Mad Cool, Madrid’s most famous music festival

In July this year I went to Mad Cool, a huge music festival that takes place in Madrid every summer. It was my first proper music festival; I’ve been to one before in Slovenia, but it was rather small. In this post I focus on Mad Cool 2018 itself, as well as music festivals in general. Even though I have only been to two, I believe they generally have the basic features in common. My question is: are they worth the money? In the end I’ll also briefly describe some cool spots I managed to visit in Madrid!

Mad Cool Space 2018

Common characteristics

What you can probably expect from any music festival is for it to last for a couple of days up to a week. Normally several bands perform every day, some of them at the same time as there are several stages. Festivals also tend to be very crowded, at least this one was. The price will generally be higher than what a ticket for an ordinary concert normally costs, which is completely understandable. It also depends on the country and city where it takes place, and, of course, on who’s playing. Some festivals offer camping as well; Mad Cool didn’t.

Fab colours

Mad Cool itself

Okay, so let’s talk money first: Mad Cool costs something between one and two hundred euros, depending on when you buy the tickets; I paid about 160 if I remember correctly. We bought them when Mad Cool had already announced lots of major bands, and that normally plays a big role in the price. The event took place in Valdebebas, which is to the northeast of the city centre. It was all covered in fake grass and could hold up to 80,000 people. There were 7 different stages and numerous bars and food stalls. The event even hosted a couple of fashion shows and offered shops, a Ferris wheel, the GOT throne on which you could take pics, and various other activities that kept you entertained in case you showed up too early.

Something to bear in mind: if you only have the tickets and you haven’t been sent the bracelet, make sure to get to Mad Cool Space early the first day. The first bands start playing at 6; the concerts usually end at around 4.30 in the morning, so it’s quite intense. I’d recommend taking it easy during the day (which we didn’t do, and we felt the consequences). The security won’t allow you to bring liquid or food inside, and if you have an empty plastic bottle, they will take the cap. There were water fountains inside, but only in one place, and you can imagine how long it took to get there.

Day 1

Day 1 (I apologise for the poor quality of this one and the following two pics).

As you can see, the line-up was crazy. I didn’t even know a third of all the bands and I was still able to see more than four that I loved every night! It started great: with Fleet Foxes, followed by Tame Impala and then by Kasabian. I probably enjoyed Tame Impala the most, as I know them better than the other two. And then there was Pearl Jam who had a longer concert than all the others, and it was scheduled quite late as well. They were great, but I remember how tired I was after a day of sightseeing at 35 degrees Celsius. It was also a nightmare to get back to the hostel that night. We didn’t know the tube was working, so we looked for buses and it took about three years until we finally got to sleep.

Day 2

Day 2

At the Drive-In were the first band we saw the second day, and I didn’t know them well before; a friend recommended them. They were great, though! Then we listened to Snow Patrol for a while, even though I only knew two songs. Jack White was incredible, especially when he was playing old White Stripes songs. That day was also the first time I saw the Arctic Monkeys, and I wish I had been more rested for that. It was great anyway, as were Franz Ferdinand after that. I must admit, though, that I was sitting on the floor falling asleep, as hard as I wished I had the energy to dance to Do You Want to. Pathetic, I know.

Day 3

Day 3

To my disappointment, Rufus T. Firefly played at the same time as the Queens of the Stone Age. I’ve seen Queens before, but I love them, plus I was there with a guy who’s seen Rufus T. Firefly and is a huge fan of Queens, so missing any part of their concert wasn’t an option. The place was too huge and crowded to see both; we’d just lose time walking around and would miss half of both concerts. So, Queens it was, with classic Homme trying to convince people to take over the VIP place. They were fab as usual and got us in the right mood for Depeche Mode and then for Nine Inch Nails. After that we were completely dead, but we waited for JET anyway, just to hear Are You Gonna Be My Girl.

The good stuff

I was able to hear bands I dreamt of hearing for ages, the atmosphere was great, and Madrid was a lovely city to sightsee in between the gigs. The line-up for Mad Cool was honestly the best one I’ve ever seen (when talking about modern festivals,  obviously, not Woodstock, Live Aid etc.). It was one of the best “holidays” I’ve ever had, and whenever I think of it, I smile. It was just the combination of travelling after an exam period, of seeing all these incredible bands, of spending time with the boyfriend after more than a month of staring at him through a screen. I also had a lovely time wandering around Madrid with a friend who was there doing her Erasmus practice at the time.

The bad stuff

The sightseeing did take its toll. We felt exhausted because of all the walking in the heat, followed by hours of standing and dancing. My back always started aching after a few hours into the concerts, and I know I would have probably enjoyed the bands even more had I slept properly and walked less during the day. But these things were my own fault.

The prices, though, were shamelessly high. The food was quite expensive (even though I must admit the vegan options didn’t look too bad). I didn’t buy anything as we smuggled some biscuits from Lidl inside. The most ridiculously expensive thing were naturally the drinks. The beer and the tinto de verano (which is basically just red wine and soda) came in huge plastic glasses which had the line-up printed on them. It looks cool and I still have one, but the drink wasn’t worth 9 euros anyway.

9 euros

Was it worth it?

For me: absolutely. BUT – the line-up played a huge role in that, even though I think I’d enjoy the same line-up just as much if it were somewhere in Croatia or in Poland, at a festival that would be a lot less fancy and for half the price. The thing about this festival that I didn’t expect was how, well, posh it was. The fashion shows, the expensive drinks, the fake grass … I didn’t hate it or anything,  it was cool in a way, and most of the visitors were like any people you’d see at any festival (that wouldn’t be strictly punk or metal). The British girls with glitter on their faces were the only exception; they fitted in perfectly.

What about Madrid?

I visited Madrid twice, but I still don’t feel like I can write a proper blog post about it. The first time was when I was in high school and I don’t remember much, and this time there just wasn’t enough time. I’ll just list some interesting stuff that we’ve seen.

Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)
  • Museo del Prado: Free to enter if you’re under 25. My boyfriend’s into art and he loved it. I felt okay in there for an hour, and then I wanted to leave; I’m not a museum person, though, so that doesn’t say much.
  • Círculo de Bellas Artes (rooftop): absolutely amazing views of Madrid and a fancy rooftop bar. They also hold exhibitions in the building.
  • Parque del Buen Retiro: a huge beautiful park with a big lake where you can rent boats. It reminded me of London, just that it was sunny and hot.
  • Templo de Debod: an ancient Egyptian temple that looks totally random in such a typically European city. It’s beautiful, though, and I remember it the most from the first time I visited Madrid.
  • Lavapiés: a barrio (neighbourhood) with many international residents and therefore interesting shops and restaurants; there are many Indian ones.
  • Malasaña: another cool barrio with lots of shops and rock bars.
sightseeing during Mad Cool: Parque del Buen Retiro
Parque del Buen Retiro

That’s all we’ve managed to see in the four days we spent there, when we weren’t at the festival. As for (vegan) food, I’d recommend Ecocentro: they have a shop and a restaurant. Part of the restaurant is a buffet with cheap tasty vegetarian and vegan food.

sightseeing during Mad Cool festival: Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)
Circulo de Bellas Artes (rooftop)

My recommendations

If you only like a band or two that’s playing at a festival, I think you’d enjoy them more if you just waited for them to go on tour. They usually play a bit longer if its their own concert, and you’re usually less tired and more concentrated because you only came to see them. If you like many or just want to experience a music festival, then absolutely go for it. I think it’s also great if the festival’s in a cool place that you can see during the day. It did make me tired, but more importantly it made me happy. I’d totally go again: to Madrid as well as to Mad Cool.

Thanks so much for reading! In case you’re interested in other Spain-related stuff, or better said cities, I have a post on Valencia, as well as one on Barcelona.

Where should I live?

The places that influenced me the most: Koper, Ljubljana, London, Valencia

I’ve been thinking about this scary thing called future quite a lot lately. I know why that is; it’s because I’m finally finishing my studies. This is my last year as I’ve got four subjects and the thesis left. Once that’ll be done, I’ll have to put my life together, as they say. The location is just one of the things that come with adulting, but it’s the one I want to focus on today. So, here are some thoughts about the four cities/towns that influenced me the most.

Koper

Before I went on exchange, home was a simple and clear notion for me. It was the small coastal town I was born in, Koper. It lies on the coast of Slovenia, near the border with Italy, as well as the one with Croatia. I spent the first nineteen years of my life living here. It’s where I went to primary school, to high school, where I made friends, where I had my first kiss and my first party. I’ve always loved it: the weather that is better than anywhere else in the country, the proximity of the sea, its smallness and simplicity. Most of all I probably loved the fact that basically anyone I had ever cared for lived here.

