10th February 2018
So my last post may have been a little heavy for some of you all, and thus here I return to the usual programme of day-to-day wittering, starting with the really boring news that my new pair of shoes finally came. Okay, I shall try to make the rest of this post somewhat more interesting…
Things really took off as I quite literally took off on the train from the northern station of Chamartín, heading further north once again to visit my second Spanish home of Oviedo. Kevin was once again so gracious as to host me for a few days, but with the weather promising to be pretty shocking and me being tired from a few busy weeks, we decided to take it easy for the weekend and spent most of our time lazying around, eating and chatting into the early hours.
Wandering to the train station
Leaving the city
Once I arrived we set off to have dinner at our friend’s house, where we were treated to a dish she called Mexican lasagne, which turned out to be a delicious cheesy concotion. Once we’d had our fill and had chatted away into the night, we headed back and were up bright and early the next day to get some breakfast in the city!
Okay that’s a total lie, we slept in until the early afternoon and then had to grab pasties on our way to the second bus after missing the first, winding up in the city in time for Spanish lunchtime (around 2:30pm, they’re crazy). We booked a table at an amazing spot and we were soon gorging ourselves on an array of delicious Asturias dishes, including a plateful of pork and more delicious chorizo cooked in cider like the one I had up in the Basque Country.
Once we were bursting and fit to pop we headed back towards the city centre, making a surprise stop along the way when Kevin noticed that the nunnery had opened its doors and was selling some of the infamous biscuits.
Walking through a cold Oviedo
If you haven’t before heard the tale of the nuns’ biscuits, I shall explain based on what I was told when I discovered the legend during my first ever trip to Madrid. Basically a lot of the nunneries in Spain produce their own selection of delicious sweet biscuits, especially seeing as some nuns take a vow of silence and so dedicate any spare time to carefully perfecting their baking craft. They are renowned for being crumbly and delicious, and also extremely hard to get your hands on, as they’re made in small batches and you have to persevere in order to arrive at a time when a nunnery is open for business.
Anyway, Kevin was super sweet and bought me them as a gift to take back to Madrid (I have since managed to eat them all, oops) and we headed home for the evening. Once there we were joined by Sara and Rocío, and began having drinks and chatting away into the night, putting the world to rights and reminiscing about all the fun we had whilst in Leeds together. It was a lovely evening, and we managed to remember to snap a selfie to remind us of the occasion…
The four of us
The next day we stayed true to form and didn’t rouse from our beds until at least midday, whereupon we chatted and ate leftover pizza until it was sadly time for me to head to the station and grab my train back down to Madrid. Once I’d passed through the mountain range separating Asturias from the rest of Spain, I was in for a shock – Spain had turned white.
A snowy vision of the countryside
I was particularly taken aback as I’d never seen snow here, and I didn’t even manage to take a half decent photo in the area where the snow was thickest and most complete – I was obviously too busy straining my neck and admiring the frosty downpour to take a photo. I’d seen on everybody’s (literally everybody’s) Instagram stories that it had been snowing somewhat in Madrid, but it didn’t look nearly as dense as the coverage which we were passing through on the train.
Sure enough then I wasn’t too shocked when the snow began to disappear as Madrid drew closer, and I didn’t see a single snowflake as I trudged back to my flat late on Sunday evening – but Monday morning was a different matter.
Mercilessly the snow didn’t start until I was comfortably inside the heated paradise of the office, but when it did come, it came down at a surprisingly rapid speed. Soon the skylight windows of the office were completely covered, and heading out for lunch with Dani became a perilous journey as we waded through some pretty slippy slush on the way down to the food court in the train station.
The train station is topped with snow
By the following day however all the snow had been cleared away by the reliable Madrid sun, but another surprise lay in store for us all as Dani arrived at the office with a box full of churros and porras (like a thicker version of a churro) as it was his birthday! Having devoured most of them for breakfast, it was back to the grind with lots of new projects coming in and plenty of interesting work to get stuck into.
The sun returns the day after
Although last weekend was a lovely chance to relax with fabulous company, this weekend I have decided to have a little me time, opting to have a glass of Baileys and embark on a Pirates of the Caribbean marathon instead of heading into the city. I’ve been admiring the view from here too, as in just two weeks I’m excited to be moving flats – but more on that when the time comes!
The city from my flat
For now it’s currently 10:30pm, I’m two Pirates of the Caribbean films in, and I reckon I can squeeze another one in before I turn in for the night. Time to light my vanilla IKEA candles, pour a glass of coke and tuck myself in for some swashbuckling entertainment – drink up me hearties yo ho!
8th February 2018
It’s been a good few years since I unwittingly began my tumble into the world of typeface design, as way back in 2012 I began to wonder why even the most geometric of fonts I could think of (at that time Avant Garde) wasn’t actually geometrically perfect.
Geometry overlaid on Avant Garde
After a frantic web search for any fonts which fit the style I had in mind – perfect circles and zero contrast (meaning all lines would be the same width) – I gave up and decided to make my own.
The resultant typeface was pretty basic, with only capital letters, numbers and some basic punctuation included, but it did come in two weights – light and chunky. I only ever had the patience to male the bold variant into a font file, as my mastery of the software was at that time somewhat nonexistent. I named the resultant typeface “Fries”, and you can check out a sample of it in all its glory below.
Fries Chunky and Light
At the time I was quite pleased with it, as it adhered to my then purist principles of perfect shapes and minimal styling – and I even used it on a website prototype I was building. Looking back at it now though, I see that it’s only real use is as an example of why nobody makes fonts which are geometrically perfect – they look awful.
I shan’t go wittering on in great detail about the intricacies of typeface design, as there’s already plenty of brilliant articles and books which have all that covered, buy what I shall go over however is how the two features I insisted on including – perfectly geometric shapes and a uniform line width – are actually the ultimate downfall of the typeface.
Firstly there’s the use of perfectly geometric shapes, most notably how I used perfectly round circles for letters like O and C, something which is very rarely done by type designers – and for a good reason. Perfect circles in text look like they’re wider than they are tall, and so the majority of typefaces use slightly oblong shapes to counter this optical illusion. You can see the slight offset when I compare Fries to Avant Garde below:
Fries in blue, Avant Garde in pink
Secondly there’s the use of the consistent stroke width, which is also avoided by designers as another optical trick causes certain lines to look thicker and others to look thinner even though they are all actually equal. Take a V for example, where the lines become thinner where they join in order to avoid the point of intersection looking too heavy. Then there’s also the effect of horizontal lines seeming thicker than vertical ones (some people think this is because of the shape of the human eyeball), and so the horizontal lines of letters such as E have to be slightly narrower than any vertical ones.
Fries in blue, Avant Garde in pink
Needless to say that after this, and with college and university to be completed, I didn’t exactly rush into trying to make another font.
An interest in typography still hung around at the back of my mind though, and so whilst completing an optional university module on typographic theory in 2015, one evening I had the idea to just sit and draw the entire alphabet, numbers and some essential punctuation entirely from memory. This was scanned and converted into the free experimental typeface which I eventually released as Memory, which is still available to download today.
The original master sketch of Memory
Soon I was whisked away to Spain for my year in industry, soon I was back for my final year of university and I had realised that I could be more playful with design, and thus decided to incorporate experimental typography into my final year projects.
My third attempt at a typeface came as part of my Pearson project, where quite late on I decided to develop a quick geometric typeface which I could use for the project. I called it Celebration to fit the project’s concept, and although it was built on a geometric grid a bit like Fries was, it was much more carefully considered. Circular elements are slightly taller to account for visual trickery, there’s no entirely round circles, and the equal line width is justified by an “inline” style which can be layered on top.
