Monday, 15 February 2016

Winter in Madrid

A coincidence. Winter in Madrid by CJ Sansom is our current WI book group read, and here are Battleaxe and Philosopher on a six-day break. I'm finding the book does not help paint a better picture of the city, so will say no more about it here.
     We are staying just by the Royal Palace, at the Apartosuites Jardines de Sabatini.  Very good accommodation - a large mini-suite with cooking facililities etc., reasonable price, central, very handy for public transport, Battleaxe would recommend. Here is the path we walk down to get home, by the Palace.
Madrid, Royal Palace

     Our journey here was a bit eventful - Southern Trains went pear-shaped on us and we only just got to Gatwick in time.  By the time we reached the Iberia Express check-in, Economy was full,  so we were upgraded to Business Class.... Excellent.
     It is indeed winter in Madrid, a mix of very chilly but sunny days, and blustery showers.  
     There are three massive art galleries to see.  In our DK Eyewitness Madrid guidebook, it suggests doing all three in one day, which would be beyond ridiculous. 
      First, the Reina Sofia, which is all modern art, including must-see sights like Picasso's Guernica.  Amazing external lifts.

Reina Sofia Gallery

      You can always tell where the must-sees are hanging because dense crowds of Japanese tourists or noisy groups of gum-chewing youth are blocking the paintings from view....
      I liked this Picasso: 
Picasso - Girl Laughing

      Next, the Prado, looking nice in the sun.
The Prado

      Surprisingly, given that the gallery is one of the world top sights, it was not too full, and I actually got right to the front of the crowd to look at 'The Garden of Earthly Delights'.  I never noticed before that Bosch painted life-like birds mixed in with his strange little figures - we spotted a goldfinch, a kingfisher and a jay. 


 We saw the Goya 'black' paintings - creepy, Velasquez, El Greco, Van Dyck, Titian, Rembrandt, Cranach....
      I ask myself if there is any point visiting galleries to see these famous paintings when there are umpteen copies on the internet. However, when I was searching for the Bosch birds above, I found every copy was a different colour, and none as good as the bright and vibrant original.
      The last gallery, the Thyssen-Bornimissa, was a private art collection, acquired by Spain in the 1990s. Lots there too, going from early right up to date.  Philosopher had a bad stomach, so our tour was a bit quicker than it might have been.  Here's a Kandinsky:



      Sunday is flea market day in Madrid - El Rastro. A couple of violent hail storms with strong gusts of wind blew some of the stalls right over, soaked everything and somewhat dampened our enthusiasm. We didn't buy anything.

El Rastro

      We've trawled so many bazaars and flea markets. The same things are hawked by the same people..... Paris, Rome, Berlin, the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Khan El Khalelli in Cairo..... Enigmatic North African men with slightly smelly leather goods, chipper Indian, Pakistani or Turkish boys selling knock-off handbags, watches and jeans. Ethnic knitwear and jewellery, broken cardboard boxes full of bras. T-shirts and mobile phone covers. Fierce East European women with stalls of vintage clothes and ratty old furs, ancients squatting by drab garments and old shoes piled on blue tarpaulins. Kitchen plastic, pots and pans, mouse traps..... and the occasional burst of interesting retro or antiques.
      Shopping. Was pleased to find a large Desigual store - a particular Spanish brand of clothes I like. The stuff is incredibly colourful. You have to be careful not to wear too much at once - risk of the mad cat lady look. 
      I could have bought the whole shop and better still, it was all reduced in price. Ended up with a wonderful blue coat and two tops.


      As usual on these trips, I wanted to inspect the grandest and most historic hotel in the city.  In Madrid, it is the Westin Palace - as stayed in by those who seemed to spend their time in such places: Ernest Hemingway, Mata Hari, Winston Churchill, Greta Garbo, Charles De Gaulle, Agatha Christie, Jackie Kennedy etc. Did those people not have jobs to do, countries to run? Philosopher returned to the hotel while I swanned graciously in for a cup of Earl Grey (cost 8 euros).  Passed a pleasant half hour on a velvet sofa in the Rotunda, cared for by elderly and dignified waiters.  I like the way the domed glass roof is reflected in the table.


      So, what do we think of Madrid?  
      It hasn't grabbed us as much as other European cities.  It feels a bit bleak, cold and hard - maybe because the weather is actually very cold, but I don't think that's totally it. People are very friendly and helpful, so not that either.  Architecture is..... OK, but not amazing. Not like Barcelona. I think we have explored most of the historic city centre now, and the outer areas are pleasant, but plain.  
We've found some perfectly reasonable eating places.... Not an issue. Street life?  Not that interesting.     This sounds a bit negative but it is really very cold, and Philosopher is still not well - a worry....
       We planned to go to Toledo on the train for our last day. I went on my own..... Another post I think. 
       Here are a few odd Madrid photos to finish up.  Sorry if the quality of this post is not as good as usual - am using my iPad.  Home tomorrow.