Madrid Diary Day 3: El Prado

Madrid, Spain – Monday, October 14, 2019

[Find this travel series here]

Today we slept in and finally reset our internal clock for Espana Time. We are loving our little Airbnb apartment’s comfortable bed, being able to do a load of laundry each day, and how quiet our building is!

The weather forecasting rain this afternoon meant the perfect opportunity to visit Madrid’s famous art museum – Museo Nacional del Prado – which is celebrating 200 Years! We enjoyed wandering through the old cobblestone streets on our way to the other side of the city.

We found a sculpture erected in memory of the 1977 Massacre of Atocha when five lawyers were fatally shot, and four seriously injured during the violent transition period from Communism to democracy after Franco’s death.

The Atocha memorial is called “The Hug”

We overshot the museum by several blocks but loved discovering this fountain.

And this gorgeous 16th Century monastery on the East side of the Prado Museum.

San Jerónimo el Real – completed in 1505

Every day for the final two hours from 6-8 PM [18:00 – 20:00] The Prado Art Museum is free to the public. We arrived just prior to 5 PM and there was already a long queue for the free admission crowd. We decided it was worth paying the reasonable 15 Euro admission so we could see as much as we could in the remaining 3 hours the museum would be open. That was a GOOD decision! This 200-year old museum is massive, and it was relatively empty from 5-6 before the free crowd flooded in.

The Beheading of Saint John the Baptist and Herod’s Banquet, 1630 – by Strobel the Younger

Despite having 3 hours we still didn’t even see half of this famous museum’s incredible collection. I highly recommend paying the 4 Euro extra for an audio guide. You can punch in an exhibit’s number and hear all about it.

“Magdalena Ventura with her Husband and Son” by José de Ribera

For example, there’s a fascinating story here. Magdalena Ventura became a local celebrity in Abruzzo when she grew a full beard at age 32 after the birth of her three sons. Here, the painter Ribera shows her breastfeeding her child while her husband stands behind her. Instead of depicting a curiosity to leer at, Ribera portrays her as confident and almost confrontational, staring down the viewer across the centuries with dignity and grace. It is a masterpiece that even today challenges gender conventions.

Our only disappointment was that not every painting and statue has a recording, so several times there was a painting I wanted to learn more about, but it remained a mystery.

The Grand Hall, floor 2

The security guard at the entrance told me “no selfie” so I assumed that meant no selfie stick but “yes camera” (right?). Well, I assumed wrong! After being roundly scolded on Level 2, this was the end of my Prado photography.

The artist Goya is a Spanish Treasure, and the Prado is FILLED with his vast and varied collections

Choosing to begin at the top, and work our way down was a good plan. This meant we saw all of the Goya masterwork “tapestry cartoons” on floor 3 (which is about a quarter of the size of the building – a bit like the Prado’s “attic” and only accessible by stairs).

Then, down to Floor 2 – a MASSIVE space, the size of at least 3 city blocks. We still didn’t finish that floor before being herded out immediately at 7:55 pm. So, we missed floor one and floor zero entirely. But, what we DID get to see was stunning and worth every penny!!

When we exited, it was very dark outside. There had recently been a thunderstorm and it was still lightly raining. We needed to watch our step since the cobblestone streets were slick. The air was very fresh and cool.

We used Google map to lead us to “La Encomienda“, one of the top organic vegan restaurants in Madrid (of many) where we enjoyed a fabulous and very reasonably priced meal comprised of Tapas, Bread, Pad Thai, Morrocan veggies with black rice, and a slice of vegan cheesecake with berries. Delicious!!

We had a bit more “authentic” Madrid experience than we desired on the way back to our apartment when we encountered an elderly homeless man defecating on the sidewalk. That’s really not a sight that can ever be “unseen”, and I felt so sad and humiliated for him. No human being should ever have to live like that. 😥 

We have noticed a significant homeless population here. The city also has a lot of graffiti, and the streets and sidewalks are generally unclean. Madrid is very similar to NYC or any large USA city. Although, I must say Madrid feels much safer and is more peaceful than any of my experiences in NYC. Rarely are any sirens heard, and no one ever bothers us. My two pet peeves with Madrid are:

1. Seeing a lot of uncomfortably inappropriate PDA (get a room, people!)

2. Locals walking holding lit cigarettes! Not even smoking them (which they do plenty of everywhere else), but just HOLDING them while the fumes fill the air and inevitably we end up having to travel behind one of these ambulating polluters on a crowded narrow sidewalk with no escape – our lungs gagging and eyes burning! 🤢 Spaniards have a VERY unhealthy relationship with cigarettes!

We discovered a really nice grocery and fresh market near our apartment that we weren’t aware of. We also got to see San Francisco Cathedral all lit up at night which is quite stunning!

Basilica of San Francisco el Grande
San Francisco Basilica is just a few steps from our apartment

Tomorrow we are looking forward to leaving the busy city on our first excursion! We will get to enjoy some fresh mountain air! 

Buenas Noches y dulces sueños! – Holly

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