Some letters from Celebration
Once the project was over and submitted I began to tinker with Celebration once again, seeing the opportunity for another experimental typeface release. I changed the style of a couple of the letters from the original, added a fill and shadow variant, and then wrangled with my font software to align everything and release it as a separate project on my website. It’s now available for free for personal use, and if you fancy using it for something else then feel free to get in touch.
With this project wrapped up I found myself in the early stages of preparing my new portfolio for graduate job applications, and I decided that I’d use the opportunity to develop my own font for my personal brand. Inspired by the sketches of the famous (sometimes for the wrong reasons) type designer Eric Gill, I set about sketching a typeface called Goddess in earnest – I was so confident that I’d get it done that I even wrote a blog post on it.
The long and short of that story is that I digitised it, it looked a lot worse on screen than it did on paper, I got mad, I had a sulk about it, and then I shelved it indefinitely.
I was busy back then and I am only human so I can forgive myself for giving up so easily, but at the end of the day I still needed a typeface to use for my personal branding. I’d fallen quite in love with Maison Neue around that time, and so a quick fix solution was to simply add the sharpened angles of the ascenders and descenders (the key feature of Goddess) to Maison Neue.
A few hours of tinkering in my font software later and I had my custom copy of it ready, which I named Liv, a name which my friends and family often call me by. You can see how I made some adjustments to the original font in the letters below.
Maison Neue versus Liv
Things really started to pick up once I had finished all my university work but was still living in Leeds, and so had the time and space to do some design for pleasure. I had been wanting to try something with cut sponges for a while, and once I’d had the idea to experiment with the typographic “weights” (usually referring to how bold the font is) to mean the amount of ink used, I began stamping in earnest.
Creating the sponge font
With a fully fledged character set and two variations of each letter for each of the three weights, this typeface was eventually released as Kitchen Sink. It’s original name was much more fun – Spongefont Sanspants – but I didn’t want to be landed with a lawsuit from Nickelodeon…
A sample of Kitchen Sink in action
It’s proven to be the most popular experimental font I’ve done thus far, having been featured on various design blogs, acquired plenty of attention on Behance, and even been licensed multiple times for commercial use – not bad for an afternoon of painting with sponges like a three year old! It’s also available free for personal use, and if you want to license it for commercial use feel free to get in touch.
After university I had all the stress of job hunting to get through, and eventfully the task of moving my life over to Madrid and settling into a new job. After returning from a Christmas spent at home and now pretty settled into my routine, in my spare time I have recently fallen further down the typographic rabbit hole.
As someone interested in visual communication, I’ve always been intrigued by other writing systems and codes, and so one day for an experiment I turned east and studied the letters of the Cyrillic alphabet. This alphabet is most well known for being used as for the Russian language, and although there are similarities to the Latin alphabet (i.e. the one used for English), most of its letters don’t mean anything to an English speaker.
I combined this study of Cyrillic with a love for ultra-condensed typefaces, and created a silly experimental typeface which I called Responsive Cyrillic. In separating each letter into three sections, I was able to expand or contract the midsection of each at will, changing the height of each letter without distorting any curves or lines.
A sample of Responsive Cyrillic
Although for my next stop along my journey I’ll be sticking with the theme of alternative alphabets, I have to preface this next one with a bit of a backstory…
A few years ago I was writing down some thoughts in my notebook whilst on a train, but I could feel the guy sat next to me was cheekily reading every word I wrote over my shoulder. At that very moment I decided to create my own code, a very simple letter-for-letter substitution, which was easy to remember as it was based on the absolute simplification of the shapes of each letter of the Latin alphabet. I invented it as I wrote, and since then I’ve been gradually adjusting it. As such I am now able to write it pretty quickly, although reading it with any speed is still quite a challenge.
An example of written Simplified Latin
In order to get myself quicker at reading the system, I decided to create a typeface so that I can quickly “translate” typed text into the coded system. Adding small serifs to the otherwise simple straight-line symbols aims to help me distinguish between similar shapes as I begin to read faster.
Simplified Latin font
As I’m keeping the coded system just for my own personal use for now, the text above is just jibberish, a random jumble of symbols. I say this so that you don’t waste any time trying to read what it says – not that anyone would bother…
This all leads me to where I am currently tumbling deeper into a typographic obsession, and that’s my attempt to create my first viable ‘standard’ typeface, with ‘standard’ here meaning not experimental or overly decorative like all the previous.
Once again it’s an attempt to create a font which somehow captures an essence of my identity, much like I attempted with Goddess, and so for now its working title is the rather unimaginative “Goddess Version 2.” Please try to not pass judgement on the messiness or terrible curves just yet, it is very much an early work in process!
Early design sketches of Goddess V2
With this font I am attempting to create a nicely legible typeface inspired by my rather illegible handwriting. Often mocked for its pointless extravagance, my handwriting can be distinguished by lengthy curls on the end of most letters. As I work over my initial sketches, I’m trying to incorporate these fancy flicks in a more subtle manner, adding a slight curved ear to the letters which feature such a curl in my handwriting.
It’s still very much a work in progress as I struggle to find the ideal shapes for certain letters, a good balance of minimalism and decorativeness, and the visual balance of the letters and the spacing between them, but I’m hoping to get a first version done over the coming months. I am well aware that it won’t be anywhere near the standard of work done by the many amazing type foundries out there, but typography is something I’d like to get more involved in – and I know that there’s plenty more of that metaphorical rabbit hole to fall down after this…
31st January 2018
Happy 2018! Yes, okay, fine – the timing of this post might be a little off (especially seeing as there’s a blog post which fits right in the middle, you’ll see) but I plan to fill you all in on some general nonsense since I got back from England anyway. When titling the post I had a think for a while to try and figure out what bound everything together, and as usual the only common theme I could find was that of food. Here we go…
As I mentioned briefly just after I’d got back from my festive holiday, I started my time back in Madrid by meeting up with my friend Megan and a couple of her friends who were visiting her from New York and Barcelona. We went exploring the city as usual, and as it was Sunday we found ourselves amongst the hoards of people swarming around the El Rastro Sunday market – a Madrid staple. Once we’d had our fill of the atmosphere, we dived into a nearby Mexican restaurant and tucked into some delicious tacos.
Street art near El Rastro
A delicious platter of goodness
After waving them goodbye it was soon the evening of New Year’s Eve, and I headed to meet another friend and see in 2018 with his family and a friend who was visiting from France. We had a lovely night and got along really well, such that a couple of days later we met up and had even more tacos and a (slightly more sober) chat. I shall spare you more pictures of tacos – some of you might be feeling peckish and I don’t want to ruin anybody’s New-Year-New-Me diet.
Around the same time I started back at work, where a mystery late Christmas gift to the studio arrived when a big fancy coat showed up from seemingly out of nowhere. Having found it on the coat rack, we asked around (even putting up flyers on our street) but nobody came along to claim it, so we made the most of the opportunity to don the oversized leopard-print monstrosity. Here’s my attempt at looking regal with a cardboard crown we also happened to have lying around…
God save our gracious Ollie
The winter climate has also been treating me as I wander back home from work, as the sunsets here seem to always manifest in rather spectacularly colourful compositions. To make the most, one night I went for a wander up at the African temple next to my office, where I could look out over the west of the city and unwind in the breeze.
Looking up whilst leaving work
Looking down the road
A fountain, the temple and the city
The sun sets on the Temple of Debod
My culinary adventures aren’t just restrained to life outside of the Erretres office however, as a colleague recently insisted I try a local dish which is basically fresh cheese topped with honey. I remarked that it didn’t sound too good, but I had to take it back the next day when I was presented with a bowl of said dessert and I actually rather enjoyed it.
