Art Overdose

Madrid is an art lover’s paradise.

From el Museo Nacional Arqueológico to the Prado, once can see millenniums of portraiture, sculpture, architecture and prehistoric cave drawings.

In a few short days I scoured no less than five of the world’s greatest collections of art and artifacts. In addition to Museo Nacional Arqueólogo, I visited the following (with a brief description of the highlights of each):

Museo Thyssen-BornemiszaHome of one of the world’s most distinguished private art collections, this museum’s permanent collection spans a period from the late 13th century to the 1980s. Old masters, Renaissance and Baroque art, the Dutch school and Modern Paintings, including Cubism and Surrealism, covers seven centuries of the history of painting.

The Prado: The name, the reputation, the history speaks for itself. Unfortunately photos were prohibited, so I can only tease you with the names of the incredible works I was able to see. Velázquez -Las Meninas and The Spinners,    Titian – Bacchanal of the Adrian’s, Charles V,       Raphael  – The Cardinal and Madonna of the Fish, Caravaggio – David Victorious over Goliath,  Rubens –  The Three Graces and Adoration  of the Magi,     Heronymous Bosch  –  The Garden of Earthly Delights and Table of the Seven Deadly Sins,   Goya  – The Third of May and Saturn devouring his Child,   Dürer –  Portrait and Adam and Eve,   El Greco – The Holy Trinity and Knight with his hand on his Chest,   Fra Angelico – The Annunciation,   Antonella da Messina – The Dead Christ Supported by an Angel,  Rembrandt, Van Dyck.

Museo Nacional Arqueólogico The collection includes, among others, Prehistoric, Egyptian, Celtic, Iberian, Greek and Roman antiquities and medieval (Visigothic, Islamic Spanish and Christian) objects.


The Lady of Elche was discovered at L’Alcúdia, an archaeological site near Elche, Spain. It is known as an Iberian artifact from the 4th century BC, with Hellenistic influences. According to The Encyclopedia of Religion, the Lady of Elche is believed to have a direct association with Tanit, the goddess of Carthage, who was worshiped by the Phonecian-Iberians.

Real Academia  de Bellas Artes: This academy, founded in 1752 during the reign of Fernando VI, was a place of study for painters, sculptors and architects. The Academia is one of the best art galleries in Spain, displaying collections that span 5 centuries and giving an overview of the history of art from the Renaissance to the twenty-first century. In addition to paintings and sculpture, the museum exhibits drawings, photographs, furniture, objects of silver and gold, porcelain and other decorative arts. The Goya rooms hold the second largest collection of the master’s work in the world.  El Greco, Rubens, Sorrolla and Picasso are also on display.

Museo Reina Sofía is Spain’s national museum of 20th-century art, and one of the art museums comprising the Golden Triangle of Art (located along the Paseo del Prado and also comprising the Museo del Prado and the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza).

The museum is mainly dedicated to Spanish art. Highlights of the museum include excellent collections of Spain’s two greatest 20th-century masters, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí. Certainly, the most famous masterpiece in the museum is Picasso’s painting Guernica. The Reina Sofía collection has works by artists such as Eduardo Chillida, Pablo Gargallo, Julio González, Luis Gordillo, Juan Gris, José Gutiérrez Solana, Joan Miró, Lucio Muñoz, Jorge Oteiza, Pablo Serrano, and Antoni Tàpies.



When exploring a new city for the first time, I make sure to go around the block once or twice, then slowly branch out from there….making note of the parallel and perpendicular streets and landmarks. It saves time later and keeps me from getting lost.

Madrid is glorious! Modern, sophisticated and spotlessly clean, this Spanish capital is     beautiful, with spectacular buildings from historic architectural periods, including Baroque, Gothic and Neo-classical; an abundance of large, safe public parks and tree-lined avenues; heaps of trendy shopping spots with prices ranging from rock bottom department stores (Primark) to expensive designer boutiques, specializing in everything from shoes, handbags and stockings to styles hot off the runways.

