Category Archives: Travel

How letting go of perfectionism rescued my holiday

For many years I had a dream to visit Mexico. Bright colours, incredible landscapes, amazing cuisine, music, people, rich history and culture where colonial and ancient indigenous styles and traditions are mixed in a unique way have all been calling me. So when a last minute opportunity showed up in late November to visit Mexico after Christmas, I had to take it and make it happen despite the tight timing and lack of time to plan the trip properly.

After a busy and stressful December in London and Christmas in Canada (where I witnessed one of the worst ice storms in recent years) I finally arrived in Mexico ready to relax in beautiful hotels, eat amazing food, soak up the sun and all the beauty around me to get inspired for the new year. My expectations were sky high. After all, I was finally on my dream holiday.

Mexico certainly lived up to the beautiful vision I had in my mind. It was what I expected and so much more. I was overwhelmed by my experiences in the first few days. From day one in Mexico City, where I started my trip, all my sense were constantly engaged. I was surrounded by the brightest and boldest colour combinations in the streets, in architecture, in restaurants, while enjoying delicious, spicy, rich food and hearing local music everywhere  I went. And if that wasn’t enough, the the sight of beautiful mountains that surround Mexico City took my breath away each time I looked at them.

MexicoCity.jpg

But less than a week into my Mexico trip I caught myself thinking that this holiday was not looking quite like the image of perfection from Conde Nast Traveller magazine I had in mind. I began to allow myself to get annoyed by small things, such as difference in the level of service, loud music in the hotel and lack of wholewheat bread at breakfast. Later things got even more challenging: boyfriend caught a cold, then it was my turn to get sick with stomach bug, one day we got stuck in an airport for the entire day when our internal flight was delayed for 6 hours and when we finally got to the beach it was raining, a lot, and one of the hotels we stayed in gave us their worst room, well below our expectations. Even though this was only for one night, it felt like the last straw.

I was not prepared for this. My expectations for a dream holiday did not include this scenario. Why me?! Why did the universe decide to spoil my dream trip? Couldn’t at least the weather be sunny if I had to be sick on this trip?

What I did not see at that moment was that the pressure and huge expectations I was putting on myself were ruining my travel experience. The problem wasn’t the weather, the food or different service, it was my perfectionism and that by choosing to focus on the negative I was allowing myself to slip into the victim mode.

The minute I realised this I decided to drop the expectations I was carrying all this time (it felt very liberating) and let go of the need to have perfection in everything. And then I was able to really enjoy my holiday again.

Why? Because when we stop obsessing about things being perfect, we are able to become present and enjoy the beauty around us. “Getting out of my head” allowed me to engage with my senses and discover new ways to enjoy my travel experience.

I enjoyed noticing every small detail in my new surroundings and allow myself to be inspired by what I saw: new colour combination, interior design and style ideas, food and drink presentation.

quintosol.jpg

If the weather was not warm enough for sunbathing, we went on walks on the beach or one day simply relaxed in beautiful hammock on the beach while meditating to the sound of the waves.

tulum.jpg

Eating delicious local food felt like the biggest luxury when I recovered from my short illness.

tulum.jpg

Having deeper conversations and getting to know people I was lucky to spend time with on this trip was one of the best things about it.

My lovely friend Paola, who helped to make this trip more fun than I could even expect
My lovely friend Paola, who helped to make this trip more fun than I could ever imagine

These and many other beautiful moment made my holiday. The less lovely moment helped me to learn important lessons.

If you ever find yourself on a holiday (or any other situation) when things are going wrong all the time, here is what I suggest.

  1. See if you can change the way you see the situation. By focusing on the negative we attract more of these experiences. Try focusing on the positive instead.
  2. Do you have unrealistic expectations of yourself, your holiday, your partner, the situation? Let go of these expectations and perfectionist ideas. You will feel much lighter and will open yourself to new experiences.
  3. Practice becoming fully present. I know this sounds very new-age, but it works. We can only experience enjoyment here and now, when our different senses are engaged. You may be surprised how many things there are to enjoy in the present moment.

