Author Archives: OllieBriggs

18.07.21 — Journal

Outside to Inside

Today’s blog post, although covering the last there weeks of mischief here in Madrid, is a rather short one. This is because I write to you after nearly two weeks of illness form which I’m just beginning to recover, but I’ll get into that at the end of the post.

For now, we begin up in the city centre, where Sara and I had arranged to meet up for a Mexican meal at Gracias Padre, a spot which I’ve visited a good few times in the past and which I always enjoy. We over-faced ourselves somewhat with our order, including a melted cheese and chorizo starter and then quesadillas and pulled chicken flutes – but it was all delicious!

A Saturday of lovely food with great company in fabulous surroundings.

The next day saw me out in the city for a spot of rare clothes shopping. After nipping by Uniqlo to pick up a few new goodies, I wandered up to Chueca, where I had a spot of lunch and nipped into Lush before cycling through the city and back home to spend an evening sunbathing and relaxing by the river.

Well, that was the plan, until I got a message off Laura, a friend who moved to Miami a couple of years back, saying that she was back in Madrid for a month! Seizing the opportunity to spend a few hours with her that evening, I cycled up to the Templo de Debod, one of the best spots to watch the sun set over the mountains in the west, and we spent the evening catching up with another friend of hers.

After work the next day, I headed back down to the river, as I’d enjoyed the summer ambience down there the day before. I spent a few hours catching some rays, chatting to my family over the phone, and having a cheeky drink whilst I watched a group of dogs playing. All but one of them left with their owner after a while, so I snuck in to take a photo of its blond hair in the golden rays of the evening sun.

With the heat rising in the city, the rest of the week was spent mainly indoors, where I enjoyed the sunset one evening before adjusting the colours of my lighting to create a series of coloured indoor gradients. These were, however, interrupted for an evening after England got through to the final of the Euros – I had a little celebration at home after Ellie called me to share the atmosphere of the pub she was in!

Shortly thereafter, however, I fell ill with a mystery stomach bug. After a while trying to sort it out at home, I eventually ended up in urgent care with severe stomach pain whilst I should have been watching the final of the Euros. This marked just the start of a rough week, which has included a scare with the possibility of it being coronavirus.

After various phone calls with my GP and another trip to urgent care which nearly turned into an overnight stay, I’ve finally had a concrete diagnosis and have started a round of antibiotics, so I’m now on the mend and hoping to be back at work and out and about as soon as possible. It can’t come soon enough, as next weekend I’m hoping to escape Madrid for a few days and be reunited with Kevin and Cami back up in Asturias after nearly three years!

I’d like to end this post thanking my friends, family, and colleagues who have been very supportive and have helped me out through a rather rough week with this illness. My endless admiration and respect also goes to the healthcare professionals here in Spain who attended me – they were as compassionate as they were speedy in getting me diagnosed and on the mend. Public healthcare is a marvellous thing, and we should fight to protect it whilst we’ve politicians doing their best to undermine it.

I’ve a few days of rest and recovery ahead of me, but I’ll be back soon with whatever I manage to get up to – I hope not to disappoint!

04.07.21 — Journal

Between Times

With the rush to get out my posts on both my trip up to the north of Spain with Jhosef and my visit to Murcia to visit my auntie and uncle, I wound up leaving out a few bits and bats that I got up to between times whilst in Madrid. No fear, however, for I’m here today to put right this oversight and also share some more recent updates.

We kick things off in Madrid’s best neighbourhood, Delicias (where I live, naturally). Me and Luis had decided to brave the threatening weather forecast for a trip up to Lavapiés, another of the city’s barrios, and enjoy some pizza before heading to an exhibition and bookshop that Luis had heard about.

The walk up to the pizzeria was quite the experience, with a torrential downpour threatening to soak us to the skin should my umbrella give way. At one point, we’d to take a respite stop along with a throng of others in the entrance to a supermarket whilst the worst of the storm passed over. From there, we skirted around huge puddles in our already damp trousers and managed to make it to NAP Pizza without – thankfully – any further meteorological incidents.

After some delicious pizza, we strolled down to the bookshop in question, where I picked up a couple of gifts and we ventured into their basement exhibition space, where there was a fun series of paintings on display. We didn’t stay too long, but I did enjoy the neon colours and smiley faces.

From there we then headed across the road to the Tabacalera, another exhibition space run by the city council. Here – I’m not going to lie – I didn’t really understand the art on offer, but I was fascinated by the space itself. I took lots of photos of lots of things, but I’ll leave you with a little teaser of what I saw – piece of art included because I found a lightbulb hidden away in it.

I also engaged in a spot of redecoration before grabbing my train down to Murcia, which involved rearranging my flat in order to better reflect my new routine which involves much more time spent in the office than working from home. I pulled my lovely marble dining table out of storage and reinstated it in the living room, and bought myself a lovely, slightly less overbearing new desk which I have installed in my rearranged bedroom.

My return to Madrid after Murcia did not, however, mark the end of my traveling during the month of June. I had one last place to visit, and that was Cuenca. This was actually a super quick one-day work trip to visit a client in the lovely old city famous for its casas colgadas, houses which hang perilously over the edge of a series of cliffs.

The trip was made extra special by the opportunity to, albeit briefly, enter some of the most famous examples of these “hanging houses”, from which absolutely spectacular views over the surrounding hillsides could be seen.

Once back in Madrid, another weekend signaled another round of drinks to be had with Sara in the centre. Heading back up to El barrio de las letras, Madrid’s literary quarter, the two of us stopped for some delicious cocktails in a pretty little square along one of the side streets.

With a clear head the day after, I spent the Sunday rewiring and reprogramming the lighting in my flat – something which is no small feat – before starting another week at work. With our move to jornada intensiva (literally “intensive working hours”) for summer, I now leave work at 3pm every day, and so one evening I arranged to meet up with Bogar, Hugo, Sergei, and Jhosef to enjoy some tasty dishes at a local Italian restaurant.

An evening of great company and lovely food served by the hilarious owner.

The following weekend was spent, as ever, out and about in the city. On Saturday I met up with Soyoung – who I hadn’t seen since we last had brunch together just before lockdown last year – and we headed to a spot to once again enjoy a breakfast-cum-lunch on a terrace in the north of the city. It was lovely to see her again and finally get around to catching up on all the events of the last fourteen months or so – how time flies!

The Puerta de Alcalá looks resplendent as I cycled past on my way home.

On the Sunday I met up with Jhosef for a wander around the neighbourhood, and before long his sister, Ximena, had joined us. The three of us then decided to have a drink in the Matadero, a cultural centre a stone’s throw from our houses, and this then turned into ordering some food for lunch too. We had great weather, great company, and a great terrace to sit at – the perfect combination for the best impromptu plans to develop on the fly!

