"Nobody goes to bed in Madrid until they have killed the night."

- Ernest Hemingway


A blog to chronicle the adventures of dos amigas neocelandesas (Phoebe and Emily) as we experience la vida madrileña. Like Dora the Explorer, but with sangria.

Exams in Madrid!

Much to contrary opinion Phoebe and I do actually study here and have been going to university this whole semester.  Ok, the eating out to study ratio may not be quite so even but priorities people!

This past week we had exams, it was quite the experience, very different than what we are used to! Arriving to the exam with our teacher as the supervisor lineless paper was handed out for our answers and people gradually all arrived around about starting time, one guy arrived without his pen - lucky someone else had brought some! During the exam our teacher kindly offered water to people and the other supervisor made a joke when one guy left for the toilet that he could actually be going for a coffee! It was very casual and we felt comfortable! As it was stinking hot in the non-air conditioned room our teacher offered an alternative room if people wanted to go do the exam there (this was offered after the exam had started) so people just got up and changed rooms when they felt their body temperature had increased a little too much! As everybody finished the exam they went and sat outside the classroom (which had its doors open) and just sat and chatted so that was good to listen to whilst we were still writing! Phoe and I decided this was actually a much better environment for the literary thoughts we were channeling than the scary, silent and strict smithells gymnasium! 

After our second exam that day we headed to the neighbourhood pool which was very refreshing with a high presence of topless sunbathers - very normal here supposedly and no we didn’t culturally integrate in that sense! 

Friday night saw us hit one of the biggest nightclubs in Madrid with 7 floors to choose from depending on your dance/music preference!

So now with not much longer to go we are thinking how all those Zara purchases will fit in our suitcases! With hot weather each day we are just enjoying doing all our favourite things in Madrid as well as watching the Euro football cups games which is oober big over here! I just went to buy some delicious summer fruit from the frutería below our building where I was greeted with a ‘hola guapa’, not sure if we will receive quite the same welcome at New World!!  


Alright alright alright, so there’s been a bit of blog neglect of late. This is due to a) my Mum being en route to/in Spain (as the biggest blog fan, her constant pressure for more updates has recently alleviated); b) it’s too hot and sunny to be inside; c) the small matter of exams (we do study sometimes, promise!).

Where to start? A few weeks ago we went off on an overnight trip north to Asturias, a hilly region (featuring the Picos de Europa, some sweet mountains) with the Cantabrian Sea coast. We stayed in the not so bustling metropolis of Candás, which can only be compared to a pueblo-sized Blackpool on a windy day. A gruelling 6-hour bus ride, staying in the height of luxury (wood cabins), incessant mist, and choosing from the three local restaurants made the weekend somewhat less of an exotic-beach-mountain excursion than initially hoped. Luckily we met a fantastic group of people, and had a grand time making the most of the dreary conditions and rural non-charm. Highlights included Emily getting shat on by a pigeon in Oviedo, our new English friend Josh being told off for asking where he could confess at the Oviedo cathedral, Tarek slipping off for a cheeky sidra (cider) while waiting for the bus, Brandon asking old ladies on the Candás dance floor (there’s only one) if they wanted hand massages, and of course that classic hysteria which goes with sleep deprivation and hangovers.

Several weeks ago, after two weeks in Dubai and Morocco which proved challenging on the stomach, my family arrived to hang out in Madrid! For Mum, Dad, Matt and our friend Shonagh, fresh food and clean bathrooms were certainly a sight for sore eyes. We had a great time with food tourism (naturally), and watching a Triathlon World Series event in the Casa del Campo. The company of Matt’s friend Rebecca Grant from Otago (she’s recently finished her own exchange in Paris) made things all the more fun. We finally managed to see a Flamenco show: Carmen as performed by Madrid’s flamenco ballet company. The men’s pants were alarmingly tight, the flamenco dresses dramatic, the castanets were clacking faster than in a year 4 music class. Pretty much a glorious mixture of ballet, flamenco, tap dancing and opera; the show left us all quite impresionado.

Our other fun excursion before the shadow of exams loomed too threateningly was a trip to Harry’s lake - a reservoir about 60km out of Madrid, which we call Harry’s lake because it was introduced to us by our Aussie friend Harry. It was beautiful and sunny, and the lake was gorgeous for swimming in. People had their picnics, they were sailing yachts.. Emily was very much reminded of Lake Dunstan. Good times!

¡Que calor!

The sun is out, the temperature has pretty much magically increased over night and we are feeling the summer approaching.

Wednesday is cooking course day, organized by the uni for anyone who wants to learn Spanish dishes while improving their language, this week we cooked dishes from Asturias, the Northern coastal region of Spain, where we happen to be going on a trip to this weekend (we have another long weekend – oh we love the patron saints)! We made ‘migas’ – the name means ‘crumbs’ and originally was a cheap dish to make with bits of old bread, it also has peppers, chorizo and our teacher added a nice twist with pinenuts!  We also made a soup with prawns, clams, leek, carrot and lots of garlic! Super yum and of course we had wine! – love the lunch time wine tradition!

