Tag Archives: Lavapies

All Roads Lead to the Pradera: Las Fiestas de San Isidro

The official festival of the city is the Fiestas de San Isidro. From May 12 to 16, everyone in Madrid is a witness to what is touted as one of the liveliest, most colorful, and most attended festivities in the city. Yes, it’s a four-day long affair, albeit the 15th is when most of the activities that matter happen, at the place where you will find the shrine of city’s Patron saint – the Pradera de San Isidro. At the vastness of this parque is where chotis is danced the whole day long, performances are held, and thousands arrive to pay homage to Madrid’s beloved saint. The wide, winding stretches of streets around the fields sell Madrileno cocido as well as clavels (carnations), berets, complete sets of chulapas, Castizo souvenirs – just about anything associated with the fiestas.

Where is the Parque de San Isidro?

The Parque, or the Pradera (which means grassland or meadow), is found along Paseo de la Ermita del Santo. It is a wide expanse of land just beside the famous Manzanares River; hence, it’s impossible for you to miss it. How to go? If you’re taking the Metro at Valdeacederas (nearest station to where I live), ride Line 1, and get off at Gran Via station. If you’re coming from Plaza Castilla, take the Line 10 ride to Alonzo Martinez. From there, transfer to line 5 and get off at Marquez de Vadillo. Tread the Calle de General Ricardos, then turn right upon reaching the first corner, at Paseo del Quince de Mayo. Walk the length of this street until you reach the Ermita de San Isidro, the shrine of the patron saint.

What happens at the Pradera?

It was here where the journey of pilgrims to the pradera happened after the saint’s death. The pilgrimage was a major, historic event that it became the subject of one of Francisco Goya’s painting, A Pilgrimage to San Isidro. For four days, the park is transformed into a huge venue offering various activities that everyone can watch, participate and enjoy. It’s quite a huge place, and so probably anyone in Madrid who wants to go there can be accommodated. Entrance, of course, is free. People are expected to wear chulapa costumes, set up their picnic cloth onto the ground to eat traditional Spanish comida (paella, jamon, rosquillos, bocadillos, watch various performances, and dance the hours away. By mid-morning of May 15, everyone is treated to an exciting parade of gigantes, including that of San Isidro and his wife, Santa Maria de la Cabesa.  A lavish display of fireworks is scheduled at midnight of May 16; this signals the end of the festivities.

Celebration all around the city

By the time this article goes online (probably tomorrow), the fiestas will have ended. Today, May 16, the celebration is almost finished, and whole city must be exhausted from all that had transpired so far. Remember that it is a Madrid-wide event, and so while the Parque de San Isidro was the focal point of the fiesta, other areas of the city also participated in the festivities. For instance, the streets of Plaza del Sol and Gran Via were treated to the Parada de Gigantes. Plaza Mayor, on the other hand, was host to the festival of Madrileno dances. Lavapies was the venue to the performances of various bohemian and blues bands. At Templo de Debod, visitors enjoyed concerts on classical music. Those inclined in arts and crafts were able to see the exhibit at Plaza de Las Comendadoras at Plaza Espana, which featured an extensive collection of Spanish ceramic pieces.

Bullfight season

The fiesta coincides with the bullfighting season, which is during the months of May and June. For many, the bullfights add further to the excitement of the festivities. Undoubtedly, Madrid’s bullfighters are known to be the best in the world. By May, however, tickets for the Las Ventas stadium where top-seeded bullfights are held become more difficult to obtain. Hence, it is advisable to get them during off-season.

Few Facts about the beloved Saint

  • San Isidro is not only patron saint of Madrid, but also that of the farmers.
  • A miracle attributed to him involved saving his son who fell on a well. Another account tells about him creating a spring just by plowing the ground. Later, the water that originated from the spring supposedly healed and saved lives.
  • His complete name is San Isidro Labrador, which means Isidore the Laborer, or Isidore the Farm worker.
  • He was born in Madrid in 1070, died in 1130, and canonized as a Saint in 1622, some 492 years after his death.
  • Aside from Spain, the Feast of St Isidore is celebrated in many other countries around the world, including the United States, the date of commemoration of which is either May 15 or March 22, depending on the state. In Catholic Philippines, St. Isidro Labrador is also honored as the Patron saint of farmers.

