15.12.23 — Journal

Late Autumn Theatre

Now back in Spain after my visit to London, I’d just two weeks to kill before I’d wind up on another flight back to the UK once again. There was plenty to be done though, from an impromptu photo shoot of the book we created for IE University to many nice meals with friends, both prepared by yours truly at home and out and about around Madrid.

One of my evenings saw me head to the theatre to watch La Madre de Frankenstein, a piece that I was originally going to watch with Nacho when he visited but which we had to put off due to time constraints. The show was held in a gorgeous venue called the Teatro María Guerrero, a theatre I’d never visited before but which turned out to be beautiful both inside and out.

I do enjoy a lovely old theatre.

The piece, whose title translates to ‘Frankenstein’s Mother’, was stunning. I thought that four hours was going to be a long time, but the sheer talent of the actors and the story kept me on the edge of my seat. It was a beautifully sad tale of a psychiatric hospital on the outskirts of Madrid during Spain’s dictatorship, one of the hospital’s patients, and a doctor intrigued by her case. The piece drew parallels between the altered patient’s paranoia and the mass paranoia Spain suffered under Franco, something that really hit home. It was exquisite.

I then spent the weekend between cooking at home and visiting restaurants with friends. On a walk with Pedro we came across a hill which reminded me of the infamous Windows XP wallpaper, and then that afternoon I put my glad rags on and joined some current and ex colleagues for a lunch to celebrate Teresa’s birthday. It was a lovely day!

The next weekend I was back out around Madrid once again. Sara, Rocío, and I met up on Saturday evening for a meal out followed by some groovy cocktails in a bar in Malasaña, an evening which was a lot of fun. I then spent Sunday having a Venezuelan lunch of cachapas and then a good wander around the city in the sun, making the most of a sunny afternoon before the tourists descended on Madrid for the Christmas shopping rush!

In the evening I went to see ‘Past Lives’ at the cinema. I enjoyed this film almost as much as I’d enjoyed the theatre performance, with some of the topics it touched on hitting home. It was also just a gorgeous film in general, taking place between Seoul and New York – one I’d definitely recommend.

The next weekend would then see me off on a flight back to the UK: more on that next time!

14.12.23 — Travel

Visiting Rhea in London

After acting as host for Ellie and Johann in Madrid, it was now time for me to be hosted myself as I flew off to stay with Rhea for a few days in London. This trip had been planned for the weeks after my trip to Japan, but my passport fiasco in Tokyo meant I had to delay this trip back to my homeland’s capital for a couple of months.

My flight into Stansted landed in the late afternoon, which meant it was already dark in the UK when I arrived. As my train then trundled along towards the centre of London, I checked the instructions that Rhea had left me to get to her place as I was having to let myself in. She was up in Leeds, celebrating the engagement of our friend Sophie, so I had to rock up at her place accompanied only by a bag of onion rings that I picked up at a Tesco on the way there. I do miss Tesco.

Once unpacked at Rhea’s, I headed off to another supermarket and picked up some bits so that we could have tea (evening meal) when she got in. This we did, and in true Rhea style she whipped up some delicious food before the two of us headed off to bed.

The next day we headed out for breakfast at one of Rhea’s favourite local cafés, where I was not disappointed by the selection of delicious pastries and tasty coffee. From there, we wandered down Portabello Road, perusing the antiques and second hand goods that were sprawled across the stalls along the way.

The smell of fresh bread in the cool Sunday sun was irresistible.

As midday came around I left Rhea in a bookshop and scuttled off to the Underground station, as I’d arranged to meet up with Ellie who was also in London. It was as if I’d not seen enough of her after having her over in Madrid just days before!

I hopped off in Richmond, where I was greeted by my sister who was on a video call with my parents. She showed me around the picturesque London town, including the waterfront where I was unceremoniously pooed on by a passing seagull. Not on my new coat!

After a quick snoop around some shops and other quirky streets of the old Richmond town centre, we were ready for some grub and so wandered into a local Italian restaurant. There we shared some delicious dishes and had a proper catch up: a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

As the afternoon wore on Ellie had to head off and so I made my way back to Ladbroke Grove to meet back up with Rhea. We then made our way to Camden to spend the evening together, where we grabbed some lush Chinese street food before walking to the top of a hill to hopefully catch a view of some Bonfire Night fireworks. Remember, remember, the fifth of November…

This one was taken by a lady who kept calling Rhea – correctly – a very beautiful lady.

Our Bonfire Night adventure turned out to be a bit of a damp squib. I couldn’t for the life of me find any bonfire toffee, there were no sparklers for sale in sight, and we didn’t even see that many fireworks. You know it’s a poor do when the crowd are cheering at the smallest firework off in the distance! I guess that’s the British for you.

The next day I headed off to work at a local coworking spot, after which I headed back to Rhea’s place for a girl’s night in with Izzy, who I haven’t seen in person since she came to visit a couple of years ago. The three of us had a wonderful catch up over some more delicious food by Rhea: it was like being back at university all over again, when the three of us lived together in our final year.

Rhea then joined me at the coworking office the next day, where we managed to bag some tickets to see a musical that very same night. Costing us just £25, we were super buzzed as we headed out for an evening to watch The Book of Mormon in the West End.

The show was absolutely hilarious: we were crying tears of laughter all the way through. It was curious that we should end up watching The Book of Mormon, as just a week or so prior to my trip to London I’d seen that it had just arrived here in Madrid, too. I’m glad I went to see it in English, though, even if I am curious to see how the jokes would translate into Spanish.

