Monday, 30 May 2016

Treat Yo Self / Love Yo Self

Jumpsuit: Topshop
Shoes: ASOS
Sunglasses: Oysho

Confession time - I've owned this jumpsuit for almost one year and despite writing this post about it, I've never worn it out of the house. I went for a personal stylist shopping session in Topshop last year and let the stylist talk me into this. I was feeling confident, bold and snazzy in it so before I knew I walked to the till with it.

Once I got home I chickened out in classic Nina fashion and it's hung in the back of my extremely tightly packed wardrobe ever since.

I think I've said this so many times on here, but ever since I was 14 I don't think I've ever been happy with my body. In my head I know that if I stuck to some food rules and a gym routine then I could probably in all likelihood have that body I've always wanted. But despite some deep self hatred I can't find the motivation to stick to it. I also think that even if I managed to get what I perceive to be the 'perfect body', I still wouldn't be happy because I can fix what's on the outside but not what's running through my mind.

My body is wobbly, I'm sure I have cellulite on the backs of my legs but I don't care to check. My arms most certainly wobble and flap about, I hate wearing things without sleeves. My stomach jiggles and I can't remember a time when it was flat. I shy away from wearing things that cling to me.

With all that said, since early 2015 I've taken to running. I started off slow, it was hard and sweaty work. But in March 2016 I ran my first 10km race in 1 hour and 11 minutes. I'm due to run the Cardiff Half Marathon this October.

What running has taught me is that whilst my body wobbles and jiggles about the place, it can still do amazing things that it couldn't do before. With that vague confidence in mind this weekend I decided to finally wear this jumpsuit for its maiden voyage because if I can run a 10km race then I can bloody well wear a sleeves clingy stripy jumpsuit for a day out with one of my best friends.  So I did just that, and you know what? The world didn't stop moving and in fact, nobody cared about my body hang ups because everyone, including myself, was having too much fun in the sun living life.

I get so annoyed by myself and that my own self consciousness gets in the way of me doing what I want to do and wear what I want to wear. So this is me doing what I want to do and wearing what I want to wear despite what inner Miss Self Conscious says.

The moral of the story is, if you see something you want to wear - wear it. Treat yourself to it, wear it and feel amazing because you most certainly are. Don't let the negative voices in the back of your head get louder and talk you out of it.

"Accept who you are; and revel in it."

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Saturday, 28 May 2016

How To Be Alone Part 4: Stay Home

Joy Shared Mug - Heads Above The Waves

Home is where the heart is right? 

My little slightly rusty heart is curled up in my small 1 bed, open plan kitchen and living room flat on the second floor of a beautiful Victorian converted house. Visitors include my nearest and dearest and my landlord when he has to sign for my parcel or when the pipe under my sink breaks.

I've always been someone who has had to have a cosy safe haven. Especially since working full time having that special space I can retreat to is high on my priority list.

With so much going on in the 'outside' world it's easy to feel guilty about staying in. That dreaded Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) kicks in and you're furiously scrolling through Instagram wondering what everyone else is up to without you.

Of course I get that feeling of missing out as well, and there are some Sundays where unless I meet up with a friend for a walk, I can go a whole day without speaking to anyone. Once in a while it is good to just take some time away from everything and unwind.

I desperately need alone time regularly. I need to stay in my flat with the windows thrown wide open so the fresh air comes in. I need to curl up in bed with some new book and endless cups of tea. 

So how do you go about staying home and making the most of it?
  • Put the kettle on and have your favourite tea to hand
  • Make yourself your favourite breakfast, mine is either pancakes or french toast - these are quick and easy to make with things you should always keep stock piled
  • Take your fresh tea and breakfast back to your room and breakfast in bed like the royalty that you are
  • Have a bath in the middle of the day, there's nothing more luxurious or decadent than pampering yourself in the afternoon and then nesting for the rest of the day. Then lie in your towel on your bed for hours just napping
  • Have a clean out listening to your favourite playlist, a clean space will make you feel more relaxed and cosy
  • Pull some books of your bookshelf that you've been meaning to read for ages and pile them by your bed for easy access
  • Gather all your blankets and settle on the sofa with your favourite Netflix show - snacks are compulsory. Some of my current favourite shows to marathon are Grace and Frankie and Peaky Blinders
  • Alternatively watch some feel good favourites, my films of choice are Roman Holiday and Austenland
  • Wrap up your day with a face mask and your favourite home cooked meal
What are some of your stay home tips?

