Madrid Tango Dancing Time Warp - La Milonga del Centro

30 October, 2007 | In: Culture | Comments: none

by Niels Klok

Tango in MadridI have never attended any dance class in my entire life, so what in the world would I be doing at a tango salon? Tango not even being español… shouldn’t we be going to a flamenco joint?

Those were the sentiments that I entered Casa de Guadalajara with, dragged along by friends who had, years ago, caught the tango bug and were unstoppable in their quest for the “perfect salon”. An unremarkable entrance in a corner of Plaza de Santa Ana leads to a flight of stairs, with a lady on the first floor cashing the entrance fee (€ 7).

Then, a time machine – parting a red curtain, we enter another room and another era. This must be Buenos Aires, a few decades ago. The room is dimly lit, chairs and tables have been pushed aside to create a dance floor, and there is an older Argentinean “master of ceremonies” pushing buttons on a laptop from time to time (the one big anachronism).

There are men and women sitting against the wall, huddled around small tables – it is still early. Interestingly enough, these men and women span many generations; it does not appear to be a strictly aging Argentinean affair. The first couples are on the dance floor, still a little hesitant.

At midnight, the floor is crowded, and it is striking how beautiful and passionate the dancing is amid the logistics of getting all these couples to move in counter-clockwise direction on such a small space. Most people are rather dressed-up, especially the ladies in their high-heeled dancing shoes, who are forced to sit against the wall sometimes due to the shortage of male partners.

There is a bar on the other side of the curtain, and a waiter maneuvering among the crowd with the occasional tapa. People come and go through the curtain, either drained and sweaty from giving it their all, or refreshed and ready to have another go.

Leaving at 1 AM, we feel like deer caught in headlights among the crowds on Plaza de Santa Ana. It’s easy to forget that there’s a world out there when you are behind the curtain.

La Milonga del Centro, Saturdays from 22:30 to 2:30
Organizer: Marcos Iaffa Sancho (tel. 600 681 882)
Metro: Sol, Anton Martin. Casa de Guadalajara, Plaza de Santa Ana 15, 1st floor. See map below: Read more »

Madrid iFAQ: Where can you store your travel junk?

29 October, 2007 | In: Travel tips | Comments: none

by Julie Espinosa

Left Luggage, MadridMaybe you’ve just arrived and are ready to start sightseeing but don’t know where you’ll be staying. Perhaps you have checked out have some time to kill before you leave the city. Or (God forbid) your pension/hostel in just shady enough that you’d prefer a secure place to stow your belongings in a safer place.

Consider using a coin-operated left-luggage locker or consigna at any transportation hub. At the Madrid Barajas airport there is one in each terminal, the cleanest and most accessible being the one in the new T4 terminal. Closer to the city center, there’s the consigna at the Atocha train station (see picture). I would strongly dissuade you from storing any luggage at the South Bus Station (Estación sur de autobuses). From what I could see, you hand over your bag and it is tossed indiscriminately onto a large pile of other suitcases.

Most consignas consist of lockers that you keep the key to. You are charged for each 24-hour-period, depending on the locker size. For security purposes, many have X-ray machines and a guard on duty. To my knowledge only the airport consignas are open 24 hours; others close overnight.

Madrid iFAQ - Do they enforce the drinking age in Madrid?

25 October, 2007 | In: Weird : Quirky : Fun | Comments: 3

by Amy Menchhofer

Booze!At the tender age of 23 I was carded while waiting to get into a disco. I didn’t have my ID with me and, although my three Spanish companions all proved they were pushing 30 and I insisted that my red metro pass meant I was at least 20, in the end I was denied entry to the bar. So that brings about the question: The drinking age is 18, right? But do they enforce it?

The short answer is no. The long answer is sometimes.

Unless you look extremely young, you’re unlikely to get carded at any neighborhood-type bar or restaurant. If anywhere, you’ll find more resistance at the more “upscale” bars and clubs, particularly those popular with the post-university aged crowd. So if those are your venues of choice, it’s probably best to slip your ID in your pocket.

In regards to purchasing liquor, a similar guideline applies. I’ve been carded once while buying hard liquor at one of the larger bodegas. And it’s not uncommon to see clearly-underaged kids refused service at the local grocery store. Some of them have locked cabinets requiring you to request your drink of choice from the sales staff, and making it impossible for your purchase to slip under the radar. On the other hand, it’s extremely improbable that the non-chain, late-night convenience stores ever request an ID. They also frequently ignore the midnight deadline for purchases.

