Friday, June 26, 2015

MUSEUM DAY IN MADRID - GUERNICA AND TAPAS TO BEAT THE BAND

It Always Helps To Know A Guy (or girl) That Knows A Guy
 
One of the most impressive things about The One Shot I raved about in my last post on Madrid was the staff. The young ladies at the front desk seemed to know everything about everything in the Prado area. Waking up with reduced jet lag our second day, we asked about a place for breakfast. They pointed us to a very small café just down the lane - D.O.C.C. Madrid - Perfecto! As we were served by a most helpful and resourceful barista/manager of this 10-12 seat eatery, it became apparent that the Spanish are very accommodating people, even with Americans who speak embarrassingly bad Spanish.

However, one thing must be noted. Call me an Ugly American if you like, but, the Spanish do not have the coffee thing figured out. This is going to sound soooooo uncharitable - but we are all about the truth here at TNA. The coffee served in virtually all restaurants and coffee shops in Spain is Café Con Leche - half coffee and half warm milk. It is always luke warm and tastes rather odd to a palette that is accustomed to very hot coffee with a small amount  of cream and sweetener. I know what your thinking - What an unliberated American  toadie, right? I apologize in advance for my embrace of that symbol of American coffee excess. That's right - the only real coffee I had in Spain was purchased at - you guessed it - Starbucks. I should probably have my vagabond credentials suspended for not "acting like a local", but that's my story and I'm stickin' to it. I don't care what Rick Steves says. Trains and Tapas - Sí. Coffee - No!

Would You Like To Go To The Museum Today Mi Amor?  Sí She Said

After breakfast we hailed a taxi and said Hola! Reina Sofia, por favor. Ten minutes later we pulled up to Madrid's national museum of modern art. This former 16th century hospital boasts permanent and temporary exhibitions of Spanish and other international artists. Works  by renowned painters and sculptors Joan Miro, Donald Judd, Max Ernst and Georges Braque, to name just a few, ensure that the visitor will see some of the most provocative, ground breaking art of the last century.

Enjoying the many works in Madrid's largest and best known museum, we strolled into the room in which is hung one of the truly great paintings by one of modern art's greatest painters. Many art lovers and critics alike view Guernica as Pablo Picasso's greatest work. Upon seeing this enormous painting up close and personal, it is hard to argue against that point of view.
 
 
An apt description of the painting, its scope and effect on the viewer is best summarized by travel blogger Katie Hammel in an excerpt from  one of her articles entitled Viewing Guernica at Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museum:

Picasso’s Guernica is one of the most visually stunning paintings in the world, and one that is best appreciated when viewed in person. At first glance, the painting looks like chaos – all hard lines, blunt angles, and cartoonish scenes of animals and people. But when you look at the details, you begin to see more. Here’s a woman, grieving for the child in her arms. There’s a fallen man, his broken sword lying beside him. The painting depicts the bombing of Guernica (in Basque Spain) during the Spanish Civil War. The Guernica takes up nearly an entire wall of the museum, and at 11 feet tall and nearly 27 feet wide, it is simply massive.

After the Reina and a light lunch, we returned to the Prado area and the beautiful Neptune Fountain. We then decided to do what all good tourists do - hop on a Hop On - Hop Off  Bus for a grand tour of Spain's capital city. Never having done this rather "touristy" mode of sightseeing before, we both agreed that it is a great, inexpensive way to get an overview of a city, its architecture and its neighborhoods. Plus - you can rest your weary feet while enjoying the view.

Al Final Del Día - How 'Bout Some Local Sobrosa Tapas To Make A Thing Go Right
 
As I said earlier - It always helps to know a guy or girl who knows....you get the picture. Once again, the dynamic duo at the front desk did not disappoint when we asked for dinner suggestions. At the end of a full day of museum stalking and sightseeing we were in need of some really good food. We took a short stroll from One Shot up Calle del Prado and arrived at the absolutely slammed, well designed tapas restaurante LATERAL around 8:30 PM. After only a few minutes, we were ushered to our table amongst many apparently satisfied diners, eating and drinking like the locals. Now - I am, by no means, an expert on Spanish food, tapas or otherwise. But, in this Americano's humble opinion, the numerous courses of spring rolls, calamari, etc., etc., etc., along with a nice bottle of  Tempranillo (Spain's most common grape), were superb in every way. And I could have sworn I saw Hemingway sitting in a corner by himself drinking a small glass of sherry - Just kidding.

And the prices, with the euro at an all time low against the dollar, were  muy barato - actually downright miserly. Take heed my fellow Nomads, if you are looking for a place that will serve you well for very little then get on that plane asap.

