Monday, 29 June 2015

Surprise!

When I found out Cesca and David were coming home early from their travels, I was SO excited to get my friends back. But then I found out they were only home for 1 week, before going off again on another adventure – the 900 mile walk from Land’s End to John O’Groats.  Knowing they were a bit bummed about having to come home, and only having a week to catch up with everyone, I messaged her mum and between us we planned a surprise coming home party. 

It was brilliant!! A lot of planning went in to keeping it a surprise, with her mum pretending she was away for the week so that Cesca wouldn’t turn up at her house, friends putting them off the scent by making excuses as to why they couldn’t see her that day, I even had to pretend to David that I needed his Dad to come and look at my boiler as an excuse to get his Dad in my house for the party.

So much food!


Everyone really pulled together and brought masses of food and drink and when they arrived and we shouted ‘surprise’, the look on both David and Cesca’s faces was priceless.  Cesca dealt with it slightly better than David, who went ‘what the hell’ before dashing outside to have a cigarette to calm his nerves, bless him.

I was so impressed we all managed to keep it a secret, it was a complete surprise for them.  There were additional surprises during the night when her dad turned up, having flown in from Sweden that night to be there, and then later on when her eldest brother joined the party, flying up from Cornwall after having pretended he couldn’t make it.  He’d managed to keep it a complete secret from everyone except Johan, so it was a surprise to the rest of the family too!


Amazing cake made by Cesca's sister, Anna


It showed how much they had been missed and how much their friends and family loved them – we successfully managed to unite two families who for various reasons hadn’t been in the same room as each other in a very long time and it was heart warming to see :-)

Even the dogs were brought down from Suffolk to welcome them home


Welcome home guys!!! Glad to have you back (don’t expect another party when you finish your walk though – we’re all partied out!)

On Saturday after post party cleaning, me Sepha and Dan had a picnic in the park with all the left-over food (benefits of being the party host!) and I managed to burn half of my face and nose and one arm and my back. Clever!  In the evening I headed to Putney for a chilled evening watching TV and eating food with Bex.  We watched the first episode of The Affair, which was quite good, but I don't have Sky so can't watch any more - lame! 


On Sunday Sepha had convinced me to go for a refreshing swim in Brockwell Lido. IT WAS SO COLD!! We then cycled to hot yoga and did a 90 min sesh which I really struggled with, but it felt good to be back at the Clapham HPY place. Afterwards we cycled to the wetherspoons in Streatham for a well deserved (and very cheap!) roast dinner before heading back to our respective houses and vegging out for the rest of the day.  I like to think we did a modern day, hipsters triathlon of cycling , yoga and lido swimming.  Swish. 



Thursday, 25 June 2015

How To Travel Good

This is me and Amy "travelling good"


You can tell I spent a long time choosing the title of this post , “how to travel good”.  It’s really good I am putting my English degree to good use, isn’t it.   Anyways, this post is about how the internet can help you plan and travel in the most economical way possible.  I have my own holy trinity of travel tools, but I’ll list a few more options I also use when booking my trips away.  I hope you find this useful!

 Overall “you should use this all the time” website

Top Cashback is EXCELLENT.  I have been using it for the past 3 years perhaps, and every time I buy something online (whether it’s clothes, toiletries, train tickets, hotel bookings, flight bookings, insurance – ANYTHING) I log onto my top cashback account and see if the retailer has signed up to the cashback scheme.  If it has, then I buy from the retailer Via the cashback site, and low and behold I get some nice moneys deposited into my account.


I have earned over £400 (proof below!) and one of the things I really like about it, is you can have your cashback money either as cash by BACS or paypal, or you can swap it for shopping vouchers – in which case they often add an extra 5% on. 



