Friday, July 21, 2017

Barcelona, I Love You



Traveling to Spain was never really at the top of my list until last year when one of my boyfriends best friend's asked us if we would join him on a trip of a lifetime to celebrate his 30th birthday. It made perfect sense to go on this trip because a few other people on the trip would be celebrating 30th birthdays and other milestones like wedding anniversaries. Our friend, Errin really took the lead on planning this trip. No lie, it took about a full year of planning.

First, we all set travel alerts to ensure we would get the best price on flights, given that July is still the height of Barcelona's busy season. I used the app "Hopper" to set my flight alerts. The minute I saw that ticket fell to $500 roundtrip I booked! Tickets were averaging over $800 so this was a STEAL! Tickets were booked in December to give you an idea of when you should start looking if this is a destination you want to visit in the summer.


Once flights were locked, Errin started the research for our home away from home. We chose the apartment route because there were 14 of us on this trip and we wanted to be together but still comfortable. Errin gave us a few options, but in the end we all voted on the Big Rambla III close to the city centre, near to Las Ramblas. It was a great space and gave everyone just enough comfort for our week stay. I would highly recommend going the apartment route if you are going to Barelona with a large group, that way everyone can stay together and create amazing memories.

Our first day in Barcelona was full of so much excitement. Our flight was overnight so we landed bright and early. Travel was smooth and once we arrived, the six of us who traveled together grabbed a cab and headed to the city. Our apartment wasn't quite ready for check-in but another group member arrived the night before and was staying at Barcelona Princess so we trecked over to her hotel to freshen up and relax until we could check-in. Upon arrival we enjoyed a little pool time, authentic Spanish Cava and some snacks from the bar.


Once our apartment was ready, we cabbed it over to the city center and checked-in. The minute everyone started to arrive the energy of the apartment just started to pulsate. We went from hitting a jet lag wall to wanting to run outside to explore. We freshened up and headed out to explore the sites that were in walking distance to our neighborhood. Las Ramblas is a spot just for pedestrians and is lined with outdoor markets, shops, restaurants and cafes. Reminds me a lot of Times Square if I had to make a comparison. It's a place where you obviously need to watch your bags and pockets to ensure you don't get pick pocketed but the shopping was EVERYTHING! So many cute affordable spots to pop in and out of.




After walking around for a bit we had to head back to the apartment because we had a private chef coming to cook us an authentic Catalonian dinner. We weren't sure what to expect but the food was divine and their service was amazing! Everything they prepared gave me authentic Mediterranean vibes from the Paella to the traditional Spanish omelette and the lovely Tapas.



Here's a glimpse of what we ate: Tuna empanadas, Iberic charcuterie, tomato bread, marinated grilled zucchini with sliced manchego cheese, fresh salted chistorra, col fritters, chicken, pork and vegetable Paella and assortment of desserts like almond tart, vanilla cream with red fruits. They also provided several bottles of traditional Spanish red wine and cava. To say we were full was an understatement! This was the ultimate dining experience.















Traditionally, in Spain the culture eats dinner quite late, usually starts around 9:30pm, so once we finished our dinner it was well beyond midnight. We took this opportunity to turn in as we had a very early morning the next day for our wine tour.


We woke up around 7am to ensure everyone had adequate time to get themselves together and prepare for the day. The wine tour bus picked us up about a 5 min walk from our apartment and took us out to the Penedes region where we visited three vineyards. The three cellars included: Jean Leon Winery, Bodegues Torres and Freixenet. This was a true wine tour experience.



It was great to get out to the country side and taste authentic Catalonian wine but if you aren't up for guided tours and plenty of talking then this is something you can ultimately skip. After the third guided tour we were a little over it and just looking forward to the actual tasting at the end of the tour.








If you're interested in booking or seeing what other tours are available, we used: bcn.travel.com 

After the wine tour, we were dropped off back in the city and headed back to the apartment for a little siesta. After everyone relaxed for a bit we got dressed and headed down to Port Olimpic, which is a marina with tons of attractions for both locals and tourists.



Port Olimpic is also home to the famous Barceloneta beach and the sail-shaped W-Hotel. To be honest, at first stop Port Olimpic was not my favorite destination, there were tons of tourists and it was super crowded. However, once we settled in and found a cute outdoor restaurant for drinks and tapas we were fine.

