Featured Posts

First Post in Barcelona!

First post! I hope this blog will be just like the skirts worn by these Barcelona chicas: short enough to keep your attention, but just long enough to cover the bare essentials.

Running the Barcelona Marathon 2014 for Royal Marsden Cancer Charity

£3, That's all I'm after. The price of one solitary pint of beer. But the only way this is going to work is if everyone who is even considering donating chips in with a token £3 donation.

Why Mindless Arson Could Save My Skin…

There’s a saying in Barcelona that goes “He who lights the fire for Sant Joan will not burn all year round”. Well, with my skin complexion, this seemed too good an opportunity to miss…

My Barcelona To-Do List

To save myself from wasting time sat at home wondering what to do, I've compiled a list of things I need to accomplish whilst I'm here

Tips for the start of your year abroad

A few little bits of advice that may help if your year abroad has come round too soon and you have no idea what you are doing...

Sunday, 5 July 2015

My Year in Barcelona

My time in Barcelona has sadly come to an end, but for anybody wanting to know what a year in Catalunya feels like... here are the highlights!

Alternatively, for a crude Stop Motion attempt, check this one out!

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Quite a Big Announcement!

 I won’t lie to you, I wrote this post a while ago and I’m quite excited to finally upload it.

So here goes... A few weeks ago, I started training for the 2014 Barcelona Marathon which starts precisely 6 months from today.

 Now there’s no denying it, training for this will be painful as hell. Let’s not beat around the bush, for someone who can barely last a whole 5-a-side football match playing as a goalkeeper this is huge. I can also proudly boast very, very little experience in the way of running. I fear the odd 10-minute jog around the park every couple of months that I used to do probably isn’t going to help me much with this one.

 Of course, there is absolutely no point putting myself through something like this without a worthy cause to be supporting. Which is why I will be doing this marathon on behalf of the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

Its taken me long enough...

 The Royal Marsden is a fantastic cancer treatment specialist in London. They are one of the world leaders in cancer research and I’m sure there will be a number of people reading this who have been helped personally or know someone who has been helped directly by the Marsden.  This really is a worthy cause and one quite close to me.

 Since my boss’ young son was diagnosed with Leukaemia just over 3 years ago I have seen him throughout his treatment. He has been so strong throughout the whole process, always smiling and brightening up the café where I worked. His attitude and the way he battled through and finally overcame his illness with the help of the Royal Marsden has been truly inspirational. He is the reason I am now getting off my backside and preparing for this marathon.

I should also say that it is also thanks to the efforts of the Royal Marsden that I’m still here in Barcelona to run the marathon in the first place.

 As a result, for the next 6 months I will be balancing a 45-hour working week with an intense training schedule. My diet will also be changing completely. I will need to say goodbye to crisps, so long to my daily Oreos and auf wiedersehen to fried chicken (sobs).  From now on I’ll be studying my daily calorie intake and eating only the best "low GI foods" (whatever the hell they are).

Now, I want to say right here, right now, I am not looking for large donations. I’m actually going to try something a little bit different.

Instead I am looking for token donations from as many people as possible for around £3 – more or less the price of a pint in your local . Even if you don’t know me that well (and donations are especially welcome if you have never met me before!) I would still really, really appreciate just a small token donation to help keep me motivated and keep that total ticking over.

 That’s about it! I know many of you reading this are probably students and I know how tight money can be, but honestly any small donation of a couple of quid will be gratefully received, especially once Gift Aid get added on. Think of it as sacrificing one pint of tasteless, unsatisfying Carlsberg to help a fantastic cancer treatment centre with the funds they need to continue to get rid of cancer for good.

Or if you want an easier way to donate, pick up your phone right now, text "PINT70" plus "£3" to 70070 and put your phone back down again. Job Done. Sorted.

 Thank you for just reading till the bottom and not clicking to a different post. I appreciate your time is valuable and there are so many good people trying to fundraise for a charity close to their hearts that it can be difficult to choose who to say yes to…

So I’ll make things easier for you and say yes to my grovelling plea here

Thank you for you time, and hopefully your support!

