13

Oct

2018

Oslo

13th October 2018

As mentioned in my last post in which I took you all around the Spanish city of Valencia, I was writing maniacally from the plane to Norway in an attempt to try and get my blog up to date, but was eventually let down by the in-flight internet connection. No fear this time however, for right now I am sat in the lovely company and flat of my friend Thuy, and in good range of her lovely stable WiFi.

Anyway, after Heidi sadly left me (as well as the other members of Cake Club) back in summer, I promised that I’d make a trip to Norway to visit her and her mum at some point. A few months back I got round to booking just such a trip, and last Friday I was up at 5am in order to grab an early flight up north!

Upon arrival I was greeted by Heidi’s mum, Sharon, who had kindly offered to pick me up from the airport as Heidi was tied up working the first week of her new job. The two of immediately got up to some mischief, heading out for lunch and then a wander through the supermarkets in order to pick up some extra food for my visit. Once we’d arrived at their gorgeous home in the little town of Kløfta (which is pronounced something like klurrf-t’), I unpacked what little I had brought, and was then popped on a train headed into the city of Oslo itself.

Looking out from the train to Oslo

Looking out from the train to Oslo

Before waving me off on the train, Heidi’s mum had set me up with a rough guide for a walk I should take through Oslo city centre, and so as I disembarked in the Sentralstasjon (central train station), I followed her instructions on where I was to go. The route took me down the length of Karl Johans gate, the main street through the city, and to a few sights along the way.

Around the back of the cathedral

Around the back of the cathedral

The first stop took me to the area surrounding the city’s cathedral, where I had a wander but decided not to stop too long, as I was beginning to realise that it was actually quite a lot colder than I’d expected! I’d rocked up to Norway with nothing more than some boots, jeans, a shirt and a big thick hoodie – but it was evident that this wasn’t going to be enough.

Stortinget

Stortinget

Undeterred, however, I carried on down Karl Johans gate and came across the second point of interest, the Stortinget, Norway’s Parliament. In front of this building the street opened out into a lovely little plaza, and I headed off to buy myself a bite to eat before sitting down for a while. It was in buying this snack that I realised how expensive Norway is – 38 kroner (about £3.50/4€) just for a croissant! To top it all off, it was a very mediocre croissant, and I’d later discover that that price wasn’t actually too bad for Norway – crazy!

Sitting down to eat the world's most expensive croissant

Sitting down to eat the world’s most expensive croissant

Once I’d summoned enough energy to carry on, I headed past Oslo’s town hall and to the waterfront. It was here that the cool wind really began its assault, and so I was doubly ecstatic to receive a message from Heidi to tell me that she was headed out of her office and that she’d meet me nearby! I was headed back the way I came when I spotted her heading my way, and we were reunited once again in the freezing breeze coming in from the fjord.

Looking back at the town hall

Looking back at the town hall

Out into the Oslo fjord

Out into the Oslo fjord

The first thing on our agenda was to go and buy me a nice big coat such that I might survive the next four days in Norway, and so we headed back into the city centre in search of something. I soon found myself a bright yellow monstrosity, and once I’d found a size that fit, I decided that it was a reasonable price for Norway and bought the thing without thinking too hard about it. I have it now in Madrid and it’s very, very warm!

Blending in with the architecture

Blending in with the architecture

After wandering around a bit more and catching up, we began our walk to Grünerløkka, a hip area of the city, where I’d been promised that there’d be a good pizza. Along the way we came across the fibreglass version of me, which entertained Heidi no end…

This little bugger stole my coat

This little bugger stole my coat

A little pub along the way

A little pub along the way

The restaurant we’d come to was already packed out by the time we arrived, but they said we could pull up a couple of stools and eat at the downstairs bar, so we opted to do just that. We were rather glad we did, as the pizzas we had were absolutely delicious, and we had a lovely time catching up over a glass of wine and a big plate of mozzarella-coated goodness.

After we’d finished, we grabbed the tram back to the centre and then a train back to Kløfta, where Heidi’s mum had been so kind as to allow me to stay for the few nights I was in Norway. We cracked open a round of beers, gathered on the sofa, and chatted about my first day of my first visit to Norway.

The next morning I awoke to the most delicious of smells, as Heidi and her mum were already in the kitchen preparing breakfast. After showering and getting dressed, I joined them in the kitchen and was served a delicious plate of toasts with omelette, smoked salmon and smoked trout. I also discovered that I like capers, having never tried them until Heidi’s mum popped them in the omelette!