As we walked back and prepared for another night's sleep in our little trozo de cielo at The One Shot, we mentally crossed the fabulous Guernica off the Nomad Bucket List. The memory of that profound work of art and strolling the narrow streets of "Magical Madrid" is now
permanently etched in our collective Nomad heads & hearts.


Next up - A Bucket List Day Trip - The Windmills of La Mancha.


Salud Vagabundos

d.l.Stafford
thenomadARCHITECT

Spanish Lesson of The Week - Spain is downright cheap. That's right fellow Vagabonds, compared to Italy, France and the UK, Spain is one of the lowest cost countries for Nomads looking for a deal. Excellent wine can be had for $3.50 a glass and four star hotels can run as low as $125 a night. And, as of the date of this post, the dollar is a very low $1.12 to the euro. Take that California!

Video Artist of The Week - Joe Cocker, a true R & B, Soul and Rock & Roll legend could be heard in bars and cafes in the Land of Conquistadors. They love that rock and roll in Spain!
 
 

Friday, June 19, 2015

MADRID - BIENVENIDA TO THE SECOND COOLEST CAPITAL CITY IN EUROPE

IT'S NOT PARIS BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE MIS COMPAÑEROS VAGABUNDOS - MADRID HAS GOT IT GOIN' ON

That's right. Madrid has everything a Nomad full of intense wanderlust needs. Great food, great architecture and Picasso's Guernica. That's enough to put a town on the A List. But Madrid has so much more. As we approached this thoroughly modern metropolis with a history that goes back to at least the ninth century, we became instant romantics in search of all the things we had read about this place of insatiable cultural  diversity and a vibrant populace to go with it.
 
 
And where better to start our almost month long sojourn in the land of Iberia than Magicall Madrid? As one perceptive writer commented to comedian & radio personality Dennis Miller recently - Miller, you gotta go to Spain. All they do day and night is eat and drink. Saludos Vagabundos!

Just Gimme That One Shot Prado 23 - Por Favor

After a little hunting up a narrow street off the main drag,  the taxi stopped in front of our base of operations for three days in Madrid - The One Shot 23 Prado. Through a simple glass door entry into a lobby with stark white walls & modern paintings and sculpture everywhere, and a couple of nice English speaking conserjes jovenes, we were in. It was official, we had arrived in Madrid. Our room continued the minimalist grammar - white walls, smart furniture, a bathroom with a huge rain shower, comfy bed, pickle stained wood plank floors and a large mirror on the wall that was actually a tv. We almost never watch tv while traveling. I mean what is the point of watching a game show in a language you may have studied for six months but have absolutely no chance of actually understanding? However, the subtle design touch with a tv that actually looked like a mirror was a very hip detail in this architect's opinion.
 
The hotel designer adroitly inserted minimalist spaces, surfaces, furniture, etc. into a vintage building of undeterminable age. Those crazy creative Europeans do this with such ease.  And to make the thing go perfect, our room had a large balcony with chairs and a table for a little morning coffee or snack to enjoy the sounds of the street and some fresh air. And the staff, always helpful and knowledgeable about who, what and where were always at the ready with maps and instructions.
 
And one last thing about the One Shot for Gen Xers  and Millennials - FREE WIFI !! - OMG, U have 2 stay here!!!!!!!
 
And Where To Eat? or should I ask - Donde Comer?
 
The area around the One Shot, Paseo del Prado, is a great area to see many of the things that make Madrid such a great city. Museums, parks, transportation are all easily accessible on foot. In addition, the area is loaded with great restaurants. Because we had eaten the usual composting trash they served on our nine hour Delta bus flight, we were somewhat satiated but very tired. So our plan was to get some shut eye before venturing out for the evening.
 
IMHO - There is nothing more important than getting some quality nap time if you arrive in Europe in the AM after a 9-10 hour flight. Some say you should "keep going". I am not of that school. Your biological clock is demanding that you treat your temple with some respect. That means sleep fellow nomads. So go to bed already!
 
And Wake Up About 8 PM for some Serious Tapas - Oh Mi!
 
That's right. Spaniards just don't bother doing too much in the afternoon - early or late, so we got up around eight, jumped in that massive rain shower with pressure to die for, combed and made ourselves up and took off for our first real experience enjoying one of the many things España has contributed to civilized culture - TAPAS. Hola LA MUCCA DE PRADO! This very busy tapas restaurant/bar had been recommended by the one of the young ladies at the front desk and it did not disappoint. Great food and great service. Flying somewhat blind, we ordered a few items and some wine and began our official culinary trip in the land of Jamón Ibérico and Tempranillo.
 