And one final thought. One day, when it was particularly cold and windy, I was watching children on the beach. Seeing how much fun they are having, rain or sunshine, made me a little envious. We, adults often require certain conditions and circumstances to be “right” to be able to have fun. Maybe instead of unrealistic new year’s resolutions aiming to make us and our lifestyles more perfect we could commit to having more unconditional fun in our life and being truly present?

Beautiful lifestyle does not begin with media-defined luxury, it begins with being present, noticing the beauty around us and having fun unconditionally.

Advertisements

The photo guide to the Basque Coutry

The most frequent question I am asked is recently is: “Where are you travelling these days?”. But at the moment, I am not travelling because it so happens that several of my closest friends decided to visit London at the same time and I have the pleasure of hosting them here. While I am enjoying spending time in London with my wonderful friends, a little part of me is missing travel.

As I go out for Spanish food third time in the past four days, I can’t help thinking it may be time to go for a weekend break in Spain. My last trip to Spain was in summer (seems like a very long time ago), when I visited the Basque Country, but for some reason I only got round to organisimg my photos from this trip last weekend. This brought back a lot of beautiful and tasty memories. I decided to share these on my blog.

For those who don’t know it, the Basque Country is very different to the rest of Spain. To begin with, the climate reminds me of mild, foggy and ever changing British weather, even in summer. The language is very different too; although Spanish is widely spoken, the official Basque language has no resemblance to Spanish.

While sunny weather may not be the main reason to go to the Basque Country, there are many other reasons to visit this part of Spain. And the good thing is the Basque Country has a lot to offer all year round.

Art and architecture is definitely one reason to visit the region. You will have heard about the Guggenheim in Bilbao. This should be enough to convince anyone the city is worth of a visit. But Bilbao also has many other beautiful examples of modern architecture – I particularly like the bridges that connect the city’s two parts, divided by the river. Bilbao has an equally impressive old town. It is a city with a lot of character and a great architectural variety.

For those who prefer art nouvea architecture, I definitely recommend San Sebastian, a nearby seaside resort town, perhaps the Basque Country’s most famous attraction. I had fallen in love with this town even before I visited it for the first time after reading Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises”. This book was recommended to me by my friend Ashlea before our first trip to San Sebastian many year ago. It beautifully captures the town’s 1920s atmosphere – one of my favorite periods in history.

But the main reason to visit this part of the world is food, in my opinion. And I am not alone in thinking this; many claim the Basque cuisine is one of the best in Europe. The region is known for one of the highest concentrations of Michelin-star restaurants per person in Europe. From traditional pintxos (Basque version of tapas) to experimental dining – the Basque Country is a gastronomic paradise.

Visitors and locals are spoilt for choice. Practically everywhere you will find tasty local food. The biggest challenge is making a choice. I think a good place to start is to decide whether you want traditional food or nouvelle cuisine. It is worth noting that the Basques eat later than many other European countries; you are unlikely to find a restaurant that is even open between 3pm and 8pm.

San Sebastian

San Sebastian has a certain elegance to it but the vibe is fun and relaxed. I love taking a walk along the sea during the day, especially on Paseo Nuevo, and walking around the old town, going in and out of pintxos bars, at night. Here I captured some of my favorite places in San Sebastian.

Bilbao

Bilbao has an equally impressive food scene. It is a bigger city, distances are longer and people look busier, but there is still a friendly vibe to it despite the industrial exterior. There is an ample choice of stylishly designed restaurants serving new Basque cuisine.

Memories from Paris

Spending the afternoon with my close friends yesterday, while enjoying sunny weather (a rare occasion in London at the end of October) and eating delicious food, slowly (previously unthinkable on a weekday), I realised how happy I was at that moment and how much I like my lifestyle. This made me think about the same time last year and how different I felt then – stuck, uninspired, unhappy with my lifestyle. Something had to change but I did not know where to begin. Luckily, the right opportunities come at the right time. I invested in a private coaching session and booked a ticket to Paris, my ultimate lifestyle inspiration destination. Despite that familiar voice of fear persistently saying this was ‘not sensible’ and going alone would make me sad and even less happy, I decided to take the risk.