Koper is very small and there isn’t much going on, especially during the winter. A consequence of its size is also the amount and diversity of options when it comes to studies and work. I wonder how I’d feel about it had I stayed here to study, without trying to live on my own and without experiencing a city with an actual student life.

A typical evening in Koper.

Ljubljana

When I had to go to university, there wasn’t much choice in my small town, so I went to the capital, like almost everyone did. I have friends who come from the same town as me, and who grew to love Ljubljana, and will probably move there permanently at some point. Personally, I never liked it there. I think the old centre is very pretty, and it’s a fact that there’s much more going on in the capital than in Koper. But that’s just not enough for me. I hate the weather, which is colder and rainier than in my hometown, even though they are only 100 kilometres apart. Waking up to the fog isn’t out of the ordinary either; you often don’t know what the weather’s really like until midday.

I could go on with listing the things that made me a Ljubljana-hater: the accent of its residents, how everyone’s rushing all the time, the public transport that never works like it should, the traffic jams. But I also have to acknowledge the fact that I’m stressed whenever I’m there, as it’s always all about uni and uni-related work. It’s not like I’m suffering, though, I’m not. I have many friends there, and especially during bachelor’s we used to go out often, and the various events made my student years interesting, which they probably wouldn’t be had I stayed in Koper. They just weren’t enough to make me want to live there.

Ljubljana’s Congress Square and castle.

London

Perhaps I’ll sound like a paradox now, because I, on the contrary, absolutely loved living in a city that is also famous for rushing, traffic jams, rain, cold and fog. But it’s London; its level of coolness makes up for all of that, including the fact that it’s not a coastal city. London’s night life, the number of concerts, festivals, various other events, restaurants, bars and shops can’t compete with anything you can get in Slovenia. We’re just too small. I love its internationality, its architecture, the fact that it’s just another city that never sleeps, the New York of Europe. I’ll stop here because I’ve expressed my love for this city enough in the previous posts.

The coolness of London also has its negatives sides. Its size makes it hard to meet anyone; as good as the transport system is, going somewhere can take ages. Then there are the crazy prices of accommodation, transport and everything in general, and the lack of any real nature. Luckily, London’s parks are amazing, and they make for a great escape. They’re huge, and you can really pretend that you’re not in a city anymore. When I lived there, I felt great whenever we took a trip, though. When we went to Dover, and I saw the sea after months, I felt relief, somehow.

The walk from Camden to Regent’s Park.

Valencia

Just when I was enjoying my life in London to the point of becoming confused about where I’d like to live, the only thing that could have made me more of a mess happened: I fell in love with a Spanish guy. And that’s how Valencia came into my life. I’ve travelled there many times and spent last summer working and living there. Valencia has its disadvantages, of course. It’s too hot in the summer months, huge cockroaches taking walks on its streets (or in your kitchen) is a regular thing, and life’s a bit slower than in most of Europe, probably.

Otherwise, Valencia is pretty much perfect. It’s next to the sea, but it’s a proper city with many interesting things going on. It’s still small enough to be manageable, and you don’t have to waste your life in a metro or in a bus. The weather’s perfect if you can handle the heath in the summer and the absence of snow in the winter. Spanish people are lovely: open, friendly, direct and funny.

Playa de la Malvarrosa, my happy place.

And now what?

I’ve always been into travelling, but London was the first city that made me think that I’d perhaps like to live somewhere else than in my hometown. Valencia did just the same.

I guess the normal thing for a person like me, who’s from a coastal town and dislikes the capital, would be to try to find work in the hometown first. And if that didn’t work, to suck it up, move to the capital and find work there. To continue the student life and come home every weekend. Or perhaps drive there and back every day and be tired all the time. It would make sense because it would allow me to spend more time with my family and friends.

But as much as I love them, I wouldn’t stay, at least not right now. Koper’s too small, I’ve explained Ljubljana, and I’d never consider living anywhere else in Slovenia. Of course, a big reason is the boyfriend abroad, and the fact that long distance relationships aren’t meant to be long distance forever. But it’s also the fact that there’s too much left to see and experience out there, and not just by travelling. I want to spend a couple of months living in Italy, some time in Russia, and a part of me wants to return to London, or at least to somewhere in England. And then there’s Valencia where I definitely want to return.

Worries

If living abroad has taught me anything, it taught me that it’s possible to find home somewhere else. That I enjoy it, that it’s possible to make friends anywhere, as it is to survive without being physically close to my loved ones. As long as there’s Wi-Fi at least. The very real possibility of moving away makes me feel guilty and worried whenever I think about it. How do I leave everything behind, even when I know I want to go? I keep telling myself that I wouldn’t go that far, that Europe is small, that nowadays it’s easy to stay in touch and to visit. That they’ll survive without me being there all the time and I’ll survive without them. That I’ll do my best to come back often and that Koper will always be my home.

Writing this didn’t make me figure out where I want to spend my life, or what the “right” decision would be. It did help me understand that it doesn’t matter, though, that I don’t need to have that figured out just yet. As for you, if you actually managed to get through this post which probably turned into a rather confused diary entry at some point, I hope it was somehow useful to you. 😊

My vegan story

I’ve wanted to write a post called my vegan story for some time now, but I’ve been putting it off because it’s not that easy to write. There’s too much to say for one post, plus I know lots of people hate the topic. Please, don’t understand this as me telling you to go vegan because I’m not (despite of the picture). I’m just trying to be informative here, hoping that stories like this one can be an interesting read, and can open your eyes to things you’ve never thought of before.

Somewhere in Valencia, September 2018

My reasons

There are more reasons for me going vegan, but the first and the most powerful one was my love for animals – all animals. I’ve seen videos of the conditions in factory farms years ago, but I refused to think about it, despite of how much the videos got to me. I’ve always had reasons not to go vegan: it’s not healthy, vegans are annoying, Greek yogurt is life. The truth is that a vegan diet can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on how much of what you put in your body, while vegans can, of course, be annoying if they try to force their beliefs on people in a violent way. And Greek yogurt… well, it’s delicious, but I don’t miss it anymore and I’m sure there’s a vegan alternative somewhere out there.

The second reason is the environment: if you haven’t heard, eating less meat benefits the environment. By not consuming animal products you cut your greenhouse gas emissions, conserve water and preserve species and their habitats (I’m not going to link studies here because I intend to do another post with actual data, but feel free to google it – there’s a lot of info out there).

The third reason is health. I’m obviously not a nutritionist, but I know I feel better eating plant-based. I feel lighter after meals and good in general.  I’ve always liked fruit and vegetables, but going vegan made me start consuming even more of them, discover new pulses and grains, and learn how to cook diverse and simple meals.

Before

I’ve never been a meat person; I’ve always been known as the one who complicates when it comes to food (and that reputation isn’t gone or anything). But I ate meat or at least fish most of my life: there were periods when I ate more of it and periods when I ate less; at times I liked certain types of meat and at times I didn’t, I even had a »pescatarian« period at some point. I developed a taste for eggs in the year before turning vegan (I was living in London and my flatmates ate a lot of eggs, so I followed suit). I’ve always liked dairy too; I wasn’t as crazy about cheese as some people are (hi), but I loved Greek yogurt and all kinds of sweet treats that contained milk.

I had been thinking about veganism on and off for years, but I always dismissed the thought because of the reasons I mentioned above. Then I tried it once in London for about three days, but I felt hungry constantly and was craving tuna, cheese and Greek yogurt, so I gave in. Little did I know that I simply wasn’t eating enough.

The transition

I don’t know exactly how it happened, but last year in the first week of October, just when uni started, I decided to give it a go again. I said: one week. And this time it was successful: I didn’t feel hungry and I didn’t miss non-vegan food because I read a lot about veganism before, during and after that week. I knew that I had to eat more because plant-based food is generally lower in calories, and I had the necessary motivation because I read about all the benefits.

The week passed, and I kept going, but it wasn’t perfect, and I have no intention of lying about that. I can proudly say that I haven’t eaten fish or meat in more than a year, but I can’t say the same for eggs and dairy. There were occasions when I had something vegetarian in the following months. The reasons were different: not wanting to complicate in a restaurant, eating at my boyfriend’s parents’ house and wanting to be polite, travelling and not finding anything suitable or wanting to try local food, or just giving in to something my mum bought or made, or to something someone else was having.

I feel like I’ve thoroughly made the transition only a couple of months ago, even though I’ve been eating almost completely plant-based for the past year. A couple of months ago I decided that it was easier for me to stand behind this way of life if I’m 100% in it.

The reactions

They were different and everything from typical, surprisingly nice and very stupid. Some people feel somewhat offended when someone’s vegan, as if it were criticism pointed directly at them. I’ve never told anyone to go vegan and I have no intention to, despite of what the sign in the pic above says. The way of eating is a personal choice after all.

