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Sept. 29: Madrid

At the crack of 8:30 we wake up, still exhausted from the day before. No need to set an alarm; there's construction going on outside our hotel, and the workers are reliable about starting a bit after 8. (Thank goodness they don't get there at 7!)

Our hotel room is quite nice. We're staying at the Best Western Santo Domingo, which is a short walk from many of the major sites. We have a walk-through bedroom. Phil's room is in what would probably be considered the living room, and then you walk through to the master bedroom where we have an actual king-sized bed. (No twins pushed together this time!) The best part? We have TWO bathrooms! It's not too bad to share one bathroom among three people, but two bathrooms really is a luxury.

We left the room around 10 and went over to the Starbucks nearby. Why Starbucks? Internet. I paid for two hours of wireless surfing, even though I knew we wouldn't have that much time, and sync'd up my mail and web pages while munching on a croissant and downing a cup of joe.

We went back to the hotel to drop off our laptops, and then we set out on foot for the Prado. It was about a one to two mile walk from our hotel to the Prado. It struck me that no matter where we go in this city, no matter what time of day, there are people everywhere. More people than NYC I think. And construction galore. They're building a new building next to our hotel, but they're also working on other buildings and public works everywhere in the city.

We reached the Prado, and bought a three-museum ticket (so we could go to the other two art museums nearby), got our audio guide and went in.

The Prado is a large museum, larger than the Uffizi, smaller than the Louvre. It showcases many a Spanish painter, including El Greco, Velazquez and Goya, some Flemish painters, like Bosch (El Bosco) and Rubens, and Italians of the renaissance, like Tinterello, Tiziano and Rafael. We spent over two hours in the Prado... lots of religious-inspired paintings.

The most famous paintings there were Las Meninas by Velazquez, which gives a glimpse into the life of royals, and is a much riffed painting by other artists like Picasso and Dali; the 2nd of May by Goya, which depicts the uprising and ultimate putdown of the Spanish against Napoleon, and upon which Picasso based his painting, Guernica; and other Goya paintings from his "dark" period, some of which were quite disturbing.

One of my favorite paintings was a painting by El Bosco (Bosch), "The Garden of Earthly Delights", a triptych depicting the birth of the world, the indulgences into earthly pleasures, and the resulting punishments of hell. The style was reminiscent of Dali, so Dali must have been influenced by Bosch's work. It was really quite a modern painting considering it had been painted in the 17th century.

Our tour took a while because we used the audio guide, which really does give insights into the painting and painters.

After the Prado, we struck out for lunch. I was determined to use a Rick recommendation, and after a short while, we found the restaurant, La Plateria Bar Museo. We had one of the best meals we've had on the trip. I ordered a cheese sandwich as a small tapas, and shared with Kurt and Phil. It was really really good. I had squid with black rice for my main course, and Phil and Kurt both had chorizo. All were delish. We polished off the meal with some coffees, and set out for our next museum.

The Sofia is a contrast to the Prado, devoting itself to purely modern art. Several salons showcase works by Dali, Picasso and Miro, so it was a nice compliment to what we had just seen at the Prado.

Picasso's Guernica, depicting an incident that happened during Spain's civil war, was displayed prominently in one of the galleries. This is quite an important painting in Spain. Adjacent to it was a series of photographs showing the Guernica being painted, and a series of studies by Picasso outlining individual elements of the painting, giving you some insights into how the painting was constructed.

There were some interesting Dali works there as well, a few of which I had never seen. The Miro gallery was also very good, although I really missed having an audio guide for this one. His paintings are so obtuse (to me) and symbolic, that the audio guide really helps clue you in to what the painting is supposed to mean. I still like looking at his works, even if I don't understand them!

We didn't see the entire 2nd floor, preferring to concentrate on the works of the artists we were familiar with. On the 4th floor of the museum were works by more recent artists. Very unusual works. We breezed through the 4th floor, admiring some and scratching our heads over others. After a quick visit to the gift shop, we left, having had our fill of museums for the day.

We walked back to our hotel through the Retiro Park, a large expanse of greenery near the Prado. It reminded me a lot of Central Park. Lots of people everywhere, strolling, running, taking their dogs for a walk, etc. There's a lake in the middle, and there were scullers rowing boats in the lake, and a crew team training.

By now it was dusk, so we walked to a Metro stop, and rode the few stops to our hotel. (Our hotel is directly next to a Metro stop which is quite convenient.)

After a brief rest, we went out to a forgettable pizza place for dinner, and then went over to another Rick recommended restaurant, Chocolateria San Gines, for a delicious round of churros con chocolate, which were quite good!

By now it was around 10:30 and it was time to go back to our hotel for the night.

On reflection, Madrid is not my favorite city. It is truly a city that never sleeps, but every place we've been is more like the hustle and bustle of NYC's theatre district or Times Square, rather than the sleepier neighborhoods of the upper west side, or the beautiful broad boulevards of the Eixample in Barcelona. Barcelona had far more variety than Madrid appears to have. Granted, I haven't had as much opportunity to see Madrid as I did Barcelona, but we have toured quite a bit of it (either by car, by taxi, or on foot), and so far, it wouldn't rate high on my list of cities to visit again. I'm hoping on Saturday we will discover a different Madrid.

Enough of Madrid for now. Tomorrow, Toledo!