The Last Three Weeks

I’m writing this ensconced in a booth at Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast. Two days home from Paris and I’m already craving baguettes, croissants and all things unhealthy.

I’ve just come from my US Visa interview (approved – I will be flying out to the States this weekend after all) which was scheduled for the ungodly hour of 8am on a Monday morning. No-one in their right mind would want to accompany me, so I am consoling myself with baked eggs with salmon and an iced “americano” because I have a sense of humour. I’m also surrounded by people I recognise from the interview waiting room – including the guy who chose to whip out War and Peace then spent more time waving it in people’s faces than actually reading it.

This post is so delayed because the last three weeks of my Parisian dream were a whirlwind – I can hardly remember the ongoings the working week because it was happily interspersed with dinners, drinks, sunsets on the Seine, yoga classes in Marais attic rooms, cinema trips and pilgrimages to the weekly flower market. I also had the girls to come and visit, over a month ago now! In the meantime they have graduated and become (semi-) serious adults.

We started with a Sunday brunch, hosted at mine. I discovered previously untested quiche-making skills, and that 15 people is too many in my little studio. From there, we went on to the Marais, where after a restorative cocktail at Le Mary Celeste we nipped in and out of boutiques and I proudly showed off Paris’s beautiful garden squares.Photo 04-06-2015 19 18 13Monday meant back to work for me, but I met them later to go to the Luxembourg Gardens for a stroll in the warm weather. All a little weary from a long day, Anna then proved her unquestioned claim to being “The Fun Mum Friend” when she whipped out the Lindt 70% dark chocolate with sea salt – my drug of choice.Photo 04-06-2015 19 25 18Photo 04-06-2015 19 22 28We returned via Ladurée, before a picnic dinner in the bohemian AirBnB the girls had found themselves in. Followed by drinks and people-watching at Le Comptoir Général, my all-too short time with the girls did not disappoint.Photo 04-06-2015 18 46 18Photo 08-07-2015 09 52 58Cressida and I also made time to visit the Musée de l’Art Ludique, where the current exhibition is none other than a showcase of Aardman productions: most famous as being responsible for such classics as Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, and Creature Comforts. The exhibition featured original sketches of ‘Shaun le Mouton’, and clay models from The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. You could say it was A Grand Day Out.

The following weekend, Pip and I finally got the opportunity to try a restaurant that had been on my wish list since before I even moved to Paris. After a (rather heavy but no less brilliant) French film, and a stroll rough the Palais Royal at dusk, we settled into our spot by the window at Ellsworth and enjoyed six courses of true culinary art. Once again, we see the last ones in the restaurant when we finally finished our two desserts.Photo 14-06-2015 10 35 12Photo 14-06-2015 10 29 13Photo 14-06-2015 10 26 12Later that week, Pip and I had another stunning meal; this time of foie gras, chilled asparagus soup, squid risotto and veal. We dined a stone’s throw from Les Invalides at Bistrot Belhara, a tiny restaurant so intimate it feels vaguely like you are sitting in the proprietor’s front room.

All too soon, my final weekend in Paris was upon me.After a disastrous trip to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France, I promised myself that I would really take advantage my final couple of weeks in Paris and not spend it indoors unless I was eating, sleeping, or in a museum. Fortunately, the heatwave enabled me to do that with relative ease.

