16

Aug

2018

An English City Hopping Extravaganza

16th August 2018

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

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

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

The many coasters of Blackpool Pleasure Beach

The many coasters of Blackpool Pleasure Beach

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

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

Views over Blackpool from The Big One

Views over Blackpool from The Big One

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

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

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

Infusion from the queue

Another ride, Infusion, from its queue

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

It's a bit grim up north

It’s a bit grim up north

A delicious roast

A delicious roast

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

The familiar sights of Leeds

The familiar sights of Leeds

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

Leeds University looking resplendent in the sun

Leeds University looking resplendent in the sun

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

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

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

Crossing the river into Chester

Crossing the river into Chester

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

Entering the city over the wall

Entering the city over the wall

Looking down the high street

Looking down the high street

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

A lovely little arcade

A lovely little arcade

The bridge out of Chester

The bridge out of Chester

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

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

Bold Street, one of my favourite places in the world

Bold Street, one of my favourite places in the world

A cool piece of signage

A cool piece of signage

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

A cool installation along one of the streets

A cool installation along one of the streets

The Playhouse

The Playhouse

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

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

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

Our huge cakes

Our huge cakes

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

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

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


12

Aug

2018

Purgatory

12th August 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


10

Aug

2018

Road Trip Part 3: Bilbao

10th August 2018

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

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

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

Approaching the bridge and the Guggenheim

Approaching the bridge and the Guggenheim

Round the back of the Guggenheim

Round the back of the Guggenheim

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

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

Smoke rolls over Bilbao

Smoke rolls over Bilbao

A flower sculpture

A flower sculpture

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

Wandering the old area of the city

Wandering the old area of the city

Pintxos and a beer

Pintxos and a beer

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

Me and Kevin by the sea

Me and Kevin by the sea

Looking out over Bilbao

Looking out over Bilbao

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

Darkness falls on Bilbao

Darkness falls on Bilbao

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

A couple of delicious pastries

A couple of delicious pastries

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

Quite creepy if you ask me

Quite creepy if you ask me

Further exploration of the museum

Further exploration of the museum

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

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

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


8

Aug

2018

Road Trip Part 2: El Cabo

8th August 2018

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

We finally see the sea

We finally see the sea

Jutting out into the sea

Jutting out into the sea

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

Rock formations on the coast

Rock formations on the coast

Coastal textures

Coastal textures

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

The bit of land I wandered out on

The bit of land I wandered out on

Kevin decides not to join me

Kevin decides not to join me

My view when trapped in the bushes

My view when trapped in the bushes

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

Looking out to sea

Looking out to sea

The siren pylon

The siren pylon

The path along the coast

The path along the coast

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

Lookin down into the sea in Cabo de Peñas

Lookin down into the sea in Cabo de Peñas

Arriving in Luanco

Arriving in Luanco

The gorgeous patterned facades of Luanco

The gorgeous patterned facades of Luanco

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

The colourful architecture

The colourful architecture

Wandering the streets of Luanco

Wandering the streets of Luanco

A glimpse of the sea

A glimpse of the sea

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

Looking out from the church

Looking out from the church

The church from the beach

The church from the beach

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

Part of the festivities

Part of the festivities

Arriving as the sun began to set

Arriving as the sun began to set

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

Boats in the dock

Boats in the dock

The huge ball of fire

The huge ball of fire

A clear line between the weather formations

A clear line between the weather formations

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

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

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


1

Aug

2018

Road Trip Part 1: Oviedo

1st August 2018

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

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

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

Some food at Casa Dani

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

Striking a pose

Striking a pose

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

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

Reunited in Oviedo

Reunited in Oviedo

A plate of taco deliciousness

A plate of taco deliciousness

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

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

Arriving at the top

Arriving at the top

Eerie would be an understatement

Eerie would be an understatement

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

A pre-Romanesque church

A pre-Romanesque church

Looking down to where Oviedo should be seen

Looking down to where Oviedo should be seen

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

Do you see any factory?

Do you see any factory?

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

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


29

Jul

2018

Luisa & Woody in Madrid

29th July 2018

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

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

Catching a cheeky drink upon their arrival

Catching a cheeky drink upon their arrival

Croquetas and patatas bravas

Croquetas and patatas bravas

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

Wandering through Malasaña

Wandering through Malasaña

A snack stop in the centre

A snack stop in the centre

Wandering through Chueca

Wandering through Chueca

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

A drink in Sala Equis

A drink in Sala Equis

Wandering around the Prado Museum

Wandering around the Prado Museum

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

Looking skyward in Chueca

Looking skyward in Chueca

Heading down into Lavapiés

Heading down into Lavapiés

The three of us having a cheeky drink

The three of us having a cheeky drink

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

Flags around Chueca

Flags around Chueca

The streets by night

The streets by night

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

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


14

Jul

2018

A Murcian Weekend

14th July 2018

As mentioned in my previous two blog posts (which were all about catching up), I spent last weekend down in the south of Spain, meeting up with my mum and sister in Murcia for 48 hours of sun, pool and relaxation in my auntie’s flat. It promised to be a rather different trip to the last time I visited back in February, with the temperatures soaring and a lack of car meaning we’d be confined to the pool – but having come down from the heat of Madrid, I definitely wasn’t going to complain about that…

Arriving in Murcia on the train

Arriving in Murcia on the train

I arrived late on Friday night, having gotten a train from Madrid Atocha at about 5pm, and with a plan in place and a generous dose of luck, my mum and sister landed perfectly on time and we were able to coordinate the taxi to pick me up from the station just after it had picked them up from the airport. I do love it when a plan comes together!

