02.07.20 — Travel

The Ghost City

Now in the glorious throes of the new normality, I have been taking every opportunity to return to the familiar streets of the city I now call home after falling in love with the place almost five years ago. The arrival of summer has also served to coax me out of my flat, even if my first major outing left me rather hot and bothered as the temperatures begin to rise past 35°C during the day.

This first venture into the centre was spurred on by the search for home comforts, as I’ve been craving cordial (what some of you call “squash”) for a good while now. This took me to Dealz, which is basically Poundland’s presence in Spain, and which offers a decent range of imported products from the UK – decent enough to warrant a two-bus trip, anyway!

I didn’t like having to change buses but it was a nice spot to do so.

The roundabout at the Puerta de Toledo in Madrid, with a bus in the background between green trees and red flowers.

With a selection of British crisps, some Vimto, and a stash of Cadbury’s chocolate in tow, it was then another few days before I headed back out into the sunny streets of Madrid. This occasion saw me make a significantly shorter trip down to the Matadero, a recently-reopened cultural centre based out of an old slaughterhouse which is a mere ten minutes walk from my house.

One of the buildings of the Matadero in Madrid in the evening sun.

This is where the title of my blog post begins to become relevant. The large outdoor space, which would usually be filled with people milling around at this time of night, was pretty much deserted. This peace and quiet didn’t bother me though, as I’d a telephone date to catch up with Rhea, who I haven’t seen since I visited England late last year!

One of the buildings of the Matadero in Madrid in the evening sun with a terrace in the foreground.
A multicoloured bar in a hut at the Matadero in Madrid.
The plaza in the centre of the Matadero in Madrid is empty whilst bathed in the evening sun.

After crossing through the Matadero complex to the banks of the river on the other side, I searched in vain for a shaded spot in which to sit and ring Rhea whilst maintaining the proper social distancing protocol. I ended up returning to the grounds of the Matadero itself, where I found a shaded decked area just behind the absolutely gorgeous canteen…

A redbrick building bearing the name "Cantina" (Canteen) at the Matadero cultural centre in the south of Madrid, Spain.

The proceeding weekend saw me head into the commercial heart of Madrid, La puerta del sol, meaning “the gate of the sun”. Famous for it’s plaque marking the supposed centre of Spain, I was here to check out options for a new laptop and head to a boutique food shop to do some informal undercover research for a new project at work.

The puerta del sol in the centre of Madrid.

After getting a little overexcited in said food shop, I wound up treating myself to a rather expensive 7€ pastel de cabracho, which is a delicious fresh paste made from cabracho, a kind of fish which Google informs me is called a “goat fish” in English. The dish always reminds me of the first time I visited Kevin in Oviedo, when he took me out to a local restaurant for my first proper taste of the delicious food from the Asturias region in the north of Spain.

On the way home I ran into my colleague Esther and family, stopping to chat for a while before treating myself to a chocolate-filled pastry known as a napolitana de chocolate from the classic Madrid bakery known as La Mallorquina. I often used to pick one up for breakfast before lockdown had us all abandon the office in favour of working from home, so it was lovely to enjoy the sweet treat once more.

Filled with energy, I decided to walk through the Plaza Mayor and down through the lovely La Latina district, before picking up a city rental bike and allowing the breeze to cool me off as I glided freely down the wholly downhill course back to my flat.

La Latina was absolutely resplendent in the low evening sunlight.

The day after saw me mounted once again on one of the city’s bikes, but this time I had decided to dare the uphill journey to the area surrounding the royal palace in order to see the sights and meet up with Hugo for an ice cream. I also thought that it’d be cool to film the trip on my phone to share the picturesque journey with my family back home, but it turns out that my phone’s video stabilising capabilities are no match for the uneven Madrid roads and the furious rattle of the heavy electric bikes!

Once I’d found Hugo, who was around the centre running some errands, we headed down into the gorgeous Plaza del Oriente at the side of the giant royal palace. This square, with its lush gardens and quaint little terraces, is usually brimming with inquisitive tourists, but we found ourselves wandering amongst very few people in the midday heat. The name of this blog post actually comes from a message I sent to Hugo whilst I awaited his arrival – “es como una ciudad fantasma”, I said – “it’s like a ghost city”.

The east facade of the royal palace in Madrid with no people around at all.

I’ve never seen this view of the palace with so few people milling around.

The royal palace of Madrid is visible through the trees of the Plaza del Oriente.

The two of us grabbed an ice cream from Zúccaru, a Sicilian heladería with delicious homemade ice cream, and sat in the shade of some trees in order to catch up on the week’s events. After some more wandering round (in which I managed to burn my arms, something I only noticed upon arriving home later), we finished our explorations in front of the palace, where I captured this panorama which emphasises really how few people can be found around the centre of the city right now. This plaza, located between the main entrance to the royal palace and Madrid’s huge cathedral, would usually be buzzing with tourists and locals alike, but not a single soul can be seen in the photo.

This concludes my recent adventures, which have been interspersed by some intense days at work as we move into our summer hours known as jornada intensiva (intensive days), where we work less hours but without any breaks. This, alongside some big and exciting new projects, has seen me left with little time for weekday explorations, but I’ll be sure to escape the confines of my flat this weekend and report back!

For now, I leave you with this lovely ode to Madrid, as yet again I feel the need to share some Spanish music with you all. I think it fits well with the photos of some of Madrid’s more majestic architecture that I’ve peppered this post with…

27.06.20 — Writing

Waiting

In another little break from my usual programming, I have decided to publish this little note I wrote on the way to work one day early last year. It’s not nearly as long or entertaining as my last similar post, Purgatory, but I thought it was an interesting little quip worth sharing. Remember you can always let me know what you think about things like this on my blog survey!

One of the things which fascinates me the most is when a metro train arrives in its station and someone waiting on the platform does not board. You have to understand that in Madrid, the city which has adopted me, all trains which stop at any given platform have the exact same destination and make the exact same sequence of stops.

So why then do people stand and watch as the trains pass by? Sometimes, indeed, the carriage will be too full, and sometimes, yes, the train will be scheduled to stop circulating at a given station, but given ideal conditions, why do people remain who do not board?

I have been in a similar situation myself once, as I awaited a friend on a platform between transfers. As I waited, though, I sat myself down on a bench and occupied myself. It is those who stand with an air of disassociation and barely flinch which interest me, the ones who’s vacant eyes only blink as a reflex reaction to the blast of polluted air pushed through the station by the train that they have just declined to board.

Do they await the arrival of a friend? Are they preparing themselves for the arrival of a foe? Perhaps the thought of reaching their destination fills them with dread, or perhaps they have no destination, and are rather idly traversing the underground labyrinths as refuge from the surface heat or the stresses of the world above.

It is only human to allow your eyes to sweep the train as you embark, to check out with whom you are sharing a carriage. What I, however, find much more interesting is not those who have boarded with me, but those who will not board. It is in order to look at them that I turn my head as the doors open, and is is they who fill my mind with petty questions and invented narratives as I swan my neck whilst my train beings to accelerate.

20.06.20 — Journal

The New Normality

After over three months of a Spain in lockdown, these past few weeks have finally seen Madrid move slowly through the four phases of the Spanish government’s deescalation procedure. My last blog post included various little outings that I was able to make, but such wanders always had to be undertaken alone.

Now, with public transport running, bars and restaurants beginning to open their terraces and interiors, and the relaxing of other confinement measures, social gatherings are back on the cards! This was all very exciting, but my first “social gathering” wasn’t that much of a hoot, as it involved a trip to a clinic in the north of the city for a COVID-19 test that Erretres kindly gave us the option of taking.

Looking up to the sky from the entrance to Delicias metro station in Madrid, Spain.

When the results of said test came back, I was rather cross to discover that I had next to no antibodies, and so it’s pretty likely that I haven’t yet had the virus. I was rather hoping that the results would come back positive, as it would mean that I’d had a very light case of the infection and wouldn’t need to worry about possible ill effects going forwards. But hey, never mind!

After another enthralling trip to the dentist out into the now exotic lands north of my neighbourhood, it was eventually time to finally meet up with some friends after months with next to no human contact! I naturally had arranged to meet Bogar and Hugo down by the river, where we organised a socially-distanced mini picnic and chatted away into the evening.

