Europe at 30: Part II: Barcelona

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Sunday, May 17, 2015

I couldn't have predicted the wonderful, serendipitous experience that Barcelona would end up being if I had wanted to. When I chose it as the last destination on my trip all I really knew was that I wanted to go someplace warm and that was near the water. I had no idea of the way Barcelona would reinvigorate my spirit, but thankfully that is the essence and the beauty of traveling in itself.

Disclaimer: Extremely photo heavy post :)
Our El Palauet apartment suite in Barcelona, Spain, April 2015.
El Nacional restaurant and bars in Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona, Spain. April 2015.

Choosing where to start is going to be the most difficult part, so let's start with the accommodations. Being that I was celebrating my 30th birthday, along with a desire to want to celebrate having come through a pretty tumultuous year in 2013 and finally seeing the dust settle on the issues that year kicked up, I wanted to treat myself to something luxurious and beyond my wildest dreams. Essentially something I had always seen in Conde Nast Traveler.

I researched several hotels via Tablet Hotels, which I absolutely love as a resource for luxury hotels and boutiques. I heard about Tablet Hotels via Bri Emery of DesignLoveFest several years ago and was hooked on their hotel recommendations every since. The locations are always exotic and the photographs beautifully shot. I soon found out about a place called El Palauet in the heart of Barcelona's Passeig de Gracia, and was immediately in love with the bright white modern decor. My friends will tell you, I'm a complete sucker for white anything. I have the wardrobe to prove it :)

I contacted El Palauet to see if it would be possible to stay at their accommodations for a week along with three of my best girlfriends, and was incredibly excited that the dates we had chosen were available.

Our room was the beautiful Mezzanie Tibidabo, on a mid-level of the apartment. Our concierge opened the suite door to a room full of natural light, floor to ceiling windows bedazzled by a gorgeous floral mural that has been there for over 6 decades, modern and state-of-the-art amenities, a fully stocked refrigerated complete with all of the things we had requested prior to our arrival, and two huge bedroom suites. Each suite featured an open floor plan bathroom with glass doors and porcelain sinks. There was even a beautiful terrace just off one of the bedrooms. Each evening, the staff of El Palauet would prepare the room for bed by setting the lights on dim, turning down our beds, and leaving a little goodnight note.  I still smile at the memory of our four women giggling and dancing and recalling each day's events in the dining room over jamon, cheese, champagne, ice cream, and...wait for it...Trolli's gummi worms. That's right ;) I can't thank El Palauet enough for letting us use them as our home base for the week, and being able to experience Barcelona from such a first class seat.

We Instagrammed and Tweeted our hearts out over this place. You can see those posts under the hashtags #europeat30 and #elpalauetlivingbarcelona

The Hotel

My friend Dian standing in the threshold to the balcony at El Palauet in Barcelona, April 2015.
Beautiful living room of the Mezzaine Tibidabo at El Palauet in Barcelona, Spain, April 2015.




Grabbing an early morning cortado at Yokoama in Barcelona, April 2015.

The aftermath of a beautiful dessert with raspberry jam, and curry with ice cream at the restaurant Kaiku in Barceloneta. Sounds like a complicated mix but it was amazing.

My friend Tina on the boardwalk in Barceloneta after lunch at Kaiku, Barcelona, Spain, April 2015.
Strolling by Casa Batlo, just down the street from El Palauet on Passeig de Gracia. April April 2015

Requesting extra jamon to take-away from the restaurant Tapas 24, Barcelona, Spain, April 2015.
I couldn't get enough of all the colorful scooters! Barcelona, Spain April 2015.

My friends Melissa and Dian, Barcelona, Spain April 2015.

One of my best friends Melissa joined me on the trip. We celebrated her birthday the next day! Barcelona, Spain, April 2015.


Dian, Janet Piven, and I in a post-lunch glow during our stroll through Gracia. Barcelona, Spain April 2015.

Illustrator and our unofficial tour guide Hanoch Piven, Barcelona, Spain April 2015.
This really was one of those serendipitous trips where all the beautiful ways in which worlds and people could collide did so.