Breakfast fit for a king

Breakfast fit for a king

Once we’d eaten, me and Heidi headed back on the train into Oslo, as she had a plan to show me all the sights before she had to head back to work on Monday. Our first stop was Oslo Opera House, an impressive modern structure made from granite and glass which sticks out of the water with quite the silhouette.

The Oslo Opera House

The Oslo Opera House

A selfie by the Operahuset

A selfie by the Operahuset

As it turns out, the roof is set on a gentle slope so that you can climb up and on to the very top of the building! We headed up in earnest, taking the selfie from halfway up before I tried to get all creative with the reflections of the surrounding architecture…

I even put it in black and white

I even put it in black and white

My new friend

My new friend

Sass Queen 2018

Sass Queen 2018

As you can see, at the topmost point of the building I managed to make a friend in the form of a seagull that was called Dave. Dave was very friendly and didn’t mind getting up close and personal – even if most of said friendliness was probably inspired by the bag of fresh chocolate croissants that Heidi was carrying – and he reminded me how quite terrifyingly big seagulls actually are…

Once we’d shuffled along to let other visitors take a few pictures from the top, we sat on a ledge out of Dave’s eyeshot and overlooking the harbour, and then proceeded to eat our croissants. Returning eventually to ground level, we headed inside to have a look at the interior architecture and enjoy a moment of respite from the cold.

Inside the opera house

Inside the opera house

After this we headed for a wander along the water’s edge, passing through an art installation and along the harbour’s edge as we headed for a spot where we were to catch a bus to another part of the city. Heidi had a plan to take me for lunch at a little restaurant on a tiny island in the fjord, so off we headed on the bus to where a little shuttle boat would set off from to us to said spot.

Even the telephone boxes are pretty

Even the telephone boxes are pretty

Autumnal colours

Autumnal colours

Things started to go to pot quite soon after we had alighted the bus, with the first drama being that Heidi noticed that she had lost her hat, a hat which she clearly loved rather quite dearly. Not letting that dampen our spirits, however, we carried on down to the dock to await the arrival of the little boat which would take us over to our lunch spot.

Waiting for the boat

Waiting for the boat

After fifteen minutes of waiting for said boat with not a human soul in sight, Heidi gave the restaurant a ring to see what was going on, and we were dealt with the second blow of the afternoon: the place had closed for the winter. As the two of us aren’t really the kind of people who let silly little things like a ruined plan get to us, we decided to make the most of the lovely location we were in and took some photos.

Waiting on the dock

Waiting on the dock

Once we’d headed back to the bus things started to pick back up, as Heidi found her hat by the side of the road exactly where we’d gotten off the bus, and we managed to grab some chips and cider upon our arrival back in the centre of Oslo. Not wanting to face another night of spending Norwegian prices on a dinner out, we headed back to Kløfta once more, where we tucked into a deliciously rich spaghetti bolognese which Sharon had made and was awaiting our arrival. After a glass of wine and another evening gossip session, we once again headed for a relatively early night – I warned you back in my Valencia post that I’m becoming an old man now!

On Sunday morning I was treated to yet another delicious breakfast, and then we jumped in Sharon’s car which she had lent us for the day. Heidi would be driving, and I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence as I entered the car to the view below, but I had to eat my words later on as she navigated the roads and tight parking spaces with effortless grace.

Is this where I die?

Is this where I die?

It turns out that our destination was Holmenkollbakken, a ski jump in the hills above Oslo which offered some amazing views over the city and its surroundings. Having climbed as high up the jump as we could, we took a selfie and enquired about how much it was to have a go on the zipline (740 kroner, or about £70/78€, so a definite no) before heading down the dizzyingly steep steps and back to ground level.

The ski jump

The ski jump

A selfie over Oslo

A selfie over Oslo

After this we headed a little further down the hill and to a place where we could get even better views out over the city and the fjord in which it sits, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Heidi was more interested in getting a photo in the ski throne – look at the joy on her little face!

Queen of the skis

Queen of the skis

Views from up high

Views from up high

Having worked up an appetite with all of our traipsing up and down the hill, we began our ascent towards the car and the traditional restaurant which lay just beyond it. Heidi spotted that I was beginning to blend in with the autumnal flora along the way, and so a photo session was called for…

The yellow coat strikes again

The yellow coat strikes again

Inside the cozy restaurant

Inside the cozy restaurant

Once in the restaurant I opted for smørbrød, basically an open-faced sandwich, on which was piled lettuce, egg, vegetables and a generous helping of delicious fresh prawns. Heidi grabbed a dish called rømmegrøt, a traditional Norwegian dish of a kind of porridge made with sour cream, intent that I should try it at some point during my visit. Not being the biggest fan of sour cream I didn’t really take much of a liking to it, but I enjoyed my sandwich, and then my share of the huge slice of apple pie that we treated ourselves to for dessert!

