08.12.22 — Journal

Murcia on Film

So today’s post is somewhat of a break from my usual scheduling. My idea is to bring myself up-to-date before I wind up busy over Christmas, as well as making the most of an opportunity to share some photos I got back which I found quite pretty.

Much like the photos I shared around my neighbourhood, these snaps come courtesy of a roll of film I had developed after my trip around the US. I can’t say I ever remember taking my film camera down to Murcia on one of my various trips down to see my auntie and uncle, but they were a nice surprise amongst the many others.

The first couple of photos come from one of my auntie’s favourite spots for a coffee and some food along the Mar Menor. La Encarnación has a gorgeous interior courtyard covered in plants, so clearly one day I made the most and took some snaps of the table in the afternoon sun.

The spot really is as pretty and tranquil as it looks.

The third and final photo comes from Cartagena, a coastal city near where my auntie and uncle have their apartment. I have no idea when this was taken or what we were doing, I just recognise the port and the land in the distance.

The other mystery lies in what the two black lines across the photo are. I initially began to invent all sorts of crazy theories, but just as I’ve edited these photos I’ve realised (reluctantly) that it’s probably just the camera strap that’s swung in front of the lens at a rather inopportune moment.

I don’t know what they are but they give the shot a real sense of action.

There’s not much more to comment about these photos. As I say, I’m not sure from which of my many visits down they come from, but you can have a snoop at my many trips to Murcia on my travel page!

02.12.22 — Journal

Art Lessons & Art Markets

Alongside a fun but long day out in Santander just last week, I’ve also been up to the odd thing here in Madrid despite the cold weather which, as all my friends agree, leaves us wanting to do little more than relax in the warmth of our houses. 

Up first on the agenda was a rather important task: rest. This year and after the rather brain-numbing pandemic period I’ve been very keen to do as much as possible, but I’ve realised I need to plan myself some time to rest. This can be cooking, wandering around my neighbourhood, or just collapsing onto the sofa with a glass of wine to watch some telly. Last week, it took the form of a little cycle around the city!

I pass by this lovely archway on my way home from the office.

Later that same evening, I returned to the Puerta de Toledo where the photo above was taken in order to attend another painting class. I’d been just a month before with Sara, but this time I was accompanied by Luis. He’d heard me talk of the concept of painting whilst drinking and snacking and was all for giving it a shot!

It wound up being somewhat of a private class as the other people who’d signed up were a no-show. We made the most of it all though and once again I was pretty pleased with my koi fish painting!

Again, not bad, but maybe I should have stuck to orange dots.

The next day I had another plan for an afternoon with friends. After my weekly shop at my favourite place in Spain, the Mercadona at the Mercado de Santa María de la Cabeza (quite a long name for a market), I headed down to the Museo del Ferrocarril (The Railway Museum) to meet up with Bogar, Javier, Hugo, and Sergejs.

We’d arranged to meet there to visit the Mercado de Motores, a pop-up artisan and food market held amongst the old trains once a month. As the place is just five minutes walk from my house, I’d been meaning to go for years, but I’d never got round to it. About right for me!

The market was absolutely lovely, so I did kick myself for not having visited sooner. No sooner had I begun to browse the first stall than I got chatting to the owners and wound up buying some handmade chocolate treats. This story then played out again and again at many other stalls. I wound up grabbing lots of cured meat, some cheese and a sauce called mojo from Tenerife, some postcards, and the odd Christmas gift.

Just being inside the Museo del Ferrocarril was also fascinating, with plenty of old rolling stock on show inside the lovely old train station. I was shocked when I came across an impressive green and yellow behemoth only to look up and be confronted with the word “Yorkshire”. Who’d have thought that’d I’d run into a train made in Sheffield here in Madrid?

Seeing one of my home counties in Madrid was a nice surprise.

With my purchases done, the five of us headed to the outdoor area and grabbed a table for a quick drink. After a glass of vermouth, Bogar and I were feeling peckish, and so we treated ourselves to some sinfully delicious food. I grabbed a tray of huevos revueltos con torreznos (egg and chips with fresh pork scratchings) and Bogar went for some patatas con mojo (potatoes in that sauce from Tenerife I mentioned earlier).

We shared these two dishes between us and they were both absolutely divine. I was shocked at how good the spuds in sauce were – they might even have rivalled the ones that Cami took me for the first time I was actually in Tenerife!

After another drink, we all parted ways and I wound up heading down to a shopping centre in order to continue my Christmas shopping. It turned out to be a bit of a useless trip, as although I did buy some stuff, it was all for me!

The next day I allowed myself another day of rest at home, but the weather turned out to be quite nice and so I managed to rope my colleague María into going for a bike ride around the city with me. We began in Retiro, Madrid’s main park, before heading down the huge Gran Vía to see the Christmas lights. It was a lovely afternoon out which was ended as all Sunday afternoons should: with a beer.

Cibeles always looks lovely at this time of year.

Back home, I allowed myself another cheeky drink as it was once again time for me to call the Cake Club girls: Megan, Loredana, and Heidi. We spent another long evening gossiping and having a good laugh over video call from our respective countries of Spain, the USA, Austria, and Norway.

The working week then began in earnest, but it was to be a special one thanks to the staff Christmas do we had coming up and thanks to some rather spectacular sunsets along the way. One day I left work to be confronted by this amazing view, with the setting sun creating a perfect gradient across the sky.

It’s been a while since a sunset has left me genuinely lost for words.

Then came the event of the week in the form of the Christmas dinner we hold every year at work. It’s been on hold for the last couple of years thanks to the pandemic, but we were all back and ready for a lovely night of food and tipsy shenanigans this Thursday!

I got dolled up for the occasion and we all met in the city centre at a Basque restaurant. We enjoyed a series of starters from croquettes to chorizo, and I then ordered some fresh cod for my main. This was all helped down with a couple of shots of patxaran, a sweet fruity liquor that can be quite dangerous!

I didn’t stay out too late however, as I was tired from a long day and had plenty to do the next day! More on that next time, though…

24.11.22 — Travel

Santander

During the last few weeks I’ve been at home, but as usual it’s been pretty busy. I’m very rarely still for long, though, and so just the other day I found myself waking up at 6am in order to head off to Santander with a couple of my colleagues.