As this post is about travelling, a selection of current retailers at the time of publishing on Top Cashback are:

Hotels.com (8.4%)
Thetrainline.com (up to 3.67%) (useful if you have to book a lot of travel for work)
Booking.com (3%)
Airparks Airport Parking (up to 17.85%)
Travelodge (up to 4.2%)

The percentages may be small, but over time it all adds up.    It’s also brilliant for insurance – my car insurance this year has cost me around £100 for fully comprehensive insurance – I did a few comparison sites and though prices varied slightly, the same insurer was coming out cheapest.  I then realised that my insurer was on topcashback and offering £70 cashback with all new policies – so what was going to be nearly £200 is now £100!

One rule holds though – don’t be tempted to buy via the cashback site if you weren’t going to purchase it in the first place – and equally, still shop around as prices sometimes aren’t the cheapest from the retailers featured on the site. Savings are only made when you were going to buy from that retailer originally.

They also do a good ‘refer a friend’ scheme, so if you join up from this link, I’ll get some money when you have earned £10 of cashback, and you’ll get a £5 Amazon gift certificate plus your own link to pass onto friends.


An additional “also good to use if you have a Sainsburys near you” tool

Nectar points.  Admittedly they take ages to build up – my £120 worth has been built up over 5 years of petrol station fill ups and 5 years of Sainsbury’s shopping but if you’re a regular reader you’ll have seen I recently went to Madrid for the weekend, and my flight cost me 98p.  Amazing!!!

Nectar points can be collected in a variety of places, notably Sainos but also Homebase, British Gas, eBay and Virgin Trains amongst others.  (This is an eyeopener for me - I am probably missing out on thousands on my bills!) 

You can convert your nectar points quite easily by logging onto the Nectar website.  For easyjet, there’s a widget on the booking site where you can adjust how many nectar points to use for your flight, it's easy to use, and their customer service department are really good too. 

Really good transport sites




I recently discovered Rome2Rio and IT’S BRILLIANT.  I am a bit late to the party as it's been about since 2011, but some clever old sod has spent a lot of time creating this quite frankly fabulous site that tells you the best way to get to places, whether it’s from Rome to Rio, Lake Bled to Lake Garda, or Turkey to Tanzania.  It gives you options for flying, coach, taxi, driving, timings, estimated prices – I wish I had found this site sooner!!



Seat61.com is a highly informative treasure trove dedicated to train and ferry travel.  The site’s run by one man, Mark Smith “the man in seat 61” and contains a whole host of information about train journeys, prices and routes across the globe.  It’s incredible – I used it to find out how to get the train from Ho Chi Minh to Dalat in the absence of anything else and it included details on what different classes of coach there was, including photos and reviews of the coaches, a time table and prices.  It was invaluable – Mark Smith I salute you!



I use this site when booking travel at work – specifically this handy tool, “off peak train times”.  The actual site is a bit confusing and offers a variety of different types of train ticket (off peak, super off peak, any time day, first advance – what!?) but the tool tells you which time trains you can use off peak tickets on.  I used to always buy the ‘anytime’ tickets “just in case”! but now I check to see if I can get away with an off peak, and often I can, saving the company a fair bit of dosh in the process!



I love skyscanner, it’s a really easy to use flight comparison tool. (It also does hotels and car hire, but I primarily us for flights)
There are some nifty things you can do with it:
  • Choose your dates, and select your arrival airport to ‘everywhere’ and it'll show you the cheapest places in the world to go on those dates. Perfect for the indecisive traveller!! (though I do wish you could add a few more parameters to your search – like selecting a continent, or the times you would like to fly)
  • If you know your destination, but don't know when to go, you can select an entire month period which will bring up a graph showing you the cheapest times to fly. 
  • Once you have your destination and dates sorted, you can then use the slidey sidebars to filter departure and arrival times and specific airlines and airports
  • Once you have your price, it’ll bring up price comparisons with Opodo, ebookers, Carlton Leisure etc so you can see if they’re cheaper.

