Author Archives: OllieBriggs

28.01.23 — Travel

One Last Hurrah in Murcia

My first blog post about a trip to my auntie and uncle’s place in Murcia was back in 2015. I spent some days down there with my mum and auntie, then took a train up north for my first ever trip to Madrid. It wasn’t my first time in the southern Spanish region, as I first visited in 2009, a year after my auntie and uncle moved there. Since then, I’ve visited plenty of times and had lots of fun – you can check all this out on my travel page.

Fifteen years later, and they have decided that it’s time to sell up and move back to the UK, meaning I’d to make plans to visit my auntie and uncle in their house one last time. I organised this before heading back home for Christmas, and just last week headed from work straight to the train station to begin my journey.

This journey was somewhat chaotic: there’s never a dull moment when I travel. I arrived at Atocha train station to find that half the departures screen was broken. I thus waited a while for my train to appear on the other screen, eventually growing impatient and heading for security. It was there that upon scanning my ticket, one of the security guards let me know that I was at the wrong train station!

I was cursing myself as I ran down to the local train line and tried to find the next train headed to Chamartín, Madrid’s northern train station, in a blind panic. In a stroke of luck, I headed down the first escalator I saw and it led me straight to a train which was just about to depart for where I needed to be. This miraculously pulled up just ten minutes before my train to Murcia left, leaving me just enough time to fly through security and catch my breath.

I always seem to run into drama when I travel, but I’ve never actually missed any connections or been stranded anywhere. It’s a miracle!

This mix up had been caused by the new train service to Murcia which began this year. The city has been incorporated into Spain’s high speed rail network, so my journey was now broken down into two parts: a high speed train or AVE to the capital city of Murica (also called Murcia), then a slower local train Balsicas, a town near my auntie and uncle’s place.

The change of trains was the second part of the journey to go wrong, with the train I was supposed to catch on to Balsicas being cancelled as we were all stood on the platform waiting for it. After 45 minutes of standing around in the cold and without any information, we were finally ushered towards another platform where a train eventually showed up and took us on our merry way.

In between the stress of the mixup in Madrid and then the hour I stood around in the cold in Murcia, I wasn’t feeling great upon arriving in Balsicas. I was greeted by my auntie and the three of us headed to their apartment so I could get some well-needed rest.

The next day I worked from their place, connecting with my team and busily working on some business. I’d taken the next day off in order to attend happy hour at the resort’s bar-restaurant, but it soon became clear that I’d have to do some work the next day in order to wrap up some stuff before a meeting that couldn’t be moved.

Despite this inconvenience, I managed to clock off on time and shower in to head up for a night with my auntie, uncle, and their friends. We had drinks, food, chats, and some good laughs with everyone who’d also attended. We were all sat at a very long table, I said it felt like the last supper!

I enjoyed my wander up to El Casón in the dark, despite the cold.

The next day I worked and connected to my meeting from a handy coworking area just above the bar which we’d been drinking in the night before. I was then met by my auntie and uncle for a drink, after which we headed down to their apartment just to find that some potential buyers were looking around the place. I thus sat by the pool in the sun whilst they finished their viewing.

Once everyone had left, the three of us headed back inside and I put together a spread of sandwiches and other nibbles for lunch. We sat down and ate together, but I’d then to carry on working for a few more hours before I could fully disconnect and enjoy the weekend. That night we went for a meal at a lovely Venezuelan restaurant in another local town, where we shared a mix of dishes and I had the chance to introduce my auntie and uncle to some of the dishes I knew.

The next day I woke up feeling quite worn out after a rough night of sleep and a bunch of cold symptoms that were getting slowly worse. After some breakfast, I headed back to bed for a quick lie down which then turned into a whole afternoon of drifting in and out of naps. I definitely must have needed it!

By the evening I was feeling somewhat better, helped along by a (nearly lethally strong) dose of menthol fumes that my auntie prepared for me. Airways cleared, the three of us headed to a town a mere five minutes drive from their apartment, where I wound up ordering some Peruvian food whilst they enjoyed some burgers. It was a lovely little spot!

I should note that the skip isn’t where we ate. It was outside and for some reason I thought it looked cool.

