24

Nov

2018

The First Three Weeks Back

24th November 2018

As I sit in my room here in England, surrounded by an array of candles that I lit in order to try and heat up my now-forever-cold hands, it doesn’t feel like three whole weeks have passed since I left Madrid. It’s true that my dad’s visit may have eased the transition somewhat, but I’m still in the process of re-adjusting to the realities of living back in the great British countryside, for better and for worse.

The first week back provided the opportunity to indulge in a few things I’d been wanting to do upon my arrival, including a lunch at one of the tastiest British food spots I’ve ever eaten at – luckily situated in a tiny unsuspecting looking hut just a short car journey from our house. My mum also took me into the centre of Burnley, which I hadn’t admittedly missed all that much, but it was interesting to see how it had all changed with renovations during my time in Spain. The ending of said works meant I could finally take a half-decent photo of the hand-painted sign which I find so pretty amongst the otherwise rather dull architecture of the centre.

Burnley's little pretty sign

Burnley’s little pretty sign

Burnley gets on board with modern design

Burnley gets on board with modern design

The best British food in the world

The best British food in the world

After a long time away in big cities like Madrid and Leeds, I noticed that I really appreciated some of the things that I had previously taken for granted. I have spent various amounts of time over the past few weeks just watching the sky’s colours change as the sun goes down, and I particularly enjoyed a trek around the local reservoir with my mum – as cold as it may have been!

A beautiful sunset from my window

A beautiful sunset from my window

Mum up by the reservoir

Mum up by the reservoir

After allowing myself a few days of relaxation, I’ve been back on the preparations for my next professional steps, starting with an overhaul of the design of my website. I know I say that I’m doing it a lot and that it usually never comes to fruition, but now I am bound by the need to get myself back into employment, and surprisingly things are moving along quite quickly.

I’ll share details of where I am in the process in a separate blog post, but for now I’ll just moan that the hours spent idle behind my laptop and my mum’s refusal to put on the heating and cater to me being accustomed to a warmer climate all mean that I have been getting quite (see: very) cold. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I found that getting up and moving – albeit in the cold winter air of the countryside surrounding my house – gets my blood flowing and makes me feel somewhat warmer, and so that’s what I’ve been doing when I’ve not been fretting over pixel-fitting and other web design nonsense.

Wandering through my village

Wandering through my village

An inquisitive sheep

An inquisitive sheep

A spoopy sunset

A spoopy sunset

God's own land

God’s own land

Quite breathtaking

Quite breathtaking

One evening, after my mum had woken up from her post-night-shift sleep, we spontaneously decided to head to Manchester to make our rounds of the huge Christmas markets that take over the centre once a year. My mum, dad, and I spent a good few hours snacking our way around the stalls, enjoying highlights such as delicious garlic mushrooms, gammon sandwiches and my personal favourite: a cherry and chocolate brownie.

Wandering the alleys of Manchester

Wandering the alleys of Manchester

An interesting bookshop

An interesting bookshop

A rather pink tree

A rather pink tree

Last week I also had the excitement of a couple of days spent in Leeds, heading for a meeting with a company whose name I shan’t disclose, and – of course – spending plenty of time catching up with uni friends. I stayed over with Em and Lincoln, who were so gracious as to let me crash at their lovely new house for a couple of nights, and managed to have a kebab evening with Rhea and Luisa, a coffee with Danni, and half a day having lunch and a work party with Izzy in her new studio space.

Wandering down by the docks

Wandering down by the docks

Northern Fail life

The cattle-pen state of our public transport

On Thursday morning I had the misfortune of having to use the British public transport system to meet my mum and her friend Sue in Manchester for a trip to the Trafford Centre. After being rinsed of over £26 just to have one of the trains terminate a station before expected, I eventually made it to the big shopping centre, where we spent a full day looking at watches and enjoying a delicious Five Guys lunch.

The Trafford Centre

The Trafford Centre

Since then, I’ve poured many more hours into getting my new website and portfolio together, and I will, as mentioned, update you on all that in an upcoming blog post. Right now I am watching the orange sun set outside my window, and enjoying the comfy embrace of the “fancy” chair that I stole earlier from our downstairs office.

