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!

18.02.21 — Journal

Bike Trips & Pancake Parties

As you may know I’m now back in Madrid and back to the daily grind, as we start the year off strong with plenty of projects to work on over at Erretres. Since landing back from England nearly three weeks ago, I’ve not had chance to stop, but I’ve been filling my free time with as much gallivanting as possible!

I kicked off my first weekend with a wander around the city centre, taking in the sights that greeted me on my first visit to Madrid all those years ago. After pottering round Sol in the centre, I headed up to a Mexican bar in the northern neighborhood of Malasaña, where I enjoyed a couple of margaritas and some delicious (albeit rather spicy) grub with some friends.

I forgot to take photos of the three of us or the food, but I did like this light fitting.

I ended the week with a chilled movie night in bed, after having wheeled my TV into the bedroom like a secondary school teacher who’s already fed up of teaching a week before Christmas and who’s decided to put on a film. All jokes aside, putting some 6€ wheels onto the bottom of my TV stand was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had!

During the week, I spent one evening trying my hand at making bread for the first time. It wasn’t a fully fledged sourdough loaf or anything of that caliber, but after having missed the trend of people baking in lockdown, I finally found a Greek bread recipe that I fancied attempting. The feta-and-spinach-filled bread pockets came out quite well, but I made way too many, and didn’t consider the fact that they’d fall apart if left uncooked in the fridge… Yikes.

Soggy dough disaster aside, the next weekend soon came around, and with it a day out that I was very much looking forward to: a day out at IKEA with Luis. As he’s moved to a lovely new flat a mere ten minutes saunter down the road from me, the two of us hopped in his car and went on the hunt for some intelligent lightbulbs. It seems like my penchant for filling my flat with way too many coloured lights is catching!

Who wouldn’t want their home to look like something out of a Disney dark ride?

Another working week then rolled around, and with it the near conclusion of an exciting packaging project that we’ll be revealing to the world soon – it’s been a challenge but the end result will be worth it! In a blink, however, the next weekend arrived, and with it a lot of cycling around the city.

The first trip was an impromptu journey with Jhosef to his office as he needed to pick up some headphones he’d left, and after which we took the opportunity to pass through the centre and buy a few bits – I treated myself to a Chromecast for my TV and a fluffy new throw for my sofa. I know I’m an adult now that I have a selection of more than one blankets for times when I’m mooching around on my settee!

The next day I headed out for a solo trip, where I covered quite the distance! I turned the electrical assist down and first headed off up to the city centre, stopping for a while outside the Royal Palace for a drink and to soak up the sunny atmosphere. I then headed right up to the northern edge of the city centre, after which I carried on further still, finding my way down onto a green cycle path I found a few months back.

Here I took it easy, keeping an eye on the remaining battery in the bike as I knew I’d quite the climb back up to the city centre later on. I made a few stops along this path, exploring little wooden bridges that led to hidden allotments and small islands in the middle of the rather fast-flowing river.

I then came to the end of the cycle path, which spat me out onto a bridge which crosses one of the principal motorways bringing traffic in and out of the north of the city. Caught off guard by such a sudden transition, I stopped for a moment to take photos over the city and the mountains beyond. It was then that someone called my name, and I found myself taking to Pablo, a photographer I’ve worked with on several projects in the past. What are the chances on a Sunday afternoon on a bridge over a motorway!

After this lovely little surprise, I headed back to the centre and made my way very slowly up the steep incline and back to the city centre to buy some stamps and drop off a package destined for Murcia in the south. With this little errand complete, I then cycled leisurely back through the centre and home, where I arrived in time to pick up some bread for 30% off and make myself a sandwich with some Spanish omelette that I’d made the day before. This bocadillo de tortilla is a Madrid classic and is absolutely delicious!

And with that we arrive at this week, which has been a short three-day working week for me, as I’d a couple of holiday days to use up from last year. This doesn’t mean that I’ve not already been busy, however, as Tuesday night meant an evening of pancakes for tea for us Brits! I invited Jhosef over to experience his first Pancake Day, and we spent the evening washing down our delicious meal with a glass of pacharán, a very traditional Spanish drink made from sloe berries.