So, I’ve had all the possible reactions from my friends, family and complete strangers: people asked me where would all the cows go and where would we plant all the salad if the world went vegan, people were worried about my protein intake, they asked whether I could eat beans, but then some also cooked a completely vegan dinner just because of me, or baked something vegan because I was coming. And then I also heard (and am still hearing) all the possible jokes, which isn’t that bad; I like to laugh, even if it’s about me.

Living among non-vegans

I, sadly, don’t have any vegan friends, and have met few vegan people in my life. Everyone I love, care for and spend time with is omnivore, and that doesn’t make me love them any less. I’m not saying I wouldn’t like it if they ate less animal products, of course I would. But I’m not forcing them; I just explain things when they ask me, I cook and bring vegan food, and I post things. I’m sharing my belief and my interests, as other people share their own.

I think it’s important to understand that eating fewer animal products DOES have an impact, and a positive one: on animals’ lives, the environment and quite possibly also on your health. It’s crucial to realize that every individual has an impact every day, with every little thing we choose to eat, and consequently buy. All of this is sending a message to the market.

So…

I’ll stop now because this is beginning to sound like vegan propaganda, and I promised not to do that. Let me just say this one last thing: vegans (or at least vegans with a mentality similar to mine) aren’t trying to make anyone go vegan because they think they are superior as people and everyone should be like them. All we have in mind is that more people eating less meat equals less animals suffering and harm to the environment. Our goal is to stop pain and death, and we know we can’t do it alone. Consequently, some plant-based people might get aggressive, mean or plain rude. I hope I’m never like that, my goal certainly isn’t to be. I don’t think it brings any good to anyone.

It’s important that people realize we’re not criticizing them – how could we? Most of us used to think and act just like you, at least I know I did. All that mattered was the taste, the price and the convenience. I ate animal products, I thought vegans were rude hippies and I laughed at jokes about them (which still happens). Overcoming that and understanding that I, as an individual, influence the way things are, taught me to look at food differently. I’d never go back – going vegan was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

25 THINGS I LEARNED IN 25 YEARS

So, 25 things I learned in 25 years. It’s my birthday, and as I’ve now completed a quarter of a century, I’m closer to thirty than to twenty and I’m halfway to fifty, I thought it would be appropriate to write something about it. The points listed below are things I’m aware of, but I’m not, you know, practicing what I’m preaching all the time and in all aspects of life yet. So, I’m telling this to myself as much as I’m telling it to you, hoping some of these things might inspire you.

My cake, myself and my doggo.

1. Spend time with your family

I often feel like I’m too busy to visit my grandma, take a walk with my mum or do some other family-related activity. The thing is, though, that when I do it, I never regret it. They appreciate it, I enjoy it, and in the end it’s one of the most important and valuable things in life. For my mum and me it’s quite easy as we like similar music and we’re both into travelling, so concerts and trips are something we can do together.

2. Meet friends regularly

What social media did to us, or at least to me, is the fake illusion that we see people and know what’s going on in their lives, when in reality we only know what they choose to show. We’re all busy, of course, but it’s important to find time for the people we really care about and actually meet them in person from time to time.

3. Accept that some friendships end

As we grow up, we lose contact with some people. Busy schedules might have a lot to do with it, but often it’s simply about having different interests. Sometimes we must accept that certain friendships worked perfectly when we were kids or teenagers but ceased to exist in our twenties.

4. There’s no perfect relationship or friendship

Whether it’s a friendship or a romantic relationship, there will always be times when one will annoy the other, or there will be brief periods of bad mood. As long as they are brief, the two people are capable of sorting it out with respect and humour, there’s nothing abnormal or wrong with that; we’re all human and nobody can be perfect all the time.

5. When he/she’s the right one, you’ll know

I don’t believe that there’s only one soulmate out there for each person. I think it’s all a result of a lot of coincidence and being in the right place at the right time. But when it clicks, you know it. You can understand that with this person you get along as you never got along with anyone before. And you understand why it has never worked with anyone before.

6. Long distance relationships are possible

I always thought they were some phenomenon from Hollywood films that would never work in real life. How can you be with someone you never see? Well, you can’t; you got to see each other. You have to be prepared to spend time skyping and visiting each other, and money on plane tickets. It works as long as both want it badly enough to work for it.

7. Long distance friendships work too

During my exchange in London I didn’t only meet my boyfriend; I also met some of my best friends. Of course, it’s easier to be friends with someone who lives close to you, but it’s by no mean impossible to keep in touch with someone who’s far, at least not in this century. I still talk to my ex flatmates regularly via WhatsApp and Facebook, we skype occasionally, and we meet when time and money allow us. It’s not perfect, but it works.

8. Buying lots of things won’t make you happy

Going to shopping centres and shopping streets, and buying things I mostly didn’t need was something I used to enjoy. I bought many items of clothing that I then gave away without wearing them once. In time, I simply stopped doing that; I now buy clothes when I really need them, or really like them, and even then I try not to buy from big chain stores, but from local boutiques or second-hand shops instead.

9. Less is more when it comes to makeup

In high school I wouldn’t leave the house without eye liner. Man, are those days gone. It’s not that I don’t wear makeup now, I do. There’s just a lot less of it, it’s a lot simpler and from ethical brands. Plus, there are many days when I simply don’t wear it at all because I just can’t be bothered to put it on.

10. Money spent on travel is never wasted

I’ve never regretted a trip; even when I disliked the accommodation, the exact location or an organized trip, I still didn’t regret spending money on visiting the actual place. Travelling creates some of the best memories and opens your eyes to things you could never learn just from books, the TV or the internet.

11. Living abroad is the shit

Living abroad is completely different from travelling, and you never get to know a place that well if you simply spend a week there as a tourist. Getting to know what it feels like to use the public transport daily, to buy food in local shops weekly, and to hang out with the locals, gives you a unique experience that a short time visit never could.

12. Learning languages is one of the best things you can do

I study languages, so of course I’m going to say that, but I really think it’s enjoyable in general. Being able to understand and speak a foreign language can give you an understanding of a culture you couldn’t have otherwise, not to mention how useful it is when you travel, or how cool it is to talk to locals in their mother tongue.

13. Going to concerts is always worth it

I love music even if I don’t play any instruments anymore; I used to play the flute when I was a child but I gradually lost interest. Live music, especially if there’s a band I know and like performing, makes me feel all the feelings. I’ve spent quite a lot of money on concerts tickets and have been to quite a few countries just to see a band, but I regret nothing. Absolutely nothing.

14. Reading books is one of the best past time activities

Books allow you to live another life, to learn languages and vocabulary, to engage your mind in the most enjoyable way, to boost your imagination. I’m determined to work hard on giving myself more time for reading books; the pile next to my bed is getting too big.

 15. Use an agenda

Planning, writing things down in my agenda and sticking to it makes a big difference, even if I don’t manage to do everything I had planned for the day. I’m lost, and I forget things if I don’t write them down, plus this sort of gives me motivation, not to mention the satisfaction when I cross things out once they’re done. I usually spend a couple of minutes checking what I have to do every morning, and I also plan the week every Sunday evening.

16. Limit the amount of time for every activity

I try to make myself stop doing a particular thing even if it’s not finished: this gives me the opportunity to do other things, and to do more of different things daily. I’m bad at this, though; I often find it hard to stop myself from doing something that’s unfinished.

17. Have a sleeping routine

If I’m completely honest, I still have a lot to learn in this department, but I noticed that when I do manage to go to bed and drag myself out of it at approximately the same time for a few days in a row, I’m more productive. For me it would be ideal to go to bed at 10, read until 11, and then sleep until 7.

18. Limit phone use

Checking Instagram or Facebook before bed is the worst idea, at least in my case; it makes me not even touch the book that’s lying next to me, and it makes me stay up too late. I try to check emails and read some news in the morning before I start working and browse The Gram after lunch. I’m sort of out of the habit of checking Facebook daily, anyway. I think that’s now my mother’s and her generation’s thing.

19. Watching lots of TV series is a waste of time

And the same goes for shitty films. I used to do both on an almost daily basis a couple of years ago. Now I barely watch anything; I mostly only do if there’s someone else with me. Don’t misunderstand me, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with watching good films or TV series. On the contrary; I think it’s beneficial as it can teach you a great deal of language and culture. It’s just that it’s often hard to find enough time for it. When I do watch something, I try to make sure it’s beneficial for me in some way (languages), or it’s something I really want to see.

