04.06.22 — Journal

Here Comes the Sun

In stark contrast to the jovial atmosphere in Oslo, I arrived back in Madrid to discover casualties at home – four of my plants had died. I soon discovered the cause: a heatwave that has passed through Madrid while I was gallivanting around in the cool Norwegian air.

The sun was still out in force upon my arrival, and so I soon had some new seeds planted in no time. This lovely selection of flowers and coriander has already started to sprout: all’s well that ends well!

Flexing my green fingers isn’t all that I’ve been up to since arriving back, however, with a couple of non-stop weeks before I head off on my next trip – but more on that later!

My first moment of excitement came as Kevin arrived from the US as he begins a well deserved six week holiday back home in Spain. We were reunited when he passed by the office after I’d finished work, and spent an evening of laughs together here in Madrid before he headed off home to the north the next day. 

Another evening that week took me out to the theatre, where I’d booked tickets with Javier and Bogar to go and see Kinky Boots. We met up for a quick drink in the afternoon heat before heading to a theatre in the city centre to watch the musical.

We walked the red carpet in our not-so-kinky boots.

I really enjoyed the show, after which I found myself walking back home with an extra touch of sass. Those 10,000 steps have to get done, and a late night after the theatre is the perfect time to do so with the daytime heat now becoming somewhat oppressive as we move into June.

The new park between Plaza de España and the palace is lovely.

It may be warm with the sun’s arrival, but I’m fully aware that it’ll only get warmer as the summer wares on, and so I’m taking every opportunity I have to see the city in full bloom and change into my summer wardrobe. My summer collection this year now includes a lovely new yellow shirt that Bogar and Javier gifted me for my birthday – hence the vanity selfie below.

A vanity selfie in which I’ve just realised that my shirt matches the wall.

I took this photo on a walk around my local neighbourhood, where I’m lucky enough to have the river and the park that follows it just ten minutes walk away. Many an evening have been spent down there, catching up with friends in person or on the phone.

I thought these were oranges at first, but alas, they were just some orange flowers.

This week just gone has been a bit more relaxing, with time spent at home cooking, cleaning, and preparing my flat ready for summer. That doesn’t mean I’ve stayed still, however, as one evening I headed to ESNE, Madrid’s design university. There I attended the presentation of a book looking at the economic value of design within the Community of Madrid, stopping around after to chat to some other friends and colleagues with some wine.

Hey, don’t be fooled by the photo, all of the glasses weren’t ours!

The return of summer in Madrid brings with it the return of terraceo (hanging out on terraces) and tapeo (having tapas), and you can bet I’ve been doing just that in between times. It’s some compensation for the heat, which I know will soon start to becoming annoying – but until then, I leave this post here!

28.05.22 — Travel

Syttende Mai

Before we begin, I’d just like to warn that my little run of short blog posts officially comes to and end with this post – buckle in, it’s a long one! It’s all worth it, though, as I’ve just come back from seven days of fun and mayhem over in Norway!

As the last time I visited Heidi back in her home city was well over three years ago back in late 2018, it was high time that I went back to visit. I was supposed to nip over back in summer of last year, but a double bout of COVID put a swift end to those plans. Now that travel restrictions are all but lifted, I’m trying to make up for a couple of years of lacklustre travel plans!

This trip actually arose when Heidi messaged me out of the blue to ask what I was doing on the 17th of May and to make a proposal that I simply couldn’t refuse. She told me that the 17th of May (Syttende Mai in Norwegian, hence the title) is Norway’s national holiday, and said I should come over to join her and Axel in the festivities!

I didn’t need to be asked twice, and so within a week I’d booked flights, and last weekend I found myself on an early train up to Madrid airport and on a plane which ended with a beautiful sweep over the centre of Oslo. Heidi was graciously waiting for me at the airport to take me back to the beautiful flat that the two of them have bought together, where Axel was waiting for us with a cool fresh beer.

Heidi then had to head out, as she’d been roped into participating in a relay race at work. While she struggled through her uphill section, Axel and I met up with some of his friends for a drink and so that I could have something to eat – I hadn’t grabbed anything since having breakfast at the airport in the early morning!

After a good laugh with Axel’s friends, we made a quick stop to a pic-n-mix shop as my sweet tooth was making a spontaneous appearance. From there, we jumped on some of those electric scooters – something which would become an integral part of the trip – and headed to meet Heidi in a bar for a post-run beer.

The bar was called “angst”, Norwegian for “anxiety”. I felt attacked.

We then headed back to their place, where we begun preparations for the evening’s celebrations: it was Eurovision time! Heidi’s friend Charlotte came over for the big event, and Axel whipped up some delicious pizza (with pineapple, come at us). I had a great time watching all of the acts: I was gunning for Spain to win (and not just because I live here, Chanel did a great job), but I wound up casting a vote for Romania – the whole thing was just too cute!

Heidi and Axel’s flat is gorgeous, especially as the sun sets.

In the end, Ukraine won with a lovely outpouring of public support, and we all headed off to bed ready for the next day of adventures – and there were many of them!

Our first trip took us out of the city and up to the mountains, as I’d commented that it’d be lovely to see a bit of the Norwegian wilderness. Axel duly drove the three of us up to a forest where we began our walk, which took us uphill for the first leg of the journey – much to my despair.

As you can see, the walk was absolutely gorgeous, with winding paths between dense forests of fir trees. Although I bemoaned the uphill nature of the first leg of our journey, we were soon at our destination: a reservoir surrounded by rolling hills. I grabbed a drink from a little hut – a drink which turned out to be pretty gross, but you’ve to make do – and we sat by the waterside for a while whilst I took some photos.

The whole place felt like the setting of an indie coming-of-age film.

We then began our return journey back to where we’d left the car, which was a pleasant downhill experience following the river as it meandered down towards the city. We stopped off along the way at a gorgeous secluded clearing by the water which Axel knew had a picnic bench installed. There, we had the leftover pizza for lunch and talked a while about things that were on our minds.

