Madrid Characters #2 - The Coal Man!

In: Weird : Quirky : Fun

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?

De Pelicula… Almodovar would love this set up…

In: Photo Madrid, Weird : Quirky : Fun

by Ben Curtis

Madrid roofs

There’s nothing like finding a view over the roofs of Madrid… This one is from a roof terrace high up in the Barrio of Noviciado. The owner of the flat attached to the view told me that before they lived there it had been inhabited by quite an interesting group, consisting of a trampy old man, 3 aging prostitutes, and 2 Dobermans - sounds like something straight out of an Almodovar film!

See more Madrid photos at our NFM Flickr Group - have you got some Madrid pics of your own you could add?

Madrid Characters #1 - The Gas Man!

In: Weird : Quirky : Fun

by Ben Curtis

Butanero

…and I thought that these days it was only country folk that ordered their gas by the bottle. Apparently not, as the Butanero can still be seen driving his lorry around Madrid. These men are herculean super-machos, capable of hoisting two full gas bottles onto their shoulders and climbing six flights of stairs (I imagine early retirement from crippled backs is common in this game…) One thing that always worries me though is the constant smell of gas that surrounds the lorries, especially with all the smokers out on the streets of Madrid these days. What the hell would happen to our block of flats if one of these things went BANG outside?!

8 years and still the favourite: La Taberna Miranda

In: Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, Madrid de los Austrias (Historic Center), Romantic, Traditional

by Ben Curtis

Taberna Miranda

It’s not the most ‘authentic’, rustic taberna in town, it hasn’t got the trendiest food (or clientele), and the service could be a little politer, yet after all these years in Madrid, given a choice I’d far rather eat in the Taverna Miranda (Plaza del Conde de Miranda 4, map/details).

Taberna MirandaI was there for lunch on Saturday with my sister. We had a plate of croquetas, half a racion of strong, oily Manchego cheese, the creamiest, most sumptious wild mushroom risotto to grace planet earth, and a huge plate of Salteado de Chistorra (slightly spicy sausage with potatoes and Padrón peppers, covered in broken eggs). That and three glasses of fine Rueda wine, and two free chupitos (shots) of Pacharan at the end. Heaven for 40 Euros - though we totally over-ordered and could have got away perfectly without the Salteado. The only downside to the whole experience was not being able to order the duck as well - cut into strips and fried with honey, pine nuts and prunes, it may be even better than the risotto…

Notes: Ideally placed for a stroll around old Madrid afterwards. Book in advance at weekends or be prepared to stand at the bar. There is an outdoor terrace in the beautiful Plaza behind the restaurant that is a joy to sit at in summer.

Need some cheap consumer electronics?

In: Chueca, How To's / Where To's, Shopping in Madrid

by Ben Curtis

Calle Barquillo

Another one that may be more useful for new residents than visitors to Madrid, but certainly worth knowing about! The Calle Barquillo is all about cheap TVs, stereos, microphones, DJ equipment, video cameras, mp3 players… just about anything you could want to watch, Calle Barquillolisten to or record with at home is here. There a are a couple of high-end hi-fi places that will still sell you a 1000 Euro record turntable, but essentially this is all about bargains.

For every electronic knick-knack under the sun (speaker cable, headphone splitters, disco lights, bizzare plugs and adapters ad infinitum) check out Electronica Lila at no. 35 (map) - if they can’t find the peripheral what-not you are looking for, forget about getting it anywhere else in Madrid.

Restaurante Marsot - Typically Fine Family Fare

In: Chueca, Eating out & Madrid Restaurants, Great Lunch, Traditional

by Ben Curtis

Restaurante Marsot

Will places like this still exist in 10, 20 or 30 years time? Family run, a little rough round the edges, good old-fashioned food - already these ‘typical’ mesones are increasingly rare in Madrid, and you’ll have to get here early (pre-2pm) or late (post-3pm) to get a seat on a weekday lunchtime. The 10 Euro menu del dia is so Castillian that you know what the deserts are even before they run through them at the end of the meal - Arroz con Leche, Flan, Natillas, Cuajada - mostly homemade, all delicious. Before that you’ll get the staple platos de cucharra (first courses you eat with a spoon - lentils, sopa castellana, potaje), followed by big slabs of meat and fish, all washed down with good, cheap red wine.

