Letters from Madrid – Parks and Open Space

Plaza Mayor, Madrid. The green space in the background is Casa de Campo, with the Guadaramas in the distance

While I found the round abouts to be an interesting part of the urban design in the last post, I found the prostitutes in the open space to be even more curious as part of my first impressions of Madrid.


April 18, 1996

Parks and Open Space
Madrid is really great about parks, playgrounds and open space in among the dense urban environment.  Almost every plaza has a park with benches and a playground.  The Spanish haven’t decided that swings, slides and monkey bars are unimaginative, or too dangerous.  They have play equipment that was outlawed in the States years ago.  The kids love the play equipment and the playgrounds.  The playgrounds are always full of kids playing, families hanging out and people walking dogs basically all day.  You see more families starting about 6:00 pm on until 10:00 pm or later.  During the day you see groups of kids on recess, adults swinging and walking their dogs, and moms with younger kids in the playgrounds.  People tend to really use public areas.  You do a lot of living and playing in the city streets, parks and cafe bars, as opposed to sitting at home and watching television (although, I think a lot of people sit at home and watch TV also).

Estanque del Retiro. The main water feature in Parque del Retiro.

The Parque de Retiro is on the eastern side of the centro.  This is a large park with all kinds of stuff: trees, well kept gardens, pathways for walking and running, streams, fountains, sculpture, lakes, a crystal palace, birds, ducks, swans, geese, extremely tame squirrels, cafe bars and sports facilities.  You can rent boats to row on the larger lake and there are paved streets used for skating, cycling, and roller blading.  We spend quite a bit of time in Retiro.  It is a very nice park to hang out and relax in.  I walk 10 kilometers every morning, and the majority of the walk is in Retiro.

Tristan playing with a squirrel in Parque del Retiro.

Another beautiful park is Parque de Oeste.  Oeste is 3 kms. west of us on the edge of the Rio Manzanares valley.  Oeste is much more wild than Retiro,  It has relatively steep slopes and many hills covered with grass, a large variety of trees and wild shrubs. There are pathways winding up, down and over the hills, and monuments dispersed among the foliage. You feel like you are in the mountains.  There are information placards the describe many of the trees and bushes, their history, usage, and origins.

Rose garden in Parque de Oeste.

Just across the river, west of the centro, is a huge open space called Casa de Campo.  This is were you train if you ride a road bike, plus it also has really good mountain bike trails.  The area is very hilly and covered with pine trees. There is a long (2.5 kms) aerial tram (Teleferico) that runs from Parque de Osete on the east side of the river to about a third the way into Casa de Campo.  The Teleferico is reasonably priced and really fun to ride.  It gives you a great view of Madrid, the Guadarama mountains, and Casa de Campo.  From the looks of the place, it is set up to handle a lot of people picnicking, camping, playing, hiking, biking and going to the zoo and the amusement park located along the south side of the park. We walked up to the zoo once, but it cost 1500 ptas per person to go in. We said no thanks; however, we have been assured by the natives that the zoo/aquarium are well worth the price.  There are playgrounds, soccer fields, trails, picnic tables, campsites, and a lot of trash cans.  I’ll bet the park will have a million or so people at any given time in the summer.  We’ll have to see.

The one curious thing we noticed about Casa de Campo as we were walking from the eastern end of the park up to the zoo, were prostitutes on every intersection and along the roadways in that end of the park.  I started referring to them as PnP (putas in the park). The first one I noticed was an attractive Spanish woman standing along the road under her umbrella (it was a rainy day).  As we headed west, the number of prostitutes increased and they were primarily black women (African).  We were in the park during siesta, so I’m guessing that men take their siesta time to go out to Casa de Campo to hire a hooker, go off in the bushes, or park in a remote area, have some whoopee, and then go back to work.  It is really strange to see prostitutes advertising themselves in a wooded open space.  The only other place we have seen prostitutes, on a regular basis in Madrid, is at Gran Via and Calle Hortaleza.  We joke about Gran Via at Hortaleza not being a good spot for a rendezvous.  I use to think that tourists who can’t or don’t read local papers were the main client’s of these horrid looking, unhealthy, obviously drugged out street creatures; however, I have seen several men who were older, not very good looking and often handicapped (with a lame arm or leg) making deals with these ladies.  I have to pass by there quite often to get to may guitar lessons and into the centro, and you can’t help noticing what’s going on.  Prostitution is apparently legal here. When I was looking for apartments in the classified section of the paper, the largest section in the classified’s was for prostitutes of all types: male, female, young, old, all nationalities.  They even had classified’s advertising non-professional hookers.

Retiro and Casa de Campo are the two main parks we have been to.  The map shows many other large parks, hundreds of small parks, and a large area to the northwest that looks like the equivalent to a national forest in the U.S.  We are scouting out horse lessons for Tristan, and that will take us to mountains around Madrid.

Another interesting space in Madrid is the Atocha train station.  There is an indoor rain forest at the train station where you can go and hang out.  It is very pleasant, the air is clean, and the trees and plants are large, thick and healthy.  There are benches all over the area were you can sit and read, think or just watch people.  There is a lily pond with gold fish and turtles that keeps Tristan entertained.  There is a cafe bar, a few shops, travel agencies, and a car dealer in the rain forest.  The car dealer only has two cars on display at any time inside and there are usually two to four very attractive sales ladies wearing short yellow skirts with matching blazers, black tights, and white blouses showing off the cars and answering questions.  When we are making calls from the phone place off Calle de Atocha, or doing other business along Calle de Atocha or Paseo del Prado, we will walk over and use the restrooms in the train station and sit in the rain forest and relax a bit.


Next public restrooms…