Off To Madrid

Having lived with gloomy and rainy skies for months, I decided to head to sunnier places–namely Spain. Lucky for me, I happen to know three Spanish ETAs (all of Spain’s ETAs are based in Madrid), and they agreed to let me stay with them and show me around the city when they weren’t teaching.

Having studied Spanish in high school, I was excited to see how well I would manage in Madrid. I rapidly realized that my comprehension and reading is still pretty good (especially considering that I haven’t used Spanish for about five years), but that my speaking ability has deteriorated considerably. Thankfully this wasn’t too much of a problem since I spent about half of my time with my near fluent ETA friends.

Once I arrived, I met my friend Sara and we were off. Our first stop was Puerta del Sol, one of Madrid’s most bustling plazas. Although it’s certainly a pretty plaza, there isn’t too much of note here. The big landmarks are a statue of King Carlos III, the zero kilometer marker, and El Oso y El Madroño (The Bear and the Strawberry Tree–the symbol of Madrid).

IMG_1640  IMG_1639  IMG_3313

From there it was just a short walk to another plaza, Plaza Mayor. Personally I preferred Plaza Mayor to Puerta del Sol. It’s a bit more closed off than Puerta del Sol and also tends to have fewer people wandering around. It also has a fairly colorful history that includes things like bullfights and executions. I would argue that the most notable thing in the square is not the statue of King Felipe III, but the frescos on the 17th-century Real Casa de la Panadería (Royal Bakery). While the building is quite old, the frescoes themselves are relatively young. They were painted in 1992 by Carlos Franco and helped boost Madrid’s 1992 title as the European Capital of Culture.

IMG_1646  IMG_1651  IMG_1655IMG_1635  IMG_1660  IMG_1663

After that we stopped by the popular Mercado de San Miguel and grabbed some frozen yogurt before continuing down Calle de Toledo to the Rio Manzanares, the river that runs through Madrid. The area by the river has been made into a beautiful park, and there were plenty of people there walking, exercising, playing, and picnicking. Something that surprised me were the number of couples canoodling around the grounds–I suppose in Norway it’s generally too cold for people to really want to show signs of affection outdoors.

IMG_1664  IMG_1665  IMG_1676IMG_1669  IMG_1670  IMG_1671

We continued walking until we hit Matadero, a slaughterhouse that has been converted into a contemporary arts center. There were two big art exhibitions that we managed to see there. The first was one by the Guerrilla Girls, a feminist art collective started in the 1980’s that is well known for wearing gorilla masks and for using statistics to push back against women’s position in the art world. I was actually pretty shocked to read some of the statistics and to realize how few female artists are shown in the world’s major museums.

The second display was by Eugenio Ampudia. He had a great display where a shallow pool of water was built beneath a burned out construction, giving you the illusion of vast depth. When I first saw it I was convinced that there was a gaping hole in the floor. Unfortunately my picture doesn’t quite do the art justice, but it was pretty incredible to see at first glance. Another interesting thing about the piece was that you were able to call a telephone number that would trigger one of several small fountains, causing the reflection to ripple and destroy the illusion.

IMG_1679  IMG_1683  IMG_1686IMG_3297  IMG_3299  IMG_3298

After that we went for some lovely tapas near Sara’s place and called it a night.

One Last Trip to Oslo

Now that the sun has (sorta) returned to Norway, I’ve been lucky enough to have a few visitors! Thanks to great discounts on Norwegian Air, one of my friends from university, Alyssa, and her friend Kani decided to make a spontaneous weekend trip to Oslo. Because I’ve already blogged about some of these Oslo sights, I thought I’d keep this trip a bit on the simpler side and opted for a list format with this post.

Oslo Opera House

I absolutely adore the Oslo Opera House. It’s definitely one of my favorite places in Norway, and a part of that has to do with how affordable it is (even by non-Norwegian standards). Alyssa and I were lucky enough to get last minute tickets to the opening night of La traviata, one of Verdi’s operas. La traviata is based on a novel and play by Alexandre Dumas, La Dame aux camélias, which is based on Dumas’s life and affair with Marie Duplessis, a famous Parisian courtesan. Sadly for the two lovers, Marie dies from consumption at the young age of 23. If this story sounds familiar that’s unsurprising. The story has been retold in countless art pieces and movies, one famous example is the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge!. Unfortunately, we actually turned up a few minutes late due to a slow restaurant, but, lucky for us, we were still allowed to enter the opera once there was an opportune break in the singing.

