Friday, August 22, 2014

The Staycation: Three Cheers for Madrid

We stayed in Spain this summer - beach, picturesque countryside, cute small towns, palaces and Roman ruins. We also spent some time in Madrid. It's empty. August is the traditional holiday month, and many businesses close up and people flock to the coast or the mountains. There are parking spaces! There are no line ups! There is sitting room at bars and restaurants!
wow, there's really no one here!
If you can take the heat, I'd say August is the best time to visit this city. The weather isn't as dreadful this year as it was last (no days over 40 C yet!), so our guests (my cousins) didn't melt, and we spent some pleasant days and nights wandering around. The main sights in Madrid are attractive, but there are only so many visits to the royal palace one can take. In my case, the number is seven. I'm always glad to discover something new, and this summer I found three!

Museo Cerralbo

I've had this place on my "to see" list for 12 years. It's highlighted in the guidebook I had when I was here on exchange as an 18 year-old. Back then, it was closed for renovations, and then I kind of forgot about it. It came back into my mind when Tweedle N asked, "Hey, are there any other palaces around here?" (I guess her number for visiting the royal palace is one). Anyway, a quick search online turned up Museo Cerralbo, which is not a palace but a lovely 18th century mansion-museum, which also happens to be in my neighbourhood.

The house was designed to showcase the owner's (Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa, Marques de Cerralbo) private collection. He donated the house and its furnishings, ranging from wonderful to weird, to the state in 1924. Pretty generous, if you ask me. 3 euro entry and you can borrow a guide book for free, it's a steal (the palace charges 9, audio guide not included, and the pricey books are larger than Bibles - not really great for touring). It's closed all day Mondays, and during the rest of the week from 1500 to 1700 for lunch and siesta time.

Centro Centro 
view of gran via from the lookout
I can't say I love the new name, but I do love what the Palacio de Cibeles, originally a post office (!!!), currently houses: cafe, restaurant, lookout, reading rooms, exhibition space, gift shop. And in a stunning building, to boot. 2 euro and no line (thank you, second homes and rental properties), we went straight to level 8 for a bird's eye view of the city. I plan to go back at night, truly worth the money. It is also closed on Monday and from 1330 to 1600 for lunch and siesta.
Caudel by Daniel Canogar, source
Once we were I spied out, we rode the elevator down, stopping on each floor to check it out. We were in luck - there were some great installations to see, part of the 5th ONCE Biennial for Contemporary Art (the ONCE is the Spanish organization for the Blind). While I loved the draining men, my favourite wasn't part of the Biennial. It was this:

It's called Touching the Sky, by Kaarina Kaikkonen, and is on loan from the Finnish Embassy. Kind of reminds me of Tall Guy's closet.

FĂ­bula de Alovera Abre en ventana nueva
visigoth broach, source

Sometimes I really miss England and Canada and Germany - like when I visit a museum and want to know what something is, or check the website for opening hours. Enter, MAN. I did make it to this Archaeological Museum 12 years ago, but then it closed for major renovations. It now has well written labels and a visitor-friendly layout. The website is also strong and lists, prepare to be amazed, correct visitor information that is available in five languages. And... they've got an app. 

Good job, Madrid, you are now entering the Age of Internet. 

I'm also very excited about their public programming, something strong in private museums but not public ones until now. Lectures, concerts, tours, a piece of the month, school and family visits, I am pumped! 

It's free on Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings (otherwise, 3 euro, very reasonable), closed on Mondays, and does not close other days for lunch and siesta.

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