Saturday morning was spent sunning myself in Parc Monceau, before heading to Les Invalides to beat the heat in the Musée de l’Armée, an enormous exhibition space stocked with ancient weapons, suits of armour, military uniforms and one rather dodgy taxidermy of one of Napoleon’s Arabian horses. I imagine he was beautiful in real life, but two hundred years later, his glass eyes had a rather uneven look and his once-palomino coat now looked an undignified dusty grey. I also paid my respects to the Emperor himself, whose tomb occupies the spectacular space under the recognisable golden dome of the Invalides. Buried in six coffins of six different materials, each more elaborate than the last, it is no surprise people suggest he suffered from an inferiority complex.Photo 10-07-2015 12 26 00Photo 10-07-2015 12 06 17The museum was fascinating too – with ornate jousting armour, mother-of-pearl inlaid pistols, and even a recreation of Napoleon’s camp on his ill-fated Russian campaign with his original briefcases and – my favourite detail – his hat.Photo 10-07-2015 12 20 45I cooled off at Café Coutume with an iced chai latte before wandering to Le Bon Marché to brave the seasonal sales. Despite my best attempts, I walked away empty handed after I was informed by my mum via Snapchat that I was not allowed to spend triple figures on silk and lace pyjamas. The beautiful bright weather even at seven in the evening meant I couldn’t resist walking home, but not before resting my feet in the Tuileries as the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower. Cliché? Moi?Photo 10-07-2015 11 44 33Then, on a baking hot dry Sunday, my last in Paris, I decided on a whim that I would go and visit the Chateau de Chantilly, most famous for its spectacular grand stables. It was a beautiful day, and after reading and picnicking at the temple of Venus, I returned to the stables where two of the chateau’s famous riders gave a demonstration with two stunning and very obedient stallions.Photo 08-07-2015 10 01 52Photo 10-07-2015 10 25 03Photo 10-07-2015 10 43 46Photo 10-07-2015 11 07 18Finally, after a peach ice cream and one last wander around the moat, I returned to Paris in the early evening, sleepy and “sun-kissed”.

My last week raced past in a heat haze of 37° sunshine and leaving parties on the banks of the canal, before my final move on Saturday. While it’s lovely to be home, and I have plenty to look forward to, I have left a big part of my heart in the world’s most romantic city, and cannot wait to return in the very near future.

In the meantime, though, Selfridges has opened now and I am spending the afternoon at Wimbledon – Siena out.

Bisous, S. X

Chanson du jour: Great Summer – Vance Joy

My Funny Valentine

Having lived away from home for the best part of the past ten years, I very rarely get homesick. Even now, I don’t miss the place, just the people. So when I was feeling a little low after the devastation of my Oreo Disaster, I put in a call to the folks.

Happily, Mama Morrell was more than keen for a visit, and on Thursday evening I returned from work to find her hanging out of her balcony at the hotel just a couple of doors down from my flat. Because it was a “school night”, we popped open a bottle of wine, I cobbled together a chilli con carne and we caught up over a delicious dinner.

Though I had work the next day, she was more than happy to entertain herself in BHV Marais, until the evening when I had planned a cinema trip and some cocktails. Except, of course, because I’m an unlucky idiot, when it came to locking up the office at the end of the day, I realised my keys were on my bedside table. All alone in the office, it meant I had to call in a favour from my mum: she came to pick up my house keys, return to Ranelagh, and then come back to the office. By that time, we were thirty minutes from the cinema, with five minutes to go before the film started. As major Jamie Dornan cinema fans, we couldn’t face missing part of the film, so picked a cafe for some pre-film dinner and happily tucked into duck magret before pitching up to the cinema stuffed full.

On Saturday I finally managed my bank meeting, meaning I’m almost officially a Parisienne. We walked off our pain aux raisins with a stroll up Rue du Passy to Trocadero, where we did in fact see a couple taking advantage of Saint-Valentin with a cringe-inducing proposal photo shoot. We walked along the river, before the rain forced us to shelter among the columns of the Grand Palais…

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The afternoon was spent strolling the Marais, naturally, and we dipped into Breizh Café for quality coffee and a restorative crêpe. We enjoyed an exquisite dinner, some lovingly-crafted cocktails, and fascinating people-watching at Pan, a restaurant I’d previously been to with Soph and her folks just a few weeks ago. Our romantic dinner for two was perfected by our night-time cab ride along Avenue President Kennedy, with an unobstructed view of the glittering Eiffel Tower.

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Today we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast before hitting the streets again, as we strolled across the Seine to Les Invalides, wandered aimlessly through Saint Germain des Près and peered into private courtyards as the sun broke through the clouds. I took my mother to the peaceful Place Dauphine. I picked my dream house based on the ironwork at the windows and glimpses of decorative plastering on the ceilings.

