12

Sep

2018

Ellie & Johann Visit

12th September 2018

As I hinted at in my last post, last weekend saw Ellie and her boyfriend Johann land in Madrid Airport for a four-day visit! Thursday morning kicked off with my trip to pick them up, and after dumping their stuff off at my flat, we got straight to exploring in the city centre.

After a drink and a little slice of pizza on a roof terrace, we set off to explore other areas of the city, but soon wound up surrendering to our exhaustion and headed home for a nap. Once we’d recovered, we headed out for Vietnamese bao and watched the sun set over the west of the city, but along the way I didn’t manage to bag a single photo worth including in the blog – we were too busy stuffing our faces!

Friday began with a wander through the Atocha train station and its indoor gardens, before heading up for lunch at Casa Dani in the north of the city. Once we’d subjected Ellie to her first espresso shot and a rather oily roasted pepper, we headed down to the river in the south of the city and stopped for a drink and more chatting at the Matadero.

Atocha gardens

Atocha gardens

The station designed by Eiffel

The station designed by Eiffel

After a trip to Mercadona (a low-cost supermarket and my second home) for supplies for a picnic dinner, we headed to Retiro Park and hired a set of bikes for a relaxing couple of hours riding around the grounds. We indulged in a delicious meal of tomate rallado (basically grated tomato) on bread, with a bit of aioli and basil to add our own flair to the Spanish classic, all before cycling around the huge park.

Ellie and Johann cycle through Retiro

Ellie and Johann cycle through Retiro

Once we’d worn ourselves out and dropped the bikes back off, we headed for a nice spot to see the sun set for the evening – but the Madrid weather had other ideas! As we wandered through a big plaza in the city centre, the heavens suddenly opened and the rain began to relentlessly pound the city with no sign of letting off!

After a while seeking refuge in an archway of the Central Bank of Spain, we decided it was about time to actually try to make something of the wet evening, and ran for the safety of the Metro. During the 30 seconds we were exposed to the elements the rain somehow managed to drench us to the skin, so we headed to a stop which I knew led straight to a shopping centre – no outside walking required!

We arrived to the shopping centre in question, however, to skies which had somehow cleared in the 20 short minutes we’d been underground. Instead of faffing around inside, we headed back up to the Temple of Debod to watch the sunset from there yet again, grabbing a beer for the spectacle.

Heading up to Debod

Heading up to Debod

Saturday morning began with bad news: more rain. Undeterred, we grabbed the Metro to the city centre and managed to dash to a lovely café for some breakfast and coffee before the real downpour began. A trip to the huge Primark shop in the centre then ensued, before we returned to the trendy Malasaña district for lunch at a place my mum had told Ellie about after we stopped there for lunch during her visit: Ojalá.

Me and Ellie in Ojalá

Me and Ellie in Ojalá

The food arrives

The food arrives

Puddles in Malasaña

Puddles in Malasaña

After a few post-lunch drinks in 100 Montaditos, which had by now become Ellie and Johann’s favourite haunt, we headed to the south and the La Latina district, where we wound up at Sala Equis, an abandoned adult film cinema turned trendy hangout spot. After yet more drinks there, we headed to the city centre for a delicious tea of burgers and patatas bravas (one of Ellie’s favourite dishes) at Bacoa.

Heading into Sala Equis

Heading into Sala Equis

Ellie and Johann at Bacoa

Ellie and Johann at Bacoa

Sunday came around and suddenly it was their last day, but that didn’t mean we had any plans of slowing down! After having adjusted our plans due to the dismal Saturday weather, our plan was to head up to the mountains outside Madrid and pay yet another visit to Manzanares El Real. A Metro journey, a bus ride, and a substantial walk later, we found ourselves up amongst the dramatic rock formations of the sierra.

Walking up the mountains

Walking up the mountains

Posing in one of my favourite spots

Posing in one of my favourite spots

After lunch amongst the picturesque scenery, we eventually wore tired and turned around. Back in Madrid there was no rest for the wicked once again, and we eventually made it up to the terrace which we wanted to visit on Friday night before the rain set in. It may just have been that those rains were a blessing in disguise, however, as the sky exploded with colour on the Sunday night and we were treated to some of the best views I’ve ever managed to capture of the city! I’ll let the photos speak for themselves…

The sky over the east of Madrid

The sky over the east of Madrid

A dramatic colour palette

A dramatic colour palette

A look towards Gran Vía

A look towards Gran Vía

Another look westward

Another look westward

After further drinks and some delicious pizza down in Lavapiés, we had to head back home for an early night, as I was to get back to work again on Monday morning. Before heading off to the office that morning, though, I had the drama of Ellie and Johann nearly missing the airport train in the morning – but we made it just in the nick of time!

I was genuinely upset to wave the two of them off, as it was a pleasure to have them in the city, and I can only hope that they had as much as a good time exploring as I did showing them around! Their departure marks a five-day countdown, however, as I’ll be down in Murcia just this coming weekend, where I’ll be reunited with my parents for another 48 hours – I’m sure I see more of my family here in Spain than when we lived in the same country!

Naturally I’ll be back with updates on my return from the south, but until them I’ll leave you with a beautiful little Spanish song that I’ve been enjoying recently.


2

Sep

2018

Madrid and its Outskirts

2nd September 2018

As I wait for the arrival of Ellie and Johann this Thursday, and as I’m having a nice quiet Sunday evening in, I thought I’d update you all with a few of the bits and bats that I’ve been up to in between visiting the north and faffing around in little villages. As I’m 23 now and and such getting on quite a bit, I’ve forgotten exactly what order I did all this stuff in, so we’re going to go with the order that the photos uploaded to my server and just roll with it…

Our first stop is in central Madrid, where I’ve been heading out with friends to eat, drink and generally be merry. With the height of summer basking us in it’s sometimes oppressive heat, there’s been plenty going on, and the city is still looking its brightest (and gayest) best!