The following day marked my last in Murcia, so I spent the morning packing and lazing around my auntie and uncle’s place, saying my final goodbyes to this little second home I’ve had in Spain for so long. We were then joined for lunch by a couple of my auntie’s friends at the local community centre before I hopped on the train back up to Madrid.

We had a lovely little lunch together and all wound up so relaxed that I nearly lost track of time. In the rush to pay and head out, I left my lip balm on the table, but it could have been a worse casualty so I will have to let it slide. I was at the train station with time to spare, where I eventually hugged my auntie and uncle off as I began my (this time perfectly smooth) journey back up to the capital.

As you can tell, it wound up being a rather quiet long weekend down in Murcia, but I think it was just what I needed after a busy few months. It was also odd to think that it would be my last time in that apartment, as it’s always been a little second home for me here on the Iberian Peninsula. I know that my auntie and uncle will be back, however, so it’s just a matter of waiting for them to rent some other place for a few months and then I can be back down to bother them once more!

24.01.23 — Journal

Madrid in Lights

Since I returned from the UK at the start of the month, it’s been a pretty quiet affair in Madrid thanks to the biting cold. This doesn’t mean that I’ve been staying too still though, with plenty of things to do before the official Christmas period ended!

Firstly, I wanted to head into the city centre and catch the festive lights before they were taken down. With two trips to England in December alone, I hadn’t had chance to see them before Christmas, so I took myself into the city to admire the colourful spectacle one evening.

I also caught a showing of Cortylandia, a cheesy animatronic show set to light and music which is put on by El Corte Inglés, Spain’s one and only chain of department stores. This iconic Madrilian Christmas tradition is always set to the same catchy song and this year was no different, with everyone dancing in the street to the refrain of Cortylandia, Cortylandia, ¡vamos todos a cantar!

My first weekend back in the capital included a quick visit by my auntie and uncle, who came up from Murcia in order to drop off a suitcase after a mix-up in the baggage reclaim after their festive cruise. Despite the sudden and rapid nature of it all, we had a lovely time. I made some meals at home, we went for a wander and some lunch around the city, and even had the chance to celebrate Reyes together.

El día de los Reyes Magos is the Spanish name for the holiday we might call the Three Kings’ Day and is celebrated on from the night of the 5th of January to the day of the 6th. It’s the day that the locals here open up the bulk of their presents, but me, my auntie, and uncle stuck to just indulging in the traditional food in the form of a roscón. We enjoyed this big ring of sweet bread topped with sugar and caramelised fruit with a mug of thick hot chocolate: the perfect way to end a cold day!

Even the sun was putting on a colourful show of lights.

That same weekend, I also headed out for some rather fancy food in a lovely restaurant for Napo’s birthday. We celebrated with some delicious dishes including Italian burrata, cod, and steak. This was all accompanied with lashings of white wine, as any good meal should be!

Just a week later and I was back in the centre once again, this time to attend something that Sara and I had booked quite a few weeks prior. Naturaleza encendida is an anual event held in the Royal Botanical Gardens here in Madrid and which is always hard to get tickets for thanks to how popular it is. It involves the installation of a tonne of lights, speakers, and various other visual effects within the gardens, so you can imagine that I’ve been wanting to go for years!

We first met for a bite to eat and a quick drink before heading down to the Real Jardín Botánico. Once inside, the spectacle and the sheer size of the thing unfolded before our eyes. The two of us had visited the gardens together last summer, but seeing it lit up in shades of pink, purple, and blue was a whole other experience.

You can see it was pretty spectacular from the photos, but there’s nothing compared to actually being there, surrounded by all of these colour-changing lights, mysterious sounds, and trees which seem taller just because the different lighting made us look at them in a different way. It was awesome!

After nearly two whole hours, our tour of the illuminated nature came to an end, but not before I’d grabbed a hot chocolate and we’d had a good snoop around the second half of the exhibition. This took us up to where we’d caught a photography exposition last time we visited. As you can imagine, it was quite different in the dark!

The week after began with a spontaneous plan that me and Napo came up with on the Monday evening. We met in Chueca, just north of the city centre, and had a drink together before heading off for some Venezuelan food at a restaurant he was keen on trying out. I was keen to see what it’d be like after the lovely Venezuelan Christmas meal we’d had together back in December!

