Category Archives: Madrid Meanderings

A Fool’s Errand

My laptop has developed some kind of motor neurone disease. It starts with mouse paralysis, which then extends to the trackpad and the keyboard. After an unsuccessful repair attempt, which involved a two-week wait, I decided I could not be doing with this. Christmas is looming, and the thought of being stranded in Germany for a couple of weeks without a computer, never mind the money I’d lose by not being able to work from there, is more than I can bear, financially and mentally.

So, today I schlepped all the way to the Apple Store in Madrid. I had thought of everything: My passport (shops in Spain routinely ask for ID at the checkout), my Apple ID, a bag to conceal my purchase. OK, Madrid is not Maputo, and you can call me paranoid, but I don’t want to be drawing the attention of any shadies in the very place where they all hang out: in the heaving centres of capital cities, waiting to lighten the loads of hapless shoppers and unsuspecting tourists.

I was relieved to find that the product I wanted was in stock, as was a type of semi-exotic cable I’d been looking for. But when I tried to pay, card was declined, despite sufficient funds in my account.

It turns out that the one thing I had evidently not thought of was that there might be a daily transaction limit on my card. I’d never tried to make a purchase of well over a thousand bucks before with my Spanish bank card.

The store was better prepared for this than I was, because, apparently, this happens all the time. The nice assistant pointed me to the number to call to get them to up the limit.

My bank, the Santander, has a very affable marketing slogan: “We want to be your bank”. But not on a Sunday, it transpired, when all you can do by phone is to check your balance and block a stolen card. As for anything that’s not automated and requires the input of a human being… forget it!

I had a couple of hours to kill (rather than my bank, which would have given me infinitely more pleasure), so I wandered around town for a bit.

Spiderman

He cheered me up 🙂

Cakes

So did a dose of this. It’s six hours later as I type this, and I’m still riding out the sugar high.

Escaped balloons

I wonder if the balloon seller was as pissed off as I was after being left empty handed…

A couple more shots from Plaza Mayor, already decked out in its festive seasonal trappings, (using the “drawing” setting on my cheapy camera):

Merry-go-round 1Plaza Mayor

 

 

 

Princess Leia Surrounded By Ancient Penises

A few months ago, my friend Maria informed me that the National Archaeological Museum had opened its doors again after having been closed for aeons (6 years!) for renovations. And finally, this Friday, we scurried off to Madrid to edify ourselves on a dose of culture.

Sphinx

Everyone loves a perky reception 😉

They let you take photos inside. Since flash is not allowed, the pics are a bit fuzzy, apologies for that. Let’s go straight to the museum’s most glamorous A-lister:

Dama de Elche

The Lady of Elche (Elche is a town in Valencia, where this beauty was unearthed), believed to date from the 4th century BC

Dama De Elche 2

It is rumoured that she was wearing a gold bikini on her (unfortunately still missing) bottom half.

Giant penis 1

This one’s drawing much admiration from his brethren…

Big Penis 2

..because he’s the only one who needs a wedge under his pedestal to keep him upright

Devil

The devil’s in the detail

Octopus

*WANTED* Suspect fleeing crime scene. Last seen ca. 2000 yrs ago

Priapus

A beautiful maiden bringing some freshly picked fruit along for a picnic…?

Priapus 2

Uhm…nope. It’s a frisky fertility god named Priapus with a different kind of proposition… The marble statue dates from the 1st century and turned up (or on?) near Málaga.

Food? Of course there was food!

Ethiopian Food

Our Ethiopian lunch 🙂 So pretty. So spicy!

Organic Candy

I may be responsible for some of what’s missing there…

Thai Food And A Dirty Selfie

On Friday, my friend Maria and I sacrificed yet another perfectly good working day on the altar of freelance rebellion. We went AWOL in Madrid, which entailed some glorious food, a thought-provoking exhibition of photographs taken in 1960’s Barcelona by the legendary Eugeni Forcano, and a peruse of the latest scriptures laid out in The Temple (aka Casa Del Libro, a massive bookshop).

Let’s ogle the food. (I could eat it all over again right now…!) Maria chose a Thai restaurant called Thaidy, where we had a great three-course lunch for a mere €12.50 each.

Thai green curry and basil & chili beef

The basil and chilli beef was seriously hot – but that’s what we asked for, and we loved it! The green curry had just a tad too much salt, but it was still enjoyable.

Thai Starter

The starters – fresh and tasty 🙂

Madrid Street

Dirty Selfie

Those doors are in desperate need of a good clean! As are my own windows at home… erm…

An Afternoon Of Pop Art And Vietnamese Nosh

Q: What do two freelancers do on a Tuesday afternoon? A: What they bloody well like!

So, off to Madrid we went, Maria and I, to peruse  the Mitos Del Pop exhibition laid on by the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum. (Whoever decided on this tongue twister of a name???)

Madrid Metro - Puerta Del Sol

Madrid Metro – Puerta Del Sol. A bit ‘Pop Art’, don’t you reckon?!

