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#tbt Spain

Madrid in a Day- Part 1

You’ve only got one day in Madrid, and you want to get the most of it.

Here’s a step by step guide of what to do with 24 hours in Madrid.

 

This is going to be hard. Not to gush, but there are just so many places I want to take you. For this reason I’m planning two one-day trips, and you can pick which one you want. Today’s guide is perfect for a Thursday. Both hypothetical trips will begin at 9 in the morning in May (best weather-warm but not yet scorching). We will be staying at in a 12-bed dorm in Way Hostel, a very down-to-earth convergence of fellow travelers. The youth scene at this hostel is so welcoming that you almost just want to hang out in the common room filled with couches and people watching TV or in the kitchen where travelers from all over the world are cooking up meals from their respective countries. The location is great, near the Tirso de Molina stop on the 1 train, and within walking distance to both the heart of the city (Puerta del Sol) and the seedy neighborhood Lavapies where lingering men will ask lingering people if they’re looking to buy some “chocolate” or at the very least, some Indian food.

Statue of Madrid sigil of bear and strawberry tree, Puerta del Sol, Spain
Bear and strawberry tree statue in Puerta del Sol, Madrid, Spain
Plaza de Tirso de Molina, Madrid, Spain
Plaza de Tirso de Molina, Madrid, Spain
quiet square in Lavapies, Madrid, Spain
quiet square in Lavapies, Madrid, Spain

The square around Tirso de Molina is filled with flower carts, sketchy characters, kids playing on the playground, and average bars that will serve you and two friends a plate of paella with your caña (small glass of draft beer) of Mahou. This plate of paella will be your tapa; see the first post for an explanation of tapas.

Play ground in Tirso de Molina, Madrid, Spain
Play ground in Tirso de Molina, Madrid, Spain
plaza de Tirso de Molina, Madrid, Spain
plaza de Tirso de Molina, Madrid, Spain
flower carts in Tirso de Molina, Madrid, Spain
flower carts in Tirso de Molina, Madrid, Spain

Most importantly is the small pastelería in the square (if you’ve just entered the public space from the hostel, it’s diagonally to your right) where you can buy a loaf of crusty white bread or a pan de chocolate for breakfast. Make sure to wash it down with a café con leche, i.e. the elixir of life in Spain. Don’t ask for an Americano. Also, you’re on vacation. Don’t ask for skim milk or fake sugars because that’s silly, and how do you even say that in Spanish?

Shall we begin?

map of Madrid, Spain
Here’s a map of Madrid

After your breakfast, it’s just a short walk from Tirso de Molina to el Parque del Buen Retiro. I’m not going to give you step by step directions to the park, you can figure it out, but take my word for it that going from Tirso de Molina to the park is easier via your feet than it is via el metro.

El Parque del Buen Retiro is a great place to get lost in. I’ve spent hours there with my friends, walking on dirt paths rather than grass, due to Madrid’s drought, accepting sprigs of rosemary from old ladies, finding little hidden statues or pieces of art that look like they’ve been there for a thousand years.

dirt path in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
dirt path in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
lake at el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
lake at el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
pillars in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
pillars in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
statue of woman el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
statue of woman el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
ruins in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
ruins in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
ruins in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
ruins in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
findings in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
findings in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
statues in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
statues in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain
in el Parque del Buen Retiro, Madrid, Spain

Depending on where you start at the park, it’s probably not too far from some museums. I suggest you visit the Reina Sofia because that’s where you’ll find works by Picasso and Dalí, but if you want to check out el Prado and its long halls of classic Spanish portraits and works by artists like El Greco and Velázquez, the two aren’t very far from each other.

After all this walking around and stuff, you must be culturally pooped and hungry. Treat yourself to a metro ride, because el metro vuela, to Gran Via where you’ll walk just a few blocks to your lunch destination of El Tigre. (There are two in Madrid. You’re going to the one at Calle de las Infantas, 30, just a short walk from the metro stop).

el metro, Madrid, Spain
el metro, Madrid, Spain
Gran Via metro stop in Madrid, Spain
Gran Via metro stop in Madrid, Spain
calle Gran Via, Madrid, Spain
calle Gran Via, Madrid, Spain