A nice sign in Malasaña

Some nice signage in Malasaña

Chueca looking festive

Chueca looking festive

A carousel near the Royal Palace

A carousel near the Royal Palace

At some other point two of us also escaped the city centre, heading to El Escorial. Last time I visited was back in rather chilly March, and I’d missed the chance to check out the chapel within the monastery, so this time we struggled up the hill in the heat and headed inside.

The chapel at El Escorial

The chapel at El Escorial

Boca de riego

Boca de riego

Unfortunately I wasn’t allowed to take photos inside the chapel, but it was suitably impressive. I didn’t take many more photos whilst there, because I felt I’d already taken plenty last time (check them out here), but I did once again pay a trip to a lovely mother and daughter who ran a little bar up in the town. Here we were treated to fresh tortilla (Spanish omelette), beers and a selection of samples of their delicious homemade food until it was flowing out of our ears!

Once back in Madrid for the start of last week, I have to admit that the most exciting thing I had lined up was the start of Bake Off once again. On Tuesday afternoon I arrived back home from work, cooked a celebratory Victoria Sponge (what else?), and found myself a stream of Channel 4 to enjoy the culinary drama. I took the cake to work the next day to share amongst the team, and it went down a treat.

A cheeky bit of cake

A cheeky bit of cake

Just the day after we shared the cake at the office, I was treated to yet another fleeting visit from Kevin, who was down in Madrid to sort out some paperwork before he eventually jets off to the US to begin his job later in September. Naturally I had a plan for him to make the very most of his mere 36 hours here, and we set off in earnest to check out Casa de Campo from the Teleférico.

Looking back on Madrid from Casa de Campo

Looking back on Madrid from Casa de Campo

After this we made a customary stop at Dealz (PoundLand, including plenty of British products) for Kevin to pick up some HP Sauce, as he’d developed an affection for the vinegary condiment whilst he was with me in Leeds on Erasmus. From here, and partly due to ongoing construction work on Metro line 2, we walked all the way back to my flat, stopping for delicious bao and a cheeky evening tipple along the way.

Wandering past Cibeles at night

Wandering past Cibeles at night

The following evening I had to wave a rushed (because we couldn’t find the bus stop) goodbye to Kevin as he boarded a bus back to Oviedo, but not before I’d filled myself up on an impromptu aperitivo at the office – even if it did turn from an aperitif into more of a fully fledged lunch!

A feast fit for us all

A feast fit for us all

After waving Kevin off, I met up with another friend to check out an event he’d invited me along to; a traditional violin quartet concert at the gates of one of the city’s biggest cemeteries. Upon arrival it wasn’t really what I was expecting, with a much more jovial atmosphere, and the archways of the closed cemetery all lit up against the night sky. We enjoyed a lovely evening of music there, and then we headed out for a drink and dinner at a little Galician restaurant near my flat.

Arriving at the concert

Arriving at the performance

The day after, which will be just yesterday now I come to think about it, I headed off by myself into the city for a bit of time alone – anyone who knows me will know I value my time by myself. I’d decided I wanted to go and visit an exhibition at Centro de Exposiciones Arte Canal which focuses on the tragedy which was Auschwitz, as I’d been interested in finding out more after watching a documentary about it a few years ago.

A sign which once stood outside the town of Oświęcim

A sign which once stood outside the Polish town of Oświęcim

Before I even entered the exhibition centre itself, I found myself before one of the train wagons which was used to transport people to the camp. At this moment I knew that it wasn’t going to be an afternoon of easy viewing, as I found myself rather upset as I read the sign which said that each wagon was usually crammed with 100 people. I thought I knew quite well of the horrors which unfolded at Auschwitz, but I had never considered the suffering at each and every stage of the journey to, in, and even in some cases out of the camp.

A real section of the perimeter fence

A real section of the perimeter fence

I could reflect further on the nightmare that Auschwitz was, but I hope that most of you are quite clued up on exactly what happened there. I found that the exhibition was not only a very well considered and respectful presentation of the Second World War and what transpired at Auschwitz, but it also carried a very important message – of not forgetting what happened so that it may never happen again.

Leaving the exhibition, with the train wagon in the centre

Leaving the exhibition, with the train wagon in the centre

If you live in Madrid or are simply passing through, I highly recommend that you give the exhibition a visit. The tickets may seem quite expensive, but I found that the 12,50€ I paid including an audioguide was more than worth it, as I spent more than four hours traversing the exhibits. More details on the website here.

After such a solemn afternoon, last night I headed out for something to brighten my mood before bed, which took the shape of a delicious ramen dinner with a glass of red wine. I may be paying somewhat for the wine today with a slightly upset tummy, but even if my stomach can’t seem to process it, I vow to keep drinking it on occasion as I just can’t get enough of the stuff! Ellie and Johann, when you come, keep me away from it…


27

Aug

2018

Lastres & Lugones

27th August 2018

Today, and whilst everyone in England is enjoying a day off work for a bank holiday, I’ve had to tiredly stumble back to work after a long weekend having fun out of Madrid. It’s a pretty easy guess as to where I went off to this weekend, as I seem to spend half of my life up in Asturias, and this one was no exception! It was only just over a month ago that I landed up there in Oviedo for part of my summer holiday, but on Friday night I was once again in a carpool on my way up to the north.

The mountain range before Asturias

The mountain range before Asturias

Upon arrival in Oviedo, Kevin whipped us up a delicious meal of fajitas and homemade humous, and then we headed out to meet up with Camila for a drink at our usual haunt. We had a lovely catch up over some beers, but didn’t stay out too late for Kevin had plans to take me to another seaside destination on the Saturday.

Sure enough the next day we were up and out by 8pm, catching a bus to a small seaside town called Lastres. Once we’d had a coffee, we began the downward slope to the front, taking in the views along the way.

Arriving in Lastres

Arriving in Lastres

Down by the docks

Down by the docks

A boat arrives

A boat arrives

Down by the water I had a craving for ice cream (despite the cold), and once I’d inhaled it for its energy, we set back on foot up the hill. In the town we stopped for another drink, in between climbing up and down it’s cute little alleyways and stairs.

