E: Kate Lisa Lola Barcelona – Spain

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Great history, incredible food and vibrant people, why don’t people obsess over Barcelona like they do Paris or Rome?

The root of my fascination with Barcelona stems from the 2008 Woody Allen film ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona’. The eccentric characters, ambient music and panning camera shots of Gaudi’s buildings were more than enough to carve a romanticized Barcelona firmly in my mind. Any mention of the film within my circle of friends almost instantly leads to ‘Isn’t that the film with a threesome?’. However, what my good friends fail to acknowledge, is in accompaniment to Penelope Cruz’s alluring accent and charm, the film showcased the city in a way which I had not seen or thought about before. Barcelona was portrayed as an amorous beacon of culture, composed of streets exuding life and character. Much like the way many people view Paris, but Barcelona drenched in the Mediterranean sun appeared far more enticing in my eyes.

I had been invited to Barcelona courtesy of my good German friend Lola, who had spent the previous year studying something related to finance within the city. Lola seemed the perfect match for Barcelona, motivated and positive, yet very easy-going. Always appearing in control of whatever situation she would find herself in. My first ever encounter with her was during university in Singapore, I was invited to tag along with a trip to Cambodia via a mutual friend. I had been invited to this trip regardless of Lola’s opinion. Showing up to her flat one night, having never even being properly introduced, she smiled at me as if she had known me for years, offered me a beer and handed over their flight details. I approved.

Lola was caught up in a job interview at the time of my arrival but I had previously assured her that I would be capable of temporarily surviving in a foreign city despite her absence, and would locate a bite to eat until she finished her tasks. The coach from the airport dropped me off in the city centre and within two minutes of strolling the side streets off La Rambla I was in love.

Bustling with people, much like any other city, it was busy but somehow in a different way. Unlike the people back home, the crowds here did not seem to be in a particular rush to be anywhere. The usual composition of suits and ties were almost completely absent from sight. Youngsters whizzed past on skateboards and scooters unsupervised, something unheard of back in London. Shockingly even the tourists blended in to some degree, due perhaps to the large mix of people and my good mood.

Whilst weaving in and out of side streets, I discovered a little side door to a 365 café. “Great, a distinctive name that Lola will easily be able to find,” I thought to myself. A ping from my phone’s speaker alerted me that Lola was headed to the café now. Unfortunately however, a good deal of time had passed since I had finished the remaining crumbs of my baguette, and there was still no sign of Lola. The café was much nicer than the chains we had at home so I had presumed it was an independent store. I was wrong. 365 cafés can be found almost everywhere in Barcelona.

When Lola did eventually manage to hunt me down, it was glorious to see her again. Suddenly all the imagery from the previous times we had spent together was vivid once again. In true Lola style I was not surprised in the slightest when her first suggestion was “I have some friends who are at the beach right now, they’re playing volleyball, we can join them if you want.” Once again, I approved.

The evening was spent drinking beer and failing at playing volleyball near Port Olympic de Barcelona. The easy-going atmosphere of the city was echoed by the beach and refreshing compared to the drab weather back home, I felt ever so happy and relaxed to be there. I was treated to some German ‘Spätzle’, and watermelon for dinner, before heading to the bus terminal to meet the others. Approaching us at full velocity in the darkness, Kate and Lisa let us know they had arrived.

Lola’s flat despite lacking much space was incredibly charming. Room and corridor floors were blanketed by colourful tiles, adding to its Spanish charm. The miniature balcony overlooked a labyrinth of rooftops and gardens, which housed various plant pots and odd furniture. One even became an extension of a nearby bar at night. A breakfast of muesli and local fruit on Lola’s miniature balcony kick-started our day of exploration of the gothic quarter of the city. Many of the buildings here date back to Medieval times and some go as far back as the Roman era.

Although it was difficult to divert my attention from the movement on the streets and the stonework surrounding us, glancing above at the residents in their balconies was my favourite component of the morning. A young couple played cards together on a small table, while sipping beer. A woman stepped outside for a quick cigarette, herself checking out the entertainment the street traffic below had to offer. An older couple dined together whilst sharing conversation. The neighbourhood was brought to life simply by these people stepping onto their balconies, sharing small personal moments of their lives with the outside world. They gave the neighbourhood a personality. Suddenly ‘knowing’ the people who lived there made the buildings so much more intriguing. Seeing short glimpses of their lives left me curious to find out more, how long had they been there? What profession do they have? When did they first buy the plants on their balconies?

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We proceeded to gather the required picnic materials from a grocery store nearby, later reconvening with some of Lola’s friends from the previous day at Parc de la Ciutadella. After we finished deliberating where to sit down in the shade, a man took his place at the foot of the tree adjacent to us and began to play his guitar. Talk about hitting the jackpot. He was not a busker, there was no hat or guitar case in sight, he had just come to the park with the sole intention to play music, as a Londoner, this again was an idea I found difficult to comprehend.

