Friday, July 31, 2015

Alcala de Henares


Calle Mayor

The Roman Empire found its way to Spain in the first century BC and they built a settlement in Alcalá de Henares. They called it, Complutum. The Visigoths drove the Romans away and they in turn were given the boot by the Moors in 711. The Moors named their new conquest, Al-Qal'at, which means citadel. Alcalá de Henares means citadel on the river Henares.

Alcalá was recaptured from the Moors in 1118 and became part of the bishopric of Toledo. It was in the early 16th century when Cardinal Jimenez de Cisneros conceived the idea of a univeristy town and laid the groundwork for a university with the specific purpose of training students as administrators for the church and the state. For years the Universidad de Alcalá was the center of higher education in Spain until it was moved to Madrid in 1836 and Alcalá was left to languish. Thanks to the forward thinking group of citizens called the Sociedad de Condueños (Society of Joint Owners) who bought several of the university buildings and preserved them that the historic center has survived to this day. The current Universidad de Alcalá de Henares was established in 1977.


       Downspout of a gutter 

It is perhaps due to the local residents' keen awareness and appreciation of their cultural heritage that they pay particular attention to detail such as this downspout which I noticed along the arcaded walkways. These covered walkways on Calle Mayor are lifesavers especially when the temperature hovers around 100 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer months. You can sit at a café or shop in comfort without getting burnt by the sun.


Stork's Nest

These white storks are increasing in numbers. They seem to love their perches atop the towers and steeples (of which there are a lot of) in town. And the white stork is a protected species in Spain and the local government attends to their needs. Once a year they migrate to Africa for a couple of months and return in October. But it seems this pattern is changing as it has been observed that they are now spending more time in Alcalá. 

Plaza de Cervantes

The university and city center was conferred the Unesco World Heritage Site status in 1998. This was the first city planned as a university town and became the model for other educational centers in Europe and the new world. 

El Paraninfo, Colegio de San Ildefonso

El Paraninfo is a jewel of a hall Inside the Colegio de San Ildefonso at the Universidad de Alcalá. In the old days, this was where a candidate for a doctorate degree was tasked to defend his studies and receive his diploma or if he fails, leave in shame.  Nowadays, the annual ceremony for the Cervantes Prize for lifetime achievement in literature is held here with the King of Spain giving the prestigious award to the winner.


Museo Casa Natal de Cervantes
With Don Quixote and Sancho Panza

Miguel de Cervantes was born in Alcalá in 1547. We know him best for his work, Don Quixote de La Mancha.  The house where he was born is on Calle Mayor and it displays furniture of the era as well as various early editions of his book since its publication and the translated versions. There are also precious drawings by Salvador Dali. There is much to see in this compact house and the entry is free.

Cervantes through Don Quixote has left us this inspiring passage:

"One man scorned and covered with scars
Still strove with his last ounce of courage
To reach the unreachable stars
And the world will be better for this."

How to get there: Take the Cercanias train from Atocha station or Ministerios from Madrid to Alcalá de Henares. It takes approximately 30 minutes to get there and costs 5€ as of this writing.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida


"I hate darkness. Claude Monet once said that painting in general did not have light enough in it.  I agree with him. We painters, however, can never reproduce sunlight as it really is. I can only approach the truth of it. " Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida

Mother, 1895

Joaquin Sorolla (1863-1923) was a prolific Spanish painter from Valencia. He has been dubbed "the painter of light". His works include portraits, landscapes, historical and monumental themes. He left behind some 2000 paintings and there is a good representation of his oeuvres at his former home which is now the Museo Sorolla.

In the painting, Mother, Sorolla portrays his newly born daughter, Elena, with his wife who looks lovingly at her daughter. It's difficult to use white paint without overwhelming the subject. But Sorolla meticulously works with gradations of white. The white wall is a different shade from the white pillowcases and the white bedcover. He works with the curves of the bodies under the cover and the folds of the bedcover to veer away from a monochromatic tone. 