The next day, we went back to Port Olimpic to visit the beach and the site was completely different, It didn't feel as crowded and the views were absolutely stunning.



We popped by the Coconut Club for sangria and tapas before heading down to the beach to settle in on a spot. The beach was great, but be warned that it is extremely rocky. Once we got past that initial shock, it was great! Be careful, as tons of people will come up to you trying to sell you anything from massages to beers and cover up's. Make a decision on who you want to buy from and stick to it.


This day was literally never ending, because right after the beach we had to head over to the dock to get on our evening boat cruise. The boat ride was about a two hour sail around Barcelona and gave stunning views of the sunset. The dj was playing everything from Bruno Mars to Justin Bieber. The vibe was a little young and crazy, but if you're looking for something affordable to do with a group that includes being on a boat this really is your best option. The ride came with complementary beer and sangria.

After the boat ride everyone was starving so we stayed at Port Olimpic and ate at the beach restaurant Pacha. I ordered the Spaghetti alle vongole and it was to die for! I really enjoyed it as well as the Spanish wine.





After Pacha, we headed home and called it a night. The next day, we slept in a bit and when we woke up headed to Can Den De for brunch. I came across this spot on instagram and had been salivating over it for months. I convinced about half the group to head there with me and boy was it worth it. It's a quaint spot with only a few tables so the wait was rather long but it was a gorgeous day out so we didn't mind waiting outside while we enjoyed some strawberry mimosa's.



Once our table was ready we scanned the menu and knew exactly what we wanted in minutes. We started with the fried green tomatoes and cheese balls for the table and it was the perfect pallet cleanser. The tomatoes were topped with this beautiful relish the was super fresh and delicious. I ordered the eggs benedict with slow cooked shredded pork. It was an absolute food orgasm. I couldn't have asked for a better meal.





The service was lovely and the food was affordable, what more could you ask for? Can Den De is a MUST do while in Barcelona.





After brunch, I had a special surprise for Nate. I booked us one night at Olivia Balmes hotel so we could have a little time away from the group. This hotel was in the city center as well and had the cutest rooftop pool. If you have the chance to spend the night in a hotel, I would choose this one. Olivia Balmes had incredible service, super cute rooms and a yummy buffet breakfast. We enjoyed our stay there and would absolutely go again.



After we laid out by the pool for a while we took a walk from our hotel to see the Sagrada Familia. This a cathedral that was designed by the genius architect Antoni Gaudi (a universal figure of modern architecture).










It really is an attraction because as of today, 70% of the work on the temple has been executed, and the goal is to complete all of the architectural work by 2026. It's interesting to see the different sides of the temple as the designs and architectural types vary so much.

After seeing the sites, we took a cab to the W to experience what the hype around that scene was all about. Nate & I opted for an off the beaten path restaurant that was on the back side of the W overlooking the beach called Pez Vela.




It was super cute and perfect for a intimate dinner. We enjoyed our meal with cava and watched as the sun set over the Mediterranean sea. I would recommend getting the free range chicken at Pez Vela followed by the apple tart for dessert. This was one of our favorite meals while in Barca.

The next day, Nate & I checked out of Olivia Balmes and met back up with the group as we were heading out on a day trip to Sitges to enjoy the beach. Sitges is said to be the San Tropez of Spain and we did not want to miss this. Navigating our way to Sitges is actually quite easy, we just took the train after some guidance by the attendants at the station we got the right tickets. A round trip ticket to Sitges was about 8 euros. The ride took approximately 40 minutes; which is not bad at all given the fact that you are being taken out to a completely different town.




Once we arrived at Sitges, we collectively agreed that we should have spent half our time there and half our time in Barcelona. When we arrived at the beach we felt that we were instantly on holiday, the vibe was so chill and the people were were great. Shoutout to Layla from Finland who we met just swimming out in the ocean. You can tell that everyone there was just in relaxing mood and reading to enjoy their vacation.








Half the group loved Sitges so much that they stayed the night and got a last minute hotel. The balance of us took the last train out and headed to back to our apartment in Barcelona.

Once we got back to Barcelona, the sun was still out because  it really doesn't go all the way down until 10pm; which makes for super long days. Nate's co-worker recommend that we check out a spot called La Xampanyeria for some yummy cava and tapas.