Me, Bogar, and Hugo have a picnic by Madrid Río.

Me and Hugo then met up again a few days later, once again meandering along the paths of this unimaginatively-named Parque Madrid Río (Madrid River Park) which, shockingly, is a park in Madrid which follows the river. On our journey, we passed the now almost fully-demolished stadium known as Estadio Vicente Calderón, the old home of Atlético de Madrid, which always reminds me of the time I went to watch a match in their new stadium, and even the song that we all sung in support!

The remains of the Vicente Calderón Stadium in Madrid during its demolition.
The rear facade of the Matadero in Madrid.

We worked up quite an appetite during out wanderings down by the river, and eventually discovered a lovely burger restaurant a mere stone’s throw away from my house. After a few hours of beers and chatting the evening away, we arranged to another picnic the day after with the two of us and some more of Hugo’s friends.

The brick facade of a building near the Atocha Train Station in Madrid. A streetlight lights up part of the dark facade by night.

I had promised to bring along carrot cake, and so spent the majority of the day baking, only to be met with heavy rain and rumbles of thunder just as I stepped out of the door. I held off back in my flat for another half an hour (I was already two hours late for the picnic), but little did I know that this would be just the beginning of a chain of disasters that evening.

Once the rain had stopped, I decided that the quickest way to get to the park was by electric scooter, and so I strapped my tote bag full of Tupperware to the handlebar of my rented scooter and headed off down the riverside path at full speed. Midway through the journey, I grossly misjudged the height of what I thought was just a small dip in the paving, and instantaneously found myself eating the tarmac as I was thrown to the ground.

Unhurt except for a broken Tupperware, some now rather mushy carrot cake, and a nasty graze on my jeans, I hopped back on the scooter and carried on my journey to the park in question. I eventually arrived and introduced myself to Hugo’s friends, only for my arrival to be followed by more claps of thunder and a light shower which soon turned into a torrent.

Grabbing the plates, the picnic blankets, and the scraps of food and unopened drinks that could be salvaged, my first meeting with the group was cut rather short, as we all retreated to the shelter of a bus stop outside the park. One of Hugo’s friends graciously offered to stop the two of us off at my flat, where a bag of food ended up falling and knocking a glass of red wine all over my carpet. As I said, it was a real series of unfortunate events!

In order to cheer myself up, the next day I made a batch of carrot cake buns with the leftover cake mix, and dropped a few off with my friend Jhosef so that he might give me feedback after he gifted me the most delicious loaf of banana bread for my birthday!

A plate full of seven carrot cake buns topped with walnuts and cinnamon.

With so much work at home, I’ve been increasingly taking advantage of these new freedoms in order to revisit the park by the river and wander, scoot, or cycle away for an hour or so to clear my head of the stresses of the day. Heading out either alone or with Jhosef, I’ve witnessed my fair share of the most excellent Madrid sunsets, as well as the continued demolition of the old stadium, which is all but gone by now.

The evening sky full of various cloud formations seen from a bridge over the river in Madrid.
The skeletal remains of the Vicente Calderón stadium in Madrid.
The sunset in Madrid colours a cloud formation in orange in contrast with the blue sky.
The silhouette of the nearly demolished Vicente Calderón stadium in Madrid, against a sunset.

Another little lift came in the form of a card and subsequent gift sent from Kevin in the US, a belated birthday present in the form of a copy of T. S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land”. I haven’t gotten round to reading it yet, but I am itching to do so, as Kevin has repeatedly spoke highly of the piece in the past!

A card addressed to me which came from the US.

Amongst all these trips down to the river, I also ventured out to meet up with other friends, but the excitement of seeing everyone again meant that I completely forgot to take any photos!

One evening saw me meet up with Luis, an ex-colleague, and a group of other guys from Erretres for some drinks and laughs at a lovely spot in the centre. Another evening was my first time back at my favourite local bar and terrace with Bogar and Hugo, and just last week I met up with Blanca, Jesús, and Pablo from work for tea (dinner) and drinks near the office.

My neighbourhood isn’t all too ugly if I may say so myself.

A street in Delicias, Madrid, covered by a sky with cloud formations.

So with this, I conclude my overview of what the gradual transition to the new normality (la nueva normalidad, the Spanish government’s words, not mine) has looked like for me. As Spain’s internal borders are opened this weekend and we are flung fully into this new phase of a rather turbulent 2020, I’ll be back as soon as possible to bring more updates. Until then!

23.05.20 — Journal

Open Parks & Closed Stations

I ended my last blog post by stressing my desire for freedom, and thanks to the collaboration of the people here in Spain and the four-step plan laid out by the government, that will soon be on it’s way. The central government have just announced that Madrid will be allowed to move from Phase 0 to Phase 1 of the de-escalation plan on Monday, meaning that I’ll be able to visit friends, wander as far as my heart may desire, and many other things as of next week.

For now, however, I’ve still to keep within my 1km limit, but this has been made more enjoyable my discovery of a park in my neighbourhood that is now open to wander through. This park is quite an interesting one, as it includes a few live railway lines, some wild architecture, and a huge steep hill which gives you some awesome views over the south of the city.

The evening sun illuminates the facade of a redbrick building in Madrid, Spain.

These evening walks keep my energy and optimism up.

Clouds and blue sky over the city of Madrid as seen from a park in the south.

The focal point of the park is a large concrete structure and metal chimney which mark the midpoint of a bridge which crosses one of the railway lines. From here, you can enjoy some lovely views up towards the north of the city, as in the photo above. Just off to the east of this structure, which interestingly also doubles as an outdoor expert-level climbing wall, lies the planetarium. I’ve been meaning to visit the planetarium for a while now, but I’ve never got round to it, so I guess it’ll have to wait until the return to the new normality.

Madrid's planetarium seen from a bridge nearby.

On my way home from this park, I noticed that some train tracks in the pavement led under a set of black iron gates which had been sealed tight and covered in dark netting such as to obscure whatever laid behind them. Spotting what looked to be some train platform canopies above the gates, I knew that there was a good chance of spotting some abandoned trains in an abandoned train station, and so began my investigations in earnest.

Following the line of the iron railing, I looked for spots where the netting might have been damaged or loose, but they seemed to have done quite a thorough job of keeping prying eyes (like mine) out. They didn’t fully succeed, however, as I eventually found a couple of gaps, and managed to snap these awesome photos of this closed train station and the rotting rolling stock within.

An abandoned train half-covered by black netting lies abandoned in a train station overrun by nature.
Two old railway cars sit abandoned facing each other. One if more futuristic in its styling, the other much more classical.

After some later investigation, it turns out that these platforms used to form part of the old Delicias station, whose new incarnation is where I used to get the train to the office from before lockdown. The old Delicias station is now partly used by the Museo del Ferrocarril (Railway Museum), and party left as storage for old abandoned trains.

On these walks to and from the park, I also found a couple of architectural gems hidden in amongst the generic-looking blocks of apartments which make up a large percentage of my neighbourhood. How lovely would it be to live in a pretty little two-storey apartment in the centre of Madrid, or have a balcony on such a lovely and intricate facade?

The corner of a two-storey building, with a plant-filled balcony.
A red facade intricately detailed with geometric ornaments and black iron railings.

Another day I returned to said park a little later in the evening, which provided some lovely evening lighting. This time, I took a few more photos of the large concrete structure which forms part of the bridge, an even a panorama of the views over the south of the city from aforementioned embankment.

Trees and sky are seen through a circular hole in a concrete wall, with a streetlamp in the foreground.
Looking up at the angular forms of a concrete structure in Parque de las Delicias, Madrid, Spain.
A panorama over the south of Madrid during sunset.

In other trips out and about, I headed back up to the main train station, Atocha, and wandered some of the more historical streets of Madrid. I do love my neighbourhood, but it’s always lovely to pass through the beautifully rough majesty of the city centre.

A sign reading "Escuela de artes" (Art School) on a facade in the historic centre of Madrid, Spain.
The facade of Atocha Train Station, currently out of use due to the coronavirus pandemic, in Madrid, Spain.