Our destination for lunch was a recommendation from Sophie – Derrière. This restaurant is decorated like a private home, with large shared tables, an extensive CD collection, a ping-pong table and even a large, made-up bed. The brunch menu includes a starter, main, fresh juice, hot drink and an unlimited selection from the buffet. Sounds fairly conventional, but this place is anything but ordinary.

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We opted for apple, pear and strawberry juice, with a coffee for Mrs Morrell and a spiced chocolat chaud for me. Mains were picked from a range of roast meats, and we tucked into caramelised pork and delicious veal accompanied by a spectacular rainbow of legumes.

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For dessert, though, we really went to town, taking it in turns to sample the offerings at the impressive buffet spread. Tarte tatin, tarte aux poires, upside-down cake, gianduja tart, brownies, pistachio cakes, and fresh fruit. We had happily acknowledged that we were fairly full after our mains, but left after pudding unable to take another bite.

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Before leaving though, we had to take a peek into the smoking area: through a mirrored armoire at the end of a corridor, the doors conceal a vast, study-like room. Furnished with taxidermy and quirky heirlooms mounted on the walls, the room offers smokers a clubby, homely suite in which to enjoy a cigarette: some people were stretched out on the leather sofas, while others took on the challenge of table football.

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All too soon, it was time to head home where we discovered unfortunately that Mama Morrell’s train was not at 8pm, but 18.00, and after a perfect leisurely weekend it was sad to rush out of the house and back into the Metro. I’ve taken the opportunity to relax at home after a weekend of walking all over the city. Unwinding with a tea (Mariage Frères, naturally) and listening to Bruce Springsteen as I write my recent blog posts.

I might dread Monday and the rest of the working week, but I make enough wonderful memories each weekend to keep me going until the next one. Not bad, eh?

Bisous,

S. X

Chanson du jour: I’m on Fire – Bruce Springsteen

Date Night(s).

Moving to Paris has undoubtedly been less daunting and less stressful than moving to Barcelona was last year. Here, at least, I understand the language almost fluently. What is a daunting prospect, though, is the First Official Girl Date between new friends. Moving in with Lucie in January blessed me with a handful of her friends, and I have spent the past week cementing those friendships with hilarious and often slightly inebriated suppers.

My first was with Pip, delightful Aussie friend of Iso, who put us in touch over our shared love of food architecture. We had met briefly after my first brunch at Chez Alain, but we stayed in touch and last week, finally made dinner plans. Pip suggested Bouillon Chartier, an old former worker’s hall turned cavernous traditional French bistro. Coincidentally, as soon as I arrived I spotted Pete and Jordan (on a Bro Date) who, also, are new friends courtesy of Lucie. The restaurant was big, but boasted a vibrant atmosphere to match, and we spent much of our time people-watching and spying on what other people had ordered, rather than paying attention to the menu. In fact, we got so distracted and excited to see each other that the poor waiter had to come back three times before we were ready to order. The best part about Chartier, unquestionably, is the fact that you sit on shared tables of six people – as a couple of girls, we happily sat on the end next to a sweet Dutch couple who enjoyed their meal in relative silence.

Then, just as we were tucking into our mains, the Dutch couple were replaced by two French gentlemen who politely smiled as we shuffled to make room for them, before studying the menu intensely. As Pip and I simultaneously expressed our satisfaction with our meal (steak for her, perch fillets – Dorning family, I’m thinking of you! – for me) they politely enquired as to our choices before we both returned to our respective conversations. After some delightful and hilarious chatter washed down with our little carafe of wine, Pip and I looked longingly at their desserts – a little too longingly, it seemed. Without hesitation, they pushed over their pineapple platter and ice-cream profiterole before ordering the waiter to bring us more spoons for us to share. Safe to say, that was the beginning of the end. Another two whole bottles of wine, an internship organised for Pip by our new friend Sam, and an offer to fly over Paris for me (that I fully intend to capitalise on) from Serge the pilot, and mine and Pip’s First Official Girl Date was undoubtedly a resounding success. We even took photos.