A very decent flipping technique for a first-timer!

With that we arrive at today, the first day of my exciting four-day weekend, where I’ve arranged to have lunch with Napo and then go out searching for a new frying pan – it seems like the pancakes were the last straw for the remains of the non-stick coating of my current one! I’ll be using these days to also work on my new website design and other exciting things, more details of which will be coming in due course!

31.01.21 — Journal

Nipping to England

As you’ll know if you read my last blog post, where I let slip my current location towards the end, I’ve just been on a rather quick trip to England. The premise of this trip wasn’t really a happy one, as it was mainly in order to be at my Grandma’s funeral, but I was glad to be able to attend and the extra few days spent with my family were a bonus!

My trip began with a 5am start and some concern whether the flight would be going ahead, as Madrid was still plagued with piles of snow and plenty of sheet ice leftover from Storm Filomena. It was like last time I headed back, that time for Christmas, when there was some doubt over whether the new strain of the coronavirus was going to interrupt flights to and from the UK. The taxi showed up, however, and I found myself stumbling around tiredly in the cold outside Terminal 4 after checking that my flight would indeed be going ahead.

I was cold, tired, nervous, and quite lost as I looked for an open entrance.

After making a friend in the form of a bird that’d snuck into the airport and joined me at my gate, I boarded my first flight. I say first because this journey represented the first time that I’ve ever had to make a flight transfer, which would take the form of a five-hour layover in London Heathrow. This made my entire travel time some eight hours, which is quite the jump from the usual 2-and-a-bit hour direct flight from Madrid to Manchester.

I filled this time in Heathrow by searching for all of the shops that could offer me that greatest of British inventions, the meal deal. It turned out that I was stuck with only two options, WHSmith and Boots, and so killed some time choosing which sandwich-crisp-drink combo would be best. Lunch in hand, I then found a quiet corner of the departure lounge to sit out the wait, before heading on to the half-hour trip up to Manchester.

My trip started with the funeral celebrating the life of my Grandma, which was as sad as you can imagine but which I thought was a lovely, intimate, and fitting sendoff for a great woman.

We kept the service bright and colourful, just as she’d have wanted.

The following weekend we were treated to a decent snowfall, and so the day after, my parents and I ventured out to stroll over the countryside. I took plenty of photos during this two-hour walk, during which we ran into a flock of very inquisitive sheep, who seemed convinced that we’d come to give them something to eat.

I felt quite bad that I didn’t have anything to give my bunch of new friends.

As you can see, I took almost all my photos from the trip during this little snowy wander. This wasn’t just because it was the prettiest moment of the little visit to England, but because I spent the next week connected to work for a lot of busy and rather long days. It was an absolute luxury, however, to then have my mum’s fresh home-made meals for tea every night once I’d finished!

After signing off from work on the Friday, I had to pack my bags as quickly as possible for my early start on the Saturday. The journey back was once again split into two flights, but with just an hour to make the transfer in London. This turned into a mere half hour with a delay taking off from Manchester, and I wound up having to run full-tilt through Heathrow Terminal 5 in order to make it to my gate – as I was disembarking the first flight, the screens were already showing that my second was closing!

I arrived just yesterday back in Madrid, after some very stringent immigration and COVID-19-related checks at the border. Although this little trip home had a rather sad purpose initially, I did appreciate the time spent with my family, and I’m counting my lucky stars that I was able to get over during all the travel chaos that the new waves of the virus are causing. It’s looking like I won’t be able to head back over for quite a while now! Until then…

23.01.21 — Journal

Storm Filomena

We’re now three weeks into 2021, and the year has already begun with all guns blazing, from drama in the US, a polar storm hitting Madrid for the first time since the 60s, and the sad passing of my Grandma. I’ve been back here in Spain for about three weeks now, and quite a lot has happened in such a short time!

