Two things: it's free this week, and there's an exhibition of 19th Century paintings that I want to see. Never mind. I'll go another day. Habibi and I are not very good at doing museums and art galleries together. He absorbs detail quite quickly, and can move from work to work quite quickly. I get transfixed by details, and take f-o-r-e-v-e-r to get from one end of a gallery to the other. I have an idea that we're not the only couple like this. I always wonder at those who can stroll arm-in-arm from painting to painting in rapt, and evenly paced, concentration. How do they do it? Is one of them secretly frustrated, sedated, or quietly looking forward to the cafe and gift shop at the end? Or treating this trip as a recce, and making mental notes for Next Time?
Is it quid pro quo - Prado today, World Cup qualifier tomorrow?
Or are they soulmates destined for the same lotus blossom for all eternity?
Anyway, we cut through the queue, and walked around the outside, en route for Plan B, the Real Jardin Botanico, which he enjoys, and I love. And somewhere that does breakfast! We found the warm, snug, Cafe El Botánico between the Prado and the RJB, and took a break from the bracing autumn air, for tostadas, tortilla and good coffee. That's one to go back to.
The botanical gardens were full of other people who'd thought better of the three queues for the Prado - and there were more queuing to get in. So we went to El Parque del Buen Retiro instead(El Retiro to us locals.........). Just around the corner.
That was busy too, but part of Retiro's charm is the number and variety of people who go there to do their thing at the weekend - plus the fact that it's big enough to accommodate us all. Skateboarders - mostly young men with serious hand, knee and elbow protection - make the most of the flat ground around the fountain of the Fallen Angel (Lucifer, cast out of Heaven) - and the long slope down to the Atocha gate. Children on in-line skates wobble and loop around parents ambling with push-chairs and toddlers. Joggers. Cyclists. Teens, adults and jubilados (fab Spanish term - beats 'pensioners' and 'senior citizens' in my book) stroll hand-in-hand, or sit at one of the many cafes with friends and newspapers. So do we. There's a playground where you can encourage your four-year-old to the top of a ladder; practise Tai Chi or yoga; strip to your shorts and work your abs and pecs - or just watch....... ;)
Then there's the Palacio de Cristal, overlooking an ornamental lake full of fish (huge fish - huuuuge fish), ducks, umpteen terrapins, and three or four swamp cypresses that grow straight out of the water. Such fun. The Palacio is gorgeous. It's also an exhibition gallery connected with the rather fab Centro Reina Sofia, just across town. I couldn't understand this when we first saw the Palacio in the 35C heat of August. It's an unshaded glass building - probably the most unsuitable venue for any kind of exhibition - unless they bring stone sculpture up those steps?
Today we saw - Andy Goldsworthy's 'En las entrañas del árbol' :
We walked on, to the cafe overlooking the big ornamental lake, and the statue of Alfonso XII. The last time we stopped there, back in August, in our first week here, we were ready to collapse from a bad case of Overdone Tourist: the heat! - our feet! Basically, we stayed because we couldn't move another step until the sun went down. Of course, on the way back to the hotel, we discovered the Palacio de Cristal, and all sorts of lovely things we'd been too stressed to appreciate earlier.
This time, we had a lovely time watching the world row by in bright blue rowing boats, while sparrows swooped in and out of the flame-leaved trees, and people came and went, all wrapped up in woollies and boots, and all wearing shades against the brilliant autumn sun.
We continued along the lakeside path - across from the statue and mausoleum - and passed at least four puppet booths, a pair of dancers taking a break, a magician in huge fake wig and purple turban, and showbiz Ali Baba slippers; and the tarot souk! There were about a dozen ladies with little folding tables, all with table cloths, some with bouquets of artificial flowers attached, plus lines of elastic to hold the tarot cards in place - presumably to prevent a chance breeze from rearranging someone's destiny.. (There are several TV channels dedicated to tarot. Add that to the national obsession with lottery tickets, and you get an odd slant on what used to be a formidably Roman Catholic country.)
I like Sundays in Madrid.