In short, although lack of an ID will not prevent you from enjoying the famous Madrid nightlife, if you want to guarantee your entry to a disco or grab a bottle of Brugal at the grocer don’t forget your ID!

Madrid iFAQ - Can you drink beer on the Madrid Metro?

23 October, 2007 | In: Weird : Quirky : Fun | Comments: 9

by Ben Curtis

Well, you can’t smoke on the Metro any more… actually, you couldn’t smoke on the Madrid Metro for years, but that didn’t stop anyone lighting up while waiting for a train, even while talking to the underground platform security guys. Then all of a sudden, about a year back, huge, bright-red ‘no smoking’ stickers went up on the doors leading into all the Metro stations, and everyone just sort of stopped. Weird (but interesting… I wonder what other aspects of Spanish contempt for the law could be controlled with big red stickers?)

Anyway, back to today’s INfrequently Asked Question: Can you drink beer on the Madrid Metro? After all, on the London Underground lots of people make the most of a their twenty minute, Friday evening Underground commute from home to pub to knock back a quick can of lager.

The answer is of course, yes, you can drink beer on the Metro, but you will be viewed as the scum of the earth! Believe me, I tried it, 9 years ago, shortly after arriving from London. Seemed like a good idea at the time, a quick can of Mahou on the way to meet some new friends. But even the teenage goths at the other end of the carriage (who were probably smoking on the train) looked at me like I wasn’t even fit to sleep on their city’s fine park benches.

So, no, it’s not the done thing to drink beer on the Madrid Metro. Madrileños just don’t get it. There are plenty of great Madrid bars to drink in, exercise some patience!

Have you got a Madrid IN-frequently Asked Question we can help with?

Taberna de Moncloa - Great Madrid Lunch, Young Crowd

23 October, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, Great Lunch | Comments: 2

by Katie Goldstein

Taberna de MoncloaI love a neighborhood bar with its requisite old men, antiquated decor, and dirty floor, but sometimes it’s refreshing when your neighborhood bar isn’t that way. So it goes with the Taberna de Moncloa — a place where owner Luis calls everyone jóven (youngster), regardless if that person is young or old, a long-time customer or newcomer.

Luis envisioned his local differently than many neighborhood spots in Madrid. There’s a large flat-screen television perched high in one corner of his small bar, but it’s always tuned to a music channel playing jazz. The clientèle is markedly younger than any of the bars in the vicinity, and it’s definitely not because he calls them jóven.

But maybe the best part about the Taberna is that Luis offers a grand menú del dia (set lunch menu), and a welcome variation on the tried-and-true primero and segundo (first and second courses) found in so many neighborhood spots. For only 6.90 Euros, this menú includes a green salad, and choice of two tostas (toast with someting lovely on top) from a menu of 85 different kinds, plus the requisite drink and coffee. The tostas range from the typical jamón con tomate (ham and tomato) and many varieties of tortilla-topped bread, to more inventive ones like bacon with dates and solomillo (sirloin) with Brie and mustard. It’s one of the best bargains in the city.

Open Tues.-Sun. from early to late. Closed Mondays.
Metro: Moncloa. Calle Andrés Mellado, 45 (corner of C/ Fernández del los Ríos). See map below: Read more »

Avoid: El Corte Inglés - Service with a Scowl

21 October, 2007 | In: Shopping in Madrid, Weird : Quirky : Fun | Comments: 12

by Faye Davies

I try to boycott this poor excuse for a department store, but a few months ago I happened to be in El Corte Inglés getting some help with my tax return (a free service that I urge residents to exploit). Passing the make-up section with a softened heart, I decided to buy a mascara. Until I saw the price – which was a good 3€ higher than anywhere else.

Welcome to the Corte Inglés, where you can expect to pay anything up to 30 percent over the odds for everything. This might be redeemed by the convenience factor, if it weren’t for the sometimes surreal levels of rudeness achieved by its staff.

Every ex-pat I know has a Corte story to tell. My favourite takes place in the supermarket. A friend of mine was shopping for wine: he approached an assistant in the alcohol department who was stacking bottles and asked her where he could find a specific bottle of red – to which she replied ‘Ni puta idea‘ (mild translation: ‘No bloody idea’), before returning to her task.

Amy has some good things to say about the specialty food – but personally, I’d rather go hungry.