Reaching the car, we then headed back to their place to get freshened up and head to where we’d booked a table for our evening meal. The special little spot is one that we’d tried to go to last time I visited Oslo, but which to our dismay was closed. I was excited to visit, as it’d been described to me as a waterside restaurant on a little island in the middle of the fjord that forms Oslo’s waterside – quite dreamy!

A bus took us down to the waterside, where we’d to wait for a little boat to come and sail us across to the island. The short trip took us to a gorgeous and quiet spot, from which we could look back over the city our out towards the open water. The few of us that were on the island were joined by a little family of ducks, who I managed to catch as they headed out into the calm waters of the fjord.

Our table had gorgeous views over the water and the weather was just perfect – it felt like we’d escaped from the world. The meal began with our starters – I’d ordered the seafood soup following their recommendation, and it was absolutely divine.

I had great surroundings, great company, and great food.

As I was still somewhat hungry and I’d been so blown away by how tasty the seafood soup had been, I ordered a salmon burger for my main – well, when in Rome…

I then excused myself to nip to the toilet, situated in a little red hut just outside the restaurant’s garden, but this quick trip soon turned into a little adventure. Upon leaving, I noticed that I was able to walk onto a little jut of land that stuck out into the water, and I couldn’t help myself but head out and see what I could see.

This small cape had quite the range of surprises in store: views back over Oslo city centre, hidden benches for watching over the water, interesting rock formations and textures, and even a view out to a house perched on a rock which was completely isolated in the middle of the fjord.

I could have sat on this bench all evening to watch the sunset.

A while later, I decided that I’d probably been gone for too long, and so hurried back to the table. I was duly informed that my burger had come and gone – Heidi had asked them to keep it warm for me whilst I faffed around taking photos.

Said burger, much like the soup before it, was delicious; it consisted of a whole piece of salmon in between the bread, accompanied by some of the best potatoes I’ve ever eaten. This reminds me of a debate that came up when I was in Sweden last year between some Swedes and Norwegians over which country has the best potatoes. I’m sorry, Sweden, but I think I’m going to have to give this one to the Norwegians!

With our meal over, and the setting sun allowing a cold breeze to set in, the three of us headed back down to the docks. There, the boat picked us up and we made the short journey back to the mainland, where we decided to grab a scooter back into the city centre.

Look at those happy little faces, ready to take on the cold Oslo air.

Our original plan had been to scoot down to the bus stop, but the lovely scenes that we passed along the way led us to keep on going all the way back home. This lovely evening trip took us past the royal family’s farm, through the city’s docks, and past the iconic opera house that I was so enchanted by last time I visited. All of this was accompanied by a full moon which shone strangely large in the evening sky.

The atmosphere as the sun set over the water was sublime.

Arriving back at Heidi and Axel’s place, we had a relaxed evening in as the two of them had to work the next day. I was in no rush thanks to a Madrid bank holiday, and so watched the sun set as I listened to some music and looked over the hundreds of photos that I’d taken that day – although it might not seem like it, what you see in this post is my best attempt at cutting them down to just a few!

I awoke the next day to an empty house, as Heidi and Axel had already headed off to work. I spent the morning throwing myself some breakfast together and mooching around on my laptop, before deciding to head off down into the city centre to do a bit more exploring around the city streets.

As I arrived down by the waterside, Heidi messaged me to ask where I was and to ask if I wanted to come and visit her office as she was leaving early. With nothing much to do and nowhere else to be, I headed over to the huge building and she met me there to take me up to meet some of her colleagues.

Heidi’s office was a huge and quite beautiful place with an inner courtyard.

As you can see above, we then headed up to the rooftop terrace, which offered some pretty cool views over the city centre and the city government building (the big redbrick structure). Heading back down to ground level, Heidi checked out of work and the two of us headed off to meet Axel, who’d also left work.

We found some funky coloured greenhouses in the street.

Reunited, the three of us grabbed a bite to eat at a place that Axel knew in the city. Wraps in hand, we then headed off to a park which contained the botanical gardens.

Once there, we were swiftly told by a security guy that we couldn’t have a picnic on the specific spot of grass that we’d chosen. It was probably to our benefit in the end, it gave us the chance to explore some other parts of the park and make our way to the designated picnic area, a huge grassy hill bathed in the evening sun.

Spots in the park included this gem, a load of tulips hidden in a little courtyard.

After enjoying our evening meal with views over the city, we grabbed some scooters and headed back to Heidi and Axel’s place. There, we set about preparations for the next day – there was plenty to do! The plans for the Syttende Mai celebrations involved hosting a big breakfast with Heidi and Axel’s friends, after which I’d been told that anything could happen…

With the basic foundations laid for the following day’s brunch, Heidi and I headed out for a wander round – she wanted to grab some wildflowers and I wanted to get my step count up to my 10,000 daily goal. We thus had a wander round her lovely local neighbourhood, stopping to wrestle a few white blossoms off a tree that had an abundance of them.

I enjoy nothing more than an evening wander to get me rested before bed.

When we awoke, the big day had finally come – the 17th of May was here! Heidi had been up bright and early to begin the final assembly of some of the dishes and the setting of the table, but found the time to present me with a cute little ribbon so that I wouldn’t feel left out of the traditional dress!

Everyone then began to arrive around 10am, and so we cracked open some drinks and the buffet was officially open. We sat down to eat, drink, and get to know each other, until we were all roused from our seats to take part in a series of challenges. This involved splitting into two teams, with each of us taking part in increasingly bizarre and hilarious tasks in order to earn points.

I wound up having to sing and dance (well, the dancing was an optional extra that I added) with some noise-cancelling headphones on. The idea was that my team should guess which song I was singing/acting out, and I think we did quite a good job!

The morning then turned into afternoon, and we continued the party with more music, drinks, and snacks. Eventually, it was time to head out of the house and down into Oslo proper to see what was going on. Heidi, Axel, and I grabbed the bus down, where the spirit was rousing and almost everyone was in traditional dress: men in a dapper suit, and women in their bunad, a beautiful traditional folk dress.

I should probably point out here that Axel is not in traditional Norwegian dress, but rather a traditional suit from Seville. I’m not sure what the reasoning was, but he certainly looked the part in his Spanish suit that he’d grabbed when visiting once!

