madrid: hot and not so smoke-free

Madrid is a city of smokers. Everywhere one turns, people are smoking. On the street, at sidewalk cafes, inside crowded public spaces. Servers stand in the doorway and have a smoke when they’re not bringing out drinks and food orders. Added to the general high level of air pollution, it makes Madrid a difficult place for anyone with breathing challenges, or simply used to fresher air.

But one of the things we liked about Madrid, whenever you ordered a round of drinks, they also brought out a small tapa plate; olives, chips, salami and cheese, once even a small plate of Spain’s signature rice dish, paella. And all quite delicious; sometimes we didn’t order a meal because the free food kept coming. And it wasn’t that the drinks were expensive either, mostly between 2 and 3 euros each.

Royalty is a big deal here, and one of the main attractions in Madrid is the Royal Palace. Although it is the official residence of the royal family, it is used only occasionally for state functions and entertaining visiting dignitaries, mostly what you’ll find here are hordes of tourists gawking at the excess. Huge rooms, lavish decor, statutes, portraits, tapestries, massive serving sets, and stolen treasures from around the world. Impressive and grotesque at the same time.

Madrid is also known for it’s art galleries. We’re not huge fans of the old European masters, too many portrayals of Jesus being beaten or bleeding on the cross for us. Instead we are drawn to contemporary art galleries, in this case the Reina Sofia, where we knew we would be able to see Guernica.

Unknown to us, the gallery had organized a huge exhibition to help people understand Picasso’s development as an artist and how it shaped this artistic response to news in early 1937 that a small town in Spain had been obliterated by an air attack that specifically targeted civilians.

Guernica is a work that needs to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. You can see sketch lines through the white and grey areas, some black areas look unfinished, and there is a an overall roughness to it that produces a sense of urgency you don’t feel looking at a postcard version of the work — after all, it is 4m tall and 12m across, an imposing work to stand in front of.

It’s hot in Madrid, crossing the 40 degree Celsius mark two days in a row, and not much air movement. And there wasn’t always a shady side of the street to walk along. Whew!

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