With this chaotic series of updates I bring you all more or less up to date on all the shenanigans from the past few weeks in between my trips north and then south. I say more or less because, as the summer months of July and August arrive, I’ve a little more time to explore and head out more, and so you can be sure that there’ll be plenty of nonsense to come…

22.06.21 — Travel

A Long Murcian Weekend

A mere two weeks after my trip up to Bilbao with Jhosef, it was time for me to grab a train southwards and to the now very familiar lands of Murcia. I was once again traversing the Iberian peninsula, and I was once again bound for the Mediterranean coast in order to spend a few days with my auntie and uncle after I last saw them last summer.

The trip started with a near miss, as I arrived running into the station and boarding my train a mere two minutes before it left on its way. This was thanks to me getting quite distracted in a rather fancy supermarket, where I’d nipped in for a bottle of water and left with a bag full of snacks and a bottle of vermouth.

Relieved, and with the rare luck of having a whole two seats to myself, I spread out and took the time to work on my website on my laptop during the journey down. This, combined with aforementioned bag of delicious treats, made the five hours fly by; before I knew it I was stepping off at the station of Balsicas to be greeted by my aunt and uncle.

From there, the three of us headed to a local bar that they’d found, where we ordered a selection of dishes and a beer each to make the most of that Friday evening. Once full of garlic prawns and chopitos (little fried squids), we headed back to theirs to rest for the night before a busy Saturday begun.

A brisk morning walk to grab some bread was the perfect start to the weekend.

Me and my auntie kicked off the weekend with a walk up to the local shop to grab some supplies for breakfast, after which the three of us jumped in the car and down to the coast to visit a restaurant and seafront bar. There we were in luck, as the place was pretty quiet and they were sound testing for a dinner the following evening, which involved being serenaded to some of our favourite songs whilst enjoying a drink overlooking the water. It was pure holiday bliss!

From there we then headed further down the coast and to the mud baths, where I once again took the plunge and covered myself in the rather whiffy sulphur-rich goo. As I struggled to get the stuff to stick, I got chatting to two locals, who wound up talking to me for a good while – so long that my auntie had to come and drag me away so that we wouldn’t be late for lunch!

We dined down at a harbour that I’d never visited, which involved a journey winding through the nearby salt flats in order to reach the place. I figured that when in a harbour, I should probably order some seafood, and so my lunch was a delicious combination of seafood soup and fried dorada (a kind of fish which I have never heard of in English but who’s name is apparently the same as Spanish, where it means “golden”).

The sky looked threatening but held out for the most part.

With the day drawing to a close and having packed quite a lot into the morning, we spent the evening at the apartment, where I introduced my auntie to the wonders of those peeling face masks which don’t seem to do much for the skin but are a whole lot of satisfying fun to remove!

The next day began, once again, with a wander around the golf complex where my auntie and uncle live. We decided to stick around the place for the day, where I spent a good while in the pool and a little while reading my new book. I’d headed down to the poolside without a hat, however, and so some quick improvisation was called for…

Once the sun had begun to fade and I was all pool-ed out, we showered and prepared ourselves for an evening out. We’d decided to visit a place that my auntie and uncle had heard good things about down by the coast, and so headed back down to the Mar Menor to seek out the restaurant in question.

The meal we had certainly didn’t disappoint, from the small bites for starters to the delicious plate of pork in a creamy mushroom sauce that we ended with. I even got myself hooked on their buñuelos de bacalao, fried balls of cod with some other delicious stuff thrown in, and ended up ordering more!

Once I was quite merry after a couple of glasses of vermouth, we paid up and headed back for the car, stopping on the way to pick up a bag full of that staple of Spanish cuisine, freshly fried churros with a cup of gooey, thick hot chocolate. We sat down on a wall to eat these whilst overlooking the sea: the perfect end to another lovely day.

The next day saw us once again head out for lunch, stopping by an ancient spot in a little old town that served us a series of local dishes as part of their daily menu. From there, we headed out shopping, as I was keen to grab a few bits from the British supermarket to share with my friends and colleagues here in Madrid. I do think my taste is now changing however, as the Kettle crisps that I used to laud so readily now seem a bit greasy and cheap to me…

That evening, a couple of my auntie and uncle’s friends nipped over for a drink, and we had a lovely evening chatting away until late as I finished off that bottle of vermouth that I’d brought down with me and which had nearly cost me my train journey!

Through sheer damn luck and the willpower to down two pints of water before heading off to bed, I awoke to spend my last day without any kind of heavy head. Not wanting this last day to be spent faffing around until my train left at 4:30pm, me and my auntie headed down to La Encarnación, a lovely hotel and restaurant down by the seafront. There we had a quick breakfast before heading back into the town of Los Alcázares, where I picked up a few last minute bits and bobs before heading back to the apartment to pack.

Before bundling myself onto the train back up to Madrid, however, there was one last tradition to be honoured. Before heading for the station, we seemingly always stop for lunch beforehand in a little town called Roldán, and this time was no different. Meeting up with more of my auntie and uncle’s friends, we enjoyed a very filling meal which always keeps me very satisfied and very dozy during the long journey back home.

This wasn’t the last highlight of my trip down to Murcia, however, as I had quite the surprise on the train back to Madrid. As the train crawled out of Murcia’s train station, I suddenly felt someone grab my neck, and turned around to find myself face-to-face with Borja, an ex colleague from back from when I first started at Erretres! What are the chances?

My journey down south concluded with this lovely surprise and a quick catch up with Borja on the way out of the train station, the cherry on the cake after four days of relaxation and catching up with my auntie and uncle. Needless to say that, as ever, my little holiday was great fun, and I’ve to extend many thanks to my auntie and uncle for putting up with me and my every whim during the time I spent with them.

I now look forward to being able to nip down to visit Murcian shores once again, most probably once I’m all vaccinated up to the nines. Until then, ¡chau!

06.06.21 — Travel

Bilbao With Jhosef

Today’s update comes from the place I actually sat down and wrote the entirety of my last blog post – Bilbao. This isn’t the first or even the second time that I’ve visited this lovely city in the north of Spain, but it felt like a whole new experience as we had a full four days to explore and tickets booked to visit the Guggenheim – but we shall get to that in due course. For now, let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start…

Our journey began with a somewhat lengthy five-hour bus journey which had us land in the Basque Country’s largest city at around 9pm. From there, we headed straight for our hotel in order to drop off our stuff and having a quick shower. As our trip had been a last-minute decision, however, we hadn’t even thought to check what the local coronavirus restrictions were like, so I checked that there wasn’t a curfew in place before heading out.

Thankfully there was no curfew in place, but to our great dismay we discovered that all restaurants and bars had to close at 10pm. Regardless, we thought we would still be able to bag something to eat, and headed out just after this cut-off time.

Well, this turned out to be a rather optimistic assessment, as we were faced with shutter after closed shutter. Thankfully though, a lady I spoke to on the street gave us a tip, telling us to knock on the shutters of one of the kebab shops. To our surprise, the shutter opened, a guy took our order, and we were then told to wait around the corner in order to draw attention from the slightly illegal sale of kebabs after 10pm. Me and Jhosef were quite giddy as we waited for our evening meal – of all the naughty kebabs I’ve ever had, this was by far the naughtiest!