The sunset casts its patterns

The sunset casts its patterns

I must dash now, however, as I’ve to get dressed and perfumed and ready to go out for a lovely Italian dinner for a catch up with Amber and Jess. Who knows, we might even go out for a few drinks and a boogie afterwards…


12

Nov

2018

My Last Days in Madrid

12th November 2018

I sit here in chilly Burnley writing this post exactly a week after me and my dad landed in Manchester Airport, marking the end of over a year of me working and living in Madrid. As I mentioned in my previous post, he came over to visit for the last four days of my time in the city, and naturally we got up to all sorts of mischief…

Dad in the Puerta del Sol

As my dad had arrived during the celebrations of El Día de todos Los Santos, or All Saints’ Day, we had to head to buy a few sweet treats that are eaten accross Spain during the festivities. Heading to La Mallorquina, an age-old bakery bang in the centre of the city, we grabbed some buñuelos (similar to profiteroles) and huesos de santo (literally “saint’s bones”, marzipan stuffed with sugar and egg yolk).

Buñuelos and huesos de santo

Buñuelos and huesos de santo

After we’d tried these sweet delicacies, we began our ascent towards the north of the city to eat in one of my favourite lunch spots: Casa Dani. This restaurant is famous for its tortilla (Spanish omelette) and menú del día (set lunch menu), and serves some of the best authentic Spanish food in the city, situated although it is across a few stalls in a hidden market.

We were lucky to have arrived just before swathes of locals descended on the place, and so managed to grab a lovely spot where we were treated to a three-course meal including oreja a la plancha (fried pig’s ear) and lentejas (lentils with chorizo). Once stuffed to the brim, we left the market and headed for our next spot: Chamberí station.

I wrote about this abandoned Metro station a while back, but I knew that my dad would appreciate snooping around the old tunnels, and that he did! He also grabbed a photo of me stood by one of the old advertising billboards down at the platform, as I noticed that it combined two of my true loves: old typography and lightbulbs.

The Madrid skyline

The Madrid skyline

Me in the Chamberí station

Me in the Chamberí station

After this we headed back to the centre for a beer, and then descended through Lavapiés as the sun set, stopping for some bao along the way. Once we’d stuffed ourselves and reached the southern end of Lavapiés, we headed back to Madrid for a tipple in a secret sherry bar which has stood pretty much untouched for years and years!

The sunset down a street

The sunset down a street

The next morning, Saturday morning, signalled the moment I had to move my suitcase and belongings out of the apartment in which I’d been living and into the hotel to spend my last two nights with my dad there. With two pairs of hands to help out I was soon unpacked in the hotel, and we returned to the city centre for the next day of frivolities.

Looking down from Malasaña

Looking down from Malasaña

Our afternoon began with a trip to Bodega de la Ardosa, a classic must-do when in Madrid. The bodega is a dusty old bar which is always packed out, but the secret that the locals know is that if you clamber under the bar itself, you will reemerge in a hidden room around the back where you can be served the best tortilla in the centre of the city!

Looking from behind the bar

Looking from behind the bar

After sampling the tortilla there, we wandered through Malasaña, stopping at a couple of street markets along the way. Working up more hunger, we eventually grabbed a table at Ojalá, which my parents had enjoyed during their last visit, and ordered lunch.

Lunch was as lovely as ever there, but I particularly enjoyed a fancy coffee that I treated myself to, which came full of cream, dulce de leche and a shot of Bailey’s. Don’t mind if I do!

My fancy coffee

My fancy coffee

We then wandered idly round Malasaña and the rest of the city for a while longer, before catching a bus down to Retiro where the plan was to hire a couple of bikes and cycle around the picturesque park. With time passing us by as it did, however, and with the bike hire shop busily attending to other customers, I deemed it too late in the day to bother as we’d a table booked for our meal later.

The place I’d booked for us to eat at was at the other side of the park though, and so we walked through it regardless, stopping on a terrace overlooking the lake for a pre-dinner coffee.

Entering Retiro

Entering Retiro

Over the lake in Retiro

Over the lake in Retiro

The surprise place where we’d be having tea (what we in the north of England call dinner, if you’re getting confused) was an Asturian restaruant, as I wanted to introduce my dad to a bit of Asturian culture as best as I could without taking him up there – and I could think of no better way than through the region’s amazing cuisine!