Where to get your groove on: El Bombón is a lively salsa bar set in the gothic quarter which offers the perfect getaway from the typical Top 40 clubbing scene. Incredibly affordable €2 Mojitos and an exciting Latin atmosphere should make this place a must on your to do list.

Table tennis in the afternoon sun was a satisfying (and free) way to spend a couple of hours. Food combined with a bit of friendly competition had left me in a content mood. However, this calm feeling was cut short upon our return to the flat as Lola commanded us to put on our running shoes and depart before sunset. Running is such a brilliant way to see a new city. By the time you get the chance to blink, your surroundings change and you find yourself on a completely different street. Lola being familiar with the layout of the streets led us from the heart of the town to the seafront.

The transition of the whole city from day to night was clearly visible from our viewpoint at the base of the W hotel building. The lights initially emerged like distant stars scattered on the peaks behind the city, increasing in frequency as you followed the slope towards the shore. The combination of the rugged terrain’s natural beauty and the electric influence of the cityscape brought the picture to life. Saddened at the fact I was without my camera, a quick plunge into the seawater made me feel much better, despite the fact we were now soaking wet and had nothing to dry ourselves with before commencing the run back home.

  • Sample the local cuisine at: Bitacora With mouth-watering food, drinks and dessert for roughly €20 per person, Bitacora was undoubtedly the best food we had during the trip. Options include tantalisingly spiced potatoes, fresh mussels and tangy green peppers. The restaurant offers a great casual setting with outdoor seating available during the summer.
  • Gotta be a tourist: Learning about Gaudi’s visions of having the scenes of the bible illustrated on the façades of the Sagrada Família through the audio guide was fascinating. Subtle elements which were not obvious at first became illuminated through the explanations. For example the glass at the top of the building behind the alter was left unstained so as to symbolise the pure light from heaven, and the columns and ceiling were crafted in an attempt to recreate the scenery of a forest (pictures below).
  • Gotta be a tourist again: Despite the swarms of people Park Guel is still worth a visit. It was essentially Gaudi’s idea of the ideal housing complex, complete with a central market for residents to be encouraged to interact. Financial instability prevented the project from completion, leaving only the first two buildings constructed (top picture).
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E: Athenian Afternoon

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Athens, the birthplace of democracy and city of wisdom, does the modern-day flavour of the city fulfil grand expectations a third time around?

Feeling surprisingly alert considering I had spent the day roaming unsuccessfully in search of Barcelona’s botanic gardens, my flight arrived at Eleftherios Venizelos Airport around 4am. Mixed feelings encircled me concerning my return to Athens. This was my third visit to the concrete jungle, whose legacy was dwarfed in the shadow of the great historic city that once stood there before. Being a Cypriot, I often felt that I should have had a sense of ‘belonging’ in Athens, the Hellenic capital. However, previous experiences had left me agitated and unimpressed by the Athenians manners and mentality, something which many European countries are beginning to tire of. Having made these opinions known to everyone prior to the organisation of this trip, I decided to keep an open mind when booking my tickets.

With my backpack on my shoulders, I contentedly strolled past baggage collection and exited swiftly. Pausing outside of the exit gate, it occurred to me that I had entered the country without passing through immigration. Asking a nearby officer whether I was allowed to leave, he briefly glanced at me unimpressed before shrugging and turning the other way. Welcome to Greece!

IMG_6937A strange sense of calm gripped the city that day, almost as if it lay in anticipation of a storm. That Sunday would be the day the 2015 Greek bailout referendum would take place. Syntagma square was crowded with ‘Oxi’ (No) campaign posters and signs, against the proposed austerity measures. This was exceedingly interesting to see, especially as the majority of the media in the country had been broadcasting advertisements in favour of the Yes campaign. The atmosphere on the street was weary, but in fact the Athens of 2015 was just like I remembered it 8 years ago, the 60s buildings were underwhelming, the ancient ruins had struggled in the face of time and the crowded streets harboured little charm.

I found it difficult to be this unimpressed by a city that has given the world so much in terms of culture and democracy. At some points I even angered myself with my negativity, especially since we were there for such a short period of time. Thankfully despite all of this occurring in my head, my company was outstanding. I was so pleased to see them all learning even a little bit about Greek culture. All of us being Biology students from York had really grown close these past three years mainly as a consequence of being confined within labs and tortured with evolving formats of exams.