Several months before our trip, I met a Spanish artist in D.C named Hanoch Piven through my friend Dian. I had no idea who Hanoch was and no knowledge at the time about his incredible portfolio of illstrations. His career is rich in the who's who in the design business. But all of that aside, he is one of the most generous, kind, smart, and thoughtful human beings I've ever had the pleasure to meet. When he found out we would be in Barcelona, he invited my friend Dian and I to speak to his daughter's art class just north of the city to share our perspective on working in the design and photo industry. It was a morning I won't forget. But before that class, we met Hanoch and his equally kind and talented wife Janet for lunch.You name it and Janet is more than likely skilled and mastered it: baking, cooking, hand making hats, writing and illustrating and PUBLISHING a children's book, teaching, etc... Together they made up the sweetest couple and best tour guides in the city.

Walking among the stone walls and pastel colored buildings among the ubiquitous balconies that Barcelona offers, we wandered through a large market where fresh seafood, meats, vegetables, and tapas were in no short supply. Hanoch and his wife led us to one of their favorite restaurants, La Pubilla, where we dined on a fantastic and memorable meal of handmade pasta with Parmesan cheese, a slow cooked soup with fresh tuna, and a dessert of fresh cream and apples cooked in a sweet wine and cinnamon.

A quick snap while strolling through the Jardin Laribal. Barcelona, Spain April 2015.

 Melissa and I arrived a few days before our friends and found some homes with lemon and orange trees out front that we wouldn't mind owning in the future. Barcelona, Spain April 2015.

 Tina and Dian with the American artist and sculptor Jack Champion, who spent the afternoon showing us around Figueres. Spain 2015.

 Melissa and I at Park Guell. Barcelona, Spain April 2015.
The W Hotel in the distance in Barceloneta, Barcelona, Spain April 2015.
My fascination with the city's posters and scooters knew no bounds! Barcelona, Spain April 2015.


Just outside Salvador Dali's home in Cadaques, Spain. April 2015.


I wish I could pinpoint on particular highlight of the trip, but in truth there were so many! Celebrating one of my best friend's birthday on the beach after a seaside lunch of black rice paella and banana cheesecake, dining at the amazing Vietnamese-Creole fusion Restaurant Me, where the chef sat down with each of the tables and spoke about each individual dish and his world travels. Walking through the beautiful home of artist Salvador Dali and being reminded to surround your home with people and things you adore the most because it really is your sanctuary in the world. Wandering the streets at all hours of the day and never growing tired of the scenery. Fawning secretly over every Spanish man that walked by you because they were all just so beautiful. I mean...Spain, bottle up whatever secret sauce is turning everyone into a movie star and send me three cases, please. Riding on the back of a golf cart down the cobble stone streets through the coastal town of Cadaques and then serendipitously bumping into a retired American artists and sculptor who showed us around neighboring city Figueres and imparted some great reflections on life and work.

Banana cheesecake aftermath at Kaiku. Barcelona, Spain, April 2015.

Cockles dressed in lemon and ginger sauce at Kaiku. Barcelona, Spain April 2015.

The magnificent ceiling at El Palauet. Barcelona, Spain April 2015.



Couldn't stop looking up at all the lovely balconies. Barcelona, Spain April 2015.

Rooftop pool at Hotel Onix Fira, Barcelona, Spain April 2015.

TAPS restaurant in El Poble Sec neighborhood.


Europe at 30 Part I: London

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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

 "We Wander for Distraction, but We Travel For Fulfillment"-Hilaire Belloc

London, April 2015
Pub on the way back to my hotel in London's Kensington neighborhood. April 2015

I knew that for my 30th birthday I wanted it to be different from any other birthday. Not solely because it was 30, but because I hadn't traveled abroad in nearly four years, and my dream has always been to just take random solo trips around the world. So in early 2014 I began thinking of all the places I wanted to go: Berlin, Austria, Paris, Australia, Morrocco...the list was growing endless. Eventually, after scouring the travel sections of bookstores and endless pins on Pinterest, I chose London and Barcelona. I had visited London several years ago in 2005 as a severely broke college student traveling with my older brother. I think I had a total of $800 to my name and no idea what currency conversion meant at the time, apparently. I thank my brother that he was the reason I was able to sample little more than KFC and Subway my entire trip.

London I was familiar with, and I was beginning to hear so much about Barcelona. I could bump into anyone on the street and just at the mention of the city their eyes would roll back and close gently, the way one does when reminiscing about a great meal or a great kiss. Even the sales associate at TJ Maxx was telling me about her honeymoon in Barcelona being one of the most memorable parts of her wedding. So needless to say I was incredibly excited about this choice. And to top it off, three of my good girlfriends had decided to join me on the Barcelona leg of my trip. But London I was all set to re-explore on my own. And as a planner I'm still surprised at how little if anything I actually planned throughout my trip. And it turned out to be one the best decisions I made while traveling.

