Posted by: vlibrizzi | July 10, 2009

Summer Road Trip: A New Perspective on Madrid, with a side trip to El Escorial and Segovia

As you could probably tell from my last post, I didn’t really love Madrid at first. Our apartment is in a pretty touristy and gritty neighborhood, and we hadn’t yet found good neighborhoods to experience the real madrileno lifestyle. 

Well, I’m happy to say, all that has changed.

And it all happened after C. was hit in the head by one of our wardrobe doors that mysteriously decided to fall on top of him as he was reading his book.

DSC_0637After that knock on the head, we decided that we needed to get out of our apartment, out of our gritty neighborhood, and start seeing what this city had to offer us….for better, or for worse.

So, on Wednesday, we started by visiting the Prado, Madrid’s most famous art museum, and one of the most famous museums in the world. We read in another person’s blog that she had spent over 7 hours in the Prado, and we laughed, thinking to ourselves, “How could anyone stay that long in a museum?!?”

Well almost 6 hours after we entered the Prado, we left, with aching feet and backs, but having had seen some of the most amazing pieces of art we had ever seen.

Joaquin Sorolla BastidaOur visit started with a special exhibit on Joaquin Sorolla, the Spanish painter from the early 20th century. We didn’t know much about him before the exhibit, but ended up loving his paintings many of which emphasized the Mediterranean lifestyle with boats and beaches (see one of his paintings, an image of which I found online, in the photo to the left). We liked his paintings so much that we ended up buying a few prints of his to hang in our bedroom in Belmar. I hope that’s ok, Mom and Dad 🙂

We then walked through the rest of the museum that has so many pieces of famous artwork to name. The highlight of the museum for me was Goya’s big May 2nd and 3rd, 1808, that I had first heard about in Spanish class back in high school. 

Later on that evening, we had dinner at a lovely Spanish restaurant called Sal Gorda. The waiters were dressed in suits, there were white tablecloths, and fine china…but the meal was really affordable and classically Spanish. We shared revuelto de huevos (a scrambled egg dish with crab meat in a spicy tomato sauce) for an appetizer. Then, for dinner I had my old favorite from our honeymoon in Italy (squid and rice in a black ink sauce) and C. had a yummy bacalao. We loved the food, and our new outlook on Madrid, so much that we sprung for dessert and I had arroz con leche while C. had a great apple tart. 

After dinner, we stopped in at a terraza (an outside bar) for a drink by the Parque del Oeste, and talked about how a bump on C.’s head had really set us on the right path again!

DSC_0650The next morning, we drove to El Escorial, the palace built by Spanish king Philip II at the height of Spain’s power. It was an austere building with not a lot of French-style ornamentation, but it was built during a time when Spain was the leading agent of the Counter Reformation so you can see that the building is meant to be intimidating (see photo to the left).

We visited the bedrooms of the kings and queens, the art museum, the map room with Spanish maps of what they thought the earth looked like in the 1500s (read: very big Europe and very tiny North America), and the Pantheon where all the Spanish kings and queens are buried (one side note, there’s no space left in the Pantheon for Spain’s current king and queen, Juan Carlos and Sofia, so no one knows where they will be buried!).

DSC_0648But the room that we liked the most was the royal library, which holds over 40,000 books in more than 10 languages, all of which are more than 400 years old (the oldest is from the 6th century).  But probably the most interesting part, which you can see in the front of the photo on the left, is the 16th century model of the solar system.  It looks okay until you get up close to see that all the planets and the sun are revolving around the Earth!  





DSC_0663Later on that afternoon, we drove to the town of Segovia which is famous for its Roman Aqueduct that is still in remarkable condition. We stopped for a bocadillo (sandwich) in town and then toured the city, visiting the cathedral, the main square, the Alcazar, and, of course, the aqueduct. 





DSC_0652Here’s a photo of me standing in the main square in Segovia.







DSC_0655And, here’s a photo of the streets in Segovia with the yellow and tan buildings.






DSC_0671And here’s a photo from the top of the hilly city looking down upon the cathedral.

Unfortunately, we had to leave Segovia pretty early to drive back to Madrid so that we could meet with a friend of mine from Boston who lives in Madrid. She is Spanish and grew up in Segovia, so C. and I loved getting the opportunity to catch up with her and talk about Spanish politics and policies over a few beers and some tapas. 

Later on (while I’m writing this, I realize that Thursday seems like a very long day!), we grabbed a late night drink in the Chueco neighborhood and watched the lively scene at 2 am! Something we’ve learned is that Madrid is a very late night city, with bars and restaurants staying open until early in the morning. For example, the terraza where grabbed a drink last night had a breakfast menu alongside their drink menu! 

DSC_0679Today, we woke up a bit late and then headed to the Thyssen museum (see C. in front of the museum in the photo to the left). We went to a special exhibit on Matisse’s middle period where he painted but also created quite a few scuptures. Then, after the special exhibit, we visited the rest of the museum which specializes in art ranging from the 14th century until modern time. The most impressive paintings to us, though, was their Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collection.




DSC_0677In particular, we loved seeing a few paintings of our home-away-from-home, Fontainebleau and Moret-sur-Loing, in photos by painters from the Barbizon school. You can see me standing next to a painting of Moret by Sisley at the Thyssen in the photo to the left.





DSC_0678And, we loved seeing photos of our new favorite city, San Sebastian. You can see C. standing next to a photo of San Sebastian (particularly La Concha, the main drag along the beach) in the photo to the left. 






DSC_0636We grabbed a very late lunch after visiting the museum at a great sandwich shop near the musuems called D.O.C.C.  As you can see, C. was being very Spanish and drinking some gazpacho.  And, now, we’re taking a short siesta before getting dressed up to go to the Spanish Opera, called the Zarzuela. 

Tomorrow, before we head to our next stop, Cordoba, we’re going to visit one last art museum in Madrid, the Reina Sofia. 

Sadly, we realized how great Madrid is too late in our trip to enjoy as much of it as we had hoped to, but I’m happy that we got out of our funk and went out exploring more. Unfortunately, it took a bump on C.’s head to get us to get our act together, but we’ll take it as a lesson learned.

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