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My second, last Thursday, was with Michi, a Durham-ite I hardly knew before Nick introduced us. We opted for Cambodian food (rogue but delicious) and ventured to Le Petit Cambodge for a bite to eat. Other than the fact that I was forty minutes late, the rest of our date passed without a hitch. It transpires Cambodian food is amazing – fresh veg, warming noodles with rich broth and marinaded meat – but we decided to top it off with a bottle of wine between the two of us (my John’s College Formal credentials are failing me, it seems I am no longer fit for wine consumption), and so anything would have seemed pretty amazing that night. Including the idea to go for cocktails afterwards. Unwilling to walk particularly far because of the tundra-like conditions outside and bitter gale-force winds, we discovered a heated patio opposite the restaurant that promised us 5€ caipirinhas. Anyone who knows my family knows we are all incapable of refusing a caipirinha if it’s on the menu and so we ensconced ourselves in the warmest corner and started the rounds – alco-blankets are a thing, no?

So, two incredibly successful First Official Girl Dates down, I deemed it officially time for the real deal. Tuesday night, Lauren and I went on a blind “Smeeting” date, with Julien and Elliott, two fun, charming Frenchmen. We enjoyed a couple of cocktails before moving on to something much, much more serious: table football. Let’s just say that in the future, I will never reveal competitive edge on the bébé foot table on a first date again…

Bisous,

S. X

Chanson du jour: So Lost – Ady Suleiman

Ranelagh.

Well, I’ve managed it. Somehow, I’ve landed myself with the most beautiful studio apartment in Paris’s 16th. I have my very own little piece of Parisian real estate. I’m neighbouring embassies and international schools, and there’s a Maserati with diplomatic plates parked outside my building 24/7. A little ridiculous for student living, but it’s ten minutes from work. Can you blame me?

This came in extra useful on Thursday morning, when I managed to wake up an hour and a half late for work. Up at 8.22, in the office by 8.47. Impressive, no? Other than that, though, living here has been a dream. I have an enormous fridge (permanently empty, as if I can afford food at the moment) a dishwasher (ha!) and my very own washing machine. It already feels like home.

The only minor downside is that I can’t actually work out how to pronounce my street name like a true Parisian. The Londoner in me wants to say “Ran-lee”, a strange part of me wants to say “Ran-uh-luh”, and the man on the metro says “RAN-LAG”, which sounds like an aggressive German expletive.

Work has finally “settled” into an only mildly hectic routine which is a relative improvement. It’s not quite the riotous good time I was spoiled with in Barcelona, but it’s been amazing for my French already. The best bit of living here, though, is without doubt the food the people. This past week I’ve really made the most of my evenings – Wednesday, Cressida and I intended to visit the European Museum of Photography but on the discovery that it was closed we made our way to Breizh Café for an incredible galette… Or two. Thursday, Lauren and I shared some quality time over dinner and a stroll down the Champs-Élysées, pinching ourselves at the fact that we live in the most beautiful city in the world. And yesterday evening, Lauren, Anna and I crossed town to Belleville for a Greek send off for Alex, who is off to Salamanca for the rest of her year abroad. Lauren and I finished the evening at drinks on Avenue de la Grande Armée, walking home in the early hours of this morning past the Arc de Triomphe and the glinting lights of the Eiffel Tower. It’s just ridiculous that people travel the world to visit these monuments and for us, they’re just on the high street.

I’ve spent the morning in bed, enjoying a lie-in and binge-watching J’ai dit oui à la robe. And if I’m honest, living in this city really is the dream.

Chanson du Jour: Home – Johnnyswim

November Weekends – A Picture-Heavy Post

Okay, so it turns out I’m really not great at keeping this up to date. It’s been another three weeks since my last post, and so much has happened since then I’m probably not going to be able to fit it all into just one blog post. But, naturally I thought I might as well try.

