A Travellerspoint blog

Day 8: A Garden of Madridian Delights!

in which your author sees two of the world's great artworks in an hour and books the rest of his trip like a millionaire

sunny 88 °F

If Day 7 was a day to see lots of ART, Day 8 would be a day to see… EVEN MORE ART! There are two works in particular I’d not easily forgive myself for missing given the effort it took to get here: Hieronomous Bosch’s 16th century The Garden of Earthly Delights, a riveting panorama of color, drama, and whimsy, and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica, arguably the most famous painting of the twentieth century. I have a 2pm ticket for the special Bosch exhibit at the Prado, and conveniently, Guernica is located in the Reina Sofia Museum, about a ten minute walk from there.

I get up and venture out at what for this trip is a respectable hour: 11am, perhaps? And thankfully find a café just down the street from Isabel’s place where I grab a “take away” café and large heart-shaped flaky pastry thing. (I forget what they’re called, but they’re very delicious!) This is a much easier and cheaper option than yesterday’s sit-down breakfast. Like many of the bakeries I come across in Madrid, they make their own bread, which looks delicious.


I must say: I enjoy walking in new cities. (In fact, the only time I took the Metro during my four days in Madrid was to get to my flat from the airport.) Especially as I’m not finding the time to run given my late-night, late-morning travel style, walking both gets me some exercise, and allows me to get the feeling of a city under my feet. I wouldn’t say I left Madrid with a strong sense of where things are – unlike, say, Edinburgh, Madrid feels vast and sprawling – but I did at least see quite a lot of the city this way.

It takes me about 40 minutes to get to the Reina Sofia, arriving at about 1pm. Given that the Prado is about 10-15 minutes away by foot, if I’m to make my 2pm appointment, this unfortunately doesn’t give me enough time to do much more than a drive-by. I do linger a bit on a floor dedicated to early twentieth-century Dada art including Juan Gris. There’s a room where Buster Keaton’s classic 1920 silent film One Week --- the one where he orders a “build it yourself” house with his wife – is screened. (A friend of mine Patrick Bussink in DC created an entire solo theatre piece partially inspired by this film once, and I’d never actually seen the original.) I love Keaton’s films because they’re so watchable and enjoyable today. Won’t you come back to the movies, Buster Keaton?


I breeze on through galleries containing vivid 1930s propaganda posters to get to Guernica. There’s a crisp intensity upon seeing it – a sublime quiet lingers over the room, as everyone knows the history and the fame of this work. The painting itself is massive, wretched figures howling out against war and oppression in slashing dark grays and blacks. At one point a family brings in two small children in strollers and I note the boy has a plastic water gun (ugh, irony) wrought mostly in dark gray and black, the same colors as Guernica. I snap a couple very discrete photos with my iPhone – they’re extremely strict about watching people do this, so I feel lucky to not get caught. This was really a terrific museum and it’s too bad to not stay longer, but I leave around 1:50 and dash the long tree-bound pathway to the Prado.


I have a bit of a smug smile (to myself, of course) as I watched frustrated tourists asking why they can’t get into the Bosch exhibit (this was me yesterday) as I present my ticket. Celebrating the master's 500 birthday (roughly), the Prado has collected all of the major Bosch paintings and sketches from museums around the world for this; it's the most comprehensive Bosch exhibit ever imagined. The next hour was totally worth the cost and effort. Although there’s an abundance of fire and brimstone to Bosch’s works, there’s also an almost ecstatic delight in color, detail, and fantasy: bright, bold characters, unearthly flora and fauna in shocking pinks and greens, elfin creatures riding fish. I spend the most time standing directly in front of The Garden of Earthly Delights, an experience I won’t forget. (Check out this extraordinary high resolution online version of the painting; as one writer says, “this is the internet we were promised!”) One could stand in front of this triptych for a week and still not see it all; I promise myself to see it again sometime. Seeing both this work and Guernica within an hour of each other makes for a riveting, humbling, uniquely human experience.


I satisfy my touristic/capitalistic impulses by buying some Bosch tchotchkes in the gift shop. (Aura may have disappeared, but at least my refrigerator can tend further in the direction of being a garden of earthly delights.) I pick up a gorgeous (and at 21 Euros, expensive) commemorative poster of this exhibit, which I ought to have framed – this was a very special thing to see and I feel fortunate the timing worked out so well.

I’d only booked two nights with Isabel to have a bit of flexibility, and since someone else had reserved her space for this night, I’d had to reserve a new place to stay in Madrid. This time I make sure I’m a bit closer to the Malasaña neighborhood which seems to be the neighborhood I’m becoming most familiar with. So I make the long… long… long (and hot) walk back toward Isabel’s, stopping at a fantastic burrito place where I have a truly great, thirst-quenching Spanish craft beer, grab my bags (which she was kind enough to let me store in her living room as someone else moved in), say my goodbyes, and head off to walk (of course) to my next flat.


