We started our day at Saint Eulalia, a new coffee shop on Calle Espejo, our original street in Madrid. Fantastic place – a pastry chef trained at Le Cordon Bleu, on-site baking, a nice coffee machine and glass panels in the floor displaying the remains of the walls that the Christians built around the city in the 12th century. I asked the owner how long he’d been there, since we’d not seen the place before. He said, “2015” which was a surprise since we were last in Madrid in 2016. But after thinking about it for a bit, we realized the last apartment we’d had was on the far side of Puerta del Sol and so we would have had no reason to come down here. Two fresh croissant and 2 coffees were a nice way to begin today’s adventure.
Leaving there we headed up Calle Arenal to Puerto del Sol and then down Calle Alcala towards Paseo del Prado, stopping along the way to photograph the Metropolis building because no trip to Madrid is complete without that photo. In the past, it’s always been backlit for me, so this morning was a treat – a bright blue New Mexico sky and the morning sun shining perfectly on the side.
Compared to descending Las Huertas, as we did yesterday, this route is far busier due to a ton of government buildings, each guarded by machine gun toting policemen. Rounding the corner, we made our way to the Thyssen-Bornemisza museum, bought our tickets and started our tour. An interesting museum with a collection running from 10th century Italian altars to Roy Lichtenstein, this was only our second visit in our 5 times here, and I immediately remembered that they have an odd layout. You’ll be looking at Van Gogh and then turn a corner to see paintings of Plains Indians. And for some reason they do the same thing on 2 floors. Nonetheless, it’s always a treat to see some of your favorites, or at least many that you remember from that big art history book we all had in college.
The highlight of the visit though was a little interpretive presentation devoted to the restoration of Caravaggio’s “Saint Catherine of Alexandria.” Absolutely fascinating, a nice illustrative panel described the various technologies used in their work and what the uncovered. Pigments, changes in the original colors, movement of the model’s hands and the mathematics he used for the ideal placement of the figures. Those plus the literal cuts he had in the canvas to align the elements. I really love displays like this, they are not only fascinating but offer a whole different perspective from which to enjoy the work of art.
A couple of hours in there and we were ready for a break, so we left and walked to the Neptuno Fountain Starbucks, deciding we’d fortify ourselves with a mid-afternoon iced coffee. While roaming the museum though, we’d heard a lot of explosions outside and crossing the street to the coffee shop we saw why – a big demonstration in front of the Chamber of Deputies, corralled by a lot of police in full riot gear. A field of flags and lots of chanting punctuated by load explosions – firecrackers being set off to drive their grievances home. The pungent smell of gunpowder enveloped us.
The demonstration broke up while we were resting our feet and the protestors passed by, carrying the flags of Asturias and Galicia. Some wore t-shirts that said, “Peche Non” (“No Closing” in Galician,) and others said, “No Cierra Alcoa,” (“Alcoa must not close”) in Spanish. Not sure, but it seems they were asking the Spanish government to protect their jobs and economy.
Next on the agenda was the Royal Botanical Garden, down the street and next to the Prado. We always end our Madrid trips with a visit here because like the Campo de Moro where we strolled yesterday, there are few things better than roaming around a formal garden. My favorite part of this one is a center section devoted to real-life plants – lettuce, radish, broccoli, turnip and the like. Complete with a scarecrow and a sign saying, “It is prohibited to eat the plants.” The spring bulbs were just starting, as were the Rhododendrons offering a bit of color here and there. We went up and down the various lanes, stopping frequently to appreciate the vista.
The gardens were established in 1755 by King Fernando VI, originally down by the river, but were moved here in 1781 by King Carlos III. During their 18th and 19th century heyday, they organized collecting expeditions all over the world resulting in the largest collection of botanical art and samples in Spain. The garden has changed during our history with it. Empty beds, things not tended. Not sure if it’s a shortage of workers or money, but the decline was visible. And a bit sad.
The inevitable climb back up Las Huertas beckoned so we left the gardens and started our ascent, stopping only for a sorbet at a great little place about halfway up. Lemon on top and the most amazing green apple below, a nice refreshment for the remaining hike.
Another last day dinner tradition is Delicias de Bacalao at Los Madroños, a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant in Plaza San Angel. A plate of lightly battered chunks of Cod served with a bowl of sauce made from the berries of the local Madrone tree. Tonight, we added a little tapa of garlic mushrooms spiced up with chunks of Iberico ham. And of course, what evening out is complete without a last slice of Ponche from Mercado San Miguel?
Tomorrow we are off to Lisbon, a new stop for us. Leisurely morning, coffee again at Saint Eulalia and then a taxi to Barajas for a late-afternoon flight. The next step on this grand adventure beckons.