Why I keep going back to Madrid

It’s been forever since last time I wrote anything on here. The good news is it looks like I still have readers! So here I go again.

I am back in Spain after just seven months and it feels as though I never left. I’ve been here for two weeks now. I flew here on New Year’s Day and settled in Madrid, once again, though this time I think I’ll be here for just less than three months.

Madrid on Christmas

The thing about Madrid is you live here once, you come back twice…or TRICE! (As Conan would say.) You just keep coming back. As much as I dislike the way certain things work in Spain, it is undeniably a great place to be. It’s almost stress-free for those used to the hectic life in the US. So I couldn’t say no to my boyfriend when he said that “we should go back.”

This time, I’m in a different part of Madrid, near the neighborhood of La Latina and Prícipe Pío. It’s a much quieter area compared to Ronda de Atocha, steps away from the train station Aotocha Renfe, and where I used to live before. It was nice stepping out of the door and being right there, where the “action” was. But the area where I’m staying now is not too bad either. It has its nice little encantos, like fruit shops, bakeries, the typical local bars, a big gym, and the mall Prícipe Pío is within walking distance!

Principe Pio

Principe Pio

Transportation around here is great also. But then again, it is one of the greatest things about Spain no matter the city. It is easy to get to and from places. My nearest metro lines are 6 and 10 and they connect to pretty much all the lines. There are a number of bus lines and connections of all sorts, as well, and taxis everywhere for speedy preferences.

It’s nice to be back. I like the fact that I came back just in time for rebajas (sales) which last until the end of February in most stores of Madrid. (Check out favorite places to shop in Spain) It’s a great time to shop! Also, next week, January 19, 2013, is the Madrid Gastrofestival—a culinary festival that is celebrated every year. There will be art, food, and wine… Can’t miss it!

One thing is for sure though; I prefer Madrid in the summer. Actually, I prefer any city in the summer! I was pleased with the weather when I walked out of the airport the first day as it was much warmer than it had been in Philadelphia. But that changed quickly because the following days it got very cold. Last summer was too hot. Now it’s too cold. The good thing is that it’s still Madrid, and it’s worth it.


How to find an apartment in any city in Spain

Main room in my Ciudad Real apartment. 2011

First of all, congratulations on even thinking that you’d like to give living abroad a try! I think everyone should consider expanding their wings every once in a while. This world is so vast that staying in just one tiny place on the map would be a waste. There’s just so much to see out there…

Moving abroad may sound overwhelming and even more challenging when you don’t speak the language of the prospective country. But if I did it, so can anyone. Granted, I already had some advantages going for me: I speak Spanish and I had been to Spain.

Speaking the language helps—or more like, it’s necessary—because contracts and policies are written in Spanish. Also, the people renting the pisos tend to be retired older Spaniards, for the most part, who never learned English. You might get lucky, but that’d be very rare if the landlord spoke English. And having visited the country before moving helps because you can familiarize with the culture, the people and the way they do business.

The very first thing you need to do is figure out how long you’ll be staying in Spain. (There is a visa process if you’re staying longer than three months.) Both times I’ve lived in Spain I had a student visa, which I think is the easiest visa to get. The consulates of Spain each have their own individual website in accordance with the US state where they are, but you can look up Spain embassies and consulates here and types of visas here.

You can of course still live in Spain for a period of three months or less without a visa. The problem with this renting option is that people hardly rent under short-term contracts, especially to foreigners, and without an identification number (passport won’t work everywhere) a person can’t legally work or open a bank account in order to meet financial criteria. You’d have to find a landlord who agrees to rent without you having a bank account or documents, other than your passport, that prove your identity and that you’ll be able to pay rent.

Luckily, a lot of students and young professionals sublet. That is probably your best bet. I, for instance, found a room in the heart of Madrid for a month and I didn’t sign a single paper. Yes, verbal agreements apparently still work in Spain. Well, the tenants were Americans, but it still worked. So it’s really a matter of luck and connections sometimes. You’d be surprise at the amount of posts on social media from students who are subletting their rooms or apartments. Just do a thorough search.

Renting in Spain longer than three months?

For this you’ll need a visa first — if you want to follow the “legal” route :-)— and a bank account, and sometimes even an employment contract. In my case, I went to Spain with a job contract as an Auxiliar de Conversación (teaching assistant), but at the same time my job fell under the category of studies because this is a grant from the Department of Education of Spain. With this job contract, I was able to get an identification card (NIE), and with my NIE I was able to get a bank account. So, once I had all my paperwork in order, I was able to rent a long-term apartment.

Now, this is how I found a vivienda (home) in Spain

There are always pisos (apartments) and houses en alquiler (for rent) in Spain. Months before I moved to Ciudad Real, Spain, I spent a good amount of time searching for the best deals. There are a bunch of websites where you can get started with your search and here are the ones I recommend:

En Alquiler – this is probably the broadest site and it’s where I found my long-term furnished apartment in Ciudad Real, Castilla La-Mancha. Pisos are for rent by owners and realtors.

Idealista – this site is very popular among students because it’s very straightforward and there are a lot single rooms and homes for rent by other students and by the owners.

