Sunday, November 16, 2014

Museum Meanders 2

After several large museums we needed a palate cleanser. We headed out to a small museum called the Museo Cerralbo. This museum used to be the home of the Marquise de Cerralbo (1845-1922) who was an inveterate collector of many objects including a wide range of paintings. While the collection included an El Greco, Tintoretto and Zubaran, the salon style did not lend itself to easy viewing of art. It was more interesting as a perspective on how the wealthy of that period lived as the home still reflects the way in which they lived in it. Periodically I would glance out the window at the busy street and feel wrested from a turn of the century world.

An hour later we were on the street by the Parque del Oeste, near the Royal Palace of Madrid. Within the park is the Temple de Debod, an Egyptian temple from 2BC which was a gift from Egypt to Spain. The temple is open and free to visitors and is an unexpected surprise in a Madrid park.

We walked to the end of the park, down steep steps, along a road that bordered the railroad tracks and across a railroad bridge filled with striking graffiti to arrive at the Pantheon de Goya. The chapel of San Antonio de la Florida contains Goya's tomb as well as his artwork. His frescos decorate the cupola and ceiling. Mirrors assist you in viewing the frescos on the ceiling. An identical chapel was built next door to allow this building to be devoted to a Goya Museum.

After leaving the chapel we discovered the Cafe Mingo, the oldest cider house in Madrid.  Since 1888 it has been serving roasted chicken and homemade cider. We were charmed and a bit intimidated, faced with finding vegetarian items for my husband. I was delighted when the "chicken man" consented to my request for a photo.

A short walk took us to the Palace Real and its park and gardens which presented beautiful vistas while a peacock strutted over his domain.

The next day we were ready once again for a foray to a big museum, the Prado.  We had been to the Prado twice before and I don't think we've ever "finished" it, though not for lack of trying.  We did a focused visit with an emphasis on the Spanish artists that one often does not see elsewhere -Velasquez, Goya, Ribera, El Greco and Zuberan with additional visits to Bosch and Rembrandt.  Seven hours later we limped out of the museum.  Bested once again.  Unfortunately they don't allow photos so it is all a pleasant mush in my head.

The following day we decided to go to Toledo. We had been there once before, but many things had been closed. This year is the four hundred year anniversary of El Greco's death and they are showcasing his many works in Toledo where he lived for much of his life.  Toledo is also the home to two of the three remaining synagogues in Spain. We took a train from the nearby Atocha station and then caught a bus up the steep hill to Toledo.  When we exited the bus we were faced with a warren of narrow streets leading downhill.  Street names change frequently so it took some time to get oriented.  Banners announced El Greco sites, many of which are church altarpieces that he painted. We found our way to the El Greco museum which houses his paintings of the apostles and is recreated in the style of his time.

It is located in the former Jewish district so almost next door was the synagogue I was seeking. The Synagogue of El Transito felt mosque-like in its design, ornate and intricate, but there embedded in carvings was Hebrew text, 522 years after the Jews were expelled from Spain.  It was built with the support of the King and his treasurer Samuel Levi.  It later became a church when the Jews were expelled.

Madre by Sorolla
Today was our last day in Madrid and a very satisfying one.  We had two small museums on our list, the Sorolla Museum and the Lazaro Galdiano.  The Sorolla Museum is the former home of Joaquin Sorolla who painted around the turn of the century.  He was quite successful in his own time and is known for his striking use of light.  His home was beautiful and we got a flavor for how he lived as well as enjoying his artwork. I especially loved a painting he did upon the birth of his third child.

San Diego de Alcala by Zubaran
Nearby was the Lazaro Galdiano museum, the former home of Galdiano.  Galdiano was a wealthy publisher and had an amazing art collection that holds extensive Goyas, several paintings by Bosch and my favorite Zubaran.

And on our way to the metro stop, one last museum, an outdoor one of sculpture, the Museo de Escultura al Aire Libre de la Castellana.

So concludes our travels in Portugal and Spain. And that art museum list we keep of those we've visited; we're up to 145.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Museum Meanders 1

Much of our time in Madrid has been devoted to museums. The weather is a big determinant of our activities. Rain is a real threat at this time of year so plans remain flexible. We check the forecast regularly assessing the feasibility of day trips.