We ended up walking around the city centre for a bit – both so that I could soak up some of the atmosphere and because we’d taken the wrong tram in our excitement. A quick metro journey rectified this, and we eventually found our way to the wine bar where some of the others were waiting for us.

We all eventually wound up stealing the excellent hat from Axel’s outfit.

We then had an absolute blast at the wine bar. I met even more of Heidi and Axel’s friends, and wound up being roped into trying an orange wine. I’m still not exactly sure what it was made of or why it was orange, but it tasted good and wasn’t too expensive (well, for Norwegian standards), so I was happy.

How fabulous does Heidi look in her bunad?

With the afternoon wearing on into the evening, we eventually bade everyone farewell and left the wine bar to search for something to eat before heading home. This took us down to the docks, where we managed to snag a table at a lovely Italian restaurant. There, we ordered some delicious pizza and spent a good while chatting away.

Fully fed and watered, the three of us then headed back to their place to spend the rest of the evening cleaning up and munching on some of the leftovers from the morning’s shenanigans. This journey back of course meant that we’d to take the scooters – they were the cheapest and funnest way of getting around!

I just had to include the above video, it makes me laugh so much. I love how Heidi’s bunad and Axel’s excellent hat make for quite the interesting silhouette as they exit back out into the daylight.

After the cleanup operation in the flat, I was shocked to learn that I still hadn’t reached my 10,000 step goal, given all the walking and dancing and general celebrating that we’d been doing. To amend this, I headed out for a quick walk around their neighbourhood, discovering some interesting sights along the way.

The next day was a Wednesday, and I’d to work from then until the Friday, so the trip then turned into a more relaxing affair. I have to say that the views from my makeshift desk over the city below were quite the treat, so those three working days flew by.

At lunchtime on Thursday, Heidi and I headed out for a trip to the supermarket and for a walk around an area of greenery near the house. This was our little farewell chat, as she’d to head off for the airport in the afternoon, where she was to catch a flight with her mum to spend the weekend in London. Her mum had nipped over earlier in the week to see me, and kindly left me with a lovely little present in the form of some smoked salmon!

When I’d clocked off work that evening, Axel took me down to eat a delicious prawn sandwich in a lovely little spot that we’d tried twice before to eat at only to be told that we couldn’t for various reasons – third time lucky! It was a lovely evening meal, even if the Norwegian prices were starting to sting a little bit!

Once back home, I once again saw that I’d some steps left to do, and so walked all the way down from Axel and Heidi’s place and down to the waterfront in the city centre. There, I wandered around the area by the opera house that I’d loved so much last time I visited.

The striking architecture and how it interacts with the water is always a treat to behold.

After a chat on the phone with Ellie for a good while, I then grabbed a scooter and headed back up to the flat, where I spent my last night with Axel. Much like Heidi, he’d also to dash off for a trip, in his case to Mallorca with work. Quite the life we were all having!

That same evening, the sky put on a spectacular show of colours as the sun set, and so Axel and I enjoyed a beer on their balcony until the cold got a little bit too much. I then said my goodbye to Axel as he headed off to bed, as the next day I was to wake up alone in their flat.

The next was then spent working alone at their dinner table, but thankfully I leave the (virtual, in this case) office early on Fridays. Once I’d closed my laptop, I headed down into the city for one last look around and to grab Heidi and Axel a little something for being such graceful hosts.

Oslo is pretty and vibrant yet refreshingly peaceful.

With the gift bought and set up in the flat for their return, I then set my sights on grabbing something to eat before my evening plans of a relaxing bath and evening of music. Heidi recommended that I visit a pizzeria nearby, and so I headed down and enjoyed a delicious burrata-topped pizza before heading back home.

I had an excellent night in by myself, with a nice hot bath surrounded by candles followed by an evening on the sofa editing the very photos you see in this blog whilst I listened to some music. It was pure bliss, and a lovely zen way to finish off a rather busy week!

The whole of Saturday was then spent travelling: I’d to lock up Heidi and Axel’s place, grab a bus down to the city, grab a train out to the airport, a plane over to Madrid, and then another train to my local neighbourhood. I still found the time to go out for a drink with a friend that evening though – it was a near miracle!

I can only end this post by saying a huge thank you to Heidi and Axel, who opened their doors to me so that I could spend not only the 17th of May partying with them, but also the rest of my working week in their gorgeous home. I can only hope to be back again soon, and hope that they’ll come and visit me here in sunny Spain just as soon as they can.

Ha en fin syttende mai!

15.05.22 — Journal

Madrid Kinda Stinks

Here’s another short post to bring me up to speed with all of the increasingly frantic goings on in my life, and for this one we’re back in Madrid after a long birthday weekend up in Asturias. I started my return off with a bit of a downer, as I was sick for a few days (it wasn’t COVID again, thankfully) and thus housebound.

Once I was back out, the weather had started to turn, and I managed to catch the second of the two days that form Madrid’s spring – the weather here seems to go from cold to boiling in a matter of days every single year! This heat brings with it the shall we say interesting smells of a hot and dry populous city, hence the title of this post…

I’m always surprised by the new places I find just next to my house.

I wouldn’t want to throw my adopted city under the bus like that though, so I’ve to admit that I’m being an exagerado, as they’d say here – someone who exaggerates everything. In reality, the lovely weather brings with it the chance to spend my evenings with friends and walking around some of my favourite areas of the city.

With these photos, I briefly summarise a week spent seeing friends, munching on some proper British scones in a new café one of them showed me, heading out for unlimited BBQ meats at a restaurant near my house, and even a drunken evening in with Luis where we made some homemade chicken curry. It’s been non-stop!

Speaking of non-stop, I write this post from outside the country once again – my new year’s resolution to travel more seems to be outweighing my desire to start saving up a bit of money. I guess you can’t have it all, and I’ve to make the most of being able to travel after two years of semi-quarantine.

More on that in my next blog post, when I’ll be talking about where I currently find myself!

07.05.22 — Travel

My Birthday in Gijón

I’m not a real fan of my birthday – those of you who know me will know that I’ve a decade-old habit of rescheduling my birthday so that I can celebrate it on a day that best suits me. I’m usually in a sulk every 30th of April, and so this year I decided that I’d spend it alone and out of Madrid, taking time to disconnect and rest after a busy start to the year.