The food ended up being absolutely delicious, with a special mention to be made to the yuca balls in honey. Even the drink was different and tasty – even if I have since forgotten what it was! Hopefully Napo remembers for next time…

Just the next day I was packing my bag ready to head off on my first little trip of 2023, and this one was to be quite an interesting one! More on that in my next post, though, as I’m currently trying to keep moving around my house and thus stave off the biting cold which has descended upon Madrid. Brr!

09.01.23 — Travel

Norwich

I left my previous post on a train out of Lancashire and on my way to my next destination in order to celebrate the New Year with some friends. As you’ll have guessed from the title, I was headed southwards to Norwich, a city I’d never yet visited and to which my friends Luisa and Sol have moved to. This trip had been arranged after I managed to catch them in Leeds whilst over for Em and Lincoln’s wedding. It’s crazy how these things happen!

Also visiting them down in Norfolk was Evie, Luisa’s sister, who I know well from a the odd past trip to Germany in order to join the festivities at the beer festival in their small town. With all four of us reunited, it promised to be a fun weekend spent seeing in 2023.

I should also apologise in advance for the lack of photos – we were having so much fun I forgot to take hardly any!

Anyway, I arrived at Norwich train station in the evening, from where we headed to their place so I could drop my stuff off before heading out for tea. Luisa had reserved a table at a local Mexican restaurant, where we enjoyed a lovely meal over some margaritas, after which we went for a tipsy snoop around the city and then headed back home. There, I managed to eat a whole easter egg (yes, they were already selling them at Tesco) in record time whilst we had a boogie to some international music before heading off to bed.

The next day was New Year’s Eve, so we headed out to grab some ingredients for lunch and our evening meal. We had a good old laugh snooping round the local supermarkets, where I grabbed a lot of Cadbury’s chocolate and some very disgusting vermouth. England doesn’t seem to sell any of the good stuff!

Back at Luisa’s, we had a lovely carbonara and then began preparations for the later celebrations. Nibbling on some of the Spanish meats and cheese I’d brought over, we all got dolled up and had a few drinks whilst we waited for the clock to strike midnight on the telly.

Well, having the TV on mute turned out to be quite the error, as the slow clock on the living room wall tricked us all into believing that we’d still time before the proper celebrations begun. It was only when someone noticed the fireworks on the TV that we realised we’d missed the big moment!

I scrambled to eat the twelve grapes that I’d dutifully purchased in advance as per Spanish tradition, then we all bundled out of the door and hit Norwich town centre to spend the rest of the night. That was quite an experience, but wound up being lots of fun with some cheesy old English party music and then some greasy food to end the night properly!

The next day we all awoke quite late but with enough time to have some lunch and head out into the city to have a proper snoop around the place before the sun went down. Luisa showed us the main sights around the centre and then we stopped for a hot chocolate before heading home for another relaxed evening playing Scrabble and eating yet more delicious pasta!

The next day I was up, packed, and out relatively early as I’d to grab a train down from Norwich to Stansted Airport. Back at the train station, I hugged Luisa off in the station before climbing on board the very expensive train even further south, where I’d to suffer the dreary chaos that is Stansted Airport in order to grab my flight back to Madrid.

With that, I rather quickly summarise my quick trip down to Norwich. As I’ve had no photos for reference, I’ve probably missed out lots of fun little details, but I had a fabulous time. Many thanks to Luisa and Sol for having me over, and thanks also to Evie for inviting me over to Germany again this year for another beer festival experience. This time, we’re thinking of taking on Nuremberg…

Happy New Year!

04.01.23 — Journal

Our Lancastrian Christmas

I mentioned in my last post that I was back home to England to celebrate, as I have done since moving out to live in Spain, Christmas back with my family in Burnley. After a near Christmas catastrophe during the flight over, I was then able to enjoy some lovely and relaxed time with my family.

My first full day in Burnley was Christmas Eve itself, the 24th of December. After a lazy morning, the four of us headed out for a family walk over the moors as we usually do. This took us up to the reservoir, where we stopped and chatted for a while. There’s no better place to catch up than with views over the water and the countryside beyond!

The three of us had unwittingly come dressed as the three primary colours…

The house and tree looked festive as we arrived back home in the early evening.

