Monthly Archives: June 2011

I can’t find enough words that suffice to explain how I feel each time I step on Madrid. The city has been part of so many important events in my life that I’m overwhelmed with familiarity and a feeling of simply belonging. When I walk its streets, thousands of memories flow into my mind. Living away from home for the first time. My first love. And my first heart-break. My best friends. Studying in the park. My graduation (and my second graduation, too). My first snowfall.

I took this picture on a sunday evening from a beautiful terrace overlooking la Catedral de la Almudena and Campo del Moro. In the distance, the outskirts of the city during the last few minutes of sunset. I’m still amazed about how a city I always believe to know so well, keeps on surprising me each time I return.

I’ll see you soon, Madrid.

Countries in tropical zones aren’t always as paradisiac as one could imagine. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Cuba, but this second visit to the island has opened my eyes to another truth: temperatures might be relatively stable all year round, but it’s climate is really volatile.

Last time I visited the island, back in October 2010, it was hurricane season and, as such, temperatures dropped significantly from one day to another and it was pouring so much that I had to get a cab to go to the office (which, by the way, was about a 50 meters walk from my hotel). Strong winds rushed through the city as a hurricane was approaching the east of the island.

This time, it was so hot I thought I would melt on the streets. Despite this, every afternoon was greeted with 10 minutes of heavy rain followed by a thunderstorm that would continue until right before dinner. Quite unstable, isn’t it?

But although tropical climates have this catastrophic downturn, there are some upturns as well – that is, the ability to grow fantastic fruits!

Disclaimer: There are many more upturns to cuban climate – or, say, tropical climates in general – but for the purpose of this post, I’ll only concentrate on what takes such an important part of my life: delicious food.

Watermelon – Mamey – Papaya

The Watermelon is originally from the south of Africa. How did it make all the way across the Atlantic Ocean? Given the country’s history, I would think it was introduced during the times of African work force, that had been introduced to Cuba by the Spaniards from early 16th century. The fruit thrives best in warm an humid climates that both, receive good sunshine and are well watered (sounds like Cuba, huh?).

Mamey is exotic and rare outside the growing regions, which is mainly Central America and the Caribbean. It has brown skin and a fleshy orange pulp that is really sweet – it’s actually a bit too sweet for my taste, but everyone else loves it, specially in milkshakes and smoothies!.

The Papaya, which looks very similar to Mamey, has a completely different taste – it’s soft, juicy with a very delicate sweet flavor that ends up a bit sour (in a good way). Cubans press fresh lime juice over it, to intensify its flavor.

Guayaba – Mango

Guayaba (Guava) is, personally, one of my favorites. From the outside, it looks like a pear (and it’s texture is also a bit grainy), but the taste is very different from what one expects it to be! The Guava is best to prepare jams and was my daily breakfast drink in Cuba (it contains a lot of vitamin C).

Mangos originally come from India, but frankly, I can’t imagine them tasting anything better than the ones I had this afternoon in the island. I wasn’t a fan of it before I ate it this last time, and I realized it was because I hadn’t tasted the real mangos. No fibers, pure taste, juicy, almost melting in my mouth… do I need to say more?

Chirimoya – Guayaba

Chirimoya is another exotic food not so easy to find. This ancient Incan fruit was originally reserved for royalty. Its custard like flesh (which is why in english its called custard apple) is said to taste like a combination of all tropical fruits in one (my palate is not that delicate though). I love it.

Mango – Pineapple – Guayaba

Pineapple has a very refreshing taste, perfect for the summer. No wonder it is grown in hot climates! Comparing with what you may get in a supermarket in Switzerland, Cuban Pineapples are really sweet and juicy – no offense, Europe, but the Pineapples here just look like Pineapples, don’t taste like them!

Besides all these, we also had Plantains and Bananas, which account for over 70 percent of national production. Plantains are often used for delicious entries like tostones and plátano frito.

Which is your favorite fruit? What exotic fruit has surprised you?

Horses, bets and wine. These are the three words that describe best my last weekend in London. It was time for the the Royal Ascot Horse Race, which this year celebrated its 300 years. Being the UK my soon-to-be new home country, there was no way I was going to miss this english social event.

There are three areas for racegoers – the Royal Enclosure, Grandstand and Silver Ring admissions.

The difference is simple: while the first two could be compared to first and business class on an international flight, with its welcome drink, comfortable seats and surprisingly good food; Silver Ring is the economy class of any airline, that is, the group of high school friends that travel over the weekend to Amsterdam to get stoned, the kid that doesn’t stop kicking the back of your seat and the fat snoring man who takes over part of your already very reduced space.

Obviously, this difference is also reflected on the price. While Grandstand admissions cost 62 pounds, we got our 10 Silver Ring tickets for 21.5 pounds each. The Silver Ring entrance is a significant walk away from the main entrance, which is fine as long as you feel comfortable in your shoes and british weather doesn’t turn against you. Although long, the path is easy to find – you only need to follow the crowd that carries their own bottles and sandwiches – yes, you’re allowed to bring a bottle of wine or 4 beer cans per person, as long as you pack some food, too!

