Photo diary of Cataluña

Being back in London after travelling extensively in June and July,  I am beginning to miss travel sooner than I thought I would. Maybe cold rainy weather in the UK at the moment are making me feel nostalgic. Maybe it is thinking about all the fun I had while travelling this summer and wanting to experience it again. Or maybe it’s just my nature. Most likely, it’s the combination of all three.

My next trip is not until 18th September. There are plenty of things to enjoy in London in the meantime. Plus, a break from travelling gives me the time I need to write about my experiences and relive them again.

I will start with Cataluña in Spain. I had a magical holiday break there last month. Unexpectedly magical, given the fact that I have been a frequent visitor to this part of Spain for the past 12 years…

tarragona

We started our trip in Southern Cataluña in the Tarragona region. A small town called Cambrils has been my family’s holiday destination for years. Not many people know about it and that’s part of the appeal for me. Cambrils is a former fishermen’s village that grew into a bigger town. Main attractions for me include: numerous stylish restaurants serving delicious regional food, including an elegant Michelin star restaurant Can Bosch, a beautiful marina, several beaches with a wide strip of golden sand and stylish boutiques. Not a beach resort in sight.

If you are in the region, I highly recommend a trip to Tarragona. It is an old Roman city with a lot of Roman architecture to enjoy if you are a history lover. When it’s hot, you can seek shade in the narrow streets of the old city centre while popping into small cafes for coffee or tapas. The views and colours are breathtaking.

tarragona

Our next destination was Northern Cataluña, a picturesque part of the country close to the French border. calellapalafrugell

Calella de Palafrugell was our first stop on this leg of the journey. Tucked between the hills, this beautiful tiny seaside town has numerous pebble beaches, white washed houses and cozy outdoor restaurants. Our hotel room with a sea front view was simply perfect. This idyllic town infused me with inspiration and joy. I had forgotten what it felt like to discover a new place and do absolutely nothing (not even sightseeing), but have fun, luckily, a few days in Calella helped me to reconnect with fun.

With very fond memories, we left Calella to visit our next destination – romantic Cadaques.  This beautiful town is famous for being Salvador Dali’s summer home and his house is now a popular museum (that needs to be booked in advance during the busy summer period). Cadaques is stunning. There is something about it, perhaps its old charm of an early 20th century resort town, or perhaps its geographic location behind mountains on a dramatic coastline that draws you in immediately. Our hotel was in a quiet part of town overlooking the mountains. Smell of lavender and aromatic flowers made me want to come back for a longer stay. My most memorable part of the Cadaques stay is an exquisite meal at La Sirena, a small local restaurant, hidden in the small streets of old town – enjoying a typical local dish called Zarzuela (fish stew). It’s a must if you are in there area.

For me, gastronomy is one of Cataluña’s main attractions. Other delicious local dishes to try include: fedaua with seafood (vermicelli paella), chipirones (fried baby squid), pulpo (octopus) in all forms, sea salt baked fish. Fresh fruit, exquisite local vines (we particularly liked the Priorat region wines) and my favourite way to enjoy coffee – cafe cortado (espresso with a bit of milk) are all reasons why I love Spain so much.

Cafe cortado
Cafe cortado
Zarzuela
Seafood Zarzuela at La Sirena
Seafood
Seafood

Our final destination was one of my favourite cities in the world, Barcelona. Each time I come here, I cannot get enough of its relaxed vibe, beautiful architecture and amazing yet seemingly effortless stylishness in everything. Our hotel, H10 Art Gallery, with art-inspired decor and a rooftop pool in Eixample was a perfect base to enjoy the city from. The street we were on, Career d’Enric Granados, had numerous stylish cafes and restaurants within minutes.

If you want to try something less traditional, you may like Imprevist, a restaurant in Raval we discovered on our first night. A relaxed local vibe coupled with an interesting menu made up of experimental versions of Catalan dishes make it a good choice if you want a quiet night out. Deserts are particularly experimental.

For a lively night out head to El Born in the old town next to Ciutadella Park. Here you will find numerous bars, restaurants and tapas bars with stylish design, delicious food and great atmosphere. You can have picnic in the park during the day or go to Barceloneta beach.

Barcelona has something for everyone – whether you like modern or traditional, quiet or buzzy, beach or history. These pictures show the Barcelona I love. Have you been to this beautiful city? What do you enjoy doing, seeing, experiencing there?

