Madrid Offers Up Great Summer Art Season

Madrid is one of the best destinations in the world for art, and this summer its many museums and galleries are putting on an impressive array of temporary exhibitions.

The blockbuster of the season is at the Reina Sofia, which is having a major exhibition on Salvador Dalí. “All of the poetic suggestions and all of the plastic possibilities” brings together almost 200 works here by the famous odd man of surrealism.

Organized in roughly chronological order, the earliest paintings in the exhibition date to the mid-’20s and show a surprisingly traditional technique. Once he’d mastered the basics, however, Dalí soon plunged into his own unmistakable style. The exhibition is accompanied by detailed texts on Dalí’s life and career. For example, we learn the reason why we keep seeing the same set of cliffs in Dalí’s work. In his youth Dalí and his family would vacation at the seaside town of Cadaqués, where he became obsessed with the cliffs of Cape Creus. He once said, “I am convinced I am Cape Creus itself. I am inseparable from this sky, from this sea, from these rocks.”

%Slideshow-2876%Many of his best-known works are here, as well as early sketches and little gems, like a painting of Hitler masturbating. Who but Dalí could pull that off? (Pun intended.) Numerous video screens shows Dalí’s many film experiments, including the famous “Un Chien Andalou” with Luis Buñuel and several other lesser-known films. The show runs until September 2.

The Reina Sofia has two other exhibitions. “1961: Founding the Expanded Arts” looks at a vital year in the history of modern art that saw the expansion of artistic collaborations and music experimentation and the launch of Concept Art. It runs until October 28. At the museum’s annex at Retiro park is “Cildo Meireles,” which looks at the acclaimed Brazilian conceptual artist’s work and runs until September 29.

The Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza has a major exhibition on Camille Pissarro. This cofounder of Impressionism was the only one to take part in all eight Impressionist exhibitions from 1874 to 1886. The museum brings together more than 70 of his works, mostly the lush landscapes for which he was known. The show runs until September 15.

El Prado also has three temporary exhibitions. The headliner is “Captive Beauty: Fra Angelo to Fortuny.” This exhibition brings together almost 300 works characterized by their small size and technical excellence. The point is to demonstrate the ability of some of Europe’s greatest artists to create beauty in a confined space and to highlight works that are often missed hanging next to giant, better-known works. They are arranged chronologically from the 14th to 19th centuries. The show runs until November 10.

Another of El Prado’s exhibitions examines the relationship between two 18th-century artists, Anton Raphael Mengs and José Nicolás de Azara. The two painters traded ideas and collaborated on projects throughout their careers. “Mengs and Azara: Portrait of a Friendship” runs until October 13. “Japanese Prints,” which runs until October 6, showcases items from the museum’s collection from the 17th to 19th centuries.

This year Spain and Japan are celebrating 400 years of friendly relations. In 1613, a group of Japanese emissaries set out to visit Spain. They crossed the Pacific, passed through the Spanish colony of Mexico, and then crossed the Atlantic. After touring Spain they continued on to visit the Pope in Rome before heading back home. The whole trip took seven years. We talk a lot about adventure travel here on Gadling, but nothing in the modern day can measure up to what these early travelers did.

To honor the anniversary, the Museum of Decorative Arts is hosting “Namban,” a fascinating look at the artistic influence these two distant cultures had on one another. One interesting object is a large screen in the Japanese style, yet bearing a Spanish colonial painting of Mexico City. There is as yet no closing date for this exhibition.

If you hurry you can still catch a free exhibition of the work of Swiss surrealist Alberto Giacometti at the Fundación Mapfre. The exhibition includes numerous examples of his famous statues of elongated human figures as well as his lesser-known paintings. This exhibition runs until August 4.

We’re suffering sweltering temperatures here in Madrid right now, so beat the heat and go see some art!

Photo of the day – monastery in the mountains

It’s appropriate that this cable car in Montserrat, Spain leads to a monastery, because I’d be praying the whole ride that we made it safely. Perhaps other visitors are less height-adverse because this is one of the most important religious sites in Spain, with many people making the trek each year up the mountain to pray at the sanctuary. It’s not just for pilgrims: Santa Maria de Montserrat is home to one of the oldest printing presses in the world, a museum with such art biggies as Picasso and Dali, and a nature park with some stunning views of Catalonia. Want to visit? It’s about an hour from Barcelona, more visiting details here. Thanks to Flickr user othernel for making the climb.