Entrance to the exhibition, with Maria at the end

Entrance to the exhibition, with Maria waiting for me to get a move on.

Soup cans. Photo taken in the Museum shop, not the exhibition itself. I was told off :(

There can be no Pop Art without Soup cans! Photo taken in the Museum shop, not the exhibition itself. And the staff told me off 😦

Let’s move onto the food. We opted for Vietnamese 🙂

Spring rolls, the non-fried version

Spring rolls, the non-fried version. Fresh, crunchy, chewy and delicious.

Stir fry with peanut sauce

Stir fried pork with peanut sauce

El Rastro. And “Peruvian” Food Afterwards.

I’ve already mentioned in a couple of posts that, a week ago, my friend Maria and I spent the day in Madrid. We meandered through El Rastro for hours, with the sun on our faces and the crowd thronging.

El Rastro is an enormous open air flea/artisan market held every Sunday in a part of town called La Latina. It’s crammed to the rafters with rusty old junk (aka “antiques”), delightful trinkets and arty stuff.

I’ve finally managed to go through the pics, and here’s a selection:

DolliesDolls

Keys

I’d not be surprised if a quite a few of those opened random doors in Toledo!

Fabric

Tin Cars

Flamenco dresses

Eeeeeek… that’s me first thing in the morning!

Lamp shop

The Rastro is fun, but what’s missing, in my opinion, is food stalls. In the UK or in Germany, they’d have filled this glaring gap (and quite a few ravenous punters) by now.

No matter. While waiting for a bunch of Maria’s friends to join us, we stumbled across an interesting restaurant not far off the market, serving ‘Peruvian fusion’ cuisine. We had to wait for ages to get a table outside, and the service was excruciatingly slow, but the food was worth waiting for.

Deep-fried wontons and sweet and sour vegetables. ten out of ten for taste, and ten out of ten for photogenicity :)

Deep-fried wontons with sweet and sour chicken, vegetables and mango. Definitely more “fusion” than “Peruvian”. Ten out of ten, though, for taste, and another ten out of ten for photogenicity 🙂

We had to order Peru's signature dish, of course: ceviche. You'll find variations of this marinated fish and seafood dish all over Latin America.

We absolutely had to order Peru’s signature dish, ceviche. You’ll find endless variations of this marinated fish and/or seafood dish all over Latin America. This one was delicious!

Beef stir fry. Also pretty tasty.

It sure was a colourful day :)

It sure was a colourful day 🙂

Look Up Look Down: The Legs Of La Latina

Spotted on Sunday in Madrid. There’s always something going on in La Latina! Perfect for travelwithintent’s Look Up, Look Down challenge, I thought 😉

What is this monstrosity, you wonder...

What is this monstrosity, you wonder…

Now it makes a bit more sense. Or not...

Now it makes a bit more sense. Or not…

La Latina is also the part of town that host an enormous market, El Rastro, every Sunday. There will be a post coming up on this shortly.

Great Cajun Food… In Madrid!

Yup, you read that right…the culinary delights of steamy New Orleans right in the dusty heart of Spain… who’d have thunk it?!

So, Saturday night, my pals Carmen and Olga hauled me into Madrid to check out this restaurant called Gumbo. Not the most original name, granted, but I shall forgive them, because the service was so good, it almost made me forget that I was in Spain!

Carmen had eaten at this place before and survived, so we knew it was unlikely to be a disaster. We hadn’t booked a table and we were really lucky to get in…

Gumbo

Any guesses as to what we had for our first starter?

Fried green tomatoes, of course!

Fried green tomatoes, what else?! Olga’s allergic to tomatoes, so she was forced to pass on those, but she mopped up the 1000-calories-a-droplet sauce with great gusto.

Our second starter: Baked mussels, lovely and cheesy :)

Our second starter: Baked mussels, all lovely and cheesy 🙂 Could have done with a tad less salt, perhaps, but otherwise perfect.

Carmen and I both had the Jambalaya for our mains. Just look at those glorious blackened giant prawns! Olga had a beef dish, which was fantastic, but, unfortunately not very photogenic.

Carmen and I both opted for the jambalaya for our mains. Just look at those glorious blackened giant prawns perched on top of the rice (which had quite a kick to it, let me tell you!)
Olga had a beef dish with creamy mashed potatoes. The meat was as flavourful as it was tender, but, unfortunately, it didn’t rank as the most photogenic of entrees. You can just about make out a glimpse of it in the back.

Banoffee pie. It had to be. A more humble (but not at all bad) carrot cake in the background.

Dessert…? Absolutely! Banoffee pie. It had to be. A more humble (but not at all bad) carrot cake in the background.

Would we go back there?

Hell, YES!!!

[Here’s the link to Gumbo’s website, in case you want to check it out for yourself.]

Madrid Town Hall By Night

I took this picture last night, while out and about in Madrid with Team Tapas.

