Unlike last Christmas, when I’d to rush through everything during a quick visit back to the UK from Spain, I had the chance to take things easier this year as the festivities began!
Things kicked off with a visit back over the county line to Yorkshire (see the end of my last blog post for my soliloquy on the county). Heading back to Leeds, this time I had to haul with me my DMX lighting desk as I headed to Izzy’s studio Atypical. I’d brought the controller along as they had a plan to utilise some DMX-enabled studio lighting to film some videos for a client, and so I was drafted in to help with the lighting side.
Drawing on my experience using lighting in strange ways, we soon wrapped the shoot up for the day and I bid Izzy farewell – but this wasn’t to be for too long, as a couple of days later we were reunited once more, but this time in Manchester!
One Saturday we, along with Rhea, Luisa and Declan, had arranged to meet up in Manchester for a quick snoop around the Christmas markets and a proper catch up coffee in the Northern Quarter. Braving the cold, we spent a good while enjoying a coffee and then a cheeky glühwein tipple on the market, before reverting back to our days as design students and winding up ordering chips in a pub. I guess some things never change…
Once I’d caught the X43 bus back to Burnley (and enjoyed fond memories of my high school and college days doing the same), I spent a few days relaxing and attending the odd festive party. With Ellie’s return back from Sheffield for Christmas, the two of us have been making the most of our surroundings and going on the odd wander when she can allow herself a couple of hours away from revision.
Sooner or later, however, I found myself being invited back over to Leeds in order to have a pre-Christmas send-off meal at home with Em and Lincoln. After a lovely pasta dish and an evening chatting away in their cosy house in Horsforth, I made good use of being in Leeds to scoot around a few of my favourite spots and pick up a few last-minute presents.
Once back in Burnley, it was finally time to begin settling down, as Christmas was just a few days away! My mum had been feeling under the weather for a spell, and as Christmas day approached she only seemed to be getting worse, so we all prepared ourselves for a relaxed day.
Being the strong (and very prepared) woman that she is, though, my mum wasn’t for giving in to illness! We had a lovely morning unwrapping our presents, and after we’d all had a little mid-afternoon nap to sleep off our delicious cauliflower soup lunch, she beat the odds and pulled off yet another delicious Christmas dinner with all the trimmings…
Once stuffed with stuffing, we all collapsed into the settee for an evening together playing Heads Up and other festive novelties. After a relatively early night, Boxing Day had come around, and three of us set out for a walk through the wintery chill.
I guess that the Christmas period is now winding to a close, but whilst there’s pines on our tree and leftover Christmas food in the fridge, I’m determined to carry on enjoying the relaxed atmosphere. I’ve also got an end-of-year special post coming soon which will look over a crazy fun year full of frivolities, so keep an eye out for that!
Right now I find myself sat in my room as I push ahead with the coding for my new site, a design which I hope to have launched in the coming weeks, so watch out for that too! For now, however, I’m going to head downstairs and gorge on some of those leftovers — well, we don’t want any soggy breadsticks, do we?
As I begin the venture of coding my new site – see my overview of the design in my last blog post – I’ve been needing more than ever to get out of the house and escape the endless lines of CSS. Thankfully my parents had a week off together, and so we made a couple of trips over into Yorkshire.
The first trip we made was to Hebden Bridge, a picturesque little town which pretty much neighbours Burnley. We spent a good long afternoon dipping in and out of little shops and exploring the Sunday market, and I picked up some delicious focaccia and olives to make a nice meal later in the day.
For a bite to eat we wandered into a lovely little café called Humblest of Pleasures, and enjoyed a lovely mid-afternoon tea consisting of coffee and a lovely stack of chocolate and fresh fruit pancakes. All of this, it turned out, was vegan, and I thought of the bliss meal that me and Ellie had enjoyed in Sheffield just a week or so earlier.
Apart from my haul of Italian food, I spent the rest of the little money I’d brought along treating myself to various books from charity shops. This comes after I made a promise to myself that I would not buy any more physical books until I had fully read the quite vast library that I’ve accumulated at home, but with some popular titles such as “Gone Girl” on offer for less than a quid, I really couldn’t help myself!
That said, I am getting into reading quite a lot, so I’m now toying with the idea of writing the occasional blog post with a little overview of what I’ve been reading. I’d say it’d be an occasional short book review, but that phrase for me brings up bad memories of being forced to write book reviews in primary school, so we shan’t call it that. Drop me a message on Facebook if you know of any good reads, or you have strong feelings about whether I should do my little book blog posts or not…
A few days later, we found ourselves driving back over the county line and into Yorkshire once again, but this time we went so far as to venture into North Yorkshire. We’d headed over to pay a visit to my grandad’s grave, lay a wreath, and visit the little village where he grew up: Rillington.
It must have been a few years now since I last visited Rillington, as my memories are quite fragmented. I remembered how we’d visit my great aunt, my Grandad’s sister, and how we’d eat Parkin and drink strong tea and throw bits of paper in her open fire whilst she wasn’t looking. I remembered very clearly her house, the beautiful garden with a coal shed and a pine tree littering the lawn with cones, and the big field stretching out behind the garden. I remember being fascinated by the lightbulbs she used for the ceiling lights (“big lights” to us northerners), wondering where she sourced such strange coloured bulbs (warm cream and off-pink) in such strange shapes. I now realise that said bulbs must have been in that house since time immemorial – I doubt they make LED versions of them!
Sadly my great aunt passed away a few years ago, and since then I’ve been so busy country hopping that it must have been an equal amount of time since I had last visited. As you can see from the photos above, it is a gorgeous little place, and we had a lovely time strolling the streets in the cool breeze. We wandered down the street that I recognised so vividly from my childhood, but naturally we couldn’t snoop around her old house now that it’s home to somebody else, so I made do with a quick wander into the field behind.
After a look around the local church where my Grandad’s funeral had taken place before I was born, we made back to the car and drove the short distance to Malton, the nearest big town.
Here we began snooping around the place before the sun went down, wandering the pretty streets where I admired the hand-painted signage and insisted that my dad take a photo of me on a film camera emulator on my phone as I’d stupidly forgot to bring my actual film camera along with me.