At work, the year’s begun on a rather busy note, with plenty of projects and new challenges to get our teeth stuck into. Erretres have given us plenty of flexibility to come into the office or work from home as and when, which has been absolutely great, but I’ve actually gone with the former option of commuting to and from the office every day. As I mentioned back when lockdown first begun, the mental separation of my workspace and a relaxing space is very important to me, and it’s allowed my flat to become a cozy space for kicking back once again…

Evenings of relaxation must be lit by a bubblegum colour palette.

The big news over the past couple of weeks, however, has to have been the blizzard that passed through Madrid, and which has been causing absolute and unfettered bedlam ever since. I was shocked to learn that said storm had been named Borrasca Filomena, “Storm Philomena” – the name of my grandma who passed away over New Year. I knew she wouldn’t go out without causing a bit of chaos!

And, well, chaos she did cause. I began the weekend completely clueless as to the fact that Madrid was bracing for such a cold front, and so casually headed down to IKEA in the south of the city to hunt for a new table after I sat on my old one and broke it. It was snowing when I left the house, but I just assumed that Madrid would receive a meager few flakes which would linger around for all of five minutes…

Well, I arrived at the Metro stop in the south to find that this snowfall did, in fact, seem to be sticking around, and had to half-battle my way through an increasingly forceful bluster which was ensuring that every surface was dusted with a decent sprinkling of snow. I then arrived in the shopping centre to find a distinct lack of people and most of the shops either closed or frantically shuttering their entrances, which seemed odd for 7pm on a Friday evening.

Some shoppers panicked, some cooly ordered a cone of freshly fried churros.

I continued through the shopping centre and on to the IKEA at the other end, where things also seemed strangely quiet. At first, it was quite the enjoyable experience: with hardly anyone around, I could try out all the sofas and tables that I liked without having to look over my shoulder every two minutes to check I was properly socially distancing – just like the good old days!

Then, around the kitchen section, things started to feel off. I was wandering round a pretty empty showroom – even the staff seemed to have disappeared. Soon came the inevitable announcement: they were closing the shop early due to the inclement weather. Having been reminded of such announcements in the theme parks in Florida, I headed towards the exit, abandoning the table and picking up some easier-to-transport plants instead.

It was then, when I stepped outside, that the gravity of what was going on suddenly hit home. I’d been isolated inside IKEA’s steel box for a mere hour or so, but the conditions outside had worsened dramatically. A good couple of inches of snow now covered everything, and there was no sign that the blizzard-like conditions were going to let up. The car park was all but empty, with the few cars that did remain slipping and sliding their ways to the exits. I made off to the Metro station with haste, hoping that it’s subterranean nature would mean that it wasn’t affected by the weather, but even getting there was a struggle as I battled against strong winds and horizontal snowfall which seemed intent on hitting me square in the face.

I battled against strong winds and horizontal snowfall which seemed intent on hitting me square in the face.

Thankfully I managed to get back to my local Metro station, Delicias, but I was met with quite the shock as I resurfaced. Up until arriving back in the centre, I had been wondering if the area around IKEA was just being disproportionally affected by the snow due to its southern location and more rural setting. This theory was disproven, as I say, when I was met by a street which mirrored the scenes of the IKEA car park. I cautiously made my way to my flat, stopping only to grab a chicken wrap from a local Lebanese bar. Once inside, I buttoned down the hatches, turned the heating up, and headed off to bed wondering what the next day would bring.

As my flat isn’t exterior-facing, I awoke with very few clues as to what the situation looked like out on the streets. The only clue I had was the drifts of snow which had built up over my neighbors’ windowsills overnight. After some mooching around (it was a Saturday morning after all), I decided to head out and see what the deal was with this much-talked-about snowfall.

As you can see, the scenes I was greeted with were positively apocalyptic. Huge branches had snapped off with the weight of the snow and were now lying on cars and across roads, whilst snow drifts had half buried pretty much everything else. Some families had headed out to build snowmen or hold a snowball fight, but most of the people out on the streets were like me: wandering around in circles taking in these rare scenes.