Having been introduced to a typical local dessert, I felt like I should introduce the guys at the office to a bit of British sweet culture. Seeing as I was to make a lemon sponge for my mum’s birthday down in Murcia, I made another and brought it along for everyone to try at the office…
The cake is cut
The cake went down a real treat in the office, and I have been told I have to follow it up with some traditional Spanish torrijas pretty soon as Easter draws closer and closer. No pressure then – I should never have made them for everyone two years ago when I first interned in Spain!
Anyway, here’s where this post gets a bit weird, for here lies the gap when I went down to Murcia to see my family, which I have already covered in a post you can jump to by clicking here. Check it out or pretend you have read it already, and we’ll now move on to what I’ve been up to since I arrived back in Madrid. Here we go…
The first day back in the office after my mini holiday ended in heading into the city to meet up with Thuy once more (now we’ve seen each other in Leeds, London and Madrid!), as she was on a fleeting visit to the capital. We had a lovely catch up over arepas and then chocolate a la taza, a local type of hot chocolate which is so thick you can stand a spoon up in it. I tried an orange infused one and it was just divine.
Looking up in the big city
Orange chocolatey goodness
This weekend just gone I headed out to do a few bits and bobs and see the sights of the city with some friends, including a trip down to IKEA for meatballs and hot dogs, a disappointing visit to a lake which has been drained and is no longer there (oops) and a visit to Retiro park to check out a cool exhibition currently being shown in the Palacio de Cristal. A series of names was written on the floor with letters made of water, and they slowly filled and ebbed away as we wandered amongst them. It was pretty cool and must have needed some insanely intricate plumbing!
Wet words appear from nowhere
The exhibition space
On Sunday evening we finished up by checking out a concert in an alternative art space in the south of the city, but soon retreated to a local café to catch up over coffee, and planned our very important Tuesday evening meeting.
Quirky interior design
A sunset as seen from the south
The meeting, which took place yesterday, is part of our tradition of meeting up to share cakes and all manner of sweet desserts, and so once again I was charged with creating my third lemon sponge cake in a month. It went down well once more, but after cake and a burger from one of my favourite local spots, I headed (or should I say rolled) home and after another day of work I have finally managed to sit down in my flat and get this post sorted.
I update you with urgency for good reason however, as come next Monday I’ll have more photos and stories to share once I’ve returned from Asturias. Once again I’ll be hopping on a train on Friday evening and heading northwards to spend the weekend with Kevin and plenty of other friends, and there’ll surely be plenty of cider and the local cachopo dish to be had. Here’s looking forward to that!
23rd January 2018
Sometimes in life things just seem to slot together perfectly, and that’s just what happened last week when cheap train tickets, a couple of spare holiday days at work and a well timed trip by my parents all aligned just right. I grabbed the Thursday and Friday off work in earnest just before Christmas, and then the plan was set: my parents were to fly into Murcia and stay with my auntie and uncle who live there, and I was to meet them all on Wednesday night to spend a few days basking in the warm air of the south of Spain. It’s been at least a few years since I was last there, so the plan worked out just perfect!
A view from my auntie and uncle’s place
The journey started with a quick transfer to Madrid’s main train station, Atocha, straight from work. Once there I grabbed a slice of pizza and made my way on to the platform, where I realised that I was in possession of a fancy ticket for the preferente cabin – I guess it’s the Spanish take on first class. I definitely didn’t opt for that through choice, so I assume they must have been the only tickets left when I bought one…
Anyway, and after four and a half hours of enjoying the extra legroom and personal space of the three-to-a-row seating of the fancy cabin, I rocked up at the train station nearest to my auntie’s place. There I was greeted by my mum, dad and auntie, and then we hopped in the car with my uncle and headed back to their apartment. Arriving after midnight, we quickly all resolved to put ourselves straight to bed, and I enjoyed a good night’s sleep thanks to a lack of nighttime chill.
The next day it was time to present my mum with a couple of slightly belated presents I’d brought down for her birthday, namely a bottle of fancy gin and slices of homemade lemon sponge cake. We had to get creative with the use of the candles provided by my auntie, as in order to fit the cake in my bag I had had to cut it into slices in Madrid before setting off. It did the job just fine, and after a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday, the well-travelled cake went down pretty well!
Ready for presentation
Mum and her cake
After some lunch we decided to head out and do a little exploration, and we opted to visit the coast as I’d said that it’d be nice to see the sea – I was feeling slightly cheated to have been living in Spain for four months and only managed to spend some time on the coast once in that time whilst up in Oviedo with Kevin.
We hit the empty beach
Looking out to sea
Before leaving my mum and auntie had badgered me saying that it’d be a good idea to don a pair of shorts as the sun was quite hot, no matter how much I contested, and so I eventually borrowed a pair of my dads against my better judgment. My hypothesis was proved right as soon as we stepped out of the car, as the sea breeze kept up a steady battery of my poor exposed legs. Not to worry though, as I kept myself warm by keeping on the move, pacing down the empty beach and snapping photos of anything and everything that caught my eye.
A funky lifeguard station
An even funkier zig-zag pier
Once we’d had our fill of the first beach, we hopped back in the car and headed a little further down the Mar Menor for another spot of strolling, and to stop at a picturesque little coastal bar for a cheeky cocktail.
A pretty little church
A desserted beach
Drinks in a courtyard
Looking through the plaza
It was soon time to head back to my auntie’s place, where we freshened ourselves up before being picked up by the local town’s curry house who run a free taxi service. There we enjoyed a lovely meal, and rocked up at home later on full of chicken curry and wine.
The next day we’d decided to head up to a restaurant run by who my auntie likes to call the lady in the mountains. In reality it’s a pretty traditional café/restaurant run by a lovely señora which serves an array of typical homemade local dishes, and we all tucked in to a lovely selection from the menú del día. Me and my dad tucked into a lentil-based dish before enjoying a salmon steak, all followed by a round of coffees and various desserts.
The road to the restaurant
After an evening meal at home, my mum and dad set about packing up for the following day, as before we knew where we were Saturday had come around and it was time to wave my parents off at Murcia airport as they headed back to the sleety streets of England. Once I’d ushered them into departures with a round of “see you in six weeks!” (they’ll be up here visiting Madrid before I know it), me and my auntie headed out on an adventure together alone, as my uncle wasn’t feeling too well and had to decided to get rested back at home.
A view from the car park
As you can see from the photo above which was taken just next to where we parked the car, we were back on the seafront visiting a place called Cabo de Palos. The pretty little peninsula jutting out just below the Mar Menor was actually recommended to me by my boss Pablo, who knows the region quite well from many visits in previous years.
Another view from the car park
Once I’d done messing around on a rocky outcrop taking the previous two photos, me and my auntie took a stroll along a little promenade which terminated in a picturesque little harbour, opting not to eat at the pricey spots offering 38€ fixed menus, but rather to get ourselves lost down the backstreets. There we found cañas (small beers) and tapas for a couple of euros – now that’s more our kind of price!
Brightly coloured palms
The pretty mess of the harbour
Drinks and nibbles by the roadside
After our little refreshment stop we were back on our feet and making progress along the seafront, heading slowly but surely to the tip of the peninsula, guided by and headed towards the cape’s iconic lighthouse. Once we arrived nearby we thought about giving the rest of the trek a miss, but a curiosity to see what kind of views it would provide led us marching up the spiralling road to the base of the imposing brick structure.
The sea and the lighthouse
More striking shapes
The views over the sea were quite impressive, but as you can see from the photos above I found myself rather mesmerised by the unexpected jumble of angular shapes provided by some rather wacky architecture hidden at the base of the lighthouse. Upon peering into the blue tinted glass of the structure above I also found myself before another rather lovely view – my own reflection! All joking aside, it did actually create quite a cool effect, so I will be so vain as to share the selfie I snapped…
Chilling at the lighthouse
Here I should mention that you won’t be finding any more photos of me herein, as I managed to forget to bring my sunglasses down with me from Madrid, and so was forced to rock a spare pair of my mum’s diamante encrusted frames. Regardless, the sea breeze eventually had us descending back further towards sea level, but not before one last shot from our vantage point across La Mancha and the Mar Menor beyond.