We ascended through the centre up through some shambles and wound up in a cattle market as it was closing shop for the day. We got chatting to a couple of guys who were loading sheep into a van for transportation, and they told us how that particular flock had ben sold and was being sent off to the slaughterhouse. It was quite a sobering moment.
After this, we descended back to the pastel-coloured centre of Malton and paid a visit to a lovely little tea rooms that my parents had visited on a previous visit. Whilst they tucked into a Christmas dinner, I enjoyed a big bowl of delicious creamy vegetable soup and a side of fresh-cut ham sandwiches. The ham was thick and salty, and reminded me of my childhood having lunch at my other grandparents’ house near Bradford – it was quite lovely.
After a cheeky dessert of Christmas cake in brandy sauce (also delicious), we retreated back to the car as the cold weather began worsening, and headed back over the county line into Lancashire. I may have been born and raised here in Lancashire, but with my entire family hailing from across the border and Burnley sitting perilously close to it, I feel a strong affinity with Yorkshire which will always keep me keen to return – even if just for the occasional day trip!
I recently looked back on a blog entry from two years ago, a post which discussed the process of creating what was to be the new-look design for my website, by now rather familiar as the design you are currently looking at. Although novel at the time, I did recognise that it wouldn’t be a design which stuck around forever, as I did end this post with: “here’s to the next two and a half years!”
I may have been somewhat optimistic in making said statement, as I’m here today just two years later discussing the impending launch of a new design. If you take a moment to re-read, you’ll see that I outlined how I had learned a lot since the previous design had been launched, and I have to repeat myself heren as I say that the same is true once again.
I might lose some of you here in the boredom of wittering on about design, and so if you do find yourself dozing off, scroll down a little further in order to pore over some rough previews of what the new site will look like. If you’ve decided to stay with me, let’s have a quick look over the past two iterations of my website’s design.
The first I like to call “the green design” because quite literally everything was green. Titles were green, links were green, and even the preview images for projects had been run through a green filter. The layout was also very square and rigid, making the whole design great for ensuring optimum text legibility and cementing my personal brand, but not much else. The single-column structure didn’t allow for any kind of dynamic layout, and the green smothered the unique look of each individual project.
The second and current iteration, then, was a much-needed improvement over the first, and I call it the “grey design” due to – you guessed it – an overuse of grey. The green was relegated to the ‘Home’ and ‘About’ pages of the site, and there were opportunities to have wider and even full-width images peppered in amongst the text.
With time, however, I begun to realise that the new design had been merely a lick of paint instead of the more thorough re-thinking that the site really needed. I had tinkered with typefaces, image widths, and colours, but I hadn’t really made any significant layout or functionality changes. I was still using the same basic ideas which date back to ancient sketches I made way back in 2012, which you can see as you compare the old design files below.
So what’s next for my site?
This time I have started from the ground up, trying my best to not default to doing things as I have done them in the past, but rather fully examining whether they should be changed. It just so happens that the structure, the first step in developing how the site will work, did not end up getting modified all that much. The familiar three menu items have been joined by a new one, even though it is not actually a new page – just one that has always existed but has had to be accessed from elsewhere. All four options will now be quickly accessible from the redesigned menu bar:
The main structural change comes in the breaking down of the content of the ‘Work’ and ‘Blog’ areas of the site. An attempt has already been made at doing this on my current blog, with an easily-missable link to the travel section barely visible in a column to the right of the content. This puny content-sorting menu will be replaced by a much more visible one in the new design, with the two areas now to be broken down as such:
The minimal and bold style is one I’ve always tried to maintain, and the new design should advance it even further. Gone are the shadows and shades of grey, they’ve given way to a simple black and white colour scheme which should let the content shine through. Of course my trademark green hasn’t been lost, but I’ve changed it to a full neon green – I thought that if I’m going to do green, I might as well go all in! Don’t fear for your retinas just yet, though, as it will be reserved as an accent colour for smaller elements and highlights.
If you’re reading this then I’ll go and assume that you’re most concerned about what will become of my blog, as it will be undergoing some major design changes. Let’s cut straight to the chase and see what’s going to happen:
Images will now take up even more space, with captions hidden away unless they’re particularly useful.
A more varied layout
It’ll be possible to place these larger images in different layouts and at different widths, so I’ll be able to tailor the look of each post as I go.
To break up monotonous text, or as an overview for those of who you prefer to look at the photos and skim read, interesting quotes will now be blown up much larger.
A subtle detail, but each post will now have a pastel background colour derived from the colours of the images it contains.
Usage data shows that lots of you read my blog on your phone, so the new mobile version has been especially considered. Full width images, clearer text, and a more spacious layout should make for much easier reading on the go.
You’ll notice that I haven’t posted any full screenshots, and that’s because I’m still fussing over final details and the text hasn’t been written yet. I’ll soon have the completed designs soon, but I think I’ll wait for it to be coded and launched live for you all to check it out in full!
If you’d like to be a beta tester, though, please do get in touch! I’ll need some people to check out the code once I start the development. Cheers!
It’s been a while since I updated my blog, I know, but I’m back and as confused as ever. Said confusion is due to the fact that I’ve now to try and recount two trips to Manchester from two weeks ago and not mix the details of the two up. I probably will either way, so I’ll keep everything short and sweet as damage control, and also because I’ve to get this post out quickly in order to start on the backlog of updates I’ve not posted yet…
In between toiling away on my new website (it’s nearly finished I promise) and my portfolio, I’ve also had the pleasure of heading out to spend time with my parents in a few places in and around Burnley. About a fortnight ago we found ourselves in Manchester once again (after I covered our market trip in my last post), this time for a spot of shopping and to check out the city’s creative district, the Northern Quarter.
As I’d enjoyed visiting the crafts shop Fred Aldous so much during my time as a design student in Leeds, I dragged my mum into their original shop in Manchester. There we decided to have a go in their traditional photo booth in a moment of madness, and had a good laugh when the machine spat out the results, still covered in the photographic chemicals.
After stopping for coffee and a bite to eat in a lovely coffee shop along the way, we headed back home, but before three days had gone by I found myself Manchester-bound once more! This time I hitched a lift over with Abi and Danni, as the three of us were due a long-awaited catch up over some bratwurst and glühwein on the markets. That we did with great gusto, all before stumbling upon a little photo booth van amongst the market stalls. With it being free, we decided that we had to give it a twirl, and the props provided led to a hilarious quartet of photos!