That night we took it pretty easy, cracking open some beers that my mum had left in the fridge just 24 hours before – which I shall now have to explain! Literally less than 24 hours before flying out to Murcia, my mum had been at my auntie’s place with my auntie, uncle, and dad. When she’d found some cheap flights and a hole in her work schedule to return with my sister the day after flying back to England, she jumped on the chance, and I also hopped on board with the plans as I had a free weekend too.

After I laid out an aperitif and we’d had a good catch up, we all headed to bed, rising relatively early to make the most of my only full day with them. After a trip to the shop with Ellie for some fresh bread to make pan con tomate, a typical Spanish breakfast, we slathered ourselves in suncream and headed out into the Murcian heat.

Walking to the shop on Saturday morning

Walking to the shop on Saturday morning

Lounging around by the pool

Lounging around by the pool

After splashing around, sunbathing, and getting through quite a lot of a book I’d brought along, it was eventually time to head indoors to rest from the sun – and what better excuse for some indoor time than an England match! I was tasked with the job of cooking up a late lunch whilst Ellie had the game on in the next room, but I managed to catch the end once my courgette carbonara was finally ready.

My favourite part of the match has to have been when my dad, all on his own at home in England, sent us a photo of his dinner which he had decorated in support of England. I treasure the photo because everything about it is so English – from the decoration to the food cooked and even down to the fact that we put tomato ketchup on mashed potatoes. It had to be the most British photo I have ever seen in my life:

Dad's England dinner

Dad’s England dinner

Once the game was over, and we’d lounged around the resort some more, it was time to put our glad rags on and head to the resort’s lovely restaurant for dinner. Me and Ellie decided that we’d stick to tradition in having a photo shoot under a lovely floral pagoda, and this year we were in luck as the bright pink flowers were in full bloom.

Ellie ready to go out

Ellie ready to go out

Looking up at the flowers

Looking up at the flowers

Once up at the restaurant we enjoyed a lovely meal, although we didn’t go too overboard on the food after our rather late lunch. As we ate we had a good catch up and indulged in plenty of cheeky gossiping, all whilst enjoying the ambience of a Latin band who were playing quite a few songs that I knew.

The sun setting as we arrived at the restaurant

The sun setting as we arrived at the restaurant 

The next day we continued our relaxation marathon, with plenty more lounging, chatting, and a few intense games of Uno along the way. With my train back to Madrid departing at 6:30pm, however, it was soon time for me to repack my backpack and grab a taxi to the nearby town to catch the Renfe. I had planned to arrive an hour before the train was scheduled to leave just in case the taxi was a bit late, but in the end it was bang on time, and so I grabbed a drink in a bar and then meandered around the small town for a short while, taking photos of the lovely pastel aesthetic that it had going on.

Wandering around small town Murcia

Wandering around small town Murcia

A bridge flies over the railway line

A bridge flies over the railway line

Waiting on the platform

Waiting on the platform

Once I’d arrived at the train station, I got chatting to a family from Madrid who were heading back home from their holidays, but eventually the train arrived and we had to part ways to board our respective carriages. The journey back was used to finish up my blog post on my time spent in Asturias a few weeks ago, but it was quite a late and tiring journey, made worse by a half-hour delay which we suffered just as we were reaching the southernmost outskirts of Madrid.

Somewhere in Castilla La Mancha

Somewhere in Castilla La Mancha

I eventually rocked back up in Madrid at about half past midnight, with the only saving grace being that the walk home was relatively rapid and mostly downhill. Once I’d starfished on my bed and pretty much fell straight asleep, I woke up to the sound of my alarm believing that it was way too soon and must be a nightmare – but no, there it was blaring, and off to work I had to drag myself.

Work this week has been as much fun as ever, however, and so I honestly can’t complain – I just really dislike early mornings! It’s been busy too, with a lovely little party to celebrate Erretres launching a Master in UX Design alongside the Universidad Europea. It’s bittersweet, then, that yesterday was my last day for a few weeks, as I’ll miss the vibrant atmosphere of the office, even if a couple of weeks of lie-ins are most desperately needed.

My holidays start today then, with the most exciting thing being that my friends Luisa and Woody are here in Madrid for the MadCool festival! We’ve managed to meet a couple of times for a quick drink and small wanders through the city, but tonight is the last night of the festival, so tomorrow we’ll be sure to have a good snoop around and I’ll be back with updates on what we get up to very soon!

