Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Discovering Madrid

It is a city teeming with life, an art-lover's paradise, and one of the greenest cities in the world. The official symbol of Madrid is an upright bear next to a Madroño tree, displayed in form of an almost 20 ton statue at Puerta del Sol, the city center.
The bear and the Madroño tree at Puerta del Sol. The Madroño tree is often referred to as a strawberry tree as it bears little red berries that look similar to strawberries.  
Its wide, modern thoroughfares lined with magnificent early-20th century buildings lend it a uniquely elegant look.  
Calle Gran Vía, an ornate and upscale shopping street
The dome atop the conspicuous Metropolis building (at the intersection of the Calle de Alcalá and Gran Vía) covered with 30,000 leaves of 24 carat gold.
On the other end of the spectrum are its charming narrow alleys.
Unfortunately I do not recall the name of this street. Nevertheless I found the colorful, curvaceous buildings lining it particularly charming.
Madrid is particularly well-known for its vibrant nightlife. The city practically never sleeps.  Bar hopping there can be an interesting experience for the spirit-lover. (If you are a teetotaler like me, you might still want to try it for their mouth-watering assortment of tapas.)
Inside the Torre del Oro, a small bar in Plaza Mayor offering a fine assortment of tapas and displaying a range of bullfighting mementos - embroidered capes, stuffed heads of slain bulls, and disturbingly graphic photographs amongst other things.
The city is spotted with an abundance of historic and architectural landmarks. 
Southeastern view of the Santa María la Real de La Almudena (the Alumudena Cathedral)
Palacio Real de Madrid (The Royal Palace of Madrid), the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family. "King Juan Carlos and the Royal Family do not reside in the palace, choosing instead the more modest Palacio de la Zarzuela on the outskirts of Madrid."
The Posada del Peine, founded in 1610, is one of the oldest hotels in Spain.
The Parque del Retiro, a lovely public park with beautiful lakes and elegant statues and monuments, is only a short walk from the city center. Just outside the Retiro, there is a chain of sidewalk bookstores selling a variety of used books (Spanish editions predominantly). Also for the science geek, the Retiro houses the Royal Observatory (you might want to check their schedule before planning your visit). 
Alfonso XII Monument inside Parque del Retiro
The interior of Palacio de Cristal, a gorgeous glass palace inside the Retiro
Madrid boasts some of the finest art collections in the world. The Prado, the Reina Sofía, and the Thyssen are situated in close proximity of each other. The world-famous Prado showcases a pre-20th century art collection and houses some masterpieces by Velázquez, Goya, and many other renowned artists. Velázquez's Las Meninas is probably Prado's most celebrated piece of art. I came across several other memorable paintings including the disturbing and dark Saturn Devouring His Son by Goya and the The Garden of Earthly Delights, Bosch's triptych with its deceptively innocent Walt-Disney-fairy-tale appearance at first glance. 
Museo del Prado
The Reina Sofía, with its stellar modern art collection, was in all certainty what I loved most about Madrid. It was there that I saw Picasso's Guernica. This formidably-sized (26.5 ft by 11 ft) grayscale painting is an anti-war symbol and was created by Picasso in the wake of the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. This BBC page offers interesting insights on the hidden symbolism in this painting. What made this painting so memorable for me though was the display of the numerous preparatory sketches that paved the way for its creation. These sketches take you through the artist's thought process showing how it evolved (and sometimes looped back and forth) and also remind you of the hard work behind the making of a masterpiece. I also noticed practice sketches by some other lesser known artists in these museums and found this aspect of the Spanish museums quite unique. Another enjoyable experience these museums offered was the opportunity to watch contemporary artists industriously working on creating replicas of any painting of their choice!   
Picasso's Guernica (courtesy: Google, since photography was forbidden)
Dali's cubist self-portrait
Un Mundo by Angeles Santos
Yet another enjoyable experience was watching a live flamenco performance.
Flamenco performance
One last thing. If you do visit Madrid, don't miss the San Ginés Chocolateria. This hole-in-the-wall joint will offer you the richest, thickest, creamiest, and most heavenly cup of hot chocolate with a side of churros. And did I mention they are open 9 am to 7 am? The city that never sleeps indeed - well almost!
 Chocolate con churros at San Ginés

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