As a Canadian coming from Halifax, NS, riding a bicycle in a decent, nay, warm weather is a luxury. That’s why I’m such a big fan of this fairly new public transportation system put in place in the city I live in, Madrid. Cycling from one point to another and then having the convenience of parking the bike at one of the many, many point-stations all around the city is something to be grateful for. If I need to be somewhere and don’t feel like walking or taking the subway or metro, or even driving a car, I can rent a bike at one of the stations near my house and ride it 5 kilometres and park it literally 2 minutes from my destination.
But let’s be careful and not make the same innocent mistakes I’ve made. Having trusted in other clients like myself, I didn’t think about checking the bikes to make sure it’s useable and rideable.
Check that the chain on the bike is tucked in where it’s supposed to be. If the chain’s out, your bike will not move no matter how much you pedal. Oh, by the way, did I mention these beauties are electric and can be motor run if you want them to be? This makes the bike go faster and you reach your destination in a jiffy!
Check that the tires aren’t flat. That can be a bumpy ride! Been there, done that!
If the bike cannot be hooked back into the station, then you must write a note to the company at the big machine there. Let’s avoid a random stranger pulling out the bike while it’s still connected to your account, shall we!
That’s all for now. I had an all but lovely Saturday morning bright and early when I was confronted with all three of those mishaps I outlined above. Hopefully they won’t happen again.
I’ve been a tad bit busy to write new posts lately, but one of the things I have done is that I have created a new Facebook page and you’re all welcome to like and follow it. It’ll be another way to keep in touch. If you also have a page on Facebook, I encourage you to tell me so that I can visit it.
Living in Madrid certainly is no boring city. There’s always something cool to do any day of the week.
Today, I had the privilege of being invited to my stylist and makeup artist, Shimada’slaunch party. He was promoting his new eyelashes straight from Tokyo, Japan. And he also promoted his new Shine Frizz Control Color Protection Argan Oil hair serum. It contains macadamia extract so it smells (and perhaps tastes?) divine, mmm! If you’re interested in the lashes or serum, I’m sure Shimada would love it if you got in touch with him!
Shimada’s friend and makeup artist gracefully added some eyelashes and makeup on my face and made me look brand new! She used some M.A.C. products. Can you guess what by looking at the photo below?
The balayage in my hair was done by Shimada back in January, so well over 3 months ago. The Spanish sun can do a number on it in terms of brightening it up.
I couldn’t leave the party without taking a picture with the beautiful makeup artist herself. I didn’t even intend on being worked on when I went to the party. It just happened. If there’s one thing I learned about being a model for a makeup artist, it’s that when they ask me what I want done, “natural?” or “go all out?”, my answer is, “whatever you want”, because it certainly made this one happy! She let free and did her thang. She tousled my hair up and made it look like she did more to it because I looked way different than when I walked into the studio.
Last but not least, I went ahead and bought Shimada’s Macadamia Argan oil hair serum.
None of these photos, taken with my iPhone SE, have filters. So au natural baby.
Did you like looking at the photos? If yes, what was the most interesting thing about them?
Where would 2 Haligonians and a Quebecois go for a 3 day vacation? My cousins and I decided to meet up in Valencia to have a good time at the beach and see the city. Two of us live in Spain- Barcelona and Madrid. The other came down from Halifax, NS, to cover some soccer games in Madrid (he’s a sports journalist). Read my post for a larger than life experience.
A tip: DO rent bicycles if you like cycling. We got to see the entire boardwalk from coast to coast, the marina full of boats and even some country/farm life outside the touristy parts of the city. There are bike trails and the scenery is amazing, plus it felt exhilarating to let go of my hair and cycle away without a worry in the world. We rented our bicycles from a kiosk at the beach, which is the only bike agency there. 9 Euros/ day or 7 Euros/ 4 hours. We chose the day. We hauled our bikes up the tiny elevator in our Airbnb to leave overnight. Soooo worth the bike rental.
Our Airbnb was cheap and point on value because of its central location. We would have paid at least 20 Euros more had we gone to a cheap hotel in a similar type of location.
For food we ate at Casa Montaña. Typical Spanish food – good – and the service our waiter gave us was much better than any other Spanish restaurant we’ve been to and he spoke good English. It’s the type of place where you pay a little bit more than average in exchange for slightly small portions of food, but it was good quality food and since it was rated high with many reviewers on Yelp we let it go. The potatoes were quite fresh and from a “good” farm. The bar is located in a nook a few minutes walk from the beach.
The other place we liked is called Restaurante Alma. It’s located on calle Franca 58. We Yelped “paella” and we found that restaurant. It’s known as L’azud on Yelp. We telephoned them and ordered 3 paellas for takeout. When we arrived we had to wait 15 minutes longer than expected, but when they brought us our food, to our surprise they added real knives and forks because they didn’t have plastic ones. Our host also gave us free cans of Coke. The hospitality was out of this world. I’ve never experienced such detailed attention to costumers in Spain, ever. We took our paellas to the train, and after our knives were confiscated from us at the police control, we scarfed down the grub. It was delicious.