The cold soon got a bit too much for me, however, and the last straw came when I accidentally put my foot through half a meter of snow that had built up over the hole in the pavement where they plant the trees. This left my boot soggy and me in a bad mood, so I headed home to dry off before heading back out to the supermarket. This turned out to be another pointless loop around the neighborhood, as the Mercadona had closed early due to the weather, so I headed back home and made do with some tinned soup.

Being cold and wet is nothing that some nice lighting and candles can’t fix.

Once the winter weekend was over, I thought that the heavy snowfall would soon melt and that the chaos would fade from memory, but I was rather mistaken. Monday’s trip to the office was an exercise in trying to not fall flat on my face whilst navigating a downhill-sloping ice rink, and the conditions only seemed to worsen as the week went on, with bags of rubbish and ice piling up in the streets and perilous chunks of snow and ice crashing to the ground from the rooftops.

Then, and with another working week wrapped up, it was time to kick back for a chill weekend. I kicked things off on Friday, where I headed out for a lovely Catalan tapas-style meal with my colleague Jesús. The next day, I headed down to ex-colleague Luis’ new flat, where he was moving his plants in ahead of his big move to my neighborhood the week after.

After a glass of wine and some cured meats in a lovely local wine bar, I left Luis to visit Napo at Five Guys, where we’d arranged to have a burger and catch up after the last time we saw each other just before I headed off to England for Christmas. The Sunday evening then saw me head out for more food, this time with Sara. We spent an evening atop El Corte Inglés in Callao, snacking on various pinchos, before heading into the centre for a few drinks on a terrace in one of the city’s many plazas.

This lovely weekend then led me into a week which has been quite the adventure, but which I’ll have to now leave until the next blog post. All I’ve to say is that I’m back in England whilst I write this blog post to give you a good idea of how disrupted it’s been! Until then…

12.01.21 — Journal

A Sombre New Year

My previous blog post, as I mentioned at its conclusion, was the first of a two-part installation on my trip back home for Christmas and New Year. We left things off during an action-packed Christmas Day, but after this date, our activities were decidedly more sedate for the second week of my time back in the UK due to some news we received on Boxing Day.

On the 26th, we were contacted with the news that my grandma had contracted COVID-19. My parents went to visit her, but me and my sister were unable to due to the poor state of the coronavirus situation in the UK. The next few days were then understandably muted as my parents continued to visit her, with only the occasional walk around our local area as a family to keep our minds occupied.

Although the mood was understandably sombre, I have to say that I’ve never seen such beautiful scenes around the village I grew up in, Worsthorne. We were treated to a few days of snow and some absolutely glorious winter sunsets, which combined to create some stunning views as we meandered through the countryside.

As these days running up to the New Year were otherwise spent together as a family, and because I’ve so many photos of these outdoor moments to share, I’ll share the majority of these photos in an uninterrupted stream before talking about the New Year towards the end of the post.

As you can see, we really were treated to some breathtaking sights in these last few days running up to the New Year! Any plans we may have had for the evening had to be put aside, however, when we were told that my Grandma’s condition had worsened. With my parents once again visiting my Grandma, I welcomed in the New Year by watching the fireworks on the BBC before heading off to bed.

The next day, the first of the New Year, I awoke to the news that my grandma had sadly passed away.

Rather than speak of the next few days I spent in England, I’d like to take a moment to say a few words about my Grandma Mena. Many of you will have never had the luck of meeting her, and those who did will have many a great memory and funny story, so I’ll try to keep it brief here.

Grandma Mena was probably one of the most influential people in my life. From a love of lightbulbs to a hatred of bananas, she had a huge role in shaping me into the person I am today – I feel like I spent so much of my time as a child with her that it was impossible for her not to!