A pretty little house along the way

A pretty little house along the way

An abandoned ship by the cliff

An abandoned ship by the cliff

Looking down to the docks

Looking down to the docks

Once we’d had our fill of the sights in the town, Kevin revealed his plans for lunch: a fresh seafood restaurant a little further long the coast. In order to get there, we spent half an hour wandering along the side of a winding road which had no footpath, but we eventually ended up in one piece at the lovely restaurant by the beach.

The two of us sit down for lunch

The two of us sit down for lunch

After a slap-up three-course meal, including a main course featuring the best fish I’ve ever had in my life, we descended to the beach suitably stuffed and ready to do nothing for a good while. Having had to wade through an estuary to reach the beach, I was soon throwing myself in the waves, retreating back to the safety of the sand when I managed to get a generous dose of saltwater in my eye.

Sitting on the beach

Sitting on the beach

As you can see, the weather had really picked up, and so I dried up pretty quickly once I sat down. This was to Kevin’s benefit, as he’d forgotten his swimming shorts, so I was able to lend mine to him for a while until we had to head back off to catch the bus. After some confusion as to where the bus would show up, it did eventually make an appearance, and we were taken back to Oviedo for the evening.

An Asturian hórreo and farm

An Asturian hórreo and farm

Once we’d paid a visit to the supermarket to pick up some traditional cider, we had a quick nap back home in preparation for the evening’s events: for once again it was fiesta time, only this time in the neighbouring town of Lugones instead of Oviedo (which was a blast last time, so I was totally down to party!)

Arriving at the fiesta

Arriving at the fiesta

Once we’d wormed our way to a spot to watch the orquesta, we began pouring ourselves the cider like I’d learned how to all that time ago, and the night kicked off! We sang our way through some English classics as well as all the local hits, with a rendition of Jeff Buckley’s <em]Hallelujah going down an absolute treat!

Me and Kevin getting tipsy

Me and Kevin getting tipsy

The party in full swing

The party in full swing

After treating ourselves to another couple of bottles of cider, the second orquesta came on, and it was they who eventually wrapped our evening up at about 6am – the Asturians sure know how to throw a fully fledged party! On the way home we grabbed ourselves some churros to end the night, similar to last time and the only way to end a Spanish party, and put ourselves to bed for a very very long lie in.

A churro palace

A churro palace

Needless to say that yesterday morning we didn’t wake up the freshest, and so we only really managed to leave the house in the mid afternoon when we needed to be fed. Heading to the centre, we had an absolutely huge meal for just over 10€, and once again we found ourselves stuffed full and lounging on a bench in the city.

Wandering through Oviedo city centre

Wandering through Oviedo city centre

Around the back of the cathedral

Around the back of the cathedral

A gorgeous street down the city centre

A gorgeous street down the city centre

I found myself taking similar photos to the time I first came to Oviedo, which is now way over a year ago, which is rather strange – it feels like I’ve known the place forever! Once I’d bought some delicious local biscuits –moscovitas– for the guys at work, all too soon came the time to catch my carpool back down to Madrid.

After a rather quiet journey, I arrived back in Madrid just last night –well this morning, technically– just after 1am. Obviously I just went straight to bed, but even then I have been pretty tired today, and so tonight I’ve to get myself to bed as soon as possible. And just as if I were a 10 year old child, it’s 9:30 already, and I’m going to go and read The Railway Children until I fall asleep…


21

Aug

2018

Alcalá de Henares

21st August 2018

Since landing back from England, it’s been back to creating all sorts of visual design in the Erretres office as usual! After a quiet weekend in however, I decided it would be nice to escape the city for a few hours during the next weekend. To do this, I hopped on a Cercanías train and headed out to Alcalá de Henares, a pretty little town outside of Madrid.

Changing trains in the outskirts

Changing trains in the outskirts

I didn’t really do all that much research before I headed out to Alcalá de Henares; I just knew that it was a quaint place where the tapas are plentiful and which is home to the childhood house of Miguel de Cervantes, the famous author of Don Quijote de la Mancha. I’d brought only my phone as a camera and, to keep me entertained, a copy of The Liar by Stephen Fry – a most excellent book if you can get hold of a copy.

Arriving in Alcalá de Henares

Arriving in Alcalá de Henares

Fading glory

Fading glory

I’d soon found my way to the high street, where I sat down for a traditional Madrid breakfast – toast with tomato, olive oil and salt on top. Once I was energised and ready for a day of wandering around, I set off to see what I could see, soon diverging off the high street and down into some of the winding alleys behind.

A nice piece of signage

A nice piece of signage

Wandering around the town

Wandering around the town

Once I’d found my way back to the centre, the heat was well and truly picking up, and so I sat down for a beer in one of the many terraces sprawled across the street. True to the town’s reputation, my beer soon came with a huge free tapa of potatoes in garlic sauce, and I savoured the moment for a while, sketching some design ideas and watching the world go by.

Another part of the town

Another part of the town

After polishing off my snack, I headed further down the street, eventually having to make a detour out of the centre in order to pick up some money from the nearest Santander branch which was quite a way out. This led me down some rather charming streets however, but true to form I totally forgot to take any photos of the actual high street, opting instead to capture photos of empty plazas and little details I found interesting.

A nice bit of hand drawn signage

A nice bit of hand drawn signage

Wandering through another central plaza

Wandering through another central plaza

With the day wearing on and my legs getting tired and wallet lighter thanks to all the drinks I was racking up along the way, I soon began to head back to the train destined for Madrid. It’s back in the big city where I’ve since been up to other bits and bobs, but I’ll leave those for another post once I’ve racked up a few more stories to share!

A random thought that I’ve had whilst compiling this blog post is this: my photos seem to be pretty much always devoid of people. If you scroll back up, you’d easily be fooled into believing that Alcalá de Henares is some kind of ghost town, but in reality it was bustling with people. I always somehow seem to find an angle or pick a subject which leaves the photo without any people in it, even if it means I have to wait a while for passing people to clear off. Just a random observation…


16

Aug

2018

An English City Hopping Extravaganza

16th August 2018

Following a three part tour of the north of Spain (check out Part 1 in Oviedo, Part 2 on El Cabo, and Part 3 in Bilbao), I finally made my landing four hours late in England, and it’s from there where I shall now pick up my horrifically delayed blog posts…

As mentioned in the Bilbao post, I headed pretty much straight to be upon arriving in Burnley, and not only because I was tired, but also because the next day I’d to be up bright and early to catch a train to Blackpool! Me, my sister, and her boyfriend had arranged to make a little sibling trip to visit Blackpool Pleasure Beach, as it’s been absolutely ages since I last went, with the last blog post I can find there being over three years old!

