Thursday, 2 June 2011

Philosophy, coin toss, sprawling

1. An evening in far-out Alcobendas turns into a brownie-making, philosophical fiasco. While Alessandra snoozes, we talk about life, Erasmus and everything in between. We exit the building into sharp sunlight to get a bus home.

2. Feeling woozy with tiredness. We flip a coin in the metro, and decide to go and get some emergency food from above ground.

3. Hot, bracing coffee; following through on the half-baked plan of going to the park we found next to the leaning Caja Madrid towers; lying down on damp grass to absorb some sunlight; talking honestly.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

"Ah, young love!", ciudad del sol and growing

1. Andrew and Natalia sit opposite me on the train and they are completely unaware of the presence of anyone around them as they pull "Boo" faces at each other (I see the "Boo" face as inspired by the character Boo from Monsters Inc)

2. Madrid has turned into a city of sunshine- we had a whole week of temperatures soaring to (and hovering around) 30 degrees and my eager-to-tan feet are striped dark brown again.

3. I have spent a lot of time focussing on the fact that this Erasmus year will be over in just over 2 months- to think I so didn't want to come here at all pre-September! So it comes as a surprise when I realise that my worries about what would happen before I got here have indeed come to fruition, and I feel like a reinforced, happier version of myself because of those experiences.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Recuerdos in pictures

Fallas, Valencia '11 - our squadron of firework-avoiders

The view from the train on the way home from Guadalajara

Retiro, as always

"Group huuug!"

Monday, 21 March 2011

Estoy hecho polvo (I'm turned into dust...

...or I'm reeeally tired.)

This is why Spanish is awesome. Beautiful toads, talking to your pillow, you are my ceiling... 

"El sapo a la sapa tiénela por muy guapa."
The male toad finds the female toad very pretty.
"Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"

"No hay que ahogarse en un vaso de agua."
One doesn't have to drown in a glass of water.
"Don't make a mountain out of a molehill."

"Camarón que se duerme, se lo lleva la corriente."
The shrimp that falls asleep, is carried off by the current.
"Don't rest on your laurels."

"Del dicho al hecho hay largo trecho."
From said to done there is a long way.
"Easier said than done."

"A mal tiempo buena cara."
To bad weather, good face.
"Keep your chin up."

"De tal palo, tal astilla."
From such wood, such splinter.
"Like father, like son."

"El gato escaldado del agua fría huye."
The scalded cat flees from cold water.
"Once bitten, twice shy."

"El piso de uno es el techo de otro."
The floor of one is the ceiling of another.
"One man's trash is another man's treasure."

"Antes de hacer nada, consúltalo con la almohada."
Before doing anything, consult your pillow.
"Sleep on it."

"A lo hecho, pecho."
To what's done, courage.
"What's done is done."

I challenge you to throw these into daily conversation... Even if you do run the risk of sounding like a bit of a philosopher, you will be a Spanishy philosopher.

Also, a special addition: 

Ponte traje! 
Suit up!

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Guadalajara, Debussy and planets

1. We take a trip to Guadalajara- a place which Tony tells me is the furthest away you can travel on the Madrid Cercanías railway network. We emerge from a church, La Iglesia de San Ginés, and I fill my lungs with air that smells of summer.

2. A friend and I step into a museum's informational/historical PowerPoint presentation, not only to be educated, but to surround ourselves with Debussy's Claire de Lune. An odd but welcome choice of soundtrack.

3. As we trudge along to the train station I look to my right and see a dusky blue and orange sky with the circle of the Moon perfectly illuminated - dead centre. It both strikes me as ethereal and as something that's come straight out of one of those old O2 adverts with the beautiful, CGI giant planets hanging in the sky.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Blossoms, where's the rain and big chain coffee house

1. I smell Spring as I walk under the blossom trees that seem to have taken so long to flower on the way to giving the kids an English lesson. The flowers are tiny, pink and perfect.

2. Everywhere is wet and I keep stepping in unexpected puddles on my walk home- but the rain is the silent and sneaky, really fine, gets-everything-completely-wet kind.

3. We sit in Starbucks (something we don't normally do, but we make an exception for the one on the corner of Plaza de España because the view of Gran Vía is lovely) and I warm my hands on my coffee cup. The armchairs are comfy, there is some classic jazz floating around and I am content to sit sleepily as Tony talks to Vanessa and Dave talks to Philibert. A group of the original amigos together again.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Dinner, pero/perro and grooving

1. I am invited for dinner at a friend's house. As we are eating and talking around the table I think of how different last semester's group was; of how much fun it was. Then Caro makes a French joke, everyone laughs and I feel myself grinning about this new, friendly possé.

