21.11.21 — Journal

Danni Swings By

As I mentioned, my sister’s visit wasn’t the last in my run of visits, and a couple of weeks ago I welcomed one of my oldest friends, Danni, to the cool streets of the big city!

The adventures began a Friday after work, when I haded off to El Toril with some colleagues to celebrate one of their birthdays. There, we ordered some of their delicious burgers, and Danni arrived to join in the fun and have lunch with all of us!

The lunch ended with a lovely little surprise courtesy of Inés’ partner, who surprised her with some homemade dessert accompanied with a rowdy rendition of “Cumpleaños feliz” (the Spanish version of “Happy Birthday to You”). We washed our slice of cake down with a shot of crema de orujo, a cream liquor, and then grabbed a taxi back to my flat so that Danni could unpack what little stuff she’d brought with her.

Before heading out for an evening drink, Danni handed me a little gift she’d brought over with her: bonfire lollies! The Friday she’d arrived was the 5th of November – Bonfire Night in the UK – and so naturally we’d to have a bonfire lolly whilst I mounted a questionably safe mini bonfire in an old frying pan…

Ah yes, my indoor bonfire fuelled by gin and paper was very safe.

With the mini bonfire thoroughly extinguished, we headed up to a place that I’d been wanting to visit, but decided to wait to go with Danni as it’s right up her street: the rooftop terrace of the Hard Rock Hotel. Having booked in advance, we arrived only to be told that the terrace was closed due to rain and heavy winds; something which didn’t come as much of a surprise as we’d suffered the horrible weather the entire journey to the hotel!

All wasn’t lost, however, as we were given the option of having a fancy cocktail in the hotel’s restaurant or some drinks in the lobby bar. We opted for the latter so that we could enjoy the live music courtesy of a local band, and so spent a good few hours nattering and soaking up the Hard Rock atmosphere.

We begun the next day with a bit of culture, heading up to a free exhibition in the Fundación Telefonica titled Color. El conocimiento de lo invisible (“Colour: The Knowledge of the Invisible”). This included a lot of installations visualising the hidden workings of colour and light, and so it was right up my street.

After the exhibition, we went for a wander around the city centre, meandering our way down to Lavapiés to have a delicious pizza lunch at the same place I took my parents and my sister. For dessert, we sought out some frozen yoghurt, which we devoured before making a trip to Mercadona to grab some snacks for the rest of Danni’s holiday with me.

The homemade bread and aubergine, cheese, and tomato starter never fails.

That evening took us out back to Lavapiés, where we met up with Luis and some of his friends for drinks. We had a great laugh and a couple of very strong gin and tonics, all before winding up in the new Vurger King (a new vegetarian Burger King that’s opened here) where we stove off a hangover the next day with a burger and a huge Gold Oreo flavoured milkshake.

Keeping the hangover at bay was very important, as the next day we’d a day trip planned to Parque Warner, the Warner Bros. theme park that I’ve been meaning to visit after checking out the other park, Parque de Atracciones, a few months ago. The day begun with a bus journey down to one of Madrid’s main interchanges, where we picked up the theme park tickets and grabbed the bus down to the park.

After queuing up for a while, we were finally in the park, where we immediately set about visiting all of the biggest rides. The two of us are pretty geeky when it comes to roller coasters and theme parks, as evidenced by our frequent trips to our local park, Blackpool Pleasure Beach, from many years ago!

One of our favourite rides was “Superman: Ride of Steel”, a lovely B&M standup coaster.

With the biggest rides ridden, we headed for Correcaminos Bip Bip, a coaster whose name had us giggling as it literally means “Roadrunner Beep Beep”. As the day wore on, the sky began to turn and it began to get cold, but we decided to head into a show called “Loca Academia de Policía” (“Crazy Police Academy”) after we came across a huge queue to get in.

The show turned out to be a big motorbike and supercar stunt show, involving general silliness between some pretty impressive stunts, the likes of which I hadn’t seen since my last visit to Florida a good few years back. The show was a blast, but when we left the arena, it was completely dark and getting pretty cold. We decided to get one last ride in on a boomerang coaster that we’d enjoyed, all before accidentally running into a nighttime parade, during which we had a little dance on the street as the parade floats passed by.

With half an hour to kill before the bus came to pick us up and take us back to the city, we grabbed a festive flavoured hot chocolate and headed out to wait for the bus, arriving home with a kebab in hand to settle down for a relaxed evening after such a long day.

The next day already signalled Danni’s last full day in Madrid, and so we headed out for breakfast at a local bar before heading down to the river to begin our day around the city. After grabbing a bike and having a little cycle around, we headed up to the city centre and carried on our cycling around Retiro, after which we headed to a local restaurant for a tapas-style lunch.

I think this is the most sport I’ve done for a while: a zip line and then a bike ride in the same day…

After lunch, we went for a coffee, dessert and a spot of shopping around Chueca, after which we mounted ourselves back on a bike and went for some sightseeing around the palace area of the city, stopping to watch the sunset from the hillside gardens next to a big church. After this, we headed back home, where we had a relaxed evening with a drink and a takeaway.

The next day, we heeded out for breakfast in the form of churros with chocolate at San Ginés, Madrid’s oldest churrería and a place Danni was keen to head back to. I hadn’t been since before the beginning of the pandemic, so it was lovely to head back and enjoy some delicious churros and porras (like a thicker version of a churro).

From there, we’d then to head to the nearby train station and grab the Cercanías up to the airport, where I waved goodbye to Danni after a fabulous few days spent with her around Madrid. It was great to see her again after almost a whole year, and I’m super excited to see her again when I’m back over in England for the Christmas holidays – which won’t be too long now!

13.11.21 — Journal

Luz Madrid

Epilepsy Warning: This post contains videos which include flashing lights.

The weekend after another busy week brought plenty of fun stuff to be getting up to, even if the weather was continuing it’s downward spiral as we head into winter. I say winter because the weather in Madrid seems to skip spring and autumn: it’s either unbearably hot or freezing cold!

Despite the chill, I’d made plans to head out for tea at a lovely restaurant in the centre before handing out for some drinks and then to a karaoke with some colleagues. It had been a good while since I last went out, and even longer since I last went to my favourite karaoke bar!

The next day, and having somehow miraculously avoided a hangover, I’d arranged to meet up with some other friends to watch a theatre piece written, directed, and starred in by one of their girlfriends. The comedy, called Reset, was a great laugh and took place in a cute little theatre down in the La Latina district. Once the show was over, we all took shelter from the rain in a nearby bar, where we had a round of gin and tonics whilst awaiting the arrival of the cast. 

As 11pm approached, however, I decided that I simply could not miss the last night of Luz Madrid. This was an event taking place all over the city consisting of light installations across some of Madrid’s most emblematic buildings and spaces. I’d been meaning to go during the first two days of the three-day event, but karaoke plans and the third season of Sex Education had wound up distracting me.

The walk down to the centre from La Latina made me begin to think that perhaps my idea hadn’t been the best, as it began to pour it down with rain the moment I stepped out of the bar. With my brolly in tow I wasn’t fazed, however, and I marched determinedly down towards Cibeles, where the bulk of the installations were taking place. 

The reflections of the city lights looked lovely along the wet streets.

The first light show I stumbled upon turned out to be the most enthralling, as the whole of the gardens of the Cuartel General del Ejército de Tierra (Headquarters of the Spanish Army) had been turned into an interactive light show with music and lasers.