Another big difference between the Grandstand and Silver Ring is the dress code – there is no dress code for Ascot’s economy class. The only no-go was bear chests, which clearly took away most of the fun. Despite the lack of a dress code, people did make an effort to dress up – high heels and short skirts were all over the wet grass, and many of the girls wore hats and fascinators.

The weather on saturday morning was terrible, I really considered simply slipping into my rain boots and leaving my fascinator for a different occasion, but then, isn’t the fun on going to Royal Ascot on dressing up and wearing a fancy hat? I’m glad we chose hat/fascinator and heels, after half an hour the rain stopped and it was a beautiful day.

Don’t we look almost british?

After a bottle of wine, we wanted to place a bet – but which horse? how do you bet anyways? I should have read more about betting than about the events’ hat parade. I bet 10 pounds on three horses – one based on the recommendation of the woman standing before us in the betting queue and two others based on their numbers (yeah, I know, that’s not very professional). I watched my three horses run and stay behind – in less than 20 minutes I had already lost my bet! Despite our failure to turn rich in one afternoon, we had a great time and enjoyed a very good position to watch the race.

When the last race finishes, the party is far from being over. Ascot has bars and terraces packed with young racegoers that refuse going home at 6pm. It’s a great chance to mingle with other classes!

Despite some casual rain drops and the wind eventually picking up my summer dress, I had an amazing time and want to repeat the experience again next year. Silver Ring admission is a fun experience if yo don’t mind standing with another 2,000 people on the grass and being further away from the finishing line. I might just try out the Grandstand next time – to be able to compare properly which ambience I prefer!

Have you ever been to a horse race? Which is the top social event of the year in your country?

No somos mercanía en las manos de políticos y banqueros.
We are not commodities in the hands of politicians and bankers.

Looking one month back, on the 15th of May, I remember reading every article I came across with in the internet, checking Bloomberg every couple of minutes for an update and continuously searching for new video images on YouTube of what was happening in over 50 cities in Spain – a peaceful protest on which more than 150,000 people took over the streets to demand Real Democracy.

While Tunisia was the first one this year demanding democracy and social justice, it soon inspired other its neighbors to take the reins. I never expected Spain to join this revolutionary fever that has been affecting mainly North Africa and the Middle East, and I still don’t firmly believe that this was its intention. There are obviously notorious differences between these protests – Spain is a democracy after all, isn’t it?

Sure, that’s what we’ve been taught in school ever since el Generalísimo died in 1975. But the truth is, many Spaniards believe that the country’s politics have turned into a national scam.

Esto no es una crisis, esto es una estafa.
This is not a crisis, this is fraud.

In contrast to Egypt and Tunisia, Spain doesn’t demand democracy – but real democracy. Many Spaniards feel that the media (controlled by politicians) has been playing tricks with their minds and distorting reality. Not everyone in Spain is undergoing a crisis, since both groups, politicians and, particularly bankers, are still profiting out of this economy. In the meantime, 43% of people under 25 are unemployed with only little hope left of finding a job by the end of this year.

In this sense, the 15M Movement in Spain reminds me of the riots that took place in Argentina during December 2001, its images were recollected by Gotan Project for their clip “Queremos Paz” (great song, great video!). Both protests were fueled by a fierce critics against the country’s politics and financial system. Spain, just as Argentina 10 years back, is outraged. Outraged with the political corruption. The lies. The fake promises. Then again, Argentina’s riots were much more violent and explosive (the consequence was 5 presidents in one week!), and the problem was far deeper, since people weren’t even able to cash out their money from the banks.

Que se vayan todos.
All shall leave.

While other countries have a fair number of parties that its citizens may vote – Spain twirls around two political parties: Partido Popular (PP, the center-right wing party) and Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE, the center-left wing party). Let me correct this – there are more than these two, but they don’t get the same marketing, won’t appear as much on TV and so, have gone almost unnoticed for most of the population (including myself). These two parties dominate the polls.

Watching spanish politics remind me of my kindergarten – where one kid throws dirt in the other kids’ face. I couldn’t stand the continuous accusations and decided to disconnect from all that noise.

En el 2001 fueron las cacerolas – en el 2011, las redes sociales.
In 2001 it was the casseroles – in 2011, social media.

It wasn’t the TV news, nor a call or mail from family or friends that first warned me about the protests – it was Facebook. Social media has been the main communication channel for this event – where the platform Democracia Real YA – Real Democracy Now -has reached more than 400,000 followers in Facebook and and 85,000 followers in Twitter since its beginning, a month ago.

Back in 2001 in Argentina, the protest was warned with a cacerolazo, where a group of people walked the streets banging pots, pans and other utensils in order to call for attention and protest against the so-called corralito. In 2011, it is social media, isn’t it amazing the difference 10 years make?

What the future will bring for Spain is still to be seen. The spanish local and regional elections that took place on the 22nd of May 2011 were a landslide victory for the opposition, Partido Popular. It’s still to see what difference this will make.

