All posts by talkmadrid

Centro Cultural Conde Duque

Like the Matadero, an sprawling area situated within the stretch of Legaspi and Principe Pio Stations, there are just numerous things that visitors can do and enjoy at the Centro Cultural Conde Duque. It is well-known for being one of the City of Madrid‘s premier center for the arts and culture.

The city administration decided to convert this former military headquarters into a hotspot where major modern arts and cultural events are to be held. The single most popular building within the premises is the Conde Duque barracks of baroque design. Its imposing stance is more than enough to represent its original military purpose. Upon its creation by the famous and prolific Spanish architect Pedro de Ribera in the early 18th Century, it immediately claims that right to be included in the list of one of the grandest edifices of the city during that time. Situated along the street of the same name, it is within short distance to other popular establishments such as the ABC Museum and the Liria Palace.

Suffice it to say that the Centro Cultural Conde Duque has become quite known for its distinct pink-hue edifice and walls. It is easily an indoor space that’s meant to host to various exhibits, symposiums, workshops, and similar events, international fairs, and even outdoor plays and concerts, particularly during the summer season. In fact, here is where the yearly Veranos de la Villa event is held, an occasion that showcases performances and shows of premier artists.

Conde Duque is also known to be the headquarters of a number of Madrid’s major institutions. Do check its official website for its calendar of cultural activities – entertaining events that are scheduled throughout the year.

Location: Calle Conde Duque 11 28015 Madrid

How to go: Nearest Metro Stations are Plaza de España, Noviciado, Ventura Rodríguez, and San Bernardo

Autobus EMTs are 133, 1, 2, 74 and 749

Map:

Teatro Valle-Inclán

Another must-visit for theatre lovers is the Teatro Valle-Inclán, which is housed at the edifice where the Olimpia Theater use to operate. The latter is a moviehouse that was open to the public way back in 1926. It was in the year 1974 when the building eventually functioned as a theater, and was called the National Drama Center.

Before the end of 1999, the Madrid City Council and the Ministry of Education and Culture (INAEM) both decided that the building was old, and in a decrepit state; this meant the dire need of a major renovation and rehabilitation work. An agreement between the two was forged, resulting in the replacement of the old edifice by a new and modern one.

I can only imagine the utter exhilation that the neighborhood of Lavapies in the heart of Madrid feels, for having such as a prestigious institution within its midst. Today, it is known as the Valle-Inclan Teatro, a modern arts and theatre facility available to the public since 2006.

It was in this same year that the play called the Divinas palabras (The Divine Words) was shown, a masterpiece of revered Spanish novelist and dramatict Ramón María del Valle-Inclán.

The Salas of the theater, with their corresponding capacity, are the following: Sala Valle- Inclán, which can accommodate 450 persons, Sala Francisco Nieva, which can hold 150 guests, and Sala El Mirlo Blanco, which can fit in about 50 viewers.

For current and future theatre and dance events and showing, check them at its official website: Valle-Inclan. The theatre is open throughout the year, ready to welcome and satiate the public with its uniquely beautiful shows, events and performances.

Location: Plaza
de Ana Diosdado, Madrid 28012

How to go:

It is easy to visit the theatre — just take the 27 EMT bus, which I usually do if I start my trip from the Plaza de Castilla Intercambiador. Here is where the start of the bus line starts. The trip ends at the termina parada in Embajadores. From here you can start walking to the site for a few hundred meters. You can also take the Metro Lavapies station, the gate of which is a stone’s throw away from the theater.

Other bus lines that will take you to Valle-Inclan are buses 34, 36, 78, 119, 78, C1 and C2, and M1. Next nearest Metro station is Embajadores.

Opening Hours:

Monday to Friday: 12PM to 7PM

Saturday, Sunday, and Holidays: 2:30PM to 7PM

Map:

Valle de los Caidos

Have you been to the much talked-about and even maligned Valle de los Caidos? This gargantuan monument near Madrid, built at the time of Francisco Franco, is controversial as it has created a division in the Spanish political world. It was intended to represent of reconciliation among all quarters in the country, but still, many despise the monument because for them, it is the prime symbol of the Francoist regime. Hated or not, it is clearly one of the most important monuments here in Spain, and must be visited if only for its rich and hotly debated history.

The Basilica

One of most noticeable in the site is the basilica, composing of 6 chapels, all of which are dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mother. Here you will find the place where Fransisco Franco and Falange founder José Antonio Primo de Rivera are buried – by the main altar.  A mass is celebrated every day in the basilica from 11:00 to 11:45.

The Cross

We are still far from the Valle de los Caidos, but already, the gigantic cross, can already visible. It is the most conspicuous monument in the site, which is understable as the cross is the largest in the world.  In fact, it can be seen from as far as 30 miles away. It is certainly a magnificent sight, and an assurance that more amazing things can be expected as soon as we arrived at the site.