Want to share your favorite travel photos with us? Add them to the Gadling Flickr pool and we may just use it for a future Photo of the Day.

South of the Clouds: Yunnan’s ancient tea-horse road

In November, Gadling traveled with WildChina throughout Yunnan province. The theme of the trip was “the ancient tea-horse road,” and it followed a trading route that runs from Yunnan’s tropical lowlands up to the Tibetan plateau and eventually in to India.

As the name implies, the “road” was a caravan route along which tea and horses were traded, though salt was also a major commodity. Lesser known than its glamorous older sibling, the Silk Road, the tea-horse road was nevertheless an important trade route. Though defined in the singular, the tea-horse road was actually a series of small trade routes; it was rare for traders to travel the entire route.

Tea, still grown and fermented for travel in Yunnan today, was carried north, while mules and horses from Tibet plodded south. Small traces of the original trade still exist: condensed bundles of tea packed into bamboo pipes at a rural market, an old square in a village where horse stalls still sit behind a guesthouse once used by muleteers (those who traveled the route with mules), and even a few people who worked in the trade before 1949.

Though the route extends all the way to India, we focused only on locations in Yunnan. First we visited Xishuangbanna prefecture, at the south of the province. Here, Pu-er tea is grown on small trees whose size belies their age: many are several hundred years old. We then traveled to Dali, a conduit market town where tea traders and growers traveled north to meet Tibetans who had journeyed south. The Bai minority group still live in and around Dali and were middlemen between the tea and horse traders.

After Dali came Shaxi, a market town where we met the son of a muleteer who was killed by bandits. Everyone in Shaxi once depended on the tea-horse trade, as it was an important stopover town along the route. Today, Shaxi’s market square still fills every Friday with Yi villagers who dress up and travel for fun, trading, and food.

After a quick stop in Lijiang, another conduit market town filled with rushing canals and cobble-stoned streets, we climbed up to Shangri-la. A town packed with prayer flags, restaurants serving yak meat, and the distant lure of giant mountains, Shangri-la (also called Zhongdian) at times feels more Tibetan than mainstream Chinese. A few sad horses lingered near a marshy lake, decorated and waiting for tourists to reenact the glory days of the trade route with horse rides.

By no means the end of the line for traders, Shangri-la was nevertheless an appropriate ending point for our trip. We’d gone from summer temps in sub-tropical Xishuangbanna to near-freezing at 10,000 feet, and it was time to go home and warm up with a nice cup of tea.

Read more about our travels in Yunnan here.

Though my trip was funded by WildChina, the opinions expressed here are all my own.

South of the Clouds: Hiking Cangshan Mountains, Dali, Yunnan, China

Gadling introduced you to Dali, in Yunnan Province, the other day, and touched on a few activities and sights there. Out of all of them, hiking the Jade Belt Road (also called the Cloud Road) in the Cangshan mountains was our favorite.

Green furry mountains rise out of Dali’s back door, and are an easy escape from the town. A mostly flat, paved walking path winds in and out of valleys about two-thirds of the way up the mountains, making a lovely day hike. If you don’t feel like working too hard, an old-school chairlift can carry you up on one side, and a fancy-time, Austrian-built gondola 11.5 kilometers to the south can take you down – or vice versa. The path also extends beyond the lifts on either side, but we only explored the terrain in-between.

We chose to climb to the main trail by following a sometimes-muddy, often-slick path up under the chairlift. It took us the better part of an hour to climb up the steep mountain, and we arrived at the top of the lift sweaty and out of breath. The top of the chairlift, and the path that leaves from it, sit at 2500 meters (or roughly 8000 feet), high enough for us to feel it in our lungs.

%Gallery-111568%At the top of the chairlift sits Zhonghe Temple, a quiet spot with refreshments and a pleasant view of Dali and Erhai Lake. We paused for a snack and some photos, then began our walk south.

