Monthly Archives: December 2013

Madrid in Review


I’ve improved my Spanish

Before I came to Madrid, I struggled with conversations, because I couldn’t understand people when they talked. I was attempting to translate in my head, and was only about to translate about one word before the other speaker was two sentences further along. Now I can understand a lot more. I don’t understand every word, and I need to concentrate, but I’m getting there. I’m not conversational by any stretch, but my understanding has massively improved.  I put this down to language exchanges, which allowed me to talk to real Spanish speakers and pushed my abilities. This is something I am going to try to continue with in Rio and in South America. I do find that not understanding a single word can prevent me from understanding an entire sentence, so I need to work on my vocabulary a little more too.

Improved my dental health

I never used to floss my teeth. I’d always been told that I should, but it always seemed like a hassle using regular floss. Then I discovered dental floss sticks and it suddenly became much easier. I believe I have successfully integrated then into my nightly routine. It adds a few minutes, but given the smell left on the floss, removing that rotting food and plague is well worth the time for reducing the chances of bad breathe and causing cavities. I’ve also noticed that I no longer have blood in my toothpaste from bleeding gums after I’ve brushed my teeth which shows the health of my gums had markedly improved.

Proved the concept of location independence works

One of the main reasons for moving to Madrid first was to test whether I could be as effective in Madrid as I was in Brighton, while still being close enough to jump on a plane in an emergency. There was a slight delay in getting internet set up, but the VoIP phone system worked and none of my clients were any wiser the fact that I was not in Brighton. My two weeks in the Maldives may put this to the test, but I think it’s sustainable.

Saved money

I was spending £1000 a month on rent and bills in Brighton. My rent in Madrid was closer to £425. I need to spend some time calculating my spending in Madrid, but even with buying numerous plane tickets, I’m in a better financial position than I was. The Maldives will probably be expensive and I know the cost of living in Brazil is surprisingly high, but I hope that this trend will continue. It does show that the United Kingdom, and Brighton in particular, is an expensive place to live.

The bad

Getting out of shape

When I moved to Spain I replaced measuring my weight with measuring my waist, which is a better approach, especially if you are weight lifting. Unfortunately, in the last month I have increased the measurement around my waist, and my clothes are feeling tighter. I’ve only added about an inch, but it’s still disappointing. I put this down to a couple of things. Firstly I have not been exercising. Before I left Brighton I’d started weight lifting, but I have not been able to continue this in Madrid. I will have to make a concerted effort to fix this in Brazil. Fortunately my girlfriend has been going to the gym there, so we will be able to go together.

Secondly I have been socialising. I’ve been spending most weekends with some English friends who are not avoiding carbs, which means that when we go to restaurants or they visit, I fail to eat according to my diet plan. This requires much more will-power and not giving in.

I also think I’ve been failing to stick to one particular plan. I normally aim for a ketogenic diet, but I’ve been reading Tim Ferriss’ Four Hour Body, and attempted to integrate some of his Slow Carb diet into my daily diet. Unfortunately, I think this meant I wasn’t really following either.  I need to pick one and stick to it.

Finally, I think I’ve been drinking far more alcohol than I would in England. Normally I’d order a soda and lime, but I don’t know an equivalent low-sugar drink that is typical in Spain. Going to language exchanges has only increased the number of opportunities to drink.


I possibly procrastinated more in Madrid than I did in Brighton, and this is my current major flaw, which I need to resolve if I want to continue making travelling a viable option. Part of this is down to not sleeping properly, despite attempting to fix this early into my stay here. The main problem here is lack of self-discipline and structure to my day. I think it would be a better idea if I worked on making getting out of bed soon after waking and showering first thing in the morning a habit. I also need to stop having distractions. Imgur and Reddit are a major time sink for me. I should investigate blocking these sites during the day and increasing my usage of tools like Focus@Will to get more things done. Planning my tasks may also help. I’ll be writing some more about these measures in a forthcoming article.

As much as I don’t think it is good to rely on other people to fix my problems, I hope that being around other people working, when I’m in Brazil, will help instil some of these habits in me. It’s harder to waste time looking at cute pictures of cats when the person next to you is writing away.

I didn’t improve my Spanish as much as I’d hoped

I knew that I need to spend more time conversing with native speakers if I wanted to improve my Spanish. Sadly I didn’t do this as much as I should. I spent far too much time talking with English speakers. I had also planned to visit far more language exchange than I did. I suspect that going to one every day the week was unrealistic, but I should have started sooner. Benny Lewis advocates a zero English approach and I failed spectacularly far from this goal. I will have to improve this in Brazil and in any south American countries we end up in. It’s going to be frustrating, but my experience of the improvement language exchanges have made to my Spanish shows that I need to get out of my comfort zone and make the effort and to deal with that frustration if I’m to progress in a decent time frame.