When not out and about, my culinary experiments at home continue, this week with an Italian-style flatbread covered in mozzarella, pesto, dried tomato, olives, and parmesan. It reminded me somewhat of a white pizza, or perhaps even Germany’s flammkuchen, but either way it was delicious.

An Italian-style flatbread covered in mozzarella, pesto, dried tomato, olives, and parmesan.

With that little update, I’ve to leave you until next time, as this weekend I’ve some admin that I’ve to get on with and a lovely steak meal to cook. Keeping with the tradition of my last two blog posts, however, I’ll leave you with a song that I’ve been listening to. This week, it’s time for a Spanish classic, Rocío Jurado’s “Déjala correr”, an absolute belter that always leaves me with goosebumps:

¡Déjala correr! Agua que no es de beber…

17.05.20 — Journal

Almost Thirty

Just over two weeks ago was my birthday, and for some reason I woke up with a song that I used to listen to years ago in my head. In this French song, “J’ai pas vingt ans”, Alizée sings “j’ai pas vingt ans… on est vieux à vingt ans – moi j’ai le temps!” which roughly translates as “I’m not twenty years old, we’re old at twenty – I have time!”

I think that I was reminded of this as this, my 25th birthday, marked quite a milestone for me. I suddenly realised that I was suddenly closer to thirty years old than I am to twenty – just like Alizée sings: I’m not twenty!

As you can imagine with Madrid in lockdown, celebrations were rather light on the ground. I did, however, have the pleasure of opening some cards sent to me from all over the world, and a box full of edible goodies that my mum sent over from England. After these few minutes of indulgence, I logged on to work, but was interrupted shortly after my morning meeting. A delivery man was then at my door, handing over a box from some colleagues which contained a lovely letter, a triple chocolate cake, some candles (24 instead of 25, but that was my fault for not responding to a sly message asking how old I was to be), and a bottle of cava to celebrate the occasion!

A cake, candles reading "24", and a bottle of cava.

This lovely surprise came only days before a key date that the whole of Spain had been waiting for: the first day that we were allowed out for a walk. We had the first of May off, which was a lovely way to relax after a busy working birthday, and I took the opportunity to throw myself together a mask, made from a spare pillowcase as suggested by my auntie!

I wear a homemade face mask.

I spent half an hour braiding some spare wool I had lying around for the strap.

This day off was rather productive, but in reality we were all looking forward to the day after, the 2nd of May, which was the day we could finally step outside without going to the supermarket. For this, the government have set time slots for elderly people, parents with children, and then the general populous. With myself falling into the latter, I am allowed out from 6am – 10am and 8pm – 11pm, and naturally I managed to sleep through the morning slot of the first day.

This meant that I’d another day to kill, which I proceeded to spend cleaning my flat and further perfecting my Spanish omelette (after my last attempt). I think I’ve finally hit the nail on the head, with the centre of the tortilla de patatas just undercooked enough to be slightly liquid without seeing too much like pure raw egg.

A Spanish omelette that I made.
A slice of the Spanish omelette.
The silhouettes of three plants are seen in a window sill of my flat in Madrid.

A siesta on the sofa was needed after so much omelette.

My legs on the sofa in my flat.

That evening, however, I was ready to go at 8pm, leaving my flat for a casual wander for the first time in over two months. With an time limit of one hour and a maximum distance of 1km set, I knew exactly where I wanted to go: down to the river. The scene of many a picnic and summer’s evening spent reading, the river is my little slice of nature a mere ten minutes walk from my flat.

I did know, however, that the green areas along the banks of the Manzanares River would be out of bounds, as they are classed as part of a public park, and all of Madrid’s public parks currently remain closed. This didn’t deter me, though, as I knew that the area nearby the Matadero Cultural Centre and the bridge which spans the river and park would provide a lovely spot to watch the sun set.

The sun highlights the top floors of a decorative building in Madrid.
The sun sets over a closed park by the river in the south of Madrid.
The sun sets over the south of Madrid, with shades of pink, orange, and blue.

Once I’d crossed the bridge, I knew that I was coming to the end of my 1km limit, and so began to double back on myself. On the way home I passed such lovely sights as a couple of baby rabbits enjoying some time outdoors with their owners, the pastel-pink sky over a huge abandoned market which is finally going to be given a new life, and a full moon looking down over the illuminated fountains of my neighbourhood as the sky turned dark.

A pastel blue and pink sky sets over the concrete shell of a large structure.
A series of illuminated fountains in Madrid below a full moon sky.

To celebrate this lovely wander around streets that I hadn’t seen for many weeks, upon my arrival back home, I decided that it was time to make good use of some goodies that I had ordered from Lush. Lighting some candles, setting my lighting just right, popping on some slow music, and covering my face with a face mask of a different kind (a lovely peppermint-scented concoction), I converted my flat into a spa for the evening and pampered myself for an hour or two.

My face with a face mask.

With the weather perking up and the streets pretty much empty of cars, there’s really never been a better time to explore the city, and after seeing many families and groups of friends cycle by along the empty roads, I knew that I had to make the most of the opportunity and try and figure out how the road system and crazy roundabouts here work.

Now, I’ve never been the biggest fan of cycling, but after seeing the streets once filled with cars now replaced with people walking, jogging, and cycling, and the usual din of city traffic replaced by the chatter of conversation, people playing music from their windows, and even a family singing karaoke from their balcony, I suddenly found myself turned into an advocate for pedestrianising as much of the city as possible.

An empty tree-lined street near my flat in Madrid, with a beautiful sunset in the background.

The lovely atmosphere was only highlighted by said couple’s choice of song, “Resistiré” (“I will endure!”) by Dúo Dinámico (yes, this does mean the “Dynamic Duo”). This empowering hit from the 80s has become the hymn of the lockdown here in Spain, with people across the country singing along to the uplifting lyrics, which I have roughly translated:

I will endure! In order to keep on living!
I will bear the punches and I'll never give up!
And although my dreams may break into pieces:
I will endure! I will endure!

With such uplifting moments outside of my flat, I have also been trying to keep myself happy whilst indoors with my one true love: food. Besides the odd takeaway, it’s up to me to recreate some of my favourite dishes that I usually would eat out, and so I the other day I turned my hand to some ramen, which I have to say turned out rather splendidly!

A bowl of homemade ramen with pork.

Just yesterday, I thought it’d also be nice to head out and explore as much as the city as possible in the dark, and so I headed up to the northern boundary of my 1km limit: Atocha. Madrid’s main train station was stood very quiet, with all but essential trains currently out of service, but looking resplendent with a new lighting setup against the night sky.

The Atocha train station lit up at night.

To finish off this blog post, I think we all deserve a good laugh, and so I’ll share the scenes from last week’s quiz that I undertake with Abi and Danni. We decided that we should all go in costume, partly as a creative challenge to use materials available to us during lockdown, but mainly just for the laughs. As the three of us have been watching Tiger King on Netflix (well – what else is there to do?), me and Danni decided to drag it up, with Danni as Joe Exotic and myself as Carole Baskin.

If you’re not familiar with the series, Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin are arch-enemies who both own/owned wild cats, and my challenge was to transform myself into the latter. Anyway, lets get this over with: here’s a real photo of her versus what I managed…

Carole Baskin.
Me dressed as Carole Baskin.

It might not be the best costume ever, but with strips of bin bag for hair, some homemade pom-pom earrings, post-it and sweet wrapper flowers, all topped of with my first ever attempt at a full face of makeup, I thought I did an alright job given the provisions I had at hand!

You may have noticed earlier that I didn’t mention what Abi would be dressing up as for the quiz, and that’s because she kept it a secret right up until the last minute: me and Danni had no idea what she’d appear as once we fired up the video call! As you’ll see below, I think it’s fair to say that she didn’t disappoint; she turned up as a tiger and perfectly completed the hilarious trio!

Danni as Joe Exotic, me as Carole Baskin, and Abi as a tiger.

And so we conclude yet another edition of blog posts from lockdown: I’m surprised how much content I have to post despite feeling that I spend all my life in my flat: a sensation which is, to be fair, mostly accurate. To sign off, I return once again to the Alizée song that I mentioned at the beginning of my post, and a line which she sings in the English version of the song which I find very fitting given my birthday situation and the current lockdown:

I’m not twenty – and I want to be free!

