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?
If you read my previous blog posts this year you will know that I have recently come back from a two-week holiday in Mexico. There are many opinions out there about Mexico, some are exaggerated, some are true. I can honestly say that I tried to go there with an open mind, but of course I still had certain expectations and hopes. Mexico exceeded all my expectation. My experience of this wonderful country was so vibrant that I promised myself to go back while I was still there. These are my top 5 reasons for visiting or re-visiting Mexico.
From green, coral, red and bright blue colonial buildings to vibrant trajineras in Mexico City’s Xochimilc, to red blossom of tropical trees, to perfectly turquoise colour of the sea in Yucatan – Mexico is one of the most vibrant and colourful countries I have ever visited. For anyone who craves colour, especially after a dark and grey winter season, I could not recommend a more exciting place.
Mexico City old town
The most incredible colour of the sea in Tulum
Oaxaca – the most vibrant colonial architecture I have ever come accross
The Frida Khalo House
On a trajinera
Taking a boat (trajinera) ride in Xochimilco in the South of Mexico City
Even skulls are colourful
San Angel market – a must visit on weekend
Mexico is famous around the world for its cuisine. Having been to many Mexican restaurants in Europe (and some in New York), I was excited to discover that real Mexican cuisine offers so much more that burritos, fajitas and guacamole (although I love guacamole and could not have enough of it). Bring your appetite, get ready to savour and enjoy. If you ever feel that rich Mexican cuisine is too much, there is no lack of restaurants serving European and Asian cuisine.
Delisiousness made of cheese and plantain, Corazón de Maguey, Coyocan, Mexico City
Freshly made salsa
Tacos Dorados De Jamaica
international cuisine at stylish Alekzander, Roma, Mexico City
Chili pepper stuffed with prawns with mango sauce, la Cueva del Chango, Playa del Carmen
Chocolate caliente – traditional drink
Butternut squash soup at gorgeous Novecento in Polanco, Mexico City
Fresh tuna in Playa del Carme
Breakfast at La Casa de Azulejos, Mexico City
People rarely talk about Mexico in the context of style. It is very famous for being a stylish destination. If you think Mexico is only pyramids, mariachi music and big seaside resorts, be prepared to be surprised. Mexico City in particular is a stylish destination, with its trendy Roma and Condesa areas that have a very bohemian vibe and a unique mix of European influence and traditional Mexican heritage. Think fusion food, bars and cafes, stunning decors, stylish people. Playa del Carmen in Yucatan. the Ibiza of Mexico, has a unique style too.
Chairs at our Hotel Cortes in Mexico City
Combining the old with the new in an inspiring way, Cabrery 7, Roma
Beautiful Chapultepec Castle, very stylish floors…
Stylish Alekzander in Roma, Mexico City
Chill out area in our hotel, Quilnto Sol
Beach bed, Tulum. Gave me a major lifestyle inspiration
Terrace at Quinto Sol hotel in Playa del Carmen
Traditional can be stylish too
Turquoise is one of my favourite colours
Mountains, valleys, deserts, forests, coast – Mexico is a country of striking diversity when it comes to landscapes. Even if you are not into nature (like I claim I am not…), it is impossible to remain indifferent to these breathtaking views.
5. Fascinating history
Pre-Hispanic historical heritage in Mexico is simply impressive. It is hard to imagine how its ancient people built pyramids thousands of years ago without any of the technology that we have today. Equally impressive is its colonial architecture. The combination of both is what makes Mexico what it is.
Religious symbols, particularly La Virgen, is part of everyday life
Pre-hispanic influences in art and crafts
Tulum Mayan ruins
Teotihuacan with its impressive pyramids dating back nearly 2000 years
Casa del azulejos, Mexico City
Romantic colonial style in Oaxaca
Hotel Cortes in a colonial building kept many of each original features
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.
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.
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.
Eating delicious local food felt like the biggest luxury when I recovered from my short illness.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.