image I was running late, and so was worried that I might miss the Gigantes parade scheduled at 10AM. I wasn’t sure if I was going the right way, even with the Madrid Metro App and all.  Good thing I encountered these two comely senoras at Grand Via Station, and was relieved when I learned that they were also headed to the Park of Sn Isidro. I wasn’t lost after all. Donning the complete traditional Castizo dresses, they were gracious enough to allow me to take their picture

imageThe amiable gigante and his mini-me wearing identical chulapo, which consists of a checkered cap or beret, waistcoat, and a bright red carnation on his breast pocket. Chulapo is derived from the word chulo, the meaning of which is not quite clear to me. Some websites use chulo to denote a pimp or cheat,  while others define it as  hot and smartly dressed. The Parada de los Gigantes of May 15 started at the corner of Paseo de Quince de Mayo
image Food stalls doing business along the streets surrounding the park of St Isidro. Here is where you can find paella, Grilled pork, salchichon, bocadillos, rosquillas, pulpo, Madrileno cocidos, and other traditional food stuff served during major Madrid festivities
image Paella is one of the popular dishes or “cocidos” sold at the park. The large wok at the photo is filled with shellfish, pulpo, eggs, and other meat ingredients commonly used for paella. The rice or arroz is yet to be addedimageAubergines or baby eggplant, which according to the food seller, is pickled in vinegar, cumin, and olive oil, with some garlic and salt added to taste. It is usually stuffed with sweet red bell pepper

image Pickled stuffed olives wrapped in anchovies are skewered onto barbeque sticks to keep everything (olive and fish) together imageRosquillos de San Isidro – Spain’s version of the donut. These traditional pastries are sold aplenty during the month of May. The most common types are listas and tontas; the former is covered with deliciously sweet fondant, while the latter is baked without any outer sweetened covering image Couples garbed in chulapos perform a traditional dance called the Chotis. The dance was originally Scottish, but was embraced by the Spaniards as their own imagePerformers momentarily rest and enjoy some laughs after a dance performance. Here in Quince de Mayo, just in front of Ermita de San Isidro, some of the most lusty and engaging chotis dances were performed image Like how history happened when the pilgrims went to the hermitage to attend mass and pay homage to San Isidro, I joined many others who visited the shrine at the Paseo de Quince de Mayo to kiss on the saint’s remains

imageI had the opportunity to kiss the reliquary, or the small container holding the remains of San Isidro

imageI rue missing the gigantes parade at Central Madrid (Plaza Mayor, Gran Via) as they were supposedly joined by more characters. The parade at Pradera, of course, was no less interesting. People followed the gigantes of four as they walk the streets of San Isidro. Here, you can see the crowd milling around themimageThe gigantes couples face each other and start to dance the chotis, to the glee of spectatorsimagePerformer dons the costume of a zaldiko, the Basque term for horse

imageThe kiliki, like the gigante, is a popular character of the San Isidro Fiesta. He holds a whip with a foam rock at the end, which he uses to punish erring childrenimage A Latino guitarist performs a traditional Castizo musical piece together with his twin puppets, a fun performance immensely enjoyed by the kids at the park image This is what I only managed to take a shot of – since I was late for the pyrotechnics show. I arrived a good 10 minutes after the final song that accompanied the pyrotechnics display was through. Still, the illuminated Alfonso XII monument and the Retiro lake were a sight to behold.  Along with many other revelers, I decided to stay a few more minutes to enjoy the mesmerizing view until the lights were turned offimageThis Madrileno family, complete with cool sunglasses and chulapo costumes sit upon their chosen spot at the Pradera  near the Ermita de San Isidro.  The gathering together of families at the meadows is a tradition  that has been observed over the years
imagePeople sit on the meadows near the shrine as they wait for the start of the midday mass
image In keeping with the tradition, a open-air midday mass is celebrated at the Paseo de la Ermita del Santo

image The bust of Goya stands at the entrance of the park. One of the greatest Spanish artists ever, he preserved his memory of the San Isidro meadows through his immortal paintings, The Pilgrimage of Sn Isidro and The Meadow of San Isidro, both of which are on display at Museo del Prado

La pradera de San Isidro de Goya This painting offers a lush and vivid telling of the celebration of the feast of San Isidro happening at the park by the Manzanares River. A beautiful masterpiece by Francisco Goya (Source: Public Domain, Francisco Goya, Wikimedia Commons)
image A few blocks from the La Latina, at Plaza de San Andres, is The Museo de San Isidro. Here is where the saint spent his last days. The museum boasts of collections that date back from prehistoric times of Madrid up to its development as a modern city

Cafe Melo’s Bar: Where the Tastiest Zapatillas are Served

Por fin! I finally dined at Café Melo’s Bar – that small, unassuming restaurant in Barrio Lavapies with zapatillas, croquetas, empanadillas, queso and green peppers as specialties. Take your pick – everything’s darn great. Did I already mention zapatilla? This particular Spanish food must be the singular reason why lines of customers form outside the café at the start of 8PM, or even way before, actually.

imageIts space is quite limited I’m guessing 20 customers, more or less, can get it packed easy. Such a downside, however, doesn’t seem to deter people a bit from trooping to the café. (I observed Madrilenos don’t mind eating in cramped spaces. They’re fine standing up and placing their tapas and copas atop a barrel so long as the food is great.) A few tables are found at the back area of the café. From observation, the bar counter itself can accommodate around 8 people.

