Tic tac…

My year anniversary in this beautiful city is looming. Yet, I cannot quite believe I am typing those words. I remember setting up this blog from my rainy London office on a gloomy January Tuesday, looking through the window, trying to find a way to escape reality until my dream could actually come true.
Back then, this blog was my escape, my way out and the hope I held onto for a few months.

I have to say, I had expected to feed it a lot more than I have in the past 10 months and I have to apologise for the lack of content, but I guess, life just happened.

Yesterday, for the first time in a while I felt inspired to write again. Now, I’m not sure this is a good thing and I’m not sure why it happened but here I am, typing this post from my new life in Barcelona, on the very first day of summer.

What have I achieved in a year living in Spain? Were my expectations met? Would I do anything differently? What advice could I give YOU if you were reading this and also thinking of making the move? Whether it is here or somewhere else.

Firstly, in the little time I have spent here, I have to say, one common reaction I have seen whether it was inside or outside of Barcelona is the look of surprise and envy on people’s faces when I say ‘I live in Barcelona’.

Ok, perhaps part of their reaction was due to the fact that I look like a right ‘giri’ (a tourist). But I have also realized that most people see Barcelona as a fantasy, you know, a bit like that hot girl they will never be able to pull but they can still try and be friends with her in the hope that someday she may be interested…But really, they know they don’t stand a chance. She’s so untouchable.

I was recently speaking with someone who reminded me of myself a year ago which I guess inspired me to write again in here.

When I started this blog, I didn’t do it in the hope to become an online influencer or even to make money from it, I just wrote those posts as a testimony for one of the most amazing experiences I have done but also and mainly so I could actually inspire and help people.

In fact, I happened to meet a girl in Barcelona – who is now one of my best friends here –  who had read my blog before even meeting me, millennials heh? Yesterday, in the midst of a bit of life crisis, I took a few personality tests to try and figure out if I am in the right job, in the right place, doing the right thing, if I have found my purpose and all that shit…Well, one thing I learnt from those tests is that I am NOT doing on a daily basis what truly makes me happy: helping people.

Long story short, I am back on the blogging scene in the hope that this small contribution to the digital space will help me feel more complete. By the way, if you’re also questioning your life purpose and having a bit of an interior drama situation, I would recommend you check this test out.

As a way of looking back on my time here, I wrote down a short list of things you are very likely to come across if you decide to move here. So here goes:

  • You will be spoken to in English. That is, if like me, you’re blonde and have lighter skin.
  • You will forget about a bank holiday at some point in the year, but that’s ok because if you do, you can just go for a long weekend on the Costa Brava.
  • You will learn to not queue well. Coming from 5 years living the UK, I have developed some serious queuing skills. The way it works here is: the last person who walks into a shop (this works mainly for lunch take away) just asks who’s the last one in the queue.
  • You will need to learn one thing by heart: your DNI/NIE. This is the paper that you will be asked, on some occasions, several times a day and you cannot survive in Spain without it.
  • You will walk close to the buildings. Whether is it the rain or the heat, Barcelona is built to shelter you from it and that’s pretty great!
  • You will drink beer. If you don’t like beer (like me when I moved here), well, I’m sorry to say that, but you’re gonna have to learn to like it because you cannot socially survive if you don’t like cañas (blonde beers).
  • You will order cold or room temperature water. That was funny to me as most restaurants in the UK just serve you fridge temperature water but here you have the option to not freeze your mouth which is actually quite nice.
  • You will drink coffee after lunch. Most restaurants do lunch menus and will include one drink and/or coffee. If you don’t order coffee, well, you’re weird.
  • You will say ‘castellano’ and not ‘español’. Here people either speak to you in ‘castellano’ or ‘catalan’ and we all know why. Let’s not get political.
  • You will spend a lot of time in chiringuitos. Those are little beach bars and they’re pretty overpriced but they’re just so damn cool.
  • You will want to compete with other people on who has the best tan in the office and how you got it.
  • You will regret not to have taken time off in August. I’ll get back to you on that one in September but most people leave Barcelona in August because it’s just so damn hot.
  • You will get used to going out until 6am just like when you were 17 and you didn’t know what a hangover was.
  • You will want to learn salsa at some point. Teaser alert: I will get back to you on that one in September as well.
  • You will get confused between some words in Catalan and in Spanish/Castellano. If like me, you didn’t learn Spanish at school, or the proper way and have only lived in Catalunya, then you’re most likely going to get confused between words, especially vegetables.
  • You will leave a room and say ‘A deu’ (goodbye in Catalan).
  • You will know the ins and out of the bicing system (Barcelona cycling scheme) and that you don’t need to swipe your card each time but you DO need to watch for that little red light!
  • You will learn to not plan and go with the flow.

