Building Castles in the Air

I am writing this sat in my lovely house in England that overlooks fields that stretch as far as the eye can see, but I began writing this just over a week ago when I was still in the hustle and bustle of sunny Madrid. A place that over time has taught me that there are so many good and open people in this world and such beautiful places beyond the imagination. It has also taught me that life isn’t just about living to work, but working enough to live and thrive. And I have certainly learnt how to thrive!

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Taking my Erasmus year in Spain has undoubtedly been the best decision I have ever made. Travel has always been in my blood and I have ever wished to have the confidence to get myself out of England by myself and set my life up abroad. I choose De Montfort University largely because of DMUGlobal and the opportunities they offer around the world, including Erasmus and as soon as I stepped into their first presentation about Erasmus, I knew it was for me. The only issue was is that I wanted to go for a year and I wasn’t able to transfer my credits from the year abroad to DMU, thus I would have to do an extra year. But as I felt I had been let down a lot by my English university experience, I decided to take the leap and go for it anyway!

The next dilemma that came was choosing the place out of a huge list of universities around Europe. I was torn between Dusseldorf, Bordeaux, Oulu and Madrid, but since I always had a soft spot for Spain and desperately wanted to learn Spanish, I chose CEU San Pablo in Madrid and there my journey began.

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I visited Madrid beforehand to choose a flat to live in and visit the city and university, both which impressed me but I still didn’t have huge expectations. When I arrived it was hot. Really hot. Madrid seemed hugely intimidating and rather lonely, it was hard opening a bank, finding everything for the flat, getting the transport card, finding the uni and not being able to speak any Spanish.

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But just a couple of weeks in, I was falling in love with Madrid and the people there were wonderful. My time in Madrid went from strength to strength and without me even realising it for a long time, I was living my dream. I had my own little flat, a foster cat, I was learning Spanish slowly but surely, Madrid at my doorstep and at the weekends I took day-trips to neighbouring cities, or if the girls were up for it I went on bigger trips to other countries or the coast. At the start of this year, I did have a wobble after a break-up, moving flats and all my friends leaving from the first semester. But after an amazing trip to Porto with great friends and an eye-opening adventure in Morocco where I had the most amazing time ever with more wonderful company, things just carried on the uprise until the day I left.

Now, it is time to awaken from this wonderful dream and whirl of emotions, experiences and evolution that has been my life for the past 10 months. It’s time now to work hard and study hard so I can accomplish this as a real lifestyle when I finish university. I know that Madrid is a once in a lifetime experience, but this is not the end for me, it’s just the beginning of an international lifestyle.

I have never been so inspired to travel and meet more people as now, and I have no doubt that there are more adventures to come. The only thing I am questioning is not when, but where?

Although not everyone will have the same positive experience of living abroad as this, some of you may not even be interested in travelling and will find your happiness elsewhere in careers or studies or families. But I hope everyone has the chance to find their own Madrid.

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My 8 Favourite Places in Madrid

So my time here in this beautiful city, Madrid, is reaching it’s final days so I wish to share with you my favourite places here that I have discovered over the past nine months, all of which make living here particularly special for me.

If you are still living here and haven’t been to these places yet, they are definitely worth taking a look at before you leave. If you are visiting Madrid, choosing a few of these to go to will make your stay here even more charming.

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Opera

The first tourist stop that most people make in Madrid is Puerta de Sol, which is a beautiful plaza that is the literal centre of Spain. However, one of my favourite plazas in Madrid is that Plaza de Oriente that is very close to the metro Opera. Not only does it recognisably contain the famous Opera house, Teatro Real, but it is framed by some of the grandest buildings in Madrid in an arch, with the largest palace in Europe as it’s backdrop. To the north of Plaza de Oriente, there are beautiful gardens (Jardines de Sabatini) linking the palace to Plaza de España. Just a short walk to the south, near the end of Calle de Bailén, there is a small park with a magnificent view of the Palacio Real hanging over the city that I find particularly stunning, as well as inside the palace itself. I must when visiting Opera at night there is something magical about the majestic buildings lit up against the dark sky.

Parque Cerro del Tío Pío

If you want to see the best sunset in Madrid, Tío Pío is undoubtedly the place to go. Although it is quite a trek if you live anywhere north of the centre in Madrid, it is a trip worth making. This park is just a ten-minute uphill walk from metro stop Buenos Aires on the blue metro line (linea 1). At first this park may not catch the eye, but after climbing to the top of one of the small hills, a breathtaking view of Madrid can be seen like no other in the city. It is the perfect place to visit with a loved one or a group of friends with some vino to watch the sun go down over the sleepy city.

Lago

Just one part of Casa de Campo, the largest park in Madrid that stretches for miles and miles, Lago is the perfect escape from the city’s heat in the summer! With many different activities, it is perfect for anyone and everyone. There is the option to either go for a short stroll around the lake, sit and relax with a glass of tinto de verano overlooking the palace and cathedral, mountain bike or hike through the many trails in the park, take the cable cars over the large park or even go swimming at Piscina de Lago (my favourite part of lago!)