La Mancha and Mar Menor
When we’d descended from the little hill we began our slow return back to the car, but with the coast pretty much to ourselves, I was sure to make plenty of stops to explore deserted coves and abandoned buildings. I even roped my auntie into taking a photo of me as I risked life and limb in venturing out onto a little rock jetty in the perilous wind…
A look back at the lighthouse
An abandoned house
A view from a deserted mini beach
Who is that idiot over there?
Once we’d found our way back to the car we were momentarily led astray by my evil Google Maps. I have named the malicious woman who narrates the directions Marisol, as she is a Spanish lady who sounds like she’s rather bitter about something and has decided to take it out on me by sending my on pointless looping detours.
Despite Marisol’s attempts to sabotage our journey, we found our way back to my auntie’s place and had some food with my uncle who was thankfully feeling better. After eating we all made our way up to one of the lakes of the resort on which they live, as my uncle wanted to grab a shot of the sun setting over the water, and my auntie wanted to feed a bunch of stray cats which she has unwittingly adopted.
The sun begins to set
The sunset over the lake
The rolling landscapes
Not being the world’s biggest fan of cats, and spotting the opportunity for a cool panorama, I abandoned my auntie as she fed the cats in the maintenance area of the resort. I went for a brief jog up a manmade hill, from where I managed to snap the following shot of the technicolour sky over Murica. If you’re on your computer be sure to click on the photo to expand it and check out all the details!
The sun sets on Murcia
The day after was Sunday and so my last day in Murcia too, and as I was catching the coach back to Madrid from the city of Murcia, it seemed only logical to go and check out the city before heading back. I had visited once before with my parents and sister many years back, but we’d not really had a great time of it – it was a Sunday in the height of summer so nothing was open and it was way too hot to just meander the streets.
This time I was driven there by my auntie and uncle, and the cooler weather and pleasant sun made for a much more enjoyable experience. They also took me to some lovely corners of the city which we’d missed last time, and so once again I was back to my usual running around to find places to take a few decent photos.
The river and the cathedral
The facade of a lovely building
Fountains and flowers for days
It turns out that although Murcia may not be Spain’s biggest or most eventful city, it certainly is beautiful. After a couple of hours of admiring the architecture and the carefully manicured flora, we stopped for a quick meal in one of the many plazas, and soon thereafter we were once again headed back for the car.
Oranges by the cathedral
More gorgeous facades
A blue sky covers the plaza
I love the layers of this shot
Being back at the car was a pretty brief affair, as I had just to pack a few last things into my backpack and pick up the hug multipack of monster munch I had bought for work. Once I’d found my coach at the bus station, I hugged goodbye to my auntie and uncle, thanked them for having me down at theirs for the long weekend, and began the five hour journey back to the centre of Spain.
Murcia at street level
I’m now back in the throes of reality and working life, but with an exciting new project to get my teeth into at work and plenty of people to see and things to do, I’ll be sure to be back pretty soon with more updates and photos. I also plan on bringing you all a few more design-related blog posts as I begin to pick up some personal projects I’ve been meaning to do for a while, details of which will be with you pretty soon…
As we say here – ¡vamos a por ello!
2nd January 2018
To kick off 2018 I have to wish everyone a happy New Year, but I also have to bring this blog up to speed with the events since I returned from the Basque Country way back (well it feels like it) in early December!
Traversing the city
Of course the last few weeks of 2017 were pretty busy at work, with plenty of projects to switch between, and even a surprise package landing on my desk from England! My mum sent over a wonderfully christmassy shirt, twenty euros and an extra special surprise of some shiny festive underwear – with a good few giggles ensuing in the office…
Early Christmas gifts
The building near work comes down
Outside of work life, the city has been getting pretty festive and we’ve been doing our best to bask in the ambience. This has involved both strolling around the freezing cold of Madrid’s streets, and convening when possible for impromptu dinners across the city.
Someone took to decorating the street
Festivity in the city centre
One weekend my friend’s friends came to visit from Austria, and so we all headed out into the city to explore, eat good food and soak up the Christmas ambience. That particular evening the light was quite nice, and whilst heading down to the station to catch my train home, I took a few pictures along the way…
Looking down into the south
Tapas for days
The train station
The sun sets
As the last week of work neared, it was soon time for my first Erretres staff Christmas meal, which involved us all hopping on a bus to a Cuban restaurant in the city centre. Once there we were treated to a fabulous array of dishes, and with mojitos on tap I suddenly felt I had total command of the language, and we all stayed out chatting until the early hours.
Wintery road to work
Before I even knew what was going on it was my final day at work, and to celebrate the occasion I made sure to fashion myself a fabulous outfit from some tinsel that I found at PoundLand…
My tinsel monstrosity
After leaving work on my last day I headed over to my friends for a catchup, and wound up being fed and watered before having to dash off to the airport to grab a flight to Manchester. Once I landed I didn’t really have time to do much, opting rather to head for bed and wake up bright and fresh on the Saturday.
That first day I relaxed and had coffee and a good old catch up with Bam, who I haven’t seen since she rocked up to visit me in Madrid back in November. Once my entire family had gotten home we were reunited over some drinks and played plenty of Scrabble and watched plenty of TV, and pretty soon it was Christmas Eve and I went off to visit my Grandma.
Christmas day kicked off with presents and merriment, but then my mum had to head off to work so me, my dad and sister hopped in the car and headed over to Bradford to pay a surprise visit to my Grandma and Grandad. We had a lovely few hours there, and then headed back home to pick my mum up from work and have our customary Christmas curry.
The Briggs family
In case you were confused, we have curry every year on Christmas day because my mum usually has to work, and so once she’s home to make life easier we just order from our favourite curry place – one of the few places actually open on Christmas day. Naturally we never miss out on the traditional Christmas dinner with all the trimmings, as we’re always sure to do this on Boxing Day – as evidenced below…
Mum and Dad have a drink
The family gathering
Well, truth be told I actually forgot to take a decent photo of the main course, and so what you see above is actually the world’s most gorgeous cauliflower soup, and another tradition which we have every year courtesy of a family friend who makes it herself. The one meal I did manage to snap a photo of was the leftovers meal the day after, the day before I headed over to Leeds to visit Izzy and have a catch up in my old university city.
The few hours I got to spend in Leeds were a blast, with me and Iz heading to get coffee and brunch at our favourite haunt, Laynes. After this we headed up to Belgrave where we had our goodbye drinks earlier
this last year (this will be happening for a while), and I had a bit of English cider after the strong stuff up in Asturias.
Delicious rarebit and good coffee
A cold Burnley
The next day I was in the hairdressers pretty early, before grabbing a McDonalds breakfast at 10:29 (a world record, surely) and hopping on a bus to Manchester. I had a lovely day in store, visiting friends and then meeting up with my dad to enjoy his Christmas present – a meal in the city and then a musical at the Royal Exchange Theatre!
Me and my dad at the Royal Exchange
After a delicious slap-up tapas meal at Lunya, we headed into the theatre to begin watching their production of Guys & Dolls. By the inteval we had both already agreed that it was a pretty amazing production, and by the end we had laughed so much that my throat was hurting! It did go on for a good while, so it wasn’t until the early hours of Friday morning when I got into bed.
That said, Friday morning was pretty damn hectic as I managed to oversleep as my friend came to visit, and then had to scramble to pack as quickly as possible before saying my goodbyes and being whisked off to Manchester Airport to get my plane back. Once there I made good and proper use of the new KFC in Terminal 3, before a pretty uneventful flight and Metro journey back home to my flat.
