Shana came to Madrid in 2009 for a brief summer study program and couldn’t stay away for long. Immediately after finishing university, she came back in September 2010 and has since been spending her time navigating the English language with primary school children and constantly rediscovering all of the charms that captured her for the first time.

While I am of the firm belief that Madrid is a fantastic and beautiful place in all seasons, all bets are off once the crisp autumn air rolls into the city. The leaves change, the oppressive summer heat subsides, and the siesta begins yielding to an afternoon stroll through the always enchanting Parque Retiro. However, to fully enjoy this season, you must first equip yourself correctly. Everybody–guiri or otherwise–wears scarves here, both for form and for function in the colder months. Long or square, thick or thin, solid or patterned? They are the perfect accessory when the wind begins to blow, not to mention they might make you look a little bit more Madrileño! Don’t have any scarves? Don’t worry. Head over to El Rastro next Sunday morning and you will find scarves of all patterns and colors, starting as cheap as 2€ each.

A Madrid autumn also comes with plenty to do. Every year in late October/early November, Madrid’s Jazz festival begins and brings world-famous names and acts to the capital city. Individual tickets begin around 10€, with shows held in the Auditorio Conde Duque (Metro: Noviciado), Teatro Fernán Gomez (Metro: Colón), and Teatro Circo Price (Metro: Atocha). This year, the festival runs from the 2nd of November to the 4th of December and is sure to entertain.

A great place to see the fall colors is Aranjuez, just south of the city. A quick cercanías train ride from Atocha, Aranjuez is a charming town with good food, a grand palace, and incredible gardens. While this town is often visited in the summer via its famous Strawberry Train, the gardens are best viewed after the summer heat disappears and the orange leaves begin scattering themselves along the walkways. Be sure to bring your camera with a fully-charged battery, because maxing out your memory card on this journey is a given.

If you’re more of a summer person, don’t fret–the warm weather will be back before you know it. Until then, bundle up with one of your newly-purchased scarves and return to enjoying sangria’s cold-weather cousin, the ever-reliable vino tinto.

Guiri Guest Julie is ready for a change from being a project manager that works from home and has written about an element that is preparing her for the next step: Certifying her Spanish language skills. She is South African by birth and has lived in various European countries before settling in Madrid in early 2010 with her husband.

After almost two years of living in Madrid I have finally decided to put my Spanish language skills through their paces. For better of worse I am taking the 4-hour official Spanish government’s language test for foreigners, the DELE on November 18. The exam has a number of levels from basic/initial to superior so there is something for everyone.

Now you might be asking why bother take this exam, you are already in Spain and learning as you go, why spend the time and money (its not cheap, most levels are a bit over 100 euros) to take an official exam?

I have two main reasons for doing the DELE:

- Prove you ‘Habla the language’: If you don’t plan to settle in Spain forever, you will be able to take this internationally recognised certification with you to demonstrate your Spanish language skills wherever you might go next. It’s also a great way to add your new skills onto your CV in very professional way (as opposed to adding a line- lived in Spain, speak Spanish I promise).

- Learn Spanish faster: Lets be honest there is nothing like an exam to get us to work harder. I take regular Spanish lessons but if I don’t do my homework or forget the grammar from the week before, so what? This exam deadline is a way to motivate me to concentrate harder in class, make more effort to speak to locals and study all those complicated grammatical rules (imperfecto del subjonctivo anyone?)

You need to register by 14 October for the November exam but if this is a bit too soon then why not register for the May exam and give yourself a good couple of months to prepare?

There are Spanish examination centres all over the city where you can register and take the exam. Once I have taken the exam and received the results I’ll update you all on how it goes. I am taking Level B1 which I’m told is relatively easy for anyone who’s lived in Spain for a bit. For all those who speak Spanish fluently I’d suggest Level B2 or C1. And for anyone new to Spain and to Spanish, a couple of months of study should allow you to take A1 or A2 exams.

 

When moving to Madrid, or any new place for that matter, everyone has a long list of to-do’s once they arrive and a variety of concerns about their new home city.  For those of us with specific dietary needs, it can be daunting not knowing what food will be available – especially when the traditional foods clash with our requirements.  Coming from New York City where absolutely everything seems available within walking distance at any time of day, I wondered how Madrid would stack up and if indeed its famous hospitality would extend to accommodating people with special diets.  Luckily, with very little exploration I found a variety of options with the city center.

I have been gluten free for a year now and packed my carryon with gluten-free crackers for my flight over, but I definitely didn’t have enough to last me long after my arrival.  My first trip to the supermercado at Cortes Ingles brought a wave of relief … a large “Sin Gluten” (without gluten) section sat right up front.  In fact, Cortes Ingles has a large variety of gluten-free, lactose-free, and health food products.  The selection varies based on which store you visit, but both the shops between Callao and Sol metro stops have good sized special foods sections.  The shop at Nuevos Ministerios is the largest and most diverse I have found so far.  Other supermarket options for celiacs and those with gluten sensitivities are OpenCor, who have a similar but smaller selection than Cortes Ingles, and Mercadona, who have shops all over Spain.