After a long train journey, stopping in Preston for a transfer and a chance to have a dirty McDonalds breakfast, we arrived in Blackpool. It was Johanne’s first time in the coastal town, and it certainly proves to be an experience for those who’ve never been!

The many coasters of Blackpool Pleasure Beach

The many coasters of Blackpool Pleasure Beach

We seem to have unknowingly timed our trip rather well, as we were told that the week before was crazy with school groups visiting for the end of term. This meant that everything was relatively quiet, and as we started racking up the ride count we were hardly waiting in queues at all. We first hopped on the Big Dipper, the theme park’s oldest coaster, and were treated to it’s usual offering of a good bashing about.

Once we’d taken a ride on a few other coasters, it was time for us to take on The Big One (yes, that’s its actual name). As the tallest and most imposing looking ride in the park, it’s views alone are worth the trip, but they are complemented by plenty of huge drops and screeching corners. It was up here, whilst zipping over the seafront, that Ellie decided was the opportune moment to redo her hair. Sat behind her, I was naturally treated to a good whipping as she replaced her bobble, as well as a mouthful of hair. Thanks Ellie.

Views over Blackpool from The Big One

Views over Blackpool from The Big One

After this, I announced that I had waited long enough and that I wanted to ride the park’s newest and fanciest coaster: Icon. It was much to my horror then when, whilst nipping into Burger King to use the toilets, I noticed that it wasn’t actually running. Panicked, I got in touch with Danni, and was told that it actually takes a while to get going sometimes as it’s a double launched ride which pulls a lot of power from the grid.

Whilst waiting for it to open, we made another run around of the park, re-riding some of our favourites and doing things we hadn’t had chance to do earlier. Eventually we returned to find it running, and after a moment of panic as the ride music shut off and we thought it had broken down, I soon ended up strapped in on one of the front seats!

Without trying to do a fully fledged ride review, let’s just say that I’ve not had that much fun on a roller coaster for years and years. Both of the two launches are followed by plenty of airtime, quick turns and inversions. The first time I rode it I literally spent the entire 2 minutes and 41 seconds grinning like an idiot or literally laughing out loud. If you ever find yourself in Blackpool I’d say it’s worth a visit, even if only to give this ride a go!

Infusion from the queue

Another ride, Infusion, from its queue

After squeezing even more rides in, we eventually called it a day as out feet gave in, and headed back to the train station. After a long journey back on a rather busy train, it was with great joy that we received the news that my mum had put together a delicious roast dinner for us all. Once we’d devoured the lot, it was to bed early once again for me, as the next day was to be spent in Leeds catching up with the guys from university.

It's a bit grim up north

It’s a bit grim up north

A delicious roast

A delicious roast

The next day we rocked up in Leeds just before lunchtime, as Johanne was catching a train back down to London after staying with us up north for a few days. As he and Ellie went off to say their goodbyes, I met up for a catch up with Danni over some delicious lunch from Trinity Kitchen, and then wandered back with her to her workplace, eating half price pic’n’mix as we went. Some things never change…

The familiar sights of Leeds

The familiar sights of Leeds

Once Danni had to return to work, I wandered back over to the other side of the city to meet Luisa, after having seen her here in Madrid just a few weeks back! We wandered through the city, checking out a few of our old haunts for designer books and kooky stationery, before hopping on a bus and heading up to the campus we once studied on.

Leeds University looking resplendent in the sun

Leeds University looking resplendent in the sun

Upon arriving we went back to the University Union, as I had an insane craving for steak and ale pie from the pub there, but alas it was closed for refurbishment. Luisa knew another spot nearby though, and so we made our way there and dined like queens on cheap chicken wings, which I accompanied with a cup of tea.

After eating we caught a bus down to Luisa’s new house, which she is sharing with another ex-housmate of mine, Rhea. It was lovely to have at least some of the gang reunited again, and we had a good proper catch up over some homemade biscuits, cured meats I’d brought from Spain, and some 2-for-1 ciders from the Co-Op nearby – it was like final year all over again!

All too soon I had to leave to catch the last train back to Burnley however, as it was Wednesday night and my dad had taken the Thursday and Friday off so that we might have some family days out together. This meant yet another early night for me, as we were up (relatively) early yet again to head southwards to Chester.

Crossing the river into Chester

Crossing the river into Chester

I’ve never actually been to the city of Chester, but I knew it was an old walled city dating back from Roman times – sometimes I forget how old my home country is! It didn’t feel much like England when we visited though, mainly because it was cracking the flags as we arrived, and we kept having to find shade as we wandered around the city.

Entering the city over the wall

Entering the city over the wall

Looking down the high street

Looking down the high street

After we’d poked around a few shops and had some lunch in a park just outside the city walls, we soon headed back down to the water to have a drink to end the day. My mum and dad had visited before and so knew of a cheeky little pub which had an outdoor terrace, and in the warm weather it was simply begging for us to sit out and enjoy a couple of ciders on it.

A lovely little arcade

A lovely little arcade

The bridge out of Chester

The bridge out of Chester

That evening we headed back in good time to Burnley, as I’d decided I wanted to pay one of my favourite Italian restaurants a visit for a family meal. We just about made it to be one of the last tables seated for the night, and I tucked into my favourite dish of spinach and ricotta cannelloni, saving half of it for breakfast the next day.

On the Friday we had another family day trip planned, this time to Liverpool, and so we all jumped in the car together as in years gone by and set off on our way. As I visited just a few months back when I was last in England, I didn’t really have much in mind which I wanted to do, so me and my sister split off from our parents and did our own bits of exploring along the way.

