Thursday, October 11, 2012

Things to do in Barcelona suggestions

Before I went to Barcelona at the end of the summer, I asked some other MISTI kids in Barcelona what I should do there. When I asked them what to do, I asked about "off-the-beaten path" things to do; I figured I'd find the touristy stuff anyway. Over the course of traveling and talking to people, I've added to this list.

  • Castelldefels - take the R2 from Barcelona (free with Eurail that's valid in Spain! Otherwise, a few Euros). If you're a naturey type, it's much nicer than Barcelona. Has a nice beach that is much nicer than the one in Barcelona (the commuter rail stops right at the beach if you take the right train) and is very clean and quiet at night. Parc de Garraf is a nice nature preserve that is nearby (and within walking distance). --- suggestion taken from Sam Markson
  • Jazz Si - a jazz club in Barcelona with a nice young crowd and some nice jazz
  • With one of the ferrocarriles (a type of metro you can use a normal metro pass on - major stop at Diagonal) you can get to Sarria, a town a little bit to the north of Barcelona. It is much more old-school Spain. There is a bar called Bar Tomas with the best patatas bravas in Spain --- suggestion taken from Tara Ebsworth
  • Borne - area by the metro stop Jaume 1 with tons of small restaurants and bars --- suggestion taken from Tara Ebsworth
  • Tibidabo - take a ferrocarril to Tibidabo then catch a bus to the Mirablau restaurant with a great view of the entire city and it's a great place to watch the sunset, since the sub sets behind the mountains at your back. --- suggestion taken from Tara Ebsworth
  • The Dow Jones, Espit Chupiteria (order the Monica Lewinsky - you'll see why) --- suggestion from Ann Alampi
  • Razzmattazz - huge club with lots of top 40 hits --- suggestion from Ann Alampi
  • Opium - super swanky club with a strict dress code that is supposed to be the best --- suggestion from Ann Alampi
  • Fab Lab Barcelona - - a hackerspace that is supposed to be cool
  • Carrefou is a hackerspace outside the city that has great recommendations
  • The Sagrada Familia church is currently still being built and definitely worth the visit. History in action.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

San Sebastián, Part 1

After a few hours of sleep on Friday night, I said goodbye to Madrid for good and left on a 5-hour train ride to San Sebastián to start my adventures. 

And it's a good thing I did, because when I said Granada was my favorite city in Spain, I was lying. San Sebastián is my favorite city in Spain


The second-class tickets for this particular train were sold out, but the first-class tickets only cost me 10 euros with a Eurail pass. The only difference as far as I could tell between first and second class on RENFE was that I got served the most delicious breakfast ever. 
Croissant, piece of bread, Greek yogurt, Spanish omlette, fried eggplant in tomato sauce, small white chorizo, tea, orange juice. And with the bread they gave us butter and jam and an adorable tiny 2-oz bottle of olive oil. 


Because I am staying in San Sebastian for two nights, I booked two nights in a hostel - The Hostel Lagunak, right in the of the Parte Vieja in San Sebastian. It is a very pleasant hostel with friendly staff, clean linens, full kitchen, and washer/dryer. The staff is friendly and nice, and the hostel couldn't be better situated in the old town. When I had a problem with one of the guests at the hostel who was super drunk, they helped me out and let me change rooms. This place definitely gets a good review in my book. 


San Sebastián is the name in castellano Spanish for a city that the Basque people call Donostia. It was originally a huge whaling port, with the Basque sailors sometimes going on month-long whaling missions. Some historians suspect that the Basque people even found the Americas before Christopher Columbus, and many more think that Christopher Columbus's ships were Basque-built. Not a lot is known about the origin of the Basque people, since their language (Euskara) is completely unrelated to any other language in the world.  

San Sebastián is in the north of Spain on the Cantabrian sea:

And as a result, it has a bit of everything. Hiking, climbing, beach, surf, jobs, happy people, amazing food. 

While the majority of the population speaks in Basque (and the directional signs are all in Basque), it is still Spain (some Basque people might disagree with you on that point), and therefore everyone speaks traditional Spanish (castellano). 

the day

We (Erica, Josh, Sophie, and I) were really lucky that Ekavali was in town this weekend. Erica, Sophie, and Josh got crash space, and we all got an amazing tour of the city!

The first thing we did (after finding a quick nom of course) was hike up to see Jesus. Oh yea, the city of San Sebastián has a huge Jesus statue that overlooks the entire city. 
But when you hike up the 20 minutes or so to the top, he just kind of stares you down.
I'm not quite sure of the history of the Jesus statue - most of the signs and descriptions on the mountain were in Euskara, so I wasn't very motivated to decipher them. 

On the way up we found an interesting English cemetery (from the "Carlist wars" - yet another piece of history I need to look up).
After finishing up with Jesus, we hiked back down and walked across the beach, eventually getting to these cool iron sculptures at the opposite end of the beach. While walking across the beach Erica decided it would be cool to prance....
And the cool iron sculptures were placed among rocks and things we could climb around. The people standing on the beach thought we were crazy by climbing around on the rocks, but it was perfectly safe. 

the evening

Once it got dark, we were ready for a tour of the "food capital of Spain." Thank goodness Ekavali was with us, because she knew exactly where to take us! 