The restaraunt did not disappoint, and we gorged our way through four delicious courses, all washed down with the natural cider which is typical of the region – well, what else were we going to drink? My dad even had a go at pouring it out from a height as is done to aerate the bitter cider. I sent all this to Kevin, my friend with whom I’ve spent many a tipsy weekend in the region, and he was very much approving.

Dad thinks he's Asturian

Dad thinks he’s Asturian

After heading to bed with bellies full of delicious cachopo, fabada and chorizo a la sidra, I had a Sunday planned which would take us out of the city and into the mountains for a slightly different day of exploration. We headed up to El Escorial, one of my favourite spots for a day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the centre.

Arriving in El Escorial

Arriving in El Escorial

Looking over the monastery’s gardens

Taking photos in El Escorial

Up in the little town we were first treated to yet another slap-up meal as we nipped into a little bar that I have been visiting since the first time I paid El Escorial a visit last year. The place is run by three generations of the same family, so there’s always great conversation and even better food to be had!

The mountains form a backdrop

The mountains form a backdrop

We then skirted the outside of the huge monastry that dominates the skyline, snooping through the gardens until my bladder commanded that we head back into the town to find a bar for a coffee and a much needed toilet break!

The monastery down a street

The monastery down a street

After a quick stop in café, we headed into the bowels of the monastry to explore the basilica which sits at its heart. My dad was stunned by its interior, which is much darker and more gothic than the typical church interior. Unfortunately photography isn’t permitted inside, so you’ll have to make do with this selfie that we took in which you can see more of us than the building’s façade, rendering said photo rather useless.

Me and Dad outside the basilica

Me and Dad outside the basilica

Having worn ourselves out on the slopes of El Escrorial, we eventually headed back to the train station and returned to Madrid, where we alighted in Lavapiés to spend what would be my last evening there. To mark the occasion I’d arranged to meet up with one of my best friends that I’d made whilst there, Napo, and the three of us went out for some beers and a delicious pizza meal together. Me and Napo then waved each other off for the time being, and me and my dad had one last cheeky drink in Lavapiés before turning in for the night.

The next day was Monday morning, and although we’d to leave the hotel room and stow our luggage away for the day, I was determined that we’d make the most of our last 12 hours in Spain – especially as we weren’t due to fly until 9pm anyway!

The day’s main activity was to be the bike ride that we’d not managed to squeeze in a couple of days prior, and so our first stop was the bike hire place to pick up a bike for my dad. As I did when my sister and her boyfriend visited a while back, I grabbed myself one of the city bikes (well, I might as well use the credit I had left on my BiciMad card) and we headed into Retiro park to explore its expansive sights on two wheels.

Dad cycles through Retiro

Dad cycles through Retiro

The Chrystal Palace

An autumnal Chrystal Palace

Amongst the Retiro treetops

Amongst the Retiro treetops

After returning the bikes and wandering back through the park, we had lunch at another spot which I shall miss rather dearly – the delicious burger chain Goiko Grill. There I introduced my dad to their monstrous and delicious burgers, and we stuffed ourselves to ensure that there’d be no chance of us getting hungry at the airport later.

Burgers eaten and a couple of beers drank, it was time for one last stop before heading back to the hotel to pick up our stuff – it was churro time. One cannot visit Madrid without enjoying a plate of the crispy treats dipped in creamy chocolate, and I certianly wasn’t going to leave without having one last fix!

All too soon came the moment in which we’d to head to the airport, and so after picking up the luggage and an irritating delay to our departure time, we soon found ourselves landing in Manchester just after midnight. My mum had kindly driven there to pick us up, and so we made our way back to the comfort of our house in the countryside, making just one quick stop for a cheeky McDonalds’ drive-thru on the way.

As I said at the start of this rather long post, I have indeed been back in old Blighty for a week now, but I shall have to reserve all updates on what I’ve been up to since my return for my next update. Right now it’s getting quite late, and I’ve some knitting to attend to!