2. Much to the detriment of getting the Metro home on time, I spend about an hour trying to get Philibert to hone is German 'r' into a flapped Spanish one, as in pero ('but'). The rolled 'r' in perro ('dog') is something we're going to have to work on, but at 1:25am, he is pronouncing pero and espero and ahora perfectly, and I can fly out the door feeling like we've achieved something.

3. A woman on the opposite platform is dancing to whatever is playing on her iPod. She throws some bold shapes and looks like she's all caught up in the rhythm.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Shakey arms, birthday card and looking on the bright side

1. Mis brazos se temblan. My arms shake and I seem to lose a bit of control over them when I am feeling anxious about something. Then we sit in the cafeteria grande and, as always, there´s a lot to laugh about.

2. I make a crude version of a birthday card out of a neatly folded piece of paper from my notebook for Haruka, who has a 21st birthday today. I plaster it with Domo kun and patterns and pay a lot of attention to the detail - exactly 21 candles on the birthday cake! (I hope she counts them.)

3. Try to make lighthearted something of a serious situation.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A double act, one for the team and family visits

1. Hommy and Hammy (a joint nickname inspired by their last names, this refers to Ollie and Andrew) play agony aunt.

2. The boys that I know seem to be very full of wisdom and valuable advice today. One tells me tragic stories of his past, another tells me the way it is. No offence to them, but it´s nice to have a break from squealing girls.

3. My mum and dad have finally gotten around to booking some flights to Madrid! Atlasi Easter, here we come.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

New updates, catching up to speed, dedications, the lot!

There are a plethora of things I've taken mental notes of to write down here over the past month (a hiatus, it's been hectic). I'll be combing through them and adding them as I go along. Also, welcome to Oliver and Andrew, my new, exceedingly English flatmates. God save the Queen.

1. The bus is crammed full of people going home for their extensive Spanish luncheon (roughly 2pm, the Spanish way). Ollie and I have to stand in the gangway and use our sea-legs to stay upright; a girl sitting near to us cracks up laughing every time I make a face or a weird noise in trying not to fall over. I conclude that my face is hilarious and am happy to have contributed to her day. 

2. I wonder if it's a mistake to have shared the link to this blog with Ollie and Andrew as they sit in their rooms and holler quotes from my own entries through the flat. Well, it got me writing again! 

3. Teaching basic salsa steps to Vanessa, Ollie and Dave outside the faculty in an attempt to get them to come to the class tonight. So lame, so guay.


4. A mention of the moustachio'd man in the small cafeteria has been a long time coming. Today, as I ask what kinds of muffins he has, he mishears and thinks I say "buffets"; then when I say I'll have a chocolate muffin, he helpfully says that I should say "el de chocolate," not "lo de chocolate," then when he pours milk into my coffee he has a bit of a Spanishy-accented sing-song - "Wan kahp off coffee pleeease."

5. During the weekend there is an unexpected heatwave and the air is balmy and it smells like summer. All the Spanish, young and old, congregate in one of the plazas on my way to the Metro, and I spy a fantastic old man lounging on a bench wearing a flat cap, tweed jacket and a pair of those black framed, inch-thick lens glasses, making him look pretty pie-eyed and content in the sun.


We have sadly had to say goodbye to a handful of some of the people who made up the glue of our Erasmus family; Marcus (a.k.a. Jamón Arnie, Señor Jamón) was the first to leave, back to Berlin, and the last couple of weeks we had with him were truly fantastic, dancing salsa and drinking peppermint tea after nights out; Jaeyoon flew back to Korea early this month and we miss her smiley face and her catchphrase, a genuinely awed "...Woooow...". I miss her a lot, she was one of the loveliest people I've met here and she was a top-notch baking buddy. Seohyun has also gone back to Korea. Just a couple of days ago we had a farewell party for her and it was a bit of a bittersweet occasion. That said, there are still a lot of fun times to be had, and although it will be a while until we see each other again, I'm certain that, eventually, we will. ¡Madrid, Madrid!

Winky Marcus
Jaeyoon, Captain of Retiro

Seohyun (wa-wa-wee-wah!)

Monday, 31 January 2011

Mondo-Skype, tall people and story time

1. I talk with mum and dad for nearly 3 hours on Skype. It's nice just to talk about inane things and throw ideas around for where I might be able to travel with them during the Easter break.

2. Rory pops up on Facebook chat and we have a long conversation about why rugby-players don't have feelings and the like. It always amuses me how he plays the devil's advocate.

3. Watching Beltrán read to his mum from a Spanish story book.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

A big relief, out of the woodwork, visiting Buddha

1. Filling my lungs with cool air from outside the flat on the way to the Metro.

2. The centre of Madrid is teeming with activity, and I wonder where all these people come from to have a stroll in the evening.

