Tag Archives: Madrid


18 Dec

Happy holidays, Feliz Navidad and Merry Christmas!

Recently, I got to see Madrid’s own Christmastime public display that is put on each year by El Corte Inglés (a huge, overpriced department store that has almost everything – kind of like Wal-Mart, but classier…).  This display is at Corte Inglés de Preciados, downtown, and it is worth going to see everyone’s faces light up at the songs and the animation.  The show was about 15 minutes long.  I understood some of the lyrics (with help from my friend, Yani) and almost learned the refrain for the Cortylandia song, which is in the video below – catchy, isn’t it?


A tooth fairy named Pérez (or García)

3 Dec

At the age of thirty-something, I just found out that the tooth fairy was not who I thought she was!  Imagine my shock and surprise when I learned (SPOILER ALERT!) that the tooth fairy is not a dainty little ballerina fairy who exchanged the teeth that I lost as a child with quarters and dollar bills, but in fact….

…a MOUSE named Pérez!  Well, his name is Pérez if you are in Spain or South America, but apparently he goes by García in Mexico.

It turns out that children here in Madrid with a newly-plucked tooth have the option of:

  1. Placing the tooth under their pillow,
  2. Throwing the tooth onto the roof, or
  3. Bringing it to the museum of el Ratón Pérez (conveniently located on Calle Arenal, here in Madrid).

Lucky kids!  Similar to the deal we have with the tooth fairy in the States, el Ratoncito Pérez leaves money in exchange for the teeth.

I was incredulous when I learned about the story from my friend, Yani while eating churros and chocolate.  So incredulous, in fact, that since we were in the neighborhood, we decided to go check out the museum.  It turns out that it is a busy place – when we showed up, it was closed for a school visit (visions of 30 desperate kids wiggling their teeth the night before immediately came to mind).

The story behind el Ratoncito (the little mouse) Pérez is a nice history lesson.  Alfonso XIII was a king in Spain, and his father had died when he was young.  After young Alfonso XIII lost his first baby tooth (or in Spanish – diente de leche…a milk tooth), his mother asked a Jesuit priest to write a story to help calm the young king.  So, el Ratoncito Pérez was born in the imagination of the Jesuit priest, and after the priest told the young king the story of el Ratoncito Pérez, the little mouse paid a visit to the young king that night.  The tale also mentions that the little mouse lived at Calle Arenal, 8 (where the museum is today), in a metal box of cookies.  A great write-up about the story is on the Secretos de Madrid blog.


Outside the museum of El Ratón Pérez. Children can bring their teeth or their letters to drop off for el Ratoncito. I am curious to know what happens to the teeth!

And why el Ratón García comes to visit kids living in Mexico?  I have no idea yet, so stay tuned…

¡Feliz Thanksgiving – have a batata pie!

22 Nov

My favorite American holiday is Thanksgiving* – like last year, we are in Madrid for the holiday.  Last year, we celebrated at a Mexican restaurant here in Madrid who made a pretty good Thanksgiving dinner, but this year, we are super fortunate to get to spend time with some American friends who have invited us for dinner. Life is good.

In the spirit of the season, I thought it would be nice to make a pumpkin pie with the one can of organic pumpkin that we were sent from the US (this is a very special can, as I have not found canned pumpkin in Spain yet) for Justin to take into work to share a bit of Thanksgiving with his coworkers.  Last week, Justin thought so, too.  However, yesterday, he decided that maybe one pie would not be enough for his work.  I also realized that my kitchen arsenal was not properly equipped for pies, so in addition to improvising pumpkin, I improvised pans.

Luckily, I’m not a perfectionist when it comes to food – I want it to taste good, but it’s never going to make me cry if I can’t create something as beautiful as the cooks and chefs on HGTV.  In fact, I’d rather have a story to remember why things were a bit different (or so I tell myself).