I know this may sound a bit dramatic – going away by yourself for 3 days in Europe is not a big deal, when many people travel solo for months to remote parts of the world. But travelling alone,  even for 3 days,  seemed big at the time. After my more adventurous students years I got less comfortable with the idea of travelling solo, always preferring the safety of someone’s company. My main worry was how I was going to eat out by myself all weekend! I felt uncomfortable and self-conscious even imagining myself alone in a Paris restaurant.

But it was this step – pushing myself out of my comfort zone – that helped me to move from a (mental and emotional) place where I felt stuck. And I loved every minute of my trip.

IMG_1805

Recent conversations with a number of my friends who feel stuck one way or another prompted me to share my experience.

If you are looking for inspiration to create change in your life, whether it is in your daily lifestyle, career, relationship or personal style, and don’t know where to begin I really recommend booking yourself on a trip to your dream destination, even for a couple of days.

1. Why travel?

I truly believe that it is difficult to see the big picture when we are in our usual environment. Travelling (the actual going away) helps us to distance ourselves from our problem or situation and see it in a different way.

2. Going alone has its benefits.

Going by myself allowed me to do what I love without having to compromise. As I already explained, it meant I had to move out of my comfort zone, and this is the place from which we are capable to change something. We are also more open to opportunities, conversations and meeting people when we are alone.

3. Gift yourself the experiences that light you up. It is the fun and enjoyment that will shift your thinking and move you out of a place of stagnation, not actually sitting and doing the thinking.

For me these activities included exploring new areas of Paris, shopping, eating in local restaurants and cafes and connecting with people. I loved walking in streets of Paris by myself, enjoying the beauty of the city, taking photos, discovering new areas, popping into art galleries and cafes for inspiration without any rush. This really helped me to re-connect with my creativity.

IMG_1857

IMG_1871

IMG_1829

4. Try a new style

As a woman who loves fashion and style how could I not shop in Paris?? What I wear is a very important element of my lifestyle. Seeing myself in a new outfit that reflects my lifestyle aspirations helps me to first visualise and then create a new lifestyle. Shopping in stylish Parisian boutiques gave me more lifestyle inspiration than sitting at home thinking for hours about how to change what was not working in my life.

Even a year later, these lovely pieces help me to get into that chic Parisian mode each time I put them on.

5. Connect with people

In Paris, I wanted to eat delicious food and meet new people so I signed up for a private supper club called New Friends Table, hosted at a Parisian home. This experience completely exceeded all my expectations. Even though I was a little shy and self-conscious about the idea of going to a dinner party with strangers by myself, the promise of exquisite food in a real Parisian flat got me more excited that I had been for a long time. It had always been my dream to see the inside of a Parisian flat where real Parisians live. The food indeed was exquisite, the hosts very welcoming, the setting was very stylish, the company was brilliant and we had a truly engaging conversation around the table that only strangers can have, not being limited by the boundaries of common memories of the past or gossip about common friends. This evening was an incredible experience. Meeting people who follow their passions was most inspiring.

These are some of the many delicious dishes we were served at the New Friends Table
These are some of the many delicious dishes we were served at the New Friends Table
Good food, great wine to match every dish and wonderful company inside a beautiful French flat
Good food, great wine to match every dish and wonderful company inside a beautiful French flat

Surrounded by the beauty of the city and its inspiring people, I, without realising it right away, got what was missing – my ability to dream big again and see the lifestyle I desired. Knowing what our desires are is a first step in creating the life we want. Getting out of my comfort zone inspired my to do what I love more, even if it seems uncomfortable at first – travel by myself, host my own dinner parties, go to fun events alone and connect with more people.

If you are looking for lifestyle inspiration, style or travel idea, feel free to get in touch with me here.

Style lessons from Rome

Last weekend I was lucky to spend time in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, the eternal city, also known as Rome. What a beautiful experience it was: the views were breathtaking, the food was delicious, the people were lovely, there was an abundance of style and aesthetic inspiration everywhere.

