08.02.22 — Travel

Spring in Murcia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31.01.22 — Journal

Resolutions for 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21.01.22 — Travel

New Year in Tenerife

Epilepsy Warning: This post contains a video which includes flashing lights.

I ended the last blog post on a mysterious note, and I’ve begun this one with a title which gives everything away – I did indeed spend the New Year on the Spanish island of Tenerife. I celebrated the arrival of 2022 with my friends Cami, Sam, and Cami’s family, who have always welcomed me with open arms since the first time I visited.

My trip to England ended with Danni giving me a lift to the airport, where I headed to security at Terminal 1 just to be sent wandering all the way to Terminal 3, something my back did not appreciate as I lugged my two heavy bags with me. I did eventually find my gate in the otherwise abandoned T3, and I was soon on board the long 4-hour flight to Tenerife.

At the airport I was greeted by Sam, who drove the two of us up to Cami’s parents’ place so I could leave my stuff at theirs ready to head back to sleep later in the evening. Once Cami finished work, the three of us then headed down to a local Asian fusion restaurant, where we enjoyed a much-needed catch up over a lovely meal of sushi and other dishes.

I then partook in a spot of stargazing before heading to sleep, as the isolated location of the Canary Islands make for a great view of the heavens above, and the bedroom that I stayed in at Cami’s parents’ place has a lovely little balcony perfect for a moment of reflection before bed. This brought me into the next day, which was already New Year’s Eve, and so we’d stuff to do!

We first headed to the supermarket so that I could buy the ingredients needed to make a carrot cake for the New Year’s celebrations, after which we rejoined Cami’s family for a lovely lunch at a local grill. Full of soup, grilled cheese, and a selection of meats, I then headed back to the house to start work on my cake.

The carrot cake was thus completed with the help of Miguel, the son of one of the family friends who had invited us to see in the New Year at her house. With the culinary adventures over, I had precious little time to decorate the cake with a santa and his sleigh (slightly late, but never mind) and get changed ready for the evening meal.

Arriving at the house of Eva, a close friend of Cami’s family, I chatted to my family for a bit to wish them a happy New Year, and then we were all called to be seated ready for the feasting to begin – and what a feast! I finally learned how to eat langostines, discovered the virtues of marinated salmon, and sampled some of the most delicious seafood soup that I’ve ever tasted.

With the meal over, midnight was encroaching, and so we all got into position in front of the telly with our streamers and cup of 12 grapes. These are part of Spain’s Nochevieja tradition, which dictates that you have to eat one grape for each chime of the bell at midnight. It sounds like a doozy, but one misplaced or mistimed grape can see you coughing your way into the new year!

Once Miguel had smashed a plate outside as per the family tradition, we all finished our last glass of champagne and then headed back home to sleep before the next day.

The first day of 2022 treated me rather well, as me and Cami headed down to Los Cristianos for lunch, a wander around, and a bite of dessert. We ate at a lovely little Italian restaurant that Cami had found, and then headed down to the beach and to a ice cream and cocktail bar to spend the afternoon in style by the sea.

The 26° of Tenerife made a lovely change from England’s rain and Madrid’s biting cold.

The two of us then headed back to the car and up to an observation point to watch the sun set. Cami had noted that the calima – the haze caused by dust carried on the wind from Africa just 250km away – had subsided quite a bit, meaning we could see some of the surrounding islands from the shores of Tenerife. The hope was that we could see even more of them from high up and catch some lovely views of the sunset.

As you can see, the sunset and the views thereof did not disappoint one bit, and so Cami and I sat down for a good while to take in the views. We had a good chat up there, enjoying some crisps and beers that we’d grabbed from a petrol station on the way up to our vantage point atop the roof of an abandoned hillside café.

The next day we hopped back in Cami’s car and headed for a day out in the north of the island, stopping for some breakfast along the way. Our road trip took us first to Puerto de la Cruz, where we had some cocktails and snacks before heading to Santa Cruz for lunch. The names of these two places are quite confusing – they both have the word cruz (cross) in them!

