29 April 2015

Escapades in Madrid

Part 2 (Read Part 1 on Amsterdam here)

Escapades makes this sound as through I had a wild and crazy time in Madrid but half of what I'm referring to here is the epic journey I went through to get there.

So my flight was booked for 6:30am take off on Saturday (the cheapest ticket of course is at a time no one sane wants to fly). But in order to get there in plenty I've time I had to catch a 4am coach from Stratford, which was a 20 minute walk from my house. This meant getting up at 3am. Well me being me, I decided to go for drinks with my friends on Friday night and didn't get home until midnight, and I still hadn't packed. Now if that doesn't sound like an adventure you should probably stop reading now.

On the plane I got turfed out of my seat by a young girl who was desperate to sit by the window and who has started to create a scene. I quickly admitted defeat and gave up my perfect sleeping position. So with the 4 hours sleep that I managed to scrape together, I turned up in Madrid ready for some chica time with one of my best friends from university, Charlotte (a.k.a Sully).

The three day trip started with brunch at a café aptly named Charlotte (apparently it's a chain in Spain) and was quickly followed by a short siesta. Feeling much revived we set out on a short walk around Madrid and ended up going to a tapas café (just a warning we did a lot of eating and drinking in these three days). Here I tried my first tinto de verano (which is basically like cold red wine with lemonade) yum!

After we'd suitably stocked ourselves up with food and drink, Charlotte gave me a walking tour of all Madrid's most important and well-known sights, like the Royal Palace, the Templo de Debod, the Plaza Mayor, Pueto del Sol and the Plaza de Cibeles (the pictures will help here).

Plaza de Españ

Templo de Debod

The Royal Palace

Plaza Mayor

Kilometer 0 - the point from which everywhere in Madrid is measured from

The Statute of the Bear and the Strawberry Tree in Puerta del Sol

Plaza de Cibeles

As you can probably imagine this meant a lot of walking and by the end we had definitely earned more drinks. So we took the Metro back to the area Charlotte lives in and found a bar nearby that was showing the local derby football match Atlético v Real. During this we had what the Spanish call 'copas' which literally translates as spirits but it does actually have a mixer with it. It's served in big wine glasses/tumblers with lots of big ice cubes and is definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me.

When the game finished and we'd had more than enough copas, we went to the local supermarket and grabbed enough nachos and toppings to feed a hungry family.

The next day started with a bit of a lie in (got to be done on a Sunday). Then we headed out to El Rastro, which is the most popular open air flea market in Madrid. The weather on this day was absolutely amazing and even though it was packed by the time we got there, it was really nice just to stroll around and browse through all the random things they had. We also saw quite a few performers while we were walking around. Everything in Madrid is so so cheap that I ended up buying loads of random stuff - I got some nice floral espadrilles for €15 and this unusual necklace for €2.50. I probably didn't really need to buy anything but it was fun anyway.

The sign reads: give me a theme and I'll write you a poem

By this point we were hungry and thirsty again so we found another café. This one was in the sun and had those shiny metallic tables and chairs which definitely helped boost the sun tan. In fact I actually managed to burn my scalp along my parting - rookie British mistake of course. We weren't really dressed for sunbathing so we decided to head back to Charlotte's, shed a couple of layers, pick up the left over nachos, some sangria and head to the park (Parque del Retiro).
Snacks and new shoes at the park

When we got there the weirdest thing happened. Two guys came and sat near us with their pet rabbit! They were taking their rabbit for a walk! They didn't have a lead or anything. But they just let it loose to hop about even with dogs walking past (good thing my dog doesn't live in Madrid or that rabbit would have been dead in about 5 seconds). This entertained us for quite a long time - although I'm actually not great with animals (in case you didn't know) so I spent a lot of time thinking it was coming for me.

After this week walked around a really pretty pond at the park and this massive glass building (Palacio de Cristal). Annoyingly the sun was going down really quickly so I didn't get any good pictures of the building but I tried.