After a motorway journey involving a rowdy rendition of the Grease Megamix, we returned back to Oslo and to Frognerparken, a park most famous for its series of sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Heidi was insistent that I’d enjoy the sculptures and appreciate the art, but I was too preoccupied smirking at the nude subjects and admiring the trees to pay all too much attention. Heidi did try to be all cultured and stuff, so here’s a photo of her right now:

Admiring the artwork

Admiring the artwork

An autumnal treeline

An autumnal treeline

Looking over the lake

Looking over the lake

Another part of the park

Another part of the park

I did enjoy wandering around the park, but sooner or later I wound up getting quite cold, and so we walked back into the city’s streets for a coffee to heat back up.

The sun lies low in the sky

The sun lies low in the sky

A cold selfie

A cold selfie

More views of the canopy

More views of the canopy

After we’d warmed ourselves back up, we headed back to the car and then back to Kløfta for yet another dinner whipped up by Heidi’s mum. This was to be a roast with a bit of a twist, as Sharon had included a few vegetables I’d never heard of including sellerirot, which is apparent called celeriac or celery root in English. The main twist had to be the meat though, as instead of the standard fare of chicken or beef we were to have reindeer!

A roast with a difference

A roast with a difference

The meat and the whole dinner were absolutely delicious, and we cracked open a bottle of wine during and after for another cozy evening chatting away into the early hours. After turning in for the night, I was in no rush to move the next morning as Heidi had already headed off to work, but I eventually headed for a wander around Kløfta to take some photos before heading into Oslo.

An old barn

An old barn

Another pretty house

Another pretty house

Gorgeous autumn colours

Gorgeous autumn colours

In Oslo I took things pretty slowly, snacking and drinking and calling my mum for a catchup, all whilst waiting for Heidi to leave work. Just before she did, I headed up to the Royal Palace, taking some photos of the palace as the sun set. Whilst taking one, I got chatting to a Norwegian guy who was also taking some photos of the palace, and he ended up showing me a photo he’d snapped of the back of my head. After more chatting away, I added him on Instagram and he has since sent me said photo – which I’ve included below!

Colourful plants along the way

Colourful plants along the way

Taking in the Royal Palace

Taking in the Royal Palace (Photo © Frank Otto Pedersen)

This awesome photo was taken by Frank Otto Pedersen, and you should go check out his work here! Anyway, when Heidi left work we met up with her friend for my last evening in Oslo, but after a delicious Japanese meal and a quick drink we had to head back to Kløfta quite early.

The next morning marked my last day in Norway, and so after thanking Sharon for her amazing hospitality over the last few days, I boarded the train into Oslo for the last time. On the way I stopped of in a town just outside the city called Lillestrøm, which Heidi had said offered stunning views down a fjord. After hanging my legs over the bank of the river and taking in the views for a while, I headed to a supermarket to buy some breakfast to take back for the guys at Erretres, and then finished my journey back into Oslo.

Looking out in Lillestrøm

Looking out in Lillestrøm

In Oslo I headed to the north of the city to check out an area I hadn’t been through, and then settled back down for a sandwich lunch before meeting Heidi momentarily to say a quick goodbye over a coffee. After what had to be a 20 minute goodbye – I’d got my boarding time mixed up somewhere along the line – we hugged each other off and I boarded the speedy train out to the airport.

Practicing some rude calligraphy

Practicing some rude calligraphy

After an hour delay, I boarded my flight and wound up back in Madrid just after midnight, followed what felt like a catnap before I hauled my breakfast of cinnamon rolls and brown cheese (yes, that exists) to the office on Wednesday morning. They went down very well, and since then it’s been pretty much back to the daily grind of design and heading out for tapas – I can’t complain!

All that’s left to say is that Oslo is a gorgeous city and Norway a beautiful country, and I can’t think Sharon and Heidi enough for all their hospitality in taxiing me around, putting me up, showing me around, and generally tolerating me during a wonderful five days in Norway. I’d definitely recommend that you visit if you get the opportunity, just be more prepared than I did and take a decent coat with you!