El Tigre is semi-touristy, but with good reason. I suggested going for lunch instead of its busiest time of dinner because being there for dinner is just kind of gross. It’s so packed that you’ll never find a table, the air is moist with the heat of bodies packed together, and if by some miracle you find a seat, it will most certainly be covered in spilt beer and old plates that the waiter won’t bus. At around 4pm, however, El Tigre is a totally different place. You will find a quiet, clean table and a waiter will politely bring you a giant cup of your choice of beer, sangria or mojito for only five euros (as opposed to 6 euros at night). Each giant cup comes with a well-packed plate of tapas. Go with two other people and you’ll be graced with a plate of paella, a plate of tostas with jamon and tortilla, and a plate of patatas bravas.

tapas at El Tigre, Madrid, Spain
tapas at El Tigre, Madrid, Spain

After you’ve had your fill it’s time to walk it off again. Find that metro at Gran Via, you know, the one near that McDonald’s that looks like a castle? In front of you you’ll see a wide pathway with shops on either side, slowly declining. You’re on Calle Montera. Follow it. Don’t make eyes with the prostitutes. The Spanish kids running around with their parents certainly don’t seem to mind their presence.

Calle Montera, Madrid, Spain

Typical scenery on Calle Montera, Madrid, Spain
Typical scenery on Calle Montera, Madrid, Spain

This path of hookers and cheap clothing/shoe stores and weird pizza places that serve olive-topped, rectangular slices will eventually open up at the nexus of the city, Puerta del Sol. Get acquainted with this spot while the sun is still out because you will be returning at night, but don’t stray too far from the path that the Gran Via hill has laid out for you. Continue to the other side of the circle that will soon be filled with young people drinking hard liquor and cans of Mahou. Follow that decline until you reach Calle de las Carteras (“Street of the Wallets”- watch yours as you pull it our repeatedly to buy things that you don’t need on this street), which will take you to another inviting space with a surplus of cafes and restaurants that meets with Calle de Atocha. There’s a very fancy Haagen Daaz here attached to a theatre, which has always served me as an impressive landmark.

Teatro Haagen Dazs, Calle Atocha, Madrid, Spain
Teatro Haagen Dazs, Calle Atocha, Madrid, Spain

If you have a second and want to throw in a little more site seeing, pop a right at Calle de Atocha and walk down for a few blocks until you see an archway. That archway leads to el Plaza Mayor and it’s a cool spot with a lot of expensive tourist-trap restaurants but also one or two places that sell bocadillos de calamares for two euros.

Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain
Posing with a friend in the Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain
Plaza Mayor, Madrid, Spain

Are you over this big, beautiful square? Me too. It’s a nice place to hang and people-watch, but I think it’s time for a siesta. Make your way back to the intersection of Calle de Atocha and Calle de las Carteras. Walk past the theatre and Cine Ideal and onto Calle del Doctor Cortezo, and keep going down. Once you’ve hit my favorite Chino (it says “Alimentacion” and “Hiper Bazar” on the awning) you know you’re close to Tirso de Molina. Thank goodness! Something you recognize. Go take a nap and recharge your batteries because we aren’t even close to being done with the night. Before you knock out, make sure to make a reservation at Arroceria Gala on Calle de Moratín 22, and ask to sit in the garden, for 10pm. No, that’s not too late to eat dinner. Spoiler alert, you’ll be up until 8am anyway.

Arroceria Gala, Madrid, Spain
My mom smiling at Arroceria Gala, Madrid, Spain
camarones at Arroceria Gala, Madrid, Spain
camarones at Arroceria Gala, Madrid, Spain
paella at Arroceria Gala, Madrid, Spain
paella at Arroceria Gala, Madrid, Spain
Arroceria Gala facade, Madrid, Spain
Arroceria Gala facade, Madrid, Spain

Arroceria Gala is the perfect restaurant to be served big portions of paella in the pallera (pan). It is a classy family place amid endless tapas bars on Calle de Moratín, offering a quiet and pleasant dinner of savory saffron rice underneath the glass, greenhouse ceiling covered with plants and flowers. I completely understand, however, if you’d rather not spend money or engage in a fancy sit down dinner. Like I said, the neighborhood is flush with other places to fill your stomach. If you wanted to go back to Sol and find a place to fuel for the night in its margins, I could work with that, too. Food is food and it’s all good en el barrio. Besides, it’s Thursday night, Madrid’s Friday, and it’s time to take a page out of the European book of getting drunk.