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Malasaña

Oh Malasaña… what a quirky, fun barrio it is! I must say this will be one of the neighbourhoods I am sure to miss the most when I return back to England. If it is a bar crawl, food crawl or vintage shop crawl you are looking for – Malasaña has it all! I keep finding new quirky things there each time I visit, for example last time I stumbled into this shop (Pinta en Copas) where you get free tea and coffee as you unleash your creativity by painting your own piece of pottery. There is nothing much more satisfying than getting some work done at one of the laid back cafés such as Café de la Luz or Toma Café, then browsing through the vintage stores such as Magpie Vintage or Templo de Susu, having a healthy lunch at Bluenasaña or the Greek & Shop, moving onto to a natural ice lolly for desert at Lolo Polos then meeting friends at one of the many unique bars in this wonderful place to sip sangria or cocktails until it is time to move onto to the party in one of the neighbouring barriosChueca or El Centro. Day well spent!

El Retiro

This may just win the prize for my favourite park in Madrid, which is a hard place to earn as Madrid boasts such wonderful parks. But there is something about El Retiro. This park is located just off the centre, bordering Atocha, Banco de España and Ibiza, but by stepping into this park it takes you miles away from the feeling of the hustle and bustle of the capital city in just minutes. Although El Retiro is slightly busier than the other parks, it is easy to see why. With its beautiful vast lake, the Crystal Palace, exquisite statues, sculpted gardens, la Rosaleda (a charming collection of roses), and last but not least the Monumento a Alfonso XIII which often attracts talented buskers that never fail to transport me to another world in the beautiful surroundings.

La Latina

Not only do I love the way this neighbourhood’s name sounds “La Latina”, but I also love the relaxed, cool vibe that comes with being here. Every week this barrio hosts a large flea market, which is definitely my favourite way to spend a Sunday morning in Madrid, wandering through all the wild and wonderful stalls before stopping off at Mercado San Fernando in Lavapíes for lunch or relaxing in La Latina’s square (Plaza Cebada) listening to the free live music with a bite to eat from the Mercado de la Cebada that backs onto it. But La Latina is not merely good for a lazy Sunday morning, but it’s also great for the bustling nightlife too! Walking though the streets at night in this neighbourhood is like no other, with the excitement for the night to come radiating from the buildings and the streets hard for anyone to squeeze through due to clusters of locals and visitors alike pouring out onto the streets from the bars (such as Leka Leka, La Buha or Los Pajaritos) in animated chatter – even in the dead of winter! 

Gran Vía

Coming up the stairs from the metro to Gran Vía never fails to take my breath away, whether it be on a peaceful winter morning or at dusk on a teeming Friday night, it’s magnificence always touches me. Callao tends to end up being the meeting place for a good day or night ahead, with the Schweppes sign towering above the plaza and the stained glass windows above Desigual, Plaza del Callao always makes it’s statement. Gran Vía is the place for shopping, with all the brands scattered down its elaborate street and Fuencarral leading off it with alternative and hip stores. It is the place to be. But Gran Vía is also the place for parties, with international clubs such as Independence, Moondance and ‘locals’ club Star Coyote that are hosted on the infamous street or nearby.

Parque del Oeste

Quite different feeling to that of Casa de Campo, although it is no where near as large as it’s neighbouring park, Parque del Oeste has many different elements all interlinked through beautiful walkways and maintained gardens. At the top of the park towards the north there is part of the park that rests just beneath the Faro de Moncloa, an observatory tower that allows visitors to see all the way across Madrid in an 180˚ glass observatory zone. At the bottom of Parque del Oeste is the Templo de Debod, a 200bc gift from Egypt rebuilt in Madrid in 1972, it is a place that feels like no other, arguably in the whole of Spain. Because of its high position, the temple is also a wonderful place to watch the sunset as guitarists or saxophone players that leave their impression upon the young night often serenade it.

 

Although I have been here almost 10 months, there are still things that even I have not done but plan to do in the next couple weeks that may be worthy of this list, this includes to:

  • Drink the famous milky cocktail in the cave bar El Champadaz near Moncloa.
  • Visit Mercado Antón Martin and Barceló
  • Watch the sunset from Circulo del Bella Artes
  • Eat the homemade tortilla from La Buha
  • Watch a flamenco show at La Taberna de Mister Pinkleton
  • Listen to the live jazz music in Café Barbieri
  • See the turtles and oasis in the Atocha Railway Station
  • Watch the guards change at the Royal Palace

Discovering Marrakech

“Only those who risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go” – T. S. Eliot

Morocco has been a wave of wonderful emotions, I’m not sure that words can describe this mind-altering trip, but I shall make my best attempt. From the beginning I have felt excitement, uncertainty, grief, amazement, inspiration, loss, wonder and hope. But most of all Africa gave me peace.