We had delicious tapas - oxtail, bacalao (fish), squid, mejillones (mussels), and many many more! Although the portions were small (they come in the pinchos variety), it was very very filling. 

In the Basque Country, the portions of food that are standard are pinchos (spelled pintxos).  It is in fact the same word, since the tx in Basque makes the "ch" sound. What this means is a piece of bread with a small item of food, usually ordered with a drink and to share among many people. 

After having the pinchos here in San Sebastián I think most of the pinchos I've had in Madrid were put to shame.

San Sebastián part 2 coming soon....

Monday, July 23, 2012

smoking kills, children

Why can't we have advertisements like this on our cigarette packets?
It doesn't stop the Spaniards I guess...

Friday, July 20, 2012

observations on crosswalks and the like

The pedestrian, automotive, and cycling customs are of course different here in Spain. I'm sure in other parts of Spain they're even different from the things I have seen and experienced in Madrid. For now, all I know is that Madrid is just plain different than the US. 


First, the whole "cars stay out of the middle of the intersection" business is clearly just for losers. When pedestrians are allowed to cross, the cars stop exactly abutting BOTH sides of the crosswalk.
Pedestrians don't usually jaywalk, but when there is absolutely no chance of getting hit by a car (especially on the Paseo de Castellana on my way to work - requires 3 crosswalk signs to cross), everyone will make a run for it to the other side. 


When in Spain, know the words. The word that Spaniards use for bike is bici (pronounced bee-see), when the textbook word is bicicleta.

In terms of bikes, at least in Madrid, not very many people ride bikes. The streets are ever so slightly too hilly, and we all know the stereotype of Spanish laziness (not saying it's true, it's just a stereotype). Perhaps a more correct reason for why not many people ride bikes in Madrid is the fact that there aren't any bike lanes of which to speak, so the bikes just get clobbered by the car traffic. 

Those who do ride bikes seem to be strongly in favor of the folding bike - it's easy to take in the subway, store in the apartment, and feel engineer-like when assembling it out on the street. My roommate even has one - they are more common by a factor of 3:1 in terms of regular bikes. 

An interesting bike lane tidbit albeit in Seville was that the bike lanes also included wheelchairs.
Seville was much more up-to-date on the whole bike lane thing, so everyone was riding a bike (although I can't imagine it being pleasant, considering it was 100+ degrees with no breeze).


As expected, the cars are smaller than cars in the US. 2-door cars are common, and I've never once seen a pickup truck (and I've been to the countryside!). 

Gas prices are a bit ridiculous, though. In the States we pay by the gallon and fill up 12+ gallons to a tank. Here, they pay by the liter, use diesel fuel, and fill up a tank of ~8 gallons instead. For reference, while we think our $3.50/gallon prices are bad, try 1.50 euros/liter. Yowie. 

But it seems to me that the only gas station I've seen is one right on the side of the road. That's right, you drive on the road, don't even pull into a shoulder, and BOOM, you have gas.
And to everyone who loves driving manual-transmission cars - you'll love it here. It's very hard to find a car with automatic transmission, even here in the center of the city. When we were going on the lab retreat, I couldn't even drive because I don't know how to drive stick. All my labmates were laughing at me, but in the States automatic transmission is the norm. 

I bet combining diesel, smaller cars, and manual transmission makes the cars here much more fuel-efficient....

Sala Clamores

I've tried to go to the Sala Clamores twice now - once for Flamenco Fusion music and one for Cuban dance music, but the first time the band was cancelled and the second time I was too tired. It's only a 7-minute walk from my apartment up by the Bilbao metro stop, in a more "authentic" neighborhood away from the main touristy places. 

So today I finally went! 

Unfortunately I was alone and it wasn't as exciting as it could have been - but the music was very good. Some Cuban street band was playing, and they played quite enjoyable salsa music. I sat at the bar nursing my tinto (Which was 6 euros, by the way. That's double what I've paid for any tinto before, and not completely worth it to be honest.) and enjoying the music. All around me couples were salsa-ing, and if they weren't at the bar, they were sitting at tables chatting away. 

The crowd was an older one than I was used to at most places I'd been. I'd say I was the youngest one there by at least 10 years. But it was an interesting, enjoyable, harmonious musical experience.

Callao's lights

Right off of the Puerta del Sol there's a plaza called the Plaza de Callao. There's a big TV screen there and there's always a stage set up for one reason or another. But the coolest thing about this plaza is that there's a building with synchronized flashing colored lights. 
Of course, it's not as cool as the Green Building lights but it's the closest Madrid has to something like that.  

