I love museums. Anyone that has ever read my ramblings probably knows that.
The hubs has a deep appreciation for beauty (of course he does!) but was never an art-loving person until we started traveling together. He will choose every time the view from Inspiration Point in Bryce Canyon over Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Bernini’s St. Theresa, Giotto’s frescos in the Assisi Basilica, Michelangelo’s Pietá or El Greco’s Entierro del Conde de Orgaz.
Yes, he has seen them all… though I’m sure he does not even remember. I’m going to go and guess that he can probably identify a Caravaggio among several paintings by now. Over the last twenty years he has learned to enjoy museums in small doses. Mostly because he loves me.
Since compromise is key to a happy marriage and successful travel companionship, museum visits are kept to reasonable limits when we are together: No marathon visits and specifically no 2-Museums-Days.
(Of course, I do both things anyway, we just find a place where he can comfortably sit and enjoy his beer and watch the world go by as I wander the hallowed halls. Compromise, people. COMPROMISE.)
When I fell in love with the Sorolla and Fashion exhibit at the namesake museum, I had to find a slot within The Spreadsheet to fit in the Thyssen-Bornemisza. After much reshuffling trying to protect that pesky daytrip to Alcalá, it became obvious. Day 4 was going to have to be one of those infamous 2-Museums-Day.
But this was MY trip! I was entirely schedule it however I wanted without any kind of compromise. Oh, the joys of solo traveling!
I got an early start, grabbed a quick cup of coffee, purchased the entrance tickets, and was waiting for my entry time within an hour of waking up.
Joaquín Sorolla was a Valencian painter born in the late 1800s. He is known for his outstandingly luminous landscapes and beautiful portraits, especially those of his family. As a financially successful artist -and a bit of a fashionista- he was able to cloth his wife and daughters in beautiful gowns freshly off the needles of Parisian seamstresses.
The ‘Sorolla y la Moda‘ exhibit focuses on his portrait work, ranging from formal poses of royals and socialites to endearing long-stroke studies of his children at the beach. All the paintings showcased have been matched with actual objects closely resembling the ones worn by the models.
There are many articles on loan from the Paris Museum of Fashion and Textiles. A place I will now make a point of visiting next time I’m in that city.
If I was impressed by the smaller collection as the Sorolla Museum, the one at the Thyssen absolutely blew my mind. Though I’m not a fashion aficionada by any means, I can recognize artistry when I see it. The fabrics, the design, the cutting, the sewing, the lacemaking, the embroidery . Simply fascinating. And kudos to the curators for assembling such a well-crafted exhibit.
Though the evening gowns and military uniforms were interesting, the morning and daytime ensembles were my favorites. White cotton and linen blouses, tiny mother-of-pearl buttons, handmade lace, hats, shoes, fans, parasols .
(I love all this vintage clothes but I’m very grateful for the super comfortable, stretchable, no ironing, quick drying clothes that I usually wear.)
Fine, I’m sure you get it, I LOVED the exhibit. Worth every second, penny, and the potential sacrifice of a day trip to Alcalá.
It is worth mentioning that the no-pictures policy was strictly enforced; something I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I love looking at my old travel pictures and miss having these highlight-places missing from my collection. On the other hand, not taking pictures at all opens the senses and makes me pay closer attention.
AND I’m a sucker for rule-following. Can’t help it, I’m trying to grow out of it but I’m still a stickler. Drives my Swiss husband crazy. Go figure. So, no pictures of the Sorolla dresses.
I openly admit that the only reason I went into the Louis Vuitton exhibit was because I had the ticket. And I had the ticket only because it was offered for free when I bought the entrance for the Sorolla exhibit.
I do not love Louis Vuitton’s current brand image (or at least my uninformed perception of it, to be fair) and I refuse to wear brand-obvious objects (on the improbable scenario where I would be willing to shell out the big bucks for it).
Here it is: I loved their Time Capsule exhibit.
First there was a demonstration by one of their leather-working artists. She was lining a small wooden box with the uber-famous monogram print. Watching a master work their craft is always a humbling and awe-inspiring experience. One point for Louis.
Then there was the luggage from the era of the grand circle and safaris. LOVED it. Then there were chairs and hammocks, and custom ordered specialty storage units. LOVED IT. (Not enough to buy a handbag though.)
My plan was to leave the museum as soon as I was done with the exhibits and carry on with the day. Yeah, right. I was there already. I followed the siren’s call to the elevator . The day was shot.
Almost three hours later, I had skimmed through the old masters, visited the newer additions, and delighted on the early 20th century artists. All very enjoyable, but not according to plan.
But this was MY trip. And I have learned to never sacrifice what you are currently enjoying in favor of the next beautiful thing. Unless you have timed tickets to the Vatican or the Alhambra. Then you have to hustle.
My impression of the Thyssen remains as the first time I visited: it is an easy museum with a well-designed collection. It has enough content to provide a general overview of Western art without being overwhelming. I think it is much more suitable for beginners or people which are not really into art than the Prado or even the Reina Sofía (marked in light green as for ‘if I have time/energy’ in The Spreadsheet).
I had been on my feet for four hours already; that slow museum shuffle (three steps forward, stand 20 seconds to admire artwork, take a step forward to read the signs, step back for one last look, repeat) is a back killer.