I had forgotten how many friends I knew lived in London. During the course of my trip I would catch up with four of them, plus one incredibly fierce and inspiring designer named Gabrielle Smith who runs the The NuBlack. She and I met via social media years prior and it was our first time actually meeting in person. I can't express how great it feels to meet someone whose work you admire online, and be able to connect with them and admire their personality in person. Gabi was an awesome guide, and gifted me with one of my favorite mementos from the trip: a Vivian and Claire poster that she designed herself.

To back up just a hair, I want to mention that I flew to London via Iceland Air, and it was hands down the best airline and flying experience I've ever had. Iceland Air treats you like you're sitting in first class even though my ticket was clearly coach. The flight was incredibly smooth and quiet, and was the first five hour flight that I wasn't incredibly antsy to end. Definitely making sure future trips to Europe are made via their services. Even Iceland's airport was amazing. In fact, my first "selfie" in Europe for this trip was taken in the airport's restroom, that's how ice it is. I kid you not. Have you seen it?? Gorgeous.

From Iceland I arrived in London and spent the first day under the influence of jetlag, and so I slept for hours. My second day I walked a few blocks to the Kensington neighborhood and was sure I had slipped into a pastel Victorian daydream. Could the architecture really be this stunning? Could the detailing on doors and signs be any more charming? Surely not, I thought. And then I arrived at Hyde Park and am pretty sure lost my breath for a few minutes. All I wanted to do on this trip was wander and explore areas I had not seen on my trip nearly 10 years ago. And London made sure my eyes were never without stimulation.

Strolling through London's Kensington neighborhood on the way to breakfast, London, April 2105

I indulged in food from Ottolenghi, the vegetarian restaurant I have been pining after for years every since having read about the owner Yotam Ottolenghi in The Guardian years ago. I can't remember exactly what I purchased because my eyes were the size of grapefruits when I walked in, so I asked the very handsome server to dish up whatever he recommended. I recall roasted red peppers, quinoa, and some sort of salad with a lemon and vinaigrette sauce. And dessert was a little pastry with raspberry jam and powdered sugar. I remember because it was all over my pants by the end of my meal :)




On one particular day I met with my friend Gabi in Brixton, where she showed me around the awesome outdoor market Brixton Village. I cannot believe how spoiled I was by the offerings of this place, and felt a tinge of sadness when I knew coming back to D.C I wouldn't be able to find a place with a similar open concept, and every turn down a side street ripe with more restaurants and vendors selling fresh seafood, fruit, and bowlfuls of handmade noodles. Before I met up with my friend, however, I randomly met another black American woman traveling alone. And for her 40th birthday! She also happened to be from Baltimore! How small and yet mighty our world is, indeed.

Meeting fellow American Cheri in London's Brixton area, April 2015.

Lovely fuscia chairs outside a restaurant in Brixton Village, London, April 2015
The bulk of my days in London were filled with long strolls, sitting at cafes for hours catching up with my old college friends who I am beyond thankful to know and still keep in touch with, late night dinner under a London sky with a long-time friend I used to intern with. After 7 years of staying in touch via Facebook we connect in London randomly! Our dinner at a Parisian restaurant was one of the best memories of that trip. (Miss you, Jennifer!). I did a little light shopping, but my memories are really wrapped in the clear sky and unseasonably warm weather that saw fit to bless my trip. It was nearly 70 most days!

On my last full day in London I met up with my former couchsurfer Amelia! Last summer in an attempt to meet more people from around the world I decided to open my home to couchsurfers via the site Couchsurfing (that post coming up soon!), and Amelia was on the first people I hosted. She was fantastic, and we had a wonderful week in DC and Virginia hanging out like old friends. So I was really thankful when she came down from Bristol to show me around London's popular Camden neighborhood. How was Camden not on my list of places to see?? I didn't know about it. Shows you how lax my travel plans were haha. We ate at Caravan's King Cross for breakfast, and then feasted our way through Camden's many food stalls the rest of the afternoon.

If you'd like to see more photos from the trip, they're all on my Instagram account under the hashtag #europeat30.

Part II: Barcelona is up next!