Mar’s flat is directly in the heart of Malasaña, and though the room is a bit smaller and ramshackle, Mar (and her friend Maria and assorted company) is a hugely warm host, kissing on both sides of the cheek as a greeting (both my Airbnb hosts did this) as is the European custom, and swiftly offering me a beer almost before I’ve dropped my heavy bags. The women are chatty and welcoming, conversing rapidly in Spanish and asking me about Boston and my trip They’re actually all from Venezuela, having moved to Madrid to escape the disastrous political environment that exists there right now. To a point, they all express fear for the United States about Donald Trump. They have … apart from Fenway, of course… THE. CUTEST. WEE. DOG. NAMED…. BIMBA! Bimba has a broken paw. Bimba loves being alive! And Walt Whitman.


I settle into my smallish, yet comfortable room. There’s no air conditioning but two powerful fans blaze at me. It’s around 8pm, and I make the firm decision that for the sake of my sanity and comfort, I want to spend the next few hours arranging every booking for the rest of my trip, including what cities I’ll visit, where I’ll stay, and how I’ll get there. I draw out a list of possible itineraries along with costs, arriving at a final version which includes: flying to Frankfurt and visiting Freiburg and the Black Forest (where a former student has kindly found me a place to stay), Rome or Milan, Munich (along with Madrid, one of my original “target” cities), and Brussels. The major logistical point is that I must be in Cologne to fly back to Boston Aug. 7, so I work backward from that point. Knowing I’ll want to visit Cologne for at least two days, I decide to fly to the city closest, which ends up also being the cheapest option: I’m headed to Brussels! I’ve never set foot in Belgium so this is very exciting: Frites! Chocolate! Birthplace of Josquin and Ockeghem! Oh, and don’t they have halfway decent beer?

I reserve a train ticket to Cologne from Brussels (ugh, $80 for a 1 hour, 45 min journey is rich), and book the flight through RyanAir. (It has gone up in price from $66 to $102 in the last week, but it’s still a pretty good price, and my options for flying out of Lisbon are somewhat limited.) Given that I’m set to check my bag on my American Airlines flight home, and that I don’t plan on paying the additional $50 (!!!) to check my bag on this flight, this could be my last potential stumbling block; I’ve picked up a few bottles along the way in addition to other gifts that have weighed my bags down fairly heavily. Let’s hope for the best! I also book two Airbnbs that are above my typical price range: a gorgeous, well decorated flat in Brussels run by an antique collector (seems my speed – it’s where I type from right now, incidentally; my laptop feels very anachronistic here) and a similar plush place in Cologne run by a female professor. I’d rather spend extra (say, $70 a night vs. $30, which is what Mar’s flat cost me) to relax into the final 4 days of my trip – I’ve been (mostly) pretty good about money on the trip so I feel I can take that luxury.

After spending a good three hours planning all of this – note to self:even though it may stunt spontaneity slightly, consider doing this at home next time, it will save precious time and $$$! – I grab a shower and head out in Malasaña. I first hit up a cocktail bar called The Passenger, also the name of an infamous favored cocktail spot in DC. The drink I have there is delicious – called a Smoked Fig because of its incorporation of some local fig liqueur – but I opt to leave after this one as I’m the only one sitting at the bar and the bartenders are not terribly warm.


I walk past hundreds of revelers to a flamenco club Mar had recommended located in a hotel closer to the touristy centre of town, but it’s midnight now and their shows ended a while ago. (Hotels aren’t usually my scene, either.) I Google “American expat cocktail bars Madrid” and find some references to 1862 Dry Bar, which conveniently is in Malasaña, so I head back that way.


This place is described as a speakeasy, and while it may not feel as secretive as my beloved Babckbar, it still has a slightly clandestine atmosphere, presented in two floors. Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehavin plays on the ground floor. The drinks are spot on – I have a Millionaire cocktail, made with rum, sloe gin, apricot brandy, and lime, and a sherry cobbler. (All of the cocktails I've experienced in Madrid so far are served with a thin slice of dessicated fruit; and the bartender tells me they make these by leaving sliced limes or apples or whatever in an oven with low temperature for a long time.) After some time standing, I manage to snatch a coveted bar seat, which seems to bring a bit of status, as a number of folks end up standing around and chatting; most are Irish attendees of a “stag party.” I have a conversation with a Dublin resident car mechanic named Anthony (I tell him if he ever goes to Boston, people will call him “Annnnnthony…” and explain why.) A couple sitting next to me furiously makes out. I figure if decorum is not really a thing for them, they surely won’t mind having their picture put out on the internet?


The place shuts down around 3am and I walk back to my new flat. It’s impressive how safe this city feels. Even toting my nice camera around, I never feel in jeopardy because there always seem to be people around. Madrid is much fun! Tune in for my next entry, because things would go ever so slightly off rail…

Posted by coolmcjazz 02:50 Archived in Spain Tagged madrid cocktails

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