Chinchón—A Plaza Mayor to Rival Salamanca’s

As far as as Plaza Mayors go, I’ve always had a clear favorite: Salamanca. Now, not to hate on Madrid (though I don’t have a problem doing that at times), but for me, nothing rivals Salamanca’s gorgeous Plaza Mayor. It’s where I met up with Mario on our first dates (we met, as do most couples and friends, debajo del reloj), it’s where I picnicked on sunny days with my guiri friends, it’s the square I crossed daily on the way to my internship.

Last autumn, though, some friends of ours invited us to visit Chinchón, a small village about 50 km southwest of Madrid, with a population of roughly 5,000 people. They too are a couple like us: one Spaniard, one guiri from the Midwest. They got married in this town, and I immediately saw why they were drawn to it.

Chinchón Plaza Mayor Madrid

Its Plaza Mayor, Main Square in English (though I never translate this phrase), is a classic medieval construction. All around the outside are houses and buildings with balconies. Many of these have been converted into restaurants, so you can sit outside on the rickety (or so it seems) wooden scaffolding and enjoy your menu del día.

Since its construction, the square has been home to various events: royal fiestas, comedy shows, jousting, bullfights, religious sacraments, executions, and even home to a movie set or two (Around the World In 80 Days, for example).

Chinchón Plaza Mayor MadridChinchón Plaza Mayor Madrid

Chinchón is also known for its eponymous beverage, a form of anisette, made from aniseed macerated for half a day in a hydroalcoholic solution (usually wine). Later it’s distilled in copper stills for different amounts of time, leading to distinct varieties, including:

Chinchón Anis Sweets
The liqueur is also used to make many sweets (Source)

  • Sweet, useful for cooking at 35% alcohol
  • Dry, no sugar and 43% alcohol
  • Special Dry, a stronger variety at 74% alcohol

I actually hate aniseed, so we passed on trying this libation.

Chinchón Plaza Mayor  Madrid

Chinchón Plaza Mayor  Madrid

Chinchón Madrid

Which villages have you visited around Madrid? What’s your favorite?

¡Qué Calor!

Spanish word of the moment: calor, meaning heat. In Madrid, we’ve been experiencing an ola de calor, or heat wave. Temperatures have reached 38 C, 100 F, with no relief in sight. I know you sevillanos have us beat, but my mother used to say if there was one thing I hated, it was being hot. And sweating. Nowadays I don’t mind sweating that much—except at night. Is there anything less conducive to a good night’s rest than beads of sweat rolling down your back?

How to beat the heat (without central air)?

Fans, fans, fans.

Dog Fan

We have a large, industrial-size fan here. It was here when we moved in. Now I’m finding out why!

Buy yourself a pingüino.

Pingüino Aire Acondicionado

No, I’m not talking about the animal, although they are cute. I don’t really know why, but the nickname here in Spain for a portable air conditioner is pingüino.

Spray yourself.

Spray Bottle

I headed down to the nearest chino (your go-to-for-everything store, usually run by people from China) and bought myself a €0.90 spray bottle. I fill it up with cold water and spray myself every so often.

Head to a pool.

If you are not one of the lucky ones who has a pool in their apartment complex, there are public pools in Madrid.

Do not cook. Ever.

Since the school year is over, I have more free time. And since I’m abandoning Mario for a while in order to see my family, I decided to fulfill all stereotypes and cook him so food to freeze. (Mario often works from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., and thus cannot go to grocery stores in Spain, since they are not open at those times). But this makes you hotter and hotter, and cooking while sweating is not relaxing.

Eat well.

Gazpacho Andaluz

Source: Spanish Sabores

Spain is known for its gazpacho, and gazpacho is a great way to use delicious summer tomatoes. Check out my fellow blogger’s gazpacho recipe. Some other great Spanish dishes include salmorejo, ajoblanco, escabeches, and mojete, among many more.

Cold showers.

Self explanatory.

I’m headed home on July 11, but not before Mario and I celebrate our first wedding anniversary this weekend! Can you believe it’s already been a year?

My Madrid Neighborhood: Arganzuela

Since we moved to Madrid, I’ve come to realize that mi barrio, my neighborhood, isn’t one of Madrid’s coolest or most coveted places to live. I don’t live in Malasaña, where hipsters ride bicycles and drink cañas in old men bars; nor do I reside in La Latina, with its bares de tapas along Cava Baja street; I don’t call Chamberí or Chueca my home; Salamanca is out of the question. My neighborhood isn’t even included on this map made for you to choose the best one to live in.

Where do I live, then? Arganzuela. (Metro: Arganzuela Planetario or Legazpi.)

What I love about mi barrio:

The green spaces. We live right next to two great spots for being active. Mario and I are runners, so the fact that just 100 meters from our front door lies Parque Tierno Galván is a huge plus. This park is home to the planetarium as well as the IMAX. The planetarium offers free activities throughout the summer, indoors as well as outdoors.

Madrid Rio

We also love running alongside the Madrid Río, a project that began when a section of the M-30 road running parallel to the Manzanares river was moved into an underground tunnel. The park actually is in several districts of Madrid, including Moncloa, Carabanchel, and Usera. Here you’ll find runners, cyclists, skaters, and tons of families. There are places to stop and have a beer or eat some churros as well! You can also run under the picturesque Puente de Toledo.

Puente de Toledo Madrid

The quiet. Perhaps I’m outing myself as a 26-year-old grandma, but I don’t care! I love sleep, and I love going to bed at 11:30 on a weekday and not hearing people partying, not hearing cars drive by, and not getting my sleep interrupted by anything other than the occasional sound of the trash collectors (who drive by every night around midnight). Sure, it’s not quite the same as living in Indiana where you hear the crickets chirp outside your window in summer, but it’s perfect for me.

El Matadero. I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t quite get this place—or at least its art. El Matadero was once Madrid’s slaughterhouse (in fact, matadero is literally “slaughterhouse) and was used as a livestock market. It closed in 1996. In the last few years it’s been made into a cultural space dedicated to the arts. El Matadero houses numerous exhibitions throughout the year in its many buildings. In each of the buildings there are programs and services related to a certain cultural area: theater, design, visual arts, and literature.

Matadero Madrid

The prices. If you want to eat cheaply in Spain, Madrid is not your best bet—most of the time! But Mario and I have our secret little bar in our neighborhood where we can eat dinner on Friday nights for €11–€12—for the both of us! Sure, we’re not eating anything groundbreaking. But you won’t find a better empanada. And I refuse to pay €4 for one pintxo de tortilla (especially if served cold, ahem ahem).

Moreover, we have a two-bedroom apartment here for the price of a one-bedroom in central Madrid. Since I expect to have family and friends visiting from the States sometime, it’ll come in handy to have a cheap (free) place for them to stay.


The people. Ours is a family neighborhood. Apparently quite a few people from Zamora choose to live in this area, which obviously helps. But our neighborhood panadera (baker) is the friendliest around and always refer to me as reina or cariño. Nothing beats Midwest-style kindness!

Would I change anything?

Well, yes. I’d like to live a bit closer to a metro stop, and I’d like to have a frutería right outside my door. But we can’t have everything, now can we?

Where do you live? What do you love about your  barrio?