In a city Madrid’s size, there is always something you should have been to or done long ago but for whatever reason never quite got around to doing it. It’s been 23 years five months and 5 days since I first set foot on Spanish soil, and God knows I’ve done my share of hoofing around Madrid, but would you believe that I have never climbed aboard its famous cable car known as the teleférico? Probably not, but that may be because you have never heard of the teleférico. The attraction is a classic Madrid. Opened in 1969, it was designed to bring visitors to the city’s new amusement park. It was nearly as old as me. It was constructed by a Swiss company, which makes quite a bit of sense, since they would know a lot about these things.
The idea to do this came rather spontaneously, which is what you would expect; after all, I hadn’t ever bothered to do it for the previous two decades, it seemed unlikely I would suddenly rise from my chair, raise my finger and say, “You know what, let’s go on the teleférico.”
But actually, that wasn’t far off. After a long pow-wow over what to do that day, and I tell you it was an arduous debate, an image of the cable car popped up on the computer screen, so I threw it out there, and, lo and behold, the kids gave their avid approval. Unanimously. This level of consensus between my daughters, of course, happens to me about once every six months, so I jumped all over the chance.
The teleférico leaves from the city itself. You are literally a stone’s throw from the center of town. It’s located basically at the corner Calle Pintor Rosales and the Calle Marqués de Urquijo, more or less in the Parque de Oeste. We took the metro over to the Argüelles station and walked from there.
The ticket building is a little rundown, marred by graffiti and not really easy to find. In a nutshell, it isn’t especially inviting to the visitor. If I hadn’t known any better, I might have turned back. I am just imaging that one of these days, someone on the staff is going to enter and say, “Hey, what do you say if we spruce this place up. It’s a little crappy.” But until that day comes, forego the drab façade and go down those stairs to the ticket booth.
We got our tickets, which as far as tourist attractions go these days, were not unreasonable price-wise. 5.50€ round trip. The girls had just bought an ice cream a few minutes before. They were one of those flavored ice sticks which I am sure have another name back in the U.S., but it’s been so long since I have had one there that I can’t remember what they are called in English. Anyway, we were just about to get in our car when the man, before opening up the door, warned us that we were not supposed to take them on board. I told him we didn’t know that and he replied that they were strictly forbidden, which is why I assumed from the beginning we weren’t allowed to pass. But I didn’t say anything. So, I said that we would eat them first on firm land and then get on, to which he said, “No, get in.”
“Really? But I thought…” I didn’t finish my sentence. If the man said get in, well we weren’t about to reject his offer.
This is one of my favorite things about Spain. The bending of rules in a human way. If they had told us that in America, we certainly would have had to wait; but this man felt compelled to inform us that we couldn’t ride with the ice cream, just as a rule, even though he knew full well he was going to be the first to allow us to break it. Why? Probably because we looked like we weren’t going to trash the car, so why keep us back? God bless him.
If I felt the outside of the building needed a bit of refurbishing, I felt the exact opposite about the cars themselves, which, from what I could tell, had not been replaced ever. They were simple no frills booths – hardly any padding on the seats, windows that came down unevenly – but they had that old-fashion feel to them that I found endearing. We sat inside and bobbed for a few minutes and then, when it was our turn, floated away towards the edge. Mind you, there was little in the way of velocity here, 3 meters per second (that’s the equivalent of doing the 100 meter sprint in 33 seconds…which really isn’t sprinting at all when you think about it), but that didn’t take away from the excitement of sailing out of the building and into the air above the park. There is something absolutely amazing about the feeling; that childlike sensation overwhelms your mind as you continue to soar above the city; something that makes you feel that Gene Wilder dressed as Willy Wonka was going to appear and cry with those big eyes of his, “This can all be yours!”
In a matter of seconds you our fifty feet above the ground and hovering over the train tracks to the Príncipe Pío Train Station, then the dome of San Antonio de Florida Hermitage whose dome was painted by none other than Goya. There were fairgrounds set up and I told the girls that they must have been celebrating the fiestas. I had forgotten that Saint Anthony’s Feast was on Monday. In Madrid there is a great tradition which I will have to tell you about at another time.
After we saw the Manzanares, that stream trying so hard to be a mighty river, and then some building complexes, interior patios and all. One building was even taller than us, so you would get a full few of the apartment kitchens and everything. And from there, above the M-30 beltway and into the Casa de Campo.
All in all the trip takes 11 minutes to travel 2.5 kilometers (1.7 miles), but somehow it seemed longer, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. As you moved further from the city, the views of the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral became more impressive. While we dangled voices from a speaker above us filled the cabin with information about the places we saw and could visit. A nice touch for the visitor, though only helpful if you spoke Spanish. After a gentle flight over the small hills of the Casa de Campo, and with the tracks of the city’s amusement park towering from the tree to our left, we softly glided into the station, and alighted.
The question was: what do we do next? I really hadn’t thought about that. Basically because I didn’t know what we would find when we got there.