What is a surprise, but the unexpected? I awoke this morning, hoping I would find a quieter and more soulful walk, an extension of my Camino, in the green spaces of my Madrid map. I also vowed not to stay in the city center or believe 5 star reviews, if ever I return.
I left my hostal around 10 a.m. and immediately noticed people out, but no frenetic revelers like last night, that made me want to escape. My first surprise was observing groups of runners with number tags, indicating some kind of run I couldn’t understand fully, even after asking! The Gran Via was closed to cars, and a few runners trickled in. Or Out. I didn’t know.
But my walk took me past exquisite monuments and historical buildings and people strolling near The Prado and Retiro Park, and a promenade long book fair, Feria de Libros, Cuesta de Moyano, near the Real Jardin Botanico, celebrating 90 years. Vendors, new and used, amazing selection in a very literary and creative city. I don’t know how often they’re open, but many stalls are real bookstores.
The Paseo Del Prado was closed to vehicles. People and dogs were walking, strolling, jogging, biking, skating or ambling or being pushed, along with the last finishers of a run.
Next, I saw a group gathering, wearing orange shirts, and a banner sign in English, on a tent at the park, The Walking People. I wondered if this was a city tour or hikers getting ready for a Camino. Back of shirt: Caminar Saludo. Turns out this weekend or week was honoring Mobility Week and also uniting the east and west neighborhoods of Madrid. The run, the walk, all celebrating Mobility. I asked what was happening and Tom, one of the leaders, began talking to me in English. He invited me to join, gave me a T shirt and water, introduced me and I became part of the hour walk around Retiro Park and the Prado. He pointed out landmarks, with historical context, practiced his English and told me a little about Madrid and his life. A 60 year old, happily married economist, progressive and modern. The unknown, again around the corner.
My last self-tour of the day, adding to my final 19.66 km walking, was a visit to Plaza de Cibiles Cultural Centro, where the Welcome Refugees Banner hangs, up to the Mirador Madrid Skyline Rooftop. Lots of stairs. When I handed my ticket to the guide she pointed me to the elevator. Okay, my hair is silver, but I walked the 100 stairs up and 100 down. Magnificent city views. It’s a Buen Camino.
Very last of walking back was the realization that the chaotic city center is iconic in its own way. Nightlife is famous and made up of diverse groups. I walked by a Primark Department Store on my way back and it was teeming with shoppers on the escalator.
The Puerta del Sol, called the heart of the city, and the calles that connect, were filled again. I couldn’t easily take pictures while walking, so I will buy postcards and a real guidebook. And about guides: The Camino Provides in mysterious ways and often one day at a time. It’s good to know something about a city. Where and why people congregate. Do a bit of prep, so you’re not shocked like I was last night.
Better than photos, will be my memory of this walk, the second chance for Madrid, a city that invited me to join them, and expect the unexpected, again and again. Buen Camino.