Archive for the 'Madrid' Category

Bad news and good news

The bad news is that Madrid has never looked uglier than now. The streets are strewn with trash thanks to a nearly 10-day strike by the city street cleaners and garden maintenance staff to protest planned layoffs of more than a sixth of the current staff and salary reductions for the rest. The whole thing started with a demonstration on the 4th of this month, which was followed by some of the workers deliberately throwing trash (opening trash bags waiting to be collected) on the streets to call attention to something they, understandably, find completely objectionable. While I don’t agree with the tactic of pouring our carrot peels, bags of dog poop, onion skins, and chicken bones all over the place, I empathize with their outrage. Somehow the whole thing is very symbolic of what’s happening in Madrid and Spain at large—lots and lots of rubbish.


On the bright side of things, we have the peonza, the spinning tops that are driving kids crazy all over Madrid. Somehow it’s refreshing to see kids gathered around to see a top spin, trying to balance it on their noses or throw it the air. At school, the primary-age boys and girls have all got one, and I’ve seen them spinning in metro stations and on street corners in Lavapiés. Yes, these kids are the smartphone and tablet generation, but it’s comforting to see such a relatively old-fashioned thing take hold, however briefly.

Madrid mornings

This weekend I had a strong hankering to hang around Madrid, get stuff done, and do some madrileño things. Above you can see nine images from the two mornings I spent out and about in the barrio. (I mean morning in the Spanish sense, that is from when you get up [pretty late] until when you have lunch [earliest 2 p.m.]).

A number of those are taken in the Mercado de San Fernando, where we enjoyed cañas and tapas and window shopping Saturday morning before heading, via the gone but not forgotten Centro Social Okupado Casablanca to Bar Benteveo for their delicious lomito.

Sunday morning included an errand at the Rastro, where I spotted a banner citing the current fight over public education, and a walk through nearby streets before some tapas at one of Madrid’s oldest tabernas.

A quick walk through the neighborhood

My bike had been feeling a little rough lately, so on Monday I took it over to the friendly folks at Otero to let them have a look at it. I had a feeling it was due for a tune-up, and it was. In fact, it was way overdue. I had no brakes left, front or rear, according to the mechanic on duty. The headset was a bit loose and the chain needed tension. It had been nearly a year since I’d done anything to the bike, so I guess that explains it.* The shop was quite busy, so I left the bike for them to work on and walked home.

Maybe it was because it was a sunny afternoon after a week of clouds and rain, perhaps it was the time of day (about 5 p.m., just after siesta), it was probably just that I hadn’t taken a walk on those streets in a while, but I got home feeling really happy; I’d passed new businesses and people about enjoying the afternoon, running errands, going home. In my quick walk home I came across a newish bike coop on calle Embajadores and a cute natural-looking café next door. Then I decided I might as well dip into the recently renovated Mercado de San Fernando to see what everyone’s been talking about.

Among the things I saw in my quick vuelta around the mercado were a craft beer shop, a vegetarian prepared foods stall, a delicious-looking panadería, and an organic fruit and veg shop, all mixed among the traditional bars (see above photo) and non-perishable goods shops.

Yes we’re in crisis, but life goes on!

*And, as I’ve now confirmed, brake shoes wear out incredibly quickly in this town, mainly because of the extreme dirtiness of the city. Add rain and it’s even worse—I guess like giving your brakes a chemical wash. Cyclists beware!


Metro de Madrid has closed any number of bocas de metro, including one that’s very convenient to my house, with no notice of reopening. While I’m no longer a daily metro user, I depend on it on days I don’t use my bike. This measure comes on the heels of several ticket-price hikes and apparently is another cost-saving measure that serves to make life just a little bit worse for everyday people. You can complain here.

Cycling abroad

And by that I mean in the continent I’m from. I wrote a post for en bici por madrid about city riding in the Pacific Northwest with a few comparisons to riding in my adopted city. Enjoy!

Twelve months

On the morning of my last commute of the school year a driver on a one-lane street in the north of Madrid shouted some nasty things (“¡Bicicleta de mierda! [expletive, expletive] … ¡Esto es España!) apropos of nothing. My response was that he ought to try riding around because it would be a good way to calm down. His last exclamation left me truly dumbfounded. Did he mean that this is a country where people don’t ride bikes? Ha.

