It has been nearly a year since my last real hike, and I have missed filling my Camelbak and tossing my backback over my shoulders. While there is some great hiking surrounding Madrid, we are still avoiding public transportation, so I figured I´d do the next best thing — a hike through the city.
We love Parque del Retiro, but that is only about a four-mile loop. However if you head directly west from the flat, in about 3 km you´ll reach the border of Casa de Campo. This huge park is more than 4,250 acres, about five times the size of Central Park. It was created in the early 16th century for use by the royal family as a hunting ground and was only opened to the public in 1931.
Today you can find a zoo, an amusement park, and a large artificial lake in the southern part of the park. But much of the vast space remains unrefined, criss-crossed by bike paths and hiking trails through hills studded with tall pine and oak trees. It´s a perfect spot to log some miles, get a little fresh air, and not see too many people.
There are numerous lovely sights between our flat and the park, so on Saturday afternoon I headed out with plenty of water, a tuna sandwich, and a bottle of Coppertone Sport and spent four and a half hours roaming through the city. Apple Health says I logged nearly ten miles and over 24,000 steps during my outing. As the weather cools a bit in the coming weeks, I foresee more adventures like this!
Robert and I needed to make a decision about returning to Spain. After continuing to pay rent on our vacant flat, it was time to head back or pull the plug. If we selected the latter option and gave up the apartment (along with our winter clothes, Robert’s musical equipment, and a bunch of other personal items we left behind), it would have required significant emotional and logistical effort to eventually redo the heavy lifting we had already accomplished.
Additionally, our visas must be renewed by 4 November, and there was considerable uncertainty about the Spanish government’s willingness to do so (despite the ongoing health crisis) had we only spent four and a half months in the country.
After evaluating the numerous pros and cons of coming back, the decision was actually pretty easy. Our resident cards enabled us to reenter the EU despite the travel ban. And Spain is so much more affordable than the US; the Europeans have seemingly learned hard lessons from their recent experiences with public health; and, most important, we missed Madrid (I mean, where else — besides Italy, perhaps — can you find blue cheese gelato?) Having been back for four days now, I understand that I missed it more than I had realized.
My crystal ball has never been very accurate, and no one knows what the future holds. We remain cautious in our neighborhood ventures, but practically everyone here wears a mask (whether required or not), and appropriate social distancing has appeared universal in our nearby outings so far.
As always, the tremendous love and support from family and friends have been instrumental in advancing our adventure. We simply cannot thank you all enough.
Hi everyone! Robert here. Long story short, on March 19 we made a last minute decision to return to the US. We realized this was definitely a time to be close to loved ones. It was hard to leave Madrid as we had fallen so in love with our new home. Our hearts go out to all the wonderful people we met during our few months there.
Ray found affordable one-way flights for the next day. Going to Madrid with few material possessions made it easy to leave quickly. Parker Kitty (now a world traveler) handled the trip perfectly. (Purrfectly?) Ray was his normal stoic solid self. Not gonna lie, I was popping 5mg Valium like PEZ and chasing them down with vino and my OCD brain was still going a mile a minute. It took 24 hours but everything actually went smoothly. A friend of ours had a sudden vacancy on an adorable furnished place and graciously offered it to us for the time being. It is the perfect place for us to land and figure things out. Even Parker kitty settled right in!
We are extremely thankful for the invaluable support of our friends and family. The blog will probably be static for a while. Got a few things to work out.
Robert and I love Spanish food: jamón iberco, pimientos padrón, croquetas, gazpacho, tortilla de patatas, paella (well, I like paella anyway). There is nothing better to feast upon when dining out at restaurants whose chefs know what they are doing.
But once we moved to the flat and started to cook in more often, I had to dust off my recipes. There are a number of healthy and tasty go-to dinners in my repertoire, which are all very simple (frequently involving only a single pot or pan). In fact some of them adapted very easily to locally available ingredients (got a liter of ready-made gazpacho in the frig? You’ve got a great base for a light pasta sauce!)
