Surviving Madrid’s Prado Museum, Part 1 - Intro

22 November, 2007 | In: Culture, Cibeles | Comments: 4

by Niels Klok

Warning: this post may offend Prado evangelists and/or defenders of its untouchable status.

The PradoRight, the Prado. Without a doubt, this is Madrid’s business card for art lovers – or any bus load of tourists, really. Known throughout the world as a must-visit, the museum contains a wide array of paintings up until the 18th century, with a strong focus on the Holy Trinity of Spanish painters (being Goya, Velázquez and El Greco). Flanking its very own avenue (indeed, the “Paseo del Prado”), the sheer volume of art presented to the public is overwhelming in its own right.

And this is exactly one of the Prado’s problems. No matter the sophistication of your art stamina, Madrid’s most lauded museum simply contains too much. I myself generally call it a day after 1½ hours max, and have a strong preference for anything exhibition-related to be a one-hour affair. Now, these numbers may vary from visitor to visitor, but regardless of your art-absorbing capabilities, I tend to propose a “Power Prado” tour, either as an orientation or as a means to tick the mother of Madrid museums off your list.

So, to turn your visit into a Power Tour, remember the following:

The key to the Prado, in my humble opinion, is strategy. The building lacks a clear structure, which may lead to you getting lost, coming across the same works twice or three times, thereby wasting valuable time and energy. Upon entering, get yourself one of those maps (Plano del Museo) and keep it handy at all times. Before embarking on your tour, please remind yourself to keep up the pace. Walk briskly, and try not to linger in places; this breaks your strategy and eats away your scarce energy resources – if necessary, mark the interesting spots on your plano and save them for a follow-up visit. Whenever encountering an art form that is not painting, savour it – they are few and far between, and will recharge your batteries for paintings yet to come. And, strange as it may seem, start with the basement (sótano) and move your way up systematically to the second floor (planta segunda) so as to build up momentum for the great Goya.

Next in our Prado series: the ‘Full Prado Power Tour’
Opening times and admission details
Metro: Banco de España. Address: Paseo del Prado, see map below: Read more »

Madrid Neighbourhoods: Malasaña - Still Putting the Mad in Madrid?

20 November, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Shopping in Madrid, Malasaña | Comments: 4

by Faye Davies


The mindless graffiti and affable goths seem a lukewarm legacy of La Movida Madrileña (the capital’s post-Franco wild years) which kicked off in Malasaña in the Seventies. However, some of Spain’s cultural revolutionaries (the ones who didn’t die of heroine overdoses) are still to be spotted slinking around the barrio, ensuring that the party spirit lives on. Meanwhile, gentrification has led to some great shopping and eating options.

Drinking: In summer, the Plaza Dos de Mayo is the perfect spot for a caña. In colder weather, try the bars in its vicinity, such as El Maño (C/ Palma 64), which serves good wine in art(y) deco surroundings. For those craving a taste of the Malasaña celebrated in Almodóvar’s early films, La Vía Láctea (C/ Velarde 18) provides a dose of historical hedonism.

Eating: Tasty modern tapas can be gorged at a decent price at Ojalá; but the barrio also boasts some fine international restaurants, such as La Granja de Said (Moroccan; C/ San Andrés 11), La Catrina (Mexican; C/ Corredera Alta de San Pablo 13), Xin (Asian), and Palermo Viejo (Argentinean; C/ San Joaquín 5).

Shopping: One of Malasaña’s main arteries, C/ Corredera Alta de San Pablo heaves with everything from wool (at no. 12) to state-of-the-art trainers (Tabula Rasa, at no. 33); while on nearby streets, quirky boutiques like Ioli (bespoke shoes) and Corachan y Delgado (vintage designer clothes; C/ Valverde 42) are popping up all the time. C/ Manuela Malasaña is great for gifts, and C/ Palma is the street for record shopping.