An utter sensation of peace has washed over my soul.

But that didn’t come straight away. This post is about my first night and day in Marrakech. The first night I barely slept out of apprehension and excitement. We arrived in Marrakech at 22.15 and the city was enveloped in darkness, we were the last ones out the airport and as the four of jumped into the large taxi from our hostel, we had our first glimpse of Africa. Motorbikes rushing past one anther, lit by the full moon and white street lights. Some of their owners had their groceries hanging over the edge, others with their shoes flying behind them and a couple of bikes with many people crammed onto one seat. It was nothing like I had ever seen before, and already I was excited of what was to come.

You may wonder why I had decided to go to Morocco, well, it’s a country I hadn’t really heard of before moving to Spain and when I constantly saw cheap flights going there from Madrid – it caught my interest. I read a little about it, and ever since October last year I have wanted to visit and luckily I found people like me that wanted to go too! My decision to go to Morocco was met with some concern, but although it is undoubtedly a place where you have to take care, I’m glad it didn’t hinder my decision.

As we arrived in the hostel, Dream Kasbah, we were informed that they only had two of the four beds we were due, and we could either move elsewhere or they would sort something out for us there. As tired as we were and as late it had become, me and my friend said we would share, one would take the floor, and another of us on the top bunk. It was a nice hostel afterall. As soon as our beds were sorted in the cramped hostel room, we went to fill our rumbling bellies. We stumbled out onto the windy lanes of Marrakech and on to the main street closest to us where we had spotted some ‘hole-in-the-wall’ type restaurants during the taxi ride. We ordered four sandwiches with chips and wandered back to the hostel. However, we kept walking down the wrong streets and inevitably, a group of men waiting like vultures for this very moment came up to us. Although we tried desperately to shake them off, they lead us into the night, even though we had just spotted the sign for our hostel.

I have only felt uncomfortable in Morocco twice, and this was one of them. As my friends continued walking, I had fallen behind just a couple of steps, but during this time one of the men put his arms around me. I pushed him away as my other friend shouted at him in her karate-trained manner. He left pretty hastily. But the other followed us all the way to our hostel door and asked for money to which we politely declined and went to eat. I will just say that these men were not good representatives of Moroccans and I was otherwise overwhelmed by the kindness of these people.

Around 8am, we awoke having slept very little and begun our day with the free-breakfast at the hostel. Although the food wasn’t to be desired, the spiced coffee was something special. Then, we went to see Marrakech in the daylight.

To four students who had never stepped foot in Africa before, it was like a whole new world. Men perched on the side of mules on the main roads, scooters weaved in out of one another and donkeys clattered down the streets laden with tons of bags. And, as we soon found out, zebra crossings didn’t work. So as we hopped, skipped and jumped across the roads in awe of the beautiful buildings and people alike, and soon realised we had no idea where we going and that we needed a map. Pronto.

So off we went to the first store we could see and asked the man where we could buy a map and he produced a whole book of Morocco.

“Take it!” he uttered

We tried to explain we didn’t really want to pay for a whole book, just a small map.

“No, no, for free. Please, have it.”

We groveled our thanks and offered the little change we had on us, to which he denied and went on our way to the large plaza featured in the book.

It was bizarrely surreal. Monkeys walked around with chains round their necks doing back flips; snake charmers sat in the middle nose-to-nose with a hissing python; women came over and grabbed your hand trying to sell henna tattoos; horses proudly trotted past with a carriage of tourists trailing behind; stalls sold their fresh fruit juices and people crowded round the buskers. It was hard to know where to look or what to think of this strange spectacle.

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Plaza in Marrakech

So, we decided to divert to the more peaceful area of the mosque before tackling the markets again. It was hurtful to see the beggars dotted around the beautiful building, with their kind eyes and pleading expressions trying to sell their hand stitched rugs or cookies, none of them got angry if we turned down their items, instead they simply smiled and said “maybe tomorrow?” before walking on. We realised we weren’t allowed to enter, as we came to find with most of the mosques, so we moved onto the souks.

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Mosque in Marrakech

If the plaza was crazy, the souks were something else. But they were incredible. Fresh fruits, piles of herbs and spices, different kinds of olives, juices, fish, meat and animals in tiny crates. Then there would be a jewellery section full of different golds and silvers gleaming in the late morning sun. After that, leather bags, colourful shoes, embroided dresses and exquisite scarves. It’s fair to say we all spent a little more than expected during our time in Morocco, everything was amazing.

Time had been passing very slowly and at around two in the afternoon, we decided we should find somewhere to rest and eat, so we went to the closest place that had a vegetarian friendly menu. It wasn’t anything special from the outside, but upstairs it had a beautiful terrace with an incredible view over the city. The food was delicious and we topped it off with some mint tea. We somehow sat there for hours, talking a little, but mainly just enjoying the warmth and the calm buzz of the city down below. At sometime after five, we decided we should walk back to the hostel via the palace, which was closed. So back to the hostel it was as the sun began to set behind the clouds.