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

a million ways to say "hotel"

Spanish is not a complicated language grammatically or pronunciation-wise. However, it does have some interesting tidbits with it's vocabulary. For instance, there are a few different ways to say "hotel" that all imply different levels of hotel-ness. 

hotelhotel as you could canonically think of it
price range: could be anything really... but usually not less than
40 euros a night
hostalbed and breakfast - usually a family-owned business
(think one-star hotel)
price range: on average 20 euros a night and you most likely
can get a private bathroom too
hostelhostel as you would think of it - it's actually the English word
price range: 20 euros a night but if you're lucky you can
get it cheaper for a bunk in a shared room with a shared bathroom
pensiónbed and breakfast that's of slightly lower quality than a hostal
price range: 25 euros a night usually, but is dirtier than a
hostal and might not have a private bathroom
youth hostel - there are lots of 16-year olds staying here
price range: depends on the location, and ranges from 10-25 
euros/night for a bunk in a shared room with a shared bathroom

Monday, July 16, 2012


Most say that between the three major cities in Andalucía, Córdoba is the least interesting but the most conveniently located close to Madrid on the AVE. To perpetuate this stereotype, Robin and I didn't find out for ourselves whether or not there was anything to see in Córdoba because we used it as a stop between Sevilla and Madrid. Our train got to Córdoba around noon and we caught a 4pm train back to Madrid. Everyone knows there is only one thing to see in Córdoba....

the Mezquita

As soon as you come inside you're instantly confused about whether this is a mosque or a cathedral. And with good reason! The original site of the Mezquita was a pagan temple way back in the day, then a Visigoth church, then a Moorish mosque, and then during the Reconquista again converted into a Christian temple. But because of it's long history of change and religion, the inside just makes you confused.

It's pretty, and filled with history. But at the moment it remains a Catholic church, and Muslims have regularly asked that they be allowed to pray inside. Their requests have been denied, despite the fact that the Mezquita has a rich Muslim history. 

the Longfellow Bridge is clearly in Córdoba!

Right next to the Mezquita on the river, there is a Roman bridge that according to my guidebook "was poorly restored back in 2009." Don't you think it looks a little bit like the Longfellow Bridge in Boston? At least the buttresses?

(Photo taken from the Flickr of Antonio Vidigal)


Abutting the Mezquita are a bunch of touristy places to eat, so we walked a few blocks away and found a 10-euro-menu-del-día place that had everything you could hope for: salmorejo, gazpacho, lamb chops, squid, desert, and tinto de verano. Robin's dish was so pretty I had to take a picture of it
Yes, those are whole squids. Yummmmm.


We got to the train station an hour and a half before our train, so we switched our train tickets for a train that was leaving in 15 minutes, getting back to Madrid an hour and a half earlier than we originally thought. Unfortunately, we perpetuated the myth that Córdoba is only worth a few hours for the Mezquita and a meal. If it wasn't so hot, maybe it would have been nice to stay here for the rest of the day to see a bit more of the city.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Sevilla, like Granada, is another city in Andalucía. In English the spelling of Sevilla is "Seville," but I will continue referring to it as Sevilla sometimes because cuando en España...

Robin and I got to Sevilla on Sunday morning at around noon after a 3ish hour train ride from Granada - the absolute worst time to get to any southern city in Spain. To use one of Erica's phrases, it was balls hot.

Sevilla is a much more modern city than Granada by many standards (for one, they have a metro system and a high-speed train that goes there), so we were able to get a map in the train station and walk to our pensión in about 25 minutes. On the way there we saw a cool structure in the old quarter that looked like it had been lasercut and press-fit together.
It was designed by a German architect and claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world. 


This time, we stayed in a pensión a bit north of the old town called the Pensión Nuevo Pino. It was the cheapest place I could find on Expedia - about 40 euros for one night, with some semblance of breakfast included. It also claimed to have air conditioning, but what they really meant was a fan. We had our own private bathroom and unlimited tea, coffee, and hot chocolate. As long as you didn't open the window, the room was more or less comfortable to sleep in. The pillows were small, which I liked a lot, seeing as I don't sleep with a pillow half the time anyway. Robin disagrees of course, but you can't agree on everything. 


Seville is the place where most of the journeys of the great Spanish explorers started - as a port city (but not on the ocean), Seville was powerful back in the day, and has a large city center and a large cathedral to show for it. The city today is known for it's bullfights and it's flamenco. 

An few interesting factoids about it's Santa Cruz neighborhood:
  • The words "Santa Cruz" literally mean "Holy Cross", but the neighborhood used to be a Jewish ghetto. During the Christian Reconquista, the Jews were expelled and the neighborhood was renamed to be something more Christian. 
  • It's winding streets and alleyways are tightly packed, and some claim that the average temperature on the streets in Santa Cruz is a few degrees cooler than the rest of Seville. 
  • The walls are whitewashed to reflect the sun's rays from the buildings to keep them cool. A good thing for the buildings, a not-so-good thing for the pedestrians.
We arrived in Seville with the intention of seeing the Cathedral (the largest in Spain), the Plaza de España (where a scene from Star Wars Episode 1 was shot), and a flamenco show at a place recommended to me by a co-worker. We accomplished at least 2 of these 3 things. 

the cathedral

Was indeed the biggest in all of Spain.
and the views from the top let us see the Bullring that we knew we weren't going to get a chance to see. 

Plaza de España

I'm a bad nerd and haven't seen all of Star Wars (I have seen one - I'm slowly being educated), so I can't substantiate the claims that Robin makes when he says that seeing a place where something from Episode 1 was shot doesn't mean too much. I just think it looks pretty. 
At this point it was so hot that all we wanted was a nice cold glass of tinto de verano somewhere in the shade. Walking back past the cathedral, we stopped at a place to grab a quick glass of tinto. We realized it was slightly cheaper just to get an entire pitcher, so we sat at the cafe outside doing some people-watching (or lack thereof - there was no one on the streets this time of day) and enjoying the shade and the cool drink. 