We then relaxed for the evening with some lovely veggie lasagne cooked by Ellie, after which we headed off to the pub for our traditional Christmas Eve drink. We ran into some familiar faces in the pub and had a great laugh over a gin and tonic, even if I was complaining about how small it was…

After this, it was time to head home and wait for the big man to arrive!

Our Christmas Days are always a little odd, as my mum usually works in the morning. This means that we open our presents in the middle of the afternoon and leave the Christmas dinner until Boxing Day, but we made the most of the morning by heading off to Bradford to visit my grandparents. Despite having to set an alarm for an ungodly hour on Christmas Day itself, it was lovely to see them and catch up with my uncle in passing.

The four of us were later reunited back at home when my mum arrived back from work. This meant the bulk of the festive activities could begin, including the unwrapping of some fun presents and the general laziness borne of binge-eating chocolate that usually occurs on Christmas Day. We ended the day as we always do, with a selection of curries from our local Indian takeaway!

The next day was Boxing Day, and thus time for us to enjoy our Christmas dinner. This began – as it always does – at lunchtime, when my mum expertly prepared some cream of cauliflower soup to a family friend’s delicious recipe. This was followed by another lovely turkey dinner prepared by my mum and expertly plated by yours truly. After so many years, my mum and I have fully perfected the delicate dance of plating up the various components in order to serve them as my family like to eat them – piping hot!

We then sat down in the living room to partake in another Briggs Christmas tradition that I managed to start, the Briggs Family Christmas Quiz. Besides some disagreement over the definition of mainland Europe, the quiz went without a hitch and ended in a tie between my mum and sister!

A couple of days after this, I was up and out of the house again relatively early. Well, at 10am, but I do think that that is early for the Christmas period. This was to meet up with Abi and Danni and head over to Blackpool, our favourite silly seaside haunt!

Under the typical grey skies of winter, Abi was super excited to be in Blackpool!

We’d a busy day planned around the main activity: an escape room that the two of them had invited me to as my birthday gift earlier in the year. I’d never been to one and was thus quite apprehensive to see what it’d be like. After fretting and emailing them to see if they would leave the door unlocked for me – I can get very claustrophobic – I had an absolute blast! Danni’s analytical skills, Abi’s maths prowess, and my domination of language meant the three of us joined forces to create quite the team!

After escaping the room, we headed for some lunch and a spot of shopping. We then wound up paying a visit to one of my favourite attractions in Blackpool that I’ve been visiting since I was little – Coral Island. There, we relived our childhoods by spending a good while on the 2p coin pushers trying to bag ourselves some silly prizes!

Abi and I were very excited to be spending our 2ps.

On our way out of Blackpool, I picked up some rock to bring back to Spain and we took a detour to ride the Blackpool Illuminations, a series of illuminations about 10km long which adorn the seafront. This was another blast from the past for me, as I remember many a December spent with my family with my head out of the sunroof of our car gazing in awe at the thousands of bulbs along the route.

We also exchanged our Christmas presents, a hilarious anual activity which involves the three of us buying each other the funniest gifts for under a £10. In the excitement, I left the rock I’d bought in the back of Danni’s car when she dropped me back off at home. Damnit!

That meant that my plans for the next day were predetermined: I’d to get myself up to Abi’s house to pick up my stranded bag of Blackpool rock. The journey was a bit of a pain thanks to Burnley’s bus service, but it led me on some interesting walks around areas of the town previously unknown to me.

The tree that had fallen on me at the garden centre had turned out rather nice.

I then spent my last night with my family in Burnley in the living room, where we had a good chat and one last drink before I headed off the next day. Where would I go though? Where would I be spending the New Year? Well, that’s for my next blog post!

24.12.22 — Journal

Festivities in Madrid

Before we begin today, an anecdote. As I wrote my last blog post from the terminal in Manchester, I didn’t have the chance to document the chaos that then ensued as upon boarding. I had only mentioned in that post that my flight had been delayed by three hours thanks to an admittedly festive but ultimately irritating bout of snow, but there was more to come.

Well, I spent almost all of those three hours in the airport building happily finishing my blog post before boarding began. The bus ride to the plane then allowed for a look at the state of the airport. There was a decent amount of snow piled all around, but it seemed that things were under control.

I really should not watch plane crash documentaries before flying…

That was until we were all seated on the plane, when the second round of delays began. Our flight was stuck in a queue of flights needing de-icing before takeoff, which in the end led to another 90 minutes stationary on the tarmac.

