Tag Archives: El Rastro

Outside Madrid: Castilian Town of Avila Spain

Town walls or murallas of AvilaLocated 100 kilometers from the capital city of Madrid is the beautiful town of Avila, Spain. A hundred kilometers might seem far, but it is actually not even if you must commute to get there. It is a mere 1 1/2 hours by train and a maximum of 2 via bus, and so you can´t blame me if I add this town to my list of convenient and affordable day trip destinations.

A part of the community of Castile Laon, Avila is a charming Castilian town, serving as the capital of the province that bears the same name. And by the way, trust me when I say it´s charming. Avila´s as charming as it can be. It immediately won my heart — a pounding one at that — the minute I stepped into the town and finally gazed at the wall gates near the Iglesia of Saint Peter. What a sight to behold! The wall, or the muralla de Avila, is such an entrancing monument, and comparable to Toledo´s Alcazar or Segovia´s Acqueducto Romano.

To be in Avila is like being transported to a 16th-century Spanish town filled with cobbled roads, medieval churches, royal houses, not to mention that the ancient walls that surround it.

When it comes to the wall, a quick inspection tells you that it is in perfect condition. It should be even after all these years, as this major Spain attraction, was built to serve as a strong enclosure to protect the town from invasion. The wall singularly puts Avila in the tourism map; it certainly is the reason why people – locals and tourists – come to visit the town in droves.

The town, whose beloved saint is St. Therese of Avila, is known for its numerous iglesias. I must have encountered one everywhere I go, which is why a number of them are featured in this article, such as the Iglesia de San Pedro, standing at the  major square of San Theresa, outside the walls; the Gothic-style Cathedral of Avila; and the Basilica de San Vicente, another highly popular church that’s located outside the muralla.

Indeed, the town of Avila has so much to offer in terms of fascinating tourist sites and attractions. Here are some of them that you will surely enjoy:

The Muralla or the Town Wall

imageFacade of the town wall, which was built to serve as protection and shield of the medieval town of Avila from the attacks of the Moors.

The Walls along El Rastro

imageWalk the pathway along that part of the wall at Parque El Rastro one late afternoon, and you´ll be mesmerized.

Basilica of San Vicente

imageNo words can describe the utter grace and solemnity of the Basilica of San Vicente. The Romanesque church, a national monument since 1882, was constructed using granite rocks. Also known as the Basilica of Saints Vicente, Sabina and Cristeta, it is one of the top church sites among tourists, and second only to the town´s Cathedral in popularity.

Church of Saint Peter

Iglesia de San Pedro, Avila, SpainThe photo shows the side gate to the Church of Saint Peter or La Iglesia de San Pedro. Notice the intricacy in the designs of its door, stone column, and arch components. Declared a monument of cultural interest in 1914, the church is located on one end of the Plaza de Santa Teresa de Jesus.

The Cathedral of Avila

imageKnown as the Catedral del Salvador de Avila, both Romanesque and Gothic designs were applied during its construction. The cathedral holds the distinction of being the first Gothic church to be built in the country. Its apse is a part of the muralla, and is considered as the most important turret of that section of the wall.

Convento de San Jose o de los Madres

imageBuilt in the beginning of the 1500’s, Convento de San Jose served as a convent for the Carmelite nuns of the town. It was declared a historical site and national monument in 1968.

The Town Ayuntamiento

imageWhile average in height and appearance, the beauty of the Ayuntamiento of the City Hall of Avila cannot be denied especially when its facade is lit up in the evening. The historic town hall, together with other establishments, enhance the beauty of the square, Plaza Mercado Chico.

Iglesia de Santiago

imageLa Iglesia Parroquial de Santiago is a breathtaking Avilan church that displays both Roman and Gothic styles. Thanks to its octagon-sided bell tower, Iglesia de Santiago is recognizable even when viewed from the distant mirador at Parque El Rastro.  The church was declared a monument of cultural interest on the 13th of April, 1983.