Great Madrid Traditions: Chocolate con Churros at Chocolatería San Ginés

19 October, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Sol | Comments: 4

by Julie Espinosa

Chocolate con Churros at Chocolatería San Ginés

Chocolate con churros is a quintessential Madrid treat, and a serving of both will usually only cost you around 3 or 4 Euros. This breakfast/late-night treat is served at cafeterías, chocolaterías and churrerías throughout the city.

Thick and pudding-like, Spain’s chocolate is best enjoyed with churro sticks, whose fried ridges are engineered for dunking. Porras are thicker than churros, but both taste best with chocolate since the dough is not very sweet. If you crave the Mexican-style sugared churros, there’s the stand outside of the Atocha train station (6 will cost you 2.50). They serve other fried sweets — like chocolate cream-filled churros — none of which I’d recommend if you’re diabetic or watching your waistline.

I like my churros warm and my chocolate on the bittersweet side. The classic Chocolatería San Ginés (which I visited twice last week) is a popular destination not only for taste but also for its ambiance, location and hours (open all night long). There’s nothing like chocolate and churros to end a night on the town.

Where do you go for this sweet treat? Which churrería, chocolatería or cafetería is your favorite destination?

Churrería Velázquez Groumet - Metro: Atocha. Outside Atocha Station, opposite Calle Alfonso XII
Chocolatería San Ginés - Metro: Sol, Opera. Pasadizo San Ginés 5. See map below: Read more »

Food Shopping in Madrid #2 - El Corte Inglés

18 October, 2007 | In: How To's / Where To's, Shopping in Madrid | Comments: 8

by Amy Menchhofer

Classy food shopping in Madrid

As a general rule and as Julie suggests, when grocery shopping frequent the small shops, after all they’re part of what gives a big city its charm. However, sometimes, especially when trying to assuage the occasional bout of home sickness with a tried and true home-cooked meal, you need ingredients that go beyond the shelves of the neighborhood stores. In that case I recommend you cross over to the “dark side” and patronize that behemoth of Spanish department stores – El Corte Ingles. What the store lacks in personal touch and neighborly interaction it more than makes up for with the plethora of products found in the store’s international and vegetarian food sections.

Classy food shopping in MadridFeeling like Indian food? The international aisle offers pre-made masala and korma sauces in addition to ready-to-eat naan. What about Japanese? Stop by to pick up wasabi paste, rice wine vinegar, sushi rice, and tempura mix. Craving Grandma’s homemade sweets? At El Corte Ingles you’ll find ground vanilla, pecans, and maple syrup. Entertaining a vegetarian friend? The comprehensive “healthy” section (usually located near the special-needs foods) offers soy burgers, flavored tofu, soy chicken nuggets, and even soy croquetas.

There are surely a number of specialty stores throughout Madrid that offer these same products; the beauty of El Corte Ingles being that you’ll find them all in one place and in a convenient location. You’ll pay a bit more for these products, but when you want a lunch of chicken curry followed by pecan pie for dessert only a stop at El Corte Ingles will do.

A full list of store locations is available here. Do you ever shop cross over to the “dark side” and shop at El Corte Ingles?

Conde Duque - Village life in the middle of Madrid

17 October, 2007 | In: Culture, Bars and Cafes, Conde Duque | Comments: 2

by Katie Goldstein

Conde Duque area of Madrid

One of the more under-the-radar neighborhoods in the center of Madrid is what I like to call Conde Duque, the area between Malasaña to the east and Calle Princesa to the west. The barrio, which a friend of mine says feels “like a pueblo” (like a village) is perfect for an afternoon’s wandering: full of character as well as places to eat, drink, shop, and get some culture. Probably the best way to explore is to go and wander the narrow streets and welcoming plazas, but below I’ve provided some tips on where to go if you prefer a little direction.

  • Culture: The Centro Cultural Conde Duque, in what used to be a military barracks, is one of Madrid’s great exhibition spaces and a cultural center in every sense of the word.
  • Ethnic food: Calle San Bernardino is home to multiple restaurants from around the world, including Rey de Tallarines (quite good Chinese), Siam (Thai), a Mexican, an Indonesian, and many more.
  • American food: Surprisingly enough there are two American restaurants in the area, Peggy Sue’s diner, an authentic (and tiny) 50s-style diner, and the classier Gumbo Ya-Ya, with its Creole cuisine and delicious homemade desserts.
  • Croquetas: The best I’ve ever had are at La Tabernilla de Amadeus on the lovely Calle Cristo.
  • Leather: Taller Puntera is a leather workshop also on the tiny Calle Cristo. They make and sell bags, wallets, belts, etc. in great colors.
  • Terrazas and plazas: The Plaza de las Comendadoras (above) is home to several terrazas, a small playground, a convent, and plenty of open space. The tiny Plaza de los Guardias de Corps, opposite the entrance to Conde Duque, has a terraza, benches, and plenty of moto-parking.
  • Cafés: Two of the most pleasant places to sit inside and have a warm drink or cocktail are El Jardín Secreto and Café La Palma

