Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum

I only had time for one museum and Prado’s website was annoying while Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza’s quickly promised some Edward Hopper works. Easy choice and a very enjoyable afternoon followed as I wended my way anti-clockwise around the old and new wings of the museum, housing the Thyssen-Bornemisza and Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza collections, respectively.

Here’s what stood out for me, whoever they belong to:

Jan Lievens
Landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, c. 1635

Claude Joseph Vernet
Night: a Mediterranean Coast Scene with Fishermen and Boats, 1753

Francesco Guardi
View of Canal Grande with Santa Lucia and Santa Maria di Nazareth, c. 1780

Henri-Edmond Cross
Beach. Evening Effect, 1902

Lyonel Feininger
Lady in Mauve, 1922

Georgia O’Keefe
New York with Moon, 1925

Edward Hopper
Hotel Room, 1931

René Magritte
La clef des champs, 1936

A Night in Madrid

Yes, just one night. Sadly – it turns out – for just one night.

Hotel Regina is well located and surprisingly spacious. Following a late arrival it remains, at 11pm, hotter than any Irish summer day. Madrid is very pretty and still busy. Café-goers spill onto the streets, a trio – Spaniard, American and metal suitcase – spout politics of indeterminate leaning at Placa de la Puerta del Sol and the grand squares provide a fine setting for a fast-yet-colourful sunset.

Somewhere amid all this, it strikes me that it’s not the weather itself that’s important; it’s what enables. It’s everything Dublin could be if only we could actually go outside once in a while.

Museo del Jamon

One of the joys of travelling is accidentally uncovering some wonderful oddity, quintessentially local and, preferably, not listed in the guide books. If you’re really lucky, it’ll be something you never even considered before. Arthur C. Clarke once rebuked accusatory questions of why man should venture into space as being as pointless as having had asked fish, billions of years ago, why they should migrate to dry land; would you have expected them to magically suggest something as wonderfully unexpected as “fire”?

Tonight, as I stumbled upon a take-away ham shop, “Museo del Jamon”, I understood Mr. Clarke and remembered the joys of travel:

€4.50 for a glass of wine, some fried serrano on bread and a big – seemingly gratis – bowl of mixed chorizo. Liking Madrid already.

A Very Complicated Holiday

Too much? Probably…but it’ll be quite a journey. In my innocence, I thought that – with one month’s notice – I could book some flights at some sort of reasonable price. Not too far off the mark but, in the end, the only reasonable pairing of flights this seasoned traveller could find comes with the added complication of finding a route from Madrid right up to Brussels:


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Aer Lingus – back when “fly for 1 cent!” advertisements were still legal – offered flights for €12; Ryanair even had free flights on some dates. This does make me wonder what’s wrong with Brussels…no matter, however: the bulk of this trip will be spent in Barcelona and onboard some interesting trains enroute to my not-really-that-close-at-all ultimate destination:

  • Madrid – Barcelona on the AVE
    Spain is where the action is for trains right now: I blogged about their hugely ambitious plans to connect up to 90% of their population with high-speed lines by 2020 earlier this year and the very latest installment connects Madrid with Barcelona in under three hours (more than halving the previous rail journey time).
  • Barcelona – Paris on the Elipsos
    A twelve hour overnight journey on the Elipsos Train Hotel, which seems more train than hotel. A special offer from SNCF gets me a shared room (with just one other person), lets me sleep off most of the journey time to Paris and reduces the hotel bill by one night.
  • Paris – Brussels on the TGV
    “Just” a TGV journey to catch the flight home.

The AVE is undoubtedly the highlight: one of the newest and fastest lines in the world, leading to a city I’ve wanted to explore for quite some time. Quite an extravagance, too: it turns out a “3 days in 10” Spanish rail pass can be had for less than the price of this ticket. The Elipsos should be fun – Monocle reported on Germany’s rejuvenated overnight train services last year – and I can’t wait to wake up early in the morning to find myself in Paris.

Then, at the end, I’ll get to see what’s so bad about Brussels. Pictures, etc., to follow.

An Evening in Innsbruck

A nice flight over; we’re staying well out of town but a punctual bus service will keep us happy. The streets of this 100,000-odd people town are quiet, lined with brightly painted houses with Lego-style shutters and punctuated with a tram system that will take Dublin another 15 years to realise. The river front (“Innsbruck” == “river bridge”) is pretty and the medieval streets are beautiful, full of towers and fountains and other things whose significance I don’t understand.

Everything is shut by 5pm except restaurants and a few bars; after some schnitzel (their version of a batter burger?), it’s off to bed.

10 Days in London

As the title suggests, I’ve just spent ten days in London. Somehow, despite all the travel in recent months, I completely neglected the hulking great world hub situated just 50 minutes from Dublin Airport that is London. What started out as a simple long weekend with the sole aim of getting away from Ireland over St. Patrick’s Day and visiting an ex-colleague eventually morphed into a working holiday incorporating all that plus a fruitful couple of days in the London office (and yet another couple of days sight-seeing).