I didn’t explore further afield as I should have

I didn’t really get much change to venture out side of Madrid at all. I had planned to visit Segovia a few weekends ago, as they have a beautiful castle and a Roman viaduct, but a few friends weren’t able to make it, so we postponed our trip until after the new year, but I don’t be here now, so I won’t make that. The only real time I visited any tourist sites was when my friend from England came to visit and we went to see art galleries. I need to make an effort in future to spend more time sightseeing. I am trying to avoid experiencing cities as a tourist and to get a better feel for living in a city, but I shouldn’t avoid things that countries have to offer. The Tapapies festival is the kind of events I should be looking out for more. I think I need to work on working harder, so that I have more free time to experience these events and locations, rather than spending my day procrastinating.

I will be in Brazil during Carnival, so it will be pretty hard to ignore that. I’ve also realised that I need to take more pictures, especially of myself, as I don’t have many of my time in Madrid.

So that’s my review of my two and a half months in the Spanish capital. Some good, some bad, but the bad points are just places I need to look to improve in the future. Do you have any suggestions on how to improve the places I’m lacking? What are your good and bad points of your last few months or for this year? What do you want to improve next year?

Language exchanges in Madrid

I’d mentioned previously about using language exchanges for improving your language skills and for making new friends, and Madrid has many different language exchanges or intercambios throughout the week. They’re the perfect opportunity to practice your Spanish, help other people practice their English and to make new friends. There seems to be a hard core of people who attend these events and you’ll soon recognise them and grow your social circle. Here’s a list and description of some of the language exchanges in Madrid I’ve managed to attend so far. I’ll add to it as I discover new events. Feel free to let me know updates, so I can keep this list up to date.


Jardin de Bosco – 19:00

This was a tiny bar just around the corner from Tribunal station and Plaza de dos de mayo. The bar had just about enough room to fit the ten people who turned up to the event, but this was a good number to enable everyone to take part in one or two conversations. The glitterballs and music didn’t really help the atmosphere though


Jardin de Bosco – 19:00

This is the same event as on Monday. Again, a small group of about 8-10 people sitting around a table. This makes it hard to talk one-on-one with someone, so if you’re not very confident generally or with your Spanish, this may not be the event for you. If you’re more fluent, you will probably get more out of this. The music was a little too loud, which made it harder to hear people.

Hello Lola, Olé Lola, Calle de San Mateo – 20:00

This is a fancy bar with around 40 people sitting around and chatting in a nice atmosphere. The sitting arrangement means that there’s not as much mingling as there might be at other events, but everyone is friendly and you get to have longer conversations with people. There’s an organiser greeting everyone when you arrive and they give you a national flag, so everyone can see where you’re from. They also have drink promotions for people attending, but I don’t know if they’re great value. I think this is my second favourite event on Tuesday.

Atomic Bar, Calle de Barco – 21:00

This was possibly my favourite event of the evening, which about 40-50 people cramming into a small bar close to Gran Via. The crowd was fairly young and made up of a lot of students. There was a very varied crowd, as I spoke to people from Ireland, America, India, Mexico and China as well as Spanish. Unfortunately, with that number of people, it was very noisy and harder to hear people.

Calle de Valverde – 21:00

This event is arranged by the same person that originally arranged the event in Atomic Bar, but she felt Atomic bar was too small for the number of people going and found a bigger venue. Unfortunately, not everyone got the message, which has resulted in a split between the two venues, so I don’t know if people will start migrating to the new venue or continue to go to both. It did mean that Atomic Bar was a little less crowded the first night of the new location. My only complaint about the new venue is that people started sitting around a small table, which made it harder for new people to join conversations.

El Parnasillo del Principe – 22:00

We turned up about an hour after this even had started, and I think it had already started to wind down, although apparently this was unusual. This did have the huge advantage of allowing me to have a one-on-one conversation with a Spaniard for most of the time we were there, which was very useful for my Spanish. It was obviously an older crowd at this event, with most people being over 40. As this event happens four times a week, I think I will save this for another night.

O’neills Irish Bar – 21:00

This is an event I wasn’t aware of until we were walking home, so I can’t tell you anything about it.


J&J Books, Calle de Espiritu Santo – 20:00

This is a small American bookshop and bar, and they have events Wednesdays, Thursdays and now Saturdays. The venue is pretty small, but around 20 people turn up and it’s one of my favourite events. Given the other events on Wednesdays and Thursdays I’d recommend leaving this until Saturday, but I don’t know if it’s less busy during the week.


Fran from MadridBabel let me know about this popular group held on Wednesday nights near Sevilla metro station. You can read more information in his comment.


