Category Archives: Travel

Surreal Madrid

I thought we had left surrealism behind when we departed Catalunya.  Goodbye Dali! After dropping off the car we walked across the street to the Sants station and took the high speed AVE train to Madrid. Loved the rail experience, the train was clean, comfortable, on time, the scenery amazing and we made it to Madrid in under three hours.

Mercado-de-San-Miguel-Madrid-Navigatelife.netMadrid was a bit of an adjustment after having spent a week along the coast and in the bucolic interior of Catalunya.  The action is frenetic! We arrived in the early evening and after checking in to our hotel we went for a walk, and it seemed like the entire city had decided to do the same. The streets were filled with people, locals and tourists alike. We headed to the Mercado de San Miguel, where we joined the throngs queuing for delicious tapas, wine, beer and sweets.

Surrealism-Dream-Thyssen-Bornemisza-Museum-Madrid-Navigatelife.netThe next morning we headed for the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum for their featured exhibit “Surrealism and the Dream”. Hello Dali! But seriously, the exhibit was a wonderful look at the way the surrealists celebrated the dream and the collision of dream imagery and everyday life.  After the exhibit we viewed the regular collection, which starts on the top floor with the old masters and continues through to the present day in the basement. I was particularly taken with František Kupka, a Czech painter previously unknown to me. As we exited through the gift shop I was reminded again of why we used to refer to Dali as “Salvador Dollar”.

Taberna-de-la-Daniela-Madrid-Navigatelife.netHungry from all the art viewing, we wandered off the main drag of the Paseo del Prado and ended up at the Plaza Jesús, where we had a welcoming reception and delicious lunch at the busy Taberna de la Daniela. Refreshed and invigorated, we headed towards our next stop, CaixaForum, when I noticed the reflections in the windows of Agusty Yebra, a theatrical scenery and costume shop.

Window-Reflection-Agusty-Yebra-Madrid-Navigatelife.netClearly the surrealist exhibit had influenced my vision. We strolled along, past the shops and bustling cafes, to the modernist building housing the CaixaForum. enchanted by reflections, I loved the look of the building. The former power station now has a living wall and an abstract interior with a cavern like entrance leading to a light filled stairway and spacious galleries. a continuance of the surrealist theme, one of the exhibits was a retrospective of the work of Georges Méliès. His pioneering film work all but forgotten, Méliès was working in obscurity as a toy salesman when the surrealists rediscovered his work and brought him new acclaim, late in his life.

Caixaforum-Vertical-Garden-Madrid-Navigatelife.netIf you are reading this prior to May 4, 2014, you absolutely must make your way to the CaixaForum to see the exhibit of my favorite photographer, Sebastião Salgado.

So on my first day in Madrid, all of my previous preconceptions – nationalist, conservative, formal – were shattered. Yes, Madrid is certainly full of old masters and tradition, but it also has a vibrant heart and a fresh perspective – you just have to open your eyes. Or, as Andre Breton said:  “What attracts me in such a manner of seeing is that, as far as the eye can see, it recreates desire . . .”

Visiting Salvador Dali’s House

Salvador Dali House On our second morning in Cadaques, we walked over the hill to Port Lligat, the remote village that is the site of Salvador Dali’s house. Dali lived in the house with his wife Gala for over fifty years, up until her death in 1982. Visiting the house was one of the planned activities – in fact, the only planned activity – for our stay in Cadaques. Tip: book online in advance to avoid the lines and guarantee your spot.Salvador Dali's Greeter

The first thing we were greeted by when we entered the house was a large stuffed polar bear, draped with medals and performing the double function of light fixture and umbrella stand. The house is filled with stuffed animals of all varieties, real and imagined. I just hope no animals were harmed in the building of this house!Salvador-Dali's-StatueI was quite taken by this statue wearing a fencer’s mask. There was an interesting and unique object everywhere you looked. Dali and Gala were not minimalists!Gala-DaliDali must have used this photograph of Gala as the basis for his “Portrait of Galarina”. There was something thrilling about seeing the beginnings of the creative process. You can see the finished painting here:

