Monday, November 9, 2009

Days 24-27, November 3th - 6th: From Sevilla to Madrid

After just over three days of pretty hard travel we decided that taking our one full day in Seville at a leisurely pace was an excellent idea. In the morning, everything went great. This was our only hotel that didn't include breakfast, and we'd found a wonderful local bar (this does not have the same connotations in Europe) where we could get coffee and a simple breakfast.


We took a long walk around the old city, starting with the Torre del Oro. This was a Moorish tower, but has gone through several changes, the latest of which is becoming a maritime museum. As luck would have it, admission was gratis on Tuesdays. We had such a good (and cheap) time at the restaurant in the former Moorish bath, that we went back a second time. We had all new things including stuffed peppers and venison.


Our last successful stop of the day was the Museo de Bellas Artes. It's a gorgeous palace converted into a museum. It focuses on artists who lived in and around Seville, so less Goya and Velazquez and more Murillo and Zurbaran. It was also gratis, and I really feel that I gained a new appreciation for the works of Murillo. Later that day we were unable to tour the Ayuntamiento because it had been rented out for a new technologies convention, and our restaurant of choice turned out not to open until 9pm. When you're hot you're hot. . .

On the the 4th we had yet another long trip, this time to Cordoba. Our main objective in Cordoba was to see the Mezquita, but we also had a large interest in an archeological site 5 km out of town called Madinat Al-Zahra. Unlike our other day trips out of Seville, Cordoba is a relaxing hour on a high-speed train. When we arrived we headed straight to the TI (Tourist Information) to book our bus seats to Madinat Al-Zahra. It turned out that all of the information we had to date was pretty much wrong. The buses left at different times, and didn't return for four hours! I quickly reshuffled our day plans, and we headed straight to the Mezquita. We couldn't risk missing it if our return leg was delayed.


The Mezquita is an 11th century mosque that was converted into a Catholic church when Cordoba was taken back from the Moors. Around 70% of the original design has remained intact, with the only addition being a really huge chapel and dome in the center of the church. For me this was the most powerful of the work we had seen in the Mudejar style and perhaps even on the whole trip. It defies description, and is so much larger and more beautiful than I had understood. I took this shot for the odd juxtaposition of the crucifix and horseshoe shaped arches. You can see more pictures on my flickr site.


We took a quick trip off to the Sinogoga, which had a Mudejar aesthetic but with Hebrew writing, and then it was on to our bus. We quickly learned that the reason it now took longer to make this trip is that the city of Cordoba had added a state-of-the-art museum at the bottom of the hill. Here you could see all manner of objects and interactive digital renderings, and then take a shuttle up to the site itself. In my opinion Madinat Al-Zahra is a site that is being restored in just the right way. They are putting some of the structures back together, but using materials that make it obvious what is original and what is not. It's still a huge work in progress, but I think it will become one of the tourist destinations in Spain when finished. What you're seeing is half of the exposed site from above. A total of only 10% of the entire complex had been uncovered so far! It also provides an excellent view looking back at the city.


Our last stop of the day was the Arab baths. I should say that we had had difficulties getting into Arab baths. We managed in the Alhambra, but the other attempts in Grenada and then in Ronda had drawn a blank. Well, this one was open, but boy was it a disappointment. It was, in my opinion, the wrong way to restore. Virtually none of the ruins were left visible, the floors were covered with wood planks, and worst of all they had bad music piped in with Disney-esque, cartoony standies. If it hadn't been free on Wednesday I would have been pissed!

The next day we caught a morning train to Madrid. It all went really well, and we were checked in by noon. After lunch we headed straight for the Museo Cerralbo. . .which turned out to be closed for restoration. We then headed to the Chapel of San Antonio de la Florida. This is the only site I know of where Goya painted the ceilings. It's also his tomb. It's pretty far out of the way, so I planned a walk to get ourselves oriented to the city. We saw this on the way.


You ever just know you're not in Kansas anymore? Can you imagine a book vending machine in Modesto? This one was even aimed at young adults, and was just outside the entrance to the Metro.


We also went to see a really surreal spot in Parque del Oeste that contains an ancient Egyptian Temple. Templo de Debod was given to the Spanish government as a gift for their support. How could I resist this little gem?

For the 6th we had only one thing on the agenda, the Prado. I had booked tickets online for the opening at 9am. In this picture you can see that it was a good thing I had. This is the line for presales one minute before opening. I did feel justified in the extra one-Euro expense when I saw the regular line though.


Unfortunately this is the only picture I have for you since there is no photography in the Prado. We immediately went up to the top floor, and had the entire thing to ourselves. The Prado has one of the best painting collections, heavily featuring Spanish artists such as El Greco, Velazquez (including Las Meninas) and literally dozens of Goyas. It also has a number of works from the North, including several Bosches and his most famous work The Garden of Earthly Delights. Yes, they do have Italian painting, adding not just the one Caravaggio from their permanent collection, but also another on loan from Hartford, Connecticut. It's one of the most amazing museums I've ever been to, and with little to no crowd it can be accomplished in a day. They also only charge six Euros! For cost comparison the MET in New York charges twenty-five bucks.

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