After inhaling our kebabs in the hotel room, we headed off to sleep, waking up with plenty of energy to explore the day after. Our outing began with breakfast in a local bar, where we had our first taste of pintxos (also spelled pinchos elsewhere in Spain), which are little portions of food which are usually served atop a little piece of bread. These are a staple of Basque cuisine, and can be found in every bar that you may happen across in Bilbao.

The Txabarri Jauregia palace looked lovely even under grey skies.

We then headed to the historical centre of the city, which took us across the river, where we stopped to snap some photos of the central train station and the waterside basement below. In order to bag some photographs at interesting angles, we then snuck down one of the perilously slippy concrete staircases which lead to the water’s edge, taking care not to be hurtled headfirst into its murky depths by the green slime that covered the lower half of the descent.

The concrete stairs were the perfect place for a grungy photo shoot.

Once firmly in the centre of the oldest part of the city, we stopped for a couple more pintxos and a drink at a little bar. Freshly energized, we crossed the river once again, exploring another area of the city that we stumbled across by pure chance whilst looking for somewhere to eat something more substantial for lunch.

This quest for a restaurant wasn’t all that fruitful, however, and we wound up accidentally looping back on ourselves and back near the hotel. The abundance of 1.50€ pintxos had our back though, and we grazed on a few more of them in another bar before heading back to the hotel via a nearby park for a nap before our evening’s travels.

After our siesta we headed down to a nearby riverside spot that Jhosef had stumbled across on his morning jog which is famous for its huge red crane. From there we followed the river’s meandering all the way to the infamous architecture of the Guggenheim, where we headed back into the centre to scout out something to eat.

Before we even stepped foot in our chosen restaurant, we had a cheeky couple of pintxos at a neighboring bar, where we got chatting to the lady at the bar about life in Bilbao. By this point, the two of us had settled into the rhythm of the city quite nicely, and this only continued as we headed to our evening’s restaurant and dined on bao and a delicious duck and mushroom dish.

After rushing out of the restaurant in order to squeeze in one last drink at another bar before the 10pm closing time, we sauntered back to the hotel full of good food and even better patxaran (also spelled pacharán, a delicious alcohol made from sloe berries). On the way, however, we stumbled across something that had me all excited and took me back to my childhood: an artwork made of various different models of streetlight.

I should explain, for those who don’t know me, that I have been obsessed with lights from the moment I began speaking (my first word was light thanks to my grandma). Here it’s also worth noting that as a young child, when presented with a painting kit, the first thing I painted was a motorway in order to then carefully paint its accompanying streetlights. I was also once gifted a plastic train set, and managed to lose every piece except the precious three streetlights that it came with… I think you get the idea.

Me and Jhosef lay down in the grass looking up at the lights and resting off some of the food for a good while, before returning to the hotel in preparation for our second day’s main activity: a visit to the Guggenheim.

The morning began, as was quickly becoming habit, with a coffee and a round of pintxos. We then made the short direct journey to the world renowned art museum, grabbing our tickets and heading into the central atrium of the Frank Ghery masterpiece for the first time. As I said, I’ve been in Bilbao twice before, and I’d visited the museum’s gift shop on both occasions, but I’d never actually had the chance to see the art within.

The museum was absolutely fascinating, with various works catching my eye, but I shan’t go into too much detail. I’ll just leave it at this: it’s very much worth a visit, no matter what kind of art interests you. Hell, even if you think that art isn’t for you, there’s some really interesting and beautiful sights to be appreciated within. To prove this, I’ll leave a few pictures that I took during our visit:

Leaving the museum behind after a good while snooping around the gift shop (I do love a good gift shop), we headed back into the city and to a restaurant that we’d booked to have lunch, Monocromo. The quirky little restaurant with it’s open kitchen and specialty vermouths (one of my favourite tipples) was a hit with the two of us, and we thoroughly enjoyed the seafood, drinks, and huge dessert that were placed before us.

We left the place absolutely stuffed, and so headed back to the hotel to sleep it all off. Jhosef was particularly exhausted, and so whilst he slept I headed off for a solitary wander and to buy some snacks lest we be caught out again by the 10pm closing time.

I’m not a fan of this skyscraper which towers over the city, but this couple didn’t mind.

As I returned to the hotel with my bag full of edible goodies, I noticed that the night sky was fading into a particularly beautiful sunset, and so made a substantial detour in order to witness it from the banks of the river. This didn’t disappoint at all, as I was treated to a view over the infamous red crane and the silhouetted by a gorgeous celestial explosion of pink and orange.

The sunset was particularly striking behind the big red crane.

After spending that evening munching on crisps and watching the second half of a Batman film in the hotel room, we were once again on the move the day after. For breakfast, we’d arranged to meet up with Jhosef’s friend, Sergio. We headed to a local bakery for some pastries, chatted for a good while over coffee, and I thanked him for the restaurant recommendation from the day before.

When Sergio had to dash off to work, Jhosef and I then made our first descent into the tunnels of Bilbao’s metro system, catching the (wrong) train to the coast to spend a day in Getxo. After switching trains to one that was actually going where we wanted to go, we arrived in Algorta, a lovely coastal town which we’d been told was famed for its beautiful old port.

A quick wander round in the intense sun (an odd occurrence in the north of Spain) was all it took to tire us out, and so we perched ourselves on the terrace of a tiny bar and ordered some drinks and a bite to eat. The food came in the form of gildas, little cocktail sticks holding delicious combinations of fish, olives, and pickled vegetables, amongst other ingredients. Jhosef was a big fan of these little sticks of goodness, and so we grabbed ourselves another round before heading down to the old port area of the town.

The old port was absolutely beautiful, with quirky little houses lining the sloped streets which led to the waterfront. On the way down to the port itself, we passed by a restaurant with a gorgeous open terrace shaded by a smattering of trees, and decided that we’d return there for some lunch after catching a glimpse of the sea.

The port itself was lovely, but rather small, and so we didn’t spend too long exploring the area – a decision made easier by the fact that the sun was now directly above us and threatening to burn my poor English skin. I avoided the otherwise guaranteed sunburn with the aid of an umbrella – I must have been a right sight to behold…

After a spot of crab spotting we began to make our way back to the quaint little terrace I mentioned, where we sat down for one of the most drawn-out lunches I’ve ever experienced. In this little village time seemed to slow, and we probably spent about four hours eating, drinking, and chatting, both to each other and the friendly waitress who served us a series of delicious local dishes.

Eventually we finally decided to move on with the rest of our plans, prompted to do so partly by the breeze that had picked up and the smattering of clouds that had begun rolling in. Not wanting to miss our only opportunity to stroll along the shoreline, we headed down to the neighbouring beach and spent a good half hour crossing its entire width. Whilst Jhosef dipped his feet in the surf, I engaged in a spot of beach combing, bagging myself a couple of shells which I now have accompanying my many plants in my flat.

Once we’d reached the other end of the beach and after a failed attempt at catching a bus, we resigned to walk the rest of the path down to the estuary of the river that winds inland and through Bilbao. Here I wanted to get up close and personal with the Bizkaia Bridge, the world’s first suspension bridge which is still in operation, spanning the width of the Nerbioi River just before it reaches the sea.

