Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Hopping the puddle

Tomorrow I'm heading back to the States for a couple weeks. I'm stopping first in South Florida for an engagement party and some good, old-fashioned American house parties. Then it's on to St. Louis for family time. I'm expecting lots of fun in both places, not least of all because my birthday is this weekend. So I'll get to celebrate it three times - once in Florida, again in St. Louie and lastly when I get back to Madrid. For the short-term I am mostly excited about getting to sit in First and Business classes for the bulk of the trip. (Thanks to Delta for giving that bonus on the air mile award tickets.) I'll finally get behind that mystical curtain!! We'll see if it's worth all the fuss. If the urge strikes, I'll blog from St. Louis. If not, see you in a couple weeks!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Samosas in Spain

I think it's safe to say that when you think of great Indian food in Europe you think of London not Madrid. But over the past couple of weeks I've tried two Indian restuarants here in Madrid and been quite impressed with both. If you're over on the eastern side of town here are my reviews:

First a friend treated me to lunch at Swagat up near the Diego de Leon metro stop. It's hidden away at Alonso Heredia #22 but once you've found it you're sure to venture back. Their midday lunch menu is 11euros - I chose vegetable samosas and chicken tandoori. The samosas were outstanding and the tandoori well above average. Although the portions were a touch on the small side the menu did, of course, include a drink and dessert. And they've put a lot of effort into the decor and charm of the place which just added to the experience.


A couple weeks ago we went to Bombay Palace with Nacho's cousins. It's right around the corner from our house and not too far from the Ibiza metro. We wanted to get a menu disgustación - a mix of lots of different dishes - but with the late hour it wasn't available... so we just made up our own. We ordered some samosas (veggie and meat), each picked a main dish, ordered some naan (delicious!!), and three different kinds of rice. The fruit rice was awesome - full of dried fruits and the right mix of flavors. Of the main dishes my favorites were the butter chicken and the vegetable korma (my pick). The veggie korma was actually a big hit with the others, too. I think their exact words were, "This is something I never would have ordered but it turned out to be my favorite."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

En el campo


Like many Spaniards, the summer weekends mean an exodus to the pueblos to escape the heat of the city and, hopefully, enjoy the cool of a private pool (see previous post on the pueblo). Such is the case for Nacho's family. Now that his parents are retired they spend more than just the weekend there but we, obviously, don't yet have that luxury. Last weekend we took the bus to Nacho's parents' house in their pueblo - La Adrada - up in the mountains - la Sierra de Gredos. It was a relaxing weekend of pool time, cool breezes, and home-cooked food. We were treated to chipirones en su tinta con arroz (little squids cooked in their ink and served with rice) - delicious, I swear - and merluza a la cidra (hake fish cooked in cider) as main dishes. But I can't forget the albondigas (meatballs), empanadillas, and pimientos (roasted and stuffed bell peppers) that came first! One of the best parts of the weekends up in the mountains is the food!!! But the view was pretty nice too. The mountains in front are a popular launching pad for paragliders so we had something to watch. :)

Monday, August 20, 2007

AVE

I'm attaching this video taken from the AVE to try and show how it felt to ride along at almost 200mph, though I'm not sure it really captured the speed. Nacho tried to add some drama in there at the end. :) It was a really cool trip, extremely comfortable and a new experience. There's a debate going on about whether it's worth the money or not. Our roundtrip tickets Madrid-Taragonna cost 125 euros each. I think it's worth it, especially since our final destination was Reus and not Barcelona, meaning we saved our hosts 2 2-hour roundtrips.

video

Reus & Taragonna

A couple weeks ago Nacho and I caught the AVE over to Tarragona to visit one of his old coworkers. She actually lives inland a little at Reus but we spent most of our time at the local beaches. Friday we went to La Pineda and Saturday to Altafulla. The beaches there are beautiful; the sand was fine and white and the water was absolutely perfect - clear, clean, and cool. On Friday I bought a green raft and that made all the difference. I could have spent hours floating in the water. Altafulla was a charming setting with little rental houses right along the beach boardwalk. We went to a little place famous for its paella for lunch and were not disappointed.

