Archive for the 'parks' Category



19 May 2007

A marathon encounter


Among the wave of brightly-clad runners heading downhill in Parque del Oeste, a diminutive black man wrapped in a gold foil blanket sitting on the curb caught my attention. He resembled the gazelle-like runners, thin as reeds, who’d passed my balcony before any other runners this morning. I was out on my own run, no number pinned to my shirtfront, but I attempted to run a little with the marathoners and cheer them on. They were only halfway and had been running well over two hours. Then I approached the man on the curb.

“Are you hurt?” I asked him in English, guessing he would speak my native tongue rather than Spanish. He looked at me somewhat distrustfully.

“No. I am the pacemaker.”

“Ah. So you just run half and then stop?”


“And how long did it take you?”

“One hour and ten minutes.”

“Where are you from?”



“Yes. Have you been to Kenya?”

“No, but my sister has. She lived near Nairobi for a year.”

“Are you coming to Kenya?”

“I don’t know. It’s an expensive ticket.”

“Are you going to finish the marathon?”

“No, I’m not running the marathon. I’m going home.”

“Where do you live?”

I signaled up the hill.

“Where is the main town?”

“Near here,” and I pointed up the hill again.

“Can I have your phone number?”


“To communicate with you. We are friends.”

I looked at the crinkly blanket. The timing chip on his Nike running shoes. He looked so small on the curb with his knees pulled up.

“You’re not going to remember it. How long are you here?”

“One month.”

We exchanged names, he asked about my job, and repeatedly asked for my phone number. The runners going by rapidly decreased in numbers. A cop in a neon yellow reflective vest eyed us questioningly. Up the hill, breakfast and a shower awaited. I shook Eric’s hand, bid him good luck, and headed up the hill.

Casa de Campo es la leche

I mean this in all seriousness. This afternoon I had the loveliest of walks with a friend who’s new to Madrid and, seeing that the western edge of Madrid was an enormous green blob on her map, decided she wanted to explore the Casa de Campo. I’m not going to lie—I was a bit wary of her proposal at first. My previous experiences in the park included a trip to the zoo with five- and six-year olds from my school by way of the prostitute-lined entrance road, as well as several tennis lessons on the courts near the lake in full [rather distracting] view of prostitutes plying their trade. I also remembered how pleased I was upon seeing “Volver” after living in Madrid for six months and getting the joke Raimunda’s prostitute friend Regina makes about working in Casa de Campo. But in considering the possible occurrences occasioned by a visit to the park, I also heard the voices of my adult English students telling me about their weekends spent riding bikes through it with their kids or running on the kilometers of trails to get away from those same kids.

I am happy to report, then, that we saw not a single prostitute on our two-hour jaunt through the park. Instead, we saw dozens of cyclists (of both the mountain and road species), runners, walkers, and others seeking a respite from Madrid’s crazy streets (to paraphrase the recording you hear in the teleférico on the way over). Speaking of which, after doing a little research we figured that said cable car was the best way to get there (you can also go by metro, but it leaves you closer to the zoo and the amusement park rather than the part less touched by man). So we joined the multitudes and boarded the cable car near the Rosaleda in the Parque del Oeste and in only 11 minutes were whisked away to Madrid’s lungs.

We struck out for what I think were the park’s northwestern reaches and were extremely pleasantly surprised. We strolled along the dirt paths under an intensely blue fall sky, accompanied by bird sounds and the occasional whizzz as a cyclist passed, and came upon a spectacular grove of pines with enormous umbrella-like tops and, shortly thereafter, a wall that we discovered had played a role in the Guerra de Independencia as well as the Spanish Civil War. There was a little stream and a dam, plenty of encinas, and in general enough people about to send you on your way if you were to get turned around, but few enough scattered across the 4,000-acre expanse that it was the complete antithesis of Calle Preciados during December or any Madrid supermarket on a Saturday evening at 8.

Revived and content from the afternoon’s paseo, we boarded the teleférico again and in the setting sun returned to the packed city streets.

Unfortunately I neglected to take photographs of the park today, and the above photo is the only one I have. It is taken on a much gloomier day and in late November. You get the idea, though.

Two parks

El Capricho is only open on weekends and holidays, but it’s well worth visiting to meander along the paths and among the old buildings. The gardens date from the 18th century when they were acquired by the duques de Osuna, some of the wealthiest nobles of the era.

Next door lies the vast Parque de Juan Carlos I, where you can borrow a bike for an hour to explore the far corners of the sculpture-filled park. Or you can just sit on the grass watching children and adults fly homemade kites high into the sky.

What not to see in Madrid

I’ve been curious about El Pardo for a while. It’s a large, tree-filled area just northwest of the city that I’ve passed many a time en route to the Sierra. I’ve heard people speak fondly of spending a lazy Sunday afternoon there. So this weekend when I had friends in town as well as mi chico with his car, we decided to head up there with a picnic and see what it was all about. I also thought maybe we could get a glimpse of La Zarzuela, the Spanish royal residence. Boy, was I wrong.

The palace was down a road that was closed to the public. As for the rest of El Pardo, there was no grass, just brown, dried vegetation under the trees. We asked a couple different people about a nice place to have a picnic. Neither offered good advice, and one was a gas station attendant who just griped about how terrible it is when all the weekenders come in. After driving around for a while, and getting out to find a potential picnic spot no good at all, we headed back to Madrid, and had a lovely picnic in the Parque del Oeste.

Mi parque

When I was looking for a place to live in Madrid nearly two years ago, I based it largely on living near a park where I could go running. I ended up near the Parque del Oeste (map), which I have completely fallen in love with. I call it mi parque and I really do feel a sense of propriety about it. I know the early morning dog walkers, the older couple who hit a tennis ball back and forth on one of the trails, the parks maintenance workers in their fluorescent yellow and blue outfits.

Parque del Oeste slopes downhill from Moncloa and runs along the western edge of the city. It’s great for running because of the dirt paths, the hills, and the lack of cars. It’s also a perfect place to go for a stroll, lie in the grass, read on a bench, have a picnic, or box (?! left).

Parque del Oeste is quite different from the famed and (also) beautiful Parque del Buen Retiro. To begin with, it’s not in the center of the city and therefore attracts much less traffic. I like to think of it as a little “wilder” than Retiro, in part because it’s a little more off the beaten path. Though it’s still quite a civilized place; so civilized, in fact, that it is home to a rosaleda (rose garden), which this year was absolutely fantastic. Seems that the cool, rainy spring we’ve had here has done wonders for the roses, which (when I went to see them two weeks ago) were in full bloom and stunning.To check out the Parque del Oeste, I recommend starting at one of its ends: (the Moncloa metro/bus station or the Templo de Debod) and wandering.

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