02.05.20 — Journal

Just Go On

Keeping with the rather reflective mood of my last post, the title of this post was inspired by a little outing that I have had today. The sun has been out, the trees are as fertile and as green as can be, and the temperature has settled at a perfect spring temperature. This all served to put me in a good mood, and an unfathomably random song popped into my head. The song in question isn’t even a “real” song, it was created as a parody of cheesy musical songs for the series “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”, and is called “Just Go On”.

We’ll never stop,
we’ll keep on moving forward,
even if we don’t know what we’re moving toward.
They say life’s too short,
but they’re wrong:
it’s so long!

Sometimes the only way to go
is to just go on.

With this upbeat message in mind, I thought it’d be nice to share some of the photos which document the various weeks of this confinement, which will be a welcome change after my last and rather text-heavy post. As you’ll see, these photos vary from photos of Madrid in bloom, life in my flat, some of the food I’ve been enjoying, and even a few silly screenshots from calls with friends.

We begin, though, with the last photo I took as I left the office the day before lockdown began. I was one of the last to leave, and so had the task of turning everything off and shutting up shop, which left me with a rather dark photo.

The profiles of computers are seen in a darkened office.

I left the office with nothing more than my laptop that final day, but it soon became obvious that I needed a few more bits and bats: paper samples (for sending things to print), Pantone swatches (for colour matching), and even my office chair: all of which were graciously sent to me by Erretres. With these new additions to my house, it was time to rearrange the space a little in order to create my new home office.

My home office setup, with plenty of plants.

The home office setup – as pretty as it may be – soon became tiresome after a few weeks of remote work, and the weekly trip to the shop became the highlight of the lockdown. This 20-minute wander was made even more enjoyable as Madrid’s winter slowly turned into spring, with the bare trees before we entered quarantine now as lush as ever, and the sun returning to bask everything in a gorgeous warm glow.

A empty street lined with trees during Madrid's coronavirus lockdown.
Balloons decorate a balcony during Madrid's coronavirus lockdown.

Back in my flat, there have been numerous video calls to keep me entertained, with group catch-ups, one-on-one conversations with old friends, and even a weekly quiz which is always a highlight. From this odd capture taken with the Cake Club girls, to the hilarity of me, Abi, and Danni discovering FaceTime animojis, no video call is ever uneventful!

Loredana, me, Heidi, and Megan on Skype.
Abi, Danni, and me use our animoji on FaceTime.

Easter, which should have been spent with Luisa exploring the crazy processions that take over Spain’s Semana Santa (holy week), was a much more quiet affair. It was improved greatly, however, by a surprise selection of British Easter classics (albeit in miniature) that my mum sent over from England!

Cadbury's Dairy Milk Eggs and Mini Eggs.

It’s not really Easter without gorging on Cadbury’s.

Speaking of food, I’ve also (like many of you out there) been taking the opportunity to improve my skills in the kitchen. Instead of taking on such challenges as banana bread or sourdough, however, I had my eyes set on perfecting one particular favourite of mine: la tortilla de patatas (Spanish omelette). A relatively simple dish of only three ingredients (potatoes, onion, and egg), the trick lies in perfect cooking time/temperature, the right amount of salt, and – most importantly – the difficult flipping of the whole tortilla in order to cook the other side.

This might all sound rather simple, but the simplicity of the dish means that it takes a lot of practice to get it to taste just right. A key aspect of the tortilla is how cooked the egg is at its centre. Amongst Spaniards it is widely agreed that the centre of the omelette should be poca hecha – lightly done, meaning that the egg is left semi-raw and runny in the centre. Gauging this without being able to see the centre of the heavy omelette is quite challenging – but I think I have finally gotten the hang of it! Here, then, I present to you my best stab at this traditional dish:

A Spanish omelette.

With so much time on my hands, I really should have gotten round to making a face mask a lot earlier than I actually did, but I got away with using my coat’s high neck (thanks Norway for your excellent coats) to cover my nose and mouth whilst I undertook my shop. As the temperature gradually rose, and the city got dustier and dirtier as non-essential cleaning works were put on hold, I soon had to cave and throw myself a mask together from a spare pillowcase!

I have my mouth and nose covered by the high zip of my winter coat.
A car is covered in dead leaves in the street in Madrid, during the coronavirus lockdown.

Other activities that have been keeping me busy and sane include deep-cleaning my flat, as well as the rare moments at work where I’m occupied in doing activities which don’t necessitate that I sit behind my laptop all day. These included matching colours from the aforementioned Pantone swatches for a brand we’re developing, a process which requires natural light, and so I spent a good ten minutes or so the other day leant out of one of my windows!

Also a shout out to my apple plant in the background (on top of my air con unit), which I have been growing from some apple seeds in an attempt to feel like I have accomplished something during this quarantine.

Pantone swatches sit on a windowsill with an apple plant growing on top of an air conditioning unit.

I have only included this photo because I was proud of how clean my place looked.

A section of my flat including my kitchen.

As the lockdown has worn on, my weekly outings have been keeping me going, and I’ve been trying to switch up my route to the supermarket in order to mix things up a bit and see some new sights. This has led to some odd sights: outdated advertising, dirty cars, and the odd abandoned item in the street.

Sunlight shines through a clump of trees in a deserted Madrid during the coronavirus lockdown.
Old posters and some abandoned fabrics on a metal door.

I’m sure that this event was cancelled but I’m not sure what happened here.

I’ll bring you all up to date with the latest development in Spain’s lockdown procedures in my next blog post, but for now I shall just leave you with the only bit of physical company I have had during these last six or so weeks: a chocolate bunny that was on offer after Easter was over!

A chocolate rabbit sits in my kitchen.

Yeah, he was a bit creepy. I ate him as soon as I could.

12.04.20 — Journal

Lockdown

After my previous blog post, in which I looked back at everything I got up to before that fateful 13th March, it was pretty obvious that my next post had to be about the one and only topic on everyone’s lips: coronavirus. There are plenty of trustworthy sources of information (see: not social media) and plenty of interesting articles about the virus and the resultant lockdowns currently in place all over the world, so I shan’t be delving into this much-covered realm. Rather than rattle off any facts or advice, I thought it would be more interesting for me, and hopefully for you too, if I were to share my personal experiences thus far.

Immediately after having said that I won’t be talking about any facts, I shall now talk about some facts – but I think they form an important preamble in order to provide you with some context.

Madrid, where I live, is the worst-hit area of Spain, a country with around 900 COVID-19-related deaths being reported every 24 hours at the peak of the outbreak. The country has been on official lockdown for over four weeks now, with people only able leave the house for food, medical reasons, to work (in essential sectors only), to walk their dog, or to assist those who are dependant on them. Every establishment which doesn’t sell food, medicine, or essential products has been closed. I live alone and have been working from home for the past month, leaving my flat only to buy food a few times and visit the laundrette.

It’s a lot of information to take in, and it does sound rather drastic, but I will be touching on all this as we go along. In order for me to make some sense of what I am about to write, I shall break this reflective post down into four sections: the descent into lockdown, life in my flat, life outside my flat, and what’s to come.

The descent into lockdown

As touched on previously, the descent into the current state of emergency was chaotic at best. It all began with the announcement on a Monday that all education centres were to close by the Wednesday, which sent every parent I know flapping and every student I know cheering. I wasn’t amongst those directly affected by this, but the announcement definitely marked a turning point.

As well as watching all the parents I know frantically trying to work out how they would secure childcare, I also saw students’ initial celebrations slowly turn into doubts and worries about how and if they would graduate. That night, I had to take a taxi home, as my colleague who usually drives me into the centre had to rush back to make plans with her family. The taxi dropped me off at the shop, where I had to pick up a few extra ingredients to cook a meal, but something was off.

The supermarket had queues like I’d never seen before. Nothing too crazy, it just seemed a lot busier, and there was an air of unease. I say unease and not panic because I don’t think I can compare it to the histeria which seems to have descended over the United Kingdom, but people did seem to be preparing for something. I did my best to not let this get to me at all, strolling casually amongst the aisles, picking up a few extra bits and bats along the way – some cans of food and some soups.