The plane might have been stood still, but us passengers certainly weren’t! Restless after such a long evening, lots of people started to move around and grab some fresh air at the front door. I was buzzing as I’d a whole empty row to myself, so I kicked back and got my laptop out to finish the Spanish translation of my previous blog post.

We then all made friends on the stranded plane, with a lady in row 1 pulling up a live stream of the England vs. France semifinal. Not interested in football or contributing in any way to the disgrace that has been this year’s World Cup, I wasn’t inclined to get involved, but seeing as it was already on and there was nothing else to do, I eventually watched England get kicked out of the competition.

The plane eventually took off about four hours late. Ryanair valiantly managed to claw half an hour of that back by doing whatever the plane equivalent is of stepping on it, but it still made for a very late landing and a healthy dose of grumpiness born of exhaustion. On the bright side, the flight into Madrid took us right over the centre for some amazing nighttime views.

Now back home, the first order of business was just that, business. I headed back to work in the cold showers that were pouring down Madrid, showers which lasted for the entire week. I’m from Burnley, though, so I’m not fazed by a bit of water. I thus carried on with my plans, the first of which was yet a night at the theatre after my rather thespian week back in the UK.

My clown boots and the leaves made for a rather autumnal scene.

After seeing my first performance there this summer, I was once again in the Sala Verde at the Teatros del Canal, one of Madrid’s main theatres. I spent a good two and a half hours there watching Women’s Football Club, a Spanish-language piece despite its English name.

The show told the story of the world’s first women’s football team from Sheffield, the city where my sister’s based and whose name I’d also ran into just a few weeks before at a market near my house in Madrid. Strange how these things happen!

It was an absolutely amazing performance, with the eleven women who made up the cast giving it their all as they sang, danced, performed, and even played a game of football without even so much as an interval. I was left touched by the story and in stitches by the comedy!

Back home, I’d finally finished decorating my flat for Christmas. It made for a lovely atmosphere to return to after some long days at work as clients as well as us are keen to finish as much as we can before the Christmas holidays begin.

The week then finished with a rush to throw together a carrot cake for a very special occasion. After years of living just down the road from me here in Madrid, Bogar and his partner Javier are leaving the capital for new adventures. To mark the occasion, I baked my signature cake and headed over to their flat for one last hurrah before the big move.

It’s not the prettiest carrot cake I’ve ever made, but it sure did taste good.

It was a bittersweet occasion, as I’m naturally sad that they’re not going to be so close, but I’m equally happy with where they’re off to: Gijón! This city in the north of Spain is like a second home to me, as I’ve visited more times than I can remember with Cami, Kevin, and Sara. I’m still very often found around Asturias, and I’ll now have yet another reason to visit and another bed to sleep in!

With the goodbyes said and the tipsy hugs given, I then had another relaxing weekend with friends. Things started on Saturday, when me and Napo met up for lunch in the city centre. He took me to a Venezuelan restaurant, where I tried a traditional Venezuelan Christmas dinner. It was absolutely delicious but rather filling, so we effectively had to waddle back to the bus stop to grab the bus back to mine.

Everything was washed down with a Venezuelan beer, of course!

Back in my house, we had a nap to begin to digest so much food. This nap wound up getting completely out of hand and we woke up blurry eyed at around 9pm! With nothing else planned though, we popped on a film and cracked open some snacks for the night. I even made some mulled wine which went down a treat and helped us get back off to sleep at around 2am!

The next day, I made English-style pancakes for breakfast, which we proceeded to devour with the traditional toppings of lemon juice and sugar, followed by some more decadent ones with Nutella and cream. You can’t beat it!

Later that day, Sara and Rocío came over for another round of mulled wine. The three of us had a good gossip, some snacks, and a cup of the festive drink at mine before we all headed off our separate ways for something to eat. I wanted to carry on making the most of all the Christmas decorations and scented candles I’d bought, so I stayed right where I was in my living room!

At work the next week we then had a bittersweet occasion to celebrate. It was Inés’ last day at the company with us before she heads off to Japan for a new adventure in 2023. Me and the rest of the team convened in the office to head out for a goodbye lunch – at a Japanese restaurant, of course – and so that I could give them my traditional team gift of some chocolate. This year it came with some “Oliver” confetti my mum had sent me once, so everyone branded themselves with them!