And so, with my friends assured that I’d celebrate my big day this summer, I decided to head off by myself. I’m lucky in a sense that here in Madrid there’s always a long weekend for my birthday, and so I booked myself into a hotel in Gijón in the north of Spain.

With a backpack prepared, I left work on Friday and searched for my carshare up to the Asturias. The trip was a lovely one, and the four of us spent the whole journey chatting and putting the world to rights, all whilst accompanied by a lovely little dog called Theo who snoozed most of the ride.

After stopping off for a bite to eat and to stretch our legs along the way (where I found a creepy looking play area that I was obsessed with, hence the photos), I arrived at the hotel at around 11pm. I headed out for a quick bite to eat and then collapsed into the huge bed that the friendly lady at reception had assigned me – complete with sea views over a very dark and foggy Gijón.

I then awoke to my first day as a 27-year-old and spent the morning in a mood, mooching around in bed until I eventually had to ged up and showered, for my plans to spend my birthday alone had been somewhat scarpered.

As luck would have it, my friend Cami had moved to Asturias less than a week before my visit, and was staying with Andrei and Andrea, two other friends who live just outside of Gijón. I’d eventually ceded and agreed to have lunch with them to celebrate another year older – and I wound up very glad that I did!

Leaving the hotel, I immediately realised I’d left too little time to get to the restaurant on time, as I’d no idea how the public transport works in Gijón. I then missed the bus thanks to my refusal to run, spent ten minutes or so trying to hail already occupied taxis, and eventually managed to grab one that would take me to the place I needed to go. I spent the journey peering out of the window, catching my first glimpses of a side of Gijón that I’d never seen by day.

Arriving at the restaurant, I was greeted by Cami, Andrea, and Andrei, the latter two of whom I’d not seen since I nipped up to Oviedo to visit Kevin when he was back in Spain last year. The four of us then had an absolute whale of a time, munching through a huge plate of seafood, drinking cider, and having a great laugh and a catch up.

With the traditional Asturian cider flowing rather freely and the later discovery of “cider gin and tonic” on the drinks menu, things soon got a little out of hand, and we ended up befriending a group of guys on a stag do whilst we waited for the desserts to arrive. We then ate what we could of those – they were huge – and then headed down to a bar on the beach to carry on with a few cocktails.

Looking back, the Asturian cider-infused gin and tonics might have been a bit too much…

We then continued to have an absolutely fabulous time down at “La Buena Vida”, with a special moment being when one of my cocktails came with a little firework attached to it. I was told to try and blow it out – that was a disaster waiting to happen!

When there’s no space for cake, a pyrotechnic cocktail will have to do!

Catastrophic fires averted, we continued to chat the afternoon away there. Andrei and Andrea eventually headed home, but me and Cami had decided that we were going to carry on and go out around Gijón that evening.

This turned out to be a rather optimistic plan, as we eventually ended up napping for over three hours in my hotel room, awaking with heavy heads and upset stomachs. We decided that we had to eat something, however, and so booked some Japanese food to pick up.

When we went down to pick up the food, the restaurant turned out to be a really pretty little space. We asked the waitress if we could eat in, something she graciously let us do, and so Cami and I enjoyed our delicious meal on a side street just a few minutes from the hotel.

After a quick call to my parents, Cami and I then decided to head down into the city centre for one quick cocktail. Finding a chill little bar, we had some delicious custom cocktails made for us by the waiter, who was happy to make one with gin after I told him that I didn’t want to keep on mixing drinks after the day I’d had!

The next day we awoke to slightly cloudier weather, but eventually decided to head out for some breakfast at a place that we’d looked up in the centre. We wandered along the seafront and into Catlove, where we had a delicious breakfast and a couple of coffees to keep us going.

With such a slap-up breakfast, we resolved that lunch was unnecessary, and so spent a few hours exploring the centre and Cimavilla. This lovely outcrop of land offers panoramic views over the sea, beaches, and ports of the city, and was one of my favourite spots the first time I visited Gijón back in 2017.

As the afternoon wore on and we grew tired, Cami headed back home. I carried on wandering for a while, taking the chance to call my sister Ellie and have a catch up with her whilst basking in the sea air. I then headed back to the hotel, where I spent a good two hours on a video call with Megan. This was in order to get some ideas and some plans in place for my upcoming trip to the US and Canada this summer – exciting!

After the call, I spent a relaxing evening in the hotel. I took the chance to write my last blog post, work on the new design of my website, and pop a face mask on that I’d been gifted for Christmas. It was a lovely way to end a fabulous birthday weekend in the special place that is Asturias.

My final morning was quite a swift one, as I spent most of it in bed. I eventually had to get a shuffle on around 11am, as at midday I’d to vacate the room and I was hopping back in the same carshare to take me back home to Madrid. I headed out to grab a quick coffee and a pastry for breakfast, and then sat awaiting the arrival of my ride back south next to an abandoned glass of cider – only in Asturias!

I had an absolutely lovely weekend up north in Gijón, and I’ve to thank Cami, Andrea, and Andrei for dragging me out on my birthday and forcing me to have such a great time. Being away for my weekend might just have to become an anual tradition!

03.05.22 — Journal

Changing Skies Between Times

This little blog post that is about to follow is my attempt to do two things. Firstly, I will attempt to catch up a little bit before my next blog post detailing the little trip that I’m currently on. Secondly, I will attempt to put out a post which isn’t as long as an entire work of Shakespeare. To that end, let’s get straight to it…

The first thing I’ve to report on is a hilarious night out that we had to celebrate Sara’s birthday, which took place in a little bar in Lavapiés and then a club whose name has escaped me entirely. We had an absolute blast and a good old boogie like I haven’t done since before the pandemic began!

Recovering from this late night, I spent another evening wandering along the river with another friend, where we caught up under a quite spectacular sunset. I’ll include just two of the countless photos that I took that night…

The next day took me down to Hugo’s place, who’d invited me to an evening of Mexican food and beers with some other friends. We had a lovely meal of tacos, totopos, and enchiladas, with a slice of carrot cake for dessert courtesy of yours truly.