So the first weekend in November marked my return to Durham for Bailey Ball. While the night didn’t exactly go according to plan – still sheepish – I had a wonderful weekend catching up with all the familiar faces. After a post-ball recovery brunch over England-New Zealand and Wales-Australia, I headed out for a Flat White (where else) for a lovely coffee with Sam to swap stories of life outside of Durham. After the Grey College fireworks Saturday evening, Anna cooked us a delicious roast dinner (my first in months!) and fully warrants the title of domestic goddess after plying us all with copious quantities of Ben & Jerry’s.

my main "men"

my main “men”

all the laydeez

all the laydeez

Sunday morning I was treated to brunch at Nikki’s before the Remembrance Service in Durham Cathedral, which really was quite something. We were lucky enough to be seated surrounded by police and armed forces personnel and the service itself was very humbling. I’ve never been that big a fan of our national anthem (can I say that? Is that treason?) but hearing it sung by over a thousand people in a space like the Cathedral was inspiringly patriotic. We also watched the parade of armed forces walk from Palace Green to Market Square, where the new centenary statue stands.

Limes House girls like plaid and polos

Limes House girls like plaid and polos

Sunday evening, after a lovely drink and all-too-brief catch up with the Benenden girls (we did all turn up in the same outfit, completely by coincidence), Ed and I took a trip to Whiskey River and topped a great weekend off with some Urban Oven – I finally got my pizza. The next morning, after a slightly teary Starbucks with Flo and Paddy, and some complete miscommunication with Anna that left her stranded in the cold on Newcastle station platform – sorry, AJ – I hopped on my train south and returned to Gatwick for my flight. To console ourselves after our return, Liz and I made a beeline for Bacoa, for beers and burgers and a good, old-fashioned gossip.

I slotted right back into Barcelona life very easily – I’m a serious creature of habit and so having a fixed daily routine is fairly easy for me. That said, I haven’t been getting out of work until gone 7, so the weekend after my trip to Durham was incredibly leisurely. Liz, Alicia and I enjoyed cocktails and red velvet pancakes on Thursday evening, then on Friday after the gym I managed to pass out at 10.00 – great success. I had planned to spend Saturday ticking off all the food places I’d flagged up, but only made it to two, having slept late and eaten too much at the first to continue my food tour of Barcelona. Pathetic.

La Glace, for breakfast, because I forgot to eat

La Glace, for breakfast, because I forgot to eat

Copasetic, for lunch on my food tour

Copasetic, for lunch on my food tour

La Donuteria, second stop on the food tour

La Donuteria, second stop on the food tour

This past Tuesday I had the pleasure of meeting up with Claudia, Danielle, their American friends from uni out here, Monique and Mikaela (from, of all places, Montana), and an extra special surprise, Bean! We had such a lovely meal at Copasetic (possibly the new Brunch & Cake, but that’s a bold statement) just catching up and swapping stories. The rest of the week passed fairly uneventfully, except, of course, bumping into Hot Guy From Work at the gym, post-beating my personal best time for a 7.5k. I have learned a new French phrase: je ruisselle de sueur – I’m running with sweat. Gross.

Friday we were blessed with the return of Luce from her exile at home while she’s been poorly, so we celebrated it in very appropriate style that is very much not appropriate for the internet. My intended leisurely Saturday was slightly corrupted, in the best way possible, so rather than take it easy and make a dent in my book (still The Goldfinch, still would recommend) I headed out to meet Liz, Maddy and Edris, from John’s, for some recovery churros. We spent a lovely afternoon taking the piss out of Renaissance art at the MNAC and tucking into a Spanish-style late lunch of pintxos and restorative beers.

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I had the added excitement of plans to see Emma, at dinner with Danielle and Hen. While I had absolutely no intention of going out, after two glasses of white wine and the most incredible dinner at BarcelonaMilano – out of the way but sensational, cannot emphasise enough – all of a sudden going out seemed like a brilliant idea. Made it to the hilariously named “Sutton”, which the Spanish pronounce like “futon”, which transpired to be a Mayfair-wannabe club with champagne girls and middle-aged men. Nevertheless, after not paying a thing to get in, we danced like freaks in the flamenco room then called it a night after raiding a 24-hour bakery – never has a pastel de nata tasted so good.

A dreamy Sunday was spent strolling Ciutadella Park with Luce, and Anna and Steph, who were visiting from Toulouse. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard in my life as we swapped woeful stories of our Bridget Jones-esque antics and watched an Adonis on a bike try to impress us with his BMX skills. Safe to say, it worked – Luce didn’t quite curtsy this time, but she did manage to stumble her words trying to say “Adios”, which was embarrassing enough to set all of us off in fits of giggles. It was like we were thirteen again.

