Roadtrip in Tasmania, 2016
An incredible trip with an incredible man….and my first travel movie!
An incredible trip with an incredible man….and my first travel movie!
It felt as though I were watching through someone else’s eyes as the distance between the ground and my feet grew and the tan, tiled roofs of Cusco spread out before me. I was in a steel-caged cherry picker bound to slowly ascend 122 meters only to plummet without it. This was my first bungee jumping experience, and while it’s easy to say you’d love to try it, it’s a whole other story when you’re actually about to jump to your potential death. The harness attached to my ankles, hips and neck was heavy and slightly suffocating, but I was glad for its existence. It made me feel supported. My guide Raul chattered away in Spanish behind me, giving me instructions that I only half listened to and asking small talk questions that I responded to like an automaton.
I gazed calmly at the portion of the Peruvian Andes in my field of vision, infinite and brown. Tall Eucalyptus trees surrounded the adventure park I had decided on coming to only an hour or two before. I could see my Irish friend Laura, whom I met while volunteering at a hostel in Ecuador, standing a safe distance away, snapping pictures with my iPhone, awaiting her turn at this adrenaline rush. I focused on my feet, which were planted to the base of the cherry picker, and my hands, frozen and clamped to metal bars on either side of me. If I let myself think about all that could go wrong, or even picture myself jumping, I might have backed out. So instead I denied my purpose for this ascension and breathed long and deep, nodding my head at Raul but otherwise standing still as a statue. Then the cage came to a sudden halt, and panic filled every muscle in my body. Logic was no match for my body’s survival instincts, and when Raul opened the steel door in front of me and instructed me to step out until my toes were over the edge, I couldn’t make my legs move. My whole body felt heavy and my hiking boots were glued to the floor.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
“Yes,” I lied.
“OK, so you need to walk to the edge now.”
“OK,” I said, and stayed where I was.
He told me that the longer I waited, the more scared I would be.
“Just jump!” he said. “Let yourself go.”
I almost threw up in my mouth. His hand gently nudged my back forward, but I remained rigid.
“Do you want to go back down?” he said.
I considered it. How bad would it be, really, if I just admitted I was too afraid and went the safe way down? Nobody would hold it against me or call me a coward. Nobody but myself. I thought back to how I ended up in Peru, trying to force myself to be fearless, both mentally and physically.
Just a few months earlier, I was shacked up with an ex-boyfriend whom I loved very much. We were partners, planning out a comfortable and snug future together. The more we planned, the more I felt panic similar to my current vertigo. Seeing my future laid out before me meant that there was less room for new possibilities, for experiences that were my own. I was 22 and the man I loved had no desire to travel, yet somehow our lives and desires were supposed to be bound together forever. It was suffocating, but I was just as scared of giving up a good thing for the unknown as I was of committing to this ordinary future. In the end, I couldn’t see myself as just a half of a whole. I wanted to be whole, independent of anyone else. When I confessed to him that I had more living to do on my own before I settled down with him, I knew that I had to see that claim through. If I didn’t, I would never forgive myself or him for missing out on the life I truly wanted to live.
I moved out of our apartment and bought a one way ticket to Ecuador where I started my four month solo backpacking trip through South America. Did I want to cancel the flight and run home to my man? Of course I did. I was scared of a life without him, scared of having only myself to rely on. None of my friends or family would have blamed me or thought it strange if I went back to him. Half of them didn’t understand why we broke up when we were so in love. But I knew I wouldn’t be happy with myself unless I took the risks that I had only dreamt about until then. Just like I knew that if I didn’t jump off my perch in the sky, I would never forgive myself.
Raul asked again if I wanted to go back down, but I didn’t come all the way up here to wuss out. I knew the risks of jumping. They had made me sign a waiver before they harnessed me. But to hell with them! There was only one way I was descending, and it wasn’t on the cherry picker. I took a step with my left foot, then dragged my right one to meet it, my hands still on the railings beside me. Raul looked over my shoulder and told me that I needed to move up a little more so my toes were over the edge. Again, that feeling that I would throw up in my mouth, only this time it was coupled with the feeling that I would crap my pants. At Raul’s behest, I took a deep breath and moved my toes over the edge.