The bici and I have been going to work together for twelve months now. Overall it’s been a really positive experience. Below are some random thoughts on bike commuting in Madrid.

It’s important to foster a mutual respect between cyclist and motorized vehicle driver. Stop at red lights. Ride to the right in multi-lane streets, but not in the bus lane. Use lights when it’s dark out. Signal whenever you can. In Madrid drivers aren’t used to seeing cyclists, but if you treat them as you’d like to be treated, everyone should be happy. In the past year, I could probably count negative experiences with drivers on one hand.

Remember the two-legged folk! Don’t ride on the sidewalk, and definitely don’t ring your bell at them as if you have the right of way. Stop at crosswalks. We are all pedestrians.

I was a novice cyclist when I took to the streets of Madrid. I’d probably done most of my previous riding as a kid around the neighborhood. It helps to have an experienced person show you the ropes. Follow said person on routes around town. Hook yourself up with the friendly folks at enbicipormadrid. Go to Bicicrítica. And when you’re ready to go, plan your route. Leave me a message—I’m happy to help!

People have asked me how many months a year I’m able to bike commute. In this town, cycling is a year-round activity. If anything, I worried about overdressing in winter—pedaling generally gets you nice and toasty. A windproof layer, good gloves, and something to cover your ears are the most clothing I’ve needed this year (which, admittedly, had a mild winter).

Beware of auto-pilot. I got so used to my route that sometimes I’d find myself thinking of other things and miss a turn or not signal. It’s great to be able to disconnect, but important to stay alert of what’s going on around you.

I appreciate the metro more than before because I normally choose when to use it and it allows me to do other things while traveling. Usually I’m dying to get back on my bike afterward.

I use a helmet. It’s a no-brainer for me.

People often say, “Oh, you’re so brave” or “I could never do that.” Neither of those statements is valid—anyone can become a bike commuter in Madrid if they want to.

Words and pictures

Life has been busy and blogging hasn’t been a priority lately. Good things have been happening, though. Here’s a taste of the past few months, in which I’ve

rediscovered the complete awesomeness of Asturias;

fallen in love all over again with Lisboa;

still been bike commuting and gotten the bici a little fame;

uncovered the mystery that is Andorra;

and, in pursuit of more snow, been to Gredos and back in a day.

I’ve also been randomly working on a map of my favorite spots in Madrid. Enjoy!

Spanish breakfast

Recently I went on a day trip to the countryside with a bunch of people. The meeting place was across town and I timed my arrival so that I could there walk from my house and grab breakfast en route. I did not know the area where we were meeting particularly well but I was sure there’d be a bar humming with a breakfast crowd in the vicinity. This hypothesis rarely fails, so when I finished eating and met the rest of the group and told them, a bit giddy with caffeine and warm, fried dough, that I’d just had breakfast in the bar on the corner, one, a madrileño said, “Ahhhhh, Espanish breakfast.” Yes, I said, I love it.

The practice goes back to my early days in Madrid. I might have been initiated in the Spanish breakfast by an American friend who’d lived in Spain longer than I and relished the tradition of a café con leche with whatever light, sweet fare was on offer in the midst of noisy locals and rushed barmen. Back then I didn’t even drink coffee, but I knew that when my parents first came to visit, in 2006, I’d have to find a spot to get them their caffeine fix first thing in the morning. Enter Herza. From then on, there was no looking back; it didn’t become a daily routine, but an eagerly awaited treat for out-of-town visitors or early morning meetings.

I should admit that I am a breakfast lover in general, which makes my love for the Spanish breakfast somewhat confounding. I was raised on hearty breakfasts—not bacon and eggs, but hot and cold cereal, weekends of pancakes or waffles, or bagels with cream cheese. The Spanish breakfast is simple and, like many tasty things, without great nutritional value. Kids grow up on Cola Cao and galletas María. In bars, you can get coffee with a bollo (breakfast pastry) or tostada (toast) for anywhere between two and two-and-a-half euros. In Madrid, it’s especially common to have churros or porras with your café. Pastries are so-so, the toast is white bread, and I have a theory that people eat their croissants a la plancha because they’re generally not that good plain. But Spanish breakfast has its gracia. What I’ve grown to like most about it is the functionality: for most, it’s not a special treat, just something that one does every day to get things going.

