Friday, March 11, 2011

How I Crashed the Guernica

This is a story about how I entered a world famous museum in a European capital after hours, without authorization, and didn't get caught.

As I mentioned a few posts back, my work takes me overseas quite a bit.  This year I've been to quite a few places I've never been: Rio de Janeiro (first time in the southern hemisphere), Dusseldorf, and Madrid.  Most of the time I get in, get my work done, and get home, but if I get to go somewhere really cool, I try to stay at least an extra day and take in the local coolness.

As it happens, Madrid is the place to be if you're into art.  There are a LOT of art museums, but the most famous ones are the Prado, which you go to if you're into classical art, and the Reina Sofia, which is the place to see modern art.  Now, I'm no expert on art, but there is one piece at the Reina Sofia that I really wanted to see: La Guernica, by Pablo Picasso.  This is kind of a weird picture, but you have to expect that from Picasso.  Here's what it looks like:

I did a little research and found out that Tuesday night, the Reina Sofia is open late, and entrance is free after 5 PM.  Perfect.  I could go after work and check it out without hitting the old budget.  I am such the seasoned traveler.

So at 4:45 I head over to the museum, and sure enough, a fairly large group of people is milling about, looking like they're waiting for something.  I wait as well.  Still dressed for work, I look appropriately non-touristy.  I blend right in.

At precisely 5 PM, the doors open, and the people walk in.  I do so as well.

Inside the gate, it appears the museum is going through some renovation.  A woman meets us, and explains that the regular walkway is closed, so we will all go up the elevator at the back of the building together.  Oh, sorry...yeah, I know what you're thinking.  Don't they speak Spanish in Madrid?  Why yes, yes they do.  And I speak Spanish about as well as...ummm...I don't speak Spanish very well.  But I thought I'd be able to understand her.  And hey, cool!  It's a guided tour!  I wonder if they have one in English?  English is good, I speak English.

But I didn't get a chance to ask, because we all marched right past the entrance, to the other side of the building, through hallways lined with construction siding and sheetrock, and up the elevator.  Okay, I'm just going to go along for the ride.  It's worth it to see La Guernica for free.

At the top of the elevator, our guide began to talk.  She sounded very friendly and personable, and she kept the attention of her audience with her jokes and commentary.  I understood not one word.

The guided tour lasted about 45 minutes.  We saw many interesting pieces, but right about the time we finally got to the Picasso room, I suddenly had a startling revelation.

It was not Tuesday.  It was Monday.

This was not the free night.  I had stown away on a private tour.

Well, there wasn't much I could do about it now.  I tried to slip quietly away and out the door, but I was met by a very angry guard who was considerably shorter than I.  She lectured me (in Spanish, of course), and I pretended to understand her and went back to join the group.

I got a lot out of the tour.  Some of the time I had to stand for what seemed like hours and listen to the guide and pretend I had a clue what she was saying, but (being a world class museum in a major European capital) all of the signs were in several languages, so I could at least read the name and history of the pieces. 

Other than the angry little museum guard, nobody ever noticed me.  When the tour ended, I breathed a sigh of relief.  It wouldn't have been fun to call my client to tell them that I couldn't join them the next day because I was going to spend the rest of the week as a guest of the Madrid Police.

I'm sure this story has a moral.  In this case, it's probably this: if you find yourself in an awkward situation, try to pretend you know what you're doing, and try not to draw attention to yourself.

And if you happen to find yourself in Madrid with a few hours to spare, check out the Reina Sofia.  But please, buy a ticket.


  1. I'm hoping to go to Spain this summer and spend a few extra days in Madrid. I will be checking out these two museums, and I promise to buy a ticket. Unless it's Monday.

  2. It sounds more fun the way you did it.