17 ene. 2019

My Neighborhood - Barrio de Las Letras (Huertas)

We have enjoyed living in our neighborhood in Madrid, Barrio de Las Letras or the Neighborhood of the Writers. There are so many things to think about when selecting where to live in Madrid. I can at least guide you through this wonderful historic district.

We live in the heart of Madrid, and thus the oldest and arguably the most historic part as well. Bordered by Plaza de Sol, Prado, and the Reina Sofia Museum of Modern Art, this area is easily accessible by line 1 on the metro or about five different buslines that run up along in front of the Prado.

The buildings here were built as far back as the late 1500’s, but most have been gutted and updated inside, while the historic exteriors remain. For instance our building was built around the same period, but as a single family townhome, and then it wasn’t until the 1980s that it was converted into apartments. Pluses for this is that it has newer plumbing and electrical, and the original exterior walls are about a foot thick. The Cons for some of these buildings is that they are smaller apartments than in some of the newer neighborhoods, thus most apartments in our area are only one or two bedrooms.

Our area is a very working/living neighborhood, in the sense that most of the owners in our building own businesses down below such as a hair salon or the drycleaners. It also a very traditional area in the sense that a lot of stores observe siestas, Spanish holidays and are closed on Sundays. The closest “true” supermercado is about a ten minute walk to Sol from our place, so I do most of my food shopping the true European way, by buying my meat in one store, fruit in another, and cheese in another shop.

Another plus to this neighborhood is that all the narrow streets are closed off in the evening to traffic, only taxis, neighborhood residents, and emergency vehicles have a pass card to get through. This really makes the area conducive to outdoor cafes, and the typical 5pm Spanish stroll. Plus, it keeps it quiet in the late evenings. The exception being Huertas, of course, which is lined with bars, small clubs and traditional Spanish restaurants all with the black wrought iron that reminds me of the French Quarter in New Orleans.

Besides the wine bars and jazz clubs in the area that I have written about in other posts, there are also two historical sites that are worth checking out. One is a plaque in front of the home of the great Spanish writer Cervantes, author of Don Quiote. Then down the street from his place is the playwright Lope de Vega’s home, which you can tour. (and well worth it)

Barrio de Las Letras is great area to live in if you like to be near all the culture during the day and tapa hopping by night all with a mix of traditional and eccentric locals, as well as tourists. Good luck if you are in the process of finding an apartment in Madrid.

Cervante’s home Corner of Calle Cervantes and Calle de Leon, 28014 Madrid, Spain

Lope de Vega’s home Calle de Cervantes, 11, 28014 Madrid, Spain 914 299 216

15 ene. 2019

Making new friends in Madrid

One of the best and most difficult things about living abroad can be making new friends. Fortunately, there are plenty of clubs and groups in Madrid which will help even the shyest “guiri” to meet new friends. Here are some of my favourite resources to help you meet new friends, acquaintances, and even business contacts. Some of these groups charge a membership fee, so I’d recommend that you attend at least one event as a guest before joining to see if the group is right for you.

  • The INC of Madrid (the International Newcomers Club) is a group which hosts weekly activities for expats living in Madrid. The full year membership will cost you 85 Euros, but they also offer a half year option for 50 Euros.
  • Meetup.com helped me to meet great friends when I was new to NYC and has also helped me find people with similar interests here in Madrid. The best part is that if you don’t find the group you are looking for, you can make your own.
  • The AWC (American Women’s Club) has been where I have met some of the most interesting and wise women. These ladies will offer a shoulder to lean on, give you guidance when you need it, and are a heck of a good time! There is an annual fee of 88 Euros and they offer various activities to keep you busy throughout the week.
  • InterNations is an invitation only web-based organization. The events I’ve attended consisted of a diverse crowd, each time there were between 200-300 attendees in a centrally located venue.
  • If you have little kids and want to meet other parents in Madrid, check out Sticky Fingers Playgroup. They meet every Tuesday and Thursday morning at a local park.
  • Globiles is another invitation only group which caters to business professionals. It is a new venture which helps connect international professionals who are currently living abroad or would like to make the big move.
  • The American Club of Madrid is a good networking source for established professionals. There is an annual fee of 100 Euros, but check with your company to see if they are already a member. They host monthly events and various special occasion events per year.
  • Volunteer your time at your local school or check Idealist.org. They have volunteer opportunities listed in several countries, including Spain.
  • Practice your Spanish. If you want to practice a new language with others, check out the language intercambio, Madrid Babel. Each Wednesday and Sunday evening, you can find plenty of people to practice various languages with.
  • Get some fresh air! There is a fantastic hiking group in Madrid for people of all skill levels. The hikes take place on the weekends and offer a unique alternative to the usual crowded bar events.