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Thursday, 26 May 2016

Nina Travels - BCN | Part 2

Our second full day in BCN stated off with us getting up early(ish) to get our tickets for the Pablo Picasso Museum. Again as with Parc Güell you have to get tickets for a certain entry time. We got lucky and got a fairly early entry, but there was still time for brunch before our time slot so that was music to my ears.

We stumbled upon one of Fiona's listed brunch spots by accident - Milk Bar and Bistro. I'm a huge lover of brunch and this one hit the spot perfectly. It's located in the Gothic quarter so we took a stroll around this amazing neighbourhood to walk off our food babies.

The Gothic quarter was one of my favourite experiences in Barcelona. Even just walking around it you can just feel this different type of energy to elsewhere in the city.

I loved looking up at all the buildings and peeking into people's flats (as I type this I realise how creepy that sounds). I'm so envious of all the Barcelona inhabitants and their high ceilings and wrought iron balconies. It reminded me so much of my year abroad, it was actually a bit nostalgic.

My absolute highlight of our trip was the Picasso Museum. Sadly I couldn't take any photos inside, I didn't fancy the wrath of the security guards so the above snap of the courtyard had to do.

We splashed out on a ticket with an audio guide to get the full experience. I've found that in some museums audioguides can be overwhelming and get a bit boring after a while. Not the case here. The audioguide offered a great insight into the paintings and the background of Picasso. We got to see some of the drawings that would later evolve into Guernica and the fascinating Las Meninas and The Pigeons series. 

The fact that the entry time was restricted to a certain number of people meant that whilst the museum was busy, it wasn't overwhelming and you didn't have to elbow anyone out of the way to see the paintings like you do in some places (looking at you Mona Lisa in the Louvre..).

Post the Life of Pablo we headed up to Montjuïc

We took the cable car all the way up to the hill and got some amazing views of Barcelona which were very different to the views we saw in Parc Güell. It was great way to see a slightly different side of the city, from one of the viewpoints we got a closer look at the ports and the beach.

Our next stop was the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya which in my opinion is probably one of the most beautiful buildings in Barcelona. The view over the city was breathtaking and you could see some of the buildings that were developed for the 1992 Olympic Games.

It was great to take a few minutes to sit in the blazing sun and just look out at the city. The sheer size of Barcelona is actually a bit overwhelming 

So whilst the view from the museum is stunning, the view up to it so also pretty amazing.

The Palace was constructed between 1926 and 1929, with the goal of being the main building of the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, holding an Exhibition of Spanish Art named El Arte en España (The Art of Spain). More than 5,000 works came to the Exhibition from across Spain.  I can't imagine the sheer manpower that went into building something so beautiful and then continuing to add to it.

Exhausted and hot from a long day of walking all over Barcelona we hopped back onto the metro and took a quick rickshaw ride down to the beach. This was the perfect way to wind down from our busy day. I braved dipping my feet into the water which turned out to be freezing and a wave caught me unawares so I just ended up with soaked jeans.

Sitting on the beach in Barcelona was a similar experience to Rio, sellers persistently try and flog their ready made mojitos and various snacks. One lady was even offering massages on the beach.

After resting and relaxing we headed back to the hotel to get ready for a night out in the W Hotel which you can see in the pictures below. We got our glad rags on and headed to the 26th floor to the Eclipse Bar. It was a fun experience of the Spanish nightlife, although by 2:30am Fiona and me were ready to call it a night. That and the fact that two gin and tonics came to €23. 

Sadly this is the end of my BCN photo roll. I'm already prepared to jump back on that plane. Even though this was my second visit I feel like there is still so much to explore, I'll most certainly keep my passport close to hand for a third visit.

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Sunday, 22 May 2016

Nina Travels - BCN | Part 1

Hola Barcelona, we meet again

As part of Fiona's early 25 birthday celebrations we threw our summer clothes into our suitcases, temporarily said goodbye to the Welsh rain and a 2 hour flight later found ourselves in warmer climates.

The last time in was in Barcelona was on my year abroad and it was a flying visit in the freezing cold so I was pretty excited to head back and explore Barcelona a little bit more in depth. I fell in love last time I was here and this time it was no different.

