Madrid, magical for all agesAuthor: David C. (More Trip Reviews by David C.)
Date of Trip: October 2009
The first train was to Cercedilla, a small town on the edge of the Sierra de Guadarrama and on the line to Segovia. The scenery was increasingly attractive as we approached the mountains. For a short time it was possible to see the huge cross at the Valle de los Caidos, not an attraction from my point of view but we all have our own political reaction to such places. I had no breakfast before leaving Atocha and I was delighted to be able to get a coffee before the next train.
This was a real treat and even if it had been one of the days on which I feel unable to walk far, I would have regarded the train part of the day as a thoroughy worth while trip out. It was the only Madrid Cercanias line that goes nowhere near the city of Madrid, narrow gauge and for most of its route single track. A number of halts are shown on the timetable but stops at them are only by request. There was only one actual stop before the terminus where there were two lines to allow trains to meet. The views were excellent as the route snaked up into the mountains. The terminus was Los Cotos, a place of which I knew nothing except that there was a ski resort somewhere around.
Never having been a skier, I don't regard the signs of the activity left for the summer as an attraction but I quickly realised that it was easy to avoid being inconvenienced by them here. I had thought of going straight back but it was only an hour later to the next train and I was hungry. So I would eat on the station but I might have a quick look at the scenery first. I had only gone about three or four minutes when I came to the entrance to the Pe ñalara Natural Park. A map post made it look as though there was a viewpoint close by – and the park office was only a very few more minutes away – so I would go there and ask about it. Nature and habits are not so easily denied however. I did not ask about the viewpoint! What I actually asked was whether there were any easy walks and there was one. Hunger?? - acute but it would have to wait
The walk was supposed to be about an hour each way. I was right in guessing that for me it would be an extra 50 minutes going out and an extra 5 coming down but that would leave me time for the 15.45 train with luck and if not, definitely for the 17.45. The first part of the walk was qite rough and steep but that did not worry me much (the very helpful lady at the office had told me about it) as I was fresh from the train. After only about 150 feet the path became a contour route for all of two miles. The path left the trees and the open views across the valley were just what is needed for a break from a city. Then came what for me was the difficult part. The path going upwards to the Laguna Grande de Pe ñalara winds through one of the specially protected areas of the park and the park lady had told me that the laying of planks to preserve the environment had made it easy, Certainly it had obviated any roughness but it had not reduced the slope! If I had not been able to see clearly where the lake had to be, I think I might have chickened out!
As it was I persisted and reached rocks where I could sit and look at the wonderful lake below the peaks. By this time I was really concerned to get the 15.45 train if at all possible and this prevented me exploring further. I took the same route back and arrived at the station at 15.28. That left me time for a drink, after doing what a chap has to do, but hunger was becoming dreadful!! Fortunately in country areas the traditional tapas habit still lives. The free slice of tortilla was just small enough for me to enjoy it (ENJOY - I mean) before the train.
All in all a great day out – and, incidentally I reached the Mirador del Gitano (viewpint of the Gypsy) only a very few minutes into my walk so if I had asked about viewpoints - - -
So we reach the last day. I started by taking the Metro to Atocha, having checked out from my lodgings. It was not far up the Paseo del Prado to find the CaixaForum (sic). This is the Madrid unit and there are others in Barcelona and some other cities. It is a large FREE cultural centre with performances in the auditorium and visiting exhibitions on two floors of massive exhibition halls. The one when I was there was a exhibition (now ended) of the works, (completed, started, unstarted and even rejected) of Richard Rogers and his firm.of architects. With numerous models, films and literally hundreds of photos I could hardly fail to learn a lot as well as spending some delightful time.
Outside the centre is a vertical garden by Raymond Blanc – the only one I have seen. It contains 15,000 plants of 250 different species. Just to cap my satisfaction the CaixaForum had large luggage storage lockers and I was able to dispose of my luggage until I left for the airport. Whether it was meant to return the €1 that I had paid it I don't know – but it did!
So to the Prado. If that sounds like a sort of climax, so be it. It was. I kept strictly to the advice I had been given, even though it pained me a bit not to look at works by some favourite painters. I had been advised to pick very few, preferably only two, and spend as long as I could with them. It seemed obvious to me that I should opt for Spaniards. I rejected El Greco because I had seen a lot of his work already in Toledo on a previous occasion. That left Velasquez, Goya and Murillo. I chose Velasquez and Goya but there is so much Goya that I decided to choose again. Having seen some before in France, I opted for the very distinctive 'Black Paintings,.' Did I enjoy them? I hope you don't think me a nutcase and who else would enjoy seeing children being eaten. I imagine I enjoyed them exactly as much as Goya meant people to – not at all. However their sheer emotive power is immense and I am certainly glad I chose them. If you have not looked before and, after reading that, you still want to, try http://www.eeweems.com/goya/black_paintings.html
However I am also glad to say that I did enjoy the Velasquez rooms immensely. I knew that I would be bowled over by 'Las Meninas' but I think I was just as impressed by 'The Drinkers' and 'The Spinners.' All can be seen at http://www.spanisharts.com/prado/velazquez.htm.
Now it was time for lunch, Metro, plane and home.
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