We spent the evening chatting to a lovely German couple who were travelling through Morocco on their study break and another inspiring girl who is a freelance writer/blogger travelling long-term with her partner, as well as the lovely hostel workers before retiring to bed ready for our early start in the morning.

Tomorrow we would embark on a journey across the Atlas Mountains, through Berber villages and onto the Sahara desert before finishing in Fes.

Our adventure in Morocco had only just begun.

Learning to be alone at 20, 10 things to do

“Before I save someone else, I’ve got to save myself. Before I love someone else, I’ve got to love myself” – Ed Sheeran

You may read this title and think, twenty-years-old that’s so young, there’s no need to be worried about being single at that age! And I agree completely. Or at any age in fact, we should each find a way to be content within ourselves.

I have been in back-to-back serious relationships and ‘dating’ since I was fifteen-years-old. The thing is, I never really saw myself as the kind of girl to be jumping from guy to guy, I am quietly confident and I enjoy time to myself. But I did. Yet now, I am on my own for the first time in approximately four years.

After my first break-up, I found myself searching for something to replace it straight away. I had just moved into my own place in a new city for university and I was lonely and broken-hearted, so I started dating the first cute guy who was showed me kindness. It didn’t help much, but I did it anyway.

Still, I continued searching for that something until just a few months after my last serious relationship, I jumped into another one. This time, it did make me feel better, so much so when I decided to move to Spain to study for a year, he moved with me.

But things went pear-shaped, and rather then staying away from dating like I probably should have, I started seeing my best friend in Spain who had helped me through the tough last weeks and the break-down of my relationship.

Inevitably, that also ended, so now I am making a promise myself that I will give me a chance now. Not that my relationships were bad or toxic, they weren’t at all, but now I can focus solely on myself rather than another. The following is advice I shall adhere to and I hope you too can find some solace in this strange new world of singledom.

 

Make more effort with friends

I have always highly valued my time with my friends, but I realise now that I have been on my own a little while that I’ve been missing out on so much. When you’re in a relationship, it’s easy to turn down invites for a TV night with your partner, but now I have all the time in the world for my friends and I’m the one throwing out invites and building deeper friendships than I ever have before. Get out there and show your friends how much you appreciate them!

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Get out and meet new people

I love my friends, but it’s also nice to get out to see fresh faces and hear new stories. Just the other day, I met some wonderful people from Portugal, Ireland, Germany, Morocco, Austria and Azerbaijan (a little country near Turkey) simply by sparking up conversation in the girl’s bathroom and having the courage to go up to strangers. You can do this by seeing what events are going on in your city, such as dancing, rowing, clubbing, cooking – anything really! Check Facebook events, meet-up, or simply Google something you enjoy and you will find an event for sure.

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Become more active

Now that I have more time, I’m back at the gym and going to dance classes. Rather than wanting to have a lazy lie in with the other half, now you have more reason to get up, out and about doing things! Go for a walk around the park, or enjoy a swim at your local pool, it will no doubt make you feel better.

 

Watch shows you enjoy

On the other hand, we all need lazy days. Now there’s no need to compromise on the shows you want to watch because of your partner. Time to get your Netflix on and binge on your favourite shows without the guilt of what your other half thinks.

 

Take time to develop your creativity

Since I have been alone, my imagination is once again in full swing! I’m back to writing poetry, keeping up to date with my journal, sketching, dancing and deepening my creativity each day. Plus, I’m also feeling more inspired to keep regularly updating my blog. You will feel more focused on your own.

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Give back to others

It will make you realise that really, life is great and what is happening is just a passing storm in your life. People are suffering much worse adversities than a broken heart, not that it makes your pain any less, but working with these people or animals is likely to put your own hardships into perspective.

 

Spend more time with family

Sometimes being in a relationship can take your focus off those who mean the most – your family! Even though I am many miles away studying abroad, I now have more time alone to be able to video chat with my mum and keep up with my family. These are the people that will always have your back no matter what, so don’t leave them out.

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Don’t be afraid of doing things alone

Being alone doesn’t mean you’re lonely. I know I always used to fear doing things by myself, but now I quite happily go to coffee shops, parks and even restaurants by myself! The trick is to take a good book, sit back and watch the world go by. I actually prefer doing stuff by myself now rather than with bad company.

 

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Bella Vista beach

Travel more

Maybe this one is focused more on the wanderlusts out there, but I know for sure each time I feel the roar of the plane’s engine and see a whole new place in front of my eyes, my heart heals a little more each time.

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Don’t look back, this loneliness won’t last forever

Stop moping about the past, I know I’m terrible for going back over my relationships, pining over the good memories and scrutinizing everything to understand what went wrong. But frankly, people grow apart and you have to move on. Eventually, the emptiness will fill itself, not by dating other people, but by learning to get on with yourself and enjoying your own company. It will get better.

