For me, a trip to Spain meant an opportunity to see some great art. After all, many of my favorites — Picasso, Miró, Gaudí, Dalí and Hemingway — all have Spain in common.
Our first stop was: MADRID.
Ernest Hemingway said in Death in the Afternoon: ”Madrid is a mountain city with a mountain climate. It has the high cloudless Spanish sky that makes the Italian sky seem sentimental and it has air that is actively pleasurable to breathe.”
And later: ”If it had nothing else than the Prado it would be worth spending a month in every spring, if you have the money to spend a month in any European capital. But when you can have the Prado and the bullfight season at the same time with El Escorial not two hours to the north and Toledo to the south, a fine road to Avila and a fine road to Segovia, which is no distance from La Granja, it makes you feel badly, all questions of immortality aside, to know that you will die and never see it again.”
I won’t try to outdo Hemingway on this one. There was just something about Madrid that just made me fall in love.
Here were my favorite parts:
1. Ah, that Spanish sky. Its bluer than any sky I’ve ever seen. The clouds were low, and fluffy, like you could reach out grab them out of the air. I couldn’t get enough (when the sun decided to shine).
2. The Reina Sofia. We went twice. The first time, we did a quick tour with fellow Mizzou-ians Sarah and Jaime who were in Madrid for the day. It was raining pretty hard and the place was jam-packed. The second time, we were trying to kill a few hours before catching an overnight bus to Barcelona. Taylor and Emily hung out at the café while I scoured the entire place. I think I saw every corner. The building itself was gorgeous — all stone and huge windows facing the green, lush courtyard. I found a terrace on this second visit that boasted the best view of Madrid that I found the entire time I was there.
Guernica was the highlight of both my trips there. Picasso painted it in response to the bombing of Guernica, a city in the Basque Country, during the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. The painting was literally breathtaking. Gaggles of people perpetually stood, silently taking in every part of the wall-sized painting, housed in a white-walled room, guarded by two museum staff at all times. The affect of the work was amplified by Picasso’s studies, which occupied a connecting room. It was so striking to watch his mind at work on how to put together such a masterpiece. I’ve never been so struck by a single piece of art before in my life. I went back to see it multiple times throughout my visits. I couldn’t get enough.
3. Our night out. We met our friend Jasmine from our hostel in Lisbon one night in Madrid. We met her in Plaza del Sol, where a procession for Semana Santa (“Holy Week”) was happening. It was pretty creepy — a bunch of people dressed in what looked like KKK cloaks were walking slowly through the city with a soundtrack of slow, scary music emanated from somewhere in the crowd. Still, it was interesting to see how they celebrated there. Jasmine gave us the plan for the night — two bars and a salsa club. The first was a Moroccan bar. Here, a musician played the saxophone to tracks selected by a hip, dreadlocked woman, bobbing up and down to the beat. The place was decorated in maroons, oranges and yellows and packed with the young and hip of Madrid getting cozy among the plush cushions and draping curtains. We loved it. Here, Jasmine introduced us all for the first time to Tinto de Verano — a delicious (and cheap!) typical Spanish drink made of red wine and lemon Fanta, garnished with a lemon slice. Next stop was La Boca del Lobo, a small music venue tucked away in a dark and narrow side street of the city. As we slipped in, there was a jam going on. A drummer, a saxophone player and two fabulous singers filled the small space with thumping rhythms and smooth vocals. It was so much fun listening to them sing their versions of Aretha Franklin and Elvis Presley songs, and even more fun to hear the locals singing along. When we left the jam session and Jasmine suggested the salsa club, I was a little skeptical. After all I really can’t dance — especially not salsa. But, I reasoned that it would be fun to have a Mojito and watch her do her thing. Apparently, though, watching isn’t an option at these places. We had hardly ordered our drinks before four Latin men had come to whisk us onto the dance floor, despite our attempts to explain that we had no idea what we were doing. Though I’m positive I looked like the world’s biggest spazz as I tried to mimic the incredibly complicated dance moves going on all around me, my dancing partners didn’t seem to mind and I had a great time faking it. It’s the best night out I can remember in a long, long time.
4. Parque del Buen Retiro (“Park of the Pleasant Retreat”). I was determined to go here even though it was raining on and off the entire time we were in Madrid. The second we saw the sun, I rallied the troops and we headed there. It was a bit of a hike — down the road and on the other side of the Prado and up a sizable hill from our hostel. Of course by the time we actually entered the park, the sky was back to its familiar grey, and it started to sprinkle. The park is the biggest one in Madrid, and once belonged to the Spanish Monarchy. The trees contained in the parks tall, imposing gates were straight out of a Dr. Suess book — tall, thin, curving trunks with puffs or green ornamenting the tops. We wove our way through the winding paths of the space, trying to ignore it. We made it to the center, where families and couples paddle-boated in the lake, trying to ignore it too. The grand amphitheater faced the water and enveloped a Monument to Alfonso XIII, two lions guarding it from either side.
We paused here for a photo-op when we couldn’t ignore it anymore. It was now pouring and we were in the middle of a huge park, far from the shelter of our hostel. So, we booked it towards the Prado — a very fancy place to wait out the storm. Emily found a window sill to rest in and write while Taylor and I tried to take a quick look around before it closed. We focused on Velázquez, and I found myself surprised at how much I enjoyed the collection of his work. We saw his work called Las Meninas, which, according to the plaque, is considered by many to be the best painting of all time.
5. Fabio. The hostel was pretty dismal. The showers didn’t often let out more than literally four drops at a time. When I went to the front desk to explain using my limited Spanish (“NO. HAY. AGUA!”), the employee responded with no more than a shrug. We did have a great roommate, though. He was from a small town in Italy, and was named Fabio Felice Frugis. He had tanned skin and perfect white teeth and I’m pretty certain we were all in love. He was the best part. He had come to Madrid to learn Spanish to better his chances to work in a hotel back home. With no place to stay, and no job, he was staying at the hostel until he figured it out. Every night we talked to us, worried that he wouldn’t find a job, but smiling cheerful all the while. His story was so incredibly charming, and incredibly encouraging — if he can just up and move to Madrid, then so can I, right?! He’s another one of those people I’ve met here that I probably won’t ever forget.
6. The Palacio Real de Madrid (The Royal Palace of Madrid). We waited until our last day to do this. It was so worth the hour-long wait and the 10 Euro cost of admission. This is the most incredible display of power and wealth I think I will ever see. It is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family in Madrid, but its really only used for state ceremonies. Each room was more elaborate and crazy than the last and I’m so sad that no pictures were allowed. I snuck one of the interior before I knew that though. Here it is:
The best part though, was learning what each room was for. These people have a room decorated within an inch of its life — floor to ceiling — in a room only used for getting dressed. It was incredible. I felt like Marie Antoinette walking through there. Here are some views from the outside.
7. Mercado de San Miguel. We loved this fabulous food market. We got breakfast here every day, I think. It was Tortilla Espanola, a spanish-style potato omelette. We also came back a couple of times for deserts…
Next up: BARCELONA (aka more Picasso).