After we bid “hasta la vista” to Kris and Paul, we started out on the six hour drive to Madrid. As we drove along, the drizzle in Barcelona turned to rain and then to sunny skies…..revealing an arid landscape with little traffic and even fewer towns. The monotonous countryside…..very much like the deserts of California….seemed neverending. Lunch consisted of a bag of peanuts and a box of cookies picked up at a gas station. As we neared Madrid, the sight of miles and miles of modern housing cheered us on…..civilization at last!
For simplicity’s sake, we parked at the airport and took a cab to our hotel, conveniently located right off the Puerta del Sol, the busy plaza that marks the center of Spain. We dropped our luggage at the hotel and, with trusty guidebook in hand, started to tour the city.
At the edge of the plaza was a sculpture of Madrid’s symbol….a bear pawing the berries of a Madroño tree. Although we heard a few stories about how this symbol came to be (all seeming to deal with hunting rights and the church), all we can say with any certainty is that the berries are used to make Madroño, a deliciously sweet, fruity liqueur.
We stopped for dinner at Casa Paco…..and dined splendidly on their house specialty, Ox steak grilled over coals and served on a plate so hot, the meat sizzles throughout your meal (if it stops sizzling, a freshly heated plate arrives).
We then headed off for an “official” walking tour of Madrid (booked through the Tourist Info office)…..repeating many of the yesterday’s sights, but lucky enough to see a wedding at the Iglesia Arzobispal Castrense (Military Archbishop’s Church)….with a newlywed couple walking under an arch of clanging swords.
Our walk finished at the Palacio Real (Royal Palace)……considered to be the third greatest palace in Europe (after Versailles and Vienna’s Schoenbrunn). Having seen the first two in the past year, we decided to make it a trifecta. With 2,800 rooms and 1,450,000 sq ft, it’s the largest palace in Europe, but the 24 rooms open to the public make for a pleasant visit. The graceful artistry of it’s rooms was amazing…..although opulent by any standard, these rooms felt peaceful and comfortable
We were tired and hungry, so we almost bypassed the palace’s armory…..I’m glad we didn’t. Filled with shiny suits of armor for both man and beast, my penchant for medieval times was fueled. I wandered through this exhibition mesmerized by these stalwart suits and imagining all the tournaments and battles these metal works must have been in.
Recharged, we headed off to Madrid’s modern art museum, the Reina Sofia, whose’s chronological exhibition rooms made it easy to see the evolving expression of some of our favorite artists…..Dali, Miro, Picasso. It was also interesting to note that even within the same time frame, these artists’ works could vary from conventional to surreal (perhaps the difference was whether they were painting for for art’s sake or for dinner’s sake).
The museum’s highlight is Picasso’s “Guernica”….. a large (11′ x 25′) monochrome portrayal of the death and destruction wrought on the people of a small Basque village that, with General Franco’s blessing, was used for bombing practice by Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
Standing mutely in front of this vast canvas…..my eyes rolled from one side to the other….trying to take it all in. A mother holding a dead child, a fallen man, a horse crying out in pain, a woman struggling to move, a terrified man reaching out to heaven…..each scene juxaposed on another….like shards of broken glass. This painting, showing the horrors of war, has become a universal symbol for peace.
“They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” Isaiah 2:4