I’ve flown a thousand miles and aged 50 years along the way…


8

Nov

2018

Toledo

8th November 2018

Once my days in Madrid had suddenly become numbered, I realised I had been there for over a year and a half and still hadn’t made a trip that most tourists manage to make in the few days that they’re there: a day out to Toledo. Before heading off, though, I had a few days to fill before my dad made his visit, so I spent a few days making a coffee shop tour of the city in order to start work on my new website.

The autumnal colours appear

The autumnal colours appear

The skyscrapers by my new flat

The skyscrapers by my new flat

Walking home one evening

Walking home one evening

More on aforementioned website antics later, for I was soon down in the south of the city and ready to board the coach to Toledo – a trip which was included in my 20€ monthly travel pass! The Madrid City Council have very much got it right with their approach to public transport. A pretty dull journey followed, with the sky looking worryingly menacing throughout, but the rain held off as I disembarked in the old capital.

The remains of a monastery

The remains of a monastery

For those unfamiliar with the history of these two cities, Toledo was the de facto capital of the area until 1561, when King Carlos II unified the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, and Aragon to create the beginnings of what we’d now call Spain, and moved the capital to Madrid. Toledo went into a pretty steep economic decline after this, which was actually a blessing in disguise, as the city’s old monuments have been frozen in time and now make Toledo the spot to visit.

A view into the city's outlying areas

A view into the city’s outlying areas

A lovely addition to the city has to be the set of public escalators installed to take visitors up the side of the hill on which Toledo sits and into the limits of the walled city. I made good and proper use of these, not wanting to exhaust myself before time, and began wandering the ancient streets to see what I might find.

Pretty colours along the way

A shock of red brick

Grey skies above

Grey skies above

Similarly to my Valencia trip, I hadn’t really done any research or made any plans before heading off to Toledo, and so the plan was to pass through the city to see what I uncovered along the way. I admit that in a city so densely packed with treasures as Toledo this may not have been the cleverest idea, especially as the weather was threatening to dampen my day, but onwards I soldiered, taking in the sights and stopping for a snack along the way.

The clouds begin to part somewhat

The clouds begin to part somewhat

A toastie and a beer to keep me going

A toastie and a beer to keep me going

You’ll notice that I’m neglecting to point out what anything is or explain any of the architecture that I saw along the way, and that’s because I generally avoided the swathes of tourists and hence didn’t get a chance to find out what anything was myself – so you’re just about as clued up as I am! I really wasn’t really in the mood for an intense day, so hopefully you can just enjoy the beauty of the place without knowing too many details just as I did.

Cool hand typography and nice colours

Cool hand typography and nice colours

I stuck my head in a church

I stuck my head in a church

Reaching the other end of the city centre

Reaching the other end of the city centre

With the historical centre of the city being quite small, I’d hit the far end of it all earlier than I expected. The weather had cleared up quite nicely though, and the sun was making an appearance, so I meandered quite leisurely back through the centre and back towards the bus station.

Down the streets of Toledo

Down the streets of Toledo

Colourful streets in Toledo

Colourful streets in Toledo

Layers of the city

Layers of the city

After I’d been disappointed that a bar I wanted to eat at was closed, I decided it was as good a time as any to return towards Madrid, and so bought myself a snack for the hour-long journey back and descended the escalators once more.

Looking out over some greenery

Looking out over some greenery

Although I did have a lovely day wandering the streets of Spain’s old capital, I think I’ll have to come back for another visit in the future and explore the city in a much more organised fashion. It’s definitely a treasure trove of Spanish history and a must-do for anyone with the opportunity to visit, but for the relaxed day of bar-hopping and lounging around that I’d envisioned, it was just a little too touristic to fit the bill.

Until next time Toledo!


27

Oct

2018

My Last Week at Erretres

27th October 2018

This week I’m back to the usual format of journal-style blog posts, bringing updates from my previous week or so here in Madrid. If you read over my last blog post, you’ll know that this past week unfortunately marks one of my last here living in Madrid, and it’s been my last working in the Erretres office. More on that soon, for now I’ll go over what else has been going on in the meantime…

First up I had the pleasure of being able to spend a few days chilling out with Thuy, who was on a fleeting visit to Madrid in between changing jobs. Luckily her visit coincided with a national holiday, so we spent a Friday working at her flat, before then heading out in the evening for some delicious food in the city.