In my earlier travels I used to spend time seeking that unique item that would remind me of our travels. My best discovery was a hand carved chess set in Granada with beautiful Spanish faces adorning each piece. On our last trip to Paris we came home with a sculpture of a horse that still gives me great pleasure, but such discoveries are unexpected. Madrid is filled with souvenir shops that are unlikely to divulge such treasures so instead we admire the treasures of its museums.

One thing to be aware of is when museums are free, especially the larger museums that are more costly. Not all of them share this information on their site. We set out Monday morning for the Thyssen-Bornemisza which is free from noon til four on Mondays. As most museums are closed on this day, it is a good use of one's time.

We had been to the Thyssen twice before and it is hands down my favorite museum in Madrid. We arrived shortly before noon and joined a long line that ran out the courtyard and around the block. We were inside the museum within ten minutes and began our visit at the top with the Italian primitives. The collection spans Italian, German, Dutch, Flemish and Spanish work through the 18th century. It includes Renaissance and Baroque art, Impressionism, post-Impressionism and German Expressionism. It also explores European and American artists up through the 20th century from Cubism to European post-war figurative art. It is an amazing art history course spanning seven centuries and has high quality pieces representing each artist.

When we go to museums I take photos of favorite paintings. I have electronic folders of images and labels from many museums. I find that the act of photographing fixes a painting in my memory. Sometimes I focus on a theme such as portraits. I am especially interested in how artists achieved certain effects, particularly ones that I might want to attempt. I am also intrigued by unexpected paintings from artists with which I am familiar. For example I associate Raoul Dufy with brightly colored, sketchy paintings of the French Riviera so was intrigued by a realistic painting titled The Fish Market which dates to 1904/5 right before he became familiar with Matisse and shifted to Fauvism.
On the way to the Thyssen we were intrigued by the building of the CaixaForum Cultural Center with its stunning vertical garden. It exhibits retrospectives of artists from earlier time periods. We discovered that they too were free on Mondays and stopped there later for an exhibition that explored the beginning of Western civilization through objects representing mythology and philosophy. It is well worth a visit for the building alone and the excellent exhibition felt like a bonus.

Every large city seems to have a Bella Arte museum. In Madrid it is known as the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando. The museum is associated with the Royal Academy of Fine Arts of which Goya was once a member. The museum is free on Wednesdays. The highlights of this museum are a number of Goya's including two self portraits. There are also five Zubaran monk paintings, always favorites of mine. One floor is devoted to a contemporary exhibition of members of the Academy which we thought was quite exceptional.

The Reine Sophia is close to our hotel so we decided to go over Sunday when they are free 1:30-7:00 PM. They have had an expansion since our last visit with a distinctive red facade and roof. We were disappointed to learn that it was only free for selected exhibitions so returned later in the week for the permanent collection. On past visits I had enjoyed this museum with excellent text in English and a clear flow through periods of contemporary art. That seemed to have disintegrated and we found the flow confusing. As expected Guernica attracted a considerable crowd. There are many artists who are represented who may be well-known in Spain, but with whom I was not familiar. When I searched for one that I admired, I learned that he had little presence outside of Spain. It is interesting to be reminded that our knowledge of art history, especially contemporary history, may vary geographically.

Coming soon...Museum Meanders 2

Friday, November 7, 2014

Fresh Eyes

Our trip is composed of both the new and the familiar. We've been to Madrid on several occasions, but never Portugal. Thus I have the opportunity to view Portugal through fresh eyes, a heightened awareness of the things that fall outside of my daily experience.

Déjà vu

While Portugal is new to me, it still has the echo of similar places. When one has traveled a lot there is often a sense of déjà vu even if one has never been in the specific place before. Our first evening here we walked up a main street lined with restaurants. Tables filled the center of the wide avenue as people thronged about. It had an eerie familiarity that I struggled to place, finally remembering a similar street in Jerusalem, almost picturing the Jerusalem shops layered over this Portuguese street.

