Sunday, August 9, 2015


Elisabeth's parents and 2 of her siblings arrived in Barcelona for a visit. They stayed in a hotel in the Las Ramblas Gothic district for a couple of nights to allow the 1-year-old and the 6-year-old to make the 7 hours time zones adjustment; then we all headed off in a high speed train early the following morning for a 4-day visit to Madrid. The train travels at speeds up to 300 kilometers per hour (186 mph) and the trip takes approximately 3 hours. These are very nice trains and we would recommend train travel in Spain. It is much nicer to travel from heart of one city to the heart of another city rather than deal with airports situated well outside of town. And the comfort level of these trains far surpasses that of any airline. First class travel on the trains costs only slightly more than tourist class and is worth that slight rate increase. 

Never figured out this building.  There was a ticket
window beside the entrance but signs indicated
there were shops and restaurants inside.  Plus there
was a metal detector security at entrance.  Lynn is
fluent in Spanish and even she could not figure it out.
Lynn (Elisabeth's mom) had selected the Westin Palace Hotel for our stay in Madrid, known locally simply as The Palace hotel.  This large hotel was commissioned by King Alfonso XIII in 1912 and was completely constructed, furnished and open for occupancy in only 15 months.  I am a little impressed that a building this large could be constructed and furnished that quickly. It was completely renovated in 2010 and is very luxurious.  The Palace is centrally located, allowing for short walks to all the sites to be visited such as parks and museums.  We had a H-U-G-E suite adjoining another large room.  It was perfect for this extended family of 7.  Almost like having an apartment except without a kitchen.

Part of our huge hotel suite

Bubble baths for baby and boy

Another part of our suite

And door to another room
behind Lynn

Bill and Judy at Buen Retiro Parque

After a large lunch (too many people ordering at once caused confusion by the waitress and several orders were duplicated), we strolled a few blocks over to the Buen Retiro Parque (Park of the Pleasant Retreat).  This is the largest park in Madrid and is in the city center.  It belonged to the Spanish monarchy until the late 19th century, when it became a public park. It is filled with beautiful sculpture and monuments, galleries, a large lake and near a smaller lake stands the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace).  Weather in Madrid in August is quite hot but it was pleasant enough in the shade in this heavily forested park.  At the Crystal Palace we found an exhibit sponsored by the Reina Sofia Museum called "Tuiza: The Cultures of the Bedouin Tent" by artist Federico Guzman.  The Palacia de Cristal was built in 1887 and was initially used to house exotic plants.  Today it is used mainly for temporary art exhibitions.  It was much too hot for us to stay inside that space more than a few minutes.  This is a beautiful structure but maybe it would be better suited to house temporary art exhibitions during fall, winter or spring.  It is a true hothouse during August!

Elisabeth and Lynn at
Botanical Gardens

The following morning we visited the famous Prado Museum, the largest art gallery in the world and one of Spain's major tourist attractions.  The Prado houses more than 8,600 paintings but exhibits only 2,000 at a time.  Not to mention many of the most fabulous sculptures imaginable.  The life-size statues of Tiberius and Emperor Augustus which are a combination of marble and bronze were very interesting.  Have never seen anything like that -- with parts of the bodies in marble covered by bronze sandals and 'clothing.'  These might be the most impressive items we saw.  There was a special exhibit at the Prado of works by artist Pablo Picasso.  Lucky us that our visit occurred during this special exhibition!

Unhappy little Rose

After a couple of hours wandering around inside the Prado and soaking up more art and culture than one might want, baby Rose let us know that she had seen enough.  Since we could not find any private space or room where she could cry herself to sleep and nothing anyone did could calm her, we rushed outside rather than continue to disturb the other museum visitors by the crying toddler.  Instant quiet!  She just wanted out of the museum. Bill took 6-yr-old Damien back to the hotel to cool off and the rest of of walked a few blocks to visit the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia.  Or, as we called it, the Reina Sofia museum.

Oh...and what a museum this is!  It houses works of all the most famous artists of years past.  Even a few of contemporary artists.  Admission on Sundays after mid-afternoon is free.  That was a pleasant surprise.  But, as typical with things free, this meant parts of the 4-storey museum were closed for viewing on Sunday afternoons.  There was still more available to view than we could absorb.  The building appeared not to be air conditioned and some rooms were uncomfortably warm.  We breezed through those as quickly as possible and slowly enjoyed the cooler areas.