I had the next day off work to head back to Madrid, but as I wasn’t flying until the afternoon, Rhea and I once again headed for some croissants and coffee at the local café. As Rhea then had to head off, I bade her farewell and thanked her for being the hostess with the mostest, then heading over to Spitalfields Market to have a nosey around that area.

Spitalfields was nice, but a bit too crowded and commercialised for me.

As I then took the train back up to Stansted Airport, I chatted to Loredana and David who were passing through Madrid for just one day before flying off to South America for an extended holiday. Unfortunately they’d be flying just about the time I landed, so I’d just miss them by a matter of hours. Damn!

When I landed in Madrid, though, I was surprised to find that Loredana was still online and messaging me. It turns out that their flight had been delayed somewhat, so if I could make it from Terminal 1 to Terminal 4 on time I might just be able to say hello for five minutes. I sped off to get the airport bus, spent the journey wishing that the driver would step on it a little bit more, and then jumped off the bus and ran into Terminal 4 to almost run directly into the two of them who had just finished checked in the moment I arrived.

Ecstatic to see each other and amazed by the perfect coincidence, the three of us spent ten minutes chatting away and giving each other hugs in a rather empty Terminal 4. I then bade them farewell and they headed off to Chile whilst I headed off for the train back to my neighbourhood. There, I nipped into my local bar and grabbed a pork and cheese sandwich.

In a battle between Tesco and my local bar, I’m still not sure who would win…

09.12.23 — Journal

Ellie & Johann Return

Just a week after I’d been off to Cuenca on business and a mere fortnight after I landed back in Spain from the US, I was cleaning the house up ready for the arrival of a couple of guests: Ellie and Johann. My sister usually comes once a year but it’s been a whole five years since she last came with Johann!

After picking them up from the airport, our top priority was getting some food. We visited a lovely little Greek restaurant near my house and had some amazing grub, including some divine roast carrots. From there, we pottered down the road and to the Matadero, which was hosting a series of installations from Luz Madrid.

As you can imagine, this annual festival celebrating light is right up my street. I last managed to visit it here in the city two years ago, so I was keen to see what kind of delights they’d have in store. We rocked up and weren’t disappointed; there were all kinds of installations including my favourite in the form of a big star which interacted with the Matadero’s water tower.

We then carried on further down the river, passing through other installations such as a matrix of flashing spotlights under a bridge and then a series of huge work lamps which changed colours. Ellie and Johann also took a ride on some kids slides which were quite the death trap…

You can just about make Ellie out in the darkness here.

It then began to rain in a rather Madrid fashion: both suddenly and very heavily. Taking it as a sign that it was time for bed, we scrambled for cover and hailed a taxi back home for the night.

The next day it was dry once more and so we hopped on the metro and up to the city centre to to indulge in some shopping and tourist activities. These naturally included some churros for breakfast and a pizza at Ellie’s favourite Italian restaurant for lunch.

Once it was dark again we were back out to check out some more of Luz Madrid, but not until we’d sat down at a bar for a drink. This evening we were out around the Plaza de España, where it looked like a huge and colourful spaceship had landed in the middle of this iconic square.

I then wanted to check out another installation inside a church, but the queue was long, we were hungry, and it had just started to rain again. We nipped a couple of streets down to a restaurant next to my old office, a place I used to haunt with my colleagues and which I knew would have us full of patatas bravas in no time.

We then returned to the church and hopped in line to see the show inside. It was worth the few minutes of queuing: the installation was a visual delight, involving moving spotlights, mirrors, and other visual effects in time with the music and within this rather unusual setting.

I always love it when fog is used to visualise rays of light.

The next day we had some tacos for lunch and then regrouped in the evening to go and watch the sun set from a park in Madrid’s south. We ate some snacks, enjoyed the panoramic views over the city, and shivered as the setting sun brought forth the bitter cold of the Madrid winter.

The Cerro del Tío Pío is one of the best places to get some iconic shots of Madrid.

Another day we headed up to the sierra, the mountains which surround the city. I’d wanted to visit a reservoir up there for a while and Ellie and Johann enjoy a walk around the countryside, so we caught the bus up to Navacerrada after a bit of a drama when I realised I didn’t have enough cash to pay for the three of us.

Once up there we were met with some lovely surroundings. We set off with the intention of walking the entire perimeter of the reservoir but wound up deviating from our course and up into a nearby village as we’d all wound up rather hungry and rather tired. This turned out to be a good decision; we found a nice spot on a terrace to have some lunch, a drink, and then grab the bus back to Madrid from the bus stop just across the road.

It had been a long day, but we still had the energy to go and catch another sunset from a place that I’d been wanting to visit for a while. Grabbing a bike each, we cycled down to the Dama del Manzanares, a sculpture atop an artificial hill in one of the parks which borders the river near my house. We made our way up to the peak just in time to catch some last rays of sun.

Once we’d cycled back home and returned our bikes there was just enough time for us to meet up with Luis. The four of us met up at NAP, the pizzeria that we all enjoy, and had an absolute whale of a time. From there we crossed Lavapiés to have a drink in Bodegas Lo Máximo, a local bar famed for its quirky decor and fun clientele. It was, as always, an absolute hoot!

That night sadly marked the last of Ellie and Johann’s visit. The next day we were all up and out relatively early as I took them to the train station and waved them off on their way to the airport. As ever, it was an absolutely lovely visit and I look forward to having them back over soon.