La llegada de las barcas, Jávea, 1905

La llegada de las barcas (the arrival of the boats) is one of my favorite paintings in the collection. I love how the sails are billowing in the wind and seem to engulf the painting. Sorolla was exposed to the works of the impressionists during his studies in Paris. This painting reflects the influence of impressionism on his work with the barely discernible figures, his brushstroke rendering of the sea and the application of a nautical theme. 

Frieze of flowers, fruits and laurel on the mantel

The mantel and upper walls of the dining room are decorated with a frieze of garlands of fruits and laurel accentuated with portraits of Sorolla's wife and daughters.

Artist's studio
Painting in background: Strolling along the Seashore, 1909

Not surprisingly, Sorolla's studio is well appointed. Some of his extensive collection of ceramics are displayed here along with his impressive desk, a bed, sculptures and religious statues, his paint brushes and watercolor paintings. Sorolla painted many scenes of the Alhambra and its gardens in Granada and they are hung in this room.

Sorolla's works were a "commercial" success during his lifetime. He had a market for his paintings both in Europe and the United States. He was invited by the Hispanic Society of America to exhibit his works in the U.S. in 1909. He returned in 1911 for an exhibition of his paintings at the Chicago Art Institute. He was also in demand as a portraitist and among his subjects was Howard Taft, the President of the United States whom he painted in 1909. Sorolla also received numerous awards for his works including the Grand Prix and the Medal of Honor at the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1900 and the medal of honor at the National Exhibition in Madrid in 1901. 

Garden

There's a little bit of the Alhambra in Sorolla's garden. I enjoyed listening to the music of the fountains and rested awhile and away from the noise and heat of the city. The sweet scent of oranges from a heavily laden tree in front of the house permeated the air. This was such a lovely place to re-energize and remind myself that traveling isn't all about keeping up with the "things to see and do" list but more importantly, to bask in serendipitous moments like this.

Museo Sorolla
General Martinez Campos, 37
Madrid
Metro: Iglesa line 1, Ruben Dario line 5, Gregorio Marañón line 7 or 10
Entrance fee: 3€ (check for discounts for senior citizens or students and Saturday afternoons
museosorolla.mcu.es 

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie 


Monday, July 20, 2015

The Streets of Madrid


 "Love of God Street"  

What a blessed name for a street! We should all be so fortunate to live on a street with a name like this.

Calle de la Sal

Someone thought to enliven this building.  Nice comic balcony scenes. 

Calle Cervantes

Both Miguel de Cervantes and Lope de Vega lived on this street. And the Lope de Vega house is open to visitors. You have to reserve to join a tour of his house but the small garden is open to all.

Tea Shop in Huertas neihborhood

Where there's tea, there's hope.

Street sweeper, Plaza Jacinto Benavente 

"If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or as Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well'." Martin Luther King, Jr.

Calle de las Hileras

Details distinguish the extraordinary from the mundane.

Calle de las Huertas (Barrio de las Letras)

Ah, isn't it true my angel of love?
That on this secluded shore
The moon shines clear and pure
And one breathes better?  José Zorilla from the play, Don Juan Tenorio (1844)

The streets of Madrid are full of surprises. Look up and you'll see murals, wrought iron balconies, well thought out street names inscribed on tile, sculptures and statues. Look down and you'll read passages from a poem or a novel by famous Spanish writers. There's so much going on at eye level that it's easy to be distracted. But a slow walk through these streets will make you a Madrid tour guide in no time, (if only to your close relatives and friends). Disfrute!

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie



Monday, July 13, 2015

Reina Sofia Museum


Madrid has some of the best museums in the world. The Reina Sofia Museo Nacional de Arte is definitely one of these. Under its roof is arguably one of the most intriguing paintings of all time, the Guernica by Pablo Picasso.  The canvas measures 11.45 ft. by 25 ft. It is larger than liife. And it tells a gripping story of a small town in the Basque region which was bombed by German Luftwaffe aircraft in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.  It is forbidden to photograph this painting so here's the link to view it: http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/collection/artwork/guernica.

