Chinchón—A Plaza Mayor to Rival Salamanca’s

As far as as Plaza Mayors go, I’ve always had a clear favorite: Salamanca. Now, not to hate on Madrid (though I don’t have a problem doing that at times), but for me, nothing rivals Salamanca’s gorgeous Plaza Mayor. It’s where I met up with Mario on our first dates (we met, as do most couples and friends, debajo del reloj), it’s where I picnicked on sunny days with my guiri friends, it’s the square I crossed daily on the way to my internship.

Last autumn, though, some friends of ours invited us to visit Chinchón, a small village about 50 km southwest of Madrid, with a population of roughly 5,000 people. They too are a couple like us: one Spaniard, one guiri from the Midwest. They got married in this town, and I immediately saw why they were drawn to it.

Chinchón Plaza Mayor Madrid

Its Plaza Mayor, Main Square in English (though I never translate this phrase), is a classic medieval construction. All around the outside are houses and buildings with balconies. Many of these have been converted into restaurants, so you can sit outside on the rickety (or so it seems) wooden scaffolding and enjoy your menu del día.

Since its construction, the square has been home to various events: royal fiestas, comedy shows, jousting, bullfights, religious sacraments, executions, and even home to a movie set or two (Around the World In 80 Days, for example).

Chinchón Plaza Mayor MadridChinchón Plaza Mayor Madrid

Chinchón is also known for its eponymous beverage, a form of anisette, made from aniseed macerated for half a day in a hydroalcoholic solution (usually wine). Later it’s distilled in copper stills for different amounts of time, leading to distinct varieties, including:

Chinchón Anis Sweets
The liqueur is also used to make many sweets (Source)

  • Sweet, useful for cooking at 35% alcohol
  • Dry, no sugar and 43% alcohol
  • Special Dry, a stronger variety at 74% alcohol

I actually hate aniseed, so we passed on trying this libation.

Chinchón Plaza Mayor  Madrid

Chinchón Plaza Mayor  Madrid

Chinchón Madrid

Which villages have you visited around Madrid? What’s your favorite?

Taking the GRE in Madrid

Or How I Took the GRE So You Don’t Have To

Wait … that’s not how it works, is it? Oh well. Yesterday I took the GRE in Madrid. Apparently this is a topic of some interest for fellow expats in Madrid, because I’ve seen several mentions of it on the Facebook groups. I thought I’d let all of you nervous guiris know how it went.

First of all, I went to their website to register. It’s a fairly simple process, and there are loads of test dates, in the morning and in the afternoon. (Actually an American-style afternoon, as my exam started at 1:30 p.m.)


You choose your city, which for me was Madrid. So if you want to take the GRE in Spain, you have two options: Madrid or Barcelona.



Search for Madrid, and then click on “Schedule an Appointment.”

There are two places in Madrid to take it, and then you just click on “Check Seat Availability” to find a time and a date. As I said, there’s morning and there’s afternoon. One starts at 9:00 a.m. and the other at 1:30 p.m. Keep in mind that this is a four-and-a-half-hour test, so if you start at 9:00 a.m., you’ll finish around 1:30 p.m., and if you start at 1:30 p.m., you’ll finish at 6:00 p.m.


After you register with the GRE, you can schedule your appointment!

On Test Day

Read their email very well. You are supposed to get there thirty minutes before your scheduled appointment in order to do some paperwork and all that jazz. This center does other sorts of testing, so there will be people there doing assorted types of exams.

I was scheduled to take the test at Go English Communications, which is located at Avenida de las Filipinas, 1 Bis. To get there, you can take the Metro Line 7 to the stop Islas Filipinas. It’s a short walk from there.


You should go into the right-hand doors. The center is located on the seventh floor of the building.

Once you get there, you will have to write out (in cursive!) a statement saying you are not doing anything illicit, blah, blah, blah. You sign that, and then you are required to turn off your phone, and put all of your belongings in a locker, except your identity document (passport or NIE will both work).

When they are ready for you, they’ll take you into a second room. There, you have to turn out your pockets so they see they’re empty. Next they scan you with a metal detector! (I have taken the GRE before, in the U.S., and this didn’t happen.) You also have to lift up your pant legs to show you’re not hiding anything there either.

Side note: I was wondering about all this, as it seems a bit extreme for Spain. Mario and I concluded that it might have to do with the cheating culture in Spain, as it is more prevalent here than in the U.S., at least in my experience.

They took my photo with a webcam, which was fun, because I couldn’t figure out where to roll my chair to in order for them to get the “perfect” shot. As I waited, I noticed there were cameras everywhere! Even on me at that very second! Finally, they chose a computer for me and took me to the computer. Once there, I had to confirm the information on the screen was correct, and the exam began.

You get a 10-minute break after Section 2 of the GRE, but you are not allowed to leave the premises, so don’t do it. You are also not allowed to get out your phone or look at any notes. This may seem obvious, but just be careful.

I’m sure that the books and the information you find online can help you to familiarize yourself with how the actual exam is. I just hope to help those of you who, like me, are taking the exam in Spain, and especially Madrid.

If you have any specific questions related to the GRE, please feel free to email me.

The Curious Case of Francisco Nicolás

Imagine a twenty year-old kid, a kid from some small town in the Midwest, say. Say that he’s studying at Georgetown University Imagine this kid has grandiose visions of himself. And so he finds a way to pretend he’s a VIP—a CIA agent, the godson of Nancy Pelosi or former President Clinton. Maybe he even tries to scam some people out of a considerable amount of money.

Well, something like this did happen in Spain. Recently, it came to light that a young man now referred to as Pequeño Nicolás (Little Nicholas) has forged official documents, pretended to know and advise senior Spanish officials, and told people he was an agent of Spain’s version of the CIA, the CNI.

Of course, Spaniards have had a field day with this. The memes are rather hilarious, especially if you understand a bit about Spanish culture.

Continue reading