My next little adventure saw the tables turn as it was time for me to head off to the airport and away for a few days to visit a friend. More on that next time…

01.12.23 — Journal

Work Shenanigans

Now back in Spain after my trip around the US, there was no rest for me as I was straight back into work on Monday, the day after I landed. This was all well and good, but then I’d to leave Madrid once again that same Thursday as I’d been invited to an event.

This little trip would take me to Cuenca, a pretty and historical city to the east of Madrid famed for how its old architecture meshes with some striking natural features to create some impressive sights. I’d made a quick day trip to the city with my colleagues a couple of years ago, but this time I’d be staying overnight.

Just when I’d got comfy in my own bed, I was off to sleep elsewhere.

The event in question was put on by AUGAC, the Association of Communication Professionals from Universities and Research Centres within Spain. The event was orientated at sharing knowledge about visual communication and promotion within the education sector, so I was drafted in to go over the rebranding project that we at Erretres worked on for UDIT.

Disaster almost struck as the trip began, as once again I was caught up in the confusing mess that is the redirection of trains from Madrid’s southern train station to its northern one. As with Murcia at the start of this year, I managed to get to the correct station just on time. The train ride was then quick and smooth and I hopped into a taxi with another of the event’s speakers in order for us to head to the lovely hotel that they’d reserved for us.

The hotel was rather grandiose and rather lovely.

Once I’d unpacked I left the hotel again and made my way to a restaurant in the city centre where I’d been invited to lunch. The weather was pretty dire, with rain and wind aplenty, but the walk offered some nice views and the food was absolutely top notch. Cuenca is a great place for foodies!

From the restaurant we headed to the event space and before I knew it I was up on stage talking about the process of tackling a project to brand an affiliated design school for its transition to an independent university. I was joined by some other really inspiring speakers who I had a chance to get to know during the wine tasting session after the event and then over a lovely evening meal at another restaurant in the city. A fabulous day all in all!

The next day I didn’t get up on time for breakfast and then nearly missed my train as the taxi I booked to the station took forever and a day to show up. Once it had arrived, the driver really stepped on it and I made it onto my train back to Madrid in the nick of time. Quite the week I’d had…

There were more work shenanigans to be enjoyed the week after, however. For a special internal event celebrating our rebranding, I spent a while assembling a gift pack for the team, including a funky card with an elastic band we used to fire bits of paper at each other over a team breakfast.

A couple of days later I was off for a day trip with my colleagues to visit another one of our clients. They had a stand at the Global Mobility Call, an international event bringing together key players in the mobility and transport sector. We enjoyed a morning there snooping around, learning about the latest about the future of mobility, and even had chance to try out some of Madrid’s new bus stops.

To finish that week off I had a rather busy Friday. Hugo had bagged some free passes to go and watch Bailo Bailo, a musical celebrating the life and work of Rafaella Carrà, whose music I’ve always been a fan of. As much as I was enjoying the show, I had to leave during the interval as I’d to cross the city centre to be at another theatre by 8pm where I’d arranged to watch another play with Nacho, who was visiting Madrid from Prague.

In the end our evening turned out to be rather different than we’d expected, as they advised us at the theatre that the show was a whole four hours long. Nacho had to head back home just after midnight as he’d an early flight, so in the end we decided to ditch the show and instead went out for a meal so we could actually chat and have a proper catch up. We were joined by one of his friends and in the end we had an absolutely blast!

I leave this post here though, as the very next day I had some visitors arrive and what we got up to warrants its own blog post…

28.11.23 — Journal

Vermont & Tennessee

You may have seen that I’ve slowly but surely been putting out some blog posts from the fortnight I spent over in the Canada and the US in early October. Two weeks they may have been, but I got up to loads of stuff and so split the visit into six blog posts, which I have collected here below:

1Back to Montreal

I arrive in the Americas for some poutine and a quick weekend break with Megan and Mallory before we cross the US border.

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2Autumn in Williston

I learn what ‘leaf peeping’ is and we enjoy the great outdoors in the gorgeous Vermont countryside, complete with plenty of autumnal produce.

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3Jay Peak

In what might be the prettiest blog post ever, I explore the Vermont mountains with Maureen and Mallory whilst surrounded by striking autumnal colours.

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4Sunsets & Swimming Holes

Me and Megan finally get some time together, so we head off on a sunset cruise over Lake Champlain and then dive into the water in a local swimming hole.

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5Kevin in Vermont

We show a very special guest around Burlington, including sampling the local delicacies and then burning the calories off as we climb up yet another hill.

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Me and Danni make a dream come true as we meet up in Tennessee to visit Dolly Parton’s very own theme park. We watch a cowboy dinner show, ride some fantastic rollercoasters, and have lots of laughs down in the south of the US.

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As usual, you can also start at the very beginning of the trip and then just hit “Next blog post” at the bottom of each post as you go along. I’ve also updated my travel page with all the new locations I visited along the way. Happy reading!

27.11.23 — Travel


My flight from Burlington was quite an interesting one, being just over an hour in a small plane which took me for a quick layover at Washington DC, the country’s capital. I rushed off the plane rather anxious about making my connection, which was just 40 minutes after this first plane had landed, but upon leaving the airbridge I turned a corner to run straight into the gate for my second flight. Easy peasy!

This took me further south and down to Tennessee, where Danni would be picking me up from Knoxville Airport. From there, she drove us the an hour eastward and up to Pigeon Forge, where we’d be staying for a few days whilst we lived one of our collective dreams: we were going to Dollywood!