I got closer and stood with my head against the railings for a good while, taking in the surreal atmosphere generated by the “Planum et Lumen” installation by Maxi Gilbert. I’d have wandered in, but there was another spectacle I wanted to witness just down the road.

It doesn’t really show up well on camera, but there was a column of light reaching upwards.

The next installation was “Camino a la Vida” by Juanjo Llorens, which took over the facade of the Cibeles Palace, a beautiful building my dad likes to call the “wedding cake”. This piece illuminated the facade as much as it did the sky, with lasers pointed towards the heavens and spotlights scanning the area from atop the palace.

As I stood in the middle of a closed-off roundabout with my shoes absolutely drenched and the rain coming down heavier and heavier, the clock struck midnight and signalled the end of Luz Madrid. I waded back through the empty streets (everyone with any sense had retreated back home when the torrential rain began) and eventually braved the packed metro back home.

The next day saw a break from the rain, but the cloudy skies prompted me to spend the day having lunch and watching a film at a colleague’s house. After a plato combinado (basically a dish with many different types of food on it), we settled down under some blankets on the settee and watched the Almódovar classic “Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios” (titled “Women on the Verge of a Mental Breakdown” in English). I absolutely loved the film, and particularly the song “Soy infeliz”, which I will use to end this blog post…

30.10.21 — Journal

Summer to Autumn

If you keep up with my blog, you’ll know that recently I’ve had plenty of visits: from friends to my parents and then my sister. This wasn’t the end of things, though, as I’d still one visit more to squeeze in as summer turned to autumn: my auntie and uncle!

After Ellie left on the Thursday, the two of them rocked up into Madrid on the Friday, stopping off as they often do for a couple of nights on their way back down to Murcia from the UK. I reunited with them after work, and found them waiting in a bar just by my house.

We went out for tea down at the slaughterhouse that evening, after which it was soon Saturday and time to enjoy their only full day in Madrid. This took us into the centre, where we passed by many of the sights, stopping for a snoop around the Almudena Cathedral on that had enchanted me so during my first visit to Madrid. Breakfast was also quite eventful: it was accompanied by flyovers from the Spanish military to mark their national holiday: Hispanic Day.

The cathedral’s patterned and colourful roof is always a pleasure to photograph.

After this, we headed up to the northern neighbourhood of Malasaña, where I was keen for them to try some potato omelette from one of my favourite bars. There was a big queue out the door, however, and so we headed to another bar and had some tasty lunch there, all before heading home to rest for a while.

That evening, the three of us headed back out for tea at my local restaurant, arriving home ready for their last night staying at mine. The next morning we didn’t have all that much time to do much, having breakfast before heading back down to the car park for them to carry on their journey back down to Murcia.

It was lovely to see the two of them again in Madrid, even if it was a whistle-stop trip! As they left on the Sunday, I had another busy week at work in store afterwards, with some relaxed evenings in order to recover from so much activity recently.

The golden hour as seen from the park next to my office made for a lovely walk back home.

The weekend after my auntie and uncle’s visit was one of semi-forced relaxation, as on Friday – and after two bouts of coronavirus – I was finally able to get my vaccine! Props to the Madrid health service, as the whole procedure was about as easy as going to the fish counter in the supermarket, even if it did leave me a bit feverish for the next couple of days.

I’m finally vaccinated and ready to try to return to some sense of normality!

One evening I did, however, decide to push back against my general state of malaise as I headed out for some wine and food with Sara. We popped down to a local Galician restaurant, where we just about managed to munch our way through three huge plates of seafood and meats. It was absolutely delicious, but left me even more feverish than before. I’ll never learn!

I was fully recovered for Monday and my return back to the office, where another busy but rewarding week awaited me. I was once again kept going by my lovely evening drinks with friends and wanders through the park – even if the cold is now beginning to bite at my toes a bit.

There’s been no better spot to ring my friends back in the UK and across the globe.

And with that, I bring my blog up to date and to this long weekend. I’ve some plans with friends to head out for a drink and even to the theatre tomorrow, so it should prove to be a nice relaxed few days – despite the rain that has descended over Madrid and which won’t giving up until next week.

Fingers crossed that it does lift before Friday – I’ve another important visit coming up, but that’ll have to remain a little secret until closer to the time. Until then!

23.10.21 — Journal

The Briggs Siblings Reunite

A mere week after my parents visited me, and over two years after she was last able to come over, I was joined once again by my sister here in Madrid! After work one day, I left the office and hurried my way up to the airport on the metro, as I’d agreed to meet her so that we could head back to my flat together and kick off of her week with me here in Spain.

Our first evening together was spent having some drinks: I was in no rush because I’d taken the next day off! We discussed what we might get up to over the coming days, throwing together some quick plans for the next day before heading off to bed.

The next day we headed to a lovely restaurant on Gran Vía that I’d visited with my parents, as my mum had spoke so much about the dessert that I decided it was worth going back. We rocked up and ordered plenty of little plates to share at, and Ellie decided we should share a litre of sangría. Once we’d polished off our crema catalana (basically a crème brûlée) and torrija quemada, we began to realise that the sangría had more of a kick to it than we thought!

There’s nothing more dangerous than a sangría that lures you into a false sense of security…

We then paid up and headed out into the city, having another decidedly non-alcoholic drink on another terrace before heading down to the lake. There, Ellie grabbed herself an ice cream and we relaxed for a while, resting between the racket of the squawking parrots in the trees above. We then walked back towards the city centre, grabbing the train back home.

That evening, we headed out for an evening meal, grabbing some delicious dishes in my favourite local Italian restaurant. As we ordered a huge slice of chocolate cake for dessert, it was getting quite late, and so we finished out last glass of wine and headed back home.

As we awoke the next day we were already in day three of Ellie’s weeklong visit, and so headed out bright and early to make the most of the sunny Saturday. After some breakfast near home, we headed down to the Matadero, having a drink whilst we waited for an exhibition at the design centre there to open.

I was particularly keen to visit the Exposición Madridgrafía, as some of my work at Erretres was included in this exhibition looking at graphic design made in Madrid. It was lovely to see the brands I worked on for Buendía Estudios and Seedtag up there, and I felt honoured to have work included in a place that I’ve been visiting for a good few years!

After taking the obligatory photos alongside my work (which I have omitted here), we headed just down the road and to the city’s public greenhouse, which Ellie always enjoys a wander round being the biologist that she is. It was actually a much more pleasant experience than last time – despite the obligatory face masks – as it wasn’t half as humid and much cooler than last time.

With all the plants seen and all the obligatory aesthetic photos taken, we then headed back home to prepare some food, as we’d a picnic planned in the Retiro park. We last did this when Ellie visited with her boyfriend Johann back in 2018, and it went down a treat, so we’d another lakeside lunch planned.

After we’d tucked into our original creation of bread with alioli, tomato, and basil, we then headed back out of the park to grab some bikes, which we then used to tour all four corners of the huge park. Once we’d tired of the park, we then headed onwards to the Temple of Debod, where we caught a gorgeous sunset to end another long day of exploration.

One of the few selfies of the two of us that we actually got round to taking…

The next day, we made the most of the bikes that we’d taken out, heading down to the river for a cycle around before heading out for lunch. Ellie was keen to head back to NAP Pizza, my favourite pizzeria in Madrid, and it was there that we made the discovery of the trip – a delicious starter made with strips of aubergine with cheese and tomato. It was absolutely delicious!