20. Quality over quantity when it comes to going out

I used to party and drink much more than I do now, and I think I sort of got it out of my system. I still enjoy going out and having a few drinks occasionally, and especially when I’m abroad and with I haven’t seen in a long time or with new people (maybe these are just excuses for my partying in Spain this summer). But generally, when I’m home, I prefer to just hang out without drinking, and I do less of that than I used to. I drink for special occasions like my birthday, New Year’s Eve or some other party that feels special to me. A good night’s sleep and no hangover are much more important than they’re used to be (getting old, I guess).

21. Doing sport daily is beneficial

But if, and only if, I don’t feel too tired; there are days like this too, and when they come, I rest. Most of the time, though, moving my body from 40 minutes up to an hour, or sometimes an hour and a half, makes my day so much better, whether I go for a run, for a bike ride, for a long walk or even if I just exercise in my room with the help of YouTube.

22. Healthy in general with occasional treats when it comes to food

My friends say I’m a food wanker, but I do like my occasional chocolate. Otherwise, they’re right; eating whole foods, mostly lots of veggies and fruit, makes me feel good. I also find it easier not to have junk food at home; if it’s not there, I won’t eat it.

23. The taste isn’t worth the harm animal products cause

Oh, come on, I mentioned 22 things before getting to veganism. Once I got over the fact that most of the people in my life don’t understand my way of eating or agree with it, and once I stopped missing certain foods I loved before going vegan, this lifestyle became one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It makes me feel good in relation to so many things: animal welfare, the environment, my own body.

24. Accept yourself as you are

I used to hate certain things about my body and my personality that I’m slowly learning to accept. That doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement, it’s just about not feeling less worthy because you don’t look like or behave like someone else. Loving yourself and your life and wanting to be exactly who you are is one of the most valuable things you can learn to do.

25. Dream big but be practical

I’m sort of doing that, and I’d like to think it’s a good plan. I want to publish a book one day, but that doesn’t mean I’m closed inside my room focusing on that only. I’m working on my writing, but I’m also studying languages because I know I have to keep my options open, and a translation-related job might come before a writing-related one or anything even remotely close to a best-seller.

The end

And I thought I was going to have trouble coming up with 25 things I learned in 25 years; I could come up with another twenty. Anyway, congrats if you got this far, I know it’s a lengthy post. Thanks for reading and I hope some of the points were useful to you in some way. 🙂

5 VEGAN DINNERS

Here’s a selection of 5 vegan dinners anyone can make! Three are savoury, and two are sweet (I have a sweet tooth, and I often honour it), but still healthy-ish. The most common ingredients in these recipes are avocados, tofu and, surprise, bananas.

Avo pasta

To be honest, I never have this for dinner as I usually don’t eat cooked dinner; for me it’s either salad/oats/bread or rice cakes with something, or some random thing I find in the kitchen. I never, ever, cook rice or pasta or something similarly normal in the evening; it’s just never been a tradition in my family as lunch is the main meal for us. But I know some people do it, so here’s a recipe for a proper dinner (which is also very quick and simple).

Ingredients

  • pasta
  • a small avocado or half a large one
  • spices: salt, pepper, garlic powder (or fresh chopped garlic)
  • lemon juice
  • optional: nutritional yeast/nooch (vegan parmesan, they say)
  • optional: any cooked veggies or some fresh chopped tomatoes

Instructions

Cook the pasta and meanwhile make the “guacamole” (I don’t even know what comes in the original one, hence the quotation marks). Peal the avocado (just cut it in half and scoop out the edible part with a spoon), mash it with a fork, adding some lemon juice (less than half a lemon), a pinch of salt, black pepper to taste, and some garlic powder (depends on how much of a garlic person you are). When the pasta’s done, drain it, throw it back into the pot, add the avo sauce and stir thoroughly (you don’t need to heat it up). At this point you can add the nutritional yeast and the veggies of choice or sprinkle some sunflower seeds or nuts on top. That’s it!

Avo pasta (had it with a side salad: llettuce with mustard, as weird as that sounds).

Tofu scramble

As vegans don’t eat eggs, there are many alternatives, and that’s one of them (I wouldn’t say it tastes anything like eggs, but it looks a bit like scrambled eggs, and it’s good).

Ingredients:

  • a quarter of a block of original firm tofu
  • a spoon of mustard
  • spices: salt, black pepper, turmeric, paprika, powdered garlic, powdered onion (the last two can also be fresh, just being lazy here)
  • a splash of water
  • a bit of soy sauce (optional, and I’d leave the salt out in this case)
  • a spoon of nooch (optional)
  • some mushrooms (optional)

Instructions

Throw everything in a pan, don’t forget to add a splash of water, and fry it! I like having it with some “guacamole”, the recipe for which you can find above.

Tofu scramble, “guacamole”, broccoli and corn cakes.

Bean hummus dip

That’s a very lazy one.

Ingredients:

  • a can of any beans (I used cannellini)
  • lemon juice to taste
  • spices: salt and pepper
  • a teaspoon of tahini (sesame paste)
  • a splash of water
  • any veggies you can eat raw
  • rice/corn cakes or crackers or bread

Instructions

Blend everything except the veggies and the crackers. Dip the veggies and the crackers in the bean hummus or spread it on a slice of bread.

Bean hummus dip, carrot, chayote and corn cakes.

Banana and tofu spread

I used to love mashing a ripe banana with some quark and cinnamon, spreading it on toasted bread and topping it with a drizzle of honey (which, I’d say, is proof that veganism didn’t make me weird; I’ve just always been this way, haha). So, as always, I veganized it. This also makes a good breakfast!

Ingredients

  • toasted bread
  • one ripe banana
  • a quarter of a block of firm original tofu
  • cinnamon
  • syrup (I used rice syrup)

Instructions

Mash the banana together with the tofu (you should get a lot of the spread, perhaps too much for two slices of bread, but you can always eat it as it is because it’s delicious). Spread it on toasted bread and, if you want, drizzle with syrup and add some cinnamon. It will be messy but worth it, and you can even sprinkle some chopped toasted nuts on top.

No, I didn’t eat the flower.

Sweet potato and banana disaster

And finally the last out of the 5 vegan dinners. It’s not something I usually make unless I have leftover baked sweet potatoes, because it sort of takes a while longer to prepare (just because you have to bake the potato; I don’t like it boiled or microwaved as much). It’s special, though, and yum. This could also be breakfast or, well, dessert.

Ingredients

  • one whole small baked sweet potato
  • one ripe banana
  • some cinnamon if desired
  • a spoon of cocoa powder
  • a spoon of liquid sweetener
  • a splash of soy milk

Instructions

Pill the potato (the pill is tasty btw), put it in a bowl, add the banana and blend it with a stick hand blender (or in a smoothie maker). Then prepare the sauce: mix cocoa powder, syrup and a splash of milk in a small cup, then microwave for thirty seconds and stir well once it’s hot. Pour over the potato-banana thingy and sprinkle some nuts on top if you feel like it. That’s it, enjoy!

It really does look like dessert (and tastes like it too).

I realize that these 5 vegan dinners are very random, but that’s what dinner is to me: random. My breakfasts are always fruity, oaty and sweet, and my lunches are always loaded with vegetables, and often with some sort of legumes. But my dinners? They are whatever I feel like eating, have time for preparing, and is lying in the kitchen.  Also, if you’ve checked my posts about vegan breakfasts and dinners, you now have an idea of what I, as a vegan, usually eat in a day (plus some fruit for snacks and minus the pasta for dinner). That’s just me, though, I bet that other vegans eat differently as every person has diverse needs and preferences.

5 VEGAN LUNCHES

5 simple and quick vegan recipes for lunch or dinner; I wrote lunches because I usually have an even simpler dinner, but of course they can be prepared for dinner as well. They are quite cheap; the only expensive ingredients are tahini and nutritional yeast, and you don’t necessarily have to use them. They do make food tastier, though, and once you buy them you can use them for a couple of months.

Note: apparently chickpeas for lunch are what bananas are to me for breakfast – a necessity (and that’s why 4 out of 5 of these recipes contain them).

Some sort of pad thai

It’s not real pad thai; I, as usually, didn’t follow any recipe and didn’t use any oil (you can, of course, use oil if you’re a normal person and you’re not experimenting like me).

Ingredients

  • rice noodles for one person (if it’s for more than one, just use more of the rest of the ingredients)
  • veggies, for example: one onion, one pepper, some broccoli
  • half a can of mushrooms
  • half a block of tofu
  • soy sauce to taste
  • a splash of soy milk (I didn’t have any other sauce)
  • spices of choice (I used paprika, turmeric and black pepper)
  • crushed peanuts or other nuts (I used pistachios)

Instructions

Fry the onion for about a minute, then add pieces of broccoli, red pepper and mushrooms and fry some more, adding soy sauce and spices of choice. Fry until the veggies are not completely raw anymore but not soft either; they should still be crunchy. Cook the noodles according to the instructions. Cut the tofu into small cubes and »fry« them in soy sauce. Throw the veggies and the noodles on it and mix well. I added a splash of soy milk here because it was too dry; real cooks and people who care more mix up a special sauce at this point. I didn’t mind the dish being a bit drier because the noodles were super soft and good (overcooked according to my boyfriend, but I seem to like overdone food for some reason). Sprinkle some roasted nuts on top and eat!