For those of you who might not know, Dollywood is a theme park partly owned by Dolly Parton herself. It’s themed to all things country and southern, and is nestled in the middle of the Great Smokey Mountains. Me and Danni are huge fans of both roller coasters and Dolly Parton, so this trip promised to be an absolute blast!

We certainly weren’t working 9 to 5 the next few days.

As I’d arrived quite late, the only thing for us to do on that first night was to head to bed in the hotel that Danni had already got us all checked in to. We’d then have breakfast in the tiny reception area of the hotel the next day, and that was quite an experience! We watched all the locals pile their plates high with biscuits and gravy, waffles and syrup, and sugary cereals with milk. We followed suit and I discovered that American gravy, even if weirdly different to what I’d call gravy, is pretty damn good.

Having eaten approximately 5000 calories each for breakfast, we hopped back in the car and drove the short distance to Dollywood. We parked up, grabbed the trolley (what they call a tram) to the entrance, and made our way inside. We were finally here!

What then followed was a lovely day of rides, snacks, and shows, but I’m going to skip over all of that for now as I want to get to the highlight of that first day: the dinner show we went to see.

When booking our Dollywood tickets we’d discovered that Dolly’s entertainment empire also includes some live shows, including one called Stampede. Intrigued by the promise of a cowboy spectacular, we booked in to see it on the very first evening, which meant cutting our theme park day short to head back to the hotel, have a quick nap, and then walk the short distance across the road to the custom built Stampede theatre.

It took us 15 minutes to walk between two places that are a mere 98m (320′) apart across a road. I know it’s that far because I just measured it on Google Maps. Thanks to the brilliance of the US’ prioritisation of cars over all else, we’d to walk a while down the road before finding a crossing, wait for ages at the traffic lights which were obviously prioritising traffic, and then walk all the way back down the other side of the road. We found the whole thing rather funny: a great example of America’s terrible urban planning.

This trek was worth it though, as the show was a real experience. We arrived as busses full of local retirees were also showing up, so we knew it was going to be a good one. We were ushered to our seats around the sand-filled arena, asked what we’d like to drink during the show, and then the lights dimmed.

The show itself was a lot of fun, with comedic relief and audience participation amid plenty of stunts performed on horseback. We were somewhat distracted when our food showed up halfway through though: we were served a whole roast chicken each! It was a small chicken admittedly, but we wound up munching through an ungodly amount of food whilst watching the action unfold.

I think the funniest moment of the whole evening was right at the end of the show, when the whole thing turned very, very American. To the dulcet tones of Dolly’s ‘Color Me America‘, the presenter shouted “stand up if you’re proud to be an American!”, a rallying call to which me and Danni jumped to our feet and started to hoot and shout louder than the rest of the actual Americans in the room. When in Rome…

As we filed out of the arena me and Danni were in absolute hysterics, something which didn’t let up as we hit the gift shop. We tried out a selection of all manner of cowboy goodies, but our favourite was undoubtedly this cowboy hat which was emblazoned with the American flag. I don’t know if you’ll be able to tell in the photo, but we’d been crying tears of laughter as we put them on with a mighty yeehaw!

We left the venue relatively early at night, so we decided to go for a wander to explore a bit more of Pigeon Forge. This took us past the Dollywood sign and then by plenty of neon-clad restaurantes and attractions. These included some shops which we headed into on a search for some pyjamas, only to find ourselves very uncomfortable as we were suddenly surrounded by souvenirs with questionable messages and propaganda on them. It was like the Blackpool of the American South…

Here’s me and the best sign I’ve ever seen.

After heading home for a good night’s sleep, the two of us were ready for a full day in the theme park. We’d ridden quite a lot the day before, but we’d still plenty to check out, so off we set to do what we do best and strategise the best way of riding all the big coasters whilst avoiding the longest queues.

No wimmin, but us two dumb blondes got in.

The sun was out and our plan was working perfectly: we were able to get on all the main coasters before the evening came around. These included:

  • Blazing Fury: an old indoor wooden coaster with a few little surprises.
  • Thunderhead: the best wooden coaster I’ve ever been on which may even be the best coaster I’ve ever been on regardless of type.
  • Mystery Mine: an indoor coaster with a beyond vertical drop.
  • Big Bear Mountain: a new and fun family coaster.
  • Lighting Rod: a wooden coaster which is unique in that it launches you up a huge hill and then through a crazy collection of huge turns and hills.
  • Wild Eagle: a wing coaster, meaning that you sit suspended on each side of the track.

This last one was the perfect example of what made Dollywood so special. Its mountainous location means that most of the rollercoasters begin in the valley, rise up following the slope of the mountains, and then disappear out of sight for the bulk of the ride. This makes for a disorientating surprise as you’ve no idea what’s coming, alongside some great near-miss moments as you zoom close to the ground.

It was also one of the rides that we bagged a photo on. Here’s the two of us trying to compose ourselves as we fly down the side of one of the Rockies!

Once the sun had set things only got better at Dollywood. Alongside the thrill of zooming around a ride in the dark, there was also a spectacle of lights to enjoy. We wandered around to take all of this in, passing by all kinds of illuminated sculptures, walkways, and even a spooky nighttime disco. This led us back to Thunderhead, my beloved wooden coaster, which we wound up riding three consecutive times as there was simply no queue that late at night!

The next day we were back at the park again for our third and final day. This time we had other goals in mind, including riding a one last coaster and hunting down some of Dollywood’s famous cinnamon bread. As the sun was out and things were heating up, we first made a trip to the log flume, where we snagged two rides as the station was empty after our first trip. Success!