Our trip up to the coastal city in the north of Spain wasn’t just a leisure exercise, however – we were on official work business. This meant a very early morning for the three of us as we all convened in Madrid Chamartín-Clara Campoamor train station (yeah, that’s really its name). There, we’d to navigate the construction works that have half the platforms closed, but we eventually found our train and got sat down.

Just over four hours later we arrived in the city to a pleasant surprise of a clear and sunny day. The north of Spain isn’t famed for its good weather, so I’d blindly trusted Google Weather and left my sunglasses at home.

My first impressions of Santander was that it was a very pretty and quite small. I say small in a very positive sense, it felt very homely and accessible when compared to Madrid or New York. There was some great architecture to be seen and plenty of open space. There was also – of course – the sea, which makes any place feel cheerier.

Having endured the journey without eating we were somewhat ravenous, so we headed to a market for a bite to eat. We grabbed some pinchos, small bits of food usually served on or with a slice of fresh bread. These went down a treat with a fresh drink to revive us ready for a day exploring Santander.

From there, we headed back to the seafront and began our investigations. We’d been sent to soak up the context and get a bit of a feel for the city’s atmosphere, so we passed by the tourist office where we were set a quick route to see the city’s highlights.

We first stopped at the Centro Botín, an awesome art centre perched on the quayside which overlooks and even hangs over the water below. We had a snoop around the awesome architecture by Renzo Piano, ending up on the rooftop for an impromptu brainstorming session for the project we’d been sent to work on.

With the wind beginning to pick up we headed down from the roof, stopping for a bit of silliness along the way. The gorgeous cantilevered design of the Centro Botín included some suspended viewing platforms over the water of the estuary, so me and Julia simply had to recreate an iconic film moment. Cue the Celine Dion!

Near, far, wherever you are…

Back on solid ground, we headed further along the seafront and past Puerto Chico, a place true to its name which can be translated as “Little Port”. We then wound up passing the Palacio de Festivales, a concert hall with very strange architecture. We ended our wander by holding a meeting about our project perched on the wall of one of the docks and looking over the sea. It was the world’s best meeting room!

It was already turning half past three when we finally moved from our spot and we were ready and rearing for some lunch. Following the tourism office’s recommendation, we grabbed a bus down to the Barrio Pesquero or Fisherman’s District. We had an absolutely diving late lunch there, with a starter of rich seafood soup followed by a huge plate of a local fish called a machote. It was all fresh and perfectly garlicky. Divine!

Now full and rather tired, we ambled back towards the city centre, stopping off to take in the views over the sea and then head inside the Centro Cívico Tabacalera. This civic centre is home to Europe’s biggest vertical garden, so we took some photos and snooped around an art exhibit.

Now back in the centre, we made one last stop to grab some sweet treats for the rest of our colleagues. Seeing as we had some more time to spare, we grabbed a quick drink from a bar next to the train station. After a rather delicious vermouth, the three of us headed into Santander train station and hopped about our return journey back home.

I enjoyed the lighting by the Santander bank in Santander.

I arrived back at my flat way after midnight, so it had been a very long and very tiring day. It was all worth it, though, and I had an absolutely lovely time with my colleagues Julia and Clara. I’ll have to return to Cantabria, the area that Santander sits in, very soon. Then I can have a further snoop around the lovely city of Santander and try some more awesome fresh seafood!

Journal

The Cold’s Back

Now back in Madrid after many trips out and about, autumn has really began to hit and coat and hat season has definitely rolled around. All of this, of course, from one day to the other and in true Madrid fashion.

No fear, though, as there were still many plans to make with friends and things to do that we’d planned well in advance. The first of these was a night in at home with Sara, which we spent making spinach and ricotta cannelloni (my favourite dish) and getting a little merry on a couple of glasses of wine.

The very next day me and Sara were back having a cheeky drink, but this time in a wholly new setting. We’d booked in for an evening session at Arte Bar, a place where we’d be guided through how to paint on canvas whilst enjoying some snacks and a quick tipple.

We had an absolute blast at what we’d affectionally nicknamed “pintar y chumar” (painting and drinking). Our art teacher for the evening was an absolute hoot and helped us try out the different techniques to create our paintings, which I think came out pretty well!

I was pretty happy with the end result, even if I had to rush the trees.

It was also lovely to spend an evening out doing something different to the usual chats over a drink or meals out around the centre of Madrid. Not that I’m saying there’s anything wrong with a meal and a drink out, though – it’s one of my favourite activities!

The next week I was back to work, but my time after work was – as usual – filled with other plans and activities. A couple of days took me down to the Matadero to visit Japan Desu, a series of events, exhibitions, and talks exploring Japanese design and innovation. These were very interesting and got me thinking about a lot of issues.

This mirror looked a bit like a portal into another world.

To end the week on a high, Bogar, Javier, Hugo, and I met up for an evening. We first had a meal at our favourite local spot and then headed to the cinema. There we watched a Spanish film called No mires a los ojos (whose title in English is “Staring at Strangers”), a very odd thriller which told the tale of a man who infiltrates a family’s house by hiding in a wardrobe that’s being moved into their bedroom.

It was, as I say, a rather strange film, but I enjoyed it nonetheless, especially as it began to pick up and things began to become steadily more convoluted. It began as a simple albeit creepy story, but ended up somewhere completely different.

The highlight of the evening has to have been the place where we’d gone to see the film, as we’d finally got round to visiting a local independent cinema. This cozy spot is just two minutes away from my front door and shows films in their original language. I am not a fan of dubbing at all, so I’ll definitely be back!

The day after, Sara and I met up once more for another evening out. We headed up on the bus to Antón Martín, a market where the locals go to for a bite to eat and a drink on an evening. As the weather was cold and the rain attacking by this point, an evening inside a covered and heated market was just what the doctor ordered!

After some delicious food and a couple of beers, we moved across the road and into a jazz bar that I’d visited with my parents when they visited earlier this year. I quite fancied a bit of live music and a good cocktail, and so “El Despertar” was just the place to go.