See map below for the addresses mentioned above (click on the markers!): Read more »

Art from Banks

19 November, 2007 | In: Culture | Comments: 2

by Julie Espinosa

Banks in Spain actively promote the arts and this is something you can take advantage of. Perhaps in an effort to improve their image as mean and filthy rich, Spanish banks work actively on social responsibility — from constructing old folks’ centers to promoting energy conservation or other social causes.

This obra social and obra cultural (social and cultural work) extends to restoration of old buildings and sponsorship of temporary art exhibits–often publicly showcasing art from the bank’s permanent collection.

Whether banks should have these considerable collections–thousands of artistic works or what some call the people’s cultural heritage–is another question.

During my time in Spain, I have seen really great exhibits of Chagall, Latin American art, and retablos, all made possible by banks, and all for free.

Check listings of art exhibits from banks and other institutions in the weekly publication la Guía del Ocio (1€ at newsstands) under “Exposiciones” or at their site here. Also, the following banks have a strong presence in Madrid and permanent exhibit spaces:

See map below for the BBVA and Casa Encendida: Read more »

Great American Burgers in Madrid!

16 November, 2007 | In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants | Comments: none

by Amy Menchhofer

Burgers in Madrid!Check out the Guia del Ocio in search of a good restaurant and you’ll find all manner of cuisines - creative, imaginative, fusion, modern. But sometimes the best things are the simplest. Flawlessly baked cookies, a well-mixed cocktail, and a perfectly made burger. I can’t help you with the first two, but if what you are craving is a good old American burger, make your next stop Alfredo’s Barbacoa.

Started by a New Yorker, the locale screams Americana; every imaginable surface is covered in red, white, and blue. But don’t be put off by the décor or plastic plates. The food is well made and the service attentive. Start off with the onion rings and coleslaw but leave room for the main course. While Alfredo’s also serves BBQ ribs, chicken, and steaks, the star of the show is definitely the hamburger.

Coming in both normal and super size the burgers are made to order – top yours with ingredients such as chili, barbecue sauce, or cream cheese, as well as the usual suspects of bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and grilled onions. On the side get a baked potato with… sour cream! To finish things off, desserts are good – the brownie is the best of the offerings. Coffee is served only on certain days (check the note on the menu).

One last note, to avoid a long wait be sure to make reservations. Lunch time sees a large crowd (and a long wait) by about 2:30. Check out one of the two locations. Both are closed on Mondays. Burgers are around 6.50€ for the normal and 8.00€ for the super.

Metro: Retrio. Lagasca, 5. Tlf: 915766271

Metro: Cuzco. Juan Hurtado de Mendoza, 11. Tlf: 913451639. See map below for both locations: Read more »

Madrid Neighbourhoods: Lavapiés… Going out, eating, drinking, and bohemian cool!

15 November, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Lavapies | Comments: 1

by Katie Goldstein

Lavapies life

Lavapiés is the cultural melting pot and most bohemian barrio of central Madrid. It’s also one of the older Madrid neighborhoods, having been the Jewish quarter until their expulsion in 1492. On any given day you’ll run across African, Bengali, and Moroccan immigrants as well as twenty- and thirty-somethings with an alternative vibe. People go to enjoy ethnic food—mainly Indian restaurants and kebab joints—as well as great Spanish bars and cafés and a relaxed atmosphere. You’ll find that it’s not as much of a place to be seen as La Latina or as hip as Malasaña—Lavapiés grooves to its own rhythm.

Some of the many places to go:

  • Nuevo Café Barbieri—there’s nothing “new” about this 1901 café with mirrored walls, impossibly high ceilings, and red velvet. The focus here is on drinks: from teas and chocolates to cocktails and beers. Evenings there’s live music in a back room.
  • Melo’s—always filled to the rafters, and with good reason. One reason is the zapatilla: a mountain of lacón and melted cheese on two enormous slices of toasted bread for only 8 euros. Feeds four easily. The croquetas aren’t half bad, either. Take out available—you’ll surely be more comfortable. Open evenings (from 21h) Tues.-Sat.
  • El Granero de Lavapiés—vegetarian food at a very reasonable price. Open daily for lunch; dinner Fridays only.
  • La Grándola—jarras of beer and peanuts, all while seated on kegs.
  • La Escalera de Jacob—food and drink plus cultural center of sorts, with live music and theater.
  • La Librería de Lavapiés—“alternative bookstore” with books in foreign languages. Open Sundays!
  • Indian food—I’m partial to Bombay Palace on C/ Ave María, but everyone has a favorite. Many of these places are actually run by Bangladeshis, making authentic Indian unlikely in many spots.
  • Kebabs—I’m a fan of Alquezar on C/ Lavapiés.
  • Calle Argumosa—this tree-lined street is full of bars and terrazas and a very pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