See the map below to locate all of these places (click on the blue markers for details!): Read more »

Underground Parking Lot Cult

16 October, 2007 | In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, Asian Food, Weird : Quirky : Fun | Comments: 4

by Niels Klok

Not owning a driving license, let alone a car, I was not planning on visiting any underground parking lot until my Asian friend pushed me down a flight of stairs on Plaza de España. The particularly unappealing walkway at the bottom actually leads past a couple of holes in the wall, one of which is an apparently nameless Asian restaurant. Well, restaurant may be an overstatement: let’s call it a take-out with modest sit-down aspirations — it would certainly help if you are short (space is limited among the ten-or-so small tables).

The true appeal becomes clear when you are handed the (bilingual) menu, as you will find out that prices are virtually non-existent here. The back-to-basics list includes plates of tallarines (noodles, pronounced “tayalines” by the staff), fried with egg or drowned in soup, arroz frito (fried rice) and pollo con verduras (chicken with Eastern vegetables), none of which will cost you more than five (!) euros. Especially recommended are the dumplings, to be dipped in soy sauce.

Mind you, you are not expected to linger after dinner (there is usually a line of sorts outside, and the staff will make sure you get the message by asking “¿algo más?” every two minutes); moreover, do not expect anything resembling atmosphere here (unless a muted television set showing karaoke lyrics in Chinese qualifies for you). However, if you are short on cash and want decent Eastern food, it is simply not to be missed. And if you want to try it at home, visit the Chinese supermarket next door for all the necessary ingredients.

“Anonymous” Eastern cafeteria
Metro: Plaza de España. Address: Parking Plaza de España, across from Edifio de España. See map below: Read more »

Ojalá - the best kept secret lunch in Madrid?

14 October, 2007 | In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, Great Lunch, Malasaña | Comments: 3

by Faye Davies

Ojala restaurant, Madrid

In bygone centuries I would have been sainted for my altruism, because I’m going to let you into one of Madrid’s best culinary secrets: the menu del día at Ojalá. The restaurant itself (along with its sisters in La Latina and upper Malasaña) is well known for its innovative tapas; but the lunch menu is in a different league.

Starters tend to take the form of a soup or salad. Among the latter, I’ve been most impressed by pistachio with goat’s cheese, and smoked duck with orange. They also vary their leaves (rocket, fennel – even cactus) – a rare thing in this city.

Main dishes are equally exotic. The fish is usually an excellent choice – the other day I was more than satisfied with my mackerel with yellow curry sauce. But I’ve also had fantastic buey (ox) steak – and if you should ever catch the magret de canard, don’t even look at the other option.

Puddings are a bit more of a gamble. Luminous minty pears might be straining the boundaries of creative cooking – and whoever deemed a ‘prepared orange’ to be on a par with cheesecake? If in doubt, go for the profiteroles.

Menu available Mon – Fri, 1:30 – 4pm.
Metro: Tribunal/Noviciado. Tel: 91 523 2747. Calle San Andrés, 1. See map below: Read more »

How to grocery shop in Madrid

11 October, 2007 | In: How To's / Where To's, Shopping in Madrid | Comments: 1

by Julie Espinosa

Shops in Madrid

SPECIALTY SHOPS: For fresh, affordable fruit, meats, seafood and bread, compare prices at competing fruterías (fruit and veg), charcuterías (delicatessen, ham, cheese etc), carnicerías (meat), pescaderías (fish) and panaderías (bread) in your neighborhood and at local mercado (market) stalls. Check the euro/kilo price at the specific supermarket section, but know that fruit is always cheapest and bread always freshest at individual fruit shops and bakeries.

At small shops, customers mill about chatting or looking at the merchandise. Upon arrival, ask “¿La última?” The last person will pipe up; now you know when it’s your turn. The shopkeeper takes and fills orders so you will never touch the food; you may get the occasional bruised fruit, but not many.