So there it all is, albeit slightly rushed this time – I have to ensure that I get this posted as fast as possible before things start to back up! For the moment I have just seen in the New Year with friends and finished my first day back in the office, so it’s back to my daily routine and so a relatively early night for me – but maybe just one more episode of Jane The Virgin…
10th December 2017
This week here in Spain we enjoyed a type of public holiday called puente, which is like a bank holiday but it consists of two holiday days with a working day sandwiched in the middle – hence its name, which literally means ‘bridge’. Most people do what I did though, and use up a day of their annual holiday leave to turn the puente into a five day weekend. A few of my friends also did the same, and so it was time for another adventure – a road trip to explore the Basque Country in the north!
We begun pretty early on Wednesday morning, convening at Atocha train station to pick up our car, which they upgraded for free to a fancy Audi. Buzzing with the novelty of being able to connect all our phones to the stereo, we set off and were soon chewing up the miles on the autopistas through Castilla y León, La Rioja and Navarre, where we’d decided to stop on the way to have a snoop around an old castle.
Atocha in the morning
During the journey we made a couple of stops, firstly a refreshment stop where we managed to get locked in a petrol station when the power went out and hence paralysed the automatic doors. Eventually escaping out the rear with our snacks, we then carried on for a while until the next pit stop, where we loaded up on more munch, including a giant sack of oranges which a lady on the roadside sold us for 4€.
Having escaped the petrol station shop
My orange baby
Once we had all resigned to the fact that we’d be eating oranges for the entire trip, we set back off and eventually landed in Olite, a town featuring at its centre a huge royal palace. This palace is dotted with towers which offered amazing views over the town and its surroundings, however the first thing to do was to grab some lunch after surviving solely on oranges, crisps and a croissant since 8am.
Arriving in Olite
Passing through the castle
The central plaza
This little town and its restaurant filled streets were gorgeous, and I was especially keen on the pretty ornate facades adorning some of the buildings around the main plaza.
An ornate design
Walking to the restaurant
At the cute little restaurant on the left of the street above, we ordered a selection of raciones to share, including a portion of caracoles (snails) which me and Loredana had dared each other to try out for the first time. We had a lovely lunch (the snails included, they were good!) and then pottered back to the town centre to head into the castle and see what we could see.
Wandering the streets once more
Heading into the palace
The Royal Palace of Olite was like a labyrinth inside, but its steep spiral staircases and confusing layout hid plenty of gorgeous and surprising views. As it was down season it was pretty empty, and so we had the chance to admire everything at our own pace and be as stupid as we wanted taking photos, such as this one of Loredana acting as Rapunzel…
Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair…
Looking over Olite
A tree hides some arched windows
Soon it was time to prepare ourselves to scale some of the tiny stone staircases within the palace’s numerous towers, which stood precariously tall at several of the palace’s corners. Once we had managed to make it up to the top of one, we caught our breath and had to shuffle around a tiny little circular platform without falling back down the stairs. I reckon it was about 1.5m in diameter, but with three of us and another family up there, it made for quite a perilous squeeze! The views, as you can see, were worth it though.
Looking back on the palace
Looking through an ornate window
Looking down on the rest of the palace
Once we felt we had been sufficiently attacked by the cold wind, we descended back to less dangerous ground and soon headed out of the castle and back to our car. From Olite we headed straight up to our final destination, San Sebastián, a city in the Basque Country where we’d booked a hostel for three nights and which would be our base for the coming days.
Looking back up at the palace
Pretty quickly thereafter we rocked up in San Sebastián (or Donostia in Basque) as the sun was setting, and then unpacked in our hostel room before heading out to grab something to eat and a few drinks in the city. We eventually settled in a lovely bar which was full of a spectacular array of pinchos, an eating concept I first encountered back in Barcelona almost two years ago but which I will try to explain in a more informed manner here.
Pinchos are basically small portions of food (that us Brits would probably mistakenly label as ‘tapas’) which are presented on the bar for people to pick up as they please. In this particular bar you were invited to grab a plate and load it up with whatever you fancied, which was then counted up at the counter as you were being served your drink. Another way I’ve seen it work is that each pincho (or pintxo in Basque) is speared with a cocktail stick, and then once you’ve finished eating the barman will bill you based on the number of cocktail sticks on your plate once you’ve finished eating.
Along with my insane collection of food I got myself a cider to remind me of the good times spent in Asturias, which was nice but not quite as good as the ones I have tried (and even had to pour myself) back in Gijón and Oviedo. The pinchos were excellent, and after we’d wrapped up we soon found ourselves hopping between bars before landing back in our beds in the early hours of the morning.
What kind of delicious heaven
The second day begun with a parking ticket for not moving our car from its street side parking spot early enough (oops), but we were soon back in said car and on the road again, this time going to visit some mystery location, as all I’d been told is that “they filmed some of Game of Thrones there.”
Well after parking on an incline and wandering up a blustery hill, we were soon descending towards said attraction amongst scores of other tourists who seemed to have mainly come from other areas of Spain. Once we’d cleared a set of perilously muddy “steps” (quotation marks as they were more mini cliffs than “steps”), we turned the corner and our destination came into view.
Wandering down the steps
It’s a church on a rock!
I turns out that the place I had been taken to was called San Juan de Gaztelugatxe (quite a mouthful), and has indeed featured in Game of Thrones, a TV show I could never force myself to enjoy. Even with the pop culture reference being lost on me, it was still an awe inspiring place to explore, with the dramatic cliffs of the islet and its snaking steps which we had to scale whilst being buffeted by the chilly sea breeze.
A pretty little fountain
A view from further down
Looking in the other direction
A lot of panting and climbing later we reached the church at the top, where I decided not to join the huge queue to ring the church bell but rather to sit down and catch my breath. I did take some photos from the summit, but given that all I could really see was sea and the mist, they all came out pretty dull and underwhelming. Once we’d had our fill of the views, we began our descent, making a stop at the “beach” (if you can call it that) where three of us relaxed whilst the other two headed out to look at the little rock pools.
Chilling on the beach
Looking out to another big rock thing
Once we’d scaled the muddy hill back to the car and stopped for a quick drink to warm ourselves up in a hillside tavern, we once again jumped back in our trusty Audi and headed for Bilbao, where we stayed for a few hours. We didn’t really get much done once there, opting rather to hunt for food, have a coffee and chat away a few hours. We did manage to see the Guggenheim Museum – well, its gift shop – before leaving, but it was soon pretty dark and we headed back to San Sebastián for the evening.
The Guggenheim in Bilbao
That evening it was something along the lines of “pincho Thursday” at the local bars, a deal in which you could grab any pincho and a drink for just 2€. We made the most of this opportunity, and bar hopped for a few hours eating and drinking and laughing as we went. We finally made it to an Irish pub and then tipsily onto a swing set, but I soon found myself back in bed to gather some energy to explore San Sebastián a little better the day after.
Friday greeted us with a downpour, and so I headed to a local shop and bought an umbrella for 3€ as I’d forgotten to bring mine along. This 3€ was probably the worst I have ever spent, but more on that later. Once we’d seen the shoreline during the day we retreated to a little café and got ourselves a coffee and a local variant of cake, which we enjoyed whilst listening to the cold air swirl around the coast outside.
Coffee and cake
Once we’d warmed up again we headed back out and made our way into the centre of the city, crossing its famous river as we went. There we made the most of my phone’s portrait function, with the girls grouping in front of the city and me standing by where the river meets the sea. This made the river look pretty badass during high tide, as the water rose and sloshed around menacingly as we crossed over it.
