I have to admit I am not an aficionado of modern art so I was a bit dubious about our first port of call, the Museo Reina Sofia, the Spanish National Museum of Modern Art where Picasso’s famous Guernica resides. The building itself is stark and unprepossessing and was formerly a hospital, but has a lovely interior courtyard.
We arrived well before opening time with our ‘skip the line tickets’, expertly organised by Sergio from AC Palacio del Retiro, and we were soon inside, heading straight towards the Guernica, before the crowds arrived. It is a large and moving piece, mainly greys, blacks and whites. While I confess to not understanding many of the works we saw, Picasso’s work resonated and I think I “got it.” The agony on the faces of the participants is clearly evident, depicting as it does the annihilation of the Basque village of Guernica, when it was bombed by the Nazis and Fascist Italians. We stood for some time contemplating the work, before moving on to explore the other modern art on offer.
I am afraid the works we saw did nothing to make me admire modern art works, in general. Obviously some do appeal and for me this is mainly to do with colour, but for the most part, the intention and meaning of the artist escapes me. Nevertheless, we did see as much as we could before we ventured on to our next appointment – the Royal Palace. No photography is allowed in Reina Sofia so I cannot show you the types of works we viewed.
The Reina Sofia is close to the Atocha train station, the largest railway station in Madrid and a very impressive building which Cecil had recommended we visit. I was surprised by the greenhouse-like interior concourse where a tropical garden thrives. There is even a little pool with baby tortoises – very cute!
Cecil had implied that there were good places to eat there, but we were not tempted, so after a quick coffee we caught a taxi to the Mercado de San Miguel which we had seen the previous day with Cecil. It had intrigued us as we had spied some very tempting sweet treats there, but it was as busy as it had been the previous day, so we chose to eat in the shade at restaurant beside the market.
Taxis are cheap in Spain and the Royal Palace, the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family (but now only used for state occasions) was a bit far to walk, so we took the easy route. Sergio had obtained tickets to The Palace for us, but they had to be validated at the Tourist Office which entailed a walk in the hot sun before we could enter, but we did see some pretty cute shops along the way.
With our validated tickets we were able to skip the line and enter, having gone through a security check first. The enormous courtyard offers a great view of the Palace Facade, and also to the Cathedral which we had visited the previous day.
The palace is impressive, but understated compared to Versailles for instance, and sadly no photography is allow, beyond the Grand Staircase. It offers a glimpse of daily life of the Spanish Royal family, both past and present. It contains some great art works, and Frances and I were particularly interested in how certain artists had depicted clothing of the day. The clothing of the female members of the Royal family was obviously lavish – velvets, silks and laces were painted with such artistry that you could virtually feel the textures of the fabric – this is the kind of art I understand, and because of that, it will remain a memorable visit.
Phil and I were eager to have a coffee at a place recommended by Cecil – Pasteleria Mallorca in Calle de Serrano, quite near to our hotel. Cecil was right – there was a wonderful array of both savoury and sweet food to choose from. We managed to snaffle a table and proceeded to selected sweet treats from the cabinet – delicious and the coffee was great too. We sat in the window, watching as a waiter moved among the tables outside, tray in hand, offering selections to diners – very civilised!
Before returning to the Hotel, we took a further walk in the irresistible Buen Retiro Park, as there was much we still had not seen. It is so pretty currently, with many trees covered with burnished leaves, the harbinger of autumn.
We found the Palacio de Cristal and hoped to get inside, but it was being set up for an exhibition.
The Park reminds me of the Jardin de Luxembourg. It is immaculately maintained, huge, well-patronised, and full of locals – happy family groups, young lovers, older couples walking hand in hand, and of course, tourists like us.
We decided to push the boat out for our last dinner in Madrid and we dined at the lovely Bistro a block or so away. The interior decor, was plush and colourful and quite quirky. Our waiter was attentive but not obtrusive and had a great sense of humour. The food was high quality and we felt the evening was a fitting way to celebrate our last night in a city which appealed so much to all of us.