To get a better view of the bridge, Jhosef and I crept down yet another concrete stairwell which led straight into the choppy waters of the estuary. After a near miss involving the wake of a passing boat, we climbed back up to safety and headed to the bridge’s viewing platform, taking a few more photos before heading back to the metro bound back to Bilbao – stopping along the way for a couple of pintxos and a glass of wine, of course.

That evening, our last in this great city, was rather eventful. After a day on our feet we weren’t up for an evening searching out a restaurant, and so nipped into a bar next door to the hotel to dine on some more pintxos. Having neglected to check the weather forecast beforehand, we decided to sit outside on the roadside terrace – and I’m sure you can imagine what happened next.

After being blessed with such a sunny day up to that point, it was high time that the Basque weather pulled one of its usual tricks and changed within a blink of an eye. In an instant the evening heat gave way to a raging thunderstorm, with the downpour soaking us to the skin but doing very little to dampen our spirits: rather than run back inside, we decided to enjoy the rain, going so far as to film a parody of the music video from that early 2000’s classic “All The Things She Said”!

Now absolutely drenched, we headed up to our room after paying the very bemused owner of the restaurant who had observed our antics, and all too soon our last day in the city came around. With our bus back to Madrid scheduled to leave at 4pm, it was a bit of an odd day to go out and do too much for fear of arriving late at the bus station, but we managed to make the most of the time we had anyway.

Our morning began with a walk down the other side of the river, passing behind the contorted architecture of the Guggenheim and taking us all the way back to the old town. Once there, we explored some of the streets which we hadn’t seen during our first quick visit, and nipped in a sweet shop in order to buy some treats for friends, colleagues, and family back in Madrid.

We then headed back to the hotel after one last cheeky vermouth, having decided that it was a good idea to have lunch in the restaurant by the hotel as we could pick up our bags from next door and make the short journey up to the bus station when the time came. We were treated to a delicious full menú del día on the same terrace where we had been drenched the night before, topped off with a glass of wine and some lovely ice cream to keep us satisfied through the long journey back to Madrid.

With the last bill paid and our bags recovered from the hotel’s storeroom, the two of us then had to speed our way up to the bus station, arriving just in time to be two of the last people to board the bus. Our sizable lunch worked just perfectly to put us to sleep during the journey back, and so we were back in the capital before you can say pintxo – which, if you’ve been wondering all this time, is pronounced pin-cho.

All that’s left to say is that I had an absolutely lovely time in Bilbao – but I think that my admiration for the place has been pretty evident throughout this post. Thanks to Jhosef for suggesting the idea of a city break and then putting up with me for the four days that we travelled together, and also to my colleague María, a native of the region without whose recommendations we wouldn’t have thought to do half the amazing things we did nor order some of the delicious local dishes that we sampled.

Bilbao – I will be back. Until then, agur!

01.06.21 — Journal

Plenty of Pampering

At the end of my last post, I speculated whether I’d be able to travel around a little bit this summer now that Spain is lifting restrictions after the central government deactivated the state of emergency a couple of weeks ago. Well, it would seem that my prayers have been answered, as I start writing this blog post sat at a desk in a lovely hotel room in Bilbao, where the grey clouds have finally parted and it looks like we’re going to be treated to a day of sun.

Stories from my current trip up to the north of Spain will, however, have to wait until the next blog post, as we’ve some catching up to do — or should I say I do, as I’ve had my blog somewhat abandoned for the last few weeks…

We pick things up after my week of little birthday celebrations, and another week at work which was punctuated by some lovely evenings with friends. One evening I met up with Sara and Jhosef at a lovely little terrace near my house, where we were treated to a generous selection of tapas before ordering two huge plates of delicious grub to share — calamares (calamari rings) and huevos rotos con jamón (chips with cured ham and fried eggs).

Another evening brought with it another birthday celebration, this time for Hugo. For this, four of us headed to an Italian restaurant that I knew Hugo was a fan of, and tucked into some delicious courses (including a dessert that came recommended by a colleague) in between lots of laughs and some particularly lovely white wine. 

I’ve always been a big fan of prawns with spicy tomato sauce.

With my belly full of a rich and spicy tomato and prawn pasta, I hopped on one of the city bikes to head back home, passing by some of the places that I had first gawked at when I first stepped foot in Madrid all the way back in 2015. I passed by the Instituto Cervantes, the Banco de España (Spain’s national bank), Cibeles, and the southern train station, Atocha. Upon arriving home, I set the lights to a relaxing purple colour combination and unwinded for the evening with a book.

I mention the book because I’ve recently gotten back into reading in a big way, having finished three books in the past couple of weeks. Without wanting to turn this post into a book review (I used to hate having to write those in primary school), I’ll quickly detail the experience as I think they are three very interesting pieces:

The first took the form of a novel I received through the post as part of an anonymous book exchange I participated in on Instagram. I’d done this on a whim, doubting that much would come of it, but I actually received two novels in the end! The first of these was this one, Los renglones torcidos De Dios by Torcuato Luca de Tena. As you can tell by the title, this was a Spanish novel, and represented the first time that I’d ever read a full novel in my second language. It wasn’t an easy read, both because of the need for constant pauses to look up unfamiliar flowery terminology and because of the subject matter: life inside an old psychiatric hospital. The hauntingly beautiful title, which translates roughly as “God’s twisted lines of text”, is a great window into the contents of the novel, for which Luca de Tena himself feigned mental illness in order to live an unfiltered, first-hand experience within a psychiatric hospital. This exposure shines through in Luca de Tena’s ability to captivate and maintain dramatic suspense until the very last page. Unfortunately there’s no English version, but I’d highly recommend it to any hispanohablantes out there.

The second book took the form of a biography. I’m not usually too fond of biographical works, but I made an exception here after watching a short documentary on YouTube on the life of this extraordinary woman. The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein documents the turbulent and often heart-wrenchingly sad life of Sandra Pankhurst. The book explores — with often blurry or incomplete details thanks to Pankhurt’s possibly trauma-induced amnesia — her early years as a mistreated adopted child, her subsequent transition to a woman, and then her eventual role as the founder of a company dedicated to trauma cleaning. Trauma cleaning, for those in the dark, involves cleaning up places where trauma has occurred, such as the scenes of a murder, suicide, or the homes of hoarders. Although this book again details with a subject matter which makes for little easy reading, it was refreshing to learn about something which is often readily overlooked by society and the compassion —born surely of an ability to empathise due to her personal experience of trauma— with which Pankhurst handles each client and case.

Lastly we have the third book, and this time we find ourselves dealing with an equally obscure but much more light-hearted topic: grammar and punctuation. Written by an ex-proofreader from The New Yorker, Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris was a lovely light-hearted deep dive into the use of language and the punctuation with which we pepper our sentences in a manner which — as Norris would probably attest to — is often rather slapdash. I was seduced into picking up this gem of a book by the “Comma Queen” part of its title, as I’m often lauded by friends as being quite the fusspot with the use of commas. Needless to say, Norris didn’t disappoint, delving into the mechanisms of the English language (albeit in American English, which I’m not a huge fan of) in a light-hearted yet often very informative manner.