But I must say that my feet were still doing great on the best UGLIEST walking shoes I have ever owned. Though I am NOT a fashionista, I’m not exactly an ultra-casual dresser either. If you have read my previous ramblings, you have probably also realized that I’m a big walker. Travel shoes are important. And not easy to find.
Neither are handbags. But we can talk about that at some other time.
My current black travel shoes are like maryjanes on steroids. Ugly AF but with just enough funk to make them look like a personal style statement. The insides are well cushioned and give great arch support and then the platform base and sole are shaped so that you are forced to roll every step. This type of shoes is great for elephant-stompers like me, real knee savers. They are from an Italian manufacturer called Alegria, the style is called Paloma.
These shoes might have even gotten a stare or two. They are that ugly. But I’m a practical woman and I will wear whatever I please. And walk circles around you and your tired pretty-shoe-wearing feet.
Disclaimer: I have been known to wear death-defying stilettos. But only as restaurant shoes. IF they have valet parking.
While I’m on the subject, about two trips ago, when my trusty beige Sketchers Maryjane/sandal hybrids died, I gave up on ‘city walking shoes’ and bought some real sneakers. Nike Airs in a nude tone which I find (barely) appropriate for city sightseeing and casual dining. Very, very comfortable.
I also wanted to purchase something from Nike in appreciation for their very public support of two athletes: transgender triathlete Chris Mosier as he joined the all-American team and Sir Mo Farrahs -an Olympian marathon runner born in Somalia, raised in Britain and now residing in Oregon – after he had issues reentering the USA in the days following the initial travel ban. Yes, I realize that Nike fails at other causes but these two are very dear to my heart.
So, me and my tired back started walking up the Paseo del Prado and plopped down on the first outdoor café I found. A (more than slightly burnt) Spanish tortilla provided enough protein and carbohydrates to fuel me up for the next step in the agenda.
Okayyyyyy …. I also had a glass of white wine; which might or might not have helped the level of motivation as it had increased tremendously by the time I was done.
The National Archaeological Museum had been on my ’next time for sure‘ list ever since my very first trip to Madrid. Today was the day it would finally happen. Given the Iberian Peninsula’s incredibly rich archaeological heritage, I had high expectations from this museum.
The entrance was somewhat hard to find as the museum shares the same building as the National Library and the façade is under renovation. I walked past the Plaza Colón and around the block until I finally found the correct spot to enter.
First surprise was the sheer size of the museum. It is huge and has lots of interactive exhibits. I will highly recommend a visit as an activity with kids on a rainy day. There were quite a few Spanish families and au pairs with their charges enjoying the cool stuff (and the cool air must be great in the scorching Madrid summer) and running around.
For me, just seeing the Dama de Elche is worth the (very low) admission price. I will not go into details of the things to see in there; google the place if you are interested. My high expectations were exceeded.
I spent at least 2 hours but by then I was suffering from visual overload and anything above the 2nd floor just got a perfunctory glance. Which is exactly the reason why one should not schedule 2-museums days.
After I left I took a walk through Serrano street but had zero interest in looking at the high-end storefronts. The museum is close to Platea Madrid, a gourmet food hall that opened in an old movie house. It has a small market and several eating areas, most notably Ricard Camerena’s Canalla Bistro.
I was tired. I was cranky. I was NOT impressed. It might have been the time of day, but the hall was rather empty and ambiance-less. Only a few business people and tourist having drinks. Not my kind of place. Please note that I was not in a great mood, maybe at other time I would have enjoyed it.
I didn’t even make the effort and left without having a drink, opting instead to have my refreshments at a nearby café. I also had a dinner date and I did not want to spoil my appetite.
After mustering enough energy to walk again I took the metro back to the hotel for much needed downtime and a short nap.
I met a fellow travel board participant at the Iglesias metro station. C, a Madrid resident, was the first of my ’imaginary friends’ that I met IRL. She has now been a friend for at least 10 years.
Every city has a well-kept secret area where the locals go to romp and play. In Madrid, Ponzano Street is the current playground. Its popularity is increasing rapidly so it may soon be overrun by tourists as well.
The street is packed full of interesting gastrobars and trendy restaurants. There are enough places to keep one occupied for weeks! Perfect location for a tapa crawl away from dry paellas, oily patatas bravas and expensive pitchers of cloyingly sweet sangría.
After enjoying a glass of local wine at an enoteca which I neglected to jot down, C led me to Arima Basque Gastronomy. I took no notes or pictures of this meal so I’m going by memory and my friend’s pictures. We had an amouse bouche of morcilla (blood sausage) followed by deconstructed gildas (the quintessential Basque bar snack of olive, pickled pepper, and anchovy). We then shared fried artichokes confit which were deliciously tender. For mains I had a wonderfully flaky codfish with piperade, and C had a drop dead gorgeous dish which I can no longer identify; but she did say it was very good. We shared a roasted apple dessert.
Everything we ate was immaculately presented, exquisitely aromatic, seasoned expertly, and cooked with technical precision. I would go back in a heartbeat.
But then all meals are made better when you have a wonderful conversation to go along!
Meal was followed by short walk to the metro station and a short walk back to the hotel for some well deserved rest.
Day 4, Tuesday, April 17