Fotocasa – this is another wide-ranging website with lots of options

Segundamano – at first, the name of this site scared me away—“Segunda mano” means secondhand. But I was wrong to judge. It’s a good site with not just homes for rent, but a whole lot of everything!

Ya encontré – also a big site with good leads

And though I didn’t use them, these are some Craigslist-types of sites with possible good leads: Loquo, Mundoanuncio, and the very Spain Craigslist.

A few things to consider when conducting your apartment search by location, price, type of housing, whether you want it furnished or not, and whether you’re looking for properties by the owner or by inmobiliarias (real state). If I may suggest, renting straight from the owner is generally cheaper and there’s less paperwork! Most websites I mentioned above give you the option to narrow down your search by categories.

Don’t ever, ever agree to rent a piso or to pay any money without first seeing it. After my contract was up in Ciudad Real, I was looking for a room in Madrid and I came across some creepy ads. On a teaching assistants Facebook page, students and locals advertised apartments and rooms for rent all the time. I saw one I liked a lot. I mean, this room looked clean and perfect in the picture and it was located in La Latina, a major area of Madrid, and for a very low price. So I contacted the renter and, when I went to see the room in person, it was a complete catastrophe! Actually, this is quite an understatement; it was really the most disgusting thing I had ever seen for a home!

I don’t know what the owner was thinking —was that picture even of the real place? Who knows! But the ad definitely, almost deliberately, was misleading. So watch out for weirdos and rip-offs!

The other room I found on that same page looked like it had a good-sized bed, but in person it was very small. I took this last room, but let me remind you that things aren’t always what they look like online!

Second Room I Saw, and rented, in Madrid. 2012

One last thing, don’t even bother clicking the “contact person or realtor” link when searching for housing in Spain; unless you don’t pick up that phone, you will most likely not hear back from anyone.

Hope this helps and good luck on your hunt, everyone!

Belgian beer and Saint Patrick’s Day in Madrid

I think the amount of holidays in Spain is overwhelming…in a great way. There are more Saint Days on the Spanish calendar than there are working days. I’m normally off on Mondays and some Fridays, so when a holiday falls on the days I’m already off, I’m just like oh mannnn! 🙂

I have done nothing (nothing! (sleeping is overrated, apparently) but travel, eat, drink, and travel since Thursday. Today I got back to school (normally I start my week on Tuesday) and everybody who didn’t know I had switched days kept asking if I was feeling better. Confused, I respond “yeah…” And then I say, “I was in Valencia.” Then I see the expression of sorriness on their faces slightly changing to bitterness and then they hate me for being able to have so many days off and travel to places that not even their native selves have ever been to. Ok, they don’t hate me. They think I’m very lucky…as do I.

Anyway, lots of activities this past weekend. I started last Thursday by having a “pre-celebration” of Día de la enseñanza (Teaching Day) with colleagues. We hit a few bars after school. The thing is that every Friday they get together and go out for what they call a “caña” which means going for a beer, wine, or whatever (I guess it translates to US Happy hour?). Since I almost never work on Fridays, I don’t get to hang out with them after school. They also do their happy hour in Bolaños, not in Ciudad Real. I don’t drive a car here and that’s two towns apart. But last Thursday they decided to go out in Ciudad Real and I was able to hang out. Chris was able to come, as well.

Well, we had a blast. I guess Ciudad Real is a lot more fun when you go out in groups. We started out with some tapas and drinks at a bar called Dallas. Later a table was set for us and we had a few “raciones,” small bites, and more wine. After we ate, we walked to another bar for tea and coffee, and then cocktails—well, Gin-tonic is the closest they get to a good cocktail here, which is still better than their Bloody Mary’s.

We hung out at that bar for a while. We even played some games. The Spanish teachers taught us some fun card games I had never heard of; a bit confusing but fun. Chris then showed them how to play other drinking games, including the overly played out college game “A-hole”—what a great introduction to American games! They couldn’t be more confused, but had fun. The younger three of us who didn’t want to go home then visited another bar around my piso. The bar has pool tables and a darts games (obviously not my choice). But I played and ended up beating the two guys, which is very odd because I’m very bad at these games. All in all, it was a great time.

On Saturday we left for Madrid. There weren’t available hotels in Valencia for the beginning of the weekend, and when we can’t find something in the city we want to go to, Madrid is our safe haven. But it’s always fun no matter what. It was Saint Patrick’s Day and the Irish were everywhere. Typical Irish bars in Madrid were packed, it was fun. Unfortunately, we didn’t stay at our usual Puerta del Sol little spot—this time we were rather far from the center, off the Metro Canillejas, and let’s just say that I will remember NOT to do it again. I like the energy of the city, as crazy as it gets. Besides, the metro closes at 2am and we don’t like curfews.

On Sunday we continued roaming the city and my brother suggested Cuatro Caminos. So, there we went for the first time. It is Dominican town up there; we stopped at a restaurant for some Sancocho and Tostones. There was music and dancing everywhere. Monday was also a holiday, so a lot of people were out on Sunday night. But before we wandered around in Cuatro Caminos, we had stopped at a bar called La Casa de La Cerveza in Chamberí. I am NOT a beer person, but a year or so ago my boyfriend introduced me to Belgian beer. I’ve been hooked since.