With lunch done, we ended up back on our bikes again, cycling all the way down to the Anillo Verde (literally the “green ring”) leading out into the north of the city. The trip back took us past the lake again, but we didn’t stick around for long as we’d elsewhere to be…

Once we’d finished our little exploration of Madrid’s cycling routes, it was time to get the metro down to the south of the city to do something that even I haven’t done since the last time Ellie came – watch the sunset from a park down in Vallecas. This great vantage point was the perfect spot for a Sunday evening, and we enjoyed some drinks and snacks as the sun put on a lovely show.

As night fell, we headed back to the centre of the city and began an evening of tapeo – having drinks and eating tapas around the literary quarter. Ellie was back on her favourite, patatas bravas (fried potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce), and we even made a visit at the pintxos (small bites of food) bar that had been such a success with my mum and dad. The night ended in La Esperanza, one of my favourite bars for a drink and a quick bite to eat before heading home.

Nothing says Madrid more than a gin and tonic, a vermouth, and a bite to eat.

We began the next day at Ojalá, a spot which never fails for a slap-up breakfast. From there, we headed down to the Parque de Atracciones, Madrid’s theme park that I visited for the first time just a few weeks ago. There we spent the rest of the day, knackering ourselves out on the various attractions before having our evening meal at my local bar.

The day after signalled our last full day in the city together, and we’d arranged to meet Luis for some drinks after we’d stopped by to meet him and some other friends one evening before. This took us down to the Matadero and then back up to the pizza bar that had been such a hit, all before ending up in Citynizer Plaza to have a few drinks after I’d spontaneously bought myself a new iPad.

The Aperol Spritzes may have flowed a bit too easily, as the ice creams we bought after nearly ended up on the floor.

Ending our last full day with some drinks by down the river, it was then time for me to head back to the office – but I wasn’t alone! Ellie joined me for a few hours in the morning to lend me a hand preparing a workshop, before heading out to do a bit of shopping after we’d had lunch together at a little bar near work.

That evening was a chill one at home. We ordered in some arepas and had one last drink as Ellie packed up ready to head back to old Blighty the next morning, which she did as I bundled her into a taxi destined for the airport as I headed off to the office and back to the daily grind…

As with the last two times Ellie has come over to see me here in the big city, the two of us had an absolute blast, and I hope that she can nip over more often now that we’re all vaccinated and things are a bit more under control! It’s been a busy period for family visits, with my parents’ visit just the week before and my auntie and uncle coming the day after – but I’ll save that one for the next blog post!

16.10.21 — Journal

The Parents Return

After being graciously hosted by Loredana and David in Vienna, it was time for me to be the host for an important visit: my parents were coming to Madrid! Seeing as I hadn’t seen them since January, which wasn’t the most pleasant of trips, I was excited by the prospect of seeing them again and sharing my favourite spots with them from across the city.

Their visit began with some drama at the airport when I want to pick them up. I arrived on the metro but then couldn’t enter the terminal building as I had no boarding pass, so I’d to leave via a car park which spat me out onto an abandoned exit ramp which took me to a rather large and busy road. There, I’d to jump over the metal barriers and risk life and limb to get to the other side, where more risky crossing and parkour-style acrobatics were needed to finally get me to the arrivals area outside T1. What’s more, I couldn’t even contact them to see where they were and to tell them that I was outside, as their roaming data hadn’t kicked in!

Through some sheer luck I was eventually reunited with my mum and dad as they wandered outside and found me waiting where everyone else was congregated. We then hopped in a taxi back to my place, where they unpacked as I threw together a platter of nibbles before we turned in for the night – it was already quite late.

The next day began with breakfast down at a bar a stone’s throw away from my building, before some drinks down at the Matadero (an ex-abattoir-turned-cultural-center by the river). We then headed up to the Lavapiés neighbourhood, stopping for a pizza lunch at one of my favourite pizzerias.

Our afternoon then continued at full steam ahead – no rest for the wicked! After lunch, we had coffee and dessert at Citynizer, and then took the metro down to the lake in order to catch some last rays and have a round of sangría. We then headed back to the La Latina district, where we had a selection of tapas and another drink in a lovely little square away from the hustle and bustle of the city centre.

Mum always enjoys a glass of sangría down by the lakeside.

We begun the next day with breakfast at the same local bar – it had quickly become a favourite spot of my parents, who couldn’t believe how cheap it was! From there, we grabbed a bus up to Retiro Park, where my mum fancied a go on the city bikes. There we avoided a near catastrophe when one of the rental machines refused to release my parents’ credit card, and I’d to go asking in a nearby bar for a pair of pliers which I eventually used to yank the poor thing out.

Disaster averted, we eventually grabbed some bikes and began our bike ride around the lush gardens of this huge park, stopping at all the must-see spots along the way. Once tired out and ready to eat, we headed for lunch at a local tapas spot, where the different plates and desserts went down an absolute treat.

I swear everyone who comes to visit has this exact same picture taken.

After a much needed post-lunch rest, we headed out for our last meal of the day, which took us to a local Italian restaurant that I enjoy visiting. As I write this I am beginning to realise that it seems like all we did is wander, eat, drink, and chat – and that’s pretty much the truth. If you’re not doing that, you’re not living the Madrid lifestyle properly!

The next day saw us back un the city centre for a spot of shopping, after which we had something to eat before hopping back on the bikes. After passing by the Royal Palace, we came across some dancing in the street, and eventually had a drink in the Mercado de San Miguel, a street market that I’d never before managed to get a seat at. Great success!

That evening we wound up at the Templo de Debod, one of my favourite spots to catch the sunset. The sky put on a beautiful show as always, but we were soon hungry and ready to celebrate my parents’ last night in Madrid – the whole trip had come and gone so fast!

I took the three of us down to the Writer’s Quarter for the evening, as I’d a bar in mind that I hadn’t been to for quite some time. Whilst on our way to this spot, however, I caught sight of another bar that I’d heard great things about, and there they had a table free and perfect for the three of us!

There we had a selection of the most delicious pintxos – the small dishes of food famously found in the Basque Country – and I fell in head-over-heals in love with a salmon and cream cheese pastry. Whilst tucking in to our meal, my sister Ellie gave us a call, and I spent a while chatting to her in preparation for her visit to Madrid just one week later!

With this last bill paid and my parents’ bags packed, we had one last drink at home before they turned in for the night. The next morning saw the three of us then bundle ourselves into a taxi which would drop me off at work before taking them onwards and up to the airport for their flight back to old Blighty.

As you can see, the three days that I had my parents’ company in Madrid positively flew by! I had a lovely time, as we managed to cram a lot in without rushing around too much, and it was great to catch up with the two of them in person after nearly a year without being able to visit.

Well, I already gave away the topic of my next blog post towards the end there, as it’ll be delving into the many aventures that me and my sister got up to during her week here in the Spanish capital – I’m running a bit behind on these blog posts thanks to so many visits, but hopefully it’ll be worth the wait! Until then…

25.09.21 — Travel

Vienna

I left my last blog post revealing that I eventually – after two bouts of COVID – managed to escape Spain for a quick holiday. I can now reveal that this little four-day trip took me to the Austrian capital, where I was reunited with my friend Loredana! I’d not seen her since she joined Megan and Heidi in coming to visit me in Madrid back in 2019, so I was looking forward to a few days relaxing at her place and exploring Vienna.