An Amaretto Sour was just what the doctor ordered for me.

The next day was a day I’d planned to stay at home and relax somewhat, but there’s never any rest for the wicked: Luis called and suggested we have lunch. I’m never one to turn down a meal out, so I suggested we meet up try out a place nearby that I’d spotted on my way to the Japan Desu event a few days prior. Luis had seen it too on his travels around our neighbourhood, so we met up there to try the Argentinian offerings.

The pretty little restaurant was an absolute triumph. We enjoyed a starter of melted cheese and some empanadas, with the main event being a huge beef milanesa (a bit like a schnitzel) with some delicious toppings. We polished it all off with a couple of desserts, including some crepes filled with dulce de leche – a sweet spread so tasty it should be a sin!

From there, the two of us wandered down to the Matadero for a post-lunch gin and tonic. We had this on a little hidden terrace garden which I’d never been to, marking the second discovery of the day. I love Arganzuela, my neighbourhood, and I don’t think I’ll ever leave for as long as I stay in Madrid!

That evening I eventually tidied up my house a bit, just in time for a special and much-awaited call. Heidi, Loredana, Megan, and I had finally managed to set a date for a video call for a huge catch up after a good while without the four of us speaking all together.

We had a hilarious evening chatting, gossiping, and painting. I say painting as I took it upon myself to paint a self portrait of all for of us during the call. I’d post the final paintings here but they are very caricature-like and very much unflattering of all of us, with none of the skills that I’d learned at Arte Bar applied to their creation. I also think if I did then the three girls would kill me, so let’s move swiftly on…

The next week continued with more cinema. I firstly went by myself to seeCerdita (translated into English as “Piggy”), a film described as an “anti-bullying slasher”. This it was indeed, with plenty of uncomfortable scenes of bullying and harrassment followed by some rather nail-biting suspense and gore towards the end.

I should have known from the trailer that it was going to be an uneasy watch and I should have thus probably gone with someone else, but it was a fabulous film despite all this. I would very much recommend it to anyone who is in the right frame of mind to watch it!

The second trip to the cinema took me to see As bestas (translated from Galician into English as “The Beasts”) with a couple of colleagues. It was half leisure, half research trip, as we’d been sent with instructions to take note of the film’s representation of Galicia, a province in the northwestern corner of Spain.

This was another fabulous film, with plenty of suspense and heartbreak throughout the nail-biting story. It was also beautiful, and made me even more keen to visit Galicia despite the somewhat depressing events which take place throughout the plot. Another one to go and see if you can!

Outside of my cinematographic adventures, Thursday also had a surprise in store for me. My boss Pablo couldn’t make it over for a talk he was scheduled to give at the Japan Desu events, so me and my colleague Blanca were drafted in to present our ethos and methodology at Erretres.

It was lovely to be asked to present and to meet the team of DiMad, the design collective who organise these kind of events in the city. I think Blanca and I did the company justice, and hope that anyone who came along enjoyed our talk and learned something about how we design from Madrid to the rest of the world.

But it was also a nice little milestone for me at a personal level. I first visited the Matadero’s design centre when I moved to Madrid and have loved the place ever since, so to be forming part of one of these events was a nice moment for reflection on my journey since rocking up to Spain at just 20 years old. Who’d have thought that I’d go from my rough A-Level language skills as an intern to giving a presentation in Spanish at a place I’ve always revered so much!

I risk getting sentimental here, so I’ll move on…

As the week ended, my weekend plans were just beginning. Cami had come down to Madrid to spend a few days, so on Friday night we had a pyjama party at my place. We grabbed some pizza, binged on snacks, put on face masks, and watched a fun little film that I hadn’t seen for years: St. Trinian’s.

The next day we met up with Nacho, one of Cami’s family friends who has also moved to Madrid, and had a lovely Japanese meal at a restaurant north of the centre. From there, I did a bit of urgent clothes shopping after all my winter clothes from last year are now way too big on me – another little personal success story I guess!

That evening we also stayed in, but I had Napo and Sara come over too and we all had some food together (cannelloni [again] and carrot cake) before having some drinks and an absolute hoot of a time until the early hours of the morning. With winter around, the perfect plan starts to involve long evenings at home with great company and the heating turned up!

Sunday was thus a more relaxed day, as I stayed at home to finally finish a deep clean of my kitchen which has – hopefully understandably given the amount of stuff I’ve been up to – dragged on for a while now. I did wind up heading out for a walk in the last rays of the evening sun, though, which led to a series of rather pretty pictures down by the river.

I’d planned an evening in by myself, but wound up inviting Álvaro over for something to eat. I threw together a quick but tasty dish of dorada (a white fish) and some vegetables, after which we polished off what was left of the carrot cake.

And I think that with all that said, I’m finally up to date with my blog posts – at least I was, until today, but that’s one for next time!

06.11.22 — Journal

My Neighbourhood on Film

I recently sent a couple of rolls of film off to be developed after taking plenty of photos around the USA and Canada. As often happens when I receive the developed film back, there were a few surprises thrown in there in the form of photos that I’d forgotten I’d taken.

The first set of these photos was taken during a walk around my neighbourhood shortly after they began allowing us to head outside and stretch our legs after a long and strict lockdown here in Spain. My favourite area to walk along and escape the dense streets of the city is the park which winds alongside the river.

It seems that the day I headed out was quite a spectacular sunset, which was rather lucky as it’s vary rare that I take my film camera out of the house just on a whim – I usually reserve it for special occasions. The Manzanares River which forms the central column of the park, unimaginatively named “Madrid Río” (Madrid River), is typically very low on water. It was enough to reflect the bright sunset of that evening, though.

Although dulled by the expired film, the sunset still came out pretty glorious.

Being presented with these photos was a somewhat bittersweet experience. The photos themselves are pretty, but they took me back to a rather dark era during the lockdown where my daily river walks were one of the few things that cheered me up.

I’ve not retouched these photos at all, as I think the film grain and the pronounced vignette (the darkened corners) reflect those difficult times perfectly. It’s not all doom and gloom, though, as other photos from these rolls of film came from much happier aventures. I’ll be back to post those soon!

