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…
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.
Can Bosch, Michelin star food
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.
Monochrome outfit to avoid colour clashes with the background
Our next destination was Northern Cataluña, a picturesque part of the country close to the French border.
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.
Perfect writing spot
Brightening it up in Spain
Hotel room view
Calella de Palafrugell
On the beach in Cataluña
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.
Clashing prints, inspired by Dali
Hotel Sol Ixent
Hotel Sol Ixent
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.
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?
Beauty of Gaudi’s creations
Lindy Hop on Sundays along with vintage market, Barcelona University
Charm of Barcelona – no two buildings are the same
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?
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?
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:
It’s summer – my favourite season – and the weather has been glorious (which is not a given in England)!
I love waking up and seeing sunlight in my flat. I love how easy and effortless waking up in summer is.
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.
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.
I love summer style. It appears that there is a real awakening of visibility and femininity in summer as women put on gorgeous outfits.
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.
I love sitting in cafes outside and do my work or simply watch the world go by.
I am so grateful that I have the freedom to work from wherever I want and be in charge of my schedule.
I appreciate meeting so many inspiring women recently. It is one of the best things my self-employment gives me.
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…
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.
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.
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?