Picture of the Week

14 August 2020

Week 31: A day trip to Madrid

Filed under: — Administrator @ 16:19

On Friday of this week, I left Alicante for the first time since early March. In another first, it was also the first time I used any kind of public transport since the pre-lockdown days. I took an early morning high-speed train to Madrid, spent the day visiting museums and enjoying the city, and took an evening train back to Alicante. The distance between the two cities is 440 km but the train covers it in 2 1/2 hours, much faster (and more comfortable, despite the need to wear a mask throughout) than driving. I have set up a dedicated gallery from the day here, but below I show some of the images that did not fit into the gallery.

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But I start with a few photos from home. I continued my walks around the streets of Alicante, looking for interesting signs for my collection:
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One of Alicante’s most traditional bars. “Mejillones de Correos” literally means “mussels from the post”. The name refers to the bar’s location, a square which also houses Alicante’s main post office and is known everywhere as Plaza de Correos:
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A stamp and coin shop next to the bar in the preceding photo:
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A halal butcher. Like other Spanish cities, Alicante has a sizeable North African (mainly Moroccan) population, and in addition many travellers of North African origin come to Alicante from France and Belgium every summer, on their way to visit families back home using the ferry services from here to Algeria (although not this summer because of the Covid crisis):
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A beauty salon in the centre. The woman is having some weird hair treatment which requires letting the chemicals do their work for some time:
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A random image from a street in my neighbourhood in El Campello:
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Now to Madrid. My train left Alicante at 7:05 and arrived at Madrid’s Atocha station at 9:30. I began taking pictures as soon as I got off the train; these are the skylights in the modern part of the station:
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The phrase from Jurassic Park, “nature finds a way” came to mind here:
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Just outside the station, a sign of protest against the head of Madrid’s regional government, Isabel Ayuso of the conservative Popular Party, against her handling of the pandemic (she had been pushing for a rapid re-opening despite the advice from health authorities). The text reads, “Ayuso the grave digger, step down”:
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The weather forecast for the afternoon was 40C, but I was not going to use the metro to get around as I usually do in Madrid. Walking was safer. Fortunately, many of the places I wanted to visit were not too far from the Atocha station. My first stop was the Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid’s main contemporary arts museum, and one of my favourite places in the city. There is a large square in front of the museum, with some bars and restaurants:
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Typical Spanish sight, grandparents with grandchild:
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In the courtyard, there are several sculptures, including this one by Joan Miró:
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Or this one, by Alexander Calder, an artist whose works I have also seen in Copenhagen:
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The museum was very lightly visited, partly due to Madrid being largely empty in August (everyone is on the coast or in the mountains) and partly due to the absence of foreign tourists. Even in the room that houses the most famous work, Picasso’s Guernica, there were only 3 visitors, compared to 40-50 the last time I was there. So the ushers did not have much work:
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After spending a couple of satisfying hours at the Reina Sofia, it was noon and time for an early pre-lunch at another Madrid landmark, conveniently located just a few steps away. The bar El Brillante is famous for its bocadillos de calamares, a classic Madrid sandwich:
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I treated myself to this lovely snack:
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Thus fortified, I walked towards the next item on my itinerary, the Parque del Buen Retiro. On the way, I passed the second-hand book market, held there every day:
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People who throw trash on the ground need help to understand what the rubbish bin is for:
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The Retiro park is Madrid’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park or London’s Hyde Park in the sense that all three are large parks in the centre of a major city. This being Spain, there are several bars around the park, and on a normal August day they would be a lot busier than this:
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Another grandparent with grandchildren, looking down into the pond very intently:
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This is what they were looking at:
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There are several grand buildings in the park:
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Then it was time for the Prado, Madrid’s grand old art museum. It had been closed since March, and re-opened only recently, and only partially. This meant, for example, that I could not see one of the paintings I always look at, Hieronymus Bosch’s Garden of Earthly Delights, but enough of my favourites were accessible, like the gripping painting “3 May 1808” by Goya, depicting the execution of rebels by French soldiers following a failed uprising against Napoleon:
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Goya is often considered the first “modern” painter, even when he painted mythological scenes, such as Saturn devouring his sons:
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I like this painting by Velázquez, depicting a 17th century hunting scene, because the dog reminds me strongly of my late, beloved Cheeta. I tell my family that this dog must one of Cheeta’s ancestors:
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Once done with the Prado, I walked towards the very centre of Madrid, Puerta del Sol and the nearby Plaza Mayor. Along the way, I passed Spain’s parliament:
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As always when walking around a city, I was looking for small details:
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A poster in the window of a tourist information office near Sol, telling visitors not to take the virus home with them as a souvenir. Perhaps not the greatest marketing message, but given that there are hardly any visitors, it is a moot point:
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Another sign of the times, a restaurant in a touristy part of Madrid, closed during the entire month of July, height of the tourist season. They could open if they wished–there are no restrictions–but like many restaurants in tourist zones, they must have decided that it was not worth it to open given the few visitors:
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A Cuban restaurant near Sol, a place to which I have some emotional attachment, because I ate a farewell dinner there with my son before he flew off to start his new life in the US in 2013:
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A rare souvenir shop near Plaza Mayor that has stayed open:
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A more typical souvenir shop in the same area:
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Plaza Mayor is a bit like Barcelona’s Rambla, a giant tourist trap. Few locals go to the overpriced bars and restaurants around the square. So right now, the terraces are virtually empty:
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Madrid’s main shopping streets emanate from the Sol square. Like the rest of the centre, they were very thinly populated that afternoon:
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But I came across this group of young people outside the main department store, El Corte Inglés, the one place with decent footfall. They were collecting money for an animal rescue charity:
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A few more details; a sign near Sol, proclaiming solidarity among the workers:
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A touch of humour:
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Perhaps this shop, also located in a touristy area, might re-think its branding:
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Pride-supporting hotel:
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Then it was time to walk back to Atocha for my train home. I have always found the façade impressive:
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Inside the station, a funny sign, referring to the “phases” of the lockdowns and subsequent re-openings (which took place at different speeds in different parts of Spain). So, the Canary Islands are described as “phase of tranquility”; the sign pointing to the access to the trains reads “phase run-so-you-make-it”; and the sign towards the exit proclaims the phase “OMG-it-is-so-hot!”:
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And a final image, from my garden, somewhat analogous to image 8 above; a flower from my neighbour’s garden has struggled through the fence:
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