Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Madrid:Will the real Madrid please stand up

Madrid, the 'almost' forgotten Spanish capital when most people equate Spain with Barcelona. The capital with no claim to fame of a well known landmark that is why it is usually shoved down the list of places to visit. So why choose Madrid? basically because of this "plainess" where you don't have any well known monuments or landmarks to split your attention with the city. Know Madrid for who she is and not to tick off all those must see sights and take 101 customary poses with landmarks and monuments

Spending a few days in Madrid is short to really unmask this senorita but through this limited period you will already be treated to her different moods and faces.

Conquistador Madrid 

Inside the cheery the apartment in a residential neigborhood in Madrid, I attentively listen to a Madrilena on how we are supposed to operate the washing machine in our rental apartment. She was busy pressing, pulling and switching knobs on the rectangular contraption when a friend suddenly blurted out "Umm, where's the ironing board?".Well of course the most logical question right after someone taught you how you are supposed to run your laundry . The girl looked back puzzled and asked "What's that?".The horror that you will not be able to iron your clothes after the laundry prompted my friend to try another  way to explain by immitating a game of charades as she rolled her fist loosely and moved it back and forth in front of her but still to no avail.Then out of desperation she tried one more trick from her sleeve, she looked at the girl and said "Plancha?".Then suddenly the sky just parted and the little birds sang as the girl's face brightened and she replied "Ahh, plancha" and she pointed to a small closet.Then a slew of spanish-influence Tagalog words question and answer ensued..
"How about the spoon, what do you call it?" , "oohh, cuchara"
"What about the bed?", "It's the same, cama"
And so on and so forth that it almost resembled a new segment in Sesame street called "Guess the spanish word in the Filipino vocabulary"

During the 15th century when Spain is a world empire and there were numerous expeditions to discover lands, a Spanish explorer by the name of Roy Lopez de Villalobos landed in one of the 7107 islands of this country in the Pacific and named it after the Spanish king Philip II. With 333 years of ruling the Philippines under its belt, Spain has greatly influenced the Filipino culture from fiestas to ABAKADAS. 

From signages, food menu and snippets of conversation of the Madrilenos, if you are a Filipino you would pick up a word or two and would probably be able to get a good idea what time the restaurant will be serving dinner even if the whole sentence is written in Spanish.

Scan the stops in the Madrid metro and you might notice the station 'Islas Filipinas' - a fitting tribute to a former colony in the Pacific. This is also metro stop where you can get off to see the statue of Jose Rizal erected during his centennial year in this part of Madrid which can pass as a doppelganger of the statue in Rizal Park.

Hearing familiar words and finding your national hero, a Pinoy can't help but to have a sense of familiarity with Madrid. It was coming into terms on how Spain helped shaped the culture and even the language of the Philippines.

Old Soul Madrid

The side streets from Calle Mayor opens to a cobbled  vast square which is the heart of historical Madrid called Plaza Mayor. This square used to be a marketplace that eventually evolved into a place for bullfights, royal events and even the Inquisition centuries ago but nowadays this marketplace is a place where tourists, locals and street performers flock. The huge square is surrounded by red bricked buildings that house several restaurants and cafes. At the center of the square is a statue of King Philip III of Spain which carries an interesting tale hundred years ago when birds were trapped inside the statue because of a hole it caused a reeking smell in the square due to the decaying bodies of the birds.
Plaza Mayor
Plaza Mayor is where you can also find the best deal in town because this is the meeting point of the highly recommended Sandemans New Madrid Tour. Why is this the best deal in town? they call it a free tour but technically it's not because the guides work for tips or gratuity, you pay what you think is the worth of the service to you.If you do enjoy the tour and service of the guide by all means be generous keeping in mind that most of these guides are doing these full time and if they are doing their job excellently help them continue to do it. For around 3 hrs, this walking tour will take you to the nooks and cranny of Madrid to discover  Madrid's very own Robin Hood, entice you to reserve a table for your dinner in the world's oldest restaurant, get to know the queen who detest taking a bath, admire the grandeur of the Royal Palace  which are just a few of the things that you will experience with this walking tour. 

On a street off Mercato San Miguel, is a simple small church that houses cloistered nuns and one of the livelihood of these nuns are selling sweets. There is a door on the right of the main entrance that has a buzzer (doorbell) with a sign 'venta de dulces' and the schedule. Ring for the monjas and wait for one of the nuns to answer, once the door is opened go inside and follow the arrow that says 'torno'. Since no one is allowed to see the cloistered nuns the method to sell these sweets is done by a charming archaic way of using a wooden turntable or lazy susan. Inside the small room, is a window that has a turntable beside the window a list is posted of the available sweets, quantity and corresponding price. The nun will be on the other side of the window but you will not be able to see her, tell the nun the sweets that you want and she will place the sweets on the turntable and turn it to your side. Get your sweets and put your payment on the turntable and turn it so that the nun will be able to get the money. Don't rush yet because the nun will turn it one more time to where she will put the plastic bag to carry your box of sweets.

Foodie Madrid

It was already the peak hour for dinner and it is a weekend, there we no free tables in sight. The energy is palpable as you try to squeeze among animated conversations, numerous plates of tapas and people clutching a glass of wine while hovering in the different food stalls. One little stall is flocked by a crowd as the ladies hand out small plates of golden croquettas with different fillings. Slices of toasts topped with mackerel, mussel, anchovies and cheese are on a colorful parade in the Tostas stall. Row upon row of pork legs dangle in the Jamon stall as the men untiringly slice the paper thin jamons. Bottles and wine glasses littered the wine stall. Welcome to Mercato San Miguel on a Saturday night dinner time. It might be touristy but this is one place that can provide you with good food within a budget. Enjoy the tapas culture by getting small portions of different dishes and washing it down with a good Spanish red.

Do not let the name fool you it is actually not a museum (the museum is in another place) but Museo de Jamon actually serves bocadillos. These are thinly sliced jamon and cheese sandwiches. You can eat in the bar which is constanly filled or opt to pay extra to take your sandwich and sit down on the second floor restaurant area or better yet have your sandwiches to go and enjoy it in the nearest park or in the comforts of your apartment or hotel room.

Make sure to leave room for desert because just a short walk from Mercato San Miguel is the famous Chocolateria de San Gines.They are famous for crunchy fried churros that you dip on the thick chocolate. The perfect way to cap off your meal

Madrid may not boast of well known landmarks but knowing the heart and soul of this city from it's influence on the Philippine culture, the richness of its history and the goodness of the food are more than enough reasons for you to visit it. With its different persona, you will leaving Madrid with thoughts of coming back and experiencing more of this senorita.


  1. You did it! *rock*

    I am excited to use my Pinoy/Spanish words! Cuchara indeed!

    Would you recommend Sandemans' New Madrid Tour? I used them in Amsterdam and I found the pace quite fast. :/

  2. yep..after much prayers and saving up. You will totally enjoy conversing in Spanish..time to dust off those Spanich vocabulary. Yep, I would recommend Sandemans New Madrid..the pace might not be very good for taking lots of pictures but it's great to know the stories behind the different places.We had so much fun with the guide during our tour,she was very entertaining and energetic, I think that is the reason why we had such a great time with the tour.
    My suggestion take the tour first thing then from there you can just go back to the places that you find interesting.