Here in the south, it is customary to get a plate of olives with your drink, so we did just that and were very satisfied with our choice. 

flamenco and food, derp.

After a nice siesta at the pensión that lasted for hours because it was still super hot outside, we woke up with hunger so decided to grab food and then catch a flamenco show. We were aiming for this place that was recommended to me by a co-worker and we ended up finding it. While we were walking towards it we kept turning a twisty-turny corner to come upon a small plaza with a restaurant and bar, surrounded by very residential buildings. It was interesting to compare it to the bustling Madrid, where there is no such thing as a street without a bar or convenience store. 

We walked past the bar with flamenco because we were absolutely famished, but not after looking in and deciding that the place was in fact hopping with action. We found a restaurant on the square just around the corner from the flamenco bar, ordering way too much food for either of us to eat. A half-portion of steak was 4 pieces of steak... there was no way we could get through all that. We also got a plate of paella and some veggies (since the Spaniards really don't like their veggies...). Needless to say, we were filled to the brim without eating half the food we'd ordered. But costing the same as all of our other meals and getting twice that amount of food led us to determine that the food in Sevilla is cheap!

After dinner it was getting late, but we were willing to give the flamenco place another go. Walking in, we see that there was a crowd of people, but it was unclear where they were going and what they were doing. Although the throngs of people filling the inner patio should have been a good indication that we should have stayed to see what was going on. Exhausted from an entire day of oppressive heat, we decided to call it a night. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

the Alhambra

The walk from our hostal to the Alhambra was a straightfoward 25 minute stroll. We had been told that the walk was a miserable one uphill and we should take a bus. But we weren't in a hurry so we decided to brave it. 

The walk took us through a pleasant park, and while it was up a hill, it wasn't unpleasant because it was mostly in the shade. 


The Alhambra has a rich history that anyone can Google and read about, so I'll give you a quick rundown:
  • Built in the 1200s sometime by the Moorish kings and sultans and was a stronghold of Moorish power in Spain. The Moors (or should I say the "Moops"?) basically held power until they were kicked out by the Christian kings in the late 1400s.
  • At some point during the Christian Reconquista (around 1492), Carlos V captured the Alhambra and built his own palace there to live in. 
  • Spanish kings used this as a residence until Napoleon used it as a garrison for his troops in a campaign in Spain and completely trashed the place. 
  • It was restored and used as a tourist attraction.
As a result, there are 4 main things to see: the military garrison-tower, the palace of Carlos V, the Palacios Nazaries (the Moorish royal palace), and the Generalife gardens.


Everyone says to buy tickets for the Alhambra in advance - I would agree. If you already have your tickets, you don't have to wait in the ticket line and risk not getting any tickets. When you buy tickets, it gives you a time during which you can enter the Palacios Nazaries. The rest of the ticket gives you general admission to the entire complex, but the only timed section is for the Nazaries. If you have a morning ticket, you can enter in the morning and stay as long as you like as long as you don't leave. We had afternoon tickets, which means you can enter any time after 2pm and stay as long as you like. 

Because our Nazaries reservation was at 3pm, we had time starting at about 2pm to walk around the Palace of Carlos V first. 

Palace of Carlos V

It reminded me a bit of the Colosseum in Rome, and you can see why. 
But we had some time, so we took our time, looking at the free Museum of the Alhambra as well (a few artifacts of Moorish art, nothing too spectacular) and experimenting with Robin's autotimer to take a picture of us. 
Alas, Robin has the picture of us, so when I get it and the link I'll post it here =). 

Palacios Nazaries

Were the most gorgeous part of the Alhambra. I'll just post a few pictures, because they speak louder than words. 

You can see the rest of the photos on mine and Robin's Flickr albums. But my favorite photo is the creation of this new art form - seeing sights in the reflection of someone else's sunglasses

the stronghold tower

Has some pretty cool views of the Albaycin from the top, and some pretty cool flags. 
 This is the view of the tower you go on top of.
And the four flags that fly at the Alhambra - the EU, the Andalucía regional flag, the flag of Spain, and the local flag of Granada. 


Is not actually pronounced "General Life." It's pronounced "hénéraleefay", and are some pretty gardens. It's a nice place to walk around and cool off in the shade while munching on the remnants of lunch before heading back to the hostal for a siesta! There's also a Moorish sultan's small house there, supposedly one he used as a retreat from the rest of Moorish society to enjoy his gardens. 

in general

Everyone should visit the Alhambra if they get a chance. It is the most gorgeous structure I've ever seen in Spain. 


Granada is my favorite city in Spain. Some say Sevilla has culture, Córdoba has a pretty building, and Granada just has the Alhambra. But Granada has much more than just the Alhambra... Granada has an atmosphere that just leaves you wanting more. 

Take a look at mine and Robin's Flickr photostreams of pictures from Granada!