20131009-163342.jpg

But the most inspiring thing of all to me is the local lifestyle, la dolce vita. For anyone who wishes to reconnect with pleasure and enjoyment, a trip to Rome is a must. Coming from busy London, here I managed to completely slow down and savour the flavours, smells and views that this beautiful city has to offer. Sitting in cafes, sipping delicious Italian coffee, I spent the entire afternoon enjoying one of my favourite activities – people-watching.20131009-163325.jpg

And this is what I learned from observing the locals.

Style is important, even off-duty

The famous Italian sense of style is not a myth, people in the streets of Rome look stylish, yet comfortable. What you will not find here so much is the extremely polished glamorous style that is typical for Milan. The style in Rome is a lot more relaxed and casual. But going for casual and comfortable clothes  does not mean compromising on style or neglecting your appearance.

Here are some examples from the street of Rome showing how to do casual weekend wear stylishly and in a feminine way. Think asymmetric necklines, ankle boots, leather jackets, soft fabrics, such as jersey and wool, simple dresses with statement accessories and, if nothing else, beautiful handbags. Handbags and shoes make an outfit as Roman women prove.

20131009-163010.jpg

20131009-163031.jpg

20131009-163107.jpg

20131009-163142.jpg

20131009-163154.jpg

20131009-163302.jpg

20131009-163453.jpg

While how you look is important, it is how you feel about yourself that gives you confidence and allure.

Beyond style, I was really impressed with how comfortable women in Rome appear to be with their femininity. They do not hide it, as so many of us often do. Even though I have not met many local women, just by observing them I noticed that they give off a vibe of relaxed confidence and allure that can only be present when a woman enjoys her femininity and her style.

This made me think about what can women (myself included), who do not live in the environment where la dolce vita is a standard way of living, do to get into that vibe?

These are the ideas I had in Rome while sitting in one of the piazzas watching the world around me:

  1. Take time to enjoy small things daily. For example, I decided no more drinking coffee from paper cups on the go for me. If I want one, I need to take a break from I am doing at that moment, find a space that inspires me and enjoy my coffee, slowly.
    20131009-195616.jpg
  2. Listen more to your feelings and senses, they are the key to reconnecting with your femininity and radiating confidence and allure. Is there a body cream that makes you feel beautiful? Buy it and apply daily. Does wearing a designer handbag make you feel confident and stylish? Invest in it. If putting red lipstick on makes you feel more feminine, find the right shade and wear it. I am now practicing going with what feels right rather than the ‘sensible’ option.
    redlipstick
  3. Enjoy the way you look, enjoy your style. Take the time to get to know your body and learn to love it from inside and outside. Learn what clothes make you look your best, your most confident and radiant and say no outfits that don’t fit or don’t make you feel great.

    Enjoying dressing up in Rome
    Me, enjoying dressing up in Rome

If you wish to discover how to enjoy your style and how to look and feel beautiful and confident, book a free 30 minute discovery session with me.

Exploring fashion and design in Antwerp

For a small historic European city with medieval architecture Antwerp is surprisingly cool and avant-garde. Belgium’s second largest city and Europe’s second largest port, Antwerp is rightfully referred to as the fashion capital ever since the 1980s when it was put on the international fashion map by the “Antwerp Six”, six Belgian fashion designers – Ann Demeulemeester, Dries Van Noten, Marina Yee, Dirk Bikkembergs, Walter Van Beirendonck and Dirk Van Saene – who graduated from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and shook the fashion world with their avant-garde designs. Today, the Royal Academy in Antwerp is one of the best in the world. And this, in my opinion, has a major impact on this small city and its eclectic style.

I discovered Antwerp in 2000 when I moved to Belgium. One thing I immediately noticed was Antwerp’s very distinct character and attitude that makes it stand out among all other Belgian cities in term of atmosphere and style. Antwerp’s style is bolder, brighter, edgier. For years, I have been visiting Antwerp like a local. First, when I lived in Brussels, I went there for shopping or clubbing, two things Antwerp is known for in Belgium. Then, after I moved to London, I came back regularly to visit friends. But during these visits I rarely took the time to explore the city, as it often happens with cities we know, preferring house parties and dinners to discovering new places. So this year I decided to see this beautiful and vibrant city as a first time visitor.