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It’s okay to be single, it doesn’t have to be the whole Bridget Jone’s scenario (though it’s cool if that’s your thing), it can be uplifting and fulfilling. It’s okay if it hurts too, I know I certainly don’t always get on with myself and now that I’m forced to, it’s not going to be easy… But before I let myself invest all my time into someone else, I’m going to work on myself first and be the kind of person I would want to be with. Finally, I’m ready for some me time!

Powers of Porto

As I was coming back from Porto to Madrid yesterday, I wondered if the excitement that wells up inside me whenever I hear the plane’s engine thunder into life and shudder as it speeds up ready to take off into the air will ever leave me. It certainly hasn’t yet.

I visited Porto this week for a few days as a last minute plan, which actually seems to be becoming a bit of a habit. On the Friday night my friends drunkenly invited me to stay with one of their grandparents in Porto, at first I was a curious but doubtful I would actually make it. Nevertheless, the day after (albeit a little hung-over and heartbroken) my curiosity and love for Portugal drove me to book the flights and join my friends.

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We had planned to all meet up on the way to the airport at a metro stop, as despite flying with different companies, our planes were leaving at the same time; however, with my Portuguese friend’s alarm failing to go off, we were plunged into a mad rush to the airport as she arrived an hour later than planned, but thankfully all of us made it to the boarding gates with time to spare, even with leaving just thirty minutes from the airport doors to the gates.

Even as low as I felt earlier in the morning, that roar of the engine made my heart beat faster and some kind of serenity washed over me. I flew out with TAPPortugal, which turned out to be a lovely choice as it was a small plane, a row to myself, and a free Pastel de Nata with coffee. The landing wasn’t as spectacular as I expected, with a thick overcast sky covering the small city, but I had a spark of hope in me that it was to be a good trip, and I wasn’t wrong.

After we landed, the three of us met with some of my friend’s Portuguese family members for brunch who all greeted me and my other British friend with such kindness, I felt right at home and joined in the parts of the conversation I could understand in Portuguese or shared conversation in broken English. I tried a delicious dish Balcalhau com Nata that had a similar consistency to fish pie, but more creamy and certainly very tasty! We then had a nap and crawled out of our beds and onto the tram to Porto under breaking clouds that slowly revealed the beautiful evening sun. After getting of the tram, we took a slow walk along the river and then chose a café on the waterside, O Muro, that offered a jar of sangria to share (which was slightly watery so a bit disappointing as I’ve known Portugal to usually do tasty fruity sangria), some smoked sausage (linguiça) for my friend and mini fishcakes (bolihnos de bacalhau) for me, both of which were delicious.

When we woke the next day, it felt like a cold morning, but as we opened the shutters, warm light gushed into the room and we cheerfully prepared for our day in Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia. First of all, we wanted to catch the view from the bridge so we climbed above the city walking upon the 146ft high Ponte Dom Luís I, we then took the cable car down to the shore on the other side which is known for it’s famous wine “caves”, one of which we took the time to explore in a vinho do porto tasting session, a new and chic experience for all three of us. It certainly was interesting to find out from Taylor’s the bond that the British and Portuguese have over their port wine.

After, we went and had lunch at what Erasmus+ students of my uni have adopted to call “spanish time” (15:00) as they’re known for their late mealtimes. We chose a lovely restaurant overlooking the river and Porto itself to try some fresh fish and then continued on our way, stumbling across some stalls from where we bought some cork jewellery before walking back across the bridge to the have a look at the shops that were still open. For our supper, my friends lovely grandmother prepared us a snack for tea, as she had been preparing us a big breakfast of coffee, bread and different cheeses each morning, consisting of Portuguese sponge cake and chamomile tea.

On the morning of our last day, waiting for my friends to get ready, I had a lovely simple conversation with the Portuguese grandmother where she talked to me about her pets, her family but she also told me something that touched my heart when I thanked for her hospitality, “I do everything with pleasure and I do it with love”, which is something I feel I should use in my own life. Not being afraid to offer kindnesses to people you don’t yet know, there is no need for coldness or aversion, each acquaintance is a potential friendship or good conversation.

Later that day, we went to the beach for the afternoon, arming ourselves with snacks and sun cream, we soaked up the last rays of sun and enjoyed a refreshing wade in the ocean water. We took in the beautiful pastel sunset from a beach bar overlooking the industrial port of Porto and we were cooked a delicious meal of rice, fried chicken, tuna omelette and olives at home before we took an early retirement to bed for our 6:30am flight!

Now, I am never sad to be coming home to Madrid, I love this city and it has done so much for me, but I could have happily stayed in Portugal as now I am feeling holiday blues for the first time in a long time. But that can only mean one thing, right? Portugal could be my next home after my studies finish in England.

Finding Contentment

“Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself. (I am large, I contain multitudes.)” – Walt Whitman

Now this is a little off topic, but as I mentioned in my last post, I have been having a rough few weeks in Madrid and I believe it’s important to talk about the dark side of travelling and the effect it has on oneself as well as the beautiful moment.

