Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tips for Traveling To and Around Barcelona

Some of my own tips for traveling in Barcelona:

So you want to travel to Barcelona?

There are plenty of travel guides out there telling you what to see, where to eat and stay, what to be careful of, so I won't go through everything, but I will put out my own tips based off my somewhat limited experiences from my visit last year and this year.

  • Logistic/Travel Tips: for me, things such as knowing how to get from the airport or train station to the center of the city is one of the most important things.  With some prior research, I always save time and a little bit of money rather than wandering around the airport terminals trying to figure out what to do. The transport system in Barcelona is pretty fantastic and straightforward.  After traveling to so many cities, I always find it interesting to see how each metro system runs and the types of tickets available (is that a weird thing to be interested in?)
    • Although it's possible to reach the city from the airport by bus, I've always just taken the train as I can use it with a regular metro ticket rather than buying additional bus fair for the shuttles.  The Renfe regional train goes to three stops (Sants, Passeig de Gracia, and El Clot) in the city, all of which are conveniently located.
    • Speaking of metro tickets, if you are going to be there for a few days, I highly recommend the 10-trip ticket.  It's €10,30, which is about the price of 5 individual journeys if you didn't use the 10 trip ticket (each individual ticket costs €2,15) and it is transferable, so if you are traveling with multiple people, you can all use it at once.  This is extremely useful as it will take you where you need to go when you aren't walking (see below).  Each journey is also valid for one hour and 15 minutes, meaning you can make as many transfers as you need (including bus) with that journey, and it will still count as a journey.  This is extremely convenient because it isn't always like this (I'm looking at you, Washington, DC).
  • Walk everywhere when possible - Although Barcelona has a great metro system that is fast (my favorite part was that it told you minutes AND seconds to the next train), walk whenever you can!  Most of the major sights are within walking distance if you have some comfortable shoes.  Two metro stops will sometimes be within a ten minutes walk from each other!  Taking the metro is obviously faster, but central Barcelona is manageable by foot, and it is so beautiful and relaxing to walk through the streets.  Barcelona is a beautiful city - take advantage of it!  I also found that by walking, I got to know the city much better.
  • Buy tickets for the big sights in advance whenever possible.  I can't even tell you how much time this saved me.  I bought tickets just two nights in advance for La Sagrada Familia, and saved what looked like at least an hour's wait.  I talked more about that in my La Sagrada Familia post here.   And although I didn't visit it, I also hear similar things for Casa Battlo.
  • Don't be so worried about having a set schedule. Yes, there is a lot to see in Barcelona, but you will drive yourself crazy if you try to see everything in a few days.  Unless you spend approximately 20 minute at each place, it's really not possible.  Instead, pick what you really want to see, and spend some quality time there.  This could apply to all cities/tourist destination/vacation spots, but for Barcelona especially, getting lost (or trying to get lost) could mean finding some great hidden stories within the many streets of Barcelona.
  • Try to speak Catalan, or at least Spanish - Although almost everyone in the main tourist areas speak English, people appreciate it if you don't automatically start speaking English.  This seems like common sense, but where ever I go, I always see somebody assume that everyone speaks English and become surprised when they don't receive the most friendly service.  You don't have to become an expert in Spanish by any means, but just a friendly greeting and some basic phrases will grant you some warmer conversations!
  • On top of this, be aware of your surroundings. I know, I know - things you hear where ever you travel, but I have heard of countless cases of pickpocketing in Barcelona, especially when large groups travel together and get distracted. I wasn't exactly clutching my purse every minute, but I just made sure not to get too distracted by what was around me.

Again, while some of these tips are common sense, these were things that I constantly have been told and experienced on my own.  I don't consider myself an expert on Barcelona by any means, but I hope this helps any of you who want to travel to Barcelona anytime soon!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Some Favorite Summer Bright Lipsticks

Note: Pre-written post from before I started traveling!  I actually didn’t bring most of these with me for my trip, but they are my favorite bright lipsticks, nonetheless.

After a whole slew of travel-related posts, I've come back to dabble in beauty for this post. It's a bit hard to talk about beauty when I'm traveling with just a little makeup bag, but it is one of my favorite subjects to talk about, so I'm taking a little break from travel for now to talk about my favorite summer shades.
Once upon a time, I was very terrified of bright lipstick.  I look back now and scoff at my hesitancy to wear even muted red shades (remember when MAC’s Viva Glam Cyndi was considered an ‘everyday red’ by many?  Not I).  And my brights were quite limited to reds. I shuddered at the thought of wearing purple, or even a bright fuchsia.  However, over the past year, I have slowly become acquainted with the idea of bright lipsticks, slowly building up my tolerance to the point where nothing is too bright for me anymore.  Orange lipstick?  A gateway bright for me.  I’ve moved on neon purple, no longer reserved for special occasions, but for every day activities. 
I think over the past year, my bright lip stick collection has tripled or quadrupled…which is quite easy to do when I only really have one or two lipsticks before.  However, despite my excitement for bright lipstick at any time, summer is the time when they all really come out to play, desperately calling my name while I happily oblige.  