Much of my time was spent chatting to Hugo’s friends and leaning out of the window of their 16th floor apartment – I think the photo below demonstrates why…

Another evening spent out was with Luis, who invited me to try some of the delicious burgers at a place he’d discovered near his house. It was a lovely evening, even if the huge burger left me with an upset stomach the next day…

And with that, I end this short yet sweet blog post. Note to self: that was easy, wasn’t it? I guess I don’t always have to waffle on in order to get a blog post done. Let me know if you liked this shorter format.

26.04.22 — Travel

Rhea Visits

With my little holiday down to the south of Spain wrapped up, it was time for me and Rhea to spend our Easter holidays together here in Madrid. Her visit marked the first time that she’s been able to come over and visit me in Spain, so it was kind of a big deal – and we surely packed enough in to do the occasion justice!

The trip began as I went to look for Rhea at the airport, where we had our big reunion in arrivals – I’d not seen her since just before the pandemic began! Once we’d dropped off her stuff, our priority was getting some lunch, and so we headed up to share a selection of Madrid dishes at my favourite local bar.

Rhea was looking as radiant as ever in the sun, which returned just for her visit.

We then had to make a change of plans, as we’d spent so long munching, drinking, and chatting that it was too late to squeeze in a wander down the river as I’d planned. Instead, we headed straight up towards the city centre, where I was determined that we’d catch one of the Easter processions that take place across Spain. I first discovered these awesome spectacles back in 2016 when I moved here for the first time, but I was also keen to see one again after two years without them courtesy of our old friend coronavirus.

Up in the La Latina district, the streets were absolutely packed, with throngs of crows making it impossible to even catch the slightest glimpse of the passing procession. We listened to the dramatic music of the brass band for a while, before eventually diving into a bar on the famous Cava Baja street for a vermut and Rhea’s first tapas experience.

We grabbed this selfie just before we got tipsy on vermut and cheese.

Our little evening of barhopping down Cava Baja then continued with a stop for some wine and croquettes, after which we were pretty worn out and ready for home.

We started the next day with a proper Madrid breakfast of churros and chocolate, heading up to the centre and to San Ginés for the real deal. After this, we explored some of the centre’s most emblematic sights, markets, and streets, passing by the Royal Palace along the way.

The city centre was absolutely heaving with people, which I attributed to the combination of the Easter holidays, relaxing COVID travel regulations, and the sudden bout of good weather. To escape the crowds a bit, the two of us headed up to the north of the centre and to an Asturian restaurant that Sara had recommended we check out.

We then enjoyed a delicious and absolutely huge lunch at Llagar El Quesu, starting with some pastel de cabracho, a fish “cake” and one of my absolute favourite dishes from Spain. This was followed by artichokes with jamón, and finally a delicious cut of beef with some chips. We left the place absolutely stuffed!

The food was great, the waiter was hilarious, and the interior design was on point.

Rhea and I then headed to the abandoned metro station, but decided to give it a pass when we saw that there was a wait to get in. Well, the sun was beating down and we were stuffed fit to burst: it was no time to be standing in a queue!

Asturian food will always hold a place in my heart, but it’s not a great idea if you then plan on doing things afterwards…

We instead continued back southwards towards the centre, which took us through the Chueca neighbourhood, Madrid’s gay district. There, Rhea was very excited to discover the various sock shops, and so we had a good snoop around whilst avoiding the worst of the midday sun.

As the evening wore on, we headed down to a little Mexican joint, where I snacked on a couple of tacos and we had a couple of margaritas. With the sun now low in the sky, we paid up and left, heading up to a vantage point by the royal palace and cathedral to witness the sunset.

With the sun gone, it began to get cool, and so we began walking towards Sala Equis to have our final drink of the night. We wound up running into yet another Easter procession along the way, signalled by the loud music, throngs of people, and the smell of incense thick in the air.

As with the evening before, we couldn’t make out much of what was going on with so many bodies squished into the small corners of the square where it was all taking place, and so began to head towards the bar down a back street. It was here that we had a stroke of luck, finding an alternative entrance to the square which had been opened to spectators.

Heading into the plaza, we had a front-row view of the spectacle, watching the huge floats with holy figures be carried to the sound of the brass band and the odd round of chanting from the crowds. It’s a surreal experience, and one I would encourage anyone visiting Spain to try and catch.

Once the procession began to leave the square, we finally made our way to the bar in question and had our last couple of drinks before heading back home. It’d been quite the busy second day!

In order to then relax somewhat, we began the next day at home, cooking and preparing a set of local dishes. Rhea, an excellent cook and food photographer, was keen to take some local recipes back to the UK with her, and so we’d decided to start the weekend with a picnic in the park.

With bags full of many snacks, including an ensaladilla rusa which we’d made with one of my colleague’s mother’s recipe, we arrived in the park and began our feast with a glass of sangría in hand. As we finished eating, we spent a while reading our books whilst the sun forced us to move the picnic mat periodically – I’m not the biggest fan of sunbathing!

We then headed for a wander around the rest of the park after our picnic, grabbing an ice cream along the way as the temperatures continued to rise. Once we were well and truly knackered once again, we grabbed the bus back home, relaxing for a while before the evening’s activities.

We decided to stick around my local area that evening, walking down the river and chatting away until the cold began to bite somewhat. Back home, we then spent the rest of the evening watching Mrs. Doubtfire, a hilarious film that I still can’t believe I’d never seen before!

The next day was Easter Sunday itself, and so I celebrated in the only way I know how – by eating a whole chocolate egg for breakfast!

Me and Rhea then began Easter Sunday by making the most of Madrid’s policy of pedestrianising certain streets on Sundays. Our plan was to walk up the Paseo del Prado, the city’s newest UNESCO World Heritage site, but the bus dropped us off at the other side of the train station.

This actually worked out well for the two of us, as I was keen to have a snoop at the tropical gardens inside Atocha train station, a lesser-known spot which I hadn’t seen for a good few years. Our wander through this indoor forest got us to where we needed to be, and we then carried on with our walk up to the spot that we’d chosen for lunch.