After some more rides we were ready for some sweet treats. We had a snoop around a candy emporium but then decided we’d finally take the plunge and try and get ourselves some cinnamon bread. We’d to wait for a while for it to come out of the oven, but this huge loaf turned out to be a gooey and heavenly combination of cinnamon, sugar, and butter. We’d have kept some for later, but the bag was so greasy that we decided to finish it off there and then!

Now full of bread, we decided to head for a ride that we knew would have a long queue: Lightning Rod. Not only is this coaster unique in the world and therefore very popular, it is also famously unreliable, being known to be broken down almost as much as it is up and running.

With the sun beating down, we were in with a bit of luck as the ride was running and the queue was open for us to jump in and get some shade. However, it would turn out that we weren’t the only ones suffering with the temperature, as the launch system overheated and broke down just as we were the next ones to ride.

Now stuck just behind the gates, we’d to decide whether to wait for the thing to be fixed or abandon ship. Not ones for giving up and curious to see how such a ride reset worked, Danni and I plonked ourselves on the ground and watched as the ride crew sent empty car after empty car around the circuit.

Eventually the all clear came, a moment which we all celebrated with cheers and applause, as the poor ride crew seemed as fed up with as we did. At least we got the payoff of being able to ride this absolutely crazy ride – we even grabbed a photo to mark the occasion. The poor girl in front of us looks to be having a rather rough time of it!

We were particularly keen to get on Lightning Rod as many times as we could because 2023 will be its final year operating as it currently does. As the launched lift hill is such a headache, over winter the launch system will be replaced by a conventional chain lift, so we wanted to ride it in it’s current crazy form whilst we could!

Now content to have been on all the rides, eaten all the food, and seen all the sights, we asked some other tourists to take a photo of us together under the iconic Dollywood sign before we left the park for one last time. We bought some goodies in the gift shop, grabbed a tram back to the car, and then headed out for one last little surprise adventure before the end of our trip.

Near Pigeon Forge was a petrol-station-cum-huge-supermarket called Buc-ee’s that Danni had told me about and that we were keen to visit. On our way there, I wanted some snacks and chewing gum, so we stopped off at a local supermarket chain to pick up some goodies.

As we entered I spied a line of what, for me, epitomises America: the electric shopping carts that you see people riding around in supermarkets. I’d never had the chance to ride on one of these, so I went over to get one after checking that there were plenty left for people who might actually need one.

I am about to live my American dream.

I then began scootering around the supermarket whilst Danni – rather understandably – didn’t want to be seen anywhere near me. I filled the basket with crisps, chocolates, and other goodies without even rising from my seat: the epitome of human laziness and consumerism. It was a good laugh, even if it made me a feel a bit grim about the state of humanity.

Anyway, here’s what your’e all here for: a video of my new ride:

Once we’d paid and I ditched the thing, we head off to Buc-ee’s, parking up and heading into what would be a whole other level of American experience. It was a cathedral to high-fructose corn syrup and saturated fats, with a whole wall of fizzy drinks machines and fresh brisket sandwiches and hot dogs for days.

After the awe of the spectacle had passed, me and Danni grabbed some “soda” and greasy grub. We ate this just outside the supermarket on top of one of the barbecues that they had on sale: a perfectly trashy way to end a few days down in the American South.

There can be nothing more American than some industrial food in the middle of a huge car park.

All that was left for us to do the next day was to get up, get packed, and head off back to Knoxville Airport together. There I waved Danni off as she flew onwards to New York for last few days of her US trip before I boarded the first of my two flights back across the pond.

During my layover in Charlotte Douglas Airport, I got talking to a very chatty lady who recommended me some more obscure Dolly songs to listen to during the second leg of my journey back to Madrid. One of her suggestions was “Mule Skinner Blues“, which I have found myself to be quite fond of. Who’d have thought I’d come back from Tennessee listening to some yodel music?

I’m sure you can deduce from all my tales that I had an absolutely amazing time down in Pigeon Forge, an experience made possible by and infinitely bettered by the presence of one of my oldest friends. Stay tuned for the plans we’ve got for next year and then our big 30th celebrations in 2025…

16.11.23 — Travel

Kevin in Vermont

Well, the surprise has already been ruined by the rather explicit title, but here we go. After landing in Montreal, exploring Vermont with everyone, and then some quality time with Megan in Burlington, we were joined by a special guest who’d come all the way from Buffalo: Kevin!

The day he arrived was a Saturday, so I finally had chance to have a lie in and mooch around all morning. Me and Megan made the most of the hours we had together, heading to Walmart (a favourite spot of mine for people watching) and grabbing a huge beef hot dog from a stall outside Home Depot. The American dream!

Nothing says “USA” quite like a hot dog in a car park.

Whilst we were gorging on street food (throwback to late-night pizzas together in New York and sausages in Vienna), I was watching Kevin’s little blue dot on my phone get closer and closer to Burlington. The drive from New York State is not a quick one, taking about eight hours, so I was chuffed that he was making the trek to spend some time with us in the green mountain state.

It was also exciting to be seeing him again, as the last time I’d caught him was in the summer of last year when I visited him and James in Buffalo itself. Megan had also actually met Kevin before, way back in 2018 when Kevin visited me in Madrid for the first time. As the Spanish would say, “el mundo es un pañuelo”: the world is the size of a napkin!

Once we’d chatted for a while it was time to get some food, so the three of us headed out to a local pizzeria which was bring-your-own-booze. With a bottle of wine in tow we enjoyed lots of laughs and some amazing food: it was a blast to be in such great company.

Here we are, looking rather content after a glass or two!