Kruger, German 20:00 – 22:00

This exchange was a very small affair with about 10 people in total, with a mixture of Spanish and German conversations. The bar was large, but very friendly and quiet, which made the conversations easier to understand. It’s a little hard to find because it’s in the tunnel between Plaza de Los Cubos (Cine Princesa) and Calle de Martin de los Heros.  If I was looking to practice my German this would definitely be one of the best places to go.

Beer Station, Plaza de Santo Domingo. 22:00 – late

This was by far the busiest event I’ve been to so far. It’s organised by the same people as the Tuesday night event at El Parnasillo del Principe. There was around 60+ people packed into a large bar with a selection of beers available. The large number of people here made it noisy, but this was definitely the most social of the gatherings. I managed to spot four or five people I knew from other events and chatted with a few. Highly recommended.

J&J Books, Calle de Espiritu Santo – 20:00

See Wednesday.


J&J Books, Calle de Espiritu Santo – 20:00

See Wednesday.


Beer Station, Plaza de Santo Domingo – 19:00

This is the same event as the event on Thursday at Beer Station and Tuesday at El Parnasillo del Principe.


See Wednesday.

Which is your favourite language exchange in Madrid? Have I missed any events? Do you have any reviews of these or other events?

Improving your confidence

Someone on a forum asked for advice on how to improve their confidence and to overcome their negative thoughts and opinions of themselves:

I am not a very good looking male and very insecure about what other people think of me. I always have this opinion that no one ever likes me when they meet me for the first time and only after seeing me for couple of times, they get adjusted to my face and start having normal conversations. I routinely say no to people who go out because I am afraid I’ll be left alone. This is also partly due to my high school years where my classmates used to tease me for looking like a old school villain. After this point, I never really got close to anybody. I have friends who I regularly meet but no one who I can share my problems with

I read these anecdotes on reddit where some guy gets enough courage to ask a girl for her phone number and turns out that its not so bad and she agrees. For me that scenario is so outlandish I rule it out as a fantasy. I am constantly striving to not give a fuck but somewhere in the back of my mind the feeling always lingers. I look at people around me and all of them are better looking and I sometimes feel like it is a requirement to exist in this world and achieve success. I frankly don’t know how to overcome this self doubt in me. I imagine I cannot be that unique in this world that somehow this entire universe is conspiring to fuck me over, so this must be something in my head. What should I be doing so I don’t worry about what other people think of me?

I thought that my response would be useful for a wider audience:

When I was a teenager, I used to feel very similar to you at times. I wasn’t popular at school and didn’t get invited out to many things, and never really had a girlfriend and wasn’t very confident.

The first thing to realise is that people’s opinion of you will be hugely affected by your own opinion of yourself. This means that if you see yourself negatively, they will pick up on this and it will cloud their judgement of you. Never ever put yourself down in front of people, or be self-deprecating. You might think that you should avoid being seen as arrogant or narcissistic, but negativity is far worse for you. Arrogance is often mistaken for confidence and that’s what you want to develop. Confidence is just people faking it; they have the same insecurities that you do. It can be draining, but put on a positive public front.

Stop saying no. Seriously, start saying yes more. If you keep saying no, eventually people will just stop asking you and then you can’t say yes or no. Is being left alone in a bar or club really any worse than being left alone sitting at home?
Are you worried about not being interesting? Become more interesting. Start new hobbies. Go out and do things. Join clubs. This will have several advantages:

  • You’ll meet new people
  • You’ll have things to talk about
  • You’ll be active and have less time to have negative thoughts.

You can find free community events on sites like Go along and start talking to people. It’ll be hard at first, but they’ll be welcoming of new members and you won’t be the only new person there, and remember every single person going was new at some point.

If you’re concerned about your appearance, it’s amazing the affect a new haircut can have on your appearance. Find yourself a decent hair salon and get yourself an appointment with a stylist. It’ll be expensive compared to your average haircut, but you only need to go once to get your new style, but it will pay dividends. You may want to spend a little more on future haircuts, but you don’t need to pay much more. For example, I used to pay around £8-9 for a hair cut every six to eight weeks and now pay £13 every month, but the improvement in my appearance is definitely worth it.

The other thing you can do is to improve your fashion. There are a few subreddits here that will teach you how to dress for your body shape and to look more stylish. Basically, if you look like you take care in your appearance, people will respond to you better.

If you’re overweight, make small changes to your diet and go to the gym and start lifting weights. If you’re scrawny, go to the gym and start lifting weights. In fact, just go to the gym and start lifting weights. Can’t afford to go to a gym, buy a set of adjustable dumbbells and start from there.

The universe isn’t conspiring to fuck you over; you are fucking yourself over. Put more effort into your mental well-being and your confidence will improve and everything else will follow.