The plans for the rest of my summer holidays after that include a meal to celebrate Heidi’s graduation with her mum next week, then a train straight up to Oviedo to meet Kevin and head on a little road trip of the northern coast, all before heading back to England from Bilbao to spend a week with friends and family. In England, naturally, I have plenty more little day trips lined up too, but I’ll leave the details of all those until after my return to Madrid.

As you can probably tell, it promises to be a crazy couple of weeks from now onwards, so today I’m going to take the opportunity to catch a few rays in the park and spend some alone time. I’d like to tell you when I’ll be back with more photos and updates, but it seems like I’m going to be AWOL for a short while – but on my return there’ll be plenty to share.

Until then!


10

Jul

2018

Sad Goodbyes & Surprise Hellos

10th July 2018

So here we go with part two of a series of blogs which attempt to catch up with what’s been going on over these past few crazy weeks, but I begin with the good news that the technical problem with my blog has been resolved, and so I should now be back to the usual programme of annoyingly frequent updates on all my everyday shenanigans.

A nice flower near work, just because

A nice flower near work, just because

I’m afraid that I have to start the blog on a rather sad note, as the arrival of summer has also hailed the end of a few of my friends’ stays in Madrid. We all knew the day of their departure was coming as they were working on finite contracts here in the city, but it hit us quite hard nonetheless. As optimistic as ever though, we resolved to spend their last weeks and days doing as much fun stuff together as possible.

Our friend Kitty, who I rather unfortunately only met for the first time very recently, was the first to leave one Thursday morning, and we could think of no better send off than a special farewell edition of our traditional Taco Wednesdays. As per usual we spent the evening munching our way through multiple orders of tacos, getting gradually tipsier on frozen margaritas, and laughing our way through all the week’s anecdotes.

Wandering through the city centre

Wandering through the city centre

The five of us at Taco Wednesday

The five of us at Taco Wednesday

The only thing different that week was an emotional farewell as I headed home, wishing Kitty the best of luck as she heads back to the USA to study medicine – quite the change from the relaxed pace of life here in Spain!

The next day me and Megan arranged to meet up for dinner at a spot I’d been told about but had never tried, Nap Pizza. This place sits in the heart of one of my favourite of the city’s districts, Lavapiés (check out an ode to it a few blog posts back), and served us up probably the best pizza I’ve had since I moved out to Spain. I would up feeling a little bit sentimental, as it reminded me of the many days spent at Belgrave in Leeds, eating delicious half-price pizza and drowning our sorrows in student-price pints.

Side note: Holy hell, I can’t believe the linked blog post about one of Belgrave’s many Street Feasts is well over four years old. Am I getting old?

Delicious pizza in Lavapiés

Delicious pizza in Lavapiés

That Friday, and to start Loredana and Megan’s final weekend off with a bang, we’d planned to go for a big night out in a club in Chueca. With all of us being old and tired, however, those plans were soon scrapped in favour of a more tranquil evening, as we decided to have a picnic in the park to make the most of the weather. Such a laid back evening would also allow us to pursue our plans for Saturday, as we’d agreed that we wanted to go for another mini hike up into the Madrid mountains.

As I returned home on the Friday I immediately set about making things for the picnic, with a special inclusion that I had been thinking about making for quite some time. The picnic setting provided the perfect opportunity for me to try my hand at making one of my favourite British savoury snacks which I have been missing like crazy, and which just so happen to be a picnic staple: sausage rolls!

The freshly baked sausage rolls

The freshly baked sausage rolls

I don’t want to call myself Greggs or anything, but I was quite pleased with the results, even after it seemed that the whole thing would end as a soggy puff pastry disaster when the Madrid heat had the dough sticking to everything literally minutes after I’d taken it out of the fridge.

Once I had them rustled up, and I’d thrown together a pesto pasta salad and a huge box of fruit salad, I traipsed the lot in my trusty backpack and fold-up grocery bag up to the park. Once I eventually managed to find the three of them – I was late as usual – we pooled together all our food and the outdoor feast began.

The Cake Club picnic in full swing

The Cake Club picnic in full swing

Me, Megan, Heidi and Loredana (who is a big fan of Nutella)

Me, Megan, Heidi and Loredana (who is a big fan of Nutella)

Once we’d worked our way through as much as the grub as possible, and collectively eaten 3/4 of a jar of Nutella pretty much straight off a spoon, the sun began to set and it was time to call it a night. We arrived home relatively early to get rested for an early start the next day, as we were scheduled to convene at the northern bus station in order to catch a bus up to the mountains.

We had decided to once again pay a visit to Manzanares el Real, after last time we had such a lovely time relaxing up by its cool river and clambering over its rocky terrain. This time we’d decided only to spend half the day there, as indeed we hadn’t forgotten to schedule in a good night out – and I really wanted to get some kip in before having to face a late night on the town!

Arriving in the mountains

Arriving in the mountains

Me and Megan along the way

Me and Megan along the way

This time we followed the path in reverse, opting to head upstream rather than downstream, but regardless we didn’t actually make it very far. We decided instead to set up camp on a flat rock plateau on the shore of the river, where we cracked out some picnic leftovers and proceeded to relax in the sun for gosh knows how long. After dipping my toes in the (very cold) water for a while, and after a quick yoga session led by Heidi from which I bailed rather early on, we eventually decided to head further up the river a little bit more.