10

Oct

2018

Valencia

10th October 2018

Once again I’m having to write this rather delayed blog post on the go, but this time I’m taking it even further than merely drafting on a train, for I’m currently flying at 10,795m somewhere over France at a speed of 875km/h! This is courtesy of Norwegian’s complimentary inflight WiFi, as I am currently bound for Oslo, but more on that in my next blog post.

As you may have guessed by now, last weekend I jumped in a car share and headed eastwards from Madrid and to the capital of Valencia, Valencia. Confusing, I know, but for this exercise I only stayed in the city of Valencia, so all is well!

I left Madrid directly from work on Friday and so arrived in Valencia by night, dropping my stuff off in the hostel I’d booked and heading straight back out to source a bite to eat and watch a rather wild opera performance in one of the plazas. This was all being put on in the local language, Valenciano, however, and so I ate my bocadillo de tortilla and wandered around the centre a little by night.

A façade by night

A façade by night

As I’m now a grumpy old man at the ripe old age of 23, I opted to skip the pub crawl offered by my hostel, and instead delayed returning to the hostel so that I could put myself to bed in peace and quiet after all the revellers had headed out. After a relatively decent night’s sleep, I was up in time to check out of my hostel, and so headed out for my first look of the fit in the light of day.

The start of the street art

The start of the street art

Naturally I wasn’t only going to stay in the city for one night, but I had totally fluffed up the hostel booking when I initially did it, and so had to book my second night at a different place. No fear, however, as I travel ridiculously lightly, so off I went into the city with my little half-full backpack and no idea as to what I should see nor do.

More street art by the market

More street art by the market

Luckily I enjoy wandering city streets and have a relatively good intuition for finding the neighbourhoods worth exploring, so I relied on those as I began my wanders. I was primarily impressed by the beautiful street art, which injects a splash of colour into the already vibrant and quirky city.

I soon stumbled across my first point of interest, the Mercat Central, a huge indoor market bustling with all kinds of stalls and tourists and locals alike.

Entering the market

Entering the market

I didn’t pick up anything whilst perusing as I didn’t want any extra weight to carry around for the rest of the weekend, but I did stop a while to take some photos of the impressive architecture.

The dome over the stalls

The dome over the stalls

Looking over the square

Looking over a square

Once I’d cleared the city centre, I knew one other area that I couldn’t miss whilst in Valencia, and that was the Ciudad de los Artes y las Ciencias (The City of Arts and Sciences). This huge linear site sits along part of the city’s green strip, and houses a variety of museums and exhibition centres in some of the wildest futuristic architecture I’ve seen.

The Shark Building

The Shark Building

It didn’t look like much was going on in the first building, which I shall refer to as the shark building due to its pointed shape and windows reminiscent of huge teeth, so I passed under its belly and on to the next.

The Turtle Building

The Turtle Building

This second building I shall refer to as the turtle building, mainly on count of its roof reassembling the shell of a turtle, but it was also seemingly closed, and so I spent a short while just taking in the atmosphere. It was a very strange place to be, walking along geometrical pathways woven between perfectly clean pools and the bluish glow that they reflected onto the crazy white architecture above.

Passing under the street

Passing under the street

A palm garden

A palm garden

I eventually arrived at the third building, which I shall call the Science Museum because a) that’s what it was and b) I couldn’t think of an animal that it looked like. I decided to actually go in this one, not because I fancied a wander through the “gene forest” (go figure), but because I had a wild craving for a tuna bocadillo and figured they probably had one in their café.

The Science Museum building

The Science Museum building

Stopping for a bite to eat

Stopping for a bite to eat

Looking back out

Looking back out

Once I’d eaten my wildly overpriced sandwich, I headed on down and further through the complex. I passed a large royal blue building which was closed for what looked like quite extensive renovations, and eventually found myself passing by the oceanarium, the last building within the complex.

As insinuated I wasn’t really in a mood for wandering around museums, and I definitely wasn’t in the mood for parting with too many of my hard-earned euros to do so, and so I opted to grab the bus for 1.50€ and head to the beach instead.

Valencia is well used by the people of Madrid as a quick holiday spot, and it seems like this beach tends to be the reason why, as it makes Valencia the nearest city with a beach to the capital. I, however, had my backpack in tow, didn’t have any sun cream, and didn’t fancy winding up with sand infiltrating the many holes of my knackered shoes, and so my entire beach experience consisted of taking a single photo of it, scoffing at the prices of the restaurants along the promenade, and heading back inland. To top it all off, the photo was rubbish and isn’t even worth including here. Good work, Briggs.