A little further along was Dali’s painting room, with gorgeous views of Port Lligat, and an enormous easel apparatus on pulleys that he used to raise and lower his canvases while he sat and painted. The entire house looked like Dali had just stepped out for a walk, or to have dinner in Cadaques at El Barroco, and that he would be back at any moment to continue his work or maybe to take a nap.Salvador Dali's Tools - smallWe followed our guide through the house, enjoying the experience of peering into the private lives of such public figures.  When the tour was over we were released to wander the grounds at our leisure, which were as quirky and eccentric as anything inside the house. Walking along the paths, with commanding views at every vantage point, I felt a deep appreciation for the pure place of this house. Its setting is magnificent and the house is oriented to make the most of this rugged, yet scenic location.Salvador Dali's Wall - small

The window in the wall above frames the view as if it is a painting, the most perfect placement of boats, land, flowers and sea. Upon closer inspection the view opens up into a panorama of the port and its inlets, leading the eye out into the deeper blue of the open ocean, where eternity beckons.Salvador Dali's View - small

Our final stop was a circular room playing a loop of historical footage, with Dali’s piano on prominent display. We sat and watched the movies, a chance to reflect on everything we had seen and experienced that morning. We left enchanted, spellbound and intrigued by our fleeting view into the every day lives of Salvador and Gala Dali. I still think about that day, and wonder about the heartbreak and grief of Salvador Dali when upon Gala’s death, he left Port Lligat, never to return. But surely Gala, the house and the ever changing scenery continued to visit him in his dreams.Dali's-Piano-Port-Lligat-Spain


Castellfollit de la Roca

We had a hair raising drive down the south west slope of the Cap de Creus from Cadaques. Once down the mountain, we travelled through the verdant valleys and fields of the Alt Empordà on our way to the La Garrotxa region of Catalunya. Along the way, we stopped in the breathtakingly beautiful village of Castellfollit de la Roca. Perched atop a balsam cliff between the Fluvià and Toronell rivers, the first sight of the village is awe inspiring.

Our First View of Castellfollit de la Roca

We drove up to the top of the cliff, parked the car and strolled through the cobblestone streets of the old town. There were few people out, and no tourists – as often happened once we made it out to the back roads of Catalunya.  I went into a restaurant for a break and it seemed that the entire town was in there having their midday meal, thus explaining the deserted streets. Following the winding paths we strolled along, slightly lost but enjoying the peaceful serenity of the seemingly deserted village.Poch's Cervesa Artesana Castellfolliet de la Roca - smallOne disappointment was that Poch’s, an local cervesa which brews artisanal  beer, was closed. Oh well, a sign that some day we must return to Castellfolliet de la Roca! Eventually, we came out from the dark winding streets and reached the precipice of the cliff.Castellfollit de la Roca Path to the BrinkLeaving the darkness of the streets we walked into the blinding sunlight of the Plaça Josep Pla. From there we enjoyed viewpoints of the entire valley spread out below us. The townspeople cultivate shared gardens along the valley floor.Castellfollit de la Roca Looking Down from the TopLooking back in the other direction we can see the Fluvià River flowing through the valley below with the houses of Castellfolliet de la Roca perched along the clifftops above.Fluvia River Castellfolliet de la Roca - smallTurning away from the view, behind us in the square is the Church of Sant Salvador, with someone’s laundry hanging out to dry.Church of Sant SalvadorReluctantly, we walked back to our car, passing one last time through the quaint streets, marveling at the ancient houses and the quiet beauty of the town.House in Castellfollit de la RocaDriving back towards the highway, where we were to continue our journey on to Olot and ultimately Santa Pau, we stopped one last time to view the striking view of Castellfolliet de la Roca.Castellfolliet de la Roca - small