Spain Raises Airport Taxes

The government of Spain has announced that it is raising airport taxes.

The amount of the increase depends on the airport, with the average being 18.9 percent. Taxes at the two busiest airports, however, will more than double. Madrid’s Barajas airport will increase from 6.95 euros to 14.44 ($8.64 to $17.94). Barcelona’s El Prat airport will go from 6.12 euros to 13.44 ($7.60 to $16.70).

Ryanair and Vueling have already passed the extra fee onto their passengers. Other airlines have yet to decide how to respond. The tax is retrospective for those who booked before July 2, 2012, and are traveling from July 1 onwards.

Spain is one of the most troubled economies of the Eurozone. It has recently been granted up to 100 billion euros ($124 billion) in bailouts for its banks and the government is planning harsh austerity measures in order to balance the books. With summer tourist season kicking into high gear, the increased tax will bring in tens of millions in much-needed funds, assuming it doesn’t turn away too many tourists.

[Photo of Madrid’s Barajas airport courtesy Andres Rueda]

Two Overlooked Art Spaces in Madrid

Madrid is famous for its art. The “Golden Triangle” of the Prado, the Reina Sofia, and the Thyssen-Bornemisza attract millions of visitors a year.

But there are plenty more places to see art than those famous three. One of my favorites is the Conde Duque, an 18th century barracks that has been turned into an art and educational space. Behind an elaborate Baroque gate are three large courtyards. The high, thick walls muffle the sound of the busy city outside and a sense of calm reigns.

There are three major exhibition spaces, although all aren’t always showing something at the same time. Conde Duque has recently reopened after a major remodel. While it’s lost some of its decaying charm, the building seriously needed work because termites were eating away at the old beams.

Entrance to the exhibitions is free. Evening concerts of classical music are often held in the courtyards and these charge for tickets. This is a popular nightspot for madrileños so book well in advance.

Right across the street from Conde Duque is Blanca Berlin, one of the best photo galleries in Madrid. They have a constantly changing collection of photos for sale from established and up-and-coming photographers from all over the world. They also have a permanent stock of photos you can look through. Unlike some of the snootier galleries in Madrid, they don’t mind people coming in just to browse.

These two spots are at the edge of Malasaña, a barrio famous for its international restaurants, artsy shops and pulsing nightlife.

Still haven’t satisfied your art craving? Check out five more overlooked art museums in Madrid.

[Photo courtesy Luis García]

Madrid Street Art Old And New

Madrid is filled with art. From world-famous museums to cutting-edge indie galleries, this city has it all.

You don’t have to go to a museum or gallery to see art, though. The streets are filled with it. This photo shows a mural at the intersection of Calle de San Andrés and Calle de Espiritu Santo, just south of the popular Plaza Dos de Mayo. The mural stretches across an entire building and is slowly being defaced by taggers. That charming sentiment about the police wasn’t part of the original design.

There seems to be a war going on between the muralists and the taggers. This mural replaced an earlier one that graced the building for several years until some idiot spray-painted a blue line across its entire length. The muralists haven’t given up, though, and their work can be found on buildings and the shutters of shops. They’re often paid by shop owners to put something on the shutters to attract attention to their business even when it’s closed.

Madrid has a long tradition of decorated shops. Some of the older businesses in town have painted tiles, either in abstract designs inspired by Arab art or showing pictures related to the business. These, too, are being defaced by taggers. Unlike the murals, the older decorations are generally not being replaced.

Not all Spanish taggers deface other people’s art. Some respect an existing work and find another place to put their tags. Not surprisingly, their tags tend to be more artistic and show creativity and thought.

Check out the gallery for some Madrid street art spanning from a century ago and last month. For more images, check out the excellent blog Madrid Street Art.


Madrid’s Summer Art Season

Madrid is one of the best destinations for art lovers, and this summer’s exhibition season is as great as usual.

From June 12-September 16, the Prado is showing “Late Raphael,” the first major survey exhibition on Raphael (1483-1520) to combine paintings and drawings in order to focus on the last seven years of the artist’s life, when he was at the peak of his ability. It also examines the work of his assistants and how Raphael influenced generations of artists.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza is having an unusual look at German art with “Faces and Hands: Ancient and Modern Germanic Painting.” It examines how portraiture changed from the Renaissance to Expressionism by looking at the work of such masters as Dürer, Lucas Cranach the Younger, Otto Dix and Max Beckmann. The show runs until September 2.

The Reina Sofia covers modern art with three different exhibitions: the reworked political texts of Sharon Hayes, nature paintings and natural objects arranged by Rosemarie Trocke, and the experimental sculpture and photography of Nacho Criado. Hayes’ and Trocke’s shows are on until September 24. Criado’s show is on until October 1.

All three of these museums have large permanent collections that art lovers won’t want to miss.

Madrid is full of private galleries and large exhibition spaces run by banks. One of the best is CaixaForum Madrid, which is hosting a large collection of the 18th century architectural drawings of Piranesi. Piranesi traveled across Europe to record its Classical ruins and also invented his own fantasy buildings, like the one shown here in this Wikimedia Commons image. The show is on until September 9.

What Is The Highest European Capital?

I’ve lived in Spain part time for eight years now and I’ve been under the impression that Madrid is the highest European capital at 667 meters (2,188 feet) above sea level. You see the “highest capital in Europe” claim everywhere, including city tours, travel websites and even the second edition of “City Guide Madrid” by Blue Guides.

A friend who just came back from hiking in Andorra, however, told me that’s not true. Andorra’s capital, Andorra la Vella, stands at 1,023 meters (3,356 feet) and takes the prize for highest European capital. While its population is only a bit over 22,000 and the city governs one of the smallest countries in Europe, size doesn’t matter in this contest.

Andorra la Vella is nestled in the Pyrenees Mountains between Spain and France. My friend tells me there are numerous day hikes from town that take you into spectacular valleys and peaks past alpine streams and waterfalls. The winter ski season is justly famous. The city is pretty cheap too. Sounds like I’ll have to do an Andorran series sometime soon.

Defenders of Madrid can nitpick, though. Andorra is a co-principality and you could make the case that it isn’t a fully independent country. The President of France and the Bishop of Urgell in Spain act as co-princes. Like other European monarchs, however, they don’t have much power in the day-to-day running of the country. Andorra is a parliamentary democracy with an elected Prime Minister. Andorra has all the other trappings of nationhood as well, such as a flag, diplomats and membership to important international bodies such as the EU and UN. So it looks to me that the common statement that Madrid is the highest capital in Europe is wrong.

It just goes to show that you can’t believe everything you hear and read.

[Photo courtesy Gertjan R]