After a tasty and varied lunch at Vinitus, the two of us then spent an afternoon doing a spot of shopping, from a popup artisan market to a casual browse for some new sunglasses for yours truly. We wound up having a drink around Malasaña and then heading home, where we painted our nails and rested ready for an evening out in the city centre.

With the sun setting, me and Rhea had a wander around the centre, soaking up the atmosphere and taking in the lovely sights of the literary quarter. In a stroke of bad luck, the Jazz bar that I’d been to with my parents and which I wanted to take Rhea to was closed, but we soon found ourselves another spot to munch on some Spanish food and get pleasantly tipsy on some good cocktails.

The streets of Lavapiés are always a lovely sight to behold on the way home.

The next day then came around, and with it Rhea’s last day here in the city with me. We were still pretty tired after so many days of doing so much stuff, and so our morning was spent down at the Matadero, the cultural centre near my house. We headed down there for a snoop around after some breakfast at my local bar, and spent a while taking in the atmosphere before stopping for a drink.

I also fancied taking a look at a free exhibition put on by my neighbourhood’s local council. This took us inside the Casa del Reloj, a beautiful building which forms part of the same ex-slaughterhouse on which the Matadero sits: “matadero” is just Spanish for “slaughterhouse”.

The exhibition looked at the work of Luis Bellido, Madrid’s municipal architect from 1905 to 1939. He was the one who actually designed the Matadero and the Casa del Reloj, and so it seemed very fitting to be discovering his work from inside one of his buildings.

I feel like Rhea really enjoyed the architecture of the space.

After the exhibition, we then headed out the back of the Matadero and down to the river’s edge. There, we found a spot of grass to again unfurl our picnic mat and spend a while lying down and reading our books – even if we were chased by the sun and its unforgiving rays once again…

Once the sun got too much for us, we made the short journey back home for some lunch. In the second installation of Rhea’s Spanish cooking sessions, we whipped up a tortilla de patatas, which we shared with some veggies. Between the two of us, I have to say that the omelette came out quite spectacularly – it was delicious!

That evening, we headed back out for tea at a Basque pintxos restaurant that never fails to serve up some tasty small dishes. From there, we swung by my office so that Rhea could have a look at where I work, all before heading down to the Debod Temple to watch the sun set over the mountains in the west.

I may be biased as I live in the south of the city, but the city streets here are beautiful.

With day turning to night and the cool of the evening setting in, we had a quick drink on a terrace near the temple. This was followed by our last evening walk back home, which we managed about half of until we decided to surrender to our aching legs and wait for the bus to take us the rest of the way.

Thus concluded Rhea’s visit to Madrid, as she’d to head off back to the airport in the early hours of the next morning. It was an absolute pleasure to have her here, and a fabulous opportunity for me to reconnect with some of the parts of the city that I’ve not passed by for quite a while. I can only hope that this was her first visit of many, and I’m also hoping to visit her and everyone else over in London just as soon as I can!

11.04.22 — Travel

A Half Holiday

With the weather in Madrid not up to much recently, I had some hope for some nicer weather as I once again set off down to Murcia to spend a weekend with my auntie and uncle. The familiar routine unfolded as I caught the train at Madrid’s Atocha train station, but this time the journey had a few twists, as I’d to change trains and wound up going backwards and forwards as I got closer to the Mar Menor.

The first evening was a chill one, as I was tired from a long day, but then the Saturday was a completely different story. After a quick bite to eat, we jumped in the car and headed down towards the coast. Before hitting the big city, we stopped off by an industrial complex, where my uncle knew of a walk that’d take us to the very top of a hill with views over the sea.

We parked the car and wandered first past this crazy forest of transformers and electricity cables, heading uphill at quite a pace until we reached a seating area with views over the water. My uncle carried on further, but my auntie and I opted to rest at this first stop, taking in the views as we were ruffled by the wind – it was blowing quite the gale!

I soon got restless, and decided to creep past a “no entry” sign in order to see what lay beyond. This little adventure took me along a rather exposed ridge of the cliff face, which then led me down to the corner of the precipie. This precarious little spot offered some lovely views over the sea, but I didn’t stick around for too long due to the gathering wind and questionable structural stability.

Me and my auntie then waited for my uncle to head back down. Once he was back, the three of us headed back to the car, where the smell of sausages made us hungry for a quick snack. To this end, we started heading on our way to Cartagena, stopping along the way at a little cove that I’d never been to before.

This hidden little tunnel took us down to the quirky little cove.

The weather really wasn’t good enough for a dip in the sea or a rest on the sand – but that didn’t seem to stop the locals! We opted not to join them, instead grabbing a drink and some marineras (a local snack made with Russian salad and an anchovy) to pass the time.

I’m always down for a Radler and a local snack by the sea.

We then headed into Cartagena proper, wandering its pretty streets and spending the afternoon drinking beer and munching on tapas instead of sitting down for a proper lunch – when the weather’s good, it’s a great plan! Our afternoon ended when we had some frozen yoghurt for dessert, after which we headed back towards their apartment.

That evening, we first headed into another local town to check out a restaurant that they’d never visited, but we were met by a rather empty and rather glum looking bar. Not fancying that, we headed back to their local town, Sucina, where we shared some local dished at another restaurant.

From there, we headed to the bar within the complex, where I wound up spending the evening chatting to the bar staff after my auntie and uncle grew tired and headed home. I found out some pretty interesting stuff, from details about the local parties to the story of the old duchess of the property on which the complex was built, whose burial site was relocated when the old house was renovated to create the resort’s restaurant.

The next day, we headed down to the shore, where the wind had picked up and the sky was beginning to get a little cloudy: foreshadowing of the weather to come. We wandered along the shore, stopping eventually at a restaurant to share some food. As we left, I grabbed myself a chocolate a la taza (like a thick hot chocolate) to go, which came in useful as a hand warmer as the wind kept up its relentless attack as we headed back to the car.

This old car in front of this old facade took me back a few years.