27 dic. 2018

Vintage Madrid

When I arrived in Madrid I was surprised not only by its young and international vibe. The huge mix of cultures and the abundance of the trendy spots found in the Spanish capital amazed me. Like in many global cities, people there take full advantage of Madrid Vintage trends, and not just in hip areas.

So if you’re looking for something different, you can find this particular style in many shops. Clothing stores, cafes and restaurants, bars, etc: Madrid’s vintage world is a cool, fun way to discover the city. You’ll enjoy your time here!

With that in mind, here are a few of my favorite spots that I deeply recommend visiting during your stay!

The #1 spot for vintage clothing: Pepita is dead

Located near Atocha railway station, this shop specializes in vintage clothing for everyone. If you’re looking for any trendy piece dating back to anywhere between the 50s to 90s, then you’ll find your paradise!

A sunglasses museum as never seen before: Gafa Vintage

Located by Opera metro station, this totally vintage shop will submerge you in history up to the eyes! This pretty jewel for all hipsters and people suffering from nostalia is actually more than just a boutique: we can consider it as a museum, thanks to its exhibitions of cool shades! There you can achieve any of your wildest dreams by wearing the same trendy piece as your throwback idols.

A very original and trendy market: El Mercado de Motores

We all know that in Madrid there is a strong market culture, but this one is bit more original: it takes place every month between the wagons and locomotives of the railway museum and is one of the best, most successful free leisure alternatives. There, vendors sell decorative items, books, vinyl records, recycled furniture, classic bikes, handmade product…

Tasty, straight forward food in a vintage environment: Naif

On the corner of the very active Plaza de San Ildefonso in Malasaña, you will find this small but trendy restaurant that serves hamburgers, sandwiches and a little kindness to the many modern locals who continually select it as a meeting point. Vintage decorative items and a chill atmosphere enhance tasty Mexican dishes or simple drinks!

A strange and curious coffee shop with an antique feel: The Passenger

This is one of the most curious places in Madrid. When you enter into this bar, you will discover you’re really on a train. The dark wood chairs are spacious and comfortable and screens hang on the wall to emulate windows from which you can admire landscape passing by outside… all aboard!

A cosy and well designed bar: La Paca

This small vintage café of the very center of Madrid (Tribunal/Gran Via), hosts all kinds of different events events thanks to the infinite creativity of the owner: small markets, shows, artists exhibitions, presentations, miniconcerts…The majority of the clients are young, modern and cultivated!

25 dic. 2018

Moving to Madrid: Making friends

So! You’ve made it to Madrid. Now what? Whether you’ve moved here for work or studies, everybody has one thing in common: everything’s new! The culture, the streets, and (most of all) the people are all unfamiliar and, sometimes, it can make you feel a little bit isolated or lonely. Fortunately, Madrid is also one of the friendliest cities and has infinite opportunities to meet new people! But one of the main think you’re moving to Madrid: Making Friends. Here are a few of the best options (in my opinion):

The International Way

My best experience meeting people and making friends was through my Spanish classes (which you may be able to see some enthusiasm about in my previous articles). Through my classes at AIL Madrid, I discovered a community of international people who, though from all parts of the world, shared my enthusiasm and interest in Spain and Spanish language and culture. They also understood what it was like to move here without knowing anyone and those who had been here a while had some great advice and insights to offer me. Aside from that, the academy itself offers really fun cultural activities and hosts a big party with students and staff alike every Friday (called Noche de Copas). In this way, you feel like you have a friend group and an active schedule from day one. For me, this one takes the cake!

The Guiri Way

Another way to feel immediately comfortable is to connect with your fellow guiris (foreigner and, in this case, English speaking). This might not improve your Spanish or give you the feeling of embarking on adventure, but it will definitely give you confidence and a loving community right here in Madrid. A few places to meet other guiris are through facebook groups (for auxiliaries, au pairs, Erasmus, entrepreneurs etc) or at some of the classic guiri hangouts (such as J&J books, la bicicleta, and pretty much any bar in Malasaña).

