Finding Fresh Air

March 24th, 2012 | Posted by Laura in What's Happening Madrid - (0 Comments)

An unwanted layer between city and sky

When looking at the picture I have of myself on top of the mirador of the Palacio de Comunciaciones  in downtown Madrid (visit! It’s pretty!), most people say things like “wow, you are so lucky to live in such a pretty place!” My friend who studies environmental issues, however, pointed to the skyline and said, “look, photochemical smog.”

Air pollution is a part of life in Madrid, and it is made worse by the chronic lack-of-rain here. Yes, we have those beautiful blue skies, but sometimes our atmosphere (and our streets) need the cleaning that a good downpour can bring. While some reports from local government state that air quality is better than a decade ago, people with asthma and who spend lots of time outside biking or running can note that they encounter air that is less than pristine.

Whether it is because of weather or because standards for Madrid’s air pollution are not up to par, you should know that when you come to Madrid, for the first time, you may encounter a place lacking in fresh air. There are ways to escape or at least make the smog less present in your life in Madrid, and you don’t even have to wear a face mask, though some people here still wear them while biking or riding the metro.

1. Spend time in Parque del Buen Retiro, which is large enough and far enough from streets to have significantly different air quality than the surrounding streets. This has the added benefit of being a beautiful place to spend time and exercise, and you are less likely to end up wheezing at the end of your afternoon.

2. Speaking of running, if you can’t make it to Retiro, try doing your running in a gym; runners take in much more air than a person at rest, which means that during your outdoor run you are taking in many more pollutants, which isn’t good for your fitness at all.

3. Choose your outdoor paths to avoid highly-trafficked roads. The worst air pollution is, predictably, near high-traffic roads, and so you can use your commute to find a less-travelled path to wherever you need to go.

4. If you must be out and about, shoot for early morning. An early morning run is slightly less problematic for your lungs because of the ways pollutants circulate during the day.

For more information about air quality, including a map that shows up-to-date air quality around the city, visit http://www.mambiente.munimadrid.es/svca/index.php

Want to save some of these?

Living in Madrid can be pricey, despite it being a relatively inexpensive capital city. Groupon, LetsBonus, Planeo. Do these words mean anything to you? If not, they should. These three websites are incredible ways to experience a city for a very low price, and now they are all flourishing in Spain. They all have the same premise – bringing you great deals on everything from meals to classes and new experiences.

Groupon – Through this website, I’ve purchased a watch that I wear almost daily (6€) and a set of ten yoga classes at a center in northern Madrid (19€).

LetsBonus – This site, a partner of LivingSocial, has brought me together with 100 of my favorite photos, printed on paper and shipped to my door, for less than 10€.

Planeo – I just bought a Mexican dinner for two for just 19€, which includes a starter, two courses, dessert, and four drinks. Toma!

At each of their respective websites (in Spanish), you can sign up for daily emails that outline the day’s details. Just specify your preferred city – Madrid, of course – and get ready to start enjoying! Thanks to companies like these, a lot of up-and-coming bars, restaurants, and even some of the well-known theaters are jumping on the discount bandwagon as a way to advertise and keep business coming in. Has a money-saving experience led you to a new favorite spot? Let us know!

My life in Madrid is nothing if not a quest for new experiences, specifically of the culinary variety. Thus, when a friend invited me to try an Indian menú del día in Lavapiés, I was excited despite having only eaten Indian food once in my life.

For one thing, Menú del día is a brilliant invention when you are very hungry. They exist all over Spain, so you’ve probably already seen them, but for one price, you get to choose a first course (primer plato), main course (Segundo plato – how unintuitive),  and then bread, a drink, and sometimes dessert. All this, for somewhere between 8 and 12 euros in the majority of places, and you are stuffed with food but also still have a few coins to rub together.

Lavapiés was a special treat though. The restaurants practically come to you, because many of them have a promoter out front to talk to you, and talk you into eating at their restaurant. My friend and I entered Anarkoli, a restaurant that typified the 5 or 6 restaurants on the street Calle Lavapiés right next to the metro stop Lavapiés (means ‘footwash,’ literally). The first thing we got when we sat down was an appetizer of round wafer-like crackers (think a crispy version of a flour tortilla) with a bright green, surprisingly sweet sauce.

Then we surveyed the menu options; be prepared for the menu to have stipulations, such as only being valid on weekdays for the midday meal; since my first Lavapiés Indian-food experience, I have bent these rules in some of the restaurants. When someone approaches you and tries to get you to choose a particular restaurant, ask if they have the menu del dia at that time; if it gets you in the door, they may say yes.

At Anarkoli, with the vegetarian (8E) or the regular (10E) meal, you can have a soft drink, a bottle of water, beer, or wine. Then you generally get to pick from entrantes, or first courses: many of the restaurants have delicious vegetarian or chicken samosas, fried pockets made of thin, wonton-like crispy dough. I tried an onion bhajee at Anarkoli, which is a crab-cake shaped patty of fried onion and spices.

Next comes the main course, which can be anything from Chicken Tikka Masala to Sag Paneer to curry. Many people order rice instead of the menu-del-dia staple, bread; I personally often order garlic naan, a soft and savory round of pillowy bread, and pile my main course on top. It doesn’t get any points for classiness, but it is quite delicious.

Finally, you can have coffee or dessert, which can vary but the menu often includes a sugar-syrup soaked pastry that tastes like coconut.  Another frequent choice is mango lassi, a yogurt smoothie that is my personal favorite despite being somewhat overwhelming for people who don’t like sweets as much as I do.

If you can’t get enough of the Indian cuisine, you can also go across the street after dinner to pick up Indian cooking supplies, like jars of masala or various kinds of rice, at the grocery stores that line that side of calle Lavapiés.

 

Anarkoli

Lavapies 46

 

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 train to see some of the white stuff in the mountains.

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

February 24th, 2012 | Posted by Laura in What's Happening Madrid - (0 Comments)

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 bus 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.