That evening the three of us headed back to Danni’s for a few cheeky drinks, which soon got suitably out of hand – but one has to have a proper drunken catch-up every now and then, no?
Anyway, after taking the Sunday off to recover from this, on the Monday morning I found myself once again on the move, only this time back over the border into Yorkshire. I’d arranged to spend a couple of nights at my sister’s student house over in Sheffield, and she’d kindly offered to show me around her city as she’d a couple of days to spare in between her busy uni schedule.
To say that me and Ellie crammed a lot in during my visit would be an understatement, as it felt like we were constantly on the move, eating and drinking our way around the place non-stop!
Explorations began the moment I arrived, as she gave me a quick tour of the city by night, including the gorgeous Winter Gardens and the festive street markets. It was here that we stopped for a Christmas tipple, before I decided I’d brave trying out poutine, a Canadian dish which is basically chips and gravy with the addition of cheese curds.
Being a northerner, I am naturally a huge fan of the humble chips and gravy, but it was the cheese curds that had me on high alert. Anyone who knows me will know that I am picky about cheese at the best of times, and the word ‘curd’ cannot be said to be all that appetising. I was, then, quite delighted as I discovered that the Quebec folk have come up with a winner here, as I did indeed enjoy the glorified chips and gravy.
After this we wandered back to Ellie’s house to drop off our stuff, and then headed pretty much straight back out in order to let our hair down with a few cheeky pints and some spontaneous bingo and karaoke in some bars along the way. After a chance encounter with a takeaway guy who used to serve Ellie her preferred end-of-night dish (cheesy garlic bread) in one of the clubs, we decided it might be time to head homebound, and so I slept my Guinness off in preparation for an early morning.
Ellie had plenty planned for my first foray into Sheffield by daylight, staring with a biology museum that she’d been wittering on about since my arrival. Ellie’s a biology student you see, and, as you may have gauged, I wasn’t really expecting to enjoy said museum as much as I thought that she thought that I would. I won’t judge if you have to re-read that sentence to make sense of it.
Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised at the kooky little converted laboratory that Ellie whisked me off to in the University of Sheffield Biology Building! The relatively small museum was packed to the rafters with curious specimens and artefacts, and I followed intrigued as she led me through the different complexities of life form. We spent quite a while in there before heading to our next stop: the lift in the Arts Tower.
I know what you’re probably thinking: what’s so interesting about a lift (an elevator, for international readers) anyway? Well, this lift is unlike most others, as it’s a non-stop step-on/step-off system! They’re called paternosters, and I found the whole affair rather interesting, so you should go and read more about the thing or check out a video of how it works below – the shoddy photos I took just can’t do the thing any justice!
After surviving a trip in the thing, we hopped (literally had to) off back on ground level and took a stroll upwards through the campus. Ellie had decided we’d have a pizza lunch at Proove, a wood-fired pizza place near her house, as she’d had the place recommended to her time and time again but had never caught a chance to visit. We grabbed the £7.20 lunch menu, and it did not disappoint! It was once of the nicest pizzas I think I’ve ever had, and we followed it up with a delicious dessert consisting of the stretch pizza dough filled with banana, pistachio and Nutella – bliss!
After lunch, Ellie had to nip in for a short lecture, so I plonked myself down in the University Union’s little café and worked on my new website for a while. When she returned, we nipped back to her house once again to drop off our bags, and then started up a rather steep incline to visit one of her favourite spots, Bole Hill.
After a while putting the world to rights up atop the breezy hill, the cold soon got the better of us and we descended back into the centre of Sheffield. For tea that night I was whisked along to a place called Church in the Kelham Island area of the city, as Ellie had been told that they offered a mean vegetarian donner kebab.
At first the menu had the two of us rather confused, as there wasn’t a vegetarian symbol in sight, and most of the menu seemed to be taken up by chicken wings and pulled pork and the like. When we asked the bar staff, however, we were surprised to learn that everything on the menu was in fact vegan, and so we chose four of their dishes to share at, wondering how on earth they were going to serve us vegan BBQ ribs – I was rather dubious!
Any doubts were cast astray when the food arrived and we got stuck in, however, as everything was absolutely delicious! Helping ourselves to pulled pork and cheese fries, a plate piled high with ribs, a quinoa salad and a donner kebab, I proclaimed that it was nothing short of witchcraft that the whole affair had been totally vegan. After a cheeky margarita at a Mexican bar nearby, we grabbed a taxi home, making a mental note to pay Kelham Island a visit again in the future.
The next day began rather slowly, as we headed into the city once more in order to grab some breakfast. Ellie had once again found a lovely little independent coffee shop famed for its delicious banana bread, which was served toasted with a little bit of butter, and was absolutely delicious and undoubtedly one of the best breakfasts I’ve had in quite some time. I don’t recall its name, but I’ll ask Ellie to let me know and edit it into this post once I find out. It was at Tamper Coffee!
All too soon it was time for me to head back to the station to catch my train back to Lancashire, but Ellie will be back home for Christmas soon, so it wasn’t such a huge goodbye as I’d become accustomed to whilst living abroad! Since this visit to Sheffield, I’ve been up to even more, but I’m afraid that I’ll have to leave that until another blog post. I’ll leave you, then, with the mental image of me waving Ellie out of Sheffield train station with a mouth full of Tesco’s festive turkey and stuffing sandwich – nothing says a British Christmas more than that!
As I sit in my room here in England, surrounded by an array of candles that I lit in order to try and heat up my now-forever-cold hands, it doesn’t feel like three whole weeks have passed since I left Madrid. It’s true that my dad’s visit may have eased the transition somewhat, but I’m still in the process of re-adjusting to the realities of living back in the great British countryside, for better and for worse.
The first week back provided the opportunity to indulge in a few things I’d been wanting to do upon my arrival, including a lunch at one of the tastiest British food spots I’ve ever eaten at – luckily situated in a tiny unsuspecting looking hut just a short car journey from our house. My mum also took me into the centre of Burnley, which I hadn’t admittedly missed all that much, but it was interesting to see how it had all changed with renovations during my time in Spain. The ending of said works meant I could finally take a half-decent photo of the hand-painted sign which I find so pretty amongst the otherwise rather dull architecture of the centre.
