Author Archives: OllieBriggs

15.05.22 — Journal

Madrid Kinda Stinks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

07.05.22 — Travel

My Birthday in Gijón

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

03.05.22 — Journal

Changing Skies Between Times

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26.04.22 — Travel

Rhea Visits

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11.04.22 — Travel

A Half Holiday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

05.04.22 — Journal

Spring Springs a Leak

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

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

The architecture was as interesting as the printing presses within.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

20.03.22 — Journal

Wandering Around La Pedriza

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

09.03.22 — Journal

Eleanor’s Graduation

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

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

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

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

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

Well done Bel!

08.02.22 — Travel

Spring in Murcia

In an attempt to keep the last of my New Year’s resolutions, which was to travel more, I currently find myself returning from the first trip outside of Madrid that I’ve taken in 2022. As I’ve done many times before, I headed down to Murcia on the train to spend an extended weekend with my auntie and uncle. The last time I headed southward to see them was in summer last year, and so I was well overdue a few days visiting them in their Murcian home in the sun.

Well, I say sun, that’s quite an optimistic way of describing the weather. The photos contained within this blog post are about to be rather deceiving: a combination of the time of year and some sheer bad luck meant that it was rather overcast a lot of the time that I spent there.

My journey began as I walked from my office in the north of the city centre down to Atocha train station towards the south, a trip which took about 90 minutes but felt like an eternity thanks to my heavy backpack. After stopping for a bite to eat outside the station, I headed inside and boarded the familiar train southwards. Upon arrival in Murcia, we headed straight to my auntie and uncle’s place in order for me to make myself a healthy meal before heading to bed for the night.

Walking plenty, eating homemade food, and setting off for a trip: three of my ten resolutions at play.

The next day we’d decided to try and grab lunch at a Chilean restaurant that my uncle had found, and so headed to a little town nearby their place after doing a spot of shopping in the morning. We were initially disheartened when the place seemed to have closed, as the street just looked to be lined by a bunch of sleepy houses. I then spotted that one of the houses was in fact the restaurant, but we were then disheartened once again when the chef came out to tell us that they were all booked up and that we’d have to come back another time. We decided it would be worth it to try something different, and so reserved a table for the very next day.

We then carried on to another nearby village where the chef had recommended that we try the food, but that place was closed as the owners were on holiday, and so we resorted to searching Google Maps for a nearby place as it was getting somewhat late.

We eventually had a rather lovely lunch, mixing a series of local dishes with some Spanish classics such as squid rings and garlic prawns. The only shock came in the price of some prawns I’d ordered – I didn’t think they’d be so expensive!

Lunch over, we then headed back home to spend an evening in as the weather was’t looking too great. I made a batch of hummus following my colleague Rocío’s recipe, and settled down with a glass of vermouth to watch some telly and chat the evening away.

The day after and we were back to the Chilean restaurant in order to see what the food would be like. I’d consulted Cami, who is also from Chile, to ask for some recommendations of what to order, but all of that was pointless in the end as it turned out that there was no menu, rather the chef would recommend and bring us out a series of dishes as he saw fit.

Well, what an experience it turned out to be! The owner of the place was absolutely lovely, and invited us to try everything from a creamy avocado and prawn salad to some fresh oysters. I’d never tried oysters before, and I think I’ll leave them for a while before trying them again…

These gorgeous cats would have probably appreciated the oysters more than me.

The food was absolutely delicious, though, and we ended up spending nearly three hours there, chatting and munching our way though a grand total of seven courses and two bottles of wine. Towards the end, the owner even brought us out some games he used to play as a kid in Chile, and we spent a good while drunkenly trying to get a bobbin on a string hooked onto its accompanying stick. The best part of the whole thing, however, had to be when he dived into his collection of party gear and made a trip around the place in his best drag outfit. We had an absolute blast!

My auntie and the owner whose name I didn’t catch – not even his drag name.

We left the place absolutely stuffed, so much so that I wound up having a rather extended three-hour nap upon arrival back home. Once I’d woken up I took myself out for an evening walk, stopping at the golf resort’s bar along the way to grab myself a drink to keep me going back down to my auntie and uncle’s apartment – it’s a big resort!

The sun had finally made an appearance the next day, and so we bundled into the car and headed up to the city of Murcia to spend the day. After parking up on the outskirts and walking down the river for a while, we landed in the centre, where I first engaged in a bit of sightseeing before lunch.

We spent some time soaking in the sun and taking photos near the cathedral in the city centre. I always forget how pretty the centre of Murcia really is, and I still find new things to see and take photos of every time I visit. From there, we moved on to the place that my auntie and uncle had found for lunch, Mercado de Correos.

Murica city centre is always a joy with its hidden little corners and side streets.

This market is situated inside what was a Correos building (Correos being the Spanish postal service) which has been converted into a modern gastronomic space. Inside, there’s a series of food stalls offering everything from sushi to local dishes to platters of cured meats and cheeses.

We wound up ordering a mix of local Murcian food and other small sharing dishes, enjoying them as they were brought to our table by the waiters. Once we’d had our savoury fix, we then paid up and left, scouting the city for something sweet for dessert.

In another moment of me sticking my head through an open door, I found this gorgeous door.

After a bit of a wander, we finally found an ice cream parlour that was open, where we all grabbed an ice cream sandwich. These bombs of sugar took the form of some delicious homemade ice cream sandwiched between two equally tasty chocolate chip cookies – they were divine!

Lunch over, we then wandered around some more of the city streets as we slowly meandered back to the car, stopping for a rest in the late afternoon heat as we went. From the big city, we then headed back home, where I had another nap – and this time I managed to keep it to just an acceptable half an hour.