Heading up the river

Heading up the river

In the end we didn’t make it much further, as once we sat down in a little outpost for a drink and a pincho, we all gave each other that glance which said that we all knew that when we next moved it’d be in order to head back in the direction of Madrid. After finishing off our pincho de tortilla (Spanish omelette), we meandered our way back into the town centre and hopped on the bus back to civilisation.

A vanity selfie in nature and stuff

A vanity selfie in nature and stuff

Just a few hours after departing ways once we arrived in Madrid, we were once again reunited on the roof terrace of Heidi and Loredana’s flat, dancing around as we had a few drinks before we headed to the club. The location for the farewell night out was an old favourite, a cheesy karaoke bar, but we had a fabulous time there – probably me more than most as, thanks to the team at Erretres’ efforts, I knew pretty much all of the Spanish classics that came up. I was even invited onto the stage to sing along with a group of locals who were out on some kind of hen do – it was quite the experience!

That Sunday, and after having waved Loredana off to the airport in the early hours of the morning, we were all surprisingly fresh, and so I headed into the city centre for a last minute extra present for Megan and for an ice cream in the rising heat. It might not be diet approved, but I feel that ice cream is a human right in a concrete jungle in the middle of nowhere which is just slowly baking in the sun…

I allowed myself this one

I allowed myself this one

As the evening approached, I was joined by Megan and Heidi to head into the city centre for a farewell dinner for Megan, who was catching a flight the day after. We eventually found a quaint Cuban restaurant along the way and headed in, enjoying a delicious meal of tamales, spiced meats and all the trimmings; all accompanied with, of course, a mojito.

Cool illustrations in the street

Cool illustrations in the street

Another farewell ensued, as I had to say my hasta luegos to Megan, but the loss of yet another member of Cake Club was offset slightly by a surprise from Kevin – he was coming to stay in the city for a couple of evenings!

Okay, so, admittedly this had been planned a few weeks ago when Kevin called to organise a stay at mine for one night, but as any of you who know me will know, I am hopeless at remembering literally anything. As I’d neglected to mark the date in my calendar directly after, I had totally forgotten which day I had agreed to host Kevin down here in Madrid, but thankfully neither had I planned anything else for the 36 hours he was in the city!

After meeting Kevin directly from work, we headed back to mine for him to drop his stuff off, before heading out to have some lunch at an unassuming little bar just down the road from my flat. There we had a slap-up menú del día, as I feasted on lentils, seafood soup and the world’s most decadent orange and white chocolate cake – for a small bar which I’d never been to, we were both surprised at how tasty the whole thing was!

Kevin arrives and we immediately set about eating

Kevin arrives and we immediately set about eating

After stuffing ourselves and then making a quick dash around Mercadona for a few supplies, we headed back to mine for a quick break, and then headed back into the city to spend the evening having a few drinks in Chueca.

With the city in the opening days of its pride celebrations, the atmosphere in Chueca was buzzing, and after exploring the many streets of the kooky district, we settled down in the central plaza and ordered a big jarra of beer to keep us going for the night.

Heading into Chueca in the evening

Heading into Chueca in the evening

After watching the world go by and having one of our usual deep chats, we decided to make our way home on foot in order to take in some of the evening atmosphere, stopping for another drink in Lavapiés before we turned in for the night.

The next morning I had to inflict a 7am start on poor Kevin, as at work we are now on our summer timetable which means my working hours are reduced to 8am – 3pm. He had to head into the city himself anyway, as the whole reason he was here was to head to an induction for the exchange programme which is sending him to the USA later this year! We parted ways as I descended into the Metro, but at 7pm we were both reunited in the city and ready to make the most of another evening before Kevin had to catch his bus back northwards at 11:30pm.

That evening we were also joined by Heidi, the last remaining member of Cake Club, and we headed out for tacos – but not to our usual place. Instead we headed to the tiny taco bar which I have been obsessed with ever since I first moved out to live in Madrid, and which I’ve dragged many many visitors to. Kevin was no exception last time he was here, and he asked that we go again: a request I had absolutely no qualms in fulfilling.

A selection of tacos and margaritas

A selection of tacos and margaritas

After we’d cleaned off a couple of rounds of these delicious tacos, we headed into the city for dessert by the royal palace, a lovely spot if any to spend half an hour or so. We picked up some ice cream along the way, watching the tourist bustle around the gorgeous Oriental Gardens and Royal Opera.

Me, Kevin and Heidi

Me, Kevin and Heidi

The gorgeous colours of the Oriental Gardens

The gorgeous colours of the Oriental Gardens

Madrid showing its pride colours

Madrid showing its pride colours

As 8 o’clock neared though, we decided that we’d like to go and see how England would perform in their World Cup match against Colombia, and so we found a bar which was showing it (i.e. pretty much every single one) and prepared for the game. Some of you may wonder what I was doing watching football as it’s not usually my cup of tea, but in case you have forgotten I have attended two(!) matches in the past – one in Burnley and the other Atlético de Madrid.