If you know of any other ‘typically Spanish’ places to get a good old fashioned menu del dia in Madrid, please let us know. Places as good as this are a dying breed, and they need all the support they can get. Trendy new eateries and franchises are already sweeping through the city like wildfire, and it may not be long until the only place you can get good home cooked food is, god forbid, at home!

Restaurante Marsot is (hopefully still!) in Chueca at Calle Pelayo, 6 (map)

Madrid joins the ‘pedias

In: Weird : Quirky : Fun

by Ben Curtis

Madripedia launched this week, joining the ever increasing ranks of wikis out there on the net. This should be interesting to watch, especially if it enjoys the success of Cordobapedia, which now has nearly 4,000 articles on board!

Indian Restuarants in Madrid, by Rafe Jaffrey

In: Asian Food, Eating out & Madrid Restaurants

by Ben Curtis

Rafe Jaffrey has lived and worked in Madrid for over a decade, and is the best Indian cuisine chef in the city (I’ve eaten his food, so I know what I’m talking about!) If you want to try his food for yourself, he will happily cater for private dinner parties or professional events - contact Rafe at (+34) 687 581 893 or jaffrey[at]madrid[dot]com. Meanwhile, seeing as he is something of an expert on the matter, we asked Rafe to give us the run down on the Indian restaurant scene here in Madrid:

“I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard someone say that they can’t find a decent Indian restaurant in Madrid. Compared to London, NY or, of course, the subcontinent, it is certainly true that the quality here leaves a lot to be desired. Because of the lack of historic ties between Spain and India (together with the Spanish near phobia of hot food) it is easy for Indian restaurants to become lazy and serve food that is too mild and unauthentic. This is epitomized by the “one sauce fits all” approach in which the only way to distinguish different dishes that arrive at your table is by asking the waiter which is which!

That being said there are a few restaurants in Madrid that are worth checking out. At the economy end try the curry houses in Lavapies. These are a relatively new addition to Madrid, are mostly Bangladeshi owned and run, and are not bad considering the price - although I wish they wouldn’t put sugar in food to stop it from being too hot for Spanish palates: just use less chilies guys! Mojoraj and Rajamahal in Calle Ave Maria (map) are good examples as is Baisakhi in Calle Lavapies (map). Moving up the price scale Guru in Calle Echegaray (map) offers pretty good food at reasonable prices and their Naan bread and Chicken Tikka are worth trying. Other restaurants worth mentioning are Delhi in Calle Duque de Osuna (map) and Taj in Calle Marques de Cubas (map) which serve food of a generally good standard. Bombay Palace in Calle Fernan Gonzalez (map) is also building up a following of fans.

At the top end only two restaurants dominate. Anapurna in Calle Zurbano (map) and Mumbai Masala (map) in Calle Recoletos. Read more »

Walking in Madrid’s Sierra de Guadarrama

In: Beyond Madrid

by Ben Curtis

Cotos

Photo: wild horses in the Sierra high above Cotos

 
This article on walking in the Sierra de Guadarrama (with a treat for Google Earth users at the end!) comes from Graeme at South of Watford. Graeme has lived and worked in Madrid for almost 10 years and writes regularly in his blog about current events in the city and Spain, together with occasional articles on different aspects of Spanish culture.

“For much of my adult life I hated the idea of walking in the mountains. I had some unhappy childhood memories of stumbling around behind my father, lost on foggy, boggy hillsides in the north of England. Soaked to the skin and frozen, we would finally get off the hills only to end up in a cold, gloomy youth hostel; it put me off the idea for years. I think I began to change my mind the first time I came to Spain; as I travelled along the coast of Cantabria and Asturias looking at the sunlit foothills of the Picos de Europa. It was that missing element in Britain that did it - sunshine. However I didn’t really change my opinion until I came to live in Madrid several years later, the mountains of the Sierra de Guadarrama are so accessible from the city that it was almost inevitable that I would eventually get there.

At first my partner and I went walking with organised groups, and we still do occasionally - although now we are just as likely to go off on our own or with friends. Two of the companies we have used often for day walks or even longer trips are Tierra de Fuego and Geographica; although there are others that operate in Madrid. The advantage of going with these companies is that they have experienced guides and they take you there and back, it’s a great way to discover routes that you might never find out about otherwise. The main disadvantage can be that walking across a mountain in the company of 40 other people is not always a very peaceful experience.

