No need to break into cold sweats, I’m not going to be talking about Football!
I want to turn my attentions to discuss life in the Capital of Spain, Madrid. I hope to impart some of the experience and knowledge I have gained by living here. The topics I will try my utmost to include in these blogs are; my thoughts on the city, the culture, people, communities and local areas, shopping, heritage, history, politics, food and cuisine and so on.
Some people may believe that Madrid is like any other tourist destination in Spain, similar perhaps to the Southern Coastal areas of the country such as Malaga, Benidorm, Menorca and so on. Well, the people who think that are wrong! Madrid isn’t anything like those Southern tourist ‘hot spots’, not that the ‘real’ Spanish residential areas of Malaga, Benidorm and Menorca are at all like the tourists think they are either! Spain has many faces to attract many people.
Madrid is a world away from other tourist hotspots situated in the South. It is a city where there is a subtle and obvious blend of the historical past and the extreme modern. Tourism is more refined here; the city doesn’t depend upon that alone. Madrid operates like any other capital; it is busy and on the move until the early hours, the streets are packed with people living their usual lives, there are fantastic architectural masterpieces, Government buildings and residential apartments, there are the elite boutiques, vintage shops and of course Primark! There are an abundance of cafes, restaurants, bars and clubs which cater for every taste and most cuisines. There are museums, art galleries, public parks and lots of traffic! A small thing to note is that ‘Roundabouts’ are called Glorietas here, the reason being I think is plainly clear, they are usually glorious to look at! Amid all the traffic there are fountains, statues and often vast structures, which are phenomenal pieces of work. A slight difference to anything I have seen in the UK or the USA.
Above: Glorieta Puerta de Toledo – one example of many such roundabouts scattered across Madrid.
The city streets are carved up into individual residential areas called; barrios. These barrios contribute their own individual feel and flavour to the city. I want to go into more details about these later, but for now I will mention only a few of the most well known and loved barrios.
Chueca: the Gay quarter. There are many excellent clubs and restaurants here. Small boutique shops and also a lovely market called ‘San Anton’. The market sells fresh produce, which can be sampled. On the middle level of the building there are stalls to purchase meals and places to eat, on the top level there is a fabulous restaurant with roof terrace.
Malasaña: for the vintage and bohemian. Many excellent vintage stores, one of my absolute favourites resides here: ‘Magpie’. There are just too many little bars and cafes to mention, all with individual flair. There is also the ‘Plaza del Dos de Mayo’, where the people of Madrid resisted the French invasion of 1808 on the 2nd May, hence the name.
La Latina: for the party and good food. It hosts many beautiful plazas, churches and buildings. Also famous for ‘El Rastro’ a Sunday market unlike any other; stalls and people fill the streets; you can barter and buy anything here. Very good for leather bags and jewellery.
El Rastro: just a hint of the Sunday shopping madness!
Salamanca: known for its ‘high class’ reputation; exclusive shops line Calle Goya, and there are great places to eat. This area has many beautiful buildings and is host to the wonderful Parque del Retiro.
I want to discuss these areas, and many more, in further detail. I have, for now, over-simplified what the above barrios are famous for; Parque del Retiro for example could have a post dedicated specifically to it!! I will return to the topic of the barrios very soon.
Below: The ‘Boating Lake’ – a glimpse of the wonders held within Parque del Retiro.
What makes this city accessible is the prompt, clean and safe Metro system (Trains, like the London Underground). I also think it is pretty inexpensive; 10 viajes (10 journeys) roughly 12 euros (subject to change) . This allows you to travel to most barrios within the city; certain areas do however carry an extra tariff, such as when going to Barajas Airport. The only disappointment on this is that now there have been cuts to the services on certain lines, during the early hours of the morning. For example, we were returning from a night out in Malasaña, it was relatively early 01:30, but the train wasn’t running so we had to use the bus. Again these too are excellent and prompt, but I have less knowledge of the buses than the Metro. The destination of each bus often runs on a similar route to the Metro service, so knowing this will help!
The last few things I will briefly touch upon in this post are some of my feelings about, and direct experiences of living in Madrid. I have enjoyed every day, and that I can say quite honestly! When I think back to just before we moved out here, how dire things were becoming, being here is like having a prayer answered. Our lives have changed and for the better. Every day is different as there is so much to see and do. Walking around is easy for me, I am based in the Salamanca area, so Retiro Park, Goya, even Puerta del Sol (another area to discuss later on!) are walkable. Our social life has never been better; the bars and restaurants can be cheap enough (which I will again go into in more detail!!!) I have seen more plays and musicals too, albeit in Spanish, than ever before! Everything is quite literally on your doorstep.
The only thing I do miss is the open countryside, or more importantly the variance the UK climate brings to the countryside and open spaces. Nothing is very green and lush here, the sun is persistent even in winter, and rain is not very often seen. The temperatures can be crazy hot! This August was extremely warm, more so than usual; 46 degrees (114 Fahrenheit), the temperatures don’t always desist as soon as autumn appears either!
Hints and Tips:
Another aspect to bring into consideration now is the language. We are learning Spanish at the moment, but getting to conversational level takes time, confidence, patience and practice! Most days I’ll admit I feel defeated! Yet, I persist as people here don’t always speak English; many people above the age of 40 don’t speak any. The reason for this is; the educational system, but also the time Franco (the dictator) spent in power here. Some of the younger people however do speak really good English, but are often too shy, under confident or under practiced to admit they do. What seems to work is attempting to speak to them in Spanish first, then you will notice they will be less shy to attempt to speak to you in English. In fact most people I have met to speak to, do have some, if not an extremely good understanding of English, once prompted! If you do plan to visit Madrid, I would suggest at least trying to learn or becoming familiar with the basics of how to say; hello, good day, how to order or ask for food and drinks. It is polite and also far less stressful! Youtube has plenty of beginner guides with pronunciation practice.
Also in Madrid the American accent is understood far better than the English accent! Spanish people often speak English with an American twang, because they have used American TV as a learning tool and reference point. Also American tourists outnumber the British!
Oh, the last thing for now, I PROMISE!!!! Public conveniences; might sound odd to mention such things, but then not many people do. I feel this needs mentioning, especially if you have never visited Spain or France before. Toilets are always accessed via the local bars, cafes and restaurants. You don’t have to be a customer to use them, but sometimes you will have to be. Starbucks and a few other well know places use codes to lock the loos up! There are public conveniences, portable types which you pay to use, but they are few and far between! I think the services at cafes and so on are far better as they are almost always cleaner!
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© Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bex Houghagen and The Savvy Senorita with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.