Monumento Alfonso XII

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal

Charlotte is not impressed
Then we met up with one of Charlotte's local friends who took us to a traditional tapas bar. I definitely think I was the only tourist there! Apparently the sign of a good place to eat in Spain is that it has a dirty floor because they don't have time to clean it. Well this place had a pretty damn dirty floor. It was hard not to step on some piece of rubbish or dropped food (this seems to happen a lot because no one sits down to eat tapas). It was quite strange being completely surrounded by everyone speaking Spanish, especially as I can hardly understand any of it, but it was really nice to experience some real Spanish culture.


Real Spanish tapas seems to be the weirdest combination of foods, chicken wings with super buttery chips, ham chunks and tomatoes, these small white fish which look like a mix between worms and spaghetti (I did not try them!). Dessert was a weird sort of baked milk thing - I can't remember what it was called - I'm not sure I would try it again. It tasted a bit like a bad crème brûlée.

The business area where Charlotte works.
The next day Charlotte had work unfortunately. I met her for lunch and we went to a place called Montaditos. Montaditos are basically mini baguettes and this chain has over 100 different flavour combinations for fillings. Normally each roll is €1 but on Monday's they're 50c. So we went all out and had 4 each and nachos to share (I starting to get a bit sick of nachos at this point but it was all they had).

Luckily in Spain they get 2 hour lunch breaks, unluckily they have to work until 7pm! So after walking back to Charlotte's work, I went off to explore Madrid with a map she'd lent me. I was trying to find the company I work for's Spanish office. This only took about 15 minutes and I felt I needed to burn off a few more calories so I kept on walking (I was also trying to build up more of a tan). This ended up turning into almost a 2 hour stroll, which I needed the toilet for the last 1.5 hours of (damn bladder).

Grey Spain's Madrid office

Funky artwork by the National Library which I found on my long walk

Sadly after this it was time to pack, shower and get ready to leave at 4am to go straight to work from the airport. Not quite sure how I managed it really but I did.
Landing back in the UK - did I bring the sun back?

Massive massive thank you to Charlotte for having me to stay! It was a great way to use up some of my holiday and chill out. It was really really nice to catch up and see some real Spanish culture. Hopefully I'll be able to visit again some time in the future, maybe even with a group.

The Pig Cup at the park! 

26 April 2015

A Modest View of Amsterdam

Dutch poffertjes - they are basically pancake mixture
cooked in a metal cake pop. You have to try them!
In mid-March I went to Amsterdam with my mum for her birthday (hence the modest part) - this trip did not include any of the raucous stuff that normally comes to mind when you first think of Amsterdam. I'm not going to give you a day by day account, partly because I've forgotten a lot of it already and partly because we spent most of the 4 day trip in museums.

This post is going to be part 1 of 2 on trips abroad I've done in the last 6 weeks. I tried to do it all in one but it got way too long. The next post (which I'm planning to have ready for tomorrow) will be about my trip to Madrid last weekend to see Charlotte (a.k.a Sully), a close friend from university who is working out there at the moment. This was also a short trip but we did quite a lot so it definitely justifies having it's own post.

An 'English Breakfast' in Amsterdam..
Chips? Lettuce? 

I should also say that I'm using this is as an opportunity to share some of my photos. I feel like Facebook isn't the right place and with Instagram I would probably fill all my friends' feeds for the day which wouldn't be popular either.

Hopefully this will just be a short, informative read with lots of interesting pics to scroll through.


Look at all those waterways! That's a lot of bridges..
Well I'm probably going to look pretty stupid saying this but I did not know before I went that Amsterdam is a canal city. Once there I felt it was quite similar to Venice - bridges everywhere and not much traffic at all. Come to think of it I can't remember if there were any cars in Venice but there really aren't many in Amsterdam.