Reading again this list, I am realizing I have learnt a lot here and this place has become my second, or rather, my third home. London will always be my second home.

People have welcomed here with wide open arms, I have made some friends, some of them, I’m pretty confident to say will stay friends for life. My plans have changed, I have moved twice, broken up with someone, had many hangovers, laughed, walked, ran, swam, flew, danced, taken photos, disconnected…

I have lived life to its maximum and I have to say, it hasn’t been perfect but I wouldn’t do it any differently.

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First month living in Barcelona

I’ve done it. I have managed to move my life to this new country, start a new job, find a nice flat, learn a new language, move in with a boy (yes, he’s reading this)…basically start a new life. All of this in the hope to be happier, which I think I have achieved so far. My life and what it is now, is nowhere close to what it was back in London. But don’t worry I won’t be writing a post about how I hated the London lifestyle and how I love being here.

I have been contemplating the idea of stopping to write on my blog, mainly due to the lack of time but also because I have been feeling less like doing so, which I guess is a good thing. So today is one of the many bank holidays in Spain (14 days yey) and it actually happens to be a rainy day so I thought I would take this opportunity to give some updates to my few faithful followers 🙂

Rather than boring you with all the things I have done in the past few weeks; I thought I could share my list of the things I expected about Barcelona and that turned out to be true. You know, those pre-conceived ideas/cliches that we all have about a place. We’re not quite sure how we got them but we all have some. Like living in Tokyo you would probably have a tiny expensive apartment, people in the streets would wear pollution masks and the pedestrian crossings would be insanely big.
Well, like 99% of French people my age, I had watched L’auberge Espagnole  back in 2002 and this film (watch this), along with Vicky Cristina Barcelona, mostly created the image I had of what it could be like living in Barcelona. Here it goes.

  1. The noise
    The noise is probably what I noticed first. Although central London can be incredibly noisy at times with ambulances, police cars, traffic in general. Barcelona however, is rather full of ‘human’ noise. People in the streets, casually chatting until late or debating about things/arguing, drinking beer, speaking loudly, laughing, shouting… I arrived during La Merce which is a big celebration here in Barcelona and was then followed by my neighbourhood’s celebrations for two weeks. Picture the past two weeks here: fanfare/concerts in the early morning hours, shows during the day and night, fireworks several nights a week. Yes, the noise, is definitely there.
  2. The parties
    Arriving here at the end of the summer has only given me a brief preview of what the parties in the summer can be like. What I have noticed though is people seem to go our for drinks any days of the week and are much more spontaneous when that happens. This for now, I cannot confirm.
  3. Everything here is later
    I am an early bird living in Spain. I know… Although, there are plenty of people jogging at the weekend at early hours, finding a place to have a coffee before 10am can be difficult just like going to a restaurant at 7.30pm when your French parents are visiting, becomes near mission impossible. Yes, everything here is definitely later.
  4. Catalan
    Luckily, I work in an international company where English has to be spoken but Spanish is also used. I work with Catalan colleagues but they speak in Spanish in front of us (foreigners). So far, this hasn’t been a problem for me.

What are/were your top pre-conceived ideas of Barcelona/living in Spain?

