I have heard wonderful things about Spain, so I was not particularly surprised when Madrid turned out to be a beautiful, friendly, fun city. (Although, Barcelona was usually the city being mentioned, so that city must really be something.) I think there’s something about the combination of the wine or beer at every meal, the long siesta in the middle of the day, and I swear there is something to greeting everyone with “hola!” That final vowel just opens up the mouth and face and makes people instantly more relaxed and welcoming than, for example “bonjour”, ending in a closed, reserved mouth position (are my acting roots showing?) Whatever the reason, we had a wonderful time eating so much ham, drinking so much wine, and seeing amazing art and architecture. I’ll speak more about the food, including where and what we ate and enjoyed in later posts (tapas are a brilliant idea, aren’t they? Who ever just wants to eat one thing and just be done with it? I certainly don’t.) These are the sites and wanderings we particularly enjoyed in Madrid.

Prado Museum (Museo Nacional del Prado) One of the largest art collections in Europe, this beautiful museum, of a manageable size, houses a lot of religious art, including not just Spanish artists like El Greco, but lots of Dutch painters as well. Also there, many Goya paintings including The Second of May and the Third of May 1808, and the famous triptych by Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthy Delights.

Paseo del Prado A narrow, tree-lined park between two roads on the east side of the city, near the Prado museum. A nice walk. DSC02823

Plaza Mayor We found ourselves walking through this central square nearly every day, as we were staying nearby. Quite touristy and filled with lots of costumed characters (including an amusing fat spiderman) and probably avoidable restaurants and cafes, but with some nice architecture, statues and murals, it’s worth a look.

Rastro Flea Market This market, held on Sundays in a huge area of the Embajadores neighborhood. Large, and with an eclectic mixture of the new (art, t-shirts, leather bags, clothing, espadrilles, fabrics, souvenirs, underwear) and old (antiques of all sorts, mostly along the side streets). A little bit of everything, very enjoyable, even if we didn’t buy anything.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia We visited this modern art museum mostly for Picasso’s Guernica, but really enjoyed all the art, as well as the setting.

Palacio Real de Madrid We didn’t go in the royal palace, but the outside, and the surrounding Plaza de Oriente (with several cafés for a coffee or glass of wine) and Sabatini Gardens were very beautiful.DSC03021

Almudena Cathedral This large cathedral, beside the palace, is a nice example of a newer cathedral, as it opened in 1993 (but took 100 years to build).

Other sites:


the old uncles

Cathedral St. Pierre et St. Paul

Nantes, France is about as packed full of churches as you would expect a thousand-year-old city to be. There seems to be one around every corner, including out the window of our rental apartment. They rest their ancient bones around the corner from a café, a boutique, a sushi restaurant, folded into a young city which is constantly changing and growing. Streams of people flow by, not even glancing up at the building towering above-the old uncle at the party, they’ve heard the stories he has to tell before. But for a traveler, during a heat wave in a city with very little air conditioning, a cool, dark, quiet cathedral is a welcome respite, admiring the vaulted ceilings and painted frescoes, a pleasure.

The cathedral, the church of the Bishop of Nantes, is called Saint-Pierre et Saint-Paul (St. Peter and St. Paul’s Cathedral). Building began in 1434, and was completely finished in 1891. In all that time, and since, it has been damaged many times, including during the French revolution, and when the city was bombed in 1943, and finally in a fire in 1972 when it was almost completely destroyed. Some of these various lives are evident if you look closely, but overall, it is completely harmonious and you would never know that it took so long to complete, or that it has been almost entirely restored from the original. It is built in the style of Flamboyant Gothic. One gentleman on TripAdvisor gave the cathedral a “Poor” rating, with two stars out of five. I’m not sure what he was expecting; a floor show with dancing nuns? A higher ceiling? Sandwiches maybe? Ratings sites are ridiculous. Also sometimes useful. It’s a total love/hate thing.

Below is Église Saint-Louis, more commonly knows as Notre-Dame de Bon-Port. Begun in 1843, and located near where the port used to be, it is beautifully visible from the river. Saint Louis is the patron of sailors going off to sea. The dome was inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome.

Basilica of St. Louis

The Basilica of Saint Nicholas, with the tall spire reaching up to the sky, was built in 1854 in the Neo-Gothic style and its bells make a beautiful cacophony.

Basilica of St. Nicholas

Église Sainte-Croix is a surprise in the middle of the Bouffay district, a mixture of styles, including Baroque, Flamboyant and Neo-Gothic. Originally built in 1685 it was the site of the chapel of the nearby Chateau of the Dukes of Brittany. The church seems to have changed along with the city. It was damaged, along with almost everything else, during the bombardments of 1943.

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