Never Too Late for Ice Cream in Madrid!

25 September, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Retiro | Comments: 3

by Amy Menchhofer

Ice cream in MadridAlthough the long days of summer are beginning to come to an end, don’t pull out that coat just yet. We all know the heat can return at any moment, so there’s still time for a cold, sweet treat. Over on the east side of El Retiro you can find one of the best ice cream shops in Madrid. At Narvaez 62, Helados Sienna is perfectly situated for making a quick pit stop before a stroll through the park just two blocks away (there’s a second location near Parque Fuente del Berro at Sancho Dávila, 29). With more than 30 flavors you are certain to find the perfect combination, such as strawberry cheesecake and pitufo (smurf) or, my favorite, dulce de leche and coco. Don’t happen over to this neighborhood much? At just 2.20€ for a small, two-scoop cup you can even afford to make a special trip just for the ice cream!

Map below: Read more »

Avoid: Sol, Saturday, 6 p.m.

22 September, 2007 | In: Weird : Quirky : Fun | Comments: 3

by Ben Curtis

Free hugs in Madrid

Someone recently suggested in our Spain forum that this picture is worrying on several levels. Primarily, what the hell is going on with Mickey and the spangley yellow jacket?!

Whether Mickey is there or not, I strongly suggest avoiding Sol and all adjacent shopping streets on Saturday afternoons… unless you particularly enjoy being hustled around amongst thousands of painfully slow moving shoppers, who do their best to second guess your every direction change and impede your escape at all costs.

Luckily the abrazos gratis (free hugs) girl was there to provide psychological support… If only I could have got past Mickey…

More on where and what to avoid in Madrid coming soon!

La Venencia - No Spitting, no Tips, just Sherry

16 September, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Santa Ana | Comments: none

by Ben Curtis

It might be midnight on a Saturday, but that doesn’t deter the two grannies sipping Fino (sherry) in the doorway from gossiping away like they just stopped by for a quick pre-lunch tipple. From where they stand a narrow wooden bartop stretches inside, chalked numbers on the dark wood in front of each group of drinkers keeping a tally of what they’ve had so far. The walls are demarara brown from decades of tobacco abuse, and fading posters for musical events in the seventies, presumably when they were put up, look brittle and decaying enough to shatter if touched. Grubby signs above tables declare that spitting on the floor will not be tolerated, and that tips are not accepted. Great sherry barrels are stacked behind the bar, whilst the drink itself is fished up from under the bartop in chilled, label-less bottles.

This, without doubt, is the most classic, dated, time-warp drinking experience to be had in Madrid. Forget all the ‘Hemmingway drank here’ places around the corner in the Plaza Santa Ana, this is the real deal. The bar opens and closes at will, often leading to disappointment, there’s little to drink beyond the Sherry (try a half bottle of Manzanilla first), and the tapas are simple: cecina (cured beef) and mojama (smoked tuna) for the brave, maybe some cheese or chorizo for the rest of us.

Don’t miss out on La Venencia, there are but a handful of places like this left in the whole of Spain. Location: Calle de Echegaray 7.

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Noche en Blanco on September 22nd

14 September, 2007 | In: Culture | Comments: none

by Ben Curtis

According to Damian Corrigan at, Noche en Blanco “is an all-night cultural extravaganza which takes place on one night each September (in 2007 it will take place on the night of September 22). Everything is free of charge and the city puts on 24 hour public transport to make getting between events easier.”

As well as free entry to most of the major museums throughout the night, musical offerings include shows from Daft Punk, Strange Fruits, Macanique Vivante and Fátima Miranda. For full details check out Damian’s write up at, or the official Spanish site.

I have to go to this bar!

31 May, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Chueca | Comments: 3

by Ben Curtis

What fun! Apparently it’s called El Cisne Azul, specialises in wild mushrooms and impromptu opera madness, and is located at Calle Gravina 19 (map).

Great Menu del Dia Lunch near the Plaza Mayor

4 May, 2007 | In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, Great Lunch, Madrid de los Austrias (Historic Center) | Comments: 4

by Ben Curtis

Menu del dia near Plaza Mayor

Everyone who decides to have lunch in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor soon discovers that they have made a huge mistake. The Menu del Dia (lunchtime set menu) is far too expensive and usually not all that good. Walk a few minutes in any direction however, and you are likely to be far better off. My personal favourite for a Menu del Dia near the Plaza Mayor is Refra, at Calle Santiago 4 (just across the Calle Mayor - Map).

For 8.50 inside and 10.50 on the terrace, you get around 5 starters, 5 main courses and 5 deserts to choose from, in what is basically a top quality working man’s lunchtime menu served in a friendly, family-run establishment. You will be eating with the locals, you won’t get ripped off, and you will leave more than satisfied. I ate here almost every day for three months whilst living in the Hostal Santiago opposite (see book for details!), so I know what I’m talking about!