Bold Street, one of my favourite places in the world

Bold Street, one of my favourite places in the world

A cool piece of signage

A cool piece of signage

Most of our exploring, as usual, was centred around Bold Street (my favourite part of the city) and the commercial district, Liverpool One. I decided I wasn’t too fussed about visiting the docks, as I’d been down last time and a while back with Kevin, and because the wind was picking up and I was (naturally) feeling quite cold being back in old Blighty and all.

A cool installation along one of the streets

A cool installation along one of the streets

The Playhouse

The Playhouse

Once we’d grown tired and weary, we returned home to Burnley, picking up some Chinese takeaway for tea. After eating that I was pretty full and pretty tired, but I wanted to meet up with Jess and Amber from my old work, and it just turned out that that evening they had gone to the pub after work. It’d been a while since we’d all had a proper catch up outside of work hours at Burnley Youth Theatre – the last time probably being way back in 2016 when they came together to visit me in Madrid – and so I couldn’t turn down the offer of a couple of drinks!

Well, as per usual, two cheeky drinks turned into a few more, and before I knew what was going on I found myself dancing along to all the cheesy hits of the 90s in Smackwater Jack’s – or simply Smacks as it’s called by us locals. With an equally busy last day in England ahead of me (I guess I’ll rest when I die, eh?), I didn’t stay out too late, and arose before midday the next day to sort out some packing and find some books to take back with me to Madrid.

Once Abi had finished work, it was time for us to get the high school gang back together, involving me, Abi and Danni meeting up at an old haunt, Sycamore Farm. We used to go to the pub quiz there pretty much every Wednesday, grabbing some of their enormously huge cake to see us through. As it was Saturday however, there was no pub quiz, but we stuck to tradition and grabbed ourselves some delicious huge cake!

Our huge cakes

Our huge cakes

After a quick cider it was time for us to head back to Abi’s house, where I cracked out some jamón and Abi’s mum cracked out a fresh litre of Pimm’s. We stayed there a while until Abi had to leave for work, catching up on as much as we could before we all had to part ways.

When I arrived home I had to finish my packing, which was a great excuse to ask that we order in an Indian takeaway from another of my favourite places. All too soon I’d eaten my way through that though, and it was time for a really early night ready for my 2:30am wakeup for my 6am flight – the same one I caught when I moved out here back in October, in fact. A little bit of nostalgia there!

As you’re probably aware by now I am indeed back in Madrid, and it’s back to the routine as usual until I return to bring you more updates in due course. Until then!


12

Aug

2018

Purgatory

12th August 2018

In a break from the updates of what’s been going on recently, I thought I’d share something a little different, after I recently mentioned it on my Instagram story. I was rooting through some notes and I found a little bit of short writing I did about a year ago, which I had named “Purgatory”. It recounts the two weeks I spent in the waiting room in court as part of my time on jury duty, and everything included is true to real life. Hopefully you’ll enjoy it!

On the first day I, as did the rest of the law-fearing citizens who’d been summoned, arrived early at the courts. After a dose of my completely irrational worry gripped me as I shuffled through a metal detector wondering if I’d accidentally left a butcher’s knife in my shoe, I was directed upstairs and down the world’s drabbest 1970s corridor. I still find it difficult to accept that exposed concrete, olive carpets, stained pine roofs and chrome embellishments were ever actually fashionable, as even in this era of Trump I still refuse to believe that humanity ever stooped so low.

Anyway, at the end of the corridor of misery I was confronted with a welcoming heavy wooden door with a tiny window of fireproof glass, the kind which you can barely see through anyway due to the square grid of metal wire contained within. After entering using the code that the pot-bellied man next to the metal detector had given me, I noted that I was the first to arrive, and sat down on an uncomfortable chair which I don’t think even my dentists would have welcomed into their shitty waiting area.

This was the room where we were to wait to be called to trial, if indeed we were “lucky” enough to be selected to attend one. Little did I or any of the others know, as they slowly began to arrive in dribs and drabs, that it would take us the best part of a week for any of us to actually be asked to sit on a jury. That’s why, just in my own head of course, I soon began to refer to this room as purgatory.

The first week in purgatory was nothing to write home about. Hell, nothing happened. I twiddled my thumbs, read some second-rate novels which I’d found at home, and prayed each day that my ageing phone would survive the seven hour wait. I conversed with some of my fellow would-be jurors, but it was mainly chitchat to distract me from what I really wanted: to be allowed into the VIP room.

The VIP room was basically what used to be the smoking room, a glass box at the far end of purgatory which was reserved for people who had been suffering there for at least one week already. After this first week of being bored to within an inch of our lives, we all left on Friday night rather excited to return on the Monday, because we would then be able to tread the golden floor of the VIP room – much more exciting than a weekend of inhaling fresh air and seeing daylight, which by this point had all become foreign concepts to us.

Well, Monday came around, and upon entering the much revered VIP room, I was soon disappointed. The sofas were just a touch spongier, there was a small screen displaying upcoming trials, and we found a set of dominoes, chess pieces and playing cards. All of these games were missing a good few of their components, and the information screen made about as much sense as the conversational drivel we were poring over. With topics ranging from metal detecting to the nightmares of finding childcare whilst on jury service, I soon became disinterested.

It’s little wonder then that during this second week I managed to fall asleep on one of the suspiciously stained purple sofas within fifteen minutes of my arrival. I was eventually awoken by a suitably displeased court usher, and told I was to march to the front of the line as I was juror number one. I informed said usher that I was first going to go to the toilet, and proceeded to delay everything further. Well, how am I supposed to listen to evidence nay pass judgement whilst shuffling around in my chair praying that my pelvic muscles might just be strong enough?

Urination was, it turned out, my most powerful weapon in my arsenal of tools for annoying the court staff. During the giving of evidence at one point, I really needed the toilet once again, and so I raised my hand. The judge, it transpired, was just about to call a comfort break anyway and so I didn’t cause too much of a scene, however I did let the usher know afterwards that if it’d had been left much longer, I would instead have been asking for a mop.