A structure made of the finest concrete and metal to ensure utmost stability and strength, it stands tall at 150 meters, with 25 meters comprising the basement bearing the four evangelists  John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew. Each of the representation is 18 meters high and a creation of Juan de Ávalos.

Franco declared the basilica, which is a surviving symbol under his rule, to be a symbol that signifies the national act of reconciliation and atonement.

A bit of history

Valle de los Caidos, or the Valley of the Fallen, is a monument constructed in honor of all those who perished during the Spanish Civil War. It was a major project of Franco, the Spanish ruler at the time that the war happened

It was said that many of those who helped build the basilica were convicted criminals. They agreed to be part of the workforce because of an attractive compensation, which is, a reduction of the years they needed to be in prison.

Hence, while the monument was meant to serve as a resting place for the fallen soldiers, but it was said that those who perished during its construction were also buried there.

Travel by bus from Madrid

Take a trip to the Valle de los Caidos via Autocares Herranz Numero 664, stationed at the  Moncloa Interchange. The ride will bring you right by the huge gates of the monument’s Parada Cruce Cuelgamuros. From there, you will have to endure almost an hour of uphill walk. It is why it is convenient to go to the site using a private vehicle.

If you don’t have a ride, and wouldn’t want to walk up to the monument, a good option is to schedule your trip around lunch time and start at the San Lorenzo, where available is a C660A line that leaves for the basilica at around 3:15 in the afternoon. It is a single trip to the Valley of the Fallen, and available all days of the week except Monday. Hence, so make sure that you are on time. The same bus returns to its station two hours later.

Where located:

San Lorenzo de El Escorial Municipalidad , Sierra de Guadarrama

Schedule of Visit

October to March: 10AM to 5PM
April to September:  10AM to 6PM

Entrance tickets

9 euros

Official Website: Valley of the Fallen

Chocolateria San Gines Offers the Perfect Sweet Treat

When I arrived in Madrid, Spain way back in 2015, Chocolateria San Gines was one of the establishments that I tried, being aware of the immense popularity of this joint even when I was still in Manila. Easily, San Gines is the most popular of the chocolate shops in Madrid, if not in all of Spain. Needless to say, when in Madrid, it is a must that you try and savor this classic postre pair, that is, a cup of hot and rich chocolate and churros.

But instead of the traditional order of churros, I mistakenly ordered porras. For most diners, six pieces of churros is already quite a plateful — it can be difficult to consume. And so, you can only imagine the look on my face when they delivered porras at my table. In my lonesome, I tried to finish up 4 crispy, really thick batter sticks, to no avail. This, even with the delicious choco that went with it. Everything was just too much for me to “conquer.” At least now, I am aware of my limitations, and since then, have ordered the more manageable churros.

Happy to have accompanied Francois Versele, a good friend from France, on an afternoon treat at the chcolateria. He has been regularly visiting Spain since 2015, doesn’t get tired of roaming around Puerta del Sol and the Palacio Real de Madrid. However, it is his first time to try San Gines, which he said will not miss this time around.

This popular churros and hot choco restaurant is not just a popular eatery in Madrid – it is an institution that goes way back in 1894. Right from the start, it has been patronized by Madrileños mainly for its delicious treat. Whenever I am within the Puerto del Sol or Plaza Mayor, and had lunch or dinner within these areas, I always pass by San Gines to enjoy the perfect postre.

Now, I observed that customers form a line by the counter to pay for their order before getting served. Make sure that you get ready with your receipt — a server will come over to check it and have everything delivered in a jiffy.

And by the way, as you join the queue to make an order, you will surely not miss the numerous photos posted on the walls of popular Spanish and international celebrities who were once or regular customers of the Chocolateria.

Horarios:
Did you know that the Chocolateria San Gines is one of the few establishments that are open 24 hours, 7 days a week? I’m sure the place is packed even in the wee hours of the morning.

Direccion:
5 Pasadizo de San Ginés Madrid 28013

Nearby attractions:
Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, Palacio Real de Madrid, Jardines de Sabatini

15 Fun Things to See and Do In and Around Madrid’s Puerta del Sol

imageBustling, reverberating, full of life — these words describe Puerta del Sol, the Gate of the Sun in the midst of Madrid. A gargantuan, pedestrianized plaza of an irregular shape, it serves as a focal point from which important streets such as Calles Preciado and de la Montera branch out and lead to various major Madrid spots, like Plaza del Callao and Gran Via, respectively.

Needless to say, Puerta del Sol is the heart of Spain.

Whether you’re a backpacker, a first-time traveller, or a high-flying businessman-jetsetter en route to Madrid, it is a must that you include Puerta del Sol in your itinerary. All you need is a whole afternoon – and you will simply be awed by the place and its immediate surroundings.

Here are 15 things to see and do in and around Puerta del Sol:

1. Step on the Kilometro Cero Marker

imageThe Kilometro Cero marker is proof that Puerta del Sol is the heart of the country. Located on the sidewalk in front of the Ayuntamiento building, take a picture of the marker with your feet stepping on it. It’s a tradition done by first-time visitors of the square.