There’s an ice cream shop called Grasol on Calle de Mediterráneo next to the beach. I haven’t had ice cream this good as far as I can remember! The two flavors I asked for were Banana split and chocolate.
We didn’t forget to go to the City of Arts and Sciences on the last day. It’s worth going there if only to see the exterior part of the buildings.
On the way back there was a train strike which meant the cafeteria was closed and the tv nor music was working. So, I happened to have extra water and an extra can of coke with me. When one of my seat mates found out about the strike she almost dropped her jaw to the floor and didn’t know what she’d do with her life without water. I offered her my extra water bottle and she took it gratefully. I also gave my extra coke to what looked to be a university student and he opened it and took a sip in an instant. Glad I could be of some service during this untimely train strike!
All in all, us 3 Canadians enjoyed our stay in Valencia. Everyone needs a little vacation at some point!
Signing off –
10 steps to make the process of obtaining a Spanish driver’s licence easier for foreigners
I moved to Spain a few years ago not quite knowing my long term plan, but I thought, “Hey, why not buy a car in the future?” However, I discovered that as a Canadian, I must, within six months of having obtained residency in Spain, get a Spanish driver’s licence. I couldn’t just use my Canadian license to drive. “Isn’t that just great?”, I thought. So, like any new driver, I had to comply with all the requirements for obtaining a Spanish driver’s licence which included passing both the written test and the driving test. This permits me to legally drive in this country (and in the EU). I got motivated, somehow (thank you Groupon), approached a driving school in my neighbourhood and signed myself up (Autoescuela Gala). Driving schools are abundant throughout the country. All I had to do was sign up, read the theory and take a few driving classes around the city. It all sounds easy, especially since I have a Canadian driver’s license, right? Wrong. So wrong. That’s why I’m going to help you lessen the stress in obtaining a Spanish driver’s license.
Step 1: Choose a driving school
Walk into some driving schools in your neighbourhood. Your decision on which driving school is best suited for you should be based on customer service, meaning, the employees should treat you well and be patient with answering all your questions. After all, you will be spending a good amount of time talking with them, making sure all your questions are answered and that you’re clear on the information. They will be the ones you will deal from the time you sign up until after you pass your practical driving exam (yes, there’s more after obtaining your license which I will disclose later on). In the end, all driving schools offer the same goal: to get your license, but decent customer service will make the process less of a headache, so if you get a good feeling from the secretary, then go for that school! If it weren’t for Groupon, I would have missed out on the great customer service from the secretary of the driving school, Gala.
Step 2: Inquire about study material language options
Before registering at the driving school, I inquired about whether or not it offered the material and exams in English. English is the safest option if your level of Spanish is next to zero. Note: Whatever language you decide on will be the one you will take your written test in. My particular school offers study materials in both Spanish and English (and if I’m not mistaken, Chinese and other languages). However, the driving school themselves told me that their English materials were not a good translation of the original Spanish ones, so I took the Spanish option, and because the level of my Spanish is adequate. The English option was more expensive anyway. If you’re competent in Spanish, it’s more useful to study and take the written test in Spanish because, after all, the signs on the roads are in Spanish (ok, except for the “stop” sign).
Step 3: Manual vs. automatic
Do you know how to drive a manual transmission? If not, ask the driving school if they have an automatic car available, because most schools are limited to manual cars only. My school had one automatic vehicle which was shared between its franchises in the entire city of Madrid. If you want, you can choose to take your classes with an automatic car provided your driving school is in possession of one. It’s more expensive, though. Whichever of the two you choose will be that same physical car on d-day (when you take the driving test). WARNING: If you decide on the automatic transmission, however, your Spanish license will limit you to drive automatic cars ONLY. If you decide on the manual transmission, then you will be allowed to drive both an automatic and a manual car.
Step 4: Inquire about a virtual driving simulator
More and more driving schools are beginning to have virtual driving simulator machines . This helped me tremendously because I never drove a manual transmission car so it soothed my nerves a bit because I knew that I wouldn’t kill anyone or actually crash into something real. Furthermore, taking classes on a simulator is cheaper than driving classes in an actual car on the street. My first 10 lessons were on a simulator. By the time I began classes in a real car, I knew how to handle the clutch and stick shift more or less. It can be tricky driving with a manual for the first time in Madrid due to the quantity of drivers and each one driving according to their own rules and regulations. The simulator is not meant to substitute real life driving. Use it only at the beginning.
Step 5: Fees, fees and more fees
We’re not made of money, but it appears that we are to driving schools. Let´s face it, they are money-making businesses. Make sure you know exactly how much the registration fee and exams cost. Driving schools will make you pay for the written and driving test in advance – at the time of paying the registration fee. If you do not pass a test, you will be required to pay part of or the full price again. You will also be required to obtain a medical and psycho-technical certificate which costs between 35-50 Euros. Usually driving schools include a few driving lessons in their package, and if they don’t, then call them out on it because with high fees like that, you deserve some free driving lessons. Be prepared to invest between 700-1200 Euros in obtaining your license from start to finish.