Life lessons from a year of blogging

I received a happy one year anniversary message from WordPress today. Love Your Style is one year old. Compared to some of the more established blogs out there, this is not significant, but to me this is a big milestone. I heard many people, bloggers to be precise, say that blogging changes your life. It is true. Blogging slowly changed my life. It became my creative outlet, something I have allowed myself to do out of inspiration, rather than forced myself to write because I had to. It started as a project without specific targets and it has evolved together with me. Love Your Style has been my way of exploring what inspires and motivates me. It started off as something I did for fun, for myself and for the sake of expressing creativity, not impressing others, achieving something or receiving recognition. This was really liberating. Eventually, the blog has started to serve as a platform for sharing my views, life lessons and expertise and connecting with people long before I decided what I want to do as an entrepreneur.

A year later, after experimenting and exploring, my vision for the blog is much clearer. Love Your Style is a place where I will continue to share my inspiration, style ideas and travel stories and photography (“A picture is worth a thousand words”).  My professional website and blog www.nataliashpek.com, a resource for women in business, who desire to define success on their own term, will feature posts on how to present yourself with confidence and style, become more visible as a woman in business and work (and live!) in a way that inspires you. You can sign up for weekly newsletter here.

My intention for Love Your Style for the coming year is to bring more fun and inspiration into your lives. Next several posts will feature photos and stories from my summer travel destinations, some of them familiar, some quite unexpected (at least for me) and summer outfit ideas. There will be an occasional life lesson post – I can’t help it, I am a lifelong learner – but in general expect more photographs, stylish destinations, outfit ideas, lifestyle inspiration and who knows what else as the blog continues to evolve in its second year.  I would love to hear from you: what would you like to see/read about here?

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Back to the fact that the blog has changed my life. I would like to share the lessons I learned from blogging over the past year that have created big shifts in my life:

1. Being creative, whether it’s taking piano lessons or doing an occasional life drawing class, or blogging, makes life more enjoyable, less stressful and can be a very healing experience. What is your preferred form of creative expression? Please share below.

2. Perfectionism is not a strength to brag about in job interviews, it is, in most cases, an avoidance strategy. The best way to deal with this state of fear (this is essentially what perfectionism is, as it turns out) that I have discovered so far is to be creative for the sake of enjoying, not thinking about the end result.

3. Sharing myself openly and allowing myself to be vulnerable is one of the scariest things I have done. Once I did it, it was incredibly liberating. The best way to get through the fear of sharing yourself for me is to focus on the intention of helping or inspiring at least one person.

4. One person telling you they love what create/write/photograph or that they are inspired by what you share is enough.

5. You don’t have to have it all figured out before starting something, a blog, a project, a job. Just know what your next step is and trust. Exploring is often the best thing we can do for ourselves in our achievement and target-oriented culture.

I would love to hear from you. What would you like to see more of on Love Your Style?

Gratitude list

This week has been a bit of a roller-coaster for me: from unexpected issues coming up requiring urgent solutions in my business, to last minute schedule changes to complete emotional vulnerability that I was unable to control. Without noticing, I allowed my energy to shift from lightness to heaviness, from enjoyment and inspiration to burden and overwhelm. By the second half of the week, I reached a point where I could no longer continue to try and resolve the issues that kept coming up because it seemed that the more issues I resolved, the more kept coming back.

I decided to try out a new solution that so far has worked like magic. It’s called surrender. I let go of all control, accepted where I am and surrendered completely. Instead of thinking about my problems and how to resolve them, I decided to focus on what I love about my life right now and what I am grateful for. One thing I realised is that it really does not matter if we are living the life of our dreams on the outside, if we are not able to love and enjoy it on the inside. The quickest way to shift this internal state to allow ourselves to enjoy our life is gratitude.

So here is my gratitude list:

  1. It’s summer – my favourite season – and the weather has been glorious (which is not a given in England)!summerinlondon.jpg
  2. I love waking up and seeing sunlight in my flat. I love how easy and effortless waking up in summer is.
  3. I so appreciate that I can sit on my balcony every morning while I have breakfast or journal to the sound of singing birds and soothed by calming fragrance of my lavender plant.lavender.jpg
  4. I love flowers. I love the variety we are spoilt with in summer and I love that they are everywhere and they smell so delicious.summerflowers.jpg
  5. I love summer style. It appears that there is a real awakening of visibility and femininity in summer as women put on gorgeous outfits.
  6. I adore summer wear and how easy and quick getting ready in the morning is. And I love that bright colours look very appropriate right now.summerdress.jpg
  7. I love sitting in cafes outside and do my work or simply watch the world go by.cafe.jpg
  8. I am so grateful that I have the freedom to work from wherever I want and be in charge of my schedule.
  9. I appreciate meeting so many inspiring women recently. It is one of the best things my self-employment gives me.meeting.jpg
  10. I feel deep gratitude for all the love and support I am receiving from my loved ones, my family and friends. They add magic to my life.

What are you loving about your life right now? It can be anything big or small. I would love to hear from you in the comments area below.