After a long time away in big cities like Madrid and Leeds, I noticed that I really appreciated some of the things that I had previously taken for granted. I have spent various amounts of time over the past few weeks just watching the sky’s colours change as the sun goes down, and I particularly enjoyed a trek around the local reservoir with my mum – as cold as it may have been!
After allowing myself a few days of relaxation, I’ve been back on the preparations for my next professional steps, starting with an overhaul of the design of my website. I know I say that I’m doing it a lot and that it usually never comes to fruition, but now I am bound by the need to get myself back into employment, and surprisingly things are moving along quite quickly.
I’ll share details of where I am in the process in a separate blog post, but for now I’ll just moan that the hours spent idle behind my laptop and my mum’s refusal to put on the heating and cater to me being accustomed to a warmer climate all mean that I have been getting quite (see: very) cold. Perhaps counter-intuitively, I found that getting up and moving – albeit in the cold winter air of the countryside surrounding my house – gets my blood flowing and makes me feel somewhat warmer, and so that’s what I’ve been doing when I’ve not been fretting over pixel-fitting and other web design nonsense.
One evening, after my mum had woken up from her post-night-shift sleep, we spontaneously decided to head to Manchester to make our rounds of the huge Christmas markets that take over the centre once a year. My mum, dad, and I spent a good few hours snacking our way around the stalls, enjoying highlights such as delicious garlic mushrooms, gammon sandwiches and my personal favourite: a cherry and chocolate brownie.
Last week I also had the excitement of a couple of days spent in Leeds, heading for a meeting with a company whose name I shan’t disclose, and – of course – spending plenty of time catching up with uni friends. I stayed over with Em and Lincoln, who were so gracious as to let me crash at their lovely new house for a couple of nights, and managed to have a kebab evening with Rhea and Luisa, a coffee with Danni, and half a day having lunch and a work party with Izzy in her new studio space.
On Thursday morning I had the misfortune of having to use the British public transport system to meet my mum and her friend Sue in Manchester for a trip to the Trafford Centre. After being rinsed of over £26 just to have one of the trains terminate a station before expected, I eventually made it to the big shopping centre, where we spent a full day looking at watches and enjoying a delicious Five Guys lunch.
Since then, I’ve poured many more hours into getting my new website and portfolio together, and I will, as mentioned, update you on all that in an upcoming blog post. Right now I am watching the orange sun set outside my window, and enjoying the comfy embrace of the “fancy” chair that I stole earlier from our downstairs office.
I must dash now, however, as I’ve to get dressed and perfumed and ready to go out for a lovely Italian dinner for a catch up with Amber and Jess. Who knows, we might even go out for a few drinks and a boogie afterwards…
I sit here in chilly Burnley writing this post exactly a week after me and my dad landed in Manchester Airport, marking the end of over a year of me working and living in Madrid. As I mentioned in my previous post, he came over to visit for the last four days of my time in the city, and naturally we got up to all sorts of mischief…
As my dad had arrived during the celebrations of El Día de todos Los Santos, or All Saints’ Day, we had to head to buy a few sweet treats that are eaten accross Spain during the festivities. Heading to La Mallorquina, an age-old bakery bang in the centre of the city, we grabbed some buñuelos (similar to profiteroles) and huesos de santo (literally “saint’s bones”, marzipan stuffed with sugar and egg yolk).
After we’d tried these sweet delicacies, we began our ascent towards the north of the city to eat in one of my favourite lunch spots: Casa Dani. This restaurant is famous for its tortilla (Spanish omelette) and menú del día (set lunch menu), and serves some of the best authentic Spanish food in the city, situated although it is across a few stalls in a hidden market.
We were lucky to have arrived just before swathes of locals descended on the place, and so managed to grab a lovely spot where we were treated to a three-course meal including oreja a la plancha (fried pig’s ear) and lentejas (lentils with chorizo). Once stuffed to the brim, we left the market and headed for our next spot: Chamberí station.
I wrote about this abandoned Metro station a while back, but I knew that my dad would appreciate snooping around the old tunnels, and that he did! He also grabbed a photo of me stood by one of the old advertising billboards down at the platform, as I noticed that it combined two of my true loves: old typography and lightbulbs.
After this we headed back to the centre for a beer, and then descended through Lavapiés as the sun set, stopping for some bao along the way. Once we’d stuffed ourselves and reached the southern end of Lavapiés, we headed back to Madrid for a tipple in a secret sherry bar which has stood pretty much untouched for years and years!
The next morning, Saturday morning, signalled the moment I had to move my suitcase and belongings out of the apartment in which I’d been living and into the hotel to spend my last two nights with my dad there. With two pairs of hands to help out I was soon unpacked in the hotel, and we returned to the city centre for the next day of frivolities.
Our afternoon began with a trip to Bodega de la Ardosa, a classic must-do when in Madrid. The bodega is a dusty old bar which is always packed out, but the secret that the locals know is that if you clamber under the bar itself, you will reemerge in a hidden room around the back where you can be served the best tortilla in the centre of the city!
After sampling the tortilla there, we wandered through Malasaña, stopping at a couple of street markets along the way. Working up more hunger, we eventually grabbed a table at Ojalá, which my parents had enjoyed during their last visit, and ordered lunch.
Lunch was as lovely as ever there, but I particularly enjoyed a fancy coffee that I treated myself to, which came full of cream, dulce de leche and a shot of Bailey’s. Don’t mind if I do!
We then wandered idly round Malasaña and the rest of the city for a while longer, before catching a bus down to Retiro where the plan was to hire a couple of bikes and cycle around the picturesque park. With time passing us by as it did, however, and with the bike hire shop busily attending to other customers, I deemed it too late in the day to bother as we’d a table booked for our meal later.
The place I’d booked for us to eat at was at the other side of the park though, and so we walked through it regardless, stopping on a terrace overlooking the lake for a pre-dinner coffee.
The surprise place where we’d be having tea (what we in the north of England call dinner, if you’re getting confused) was an Asturian restaruant, as I wanted to introduce my dad to a bit of Asturian culture as best as I could without taking him up there – and I could think of no better way than through the region’s amazing cuisine!