2. Ogle at the Oso y el MadroñoimageThe Bear and the Strawberry tree statue is regarded as one of the city’s important symbols. In fact, you will find its depiction in the official coat of arms of Madrid. El Oso y el Madroño is one of the most visited attractions of the square.

3. Be amused by the square’s street performersimageimageStreet performers are permanent fixtures of the square. One can be the Predator, Edward Scissorshands, or various other interesting characters, each of which is eager to grab the attention of passing tourists. Be wary about taking their pictures, however, as it isn’t free. See to it that you have at least a euro to pay afterwards.

4. Brought along your little ones? Delight them with kid’s face paintingimagePuerta del Sol is the ultimate fun place for kids if only because of the presence of the street performers dressed up as various fantasy characters. Heighten their excitement further by having their faces painted with the likeness of popular cartoon heroes like Spiderman and Incredible Hulk.

5. Shop till you dropimageEl corte Ingles is arguably the most popular retail chain in the country. The best times to shop — and get more out of your Euro — are the months when prices are at their lowest, like the mid-year months of July and August, and post-Christmas month of February.

6. Ride the Madrid MetroimageSol Metro Train Station has several access points in the plaza.  It’s one fast ride that connects Puerta del Sol to other spots of Madrid. Adequate signs make walking thru metro‘s labyrinth-like passageways easy even for first-time riders.

7. Explore the Nearest (and equally popular) squareimageThe historic Plaza Mayor is an enclosed square that once served as a bullring. Walk through the porticoed paths on its sides and check out the souvenir shops, cafes, and restaurants. Need assistance in touring Madrid? Drop by the city’s largest tourism office, housed at the square’s Casa de la Panaderia

8. Buy all the souvenirs you wantimageLooking for an authentic abanico? Buy a traditional Spanish fan at Casa de Diego. Plaza Mayor boasts of shops that offer tons of souvenir items of all types, like porcelain statues of Flamengo dancers or toreros, Madrid shirts, mugs, and plates, keychains, and many others.

9. Sit by the central fountain
imageIn the midst of the square are two fountains, both of which have ledges that serve as popular resting places. Any spot here is perfect for you to people watch, gaze at the Casa de Correos and the giant billboards, or simply rest and while the time away.

10. Stroll around the royal gardenimageA must-see is the Jardines de Sabatini, which is a few hundred meters away from the plaza and just beside the Palacio Real. In contrast to the dizzying pace at Sol, here you’ll experience a relaxing promenade. Filled with manicured hedges and lush greeneries, stroll by the garden’s sandy paths while enjoying the magnificent view of the Palace from time to time.

11. Chomp on a bocadilloimageTake a filling break by having some bocadillos of Museo del Jamon, located along Calle Major (or at Carrera de San Jeronimo). Jamon, lacon, chorizo, cheese — you can eat all your favorite bocadillos for 1 euro a piece. Have them served with a cold glass of cola or a chilled copa of beer. What an affordable snack that will get you going for the rest of the day.

12. Visit nearby churchesimageimageThe San Gines Church (above) and Almudena Cathdral, located along Calle Arenal and Calle Bailen respectively, are popular among the locals and Madrid old-timers. Both are two of the most revered in the city, and are often the sites of the yearly major religious events.

13.Have a feel of Spanish royaltyimageAppreciate the facade of the stately Palacio Real in Calle Bailen, or even explore its interior and marvel at the fine furniture and work of art created by Spain´s most admired artists and craftsmen.

14. Relish on a Suckling PigimageA few hundred meters from the square, along Calle Cuchilleros, is Sobrino de Botin, famous for its roasted suckling pig. Order whole so you could cut it into half using the plate’s edge. Eating at Botin affords you the bragging rights for having dined at the world’s oldest restaurant.

15. Wiggle your way around on a segwayimageTour the plaza and beyond by renting one of those fast-riding, two-wheeled, foot-controlled contractions. Many who had done so swore the segway was a uniquely exhilarating way of exploring Sol.

The list doesn’t stop here. In fact, there must be tons of exciting things to do that make for a truly memorable visit of the square. Drop on by if you’re in Madrid, and find out for yourself why it is a must-see. Do so, for your trip to Madrid, Spain is never complete if you didn’t see Puerta del Sol.

Let’s 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 popular Madrid mercados like Tetuan and Maravillas.

Just nonsense! Sardines is not sad and lowly, many would certainly retort. The fact is that if you grill it right (assuming you want to do it yourself), you will quite a 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. No doubt, there are tons in the city but I haven’t done any serious rounds. So far, the restaurants 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 because of its reputation for serving some of the tastiest sea foods in the neighborhood

 

 

. 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 for 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-meat 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 the weekend riot by choosing 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 fine by them. Just ask for permission, and hope for a positive response.

5.Dishes are 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.

