Madrid, with Jimmy Buck, My Guide from Afar

In Photo, Spain, Travel 2011 on April 2, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Oh, another whirlwind in another city.

I must admit, doing London in less than 24 hours wasn’t a huge hassle for me. Before this year, I had been twice before. I had seen the major high points and basically knew what I was getting into.

Madrid in less than 24 hours? Not so much.

Don’t get me wrong, it a beautiful city, and I certainly did enjoy my very short time there, but it definitely deserves a bit more of my attention. . Perhaps after I learn a little more Spanish.

Before heading to essentially the middle of Spain, I consulted one of my very best friends, Jimmy Buck. Jimmy and I went to the same university. He studied abroad in Sydney the semester before I did and then moved back nearly two years ago. I miss him very much, but we, obviously, keep in close contact.

Like me, he did two semesters abroad during uni. His first semester was in
Madrid. So I sent him and email:

“one day in Madrid. Direct me to churros”

Which he did, with a few other invaluable suggestions.

Unfortunately, I had to go to the train station to sort out some reservations to get me through the next leg of my travels. So I spent a good half the morning at Charmatin attempting to handle the language barrier gracefully. I do NOT wish everyone spoke English. I simply wish I spoke everything.

Anyway, between my efforts and the patience of the nice man at the ticket counter, I successfully snagged all the reservations I needed to get me on my way and all the way to Paris, where I will be reuniting with another two of my very best friends! However, if anyone is thinking of using a Eurail pass on a similar trip, I urge you to do your research. I actually don’t think it’s the best way to go. If you have any questions, flick them in the comments or visit my website and send me and email. Happy to discuss.

After my bit of morning success, a relief since they were reservations I wanted to make in Portugal but couldn’t because they were on strike, I happily made my way to, shocking, a couple art museums.

Jimmy had recommend, as any good guide would, the Reina Sofia and the Museo del Prado. The Prado houses Spain’s most extensive collection and the Reina Sofia, a contemporary museum, is known for its collection of Dali’s and Picasso’s, including Guernica.

I have to say, walking past the numerous selections from Picasso’s ouvre, I had the thought that I think many people have when looking at his work: “Well that’s weird.” Then I stumbled onto Guernica. First of all the room in which it’s displayed has a bit of excitement around it as security noticeably increases and people all seem to gravitate in one direction. Then, there it is, a simply remarkably enormous masterpiece in black and gray. It really is a bit overwhelming and shockingly interesting to look at. I have to say, not being much of a Picasso fan, I’m surprised by how much I liked it.

Around the exhibition of the piece itself are other works by Picasso including sketches and canvases painted in preparation for Guernica. And almost as interesting, are sketches another artist composed of Guernica as it was being produced. These rooms really gave a perspective to the soul and effort that Picasso put into his opus.

Much to my delight, also at the Reina Sofia, they also had quite a few exhibits displaying cinema installations – some from contemporary artists, sort of a throw back to film in it’s original form as simply a non-narrative moving picture, and then some of the original clips exploring movement done by the Lumiere brothers. They even had an old Buster Keaton clip.

When I got to the Prado, I started to think about the clips in a new light. I didn’t, and still don’t, know very much about art in Spain, but one thing i did learn is that they were masters of historical paintings. Usually I find these quite boring, but the works are so massive and dramatic and detailed: Queen Isabella dictating her will from her death bed, two ill-fated lovers who died of broken hearts, various massacres, stories of saints. It really is a way to get a picture of the stories that make up this culture’s past and I enjoyed reading each of the narratives that went along with the canvases.

It got me thinking about art in general and how it develops and what makes it art. For example, the cinema installations in the Reina Sofia: Relatively they are not that old, but they are becoming the best representations of what life was like when they were made – a dancing woman, a card party, a woman having tea. I’ve seen a number of photography exhibits, certainly one in Dublin that was simply a record, portraits of different people in different places in life – old, young, upper class, office workers, laborers, etc.

It’s easy to get caught up in ideas of grandeur when it comes to art. So I enjoyed my revelation that quite a bit of art is created to preserve and present stories of a time that may otherwise be forgotten.

After a busy trip through two museums, I did what apparently most everyone does at about four o’clock. I sat in a park, listened to whatever Spanish guitarist was nearby (there’s always one) and read a book – The Alchemist. If you haven’t read it, do so now. I can’t think of a better way to soak up bit of Madrid, and work up a bit of an appetite for my two most anticipated stops.

I’ve had a bit of a realization that I don’t just like food, I happen to love food. I also happen to think you can experience quite a bit of a culture through food, if you know where to look.

So, again at Jimmy’s suggestion, I went in search of a Museo de Jamon and San Gines, apparently the place for churros.

A Museo de Jamon was not difficult to find on account of the fact they are everywhere. Basically, at first glance, it looks like a butcher. It is, but that’s only half of it. Walk in, and there’s a bar with people standing around it, much like any other pub you’ve been in. However, instead of ordering a beer, you can get a croissant with ham and cheese, or a baguette with ham, or chorizo, or pretty much any other meat you see hanging from the ceiling. I snagged a croissant with ham and cheese and a coke. An added bonus? All drinks come with a little chorizo tapas. So I got a little unexpected extra and enjoyed every bit of it. Best part, €1 for the sandwich, €1 for the drink. So make it a must if you’re ever in Madrid on a budget.

My second stop was a little more of a wild goose chase, but much to my delight victorious and completely worth it. I followed Jimmy’s directions to go to the Sol metro stop and look for it nearby. Luckily I picked the correct street to walk down and happened to peek down the correct alley to see the red lit sign. To be honest, I think it was destiny.

San Gines is one of those rare eateries where you see tourists and locals. It’s just so good, that everyone goes there, and I’m pretty sure the waiters don’t even listen when you order. They already know what you want: churros with chocolate.

They come out, long, crispy and golden, shaming any poor excuse you’ve ever had at a carnival or a state fair, accompanied by what, at first looks like a cup of coffee; but no, it is liquid, dark chocolate with a couple sugar packets so you can sweeten to your liking. Being a bit of a sugar addict (working on it), I dumped one packet in, and it was enough. Delectable to say the very least.

Must say, I’m calling it an early night on account of a very big travel day tomorrow – all the way to Marrakech via train, ferry and then overnight train. Here’s hoping that it all goes smoothly and that the very little French I had in the first place comes back to me as I need it.

A few pictures from Madrid below (I’ve gotten a bit slack in the photo department. Will do better!)

Reina Sofia – the contemporary museum and home to Guernica.

My own personal soundtrack for Madrid – well mine and the hundreds of others laying in the sun.

Churros! Go here if you are in Madrid.


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