Madrid has a gentle, quiet and well planned system of public transport with the Metro underground rail being the star attraction. (I say “gentle” in comparison to NYC’s screeching, graffiti-riddled subway trains, and well planned in the sense that it is easy to understand, even for someone who is new to the city and doesn’t speak the language).

The people are friendly and helpful, the city is crammed with world class art museums and a plethora of massive cathedrals, the tap water is delicious and safe to drink, and, as far as I can tell, crime is not an issue.

While Madrid’s street plan is archaic and confusing, the grand plazas, roundabouts, spectacular fountains and statues create an aura of spaciousness, even on crowded streets near packed tourist attractions. Outdoor cafes abound; the coffee is excellent; and prices are reasonable, and don’t vary much between residential and business or tourist areas.

Of course Madrid is a Mecca for tourists, students and international business people. With several lavish Royal palaces, including Palacio Real (former home of  King Phillipe V, the grandson of French King Louis XIV), the Palacio de Liria, the Santa Cruz Palacio, and Palacio de Cibeles Centro Centro, one can get a glimpse of what being in the top 2% of wealth was like during centuries past.

Madrid is also home to the Prado (Museo Nacional de Prado), the Real Academia de Belles Artes, the Museo Nacional Centro de Reina Sophia, the Thyssen-Bornemizma Museum, a naval museum, the Sorolla Museum, and the Museo Arquelogico. Where else can you see Carravagio, Rembrandt, Reuben’s, Goya, Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Dali, Velazquez, Raphael, Titian and Heironymous Bosch in the same day?

Home to the notorious Spanish Inquisition of Queen Isabella and King Fernando in the Middle Ages, Madrid’s cathedrals and monestaries are some of the most spectacular in Christendom. The Basilica de San Francisco el Grande, the Catedral de las Almudena, the Royal Chapel of St. Anthony de La Florida, and the Monestario de las Descalzas Reales boast items such as holy relics, like pieces of the True Cross, some of the bones of St. Sebastian, the burial place of Goya, the site on which St. Francis of Assissi built a chapel in 1217, and marble sculptures, and artwork by Titian, Reubens, Breughel the Elder, Goya and Pacheco (Velazquez’s teacher and father-in-law). There is even an Egyptian temple, called the Templo de Debod, that dates back to the 2nd Century B.C., that was dismantled and rebuilt in Madrid.

This world class city has something for everyone and every taste, so be sure to include it on your Bucket List!



Jurassic Park Colombian style!

Although I live on the island where the movies Jurassic Park, the Lost World and Jurassic World were filmed, I never imagined that I would be able to see and touch the ancient creatures that once terrorized geologic history.

Until I visited Gondova.

Gondova is a huge theme park located near Villa de Leyva. Here, life size replicas of dinosaurs and other extinct creatures frolic on the dry hillsides and swim in the volcanic pools of turquoise water — their true, ancient, natural habitat. Gondova is the best representation of ancient geological history outside of a natural history museum.

crestThe word Gondova, as it turns out, means “the great valley of the dinosaurs”, and the park is aptly located in the Monquirá Valley, a high altitude valley of semi-desert terrain that once met the sea.

In ancient times Villa de Leyva rested on the banks of the ocean, prior to the great upheaval and creation of the Andes Mountains. ancientseaRich in fossils from the Cretaceous period (145 to 65 million years ago), and the third and last episode of the Mesozoic Era, the area is a paleontologist’s dream. As the sea receded it left behind the bones and fossils of thousands of ancient species.

Bernardo Salamanca, a Bogotá businessman and expert in animation and special effects, saw an opportunity to combine Hollywood special effects with actual excavations of the area. A theme park  that would bring education, the environment and natural history to life.

When the monumental discovery of the largest salt-water crocodile in the world — the Kronosauras — in 1977,  was found three miles west of Villa de Leyva, Salamanca ushered his theme park  into reality, and opened Gondava.

With no cars in the parking lot, we were instructed to wait for our guide. We sat on a stone wall that surrounded a pozo azul (or pool) of emerald green and turquoise water. In the pond were prehistoric creatures that broke the surface of the crystalline waters.