“Good,” he said as he grabbed hold of my harness from behind. “Now, you need to release your grip on the rail.”
I did as I was told, feeling incredibly unstable, balanced as I was on the edge.
“Are you ready?” he asked.
“No,” I replied.
“Breathe,” he said.
I took a deep breath, felt a gentle push, and jumped with it.
“When I lived in Boston, I could have written essays on why Boston’s public transit sucks.”
When I first moved to Boston from New York as a chubby-cheeked young freshman, navigating the city was hard. I couldn’t shut up about how things would be so much easier if the city were shaped like a grid, like my hometown. My only savior during those first drunken years when I stumbled home from the MIT frats with my shoes in my hands was the Citgo sign, shining bright in the night sky, leading me to City Convenience to buy pizza bagels before the store closed at 3am.
I called it Rat City. The college/immigrant/30-year-old hipster neighborhood just outside of the city where you could get your haircut in the same shop that sold smoking paraphernalia, sex toys and Halloween costumes. Where you could buy a 32-pack of Rolling Rock for $12.99 or a 6-pack of Woodchuck for $9.68 at Blanchard’s and sit on your stoop with your shitty friends who refused to buy new shoes even though theirs were ripped in three places. Where there was the same amount of dive and college bars on every street as there were Korean restaurants. Where you could smoke a joint next to a police cruiser and then huff a slice from Pizza Days. Where you could stay up until 4am to catch Twin Donuts when they first opened and still had doughnuts on their shelves from the day before.
I lived in the hood for one shining year, filled with mistakes and pickleback shots. But as one Boston.com article makes clear, after that one year, you realize that what you thought was glitter everywhere was really just broken glass.
I left Boston quite recently. While in California, the “Deflategate” got brought up among some other Americans. I immediately tried to cut the over-talked about convo short, exclaiming, “Ugh, enough already!” My new California friend said, “I know, right?” And at the same time that I said, “He’s innocent,” my new/late friend said, “He’s guilty.” We gave each other a hard stare. That moment defined where we each stood. #inflatethis #freetombrady
Bostonians may sound uneducated and obnoxious when they say things like “Havahd” and “cah” and “warsh” and “beeah,” but fahk, khed, I miss the way it sounds wicked bad, guy. There’s no better accent to yell in when you’ve had a few and are shooting pool or watching the game.
Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of fashion forward individuals in Boston. For instance, it was totally not uncommon to see a pack of well-dressed guys — otherwise known as an “unpleasantry” — in boating shoes and salmon pants. That definitely existed. But sometimes, you just weren’t feeling it. Maybe it was too cold, maybe it was too hot, maybe you were just hungover. There was never any shame in strolling through Southie to Dunks in naught but your Tims, some paint-stained sweatpants and a Sox cap.
I’m sorry. I don’t care if you’re from Greece or Italy, Japan or Colombia, New England Seafood is superior. It was always fresh from the Harbor or the Cape, often deep fried and there was nothing better. Clam chowdah wasn’t chowdah without the cream. And don’t get me started on the raw stuff.
I could live without Sam Adams and Harpoon, although I’d prefer not to. However, if we’re talking craft brews, there are a few that will always remain in my heart. I miss getting too drunk too quick off of Pretty Things Baby Tree Quad, cozying up with a Slumbrew Porter in the fall, enjoying just the right amount of hops and citrus with a Jack’s Abby Hoponius Union, and of course chasing my fried clam strips with a cold gulp of Cisco Whale’s Tale Pale Ale — I miss you all equally.
Yes, Boston sports fans are probably the most annoying sports fans — after Philly, that is. But they have every right to be. It’s intoxicating living in a city where all the sports teams are champions and the fans can’t get enough. I felt like a winner by association. Compare that to living in a city where the team sucks and no one goes to the games anyway (I’m looking at you, Tampa Bay). When you move away from Boston, you always feel like something’s missing.