Keep in mind that Lavapiés is surrounded by great cultural institutions: Museo Nacional Reina Sofía, La Casa Encendida, Teatro Valle-Inclán, and Cine Doré. It’s also close to the Sunday morning Rastro, and a less-crowded alternative to bar hopping in La Latina after the market.

What are your favorite spots in Lavapiés?

(Want to read about trials and tribulations of buying and renovating a run-down flat in Lavapies? Check out Errant in Iberia. For a detailed map of all the places mentioned above, see below…) Read more »

What are Tapas? Where is the best place for Tapas in Madrid?

14 November, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, How To's / Where To's, Travel tips | Comments: 8

by Marina Diez

Tapas in Madrid

A tapa is a little bit of food to have with your drink. There are several stories about the origin of tapas, but in my opinion, the main objective was clearly to avoid people getting too drunk while drinking wine or beer. This little bit of food can be anything from a small, hot plate of garlic mushrooms or mussels, to a couple of slices of cheese or ham with bread, or some olives.

Where is the best place to eat Tapas in Madrid?

Right, there are two types of bars: the ones that serve a free tapa each time you order a drink, like El Tigre, and the ones that don’t.

So, lets say it’s the first time that my friends and I drop by a certain bar. We’ll only order drinks first, and wait to see if a free tapa comes along. If it doesn’t, then we’ll order one or two tapas from the menu, or a couple of raciones (a larger plateful of the same food), to share between all of us. Then, when we have all finished our food and drinks, we’ll make a move on to the next bar and repeat the operation all over again.

This process usually goes on until we are all full up of good food and delicious wine. This idea of tapas-hunting from bar to bar is what is known in Spanish as Ir de Tapas. A great area for this is La Latina, with La Taberna del Almendro, Toma Jamón, and one of our favourites, La Taberna Miranda, being great places to start. But of course you can ir de tapas in other areas of Madrid, like around Plaza de Santa Ana, Chueca, or even in your local neighbourhood.

For more on the origin of tapas and a trip to a couple of great tapas bars in Madrid, check out this Cuisine from Spain tapas podcast, and the Notes from Spain Tapas of the Week.

How to avoid looking like a tourist in Madrid

13 November, 2007 | In: Shopping in Madrid, Travel tips | Comments: 5

by Julie Espinosa

What to wear... or not!

To avoid obviously looking like a tourist, choose a sleek bag over a fanny pack or backpack (men may opt to carry man-purses). Don’t ever wear socks with sandals or white socks, period.

To really blend in, you’d do well to emulate current trends (as filtered down from the annual Cibeles fashion week) by checking out stores like Zara, H&M, Mango, Sfera and Pull and Bear. To score cheap duds from Zara, scour their outlet, Lefties (Calle de las Carretas, 10, Metro: Sol). Right now, tailored bermuda shorts or the shirt-dress with stockings look is popular, but it probably won’t be next season.

In general, the look about Madrid is mostly classy and rarely ostentatious. No matter what your age, you would do well to dress up for going out at night, when madrileños like to strut their stuff with a more sophisticated “European” look, which roughly translates to a darker palette and dressier footwear.

But by no means does “European” exclude jeans; today’s under-40 crowd will wear jeans almost anywhere. For more mature travelers, a matching pant-suit would give women good mileage and khaki slacks would prove versatile for men.