The restaraunt did not disappoint, and we gorged our way through four delicious courses, all washed down with the natural cider which is typical of the region – well, what else were we going to drink? My dad even had a go at pouring it out from a height as is done to aerate the bitter cider. I sent all this to Kevin, my friend with whom I’ve spent many a tipsy weekend in the region, and he was very much approving.
After heading to bed with bellies full of delicious cachopo, fabada and chorizo a la sidra, I had a Sunday planned which would take us out of the city and into the mountains for a slightly different day of exploration. We headed up to El Escorial, one of my favourite spots for a day trip away from the hustle and bustle of the centre.
Up in the little town we were first treated to yet another slap-up meal as we nipped into a little bar that I have been visiting since the first time I paid El Escorial a visit last year. The place is run by three generations of the same family, so there’s always great conversation and even better food to be had!
We then skirted the outside of the huge monastry that dominates the skyline, snooping through the gardens until my bladder commanded that we head back into the town to find a bar for a coffee and a much needed toilet break!
After a quick stop in café, we headed into the bowels of the monastry to explore the basilica which sits at its heart. My dad was stunned by its interior, which is much darker and more gothic than the typical church interior. Unfortunately photography isn’t permitted inside, so you’ll have to make do with this selfie that we took in which you can see more of us than the building’s façade, rendering said photo rather useless.
Having worn ourselves out on the slopes of El Escrorial, we eventually headed back to the train station and returned to Madrid, where we alighted in Lavapiés to spend what would be my last evening there. To mark the occasion I’d arranged to meet up with one of my best friends that I’d made whilst there, Napo, and the three of us went out for some beers and a delicious pizza meal together. Me and Napo then waved each other off for the time being, and me and my dad had one last cheeky drink in Lavapiés before turning in for the night.
The next day was Monday morning, and although we’d to leave the hotel room and stow our luggage away for the day, I was determined that we’d make the most of our last 12 hours in Spain – especially as we weren’t due to fly until 9pm anyway!
The day’s main activity was to be the bike ride that we’d not managed to squeeze in a couple of days prior, and so our first stop was the bike hire place to pick up a bike for my dad. As I did when my sister and her boyfriend visited a while back, I grabbed myself one of the city bikes (well, I might as well use the credit I had left on my BiciMad card) and we headed into Retiro park to explore its expansive sights on two wheels.
After returning the bikes and wandering back through the park, we had lunch at another spot which I shall miss rather dearly – the delicious burger chain Goiko Grill. There I introduced my dad to their monstrous and delicious burgers, and we stuffed ourselves to ensure that there’d be no chance of us getting hungry at the airport later.
Burgers eaten and a couple of beers drank, it was time for one last stop before heading back to the hotel to pick up our stuff – it was churro time. One cannot visit Madrid without enjoying a plate of the crispy treats dipped in creamy chocolate, and I certianly wasn’t going to leave without having one last fix!
All too soon came the moment in which we’d to head to the airport, and so after picking up the luggage and an irritating delay to our departure time, we soon found ourselves landing in Manchester just after midnight. My mum had kindly driven there to pick us up, and so we made our way back to the comfort of our house in the countryside, making just one quick stop for a cheeky McDonalds’ drive-thru on the way.
As I said at the start of this rather long post, I have indeed been back in old Blighty for a week now, but I shall have to reserve all updates on what I’ve been up to since my return for my next update. Right now it’s getting quite late, and I’ve some knitting to attend to!
I’ve flown a thousand miles and aged 50 years along the way…
Once my days in Madrid had suddenly become numbered, I realised I had been there for over a year and a half and still hadn’t made a trip that most tourists manage to make in the few days that they’re there: a day out to Toledo. Before heading off, though, I had a few days to fill before my dad made his visit, so I spent a few days making a coffee shop tour of the city in order to start work on my new website.
More on aforementioned website antics later, for I was soon down in the south of the city and ready to board the coach to Toledo – a trip which was included in my 20€ monthly travel pass! The Madrid City Council have very much got it right with their approach to public transport. A pretty dull journey followed, with the sky looking worryingly menacing throughout, but the rain held off as I disembarked in the old capital.
For those unfamiliar with the history of these two cities, Toledo was the de facto capital of the area until 1561, when King Carlos II unified the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, and Aragon to create the beginnings of what we’d now call Spain, and moved the capital to Madrid. Toledo went into a pretty steep economic decline after this, which was actually a blessing in disguise, as the city’s old monuments have been frozen in time and now make Toledo the spot to visit.
A lovely addition to the city has to be the set of public escalators installed to take visitors up the side of the hill on which Toledo sits and into the limits of the walled city. I made good and proper use of these, not wanting to exhaust myself before time, and began wandering the ancient streets to see what I might find.
Similarly to my Valencia trip, I hadn’t really done any research or made any plans before heading off to Toledo, and so the plan was to pass through the city to see what I uncovered along the way. I admit that in a city so densely packed with treasures as Toledo this may not have been the cleverest idea, especially as the weather was threatening to dampen my day, but onwards I soldiered, taking in the sights and stopping for a snack along the way.
You’ll notice that I’m neglecting to point out what anything is or explain any of the architecture that I saw along the way, and that’s because I generally avoided the swathes of tourists and hence didn’t get a chance to find out what anything was myself – so you’re just about as clued up as I am! I really wasn’t really in the mood for an intense day, so hopefully you can just enjoy the beauty of the place without knowing too many details just as I did.
With the historical centre of the city being quite small, I’d hit the far end of it all earlier than I expected. The weather had cleared up quite nicely though, and the sun was making an appearance, so I meandered quite leisurely back through the centre and back towards the bus station.
After I’d been disappointed that a bar I wanted to eat at was closed, I decided it was as good a time as any to return towards Madrid, and so bought myself a snack for the hour-long journey back and descended the escalators once more.
Although I did have a lovely day wandering the streets of Spain’s old capital, I think I’ll have to come back for another visit in the future and explore the city in a much more organised fashion. It’s definitely a treasure trove of Spanish history and a must-do for anyone with the opportunity to visit, but for the relaxed day of bar-hopping and lounging around that I’d envisioned, it was just a little too touristic to fit the bill.
