Tapas Weekend in Logrono

December 20th, 2011 | Posted by JLynch in Jamie | Traveling outside Madrid - (0 Comments)
Last week I posted about the spectacular wineries I visited during my trip to La Rioja earlier this month. I wanted to expand on that post this week and dedicate some well-deserved space to one of the other highlights of our trip – the 24 hours we spent in Logroño, the capital of La Rioja.

The scene on Calle Laurel early Friday afternoon

We arrived at this small but lively city of 150,000 early on a Friday afternoon. My last minute Google research in the car indicated that the city had a street famous for tapas (Calle Laurel), so we decided to head there for lunch. To our surprise, it was absolutely crammed with people spilling out of the more than 40 bars that are on this tiny, pedestrian street. We strolled down the length of the calle (it only takes about a minute, to be honest) and quickly deduced how it worked – each bar has its own specialty tapa, which is advertised on the outside of the bar. Since trying the local specialty everywhere I go is one of my favorite pastimes, Raul and I went from bar to bar trying the advertised “especialidad de la casa” accompanied by a small copa de vino (Rioja of course).
The specialties in this tapas paradise included such things as patatas bravas, roasted garlic mushrooms on bread (this was the highlight for me), matrimonios (small sandwiches with anchovies and grilled peppers), zapatillas (a hunk of bread with olive oil, tomato and jamón serrano), and sepia. They ranged in price from about €1-3, making for some cheap meals. In fact, we had such a great time and enjoyed the food at lunch so much that we went there for dinner the same day. The wine was also easy on the wallet, making for arguably some of the best and most enjoyable eating and drinking I have ever done in Spain (which says a lot).

The glorious "champis" at Bar Soriano

Our time in Logroño was such a pleasant surprise. While we were there tapeando our hearts out, we were already planning our next trip. The combination of the architecture of the wineries, the wine itself and the tapas of Logroño made this a weekend I will never forget!

Raul and I took advantage of the puente this past weekend and decided to take a trip to Spain’s wine country – La Rioja. Although we have already written about La Rioja on two other occasions, since I went to three wineries that were not yet commented on, I could not resist writing another post. The province of La Rioja is about a 3-4 hour drive from Madrid, depending on what part you go to, and is jam-packed with bodegas. We visited four of them on our trip, and I have to say La Rioja is the best kept secret in Spain!  The fact that Spain has great wine is no secret, nor is the fact that a lot of it has denominación de origen from La Rioja, but I have met very few people (Spanish or otherwise) who have enjoyed first- hand this enchanting journey to the land of vino.

Our first stop was Marques de Riscal in the tiny village of Elciego. Over the past few years I have admired the architecture of this masterpiece in photos, so to see it up close and in person was surreal; nobody could take their eyes off of the stunning Frank Gehry design. The 1.5 hour tour included plenty of opportunities to take pictures and also explore the old and new parts of its impressive wine production operation. The total cost was €10 and included 2 glasses of wine at the end.

The next morning we headed to Bodegas Ysios in the nearby village of Laguardia. After seeing Marques de Riscal I was unsure I could be impressed again, but Ysios blew me away. Designed by Santiago Calatrava (the man behind the Ciudad de Artes y Ciencias in Valencia), the combination of the modern, creative edifice against the gorgeous backdrop of the Cantabrian mountains was mesmerizing. The tour of this boutique winery was also interesting, as it was all very new and state-of-the-art.  The €6 fee also included a glass of wine at the end, enjoyed along with a breathtaking view of the vineyards.

That afternoon, since we were en route to Logroño, we stopped at Bodegas Darien (just outside the Logroño city limits). Another winery, another magnificent, modern structure. Since they did not give tours in the afternoon, we were allowed to do a self-guided tour for €3 that included a glass of their reserva at the end. Even though the tour was less informative than the others (since it consisted of us walking around for a few minutes reading signs), the wine was our favorite of the bunch and the building was new and beautiful, making it well worth a visit.

We concluded our wine route the next day at Bodegas Muga in the village of Haro. Going into the trip, Muga was our favorite of the 4 wines, so we were especially excited for this one. The first thing we noticed was that Muga, as opposed to the other 3, had more traditional Spanish architecture as well as production. It was interesting for us to see the contrast and we really admired the history. The €6 fee included the tour (about 1 hour), 2 glasses of wine (we were able to keep the glasses afterwards) and a burlap wine bottle holder.