Whilst I was just a baby, she’d often turn the lights in a room on and off, chanting “light, light!” as she did so. The first word I ever uttered was then some simple version of “light” rather than the usual “mama” or “papa”, something I’m sure my parents weren’t best pleased about! From these silly beginnings, I developed an appreciation of and love for all things related to lights – something I still hold to this day. It’s the reason I use a lightbulb as my logo – a logo which now has minimal presence on my website, but which I will be using to sign off this blog post.

I should also probably explain the banana anecdote. If not by my grandma’s seeming desire to blow every lightbulb in our house, my mum was certainly driven up the wall by my grandma’s insistence on feeding me bananas every five minutes. My mum would leave me with Grandma Mena for five minutes, and she’d return to find me with mushy banana slopped all down my bib. When my mum would challenge her about this and ask if she’d fed me yet another banana, she’d respond with an incredulous “no!”

These are two little anecdotes which I think perfectly illustrate the two things I’d like to tell the world about my grandma: her big influence on me in all the best ways, and her warm, caring, and often cheeky personality.

Everybody knew her as a strong-willed Irishwoman who’d just as soon give you a bite of whatever she was eating as she’d stop for a chat with every other person in the street. She certainly faced hardships in her life, from immigrating as a young girl to losing her husband young, and then later the failing of her eyesight and eventually her memory.

Despite all this, however, her mischievous sense of humor and love for everyone around persevered until the very end, and will be forever present in fond memories and hilarious catchphrases that she gifted us over the years! I’m not a religious person, and so I believe that my grandma is now gone from this world, but I take great comfort in the knowledge that her legacy will be passed down through the generations. As I said at the beginning – and whether it’s a love of lights or a distaste for bananas – her impact will live on through me, and I’m sure through many others.

I conclude this brief celebration of her life in the way she signed off everything she ever wrote to me:

God bless.

05.01.21 — Journal

A Covid-Proof Christmas

In my last blog post before setting off for my Christmas holidays in England, I said that I’d be headed off to a Tier 3 lockdown back in my hometown. Well, how wrong was I!

As I prepared to leave for my Christmas holidays, I could never have imagined the chaos that was about to kick off, with the grim news of the new strain of the virus being discovered in London and the subsequent introduction of a stricter new Tier 4. The day I flew, I tried to read as little of the news as possible, as the list of countries who were banning travel from the UK seemed to be growing by the minute as I approached the airport. I knew I’d get over to England, but the question was whether I was going to be able to return to Spain…

I must leave you all with that little cliffhanger for now, for I’ve gotten ahead of myself: we must first talk about the last-minute festivities which I enjoyed in Madrid just before I left!

My final week at work rolled around, and with it a surprise Christmas hamper full of delicious treats which Erretres gifted us all. This happy little surprise kicked off a few days spent dining and drinking with friends, starting with some beers with Bogar and Hugo at a little local spot in Malasaña.

The evening continued with a pizza reunion with ex-colleague Helena, which suffered a last-minute change when the pizzeria we’d selected was at its coronavirus capacity. This took us for some beers at an old bar, where a crazy stroke of luck meant I bumped into Sofía, another ex-colleague who was visiting from the north of Spain for just a few days!

Nothing like a good beer after my last day of work.

The next day rolled around and there was no letting up, as I’d planned to have a buffet-style evening meal with Sara and Jhosef. I threw together a classic British-party-style platter of different sandwiches as well as some crisps, sweets, and balls of chocolate turrón. With a couple of vermouths in hand, the three of us then chatted the evening away, stopping later on for a bite of roscón (a traditional yuletide food in Spain) and some hot chocolate.

A rather early alarm jolted me from my slumber on the Sunday after, as I’d to be ready to receive a FaceTime call from my sister in order to virtually attend my mum’s retirement surprise! Once I’d finished watching her come out to discover an array of balloons and gifts, I had to shift myself from my bed stat, for I’d a lot to squeeze in to that so-called day of rest…

After a morning spent washing clothes, drying sheets, packing my bags, and cleaning my entire flat from top to bottom, I’d certainly deserved a nice lunch out. That’s just what I then proceeded to do, meeting Napo at NAP Pizza in Lavapiés, where a wait to be seated turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Once seated, the two of us tucked into some of Madrid’s best and most authentic Italian pizza, catching up on the past few weeks of each other’s dramas a mere few hours before I was due to fly. I had my favorite white pizza (a pizza with no tomato base), the house special, and then headed out nervously back home to finish the last bits of packing and leave for the airport.