A vanity selfie because I’m not in the above photo and because I look cute.

My last festive event before the Christmas holidays then took place down in Legazpi, an area just a ten minute walk from my house. Luis, a whole bunch of his friends, and I had arranged to meet up to go ice skating and then had a Chinese hotpot meal for tea. This was a carbon copy of the fun evening we’d spent with Yaewon last year, so it’s well on its way to becoming a little Madrid Christmas tradition!

The Matadero is lit in a rather dramatic fashion at night.

The bunch of 15 of us met up at the ice skating rink for our quick run around on the ice. I was pleased to see that after losing some weight and taking skating lessons this year, I was much better on my feet and had did a good few laps of the rink in a decent time. I was no match for Luis, though, who was zooming off and twirling around like there was no tomorrow!

The image captures the speed, beauty, and grace of our skating session perfectly.

Once we’d had our fill of the ice, we moved over to a cozy bar in the Matadero and had some drinks. I had a bad stomach so went straight for a gin and tonic, protesting that tonic was good for the stomach. This was quite the start, though, so I then stuck to munching on the free crisps (thanks, Spain) and drinking water before we headed to the restaurant.

We then had an absolutely fabulous albeit completely chaotic hotpot meal. Last year with just the three of us it had already been a bit of a logistical nightmare to organise what we were cooking in the broth, so with seven of us around the table you can just imagine the scenes!

I do love a good amount of chaos – why do you think I moved to Spain – and so had great fun struggling to pick up some meatballs and then watching other people fail spectacularly to pluck noodles out of the simmering broth. This combination of a fun format, delicious food, and hilarious company made for the perfect sendoff before heading to the UK for the Christmas period.

We had a lot of fun cooking our own food around the table!

The next day, I balanced work with packing before having some lunch with Nacho, who was visiting from Prague. He brought over a bottle of wine and we ordered some Italian food from one of my favourite places. This meant we could have a lovely catch up as we nibbled on some pizza, which we did up until the moment I’d to head out to the airport for my evening flight over to the motherland.

After some horror stories about the state of Madrid Airport in the run up to Christmas and the border force strikes over in Manchester Airport, I had probably the smoothest journey from Madrid to Manchester ever. The only hiccup came as I lost my AirPods in departures in Madrid, which I went rushing around the terminal looking for before eventually resigning myself to the fact that they were lost and hopping on my flight as they called us to board.

I’d supposed that the “Find My” app on my iPhone was malfunctioning as it said that I had my AirPods on me the whole way back, but I’d unpacked my bag and run through all the pockets on my coat many times over and I still couldn’t locate them. This was until I got home and took my jeans off, upon which they fell to the ground. I’ve no idea where they were within my jeans or how they ended up there, but it was a Christmas miracle to discover that I hadn’t in fact lost these 220€ earphones!

Time will only tell when I publish this blog post, as these days I’ll be relaxing and spending as much time offline and with my family as possible. I wish you all a Merry Christmas and hope you all have chance to enjoy some chill time off, whatever it is you may be celebrating!

10.12.22 — Journal

A Week of Theatre

As I alluded to a couple of posts back, I’ve just had a rather busy but lovely week. After work last Friday I had a quick chat with Pedro, packed my bags, and then headed up to Madrid Airport to catch my habitual flight back to Manchester.

The main purpose of this weeklong trip we will come to shortly, but the working week was an odd affair in Spain. Thanks to a couple of national holidays I had both Tuesday and Thursday off, meaning I’d have to work on Monday, Wednesday, and then Friday. Quite a strange one!

After getting rather confused and telling my mum that I was arriving at 10:30pm and my dad that I was arriving at 00:30am, I eventually landed bang in between the two times I’d quoted at 11:30pm. We headed home and I got a decent night’s sleep in to kick off the weekend.

It was very nice to be back in the green room that I designed as a teenager.

On Saturday I headed over to Bradford to visit my grandparents, after which we headed back home for a roast dinner with beef and homemade Yorkshire puddings that my mum had confected for the occasion. It was all rather delicious, but the Yorkshires were definitely the star of the show!