That evening’s meal took us down to a lovely local Indian restaurant, where I enjoyed a lovely curry and some fish pakora as recommended to me by one of the owners. After this, we headed back home for an early night, as the next day I’d to connect to work remotely for the day – hence the name of this blog post.

In the end, this day at work wasn’t too hard to face, as the weather outside had taken a page out of Madrid’s book and turned into a downpour. It was lovely to have the flexibility to work from Murcia, and the experience was made even lovelier by a varied spread of food that my auntie laid out for us all to have lunch together on my lunch break!

After work that evening, we headed up to one of their friends’ apartments, where Viv and Martin treated us to some homemade sausage rolls and coconut buns to accompany a gin and tonic. From there, we headed to the resort’s restaurant, where we enjoyed one last evening meal of burgers and burritos.

The next day was Tuesday, and that meant that I’d be heading back to Madrid in the afternoon. This time, we retook our old tradition of heading out for lunch at a restaurant so that I wouldn’t be hungry during my train trip back up, joined by another two of my auntie and uncle’s friends. It was a light-hearted and delicious lunch, as usual, cut somewhat short by my need to be at the train station in the next town along at a given time.

This trip back didn’t go quite to plan, however. At the train station, I stood on the platform waiting for quite a while, becoming somewhat worried when I didn’t see the train appear on the screens. One of the receptionists eventually appeared, who promptly informed me that there was a bus replacement service that had – to my horror – already left. Upon further inspection, it did indeed mention said rail replacement on the ticket – but in my defence it was printed in pretty small text and right at the bottom of the page.

It seemed like the only option for me to carry my trip back to Madrid was for my auntie and uncle to drive me all the way up to Albacete, where I could jump straight onto the second train of my original journey. As we sped down the motorway, my auntie told me to reread my ticket, and it turned out that the bus service didn’t actually last the entire way to Albacete. We thus rerouted and they managed to drop me off at a small town, where the lovely conductor directed me to the train which would take me onwards, upwards, and towards the capital.

The trip back up to Madrid was proving to be a pretty interesting one, but it was about to get even more so…

From Albacete, and once on my final high-speed train back to Atocha, I thought things would be smooth sailing – but that wasn’t to be so! As I sat working on my previous blog post, I sensed a commotion brewing in the aisle, and wound up watching a guy discover that another guy had stolen his laptop and hidden it in his backpack. This caused a lot of discussions between them and the train conductors, and I stepped off the train to the police waiting on the platform to interrogate the people involved.

After checking that my laptop was securely in my backpack, I then walked to the short distance back home, ready for a good night of rest after such a chaotic journey back up to my home city!

Although I’d to work during one of the days and despite the shenanigans that unfolded on my trip back northwards, I had a lovely time down in Murcia. I’ve to once again thank my auntie and uncle for putting me up and taking me out to do all sorts of different things – I’ll be back in the autumn!

05.04.22 — Journal

Spring Springs a Leak

After my last post took me up into nature with some glorious weather, this time I’m back in the big city and with what can be only described as a washout. Madrid’s usually mild spring seems to have been replaced by a wet and windy few weeks this year, but that doesn’t mean I’ve stood still!

One Saturday I arranged to meet up with a colleague and her daughter for a snoop around the Municipal Printers, a lovely old building which is now a museum conserving old printing presses and traditional printing techniques through a free exhibition and printing workshops. It reminded me of the fun I had back in Leeds as a student and one of the hilarious bookbinding workshops I attended there!

The architecture was as interesting as the printing presses within.

After our wander around the space, we headed out for a bite to eat, sharing one of my all time favourite dishes, huevos rotos con picadillo, a mix of chips, fried egg, and a spiced and minced meat with a similar taste to chorizo. After lunch, we went shopping for some rubber bands before I stopped by their house to meet their hamster, Melocotón (meaning “Peach”), and have a crash-course in making bracelets with the little coloured rubber bands that we’d picked up.

This little guy was very friendly, but also soft and fluffy – just like a peach.

Later that afternoon, I headed up to the north of Madrid and to IFEMA, Madrid’s vast convention centre. There I’d arranged to meet up with Luis and Carmen, who’d managed to bag us some free tickets to ARCO, a huge annual contemporary art fair.

The journey to get to the exhibition was more complicated than we thought partly thanks to the partial closure of line 8 of the metro, and then partly thanks to me and Luis’ confusion as we got off the replacement bus at the wrong stop! Thankfully, we ran into two other lost souls who had done the same, and the four of us wound up splitting a taxi to take us the rest of the way.

Needless to say that we arrived quite late in the day, and so didn’t have much time to have a proper look around all the stalls and exhibitions at the fair. I saw some pretty cool stuff, including a ball of spaghetti which reminded me how hungry I was. This then led to us heading into the VIP bar for a gin and tonic and a quick bite to eat, which was more than welcome as my busy day wore on!

This big ball of spaghetti was just asking for someone to fall into it…

Instead of heading home after ARCO, I headed to the north of the city centre, where I met up with Sara and her friend Rocío to have a drink and a bite to eat. Once we’d had our fill of croquettes and some other delicious dishes, the two of them were ready and rearing to head out, but my relentless day meant that I was well and truly ready for bed!

The week after saw some more unpredictable weather in and around Madrid, with some of my evening walks home being an absolute pleasure as the days grew longer, whilst some others were only possible thanks to my trusty (and somewhat battered) umbrella.

The next weekend saw me over at Bogar and Javier’s new place for party which combined a housewarming for their new place with Bogar’s birthday celebrations. I headed over with some G&T and a homemade carrot cake in tow, and we had a fabulous evening chatting the night away. It’s hard to believe that it’s now been three years since the two of us were hauling his mattress down the road as he moved into his previous flat!

Me, my carrot cake, and the cumpleañero (birthday boy).

This wasn’t the only birthday weekend I’d to attend, however, as it was then Luis’ turn to celebrate. Under a rather threatening grey sky, a huge group of us convened at a restaurant down by the lake. There, we ate, drank, and gossiped the evening away – yet another lovely Saturday afternoon plan to celebrate not only his birthday but that of his friend, Marta.

The week after was then a rather busy one for me, as I had some visitors over and we had plenty of interesting things going on at work!