Disclaimer: I’m not an anarchist, nor a revolutionary. I’ve been far too little exposed to the day to day of spanish politics in the last two years to have a fundamental thought on the 15M Movement. Every single opinion expressed is of my own, based solely on what the media, friends, family and my previous life have taught me. I’m happy to read about your own opinion as long as its respectful.

My first impression of the center of Lisbon wasn’t as good as I had expected. I got out of metro Rossio to walk into a hectic crowd of tourists staring clueless at their city maps, hoping to find their way to the streets with english menus.

As much as I understand the utility of maps, I don’t share this necessity. I didn’t have a map. I rarely have one. Instead, I’ll start somewhere in the center and then just walk until my legs won’t carry my body anymore.

I get lost many times, but as long as you’re cautious, getting lost is a good thing. It’s the best way to discover a city from a different angle – getting off the usual tourist track that focus on the top historical buildings to hit an alternative road that leads you through completely different stories.

Many buildings were decorated with tiles, but this one was my very favorite one.

The paving stones on Lisbon’s old streets are characteristic from Portugal.

I found orange trees exposing these juicy fruits, right there, on the streets.

Avenida da Liberdade and a beautiful knob on a side street.

Street Art, near Praça do Duque de Saldanha.

Do you follow an itinerary on a map or do you simply walk wherever your heart takes you?

How do you adapt from living on one of Europe’s top beach destinations to one of its top winter sport destinations? Well, really, you don’t.

I do enjoy the summer at the lake, preparing BBQs, drinking beers with friends and skating along its promenades. I even like the snow during winter – it even encouraged me to try out snowboarding! But there’s something about the sun, the warm breeze, feeling the salt and the sand on your skin, listening to the waves come and go… that can’t be replaced with a BBQ in a park.

On the day of my arrival to Lisbon, I took a cab to Costa Da Caparica – popular for its many beaches and highly frequented because of its proximity to Lisbon. To be frank, I expected a sort of portuguese Benidorm – I was so wrong (again). 40 minutes and 25 euros later, I arrived to a paradise – Praia Morena.

Nothing. I did nothing but lay on my sun bed watching the few people, listening to the sea and, from time to time, cooling down in the ocean. I didn’t turn on my ipod. I didn’t take out my book. I think I hadn’t felt that decompressed in almost two years.

The delicious tropical salad I had over lunch at Borda d’Agua surely contributed to my moment of complete happiness.

Sure I can accept living away from the beach, I can even adapt to this new situation finding different sorts of entertainment. But I will never get rid of the beach person inside me – sun, ocean and sand will always be part of my source of happiness.

I’ve gone missing for a week and I owe you a reasonable explanation – I’ve been traveling. A lot. Not every trip has been worth blogging about it – unless you want me to blog about day trips, bank meetings and negotiations! That was the case of my day trip to Brussels and to Paris, and my 3-day trip to The Netherlands. Ok, this last one was actually more fun than that – it involves argentinian steaks, coffee shops and a visit to the inside of a 10,000m3 liquid tank. But all-in-all, its still work (and there were no pictures that would go with my stories!).

This changed on Thursday, when I finally took off to Lisbon, Portugal – for pleasure!.

Looking back, I can’t believe that, having lived so many years in Madrid, I never took the chance to hop on a budget flight to Portugal. The country has so much to offer in terms of beaches and food, but also art and architecture.

Particularly the Architecture.

During the 16th century, portuguese architects developed a very characteristic style that marks the transition between the late Gothic and Renaissance. The Manueline style, named after King Manuel I, didn’t last long, but its exuberant and sumptuous elements have played an important role in the country’s history.

It was strongly influenced by Portugal’s Age of Discovery – the century during which the country discovered Brazil, established several trading routes through southern Asia and colonized selected parts of Africa. Its maritime strength and successful discoveries have been reflected in its ornamental style.

The Jerónimos Monastery in Belem, Lisbon, is one of the most important achievements of the Manueline style.

As I walked closer, I noticed the less obvious details that makes this building a piece of art.

Each of its towers is unique.

Its windows show the influence of the Far East and are adorned with maritime elements, such as the ropes that decorate this balcony.

Each of its portals is sumptuous and packed with elaborated elements and figures.

I couldn’t stop looking at it – always hoping to discover something else! Did I visit the inside? No, I didn’t – and I somewhat regret this decision. In my defense, it was hot and there were more than 50 people queuing outside, so in case you’d like to check out its interior, I’d recommend to do so at its opening (10am).

In any case, while in the city, you shouldn’t miss it out (even if you’re not that into architecture), after all…

  1. The Treaty of Lisbon, which lays down the basis for the reform of the European Union, was signed in the Monastery in December 2007
  2. Five architects worked during more than 50 years on its design, ornaments and scultures, providing each of them different characteristics – some more using more Gothic elements, others rather Renaissance themes
  3. The Manueline Style was spread throughout the Portuguese Empire, reaching as far as Macau, China

Have you visited the Jerónimos Monastery or seen Manueline elements in former portuguese empires?