Spain

Museo del Prado

Posted on April 20, 2016. Filed under: Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

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The Prado is one of the world’s greatest art museums.  It is a main reason to visit Madrid.  It houses masterpieces by Francisco de Goya, Diego Velázquez, El Greco, Titian, Peter Paul Rubens and Hieronymus Bosch.  A great thing about the Prado is that it is free to enter after 6:00p.m.  Because it was just a few blocks from where we were staying, this meant we could visit several times.

There will be a long line forming around 5:30, but if you get there about 6:15 you almost waltz right in!  Then you can see everything without paying the approximately $20 entrance fee they charge during the day.  We didn’t find it excessively crowded when we went at night,  but it was October, which is considered to be the shoulder season, transitioning from high to low.

The bad thing about the Prado is that they don’t allow photography.  I know it is to protect the artwork because many people can’t figure out how to turn off their flash and millions of flashes at artwork does have a detrimental effect.  But it still annoys me.  So I did steal one shot…

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This spectacular Sorolla masterpiece.   And the guard in the next room heard my shutter release and came running after me.  Ah…the excitement of being a criminal on the run!  Ah to be yelled at in Spanish!  A shrug and, “Lo siento…” and I am forgiven if in a disgusted voice.

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Barcelona’s Sagrada Família

Posted on December 20, 2015. Filed under: Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , |

Our first approach through a little park was not a surprise as we were eagerly looking for the façade to come into view…

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But the magnificence was already apparent.  Begun in 1882, and designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926), the building is still under construction.  Cranes are busy all over the place.  And when we got closer we could see the line that stretched all around the entire city block on which the building sits.

In my view, it is foolish to stand in that line, wasting a whole day of your vacation!  We learned our lesson at Park Güell from 2 days prior.  After that bad experience of waiting too long to get in, I came back to our apartment to research buying tickets online.  I was glad I did because the wait was 2 days for online tickets!  It did make me a little nervous because I had never done this before and I had no way to print out the tickets I bought.  I found out this is unnecessary as they will scan your phone at the entrance and you are on your way.  We did have to find the proper entrance for this, but it wasn’t too hard to do that and we had arrived plenty early for our entry time slot so we weren’t too bothered.  We bought tickets for entry and for the elevator up the towers.  So, visiting this cathedral went off without a hitch for us.

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I am putting a lot of photos in this post, but I have to just accept that they are so inadequate.  I have been in a lot of European cathedrals, all magnificent in their own way, but this place actually took my breath away when I entered.  It seemed otherworldly to me, and so special, yes, I would say holy.  Holy means set apart and completely unique.  These are perfect descriptions of this space.

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The rainbow windows and soaring, plant-like pillars created these otherworldly effects.

Don’t miss the museum in the basement showing how the building was designed.  You can look into the workshop where they are still carving stone too.

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After this, the bus back home for fresh fish from the market for dinner.  What a great day!

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Casa Batlló, Barcelona

Posted on December 8, 2015. Filed under: Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , |

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We passed by on the bus in the morning.  The line outside snaked around and wasn’t moving at all.  I made a mental note to check on it when we passed on our return because, of course, we had to see  Casa Batlló, one of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpiece apartment buildings from 1904.

This is another time to buy tickets online, but, happily we discovered that late in the afternoon the line disappears and you can waltz right in (at least in November.)  So we squeezed an audio tour in at the end of our day.  Of course this place is more magnificent in person than any pictures I’d ever seen of it.

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Whenever we tour historic homes I love to imagine living there.  This apartment was so unusual it was a little hard to do.  It would have been quite an oddball in its day.

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And yet, the attention to things like light and airflow would have made it more comfortable than most dwellings.

 
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And the beautiful lines, colors and details are everywhere.  Door handles are molded from human hands and even the servants’ quarters and roof are part of the design.
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This was a great way to close out our long day of Antoni Gaudí’s work.

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Barcelona’s Park Güell

Posted on December 5, 2015. Filed under: Spain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , |

DSC07438We did some things right and some things wrong.  Isn’t that always the case when you are traveling by your own wits?  It’s also part of the adventure.  Our first full day in Barcelona I was itching to get to the famous Park Güell, designed by  Antoni Gaudí, the famous modernist architect in 1900 to serve a small community of well-off society.  It had grown larger than life in my imagination and I wanted to sit on those undulating, mosaicked benches!