As it was my last evening, I said we should head back up to the resort’s bar for some drinks, and so we spent the evening over some snacks and gin and tonics at El Casón. There I got chatting to one of the waiters, one who I’d then run into the following morning, and who told me about his favourite market in Murcia – one for next time!

The next day, once I was showered, packed, and ready to go, me and my auntie dropped my uncle off at a meeting he’d to attend and then headed out for lunch together. She took me to an unassuming little restaurant connected to the warehouse of an agricultural company, where we ate a delicious and very filling menú del día (daily set menu) before she dropped me back off at the train station that I’d arrived at just four short nights before.

As is always the case, I had a lovely break down in Murcia, where we managed to do plenty of stuff and eat plenty of delicious meals despite the weather. I’ve to thank my auntie and uncle for once again opening their doors and driving me around during my little winter break down in the south of Spain. As ever, I’ll be back again soon!

31.01.22 — Journal

Resolutions for 2022

I’m not usually one for making New Year’s resolutions as I’m not know for keeping them for very long, but after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic it felt like it was time to start to make some changes. That, alongside an energy and optimism gained whilst home for Christmas and then in Tenerife for the New Year, drove me to throw together a list of ten resolutions for 2022.

Of course I wasn’t going to start the new year by trying to change ten aspects of my life all in one go, and so I chose a selection of resolutions, some of which I’d start right away and some that I could complete later on in the year. Also, as I was on holiday in Tenerife until the 6th of January, I decided to put my plan into action on the 7th upon my arrival back in Madrid.

I’m sure you’ll be wondering what my resolutions are in the end, and I shall include them here, not only for informative purposes but also as a way of holding myself to account by exposing myself to the world – or at least those of you who read my blog:

  1. Cook and eat better food
  2. Begin to do exercise
  3. Stop biting your nails
  4. Walk at least 10,000 steps a day
  5. Advance with learning Irish
  6. Launch my new website
  7. Get a Spanish driving license
  8. Begin calligraphy classes
  9. Save up some money
  10. Travel more

As mentioned, some I’ll start as the year goes on, such as driving lessons and calligraphy classes, but some I’ve already implemented since day one. The first one of the list was perhaps the most challenging for me personally, as I’ve a turbulent history of trying to eat better and lose weight, a lot of which stems from my tendency to use food as a crutch to deal with any stress I might be experiencing.

This year I’ve decided that the key lies in drawing up a meal plan, planning when to buy food, and investigating new recipes in my spare time, which usually involves me asking friends, family, and colleagues for ideas as I grow bored of other plates that I usually make. As you can see below, I’ve been making some healthy yet tasty dishes these last few weeks.

These pretty ingredients formed part of a vegetable soup recipe I made up on the spot.

I mention the word ‘tasty’ as for me it’s paramount that I still enjoy my food – it’s one of the things which I genuinely probably enjoy the most about the human condition. This way, I’m still managing to stick to my new health habits, and beginning to really enjoy the challenge of cooking everything in between my work and social lives. It also has the added benefit of helping with the penultimate resolution in my list, as I’m spending a lot less money on eating out or pre-made meals.

Alongside this newfound attitude to food, I’ve also become somewhat obsessed with the measurable resolution in my list: the 10,000 daily step goal. After a while using my phone to count my steps, I finally caved and bought an activity band to better track my steps and activity, and so every day since the 7th of January I’ve diligently walked my ten thousand steps – even after a late night at work and one particularly hungover Sunday morning.

One particularly nice benefit of this little lifestyle change has been the chance to see much more of the city than I ever did before, with my evening walks home after work pushing me to explore little streets and routes that I’ve never walked down before. I do still take the fastest route home sometimes, however this route still takes me past some of the prettiest sites the centre has to offer, such as the royal palace and the Viaducto de Segovia, a huge bridge offering views over the west of the city.

It’s not all bad when I get to pass architecture like this every evening.

It might sound silly, but this combination of eating better and moving more has really changed my outlook on everything, and the extra energy it has given me has motivated me to start doing some things I’ve been unconsciously putting off doing for a while now. One such trip took me to the north of the city and to the Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, the National Museum of Natural Sciences (an easy one to translate, come on now). This was incited by a dream I had about dinosaurs, and so I decided I would drag myself up there the following day in order to snoop at some models of dinosaur bones.

I’ve also been more proactive in organising things with friends, including a trip to Hugo’s new flat for an evening of tacos and enchiladas prepared by him and his friends. It was a lovely evening, with friends from Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Spain all coming together to inaugurate Hugo’s new place. Being on the sixteenth floor, the views from his new place are quite something!

I’d also arranged to spend one Sunday at Sara’s place, where we were joined by her boyfriend, her other flatmate, and another friend to share a long afternoon lunch. Dessert was provided by yours truly, and took the form of a Victoria sponge with fresh cream and strawberries. It may look very nice, but the texture and the rise on the cake were a bit off, as I’ve still not found a good ratio of raising agent to properly substitute self-raising flour. If anyone out there has any idea, please let me know!

The lack of self-raising flour in Spain may actually be my biggest gripe about living here.

Obviously this cake didn’t exactly align with my new healthy eating plan – even if it did contain quite a bit of fresh fruit. This didn’t bother me, however, as my mum rightly pointed out that if I don’t allow myself the odd treat from time to time then I’ll get frustrated with eating well and give up on the whole thing entirely. That means I’m still allowing myself drinks out with friends, my Wednesday lunch out with my colleague Esther, and the occasional sweet treat to keep my sweet tooth at bay.

That’s about it for this blog post, in which I’ve given you a bit of an update as to what I’ve been up to this January through the medium of a rather rambling explanation of my ten resolutions. This weekend, however, I’ve some more interesting plans lined up, and so I’ll be back soon with all the antics from my first trip outside of Madrid for 2022…