I suppose now is the time when I must make a comment about the red mist which has descended and caused people to panic-buy toilet roll around the world: what ever for? This is not a virus whose primary symptom is diarrhoea, nor has a disastrous world event threatened the supply of toilet paper. I can only assume that people have been buying so much of the stuff because they foresaw themselves spending a long time in isolation, but in this case, why has nobody been panic-buying non-perishable food in such quantities? Without being crude, I think having to clean oneself via alternative means is a lot less daunting than the thought of running out of food altogether. Maybe there’s some deep psychological terror associated with the thought of losing this everyday item, but in my head, starving to death is a lot harder to deal with than having to take a quick shower after going to the toilet. It may be more hassle, but while we’re all stuck at home it’s not like we’re in a rush.

I have to catch myself to stop myself panicking.

Anyway, back to the supermarket. It’s during these uneasy moments that I remember that I live alone and far away from my family, and I have to catch myself to stop myself panicking. This was a skill that I mastered as the week continued, for the next day, we were all called to a meeting at work about our company’s plan during what were looking to be uncertain times. We were given the option to begin working from home, and so a small team (myself included) assembled in order to implement new protocols to facilitate remote working. Over the next 48 hours we had to configure tools for remote email and server access, new project management software, communication software, and team organisation tools. We had then to draw up plans for how these tools should be used, and brief the rest of the team on how we were going to try and make this new dynamic work.

Said days were some of the most chaotic I have ever experienced, with the strains of various considerations at the same time piling on from all sides. I had my personal health and wellbeing to worry about, including ensuring that I had all the necessary supplies and medicines at home in preparation for the looming lockdown; I had said task of implementing remote working protocols; and at the same time I also had to keep on top of all the ongoing projects at work, keeping the output as steady and uninterrupted as possible.

With the government’s advice changing daily, we saw the number of people in the office drop to just a handful by the Thursday of that week. This Thursday was a whirlwind for me, as I attempted to set up my work space at home, as well as being on constant call to try and iron out all the teething problems that everyone was experiencing as they began their first remote working experience.

I left a note on the back of my door reminding myself not to leave, and settled down for the start of life under lockdown.

After a rocky first day, Friday came around, and with it the total closure of our office. There was still no official lockdown order from the Spanish government, but many of us, myself included, decided that Friday would be the first day of our confinement. Just 24 hours before the official state of emergency was announced, I locked up my front door, left a note on the back of it reminding myself not to leave, and settled down for the start of life under lockdown.

Life in my flat

Friday was my first day of working from home, and saw my usually hourlong commute reduced to a five second walk from my bedroom to my improv working space in the living room. This meant I could snag an extra hour of sleep, which was rather welcome, and kicked off my quarantine with an optimistic energy which I would soon need.

Working from home has been a positive experience overall, with its ups and downs as it to be expected. We’ve definitely had to pull our socks up and get more organised, which has made things flow a lot smoother, but then quirks like slow server connections and dropped call connections have slowed us down a bit. I shan’t detail too much the trials and tribulations of remote working, however, as I feel like the time spent outside of work but stuck at home during these past few weeks is much more poignant.

I say this because I don’t believe that the lockdown has fundamentally affected my working life. At work, I have always been restricted to a particular place and a particular activity: I have to be in the office, and I have to be working. Lockdown may have me trapped at home, but I still have to be in a certain place (at my laptop), and I still have to be realising a certain activity (my work). Nothing has really changed.

I don’t believe that the lockdown has fundamentally affected my working life.

Once I sign off for the day, however, things have really changed. The commute to and from the office, which I have repeatedly cursed and complained about in the past, at least served to physically and mentally separate me from my work. For my own wellbeing, I still abide by my rule of completely disconnecting at the end of the working day, but storing a laptop away doesn’t provide the same physical experience which mentally distances the stress of the working day from my home, a space which should be for rest and relaxation.

I have always been one for associating certain moods with different physical spaces, which is why I stopped studying in bed and why I have never really been a massive advocate from working from home. If I spend eight hours stressing over work in my living room, I find it impossible to then kick back with a glass of wine and watch TV in that same space. When I used to work on freelance projects from my bed in the UK, I would then find it impossible to stop thinking and fall asleep, and so I eventually stated working from the kitchen (much to the annoyance of my poor mother).

If I had a separate office room in my flat, I might not have so many reservations about working and living in the same space, but for now I have to do the best that I can with the space that I have. I have expressly prohibited myself from ever working from anywhere that isn’t my table, and have conversely forced myself to immediately move away from this table once I put my work laptop away. It’s not much, but the small things are amplified thousandfold when most of my daily life is now spent within 40m².

I have always been one for associating certain moods with different physical spaces.

My flat isn’t the best place to be confined to, but of course I never considered that I would ever have to work from home when I was looking for a place to live here in Madrid. I wanted a separate living room and bedroom in order to have some privacy when guests came to visit, but I wasn’t fussed about having a balcony or views out on to the street, as I would much rather head out and enjoy the atmosphere on foot during warm summer evenings or fresh winter days. In fact, I was happy to have an interior-facing flat, as it meant that I enjoyed near silence at home, great for kicking back after work or a day out in the city.

As you can imagine, this decision hasn’t really been ideal during these times of quarantine. While the majority of the city leans out of its balconies for the daily 8pm applause, or even to sing and dance together, I have to make do with a view of the neighbours’ windows and the small square of sky that can be seen when I look up from mine. I am just thankful that my flat, being on the third floor of a four-storey building, receives lots of daylight and even a good few rays of sun during the day.

I shall try to refrain from excessive moaning, however, because I know that many people are in much worse situations. I have friends who are struggling to study, have had to apply for financial help from the government as they cannot work, and even some who find themselves – for one reason or another – ineligible to apply for said support. If I ever catch myself sulking about these relatively frivolous strains, I try to put my situation in perspective and count my lucky stars.

I’ve also a variety of ways of cheering myself up outside of work hours, including regular calls with family and friends from across the globe, as well as the odd spot of exercise, watching TV, cooking, baking, and even a spot of trying to learn new things. I’ve been refining my Spanish omelette technique, improving my Photoshop skills, and even trying to complete some Irish lessons on Duolingo, but I must stress that I’ve not been pushing myself too hard to be productive. I have seen many a well-meaning post rousing us to be as productive as possible during this lockdown, but I think that it’s important to remember that we are all trying to do our best in the middle of a global crisis – let’s not berate ourselves if we don’t come out the other end speaking another language and playing a musical instrument.

The best way by far to lift my spirits has been the rare opportunity to venture outside, as I am quite a claustrophobic person and have caught myself a couple of times panicking when remembering that I cannot leave my flat. It has almost been amusing to see tasks that I once complained about, such as taking out the rubbish or going to pick up some extra food, now becoming treasured opportunities and the highlight of my day. It’s a double edged sword though, which I shall now explain.

Life outside my flat

The act of leaving home is often a bittersweet experience, and it might not be for the reasons that you imagine. The isolation and solitude enforced by staying in my flat can be overwhelming, but the knowledge that I am safely isolated against the virus can also be of great comfort. Leaving the flat, be it for food or for medicines (the only two reasons for which I can/do leave), can often be rather nerve-wracking. I don’t have a mask or any decent protective gloves, so I often find myself hyper-conscious about maintaining distance between myself and others, often for their safety more than for my own. I sometimes find myself in a tizzy as I mentally repeat the mantras of safe social contact: maintain a 2m distance from others, don’t touch your face, cough into your elbow…

These considerations are certainly a mental drain, but they do not form the main reason for which the outside world now leaves me with a bittersweet feeling. I shall try to explain how two different ways of observing the outside world as I wander the streets can now uplift or sadden me in equal measure.

The outside world now leaves me with a bittersweet feeling.

Naturally, it’s a joy to be back on the streets. It’s lovely to speak to the occasional person, catch some rays of the springtime sun, and exercise my tired body a little. Watching the world carry on as much as it can, with people following the new norms and working together in order to protect each other, is lovely to see. Just the other day, I left the shop at around 8pm out of pure coincidence, and I found myself on a street which was suddenly alive with the roar of clapping, cheering, and even the buzz of a ratchet that an elderly gentlemen was swinging around with great gusto from his balcony.