I don't think this city could be any more of a contrast to London. Instead of hustle and bustle with suits and hipsters at every corner, there streets are lined with cafés and bicycles of all kinds. For someone who can't ride a bicycle, I found this a little unnerving. That and the fact that no one seemed to wear a helmet. Amsterdam has cycle lanes built into its roads as well as a tram service that runs through the centre. The reduction in noise pollution as well as normal pollution is just unbelievable. The population difference between London (8.3 mil) to Amsterdam (779 K) obviously makes a big impact. I'm not sure if London could function without it's buses, cabs and cars - there wouldn't be enough Borris bikes for everyone to ride - but I'm just saying it was a really nice change. You could sit outside a café, relax and watch canal boats go past all day. 
The back of Bloemenmarkt (a flower market right in the city centre)


Outside the world famous Rijksmuseum
 by the iconic I amsterdam sign
I've got to say I was shocked by how many museums there are in Amsterdam. It's such a small city but they've certainly got tourist attractions covered. Perhaps it's because we were tourists but it definitely felt like a place to visit not to live. I actually lost count of how many museums we went in to but I think it was around 12 in total.

The Rijksmuseum is arguably the most famous museum in Amsterdam, even the building itself is outstanding. The British equivalent to this is probably the V & A museum (except it's not free). The museum is split into different periods of history and holds a fantastic number of Dutch artefacts from the Middle Ages to the present day. This is definitely one to look up before you go. You would never be able to see it all properly in one day so make sure you have a plan first. 

A massive academic library sits at one end of the museum
It reminds me of Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast'
Women (not children) in the late 17th and 18th century had these ornate dolls houses built as a declaration of their wealth.
Everyone says you have to see Anne Frank's House but in my opinion it was spoilt by the number of people viewing the exhibition. Everything felt like one massive queue. A queue to get in, a queue around the house and then almost a queue to get out. I'm a somewhat patience character (okay maybe not) but I think a good museum allows you to enjoy the exhibition in your own way and this one certainly didn't. If you're desperate to see it get there first thing (it opens at 9am). 

A highlight for me as a fan of art was the Van Gogh Museum. This was really quite amazing and told you so much more about his life and how he developed his style than the work in the National Gallery in London. Also the museum is hosted inside a really modern but plain building which emphasised the art rather than detracting from it. This is an absolute must for anyone visiting Amsterdam in my opinion. (I wasn't allowed to take pictures though..)

Oude Kerk 

It's hard to get a good picture when it's enclosed by so many buildings.

The only bit of the notorious 'red light district' we did enter in to was to see the Oude Kerk (old church) situated annoyingly in the middle of it. This church is really quite bare and spectacular, and it's really interesting to see how the church has stood the test of time among the immorality surrounding it. If you're feeling brave enough it's definitely worth seeing and there is a really nice café attached (sounds like a spend a lot of time in cafés - who doesn't like tea and cake though?)

Canal Tours

One of the few places you can see 7 bridges all lined up
Finally, I'd definitely recommend doing a canal tour. We bought a pack which had this included and although the cheesy, Americanised audio guide was quite annoying it is definitely the best way to see all the sights and admire all the architecture Amsterdam has to offer.

One last tip, if you're going to go all out with the museums like us, get an I Amsterdam card - the discount is really worth it. 

If you're interested in knowing more about Amsterdam get in touch in the comments section below.

Look out for my 'Escapades in Madrid' post coming next. 

15 April 2015

How To Survive In London

Great, the only picture I have of
me at work is eating a burrito..

Firstly, apologies for the length of time since my last post. March was so busy for me with family birthdays, a trip to Amsterdam (I've got a post to follow about this trip), loads of extra work etc. etc. This post has been in the planning stages for quite some time so hopefully you all will like it.

I've been living in London for five and a half months now (can you believe it?) and I think I am finally starting to get the hang of it. It sounds like a really long time to get used to living somewhere but for someone who has lived in the countryside for 21 years of her life, London is quite a big change!

So I thought I would create a 'How To Guide' for living in London. I used the word 'survive' because sometimes it can feel like a real jungle.

Food comes second

Although there are loads of amazing places to eat in London, there aren't many cheap ones. My work backs onto Leather Lane which hosts the most eclectic mix of food stalls and shops. There's falafel shacks, burritos shops, special cheese toasties stalls, juice carts, massive salad stops, pretty much everything you could want to eat. But I rarely let myself 'eat from the street' because in London, everything is on a budget!