So a friend of mine taught me a term the other day that I had heard of before, but never really understand completely, “self-sabotage.” Now for those of you who are unsure of the meaning too, it can be anything from procrastination to self-harming, but the area that I am talking about is in connections, when you self-sabotage in a relationship (be that with a family-member, friend or lover). This is when a person’s ‘survival mode’ kicks in, where one goes into stress-response and fears getting emotionally hurt. It’s when you feel as though you’re inadequate as a person, the fear that you cannot handle rejection/loss, or the feeling that you have to give yourself up to be loved. As a result of this, you end up freaking out and putting the other person down, becoming angry and pushing them away.

At the time I thought, ‘but why would anyone do that’? It doesn’t make sense. Well, that was until I did exactly that just a few days later and in that moment I realised that in fact, I often do.

Now when I care about someone I do so deeply and I would do anything to avoid hurting them, but unfortunately I can also be painstakingly volatile to those very same people. What I say in these moments of anger, I often don’t mean and it sadly doesn’t represent me as who I feel I really am. I know that I am far from perfect. I am lost. I am insecure of myself as a person. I am sensitive. But one thing I know is that making people feel bad about themselves is not something I take any joy in at all. Unfortunately, because of my fiery nature, this does happen and it’s the people I love the most that I do this to. I self-sabotage.

During my time in Madrid, I have built incredible friendships with people that I admire hugely, and all I can wish is that when I am their age (just a few years away, oof) that I can find some of that inner-peace that they possess. I feel that making these connections is one of the most brilliant parts of travelling and living abroad.

These wonderful people have taught me that to build strength and flexibility, we should open our minds to people and ideas we don’t like, and pick fights with those we do. And that is exactly what I am trying, to open my mind and my heart to everything. I know for them it cannot be easy to be friends with a lost person who is confused and contradictory at best, yet they take it in their stride. Although in the situation aforementioned I feel I have pushed one friend too far with my meaningless outbursts, which has really made me realise that this isn’t who I want to be and I have to make a change in direction to become that person I am contented with.

But don’t take this post in the wrong way, I am in love with my life right now and I feel such joy at times it’s unreal. I am incredibly lucky to have these moments in my life at such a young age. I am proud of myself for overcoming crazy anxiety, selective-mutism and bouts of depression and to feel the way that I do now and the confidence that I have is something I could never imagine in a million years. To be living in another country, in a beautiful city such as Madrid with such wonderful friends was something of my dreams.

Moving Forward

“To awaken quite alone in a strange town is one of the pleasantest sensations in the world” – Freya Stark

I hope everyone gets to feel like this someday.

I have finally found happiness. Don’t get me wrong, right now I am still heartbroken, afraid and lost, but the overwhelming wave of joy and love for my life and the people around me that I get is so strong sometimes I feel I could burst. I used to be afraid of this feeling, like the sun beating down on the back of our necks, I feared the passing clouds that rushed to impede its warm embrace. But that’s all the clouds are, passing. Happiness comes and goes, and that’s okay.

I was about to make the wrong decision, go back to the person who had used me for months and attempted to control what I do, but unfortunately for him, I am stubborn. And thank you also to the guidance and actions of those who truly care, I didn’t go to him.

Instead I took the plane ticket that I had bought to see him in Malaga and I went alone. My flight was at 8.45 in the morning, and I had finished my very last minute booking of accommodation and transport around 2am. After 3 hours sleep and my head and heart racing, I took the metro to the airport bleary-eyed and jumped on the tiny plane that took me across the country. One of the best decisions I have made, only falling short of my decision to live in Madrid.

When I arrived in Malaga, I had no expectations, I had booked a hostel on the beach (Bella Vista), which was just beautiful. As I walked through the immaculate streets I was pleasantly surprised by the winter heat, 20C, a whole 15C warmer than Madrid! I dropped my bags off at the hostel to a kindly Frenchman and his fiery Spanish wife (plus my thick winter jumper and parka) and had a bocadillo and a cana on the seafront. I then walked along the still, calm coast simply enjoy the warm air and the gentle waves lapping over my bare feet.

My time in Malaga was very peaceful and pleasant, a perfect place for a time of reflecting and healing. I met an inspiring man who was originally from the Caribbean and had made his success as a Media Production Manager in London and a sweet girl from America who was studying in Scotland and was on her first trip. I had delicious food in a vegetarian restaurant (Vegetariano El Calafate) and treated myself as I was wandering around the shops in the old town. I was sad to have to leave the warmth and peace of Malaga so soon, but I was looking forward to my next adventure meeting my friend in Granada.

