In January we decided to stop spending money from our savings, and to start living entirely from the money we were making from teaching English in Madrid. This was easier said than done, because paychecks, or rather, envelopes of cash (which is how we get paid here), come once a month rather than every couple of weeks like we're used to back in the U.S., but we decided to go for it. Part of not spending anymore out of savings meant doing so in all areas, not just with our daily expenses. The hardest area for me to let go of was travel. We decided to stay around Madrid unless we had the money to leave the city, and we haven't had that ability until the past week or so - and now it's kind of too late (we're leaving in just 11 days!).
However, it was sort of a blessing in disguise, because we've really made an effort to see Madrid in the last couple of months. My mom was really kind and did a lot of research on free and cheap things to do in the city, and we made a list from our guidebook entitled "Must See Madrid." We've been doing the free things first, and saving the ones that cost for March, because we knew that we'd have more cash this month.
So, for the next few Mondays, I'll be sharing different things we've done in Madrid, many of them free, and the ones that aren't free, well, they're pretty close.
One of the first places we visited in January was the Museo de Historia de Madrid, or the History Museum of Madrid. Our guidebook made the museum sound pretty awesome, and I was excited.
The entrance to the museum is beautiful and baroque, originally built in 1721, and leads into the exhibits which are spread over four floors. We especially enjoyed the old maps of Madrid because we could almost always find our street, Calle Toledo, as it's a large and famous street. Sometimes we could even figure out where our apartment is today, as we're not far from the Plaza de Cebada, and it was usually marked on the maps as well. The paintings, and as years progressed, photographs, of celebrations and bullfights in Plaza Mayor, as well as of Retiro and other places we're familiar with were really neat too.
There were also some really neat models, one of a bullring, and one of the city as it was in 1830. We're not really the bullfighting type, but seeing a recreation of ring, since it is a big part of Spanish history and culture, was interesting. Apparently, the model of the city is a pretty big deal. It's one of the oldest historical models in Europe, and it took 23 months to construct. It has a whole room to itself in the basement of the museum, and there's a video (in Spanish) dedicated to understanding and getting a closer look at model. We thought it was impressive, too, especially for something nearly 200 years old and with such accuracy.
So, for all it's merits, what's my final verdict on the Museo de Historia de Madrid? Well, its art collection of Madrid is beautiful and a welcome change from the Mary + Jesus combo we've been seeing all over the place (not that they're not a dynamic duo, but sometimes it feels like most of the art in Europe is religious and it's nice to see some variety). It's especially fun for someone who "knows" Madrid and many/most of the places represented. We're not just tourists passing through the city for a quick two day trip, we have some context and while we're certainly not lifelong residents or anything, we do know enough for the museum to make sense and really mean something to us.
So we really enjoyed it in the sense that it brought Madrid and its history to life for us, but at the same time, not all of the museum was rich paintings and cool models. There were also sections that were dry and that we would go through a portion and look at each other and be like, "Huh?" Maybe part of it is because we don't really know Spanish history - we haven't grown up with it, lived it, been immersed in it from birth - the way we have with American history. The other part is because the museum is not the most engaging. It was completely overhauled from 2002 - 2010, and so the interior seems fresh and new and modern, but still, large parts of it are just boring. We really found ourselves struggling to stay engaged at some points, to be really honest.
D - At this point, I'll jump in and echo Shannon's statements that the museum was unfortunately pretty dull. Oh well. As they say: nothing ventured, nothing gained. Thankfully though, there were a couple of interesting things at the museum which at least justify the time it takes to walk through the place.
All those positive and negatives aside, though, if you've lived in Madrid for any length of time, I'd recommend it. Even if you just come for the art (there's some Goya! That seems to be a real draw around these parts) and a bit of Madrid history, give it an hour or two - it's totally free, and a good way to stay warm from November - March!