Ten Free Things to do as a Tourist in Madrid

As capital cities go, Madrid is pretty inexpensive and, unless you’re planning on giving it the big one in Kapital on a Saturday night, nothing you choose to do is really going to break the bank. This considered, I’ve put together a list of … Continue reading

31 Reasons Never to Move to Another Country

Obviously it’s a terrible idea… 1. You’ll be forced to sample all sorts of new and exciting foods…   2. …and you’ll probably get fat as all the delicious food moves towards your mouth, like a moth to a flame.   … Continue reading

What is Fluency?

To the untrained tongue, fluency is the idea of speaking a language without error or miscomprehension. The mere sound of the question “Oh, so are you fluent?” strikes fear into my heart, because such a question would never be asked by person … Continue reading

IBIZA: La Isla Blanca

San Antonio, Ibiza

San Antonio, Ibiza

It’s astounding how one place can be so paradoxically exquisite and outrageous. Ibiza, the White Isle, la Isla Blanca, is one of the most stunningly beautiful places I’ve ever visited where white houses reflect the sun against a backdrop of glistening turquoise sea. At night the mountains form charcoal silhouettes against the lilac sky and the cool, white waves lap gently against the still and silent rocks. Yachts, ferries and cruise liners come and go from the island’s numerous harbours while onlookers catch rays upon the hot, white sand. 

Ibiza’s reputation preceded it and the combination of party and paradise seemed like the perfect end to my Erasmus year in Spain. It was everything and nothing I’d expected. It was every bit as crazy outrageous as I’d imagined, yet far more breathtakingly beautiful than could ever have hoped for. The parties are big and the prices are bigger with the average club entry fee rolling in at a jaw-dropping 40 euros; don’t even get me started on the drinks… Every cloud has a silver lining, however, and boy did I cash in on those silver linings! On island plagued by boisterously ignorant teenage British binge-drinkers, a British-born resident of Spain with a decent grasp on the language is certainly a novel and welcomed guest. If I had a euro for every time someone expressed shock/confusion/gratitude at this little gringa’s language skills I’d be…well I’d only have about five euros but that’s beside the point. Respect, empathy and a little cultural understanding can take you a lot farther than the Balearic Islands, but in this instance the gratitude of an Ibizan bartender for my speaking Spanish got me 24 euros’ worth of free shots. ¡Toma!

Watch this space for my Ibiza mini guide!

The Final Countdown (I’ll miss you Spain! But also not…)

DISCLAIMER: If you are Spanish and easily offended, it’s best to stop here. RENUNCIA: Si eres español y fácilmente ofendido, es mejor parar aquí. Exactly three weeks from now I’ll be back in the UK and probably attempting to navigate my way … Continue reading

Dancing With Death

“Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.” – Ernest Hemingway (Death in the Afternoon)

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Part 2: El Tercio de Banderillas

It’s a hot May evening in the Spanish capital. The sun blares down on you with 30 degree (celsius) heat and a bead of sweat rolls down your back. Down in the ring the air is thick and dusty and two bodies are locked in a standoff. The banderillero, clad in glorious red and black, puffs his chest out and raises his arms in a fantastic display of alpha prowess; the bull scrapes its hoof in the sand.

A tradtional bullfight (Spanish: corrida de toros) is every bit as dramatic and flamboyant as it sounds, and it doesn’t get much bigger than at Las Ventas, Madrid. Last Sunday night I attended such an occasion in a bid to gain some insight into Spanish “tradition” and “culture” and it was simply something that I felt I needed to do. I’m no fool; I knew exactly what I was letting myself in for and, as expected, I despised it. However to a certain degree I couldn’t help but be intrigued by it, which begs the question: is bullfighting a dying art, or simply a barbarous blood sport?

A Spanish corrida is a drawn-out and sensual affair consisting of three parts. The first part, called el tercio de varas, allows the matador to observe the bull as it chases the thrusts of the pink and gold capes of the banderilleros. He observes the way it moves, reacts, its speed and its preferences before being joined by two picadores. Los picadores enter the arena and lance the bull from atop heavily padded and blindfolded horses, thus provoking an attack on the horse and causing blood-loss that weakens the bull. During the second part, el tercio de banderillas, the banderillos one by one attempt to plant two colourfully adorned spiked sticks (los banderillas) into the shoulder muscles of the bull causing further blood-loss and weakening of the animal but simultaneously provoking and further angering it. By the third part, el tercio de muerte(literally ‘the third of death’), the bull is exhausted and slowly and tortuously edging towards certain death. The matador re-enters the ring armed with a small red cape (muleta) in one hand and a sword (estoque) in the other. The matador, using his cape, entices the bull into a series of passes, flaunting his control over the animal and casually dicing with his own life. The third part ends with la estocada, the act of fatally plunging the sword between the bull’s shoulder blades, severing the aorta or heart, however the bull may take a while to die and therefore a coup de grâce is carried out by el puntillero who pierces the spinal cord, finally killing the animal.