I’m now on another book, but I shall conclude this little book-club-esque section for now for fear of boring any of you who may not be interested. If you are, however, be sure to let me know. Maybe it could become something I write more about on here.

Anyway, let’s get back to more mischief from Madrid. Just one day after our evening out for Hugo’s birthday, I found myself cycling down to Luis’ flat with an unopened bottle of vermouth for some drinks and nibbles with him and a couple of friends. Sitting on his lovely private terrace, the four of us shared anecdotes and laughs over some delicious plates of jamón (cured ham) and cecina (cured beef), all before a quick dance to burn off some of the alcohol which was flowing freely.

Just 48 hours later and I was back with Luis again, this time taking the metro up to the north of the city and to Sunday Service, an event organised by my colleague Blanca to launch her line of custom handmade jewellery. The inauguration of Tony Blanco Jewelry took place in a photography studio, where we enjoyed pizza and beers and caught up with both old friends and new, as well as having the change to have our photo taken or bag ourselves a new tattoo – both of which I passed on for now.

After Sunday Service, me and Luis were joined by my colleague Maria for a couple more cheeky drinks and a spot of lunch in the city centre. After being joined by a couple more of Luis’ friends, Maria headed off and the rest of us sauntered down to Chueca, where we continued our afternoon of drinks with some gin and tonics.

This afternoon of drinks would have been all fun and games if it weren’t — as eagle-eyed readers amongst you will have already deduced from the name of the Tony Blanco event — on a Sunday. The shenanigans left me with a heavy head on Monday morning, but that had cleared up by the evening, when I dragged Jhosef out for a bike ride up through a green corridor in the north-west of the city.

Grabbing two of the motor-assisted BiciMad city bikes, the two of us followed the western length of Río Manzaneres, the river that runs through Madrid. This led us to a spot that I’d discovered by myself a while back, where we stopped for a moment before heading further onward, eventually arriving at a bridge which spans the main northern motorway out of the city. Here we stopped for a while, taking in the views of the city and the sunset over to the west, before turning back for home.

At home I had a random nostalgia trip and craving for — of all things — a hot chocolate from Costa Coffee. Although Costa may not be the height of the UK’s culinary offerings, I set about whipping myself up a concoction from pure cocoa powder, milk, sugar, squirty cream (which probably has a technical name but I’ve always called it that), and a sprinkling of cinnamon powder. Between my hot chocolate, the mood lighting that I’ve wired my flat up with, and a face mask kit from Lush, I had myself quite the evening of pampering.

Last weekend saw me continue with this theme of pampering, as me and Bogar headed back to Hammam after we’d last gone just before the pandemic erupted here in Spain. We returned to these Arab-style baths to take a dip in the thermal pools, sweat out our woes in the steam room, and have our stresses rubbed away during a relaxing massage. Once we’d been thoroughly revived, we cycled back to our neighbourhood, where we stopped at our favourite local bar for a delicious meal. Never was there a more perfect way to end a weekend!

All this brings us to just last week, which passed by relatively quickly, thanks to the combination of a few busy days in the office with the knowledge that I had a four-day weekend ahead to travel up to Bilbao in northern Spain with Jhosef. As I said at the beginning of the post, I’m still here in the hotel as I write this, although I’m sure I won’t muster up the energy to edit and upload the photos until I’m back in Madrid.

For now, I’m going to enjoy the two days I’ve got left here in this lovely city, and you just know that I’ll be back as soon as possible with some stories from the trip and a generous smattering of photos that I’ve taken around this quirky place. Until then!

09.05.21 — Journal

Summer’s Coming & I’m Getting Old

The wet and miserable weekend that I predicted at the end of my last blog post turned out, unfortunately, to be a correct prediction. After a Saturday stuck indoors, however, I was determined to get out of the house, and so jumped at Napo’s offer for a pizza lunch out in Lavapiés.

Heading out under very dark and menacing skies, I hopped on a bike and cycled up to the nearest station to NAP Pizza, me and Napo’s preferred pizza spot for their delicious Neapolitan wood-oven-fired pizzas. There we had a lovely catch up over some equally lovely pizza, but we left to some not-so-lovely weather. The heavens had indeed opened, but thankfully my half-broken umbrella held out long enough for me to get to the bus stop and back to the safety of my flat.

After this rather quiet weekend came a busy week at work, but a sudden change in weather and the arrival of some sun kept me in good spirits. In another move to try and get more active, I made the most of the sunny evenings to phone friends and walk and cycle my way back home from the office.

These evening walks often took me through the Parque del Oeste (The Western Park) which sits just by my office, a path which passes by the Templo de Debod, the African Temple gifted to the city by Egypt which now sits atop a hill overlooking the west of the city. From there, I also pass by the Royal Palace and its surrounding gardens – not a bad commute at all!

As the week came to its conclusion, it was time for the annual chaos that is my birthday. The start of my twenty-sixth year on this earth was heralded by a suspiring amount of gifts, with my parents sending over a lovely new shirt and some Cadbury’s chocolate, and Abi and Danni treating me to a huge box full of some of the best of British snacks!

At work I was then surprised by a lovely gift basket from some of my colleagues and a box full of homemade brigadeiro from another. This traditional Brazilian birthday sweet consists of condensed milk and cocoa powder, with all kinds of toppings in order to protect the gooey center. For this occasion we had flaked almonds and multicoloured sprinkles: both excellent options!

To continue the celebrations, I headed out for lunch with another colleague, before then nipping home to quickly change and prepare for an evening meal out with Sara and Jhosef. This I didn’t do quickly enough, evidently, as I rocked up at the Venezuelan restaurant half an hour late – oops! I quickly got up to speed with a few vermouths, however, and was surprised by a lovely Lush gift box from Jhosef before enjoying a bottle of wine and some delicious plates of shared food.

With the Madrid curfew still in place, however, we were handed the bill at half ten, but decided that we weren’t done with our evening just yet. Hailing a taxi, we headed back to my flat, cracking open some gin and tonics and throwing on some music to keep chatting away until the early hours.

After we all awoke at my place with heavy heads, I then spent the day mooching my hangover off at home, only venturing out again in order to meet up with Bogar, Hugo, and Sergei for a burger meal out. I enjoyed a delicious burger with great company, but headed home relatively early as the big meal hadn’t cleared my head as much as I had hoped it would.

The four of us wait for the burger restaurant to open as I nurse a heavy head.

Thankfully, my birthday weekend was a long one, with a bank holiday allowing me to recover the day I spent mooching around nursing a hangover. I made the most of this extra day to cook up some food for the short week ahead and head out for a wander around my neighborhood.

The Spanish breakfast of bread with tomato, olive oil, and salt never fails to revive.

This week has seen the temperature suddenly increase to near-summer levels, and so this weekend we arranged to hold a picnic in Retiro, Madrid’s main park. Settling down by the lake, we enjoyed some cheese sticks, empanadas, and even some KFC that Bogar had brought along – all washed down with some beer and lemon!