It’s not just the jury usher that I managed to wind up, but also the jury officer in charge of us whilst we were in purgatory. Having threatened to commit a crime just to be sent into a courtroom for the better air conditioning, I was soon attempting to rally my fellow jurors to start a riot in protest of the lack of access to coffee and snacks due to the shuttering of the court canteen.

We had been sent letters the week before beginning advising us of the closure, however one Monday we were held in the abandoned canteen whilst a bunch of new jurors took up all the space in our usual purgatory abode. Here my nosiness, lack of respect for authority and tendency to get restless led me to discover that the access door to the kitchen hadn’t been locked, and so I wandered in without a second thought. Having failed to find any food in the darkened fridges, I reported back to my fellow jurors that I’d instead found the knife rack, and that we could just hold court staff hostage until our demands for snacks were met. Somehow nobody seemed interested in my plan, and so I was forced to cause mischief elsewhere.

This came in the form of an attempt to bribe court security into letting me through without the faff of a bag inspection by means of offering them some crisps from a large bag of flamin’ hot Doritos. Needless to say this didn’t work, but I wasn’t too fussed as it meant I kept the Doritos to contribute to the buffet that me and a fellow juror had begun to assemble. She surpassed even me by going to the trouble of buying a plate from Aldi on which to arrange the selection of biscuits she’d brought along. That’s commitment.


10

Aug

2018

Road Trip Part 3: Bilbao

10th August 2018

After Part 1 of our trip roving around Oviedo and Part 2 exploring the coast, it was time for me and Kevin to head to our final destination for a couple of days: Bilbao! It wasn’t to be the first time that I’d visited Bilbao, after a group of us made a very short stop there during our Basque Road Trip almost a year back, so I was ready to discover the city basically much from scratch this time.

With rather heavy heads, Kevin and I took it easy as we drove down the coastal road towards the Basque Country, arriving to park in the airport (for ease of use), after which we caught a bus to the city centre and wandered to the hostel which we’d booked for the two nights. The first night we’d arrived quite late, and so grabbed some food to eat in the street before heading back for an early night.

The next day we woke up as early as we could bare to, and grabbed some breakfast at the hostel before heading out to begin wandering around the city. We headed down to the river and began following our noses, which eventually lead us down to the bridge over which we’d crossed into the city the night before.

Approaching the bridge and the Guggenheim

Approaching the bridge and the Guggenheim

Round the back of the Guggenheim

Round the back of the Guggenheim

Along the way we were keeping our eyes peeled for some good pintxos, which are basically little pieces of bread adorned with all kinds of delicious toppings, and are the food for which the region is famed. Once we’d crossed the bridge towards the Guggenheim side, we were led down to the rear of the museum, where we stopped a while for a rest and to listen to the street performances.

It was here where we suddenly noticed smoke rising from underneath the footpath, a thick fog which soon began to spread and cover the manmade pond by which we were sat. We never really got to the bottom of exactly what the smoke was all about, but I’m guessing it was some kind of installation. Whatever it was, it was pretty cool, especially as it was accompanied by Andre Rieu’s somewhat eerie Second Waltz courtesy of one of the street musicians.

Smoke rolls over Bilbao

Smoke rolls over Bilbao

A flower sculpture

A flower sculpture

Once we’d reached the other side of the Guggenheim Museum, we found ourselves amongst the streets of the more modern area of the city. Here we began to search for a bite to lunch, but it seemed as though all the decent spots were bunched in the old area of the city, so it was there that we headed. It turned out to be the right move, for we were soon traversing the little streets of the old centre, dipping in and out of little bars and eating a variety of delicious pintxos along the way.

Wandering the old area of the city

Wandering the old area of the city

Pintxos and a beer

Pintxos and a beer

After we’d filled up on all kinds of pintxos, from crab and egg to sublimely simple jamón and cheese, we decided to head out to an area on the coast. Grabbing a return ticket on the metro, we were soon pacing along the gorgeous coastline, and I stopped for an ice cream and to feel the sand between my toes (but only because it had gotten in my shoes).

Me and Kevin by the sea

Me and Kevin by the sea

Looking out over Bilbao

Looking out over Bilbao

Once we’d had our fill of the sea breeze, we returned to the hostal to freshen up and then headed out for another evening eating pintxos around the centre. As darkness descended on the city, we grabbed some snacks and sat by the river, enjoying the evening breeze and chatting away until late.

Darkness falls on Bilbao

Darkness falls on Bilbao

The next day unfortunately heralded our last in Bilbao, with our 48 hours there seeming to finish just as soon as they’d begun. That morning we headed to a local café to try a traditional Basque pastry we’d seen everywhere – indeed it’s pretty hard to miss with it’s huge chocolate and orange meringue spiral!

A couple of delicious pastries

A couple of delicious pastries

As we’d an hour or so to kill before we’d to leave the hostel, we made a visit to the Basque Museum which was handily located just down the road. We started with a hard-hitting exhibition exploring the Spanish civil war, before moving on to explore some of the huge figurines which are carried around during the local fiestas, amongst many other things.

Quite creepy if you ask me

Quite creepy if you ask me

Further exploration of the museum

Further exploration of the museum

Sooner than we’d have liked though, it was time for us to leave. We hopped back on the bus we’d taken just 48 hours before and were dropped off at the airport, where I helped Kevin maneuver the car out of the car park, and suddenly it was time to say our goodbyes until the next time.

What then followed was a four hour delay (yes, four hours, thanks EasyJet), but I made a friend in the airport in a lady who was also travelling from Bilbao to Manchester – and was also from Burnley! It’s a small world after all! Once I’d landed I was diligently picked up by my parents, and once we’d arrived back in Burnley I pretty much immediately crashed back into bed.

I’ll be bringing updates on what we got up to in England in yet another blog post, but that might wound up being delayed for a while as I’ve plans to leave Madrid for the weekend, and also plans for a few blog posts which will be a slight break from the usual programming. As ever, I’ll be back soon!