Oxford Dictionary defines Tapas as small Spanish savory dishes, typically served with drinks at a bar. Savory - sí, drinks - sí, small - well not really! Tapas Rule No. 1 - Go slow. Cheese, sausage, beef, veggies - you name it - they can serve it up in quantities that will leave you with a need for more nap time. Safe to say - the Spanish have very much perfected the art of eating and drinking.
 
After dinner, we took a leisurely stroll back to our little piece of minimalist diseño and its very comfortable bed and nodded off with dreams of the coming days in the land of La Mancha.

Still to come in Magical Madrid - Museums, Windmills and More Tapas!

D.L.Stafford
thenomadARCHITECT

Spanish Lesson of The Week - In place of a quip or other witty euphemism, this series will contain a weekly thought, point or admonishment about travel in Spain and other countries, including the good ole USA.

This Week's Lesson - Always follow the two day rule when traveling to Europe. Unless you are a hyper, super energetic traveler, which makes you completely annoying or just too young, you should allow yourself two full days to "get in the flow" of life in your new environs. Jet lag, learning the ways of the place you are in and the practical things you need to deal with (ATM's, different food, language, etc.) require some serious R & R to get your biorhythms properly aligned. So, like I said earlier - Go to bed already!

Video Artist of The Week - Chic Corea - One of the fathers of jazz fusion, this 22 time Grammy winner commands the keys with creativity and skill.

 
 
 

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Ultimate Side Trip - How Architecture Begats Heaven On Earth

I wrote this really great post a while back & forgot to publish it -  OH MY!!

Dateline - Forty First Anniversary Trip  August 18, 2014
To bring all of you urbane & curious Nomads up to date on last year's annual sojourn for two - we had already stayed two nights at The Price Tower, the only high rise hotel designed by Frank Lloyd Wright in Bartlesville, OK, of all places, and had driven to the lovely village of Bentonville, AR, home of Walmart and slept amidst the art and design at the elegant 21C Art Hotel and visited the world class Crystal Bridges Museum - we decided to take a side trip to see a small chapel in the Ozarks and this - as Paul Harvey used to say - is the rest of the story...


This Is What Architecture Does At Its Very Best
 
Frank Lloyd Wright called architecture the mother art. Philip Johnson, creator of, not the best but, the most famous glass house, said - Painters can just throw away or hide their work, architects can only plant vines. Frank Gerry, current architect at the top of the  architect cum narcissist heap recently said  - 98% of what gets built today is shit. Don't blame me, Frank said it - not I. And finally, Lord Norman Foster, designer of such iconic buildings as "The Gherkin Building" in London (it does look like a giant pickle) said - Architecture is an expression of values. OK then.
 

The world of architecture is full of manifestos, aesthetic declarations and other statements on the importance of architecture in every culture. Almost all architects enjoy theorizing and pontificating about architecture - particularly their own - almost as much as they enjoy designing buildings.  I can only tell you that, as an architect for some thirty five plus years, designing a truly great building is hard. There are so many things that can get in the way - codes, budgets, clients, building committees, architects - the list of barriers to great architecture is quite extensive. So, when we decided to make a day of visiting one of the truly great works of architecture and art in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, we had no idea that our visit would provide such a profound experience.
 
 All any Nomad needs to do to understand the impact of architecture is to take a stroll through the Cathedral Notre Dame de Paris or enjoy the unique pleasure of sleeping in a Frank Lloyd Wright house. As they say in some parts - they got nothin' on this place. The glass and wood Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas transcends all of the bromides ever written by self important architecture critics trying to explain why this or that building transcends their bromides. This small, elegant house of worship is truly transformational.
 
Architecture The Way Nature and God Intended
 
Driving the long and winding road from Bentonville to Eureka Springs, the beauty of the Ozarks was around every curve. As the crow flies, Eureka Springs is only about thirty miles from Bentonville. But the road builders in this part of Northwest Arkansas didn't really concern themselves with the straight and narrow and, by design or not, managed to create a perfect road trip for wandering Nomads of every stripe. As it turned out, our ultimate destination made the one hour drive seem almost incidental. Having left Bentonville early in the morning, we decided to find a restaurant in Eureka Springs for breakfast. After a few minutes, we found Main Street Café, a classic small diner, and enjoyed a fabulous, typical unhealthy feast of pancakes, sausage, grits and lukewarm coffee.
 
After the most important meal of the day - Yes, Nomads don't live by aesthetic meanderings alone - they gotta eat - we headed to the place we came to see - Thorncrown Chapel.
 