By now you should be well rested and looking fine (remember my tips, ladies, wear wedge heels!). After dinner, it’s time to engage in botellón, which is basically Spanish street pregaming. Good spots for this include, but are not limited to, Tribunal (for the punks), Atocha (for the Americans), Alonso Martinez (for the bars), Chueca (for the gays), and of course, Puerta del Sol (for everybody). We’re heading to Sol because it’s just something you have to do. Stop at the aforementioned chino or Alimentación for some alcohol. My personal favorite is a bottle of gin and a bottle of Fanta Limón (ginevra y fanta, por favor), but I’ve seen some kids get a liter of Coke and mix it with a bottle of one euro red wine (vino tinto) to make some gross sangria. Whichever way you choose to drink, the convenience store will also sell you plastic cups so you have a vessel in which to pour your beverage. Post up near a fountain or wherever there aren’t too many cops and enjoy drinking and watching other people drink. Buy a can of Mahou off the guy selling them for a euro. Just remember to pace yourself. This isn’t the land of funneling beers and shot for shot. This is the land of the slow drinker who maintains his or her buzz consistently throughout the night without getting sloppy. That’s why their clubs are open until 6am and ours are only open until 2am.

botellon in Puerta del Sol, Madrid, Spain
For the amount of time I spent in Puerta del Sol, I have surprisingly few photos…

The reason I say we should drink in Sol is because there are a lot of promoters there who speak all kinds of languages and who will get you into their respective clubs for free or at a reduced cost, and some even offer you a free drink. My friends and I would usually hold out for Moondance, a small, but fun, lounge that plays a hilarious mix of European techno, Rihanna, some Spice Girls or Backstreet Boys, and crap like David Guetta, or Joy Eslava, a bigger, badder club that is shaped like a theatre, all the sweaty, alcohol-induced dancers taking up every space of the sphere.

crazy lights, Moondance, Madrid, Spain
crazy lights, Moondance, Madrid, Spain
Moondance dance floor, Madrid, Spain
Moondance dance floor, Madrid, Spain
Joy Eslava facade, Madrid, Spain
Joy Eslava facade, Madrid, Spain
inside Joy Eslava, Madrid, Spain
inside Joy Eslava, Madrid, Spain
go-go dancer in Joy Eslava, Madrid, Spain
go-go dancer in Joy Eslava, Madrid, Spain

Some other touristy clubs are Kapital and Pachá, but I didn’t have much fun at either. Kapital is cool because each of its seven floors has a different theme and on the bottom floor, the largest dance floor, there is some random, crazy arctic blast of cold air that dries the sweat right off your neck before you produce some more. However, it’s absolutely filled with Americans and other douche bags, so that’s no fun. Pachá is somewhat similar in size and clientele, and both charge way too much at the door, 18 euro if memory serves.

All smiles at el Kapital, Madrid, Spain
All smiles at el Kapital, Madrid, Spain
dancer at Kapital, Madrid, Spain
dancer at Kapital
Dance floor at Kapital, Madrid, Spain
Dance floor at Kapital, Madrid, Spain

You’re best bet is Joy, and with a name like that, who wouldn’t want to go? Even if a promoter doesn’t hook you up, the line’s never too long and it’s always a good time. You should be heading over there around 1-1:30 am. So go ahead and dance your face off and make your liver cry. After all, you’re only here for a few more hours. Plan to stay there until 5:30. It will close at 6, when the metro reopens, but it will still be very dark out. If you’re hungry, and really how could you not be, the Chocolatería San Ginés is open and right next door. Have some churros con chocolate while you check out your messy self in the mirrors that line the walls and laugh because you’ve truly had one crazy night.

Chocolatería de San Gines facade, Madrid, Spain
Chocolatería de San Gines facade, Madrid, Spain
hot chocolate, churros, Chocolatería de San Gines, Madrid, Spain
A waiter preparing hot chocolate and churros inside San Gines
churros con chocolate, Chocolatería de San Gines, Madrid, Spain
churros con chocolate, Chocolatería de San Gines, Madrid, Spain

IMG_0839

 

Keep an eye out for Part 2, A Day in Madrid on a Sunday, my other favorite day in this lively city!

by Rebecca Bellan

Categories
#tbt Spain Tips, Advice, and Everything Else

12 Tips for Visiting Madrid

Some advice before going to Madrid, from how to avoid getting your pocket picked to what you can’t leave without eating.