Step 6: Avoid delaying once you’ve started studying
The time it will take you to obtain the license purely depends on you and how much time you are willing to dedicate on studying for the tests. I got the license in a span of several months because during the summer there are less tests and the driving school and the place where tests are carried out shut down in August. It could get ugly if employees don’t get their beach time. Once you’ve started studying for the written test, take the exam as soon as you feel prepared, because you still have the driving test to pass. Plus, you’ll need to remember a few things from the driver’s handbook for the driving test.
Step 7: What you need to know about the written test on the day of your test
The written test is taken on a computer in a room filled with a couple hundred people. If you consider cheating, forget it, because the people beside you will have a different version of the test. The computers are touch screen, meaning, you use your fingers to maneuver through the questions. There are 30 questions and your time limit is 30 minutes, which, if you know your material well enough, should be more than enough time to complete the test. If you get stuck, try your luck and raise your hand and ask one of the invigilators walking around to clarify a question for you. They usually have no problem with this, and they almost feel sorry for you when they notice that you’re not Spanish (from your accent), so they may be nice enough to give away a hint, discreetly. If you fail the written test, once, twice or more, don’t worry, this happens to many people. Some questions are structured to trick you, and it could be challenging even if your mother tongue is Spanish.
Step 8: Congratulations! Now, practice driving.
After you pass the written test, the next step is to prepare for and pass the driving test. I recommend on taking some driving classes in the city of Alcorcon or Móstoles, since they are where the tests take place. They’re about 30 km from the city of Madrid. You can take public transportation to get to one of your driving school franchises there. You will never be examined in the city of Madrid. Not only will it be a tad easier to practice driving in those areas because they are much smaller than Madrid, but you will get to see the roads and experience driving in the areas where the actual tests take place. For instance, the test areas (Alcorcon and Móstoles) have lots of roundabouts (rotaries and traffic circles), whereas the city of Madrid has more stop signs and traffic lights. If you fail your driving test once or multiple times, keep trying. Each examiner is different and they are infamous for their arbitrary ways of grading you, plus, it depends on their mood. Driving tests is a business in itself, so it’s to their benefit that they fail students. What’s that you say? You know how to drive and you already have a driver’s license from another country? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t mean anything here. So buckle up, and put your pride aside.
Step 9: Getting to the driving examination location (DGT,
Centro de examenes de Móstoles) from the city of Madrid
Don’t forget to check that you’re wearing pants before yo leave your home. It could be quite embarrassing; at least it was for me (I’m kidding – that never happened to me). I did, however, lose a heel from my boot on the morning of my exam, but luckily I had an extra pair of shoes at work (I’m not kidding about this). It popped off while I was catching the subway.
The examination centre, otherwise known as DGT, is located in Móstoles. If you’re departing from Madrid, the easiest and most straightforward mode of public transportation is to catch an intercity bus, number 522, from a bus station called Principe Pio, and your stop is called “Pistas DGT”. If you’re looking for directions on how to get there by car, then what are you doing reading this post? It’s a 20 minute bus ride. You know you’re close when the bus goes through the famous roundabout called “Plaza de Toros”. Ring the bell as soon as the bus gets on the bridge and get off at the first stop after the bridge. You have to follow a path that looks like no-man’s land. 5 minutes later you’ll arrive to the DGT building. You’ll notice a lot of parking lots. If you get lost, ask anyone where “DGT Centro de examines” is.
Step 10: What to expect during the driving exam
You will be taking the test in the same car you will have been practicing in (hopefully not more than 2 months will have passed by since you started driving classes), except that on this it will be crammed with people: the driving examiner, your instructor, and another student or two. Yes, you will witness other students’ tests. Before the examiner asks you to pop the hood and challenges you on the mechanics of the vehicle, he may ask you and the other students your preference of order. If I were you I’d pipe up and volunteer yourself, so that you can go on your merry way and have your breakfast afterward. At least that was my examiner’s way of thinking. He complained to everyone in the car that he would like nothing more than to get the test over with so that he could have his breakfast. I shuddered to think what could happen to him if he missed one of his many, many coffee breaks that morning. Poor man. Anyway, once you finish your test, the examiner will tell your instructor if you passed or failed your test. I assume they don’t tell the students themselves because they want to live to see their next coffee break in case they “have” to fail you.
Congratulations in advance for passing! You will need this motivation because even with the help above, challenges will hit your from side to side. You will be that much less richer, but at least you will have overcome a hurdle and will be able to drive legally in Spain. It’ll be a great relief. It was for me!
As I alluded to earlier, once you have your Spanish license, there’s more to be done. Stay tuned for that next time!