The sunset over Malasaña

The sunset over Malasaña

After a delicious dinner of Japanese food, we spontaneously decided to climb up to the roof terrace of the Hotel Óscar in Chueca. There we grabbed just one drink, mainly because they were wildly expensive, but also because we were getting sleepy rather early in our old age…

Cheeky drinks on a terrace

Cheeky drinks on a terrace

A gorgeous sky down the road

A gorgeous sky down the road

The next day the two of us met up once again with Thuy’s friend, heading first for a Korean lunch and then to the Archeological Museum for an afternoon of culture. Once again, however, we eventually grew weary, and all headed our separate ways in order for an early night, which I spent watching Netflix surrounded by candles.

Wandering around Ópera

Wandering around Ópera

The day after was then spent with another troublesome duo, Cami and her puppy Luke, who had a few hours to spend in Madrid as they traversed Spain from Murcia up to Asturias – a bit like I did a while back!

Luke, Cami and me

Luke, Cami and me

I met Cami and Luke down in Atocha train station, and we headed straight to a spot that I’d chosen for lunch. There we filled ourselves up on satay chicken and Vietnamese bao, before heading out for churros and chocolate to fill up our secondary dessert stomachs. Luke was very well behaved throughout, and so we headed over to Retiro, Madrid’s big park, to stretch his legs whilst we saw the sights.

Lunch with Cami

Lunch with Cami

Luke enjoying the sights of Retiro

Luke enjoying the sights of Retiro

All too soon we had to head back to Atocha, where I waved Cami and Luke off as they headed northwards in their carshare. I then headed back to pick up my stuff from Thuy’s flat, but she had to dash for the evening to meet friends, and I had things to think about as I went home and prepared to let Erretres know of my decision to leave.

Out at a shopping centre for tea

Out at a shopping centre for tea

Once my decision to head back to England was finalised, I let HR know and then began to wonder how best to announce it to the rest of the team. It wasn’t going to be easy, as I will miss them all a lot, and so I thought the blow would be best softened in the only way I knew how – with cake. In a little gesture to apply a bit of Spain to my British Victoria Sponge recipe, I decided to flavour the cake with chocolate and hazelnuts, imitating Spain’s answer to Nutella: Nocilla.

Making the Nocilla cake

Making the Nocilla cake

Having loaded the centre of the cake up with the chocolate spread goodness, the following morning I gathered the team and announced my leaving, and was met with an outpouring of love. Keeping my cool, we shared the cake to positive reviews, and then I sat down for what was otherwise a relatively normal Friday.

The weekend after, I went out to visit an exhibition at Caixa Forum that I have been wanting to check out for quite a while. The “Arte de contar historias” (The Art of Telling Stories) exhibition was a look over Disney’s history of retelling and creating stories through his movies.

The vertical garden outside Caixa Forum

The vertical garden outside Caixa Forum

Heading out into the city afterwards

Heading out into the city afterwards

Unfortunately, photography in the exhibition was not allowed, but I spent over a few hours exploring all the artefacts and reading up on all the stories that were on display. It was a really fabulous experience, and if you’re in Madrid you should definitely give it a visit! Given that it was quite a pleasant day, I decided to walk my way home from the exhibition, wandering down through Lavapiés and exploring a few streets I’ve never seen before.

A Saturday stroll through Lavapiés

A Saturday stroll through Lavapiés

The day after marked my last day in the flat I was living in, as I’d found a friend to replace me and booked an Airbnb for the last two weeks of my stay in Madrid. Packing my sole suitcase and dragging it once more through Madrid’s transport system, I eventually settled down in my new room, and before I knew it, it was Monday morning and the beginning of my last week at work.

Walking back to the Metro after work

Walking back to the Metro after work

Heading towards the Jardines Orientales

Heading towards the Jardines Orientales

This week was spent working away ready to publish a new project on the Erretres website, which I think will be live soon come next week, but for now I’ll have to keep an eye on the website and let you know when it goes live on there!

As my last day approached, I had a plan to bring in some British snacks – just like the last time when I left after my internship! For this I had to head to the east of the city, and to the Spanish incarnation of Poundland which I was introduced to soon after I first arrived here back in early 2016.

