A Day in the Park

Trip Start May 31, 2006
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Tuesday, June 6, 2006

 I had heard a lot about the Parque Del Buen Retiro and even though it was the hottest day of the year, today was the day to go.  I grabbed Ed and Sophie and dragged them out of the flat.  I wondered how smart an idea that was as soon as we hit the street and started walking toward the Metro.......we were already drenched in sweat and gasping for air.

We took the Metro down to the centre of Madrid where we were greeted by the Puerta de Alcalá, a roman-like triumphal arc commissioned by Carlos III to mark the way from Madrid into Alcalá de Henares, a nearby ancient city.

As soon as we crossed the huge black iron gates of the Jardines Del Buen Retiro, we came across a flowery fountain and a long avenue of trees and flower beds called Avenida de Mexico which led to the first main fountain, Fuente de los Galápagos. This fountain was dedicated to the birth of the baby princess Elizabeth II. The fountain is organized in 3 levels, all adorned with aquatic foliage and water jets in the form of Galapagos turtles, frogs and snails.  A beautiful gift.

Next we came towards the Gran Estanque. It was hard not to be overwhelmed by the pompous monument cresting the green lake. Two stone columnattas extended like two arms from behind the towering equestrian statue of Alfonso XII, jewelled with green-bronze statues of mythical figures and animals.

The first thing we noticed of the man-made lagoon was that its light green water was dotted on the surface with orange fish, almost motionless. It was hard to tell if they were alive of just resting. In any case, there were little boats all along the lake with people rowing and sunbathing, some reading. Made me wonder what happened to the fish when a hard oar came down on them, as they were so close to the surface. Ducks in groups of three or four were happily splashing and quacking about in the water.

We took pictures and joked about until we were too hot to even move, so we decided to sit down in a café under the shade of lush trees and have something cool to drink. We originally wanted beer, but the nice waitress offered sangria so we were more than thrilled since we hadn't had sangria since we've gotten to Spain. She quickly brought the pitcher of red wine with tons of ice, sugar and thick slices of orange and lemon which we had to stir for a few minutes until the sugar dissolved. It was the most refreshing drink I could have been given. We each had our 2 glasses and, with happier moods, we returned to our day in the park.

Back into the beam of the harsh sun rays, we moved on and found a man imitating Michael Jackson, moon-walking to the beats of Billy Jean. I guess I can't really describe in words how hilarious it was, but the three of us stood and watched him for about 10 minutes. People who passed by couldn't believe it and walked by laughing. We gave him some coins and left him to his stunts.

In the Columnatta hugging the lagoon we sat down watching the ducks and the people rowing by. A guy from Salamanca named Juancho came along and sat with us for a chat. He told us he was working taking care of kids in the Madrid Book Fair which apparently was being held in the Park. We left the hot stone stairs and he showed us the way to the Book Fair since his break was over.

The book fair was neatly organized by huts into subjects. Every subject you could possibly think of was there, in the rows and rows of book stands. Ed and I mainly stopped in the travel book stands which had all of the Lonely Planet books and many many other cool travel guides. I really wanted to get Europe on a Shoestring but it was a big thick heavy book which we couldn't afford now and was too heavy to carry in our current equipment situation.

Once we walked the entire length of the Book Fair, we found a little Information house we hadn't seen before and were hoping to find. The nice lady there gave us an easy map of the Park and it was there that I realized how huge the park was. We had already been walking for hours and still we hadn't even covered a quarter of the Park. She told us which sights were a must before leaving the park so we headed in the direction she pointed us to.

We walked for what seemed like miles, when we reached the Rose Garden the information person had talked to us about. She had mentioned that with the heat the roses which are usually large and flashy might be a little dry. She was right: even though the garden was beautifully designed, the poor roses were shrivelled and dull.

The next attraction was the Crystal Palace built in 1887 as a pavilion for international exhibitions. To get to it, we had to cross a garden simulating a forest, and although you could tell there was man's influence in the intent of the design, the purpose of making the garden as "wild" as possible was successfully achieved. When the forest opened up to reveal the great glass structure, we were blinded at once by the low sunrays passing through the crystal and creating a kaleidoscope in the entire area. I had never seen anything like it. Ed and I stood still for a few seconds and admired the rainbows floating all over the place, even reflected on the water of the lagoon in front of the palace.

The lagoon was perfect, in my opinion. There was a water jet right in the middle shooting water up about 10 meters high, sprinkling the trees that sprouted from the water. I sat on a marble staircase leading straight into the water and watched the scenery as Ed and Sophie walked around taking pictures. I was thrilled to find that from time to time a little turtle head popped up from the water. It was filled with turtles, small and big! People were throwing in pieces of bread and fruit so there were plenty of turtle heads bobbing up and down from the surface. Also, Sophie and I were startled to see that a humongous fish (probably as big as a small dolphin) was splashing around, trying to steal the food from the little turtles. Freaked out by the huge brown ugly fish-monster, we left the water to try to find our way out the Park.

It was already 7pm and still the sun was shining hard. The air was cooler and our clothes were no longer sticking to our skins as if we were dressed in cellophane. We decided to have one more pitcher of sangria on our way out, so we sat in our shaded café watching the people, which had tripled in amount, walk past or row through the great green lagoon. The late afternoon sun was now dyeing the Monument in peachy light making the scene even more pleasant to look at.

Our sangria did not last long, so we skipped out of the café and out of the Park, into the bustling street with its hustling people. What a great contrast that was and I suddenly understood why Phillip IV had conceived this great park as a breath in Madrid. The 292 acres of park with its different gardens and themes, statues and fountains, ponds and lakes was definitely a walk worth taking, even for 17th century kings and queens.

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