My version of pad thai.

Pasta with hummus sauce

I know it sounds odd, but I guarantee you it’s life.

Ingredients

  • any pasta (as much as you’d like to eat)
  • hummus: the more you use, the juicier it will be (I use about half of what I make out of one can of chickpeas)
  • nutritional yeast: a tablespoon or two
  • some dried tomatoes
  • some fresh cherry tomatoes

Instructions

Cook the pasta, drain it, put it back in the same pot you cooked it in, and throw all the ingredients on top. Add some salt or pepper if desired (I don’t). Mix it well and eat!

Hummus

You can cook your own chickpeas or buy a can (drain the chickpeas and then rinse well in case it’s a can; in my case it usually is). Place around 240 grams (1 can) of chickpeas in a bowl or blender, squeeze some lemon on it, add a pinch of salt, some garlic powder (or fresh minced garlic) and a teaspoon of tahini (sesame paste). Blend it in a blender or in a bowl using a stick hand blender. That’s it! Adding oil is completely unnecessary, but some people find the store-bought hummus tastier (it contains oil, more salt and preservatives).

It looks gross but it ain’t.

Chickpea »curry«

The question marks are there because that’s probably not real curry, it’s just something I made up after reading a couple of recipes and deciding they were too complicated/I didn’t have the ingredients and was too lazy to get them. It was for about two people or two lunches.

Ingredients

  • an onion
  • a clove of garlic
  • 2 medium carrots
  • some green beans
  • a courgette
  • a can of chickpeas
  • soy milk (coconut would be better, I just didn’t have it)
  • spices: salt, black pepper, paprika, curry obviously, turmeric

Instructions

Cut the onion and fry it in some kind of oil (or in water). Add the garlic after about a minute. Fry everything for another minute at medium temperature, then add all the remaining veggies and pour about a glass of water and a glass of soy milk over them. At this point I also added some soy sauce and all the spices, and then cooked it all until the veggies were almost done, then added the canned chickpeas (rinse it first, my friends), some nutritional yeast because I like it, and cooked a couple of minutes more. If it’s too dry add more liquid and if it’s too watery don’t cover it while cooking. Serve with rice.

I had it with rice (I usually have brown, but mummy made white) and more green sprouts because vegetables are important.

Chippies with hummus, eggplant and tomato sauce

If you’re not vegan it probably seems like this meal is missing something (maybe it seems like they all do), but for me it’s a completely normal lunch. I just have it with some hummus and my life’s complete.

Ingredients

  • thinly sliced potatoes (as much as you’d like to eat)
  • an eggplant, sliced
  • any tomato sauce (my mum makes her own, will ask how at some point)

Instructions

Put the potatoes and the eggplant on a baking tray lined with baking paper, add salt and desired spices and bake at around 200 degrees Celsius for about 20 to 25 minutes. Heat up the tomato sauce and, if you’re me, make some hummus! Put it all on a plate and dip the potatoes in the sauce/hummus.

Just try making oil-free potatoes; it’s life-changing.

Sweet potato with, surprise, hummus

Sweet potato is different from regular potato: it’s sweeter and the structure is different; it’s pumpkin-like. If I bake it in the oven, I always cut regular potatoes into thin slices and sweet potato into thicker slices; it’s just my preference, though.

Ingredients

  • sweet potato (I used two small ones)
  • hummus (check the recipe above)

Instructions

Cut the sweet potato into slices that are about one centimetre thick. Put them on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake at 200 degrees Celsius for about 20 to 25 minutes. I don’t add any spices because I love the taste as it is. I recommend having it with hummus or avocado spread (I make it with lemon, salt, black pepper and garlic powder).

Actually, I think guacamole is even better with sweet potato than hummus, I just didn’t have any avocados.

And that’s it! I hope this gives you guys some ideas about what a vegan lunch could look like. Of course, I could have added tempeh, seitan or some sort of fake meat to any of these meals, but I don’t do that often, except for the occasional tofu (like in the pad thai recipe). I also had raw veggies with all of these meals, like lettuce or something similar. I think they are filling, tasty meals that provide the necessary carbs, fats and protein (because of all the hummus).  More importantly, I think they can be enjoyed by anyone, vegan or not!

5 VEGAN BREAKFASTS

If I had to pick one kind of food to live on for a while, I’d pick bananas. I love them because they’re so versatile, so sweet, but still healthy. I never, ever, unless I really don’t have a choice, have a banana free breakfast. You get the point: bananas are life. So here are 5 vegan breakfasts (or lunches or dinners, no limits there) featuring BANANAS.

Note: when I say cup, I mean any cup, and not the standard American cup measure. It’s just for the sake of proportion.

Porridge with mashed banana

You can make oats without adding the banana, or you can simply add slices of it as a topping, but I really recommend mixing mashed banana into the oats because it makes them sweet and creamy. If you’ll be using classic rolled oats (not instant), you should soak them overnight or at least for an hour before using them, or just cook them longer, as they are harder. You can only use a cup of liquid if you prefer firmer oats, and up to two cups if you prefer them more runny.

Ingredients

  • a cup of oats (the size of the cup depends on how hungry you are; just keep in mind that oats expand)
  • a cup and a half of liquid (water, plant-based milk or a combination of both if you’re me)
  • one ripe mashed banana
  • a spoon (or two) of chia seeds/flaxseeds
  • cinnamon to taste

Instructions

Mash the banana in a bowl (if you’re using the microwave) or in a pan (if you’re using the stove). Add in all your remaining ingredients and microwave it for about two minutes, then give it a stir, then microwave the oats a bit more, for about thirty seconds. It takes about this long for me when I’m using the highest power (it might differ depending on your microwave and on what you consider cooked oats). They should be slightly firm but still creamy; you should be able to stir them. On the stove it might take a minute longer, you should cook them on low temperature and stir all the time; be careful not to burn them (I’ve done it too many times).

Toppings

You can use everything, basically: a piece of dark chocolate, frozen/fresh berries, any sliced fruit, nut butters, nuts, seeds, you can drizzle it with maple, agave or some other syrup or add a spoon of »nutella«. My personal favourite is mixing a spoon of cocoa, a drizzle of coconut nectar and a tiny splash of soy milk in a small cup and microwaving it for about 30 seconds (no more because it will boil and you’ll turn your microwave brown, happens to me about every other time). Then I just pour this over my porridge and that’s it! Be careful not to burn your tongue; porridge doesn’t cool down quickly (which is why I sometimes add a splash of soy milk on top). It is, however, the most filling, delicious and healthy breakfast ever, and my favourite during winter.

This was oats, mashed banana, soy milk, water, chia seeds and cinnamon, topped with a piece of 85% chocolate and a drizzle of maple syrup. It was more on the dessert side, to be honest.

Nice cream

My favourite breakfast in the summer or whenever I feel like eating ice cream! I think I actually enjoy it more than regular ice cream, maybe because I’m a health freak, or at least that’s what they say. The first thing you need to do is slicing a couple of ripe bananas (the riper, the better) and storing them in your freezer overnight or at least for a few hours. The second thing you need is obviously a regular blender (smoothie maker) or a stick hand blender.

Ingredients

  • 2-3 ripe frozen bananas
  • a splash of »milk« or a couple of spoons of yogurt (not necessary, but I prefer my ice cream a bit softer)
  • any flavour that you desire: you can add cocoa powder, fresh/frozen berries, cinnamon, nut butters, vanilla…

Instructions

Blend it all in a blender or in a bowl with the stick hand blender until smooth. You can add any topping you like and you’re done! Just be careful not to get brain freeze.

2 frozen bananas, a cup of blueberries, 2 spoons of soy yogurt. Topped with walnuts and chocolate sauce made of cocoa powder, peanut flour, coconut nectar and soy milk (in the microwave).

Yogurt with banana

It doesn’t get much simpler than this. I used to love Greek yogurt with banana slices and honey; so I veganized it.

Ingredients

  • soy or any other plant-based yogurt
  • sliced banana
  • any desired toppings: more fruit, nuts, seeds, syrup, dried fruit, granola etc.

Instructions

Mix it all in a bowl and enjoy!