Just our luck then that the moment the match actually became pretty serious, i.e. the penalties, me and Kevin realised we had actually stayed in the bar a little too long (there seems to be a running theme with the two of us and running late). A semi-sprint out of the bar and to the Metro ensued, but we arrived at the bus station with plenty of time to spare, and I had to get the results from Heidi who’d stayed behind to watch until the end. Needless to say that I was pretty much the only one buzzing on the Metro back home, as I was surrounded by the unmistakable yellow jerseys of a lot of glum Colombian fans…

And now for the last little update, taking the form of a night out with friends in the city for pride! As you’ve already seen above, Madrid is once again (after I attended back in 2016) bathed in rainbows as the pride celebrations kick off, and naturally I wanted to get stuck right in. The only issue I had was the badly timed trip down to Murcia, which I’d managed to book right over the two main nights of the pride parades and celebrations – damnit!

I didn’t completely miss out on the festivities, however, as I was invited along to meet a group of my friend’s friends on the Thursday evening for a night of watching the live music, chattering away and downing mojitos which came at 5€ a pop and were served in huge cups – my kind of night out! I had a wonderful time and met some crazy fun people, and three of us eventually wound up sat in a bar, tipsily talking nonsense and inhaling some huge sandwiches which we’d bought ourselves.

Even the fountains are getting in on the pride action

Even the fountains are getting in on the pride action

It was a lovely reminder of just how inclusive my adopted city is, and although I did miss out on the bulk of the party, I have just retuned from a fabulous weekend down with my mum and sister in Murcia. I have mentioned this trip twice now, and I promise that I’ll be back with photos from it soon, but I feel that for now I have bombarded you all with enough updates for one post!

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9

Jul

2018

Ribadesella & Fiesta de San Juan

9th July 2018

First things first with this blog post, and that’s that I have to apologise for how late I am in bringing it to you. I tried to upload the photos so that I could get it written a week ago, but I’ve been having some ongoing problems with my website and I couldn’t get anything uploaded – and a blog post without photos isn’t really worth your time – especially this one!

Anyway, let’s get on with things, for once again I write to you all whilst sat on yet another train. This time I’m headed southward with my mum and sister; the only difference being that they’re flying in at hundreds of miles per hour in a plane over my head somewhere! That’s right, the three of us are set to meet in Murcia in less than an hour, but those updates are to come later – for now I must focus on catching up on the antics from my trip to Oviedo two weeks ago.

Upon arrival in Asturias I was once again greeted by Kevin, an event so familiar that I now feel like Oviedo has become a second home – indeed, when we got to his house I didn’t even have to ask to do a single thing, it’s all become second nature! We weren’t at his flat for long though, as it was fiesta time – las fiestas de San Juan, to be exact. This involved us meeting up with a friend and heading down into Kevin’s neighbourhood to see what was going on.

Arriving at the fiestas

Arriving at the fiestas

Well didn’t I get a shock when, pizza in hand, we rocked up to a full blown festival right in the middle of what’s usually a sleepy plaza! An array of fairground rides and stalls selling all kinds of food and drinks were gathered around the huge crowds gathered at the centre, everyone focussed on the main stage where a local band were performing a medley of all the local hits.

Pouring the three of us a cider

Pouring the three of us a cider

As you can see, it didn’t take us long to grab ourselves a couple of bottles of the local speciality, natural cider; and as you can also see, I still haven’t quite got the hang of it since I first tried it back in summer last year! We were soon quite happily and tipsily away, dancing and singing along to everything from La Bamba to the unofficial anthem of Asturias.

Me and Kevin looking shiny and tipsy

Me and Kevin looking shiny and tipsy

The Asturian flag lights up the stage

The Asturian flag lights up the stage

We were all having a ball of a time singing and dancing in the street, but suddenly the main stage was hit with a series of power cuts, and eventually the poor guys had to call it a night and cut their set short. Not to worry for the rest of us, however, as a big marquee which was earlier just a bar had been converted into a huge dance floor, playing all of the modern Spanish hits!

The party marquee gets going

The party marquee gets going

After arriving in Oviedo at 9pm and complaining that I was too tired and didn’t want to go out, I wound up having an absolute blast with Kevin and Nerea, with one of my personal highlights being singing along at the top of my voice to “Fiesta Pagana”, one of my favourite party songs which I discovered last time we went out up in Oviedo. It was a phenomenal evening, and one which I very much hope to repeat next year, but as we headed home in the early hours I think we were both more concerned about how our heads would be the next day…

It was quite a shock when we woke up rather quite fresh, albeit slightly late, but that was to be expected as I was already tired before I was (rather willingly, as you probably noticed) talked into staying out until 5am. By two in the afternoon, me and Kevin had waved Nerea back off home and boarded a bus to another mystery location – Kevin always has a plan under wraps, and after the last trip to gorgeous Cudillero I was more than happy for him to continue making them!

