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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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.