Earlier Sunday we went back to the Irish bar Dubliners in Madrid—we spotted chicken wings on the menu and went back for it. They were yummy. Somehow the conversation with the server ended in Belgian beer. Dubliners didn’t have that kind of beer, but our server suggested La casa de la cerveza.

He didn’t even know the actual name of the bar, but he told us the name of the metro (subway) we needed to take or walk to and search from there. So, Chris and I walked aimlessly for approximately 25 minutes. HA! We made it to Metro Bilbao and asked for “an Irish bar” in the area. Long story short, La casa de la cerveza was RIGHT by Metro Bilbao on Calle de Luchana. The beer menu is huge and irresistible even to a non-beer lover like me. I recommend it.

On Monday, we headed for Valencia.

Uvas and Champagne at Puerta del Sol

My first Spain post in 2012! Yay. First of all, do you want to know how hard it was to get a table at a decent restaurant in Madrid for New Year’s? We didn’t find one, that’s how hard! Most restaurants were either completely booked or closed on New Year’s Eve, and the ones that remained open and available didn’t seem too appealing. Plus, the prices were ridiculous for what they were; the “special” menus in central Madrid went from 70-195€/person. Um, do I also get a cow with that? Yeah…

Chris and I ended up just hanging around Puerta del Sol and, had I known the magnitude of this night, I would’ve booked a hotel reservation (months in advance, of course) right on that square because being down in that crowd was CRAZY.  It was fun, just a little insane. (Nothing like NYE at Time Square though.) The cops barricaded the plaza from almost all streets after 10pm, so there were only maybe two entrance points after that.

It got totally jam-packed in there quite quickly. We went out to grab something to eat and drink and by the time we came back it was pandemonium. We finally got to an open spot right in front of a pizzeria and we stayed there. We were having a great time, drinking champagne from GIANT plastic cups. The vibe was beyond incredible, and we didn’t stop talking about how much fun it would be going there with our usual group of friends. Then, the inevitable happened: I needed a restroom! Imagine being in a line where you moved one step every five minutes… Exactly. (That was the line that wrapped around Hotel Europa.)

I had to turn around after approximately 10 minutes of being stuck in the crowd and never reached my destination, it was impossible. But it’s OK, I went to the next street, Calle de la Montera, which was more accessible, and there was luckily a hotel. The front desk person was nice enough to allow me in, but on my way out I saw him locking the main door. ha ha!

Then eating the 12 grapes of luck at 12:00 came about. I just remember eating the grapes a few minutes after 12 (does that count?) because I got distracted on the phone. Well, everything happened quite fast. If there was anything other than a big crowd getting together at the plaza, drinking and having a good time, then I must have missed it.

We took the subway to Atocha afterwards and met with my brother and his friends to dance the night away at club Azucar. Again, I missed the rest of my family very much, but I had a really good time on NYE.

¡Feliz Año!

Columbus Day in Spain

Last week was quite eventful for me. As you may know, October 12 is a “special” holiday for Hispanics: Día de la HispanidadFiesta Nacional de España (Spain’s National Day or Columbus Day). But unlike U.S., Spain celebrates it on the actual day, not on the nearest Monday. Since I had off that Wednesday, I went to the Columbus Day parade in Madrid, at the Plaza de Colón and Cibeles. It was quite a spectacle.

I must say, Spaniards in Madrid really go all out to celebrate that Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas theory…

Anyway, here’s a little background history from Wikipedia:

Since 1987, Spain has celebrated the anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the Americas as its Fiesta Nacional or “National Day”.Previously Spain had celebrated the day as Día de la Hispanidad, emphasizing Spain’s ties with the Hispanidad, the international Hispanic community. In 1981 a royal decree established the Día de la Hispanidad as a national holiday. However, in 1987 the name was changed to Fiesta Nacional, and October 12 became one of two national celebrations, along with Constitution Day on December 6. Spain’s “national day” had moved around several times during the various regime changes of the 20th century; establishing it on the day of the international Columbus celebration was part of a compromise between conservatives, who wanted to emphasize the status of the monarchy and Spain’s history, and Republicans, who wanted to commemorate Spain’s burgeoning democracy with an official holiday. Since 2000, October 12 has also been Spain’s Day of the Armed Forces, celebrated each year with a military parade in Madrid. Other than this, however, the holiday is not widely or enthusiastically celebrated in Spain; there are no other large-scale patriotic parades, marches, or other events, and the observation is generally overshadowed by the feast day of Our Lady of the Pillar (Fiestas del Pilar).

While it was a relatively quick event, I thought it was well organized and somewhat entertaining. Some of the armed forces that really caught my eye were the Esquiadores (skiers), wearing white uniforms, clearly heavy camouflage backpacks and some other gears. They looked so neat and so…not happy to be carrying over 50 pounds of armaments on their backs while marching for over an hour. Oopsie. But it was beautiful. The other group that caught my eye was La Legion Española (The Spanish Legion) who every year apparently marches with a goa I thought it was funny. I’m posting the videos later on, but for now, a couple of pictures.