Maps.me is a mobile app where you can download maps on to your phone for offline use – brilliant when you’re abroad as data roaming is so expensive.  You can get maps for most places and it works offline using your GPS.  It’s slightly glitchy on my phone but I think that’s an issue with my phone not the app – my mum uses it and says it’s good.  You can also link it to the geocaching app (see more about that below). It’s available on the appstore and google play and as far as I can remember it is free…


Accommodation websites and apps

The first time I used Airbnb was back in 2012 and few people had heard of it.  Now it’s a household name and there’s so much choice and variety.  People basically rent out their homes or rooms in their homes to strangers on the airbnb site.  You can find all sorts of quirky accommodation from houseboats to garden sheds to  treehouses.  In 2012 we stayed in a brilliant apartment in Rome with a view of the Colosseum from our balcony, a living room, kitchen and bathroom – for cheaper than one of the cheap hotels where we’d have all been sharing one bedroom.  It's fairly safe as both the holiday maker and the host leave reviews for each other, but there are some horror stories, so do your research. (I nearly booked a cheap room in New York before I realised it was a nudist apartment)





TripAdvisor is the holy grail of reviews for practically anything, you name it they have it.  (unless it’s a tiny tiny guest house in the middle of nowhere in Sri Lanka that’s basically their spare room.  They didn’t have that.)  I love reading reviews of places, especially reviews by people who have much much higher standards than me, because their reviews are so self entitled and they moan about the littlest things.  Silly people. Anyway. I’ll often use Trip Advisor in combination with booking.com – booking.com has a really good phone app for no-nonsense on-the-go hotel booking.  I also think their reviews are more accurate – I think because tripadvisor is so well known, if people have got something bad to say about somewhere and they want to vent about it on the internet, they’ll go to tripadvisor, whereas booking.com views are more subjective. 

I often find booking.com cheaper than its counter parts such as hostelworld, tri-va-go, expedia etc though I will always do a price comparison.  ALSO the most amazing thing is when I book something on booking.com, it goes into my phone google calendar, and adds a location star on my google maps, along with the dates that I am staying.  AMAZING!  Though I hven’t worked out if this is a google function, a phone function or a booking.com function.  Either way it’s pretty clever/spooky.


Tools for finding out what to do and where to go


A fairly obvious one, but google!! And added to that, other blogs!!!  I often google the destination I am going to with ‘blog’ on the end, and it’ll bring me to someone’s blog where they’ve already been there and write about the places they went and how they got there and whether they liked it or not.  It’s like a travel agent without the hard selling.



This is my mum’s recommendation - geocaching is a really good way of exploring new places.  Essentially it’s a treasure hunt with GPS co-ordinates which you’ll need an app on your phone for, or a GPS machine.  You can download and pay for the official geocaching app, or a free one called c:geo (available on Google Play).  When you’re abroad and you have internet, you can search for geocaches near you, and save them for offline use.  You can then go out hunting for them with your data switched off and your GPS switched on.  Often, people will do trails of caches around a city along with a commentary, so you’re basically getting a  free guided tour, with the added feel good factor of finding the caches.


Triposo is a really good travel app that draws information from Tripadvisor and Wikipedia.   You download packs for your destination, and each pack will include an offline currency convertor, map, information about your destination, tours, offers and events, key phrases, and will locate bars, restaurants, accommodation and points of interest near you.  It’s really good but each pack does take up quite a bit of space on your phone, so I tend to delete the pack after I am done with my trip.   It’s available on both App Store and Google Play.

So the above are my go to's when I am booking a trip, I hope you found useful.  I now have two questions for you:

1) What travel tools do you use that I haven't featured?
2) Where shall I go next? I have 10 days holiday left and the world at my feet....



Sunday, 21 June 2015

Some things I have been doing

The other week I met Sepha in Lincoln Fields park in the glorious sunshine.  We drank canned G&Ts (honestly, whoever invented those needs a medal) and soaked up the sun before heading off to the Peacock theatre to see Traces.  Our original plan was to play squash and go swimming but I saw Traces was on sale at a tenner a ticket and it sounded much more appealing than exercise!