Sunday we went into Taragonna for some sight-seeing and the aperitivo. Turns out Taragonna was once the capital of the Roman province of Hispania and the city (and the region) are filled with ruins. On the road from Reus to Altafulla we came across this funeraly tower from the 1st century.


There is a pretty hefty Roman ruin route in Taragonna where you can see the amphitheater, forum, and various walls and ruins.


Taragonna also has it's own more modern customs, such as that of building the human towers during the fesitvals of San Magi. On their Ramblas (which I found out refers to a wide boulevard ending at the ocean) you find this statue commemorating that tradition. By the way, I think the festivals were this past weekend and the human towers went up without incidence.

Overall we enjoyed our trip to the region. Reus is, in itself, a cute city (100,000 inhabitants) with a charming old quarter, main plaza, and church. But not a day went by when we didn't spend at least an hour in the car. Combine that with the mildly limited entertainment options and we were glad to get back to Madrid.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

August 15


Today is the Assumption and, good "Catholic" country that it is, that means a fiesta in Spain. Here in Madrid it's also the Virgen of the Paloma - patron saint(ess) of the City and of the bomberos (firemen). From what I understand sometime in the late 1700s a very pious Madrileña saved a picture of the Virgen from a group of rowdy neighorhood boys and then built a chapel in her honor. After the queen's sick son was reportedly cured by a pass beneath the picture, the Virgen became cause for celebration. It's still common practice for mother's to carry their children beneath her picture and she's honored today as the "most revered of Virgens." Translation: in addition to a mid-week work break, Madrileños get a big party in the streets down in the La Latina neighborhood.

We headed down there for lunch today and it of course turned into a full afternoon of drinks in the street. This evening the party will be even bigger - the steets are decorated with banners, flags, and flowers and all of the bars have set up outside bars to serve the party-goers. Right now we can watch the parade - a group of fireman will carry a picture of the Virgen through the streets for all to see.

Today is also the big summer lottery drawing - 20,000,000 euros to the winner and various smaller prizes to those who match parts of the winning number. This drawing is basically the second biggest of the year - after the Christmas Lottery. Fingers crossed!!


P.S. I still plan to blog on last weekend's trip to Tarragona and Reus. But mid-week fiestas get in the way... :)

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

My Morning Walk


Tuesday and Thursday mornings I walk across Madrid to my French class and then back home again. Since my house and the academy are more or less on opposite sides of what is "central Madrid" the walk takes me about 40 minutes and covers a little less than 2.5 miles each way. I started walking because there is really just one bus that would take me there and the metro connections aren't great. Plus the walk is really nice - especially in the morning (8:30ish) when the temperature is still manageable. The first part of the way - across the Retiro - is the perfect way to wake up because of the quietness and relative solitude (in the midst of a City of 4 million crossing paths with perhaps 20 people in 15 minutes is pretty quiet).


After the park I head down two of the major Madrid streets - Alcalá and Gran Vía - passing a decent cross-section of the Madrid population. As I do I wonder how many of those people are "walkers" like me and how many are simply on their way to a mass-transit stop. I definitely appreciate the massive bus and metro networks that cross Madrid and I take advantage of them on a fairly daily basis. But I am also appreciative of what a walkable city Madrid really is, at least from where I live. There is an old saying in St. Louis that you are 20 minutes from everywhere. For Madrid I'd change that to 30 minutes; in about half an hour I can get - on foot - to just about anywhere I want to go.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Mmmmmmmmmm



One of my friends got into town yesterday, and she came bearing gifts. I had casually mentioned our favorite bagel flavors to her one day and she managed to bring them to us!! Along with a bunch of other stuff. Parmesan goldfish, ranch dressing, frito twists, luna bars, jelly beans, Reese's cups. So yummy! This friend lived with me here in Madrid for two years about 4 or 5 years ago so she knew all too well exactly what I would be missing the most...


...my bagel of course - asiago cheese with sun-dried tomato cream cheese. It just cannot be beat. And the cream cheese travelled surprisingly well! But, in one of life's cruel jokes I've had some kind of throat problem lately that makes eating not all that much fun. I loaded up on painkillers and cough syrup to be able to enjoy the bagel today. And it worked. I'm completely satisfied. :)