29 nov. 2018

Madrid books that I dig

I am a travel book junkie. Oh and I am also a planner. If I am even considering a vacation for 3 years down the road…I will have all the appropriate books for it as soon as the thought pops in my head. If work sends me to a destination that I have not been to before then a travel book is hastily purchased and every waking moment outside of work responsibilities is spent “experiencing” said new destination. The quantity of travel books that made the journey to Madrid is alarming and a topic not discussed between Will and I because I am sure the cost of shipping my “collection” outweighed its value…by a lot. As you’re planning your move to Madrid [and any outside travel] you might also find some of these sources useful. Happy Reading!

Living Abroad in Spain – This book is good for the nitty gritty. Need to know what steps to take to bring your pet into Spain? Concerned about how Spain will react to your race and religion? It covers many of the logistics you’ll be concerned with but don’t rely on this source solely as I feel its pretty high level given that it has to cover logistics for all areas within Spain. The author is American so its safe to report that the intended audience is North American – or at least English speakers.

Rick Steves’ Spain [With Pull-Out Map] [RICK STEVES SPAIN-2009] – Whether you’re already a Rick Steve’s follower or not, this is a great book. With his guidance you find yourself often in with the locals, eating regional specialities at a decent price. His books always give helpful regional/population tidbits in an easy-to-understand language which makes the reading enjoyable.

Madrid (City Guide) – Very extensive and very helpful. Sites, restaurants, bars…etc are conveniently broken down by neighborhood. Information on Madrid is thorough – so much so that it can serve as a semi-decent relocation guide as well.

Lonely Planet Madrid Condensed – Great pocket size guide to stuff in the purse and take around as your exploring all the main sites in Madrid. Great for getting acquainted with Madrid.

Fodor’s See It Spain, 3rd Edition – The book itself is aesthetically pleasing. It covers all of Spain and therefore only provides the most basic and most popular of information on sites. However once it gave me a great tidbit on how to find a discounted room at a upscale hotel in Valencia and it worked!

Fodor’s Madrid’s 25 Best, 4th Edition – Another good pocket guide for the basics with some good walking tours. Read this one before you go out but then take the Lonely Planet Madrid condensed with you for more detail.

27 nov. 2018

Jazz Clubs in Madrid

My husband and I have always enjoyed listening to jazz where ever we’ve lived. So when we moved to Madrid, we learned there were no shortages of clubs here. We ended up renting an apartment from our friends who live in New York. One of them happens to be the one and only Lou Marini who was the orginal sax player for Saturday Night Live and The Blues Brothers. Needless to say, he has introduced us to the scene here. One of his favorite places is Cafe Central, which is just off Plaza Santa Ana. This is a larger club with a full bar and food menu, and jazz seven nights a week. The entrance is usually between 10-15 euros depending on the caliber of the group, and whether you go during the week or weekend. The show usually starts at 10pm, and goes till at least midnight. If you go on the weekends, though, get there early the line starts out the door at nine.

Another good larger jazz club is Clamores near Metro Iglesia. This club has a lot of good blues and jazz groups come through, mainly local groups, but during the Madrid Jazz Fesitval in November they host groups from all of the world as well. Red House is a group we see from time to time here that includes Lou Marini as well as four of his friends. You can also call ahead to reserve a table.

Two other smaller clubs happen to be right around the corner from us in Barrio de Las Letras on Huertas St. Cafe Populart has about 20 tables and has great local jazz quartets and sextets most nights starting at 10:30pm. This is a great place to stop by for even an hour since it is entrada libre or enter free, and the drinks are reasonably priced. Down the street is one of our favorite little jazz enclaves called La Fidula. This place reminds me of Birdland in New York, a nice small club where the tables and booths surround the stage. They have awesome jam sessions on Sunday nights where as my husband puts it all the heavys come to play. Most shows start around 10:30 or 11:00pm, but some nights they have two shows. You can listen for free at the bar, or there is at least a two drink minimum for a table closer to the stage. Check their website, though, for showtimes and entrance fees.

I know there are other great jazz clubs in Madrid, this just happens to be the clubs we have come across. If you have personally been to one of these clubs or any other great jazz clubs in Madrid, please share them in the comments section.