The next day had us up and about to explore Burlington despite the cloudy sky. We first stopped off at the lovely farm shop that we’d been to a few days before, but this time were looking for doughnuts rather than pies. Megan had said that they have some of the best maple doughnuts around. I think she may be right!

This selection of freshly-fried doughnuts was not the healthiest of breakfasts…

From there we drove into the centre of Burlington so that Kevin could have a look around. After a spot of shopping and tourist wandering, we landed in Henry’s Diner for lunch, a spot that I visited last year and absolutely loved. It was no disappointment this time around either, with the same delicious food and crappy coffee that I had remembered so fondly.

Whilst in the diner the weather finally took the turn for the worst that it had been threatening all morning. This had us back to the car and back home in no time, as there wasn’t much we fancied doing in the cold and the rain that had suddenly descended on us. We made some food at home and had a relaxing evening watching The Great British Bake Off. What a treat!

We were back on our feet again the next day, as Megan wanted to take us for another climb after my ascent to the top of Jay Peak just a few days earlier. We drove to Mount Philo under sunny skies and began our ascent up the hill. It reminded me a little bit of a wander up to the hills around Oslo, but this time in much more autumnal colours.

The views from the top of Mount Philo were amazing. Despite the fog and the rain in the distance, we could still see out quite a long way, so we spent a while at the peak taking silly photos and making fools of ourselves – the usual.

Who knows what was going on here…

As we reached the bottom of the hill it then began to rain, but we figured that it would soon pass and so headed to grab some food from a local farm. When we arrived there was a huge queue and the rain was just picking up again, so in the end we found ourselves grabbing some snacks from another shop and heading home.

That evening Kevin and I headed out for a catch up and to let Megan have a rest from so much hosting and ferrying me around. After wandering around the centre of Burlington for a while, we plonked ourselves on the terrace of a bar and had a lot of laughs and a great chat over some drinks and chips.

Not long after we woke up the next day Kevin had to be on his way. We said our goodbyes and then I had to get packing, as I’d be leaving Vermont to the very next day. Me and Megan then ran a few errands and got to preparing a meal at home, as we’d invited everyone over for one last hurrah before I left.

I made a pasta bake and Megan made apple crumble, all which went down very nicely whilst we all chatted at the dining table. It was a fabulous send off with some great people, so you can be sure I’ll be looking to come back and visit once again just as soon as I can!

The next day I got up, finished my packing, had some lunch, and then waited for my lift from Megan to Burlington Airport. She nipped over after school and drove me there, where I killed a bit of time in the teeny terminal before boarding my equally teeny plane off to another part of the US…

As usual, more on that next time!

12.11.23 — Travel

Sunsets & Swimming Holes

After meeting Mallory and Megan in Montreal, reuniting with everyone in Williston, and then heading up to Jay Peak with Maureen and Mallory, it was finally time for me to spend some quality time with Megan. As an old friend and a local expert (I discovered this last year when she put together an amazing plan in Vermont and New York), I was excited to see what she had in store!

With me connecting to work every day at a very early hour, I had a nap after I’d finished and then Megan arrived back home as I was getting up. She told me to pack my swimming trunks and a towel and off we went to a place called Bolton Falls. I assumed we weren’t off to Bolton, Greater Manchester, as that would be quite the journey with very little payoff…

Megan parked up in a little car park just off the road and then guided me down a little dirt path. This then opened out into a gorgeous little lake set at the foot of a series of little waterfalls, all surrounded by trees. It was a rather tranquil spot that the locals call a ‘swimming hole’, but I assumed we’d just be dipping our toes in.

The swimming hole was gorgeous but also quite cold.

It turned out that Megan had much more adventurous plans for the two of us. We were soon wading through the part of the pool that we’d figured was the shallowest, an observation helped by a dog that wandered through the water without any problem. Once on the other side, we scrambled up the rocks and to the top of the falls, which provided some amazing views out over the valley.

I still can’t get over how beautiful Vermont is.

Now at the top of the falls where the water pooled in a shallow basin before descending down the the lower pool where we’d begun our trek, Megan decided to take the plunge. She leapt right into the cold water after some motivation from me and the others who were hanging out down at the swimming hole. I eventually followed suite, but it took a lot of convincing: I was happy just paddling!

We stayed a while to watch some of the other visitors jump from a rocky ledge into another perfectly circular pool. We decided we fancied jumping in, but we weren’t up for the 5m dive that others were making and so returned to the base pool to try our luck there.

Once we’d found a spot we were comfortable with, the two of us joined hands and jumped right into the deepest park of the swimming hole. It was so much fun that we went for a second and third go, much to the bemusement of a couple who had also shown up for a dip.

I don’t think I’ve ever swum in such pretty surroundings.

When it was time to leave we ferried our things through the deep part of the pool by holding them over our head, a move which could have easily ended in disaster but luckily did not. We then dried off and got changed in and around the car – quite the challenge in a public car park!

From Bolton Falls we went for a meal in a nearby town to put an end to the day. We had some delicious bao and burgers accompanied by a glass of wine. It was a great chance to have a proper chat after so many days of running around all over Vermont.

We also took a little detour on the way home to drive past the house one of Maureen and Terry’s neighbours. Megan has assured me that they’d already have their halloween decorations up and that they always go big, and she wasn’t wrong!

The next day also saw me and Megan head out to spend the afternoon and evening together. She’d bought us tickets to ride the sunset cruise on The Spirit of Ethan Allen, a boat which I’d seen last year from the dock as it made its return from taking all those on board to see the last rays of sun over the Adirondack Mountains from Lake Champlain.

