November 19, 2015

Hello, It's me.. No, not Adele. Just a very lazy Aidan, apologising to his future self and any avid readers of this mediocre blog for the lack of posts. The list of things I need to catch up on is ridiculously long and by now, i've forgotten the details that I wanted to write about so i'm going to skip them all. The past 2 months consisted of some administrative nightmares, some trips with friends and a lot of carbohydrates. If you're a friend or family member, you'll no doubt hear about everything when I next see you. Hahahahaha, unlucky for you.

So, fast forward to this weekend. For as long as i've known about ERASMUS, I thought it was common for students to go on trips every weekend to somewhere new, therefore this is what me and my friends have done. We've been to Annecy, Paris, Marseille and this weekend was Madrid. I've never been to mainland Spain before - only Spanish islands such as Lanzarote, Mallorca etc - so I was pretty excited to go somewhere i've never been before. It also felt very weird getting on a plane. It was the first of our trips that felt like an actual break from life in France, and like a holiday with friends. Our flight was mid-morning and arrived about midday in Spain. Immediately the glorious weather was a welcome-sight and a surprise for November. We waited in the airport for about 10 minutes for Gemma's friend, Jenny, who was flying in to meet us for the weekend also. After meeting her, and with sunglasses firmly on my face, we tried to hail down a taxi for 6, amidst a sea of 4-seaters. Unfortunately, the language barrier and stubbornness of the taxi-chief (not sure what to call him, some wee guy who controls who goes into what taxi) meant that we had to split 2 taxis between the 6 of us. After about a 20 minute taxi-ride, we turned into a very Spanish-looking cobbled street, where our Airbnb was apparently situated, however we were early for meeting the landlord. After remembering that we had tactically said we were 5 people, but were actually 6, in order to get it cheaper, myself and Stephanie went to find some shampoo and then hid round the corner from the apartment until the landlord had left.

The search for shampoo took a weird turn when we realised that all we could was Afro-Carribean fake-hair shops. With neither of us sporting weaves at the time, we felt a bit out of place but thought we'd give it a try. Inside, we were greeted by a wall of different shampoos all with Spanish descriptions. With help from Stephanie's language skills and an enthusiastic shopkeeper who apparently had a Scottish cousin (standard), we found what we needed and set off to find a suitable hiding spot until we got the go-ahead from the others to head to the apartment. After getting into the apartment, a guy (Josh) who went to University with my friends back in Scotland and is studying abroad in Madrid came to meet us. We all headed out to grab some lunch and meet our friends' other friend from University back home, who is also studying in Madrid, Callum. I hadn't heard much about Josh and Callum before meeting them but they seemed friendly and welcoming. We all walked about for a while until we settled on a tapas restaurant in the sunshine where we could drink a fair amount of sangria and consume a fair amount of patatas bravas (aka heaven.) After doing just that, and also spilling some sangria in the process (sorry Gemma and Callum), we decided to walk around to see some of the city. I couldn't quite tell you where/what we saw, but it was all very beautiful. Nice intricate buildings, massive parks, big fountains and squares - it's a lovely city. We headed to the Templo de Debod (sorry if it's spelled wrong) which is an Egytian Temple build a long, long time ago and then transported as a gift to the city of Madrid. I'm still confused as to how that is possible but oh well. The sun was setting and the lighting was perfect and it was chilled out and perfect.

We then headed back to our Airbnb for a while before dinner. For dinner, our hosts recommended that we go to an all-you-can-eat restaurant. He had me at all-you-can-eat, and so we headed there. It was €8,50 for all-you-can-eat chicken, turkey and patatas bravas amongst other things then you paid extra for drinks. Bliss. Despite a stressful ordering process considering the fact I don't speak Spanish, I left pleasantly pregnant with yet another food baby. Job well done. We then headed to some bars, one of which sold a glass of wine for €1. Although it tasted like paint-stripper, it was 1 euro. Who can argue with that? As we were chatting and drinking our wine, Carly broke the news to us of first of the terrorist attacks in Paris. I was speechless, so shocked. As the night went on, we heard more and more of the situation via news apps and my upset at the situation grew and grew. It's hard to explain how I feel about the Paris attacks to friends and family back home. Obviously, when anyone hears about a terrorist attack on that scale happening anywhere in the world, you are shocked and upset for the families and victims but there's an underlying feeling that it is far away from you and not hitting your country. In the 2-3 months I have lived in France, I feel settled here. My language skills have improved vastly, I interact with French people on a daily basis and it's hard not to feel patriotic of such a great country, which is why when I heard about the Paris attacks I was hearing about an attack on my adopted home country and one of my favourite cities in the world. My first thoughts went to whether I knew anyone in the vicinity of the city and after checking that they were safe, I could relax somewhat. It was also nice to see messages from friends and family to check that I was safe, even though I live in Lyon and was in Madrid at the time. Yet I still couldn't get my mind off of the poor victims. As we headed from bar to bar that night, finally ending up in an Irish bar at about 2am, all I wanted was to get into bed and look more into the atrocities in Paris. At about 3am, we managed to work out the problem of having 1 key to the flat and half of the group wanting to stay out and the other wanting to go back, and I finally got back to the flat. After reading through various news stories about Paris, I decided to call it a night and go to sleep.

