Spain 1: Madrid
Okay, this is old news now, but did you know I went to Spain? It was a nice trip. October is a great time to go. The weather was beautiful, in the low 70s the whole time. We went all over the country, and to Morocco too, and found Spain to be a beautiful, clean, and interesting place. Here is a rough map of our route:
In order, the cities were: Madrid, Tarifa, Tangier, Granada, Barcelona, Figueres, and back to Madrid.
The first day in Madrid, we were jet-lagged since we couldn’t sleep on the plane despite being upgraded to business class. Our hotel was just a block off Plaza Mayor, the central plaza of Madrid, dating back to 1576.
It was a Sunday, which is when the El Rastro flea market goes on, the biggest flea market in Europe. We wandered blocks of booths filled with scarves, jewelry, antiques:
Then we went back to the Plaza Mayor and had the first of many, many ham sandwiches. I took some pictures:
Man and woman dining on Plaza Mayor
Businessman walking through the plaza
Crowd scene with a bubble floating overhead
As you can tell, there were many street performers around. They included several Mickey Mouses, people dressed like pirates, an Asian man mournfully playing a sitar, and this thing:
That is a hobbyhorse covered with a blanket of tinsel. A man crawled inside and made it move up and down while eerie music played and bells jingled. Then it started flapping its gaping mouth at people. Maybe that has some kind of story behind it that I didn’t understand but I found it creepy. I don’t know why anyone would give it money.
It was my first introduction to a dark zeitgeist that goes on in Spain. It’s hard to explain, but it is as though there is a surprising, very specific way of looking at things in Spain that is a little dark and a little odd and very much them. Within its context, the hallucinogenic creations of artists like Goya and Picasso and Salvador Dali and Antonio Gaudi make perfect sense. Of course art like that would come from a place where a man pretends to be the head of a corpse resting a table that talks to you when you pass or where they make zombie teddy bears for Halloween or where a cashier’s job is to stand all day in a counter so that her body looks cut off:
I loved this about Spain. I had the coolest dreams while I was there because everything was so dramatic and eerie and ripe with stories.
After our nap, Kyle and I did the tapas crawl, which is also a thing on Sundays. The restaurants were so crowded that it was hard to get in the door. And since no one speaks English—another shock! People in Spain speak Spanish!—this was a little intimidating at first.
Here is a picture of a plaza outside a restaurant during the tapas crawl. Everyone was sitting around tables or standing holding little plates of food, chatting like a loud flock of birds.
I liked Madrid much better than Barcelona. There’s the Prado Museum, which is one of the best museums I have ever been to. Its collection includes Velázquez, El Greco, Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, Italian art such as Reuben and Botticelli, and pretty much every important painting by Goya.
I have always liked Goya, but after visiting the Prado, he is now one of my favorite painters. Walking around the Prado, you can see him change from an imitator of Velázquez to a satirical portrait artist to the tormented creator of the black paintings, which are amazing and terrifying to see in person. His psychological changes were palatable in a vivid way.
We also went to Madrid’s Museum of Modern Art, called Museo Reina Sofía. It’s also full of good art, including some good-period Dalis and Picasso’s Guernica, a giant masterpiece he did about the Spanish Civil War. I wasn’t allowed to take a picture of it (they are very controlling about this in Spain), but here is the whole image. And I did take this picture:
Another site worth seeing in Madrid is what I called mini-Versailles. Turns out that in the late-1700s, Charles IV, who I believe was the grandson of Louis XIV (of Versailles fame), lived in Madrid’s smaller version of Versailles, called the Royal Palace.
Like everything else in Spain I wasn’t allowed to take pictures, but it was quite lovely—and quirky—inside, with Goya paintings hanging in the middle of plush bedrooms, 1700-century ideas of Japanese decor, an entire room made out of ceramics, and crystal chandeliers as big as cows hanging over inlaid wooden ballrooms. Definitely worth the line and hassle to see.
We also went to a Flamenco performance. I thought it would be touristy, but I figured, hey, I am in Spain, right? And while I am sure that there is touristy Flamenco in Spain, there is no doubt in my mind after seeing (a good version of) it that it’s a serious art form.
The performance we went to was in the back of a restaurant. We crowded into a dark room and sat by tall tables while a group of five guitarists/singers came out and sat in chairs on the back of the stage. Then they alternated between playing Spanish guitar and singing and the Flamenco dance itself. The dancers, a man and a woman, were telling a story that I didn’t understand, but was somehow emotionally moving anyway. They moved only the bottom half of their bodies, stamping their feet and snapping their fingers, while the top half of their bodies held still. The woman dancer was particularly amazing. Really, this photo says it all:
Is this my entire trip to Spain? No, this is just the first three days. Do you see why I have taken forever to post this?
Spain 1: Madrid
Spain 2: Tarifa and Morocco
Spain 3: Granada
Spain 4: Barcelona
3 thoughts on “Spain 1: Madrid”
ENJOYING YOUR TRIP… THX FOR SHARING….LOOK FORWARD TO MORE….
Very cool! You guys did a lot in 3 days, especially with being jet-lagged! I could almost hear the music and the people chatting with your photos 🙂
Joy Lanzendorfer » Spain 4: Barcelona
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