Reid Bramblett - Travel Writer

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Parque del Retiro
The vast (350-acre) parkthe eastern edge of Madrid's center on the other side of the Prado is packed with Madrileños strolling the tree-lined paths past rose gardens, statues, fountains, street performers, and an 1887 Crystal Palace.

Parque de la Montaña
This small, lofty park overlooking the 'burbs is centered around perhaps the oddest thing in all Madrid: the Templo de Debod, a 4th century BC Egyptian temple set in the middle of a long reflecting pool. It was slated to be swallowed by the waters backed up behind the Aswan Dam, so rather than have it disappear forever under the new lake created by the dam that Spanish engineers had helped build, the Egyptian government donated the whole kit and caboodle to Spain in 1969 as a sort of thank you gift (to which Spain must have replied with a mutter "What would have been wrong with a nice card? Do they have any idea how much it's going to cost to mail this sucker home?"). Unfortunately, you have to cough up a couple of Euros to get inside the temple and view the hieroglyphics close up, but you can see it fine from the outside, and the surrounding grassy park makes a pleasant, cool spot to take a nap during the heat of a Spanish summer.

Campo del Moro
These terraced, formal gardens sloping down to the west of the Palacio Royal to the river seems small at first, but enjoys some wonderfully hidden nooks and crannies: small ponds inhabited by pairs of white or black swans, shady woods under a tangle of spreading tree branches, and tall hedgerows that create narrow alleys and small, private lawns. I was sitting at the edge of one of these one day, enjoying the surprising silence and solitude, when a woman on horseback sauntered through the break in the hedge on one side, rode slowly across the lawn, and disappeared through the break on the other side. I jumped up to see where she had gone (this was, after all, a smallish park in the middle of downtown Madrid), but she had vanished.

Casa del Campo
Grab the teleférico cable car (about $3 round-trip) from Paseo Pintor Rosales over the Manzanares River to this wild parkland and former royal hunting preserve west of the city. It's huge, so if you just want to escape from depressingly urban Madrid for a while, its easy to avoid the glitzier sights and activities here, such as the zoo (adm), small amusement park (adm), lake with its row boats, sports complex, and other attractions to keep Madrileños families occupied on the weekends.

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