Not long after returning from Sicily, my father and I visited Madrid from Friday 19 October to Monday 22 October. Because the flight from Dusseldorf to Madrid departed in the evening and the return flight on Monday also departed in the evening, it was three days in practice.
Saturday: El Escorial
The first thing we decided to do is visit El Escorial, a palace and monastery at 45 kilometers distance from Madrid. Getting there was not east for us. You have the option to take a bus, but we decided to take the train from Atocha station.
Two platforms (1 and 5 if I remember correctly) had descriptions that trains to El Escorial left there, but after a long wait on platform 1 we figured out they depart from platform 5. The information on which train would leave when and where wasn’t provided well. But after a delay of more than an hour we finally got our train.
The train isn’t fast because it makes quite a few stops, but it’s very scenic route along the countryside outside Madrid. When you get out in San Lorenzo de El Escorial you can take a bus to the palace, but it’s not necessary as the distance isn’t long and the bus stops at a notable distance from the place anyway.
The visit to El Escorial (on the route we took) starts off with seeing a few paintings (the best stuff was moved to other museum such as the El Prado if I recall correctly) and some relatively plain rooms. Later on I was very impressed when I saw the larger rooms with lavish decorations and the pantheon with the royal graves. Later on we also noticed some more memorable paintings, but I’m not sure what the name of that room was. The library amazes with all its frescoes.
Later on we entered the basilica. As I tried to take a photo of the dome (without a flash) I was asked not to take pictures. This made me wonder why museums make up such rules. While the rule seems very strange if it concerns a photo of the undecorated dome without using a flash, I can imagine how it’s relevant for paintings, mosaics and frescoes. But even then it’s only the flash which is harmful according to this source. However, there is also evidence to the contrary that flashes have no negative effect.
My conclusion is that it’s definitely worth a visit. When we got back to Madrid with the train most of the other interesting places had closed, so we walked around a bit from the Parque del Oeste to the center of Madrid. If we hadn’t been delayed because we missed several trains we might have had more time to visit other places later during the day.
Sunday: Museo del Prado
This was a rainy day, so it was convenient we had reserved this day for the museums. The other days had better weather, but even so the irony was that on Monday the Netherlands had a record temperature of 21,8 ℃ while in Madrid the temperature was around 15 ℃. Climate change I guess?
The Prado museum was our first stop. For me this was the high point of the whole trip, so many of the best paintings concentrated in one museum. Besides all the Spanish and Italian artists it also possesses many paintings from the Low Countries. We spent at least half the day here and it was totally worth it, the museum is on par with the Louvre and British Museum if you ask me.
Later that day we visited the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, it has a few nice paintings as well but most of it was not very interesting. That’s what you get if you’re spoiled by all the beauty of the Museo del Prado.
Monday: Palacio Real
The first stop of this day was the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. This is a modern art museum notable for having Pablo Picasso’s painting Guernica in its collection. It is definitely worth seeing, just like some of the paintings by Salvador Dalí which are exhibited there as well, but the rest of the museum failed to capture my interest. By the time we had reached the third floor we were just quickly walking through every room, giving every work of art no more than a gaze lasting for two seconds.
We went in expecting to see the whole museum as usual because it would be worth it, but in the end we felt no more than the compulsion to get the maximum value out of the entrance fees we paid. We gave in to our disinterest because there simply was no value for us in seeing the rest of the collection, and we didn’t bother to see what was on the fourth floor. Why does 95% of all modern art suck?
Next on the list was the Palacio Real. This royal palace more than compensated for our slight disappointment in the previous museum. We had to wait for the entrance for a while, but the line was not as long as when we had visited Versailles in Paris. The Palacio Real is able to compete with Versailles if you ask me, with a floor area twice as much as that palace. It is huge and has very intensively decorated rooms. It has a very interesting collection of early modern period armor, weapons and firearms.
Opposite the entrance of the palace is the entrance of the Almudena Cathedral. The interior is not notable, but it does allow for a climb to the top of the dome, which offers a good view of Madrid’s center. After all this we wanted to visit one last museum, the Museo Arqueológico Nacional, but this archaeological museum was closed for restoration. This is something which is mentioned on the museum’s (Spanish only) website, but not in its Wikipedia entry.
Before we went to the airport, we saw the Parque del Buen Retiro. I’m jealous we don’t have such amazing parks so close to the center in most Dutch cities. And Madrid has many other large parks such the Parque del Oeste I mentioned earlier, and the Casa de Campo. I like that Madrid is not a city which is built very dense and that some parts of its center resemble Paris with its wide avenues. The subway network is well developed, too.