We cut it very fine, arriving and parking up just five minutes before the sailing time. We just about made it on board though, finding a cute little spot to sit down on the stern of the boat. Megan went to get drinks, I ordered some chicken nachos as a little snack, and off we went after a rather thorough safety briefing.

Looking back over Burlington made me appreciate just how small it really is.

A rather large tray of nachos then showed up, which we set about nibbling at as The Spirit of Ethan Allen powered out into the centre of the lake. We passed the lighthouse marking the entrance to the port, a series of sailboats out on the water, and a group of teenagers who were jumping off the same rock that Megan and I had spotted as we kayaked around the lake last year. It was all very, very beautiful.

Vermont, ladies and gentlemen.

After nearly two hours of sailing and some of the best sunset views one could wish for, the captain eventually turned us around and we headed back to Burlington. Once back home, Megan and I teamed up to make some food and then headed out to karaoke night with Megan II (Megan’s flatmate who is also called Megan) and Mallory. This was a short-lived affair though, as we we were all pretty tired and so headed back home nice and early.

These two nights I spent with Megan were an absolute blast. Once again she’d shown me some of the best and most beautiful parts of Vermont, but more than anything it was just lovely to spend some time together having a laugh and putting the world to rights.

There was still more to come before I left Vermont, but we were soon to be joined by another VIP. More on that in my next post!

10.11.23 — Travel

Jay Peak

With my first couple of days in Vermont done, it was time for the leaf peeping (find our what that means in my last post) to really begin. With Megan at work, Mallory came over and joined me and Maureen what was to become one of the most picturesque days of the whole trip. Keep on reading for some cool views!

The three of us hopped into Maureen’s car and began our journey up to the north of Vermont, where the leaves were supposedly at ‘peak’, meaning the peak of their colourfulness. Maureen had decided we should head up to Jay Peak, a mountain found tucked just below the Canadian border.

Before we arrived, we’d some errands to run. Our first stop was to an unassuming roadside shop where we grabbed what both Maureen and Mallory agreed were the best maple syrup ice creams in the whole state. The locals call these ‘maple creemees’, a name I still find hilarious.

I’m no maple expert, but this was one good ice cream!

Heading further on down the road, we eventually stopped for some lunch at another roadside café. Having fallen in love with the amazing sandwiches that they have around the area last year, I grabbed myself a turkey and bacon concoction. I enjoyed this on a park bench below the hills just round the back of the café, where Maureen got chatting to some cyclists who were off to bike around the area. What a great spot for a bike ride!

Lunch over, we hit the road once more, determined to make it to Jay Peak in good time. That was until we passed by what looked to be a fabulous spot to take a photo of the mountains, so we parked up and inadvertently stumbled across a stone merchants specialising in outdoor construction. Whilst Maureen got chatting to the owner, me and Mallory snuck off to take some photos of the gorgeous surroundings…

I soon found that I’d walked quite a way off course, discovering first this cool chrome truck and then some abandoned farm hardware framed by the gorgeous autumnal forest on the mountainside. I headed back to the car and then we set off once more.

This wasn’t to be the last of our stops, though, as after driving for a while longer we suddenly found ourselves approaching a lake set amongst the hills and curves of the country roads. This was an opportunity we couldn’t let pass us by, and so once again we parked up and stepped out to find ourselves surrounded by one of the most impressive sights I’ve ever seen.

All around the lake could be seen the warm colours of the dense forest.

Naturally we weren’t the only people that had stopped to admire the views. We got chatting to some other people who’d stopped by, although I was particularly jealous of a couple of kayakers who had chosen the perfect spot to have a paddle around at this time of year.

You can just about see the two kayaks in this picture.

As we hopped back in the car and continued up the winding lanes between the foliage, all I could think of was the country classic ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads‘ by John Denver. I know he was from pretty much the other side of the US, but the sentiment of the song felt like a perfect fit as we trundled along without seeing another soul.

We eventually made it to Jay Peak, taking the car as far up the mountain as we could before we’d to park up and take a cable car for the rest of the journey. This was very much like me and Megan’s trip up Mount Mansfield last year, but this time we were blessed with much better weather – even if it was pretty chilly!

The colours in these photos look almost fake, but I promise they’re not.

After buying tickets for the tram ride (which is their name for the arial cable car) we waited for the next trip to the summit, which were running every half hour until 5pm. It was already 4pm when we hopped into one of the gondolas, so we were cutting it pretty fine!

The trip up was amazing. From our cabin we could see right across Vermont and were even able to get up close to the colourful treetops as we flew over them. Whilst not gawking at the sights, we got chatting to the operator who was aboard the huge gondola with us. He told us about the history of the tram and pointed out some of the key sights as we ascended into the heavens. I’d tell you all about them if I could, but with my memory there’s no chance!

Our gondola rumbled past the other one on its way down, our ears popped, and before we knew it we were at the top. We stepped back onto terra firma and followed the signs to the peak of Jay Peak, which opened out to some amazing views from the other side of the mountain.

I wish the guy who took this photo for us would have told me that I’d left my bag in shot…

After me and Mallory had a good snoop around, we came back to find Maureen chatting to the lad who’d offered to take the photo of the three of us. We then also got talking to a guy who’d been sat on his own admiring the views. He explained what we were seeing from our vantage point atop the mountain, which even included a thin white line which was the reflection from the waters of the Great Lakes. Pretty cool.