Twice a day, in the morning and around sundown, if you’re within at least 15 blocks from the shore, you can smell the salty sea air mixing with the low tide. Your first whiff of it made you stop whatever you were doing, close your eyes and take another deep breath, filling your lungs with the thick air and imagining that you were a sailor rocking gently on a wooden deck and not just some yuppie trying to make rent in Beantown.
And the esplanade. Because I went to BU, the Charles River and the esplanade were my own backyard. When the weather was nice, or even when it wasn’t so nice, I always loved to walk or bike along the river, sit on the docks and watch the rowers from one of the many universities in Boston and Cambridge, or just read a book beneath a tree. I’d bring a blanket and my homework to BU’s “beach” to soak in the sun by the water and listen to the sound of cars going by on Storrow Drive, pretending they were ocean waves.
Dunkin’ Donuts, for whatever reason, is important to Boston. It was never a question of where to go for coffee because there were at least two on every block and you could feed and water your whole family and some friends for under $10.
Every time I’d go to Boston’s South End, I’d feel as though all of the residents knew I didn’t belong. They all had nice-looking dogs that they didn’t want me to pet, the streets were so clean, and I was always worried that someone was going to come over to me and tell me that my presence was a form of littering.
But, man, do they have some of the best restaurants. One doesn’t simply go to the South End for a nice dinner and some craft cocktails. You plan ahead, find a friend who wants to be fancy with you, pick out an outfit, do your research on what’s hot, and make a reservation. When they seat you a half hour after your reserved time slot, you don’t act surprised, you just order a glass of the cheapest wine from the bar and pretend you haven’t been looking forward to this for weeks.
Kegs and eggs, baby. Kegs and eggs.
I suppose we can call it what it is: road rage. When I go to other states and other drivers, like, let me in their lane because I put my blinker on, I’m shocked. In Boston, you should be putting your blinker on approximately one second before you swerve into the lane of your choice, because you know that if you give the other cars advance notice, they’ll just speed up so you can’t get in. Perfectly normal, if you ask me.
I also don’t appreciate the horrified looks I get out-of-state when I make an illegal U-turn just to get a parking spot.
When I lived in Boston, I could have written essays on why Boston’s public transit sucks. I could compare it to that of New York, of DC, of Medellin, Madrid, London, etc. But what I didn’t realize was that once you leave the Northeast United States, public transit, especially in train form, is seriously hard to come by.
“Like many Americans, I was accustomed to going home when the bars close at 2am. This, however, is the hour that partygoers in Madrid turn up.”
Even though Madrid is far from the coast, the Madrileños live an easy Mediterranean lifestyle.
My first impulse was to use these free siesta hours to run errands. I was immediately frustrated to find nunca de las tiendas open. I couldn’t buy a piece of fruit or get a haircut to save my life. All of a sudden, between 2 and 5, I was living in a ghost town. I had to realize that Madrid isn’t like America — where the consumer is catered to at nearly every hour. Madrileños like to take the time to enjoy their lives, and soon I was doing the same.
Instead of getting things done, I’d have a caña or even a jarra of Mahou or Estrella with my long lunch. I’d sit outside that 100 Montaditos in Gran Vía and watch tourists and prostitutes bustle around the shops. I’d walk along the Manzanares River with a pan de chocolate fresh from the pastelería. Or, if I was out dancing at Kapital the night before, I’d just lay down and close my eyes on the sofa. The office wasn’t going anywhere. Que será, será.
A typical American might have breakfast around 8 am, lunch around 12 and dinner around 6. It took my stomach a long time to get over this routine, for while I still had breakfast at the same time, lunch didn’t happen until 3 or 4, and dinner was never served until at least 9 or 10. This was an even bigger culture shock than the language.
My confusion deepened when my host mom fed me chocolate chip cookies with my coffee for breakfast, un desayuno dulce, and omelettes, or tortillas, for dinner.
