Melting in Madrid

Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
Trip End Nov 30, 2009

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Friday, June 23, 2006

Madrid was lucky to have a goat track running through it in the mid 1500s, pitiful as it was back then, but in a Machiavellian stroke of royal genius the place became Spain's capital at a time when it was approaching the apex of its world power. Nearby Toledo, the logical choice, got the cold shoulder because the pesky clergy there had too much power for King Felipe's liking.

The rest is history, probably an interesting one but unfortunately I don't know much of it. She's a grand old dame either way. I came here more for the transport connections but ended up staying four nights because I quite like the place - despite the remorseless heat.

Getting here was also good value. On yet another bus I headed out of Barcelona and not far down the road we cruised right through a massive wind farm. Literally kilometres of giant wind turbines stretching off onto the horizon and down the side of the highway, mournfully rotating in a very light breeze. I couldn't hear the womp of the propellers but was fascinated all the same as it was easily the largest installation I've ever seen.

Crossing pastures and plains, semi desert and rocky hillock, we finally entered beef country (or so I assume from the huge bull cutout on one hillside). Then the country turned to glorious farmland, much like that seen in Sicily, or in Maximo's dreams in Gladiator.

Once ensconced I soon found out that unless you're into galleries or football there isn't a great deal to do in Madrid - museums, a palace, a statue of a bear kissing a mushroom, shopping, clubbing and finding relief from the heat being about it. At over 40C each day so far and staying above 35 well after 9pm, that's probably a good thing. Now I'm starting to appreciate the five hour Spanish siesta!

When you do get out there is a great deal of excellent 'neo-classical' architecture, and all the galleries are top shelf. I went to the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza one day - a large collection of over 800 works privately collected in the 80s and then sold as a job lot to the Spanish government for a cool $300 million in 1993. Most big names are featured, beginning around Renaissance times, and contains a significant proportion of modern and pop art as well.

No photos were allowed of course but my interest lay with the newer stuff - especially liking Marc Chagall's contributions, a lady in a bath by Lichtenstein (no speech bubble unfortunately Alex) as well as a classic piece by Dali featuring naked women, guns, tigers jumping out of the mouths of fish and stilt-legged elephants (of course). Its name is too long and demented to repeat here but it is obviously the work of some sort of genius. Spaniard Joan Miro, Maximillian Luce and Stepanova's cubist Billiard Players were also well worth a mention.

To the east of the city lie extensive parklands with the groovy name of El Retiro which ended up being a great place to visit indeed. Promenades, spacious grasslands and pleasant groves of trees are dotted with a variety of fountains, statues and small palaces leaving plenty to explore or many places to rest in the the shade. It contains some very cool trees and the council takes a pretty strong stance on rampant dogs so there's little chance of cutting your boot here.

Near one corner is the first known statue dedicated to the devil, called El Angel Caido (The Fallen Angel). More interesting however was the Crystal Palace, a giant greenhouse overlooking a nice lake that has been covered with shiny adhesive stuff and now glows spectrally in the sunshine. There was some sort of free music exhibition inside the dazzling structure, but then the music stopped so we were all left to slide around the mirrored floor in the custom made socks they gave us.

Couldn't see the point and it was retina-buring in there so being the patient fellow I am I left after a coupe of minutes, to check out the neighbouring tiled palace whose name was lost to the beers drunk later that night. I couldn't decipher the Spanish information plaques but it seems both were built in the 19th century, probably so one of the local big wigs could loll around by the water when the sun got too intense. Smart chap.

After checking out the large Estanque lake (it was a bit stanky) I found out Cokes were a wopping $E2.50 in the park so it was time to retreat from El Retiro.

On the other side of the city to El Retiro is the Palacio Real, a massive neo-classical palace from the 18th century. It and the neighbouring buildings are decidedly gilt-edged although it is only used for occasional receptions these days. Apparently the interior decoration has gone horribly wrong so due to a substantial hangover I decided not to risk an upset stomach by going inside.

Some of the little details are worth noting too. All over the city are snippets of historical information embedded into the pavement - like, 'In 'this square in 1833 Freddy Gonzales led the King's forces to defeat the revolution', or whatever. They're all over the place and all the messages are in Spanish, but it actually gives you more sense of place of the events as opposed to the usual information plaque stuck up on a wall. It happened, you're standing on it, I like it!

Also decorative tiles are used extensively and the tavernas in particular feature very detailed, colourful and unique facades through the use of them. Quite interesting to stop and work out the scenes they portray. Finally the lighting around town at night - very pretty as most important buildings are lit and the it really does the particalur architectural style justice. Classy place, all in all done up very nicely thank you.

On the downside the famed nightlife was a little disappointing. Had met another Aussie called Ed watching the football so we decided to go out at that night and check it out. Things didn't kick off until 1.30am or so and it seemed as though we spent half the night wandering around with literally thousands of locals trying to work out where to go. I've never seen that many people on the street at 4am before, except maybe New Years Eve, so I think the gidebook writers may have a different idea of a 'cracking nightlife'. Oh well, better luck next time and that shouldn't be a problem in the UK.

Adios til then.

Next entry -> hopefully some sea breezes in Lisbon or Faro in Portugal

Handy Trekkin' Technologies

I need one of these to take those covert museum shots every technotrekker wants.

Not sure if I'd swallow it though.

Cheers to Goran for sending it through.
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technotrekker on

Re: Blazing Madrid
Very true, it is different indeed but I´ve just signed up for an extra day or two because it's GOOD! Might even get out for a night on the town tonight...

I'm not sure which Tagus you're referring to but if it's Portugal's then I might just make it there yet. Keeping it hard anyway ;-)

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