Like many university students, I made the best decision of my life when I chose to spend a semester studying abroad. Madrid presented me with an adventure everyday. From practicing my Spanish to trying different food and exploring a new city, to fitting myself and my habits into the molds and customs of a fascinatingly foreign culture, I enjoyed allowing myself to be swept into the tide of Madrid, a city that is both Euro-chic and very old, with a sort of royal grandeur backed up by centuries of Spain’s role as a major world power.

At the end of my studies, I jotted down a few tips that I would pass on to friends who were looking to tour the city themselves. Here are my general impressions of what you should know before you go to Madrid.

Tips:

1) Guys, keep your wallet and valuables in your front pockets. Ladies, wear a small messenger bag for your passport, money, lipstick, whatever. Keep that thing on lock down. I don’t want to see it creeping to the side of your hip, and then behind you, because you will have your pocket picked. Man, woman, young, old, the Madrid pick-pocketer is a pro. Stay away from the doors on the metro, anyone in a suit, and anyone reading a big spread out newspaper. And don’t even think about wearing a stupid fanny pack. You better look fresh if you don’t want all the Madrileñas snickering about how stupid you look in that throaty, mouth-full-of-spit-and-cigarette-smoke way of theirs.

pickpocket

2) Wear comfy shoes. Madrid is a walking city, so why hide underground in the metro when you can take in the sites as you take in the sites? Also, again, ladies, unless you want to roll your ankle, find some cute wedge heels to wear out to the clubs. This city is old and full of cobblestones. A stiletto heel will be your downfall, literally.

3) I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but try not to act too touristy and attract unwanted attention. Try to blend in, or you will be harassed often. When my Irish friend came to visit from Dublin, I had to protect her from a pickpocketer before we even made it to the hostel from the airport, and on our walk to the hostel from the metro, a group of men tried to put a scarf on her. Don’t ask me why, the point is she stuck out like a sore thumb and people took notice.

This is the Irish friend, Erin.
This is the Irish friend, Erin.

4) “Chinos” are like bodegas, or corner stores, run by Chinese immigrants. Yes, it’s a little racist to identify the stores by the race of people running them, but Madrid is a little racist. Chinos are mostly open all night and will sell you all the munchies and wine/liquor that your heart desires. While some stop serving liquor at a certain time at night, most are just trying to get money, so you shouldn’t have a problem buying a bottle whenever the spirit takes you.

5) While you’re in Madrid, there are a few things you can’t leave without tasting. Any bar/restaurant will have these staples: Spanish tortilla (like a potato omelette), Jamón Serrano (salty cured ham), vino tinto (red wine), croquetas (omg so good), paella (you should know what this is), patatas bravas (potatoes with a red sauce), etc…..

tapas at El Tigre, Madrid, Spain
tapas at El Tigre, Madrid, Spain

6) Bocadillo means sandwich. Eat this often. 100 Montaditos is a chain with many bocadillos. Most common is Bocadillo de Jamón Serrano, and it will be your whole loaf of bread and butter, or should I say, bread and ham because there aren’t many other fixings on a Spanish sandwich.

Bocadillo_jamon_iberico_lunch_congresos_eventos_guipuzcoa_vizcaya_alava_navarra_H4H13Z

7) There will be promoters everywhere trying to entice you into their bar/club with free shots (chupitos) or free mojitos and sangria. Don’t, as I once did, go to each place, take your free drink, and leave. The drinks they give you for free are sugary and awful and will result in the worst hangover of your life. I’m talking opening the door of the cab at a red light and only managing to say, “Lo siento, señor,” before you vomit onto the street.

8) With the castellano accent, or Spanish accent, C’s and Z’s are pronounced with a lisp, not S’s. If you’re trying to sound like a local, make sure to put your tongue between your teeth when saying “Grathias,” not “Adioth.”

9) You will see many statues and sigils of a bear on its hind legs next to a tree. This is Madrid’s Coat of Arms, and its origins date back as far as or even farther than 1212, when the council of Madrid hailed a flag of a bear to identify themselves when they arrived in support of the Christian King Alfonso VIII of Castille during the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa against the Almohads. The strawberry tree came into the picture later.