Once I got a handle on my stomach’s desires, I realized that the wait for a late lunch is well worth it. Comida is the biggest meal of the day, and I loved that nobody judged me for washing it down with a glass or two of vino tinto. In fact, restaurants encourage a little mid day drink to go along with your relaxed lunch.
And it was never hard to find a place to eat. All I had to do was walk around the thin, grey-brick laid streets of Sol or Cortes to find a plethora of cafes offering up a Menú del Día. Each pre-fixe menu included a first course, second course, postre and a drink for the low price of 9 euro. I enjoyed starting off with a paella de la casa or gazpacho Andalúz, then feasting on bacalao al horno or albóndigas en salsa. Oh, and the pan! Spaniards rarely sit through a meal without a basket of crusty white bread.
Ernest Hemingway writes in Death in the Afternoon that “to go to bed at night in Madrid marks you as a little queer…Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night.”
Like many Americans, I was accustomed to going home when the bars close at 2am. This, however, is the hour that partygoers in Madrid turn up. The clubs in this party city stay bumping until the metro reopens at 6 am. To assimilate into this most serious of nightlifes, I had to learn to take my time and pace myself.
My favorite form of pacing was a tapear, to go out for tapas. You play the game by eating a little of the free swag that comes with your drink, and then drinking your drink in turn. Sip, bite. Bite, sip. By doing this, I was able to remain in a constant state of tipsy until I made it to the club of my choice (Often Joy Eslava, sometimes MoonDance).
Aside from gallivanting in the neighborhood La Latina and on Calle Cava Baja for the best tapas bars, I frequented El Mercado de San Miguel for a classy, one-stop shop for all the small plates I could eat. Where Americans have perfected the art of binge drinking via shots, funneling beers and keg stands, the Spaniards are slightly more sophisticated drinkers who see a night out on the town as a marathon, not a sprint.
Even in the dead of winter, Madrileños socialize outside the house. Back home, it’s perfectly normal to have friends over for dinner or a party. But in Madrid, they consider staying in to be a sign of economic hardship, of succumbing to la crisis. If there was ever a weekend night that I didn’t go out, my host mom would immediately ask, “¿Qué pasa? ¿Estás enferma?”
No one is expected to spend money when they go out. They’re just expected to leave the house and meet up with friends or family, often in public squares like Tribunal, Alonso Martínez or Puerta del Sol. It wasn’t so bad, especially when I had a bottle to share with my buddies and when vendors were selling cans of Mahou beer for 1 euro. While street drinking, referred to colloquially as botellón, is considered illegal, the law is rarely enforced as this activity is as popular a pregame in Madrid as tailgating is in America.
And in case you haven’t picked up on this point yet, Madrileños like to spend time outside late at night, and I’m not just talking about the party animals. I remember being shocked at first to see young children roaming the streets with their parents and giggling at street performers in Plaza Mayor or on Calle Montera at 11 at night. Shouldn’t they be in bed? Why are their parents exposing them to the debauchery of Madrid nightlife? Oh my god, do you think that kid knows that he’s playing right next to a gaggle of prostitutes?
And me, double fisting a bottle of ginevra and Fanta Limón by the fountain, wondering if I should hide my street drinking for their sake. Understandably, due to the brutally hot Madrid summers, nights are the best time to be outside. Presumably, everyone is well rested from their siesta already. But give these social butterflies a terraza on which to drink a cocktail and smoke cigarillos any day of the year, and they will be truly happy.
This is the land where you might grasp a new friend’s hand only to pull them close to you and plant a kiss on each cheek, first the right, then the left. Instead of saying, “Nice to meet you,” or “Mucho gusto,” the elegant Spaniards would say, “Encantada” or “Enchanted.” I loved it, and still say it when I meet new Spanish-speakers, which leaves people wondering if I’m from Argentina because my accent is half proper Castellano and half standard Latin American. I also learned that, even though Spaniards aren’t very punctual people, they see arriving late as just as big an insult as arriving early. I made it a point to arrive exactly on time for things like interviews or meetings.
