Being a guiri means people in Spain find you curious at times, especially when you show up in unexpected places, like a bus stop in Vallecas. Here are some of my recent encounters with Spaniards who find me just a tiny bit interesting:
Madrid’s Teatro Real Restaurant was the perfect place for Mario and me to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. Elegant, glamorous, and ethereally silent, this restaurant is located on the second floor of the royal theater and is itself decidedly royal.
The Teatro Real, or Royal Theater, was originally built in 1850 in front of the royal palace. It served as the city’s opera house and housed the Madrid Royal Conservatory until 1925. There were several periods of reconstruction, but the theater opened for good again 1997. It hosts opera, concerts, and ballet and is home to the Madrid Symphony Orchestra and Choir. Its many halls are decorated with works of art from the Prado and Reina Sofia museums.
The Salón Naranja is decorated with the portraits of Juan Carlos and Sofía
To enter the restaurant, you must walk through a few different salones, or rooms, all of which hhae a color theme.
The restaurant itself is also magnificent. The starry ceiling replicates Madrid’s much-advertised cielo.
And although the restaurant has a capacity of 200, we were the only diners for a good hour! We ate early for Spain, at the elderly hour of 9 p.m.
We ordered the menú de degustación, which wasn’t really a tasting menu, but we got a good idea of what the restaurant does well. (Hint: most everything.)
To start we had a taco de salmón, with a bit of mustard and tarragon. I forgot to get a picture!
Next was perhaps my favorite plate of the night, salmorejo cordobés con virutas de jamón ibérico y huevo, salmorejo with shaved ham and egg . Salmorejo is a purée consisting of tomato, bread, oil, garlic, and vinegar, originating from Córdoba, Andalucía. This was breathtakingly good: creamy, tangy, and rich. The ham was obviously Iberian. I couldn’t stop telling Mario that I never wanted this dish to end!
Next: espárragos blancos con huevo escalfado y aceite de piñones, white asparagus with poached egg and pine nut oil. There were also salmon eggs, perched atop. The egg itself was not salted, but once you bit into the salmon egg, it let out a perfectly juicy pop! of saltiness. The asparagus itself was perfectly cooked, and didn’t have the sometimes unpleasant texture of canned asparagus, which is a common dish in Spain.
Now for the fish: corvina al horno con mejillones en salsa de coco y lima, oven-baked corvina with mussels in a coconut-lime sauce. The coconut and lime worked perfectly to complement the delicate taste of the corvina, and the onions were caramelized to perfection.
This dish was presa ibérica con mojo canario y patatitas confitadas, Iberian pork with Canarian mojo sauce and a caramelized potato.The meat was delicate, tender, and full of flavor, including thyme and sea salt. The mojo sauce went perfectly with the potato and the meat, giving it just a slight kick. After this dish, we were more than full. But there was still dessert …
Our dessert was light and refreshing, perfect for a hot summer’s day: piña colada en texturas, different textures of piña colada. There were dehydrated bits of sweet pineapple atop coconut cream with a pineapple sorbet underneath. Delicious!
And lastly, just in case weren’t stuffed enough, they served us two decadent dark-chocolate truffles and candied orange peel. The chocolate was to’-die-for good, and the candied orange peel lent it just a hit of tartness and acidity.
All of this came with white wine to start and red to finish. The white was Fray Germán, a Verdejo, and the red was Ribera del Duero, Valdubón. The red was really quite full-bodied and rich, but as red-wine enthusiasts, we found it enjoyable.
Here’s to one great year and many more! It was a meal worth repeating. (Next year, perhaps?)
Spanish word of the moment: calor, meaning heat. In Madrid, we’ve been experiencing an ola de calor, or heat wave. Temperatures have reached 38 C, 100 F, with no relief in sight. I know you sevillanos have us beat, but my mother used to say if there was one thing I hated, it was being hot. And sweating. Nowadays I don’t mind sweating that much—except at night. Is there anything less conducive to a good night’s rest than beads of sweat rolling down your back?