Although the set was surprisingly bare, overall the opera and the singing was great. I especially enjoyed the singing done by the lead, the soprano Aurelia Florian.

IMG_3371  IMG_3375  IMG_3376

Mathallen Area

Following one Susan’s suggestions, I took a stroll by Oslos’ Mathallen, or literally translated, food hall. I only popped my head into the hall for a minute, but it had quite a nice selection of produce, fish, and the like. My main reason for walking around this area was to check out the local graffiti. To my delight, most of it was actually quite good, and there were a number of nice looking bars next to the nearby river, something that I wouldn’t mind checking out in the future.

IMG_3385  IMG_3387  IMG_3388IMG_3395  IMG_3404  IMG_3407

The Fram Museum

Because I didn’t really have a chance to walk around the Fram Museum when I visited in winter, I was determined to give it another shot on this trip. Alyssa, Kani, and I still didn’t have time to get through everything before the museum closed, but I learned a bit more than I did last time.

The Fram Museum is notable for housing the Polarship Fram, a boat was used by Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen on their North Pole expedition and Amundsen’s South Pole expedition (it is the boat that helped Amundsen be the first person to reach the South Pole). One of the big reasons why the Fram was revolutionary was that the ship was deliberately allowed to freeze in the Arctic Ocean. No ship had ever survived the ice pressure before, so Nansen’s desire to knowingly subject the ship to the ice was considered nothing short of insane. Lucky for Nansen and his crew, the ship’s special design allowed it to withstand the ice pressure. There were several design choices that allowed this to happen, but the one that is talked about most often is the rounded hull and smooth sides, which were built to mimic a round nut. The idea was for the ice to push the ship up onto the ice (similar to squeezing a nut between your fingers and having it slide along your fingers instead of being crushed) which would prevent the ice from crushing the ship.

Nansen also happened to be a very careful planner and prepared to spend 3-5 years on board the ship. Because of this, not only did the ship have plenty of food, it also had plenty to keep the crew occupied. There was a library of 600 books, paintings, card games, and even an organ on board. Overall the crew did quite well, remaining both healthy and well entertained.

The crew and its ship was only gone for three years, and upon its return Nansen was greeted as a national hero. Afterwards, Nansen was primarily known for his political career, becoming an ambassador to Great Britain in 1906 and later working in the League of Nations.

Sadly we weren’t able to finish exploring the entire museum, but again it’s something that I would pay another visit to. It was a really well laid out museum, and at times hilariously blunt and/or politically correct (our favorite translated sentence was “The friendliness and generosity of the Inuit was repaid by the white men’s goodwill and respect.”).

IMG_3412  IMG_3417  IMG_3421

Vigeland Park

Another one of my Oslo favorites is Vigeland Park. No visit would be complete without it, so I was happy to take Alyssa and Kani there. We were blessed with a gorgeously sunny day, so sunny in fact that we actually ran into a zumba dance class that was going on in the park.

IMG_1893  IMG_1877  IMG_1918IMG_1888  IMG_1889  IMG_1895IMG_1906  IMG_1899  IMG_1900IMG_1913  IMG_1911  IMG_1914

Vigeland Mausoleum

The three of us also went to the Vigeland Mausoleum thanks to a recommendation from Susan. While Gustav Vigeland is the mastermind behind Vigeland Park, Vigeland Mausoleum is actually done by his brother, Emanuel Vigeland. The mausoleum requires taking the subway to Slemdal, but it’s well worth the trip. The mausoleum is tucked away in a nice residential area, which also happens to have a nice view of Oslo.

The Vigeland Mausoleum is also known as the Vigeland Museum, and it was originally supposed to house Vigeland’s future sculptures and paintings. Vigeland later ended up changing his mind, and now the mausoleum is a huge dark room covered in frescoes. Many of the frescoes have a religious undertone, and more information on them can be found on the museum’s website. Unfortunately we weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the mausoleum, but Google Images can still give you a good idea of what the interior looks like.