As I waiting for the bus I sat next to a woman who I assumed was waiting for a bus too as she was so well presented, but a couple of glances over and a shaky “hola” I fathomed she was homeless, clutching her trolley with few possessions and a distant smile on her face. Not long after I had taken this seat, a brash charismatic gentlemen came over dressed in fine clothes but with the smell of alcohol on his breath, he greeted this lady in perfect English with such gladness, it was clear they were old friends. The man then turned to me, I nervously replied with short answers first of all; selfishly worried they would ask for something from me. But no, how wrong I was, the man admitted his alcoholism had led to him loosing everything and that he too was homeless yet he did not want anything from me as I was a student. We talked about my trip and studies, their families and how they were managing with the winter cold. After the man had left, the woman turned to me with tears in her eyes and thanked me for not judging them and commented how much she admired her friend for his kindness. I soon had to leave for my bus, but I thanked the woman for her company and wished her the best. This exchange made me realise that you really do meet inspirational people from all walks of life while you travel.

When I arrived in Granada I again was taken aback by the cold weather, around 2C, as I had barely eaten that day I didn’t feel well, so that night I curled up in the cold room and only awoke when my friend arrived. On the Wednesday, both of us shattered from the journeys from Malaga and Madrid, I took a walk around Alhambra, had a delicious lunch with mulled wine in a lovely café (La Fontana) near Alhambra and met up later with my friend to watch the sunset over Granada and wandered around the beautiful Arabic stores near the river.

The rest of the trip, we visited the different cathedrals and the city centre, walked up to San Nicholas plaza at night which has the most beautiful view of the palace and Alhambra, I bought some Arabic styled earrings, had a henna tattoo and ate a fairly priced delicious three course dinner in an adorable hippie restaurant (Kasbah), recommended to us by a chatty shop owner from Derby, the city where I grew up in.

We also took a bus up into the famous mountain range, Sierra Nevada, where I admired the skiers on the slopes and felt like a child again playing around the thick snow. We took a ski lift up to the top of the mountain that could also be used for non-skiing visitors, which offered the most stunning views across the mountain range.

I then had to make the trip back to Malaga to get my plane to Madrid on the Saturday, a drive through mountains and tiny Spanish villages greeted me on my way, and when I got to Malaga I simply took my time enjoying lunch in the warm sunshine and arrived at the airport early to take a stroll through the airport shops, taking testers of lotions and vino tinto.

Although I had a great trip, I was pleased to be getting on the plane because I know another beautiful city is waiting for me on the other end, my home; Madrid.

nfd

Ashamed of my country

“You must not lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty.” – M. Gandhi

In the aftermath of the results from the US election, the whole world is left in shock as Donald Trump takes the keys to the white house, maybe the exception of this shock is Britain. Having our own moment of foolishness earlier this year with ‘Brexit’, we are well aware that anything is possible. Many of us are now aware what it feels like to be ashamed of our nationalities, something we once uttered with pride, now a shattered emblem upon the floor.

American and British citizens are arguably more united than ever through recent events, yet also are in despair of each other’s decisions they have made for their countries. Half of Brits believed the Brexit scare would pass. Half of America believed the Trump nightmare would end. But here we both are, many of us ashamed to show our faces to the rest of the world. The world looking to us with disappointment.

Yet this feeling is nothing new, we are only experiencing a taster of what it feels like to be blamed for something that is out of our hands. We placed our votes. The rest of our nations decided against us and we are feeling the wrath of their decisions.

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The first results that come up on Google.

But we would never hold innocent people accountable for someone of their race who commits terrible crimes, would we? This hasn’t been happening for hundreds of years to minority groups, has it?

We should not feel ashamed for our countries decisions; the shame should be felt from our own discrimination of other races. For example, Muslims have been looked down upon and made to feel shame for “.006625%”[i] of their population being extremist, when over 50% of Americans and Brits voted for promoters of racist, xenophobic and misogynist ideals.

As of now, nobody knows what is going to happen with Britain out of Europe or America with Trump as their president. But those who did not vote for these matters are not to blame and we should not be ashamed that we have been let down by our countries, but rather be the catalyst for a positive change and show the rest of the world that we are not all racist and many of us are just as devastated by the hate crimes that are happening as a consequence of these right-wing movements as the groups they are targeting.

As for myself, although I have fallen in love with Spain in a time I feel failed by my own country, I still cannot wait to be on that plane at Christmastime and see the rolling hills and patchwork farms of England, and oh-my-goodness I am well overdue for a good old Sunday roast and a hug from my family! This is the Great Britain I still love.

People should not be basing their pride in their nation, particularly in these disjointed times, but rather be proud of their own personal achievements and views.

[i] https://www.quora.com/How-many-extremist-Muslims-are-there-when-compared-with-the-wider-and-world-wide-Muslim-population

European Education Clashes

‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn’ – Benjamin Franklin

 As an ERASMUS student, I have met some great from all around Europe (Spain, Holland, Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Poland, Belgium, Italy, France and Scotland) and I have learnt many things about different their European education systems and the influence this has personally on each individual.