Pickpockets in Madrid and the Rastro.

24 April, 2007 | In: Travel tips, Rastro | Comments: 4

by Ben Curtis

Pickpocketing and theft are a problem in Madrid but it is not something to worry about if you take a few sensible precautions. Obvious things to AVOID are carrying your wallet in your back pocket, or valuables in a back pack on your back - both are asking for trouble. Handbags should be carried under your arm. Be very careful not to leave bags next to you on the floor in bars or restaurants - keep them on your lap. Pickpockets and bag snatchers tend to work in pairs or small groups in Madrid and often one or two members of a gang will distract you (by shoving you, asking an innocent question, showing you a map) while another robs you - be particularly aware in the Metro and around major tourist attractions such as museums. Again, there is no need to be paranoid all the time, but if you are aware of this problem then you are bound to be fine.

What follows in an excellent example of the tricks used in Madrid these days, from Julian, who was on holiday in Madrid with his wife Judith, and was targeted the Rastro market.

So having walked round the Rastro & flea market, Judith & I had bought a few items & were heading out when I got targeted as the victim of a ‘contrived accident’. I knew all about this possibility & Ben had warned us not to have anything of value on us.

It was skilfully carried out because it was made to look as if I had tried to rob the pickpocket.

He was just ahead & was holding a mobile (probably an old broken one) close to his ear. He swung round backwards & bumped into me - the mobile was dropped (flung) against my leg as I walked forward — thus sending the mobile skittering off a few feet away. Instead of just retrieving it - he bent down & grabbed one of my legs with one hand while with the other made a show of frisking my leg where the mobile had hit it, i.e. trying to make it look as if I had deliberately tried to pinch his mobile.

My wallet was in my front pocket out of harms way and I had a firm grip on it. I freed myself quickly from this & he picked up his mobile from the ground.

But the distraction had enabled his accomplice (who I never saw) to remove the contents of my back pocket … just a few sheets of folded A4 paper.

No harm done but it shows that despite taking all precautions the pickpockets can still catch you unawares.

This all happened so quickly that Judith who was walking slightly ahead of me carried on & hadn’t even noticed what had happened.

Do you have a Madrid pickpocket story? Send it in to help others avoid the same trap!

La Latina Bars - some of our favourites…

24 April, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, La Latina | Comments: 2

by Ben Curtis

We drew up a map this weekend to help show a group of friends around some of our favourite La Latina bars. This is one of the greatest barrios in Madrid for feasting on tapas - Cava Baja has around 40 bars alone! The map is available here below, and includes the following bars:

Toma Jamon, El Viajero, Taberna del Almendro (full review), La Concha, Delic Cafe, Berlin Cabaret, La Solea, and Sanlucar.

We hope to provide in-depth reviews of all the bars soon!

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La Casa de las Torrijas

10 April, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Sol | Comments: none

by Marina Diez


Tucked away in a very narrow street in the heart of old Madrid (Calle de la Paz, 4 - map), this authentic Castillian bar doesn’t seem to have changed at all in the last 50 years. It’s speciality is a delicious sweet wine and a dessert known as “Torrijas” which, although usually only on sale in Pastelarias at Easter, can be found at this bar all year round. Originally meant as an energy-boosting meat substitute over Easter and Lent, the ingredients of “Torrijas de leche” are really basic: hard bread is usually soaked in cinnamon and lemon-scented milk until the bread goes soft, before it is coated with beaten egg and deep fried in olive oil. Finally a bit of icing sugar is sprinkled on top. La Casa de las Torrijas specialises in the less-common, but no less delicious, “Wine Torrijas”.

Sri Lankan food in Madrid: Good Asian food at last!

2 April, 2007 | In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, Asian Food, Diego de Leon | Comments: 7

by Ben Curtis

Sri Lankan food in MadridWhat, did someone mention good Asian food in Madrid? Surely not? Oh yes, it’s true my friends, at last we have found somewhere to eat really fine Asian cuisine in the capital. We know that the Indian restaurants in Madrid aren’t up to much, and I’m still looking to find a decent place that serves Thai, but never mind: Sri Lankan food is the way forward!

Sabor de Ceilán, at C/ Alonso Heredia, 9 (map) is run by a Spanish lady and her Sri Lankan husband, both effortlessly nice, and if you are feeling lazy, excellent English speakers. They are in the great position of being able to offer a mixed lunchtime menu of both Sri Lankan and Spanish dishes at the same time. We ate here at night, again with a very reasonably priced set menu, and went Sri Lanka all the way down the line, in my case starting with wonderful spring rolls, followed by a generous plate of beef curry with all the trimmings. You have to remember to ask them to add the spice - the dishes are normally toned down for Spanish tastes. Desert was a slightly inventive ginger and choclate cake (I might go for the Brownie next time), followed up by a complimentary liquer (I always go Spanish here and hit the Pacharan). Definitely worth the trip over to Diego de Leon.