The At-Home Way

Sharing an apartment with other people can seem great or daunting, depending on who you are, but it will always improve your social life. This is especially true if you live with Spaniards, who are sure to introduce you to all their friends and adopt you as one of their own. If you choose to live with other foreigners, this can also be a great introduction to the guiri community. Long live the Flat Mate Solution!

The Ripped Way

My final suggestion for meeting people is a classic no matter where you live: join the gym! While not guaranteed to make you friends, this will put you in an energetic environment with lots of other people from your neighborhood. Overcome your fears and strike up a conversation; you never know where your best friendships might bloom!

20 dic. 2018

Madrid's fascinating museums

Museo del Prado

The Museo del Prado holds the most complete collection of Spanish art in the world. It is famous for its wonderful collection of Goya (“Los fusilamientos de 3 de Mayo”), Velázquez (”Las Meninas”) as well as many other paintings and sculptures by influential artists. It houses one of the world’s finest collections of European art which at the moment adds up to around 8600 paintings and 700 sculptures. Well worth a visit.

Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía

A museum of contemporary Spanish and international art dating from the end of the 19th century to current times. It is famous for the painting “Guernica” by Picasso, in addition to a number of works from Dalí, Juan Gris, and Miró.

Museo Thyssen

A museum of both ancient and modern art dating from the Middle Ages all the way through to Pop Art from the 1980’s! It boasts a wide variety of styles: Italian primitive, German Renaissance, American painting from the 19th century, impressionism, German expressionism, Russian constructivism and many more!

Museo Arqueológico Nacional

Learn about objects a nd artifacts that have come from different Spanish towns as well as from Mediterranean countries. These artifacts date back to ancient times and with help from rigorous, attractive, interesting and critical information, you can learn about the meaning behind them all. It is a great way to learn and understand more about the rich history of Spain and the Mediterranean.

Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales

A perfect museum for kids as well as adults that proudly demonstrates the world’s natural heritage with a huge collection of specimens. Here are just a few examples: minerals, seaweeds, plants, animals as well as utensils and weapons from a number of different cultures and times. There are more than 6 million specimens in the museum!

18 dic. 2018

Why is everyone queuing outside Doña Manolita?

Around Christmas time, you will more than likely have noticed a large queue outside Doña Manolita every day. We suspect you may not know your lottery outlets by name yet, so for clarification Doña Manolita is the lottery vendor near Sol on Calle del Carmen. It’s renowned as the luckiest place to buy your ticket for La Lotería de Navidad! If you’re going to buy a Christmas Lottery ticket we strongly recommend that you withstand the queue and buy it from there.

Every year, starting around mid-November, thousands of madrileños queue up on Calle del Carmen to buy a ticket for a chance to win El Gordo (literally, the fat one), which is the largest single draw lottery prize in the world! The €200 tickets are available for individuals, but the true essence of the Lotería de Navidad is in the participation that arises from the sub-tickets. A company or group of people would choose to purchase a ticket, with each contributor paying €20 for a 10% stake in the winnings. You can buy your sub-tickets almost anywhere (a shop, a bar, your workplace or even a motor way service station) but before you do make sure you ask if it was originally bought from Doña Manolita . After all, a third of winning tickets have been traced back to that one lottery outlet.

The first ever Lotería de Navidad took place in 1812, when interestingly, it was set up as a way of increasing public funds without it effecting the contributors! The lottery has been running every year since 1812, surviving times of war, crisis and even through Franco’s era, where the numbers all ended with a 36 or 39 to commemorate the Civil War. It is now the second longest running lottery in the world and it’s broadcasted every year on the 22nd of December, on Radio Nacional de España.

Despite the number of years it’s been running, the popularity of this lottery hasn’t faltered; it continues to grow, with 98% of adults entering the draw in 2016! With any form of gambling, participants have their lucky rituals and the Lotería de Navidad is certainly no different. In fact, besides lucky charms, and other superstitions that individuals all over the world may have, the Lotería de Navidad has many stereotypical lucky traits that contributors share. For example, in Madrid, you may notice that many people enter the ticket shop with their right foot first and then ask if the lottery ticket can be picked out with their right hand. Others include passing your ticket across a pregnant woman’s stomach, or over the head of a bald man!

If you’re in Madrid over the Christmas period, head to Doña Manolita for a chance to win and above all, a chance to share the excitement that flows through Madrid at 11.57pm on the 22nd of December!

¡Buena suerte!