Before my first interview for an internship at a local magazine, I arrived early and waited nervously outside the building for my 11am meeting. At 10:57, I began to make my way into the office, all the while checking my watch to make sure I was arriving exactly on time. Within seconds of opening the door to the office, my interviewer walked toward me with open arms, clearly gearing up for that still somewhat awkward cheek kiss. No handshakes in this oficina, just some warm Spanish amor.
El Rastro, Madrid’s famous open-air flea market in La Latina, happens only on Sundays. It begins in the Plaza de Cascorro near the La Latina metro station and follows the declining street of La Ribera de Curtidores, branching out into the side streets, until its end at Ronda de Toledo. The entire neighborhood is packed to near bursting with vendors selling everything from Spanish flag underwear and artisan jewelry, to colorful scarves and Indian tapestries, to clay sangria pitchers and your basic nuts and bolts. Literally, anything I needed, didn’t need, or maybe would need in the future (except fresh produce) for home, leisure or comfort, I found at el Rastro and haggled over the price.
Sure, I didn’t need to go shopping every Domingo, but going to el Rastro was a social affair, and it was a great way to start my Sundays in Madrid, which were usually anything but lazy. Even if I stayed up all night partying, I’d still make an effort to be up early enough to make it to el Rastro, which opened at 8 and started to close at 1 — even though it’s meant to stay open until 3.
There was no better cure for my hangovers than chugging a café con leche and meandering through the many, many stalls at the market. And it wasn’t like I couldn’t go back to sleep after shopping — that’s what siestas are for.
There’s nothing better than a lazy Sunday, am I right? Sleeping in until 10 and spending an additional 15 minutes or so slowly stretching beneath the covers before you tumble out of bed to make a cup of coffee that you’ll serenely sip on as you flip through The New York Times. You’ll either remain in your pajamas all day or, if the weather is nice, venture out to the park or the beach to sip and read something there. Maybe you’ll go out for breakfast. Maybe you’ll catch a movie. Either way, you can rest easy knowing that the day will stretch long and uneventful in front of you, for the Bible tells us so. “And on the seventh day He rested from all his work.” (Genesis 2:2)
Lazy Sundays in Madrid are not an option because this is one of the liveliest days of the week. The two bookends to your Spanish Sunday are El Rastro marketplace and tapas in La Latina. The filler activities are simply activities that you shouldn’t leave Madrid without partaking in. If you read my first post about what to do with a day in Madrid, you’ll have gotten most of the mainstream events out of the way and can look forward to a day slightly more filled with locals. Shall we begin?
El Rastro is Madrid’s famous open-air flea market and is held on Sundays and public holidays. Beginning in the Plaza de Cascorro near La Latina metro station and ending with Ronda de Toledo, the declining street of La Ribera de Curtidores and its smaller side streets are completely packed with vendors selling everything from cheap scarves and artisan jewelry to painted clay sangria pitchers and bootleg DVDs. You can literally find anything you’ll ever need here, except produce. Make sure to grab a café con leche and a quick breakfast at your hostel, Way Hostel, or a nearby pastelería before taking the short walk to the Plaza where the market begins. Also, don’t forget to stop at the ATM for cash. Some of the vendors have credit card machines, but most don’t. And remember my tips! Keep that money on lock down to avoid pickpocketers in the crowded space. I also recommend bringing a backpack or a larger bag to put your purchases in because we’re not going right back to the hostel after the market.
They say el Rastro runs from 8am to 3pm, but if you get there after 1, you’ve basically missed it all because the stands like to pack it in early. Try to get to the market by 9 or 10 so you have plenty of time to stroll and shop at your leisure. Don’t buy all the things you want at the first few stands because you’ll see about a hundred more stands along the way with better items, and you’ll wish you had bought that cool Heineken sweatshirt instead of your lame I ‘Heart’ Madrid sweatshirt. Do haggle, bat your eyelashes, and speak in Spanish. ¿Cuanto cuesta, señor?