How to beat the heat (without central air)?
Fans, fans, fans.
We have a large, industrial-size fan here. It was here when we moved in. Now I’m finding out why!
Buy yourself a pingüino.
No, I’m not talking about the animal, although they are cute. I don’t really know why, but the nickname here in Spain for a portable air conditioner is pingüino.
I headed down to the nearest chino (your go-to-for-everything store, usually run by people from China) and bought myself a €0.90 spray bottle. I fill it up with cold water and spray myself every so often.
Head to a pool.
If you are not one of the lucky ones who has a pool in their apartment complex, there are public pools in Madrid.
Do not cook. Ever.
Since the school year is over, I have more free time. And since I’m abandoning Mario for a while in order to see my family, I decided to fulfill all stereotypes and cook him so food to freeze. (Mario often works from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and thus cannot go to grocery stores in Spain, since they are not open at those times). But this makes you hotter and hotter, and cooking while sweating is not relaxing.
Spain is known for its gazpacho, and gazpacho is a great way to use delicious summer tomatoes. Check out my fellow blogger’s gazpacho recipe. Some other great Spanish dishes include salmorejo, ajoblanco, escabeches, and mojete, among many more.
I’m headed home on July 11, but not before Mario and I celebrate our first wedding anniversary this weekend! Can you believe it’s already been a year?
Since we moved to Madrid, I’ve come to realize that mi barrio, my neighborhood, isn’t one of Madrid’s coolest or most coveted places to live. I don’t live in Malasaña, where hipsters ride bicycles and drink cañas in old men bars; nor do I reside in La Latina, with its bares de tapas along Cava Baja street; I don’t call Chamberí or Chueca my home; Salamanca is out of the question. My neighborhood isn’t even included on this map made for you to choose the best one to live in.
Where do I live, then? Arganzuela. (Metro: Arganzuela Planetario or Legazpi.)
What I love about mi barrio:
The green spaces. We live right next to two great spots for being active. Mario and I are runners, so the fact that just 100 meters from our front door lies Parque Tierno Galván is a huge plus. This park is home to the planetarium as well as the IMAX. The planetarium offers free activities throughout the summer, indoors as well as outdoors.
We also love running alongside the Madrid Río, a project that began when a section of the M-30 road running parallel to the Manzanares river was moved into an underground tunnel. The park actually is in several districts of Madrid, including Moncloa, Carabanchel, and Usera. Here you’ll find runners, cyclists, skaters, and tons of families. There are places to stop and have a beer or eat some churros as well! You can also run under the picturesque Puente de Toledo.
The quiet. Perhaps I’m outing myself as a 26-year-old grandma, but I don’t care! I love sleep, and I love going to bed at 11:30 on a weekday and not hearing people partying, not hearing cars drive by, and not getting my sleep interrupted by anything other than the occasional sound of the trash collectors (who drive by every night around midnight). Sure, it’s not quite the same as living in Indiana where you hear the crickets chirp outside your window in summer, but it’s perfect for me.
El Matadero. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t quite get this place—or at least its art. El Matadero was once Madrid’s slaughterhouse (in fact, matadero is literally “slaughterhouse) and was used as a livestock market. It closed in 1996. In the last few years it’s been made into a cultural space dedicated to the arts. El Matadero houses numerous exhibitions throughout the year in its many buildings. In each of the buildings there are programs and services related to a certain cultural area: theater, design, visual arts, and literature.
The prices. If you want to eat cheaply in Spain, Madrid is not your best bet—most of the time! But Mario and I have our secret little bar in our neighborhood where we can eat dinner on Friday nights for €11–€12—for the both of us! Sure, we’re not eating anything groundbreaking. But you won’t find a better empanada. And I refuse to pay €4 for one pintxo de tortilla (especially if served cold, ahem ahem).
