Naval Museum in Madrid: an overlooked treasure

MadridAfter six years of living in Madrid, I’ve finally made it to the Naval Museum.

It’s overlooked by most tourists. In fact, it’s overlooked by a lot of madrileños. I’ve met some locals who didn’t even know it exists. Perhaps being so far away from the sea they don’t expect there to be a major naval museum downtown. It also doesn’t help that it’s tucked behind a modest facade that’s easy to miss.

Go inside, though, and you find yourself in a massive collection of paintings, cannons, uniforms, even parts of old ships.

Spain was one of of the leading naval powers in the Golden Age of Sail. It owned much of the New World and scattered colonies around the globe. It protected its interests with a large fleet of warships.

The museum skips lightly over the medieval period and gets really detailed starting at the Age of Exploration. Columbus is given his due, and many other lesser-known explorers are also covered. The maps are fun to study. The most important is that of Juan de la Cosa, made in 1500 and the first known map to show the New World.

The biggest section is for warships from the 16th-18th centuries, when Spain was a superpower. Here you’ll find uniforms, weapons, flags, and a nice collection of figureheads like the one shown here. One of the most interesting exhibits is the wreck of the Nao, which sank in 1600. Archaeologists donned scuba gear and excavated the wreck, bringing up a huge collection of porcelain from China as well as other artifacts.

The 19th and 20th centuries are also covered, although not in as much detail. By then Spain’s power was waning. There are some detailed models and paintings of ships that were making the transition from sail to steam. They had steam engines but kept their masts just in case those early engines broke, which they did regularly! The Spanish Civil War is only covered in passing. I’ve yet to see a Spanish museum that’s come to terms with this bloody conflict. It’s still in living memory, so the old wounds remain open.

The section for the modern navy is worth a look too. While small compared to those of the U.S., Russia, and UK, the Armada still packs a punch. It has two aircraft carriers, ten frigates, four submarines, and a host of smaller ships. This puts Spain way ahead of Morocco, its only potentially hostile neighbor.

The only downside to this museum is that the signage is all in Spanish. Don’t worry if you don’t speak the language; most of the exhibits are pretty self-explanatory. The museum is free. Because it’s in a military building, make sure to bring ID to get in.


Video of the Day – Paragliding over Spain

Want to film a catchy music video without a massive budget? Consider grabbing some of your most adventurous friends, getting them to do some outrageous outdoor activity, and then hire a talented editor to overlay some snazzy effects & motion graphics.

Madrid-based editor Jorgiatos recently posted this music video that was shot in and around Castejón De Sos, a town near the Spain-France border that’s well known amongst paragliders. It was shot with several GoPro Hero HD‘s, though the additional effects and titles make it look as if it was filmed with much more substantial equipment.

Do you know of an adventurous music video that we need to see? Send it our way! Leave a comment below and it could be our next Video of the Day.

Treasures of Teotihuacan go on display

Teotihuacan is the New World’s most impressive city. Founded in the second century BC, it was a center of civilization for 800 years. Its Pyramid of the Sun has a greater volume than even the Great Pyramid at Giza, Egypt. Teotihuacan is located in modern Mexico just outside Mexico City. In a country filled with amazing ancient ruins, it’s one of the best.

An exhibit at Caixa Forum, one of Madrid’s leading art galleries, highlights the treasures of this civilization. Teotihuacan: Ciudad de los Dioses (Teotihuacan: City of the Gods) brings together some 400 artifacts and works of art to show the rise and fall of the city and its empire. The exhibition is divided into themed sections about the construction of the city, the arts, religion, palace life, and the mysterious destruction of Teotihuacan. Many of the objects displayed are beautiful, such as the inlaid jade masks and fearsome statues of the gods.

If you’re going to Mexico, I highly recommend that you visit this UNESCO World Heritage Site for yourself. I’ve been to a lot of ancient cities all over the world, but Teotihuacan simply blew me away.

Teotihuacan: Ciudad de los Dioses runs from July 27 until November 13.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Top ten tapas and free eats in Madrid

In Spain, the “tapa” is the traditional free snack that often accompanies a drink in a bar. There is something unusually delicious about free food, especially when presented alongside a glass of red wine or an ice-cold “caña” (small glass of beer). “Tapas” are sensible – no drinking on an empty stomach. They also serve to whet the taste buds before a meal. Some even call tapas an “alcoholic’s paradise!” Unfortunately, in modern Madrid, you will most often be served a small bowl of crisps, a saucer of olives, or if you’re lucky a piece of bread with a slice of ham or cheese. Any larger serving comes at a price. Free tapas are not easy to come by in Madrid, but if you know where to go you’ll find an abundance of bars where you can eat well for the price of what you drink.

