Fourteen years ago my husband George and I were here. For those who haven’t heard this, I’ll quickly tell you that we spent more than eleven months traveling around Europe in 2001-02. We spent most of January in Spain. We were the original low-budget travelers and we learned that it was much less expensive to stay on the outskirts of major cities and to travel into the city by public transit. We did that for four days in Madrid. My memories of that city begin at the royal palace and extend into the lush garden that lies between the palace and the center city. I will always remember the many beautiful buildings that stretch along the main avenue – most built, I think, in the early part of the 20th century.
Here and at the top of this post are a few pictures of the principal avenue through the Madrid business district that I took in 2002, with apologies for the quality of the images – my camera wasn’t very good.
On a Sunday night we drove around and around a Madrid that was totally closed. We looked for any place open for dinner and found none until we happened to find “Tony Lima’s American Bar-B-Que” ribs restaurant. I’ll never forget how wonderful that meal tasted! I hope it’s still going strong. (Who remembers Tony Lima?)
If you’ve never driven across Spain let me tell you that it is a barren landscape of mostly sand-colored earth covered in olive trees. Zillions of olive trees! The train is passing now through country that looks like canyon lands from the American west. I’m going to take pictures from the window and hope to catch something to show but so far no luck. (There’s a charming little town with a high church tower – oops! There’s a tunnel! Oh, there’s a castle on that hilltop! No luck getting its picture either.)
[An hour later, in northeastern Spain: the landscape is filled with vineyards now in place of olive trees, and here and there are small, flat-roofed houses that seem to be made from homemade bricks appear. Right out of the movies! I can see the snow-capped Pyrenees in the far distance. None of the pictures I took from the train today was any good.]
I didn’t make it to the center city this trip. Since my goal was the Prado museum I booked a hotel near there.* It’s an interesting part of Madrid — lively, filled with shops and restaurants. There are a number of large commercial buildings with ornate exteriors. A broad avenue passes by the Prado. A large botanical garden is adjacent to it with daffodils and a few iris already in bloom. (The price to enter the garden for adults is €4 but for “senior citizens” only 50 euro cents. Sometimes being older pays! I also paid half-price to enter the Prado.)
The Prado was begun by a Spanish queen in the 1820s to exhibit the fabulous collection of art belonging to the Spanish royal family. The lady was smart! Not only has this collection remained intact, but it has become one of the greatest art museums in the world. As I may have told you when I was in Antwerp Belgium, Spain controlled the Netherlands and Belgium for many years from the mid-17th century. As a result the king of Spain became the owner of many of the greatest artworks from that region dating from ca. 1400 forward for about 300+ years.
For reasons I don’t know, the Prado also has a very large collection of works by some of the greatest Italian painters including Rafael, Titian (Tiziano), and many others. Caravaggio’s excellent painting of David with the head of Goliath is here. In addition there is a superb collection of the works of Spanish artists – not only Goya and Velazquez but many little-known masters. I really enjoyed viewing those.
The museum didn’t allow photos to be taken in the Prado so I’m going give you a list with links to show you just a very few of the great artworks I saw yesterday.
And here’s a question for those readers who enjoy great art and who have visited art museums that contain them. When I left the Prado yesterday I thought this: If someone who was unfamiliar with classical art asked me to name the only museum she or he would see in a lifetime, I would recommend the Prado. So my question is: Which one would you suggest? Which is your favorite museum of art? Please answer in the “Comment” section. Thanks!
*My hotel was Ibis Styles Prado on Calle de Prado. I found it to be very good, with terrific service from the front desk staff and the rate was low for central Madrid.
Here are images of a few of the great works I saw yesterday: (These are all Wikipedia links)
Velazquez: La Meninas
Fra Angelico: Annunciation at the Prado (there are at least two others)
Rogier Van der Weyden: Descent from the cross
Heronimos Bosch Garden of Earthly Delights
Carravagio David with the head of Goliath