Monday, 29 July 2013

An Unpleasant Experience

Applications of Sun cream: 18

Finally I had to face up to something I had been dreading about my year abroad, The sheer awkwardness of walking into a hairdressers and asking for a haircut in broken Spanish. It’s bad enough getting one at home, waiting on the sofa with only the Sun or the Mirror to pass the time; the awkward initial greeting; then trying to mumble what I want with some hand gestures to try and somehow aid my description before just settling with the phrase “uhhh….a number 5 please”. Then invariably is followed by a hideously superficial conversation about the weather, work and holidays. Having to suffer all that torment but in my own breed of Spanglish thrown into the equation was bound to intensify the awkwardness. The chance of looking like Wayne Rooney by the end was a very real and, believe me, a very serious worry.
Alas, my hair was getting too long and there was a barber across the road offering cuts for only 6€ which is just a bit too cheap to dismiss. I walked in armed with nothing but an old, slightly blurry picture of myself and the word “cortar” (to cut). I was stared at blankly. I thought for a moment that maybe I was in the wrong place; there were mirrors, but no sinks and no signs of the usual hair styling potions and lotions. Turned out I was in the right place, this guy just happened to be a bit of a starer.

He sat me down then proceeded to wrap what resembled a vicar’s dog collar around my neck until breathing became difficult. This was followed by an unconventional version of that hairdressers cape (complete with rather worrying reddish stains) wrapped round me and fastened round my neck twice just to make absolutely sure that my airway was properly blocked off.

The haircut itself was just as I expected… hideously uncomfortable. There was no radio and no other customers; it was just me, my hairdresser and a random old man watching a fitness video with the sound off. As neither of us seemed in the mood for talking, the shop was utterly silent, save for the eerie hum of the razor. Absolute silence accompanied by the unnerving gaze of my hairdresser (yes, even during the ordeal he was still staring at me face in the mirror rather than my hair).

When the uncomfortable ambience was at its climax, he brought out his secret weapon, a cutthroat razor. My eyes widened and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end (actually helpful in this instance). Surely in the modern age of safety razors this man wasn’t going to come at my neck with what is effectively a very sharp knife. To make matters worse, every time he brushed hair clippings off my neck I started to twitch involuntarily. This alone was embarrassing enough yet the thought of involuntarily twitching for the first time in 21 years precisely when a slightly scary elderly gentleman was wielding a cut throat razor around my neck was more than inconvenient to say the least.

When he had finished and I opened my eyes, I did still have some hair left (and more importantly, minimal bleeding around the neck). He tried showing me what the back of my head looked like but I was already on my way out of the door. 

Next time, I'll give it a crack myself.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

No Longer Homeless! (and a bloggering milestone!)

Applications of Suncream: 16

First things first, Huzzah! This blog just received its 1,000th page view. For this "incredible" achievement I would like to thank my darling mother for presumably about 90% of those views, but I also extend my heartfelt thanks to anyone else who managed to battle through the bloggersphere to stumble around here for a bit.

 So yeah, cheers!

 In other news, I can finally say that I have my own flat in Barcelona! Well, yes I’ll admit there is definitely nothing new about this news, in fact I moved a couple of weeks ago but I’m still excited so deal with it. Yet again I have somehow managed to find people willing to put up with my abysmal dancing, appalling sense of humour and the abhorrent smell that seems to perpetually emanate from my feet for another year. After a month split between a hostel and the very generous donation of a spare room by one of my ex-workmates, [cliché alert] I finally have a place to call home. 

 It’s been a tough old slog, I ended up traipsing round eight different flats in total before finding the one for me. But the hard work has paid off; I have a butcher next door (on both sides actually) and a giant indoor food market directly opposite. There is also a protein shake shop for when I decide to hit the gym (not going to happen) and another shop called happily called “Books and Teas” (much, much more likely). 