SUPER… and HIPER-MARKETS: Save the supermarket for prepackaged items like coffee, yogurt, beans, spices, ice cream, cereal, etc. or hard-to-find imported items.

Some supermarkets charge for plastic bags. Do as the locals and bring your own carrito (cart - see bottom right photo above) or at least reusable canvas bags. At the entrance lockers, lock up the carrito and anything else you brought. Insert a 50-cent piece to release the key (you’ll get it back). Shopping carts are coin-released too. For large purchases, home delivery is available. Popular chains include Día, Mercadona, SuperSol, and Carrefour. I recommend Mercadona.

Café Faborit - Wifi Internet Access in Madrid

10 October, 2007 | In: Travel tips | Comments: 7

by Niels Klok

Café Faborit caters to the people who respond to the Spanish adage of staying at home as little as possible, yet are too attached to their portátil (laptop) to use any other computer. The “Wifi” is easy to access, there are sockets to plug your dear friend into so as not to be dependent on a battery, and there is no time limit on the usage of the connection – a relief after the 45 minutes per overpriced consumption at Giangrossi (C/ Alberto Aguilera).

As to coffee: Faborit may not win any awards, but is certainly a great many notches above that ubiquitous American chain that shall not be named – and prices are fair (one euro sixty for a cappuccino). In addition, there are sandwiches, salads and a range of pastries to satisfy your other needs. (It is a non-smoking area, though…)

Metro: Sevilla. Calle Alcalá, 21 (Other branches at Alcalá, 165, and Paseo del Prado, 24). See map below: Read more »

A Tale of Two Parks - Retiro on a weekday morning and on Sunday afternoon

9 October, 2007 | In: Retiro, Madrid Parks | Comments: 3

by Amy Menchhofer

Retiro Park Entrance

On everyone’s list of must-sees in Madrid is El Parque del Buen Retiro. But when should you visit? A leisurely stroll through the Retiro on a Tuesday morning is a completely different experience than joining the masses on a Sunday afternoon.

Wander through the park on a weekday morning and you’ll likely find yourself alone more often than not. The terrace bars are closed, the chocolate-dealers are absent from the park entrances, your only company will be cyclists and joggers, and you can even find a swing on a deserted playground to pretend you’re a kid again. And you might even want to leave your iPod at home. The sounds of nature and even the occasional complete silence are a treat that will make you forget you’re at the heart of a city of 4 million.

Stop by on a Sunday and you’ll have to watch where you walk so as not to bump into someone. Particularly popular with young families, you’ll dodge as many wagons and tricycles as you do palm-reading gypsies. Despite the crowds, the ambience is a unique one filled with puppet shows, portrait artists, jewelry stalls, and fortune tellers. And should you be so inclined you can park yourself at one of the many terraces and get an ice cream, caña, or coffee – that is, if you can find a seat. Also of note: the Retiro is often host to various special events such as Cibeles Fashion Week, the annual book fair, and last weekend’s Bike Fest. On such occasions the influx of visitors is even greater than on your typical Sunday.

Crowded and festive? Quiet and calming? Which face of the park do you prefer?

Bodega Santa Cecilia - Where to buy wine in Madrid

8 October, 2007 | In: How To's / Where To's, Shopping in Madrid | Comments: none

by Katie Goldstein

Bodega Santa Cecilia

Like to drink? Know someone who does? Then you should probably get to know Bodega Santa Cecilia. You won’t be sorry you did. The Bodega is essentially your one-stop alcohol shop. And more.

Basically, it’s a very classy wine store, which also sells all kinds (literally) of liquors and liqueurs, mixers (including cranberry juice!), beers from around the world (sold by the bottle), and gourmet foodstuffs (from ibéricos and cheeses, to fancy Italian pasta, fine chocolates, olive oil, and non-perishable canned and bottled items). You can even buy high-class water, if that’s your thing.

What makes Santa Cecilia worth visiting is that the collection, especially in Spanish wines, is incredibly thorough. I’ve gone there in search of wine for gifts for people back in the States and even an inexpensive bottle to bring to a party in Madrid. The employees don’t hesitate to help you find a wine, even if it’s clear you don’t have much of an idea of what you’re talking about.

An added bonus to going is that they’re usually doing tastings and have some sort of food to sample. Wine prices range from under three euros to over 5,000 euros for one of their bottles of French wine.

Open Monday through Saturday from 10.00 to 21.00
Metro: Islas Filipinas or Moncloa. Calle Blasco de Garay, 74. See map below: Read more »