Ornamental street furniture
A new girl group is formed
Trying to make windswept look cool
Once in the centre we were all somewhat peckish and so went looking for a snack. In a central plaza we stumbled upon a tent we’d noticed the night before, only this time it was open for business with wood artisans, cider barrels and a selection of pinchos aplenty. Me and Loredana made a beeline for a pincho consisting of chorizo cooked in cider and then stuffed in bread, which has to have been one of the richest and most delicious things I ate during the whole trip.
Delicious chorizo delights
From this tent we decided we wanted something sweet, and so headed then to a cake and dessert shop on the corner across the road, where we found ourselves in a wonderland of chocolate and pastries. I went for a relatively safe option of a “roca de chocolate”, basically cornflakes bathed in chocolate and formed into balls, but the others tried out such delights as double chocolate cream eclairs.
Did you notice my little face in the mirrors?
After that the group split, as some of us were too tired and wanted to nap, but me and Loredana decided we would try and battle through the sleepiness and find the old area of the city. To get there we began by walking the entire length of the city’s other beach, stopping to head out on to a rather unsafe looking pier to take some photos.
Mad at the broken umbrella
As I alluded to earlier, the 3€ umbrella wasn’t really worth the hassle. After about 5 minutes of use it was pretty much completely broken, with the material coming off the frame and the actual rod breaking into two when some kind of mechanism just fell out when I opened it. I didn’t want to spend any more money buying another, and so the terrible umbrella became the joke of the afternoon as I battled with the sea breeze to keep it in one piece and covering my head with what little material remained…
Wandering along the beach
We never really did find the old town it would seem, as in the area we thought it was we could only find a lot of empty streets and one coffee shop which was still open. A coffee and a bus ride later we were back in the hostel, and we’d soon headed out for our last evening in the Basque Country. We ate at a lovely little place in the city before moving into the Whiskey Bar next door, where I treated myself to a fancy gin and tonic before heading home for the night as I wasn’t feeling too well.
That final morning however I wasn’t feeling all too bad, and so we spent it down on the beach, writing messages in the sand and petting all the dogs which came our way. We even made friends with one of them, who came over and was sure to give us each a turn at throwing his stick. We all agreed that he was a very good boy.
Looking along the beach
The sea beckons
After a while it was time to head back to Madrid, and so we went and recovered the car one last time and began the 5 hour journey back to the capital. On the way we naturally made plenty of stops for snacks (including the final few oranges), and were even treated to a gorgeous sunset just as we were dropping down into Madrid through its outer suburbs.
A warm welcome back home
Once we’d arrived back in Atocha we waved goodbye to our faithful little Audi and headed back into the station to head home for an early night. My evening was spent watching Netflix in bed with a big packet of crisps and a packet of Oreos, which probably wasn’t the best idea as the lack of decent nutrition and lack of sleep have left me with a bit of a cold today.
Never mind, I have all week to rid myself of that – so long as the staff Christmas meal on Thursday doesn’t get too out of hand! I had a lovely time up in the Basque Country with a great bunch of people, and I’ll be sure to visit another time (hopefully nearer summer so I can avoid any more umbrella dramas). The food is great, the people are lovely and the local language is pretty insane, so I’d definitely recommend anyone visit should the opportunity ever arise.
Anyway, and as ever, I’ll be back with more nonsense from the slowly freezing city all in due course, hopefully before I fly back to England on the 22nd (12 days left) to celebrate Christmas with my family. Until then I leave you with one of the key sing-along songs from the car journeys: Edelweiss – and don’t even bother asking why.
2nd December 2017
As I mentioned in my last post, I have somehow been caught up in a whirlwind of all kinds of activities over the past week or two, and so it’s only today under cloudy skies which I have found the time to update my blog with just a few other bits and bobs that have been going on between work and my trip up north.
First up we had a surprise visit to the studio by Thuy, who used to work with us and was a great help when I first interned at Erretres almost two years ago. After a good catch up in the studio, three of us headed for a cheeky gin and tonic at a local bar, where we had a good old chinwag and put the world to rights – not forgetting the obligatory reunion selfie, of course!
Thuy, me and Luis
This was a lovely surprise during my weekly 9 to 6 routine, which I have been spicing up a little now that I’m still buzzing with the excitement of having a new phone with a decent camera. Every day I make it a little personal challenge to find something new and pretty to take a photo of as I gallivant around the big city, and so I have recently begun posting daily Instagram stories to document what I encounter along the way.
A gorgeous sunset
The gates of hell
If you want to have a nosey at what I’m up to at any given moment, feel free to follow me on Instagram, my username is pretty simple: ohsb. With Snapchat’s shocking UI design and therefore UX, and a pretty terrible photo quality, I have abandoned it in favour of trusty old Instagram.
Most of what you’ll see is probably plenty of gilipolleces from work life (this being a crude way of saying ‘nonsense’), but every now and then a decent photo arises, like this one that my colleague Blanca snapped of me whilst I was idly working away on a project – a candid look at my life in the office.
I wonder what I was looking at
Outside of work life I am still managing to cram in plenty of other stuff, including a reunion in the centre with my old flatmate and friends to see the switch-on of the Christmas lights. Said event didn’t really go to plan, as we convened in the central square at 6:30pm to see the lights come on at 7pm – but when I ascended from the Metro I noticed that they were already on!
Madrid gets festive
Reunited in the centre
Not to be phased by missing the actual turning on of the lights, we decided to make the most of the evening anyway and set about a little tour of the city centre to see what could be seen. We met up with more friends, had Portuguese pasteis de nata (not dissimilar from the ones me and Ellie had in Lisbon), tried out some artisan violet flavoured chocolates, had a wander through the festive markets, eventually sitting down for a pint of Guinness below a glittering ceiling of twinkling lights.
Cool shadows and light pools
Wandering the markets
The crazy extra lights leading to the Puerta de Alcalá
Another evening we all got together to make a Jacob’s Joint of native foods from our respective countries (England, Austria, and the US). I made Coronation Chicken sandwiches, Loredana made a delicious salmon, cheese and spinach strudel, and Megan provided dessert in the form of a glorious apple crumble, complete with cream and ice cream. It was a lovely evening of wine, chatting and culinary bliss!
The savouries are served
Pretty soon after Megan and her flatmates, all from the US, celebrated Thanksgiving, and so we were all invited to experience our first Thanksgiving dinner and have a few drinks at her flat. I had a lovely time, with an excellent spread of food (I contributed some Cadburys and other British snacks), and then one of the biggest Ring of Fire games I have ever seen!
Exploring the east
A Thanksgiving feast
To round things off, I think I’ll leave you all with a decent photo gallery of some of the photos I have been snapping with my new phone. Don’t be fooled, it might look sunny but we’re actually all freezing to death here in the middle of the wasteland that is central Spain. Even when we were sat eating the delicious calamari rings and gouging on bread and jamón and chips with eggs on top, we were shivering a little at midday on the outdoor terrace.
Walking home of an evening
Looking up near work
A shock of orange
Delicious staff lunch
A view from the Metro stop
The daily commute past the palace
Walking to a temple
A very cold Templo de Debod
I hope you enjoyed the few little photos tagged on here at the end, and I shall be back next weekend with more updates of all the silly nonsense we’ve been getting up to. We’re planning a trip up to Bilbao and San Sebastián in the Basque Country in the north of Spain for later this week, so I shall be bringing some photos from there too no doubt!
Until then I have to go and eat some chocolate turrón, a traditional Spanish Christmastime treat, and open the second door of my IKEA advent calendar. On that note, actually, here’s a parting song, even though I have been told that it’s bad look to start any festivities until the 8th of December over here. I for one am willing to risk it!
27th November 2017
One of my favourite tech blogs, The Verge, has a series entitled “What’s in Your Bag?” in which they invite their employees to share what they carry with them on a daily basis. I’ve always been a keen reader of these articles, as I’m fascinated by what people actually treat as indispensable enough to carry with them at all times.