When Robin arrived in Madrid on Friday (July 13th), he took a nap in my apartment while I went to work for a few hours. We then took the 5pm train from Atocha (train station in Madrid) to Granada. Because there's no high-speed train from Madrid to Granada, the train takes the same amount of time as a bus would - about 4 hours. It even (who knew) stops in Córdoba on the way there. To get you situated to where Granada is in Spain:

It's in the south - which automatically means hot. The average temperature in Granada is 5-10 degrees hotter than Madrid, on average. But at that point you don't really feel the difference so it doesn't matter how hot it is. 

It was the south of Spain that encouraged the "siesta" tradition that everyone knows about, just because it was so hot during the day that it was unpleasant to be outside between the hours of 1pm and 6pm. Robin and I fully took advantage of this fact - you wouldn't believe how good you feel after napping for an hour each day.

Because we arrived in Granada past 10pm on Friday night, the train station information booth was closed and did not have any maps to give us, so we wandered down Gran Vía de Colón until we hit a hotel that was nice enough to give us a map. Then we frantically tried to find our hostal on the map (which turned out to be complicated because I didn't print out a GoogleMap of where we were supposed to go beforehand. Now I know to do that always...). So in all, the walk from the train station to the center where our hotel was was about 25 minutes. 

a bit of context

Granada was the seat of Moor power in Spain until the Christian Reconquista around 1492. Granada is a major city in the region of Andalucía, known for it's nice beaches, hot climate, and pleasant and laid-back citizens.


What else do you really want to know about? For dinner on Friday, Robin and I went to the  Calle de Elvira from the place we were staying and found a good-looking tapas place. Turned out to be quite tasty!
 To drink I had some kind of special "Granada wine" that tasted a bit like Vermouth... it was an interesting flavor. What you see in the picture is some classic queso manchego (manchego cheese, both mine and Robin's favorite type of cheese) and some albóndigas, which if you remember from my previous post about tapas, are meatballs.

Our next meal was breakfastish on Saturday. After an evening of walking around Granada, we rolled out of the hotel at 11am and went to the Plaza de Bibarrambla (a few blocks away from the hostal) to get coffee and churros con chocolate at a café we'd seen the day before. 

By the time we were done, it was clearly time to eat again, as it is always time to eat on vacation, but we decided we needed to make some progress in moving towards the Alhambra. In a break from traditional Spanish tapas, we walked around the main center and found a Doner-like place to get traditional Arabic sandwich things with fried potatoes. It was so cheap and yummy and filling that we ate half of them and saved the rest for later! 

The next food item in Granada was the other half of those Doner-like sandwiches in the gardens of the Alhambra when we got hungry. Nothing super exciting, except the sandwiches kept rather well throughout the course of the day. 

After the Alhambra we were exhausted so we went home for a siesta before going out again for dinner in the Sacromonte (described a bit later). We had classic Spanish tapas for dinner, with a nice class of red wine of course. We got the anchovies (boquerones), but they seemed to be fried in some kind of batter that wasn't terribly tasty. And for the life of me I can't remember what the other delicious thing we got was. 

The next morning we just had coffee and a pastry at the train station before heading off to our next adventure. 


Instead of staying at a hostel, we decided to switch it up a little bit. For the same price as a hostel (information on the differences between the names of various places to sleep in a previous post), we stayed at the Hostal Lima off the Plaza de Trinidad a bit south of the main cathedral of Granada, run by Manilo and Carmen, for 40ish euros a night. We had our own private bathroom and air conditioning! We even had a small balcony that overlooked the Calle Laurel de las Tablas, which was right off the Plaza del Trinidad. And Carmen was helpful in suggesting where to go on Friday night when we arrived in Granada. In 1950s-style, the rooms of course had separate beds.

the Alhambra

The Alhambra is so cool it deserves it's own post.

the albaycin

What a strange word. And it even has a few different spellings, based on the language, where it is written, and who you ask - Albaicin, Albaycin, Albayzín, etc. They all mean the same thing: the old Moorish quarter. The streets are narrow and winding, with lots of cool staircases that are really streets:
But the real charm is walking around at night, seeing the Alhambra glowing in the distance.
While we were wandering, we thought we stumbled upon the San Nicolás viewpoint from which to see the Alhambra, but we were in fact just on the border of the Albaycin. Walking around the Albaycin reminded me of what it would be like to live in a city without so much activity - the area is still a residential one, so there aren't people stepping on each other in the street and there isn't a ton of commotion. But there also is a feeling of "home" in a sense - the streets are welcoming and pleasant.

the Sacromonte and the gypsies

A lesser-known region of Granada, the Sacromonte is home to the Roma (or gypsy) population of Granada. While there are gypsies everywhere in Spain, in Granada they are more prevalent and obvious than anywhere else. The Roma women stand their ground on a corner or busy street, trying to thrust sprigs of rosemary into your hands. If you take it, they harass you for money, but a sprig of rosemary only means good luck! So watch out. 

Walking along the edge of the Albaycin up the hill a bit more and turning right through an archway leads you into the Sacromonte, the home of the Roma
The houses are basically built into the side of the cliff - the term "cave bar" must have originated here, because if you walk into a bar or restaurant in the Sacromonte, the ceiling is actually the roof of a cave. 

