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Travel

Hola Barcelona!

December 19, 2017

This was my first time in Barcelona and I wasn’t sure what to expect. First of all I checked the weather and it looked like similar temperatures in November as in Southern California. When we arrived it was as expected, but the next day it dropped to low 40s. Brrrrr! Maybe that was my “unintentional” reason to go shopping for a jacket. It worked! Ha! The locals told me it’s only that cold for 5 days out of the year and this must have been the week. They were not used to this either.

Getting around in Barcelona is easy. Pretty much everything is in walking distance and they also have a great subway & bus system to get around. However, we mainly used taxis and Cabify (their Uber version). One day the entire country of Spain was on taxi strike so don’t rely on it too much :-). 

My 3 favorite things about Barcelona 

#1 Architecture

I don’t have a great knowledge of architecture but the one on Barcelona fascinated me. Gaudi is the main influence and the buildings he created are really one of a kind. They’re mostly inspired by nature – maybe that’s why I felt so intrigued by them. I could look at them for hours and always find something new. Really beautiful. The most famous cathedral Sagrada Familia was designed by Gaudi and he worked on the Design alone for over 40years on it. It’s still a work in progress – for the past 131 years – as it’s so many details and towers. Hopefully I’ll still be able to see his completed work of art. Goal is by 2026! If you want to be transferred into a fairy tale – walk around Park Guell. The buildings looked to me like gingerbread houses with sugar coating on top. You also have a great view over the city of Barcelona from the park. Make sure you buy tickets in advance as they sell out quickly. 

       

#2 Food markets

The biggest food market is La Boqueria right on La Rambla. This is the most amazing and biggest food market I’ve ever been to. You’ll find everything from fresh fruit, vegetables, meat (ham), seafood, candy, nuts, etc here. I snacked on fresh mango, had a seafood dinner and a dragon fruit fruit smoothie afterwards. So delicious! Keep in mind that the market is closed on Sundays (we didn’t know and arrived that day to explore the market but it was closed :-() Another cool and more upscale place to eat is El Nacional. It’s in an historic building that resembles the 1920s and you can try different Spanish dishes with high quality ingredients. 

 

#3 Shopping

I didn’t have shopping on my mind when I came to Barcelona. I promise!! However, walking down La Rambla and Old Town you just can’t resist checking out the many cute boutiques and Spanish brands like Massimo Dutti, Desigual and of course Zara and Mango.  My favorite was exploring the narrow alleys of Old town and the Gothic Quarter and discovering many small shops, new labels and designers. You should also walk down Paseig de Gracia – which reminded me of the “Champs Elysees” with many high end luxury designer stores. This was also my favorite street to view the modernist buildings and architecture.

  

One thing to be careful about in Barcelona is pickpocketing. I never think about this stuff when I travel in the US, but going to other countries esp. Europe you have to be mindful about your backpack and where you keep your valuables. Unfortunately, a colleague of mine had her purse stolen and I read that Barcelona is rumored to be the pickpocket capital of the world. Don’t feel intimidated to travel there now, just be mindful of where you keep your money. It’s easy to get distracted with the beautiful sights around you 🙂

To turn this post back to how awesome Barcelona really is…here’s my description of an epic run you should try:

This scenic run includes lots of famous sites, views and great hill work out! We started at our hotel in the marina, running along the waterfront into the garden park and to the top up to Montjuic. Best city views! From there we continued uphill to the Olympic complex and stadium that were held here in 1992. Then we continued to run back down through beautiful Greek gardens and past the national art museum (doesn’t the statue in the front look like ET?). I can’t remember the exact distance – around 4-6 miles roundtrip?! – but who cares when you’re having fun, right? 

 

Then we went to breakfast at Federal – healthy options and yummy smoothies! I was so excited they had a chia bowl (so so good) with soy milk (wow!) and fresh squeezed orange juice. So delicious! Nice service, cozy ambience and good music (if you dig Wutang like me :-)) – no worries they switched to more pop music when the crowds came in).

 

If you’ve been to Barcelona, let me know what your favorite things to do are in the city. What other cities in Spain can you recommend to visit? I always love to hear your feedback! 

