All posts by Alun John

My Madrid – Candy Lee Laballe

6a00d8341cb24853ef00e54f2a1ccb8834-640wiI haven’t done a My Madrid article for a while and was actually prompted to invite the next “interviewee” by the person herself! She is quite direct. Well, anyway Candy Lee Laballe came to Madrid on a whim in 1997 and stayed for two years. She left to pursue the “American Dream,” found it in Boston, and proceeded to become completely depressed. In her own words she says,

“after much soul-searching, I realized the only solution was moving back to Madrid. I had fallen in love with Madrid hard and being away from what you love is no way to live. I moved back to Madrid full time in January 2003 where I have been truly living a dream ever since. People always ask me how long I’ll stay here. I figure I have about 40 years to go.

Candy recently published Moon Spain for Avalon Publishing, a 900-page guide book to Spain. She says:3224430

It was a great experience and also a lot of work. Though there are several guidebooks on Spain in the market, I believe mine is different because I made an effort to share my love of Spain and Spanish culture with the readers.

Currently, she is doing some freelance writing including a monthly travel column for The Broadsheet. She is also about to launch MBA Spain, an MBA consultancy for Spanish students who want to attend top MBA programs.

Here are questions I asked Candy. Sit back and enjoy some of the great recommendations!

What is your favourite bar/café?

There is absolutely no way I can keep this to just one….so, for ambiance, good mojama (smoked tuna back), and flowing oloroso sherry, La Venencia on C/ Echegaray; for a funky vibe and great gin-tonics, Bodega Maxi in Lavapies; for the only old-fashioneds worth drinking outside of New Orleans, Del Diego on C/Reina.

What is your favourite dish?
Oh, so many to choose from. I guess I’d have to say paella, but only if it is done right….preferably by my friend Juan Negrillo from Valencia, and it has to have the socorat, the browned, burned bits of rice along the bottom of the pan. Another dish I can’t live without is salmorejo, the bread-thickened gazpacho native to Córdoba. I love it so much that I am serving it as the first course at my wedding in September. In the winter, I crave fabada asturiana….beans, morcilla, and chorizo, OH MY!

What is your favourite tapas?
Pan tumaca con jamón…..a thick slab of bread rubbed with olive
oil and tomato and topped with jamón….mmmmmmm. When I returned to
Spain to live in January 2003, I went straight from the airport to the
the Museo del Jamón on C/Mayor and ordered a big ole slab of it, ate it
right there with my suitcase at my side….it was a very delicious
welcome home. Now, I have my own jamón leg on my kitchen counter, so I
eat pan tumaca nearly every day!!

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It’s Nice To Receive Thanks!

I normally leave blog comments where they belong – either on a blog article or in the bin! – but this time I thought I’d share this everyone. On a wet, miserable day in Wales, it was nice to open this email this morning:

What a delightful experience! An authentic spanish bar with delicious food, delicious wine and perfect atmosphere. I loved it because I was with my spanish husband and felt we really were in Madrid as we did not bump into a whole bunch of tourists.
Thank you for allowing me to be there!

The author of this was referring to Casa Labra – thanks Gabrielle for your kind words!

Planeta Vino – Madrid Wine Blog


I wrote an article going back about a year – Wine Dinner At Restaurante Memento – about an event which was organised between Memento restaurant and Planeta Vino, a wine tasting company from Madrid. Well, I just chanced on Planeta Vino’s weblog and thought I would share it with visitors. Mary O’Connor updates the blog and offers some great tips on wines from Spain (and even outside), along with some good restaurant, bar and wine bar recommendations. Worth a look!

Madrid Tapas Fair – Sample Local Cuisine

The Annual Feria de la Tapa takes place from the 30th May to the 3rd June, 2007 in the Palacio de Deportes. The idea is to offer visitors the full range of tapas available to the public from local Madrilenian businesses. Entry is free and visitors will be ale to sample tapas and drinks at reduced prices. If you’re an outsider it’s a great opportunity to sample the breadth of tapas available to the public in Madrid – there are both traditional and ‘innovative’ tapas on offer.

Address: C/ Jorge Juan, 99
Metro: Goya

Madrid Flamenco Festival – Suma Famenca – Returns for 2nd Year

This week sees the start of Suma Flamenca, a Flamenco Festival put on by the Madrid City Council. It brings together some of the biggest names in Flamenco and offers the possibility of seeing dance, singing and instrumental shows. Some of the hottest names in Flamenco will be in town this week, including José Menese, Enrique Morente, El Güito, Sara Baras, José Mercé, Serranito, Tomatito and Carmen Linares

The shows will take place both within Madrid, in venues such as Teatro Albéniz, Círculo de Bellas Artes and the Fundación Olivar del Castillejo and there will also be events held in Madrid’s surrounding areas. Top Flamenco venues such as El Corral de la Morería, Café de Chinitas and Casa Patas will also be holding special shows.

