An Illustrated Guide to Why Madrid is not Shite.

I will admit that I expected Madrid to be a bit like all your favourite celebrities in 2016. A bit dead.

2017 was the year I learned to appreciate underrated cities. Like Mandalay, Da Nang and Salinas before it – cities I previously didn’t give a toss about managed to impress me beyond realisation. Madrid was one of them.

I didn’t do my usual circuit of Catholicism, museums and restaurants that sell pasta, so what was it that sold Madrid to me?

The Architecture

Romantic in that wistful summery way that the continent does so well. I was expecting the architecture to be a bit concrete (which, when done well *cough* London’s brutalist babes *cough* is fine… but Madrid is pretty.

The food is good.

It’s not Italy, and I’ll never say that it is. It’s not croissants at Des Gateaux et Du Pain in Paris and I’d be lying if I said it was. But, if you are like me and can eat your actual body weight in churros and serrano ham, then Madrid is definitely a strong contender for any foodies. I had an impeccable honey mustard and black pepper pork at a restaurant I didn’t learn the name of, and the rest of the time I ate my body weight in churros.


I first wanted to go to Madrid to see Los Miserables (Spanish Les Mis) which had such a strong cast (Ignasi Vidal as Javert, what a husband). But equally there’s lots of other cultural things, none of which I involved myself in but I appreciate they were there.

They don’t take themselves too seriously

The range of hills called Seven Tits. Seven of ’em. *Red from Orange is the New Black voice* “It’s fucking funny!”

The Autumns are Like The Prettiest Springs

How beautiful are the reds and oranges and yellows? The weather of summer but the colours of a New England fall. It was disorienting, and beautiful.

Buen Retiro Park

Words are not necessary. Just go.

Madrid surprised me pleasantly, like so many of the cities I visit by chance. Where I expected “fit for purpose” and a city that looked like London without all the things I liked about London – I got a city that charmed me in all the ways that London charms me, and in its own way too.


Learn From My Mistakes: Córdoba


What’s great about Seville is there are some really great day trips only a few hours out of town. The city is well linked by train, and Renfe trains are fast, clean and easy to book.

My choice was between Cadiz, Jerez and Córdoba, and Córdoba won. My second day in Seville would be a day trip out of town.

That was where all my good planning and organisation ended.

I took a while to leave the hostel, and when I finally did, I walked to San Bernardo station not Santa Justa. I had an hour wait for the next Córdoba bound train… and here’s the first place where I was very stupid. I booked a return because it didn’t cross my mind it was possible to book my single back to Seville later. I also booked one allowing me three hours in Córdoba because the later one might be “too much time”. I’m an idiot!


I arrived to scorching 41 degree heat. The sun was beating down on the city and I zipped from tree to tree, trying not to roast to death as I walked down the long Jardines Duque di Riva. It’s a very green and beautiful park, and a refuge in those furnace temperatures.


The city walls are near the South end of the park once you cross the road, and the big tourist sites are collected round there. I grabbed a delicious lemon granizada and was good to go, until I dropped the straw and had to drink it, like a monster.


There are lots of little tiny streets, seemingly like all Spanish cities, but my first agenda point was lunch, before siesta kicked in. The only place that had a dish that I fancied in that moment went against all good decisions. It was so clearly a tourist trap but I had left my better judgement in bed. There was a picture menu. I know, revoke my traveller privileges. It stood to reason the service was slow and the food shocking.


From there, I walked through the tourist trap medina to the bell tower, and combined with the garden it is really beautiful.

I believe this is where you gain access to the mosque-cathedral, however I wouldn’t really know because I’m utterly ridiculous and did not dress appropriately for a church, wearing short sleeves and a pair of cute shorts.


So I missed out on Córdoba’s biggest sights.

Frankly because the service was so slow at the restaurant, I had to do everything at great speed. The Roman bridge got a “that’s nice, now run!”


The Calleja des Flores was a bit of a waste of my time, and so I headed back by way of the synagogue which I just simply couldn’t find.


I was devastated. With a bit more planning and organisation I could have really exploited my day in what was clearly a beautiful city but I messed up. As I always say in dire moments, “I’ll know for next time.”