So, he’s bringing in a pumpkin pie and a sweet potato pie.  I was able to find sweet potatoes (not the yellow garnets that my aunt always raves about, but “batatas“).  The pumpkin pie was cooked in a slightly too small shallow cake pan that my grandma gave me, and the sweet potato pie was cooked in an enormous, brand new silicone cake pan that caused the pie to swell up and engulf the crust during the baking.  They’re not perfect, but perfectly recognizable as pies – plus Justin has instructions to use the can of whipped cream ad libitum (or until his thumb gives out)!

Pumpkin pie with walnut streusel.

Sweet potato pie that I have renamed “batata pie”.

Since the pumpkin pie was cooked in too small a pan, I *HAD* to make a mini pie with the leftovers (and we quite happily ate it last night!).  Hopefully Justin’s coworkers enjoy them today.

Happy Thanksgiving!

* I am referring to the spirit of the holiday for giving thanks for family, friends, health, and the amazingness of life….I try not to think too much about the history of the US and colonization of an already occupied land (and everything that entailed), since that would be a bit of a downer…

Spain Road Trip 3

2 Nov

The last part of a whirlwind trip through Andalucía and back into Madrid…

Tammy and I finished off our day touring the white hill towns in Granada.  As is the norm with Granada (at least for us), it took an extra 90 minutes or so to find the hotel, and I fully expect to get at least one friendly letter from the city asking me to send them money since I was probably driving where I was not supposed to.  But…we found the hotel, checked in, and then headed out to find some of the really good tapas that Granada is famous for.  We ended up finding place #1 – a gritty bar that I insisted we try since there looked to be “real” people inside – the tapa was some potato chips alongside a few pieces of cheese drizzled with olive oil (this tapa became known as “the oily cheese”).  We left.  Tammy chose place #2 – a swanky wine bar that took a while for the tapas to show…but it was definitely worth it – the two of us (mostly vegetarians) each gobbled up a mini hamburger with fancy sauce and swilled our delicious wine.  Pretty soon, we had decided we needed to see what the next tapa might be, so we ordered another glass of wine and were rewarded with a pretty little open-faced sandwich with pork and a green pepper….just as tasty!  We were convinced that the food would be excellent and opted to order a great rare tuna salad.  The place was a find – Puerta del Carmen.

The next day, we toured the Alhambra – the third time I had been, but the first time I was actually able to tour the palaces.  It was lovely, to say the least.  After our tour, we made our way back to our hotel to fetch the car.  Getting out of Granada was even more of an adventure than getting to the hotel – I think I was driving on sidewalks, while Tammy tried to hide under her seat.  But – we made it out of the city, somehow, and we drove back to Sevilla to return the rental car and hop the AVE back to Madrid.

Back in Madrid, Justin got to play tourist with us, so we visited a few museums, went spelunking for lunch in El Molar, and did a lot more eating and drinking…to show Tammy what we’ve learned about Spain!

It was a super visit.


21 Oct

I did a hike recently with a friend from Puerto de Navacerrada to Cercedilla in the mountains just north of Madrid – it was a lovely autumn day and wonderful to be outside, away from the city.

My natural history lessons for the day?  Rose hips and autumn crocus.

  • Rose hips – In Spain, rose hips are called (colloquially) “tapaculos“.  The “tapa” refers to covering or a lid, and “culo” refers to…your backside!  This nickname comes from the fact that the tiny hairs in the rose hips can cause stomach irritation and distress…and you get the point.  When you eat tapaculos, make sure to remove the seeds and hairs!!!

Tapaculos or rose hips – very tasty, but make sure to remove the seeds and hairs unless you are conducting an experiment to find out why the Spaniards call them “tapaculos”.

  • Autumn crocus – The famous paella ingredient, saffron, comes from the dried stigma of the Crocus sativus flower that blooms in the fall.  On my hike, I saw a number of autumn-blooming crocus that although were not THE saffron crocus, were lovely in their own diminutive, fragile and almost hidden beauty.

An autumn-blooming crocus, similar to the famous saffron-producing Crocus sativus.