Lisbon is a very hilly city, built on seven hills. I did not expect it to conjure up San Francisco, but the downhill vistas with vintage cable cars chugging uphill certainly did exactly that. San Francisco is also built on seven hills. There is even an orange suspension bridge in Lisbon that looks uncannily like the Golden Gate. I was to learn that it was designed by the same architect.

Portuguese Pavement

When we first arrived in Lisbon and exited our metro, I was struck by one of the unique features of Portugal, the mosaic sidewalks in black basalt and white limestone. Each street seems to have a unique pattern and they are truly works of art. In the evening light they glow. Patterns suggest sailing ships, mermaids or simply elegant abstract designs. It is often referred to as Portuguese pavement and was initially installed in the mid 1800s. Squares and plazas are often the location of the more involved patterns. I already find it useful in identifying different locations and spend a lot of time looking down.

Hills, Tiles and Clotheslines

On our first morning in Lisbon we ventured out on our own walking tour. As we walked up several sets of steps and then continued uphill, it dawned on me exactly how hilly Lisbon is. I needed to feel it in my muscles and breathing to fully appreciate it. Our hotel is close to the water where the ground is level, but as we ventured forth it was all uphill. We gradually climbed higher until we finally began to move downhill through neighborhoods of narrow streets. Clothes hung from windows fluttering picturesquely in the wind. We conjectured Monday must be Portuguese laundry day. Many of the buildings had tile facades in a variety of unusual designs, another detail uniquely Portuguese. Artful graffiti covered many buildings, certainly not unique to Lisbon, but notably good graffiti.


Enticing Food


We descended down to the water where the trains, buses and cable cars ran alongside the port. Huge cruise ships anchored not far from graceful sailboats while cranes moved boxes overhead. It is hard to get lost in Lisbon. You need only aim downhill and follow the coastline.

In route we passed the market and were puzzled by the Time Out neon sign. It looked like the magazine logo. We soon learned that this is Time Out's first foodie venture and just opened in May. They have installed 35 food kiosks representing a wide variety of food. Five top chefs have restaurants there. They will be adding exhibition space as they continue to execute their concept. Next to this extensive food court is the fish and produce market.

Today we went to Belem, an area on the outskirts of Lisbon which is known for custard pastries called Pastels de Belem. We brought a few back to our room to enjoy, quite a decadent feast. Aside from that we've been eating a lot of fish, especially cod which is prepared many different ways. My husband, who eats vegetarian plus fish, has not had trouble finding interesting foods from which to choose.

A Travel Oasis

We've been adding new art museums to our museum list. Nothing that has overwhelmed me yet, but some striking pieces scattered about. A room of Zubaran saints and a Hieronymus Bosch in the Museu Antiga, a Rembrandt in the Gulbenkian, a good scan of contemporary art since 1900 at the Berardo. Museums are often the destination around which we plan our day, an oasis when you travel offering clean restrooms, good cafés, wifi and art.

We have one more day left in Portugal and plan to go to Cascais, a small fishing village nearby. The draw for us is a museum of work by Paula Rego, an artist I've become familiar with on-line. Then on to Madrid.



Monday, November 3, 2014

Happy Birthday in Portuguese

This blog started as a bit of a travel journal when I was traveling to Lithuania five years ago. Every so often it returns to its roots when I write of my travels...

I always forget the parts of travel that I don't like. Until that is, when I remember them as they occur once again. I had booked a trip to Lisbon and Madrid for my birthday, an effort to begin my year with an activity that I love. The night before we had gone to my stepdaughter's to drop off our cat, originally her cat on permanent loan, thus a lifetime of free cat sitting. It was Halloween, a date we usually share with them, avoiding buying too much candy for the few trick or treaters that arrive at our home and instead enjoying the costumes of our grandchildren.