An art form developed by the Roma is the type of dance called Zambra. It's a flamenco variant danced by the Roma, and many bars in the Sacromonte have impromptu-Zambra dances in the middle. We did not choose a restaurant or bar with Zambra dancers, because we wanted food too much. Next time I go back to Granada I'm definitely not missing out on Zambra!

I want more!

Robin and I definitely didn't get to see the entire city by any stretch of the imagination. There are too many winding cobblestoned streets to wander, too many bars to see, too many buildings to appreciate, to be able to see in a day and a half. The atmosphere of Granada deserves more time. I want to go back to see the Alhambra at night, wander the area around where our B&B was to appreciate the food and atmosphere, wander the Albaycin more, actually go inside of a Zambra place in the Sacromonte, go inside the huge Cathedral, find the San Nicolás viewpoint, and much more. Granada, we shall meet again one day.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

why the streets of Madrid are clean

Walking down a street in Madrid at any given time of day, you won't find any trash in the streets. However, at night or immediately after a large party or event, the streets are absolutely filled with trash, bottles, discarded flags, and bits of food. But all this only stays dirty for a few hours at most. Why are the streets so clean? Madrileños aren't necessarily the cleanest people when it comes to the street. They don't try to maintain an image of their city, and they don't really need to. People will still come to Madrid; the madrileños only have to maintain it's awesomeness.

Like some cities in Europe, Madrid has a clean-up crew that works every morning (and extra after any large party or event in the city) to clean up the trash that accumulates in the street. The street cleaners where bright yellow jumpsuits and spend the morning cleaning up all the trash on the streets. There are also guys who wear red jumpsuits, but I can't really figure out the difference between the two... maybe Madrid has a sanitation police!

prostitution is not illegal!

What many people don't know about Spain is that prostitution is legal. Rather, it is not explicitly illegal. Much like the status of marijuana in the United States, prostitution is "decriminalized" in Spain (since 1995 in fact). This means that prostitutes cannot be arrested for, well, prostitution. The laws in Spain explicitly prohibit pimping, however. 

Therefore, you are yourself allowed to sell yourself for sex, but no one else is allowed to sell you for sex. 

As a result, there is one particular street in Madrid right off of the Puerta del Sol that contains a lot of prostitutes. 

View Calle de la Montera in a larger map

This street, called Calle de la Montera, features women of all nationalities, ethnicities, ages, sizes, and the like, just standing there. Walking home at night along this street reveals hundreds of women wearing 3-inch high heels wearing short skirts smoking cigarettes along the side of the pedestrian-only street, just standing there. It is very hard to catch a picture of them, but this blurry face-blacked-out-picture is an example.
One day a group of us were walking down the Calle de Montera and were wondering about the prices and situation in general related to the prostitutes. So Josh was a champ and asked his flat-mate what the deal was, so he knows all the great details about where to find the best prostitute. So if you ever need a good deal on a Spanish prostitute, talk to Josh.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

the slackliners!

Today I finally went to go talk to the slackliners at the Templo de Debod. After work it was such nice weather and I had so many emails to go through that I decided I wasn't going to go check out the other climbing gym but that I wanted to sit outside to write and respond to emails. This led me to try to find wifi in an outdoor space in Madrid.... which I conclude does not exist. The only website I found was this 3-year-old wifi map of Madrid: that of course recommended every single Starbucks in Madrid. 

But I forgot that J&J's Bookstore had wifi! So I went there, chatted to Dave and an older  couple who had just come from Granada, Sevilla, and Córdoba, had two tintos de verano, and answered some emails. 

After that, not having eaten dinner and already having two drinks (it was two-for-one happy hour at J&Js and Dave the bartender was being super nice), I was craving some junk food. And another beer. So I went to an alimentación (not the cheapest, but the only thing that's open at 9pm on a Tuesday) and bought some junk food and a beer. The Cruzcampo Premio was a great dark beer, the first one I had in Madrid, and went really well with the chips. 

I decided I would sit near the Templo de Debod to relax with my junk food and beer, maybe finishing reading my book. But when I passed by the Museo del Jamón I decided it was time to indulge. And I wouldn't even call it indulging - 500 g of chorizo blanco (white sausage) only cost me 3 euros, much cheaper than it would have cost me in the states. Now I have some meat to eat for dinner tomorrow and I had some tonight with my beer. 

I sat down across from the same slackliners I had seen every single time I went to the Templo de Debod to enjoy my chips, beer, and chorizo. It was the greatest dinner I've had in a long time, and all the while I spent time watching the slackliners. I noticed that every single one of them at some point stopped and practiced juggling with either pins or more than 4 balls. It seemed strange that in a group of 8 that all of them would be proficient as jugglers and slackliners.... 

So when I finished my beer I went to throw it out and simultaneously ask one of the girls who these mysterious slackliners were. She told me that they were all students in a circus school in Madrid! Unfortunately I'm not around on Saturday to see their last performance in the Caso de Campo, but it does explain why they're all amazing at everything they do. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

clementine juice!

1L of fresh-squeezed, no-preservatives-added, only-sugar-no-high-fructose-corn-syrup CLEMENTINE juice. Tell me you're seen that in the United States of America. 
Yep, delicious. And only 1.50 euros. (For the record, those are not pills in the photo, they are earplugs; and mama, yes, those are pants next to the carton of juice on my desk.).