Moreover, we have a two-bedroom apartment here for the price of a one-bedroom in central Madrid. Since I expect to have family and friends visiting from the States sometime, it’ll come in handy to have a cheap (free) place for them to stay.
The people. Ours is a family neighborhood. Apparently quite a few people from Zamora choose to live in this area, which obviously helps. But our neighborhood panadera (baker) is the friendliest around and always refer to me as reina or cariño. Nothing beats Midwest-style kindness!
Would I change anything?
Well, yes. I’d like to live a bit closer to a metro stop, and I’d like to have a frutería right outside my door. But we can’t have everything, now can we?
Where do you live? What do you love about your barrio?
Last Sunday, April 28, was Madrid’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon. Mario was a participant, and I thought it would be a great time for him to share his thoughts on the experience.
I like running. I started in high school, before it became so popular. The truth is that, although I love running, I’ve never taken it that seriously. Actually, the first time I ran a “real” race was in December 2005, when I took part in the Ismaninger Winterlauf, since at that time I was working in Munich. It was 12.8 kilometers, and I finished with a time of 52:50. It was snowy and bitterly cold and I think I was wearing two T-shirts (maybe three). It wasn’t until 2009 that I ran my second race. The race was in Salamanca and the distance was 7.650 km. My time was 28:56. I was dating Kaley at that time, which helped motivate me to run fast in order to impress her.
Kaley: I ran too, but not nearly as fast as Mario
My first big race was in March 2012, when I ran my hometown half marathon. I didn’t have a specific plan to train for the race. For those who follow this blog, you may have read that Zamora is a beautiful sort of medieval town. However, those in charge of organizing the race for some reason didn’t draw up a race course that went through the nice old town. The race is on the outskirts with 90 degrees turns (those who run know how much making an u-turn kills your rhythm) and, worst of all, it was two laps of the same circuit (boooooooooooring). I ended with a time of 1:25:15, which I was happy about.
When I moved to Madrid last October, I considered running the Madrid marathon. It sounded scary, but I wanted to try. Sito, my cousin, who is an experienced marathon runner, talked me into it. He knows a lot, and he guided me through it. I had done some calculations in order to estimate the time I would need to run a marathon, based off my half marathon from last year in Zamora. One way to estimate a marathon-finishing time is to double your half-marathon time and add ten minutes, which for me would be exactly three hours. Kaley had downloaded a training plan for a person who goes running three days a week. As I said before, I’d never used a training plan before. I usually go running à la Forrest Gump—it’s what I like, but I’m not what you would call organized when it comes to setting up a training plan.
The problem with preparing for a long race is that you have to start training well in advance and you never know what might come up, such as a lot of work in the office (which would mean not being able to follow my scheduled training sessions) and/or injuries. The former didn’t happen, but the second one kind of did. Three weeks before the race, I started to feel—literally—a pain in my butt. After a couple of hours sitting at my desk at work, I couldn’t sit still; I kept fidgeting. I didn’t know I had a slight case of piriformis syndrome. I should have rested a bit, but the marathon was drawing closer, so I decided instead to run shorter distances, so that I wouldn’t overload the muscle (even more than it already was), and stretch. It did get better.
Kaley was my personal food expert, and she cooked for me foods rich in carbohydrates, so I got plenty of energy. The day before the race she prepared some delicious cannelloni. Finally the day of the race came.
The race started at 9 a.m. It had threatened to rain, but in the end it didn’t make an appearance. But the weather was brisk. Both Sito and I wore two layers. The race started in the Plaza de Colón. Because there are so many people who participate in either the marathon, half marathon, or 10K, people are separated into corrals, based on previous race times or estimated race times. I was in Corral 1, just behind the professionals. (You don’t see the Kenyans even at the very beginning, they’re so fast.) Before the starting gun went off, we had a moment of silence in honor of the victims of Boston. I had attached a black ribbon to my T-shirt.