A few shots from the Teleferico of Montjuic

 

 

First 10 days living in Barcelona

The first thing I saw when I stepped on the platform at the train station on that hot Friday afternoon was a cockroach (una cucaracha). Not being used to seeing them in London or France for that matter, I felt rather disgusted but couldn’t help thinking this was some kind of sign of either bad luck or good luck. Turns out it was probably the latter.

The first few days adapting to speaking Spanish again, having to deal with the amount of paperwork ahead and just the climate in general were tough. I felt lost, but that didn’t last very long. On the first afternoon I arrived, we were lucky enough to find the perfect flat we had been looking for. That was one thing ticked off my very long list and which was going to help me a lot in my paperwork.

There is one very important paper you need to get in order to basically have a life here, and it is a three letter acronym NIE, Numero Identidad Extranjero. I managed to get that done within my first five days here which meant I could then, open a bank account, have access to healthcare and getting paid by my new employer. The NIE is the painful part of moving here.

In exactly 7 days I had 6 different appointments to go through with the relevant papers and photocopies as well as queue tickets and a considerable amount of minutes spent looking at the screen to see when my turn would be. Yesterday I went to the final one which was registering with a doctor. To say that I came out of the beautifully located Hospital Del Mar wanting to jump in the air and hug a random person would be an understatement. 

As there are plenty of resources on the Internet which explain way better than I would, the paperwork necessary to live here, I won’t go into much detail but the four main steps are as follow:

  1. Getting your NIE done (you need a job offer for that first)
  2. Getting registered at the Town Hall to get el empadronamiento (you will need a flat for that as this is a paper to prove you are living where you say you are and you need number 1 first)
  3. Affiliation to the Social Security & getting your SS number (you need number 1 first)
  4. Registering with a doctor (you will need number 1,2 and 3 first)

In terms of actually living here, the hardest thing for me has been getting used to the fact that I just don’t physically ‘fit in’. Blonde girls here are a rare commodity and I also hate the fact that people just insist on speaking English to me in shops. I guess I will have to keep working on my accent and prove them wrong eventually.

The heat has also been a surprise, luckily our flat has air conditioning without which I simply wouldn’t be able to sleep at night but more than that I wake up everyday thinking the weather is going to turn cold but it just won’t. Which is a great feeling.
Ironically, I now don’t spend my time walking in the sun to get tanned but rather finding the shade to keep cool.I have also only been to the beach twice and I live 5mn from it.

I guess the biggest change from living in London is adapting to the fact that a) the sun is going to stay and for a while so there is no rush to make the most of it b) the beach is also going to stay obviously so there is no rush to spend everyday there c) I now live here so there is no rush to visit and see everything.

Basically, to summarise, I can take my time and relax which is something I definitely didn’t used to do in London.
Isn’t that the key to happiness, relax and enjoy life? Let’s find out.

                                                              Morning Vs Sunset, taken this week

 

I am moving to Spain today

The day has come. Today I am moving to Barcelona.

From a potential draft of an idea in September last year in a Thai restaurant, on a boozy lunch break, to a complete change of life nearly a year later, here I am.

I don’t feel scared, I feel slightly nervous, yes but mostly excited about this blank canvas I get to draw my new life on.

Having sorted and gone through most of the logistical stress of temporarily moving my life to France to then Spain; as well as luckily sorting a job beforehand, I now have ahead of me the joys of dealing with Spanish bureaucracy and finding a place to live to which I will both dedicate a post.

Finding the job was easier than I thought. As I have previously said on here: speaking English and other languages as well as having experience working in the UK were my biggest asset on the Spanish job market. Once I had a good idea of the job I was looking for; the salary I could get for it and done up my cv, I applied for 4-5 jobs, got through to telephone interviews for 2 of them and to final round for both of them.

The interviewing process was similar to the UK (although my Spanish was not tested once). I must emphasise here that I will work within a digital/technology start-up looking for English speaking professionals (there are tons of them in Barcelona) and where English is the main working language.