After cooking class, with very full stomachs we headed to Retiro Park to go rollerblading with our friend Geertje, it was super hot and considering we hadn’t roller bladed since about age 10 it was actually quite challenging!  After a few initial falls we got the hang of it and it was super  fun skating around the park under the sun with all the other madrileños who had come out to play. We lay beside the pond for the rest of the afternoon with potentially not quite enough sunblock covering our pasty white shoulders. After a bit of night shopping Phoe and I got some dinner at a cute café with all its windows opening onto a plaza, walking home at about 10 the air was still really warm, beautiful!

Yesterday was another hottie and at 10pm we walked to our nearest gelato place for a refreshing treat then joined what seemed like the rest of the neighbourhood in the park for a walk, everybody was out running and walking in the park which has a lit track around the outside with a driving range and soccer fields in the middle!

For those who are interested and didn’t watch it on ‘Sunday’, this is a short documentary about two New Zealanders who came over to Madrid to help in the Spanish civil war, many of the shots are taken around our uni here as the building we have most of our classes in was in the frontline during the war.  We learnt a bit about it in one of our classes!

A visitor and a (very) long weekend

Last week Emily and I had the absolute pleasure of having my childhood neighbourino and bestest buddy Christina Bartlett to stay. She and her husband Jesse are in the process of moving to the far north of Canada to a 900-person town called Norman Wells (worth a google-map), and while Jesse was converting his pilot qualifications to their Canadian equivalents, Christina travelled even further away from home to spent 10 lovely days with us.

Of course we did a few touristy things: walking through the different neighbourhoods, showing off our favourite eateries, hitting up some art galleries… But what impressed us most about Christina (and her favourite thing here) was that she would go off down our little suburban Madrid street and do the shopping - all by herself! From the patisserie across the road, which tempts us with its insanely delicious smells each time we pass; to the fruit seller opposite, who, when she mentioned she wasn’t sure what to cook for dinner, proceeded to give Christina a long list of suggestions to make the most of the produce he had on offer. She bought us flowers for our dining table. She made us delicious lentil soup. And then an absolutely scrumptious chocolate tart. She made my bed each morning (really well). I’m pretty sure she also tidied my room a bit. (As my mother will recall, Christina did this consistently through my childhood since my room was always a complete shambles and beyond help.. My complaints that messiness is a sign of genius fell on deaf ears). In short, Christina was the perfect guest.

Meanwhile, Em and I were finishing up one of our courses here, an intensive Spanish language night course. We had the exam last week, and both passed! So one down, three to go…

Last weekend was one of Spain’s many “puentes” (literally, bridges; but also long weekend) thanks to Labour Day being on a Tuesday, and Madrid’s regional day on the Wednesday. Five day weekend? Yes please. Having chanced on 10 euro Ryanair flights between Bilbao and Madrid, Christina and I headed off to País Vasco - the Basque Country - in Spain’s north for three nights.

We caught the speedy train (which still took five hours!) to San Sebastián, which is on Spain’s north coast very close to the Pyrenees and French border. I think it is the most beautiful city I have been to: like the heart of Paris on the coast - with beautiful buildings, grand old bridges spanning the river and some of the best patisserie outside of France; mixed with Waiheke Island or Mount Maunganui: pristine white beaches (conveniently, a placid one for swimming and, across the river, a popular surf beach), and rolling green hills away from the city. Basically, I want to move to San Sebastián! Did I mention that it’s supposedly the food capital of the world? It has the most Michelin-starred chefs per capita of any city in the world; and the region invented the concept of pintxos - tapas - which you find displayed in every bar, plates of two-bite deliciousness of every imaginable combination which go down nicely with a glass of Txkotli - a dry, almost sour young white wine of the area.

Needless to say, we had a great time being food tourists. From our first dinner, which actually was just dessert (all we could afford) at this incredible gastronomy-type place; to experimental pintxos (think squid ink aioli, grilled artichoke with gold dust and foie gras) with three anaesthetist friends we made at the pensión; and more than a few excellent pastries, we feel like we embraced the true spirit of San Sebastián..

Our last day started with a short bus trip from San Sebastián to Bilbao, the biggest city in the Basque Country and home to the famous Guggenheim museum, an architectural delicacy of silver scales and silky curves. The building itself was as much a work of art as its contents; and to be honest some of the latter were slightly disturbing, such as a photographer who photographs herself inside body suits/masks modelled on members of her family. E.g. self portrait as my brother John; or self-portrait as Grandpa. Quuuite strange. Our day in Bilbao coincided with Labour Day, and in true Spanish style there were hordes of protestors out in the streets demonstrating against the government’s latest austerity cutbacks. Despite the hefty amounts of graffiti that accompanies such a protest, Bilbao was a beautiful city and had a lot more architectural gems than just the Guggenheim.

Contrary to my mother’s fears, we survived the Ryanair flight back to Madrid; and had a Final Supper together at a Thai restaurant (one starts to crave pad thai) before poor Christina had to go back to the airport for a 6am departure back to Canada. Hopefully the trip was worth the sleep deprivation! I had an absolutely fantastic time, I’m completely enamoured of País Vasco (although I can’t speak a word of their crazy language, Euskadi) and super sad that it could well be years before I see Christina again, given her new hermit-like lifestyle! Let’s hope it’s sooner rather than later. Until then, I’l; be following her fantastic blog ( and you should too!