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.