Then the countdown began, and before I knew it, my legs were moving. We were running up Paseo la Castellana. In the Rock and Roll marathons, they have bands playing live music, which really pumps you up. There are also liebres (literally, hares) or pacesetters, who are experienced athletes recruited by the organization. They have a balloon tied to their back (it must be annoying running with that) with a sign that says how long it will take them to run the marathon. If you follow them, it helps you not to go out too fast or too slow, so I tried to keep close to the three-hour pacesetter.
Around the 14-kilometer mark, my left knee and ankle started to bother me, and I began to lose sight of the three-hour pacesetter. Luckily it passed, and I was able to find a comfortable pace, which I gradually increased until I was again able to see the three-hour balloon. That part of the route went through the center of Madrid, on Calle Fuencarral, through Sol, down Calle Mayor. People lined the streets and applauded, there was rock music, and thus I felt the rush of adrenaline; I was meeting my three-hour target.
With regards to hydration, every five kilometers there were hydration points with water bottles and cups of Powerade. I drank something at every point so as not to get dehydrated. As I passed the half-marathon point, I saw that I had completed the half in one hour and twenty-eight minutes. I felt confident that, if I kept it up, I would be able to meet my goal. However, it was too late to realize that I was overconfident … because it was then that I hit the metaphorical wall.
I had not heard of the “wall” concept until the previous day, when I went to the fair organized by the marathon. I had to go to pick up my bib. There were professional athletes giving a talk, and one (I don’t know his name) was speaking about his experience the previous year, when he too hit the wall. Someone asked him if the feeling passed, but he said no, that it had lasted until the very end. I hit the wall around kilometer 23, and it lasted until the end, so I basically ran the entire second half with this horrible feeling in my head and legs. Moreover, added to my suffering was the fact that I now had to run through the Casa de Campo, which became unbearable.
At kilometer 27, they were giving out Powerbar energy gels, which taste disgusting, but they help. Still, I had to stop twice to stretch my hamstrings and pyramidal muscles, which were killing me. Along the route, there are people on skates who carry Vaseline and topical painkillers in spray form. The good thing about them being on skates is that they can spray you while you’re running; you don’t have to stop. I had to resort to them twice.
Here comes the figure of my guardian angel: Sito. We had both planned to run the marathon in three hours, and he sacrificed this in order to wait for me and cheer me on. As the race went on and I was suffering, I watched as people passed me by and I barely passed anyone. I tried to think about songs that motivated me; I needed to break through this wall that was preventing me from moving forward with the ease that I desired. It makes you want to stop and quit. I think that, sometimes, the wall is real—your muscles don’t function at full capacity because you haven’t trained enough. With determination and Sito’s help, I was able to keep going. Most of the time when I run, the kilometers seem to fly by, but at the time the distance between one kilometer and the next seemed endless. The good thing is that when you leave Casa de Campo, you return to the city, and there were again people cheering. We arrived at Atocha and there were only three kilometers to go. The bad thing is that the remaining kilometers were ascending, but I was able to draw strength from somewhere. I couldn’t quit then, we were almost to Parque del Retiro, I only had to push a little bit more.
Finally, I saw the 41-kilometer marker, and I knew there were only 1,195 meters left! There were people along the path clapping, so you have to stop looking pitiful, keep your head up, and enjoy the last minutes. I crossed the finish line as it marked 3 hours, 21 minutes. Mission accomplished.
Throughout the race, there is a sense of camaraderie because other runners encourage you and you, them if you see them stop. Or, in my case, Sito, who patiently waited for me, so that we would finish together, thus sacrificing his personal finish time. “Si empezamos juntos, acambos juntos,” (“If we started together, we finish together”), he kept repeating every time I told him not to wait for me.
These days after the race, Kaley has been taking care of me and massaging my legs with specific creams to help them recover from the effort.
I may not have finished in three hours like I wanted, and naturally I feel a bit disappointed, but in life you must learn from everything, and—above all—from the negatives. I learned three valuable lessons: Don’t leave anyone behind, don’t get overconfident, and have the ability to analyze situations in the long term.