We proudly hopped on a city bus to take us to the north into very residential areas.  This is always fun.  You get to see how people actually live in a place, not just the busy tourist areas.  Also, the number of tourists on these buses are usually low and those that are there are like us, and we often meet interesting, adventurous people!  Also, it’s a bit nerve-wracking because, “Yikes!  How will we know where to get off!  And how does one indicate to the driver to stop?  And how do you get the door to open!?”  All these things get figured out in a snap, sometimes with and sometimes without help of local passengers.

When you unload you are a bit rattled from the experience, but also gratified that, indeed, you used the bus to arrive!  Ok, so we got to the entrance and found out that we made a big mistake.  Here is my proclamation for you if you are going to Barcelona (even in the supposed low season, which I don’t think really exists):  Use your smartphone to make reservations at all Gaudí sites unless you go very, very late in the day except for the cathedral for which you absolutely should have reservations in advance.

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We had to wait in line for an hour in the hot sun to get a ticket which gave us an entrance time 2 hours later.  So we killed 3 hours of our first day in Barcelona waiting around at the entrance to the park.  If I had just gotten the tickets on my telephone we could have waltzed right in.  It is very easy to go on the websites of these sites and purchase tickets.  Then you just show your phone and they scan it.  Boom, done.

Ok, so I can learn!  But for this day we were stuck.  There was nowhere to go, really, and the vendors at the entrance knew they had us.  Sky high prices for ice cream, water, and soda.  And, although it was October, it was hot in the sun, so we did spring for some water.  When we finally got in it was worth it, of course, there is no place like this anywhere in the world!  I felt as though I was inside a piece of art.

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In spite of the tickets and specific entrance times, it was quite crowded.  We had to wait in a line of sorts to get that photo of us with the lizard fountain.  The good part, though, is how all the various tourists from literally everywhere help each other out taking pictures for each other.  This simple act always warms my heart.

That morning I had thoughts of seeing the park in the morning and the cathedral in the afternoon.  Ha!  I knew that wasn’t happening, but we did pass Casa Batlló on the way to the park.  The line for that stretched very, very far.  But now, later in the day, I wondered what that line would look like.  Next time I’ll tell you about Casa Batlló!

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Barcelona Food Fair

Posted on July 9, 2015. Filed under: Just Fun, Spain | Tags: , , , , , , |

Spain food fest 2Olives!  Oh my!  On our first day in Barcelona we headed out on foot to see what we could see.  Almost right away we ran into a festive food fair with everything from artisanal cheeses and beers to huge crusty loaves of bread to this vendor of Spanish olive varietals.  I must admit I didn’t even know that olives came in orange!  For €1 we received the tumbler of olives with the toothpick AND a small tin of Malden salt.  Each type had a distinct flavor and texture.  What fun!

Before we were through we also had a fruit smoothie made only of fruit, luscious cheesecake without a crust (what a great idea), and locally produced beers.

Ok, although crowded, we were beginning to settle into Barcelona!

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Eating in Barcelona

Posted on June 26, 2015. Filed under: Food Made Simple, Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Spain Tapas 1Tapas in Barcelona are definitely designed for the tourists.  Everything has a toothpick in it.  Grab a plate take what you want, save the toothpicks.  When finished take the plate with the toothpicks back and they charge you accordingly.  It’s a good system, the bites are interesting and not too expensive, if a little contrived, everything on top of a piece of white bread.  Madrid’s tapas bars were definitely less polished, more like actual little local joints where each specialized in something special and delectable.  Barcelona’s tapas were pretty much the same no matter which place we chose.

Our first day or 2 we did quite a bit of eating at these places.  But we were hungry for some authenticity.  And we had a whole kitchen back at the apartment!  We started scoping out markets.  Of course we went to La Boqueria on las ramblas, probably the most famous market in Barcelona.  We took the guidebook’s advice and avoided the sellers near the entrance to get deep into the place and find the less tourist-oriented merchants.

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We found the discount-fishmonger there.  If you would buy the whole piece of whatever fish he had you would get an amazing price!  It took a bit of stretching my knowledge of Spanish to get this understanding, but once my brain connected the dots we cashed in.  So for 2 nights in a row we went and bought the whole hunk of tuna the guy had.  For about $20 we gorged on fresh tuna for several meals!  It was a fun find.

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Bullet Train to Barcelona!