Most offices these days have a communal kitchen (I'm yet to find anyone who doesn't have one) with a kettle and a microwave. If you're clever you can easily save £30 a week by bringing in your own food, whether it's leftovers, a can of soup or a home-made ham sandwich. It might not be that exciting but it saves you money to spend on all the other tempting things to do in London.

The nightmare that is the tube at rush hour 

The tube is one thing that you really cannot prepare yourself for. Even if you catch a jam-packed bus every now and then, it's nothing like catching the tube at rush hour everyday. In my first month or so I used to work an extra hour each day just to avoid it.

You'll soon learn that there is absolutely no such thing as personal space on the tube. In fact I could tell you quite a few stories about my escapades on the tube but I might save that for another post (let me know if you're interested).

Never fear though, there are a couple of tips which can make catching the tube not that bad:

Firstly, make sure you take your coat off, and your backpack (tube etiquette for you there), before you get on because it is always super hot and you don't want to turn up to work sweating like you've just run all the way there.

Try to learn which side the doors open. If you're going to be on for a couple of stops, you want to be on the opposite side to where the doors open because there's always more space that side. The most space is down the aisles between the seats but then you have to hold on and if you're short like me, that's not ideal.

The amazing Frozen Oyster wallet I was
 given for Christmas (best present ever!)
Remember where the exist are on the platforms. This can take a while, but if it's your daily commute it's worth it. Getting into the carriage the right distance along can save quite a bit of time if you're in a rush to get to work. Platforms in central London are quite busy at rush hour.

Keep your oyster card/contactless debit card in one of those wallets. Everyone hates the guy who gets to the front of the queue then holds everyone up while they mess about looking for their card. If you're going to use it every day you want to keep it safe anyway.

Pace yourself - seriously!

Going out for drinks in London is entirely different to student drinking or a pint in the local pub. For a start, it's at least double the cost. Like food, it's hard to find an alcoholic drink that costs less than £5. Even soft drinks are expensive.

Cocktails, cocktails and more cocktails.. Seems to be all everyone
wants to drink in London! 
Money's not the only reason you should pace yourself though. Heading straight from work to the bar can be a  dangerously long session. Even if you finish late on Friday at 6:30pm, if you're planning to go on to a club that's a solid 5.5 hours drinking! Probably longer than you had in mind at the start of the night..

It's important also if you're heading straight from work to grab something to eat first. You'll most likely be heading home on your own at the end of the night unless you've made other plans or stay at a friends, so you need to be capable of looking after yourself.

Take everything free you can get your hands on

Piccadilly Circus shot by me on my first week in London.
Granted there are a lot of different expenses to consider in London but there's also a lot of free things as well. Perhaps the best thing about catching the tube is the amount of free weekly literature you get offered - from the Metro every morning and the Evening Standard to Time Out magazine, InStyle and Sport.

There are also loads of free events and things to do, such as sightseeing. Just because you live in London doesn't mean you can't act like a tourist as well. A trip to see the Houses of Parliament, The London Eye or Trafalgar Square can be just as interesting as paying a hefty amount to see the crown jewels in the Tower of London. So do some research (probably by reading Time Out magazine or looking on their website) and find something free to do instead.

An antidote to feeling like a small fish in a HUGE pond

It's quite easy to feel insignificant in a big city like London, especially if you come from a small town like me. There are so many people buzzing around you with their own problems, priorities and interests. You can catch the same tube at the same times everyday and never see the same people. That's just how it is. But there are actually quite a few positives to this. If you do something stupid (normally getting on or off the tube) it really doesn't matter because you'll never see those people again anyway. If you want to lip-sync to your favourite Jessie J song on the tube who cares. There is so much diversity in London that it gives you have the freedom to do whatever you want, wear whatever you and act however you want (within reason). So although at first it's a little intimidating, London's actually quite empowering!

Hopefully I've covered a lot of the main issues you might face living in London. Most of all, make sure you enjoy it because otherwise you might as well live somewhere that's cheaper with fresher air!