When you’ve finally made it to the bottom of the Rastro hill, it will most likely be around 1 o’clock. You must be hungry. Grab some fresh fruit from the frutería and chow down on inspired tostas, open-faced sandwiches, from one of the restaurants near the Plaza del Campillo del Mundo Nuevo. Rest your weary feet while you people-watch with the locals.
A very short walk away from where you are luncheoning is la Tabacalera. The first time I bought weed in Madrid, my new dealer friend took my BU friends and me to this abandoned tobacco factory-turned-art exhibit, and it was so fucking cool. To get here, simply walk down the Ronda de Toledo towards the Embajadores metro stop and then make a left up Calle de Embajadores. The Tabacalera will be on the right side of the street. “FABRICA DE TABACOS” is carved into a worn cement plaque above a graffiti-covered metal gate that has turned a dark green with rust, but this isn’t the entrance, which is down a side street. You may have to do a bit of exploring to find it, but when you do, you will be blown away by what is inside.
The cultural space is part government-owned and part self-managed social centre. Art of all genres covers the white walls. A culture dedicated to freedom and exploration resides here, and La Tabacalera de Lavapiés is home to many different exhibits, performances and even parties. Take some time to walk around and enjoy the gritty art scene of Madrid.
The Royal Palace, while the official, not the actual, residence of His Majesty King Felipe IV of Spain, is an impressive piece of architecture. Either walk the half hour there or take the metro to the Opera stop.
Entry to the palace costs about 10 euro. The palace is home to interesting exhibits like the Royal Armory and the Royal Pharmacy. You can spend some time inside enjoying the rich mahogany windows and doors and fine Spanish marble. Truth be told, I never made it inside, but instead walked around the exterior and toured the Plaza de Oriente on the west side of the palace.
By the time you make it through the Palacio Royale, it should be nearing sunset, the perfect time to head over to the Temple of Debod. The temple is an Egyptian temple that was dismantled and reassembled in Madrid in the Parque del Oeste. The site is at a slightly higher elevation, and it overlooks Madrid’s large urban park, Casa de Campo. There is actually a cable car that runs out of the Parque del Oeste to Casa de Campo, but the teleférico isn’t always open, so best to check their website for hours.
After you’ve had your fill of site seeing, feel free to either take a half hour stroll through the city back to your hostel in Tirso de Molina, or walk over to the Ventura Rodríguez stop and ride the 3 metro to Puerta del Sol. Either way, you’ll have to walk through Sol, so might as well take a break along the way in one of the many bars for a caña of Mahou, a refreshing Spanish lager. Go drop your Rastro purchases off, take a shower and put on something fly, yet easy to walk in, for the rest of your night out.
I know, I know. Flamenco is an Andalucía thing. But the dancers at Las Carboneras in Madrid have just as much foot-stomping, chest-beating soul as the Romani gypsies who created flamenco to begin with. Traditionally, this folk music combines singing, dancing, guitar playing and rhythms of hand clapping and finger snapping. It is passionate and fiery, and the dancers and musicians put all they have into their performances.
Flamenco dancers take control of the scene. Whether they dance fast or slow, hard or soft, the guitar player and singer watch for what the dancer is going to do next and strum or sing in that sexy, raspy voice accordingly. The other dancers sit on stools near the musicians on the tablao, clapping their hands rhythmically, occasionally letting out an encouraging cry or yelp. The display is heartfelt and fluid and will leave you entranced and clapping along.
While there are, of course, many flamenco clubs in Madrid, Las Carboneras is my personal favorite and in a perfect location to continue on to your final activity of the night. Make sure to be there by 8:30 for the first performance.
My favorite part about living in Spain was how socially acceptable it is to munch while you drink. More often than not, bars will offer you anything from potato chips to tortilla española to croquetas to go along with your copa de vino tinto, or glass of red wine. (Check out my tips for visiting Madrid for a rundown on the history of tapas.) Sundays are the best days to go out for tapas, an activity that the Spanish have turned into a verb, tapear. I’m not sure why, but it seems like everyone who’s anyone is out and about tapeando in la Latina on a Sunday in Madrid, so dress accordingly.