The trip kicked off with a rather early 05:30am start, which had me in a taxi and through airport security in time to catch the beautiful sunrise from Terminal 4 of Madrid’s airport. I didn’t have long to appreciate it through, as between breakfast and an early boarding, I was soon flying east over Europe and prepping my immunisation documentation to enter Austria.

I arrived in Vienna around midday, was waved through the health checks by the grumpiest man I have ever encountered, and headed straight outside to eat the soggy sandwich that I’d bought in Madrid before setting off. This killed a bit of time whilst I waited the 45 minutes for the next bus, with some other time took up by a moment of intrigue as the fire brigade turned up to put out a fire that had started in a bin thanks to a stray cigarette butt.

When my bus finally arrived in the centre of Vienna, I was met at the station by Loredana. Reunited, we then headed down to the metro headed to her apartment so that I could leave my bags and freshen up a bit before an afternoon exploring the city!

A surprise awaited me, as Loredana and her boyfriend, David, had prepared an old bike so that the three of us could explore the centre of Vienna on two wheels. I’m always banging on about how I love cycling around Madrid – they know me so well!

Our bike ride then commenced, and after some teething problemas as I accustomed myself to the lack of electric motor and the unfamiliar back-pedalling method of braking, we were soon zipping down towards the city centre. We passed through a couple of the city’s numbered zones before arriving at the museum area, a lovely pedestrianised zone full of gorgeous buildings, museums, and terraces. We sat down on the terrace of a café where David’s brother worked and I immediately ordered a plate of kaiserschmarrn, an Austrian dish consisting of shredded pancake with sugar and a fruit marmalade for dipping. Delicious!

Pretty much every single building in the centre of Vienna looked like it was out of a fairytale.

After a coffee and this sweet indulgence, we continued our bike ride, passing by a lot of iconic buildings which I didn’t have time to photograph or which were currently undergoing repair work. Loredana did snap a photo of me wandering around with a helmet on, but it’s not a look – I’ll leave that one out for now…

We then circled around the “ring”, a road which – as the name suggests – circles around the centre of the city. This took us past the river, and we seized the opportunity to have a cycle along the banks of the water and stop for a drink at a pretty riverside bar. To go alongside my lemon gin and tonic, and to quell some of the first rumblings of hunger, I also grabbed some mini dumplings – and in the process used up the 10 words of German that I know.

This drink stop left us tired and weary, so we headed back home for a rest before heading back out for our evening meal. As I’d just arrived in Austria, I was keen to try out the local fare, and so Loredana and David took me to one of their favourite Austrian restaurants to try some typical dishes from the region. These included fittatensuppe (a soup with strips of crepe), meat with spätzle (a kind of doughy noodle), and – of course – schitnzel. This was all topped off with some apple strudel and a shot of schnapps – which it turns out is nothing like the sweet stuff I used to shot at university!

The taste and strength of real schnapps has to be one of the biggest shocks I’ve had recently.

Before heading home, we then wandered down to have some drinks on a street lined with bars set into the arches of the metro viaduct near Loredana’s place. I polished off a few tequila-based cocktails there whilst we all had a good laugh whilst chatting about all kinds of nonsense, eventually winding our way back home once we were all to tired for more.

The next day was the only day that the three of us would be together, so we made the most of the good weather and planned our day over a delicious breakfast spread that Loredana and David laid out on the table in their pretty little garden. Leaving the bikes behind, we decided to move around on foot or public transport, and so headed back into the centre of Vienna via a tram and then a metro.

I even made a couple of new furry friends along the way.

The metro left us bang in the centre of the city, at Stephansdom, the city’s iconic central cathedral. In a happy coincidence, there was a street market set up and in full swing, and so we headed in to have a snoop around whilst I admired the colourful roof and striking height and architecture of the cathedral in the centre.

The patterned roof of the Stephansdom has turned it into an icon of Vienna.

In the market I had my first taste of sturm, a young wine which is still very sweet and relatively low in alcohol. It was absolutely delicious, and could definitely become an easy vice if I were to have easy access to it. Now I find myself wondering if there’s any kind of equivalent in Spain – but perhaps its best not to go there…

We then headed further into the centre, checking out some more iconic buildings, squares, and sights before making another stop to relax in the shade with a drink. As we polished off or radlers, we spoke about where to go for lunch, as so much exploration had stirred up quite the appetite. Loredana suggested a Lebanese restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious and very, very filling meal.

I was really lucky with the weather during the whole trip, the sun just kept on shining.

Fit to burst after such a large lunch, we continued meandering the streets of Vienna, finding ourselves crossing one of the city’s many beautiful parks after David had to dash off to meet some other friends. Now in a different and rather fancy area of the city, me and Loredana wound up engaging in a spot of what an American would call “dumpster diving” – I found a nice tie that had just been thrown out and sported that for the rest of the afternoon!

Now tired from so much walking, we headed back home, where Loredana had a surprise in store. Although the space is technically off limits, her building has an access hatch which leads to the roof, and so we snuck upstairs and quietly lowered the ladder to the forbidden terrace.

Loredana marched up that ladder without a hint of respect for the rules.

The views from the rooftop were unexpectedly spectacular, with a near 360° view over Vienna and its suburbs. We’d also happily timed our little adventure just right, and caught a gorgeous sunset over the rooftops. I don’t really have to say much more here, the photos speak for themselves…

Still full from lunch and exhausted from so much wandering, we opted to spend the rest of the night in at home, and so Loredana dragged out Sing Star for her Playstation 2. I’d never played the karaoke game and I am possibly one of the most tone-deaf people out there, but we had a great laugh singing out hearts out until we were too tired to carry on.

The next day I awoke to an empty flat, as both Loredana and David had headed off to work. I’d been left with a key and some instructions on where to go and visit to entertain myself until Loredana got back home around lunchtime, and – after mooching around in bed until l late – I dutifully headed off in the direction of the Schönbrunn Palace.

With the sun beating down on the city quite relentlessly, I hopped off the metro with a cinnamon roll in hand (that I had managed to order in German, miraculously) and looked for the entrance to the gardens which Loredana had promised me were rather beautiful. I eventually found the main gate of the ex-royal residence and pottered in, amazed by the sheer size of the place.

As you can see from the photos, the promised beauty of the place did not disappoint one bit, with the giant yellow structure almost paling in comparison with the vast expanses of gorgeous gardens which surrounded it. I walked around the area quite slowly at first, in awe of everything and taking photos of every small detail, but I soon realised that I wasn’t getting anywhere at that pace. I thus grabbed myself a delicious kaiserschmarrn and strawberry flavoured ice cream and headed off to see the first spot that Loredana had marked on my map, the Palm House.

As soon as I saw kaiserschmarrn (the shredded pancakes) as a flavour option I knew I had to have it.

After this leisurely walk around the lovely, flat gardens, it was time to brace the huge hill that stood behind the palace in order to visit the next spot that Loredana had marked on my map, the Gloriette. This is a vantage point atop a hill with views over the palace and the city beyond. As I got close, I deduced that I’d need more calories in me to make the climb, and so grabbed a snack in the form of a wurst covered in ketchup and mustard.

I then began the tedious climb upwards, stopping every now and then to catch my breath and finish off my fizzy apple drink of apfelschorle that I’d grabbed form a kiosk. Once atop the hill, however, the views were definitely worth it, and I spent a good while just taking it all in and snapping a few photos before I headed back down.