Córdoba really is a delight. If you do a day trip, learn from my mistakes and do a day. Probably get food you can take on the move with you so you don’t waste time in s tourist hellhole of a restaurant and bring Cathedral appropriate clothing!

Favourite sights: Torre del campanario

Skylines, Santa Maria and Sultry Seville Nights: day one

Seville had been on my list of places to visit since I was eighteen and planning an interrailing trip that never was.

My time in Mojácar had come to an end but I knew I still wanted to be somewhere that wasn’t London. I booked the five hour onward train to Seville and arrived as the night was approaching and cloaking the whole city in a beautiful golden light.

The night atmosphere in Seville is wonderful, with guitarists and belly dancers lifting the energy as people take their late night dinners outdoors.

The city by day is no less vibrant. I had a checklist of items to do this day, starting with the Alcazar but only the part I didn’t have to pay for.




The Jewish District and Calle San Bartolomé, which was interesting and sad to see the cramped spaces Jewish people were forced into, but the district itself is a bit overtouristed, I preferred San Bartolomé. The Jewish history was what I came for, but I preferred many other places in Seville.


I accidentally saw Basilïca de María Auxiliadora. A Spanish man called Fran invited me on a date at 6pm but he spoke only Seville Spanish and even with my limited Spanish and only nodding he didn’t give up. So I took his number and didn’t call him. Sorry, Fran.


Basilíca de Santa Maria de la Esperanza Macarena is excellent. Very beautiful and majestic.


I made my way back towards the river, at this point tired and thirsty. Due to the Feast of the Annunciation, a Catholic festival and a Big Deal, or perhaps the siesta time, lots of places were shut.


One place that wasn’t was the Metropol Parasol. It was a tricky one, because at first I climbed the stairs and thought “so much for the spectacular view…” but realised I had to go down a level, find the entry to the Antiquarium where there’s a lift to the top.  Entry is €3 and you get a freebie (yay!) with your ticket. Mine was a free drink. They mean downstairs, but once you take the lift, you’ll see a café and they’ll give you a euro off a drink – including their Calippo Slush Puppies! Amazing!


Walk the walkway of the parasol for truly phenomenal views.


My phone was beginning to die at this point and the heat was melting me, so travelling by way of a cute accessories maker store, I headed back to my hostel to rest and siesta a la the Spanish.

I’ve never been able to nap in a hostel and I don’t know why I thought now would be the time to begin. I got chatting to an American girl and an American guy who invited me to dinner. Too shy to confess my uncultured roots by saying “mate I was planning to get a bag of churros and a plate of pasta” I agreed to go with him to Mammaracha, a little swanky Spanish place. The issue we soon learned was even if a place was open, it didn’t mean it was open – and we had to wait an hour to order food. The plan was to leave, but as it happened we stayed chatting and getting into the particulars of life, and we ordered food anyway. He took calamari with ginger and cilantro (my old friend from Asia) and I ordered pork with cheese and tomato. It was basically a pizza with a base of pork. Perchè anche il mio cibo spagnolo è italiano. I can’t help it. I quite liked my dish, but he said his really didn’t taste of anything. I tried the dish and I can agree but for that I was grateful because my reaction to cilantro that I can taste is not glamour.


I mentioned that Seville is a beautiful night city and although I was still tired from my day and lack of siesta, the two of us walked to Triana where I heard there was a good night scene. I was kind of wrong, it was mostly huge amounts of Spanish people drinking outside bars around plastic tables, but we found a place to perch and chat about life, and the directions we might take. It was an easy and still night, so we walked to the river and watched the stray cats play and the teenagers walk by. Being around Seville at night felt like a long hug, and even as the morning crept upon us and it passed midnight, the gelaterias and corner shops were still open like nothing changed between daylight and nightfall. Seville at night was a dream.


I hadn’t expected my first day in Seville to be like this. I had expected one thing, and although Seville had the charm and romanticism I had imagined, there was something about me being there at that point in my life, something inexplicable that was beyond the city’s sights and architecture. It was that the atmosphere really also worked for me.


Cathedrals, Pasta and Sultry Seville Nights: day two

My second real day in Seville was actually spent in Córdoba, a venture that could have been even more amazing if I had the good sense to plan it better. My third and final day, I marked all the sights I hadn’t seen on my Maps.Me in blue and began to walk. My breakfast was a lemon granizada made from only fake lemon syrup so it was a bit unfinishable after the amazing real fruit ones I had been having.