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol

Now that you're oriented with the city of Madrid, you might be interested to see Plaza Mayor and Puerta del Sol at day and night. 

Plaza Mayor during the day:

and at night:

And the same for Sol. During the day:
and at night:
Notice how the cool of the evening brings out many more people into the Plazas to enjoy what Madrid has to offer.

basic Madrid geography

I've been mentioning different parts of the city in my blog posts and I realized that people who are not familiar with Madrid just glaze over and ignore. So this will be an attempt to explain some basic Madrid geography, to get you oriented to the city without having lived here or even visited. 

Here's a basic map to get you oriented with an attempt at making the scales appropriate:

But after living here for a bit, I have this caricature map in my head:

As for which is "correct": well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, right?

I know that some items are not consistent between the two maps - there's a reason why one is labeled as more correct scale-wise than the other. The main difference is that Puerta del Sol is HUGE in the caricature map - the reason for this is that it seems that no matter where you walk in the city, you will always hit Puerta del Sol. If you meet there before going out for the night, you will invariably come back to it again. Guidebooks say to go there because you can find everything you need in Madrid starting there. That's definitely true, but you should always explore other areas. It's central, very touristy, but also a good landmark.

A one-sentence blurb about each of the map components, in order from most common to least common:

  • Puerta del Sol - the hub of activity in Madrid. It is the actual center of the city, the tourist center of the city, the food center of the city, and the metro center of the city. All roads lead to the Puerta del Sol, and if you meet people here you will invariably be at a good place to start an evening of fun.
  • Plaza Mayor - the second nearly-adjacent-to-Sol hub of food and tapas
  • Gran Vía - the "broadway" of Madrid, separating the Puerta del Sol area from the north area. Below Gran Vía is very touristy and generally more expensive. North of Gran Vía is generally more residential and a bit cheaper. 
  • Chueca - Madrid's gay district. It's really only a few square blocks, but it has some nice bars and tapas places. Sam, Cristina, Lucas, Will, and Carlos live there.
  • La Latina - cheap shopping area with lots of good tapas places, a street of all-hiking-and-camping-gear stores, and holds El Rastro on Sunday morning.
  • Lavapiés - the "ethnic" part of Madrid, with a Senegalese ghetto, a Chinese ghetto, an Indian ghetto, and probably more ghettos that are distinct but that I can't recognize.
  • Parque del Retiro - a huge park (think Central Park). retiro literally means "retirement", but it is meant to mean relaxation. Lots of locals and tourists alike just relaxing and enjoying the nice weather.
  • Atocha train station - most trains coming to Madrid from other cities arrive/depart from here. It's at the southeastern tip of the Madrid that most tourists will see. Very close to the Prado and Reina Sofía museums.
  • Moncloa - very university-student-heavy region, with lots of university students renting apartments there, since it is very close to a number of different universities. 
  • Plaza de España - has a statue of Don Quixote, some pretty buildings, and signifies the end of Gran Vía. Adjacent to the Templo de Debod, a common botellón location. 5 minute walk from my apartment. Evelin, Sophie, and Mary live very close to it.
  • Palacio Royal - the Royal Palace. It's pretty.
  • Chamartín train station - trains going to some cities. Need to go here to make reservations on trains with my Eurail pass. Takes a long time on the metro...
  • My work - near the Gregorio Marañon metro stop, a bit closer to where I live than Chamartín but on the same metro line. Cecily and Lionel live close to it.
  • Bulderking - an only-bouldering gym that I determined to be the closest to my apartment

pig ears!

Or orejas de cerdo. There is one tapas bar in Madrid near Sol called Las Orejas de Oro that specializes in pig ear tapas. Before you judge or think it's gross, I suggest you try it. 
Oscar and I went to try them out on Friday. 6 euros gets you this giant heaping plate of ears with the sauce and bread. They think you're weird if you don't order anything to drink, so I got my usual copa de tinto and Oscar went for a vermút (vermouth). 

The bartender took a handful of raw pig ears from a giant plate next to him, plopped them on the stove, sprinkled olive oil on top of the mess, and chopped/mixed them with his knives for a while until they were ready, so you knew they were cooked as fresh as possible. The ears were mostly cartilage and fat with some meat sticking in places. It was a peculiar taste. As mom would put it, "it's an acquired taste." Definitely worth trying if you're in Madrid! This plate can easily be shared among 3 or 4 people, because that's a lot of pig ears! 

Friday, June 29, 2012

MISTI dinner, a JOYful evening

MISTI talk

Last night, Alicia (the MISTI coordinator) came to Madrid. She was on her way to visit the MISTI kids in Madrid, San Sebastián, and Barcelona. The first thing she scheduled was a talk about "networking" by a Dr. Jordi Robert-Ribes at the Instituto Internacional, very close to the place I work. So I went to buy an erasable pen from the Hiperpapelería Carlin - two euros and I was armed and ready. Then I walked the 5 minutes to the Instituto Internacional, only to sit through the most boring talk on networking I have ever heard. A few choice points of his I didn't agree with (at a future time there will be a link to another blog post about my thoughts on networking that will address the concerns raised here):
  • The point of networking is to see what you can do for the other person rather than see what you can get back from them in an exchange.
  • The building of trust in a networking relationship can be accomplished with no accord for local customs. 
  • If you're nervous at a conference coffee break, just to find the person huddling against the wall and talk to him instead. 
  • Eat a huge meal before going to the conference so you can ignore the free food and focus on talking to people. 
  • Always ask a question to an important speaker, even if it's stupid, just so that everyone else in the room hears your one-sentence pitch about who you are.