Accessory tip: All women wear scarves or shawls in Madrid, from roughly September through April. Older, traditional madrileñas will drape an embroidered shawl around their shoulders to ward off a chill, whereas college-aged women tie pashmina-type scarves—available in practically any color or pattern—around their necks.

Related reading: What Shoes Should I Wear in Madrid?

Info: Zara’s outlet, Lefties, is at Calle de las Carretas, 10, Metro: Sol (See map below): Read more »

Around Madrid: a Day Trip to El Escorial

12 November, 2007 | In: Beyond Madrid | Comments: 4

by Faye Davies

El EscorialCloser than Segovia and less mercenary than Toledo, El Escorial makes an absurdly easy day trip from Madrid. Go when it’s fine and you can combine nature, culture and fine dining in the time it takes to reach the front of the queue at the Prado. Well, almost.

As the train draws you into the foothills of the Sierra, it’s hard not to be awed by the prospect of the town’s main draw, the sixteenth century monastery. Best visited at 3pm when the Spaniards have fled for lunch, this austere building still houses many of the masterpieces selected by Velasquez for Philip IV, including Titian’s Last Supper. Leave enough time for the basilica, which makes most Spanish cathedrals look like theme parks.

When hunger strikes, avoid the photo-flaunting restaurants and head for Plaza de la Constitución, favoured by the locals. La Clementina (no. 9) serves high quality modern Spanish food, with the option of sitting outside when it’s sunny.

The tourist office opposite the monastery is helpful and friendly, and can provide details of other attractions, as well as walking routes. The most popular takes you up to La Machota Alta and back again, on a two-hour trek though pine forest - the perfect antidote to three glasses of Rioja.

Trains leave from Atocha every hour, Cercanías line C-8a (see Renfe site). Adult return 5.50€. Monastery entrance (without guide) 8€. See here for opening hours. See the map below for El Escorials location, north-west of Madrid: Read more »

Where can I watch the NFL and MLB in Madrid?

9 November, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Travel tips | Comments: 1

by Amy Menchhofer

It’s Sunday, and with your head still ringing from last night’s marcha, all you really want is to flop in front of the TV and watch some sports. You reach for the remote control but then it hits you – you’re in Madrid. Where can you go to watch some good old American sports?

The places listed below, as well as many others, regularly show NFL games (including special parties for the Super Bowl), as well as the MLB playoffs, and the occasional college game. Most have a posted schedule. Remember that a major soccer game trumps all else - the TVs will most surely be tuned to that.

  • O’Connell St., off Sol, boasts numerous TVs, bucket-o-beer specials, and regular Sunday night football showings.
  • James Joyce, near Plaza Cibeles, has big-screen TVs and an extensive menu including American pub fare like chicken fingers and club sandwiches.
  • Bo Finn, in Barrio Salamanca offers sports in a tranquil setting and with a menu similar to the James Joyce (plus onion rings and nachos).
  • Lokua, in the Principe Pio station, is ideal for the group with both those who want to watch the game and those who want to watch the people. That it’s also a trendy lounge and nightclub says it all. Creative menu and cushy sofas.

You can also watch the games in the comfort of your own home. With digital cable and satellite TV keep an eye out on Teledeporte, Sportmania, and EuroSport - you’ll commonly find American football, baseball, and hockey.

So take your pick - at home or out at the bars you’ll have little trouble getting your fix of American sports.

Addresses - Click the markers on the map below for full details of the bars mentioned above: Read more »

Where to see Cinema in English in Madrid

7 November, 2007 | In: Culture, How To's / Where To's | Comments: 1

by Katie Goldstein

If you’re anything like me you can’t stand watching a dubbed film. Nearly all foreign films that arrive in Spain are dubbed, allowing the audience to sit back and pretend that the film actually is in Spanish, even though the voices are all off and the lips moving don’t match up with the sound.

But fear not—in Madrid we are lucky to have a healthy number of versión original cinemas, and good ones at that. My favorite is Cine Ideal, conveniently located between Sol and Tirso de Molina, just a stone’s throw from good food and drink in La Latina or Lavapiés for before or after the film. Ideal is in a gorgeous historic building, but has modern facilities and nine screens, meaning that there’s nearly always a good selection of films from which to choose.