Madrid Coat of Arms
Madrid Coat of Arms

10) Tapas are not just small plates of food that you order to share, as American Spanish restaurants and other “tapas bars” would have you believe. Tapas are the free swag that comes with your alcoholic beverage at any bar/restaurant in Madrid. Some places offer some great free food, like croquettes and paella. Others only offer pickled onions or olives or potato chips. You can, of course, order off the menu if you want a little extra. The point is, eating with your drink is something I got used to very quickly and still take part in today. According to the tour guide of a tapas tour I went on, it’s some sort of a law in Spain that you must serve food with drink. Legend has it that this king was very sick and got better by drinking a little wine and then eating a little food, repeatedly. At the same time, the peasants would come into town and spend any extra money they had on wine, getting absolutely hammered, and bringing down production. So, the king decreed that every tavern must serve food with drinks so the farmers don’t get too drunk and stay healthy.

vino tinto with olive and potato chip tapas, Madrid, Spain
vino tinto with olive and potato chip tapas, Madrid, Spain
tapas of tostas in Madrid, Spain
tapas of tostas
croquettas, croquettes, Spanish tapas
croquettas, croquettes, Spanish tapas
Chorizo and Sangria, Madrid, Spain
Chorizo and Sangria, Madrid, Spain

As you can imagine, tavern keeps probably didn’t like giving out free food. In an attempt to cheat the system, they would pour all their old wine and liquor together with some fruit and other stuff and call it Sangria. That’s right. Your favorite white girl cocktail is actually just jungle juice. But I digress. The reason tapas are called “tapas” is that some other king was at the beach once drinking beer and someone put a piece of ham over his glass to keep the sand out. He absentmindedly ate the ham, enjoyed it, and asked if someone would bring him another one of those “tapas” or “tops.” Well there you go. There’s your history for the day.

11) El Prado, the national art museum, has free admission Tuesday through Saturday from 6 to 8 pm and on Sunday from 5 to 8 pm, but the lines are long, so get there early.

12) Don’t rush. Relax and enjoy yourself, because that’s how the locals do it. You won’t be eating lunch until around 4pm and dinner isn’t served until around 10 pm, so if you need a small snack in the in between hours, sit down and have a beer or a glass of wine and enjoy whatever free plate of food comes with it, whether it be potato chips and olives or small tortilla bites.

 

I hope you enjoy your trip to Madrid! Check out my other posts on what to do once you make it to the city.

 

by Rebecca Bellan

Categories
Tips, Advice, and Everything Else

9 Tips for New Travelers

Traveling for the first time can bring you a whirlwind of emotions, from excitement to fear. So I offer you a bit of advice to help you take that first step into the wonderful world.

 

I’m talking about long-term, solo travel, here. Just because you spent a week by the pool at a resort in Mexico, getting drunk off margaritas and riding ATVs on the beach, doesn’t mean you’ve truly been to Mexico or traveled. So for the individual looking for a more real experience, but who is maybe afraid to take the plunge, keep reading.

I’m no expert, and I certainly have a lot to learn, but I’ve figured out a few things that I wish I had known when I first started traveling.

1) While saving up money as a fallback is a good idea, you don’t need to be rich to travel. So many people that I talk to back home are always saying how they’d love to do what I do, but they don’t have the money. And I do? You just have to want it. What’s the point in slaving away at a job you hate, living the same life every week, just to scrape by? Hell, I can just scrape by anywhere in the world, but at least I’ll be adding experiences to my belt, possibly on a beach somewhere…

2) No, hostels aren’t gross and scary places. I don’t know if it was that ridiculous horror flick Hostel or what that has made so many of my fellow Americans fear hostels, but many of my friends and acquaintances back home have been horrified by either my staying in hostels or my suggesting that they stay in hostels. Either they think they’re bound to be dirty places, filled with leering foreign men who are just waiting to rape you or rob you in your sleep, or they are just not thrilled with the prospect of sharing a room with 11 other people. My advice? Get over it. Hostels, in my experience, are often the highlight of a trip. Sure there are some shitty ones, but for the most part they offer a home away from home and are a great way to meet other travelers and find things to do. You needn’t worry about privacy, either. There is definitely some unspoken rule about reading other people’s energies. If you want to be left alone, your new roommates will pick up on that and stay clear, and if you want to make friends, the possibilities are endless.