05.11.22 — Travel

PortAventura

Once Rhea had left, I’d another week of work to undergo before I was back off again for the next installation of my crazy October plans. This time I was leaving Madrid once more bound for the northeastern region of Catalonia, with my first stop being Barcelona.

I took the high speed train up to Spain’s other big city in order to meet up with Danni, who was to join me for a few days riding the rides and watching the parades in Spain’s principal theme park, PortAventura! With recent trips to Madrid’s two parks, Parque Warner and the Parque de Atracciones, it was shaping up to be quite the month for my rollercoaster obsession.

After arriving in Barcelona’s Sants train station, I found Danni waiting for me there after she’d flown in from Manchester in the morning. The two of us then headed out to a bar next to the station to kill some time, having a drink and a bite to eat to keep us going for the next leg of our journey. This then took us down to Salou, the seaside town that PortAventura forms part of and where we’d grabbed a flat for the duration of our stay.

The next day was our first day in the park, so we were up bright and early to grab some breakfast and take the fifteen minute walk up to the park gates. Once inside, we headed straight for the two biggest coasters at the back of the park, Dragon Khan and Shambhala. Despite some serious wait times, we grabbed a ride on them both and then had some lunch next to Shambhala, the undisputed king of the coasters within the park.

Lunch over, we wandered around some more of the park and stumbled upon the Wild West area, which was home to another of the park’s famous rides, Stampida. Before bringing our noodles back up on this duelling wooden beast, we hopped onto its smaller sibling, Tomahawk, which was located just alongside and with a track that interacts beautifully with its much larger and scarier sister.

It turns out that this smaller of the two wooden roller coasters actually still packed quite a punch! The most scandalous thing about it was the placement of the on-ride photo section, which came just after a curving drop which caught me completely off guard. This made for a hilarious photo which made us feel obliged to spend the ridiculous price to grab a copy. Worth it.

With Tomahawk ridden, it was time to head over to the main event. The queue for Stampida was another long one, and it was already dark when we actually made it into the station building and the final bit of the wait before boarding. There was panic when an announcement informed us of a breakdown, but they soon had the coaster back up and running, much to the delight of the waiting crowds that cheered as another train left the station.

It was then our turn to experience the crazy hills and turns of Stampida, which has to be up there with some of my favourite other wooden rollercoasters. Our on-ride photo didn’t turn out so funny as on Tomahawk, but I did manage to sneak a photo of the station under the night sky as we waited to head back in from the break run.

From here, we nabbed a ride on a few flat rights around the park and then one last run on Dragon Khan before we had to head back towards the park entrance for our evening plans. We’d to be back around the entrance lake for 11pm, when the evening Halloween parade was to began. We arrived about halfway through, catching a mere glimpse of some of the floats from far back, and so resolved that we’d have to stay and watch it properly another day.

The next day we were exhausted from our first, and so took it easy in the morning, having some breakfast and coffee at a local café before engaging in a spot of reading and relaxation around the flat. Once back in the park, we were once again confronted by some pretty long queues, and so hopped on some of the smaller offerings which had shorter wait times.

One of these easier rides was the train, which had a small queue but then took ages to actually show up. We were then informed that we could only go one stop before having to get off, so at the next stop we’d to get off, run back into the queue, and then jump back on. It was a bit absurd!

We then went on to find part of the park that we’d not passed through until that point, jumping for a quick (and mercifully pretty dry) ride on the rapids before heading back to Stampida for a go on the other track. It’s a duelling coaster with two unconnected tracks, so technically it’s two separarte coasters in one!

I then piped up that I wanted to re-ride Shambhala, my favourite coaster at the park. Danni was feeling a bit under the weather and so sat this evening ride out, but that meant I could hop in the single rider queue and get on in a slightly more reasonable time.

The evening ride on this huge coaster was an absolute blast. I’m one for putting my hands up on coasters, but my first ride on the beast had shocked me so much that I’d held on for dear life for the first few drops. This time I emptied my pockets to ensure that the restraint was snug and tight, which then gave me the confidence to go for it and allow myself to experience all the g-forces as we traversed the awesome layout!

By the time I was off Shambhala, it was already very late, and so we headed back to the apartment after yet another late night of rides and Nutella crepes. It had quickly become a habit for us to pick up one of these sweet treats every evening: even after only two days the staff were already recognising us!

When the staff at the crepe stall are recognising you after only two days, you may have a problem…

The next day was our third and last at the park, and we’d decided to start it off with a visit to the second and substantially smaller park, Ferrari Land. The main attraction in this park is Red Force, Europe’s tallest (880 m or 2,890 ft) and fastest (180 km/h or 112 mph) coaster that’s meant to replicate the sensation of being in an F1 car.

We were then pretty shocked to see the queue for the coaster stretched around pretty much half of the park. The signs were quoting two hours of wait, but given the excessive length and the slow throughput, we knew that we’d not much chance of getting on it for at least four hours. We thus decided to head back to PortAventura, the main park, and return to Ferrari Land later on to grab a ride on Red Force.

Back in the main park, we joined the queue for Furius Baco, a launched coaster with trains which sit on either side of the track instead of on top of it. The already long wait for this ride was then made longer by a breakdown, which meant that by the time we’d ridden, Ferrari Land was already closing. You can bet I’m currently arguing with PortAventura to try and get our money back for the wasted entry to Ferrari Land!

To keep our spirits up, we headed off into the other side of the park to grab some time on our favourite flat rides. This included a spin on the carrousel that we’d seen and heard so much of but not been on. After this, we headed to the kids area to have a go on a water ride that allowed you to drift out from a central hub over the water as it span at a pretty high speed. It was a lot of fun!

That evening we made sure to secure ourselves a good spot to watch the parade go past, which we did to the dulcet tones of the PortAventura Halloween song that they had on loop. It really stuck in our head – check it out on YouTube if you want to listen to the cheesy earworm for yourself.

Once the parade floats had all gone past, we joined in the parade and danced our way out of the park for the last time. We’d made sure to be near the entrance in order to make a swift exit and get in bed as early as possible – three days on our feet in theme parks really can take its toll!

