In a rather late follow-up to a post published almost a year ago in which I shared some 35mm film photos, today I bring a few more photos from my summer 2019 visit to Caudete de las Fuentes, the hometown of friend Roberto’s family in rural Valencia. I had forgotten that these extra few shots even existed, and so it was a lovely surprise to find them bundled in with my photos of Tenerife after dropping off a roll of film to be developed.
These photos document some of the scenes from their old family home, and were taken on an old Samsung in between explorations of the small town and time spent mounting a lightbulb spectacular in their back patio. The warmth and imperfection of the film shots combined with the frozen-in-time nature of the location make for quite a special set of photos, one which looks like it could come from another century.
As ever, I haven’t edited any of these photos, as I’m a fan of leaving such intimate and mysterious 35mm film shots as they come. This second half concludes the series of photos from this tiny rural Valencian town, and represents a contradiction that I took away with me from my trip: there was an eerie melancholy air to a town in decline and suffering from severe depopulation, but my time there with Roberto was a whole lot of fun and relaxation with someone who’s also a fan of lights like me.
It’s been nearly two weeks now since my holidays in Tenerife and Murcia came to an end, and so I thought that it was about time that I drop back in and update everyone on what I’ve been up to since then. Apart from work, which is still being done remotely from my flat, I’ve been making the most of the cooler late-summer nights to visit some interesting spots around the city and take a few pictures.
Now, the title of this blog post, “De Madrid al Cielo”, is a famous phrase used around here which roughly translates as “from Madrid to the heavens”. It’s common poetic use implies that Madrid is about as close to heaven as you can get, but I like the double entendre which brings me perfectly into my first little story, which certainly involved us getting as close to the heavens as possible.
One evening, Jhosef and friends invited me up to the mountains which surround Madrid in order to escape from the bright lights of the city and watch the meteor showers and take some long-exposure shots of the night sky. I figured that this wasn’t an everyday opportunity, and so I hopped in the car and off we went into the night, secretly hoping that I’d see my first ever shooting star.
After a lengthy ride up a very bumpy dirt track, we arrived in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, and scouted out a rock to throw some blankets down and set up camp. We first spent some time munching on snacks we’d brought along and chatting away, with some of us later opting to huddle together and rest rather than run around taking photos.
I didn’t bring my camera with me, which was perhaps a silly decision looking back, but after a few walks with Cake Club in the same area in the past, I wasn’t about to end up having to haul my heavy camera up a mountainside! Jhosef and his friends took some lovely photos of the sky, however, and I even managed to make out the shape of the Milky Way and see a grand total of six shooting stars. It was magical!
After arriving home from our outing at 4am, I then spent the rest of the weekend resting and trying to knock my sleep schedule back into line! During the week, however, I kicked back after work by heading down to the Matadero cultural centre near my house in order to find a seat in the shade and write my previous two blog posts out in the fresh air.
One evening even saw me take a bike all the way up to the city centre, where I sat myself down on a lovely terrace in Madrid de los Austrias, the oldest part of the city. After some more blog post writing and a cheeky beer, I decided to walk back home as the journey is downhill, and at that time of night the sun was hitting everything just beautifully as I walked down the ancient streets of the centre.
Once I’d seen such lovely evening skies over the city, I was determined to catch some more photos of Madrid’s gorgeous sunsets, which have had me hooked since I first saw a stunning example of the purple skies way back in 2016. Even Ellie, after a couple oftrips to the city, always asks to check out the sunsets!
I wandered first past the fenced-off abandoned train station at the northern peak of the park, which is covered in black netting to keep prying eyes out, but which was no match for my determination to bag a photo of the abandoned trains and lazy cat which I could see within. After drawing some odd looks for shoving my phone through any hole I could find in said black net, I headed further south and into the park, snapping more photos as I crossed the large railway bridge.
This bridge led me out to a path which leads further into the park, but curiosity got the better of me as I noticed that some people had scaled the straits of the brutalist planetarium building which sits just to the left of the bridge. I snuck off to investigate whether the metal stairwells and various open-air platforms of the tall concrete structure were public, which they turned out to be.
Once on top of the planetarium, I took these few photos of the gorgeous sunset, and then managed to get lost as I searched for a rental bike spot in order to cycle back home. In the end I’d to give up and find a bus back home, but as it was getting late and I was working the next day, I think it turned out to be a good idea!
This past weekend was a particularly warm one, and I had some errands that I wanted to run and some things I wanted to pick up, so I decided to head to an indoor shopping centre to make the most of the free air conditioning! Instead of visiting one of my usual haunts like Parquesur or La Gavia, I decided to head to a centre in the north of the city that I’d been meaning to check out for a while.
The trip there ended up taking me much longer than I ever expected, as I managed to just miss the next bus or train at every stop along the way. I then got completely lost in a housing estate after hopping off my last bus, but I did eventually make it to the shopping centre!
Another activity which never disappoints is a leisurely bike ride down the banks of the Río Manzanares by my house, and so I have spent a couple of evenings this past week doing just that. The many bridges along the way provide great spots for one or two lovely photos of the heavens of Madrid, and the sunsets this week haven’t disappointed!
I’ve also been catching up with friends since I arrived back from my holidays, including a movie night in at home, a meal out of delicious vegan burgers with a friend I haven’t seen for a while, and then an evening in the park with Bogar and Hugo. The three of us, alongside Hugo’s boyfriend, met up in Retiro, Madrid’s biggest and most famous park, where we set up a little picnic and had some beers as the sun set around us.
And thus I conclude this little look back over the past week, with all the photos of the evening sky of this lovely little city I call home that one could possibly wish for. Coronavirus may still be quashing all dreams of travelling in this rather terrible year that is 2020, but once we are all free to move around once more, I do implore that you visit Madrid and see why the locals say “de Madrid al cielo”…
My last post left off with me catching a plane after a lovely few days down in Tenerife, but this plane didn’t bring me back home to Madrid, but rather eastwards and to Alicante. I wouldn’t be spending my time in Valencia like last summer, however, as I was picked up by my auntie and uncle and whisked off to Murcia to spend the second half of my holiday at their place.
Upon arrival, the weather was thankfully much warmer and brighter than the last time I visited, but the sun was already beginning to set by the time we arrived at their apartment. We weren’t about to waste the evening though, as my auntie had organised for us to meet some of her friends at a local restaurant to take advantage of their happy hour!
