Tag Archives: Christmas

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, malasaña

Madrid: A city to visit or a city to live in?

I’ve often thought about where else I’d consider living in Spain if the right opportunity came along. A couple of years back I was wrestling with the idea of moving just for the sake of it, but then concluded that that was as pointless as it was reckless. I feel I’ve now reached a point in my life where a simple sideways move is no longer an option; if I move, I go up. That’s how it’s going to be from now on.

Currently, I am in the midst of an online-based digital marketing course run by Google, which I hope to pass early next year. So far, it has been the most enlightening, inspiring and thoroughly exciting process I’ve been involved with since leaving University. If all goes well, I’ll be on the job hunt with new qualifications under my belt, and on the brink of making that upwards move before my fourth year in Granada is through.

Ideally I’d like to stay in Spain, but realistically, that would probably mean re-locating to either Barcelona or Madrid, where I am far more likely to find something suitable (I doubt Granada has even heard of digital marketing). Yet even this is a long shot; it’s most probable I’ll end up in the UK (sob), but if everything does go my way, then last week’s visit to the Spanish capital was most definitely part one of a two-part assessment.

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, malasaña

Malasaña, Madrid

I had three days. Many of our treasured fiestas have befallen weekends this calender year, meaning that 4-day weekends have become 3-day weekends (better than in the UK I know but still), thus, my travel options have been somewhat curtailed. Still, I’d say three days is about right for Madrid.

The plan was to head to El Santiago Bernabéu to catch Real Madrid take on Celta de Vigo in an energetic La Liga match. Neither I, my pal nor any of his pals had a ticket; we’d hoped to buy ‘liberated’ ones at the stadium, but to our bitter disappointment, none were left by the time we arrived. Touts wouldn’t budge from €100 and that was for seats in row Z. Mission failure.

El Bernabeu, Madrid, Santiago

On the upside, my budget for the weekend was suddenly doubled. Back of the net (oohh irony). Thus, I could afford to properly make the most of the opportunity, and hopefully reap a more open-ended experience to take away.

I was lucky to have a friend to stay with for the weekend, and even luckier that she could afford the time to show me around a few of her favourite haunts and hangouts.

Street Art! Food! Smoothies!!

Malasaña, with its hipsterish blend of street art, vintage fashion boutiques, underground bars and buzzing cafés, was naturally my favourite spot. We spent the best part of an afternoon here just mooching around, before hopping onto the metro and heading for the famously quirky Lavapiés bario. My friend’s Brazilian friend was determined to shake off his hangover (and ours) with an imported Açaí smoothie from his favourite Brazilian café. They were, he claimed, the best in Spain. The best in Spain! How could I not join him after a statement like that? Even if they did cost €4.80 each (wince).

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, malasaña

madrid, spain, españa, malasaña, street art, arte urbano

Street Art in Malasaña, Madrid

Well, they were exceptionally good, I’ll give him that. But the best? No idea. It was the first time I’d ever tried açaí (hipster confession), which, along with the freshly baked coxinhas and yuka empanadas to boot, I would definitely fork out for again. Pricey, but worth it.

I returned the following day for lunch at one of the many exotic eateries that help shape its aforementioned quirky character. I say ‘exotic’, but this is Spain we’re in– remember that. It was a Turkish restaurant, and the food was delicious, from the Bereket, to the red pepper hummus and lamb kafta kebabs. Bit better than your average 3 o’clock in the morning shawarma; pricier too though, mind. Not knocking the shawarma or anything, wouldn’t dream of that.

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, malasaña

madrid, spain, españa, malasaña, street art, arte urbano

(Free) Tapas! Hipster Cocktail Bars! Markets!

If there’s one bragging right Granada definitely does possess though, it is the famed free tapa. But hang on what’s this? Madrid has free tapas too! And the portions are MASSIVE. We’d intended to try at least 3 or 4 different tapas bars but were stuffed after two. The first was El Respiro (Calle de las Infantas, 34), where we were fed all the usual Spanish nibbles; chorizojamon, queso, tortilla etc, but in the second place across the street– El Tigre (Calle de las Infantas, 30) –I’d never seen so much free food shoved onto one plate. It was madness. The place was rammed and frankly it was verging on a feeding frenzy as we were leaving.

Who said tapas were only free in Granada!? #madrid #spain #elrespiro

A photo posted by Josh Taylor (@jtapas01) on

We finished the night off with a round of cocktails at the uber trendy, All-American diner-looking In Dreams Café (Calle de San Mateo, 4). If you go, order the Dark and Stormy; you won’t taste better.