NYT does about turn on Madrid, now it’s hip!

27 March, 2007 | In: Culture | Comments: 6

by Ben Curtis

OK, so two different authors and two different opinions, but recently one New York Times article caused great resentment in comments left on this blog, for calling Madrid the “provincial, sleepy sister to Barcelona”. That was barely two months ago, in which time the city has evidently undergone a pretty amazing transformation:

“Once the dowdy sister of stylish Barcelona, Madrid has at last emerged as Spain’s coolest city.”

Glad to hear it! Full article at the NYT.

Reminder to self: 2 restaurants to write about

27 March, 2007 | In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants | Comments: none

by Ben Curtis

1. The Chinese Restaurant Buen Gusto has been highly recommended as a cut above the rest. At Paseo Santa Maria de la Cabeza 60 (map). Tel: 91 530 50 62

2. La Copita Asturiana is one of the best old-style Asturian restaurants in Madrid and I need to get back soon! Calle Tabernillas 13. Tel: 913 651 063

Place your bets at Madrid’s Hipódromo

25 March, 2007 | In: Beyond Madrid | Comments: 3

by Ben Curtis

Hipodromo de Madrid

After around a decade of closure due to lack of sufficient public interest, Madrid’s Hipódromo horse racing track reopened last year. Today marked the beginning of the new season, which runs through to July 19th. This is an extremely pleasurable way to spend a Sunday morning, especially a sunny one like today’s! There are five to six races through the morning, running from 11.15 to 2 p.m., though arriving around 10.45 gives you time to find your way around and get your first bets down.

The betting is where the fun lies. The minimum bet is 1 Euro, and you can place a range of different bets which are initially somewhat complicated to master. A Ganador bet is easy, you bet on the winner, but won’t reap huge rewards if your horse comes in first. Better is to go for a Gemela reversible, where you pick the first two horses past the post, and win no matter what order they come in. A Trio no reversible means picking first, second and third past the post, in the right order - get that right and you stand to win a lot of money. There are others, but that’s as far as I got! One thing I noticed is that if you don’t bet on a particular race, it’s really a lot less fun to watch.

What is strange is that there is no way to work out the odds before you bet. Whereas in the UK you know that a certain horse has odds of 5 to 1 to win, and can work out your winnings when you place your bet, here you have to wait until the race is over and the payouts for each type of bet are placed up on a board behind the paddock.

So, you spend the morning wandering from the paddock (to check out the horses and riders as they saddle up), to the track, to the betting booths, stopping every now and again for a beer or Butifarra sandwich, people watching, cheering on your horses… great stuff. My total winnings for the day? Zero. I lost a grand total of 12 Euros, and it was worth every centimo! There are more photos from the day over at Flickr, and a short video below (from our Spanish videoblogging collection!)

Info: The Hipódromo is on Avenida Padre Huidobro (map), 8 km from Madrid just off the A6 (take the 8 km exit). You can get there by car, taxi or bus (No. 162 from Moncola bus station). A basic entrance ticket cost 9 Euros, and tickets can be bought in advance from Pick up a program when you arrive to find out who is racing and when, and what bets you can place on each race. More info at

Casa Camacho - make sure you use the loo

24 March, 2007 | In: Bars and Cafes, Malasaña | Comments: none

by Ben Curtis

Zinc bar top and vermut on tap. Marvelous. How long can this sort of place last? As long as the owners I suppose, and it looks like this lot have a few years behind the bar in them yet, thank goodness.

Get down to Calle San Andrés 4 (map) ASAP and order that vermut. Oh, and going to the toilet is quite an experience… I’ll let you find that out for yourself!

Madrid Characters #2 - The Coal Man!

16 March, 2007 | In: Weird : Quirky : Fun | Comments: 1

by Ben Curtis

The coal man in Madrid

While some people are still heating their flats with individual bottles of Butane gas, most of the buildings in our barrio have central heating - meaning that one big old boiler in the basement pumps hot water around the radiators in the whole building. The upside is pretty powerful heating, the downside is that you have no control over when the heating comes on - in our building it runs from 1 pm through to Midnight, from around November to April.

Many of these monstrous basement boilers are still fed on lumps of coal, and it is not uncommon to see a lorry like this parked somewhere down our street once a week, with grubby young men wheeling barrow load after barrow load of coal from the back of the truck, in through the flat block front door, and down into the basement. What I’d like to know is who spends day and night shoveling it into the furnace once it gets there?