3) Learn a trade. I can bartend, serve and generally work in any sector of the hospitality industry. I am also a writer and possess a fair knowledge of social media, brand marketing, research, etc. These skills have helped me find places to work in exchange for food and a place to sleep. And when the day comes that I can stop moving, I’m sure that these skills could also provide me with a paid job in a foreign country. Sites like workaway, helpx and WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms) are great sources to find volunteer work in exchange for room and board and at least one meal a day. From working the front desk at a hip hostel in Santiago, Chile, to picking grapes in a vineyard in Italy to helping at a zoo in India, the opportunities are endless.

4) Trust people. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but Americans seem to generally not trust foreigners. Our media has instilled us with such fear of “the other” that many Americans are afraid to branch out. “You’re going to Colombia?!?!” Friends and family would ask me. “But it’s so dangerous. Don’t get your head chopped off!” Ok, Mom. Colombia was a grand old time, and I felt perfectly safe there. The whole world is dangerous, even America. That doesn’t mean that everyone is out to get you. Using sites like workaway and helpx is a good way to realize that the world is full of good people, just like you, who want to help you and welcome you into their country. Couchsurfing also promotes building bonds with strangers. Obviously, keep your wits about you and trust your gut, but you won’t immerse yourself in any culture if you stay hidden in your bubble.

5) Embrace the journey, not just the destination. I get it. You’re eager to make it to the next city. But what about all that space in between? You may not save time, but you’ll certainly save money and gain experience if you take the long way. Instead of flying, try booking passage via boats, buses or trains. You get to see much more of a country when you take your time moving through it, and you train yourself in the art of patience along the way.

6) Enjoy just being somewhere new. Every traveler knows that small thrill in the pit of your stomach, that quiver just below your ribs and into your heart that bubbles up and out of your throat, manifesting itself into a giddy giggle. It’s the excitement of being somewhere new, anywhere. It could be a pit stop in the middle of Colombia or a big city in Vietnam. Every place on Earth that you haven’t been before is new and offers fresh stimulation that should be celebrated.

7) Learn to be low-maintenance. When you’re backpacking or traveling for a long period of time, chances are, you’re trying to save money. You’re probably also trying to save luggage space. Many people aren’t good at traveling because they find it difficult to live without their comforts. If you’re serious about seeing the world, then you need to learn to be comfortable with less. I wouldn’t call it “survival,” but it’s damn near close. Carry the essentials and be thankful when you get a bed or a hammock to lie down in. Accept any free meals offered to you. When it comes down to it, you’re not going to need all the things you think you’ll need, and chances are, you can buy whatever you’re lacking in your backpack along the way. This lesson never became more clear to me than when I was backpacking in South America with only a handful of comfortable outfits, no makeup and a kindle. As long as I can stretch my legs and read a book, I can be comfortable anywhere.

8) Plan, but also be spontaneous. Resist the urge to spend hours scouring the internet and planning out an exact itinerary. Don’t only rely on your guidebook. If you’re going for a long period of time, planning out everything will only serve to limit you. With each new hostel or town you enter, you will meet so many people, locals and travelers alike, who will tell you where they went and show you pictures, so that you’re now wishing you didn’t bother buying that flight to Santiago out of Cusco, and you’d much rather have more time in Peru so you can see some other cities, maybe venture into Bolivia… The point is, you’re free and you can go wherever you want. Your choices and your plans will constantly change. Accept it, and go with it.

9) Embrace your freedom. Travel solo. Maybe you disagree, but I don’t think that you’re truly free if you have to worry about someone else’s wishes. For this reason, I prefer to travel alone, and I think that new travelers should learn to go it alone, as well. I’ve noticed, from traveling with others and from talking with people I’ve met in hostels, that traveling with a best friend or boyfriend/girlfriend can often harm your friendship and your experience abroad. Obviously this doesn’t apply to every friendship or relationship, but I’ve found that when you travel with someone you’re comfortable with, you tend to complain more to them about the strains of travel, and they complain back, fueling a circle of negativity. When shit hits the fan, you’re more likely to blame each other than keep a cool head and just figure it out. When you’re alone, you have no one to blame but yourself if something goes wrong, so you just move forward because, in a foreign country, you don’t want to dwell on hiccups and attract attention to whatever situation you’ve gotten yourself into. Another issue comes up when you want to do different things. Maybe your friend wants to stay up all night getting drunk with those cute Argentinian boys, but you want to get a good night’s rest so you guys can make that 8 am tour of a waterfall. Maybe you want to talk to that Swedish nice girl with the guitar, but your friend hates her because she was loud in the dorm rooms that morning and woke her up. Somebody either has to trudge along unhappily to something they’re not interested in, or you guys split up for a few hours.