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Then, Luce spontaneously whips out four tickets to a daytime party at Shoko, down on the beach. After convincing us by saying “Guys, it’s just like Gospel Project!” we swapped comfort for sparkles and headed down to Barceloneta to discover no, it was not at all like Gospel Project. Instead, Luce had negotiated us access to a salsa party – never have I felt so embarrassingly out of place in my life. We capitalised on the free cava and extraordinary people-watching, before calling it a – very early – night. An all-girls sleepover at Luce’s topped an excellent weekend off, watching chick flicks and eating macaroons. Just don’t tell them where they were from…

This week was slowwwww – after possibly my favourite weekend yet in Barcelona, returning to real life was a bit of a blow, and I spent much of Monday completely distracted, watching the window cleaner on the building opposite mine and pondering the legitimacy of pathetic fallacy as the first raindrops in quite some time struck the windows.

Fortunately, I’ve been treated with another amazing weekend this week – Mama Morrell was visiting from London, and we celebrated Hamish’s birthday, too. I’ll try and write a post about it, but don’t hold your breath; it might be another three weeks.

Bisous et besos. S. X

Cultured and not-so-cultured evenings

Ages ago, we booked tickets to go and see one of my favourite operas, La traviata, at the opera house here in Barcelona. Liceu was originally built in 1847, and then burned down twice before being reconstructed in 1994. Even though it’s a new build, it doesn’t lack for any of the ornate decor of other European opera houses like Palais Garnier or the Royal Opera House.

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It. Was. Incredible.

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Giorgio Gremont (performed by Àngel Òdena) nearly brought me to tears with his performance of Pura siccome un angelo, the costumes were flawless, and generally just the atmosphere inside the theatre was just electric. I would recommend anyone who visits Barcelona to go and see something, no matter what, just to get a taste of what the theatre really feels like.

After that amazing evening, this week has been really distinctly average. Adam left on Wednesday morning, which was lucky because Wednesday, Thursday and Friday I didn’t leave work before 8pm. But, I did find the time to bake a petit gâteau to celebrate Halloween.

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While I wasn’t actually a fan of the cake itself (though it went down a storm at the office), those tiny handmade pumpkins may be the thing I am most proud of in life so far… Is that sad? I will write up the recipe and send it to anyone who wants it. The actual day was distinctly anticlimactic – a very busy day at work now that my boss is away (part of the reason I can’t come to Bailey Ball…), though we celebrated the end of a brutal week with a little with some cava in the office once we’d prepared everything for the following week. I actually adore my office – they’re a lovely bunch, and really put up with all my language blunders and correct me if something is blindingly obvious – otherwise, they treat me as one of the team.

The ladies of 109 Balmes had planned to have une soirée at ours for Halloween, and so after dinner I appropriately ‘dressed up’, expecting a casual pre-drinks before the others headed out – I couldn’t afford the energy or money to support another night at La Fira. How naïve could I have been? At one point, there were around fifty people of thirty-odd nationalities in our little kitchen. The party kept going until 4.15, after which I have no idea what happened because I passed out, exhausted, in my bedroom. I may or may not have woken up still wearing thigh-high boots and my Halloween make-up. Now there’s a scary face, for sure.

Consequently, this weekend has been distinctly chilled. Yesterday I ate my body weight in Betty Crocker frosting and read Le Monde diplo while my laptop updated itself, and then today I’ve been learning vocab (how sad) and managed to get horribly lost (for two and a half hours) on my run this evening, before a FaceTime with Lydia. Trying to catch up with as many Johnians as possible this week, it’ll be weird not to celebrate with them on Friday 😦

besos et bisous x

 

John’s Abroad

The week was passing pretty slowly after my fun-filled Sunday, until I got a cheery message from Adam (fellow Historian, Johnian and all-around nice-guy) looking for a place to crash over the weekend as he stopped in Barcelona on his tour of Spain during his half term. (Half term? What a joke – if you’ve been to three lectures so far this semester, you shouldn’t be entitled to take time off!?!)