Arriving in Ribadesella

Arriving in Ribadesella

Bright colours along the streets

Bright colours along the streets

Heading into the colourful light

Heading into the colourful light

It turned out that this time Kevin had brought me to yet another beautiful seaside town, Ribadesella. Once we’d hopped off the bus, we headed straight for the restaurant area, as we’d not really eaten much in the morning besides a few magdalenas (mini muffins). We found a lovely looking place which offered a menú del día for 14€, and then commenced to wine and dine our way through an absolute feast of a meal.

I was too preoccupied with my wine, croquettes, seafood soup, roast cabrito (goat meat), and then a huge bowl of homemade natillas (a bit like custard) to even think about taking any photos of the food, but take mine and Kevin’s word for it that it was delicious. For a few weeks now I’ve been trying to eat healthier and cut down on portion sizes, but it’s apparent that Asturias does not allow any such nonsense – even the soup came out in a huge mixing bowl and I was told to say when!

A square in the town centre

A square in the town centre

A window in Ribadesella

A window in Ribadesella

Stuffed full of gorgeous homemade grub, we paid the bill and headed back into Ribadesella, heading first through the beautifully quaint town centre. As usual when me and Kevin are reunited, we spent a good time snooping around, taking photos, and engaging in deep debates in which we put the world to rights.

Heading further into the town

Heading further into the town

Spot the fake window

Spot the fake window

I’m sure I don’t need to wax lyrical about how breathtakingly beautiful the little town was, as you can get a decent idea from the photos above, but I was caught off guard as we approached the estuary on which the town sits.

Nets and ephemera by the waterside

Nets and ephemera by the waterside

A man walks his dog by the riverside

A man walks his dog by the riverside

Looking out over the water

Looking out over the water

The place was just like a picture on a postcard, and I made sure to take it all in as we strolled town the waterfront. It was proving to be a lovely relaxing day, which was just as well as I was tired from the fiestas and full from the meal, but then Kevin went and dropped the bombshell that he wanted us to scale a large jut of land which shielded the estuary from the full force of the sea beyond.

As per usual, Kevin managed to talk my grouchy self into heading upwards, and so we began the ascent up some steps which had been mounted along the side of the incline – it was like Cudillero all over again! No complaints though – that place too was gorgeous and well worth every ounce of energy spent.

Crossing the main street

Crossing the main street

Mondrain was here?

Mondrain was here?

A seemingly floating hotel

A seemingly floating hotel

After an initial struggle, things began to level out as we ascended and, most importantly, the breathtaking views began to come into focus. Naturally it a time to stop for a selfie break as we discussed the complicated caveats of the English and Spanish languages – just an everyday conversation for the two of us frikis.

Looking back down on Ribadesella

Looking back down on Ribadesella

Me and Kevin taking in the views

Me and Kevin taking in the views

A streetlight is consumed by the foliage

A streetlight is consumed by the foliage

As we headed even higher up the jetty, we could really begin to properly appreciate the dramatic landscape which framed the idyllic town, with mountains in the background and the estuary stretching out in front, bordered by sandy shores. It really was like looking down on a fairytale!

A gorgeous view over Ribadesella

A gorgeous view over Ribadesella

Once we reached the summit of the cape, we were presented with a 360° view over the town, mountains, estuary and the sea into which it fed. Up here we spent a while taking in the scene which lay before us, discussing memories of primary school whilst overlooking the sea and natural pools which had formed in the rocks below.

A natural pool at the base of the cliffs

A natural pool at the base of the cliffs

Looking over the water from ground level

Looking over the water from ground level

After this we descended back to ground level, walking back towards the beach as Kevin recounted the Celtic folklore which dominates Asturian tradition. I was in a what I’m sure came across as an irritating touristy mood, nagging that I wanted to go to the beach across the way to feel my toes in the sand and have a cheeky dip in the sea. Kevin wanted to take me to see one last thing though, and so we circumnavigated the meandering estuary in order to cross the bridge to the other side.

Once we’d crossed the rather expansive bridge, Kev led me down a path towards the entrance to a cave. This cave is home to what, if I remember correctly, is some of Europe’s earliest cave paintings, but as per our luck it turned out to have closed a couple hours prior to our arrival. I wasn’t too upset though, as I was fascinated by some shipwrecks which, stained green by algae, had been exposed by the low tide.

Shipwrecks line the banks of the river

Shipwrecks line the banks of the river

The promised beach

The promised beach

Upon discovering that there’d be no caves for us that Saturday afternoon, we retreated back to the beach, which by this point was all but empty. Throwing my tote bag to the ground, I was soon wading out into the cool shallows, and had the ever-suffering Kevin taking photos of me – the fruits of which can be seen below:

Chilling in the water

Chilling in the water

As we had a long way to walk back to the bus station ahead, involving crossing the bridge over the wide estuary, we began to head back on to dry land with a good 45 minutes to spare. Relaxedly patting the sand off our feet, I fumbled for my bus ticket in my tote bag, and to my horror discovered that the bus was scheduled to leave 20 minutes earlier than we had thought, leaving us just 10 minutes to make what would have been a 20 minute walk.

A moment of panic ensued, after which we made a executive decision to do our absolute best to run as fast as we could to the bus station – it was the last bus out of the isolated town after all! Looking back it must have been quite the dramatic, picturesque scene, with the two of us sprinting as best we could across the bridge as the sun set beyond the mountains in the background. It certainly didn’t feel at all romantic as we sped towards the station though, with neither of us accustomed to exercise of such intensity.