 I’ve moved to the neighbourhood of Gràcia, an eco-ethical bio-friendly fair-trading, hippie-centric kind of place which I absolutely love. The kind of place that has a shop devoted entirely to different types of Granola cereal (yes this actually exists!). It makes such a change from living directly on La Rambla, a road I grew to loathe quite quickly due to the incessant whistling throughout the day and night solely to attract tourists whilst their mate sneaks around behind and nicks all your stuff. While there are still some things to cater for the more intrepid tourist, it definitely feels like I actually live in Spain (or Catalunya depending on your allegiances). During the days people seem to be going about their daily business happily with a baguette under one arm, then during the nights the parents sit round tapas bars until the wee small hours chatting whilst their kids amuse themselves with water pistols and water balloons (dreading the day one flies in my direction). 

 So all in all I think I’ve landed on my ever fragrant feet. Okay so bedroom privacy may still be something that needs a bit of work and my bedroom window may point inwards to reveal the awe-inspiring entrance to the lift, but if I squint hard enough from my dinner table I can just make out La Sagrada Familia (well, the cranes and scaffolding at least) which I suppose is still something. 

 However, my flatmates all appear to be moving out for the summer (maybe they realised what they were letting themselves in for in allowing me to live with them) so I am now presenting to the world an open invitation to visit me this summer. Think about it...where better to spend your summer weekends than sunning yourself in the ever-delightful Barcelona with my charming pasty self for company? 

(This is not as open an invitation as it sounds but if you do come I will supply Sangria).

Thursday, 11 July 2013

Tips for the start of your year abroad

Applications of Suncream: 14

Blogger in list-making shock. Yes, I made it 4 posts before my first list, and I don’t care. They’re helpful and easy to write.
These are just some points I was may have been told while getting ready for my year out but I probably wasn’t paying enough attention at the time. Something I now slightly regret. So if you’re reading this in preparation for a year abroad then take a breath, forget any other nonsense your parents/friends may have told you and follow these simple pieces of advice.

Firstly – Plan your free time.

The first and most important one is, unless you’re extremely lucky, if you are working abroad it will probably be in an office or in a school. You wont be able to hit the beach every day, you will be waking up way earlier than at university and settling into a daily rush-hour based routine. You suddenly understand what “living for the weekend” actually means. Therefore, don’t waste your free time. Write a list of all the things you want to get done during your year and then try and tick one or two off every evening or weekend.

Secondly - Accommodation.

DON’T PANIC. Be proactive in your search for a flat, In Barcelona at least when I started really looking, each day a fresh wave of spare rooms appeared online. However, If you do what I did and book a hostel until you find a place to stay, do not pick an arbitrary amount of days and proclaim that you will not stop looking until you have a new flat by sunrise on the tenth day. If you do, you will end up again like me, having to check out on a Friday morning because the cities biggest music festival was about to start and they had no more beds available all weekend.

Thirdly - Language.

 Something I always heard as I was preparing to leave was people commenting how quickly I was going to be able to speak Spanish fluently.  WRONG. While in time and with a bit of work your language will improve immeasurably, those first few weeks will be tough. I’ve found myself doing a lot of nodding, smiling and nervously laughing in the office. Again, be proactive - don’t expect that becoming fluent in a year will be inevitable. Try and speak the language even amongst English speaking friends. Everyone speaks English and it is too easy to get by on hand gestures and pointing. Carry a notepad with you at all times to jot down any new phrases you learn. Admittedly mine has more Italian, French and Catalan swear words than Spanish phrases but that’s just me.

Fourthly – Be a Tourist

This one is very important. You may want to become a local but do take time to do the touristy things as well.

I arrived in Barcelona two days before I started my job. I quickly learnt the shortest route to work, the nearest cheap supermarket etc. Then I set about finding a flat straight away. After a week, I felt like a local. Living and working in the heart of the city, I tutted loudly if tourists got in my way whilst walking to and from work. It barely dawned on me the reason tourists were so slow was that they were admiring the incredible architecture of Gaudi that punctuates Barcelona’s main streets.

Just under a month later, I’ve fully settled down, I have a flat I’ve made friends and I’m starting to understand my job. I also don’t have a single touristy picture on my camera. Not one. After a month I haven’t stood and gawped at La Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell is nowhere near my commute. While it’s true that I do have a year, its important to get the touristy stuff out of the way in your first few weeks, especially if you arrive in summer.