Now, I get to spend 2 weeks finding my feet in Barcelona before I start working. I will be spending most of my time sorting out my NIE, social security, bank account and phone contract as well as flat hunting…but once my day is finished I will be sure to head to the beach and make the most of this beautiful city!

Cheers to the first day of the rest of my life and to some exciting adventures.

A few shots of my beautiful region in the summer…

 

Last day in London

The last place I thought could inspire me in London is the tube. Ironically, Monday happened to be my official first day of unemployment and also one of my last days living here when I saw this sign at my station.

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I have always liked change, new beginnings, challenges and I feel like this week really has marked the beginning of the rest of my life.

The last few days, I have been filled with mixed emotions and so many thoughts going through my head that I have barely slept.

The first one being nostalgia, as we all naturally take for granted the people and the quality of life we have brought around us until we have to leave it. It has taken me a good three and half years to make some friends here, to speak English like a native and to know my way around London nearly like a local.

The second one being fear: what if I can’t make friends again, what if I can’t be bothered, what if I don’t like it, what if I have regrets, what if I get homesick, what if I fail?

The third one being excitement. Excitement to be in a place where I can take the sun for granted, where I can be outdoors as much as I want, where I can learn to master a new language, where I can get the challenge that I have been looking for the past two years, where I can start a new life in a new city with someone special.

Yesterday my day was filled with nostlagia (and tears) after a weekend spent feeling mostly scared and anxious but today, I seem to have reached the final one.

I am not scared anymore.
I am excited.
I am ready for you Barcelona.

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Cheers to new beginnings  (credits to Nora for the beautiful picture)

Today, I am a cliché

Today I am starting my last week in London and I thought, why not spend this week doing things I would have never been able to do whilst in a job in London.

So here I am. With my white chromebook and little pink (yes pink) mouse, in my favourite brunch spot, on a Monday morning at 10am, sipping an expensive smoothie in a milk bottle. Surrounded by people who are either doing the same thing as me: treating themselves or have the luxury to call this their Monday routine.

I thought: what a better way to say goodbye to London this week than by doing all the things I have loved the most about living here and that make London such a unique place. But also and especially by avoiding the things that I loathe the most about London which can be summarised in a four letter word: TUBE.

I have spent too many hours sweating, frustrated, angry, sad or depressed on the London underground, hating my commute, so this week I have decided to enjoy my well-deserved ‘off-peak’ time and simply walk everywhere when possible.

London, the end of our story is close but Barcelona, the beginning of our new life is on the horizon and I am EXCITED.

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Keeping it cool

 

24 hours in Hong Kong

On my way to Bali from London I had several layover options. After doing some research, I went for Hong Kong. My layover was 22 hours from midday until 10am the next day so that left me with most of the afternoon plus the evening to see the bright city lights.

In hindsight, I probably should have picked a place which wasn’t in the middle of the rainy season. Anyway, here are a few things you should know about HK:

Hong Kong is efficient
The MTR takes you directly from HK airport which is one big aiport island, crosses another three islands, goes back onto the mainland and then all the way to HK island – the financial district – and all that in about 20mn. It is easy, quick and impressively efficient. When you get off your stop, you even have a free bus and people directing you to the right lane to take you closer to your destination. Now I’m sorry but that makes London airports look like amateurs.

Hong Kong is big
When you look on a map and try to gage how long it will take you to walk from one place to the other, you can’t quite imagine the amount of traffic and roads there will be there. Although you can walk from one place to another, it takes a long time (consider the rain too) to walk from let’s say your hotel to a high rise building to have a cocktail or one of the massive shopping centres your can find there. The airport is also insanely big, so much that you will need to take a shuttle to actually get to your gate.

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A well-deserved cocktail at AVA Restaurant Slash Bar

Hong Kong is expensive
On my way to Bali the next morning I made a beginner’s mistake to have breakfast at the airport. Needless to say the 100$ I had taken out for 22 hours didn’t quite make it to the round trip.