A pizza with Napo was a great way to end the last weekend of 2020.

As I mentioned earlier, there was never going to be any issue in getting to England, it was the trip back that I was concerned about. This meant that the flight home was as normal as it could be given the current state of affairs, and after taking some flights this summer, I was pretty unfazed by the new normality in the airport and on the plane.

I landed back in the UK just after midnight, where I was met by the entire Briggs household: my mum, dad, and sister. Needless to say we didn’t stay up long, heading off to bed for a decent night’s kip before the festive preparations began!

My first bit of Christmas cheer came in the form of a very socially-distanced gift swap with Abi and Danni, which took place in the windy heights of Hurstwood. This marked the first of a series of walks that took me “over the tops” as we say, and I took an interesting photo of one of the reservoirs on that cloudy afternoon…

Our next family outing took place on Christmas Eve, where we once again stomped our way up a tiny dirt-track road over the moors. Although I moaned a lot about not being accustomed to so much walking, my little village and the sweeping expanses of fields through which we passed did look quite resplendent in the low winter sun.

Worsthorne Church is always a friendly sight when I arrive home.

We were ready for a big mug of tea and some cake after our walk, and thankfully we were able to indulge in just that, as my mum had ordered a set of festive cupcakes from the wonderful Bella’s Bakes. The sweet treats were absolutely delicious, and we certainly needed the energy, for next up in our Christmas plans we had a socially-distanced carol concert to attend in the village square!

Naturally we arrived late to said carol concert, so by the time we got there it was time for Saint Nick to pass through on his sleigh (which looked suspiciously like a trailer, but he does work in mysterious ways!). We managed to sing along to one of the last little songs, but the main joy of the evening was just being able to see people coming together – albeit maintaining social distancing – to celebrate Christmas.

Upon arriving home we were then in for yet another Christmas Eve treat, in the form of my mum’s new Briggs family tradition of opening a few small presents on Christmas Eve. This year she’d outdone herself, with lovely paper bags full of all sorts of goodies set atop the red paper tabletop – a necessity when taking into account the other Briggs family tradition on Christmas Eve: a curry for tea!

My table decorations and mum’s bags made for a very festive scene.

After opening our gifts and wolfing down a delicious curry, it was time to head off to bed and hope that Santa would bring us some goodies the day after! This he did indeed, and we spent a good hour or so unwrapping and consuming some of the edible presents that we’d all received for our traditional breakfast of selection box chocolates on Christmas Day.

For lunch there was another staple of a Briggs Christmas: a delicious cream of cauliflower soup. This staple of our festive menu is usually prepared by a friend of the family, but this year she was under the weather, and so my mum had to step in and whip up the recipe herself. It was a great success, but left us all rather bloated, and so we headed off for something which I’d have previously objected to most strongly: a Christmas Day walk.

This turned out to be not so much a walk as a photo shoot, as the sunset that evening over the reservoir turned out to be a corker. I spent a good thirty minutes at the water’s edge taking photos of the colours that formed in the afternoon sky, which was enough time for my mum and sister to walk the entire perimeter of the reservoir.

I’m used to beautiful colours in the sky, but never in such an open and photogenic spot.

Once back indoors, it was time for our delicious Christmas Dinner in the evening, consisting of turkey and all the trimmings. This was all topped off with one of the best looking (and tasting) trifles that my mum’s ever put together: we even managed to throw enough sherry in it such that it could actually be tasted!

All of this brings us to the end of Christmas Day and the end of part one of my reporting from my two weeks in the UK. There’s plenty more photos to share from the snowy scenes which came after the 25th, but those will have to wait for next time…