Weekend in: Palencia

            The first reaction when I mentioned my impending trip to Palencia (using my close-enough Spanish pronunciation) was invariably, “oh, you are going to Valencia! I love the beach there, it’ll be great weather, etc.”

Nope. As the shirts from Palencia say, “PALENCIA (CON P).” I was on my way to the small city north of Valladolid in Castilla y León. While smaller than the major cities I’ve visited in Spain, this little metropolis has a few nice treasures up its sleeves.

The most known landmark is definitely the Cristo del Otero, an enormous statue on top of a hill, showing a tranquil Christ holding up his hands, as if blessing the city below (the rumor has it that the statue was supposed to have his arms spread wide, but that problems with funding created his current posture instead). Visiting it makes for a good view of the city, whether you drive up or walk up the various switchbacks that lead you up the hill, and at the top is a small museum dedicated to the artist and the process of building the statue that comes in at more than 20m high.

Downtown, you will find various churches and the enormous Catedral de San Antolín. On select days, they open the crypt below the church, and tradition has it that the water in the well down there is blessed. This time of year, there are weddings quite often, so at the smaller churches or even in the cathedral you may catch glimpses of very formal fashion; search GuiriGuide to learn more about how unique weddings are in Spain.

Outside of town, you can visit various small towns, from Dueñas (famous for an old abandoned building that supposedly is where Ferdinand and Isabella got married in secret, and for the house of Pepe Botella, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte) to Baños (famous for having a Visigoth-era church still standing, very possibly the oldest in Spain).

If you stop for an afternoon drink in the plaza next to San Pablo or one of the neighborhood bars, you will be pleasantly surprised at the small-town prices, often one or two euros less than the norm in Madrid.

Overall, while in no way a tourist hotspot, Palencia is a nice place to take a break from the big city and see authentic Castilla y León; the lack of tourism actually adds to the charm.

De Tapas Por Madrid 2012

We’ve told you about many Tapas crawls and food opportunities in Madrid, but this one bears mentioning for the next week in particular: until May 20th, De Tapas Por Madrid is an enormous tapas crawl with no less than 4 routes, each boasting between 15 and 30 spots in bars and restaurants.

Organized by La Viña, a business organization for restaurants in Madrid, and sponsored by Cruzcampo, the route makes ordering simple: each restaurant has one featured tapa, which comes with a mini-bottle of Cruzcampo beer (some restaurants offer both with and without alcohol), for €2.40.

If you are adventurous, I recommend just picking an area of the city that you like and finding a bar with a sign for “De Tapas Por Madrid” outside, and then going from bar to bar in that area. Inside, you’ll find maps of that particular route (there are four, based in different neighborhoods of the city). The maps have good quality photos and descriptions of the tapa offered in each area as well, so if you have dietary restrictions or just want to know what you are eating before you order it, you can pick and choose from the tapas suggested.

My first route this year has been the yellow route, where I visited three spots: Lhardy (an old and classily furnished delicatessen-type spot), Majaderitos Café (a more modern bar/restaurant on bustling calle Cádiz), and Grazie Mille Kitchen Bar (a cute and cozy Italian restaurant). I ate a salmon tartar dish, which I didn’t expect to like, but which was really savory and flavorful, a fried fish-in-sauce tapa, and (believe it or not) the signature spaghetti of Grazie Mille, packaged in a ball of tinfoil, no less. Do not expect large portions; while you may luck out with some of the tapas being generous, the ones I tried were reasonably small and packed more flavor than they filled me up.

After getting a tapa, you will be given a flyer with a code on it that you can use to vote for your favorite tapa on the route and also to enter a raffle for iPads and Cruzcampo products. After you try some out, post your favorite stops on the route in the comments of this GuiriGuide entry!

De Tapas Por Madrid


Viva San Isidro!

Click for official website

If you work in Madrid city, enjoy your day off this Tuesday, the 15th of May, and thank Madrid’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador. Also the patron saint of farmers, San Isidro is celebrated every year with a procession through the Carabanchel district of Madrid, as well as various activities in the center.

As San Isidro falls on a Tuesday this year, the celebrations begin today, with the pregón, or kickoff taking place in Plaza de la Villa tonight at 8:00pm. Once the Gigantes y Cabezudos (a few giant statues with enormous heads) arrive in Plaza de la Villa from Plaza Santo Domingo and Plaza del Oriente, San Isidro weekend will officially begin. After the pregón, head to Plaza Mayor to hear a great concert by the Madrid Symphonic Orchestra at 9:30pm.

My favorite part of San Isidro is the music. All weekend in Parque de Las Vistillas (metro Ópera), live music can be heard at practically any time of day. Every evening there will be concerts with a bit more flair and staging and the park will be completely full of people singing and dancing to traditional tunes. However if you want to hear something a bit more contemporary, make your way to the Espacios y Congresos at Puerta del Ángel for PlanetaMadrid. This free concert series celebrates a dedication to sustainable development and runs from approximately 5:00pm to midnight Saturday evening. There will be environmental and education workshops while eight bands play on one of the two stages. On Sunday another concert series, UniversiMAD, will be held in the same space. This is another concert series, but it’s only free to enter if you have an invitation, which you can find at FNAC and opentrada.com. Also, keep your eyes open at the smaller concert venues throughout the weekend, as many of them will be having free shows as part of the celebration.