It was really good and I would recommend it,  Sepha, who has never seen it before, thought it was excellent.  It's a predominantly gymnastics based show, so they were running and jumping and spinning and flipping all about the place.  It was really good, but this year's had a bit more interpretive dance than usual and I didn't enjoy it quite as much as the other two I have seen.

On Saturday I took my car for it's first MOT with me - thank the Lord, it passed!  I was quite surprised (as I have been with every car I have ever owned when it's passed) then headed off to Covent Garden for a long overdue catch up with Lewis.  I only see him probably once a year if that, so it was good to get a nice few hours in with him! I was meeting Sepha in town later on so stayed in London and did a spot of shopping - Uniqlo is my favourite place at the moment.  They do these excellent legging things that are really flattering and comfortable for £14.90 in a variety of colours and patterns, I already own a khaki pair that I live in so now have some funky floral print ones and plain black ones.

isn't this how everyone hugs?


I met Sepha and we headed to the Hayward Gallery - we had tickets to see Carsten Holler's exhibition "Decision" which, disappointingly, was a massive anti climax.  The principal of it looked good - it's an interactive art exhibition where you're immersed in the experience, but being central London on a Saturday, it was really busy and you had to queue for most things.

You entered the exhibition though a darkened metal corridor, which got darker and darker as you progressed - being a claustrophobe I didn't enjoy this much!!  There was an alternative entrance which bypassed this however I wanted to experience it all.

You then wander round the galleries and there's some random stuff to look at - a big pile of pills on the floor created by a pill box above, dropping a pill every minute.  Some people were eating the pills which I thought was weird (Sepha being one of the pill eaters, such an odd one).  I could have pulled one of the pills apart and replaced the contents with something horrible like poo (is it weird that's the first thing I thought of) and put it back. Top tip - don't eat strange pills!

There was an oculus rift bit, which showed a film of walking through dark woods, and one eye was showed one thing and the other eye a different view - again, an anticlimax, and it just made my brain ache and feel like I was on drugs.



The main event which I had come for was the flight experience - they hook you up in a harness and spin you around, however this bit is outside, and it was raining, and the health and safety police said it wasn't safe in the rain because it was slippery, and they shut it down....we weren't very impressed - a) we live in the UK, of course we will get rain and b) just make it non slip material, or put a cover over it or something.  We kicked up a bit of a fuss and were given tickets to return another time, but only because we lied and said we'd been waiting in the queue for 30 mins - people who hadn't been queueing for it didn't get to come back, which I didn't think was fair. Plus the staff were REALLY bad at keeping the crowd informed of what was happening, and were quite unapologetic.

The best bit of the exhibition was the upside down goggles.  You usually get to do this outside, but because of the rain they brought it indoors and set it up in the main gallery.  After queueing for 30 odd mins it was our turn - we were given the goggles and led into a roped off square in the middle of the gallery.  The goggles turn everything upside down, which was hilarious, trippy and headache inducing all at once.  I have never been so unaware of where my hands and legs are!! It's hard to describe the experience apart from it's almost like being absolutely wasted.




The gallery experience ends with a twirly wirly slide chute, which again, had a huge queue...but we diligently queued for yet another anticlimax - I went so slowly down the slide despite frantically wriggling about in my slide sack, and actually stopped mid slide.  I also got a really wet bottom because the slide was leaking a bit in the rain.

I look petrified but it's because my bum had just received a soaking


All in all, the entire thing was a bit of a disappointment!!  I think if they'd restricted the amount of tickets they'd sold per session, it would be a more enjoyable experience for everyone.  We missed out on some parts because of the queueing.  Also, the staff could do with a bit of jivvying up - they were all very stern and grumpy.

