wonder it was so cheap.  As I’ve gotten older and had more resources, I’ve tended to start staying in nicer hotels, taking taxis more often, and going with wheeled luggage.

However, when planning this trip, I thought I would take a trip down memory lane and stay at the same low cost hotel that I did on my first trip to Madrid – Hostal La Perla Asturiano.  I remembered it being very small but in an absolutely perfect location just off the Plaza Mayor with easy walking distance to Puerta del Sol, La Latina, Cava Baja, Plaza Santa Ana, and the Gran Via.  Sure enough, it is still there and I’m staying there for three nights at under $50 USD per night.  Now, to clear any confusion, there are hostels and also hostals in Spain.  This is not the backpacker, dorm room with bunk beds type of place.  It is just a low cost hotel.

The room is actually larger than the one I had last time and has a bigger shower although you have to kind of slide onto the toilet from the side as the sink hangs out over your left leg.  The staff are great and speak fluent English but also happy to help me practice my Spanish even though it would be so much easier for them for us to deal in English.  My room looks out over the Plaza de Santa Cruz and I’m currently sitting on the terraza drinking a beer at a local cerveceria while still in range of the hotel wi-fi.

 I arrived yesterday after a nice trip on the top deck of a 747 with Lufthansa’s always excellent service.  I got a few hours of sleep and was able to grab a quick shower in the business lounge while on layover in Frankfurt.  Once in Madrid, I found the Express Bus from the airport that runs to the Atocha Station in the city center for only 5 euros (versus ~30 for a taxi).  The walk from the station to the hotel is only about a mile but, unfortunately, almost completely uphill.

 Since Madrid is famous as a late night city, I went ahead and took a nap for a couple of hours before heading out for tapas on Cava Baja.  If you are not familiar with tapas, they are small appetizers that are served with your drink.  Some bars specialize in certain types but, over the course of the evening, you will probably get a wide variety if you do as locals and move from bar to bar.  I’ve included some pictures below to give you an idea of what you might expect.

Madrid is a great city due to the energy level of the people.  Walking around at 6 or 7 at night, the streets are packed with locals, tourists, and families all out and about for shopping, tapas, or just walking.  The only comparison to the U.S. is Times Square in New York City but with a more local feel, more widespread throughout the city, and a more relaxed feel.

Today was spent walking around the city in beautiful sunshine with temps in the 60’s and also securing a ticket to Sunday’s futbol game between hometown Real Madrid and Levante in a league match.  With the recent results Real Madrid has been having, I might see a riot if they don’t play well against a lower level team.  I also found a gym to workout at today…for 30 Euros!!  It was not worth the price of admission but at least I got some work in.