The first stop was Plaza de España, Seville’s well known sight. Rightly so, it is grand, beautiful and breathtaking. Like all of the city, it is dripping in romanticism and storytelling, and so easy to walk around feeling like a courtier. Although it looks like a royal palace, it was in fact built for a world fair exposition in 1928. I still decided I’d rent it as one of my palaces when I’m queen.


I don’t know how many people carry on through Parque de Maria Luisa, but I didn’t see that many people. The park is pretty, but the gemstone is Plaza de América. Separated by a beautiful pond are two stunning buildings – the Museum of Popular arts and the Archaeology Museum. It is beautiful, regal and much quieter than the Plaza de España.


I began to slowly walk back, stopping for a pasta lunch at an Italian place. I know, I know. Why am I eating pasta in Spain? The answer is because I wanted pasta.


I ate and then continued on to see churches and churches.

The first was the Hospital de la Santa Caridad. It’s €5 entry and I was kicking myself for spending so much, giving such a big endorsement to the Catholic church when I saw all the renovation works. I just seemed a bit shit.


Determined to get my money’s worth, I explored all the little rooms, shrugging that I guessed the art was nice, until finally I found myself alone in a little church. It was dramatically beautiful, and beautiful dramatic… and yes, I may have play acted walking down the aisle. What of it!??


The next Church was the big one. The Cathedral I hurried out of when I realised my attire wasn’t quite Cathedral chic. I returned with covered shoulders and knees, and it was a bit of a task to find the entrance where tickets could be purchased. I asked an Italian couple whether they had already bought their tickets.

“No, but we don’t think you have to pay to get into this church!” They said incredulously.

When they saw the €9 adult entrance fee, they left the queue.

I would say, it’s a lot more than I enjoy paying but you get a lot for your money if you enjoy that kind of thing. The Cathedral is enormous, and although I found the main gothic chapel boring, and only impressive because of its size, the art and artefacts were pretty.


You gain access to the Giralda bell tower which is truly something. In that it’s thirty five, thirty five, ramps high. When I was on the fourth ramp I told myself – delusion of all delusions – there would only be sixteen ramps. As I was on the twentieth ramp, I began to consider the very possible reality I’d be climbing to the top of the bell tower for the rest of my life. The view is not really quite as good as from the Metropol Parasol, but for €9 and the opportunity to stare in the face of the bells that woke me up at 6AM each morning I was climbing those ramps.


In addition, the ticket price included entry to Iglesia del Salvador. For €9, rightly so, for that money I want a first class ticket to eternal salvation. Iglesia del Salvador is small and attractive, with rainbows reflecting on the sparkly highly decorated altars.


The final stop would have been Hospital de Los Venerables, however I realised it closed three hours ago so I bought nine pairs of earrings from the Ale-Hop cute cheap shop, a souvenir and went home to rest before evening.

The evening was a more peaceful one than the last, sitting on the hostel terrace whilst my multi-talented American friend from the first night made the evening more beautiful with jazz piano. It was better than a siesta, but I had to say one last goodbye to the Seville night air. The Italian guy I walked home with the night before recommended the Plaza de España at night, so I planned to get dinner and walk there, I just didn’t know what I had a taste for.

I went into a small place that sold cheeses and meats and a guy tried to get my attention by calling me only “tan morena”. It was a weird situation that kind of freaked me out how I was starting to respond to “brown girl” as my name and I didn’t understand enough to know what he was asking or telling me, so I just left and went to the Plaza de España.

At night it’s still fairly busy, and there are plenty of Italians taking family pictures, but the lamps reflecting on the water have a still kind of beauty that was perhaps more sultry and romantic than the day, maybe because I was in love with the Seville night.


I went back to the old town, still aware that I had gone out to get food, and settled for a final granizada before returning to the hostel to conclude my time in Spain, finally play with un chien andalusia, to say my farewells and slip into bed to catch the airport bus in the morning.

Seville by day has so much to offer in terms of beautiful sights, curious alleyways and places to eat, walk and photograph. Seville by day was what I visited and expected and although it surprised me in how much I liked it, Seville by night is what I will keep in my heart. The warmth, the buzz and sultriness of a city that stays alive and social well into the small hours, but in a way so unlike the big metropolises of London and New York. A quintessentially Spanish, Seville way that charmed me entirely.

