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Month: February 2012

In search of snow

In search of snow

So close, yet so far…

Though it may not feel like it this week, believe it or not it isn’t summer in Madrid. Down here in the city it’s sunny and warm and it seems like spring has come a bit earlier than expected. However, a glance north to the sierra shows that it is indeed still winter! I’ve always traveled to Chicago at Christmastime, so a winter without snow is very strange to me. A few weekends ago I decided to hop on the Madrid Cercanías In search of snow

The C-8 train from Madrid leaves from Atocha or Nuevos Ministerios and makes it up to Cercedilla in just over an hour. I took this time as an opportunity to drool over Madrid’s skyline and desertlike surrounding areas while the folks around me rode along anxiously in their snow gear. Upon arrival in Cercedilla, I approached the ticket counter to ask about continuing train tickets to Navacerrada on the C-9 line to Cotos, a small mountain town on the border of the Comunidad de Madrid and Castilla-La Mancha. The Cotos station is currently closed due to some construction work, so Navacerrada was about as far as I could hope to get.

Ticket Counter Guy informed me and the 25 or so people in line behind me that tickets for the C-9 train could be purchased on the train that would be leaving in two hours. I took those two hours and walked up into Cercedilla to enjoy the sun and have a quick lunch. From town I enjoyed beautiful mountain views and quaint small-town charm, complete with ridiculously cheap cañas and abundant aperitivos. After two hours passed, I returned to the train station to find an enormous crowd of snow-seekers decked out in their finest cold-weather attire waiting to board the C-9 and purchase their tickets. A different train employee walked to the front of the crowd and announced that only those passengers holding return tickets for line C-9 would be allowed to board the train, and that there were no available tickets to be purchased. A few people boarded the C-9; the majority boarded the C-8 back to Madrid. The moral of this story: I should have bought my ticket in advance!

So, how do you do that? Well, the C-9 has different rules from the 4th of December to the 24th of April this year. This means it will be 100% mandatory that travelers purchase their return tickets in advance at Cercanías stations before leaving. The C-9 tickets are different from C-8 tickets, as they’re in a different transport zone. There are a few ways for you to purchase your ticket up to the snow:

  • If you have an Abono Transporte, you can ask for an ampliación at ticket windows that will allow you to pay the difference between your Abono’s zone and zone C2.
  • If you do not have an Abono Transporte, I recommend that you purchase an Abono Turístico, or a Tourist Pass. A return ticket from Madrid to zone C2 costs 12 euros, but a single day Tourist Pass in “Zone T” also costs 12 euros, and this will allow you to take as many forms of public transport as you like, all over Madrid, for one day.
  • If you have an Abono Transporte for zone C2, you must still reserve a space at the ticket window. In the winter, this route is extremely popular but there are very few trains running on the weekend. Be sure to get your seat!!

Now that I know this information, I suppose I’ll have to try again very soon… if the recent weather patterns mean anything for the snow on the mountaintops, we don’t have much more time to see snow!

Night Buses in Madrid

Night Buses in Madrid

Life at night is part of the appeal of Madrid, a time when the streets are often as busy as they are during the day, just with more laughter, shouting, and high heels. However, once the clock chimes 1:45, the trusty metro system turns into a proverbial pumpkin: if you aren’t on a train by this hour, there is a good chance there won’t be another one until 6 AM. Thus, understanding the Night Buses in Madrid. This system is an integral part of staying out late and getting home in one piece.

There are two types of night buses:

N-buses, or Los Búhos (the Spanish word for owls – cute, huh?): These are 24 buses named with an N in front, all of which center their operations on the Plaza de Cibeles in the center of town and radiate out. These are a good choice if you have been out in the center and everyone in your group is heading home in different directions without prior planning; the various bus stops around the plaza clearly advertise where each búho goes and can help you find the one that will take you home. After your first trip on a búho, save that number: if the N7 bus takes you home, start mentally noting the stops so you don’t always have to head back to Cibeles in order to catch the N7 home.

L-buses, or the Metro Replacement Lines: These buses run the approximate above-ground routes of the metros, stopping at or near as many metro stations as possible. These are good for a variety of reasons: they come every 15 minutes, their names correspond to the line number of the metro they replace, and they don’t force you to trek to Cibeles if you are hanging out a long walk away from there. Be aware, your particular metro stop might have been cut from this route (for instance, I lived at the end of the line 1 metro for a while, and the L1 bus doesn´t go all the way up there, and it is impossible to walk the difference.)

Obviously, taxis in this city are not that expensive, and it is always a good idea to cultivate friends in the middle of town who have comfy couches or extra bedrooms where you can sleep off a long evening of fiesta, but knowing your above-ground options allows you to prolong your night. A good option if you don’t have time to memorize a new bus route before a night out is to download the Android app that lets you look up bus routes near your location. Search here for buses and more information on the public transit system of Madrid.

Un buen cocido

Un buen cocido

Even wine can be madrileño

One way to become a true Madrileño is to learn the customs and try out the traditions while living in Madrid. This means constant strolling through Retiro, eating churros after dancing all night, and sipping wine on a terraza. In the winter months, one great madrileño treasure is the cocido madrileño, a stew-like dish that will warm your bones after the harsh winds rip through tiny streets in Huertas and leave you congelado.

The history of this meaty, chickpea-laden meal isn’t 100% clear – some sources say cocido first emerged as far back as the Middle Ages, common in lower-class homes due to the relatively inexpensive cost of the ingredients. During the time of the Inquisition, many pork products such as chorizo and morcilla were added to typical plates of cocido, forcing some Jewish citizens to integrate these meats into the meals in order to prove they were Christians and avoid expulsion. Once cocido was finally accepted by high society, it became a staple of Madrid’s bar and restaurant scene during the Spanish civil war and has remained that way ever since.