The next day, after getting up at 9.30am and realising no one else was up so going back to sleep, everyone awoke at around midday. Once everyone was ready, we went to grab some lunch at a "Museo del Jamon" which is basically a bar-come-takeaway restaurant full of a massive legs of ham which hang from the ceiling. After that we walked to the Cibeles Fountain, which had the French flags at half-mast as a sombre reminder of the atrocities of the night before. We then walked through the Park of Madrid to go to the Reina Sofia museum, where we met Jenny and Callum again. I'm the biggest fan of museums as I feel if you look at too much, it can all merge into one, yet I can still appreciate the beauty and skill of the artwork. However, the exhibit we saw was ridiculous. It was modern/contemporary art I think, which looked like the artwork sitting in my folder from nursery school under the heading "draw yourself" - 9 fingers on each hand, a disproportionate head and no nose is not art for adults, sorry not sorry. We then made our way to go on a Beer Bike tour of Madrid.

The Beer Bike is basically a tandem-style bike where everyone sits round a bar (with beer tap) and at each seat is a set of bike pedals. As everyone drinks, they pedal which powers the tandem to go round and a wee spanish man in the middle steers us around the busy city streets. Since I'm not a fan of beer, I opted for Sangria. Off we went on our Beer Bike, along with a group of americans, drinking and pedalling and sweating and dancing to awful music. It was great. It lasted for 45 minutes, but I was suffering after about 10. It's surprising just how difficult it is to go up a small incline, even with 12 people pedalling. Once the drinks flowed a bit more, I was getting more into it and forgetting about the pain in my unfit legs. 45 minutes later, after having consumed roughly 2.5L of sangria, I was quite drunk at 4pm in the day. That means one thing: a trip to McDonalds. After some drunken chat par moi, which I don't seem to recall (lel), we headed to get some churros and chocolate. Now, you would think with me being lactose intolerant that I would stay clear of the churros (which would no doubt have some amount of milk in their batter) and the chocolate sauce (which is self-explanatory), mais non. Drunken me decided to devour a good amount of the churros leaving me to suffer lately. Thankfully we headed back to the flat to have a siesta for a good couple hours (and to sober up) before we headed out later on for dinner and to go out to the clubs.

After successfully sobering up, it was time to head out to get drunk for the second time that day - but that's what holidays are for, right? We decided to go to somewhere for some Paella for dinner but because it was a Saturday night, everywhere was very busy. Luckily we stumbled across a "Museo del Vino" (Museum of Wine) - not a museum, a restaurant. We ordered some Paella and some tapas and had a lovely meal. We then headed to the Irish bar from the night before where we met up with Josh again and his girlfriend, Phoebe, who had travelled over that day to visit him. We also met up with Josh and Callum's friend, Tris, who is from England and studying abroad in Madrid also. After having a cocktail and a Jaeger Bomb, Josh and Phoebe left and headed back to their flat as they weren't coming to the clubs with us. I then had another cocktail and we headed out to find somewhere else to go. As we were waiting for a cash machine, a man approached us and started speaking to Callum and Tris (the 2 Spanish speakers of the group). He was a club-rep and offered us a deal for €10 which would give us a drink and a shot in a bar, and then free entry to the club. With no other concrete plans, we took him up on his offer and let him lead us to the bar. For me this seemed a bit dodgy, but we were reassured that this is common in Madrid. Back in Lyon, when someone approaches you you turn the other way and walk as fast as you can so it was a bit of a culture shock. 