Finland previously has been idolized by Europe for their education system being the top in world, and even though they have lost their place to Asian countries using extreme methods to get the best grades (with 16 hour school days in South Korea), they are still considered the best in Europe. Surprisingly, despite its astronomical student loans for university goers and little focus on foreign languages, England is second in this ranking. In fact, it’s even sixth in the world!

So what are these rankings actually based on? In a BBC report on this subject, it states they “include the OECD’s Pisa tests, and two major US-based studies, Timss (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and Pirls (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study). They also include higher-education graduation rates, which helped the UK to a much higher position than in Pisa tests, which saw the UK failing to make the top 20.”

But stats about how many people have graduated and generalised test results don’t necessarily mean that it is the ‘best’ education system, what about student satisfaction? Surely this is important? For international students, Ireland has been ranked highest for student satisfaction at 9.04, whilst England is dragging behind the Scandinavian countries at 8.75. This seems to ring true from the pride I have heard from students from Scandinavia and Ireland about their education institutions.

Coming from an English university and studying in Spain, flaws can be seen in the Spanish higher education system, but England can certainly learn important qualities from Spain. I have gone from eight-hours a week lecture-time, only writing essays and exams for my course, to twenty-one-hours a week including essays, presentations, group-work, practical work and exams, which allows for more development in important skills such as communication and technology.

Nonetheless, I do feel I have stepped back to feeling like 16-year-old me in my first year of college, the way the Spanish university students behave does surprise me with the loud talking in class, messaging their friends on Facebook instead of listening to their teacher and making-out in the hallway. But maybe that is simply just difference in culture, which is something I certainly don’t want to criticise. However, the exams set by the teachers have questions with no room for interpretation, which highly frustrates me as a student reading English Literature and Media, Culture and Communication Studies (wow, that’s a mouthful!) as in my subject everything must be interpreted and backed up by extensive independent research, which simply just doesn’t happen here.

Of course, I am enjoying this laid-back attitude and thriving from the lack of stress that overwhelmed me in my first year of university in England and I have heard similar feeling from my friends here, particularly German and Swedish. But, I mean, where else is it acceptable to wander off and enjoy some delicious tapas and vino tinto in their school cafe during afternoon break? Or have a picnic in El Retiro park for lunch and not have to worry about appearing 10 minutes late to class? I certainly know I am enjoying my time here and I am picking up wonderful practical skills I simply never would have the chance to do back home in England.

I believe we all have a lot to learn from one another.

Horse-riding in the Spanish campo

“What if I fall?” – “Oh, my darling, but what if you fly?”

As an avid horse lover and equestrian, I was concerned that my time here in Madrid would be horseless. Luckily, this isn’t the case, and thanks to a wonderful group on Facebook (Madrid Pet Lovers, you should check it out if you love animals and live in Spain, I have somehow acquired a lovely foster cat through this group!) I found other likeminded horsey people who recommended different stables to me and even arranged a ride together that weekend, exciting!

My parents were visiting on that said weekend, so at first I was reluctant, but my mum (even more of a horse-lover than me) sent me off with my step-dad, Marlon, and off we went out to the stables in the Spanish campo with the girls from Madrid Pet Lovers. Surprisingly, the stables wasn’t too far out at all, just 3 stops from Sol on the Renfe Cercanias to Cantoblanco Universidad and a 20 minute walk across roads and tunnels until we reached grassland with horses grazing peacefully and the most beautiful grey Andalusian dancing in the ménage with his rider.

Then in came some horses from their last ride, the Spaniards high up on their mounts, helmetless and carefree. As each of rider jumped off, they handed over their horses, I got a big bay horse who looked kind and gentle. At first, I was a little disappointed as I would have liked a grey Andalusian, but I felt relaxed on him, so my disappointment soon went as I settled into his rhythm. My step-dad had decided beforehand that he didn’t want to ride and would instead walk the trail taking photographs, hence the amazing pictures.

As we left the yard, I immediately felt confident on this big horse, so not long into the ride, I felt comfortable enough to push him into a brisk trot, keeping up with the speedy Spaniards ahead! It was such a lovely place to ride, one side was a view of the mountains stretching out far, and on the other side was the skyline of Madrid, the three tall skyscrapers glowing orange in the setting sun.

I soon asked if we could go for a gallop, so me, Louise and Sabrina went off onto the stubble and encouraged our tired horses into a steady lope, not pushing them too hard.

When we got back into the stables, it was with a huge grin on my face and a big pat to my horse, it had been such an amazing hour and a half!

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Unfortunately, since that ride I have been back twice and have ruined my nerves a little. The second time by falling off a rearing horse before it took off and vanished out of site in seconds, along with my friend on her horse, which was a pretty scary ordeal for me as I had not fallen off a horse since I was 12-years-old, an accident where I was left with a life-changing injury (a story for another day). The third time, I was nervous after my fall, so each time my excited horse leaped forward into canter or threw his head around, I froze in fear, anticipating him to buck or take off.

But now I hope to take riding lessons here in Spain to get over the nerves so I am able to go on an amazing ride again in the Spanish campo once again!