Last week I read about the Ruta del Cocido Madrileño – similar to the Tapas crawls that happen once or twice a year around town. Having never tried cocido anywhere but at home, I called up fellow Guiri Guide author Laura and we headed over to Taberna Madrid in Plaza Jacinto Benavente to try their mini cocido – a safe stepping stone into the wild world of cocido madrileño.

Cocido raro, but delicious!

Traditional cocido is often served in vuelcos, or “overturns”. Traditionally the ingredients all served separately – first the broth (caldo), then the vegetables, and finally the meat, which is where each vuelco comes in, as the pot is to be turned over to empty out that course’s contents. As you can see in the picture above, Taberna Madrid’s mini cocido is served all at once, in the form of a stew. This is less common than having it course-style, so if you want authenticity, demand it in vuelcos!

La Ruta del Cocido Madrileño runs until the end of March, giving you plenty of time to scope out your favorite restaurants and try a few different takes on this Madrid classic. Be sure to check the list of participating restaurants to see if you’ll need a reservation, and make sure you go on an eligible day. Cocidos range from 8€ to 35€ per plate, some with drink and dessert included. Aproveche!

Live music in Madrid

Live music in Madrid

Future Islands @ Moby Dick, 2010

Live music in Madrid is one of my absolute favorite things. A few days before I moved to Madrid, I attended the first-ever Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh, North Carolina and found myself suddenly infected with concert fever. Imagine my joy and surprise when one of my favorite groups from the festival announced a European tour and made a stop in Madrid! A few weeks later, there I was with my ticket in hand standing outside Moby Dick Club, with another ticket sitting at home waiting for a different show at Sala Heineken (now Sala Marco Aldany/Arena).

Now here I am, over a year later, with some bad news… it turns out there’s no cure for concert fever. I tend to buy concert tickets the way that some people might impulse-buy a jacket or a new book with a flashy cover, but I buy them in bursts. I’m currently safeguarding tickets to three shows in the next month, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Shana’s Guiri Guide to Music!

So where can you go to see these shows? We folks living in Madrid have a lot of options. Being a capital city, many bands make a stop here, often on their way to or from Barcelona, and these artists span across all genres of music. I’ve created a map in Google outlining some of my favorite spots and Madrid’s most popular places to see music. In this map, you’ll find a color-coded guide to venues of all sizes, including a few spots for some Flamenco shows in Madrid, all with a short description of the atmosphere and type of music you can find there. Please add your favorite concert venues in the comments and I’ll be sure to add them to my map!

A concert venue, however, is no good without having tickets to get into the show! There are multiple ways to get your hands on the hottest tickets in town:

  • FNAC Callao – Check out their mini box office on the corner of C/ Rompelanzas and C/ Carmen.
  • El Corte Inglés – Tickets are available at most Corte Inglés stores and at their website.
  • Atrapalo – This website often offers discounts on everything from concerts and plays to hotels and flights. With Atrapalo, you often print a reservation for the event and receive your ticket at the venue.
  • Ticketea – Similar to Atrapalo, a powerful event-browsing tool.
  • ServiCaixa – Buy your tickets online and pick them up at any ServiCaixa ATM!
  • Ticketmaster – Spain’s own Ticketmaster website. Available events also include bullfights and sporting events.

Feel free to contact me if you have any advice on curing concert fever, or if you need a concert-going buddy! What’s the best show you’ve seen in Madrid? Let us know in the comments!

A Guiri Finding Herself in Madrid: Meet Laura

A Guiri Finding Herself in Madrid: Meet Laura

I was visiting a Spanish friend the other day. As with many buildings in Madrid, I had to press a call button for the correct apartment and wait for the static and the crackle and the voice of my friend. Sure enough, I remembered the apartment number correctly, and a muffled voice said, “Eres tú?” When I responded in the affirmative, the door made a buzzing noise and I pushed my way in.

In English, the most common way to answer phones or doorbells is, “Hey, it’s me,” identifying the third person as yourself but still keeping the distance of “it”. In Spanish, “Sí, soy yo” is more common, and would sound a bit different in English: “Yes, I am (myself).” As if every time we try to say hello to someone, we have to be reminded of our identities.

It isn´t so obvious for me, though; I moved to Madrid a few short months after finishing university, and sometimes I wonder if I really am myself here. I love walking down the streets in the center, looking up at the architecture and around me at the people streaming past. I love eating croquetas and tortilla and squid sandwiches, and I love how the people in Spain chronically take hours to finish a meal because discussions of the political situation or of the difference between experimental jazz and swing music. I love visiting and revisiting the Reina Sofia museum because it is free on the weekends. These things are clearly integral parts of living in Spain, of living in Madrid, but are they part of me yet? I spent a much-longer amount of time living and breathing the culture of the United States, so even as I say “yeah, it’s me,” this person that happens to be located in Spain, I am still deciding if I am indeed part of Spain.

The truth is, however, that as the days and weeks go by, and I write different accounts of the things I explore and grow to love, I am becoming a part of Madrid, and so are you (or, if you aren’t here yet, take my word for it: you will become a part of Madrid!). Even though we still pronounce “j” like an English “h” and we awkwardly go for the handshake when other people go for the two kisses, guiris are part of the landscape here, making our mistakes and laughing over them. Eventually, we surprise ourselves when we realize we just had a whole conversation in Spanish or didn’t get lost on the way back to the Metro. For now at least, I guess I am myself here in Madrid, because I can’t help but have an identity of being here now, no matter how foreign I feel. I will keep looking in the unexpected places of Madrid and discovering that “my self” has been here for a while, just waiting for me to find it.