The next day I headed into the centre of Burnley for lunch and a catch up with Abi and Danni. We headed to Ellis’, an American-style burger joint located in what once was a pub that we used to go drinking in quite a lot in our student years. It was quite odd to be sat having a civilised meal in a place I’d before associated with tipsy cocktails before hitting the clubs!

Not wanting to break tradition, I ordered a bright and fruity cocktail as I waited for Abi and Danni to arrive. Yes, the tables had turned, and I was the one who showed up on time for once! Once they arrived, we ordered some food and enjoyed some lovely burgers and sides.

The next day I was back at work from the cozy warmth of our back room. Once I’d finished at about 5pm, I changed into something a bit nicer than my dressing gown and Amber came to whisk me off for a few hours together. We headed up to a local gastropub and had a catch up over a lovely evening meal.

Amber looking cheeky and festive before all the shenanigans began…

Of course it wouldn’t be a meet-up between me and Amber without some drama. This came when I first ordered a vermouth, something that they weren’t sure if they had in. I ended up having to explain how to make a martini, which I then didn’t enjoy as I was complaining about the olives. They just weren’t the same as the ones from Mercadona!

I also caused further confusion when I asked for some olive oil for my starter and then requested that the two flavours of ice cream I ordered for dessert didn’t touch each other on the plate. They wound up bringing me them in two separate glasses and it looked like I’d ordered two desserts: what a nightmare!

We had a great laugh, and I left a nice tip for all the confusion I’d caused. I forgot which friend it was that made the observation, but it is true that I very rarely order something straight off the menu. Nightmare, so I am.

The next day I was back working from home, after which we’d another evening activity organised. My mum, dad, and I prepped the car and then drove over to Todmorden, where we visited the Gordon Rigg garden centre to buy our Christmas tree. I also wanted to have a snoop around their festive displays, in particularly the room where they always set up their huge selection of decorative Christmas lighting. It’s something I’ve always loved doing since I was a child: it’s not Christmas without a snoop around Gordon Rigg’s!

The business of choosing a Christmas tree – which can often be a drawn-out affair as me and my mum search for the perfect height, girth, and fullness of branches – took a matter of seconds this year. Heading into the outdoor area where the trees are displayed, my dad grabbed one that he liked the look of. This caused the tree next to it to fall right on top of me, and I jokingly remarked that instead of me choosing the tree this time, it had chosen me. We then had a good look at the fallen tree, decided that it was actually rather nice, and reserved it to take home later.

It couldn’t have been easier!

The next day I was up and out early in the morning, as me and my mum headed back over to Todmorden. This time we headed to the train station, where we picked Ellie up ready for our day together as a family. Outside of the Christmas period, the four of us very rarely have the opportunity to meet up all together.

The reason for our meeting was a rather special one and the reason for my visit in the first place: we were off to see The Lion King: The Musical! Me and Ellie had bought my mum and dad tickets to see it for last year’s Christmas, so it’d been almost a year of waiting, but the big day was finally here.

We headed off to Manchester around midday, heading first to the Christmas markets and then for a spot of present shopping. We had a good wander around Affleck’s Palace, an awesome old mill full of kooky independent shops that my dad has taken me and my sister to visit many times over the years.

Sometimes I think Manchester is ugly, but it has its charm.

With many floors of all sorts of second-hand wares and weird and wonderful things to see, I wound up losing the three of them. Once I’d seen all I wanted to and made a few purchases I knew exactly where to find them though: up in the top-floor restaurant munching on some of their legendary chip butties!

The views from Affleck’s Palace were nice in the afternoon sun.

From Affleck’s, we walked further into the Northern Quarter, Manchester’s cool independent district and my favourite part of this great city. We payed a trip to Fred Aldous, a stationary and arts supply shop that’s been going for years and where my dad wanted to recreate an old photo of me and Ellie.

We saw some funky coloured posts in the Northern Quarter.

We’d eventually to head back towards the centre of Manchester and to San Carlo’s, a fancy Italian restaurant that mum had booked us all in to have a meal together. She was calling it an early tea, but I saw it more as a late lunch. Either way, it was a lovely meal of a lovely prawn starter and then some fresh pasta.

Dad and Ellie opted for some desserts, but I was more than happy to grab some Cadbury Orange Chocolate Buttons as a sweet snack on my way to the theatre. That I did as we were arriving at the Palace Theatre, where we eventually took our seats and waited for the show to begin!