Roasted tomatoes, bacon, eggs, and portobello mushroom breakfast from Caravan King's Cross, London, April 2015.

Really cute bakery in London's Notting Hill, April 2015.

So many cute doors! On the walk to Notting Hill, London, April 2015

Cote Brasserie. The site for my hours long catch-up with an old college friend in Piccadilly Circus, London, April 2015

Another Year, A New Perspective

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Sunning on the rooftop of Hotel Onix Fira in Barcelona, April 2015. (Photo by Melissa Frakman)

Annnddd.....I'm back! I'm trying to process how this year-long hiatus came to be. Was my last post really last April? And on facial scrubs?? I blame...life. She was really good to me this past year, and for a brief summation of the various events that I'm still in a haze about, here we go:

I got a new job working for a tremendous newspaper (digital side), and I'm completely in love with it. I moved into a beautiful apartment in one of D.C's most charming neighborhoods that I found on Craigslist for a steal (shhh..). I've fallen in and out of romances with some wonderful men who I'm glad I had the pleasure of knowing, even if only fleetingly. I took a leap of faith, and the advice from a woman I met last April who happens to own Ace Hardware, and started teaching upholstery classes here in D.C. You can register for them here if you're ever in D.C! And in March I turned the big 3-0!
To mark the occasion I treated myself to a two-week extravagant vacation in Europe, details of which I can't wait to share in my next post! It was extravagant in that I went to some really beautiful places and saw some awe-inspiring things, and ate my weight in jamon and sardines, but didn't break the bank doing so ;)

Nearly a year ago when I started my new job as a photo blogger posting about news and contemporary issues, I didn't think I would have the energy to blog for myself in my spare time. But I have sincerely missed having this little corner in the world to share bright, well-designed, and colorful content that inspires me, motivates me as a creative, and is a visual journal of my aspirations. So enough with the chic chat, right? On to Europe!

P.S. Happy Cinco de Mayo ;)

The Surface Of Things

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Monday, April 28, 2014

I'm not usually one to blog about product reviews, and I am the last woman qualified to blog about beauty products or a beauty regime. I've actually (and I admit this with some hesitation), only started trying foundation and mascara last month, when I turned 29. The foundation unfortunately made me break out. But the mascara I love (#Covergirl Lash Blast). A little bit of the problem has been the feeling of being overwhelmed by all of the products available (and the fact that I would sometimes forget to take my foundation off at the end of the night!). Skincare itself is really important to me, and my "less is more"approach was solidified as of two years ago during a summer trip to Chicago.

Two years ago during a summer vacation I took with my sister to Chicago, I noticed by the end of the trip that I had a crazy amount of pimples, acne, and heat bumps. I can't lie and say I didn't fall for the gluttonous temptations of Chicago's food scene. That was basically the whole objective of the trip: to eat! My sister had flown back home a few days earlier, and I remember texting her from the aisle of CVS and asking her what she used on her face to keep it so smooth. My sister is the girly girl of the family, and has always loved makeup. So I really admired how smooth her face was even without it, and was really surprised when she said she only uses two products: Neutrogena Naturals Purifying Pore Scrub and Neutrogena's Daily Cleanser Foaming Forumla. I bought both products that very day and used them that night, and in two years since have not used another product on my face. The results were that life changing.



Now, I'd like to state here that this post is in no way endorsed or sponsored by Neutrogena. No one from the company has reached out and no check is in the mail; this is just me speaking on my personal results because I've never had a product I can sincerely vouch for :) For the past two years, once a week (usually towards the end of the week) I'll scrub my face gently using their Purifying Pore Scrub, and then wash with warm water. With a clean dry towel I blot my face dry and then apply a light moisturizer to seal in the juices :) I used to have a severe problem with small bumps forming on the center of my forehead. But since using this product my forehead has been bump-free, not to mention the dryness and the flakes that used to persist are no longer there. Each morning (or each evening if I forget), I use the Daily Cleanser Foaming Formula, which starts out as a gel that I work into a foamy lather with a little water. A few seconds of gently washing and rinsing in warm water and my face feels smooth and even a little lighter. I kid you not, within three days of first using the product my skin showed visible results. The bumps had reduced significantly, and it's been my go-to beauty routine every since. But I'll still pop on a bright lip every now and then.

So while this is not a sponsored post, this a beg and a plea to Neutrogena to never, ever, ever take these products off the shelves :)


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