A trip to Madrid wouldn’t be complete without a stroll around one of its copiously stocked indoor food markets. Last time I visited, I lost a good hour or two exploring Mercado San Miguel, where I gorged myself on the best olives I’ve ever tasted. This time I was taken to the new, chic and cozy Mercado de San Ildefonso, where, regrettably, there were no olives, but plenty of red wine to numb the hangover with.

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, christmas, navidad

Mercado San Ildefonso, Madrid

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, malasaña

Surrealism!

Since this was only my second time visiting Madrid, it was hard not to do as tourists do. I visited the Reina Sofia museum, free of charge, and saw a great deal of very peculiar art.

‘Surrealist’ is the proper term. Call me uncultured, but most of it goes way over my head, which is, I imagine, what most of the surrealist artists exhibited in the museum probably intended. Picasso’s Guernica, howeverwas truly awesome, whether I understood it or not.

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, reina sofia

Art in the Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid (shouldn’t have taken this)

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, reina sofia

Living!

Naturally, the cost of living in any capital city is higher than elsewhere in the country, but it’s all relative. The average wage is higher too, though not by much I am told, and if I were to move to Madrid, one of the main conditions would be a guarantee of a higher income. Rent for a room in a shared, central apartment, from what I’ve gathered, tends to vary between €350 and €600p/m, a Metro season ticket for zones A and B sets you back €72 and groceries cost more or less the same as they do in Granada. Seems reasonable, right? (to find out what I earn, read this post).

People!

One thing that is virtually guaranteed in any major European capital is a multicultural society. Madrid is a leading example. People the world over are drawn in by the city’s enviable melting pot of international identities, and add to it their own quirks and customs. A study by El Mundo newspaper indicated that there were just over 5.5 million foreigners living in Spain in 2013, and around 12% of that figure live in or within the surrounding areas of Madrid.

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, christmas, navidad

Arbol de Navidad, Corner of Parque de Retiro, Madrid

It’s not that I wouldn’t begrudge living in an entirely Spanish community; I just love being around people from different walks of life, who, just like me, relocated to Spain for the hell of it. During my stay I met folks the UK, France, Italy, Turkey, Brazil, New Zealand and (of course) Spain, either through friends or by chance. Granada has its own population of extranjeros but many of these– at least the ones who come out to play –are part of the University’s erasmus programme; not there to work like they are in Madrid.

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, christmas, navidad

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, christmas, navidad

madrid, spain, españa, black and white, blanco y negro, christmas, navidad

Arbol de Navidad, Gran Vía, Madrid

So, could I live in Madrid?

I love visiting Madrid, but to live there would take some getting used to, that’s for sure. However, providing I am there for the right reason and she doesn’t try to fleece me at every chance she gets, I think we’d get along just fine. Whether Barcelona and I would get along better remains to be seen…

polvorones, mantecados, turron, postre de navidad, christmas sweets

Spain 101: Christmas Sweets

Gluey, grainy, pasty and downright revolting. Sorry, I just don’t like them, and I’m not the only one.

Traditional Spanish Christmas sweets invade Spanish supermarket shelves around some time in November and stay there until the end of January. Turrón – available in paste or rock-hard form, Polvorones – dry, doughy, lard-based cookies that stick to your gums for hours, Mantecados – similar to Polvorones (just as lardy) but bigger and hidden away in brightly coloured wrapping paper.

mantecado, postre de navidad, christmas desserts spain

Warning: Mantecado de Canela (Source: Tnarik FlickrCC)

I’m not a fussy eater, but I can’t – for the life of me – chew/attempt to swallow any of these traditional treats without pulling a face. I’ll never forget my first encounter with a Mantecado: our landlady gave my French housemate and I a box as a parting Christmas present (a rare display of generosity), which I promptly dove into. One large mouthful later and I was scorning my overzealousness whilst spitting clumps of the stuff into the toilet. Rather than throwing them out we then used them as forfeits in a game of cards. Then there was the turrón. The first time I opened up a box of the Alicante-variety I thought it had gone off. Then, after being reassured of its edibility by a friend, I took a bite and almost lost a tooth.

turron, postre de navidad, christmas sweets spain

Spanish Turron de Alicante and Turron de Jijona (Turron Duro and Turron Blando) (Source: Jonathan Pincas FlickrCC)

Perhaps I’m being unfair; there are one or two that aren’t so bad. Mazapan, which is either loved or loathed the world over, is often gorged upon at Christmas time – particularly in Toledo, where it is said to have originated. It is baked in the form of seasonal figurines and goes down quite nicely, as does another Christmas favourite: Roscón de Navidad. This spongy festive pudding, topped with sugary fruit candy, is supposed to be eaten at breakfast time on the morning of Reyes Magos, Spain’s actual (and decidedly more logical) day for celebrating Christmas. Inside there are hidden figurines– a King (good luck) and a bean (bad luck– you have to buy next year’s cake) –which make the unusually sweet breakfast more fun. I’m doing well so far; 2 Kings in a row! Can’t wait for all that good luck to come rushing in at once…

Have you tried any of the above? Any festive treats you love or can’t stand? Any others to add to the list? Let’s hear it…

christmas, navidad, granada, spain, españa, granada christmas lights

Hello again and Feliz Navidad!