Chinchon: An Under-an-hour Travel Getaway from Madrid

imageThe town of Chinchon, Community of Madrid, as viewed from the clock tower

Time and again, I try to be far from the hustle and bustle of Madrid, and all the stress and craziness that go with this big city. And enjoy a breather of sorts, even if only for a day.

This makes living in Madrid an advantage because of the nearby towns I can run to in a heartbeat whenever I have the urge to get away from it all. Just waiting for everyone to explore are the beautiful towns of Toledo, Segovia, and San Lorenzo de El Escorial — amazing World heritage sites as declared by UNESCO.

Of course, small pueblos also abound. These are lesser-known towns within the periphery of Madrid. Found under the radar, you’d be surprised that they are just as enthralling, and boast too of fascinating tourist sites.

One is Chinchon, Spain, a member of the Community of Madrid,  and a place that I’ve always wanted to visit ever since I learned it’s a mere 45 kilometers away from the capital. The town is known for its strong religious traditions, particularly the commemoration of Christian holidays thru passion plays, processions, and even concerts. What piqued my interest is its square, which doubles as a bullring, and so you know bullfighting is alive in this part of Spain. I looked forward to seeing the castle ruins and the clock tower as well.

Raring to explore the town, I decided that it’s time to hit the road and go on a solo trip as a way of celebrating my birthday.

And so, I was off to Chinchon.

The early morning of last Tuesday, I rode Metro Linea 6 at Nuevos Ministerio, and got off at Conde de Casal. Then, I proceeded to Avenida de Mediterraneo where buses 337 wait. Within an hour, I reached my destination. The trip didn’t tire a bit.  Instead I stayed invigorated, excited on what I was about to discover.

I found myself in the middle of the pueblo, which is noticeably tiny, quiet and rustic, like you’re in the countryside. I headed to the square and found the much-fussed-about pasteleria located on one of its corners. I must have a taste of its famous sweet, rounded pastry, which is described online as a soft bread that’s pretty much like a doughnut sans the filling. I bought two, gobbled one after the other, finishing both within minutes. Saccharine pastry balls, they were delicious indeed, just like what they say!

As I ate, my gaze wandered around, and saw a group of tourists roaming the Plaza Mayor. The square itself got my attention because of its appearance, being “dressed up” as a bullring. I wondered if this is a permanent thing or it just looked that way because of a forthcoming bullfight event.

Next, I ventured outside the square. First stop is the clock tower, which could be reached by walking up a steep road of a few hundred meters. The tower is on an elevated land high enough to afford anyone a magnificent view of the town below, including the faraway castle ruins.

Like other Spanish towns, the streets are narrow and winding. They are hardly level, but run uphill and down instead. Still, I have to say that strolling around this town, from one site to another, was fun and relaxing.

One thing you’ll love about Chinchon is that most sites of interest, with the exception of the Old Castle, are near one another and not spread out. I had an easy time hopping from one place to the next.

I almost skipped the tourism office deeming I didn’t need an area map; but I did go anyway, because I wanted to ask if walking to the castle is doable. The people at the info counter assured me I’d reach the site within 10 minutes. They even gave instructions on which streets to take in order to get there the fastest. Some enthusiastic Chinchonites, indeed.

My final word about the town? Make it your next day trip destination. Tiny and unhurried it may be, but it packs in places of great allure. The town folks are friendly and helpful, especially those manning the square’s pastelerias, the alimentacion, and the tourism office.

Here are some of the Chinchon, Madrid attractions that you mustn’t miss.

The Counts’ Castle

imageSpread in a land found on the highest point of the town is the Counts’ Castle, or Castillo de los Condes. Also called the Chinchon’s Castle, it was the residence of the royals at the time when Cabreja was allowed to own a land in the area. Now in ruins, it is still under the ownership of the counts.

The Clock Tower

imageTorre del Reloj in Spanish, it was the only structure left standing and unscathed after the 15th-century Our Lady of Grace Church was destroyed during the War of Independence (Guerra de la Independencia).

Church of Our Lady of the Assumption

imageIglesia de Nuestra Senora de la Asunsion, with its bright-hued and solemn facade, is a sight to behold as you walk up the steep, winding calle known as Las Columnas de Los Franceses. Inside is the Blessed Virgin painting by Goya, Spain’s illustrious painter who lived in the town for some time. Nearby is the Clock Tower.

Hermitage of San Roque

imageThe Ermita de San Roque is dedicated to the town patron, the feast of which is on the 16th of August. You will encounter this monastery upon entering the square thru Calle de los Huertos.

Teatro Lope de Vega

imageTeatro Lope de Vega now stands on the land where Palace of the Counts once stood. De Vega was a great Spanish artist, writer, and Chinchon admirer.