To this end I thought I’d share what I carry with me in my day-to-day life here in the busy city of Madrid. I may not be as huge on tech as some of the guys over at The Verge, but I think I carry my fair share of interesting bits and bobs. So what exactly does a designer carry around with him? Let’s dive in…
Herschel Pop Quiz Backpack
Just before moving out to Spain I bought a new one of these, but my last one lasted me the best part of four years. It holds my laptop or iPad perfectly, I like the design and its size is nicely compact for everyday use, but I’ve found I can cram a surprising amount into it when travelling.
iPad Pro 13” with Apple Pencil and Keyboard
Instead of my laptop I usually just throw my iPad in my bag, as my MacBook is quite heavy and its battery pretty dreadful, and the iPad does everything needed on a daily basis. At work I use it as a secondary monitor for my iMac (thanks to the great app Duet), and after work I can set up my keyboard in a café and do some writing, or use the Pencil to doodle as I speed along on the Metro.
Leuchtturm1917 Dotted A6 with Schneider Xtra 805
This handy little notebook is dotted which can work perfectly as a grid for designing on or as lines for longer form writing, and I its compact size makes it the perfect go-everywhere pad. In this pen I firmly believe that I have found the best pen in the world, as it sits somewhere between a gel pen and a standard ball point, making it smooth and perfect for both writing and sketching design ideas.
iPhone X and iPhone 6
Whilst some may have been drawn in by the big screen or gimmicky new features like the so-called animojis, I mainly upgraded to this phone for its camera, and so I now find that my trusty Canon 500D gets left at home. The iPhone X presents a sizeable upgrade over the iPhone 6, which although suffering a broken home button and a two hour battery life, still gets thrown in my when I need to use it as my Spanish mobile.
Bose QuietComfort 35 II
Another recent purchase, these replace a knackered pair of Beats, and are a treat I bought myself from duty free just before boarding my flight out to begin working here. After years of catching my headphone wire on door handles, it’s nice to pop them on and wander around the city without a care in the world. I find the sound quality excellent, helped in no small way by the noise cancelling which works incredibly well.
Arial by Sylvia Plath
A collection of poems rather than a novel, I find I always have time on the metro to read even just a short poem on my way to work. Plath’s work might not be the most jovial or uplifting, but I find each piece to be somehow beguilingly haunting and beautifully written. I’ve also noticed that as I’ve read each one so many times I am able to half recite them as I read, which gives me a sense of calm familiarity as I traverse this foreign city.
Solan de Cabras Water
Of course I’m not so wasteful (or for that matter rich) as to buy these with any kind of frequency, rather I just keep topping the thing up with tap water to keep me hydrated as I sizzle in the sun. At 60 cents a bottle it’s cheaper than a proper reusable one, and although I’ve been told I’ll catch some kind of desease by reusing it, I wash the thing on a regular basis and to my knowledge I haven’t died yet.
Keys and Cards
Wherever I go I like to keep a copy of both my personal cards and my new shiny (literally) ones from Erretres. These sit alongside my transport card, which at 20€ a month for unlimited travel within the entirety of Madrid is an absolute steal. My keys (one of which is a USB memory stick, look closely) sit on a metal ring which for some reason I decided should be huge, and so sourced from eBay some years ago. Don’t ask.
Apple Watch, Sunglasses and Ring
I can’t say I rate the Apple Watch, as these days I pretty much just use it to check the time and occasionally read a text message. The sunglasses are just an 8€ pair I bought from H&M in Lisbon after I forgot to bring any, and so here the ring is probably the only thing I actually value. It was custom made from the smelted wedding rings of my grandma and grandad, and then bashed into this custom design by our family jeweller.
And thus concludes a tour through my bag. I’m always interested to see what everyone else couldn’t live without, so if you have made your own little collection then get in touch! I shall be back to my regular schedule of updates from my day to day life pretty soon, somehow this week has become much more hectic than expected…
20th November 2017
After a weekend out of the city, a full day of work and then having to cook two meals once I rocked up at home, I have only just now managed to sit down at my laptop for the evening. Adult life is indeed hard, and the whole “you can eat sweets for dinner whenever you want” expression fails to mention that you have to actually buy the sweets yourself…
Anyway, I’m not here to rant, rather to share that this weekend I spent a lovely couple of days traversing Asturias with my friend Kevin, who I saw last time I was up in Oviedo (and other places for that matter) back in July. This involved heading straight from work at 3pm to the northern train station of Madrid, Chamartín – but not before a quick stop to pick up a thank-you gift in the form of a napolitana de chocolate (a chocolate filled pastry) from the famous Madrid bakery La Mallorquina.
Arriving pretty early to the train station (British style), I proceeded to immediately manage to get lost, getting my bearings just in the nick of time to board my train. It was pretty quiet, so before we’d even cleared the city centre I’d found myself a comfy double seat to kick back and enjoy the views. I’ve noticed that sunsets here in Spain seem to always feature a short-lived shock of pink and purple, which is a feast for the eyes as well as the camera – photo to come later in the post!
Four hours of sketching new website ideas later, I arrived in Oviedo train station and set about finding Kevin. A surprise hug nearly had his phone crashing to the ground (note to self: do not surprise people whilst they are texting), but we were soon wandering the streets of the gorgeous city, gossiping and laughing as if we’d last seen each other yesterday.
That Friday evening we ate pizza near Kevin’s house and decided to have an early night to make the most of Saturday, but the habit we acquired in Leeds of chatting away into the early hours is a habit that will indeed die hard, and so we wound up waking up more around midday on Saturday than in the actual morning. Oops!
Once we’d eventually showered and left the house, Kevin revealed that we were to catch a train to visit the coast. I was super excited as it’s been so long since I visited the beach, and we were soon whirring even further north. It was on this train that I actually got round to taking one of the first half-decent photos of the trip…
On the train to the mystery beach
The greenery of Asturias
We soon arrived at our stop, and getting off I still had no real idea where we were – and I couldn’t see any coast. A quick consultation on Google Maps directed us northwards, and I soon began to see what kind of place we’d rocked up at. It was a small town near the city of Avilés, a kind of coastal suburb with a mix of huge industry and pretty little seaside houses. We passed these, wandered across a car park full of surfers (getting changed no less, avert thine eyes!) and then headed over the sand dunes and on to the beach.
An abandoned building
More rusting trains
Spot the ship
We’d arrived at a stop called San Juan de Nieva, a kind of ugly industrial spot, and so I had not imagined that a walk down the beach would ever be this beautiful. In fact, I have never been on a beach with such a beautiful sunset and with so few people around. The lack of noise and movement meant that we could enjoy a super chill stroll along the sand, watching the sun set and the waves crash. I’m trying my best not to get way too poetic, but it really was the stuff of fairytales.
The sun sets over the beach
Some seaside typography
The troublesome twosome on the beach
As usual we were running late against the setting sun, but we agreed that time is never wasted when you spend it discussing nonsense for hours on end. We eventually reached a lovely little town called Salinas, where we went exploring further. The setting sun had me worried for the quality of the photos, buy the camera on my new phone has done a surprisingly good job of taking in all the light possible.
The aforementioned pink and purple sky
After following the road around, we found a little cove which looked cute but also a little bit like a death trap with the rising tide, and so we opted to walk through a tunnel cut through the cliff and see where it led to exactly. It eventually opened out to reveal an eerie sight; a factory, complete with dual chimneys, silhouetted against the darkening sky. I saw some ramshackle brick steps which had been placed on part of the sheer rock face, and being curious and careless as I am, I climbed up them in the darkness to see where they led.
Two minutes later I found myself perched atop a perilously thin ledge of jagged rock, with a sheer drop to the ground on one side and an ever steeper drop straight down into the rocky sea on the other. If I had any sense I’d have sped straight back to solid ground, but instead I stopped to take a few photos, returning when Kevin made like my mother and told me to come down at once.