As we approached the station, running over a set of railway tracks as a shortcut, we managed to catch the bus just in the nick of time. We used the last ounces of energy we had to haul ourselves into our seats, and then settled down for the 45 minute journey back to Oviedo.

We had thought about going out to the fiestas once again, but once we’d arrived back at Kevin’s flat, we slumped into the sofa and a rest from which we knew we were not to reanimate. This early night was a good idea in the end, however, as the following morning I found myself with plenty of energy and the will to spend the Sunday in Gijón.

After a relatively early start for the two of us, and a fiasco when we arrived in Gijón and the ticket machine charged us without dispensing a ticket, we found ourselves in the centre of the coastal city. Here we sat ourselves down in a lovely little pincho café, having a drink or two and discussing the future as we waited for our friend Sara to join us.

Kevin on the terrace

Kevin on the terrace

Once Sara showed up we had a wonderful catch up, with the conversation switching to Spanish and my more dramatic Spanish language personality coming out – it’s true what they say about your personality changing when you speak in one language versus another! We’d all brought beach gear along with us, and so we were soon headed for one of the beaches that the lucky gijóneses have at their constant disposal.

Relaxing on a beach in Gijón

Relaxing on a beach in Gijón

After a good few hours sunbathing, swimming in the sea, and eventually grabbing ourselves an ice cream, it was finally time to round up the weekend and catch the train back to Madrid back from Gijón train station. I waved Kevin and Sara off for a few weeks, but it wasn’t so bitter as I knew I’ll be back up for a more substantial visit in just a few weeks time!

Leaving Asturias behind for now

Leaving Asturias behind for now

So since this journey only two weeks have passed, but despite that so much has happened, and I am now hopelessly behind with my blog posts. I’d like to blame it wholly on the technical issues I mentioned earlier, but a lot of the reason has just been that I haven’t had time to stop and pull a single post together!

I’m now on the train back from Murcia up to Madrid, after having started this blog post on the way down and having spent 48 hours in the south. I hope that this week I have time to bring you another post, possibly two, but with so much going on I can really make no promises. Until then I shall have to bid you all farewell and eat my bocadillo de chorizo that’s waiting for me in my bag. Let’s hope it’s not gone too limp in the heat…


24

Jun

2018

We Had Joy, We Had Fun, We Had Premieres in the Sun

24th June 2018

My last post about the sun arriving in Madrid ended with the prediction that the city was soon to become one big oven, and I can report that, to my utmost despair, I was correct. This week we’ve been suffering through temperatures of up to 32°, but I think the worst thing is that the temperature drops only slightly during the nighttime, as I have to try and fall asleep at 1am when it’s still 28°.

Anyway, enough complaining, as just a week ago I was actually still wandering around with my coat on. Me and Heidi started one of the cooler weekends when we went to watch the final match in our friend Loredana’s football league, and to celebrate I brought along some gin and tonic, which went down quite well…

An impromptu minibar

We also had the upmost honour of being graced by the presence of Stuart, one of the player’s dogs, who was a very good boy – even if he did commit the odd pitch invasion…

Heidi and Stuart

In the end I have no idea who won, as Stuart kept me rather distracted from the gameplay, but a good time was had by all, so who really cares? Afterwards me and Heidi headed out for some ramen, after I’d been harbouring a craving for quite a while by that point, and once we found somewhere which was open, we were not disappointed!

Delicious ramen

The Heidi & Ollie food tour didn’t stop there through, as the next day we were once again back in the city, this time in search of a cute little bar for some lunch in Lavapiés. Once we’d found a spot, we tucked into some delicious homemade dishes like croquetas (croquettes, duh), empanadas (a bit like pasties) and I had some delicious albóndigas (meatballs).

Wandering around Heidi’s neighbourhood

Delicious meatballs

In one of our recent installations of our Taco Wednesday (trademark pending) tradition, I decided to make the most of the sunny yet relatively cool weather, and strolled up to the city centre through Lavapiés instead of getting the metro. It turned out to be a lovely wander, and I stumbled across plenty of streets and bars which I’ll have to revisit in the future. For now, here’s a few photos I took during my favourite time of day: when the sun is low in the sky.

I found a dog

Crossing between neighbourhoods

A lovely street in Lavapiés

An interesting looking bar

The day after, I had arranged to meet Sofia, who worked at Erretres until she left just a couple of months ago. She took me to an amazing little Ecuadorean spot for lunch which was hidden away in one of the markets near work, where we had a delicious lunch and I tried ceviche (a dish made with fish which has been cooked by soaking it in lime juice) for the first time – it was delicious!

Patterns by the market

After lunch we headed down to a lovely little spot in the west of the city, “La Rosalia del Parque del Oeste”, or “The Rose Garden of the Western Park”. The place really lives up to its name – you can smell the roses before you even arrive! I visited back in winter when it was all completely dead, but when we ventured inside I saw that it had been transformed, as almost every plant was in full bloom.