There are many reasons to visit Antwerp: classical Flemish art, beautiful architecture – from medieval to baroque to art deco and modern – vibrant café culture and nightlife, delicious food, chocolate and, for some, hundreds of varieties of Belgian beer.

I went to Antwerp several weeks ago intending to explore its unique fashion and design scene and get fresh style ideas. By “fashion scene” I don’t mean high street shopping; Belgian fashion often resembles creations of art and shopping is similar to walking into art galleries.

My Antwerp shopping experience definitely felt more like a gallery crawl. Most of the fashion scene is clustered in and around Nationalestraat, where Dries Van Noten’s Het Modepaleis (Nationalestraat 16) is located. His beautifully designed hand finished pieces decorated with feathers and embroidery gave me an impression I was in a Belle Époque period shop.

Modepaleis
Het Modepaleis
Dries Van Noten's embellished pieces
Dries Van Noten’s embellished pieces

Ann Demeulemeester’s shop is a dramatic space in monochrome colours with an occasional splash of colour breaking into the black and while palette from one of the clothes rails – a completely different feel to van Noten’s boutique.

Ann Demeulemeester's creations
Ann Demeulemeester’s creations
Leather necklace
Leather necklace

Anwerp has several very interesting concept stores. I came across one of them – Seven Rooms – completely by accident. Bright and spacious, this is the space where I could easily spend an afternoon looking through carefully selected pieces by international fashion designers, beautiful furniture, and even food and wine.

Furniture pieces at
Furniture pieces at Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms
Seven Rooms

Another beautiful concept store worth a visit is 13 GraanMarkt. It also has a lovely restaurant inside.

If you are planning to visit Antwerp I highly recommend going to these shops, if only to look at design and fashion as creation of art. If your budget does not allow you to buy avant-garde creations of the famous Belgian designers, but you are keen to add a bit of Antwerp style to your wardrobe, try these shops.

Essentiel, Antwerp fashion brand that for me really reflects the city’s bold, colourful, sometimes edgy style.

Bright accessories at Essentiel
Bright accessories at Essentiel

Jutka and Riska, a boutique in trendy South part of Antwerp selling a mix of vintage, own design by the shop owners and creations by young designers along with accessories and occasional interior design pieces.

On Lombardenvest (one of the streets off Nationalestraat) you will find a good selection of European labels, such as A.P.C., Les petites…, Fillipa K, Acne, Maison Sctoch.

Taking a break from shopping (or visiting design spaces as I call it) is easy with a vast choice of cafes in nearly every street.

At night, head to Marnixplaats, a square in trendy Anwerp Zuid (South) area. It has a very lively restaurant and bar scene where stylish locals meet for a bite to eat and drinks.

Sunday, when most shops are closed, is a good day to visit Antwerp’s museum. Recently opened MAS museum in the port area with its own Michelin-starred restaurant is definitely a must-see. Not only is it the largest contemporary art space in the city, but also it has a unique and striking architectural style.

And if you are still in need of fashion and design inspiration, then MoMu, the fashion museum, is the place for you.

Last but not least, I recommend staying at South Side Suite. This tastefully decorated spacious apartment that sleeps up to three people is located in the trendy Zuid area. The location is ideal: it is central enough to explore the city by foot, but far enough from the main tourist attractions to experience a local vibe and enjoy a vibrant food and nightlife scene together with the locals. The hosts, a young Belgian-Brazilian/Angolan couple will pamper you and make you feel at home. I speak from experience, I have stayed with them many times! Book early as it usually gets booked quickly.

20130919-190343.jpg
Enjoying afternoon sun in the trendy Zuid area
Antwerp style - not afraid to stand out with bright colours
Antwerp style – not afraid to stand out with bright colours
Bright accessories...
… and bright accessories
Unusual design
Unusual design
Art deco building
Art deco building
20130919-190404.jpg
Street art