Have you ever stopped to think about strange some things in our language must sound to foreigners? Words are bad enough, but then you get to idioms and place names, and you think … “Gosh, we’re weird!” Don’t worry, though, it’s the same way in every language. The human race is just odd like that I guess!
Mario and I have a game we like to play on the metro. I’m giving it a name today: Literally. Literally is (literally) a very-overused word that drives me crazy when I hear people misusing it. The online webcomic, The Oatmeal, makes a good point:
But translating things literally is quite fun. Next time you’re on the metro and bored (always?), give it a shot. Some of my favorites (try to guess the metro stop!):
Sticks of the Frontier
Pine Forest of Chamartín
Pine Forest of the King
The Craving (The Whim)
The Latin Woman
The Angel’s Door
Park of the Avenues
Field of the Nations
Cross of the Lightning
Three Olive Trees
Go ahead, guess. Which stops are they? Do you have any favorites?
It’s the little things, isn’t it? The big things are great, wonderful—but they’re often few and far between. Of course, the fact that they are indeed scarce makes them all the easier to appreciate.
But the small things? They’re the type of occurrences that could and do happen every day. We just have to learn to notice them.
- All the crosswalks are green when you get to them, even those pesky ones with two distinct lights, meaning you usually have to stop in the middle of the street to wait for the second.
- Arriving at the metro station and hop right on the train, both at the first station and your transfer station. Bliss.
- There are available seats on the metro. In fact, there are more than enough so you don’t have to squeeze in like a sausage!
- Remembering an errand you forgot to do, only to walk right by the store you need, whether it be the supermarket, the hardware store, or the bank.
- When there’s no line at the bank.
- When the cashiers at the supermarket smile and treat you kindly.
- When there’s a long line at the supermarket and they actually open a new line—and you get to go first.
- When your Spanish comes out perfectly the first time.
- Seeing the weather forecast app predicts sun, sun, sun for the foreseeable future. Not only during the weekend, but the weekend too!
- The tapas bar is full, but not too full. If you get what I’m sayin’.
- The wine you order is a) delicious and b) costs less than €2 per copa.
What little things make you smile in your city?
- Check to make sure there’s a strike. Strikes cheer everyone up and accomplish so much!
- Bundle up. The metro is always freezing! Even if it is hot, there’s nothing wrong sweating like you just ran on public transportation.
- Arrive just as the train leaves. This is hard to do, but the best of us manage this at least 50% of the time.
- Do not sit down to wait. Those benches are for weenies and idiots. Stand. Stand as close as you can to the tracks so as to be NUMBER ONE on the metro, baby.
- Do not let the departing passengers off. Shove on in; you are número uno.
- Lean against the middle railing. But if you can get a seat, sit with legs sprawled wide. Alternately, find any way possible to take up tons of space.
- Ask for money.
- Sing and dance, then ask for money.
- In general, annoy your fellow passengers.
- Talk about the people standing by you. In Spanish, as if they can’t understand you. This isn’t Spain, is it?
- Smell bad. If at all possible. If you can’t smell bad, do try to reek of cologne/perfume/sun-ripened raspberry body spray and/or its ilk.
- Get up two stops before yours. There’s just no time to get up otherwise. Tell the people in front of you who are also getting off that you are getting off. They should let you up front! Don’t they know who you are?
- Do not check the signs to see which exit would be best.
- Stop in the middle of a large group of people.
- Turn around; you were going the wrong way.
- Do not apologize if you swipe someone’s shoulder so that they stagger backwards. After all, don’t hate the player, hate the game.
- Stand on the left side of the escalator so no one get by. Optional: stand on the center-left side so as to appear as though you’re considerate but do not actually be considerate. No, no, tsk, tsk.
- Rinse, repeat
Thank goodness I don’t have to ride the metro on a daily basis! I find myself liking buses more and more!
