Retiro park: Madrid's green lung

MADRID (Reuters) - On a cold winter morning, Madrid’s Retiro park is filled with joggers and dog walkers enjoying the fresh air and manicured flowerbeds of one of the city’s most visited attractions.

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El Retiro (“The Retreat”) was originally a palace and gardens built for the personal enjoyment of King Felipe IV in the 17th Century, where courtiers sometimes carried out recreations of naval battles on the boating lake.

Nearly 400 years later, the 1.4-square kilometer (350-acre) park is used for boat rides, an annual book fair and road races.

It has a garden with over 4,000 rosebushes which fill the air with scent when the flowers bloom in May and June, and the “Palacio de Cristal” built in 1887, a glass and iron structure inspired by London’s Crystal Palace.

The park is enjoyed by “madrilenos” and tourists alike.

“This is a beautiful park, particularly for couples, it’s very romantic,” said Flora Werner, a 28-year-old Londoner visiting with her boyfriend.

“I like it better than (London’s) Hyde Park because it’s less hectic, people here seem to be more relaxed,” she said as she took selfies of herself kissing her partner beside the boating lake.

The Retiro is also a place of work for many. Nicolas Perez has worked for four years dressing as cartoon characters like Kermit the Frog and getting his picture taken with visitors for money.

Business is best over the weekend, says the 45-year-old Ecuadorean.

“From Monday to Thursday I make enough to pay for food. But on Friday and the weekend I get extra to pay for my utilities,” he said.

Additional reporting by Susana Vera; Editing by Sonya Dowsett