What I witnessed throughout the “performace” was an animal, undoubtedly drugged and starved for days, released into arena to be ceremoniously taunted and murdered in front of 23,000 spectators in the name of tradition, culture and art and it was nowhere near as magnificent as I was lead to believe it to be. I envisaged a one man, one bull face-off between two alpha-males dancing to the death with nothing but sand and a red cape between them. I expected an equal and balanced display of nerve, power and stamina when in fact what I actually watched was an eleven on one attack which ended in the bull’s limp and bleeding corpse being dragged out of the plaza by three mules. There was no display of power, only cowardice, and certainly no respect for the noble bull. The matador waited until his cronies had weakened and tired the animal before he dared face it, and even during the first third the banderilleros would cower behind fences while the bull grunted and scratched at the ground.

Sitting in that arena surrounded by cheers of “¡olé!” and cries of “¡mátale ya!” (“kill it already“) I’d never felt more foreign and detached from Spain and Spanish culture, not even when I first moved to Spain and couldn’t get my tongue around the language. People were startlingly entertained by what they were seeing and the vast majority appeared to be seasoned regulars. The horror, anger and disgust that erupted from within me upon the first strike in the bull’s shoulders made it impossible for me to fathom how a person could get enjoyment from watching such a thing. I spent two-thirds of the “show” hoping that the bull would muster up some god-like strength and gore the matador right in the crown jewels. That would serve him right, right?

Ten days have passed and I’m still numbed by disbelief in what I saw, and particularly by the fact that I was sat in a full house (although I hear they’re not usually that full these days). To my eyes, I saw no evidence of a decline in popularity or indeed aversion, however this is just once aspect of Spanish “culture” that I cannot and absolutely will not get on board with. Is it a dying art? Or is it dying for art? I can’t make that choice for you, but I can perhaps shed some light onto why the ladies continue to attend…

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Ya Por Fin Me Siento Madrileña.

(Now Finally I Feel Madrileña) Two weeks ago marked the seven month anniversary of my move to Madrid. Coincidentally, the very same day marked exactly two months since I’d posted anything on here and all of a sudden I felt … Continue reading

‘Viva España’ and All That…

(Originally for Third Year Abroad) In previous posts I’ve been a little hard on my new home and I’d just like to point out that Spain really is not that bad. Sí, the Spanish are horrendous with money, but so … Continue reading

Cardigan Weather & Home Sweet Home

In Madrid there’s no such thing as ‘cardigan weather’, at least not for longer than a week. Spring, autumn? Forget it. All you get served up here is the kind of heat that makes you want to tear off your skin, and the kind of cold that is only acceptable at Christmas when you’re carolling round the fire (does anyone actually do that these days?). It’s just got cold here, and somehow it went from leather jacket weather to full-blown coat, scarf and gloves weather in literally 48 hours, and when I went out a couple of Saturdays ago I could barely feel my nose. This is SPAIN for goodness sake; I haven’t seen a single palm tree or golden beach in the eight weeks I’ve been here. Granted, I couldn’t be more slap bang in the middle of the Iberian Peninsula if I tried, but it’s disappointing nonetheless when stereotypes are not reinforced.

In Spain there has just been a long 4 day bank holiday weekend and, motivated by homesickness and ageing family members, I decided to take a trip back to the UK. For a couple of weeks leading up to the trip I’d felt completely miserable and isolated until one day I decided that enough was enough and blew over £200/200€ with easyJet. The sly gits, knowing that it was a bank holiday in some of Europe, put their prices up for this particular weekend so the flights cost me double what it did for the ones that I booked for Christmas! Thank god I booked the latter ones waaaaaaayyyy in advance.