After lunch, we then headed to Santa Cruz’s big central park for a drink and to relax in the greenery until the sun began to set and the lowering temperatures became too cold to bear. Being full of Korean food and as generally lazy as I am, I insisted that we take a taxi back down to the car, which we took back home and settled in for an early night as I’d to work the next day.

Although I do enjoy the flexibility of working from home, I’m usually a fan of going into the office – but when ‘home’ consists of a terrace in sunny Tenerife, I’ll definitely take that any day! Thanks to the revolution in our way of working that we’ve undertaken at Erretres, I was able to work just as efficiently from the garden of Cami’s parents’ house as I do in the office.

Once work was over, though, I was keen to get back out to see some more of Tenerife with what was left of the daylight hours. As Cami was working, me and Sam headed down to the beach together, watching some paragliders descend gracefully onto the beach framed by the beautiful sunset. It was quite the sight!

The two of us then headed down to that same beach, perching ourselves down on some deck chairs on the sand at a lovely little beach bar. We ordered a bite to eat and a cheeky cocktail – I was half on holiday after all – and poor Sam had to put up with me jumping up every two minutes as I spotted yet another photo I could take as the sun set.

My favourite photo I managed to bag that evening has to be the following one, as I managed to catch just the moment when a father and son were playing together in the last rays of light, with another of the Canary Islands visible in the background. It was a lovely time to be down on the beach, the noise of the day’s visitors had died down and people were relaxing and enjoying the sights.

One the cold crept in, we headed back home, and then the thought of another evening down on the coast got me through another nine hours of work the next day. Sam faithfully granted me my wish, and that evening we headed back to Los Cristianos to have a wander around and find something to eat for tea.

There was no better way to start the new year and reflect on my resolutions than a walk on the beach.

Our evening meal was eventually had at a Japanese restaurant that Cami and Sam are fond of, and the reason for which I soon discovered after a variety of delicious sushi dishes. After cramming so much into one day I was soon tired, and so we headed back home so that I could get an early night.

The next day was much more of a quiet affair, as both Cami and Sam were working in the afternoon after I’d disconnected from work. I was expecting to be alone for the evening, but Cami’s parents Nati and Rodrigo invited me to have pizza with them and Nati’s brother who’d swung by for a visit.

After this came an important day in the Spanish calendar, perhaps more so than the 25th of December. The 6th of January is celebrated as Día de los Reyes Magos, the day of the three kings. It’s the day that the three kings (or wise men as we know them) bring presents to all the well-behaved kids in Spain, and as part of the traditions a sweet bread called roscón is cut. Hidden within this halo-shaped bread are both a figurine of a wise man and a bean – if you bite into the wise man you are crowned as king, and if you bite into the bean, you’ve to pay for the roscón!

We celebrated this day with a breakfast including bread, meats, avocado, hot chocolate, and – of course – roscón. This jovial get-together was to be my last of the holiday, however, as I was soon wishing Cami and Sam farewell as they’d to head off to work, a few hours after which I’d to head off to the airport for my trip back to Madrid.

As you can see, the airport of Tenerife Sur is quite unique in it’s lovely views over the beach, which took some of the sting out of the whole leaving thing as I boarded the plane headed back to the mainland…

As ever, I’ve to end this blog post sending my heartfelt thanks to Cami, Sam, Nati, and Rodrigo, who graciously took me in and ferried me around between them. Tenerife is a beautiful and unique place to visit, but my visits wouldn’t be half as fabulous without their generous hospitality. I’ll be back again soon!

06.01.22 — Journal

A British Christmas

Just like last year, the end of December saw me take a flight from Madrid back over to Manchester and my parents’ house to spend Christmas with my family. After all the concerning news about COVID cases, I was worried that I might not make it, but my test came back negative and I hopped on board my early morning flight headed northward.

The weather wasn’t certain what it was doing when I arrived in Manchester.

Landing in Manchester, my dad came to pick me up and I completed the first of three tests that I’d have to complete during my stay in the UK. I was confined to the house for the first five days at least, but it wasn’t an issue as I’d four days of working from home lined up before Christmas Eve came around.