I reached the café at 9PM, and was surprised to see no line of waiting customers in sight, considering it was a Friday. Nonetheless, the place was filled with diners. I headed towards the back, squeezing my way through the crowd, hoping against hope a table is empty – or is about to be. Everything was taken, so I went back to the bar and stood behind someone who was almost done. Within minutes, I was feasting on my zapatilla.

Croquetas – Delectable Spanish Tapa

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I ordered just a single piece, lest I might not be able to finish everything since my large zapatilla is already a lot of work. Its taste? Mea culpa for not having more – because it’s so divine. Croquetas, like one of those commonly served Spanish tapas and apetizers in some restaurants, can be dry and with hardly any filling. In the case of Melo’s, it’s a ball of crispy, tasty shell that when cut in half reveals an uber-delicious gooey filling that flows, like a lava of ham bits and melted cheese richness. At 1.60 euro a piece (unidad), I look forward to a good plateful of this on my next visit.

Tasty Zapatillas

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The Zapatilla sandwich at Café Melo’s is big, just shy of being humongous. It’s the biggest Spanish sandwich I’ve eaten so far, and it’s not even the whole thing. Since I went there alone and had no one to share food with, I just ordered the “media” or half a sandwich. Beside, even if I wanted to challenge myself, I am not really up to it, knowing well my eating capacity.

I’m a bit concerned too about introducing heaps of meat, however delicious, into my system. I’m Asian – 100% – and not Spanish. I always wonder (and feel envious, actually) how a local is able to consume jamon and all sorts of meat day after day after day – and they’re totally fine. Genetic makeup – I suppose.

The opinion of this blog about Cafe Melo’s zapatilla?

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I like that lacon tastes kind of sweet, and its saltiness is just right. Everything is cooked a la plancha (grilled). Cheese forms long threads as you cut and raise a piece of your sandwich from the plate.  How a zapatilla is prepared can be observed from the bar. Layers of lacon and cheese are grilled and served in hot bread. I believe the cheese is there to keep everything together, considering the thickness of the lacon filling. The bread’s  shape mimics a footwear, hence the name.

At 6.50 euro a half sandwich and 11 for one whole zapatilla, the prices are reasonable, seeing last night how a group of four managed to share a media zapatilla and just complemented it with lots of croquetas.

Overall, it provides gustatory pleasure so effortlessly that I’m sure many would love to claim it as their comfort food. I myself would.

My verdict about Cafe Melo’s Bar:

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Incredibly delectable food and fast service (I appreciate that the owner helps around). If only for its zapatillas and croquetas, other yummy Spanish tapas, and just about everything else, Cafe Melo’s Bar is one place worth visiting over and over again

Location: Calle Ave Maria 44, Lavapies, Madrid
Hours: Open everyday, except Sunday and Monday, from 8PM to 1AM:
Metro: Lavapies (nearest), Embajadores, Tirso de Molina

 

Lavapies: Barrio at the Heart of Madrid

I’ve been here in Madrid for more than a year, and hate the fact that I still struggle with Spanish. And so before I quit on my language learning ability, if it does exist, I did some online research and came upon Asilim, an Lavapies-based institution offering language and integration courses for foreigners.  I didn’t enroll there, realizing that I can take free classes at a municipal school at Bravo Murillo. The search, however, piqued my interest in Lavapies, and led me to finding out more about it.

imageLavapies Metro Station, along Calle Argomusa, brings you right at the hustle and bustle of the barrio, La Playa de Lavapies.

imageYou may opt to start your tour at La Plaza de Tirso de Molina. In the middle background (vaguely captured) is the Teatro Nuevo Apolo, popular for its art deco-styled building, and known to be one of the most active in Madrid, in terms of programming.

