15 nov. 2018

Where to get Thanksgiving fixings in Madrid

It’s almost Thanksgiving, or should I say, el día de acción de gracias? For the Americans out there, this is understandably a hard time to be away from home. Ah, Thanksgiving. Family gatherings, grandma’s homemade pies, football games on the television, the Macy’s parade, and a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life, The Wizard of Oz, or, my all time favorite holiday movie, A Christmas Story. And, the best thing about Thanksgiving, the FOOD!

Looking for a piece of home? Here are some tips on how you can make your own Thanksgiving here in Madrid.

Pumpkin and other yumminess – There are two American stores in Madrid. One is appropriately called the American Store. The other is Taste of America. I took a little trip over to Taste of America yesterday to see what this place is all about.

You can get many essential Thanksgiving ingredients here, including brown sugar and canned pumpkin. Don’t be fooled by the two cans of pumpkin here in this image – there were boxes of canned pumpkin just waiting to be stocked. They have marshmallows for candied yams, should you want to show your new European friends just how versatile marshmallows can be. And, although not necessary for Thanksgiving, if anyone is craving SPAM (does anyone really eat SPAM?), cheddar cheese in a bottle, or Jim Beam wing sauce, rest assured you can buy these at Taste of America as well, along with enough Duncan Hines to rot your teeth right out of your mouth. Although the size of a 7/11 (a teeny 7/11), it carries some much needed American products for this time of year. There is some sticker shock (6 Euro for a box of cake mix?), but sometimes it’s just worth it.

Veggies and Sides – Your local grocer should carry most of what you need. The Mercado de Ventas has actual corn on the cob, along with pretty much every other vegetable you could ever want.

Basic vocab list for the market: sweet potatoes (batatas), green beans (judías verdes), corn (maíz), pumpkin (calabaza), potatoes (patatas), onion (cebolla).

Turkey – the staple of Thanksgiving. We are surrounded by meat in Spain, yet somehow turkey always seems to be left out. Rest assured, there are bird options here in Madrid. You can order a turkey from a pollería, or you can buy one at a market, like the Mercado de Ventas. I was there earlier this week and at the sight of me the men behind the meat counter started shouting about my upcoming fiesta, and how I should buy a pavo from them. There were a bunch of turkeys right there, ready to go.

Measuring – Avoid measuring disasters by converting to metric correctly.

Happy cooking and happy Thanksgiving!

13 nov. 2018

Five ways Madrid has changed me

After six years, it’s strange to look back on my first months in Madrid and try to remember what they were like. For one thing, back then my life revolved around balancing my Master’s program with going out too much, whereas now it’s all about paying the bills and day-to-day living. In addition, the fact that I came here straight out of college means I’ve spent my entire adult life in Madrid. Things that strike newcomers as strange, mystifying, or even absurd, seem totally normal to me now.

But there are a few things that spring to mind when I examine how my attitudes and overall Spanish experience have changed over the years—apart from the fact that I recently married a Spaniard and now have honest-to-God suegros. That’s a big one, but the rest are a bit more subtle. Here are five ways Madrid has changed me.

I eat a lot more

I’m not talking about quantity; in fact, in terms of portions, I eat a lot less. Rather, I’m much more adventurous about trying things than when I first came, and now enjoy things I swore I would never put in my mouth. Morcilla? Get in my belly. Octopus? You better hide, little cephalopod. Pigs’ ears? Bring ‘em on (in small quantities). I’ve even learned to love jamón-flavored potato chips, and the world of marisco gets broader every day.

There are a few things I will probably never get into, like sheeps’ brains, or tuna on pizza. And I’m still not really good with raw tomatoes, but I’m working on that.