Across the rose garden

A close up of the roses

Whilst we spent even more time chatting and wandering amongst the roses, we noticed the cable cars were back up and running overhead, but I commented on how I wouldn’t go on it as I am deathly claustrophobic. So, what happened next? Why, of course, as we were leaving Sofia suggested we give it a twirl and so we soon found ourselves clambering into an unnervingly swaying cabin…

How did I end up here

Once we’d been what felt like pretty much launched out of the station, we were soon flying over the rose garden we’d just been in at quite the speed. I’d never really realised how long the cable car’s route actually is until we were up there and on the thing, but thankfully someone had warned me in advance back in 2016 that the other station is in the middle of nowhere, and so we’d been sure to grab return tickets.

Me and Sofia somewhere over Madrid

Once we’d reached the other side we asked the operator what was to be found near to the second station, and sure as hell he responded that “aquí hay campo”, meaning “here there’s countryside”. Goes without saying that we didn’t stick around for too long, taking just a few pictures before making the return journey back into the city.

Last weekend it was also time for Spain to play Portugal in the World Cup, and so I allowed myself to be talked into going along to watch the game at a bar in the north of the city – the key word here being dragged, please don’t be fooled into thinking that I am interested in professional football in any way. It actually turned out to be a really fun night, even though I didn’t drink anything (mainly because I’m poor), and it was nice to have a snoop around the more built-up northern district that I don’t often get chance to visit.

Skyscrapers in the north

That same weekend, Heidi’s brother and his girlfriend came to visit the city, and so I met up with them all in Retiro Park for some sunbathing. Once we’d spent enough time lounging in the sun, which by this point was getting rather hot, we headed back to Lavapiés once more for some tapas for lunch – hell, if I hadn’t found my Westlife reference so funny, I would have named this blog post something related to Lavapiés. I’ll get back to why this blog post is called “We had joy, we had fun, we had premieres in the sun” after the photo break…

Heading to Retiro

Cycling through Retiro

Cycling through Retiro

A quiet Sunday stroll

Lunch at a spot near work

So now to the title: why did we have “premieres in the sun”? Well, as you definitely won’t know because I am sworn to secrecy at work, we’ve been working on the design for a new TV series over the past few months. The series, “El Día de Mañana” (which they’ve translated as “What the Future Holds”), is a new historical drama by Movistar+, who are owned by Telefonica – quite an impressive client!

The identity we designed was launched on Tuesday night, when we all convened at the Capitol theatre on Gran Vía. As it’s a very famous theatre, serving as the location for all the famous television and movie premieres, I put my glad rags on and rocked up to see what we’d been working on all up in lights!

The theatre on the left of Gran Vía

Waiting for the stars to arrive

Our work up in lights, photo by Borja

Once we’d seen some of the stars arrive (including Brays Efe, the star of my favourite TV series Paquita Salas – if you speak Spanish you should absolutely see it), we headed inside, took our seats and waited for the screening to get underway.

Some of the actors, actresses and crew take the stage

Before sitting in the theatre and watching the first two episodes, I hadn’t actually had chance to watch the previews that they had sent us months before, and so I had next to no idea what they’d be like. An hour and a half later though, I was dying to watch more, and I’d definitely recommend anyone with access to the series give it a watch – the story is very fast paced and the visuals are stunning. And I’m not just saying that because we worked on the graphics!

The best part of the premiere evening though has to have been the after party, as we found some people from Movistar that we knew, and they invited us to join them on a fancy hotel terrace for a few drinks!

Me, Mario and Isa at the party

The terrace was a gorgeous setting for drinks, with views out over the city by night, but I didn’t take a photo as I didn’t want to be that out-of-place guest that is just really excited to be here – even if in reality that’s exactly what I was.

Needless to say that with free snacks aplenty I totally forgot about my diet, and that with free drinks all round I quickly wound up quite tipsy, but I didn’t think that arriving home at 2:30am is all too bad – even if I had a bit of a fuzzy head at work the morning after…

So now to the present, a Friday evening (at least at the time of writing), and I’m actually typing up this blog post whilst sat on a train on my way up to cloudy Asturias! Once again I’m going to spend the weekend in Oviedo and it’s surrounding area with Kevin, in what promises to be if nothing else a welcome bit or respite from the sauna that the capital has become.

Wandering through Ópera

Heading to the train station

As usual I’ve not really been told much of what Kevin’s got planned for us, but I do know that we’ll be having some cheeky beverages and visiting the coast tomorrow at some point – after just a week of Madrid summer weather I am 100% ready to just throw myself into the sea!

As I pass now through the mountains which separate Asturias from the rest of Spain, and as the landscape turns from clear skies and scorched earth to scattered showers and lush greenery, it’s time for me to sign off from this monstrously large blog post. I’ll try to keep the next one a bit shorter, but knowing what my weekends in the north are always like, I’m sure I’ll be returning with plenty of photos and stories to share.

Until then, enjoy this terrible cover by Westlife from my childhood, or if you’re a traditionalist, a more original version. I’ll be back soon, and probably a good few pounds heavier…