Madrid Mythbusters

Madrid Mythbusters

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The glamour and history of Spain means that misconceptions about its capital are rife. Here are some crucial Madrid mythbusters to help you separate fact from fiction, and legend from reality.

1. Spanish people are always late.

FALSE. The pace of life may be slightly slower in some areas of Spain due to its generally hot weather and laid back lifestyle, but in Madrid and other major Spanish cities, people are prompt to attend meetings. However, you will see a more relaxed interpretation of time as day turns to evening: Madrid's restaurants start filling with locals after 9PM, and nightclubs don't get going until midnight or later.

2. Everything closes in Madrid during the afternoon siesta.

FALSE. In rural towns and villages in Spain, the siesta – a break between about 1:30PM and 4:30PM – is still a common feature of the day. People use the break to go home and have a proper meal with their families, or to escape the mid-afternoon heat. But in busy cities such as Madrid, companies and shops are increasingly staying open throughout the afternoon. This is particularly true of large department stores and tourist attractions. The afternoon siesta may well soon become an urban myth in Madrid.

3. Flamenco is popular among locals in Madrid.

FALSE. Flamenco, a style of music and dance characterized by colorful, swirling dresses, high hand claps and strumming guitars, is much more popular in Andalusia and the rest of southern Spain than in the capital. There are some great shows known as "tablaos," but mostly these are attended by tourists. That's not to say you shouldn't go, as flamenco is an integral part of Spanish culture. Just don't expect local 20-somethings to be there bopping to the strum of a guitar. They're more likely to be throwing shapes in one of the hip nightclubs around Plaza Santa Ana, Madrid's nightlife hot spot.

4. Bullfighting is common in Madrid.

TRUE AND FALSE. This is the most controversial of Madrid mythbusters. The ancient Spanish tradition of bullfighting is more popular in Madrid than in, say, the Catalan city of Barcelona, where in July 2010 a ban was imposed on all bullfights in the region (the ban will take effect in January 2012). In Spain, bullfighting is mainly practiced in the southern region of Andalusia and in Madrid, generally between May and October. Madrid's main bullring is the large Las Ventas stadium off of Calle Alcalá near Ventas metro station. There's a museum, Museo Taurino, onsite if you're interested in knowing more about the history and stars of Spanish bullfights.

Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas
Off Calle Alcalá
Information: +34-90-219-3166
Tickets: +34-90-215-0025
Ticket prices start from $3.

Museo Taurino
Calle Alcalá, 237
No website
Mon-Fri 9:30AM-2:30PM, Sun 10AM-1PM; Hours can vary on bullfighting days.

However, it's an urban myth that Madrid residents are all in favor of the cruel sport, which is known as "corrida de toros" in Spanish. Various activists and lobby groups are gathering signatures for petitions against bullfighting and European Union animal welfare regulations are putting pressure on the practice. Expect bullfighting to be the subject of much debate in parliament over the coming months and years.

Madrid's Festival of San Isidro in late May doubles as a bullfighting festival, with fights every day and some of the best bullfighters in the Hispanic world coming to try their luck in the ring. If you feel strongly either way about bullfighting, arrange to either avoid or attend the festival.

5. Sangria is what the locals drink in Madrid.

FALSE. This particular Madrid urban myth causes visitors a lot of headaches. Sangria - usually made with red wine, orange juice, other fruits and a splash of brandy – is a cheap party drink and isn't particularly appreciated by chic Madrileños. If you see someone drinking sangria in a bar, 99 times out of a 100 it's a tourist. So if you want to blend in with the locals, ask for a "caña" (small glass of lager) or "un vaso de vino" (glass of wine). A popular non-alcoholic drink in Madrid is "horchata," a thick, creamy drink made from tiger nuts. And of course, in the mornings, the most popular drink in Madrid is the ubiquitous "café," taken strong, black, with plenty of sugar.

6. Paella is a fish dish.

FALSE. The word "paella" just means the heavy, flat-bottomed pan used to cook this quintessential Spanish meal. Paella always has rice in it, but can be made with meat, fish, seafood, a combination of all three, or even just with vegetables – although this is rare in meat-loving Spain. Some paellas are colored black with squid ink, but mostly the rice is infused with a delicate saffron yellow. A true paella takes a long time to cook, and the best are made in big quantities and shared. In some restaurants, you may have to order the meal in advance and share the same paella between two or three people.

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