SPAIN: Day 2 – Rambling ‘Round Madrid


Velasquez in front of the Prado

TRUE TO MY WORD, I did all that I set out to do today in Madrid – the flea market and Plaza Mayor in the morning, the Botanic Garden and the Prado in the afternoon. Everything came up a bit short. As Buddhist monks say, “Expectation brings disappointment.”


The Plaza Mayor, above, is a unified 17th century square of great architectural integrity but no great beauty. I’d rate Brussels’ Grand’Place, Paris’ Place des Vosges, Rome’s Piazza Navona, and Cracow’s market square far above it. Perhaps I’ve traveled too much and am jaded. Or maybe I’m just a crotchety old lady.

El Rastro, the flea market, had the same stuff you’d see anywhere in the world – mostly scarves and bags from Nepal, far as I could tell. Nothing handcrafted, nothing old. Unless I was in the wrong place.

The Real Botanic Garden – Real as in Royal – is probably much lovelier and more colorful and fragrant in a month other than January. It was peaceful, that I will say.


And how can I admit I wasn’t thrilled by the Prado, above, for godssakes? I visited the Goyas, Velasquezes, and El Grecos, and strolled through some of the rest. Because of the breadth of the holdings, I now have a good sense of what each contributed to the history of painting, and it was a quantum leap in each case. Velasquez in the 17th century did his share of aristocratic bread-and-butter portraits, and the only crucifixion scene I’ve ever actually liked, against a surreal black background. El Greco’s acid colors and elongated forms took standard Bible scenes and made them almost psychedelic – 400 years ago.

Not being a devout Catholic, the religious works, which make up most of the Prado’s holdings, don’t move me particularly. Much of the rest is military in nature — battle scenes, group portraits of militias, historical scenes of surrender and execution – dark, gory, scary, depressing. So my visit to the Prado wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as yesterday’s sojourn at the Thyssen-Bornemisza, amongst the pretty secular art.


Irvina and I had dinner at a fun place called Los Gatos (The Cats). It hit the spot. We had a huge salad with tuna, olives, roasted peppers, and tomatoes; langoustines in the shell; and a plate of manchego cheese, washed down with a white Rueda at 3.50 euros/glass. No complaints there.


“Living wall” spotted after I took a wrong turn out of my hotel

Tomorrow, onto Seville via the high-speed AVE train that will, I expect, put the American railroad system to shame.

About cara

I blog (for fun) here at casaCARA, and write (for money) about architecture, interiors, gardens and travel for many national magazines and websites.
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7 Responses to SPAIN: Day 2 – Rambling ‘Round Madrid

  1. Mary-Liz says:

    Is that a photo of a living green wall?? You didn’t comment on that! It looks incredible!!

  2. BrooklynGreene says:

    Sounds like you’re having a nice time. Was last in Spain the early-ish 90’s I think it was…ugh…and actually took the Ave from Atocha which had just been finished a short time beforehand. Right up from Atocha, Lavapies, where we were staying with a long-time friend, was still just “up-and-coming”. I understand it has upped-and-been at this point.

    There are some out of the way places in Seville that are very interesting. There’s an elaborate old mansion that is a museum I’d suggest but can’t remember the name (of course). One thing, keep a lookout for white pigeons. There used to be enough of them there to make an impression. I guess it’s too early for the orange trees to bloom. If you have the energy, definitely walk all the up the cathedral tower which is the original mosque minaret. Fascinating.

    By the way, has the weather been cold? Looks nice and sunny from your photos.

    Are you getting to Cordoba and Toledo?

    Bored in Brooklyn!

  3. cara says:

    ML, yes, that’s what it is – saw it unexpectedly after taking a wrong turn out of my hotel! It’s very varied – got about a hundred different things growing from it. BG, Cordoba, yes, Toledo, no – but saw El Greco’s view of it yesterday in the Prado (not the most famous one, that must be elsewhere, but a view).

  4. Quinn says:

    That living wall is astonishing!

  5. BrooklynGreene says:

    Cordoba. Great! I envy you. The mosque/cathedral is incredible and go to the synagogue. I’m sure you’re planning on it. Both are gorgeous and moving. By the way, that green wall is by that French guy. I can’t remember his name off hand. He does great installations but I wonder how they end up looking in a year without a lot of maintenance. At least, let’s hope, they’re deer-proof!

  6. Glad to hear El Rastro isn’t that great. We missed it on our trip and Ive felt robbed ever since.

  7. Janice Cox says:

    I loved the green wall, perhaps I should grow one on my house and I won’t have to paint it any more! It is fabulous!

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