  • Clamores Calle Alburquerque, 14, Madrid, 91 4457938 Metro Bilbao
  • Populart Calle Huertas, 22 Madrid, 91 429 84 07
  • Cafe Central Plaza de Angel, 10, Madrid 91 369 41 43
  • La Fidula Calle de las Huertas, 57, Madrid

22 nov. 2018

Going to the Doctor in Spanish

Last week, like many other people, I was really sick and completely bedridden for almost an entire week. After two years in Spain, it was finally time to go to the doctor for the first time. Luckily for me, Raúl took care of finding the number of the nearest Sanitas doctor. This was great, except for the fact that it did not occur to him that it might make sense for me to see an English speaking doctor. I did not have the strength to undo what was already done nor could I fathom waiting any longer to get treated, so I sucked it up and made the appointment.

While the experience was positive overall, there are a few things I would have done differently to prepare myself if I could do it all over again. Even though my Spanish is strong, I still felt a bit lost. For better or worse, I am not used to discussing flu-like symptoms in Spanish, so those words just were not part of my vocabulary. I tried to tell the doctor that my ears hurt by saying “me duelen las orejas” but apparently that direct translation from English is just not a correct way of describing this symptom in Spanish. I quickly reverted to hand gestures, and before long the doctor did as well since it was clear to him that I was just not following. Looking back, my advice would be as follows:
  • As a heads up, when you call to make the appointment, they are going to ask you what type of doctor you want to see. I did not know what to say (a doctor doctor, I was thinking). Try to have this one figured out before you call. In the end, I needed Medicina General, which makes sense in retrospect, but I have never had to make such a distinction when calling to make a doctor’s appointment back home.
  • Write down a translated list of your key symptoms using an English-Spanish dictionary before you go. This is especially critical because I have noted there are several “false friends” in the health arena, such as constipada (hint: it has nothing to do with your digestion).
  • Do not hesitate to ask the doctor to repeat himself several times; at the end of the day this is our health we are talking about. I left the doctor thinking that he prescribed me some sort of throat gargle that I needed to mix with hot water twice a day, only to find when I went to the pharmacy that he really prescribed me anti-biotic pills. I still have no idea how I got so mixed up.
  • If you are on any other medications before you go, have the names written down along with that they are and what they do, translated into Spanish. The doctor is clearly going to ask you this, and if you are not sure, for example, what the words for insulin and what it treats are in Spanish, you could be putting yourself at risk.
All in all, this experience was not nearly as scary as it sounds, and I am lucky that I only had a throat infection (I think?) and not something more serious. The doctor could not be any nicer and more patient, and I am happy to report that the prescribed treatment worked and I feel so much better. Although I am proof positive that this can be done successfully without making these advanced preparations, in the end I think they can help quite a bit.

20 nov. 2018

Holiday Lights in Madrid

In just 3 days the city will finally turn on the holiday lights, after what seemed like weeks of unlit lights hanging in the streets. Each street has a different theme, from boxes of presents on Calle Goya, to snowflakes on Calle Mayor, to giant chandeliers on Jose Ortega y Gasset. The lights will be up all this month, and extend into the first week of January, so take advantage of a dry night (what is with all this rain lately?) and grab your honey or some friends and take a jolly walk through Madrid to enjoy the lights.

While on your walk, you may want to visit one of the many Christmas markets that are set up throughout the city. There are some especially for kids, like “Cortylandia” in Plaza Felipe II. Corte Ingles runs this of course, so don’t be surprised if after enjoying some kiddie rides your children want to scour the store for pricey toys.

A great market for enjoying the holidays is the large annual market in the Plaza Mayor. There are plenty of stalls selling holiday decorations and collectibles. You can buy a Christmas tree here, including those small apartment friendly ones, along with wreaths and other evergreen decorations. There is a carousel for the kids (and adults. Hey, why not?) and of course tons of lights. The lights in the Plaza Mayor are giant circular orbs that hang from the sky. Festive, yes, but also sort of like experiencing a UFO invasion.

Surprisingly, there were no food stalls at the main Christmas market. Upon arriving I was searching for some semblance of holiday fare (my mind instantly brought me back to my last gluhwein and kartoffelpuffer experience in Germany), but this market was really more for presents and decorations. I did find a stand that sells nuts (the kind they carmelize) in the little Christmas market just south of Sol in front of Cine Ideal. And of course there are lots of bars and restaurants in this area to top off the night with some wine or hot chocolate.

Enjoy the holiday season, everyone!

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”.