The accessibility of the mountains from Madrid means that it’s not very difficult to do something on your own initiative, even without a car. The simplest way I know to get into the heart of the sierra is to get on a Cercanias train from Madrid (Atocha or Chamartin) to the village of Cercedilla. From Cercedilla there are two main options. Read more »

Nothing beats a Vermouth in the sun!

In: Bars and Cafes, Chueca

by Ben Curtis

Vermuth bar, Chueca

…especially in February. Although you have to be very careful with drinking Vermouth before lunch, especially the good stuff like this, straight from the tap with a little added fizz. And even more so when followed by a bit of Rioja with your menu del dia… So, if you do come to the Antigua Casa Angel Sierra to stand around and watch the wonderful world of Chueca go by, just make sure you have time for one hell of a siesta later. (By the way, it’s pretty inside too - fresco on the ceiling, musty bottles, big zinc bar - but you’re much better off in the sun!) Found at: Calle de Gravina 11, map.

RedRetro - Madrid Metro Art?

In: Weird : Quirky : Fun

by Ben Curtis

If you are new to Madrid the fact that a bunch of artists are going around changing the names of the Metro stations is hardly going to help you get around - if you do spot one though, you’re bound to feel like a real local - just make sure you snap it and send us the photo! Recent examples of these humorous changes include turning Gran Via into Gran Dia (Big Day), Principe Pio to Principe Mio (My Prince), and Puerta de Toledo to Tuerta de Toledo (the One-Eyed Man from Toledo).

RedRetro are behind the fun and games - they have a Flickr Set to record their underground triumphs (click on the image above!)

Too LeCool for us

In: Culture

by Ben Curtis

LeCool is a weekly email newsletter dedicated to pointing out the leCoolest things going on in Madrid - exhibitions, film, parties, theartre… only two things to point out: 1) It’s in Spanish, 2) It’s almost too leCool for its own good! Nice graphics though…

Madrid Maps - Metro Map and Madrid Street Maps

In: Travel tips

by Ben Curtis

Street Maps on the web

For a fully searchable map of Madrid, the best solution we’ve found it over at elmundo.es - it’s pretty good on the whole of Spain as well.

To stick in your pocket:

The Popout Madrid Map is extremely handy - small, light and pocketable (includes a metro map as well).

Madrid Metro Maps

Madrid metro

Metro Madrid offers a snazzy online version of their map, as well as a pdf download to print out and stick in your luggage - then again you can always pick one up at most stations when you arrive.

Madrid Travel tips #1 - Best time of year to visit Madrid

In: Travel tips

by Ben Curtis

August

If you can stand the heat… August is still damn hot, but the city is eerily empty. There is no-one here! Most of the Madrileños are down at the beach and the city comes to a virtual standstill. Roads can be crossed in relative safety (there are hardly any cars on most of them), and the frenetic noise that usually attacks you at every turn dies down to a murmur. Many of the smaller bars and shops are shut, but most of the touristy stuff is still open, and you can always get a drink on a Terraza at night. Personally, this is now my favourite month of the year, closely followed by…

September

The City springs back to life! Temperatures cool down to a manageable level - like a wonderful northern European summer, and everyone is back from holiday. You can still wander the streets in a T-shirt and eat outside in the evenings, and you’ll get a feel for Madrid as it winds back up to its high-octane best.

Terrazas in June

June

The heat arrives with earnest in June, Terraza culture gets into full swing, and the city starts to party hard now that summer is finally here. Towards the end of the month you can experience the joy of sitting outside at midnight, beer in hand, marvelling at the fact that it is still 30º Celcius and no-one is planning on sleeping any time soon! (…see photo above)

Semana Santa/Easter Week

Similar to August, in that all the locals that can afford to leave the city for a break. This time however, a lot of Spaniards from other parts of the country come up to have a look around the capital. The result is a lot of good natured people wandering slowly around a peaceful city. The Easter processions have got nothing on Andalusia, but it’s still possible to see people wandering around in bizarre pointy hats. (Update - see comments for more on Easter!)

October

When Madrid has settled back to being a workaday city and Autumn means the occasional day of warm temperatures and city-wide good humour…

When NOT to visit Madrid

July - it’s way too hot and everyone is in much too much of a bad mood!

What’s your favourite time of year in Madrid?

A fine Madrid Weekend

In: Travel tips

by Ben Curtis

Worth checking out:

“In light of the fact that a number of people sent me this week’s New York Times Travel section’s 36 Hours: Madrid, I thought I’d share with you my own 48 hours in the city.”

Read the rest at España Profunda