Anyway, 4am on Halloween arrived and I was stumbling around my room in the dark attempting to look presentable and to remember my passport. 5am came and I was on a bus full of equally knackered-looking Spaniards, all of us headed for the airport , and by 6 I was already sat on the floor in departures watching House on my Mac – I mean what better way is there to kill time in an airport at el crac o’ dawn? If you’ve never been to Barajas airport then there’s really only one word to describe it: fuckingmassive (yeah yeah, I know). As the bus pulled into terminal one I practically fell out and straight through the revolving airport doors as I wrestled with my suitcase, hand luggage and sheer exhaustion much to the nuisance of the other disgruntled travellers who all seemed to be perfectly poised for the situation. Once I’d pulled myself together and made it inside with the last shred of my dignity I realised that I had absolutely no clue where the hell my check in desk was, and after walking what seemed like miles I was finally blinded by about the same length of the luminous orange roping I’d been seeking – hallelujah!

Over in departures the boarding call came and I lost my final shred of dignity and composure as I bolted, arms and hand luggage flailing, to gate B26 batting Spanish men, women and children out of the way as I went. My love for Britain (not a nationalist P.S…) and excitement for going home had become too much and I simply HAD TO BE first on that beautiful orange plane. As fate would have it I was sixth in the queue which isn’t too shabby at all, and I got my seat just a few rows from the front to ensure as early a cuppa as possible. Hidden amongst the Spanish majority on the plane, I was all snuggled up in my snood, with my book, cup of tea and pot of porridge – an almost perfect stereotype. Upon departure I admired the snow-capped mountains which skim the capital of Spain and by the end of the flight I was gazing down at miles upon miles of green fields, trees and cows. I was home. Well not really because I still had a 4 hour train journey to make, but you know what I mea

The rest of the day was tiring and spent mostly travelling, save for the couple of hours I was afforded to spend with a good friend in London. I hopped (as elegantly as one can with massive suitcase and handbag in tow) onto a train from Gatwick to St. Pancras and admired the sights of our capital as I went. Even in the freezing cold and with a skyline clouded by cranes, London is beautiful. By the time I hit central I was dire need of more caffeine, so nowhere could have been better placed than the Starbucks I stumbled upon, and nothing could have prepared me for the problem that I was about to stumble into… I couldn’t understand the barista! I told her my order and she reeled off the usual questions which I assume were ‘drink in or take out?’ and ‘would you like cream on that?’, but I could not for the life of me understand what she was saying. In Spain that’s a daily occurrence which I’ve become accustomed to, but in my home country and my mother tongue this was quite confusing. So when I heard ‘dirbf wiry tjajeio titt?’ and ‘wiofyf cfhjeya?’ I managed to muster up a flustered ‘err drink in’ and ‘yes please’. (What is my life coming to?) By the time I’d got to the King’s Cross Prêt à Manger things were running a bit more smoothly. I’d caught up with the pace at which London moves and finally learnt to understand a native English accent, so after a quick bite and a chat I was ready and raring to get on with getting home.

The rest of my week in England was pretty relaxed and spent mostly catching up with old friends and close family, as well as pigging out on my fave Brit snacks! It was an endless 5 day feast of Walkers crisps, McVite’s biscuits, pub lunches, Nando’s and of course my mum threw in a good old Patak’s curry! The trains were on time, appointments were adhered to, it was completely freezing cold and wet, and I loved it. It was home :)

On the Saturday night I topped off my trip by heading to Nottingham to visit my old flatmates and friends from uni who aren’t doing a placement year. It felt so strange being a guest of people I’d lived with for two years, but after about an hour I was already helping myself to the contents of their cupboards and nail polish collection. It felt so right being back with them, like I belonged, and it felt like I should be there for the year! It was so hard to say goodbye to them, even more so than to my family, because I know that things will never again be how they were in first and second year and I think that’s been the hardest thing for me to adjust to this year. Nonetheless off we trotted, true Trenters, to Ocean for Climax and we had a totally awesome night. It was completely hilarious and care-free and of course no night in Ocean would be complete without crappy VK, the lone middle-aged pervert (how do they get into student nights?!) and the guy in the carrier-bag nappy gawping at wasted freshers making out in the middle of the dance floor. 4am kebabs, perving on freshers in Coco Tang, late night last minute essay writing, and making stupid X Factor videos (and screaming when we actually get on TV); I miss my uni life and the people I’ve shared it with <3

You Can Take the Girl out of England, but You Can’t Take England out of the Girl

Somedays I step out of my flat and I may as well be wearing a Union Jack trench coat complete with matching bowler hat  and Queen Elizabeth II mask, and throw in a Beatles tribute band to follow me around … Continue reading