Buying things has become and adventure

Here’s how I used to shop for pretty much anything:
  1. Go to Target.
  2. Purchase item.
  3. Purchase a million other unnecessary items because they have everything.
Here’s how I now shop for anything other than clothes and everyday groceries:
  1. Figure out what the thing I need is called in Spanish. Scour the Web to find a few different versions in case the shopkeeper doesn’t know what I’m talking about. Also look up any related descriptive vocabulary.
  2. Try to think of the place where I’m most likely to find the thing I need, and scour the Web for any potential specialty stores.
  3. Get on the metro and go to the first option. If it’s a small shop, make sure to say hello. Tell the clerk what I need. If they don’t know what I’m talking about, describe it. Wait for them to tell me they don’t have it. Ask if they have any ideas where I might be able to find it. Make sure to say goodbye.
  4. Repeat Step 3 ten times or so. Become slightly obsessed.
  5. Either give up and decide I can do with out it, or bask in triumph when I finally find it by tweeting, calling my husband, and perhaps doing a victory dance.
Walking down the street stresses me out

This is a huge pet peeve for me, so I could easily rant about people who stop in the middle of the sidewalk to chat or check email on their phones (really? you can’t move over to the side?); or people who expect you to move so they can ride by on their bikes (hello, empty street where vehicles are supposed to go!); or people who don’t clean up after their dogs (I don’t care if it’s good luck—it’s gross). Heck, I could even go off on the inconvenience of parking posts. But I will restrain myself.

Spaniards love to complain about “las prisas de Madrid”—how everyone’s always rushing around in this city. Why is it, then, that I’m constantly yelling at people in my head while trying to walk down the street? I remind myself that the paseo is part of the culture here, but I can’t help it. I don’t walk to walk. I walk to get somewhere.

I know I’m not alone in this; just the other day my friend Susan was complaining about the same thing. “You would think that after all these years I’d be used to it,” she said, referring to Madrileños’ apparent inability to move to allow for passing fellow pedestrians. “But it bothers me now more than ever.” Me too, Susan, me too.

I’ve learned how to loosen up

For all the stress of shopping and walking in Madrid there’s a leisurely meal or relaxed glass of vino with friends to remind me why I love it here. The easygoing lifestyle is one of my favorite things about living in Spain and it has come to permeate all parts of my life, from running errands—I’m much more patient about waiting in lines and have learned to work around businesses’ weird schedules—to sense of humor—I’m way less concerned about keeping it PC. [Side note: Don’t get me wrong, certain comments and attitudes still appall me. (Seriously? You can’t find any actual black men to play Balthazar at Christmastime??)]

The big one, of course, is free time. I’m practically forced to take it easy on Sundays because there’s nothing else to do that day. Everything’s closed. No errands possible. Okay, that’s changed over the years, but the attitude sank in before the stores started opening on Sundays (yes, I’ve been here that long), and the mindset stuck. Best are the long weekend lunches that turn into carajillos at a café or cañas on a terraza, run into a tapas dinner, and end up in a bar at 2 am. I love those days.

Spain has taught me to prioritize

Related to long lunches and relaxing Sundays, perhaps the attitude I’ve most come to appreciate is Spaniards’ work-life balance. At first, my American upbringing made it hard to come to terms with the fact that I’ve pieced together an income, rather than having a steady job and a set career track. But I make enough to pay the bills, go out with my friends, and travel a couple of times a year. I never feel bad about taking vacations—which is good because my husband, true to Spanish form, would never dream of giving them up. I’ve learned that I really don’t need the newest, fastest, shiniest things that the US always told me I did (not to mention the low-carbiest, fresh-smellingest, double-dutiest…). And you know what? When I walk down the street, look around me, and reflect on my life here, I always think, “I’m so happy”.

8 nov. 2018

English movie theaters in Madrid

How’s your Spanish? If it’s like mine, it’s not particularly great. For me, seeing a movie in Spanish, without English subtitles, is more work than entertainment. And that’s what the movies are to me, entertainment. I want to sit back, relax, and start eating the giant Milke chocolate bar I’ve smuggled into the theater.

There are some good options for English movies here in Madrid. The largest of the English theaters is Cine Ideal, located near Sol in Plaza San Jacinto Benavente. The complex is large and hosts the latest films, conveniently in V.O.S. (version original subtitulada – which is most often English). You can also purchase tickets online. Cine Ideal also features movies in 3D. Before the holidays I saw the latest Narnia in 3D here, and although the film was just ok I did enjoy wearing those goofy 3D glasses.

Another great English movie option is the Renoir theaters. They have locations all over the city (and Spain), and although the theaters are smaller they usually have a least one English movie playing. The Renoir theater closest to me is Renoir Retiro, which has 4 theaters and usually 1-2 are English movies.

These two theaters are my favorite English theaters here in Madrid. Cine Ideal is perfect for a giant selection of new movies. It does get crowded on the weekends so do come early to get your tickets. On the other side, Renoir Retiro is quiet, small, and very close to my apartment, which makes me love it even more.

