Well, it was too close to Ave Maria to resist. I’ll explain in a minute.
Francine has been playing tour organizer again; we’re off on a trip to Madrid [big city, scary spiders] for three days. There’s safety in numbers and we are not going alone; our pal Jim, who has not only put up with attempts to roast a sucking pig, is coming along to make sure we don’t destroy the Spanish capital.
There are a couple of main attractions for us.
In an abandoned bauxite mine in Provence, France, we have seen a couple of shows that I think the French might refer to as son et lumière, though I’m now seeing the term “immersive experience”. The first French incarnation was called the Cathédrale Des Images but that was closed for health and safety reasons … most un-French. The second incarnation, presumably safer because it’s been running for a few years now, is known as Carrière De Lumières. The mining of bauxite leaves vast white-ish, almost perfectly flat vertical surfaces underground. These surfaces are used as the screens upon which images are projected accompanied by classical music. The last show we saw there was Klimt et Vienne opening to the grandiose musical accompaniment of Wagner’s Tannhäuser. The scale of the surfaces, 10m or more high, makes the experience very impressive.
There is now a similar show on the road, currently in the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid. This time the subject is Van Gogh Alive and Francine’s got tickets that she booked online ahead of time. There are 30-minute admission slots though apparently you can stay in and watch again should you wish. [When I was a kid they used to let you do that in a cinema.] Having a building as a venue will make an interesting comparison to a bauxite mine.
Another attraction is a trip on the Spanish high speed train, the Alta Velocidad Española. I was surprised to learn that the Spanish high speed rail network is the longest in Europe and the 2nd longest in the world after China. Who’d’ve thunk it? The trains hit speeds “up to” 310kmh or 190mph. We’ve got tickets with allocated seating on the high speed service from Alicante to Madrid and back, the journey one way taking about 2½ hrs with two or three stops en route.
Jim organized the parking at Alicante station and kindly drove us, prepaying to make a decent saving on the parking fees, so Francine and I didn’t have to deal with an unfamiliar city.
I’ve missed an advance in rail technology. The train was smooth, almost like riding along a carpet – minus the carpet burns, of course. Gone is the familiar, comforting clickety-clack as the wheels cross the expansion joints between the lengths of rail. OK, so here we have 500kms of track reacting to summer temperatures reaching the high 30sC so how is metal expansion now dealt with? It beats me. It was a very comfortable ride, anyway, and with a film shown, too, though we simply sat and watched the hardly changing Spanish countryside rush past. Given the seats and the film, I felt as if I should have been strapping myself in.
Arriving in Madrid soon after 15:00, we walked the half kilometre or so to our well chosen hostal and checked in. Our rooms were not only close to the train station, Puerta de Atocha, but were also only a spit, about 200m, from the Prado Museum, which was on Jim’s hit list.
We soon found a handy-dandy hostelry for a reviving beer close to our rooms. Thus refreshed, we embarked on an orientation route march around parts of the city. Ignoring all the regular tourist stuff, I was particularly taken with the artistic approach to many of the no entry signs adorning some of the lanes in the vicinity. Why should a road sign be boring, after all? The Flintstones depiction is my particular favourite.
After a kilometre our route took us first to Plaza Mayor, the main square. It is overlooked on the residential sides by over 200 balconies from which, at one time, you could take in a darn good execution, or maybe watch the Inquisition at work. Now they were overlooking a large, fake Christmas Tree that should’ve been taken down a few weeks ago, together with the usual array of street entertainers wearing various costumes, including what I can only describe as Homer Simpson dressed in a Spiderman costume. This was clearly Spiderman in his twilight years. Such was his paunch that I couldn’t help but christen him Spiderlump. I’ve no idea what his purpose was – he’d only recently turned up – but he had a small effigy of Spiderlump on the ground beside him. Curious.
After another half kilometre we came to the Temple of Debod in the Parque de la Montaña. It’s an ancient Egyptian temple, built around 200BC, that was dismantled and reassembled in Madrid, as a gift of thanks to Spain for its help saving various relics from the Aswan Dam development. Francine had been keen to see it because it has a water-filled moat around it for some fancy reflections. Or, at least, sometimes it has a water-filled moat around it. As we approached, the moat was clearly woefully devoid of any water, much to Francine’s disappointment since reflections were there none. I wondered if the moat got drained over winter lest the water freeze.
That’s enough tourism for one day, time for the more serious pastime of drinking and eating.