Bogar stole my rude fan (translate it if you dare) for a photo shoot by the lake.

Once the sky had clouded over a bit and we had become frustrated by the lack of places to buy more snacks and drinks, the four of us hopped on a bus and made our way down to Bogar’s flat for some more drinks and to waste the evening way sharing our favorite music videos – oh, and some more fried chicken…

I left Bogar’s at half eleven at night – possible now thanks to the end of the curfew in Madrid – and have then spent the most of today cooking and cleaning as I usually do on a Sunday. Being stuck inside today has been made somewhat easier, though, as the clouds that came rolling in yesterday have turned into scattered showers today.

With the easing of restrictions in Madrid and throughout Spain in general, I’m hoping that this summer I’ll be able to get back to safely visiting a few places like Murica or Tenerife – perhaps, depending on how things go over there, I’ll even be able to get back to England! Who knows…

24.04.21 — Journal

Spring’s Deceit

As April advanced, it seemed as though we were witnessing the first glimpses of the transition from the cold mornings of winter to the sunny afternoons of springtime. In this optimism we were, however, mistaken, as the arrival of spring brought with it wildly unpredictable weather. Days of supposed clear skies soon turned into torrential downpours, and the scaremongering of the weather forecast and its promise of thunderstorms gave way to perfectly clear skies.

On one of these particularly confusing days, I had arranged to meet Luis for a drink by the river. I left the house clothing my umbrella after a rather pessimistic forecast was recited to me by my Google Nest speaker, and gingerly hopped on a bike below suitably threatening grey skies. By the time the two of us had picked up some free bread from a promotional van and grabbed a beer, however, the blue skies were back and we perched ourselves on a patch of grass by the river to enjoy the afternoon rays.

We spent a good while chatting down by the river – too long in fact, as I’d to leave cycling like a madman in order to pick up a pizza I’d ordered and head over to Bogar’s for an evening of listening to nostalgic music and chatting about all kinds of nonsense. When it came time to leave before the 11pm curfew, however, my luck had taken a turn for the worse, and I rushed home holding onto my brolly for dear life as I was lashed by a thunderstorm that had chosen the exact moment I left Bogar’s to dump a month’s worth of rain onto the streets of Madrid.

The next day the weather was up to no good once again, with mischievous dark clouds blotting the otherwise blue sky, but the plan to have lunch with Luis and a group of his friends remained. The two of us met up once again by the river, grabbing a bike each and cycling down to another riverside spot before pre-lunch drinks. From this new spot we could see a near-black wall of storm clouds hovering over the mountains that surround the city, but we arrived at the (thankfully covered) lunch spot just in time for another downpour to drench the capital.

After a delicious lunch at the Café del Rey, a spot we used to haunt when we both worked at Erretres’ previous office near the Plaza de España, we headed to another spot full of memories. This is a bar that to this day I don’t know the name of, as we always have and always will call it either “el bar de la esquina” (the bar on the corner) or simply “el sherif”, in honour of one of the eccentric waiters who always proudly bears a sheriff’s badge.

Once sat on the terrace there, round after round of wine and tapas then ensued, and our lunch turned into a whole afternoon affair. All the wine left me with quite a heavy head on the Monday morning after, and so after I’d returned from work, I headed out for a wander around the neighborhood to see if I could find any new spots that I’d never before visited.

That I did, and ended up following the railway line from where I’d accidentally stumbled across it in the south back up to the north and back home. This did provide some interesting views of my local park, Parque de las Delicias, and some intriguing seemingly abandoned storage areas built into the side of the mound constructed to bear the train lines.

The towering heights of the smokestack and the climbing wall loomed eerily in the dark.

After another week at work, it was once again time to make the most of the weekend, and I kicked things off with a rather relaxing night in. Once I’d mixed myself a gin and tonic, bedded down in a comfy pile of sheets on my sofa, and set the lights to cinema mode, I re-watched the magnificent film that is James and the Giant Peach for the first time in probably more than fifteen years.

The day after, and as seems to be becoming tradition on a Saturday evening, I headed out with Sara and Jhosef into the city centre for some drinks and nibbles. We kicked things off with some cocktails in the writer’s quarter, before heading to a South Korean restaurant that Jhosef had been meaning to take me to for a while. There, we tucked into some delicious dishes, all washed down with soju, and wound up having to get the bus home such as to make the curfew!

That Sunday was spent nursing a particularly nasty hangover, and so I didn’t really leave the house – although at least it had cleared by Monday morning ready for another week of work! During the past week, as part of a push on my part to start living a healthier lifestyle, I’ve been eating better and getting out walking more. One of these evening walks took me down past the Royal Palace and the works that are being carried out around the Plaza de España area, works which it seems have uncovered a pretty intricate old basement!

This brings us round to this weekend, which seems to mark a moment where the weather forecast has finally begun to reflect the reality present in the skies over Madrid. Google informs me that today will be very overcast and cold, something which I can vouch for as I sit here with my dressing gown over my jumper and all the lights of the house turned on, keeping a watchful eye over the towels that I’ve hung out to dry.

Because of the shoddy weather that we’re most likely to suffer for the whole weekend, I doubt that I’ll be up to all that much, with another night in messing around with my lights and another nostalgic movie on the cards. Maybe I’ll have a mad moment and turn the whole house blue again to pretend that I’m in a UV party at a club.

Ah, clubs – remember those?

08.04.21 — Journal

Eating Through Easter

It’s a Wednesday evening and sadly the last day of a week off that I’ve just enjoyed, as I took three days of holiday off to complement the two days of Easter holidays awarded to us by the Community of Madrid. As I mentioned in my last post, I had planned to get out and about, but in the end I kept things pretty quiet – but more on that in just a moment!

Before these Easter holidays began, I had a weekend to enjoy before a short three-day working week, and this was spent eating and drinking with friends in various places around Madrid. Things kicked off on Saturday, when me and Sara headed out for an evening of drinks and dinner in Madrid’s Writer’s Quarter, El barrio de las letras. After bar hopping and enjoying a bowl full of sunflower seeds and peanuts from one particularly friendly bar owner, the two of us switched out the beer for a glass of wine and a bite to eat atop a little table along the street.

The next day, and after nursing a bit of heavy head after the mixing of beer and wine, I headed up to Retiro – the Central Park of Madrid – and met up with Hugo and Bogar for a bite of some tequeños (Venezuelan cheese sticks) and our first glass of tinto de verano (literally “summer red wine”, which is red wine mixed with lemon Fanta) of the year.

After Hugo had to head off for work, Bogar and I decided to make the most of the evening sun, and grabbed a bike each to cycle around the park and watch the sunset. We stopped for a moment by the lake as the light began to fade, before heading back home, where I indulged in a spot of knitting – something I haven’t done for quite a while!

On Thursday, and after just three days of work, it was time to head out for the first plan of the holidays. Me and Bogar had decided to try out one of the many places I have marked on the map that people have recommended that I visit, and after some drinks with Hugo and Sergei, we headed up to a little Italian restaurant called Menomale in the north of the city.

