It was a sunny Monday morning when I arrived at the stone gate of the south entrance of Buen Retiro park. Topping the gate was a decorative element with the coat of arms of Madrid - a bear and strawberry tree. When I entered the park, I noticed that the stately gardens at the Plaza del Parterre was under maintenance and could only be walked through unfortunately. It was still beginning of Spring, and I remembered how beautiful this part of the Retiro Park can be a little later with well-kept lawns and flowers, surrounded by fountains. In my mind, I suddenly visualised myself sitting here, as a young man - decades before, sitting for hours at a fountain, listening to tapes on my walkman (yes - I am talking the 1980s here!) until the batteries died. So many things had happened ever since - to the world, to me. Yet, the park remains pretty much the same: well-maintained, a great place to go for a walk, to sit or lie in the shade, or, when the sun is still pleasant, take advantage and enjoy its warmth.
Turning right, I decided to make a counter-clockwise tour of the Buen Retiro park, choosing the paths haphazardly as I walked along. There are many lanes, narrow and wide, many lined by trees, others cutting their way through the park in a less straightforward way. I arrived at the Chopera sports centre, and walked to the relatively new Bosque del Recuerdo. When I had first seen the signs, I had wondered which memory this part of the park was for; when I arrived at the small hill covered with cypress and olive trees, I soon realized that this was built to commemorate the 191 victims of the 2004 train bombings that shook Madrid. Actually, each tree represents one of the victims. I walked the path leading up the hill, and stood still at the group of cypress trees at the top, in a moment of remembrance of those horrific events. From here, I walked down, to the wide lane running on the south of the Buen Retiro park, until I reached the Fountain of the Fallen Angel - one of the very few statues in the world depicting the devil. Following the Avenida de Cuba, I arrived at the Palacio de Cristal, or Chrystal Palace - a wonderful, transparent building with attractive decorations outside, and with a small lake behind it probably one of the most romantic spots of the park.
A short walk from here, I found the Palacio de Velázquez, used for exhibitions, and behind it, I knew the Lago de Retiro, the best known spot of the Retiro. Where I had seen quite a few people in the park already on this beautiful day, the rectangular basin was surrounded by a crowd, while I saw many small boats on the water. Where the summer heat of Madrid can be fierce, the temperature now was perfect to spend a day in the park. I walked around the lake, to the majestic Monumento a Alfonso XII, where, as is always the case, people were sitting on the stairs leading to the water, between the sculptures of lions and women with dolphin-like creatures, under the high column on which a statue of the former king of Spain seemed to be riding the sky. It reminded me of the long history of the Parque del Buen Retiro: for centuries a park for the royalty only, it was converted to a public park in the late 19th century, but it retains its royal feel to this very day. Apart from the few places mentioned above, the Retiro Park contains many more lanes, areas with a special function, fountains with remarkable sculptures - it is a mix of relaxation and an open air art museum at the same time. Even after all those visits to Retiro Park, there are still areas I have not yet explored - I will do so at my next visit to this Park of the Pleasant Retreat.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Buen Retiro Park (Spain). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Buen Retiro Park. Read more about this site.