El Teleférico: Madrid’s Own Cable Car 2

You can say all you want, but I for one I am not a fan of the Casa de Campo.  And I promise you that I put earnest renewed faith in it every time I return, but to no avail.  It’s dry and dusty, brown and barren, and cut up with endless arid dirty paths which seem filled with bandits lurking behind every tree.  Just from a nature point of view, the landscape reminds me of an ignorant European’s image of the savanna, but next to a landfill.   The thing is, we aren’t in Africa but a mere mile from the center of Madrid.  So, I don’t what it is.  Maybe it’s the constant news about the prostitutes lining up throughout waiting for desperate clients, or the junkies looking for a fix in peace, but I get this terrible feeling that everywhere I step I risk the possibility of having my toe punctured by a HIV infected needle, or wherever I sit, I will have to kick aside a few used condoms.  I know it’s not like that.  I really do.  The place is big enough, and actually quite clean from what I could tell.  But never has hygiene suggested such filth.  Even the apparently vice-free zones seem uninviting. 

             Having said that, and in passing having destroyed most of your plans to visit it, let me add that this massive natural park actually has a lot to offer which you should consider.  For example, within these grounds you can find Madrid’s very own amusement park (Parque de Atracciones) which has aged remarkably well since it opened 40 years ago, making just the right moves at the right times.  It is a first-rate theme park and it outshines the newer Warner Bros. Park on the other side of the city.  You can also find Madrid’s magnificent zoo and aquarium, which is well worth the visit.  There is an arena where they celebrate concerts and basketball games.  The Cirque du Soleil pitched its tents nearby last month.  Close to the main gates, you can hang out by a magnificent lake.  In that area, the Casa de Campo seems more like just a normal park, accessible to all publics.  So in that sense, you have several good reasons for heading out there…I just think picnicking in some remote corner is not one of them. 

            Anyway, back to what I was saying.  We got off the cable car and walked out to see what there was to do, because we really had no idea.  Outside the building, you had a great view of the amusement park in the distance which, if anything, made the three girls with me feel worse.  That so-close-and-yet-so-far pain.  With my hernia wound still in stitches and the hour being what it was, we said we would have to wait for another day.  But that was when I came up with what I thought was a perfectly brilliant idea:  “Hey! Let’s walk over to the amusement park gates and see how it takes us.  That way we’ll know if we can do a double-whammy teleférico-amusement park day all in one.  It’ll be great.”

           My daughters and their friend looked at me as if I had just asked them to eat a worm sandwich.  Then my eldest presented a blistering argument.  “Dad.  You know we aren’t going to go to the Amusement Park today.  Can you think of anything crueler than to make us walk down there just to see how long it takes, watch all those kids laughing as they enter, then turn around and walk all the way up this hill again?”

            “No, I can’t think of anything crueler.  You’re absolutely right.” I admitted.  “Forget I ever mentioned it.”

             So, after having that plan completely dismantled by a 12-year-old, we walked around the lush grounds near the Teleférico building.   Those parts were obviously under the sphere of influence of a well established watering system.  There were several groups who were lounging on the green grass underneath the trees and even a family or two which had spread out an elaborate picnic and were at that point well into the siesta phase.  These were perfectly acceptable areas to hang out.  I guess.  We walked a little further until the green area disappeared and the brown grassy terrain of the real, unwatered Casa del Campo took over.  Not so surprisingly, no one ventured beyond that point.

             We spent about an hour playing time-killing games but these amused us sufficiently until we decided we had done all that a person can do when there is nothing to do.  So, we headed back to the building and went for a drink.  Upstairs there is a semi-self service restaurant and a huge terrace with a terrific view of the tree tops of the park and Madrid in the distance.  The girls were feeling a little hay-feverish so we sat at the window table just inside.  From there I had a magnificent view of the terrace.  It was lined with long tables filled with families and their three generations.  I said to myself, “Could this be any more Spanish?”  The typical Saturday afternoon, post-lunch massive get together, some having a soda or beer, others coffee, yet others possibly a whiskey.  The terrace was covered by a pastel orange awning, just the kind I had seen many places in this city in the summer.  This, my dear readers (or reader…I really don’t know who’s out there) is a tough sensation to convey if you have never been to Madrid for any extended period of time; but I was overcome by the thought that I was reliving Spain in the 1970s, when things hadn’t changed so much, when the Spanish said they loved Spain.  It was the tables, the families, the drinks, the awning, the afternoon daylight, all thrown in together, brought together, joined together, blended and aged together before my eyes, as if I were watching some mildly amusing low-budget comedy from the transition period.   

           Of course, I could not tell my daughters about this because they wouldn’t have understood, nor would they have cared. 

           We finished up and hopped back on the cable car to return to Madrid.  Just a few minutes out of the gate, I surveyed the parched landscape below and this time spotted some fauna beneath the canopies of trees.  It was an elderly man squatting over with his pants down and reaching behind with his hands to wipe his derriere.   How fitting, I thought to myself.  Now let me make it clear that I am not too prim and proper to regard the need to relieve oneself in nature as offensive.  If you gotta go, you gotta go.  But what would possess him to do it in full sight of several dozen cable cars passing by?  Maybe he didn’t notice us.  Maybe he didn’t care.  Or maybe he got a kick out of it in a queer way that elderly people sometimes do.  But all I could think to myself was, yes, this is the Casa de Campo.  This is just the kind of surprise I don’t wish to find and somehow know I will. 

          I was happy, very happy, to be floating away a hundred feet above the ground.


El Teleférico: Madrid’s own cable car 1

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.