I rushed home and went to Peckham to meet Bex - we did a mini Peckham crawl, starting a The Nines where we ate some weird chickpea chips.  There was a pop up jerk chicken bar in Copeland Park so I had a jerk wrap, which was absolutely delicious, except my tummy didn't agree an hour later :-(

We then went to Frank's, and on the way up discovered Ali Baba (juice shack fame) had set up a bar on the 4th level, as well as a mini night club made out of hay bales!  God I love Peckham.

View from Frank's



After Franks we headed to the Four Quarters where we played arcade games till our wrists hurt, drank locally brewed beer and got called skinny chickens by a really drunk 47 year old.  All in all a good Saturday!





Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Dreams

Dreams are funny things aren’t they.  I tend to dream in full surround sound HD TV mode, and often recall them and sometimes get confused between reality and what I dreamed.    One time when I was on holiday in Portugal with my ex-boyfriend, I woke up screaming telling him to get the bugs off my pillow.  He was very confused as we had only just gone to sleep and there weren’t any bugs, but in my dream (set in the bed in the villa we were staying in) there were scarab beetles running all over my pillow.  I had the same dream the following day but it was ants this time. Weird huh!

I had a dream last night that followed a recurring theme, and when I think about it, I have several recurring dream themes, which I will bore you with below.  On doing some research (well, googling) it turns out my dreams aren't that unique and people often have their own versions of the following dreams. 

The dream last night was set in my old secondary school (god bless the C corridor) but featured people from work.  I had no idea what lessons I was meant to be at.  I had been given a timetable at the beginning of term, but for some reason I wasn't following it and had got in a total muddle about where i was meant to be. I was wandering about the school corridors trying to remember whether I was meant to be in Geography or Spanish and wondering if I would get in trouble for not being in the right lesson.  I’ve had other versions of this dream, one that particularly sticks out is I dreamt I was in 6th form and taking English, but hadn’t actually gone to an English lesson all term as I had managed to miss them all as they disappeared off the time table, but I knew I was meant to have been at them, and the dream was spent worrying what Mrs Corp (old English teacher –very scary) was going to do when she found I hadn’t gone to the lessons.  Sometimes this one seems so real I wonder if it did actually happen or not!  

My favourite recurring dream is where I am in a house that is familiar to me and I discover a secret door or passage way, and get ridiculously excited about all the possibilities this will lead to (the parties! The tricks I could play! The places I could hide!).  The best one was in my London house, and I found a door I’d never noticed before, which opened out into this huge additional house attached to mine, that didn’t seem to belong to anyone.  It had lush furniture and a basement and was totally empty and all I could think about was the party possibilities.   

My other two recurring dreams are a bit more macabre.  The most horrible one is my teeth crumble and fall out – and nothing I do will stop it, I will be talking and my teeth turn to chalk and crumble out of my mouth and it never seems to stop and nothing can be done about it.  The other one is the reason I hate snakes – I used to be fine with snakes until one night I dreamed about having to walk across a lawn filled with writhing snakes, the dream was horrible and now snakes give me the creeps AND I have that dream fairly regularly. Totally irrational fear because one night my mind decided it didn’t like snakes any more. So odd.

I don’t know if I believe in all that hullabaloo about dreams meaning stuff, but I do find them fascinating, and it's interesting that people all over the world have similar recurring dreams. 

A bit of googling has led me to discover that my crumbling teeth dream means I am worried about getting old, or that I am worried my life is crumbling around me.   I am not too worried about getting old - and I don't think my life is crumbling around me, but I do have moments of blind panic sometimes at the fact I am 27, in a house share with a cat and no where near marrying, buying a house and having children - but then again I am not ready for any of those things either, so I shouldn't beat myself up about it too much. 

Finding a new room in a house apparently means that I am discovering something new about myself, and depending on how I feel about the new room, what the room is and how it is decorated, all have deeper meanings that I can't be bothered to type out. If you're interested you can look here.

The one about being at school and missing my classes seems to be a common dream, but I can't find a site that's analysed it yet, so with a bit of self analysis maybe it's just me worrying about missing important steps in my life or something, who knows.