After snacking on some lovely croquetas de bacalao (cod croquettes) and sneaking in as many drinks as we could before happy hour finished at ten, we returned home to carry on our conversation and get rested for the next day.
As I’d agreed to make my auntie a carrot cake as a late birthday present, and I wanted to pick up some home comforts from the supermarket, we kicked off the next day with a trip to Mercadona (my local supermarket chain). We also stopped by at the British supermarket to buy some cordial (seeing as I could bring it up to Madrid with me on the train later), and then spent the rest of the day lounging around the pool.
In the evening, we headed down to a town on the coast and a restaurant that my auntie and uncle had recommended, where we had a lovely meal as we watched the sun set over the sea. After some table-layout-related chaos, and a starter containing gulas (baby eels) which had my auntie and uncle intrigued, I enjoyed a lovely cut of pork and a homemade dessert which left me fit to burst!
We were up bright and early(ish) the following day, as we’d a trip planned up to a covenant in the mountains. My auntie and uncle had spoken quite a bit of this place in the past, but I’d never managed to make it up there, so I was keen to see what the fuss was all about.
It turns out that the cluster of buildings perched on the mountainside is absolutely gorgeous, with panoramic views over the city of Murcia to match. These views revealed themselves as we walked between two buildings and through a lovely archway, but I’d been told that there was a little chapel that was worth a visit before exploring further. The interior of this place was decorated to the rafters with gold and frescos, but we were soon ushered out by the lights going out as mass was soon to begin.
We then stopped in the covenant’s café for drinks and some of their delicious homemade empanadas (imagine a Cornish pasty), which gave us the energy to begin climbing some of the pathways and taking in the amazing views over the covenant, the mountains, and the urban sprawl below.
Once we’d knackered ourselves out in the heat, we hopped back in the car and began searching for a restaurant that my auntie and uncle’s friends had recommended. We were told that it was an unassuming spot, attached to a service station, but upon entering it became obvious that it was a hit with the locals. I spotted that a lamb dish on the menu had won an award, and so I opted for that despite not being a fan of lamb, but I sure was glad that I did – it was delicious and an absolute steal at just 8€!
The next day we decided to spend relaxing around the apartment and pool, and I decided I’d whip together aforementioned carrot cake as my auntie had invited a group of friends over for a drink. In the end I made a two-tier monstrosity, something I don’t usually do, but it went down an absolute treat. I also must mention that we were joined in our gathering by my auntie’s friend’s dog, Paolo, who was a very good boy and a joy to have around.
We spent the evening in a quiet local bar, where we shared a range of dishes on the terrace, chatting about all sorts of nonsense as the sun set around us. It had soon become my third evening in Murcia, and I still hadn’t decided when I was returning to Madrid, as I was still waiting to hear if my sister’s trip was definitely off due to the quarantine situation.
For breakfast the next morning, my auntie and I jumped in the car together and headed down to a lovely restaurant on the coast that we always tend to stop at. Singing a range of songs in the car on the way down (which reminded me of my car karaoke project for university), we arrived to enjoy a classic Spanish breakfast followed by a cheeky beer as we looked over the Mar Menor.
After this followed anther relaxing day at the pool, when I finally found out that sadly Ellie wouldn’t be able to make it over to Madrid, and so I booked my train back for the Thursday to give me a few days relaxing in my flat without rushing back.
Now that we knew exactly how much time I had left, we made a plan of action for the following day, involving taking a little shuttle train from a tiny local village up to Cartagena, a city on the coast. This is another experience that my auntie and uncle had talked a lot about, but that once again I had never done, and so I hopped on to the tiny one-wagon train in earnest.
Upon arriving in Cartagena, we walked around the city wall and into the centre, where we soon stopped for a drink to cool off from the summer heat. After this we were sure to stop by a local bar, Ramón’s, where I once again got chatting to Ramón himself and we enjoyed the local speciality coffee, un café asiático.
For lunch we sought out a restaurant that my auntie and uncle knew, and sat down on the terrace for what was to become the start of a wild two-hour experience! After we placed our orders and they gave us a plate of patatas bravas “as a gift for the delay”, we had an inkling that things might not be running smoothly behind the scenes, and this hunch turned out to be right!
With our starters coming out at random intervals, it soon became evident that a complete chaos had been caused by the numbering system of the tables, which had fallen apart as new tables had been put out and nobody new which numbers they were. When it was eventually time for dessert, the head waiter had clearly had enough, and opted to just stand in the middle of all the tables and shout out the list of desserts that were available, instructing everyone to just raise their hands for their preferred dessert as he did so. What a laugh!
Once lunch was finally over, we headed slowly back down to the waterfront, wandering along the docks of the port and back forwards the train station. I then spent a relaxing evening in the pool by myself, watching the sun set as I called some friends around the world.
All too soon my final full day came around, and after a morning hanging around the pool, me and my auntie headed out for lunch at a local bar whilst my uncle headed out with his friends. This involved a few courses of local dishes, all of which was delicious, and which I then digested whilst lounging around in the pool once more.
I did have one thing I wanted to do before I left, though, so we made the most of my last night to squeeze it in before my return up north. This involved a trip down to the mud baths of Lo Pagán, which I’ve made the most of during a previous visit, but which my auntie has never experienced. This involves wading into a shallow pool, slathering oneself in sulphur-infused mud, allowing the stuff to dry in the sun, and then washing it off.
After watching the sun set and stopping off for a kebab (it’s hard to get a decent one in Madrid, so I’d to make the most), we headed back home and had one last drink for my last evening. The following morning was then spent lounging around the pool, before heading off for a lunch at a restaurant that we usually visit just before I head back on the train.
This time, however, there was a rail replacement bus service in action for the first half hour of my trip, and so I’d to wave my auntie and uncle off from the car park before a rather uneventful socially-distanced train ride back to the big city. Although sad to leave my auntie and uncle and resigned to the fact that my summer holidays were nearing an end, it was lovely for me to come back to find that all my plants had survived my absence thanks to my friend for nipping in to water them!
Much like Cami, Sam, and family, I’ve to once again thank my auntie and uncle for putting me up and putting up with me for a whole week after my five days were extended by the unfortunate cancellation of my sister’s trip to visit me in Madrid. I feel like any time out to travel is a real luxury this year, and so I’m really grateful to have been able to visit Tenerife and Murcia.