Trilobites, GerrothoraxIchthyosaurus (dolphins that breathed like whales) and Ammonoidea basked on the shoreline and swam in the waters. Our guide, a young local woman, provided a running commentary of the incredible creatures that we passed on our round trip trek up and down the hillside.

On the excursion more ancient creatures roamed and foraged in the desert landscape, guarding their off-spring and hiding under bushes for shade. Suddenly there was a grand roar from further up the hillside. Was it a Brontosaurus or T Rex? So life like were the models (and the sound effects) of these prehistoric monsters, that a child with his family visiting from Bogotá, ran to his mother and clung to her legs.

A mother Pterodactyl hovered over her hatchlings, wings outstretched from the branches of a tree. A Pentaceratops, with its head at attention and its great scaly crown and huge horns poised to attack, appeared to charge out of the bushes. Further down the hill a giant sauropod – a huge, long necked, herbivore – was still under construction. At the time a ladder allowed visitors to enter the sauropod’s belly and view the ribcage, lungs and the creature’s hypothesized two hearts — needed to supply enough blood to the brain and organs.

Colombia never ceases to amaze me, and here was living proof: having seen the towering skeletons and dinosaur bones at the Smithsonian, watching block buster films about the Jurassics, and now witnessing an entire reconstruction of these magnificent monsters close enough to touch, I felt a heightened sense of appreciation of ancient geologic history and the diversity of life cycles on our planet. Walking through Gondava– a real Jurassic Park — where Colombian paleontologists had just recently excavated creatures such as the Padillasauras and Kronosauras, was like walking into the past while looking forward to its lessons for the future.

Hollywood, try and top that!

Colombian Cost Co

Typical Boyaca farmer with hat and ruana

Typical Boyaca farmer with hat and ruana

Market day in Tunja was a surprised I hadn’t expected. On my last day in Boyaca, we went to the “market” to have breakfast.

Sounds easy, right?

First of all, traffic was backed up for miles with huge covered trucks, collectivas, cars, carts, bicyclists, huge busses leaving for Bogota, and masses of people on foot, wandering between stopped vehicles as they converged on the market.

For stray dogs, moms trailing kids, old men in dusty ruanas with black fedora hats, old women in the same costume, younger men in baseball caps ond ruanas, people in jeans and denim jackets, nuns, and families, market was the place to go, very early on a Friday morning.

Bananas for sale

Bananas for sale

We finally parked and headed for the main attraction. Huge pallets laden with onions, papayas, pineapples, vegetables that I’ve never seen before, medicinal plants, potatos, livestock (little piggies for sale! — chickens and roosters, baskets, espadrills, hats to ward off the high altitude sun, clothes, sneakers, and hand made ruanas, covered an entire city block and the entire interior of a public stadium!

Young farmer girl selling peas

Young farmer girl selling peas

If you can name it, you can probably buy it here.

If only CostCo was as colorful and as well stocked!

Dogs like the market, too!

Dogs like the market, too!

Pummeling through the crowd, we came to the “dining area”. Wood fires and huge grills smoked merrily in the early-morning light, exuding the delicious aromas of sizzling, fresh (like hours fresh!) chicken, pork and beef.

We entered a crowded restaurant — a semi-temporary structure with a tarp overhead, and quickly-constructed rough wooden walls. I ordered chicken “plancha” — a whole chicken cut into flat strips resembling something  that looked like it had been ironed on an  ironing board — that was accompanied by tasty little round  potatoes, rice, salad and a healthy glass of the juice of local fresh fruit.

My friends ordered a thick, hot, delicious soup — a regional favorite — made with aromatic stock, tiny round potatoes, maize, cilantro, and chunks of pork — steaming hot and very filling.

Boyacanese woman preparing fresh chicken and pork

Boyacanese woman preparing fresh chicken, beef, and pork.

Considering the fact the shoppers — and especially the farmers, who brought their goods to the market at around 3 AM — a hearty breakfast was in order. We sat in the crowded dining room with many locals, ate, chatted with other diners, then paid the bill — more than satisfied with the hearty meal of which we had partaken. After leaving the market we fought even more traffic on the way out, and left for Bogota.