Travel

Tokyo: Tea Ceremony (Day 4)

May 1, 2017

We started our day with a tea ceremony at Happo-En. When you drive through the busy streets of Tokyo along skyscrapers and condominium towers you would not expect to find this oasis.  All of a sudden you turn right, go through the gate and enter a beautiful traditional Japanese garden. You truly feel transported into a different time in Japan. As soon as you arrive a hostess greeted us and walked us through the garden to the 150 year old tea house. Pictures speak more than words…so just watch the video below: 

After the tea ceremony we walked to the imperial palace (it’s the primary residence of the Emperor of Japan.). You can access the east garden of the estate which is enormous…and this is only one part of the property. Cherry blossom trees where planted around the imperial palace for guests to enjoy (Thank you Emperor). For some reason when we got to Tokyo I thought we would only see them in one area in Ueno Park but we were lucky to enjoy them all around the palace (and Tokyo). 

    

Our next stop was a proclaimed hipster area called Tomigaya. This neighborhood had a complete different vibe than any other part we’ve been before – it wasn’t traditional Japanese,  nor touristy or historic but very urban. There were plenty of unique stores restaurant and coffee shops. As mentioned before, coffee is actually more popular in Japan than tea so there are plenty of cool coffee places around Tokyo. Hey, I’m a tea person – how did I start liking coffee?

 

We walked, explored and ended in Shibuyo where we stoped at Don Quijote shop – a crazy store where they sell everything you can think of (thrift store type) and Shibuya109 (department store for teenage girls). In between we had lots and lots of sushi / sashimi. I wish I could recommend specific restaurants, but I rarely could find / read the name. Honestly, you really can’t go wrong with any of them – so just explore on your own.

   

Oh one more…we were expanding our photo collection of “beige coats” today…which one is today’s winner?  

    

 

Travel

Tokyo: Asakusa (Sensoji Temple), Ueno Park & Shinjuku (Day 1)

April 9, 2017

Today was our first day out exploring Tokyo. We got off to an early start and where at 7am at the train/subway station. It took us a bit to figure out where to buy the subway card, which one and where to hop on the train as there are multiple different train & subway systems (so different maps for each one). Luckily, all Japanese people we’ve encountered are super nice and helpful, even if we don’t speak Japanese. Our first stop on our “sightseeing tour” was Asakusa station to visit the Sensoji Temple. When we got off the train station we found this Japanese restaurant that served breakfast right next to the Kamimarimon Gate (where a giant latners hangs). We ordered different items off the menu including rice porridge, grilled fish, sashimi, miso soup, sour tofu and cabbage salad…not a breakfast we’re usually used to, but something we could get used to! It was delicious.

Japanese breakfast Tokyo Japan Japanese breakfast Tokyo Japan temple Tokyo Japan

After breakfast we started walking along the Nakamise Shopping Street to the temple. The shopping street is filled with tourists but has lots of local food stands and souvenir shops. When you get close to the temple there’s a “smoke bowl” set up where people covered themselves in smoke from head to toe (I later read that they believe you get smarter by doing so). The Sensoji temple is the oldest temple in Tokyo, built around 628. All very crowded but still a must see esp. if it’s your first time in Tokyo.

temple Tokyo Japan Tokyo Japan

After walking around in the Asakusa neighborhood we took a bus to Ueno park. I’ve never seen so many people squeeze in one bus – what a trip! I was looking forward to get away from the crowds/tourists and enjoy a quite stroll in the park while admiring the blossom  of the cherry trees (that’s what I had in mind). However, as soon as we got to Ueno Park there where masses of people and under each tree where people having picnics. I couldn’t believe how many people pilgrimed there just to see it. The cherry blossoms where beautiful and just like you see in the pictures, but I more enjoyed experiencing the people & culture. The Japanese put so much love in detail and setting up a picnic with friends & family. Instead of steaks & sausages, they bring small bento boxes filled with many different vegetables and fish (mostly). I also saw many women dressed up in kimonos.

 cherry blossom tokyo japan ueno park  cherry blossom tokyo japan

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