Wandering around Madrid's east end

Wandering around Madrid’s east end

A Metro station stripped bare

A Metro station stripped bare

Arriving back home

Arriving back home

All too soon my last day came along, and I headed in with my bag full of snacks and a bowl full of coronation chicken for a little send off party in the office. I arrived to an office full of leftover pizza from a company event the day before, and thus commenced a relaxing final day full of grazing on unhealthy food!

Looking from my desk

Looking from my desk

After working away all morning, it was soon time for our monthly company meeting in which five people present projects they’ve been working on, both in and out of work. This time it was my turn, and I was nervous as it was my first time standing up and presenting wholly in Spanish. I can’t talk about the project that I presented as it was a wholly confidential, but I think I managed to explain it quite well, as afterwards I was met with a round of applause.

Presenting to the team

Presenting to the team

Upon wrapping up my presentation, the food was rolled out, and I spent a good hour in the office chatting away to everyone and saying my goodbyes – that until I realised that we’d not touched the coronation chicken I’d made, and so we agreed I’d simply have to come back on Monday to share it with everyone. My final goodbyes have yet to be made, then, and so I didn’t feel too bad as I wandered out of the office.

Next week I’ve got lots of stuff coming up, including many goodbye lunches and then the arrival of my dad on Thursday, and so unless I grab a minute during my hectic week, I expect that the next time I write to you all will be from the cold countryside of the north of England.

I could leave this until Monday, but I think it’s fitting to mention it now, and that’s just that I’d like to thank the whole team at Erretres for the amazing times we’ve had over the past two years or so. From arriving the first time without speaking much Spanish at all, to crazy Christmas Dinners with the team and plenty of exciting projects along the way, it’s been an honour to have the opportunity to work with some of the funniest and talented people I’ve ever met, and an awesome chance to live in Spain and enjoy all that it has to offer.

I shan’t turn this into a boring wedding-style speech, so I’ll cut it there and shan’t start getting soppy or listing names – everyone knows who they are. Until I return, wish me every bit of luck, as the main thing stressing me out right now is the idea of having to fit my life into a suitcase and not get stung by Ryanair if I go over the 20kg limit…


19

Oct

2018

Another Surprise Move

19th October 2018

Today I come with some unexpected news to share, meaning this post will be a little more visually dull than the usual programme of photo-filled updates, but bear with me as I shan’t beat around the bush too much, so here we go…

After weeks of will-I, won’t-I, I have eventually taken the decision to hand in my notice at Erretres and move back to England from my beloved Madrid. Naturally it’s not a decision that I took lightly, and there were many factors to consider, but in the end I feel like now is the right time for a change, and I’m pretty confident that it’ll all be for the best.

As I’m sure has been evident from all the blog posts over the past year or so – and even the ones from when I completed my six-month internship – I have always loved working as part of the Erretres team, and so it really pains me to say goodbye (again!) as my last day approaches next week.

That said, I know that I’m leaving on good terms here in Madrid, and I have an inkling and a hope that this isn’t the last time that I’ll be working here in some capacity. It’s pretty clear for all to see that I love Madrid and life here in Spain as a whole, so you can all bet that either way I won’t be gone for too long – be it flying visits, extended holidays or even returning to live and work here once again!

As I begin to sort through my belongings in preparation for my return to the UK, I still don’t have a fixed job offer lined up, but I’m currently exploring a few options and offers with every confidence that I’ll soon be back to reveal what my next step is going to be – be sure to keep checking back here for the latest.

Anyway, before my flight in early November, I do have a few things lined up which I’m looking forward to, including a few free days to check out places I’ve always been meaning to visit. After that I’ve got my dad over for five days in the city, and then I’ll be using him as a personal assistant with my suitcase as we both board the same flight back to the UK!

As much as I will surely begin to miss not being in the centre of Spain and not being able to do all the wild weekend trips that I’ve been cramming in recently, I am very much looking forward to spending some relaxing time with my friends and family back in the UK. I’d also like to thank said friends and family for their support as I’ve been considering and freaking out about this, the latest in the ongoing saga of pretty wild life decisions…

Naturally I’ll be back with the usual programme of updates over the coming weeks, but right now I’m sure you’ll appreciate that I’m going to be running around like a headless chicken for the time being! Until everything returns to something resembling tranquility, I shall see you later…


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…