Working from home was quite pleasant, and in the evenings I made the most of our comfy sofas to read Becoming by Michelle Obama (my current book) and help out around the house. After disconnecting from work on the 23rd, I took a celebratory bath with a glass of wine and thus began to wind down and get ready for Christmas.

After me and my mum had conducted a Bake-Off-style round of baking (she made a lemon drizzle and I presented a Victoria sponge with fresh cream to boot), it was Christmas Eve, and me and my sister were treated to a little bag of presents as has become the family tradition. The best gifts were definitely the new pyjamas, which were immediately put into service!

The 25th then came around and with it the opening of presents, which took up most of our morning – we weren’t in any big rush. As an extra Christmas Day miracle gift, my test-to-release came back negative, and so I was allowed to end quarantine and head out of the house! To celebrate this, my dad and I headed out for a walk, battling high winds on the country roads to make our way to a nearby reservoir that I’d somehow never been to.

After having a good poke around the place for a while, we then headed back home as the light faded, which wasn’t a problem thanks to the beautifully decorated cottages that we passed along the way. When we arrived, the traditional Christmas dinner was almost ready, so we all sat down to fill up on turkey with all the trimmings.

Boxing Day was then a pretty chill affair, with the main event being our traditional lunch of cream of cauliflower soup which my mum makes with the recipe of an old family friend – it’s always a delicious part of our Christmas routine.

The day after I was keen to exercise my newfound freedoms, requesting that we make a trip to “Big Tesco”, the huge supermarket in our town. After so many years away, I am always fascinated to see what is sold back in the UK, and how many strange new products have been launched since I left – I’m not sure why we need so many flavours of everything, but someone must be buying them!

As one of my dad’s presents from me and my sister, I’d brought over some meats, cheeses, and other extras to put together a Spanish food hamper, and so I put together some nibbles for him that afternoon. I was quite proud of my meat platter of jamón and lomo, I never get them to look this good back in Spain!

We then went for another walk after lunch, heading up to the reservoir I’m most familiar with, Hurstwood, before stopping back off at the pub on the way back. I took the opportunity to have a nice cool Guinness, drinking it was too quickly in hindsight: I was quite giddy on the way home.

With another negative test result the following day, I headed off for a much needed catch up with Amber and Jess. Our little reunion took place at Amber’s new flat, where she put on a beautiful spread of cheeses and other nibbles. We chatted for hours over a glass of wine each before I had to head home in order to be whisked off to my next destination: my grandparents’ house, where I saw them again for the first time in twelve months. How time flies!

The next day I headed to the Trafford Centre with my mum and sister, where I met up with Danni to have lunch together and a snoop around at the sales. Abi couldn’t make it as she’d contracted the virus, but the two of us had a lovely lunch together finished off with some delicious cinnamon and sugar pretzel bites.

I then had to wake up relatively earlier the next day, as it was suddenly my last day on British soil. After saying goodbye to my family, Danni came to pick me up, as we’d one last thing to do before I jetted off back to Spain.

The two of us then headed so Salford and Media City, where we’d booked tickets to see Van Gough Alive, an interactive exhibition showcasing his life and works. We had fun at the exhibition and even had time to nip by the Cadbury’s outlet shop afterwards, but all too soon we’d to head back to the car and up to Manchester Airport.

As you can imagine, it was lovely to be back in England and to celebrate Christmas with my family once again, especially as the last time I was over wasn’t such a jovial time. As you’ll notice, I haven’t mentioned anything about my New Year’s celebrations, and that’s because I did something a little different to see in 2022 – but that’s for the next blog post!

01.01.22 — Journal

December in Madrid

After a lovely long weekend in Porto, it was back to Madrid for me to spend the last few days before Christmas. Much of my time there was taken up doing my last few bits of Christmas shopping, but I also made time to decorate my flat, including adjusting all the LED lights to a new, festive color scheme…

In between getting my second dose of the vaccine and organizing myself ready for my trip back to the UK for Christmas, I spent plenty of evenings with friends, from pizza evenings with Napo to a hilarious evening of ice skating and traditional Chinese food with Luis and Yaewon.