 After one wrong cab ride we finally found the spot and was so glad that we did. This is another cannot miss restaurant in Barca. It's a little hole in the wall serving up amazing tapas and dirt cheap cava. Not only was it cava, but it was red cava and I had fallen madly in love. It was dry with a hint of fruitiness and sweetness and I could not have enough of it. So much so that we went back the following day so that I could buy a bottle to take home. Get this, the bottle was only 2.50 euros!!! What a steal. The server was telling me that the family who owns the spot makes the cava, it's called Can Paxiano.



Our last full day, we saved to explore Park Guell, another Gaudi creation. If you can, get your tickets online ahead of time to reserve your spot. If you do this you will walk right in. Make sure you print the tickets out and have your barcode ready to be scanned. We didn't and this delayed us for about 15 minutes while we asked the box office to print for us. There are tons of travel groups lurking at the entrance so you don't want to have to deal with that so just be prepared so that you can avoid any delays at all costs. Once in the park there are so many beautiful, hidden things to see. This is a great photo opp destination. If you have a sweet boyfriend like mine who doesn't mind taking a ton of photos of you then you don't want to miss this park.






Every corner has something for you to photograph. I particularly like the area at the top of the park where you saw a sea view and full view of Barcelona, it was gorgeous. As far as timing, I would recommend going super early in the morning or later in the evening. We went at 11:30am and It was way too hot, the sun was already at it's highest point and I was literally sweating out of my dress. If I could do it again, I would go during sunset, which is actually around 9:30pm.



Our last night in Barcelona we spent back to my favorite place La Xampanyeria and we hung out at the apartment taking a bunch of fun group photos. This really was a trip of a lifetime and I can't wait to do it all over again with 13 of the coolest people ever.





If you have any questions about anything I mentioned above, please feel free to let me know below.


Saturday, July 8, 2017

BOX BRAIDS



I know it's been a while since I've gotten a chance to publish a post on here, but that's because I've been doing a lot of hard work over on my Youtube channel! If I ever get a bit quiet on here, head over to Youtube to see what I've been up to.

In any case, this post was too good not to do in both places! If you guys have been following me for a while then you probably already know just how much I love box braids. I've had a borderline obsession with them for the past 5 years. This is my third time getting box braids and I love them just as much now as I did the very first time I got them.



I'm heading to Barcelona in a few days and I just could not figure out what I wanted to do with my hair. I usually don't have this much of struggle when it comes to knowing what I want to get done. Usually, it's a no brainer. I guess because there are so many dope hairstyles out in the market right now it was causing me a ton of confusion. I went back and forth between wanting to try a crotchet hairstyle to wanting the Beyonce lemonade braids.


After much thought and a cop out at a braiding salon last week, I finally decided on what I wanted and it was simple long medium sized box braids. These to me are the most versatile style to get and they look classic.



Are you struggling with what style to get this summer? Let me know what options you've been thinking about in the comments section below. The biggest cause of my confusion obviously came from instagram. Pages like protective styles and naturalhaircommunity ooze gorgeous photos of women with so many different hairstyles and in my head I'm like yeah, I can rock that! But can I really? Sometimes, you just have to go with what works for you and not the masses.


I got my hair done in Brooklyn at an African braiding salon on 310 Livingston Street. I saw my girl Rocky, but all the ladies in there are capable of giving you whatever style you desire. Just have a photo of what you want and be vocal during the hair braiding process.


It took about 3 1/2 hours because Rocky had some help, she had 2 other girls who were helping to finish the braids she started as she went along. I was nervous about this in the beginning but they all literally braid the same exact way so it ended up being totally fine.


My hair is still a bit tight but that's a given usually the first couple days of having box braids. After a week they should loosen up which is perfect timing for my trip next week. They will still look new and fresh but won't be as stiff as they are now and I'll be able to manipulate them a bit.

Lastly, the braids cost $140 / $160 with tip. I think this is a beyond fair price and suggest that if anyone is charging you more it's a straight up robbery. Box braids do take time but it's also unfair to over charge someone so be on the lookout for people who are trying to charge you $200 plus for the same style.


Check out my full video review in my Youtube video below:


That's it guys!! Hope you enjoyed this post. Let me know any questions you might have below. Happy summer.

xo

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