For now, it’s back to work for me, and I know that Ellie (my sister) and Johann (her boyfriend) will be back in Madrid just as soon as they can!
Once again I was to spend my time staying with Cami, Sam, and Cami’s family, which I was very much looking forward to after they were the most gracious of hosts last year. The odd thing this year would be the whole experience of travelling under new coronavirus restrictions and safety measures, as this two-hour flight represented the first time I have travelled in any real capacity since Madrid was plunged into lockdown back in March.
The trip began as my holidays usually do, with a frantic last-minute check that my flat was secure, my plants were watered, and my electronics were turned off. I then headed up to the airport on a practically empty train, arriving at T4 with time to spare in case of social distancing related holdups. Apart from an abundance of hand gel stations and social distancing markers – all of which I feel we are now accustomed to – the airport experience was quite normal. I filtered through security as usual, headed towards my gate, and began to look for a bite to eat for lunch before my 3pm flight.
This is where I managed to royally cock everything up. I had noticed that the usual offer of shops and restaurants was all but shuttered, and so had headed out towards my gate in the hope of finding a little sandwich stall to bag myself a meal deal. This, it turned out, involved catching an underground shuttle train, as T4 is split into a main building and a “satellite terminal”, which is a fancy name for a smaller building with even more gates surrounding it.
Well, upon arrival in this “satellite terminal” it soon became clear that no such eating establishments were to be found. Not to worry, I thought, as I had plenty of time to spare before boarding began, I would simply return to the main terminal and carry out a more comprehensive search there: I was sure I could at least find a McDonalds. I thus hopped back on the shuttle in the opposite direction and arrived at the other end only to be immediately stopped by security.
The two security guards in question began to ask where I’d flown in from, whereupon I explained that I’d just come back to the main terminal from the other building in order to search for some lunch. They were very understanding, but told me that I’d have to go through the security checkpoint which is otherwise only used for connecting flights in order to return to my gate. This I did, only to be spat out of the other side of the security control and straight into the jaws of another couple of security guards.
These two also asked where I’d flown in from, and so I explained that I hadn’t come from anywhere, that I’d come from here, from Madrid, and that I’d yet to set foot on a plane. This was received with some suspicious looks and a thermometer aimed at my forehead, and one of the guards persistently asking if I’d come from Marrakesh. I rattled off the story of how I’d ended up stuck in the connecting flights area of the airport just because I wanted a bloody sandwich, and I was eventually let back through to the shuttle, where I resolved never to make a u-turn in an airport ever again.
There’s a happy end to this story, as I eventually found a kiosk, grabbed myself a sandwich, and made it to the gate in time to get confused by the boarding procedure, which is now undertaken in rows of five in order to maintain some level of social distancing. The tinny sound of the airport PA meant that I was left as one of the scragglers at the end who had no idea what was going on, but I had no trouble eventually finding my seat (at the very back) and settling down for two hours of trying to sleep in a stiff airplane seat with a mask bound to my face.
At the risk of making this whole blog post about my misadventures in airports, I shall skip to the bit where I arrive in Tenerife, leave the airport building to get some sun, am immediately greeted by an unbearably cold breeze, and then try to head back into the airport only to be told that I couldn’t enter as I didn’t have a boarding pass to fly.
I was soon saved from my this blustery debacle by Cami and Sam, who arrived in their car for a hug-filled greeting and the half-hour trip down to the south of the island where they live. After setting me up in a spare room of Cami’s parents’ house (complete with en suite and balcony, I may add), the three of us headed out to pick up some snacks from the British shop and then for a delicious street-market tea, which involved a mix Arabic, Chinese, and Spanish dishes.
The next day I woke up to the news that Cami’s parents were to prepare a barbecue, which I was very excited for after my delicious experience last time. Before that, however, Cami’s parents took me down to a car boot sale just down the road whilst Cami and Sam were busy with their two dogs, Luke and Nas.
After a snoop around the endless stalls of odds and ends, we returned home and began to prepare four our barbecue lunch. Once again I had brought my film camera, and so I took plenty of photos on that which I’ll have to wait to see in a few weeks time, but I was way too busy enjoying the delicious meats and fresh salads with homemade sauces to even stop and take a photo of any of the food!
Once we were full to burst with delicious food and Chilean wine, we sat out the mid-afternoon heat indoors, before regrouping to head down to a beach next to La Montaña Roja (The Red Mountain), an interesting rock formation whose name comes from its red tint. We had a paddle in the sea before walking along the sand to dry off, but we were lured back into the water by some of the biggest waves I think I’ve ever swam in!
One particular wave left me with a mouthful of seawater and my sunglasses floating in the surf, and so I took that as a sign that I should probably make for dry ground, and we ended our day of explorations with a few drinks and a game of Scrabble at Cami and Sam’s house – we were all still too full for tea!
The next day’s plans involved a trip down to some natural pools, plans which were nearly dashed by the high waves from the day before meaning that the pools we were planning on going to had been closed for safety reasons. Luckily Cami devised an alternate plan on the spot, and we eventually rocked up at another natural pool a little further down the coast.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I was told that we’d be visiting some natural pools, but we ended up at the base of a cliff where the constant sloshing of the waves had filled a basin with fresh seawater. We left our bags on the rocks and dipped down into the pool, relaxing in it’s tranquil waters for a while before venturing over to the wall where the waves collided. Here we could sit peacefully for a few minutes before the odd well-timed wave would hit in just the right way as to send a rush of water upwards and crashing into the pool, thoroughly drenching us and occasionally throwing us from the wall and into the pool.
Once we’d tired of our frolicking at the pool and I’d managed to burn my shoulders in the sun (something I’d find out later on), we headed to a pizzeria where Cami and Sam insisted that I try a pizza which had slices of potato on it. I was dubious, but after trying the potato, sausage, mozzarella, and rosemary pizza, I can confidently say that it’s an absolute winner! I am sat here in Madrid writing this now, and as I think about that pizza, I’m starting to get rather hungry…
Anyway, by this point it was getting somewhat late, and so we opted for another relaxing evening at Sam and Cami’s place, where Cami whipped up some delicious homemade chicken nuggets and the three of us called Kevin in the US. It was Kevin who introduced me to Cami and Sam when the three of them all lived in Asturias, and we had an absolute riotous time in FaceTime, reminiscing about old times and laughing at Kevin for buying a garden tool cupboard thinking it was a wardrobe.