But the spice/comdiment section of our local supermarket is on the thin side — pretty much the zestiest item on shelf is soy sauce. I found myself longing for my favorite hot sauce, Cholula.
Some friends who are coming to visit asked if there is anything they can bring from the states. It didn’t occur to me at first to have them drag along a couple bottles of Cholula Chipotle or Chili Lime, but that got me thinking: Madrid is a big city. Surely there must be some place that imports Mexican treats.
Hopping on Google I found a store called 100% Mexico (https://www.100porcienmexico.es/) about 350 meters from the flat. They feature clothing, arts, and most importantly, food direct from Mexico. While I could have stocked up on tortilla chips and salsa, my goal was Cholula, and there was an entire shelf of the stuff. Surprisingly, it was priced at 4 euros a bottle, which is only slightly more than I paid at the Safeway in Bisbee.
I selected my two favorite flavors and headed home to toss together a big batch of fresh elote.
Parker turns 15 in a few weeks, and she has always been in very robust health. But about three months ago, she started developing small scaly patches on her skin. Not apparently painful, and not to the point she would scratch her skin bare or raw — just little scabby areas mostly on her face and neck.
I wrote it off as a food allergy, or perhaps a delayed reaction to the stress of the move, and changed her brand of food. The symptoms subsided for a few weeks, but never completely resolved. Then over the next few weeks she started vomiting every few days, with gradually increasing frequency (and Parker has never been much of a barfer).
Since there tended to be some fur present when that happened, I figured it was hairballs. Out came the comb and digestive gel to help mitigate the symptoms, but those didn’t do the job. However, since she still exhibited a healthy appetite and readily took food, I wasn’t overly concerned.
All along I had been closely watching the catbox for any changes to her “output.” Nothing was unusual — regular amounts of liquid and solid waste, with no blood or anything runny. Nevertheless, two weeks ago when she threw up twice in one day, I realized it was time for a trip to the vet.
But where to go in Madrid?
A quick search located Clínica Veterinaria Antón Martín right around the corner (https://www.facebook.com/cvantonmartin/). The on-line reviews are stellar and several mentioned the vet even speaks English. It was 18:00 on a Friday and the clinic was open until 20:00.
When I called for an appointment and reverted to English, the assistant responded fluently. After I explained the problem, she told me they didn’t have any appointments available but that given the symptoms they needed to see Parker right away. She asked when I could come in and I told her I could be there in 20 minutes, to which she responded, “Perfect, see you soon.”
When I arrived at the spotless and odorless clinic, Camila immediately greeted me, took my information, and set up my file. Then she said, “Let me find a doctor.” Three or four minutes later Parker and I were in the exam room with an English-speaking vet, Miguel. He asked about the symptoms, patiently examined Parker, commented that “she is a very calm cat,” and concluded it was likely a food allergy.
Miguel recommended special food, pepcid, and an anti-nausea medication, with a follow-up appointment a few days later. He gave Parker two injections to provide immediate relief and sent me home with two trial packets of food (hypo-allergenic and digestive support) and ten days of medication.
This was one of the best vet experiences I have ever had. The sincere care and concern displayed by the entire staff was unmistakable. Remarkably, the bill for two office visits (initial and first follow-up), two shots, food samples, and oral meds totaled US $50. Sheesh…
After two weeks, Parker has not thrown up once and displays more energy. When I went back for a third office visit, they only charged me for another 20 days of medication (US $16) — the check-up was free.
Many of you are aware that Robert and I love jazz. One of our enduring habits over the last 25 years has been to try and see as much live jazz as possible. As with most things in life, we have been more successful some times than others at fulfilling this resolution.
One of the first things we did when we got here was to check out the local music scene. About a ten-minute walk from our flat is Cafe Central, an internationally renowned venue (Nosotros — there is a translation tab in the upper-right corner).