Oh and I forgot to mention, the so-called problems have now resolved themselves…

What does fun have to do with success?

Recently, I have heard several people say that starting your own business is the best personal development course. Being in the middle of launching my business, I could not agree more.  First weeks of working on my own were like nothing I had experienced before: full of excitement, ideas, learning opportunities and overwhelm that didn’t even feel like overwhelm. After a couple of weeks of working morning to night with little time for exercise, lunch and dinner breaks, let alone me time, I realised I was walking down a path that was taking me further away from an inspired lifestyle I committed to creating by leaving my job and setting up on my own. My first big business lesson was that working hard and working overtime does not serve me. I am sure you will agree that overworking makes us tired, less productive, less creative and sends us into stress response state (happened to me all the time in my first couple of weeks of my business launch), which is the opposite of strategic visionary state I would like to be in when I work. I was not able to learn this important lesson during my 10 years of employment in various corporate position. But better late than never, right?

Today, I schedule play dates in my work diary, no matter how much work I have. Today, I feel play time is as important a commitment in my business schedule as, say, doing my accounts.

Listening to the inspiring Arianna Huffington at an event organised by the School of Life a couple of weeks ago, I walked away with a sense of hope and optimism. I must be doing something right if a very successful women, one of the top 100 most influential people in the world, according to Time magazine, lives by the same rules.

The stylish and inspiring Arianna Huffington
The stylish and inspiring Arianna Huffington

Arianna encouraged us to create our own definition of success, which is not measured only by how much money or how much power we have, but also by how much we thrive in life. In conversation with other attendees, I came up with my own definition of success. For me a successful day has nothing to do with how much time I spend working or how many tasks I tick off my list, a successful day for me is measured by how fulfilled and inspired I felt and how much pleasure I experienced. When I look back at the past month I can see that completing a lot of tasks in one day is extremely satisfying, but collapsing tired on my bed with no other memories but those of hard work at my desk is not. It’s the balance of achievements in work and pleasure that creates fulfilment and happiness daily. Plus, I don’t know about you, but for me, my best ideas, creative visions and inspiration come during the time of fun or relaxation, not when I am crunched over my laptop at my desk.

So if you need any more reasons to take play seriously and the fact that it makes you feel great is not enough, think about how much better the quality of your work will be when you are inspired, re-energised and connected to your creativity. Then think about how being in this state can affect your daily life and positively impact relationships, lifestyle.

I hear you… You are asking how can you have more play time if you are so busy all the time! My answer is: one step at a time.

1. Choose one thing (or more) you want to enjoy at the beginning of each day

A woman I met in California recently came up with a beautiful and inspiring way to infuse more pleasure into her daily life. Every day she creates lists of activities, things and experiences she wants to enjoy that day, similar to a classic to-do list only full of fun and beautiful activities, such as slowly enjoying a strawberry or sketching or sitting outside in the grass, and there is no obligation to tick them all off. A beautiful idea, isn’t it?

Decide what it is that you want to enjoy at the beginning of your day before getting into your ‘work’ mode (instead of reaching for your phone). When you know what you want to enjoy you are much more likely to do it.

I wanted to enjoy being surrounded by beauty so I took myself out to lunch to a stylish place
I wanted to enjoy being surrounded by beauty so I took myself out to lunch to a stylish place yesterday

2. Have an play date with yourself once a week

If you want to go one step further, consider having a play date in your diary weekly, or,  as creativity guru Julia Cameron calls them, Artist Dates. Her only rules are that you have to be by yourself and that it has to be fun. Surely, everyone has an hour per week in their diary for some fun.

3. Keep a play journal

As grown ups we are so far removed from the state of play for the sake of fun that at first it may be difficult to come up with ideas for your play dates and you may be tempted to reach for TV remote instead. Try keeping a play journal. You can make your first play date out of it: go to a stationary shop and choose a stylish notebook that will inspire you to be creative and playful, buy some coloured pens or whatever inspires you and sit in a beautiful space brainstorming ideas for your future play dates. This way if you are stuck for ideas, you can always consult your play journal. You can cut out inspiring pictures from magazines and include these in your journal too.

4. Have a “me day” 

This sounds like an ultimate luxury, doesn’t it? I know women, very successful business owners, who dedicate one day every week to fun activities. This may be difficult for play beginners. I am not fully there yet myself, but it is my aspiration to structure my work in a way that allows me to have a “me day” most weeks for fun, play and pampering. This for me is an essential part of success and inspired lifestyle. Of course not everyone has the opportunity to take an entire day off just for themselves every week. Before you tell me that this is absolutely impossible, given all the commitments in your life, I will quote Arianna Huffington: “We have to let go of something every day”. What are you willing to let go of today to have more time for fun and pleasure in your life?