There are good parts of traveling with others, of course, including having someone to watch your bag at the bus station while you go to the bathroom or rub your aching shoulders. However, I’d prefer, at least in this stage of my life, not to be tied down by anyone or anything, and to have the freedom to do whatever I feel like, wherever I feel like doing it.

 

by Rebecca Bellan

Categories
Boston

Downeast Cider: The Way Cider Should Be

At the Downeast Cider House, you can find out just how that delicious, cloudy beverage is made.

From fermentation to canning to tasting, you’ll get your fill and more with a tour of the Downeast Cidery.

Upon receiving your first pour of Downeast Original Blend Cider, sounds of shock and delight are bound to follow. Just looking at that cloudy, orange liquid is enough to make your mouth water in anticipation of an unexpected sip, something apart from the Magners or the Angry Orchard ciders you are accustomed to drinking. That first mouthful of Downeast takes your senses on a journey, back to a crisp October day apple picking with your family as a child and enjoying the local farm’s cider with a basket of fresh-picked apples by your feet. You down the glass immediately, smacking your lips and thinking, That was tasty. Why, I’ll have another. A similar experience ensues as you polish off your second glass, and only then does it hit you that you are indeed consuming an alcoholic beverage.

As a server in a rather touristy area of Boston, I find myself recommending the cider over our other choices to my guests. “Ever had Downeast?” I’ll ask. “It’s really good. Unfiltered. Brewed locally just across the harbor (pronounced ‘hahbah’) in Charlestown (pronounced ‘Chahlestown’).” My patrons, hearing the word ‘local’ almost always jump on board and order a pint, followed by the aforementioned squeals of approval. Unfiltered? Brewed locally? How quaint. How very New England.

Well, I had had enough of just telling people that the brewery (cidery?) was so close by, so I decided to check it out for myself and purchase a Living Social for an affordable tour of the brewery plus two Downeast pint glasses and a down payment on a growler of cider. Whatever that means.

two growlers of Downeast Cider on the bar at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
two growlers of Downeast Cider on the bar

The cidery resides underneath the Tobin Bridge, which thoroughly confused later Uber drivers who couldn’t quite figure out our pin point location and found themselves crossing the bridge and canceling the trip.

The Tobin Bridge as seen from the Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
The Tobin Bridge as seen from the Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA

The large warehouse opens unceremoniously in the front, a sort of deck with a small game of corn hole serving as a foyer before the entrance to the building. A smiling girl in a cool Downeast t-shirt welcomed my cousin Faiez, his girlfriend Alex and me to the brewery from behind a fold up table.

outside Downeast Cidery, Charelstown, MA
Faiez and Alex excited to enter the Downeast Cidery
patio before Downeast Cidery entrance, Charlestown, MA
patio with seats and corn hole before Downeast Cidery entrance
sign in for Downeast Cidery tour, Charlestown, MA
sign in for Downeast Cidery tour

In the background, I could see the titan-like, gleaming silver fermentation tanks lined up like guards.

fermentation tanks at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
fermentation tanks at Downeast Cidery
me with a giant fermentation tank at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
me with a giant fermentation tank at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA

The smell of fermenting apples hit my nostrils with my first step into the warehouse. “It smells like an apple with a yeast infection,” I exclaimed to Alex, making her laugh with agreement. The atmosphere at the brewery was pretty laid back. Thin, pale employees walked around cheerfully, either leading tours or cleaning growlers or pouring drafts at the bar around the corner. Visitors rested their fresh drafts on barrels and munched on free bags of snacks or sat at the games table to play Jenga or miniature finger Twister.

bar snacks at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
bar snacks at Downeast Cidery
Downeast Cidery bar, Charlestown, MA
Visitors enjoy the festivities at the Downeast Cidery’s bar
Jenga at the Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
Alex playing Jenga at the Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
barrel tables at Downeast Cidery
barrel tables at Downeast Cidery
finger Twister at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
finger Twister at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA

Apparently this whole area serves as an office during the week, and opens up as a bar on the Fridays and Saturdays when tours commence. As we waited for our tour to start, I nibbled on some of their spicy apple ginger cookies and bought a few rolling papers with the Downeast logo on them.