Once inside the bar with our shot and drink token, and instructions to meet our rep outside the bar in half an hour, we headed straight for the busy bar to get our free drinks. With no time to waste, we all settled on tequila shots. After struggling to get the rude barmaids attention, we finally got our shots.. of apple vodka. It has the same effect anyway, right? We then, with 5 minutes until we had to meet our man, got our drinks which were various combinations of vodka mixers. It was clear then why they could afford to offer free drinks, as it was the most watered down drink I have ever had in a bar or club. It was essentially water. Jesus could turn it into wine, and it would have had a higher alcohol content. At 1.30am we then headed to the club. From then on, my memory is in drips and drabs. I remember buying several rounds of tequila shots for everyone (standard). I remember an unnamed member of our group shouting "HABLA INGLES? HABLA INGLES?" to everyone and, upon finding a middle-aged asian man who answered "yes", proceeded to dance with him and go AWOL into the darkness of the nightclub. Standard for her. Then another unnamed member of the group, this time male, who had his eye on helping his damsel in distress ran off to find her and you can probably guess what happened next. Then I remember talking in broken Spanish/French/English to a Spanish couple. Then said unnamed female group member from earlier was very drunk and smashed glasses off of a table, fell asleep in the chair and was kicked out by security. Her rescuer, the male unnamed group member, was also very drunk and had to make a quick escape out the club before he graced its carpets with whitey. The walk home then consisted of myself and another group member carrying unnamed female group member by the arms back to the Airbnb, where we all fell straight asleep. What an eventful night. 

The next morning, after waking up once again at around midday with some sore heads, we caught everyone up on the events of the night before and had some water and pastries before heading out to face the light of day. On Sundays in Madrid, there is a massive (like literally, huge) flea market where the whole of the city flocks to. Covering numerous huge, long streets, the market was bustling and was pretty amazing to see. After walking around for a while, we decided it was time to get some food to help cure the hangovers and so we took the metro into the centre. Some of us went to McDonalds and the others went to another Museo del Jamon. After that, we made plans to go to the Park of Madrid again, since it was such a nice day, to hire row boats and enjoy the sun. While most of us headed straight there, Carly and Callum decided to go to Spain's answer to Poundland where they apparently sold cheap cans of Irn Bru (what a bloody miracle) and other British goods. After getting to the park and sitting in the sun for a while, Carly and Callum met us again with treats for everyone. Dr Pepper for me, Irn Bru for others, Caramac for Gemma - what absolute angels. 

We then hired 2 row boats of 4 and had such a laugh. Rowing is harder than I expected, but once you get the hang of it it's fine. Plus the amount of people who had absolutely shocking technique is unbelievable. A man who was clearly trying to impress his date was instead soaking her by whacking the oars in the water. A mother let her young child row the boat, while laughing manically as he rowed right into the side of our boat. Absolute radges. We also kept rowing over to the other group and taking photos of each other and sharing stories of the weird people we encountered in the lake. It was a shame our time ended so quickly, our time in the boat was so care-free and fun. 

After the boats, we walked around the park and came across a man selling friendship bracelets for €2. As we are such super cute pals, we all got one in a different colour. So cute. We then headed back home for yet another siesta (main reason I love Spain) before dinner later on. For dinner, we went to a burger restaurant where you order your burger depending on its weight. The biggest they do is 2kg - now I know I can eat a lot, but I think that would be pushing it. Dinner was good and the conversation was strangely sexual/explicit between the group, but since the people around us didn't speak much english it was fine. The joys of being abroad. We then went to the cutest, most tumblr-pinterest-esque cocktail bar ever. Patterned armchairs, cool lighting, cocktails served in jam jars - everything you could ever hope to instagram. Then we headed back to the flat before our early start the next morning to go to the airport.

Despite waking up at 8am for the airport, Callum offered to come to the airport with us to see us all off. Such a nice gesture - if it was me, i'd give my pals instructions on how to get there and enjoy my extra few hours of sleep in bed. After a very long journey on 3 metros, we finally got to the airport to realise our flight was an hour later than we had previously thought, giving us 3 hours in the airport. Oh well. We said our goodbyes to our hosts, with promises to all meet up when we're back in Scotland, and headed through security to the departures lounge. We then heard the news that there had been raids in Lyon overnight, linked to the terrorist attack in Paris, and they had found a stash of weapons (including a rocket launcher) and had arrested at least 12 people in the area. My hopes that it hadn't reached British news, and in turn my mother, were dashed when I received a text from her about the news. I felt physically ill at the prospect that the terrorism had reached our city. Paris was close, but Lyon was right on my doorstep. After a couple hours of feeling nauseous, reassuring my mother (and myself) that it was fine and reading about the reinforced security measures the university were putting in place, we boarded the plane on our way to our broken city and country.

Once again, my heart aches for this country. A country rich with culture, history and passion. I just hope the threat of more attacks goes away and the sombre and paranoid atmosphere around the city can return to its previous bustling city vibe. I will stand by this city and this country, just as I would Scotland or Britain, and I hope the world can stand by those wrongfully associated with the terrorists so that we may work together in solidarity to show any terrorist that their attacks cannot harm our humanity and break our spirits.

Next week I am going to Disneyland Paris, so hopefully I remember to blog once again.
Until next time, my loves. xo

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