The factory from the cliff
Once we’d walked back toward civilisation, and after some drama trying to figure out a confusing bus schedule, we boarded on a bus and headed not back to Oviedo but rather to Gijón, where we’d arranged to meet up with our friend Sara and some others for a few drinks – almost everyone who I’d met in Leeds!
Arriving in Gijón was lovely, with the familiar streets from last time I visited looking equally as lovely in the dark. Me and Kevin went for another one of our aimless wanders, only stopping our chatting to snap the odd photo and take in the odd view. We had time to kill before Sara was free to meet up, and so grabbed some of the cheapest tapas and drinks ever (did somebody say 1€ for a cup of vermouth?).
The docks of Gijón by night
As we were binging on calamari, chips with alioli and huge croquettes, Sara arrived, and we had a round of reunion hugs and kisses (Spanish style) before grabbing a drink and heading to another bar. On the way out we ran into some more of Kevin’s friends from the Erasmus programme, and we all went to a local rock bar to have a few more drinks and attempt to take a half-decent selfie…
The three reunited!
At about 1am, and with me and Kevin being the old men that we really are, we had to bow out and rush to the bus station to catch one of the night buses back to Oviedo, but not before running into loads of other people and many rounds of goodbyes. I promised I’d be back again soon for a proper night out with everyone, and so I’m now looking into returning as soon as possible!
A foggy morning from the flat
Looking up in Oviedo
Anyway, the next day was Sunday and that sadly heralded my last short day in the north, as at 4pm I had to jump on a train back down to Madrid. We made the most of our time however, heading out for a lovely breakfast and then meeting up with Kevin’s friend who I had also met in Leeds. The three of us began a rather taxing stroll up a hill beside the city, but it was all worth it when the views over the city came into focus.
Looking over Oviedo
Time was soon pushing on however, so we had to descend from the dizzying heights of said hill and head back towards the city for my train. Kevin had one last treat in store for me though, as we were heading to get a huge cachopo and wash it down with the local cider. A cachopo is a local dish which is every meat-eaters fantasy: two layers of beef stuffed with Spanish ham and cheese sauce, before being breaded and deep fried and served over an equally huge portion of chips.
The menu description of “cachopo gigante” was no lie: the thing was huge, and there were only three of us! No fear, we decided, for we would struggle on until we had eaten every crumb. As I said this was enjoyed with the local cider, a very dry and non-carbonated natural variant which has to be poured from a height to aerate the drink and make it easier on the stomach. Not having the space or the quantity of cleaning staff needed to allow such messy cider-pouring, the restaurant provided us with this nifty little machine which aerates the cider for you. Talk about only in Asturias!
The cider machine
The cachopo was indeed huge
To all our surprise, between us we actually finished the whole cachopo (not the chips though, we’re only human after all), and we even opted to have some dessert and a shot of the local cream liquor to wash it all down. Soon I was getting pushed for time though, and so we had to pay up and leave for the train station, where I managed to find my train after a bit of confused wandering.
Walking above the train station
Saying goodbye is always horrible, but it felt somewhat easier this time now that I live in the same country as Kevin and the rest of the guys I met in Leeds. As I promised everyone in Gijón, and as I foresaw the first time I visited Oviedo back in July, I will definitely be back very very soon!
As I say, I am now back in Madrid, and work is continuing with the usual laughs and interesting projects to get my teeth stuck into. I am beginning to practice my Spanish vocabulary at home when I can, and I have become a walking English Dictionary in the office – it’s proving to be a good challenge!
Stay tuned for my next update, where I’ve to collate some other bits of news which I’ve been too busy to post about, including a new phone and even more design studio shenanigans…
9th November 2017
So today is a national holiday here in Madrid, and that meant that I managed to oversleep and miss a trip to the very north of the community of Madrid to go for a hike. Oops! But that at least means I have an hour to sit and update you all on the latest bit of gallivanting around the big city – this time with Amber!
As mentioned before, Amber booked flights and a hostel to spend almost a week here, and so on Thursday evening I left work and went to go and pick her up from the airport. It was lovely to see her again, but as we were both tired and pressed for time that evening, we shared a jug of sangria and headed off for a relatively early night.
On Friday though, and after a morning of exploring the west of the city including the Egyptian Temple, she came along to the office to say hello to everyone once again (last year she visited with Jess whilst I was an intern). Once more we had a spread of snacks or aperitivos laid out, and I finally got round to fulfilling Mario’s request for a round of coronation chicken sandwiches – they went down an absolute storm!
As we finish early on Friday at work, from there we headed down to the lake for a relaxed ice cream. During a wander around the lake we wound up taking a different path than usual, and stumbled upon an old viaduct, before heading deep into the city centre once more for some relaxed drinks in Malasaña and then Lavapiés. We covered a lot of ground and drank a lot of the local cocktail, tinto de verano!
A viaduct in Casa de Campo
Us two in a bar in Lavapiés
Sunglasses are even needed at night in Madrid
On Saturday morning, and after a decent lie in, we met up down in the south of the city at the cultural centre called Matadero. We had a good look through a photography exhibition, sat down for some pintchos, pastries and coffee for breakfast, then explored an outdoor exhibition of design from around Spain and Latin America.
The architecture of the Matadero
Amber getting into brand design
After this we crossed the river and had a snoop around the new Madrid Río 2 shopping centre, before heading back up northwards to continue or snack fest and check out views down Gran Vía, the main artery which runs through the centre of the city.
Crossing the river
Looking down Gran Vía
Once we got a little tired, we both headed our separate ways and had a proper Spanish siesta before reuniting in the city centre and heading down to the cute little are of La Latina, where we traversed a well known street which is buzzing with little bars and restaurants. There we began our evening drinking gin and tonics, eating an array of toasted bread with delicious toppings, and eventually taking the Metro up north to Chueca to continue our night on the town.
The contrasting colours of my local Metro stop
A car sits abandoned at night
Up in the district of Chueca we visited more bars and eventually wound up in a club, meeting some friends along the way and dancing to all the latest reggaetón and Spanish hits. Here’s an example of some reggaetón if you fancy a taste!
Needless to say that the next day we didn’t rush out of bed, eventually meeting up just to leisurely wander around the city and eat and graze as usual. As the day wore on, we decided to pay an impromptu visit to the top of the Círculo de Bellas Artes, a building from which you can enjoy great pretty much 360° views over the city. The last time I went was over a year ago when my dad visited Madrid, but we decided to have a coffee and watch the sun as it began to set over the skyline.
Bruschetta style toasts in La Latina
A view over the city’s east
The sun begins to set
Monday came around too fast and it was our last proper evening together, so after work we met up and went once again to chill out in the city. We had traditional Madrid food at an old-school bar in the centre, where I chowed down on a delicious plate of huevos rotos – which seems to be becoming my favourite right now.
After this we went once again to have a few glasses of tinto de verano, but I couldn’t stay out late as I’d to work on Tuesday morning. On Tuesday though we managed to meet up during my lunch break, and headed to have some food in a shopping centre near the office. From there we said our goodbyes, as that evening Amber was heading to the airport to catch her flight back home before I left work.
¡Que buena pinta!
A light in a bar in Malasaña
It was a pleasure having Bam around in the city with me, and I can only hope she enjoyed being here as much as I enjoyed just lazying around every evening eating and drinking the hours away. Usually I’d be a bit down once a friend leaves the city, but next weekend I’m off to see Kevin and visit the beautiful city of Oviedo once again. I’ll also be back in England for a week over Christmas, which will be lovely.
I just have to end this post with a quote from my grandma, who always reminds us when we’re a little down after something lovely finishes: “it’ll soon be Christmas, and we’ll have some nuts!”