Recommended reading: “Thrive” by Arianna Huffington

Here are examples of my recent play dates and fun activities.

Please share your ideas on how to infuse pleasure into our lives and make it a non-negotiable part of the schedule.

Ready to re-define success on your terms and add more pleasure and style to your life? Book a discovery session with me here.

 

How to stand out elegantly and confidently

Just over two weeks ago I was packing my bag for a short weekend break in Lviv, Ukraine. It was late, I was tired and the weather forecast wasn’t inspiring, so I just picked some random pieces, making sure they are warm enough for cold nights I was going to spend outdoors at international jazz festival Alfa Jazz Fest, and zipped my suitcase. I didn’t think more of it. I was going to a music festival, not some glamorous party. Only I forgot that in Eastern Europe any social occasion is a glamorous party. Feeling somewhat unglamorous in my smart casual outfits, I was ready to go into my judgement mode, which happens very often when I travel to my home country. And by that I mean make comments about how tasteless the society is with their love of extreme glamour and desire to show off everything they have in one outfit. Only this time, something was different: I didn’t feel like judging. I simply wanted to observe with an open mind. Women of all shapes and sizes chose very different outfits – from dresses to jeans with blouses and stilettos – and wore them confidently. It would be very difficult to stand out in that crowd – almost everybody stood out in their own way. I quickly realised that, with some exceptions, I was among a tastefully stylish crowd. Still, it would have been easy to find women dressed in a stereotypical over the top manner – you always find what you are tuned in to see. This time, instead of focussing on the few women that stood out for wrong reasons, I decided to learn from being among all these beautiful and very visible women, all judgements against the way the society operates and chauvinism aside.

At the after party
At the after party

What I took away from my weekend in Lviv is something I would like to invite women across many countries to consider.

1. Eastern European women are not afraid to be visible

They wear brighter colours, trendy outfits, fitted clothes. They are not afraid of being feminine and being noticed by others. They accept their beauty and show it off instead of hiding it. But looking your best is not so much about attention seeking (contrary to what some may think), it is a mindset.

When we change our mindset, we are able to see that there is nothing wrong with allowing ourselves to be noticed for the right reasons.

2. Looking stylish and feminine does not mean you are not intelligent 

At the jazz festival, I met female bankers, economists and high profile advisers, all of whom wore gorgeous feminine outfits. They didn’t seem to worry people would not take them seriously or perceive them as less intelligent if they show off their femininity and beauty in a stylish way.

How often are we muting ourselves or dimming our beauty just because we are afraid we won’t be taken seriously? It is possible to be both – beautiful and intelligent.

A beautiful friend of family in Ulyana Sergeyenko dress
Beautiful Lyudmila (a bank manager) in Ulyana Sergeyenko dress

3. They receive compliments gracefully

These women attract many compliments because they own their beauty and don’t shy away when someone notices it. They accept compliments with ease and grace, projecting natural confidence. This confidence and relaxed attitude helps conversations flow more easily and deepens connections.

4. Looking after yourself is a non-negotiable

Having lived for the past 14 years in Western Europe, I forgot that making a lot (by European standards) of effort is seen as entirely normal in Eastern Europe. A woman there would’t think twice about booking her weekly beauty appointment, nor would she show up anywhere with unmanicured nails or messy hair. My mother books my manicure and pedicure appointments even before I arrive in the country.

When we as women make self-care a non-negotiable, we show to ourselves (and to others) that we value ourselves.

Upon my return I decided to apply these lessons in my every day life. Last weekend, I had a lot of fun dressing up more than I would normally and felt amazing. Getting ready for a women’s networking meeting I felt inspired to wear some old pieces in an entirely new way and wore my “dressy” shoes instead of trying to blend in. I met incredible women who wanted to talk to me simply because they liked my outfit. This week instead of wearing a casual outfit, I wore my vintage dress to have dinner with girlfriends, inviting compliments comparing me to Audrey Hepburn. I accepted with grace. For my bank meeting this week I dressed on brand (stay tuned for my new brand and website reveal soon!) in a stylish dress and blazer and made a real effort with my hair and make up. The meeting went really well, I felt confident and in the flow at all times even when a bank manager asked me difficult (very masculine) questions about my new business.

These experiences helped me to realise that making an effort and looking stylish on whatever occasion I feel called to is not shallow or self-indulgent. It gives me energy, creates new exciting opportunities, enables me to feel confident in a relaxed way and shows that I am worthy, worthy of making an effort for, worthy of being seen and being listened to.

 

Ready to embody confidence, be seen and be heard as a woman in business? I invite you to book a complimentary discovery session with me here.