Spain For Pleasure is back! After a week away (and what a miserable week it must have been…) the blog is up and running again, but now via Blue Host and WordPress.org instead of WordPress.com. This means that you’ll be seeing some gradual and tentative changes here over the next few weeks, all good of course.

Meanwhile, Happy Christmas! Or Feliz Navidad should I say. Back in merry old England the weather is as grim as ever, yet as ever I couldn’t give a chistera; home is exactly where I want to be at Christmas, come rain, hail, gale force winds, snow blizzards or – in the rare event – shine. Even if my Dad does insist on playing his ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas: Woodwind Pipes Version’ CD over and over and over again. That’s just me though.

Were I still in Spain I’d doubtless be very much enjoying my festive holiday. There wouldn’t be many presents – Spaniards generally don’t do theirs until Reyes Magos on January 6th (i’m told that only spoilt Spanish children receive presents on both days) – but there’s still lots of eating, drinking and pretty things to look at in the street. Granada is a shining example:

 

And then there’s Seville:

christmas, seville, sevilla, spain

Christmas in Seville (Source: Sevilla Cuidad FlickrCC)

Madrid:

 

Valencia:

christmas, valencia, navidad, luzes

Christmas in Valencia (Source: Joan Grifols FlickrCC)

Santiago de Compostela:

santiago de compostela navidad, christmas, spain

Christmas in Santiago de Compostela (Source: Carlos FlickrCC)

And of course Barcelona’s twinkling Christmas Market:

 

Where are you this Christmas? Spain? What Christmas traditions have surprised you? Wherever you are, enjoy!

IMG_0255

Spain’s actual Christmas: Los Reyes Magos

Christmas is an entirely different kettle of fish in Spain. Most noticeably through lack of ridiculously early shop window displays, painfully irritating Christmas songs and just general blatant commercialism. Nor does anybody tend to tart up their houses with twinkling fairy lights or giant Rudolphs, as is often the case in Britain and the US. In fact, the Spanish treat Christmas very much more as a religious affair. People will often decorate their homes with scaled down versions of nativity displays, or ‘Belénes’, as they are called in Spain, and gather round them on Christmas Eve, before siting down for a traditional fish/lamb supper. Christmas Day itself is generally seen by most as an opportunity to recover from the night before, and is a big day for churchgoers of course.

The most notable difference is that there are no presents given out on Christmas Day. This is left for ‘Reyes Magos’, the epiphany on the 6th of January. It makes a lot more biblical sense really, given the fact that this is when the three wise men allegedly brought gifts to a bawling baby Jesus. After presents, people flock to the town’s streets to watch the cavalcades of the Three Kings trundle through, showering children with sweets as they go.

This year I flew back to Spain earlier than I normally would after the Christmas period in order to catch a glimpse of this epic street party in action. Plus, I had a new camera, and I have suddenly become mildly obsessed with taking photographs. So it was a shame that when I actually did head out to join in the fun I had already, and unknowingly missed the first two Kings of the procession. I did manage to catch the third though. Sort of. And I was lucky enough to see some children dressed as chickens, standing on a truck, also dressed as a chicken, led by a bloke dressed as a cock…erel. There was a chicken-themed song that everybody knew the words to, and it wasn’t the chicken dance. Needless to say, I was baffled. Why is this relevant? Would anybody care to enlighten me?

Here’s what I got anyway:

King, Los Reyes, Granada

The Third King approaches

IMG_0241

Those blurry things being hurled into the street are sweets just to clarify

IMG_0244

A crowded Reyes de los Catolicos

IMG_0243

IMG_0247

“Oh here comes another Ki- oh wait, what?”

IMG_0252

Easter’s only round the corner now anyway. Maybe that’s what it was about…

IMG_0255

A brightly lit Calle Reyes Católicos

Granada, Christmas, Lights, Christmas Lights

Messing about with the manual light settings on new camera. I’m learning!

Granada, Christmas, Christmas Lights

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada at Christmas

Despite my usual distaste for Christmas lights, owing to their excessively tacky nature, I couldn’t help but feel a touch bedazzled when Granada’s festive decorations went up this year. Since moving to Spain i’ve never really experienced that Christmassy feeling during the run up to the day itself, but it appears Granada is now mounting a case against that. So after two weeks’ worth of procrastination, out eventually came the camera and off I wandered into the gleaming city centre…

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,

Granada, Christmas, lights,