I’ve pulled out some of my favorite bright lipsticks, ranging from the sheer to the fully opaque. For me, the easiest way to get used to the look of bright lipstick on me was to wear sheerish glosses until I finally got too curious for my own good. 

 Read after the jump to see some swatches >>

Friday, July 25, 2014

Some more changes on the blog

Helllloo everyone!  Notice something different here?  I've done some changes on the layout and details of the blog to make everything hopefully much more simple and easy to follow.

Other than the aesthetic changes to the header, I've added some labels in the links at the top of the page so that you can find the type of posts you're looking for.  I know that some people are more interested in beauty than food, or travel over beauty, etc, so this will filter out everything else that you're not so interested in!  There are always links on the side bar so you can exactly what you're looking for (like a certain brand or certain destination), as well!

In addition, don't forget that you can also keep up with everything through:


Thursday, July 24, 2014

Tossa de Mar: Paradise, is that you?

Everyone, I have found my perfect beach town.  It is a place that I want to return to over and over to just relax and bask in its beauty.  While it doesn't have the biggest beach (unless you're willing to hike or wander for a bit, or so I've heard), the overall environment of the town itself is so relaxing and combined with the still existing fortress and thriving town weaved within the fortress...well I think I found what my definition of paradise looks like.

I always tell people that Berlin, Germany has my heart.  It's where I feel at home and feel at ease with myself.  It's one of those places where I came and instantly knew I was in the right place (more later on a Berlin-dedicated post), but Tossa de Mar is the place that accidentally captured all my attention.  It's a place I know I can't stay forever, but will always be one of a few places I imagine when I need to imagine happiness and utter unspeakable beauty.  It's a place that draws you in, from the mountains and hills to the towns to the sea, along with the warm people and  intimate feeling of the town despite its relatively flourishing tourism (I only say relatively because I don't find it as saturated and cliche touristy as other towns).

Wanting to escape the big city of Barcelona, I took a bus about 100 km north to the region of Costa Brava, famed for its "rugged coasts," but other than knowing that it was a popular destination relatively near Barcelona, I knew nothing.  So a few days before I wanted to go, I did some good old google searching to find out more about exactly where I wanted to go. I found out that most people go to Lloret de Mar as it's a bigger town with more to do, more nightlife, more hotels, etc etc, but the more I looked at it, the more underwhelmed I was with the "ruggedness" of what seemed like a resort town.  But unwilling to give up, I looked around at some more towns and stumbled on some pictures of Tossa de Mar.  Pictures of sunsets across the fortress overlooking the ocean, the crystal blue ocean itself, and the narrow streets of the town slowly drew me in until I realized that I absolutely had to go.  It seemed much less touristy and populated than Lloret de Mar (also evidenced by the fact that I could only find a few hostels compared to what I was finding in the rest of Costa Brava).  

Just from the pictures alone, I was sold.  Once in awhile, I come across something that I know instinctively is a good decision, and this was one of it.  I somehow knew that I would love every second of being there and getting lost in the winding streets and old town of the city.  It was like an impending oasis for me, a breath of fresh air from being in a city and constantly surrounded by people.  Even though I'm traveling alone and thus have no social obligations to really be social (a dream for an introvert for me....haha!), being constantly surrounded by other people isn't exhausting until I realized how excited I was to go to a smaller town.  

Monday, July 21, 2014

La Sagrada Familia: A Stunning Work in Progress

La Sagrada Familia.  The most recognizable landmark of Barcelona, and a majestic unfinished church.  Antoni Gaudi's creation interrupted by his death in 1924.

You're all thinking - another church in Europe, I get it. Europe is in no shortage of churches and cathedrals, but I'm telling you, this one stands out.  It's unlike any other church I've seen - in size, architecture, and originality.

In Barcelona's skyline, this is the structure that stands out - not only because of its size but the massive construction that goes along with it.  When I first went to Barcelona last year, this was what everyone recommended to me as the top historical site to visit.  Because of time restrictions and the huge array of places to visit, I ended up not going...making it go right to the top of my list when I went back this year.

Walking around the building, it really is a site to behold.   There is extraordinary detail in every square foot of the church, and inside it is completely magnificent.  The most unique aspect of this church is its history and legacy - construction began in 1883 and was interrupted when the chief architect and designer, Antoni Gaudi, died in 1926.  It wasn't until the late 1940s that construction began again...and it still is not finished.  I believe that construction isn't supposed to end for at least another decade, making it a still a work in progress, over 100 years after it began.

If the outside looks magnificent, it is nothing compared to the interior.  The interior of La Sagrada Familia is full of geometric genius and beautiful personal interpretation.  I believe he designed the columns so that they when you look up, it's like looking up from a forest. Standing in the middle of the church and looking up  gave me a completely differen't feeling than just standing in a regular Gothic or Romantic style church so common in Europe.  Its design is original and timeless, but ahead of its time at the same time, especially when you think about the fact that it was designed in the late 19th century.