I highly recommend this trip to even the casual fan of wine and/or architecture.  My best advice would be to make reservations for tours in advance (we saw many people get turned away at the door for not having a reservation). In addition, the region is a bit spread out, so plan your route wisely.  Next week I will write a post about where we stayed and the various highlights of each pueblo (food, wine and otherwise) that really rounded out our fabulous trip.



Going to the doctor in Spanish

December 7th, 2011 | Posted by JLynch in Jamie | Medical - (3 Comments)

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 costipada (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.

Brunch Fix in Madrid

November 29th, 2011 | Posted by JLynch in Food and Restaurants | Jamie - (0 Comments)

After several years in Madrid, one of the things I really miss about home is Sunday brunch. There are a few places I have tried out in Madrid that serve this delightful meal, but they are either far too expensive or only serve brunch on Saturdays.  I am happy to report that this past weekend I found my new go-to brunch spot in the Conde Duque neighborhood in the form of Toma, a cute little American-inspired café (the chef is a fellow American).  It is refreshing to see a place with an American touch that is not in the heavy-handed form of a 1950´s hamburger diner (we have much more to offer to international cuisine, Spain).   

The deal is this: for €18 you get a generous plate of assorted pastries (think Danishes, mini doughnuts, etc.), a choice of coffee or tea, a choice of a mimosa, orange juice or bloody mary, and a choice of main dish. Main dish options include (among other things), eggs Benedict, breakfast burritos, French toast, an omelet, and something called a “Mountain Breakfast.” I had the breakfast burritos (two corn tortillas filled with scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese topped with guacamole…YUM), and Raúl had the eggs Benedict. The eggs Benedict were good but had a distinctly Spanish flair that my American brunch palette was not expecting (jamón serrano instead of Canadian bacon, and a hunk of regular pan instead of an English muffin); true brunch-purists might want to opt for another plate.  With the exception of the French toast (which comes with a side of fruit), all of the other plates come with these absolutely delicious roasted potatoes which, together with the bloody mary, were the highlight of our meal.

Rounding out the experience was the great overall feel of the restaurant. It definitely had a bit of a Williamsburg, Brooklyn vibe, from the chill music and laid-back retro décor to some of the clientele, which when I was there included several customers sporting the popular Williamsburg accessory of ironic nerd glasses. It felt just like home and I loved it!

Next time you have one of those Sundays that only a bloody mary can cure, I highly advise a trip to Toma.  Sunday brunch is very popular there, so reservations are highly recommended. 


Calle Conde Duque, 14

Some Perks of Working in Spain

November 22nd, 2011 | Posted by JLynch in Jamie | Work and Employment - (2 Comments)

For me, adjusting to corporate life in Spain was not the easiest thing in the world.  The concept of a two hour lunch, strolling in at 10.00 and taking various leisurely coffee and/or smoke breaks was completely foreign to me after having been “raised” in the trenches of Corporate America in New York, where eating a sandwich at my cube with one hand while typing a memo with the other were par for the course.   Now that I have been here for some time, however, I have been able to observe, and even take advantage of, the many benefits that having a permanent contract in Spain have to offer.  A few of the highlights include:

  • -When you get married, you get an extra 15 days of time off.  Fresh off my honeymoon, I can say this one has been the most significant perk for me. Counting down from the day of your wedding, you have 15 days (on top of your vacation time afforded by your Company) to enjoy and take time off. Since it is 15 días naturales, weekends are included in the count, but it is a wonderful treat nonetheless.
  • -If you are moving house, you also get a bonus day off.  I could have used this in NY, where I moved 4 times in 6 years!
  • -Employees are entitled to at least 30 natural days, or 22 business days, of paid time off per year.  That is pretty incredible, especially considering it is a minimum.
  • -Minimum permitted maternity leave is 16 uninterrupted weeks for the mother, and 13 natural days for the father.  On top of this, mothers are also permitted to take time off for breastfeeding. This can be taken in various ways, including 1 hour per day until the baby is 9 months, 2 half hour increments per day until the baby is 9 months, or two extra weeks of maternity leave tacked onto the end of the 16 weeks. Where I work, taking the extra two weeks seems to be the common choice, at least from a practical standpoint.
  •  -Parents have the right to take a jornada reducida, or shortened work day (with a proportional decrease in salary) to take care of their children. This right exists until the youngest child is 8 years old.  It is pretty common where I work for women to start working this shorter day once they have a baby.

Working in Spain is certainly not easy, but knowing there are benefits like these certainly helps to ease the pain.