The bus ride to the beach had, however, allowed me 20 minutes or so to do a spot of research on the city, and I’d identified a nice neighbourhood that I fancied visiting, which by sheer good luck was situated just behind the beach area. Keeping to the shaded side of the streets to try and stop my pasty unprotected skin burning, I headed back towards the pretty architecture of the El Cabanyal neighbourhood.

Beautiful colours along the way

Beautiful colours along the way

As it was the middle of the afternoon and the height of the day’s heat, the streets were pretty quiet, but I was more than happy to just amble along them until I found a bar to refresh myself in. That I eventually did, snapping photos of the quirky scenes I saw along the way.

A lonely building along the way

A lonely building along the way

The corner shop

The corner shop

Once I’d bussed myself back to the city centre, I hunted down my second hostel and checked in. Finding one of my roommates asleep when I arrived, I headed straight back out for a drink and eventually an evening meal at a delicious burger place that I’d been recommended.

I prefer green sex, personally

I prefer green sex, personally

The train station by night

The train station by night

The next morning I headed out with my Canadian roommate who I’d got chatting to the night before, and we sat down for a chat and breakfast together. Eventually he had to grab his carshare, and after giving him a hand with his Spanish, I saw him off an headed further into the city.

Just outside my hostel

Just outside my hostel

A unicorn along the way

A unicorn along the way

With the same lack of plan as the day before, I went for a wander once again in an area of the city which, according to Google Maps, I’d yet to visit. Without meaning to I stumbled upon the design school, and then spent a while exploring the street art in the surrounding area, before settling myself in a bar for a drink.

More arte callejero

More arte callejero

It was when I sat down in said bar that I noticed I had lost my notebook, which had me upset no end, and so after a drink I headed back to my hostel to see if I’d left it in the room. On arrival I found it amongst the information booklets in the hostel, and so, panic over, I sat down for one final drink before I had to head to the west of the city for my carpool back to Madrid.

Passing through the city centre once more

Passing through the city centre once more

I arrived at the metro station to be picked up with quite a bit of spare time, and so managed to sneak in one other final drink before I met my driver and headed off in a van back towards the capital – just in time for a night’s sleep before work the following day!

PS: Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get this post sent from the plate as I flew to Oslo, as the WiFi on board couldn’t seem to cope with the photos as I tried to upload them, so this is being posted upon my return from Norway. Naturally I’ll be as quick as I can in getting the Oslo post up, but I took so many photos that it’s going to take quite a while! No spoilers…


25

Sep

2018

Traversing the Peninsula

25th September 2018

Less than a week after waving Ellie and Johann back off to the airport, it was my turn to do a bit of traveling! After clocking out of work a couple of weeks back, I took the Metro to Atocha Railway Station, grabbed a beer, and sat in the station’s tropical gardens whilst I waited for my train to show up.

Atocha's gardens

Atocha’s gardens

After a lot of confusion as the platform was late to be announced, which eventually forced me to sprint the length of Atocha trying to find carriage six, I found my seat and fired up Netflix for the long journey down to Murica. I was greeted at the station in Murcia by my parents, who had just landed in from England to spend a couple of weeks at my auntie’s flat there just like last time, and we headed straight out for a slap-up tea of pizza and burgers at the golf complex where we’d be staying.

The next day called for a lie-in, but after some drama with the car window refusing to go back up and the skies threatening to rain, we managed to get down to the coast in one piece. We wandered the front, stopped off for some snacks, and caught up on plenty of stuff along the way over a few drinks.

A church down by the coast

A church down by the coast

Looking out into the Mar Menor

Looking out into the Mar Menor

A little hut over the water

A little hut over the water

That evening, and after freshening up and heading back to a shopping and eating plaza near the coast, we had a lovely little family meal – missing Ellie that was, but I’d seen her five days previously and my mum and dad are certainly much closer to her than I am!

That evening I introduced my parents to the age-old Spanish tradition of a nice drink of Crema de Orujo, which is quite similar to Baileys, after a meal as a digestive. That went down a treat but soon made us all sleepy, and so we headed for another relatively early night in preparation for what was suddenly my last day to be spent with them – these weekend retreats do pass by pretty quickly!