The next day took the three of us, along with Cami’s mum Nati and a family friend, up to the north of the island. We visited one of the older towns with more traditional architecture, La Orotava, where I naturally spent the time snapping away taking photos of everything!
Once we’d tired of wandering the many steep streets, we went to a rather special place for lunch. In Tenerife, they have a culture of independent restaurants called guachinches (which sounds like “gwah-chin-chez”, a bit of a mouthful) which are special as they usually begin with someone selling homemade wine and food out of their living room. If the food and wine are any good, and word spreads about the place, they begin to expand, installing tables and chairs in garages, gardens, basements, and basically anywhere else that they will fit!
The guachinche that we went to was unassuming from the outside, but once we were shown to our table around the back, the scale of the place became evident. There were tables abound, tucked in shipping containers and under lean-to structures and even in an opened-out basement, and all of them were full of people enjoying their lunch. I left Cami and family to decide what to order, and soon found myself tucking into sharing plates of garlic mushrooms, fried octopus, grilled pork, and the most delicious meringue-topped dessert!
Once again I was too absorbed in conversation and the food to take photos, but the camera did come out again when we headed to the second city for the day, La Laguna. Here we wandered up and down the picturesque streets of the historic centre, stopping eventually for a cool drink and to recover from a long day on our feet.
After heading back home and recovering from our adventures, we decided to have tea at a local burger joint, where I was served a towering monster of a burger along with a mountain of chips – and all this after a huge lunch at the guachinche!I somehow managed to finish the thing, and we then headed back to bed before my last full day on the island. How time flies!
Our last day was spent rather lazily, as we met up for breakfast at Cami and Sam’s place, before heading down to a pool that they have access to in an apartment complex near their house. We would have gone to the pool that’s part of their complex, but they insisted that this one was much more tranquil, and they were right. For the majority of the afternoon we were just sharing the pool with another couple, who didn’t seem interested in actually bathing, and so it felt like we had the place to ourselves!
After a good splash about, we headed back up to Cami and Sam’s place, where we had a bite to eat. I also spent a couple of hours a carrot cake for Cami’s parents as a thank-you gift, after which we equipped ourselves for an evening’s walk up the “red mountain” (La Montaña Roja) from our trip to the beach a few days prior.
Sam parked the car near the base of the “mountain” (it really is too small to be considered a mountain, let’s be honest), and we began our walk with Luke and Nas, their two dogs. Once the climb began to get steep and I began to get tired (quarantine has done me no favours with regards to my fitness levels), Sam told me to grab hold of Nas, the bigger of the two dogs, who was actually strong enough to half haul me up the hill!
As we scaled the large rock formation the sun began to set, and the hills and volcano in the background turned into a dark silhouette. At the halfway point we stopped to recover, taking in the views and watching a plane take off from Tenerife Sur airport, which lies just next to the rock.
When we’d caught our breath we made the last push to the peak of the “mountain”, where we discovered a mysterious cage covered in red lights which seemed to contain nothing more than a solar panel to power said red lights. I would have thought it was some kind of lighthouse or wayfinding device for ships, but the lights were way too dim to have much of an impact, and so we just made the most of the interesting lighting and unique location to take some photos.
Of course I couldn’t miss the opportunity to climb to the highest point of this rock, and so I left my camera with Cami and Sam as I climbed atop the concrete base of a metal pole which marked the absolute peak. Clinging on for dear life in the wind, I was awestruck by the 360° views over the sea and the island, and the uneasy feeling of absolute and complete exposure to the elements in the dark.
After taking my last pictures of the trip from atop the red mountain, the three of us descended back to sea level, nearly falling flat on our arses with the loose gravel of the decline and getting half lost in the dark as we did so. We made it back home in one piece, however, and settled down with one last evening of beers before my last day.
Said last day didn’t really consist of all that much, as I crawled out of bed relatively late, meaning I had time to do very little besides pack my bag, grab some breakfast, and say goodbye and thank you to Cami’s parents who had once again been the most fantastic hosts. I then headed down to Cami and Sam’s place, where I said goodbye to their dogs and jumped in their car to head to the airport.
On the way we had just one last stop to make, at a place which is locally renowned for selling some of the best sandwiches around. I grabbed two, one for lunch and one for if I got peckish on the flight, and we carried on our way to the airport after I’d enjoyed a delicious toasted baguette with a fresh fruit smoothie.
Saying goodbye to anyone at the airport is never a nice experience, but my farewell to Cami and Sam was made much easier by the knowledge that my holiday wasn’t ending there, as my flight was not headed to Madrid but rather to Alicante. There I was to be picked up by my auntie and uncle to spend another few days with them down on the coast of Murcia, but that is another story for another day…
I can safety say that once again I had an absolute blast in Tenerife with Cami, Sam, and family, who found the perfect balance between the rest that I so desperately needed and the trips to interesting places that they know I cherish. I can’t thank them enough for putting me up, driving me around, and generally making me feel like part of the family for the few days I was there. If there’s one complaint from the trip, it was that it was too short – next time it’ll have to be at least a week!
My relationships with languages other than English (even if my native dialect can be somewhat confusing, but that’s a whole other blog post) began quite earlier than most, as I began learning the some very basic French vocabulary at age 10 before I’d even made it to high school. This was some kind of initiative that my primary school had set up, whereby an external teacher would come in once a week and teach a select group of us words like ananas (pineapple), chat (cat), and garçon (boy).
As you may have picked up on from my apathetic tone, I don’t remember any of these words or basic phrases ever sticking with me as I moved into high school and the obligatory bi-weekly French classes that I had to endure. Now, I say endure for two principal reasons:
The first reason is that I don’t really believe that the way we were introduced to language learning was the best, with strict weekly vocabulary tests and listening to a monotone French lady whittle off a series of set phrases which they didn’t even bother obliging us to repeat.
The second reason is that, and forgive me all of you French speakers out there, but I just was not interested in France or the French language. I have since come to appreciate it as the beautiful and multi-faceted language that it is, but my thinking back then at the ripe age of eleven was much more basic: if we are being obliged to learn a language, and if me and my family always go on holiday to Spain, then why couldn’t we learn Spanish instead? At least it could come in useful*.
