Don Carlo is one of my favourite operas but I have never had the chance to explore the city of King Philip II and his unstable son. It is Vicky's birthday and we have three objectives - to explore the art in the fabulous galleries, enjoy the famous Spanish food and catch up with friends from Singapore, Ana and Philippe who now live here.
We are staying in the Paseo del Prado hotel - right opposite the Prado museum and a short walk from the other major museums - the Thyssen and Reina Sofia. In fact as soon as we arrive we ask the concierge to get us entry passes so that we can visit all three - a bargain for €29. The hotel itself is comfortable although our room is disappointingly small compared to the massive suite that we were upgraded to in Budapest. I guess that a prime location in Madrid is a lot more desirable!
After we have dumped our bags we head off to explore Madrid. We are staying on the edge of the Barrio de las Letras, a fine part of the old city, and we wander up through the narrow and partially traffic free streets to the Plaza de Santa Ana where we enjoy a glass of wine and some tapas. We have booked a meal in a rather fab restaurant for quite a bit later so we bar hop from the Plaza to a fantastic sherry bar around the corner - La Venencia. Here you are served sherry in plain brown bottles, topped up from the barrel. I opt for a fino sherry and plate of olives which we enjoy at a rickety table surrounded by locals - some with their well behaved children in tow. From here we head off to Rondo 14, a fine Peruvian/Japanese/Spanish fusion restaurant in the Salamanca area. Check out Vicky's Blog for all the foody info!
The museums open at 10 but when we get there at 9:45 the queue for the Prado is already pretty impressive. I am pleased to see that it grows a lot more before the doors open - there is nothing more frustrating than finding that you are the last people in a big queue! We have checked out the rooms that we want to visit but in fact the Prado is not SO huge that you can't whizz round most of it in a couple of hours.
First stop is room 67 on the ground floor to see the famous 'Black Goyas'. Painted as frescos in the house that he lived in as an old man these stunning images (top above) give a pretty grim view of humanity. We go on to track down the masterpieces by Velazquez and El Greco but on the way bump into many incredibly familiar paintings by Europe's great masters including Titian's famous painting of Philip II hanging in the amazing long gallery that runs the whole length of the first floor.
Next door to the Prado is Madrid's botanic gardens. In November many of the displays are over but we see some very fine foliage, an inspiring vegatable garden and exotic hot houses. Also nearby is the Murillo cafe - a charming lunch spot where we bravely sit outside and enjoy the weak Autumn sunshine. More yummy tapas with some rather good Spanish wine. The Ribero del Duero slips down very smoothly!
Walking back towards Atocha central station where we came in from the Airport the day before, the Reina Sofia museum has an impressively modern glass facade with a spectacular Alberto Sanchez sculpture outside. Behind the glasswork is an older, cloistered building that houses a collection of largely 20th Century art. Several rooms are devoted to Picasso's Guernica and there are many works by Miro, Dali, Juan Gris and Georges Braque. If you look beyond the big names there are also many fine works by other modern Spanish artists.
On Saturday night we celebrate Vicky's birthday in trendy restaurant Bibo with friends Ana and Philippe. Again Vicky's blog has great details. Then Sunday morning the culture starts again with the amazing Thyssen collection. While the Thyssen family may have made their money in commerce and arms and there has been controversy about works being stolen by the Nazis this is a fabulous collection. Click the picture of Vicky enjoying the collection for more art work.