Tuesday, June 12, 2007

I've moved!

I've decided to change sites to see how I do with the whole WordPress thing. Here's the new address of España Profunda: http://katieprofunda.wordpress.com/

Definitely let me know what you think.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

The best croquetas I've ever had

One of my very favorite neighborhoods in all of Madrid is what I call Conde Duque, the area between Calle Princesa and Malasaña (map). Just recently I also discovered that it is also home to the best croquetas I've ever had. La Tabernilla de Amadeus (C/ Cristo, 2--marked on the above map) sits on a tiny little street right near the Centro Cultural Conde Duque and has a lovely terraza during the summer. And the croquetas de jamón are, simply put, amazing.

Mi parque

When I was looking for a place to live in Madrid nearly two years ago, I based it largely on living near a park where I could go running. I ended up near the Parque del Oeste (map), which I have completely fallen in love with. I call it mi parque and I really do feel a sense of propriety about it. I know the early morning dog walkers, the older couple who hit a tennis ball back and forth on one of the trails, the parks maintenance workers in their fluorescent yellow and blue outfits.

Parque del Oeste slopes downhill from Moncloa and runs along the western edge of the city. It's great for running because of the dirt paths, the hills, and the lack of cars. It's also a perfect place to go for a stroll, lie in the grass, read on a bench, have a picnic, or box (?! left).

Parque del Oeste is quite different from the famed and (also) beautiful Parque del Buen Retiro. To begin with, it's not in the center of the city and therefore attracts much less traffic. I like to think of it as a little "wilder" than Retiro, in part because it's a little more off the beaten path. Though it's still quite a civilized place; so civilized, in fact, that it is home to a rosaleda (rose garden), which this year was absolutely fantastic. Seems that the cool, rainy spring we've had here has done wonders for the roses, which (when I went to see them two weeks ago) were in full bloom and stunning.To check out the Parque del Oeste, I recommend starting at one of its ends: (the Moncloa metro/bus station or the Templo de Debod) and wandering.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Argentines in the 'hood

One of the most exciting places to open in my neighborhood this year has surely been Todo Empanadas. At the corner of Vallehermoso and Fernández de los Ríos (map), the little empanada place has been doing a steady business since it opened in October 2006. Run by a bunch of Argentines, Todo Empanadas delivers, does take-out, and has limited (bar-stool) seating in its interior. The empanadas are made to order and extremely tasty; among my favorites are onion and cheese, and tomato, basil, and cheese. They also make various with meat and a vegetable empanada with spinach. At 1.50 euros each, they can easily become an addiction. They've become a delivery favorite among my roommates (half a dozen is the delivery minimum and you'll want two or more). And just today I tried the dessert empanada: a little crescent of fried dough filled with dulce de leche. To die for. If you're in the 'hood, call 91 44 44 748 to order.And speaking of dulce de leche, another Argentine joint called KIBO Dulce y Salado, on the corner of Galileo and Donoso Cortés (map), sells some amazing alfajores for under 2 euros.

Finally, if you're ever near Retiro and hungry, make a trip to Trenque Lauquen. It's a tiny little Argentine pizzeria with a lovely terraza in the warmer months and it takes empanadas up a notch: these ones are baked, not fried. The crust is light and flaky, and the spinach empanada, flavored with raisins and spices, is particularly memorable. This place will cost you significantly more than Todo Empanadas, but it's worth it for a sit-down meal right across the street from Retiro. Make sure to check their schedule; I've been disappointed by it being closed at least once.

Monday, May 21, 2007


As any Madrileño who loves the outdoors knows, we've got the mountains right in our backyard. Literally. In an hour by car, bus, or train, you can access some truly beautiful wild areas with fantastic hiking. I am a huge fan of La Pedriza, a natural area full of mounds of granite perfect for climbing and hiking. But a couple months ago, an adult student of mine piqued my interest when he recounted having spent part of his weekend attempting to climb Peñalara, the highest peak (2,430 meters) in the Sierra de Guardarrama, the mountain range closest to Madrid. This weekend, mi chico and I made our own attempt and succeeded.