It was also the last day to prepare for our trip when the fundamental difference between my husband and I arises and with it the stress level. He first begins to think about what he might bring. Meanwhile I have listed and packed and re-packed, eliminating one thing and adding another many times over as I try to figure out what will fit into a carry-on. Now this was difficult to do because in our household my husband does the laundry. Yes, I know that's a good thing and most of the time he has my deep appreciation. When he saw my rather imperfect folds early in our relationship he quietly took over that duty. It made perfect sense to me. When I was growing up I would take any package that needed to be wrapped to my dad who with engineer precision would fold the paper precisely into a sharply wrapped package. In my world guys know how to fold. Now however, I awaited half of my clothes because my husband wanted them done at the last minute for maximum cleanliness. I tell you this to let you know that our different personalities were already tripping over each other.

We sped to his daughter's with me driving, finishing up a conference call on bluetooth while he held our meowing cat on his lap. Now in our hurry to get out the door while thinking of my travel list, I forgot that I never drive with him in the passenger's seat. There is a reason for this. He is not a good passenger. "What are you doing?" he yelled at one point. I glared at him as his voice transmitted on my call along with the meows of our cat. Later he advised me I should be thinking about getting over to the right lane. I quickly moved over. "Why did you do that?" he asked. "You told me to," I replied. He informed me he just wanted me to think about it so I could shift at the opportune time. I don't work that way. Tell me you need something eventually, I pick it up immediately. Got to cross it off my mental list. It burdens me until I do. Apparently I am a precrastinator according to a recent NYT article. My husband has a reserve list of to dos unaccompanied by a sense of burden. He doesn't understand this trait in me nor do I understand his lack of it.

The next evening we entered the plane with seats in two separate rows. When I booked the flight Delta's system was not working properly so they booked me on Air France, a shared flight, rather than directly on Delta. As I recall I called Air France to book our seats on their leg. The day before our flight I logged into Delta and was aghast when it advised me we had no seats on that flight. A few middle seats remained. I quickly grabbed the last of a bad deal, only then realizing that they probably weren't reflecting what Air France had booked for the flight and no doubt had just overridden them. A panicked phone call later and a lot of begging had landed me two seats, an aisle and a window in different rows. A kind man next to me was now willing to trade his seat. That negotiation completed my husband and I now sat side by side.

When I fly overseas I am always torn between so many activities that seem to counter sleep. In that narrow window between meals, do I want to watch Boyhood, finish reading Gone Girl, or sleep, sleep in an uncomfortably tight space with limbs compacted and the distraction of many glowing screens around me? So I watched Boyhood and finished Gone Girl, arriving in Paris with eyelids drooping from lack of sleep. Somewhere along the flight my husband wished me a happy birthday, but I'm not sure in which time zone or country it had occurred. I was still in that unmoored state where I was zooming through time zones with no allegiance to one.

A four hour wait in Paris, eyes bleary, and we boarded a plane to Lisbon. I noticed one flight attendant testing the size of bags in one row and quietly slid into the other row, my body hiding my slightly larger carry-on. We were determined to do this trip on two carry-ons. I successfully got my bag on and stowed, when I realized this was an old plane. Ashtrays were still embedded in the arms. The seats were the tightest I've ever experienced, as if they had added rows to maximize capacity, far in excess of the limits of the human body. If it was tight for my frame, I couldn't imagine how my husband was faring. I glanced over, his legs were splayed, one knee in each direction.

Finally we touched down and happily, albeit a bit groggily, rolled our two carry-ons from the plane. I hate packing to travel light, but I love the simplicity of the arrival. We got our Euros from the cash machine, found the metro at the airport and loaded up two metro cards. One transfer delivered us up the street from our hotel. I love to find interesting hotels on Trip Advisor and was pleased with my discovery of My Story Hotel. I was even more pleased when we got a call asking if they could check something in the room and they arrived with two slices of a flourless chocolate torte and fruit. The hotel clerk even did a fine rendition of Happy Birthday in Portuguese. Ahh, the night was improving. Now this is where I should be posting a picture of this wonderful dessert, but we devoured it before that thought occurred to us.

We wandered around the surrounding area and walked down to the water, a few blocks from our hotel. The plazas and street were alive with people milling about and the sounds of street musicians. We ate a late dinner and returned to our hotel to catch up on our many hours of lost sleep. I am usually a glass half full person, but even I must confess that there was very little pleasure in the preparation and flying part of our trip. I'm glad to finally get to the fun part. More to come...