The next stop on our Spain adventure was Madrid.Â We took the super-fast train from Barcelona and arrived 3 hours later to chilly Madrid.Â It was time to pull out the puffy jackets and gloves.Â Madrid was a bit of a whirlwind of sightseeing as we only had 1.5 days.Â
The vibe of the city felt much more formal than Barcelona, but also less touristy. It was nice to be forced to use my limited Spanish that I learned while in South America. It is fun to practice, and I do okay with a few things. I havenâ€™t screwed up yet and asked Cuantos Queso, like all over Bolivia😊 It is however a challenge when they speak back to me!
We spent the afternoon of our arrival with a journey into the art world. Our first stop was the Prado museum, which is one of Europeâ€™s best art museums with over 3,000 pieces to peruse. We took the highlight tour learning about Spainâ€™s greatest artists. A few of my favorites are below and of course NO FOTOS!
Valazquez â€“ Las Menias â€“ Wow, did I love this painting. We got a preview at the Picasso museum in Barcelona and saw his interpretation, so it was cool to see the original. I can see why he got inspiration from this piece and painted so many versions of his own. I really loved the perspective of this painting. It was like we were the ones being painted as we glanced into the room of our observers. The way he was able to create depth and interest was really awesome.
El Greco (the Greek) â€“ He was originally from Greece, but spent his life living in Spain. I really liked his use of colors and sheen to create depth and interest in the paintings. I enjoyed the realism of his paintings. He was my favorite of the day.
Goya â€“ We got to see many of his works as he evolved from a court portrait painter to scandalous nudes to his dark period. His most famous paintings depicted Madridâ€™s failed uprising against the French in May 1808.
After all the classical paintings, we decided to continue our journey into the modern art world by going to Centro de Art Reina Sofia. Again, NO FOTOS, so Iâ€™ll only write the quick highlights. As much as I try to enjoy modern art, it really isnâ€™t my thing.
Picassoâ€™s Guernica â€“ Wow big, impactful and impressive! It depicts a bombing on April 26, 1937 by the German air force to aid Frankoâ€™s take over. Picasso painted this to show the world the destructive force of the rising Fascist movement. In reality, this painting could be used to depict any war. It was very impactful showing the horrors and impact on the innocents. You could look at each figure individually and then all together to get the full picture.
Salvador Dali and Surrealism â€“ We saw several of his works, and I think I might have nightmares after looking at them. This was the period that you painted whatever was in your brain. Iâ€™m thinking Dali had some really dark thoughts! I was definitely not a fan, but I am glad we learned about this period.
After all the art, we really needed some wine! We headed to a little wine bar to enjoy a few local wines and of course a cheese/jamon sampler platter. The place had the perfect vibe with mostly locals. It was perfect for us to discuss our day in the art world and also just enjoy each otherâ€™s company.
The paseo is an evening ritual in Spain. Families and friends spend time together walking the pedestrian streets socializing before their late-night dinner. The streets are packed, and it is fun to see them come to life. We enjoyed this ritual by mixing in with the happy crowds on our evening walks.
On our second day in Madrid, we explored the city. I enjoyed the many plazas and the market that we saw along the way.
I also got to buy cookies from the nuns using a turn-style and talking through the screen. I had wanted to do this in South America, but it was closed. So, I was super excited to have the experience in Madrid. I got to practice my Spanish and enjoy the yummy half-kilo of lemon cookies for a few days!
The main highlight of the day was the Royal Palace. It was built in the 18th century and inspired by Versailles. The palace has 2,800 rooms covering 1.5 million square feet making it Europeâ€™s largest palace. The rooms are all lavish and over-the-top fancy. As I ascended the main staircase, I couldnâ€™t help but pretend that I was a fancy guest attending a royal event! A few of my favorites:
The Gala dining room was set up to entertain 144 guests. Each place setting was fully set and the table was gorgeous. They still use it for state dinners even though the monarchs no longer live in this palace. The chandeliers were incredible, and the space was grand. NO FOTOS!
The Stradivarius room is home to the only complete set of these instruments dating from 1650-1740. Each is worth $15M, so we were standing among $75M of stuff! There were 2 violins, 1 viola, and 2 cellos. They were beautifully decorated and were works of art. NO FOTOS!
Our eating highlight of the day was tacos! It is one of the hippest places in Madrid and reminded us of Por Que No from home. We lined up with the locals outside while waiting to order at the counter. We decided to sample each of the tacos and enjoyed a plate full of yummy goodness!
After 2 days of Madrid, we were ready to move on from the government head of country to the church capital of Spain, Toledo. It is a quick 30-minute train ride from Madrid, and most people just day trip. We decided to spend 2 nights here as a getaway from the cities.
The city is built on a hill overlooking the Tejo river. Throughout town, we enjoyed the views of the countryside that surrounded the town. The city is very intact with its tiny medieval lanes, walls and churches. When the king decided to move the capital to Madrid, Toledo was basically left alone–preserving its many charms.
We enjoyed exploring the small town. It is a bit like a maze but so small you really canâ€™t get lost. Throughout town, we could see Moorish influence for the first time with keyhole arches.
Marzipan, almond sweet, was invented in Toledo. The nuns make it and sell it through different shops. The shop windows are decorated with cool marzipan sculptures. We got 2 cookies each to try. I thought they were okay but not really my thing.
The main sight to see in Toledo is the cathedral. The entrance fee comes with a free audio guide. It was a good guide, but in a very dramatic British accent. The way Tah-LAY-doh was said made us laugh over and over while touring.
The church, built in 1226, is huge, and its footprint covers the entire site of the mosque that used to sit here. Since mosques are square in shape, the designers of this church had to change their designs from the standard long narrow nave to a wide nave. The center of the church is dominated with the choir and central altar, making it feel a little crowded. My favorite part was the Baroque piece behind the high altar added in the 1700â€™s. To help illuminate the altar, the architect deemed it necessary to cut a sky light in the dome overhead. I canâ€™t imagine being the guy cutting the hole, hoping the dome doesnâ€™t collapse. It didnâ€™t, and the result is awesome with the natural light making the gold glitter.
We knew after leaving Kaly, we would have a bit of a whirlwind last month in Europe. A faster pace of sightseeing is fun, but also leaves us tired and behind on our journals, blog and logistical planning. To help, we try to add extra days in smaller towns as catch up days. Toledo worked out to be a perfect town for a catchup day especially as we had a very rainy and gloomy second day!
One of my frustrations with Spain has been dealing with the Renfe website (their national train company). For some reason, it is very picky about payments by US cards. We quickly learned that it would not accept US credit cards but would accept debit cards. But then after purchasing 1 ticket, it wouldnâ€™t allow you to purchase another one with the same card! So, it was a battle to buy our tickets! It turned out to be also true with buying our museum passes for Seville as well. So although we had the afternoon to relax, we spent quite a bit of time dealing with frustrating logistics! Oh well, there are worse things and places to spend a rainy afternoon.
Madrid and Toledo were fun to explore and to continue to learn about Spanish history and arts. I enjoyed continuing our tapas and wine tour of Spain, and we are finally adjusted to the late eating schedule.