I arrived back down at ground level as lunchtime approached, and so I took a few last potos of the palace and gardens before heading back to the metro to be reunited with Loredana at her place. She was tired after a long day at work and I was exhausted after my morning exploring Schönbrunn Palace, so a nap was in order before we commenced with the outings marking last evening in Vienna.

Before we headed out for my last meal in Vienna I had one last errand to run – a trip to a local supermarket to pick up some Austrian snacks for the team at Erretres. Loredana helped me pick out some sweet and savoury goodies to take back to Madrid, and we grabbed a local snack favourite – a kind of formed spiced meat patty in a fresh bread roll. It felt quite unnatural to be eating meat with that shape and texture, but it was delicious and we were hungry, so it really hit the spot!

As the afternoon gave way to the evening the three of us then headed out to an Asian fusion restaurant, where we devoured dumplings, ramen, and more delicious goodies. To work off some of the food, I insisted we should climb up the many, many steps leading to the roof of a local building – maybe not the best idea after a recent COVID infection, but I made it!

We snooped around up there for a bit before heading back home, where we had some shots of Berliner Luft, a mint liqueur which I noted tasted exactly the same as mouthwash. I then had to begrudgingly pack my bag ready for the trip back the next day – it felt like I’d only been in Vienna for five minutes!

The next morning I’d to wake early to shower, pack the last bits and bats, and say farewell and thank you to Loredana and David for having me stay at theirs and for being incredible hosts and tour guides for my first time in this very pretty city. Even though I’ll definitely be back to visit again, I also insisted that the two of them should come to visit me in Madrid whenever they got a chance – I enjoy hosting just as much as I enjoy being hosted!

There’s not much left to add with all of that said, apart from thanking Loredana and David again, and promising that I’ll be back in Austria again just as soon as possible!

18.09.21 — Journal

Izzy Visits & More

Once my double whammy of COVID lockdowns was over, I was understandably looking to spend as little time in my flat as possible. Thankfully, I had plenty of ideas of what to do after so much time to think about it, and begun my freedom with the first of many trips around Madrid. This took me up to Las Rozas and to my friend’s house, where we’d arranged to have a dip in the pool and then head out for a bite to eat.

The sun setting over Las Rozas created some lovely autumnal colours.

We had a lovely catch up at his pool before heading out for pizza, and then spent the evening chatting away in the park with a beer. Eventually I’d to get the train home after the sun set, as it was a Sunday night and I was due back in the office the next day.

The next weekend saw me jump on a bike and head off to explore some of the city centre, as I’d to do some reconnaissance for Izzy’s visit and I also fancied visiting some of my favourite spots around the city. On my first bike ride, I headed to Ópera and the area I like to call “Royal Madrid” around the palace and cathedral. There, I stopped for an ice cream, before swinging past the new viewing platform that has just been opened after gosh knows how many years of construction – it was boarded up the first time I visited Madrid in 2015!

My second runaround took me in a huge loop around the city centre, which ended with a descent down to the lake in the huge park in the west of the city. From there, I headed down the length of the river and back to my house, stopping along the way to jump on one of the swings which hangs from an overpass – it’d been years since I last climbed aboard a swing!

A few days later, when I should have been in Oslo (a trip that COVID put a stop to), I decided to finally redeem the theme park ticket that I’d bought back in April and which I couldn’t use back then because my neighbourhood got plunged into a hyper-localised lockdown. Although this meant that I’d have to go alone, I decided to head on down to the Parque de Atracciones as I was running out of time to redeem the thing and I thought it’d be a good distraction from the sadness of not having been able to travel abroad.

The theme park is just a metro ride away from my flat, so I headed down for opening time (midday) and redeemed my ticket. Heading in alone surrounded by groups of people was a bit odd, but after my first ride (where I wound up sat next to Javier, hello if you’re out there), I soon got into the swing of it and began racking up a ride on all of the attractions that I’d noted down as looking interesting.

After a few rollercoasters and a good drenching on the log flume, I sat down for some lunch, which naturally took the form of the usual mediocre theme-park pizza. After that I headed on yet more of the park’s bigger rides, including some flat rides (rides which aren’t rollercoasters) which were also quite a laugh – except one which span us so much I felt like I was about to spray the poor lad next to me with the pepperoni and cheese I’d had earlier!

I took a video of myself on the log flume, but I daren’t upload it.

With the day wearing on and my energy levels low, I stopped again for a cheeky beer and a huge waffle cone filled with chocolate and ice cream. Once I’d devoured all of that, it was then time to re-ride some of my favourites from earlier, which took me back on a few of the rollercoasters and even led me to find a drop tower which wasn’t on my list but which packed quite the punch! Thankfully not too much of a punch, though, and the people below were saved from a light sprinkling of ice cream and bits of waffle.

After another wander around the park, day became night and I became fully exhausted, and so it was time to start winding down and thinking of going home. As the park was open until 10pm, I decided to grab myself one last jug of beer and a sandwich as the sun set, but not before I’d accidentally stumbled across the River Rapids and then Los Fiordos – a fjord-themed water ride.

I jumped on this last ride a few other people and we went around the relatively short course, getting lightly sprinkled with water after the main drop along the way. When we got into the station, however, there was nobody waiting, and so the group of teenagers in front of me asked if we could go around again. The ride operator insisted that anyone who wanted to get off could, but I thought I’d go with the flow and go around again – a decision I paid for with a proper drenching to the skin on this second round!

Being in a theme park past sundown made for some pretty unique sights.

With my long day at the theme park over, I headed back home and fell asleep pretty much instantly. The next day I had made various plans with Sara, including a brunch in the city centre, after which we ended up at my place doing a spot of colouring in and calligraphy – a nice and relaxing afternoon! We then headed back to her flat and met up with her boyfriend and his friends who were visiting, nipping down to a local terrace for a few drinks and some nibbles to end another busy day.

The day after marked Izzy’s arrival, and so I spent a while cleaning my flat before cycling up to Atocha train station to meet her and Alex as they arrived from Barcelona. Our first task was to nip by a clinic so that they could have their PCRs done, and then we headed back home to drop off their suitcases, after which we headed out into the city centre.

That evening we had tacos in Taquería Mi Ciudad, a tiny little Mexican restaurant I took Izzy to the first time she visited and which I haven’t been to for quite a long time. Full on delicious tacos and gringas, we pottered down to La Latina and then Lavapiés for that evening’s drinks, heading home for a relatively early night ready for a long day of activities ahead.

Saturday was one of the most intense days of exploration I’ve ever undertaken in Madrid – we did so much from 8:30am to 11pm that I can’t even begin to list it all here. In between other things we had breakfast at Ojalá, scootered our way around Retiro (the big park), cycled past the Royal Palace, had drinks at the Matadero, cycled down the river, had a picnic and watched the sunset at the Templo de Debod, and wound up back at my favourite local bar for a bite to eat before bed. Quite the day, huh!

The next day was a Sunday, but there was no rest for us, even after the busy day we’d just had. Heading off on the bikes again in the morning, we headed up to the north of the city for some pastries for breakfast before heading down the river back home. With time running out, however, we’d to grab a taxi back to my place so that Izzy and Alex could grab their suitcases and head off to the airport to fly back to London – it was a quick and intense trip!

After I’d seen them off in their taxi, I had a quick nap in order to gain some energy for lunch, as I’d arranged to meet up with Napo for pizza at our favourite haunt in Lavapiés. Lunch consisted of a beer in the square whilst we waited for a table, a delicious pizza at NAP, and then a cheeky G&T back at my place – a great way to finish off an afternoon.