The museum itself resembles a church, not only in its construction, but also in its silence. We were strictly told not to talk before entering, and we soon found out why. One visitor accidentally knocked into one of the museum’s chairs and echo was unbelievable. It’s definitely not your classic museum, especially considering that Vigeland’s cremated remains are stationed above the door, but I would definitely recommend a visit if you have the time.

IMG_1928  IMG_3426  IMG_3427

Vienna At Last

We finally make it to Vienna at around 2 pm. Because most things were closed by around 5 or 6, we really didn’t have too much time to explore the city on our first day. But, we managed to make it to two major sights that day. Our first stop was Karlskirche, or St. Charles Church. Karlskirche is one of Vienna’s best baroque churches and also happened to be close to our hotel. So, we duly walked the three or so blocks to the church and were almost immediately accosted by a man trying to sell us concert tickets.Vienna is known as the City of Music so this wasn’t much of a surprise. Alix had also warned me that there would be plenty of people trying to sell us tickets.

My Dad and I had contemplated buying concert tickets before our trip, but in the end we decided to just wait and organize something once we were in the city. So, while we were surprised to see someone selling tickets outside of Karlskirche we decided to listen to his sales pitch. He ended up doing quite well and managed to sell us two discounted tickets to a Christmas concert at Schloss Schönbrunn.

After that we entered Karlskirche. Karlskirche was built from 1716 – 1739 in order to give thanks for the city making it through the 1713 plague. Both the exterior and the interior are remarkable, but the best part about the church is being able to take an elevator up to the top of the church where you can view the basilica’s frescos up close.

IMG_6547  IMG_6549  IMG_6554 IMG_6559  IMG_6592  IMG_6588As someone who is somewhat scared of heights, I found the wooden viewing platform above the church a bit too rickety for my taste, but it was still fabulous to have the opportunity to go up and see everything up close. My favorite part was one particularly well known fresco that features an angel burning Martin Luther’s German Bible. It was funny seeing the Catholic Church’s small ways of thumbing their noses at the Protestants.

IMG_6577  IMG_6578  IMG_6585After that we made our way to the Secession Museum. The Secession Museum was built and designed by the Vienna Secession art movement, which included star artists such as Klimt, Josef Hoffman, Kolo Moser, and Joseph M Olbrich. Unfortunately, it seems like the museum is only really well known for displaying Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze, a work inspired by Beethoven’s ninth symphony. Although the museum staff couldn’t have hurried us to the exhibit any faster, once we were there we weren’t allowed to take any pictures (the one below is a replica of a section of the mural), but then again that’s where Google comes in handy. The mural spans three sides of the room and according to the brochure depicts mankind’s search for happiness. The mural can be summarized by saying that it starts with mankind enlisting a knight in shining armor for help. This knight then fights off “Hostile Forces” such as Sickness, Madness, and Death, but eventually succeeds and finds fulfillment in poetry and the arts. The painting concludes with a kissing couple which, again according to the brochure, is based on the lyrics to “Ode to Joy” which contain the line “This kiss to the whole world.” I personally really enjoyed the Beethoven Frieze, although it isn’t placed at eye level which makes it slightly more difficult to view.

Afterwards, we took pity on the rest of the museum (which seems a bit neglected considering how quickly the museum staff ushered us into the room containing the Beethoven Frieze). We saw works from about three or four current artists, but the one that I enjoyed the most was a piece by Renata Lucas which involved a record player. The record player was attached to a revolving door so in order to get the record to play you had to keep spinning the door.

IMG_6602  IMG_6601  IMG_6605Once we had finished at the Secession Museum we felt like it was time for dinner. I happen to have a friend living in Vienna and she highly recommended trying out a restaurant called Plachutta. So it was with food on our minds that my Dad and I duly set off in search of this restaurant. Lucky for us we were able to get a table and I ordered their most famous dish, tafelspitz. Little did I know what I was getting into. My dish included a type of vegetable soup, boiled beef, beef marrow (which was supposed to be spread on bread), creamed pumpkin, potatoes, horseradish applesauce, and a chive sauce. It was a meal big enough for two and it was superb. I have to say that Plachutta absolutely ruined any other tafelspitz that I had for the rest of the trip. It really was just that good.

IMG_2034So, it was with very full stomachs that my Dad and I concluded our first day in Vienna. We did pay a quick stop to Naschmarkt food market just to look around, but after that we called it a night.