This post is basically just a smattering of “facts” I’ve encountered during my time in Spain.
- Mercadona is the best. Do not argue, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
- Eating cookies and milk for breakfast is perfectly fine. Okay, these cookies are digestive-type cookies and milk isn’t unhealthy, but it’s always shocking when a child tells me he/she has had cookies and milk para desayunar.
- Dryers are not necessary. Okay, I agree with this—to a point. Dryers are wasteful, take up a lot of space, and are fairly unnecessary during the summer. But they are so, so nice in the winter, when your clothes take three days to dry on your clotheshorse.
Me with my hair done for a friend’s wedding in September
- Getting your hair done for weddings is a must. That is, if you’re a woman. Going to the hairdresser, though you are not a) the bride, b) in the wedding, or c) related to the bride in any way is very common. I heard a cousin of Mario’s tell the other women, “¡Nos vemos en la peluquería!” / “See you at the hairdresser!”
- An herbal liqueur after a meal helps you digest. I really don’t know if this is true or not, but whatever—who doesn’t like a good crema de orujo (like Bailey’s) or pacharán (a sloe-flavored liquor) after a big meal?
- Fruit after a meal is (almost) obligatory. I did grow up eating fruit, really. But I’m never going to be on Mario’s or Mario’s family’s level, all of who eat fruit with such regularity that it’s astounding. Mario starts each day with an orange, eats an apple for lunch, and after dinner grapes. That’s his routine right now, and it does vary in which kind of fruit he has for lunch or dinner, but breakfast is always, always, always an orange. Sometimes in the States we’d only have mandarin oranges, which were okay, but not quite the same.
- Las madres love Tupperware. My mom loves me, but she never made me food, froze it, and put in a Tupperware container for me to take back to my apartment. The mothers and grandmothers in Spain are notorious for this. I work with a guy who’s American but with a Spanish father, so he has relatives here in Madrid. His grandmother insists on making him food and putting it into Tupperware for him to eat donde le da la gana (wherever he wants). It’s not that he’s not capable of providing for himself, but it’s just what the matriarchs of the family do. So prepare yourself. When your Spanish mother-in-law comes a-visiting, she’ll be bringing containers of lentejas (lentil stew), albóndigas (meatballs), pisto de garbanzos (chickpeas with a tomato-eggplant-zucchni sauce), and carrillera (chin meat, and yeah, it’s delicious). Get used to it.
When you study abroad, it’s not permanent or even long-term. Even as a Conversation and Language Assistant, it’s not for more than one or two years (most likely). But my situation is a bit different—I married a Spaniard. I’m here for the foreseeable future, much to my father’s chagrin.
One thing that often worries expats is money. Naturally. Money can be the root of many problems, and it can cause endless frustration for the involved parties. Naturally, I’ve encountered my share, having spent the last four years in and out of Spain. When I earned money in Spain, I wanted to use it in the US. Likewise, as I spent the last year earning money in the US, I wanted to use it in Spain. How to go about that?
Some banks make it easy to make an international money transfer of this sort, while others do not. You will have to speak with your bank in order to find out which is the case for you.
In Spain, most banks require a NIE (meaning “Número de identificación de extranjeros” or Tax Identity Number); however, I’ve heard that some only require a passport. Luckily for me, being married to a EU resident means I get a five-year NIE, unlike students who are forced to go through the renewal process every year. (A pain in the ass, if you ask me!) Another thing to have in mind is that in Spain there are two types: bancos and cajas. NPR’s Planet Money did a rather enlightening podcast that will help you to understand what these are, but basically bancos are general retail/commercial banks, while cajas are savings banks. You will also need proof of address, like a water or electricity bill.
In Spain, it’s common to pay certain bills by direct debit, which means no checks! In fact, I don’t even know if checks exist here. Online banking is also becoming more common, a huge relief for technology-dependent American expats in Spain.
What were your experiences opening a bank account in Spain? What advice would you give someone looking to open one?