The good news is that Madrid, the largest city we’ve visited so far on these travels, is friendly, accessible, and not (yet) too crowded—just as well since it’s also the hottest place we’ve been. The bad news is that we are saying goodbye to T’s old car.
Well, maybe it’s not such bad news. We always intended to give it away to someone, and in Yvonne and her family, we’ve found people who 1) think they can fix it (eventually) and 2) will give it a good home. We weren’t going to drive it to Africa anyway! So Vaya con Dios, coche, and Gracias to our new friends!
“Every Peruvian I’ve ever known was super nice,” I said. “Like Sra. Bingham, my Spanish teacher (and how I wish I remembered more). And of course my guinea pig, Woozy.”
T. looked thoughtful. “Wasn’t Paddington Bear from Peru?”
I actually do remember more words in Spanish than I did a week ago, but we were both relieved to find one of the familiar yellow-umbrella guides in central Madrid, giving a walking tour in English. (Irina, of course, is Romanian.) If you’re ever in a city like Krakow or Madrid where they have these yellow umbrellas, I cannot recommend them highly enough. You just follow along in your own language and at the end of the tour, pay a recommended amount or whatever you think it’s worth. They are technically “free,” but I think they’re incredible value. So much knowledge and, luckily for us, it was also cloudy that day, so we didn’t suffer too much in the hideous heat.
As a bonus, Irina recommended a couple of places in Chueca, the gay neighborhood, that still serve the traditional way—tapas included with a drink. So we made our way to El Tigre and had a very enjoyable and cool afternoon. That fortified us for the Museo del Prado, one of the world’s great art museums. We couldn’t possibly do its collections justice before we ran out of steam, but we did see a lot of works by Diego Velázquez and Doménikos Theotokópoulos, known in Spanish just as “the Greek” (El Greco).
El Greco whetted my appetite for Toledo, the city where he did most of his work, but first we had the adventure of el coche and, of course, more art. The Ermita De San Antonio De La Florida is a royal chapel, free to enter and, it seemed, little visited (fortunately we finished our visit just as a big busload pulled up). It has the distinction of frescoes painted by Francisco de Goya, which you can see in their original setting on the ceiling of the royal chapel. Goya is buried there, too.
And then there was the Museo Reina Sofía. As with the Prado, we managed to hit this one for the free evening hours, along with a large number of other people in Madrid; but it was worth it. I happen to be a Picasso fan, and the central display of the Reina Sofía are works connected to and drawings for its showpiece: Guernica.
|by Pablo Picasso. Oil on canvas, 1937|
(Guernica was a village in the Basque country whose destruction was a test drive for World War II. The Nationalist side in the Spanish civil war, i.e., Franco’s people, got their Nazi and Fascist friends to bomb the place to smithereens. That is what Picasso depicts.)
The museum also has works by Salvador Dalí and many other modern painters, and once again, we couldn’t hope to view them all.
|The other Toledo, that is|
My interest in Toledo was not principally El Greco, although some of the works on view in the sacristy of the cathedral were familiar to me. Toledo, in Castilla-La Mancha, is the city of tres culturas. Its urban structure is Arab: narrow, winding streets in which one can, and does, easily get “lost.” Its Gothic cathedral, the primate cathedral of Spain, is unusually wide because it incorporates the original Friday mosque. It is also home to synagogues, one of which, the Sinagoga del Tránsito, is now the Museo Sefardí—the museum of Sephardic Jewry. It all came back to me—the name Samuel ha-Levi, whose synagogue it was, is a great one in the heyday of Muslim-Jewish relations, when Jews played important roles for many rulers in Spain. If you want to find out more about how they continued to do so for Christian rulers and, eventually, how it all went wrong, the museum costs only €3.
|"This is the bread of affliction": Babylonian exile|
We are getting good at this free stuff. Too bad bus tickets aren’t free, but there were hidden costs associated with driving, too. If our next bus trip is anything like the short day trip to Toledo, we should be in good shape.