Many people will tell you that (Buen) Retiro Park in Madrid is beautiful and well worth a visit. Whilst they’re definitely right, they certainly don’t warn of the disturbing and strangely enticing going -ons inside Palacio de Cristal, which lives within the park. I certainly wasn’t expecting it.
The park is particularly great for those on a budget (it’s free), but it’s worth a visit whatever your money situation. Neatly preened box trees, coned shrubs and bobble trees (clearly, technical terms) frame criss-crossed pathways and sit alongside rows of pretty flowers. It’s a serene bubble of calm, especially compared to the main plazas in the city. You’ll find the odd busker, such as the accordionist on the main steps, but other than that the only sounds you’ll hear are of happy children running about and chattering birds.
Wear your flat shoes so you can stand a chance of seeing a decent schmidgen of the 125 hectares and a few of the 15,000 trees. If you have time to spare, take a picnic with you (you’ll find loads of delicious supplies at Mercado De San Aton) and sit back on one of the benches. If you bring some savoury snacks you stand a very good chance of making a feathery friend.
Just be warned that he’ll probably tell all his friends about your snacks though!
Impressive sculptures lie around corners and large lakes, one with rowing boats, offer romantic pause moments. You’ll find pathways leading off in different directions, each with its own story to tell. It’s a huge place to get lost in (in a good way, of course) and is visited by both tourists and locals. During the weekend you’ll see lots of runners and dog walkers.
Palacio de Cristal
Whilst inside the park make sure you take the time to visit The Glass Palace (also known as The Crystal Palace or in Spanish, Palicio de Cristal). It’s fairly small, but very beautiful – it looks like somewhere The Snow Queen would live. Perched on a lakeside it’s free to enter, though what awaits inside is very different to what you’d probably expect.
Until 16 March 2015 there’s a really cool, but kind of freaky audio and visual installation inside. It’s the last thing you’d expect to be inside such a beautiful building and that’s probably one of the reasons it works really, really well. It’s called The Marionette Maker and is by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. The first thing you notice is the music, which you can hear from outside the building. In fact, that’s what made us notice there was something going on. It’s strangely hypnotic and eerie.
In the centre sits a small caravan and above it, rotating speakers attached to an umbrella. On closer inspection you notice a woman, asleep in bed. She looks oddly real and for a good few minutes you’re confused, wandering why they’d let a crowd stare at a sleeping woman. You keep a safe distance in case she suddenly wakes up, until after a while you notice the creepy toys that have come to life. They’re moving, some even playing instruments perfectly in time to the music, their limbs attached in uncomfortable positions. It’s an entrancing display that doesn’t really seem to make sense, but you can’t stop starring. It suddenly dawns on you that it’s an art exhibition and you find yourself starring even more intently, trying to work out what message or story the artists are trying to convey.
Thoroughly confused, you read the leaflet and realise the artist’s goal was just that. Loosely based on the poem Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty), the woman is said to be in an eternal sleep and the figurines represent the stories in her mind coming to life – or something probably a lot deeper than that, but that’s how I read it. Whether my interpretation is right or not, I’d highly recommend seeing it for yourself. As I left I noticed a small discreet heart on the ground, so perhaps there’s a different message for me…
The address for the park is Plaza de la Independencia, 7 and you can find out more on the official website. The Palacio de Cristal is open from October to March, every day from 10am – 6pm, though it is sometimes shut on days with heavy rain.
Have you been to Madrid? Is it somewhere you’d like to visit? what’s the strangest exhibition you’ve ever seen? I’d love to hear what your thoughts in the comments section below. X