Madrid Ayuntamiento (Town Hall)

Madrid Ayuntamiento (Town Hall)

Am trying to fall in love with a city, which, at first glance, I didn’t really take to. It will soon be my home, so I better make an effort. I think it’s slowly happening…

There will be a food post to follow…

 

The Writing’s On The Wall…

When I got back from Key West a couple of weeks ago, I found this wedged into my bathroom window:

"For Sale or For Rent"

“For Sale or For Rent”

Although I didn’t know the sign was going to be there, it wasn’t exactly a huge surprise. While we were on our Christmas break together in Lisbon, I told (my landlady) Sofía that I was planning on leaving Toledo this spring. She said she would put up the place for sale very soon, because it would probably take ages to shift it.

Ever since Spain’s construction bubble burst its overbloated, bribe-infested guts in 2008, selling property has become extremely difficult. The same goes for finding tenants. With a youth unemployment rate of around 55%, young people have little choice but to keep living with their parents. Forever.

The local housing situation is probably worst in Toledo old town, which, although of overwhelming rustic beauty, is very inconvenient for daily living, to put it mildly. Car access is restricted, parking (even a bike) is virtually impossible, the internet is excruciatingly slow, noise travels like through a megaphone, burst water pipes are a monthly occurrence. And let’s not talk about the horrors of cockroach season. In its glorious past as Spain’s capital, Toledo’s historic centre was home to 30,000 people. The present headcount is around 9,000 and dwindling.

When I moved here in 2011, I knew that Toledo wasn’t going to be my home forever. I was reluctant to move to a big city first off, because I didn’t want to get sucked into the parallel universe that is the expat community. My prime objective for moving to Spain was (and is) to learn Spanish, a feat more easily achieved in a small-ish town with few foreigners skipping about. And this strategy has, on the whole, worked quite well for me.

My linguistic obsessions aside, I’ve been finding it hard to build a satisfying life for myself in Toledo. Having said that, I’ve made a bunch of lovely friends here, I certainly don’t want to poo-poo that.

Essentially, what it boils down to, is this: I miss London. Or maybe not London per se, but what it represents: A bustling capital, where the whole world is at home. I miss having an extensive array of cultural and educational offerings and, even more importantly, convenient access to food from all over the planet right on my doorstep. Toledo may have the most succulent tortillas, the tastiest hams, the most flavoursome of (Manchego) cheeses, the smokiest of picante chorizo….

…but every once in a while, all I want is  some decent sushi. Or proper Chinese food from northern China, not that generic gloopy pap that is served up in Chinese restaurants all over the world (except in China). I want a curry that’s actually HOT. I want grocery shops that sell coconut milk, brown basmati rice, soba noodles, rice crackers, pitch-black German wholegrain bread. I want a cake that’s not a flippin’ muffin or a brownie.

Also, I feel the need to connect with a small handful of expats like myself. The blogs are great, but they only go so far. I miss speaking German with people who are not my family. I want to speak REAL English with a Brit who shares my set of cultural (UK) references and unsanitary vocab. I need people who understand, on an emotional as well as on a practical level, what it’s like to move countries.

Some of you may vaguely remember a post I wrote almost a year ago, contemplating Barcelona as my next destination. Well, after a lot of umming and ahing, I decided against it. Why? Because it’s not compatible with The Prime Directive, i.e. getting to grips with Spanish good and proper. Although Castilian Spanish is, according to what I’ve been told, sufficient for navigating Barcelona, it is the capital of Catalonia, and the official language there is Catalan. If you’ve been watching the news, you will know that the whole issue is politically very sensitive. I might well encounter situations where people in Barcelona will reply to me in English rather than in Castilian. I’ve consulted with my besieged brain, and it threatened me,  in no uncertain terms, with a permanent nervous breakdown if assaulted by yet another language.

To be honest, I simply lack the motivation right now to pour tons of effort into learning a “boutique” language spoken by so few people, but it would bug me no end if I couldn’t understand the signs and conversations around me, and if, when out with a group of local friends, they’d be forced to switch languages in order to include me in their conversation. It would make me feel like I was right back at square one, and after having worked so hard at it over the past couple of years.

So, Madrid it is. It may not be as beautiful as Barcelona, and there’s not a beach in sight, but it offers a number of advantages, besides speaking the right language. For instance:

  • It is close to Toledo (just 80km away), so I will still be able to see my friends fairly regularly. They like going to Madrid for things like exhibitions, food, cinema.
  • My Portuguese teacher, who I’m growing rather fond of, also teaches in Madrid, so I can keep up my lessons with her. Besides, I shouldn’t have any trouble finding some willing Portuguese bods in Madrid for language intercambios. I’ve not managed to find anyone in Toledo.
  • Most of my friends in Toledo have lived in Madrid and some are actually from there, so I can tap them for local knowledge and contacts.
  • Madrid has excellent public transport connections to the rest of Spain (and, of course, the rest of the world). I don’t have a car, and I detest driving, so this is a huge plus point.

I’m in no immediate rush to move, but I’d like to be out of here before the beginning of July. I need to do my research… I’m looking for an affordable neighbourhood which has character, but isn’t too grubby.

Do any of you happen to know any Madrid-based bloggers I could cyber-stalk?