The festival runs from the 7th – 26th May, 2007; take a look at the Suma Flamenca website to find out about the shows and calendar.

Angelika Cinema Lounge Madrid

Angelika Cinema Lounge
There’s a bar/cafe down on Madrid’s Cava Baja that I have walked past on a number of occasions – never actually going into it, until now. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it – a video selection as you walked in, high stools around a bar, a smart Apple monitor also behind the bar and plasma TV screens showing popular films (last week they were showing Volver).

Well, last week I went out for a few drinks with my wife, her brother-in-law and his wife and we ventured in. Angelika Cinema Lounge is very different to your typical Spanish bar – firstly, there is a no-smoking policy (don’t get me started on the ridiculous no-smoking policies in Madrid!), secondly, you can hire a DVD from their superb selection of films and thirdly, the bar staff at Angelika are acting professionals, who you can ask film advice of.

Though we went in there late I can still remember that they were playing the Bill Murray film Lost in Translation! Films are projected on plasma screens around the bar and, from what I can gather, they all use the original soundtrack (no dubbing). Angelika offers a wide range of drinks and food – coffees, teas, spirits and some great pastries. As it was so late I had a gin and tonic, which from my perspective (at around 2 a.m.!) seemed to be very carefully prepared – gin poured over ice and the juice of a freshly squeezed lemon – delicious!

It also offers a free wi-fi zone and I can’t think of more pleasant surroundings to do some work, or even to surf. On different days they offer screenings, short films and cinema debates.


Address: Cava Baja 24, 28005 Madrid, Spain

Telephone: 913 645 531
Web Address:

Casa de Campo – A Walk In Madrid’s Biggest Park

Yesterday, I went for a lovely walk to Madrid’s Casa de Campo. Situated to the west of the city, it used to be the hunting grounds for the Spanish Monarchy. It covers a staggering 1,722 hectares – compare that with Retiro Park’s 142 hectares and Central Park’s 340 hectares – and you could say it gives the city a great pair of lungs! The park was given to the people of Madrid on the 1st May, 1931 under the Second Republic and now provides a wide variety of activities to Madrileños – mountain biking, triathlon, walking, running, etc. 

I actually went to the park with my son and daughter and my father-in-law in order to ride the cable car. The Teleférico runs from just inside the park to the edge of another park, Parque del Oeste and offers wonderful views of the Royal Palace, the Cathedral and old Madrid. The ride took us around 11 minutes and covers a distance of about 2.5 kilometres.

Having received such a lot of rain over the past couple of weeks the Casa de Campo was a beautiful green colour. I was actually quite surprised to see so few people there, seeing as it was a beautiful Saturday in April. It seemed like the perfect place to unwind from the bustling city centre of Madrid and have a picnic under the pines with a cool glass of beer. According to my father-in-law the place has got much better since the clampdown on cars entering the area. The only cars I saw around the cable car were those which were transporting cyclists to a cycle race. And boy, does this look a fun place to go for a ride or do some mountain bike racing.

If you’re looking to get to the park, the easiest way is to get the Metro to Lago or get the cable car from Argüelles.

Ten Places I Would Never Eat or Drink in Madrid

I was walking around Madrid the to other day when I started thinking about some of the places that tourists go which add little, or no, value to the Madrid experience.They are often franchises, plastic in aspect and with no character. I explored this a little further with Vicen, my brother-in-law, and here is our Top 10 Places where you shouldn´t go in Madrid.:

  1. MC Donald´s – OK, so you eat this crap outside Spain. Why not start eating properly in Spain?
  2. Burger King – Nothing more to add.
  3. Kentucky Fried Chicken – Why on earth would you want to do it? Go look for some alitas or Pollo Asdao or Pollo al Ajillo. Much better and tastier!
  4. Starbucks – Usually double (at least!) the cost of a local coffee. A pointless experience but for some reason Americans, and Brits, they feel a need to go here. Go to the bar next door and get a taste of Spain.
  5. Pans and Co – I just don´t get this place when you can go to ANY bar and order a bocadillo.
  6. Cañas y Tapas – You will find these god-awful places all over Madrid. Go to the bar next door, please.
  7. VIPS – Another pointless place to go have food. I cannot understand why Spaniards, and some foreigners, go to these places for their lunch or dinner. Find a place that does Menú del Día nearby and get much better value for money.
  8. Café y Té is according to their website: "la consagración del concepto coffee-shop en España" (Trans: the consecration of the coffee shop concept in Spain). Bollocks! It´s another bloody franchise you shouldn´t bother going to.
  9. Dunkin Doughnuts – You come to Spain and end up eating this! Just go to one of the many pastry shops and bars and eat their great food.
  10. Subway – bascially, expensive bocadillos sold in plastic shops!