8

Aug

2018

Road Trip Part 2: El Cabo

8th August 2018

So here we go with Part 2 of the Great Northern Road Trip, picking up where Part 1 left off! Me and Kevin had just had a quiet evening after a busy day wandering around an abandoned factory, so it was time for us to get up early and head off to the coast to explore el cabo, or “the cape”, an outcrop of land hosting what I was told would be a few rather beautiful sites. After swinging by my beloved Mercadona (a supermarket chain here) for a big bag of cherries, we hopped in the car and headed northwards, with me throwing cherry pips into the bushes as we sped along.

We finally see the sea

We finally see the sea

Jutting out into the sea

Jutting out into the sea

After getting a little lost along the way, we arrived at out first destination, el Faro de Cabo Peñas. Faro being Spanish for lighthouse meant that I was expecting a lighthouse, and indeed their was one, but it wasn’t particularly pretty next to a modern radar tower, so we headed down to the cliffs to see what we could see down by the water.

Rock formations on the coast

Rock formations on the coast

Coastal textures

Coastal textures

Once I’d found a jut of land which was sticking out into the sea, I decided that I wanted to risk life and limb in clambering out to explore its tip. Kevin (rather sensibly) decided to stay behind a little bit, as in the end I wound up getting rather lost and stuck in some bushes, upon which I decided that the views weren’t that much different from the safety of the shoreline, and so made my retreat.

The bit of land I wandered out on

The bit of land I wandered out on

Kevin decides not to join me

Kevin decides not to join me

My view when trapped in the bushes

My view when trapped in the bushes

Once we’d had a coffee to refuel in a little coastal bar, we headed a little further along the way, stopping when I noticed an old industrial looking structure. On further instruction it looked like it held a series of siren horns, and we speculated that, with the cape being a strategic position, it may have heralded from the civil war era. I haven’t been able to find much about them online, so if I ever do I’ll come back to this post and drop that in.

Looking out to sea

Looking out to sea

The siren pylon

The siren pylon

The path along the coast

The path along the coast

Eventually the two of us became quite tired, and so we abandoned a plan we’d had to walk further along the coast and to a neighboring town. Turning back, we hopped back in the car and made our way to our next destination, another small town along the coast called Luanco.

Lookin down into the sea in Cabo de Peñas

Lookin down into the sea in Cabo de Peñas

Arriving in Luanco

Arriving in Luanco

The gorgeous patterned facades of Luanco

The gorgeous patterned facades of Luanco

Luanco proved to be yet another gorgeous location in the running series of pretty Asturian coast locations which Kevin has taken me to (with the last one being Ribadesella.) The buildings, as you’ll have noticed, were adorned with quaint colourful patterns, and the gently sloping streets lead to floral plazas and plenty of spaces to sit and take in the sea views.

The colourful architecture

The colourful architecture

Wandering the streets of Luanco

Wandering the streets of Luanco

A glimpse of the sea

A glimpse of the sea

Eventually we found our way to the town’s little beach, and took a peaceful stroll down the front, chatting away about all kind of nonsense like we usually do. Once we’d reached the end of said promenade, we turned back and headed back to the car, for we still had one place more to visit before the end of the day.

Looking out from the church

Looking out from the church

The church from the beach

The church from the beach

The next little coastal stop along the way was Candás, a town which sits just north of Gijón. Here, and after a small nightmare trying to find somewhere to park, we were greeted with a street festival which was in full swing. Snooping around the various cheeses, bakes, natural ciders and artesanal wares, we slowly dropped down towards the docks, stopping for a fresh cojito (like a coconut macaroon, literally meaning “little coconut”).

Part of the festivities

Part of the festivities

Arriving as the sun began to set

Arriving as the sun began to set

Soon we’d perched ourselves on the sea wall which separated the open ocean from the docked boats, and the sun began to set. This created a rather spectacular display, as the warm light of the setting sun illuminated a formation of clouds which had clumped together in the distance, making it look as though the apocalypse was upon us!

Boats in the dock

Boats in the dock

The huge ball of fire

The huge ball of fire

A clear line between the weather formations

A clear line between the weather formations

Once the sun had fully dropped beyond the horizon and the cold began to set in, we headed back through Candás and hopped in the car back to Oviedo. That night we’d planned to go out for drinks with a Andrei and Andre, but had decided to keep it chilled and early as we had plans to go out and explore Cantabria the day after – but as you can imagine, in the end that didn’t quite go to plan. After a couple of quiet drinks in a neighbourhood bar, we noticed a German-style beer festival was picking up momentum in a tent nearby, and so we went to investigate.

After my initial doubts about it, due to having been to a real German beer festival in the past, I soon downed myself a pint of rather strong beer found myself happily singing away to all the cheesy Spanish music that they’d put on. Quite a way from the real thing, but a lot of good fun nonetheless!

Needless to say that Kevin and I were a little worse for wear the next morning, and so our plans to explore Cantabria were a little decimated. Kevin whipped up a delicious hangover lunch of fried chicken with chips and egg – completely from scratch I might add – and by 5 o’clock we had to pack our bags and jump back in the car ready for Part 3 of our journey, which you can check out here. Check out Part 1 too if you haven’t already.


1

Aug

2018

Road Trip Part 1: Oviedo

1st August 2018

Picking back up from where I left my last blog post, I guess I should now get into the juicy details of what I’ll call the Northern Road Trip! Forming the first half of my summer holidays, me and Kevin planned a trip along the northern coast of Spain, making good and proper use of his mum’s car which she had so kindly let us borrow for a few days. This post is followed up by Part 2 and Part 3.

As I mentioned, I left on a Wednesday, but it was not until mid-afternoon as I had some important business to attend to first! That Wednesday was to be my last chance to see Heidi before she became the last member of Cake Club to return to her country of birth, as she was to leave whilst I was lolling around in Asturias. As she was also to graduate in my absence, her mum had also come to visit, and as she’d spend a lot of her childhood in the north of England, it was decided that we’d all meet up for a spot of lunch at a legendary Spanish food spot.

Some of the best tortilla and pisto I've ever had

Some food at Casa Dani

We gathered at Casa Dani in the north of the city, grabbing ourselves a drink and getting chatting away, which soon led to hilarity as jokes were flying around and we were being attended by the world’s cheekiest waiter! I think me and Heidi’s mum may have confused poor Heidi a bit though with all of our references to things back in the north of old Blighty. On top of all this, the food that we were presented with was downright delicious, with everything from tortilla (Spanish omelette) to pisto (like a thick ratatouille) having been cooked to perfection.