The next day we’d a relaxed morning of packing and eating some breakfast at the flat before we’d to check out at midday. We left the key and headed down to the seafront, where we wound up in a McDonald’s after the rest of the restaurants were either closed or the typical tourist offerings of overpriced imported food for British visitors. At least the McDonald’s in Spain have beer as an option with their meals!

Once we’d had some lunch, we rang for a taxi to take us back to Salou train station ready for our ride back up to Barcelona. This chilled train journey gave us some time to listen to the cheesy parade music and check out some of my creations on RollerCoaster Tycoon.

Back in Barcelona, we’d a few hours before Danni had to go to the airport to catch her flight back to the UK. We thus grabbed the metro over to Barceloneta, an area of the city I really like with its small streets which lead to the city’s main beach. We found a little terrace in a calm square and had a couple of drinks and a good chat there before Danni had to head off.

I then had a couple more hours to kill by myself, so I headed down to the beach to watch the sun set over the sea. Once this had happened, the cold descended and began to bite, and so I headed back into the little streets of Barceloneta to find somewhere to grab a bite to eat.

I wound up installing myself in a cute little bar, where I grabbed a very nice beer, some good cheese, and the best tomaca (bread with tomato) that I’ve ever had in my life. I don’t know how such a simple dish can taste so good, but it did. I was thus distraught when I dropped a piece of it, which also somehow managed to stain my shirt, my jeans, and my backpack on the way to the floor. Just my luck!

After reading some more of my book in my very obviously tomato-stained white shirt, I battled against the small size of the bar’s toilet to get changed into another shirt and wash the tomato and oil from my jeans. With this just about managed, I headed back to the metro station where I boarded two trains that never left on time. Frustrated, I wound up hailing a taxi back to Barcelona Sants such as not to miss my train onwards to Madrid.

In the end I didn’t miss my train, which was just as well as it was the last one of the day back to the capital. I arrived just after midnight and wound up walking back home as I was still rather cross that I’d had to pay for a taxi back up in Barcelona just two and a half hours before: the train link between Madrid and Barcelona is fast!

Despite the dramas and long wait times, I had an absolutely fabulous long weekend with Danni up in Barcelona and PortAventura. We commented that we’ll have to come back at some point to further explore Salou and make sure we get on Red Force. Heck, maybe we’ll come in the summer in order to brave the very wet looking log flume!

31.10.22 — Travel

Em & Lincoln’s Wedding

After having my parents over and then my sister, it was now Rhea’s turn to come and visit me a mere six months after she last came to have a little Spanish holiday here in Madrid! She rocked up on a Wednesday whilst I was working from home and settled into my flat for a long weekend of a dance event that she’d signed up to.

It was a good job that she’d a few days of event to keep her busy, however, as our original plan of spending the weekend together had been thrown into chaos from a phone call I’d had a couple of months before. Em and Lincoln had rang with giddy excitement to announce that they’d finally manage to concrete a date for their big day after all the pandemic-induced chaos!

The date, the 22nd of October, coincided with Rhea’s visit, so I’d had to ring her to check it was okay if I left her with a copy of my keys for the weekend to entertain herself. As with all good friends, she was very chill about the whole thing, and so the day after she arrived I bade her farewell as I headed for an early night.

My flight back to the UK was a disgustingly early one which saw me up at 4:30am to grab a taxi to the airport, where I flew through security and wound up having to entertain myself for nearly three hours before boarding. I managed to get half an hour’s worth of kip in on the flight, which left me at Manchester Airport where my parents had kindly agreed to come and pick me up.

From Manchester, the three of us headed to Leeds, where we did a spot of shopping around the centre of the city that I once went to university in. It was very odd but very nice to be wandering the streets of Leeds once more, as the last time I’d been in the centre of the city itself was in 2019 way before the pandemic started.

I visited some of my favourite old haunts, including Village Books, Colours May Vary, and the Corn Exchange. I also couldn’t resist grabbing myself a bite from a British institution, Greggs, where I devoured a very warm and very tasty vegan sausage roll.

Whilst in the Corn Exchange, I grabbed myself a cool new “Dirty Leeds” tote bag and then proceeded to fill it with some treats to bring back to Spain with me, including a “If it’s not from Yorkshire, it’s shite” notebook and a Yorkshire English dictionary. I also started my hunt for some bonfire toffee to bring back with me to Spain, but I couldn’t seem to find any around the city centre.

I love nothing more than a tote bag, especially when it matches my coat.

We then went for lunch at another old haunt of mine, Belgrave Music Hall, where we’d often skulk off as students in order to grab ourselves some cheap pizza slices and sit working on our laptops for hours on end. It was nice to see that it hasn’t really changed a bit, with it’s cozy charm and staff as friendly as ever.

We ordered some burgers and a huge portion of “session fries” to share, which is a literal tray full of chips topped with spicy mayo, pancetta, chillies, and cheese. These were as delicious as I remember them being and they went down very well with a pint of citrusy lager that the bartender chose out for me. My eyes were left watering though, and not just by the chillis – the price of a pint in England is outrageous recently!

These loaded “session fries” were just as good as I remember them.

After lunch, we indulged in a bit more shopping. This culminated in a trip to Ibérica, a Spanish restaurant where I’d read you can buy proper imported Spanish wine – none of that dodgy Rioja that they sell for outrageous prices over in the UK. This turned out to be a lovely experience, with the waiter throwing in some bags of picos (bits of hard bread to eat cured meats with) for free. We wound up so at home at the place that we stopped for a drink of sangría!

We then headed back to the car, where I added the wine to the various other Spanish goodies that I’d brought over for Em and Lincoln as a mini wedding gift. My parents then graciously dropped me off at Em and Lincoln’s house, where I was to stay the night before the wedding in order to save a bit of money on a hotel.

There I met the core of Em and Lincoln’s family and friends, who’d come over for a quiet drink to celebrate the last evening before the big day. We had some wine and a good old laugh, even though I was beginning to wilt from my long day of travelling, shopping, and socialising.

Once everyone had left, I was allocated the comfy spongy sofa to sleep on as the two guest rooms were full, but getting into bed was made quite difficult by another guest who’d decided it was his. Lando, Em and Lincoln’s gorgeous dog, had claimed the duvet as his own!