And now, unlike back in the day, we don’t have to have our breakfast and smoke a pack simultaneously. The Spanish breakfast has only improved with the prohibition of smoking in bars and restaurants. On my bike commute there are three breakfast spots that I picked out while riding by in the first several weeks. Now I’ve tried them all and every couple weeks I stop by one to engage in what’s becoming something of a tradition.

Last Friday at Bar Rubí (corner of Castelló and Diego de León), a tiny elderly woman walked in around 7:30 and the barman immediately set upon preparing her order, but she corrected him, “I’m going to have my tostada for the first course, and the churros as the second.” Now that’s a Spanish breakfast.


It took the seasons a while to work things out, but summer has finally given way to fall. The rain started on Sunday and has held the upper hand since the week began. Like Leftbanker, I started wearing pants again.

Two notable things have happened since fall really took hold. First, the bad news: on Sunday our flat was broken into and the thieves absconded with my year-old MacBook Pro and my iPod Touch. They got in through a window, and though they hardly touched anything (nary a drawer was opened), they left two dirty handprints on the wall above the window. So the forensic police showed up with their fingerprint dust and everything. I suppose it was a matter of time before something like this happened.

Second, the good news: I wore out the rear brake pads on my bicycle. It’s been two months of minimum 20-kilometer weekday rides to and from work and around town on the new Fahrrad, and today I did those kilometers through some serious rain. My intention was not to ride to work on the days it’s raining when I get up, but this morning it wasn’t; it started raining as soon as I got to the corner where I begin my ride. I was already geared up so I went for it, which I regretted only for the feeling of water-logged denim against my thighs.

On the way back I noticed that my rear brakes didn’t really brake and that I could pull the lever right to the handlebar. Upon investigation it seemed the pads were sort of melting away against the rim. A combination of impatience and lack of time led me to Calmera, where they informed [bicycle-maintenance novice] me that the pads were worn away completely. The female clerk was so impressed by my daily kilometer count that she punched the numbers into a calculator to see how many it had been in two months: “1000 km! That’s like riding to Valencia and back at least once!”

Mountains, part I

I don’t post about all the mountain adventures I go on. That would be a very time-consuming activity. Though I suppose thinking about all the posts I would write is also fairly time-consuming. I’ve decided to just give a bit of a photographic tour of Spain’s amazing mountains. Here goes:

Madrid’s got some pretty great mountains just an hour from the city center. Here’s one from my first trip to la Pedriza way back in January 2006.

I always go back to la Pedriza. This year I was there just after a snowfall.

Peñalara is Madrid’s highest peak and this year we attacked it from the north, and found some good ice near the summit after trudging through lots of deep snow.

I still haven’t walked the entire cuerda larga, but I like taking pictures of it. It’s at its best when it’s snow covered.

Summer is a good time to get to Madrid’s sierra, too, though. Too bad swimming in the lakes on Peñalara is totally prohibited.

Mountains get a little wilder to the west of Madrid. Gredos is pretty stunning and is home to the highest peak in the Sistema Central. I don’t get tired of the view of the cirque, with Almanzor standing tall in the middle.

Close to the summit of Almanzor you get to places that look like this, overlooking the so-called canales oscuras.

Rarely have I been so grateful for the sunrise as I was on this morning in a valley in Gredos where we’d had some problems the day before.

To the east of Madrid, the mountains aren’t too shabby either. The view from Ocejón over Guadalajara is pretty nice.

And in winter the mountains there are a lot of fun, too.

The Basque Country has got some nice peaks

as does the oft-overlooked Montaña Palentina. Beware of hunters, though.

Just north of where that photo was taken, you come across the spectacularly sculpted Picos de Europa.

And the Pyrenees? Oh yes. They’re coming. In their own post.

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