And the snake one has so many meanings it's impossible to say which one.  Apparently snakes in dreams means the dream is of high importance and one that offers great growth opportunity.  Not sure how a pathway of writhing snakes that scares me shitless is a growth opportunity, but hey ho!

What weird dreams do you guys have?

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

A weekend in Madrid

This weekend I went to go visit Martin in Madrid.  He’s been there 3 years now and for some reason everyone has decided 2015 is the year to visit – he’s just played host to his sister and the boys, so is well versed in playing tour guide.

It was an exceptionally cheap weekend away – my flights cost 98p (98p! let me repeat that - 98p!!!!!!!!!!) as I bought them using my ten years worth of Nectar points, and I was crashing on his floor, so no accommodation costs. Brill!

Getting there was very stressful – I had booked an easybus as there was meant to be a train strike (which later was cancelled), the easybus was 20 mins late in arriving, then got stuck in traffic, leaving me with 25 minutes to get from the bus depot to my gate before it closed.  However on the journey I did see a fight with men throwing chairs at each other, so there’s that.

I spent the bus journey frantically googling ‘how long to get through Gatwick security’ and ‘what do I do if I miss my flight’ and whatsapping my mum and housemates in panic.   I grabbed my bag from the belly of the coach, sprinted through Gatwick, shouted at the security man because you’re only allowed to take one plastic bag of liquids (since when!!!!) and had 2 seconds to decide what to get rid of and what to keep (toothpaste & conditioner didn’t make the cut FYI).  They’ve redone Gatwick South and you now have to wind your way through a snazzy marble floor filled with shops which is most irritating when you’re in a mad dash to catch your plane.  I arrived at departures hot and sweaty, looked for my gate number, and saw the flight was delayed by an hour and a half. You couldn’t make it up!!!!   On the plus side, as long as there’s no massive queue at security, I think I probably would have made my plane, so I’ll know for next time not to panic so much.

I sat for an hour watching a woman knit and wondering why I had to bin my toiletries but she was allowed knitting needles - surely they're more dangerous that my toothpaste! Though toothpaste is a bitch when you get it into your eye.  But it wouldn't blind you or poke your eye out like needles. Anyway.

There’s a bus at Madrid airport that goes to Atocha train station which is fairly central, it only costs 5 euros and is quite quick (maybe 30 mins). Plus it has free wifi! Look out for the yellow bus, that’s the one you need.

Martin met me at the bus stop with instructions to feed and water me after my long journey, so we dumped my stuff off and headed on a whistlestop night-time tour of Madrid to get some food.  We ate in a lovely plaza where a guy tried to serenade us before Martin sent him packing, drank Sangria and had a nice catch up.  His friend Mike came to join us and we spent the remainder of the evening in another plaza, drinking 1 euro street beers and avoiding police. (Though everyone does it, you're not technically allowed to drink on the streets, so every now and then the police turn up to disperse everyone sitting on the floor in the plazas.  If you get caught you can get a 600 euro fine)

The following day we walked a million miles in 32 degree heat around Madrid.  It is a lovely city – the Atocha train station has a bloomin (ha, do you see what I did there) rainforest in it, complete with terrapin pond!  You don't get that in Charing Cross.




We stopped to row a boat in the Parque del Retiro and to see the Palacio de Cristal, wandered past the Prado Museum, up past the Palacio de Cibeles, through the shopping districts and up to the Templo de Debod, where we had an hours nap in the shade.

Ministry of Agriculture

I wish London had interesting man hole covers

Palacio de Cristal

art installation inside the Palacio de Cristal.  I'd love to get married in something like this!

Palacio de Cristal



Street performers in the park

at one of the old gates to the city

Deliberately accidentally rowed into this water stream and may have filled the boat with water...