I was also reminded by Hamish at our weekly spinning class (I have no idea what they are shouting, I just follow the crowd…) that Anna was joining us this weekend too! A little John’s reunion in Barcelona was just what I needed after getting the bad news that I wasn’t being allowed back for Bailey Ball. Unfortunately, despite booking my flights and ordering my ticket, my boss is not letting me take the day off work. I think I’m going to have to drink a whole bottle of Don Simon and watch Christmas movies on Friday 7th of November to numb the pain of not being with the finalists for the beginning of the end.

To be honest, that week was pretty shitty.

So, forgive me, tears were shed upon sight of Anna. Luce, Alicia and I had made our way to see the fountains at Montjuic which were far, far cooler than I had anticipated, and we were in regular contact with Hamish to coordinate meeting up. That said, it was just so surreal actually seeing her that I was a little overwhelmed – this is setting a worrying trend, and I dread to think what it’s going to be like when I finally return to Durham aha. Keep tissues nearby, you have been warned.

All together, we made our way to Montadito’s for a drink with the rest of the Durham crew, and to meet up with Adam who had been travelling with another Durham student, Will, who, incidentally, is at Mildert with Luce and Dave. After a couple of beers (and a larger quantity than anticipated of Don Simon), we called it an ‘early’ night so that we could be up and about the next day.

The next morning, somehow I managed to give a good, comprehensive tour of Barcelona’s Old Town to Adam, stopping off at the important food places sights. We even managed to catch a fashion shoot (Etro Spring/Summer ’15 – expect, unsurprisingly, patterns…) in Plaça San Jaume, where we met up with Will and Dave so the boys could watch the football in an Irish pub… I feigned interest, on the condition that they would come with me to get falafel afterwards. There are no photos of this momentous event.

Leaving Dave to mourn his precious Man City’s unglamorous defeat, we wandered on to Plaça Reial, down La Rambla to the waterfront, and then on to Sagrada Familia. Will, having been inside before, abandoned the tour there, but Adam and I continued in and were amazed.

Durham Cathedral is impressive, yes, but this was something else:

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Due to be completed in 2022, the Sagrada Familia is, without doubt, the most spectacular building I have ever set foot in. Every inch of window pane is stained glass, sending spectacular rainbow shadows across the pale brick walls. It’s completely over the top: from one side, the building looks slightly like it is melting, with globular (I don’t know if that’s a word but it’s appropriate to describe the facade) depictions of the Nativity and other Biblical stories. We were rather disturbed by a rather gruesome depiction of the Massacre of the Innocents, complete with the bodies of babies at the foot of a soldier with a rather large sword, but particularly enamoured by the stone chameleon adorning one corner of the facade. From the other side, it’s more Lord of the Rings Ring Wraiths-esque with angular interpretations of knights on steeds and wielding swords – all a little bizarre.

That evening, we went for drinks at Le Cyrano before heading out to La Fira – I’d heard about this place from so many people – it didn’t disappoint. Plus, with the clocks changing, we got an extra hour in the club. Good news, I thought, until the club closed at 5.30 and we realised we had been dancing for a good four hours. Thus dehydrated and famished, in desperate need of after-hours food, we raided my local 24h supermarket for pizza and water. When I went back in yesterday I could only dread what the CCTV looked like from that evening…

Surprisingly perky, the next morning we headed to the beach for some much-needed relaxation. There I finally got to catch up with Anna, who filled me in on all the goings on in Durham and updated me on everyone. Bittersweet, to say the least.

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We wrapped up the weekend with a trip to Brunch & Cake (that makes it five times in as many weeks…) for a late lunch when it got a little cool – twenty degrees is too cold for us pseudo-Spaniards to sit on the beach – and then returned to mine for a homemade carbonara. It did not turn into scrambled eggs, unlike Mr Rogers’s offering in the house last year. I have won.

It was lovely having people to stay, and so tough going back to work on Monday morning having had such a blissful weekend. That said, Hamish and I bought tickets for the opera on Tuesday – La Traviata at Liceu, the opera house here in Barcelona – at least I had that to look forward to!

S. X