Parque del Buen Retiro. Madrid, Spain

Madrid, Spain; a city which is basically desert, the river they have brings some natural green but today much of it is irrigated. Pine trees fill the Parque del Buen Retiro and when you walk around in this beautiful but mini fairy-tale type forest you can smell the strong pine, so fresh and wonderful, which many of my European friends don’t seem to be so interested by because they were born smelling this.

Madrid lies above sea level which is the only thing that makes it inhabitable, since the heat and sun is very strong. It’s in the Mediterranean Basin, that makes for mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summers. This whole area was connected to the Sahara Desert which lies directly below it on the top of Africa. It wasn't what I imagined but it was a neat surprise. But also, because of the climate (dry summers, rainy winters) it supports the growth of forests which makes me think of the movie Princess Bride. Another place that has this type of land is California, desert and forest. Here are some park photos (Parque del Buen Retiro) which is their version of a Central Park.


Madrid, Spain: First Impressions

**My brain is going right back into Spanish, so it’s been more difficult for me to write English well. Forgive me, for any seemly un-edited ‘moments’ in my writing***

While flying into Madrid, I noticed that it looked brand new, sort of ‘sub-divisiony’, and tan, like the desert. Everything was the exact same color from above. It made me feel like I was entering Saudi Arabia, not Spain but then again, I’ve never been here, so what do I know?

After we landed and began heading to the passport ‘check-point’ I couldn’t help but notice the herds of Americans, mainly students, entering along with me. There were also plenty of Spanish and/or Spanish speakers to go around too. I would bet it was around 50/50. All the lines to enter the country seemed to go toward the same end. Everyone just get in line! Sweet, that seemed easy enough. And you wouldn’t believe HOW easy it was. The “border control” never talked to the people with the Spanish passport, they just scanned them, checked their photo, while talking to their co-worker and the Spanish citizen entered. They were even advertising a way for the Spanish to enter, faster, with just their thumb print called the ABC system. When it was my turn to go in, they didn’t even make sure I completed my form, which I hadn’t, because I had a question, but it didn’t seem to matter, they just tore off my copy and I was given the green light. No questions asked.

After I entered, there were people randomly shouted English at me which of course irritated me and I quickly found my luggage and left toward the subway (Metra). I took a small amount of money from the ATM, changed it in for ‘monedas’ which are coins and headed to the ‘Metra’ (http://www.metromadrid.es/es/index.html) which is connected conveniently to the airport. During my walk along the long corridor toward the Metra, dirty young backpackers lined the halls in sleeping bags trying to get some shut eye. Did I mention that they were dirty? I felt sort of sorry for them.

The Metra was so easy, I didn’t even need to get the coins, and there were several real people to talk to when I arrived, including machines with options to use your credit card. ***Don’t let them sell you on some crazy card just pay for the one ride to your hotel/hostel Eu2.50, grab a Metra map and deal with the next ride when you use the subway again. The city isn’t that big and walking around is really where the excitement is. Unless of course you were determined to see every single site in one day, then maybe a day pass would come in handy.

The ride was easy, comfortable and clean. Granted it was very early in the morning, but I was very happy and I would’ve taken my grandmother on this train. It waited for people and took off slowly. The only thing was that I didn’t realize right away that the scrolling text light-board on the inside of the train listed the final destination, not the next one. There were also individual map lines to other connecting lines which took me a minute to orientate. This could be confusing to people familiar with other systems. I was happy that I had picked up the map at the station because it really came in handy!!!

As I walked around that the city, I noticed that it seemed empty and everything was closed. I thought at first that it was the time of day but later discovered that it was the time of year. This is either a good time (or bad time) to come to Madrid because everyone is on vacation until August 31st. For those wanting to spend money, it’s not a good time. For a person like me, on a budget and a photographer who wants to shoot the buildings, it is perfect; I just wandered the empty streets with seamless photographs for blocks and blocks. Looks like I’ll have to come back another time to see all the traffic, that's not such a bad deal.

Other than that, apparently, there are no places that needed to be avoided. I have met several people from Buenos Aires and they laughed at the idea of Madrid being unsafe. There are people who need money but it certainly doesn’t feel heartbreaking or dangerous, like it did in Buenos Aires. However, when it began to get dark, I began to get the feeling that I should get home. The crowds of people were beginning to arrive and everyone was clearly drinking, it felt a bit uneasy. The men began looking at me a little more and there were huge groups of people on the subway and also at the plaza’s (pictured above) but I felt immediately safe as soon as I got to my neighborhood.

People were enjoying themselves on the street. Everyone was hanging out. It was super relaxed. There was a little business of people selling beers on the street. I could imagine that Americans who like to drink to the point of vulnerability could definitely get taken advantage of. Common sense folks!

I highly recommend Madrid so far, outside of the CENTRO or anything off of Gran Via, which scares me. This is where all the big chain hotels are, including any chain fast food or restaurants. Outside of that zone, what I have seen has been super comfy, relaxed, good on a budget, safe and the people have been very friendly. FYI: In chill areas: EVERYTHING CLOSES 11PM. So don’t forget to EAT SOMETHING or buy food before that happens!!!!