3. I accompany Dave to a party he has been invited to by Jacob (fondly known as 'Buddha' by me, because he's permanently happy, extremely zen and has a very calming voice). I feel a bit like I'm intruding, but when everyone is laughing and joking in a mixture of German and English, I don't think about it again. Maybe it was the deadly-but-extremely-refreshing Finnish drink Karo had prepared, made from vodka and 3 and a half packets of Fisherman's Friends.

3a. Dave and I can hear a difference in the way one man speaks German and we guess that he is from a different part of Germany to the others. We have good ears, says one of the German girls.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Smiling faces, peppermint joy and a salsa class

1. Rushing helter-skelter up the escalators to make it to a group dinner in Lavapiés in time. However, I forget that when the Metro runs late, it affects everyone, and we all arrive in a perfectly coordinated moment.

2. A mug of peppermint tea - my second in two days, and something like the third in my life. I remember not liking it at all the first time, but when I tried it yesterday and today, it was just what I needed. Plus, it was Marcus' last teabag, so it needed to be savoured.

3. Marcus is a certified dance nut and often gives us little demonstrations of his waltz and salsa skills - mostly in his flat, swirling to avoid the furniture. Maybe it was due to being over-tired, or maybe I was just feeling particularly rakish, but I put the few salsa steps I know to good use and it really is so fun to dance properly with someone!

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Adapting to your audience, También la Lluvia, quiet

1. During the English class with Candela and Beltrán today, for once it seems like we're getting somewhere. Instead of getting him to talk about things that makes him yawn, I tell Beltrán we can play on the Super Mario Wii game if he promises to shout commands and vocabulary at me in English - it works!

2. We go and see También la Lluvia, a Spanish film set in Bolivia. It follows the making of a film about Christopher Columbus' discovery of the new world, but it really mirrors the maltreatment of the people that live there today, and it seems like nothing has changed. Afterward, Marcus the Salsa-enthusiast teaches Philibert a few steps in the street... And I catch it on camera.

3. The blanket of quiet as I emerge from Begoña station into wet, chilly surroundings.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Tousle-y hair, the grass is always greener and living on the edge

1. Shaking my squeaky-clean hair out of its bun into the bright, cool, breezy day, the cars tousle it as they whizz past.

2. I whimper to Elena in Spanish, say that I'm bored and have nothing to do because everyone else has exams. As the words come tumbling out I realise that leaves me free and easy in comparison, and Elena laughs at me.

3. This is a day for bravery; perhaps I will go and see an un-subtitled Spanish film?

'Entrepanes,' literally translated as 'between bread,' also known as 'Montaditos' - a fantastic Spanish idea!

Monday, 24 January 2011

Rubik's, changing perspective and toast (almost)

1. Amongst all the sour-faced Line 10 commuters there's a guy playing with a retro-coloured Rubik's cube. To me, he is the epitome of cool.

2. When I come out of the metro station at Duque de Pastrana to go and give an English class to the children, I can see the cuatro torres, but what seems to be an exact mirror image of them; the most modern of the four is on the wrong side, whereas usually it's the one closest to me. When I emerge out of Begoña station later on I turn and I am magically on the right side of the towers again. It makes the city seem a lot smaller.

3. I attempt toast in the toastie-maker. The result is slightly crispy white bread with toasted edges. The slight crispiness is toast enough for me after not having it for months on end.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

For my Milliecat

My cat Millie's been really ill for a number of months and it can't have been much of a life for her lately. She's been with me since I was about 8 and she was a lovely, inexorably friendly little cat, not shy of anyone and always around to say hello. The things I will remember about her most are the tinkle of her bell, the weird noises she made and her general cuddliness. She slipped away last night, my parents were with her, and although I am a very sad bean indeed, I feel relieved that she's not having to struggle anymore.

Bye for now, my much-loved Milliecat.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Fog rolling out, mini bubbles and tumbleweeds

1. I roll into university, dragging my feet all the way to doom. The last two exams of the week over, I step out of the building beneath vaulted blue skies and for the first time in a while I can actually feel the heat of the sun on my skin. The fog cleared after all!

2. The plume of diddy bubbles as I plonk the washing-up liquid bottle down on the counter with a dull thud.

3. Time to do whatever I like. It was like an unintentional lonely night in, but it's peace, in the flat and in my mind.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Mischief, coffee and 2 croissants

1. The final B2-level Spanish class passes happily, even though we're doing a quiz. In typical Spanish fashion, Paula does not seem bothered to look up from her newspaper the entire hour and a half while we complete our quizzes, so we have fun taking cheeky glances at each other's essays and giggling because we know we're being silly. Thankfully, it wasn't that serious a test...!

2. I follow the initiative of a fellow Madrileñan wannabe (from Austria) and dip the singed corner of my croissant into my (very, very strong) milky coffee. At first, I don't like it, then the pastry gives way and sweet and savoury work in harmony.

