Retiro Park covers up 350 acres of the eastern side of Madrid and you have a few options as to where you can enter. Since I took the metro to the Retiro station, I made my way through the entrance closest to Puerta de Alcalá, an arched monumental gate to the city that was built in the eighteenth century.
Before opening to the public in the late 19th century, the Retiro Park was owned by the Spanish monarchy. There are a lot of trees, several paths to explore, and a few fountains. Near the first fountain I saw, there was a guy dressed up as Mickey Mouse looking for people to take pictures with so he could earn some tips. It was so weird seeing this guy, but it turned out Madrid is full of these characters. Anyway, besides your standard park fare, there also some interesting locations to explore.
The park has a large pond with paddleboat rentals for those who want to float with the ducks. On the other side of the pond is the Monumento a Alfonso XII, a monument dedicated to the Spanish king. At the center of the monument is a bronze sculpture of King Alfonso XII riding a horse, but there are more statues scattered around the area. The first stone was laid in 1902, after architect José Grases Riera’s design was chosen in a contest, but the monument wasn’t inaugurated until 1922.
A little past the water is the Palacio de Velázquez, designed by Ricardo Velázquez Bosco. The structure was built in 1883 for the National Exposition of Mining, Metallurgical Arts, Ceramics, Glass, and Mineral Waters. It originally was the building dedicated to the mining section of the exhibition, but it now acts as an art gallery.
Ricardo Velázquez Bosco also designed the Palacio de Cristal, probably my favorite feature of the park because it is architecturally gorgeous. I saw at least two couples taking engagement photos there. The palace was built in 1887 to showcase plants from the Philippines for Madrid’s Philippine Exposition, which sounds so random if you didn’t know that the Philippines used to be colonized by Spain between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries.
There aren’t any plants in the building anymore and it has been converted into an art space instead. When I went, there were a few pieces by Danh Vō, a Vietnamese/Danish artist whose exhibition, called “Destierra a los sin rostro/ Premia tu gracia” or “Banish the faceless/ Reward your grace”, had only recently opened on the first of October. The exhibition is still in the palace right now and will run until the end of March 2016. The art itself was…interesting. What stood out the most were a bunch of hanging bones with Jesus Christ making a surprise appearance in the midst of them.
If you do want to see plants, other than the trees and shrubs scattered around the park, there is a rose garden called La Rosaleda. That section of the park was already closed by the time I found it though, so I didn’t really get to check it out.
Near La Rosaleda is the Estatua del Angel Caído, which depicts everyone’s favorite fallen angel, Lucifer. The statue sits on top of a fountain and was created by Spanish sculptor Ricardo Bellver. Apparently, the official topographic altitude of the fountain is 666 feet above sea level. The fountain is also surrounded by people on wheels. Seriously, there were rollerbladers, skateboarders, and bicyclists all over the place.
Back at the hostel, I ate a freshly-prepared dinner with some of my hostelmates in the dining area. Every night, there is a special three-course meal that includes an entrée, main course, and dessert for €10 (~$10.57 USD). On the menu that night was brie with peppers, mustard ribs, and a brownie. It was nice eating with a group for a change and getting to know people on my first night in Madrid.
When I got to my room, my roommates still hadn’t checked in. I basically was alone that whole night and I honestly loved having the space to myself since I had already been sharing a room with many others every night since I got to Europe. I wasn’t sure how Madrid would compare to Barcelona, but so far, I was enjoying it.