This week I’m back to the usual format of journal-style blog posts, bringing updates from my previous week or so here in Madrid. If you read over my last blog post, you’ll know that this past week unfortunately marks one of my last here living in Madrid, and it’s been my last working in the Erretres office. More on that soon, for now I’ll go over what else has been going on in the meantime…
First up I had the pleasure of being able to spend a few days chilling out with Thuy, who was on a fleeting visit to Madrid in between changing jobs. Luckily her visit coincided with a national holiday, so we spent a Friday working at her flat, before then heading out in the evening for some delicious food in the city.
After a delicious dinner of Japanese food, we spontaneously decided to climb up to the roof terrace of the Hotel Óscar in Chueca. There we grabbed just one drink, mainly because they were wildly expensive, but also because we were getting sleepy rather early in our old age…
The next day the two of us met up once again with Thuy’s friend, heading first for a Korean lunch and then to the Archeological Museum for an afternoon of culture. Once again, however, we eventually grew weary, and all headed our separate ways in order for an early night, which I spent watching Netflix surrounded by candles.
The day after was then spent with another troublesome duo, Cami and her puppy Luke, who had a few hours to spend in Madrid as they traversed Spain from Murcia up to Asturias – a bit like I did a while back!
I met Cami and Luke down in Atocha train station, and we headed straight to a spot that I’d chosen for lunch. There we filled ourselves up on satay chicken and Vietnamese bao, before heading out for churros and chocolate to fill up our secondary dessert stomachs. Luke was very well behaved throughout, and so we headed over to Retiro, Madrid’s big park, to stretch his legs whilst we saw the sights.
All too soon we had to head back to Atocha, where I waved Cami and Luke off as they headed northwards in their carshare. I then headed back to pick up my stuff from Thuy’s flat, but she had to dash for the evening to meet friends, and I had things to think about as I went home and prepared to let Erretres know of my decision to leave.
Once my decision to head back to England was finalised, I let HR know and then began to wonder how best to announce it to the rest of the team. It wasn’t going to be easy, as I will miss them all a lot, and so I thought the blow would be best softened in the only way I knew how – with cake. In a little gesture to apply a bit of Spain to my British Victoria Sponge recipe, I decided to flavour the cake with chocolate and hazelnuts, imitating Spain’s answer to Nutella: Nocilla.
Having loaded the centre of the cake up with the chocolate spread goodness, the following morning I gathered the team and announced my leaving, and was met with an outpouring of love. Keeping my cool, we shared the cake to positive reviews, and then I sat down for what was otherwise a relatively normal Friday.
The weekend after, I went out to visit an exhibition at Caixa Forum that I have been wanting to check out for quite a while. The “Arte de contar historias” (The Art of Telling Stories) exhibition was a look over Disney’s history of retelling and creating stories through his movies.
Unfortunately, photography in the exhibition was not allowed, but I spent over a few hours exploring all the artefacts and reading up on all the stories that were on display. It was a really fabulous experience, and if you’re in Madrid you should definitely give it a visit! Given that it was quite a pleasant day, I decided to walk my way home from the exhibition, wandering down through Lavapiés and exploring a few streets I’ve never seen before.
The day after marked my last day in the flat I was living in, as I’d found a friend to replace me and booked an Airbnb for the last two weeks of my stay in Madrid. Packing my sole suitcase and dragging it once more through Madrid’s transport system, I eventually settled down in my new room, and before I knew it, it was Monday morning and the beginning of my last week at work.
This week was spent working away ready to publish a new project on the Erretres website, which I think will be live soon come next week, but for now I’ll have to keep an eye on the website and let you know when it goes live on there!
As my last day approached, I had a plan to bring in some British snacks – just like the last time when I left after my internship! For this I had to head to the east of the city, and to the Spanish incarnation of Poundland which I was introduced to soon after I first arrived here back in early 2016.
All too soon my last day came along, and I headed in with my bag full of snacks and a bowl full of coronation chicken for a little send off party in the office. I arrived to an office full of leftover pizza from a company event the day before, and thus commenced a relaxing final day full of grazing on unhealthy food!
After working away all morning, it was soon time for our monthly company meeting in which five people present projects they’ve been working on, both in and out of work. This time it was my turn, and I was nervous as it was my first time standing up and presenting wholly in Spanish. I can’t talk about the project that I presented as it was a wholly confidential, but I think I managed to explain it quite well, as afterwards I was met with a round of applause.
Upon wrapping up my presentation, the food was rolled out, and I spent a good hour in the office chatting away to everyone and saying my goodbyes – that until I realised that we’d not touched the coronation chicken I’d made, and so we agreed I’d simply have to come back on Monday to share it with everyone. My final goodbyes have yet to be made, then, and so I didn’t feel too bad as I wandered out of the office.
Next week I’ve got lots of stuff coming up, including many goodbye lunches and then the arrival of my dad on Thursday, and so unless I grab a minute during my hectic week, I expect that the next time I write to you all will be from the cold countryside of the north of England.
I could leave this until Monday, but I think it’s fitting to mention it now, and that’s just that I’d like to thank the whole team at Erretres for the amazing times we’ve had over the past two years or so. From arriving the first time without speaking much Spanish at all, to crazy Christmas Dinners with the team and plenty of exciting projects along the way, it’s been an honour to have the opportunity to work with some of the funniest and talented people I’ve ever met, and an awesome chance to live in Spain and enjoy all that it has to offer.
I shan’t turn this into a boring wedding-style speech, so I’ll cut it there and shan’t start getting soppy or listing names – everyone knows who they are. Until I return, wish me every bit of luck, as the main thing stressing me out right now is the idea of having to fit my life into a suitcase and not get stung by Ryanair if I go over the 20kg limit…
Today I come with some unexpected news to share, meaning this post will be a little more visually dull than the usual programme of photo-filled updates, but bear with me as I shan’t beat around the bush too much, so here we go…
After weeks of will-I, won’t-I, I have eventually taken the decision to hand in my notice at Erretres and move back to England from my beloved Madrid. Naturally it’s not a decision that I took lightly, and there were many factors to consider, but in the end I feel like now is the right time for a change, and I’m pretty confident that it’ll all be for the best.