Striking a pose

Striking a pose

As with all good things though, I did eventually have to leave, as I didn’t want to be missing my 3pm train to Oviedo. After saying my farewells to Heidi and hurrying off to the train station, I was soon zipping up through Castilla-Leon in what was proving to be a rather dull train journey, for in order to keep things light and easy I’d not packed my iPad or anything.

Upon arrival I was greeted by the familiar grey skies and sticky humidity of Asturias, and hung around the train station until Kevin rocked up in the car. After a quick stop off at his to dump my things, we headed straight out to meet up with Camila and Samuel for a delicious slap-up Mexican dinner.

Reunited in Oviedo

Reunited in Oviedo

A plate of taco deliciousness

A plate of taco deliciousness

After we’d had a good catch up over some food and then a cheeky pint at the local Irish pub, it was time for me and Kevin to call it a night, but not after we’d discussed in great detail Camila and Sam’s new pet dog, Luke – a very important topic of conversation for me.

Once we’d enjoyed a decent lie in the next morning, Kevin and I once again hopped back in the car and made our way uphill, to the summit of a large hill which overlooks most of Oviedo. Once we began to ascend, however, it became pretty obvious that the views that we thought we were going to get would be nowhere to be seen, as we found ourselves navigating the winding road through increasingly heavy fog.

Arriving at the top

Arriving at the top

Eerie would be an understatement

Eerie would be an understatement

After having lunch in the car in the form of a couple of salads that we’d picked up at Mercadona, we soon got a bit weirded out by our surroundings and decided to head back down and out of the clouds. On the way we made a few stops, as it turns out that Asturias is dotted with pre-Roman architecture dating from the 7th to the 11th centuries, with the couple of examples we went to visit taking the form of ancient churches.

A pre-Romanesque church

A pre-Romanesque church

Looking down to where Oviedo should be seen

Looking down to where Oviedo should be seen

Once we were back down where we could see where we were going, we headed then to a spot which Kevin had been wanting to take me for a while, and it definitely wasn’t your typical tourist attraction! We headed out to a relatively small town in the Asturian countryside, whereupon we were presented with a huge abandoned ceramics factory! Of course we had a look around, and I took plenty of photos, but I’ll have to save them for an upcoming blog post because there’s too damn many to edit and upload in time. For now, make do with this teaser photo which shows a tiny bit of what’s to come in the background…

Do you see any factory?

Do you see any factory?

After wandering around the factory for hours, were both pretty tired, and so headed to the local shopping centre to have a snoop around the sales and grab some quick and easy sit-down food for the evening. Once we’d filled ourselves on ice cream and croquettes, we headed back to Kevin’s flat for a relatively early night and to brace ourselves from what we didn’t realise would be a crazy day ahead…

But it’s here where I must cut the story short, for this blog post represents the first in what shall be a three-part series documenting our travels along the coast. You can now check out Part 2, the next installation, or skip ahead to Part 3 if you’re feeling crazy.


29

Jul

2018

Luisa & Woody in Madrid

29th July 2018

With this post I’m back in Spain after two weeks of absence, as mentioned in my last post – and all this means that I’ve to bring you all up to speed with what’s been going on over the past crazy fortnight! After returning from Murcia and working my final week at work before my summer holidays, I was joined in the city by Luisa and Woody, who’d come over principally for the MadCool festival.

The night they arrived, though, I was sure to grab hold of them to watch England get kicked out of the World Cup and take them to one of my favourite spots for a drink and some croquettes. We had a lovely catch up as I introduced them to cañas, and the not-so-sophisticated Madrid tradition of mixing beer with lemon Fanta…

Catching a cheeky drink upon their arrival

Catching a cheeky drink upon their arrival

Croquetas and patatas bravas

Croquetas and patatas bravas

The two of them then spent the next few days in and out of the festival, but I was sure to meet up with them after work a couple of times when possible in order to show them some cool areas of the city. We checked out Malasaña, Lavapiés, La Latina, and plenty of the centre, all whist stopping for beers and tapas along the way of course – there’s no other way of doing it here!

Wandering through Malasaña

Wandering through Malasaña

A snack stop in the centre

A snack stop in the centre

Wandering through Chueca

Wandering through Chueca

The weekend also signalled one of the last opportunities to hang out with Heidi, the last member of Cake Club to abandon me in Madrid after Megan and Loredana left a few weeks back. On Saturday night we headed out for drinks at Sala Equis, a converted adult cinema, and then found a lovely Asturian restaurant to stuff ourselves on chorizo cooked in cider and other northern delights!

A drink in Sala Equis

A drink in Sala Equis

Wandering around the Prado Museum

Wandering around the Prado Museum

The day after, exactly two weeks ago today, the festival was all over and so I met up with Luisa, Woody and Heidi for some drinks down in Lavapiés, before we headed out to Chueca to spend their last evening together.

Looking skyward in Chueca

Looking skyward in Chueca

Heading down into Lavapiés

Heading down into Lavapiés

The three of us having a cheeky drink

The three of us having a cheeky drink

The next day, Woody had to leave back to Manchester, but Lu had planned to stay a few extra days at mine. Once we’d waved Woody off on the metro, we dropped Luisa’s stuff off at mine and spent a couple of days wandering, exploring, and eating plenty!

Flags around Chueca

Flags around Chueca

The streets by night

The streets by night

During those mere 48 hours we got up to all sorts of nonsense, just wandering around and eating and drinking and taking photos of whatever we felt like, and so I can’t honestly really remember exactly what we did. What I do remember is that come Wednesday morning it was time to wave Luisa off on the metro too, just hours before I had to leave my flat myself!

Where I went next though will have to wait for the next blog post, as I’m having a day of rest and there’s so much to report back on from my road trip of the north and week in England that I’ll have to break the whole trip down into sections and post them as and when I get the time. Prepare yourselves for plenty of photos!