Granada Revisited

alhambra gardens Last year we went to Granada twice but it is such a wonderful city we went back this April and will probably go again during the summer months. This time we had a chance to see the Alhambra gardens.
You can purchase general entrance to the Alhambra and the Generalife gardens for only 8.40 euros per adult. This ticket covers in and out entrance into the fortress plus the tower, gardens, garden palace, but minus the Palacios Nazaries. This is a great purchase if you are just showing friends around but make sure your friends have entrance tickets to the Palacios Nazaries (if they’ve never been) because they are incredible. Last year we were at the Alhambra in December and didn’t have extra time so we skipped the gardens. But this year we took our time and it was beautiful. If you have never visited the Alhambra and are trying to cram a visit in during the spring or summer months then I would definitely recommend booking 2 separate days to view the place, especially if you are older. There is just so much to take in and you could and should spend hours here, it is like a whole other world.
This year we visited during the height of Semana Santa. We had a bit of drama booking a hostel but in the end Hostal Costa Azul hooked it up. Mirador bell tower

san nicolas miradorWhenever I’m in Granada I try to find a great spot to watch the sunset. The Mirador de San Nicolas is one of the most touristy spots for a view of the Alhambra as the sun sets, but not really the best spot (head to Sacramonte). But this year we went up the San Nicolas bell tower for 2 euros for some great views. And below us was the Asociación Artesanos de San Nicolás selling all kinds of wonderful jewelry and crafts. After the sun went down we headed back down through the Albaicín and flamenco dancing into the darkness and came out upon the lights of a triumphant Easter procession. A great end to our wonderful day in Granada.

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CEX Madrid

cexI am quite the movie addict. I’ve seen my share of classics, a lot of good, bad and some I’m ashamed to even name; but what’s great about learning a new language is that you can watch even the bad ones and feel ok about it because it’s like a form of “study” even though probably a lot gets lost in translation. The best part about watching movies dubbed in Spanish is that the dub over stars here in Spain are awesome and sometimes make the characters more bad-ass when needed; it makes the bad movies endurable.  Here is a mini example of how Spain dubs can be 10 times better than other dubs: Adventure Time Opening
I also like to watch films in Spanish with Spanish subtitles and sometimes that is hard to come across online or just a pain in the ass. So if you are looking to find a series or some films that can be dubbed and have subtitles check out CEX.
They have a range of movies and tv series which you can browse online. They also sell video games, music and an assortment of used electronics and phones. The great thing about it is that everything is fairly affordable and can be sold back for either cash or store credit. Check it out. I’ve found many useful DVDs for school at only a euro and they have come in very handy when the school’s internet doesn’t work.

You can find them on Calle de Atocha 40 and also Calle de Madrid 28,  in Getafe.

Phones in Spain

If you have an Iphone or an Android in the states or some phone that can fit a sim card and has 3G access, bring it abroad with you. I must say I envy all my friends who can text with a keyboard or pad instead of pushing the same number 3 times to get one letter, or being able to jump online and ping your location so as to never get lost, or look up cool places and restaurants close by etc. etc. It is super helpful to have a super phone when you are living in a new city, especially when you are not used to the language yet.
As long as your phone is unlocked (a fairly easy process) you can purchase a SIM card and pay as you go for minutes and data, it is a dream come true. No more huge bills for barely using or going over your data usage, no more contracts (although you could sign one if you are staying put for more than a year).
The best bet I’ve found was Tuenti. I know it’s like if facebook came out with a phone, would you buy it? Well, it is not just a scam to hook you into using the Tuenti social network. In fact they have good service because they are hooked into the Moviestar broadband network so you can pretty much get good coverage everywhere for a much cheaper deal than Moviestar.
For 1 GB of data you will pay 7 euros +IVA but you pay extra for mobile minutes, you used to be able to get 3GB for 20 euros +IVA with some minutes included. I hardly ever call anyone, I just use whatsapp so this is a great deal for me.
There is no contract. You can quit anytime no penalty with tuenti. If you go over your data or minutes and have enrolled in auto-top up then you receive no added costs!
You can purchase the sim cards and new phones from their website and they arrive at your door via moto-delivery; they confirm delivery time beforehand via email. Sometimes you have to go to the post office to pick up your sim card.
The downer is they don’t have a storefront location for convenience but there are a couple of places you can find tuenti sim cards and you can top-up at some of the moviestar machines. Everything can pretty much be handled online and they do have an English department that will respond to emails if desperate. I haven’t had a complaint yet. Tuenti has been a great choice for me and I haven’t had to deal with any of the problems some of my friends have had with Yoigo or Orange. I’d recommend tuenti for anyone who is a temporary in España.

Planeta Vegano

planeta veganoI love this place.  They fairly recently expanded and now offer everything you can imagine.  If they don’t have it, just ask and they may be able to order it for you.  This place has all kinds of substitute meats; a variety of sausages, slices, gluten, tofu (although cheaper at the Asian markets), frozen stuff etc.  Every grain and bean you can imagine, sauces, tahini’s, oils etc., veganaise, nutritional yeast, allergen free detergents, coconut oil soap, greenie dog treats, the list goes on and on.  I think they even started to add cosmetics like natural hair dye and nail polish.  I can’t wait to see what they have when I come back.  The owners/workers are super friendly and everything is 100% vegetarian and mostly vegan.