When we asked him how he knew so much, it turned out that he had worked on the mountain’s resort and even running the tram for many years. I couldn’t resist then asking him what would happen if we missed the last trip down the mountainside. He said that there was always one more trip after the advertised final one, just in case, which put all of our minds at ease.

He did also tell us the story of a group that missed even this last journey and got completely stranded, though. He’d volunteered to help this group, coordinating with local authorities to help guide the beleaguered tourists back to civilisation. I thought that the rescue would have involved a helicopter or something, but no: the poor souls had to make the hours-long trek down the mountain in the dark and on foot!

Sufficiently spooked by this story, we were very sure to be back on the tram for the 4:30pm descent, just thirty minutes after we’d arrived at the top. The descent was even more impressive, even if the tram operator this time said that the peak time for leaf peeping had been a week before our trip.

Once back at the car, we began our journey back to Williston. On the way, Maureen wanted to pay a visit to a relative’s grave, so me and Mallory allowed her some space as we went for a walk around the rest of the yard. I do love spending time in graveyards, for although they are a naturally sad space, I find them to be calm, pretty, and peaceful.

This cemetery was a particularly stunning place to be laid to rest.

Now back at Maureen and Terry’s place in Williston, Mallory headed back home and I settled down on the sofa to watch The Great British Bake Off with Maureen. It was a lovely relaxing end to a busy day of exploring the best that autumnal Vermont has to offer. Many thanks again to Maureen for taking me out to make some lovely memories and take some equally lovely photos!

09.11.23 — Travel

Autumn in Williston

Our trip across the US border from Canada had taken us not into Vermont, the state we were headed to, but rather to New York State. Unfortunately this trip wouldn’t be seeing me visit New York City nor Buffalo as I did last year, so we’d to head east once we were on US soil.

This wasn’t before a celebratory stop to grab some snacks and milkshakes, though. Megan and Mallory took us to Stewart’s Shop, a magical place where we could have any ice cream flavour made into a huge milkshake that the guy at the counter left in the big cups they come out of the mixer in. I got an apple crumble one and it was divine!

With most of our daily calories now consumed, the three of us hopped back in the car and over to the border with Vermont, a trip which took us over the waters of the lovely Lake Champlain. As we crossed over, I began to catch a glimpse of what I’d come to see: the gorgeous autumnal colours that can be found across the northern US.

We then passed a sign which read “Leaf peepers: eyes on road”. I asked what a ‘leaf peeper’ was, and it turns out that it’s what the locals call the people that come to Vermont at this time of year to see the foliage in all its colourful glory. I was a leaf peeper!

When I further quizzed Megan about the sign, it turns out that people get so distracted by the colourful trees that there’s a rise in road accidents at this time of year. Megan wasn’t going to fall foul of such temptations, though, and we soon rocked up at her parents’ house in Williston, my home for the rest of my stay.

Leaf peepers: eyes on road.

It was wonderful to see Maureen and Terry again, and I’ve to thank them right off the block for hosting me in their lovely home. I unpacked my stuff, rested a bit after our weekend in Montreal, and then I was soon downstairs and helping Maureen prepare some potato salad for the arrival of all the guests who’d been invited over for an evening meal.

All of Megan’s friends who I’d met the year before then arrived and we all had a lovely catch up. Terry fired up the barbecue and made some delicious skewers and hot dogs, all of which we enjoyed in the unseasonal warm weather out on their back porch. It was an absolutely delightful evening!

The next day I was up bright and early for work, which thanks to the time difference meant that I was done by midday. This meant I could head back down to the garden and join Maureen for a chat over a lunch made of leftovers from the previous night’s barbecue.

Once she’d finished work, Megan came over with Mallory for the three of us to go on a little wander before we headed out for more evening activities. We took the family dog, Ellie, and walked up to the farm shop near their home as the sun began to slowly set.

Here’s the three girls on their way to the farm shop.

This turned out to be a very aesthetically pleasing trip, as we arrived to find the little wooden farm shop surrounded by pumpkins, squashes, and other seasonal produce. There were hundreds of pumpkins dotted around, amongst them these warty ones which it turns out they call ‘warty goblins’. Hilarious!

It was hard to take a bad photo when surrounded by such beautiful sights.

Once Megan finally managed to entice me inside the shop, I spent a while perusing the odd wares, from rock candy to maple sugar – the latter of which I picked up to take back to Madrid with me. I was also introduced to another little pick-me-up in the form of a tiny plastic straw full of honey, which I bought and chewed on as we walked home.

We’d also picked up an apple crumble (or ‘crisp’ as they call it) for the evening’s dessert, so we took that over from Maureen and Terry’s place and over to Breen and Aaron’s. They’d invited us over for a meal at theirs, a meal which would then be followed by an evening watching ‘The Bachelor’. In the end, I can’t decide if it was better or worse than ‘The Bachelorette’, which I was forced to watch last year whilst in Williston too!

I was enchanted by the autumn leaves in the afternoon sun.

The meal of turkey lasagne was absolutely delicious. It came accompanied by some garlic bread that Megan put a lot of love into making, as well as some cheese and homemade crackers that Breen had whipped up before we arrived. She’s a dab hand!

It was an evening of fun and giggles as we all gave a running commentary of our opinions of the decisions that the bachelor made during this first episode of the new season. I also particularly appreciated the company of Libby, Breen and Aaron’s dog, as well as their cat, whose name as far as I can work out is just ‘Cat’.

Full of food and tired after a long day, I then had a good night’s kip. This was just as well, as the next day we’d plenty to get up to: but I’ll leave that for next time!