* Many, many years later I discovered that the principal language of Mallorca, where we usually holidayed, is in fact Catalan (even though Spanish is spoken). Oops.
At one point I even ventured so far as to sign up for extracurricular German classes that were being offered on Thursdays after school, only to give up on them rather quickly, but not before we’d all had a good laugh about the German word for the letter “G” (geh) sounding like “gay” and the word for “six” (sechs) sounding like “sex”. I found the pronunciation quite the tongue-twister, the structure an absolute nightmare, and the three genders an absolute pain in the arse. I certainly did not envy the other half of my year group who were made to study German instead of French.
Once it came time for my GCSEs, and after having cheated my way though many a French vocab test (Lucy, next to me would learn words 1–10, I’d learn words 11–20, then we’d just copy each other), they finally announced that they’d be offering Spanish as an option provided enough people were interested. I can only assume that many people thought like me, and that after being pressured into taking a language, they decided that that language might as well be useful when they were ordering drinks on holiday.
Thus began my journey learning Spanish. Two years of learning set phrases and stringing together basic sentences in secondary school were followed by two years of much more intense learning of the structures, patterns, and phonology of the language (the way it sounds). This knowledge was put into practice back in 2016 when I began an internship at Erretres, when six months of having my constant mistakes politely corrected on the daily served to radically improve my fluency and confidence. Since graduating from uni and returning to Spain, my vocabulary and fluidity have naturally been honed down much further, to the point where I now feel confident enough to say that I am fluent in the language. Of course people will still note my accent and the occasional error, but I have no problems now making myself understood or understanding others.
During these years of living between Spain and England, I also squeezed in twotrips to the absolutely gorgeous city that is Lisbon. I’d also been to a town called Lagos in the south of Portugal a couple of times with my family in the past, but it was in Lisbon and Madrid that I made friends with quite a few people from Brazil, and so began another adventure in language learning: Portuguese.
Portuguese joins languages like Spanish, Romanian, Italian, and French (amongst many others) in forming a group called the Romance languages, which are all derived from Vulgar Latin, the language spoken in the Roman Empire. Because of this, they all share a lot of common features and vocabulary, and naturally Spanish and Portuguese are rather similar due to the geographical proximity of their respective countries. This meant that with a bit of help from Duolingo and many of my Portuguese-speaking friends, I soon developed a decent enough level the language to hold a conversation, drawing on Spanish as a base and applying some general rules and a sprinkling of the most important vocabulary (it’s said that the two languages have a 90% similarity in terms of words, so I’ve just to learn that 10%).
This all brings me on to my latest adventure in language learning, involving a language which many people don’t even realise exists: Irish. If you are indeed aware of the language’s existence, please don’t be fooled into thinking I should be calling it “Gaelic”, as the name “Irish” is preferred by its speakers, and so it is the term that I shall be using.
Well, if I thought German was a nuisance with its genders and structures and odd word order, it has absolutely nothing on Irish. This ancient language has the most bizarre way of expressing basic things (“I have a drink” translates as “There is a drink to me”), it completely lack an equivalent for the words “yes” and “no”, and has a very intricate and terror-inducing system for spelling words (“beochaoineadh” sounds like “bay-oh-keen-yu”). Then there’s all the mutations, which can affect both the beginning and the end of words, and completely change the sound and meaning. These mutations are sometimes just to make sounds flow better (“pláta” becomes “bpláta”), sometimes they change the relationship of one word to another (technically called cases, but it’s a whole other rabbit hole that I’m not about to go down), and sometimes it’s to conjugate the verbs (like in Spanish and even English to a degree, so this I can manage).
I have just spent a whole paragraph complaining about and semi-bashing the language, then why on earth, one may ask, am I dedicating my limited free time to learning it?
To start with, there’s the most basic reason, which is that I like a good project to sink my teeth into in my spare time. I don’t think there’s much in the world which is as complex and multi-faceted as an entire language (programming languages included), and I know there’ll always be more to learn and improve on as time goes on. And, as mentioned, the complexity of Irish is sure to provide quite a decent challenge!
Then there’s a more personal reason, which is my Irish heritage. My grandma grew up in a small town in Ireland, where Irish was taught in schools, and she taught me a few phrases as a child. I’ve always been interested in finding out more about the place, and I’ve always liked to think that one of the best way to find out more about a culture is through its language.
So, here I am in the early throes of my Irish learning journey, currently using Duolingo on the daily in order to build up some basic knowledge. In my spare time I’m investigating things I don’t understand, teaching myself the complex structures and spelling rules, and listening to the news and some music in Irish. It’s going to be a long journey, and I definitely won’t be anywhere close mastering the language for a very long time, probably until I manage to get some real exposure to it, but I think it’s a challenge worth my time. It’s already had me challenging the different ways languages work, and how there’s so many different ways we could express ourself – Irish is one of the world’s oldest living languages, and it certainly shows!
Whilst I carry on with my journey, I’m hoping to launch my new website with an option to read in Irish whenever I get round to it (it’s currently only available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese), but until then, I’ll leave you with a lovely Irish song that I found.
July’s always a busy time when working in Spain, because many companies here withhold the excellent custom of shutting down and affording everyone a decent fortnight of summer holidays in August. While great, this does always cause somewhat of a hectic July, with everyone looking to wrap up projects before the summer holidays begin!
This means a lot of long working days, which means that one must make the very most of any free time, no matter how brief it may be. To this end, a couple of weeks ago Hugo, Jhosef, and I headed up to my office to make the most of the pool in the increasingly oppressive summer heat!
The three of us boarded a bus in the city centre, bags laden with snacks and drinks for the evening, and made our way up to Pozuelo, the neighbourhood of Madrid in which the office sits. After a quick tour of the many different spaces within the office, we slipped into our swimming gear and began a slow-paced evening of munching, swimming, and sharing all kinds of tales and quips.
Even though I was much more interested in the gin and tonics and various snacks on offer, I do enjoy the odd swim in the pool, and so I instructed Hugo to take some photos of me whilst I did so. That ended up with a rather happy accident, as he managed to hit the shutter button just as I was emerging and the surface tension of the water still hadn’t given way. It’s a horrific photo of me, but I find it quite funny and interesting!
Once the sun began to set, the evening air became a little too cool, and so we sat out the rest of the evening on the roof terrace. There we enjoyed the last of our beers, watched the sun set, and shared a whole tub of ice cream as we chatted about life in Spain. The three of us are all immigrants from other countries, and so it was interesting to hear other perspectives and compare shared experiences.