With those puppy dog eyes, I nearly resigned to sleeping on the floor.

The next day was the day of the ceremony, so we all got into our glad rags and headed down to Millennium Square and the City Hall where the wedding was to take place. Once the rest of the friends and family arrived, the proceedings got underway and I felt the pressure as I was responsible for two aspects of the wedding: controlling the music and bearing the rings!

Acting as DJ wasn’t too difficult, but I’d had the job of ring bearer spring up on me just the evening before. I’d held on to the box containing the two wedding bands as if it was my first born child the entire journey, and then did as I’d been briefed during the ceremony itself. It was an honour to be included in this way in such a lovely and intimate setting!

With the rings exchanged, the registry signed, and the exit music over, we all reconvened outside the City Hall for the customary confetti throwing and photo shooting. I’d shed a little tear during the ceremony itself and then I’d to contain myself during the photos, but this time they were tears from laughing as me, Em, and Lincoln grabbed a photo together.

We were quite distracted during the actual photo but I love it anyway!

Once the photoshoot was over, the group of us then headed down to Franco Manca’s for some lunch. I sat next to Ros, Lincoln’s mum, and we had a right laugh as we enjoyed our salads, pizzas, sorbets, and then a little shot of grapa (a strong Italian liquor) that Ros suggested we take as a digestif.

After lunch, the wedding party then split up for us all to go our separate ways before we reconvened at Em and Lincoln’s house for the evening do. I headed off to a hotel I’d grabbed in Headingley and checked in, whereupon I made the absolutely most of the amenities by having a two hour nap in the comfy bed and then an hourlong soak in the bath.

My decadent afternoon of relaxation had then made me quite late for the evening do, so I threw on my clothes and grabbed a taxi back up to Em and Lincoln’s place. The party was in full swing when I arrived, so I headed outside to toast some marshmallows and get chatting to everyone I’d not had chance to speak to before.

The celebration was a lovely way to end the day, with highlights including a recreation of an improv dance I made up to Sia’s “Chandelier” in my second year of university (when Em and I lived together). I met a great bunch of new people, drank some good wine, eat some good cheese, and would have stayed all night if I hadn’t plans for the next day!

The next morning I awoke in my hotel room to a very foggy Leeds – check the contrast in the two photos above! The first order of the day was some breakfast, which I’d booked in advance as a treat to myself. I thus headed down to the hotel restaurant and loaded up on all my favourite British breakfast goodies: sausages, bacon, black pudding, and poached egg on toast.

After this, I checked out of my room and headed down to a local café just down the road, where I’d arranged for another special meet up which had been facilitated by the stars aligning in a rather happy twist of fate: Luisa was in Leeds!

I’d not seen Luisa since we had breakfast together in Leeds back in 2019, and she’s changed jobs, got herself a partner, and moved down to Norwich since then – a lot can change in such a short time! It was thus a stroke of luck that she just happened to be around, so I met up with her and her partner, Sol, for some post-breakfast coffee.

We had an absolute hoot in the few short hours that we were together, with me and Luisa catching up on many, many things and reminiscing past hilarity from both Leeds and my trips over to Germany. We also spoke of the possibility of meeting up to go to another beer festival back in Germany early next year – so watch this space!

All too soon Luisa and Sol had to be getting off and I’d to head into Leeds proper to get the first of many trains over to Manchester Airport. They dropped me off at the train station and I began to navigate the delicate state of the British train system, but I’ve to say that despite having to make three changes along the way, the journey was pretty cheap and pretty smooth sailing. I didn’t even complain about the couple of interchanges I’d to run through in Manchester, as it was nice to get out a bit and see even brief flashes of the city.

I eventually arrived at Manchester Airport, which was again an absolute breeze and nothing like the horror stories I’ve heard about it. My only gripe was that I’d arrived so early, so had to spend a good three hours entertaining myself in the somewhat lacking departure lounge at terminal three.

My late flight then got me back into Madrid just after midnight, where I suffered a painfully slow journey from terminal 4S back to my flat. I was just happy to be in my bed, though, and so slept like an absolute baby to be ready to work the next day.

I then had just one last evening with Rhea, which we made a nice and chill one as we stayed in and did a spot of cooking. We whipped up a meal of prawns with homemade lemonade and some roast veggies, which we then devoured with Rhea’s tipple of choice whilst in Spain: vermouth.

The next day I then waved Rhea off as she headed back to the UK and our crazy weekend of country swapping was complete. It was great to see her, then an honour to form such an intimate role in Em and Lincoln’s wedding, and then I’d even the pleasure of heading back to a flat kept nice and cosy by Rhea after her long weekend of swing dancing.

It was quite the crazy weekend for all of us!

28.10.22 — Journal

Ellie Nips Over

After my parents visited just a couple of weeks before, it was once again time for me to welcome family into my humble abode here in Madrid, and this time it was the turn of my sister, Ellie! Like my mum and dad, she’s been in Madrid a good few times before, the last time about a year ago to the day, but it’s always great to have her over and do some chill stuff together around the city.

She arrived in the afternoon and made her way to my office, where I’d to finish off a busy day at work. We then left together and headed back to my flat, where we’d a chill evening planned at home. Pedro came over, we opened a bottle of wine, and the three of us wound up so deep in conversation that we almost forgot to put the homemade cannelloni in the oven that I’d prepared with Ellie!

We had a hilarious evening in and my spinach and ricotta cannelloni weren’t half bad, even if I say so myself. It was a miracle that they were even made, as the night before I was trapping around Madrid visiting six different supermarkets after Mercadona didn’t have any ricotta in stock. Nightmare so it was!

The next morning began with a walk around the river after a decent lie in. We then headed back home for lunch, where we made a Caprese salad, homemade hummus, and some other goodies for lunch. We then chilled around the house some more to regain some energy for our evening plans which were to take us out of the city centre.

The autumn colours are now out in force and things are looking lovely.

