MADRID: La Latina

I live in the barrio, or neighborhood, of La Latina in Madrid. The oldest neighborhood in the city, La Latina has some of the most interesting architecture and streets to explore. It’s also only a 10 minute walk to Puerta del Sol, the city’s center.

The center is a large open area surrounded by stores and cafes; it’s crowded almost 24/7 with tourists, vendors, and street performers. It’s also the center of the metro lines so it’s an easy meeting point for both tourist and locals. 

La Latina is one of the oldest and best neighborhoods to get tapas, or small portions of food. It’s also home to the largest flea market in Madrid, El Rastro. Every Sunday vendors set up tents and tables for what seems like miles down the streets of La Latina. The metro clogs and the streets fill with people looking for a good deal on clothes, shoes, and a billion other cheap knick-knacks. 

Last Sunday I forgot about the market and I found myself slowly pushing my way through the crowds to the supermercado just to buy some groceries. Supermarkets here are small grocery stores with usually just the essentials, nothing compared to the endless options at HEB. On my way back to my apartment, I was annoyed by all the chattering tourists so maybe I’m on the fast track to becoming a local. 

What I like most about La Latina is that it’s a residential neighborhood in Madrid. The streets can hardly fit a car down them and if it has a sidewalk, it usually can’t fit more than a single person. Locals parade through the streets going about their daily lives and it’s refreshing to be away from the tourist areas. It’s a very quiet and relaxed neighborhood with little traffic, besides the market on Sunday. 

The narrow streets always lead to small plazas lined with tables of various tapas bars. At all times of the day you can see grannies sitting under the shade of umbrellas drinking small beers and socializing with each other. There are a million little plazas in Madrid and each has its own unique thing about it, except for the grannies, which are a consistent feature of every plaza. 

This is probably why Spanish women live so long: they have one of the oldest life expectancy rates in Europe at 84 years old. As the saying goes, a beer and tapa a day keep the doctor away– right?

Wandering down the old streets of the neighborhood you can expect to see graffiti spattered across the bottom half of most buildings. Heavy wooden or metal doors of apartment buildings alternate along the street with store fronts with large windows. On the top half, the buildings are decorated with small brass balconies and the occasional potted plant on a windowsill. Old churches with the most magnificent architectural details hide among the residential buildings and shops.

My apartment is on a graffiti-lined, narrow street on the edge of La Latina and another barrio, Lavapies. Lavapies is known as the international neighborhood in Madrid and there are always loads of immigrants from Africa and Asia hanging around the streets and in front of the little shops. Just a block from my street there are about eight Indian restaurants all right next to each other. I’m not sure how anyone decides which one to eat at. 

This area seems like a perfect fit since, as I mentioned before, my apartment is a complete mix of international students.