Additional recipe for the homemade granola that’s pictured below

Ingredients

  • oats
  • cinnamon
  • nuts
  • some kind of syrup (any)
  • chopped dates

*The quantities are a personal choice and depend on how much of it you want to make and on how sweet you want it. Also, the more syrup you add, the stickier it will become. I usually use about 2 cups of oats, a random amount of cinnamon, half a cup of nuts, half a cup of dates and a quarter of a cup of syrup. I sometimes also throw some seeds in there.

Instructions

Mix it all in a bowl, adding the syrup in the end and mixing it well again. Place the granola on a tray lined with baking paper and bake at around 160 degrees Celsius for about 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your oven. Don’t forget to check on it, it burns quickly. When it’s done, add the chopped dates and cool everything down. Store in closed jars/plastic containers.

Homemade granola, soy yogurt, sliced banana, sliced strawberry.

Warm Weetabix with banana

You can, of course, eat this cold (as it’s meant to be eaten lol), but I like the hot version since it’s getting cold outside.

Ingredients

  • 3 (or more) Weetabix biscuits
  • one ripe banana
  • about a glass of plant-based milk
  • cinnamon
  • topics of choice

Instructions

Very easy: mash the banana in a bowl, add the biscuits and the cinnamon, then the milk. Mix it all and the biscuits will get from dry and disgusting to mushy and nice. Microwave for about two minutes and here’s your alternative to porridge! Top with whatever your heart desires and enjoy.

Tip: eating cold Weetabix with milk, mashed banana, frozen berries, some kind of liquid sweetener and cinnamon is also amazing and my favourite version for the summer.

Weetabix with mashed banana, cinnamon and soy milk, topped with the banana leftovers, some roasted almonds, raisins, and a piece of super dark chocolate. Featuring my broken bowl from a Chinese shop in Valencia (I broke it about 2 minutes after buying it). Good times.

Sweet potato »toasties« with stuff (including banana, worry not)

This might take some more time, unless you have leftover baked sweet potato, so perhaps it’s better making it four lunch or dinner if you’re in a rush in the morning. You can, of course, just make the sweet version, or just the salty (which would exclude bananas, sadly), but here are the ingredients for both. Also, you can just use regular bread if you’re not feeling adventurous.

Ingredients

  • one smaller sweet potato
  • one banana
  • nut butter of choice
  • jam of choice
  • hummus
  • smoked tofu

Instructions

Cut the sweet potato into slices that are about a centimetre thick (sometimes it only means cutting it in half) and bake them in the oven at about 200 degrees Celsius for 20 to 25 minutes. (I hear that some people use a regular toaster for them, but I haven’t tried yet, so I wouldn’t know. I tried microwaving them once, because that’s apparently also a thing, but it took ages and they weren’t as good as they are from the oven.) Spread the nut butter and then the jam on one piece and top with banana coins. Spread the hummus on the other slice and top with slices of smoked tofu. I know it sounds bizarre but it’s seriously delicious, I kid you not.

Well, this contains exactly what’s described above.

I hope this post about 5 vegan breakfasts gives you ideas on what you can make with bananas, and what you can generally eat for a vegan breakfast (regardless of whether you’re vegan or not). This is not where the options for meals featuring bananas end at all, though, so expect more on that topic. 😀

IMPRESSIONS OF BARCELONA

I expected two things from Barcelona: for it to be beautiful and crammed with tourists. My mum, who I went with, kept sending me pictures of gorgeous mosaics that we absolutely had to see, while a friend told me to enjoy »the amusement park«. Both my expectations turned out to be facts: Barcelona is a truly beautiful city that is definitely worth visiting, but the number of visitors has a big impact on it. So here are my impressions of Barcelona!

Park Güell

Things that I loved

  • Gaudi’s work. I haven’t seen all of it, not by far, but I did visit Park Güell which is full of his mosaics, including the house he lived in. I’ve also been to Casa Milà (which costs 20 if you’re a student and 25 if you’re not), and I’ve seen Casa Batllo, Sagrada Familia and some other buildings from the outside (because they stole my mum’s wallet while I’m not rich enough). I would really recommend visiting Casa Milà because the roof is the weirdest, but also one of the best things I’ve ever seen. Park Güel is great too, and the cliché wall, where everyone takes the classic picture of Barcelona, is truly worth visiting; just remember to buy the tickets in advance online. It’s something worth seeing, despite the fact that they’re renovating it, which means more than half of the terrace is closed, and that there are lots of people, all trying to get an Instagram-worthy photo.
  • Barri Gotic. The Gothic Quarter is my favourite quarter in Barcelona. It’s full of narrow streets, cool architecture and diverse bars and restaurants, not to mention the shops that sell basically everything, from clothes to expensive artsy souvenirs. It’s also where the Barcelona Cathedral is situated, and while they only made it »gothic« in the 19th century, it truly is an impressive building.
  • Plaza Real. It’s just a square with a fountain, lots of palm trees, yellow walls and many bars, restaurants and clubs, but it’s very pretty. I walked through it several times because it was on the way from my hostel to the Gothic Quarter, right next to La Rambla.
  • Plaza España and Font Màgica. Plaza España is huge and it features a shopping centre, to the roof of which you can get for one euro (there’s a lift). I suppose there are other ways, but that’s the one we chose for some reason. The roof offers great views of the Palacio Nacional and of other parts of the city, and it’s also full of restaurants. The Magic Fountain is a 5-minute walk away and they do a lights and music show every evening. It’s free and it’s something worth seeing despite the huge crowd that gathers there to watch. They play diverse music and do weird but amazing things with the water. I’m actually surprised they haven’t started charging for it yet (nice one, Barcelona).
  • The many vegan options. There are lots of vegan restaurants, but I haven’t been to any, I only tried places that had vegan options. I’ve been to Chök The Chocolate Kitchen and Cookies Demasie. The first one has lots of chocolatey vegan treats on offer (I had the most amazing cupcake) and the second one makes vegan cinnamon buns; they only had one kind plus some cookies when I came, though. We also ate in Abirradero, right next to our hostel, and they had a vegan burger on the menu, but I opted for the quinoa salad instead.
Casa Milà (La Pedrera)

Things that I liked

  • The beach (Playa de la Barceloneta). Barcelona has more beaches to the north of Barceloneta, but I haven’t been to those. Barceloneta is a classic: very long, very wide, with many bars and restaurants nearby. The downside of the beach are the guys and girls who walk by all the time, trying to get you to buy drinks, towels or get a massage. It’s hard to fall asleep or read when someone’s screaming »Cerveza!« at you all the time.
  • La Rambla. The famous street that connects the port and Plaza de Cataluña. It’s cool if you fancy taking a walk down a big street that’s surrounded by beautiful houses, is full of bars, restaurants and mini-shops, as well as of people (almost exclusively tourists). I wouldn’t call it ugly or the walk through it unpleasant, but I really don’t see what’s so interesting about it.
  • La Sagrada Familia. Once again, I only saw it from the outside. The way in which the building is done, how diverse it is, the details that it has and just how huge it is, make it amazing and worth seeing. The fact is, though, that there are huge lines and groups of people all around it, and that it’s under construction. They have been building it for about a century, they’re still not done, and they probably won’t be for another decade or so.
  • Mercado de la Boqueria. It’s big and it offers a big range of different food products, but it’s also very very crowded and everything’s expensive. They sell a lot of chocolate, but even the dark versions contain milk, so sad times for vegans and lactose intolerant people.
  • Park Monjuic. A hill with a castle and with amazing views of the city. Totally worth the hike which took us about half an hour with all the stopping for pictures.
Playa de la Barceloneta

Things that I didn’t like

  • How expensive the entry fees to most museums and other attractions are. Also, they charge you one euro for using the stupid toilet on the train station Barcelona Sants and in the shopping centre Maremagnum, which is next to the Aquarium (in the port).
  • The already mentioned people who want to sell something to you constantly, plus the ones who want to convince you to eat in their restaurant.
  • The pickpockets. They stole my mum’s wallet before we even got to the hostel, which is nothing unusual for a big touristy city, and she definitely should have been more careful, but it still sucks.
  • The crowds of tourists. I’m a hypocrite for saying that because I was one of them, but it still didn’t make me like it. It was interesting to hear so many languages and see people from so many different cultures and parts of the world, though!
Plaza de Cataluña

Stuff I’d recommend

  • Using public transport. It’s well organized and the buses are punctual; the city is also well connected by the metro. We bought a ticket for ten rides and used nine of them in four days (this ticket allows you to use buses and the tube).
  • Staying at Hostal Abrevadero. It cost us 200 euros for three nights for both of us, but we had our own room and our own bathroom. It was very clean, renovated, the staff was super nice and helpful, the room was pretty, and the location was great (near the port and the Gothic Quarter, with bus and metro stations a two-minute walk away). I’m still not entirely sure why it’s called a hostel, it’s not a typical one as it doesn’t even have rooms for many people.
  • Taking a Free Walking Tour with Craft Tours. We walked from Plaza Cataluña, through the Gothic Quarter and finished on Plaza Real. The guide gave us a brief history of the city, touched upon recent political events and told us many interesting things and funny stories about the buildings we saw during our walk. Also, you can pay as much as you think the tour was worth.
  • Eating in Calle Blai which is full of tapas bars where you can eat pinchos: small sandwich bites, a different kind of tapas. I’d recommend tapas in general as they are usually the cheaper, but still tasty option, and also a way in which you can try more things (you share them with the people you’re eating with).
Sagrada Familia

Conclusions

I hope you enjoyed my impressions of Barcelona, even though I only spent four days there and am not done with it at all. Despite our short stay, we still managed to see all that we had planned. This means that it was quite intense and each evening I went to bed with my head full of new pretty images. This special city surely has a lot left to see, and I fully intend on visiting it again. It did, however, feel good to be back to the smaller and more peaceful Valencia.