Plaza de Santa Teresa de Jesus

imagePlaza de Santa Teresa is also known as El Grande, and is one of the two recognized main squares of the town, the other being the Plaza Mercado Chico, found within the walls and home to the city hall. In the photo, the statue of the Monument to St. Therese faces the Puerto de Alcazar, one of the Wall Gates.

Yemas – Los Pasteles Traditionales de Avila

imageAvila can be dubbed as the town of delicious sweets and pastries, with the yema as its traditional Spanish food delicacy. I bought a box of 6 piece at Chuchi, one of the popular pastelerias around and enjoyed some of the best-tasting sweets I must have had in a long time. Most shops sell them at 6 pieces for 2.50 euros, and 4.50 to 5 euros for a box of 12.

More Avila sites and scenes

imageWith its yemas and other delicious sweets, Avila wins the title of ¨Spain´s Pastry town”
imageFrom the mirador, or the viewing balcony of the Parque de Rastro, you will be enthralled by the breathtaking view of the Ambles valley and all else that your eyes can see as everything is illuminated by the soft glow from the setting sun.
imageStatue of St. Therese de Avila with bountiful offerings of bouquets of flowers
imageBeautifully lit and animated fountain inside the courtyard complements the walls in adding mysticism to the surroundings
imageAs the sun’s rays kiss the orange granite stones of which the wall is made of, it magically turns golden

imageWhat an exciting day trip destination Avila is! I’ve seen so much, but there is more to explore — more churches, more sections of the muralla, and more truly spectacular views from atop this town wall (if you access it). Needless to say, much can be explored and discovered in Avila. It is not surprising that people who’ve been there would love to do a second visit. I myself is planning one, definitely soon.

Want to Enjoy a tour of the Wall?

Accessible tramos or sections to the public: Casa de Carnicerias, Puerta del Alcazar, Arco del Carmen and Puente Adaja

Entrance Fee: General Price is 5 euros; Reduced Price is 3.5 euros

Free entry: Tuesdays, from 2PM to 4PM

How I traveled to Avila, Spain:

One can reach the town via Renfe (train) or by bus. I opted for the latter, as always, as I find it convenient and less “invasive” compared to the train. Albeit, bus ride do take more off your time.

1. Via Autobus:

In Madrid, take the Metro station Linea 6 and get off at Mendez Alvaro. This station is found inside the Estacion Sur, the biggest and the busiest bus station in the city. If you’re in the vicinity of Atocha, take the EMT autobus 10 and alight at the Avenida Ciudad Barcelona – Pacifico parada, near the Pacifico Metro. Ride the train at this station, and get off at the next one, which is Mendez Alvaro.

I opted for the Jimenez Dorado bus, which arrived and departed on time. A plus: They offer video and music playing gadget in front of your seat. Too bad I didn’t bring my earphone.A one-way ticket to Avila Spain is around 7.50 euro, but if you buy an ida y vuelta (round trip) ticket, you´d spend less, at 13.61 euros. Be advised that tickets are not sold on the bus, but at the Estacion Sur ticketing counter. I made the mistake of falling in line at the darsena (platform) for nearly an hour only to be refused. After acquiring tickets from the counter, I had to wait for another two hours for the next scheduled trip.

Other Bus Companies offering trips: Avanza bus Company is also found in Estacion Sur. Visit its website for prices and bus schedules.

2. Via Train:

RENFE have regular trips to Avila. Please check costs and schedules on its official website.

Map:

Let’s All Partake Some Fish: Bar Santurce and Its Grilled Sardines

Did you know that sardines is at the bottom of the food chain of the marine kingdom? It is always the hapless prey, in other words. No wonder sad and lowly is how some describe this particular fish, a kilo of which couldn’t even fetch more than a few euros at Madrid mercados like Tetuan and Maravillas.

