The Most Dangerous Place in Madrid

Vintage magazine covers

Interested in buying a gas mask? How about some vintage postcards or magazine covers? Or maybe just some cute new sweaters and scarves for the winter months? If you’ve come to El Rastro de Madrid, held every Saturday and holiday throughout the year, you’ve come to the right place to buy all of the above, and more.

Are those... gas masks?

Sara and I went in, ‘just to see it’, and emerged a few hours later with about 100 euros worth of purchases – and we were being strict with ourselves! I like to joke with my friends who are headed to the Spanish capital to watch out for El Rastro – the most dangerous place in Madrid!

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Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 15:26  Leave a Comment  
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A Weekend in Madrid – Part Two

The Palacio Real

Day two started with a tour of the Royal Palace, which looked nice enough from the outside (apparently it cuts a better figure if you approach it from behind, but that view was a bit of a walk from where we were, and it was a cold and blustery day.) Inside, though, the corridors seemed to go on and on, and the scale of the building started to become evident. We were told that the Palace had 2,800 bedrooms! If that’s true, it must include servants quarters and the like… but still!

The decoration was beautiful, if sometimes ornate to the point of ridiculous. There were clocks and tables and statues utilizing every sort of precious metal, jewel, and wood, paintings by Velazquez, Tiepolo, and Caravaggio, tapestries, and even entire walls covered in embroidery so thick it seemed carved. We also saw collections of china and silver, an incredibly rare set of instruments, and the royal pharmacy with its hundreds of drawers and glass bottles. I once again have to shamefacedly admit my surprise at the sheer opulence of the palace, at the riches that belonged to the Spanish monarchy. In the past I’ve been known to forget that Spain even has a King… I don’t think that will happen again any time soon!

Squid in their own ink at the world's oldest restaurant, Botin!

Before we knew where the day had gone, we were getting ready for the night. It was Sara’s birthday, and we were going out on the town. Our first stop was dinner at Botin, the world’s oldest restaurant according to the Guinness Book of World Records! It may have been the most expensive meal I’ll eat this semester, but it still could have been worse considering the combination of novelty and genuinely good food. I ordered baby squid in their own ink, a recommendation I’d carried around for several years, and absolutely loved it. I know it sounds a bit scary, but Sara’s friend Colleen tasted and loved it too – the flavour was mild but rich – and nothing like pen ink. 😉 Dessert was a slice of cake with a layer of egg-yolk yema and a topping of caramelized sugar.

Fire show in Chueca

Our bachelorette friends...

Next we headed to Chueca, Madrid’s gay neighborhood, for some people watching and pre-gaming, which sounds much more dignified in Spanish, as “Botellón”. We had fun laughing and drinking in the cold night and even saw a fire show in the street before we went down into the station to take refuge from the biting wind. We finally headed in the general direction of the Discoteca, following a bachelorette party on the way, but the line was at least an hour long, and we were having a lot of fun even without the club atmosphere, so we went for ice cream at McDonalds and chocolate and churros at San Gines. It was a fun night for everyone. I don’t think Sara or I would ever have imagined that we would spend her 21st birthday party together in Madrid, Spain, but neither of us were disappointed!

We slept in as late as we wanted the next morning, and finally woke to a little birthday surprise for Sara from her host mother, and a reminder that it was Sunday, the day of the Rastro. El Rastro is a huge open-air market that seems to go on for miles, and Sara and I spent a good hour wandering through. In the end, I escaped with only a new shirt and a new dress, which I ‘needed’ for the winter time anyway. I ate my final Madrid meal, a famous calamari sandwich, at a nearby bar. Then I had to head back home, sad to be leaving but very satisfied with my time in Spain’s capital city.

Published in: on October 20, 2010 at 19:13  Leave a Comment  
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Bilbao’s Mercado de la Ribera

The Mercado from the outside.

Just steps from Bilbao’s old town, you can visit El Mercado de la Ribera, which claims to be the world’s largest covered market. It’s hard to find independent confirmation of this claim, but the Guinness Book of World Records did list it in 1990 as the biggest covered food market in Europe, at 10,000 square meters. Cynthia and I went in for a stroll during our day in Bilbao, but Lea didn’t quite have the stomach for it…

The market is divided into three floors, each with its own theme. To summarize, the basement is for seafood, the main floor meat and pastries, and the upper story fruits, vegetables, and flowers – quite nice, really, as you don’t have to enjoy the aroma of octopus while you pick out your apples or tomatoes!


This is euphemistically called a 'bull's egg' - huevo de toro. Yes, it's what you think it is.

Its a lot to take in for an American – I’m used to being quite separated from the bloody reality of animal products. A quick walk on the main floor brought me past a dozen things I’d never seen in America – entire pigs’ heads, brains and tongues, freshly skinned rabbits, even bull testicles. One butcher was graphically hacking open a sheep’s carcass even as we went passed!

Fish says: 😛

"Mira, mira, para un recuerdo!"

The basement was less frightening but stronger smelling – it had all the fragrance of low tide on a hot day. Still, I know it makes me a horrible person, but sometimes fish just look so funny/cute when dead, with their rolling googly eyes and their tongues sticking out! Cynthia and I stopped to take a picture of one group of them, and a boy working at the market became pretty enthusiastic about getting into our photo. “Look, look,” he said, “For a souvenir!”

Published in: on September 17, 2010 at 16:08  Leave a Comment  
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El Mercado Medieval

Last weekend, Pamplona had a Medieval Market in the old part of town. It had more to do with a farmer’s market back home than with our enormous Renaissance Festivals teeming with costumes, pony rides, and shows, but was still a lovely way to spend an afternoon. I only ended up buying a jar of honey from one stand and strawberry and hazelnut flavoured barquillos at another, but that didn’t stop me from tasting dozens of types of cheese, sausage, and pate from all over northern Spain! I also loved looking at (and photographing) the huge variety of herbs and teas on display. Still, my favourite part of the market was probably the day-old baby goats in the little petting zoo. ^^

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Published in: on September 13, 2010 at 20:56  Leave a Comment  
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