More Beautiful Chinchon Scenes

imageTourists inspect the display window of an artisan shop as they go about the town square

imageThis wooden gate is one of the five entrances that open to the Plaza Mayor

imageBright-red wooden fence encircles the middle of the town square

imageThe Casa Ayuntamiento or the town hall building

imagePart of the pillared walkways that surround the Plaza Mayor-bull ring

imageBreathtaling view of Chinchon from the area of the Old CastleDelicious pastries in Chinchon are aplenty such as pelotas de frailePelotas de Fraile are sweet, soft balls of bread resembling a doughnut, but with no filling inside

imageTeta de Novicia, a local, sweet delicacy, is so-called because of its bosom shape

image Anis liquor and garlic are two of Chinchon’s prized products

ajos, chinchon, madrid, spainAjos de Chinchon hang on the wall of a lottery shop. Touching it is supposed to bring bettors good luck. And so, I did after I bought a ticket

How to reach the castle

The Castillo de los Condes, lying on a low hill next to the town, appears distant and unreachable when viewed from the Clock Tower, but it’s actually an easy walk from the Plaza Mayor. This 16th-century Renaissance castle still stands mightily. It’s a pity, however, that some portions had already crumbled.

No one is allowed inside — it is said that nothing is found in the interior. Empty and forsaken, still, I couldn’t help but admire the impressive facade and the mighty bridge of this otherwise haunting fortress.

From the square, you walk thru the length of Calle del Convento starting at the Plaza del Convento, until you turn right to Calle del Castillo. Walk time: Around 10 to 15 minutes

How I traveled to Chinchon, Madrid:

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I recommend traveling to (and from) Chinchon by bus because it is convenient and easy on the pocket as well.

1. Take the Metro Linea 6 and get off at Conde de Casal Station.

2. From the station, proceed to Ave de Mediterraneo, where found are parked green buses en route to various locations.

3. Look for the La Veloz-owned buses, and take number 337 — it will bring you to the town in less than an hour.

A bus is scheduled to go to the town every 30 minutes to an hour (during weekends) with trips starting at 7am. Tickets sell at 4.20 euros.

Map

Take a Break from Jamón: My 5 Spanish Pork-based Dishes Worth Indulging In

2018_072723_2137_542If you think Spain is all about jamón, think again. The Spanish pork-based cuisine is rich and diverse, certainly a lot more other than the well-loved cured pork. Countless delectable cerdo dishes, served as tapas and raciones, are waiting for you to relish.

Forget jamon for awhile. Here are five typical mouth-watering pork dishes that you must try:

1. Cochinillo

image19Having a cochinillo means ordering a whole pig, a piglet to be exact, one that’s roasted in a special oven for several hours. Perhaps all parts of Spain offer this dish, albeit the town of Segovia is said to serve the perfect Cochinillo asado.

What’s cooked are piglets a few weeks old, and normally, the dish is enough to feed six to eight people. You get to savor slices upon slices of tender, succulent meat, but only after first indulging in the dish’s crunchy, caramel-brown, fat-layered skin.  I purposely went to Segovia to experience their much-touted cochinillo. Simply delicious. However, I had to settle for a portion since I was in my lonesome.

2. Callos a la Madrileña

2018_072508_0013_621The sticky bit-salty sauce is what made me fall in love with this dish, apart from the tenderness of the callos meat itself. One of the more popular, traditional Spanish comidas, callos is served in numerous bars and restaurants, big and small, in Madrid and all around Spain. I brought some at home once, but instead of eating it with bread, I had it top a plate of hot, steaming rice.

If you’re in the vicinity of Calle de Alcala, try dropping by at Bar Manduka, a highly patronized restaurant bar, where a warm welcome greets clients and waiters are quick to serve. Their callos might be a bit spicy, and excessive in flavors even, but that is exactly why I love it.

3. Orejas a la Plancha

image5One typical Spanish dish that you must try is the orejas a la plancha. It’s pig’s ear, cartilage and all, grilled in olive oil, salt and spices. While looking forward to having a taste of this unusual pork fare, I was constantly reminded to eat at specialty restaurants lest I end up chewing forever on tough cartilage and cringe on the sight of hairs still present in the skin.

Finally, I opted for Cafe Aurelio, the first restaurant I checked around Calle Bravo Murillo that serves orejas.  Salted and grilled in oil, what made it especially flavorful was the orange-reddish sauce on top. Suffice it to say that their version was a delight, and made me a huge fan of the dish, and the cafe as well. I must say Orejas is one tapa worth choosing over all others, and you’d gladly share with friends over ice-cold refresco or chilled cerveza.

4. Chistorra

image7Salty, spicy and with a hint of sour is how I describe another favorite cerdo dish, a Spanish sausage from Aragon, never mind if it is on the greasy side. If you’re limiting your fat consumption, however, go for the type with a mix of beef.

I like that the chistorra at Museo del Jamon, our designated restaurant for friends visiting Madrid, comes with a reddish sauce that I love dipping my bread in. It is another dish that I’d rather eat with rice, along with a vinegar-garlic-pepper concoction to dip it in. Sounds weird,  but hey, it works for me.