As you can see, the meal consisted of a central heated bowl with three types of broth, in which we dipped a series of different ingredients for varying times so that they were perfectly, freshly cooked. We also had the option of creating a series of sauces and other adornments – it was all delicious and great fun!

The low winter sun makes for the occasional aesthetically pleasing scene despite the cold.

Work has also been quite busy, with plenty of projects to wrap up before the new year and some events to attend to. I can’t go into too much detail, but one was a presentation of a new brand at an international event for one of our clients, and the other included a trip to the headquarters of another to tour their offices and chat about new projects in the pipeline.

The Friday before I flew back to the UK took me to my third and final event, as I’d been asked to give a presentation at Referentum Talks, a celebration which brought together design students and Madrid’s most important design studios. There I gave a talk about how I went from design student to design director, talked through how we work at Erretres, and explained the process of our branding for Seedtag.

Here I am, probably making a joke about how I was going to do the talk in English.

It was lovely to be back representing Erretres on the design scene after the last talk I gave just before the pandemic, and it was a fitting end to a busy month of work before I flew back to England for a big family reunion – but more on that in the next post!

18.12.21 — Journal

The New Erretres

I’m not usually one for mixing work and play, nor I haven’t ever really spoken about any new projects at work, but I’m going to make an exception today as I’m pretty proud of what we’ve accomplished as a team. Just a couple of weeks ago, we launched our brand new website as the maximum expression of our new brand and the transformation that we’ve been undergoing for a few years now.

We’re also up for an Awwward, a prestigious web design award, so feel free to head over there and vote for us! I won’t witter on any more, for I’ll be back with more news and stories very soon.

10.12.21 — Travel

Porto

With a busy few weeks in Madrid over and done with, it was time for a spontaneous weekend away. A couple of holiday days here in Spain allowed me to nip over to Porto in Portugal, a city I’ve been wanting to visit for a good while since I visited Lisbon a couple of times back in 2017.

The trip began with a mad dash to the airport after work with my colleague, Julia, whose family live in Portugal, and so she was also going to spend the weekend in the city. After a very short flight the two of us landed in Porto together, before heading our separate ways as she headed out to the suburbs as I headed into the centre of the old city and to the flat I’d booked for my four-night adventure.

My first task was to run myself a bath, as I’d splashed out a bit on a nice apartment with a fully-equipped bathroom for just that purpose. Popping on some relaxing music and dimming the lights, I lobbed the bath bomb that I’d brought with me into the tub and settled down amongst the bubbles for a relaxing evening in.

The next day I woke to my first view over Porto and my first taste of its weather, with a low fog hanging over the terracotta roofs of the nearby buildings. I still couldn’t head out to explore, however, as it was a Friday and I’d still a full day to work. For this, I set up my laptop, had some leftover food for breakfast, and then began my most extravagant day of remote working ever.

It was somewhat difficult to concentrate on the tasks in hand with such lovely views by my side.

Once work was over, Julia came over, and the two of us headed out to spend our first evening in Porto together. She’d been taking about an Asian fusion restaurant, Boa Bao, which was a real treat – we enjoyed a few different types of bao, a curry, and some delicious sticky noodles. This was all washed down with some delicious cocktails and then one final G&T in another local bar, all before we headed out to grab some pastéis de nata (little sweet custom tarts) at a place that Julia insisted had the best ones in the city – it was a lovely evening!

If you ate some nice food without uploading a story about it, did you really eat it?

I was in no rush to move the next morning, mainly because the mix of drinks had left me with a bit of a dodgy head – I forgot to mention that I also had a shot of ginjinha (a cherry liquor) with my dessert, which may not have been the best idea. Hindsight is a beautiful thing!

The one thing that did eventually motivate me to get out of bed was the beautiful clear skies and the beguiling sun I could see shining from the lovely views of my bedroom – that plus the knowledge that I’d a couple more pastéis de nata waiting for me for breakfast…

Freshly energised, I headed out for my first day of exploration of Porto by day, which wouldn’t take me far from home seeing as I’d grabbed a place smack bang in the centre of the historical centre of the city. I’d decided on where I was going to head to for lunch (thanks to one of Julia’s many recommendations), and so decided to wander around any pretty streets that I found along the way – something I learned to do in Lisbon four years ago.