The main streets to enjoy the tapas culture are Cava Baja and Cava Alta. They are both a short walk from Las Carboneras and run parallel to each other. Young people crowd these two thin, winding streets with terraced buildings, looking unfathomably chic and classy as they duck in and out of bars or stand around high tops taking dainty bites of patatas bravas. There are endless spots to stop for a bite and a beer over here, so don’t miss out on Casa Lucas, for higher end traditional Spanish cuisine, and Cervercería la Sureña for a 5 euro bucket of Mahou and some chicken fingers with other 20-somethings.
If you come to these streets to engage in tapas culture, and you will, make sure to make a stop at El Madroño in the Plaza de Puerta Cerrada before you reach Cava Baja. Have a shot of Madrid’s strawberry liqueur named for their Coat of Arms, “El oso y el madroño,” meaning, “The bear and the strawberry tree.” The shot is served in a chocolate filled waffle cup, a delicious chaser to your sweet chupito.
Below are some of my favorite places to eat tapas outside of Cava Baja and Cava Alta. Keep in mind, you’ll have to pay for some things, but all in all tapeando is cheap and a great experience to share with a few friends.
This is a tourist trap, but I don’t care. The San Miguel Market is a big, crowded glass market place with over 30 vendors placed in strategic sections, selling everything from cold drafts and select wines to pickled onions and olives to every kind of meat you can think of cooked up Spanish gourmet style. It’s hard to find a table to stand by, not sit at, so somebody should hold one down while the other goes to pick out some delicacies to enjoy. I couldn’t get enough of the fresh croquettes and empanadas. Don’t buy too much here- it’s not cheap, but it is something to see.
All walks of life come into this low key bar just off the La Latina metro stop for the fast service and the plates of warm tapas that the bartender places in front of you with every new beer. It’s a great place to relax and watch fútbol and enjoy some salty fried food and cold beer. Make sure you try the calamares!
This is a classic bar to stop by at any hour, even for a break while you’re at el Rastro because it is right in the middle and a stone’s throw away from el Diamante (in case you can’t find this place on Google. Because you can’t. It will take you to the wrong bar). You may not recognize the Plaza at night without all the stands, but Cervecería el Cruz is a la Latina staple. Enjoy super fresh razor clams and deep fried lamb intestines with a squirt of lemon. Tastes better than it sounds!
This chain is dedicated to Spain’s most prized meat- ham. Cured ham legs for sale, Jamón Serrano or Jamón Ibérico, hang from the ceiling, and the walls are covered with photos offering meals like bocadillos de jamón, ham sandwich, and a beer for 1 euro. Get a beer there and wait for your tapa. It’s disgusting and hilarious. It’s a bowl of different types of cubed ham.
I hope you enjoyed your Sunday in Madrid! Please feel free to ask any questions in the comments section if anything is unclear or you’d like some more advice.
by Rebecca Bellan
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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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…..
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.
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.
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.
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
Happiness is eating at this restaurant. The wait staff doesn’t wear uniforms, and they don’t bother with pleasantries. Half of the kitchen staff has beards, which might explain the hair in the back of my throat. The small rectangular dining room is over-crowded with hipsters. All of these things in your peripherals disappear the moment that waiter in a red flannel and black Ray Bans plops a steaming Rueben sandwich in front of your face, crispy and buttery on the outside and full of salty meat on the inside, complete with fries, coleslaw and house-made pickles.
The beer list is superb and constantly rotating, the cocktails are even better and the menu is original and mouth-watering. Chow down on poutine, fennel and apple risotto, or homemade bratwurst while you watch black-and-white movies on the corner TVs. Sip on Evil Twin Hipster pale ale or Dank and Sticky IPA and stare at a dead animal’s mounted skull above the bar.