Back home, I had another busy week in store for me, with my free hours on an evening dedicated to naps, cooking, and throwing my own little “spa evenings”. These are evenings when I activate my new coloured lighting, pour myself a glass of wine, pop on a face mask, and lie on my sofa listening to a special playlist of relaxing music. It does make me feel like I’ve hit some kind of mid-life crisis, but it’s a little indulgence that serves well to de-stress after a long day!
Outside of my flat, my obsession with the city bikes continues, as I’ve been exploring further along the banks of the riverside park which runs through my neighbourhood and up along the west of the city centre. The other night I headed out at about 10pm, which is about the time the daytime heat has become somewhat bearable, and discovered some lovely nighttime scenes along the way, including the Príncipe Pío train station and some trees which were lit up with coloured lights.
Just last weekend, me and Jhosef arranged to meet up in the city centre, as he was keen on taking some long-exposure photos of the Catedral de la Almudena (Madrid’s Cathedral) and the motorways in the north of the city. As per usual, I cycled up to the cathedral, which lies just next door to the Royal Palace, and took a few casual photos of my own.
As the sun set, Jhosef took plenty of lovely photos (check out his Instagram), but I was more wrapped up in taking in the view and munching on a bag of dried seaweed snacks that I’d brought along. We’d taken up position on a hillside street right next to the palace, which offered amazing views (as you can see from the photos) over the cathedral. This all reminded me of the first time I ever visited Madrid, when the cathedral was one of the highlights of my trip. It still amazes me to think that I now live a ten-minute bike ride away from the place.
Once the sun had properly set, we made our way towards the north of the city, deciding to spontaneously stop off once again at the Peruvian restaurant for a meal which included cow’s heart – which, after my initial doubts, was rather delicious! This happened to fall on the 28th of July, which it turns out is the day of Peru’s National Holiday, so I must say: ¡felices fiestas patrias Perú!
The ensuing trip to the northern business district of Madrid to take long-exposure shots of cars turned out to be somewhat of a damp squib, as we arrived way too late and there were hardly any cars circulating. We made the most of the evening, though, and walked back home after encountering a group of conspiracy theorists on the metro who were waffling on about coronavirus being a big government coverup and refusing to wear their masks. Now look, you can hold your own theories by all means, but for peat’s sake just wear a bloody mask. It’s not that hard.
With that little rant over, we arrive at this week, my last week before a few days in Tenerife and Murcia! The other night I headed down to the park for a few beers and to say goodbye to my friends for the time being, and of course one beer turned into three, meaning I arrived home rather tipsy and peckish. This led to me toasting some bread in my oven, tipsily admiring the red-hot heating elements in the dark…
As mentioned, it’s now time for me to round up my blog post, close my laptop, and disconnect as much as possible for the next week as I head off to visit my friends Cami and Sam in the south of Tenerife. Naturally I’ll be taking my camera along, and so there’ll be plenty of photos and stories to come from the lovely island. I just hope I survive the heat!
It’s now been over two weeks since my last post, but I’ve still been trying to get out of my flat as much as I can. Be it to run errands to IKEA for more coloured lighting or to head out with friends to eat, I’ve been slowly taking back the streets as we head into the height of the Spanish summer!
As you can imagine, though, this same heat can sometimes become rather insufferable, and so I’ve been spending the majority of my afternoons in my flat sleeping the siesta, prepping some food, or cleaning the place in the comfort of the air conditioning. My neighbours seem to be doing the same with their weekends, and so one Saturday I awoke to a flat bathed in the warm glow of the light reflected off the neon-pink towel that they had hung out.
That same weekend, I arranged with my friend Jhosef and his sister to visit IKEA, as the three of us needed to pick up some supplies that we’d noticed we lacked during the lockdown. I was, however, mainly in it for the meatballs, but I did also decide that I’d probably splash out on some new coloured lights seeing as I’m now spending so much time in my flat.
After a rather stifling metro journey down to the shopping centre, we were ushered through the many steps of preparing to enter the shops: temperature checks, alcohol gel, and a stern word telling us to neither sit down nor come to close to others. Other than the taped-off seats, the queues to enter the shops, and the detour that we had to make through the horrible outdoor heat in order to enter IKEA, everything seemed like business as usual.
Our shop around IKEA was quite normal, except from the one-way system and the many signs telling us to only touch what we were going to buy. The experience at the cafeteria was very different, however, as we’d to wait to be seated, have our drinks poured for us, and were not even given napkins.
After arriving home late that evening, sticky and exhausted from the long journey and daytime heat, I was rather cross to discover that one of the lightbulbs I had bought was the wrong type. I wasn’t sure what I was to do, but in the end I decided to make the hour-long journey all over again the day after in order to get it replaced – if I know one thing about myself, it’s that if I don’t do something more or less immediately, it’ll probably never get done!
That Sunday evening was then dedicated to wiring up all these new lights that I had bought, alongside some that I’d had in storage for a while. Jhosef later came over to take a look at what I’d made of all these lights he’d seen me purchase, and we took a few photos around the house. I’ll be sure to hold a little photo shoot of my flat by night at some point and it’ll get its own little blog post (much like when I first moved in and started decorating), but for now I’ll leave you with a couple of teaser photos…
Something I’ve also been working on (and which I never really stop working on) is the design of my new website! I’m always cautious of bringing the topic up, as I’m well known for changing the design a ridiculous amount of times before launch, but I thought I’d share a little peek of some new features.
As I say though, do take this with a pinch of salt, as last time I shared details on my new website design (the one you’re seeing right now) I wrote a whole blog post about it, only to wind up changing typefaces, layouts, and other details before launch. It’s no lie when I tell my friends that my website is an eternal project!
Anyway, when not in my flat, I’ve been trying to visit the more green areas of the city, as I do occasionally miss the countryside that I grew up in. This has included the park by the river near my house, another green area by the railway tracks, and even a trip across the city to the Temple of Debod, an Egyptian temple donated to Spain and transported to the centre of Madrid in 1968.
I swooped by here with Jhosef after he took me out for a delicious Peruvian lunch at a local spot, where we dined on delicious roast chicken, ceviche (a dish based on fish which has been cooked by soaking it in lime juice), mussels, and papa rellena, a fried potato-based dish stuffed with meats and vegetables and all things nice. This was washed down with chicha, a delicious drink made from purple maize and infused with herbs and spices. It was absolutely delicious, and we definitely needed the climb up to the temple in order to walk off the lunch!
