Madrid Wrap Up

I really loved Madrid. It wasn’t that touristy when I was there and it has a great relaxed atmosphere with a ton of culture. As always, here are my tips for Madrid:

  1. Most museums are free for students or have certain days and times when they are free to the public. Booking in advance can save you some time in museum lines.
  2. The public transportation is pretty new and functional. Google Maps works great with the transportation system, though keep in mind if you’re going to the airport with the subway there may be an extra cost. Walking is also a great option.
  3. Stay up late. The hours are shifted in Spain, with late lunches and late dinners (around 8 pm).
  4. The permanent must sees were: Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum and Prado for a range of artwork, Sorolla Museum, and Guernica at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía
  5. Nice outdoor spaces: pay a quick stop by Plaza Mayor, check out the park by Rio Manzanares and the art at MataderoParque del Oeste and the Temple of DebodReal Jardín Botánico, and Parque Retiro
  6. Places to eat: go to San Ginés for chocolate and churros. The Calles Cava Alta and Baja generally have good tapas, as do mercados, or markets. I also had good food at Taberna la Concha and La Rue
  7. Lots of restaurants will have a menu del dia, or daily menu, which often is three courses and wine for a very reasonable price.

Guernica

Thankfully my last day in Madrid was pretty calm. A late afternoon flight meant that I was able to take my time before heading to the airport (which is accessible by metro). The one thing that I was really determined to see before I left was Picasso’s Guernica. It’s housed in the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, and because I didn’t have a ton of time to spend in the museum, I made a beeline for the floor that it’s located on. Because it’s such a notable piece, Guernica is housed in its own room. The room is located in an inner room, so I took my time exploring the surrounding outer rooms. Much of what I saw wasn’t really to my taste, but I still found the odd work of art that I really liked.

I did however really love seeing Guernica. To give the museum due credit, they really did a great job of presenting the painting. It’s huge. Thus the room is huge. This is all just emphasized by the fact that the painting is pretty much the only thing in the room. The other things displayed there are some pictures of Picasso working on Guernica. His mistress Dora Maar did an excellent job of photographing the various stages of the work, and it’s fascinating to actually see how Picasso went about painting Guernica. It was also interesting to see some of the works that Picasso did to compliment Guernica, called his Postscripts to Guernica, located in a neighboring room. While it seems a bit of a shame to go to a museum just to see one particular painting, I would have to say that it was absolutely worth it.

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Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take many pictures inside the museum, hence the limited pictures above. Once I had finished checking out Guernica and a few of the museum’s other rooms, I was off to the airport.

Parks and Art

Another day, another adventure. This time I set my sights on the Prado. The Prado’s big temporary exhibit was on Goya in Madrid, and I decided to check that out first. Goya happens to be another artist whom I have mixed feelings about, but I decided to give him a shot. While I wasn’t overly wowed by the Goya exhibit, I did have a wonderful time walking around the rest of museum and identifying pictures from my old Art History class. The piece of art that surprised me most was one by Hieronymus Bosch, or El Bosco. I remember hating learning about his piece The Garden of Earthly Delights, but once I saw it in person I found it mesmerizing. It was one of the few pieces that I kept coming back to.

Another thing that I really liked about the Prado was that they had artists working in the museum. The artists seemed to be tasked with recreating various paintings live, and it was fascinating to see the amount of effort that the original pictures must have taken and to see their duplicates worked on in front of you.

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After I had finished with the Prado, I attempted to go to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, or the museum that houses Picasso’s Guernica. Unfortunately was it closed, so I decided to go to the nearby botanical gardens, the Real Jardín Botánico. I have a huge soft spot for parks and gardens, and the botanical gardens didn’t disappoint. They were beautiful as well as shady.

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Once I had finished there, I walked through another park, the Parque Retiro. It was both larger and much more well sculpted than the botanical gardens, and I especially enjoyed the man-made lake towards the Northern end of the park where you could rent boats and paddle your way across. Because I was on my own, I resisted the temptation to rent a boat since it looked like it would be more effort that I particularly wanted to undertake by myself.