This was the first time I’d seen the street I was staying on in daylight.

As you can see, the city streets were as charmingly beautiful as I had been told they would be, with a certain quaintness coming from their age and the dilapidated state of man of the buildings along the way. I’m sure I looked rather like a lost tourist as I wandered around aimlessly looking upwards, and that wouldn’t have been too far from the truth – I was in no rush.

A big old city on the side of a hill makes for some interesting architectural solutions.

My walk took me past the São Bento train station, a place I had marked on my map thanks to its striking displays of painted tiles (azulejos), so I headed in to take them in before containing on my way. I eventually found my lunch spot and sat down for a delicious sandwich with was full of succulent pork and local type of gooey cheese. I washed this down with a beer before heading back off on my way.

My afternoon then took me past the Livraria Lello, a gorgeous book shop which inspired the design of certain locations in Harry Potter. I had intended to head in for a visit, but there were huge queues outside, and so I decided to head on and check out a few more sights that Julia had mentioned.

The first place was another spot to see more azulejos (the blue tiles that Portugal is famed for), this time on the side of an old church in the north of the city. There I red into (almost literally) one of the infamous trams of Portugal’s hillside cities before sitting down again for another bite to eat at another local spot that I stumbled across.

I continued on my way after the second half of my lunch, passing through yet more pretty and sometimes empty buildings and down some gorgeous tiny streets with some impressive views. I nipped back home for a quick rest in the mid afternoon, after which I headed back out again and to one of Porto’s most famous landmarks.

Heading back out, I wandered just a few streets away from the one I was staying on and started my descent onto the Ponte de Dom Luís I, a huge double-decker metal arch bridge which spans the River Duoro and which offers some stunning views over the city. I gingerly began my crossing, worried about losing my phone down the gaps in the metal sheeting or being run over by the metro. Yes, you heard that right: the metro runs over the upper deck of the bridge. Moving out the way to let the trains pass and feeling the shaking as they do so was quite the experience!

The sights that began to come into view were quite something.

I’d inadvertently timed my crossing just right, as the sun was beginning to set over the river which splits Porto from it’s neighbouring city, Gaia. As I crossed over into the latter, I snooped down at the sights such as the boats passing by, the expanses of Port wine cellars along the banks of the river, and the general gorgeous views across the hillsides.

Once over in Gaia, the best views of Porto finally came into view, and I headed up to the best vantage point I could find to take a series of shots. I think it’s another one of those times where I don’t really have to explain all that much, as the photos capture the moment pretty well…

After a good while just taking all of my surroundings in, I began to head back down to the bridge in order to head back over to Porto as the sun finally fully set beyond the horizon. I had originally planned to head straight back to the flat, but curiosity got the better of me, and I found myself heading down to the riverside to take in the evening views and atmosphere.

I’d quickly noticed the orange streetlights, which created some interesting colours through the city.

I then headed back home, relaxing with another quick bath in the flat, and then headed back out into the city streets for my evening meal. I eventually wound up back over in Gaia for a traditional cod-based dish and a glass of wine, which took me back over the huge bridge by night – another pretty unique experience!

The meal down by the river was very enjoyable, and I finished it off with a delicious dessert and a glass of Port wine – I mean, it’d have been a crime not to! I then meandered my way back up the steep streets back to base, bedding down to make the most of the Sunday afterwards.

Check out the barrels of port wine on the barges along the riverside.

My Sunday began much the same as the day before – with a morning lazying around in the flat. What eventually got me out the door was a message from Julia, who said we should meet up to eat the city’s most famous dish, the francesinha, for lunch. She insisted that she knew the best place to try out this huge sandwich consisting of bread, ham, linguiça (smoked sausage), chipolata, roast beef, cheese, and a fried egg, all covered in a spicy sauce made with beer – quite the list!

In between these two photos about half an hour passed, and we moved from sun to rain.

