In my little book of Madrid, I found my hotel on the map and saw a huge green park two blocks away... So I figured it was worth checking out. I walked past the beautiful circle called Plaza de la Independencia with the majestic Puerta de Alcala in the middle. These arches are beautiful at day and night, especially in December when they have the Christmas lights up.
Across the circle is the entrance for the park called Parque del Retiro... or just Retiro for short. I was impressed as soon as I walked through the first gate. In my mind I was comparing it to Central Park in New York City, but this place was much prettier. My little book said the park used to be the private grounds of the royal families until the late 1800's when it was made public. This explained why it looked and felt so perfect, because it was built for royalty!
It was a nice mild winter day and it happened to be Die de la Constitucion, the Spanish Constitution Day. Two days later it would be Immaculate Conception day, another holiday, so a lot of people were off work the whole week and it seemed a lot of friends and family were out enjoying the park.
All over the park there are plazas and paths named after Central and South American countries. Just past Plaza de Nicaragua, I came upon this beautiful body of water with the stately Monument of Alfonso XII across the way. The lake is called Estanque and it was full of people rowing little boats around. All along the perimeter of the boating lake were families walking along, taking pictures, enjoying puppet shows and music. I felt nostalgic for a moment, thinking that this is how the people of Madrid had been enjoying this park for decades. The whole scene would fit perfectly in a painting at the Prado art museum in Madrid.
I looked at my map to figure out what direction to head in next. I saw two palaces on my map and my intrigue was lit up. I went to the Palacio de Cristal first, curious to see the glass palace. This structure looks more like a very fancy green house and is used for exhibits. I thought about going inside, but the line was a bit ridiculous and I didn't feel like being in with the crowd, when I was surrounded with such beautiful open spaces.
I walked along the pond in front of the Crystal Palace and found a black swan! Just like the crazy ballet movie. I didn't know they were real. Somehow the black swan knew exactly where to sit for my picture of the palace.
I walked towards the other palace, Palacio de Velazquez, which is just a small historic building with wide open space inside used for exhibits as well. I went inside and enjoyed a large exhibit of modern art. It was a very pleasant space for art display with lots of natural light filtering through a skylight.
After enjoying myself in the park for so long, I decided my feet were tired and my stomach was hungry, so I headed back to the hotel to see if Nicole was awake. Luckily, she was awake and wanted to go out for tea. She was hoping herbal tea would sooth her throat. I wanted to check out Cafe Gijon, because my little book said that's where intellectuals used to hang out. Also, it was only two blocks from our hotel!
I was not impressed by the menu... it was regular tapas like everywhere else, but twice as expensive. So I just ordered a Spanish tortilla, which is just a potato omelet sort of thing and a sangria. Nicole had a lot of trouble ordering her tea, even though she speaks fluent Spanish. She must have been calling tea by it's Central American name, and in Spain they call it something else, but after much confusion and hand gestures she got her tea with honey.
We enjoyed the outdoor seating on Paseo De Recoletos, a main street so to speak. And made plans to fill up on cheap tapas later that night.