This oxymoronic combination of a sense of normality mixed with such extraordinary outpourings of community spirit prompted by equally extraordinary circumstances have calming and uplifting effects respectively, and make such excursions into the outside world so enjoyable. There’s also the tonic offered by the mere reminder that I am not 100% trapped in my flat, which serves to relax my claustrophobic mind just enough to maintain my cool until the next time I’ll be out and about.

There is another way of seeing, however, as I pace the streets of the uneasily quiet city. No matter how much one may wish to cling to these glimpses of what the Spanish call la vida cotidiana, everyday life as we knew it, something is always amiss. There’s people on the streets, but nobody is stopping to greet each other. There’s no “hola” to strangers, and passing smiles are now hidden behind face masks. This I find particularly poignant, as I have always been delighted by the openness and chattiness of Spanish society, and to see this energy extinguished is sobering.

Then there’s the streets full of shuttered businesses. Bars, restaurants, book shops, flower shops, bakeries, gift shops – in my area there’s all sorts of services on offer, and they bring a real liveliness to the neighbourhood. Now, a silence has descended, and the usually rich texture created by the goods displayed behind their windows has been flattered into a wall of metal shutters. I’m also haunted by the possibility that many of these businesses may not survive the financial crash sure to be caused by this crisis, especially seeing as most of the offerings around me are independent and even family-owned.

This very real prospect also invokes another uneasiness, as I realise that what I considered to be my daily life may never return. There’s the awful possibility that some of my favourite haunts such as the terrace of a local bar, the bakery below my flat, and a Lebanese take-away across the road may not reopen. Just as I was settling into life here in Spain, building relationships and forming routines, it does seem like this crisis is pulling the rug out from underneath me. I reiterate that I, of course, have it relatively easy, but it does nevertheless leave me slightly disorientated and disheartened.

I have always been delighted by the chattiness of Spanish society, and to see this energy extinguished is sobering.

Little details also signal that not all is well and good, as the usual “muchas gracias, hasta luego” from the cashier in the supermarket now comes from behind a face mask and a large transparent acrylic screen suspended between me and them. There’s lines marked on the floor of pharmacies and shops alike, indicating where people should move around and how much distance they should maintain when queueing. Security guards act as bouncers outside of shops, directing the flow of people and instructing us to don gloves and disinfect our shopping trolley with alcohol gel before proceeding. Announcements remind us not to stockpile food, there’s a good spattering of empty shelves, and some staffed and self-service areas such as the bakery now have been shuttered or have had their produce pre-bagged.

As I say, the mood that my time outside my flat can leave me in varies depending on the way I look at things, and that can vary from excursion to excursion. One night I took out some recycling to be greeted by a dark and quiet street devoid of life. Another time, I saw colourful balloons and messages of hope reading “todo irá bien” (everything will be fine), and spoke to a group of old ladies – all stood meters from each other, of course. Sometimes a trip outside can result in a mini rollercoaster of emotions, as I complete the trip to the supermarket, looping back to my house in order to pass by the pharmacy. I can chat to people whilst shopping, pass by the sad sight of restaurant terraces now dusty and full of leaves, and then be reanimated by the cheerful music leaking from open windows.

What’s to come

Nobody can tell what will come of all this. I don’t know to what degree we will be able to return to normality, both because of the financial uncertainty caused by this crisis and health risks posed by the eventual lifting of quarantine measures. The Spanish government has emphasised that the eventual lifting of the state of emergency will be slow and stepped, indicating that certain activities will be gradually permitted as the numbers drop, all in an effort to allow people their freedoms without overwhelming the healthcare system.

Speaking of the healthcare system, I shall now do something that I dislike using my blog as a platform to do, and I will get a little political. To all those in the UK, please do not abuse the little freedoms that the government have left you in order to discretely meet people. In fact, wherever you are from, and no matter how much you want to see your family, spend time with your partner, or chill out with friends: don’t. Stay at home. Do not be so selfish as to think that because you nor the people you are meeting will be affected, that others will not suffer because of you. It is our collective responsibility to keep as many hospital beds free for those who need them.

Wherever you are from, please, stay at home.

As I have reiterated throughout this post: I am lucky. I can work, albeit with some caveats, from the safety and comfort of my own home. I would like to extend my gratitude to all those workers who are still out and fighting to keep all essential activities running. Let’s remember that these are the people that have often been looked down on, and who are still paid a pittance for jobs which many have suddenly begun to realise are, in fact, essential. Once we have are in more stable times, it might just be time to hold those in power accountable for ensuring that we prioritise what is truly essential, such as our public healthcare and many other professions which have not been able to simply pack up shop and go home during this quarantine.

I am also cautious of calling these essential workers heroes, as that implies that they have an alternative other than working. With the populous in lockdown and many legally obliged to stay at home, many workers have no other option than to work their now somewhat risky jobs in order to keep a steady income. I am also averse to hearing the privileged and those in power hail these essential workers as heroes, only to then refuse to reward them for their work. I am not in any way casting in doubt the bravery and stoicism of these people – they deserve all the praise and recognition that they can get – but I think that calling them heroes is a shallow gesture when they often have no alternative and are rarely awarded for their invaluable contribution by the same people who are supposed praising them.

Anyway, and to conclude, I wish everyone a happy and healthy spring holiday. I am in good health and good spirits, and I wish the same for you and everyone that you know. In these strange times, we’ve to talk openly about how we’re feeling, and keep in touch with each other as much as we can. Even if I have been calling friends just for the both of us to complain about being stuck indoors all day, a problem shared is a problem halved.

Thank you to everyone who has been calling and messaging to check in with me, and to all my family and friends who have to deal with my constant video calls when I need some virtual company here at home.

Todo irá bien.

20.03.20 — Journal

Life Before Lockdown

In a stark contrast from my last post, in which I spoke about a trip from last month across Europe and all the way to Amsterdam, I write to you all from a country in complete lockdown. Here in Spain, all but essential travel has been banned, and so I’m now cooped up in my flat until further notice.

It’s a somber time, and something which I’ll touch on in a more reflective post at a later date, but for now I’m going to focus on the positives. I have some fun updates to share from before these measures came into place, and I must also give a huge shoutout to all my colleagues that make up the Erretres team – in a few short days, we’ve managed to move our entire operation online, and we’re all now working from home and as productive as we ever were. No small feat!

Anyway, let’s get back to pre-lockdown life, which I unconsciously but thankfully made the most of. In sharp contrast to the frostiness of Amsterdam, Madrid was just beginning to warm up, and so this meant plenty of outdoor time and wanders around the city to take in the upbeat atmosphere. One evening, I headed down to the river to watch the sun set and advance with reading my book, which I had abandoned somewhat after ditching the train to work in favour of a lift with a colleague.

The sun sets on a red building in Madrid, with trees and a fountain in the foreground.
La Puerta del Sol in Madrid, with the famous Tío Pepe neon sign.
Old text on an orange facade reading "Mercado Santa María de la Cabeza".

At work, I was also presented with a lovely surprise, as the U-Tad University sent me a wonderful gift to thank me for my participation as a speaker at the Prisma Design Fest a few weeks ago, an event which I documented in a blog post afterwards. I was chuffed to bits with my new fancy pen and a fabulous design book!

A pen in a box and Spin 360 design book.

The weekend after, I headed into the fancy Salamanca district of Madrid and met up with Soyoung, an ex-colleague from Erretres. We met at a lovely little café for some brunch and a much-needed chat to catch up on everything, from our work lives to what it was like to live as a married woman after her lovely wedding last year!

I sit next to a large stand with different brunch dishes on it.

I always fancied myself as one of the elegant ladies who lunch.

During our chat, we talked about her family back in South Korea and how the coronavirus was just beginning to spread there, and at that moment we had no idea how soon it would come and change everything here in Spain. Quite the foreshadowing…

The preceding weekend was to be, without anyone’s knowledge at the time, our last weekend of freedom for a while. Thankfully, two friends were celebrating their birthdays that week, and so the days were to be filled with fun evenings in great company.