Contrary to some schedules in Spain, the nightly shows always start at 21:00 sharp and finish right around 23:00 (the bar/restaurant remains open until 2:30 the next morning, though, unless it’s the weekend in which case it’s open until 3:30).
We have enjoyed scat, electronica/rap, flamenco flute, modern jazz flute, afro/cuban funk, and straight-ahead jazz trios. The cover charge ranges from $15 to $25, and a bottle of wine is less than $20. Tapas and small plates are $6 – $10, so we normally spend less than $80 for wine, dinner, AND a first-rate show.
It’s a snap to make on-line reservations, but no tickets are issued. Like in days gone by, you show up at the door and your name is on a list. The charming host (Juanxo) invariably greets guests with a warm smile and instructs one of the waiters to escort you to your designated table.
There are tables right in front of the stage, as well as in the surrounding dining area. On our first visit we sat up front, with Robert positioned barely a yard from the grand piano’s keyboard. However, that space tends to be packed pretty tightly, so the next time we opted for the much less congested seating off to the side, which is still no more than 20 feet from the performers.
One of the most interesting things we noticed was the relatively large number of young people in the audience. Gatos (as we have come to learn is the colloquial term for Madrileños) love their jazz!
On our second visit we were shown to a table immediately to the left of the entry vestibule, but shielded from the hubbub by a large picture window. With both of us seated on the wall side of the table (it’s a club, so the four-tops may be shared depending on the size of the crowd), we were comfortably tucked away into a cozy little corner that was completely undisturbed on two sides. From there we still had a commanding view of the stage, but with much less commotion. We loved it.
On our third visit, Juanxo’s eyes lit up with recognition when he saw us as he welcomed us back. This time we tried another table in the side space, but it was in a more exposed area and we felt a bit jostled.
When we arrived for our fourth visit, Juanxo remembered our names. We were given a table with our backs to the large picture window facing Plaza del Angel — pleasant, but there was a constant awareness of people on the street peering over our shoulders into the club. We occasionally glanced over with mild envy at the couple enjoying the show from our favorite table just next to us.
For show number five, we purposely arrived about 10 minutes early and “our spot” was open. As Juanxo shook our hands, we mentioned how much we appreciate that particular table. He immediately led us there and offered us glasses of wine on the house.
We have had that table for every show since, and Juanxo assured us, “When you are here, that is your table.” Oh yeah, and we always get the first glass of wine free.
One of our goals after moving was to find interesting activities and make an honest effort to be viewed by the locals more like residents than tourists. We have had mixed success with this (google “guiri” if you are interested). That said, we are known at a number of neighborhood restaurants as “regulars”, and we truly hit the mark at Cafe Central.
One of the things we appreciate most about Madrid is the human scale of everyday living. For instance, the typical kitchen trash container is 10 liters, which is about 20% the size of the normal 13-gallon bin in the US.
This is a perfectly comfortable and useful size for Madrid because (at least in Centro) trash is collected every night! Each building has a smallish dedicated trash bin that a hired worker pulls out onto the sidewalk each night between 6 and 8, the trash truck rolls through between 1 and 2 am, and the bins are stored away by 7 or so the next morning.
* Interestingly, the individuals who move the trash bins appear to be on specific routes. In our neighborhood, someone rides up on a silent electric motorbike, pulls out a ring of several dozen building keys, and drags the bin in and out for us — twice a day, every day. Since we have been here, the only nights they took a holiday were Christmas Eve and New Years Eve.
Also helping reduce waste volumes is the city’s robust recycling program. Every few blocks throughout Centro are large recycling bins where you can separate glass from plastic from cardboard and paper. There are some on our way to the supermarket (which we visit nearly daily due to its location less than 200 meters from the flat), so it’s a breeze to drop off a bag or two of recyclables and then reuse the plastic bags we just emptied to cart groceries home.
The streets are also washed every so often. Water trucks slowly crawl along while a worker or two point hoses downhill, scouring away dust, small trash, and the inevitable dog waste (Madrid rivals Paris in that respect).