I guess Lavapies owns the bragging rights to being in the middlemost part of the city (well, a little to the south of Madrid’s center, that is).  A number of barrios can lay claim to this actually, since many are found within the central area of the city. The popular ones (which I’ve already visited) are Puerta del Sol, Toledo, Moncloa, Colon, Gran Via,  and La Latina. These are great neighborhoods, and there are many more that I didn’t mention. For now, let me focus on our subject as it charms me the most.

One of the first things I learned is its supposedly not-so-good reputation, which I thought isn’t, really. Whether it’s true or not, there’s no denying that Lavapies is one of the most colorful barrios of Madrid. Be bewildered by the utter multi-cultural diversity of the place. Being there is like submerging in a sea of nationalities – Asians (mostly Indians, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis), Moroccans, Middle East nationals, and Latinos, of course. They took advantage of its welcoming arms and cheap rent prices to settle and build communities.

Lavapies has become a haven of sorts for foreigners who wanted to invest or venture into business. It’s a place where immigrants from anywhere in the world coexist peacefully and forge strong relationships with the Spanish locals. In fact, they were able to establish communities within the barrio with great success that they might as well claim it as their own, and call it their Little India, Mini-Morocco, or Little Whatever-country-they-belong-to, and rightly so. Isn’t it just fair to call Lavapies Madrid’s cultural melting pot?

First Visit to Lavapies

image Old apartments in front of Plaza Agustin Lara. Housing in the barrio are available at low rent prices, attracting more and more young people to move in.

image South Asian Shop sells authentic Indian clothing and bags. Located along Calle Caracava.

As an Asian (Filipino) trying to blend into a new place, Lavapies’ known openness to foreigners has such a great appeal. This fact rings loudly, as attested to by many I know, giving me the impression that it is one of Madrid’s most foreigner-friendly places.

Of course, not all that I’ve heard about the barrio are praises and all. Some on the Internet have labeled it as unsafe (I refrain to use the word “dangerous” as I realized that this is not true ). In its defense, I can only think of a popular quote, “every rose has its thorns.” I strongly resent the unfair label, so I thought that being there in the middle of the action is the best way to disprove it.

Off to the Barrio

The starting point of my tour is the Ultima Parada of Autobus 27 at Glorietta de Embajadores (You can take this bus at Plaza de Castellana). A short walk through Miguel Servet and Calle Valencia and I found myself right in the middle of the Plaza de Lavapies. It was quite limited in area, with a small playground occupying a significant part.

Looking around, the uniqueness of the place is evident. Lavapies is atypical compared to other Madrid barrios. Surrounding the plaza are a number of foreign-owned restaurants, alimentaciones, and mobile phone and electronics shops, alongside their Spanish counterpart. It was almost 4 pm, and business was brisk that time of the day.

I assess that the establishments this part of Lavapies thrive since the nearby Metro Station attracts quite a good number of commuters. It is apart from the fact that the important roads converge and traverse through it, being the heart of the barrio.

I later learned that the Playa de Lavapies had been the site of the fountain where the Jews used to wash their feet (hence the name) before proceeding to the nearby synagogue, through a road now known as Calle de la Fe.

Bohemian Vibe

If you’re looking for a place where Bohemian and chic scream loudly,  Lavapies is your best option. It offers opportunities for the free spirited to experience and savor unique poetry, arts, and music. Performances are done in restaurants, cafes, and the sidewalks. Streets become stages for evening events, especially during weekends.

Just be warned, if you’re uninitiated, about the presence of odd-hairdoed and dressed artists and similar advocates come nighttime. Indeed, Lavapies speaks Bohemian, and there is no doubt that its varied-culture  nature contributes all the more to such an alternative atmosphere.

Known as a gathering place for the Bohemian crowd is the El Juglar, at Calle Lavapies, 37. It features various shows and performances at affordable entrance fees.

A safe barrio

Why do some people shun it? Why the fear, when in fact, like the rest of the city, there is strong police visibility in Lavapies, as evidenced by the regular rounds of mobile cars within the vicinity?

In my opinion, Lavapies is safe. Even for tourists. Whenever I’m there, the plaza serves as my hangout where I eat on the bench whatever food I bring. I wander around tirelessly, treading as many streets as possible just to pass time. And I always do this in my lonesome. Clearly, the place is safe as safe can be.

image Shot of Escuelas Pias made more picturesque because of the beautiful day. Escuelas Pias was formerly Colegio de Lavapies, burned down during the Spanish civil war in 1936. The present ruins serves as a library and the UNED Associated Centre.

