A Funny Thing Happened On My Way To The Crystal Palace….

by Gray Cargill on August 9, 2011

Crystal Palace, Madrid

Crystal Palace, Madrid

I was lost in Retiro Park in Madrid. Not lost as in “call the search and rescue teams, break out the Saint Bernards,” but I was struggling to find the path I needed to take to get to the Crystal Palace. It was the end of the day, and the sun was starting to go down. I’d done a lot of walking that day, and my stamina was waning. If I didn’t find the Crystal Palace soon, I was going to have to give up. You’d think it would be easy. The paths were all named after countries–Venezuela, Uruguay, Cuba, etc. I looked around the plaza I was standing in–the Plaza of the Fallen Angel–and the various paths that radiated away from it, then looked at my map. Some of the path names matched my map exactly, others did not. Apparently, my map sucked.

Plaza of the Fallen Angel

Plaza of the Fallen Angel

I stood there, gazing around, trying to get my bearings. Suddenly, a blur came flying at me through the air. It happened so fast, I couldn’t duck out of the way. I wasn’t even sure what the flying object was, but it sort of looked like a boomerang. It hit me right in the throat. Hard.

Now I know why self-defense classes teach you to use the heel of your hand to punch an attacker in the throat. Being hit there hurts like HELL. I bent over, coughing and choking, and my eyes watered. A father and his young son ran up to me. The father looked mortified and began apologizing repeatedly–first in Spanish, then in English. I was glad he switched, because I was stunned beyond my ability to converse in Spanish.

“Are you all right? I’m sorry, I told him to be careful of people.” The man’s dark brows curved upward, his eyes searching my face with worry. He seemed sincerely mortified, so whatever anger I initially felt evaporated.

I shook my head, and when I was able to speak, said “It’s okay, it was an accident. He’s just a kid.” My voice was hoarse.

“Yes, but he knows better, and I’ve told him many times to be more careful throwing around other people.”

I looked at the “he” and “him” in question, a little brown-haired boy who couldn’t have been more than 7. He was standing very close to his father, and had his hands over his mouth. His eyes were very wide. He looked like he was going to cry. I started to feel worse for him than for me. His father may have been able to speak English, but could he?

I smiled at the boy so he would know I wasn’t angry with him. “It’s okay,” I told him. I struggled to find a Spanish word. “Bueno,” I managed. It didn’t help. He still looked completely freaked out. Meanwhile, his father kept figuratively throwing him under the bus in an attempt to let me know just how bad he felt about what happened, which made me feel even worse for the boy. I assured them once again that I was fine and decided it was time to head on my way. This conversation wasn’t going anywhere but in circles.

Sign to the Crystal Palace

Sign to the Crystal Palace

Stupidly, it never occurred to me to ask him which way to go to get to the Crystal Palace. I blindly chose a path and hoped it was the right one, even though the name didn’t match what was on my map. Luckily, my instincts were right. And the Crystal Palace? Totally worth it all.

Crystal Palace, Madrid

Crystal Palace, Madrid

The Crystal Palace was constructed in 1887 as a showpiece for the Philippines Exhibition (the Philippines being a former Spanish colony). Made of glass and wrought iron, it served as a hothouse for native flora from the region for awhile. Today, it houses special temporary art exhibitions.

Crystal Palace, Madrid

close up of the Crystal Palace

The lake in front of it has a fountain and, off to the side, a waterfall. There are ducks and black swans swimming around. It would have been quite peaceful if it weren’t for the other tourists.

Waterfall and fountain

Waterfall and fountain

After hanging out at the Crystal Palace for awhile, I decided I’d better find the park exit before night fell. I wandered along and past a large lake with a semi-circular monument to King Alfonso XII. This was the busiest area of the park. There were musicians playing music, people selling trinkets, caricature artists, fortune tellers (!), and people out on the lake in rowboats.

Monument to Alfonso XII

Monument to Alfonso XII

Aside from the boomerang to the throat, I really enjoyed Retiro Park and wish I’d had more time to enjoy it when I was in Madrid. I know I missed most of what can be found there. It’s a beautiful park to just chill in, with peaceful, shady walkways through the woods, benches for resting, open plazas, lakes and more. It would be the perfect place for a picnic. The best part about it is that it’s obviously very popular with locals as well as tourists. Do yourself a favor: If you’re ever in Madrid, skip that 5th museum you were thinking of going to and come here to relax for awhile instead.