You begin the ascent to Peñalara from the Puerto de Cotos, a mountain pass at 1,830 meters. It's only an hour in car from the center of Madrid, and can also be reached by train. We didn't have the highest hopes for our day--the INM predicted a 90% chance of rain and the sky was gray and threatening above as we began our uphill trek. Above the treeline, the wind began to whip against us with such a fury that I was afraid we'd be blown off the slope. But it didn't rain. In fact, we noticed as we got higher, the wind was blowing the ugly rain clouds away from us and onto the plains of Castilla-León. So we reached the summit quickly (it's a 600 meter ascent in a only a few kilometers) and continued on our loop down the other side of the summit and up a rocky pinnacle called Risco de los Claveles and down, down, down until we reached the first of several glacial lakes that would mark our return route.Soon enough we were walking through a meadow filled with wildflowers and flowing streams. Waterfalls cascaded from the rock walls below Peñalara, and the sun came out in a hole in clouds above us. We ate lunch by the lovely Laguna Grande before heading down the easy trail back to the car.

The circuit hike took us about four hours not including stops. Be forewarned that it's extremely popular (like most of the Guardarrama). We had a lot of company on a day with relatively bad weather. That student of mine hadn't made it to the top because of worse weather. A steward at the Laguna Grande told us that two years ago there were seven deaths on the peak due to winter unpreparedness. Best times to go are May, June, and September.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

San Isidro

I love May in Madrid. Terrazas take over the sidewalks and plazas of our fair city, the grass and trees are green, the parks are full of flowers, days are long, and it's not too hot yet. And then there's San Isidro. He was a saint, a farmer (labrador), and a very good excuse for a party. That's right: he's Madrid's patron saint, which means that on the day that he died (May 15, 1130) everyone gets a holiday in Madrid!

The festivities started a bit earlier for me and some lucky friends. A colleague of mine is from a tiny town in the province of Cuenca, and there they also happen to have good old Isidro as their patron saint (for reasons unclear, maybe for the agricultural nature of the pueblo?). I've been lucky enough to spend two years attending the fiestas in Villaverde y Pasaconsol, which consist largely of dancing all night and eating all day.
The most emblematic part of the fiestas in the pueblo is the toros. But they aren't full-grown toros, just vaquillas (little cows). All Saturday afternoon people enter the miniscule ring (composed of a whole bunch of truck beds) and run around with the vaquillas, trying not to get gored. The part I don't really like is that then they kill a couple--I didn't stay to watch that part. But the following morning, a bunch of people get up early and spend the whole morning guisando (cooking) the meat in gigantic pots. And then the whole town has a huge picnic with the meat and whatever people have brought: tortilla and plenty of bread, wine, and fruit.

Back in Madrid the party really got started on the Monday night before the holiday. The bars and streets of La Latina were completely packed, people were dancing chotis in the street at 1 a.m., and there was plenty of general merriment.

And on San Isidro, hordes of people head to las praderas--the meadows--at a park named after the saint that lies in the southwestern part of the city (metro Marqués de Vadillo). I spent all afternoon there with my roommates and friends, eating pasta salad and watermelon and enjoying the good weather. Children and adults dress up as chulapas (with their long dresses and shawls) and chulapos (with their black-and-white checked caps) and, for a day, Madrid celebrates itself.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Mother's Day

Today is Día de la Madre in Spain, in honor of which a couple of friends and I ran in the Carrera de la Mujer, a race for only women that raises money for cancer. Think Race for the Cure, Spanish style. The race shirts were orange, and the line to get water at the end was outrageously long. But even if it was less a race than a human obstacle course, tons of women came out for it. More than 12,000, in fact. It made me so happy to see so many Spanish women out exercising on a beautiful Sunday morning, that I'll ignore the fact that I had to wait half an hour to get water after I finished. To top it all off, the race bag came with an awesome amount of stuff (including another t-shirt, a towel, a Comunidad de Madrid Buff, and magazines ranging from Cosmo to Runner's World).

Election shenanigans

Election season is upon us here in España. I'm not incredibly informed, but I like to keep abreast of important developments, like the one I wrote about the other day. And we've got a new one today.

Good old Rafael Simancas, the socialist candidate for the presidency of the Madrid region, has a bone to pick with someone. In what appears to be an honest mistake, the metro station that shares his last name (a stop on line 7) has disappeared from the latest edition of the metro map. Granted, they've been opening what seems like 11 new stations every day for the past weeks. But Simancas is still open. At least that's what the neighbors say.

This weekend, the current president of the Comunidad, the right-wing Esperanza Aguirre, inaugurated the extension of line 7 to the far eastern reaches of our fair city, only making the elimination of the poor Simancas station from the map a little more suspicious.