Note: Some theaters require you to choose your seat when you purchase your ticket, so if you are going with a group try and purchase your tickets together to ensure you get to sit as a group.

Happy viewing!

6 nov. 2018

Getting Around Madrid with Very Little Spanish

I took Spanish ten years ago, but since then I haven’t had the opportunity to practice, until now. So, my first couple of months I struggled to get used the idea that no one speaks English here and, along the way, I learned a couple of tricks to avoid the misunderstandings. As always, I encourage you to sign up for a Spanish course to ease your initial experience, but here are a few tips in the meantime:

For starters, you can shop online with some of the larger supermarkets, such at Carrefour and if you spend a certain amount, they will deliver the items to your front door. At most of these stores you will find individual packaged meats and cheeses, so you don’t have to worry about ordering up at the deli counter. I now prefer to go to the municipal market not only to practice my Spanish, but because the prices are more competitive here than at the larger supermercados.

I also buy all of our Renfe tickets online, as well as plane tickets, or in English at the ticket machines in the station. Most of hotels also have websites in English that allow you to book online. For the bus and metro you can buy your tickets at an automated ticket machine in English.

If you have your health insurance through Sanitas, they have some English speaking associates, and they can provide you with a list of English speaking doctors. Although, be forewarned this list is not very accurate.

You can also go to restaurants that you know will provide you an English menu, such as Hard Rock, Foster’s etc. Also, if you are familiar with Mc Donald’s or Burger King’s menu, then you’ll have no problem ordering here in Madrid, but (for a more Spanish experience) most of the restaurants in the very center will have English speaking options.

The point of this is not to avoid speaking Spanish altogether, learning Spanish is one of the best parts of living here, but to help you along as you’re learning the language during those first couple of months. Buena suerte, good luck!

30 oct. 2018

Getting Halloween ready in Madrid

Even though it still feels like summer in Madrid, Halloween is fast approaching. Like many an American, I have been thinking about and planning my costume for quite a while now, so this past weekend I set out to get some supplies in order. Through the power of the internet, I was lucky enough to discover a store in the ABC Centro Comercial on Calle Serrano called PARTY FIESTA.

Knowing Spain and its general lack of Halloween costume culture, at least in the 12 and over set, my expectations were pretty low going in. In the interest of giving credit where credit is due, I have to say I was genuinely impressed with the size of the store and the selection. There was not the same “let’s turn a current event or viral video persona into a costume” thing as there is back home, but the basics were more than covered. I was particularly impressed with the make-up/fake blood/wig selections (I was told approximately 1 in 2 Spaniards is either a witch or a dead person, so this comes as no surprise). There was also a decent assortment of Halloween party props and accessories, such as the multi-color strobe light of some sort that the couple in front of me in line was purchasing.

PARTY FIESTA, as the name implies, also has lots of supplies for parties in general (kids’ birthdays, holidays) such as decorations, paper goods, balloons and the like.

As I head back to the world capital of Halloween next week to attend the big parade (er, and also to get married), I can safely say that Madrid did not let me down. This “Bride of Frankenstein” to-be will not be any less spooky than if I purchased my garb in the belly of the beast itself.

Party Fiesta
Calle Serrano, 61 (there are also many other locations throughout the city)

25 oct. 2018

Costumes and party supplies in Madrid

Living abroad is full of all sorts of adventures, including many reasons to celebrate. You never know when you’ll be invited to a costume party or have the need to throw a surprise birthday party, so it’s best to act like a superhero and be prepared!

I recently had the experience of needing a costume and found myself at a complete loss, especially since I don’t actually like dressing up and didn’t have the box of random ‘dress up’ items we usually pull from at home when situations like this come up. Thankfully, a good friend of mine had done her homework and knew just where to go to find the perfect costumes!

We took the metro to Sol and walked a short way down Calle Mayor to reach Il Barullo – a party supply and costume shop. They had quite a selection for such a small shop and we found exactly what we were looking for. Il Barullo has you covered whether you’re planning a 1st birthday party for your little one, a graduation party for a hard-working grad student, or are ready to get decked out for Halloween!

Il Barullo
Locations in Chamberi, Chamartin, and Centro