The other V.O. hotspot in the city is just north of Plaza de España, which is home to four (yes, four) V.O. cinemas. Cines Princesa, the largest, is in the so-called Plaza de los Cubos (because of a statue of cubes in the center). Under the plaza there’s another one with only two screens, but on Martín de los Heros, behind the plaza, there are two more: Renoir Plaza de España and Golem. Keep in mind that all films are subtitled in Spanish, no matter what the original language.

There are several other V.O. cinemas in this town, though; clicking on this page will bring up a list of all the cinemas in the city (you’re looking for the ones with V.O. after the name) and a click on any of them will bring up the current week’s showings.

To book tickets in advance on-line, check out - pick your seats and pay from home, then pick up the tickets on arrival by swiping your card through a special machine in the foyer.

Ioli: Stride in Style

6 November, 2007 | In: Shopping in Madrid, Malasaña | Comments: 7

by Faye Davies

IoliDragon slayers’ convention? First dinner with a prospective mother-in-law? If you’re the kind of girl who likes to have the perfect footwear for every occasion, Ioli might just save your life. Because this is the only place I know in the world, let alone Madrid, where you get to design your own shoes.

Walk into this tiny boutique in the heart of Malasaña and you face a back wall stacked with rainbow-coloured leather, and fabric featuring every pattern from classic gingham to golden flies. When you’ve achieved the daunting task of settling on a tonal combination, you choose – with the help of some plastic models – your heel.

Whether the end result is a pair of funky pumps or foxy stilettos, your next challenge will be to resist commissioning a handbag and gloves to match. You could always treat your boyfriend to a trip to the recently opened men’s shop just around the corner on C/ San Andrés instead.

Yeah, like that’s going to happen.

Open Mon-Sat 11-14:30, 17:30-21:00. Tel: 91 521 00 22. Shoes from around 160€
Metro Tribunal. Calle Espiritu Santo, 1. See map below: Read more »

Buying Art at Madrid’s Rastro Market

5 November, 2007 | In: Shopping in Madrid, Rastro | Comments: none

by Amy Menchhofer

Rastro art

Sidewalk merchants are an inherent part of Madrid life. The top manta vendors offer sheet after sheet of DVDs, sunglasses, and bags. Late night Sol sprouts folding tables tempting the temporarily buzzed with a jolt of energy in the form of a bocadillo (roll). Gypsies sell fruit on the street corners. And there is, of course, the mother of all street bazaars - the Rastro. The market appears on Sundays and holidays and offers everything you can imagine within a few short, crooked city blocks. Some people adore the Rastros’ ambience and make it a weekly adventure. Others can only muster the energy to go when friends and family come to town. But whatever your Rastro-views may be, it is an essential stop if what you’re looking for is art.

Be it posters for a recently-arrived expat or original paintings for that perfect souvenir, the Rastro’s “art street” has what you’re looking for. Wander up Calle de San Cayetano and you’ll find all manner of artwork, from still-lifes and cityscapes to mosaics and lithographs. As you stroll along you’ll find a pencil sketch of the Plaza Mayor for 3€ next to an original mosaic of the Virgin Mary that will set you back 600€ and will barely fit on the Metro. What makes the purchases even more special is that because you frequently buy them straight from the artist, they sometimes have a story to tell. Years ago when I paid just 40€ for this pair of paintings, I also discovered that the artist dedicates himself solely to painting scenes from Cevantes’ Don Quijote in the hope that foreigners will learn to share his love for that story. It worked, since we bought six different paintings from him.

So next time you are looking for art, give the museums a rest and wander the Rastro.