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Rising up above the city and passing the slabs of stone surrounding the steps leading up to the Parthenon still retained some of the magic people would associate with the highly romanticised Ancient Athens. When you finally reach the top, the noble Parthenon greets you. It’s only a matter of time until disappointment strikes again, instead of being taken aback by the elegance of the structure, you end up pitying the ruin it has become. Engulfed in scaffolding, the fact that the Parthenon has endured a lot is obvious. One can imagine the greatness the temple will possess once restoration works are completed, and the awe that will engross guests when walking between the columns, yet this dream still seems a long way away. The site also offers some brilliant views across the city which are once again tainted as the majority of the views are composed of dated apartment blocks. A fire even broke out in the distance while we were there.

Our final venture of the day was a visit to the new Acropolis Museum. A modern building, where the artefacts are exhibited with minimal distractions in a clean, well-lit and open space. Knowing all of the pieces on exhibition in the museum are solely from the Acropolis is impressive, and a reminder of just how much history both the city and the country encompasses within it. I was impressed with the execution and use of the space. Yet even when I managed to enjoy something in Athens, at the end of the day, the design was by a Swiss Architect, and ultimately in the coming years, it will fade into being just another characterless glass building expressing nothing of the people of the city.

IMG_6946After a frappé on the roof terrace of the museum, we headed home to board the ferry to Paros the next day. This trip had left me feeling even more muddled than before. The strangest aspect of my experience is having spent only a day there, I wish to return again. I would like to take the time out to delve a little deeper in the surrounding neighbourhoods, see the city off the beaten path and seek out these elements I keep hearing about which apparently make it so great to be an Athenian. Having travelled and enjoyed so many different cities around the world, it simply frustrates me not being able to find any joy in the place. Quite confidently I can say that I do not intend on booking tickets back there any time in the near future, but when I do come back and have the time, I’m determined to search every street corner in an attempt to find something I can remember the city positively by, because it’s a shame, even after three visits, I still don’t get it.

E: Winter Blues – Limassol Cyprus

IMG_3938Just  a few snaps taken from my December trip visiting family in Cyprus. The city still needs a lot more love and care to reach its full potential but it’s clear to see Limassol is still in a transitional period. Sadly I didn’t get a chance to lay eyes on the new beach which is taking shape at the marina and as always I’m still missing home a little.

E: Streets of Hanoi

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Hanoi is an undeniably beautiful city. Some people may fail to see that initially due to the noise, pollution and litter but having come face to face with those issues everyday at home meant those factors were easily to looked over.

Let me explain why Hanoi is such a great city, firstly and most importantly, crossing the street has never been more fun or dangerous anywhere else in the world. You don’t wait or follow instructions from crossing lights to cross a street in Hanoi, even looking isn’t exactly essential. Just start walking and the oncoming vehicles as if by some magic force, manoeuvre around you. Leaving you feeling a little like Moses.

Another of my favourite aspects of Hanoi is just how much time the locals spend on the street, during walks it wasn’t uncommon to pass people going about their daily business such as cooking, eating and washing themselves on the streets. It’s genuinley nice to see people spending time outdoors even if it’s not too far away from their homes. Get used to the little stools around town as they are your best and only friend when it comes to sitting down in Vietnam and are a standard features of most of the best restaurants for local street-food.

It was interesting to visit the Hoi Chi Min Mausoleum, (for those of you who don’t know what that is like me initially, it’s where the body of Hoi Chi Min (An important Vietnamese political figure) has been preserved and is stored in a glass chamber.) Another interesting cultural thing to see was the planes on display captured from the Americans by the Vietnamese. The number of planes and way they have been arranged indicated the persistence and strength of the people during the vietnam war.

The cafe culture and warm bustling streets make Hanoi one of my favourite places so far. Currently I think it has a tenancy of being overlooked due to the mass tourism funnelled into the bigger city located to the south (Hoi Chi Min City) yet I think in the future, with the right sort of growth, it could attract a lot of attention as a more ‘trendy’ type of destination, it brings so much of the Vietnamese people’s culture to surface and the city feels ‘lived in’ and ‘real’. I have no doubts I’ll be returning to Hanoi relatively soon.

Thanks again to my brilliant pen pals for guiding us almost everywhere! (Minh and Khanh)

 

E: Just got back from HK!

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Saying the last few weeks have consisted of regular ups and downs wouldn’t quite cover it. The last few weeks have been a heavy, energy depleting and demanding test of who I think I am a person and more spiritual bullshit continued…  within this recent time period I have undergone the hardest examination weeks of my life, (thanks again to Singapore’s education system for the joy that was), witnessed some of the most beautiful landscapes I will ever have the privilege of seeing and shamelessly devoured platefuls of dirt cheap, heavenly, world class foods.