At lunchtime on Monday I was disturbed by a knock at my door, and then greeted by my parents, who’d flown in from England to spend a week with me here in the big city. We spent the first afternoon having lunch together and chilling out – we were all pretty tired and the weather wasn’t looking great.

The next day, the weather took a turn for the bizarre, as a calima, dust and sand from the Sahara desert, had made it way up to Madrid. I’m used to seeing it in Tenerife, which is obviously a lot closer to Africa, but it was the first time I’d ever stepped outside to see the capital covered in the telltale fine red dust.

This rather apocalyptic-looking phenomenon coincided with a day of filming that we were undertaking for a client at work, and so I told my parents to come and join us on the film shoot for a while for a behind-the-scenes look at how such a production was undertaken.

Once the filming was over for the day, I headed out for tea with my parents, and so begun the routine for the week – we’d meet up for lunch near work and then spend the evening having a bite to eat and some drinks before I headed to bed for work the next day.

As I finish work a few hours earlier on a Friday, we decided to mix things up, and headed down to the Matadero for some gin and tonics so that I could kick back after a long and busy week at work. We enjoyed our drinks before heading out to tea, after which we had a relatively early night in order to gather up some energy for the next day’s shenanigans.

We snuck into a cool bar in the Matadero that I’d only ever been to once before.

On the Saturday, and under the persistent grey skies, we headed out for a walk along the river and down to the lake, a spot we always like to visit for a drink by the water. On the way, mum mentioned that she’d never had her photo taken in those big letter signs you see in many cities, and so I knew just the place we had to have our photo taken!

After our afternoon spent by the waterside, we then headed back into the city centre for an evening meal and some drinks to celebrate their final evening with me in the big city – how time had flown!

Our last supper took place in a taco place that I’d visited with Hugo and Bogar a few weeks before, where I introduced my parents to some of the various tasty flavours that this Mexican staple has to offer. Once full of meats and cheeses, we wound up stumbling across a jazz bar, where we ordered one round of cocktails after another as the evening’s live jazz band kicked off. It was a lovely way to end their visit and a curious little find that I’ll definitely be back to!

With this, I think I’ll end this blog post here for fear of trying to cover too much – I’ve still lots to tell you all about, but finding the time to do so is proving quite difficult these past few weeks. I write to you all sat on a train headed back to Madrid – but that’s a story for next time…

20.03.22 — Journal

Wandering Around La Pedriza

Well, I had my last blog post out in record time, but this time I’m breaking records thanks to how late I am to post it! As I’ll get into in later blog posts, it’s been a crazy few weeks, so I’m just getting some time to sit down and bring you this quick update with some lovely photos.

A whole month ago now I, along with three colleagues, headed up to the outskirts of Madrid in order to spend the day wandering around La Pedriza. I’ve been to this mountain range a good few times now since discovering it with Cake Club back in 2018, and it’s always a great chance to get away from the busy city life and catch some rays whilst walking around the gorgeous scenery.

This was all part of proving to myself that one of my various New Year’s resolutions, namely my daily goal of walking 10,000 steps, was having some kind of effect. After struggling to complete some fairly easy walks during Christmas in the UK, I decided that it was time I got a bit more active, so this daylong wander was to try out how I was getting along – I’m happy to report that I got along just fine!

We started off with a bus ride up to Manzanares El Real, where we grabbed some snacks (healthy ones, of course) before heading on our way to begin our great walk around the dramatic mountainous scenery. We had a good laugh along the way, with the thought of a beer at the midway point keeping our spirits up!

Just after this selfie of the four of us, I found an excellent stick, which I then used as my walking aid/fashionable accessory to make me look like Rafiki from the Lion King. This didn’t last all too long though, as I wound up forgetting to pick it back up after leaving it outside the bar that we eventually stopped in for a drink and some freshly fried croquettes.

Lunch over, we then waited in the painfully long queue to go to the toilet, during which time I met an excellent friendly cat whose photo I will include below. More than focussing on the walk and the sights that surrounded us, we’d been talking about all sorts of things – putting the world to rights in between talking about some of the projects that we’ve been working on together.

This guy was sat atop a wall and knew how to pose for the camera.

From there we powered on, our energy renewed both by the fried delights and the lovely surroundings of a rocky valley that we were now heading through on our way back to the bus stop. I’d brought my big bulky yellow coat with me and a bottle of water that I’d slung into its pocket, so I had that knotted around my chest, something which didn’t help when it came to navigating the precarious slopes of the side of the valley…

The sights from up in the mountains outside Madrid are fabulous.

Once out of the valley and back on tarmac, we completed the last leg of the journey with what was remaining of our waning energy. The bus ride back to Madrid proper always presents the temptation of a quick nap, but I managed to stay awake – I’d things to do when I got back home!

With over 24,000 steps done, I’d say that our little trip up to La Pedriza was a great success – and it’s a good job I got some excess steps in the bank, as the week later was quite a busy one which didn’t leave me with much time to hit my step goal every day.

More on that in my next post, however. For now I’ll leave you with this excellent photo of Julia, me, and Inés as we make out like we’re three ladies going on a power walk around a Californian suburb…

09.03.22 — Journal

Eleanor’s Graduation

This is just a quick post in order to mark a special occasion that’s happening over a thousand miles away – my sister, Eleanor, is graduating!

Unfortunately, due to both COVID capacity restrictions at the graduation venue and my own busy schedule here in Spain, I’ve not been able to make it over to the ceremony today. Also, given that I’ve now weaned myself of the last of my social media accounts, Instagram, I’ve no other platform than here to mark the occasion and celebrate her achievements over the last few years – so here I am!

Today Eleanor is celebrating finishing both her undergraduate degree and her subsequent master’s degree in biology, even though she actually finished them about a year and a half ago – the celebrations have, of course, been delayed because of the pandemic.

A huge congratulations are in order as she finally has the chance to waltz up onto stage and collect her certificates just like I did five years ago now, I’ll be doing my absolute best to live vicariously through FaceTime and photos that I’m sure she and my parents will be sending me throughout the day!

For now though, this photo of Eleanor from 2017 in my graduation robes will have to do…

Well done Bel!