That said, I know that I’m leaving on good terms here in Madrid, and I have an inkling and a hope that this isn’t the last time that I’ll be working here in some capacity. It’s pretty clear for all to see that I love Madrid and life here in Spain as a whole, so you can all bet that either way I won’t be gone for too long – be it flying visits, extended holidays or even returning to live and work here once again!
As I begin to sort through my belongings in preparation for my return to the UK, I still don’t have a fixed job offer lined up, but I’m currently exploring a few options and offers with every confidence that I’ll soon be back to reveal what my next step is going to be – be sure to keep checking back here for the latest.
Anyway, before my flight in early November, I do have a few things lined up which I’m looking forward to, including a few free days to check out places I’ve always been meaning to visit. After that I’ve got my dad over for five days in the city, and then I’ll be using him as a personal assistant with my suitcase as we both board the same flight back to the UK!
As much as I will surely begin to miss not being in the centre of Spain and not being able to do all the wild weekend trips that I’ve beencramminginrecently, I am very much looking forward to spending some relaxing time with my friends and family back in the UK. I’d also like to thank said friends and family for their support as I’ve been considering and freaking out about this, the latest in the ongoing saga of pretty wild life decisions…
Naturally I’ll be back with the usual programme of updates over the coming weeks, but right now I’m sure you’ll appreciate that I’m going to be running around like a headless chicken for the time being! Until everything returns to something resembling tranquility, I shall see you later…
As mentioned in my last post in which I took you all around the Spanish city of Valencia, I was writing maniacally from the plane to Norway in an attempt to try and get my blog up to date, but was eventually let down by the in-flight internet connection. No fear this time however, for right now I am sat in the lovely company and flat of my friend Thuy, and in good range of her lovely stable WiFi.
Anyway, after Heidi sadly left me (as well as the other members of Cake Club) back in summer, I promised that I’d make a trip to Norway to visit her and her mum at some point. A few months back I got round to booking just such a trip, and last Friday I was up at 5am in order to grab an early flight up north!
Upon arrival I was greeted by Heidi’s mum, Sharon, who had kindly offered to pick me up from the airport as Heidi was tied up working the first week of her new job. The two of immediately got up to some mischief, heading out for lunch and then a wander through the supermarkets in order to pick up some extra food for my visit. Once we’d arrived at their gorgeous home in the little town of Kløfta (which is pronounced something like klurrf-t’), I unpacked what little I had brought, and was then popped on a train headed into the city of Oslo itself.
Before waving me off on the train, Heidi’s mum had set me up with a rough guide for a walk I should take through Oslo city centre, and so as I disembarked in the Sentralstasjon (central train station), I followed her instructions on where I was to go. The route took me down the length of Karl Johans gate, the main street through the city, and to a few sights along the way.
The first stop took me to the area surrounding the city’s cathedral, where I had a wander but decided not to stop too long, as I was beginning to realise that it was actually quite a lot colder than I’d expected! I’d rocked up to Norway with nothing more than some boots, jeans, a shirt and a big thick hoodie – but it was evident that this wasn’t going to be enough.
Undeterred, however, I carried on down Karl Johans gate and came across the second point of interest, the Stortinget, Norway’s Parliament. In front of this building the street opened out into a lovely little plaza, and I headed off to buy myself a bite to eat before sitting down for a while. It was in buying this snack that I realised how expensive Norway is – 38 kroner (about £3.50/4€) just for a croissant! To top it all off, it was a very mediocre croissant, and I’d later discover that that price wasn’t actually too bad for Norway – crazy!
Once I’d summoned enough energy to carry on, I headed past Oslo’s town hall and to the waterfront. It was here that the cool wind really began its assault, and so I was doubly ecstatic to receive a message from Heidi to tell me that she was headed out of her office and that she’d meet me nearby! I was headed back the way I came when I spotted her heading my way, and we were reunited once again in the freezing breeze coming in from the fjord.
The first thing on our agenda was to go and buy me a nice big coat such that I might survive the next four days in Norway, and so we headed back into the city centre in search of something. I soon found myself a bright yellow monstrosity, and once I’d found a size that fit, I decided that it was a reasonable price for Norway and bought the thing without thinking too hard about it. I have it now in Madrid and it’s very, very warm!
After wandering around a bit more and catching up, we began our walk to Grünerløkka, a hip area of the city, where I’d been promised that there’d be a good pizza. Along the way we came across the fibreglass version of me, which entertained Heidi no end…
The restaurant we’d come to was already packed out by the time we arrived, but they said we could pull up a couple of stools and eat at the downstairs bar, so we opted to do just that. We were rather glad we did, as the pizzas we had were absolutely delicious, and we had a lovely time catching up over a glass of wine and a big plate of mozzarella-coated goodness.
After we’d finished, we grabbed the tram back to the centre and then a train back to Kløfta, where Heidi’s mum had been so kind as to allow me to stay for the few nights I was in Norway. We cracked open a round of beers, gathered on the sofa, and chatted about my first day of my first visit to Norway.
The next morning I awoke to the most delicious of smells, as Heidi and her mum were already in the kitchen preparing breakfast. After showering and getting dressed, I joined them in the kitchen and was served a delicious plate of toasts with omelette, smoked salmon and smoked trout. I also discovered that I like capers, having never tried them until Heidi’s mum popped them in the omelette!
Once we’d eaten, me and Heidi headed back on the train into Oslo, as she had a plan to show me all the sights before she had to head back to work on Monday. Our first stop was Oslo Opera House, an impressive modern structure made from granite and glass which sticks out of the water with quite the silhouette.
As it turns out, the roof is set on a gentle slope so that you can climb up and on to the very top of the building! We headed up in earnest, taking the selfie from halfway up before I tried to get all creative with the reflections of the surrounding architecture…
As you can see, at the topmost point of the building I managed to make a friend in the form of a seagull that was called Dave. Dave was very friendly and didn’t mind getting up close and personal – even if most of said friendliness was probably inspired by the bag of fresh chocolate croissants that Heidi was carrying – and he reminded me how quite terrifyingly big seagulls actually are…
Once we’d shuffled along to let other visitors take a few pictures from the top, we sat on a ledge out of Dave’s eyeshot and overlooking the harbour, and then proceeded to eat our croissants. Returning eventually to ground level, we headed inside to have a look at the interior architecture and enjoy a moment of respite from the cold.