Another evening I ventured a little less far from home, opting to head down to the river for a couple of hours to call some friends back in England, watching the world go by and the sun go down as I hid in the cool shade of a bunch of trees.
A conundrum that I find myself faced with in this post-lockdown world is the struggle between the desire to get as far away from my house as possible and explore, and then the aversion to using public transport except when absolutely necessary. To this end, I settled on a solution, which was to pick up one of the city bikes and cycle as far away from my home as I could before I’d need to turn back in order to get a decent night’s sleep in.
This little aventure led me all the way to the northern transport hub of Moncloa, which I managed to reach by simply crossing a bridge before arriving at the end of the park’s path. This led me on to a series of quiet back roads, which then took me past a flat that I lived in whilst working at Erretres for the first time over four years ago.
After a lovely evening on my bike, the weekend saw me and Jhosef head out to celebrate the end of his university course. We headed up to Chueca, where we had some cocktails on the roof of the market, before heading down to a local restaurant and gorging on croquetas and fried squid. It was a lovely evening, and the cocktails certainly went down a treat after many weeks of hard work!
This isn’t all I’ve been up to, however, but it’s as far as I’ve gotten with organising my photos to upload to my blog! Me, Jhosef, and Hugo just spent a good few hours this weekend splashing around in the pool at the office, and of course there are plenty of photos, but that’ll have to wait until next time!
For now, I can reveal that I’ve booked myself a little escape to Tenerife and then Murcia for my work holidays, and so fingers crossed that the coronavirus situation in Spain remains under control so that I can get out to see my friends on the island and then my auntie and uncle down in the south. I’m sure that all will go well, and of course I shall return with many photos and I’m sure a good few stories too. Until then!
Now in the glorious throes of the new normality, I have been taking every opportunity to return to the familiar streets of the city I now call home after falling in love with the place almost five years ago. The arrival of summer has also served to coax me out of my flat, even if my first major outing left me rather hot and bothered as the temperatures begin to rise past 35°C during the day.
This first venture into the centre was spurred on by the search for home comforts, as I’ve been craving cordial (what some of you call “squash”) for a good while now. This took me to Dealz, which is basically Poundland’s presence in Spain, and which offers a decent range of imported products from the UK – decent enough to warrant a two-bus trip, anyway!
With a selection of British crisps, some Vimto, and a stash of Cadbury’s chocolate in tow, it was then another few days before I headed back out into the sunny streets of Madrid. This occasion saw me make a significantly shorter trip down to the Matadero, a recently-reopened cultural centre based out of an old slaughterhouse which is a mere ten minutes walk from my house.
This is where the title of my blog post begins to become relevant. The large outdoor space, which would usually be filled with people milling around at this time of night, was pretty much deserted. This peace and quiet didn’t bother me though, as I’d a telephone date to catch up with Rhea, who I haven’t seen since I visited England late last year!
After crossing through the Matadero complex to the banks of the river on the other side, I searched in vain for a shaded spot in which to sit and ring Rhea whilst maintaining the proper social distancing protocol. I ended up returning to the grounds of the Matadero itself, where I found a shaded decked area just behind the absolutely gorgeous canteen…
The proceeding weekend saw me head into the commercial heart of Madrid, La puerta del sol, meaning “the gate of the sun”. Famous for it’s plaque marking the supposed centre of Spain, I was here to check out options for a new laptop and head to a boutique food shop to do some informal undercover research for a new project at work.
After getting a little overexcited in said food shop, I wound up treating myself to a rather expensive 7€ pastel de cabracho, which is a delicious fresh paste made from cabracho, a kind of fish which Google informs me is called a “goat fish” in English. The dish always reminds me of the first time I visited Kevin in Oviedo, when he took me out to a local restaurant for my first proper taste of the delicious food from the Asturias region in the north of Spain.
On the way home I ran into my colleague Esther and family, stopping to chat for a while before treating myself to a chocolate-filled pastry known as a napolitana de chocolate from the classic Madrid bakery known as La Mallorquina. I often used to pick one up for breakfast before lockdown had us all abandon the office in favour of working from home, so it was lovely to enjoy the sweet treat once more.
Filled with energy, I decided to walk through the Plaza Mayor and down through the lovely La Latina district, before picking up a city rental bike and allowing the breeze to cool me off as I glided freely down the wholly downhill course back to my flat.
The day after saw me mounted once again on one of the city’s bikes, but this time I had decided to dare the uphill journey to the area surrounding the royal palace in order to see the sights and meet up with Hugo for an ice cream. I also thought that it’d be cool to film the trip on my phone to share the picturesque journey with my family back home, but it turns out that my phone’s video stabilising capabilities are no match for the uneven Madrid roads and the furious rattle of the heavy electric bikes!
Once I’d found Hugo, who was around the centre running some errands, we headed down into the gorgeous Plaza del Oriente at the side of the giant royal palace. This square, with its lush gardens and quaint little terraces, is usually brimming with inquisitive tourists, but we found ourselves wandering amongst very few people in the midday heat. The name of this blog post actually comes from a message I sent to Hugo whilst I awaited his arrival – “es como una ciudad fantasma”, I said – “it’s like a ghost city”.
The two of us grabbed an ice cream from Zúccaru, a Sicilian heladería with delicious homemade ice cream, and sat in the shade of some trees in order to catch up on the week’s events. After some more wandering round (in which I managed to burn my arms, something I only noticed upon arriving home later), we finished our explorations in front of the palace, where I captured this panorama which emphasises really how few people can be found around the centre of the city right now. This plaza, located between the main entrance to the royal palace and Madrid’s huge cathedral, would usually be buzzing with tourists and locals alike, but not a single soul can be seen in the photo.
This concludes my recent adventures, which have been interspersed by some intense days at work as we move into our summer hours known as jornada intensiva (intensive days), where we work less hours but without any breaks. This, alongside some big and exciting new projects, has seen me left with little time for weekday explorations, but I’ll be sure to escape the confines of my flat this weekend and report back!