offerings at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
apple ginger cookies, Downeast pint glasses, T-shirts and Downeast rolling papers are for sale at the Downeast Cidery bar

A nice young woman with thick glasses and a sarcastic yet chipper demeanor led our tour. She explained to our group of about 10 eager drinkers that the founders, Tyler Mosher and Ross Brockman, started making their famous cider out of their dorm rooms in Bates College in Maine because they wanted a cider that actually tasted like fresh pressed apples.

tour guide at Downeast Cidery Tour, Charlestown, MA
tour guide at Downeast Cidery Tour

So, in 2011, after college, they kept bottling the stuff in Waterville, Maine until 2012 when the worst harvest of apples hit their home state. So they moved to Massachusetts where the apples were still growing and settled up in Leominster for about a year. Eventually, Ross’s brother, Matt, found the current Charlestown location and became co-owner. The Charlestown spot has a maximum capacity of eight fermenters that it meets with fervor, producing that delicious original blend plus many other variations of hard cider, both filtered and unfiltered. The secret to their unique flavor? Rather than using a champagne yeast in the production of the cider, they use an ale yeast because it holds the flavor better.

Like at any brewery or distillery tour, the tour guide explained to us how the stuff was made. The apples are fermented for two weeks, during which time they produce carbon dioxide, alcohol (yay!) and heat. The optimal temperature that the workers there look for is 68 to 72 degrees Fahrenheit. The cider is then cooled by glycol tubes and then after another two weeks, the temperature drops to 32 degrees so that the yeast goes to sleep and sinks to the bottom. This yeast is then removed and reused for future batches, because yeast is expensive. The remaining cider is then flash pasteurized at 115 degrees to kill any lingering yeast that might cause the cider to continue to ferment. Then the cider chills out in some artsy cool holding tanks until it’s ready to be canned, at which point they’ll add a bit of CO2 back in for some fizziness.

artful, chalk board holding tank at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
artful, chalk board holding tank with drawings of ships and clouds and “The way cider should be”
artsy chalk board holding tank at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
further illustrations of a ship on chalk board-like holding tank at Downeast Cidery
graffiti holding tank at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
graffiti holding tank with words”The way cider should be” at Downeast Cidery

Next, our tour guide walked us through the canning process. Why cans? Because they are cheaper, lighter and easier to ship, and because they have a light and air tight seal, which means that there is neither room for oxygen to sit and nor any way for light to enter and ruin the cider, making it taste like wet cardboard. The cans idea was also an homage to Maine college boy life, where hunting and going to the beach are a weekly habit and bottles are banned from both of those scenes.

canning station at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
canning station at Downeast Cidery
cans of Downeast Cider at the brewery, Charlestown, MA
cans on cans on cans
kegs and cans at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
kegs and cans in the back

Our group got to taste Downeast’s delicious Original blend, their Cranberry blend, made with 10% fresh cranberry juice, their hard lemonade and their Unoriginal blend.

taste of Cranberry Blend Cider at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
taste of Cranberry Blend Cider

If you’ve been paying attention, you might guess that the Unoriginal tastes like the other brands. I guess they caved and made a cider fermented with champagne yeast to give it that drier taste that nobody I know loves. As our tour guide said, “It’s unoriginal because it’s how everyone does it.”

Later at the bar, I sampled the sweet and rich Maple Oak blend, a specialty blend that’s made in their two original, old school fermenters from Maine, complete with heating pads plastered to the sides and an opening at the top to cool the brew. This just goes to show that the employees at Downeast take the proper amount of time and give a little extra effort to create fresh flavors for their fans. Demand is so high, in fact, for all their blends that they are currently looking for a new warehouse that can fit additional fermenters so that they can expand their blooming business.

original fermenters from Maine warehouse at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
original fermenters from Maine warehouse at Downeast Cidery

“Locally grown, fresh pressed, gluten-free, not from concentrate.” The way cider should be, indeed. I know it’s a hike, but it’s worth it for a sweet taste of that New England nectar, straight from the source. Keep an eye out for their specialty brews like their hard honey cider and a pumpkin blend coming in the fall!

the line up of Downeast blends at Downeast Cidery, Charlestown, MA
the line up of Downeast blends

Downeast Cidery

200 Terminal Street, Charlestown, MA

857-301-8881

 

 

by Rebecca Bellan