After this we headed for a wander along the water’s edge, passing through an art installation and along the harbour’s edge as we headed for a spot where we were to catch a bus to another part of the city. Heidi had a plan to take me for lunch at a little restaurant on a tiny island in the fjord, so off we headed on the bus to where a little shuttle boat would set off from to us to said spot.
Things started to go to pot quite soon after we had alighted the bus, with the first drama being that Heidi noticed that she had lost her hat, a hat which she clearly loved rather quite dearly. Not letting that dampen our spirits, however, we carried on down to the dock to await the arrival of the little boat which would take us over to our lunch spot.
After fifteen minutes of waiting for said boat with not a human soul in sight, Heidi gave the restaurant a ring to see what was going on, and we were dealt with the second blow of the afternoon: the place had closed for the winter. As the two of us aren’t really the kind of people who let silly little things like a ruined plan get to us, we decided to make the most of the lovely location we were in and took some photos.
Once we’d headed back to the bus things started to pick back up, as Heidi found her hat by the side of the road exactly where we’d gotten off the bus, and we managed to grab some chips and cider upon our arrival back in the centre of Oslo. Not wanting to face another night of spending Norwegian prices on a dinner out, we headed back to Kløfta once more, where we tucked into a deliciously rich spaghetti bolognese which Sharon had made and was awaiting our arrival. After a glass of wine and another evening gossip session, we once again headed for a relatively early night – I warned you back in my Valencia post that I’m becoming an old man now!
On Sunday morning I was treated to yet another delicious breakfast, and then we jumped in Sharon’s car which she had lent us for the day. Heidi would be driving, and I wasn’t exactly filled with confidence as I entered the car to the view below, but I had to eat my words later on as she navigated the roads and tight parking spaces with effortless grace.
It turns out that our destination was Holmenkollbakken, a ski jump in the hills above Oslo which offered some amazing views over the city and its surroundings. Having climbed as high up the jump as we could, we took a selfie and enquired about how much it was to have a go on the zipline (740 kroner, or about £70/78€, so a definite no) before heading down the dizzyingly steep steps and back to ground level.
After this we headed a little further down the hill and to a place where we could get even better views out over the city and the fjord in which it sits, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Heidi was more interested in getting a photo in the ski throne – look at the joy on her little face!
Having worked up an appetite with all of our traipsing up and down the hill, we began our ascent towards the car and the traditional restaurant which lay just beyond it. Heidi spotted that I was beginning to blend in with the autumnal flora along the way, and so a photo session was called for…
Once in the restaurant I opted for smørbrød, basically an open-faced sandwich, on which was piled lettuce, egg, vegetables and a generous helping of delicious fresh prawns. Heidi grabbed a dish called rømmegrøt, a traditional Norwegian dish of a kind of porridge made with sour cream, intent that I should try it at some point during my visit. Not being the biggest fan of sour cream I didn’t really take much of a liking to it, but I enjoyed my sandwich, and then my share of the huge slice of apple pie that we treated ourselves to for dessert!
After a motorway journey involving a rowdy rendition of the Grease Megamix, we returned back to Oslo and to Frognerparken, a park most famous for its series of sculptures by Gustav Vigeland. Heidi was insistent that I’d enjoy the sculptures and appreciate the art, but I was too preoccupied smirking at the nude subjects and admiring the trees to pay all too much attention. Heidi did try to be all cultured and stuff, so here’s a photo of her right now:
I did enjoy wandering around the park, but sooner or later I wound up getting quite cold, and so we walked back into the city’s streets for a coffee to heat back up.
After we’d warmed ourselves back up, we headed back to the car and then back to Kløfta for yet another dinner whipped up by Heidi’s mum. This was to be a roast with a bit of a twist, as Sharon had included a few vegetables I’d never heard of including sellerirot, which is apparent called celeriac or celery root in English. The main twist had to be the meat though, as instead of the standard fare of chicken or beef we were to have reindeer!
The meat and the whole dinner were absolutely delicious, and we cracked open a bottle of wine during and after for another cozy evening chatting away into the early hours. After turning in for the night, I was in no rush to move the next morning as Heidi had already headed off to work, but I eventually headed for a wander around Kløfta to take some photos before heading into Oslo.
In Oslo I took things pretty slowly, snacking and drinking and calling my mum for a catchup, all whilst waiting for Heidi to leave work. Just before she did, I headed up to the Royal Palace, taking some photos of the palace as the sun set. Whilst taking one, I got chatting to a Norwegian guy who was also taking some photos of the palace, and he ended up showing me a photo he’d snapped of the back of my head. After more chatting away, I added him on Instagram and he has since sent me said photo – which I’ve included below!
This awesome photo was taken by Frank Otto Pedersen, and you should go check out his work here! Anyway, when Heidi left work we met up with her friend for my last evening in Oslo, but after a delicious Japanese meal and a quick drink we had to head back to Kløfta quite early.
The next morning marked my last day in Norway, and so after thanking Sharon for her amazing hospitality over the last few days, I boarded the train into Oslo for the last time. On the way I stopped of in a town just outside the city called Lillestrøm, which Heidi had said offered stunning views down a fjord. After hanging my legs over the bank of the river and taking in the views for a while, I headed to a supermarket to buy some breakfast to take back for the guys at Erretres, and then finished my journey back into Oslo.
In Oslo I headed to the north of the city to check out an area I hadn’t been through, and then settled back down for a sandwich lunch before meeting Heidi momentarily to say a quick goodbye over a coffee. After what had to be a 20 minute goodbye – I’d got my boarding time mixed up somewhere along the line – we hugged each other off and I boarded the speedy train out to the airport.
After an hour delay, I boarded my flight and wound up back in Madrid just after midnight, followed what felt like a catnap before I hauled my breakfast of cinnamon rolls and brown cheese (yes, that exists) to the office on Wednesday morning. They went down very well, and since then it’s been pretty much back to the daily grind of design and heading out for tapas – I can’t complain!
All that’s left to say is that Oslo is a gorgeous city and Norway a beautiful country, and I can’t think Sharon and Heidi enough for all their hospitality in taxiing me around, putting me up, showing me around, and generally tolerating me during a wonderful five days in Norway. I’d definitely recommend that you visit if you get the opportunity, just be more prepared than I did and take a decent coat with you!