A stay of that length hinted at what it might be like to live and work there – and I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a secondary aim of the entire trip. Is ten days enough time to make such an important decision? Well, the friend I’m visiting needed just two long weekends before packing up and moving work, study and life to the city; I personally needed a lot less time to decide that New York was the place for me. A kind of “love at first sight” for between a person and a city. Since I’ve often heard it said that London is the only city comparable to New York – how would London compare for me?

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Interestingly, I came away with the same two concerns as I harbour for Dublin:

  1. transport
  2. rent

I found London transport wonderful and frustrating in equal measure; wonderful for existing at all, for never waiting more than two minutes on a tube and, seemingly, reaching everywhere but frustrating for being so cramped (the northern line at rush hour scares me) and expensive – £16 for the Gatwick Express, £1.50 for even the shortest of tube rides. Lastly, taking South West Trains on Good Friday is a decision I’m still recovering from. As for rent, well, hotels certainly proved expensive and anecdotal evidence suggests that rent is at least as bad as Dublin.

However, on the bright side, at least they have a transport system…and at least your rent affords you a stay in a city with something to do. Which really makes up for everything. All the things we did in just ten days will keep me blogging for weeks, from West End shows to Hampton Court to the National Gallery. My feelings are that – once you could live somewhere to minimise your travelling time to work – London would be an absolutely brilliant place to live. Moreover, on reflection, I find New York with the exact same problems: it’s expensive and everybody living there hates the transport system. You’d put up with it, though. Put like that, I can only say that I’d love to live in London, too.

What we did:

THURSDAY 13TH

FRIDAY 14TH

SATURDAY 15TH

  • Victoria and Albert Museum
  • London Eye
  • Dali Museum

SUNDAY 16TH

  • Shopping around Bond Street
  • Handel House Museum
  • Camden market

MONDAY 17TH

  • St.Paul’s Cathedral
  • National gallery

TUESDAY 18TH

  • Shakespeare museum
  • Science museum

WEDNESDAY 19TH

  • Work
  • Pub and Wagamama

THURSDAY 20TH

  • Work
  • CD/DVD shopping in Oxford Street

FRIDAY 21ST

  • Hampton Court Palace
  • The Magic Flute, Duke of York Theatre

SATURDAY 22ND

  • Shopping in Covent Garden
  • Fly home

London Eye

I had already taken the London Eye some years ago. I try not to revisit things I’ve already seen on holiday, however, my travelling companions hadn’t yet taken it…and you don’t really come to London without doing it… It is brilliant – albeit expensive – and, besides, a damp and dreary day made for almost no queue.

Tate Modern

London not only contains some of the best museums on the planet but the best free museums on the planet. To top it off, it also turns out to have the best free late opening museums on the planet. Super mega triple jackpot; London is the restless traveller’s paradise. So far, after a lazy start, we’ve already popped into the houses of parliament, ambled around the Imperial War Museum and now we still have time left to inspect the Tate Modern, open until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays.

Tate Modern houses one of the biggest and best collections of modern art in the world and had actually been top of my list of things to see in London. Aware that modern art is not to everyone’s taste (although these people are clearly wrong) , discovering that it opened late was a blessing: should worst comes to worst and it’s not a popular choice then at least we didn’t come here at the expense of doing something else we’d both enjoy. All parties agree to give it a try. Sure it’s free! What else would we be doing!

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First exhibit is in the famous Turbine Hall; we’re confused at first, mistakenly thinking there’s nothing on here right now. Then we notice the crack in the floor and the small crowds of people peering inside. It’s hardly the most impressive exhibit we’ll ever see but I’m open to most things…not a good start for skeptical newcomers, however! We spend the next while perusing the permanent exhibitions; I’m happy as a bee flitting around the place…a few I liked:

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There are also two temporary exhibitions in progress:

  • A Juan Muñoz retrospective, with no less than 14 rooms containing his installations and sculptures. I wasn’t sure about this at first at all, opening as it does with a collection of small iron sculptures, however I was quickly won over by “The Wasteland”, an installation featuring a small bronze figure seated on a balcony over a patterned floor. Together with “Two Ballerinas”, I was put in mind of David Lynch’s uncanny ability to combine the absurd, the unsettling and the hilarious. “Many Times” is unsettling in a quite different way: comprising 100 figures with 100 identical heads but 100 different poses, the viewer is suddenly outnumbered by the exhibition. There are groups, cliques, loners, couples and unseen marvels on display here. We are part of the exhibition; we are excluded from the exhibition. For me, it is for some reason really remarkably and uncannily like I am back in Japan…a stranger in a friendly but alien and indifferent place…

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  • I’m less wowed by the Duchamp, Man Ray and Picabia exhibition but that’s not saying much; I felt Muñoz was the best exhibition I’ve seen in a long long time. Here, I’m particularly taken by the early works. Names are sadly forgotten now, however one of them was Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”.

Overall, a wonderful experience. The museums does have all the standard modern art clichés – huge canvasses painted red, unpainted framed canvasses with a hole cut through them and all that other stuff that was maybe fun the one time – but it has so much more, too: the surrealists, the minimalists, the futurists; the sculptures; the installations; brilliant colours and startling shapes. There’s a little something for everyone and it would be hard work indeed to come away completely unsatisfied. If nothing else, you’ll see the best modern art has to offer; make your mind up here.