Posted on June 23, 2015. Filed under: Just Fun, Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , |

We sprung for first class from Madrid to Barcelona on the high-speed AVEBullettrainbarcelona

train.  For the extra $20 or so we had a little plusher seats and our own electrical outlets to recharge our devices.  Since we don’t fly first class it seemed like an affordable treat.  We seemed to fly to Barcelona from Madrid, making the trip in about 2.5 hours at right near 200 mph!  It was truly exhilarating to watch the Spanish countryside whizzing by.  It was a much different view than we had just had of the big city.

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When we arrived and settled into our apartment we headed out for tapas.  We were quick to discover Barcelona is very different than Madrid.  It was the end of October and the place was jammed packed with tourists.  This was a little overwhelming to us.  We purposely travel off-season or almost off-season to try to avoid the crowds.  I wonder if Barcelona ever really has such a time.

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Museo Sorolla, Madrid

Posted on March 3, 2015. Filed under: Art, Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Sorollahouse2On our last full day in Madrid we hiked from our apartment near the Prado Museum to the Museo Sorolla.  It took awhile and we had to ask directions from a parking maid as we got closer.  She was amazingly helpful and friendly.  She spoke almost no English so we limped along in my rusty Spanish.  She pulled out extra paper from her little ticket machine, turned it over, and drew a map!  After that we got there with almost no trouble.  It’s tricky because the building is the former home and studio of 20th-century painter Joaquin Sorolla (1862-1923) and so it is located right in the middle of a block in a residential section of Madrid.

This, of course, makes it very interesting.  I always like to have a walk amid the places the real people of a place live.  This lovely old home/studio was designed to the artist’s specifications with a huge ceiling of skylights in the studio.  There is nothing, afterall, better than natural light for just about any kind of work, but especially for artwork.  This whole little jaunt was a serendipitous affair.  We saw Sorolla’s masterpiece of boys playing in the ocean surf at the Prado.  Then we discovered this museum existed here and we decided to go!  Often, these jaunts make for the best travel memories/experiences.

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It was wonderful to see so many of his works as well as the home in almost the same condition as when he lived here complete with Tiffany chandelier, sculpture and jars of his paintbrushes.  The property became a museum right after Sorolla’s widow’s death so it is very untouched.  And the tiny garden is as beautiful as the building itself.

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I was most fascinated by how he captured light and water in these paintings.  There is also a small alcove in the studio where lots and lots of tiny paintings are displayed.  I really wanted to come home and experiment with tiny paintings after seeing this.  It’s still on the list, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

 

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Art in Madrid’s Streets

Posted on February 17, 2015. Filed under: Art, Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

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Yes, you are just walking along in Madrid and wham!  There happens to be some monumental piece of art right there.  Why not put an enormous lizard made out of CDs on the side of a building?  I wonder how they talked the people in those rooms to give up their windows.  Or why not install a bronze frog the size of a small house on the sidewalk? Madrid street art 2

Madrid street art 3Here we are on Calle del Arenal, a huge pedestrian corridor that hosts many live art performances.  Madrid loses its stuffy capital city ambiance when you walk the streets and observe the creativity that permeates this place.

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The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza in Madrid

Posted on January 2, 2015. Filed under: Art, Spain | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza 1We didn’t know much about the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza before we got to Madrid.  We had no idea it is a private collection that was sold to Spain.  It’s quite a huge breadth of material, from very early medieval work like this famous Hans Holbein, the younger’s portrait of Henry VIII from 1543 to very modern work.  The beginning of the museum where there are many rooms of medieval work can make your eyes go buggy unless that is your thing, so we hurried through some of that.

We always play a game in art museums we call, “What I Would Take Home.”  My selection was the Degas pastel, “Race Horses in a Landscape,” from 1894.

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Vincent van Gogh, The Stevedores in Arles, 1888

Bill had a hard time as there were so many interesting artworks from which to choose.  The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is known as the museum which houses great paintings by lesser artists and lesser paintings by great artists.  We found this to be true as the Van Goghs and Monet were clearly not their best, but still very, very interesting to see.  These were, perhaps, experiments and you can still see the genius in such works, maybe more so because you haven’t seen images of these many times.

I was thrilled to see a few Georgia O’Keefe’s I’d never seen before.  I also got to see paintings by Magritte, de Kooning, Pollack, Mondrian, Hopper and the first time I’d ever seen a Clyfford Still.

The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza is definitely worth a visit!

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