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From there I continued to head North. One of the last museums on my Madrid bucket list was the Sorolla Museum, or a museum dedicated almost exclusively to the work of the artist Sorolla. The museum is actually in the artist’s old home, and it provides visitors with a good mix of culture and art. While several of the rooms have been converted into display rooms, a good number of them are preserved and are as they would have been during Sorolla’s lifetime. My personal favorite was his old studio.

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After that it was pretty much time to call it a day, grab some grub, and then hit the sack.

Sunshine and Culture

The next day started out with me apartment hopping. I moved from Sara’s apartment to the apartment of two other friends, Lauren and Darshali. Because Lauren happened to have the afternoon off, she decided to join me in my exploration of the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, one of Madrid’s main art museums. However, almost as soon as we got there we issued a groan. The line snaked around the block. With plummeting hopes we decided to walk towards the main doors and assess how dire the situation was. To our great surprise, the door was locked. Turns out we had showed up right before opening hours and the line wasn’t hopeless after all. To make things even better, the museum was free that day. So without too much ado we waited for about 10 minutes in line before being ushered inside.

In order to stay relatively crowd free, we decided to work from top to bottom, something that happened to actually make sense chronologically. The museum’s oldest collections are housed at the top of the museum, while its more modern works are shown on the main floor. I will say that one of my favorite moments was running into a few El Greco paintings. I had always found El Greco a bit odd when I studied him in Art History and Spanish class, and while I still find his artwork strange, I left liking quite a few of them. Yay art! Overall, we spent well over two hours at the museum–and we didn’t even get to have a good look in all of the rooms! Unfortunately, our grumbling tummies told us that they would rather eat than spend another hour in the museum, so we set off for lunch.

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After a nice lunch, Lauren had other obligations, thus leaving me to my own devices. I’ve discovered through my various travels that while I am a huge fan of public transportation (probably a product of growing up with the practically non-existent public transport in Los Angeles), I am an even bigger fan of walking.

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Madrid is a fairly walkable city, so I walked through the Parque del Oeste and caught a glimpse of the Temple of Debod. The temple is an original 2nd century BC Egyptian temple that was given to Spain after Spain helped the Egyptian government in 1960. The construction of the Great Dam of Aswan posed a threat to several nearby historic monuments, and Spain responded to an UNESCO call asking for help to preserve Egypt’s monuments. The Temple of Debod was then given to Spain as a thank you by the Egyptian government. After taking in the temple, I turned around and began to walk back into the heart of the city.

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Not too far away from the park is Madrid’s Royal Palace. Unfortunately it was closed when I passed by, but I wasn’t too put out. While I do enjoy visiting palaces, I’ve seen so many this past year that missing this one wasn’t devastating. I did however enjoy taking a quick walk around part of the palace grounds.

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Right next door to the Royal Palace is the Catedral de la Almudena. The cathedral is named after Madrid’s patronness, the Almudena Virgin. According to legend, an image of the Virgin was found by the king on the city wall, thus creating the Almudena (derived from an Arabic word meaning city wall) Virgin.

Similar to palaces, I’ve seen quite a number of cathedrals this past year, and have started to pass them by. What made me want to go into this one was pictures that I’d seen of the ceilings. The multicolored panels were definitely worth a short stop.

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After saying hello to the installation of Pope John Paul II just outside the cathedral, I decided to call it a day and head back to the apartment. From there I reunited with all of my Spanish ETA friends for dinner. After a tasty selection of tapas we went to San Ginés, which is a cafe renowned for its hot chocolate and churros. I must admit that it’s definitely famous for a reason. The melted hot chocolate was fantastic, but it was so rich that my friends told me that it’s rare for anyone to ever finish all of it.

Sverresborg Folk Museum

I discovered the Trondheim Folk Museum pretty late in my Fulbright year, but have become somewhat enamored with it since then. Like most folk museums in Scandinavia, the one in Trondheim consists of a museum as well as grounds. Unfortunately the museum is a bit haphazardly done, or at least it felt that way because everything was in Norwegian, but it was still fun to quickly walk around. I enjoyed looking over a few of the historical displays, particularly the ones featuring Elvis and what appeared to be old punk rock clothing.