The path is paved with flat, square stones, and is better than most sidewalks. Mostly flat, it snakes in and out of valleys, across steep streams, and along vertical cliffs. We were in a foggy cloud, so a light mist constantly rained. Be sure to carry clothing for all types of weather; what might be a sunny day down in Dali could be a damp slog up in the mountains.

The walk to the gondola should take you a couple of hours. Once there, you’ll find Gantong Temple, as well as a giant chessboard (see gallery). From here, take the gondola down; taxis will be waiting at the base to take to back to Dali.

Read more about my travels in Yunnan here.

Hotel Review: The Linden Centre, Xizhou, Yunnan, China

Though it was only built in 1947, the Linden Centre is a nationally protected building – in fact, it holds the same status at the Great Wall. Built by a wealthy merchant in traditional Bai style architecture, the grounds were occupied by the army during the Cultural Revolution; the Red Guard were kept at bay, and thus the building and its paintings and artifacts remained intact.

Today, the Linden Centre functions as both boutique hotel and learning center. Meals and transport are included in the cost, and you can expect a quiet yet stimulating stay.

Gadling visited the Centre in mid-November on a trip through Yunnan with WildChina (read more about it here); here are our impressions of the hotel.

The Check-in

The alleys in Xizhou are so narrow that buses can’t squeeze through them; instead, your bus stops about a block away and you’re met by staff who carry your luggage through the unassuming gates.

Once you pass inside, you’ll enter a Bai-style courtyard, which means that one wall is a dedicated “reflecting” wall — painted white, it’s meant to reflect the sun’s rays. The other three walls are made up of guest rooms, a small bar, and offices. Though the grounds have been modernized to a very comfortable Western standard, the Linden Centre isn’t the type of place you’d stop over for business meetings; think of it more as a retreat. In fact, Gadling’s own features editor Don George will be teaching a writing workshop there in 2011!

%Gallery-110440%The Rooms

The 14 rooms at the Linden Centre were remodeled to modern Western criterion but retain their authenticity. Original feng shui principles were kept, and the lofty ceilings, antiques, and tall, wood-shuttered windows add a touch of the grand. Mattresses are large and Western (those of you who have traveled in China know what a difference that makes) and come equipped with thick comforters.

The rooms also contain a writing desk, wireless Internet, and a walk-in closet/nook complete with fluffy terrycloth bathrobes and tea-making equipment.

The Bathroom

The walls and floor of the bathroom are laid with dark stone, creating a spa-like ambiance. The large shower is walk-in style, with high-end toiletries on offer. A small stone sculpture protruded from one wall in my shower; just another touch of detail that makes the place special. Hot water is turned on in the mornings and evenings, and of course there is a Western toilet.

The Bar and Restaurant

The Cafe-Wine Bar straddles two courtyards, with walls opening to either side, and has a very laid-back vibe; it’s the type of place where you might go read a book over a cup of tea. Low tables and soft lighting impart not so much a lounge feeling as a coffee-house one – and I wouldn’t say that that’s a bad thing. Still, it has an admirable wine list (which they were still putting it together when I stayed there) and a range of beers and liquors.

The restaurant is amazing in that it has an entirely glass ceiling. This feature gives it the feel of a courtyard, but you don’t have to worry about the elements. Paintings in this room were left untouched. A small fish pond and fountain break the space up, making dining more intimate.

Food is locally sourced, and most meals are eaten Chinese style, in a group. A breakfast buffet offers anything the Western diner might desire, from omelets made-to-order to freshly brewed Yunnan coffee.


The Linden Centre is a sort of learning retreat, and as such has almost as many activity rooms as it does guest rooms. A spiral staircase leads to a rooftop terrace, where you can gaze across fields and the village. There’s a library and painting room, a conference room, an exercise room, a small meditation chamber, and a large kids’ activity center.

The Bottom Line

It’s hard not to be impressed by the Linden Centre. The preserved architecture, antiques and art (the owners run a gallery back in the States), and the emphasis on learning make for a great environment. The owners are warm and involved; you’ll even see their kids around. Though small-group retreats and seminars are a bit more common, the independent traveler will feel very comfortable.

Read more about my travels in Yunnan here.

Though my stay at the Linden Centre was funded by WildChina, the opinions expressed here are all my own.