Happy holidays from Madrid! We wish everyone love and warm greetings for a prosperous and healthy new year.
We had heard Christmas Eve in Madrid is quiet because it is traditionally a day to spend with family. That turned out to be an understatement, and Robert and I took advantage of the peaceful day. Around noon I enjoyed a 50-minute jog around the beautiful Parque del Retiro. We then took lunch at one of our favorite local places, La Puerta Amarilla (La Puerta Amarilla in Madrid – Restaurant Reviews, Menu and Prices).
This place is known for their hamburgers, which I will enjoy on occasion — that said, I had not yet tried one in Madrid. Today I selected their signature La Amarilla burger as part of the menu del dia. For less than USD 13, I enjoyed a crisp glass of dry white wine, a beautiful grilled chorizo sausage with sweet salsa (starter), a great burger topped with cheese and fried plantain on a tasty fresh roll, fries on the side, and a slice of Toblerone cake for dessert. The waiter who has come to know us brought glasses of “agua del grifo” without our asking, so he got an extra tip (which still amounted to only about 5%).
Over the years, Robert and I have had an on-and-off tradition of a quiet dinner out on Christmas Eve that dates to our first Christmas together in Chicago. Way back in 1995 we dined at Gordon (Long Lost Lamented Restaurants Power Hour: Gordon) and that was the start of our custom.
We figured now is a great time to reinitiate the tradition, so I began looking for restaurants open on Christmas Eve. Here in Madrid, they are hard to find! A few hotel restaurants were featuring special fixed menus (one very near us was €120 per person, which is more than we really wanted to spend). Virtually all the other options were Indian cuisine, which is perfectly fine with Robert and me. After considering locations and reviews, we selected Tandoori Madrid in the barrio La Latina, self-described as “The best restaurant in Madrid!” (Tandoori Madrid in Madrid – Restaurant Reviews, Menu and Prices).
Despite lighting every bit as bright as it looks in the picture, it turned out to be a delightful experience. The food and service were top notch, and there was a festive but not too rambunctious crowd of people just like us searching for a good meal on an off night.
Since the evening had promised to be somewhat subdued, we planned a walk through the city to view the beautiful yet understated municipal Christmas light displays. While the first six and a half weeks of our stay featured chilly temperatures and nearly nonstop gray, drizzly skies punctuated by gusty winds, the last few days have turned beautiful for the season — sunny skies, calm breezes, and temperatures solidly in the 50s.
It ended up being a perfect evening for a stroll past the Prado, through the upscale barrio Jeronimos, around the charming Plaza de la Independencia and back through Puerta del Sol and Plaza Mayor.
Last evening, Robert and I participated in a Vipassana meditation group only a ten-minute walk from our AirBnb. This is a type of Buddhist meditation that explores physical phenomena and their interrelation with the mind and body. Last night’s session (in English) was attended by 35 or so practitioners from all over the world and proved to be a very centering exercise. The organization offers various meditation and yoga classes, in both Spanish and English, on a donation-only basis. They prefer that you register in advance so they can have enough tea and light snacks on hand, but it is not essential. We will do our best to make this our weekly Sunday event.
And now for some more illustrated, random observations about Madrid:
If you show up at a local restaurant more than once, you are likely to be welcomed like an old friend. We have been to Tinto y Tapas three times now — it’s a great place to grab a quick snack and a glass of wine if you are looking for a pick-me-up (the empanadas and tostas are really good). Each time we go in, we are greeted with warm smiles.
A couple weeks ago, Robert and I enjoyed a light dinner at Puerta Amarilla, a tiny place around the corner. A few days later we joined a Meetup gourmet group at another restaurant about fifteen minutes away. The waitress circled the large table taking orders, and when she got to us she had a surprised look of recognition on her face, and with a large grin exclaimed, “Puerta Amarilla!!!” Sadly, this is also a reflection on the local economy that many people must work multiple jobs to make ends meet.