And, on that note, I´m off to have a bocadillo de lomo and a beer. All for around 3 Euros. Beat that Mc Donald´s!

Note: I have not included URL´s – if you want to find them, do it yourself!

I Love Paris (in Madrid!)

6a00d8341cb24853ef00e54f0de30e8833-640wiOn the 13th, 14th and 15th April, 2007 the Madrid Players are putting on a show called I Love Paris Spring Revue. According to their blog, I Love Paris:

is a tribute to the music of the City of Lights: by the American composers who fell under her spell, and the French artistes who have served as her ambassadors to the world. From Irving Berlin to Jacques Brel, from Cole Porter to Edith Piaf, The Madrid Players’ newest musical revue will feature some of the best songs of Broadway and the Grands Boulevards, all with that certain je ne sais quoi of Parisian flair!

The Madrid Players are an amateur group, comprising some 60 people, which was fouunded thirty years ago. One third of the proceeds of the show will go to Alanda, an NGO for children with autism spectrum disorders. For more information an ticket details, visit the Madrid Players website.

Beware Spaniards Wielding Umbrellas

Today, 9th April 2007, it is raining quite heavily in Madrid. For some reason, and coming from the UK, I didn´t anticipate that it would rain this afternoon. But boy, has it rained! And when it rains, the umbrellas come out.

A word of warning! Generally, the rain in Spain stays mainly on the plane. But when it does rain, the Spanish start to use umbrellas and ´cos they´re out of practice, they don´t use them very well.

If you´re not careful, you easily lose an eye in Madrid when it rains!

Es Madrid No Madriz added a comment to this blog to say he´s one of the few non-dangerous, Spaniards who know how to use an umbrella! On his site he also comes up with some top tips.

When in Madrid, Make an Effort to Speak Spanish

I overheard a conversation today between an English guy and a waiter in one of the bars. The English guy had just finished his coffee and said to the waiter: "the bill – two coffees". When he handed over a 5-Euro note and received his change he said: "thank you".

BLOODY HELL! This sort of thing makes me mad. You go to the heart of Spain – Madrid, not the Costa del Sol – and can´t be arsed to try and speak in their language.

And the crazy thing is that most young people (he must have been in his early 30´s) in the Western world can say; "dos cafés" and everybody, I mean everybody knows how to say: "gracias". Any phrasebook – and let´s admit all tourists have one – will have phrases like "me dice cuanto es" or "la cuenta, por favor" to ask for the bill.

And I saw the same thing happen a couple of hours later with a young, American girl who again couldn´t be arsed and hot quite annoyed when people couldn´t understand her.

It´s one of the most wonderful things about Madrid – that many people speak English badly or not all – and that´s what makes it such a great place.

New Prado Extension Unveiled

New Prado Extension
Having spent 152 million Euros on developing the new extension to the Prado Museum, yesterday the new “wing” of the Prado was opened by the Spanish culture minister Carmen Calvo. Designed by the architect Rafael Moneo, it adds an extra 22,000 square metres to the great museum. One of the main focal points will be the cloister of Los Jerónimos church (found next door) which was dismantled, and re-assembled, piece-by-piece.

The extension is open to the public from the 28th April, 2007. The picture above is from an album of Gorka Lejarcegi and found on El Pais‘s website. As yet, you will find nothing on the absolutely crappy and pitiful Prado Museum website – though you may in time! Having spent this much money, it doesn’t even make it their news section.

The clip below is from 20 Minutos:

New Banner Header for Mad About Madrid

If you’re not a first-time visitor, you will see that I have a brand, spanking-new header. Over the past couple of weeks I have been making modifications to this site and felt that I had to start developing a new brand with nice images of Madrid. My images of Madrid are very amateurish, so I thought I would ask someone whose digital photographs of the city I have a great appreciation of. That’s why last week I asked Ramón Durán, whose stunning photographs you can find on Flickr,if he wouldn’t mind using his photos to create a new collage. As you can gather he said yes.

If you haven’t seen his wonderful pictures of Madrid, and places he’s travelled to, make sure you head over to Flickr to view his work. I am sure that like me you will be blown away with some of his photography. And by the way this is his hobby -he is a Urologist by trade!

Thank you very much Ramón.

A Note on Mad About Madrid logo
The inspiration for this new logo came from a few sources. The colours are actually those of the flag and coat of arms of the community of Madrid. The exclamation marks are ever so slightly influenced by Tom Peters, the business guru. The reason that the exclamation marks are upside down on one side is because that’s how they are written in Spanish.