Mum and Ellie had seen the show before and so had advised us that the opening with the “Circle of Life” was an emotional rollercoaster. I still wasn’t prepared for how impactful it was, though. It really set the tone for the rest of the piece, which was a fabulous spectacle of puppetry, singing, and dancing!

With the show over we headed home in the bitter cold of the Manchester evening. It had been a lovely day in Manchester as a family and well worth the logistical nightmare of getting us all together. I’d come in from Spain and Ellie had taken a complex train journey up north from the middle of nowhere in the south of England where she’s currently working on her PhD placement.

The next day I had another day off, so me and mum headed down to Crowwood, the local gym and leisure centre that she’s a member of. She’d got a pass for me to join her for the morning, so I headed into the pool and swam lengths for half an hour. I may have missed my lessons this week, but I was determined to do at least a bit of swimming!

From there, I headed out for lunch with Karen, the creative director of Burnley Youth Theatre, the place I used to work and where I took my first steps in the design world. We had a lovely catch up after all these years, and I then accompanied her to the theatre itself to spend the rest of the afternoon and evening.

In a stroke of sheer luck, I’d chosen to go on the day of the VIP preview of the Christmas show, which meant that lots of ex staff members had come back for the day to see the biggest event of the Burnley Youth Theatre annual calendar. I had a great time catching up with everyone and the Christmas show was an absolute hoot!

If you’re in or around Burnley, I’d definitely recommend going to see the Wizard of Oz. The show has been specially rewritten and reinterpreted for and by young people, and I guarantee you’ve never has so much fun whilst navigating the Emerald City. You can get tickets here!

Friday soon came around and I was back to work again, but this time I finished at 2pm UK time and my crazy afternoon was just about to begin. I packed my bag, headed out the house, and began my long journey over to Leeds. This begun with a walk though the countryside which surrounds my house and up to a bus stop in the middle of nowhere. It was a pleasant if cool walk, and I wound up meeting some rather friendly sheep along the way!

I eventually made it to the bus stop and made the journey over to Todmorden, where I then changed to a train and made the last leg of the journey over to Leeds. There, I met up with Danni for tea and to head to the Leeds Playhouse. I’d yet another piece of musical theatre to see, you see, this time being Charlie and the Chocolate Factory!

It was –3°C when I arrived in Todmorden and I was not happy.

This Roald Dahl classic is one of my all-time favourite stories, so I was very excited to finally get the chance see it live on stage. Needless to say that it didn’t disappoint one bit, with a great cast and some fabulous visual effects telling the funky albeit somewhat dark story of Willy Wonka and the five children.

Once the show had ended, I accompanied Danni to the train station and grabbed myself a taxi up to Em and Lincoln’s place. I arrived there quite late, so we had a quick catch up before we were all wilting and very ready for bed. It was great to catch them even just for a few hours after their wedding just a couple of months ago.

The next day we woke up, took their dog Lando out for a walk, and then headed down into the centre of Horsforth for breakfast. We had an absolutely lovely meal. I tried a rather fancy hot chocolate and some equally fancy poached eggs, but it was all over way too soon as I’d to bid them farewell amongst the news that Manchester Airport had closed both of its runways due to the sudden heavy snowfall.

These poached eggs with bacon and black pudding were glorious.

This brings me to the here and now. I’m currently sat in my usual sport in Terminal 3 of the airport, waiting patiently for my delayed flight to be assigned a gate. I’ve kept a cool head about it all, though – I’m just happy that it hasn’t been straight up cancelled after all the chaos this morning courtesy of the unpredictable British winter weather!

I’m sure I’ll be publishing this now back in my cozy flat in Madrid, but for now I leave you with the dulcet sounds of some screaming children that have done nothing but drag themselves across the floor and throw themselves headfirst into the windows. I really should have brought my noise-cancelling headphones over with me…

08.12.22 — Journal

Murcia on Film

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

02.12.22 — Journal

Art Lessons & Art Markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cibeles always looks lovely at this time of year.

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

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

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

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

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

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

24.11.22 — Travel

Santander

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Near, far, wherever you are…

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

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

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

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

I enjoyed the lighting by the Santander bank in Santander.

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

Journal

The Cold’s Back

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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