As you can imagine, this meal was quite the experience, and I really enjoyed the huge explosion of a sandwich! Whilst we were having lunch it had begun to rain, but the clouds thankfully lifted after we left the restaurant, and so Julia took me to a lovely rooftop bar for a coffee with a view.

After another drink or two in a bar that Julia used to haunt a few years ago, we met up with her brother and another friend to finish off the evening with some beers in a specialist brewpub. There we entered in a whirlwind of languages, with English, Spanish, and Portuguese being thrown around seemingly at random. At least it was a good way to tire me out so I’d get a good last night of sleep!

The next morning was my last day, and so I packed my bag, left the flat, and had a coffee and some breakfast before hopping in a taxi back to the airport. I’d been in Porto for just three and a half days, but I’d had a great rest and not rushed around too much, which was quite nice, as I’m famed for trying to pack in as much as possible whenever I go travelling.

Porto was a lovely city to spend a long weekend in, and I’ve to thank Julia for her recommendations and for spending time to show me around. Although I didn’t do everything on my list, I know now how easy it is to get to from Madrid, and so I’ll surely be back in a warmer season to enjoy the rest of the city that I didn’t manage to see.

Until then, I’ll sign off here with another photo and a quick video that I took from the vantage point in Gaia, looking over Porto and it’s iconic bridge. I took so many photos from up there that I really struggled choosing which to include, so I’ve decided sneak these in as a little extra at the end such as not to overwhelm the post with photos above…

06.12.21 — Journal

Sing-Song & Sushi Times

After Danni’s visit just a few weeks ago, the month of November has very quickly come and gone, and with it a good few weekends of mischief. Just a day before Danni arrived, my new Dr. Martens boots arrived, and so I made the most of the trip to the airport to start wearing them in – especially apt as they matched my bag! I also spent a few evenings walking around the area and chilling out with friends at home.

One Friday, and after a rather busy day holding another photo shoot in the office, I met up with Sara for an evening meal out. She’d suggested a Japanese restaurant that I’d seen a few times before, and it turned out to be an all-you-can-eat of small dishes delivered by a conveyor belt system. We had a wonderful evening, filling up on sushi and other delights before downing a couple of G&Ts around the city.

I also spent some time conducting a deep clean of my flat that weekend, which involved bringing together all of my plants for their regular pampering (i.e. removal of dead leaves and a good watering). I also tried my hand at a bit of cooking, throwing together my best attempt at a fry-up (a British breakfast) before making some noodles in the evening.

With the next working week coming around, I had another exciting plan in place. That Wednesday, I cycled down through the city centre and to Antón Martín, and to the new offices of a couple of ex-colleagues. There, I was joined by Luis, and the four of us had a wonderful catch up over a bottle of wine. From there, we headed to a friend’s house to carry on the festivities, before winding up in another local bar for some tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette) and a final glass of wine.

To end that week, me and some colleagues then met up at Citynizer Plaza, where we had some drinks to celebrate the conclusion of another working week. That weekend’s frivolities then continues with a visit from Sara at home, which replaced our original plan of going out for a karaoke night as I was still feeling a bit tired from our night out at Citynizer the night before!

The next week, I spent some more time wearing in my new boots, including cycling through the newly opened Plaza de España (where our office was when I first started working at Erretres) and some more wandering around my local neighbourhood – including the exploration of a dodgy backstreet that I’d never seen before…

Autumn in Madrid is very pretty also frighteningly cold, although it might not look it.

In a break from my wandering, one evening I headed down to Luis’ flat, where we were joined by his friend Carmen for an evening of wine, ramen, and gossip. After a lovely evening with the two of them, my streak of evenings out continued the day after, as Sara and I had rescheduled our karaoke evening. We first headed out to Tapapiés, a tapas trail around the Lavapiés district, before having a few G&Ts and heading to my favourite karaoke joint.

After an evening of energising the crowds with our 2am rendition of the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe”, the two of us spent the Sunday recovering before heading straight back into another working week. My week, however, was to be slightly different, as the Thursday evening I was to leave Madrid to spend a long weekend elsewhere – but that story is for the next blog post!

21.11.21 — Journal

Danni Swings By

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13.11.21 — Journal

Luz Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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