Saturday, 28 June 2014

On living in Madrid's Little Caribbean (and how to compliment like a Dominican)

Telling people I live near Cuatro Caminos gets mixed reactions. Sometimes it's simply 'I don't know where that is' or a non-committal 'Oh right'. I've had the occasional fond reminiscence from former residents of the area, but quite often people don't seem to understand my choice of postcode. It's true Cuatro Caminos isn't hip and trendy like Malasaña, vibrant like Huertas or stately like Chamberí. It's a low-rise tangle of streets in north-west Madrid inhabited largely by Latin American immigrants and older Spaniards. Since 2013 it's also been home to a rather conspicuous-looking blonde Brit, who for some reason feels much more at ease in this working-class corner of Madrid than she ever did in Chamberí. It may not be scenic, it may have nothing of interest to visitors and I may have to sidestep dog poo and discarded shoes more than once on my walk to work, but I've grown very fond of my barrio.

Cuatro Caminos: A hive of positivity. What's not to love?

My main objective when moving back to Madrid was to find a flat within walking distance of my office. Some people would rather base their address on other factors than a commute, but taking the Metro in the morning isn't for me. This particular corner of Cuatro Caminos – close to Alvarado – wasn't really on my radar. On my way to view my flat for the first time, I realised I stood out quite a bit from the area's other residents. Stepping into a light-filled apartment with more metres squared for my money than any others I'd seen, I was more than happy to make this unknown neighbourhood my home. After all, it's well-connected, with plenty of shops and services on my doorstep – and it's cheap. It's a residential area, but it's not exactly sleepy: a few streets away is the 'Little Caribbean', El País's name for the area that's home to the biggest Dominican community in Madrid. It's well-documented that the Spanish love to be outside, with the evening paseo and bata-clad abuelas on the doorstep a common sight in towns around the country. Well, they've got nothing on the Dominicans.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Madrid Monday: My Madrid

Madrid Monday is a new series of posts about the Spanish capital. I'll be reviewing restaurants and bars, and writing about tourist attractions, cultural events and more. If you have any requests, just leave me a comment.

Today's Madrid Monday post is a bit of a cheat. I'm inviting you to head on over to Madrid Food Tour's website, where I feature in their 'My Madrid' series. Founded by blogger Lauren Aloise of Spanish Sabores in 2012, Madrid Food Tour is helping visitors to get the most out of Madrid's culinary scene by offering different tours concentrating on key aspects of dining in Spain, from market-fresh produce to tapas taken with a vermouth while propped up by the bar. I was recently invited on one of their tours, which will be featuring on Tales of a Brit Abroad soon.

This guy is definitely part of my Madrid

In addition to offering tours, Madrid Food Tour has a comprehensive website including dining recommendations and a blog with advice for visitors to Madrid. The 'My Madrid' series of posts features Spain bloggers' thoughts and opinions on the city, including their favourite places to drink, eat (of course), relax and party. Other bloggers who have featured include Madrid residents Cassandra of Gee, Cassandra, Kaley of Kaley... & Más, Courtney of Adelante and well-known Spain bloggers Cat of Sunshine & Siestas and Jessica of Barcelona Blonde. I joined them last week, so follow this link to read the story of how I came to live in Madrid and find out a few of my favourite places in the city.

Monday, 16 June 2014

Madrid Monday: Outlet shopping

Madrid Monday is a new series of posts about the Spanish capital. I'll be reviewing restaurants and bars, and writing about tourist attractions, cultural events and more. If you have any requests, just leave me a comment.