If you’re looking for a more intimate shopping experience, Nature and Clark is a gourmet market located just south of Calle de Fernando VI on Hortaleza (on the border between Malasaña and Chueca).  I wandered in recently and was surprised at the variety of dietary needs the small store covers.  While the selection of gluten free products is quite small, they also sell Kosher and macrobiotic supplies.

So those should keep you covered for dining at home, but what about eating out?  Spanish tapas are world-renowned and tapas restaurants are scattered all over Madrid.  Figuring out what tapas dishes you can or cannot eat takes a few questions and some trial and error.  If you’re gluten-free, stay away from croquettas (even the filling contains flour), empanadas and the tostas but feel free to dig into tortilla española or tortilla de patatas as it is called in some parts of the country (people have had to re-assure me over and over again that it’s just eggs and potatoes), patatas bravas (spicy potatoes), gambas (shrimp), pimientos del padrón (peppers) and of course the jamon (ham)!  And if you’re craving a little taste of America, don’t fear … McDonalds has gluten free bread available for their hamburgers!

Having to skip the pan and empanadas is frustrating at times; however, I think our vegetarian friends have a tougher go of it in the land of jamon!  Some suggestions for vegetarians can be found in Alison’s post Viva la Vida – Vegetarian Style.

I would love to hear any other great restaurants or shops that you have found.  Feel free to share in the comments!

Some purchases from A loja do gato preto

When moving to Madrid, it’s impossible to bring everything you need for your new home along with you plus it’s fun to mix things up a bit for each new place.  When looking for home supplies and decorations, it’s easy to hit up one of the many Cortes Ingles mega-markets for a one-stop shopping experience; however, there are lots of great home stores scattered around Madrid.  I recently found a few in the Salamanca barrio and the prices are great at the moment during the season of rebajas!

A loja do gato preto was a wonderful find during a stroll one afternoon down c/ Velázquez.  They have a wide selection of home decorations and are a great choice if you like bright colours.  I saw some yellow, blue and purple buddha statues, intricately painted lanterns and a wide selection of photo frames.  They also have useful but good-looking tools like dishracks, spoon holders and trivets and quirky japanese geisha soap dispensers.  The prices are right too … I snagged a couple of medium bowls for €2.50 and placemats for just €1.90 each (the bright buddha heads were €24.90 and I was really tempted!).  I will definitely be going back to and will try my best not to buy everything in the shop!

Just around the corner on Calle de Hermosilla (just a block north of the Serrano metro stop) are some other well-known shops such as Habitat, which sells contemporary furnishings and decorations.  They had a wonderful display setup downstairs with ideas for your outdoor space … I love the orange folding chairs, they would be perfect for a little Madrid terraza!  Continue a bit further down the road and you will find outposts of Zara Home and Zara Home – Kids.  A slightly cheaper option is Butlers who had a wide selection of games and kid-friendly decorations along with a wide selection of nautical themed decor … perfect for decorating a beach house!

It’s exciting moving into a new home and I am pleased to find such fun shops here in Madrid!

A loja do gato preto: C/ Velázquez, 24 – 28001 Madrid / 34 91 577 16 07

Habitat: C/ Hermosilla, 18 – 28001 Madrid / 911812600 OR Paseo de la Castellana 79 – 28046 Madrid / 917 705 442

Zara Home & Zara Home Kids: C/ Hermosilla, 16 – 28001 Madrid / +34 915776445 (check their website for other locations)

Butlers: Calle de Hermosilla, 13, 28001 Madrid

Almost five years ago, in a Madrid bar, I made small talk with some tall Spanish guy for 15 minutes. Only in town (country?) for three days, I thought nothing of it – I didn’t even remember the conversation the next morning. A couple of days later, however, I was reminded of the encounter when I received an email from a fellow named Jacobo. Apparently I’d given the stranger my email address – not usually my style, so I’m going to blame it on the sangría and chupitos.

Many, many emails and three months later, I returned to Spain from San Francisco to scope out the Spaniard. Potentially a very foolish move on my part, but I took my chances. And I suppose it went well because I made EIGHT trips to Spain that year and several more to meet up in the US. A year and half later, I finally made the big move to Madrid.

I’ve lived in the Spanish capital for over three years now. At first I dedicated myself solely to my previous career (marketing for tech companies) learning quickly that there was no shortage of interest in Americans from Silicon Valley who’ve worked for big tech companies. Soon enough, however, I discovered my real passion was for travel and writing. So while I continue to keep one foot in the tech world, I relish in developing my own site (La Tortuga Viajera), as well as focusing on travel writing.

A year ago, Jacobo and I got married (translation: finally ended the residency/visa debacle that made our lives H.E. double hockey sticks for two years). We said our “I do’s” and “sí’s” in a 700-year-old monastery in Guadalajara, celebrating with some 120 Spaniards and 40 Americans.

I also can now happily say that Madrid very much feels like home. For the first year or so I missed the US terribly, grumbling at every turn over Spanish inefficiencies – the gym is closed on a random, unimportant holiday? My birth certificate isn’t valid if it wasn’t issued within the last six months?? The bank isn’t even open on Saturdays????? But now, my heart hurts whenever I leave the Iberian Peninsula – I’m literally incapable of surviving without a daily dose of manchego cheese or weekly intake of tortilla española and croquetas (troubling, I know). Now if only my Spanish husband wanted to stay in Spain – he wants to move to San Francisco. Fíjate.