Go support the movement @ planteta vegano  c/ave maria, 34 -28012

Ecocentro

ecocentroWhen I first arrived in Madrid I was faced with jamón, jamón, jamón.  Even vegetarian dishes would arrive with jamón splayed all over or bacon sprinkled on top, or tuna hidden in the dish.  It was impossible to eat out as a vegetarian without knowing the ropes.  Then I stumbled across Ecocentro and was pleasantly surprised to find super fresh greens, salads, veggies, everything you could ask for.  The catch was that you pay per pound so it can add up if you aren’t careful.  All in all the food is good, the service is buffet style so quick, and if you haven’t found a local affordable health food store near you yet then you can find some hard to find items in their market around the corner (but also super pricey).eco

The best place I have found so far, pricewise etc. is Planeta Vegano in Lavapies. What are some of your good health food/vegetarian finds in Madrid?

Teleferico to Madrid’s Farmer’s Market

The first Saturday of each month a farmer’s market is held near Casa del Campo in Madrid.  Exact address is: Pº de la Puerta del Ángel, 4 – Recinto ferial Casa de Campo – 28011 Madrid.During the fall and winter months it is mostly wine, beer sellers and olive oil with a couple of cheese stands here and there.  But it is a good time to be had with friends because you can purchase a wine glass for €1.00 and sample all the Spanish wines.  The market is open from 10am – 3pm.

telefericoYou can do what we did and take the Teleferico from the Estación Teleférico Rosales to  the Estación Teleférico Casa de Campo; it’s a lovely walk through the park to the farmers market.  The Teleferico costs €3.85 one way and you can take the subway back from  Estación de Lago which has the line 1 metro back to Madrid center.  Or have a picnic in the park and take the teleferico back, a round trip ticket costs €5.60.  Just make sure it is running on a normal schedule the day you go.

Last minute shopping

We had some last minute gift shopping to do before heading back to the states so we hit up some markets.

Plaza San Francisco market is a great starting point because it is near Parque Calderon  and close to other shops that have good souvenirs.  But at the market you can always negotiate a good price.  I usually avoid the main part of the market which is just Otavalos mostly selling “made in china” products. But on the sidewalk (round the corner from the flower market) there are vendors selling ponchos, blankets, table cloths, intricate sweaters, scarves, hats etc. But if you are looking for something smaller, things like jewelry or trinkets then head over to La Casa de La Mujer which is at the end of the block @General Torres 7-33 and Presidente Cordova.

La Casa de La Mujer is a building with a number of shops all selling different artisan crafts.  There is a lot of variety here; from paintings, jewelry, leather, hats, baskets and other woven products, clothing and toys.  One of my favorite jewelry shops can be found here on the upper level called Tagua.  If silver is your thing, there are some shops here but I would recommend taking a day trip to Chordeleg, the silversmith village about 20/30 min. from Cuenca.

If you are on a tight budget but would like to bring home some cool jewelry for friends and family then stop by the hippie market; it is somewhere around Mariscal Lamar y Benigno Malo on a corner.  Here there are a few tents set up with roughly the same merchandise.  Most of the jewelry or pipes etc. are made out of Tagua or bone and they will offer to carve a name, word or sometimes a design on certain things for sale.

And if you head down to Mercado 9 de Octubre then visit Plaza Rotary which is down a little alley in the middle of the block; if you take a taxi then ask for Gáspar Sangurima y Vargas Machuca because most are baffled by the name Plaza Rotary. There they sell woven products like baskets and mats, the blacksmiths sell weather vanes and other stuff, and you’ll find a number of stands selling roughly the same types of trinkets like keychains, purses, toys, ceramics etc. While living in Cuenca, I frequented this spot to buy things for the home like flower pots, hampers, cutting boards, wooden mixing spoons and such; which was more affordable than buying the same types of products but in plastic at hipermercados.  Most people tell you to avoid the area near Mercado 9 de Octubre but I say check it out.  Yes, you will see a few prostitutes on the sidewalks here all day long and probably your share of drunks but it is fairly safe during the day just don’t whip out a wad of money or an expensive camera and you should be fine.  At night it is a bit sketch so you can avoid it at night; but don’t avoid the area entirely.  And on Fridays the indigenous shamans set up a spot in the market where they offer up “limpias” or cleansings for a small price.  A word of warning to prepare you if you get one, they will spit alcohol in your face as part of the ritual and put ashes on your forehead and back.  So don’t be surprised if they ask you to pull up your shirt.  You should feel great after some good ol’ chuca chuca.

Maria’s Alemania

If you haven’t checked out Maria’s Alemania Bakery and Restaurant on the corner of Hermano Miguel and Mariscal Sucre then you have to go there right now.  They have the best bread in town; and that is saying a lot because there are a ton of good panaderias in town.  What I like about them is that they make pan de agua.  Most bakeries here only have pan de leche or pan dulce; they are good too but sometimes I want my bread without the milk.  Not to mention, some of their german pastries really hit the spot.  And just like Nectar, you won’t feel embarrassed trying out your spanish there, she’s a great lady.