We had a lovely meal at the restaurant, sharing a delicious salad for our starter which was followed by a couple of tasty pasta dishes. Returning home via bike (as is now custom), we were then joined in my flat by Jhosef, and an evening of drinks and chit-chat ensued. We wound up so engrossed in our evening that we totally forgot about the curfew, and so I became a hostess once again as the two of them stayed over until the next morning!

The day after, me and Jhosef were to see each other once more, as we’d arranged to have lunch with Sara and her boyfriend Eric in an Asturian restaurant they had recommended that we visit for a while. As the two of them are from the region, I was very excited to eat at the place they talked of so much – Sidrería La Cuenca – and boy was I not disappointed! We tucked into some absolutely fabulous dishes, which came in rather generous portions, washing the whole thing down with natural Asturian cider, shots of crema de orujo (a cream liqueur), and then some gin and tonic.

Needless to say, we left the place very full and quite tipsy, and so headed back to Sara and Eric’s for a nap before some relaxed evening beers. This combination of alcohol and plentiful food – from fried squid to the infamous cachopo – left me nostalgic about my first time visiting Asturias, and left us very sleepy as evidenced in the photo below!

The cider and overly-generous portions left us quite knackered on the metro…

During the weekend, Jhosef came over for a day working at home, where I took the opportunity to work on my new website design and build some new electronic contraptions at home. The two of us then met up with Bogar once again on Sunday; first to relax at the park, and then to head out for a spot of shopping that I wanted to do. Once I’d restocked on Vimto and Lush face masks, we decided to have some tea (dinner, to most) out around the neighbourhood. This took us to Goiko, en excellent burger joint, where the food was excellent as ever.

Tequeños and burgers combined made for an excellent Sunday-evening tea.

I left for home quite excited on that Sunday evening, as I had quite the Monday lined up, with a trip to the Parque de Atracciones, Madrid’s central theme park, booked and my e-ticket downloaded and ready to go! You can imagine my dismay, then, when I awoke to a text message from the Madrid government at 9am on Monday morning to inform me that my neighbourhood was now in lockdown, with all but essential access in and out of the small area now prohibited.

As you can imagine, I’d then to contact the theme park and cancel my visit, as well as mentally cancelling all the other plans that I’d made for my three holiday days. Not to be beaten by this last-minute bombshell, I spent a day working on my website and cleaning my flat, before heading out to check out the borders of the new exclusion zone in which I suddenly found myself.

I was greatly relieved to discover that the bars within my neighbourhood are to remain open, and so I’ve spent the last couple of days frequenting the terraces which I can still legally visit, calling friends on the phone to conduct “virtual drinks” with them given that most of them live outside of the border line. Although a bit of an odd one, this new hyper-local lockdown is still much easier than the initial one we suffered back around this time last year!

This brings us to this evening, as I’m sat watching a film, sipping on a gin and tonic, and preparing to head back to work and back to reality tomorrow. I shan’t complain, though, as I’ve a mere two days to work before another weekend rolls around. And I shall have to gargantee to myself that, despite being am stuck in this odd little lockdown, I’ll be sure to make the most of it just as best as I can!

26.03.21 — Journal

March Mayhem

It’s now been a whole month since I last dropped by here to update you all on the latest goings on from Madrid, and boy has it been a busy month. In between plenty of work, I’ve not really had all that much time to do anything too exciting, but I’ve certainly been out and about in between times to appreciate the arrival of spring in the city.

We kick things off with a work-related evening of fun, which involved research in the form of a padel match! Without revealing too much, one of our clients deals with the sport, and so I headed off to play en evening of matches with two of my colleagues and Jhosef. I headed down to the sports centre on the bus with Jhosef, and we met up with Zoe and Cris on the courts themselves, where hilarity ensued!

After some rather competitive shenanigans and a kebab to end the night, I was left with aches and pains all down my right arm from so much wild swinging on that Monday evening. This didn’t stop me heading out later in the week, however, when I headed off to Citynizer to check out their new space on their opening week. The Central House, a new hostel in the trendy Lavapiés district, is a longstanding client of ours, and I worked on the branding for their bar and restaurant (Citynizer) last year. It’s a pretty cool space, and it was great to see my work printed and applied all over the place!

As the week concluded, it was time for a bittersweet moment, as María left Erretres to move on to an exciting new project. To give her a decent sendoff, we headed down to El Toril Gourmet, where we enjoyed some delicious burgers and stayed out late on the terrace reminiscing the best moments from her time at the company. We’d soon see each other there once again, but that’ll have to wait just a moment…

That weekend, as if one evening of food and drink out wasn’t enough, I also spent an evening out in the charming La Latina area of Madrid with Sara and Jhosef. After searching in vain for a table in one of the main squares, we tottered down a side street and to a Mexican restaurant where we held the Erretres Christmas party just over a year ago. There we tucked into tacos and margaritas aplenty, had a great lot of laughs, and wound up having to grab a taxi back home in order to comply with the 11pm curfew!

I began the Sunday after with a bit of a heavy head – apparently after a year of the pandemic I can’t handle a mere three margaritas – and then headed out to the river to have some drinks with Hugo, Bogar, and Sergei. We also took the opportunity to take a super-tacky tourist photo at the new “Madrid” sign that they’ve erected down by the section of the river which runs past the royal palace and cathedral.

The week after ended with a rather exciting chance to reconnect with my alma mater, which took the form of a Q&A conducted over Zoom with the students graduating this year from the course I studied. After a quick chat with my former tutors, I was joined by Izzy and some other alumni who have gone on to do some really great and interesting things, and had the chance to respond to some intriguing questions from the current students.

Once the call was over, and as I hinted at just a moment ago, I headed out for another trip to El Toril. Here, María had been surprised with a birthday meal that she didn’t know was happening, and my arrival signaled that it was time to present her with her birthday present: a tattoo machine that we all pitched in for!

The day after I was back out again, when Luis called and invited me to have a quick gin and tonic with him and some friends down by the river. This then turned into another gin and tonic and some food down by his house, where we caught up on all the latest shenanigans going on in each others’ lives. All of these great distractions were fabulous, but they were just that: distractions; meaning that the day after I had to run all of the errands that I hadn’t bothered to do during the previous couple of days!

After rewiring my desk, cleaning my flat, and heading out to buy some supplies for the coming week, I had a full five days of work to keep me busy. The weekend that followed – just last weekend – was therefore a welcome break, and I made the most of the springtime sun to visit some of my favorite spots in the city, namely two of the city’s parks: Parque del Retiro and Parque de las Delicias.

This past week was quite quiet, with just one chill evening out with Bogar to break up the working week. On Thursday we spontaneously decided to surprise Hugo at the restaurant he works at in Chueca, Ramen Shifu, and headed there to eat a delicious bowl of ramen with gyozas for starters. Full of tasty Japanese food, me and Bogar then said goodbye to Hugo in the kitchen and headed back home on a bike, after I convinced him to sign up to the city’s public bike system that I use so keenly!