But wait! I wasn’t done yet, my non-stop weekend continued. To celebrate Hugo’s boyfriend’s birthday, we’d arranged to have a meal out that evening in the city centre. I’d to get another nap in before heading out, but we had a lovely time (even if I still don’t have much of a sense of taste) and I enjoyed one of the wildest desserts I’ve had for a long time…

After my busy weekend it was time to get back to work, but that didn’t stop me from taking some photos and enjoying the odd evening out. My first new perspective on Madrid comes from the third floor of my hospital, where I’d gone for a quick scan. As I walked out I caught a glimpse out of the window, and couldn’t resist snapping this shot of the Air Force building behind the Victory Arch.

I also spent a couple of evenings down by the river where I’ve been writing blog posts and just watching the world go by. A little restaurant and bar that I never paid any attention to before has become one of my new favourite haunts, as I can sit down with my iPad and work on whatever I need to whilst enjoying a cheeky beer with lemon and watching the sun set – bliss!

One evening I was invited around to Sara’s, where we had a catch up over a quick bite to eat and a beer – she’d laid out a lovely spread of delicious meats and cheeses from the north of Spain! We then wound up in a local bar, where we finished off our evening with a plate of calamari rings and one last cheeky drink.

With that, I bring my blog almost up-to-date, as I’ve another post pending looking at my first and last international adventure this summer – thanks, COVID! I shan’t reveal where I got off to for now, however – you’ll have to wait for next time…

07.09.21 — Journal

Coronavirus: Buy One, Get One Free

After some ominous foreshadowing in my last post, I’m sure the title of this one leaves little to the imagination as to what happened to me next: I got COVID – and not once, but twice.

Before we delve into how I managed to kill time in my flat by myself, I should address the elephant in the room: how did I manage to get COVID twice? And how, just how, did I manage to get it in as many months?

The sincere answer is that nobody knows. Both my GP and the Madrid COVID helpline have been great during the these two bouts of the virus, ringing me periodically to see how I am getting on and describing the next steps to take. One of these times my GP rang me to clarify the situation, and admitted that even she didn’t know how I managed to give a positive result twice. One theory is that the first time was a false positive, which could well be the case, but we’ll never know.

The important thing is that I’m now COVID-negative and fully recovered – except for my sense of taste and smell, but I’ll leave that story for later on in this post. As mentioned, I’ve to express gratitude to the Madrid health authorities for their constant contact throughout these odd few weeks, and also to my family and friends who kept me entertained during the long evenings alone in my flat.

Now, on with the story. My first bout of the virus came after Cami and Kevin’s visit, after I’d gone to a private testing centre to get a PCR ready to fly back to England to visit my family. I was shocked when I received the positive diagnosis as I’d not a single symptom, but I dutifully locked myself in my flat and began my ten days of quarantine.

Being stuck at home was made less tedious by some mood lighting.

This first bout of quarantine wasn’t all too bad, I was just sad to have missed a chance to visit my family and then get out and enjoy Madrid’s summer activities. I moved some of my holiday days at work in order to work from home to keep myself occupied, and with the idea of then taking these days off when I could enjoy them and get out of the house once again.

As mentioned, I was completely fine, except perhaps for a bit of a light cough, and so I kept myself occupied and entertained by cooking and setting up spa evenings at home to pamper myself. One day I even made banana bread for the first time, which I didn’t expect to be so tasty nor so big – it took me a good while to get through the entire thing!

I’d to make banana bread in a cake molde thanks to my temporary imprisonment.

One evening I was in bed and noticed that I felt a little feverish, and so I took my temperature to discover that it was slightly elevated. I wasn’t too concerned, as I’d had some out-of-date salmorejo (a cold tomato and garlic soup) earlier in the day, and so resolved that my body must just be reacting to that. It was an easy conclusion to jump to seeing as I’d had COVID just weeks before – I assumed that it’d be impossible to get infected again so soon.

With my light cough gone and the ten days of quarantine over, I was eventually allowed back out, and my life returned to normal for a while. After the excitement of my trip to Sweden, however, things got a little heated – literally.

As a precaution, however, I stayed put at home, popping a paracetamol the next day and carrying on working. The day after this, however, I awoke with very little sense of smell or taste, and by noon it had disappeared completely. Knowing that this was a telltale sign of COVID, I rang my GP and arranged to be tested that very afternoon.

In a surprise to nobody except myself at the time (and perhaps those of you that didn’t read the title of this post properly), the test came back positive. Plunged into another ten-day quarantine, I was forced to find other ways to occupy myself that didn’t involve making delicious food. I played with the lighting in my flat for a while, practiced my calligraphy, and began fun experiments involving making and eating most disgusting culinary combinations that I could possibly imagine.

With two trips cancelled, which would have seen me back to Oslo to see Heidi and back to Tenerife to see Cami, this second quarantine was a little more disheartening than the first. This, coupled with the fact that I was feeling under the weather, unable to enjoy food, and stuck inside again for the second half of my summer holidays, made this second round particularly tough.

After a few days of me living off paracetamol, my GP rang me to see if I was fit to be let back out. Thanks to a lingering bit of a cough, she instructed me to stay inside for another three days, and so I found my imprisonment extended into the second week of my summer holidays.

This extension of the quarantine was a nuisance, but at least it didn’t ruin the last of the three plans that I had for my summer holiday: acting as host for Izzy and her boyfriend Alex who were to come and visit me in Madrid! That, however, will have to wait for a future post.

We thus come to the conclusion of this perhaps somewhat dull post, but I’d like to end on a more optimistic note. Since the second round of COVID I’ve had a great few days with Izzy and Alex, and there’s more to come in this month of September and the next, as I’ve got plenty of visits and other short adventures lined up! You can be sure that I’ll be back just as soon as I can to report on all of the goings on – until then!

29.08.21 — Travel

Båstad

With my website back up after an error caused by my questionable WordPress coding, today’s blog post deviates somewhat from the usual updates from Madrid thanks to an impromptu work-related trip to Sweden!

The week before this trip, one of our current clients got in contact to ask that I head over to an event they were hosting in Sweden to present a preview of their new brand to their stakeholders. This event was to take place in the coastal city of Båstad, which is much closer to the Danish capital of Copenhagen (which I’ve visited a couple of times in the past) than the Swedish capital, Stockholm.

All this meant for a somewhat convoluted journey, with a flight from Madrid to Copenhagen followed by a two hour train journey from Copenhagen, through Malmö, and up the Swedish coast to Båstad, where a taxi would pick me up and take me to the hotel. With COVID still ravaging Europe, the main nuisance caused by this complicated journey was the different paperwork needed with the three countries involved: Denmark, Sweden, and Spain.

Once through the health checks in Copenhagen, I grabbed some lunch before hopping on the train headed to Sweden. The first part of the journey involved hopping under then over the sea, passing through a tunnel from Copenhagen to Peberholm (a little artificial island) and then over the Øresund Bridge. I was too awestruck to grab any decent photos, but it’s definitely worth a Google!

On the train I was struck by the lack of mask use, and some quick online research (courtesy of the free WiFi – the Scandinavians know how to do public infrastructure right) revealed that there’s no mask mandate in Sweden. I left mine on, working on some last-minute adjustments to the presentation that I was to give that very evening, before rocking up in Båstad a mere hour before I was set to appear at the gala dinner and give my presentation.

