I came up spluttering, my nose repeatedly pushing water out in heaving bubbles as I scrambled to gasp into my mouth before I dove back into the water. After seven interspersed lap attempts, I realized I would have to exert much more effort to not embarrass myself in front of these capped and goggled swimmers. My patented breast stroke needed a tune-up from my lifeguarding days.
When I first waded into the brightly-lit lap pool in the Spanish capital of Madrid, I mentally prepared for my workout. The water was sectioned off completely in Olympic-sized lanes, excepting the first, which was a double wide section (or kids’ area as I soon found out). That was where I decided to make my entrance. The other swimmers never paused a stroke as I demurely submerged.
The pool was naturally lit with sunlight streaming through a long slit in the canvas ceiling. This slit led to a bright sundeck where people lay like lizards; grasping at slivers of sunlight through the many-shaded columns. And everyone but myself came prepared with goggles, caps, and towels.
“Only people serious about exercising come here; I’ve never seen any tourists,” said Esther, an older woman who regularly swims at the Centro de Natacion Mundial 86, a public swimming pool which is a five-minute walk from metro stop Sainz de Baranda. She also showed me one floor down where there was a gymnasium for general use. “You can swim, workout, or take aerobics classes,” she continued as I prompted her about the services the pool offered.
When I asked her for her name, she gave me her email address and informed me, “I can even get you a boy or whatever you want.” I told her gracias, but that wasn’t quite what I was looking for.
This is not the typical tourist experience in Madrid. I highly recommend this place for active tourists who want to continue to exercise, even on vacation. It’s near the city center and allows one to access a serious workout environment, while still enjoying the culture and excitement of the capital.
It is only one of the many sports tourists can enjoy on their trip to Madrid and another popular staple exercise is, of course, running.
The smell of pine, mixed with the crunch of dead needles beneath my feet reminded me I was well out of the city as I began my run through Parque Juan Carlos I. I ran down the chunky gravel trail with a gorgeous view of the railroad tracks and wispy branches bunching over the entrance to my path. On my right, tall pine trees rose up on a dead hill of yellowed grass, while rabbits dodged back and forth as I ran. My view of the city was incredible because of the high and scenic location of the park.
The main section of the park was a large circular area where many paths with fountains, dog parks, picnic areas, and running and biking trails branched off. A group of colorful rollerbladers flew past me on a shady concrete section lined by trees. I gasped from exertion and stopped running to catch my breath. Thirst suddenly surged in me and I could feel the sting of sweat in my eyes. Frantically scanning the area, I found a vending machine and flipped a 1 euro coin into the slot.
Parque Juan Carlos I is one of the biggest parks in Madrid and located right off metro line 8, which is two metro stops before the airport. I walked about 10 minutes from the metro along a wide street with many tall buildings and businesses lining each side. When I came to the end there was a roundabout with looping water fountains.
Up in the park I was able to enjoy a higher view of the city, and get away from the noise. This is a different side of Madrid. Retiro Park (the Central Park of the capital) is one of the largest and most famous parks in the country, but always full of tourists.
Tourists are a rare sight indeed on the delightful hiking trails located relatively close to the city.
So, the next day I thought it would be a great idea to take a day hike to La Pedriza. I woke up and was out the door by 7 am to catch a 9 am bus off metro line 3 to Moncloa. When I got to my second to last stop at Plaza de Nuesta Senora del Rosario, which is in the town of Hoyo de Manzanares, my instructions were to ask for the bus to La Pedriza.
“There are no buses from here to La Pedriza,” the Information Turistica worker Maria informed me. “Your best bet is to hike around here. Sorry for my English,” she added, handing me a stack of maps and pamphlets in Spanish. I admit this rather surprised me: a tourist office in Spain that had no information in English? Maybe it was because this spot is well known to Spaniards, but not to American tourists. Based on that fact alone, I decided to stay and check out the trails. It was well worth it.
The park boasted three main hiking options, ranging from a circular trail to a sharp climb.
As I started up the trail to the right, a man on a motorbike with a lime green backpack convulsed down the uneven path. I stepped quickly back to avoid getting run over. I soon realized I was on the circular trail, which literally went around, rather than up the mountain, and turned back to pursue a more challenging climb. A sliding stair of chunky boulders and slippery gravel met me on my assent up the Ruta Carboneros, which was a medium difficulty trail.
Further up on my steepening scramble, the view to my right highlighted the glint of sun on orange clay roofs lined up like flower pots, with house upon house making up a view of the city that began to linger in a blue film blurring through the elevation. The fresh air and quiet made me feel as if I were in the countryside, instead of a 40- minute ride from Spain’s capital city.
My advice to fellow travelers is, of course, to visit the Prado and Reina Sofia museums, indulge in some delicious paella and churros y chocolate from a local café, but if you don’t also check out the running and biking parks, the lap pools, and the secluded hiking trails, you will have missed out on much of the beauty and culture that Spain has to offer.
Centro de Natacion Mundial 86
Address: Calle de José Martinez de Velasco, 3,
Telephone: (+34) 914 09 53 51
Opening Hours: Sunday-Saturday 11 am-8 pm (General Public Swimming Hours 10:30 am-4:30 pm)
Entry fee: 6.5 euros (or about $7.50)
Parque de Juan Carlos I
Address: Glorieta SAR Don Juan De Borbon and Battemburg, 5
Opening Hours: Summer Hours: every day from 7am-1pm. Fall and Spring Hours: Friday and Saturday 7am-12am, Monday-Thursday 7am-11pm
Hoyo de Manzanares Puerta del Parque
Address: 28240. Hoyo de Monzanares
Telephone: 663 97 87 93
Hours: Every day from 11am-2:30pm
Getting There: Take metro line 3 to Moncloa, then take bus 611 towards Hoyo de Monzanares to Plaza de Nuesta Senora del Rosario.