3. Philibert teaches me some German words and turns of phrase - my particular favourites, zauber and löl ('spell' and the Germanised 'lol') So, like the linguist I aspire to be, I give him a rough translation of something French to say to someone else. In the end I think he ended up saying something along the lines of, "I am a magician and I like to grow croissants." I tried!

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Time for a wander, camaraderie and a lazy day

1. I arrive earlier than expected to the Cantoblanco campus- 7 minutes earlier, actually. So I can wander up the diagonal path through the chilled, dewy trees while everyone rushes around me.

2. Before my phonetics exam starts I talk to the one girl I know speaks English in the class. We both speak Spanish normally, but it's nice to joke about things, including how the tutor can come across as a being a bit intimidating, even though she's alright, really!

3. After the exam seems to go fairly well I head straight back home through the mild weather to a day of doing nothing but watching How I Met Your Mother (which I've now definitely 'gotten into') and resting my over-stuffed head.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Examen 1, Tea Partaaay and sunnier climes

1. First exam does not go so well. I realise with a fluttering heart that I don't know how to do one of the questions, so I do all of the others and hope that they're okay. On the upside, I finally introduce myself to a couple of other Erasmus students in the class, one of whom I see in the cafeteria, and he waves and says ciao as I leave.

2. I am very much looking forward to officially proposing the Tea Party this weekend! I lugged a mountain of the UK's finest biscuits, chocolate and tea with me to Madrid, and it's been waiting to put a show on.

3. Madrid is shrouded in fog. It seems to reflect my state of mind, and by the end of the week I hope to see sunny skies.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Hero #1, Hero #2 and the great outdoors

1. Mum's repeated Skype-efforts to keep me chirpy about revision. Of course, she knows it hardly changes the way I feel about it all, but she keeps doing it, and this eventually gives me heart.

2. Also, Sarah's beaming smile and happy disposition give me courage, and I tell her so.

3. My mind thrums to a bored rhythm, so to step out of the flat and breathe in a gulp of fresh(ish) air seems to give gravity to all the distracting stuff floating around in my head.

Friday, 14 January 2011

A raucous conversation, a mural and a quiz

1. Exam stress gets to me and I can't work any longer. Suddenly, loudly talking with a friend on Skype brings me back to myself, and the laughter just tumbles out.

2. In a moment of procrastination I bring out the photos I ordered while at home and stick them all up strategically on the mostly-bare white wall of my bedroom. When I'm finished, I can be in Madrid with all the grinning faces of family and friends from both here and home.

3. The pub quiz. It rings of home but is so completely different; as I push my way through the crowded bar I am greeted by familiar, happy faces that make me beam back in return.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Leafy Cantoblanco, a happy reunion and a puff of gold

1. The Cantoblanco campus is no longer glittering evilly with ice every morning. I can breathe a sigh of relief as the scene slowly returns to the orange sun-splashed, leafy outlook that I'm used to.

2. Smiling Koreans. "Wooooow...!"

3. The perfect croissant; it has a little quiff and is evenly golden-brown all over. To tear into its luxuriant layers gives me a strange sort of satisfaction. If they're this good in Spain, I wonder what real French croissants must be like.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Treat 'em mean, ready for sunshine and a regular conversation

1. My English to Spanish translation teacher is refreshingly unpatronising in today's lesson. "...and when you're in the review session, please don't cry. No, really. Every year, it happens, without fail. Okay, so you're crying, it doesn't mean I'm going to change your exam grade." This man earns big respect from behind his tiny glasses.

2. Walking somewhat aimlessly up one of the grandiose streets that branches off Puerta del Sol, the early-evening sunlight ricochets off far-off buildings and I can almost feel without a shadow of a doubt how wonderful (and almost unbearably hot) the city will be in summer.

3. Confessing to feeling blue about something, even if it's only half-heartedly, takes some weight from the battle.

3a. Mum's chuckling as we talk about nothing in particular on Skype.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A very early start, tired times and a prize

Had a bit of a Christmas break, the next few days will be hectic as I return to Madrid on Sunday and from there, the thoughtettes will continue!

1. Despite the cold darkness of the morning, driving at 5:30am with my sister and mother to the airport is brightened by our half-sleepy jokes. Leila is smiling brightly as she leaves for her work in Cyprus, "I'm going to go straight to Departures. You can save yourselves paying extra in the car park- I'm going to do my nails while I wait." 

2. Mum and I go on a hunt for an early breakfast, and end up stumbling upon more than decent coffee in McDonald's of all places. We spend the day finding bargains and traversing the land in a tired stupor. Later, we both fall asleep to the sound of Brian Cox and Dara O'Briain's BBC Stargazing LIVE (which I love, check it out at

3.  Having started the day almostly stupidly (for me!) early, I am repeatedly amazed at the time at intervals during the day. I make a face and sound incredulous as I state the time, but inwardly I feel like I've somehow won a part of the day I don't normally see.