If you need a bargain shopping fix in Madrid outside the strict Spanish sales windows (January and July), try one of the city's two outlets, The Style Outlets and Las Rozas Village, which offer cut-price designer and high-street clothes and homewares year-round. The catch? They're both out in the suburbs. Thankfully they're also accessible by public transport, but it's best to put aside at least half a day if you want to do some serious

Shopping at Las Rozas Village

The Style Outlets, San Sebastián de los Reyes
The Style Outlets is a shopping centre in San Sebastián de los Reyes containing 120 stores. There's a mixture of high-street and designer shops here, with names ranging from Benetton to Bimba y Lola. There are plenty of women's clothes shops, including Mango and Nice Things, plus unisex retailers like Desigual, Pull & Bear, Pepe Jeans and Massimo Dutti. There are also a few sportswear shops, including Nike and Under Armour. It's fair to see that most shops are high-street rather than high-end, but the reductions at more pricey shops like Hugo Boss and Guess make it worth a visit if you don't want to pay full price. There's more than just clothing, though: there are also a couple of homewares stores, accessories shops, shoe retailers and some cosmetics stores (although the reductions here are less significant). If you're looking for some summer swimwear and can't wait for the sales, there are big discounts on last season's bikinis and swimsuits at Calzedonia.

Top pick: Bimba y Lola. The reductions on past seasons of women's clothing and leather goods are significant, especially on their beautifully-designed handbags.
How to get there: Take the metro (line 10) to Hospital Infanta Sofia. It's in zone B1, so tickets cost €3.50 and you have to change trains at Tres Olivos. It's open daily.
Top tip: Don't go hungry - there's only a simple cafe in The Style Outlets, and the choices at the nearby shopping centre are pretty poor chain restaurants and fast-food outlets.

Las Rozas Village, Las Rozas
Las Rozas Village is part of a worldwide group of designer outlet villages, including Bicester Village in Oxfordshire and Kildare Village near Dublin. It has a more luxe feel than The Style Outlets, and is designed to feel like a chichi town centre as opposed to a mall. The brands on offer here are also more upmarket, with designer names such as Armani, Belstaff, Burberry, Michael Kors and more. There are also plenty of homegrown designers represented here, including Carolina Herrera and Loewe. As there are more big-name brands here, prices aren't as low as at The Style Outlets, where sub-€10 clothing items are normal at some stores, but if you've saved up and want some cut-price luxury goods, this is the place for you. In addition to clothing, accessories and leather goods, you'll find wedding and bridesmaids dresses, skiwear and homewares.

Top pick: Spanish brands such as Carolina Herrera, Desigual and El Ganso for locally-designed bargains.
How to get there: You can either take the Cercanias trains to El Pinar de Las Rozas (3km from the village) or take 'The Shopping Express', the coach laid on by Las Rozas Village which departs from Madrid 3 times a day and costs €16 return. Everyone who takes the coach also receives a VIP card for further shopping discounts. Open daily.
Top tip: Sundays are quieter, so if you want more space to peruse, it's a better choice than Saturday.

Photo from

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Brunch in Madrid: Carmencita Bar

In part 4 of #BrunchChallenge, I try the international menu at cosy Carmencita Bar in Malasaña.

Carmencita Bar is a cute little cafe-bar at the Noviciado end of Calle San Vicente Ferrer, simply decorated with white walls and mismatched tables and chairs in classic Malasaña style. It's certainly petite, with a few high tables and some bar space in addition to tables for two and small groups.

Visiting around 12.30 on a Sunday, there was one table free for brunch (they take reservations). The short menu is translated into English, an international gesture that's explained by the fact that around half the customers seemed to be American or English. The menu was as varied as the clientele, with 6 options including the bizarrely-named 'Bunny plate' (eggs benedict served with salmon, avocado and crispy bacon, €10.50. And no, I have no idea what that has to do with rabbits either), French toast with scrambled eggs and bacon  and huevos rancheros with black beans (both €8.50). You definitely need to bring your appetite to Carmencita. There's nothing light about the menu; you'll find no granola and berries here. The particularly hungry can order the fixed brunch menu for €14, which includes eggs benedict with salmon, avocado or crispy bacon, home fried, hash browns or salad, the dessert of the day, a Mimosa and a coffee. Carmencita's usual range of burgers (no veggie option) are also on offer at brunch time.

Mushroom revuelto, hiding under the home fries

Monday, 9 June 2014

Madrid Monday: Restaurants for vegetarians

Madrid Monday is a new series of posts about the Spanish capital. I'll be reviewing restaurants and bars, and writing about tourist attractions, cultural events and more. If you have any requests, just leave me a comment.

