Wednesday, November 27 (Day 6)
Highlights: City Tour Bus, Reina Sofia Museum, Retiro Park, Circulo de Bellas Artes, Real Madrid match
Though already in town a few days, I decided to start the day on the City Tour bus (or hop-on hop-off bus). I started with Route 2, which begins at the Prado museum, then goes north along Paseo de Castellana until it gets to Santiago Bernabeu stadium. From there it does a loop, then goes south on Avenida Serrano through the Salamanca district. There wasn’t much of interest that I hadn’t already seen, but it was nice to be able to sit for a while and enjoy this part of the city. I wanted to save my energy for a visit later in the morning to the Museo Reina Sofia. When the bus arrived at Puerta del Sol, I got off, walked to Vodafone Sol metro station and took the subway to Atocha. There are two Atocha stations—(Atocha Renfe and Atocha— the latter is the one you want to get to the Reina Sofia museum). When I emerged out of Atocha station, it took me a few minutes to get my bearings as I initially walked north toward the Hotel Nacional (which has a beautiful facade) and up Atocha street—hence in the opposite direction I needed to go. Then, instead of walking south, I crossed Paseo del Prado and walked Calle Claudio Moyano on the southern end of the Retiro Park. It’s a nice a street with several used and new book stands. I spent a few minutes perusing the books in one of them, and then figured out how to get to the Reina Sofia museum.
Like most visitors, I was at the Reina Sofia to see the Guernica painting, which is located on the second floor. But I started first on the 4th floor and worked my way down. Though intrigued by the principles that guided the surrealist school, especially its intellectual revolt against modernity, I can’t say that I’m a big fan of it, aesthetically speaking. And that school, along with other forms of modern and post-modern art dominates much of the collection. Dali, Ernst, Lam, Miro, Picasso and many other 20th century artists are represented here. The museum has also a collection of cinematic essays, and several of these are shown simultaneously throughout the museum. If had had the luxury of another week in Madrid, I might have returned to see some of these and learn more about this form of artistic expression. When I arrived in Room 206, I witnessed the Guernica painting, and was shocked at how large it was: 11 x 25 feet! There were 15-20 people studying it when I was there. I spent a few minutes observing this masterpiece, and then moved on to see the rest of the collection on the second floor. The museum’s main bookstore has several inexpensive but good books on the Spanish Civil War that relate to art, photography and propaganda, and which therefore complement well Guernica and other works in the museum. The structure that houses most of the collection, the Sabatini building, was once a hospital dating back to the 18th century. You get a sense of that as you walk through some of its corridors. Two modern glass elevators make it easy to go up and down the museum.
Following the visit to Reina Sofia, I walked back in the direction of Paseo del Prado and once again jumped on the City Tour bus—this time Route 1. Again, there wasn’t much I hadn’t seen already, but it was still nice to be able to sit and enjoy the sights. Going down Gran Via was fun and it enabled me to study some of the buildings that dominate this avenue. When the bus completed its route, I got off and walked to the Retiro Park. I had been in Madrid six days at this point and had not yet been to the park! For some reason, I had low expectations of it. I had read some of the tripadvisor reviews and was prepared to be underwhelmed. I wasn’t. I entered the park on Calle Alfonso XII, a couple of blocks to the east of the Prado museum. I then walked along Paseo de la Argentina. The landscape is gorgeous, with statues and beautiful trees lining some of main walkways inside the park. The royal influence is quite notable with some of the sculptures and gardens, as the park once served as the retreat for monarchs and aristocrats before it was made available to the public in the second half of the 18th century. I walked to the Crystal Palace, then to the monument of Alfonso XII, which is the one situated in front of the lake that one so often sees in guide books. In my view, the park is more beautiful than its counterparts in London (Hyde and the others in central London), Amsterdam (Vondelpark), and Berlin (Tiergarten). It was nice to escape the hustle and bustle of Madrid for a while and the Retiro Park offered just that opportunity.
After spending about 90 minutes in the park, I walked back with the intention of going to the observation deck of the Palacio de Correos but was there at a bad time as they had closed for an official ceremony of some sort. My next choice was the Circulo de Bellas Artes. I was drawn to the Circulo for two reasons. One is the temporary exhibit of Franco era photographs (through January 12, 2014) and the other was the observation deck on the 7th floor of the building. Both were outstanding. Each has a separate admission fee, or you can buy a combo ticket, which I did. There are other collections in the building as well, but I didn’t have time to see these. The exhibits close for 3 hours in the afternoon, so it’s important to check the schedule beforehand.
After eating dinner at home (I had some jamon serrano with wine), I showered to re-energize myself, then took a taxi to Bernabeu Stadium for that night’s game against Galatasaray. The taxi from Puerta del Sol to Bernabeu only cost 12 euro. I had done the Bernabeu tour earlier in the week, so was already familiar with the stadium itself. I had no problem picking up the ticket that I had purchased online earlier in the week. The atmosphere was electric. The visiting team, from Turkey, had drawn a number of its fans to the game, and I could hear Turkish being spoken a lot as I walked around the stadium soaking up the energy of that night’s event. After buying a Real Madrid scarf, I entered the stadium to find the seat, and waited with a great deal of anticipation for the match. The game itself was very entertaining. Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos was given a red card early in the game, and the local team therefore played a man down the entire match. But Real Madrid still won the game 4-1, with three of the goals coming in the second half. It was a lot of fun, and I was glad to be able to witness soccer (futbol) at this high level. The only negative was the cold. It was bloody cold, just like it had been at the Atletico Madrid game the previous Saturday. When the match ended, I hurriedly walked to the Bernabeu metro station, looking forward first and foremost to the warmth I would encounter underground. I don’t think I could have endured another 15 minutes outside, even though I was bundled up pretty well. The metro station was packed, as one would imagine after the game, but after 30 minutes or so, I was finally able to get on the subway and head home. Day 6 had been a great day. Now I had to get some rest and get ready for Day 7, which would be devoted exclusively to the city of Segovia.