Posted by Julia Leef
One of Skidmore College's biggest attractions for me was the college campus and surroundings-a small town that wasn't too urban and reminded me a lot of where I grew up. I based my decision to live in Madrid instead of rural Alcala primarily on the courses available to me at the University of Madrid rather than the environment. I didn't think there would be much opportunity to get out of the city without planning a weekend excursion.
As it turns out, there are a lot of places to visit in Madrid only a metro ride away that give one the opportunity to get the city air and the cigarette smoke out of her lungs. Some of my favorite places thus far have been the Parque del Retiro and La Casa del Campo, both less than 20 minutes from my apartment.
El Parque del Retiro, or the Buen Retiro Park, is one of the largest parks in Madrid, boasting 350 acres of monuments, galleries and a lake. The park was originally built as a retreat for the royal family in 1505, and subsequent rulers ordered additions to be made to the park, including gardens, a ballroom, and a military museum, the Museo del Ej??rcito.
After the overthrow of Queen Isabella in 1868, the park opened up to the public, and today it is a popular location for joggers, bikers, picnickers and musicians alike. As it did for the royal family, the park serves as a great center of entertainment for the people, hosting free concerts, puppet shows and street performances during the warmer seasons of the year. People can also rent rowboats on the artificial Estanque lake, or take a ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
Although I have only been to the Retiro once so far, I certainly plan to go again. In addition to the places I've already mentioned, there is also a crystal palace that features different art galleries and exhibits throughout the year. Another section of the park is home to dozens of peacocks, which wander about freely, much to the tourists' and small children's delight. It will be a wonderful place to visit in the springtime.
The other not so small rural getaway comes in the form of the Casa de Campo, which is five times the size of New York City's Central Park and used to be a royal hunting estate, although, like the Retiro, it is now open to the public.
This park has numerous hiking trails, mountain biking courses, the Madrid Zoo, an eye-in-the-sky ride (here called a telef??rico), and even a small amusement park. The park also holds historical significance as the site of the front lines of the Siege of Madrid during the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939.
Many people may be surprised to hear that there is such a prime hiking spot on the outskirts of the city, but there are some very lovely panoramic views of Madrid from this nearby retreat. It's a great place for the motivated athlete or enthused nature-lover to spend the day, and I'm sure I could visit it every week until I leave and still find someplace new each time.