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£6/8€ Cappucinos…

Now this may sound like a fairly negative post on Hong Kong but I actually really enjoyed visiting this city. It has the big city lights, the fancy cocktail bars, all the the shops or at least that’s all I’ve been able to see in only 22 hours.
Bottom line is: I’d definitely recommend to see it at least once in your life. 

The bucket list

So today, as I see my big date looming, I started thinking about writing a London bucket list in an attempt to make the most of my last few weeks here. As I was doing it, I started to realise different things:

1) The number of weird things I have done here 2) That I can leave knowing that I have truly made the most of my time living in London 3) That I am really going to struggle finding new things to add to this bucket list as, after browsing the Internet for inspiration, I’m now down to a few things left such as learning to play the ukele or visiting a gin distillery, yep, that’s how much I have done.

As an ‘overdoer’ Londonner, I tend to naturally want to fill my days, weeks and weekends with new, unusual things to do that only London can offer. Living in London sort of has changed me in the sense that, living here, you suddenly realise that a) all your friends book things in advance so if you want to spend time with them you have to start booking their time in advance too b) cool places and things to do get booked up in advance c) you just have to follow along and start booking things too.

I may have to spend a few weeks in London on my own and not actually be at work. This is something I never actually have experienced before and my natural Londoner instinct is to start drafting this bucket list but now I’m thinking, what if I could just wander around and see what I feel like doing ON the day? No plans, no booking, just enjoying being in London. After all, wouldn’t this be the best farewell I could give to this place which has given me so much in the past five years? Just stop moving so much and enjoy BEING here.

I thought I would share my London top 40 with you anyway, so here goes:

  1. Do a Jack the Ripper Tour (done it twice, they’re the best!)
  2. Visit the Sky Garden, it’s free but (whoops) you do have to book in advance!
  3. Watch the sunset/have a picnic on Primrose Hill
  4. Spend a day at Ally Pally
  5. Run along Southbank (not to be performed during the weekend)
  6. Watch a show at the UdderBelly Festival
  7. Walk along the riverfront at Rotherhithe
  8. Cross the thames through the foot tunnel from Canary wharf to Greenwich
  9. Get on a taxi boat from London Bridge to Greenwich (works with the oyster card)
  10. Spend a day in Greenwich and walk on the top of the hill
  11. Get on the front seat of the DLR
  12. Try Cahoots in Kingly Court – a bit pricey but worth the old British experience
  13. Have a cocktail at La Bodega Negra
  14. Watch a show at the West End
  15. Get a view and a movie at the Bussey Building
  16. Have a stroll anywhere in West London (Sloane sq, South Ken)
  17. Grab dinner in a fancy place in Shoreditch
  18. Go to Spitafield market on a Sunday
  19. Have brunch at Milk in Balham
  20. Grab a warm baked bagel from Beigel Bake, in Brick Lane
  21. Get in the photo booth at Rough Trade, Brick Lane
  22. Brave the crowds of East London at the Columbia Flower Market on a spring day
  23. Do all the big London parks with a Barclay bike
  24. Get on a double decker (the old one and the new one)
  25. Have an afternoon tea at Bea’s of Bloomsburys
  26. Get the lift to the top of Cheapside shopping centre for the view over St Pauls
  27. Run for charity in one of the parks
  28. Watch the London Marathon runners
  29. Go to the V&A Museum and stop by the beautiful café & garden
  30. Go to the Imperial War Museum
  31. Stroll along the canal from Kings Cross to Stratford
  32. Spend a day in Wimbledon
  33. Spend a day in Richmond and meet some deers
  34. Have a coffee in one of the Monmouth branches
  35. Walk around Chancery Lane on a weekend day
  36. Eat some Tapas at St Katherine Docks in Bravas
  37. Climb the monument
  38. Eat inside the Royal Exchange at La Sauterelle
  39. Get chilled out listening to some Jazz at The Junction
  40. Go on a date at the Night Jar

3 places to put on your list when visiting Bali

I was lucky enough to visit 4 of the 17 500+ islands of Indonesia and one of the most famous: Bali.