And lastly – Become a YES man (or woman).

For the first few weeks you don’t really get much say in what you do. Just say yes to every social opportunity (within reason) that is presented to you. I don’t care if you’re tired, or you’ve been out two nights in a row, just say yes and apologise to your head and liver the next day.

While rest is very important, so too is sangria…*

*Disclaimer: Sangria is not actually your friend.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Why Mindless Arson Could Save My Skin…

Applications of suncream: 11

Sant Joan at night
Photo courtesy of Abildskov-Photo.dk

There’s a saying in Barcelona that goes “He who lights the fire for Sant Joan will not burn all year round”. Well, with my skin complexion, this seemed too good an opportunity to miss…

 A friend here likened the festival of Sant Joan to Bonfire night. As it took two full days to recover from the former I can safely convey that at both celebrations you will see fireworks... that is where the similarities end. Sant Joan is more like Guy Fawkes Night after a few too many, having a mad one in Magaluf. The large central bonfire accompanied by 15 minutes of fireworks synchronized to Jessie J’s latest offering is replaced by 11 hours of constant, unrelenting explosions and an entire city crammed onto a smallish strip of coastline.

There was a palpable buzz around Barcelona during the day and you could just sense “la fiesta” brewing despite the overcast conditions. We spent the afternoon at Piknik Electronik where dreadlocked hipsters lounged on beanbags and DJ’s lit the touch paper for the fiery atmosphere to follow.

As night drew in, we made our way to the beach – the only place to truly celebrate Sant Joan. When I got there I was actually astounded. The beach was packed with families and friends, laughing around fires whilst kids (and the odd mischievous father) threw firecrackers into the sand. Great swathes of people were dancing around in giant circles with people they had only just met and would probably never see again. The booze (of course) was flowing freely to create that happy combination of drunkards and fire, giving ample satisfaction to the pyrotechnic within all of us. I woke up the following afternoon with sizeable bruises on both thighs, a tell-tale sign of perhaps getting a little too carried away with the drinking games and dance-offs that fuelled the night before.

This experience put any “Beach Party” I had been to in England to shame. A “beach party” in Brighton used to consist of a group of slightly underage teens huddled together with a bottle of Basics vodka with the wind howling and a light drizzle dampening the mood. Invariably, we gave up by 11pm and took the last train home.

San Joan could not have been further from this. Thousands of people dancing and singing in the sand until the sun rose, music blaring out of the chiringuito beach bars and the occasional firework set off too close for comfort. I’ll admit, it was an absolute health and safety nightmare; but a student abroad’s dream. This was precisely what I had always envisaged when I heard the word fiesta... bare feet, sand, sea and plenty of cervezas.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Flat Hunting and Technical Hitches – The Good, the Bad (and the Blogly)

Thursday 20th June 
Applications of Sun Cream: 8

     A few days ago I had a day I can look back on as one of the most bizarre of my life. Oddly enough, it had very little to do with my work (although I still have no idea what I am doing on that front).  I had followed the year abroad mantra to say “Yes” to every proposition and ended up agreeing to a house viewing on one side of the city; a football match with my new colleagues on the other as well as dinner and a trip to the cinema. Easy. I also needed football boots. It was already 6pm.
    If you ever wake up in the morning and think, "I’m going to be in a rush after work today and need to buy some shoes", for god sake remember to put socks on that day.
After 8 hours sweltering in an office, my feet stunk to high heaven. Necessity (as well as common decency) compelled me to quickly buy some socks before I could even think about trying on any trainers. I made my purchase and hurried back to the shoe section (making absolutely sure I kept my receipt).
     Inevitably, as I was already late, the security guard saw me hopping about struggling to put socks on my heinously sweaty feet and demanded to see my proof of purchase. I had been prepared for precisely such an occurrence and yet incredibly, I had already lost the receipt I had been so careful to look after. While I frantically looked round (still hopping of course), he grabbed me by the arm and said something angrily in my ear while directing me forcefully to the door. At this point I spotted my receipt and I can assure you I proceeded to go quite red in the face. I bent down to peel the offending article from the underside of my naked, moist foot and handed it to him. Understandably, I made no attempt to make eye contact as I limped back to the shoe section bare-foot.