Just nonsense. Sardines is certainly not sad and lowly, I must retort. The fact is that if you grill it right (assuming you want to do it yourself), you have a very tasty meal. This is what Bar Santurce at El Rastro has been doing all this time – serving deliciously grilled sardines to the sheer delight of its diners.

image

It’s ironic that I am an avowed fish lover, but I have yet to make an effort to know any restaurant in Madrid that serves fish as tapas or platos prinicipales. There must be tons in the city but I haven’t done any serious rounds. So far, the restaurantes I tried mostly specialize in meat dishes.

So, dining at Bar Santurce last Sunday was something new.

Actually, I learned about the place by accident last year, when I visited El Rastro’s flea market and wandered off to General Vara del Rey. It’s nothing fancy, which must be why prices are inexpensive. Still, it is hugely popular due to its reputation for serving some of the tastiest grilled sardines and sea foods in the area. I thought I must have a taste of what it offers.

(Why the love for sardines? For one thing, it tastes great, maybe because of all the fats that it has, a quality of the herring species. Sardines somehow doesn’t leave any nasty aftertaste unlike others, or at least the typical fishy flavor that makes people shun fish in the first place. Another reason is its massive nutritional value. Go sardines, and you get the necessary quantity of omega 3 and oils that are good for the heart. Thirdly, pair it with baguette and this combination becomes a delectable non-rice meal anyone can enjoy.)

It was a Sunday and so as expected, the place was full. Tourists, locals, out-of-towners – all were dining, drinking, and chit-chatting. The floor was littered with paper napkins, and bottles were everywhere. Kind of chaotic, I thought, as I was half-amused, half-stupefied by the scene. The smallness of the place only magnifies it further. I proceeded to the bar. Eager to see how the fish was cooked, I took the empty space nearest the griddle.

“Una racion de sardinas,”I gave my order to the cook, who nodded as he continued to lay the fish neatly on the hot metal plate. Within minutes, the fish changed their color from glimmering whitish silver to something of a darker hue, a signal that they are ready to be served. All the cooking created white smoke, which I thought smelled strong but not offensive. What’s certain was that it only made me hungrier.

Finally, the cook put my sardines on my plate, sprinkled some sea salt, and uttered a rushed “Buen Provecho” as he handed it to me. My bocadillo de calamares came shortly afterwards.

imageSardinas, grilled and sprinkled with liberal amounts of salt (sea salt I suppose)

Darn, it was a beautiful row that almost covered the plate. Excitedly, I finished a piece in seconds, then another, and then another, stopping only to lick my fingers or use the napkin to wipe off the oil from my hands. I continued to gobble on my meal, eating it like how you eat a corn on a cob. The other pieces, I just picked the fish meat from the bones as the latter stayed on the plate.

All this while I “dealt” with my squid sandwich at the same time. I ate until everything was gone.

While was famished when I came, minutes later I was so full I felt like I was ready for a year-long hibernation.

I’m done! Hasta la proxima, Bar Santurce!

Well, this “next time” happened to be last Tuesday.

I thought last Sunday was enough, and it satisfied my craving for fish. I thought that was the end of that, and that I couldn’t eat no more. But just a few hours later, I was wishing I had some more. This prompted me to plan another visit.

So I was back two days later, only to be surprised that the bar had no diners. Somehow, I was expecting it because I came at around 3:30PM, and the place was about to close. When I asked the cook about it, he said weekdays are slack days for most restaurants in the area as few people would visit or even pass through El Rastro.

Anyway, that Tuesday was better since I had some gambas and green peppers.  Media racion of sardinas, gambas and peppers – these are some of Santurce’s great stuff. Instead of bocadillo, I settled for a trozo of baguette. All this for a little over 10 euro – it’s such a delicious, healthy meal at an affordable price. Omega and calcium from sardines and gambas, fibre and Vitamin C from green peppers – who would protest that it isn’t?

imageI asked for just a half-order of deep-fried Gambas, and discovered they are great with bread

imagePicante? No. Delicioso? Absolutamente! Coma pimientos de padron con las sardinas. The bar recommends fried green peppers with sardines to make for a more delectable meal

image

Here’s a few tips I want to share if you plan to dine at Santurce:

1. If you’re happy dining with crowds, go on a Sunday when there is a constant flow of customers during most of its business hours (9am to 4PM). Otherwise, skip sure weekend riot and choose any other day of the week instead, including Saturday. The bar is closed on Mondays.