Now I had my reservations about Bali and as usual, did a fair bit of research before going,forums, blogs, articles… Needless to say that, as a London expat, I am in constant search for the sun. So, inevitably, on the top of my list was: SUN, BEACH and ok, a bit of culture too.

Covering Bali, let alone Indonesia in one post would be fairly ambitious and I’m sure has been done by way more knowledgable people than me. However, when I was booking my trip, I found that I just didn’t know which places to visit so I thought this post could help!

Now this list may not particularly be original but I can tell you that if there were three places I’d go back in a heartbeat when visiting Bali, it would be…


Number 3…Gili Meno

This island, about 2 hours from Bali by boat, just off Lombok is often and quite rightly described as a honeymoon paradise. If all you want is peace, quiet, a bit of reggae and some sun, then this place will surely rock your boat. Gili M as they call it, is the true paradise island experience, you can walk it in a about 30mn and it only has a handful of restaurants (called warungs). Although the beaches are not the white soft sand you may have in mind, they are huge and made of white small pebbles/rocks. The sunsets are to die for and when you snorkel you meet plenty of sea turtles. A few snapshots of this little corner of paradise:


Number 2…Ubud

Ubud is the cultural heart of Bali and was made famous after Eat, Pray, Love became a world best seller. Do not go there if you’re looking for some beach time, good meat restaurants and partying, however, DO go there especially if you are: a yoga lover, a vegan/vegetarian, want some nice massages and a truly Balinese experience. You can tell that Ubud has become quite wealthy from all the tourists it attracts, that being said, the Balinese you will meet there (I’d recommend staying in a Home Stay) will surprise you. I felt so relaxed after only 3 days there (and there is a fair bit of traffic) that being back in London was a completely overwhelming experience.
The rice paddies experience and some bits of North Bali:


Number 1…Lembogan

Now I may be a little biased as one of my close friends lives there but I truly fell in love with Lembogan from the moment I got off the boat. This island is the perfect size (much smaller than Bali and only a short speed boat ride away), has beautiful beaches, incredible food, amazing snorkeling/diving (which I did not experience unfortunately) and I was lucky enough to stay in, I think, one of the best hotels I have ever stayed in. The best way to visit Lembogan is to rent a scooter, drive down all the way to the south and visit Nusa Cenigan via a bumpy yellow bridge (picture below). Again, the locals there are one of the main assets of this island, they will just ask you so many questions and instantly become your friends, play some music with you in their Warung or just help in any way they can. My only regret was that I stayed 4 days there...

3 things I didn’t know about Malta

I love visiting a place and being genuinely surprised by it. This is what happened when I landed in Malta.

The language
At the risk of sounding like a right idiot, I had assumed that everybody would speak English. How wrong was I. People speak Maltese there. Ok, now I’m writing this, I actually realise how stupid this sounds.
As a wannabe polyglot, I was fascinated by this language which to me sounded like a mix between Arabic and Italian with a few English words thrown in the middle. Although most people speak English in the shops/restaurants, you will hear the locals speak Maltese between each other which is a refreshingly different experience!

The roads
We decided to rent a car there and I’m not going to bore you with the detailed story of how I freaked out when we were going up a hill and the gearing stick came off which put me in a panic state for the rest of the day.
But, if like me, you have a weird fear of driving up hills, this is not the place to go. Most roads are decent to drive on but a lot of them are very narrow and uphill/downhill so it’s best to: either go with a good driver you can rely on or not rent a car at all.

The emptiness
Even though I visited Malta in April, I expected crowds of people in the streets of Valetta, the capital. It turns out most of the locals have now migrated to Sliema, the nearby town and Valetta remains the historical heart of the island. How relaxing though to be faced with empty streets, not having to book for a restaurant and above all no ambulance noises. Now I can’t guarantee this would be the case in the middle of August but one thing is sure, I’d recommend going off peak if you’re looking for some peaceful time and soak up some sun.