This series of shenanigans kicked off with a trip to see “La Jaula de las Locas” (literally “The Cage of the Crazy Ladies”), a hilarious piece of theatre led by drag queens and some big names in Spanish showbiz. After paying for the cheaper seats, Bogar (the birthday boy), Hugo, and I were thrilled to be told that we could have a free upgrade, and took our places near the stage to enjoy a few hours of riotous scandal and great laughs.

A curtain on a stage reads "La jaula de las locas".
Hugo, Bogar, and I pose for a photo at the theatre.

I then found myself back out in the city a couple of days later, as Luis was also celebrating his birthday, and I was excited to see him again after he left Erretres a while back. A huge group of us gathered in a bar in Lavapiés, and we were all soon tipsily away, chatting (see: shouting, this is Spain after all), nibbling on some lunch, and roaring with laughter as he opened a few presents (including a prop of a severed foot, brownie points if you spot it in the photo below).

As the celebrations had kicked off at 2pm, I foolishly assumed that this meant that there would be time to head home for a siesta in between the afternoon drinks and the evening’s party, but I was mistaken. Instead I was informed that we’d be heading off to a party called Tortilla, which is named as such as they serve portion of tortilla (Spanish omelette) in the club. Yes. At the bar. In a club.

After a hilarious taxi journey, in which many of Luis’ lifetime friends asked me about my time in Spain, we rocked up at the club, and I was informed that they kick everyone out at 11pm – that’s my kind of club! We headed in, were joined by more friends and colleagues, and boogied on down until the very pleasant time of 10pm, when I said my goodbyes and hopped on the metro back home. I wish all my nights out ended on such a civilised note!

The sun sets over the financial district in the north of Madrid.

As I’d been out with Luis and company that evening, I missed out on the second night of celebrations for Bogar’s birthday, but I had secured him a great present to make it up to him: a trip to Hammam Al Ándalus, an Arab baths experience hidden in the city centre.

Naturally I don’t have any photos from our trip, as it was a lovely opportunity to disconnect, bathe, and enjoy a relaxing massage just as the coronavirus panic was hitting Spain, but we had a lovely time – even if Bogar was somewhat hungover! I do, however, have a photo of the churros which we devoured after a lovely post-bathe lunch – it may have been a mistake to book our two-hour slot for 2pm without having any lunch first!

There’s nothing like a big portion of churros after a steak lunch.

Churros and chocolate.

After this lovely weekend, the fateful week began. Monday began with business as usual, and ended with the whole of Spain on complete lockdown and everyone in obligatory quarantine. As I mentioned at the start of this post, I’ll be following up over the coming days (and perhaps even weeks) on the rapid switch to working from home and what it’s like to be on lockdown by myself.

But hey, it’s not all bad – I’ve been able to pull my favourite game, Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, out again, and there’s a new season of Élite on Netflix ready and waiting to be binge-watched. Also, it’s Friday night, and now I have the perfect excuse to open a bottle of wine and have a night in pampering myself. Every cloud!

01.03.20 — Travel

Amsterdam

As mentioned at the end of my last post, Design Event Extravaganza, and continuing with the theme, I spent last weekend over in the Netherlands, attending the Awwwards Conference, a series of talks on the state of digital design. The trip was paid for by Erretres, and so me and my colleague Zoe jetted off from Madrid to Amsterdam on Wednesday evening straight from work.

With the busy weeks in the office preceding the trip, I hadn’t had much chance to do my research on this country that I’d never visited, and so I rocked up without even being entirely sure if they use the euro or not, where exactly the hostel was, or even how we were to get from the airport to the city centre. The same chaotic approach also went into my packing, as I spent half an hour the night before flying throwing stuff into my backpack rather willy-nilly, before hauling it to a client’s office in the centre, back to our office on the outskirts of the city, and finally over to the airport.

To summarise, the whole trip was rather spontaneous and chaotic, which was somewhat refreshing.

We arrived in Amsterdam near midnight, and fired up trusty ol’ Google Maps in order to make our way to our hostel. Hopping on a bus and discovering the first example of what would become many services which only accept payments by card, we eventually rocked up near the hostel and traversed some of the city’s streets by night.

Upon finding the hostel and checking in, we didn’t waste much time in getting off to bed, as we’d to be in the DeLaMar Theatre at 8am the next morning in order to register, pick up our passes, and grab a seat for the start of the conference!

The following morning ran pretty much like clockwork: I managed to be up, showered, and waiting for Zoe on the steps of the hostel in good time. The two of us then set off to the venue, catching our first glimpse of the city by day, albeit through a grey haze of rain. Google Maps then proceeded to fail us, dragging us down a back street two blocks from where we should have been, but we soon orientated ourself and wandered into the theatre.

After picking up our passes and free goodie bags, contained in a cool tote which has now become my new favourite shopping bag, we took our seats in the auditorium and waited for the talks to begin…

A harpist plays music on the stage at the Awwwards Conference in Amsterdam.

Then followed a day of awesome presentations by some really interesting speakers, ranging from the dark patterns used by some UX designers to the current state of accessibility, and even tips on how to overcome creative blocks and build great design teams. In between the talks, me and Zoe got chatting to a guy from the Netherlands, and also made the important discovery of a nearby supermarket in which to buy some belated breakfast.

The auditorium of the DeLaMar theatre in Amsterdam is filled with attendees of the Awwwards Conference.

After the day’s talks concluded at about six o’clock, the two of us headed back to the hostel for a siesta, as we’d planned to then head into the city centre itself for another networking event. It was a bit of an odd introduction to the new city, as the conference was on the city’s outskirts, and our first introduction to the canal-bisected streets of the centre was by night.

We caught a tram to said event, which took place in the rooftop suite of an office building, a place we couldn’t find thanks to Google Maps acting up on us again. We then came to the conclusion rather quickly that Google Maps really doesn’t like Amsterdam, but we weren’t too fussed as we managed to arrive before all the food and drinks had gone.

The evening event made for another interesting few hours, with presentations of new design software, talks on copywriting, and the chance to chat to some of the speakers from the day’s main event. We got chatting to the creative director of Büro, a design studio from Porto in Portugal which I have always been a fan of, as well as the developers of Framer, a new interactive design tool. I also discovered the wonders of Chocomel, a brand of chocolate milk that I took to drinking after discovering that the only beer on offer was Heineken. Bleugh.

Wooden slats between two buildings with the morning sky in the background.

The second day began with much brighter skies and even a few rays of sun, but the city remained freezing cold. After I couldn’t get in touch with Zoe, I wandered off to the event on my lonesome, snapping a few photos of the sights along the way and picking up some breakfast from the aforementioned supermarket.

A Mini Cooper, a bicycle, and an old gas lamp in front of old red brick houses in Amsterdam.
A blue tourist boat sits docked in a canal in Amsterdam, with the light of dawn breaking in the sky above.
The sun rises over the streets of Amsterdam.

Once I’d found Zoe, who’d been taken offline by the dodgy WiFi connection in the hostel, we took our seats for the second day of talks, and were once again entertained and inspired by another round of charismatic speakers who divulged personal experiences and tips for navigating the world of digital design, but also the design industry in general.

After the presentation of the Awwwards themselves, which are given out for best website and various other categories, the conference was officially over, and so we repeated the previous day’s routine: back to the hostel, a siesta, and then out for another afterparty. This time it was the official afterparty, in which we got chatting to a guy from Canada, and then some designers from Belarus and Germany.

We didn’t stay out too late, as the day after was Saturday and our only free day to actually explore what Amsterdam has to offer. As I said before, it was kind of odd: as I woke up on Saturday morning, I realised that I had been in the city for over 48 hours but still not actually seen anything of note!

To change that, me and Zoe regrouped and headed into the city centre, where we’d arranged to meet two of her friends who were visiting at the same time. After finding our preferred spot to be full and with a waiting list exceeding 45 minutes, we found another café in which to have some brunch and awaited their arrival.

A canal and streets in the centre of Amsterdam, set below a grey sky.

Zoe’s friends met us there, and we got chatting about all sorts of stuff, from design and UK life to their experience as primary school teachers. The four of us then set out to explore the city some more, wandering down Amsterdam’s kooky streets of thin, tall, and perilously crooked houses.

The wonky houses of Amsterdam.
A canal winds through the streets of Amsterdam.