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While the museum wasn’t the best, the grounds were pretty great to walk around. There wasn’t an abundance of information for each of the ground’s buildings, but there was the odd sign post and the occasional human to answer questions. Thanks to them, I now have answers to two questions that have been bugging me since I arrived in Norway. The first involved wanting to know the reasoning behind Norwegian building’s grassy roofs. I was told that the benefit of the roofs were that they were cheap, long lasting (they last around 30 years or more), and they provide good insulation. The other question I had was why most of the buildings were red.* Turns out that one of the byproducts of iron is a red pigment. Because iron mines were in Norway and Sweden, getting the pigment was cheap, it was a byproduct which no one wanted, which made it cheaper, and it was also long lasting. The mystery of the red houses was officially solved.

The museum also has a few more well known places in the grounds. One of the most well known is the remains of King Sverre’s castle. The castle is in ruins now, but it was originally constructed in the winter of 1183-84. It was the first stone castle in Norway, although it was torn down and rebuilt twice. After the civil-war years, the castle didn’t serve a purpose and was abandoned and left to deteriorate. It was later reclaimed by the Germans during World War II due to its strategic significance, which I’m assuming was namely that it has a sweeping view of the city.

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Other highlights of the grounds included seeing an old catapult in action and following a few rogue lambs around the property. As for the buildings themselves, several of them were quite stunning, particularly one farmhouse that was redone and repainted.

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Nicole and I also had a lot of fun at a farmhouse where we were able to interact with a few Norwegians who decided to show us around in character. The farmhouse they gave us a tour of was from 1906, so we had a bit of fun playing along and saying that we had arrived in Norway by boat after many weeks at sea, and that while America’s streets were not paved in gold, they were paved in silver. They in turn had fun showing us around. I would say that the two biggest things that we learned were that most homes had a Sunday room, or a very special room only used on Sundays or for guests, and we also learned the proper way to sleep. Apparently it’s incorrect to sleep horizontally because angels flying overhead might mistake you as dead and come and take your soul. The proper way to sleep is to sleep upright, as if sleeping in a chair.

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We also paid a visit to the old town. The old town consists of buildings that used to be located in downtown Trondheim. There they have several exhibits featuring a dentist office, apothecary, and even a telephone operating room.

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My favorite spot was however the ski museum. I had never really thought too much about Norway’s favorite sport, so it was nice to gain some insight into it.

Skiing only started to take off in Norway in 1850. There were several factors that led to this, but they can be summarized by saying that an increase in wealth gave people the time and money to take up the sport. While more and more people were able to take up skiing, skiing only started to be closely linked to Norwegian identity after Fridtjof Nansen, a national hero and polar explorer, popularized his arctic explorations. This caused people to associate this hero, and Norwegians, with skiing.

Skiing was originally advertised as a masculine sport, and one that solely in the domain of men. The first organized ski trips in Norway used to be organized by groups of men, and they often ended in drinking. Women were allowed to go skiing for recreation, and it was common for small groups of men and women to go skiing together. Although women were encouraged to ski for leisure or for practical purposes, during this time they were largely kept away from competitive skiing, such as ski-jumping and cross-country ski racing. Women were only able to truly gain acceptance in competitive skiing in the 1970’s.

The Norwegian tradition of Sunday skiing started to gain popularity in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but these days skiing has become less and less popular. Only about half of Norwegian children own skis, and an even smaller percentage actually use them. Some Norwegians worry that this downturn in skiing will cause it to fade out, eventually stopping the phrase “Norwegians are born with skis on their feet.”**

Overall, I really enjoyed going to the Folk Museum and would definitely recommend paying it a visit, especially on a nice sunny day.

*Generally speaking the houses in Norway are one of seven colors: red, green, blue, brown, yellow, black, or white.

**Alix can testify that she’s happy that this saying is inaccurate.

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.

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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.

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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.”).

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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.

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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.

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Remaining Berlin Sites

The day before was technically the last day of the conference, so today was the day that most people went home. Iman and I on the other hand managed to squeeze in an extra day or two, and I thought I’d put down the rest of my Berlin adventures in one post. So, here’s the docket:

The Neues Museum

I know that I already covered the museum, but I actually went back a second time with Iman and Jenny Bruna. We weren’t there for long since we were really only stopping by to see the bust of Nefertiti, but I thought I’d add a few more pictures to the blog. The golden hat is unimaginatively called the Berlin Gold Hat. It’s only one of four golden hats that have been found from Europe’s Bronze Age, and apparently it might has also served as a type of calendar.