5. Torrezno

2018_072723_2111_682 I had my first Torrezno on our way to Barcelona, when we made a quick stop in a food cafeteria in Zaragoza. I heard about so much about the dish, and had been wanting to try it, when lo and behold, there they were, a heaping plate of half-inch thick strips of fried pork displayed in the bar counter. We bought three, one for each of us, together with a small basket of pan slices. Cold but still crunchy, the taste almost blew us away.

Torrezno is served as a tapa and common in the Spanish city of Soria. A crunchy dish of marinated pork belly, it is fried in olive oil and chopped bite-size when served. Like chistorra, torrezno has a high fat content, but many in Spain consider it as a snack, and the perfect tapa to complement some rounds of drink. The one in the photo above is from Bar Los Torreznos near Goya Metro Station, quite different from the typical chopped strips I was expecting. But still, it was a great treat, especially when I ordered some pimientos del Padron to go with it.

Outside Madrid: Royal Town of Aranjuez

Aranzuez isn’t a huge, highly sought-after town, but it’s far from being hidden and obscure. It is one jewel of a Spanish pueblo, being the site of a spectacular royal palace. Still, many would consider it to be low-key compared to the more popular day trip destinations like Toledo, Segovia, or even the faraway exciting getaways like Santiago de Compostela.

There’s no bit of a doubt, however, that this town 80 kilometers away from Madrid can hold its own, boasting of some of the most alluring sites and attractions.

Aranjuez and its Royal Palace

aranjuez palace in plaza de las parejasThis town presents a great appeal to those who are interested in royal history, and this is thru the Palacio Real de Aranjuez, an 18th century palace that once served as the residence of the King of Spain. With the collaboration of distinguished Spanish architects such as  Juan Herrera, Juan Bautista de Toledo, and Francesco Sabatini, the royal edifice was built using a  mix of Renaissance and French style in its design.

It was in 1523 when the palace was officially declared the royal property of the Spanish Monarchy.  Beloved royalties who lived and died there were Elisabeth Fernese, wife of Philip V and Elizabeth of Valois, wife of Philip II.  Likewise, the Palacio Real was the site of the signing of various important treaties.

If you haven’t been to Aranjuez, Spain, it’s high time that you do. The Palacio Real will certainly amaze you. It is easy to find since it is right in the midst, as if to assert its prime importance as the town’s top tourist attraction.

Apart from the palace, other major attractions are its sprawling plazas, the Tagus River, and the Casa del Labrador.

Where to start your Aranjuez tour

imageThe Ayuntamiento Building at Plaza de Constitucion. The statue in front is Alfonso XII

Aranjuez is less than an hour away – whether by bus or by train. It’s one of those charming towns that are near Madrid, and very easy to reach — you’ll be there even before you know it.

You might want to start your tour at the Plaza de la Constitution, where you can see the Ayuntamiento — simple yet stately in its facade. On one side of the square stands a metal board marked on which is a map specifying all the major places of interest to see. Or you can head straight to the tourism office for a tour map plus instructions and advices on how to get around the town.

I spent the whole day exploring Aranjuez, and had a great time discovering all the reasons why the whole town was declared a World Heritage Cultural Landscape by the UNESCO. The Royal Palace was just impressive. You can see the grandness of the structure from the pictures that I took. I must say that my shots of the palace are all postcard-worthy. Equally impressive are the gardens and plazas, the surrounding bodies of waters, and the Casas.

Aranjuez might be small, but it can very well compete with the much larger and more touristy Spanish towns. Needless to say, it must be one the first town-members of the community of Madrid that you must visit. Engaging locals, lots of eager tourists, amazing tourist attractions, what more can you ask for? Add Aranjuez to your must-see town list, do visit and explore it, and I assure you it is all worth your while.

What to see in Aranjuez, Spain

1. Royal Palace of Aranjuez

imagePalacio Real de Aranjuez in Spanish, this UNESCO-declared World Heritage Site was once the King’s official residence. One of the more popular Royal Sites, it now serves as a museum and is open to the public.

2. Iglesia de San Antonio

imageKing Ferdinand VI assigned Spanish architects Gonzalez Velazquez and Santiago Bonavia to build what was intended as a royal church, and one dedicated to San Antonio de Padua – St. Anthony’s Church or Iglesia de San Antonio. This Italian-inspired church from the 1700’s sprawls in one end of the Plaza de San Antonio. Nearby is the Tourism Office.

3. Iglesia de Alpajes

imageThe Alpajes Church, also called the Church of Our Lady of Sorrows, is a small church located in the old Alpajes quarter. Eventually, the said quarter was incorporated into the expanded Aranjuez town.

4. Parterre Garden

imageThe beautiful Parterre Garden is the most colorful of all that surround the Royal Palace of Aranjuez, where beautiful flowers of all types and hues are found. The flowers were in blooming and exploding in all colors that the whole garden was such a fascinating sight. Parterre is in front of the West portion of the Palace.