One of the things me and Ellie always do when she visits is head down to a park in the south of the city to watch the sun set, and so we packed a bag with some drinks and nibbles and headed down to catch the bus southwards. We were joined on the bus by Luis and his friend, who was visiting Madrid and also decided she’d like to catch the sunset from the infamous “Park of the Seven Tits” (that’s what its name translates as, honestly!)

We had a hoot down at the park, with Luis teaching Ellie the Spanish custom of how to properly eat sunflower seeds after she ate one whole, shell and all! Sharing some drinks, we then watched the sun set over the Madrid skyline before abandoning the park and heading into the centre as the temperature dropped.

For a drink and a bite to eat we headed to a couple of my favourite haunts around Antón Martín. The first is a 70s style bar with a great atmosphere and some equally fabulous cocktails. From there, we tipsily headed to a Basque pintxos bar for some delicious small dishes. It was there that we ended our night and grabbed the bus back home.

Me and Ellie headed up into the centre of Madrid the morning after, where we indulged in a spot of shopping before heading up to the rooftop bar of El Corte Inglés. It was pretty busy and the place we liked to grab a snack was closed, so we headed back down and carried on exploring the shops we wanted to check out until we got tired and headed down to the lake.

We then shared a big jug of sangría down at the lake whilst the afternoon drew on into the evening. We’d time to kill before our main plan for the evening, which was to see the sun set from a great vantage point next to the Royal Palace. With little time to spare, we’d then to head to the metro and get ourselves back up to Ópera in order to catch the last rays of sun.

Ellie was very chuffed at getting her hands on some unique flavours of chocolate.

The sunset from this spot was then as gorgeous as usual. We watched the sky change from blue to bright orange and then its typical shades of pink and purple as the evening drew on, all framed by the royal place and cathedral. Not a bad way to end another busy day exploring my home city!

I love this photos and all of the colours created by the evening light.

The next morning we’d planned to make some homemade pancakes, and so spent a lazy morning frying them, filling them with fruit, and then dousing them with a generous helping of proper Vermont maple syrup that Megan’s mum Maureen had gifted me when I went to visit!

After our hearty breakfast, Ellie and I prepared our picnic lunch and then headed off on the bus to Retiro, Madrid’s main park. We scouted out a space in our favourite area of the park overlooking the lake, and then settled down to spend a slow afternoon munching, drinking, reading, and chatting.

Once we were full of food and had been worn down by the sun, we collected our things and wandered out of the park, eventually heading the entire way home on foot in order to pass by some of the city’s other sights. We then rested in the flat for a while before heading out for our evening meal, for which we were accompanied by Luis once again!

Our meal at our favourite local Italian spot was then as hilarious as it was tasty, with a couple of (shared, mind you) bottles of wine leading us to attempt to recreate some videos that Luis had seen on Instagram. These involved Luis covering himself with a cloth, from which behind I would then appear in his place in a feeble attempt at a magic trick. Things went south quite literally when we attempted it, with Luis winding up on the floor and me nearly joining him as I burst into laughter!

The next day we decided to take things easy once again (there’s a theme going on here) and prepared some fruit smoothies at home for breakfast. Our original plan had been to hire some bikes, but we weren’t feeling so committal and so opted for a leisurely walk down the river instead.

The whole trip was a rather relaxed experience.

We wound up having a quick drink before heading back home, where we had a nap ready for our evening’s plans of a night out with Sara. This then began at a local bar for some food and then a couple of rounds of gin and tonics. From there, we grabbed a taxi up to my favourite karaoke joint, where we spend the rest of the night singing and jiving to a lot of songs that poor Ellie couldn’t understand. She gave it her all though, and even wound up being roped into singing a Spanish song by a group of lads nearby. It was great fun!

The two of us were a little worse for wear the next day, and so spent most of the day relaxing around my flat before eventually gathering the strength to head out for an evening wander. We passed by a shop in the city centre so that Ellie could grab something she’d seen a few days before, and then wandered past the royal palace and the west of the city once more to take in the views as the sun set.

This view from the royal palace is almost ethereal, with the mountains in the background.

Ellie then left early the next morning and I headed back to work after a good few days of lots of relaxed fun. It was great to have her over and to catch up with all the gossip and news. She’s now as busy as me and is always travelling and doing all sorts of stuff, so we’re often a bit out of date until we actually sit down and have a proper chat!

There was no rest for me, however, and I was soon preparing my house for my next visitor just two days after Ellie headed back to the UK – but more on that in my next post!

27.10.22 — Journal

Arcade Fire & Theme Parks

With my parents back home in the UK, I had plenty of other entertaining plans in place to keep myself occupied. After my trip to the US and Canda, I’d decided to do more stuff and live more experiences, so I jumped at the chance to go and see Arcade Fire live in concert with Carmen!

We met up one evening in a very cramped bar just outside the Wizink Centre, Madrid’s main arena in which I’d seen Queen with Danni just this past summer. We had a couple of beers to build up some energy and then headed out with the rest of the crowds as the hour of the concert drew closer.

It turned out that our seats were way up in the gods, but I was happy as it meant I could enjoy the light show in its entirety – anyone who knows me will know I do love to stare at the lighting rig during any given live event. Arcade Fire were then on stage, and so followed a medley of some of my favourite songs of theirs and some new gems that I discovered as they belted them out live.

It was a truly awesome show, with the band’s signature and eclectic mix of styles reflected in the visuals and the staging of the show. They moved from the main stage to a smaller on in the centre of the standing crowd, heading to it through the audience itself. It was a great experience and me and Carmen had a wonderful time of it all!

The next weekend I had another plan in place, which was to head with a friend to Parque Warner, a huge theme park just outside of Madrid proper that me and Danni visited together for the first time last year. In the end he was too ill to join, but in a moment of improvisation and spontaneity I rang another mate who lives nearby. He had just enough time to throw on some clothes and head down to the bus station to accompany me!

I managed to talk him into this one, which didn’t go down well after.

The Superman coaster was definitely our favourite: we rode it four times!