LONDON

My relationship with London

I don’t know where my obsession with London came from (I suppose it had something to do with Harry Potter, Love Actually and the British accent); I just know I liked it more each time I travelled there. At some point I decided that I’d like to spend some time living there in the future, and I had this thought in my mind until the day I applied for Erasmus. The strange thing is, though, that I’m generally someone who likes summer and the sea; Thames is quite a lousy substitute, and while it doesn’t usually rain heavily in London, the weather changes quickly and it’s often cloudy and wet. And then there’s the fact that London is enormous and crowded; it can take ages to get somewhere and walking around the centre at weekends can be a nightmare. Also, it’s ridiculously expensive.

Views from Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath

And yet, none of these things made me dislike it. I spent nine months there having a laugh and enjoying every minute of it, loving every part of the city; even the dodgy Cricklewood where I lived sort of grew on me. Of course, there were times when the slow traffic made me nervous, when the amount of people in Primark made me leave everything and walk out, or when I was shocked by the price of a glass of mediocre wine in some random club (8 pounds). But all that was nothing compared to the times when I walked London’s streets, lied in a park on a sunny day, or visited one of the markets. I was happy to be there all the time; I liked travelling by tube, going to Co-op and sometimes I even liked the rain. I wasn’t scared of moving there all alone and I was next to depressed when I had to go home. But there’s a good reason for all that: I was an exchange student.

Erasmus life is like living in a bubble; it, sadly, isn’t real. Everything’s temporary and you’re aware of that, which is why you try to make the most out of it while you can. I had few classes and didn’t have to work, which meant that I didn’t have to commute to another part of the city every morning. I also didn’t struggle with loneliness; I had my Erasmus flatmates, and I basically forgot what it’s like to be alone; I don’t think I saw two films by myself in the entire year. And then I had the scholarship, I paid my rent in advance and whenever I was running out of money, my mum and my grandma would help me. I was free as a bird and I didn’t have any real worries.

London itself

The cons of living in London therefore didn’t affect me as much, but I did enjoy the good stuff, the things everyone loves. I’ll focus on these, and I’ll leave out the main tourist sites because I’m sure you already know everything there is to know about Buckingham Palace and Madame Tussauds. The best things about London are the mixture between old and new architecture, the many enormous parks, the amazing markets and the fact that there’s always something going on. There are so many events, concerts, clubs, pubs and restaurants that it’s hard to run out of things to do or places to go to.

Views from the top floor in Tate Modern

PARKS

It’s no secret that London is full of amazing parks, but it’s not all about Hyde Park and Regent’s Park, there are many other ones. I had Clitterhouse Playing Fields and Gladstone Park near to my residence, and I often ran there. The first one is basically just lots of grass and some benches, while the second one is more park-like. Neither of them is very special, though, while the ones listed below absolutely are:

Hampstead Heath: there’s a hill, a forest, small lakes (in which people actually swim during summer; I guess they’re just that desperate), an amazing old palace called Inverforth House (you can walk through a part of its garden), rich people’s houses and Parliament hill (a very cool viewpoint).

Golders Hill Park: basically, a zoo; you can see various kinds of birds and other animals, including squirrels, like in every London’s park.

Richmond Park: enormous, be prepared to walk a lot or rent a bike; you can see deer.

Holland Park: a big pretty park that includes a Japanese garden.

Battersea Park: next to Thames, it has an adventure park, and it’s right next to Battersea Power Station which was on the cover of Animals by Pink Floyd.

The usual ones which are definitely worth a visit too: Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Regent’s Park (you can walk to Primrose Hill from here, another amazing viewpoint), St. James’s Park, Victoria Park, Green Park, Greenwich Park, etc.

Richmond Park

CEMETERIES

It might sound bizarre, but I really like cemeteries. I prefer older ones with interesting tombstones. I think it also has something to do with the fact that cemeteries in England differ a lot from the ones in Slovenia; for one thing, there are a lot less candles and flowers and I find that reasonable. There are lots of them in London and I have only visited two:

Hampstead Cemetery: near Cricklewood. There’s a path that goes through it with a fence on both sides and people run, walk and cycle there. It’s beautiful, the tombstones are surrounded by trees and it has a creepy gothic vibe if you walk through it when it’s getting dark. It’s free of charge.

Highgate Cemetery: it’s divided into the West and the East Cemetery and I only visited the Eastern part. For the Western part you must book a guided tour (around 12 pounds). I only had to pay 4 pounds for the East Cemetery which is also where Karl Marx is buried. Douglas Adams is also among the people buried in the East Cemetery. The West Cemetery is supposed to have amazing architecture, and George Michael is buried there, but his grave isn’t visited during the tour.

Otherwise, London has the “Magnificent Seven”: seven big private cemeteries, all established in the 19th century because there wasn’t enough space in the existing ones. Highgate is one of them, alongside Kensal Green, Abney Park and Brompton, which are also supposed to be worth visiting.

Hampstead Cemetery (a very bad picture, but a good representation of its creepiness and of English weather)

MARKETS

Markets are among the things that make London such an amazing city to live in. They are just screaming London as they are crowded, you can buy/eat things from all over the world, they are loud and there’s music everywhere. Keep in mind to check the opening times online before visiting them: some are closed on Sundays (Borough Market) while some er only fully open on Sundays (Brick Lane). I’ve been to the following five markets several times and I really can’t decide which one I like best: Borough Market, Camden Market, Brick Lane, Portobello Road Market and Covent Garden. There are also other famous markets in London but I either haven’t been to them or have only been once and don’t really remember them, so I won’t write about them (Old Spitalfields Market, Greenwich Market, Broadway Market etc.).

Borough Market: my first memory of London. It’s near London Bridge, it’s full of amazing food (they sell fresh ingredients and ready meals, but nothing except food and drinks) and you can eat sitting by the Thames because it’s so close. It’s a nice stop when taking a walk from Tower Bridge towards Tate Modern or vice versa. As already mentioned, make sure not to go there on a Sunday and try to go between Wednesday and Saturday because not all traders are there on the first two days of the week (you won’t be hungry though). My all-time favourite dish is a mix of veggies from the Ethiopian stall.

Camden Town is another old memory and simply a classic: full of tourists, music, graffiti, crazy shops and various food stalls with all the possible junk food you can imagine (you can find healthy stuff too though). Camden Market is open every day from ten to six. ​You can buy everything, from T-shirts, to hand-made jewellery and paintings.

Brick Lane is probably one of the best markets I’ve ever been to. There are always amazing street performers, there are various food halls and they sell a lot of art work. Perhaps because of the bagel shop, but I swear I sometimes felt as if I was in New York when walking through it. Brick Lane is officially only open on Sundays from 5 to 10. There are things you can do in the lane also on other days and there are some stalls, but I would definitely recommend going on a Sunday at about twelve or so (if you don’t mind the crowd).

Portobello Road Market: it’s in Nothing Hill where the film with the same name was filmed, and where you can see cute colourful houses and majestic white ones too. It’s where I ate the best falafel in my life (I can’t remember which stall it was but I’m sure I’d find it again). It’s open every day except Sunday, the hours differ slightly, and the best day is Saturday.

Covent Garden, a covered market that’s slightly posh. It’s adorable during the holidays and great to wander around when the weather sucks. Otherwise, I don’t think I ever bought anything there or ate in any of the restaurants (I’m not rich enough). Covent Garden is open every day.

Brick Lane and chocolate (the shop is called Dark Sugars)

FREE STUFF TO DO

PARKS: Needless to say, but anyway: all parks are free as far as I know. Sometimes there are also special events with not enter fee, for example Winter Wonderland which takes place around Christmas (so from sometime in November) and is in Hyde Park. It’s free to enter but you’re naturally going to have to pay for taking any rides or if you’re going to buy some junk food from the stalls. It’s worth just seeing it as it’s enormous and colourful. There are also various other events in parks, like concerts, and one thing you can always do on a sunny day is having a picnic.