Rowers on lake in Retiro Park

Rowers on lake in Retiro Park

Gray August 31, 2011 at 9:35 pm

You never saw the Crystal Palace, Christine? What a shame. It really was lovely. Did you make it to Retiro Park at all?

GRRRL TRAVELER August 31, 2011 at 8:11 pm

Your attacker was a 7 year old boy. Great story! LOL. Gorgeous palace! Wish I had seen it when I was there!

Gray August 19, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Sophie. 🙂 It’s definitely a great place to hang out in Madrid.

Sophie August 19, 2011 at 7:11 pm

Dramatic walk in the park, that. I’ve never managed to visit Retiro Park when in Madrid. Sounds like it would be well worth a visit… boomerangs notwithstanding.

Gray August 13, 2011 at 11:33 am

Oh yeah, for sure–if they’d been less concerned about what they’d done, I’d have been furious. I was bruised for about a week, that’s all.

Sabina August 13, 2011 at 10:57 am

Ouch. It’s horrible that you got whacked in the throat like that. I hope you healed up completely, soon. If it was me, it would have been far less okay if the father hadn’t been so apologetic and the son hadn’t been so horrified. If they had just walked off, or laughed, or done nothing, that would have added insulted to injury in my eyes.

Gray August 11, 2011 at 5:50 am

Haven’t heard of that one, will have to check it out. 🙂

Jenna Vandenberg August 11, 2011 at 2:55 am

Beautiful pictures and hilarious storytelling, as usual. Your run in with flying objects reminds me of the throat punch scene in ‘Nic and Nora’s Playlist’ (also very funny and painful).

Gray August 10, 2011 at 4:28 pm

Thanks, Bob and Renee.

Bob Crunch August 10, 2011 at 2:47 pm

Great article and very interesting story. That sounds like it would hurt pretty badly. Also your pictures of the Crystal Palace are very beautiful.

Renee August 10, 2011 at 2:16 pm

Gray, I think I lost my breath for a second there too. Whoa! But the Palace is absolutely magnificent….I can see why it would have been just right for a greenhouse. Stunning….

Gray August 10, 2011 at 5:37 am

It’s very pretty in person, Candice. The accident could have been a lot worse, but leave it to me to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. 🙂

Gray August 10, 2011 at 5:36 am

I’m glad you liked it, Charu. Thank you.

Charu August 9, 2011 at 10:09 pm

What a lovely palace! It reminds me of Oscar and Lucinda. Thanks for the post and the pictures.

Candice August 9, 2011 at 9:30 pm

Yikes, rough start to an epic day! I can see that poor little boy standing there all terrified. Aww. Never heard of the palace before, actually…would love to see it.

Gray August 9, 2011 at 9:14 pm

I didn’t go inside, Jeff. I had spent the afternoon in the Prado, so had pretty much seen all I wanted to see of indoor exhibits. And then some.

Jeff B August 9, 2011 at 9:08 pm

Retiro Park is one of my favorite places in Madrid. On a nice weekend day it seems like almost all of Madrid is there. Great for people watching.

Gray – What exhibit was in the Crystal Palace when you were there? Do you have any pictures of the inside?

Gray August 9, 2011 at 6:30 pm

It’s a beautiful place, Lily. I wish I’d had more time there.

Lily August 9, 2011 at 5:18 pm

Looks like an amazing place to get lost in 😉

Gray August 9, 2011 at 4:14 pm

@Bess – Allan Gardens, eh? I haven’t yet made it to Toronto, but sounds like I might like those gardens.
@Maria – Yes, it must have been something back then. But then, it still is. 🙂

Maria August 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm

The palace stacked with plants and such must have been quite a site then as it would be now.

Nice shots, thnx for the peek into the palace and grounds

Bess August 9, 2011 at 1:33 pm

Ouch! But the Crystal Palace looks lovely. It reminds me a little of Allan Gardens in Toronto, which I just visited, except that it’s still being used as a greenhouse and isn’t as delicately designed as the Crystal Palace.

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