Metro: La Latina / Tirso de Molina. The Rastro is on Calle Ribera de Curtidores and surrounds. Art street is Calle de San Cayetano. See map below: Read more »

Emma y Julia, and Italian Restaurants in Madrid

2 November, 2007 | In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, La Latina | Comments: none

by Niels Klok

My friend has studied Italian, lived and interned in Italy, contributed to Italian dictionaries, and had an Italian boyfriend. Not surprisingly, he is just as infamous for his criticism of and pickiness about food as the Italians — Italian food, that is. When he selected an Italian restaurant (“even the handwriting on the menu is Italian, I recognize it!”) I was scared.

Italian food is not just a pizza or pasta with a load of tomato sauce. There are written and unwritten rules as to what qualifies as “true Italian”, and the slightest pinch of god-knows-what can make or break good relations. Emma y Julia, in the heart of La Latina, gets it right. It is run by an Italian family (perhaps the name refers to the daughters, serving the plates with a smile?) and the mama simply oozes Naples. The interior is rustic, the tables are small, the wines are good, and the food is fresh and simple – as it should be (there is quite a bit of should to Italian food; be that as it may, the mushroom tagliatelle is simply to die for!) There is true Italian coffee, served in true Italian style – Emma and Julia know the nearest Italian equivalent to every Spanish request (again, subtle differences, but they make all the difference). And should you want an even more intimate atmosphere, there are more tables in odd corners downstairs.

As we said goodbye to the family in a mixture of Italian, Spanish, Dutch and English (there are only so many languages you can use in one night without mixing them up), I looked at my friend and saw intense happiness. That was really all the proof I needed.

Tel: 913 661 023. Metro: La Latina. Calle de Cava Baja, 19. See map below: Read more »

Can I Use my Hair Dryer in Spain? - U.S. electrical appliances FAQ

1 November, 2007 | In: Travel tips | Comments: 3

by Katie Goldstein

Shortly after moving to Madrid, I plugged in an electric toothbrush charger from the U.S. with only a plug adapter. The friendly little green charger light didn’t turn on. And it never did again.

I hope that you all will be smarter than I was and read up before doing something like that. The main problem with bringing electronics from the U.S. to use here is the difference in voltage. The voltage in Spain (and most of Europe) is 220V/50Hz, whereas in the States it’s 110V/60Hz. More expensive electronics like laptops, iPods, and Lithium-ion battery chargers for digital cameras are conveniently dual voltage. For these items you only need a plug adapter (here the plugs are round pins instead of flat blades), which can be purchased in any ferretería (hardware store) for less than a Euro.

For everything else it’s just a little more complicated. Some small appliances, like hair dryers, are dual voltage—my mom’s had a toggle switch that allowed her to use it in Spain, though she says it blew a little differently. This may be the best option because the other choice for these smaller appliances is to buy a voltage converter, which don’t always work. I ended up with a European charger for my toothbrush after the manufacturer told me a converter wouldn’t even work.

Whatever you do, just don’t plug your hair dryer in with only an adapter! Have you ruined any appliances while on holiday abroad?

Xin: Pan-Asian Paradise in Madrid

31 October, 2007 | In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, Asian Food | Comments: 2

by Faye Davies

Xin: Pan-Asian Paradise

While heaven might not look like Xin, I’m crossing my fingers that if I ever get there, the food will taste as good. I don’t have enough praise for this restaurant. While the decor and ambiance are distinctly average, the food is divine.

For me, the steamed dumplings and tom-yum soup crown the starters menu. As for mains, I heavily recommend the steamed sea bass with lime sauce – a dish I’ve seen reduce people to tears; but basically you can’t go wrong. The steak strips with sesame and coriander, and monkfish with coconut also evoke strong emotions.

For those who can’t face one of the homemade deserts, there’s an extensive tea menu; and a good range of Asian beers – including Asahi and Singha – for the more alcohol inclined.

A final cheer for the service: the staff here are so attentive that last night the waitress tipped an entire tray of drinks while reaching to pick up a scarf dropped by my sister.

Open daily. Tel: 91 446 5888. Average price for two-course dinner and drinks 25€, menu del día 9.75€.
Metro: Bilbao. Calle Manuela Malasaña, 5. See map below: Read more »