Posts Tagged 'Madrid'

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.

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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!

Really?

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.

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!

Adventures in bike commuting

Two months after the trial run, I started bike commuting. Turns out I needed a little push to finally make it happen, which came in the form of a wholehearted endorsement from a bike commuter friend. Granted there had been a fair amount of rain in March, and in April I was away for half of the month. But on May 3 I said, alright, enough with the excuses: let’s do it. Now it’s been five weeks of riding to work a minimum of three days. This week I went by bike every day. And like anything, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Aside from a few critical points (usually big intersections or circles), the ride is simple and very pleasant. It takes me an average of 50 minutes to get to Begoña, where I catch the city bus to school, and then 45 minutes to ride back home down all the hills I climbed in the morning. In total it’s about 20 kilometers (roughly 13 miles) round trip. Here’s the route map.

My bike has been performing wonderfully. I’m pretty happy that someone stole my saddle a few months ago—the new one I have is pretty sweet and wasn’t more than 40 euros. Fenders would be a good addition, though I am toying with the idea of getting a new bike when I’m back in the States this summer. But I’ll always have a place in my heart for this bici.

Some thoughts and observations from the commute:

There’s nothing like riding through an empty Retiro Park at 7.30 in the morning.

Even if first I have to ride up this:

Learning the traffic light times and patterns helps a heck of a lot with the trickier spots. If I time this circle right (I have to go left, but cross the whole thing to get there), it’s amazingly easy.

It’s pretty fun to see where you’re headed a few kilometers before actually getting there. Feels like hiking when you can finally see the summit.

Bonus: where you’re headed—even if it’s the Towers of Mordor—looks pretty cool up close.

A testament to the ayuntamiento’s attention to cyclists: the bike parking area near where I park at Begoña has been stripped clean of its steel “U”s and all that’s left is the sign. Sad, really. Guess I should be glad that I’m not locking to something that can be pulled right out of the ground.

Shoutouts to Aalto and MiguelS, my original guides, over at enbicipormadrid.es; Villarramblas for figuring out the route, being my Tuesday morning companion (when he doesn’t oversleep), and making some really awesome cycling maps of Madrid; I. for pushing me to stop bellyaching and just ride; and to the random cyclists I’ve met along the way.


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