Meat is part of Spanish culture. It's not just part of the diet: jamón is practically part of the national psyche (and not eating it is utterly incomprehensible). Living in or visiting Spain can definitely prove challenging for non-meat eaters, but if you're armed with the right information, you'll manage to survive (and hopefully not solely on a diet of potatoes). For more details on what to order and how to avoid 'surprise' jamón, see this post about being a vegetarian in Spain.

As a cosmopolitan city, Madrid has more vegetarian and vegetarian-friendly restaurants than most. However, traditional restaurants abound, particularly outside the city centre. While pescetarians will almost always find something to suit them, vegetarians have it a little more difficult. Here are a few recommendations for those who don't eat meat, including plenty that will also appeal to their carnivorous fellow-diners.

Sala de Despiece: suitable for vegetarians. The asparagus confirms it.

Burrata & raf tomatoes at Sala de Despiece

Read on for my recommendations of restaurants and tapas bars in Madrid.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Visiting the Costa Brava: Cadaqués

In part 2 of my trip to the Costa Brava, I visit Cadaqués. You can read part 1, about Port de la Selva, here.

If Port de la Selva is laid-back and low profile, Cadaqués is its glossier, more popular neighbour. It's all relative though: this white-washed beachside town is no Monaco. Cadaqués isn't ritzy and glitzy; nor is it over-crowded – but its pin is more firmly in the international tourist map thanks to its most famous former resident, Salvador Dalí.

Salvador Dalí's former home in Portlligat
The artist actually lived around the bay from Cadaqués in the hamlet of Portlligat. Even the term 'hamlet' doesn't quite capture the petite proportions of the place: it's nothing more than a cluster of buildings and chiringuitos huddled around a pebble beach. The most prominent building is, of course, Dalí's former residence. Now open to the public (tickets cost €11 and must be bought in advance, you can do so here), Dalí and his wife Gala lived there for 50 years, until Gala's death in 1982. During that time, their home expanded from simple fisherman's hut to the rambling complex of rooms that remains today. I began my visit to Cadaques with a visit there, and was surprised at how much the private side of Spain's most flamboyant son the building still reveals over 30 years after his departure. As you'd expect, eccentricity is very much in evidence, from the stuffed bear-cum-umbrella stand in the entrance hall to the penis-shaped swimming pool, but a much more intimate glimpse into the couple's life is afforded through this guided visit. I learnt that Dalí had carefully positioned a mirror in his bedroom so that he could awake to beautiful bay views without needing to stir from his bed; that he rigged up a complicated contraption that allowed him to paint while seated; that he was a collector of bizarre knick-knacks and trinkets. For a full account of my visit, you can read my article on the Travel Belles website here.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Madrid Monday: Bar Galleta, the new restaurant on the block

This is the first installment of a new feature on Tales of a Brit Abroad: Madrid Monday. Each Monday, I'll bring you a new post about the Spanish capital. I'll be reviewing restaurants and bars, and writing about tourist attractions, cultural events and more. If you have any requests, just leave me a comment.

If you're looking for the hippest spots in Madrid, you'll find them around semi-scruffy, up and coming Triball. An area that's only been placed on the map since its 'christening' a few years ago, this corner of Malasana encompassing Calles Corredera Baja de San Pablo, Pez, Valverde and Ballesta was once better known for ladies of the night than hot night-time hangouts. These days, it's Madrid's version of hipster heaven: plenty of checked shirts and beards, but little of the pretension and posing you'd find in London's equivalent areas. Since the creation of Triball, bars, restaurants and quirky boutiques began opening their doors, and these days it's one of my favourite areas of Madrid for a dinner or a drink.

The latest offering in this hip 'hood is Bar Galleta, a restaurant which opened its doors just over two weeks ago. Situated on Corredera Baja de San Pablo, it faces competition from the excellent Clarita and Maricastaña, two spots which seem fairly similar at first glance. Large glass-windowed frontage and inconspicuous signage? Check. Chic decor made homely with fresh flowers on the tables? Check. A menu of modern Spanish/European food? Check again. So what differentiates Bar Galleta from its neighbours? Well, obviously I had to visit and verify.

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