“Luck never gives; it only lends”
– Swedish proverb
I have ridiculous luck with traveling. Several examples I could pull from the amazingly friendly people I met in Mexico (situations that could have ended badly but worked out amazingly). The most recent example is my serendipitous luck when randomly selecting a place to stay in Madrid.
Here is my genius approach: I want to travel as long as possible, thus I need to make money stretch. Also, I would prefer to stay with locals to get more a feel for what life in the culture is like. So, I use airbnb.com to find local people willing to rent a room which is far cheaper than a hotel and far more personal. For Madrid, I knew nothing about the layout of the town so I loaded a map, tried to find a place that seemed somewhat central, then narrowed the search on airbnb to that general area. From that I selected the cheapest option that had good reviews from previous occupants.
The result could be any number of things: I could end up staying in a cardboard box, sharing it with a heroin addict who needs a few bucks to get by. Or the basement in a slum area of town (I have no knowledge if the area I pick is “good” or “bad”). Or my place could be a long taxi drive from any of the places you really want to see in the city. The pitfalls are limitless.
But no: the actual result is that I have a place that is pretty much right in the middle of the three main museums (Prado, Reina Sofia, Thyssen), a monstrous park to put Central Park to shame (Parque De El Retiro) as well as lively and active street scenes, bars, restaurants and too many historic buildings to count. Pretty much perfect for someone to see the city by foot.
So, a few notes from my wanderings in Madrid so far:
First, just the basic streets are amazing and filled with things worth ogling:
Next up: the park. Parque de el Retiro isn’t “retirement park”, as in “for retired people to come sit at”, but basically “park of the pleasant retreat”. And I can’t argue with that. So it’s basically a huge (350 acres) park in heart of the city. However, it’s not just a bunch of grass and shrubberies. For example, many parts are immaculately manicured:
And there are these amazing Dr. Seuss trees:
The rest of the park is equally impressive, and I haven’t seen nearly all of it:
Right, you get the idea.
Okay, on to Museums. I went to the “Museo Del Prado”. Those of you reading carefully will notice this is not spelled to end with an “a” and is thus not a museum of very nice handbags. No, instead this is a museum full of art and sculpture to rival anything Paris has to offer. Protip: after 7 at night access to Museums is free.
Now, museums can get numbing for me after a while. My excitement runs in a pretty linear line:
Initial approach: “Oh my god I’m going to see the finest works of art in the world and absorb all the culture, talent, history and beauty!!! AAAAAAA!!!!!”
First 10 minutes: spent ogling, dissecting, and studying the first painting I come across. I believe I’ve come to understand the brush stroke method, the mood of the painter as he approached the canvas, and have begun to debate the interpretation provided on the placard provided: it doesn’t really understand the motive of the artist like I do.
Next hour: each painting get’s 1/2 the time of the previous one. Doing quick math you can determine that by the end of the hour I am a light-speed streak blazing through rooms leaving confused bystanders in my wake.
Last hour: I’ve found a bench from which I can not only see many pieces of so called “art”, but more importantly I can watch and judge people from my comfortable seat of power. I start to fantasize about crepes.
However, a few things that stood out for me.
The Prado has a HUGE collection of religious (catholic) art. Some of it boring, some of it amazing. A couple that stood out for me:
- Juan Pantoja De La Cruz: el Nacimiento De La Virgen. This was a commissioned piece that shows the queen and her sisters as well as her mom at the virgin birth. Seems to be taking some liberties with history, no? Wasn’t this, oh I don’t know, blasphemy to insert yourself and your family into these events? I guess commissioning these types of images was popular for the rich back then. Or maybe I botched the interpretation?
- Roger Van Der Weyden – el Descendimiento: This was stunning in person, it looked almost like it was carved, the impression of dimension was so real. I had to look at it from several angles to believe it was just a canvas. Amazing.
Also, I found a really awesome triptych (3-part painting). It was the story of Nastagio Delhi Onesti, and it basically goes: this guy was rejected for marriage by his love and so left the city to live in the woods. There he sees a woman pursued by a mastiff and a rider. She is brought down and the rider opens her rib cage and feeds her heart to the dogs. The rider explains he too was rejected and then took his own life, damning him to hell. She was indifferent if this and as a result was damned to hell following her death. Now they repeat this chase every Friday as their hellish doom, her running, him cutting her heart out, into infinity. So Nastagio – does he grieve for this tragic couple? No! He invites his love’s family to a feast in the forest the next Friday. They all think they are coming to this lovely picnic type of thing when all of sudden they see this horrendous chase / murder / dog feeding affair. After witnessing this, the woman that spurned him agrees to marry.
Dark, no? Sheesh. Love it.
I didn’t take any pictures from inside as that seemed to be in poor taste. Here’s a few from the surroundings though:
Whew. And that’s just day one of Spain. This is going to be a good month.