Probably the most important work of art in the Reina Sofia is the painting entitled 'Guernica' by Pablo Picasso.  There were many other works by Picasso housed here but 'Guernica' likely is the most famous.  For many years there were 2 armed guards posted on either side of this painting for fear of possible damage by political activists.  Today, there still are 2 museum staff members posted beside this painting and the roped barrier is placed unusually far out away from it.  Photos are allowed in this museum but not in the room housing this particular painting.  For those readers not familiar with this painting, read here:

Royal Palace in Madrid

The next day our itinerary began with a visit to the Royal Palace or Palacio Real.  The royal family no longer resides in this palace but it still is used for state visits and certain events.  Adjacent to the palace parade grounds stands the very large Almudena Cathedral. We did not visit this cathedral because it was hot and each of us felt that we have seen enough cathedrals already.  We would see more later in Barcelona and elsewhere; so let's just skip this one.

Damien and Aaron standing in the grounds of Royal
Palace in front of 
Almudena Cathedral
Lots and lots of steps in Royal Palace
There were a gadjillion steps up and down inside the Royal Palace.  And more than a few tourists.  It was nice but after seeing the palaces in St. Petersburg this one pales in comparison.  It did have a very large chapel which had lots of gold on the ceiling.  Wondered what Spain did with all that gold from South and Central America.  Looked like a lot of it might have ended up on that ceiling of the royal chapel.  This chapel looked like it could easily accommodate 100 worshipers, maybe more.  By the way, the dining table in the room for state dinners could seat more people than any table I have ever seen.  It was at least 50 feet long and 12 feet wide!

Very distracting 'detail' that looked like painted plywood
cut-outs in front of beautiful architectural details.

One feature that I found extremely strange was the rotunda ceiling over some meeting stairways.  It had the beautiful intricate artwork that is typical in palaces.  But on the 4 'corners' of the ceiling there were painted scenes placed in front of the actual structure.  It looked very strange.  Almost as if these scenes were painted on plywood or something.  Honestly, this was not attractive.  It detracted from the quality materials used in the construction of the palace.  This area would look better if those were removed.

One of many beautiful ceilings in Royal Palace

Aaron and Bill at Botanical Gardens

Elisabeth and Damien at
Botanical Gardens
Next up were the Real Jardín Botánico, the royal botanical gardens.  This garden was founded in 1755 by King Ferdinand VI.  Today the garden is divided into 3 major outdoor sections or terraces and 2 greenhouses.  Collections today total about 30,000 plants and flowers, with 1,500 trees.  It also contains a substantial herb garden.  This was a nice place to visit with young children on a hot day.  
Elisabeth striking 'the pose' that almost every female
tourist did for photos everywhere

Elisabeth and Aaron striking a more fun pose.

Cypress from Himalayas

I was most impressed with a particular cypress tree indigenous to the Himalayas.  This tree was planted in the early 1800s, making it now about 200 years old.  These trees can live up to 1,000 years. The trunk on this one now is about 1.5 meters diameter.  I had noticed several of these trees, all smaller, at the Buen Retiro Parque.  They caught my attention because they have large pine cones that are white and look like eggs until they mature and begin to look like normal pine cones.  A huge green tree covered in white eggs.  Wouldn't that get your attention too?

Alcalá Gate
On our final day in Madrid our little group split up for most of the day.  Lynn, Elisabeth, Rose and I visited the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza while Bill, Aaron and Damien visited the Naval Museum.  The females wanted to see a special Vogue exhibit and knew the guys would not be interested.  They would enjoy the ships and nautical stuff more.   After the Thyssen museum we attempted to meet up with the guys but never connected.  We walked around a bit and chanced upon the Alcalá Gate.  Lynn had wanted to see this but we had no idea where it was located.  Hey!  Look!  It is located right in the middle of this street. let's have lunch.

Life size music box characters.  They come out while
music plays at noon.  There were more but they
had already gone back inside before I realized
where the music was coming from.

Finally we connected with the guys and caught taxis to the nearby train station, arriving back in Barcelona around 10 that night.  

Note one thing that is a bit annoying here in Spain (and might be true all over Europe as far as we know).  That is that a taxi can only take 4 passengers maximum.  Even when one of those passengers in an infant being held in parent's lap in back seat.  Apparently, they do not have a problem with infants not being secured properly in a car seat.  But that infant must count as a passenger.  

That means a family with 3 children must take 2 taxis even if those children are infants.  The 2 parents, teenager and the infant and 6-yr-old could easily be seated in any of these taxis.  But they must take 2 separate taxis because of that 4-passenger rule.  

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