Here’s a funny incident: As I approach Escuelas Pias via Meson de Paredes, someone in a group lazing around by the street corner caught my glance and nodded at me. Between acknowledging the nod and ignoring, I decided on the latter, and continued to walk while trying to look nonchalant. Obviously, I tried to avoid them out of fear. Was I taken aback when from a distance, I saw them having a seemingly normal conversation with a elderly couple.

I felt horrible – but I thought I couldn’t be faulted for having such a reaction. While I do think of Lavapies for the most part as safe, the Internet has triggered me somehow to have even  a tinge of doubt about it. A blogger even warned about the possibility of experiencing shady offers as one walks its streets. I was told a similar story by a friend. Don’t stare, avoid eye contact was the advice I got (Hence, my reaction with the group).

I thought that my foolish, paranoid reaction was unwarranted. In retrospect, I would have done the opposite and taken advantage of the chance to interact with the locals. Damn these crazed nerves – they always get the better of me.

Me Encanta Lavapies

After a number of visits, here’s my verdict – Lavapies is no different from any other barrio in Madrid. In my opinion, it’s even better. It’s cool, hip, and vibrant. It might be loud and rowdy, but not to the point of being raunchy. I’d live there in a heartbeat – if only I could.

I love that it’s near Puerta del Sol, which I consider the heart of Spain, while meters away is Rastro, for that Sunday morning flea-market shopping you don’t want to miss. Asian stores are everywhere. Doner Kepab is there (a few of them scattered, actually), with its Middle Eastern fare a good-enough alternative to the Tel Aviv version. There is a comic shop (El Collectionista) along Calle Tribulete. A health store (Planeta Vegano) at Calle Ave Maria. A herbal apothecary shop (Herbolario El Druida) at corner of De la Fe. Easy access to the highly efficient Metro. Great choices of cafes and theaters. The popular Mercado San Fernando (which I initially mistook for a church) is nearby. What more could you ask for?

While Lavapies exudes a dark character (what place doesn’t?), it’s just one of its many sides. In no way should it be labeled as seedy, or downright bad, as a few blogs do – because it’s not. Every place has its own evil, but good is there to cancel it out. The presence of opposing traits makes a place normal and livable, even great. Lavapies, the little barrio in the heart of Madrid, is exactly like that.
imageCool-flavored drinks, cozy ambiance, fast Latino beats, and even DJs – all this you can enjoy at Amor Voodoo along Calle de Lavapies.
imageSidreria is one of the more popular restaurante along Calle Argumosa. Spanish restaurants are complemented by their non-local counterparts to provide more options to diners.

imageSouth Asian restaurants ready up tables along the sidewalk of Calle de Lavapies. Photo was taken at around midday; a few hours more and diners are expected to come in. Indian dishes are rich and spicy, easily compensating the rather bland table covers.

imageCafe Barbieri at Calle del Ave María, 45, Lavapies. Located near the plaza, the cafeteria has been in business since 1902. One of the authentic Spanish cafes that exude Old Madrid. In 2015, it had major changes under its new management. Popular in Madrid for its delicious coffee fare, Cafe Barbieri is also known for staged performances.

imageI stumbled upon Paticano building at Traviesa de la Primavera, where masses for the “Iglesia Patolica” are said to be held. This “religion” recognizes the rubber ducky as their god.

imageThe sign says it all. This store sells all kinds of products for its Asian, Latin American, African, and Middle Eastern clients. Many others are strategically located within the neighborhood.

image The M1 minibus is a convenient ride to Lavapies, traversing the barrio as it takes its route from Embajadores to Sol and vice versa.

image A quick stop and coffee at Carrefour Lavapies affords one a panoramic view of the playa and Metro station.

imageBiblioteca de Humidades UNED is located next to the Lavapies Metro Station.

imageOne thing is true about Madrid; every major place in the city is not without these three establishments – churches, cafeterias, and casino and gaming shops. Lavapies is no exception.

imageTheater Valle-Inclan is a stone’s throw away from the Metro Station and Biblioteca de Humanidades, UNED. Its site is where the Old Olympia Theater once stood. Offering the latest in theater technology, Valle-Inclan regularly presents programmes that feature the best contemporary writers and artists.

imageA graffiti artist made a steel canvass out of these metal shutters of a restaurant along Calle Lavapies. Similar “works of art” are found all around the neighborhood.

image Commuters congregate in front of Lavapies Metro Station.

imageLa Playa de Lavapies is the lifeline of the barrio.

imageWelcome to the start of Calle Lavapies, side of Tirso de Molino. I walk along a few others – presumably on their way to work at or around the Plaza, or even beyond (Embajadores).