We were informed that the wonky appearance of these houses is because of the uneven settlement of the wooden-pile foundations into the waterlogged land on which they stand, and I guessed that the cranes built on to the roof of each of them was for hauling bulky stuff up to higher floors: the shallow houses have really steep staircases (our hostel’s stairs felt like a deathtrap) and so it would be practically impossible to haul a sofa, say, up them. This revelation came to me when we wandered past a group of guys hauling parts of their new sofa up the outside of their house to another guy who was half hanging out of the window of the third floor. Health and safety’s worst nightmare!

The streets of the red light district of Amsterdam.
A church spire between the tall, crooked buildings of central Amsterdam.

I usually try and straighten the lines of my photos, but this city made that impossible.

After exploring the chinatown district and the central station area, the four of us were once again peckish, and headed to a Sotto, a pizza restaurant that Zoe’s friend had found online. The place was a little way out, but it was worth the journey, as we tucked into a lovely round of thin crust pizzas.

Sotto Pizza in Amsterdam.

With lunch devoured, we headed back to the centre, and soon found ourselves queuing to try the traditional Dutch pancakes at another recommended spot that Zoe’s friends had found. I ordered an apple crumple pancake, and was shocked to find that they were quite literal about the whole affair: my pancake had a huge mound of ice cream and apple crumble dumped on top!

This humongous dessert had us all itching to walk it off, and so we headed out in the dark in order to explore part of the city that we’d not yet been through: the red light district. With the aroma of marijuana following us around, and the regular spattering of the infamous window-fronted rooms, it was an experience unlike anything that I have lived before.

I wondered if I would be taken aback by this very liberal attitude to drugs and prostitution, but I actually found it refreshingly interesting. The streets of the neighbourhood were buzzing with people of all walks of life, and we dived in and out of bars and pubs, drinking and chatting the evening away.

The red light district was not half as imposing as I thought it would be.

Amsterdam's red light district by night.

All good things must come to an end, however, and so after our last drink in one of the bars, Zoe and I had to part ways with her friends and head back to our hostel for our last night’s sleep before our flight back to Madrid on Sunday morning. The return journey wasn’t half as eventful as the outbound flight, mainly because we actually knew where we were going and weren’t wondering what the name of the country was and whether we were about to get charged for using our Spanish cards abroad!

Well, as unprepared as I may have been for this short and busy trip to the Amsterdam, I had a lovely time in the city. I would like to return in summer, however, as I think the biting cold, nasty wind, and endless rain didn’t exactly present the Netherlands to us in its best light. That’s all good by me, though, as I’ve a good excuse to return again! Until the next time, Amsterdam…

29.02.20 — Journal

Design Event Extravaganza

Since returning from Murcia almost a month ago, things have been rather hectic, the pace of change has been rather drastic, and I have been up to many new things; which all means that my blog has consequently been receiving very little TLC during the past few weeks. Now, however, and after another issue with my website going down for a few days, I am back once again to bring you a good few updates on what I’ve been up to!

An illuminated sign reading "Erretres – The Strategic Design Company".

I have been seeing quite a lot of this place!

In between many busy days in the office working for some pretty cool projects, I have been sure to balance work and play, heading out for plenty of lunches, dinners, and drinks with friends in between times. I don’t have any decent photos of said evenings, as sometimes it is best to just disconnect and enjoy the moment, but trust that I have been making the most of what Madrid’s culinary scene has to offer!

Alongside all this work and play come the moments of domesticity. I have had to endure further trips to the dentist, who I swear is trying to blind me with the particles of my teeth which go flying through the air whilst she drills further holes in my pearly whites. I also made my first pot of lentejas a la riojana, lentils cooked with chorizo and vegetables. I couldn’t really appreciate the first bowl, as my mouth was still half-numb from the dentists, but I must say that now it has worn off and I can reheat the stuff in peace, I feel worthy of being decreed king of lentejas!

One Friday afternoon saw the first in a series of design-related events, with the Collision network holding a ping-pong tournament in order to catch up with everyone involved in the mentorship programme. It soon became clear to me that I was destined to hover around the pizzas rather than progress much with the tournament (I have terrible hand-eye coordination), but I had a good few beers, chatted with everyone for a while, and had a lovely time.

The Collision ping-pong tournament event.

That weekend, I once again headed out with Bogar and Hugo, and we spent an evening watching the sun set over the city centre from a rooftop terrace in Callao. The beers that we enjoyed and the couple of hours out were most welcome, and the colours of the sky made for some lovely photos.

The sun sets over Madrid.
The sun sets over Madrid.
Bogar, Hugo, and me atop a rooftop bar.

I then had a few days to prepare for the main design event around which has given this blog post its name. As a Lead Designer at Erretres, I was invited to talk in an event called Prisma, a conference about design and technology organised by the U-Tad university in Madrid. My talk presented quite a daunting task: I’d to give a 30-minute talk in Spanish in front of 200 attendees!

After prepping my presentation, which I had titled “Nuevas marcas en un panorama en constante cambio: branding digital para start-ups” (New brands in a landscape in constant change: digital branding for startups), I headed down to Medialab Prado to be mic-ed up and interviewed. I’d never been in the space before, but the Madrid-government-owned arts centre turned out to be a real architectural gem, full of neon yellow corridors and a lovely café space.

Neon yellow stairs.
Neon yellow corridor.

As the people filtered in, I was ambushed by a technician so that he could connect me up with a fancy wireless microphone, and I was soon on the front row and watching the first speaker present. Once he began to conclude his talk, I found myself up on the stage, and in a flash I had begun my talk, wittering on about how the difficulties of branding the new realm of digital startups.

My name is up on a screen at the Prisma design event.

I think that my talk went well – well, minus the cough that plagued me the whole time, that is. Over on my Twitter I got lots of great feedback, and stopped to chat to some of the attendees afterwards about the topics I’d presented about.

I had a great time at Prisma, meeting other professionals as well as design students, and it was a real personal achievement to get through a half-hour talk in my second language – if my Spanish teacher could see me now! Another personal highlight was definitely being able to put Burnley’s name up in lights – I never thought all those years ago when I first visited Madrid that I would ever be up on stage talking about my hometown!

I present a map with Burnley marked on it.

Burnley!

During the following weekend, I decided that I needed some fresh air, despite the dull skies that covered Madrid. Picking up a scooter, I headed off down the long Parque Madrid Río (Madrid River Park), which follows the river from my neighbourhood (in the south) all the way to the far west of the centre.

This little journey took me past the Royal Palace and the Almudena Cathedral, offering a different angle from the typical city-centre views of the regal architecture. It’s a very picturesque area, even if the cloudy skies bathe the photo below in a gloomy grey aura.

The royal palace and cathedral seen from the west of Madrid.

The following week marked the last day of my colleague Luis at Erretres, which was a bittersweet farewell. Luis has been a great colleague and good friend since I started at Erretres all those years ago, but I was happy to see him move on to bigger and better things.

Luis’ leaving also coincided with an open studio event thrown by Tres Tipos Gráficos, another Madrid design studio which I applied for back in 2015. There, I chatted with lots of friends, ex colleagues, and new contacts, and even the police shutting the event down couldn’t stop us – we simply shifted to an Irish pub nearby and ordered a round of gin and tonics!

February also brought around the dreaded February 14th, Valentine’s Day, but I decided to stick with tradition and instead celebrated the day after. I met up with Bogar for some coffee and cakes to celebrate Galentine’s Day, and we had a lovely time wandering around Malasaña until late.

My toothy date for Galentine’s day.

Bogar with coffee and cakes.

This brought in a weekend spent outdoors, as Madrid’s sun finally returned. Amongst running ends in the city, drinks on terraces with friends, and some cheekily-shaped waffles, I took the opportunity to take some photos of the city I call home.

The Puerta de Alcalá, a gateway in Madrid.
Gran Vía, the main road through the centre of Madrid.
A brick church against the sky.

This brings me relatively up-to-date, but there’s still another design event to tell you all about: the Awwwards Conference in Amsterdam! Just last weekend was my first time in the Netherlands, but I have decided that I shall keep that for another blog post: I’ve plenty of photos to sift through and I want to get this belated post out as quickly as possible!