I can’t wait to go back!

Parque natural de Chicaque – Close to Bogota in the wilds


Living in the crowded capitol of Colombia — Bogota — does not mean that you can’t enjoy nature. By taking the Transmilineo, one can easily acess the stunning “Chicaque Natural Park”, located in the southern part of Bogota, in the municipality of Soacha.

In less than an hour,  hiking boots, a backpack, sunscreen, rain gear and a safari hat — garb that is not usually part of the “city fashionista uniform” becomes perfectly acceptable for the task at hand — hiking Chicaque.

Take the F1 from Chapinero or any station along the Caracas line and you will get to Soacha (after a change of busses in Ricuarte). We traveled on a Sunday and had places to actually sit down for the enitre trip!

South Bogota has gotten some bad press and Soacha isn’t one of the better neighborhoods, but “no preoccupe”! It looks like every other stop on the Transmilineo, with empanada vendors, taxis, secondary busses (called “collectivas”) all lined up like ducks to accomodate people who are passing through.

Because it was Sunday the Transmilineo route was slightly altered and we  got a bit confused finding our exit portal. However, a short walk around the block and some polite conversation got us to where we needed to wait for the ride into the park. Its quite cheap — about $3500 COP–  and takes about 30 minutes to an hour.

Because we went on a Sunday, when we paid the bus driver to go to Chicaque, he took off in an area of major road construction, with drivers hopping curbs, doing U-turns in the middle of the highway, and back-tracking thorugh decrepit neighborhoods that I had been warned about but had never seen outside of a TV novells!

I got up the courage to ask the driver — in my deplorable Spanish — “What was happening with the road?”, and he responded, “Ciclovia!

“Ciclovia” explained everything including the traffic, the alternate route, back street shuffle, and the wierd crossng of the highway — every Sunday in Bogota, major thorofares are closed to vehicular traffic and the only type of wheled transit allowed on these routes is “the bicycle”!

Breathing a sigh of relief that we were not being kidnapped or absconded to a den of inequity with filthy mattresses and being forced to drink scopolomine tea, the city fell behind and we drove along bumpy, dirt, country roads until we reached the entrance to Chicaque. Near the area of Teusaquedena Falls, along the Bogota River in the “sabana” region, we arrived at the park. A large lodge was the first building on site but we wanted to hike and left the sighteeing to later.

Situated at a lofty elevation, Chicaque appeared to be engulfed in clouds, which gives rise to the name of this phenomena,  the Colombian “cloud forest”. After a short orientation to the park by park guides, we entered the gates and began a serious downhill descent from a lofty elevation of 7,800 feet. There was no way to go BUT down, so I said my prayers and headed below. As we descended the paved, then semi-paved, then rocky, muddy, dirt path, the visitors center disappeared into the mist and clouds.

A loop trail led to the lagoon at the bottom of the hillside, and an alternate path led to a look out of the southernColombia countryside. Due to a knee injury, I let my friend continue to the bottom of the trail while i leisurely headed for the “lookout”, an out crop of rocks about midway on the mountainside. Here, beautiful views of pasture, farm land and small “fincas” (farms) dotted the landscape below. I reveled in the sunshine and took some photos while waiting for my friend to rejoin me at this meeting place.

As I hiked the lookout trail back to the main trail leading back up the mountain, I came upon some very colorful and interesting butterflies. One butterfly, with gorgeous grey wings and orange antennae entertained me for 20 minutes as he took his time exploring the woodland floor. Other butterflies — some purple; some sky lue with black trim along thier wings — were more elusive, but I enjoyed watching thier erratic flight patterns and capricious pathways.

Late afternoon was approaching, and having reconnected with my friend, who said that the lagoon below was completely dry and a wasted hike, we proceeded  to hike back up the mountain to the gate above. By the time we arrived on top, Bogota’s eternal rain was falling and so we went to see what was available in the food and drink department at the rustic lodge located at Chicaque’s entry point.