Simanca has promised not to change the name of line 4's Esperanza station when he's president. But, he says, he will name Madrid's best golf tournament after her.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The worthwhile Algarve

Portugal is not España, but we share the peninsula with her. And it was about the only place on the peninsula that didn't receive rain during this year's Semana Santa. The Easter holidays were a real washout for those who had gone to Spanish coast to lie on the beach or to Sevilla to watch the processions.

Alex and I spent the long weekend meandering through the (rainless!) Algarve, the southern coast of Portugal (map), in search of the less-beaten path through the region. We fell in love with some places and others made us cringe and get in the car and keep driving. The area is popular with good reason, but, as we found, there's a lot more to see beyond the big overdeveloped and tourist-ridden cities like Faro, Albufeira, and Lagos.

So, if you, like us, prefer to experience a more authentic Algarve and find secluded beaches and so forth, I have two main recommendations.

1. Just east of Faro you'll find the largest fishing port in the Algarve. It's called Olhão and it's not a prettified place. It's real and gritty, and full of Portuguese who make their living fishing in the Atlantic Ocean. There are two pensão in town, and the very helpful owner of ours gave us the ferry schedule to the islands just off the coast of Olhão. The ferry cost about 3 euros round trip, and was filled with Portuguese heading home to the island with their dogs and shopping bags.
We spent an idyllic afternoon on the Ilha da Culatra, where the fishing community is alive and well, sidewalks are the only streets, and the beaches are pristine. Having not eaten lunch, we headed for the first restaurant we saw after getting off the ferry. The waitress there didn't speak English or German, and there was no menu. She asked, in Portuguese, if we wanted fish or meat (how could we even think of eating meat on this island?)--I chose tuna and Alex swordfish. She brought out an appetizer of some of the most delicious steamed clams I'd ever eaten (above). The fish was grilled with green peppers and onion and very tasty. She also brought out a fresh green salad and crusty bread. We washed it all down with cerveja Sagres, which is remarkably good. She charged us 20 euros for everything.
We then wandered out to the beach, which we had to ourselves. After sitting in the sun for a while, we set off down the beach for Farol, another cluster of houses at the other end of the island, where we'd be getting the ferry back to Olhão. Farol, home to a lighthouse, was just as charming, but clearly more of a weekend house-type place, without the fishing business of Culatra.In Farol, the ferry unloaded what seemed like hordes of people, equipped with food and supplies for Easter weekend on the island, and we boarded the noticeably lighter ferry to ride back to Olhão, the setting sun and a trail of seagulls behind us.
2. Go west! After Olhão, the farther west you can get, the better. The highway ends, the hillsides covered with high rises cease, and there is generally more vegetation and fewer people as you head towards Sagres, the closest town to Cabo de São Vicente, or the southwestern most point in Europe. The coastline between the two places, about six kilometers long, is composed of stunningly high cliffs and the waves that batter them. The landscape is fantastic. A highly recommended beach is Praia da Beliche, about halfway between Sagres and the Cape, full of surfers and people enjoying its beautiful, wind-protected cove (below).We stayed in Salema, on a recommendation from a friend who had been and described it as "two streets with one hippie bar." When the highway ends soon after Lagos, you must take a national road to get any further. Salema is off this two-lane road: you drive several curvy kilometers towards the coast until the road ends and you're in Salema, which sits right on the beach. It's a tiny little town that's getting bigger thanks to construction of apartments up the hillside opposite the town proper. But it's not spoiled (yet) and there are so many fewer people than at other spots, that even if everyone is English or German, it just doesn't matter because the beach is so lovely and it's so peaceful.

Alex and I went to the Algarve with no reservations anywhere. We found a place to stay by wandering Salema's only street until a sign offering an apartment for rental caught my eye. We ended up renting a room in a two-bedroom apartment with a terrace, a well-equipped kitchen, and spacious living room for only 35 euros a night. (The man rents the place in August for significantly more.)We spent our last day in the Algarve in our own little cove in Salema, shielded by rocks on either side, until the tide got high enough that we knew it was time to leave.

"English for all"

I found the above clipping in yesterday's El País. Elections in Madrid (for mayor and president of the Comunidad) are in just over a month, on May 27. I was most interested in a promise made by Rafael Simancas, the socialist candidate for president of the Comunidad (region), that "100% of young madrileños will speak English" thanks to the implementation of the bilingual program in public and concertado (parochial schools that receive some funding from the state) schools until the year 2015. In order to achieve this promise, Simancas proposes investing 320 million euros during the next two legislatures. As an auxiliar de conversación in a public school, I'm part of that goal already (and some of that money goes to people like me!).