I think the one of the best parts of the San Isidro program this year will be the fireworks show in Parque Retiro. At 10:30pm on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday, different pyrotechnics companies will prepare and ignite a spectacle of lights and music at the Alfonso XIII monument. And, like every year, this holiday would not be complete without a visit to La Pradera (also known as Parque de San Isidro, metro: Marques de Vadillo). There will be a different concert in La Pradera every night during the weekend as well as next weekend… don’t miss it!

All of this and much, much more is available during San Isidro weekend. Click here to download the official program and take advantage of your city’s patron fiesta!


Weekend in Catalonia

I’ve been to just about every last corner of Spain but, until recently, I hadn’t really spent a ton of time in Catalonia. Yeah, I’d done Barcelona, and bathed on the beaches of Begur (amazing!), but hauling my culo so far northeast just wasn’t high on my list of Iberian priorities.

But, a couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to spend several days traveling around the Catalan countryside like it was my own personal playground. In doing so, I realized it could quite possibly be one of my very favorite regions in Spain (err, or not in Spain, depending on who you talk to).

So let’s take a little journey around Catalonia, shall we?



My excursion to the northeast region began in the city of Girona. The hillside town dazzles new visitors with its houses hanging on the Onyar River’s edge, and vibrantly hued buildings that glow in a slew of faded candy colors. I weaved through the Jewish quarter, made a little lap around the cathedral, and finally into the restaurant Divinum, where I dined on a nine-course meal fit for a queen. It was quite the first stop, and all I could think was “it’s a shame we didn’t save the best for last.”



Uncertain that the visit could get any better, I took a winding journey up and over the hills to the coastal enclave of Cadaqués. Along the pebbled shores of neighboring Port Lligat, I watched the sunrise as fishermen came and went, wrapping myself in the sounds of the breeze as it rustled the rows of olive trees criss-crossing the hills. Even more intriguing than the sun rising in front of me, was the house perched on the shore’s edge behind me. It was the home of Salvador Dalí, which, the day before, I discovered hid all sorts of quirky treasures; a jewelry-wearing polar bear, decked-out mannequins, and precariously balanced egg sculptures.

Despite the area’s fame, the morning beach maintains the quiet rhythm of a pueblo untouched by the outside world. And perhaps this isn’t all that surprising given that until about a century ago, Cadaqués was only reachable by boat. Considering it takes a potentially queasy mountain drive to get there, it’s seems a boat arrival probably made good sense.



The final stop on my Catalán tour was Besalú, but I was confident that my ability to be impressed had run its course. But I was wrong again. Framed by a massive arched bridge, the pueblo hit me like a pile full of the ancient bricks it was made of. If first impressions were everything, then Besalú’s mission had been accomplished.

But there was so much more to the little town than just the initial wow-factor. Apart from the reliably cozy small streets, the city teased my imagination with peculiar chairs. Yes chairs. One hung dripping from a building wall. Another stood some ten feet tall like a giant’s high-chair. Then there was this two-dimensional one to the left, seated along the banks of the river.  I also visited the oddly awesome Museum of Miniatures, which, to its credit is a whole heck of lot more rad than I can even bring myself to admit (a high-wire walking ant with an umbrella? Wha???).


The villas

The highlight of all this gallivanting around Catalonia was that after the days passed trekking around spectacular towns, I spent nights in my own personal villas. Yeah, you read that right. I was brought on this journey by Charming Villas Catalonia, who housed me in a stone countryside mansion, a city center apartment, and a modern beachside paradise.

Essentially, each villa is like a little hotel-meets-palace, but authentic and private, and PERFECT for a decent-sized group of friends (say 6-10 couples, sometimes more) to rent out. Beyond that, they also come equipped with fat kitchens (i.e. nothing like what you’re used to in Madrid) that basically beg you to hit up the market and make yourself a feast full of local fare.

Yes, it’s true, Catalonia may be a pricey AVE-ride away from Madrid, but with Mediterranean beaches, a border with France, and nearby Barcelona, you can’t really go wrong. Do yourself a favor and don’t wait as long as I did to discover what the region has to offer.

How to Save Money in Madrid

For most people being a savvy shopper on their home ground and in their native tongue is second nature. However, moving to another country where you no longer speak the lingo means you often rely on the major department stores for shopping and the advice of well meaning friends regarding which companies to use for phones and utilities contracts.

So, until you learn the Spanish language, here are a few tips on how to save in Madrid:


  •  Most hotel lobbies will have a selection of MiniCards – these are aimed at tourists but some have great discounts for restaurants, leisure activities and more. So just pop into any hotel when you’re around town and pick some up.
  • Before you visit a museum, check out the conditions for free entrance. For example, at the Prado Museum it’s free if you’re a student under 25 years old, unemployed (need proof) or you’re under 31 and have a Youth Card. And if you don’t fall under any of these categories, Monday to Saturday from 18:00 to 20:00 and Sundays & holidays from 17:00 to 19:00 h it’s free for everyone.
  • Sign up to sites such as oportunista.com, put in your email and you’ll be informed of offers in the Madrid area. No prepayments, only discount coupons mainly for restaurants and beauty treatments.
  • And if you really want to buy something in El Corte Inglés, don’t forget to take your passport and request your 10% tourist discount – it’s available on items in plenty of departments.