2. Fish are served on white plates – and with nothing else. And so, diners are expected to dig in with their bare hands. For those who wouldn’t dare have their “dainty, little fingers” all oiled and dirtied, cutlery is available upon request.

3. Sardines holds its own as far as taste is concerned. I don’t know about other grilled fish lovers but for me, sardines when grilled is just everything that I could ever want – and then some. Whether it is grilled plain or sprinkled with lemon – it is just pure heaven. Like they say – small in size, big in taste.

Now having said that, remember that sea foods commonly cause allergy. Never compromise health. Before you indulge or even have your first bite, be sure to know your allergies.

4. Blatant taking of pictures is frowned upon by the staff. They will not be shy to call your attention especially if you’re taking shots of other diners. Albeit, if you train your digital camera or cam phone on your own food or the menu on the wall, this is generally fine by them. Just ask for permission, and hope for a positive response.

5.Dishes are so inexpensive, and what’s more, you can order media racion, meaning half an order. The best thing to do is to dine in groups and share everything that’s on the menu.

imageBar Santurce on a Tuesday! Had it all for myself that afternoon 

Where: Plaza Gen. Vara del Rey, 28005, Madrid (at El Rastro)

Hours: 9Am to 4PM (Sundays) 12Noon to 4PM (Saturdays and Weekdays except Mondays) Its website says they’re also open Thursday to Saturday evenings, from 7.30PM to 10.30PM. 

Call them before you visit, at 646238303.

Roaming the Trails of El Rastro, Madrid’s Flea Market

I resolved to do something before 2014 ends, and it is to see that immensely popular flea market just south of Plaza Mayor.

And since it's the last Sunday of the year, I had no choice but to go to Madrid's El Rastro - and this, I'm finally doing!

Upon learning about my plan, friends told me to be prepared to see great sights and enjoy some shopping (haggling is more like it).

La Caridad se Compadece delos Pobres at  Plaza de Campillo Mundo Nuevo. Where you can take some rest and have lunch after a tour of El Rastro. You can reach the plaza via Ribera de Curtidores, turning right at Calle Mira del Sol
La Caridad se Compadece delos Pobres at Plaza Campillo del Mundo Nuevo, where you may take some rest and have lunch after a tour of Rastro. The Plaza can be reached via Ribera de Curtidores, turning right at Calle Mira del Sol

I was also told to brace myself for the thick crowd, which is to be expected since Rastro is just a once-a-week affair.

Of course, shops are open everyday, but stalls are only allowed by the Municipality to set up on the streets during Sundays, starting at 9PM until 2 or 3PM.

Cold Rastro Sunday it turned out

Sunday's overcast skies and presence of strong winds since early morning was a surprise because the previous two weeks had been clear and sunny. Fearing rain would follow in the afternoon, I thought I had to rush my way to El Rastro.

Luckily, the sky somewhat cleared up.

The wind, however, was relentless in blowing away fallen dried leaves to all directions, scattering them to the sides and corners of buildings, sidewalks, and streets.

The elements were evidently harsher than usual, with the temperature dropping wintry low. The weather was getting colder, more severe as the days pass, and this afternoon was no different. I was beginning to think that it wasn't the perfect time to go there.

Still, I went through with my plan, since the flea market happens only once a week, and I've been dying to see it in the first place.

I hurried to the autobus station, took the number 51 ride to Puerta del Sol. My walk started at Calle de Alcala, went through Plaza Mayor and took the Calle de Toledo route. I knew I was near the place when I passed by La Latina Metro.

Plaza de Cascorro

Finally, I reached one of the main areas of the flea market - Plaza de Cascorro.