I’d been told that a taxi would be waiting for me at Båstad station, so I hopped off at this train station in the middle of nowhere and wondered how I was to identify the taxi driver. I wandered over to the only guy I could see waiting next to a car, and was greeted in Swedish – a language I really don’t understand. I thought I recognised the name of the hotel in there, and so hopped into the taxi without a second thought – I’d no time to spare!

Following our journey on Google Maps – I still wasn’t sure I’d gotten in the right taxi – I saw that we were on the right track and relaxed a bit, taking in the views of the quaint little village and the coast before arriving at my destination, Hotel Skansen. I’d then to check in and find my room as quickly as possible, as I’d a mere half an hour to unpack, run through the presentation one last time, get changed, and be back down at reception in order to attend the dinner.

I should here mention that the hotel and the town were absolutely gorgeous – the town hosts the Swedish Open, Sweden’s main annual tennis tournament, and my hotel room was located in a building joined to the main court. This meant that I could look out into the tennis court and the sea beyond by just walking out of my (rather lovely) hotel room. Bliss!

There wasn’t much time to take all of this in or enjoy the views, however, as I’d now 25 minutes to be ready and back at reception in the main building. My unpacking consisted of turning my bag upside down and distributing my things on the bed, and I’d to rehearse my presentation out loud to the bare room whilst I struggled to change into some very fitted boots and the one and only formal shirt that I own. It was all a big rush which passed in a flash!

Arriving back at reception in the nick of time, I found myself surrounded by lots of people speaking Swedish and a series of coaches that had arrived to take us to dinner. I had assumed that the event would be taking place within the hotel itself, but the presence of the coaches suggested otherwise. I eventually found someone I recognised, and we were all instructed (in English, gracefully) to board the coaches.

The journey to the mysterious dinner location took us further up the gorgeous coastline.

We soon arrived in a rather grandiose car park, flanked by the sea on one side and a lovely collection of buildings which formed the entrance gate to an expansive garden beyond on the other side. It began to dawn on me that this was to be quite the evening, a sensation consolidated as we were marched through the gardens and towards what looked like a stately home set behind a pond and a series of perfectly trimmed hedges.

It turns out that we were to be eating at the Orangeriet Restaurant at Norrviken Båstad, a villa and gardens which were once owned by a private family but which are now open to the public. The restaurant had been rented out for the evening to us, and so we headed in for a drink and to find our assigned seat ready for the evening’s presentations to begin.

Once we were all seated at our tables, the evening began with a starter and its accompanying wine pairing. Over a bowl of creamy seafood soup, I got chatting to the rest of the people on my table, who included one of the best tennis players in Sweden, one of the organisers of the event, and the owners of various tennis and padel clubs in both Sweden and Norway. I’ve played padel once in my entire life, so I was a bit out of my comfort zone!

The presentations then began, and I’d still no idea exactly when it would be my turn to take the stage. When the event’s technician came by and told me to set up my Mac, I thought it was time to go, but it turned out that the main course was to be served before then, so I returned to chatting with my new mates at the table for a while.

The main – roast lamb – then arrived, accompanied by yet another glass of wine and a side of Swedish potatoes, which promptly ignited an argument between the Swedes and the Norwegians of my table over which country had the best gastronomy. They were very good potatoes, I must admit, and the wine (a Spanish wine) was even better – but I was going easy on the alcohol until after my presentation.

With the main course over, it was then my turn to present, and I hopped up onto stage and cracked a couple of jokes before presenting the sneak peek of the clients’ new brand to an audience of 200+ of their partners. I’ve always enjoyed presenting, and this time was no different – especially as I had a great audience thanks to the few rounds of wine pairings that everyone had already worked their way through!

Once I’d finished, I made my way back to the table and promptly polished off the wine I’d been saving before dessert arrived. Even through I do have quite the sweet tooth, I must say that the dessert was the highlight of the meal, with a delicious chocolate tart with meringue and a homemade ice cream flavoured with hjortron, a local berry.

With that polished off, helped down by a glass of port, it was time to head back to the hotel. We hopped back on the coach and headed back, with everyone resolving to carry on the evening at the hotel’s bar. I wasn’t having any of that though, as I’d booked an early breakfast slot in order to try and visit the outdoor “cold spa”, an experience involving jumping into the freezing waters of the North Sea.

I woke up the next day with a somewhat heavy head – the variety of wines obviously didn’t sit well with my post-quarantine body – and headed down for breakfast. I loaded up on bacon, sausages, eggs, and even some salmon – when in Rome and all that. I finished off my breakfast feast with some pancakes with cream and maple syrup, and headed back to my room to pack and then check out.

There’s nothing like a hearty breakfast and some fresh air to cure a hangover.

In the end I didn’t have the time nor the correct attire to visit the spa, as I’d stupidly forgotten to pack some swimming shorts, and the options they had at the spa shop were all way too expensive for a quick dip in the sea. I also had to work my way around another crisis, as the two taxi companies in the small town were all booked up, and so I had to decide whether to grab a bus to the train station or head there on foot.

I eventually decided to head back to the train station on foot, as the bus would have me waiting for almost an hour before the train was scheduled to arrive, and I reasoned that a walk through the town would give me chance to see a bit more of Båstad and take a few photos. With my backpack weighing me down somewhat, I first headed down to the beach next to the hotel to check out the cold spa that I hadn’t had time to visit.

After a quick call to my parents to let them know how the trip was going, I noticed that I’d only an hour and a bit left to complete the rest of the journey which Google informed me would take 50 minutes. Not wanting to end up having to run the last leg of the trip to the train station, I began to head through the centre of Båstad, taking a few photos along the way.

The pastel colours and the grey skies made for some lovely moody shots.

I eventually passed by a supermarket, and resolved that since I was going at a good pace, I had time to nip in and pick up some treats for my colleagues and for myself in order to get me through the rest of the trip back to Madrid. I didn’t take into account the fact that I always get wildly distracted in foreign supermarkets, however, and so had to pick up the pace once I was back out and on my way to the train station.

With my KEX chocolate bar in hand (thanks to Danni for the recommendation), I sped onwards to the train station, passing by some beautiful houses and architecture along the way. I arrived at the station with just a few minutes to spare, hopping on the very punctual train back through the Swedish countryside and on to Copenhagen Airport.

It’d be lovely to stay in one of these places overlooking the sea.

At the airport I’d to take another COVID test, but it the process was quick and efficient, and I was soon boarding my plane back to Madrid a mere 24 hours after I’d first landed in Copenhagen the day before. In the airport, the KEX bar proved to be a great dessert after I’d half-enjoyed one of the most expensive sandwiches I think I’ve ever bought.

Once back in Madrid, I grabbed a taxi back to my place and had an early night, as I was straight back to work the next day. I’d been offered a longer stay up in Båstad, but I’d turned it down as I needed to get on with some work before a key deadline in September – there’s no rest for the wicked!

Well, as I’m sure you can tell by the amount of blog post which covers a mere 24 hours, the whole trip to Båstad went by in the blink of an eye. I had a great time, met some great people, and lived plenty of interesting experiences, but everything happened so fast that I had no time to process what was going on around me – it was all a blur!

Nevertheless, I’m really grateful to have been invited to join the event, which was like a quick two-day holiday even though I was connected and working for the majority of it. Båstad is a lovely place – despite its dodgy-sounding name – and I’ll definitely have it at the back of my mind if I ever fancy an escape from the heat of Madrid in the future.