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Schloss Charlottenburg

Although Schloss Charlottenburg is a bit out of the way, it was definitely a fun trip to make. Schloss Charlottenburg is a baroque palace inspired by Versailles and one of the few Prussian palaces in Berlin. It was originally built by King Friedrich I for his queen Sophie-Charlotte (whom the palace is named after). The palace was originally a small summer retreat called Lietzenburg but was expanded under King Friedrich I and other royals.

Because I arrived towards closing time, I only bought a ticket to the Altes Schloss, the oldest part of the palace. While the Altes Schloss did have some impressive rooms and a nice ceramics collection, it was shockingly plain. I was confused as to why the interior wasn’t a bit more grand, but I soon learned that the palace had been heavily damaged in World War II. Rebuilding the palace became more of a priority after the East German government destroyed the only other Hohenzollern palace in 1951. Overall, I would give the Altes Schloss a pass, but the trip was not a total waste since I really enjoyed walking around the very extensive and beautiful grounds.

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Turkish Market

The Turkish market appears every Tuesday and Friday in Kreuzberg and is filled with a variety of stalls. People sell things ranging from food to fabric, and although I wasn’t really looking for anything other than a quick snack, it was fun to walk around on a sunny day and get a small taste of local Berlin.

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Tränenpalast (Palace of Tears)

The Palace of Tears is a former border crossing station at Friedrichstaße. The checkpoint was opened in 1962 and served as a gateway into West Berlin. Since this was often the place where East Berliners were parted from their family and friends, it saw more than its fair share of tears (hence the nickname).

The checkpoint was established in 1962, but by 1961 2.8 million people had escaped the GDR, with several thousand fleeing every day. The GDR had heavily fortified the border between East and West Germany, but until the Berlin Wall was erected it was fairly easy for people to slip across to West Berlin on the S-Bahn and underground. The Palace of Tears eventually became one of the main stopping points between the two Berlins.

Although the Palace of Tears had some overlap with the DDR Museum in terms of content, I would say that the Palace of Tears was a much better museum. The content addressed conditions in both East and West Germany and was much more well organized. Here are a few of the things that I found interesting:

  • There was an ongoing propaganda war between the SED and West Germans. The SED would try and justify its politics and send “propaganda bombs” to West Germany. At the same time, West Germans would try and educate SED soldiers, the National People’s Army (NVA), in a similar manner.
  • Visitors to East Germany would have to exchange D-Marks into GDR Marks at a 1:1 rate on entry. This was problematic since it was not an accurate exchange rate. GDR Marks were worth much less than the D-Marks; however, a minimum amount had to be converted upon entry. This minimum increased over time since it generated a lot of Western currency, which the GDR need to pay for its Western imports.
  • After 1964, the SED allowed senior citizens to visit relatives in West Germany regularly. This made these pensioners an important connection to the West as well as a good source of rare consumer goods that were smuggled back from West Germany.
  • School trips into the GDR were welcomed starting in the 1970s, and teachers often took advantage of this to better educate their students on the GDR.

Overall I really enjoyed my time at the museum and would recommend it.

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Gemäldegalerie (Picture Gallery)

I went to the Gemäldegalerie since I had heard that it was one of the best museums in the Kulturforum. The Kulturforum was West Berlin’s version of Museum Island, and likewise has a great collection of museums and cultural buildings, such as the Berliner Philharmonie. The Gemäldegalerie specializes in European art from the 13th – 18th centuries. Unfortunately this isn’t my favorite period of art, although I did enjoy a number of Rembrandts that they had on display. What really caught my eye was a Mario Testino exhibit that they had, called in In Your Face. Funnily enough, I had seen the exhibit two years before at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts. I had thoroughly enjoyed the exhibit in Boston, so I had no qualms over paying to see it again, especially since Testino is one of my photographers. I would highly recommend going to go see it if you’re in Berlin and like fashion photography.

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