Scoping out the Rastro

7 Oct

One of the things that is an essential part of Madrid is the giant flea market (el Rastro) that is open on Sundays – this has a reputation for claustrophobia-inducing crowds, dust-collecting antiques, and evil pickpockets – three things that have not inspired us to check it out.  However, I have been doing a bit more reading about it, and I decided that I would have to check it out sometime soon (with or without Justin).  Coincidentally, Anne Pinder with INC offered a morning, weekday tour of the Rastro area – her tours are great for providing key information about the people, places, history, and culture of Spain and Madrid.  It sounded like a fantastic way to do a little bit of homework first, so that a later trip to the Rastro might be successfully executed with little damage to self or pocketbook.

The flea market is situated along several streets, and the central part of the Rastro zone is Plaza de Cascorro, where the statue of Eloy Gonzalo stands.  If you look closely at Señor Gonzalo, he is carrying a gas can; during the Cuban War of Independence, he volunteered for a dangerous task and became a hero.  Noting Eloy’s gas can made me wonder how many statues had interesting details that I have missed over the years because I didn’t look closely enough.  Although I will try hard to remember Eloy’s name, he may become Mr. Gas Can in my memory, if I am not careful.

This is a statue of Eloy Gonzalo, a Spanish hero, who volunteered for a dangerous mission during the Cuban War of Independence – he’s carrying a gas can.

Throughout the entire area, numbers in the sidewalk identify stand locations for specific venders; the market is also apparently organized by subject (e.g., there are areas specific for books, birds, etc.).

Venders sell in specific places that are “addressed” along the sidewalks.

The area also has a number of antique stores, which are interesting to check out at speed-walking pace – I did see a Kurt Cobain singing figure which I considered buying since I don’t have any Nirvana songs on my iPod at the moment.  I was thinking I might have Kurt hold my iPod, but decided he would still take up too much space.

An antique store in the area surrounding the Rastro. These places overwhelm me generally, but there can be some gems, like the Kurt Cobain barbie doll I found (and did not buy. Sorry, Kurt.).

I came away from Anne’s tour with some nice recommendations for great eateries in the area, found some GREAT sports stores, and I think I’m finally ready to head to the Rastro on a Sunday (albeit earlier than most) to see what it is all about.

Una marcha de bicis

6 Oct

A little while back, our friend Yani told us about a cycling event that was going to be put on by the mobile phone company, Movistar – these guys also sponsor a Pro Tour cycling team, so they’re pretty good folks.  What I thought was fantastic is that the event – what I would call a rally – would be noncompetitive so that anyone with a bike could come out, have shirts and cool blue lights to spruce up the bikes (since we’d ride at night) for all participants, and best of all – it was free!  This last feature is a nice thing, especially given the economic climate here – presumably more people were able to participate.

We met up with our friends, Ari and Yani, and rode through the city to the Río Manzanares.  This river runs through the southern part of the city where a multi-use trail allows cyclists, runners, and walkers to enjoy being outside and active…and the numerous cafés and bars allow them to refuel Spanish style, if they so choose, with a bocodillo con iberíco and una caña (ham sandwich and beer).

At the bike rally (la marcha de bicis) with our friends Ari & Yani (photo by A. Cannizzo).

We arrived at the staging area, picked up our gear, and awaited the start after our own proper Spanish-style refueling.  While we waited for the event to start, we installed our Movistar blue lights onto the valve stems of our tires (the centrifugal motion activated the light) and added our Movistar blue reflectors so that we looked as official as the other 3000 participants.  Then, approximately 10 minutes before the start of the ride, the skies opened up – and we had rain for the first time in months (for us, at least!)!  This rain was torrential and took out the big Movistar inflatable finish line arches while the riders huddled under trees, oohhing and aahhing as the arches deflated magnificently.  We finally gave up and decided to head home, after considering that our fellow participants might be a little crazy in the wet, dark conditions on the slick asphalt coated with oil and grime from the summer.

My favorite part of the evening was Yani’s description of us – como pollitos pasados por agua.  With the steamy pavement, I think I felt like a boiled chicken, too.

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