I sit here now on my sofa, glass of wine in hand and some trashy YouTube videos playing in the background, and it’s pretty obvious that the weekend is beginning! I’ve plenty to get sorted this weekend, but I’ve some holiday days coming up next week and the week after, so we’ll have to wait and see what kinds of nonsense I get up to…

28.02.21 — Travel

My Mini Madrid Holiday

A couple of weeks ago saw me work just thee of the five days of the working week, as I’d a couple of holiday days left over from 2020 which I’d to use up as soon as possible. I thus turned my weekend into a long four-day mini holiday, and kicked off my time off with a spot of lunch with Napo.

The two of us met up for our meal in Chueca, where Napo took me to a Chinese restaurant that he knew. There we enjoyed a selection of absolutely delicious dishes, including crispy duck, one of my all-time favourites! A bowl of ice cream and couple of beers later, we headed out for a wander around the city, making the most of the winter sun and the quiet Thursday-afternoon calm that had descended on the city.

After discovering a lovely little plaza and church that I’d never seen before, we passed by Delish Vegan Doughnuts, hoping to catch them with some in stock – they’re so popular that they usually fly off the shelves! We were in luck, however, and grabbed ourselves a selection of doughnuts and a coffee to be enjoyed in a nearby square.

There’s no better start to a few days off than a huge cream-filled doughnut.

Once we’d finished our little sweet coffee break, we headed down to the Temple of Debod, where we’d decided that we’d spend the evening watching the sunset and treating ourselves to a beer. The blue skies over the west of the city which are usually on show from this little vantage point were nowhere to be seen, however, as a particularly bad day of Madrid’s unfortunately infamous pollution had tinted the skyline a grim shade of beige…

At least the Royal Palace and Cathedral were still visible amongst the smog.

Once the sun had set and we had grown tired – helped in part by the beer – we headed back down to the train station and off back home. I was keen to get a good night’s sleep in, you see, as I had big plans for the next day. I’d decided that I was going to head off up to Manzanares El Real and trek up to La Pedriza, a rock formation that I’ve visited several times before with Cake Club, my sister, and Em & Lincoln.

I headed off the next morning to the north of the city, where I’d catch my bus up to the small hillside town. I made the trip alone, as I wanted to unwind and completely disconnect, and so took with me a book that I was sent as part of a fun Instagram book swap that I took part in a good while back.

The walk is pretty much all uphill for the first hour, but it does offer some gorgeous scenery.

Hopping off the bus, I started the long slog uphill after stopping to pick up a drink and some snacks to keep me going for the few hours that I’d be wandering through the mountains. I took the same route that I’d taken the first time I ever made this journey, back when I headed out with Cake Club in trainers and with a tote bag without realising how long a day out it would be!

This large circular route would take me about two hours, but I decided to intersperse the walk with plenty of stops to snap some photos, eat some snacks, read some of my book, and just generally take in the views that surrounded me. The first hour or so of the walk was wholly uphill, but I knew that it’d all be made worth my while after cresting the high point of the route, where stunning panoramas over the snow-topped mountains suddenly burst into view.

The downward section which followed these gorgeous views was then naturally a whole lot easier, and I wasted little time in reaching the basin of the valley, and crossing the River Manzanares (which eventually flows through the centre of Madrid and right past my house!) via a little wooden bridge. Once on the other side, I found an empty little hiker’s refuge, which I explored for a while before sitting down on one of the chairs outside to read some more of my book, Los reglones torcidos de Dios.

Once I’d progressed a little further through the novel and with the late-afternoon cold had beginning to descend, I hauled myself through the last stretch of the climb, involving clambering over a series of interesting rock formations. This led me to the most tedious part of the whole hike, a 40-minute walk down an empty and rather uninteresting road which led back to the centre of Manzanares El Real and where I would catch my bus back home into the big city.

Once back in my flat, I naturally headed straight for a nap on the sofa, allowing myself a mere half an hour to recover from the seven-hour round trip up to the mountains and back. This was because I was then to head out for some drinks with Jhosef and Sara, who were keen to make the most of the springtime weather and the new 11pm curfew to enjoy some Friday night drinks out in the city centre.

The three of us kicked of the evening with some gin and tonics in the centre, before heading down to a little bar that me and Jhosef had visited some time before, and where we’d enjoyed a lovely meal out. This night was no different, and the three of us enjoyed a selection of delicious dishes, all accompanied by another round of gin, some live music in the form of a guy and his guitar, and a round of shots on the house!

I began Saturday morning then, as you may have guessed, with a heavy head and very little energy. I was determined, however, to get out of the house again, and so headed down to the river and the nearby supermarket to buy myself a new frying pan and catch up with my family over the phone.

With my light hangover, it was dark by the time I’d summed up the energy to head out.

The next day, Jhosef paid me a visit again in order to engage in an afternoon of what we call co-working – where the two of us sit in my living room working on our own independent tasks. This soon turned into Jhosef whipping up a lovely guisado – a dish very similar to what we’d call a stew. Once we’d had lunch, Jhosef headed off home, and I popped on The Rocky Horror Picture Show as my evening’s entertainment.

Jhosef also made enough rice to feed five thousand…

A busy week at work then proceeded, but I naturally took up the opportunity to speed through the city and down by the river at wild speeds on my bike whenever the weather would permit. I find it a great way of getting home, doing a bit of exercise, and enjoying the natural areas of Madrid all at the same time!

This weekend, although unfortunately not a long one, has been equally as entertaining. Saturday began with breakfast out and an impromptu visit to the British shop to pick up some Cadbury’s chocolate as a little treat, after which I naturally returned on a bike, making the most of the glorious weather that we’re enjoying this weekend.

Just as I was arriving home after my little shopping trip, Jhosef called to say that he and his family were in a nearby Peruvian restaurant and about to have lunch, and if I wanted to join. I couldn’t pass up on the offer to try out a new local restaurant and enjoy some delicious Peruvian food, and so headed up the road to meet everyone. The food was exceptional – I couldn’t decide what I wanted, so the waiter suggested I try a mixed plate, which turned out to be as huge as it was tasty!

After such a huge meal, which was washed down with a tres leches cake and a glass of vermouth on the house, we were all absolutely stuffed and very tired. Not wanting to head home our separate ways for a siesta to sleep off the lunch, however, we decided to head down to the river, where we could all relax on the grass. It turned out to be a great plan, as the sun was hitting just right and there was a musician out providing some lovely ambiance – the perfect way to end an afternoon!

In the evening, I came up with the idea of grabbing some bikes (not like me, I know) and heading for a casual cycle up the northern stretch of the river. Me and Jhosef set off for what I thought would be a quick to-and-fro trip, but which turned into a full 2-hour trip up to the north of Madrid and back home through the centre!

This just about brings us up to the current moment, where I’m sat at home engaging in another afternoon of co-working with Jhosef. We’ve got some classical British 80’s tunes on, he’s working on some emails, and I’m writing my blog – I leave you enjoying a very chilled Sunday afternoon!