A merry fire was burning in the huge fireplace of the Lodge, which looked like it had been constructed around 1950. A huge dining room expanded across the spacious floor beneath a  rustic timber roof of wood and thatch.

We ordered hot tea and soup and waited for the bus back to Soacha.


It was a day well-spent, in close a proximity to Bogota and easilty accessible by the Transmilineo.

For more information and to view the park’s website, please go to:




Riding Bogota’s TransMilineo


Riding Bogota’s TransMilineo.

Bogota’s famous TransMilineo is the largest Bus Rapid Transit system in the world. Opened in 2000 the system has 144 stations and serves an average of 2.2 million passengers, who cram into approximately 1000 busses, each day.

I am one of them.

 TM4Passengers reach the stations, which are located in the middle of the city’s large avenues, via a bridge over the street. Four lanes down the center of the street are dedicated to bus traffic only. There are both express and local buses, the latter stopping at every station to pick up passengers. The outer lanes allow express buses to bypass buses stopped at a station, and to playfully race the slower busses that are trying to make up for lost time between the local stops.

sardinesThe bus drivers receive their training at the Indy 500 Race Track, and they demonstrate their skills – especially at braking and accelerating — every day on the streets of Bogota. The only reason that there are not more injuries from broken bones due to this breakneck style of driving is due to the sheer volume of riders. There is nowhere to fall down and get hurt!

Users pay at the station entrance using a smart card (a nominal fee of about 55 cents US), pass through a turnstile, and wait for buses inside the station, which is about 16 feet wide.  The bus and station doors open simultaneously, and passengers board by simply (?) walking across the threshold.TM3

At rush hour, any given station contains at least 1500 people. At each stop, when the automated doors open at the platform, no less than 30 people struggle to insert themselves into the bus. At the same time, no less than 25 people are trying to exit the bus, which is only about 6 feet wide. Those who wish to exit are forcefully impeded by those who were not able to board that bus, for no particular reason other than the fact that they are not happy about having to wait for the next bus.

On the bus one is treated to street performers playing music, school kids, vendors selling questionable packets of home-made food, the disabled and homeless, soda and agua vendors, grandpas, business executives, robbers, tourists, moms with babies and security guards, on their way to somewhere.

Transmil2While official literature states that the capacity of an entire TransMilineo bus is 160 souls, my bus holds no less than 730 people, at any given time, in just one of the articulated sections.

Bogota’s cool weather is rapidly remedied by boarding a TransMilineo bus. Windows and skylights can be opened to provide ventilation, but rarely relieve the body heat of hundreds of heavily clothed Bogotanos. Those who ride the bus frequently, and have survived numerous communicable diseases, are given notarized Certificados of Bueno Salud by the Mayor’s office.

Special classes are offered at various Cuidadanos Avoiding Desperación (CAD) locations around the city to teach the bus-riding public the proper etiquette and body alignment needed to maximize the experience of riding the TransMilineo.

Participants are first shown how to achieve a stance that ensures the traveler doesn’t fall during a sudden stop. Exercises that strengthen the thighs and biceps are especially important to those who must hang on for dear life TM2between stops. (An optional course offers pole-dancing techniques, which supplement basic strength training exercises). Courses in Motivational Pushing and Shoving are the most popular, with lessons on How to Manage and Safeguard your Possessions while Clutching Handrails and Stanchions, are Segundo in popularity. Hygiene courses, such as How to Keep your Hands Clean (or use gloves), Coughing into a Sleeve, Scarf or Someone Else’s Hair (or use a mask), and How to Sneeze Vertically (instead of horizontally) are optional.

At Universidad Naciónal, Universidad de los Andes, and Universidad Militar Nueva Grenada, advanced courses in reading bus route maps are offered to Masters Degree and Ph.D. students, or those holding degrees in advanced linguistics, physics or math.

For more information, or to obtain a TransMilineo pre-paid credit card, go to the cashier at any Transmilineo station, call (+57) 310 243-7098, or email TransMilineo at ¿howf-*/#?ingmanypeoplecanyoupossiblycramontoabus?.com