Girl at the Window, Salvador Dali, 1925

This is an early oil painting by Dali of his sister. I too am drawn by the view from the window when I stand in front of this painting.  What must this girl be thinking? Is she longing to go out to the beach? Dali is a master at engaging his audience. His paintings often challenge our visual perception of his art. 

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters - Francisco Goya, 1799

This is #43 of a series of etchings called, Los Caprichos. Goya has this to say about this particular aquatint: "Imagination abandoned by reason produces impossible monsters; united with her, she is the mother of the arts and the source of their wonders." Art, therefore, is the product of reason and imagination.

Lunar Bird, Joan Miró, 1966

This bronze sculpture by Miró is in the garden of the Reina Sofia. The moon represents the female while the sun, the male. Miró is best known for his imaginative and colorful canvasses. There are a few of his paintings in the museum as well.  To see more sculptures by Miró in one place, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has an exhibition of his sculptures through October 2015.  

The Reina Sofia has thousands of artworks from the end of the 19th century to the present day in its collection.  Paintings by George Braque, Juan Gris, Jean Dubuffet, René Magritte, Robert Delauney, and a host of contemporary artists are currently on display at the museum. With such a large collection, only a thousand artworks are on view. Read more about the collection here:  http://www.museoreinasofia.es/en/press/the-collection/collection-1-irruption-20th-century-utopias-and-conflicts-1900-1945.

Looking up at the glass elevator of the Reina Sofia

The nice thing about going to a museum in Madrid is that there are designated times during the day or week when the entrance fee is waived. On Sundays, the museum is free from 1:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.  Mondays through Saturdays from 7 p.m. - 9 p.m.  Museum is closed on Tuesdays.  Check the museum website to verify hours and entrance fees: www.museoreinasofia.es/en.

*****

Images by TravelswithCharie



Sunday, July 12, 2015

Buying Pasteles from Cloistered Nuns

Enter through this door

Years ago I had been to one of the convents in Madrid hoping to buy their pastries but alas, they were closed. It wasn't until recently that I finally had the chance to try one of their delectable cookies.

The Monastery of Corpus Christi is on Calle del Codo which is off the popular Plaza del Conde de Miranda.  Buzz the nuns at the door to let you in.  The second buzzer is for the monks which you can ring if you wish to go to confession. Once you're inside you pass a courtyard to a short corridor before you enter an open door where you can ask the nun in attendance what you'd like from the list posted on the wall. It is possible they may only have one pastry available (as on the day I went). If they have different items available, they will put the boxes of pastries or cookies on the lazy susan and you can put your money on top of the box you wish to purchase. Your change and box of sweets will come around shortly. 

Put your money on top of the pastry box you wish to buy

You will not see anyone.  You will only hear the voice of the nun in attendance. These cloistered nuns make a living by selling these pasteles. It's nice to help them by buying their cookies and going off the grid to find them. The price of each box of pastry is indicated alongside the items they sell.  The box of nevaditos that I bought cost €9.


On the list of items the nuns sell are naranjines (orange flavored cookies) almond cookies, yema (custard candy with egg yolk) nevaditos, galletas (biscuits), pastas de té (cookies). Some of these are available by the kilo as well. 

Nevaditos 

There were at least 16 pieces of nevaditos (snow capped mountains) in the box. I may have eaten a couple before I started counting. They were so good. It goes well with a cup of tea. The ingredients are: flour, sugar, white wine and lard. The cookies aren't that sweet despite the powdered sugar icing. Here's the recipe for nevaditos: 
http://realfood.tesco.com/recipes/nevaditos-345.html

When to buy the pastries:
Morning from 9 a.m. To 1 p.m. 
Afternoon from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm
Since the days of the week are not indicated, this might mean they are open daily (though many businesses are closed on Sundays in Madrid). 

*****

Images by Charie