Palacio de Cibeles


For lunch/early dinner, we stopped at El Tigre, which I highly recommend. It’s a well established tapas bar, where you buy a drink (soft or alcoholic, anything goes, including huge bottles of alcohol ironically called ‘minis’) and get a HUGE plate of tapas.  We had my new favourite, Tinto de Verano (red wine and lemonade!) and a coca cola, and were given a huge pile of croquettas, patatas bravas, jamon on bread and Spanish tortilla, for the grand price of 6 euros. An absolute bargain!  It’s filled with locals and not at all touristy, I loved it.

pretty non descript from the outside but don't let the exterior fool you!

terrible photo but so much yummy food


We also stopped to do two small geocaches- Martin’s first ever!  The first one was right by Atocha station near his house, and it was brilliant – a very good hide.  Martin was amazed!  The second was a standard film canister attached to a fence post.  We also tried to do a mystery cache at the Templo de Debod (an Ancient Egyptian temple gifted to Spain, boated over and rebuilt) but it was too hard to work out and we were getting hot and tired so we gave up and napped instead!

spot the cache

view out across Madrid




Martin loves flabbing dogs...literally his favourite thing ever


In the evening I was subjected to a football match but the bar was cool with a beer tap on your own table, so I practiced being a barmaid – I am pretty pants.  On the way to the bar, a delicate piece of paper fluttered down towards us from a balcony high above.  For some unexplained reason, Martin caught it, before yelling as he realised it was a sticky sheet of waxing paper, covered in someone's hair. How I laughed!

 don't think I would get a job in a pub....


They start them young in Spain


We then had some late night churros in Chocolater√≠a San Gines, famous in Madrid for being open 24 hours, had some more beer in another bar where we met up with some more of Martin’s friends, then went to a club called Space Monkey which was quite cool but by this point I was shattered from all the walking, the sun and generally being out late, so I was the grumpy one in the club wanting my bed whilst everyone around me partied and had fun.  We eventually made it home around 3.30 where I crashed until 11am the next day.

One euro olives

Late night churros



We went to a snack store and stocked up on crisps and water, then got a train from Atocha to Cercedilla, a little village in the mountains, that’s a 1h15 train ride away. Cercedilla is known for its hiking routes, and we had planned to do the Camino del Agua, a 4.1k walk that they recommend takes 1.5 hours.  There’s a variety of routes, ranging from 2.5k to 14k, all starting from the Information point about 2 km from the train station.

As usually happens when I go on walks, we couldn’t find the start point and we walked for 30 minutes in the wrong direction before realising something was amiss.  On our way back down, I spotted some blue dots (the marker for the walk) so we rejoiced, thinking we had found it.  What we’d actually found was the tail end of the walk, so we followed the dots to the start and worked out where we went wrong, before heading back in the right direction this time!!!! What was meant to be a 4.1k walk turned quickly into about 12k, whoops!!

However it was a pretty walk, and once up in the forest it was cooler and shaded.  We stopped by a little stream to have our picnic lunch of emmentale baguettes with crisps, and saw a variety of wildlife, including a red squirrel (the only one I have ever seen, amazing), a snake which made me jump out of my skin, some horses, lizards and some Spanish cows, that from a distance looked like bulls and we were scared to pass them, but as we approached they were more cow like than bull like.


follow the blue dot!






On the way back down we stopped in the village to have a well deserved Tinto de Verano with a plate of olives and pickles, before napping on the train back home.  We had a quick dinner before heading back to Martin's apartment, where we said our farewells before bed - I had to get up at 5am for my flight back home in the morning.

Madrid is perfect for a quick weekend break.  It's just over a 2 hour flight from London, and the airport is fairly close to the city centre.  It's large enough to feel like there's enough to do, but small enough that you can see most of it in a day - and best of all is the brilliant cafe culture.  No matter the time of day, people will be sitting outside in cafes and plazas, eating tapas and drinking - it's highly social and the drinking culture seems totally different to here - much more relaxed and enjoyable rather than a 'pre drink and let's get trashed' mentality.  Anyway, I recommend, and thank you Martin for hosting me :)