MARKETS: You’ll probably be tempted and buy something but there’s no enter fee, and markets are fun to just look at as there’s so much art and so many street performers. Plus, the food is cheaper than in most restaurants.

WANDERING AROUND: If you like walking, you’ll enjoy losing yourself around London, finding a way from wherever you’re staying to the centre. For me the most interesting parts are Soho, Brixton and Camden Town (these also have many pubs and clubs and a very lively nightlife).

SKY GARDEN: If you book online in advance (you can do it three weeks before) it’s completely free and the views are amazing. If you’re too late to book it, you can still reserve a table and have a (costly) meal.

MUSEUMS: Most of the museums in London are free (minus the special exhibitions they are holding at the moment), among those: Natural History, British Museum, National Gallery, Science Museum, Victoria and Albert Museum etc. I would really recommend Tate Modern if you’re into art. I didn’t understand anything when I first visited it but the thing with contemporary art is that you got to read the description. When I went there for the second time I found it a lot more interesting, but the best thing for me is still the fact that you can get to the top floor for free and enjoy amazing views of the city.

Victoria Park

London is an amazing place to visit as a tourist, as it is a great destination for an exchange or for studying. It’s the best place for outgoing people because it really offers a lot of basically everything. It has been more than a year since I left it behind and I miss it daily. Luckily, I’m going there for a few days in November to catch up with some friends, and I’m really looking forward to visiting the same old spots. London just never gets old, I guess.

MY ERASMUS EXCHANGE AND INTERNSHIP

Exchange in London

I’m writing this during my second Erasmus experience: an internship in Valencia this time. The fact that I’m here is a direct consequence of the year I spent in London; I came to Spain for a guy I met on my previous exchange in England, where I met a whole bunch of cool people from various parts of the world.

I always knew I would take part in an exchange at some point, I just didn’t know when exactly that would happen. There was always something making me stay: a boyfriend, my family and friends, the comfort and simplicity of living at home. And then, on a random December day in 2016, I had lunch with a friend who had recently returned from an exchange in China, and she got me so excited that I decided to apply, even though the deadline was in two days. I thought: if she could do China, I sure as hell can do London. I spent a day preparing the documentation and writing motivation letters, and then I applied. And that changed a lot of things.

I went on exchange because I had this vision of myself becoming a proper Londoner, getting some British accent, travelling the whole UK. None of that happened, though. In the whole nine months I spent there I haven’t made a single British friend, haven’t acquired a trace of British accent and the only proper UK trip I did was to Edinburgh. And despite all that, I had the best Erasmus experience I could ever wish for. I met people from different countries with whom we partied a lot and, more importantly, became great friends. I’d still say that my exchange was a classic, nothing I haven’t heard of before. I believe most people have an amazing time studying abroad and experience similar things as I did. Except for falling in love, maybe, but that’s not out of the ordinary either: roughly one million Erasmus babies were born since 1987, they say.

The point is that it was a great year: the most special, different and interesting so far. It also changed me in many ways. Before I left, home was an easy notion to understand and describe, but it isn’t so anymore. When I’m in Slovenia, I always feel like it’s temporary, like it’s just a period I’m spending there before I pack my bags and disappear for a few months again. And truth be told, it doesn’t just feel like that, it is like that. The past academic year felt like trying to get the uni stuff over with just so that I can spend the summer working in Spain.

The best part of my first Erasmus were the people; I love London but, to be honest, we would’ve had fun anywhere. I’m still in touch with the friends I made there and we’re trying to get ourselves in the same country at the same time every now and then, even though that’s easier said than done. It’s hard enough to organize trips with friends from my hometown; imagine doing it with people from Spain, Italy, Poland, Finland, Greece, China and so on. But hey, from time to time we succeed.

Internship in Valencia

You can do 12 months of Erasmus during your bachelor’s and 12 during your master’s. I haven’t used any of the months during my bachelor’s but decided to use them all during my master’s. After 9 months in London I still had 3 left, and where else would I spend them if not in Valencia, the place where my boyfriend lives, a cool city, and an opportunity to improve my broken Spanish. On top of that, I found a translation related internship (that’s what I study).

It’s safe to say that it’s nothing like London was, and I don’t mean that in a good or in a bad way. The place is completely different, it’s summer and I primarily came here to be with someone, so that’s what I’m mostly doing. I’m working from home most of the days, so I don’t see my co-workers every day; the interesting part is that most of them are Erasmus interns too, but that’s not a rule, it’s an exception. We’re quite lucky when it comes to that as we always have people to hang out with (and the gang is great this time too). I think the biggest difference is that I don’t have flatmates, except my boyfriend. That changes a lot of things; some of the greatest and funniest memories I have of London happened in the kitchen, in the hall or in one of our rooms.

The biggest difference is the amount of time: one summer is nothing. Two and a half months are over in a heartbeat and here I am wishing I could do it all over again. The work isn’t exactly what I was expecting; I’m not learning as much as I thought I’d be. The co-workers, though, were a very positive surprise. When you put a group of exchange students from different countries in the same place, amazing friendships and funny memories are bound to happen. I thought I’d just be spending a cool summer with my boyfriend and his friends, so making international friends was a big plus. As for Valencia, if you’ve read my previous post you already know I love it here.

So, study exchange or internship?

I’d say study exchange is the one that’ll give you the proper experience. Studying abroad as an exchange student usually isn’t that hard (it was very easy in my case), you have less classes, and you don’t have to work if you don’t want to (and if you have enough money; the scholarship won’t make you rich or anything). All of this means a lot of time for all the nice things: parties, trips and hanging out. If you want to go abroad for a shorter period and get some working experience, an internship might be the right option for you. It’s harder to know what to expect, though, and you might find it harder to meet people, as you may be the only Erasmus intern at the company (but you have Erasmus groups on Facebook, so no worries). As for applying and getting accepted, it’s easier to get accepted for an internship (that’s just because you find the employer after you’ve been accepted, while for the study exchange you apply to a certain university, to three, actually, in order from your first choice to your third choice). The places are limited for the study exchange, but they aren’t for the practice. At least that’s what I’ve been told.

For how long should you go?

As for the internship, that’s completely up to you and your employer (I found mine, or better said he found me, on erasmusintern.org). You can go for anything between a month or two and a whole year. An exchange is usually for one or two semesters, some are for a whole year. I’d recommend going for at least half a year or one semester, because that’s roughly how long you need to really get to know a place, a country, and to understand how it is to live there properly. Two months is cool, but they’ll pass faster than what you think. For me nine months passed incredibly fast, not to mention the summer that’s coming to an end.

Where should you go?

That’s a completely personal choice, of course. I went to London because I love it, and because I like the accent and the culture. You should think about any possible languages you’d like to learn, any culture that interests you or place that really appeals to you. The scholarship does vary according to the country, but, for example, you get the same amount of money for Italy and the UK, and the latter is much more expensive, especially London. I got around 500 euros per month (80% of the whole amount right away and 20% after I came home), but that depends on the country you come from; that’s what Slovenian students get for going to the »first category countries«, so the more expensive ones. In general, you will need more money than what the scholarship gives you, so if that concerns you, you should go to a cheaper country. You might get some money from your employer if you’re an intern, but that’s not a rule (it’s more like an exception).

Student residence or private accommodation?

Student residence forever. That way you’ll meet people, it’s even possible that they’ll put you in a flat or block with other exchange students (they did it with me) and you’ll have to try hard to be lonely. If you get private accommodation it’s possible you’ll end up living with people who are older and working full-time or just with people who, you know, already have a life and don’t need you in it. In case you’re going to England, you’ll get a single room, and I think that’s the case in many other countries too (not in mine, though).

Conclusions

Erasmus will give you more than it will take from you, that’s for sure. Your friends, family, boyfriends and girlfriends will wait, you’re not going for that long. Your independence will increase because you’ll have to find your way around in a foreign country, and your mum won’t be there to wash your clothes or cook your meals. You’ll learn how to communicate in a foreign language with ease and you’ll meet people from all over the place (which also means free accommodation in the future, wink wink). People who participate in exchanges are generally open-minded, into hanging out and into travelling, so you’re bound to find people you have something in common with. Basically, you’ll feel like you’re on a long holiday: you’ll party like you’re back in high school, uni won’t be that demanding, you’ll take random day trips and you’ll have fun, I bet you will. And really, have you ever heard of anyone regretting Erasmus? Me neither. So just apply before you get old because the only thing you’ll ever regret is not doing it.