While we’re talking about restaurants, there are other interesting things we have noticed here. Very often you will see a presentation like this:
Great ambiance, beautifully plated food, fine wine glasses…but if you look closely at the edge of the large gray plate, you will notice a couple of chips. This isn’t a culture that immediately tosses less-than-perfect items when they are still usable, and we appreciate that practicality.
Last comment on restaurants: we routinely rely on the Menu del Dia for our primary meal of the day. Many places, including some finer-dining establishments, offer this “lunch special” from 13:30 to 16:30 every Monday through Friday. For a set price of typically USD 12-15, you get a beverage (including beer or wine if you like), first and second courses (usually a selection of three to five items each), bread, and coffee or dessert. Feel like enjoying a second glass of wine? That’ll be another USD 2.75-3.25. And remember, you don’t tip more than a couple percent on that.
We have had the good fortune to encounter numerous like-minded folks at our language school and various MeetUp groups: people from Canada, the US, Europe, South America, the Middle East and Asia. Some have been visiting, some regularly spend part of the year in Spain, and others have chosen for one reason or another to live here for awhile. But each of them appreciates all the city has to offer.
One of the first things we did when we arrived was to go for a walk in nearby Parque del Retiro, Madrid’s Central Park. The nearest monument on what has become our normal route is called Fuente del Angel Caido. It was just a couple weeks ago that we found out this statue is widely regarded as the western world’s only prominent sculpture dedicated to Satan (well, technically Lucifer being expelled from Heaven) and that it happens to stand at 666 meters above sea level. Go figure!
Back to food now…last night after the meditation and a light tapas supper in, we fancied a cup of gelato at 00:30 on a Monday morning. In Madrid, that’s not a problem! We did need to walk past our usual gelato haunt and delve a couple blocks further into a more touristy area, but there was a huge gelateria open until 1:00.
Of course there have been certain challenges that we continue to work through. With any luck, most or all of those will be resolved by year-end (we don’t want to jinx anything by prematurely declaring victory, so we’ll circle back to those stories over the next few weeks). But for now, if some local process or detail starts to nag at us, all we need to do is throw on our jackets, walk out the door, and let the charm of Madrid melt our cares away.
After eight days in Madrid, we have a number of observations:
It’s easy to sleep until 10 or 11 (or noon) if you stay up until 1 or 2.
Spanish store brand cat food appears to be vastly tastier than premium US brands.
You need to think a little bit ahead if you rely on hanging your laundry out the window to dry in late autumn (but it really only takes about 30 hours for even jeans to dry).
The sun can be surprisingly warm even on a 53 degree afternoon in Parque de Retiro.
There is no good ending for any comment that starts with, “We should hurry up and do this because…” when you are surrounded by the food, wine, and people of Madrid.
We pushed the start of our language class to 18 November due to unforseen telecom and banking logistical challenges, not to mention the fact that we are enjoying these first leisurely days without any schedule whatsoever. There is rarely a need to glance at a clock after you wake because if a shop you want to visit is shuttered from 2 to 5 pm (still remarkably common in Madrid), it’s certain to be open well into the evening. Plus many restaurants don’t close until 11:30 or midnight, even on Sundays and weeknights, so it’s really hard to miss dinner.
And if for some reason you are uncharacteristically restless at 3 am on a Thursday morning and just can’t fall back to sleep, it’s easy and completely safe to throw on a pair of jeans and your coat and wander the Paseo del Prado for 30 minutes or so — you’d be surprised at the number of people of all ages doing the same thing.
Perhaps we would have enjoyed this newfound freedom as much had we stayed in the US, but that’s rather doubtful. The vibrant pulse of this city, whose residents joyously and gratefully embrace the outdoors in all but the most inclement weather, is intoxicating. The other night after a relatively early 10 pm dinner in, Robert said, “Let’s go for a walk!” We strolled a neighborhood new to us, passing countless bars, fancy restaurants, and fast-food joints, all packed with people just out enjoying another evening.