We had loads of fun at the park, with one of the more hilarious moments being off the rides themselves. We sat down for lunch inside one of the food courts and watched as a family just outside the window began to panic as they were attacked by a persistent bee. We couldn’t help but laugh as we watched them waft and flail their arms around. I might have felt bad, but they could have just as easily moved to another table…

The rest of the rides were a good laugh, all except for a water ride that Álvaro wanted to go on which then soaked us through to the skin. It took every last ounce of my self control to stop myself from yelling expletives the entire way around the painfully slow circuit, for the duration of which we were attacked by water jets and waterfalls and other such instruments of torture.

As the day drew to a close we headed over to the Loca Academia de Policía (“Crazy Police Academy”) show. I’d seen this before with Danni when we went together, but the motor stunts and the questionable comedy were still as fun this second time around.

The sun set on us during this show, but we were still clinging on to the back end of summer, so the temperatures were warm enough for us to keep on enjoying the park’s offer until it closed. We made one last run around the park, hopping on another coaster and then sadly missing the evening parade as the time given on the park’s app turned out to be wrong – damn it!

Leaving the pleasingly illuminated park, I had then only one week to wait until my next theme park experience. This time I headed off to Madrid’s other and more central theme park, the Parque de Atracciones (whose name is very uninspired, meaning just “Amusement Park”). I met up with my colleague María and the two of us had an absolute blast, riding all of the rides multiple times and making the most of the 10 hours that the park was open.

One of the funniest moments took place on the ride that I’m sat waiting for above, a huge spinning contraption that takes you high into the skies above Madrid for some of the most insane views over the city and its surrounding mountains. We just found the whole experience hilarious, giggling from start to finish!

Another highlight took place on the rapids. I’d convinced María to join me on it and then somehow managed to talk her into a second ride as there was no queue when we arrived back in the station. I recorded the entirety of this second run around the rapids track, in which María got properly drenched by a stray wave that hit our boat. I’d include the clip here, but I shan’t on fear of death…

And with all that, I conclude another blog post to try and catch up with all the stuff I’ve been doing recently. Stay tuned for the next – it shouldn’t be too long!

25.10.22 — Travel

Toledo with the Parents

After returning from Andrea and Andrei’s wedding in the north of Spain, I’d a week at work to undergo before my next adventure got underway, this time accompanied by my parents! They’d headed over from the UK to spend a few days with me in Madrid after I visited them back in summer, and we’d some interesting plans in mind for their trip!

They arrived at Atocha train station just as I finished work, so I rushed on down to meet them in arrivals. Reunited, the three of us headed to my flat and then out for some drinks and an evening meal, for which we manage to snag a table on a popular terrace in my local neighbourhood.

We had a great chat and a catch up with some delicious scran, but didn’t stay out too late as we’d some adventurous plans for the next day. These began in earnest as we rocked up at the train station bright and early to catch a train to Toledo!

It’d been years since I last visited the old capital of Spain, a quick hour train just outside Madrid. It was only to be the second time I was in the city, so I was sure to get some recommendations from friends and colleagues for the best places to visit and eat.

Toledo’s train station is lovely but not as old as it looks.

Arriving in Toledo’s very ornate train station, we began our journey up to the top of the hillside city on foot. The views as we crossed the bridge over the river we pretty spectacular, but we were soon faced by the uphill slog in order to reach the historical centre – thank god we’d brought plenty of water!

Once we’d reached the top, we began to explore Toledo’s ancient winding streets, although we did soon grow hot and tired and opted to stop for a drink on a little terrace at a bar that came recommended by a colleague. From here we explored some more, all before arriving at the restaurant that we’d booked for lunch.

Lunch was at a spot that had also come recommended. We tried a selection of local food, from salad to pork to partridge, a traditional dish from the ancient city. It was all very delicious and served in a lovely cellar setting accompanied by some artesanal beers that are brewed by the restaurant itself.

After eating, we continued our trek through the hilly streets of the city and wound up at the huge cathedral. Dad was keen on heading inside, so we grabbed some audio guides and headed into the vast space that I’d only seen from outside the last time I visited.

As you can see from the photos here, the cathedral was absolutely spectacular. It’s a pretty place from the outside, but I was still taken aback by the variety and intricacy of the different architectural and sculptural wonders that lie within. The sensation of intrigue and awe I can only compare to when I went to visit the mosque-cathedral in Córdoba.

We’d entered wanting a quick snoop around for five minutes, but we wound up spending well over an hour listening to the audio guide and leading ourselves around the vast space. It was an interesting experience, even if the voice on the audio guide was a bit overdramatic – even by my standards!

The space was overwhelmingly vast and ornamental.

After we’d knackered ourselves out, we dropped the audio guides back off and went to wander around the streets some more. We came across a shop selling traditional sweets and marzipans, so bought some of them from the nun that was working there.

The day was then growing on and we were getting a bit tired, so we retreated to another café along the way to have a glass of wine and a quick snack as we watched the world go by. From there, I ordered a taxi as I was keen on visiting another place that I’d been told was worth the car ride up to.

Even after the amazing cathedral, I think this is my favourite pic from Toledo.

The trip turned out to be well worth the taxi fare, with panoramic views over the hilltop city from an adjacent incline. We spent a good while just taking in the views and watching the evening sun cast its golden light on Toledo’s buildings.

It was only the threat of missing our train back to Madrid that eventually coaxed us down from our vantage point. We made the downhill journey back to the train station on foot, which also provided some cool views from the winding path by the river.

The striking city is set within equally dramatic landscapes.

Back in Madrid, we had an early night ready to spend our Sunday doing some decidedly more relaxed activities. Top of the list was a picnic, which we spent all morning preparing for. I made some homemade ensaladilla, a salad made with potato, tuna, egg, homemade mayo, and a variety of other goodies. This was accompanied by a Caprese salad and some other treats which we took to the Parque del Oeste, a pretty park in the west of Madrid.

We enjoyed our afternoon in the park before returning back home for an evening in – it had been a busy weekend and the ups and downs of Toledo’s roads had really worn us down! This relaxation spilled over into Monday, when we spent our last evening together in my local bar where I’m now a regular.

I then saw the two of them off the next morning as I left them in an early taxi up to the airport to fly back to the UK. It was lovely to have them over and I was now looking forward to the next few days. There was no rest for the wicked, however, as I’d many other plans to get my teeth stuck into as the week continued – but more on that next time!