E. Fay Jones, architect and teacher, was the architect for this remarkable building. I had the distinct pleasure of attending a lecture by Jones when I was an architecture student. Unlike many of the architects who came to Auburn to enlighten the cadre of future designers of all things great and small, Jones was a soft spoken, southern gentleman, who let his work do the talking. And it spoke with unsurpassed eloquence and beauty. Primarily a residential architect, Jones defined his own architecture by reinterpreting the tenets of organic architecture espoused by Wright. Using simple local materials, he developed an architecture that was simple, structurally honest, intimate and dramatic.
 
As we approached the chapel along a serpentine walk through old growth trees in the heart of the Ozarks, the building presented its front façade of glass and wood as thoroughly  modern, yet ancient, as though it had been there, in that exact spot, for many millennia. Much like his mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright, Jones perfected the art of what I like to call architecture and transition. From our first glimpse of the building through the trees, we felt as though we were ushered into a place of intense simplicity and beauty. Approaching the front doors of this quite small glass and wood building with heightened expectations ,  the detailing of this unadorned wooden structure was simply masterful. And , finally, when we opened the doors and entered this special place of worship, I realized that this is what great architecture is. It can trace its beauty as architecture and art back to 70 BC in achieving the admonitions of Vitruvius - Commodity, firmness and delight. No planting of vines needed here.




As It Turned Out

We arrived at the perfect time. With a small audience/congregation of no more than thirty people, we were seated and had the joy of listening to a former Minister of Music sing the great gospel anthem "My Tribute". And to make the experience complete, the current director sang several old great hymns of the church. We sat in worshipful silence, as we listened to this great traditional music being performed in a church of magnificent modern, yet ancient elegance.
 
So, if you ever get out Arkansas way, take that short drive from the corporate world of tiny Bentonville through the beauty of the Ozarks, to this truly remarkable religious structure. It is a "must see" place that should be on every Nomad's List Of Places To See Before You Die.

d.l.Stafford
thenomadARCHITECT

Travel Quote of The Week - "Really I feel less keen about the Army every day. I think the Church would suit me better." - Winston Churchill

Video Artist of The Week - Jars of Clay - Who better to go along with a transformational work of church architecture than one of Christian Music's more transformational groups.

P.S. Next post, we pick back up on our excursion to the Land of La Mancha - te lo prometo!

Monday, June 1, 2015

ALERTA de VAGABUNDO - WAITIN' ON A PLANE TO THE PLAIN IN SPAIN


Preflight Thoughts
 
Journal Entry while sitting in the World's Worst Airport waiting to board the World's Worst Airline to España:

"Dateline 5/2/15 - Atlanta Airport - On the underground tram from terminal to Delta Gate there is a relatively attractive young woman across from us leaning nonchalantly against the side rail - push up bra - very tight t-shirt - stretch pants/leggings - funky calf high boots - sucking down an iced latte with a golf ball sized wad of gum in her mouth & a water bottle cavalierly "hooked" on her arm - a small leather purse draped over her shoulder & the piece de moda - a tie died hair/head band. And I am thinking - 1) In her own head she knows she is a happening chick - You can tell this from her "worldly" condescending sneer/frown & 2) Seeing an attractive 24 year old (I'm guessing) in the bowels of Hartsfield Airport somehow makes the Atlanta Airport seem better - Well, not really! Oh & she is texting without ceasing like any good Millennial! Goodbye America - Hello La Mancha!"
 
Just an example from my journal to prove that I am NOT a tourist just looking for a good time, but, an observant, erudite chronicler of world culture and its many varied aspects. I am, in a word, a NOMAD, in search of meaning in life and places to sleep that make you feel good AND make you think. We have returned from an amazing trip to one of the most enchanted lands in Europe. The land of ancient religions, ancient architecture, modern design, insane art, conquistadors and enough legends and myths to keep historians blogging well into the next millennium.
 
I will be chronicling our sojourn to the land of Picasso and Gaudi in the coming months. There are so many things I never expected. Every time I go abroad, I return with a renewed sense that the world is truly an amazing place, if you will just take the time to look, see, listen and taste the beauty, debauchery, history and people of other places. America is my home and I love her with every fiber of my being, but, we all need to get out more!
 
So pull up a chair and set a spell. Spain is on the way. The Random Topics will cover all things great and small in the Land of Iberia.
 
D.L. Stafford
THENOMADARCHITECT
 
Travel Quote of The Week - Never go on trips with anyone you do not love. - Ernest Hemingway. They don't call him one of the greats for nothing!
 
Video Artist of The Week - Janice Joplin - After seeing this R & B Rocker in 1968, I knew I would never listen to Rock Music the same way again. And, along with dozens of other American Artists, she can be heard in every bar, café and hotel in Spain.