The detail of this place is absolutely amazing, and it would take hours if not days to really look at each square foot of it in detail.  Below are just some highlights, and I'll let the architecture wow you on their own...

 Click to see a TON more pictures so I don't clog up my home page as well as some important tips for visiting La Sagrada Familia:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Barcelona continued and more thoughts

Without even realizing it, almost two weeks have gone by, and I find myself sitting in Paris (that wasn't even on my plans before I left) trying to figure out how to post about all my travels so far.  Since I left Barcelona, I haven't had consistent wifi or internet...a good thing so that I could properly enjoy my travels without constantly checking my phone for emails and update.  Downside: I haven't been able to blog, and I haven't even had the time to sit down and properly sort through my photos.

TLDR: I'm majorly behind.

But I've finally gotten around to having some free time to look through some photos and write, allowing me to finally share my thoughts with all of you.

However, even though I've had plenty of time to write and think, it's been done in the form of journaling and going for long strolls by myself, which isn't hard to do when I'm traveling by myself for the most part.  I can say that for the past couple weeks, I have been more physically exhausted and "busy" than I have been in awhile, while still having all the time in the world to myself to relax and unwind.  I've been learning some great lessons on the practice of being alone, and being content with it.  I wouldn't call it loneliness - I would call it solitude.  For those that are close to me, you all know that I'm quiet enough anymore.  I like to have my "alone time," in which to some people looks like locking myself in my room, or sitting in my apartment alone on a Friday night.  It's a time for me to revel in my thoughts, unload all my stresses, and just have some peace to myself.  But it doesn't happen as much as I'd like it to, especially with school and work and internships swirling around me.

During the past few weeks, I've been able to get that "alone time" without locking myself in my room - or hostel room, for that matter.  I've been doing it while walking, sitting on a bench in a park, looking up at the buildings around me, or when I'm lucky, laying on a beach.  When you don't expect anyone to be with you, you would be surprised what company you can find around you.  The joy of people watching, smelling the flowers, or an attempted conversation in a language you can't speak or understand (can somebody please teach me Catalan?).

Barcelona, the first stop of my trip, taught me all that.  Even though I was still a little bit hesitant to wander off on my own then, it becomes liberating and peaceful.  I took the time to go outside of the main tourist areas, and found a couple lesser known parks and streets along the way.

El Clot
This little park close to the apartment I was staying at was renovated from a factory of the Spanish rail system (RENFE) in the 1980s.  It's not a very large park, but I easily spent an hour just looking at the structures and how it was so beautifully redesigned.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

When getting lost is easier said than done...

Hello from Barcelona!

Yep, just over one year later, I'm back in Barcelona. I loved it so much I just couldn't stay away.  The vibrant culture, friendly people, and beautiful city made me completely fall in love with the city.  

Planning this trip didn't exactly go as planned.  I had originally planned to use Barcelona as a base and then travel down the coast of Spain, eventually ending up in Tangier, Morocco before flying out to Germany.  However, due to lack of time and resources (aka trying to make my money go as far as possible), I decided to stay in Barcelona and explore more of the city beyond just the touristy areas.  

So, after finding a (great) host through Airbnb in an area outside of central Barcelona, I set off. After being here for a few days, I'm starting to love the city even more.  There's a relaxed languid way in how people live their lives while still getting everything done that is so different from life in DC or New York where everything is go go go and so serious sometimes.  After living in DC for a few years and growing up near New York my whole life I admit that I have become accustomed to living life like that.  When I walk on the street, I'm practically racing the other people around me to get to where I need to be, the downside being that I forget to look around me and notice the little things - like flowers on the street, the uniqueness of certain buildings, or even what people are wearing (more on that later).  It's a common but oft forgotten idea that one has to look at old things (meaning: my town) through new eyes, and after noticing all the buildings, people, and other little nuances of Barcelona, I'm inspired to take a little more time walking around if I don't need to rush somewhere.

Now on another note, the fashion here is so different than what I'm used to.  It's something I noticed the first time last time I was here, but I really did some more looking around these past few days.  It's just so colorful.  It's the complete opposite of what I usually see in DC - I see a lot of color, drapey, and lively fashion.  I wish I had taken pictures, but I feel a little awkward taking photos of people on the street when there's nothing else around...  It may just be because it's summer time, but I love how fun all the clothes look. 

All the photos below were all taken in central "touristy" Barcelona by Las Ramblas and Barri Gotic.  Although I've been staying in a quieter area, I wanted to take some time wandering around some of the famous sights, specifically in Barri Gotic.  The seemingly endless streets and alley ways beg to explored with little shops hidden all over them.  I took on the day with the intention of wandering around the different streets, letting them take me wherever I ended up...

I was successful to some point, but after an afternoon and evening of walking, I found it suprisingly easy to get back where I started without the use of signs.  That's a great thing, since I never reached the point of needing to look for one, but I realized that getting lost in this area of Barcelona is easier said than done.  Even then, walking down random streets and finding different stores without a set schedule is one of the greatest feelings I have while traveling.  But instead of rambling on in the same way I wandered around, I'll let the photos do the talking...