     This shameful debacle had only made me later for my flat viewing. After breaking into a run, I finally arrived drenched in sweat, utterly exhausted and quite incapable of comprehending a word my potential flat mate was saying. I was probably told some important financial details but all I could hear was my own blood pumping in my ears, whilst the cascade of sweat stung my eyes fiercely. I left the flat hastily and rushed to get to the football match where the entire male contingent of my office would be waiting for me. However, en route I received a text that would scupper all my plans.

     Among the many flat viewings I have undertaken since I have been here, one stands out in particular.  I had found an incredible flat a few minutes from work in perhaps one of the most expensive roads in Barcelona, yet it was somehow cheaper than my student house in Leeds. The reason as it turned out was quite simple, the funny-little Danny DeVito of an owner charged so little because he was so utterly insufferable. Our meeting was amicable enough, I had met him on a Tuesday, told him about myself, that I had one more flat to see and that he would get an answer by the Friday. All was well. Two hours later I received my first text asking if I had made a decision. In many respects it was the perfect flat and I couldn't afford to risk losing it to someone else so I reiterated my plans quite politely.

      However, at half-past midnight that very same day he tried ringing me. When I awoke the following morning, there was another text (which I responded to) then two more calls during my workday and an email to round off the evening. I would understand if he had other people waiting for the room, but he didn’t. He had told me as much in his texts. He just wanted to “get things sorted”.

     The next day was more or less the same, so by the third day, as I was leaving my final flat viewing, I answered when he rang. I wont lie to you, I was fed up and the conversation quickly descended into an argument. After a few minutes of broken Spanish indignation, I interrupted his rant concerning students from Africa messing him about  (turned out he was also a casual racist) to tell him exactly how I felt. I wanted more than anything to tell him to take his room and shove it up his Barcelona... But of course I’m English, so all I could muster was to politely decline the room and to thank him for his time and effort.

     Disgusted with myself for being so accommodating to such an intolerable creature, I hung up and boarded my train. I realise now I should have hung up sooner as moments later, my phone died - along with it my directions, my google maps and any hope I had to meet people that evening.

     I carried on right to the other side of Barcelona, more out of anger than any expectation of finding the football pitch. I walked around solemnly, contemplating how I had already lost one flat; sweated my way through another; angered the male contingent of the office by missing the football and was no doubt about to annoy even more new colleagues for missing an evening without any word of warning. I’d been at work less than a week, barely knew anyone and in one evening had not turned up to any of my invitations. I had swiftly and efficiently become “That Guy” in the office.

     I don’t quite know how long I spent pointlessly wandering around an unfamiliar neighbourhood miles from anywhere cursing my rotten luck. But when I eventually gave up and made my long way back home, it was dark. I slumped down on my bed dejected, exhausted and angry.

 - “Hey!”

     Nope, not in the mood...the last thing I needed was an unnecessarily upbeat American wanting to “chat”. I grunted a response and climbed into bed.

 - “I’m so glad I caught you before I left … “

     I sighed obnoxiously and, with bleary eyes, looked up. I took a breath, suppressed my overwhelming desire to be antisocial and forced myself to be at the very least, pleasant.

How quickly can luck change. 

     We had talked before, but not for very long. Our previous conversation hadn’t really progressed beyond my incredulity at how he had flown from Florida to Barcelona to “Do Europe’, lasted six days and then prepared to return home We chatted for a while until out of the blue, he offered me his bike. A brand new, leather seated gem of a bike.

 Free, Gratuit, Gratis.

      He offered no real explanation other than the fact that I seemed so hideously woeful at time-keeping, it would probably come in handy. I was utterly bewildered. And all the while he was looking back at me smiling and laughing. 

     I haven’t been truly speechless many times in my life, but considering the day I had had, from my tussle with a security guard and the loss of a potentially great apartment to the 2 hours as yet unaccounted for wandering about, I found myself completely at a loss for words. My lamentable day had been completely turned on its head...

 ...You’ve got to laugh really.