For now, I leave you with this lovely ode to Madrid, as yet again I feel the need to share some Spanish music with you all. I think it fits well with the photos of some of Madrid’s more majestic architecture that I’ve peppered this post with…
In another little break from my usual programming, I have decided to publish this little note I wrote on the way to work one day early last year. It’s not nearly as long or entertaining as my last similar post, Purgatory, but I thought it was an interesting little quip worth sharing. Remember you can always let me know what you think about things like this on my blog survey!
One of the things which fascinates me the most is when a metro train arrives in its station and someone waiting on the platform does not board. You have to understand that in Madrid, the city which has adopted me, all trains which stop at any given platform have the exact same destination and make the exact same sequence of stops.
So why then do people stand and watch as the trains pass by? Sometimes, indeed, the carriage will be too full, and sometimes, yes, the train will be scheduled to stop circulating at a given station, but given ideal conditions, why do people remain who do not board?
I have been in a similar situation myself once, as I awaited a friend on a platform between transfers. As I waited, though, I sat myself down on a bench and occupied myself. It is those who stand with an air of disassociation and barely flinch which interest me, the ones who’s vacant eyes only blink as a reflex reaction to the blast of polluted air pushed through the station by the train that they have just declined to board.
Do they await the arrival of a friend? Are they preparing themselves for the arrival of a foe? Perhaps the thought of reaching their destination fills them with dread, or perhaps they have no destination, and are rather idly traversing the underground labyrinths as refuge from the surface heat or the stresses of the world above.
It is only human to allow your eyes to sweep the train as you embark, to check out with whom you are sharing a carriage. What I, however, find much more interesting is not those who have boarded with me, but those who will not board. It is in order to look at them that I turn my head as the doors open, and is is they who fill my mind with petty questions and invented narratives as I swan my neck whilst my train beings to accelerate.
After over three months of a Spain in lockdown, these past few weeks have finally seen Madrid move slowly through the four phases of the Spanish government’s deescalation procedure. My last blog post included various little outings that I was able to make, but such wanders always had to be undertaken alone.
Now, with public transport running, bars and restaurants beginning to open their terraces and interiors, and the relaxing of other confinement measures, social gatherings are back on the cards! This was all very exciting, but my first “social gathering” wasn’t that much of a hoot, as it involved a trip to a clinic in the north of the city for a COVID-19 test that Erretres kindly gave us the option of taking.
When the results of said test came back, I was rather cross to discover that I had next to no antibodies, and so it’s pretty likely that I haven’t yet had the virus. I was rather hoping that the results would come back positive, as it would mean that I’d had a very light case of the infection and wouldn’t need to worry about possible ill effects going forwards. But hey, never mind!
After another enthralling trip to the dentist out into the now exotic lands north of my neighbourhood, it was eventually time to finally meet up with some friends after months with next to no human contact! I naturally had arranged to meet Bogar and Hugo down by the river, where we organised a socially-distanced mini picnic and chatted away into the evening.
Me and Hugo then met up again a few days later, once again meandering along the paths of this unimaginatively-named Parque Madrid Río (Madrid River Park) which, shockingly, is a park in Madrid which follows the river. On our journey, we passed the now almost fully-demolished stadium known as Estadio Vicente Calderón, the old home of Atlético de Madrid, which always reminds me of the time I went to watch a match in their new stadium, and even the song that we all sung in support!
We worked up quite an appetite during out wanderings down by the river, and eventually discovered a lovely burger restaurant a mere stone’s throw away from my house. After a few hours of beers and chatting the evening away, we arranged to another picnic the day after with the two of us and some more of Hugo’s friends.
I had promised to bring along carrot cake, and so spent the majority of the day baking, only to be met with heavy rain and rumbles of thunder just as I stepped out of the door. I held off back in my flat for another half an hour (I was already two hours late for the picnic), but little did I know that this would be just the beginning of a chain of disasters that evening.
Once the rain had stopped, I decided that the quickest way to get to the park was by electric scooter, and so I strapped my tote bag full of Tupperware to the handlebar of my rented scooter and headed off down the riverside path at full speed. Midway through the journey, I grossly misjudged the height of what I thought was just a small dip in the paving, and instantaneously found myself eating the tarmac as I was thrown to the ground.
Unhurt except for a broken Tupperware, some now rather mushy carrot cake, and a nasty graze on my jeans, I hopped back on the scooter and carried on my journey to the park in question. I eventually arrived and introduced myself to Hugo’s friends, only for my arrival to be followed by more claps of thunder and a light shower which soon turned into a torrent.
Grabbing the plates, the picnic blankets, and the scraps of food and unopened drinks that could be salvaged, my first meeting with the group was cut rather short, as we all retreated to the shelter of a bus stop outside the park. One of Hugo’s friends graciously offered to stop the two of us off at my flat, where a bag of food ended up falling and knocking a glass of red wine all over my carpet. As I said, it was a real series of unfortunate events!
In order to cheer myself up, the next day I made a batch of carrot cake buns with the leftover cake mix, and dropped a few off with my friend Jhosef so that he might give me feedback after he gifted me the most delicious loaf of banana bread for my birthday!
With so much work at home, I’ve been increasingly taking advantage of these new freedoms in order to revisit the park by the river and wander, scoot, or cycle away for an hour or so to clear my head of the stresses of the day. Heading out either alone or with Jhosef, I’ve witnessed my fair share of the most excellent Madrid sunsets, as well as the continued demolition of the old stadium, which is all but gone by now.
Another little lift came in the form of a card and subsequent gift sent from Kevin in the US, a belated birthday present in the form of a copy of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”. I haven’t gotten round to reading it yet, but I am itching to do so, as Kevin has repeatedly spoke highly of the piece in the past!
Amongst all these trips down to the river, I also ventured out to meet up with other friends, but the excitement of seeing everyone again meant that I completely forgot to take any photos!
One evening saw me meet up with Luis, an ex-colleague, and a group of other guys from Erretres for some drinks and laughs at a lovely spot in the centre. Another evening was my first time back at my favourite local bar and terrace with Bogar and Hugo, and just last week I met up with Blanca, Jesús, and Pablo from work for tea (dinner) and drinks near the office.
So with this, I conclude my overview of what the gradual transition to the new normality (la nueva normalidad, the Spanish government’s words, not mine) has looked like for me. As Spain’s internal borders are opened this weekend and we are flung fully into this new phase of a rather turbulent 2020, I’ll be back as soon as possible to bring more updates. Until then!