Eloy Gonzalo - Hero of Cascorro
Eloy Gonzalo - Hero of Cascorro

I immediately got excited upon seeing countless stalls located all over the place. While used and new clothing were predominantly sold, a wide variety of items are found here as well - from worthless bric-a-brac to really useful ones.

In the middle of Plaza de Cascorro is the monument of Eloy Gonzalo, a Spanish soldier who bravely fought during Spain's historic war against Cuba. The Hero of Cascorro, Gonzalo is highly regarded and well-loved in Spain.

Ribera de Curtidores - Trail of blood

Another vital section of the flea market is Ribera de Curtidores. It is lined with trees on both sides, seemingly sheltering the stalls that fill up its length.

No space, apparently, is gone unused. Jeans, shirts, toys, mobile phone accessories, kitchen and home wares - anything that you can think of must be sold around here.

A card with the name and photo of the owner, serving as proof of permit from the authorities, is posted at a conspicuous part of the stall.

Literally means riverside of the tanners, Ribera used to be where tanneries were located. Dragging slaughtered cattle to the tanneries caused a trail of blood to be left in the streets, hence the name El Rastro, or the trail.

What you're staring at might be worth a fortune

You can be certain that you'll get your money's worth at Rastro if you fancy used items. You just need to be meticulous before you pay for anything. Take your time when checking an item's condition and quality to ensure that you'll enjoy a good buy.

Those with a keen eye and good knowledge of antiques and rarities (and lots of patience, too) will realize that Rastro is a veritable goldmine.

Be ready to unearth antique "gems" at Rastro
Be ready to unearth antique "gems" at Rastro

There had been stories of individuals stumbling upon finds such as an antique furniture, or a hundred-year old dusty painting which, unknown to the seller, commands a high price.

Generally, Rastro is the place to go to if you're in the hunt for items at affordable prices. Be prepared to negotiate to enjoy substantial markdown in prices, especially if you encounter a seller willing to give in just to make a sale.

Whether you haggle or not, prices at Rastro are low. Used appliances, clothes, accessories, art items, antiquities, pots and pans, and books - they are significantly cheaper than items sold in regular stores.

A variety of wares are being sold every  sunday afternoon at Plaza Vara de Ray
A variety of wares are being sold every sunday afternoon at Plaza Vara de Ray
Sold in this corner of Plaza del General Varra de Rey are shisha or hookah, and various flavored tobaccos
Sold in this corner of Plaza del General Varra de Rey are shisha or hookah, and various flavored tobaccos

Gen Vara de Rey is where you should go in case you have a need for colorful tapestries
Gen Vara de Rey is where you should go in case you have a need for colorful tapestries
Cuadrosguapos.com, seller of funny, movie, and classic posters. This store located at Calle Carlos Arniches also offers reproduction or replicas of famous art items
Cuadrosguapos.com, seller of funny, movie, and classic posters. This store also offers reproduction or replicas of famous art items. Located at Calle Carlos Arniches

The seller lays down and sell whatever he could - magazines, a few dolls, a pair of shoes, metal pot, among other. Lcated at Calle de Carlos Arniche
The seller lays down and sells whatever he can - magazines, a few dolls, a pair of shoes, metal pot, among other. Along Calle Carlos Arniches
Not only clothing items...
Not only clothing items...
but vinyl records, CDs, and DVDs...
but vinyl records, CDs, and DVDs...
brown, pink, and gray clay pigs of various sizes...
brown, pink, and gray clay pigs of various sizes...
and Chinese Antique wares are sold along Ribera de Curtidores, most frequented street in Rastro
and Chinese Antique wares are sold along Ribera de Curtidores, most frequented street in Rastro

Was I able to buy anything? No, but I did enjoy seeing the place. El Rastro is such a unique and fascinating flea market that I visited as many important calles and plazas as possible.

In my next visit, I'll definitely haggle hard with my Espanol vendedor; that is, if I already have a better Spanish conversation skill in tow.