On Saturday, June 4, Mike and I took the Metro to the Atocha Train Station. We wanted to buy tickets for Tuesday to travel to Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, 43.5 miles south of Madrid. It turned out to be a busy day for ticket-buying. We waited 2 hours! But also waiting were two young women from Phoenix, Arizona, who were back-packing all over Europe for the summer, before returning to college in the fall. It was a pleasure chatting with them. Ahhh...the youth! The vigor!
The station is a half-mile walk from Real Jardin Botanico (Royal Botanical Garden), 20 acres of gorgeous trees, flowers and even a vegetable garden. It was peaceful, shady and the birds seemed especially melodic.
Adjacent to the garden is Parque del Buen Retiro (literally: Park of the Pleasant Retreat). This is a 350 acre park of magnificent woods, paths, sculptures, a lake filled with people in row boats....and completely surrounded by the city. It was a happening place on Saturday, bustling with parents pushing prams, kids on bicycles and scooters, runners, roller-bladers, groups of teenagers being energetic, senior citizens out strolling, and tourists. There were street performers doing magic, kiosks with souvenirs and junk food, cafes and small restaurants. Festive, fun, vibrant.
We walked back to our apartment instead of taking the Metro, stopping at a mercado along the way. This is an almost daily activity for us, since we have to carry home what we buy. There are small mercados and supermercados everywhere. In our neighborhood alone, there are at least a dozen within a half-mile radius. This isn't counting the many frutas y verduras del mercados (fruit and vegetables markets). Plastic bags for groceries cost .05 euros. Thank you, Julie W., for our 4 strong, large, re-foldable, re-useable bags!
Mike and I have been walking about 5 to 6 miles each day. My bad leg is holding up fairly well with the help of Ibuprofen. Yesterday (Sunday, June 5), I did some laundry (the apartment has a little front-load machine) and hung it out to dry on a clothesline, accessed through a window in our apartment. Later, we went out for a walk in the neighborhood and noticed with pleasure that a busy street nearby is closed to traffic on Sundays. People were out strolling and sitting on benches visitng. Our neighborhood is in the Chamberi District, #7 on the district map of Madrid. It is a quintessential "castizo" area, or traditional native Spanish. There is some old and beautiful architecture, plenty of local markets, tapas restaurants and small shops. There are few tourists in this neighborhood, although it is close to the city center and Metro stops. We feel quite lucky to have landed here.
Facts: Madrid is the third-largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin. It has a metropolitan population of 6.5 million people living in 233 sq. miles. Phoenix has a metro population of 4.6 million people living in 518 sq. miles. Madrid is the highest European capital city, at ele. 2188 ft. Phoenix, by comparison, is ele. 1086 ft.
Tomorrow, we'll take the train to Toledo. Stay tuned!