MISTI dinner

But a redeeming fact was that after the talk, Alicia took us all out to dinner, on MIT's dime. In her own words: "I've been doing this 5 years and I've never seen a group as eager to eat food and drink wine as you guys." We went to a place off of Plaza de Santa Ana, a bit south of Sol, called La Bardemcilla (Calle Nunez de Arce, 3). Because MIT was paying, this is what we ordered, to be split among the 7 people on our side of the table (Lucas, Cristina, Sam, Oscar, Ann, me, and Josh):

  • Croquetas "Jamón Jamón" (ham croquettes)
  • Croquetas "De La Madre Superiora" (cod fish croquettes)
  • Chorizo con los "Días Contados" (Spanish sausage cooked in white wine sauce)
  • "Huevos de Oro" Estrellados (fried eggs with potatoes, onions, and ham)
  • Albóndigas de "Carnaval" (homemade meatballs)
  • Calamares de un "Planeta Extraño" (fried squid tentacles with tartar sauce)
  • "Callos Mayor" (tripe)
  • "La Morcilla mas fea del mundo" (black pudding, otherwise known as blood sausage)
  • "Torrente" Manchego (a plate of Manchego cheese)
  • Chuletitas (small adorable lamb chops) x 2, which for some reason I can't find on the menu online but we definitely ate two plates of...
  • Two bottles of Rioja, a classic Spanish wine
  • Two pitches of sangría, sweet Spanish wine with sugar and citrus fruits
  • A bajillion baskets of bread to dip in all the yummy sauces!
One of my favorites were the lamb chops, but the sauce from the albóndigas was spicy and the best dip for the bread, by far! Alicia then ordered us all deserts, of which there were four plates that had a bit of every kind of desert on it.

There were a total of 18 people for dinner and each group ordered about this much.... the total bill (again, covered by MIT), ended up being 570 euros, including tax and alcohol. I bet the amount of bread alone added up to at least 10 euros (for reference, each basket was 80 cents). 

Thanks again Alicia for taking us out to dinner! 


By the time dinner was over, it was already 11:55pm. Now, cuando en España.... (when in Spain...), you need to enjoy what you have and the people you're hanging out with. The plan from the get-go was to go to the club Joy, off of Plaza del Sol, before 1:30am tonight after the MISTI dinner. Thursdays at Joy is international night, which means that for college students you get a discount: 10 euros covers the entrance fee and two drinks. 

We decided to meet in the Puerta del Sol under the Nike sign as per usual at 12:45am and head over to Joy - literally a two-minute walk. Cecily, Lionel, Josh, Ann, Jordan, Oscar, Sebastian, Evelin, and I all went to have a good time. They didn't have mojitos, but no matter, we discovered that vodka-limón was just as good. And we discovered a new Red Bull-like energy drink called Burn that tasted like Fanta Limón but had a bit of a caffeine kick to it that apparently the bartenders give you if you say "limón" and they didn't hear you properly. 

The club was filled with tourists as usual, but I met one guy from Madrid. He went to Cornell and his friend went to come other Ivy League school - I forget which one. Let's call it IVY_LEAGUE. Our conversation (which I wasn't thrilled about) went kind of like this:

Him: Eh, bonita! (Hey pretty girl). English?
Me: Hola. You should really think of a better pick-up line. Nice to meet you too. And who might you be?
Him: I'm from Madrid but I go to IVY_LEAGUE. 
Me: Oh cool, I go to MIT. (show Brass Rat)
Him: Well, that's almost the ivy league; you know that it's not the ivy league, right?
Me: Yea, I'm aware. 
Him: You know, you didn't quite make it to the ivy league. I hope you know that. 
Me: Yep, it was nice meeting you too. (walk away)

I'm not sure he understood why I didn't want to talk to him after he bashed MIT....

But nonetheless, the music was all American music. There were clearly no locals - except for the one from Cornell who said him and his friends come to Joy once a summer to "check out the scene", which I interpreted to mean "pick up foreign chicks." This solidifies my thinking that nightclubs are a thing of tourists rather than legitimate madrileño life. But I've heard from a few places that the clubs popular among the local crowd are farther away from the city center, closer to Chamartín or Atocha (Kapital is right next to Atocha). Joy, being right off of Puerta del Sol, has the disadvantage that every single tourist walking to Sol sees it and wants to go there. But the club has only one dance floor, about 20m x 20m large. There were three balconies that looked down onto the dance floor, but for some reason they were closed when we were there. 

We called it a night at around 4am, because we were feeling the tiredness and realizing that we all had to get up for work the next morning. It was worth it though; good people, good times.