I found Madrid very formal and proper. It’s an orderly place and the people there take life and themselves very seriously.

The cobblestone streets, spreading like tentacles from the royal palace at the city center are swept and washed regularly. Street musicians play classical music. Residents are stone-faced in the latest fashions.

Even the city parks are so perfectly maintained that not even a blade of grass is out of place.

Back in the 17th century, the area that is now Retiro Park, was used by Spanish royalty to escape the oppressive summer heat…or the heat of spring. We visited mid-May and it was 91° F.

The 310 acre municipal park —about a third of the size of New York’s Central Park — is a quiet gem that includes walking/jogging paths, hundreds of species of trees, sport courts, a memorial to the victims of the 2004 commuter rail attacks, a rose garden, and the 1887 Crystal Palace (a glass and iron greenhouse) now used as an art exhibition hall.

It’s just a few blocks from the royal palace and the Prado museum. Distinguished avenues lead to the several entrance gates to the park.

As you find your way through the Spanish Gates, past 18th century royal statuary on a shaded path you are confronted with a dizzying hive of activity.

Surrounding a large man-made lake, locals and tourists alike crisped their skin in the sun or jockeyed for position along the concrete sea wall for the opportunity to feed puffed corn to fattened catfish and ducks.

A convenience store sells all manner of snacks and drinks. At the attached restaurant you can order anything from Oscar Mayer peritos caliente to a refreshing tomato gazpacho.

Perhaps a glass of wine might be in order to take in the full view…

On the water, dozens of wooden rowboats narrowly avoid crashing into one another and the solar-powered tour boat. Children squeal with delight at the chaos, couples barely notice anything besides one another.

In the mid 1600s the king and queen and their court watched mock naval battles in these same waters. An island at the center, now completely submerged, was a stage for those employed to entertain the royals.

It’s unclear which scenario was louder or quirkier. It doesn’t matter. It all seems out of place yet perfectly normal.

And what a place to people watch!

A ride on the solar boat is €2 and 45 minutes in the rowboat is €6. There are two wheel chair accessible rowboats and the solar boat is also handicap accessible.

Retiro Park is currently open Monday through Friday from 6 am to 10 pm and from 10 am until 2 pm on the weekends. Hours are apparently always subject to change, depending on the weather and the season. Entry to the park is free.