Before I finish this blog post, I’ll give a very subtle hint about the subject of the next one, and to do so I’ll just leave you with this cryptic comment: there’s a line within this blog post which somewhat ominously foreshadows what’s to come…

15.08.21 — Journal

Cami & Kevin in Madrid

I pick things up here where we left off in my last post, when Kevin, Cami, and I were headed for a couple of days in Madrid after our big Asturian reunion in Oviedo! After having such good fun canoeing down the River Sella and eating the delicious food that Asturias has to offer, I was somewhat apprehensive to ensure that Cami and Kevin had a good time in Madrid, but we sure packed plenty in…

After another ridiculously short flight from Oviedo to the capital, the three of us hopped on what was supposed to be a direct train line to my neighbourhood to head out early for some drinks and food at my favourite local bar. As my blatant foreshadowing revealed, however, this was not to be the case, and we wound up changing trains twice in order to get to my house.

Once at base the three of us left our bags, had a quick freshen up, and then headed down to Bar El Ferrocarril to have a few cheeky drinks and enjoy some of the best (according to me) huevos rotos (chips topped with fried eggs and cured ham) in Madrid. Once we were merrily full, I suggested we grab some churros for dessert, and so we headed off towards the river to pick up a fresh bag.

Disaster struck, though, when the churrería that I was hoping to go to turned out to be closed. As an alternative, I remembered that just fifteen minutes down the road there was an Italian ice cream parlour that I’d been meaning to visit, and so we headed down to try out some of the gelato that I’d previously seen people queuing out the door to get their hands on.

We spent a good while down by the river enjoying our ice cream, and then had to traipse back uphill and to my flat to rest before our first day of adventures: I had, of course, created a plan of what we could get up to, and we’d to be at Ojalá early in order to snag a table for brunch!

Alternative text.

At this iconic breakfast spot in Malasaña, the three of us devoured our delicious brunch, complete with all kinds of food, teas, coffees, and juices to keep us hydrated in the Madrid heat. It’s a place I’ve been taking people to since the first time moved to the city all those years ago, and it never disappoints!

We held a little photo shoot in the basement beach bar.

In order to digest a little, we then headed for a wander around the lovely streets of Malasaña, but we soon found ourselves inside a bar and snacking and drinking once again. This time we landed in La Bodega de la Ardosa, an iconic spot for a pincho de tortilla (slice of Spanish omelette) and a vermouth.

The tortilla and a cheeky drink went down splendidly in the vintage interior.

From there, we headed on towards Chueca, Madrid’s gay district, where we managed to grab a table in the central square to enjoy a cocktail – although mine was a mocktail thanks to those pesky antibiotics. We couldn’t stick around for too long, however, as I’d more things planned before lunch!

After paying the bill, the three of us then waltzed down through the city centre, passing through the typical tourist spots such as La Puerta del Sol, Plaza Mayor, and past the Royal Palace and Cathedral. This long walk in the midday heat had us ready and rearing for some drinks and a spot of lunch, and I’d booked a table at just the place…

The beach bar at Café del Rey, where I spent many a Thursday afternoon when Erretres was based in Calle Cadarso, was the chosen spot for our meal. We made good and proper use of the menú del día (daily set menu) and had a couple of drinks before heading off to our next spot, the lake, where I’d decided we could take a nap in the shade.

I did manage to get half an hour of shuteye whilst down there, but I then awoke with a heavy head and dry throat thanks to the oppressive heat of the Madrid summer. There was only one way to solve this, we decided, and sauntered down to a lakeside terrace to have yet another drink before heading home for a proper nap.

Once we’d recovered some energy we hopped back on the metro and made our way up to one of the best spots – in my humble opinion – to see the sunset: the Templo de Debod. We arrived just in time to catch the last few moments of daylight, and the sky put on a spectacular show of rays of light marking the sun’s swan song for the night.

Once the light had faded and we were in need of yet another thirst-quenching beverage, we found ourselves a spot of grass and rolled our the picnic blanket, grabbing some beers and opening the snacks we’d brought with us. I then let Sara know that we were around, and she joined us in our picnic for her reunion with Kevin after the same three years!

Our original plan had been to then head down to the Lavapiés district for a final few drinks before tottering home on foot, but we’d completely lost track of time and space, and so decided instead to have a few drinks and a bite to eat at a bar near the temple. We were welcomed in by a lovely bar owner, who allowed us to have some drinks at his bar whilst ordering food from the restaurant across the way.

Once closing time came around, the four of us hopped back on the metro and off home, where I had the idea to hold a little spa evening of pampering to unwind and relax after quite a hectic day out in the city. I dragged out the face masks, body scrubs, and other lotions and potions, and Kevin, Cami, and I settled down with some relaxing music to wind down before bed.

The next day had us back on the move, as Cami and Kevin had mentioned that they fancied a snoop around Uniqlo (where I buy all my clothes, I have simple tastes). After a quick gander, we then headed to Retiro on foot, stopping for a photo opportunity by the Puerta de Alcalá.

The flowers were almost as resplendent as Cami was in the summer sun.

We then grabbed ourselves some of the city bikes for the next adventure of the day. The first leg of our journey took us around Retiro, Madrid’s main park, and past all the many sights it has to offer. The park has just recently been named as Unesco World Heritage Site, and its gorgeous promenades and numerous beauty spots such as the Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) make it evident as to why.

This still has to be one of my favourite sights in all of Madrid.

With everyone to be seen having been seen, we then headed onto the city streets on our bikes, whizzing downhill to the river for another stop at the Matadero for a few drinks and another quick snack before lunch. This didn’t go without it’s fair share of hiccups, however, as I had to change my bike as it was wobbling all over the shop and then we managed to get a little lost after crossing one of the iconic bridges over the river.

Never mind, though, as we were soon in a local Italian restaurant and tucking into delicious salads, pastas, and a delicious profiterole dessert. This left us very full and very sleepy, and so Cami and I headed up back to my flat to relax whilst Kevin nipped across the way to get his PCR done to travel back to the US a few days later.

After a nap at home to recover, we were once again back on a bike and headed up to Madrid’s second new Unesco World Heritage site: El Paseo del Prado. This one’s a little more difficult to define, as really it’s the name of a street, but the recognition takes into account the fabulous sites which can be found along the way, from amazing architecture to a selection of grand fountains to the world-renowned Prado Museum.

We headed along the route of the Paseo del Prado, turning around at Cibeles, another one of Madrid’s most beautiful sights. We then left our bikes and headed through the lovely Writer’s Quarter (El Barrio de las Letras) on foot. There we found a terrace and settled down for our last drinks to celebrate Kevin and Cami’s last evening in Madrid.

The streets of the Writer’s Quarter were bathed in the evening sun as we explored.

With our drinks finished, the three of us then headed back home, where we ordered some Chinese food and watched a couple of episodes of Derry Girls before an early night – Kevin and Cami were up in the early hours in order to catch their flights: Kevin back up to Asturias for his last couple of days in Spain, and Cami back home to Tenerife.

The emotional farewell the following morning was made somewhat easier by the state of the three of us – we were way too tired to know exactly what was going on! I saw Kevin and Cami off with a big hug, promising that I’d soon be over to Tenerife and that I’d try to get into the US to see Kevin just as soon as they accept travel from the EU. Here’s hoping it’s sooner rather than later!

As mentioned in my last post, it was an absolute blast to be reunited with Kevin and Cami once more, and I just hope that the world starts pulling itself together soon so that we don’t have to wait three more years before we’re all back together for some more raucous mischief!