Back down at the Mar Menor

Back down at the Mar Menor

That Sunday morning we headed down to San Pedro del Pinatar, famous for its natural mud baths, but we weren’t in the mood for smothering ourselves in nutritious clay that morning. We opted instead for a drink and a tapa on a terrace along the shore, before wandering further down the front so that I might find a decent and authentic looking Spanish bar in which to have some food.

First aid along the way

First aid along the way

Once I’d found a spot for us to settle down in, we tucked into an array of sharing dishes that I picked out, and I think I may have actually managed to convince my mum that she might actually like some traditional Spanish dishes – who’d ever have thought?

Coffees drunk and a chat had with a lovely couple on the way back to the car, I found that I was being dropped back off at the train station all way too soon – I barely squeeze 48 hours into these fleeting visits! I guess that’s working life…

Anyway, once back in Madrid, the photo of the first aid sign I took above proved to be rather fitting, as I found myself pretty floored by an irritating throat infection. After having to take a day off work full of a fever, I managed to make it back in for the Tuesday, but then found myself on a quest to be seen by a doctor on Wednesday morning.

Waiting at the doctors'

Waiting at the doctors’

I eventually managed to work my way through the painfully slow gears of the paperwork of the Spanish healthcare system, and was soon prescribed some medicines and sent on my way. I had all my digits crossed for my speedy recovery as the week wore on, for I had yet another trip planned, this time to the northern extremes of the Iberian Peninsula!

Once again it was indeed time to visit everyone up in Asturias, after having returned from a trip there just weeks ago: I swear I’m in Kevin’s flat more often than my own here in Madrid! This time, however, I had good reason to visit: it was time to wave Kevin off for a while. The lucky sod has gone and landed himself his dream job working as a Spanish language assistant in the US, and he’ll be preparing to head off for his flight right now as I sit here writing this!

A stop on the road to Asturias

A stop on the road to Asturias

Looking through an empty restaurant as the sun sets

Looking through an empty restaurant as the sun sets

The evening I arrived proved to be a rather quiet one, as me and Kevin opted to stay in and tuck into the delicious pasta dish he’d whipped up for tea. As I was laying off the alcohol to aid in my recovery, we instead had a cup of tea and chatted away aimlessly into the early hours of the morning as is rather typical of us by now.

Kevin had inadvertently timed his last weekend in Spain quite well however, as Oviedo was bustling with life as the fiestas of San Mateo were in full swing! We headed out on Saturday morning to explore what was going on in the city, stopping in the park for a drink and some live music.

The usually quiet park bustling with life

The usually quiet park bustling with life

In the afternoon we met up with a group of Kevin’s friends, one of whom was Sara, making it the last time the three of us would meet up for a while after we first all came together in Leeds just under two years ago! I’d say that time flies, but I’m still 23 and I’m not going to sound like my grandma just yet…

Me and Sari

Me and Sari

After two of the girls had to head home for preparations before the big night out, just me, Sari and Kevin were left in the city, and so we started by having a little drink in a plaza. Naturally, as like pretty much every single damn time I am in Asturias, these soon turned to many drinks, and before we knew it we were dancing and signing and generally causing a nuisance up and down the streets of Oviedo.

Before everything got out of hand

Before everything got out of hand

The next day me and Kevin found ourselves (n.b. I feel like I have typed this so many times by now) a little bit worse for wear, and so we weren’t exactly super speedy in making our way back into the centre of Oviedo for lunch and for me to find my carshare. We did manage to squeeze in a visit to a building that Kevin had promised would look like a “spaceship had landed in the middle of the city”, and he wasn’t lying!

What the heck is this?

What the heck is this?

A strange entrance

A strange entrance

Looking upwards

Looking upwards

As cool as the place looks, its main function is pretty much to serve as a half-empty shopping centre, so we grabbed ourself a quick burger and then found a spot to sit down and have a coffee as I waited for 6pm to come round and my return journey to Madrid to begin.

Once we’d downed our drinks and settled the bill, it was time for the bit of the weekend I’d been dreading: saying goodbye. I know it shan’t be too long until I catch Kevin back here in Spain or maybe even over the pond in the US, but it sure was horrible to give him a big hug and wish him the best of luck for the time being. I know he’s going to have a fabulous time out there, and so if I have caught you reading this Kevin – get back to preparing your lesson materials!

The latest from Madrid is that I am back to full health, very full of homemade pizza, and very ready for yet another early night to compensate for lost sleep on the streets of Oviedo and from my travels to the top and bottom of the peninsula. In the end I would absolutely love to live up in Asturias, but I feel that the amazing food and great cider would eventually kill me off!


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!