  1. Pepa Tencha, Calle de Apodaca 3, Metro Bilbao (Lines 1,4) and Tribunal (Lines 1,10) – Every Wednesday and Saturday from 8.30pm, this Italian Café offers a free “aperitif” alongside their affordable wine collection. The name is slightly misleading – it refers to an all you can eat buffet of pasta, polenta, salads and various dishes. If you’re looking to eat nearly free in Madrid, this is the best place to come.
  2. El Tigre, Calle de Infantas 30, Metro Chueca (Line 5) and Gran Vía (Line 1 and 5) – El Tigre is the go to place in Madrid for free tapas. Buy a round of beers and get a plateful of delicious snacks to go with it, along with the lively ambience one comes to associate with this most Spanish of Spanish cities.
  3. La Paloma Blanca, Calle de Espiritu Santo 21, Metro Tribunal (Lines 1,10) – This small hole in the wall bar grants you a generous portion of food gratis with your beer. Expect bowls of tuna and pasta salad, accompanied by a fried egg and bread. Ideal for backpackers looking for a protein boost.
  1. Magister, Calle del Principe 18, Metro Sol (Lines 1,2,3) and Tirso de Molina (line 1) – More than just another generic Spanish bar, Magister brew their own beer and each glass comes with a tapa of your choice, from cheese, pork products, Spanish omelette and much more.
  2. A’Cañada, Calle de Fúcar 20, Metro Anton Martín (Line 1) – This small, but packed bar is located close to the Reina Sofia Museum runs in a similar vein to El Tigre, offering plates of food for free with each drink.
  3. Boñar de Leon, Calle de la Cruz Verde 16, Metro Noviciado (Line 2) – A friendly, family owned tavern that serves the best Tinto de Verano, a cocktail of wine, lemon and vermouth, in Madrid. Their free tapas is very generous: from a Spanish omelette to cheeses and meat from Leon.
  4. El Rincón de Abulanse, Calle Cabarello de Gracia 18, Metro Gran Vía (Lines 1 and 5) – Cheap drinks and generous tapas.
  5. Bar La Mina Café, Calle de Mauricio Legendre 5 post, Metro Plaza Castilla (Lines 1,9,10) and Charmartín (Lines 1, 10 and trains) – While this bar is away from the centre, its location near the northern train station makes it an excellent stopping point for an “aperitivo” after a day trip to Segovía or El Escorial, offering free “pinchos,” Spanish appetisers to accompany a drink, this can include Iberian Ham, mussels stuffed with béchamel sauce and breadcrumbs, cheese and Russian salad.
  6. Mercado de Maravillas, Calle de Bravo Murillo 122, Metro Cuatro Caminos (Lines 1,2,6) – A huge market hall where you can buy all kinds of vegetables, cheeses, meats and much more, but it also houses numerous bars which offer generous portions of free tapas, such as “paella,” a Spanish rice dish, or garlic potatoes. The prices for drinks and food here are incredibly cheap!
  7. Malaspina, Calle de Cadíz 9, Metro Sol (Lines 1,2,3) – Just round the corner from Sol, this bar offers small tapas with your drinks, from tuna and potato salad, to toasts topped with Iberian pork products.

[flickr image via Ruth L]

Drugs and travel don’t mix (in most places)

Flying out of Madrid’s Barajas airport last week I spotted this curious poster. Sorry for the crappy photo, but there was a light right in front of it. The poster asks, “Do you seriously believe that being around drugs overseas would be fun?”

The message is one to think about. Most recreational drugs are illegal in most places, and going to jail isn’t fun anywhere, yet I have to wonder about the subtext of this poster. It seems to be saying, “Stay away from drugs, son, or scary dark people with bad teeth will beat you up, steal your right shoe, and use you like a woman.”

In reality, the main dangers of using drugs overseas are being ripped off by the dealer or getting framed. This is especially common in Morocco and India, where a friendly guy will offer you drugs and when you buy them, call the cops on you. He and the cops will then take you for everything you got, and you better hope you’re not a woman in this situation.

So kids, be sensible. Take the legal drugs. Drink real ale in England. Smoke dope in The Netherlands. Chew qat in Ethiopia and Somaliland. Drink coffee and smoke tobacco just about anywhere. If it’s legal, it couldn’t be bad for you!