Hotel: Seville Kitsch Hostel


It’s evident which word in the title sold it for me, right? There was a cheaper hostel but I was compelled to keep looking and I’m so glad I did because the hostel was absolutely aesthetique!

Positives: Pretty, great terrace, very social, no breakfast but free cookies in the morning and free sangria at night


Negatives: It seemed a little like they had found ways to monetise things I was used to being free. Like €2 + €10 deposit for a towel, €30 fine for handwashing and so on.

Making Mermaid Magic in Mojácar


“Where is it you live? Majorca Playa? Morocco? Maraca Player?”

“Mojácar Playa. Mo-ha-car.” My Spanish speaking, Erasmus year taking best friend even wrote a Spanish language cheat sheet so I could arrive unscathed. She sent the bus timetables and it was all so very easy.

From the minute I got ready to leave it was disaster after disaster.

In the hour before I left for the airport I realised Monarch, shittest airline ever has no Mobile Boarding Pass facility, and I have no printer so I had to race to the nearby hostel and pretend to be a guest to use their printers.

At the coach station I managed to wait at the wrong gate for the coach to Gatwick Airport.

At the airport I lost my boarding pass.

I was unable to book onto the €18 airport shuttle to ‘umm, Majocar?’ and had to wait for a local bus.

My iPhone battery was draining faster than a sink.

I arrived in Mojácar, only to get the local bus heading the wrong way and alight at the wrong stop.

And the final disaster was that, after all this hassle, when I admitted defeat and booked a taxi, the taxi arrived twenty minutes late.

My bag was heavy, the heat was astounding, I felt and looked disgusting but seeing my beautiful amiga was 100% worth it.

Mojacar Playa is a long stretch of beach with bus service from one end to the other. Fortunately, I found the end where we stayed far prettier. It may be a little more distant from the bars and amenities nearer the Parque Commercial, but the floral lined beach is so attractive to walk along, and the waves crashing against the jagged rocks and cliffs are a beautiful sight.


My friend had to work, which left daytimes to my own devices. I became addicted to the small Chinese shops selling cheap accessories that I absolutely didn’t need, and walking along the beach to buy long, still-warm baguettes for lunch.


Of an evening, we’d take photographs in the sea, or around the town, we’d eat ice creams at the gelateria or float in the communal pool.


The day before I was due to leave Mojácar, I took a local bus to Mojácar Pueblo. This is the same yellow bus that goes along the playa – it then goes inland to the pueblo.  The larger green buses travel between the towns of Garrucha, Vera, Mojácar and more.

Mojácar Pueblo is breathtaking.


It is perched on the mountains, an entire city of white with tiny winding streets and a spectacular view. It’s very easy to lose your bearings as you wind through the labyrinthine alleys.


One main plaza hosts La Hermita church, an understated but peaceful building and a nice shaded bench area to sit and snack on a picnic lunch.

Otherwise, you can find an adorable little courtyard with pink flowers growing up the picturesque houses, with bright doors, porthole windows and mosaic tiles along the walls.


There are plenty of souvenir stores, and one gentleman gave me the advice that I should find home “wherever I am happiest”. Although he did also think I am a high schooler!

I scheduled only a morning there, because I was worried about the bus timetabling on a Sunday. Andalucía in general takes their siesta very seriously, and rightly so – it’s absurdly hot. I caught a bus home around 1PM, before siesta begins at around 2pm and cooked Spanish tortilla for a last day treat.


Mojácar was my first real stay on the Spanish mainland, having holidayed regularly on the Balearics and Canaries, and I can really vouch for it. Warm, pretty and with a lovely sea, the playa is attractive. With dramatic views, a maze of adorable streets and gift shops to lose yourself in, the pueblo also manages to feel authentic and is a great break from tanning on the golden sands.


I can’t wait to be back along the Spanish coast, with a book in one hand and a granizada in the other, soaking up the sun and chilled vibes

Favourite sights: The gelateria does stunning sundaes and ridiculous ice cream creations. Although we didn’t hit any bars,  Mandala of an evening seemed to be very popular. The pueblo and of course, the beach.