5. Jardin del Principe

imageLiterally, it means the Prince’s Garden. The Jardin was a pet project of Charles IV which started when he was still the Prince of Asturias. Consisting of 150 hectares of land, it must have been the largest Madrid garden that I’ve seen so far. It took 19 years to build the garden, and was finished in 1908, at the time when Charles finally became king.

6. Casa del Labrador

Casa del Labrador, Aranjuez, Community of Madrid, SpainOne of the royal family of Spain’s favorite residences in Madrid, the Casa del Labrador is a World Heritage site. Public viewing and visits are allowed although I wasn’t able to because I visited Aranjuez on a Monday, when most of the sites are closed.

7. Jardin de la Isla

imageA beautiful garden found in the northern portion of the palace, the Jardin de la Isla is so-called because it is situated in the middle of bodies of water, by the Tagus River or Rio Tajo, and a man-made river.

8. Cascada de las Castanuelas

imageLocated beside the Jardin de la Isla, the Cascades was built to regulate the course of the Tagus River and to collect water for the gardens.

9. Tagus River

imageRio Tajo in Spanish, it is one of the main  bodies of water that surround the palace. Tagus River is of utmost importance to Aranjuez’ environment as it sustains the lives of a number of animal varieties, especially the waterfowl.

How to get to Aranjuez, Spain:

imageVia Bus: Take the 423 bus, found at Estacion Sur, Madrid’s biggest bus station. The latter can be reached via Metro Madrid Linea 6, at Mendez Alvaro.

Fare is 4.20 euros, and tickets are bought on the bus itself.

Via Train: Cercania train tickets are available at the ticketing counters of Chamartin and Atocha stations. Traveling by train is more or less the same as that with bus travel – around an hour.

For specific journey schedules and ticket prices, please refer to Cercania’s website.

Map of Royal Palace of Aranjuez:

Ten Nearby Madrid Towns that are Bona Fide Day Trip Destinations

alcazar segoviaSo charming is Madrid, Spain that first-timers are likely tempted to stay within its confines and just revel in its beauty. True enough, every barrio of the city is unique and fascinating that you can’t help but hop from one place to another, walk thru paseos, loiter around the plazas and calles, and soak up on what it can offer. Trust me, I did all this a countless number of times — and every time, it’s just insane fun.

Be amazed by everything within the city proper

Everywhere in Madrid are breathtaking sites and attractions — world-class museums like Prado and Reina Sofia, among many others; towering basilicas and cathedrals such as San Gines and Almudena; and gargantuan parks and gardens like Retiro and Sabatini, respectively.

And I must say the city is a gastronomic paradise as well. Restaurants and cafes of different shapes, sizes, and culinary delights are scattered all over; there’s Museo del Jamon, Bar Santurce, Botin, Cafe Melo’s Bar, to name a few of my favorites. I swear there must be a food joint that offers sumptuous Spanish comida in every street corner.

Madrid is where you blend easily with the crowd at evening street parties and gatherings — commonplace events happening everywhere in the city, every day of the week. The city is where you can witness and experience solemn processions that venerate the Lady and various saints; and participate, to your heart’s delight, in thunderous festivals held all throughout the year.

Exciting nearby Madrid towns, nonetheless

Still, did you know there’s so much to see and discover on the outskirts of the city? Not a few towns are situated very near the capital, and needless to say, all are a must-visit as they boast of tons of attractions as well.

I had traveled, wandered, and explored quite a number of these pueblos. Referred to as day trip destinations, they are so near that you can visit, experience and relish these places, and be back in the city — all within the day.

Here are my top 10 beautiful and exciting towns near Madrid:

1. Avila

Bright yellow walls of AvilaOne of Spain’s major Castilian pueblos, Avila is famous for its perfectly preserved Murallas or Town Walls. The haunting Catedral de Avila is touted as one of the first Gothic churches built in the country. And if you happen to be in town, be sure to have a taste of its popular yema, a special, sweet delicacy, apart from its other traditional pastries.

How far from Madrid: 2 Hours
Recommended Mode of Travel: Autobus – Avanza Bus (at Estacion Sur)
Cost of Fare: More or less 14 euros (lda y vuelta)

2. Alcala de Henares

imageThe town is known for being the birthplace of famous Spanish Writer, Miguel de Cervantes. In front of his home are the bronze figures of Don Quixote and Sancho Pancho, the main characters of the Cervantes’ novel, the Don Quixote de la Mancha. The prestigious Colegio Mayor de San Ildefonso or the University of Alcala is the reason this pueblo within the Community of Madrid is called the University Town.

Number of hours from Madrid: 50 minutes
Best Travel Option: Cercanias trains. Get your ride at Nuevos Ministerios, or other select Metro stations such as Chamartin and Atocha.