Does the stress I endured during university time equal the enjoyment from travelling afterwards? I think I can just fold that page corner and add it to my binder of all of life’s complications that I cannot, will not and will never be able to solve. Hopefully however in the near future, just like what my hopeless memory has retained of my first year of studying in York, my mind will be vacant of everything but the pictures left behind and the simply the best memories. The only problem being as time stands is, I’m doubtful as to whether I can handle another semester in this strange bubble of a campus.

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What to say now about Hong Kong? The alpha+ city which first introduced the world to the concept of east meets west? The city is a loud, vertical, Cantonese speaking mess stuck in the 80’s, that makes it a rather fun mess too. The old housing blocks have aged beautifully into these captivating towers of unevenly shaded decaying paint jobs.

The contrast between the clean business towers and the slums, homes of everyday ‘rats’ caught in this city race cannot be see in any more clarity in the places I’ve been than in Hong Kong. The bustling night markets live up to everything they appear to be in photos and videos I witnessed as a child and the skyline with its gorgeous mountainous backdrop deserves every number 1 position it continues to earn in numerous rankings within prestigious publications.

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For a Londoner who now lives in Singapore unfortunately there isn’t much new to experience as Hong Kong. To me HK feels like a mashup of  Paris, London, New York and Singapore. Every corner I turned I couldn’t escape the Chanel, Marks and Sparks, Louis Vuitton, Pret a Manger, Apple Store, McDonalds, Starbucks and I could go on. So although not an en-lighting new place for me a pleasant weekend of interesting remotely familiar sights instead. If you’ve never been to the cities listed above Hong Kong is a great place to explore, for me, for now however the weekend was enough. Met up with some friends while I was there and really enjoyed some company and good food, Hong Kong has left me with little questions about the space unfortunately. If I ever visit again I’ll try to look at the place with a fresh pair of eyes.

Keep your eyes peeled on this space, I have a ridiculous amount of posting to catch up on. I’ll schedule the posts  for the next few weeks, sorry I haven’t been posting directly which would probably have been the best thing to do but as you can probably imagine I’ve been a bit caught up in living it haha! New posts soon!
IMG_2241Towers

IMG_2438Weather was miserable the whole time I was there!
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IMG_2331Rooftops

IMG_2413The Nunnery and gardens, my favourite place in HK

IMG_2398The view from the front door of my hostel building

IMG_2443Kasper, Gustav, Sharon, Joacim and Me. I will never forget the street karaoke in the rain!

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E: Submerged in a View

IMG_9891Honestly it’s difficult to describe the kind of high being at the marina bay sands infinity pool gives you. The view, so condensed in detail will literally leave you questioning whether your eyes are working at some new resolution. It is a picture which is very difficult to get bored of. Swimming next to this picture adds a whole new level of awe to the experience.

There really is something different about having nothing separating you and a view compared to views witnessed behind a glass pane. It feels so close, like the whole city is exposed for your viewing.

IMG_9930Cliché’s aside being up there really made me think about the future. Is this a glance at the sort of life I’d like to have one day? Who are the guests who can afford to come here on a regular basis? Do I want to be one of them? Surprisingly I came to a conclusion rather quickly. No, not really. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that they’ve all worked really hard to get where they are; to be able afford this life regularly, I just think to myself, isn’t this now, the excitement and rarity of the opportunity so much better?

Some people will want that constant luxury lifestyle and that’s absolutely fine and logical. It’s just simply put, it ‘ain’t my thing’. I will always feel satisfaction and pride of your work to a certain degree will always outweigh the importance of the amount of money you earn. I don’t know how the future will affect my views yet but for now at least this is how I feel.

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It’s not easy being out here but I can honestly say I appreciate every perk to the fullest when it comes. Honestly speaking if I could experience all of it, it all of the time I don’t think I would.  So I’ll have a blast while and whenever I can. I feel like I constantly prove it doesn’t have to cost anything if you get a bit of luck and help.

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Thank you so much to Alex’s parents for inviting us all up as guests for her birthday. We were spoilt rotten and treated so kindly for people they barely knew!

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E: Seaside Park ‘Molos’ Update

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So after a long wait I finally got the chance to go down to ‘Molos’ where I spent

 

countless hours sitting on the ‘dinosaur eggs’ and playing on the swings when I was a child to see the new layout. I need to say all of the falling apart, dusty charm has completely left. I guess I’ll have to keep that in my memory, what I can say it’s a beautifully modern, calm and radiant park. I wanted to revisit and get some better pictures but I ran out of time so these will have to do. Only half of the park was open and I won’t see the rest in a year. Well done to everyone working on the project, I had my doubts when I saw the plans but I need to say it’s good work on such a small urban space.

‘Molos’ was also the hosting space for the start and finish line of my 10K run. I completed it in just under an hour, thank you so much to everyone who donated, I had a great time and think I’ll keep this running thing up.

Please do not use these images without a link back to Ln-Lm.com

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