The décor, music and food might just trick you into thinking you’re actually in the hip entertainment area of Texas after which the restaurant is named, rather than the beer-soaked college neighborhood where it resides . It’s even got its own version of Southern hospitality.
by Rebecca Bellan
477 Cambridge St.
Allston, MA 02134
Blink and you’ll miss Café Polonia. Small, unassuming and located in what is becoming less and less the “Polish triangle,” this old restaurant is warmly decorated with light wooden furniture and small lantern centerpieces.
Bottles of Polish beer line the faux hearth in the north center of the restaurant, and jars of pickles and sauerkraut crowd the walls along with framed pictures and art.
The manager, Michal Hryhorowicz, a man with honey colored eyes and a quiet, thickly accented voice, greeted us immediately and made us feel even cozier than the restaurant did. He brought to the table waters and fresh rye bread with a side of lard, bacon bits included.
“It smells like my grandma’s house in here,” said my friend of Polish descent who accompanied me to dine in Dorchester.
Everybody knows the rule: if it smells like Grandma made it, it’s authentic, and Café Polonia’s grandma is Hanna Bochynska, 51, from the Wielkapolska region in Poland.
Hanna is short, plump, and speaks only in Polish, visibly embarrassed by the extra attention, but seemingly accustomed to Michal translating for her. She has been working as Café Polonia’s chef since she arrived in Boston from Poland 44 and a half years ago. The recipes are the owners’, but Hanna has been making the same food since she was a child in Poland, working with her sister to help their mother feed the family.
“Our recipes are just like what women in Poland would make, everything from scratch,” said Michal.
The menu doesn’t change, and Hanna loves everything on it. “Polish food is delicious,” she said through Michal. Why try to change it? Her favorite thing to eat is a gypsy pancake, which is potato pancakes stuffed with Hungarian goulash.
She loves her work, she said with a smile, but hates dishwashing. When asked where she cooked before Café Polonia, she replied, “Home.”
Hanna works around 42 hours a week, which includes not only cooking, but also shopping for supplies at restaurant depot, cleaning, and making sure her kitchen is in the right shape. Her busy work life combined with her citizenship and English classes leave her no time for hobbies.
She calls herself a food technician. Food is important to her because it is both work and culture, and she likes knowing that the customer is satisfied. Hanna also prides herself on feeding her family the same things she serves her customers, only slightly healthier. A little less lard, a little more vegetables. Hanna has a 30-year-old son, who prefers to eat organically, and a 27-year-old daughter who has two daughters herself.
Do you like other types of food?
Oh, yes, she nods.
How about Chinese food?
Michal translates that she doesn’t even know what that is.
Where do you go when you go out to eat?
UNO or 99.
Almost 45 years in the United States, and she doesn’t know what Chinese food is. That’s impressive. The lady loves her Polish food.
Watching Hanna cook in her kitchen is like watching my mother cook in hers. She moves methodically, slicing the sausage, spooning potato pancake mix onto a hot skillet, boiling water. She wears a hair net to cover cropped chestnut brown hair, and a green polo, black jeans, worn brown loafers, and black-and-white striped socks. Michal repeats orders to her that he has written on a notepad quietly and in Polish. She nods, barely, and continues cooking, adding more sausage to the grill or more pierogis to the boiling water.
There is something so exciting about watching grandma cook for you. You see all the deliciousness that goes into what you’re about to eat, and the anticipation is almost unbearable. I watched her create what I had ordered with Michal off the English side of the menu: the Polish Plate and Smoked Salmon Potato Pancake. As she plated the food, I hurried back to my seat, giddy as a girl on Christmas morning. Awaiting me was a complimentary beer called Zywiec, an amber-honey colored lager.
Three boiled pierogis topped with carmelized onions, grilled kielbasa on a bed of sauerkraut with bits of meat in it, stuffed eggplant smothered in “bigos” or hunter’s stew all came delightfully packaged on the Polish Plate. The potato pancakes came on a separate plate, and a few minutes later, Hanna sent out some Hungarian goulash to eat with the potato pancakes. I’m getting hungry just writing about this meal. Everything tasted like home, and I’m not even Polish.
611 Dorchester Ave
Boston, MA 02127
by Rebecca Bellan