3. Colmenar Viejo

imageSome might find Colmejar Viejo to be a bit of a sleep town, but it is definitely one of the Madrid towns that are easiest to go to — Colmenar is just some 30 kilometers from the city of Madrid. A major attraction is the tiny, historic hermitage calle the Ermita de Santa Ana,  and the Basílica dela Asuncion de Nuestra Senora.

Distance from Madrid: 37 kms. (less than an hour)
Best Travel Option: Autobus 721 at Plaza Castilla
Cost of Fare: 7.20 euros round trip

4. Manzanares el Real

Manzanares el Real Castle is also called Castillo de los MendozaA town made famous by its two castles, the New Castle of Manzanares and the Castillo Viejo. The former is also a fortress and said to be the most preserved castle within the Communidad de Madrid. If you love to hike, the nearby Pedriza Mountain can be reached by walking in just under an hour. Continue further up the hill beside the mount and you will encounter the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de Peña Sacra.

How far from Madrid: 50 kms. (less than an hour)
Enjoy going there via: Autobus 724 at Plaza Castilla
Cost of Fare: 8.40 euros Ida y Vuelta

5. Town of Chinchon

imageSome 40 minutes or so away from Madrid is the quaint and tranquil pueblo of Chinchon. Its plaza mayor is a bit peculiar because it is shaped like a bullring. The fact is that the square is used actively for the sport; because of this, Chinchon is recognized as one of Spain’s bullfight towns. Must-eat are Teta de Novicia and Pelotas de Fraile, delightful, traditional breads sold in pastelerias within the town’s plaza mayor.

How far from the capital: 45 kms. (55 minutes)
Recommended travel option: Veloz Autobus 337 at Avenida de Mediterraneo
Fare Cost: 4.20 euros one way

6. Segovia

The Roman Acqueduct at Segovia, SpainIf only for its historic Romano Acueducto and breathtaking Alcazar or fortress, I’d take the bus or train trip to Segovia in a heartbeat. I don’t think I’ll ever grow tired of seeing these wondrous Segovian landmarks. The aqueduct, for one, is the main symbol of the town. Did you know that this ancient structure still works, and is capable of transporting water throughout the city? The Alcazar, on the other hand, is compared to the castle of Disney — both are charming and enthralling. The whole town itself enjoys the fine distinction of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site. By the way, don’t leave without having a taste of its savory and mouth-watering delicacy – the Cuchinillo or suckling pig.

Recommended mode of travel: RENFE train (Chamartin)
Time of travel by train: Less than 30 minutes

7. San Lorenzo El Escorial

imageI recommend this place if you are looking for a fine and quiet respite, away from the noise, and the hustle and bustle of Madrid. Be sure to check out the interior of the fabled Monastery, which once served as a royal palace of the King. Visitors will be mesmerized by the grandeur of its library, while the mighty courtyard of the Old Testament kings is something to marvel at. You must also see the Pantheon, where the remains of many royalties are kept.

How far from Madrid: 45 kilometers
Best Travel Option: Catch the autobus 661 at Moncloa, if you want to go the Galapagar route. Take 664 if you want to pass by the Valley of the Fallen gates.
Fare Price: 4.20 euros one way

8. Toledo

imageOne of the most visited towns within the Community of Madrid is Toledo,  not only because it is very near Madrid, but also because it is filled with many spectacular attractions. The alcazar is its most recognizable landmark, a magnificent site lying in the town’s highest peak. You can enjoy the best view of the edifice from the historic Tagus River. Other interesting sites to see in Toledo are the Museo de Separdi, the Toledo Cathedral, the Ancient Walls and Towers, and the Transito Synagogue.

Distance between Madrid and Toledo: 45 minutes
Recommended Bus: ALSA autobus, at Plaza Eliptica.
Price of autobus ticket: 5.39 euros single trip; 9.70 euros for ida y vuelta tickets.

9. Aranjuez

image Aranjuez is bestowed the title, Spain’s Royal Town, and rightly so. The stately Palacio Real sprawls right in its midst in all its pomp and grandness. The palace, the beauty of which rivals Madrid’s own Palacio Real, is accentuated by gardens of manicured hedges and multi-hued flowers dedicated to both the King and Queen. It is surrounded by gushing waterways — natural and man-made. The Iglesia de San Antonio, the town’s Royal Church, sits in one part of the plaza of the same name, and is considered as one of the Aranjuez’ major attractions.

How to go: Via 423 autobus at Estacion Sur bus station, Mendez Alvaro.
Fare cost: 4.20 euros, one way

10. Cuenca

imageAnother town in the Castille La Mancha region is Cuenca, which is a little over two hours away from Madrid, making it as one of the farthest nearby towns. Still, you’d realize the rather long trip is well-compensated after seeing the breathtaking Casas Colgadas, or Hanging Houses. Another must-see is the mesmerizing Cuenca Cathedral, looming on one end of the Plaza Mayor, opposite the arch gates.

Hours from the capital: 2 hours
Best travel option: Via autobus Avanza, at Estacion Sur
Price of bus fare: 25 euros for round-trip tickets