I dragged Fiona out of the hotel early on our first morning to head up to Parc Güell. An easy metro ride from our hotel and a slight uphill incline later and we were there. The sun had its hat on and I worked up a bit of a sweat in my trench coat.

Since my last visit this place has changed a lot. I was a bit annoyed to find out that you had to have a ticket to enter certain parts of the park now, including the famous platform with the beautiful mosaic benches which I had been able to visit for free last time.

So a word to the wise, if you want to get the full experience buy your tickets online before you get to Barcelona. There is a cap on how many people can enter for each specific time slot so choose your time slot wisely. We joined to queue for tickets at around 11:30 and were told that the next bunch of tickets would get us in for 7pm. So yeah, buy your tickets before you get there!

So despite 'ticket gate' I enjoyed the Parc just as much as when I first went. It is HUGE and although very busy it didn't feel crowded or overwhelming as these kinds of attractions can get.

If you visit Barcelona I would recommend that this be one of your first stops, it's amazing to get a full view of the city before you head downtown and explore everything you saw from above.

So we did just that. 

Taking the metro back into town (we bought the 4 days BCN pass which was worth its weight in gold) we stopped by the famous Sagrada Familia which is still not finished! We arrived at peak tourist time so it was heaving and a little stressful as the church is slap bang in the middle of a block with several busy roads. We saw many almost deaths where people were standing on the road to get the perfect picture.

We took a few minutes break here sitting in a park behind the 'Gaudi side', being surrounded by so many people was stressful especially when they're all armed with selfie sticks and you narrowly miss being clobbered by one.

The architecture and human effort out into making Sagrada Familia blows my mind every time I see the church. Apparently the church is entering the final stages of construction, only about 100 years since the first foundations were built. It's due to be finished in 2026 (when I'll be 35...) which is the year that also marks the centenary of Gaudi's death.

Next stop was La Boqueria. Also heaving with tourists and selfie sticks but a fascinating visit.

I'm not convinced if this is where the locals shop, if they do they come here the second the market opens in the morning to avoid all the fuss. We picked up a fresh juice to quench our thirst. I went for strawberry and coconut and it was so delicious.

For lunch we went to Bacoa on Av. del Marquès de l'Argentera. At this point I was so hungry (or hangry if you ask Fiona) that I didn't snap a proper photo of my food. But trust me when I say it was an amazing burger. The meat they use is from local farms in Catalonia and they use recycled cups and napkins. Plus they also make their own variety of ketchup. It's super yum and super easy to order - you fill out a form (which is also mercifully in English) and take it to the counter. Prices are also pretty decent. 

There are lots of Bacoas dotted around BCN so check out to see which branch fits best with your schedule.

One of the things I enjoy the most on holidays is just walking around and soaking up all of the atmosphere. This is pretty easy to do in Barcelona, especially when the weather is as lovely as it was on our trip. Warm enough to be without a coat but not roasting hot so that we struggled. 

Everything looks better under a blue sky anyway doesn't it?

So what better way to round of a churro-ific day than with some churros and a piping hot coffee? Never underestimate the power of a good coffee, this is something Fiona learnt very quickly with me. Not enough food or caffeine gets me a little grumpy so this was just what the doctor had ordered.

I left the food options in the very capable hands of Fiona who had a hit list of all the must go food places and this was at the very top.

Granja M Viader first opened its doors in 1870 and has been run by the same family for four generations. Rather unassuming from the outside we were their first customers of the late afternoon. But by the time we settled up it was getting pretty full. Inside it's not very fancy either, but I've found that the best places spend little on their decor and more on their food. So I was very excited about getting stuck in.

You can always tell how good a place is by whether the locals go there too. This is very much the case here. A group of elderly Catalonians were there for what appeared to be one their usual coffee, churros and catch up meetings.

Now I have had many a churro in my 25 years and these were hands down the best. Served to us piping hot with just the right amount of sugar and with a deep cup of hot dark chocolate this was the perfect afternoon snack. Often with churros it's the chocolate that lets you down, it's either too sweet or runny. Not the case here. The chocolate was a little bit tart which offsets the sweet churros nicely.

Sufficiently strengthened by a coffee and on a sugar high Fiona and me did some quick shopping (Spanish brands are so much more interesting and fun than British brands), then a quick stop off at La Pedrera Casa Milà before heading back to the hotel and enjoying a bottle of bubbly on our roof top pool.

Also, if you're looking for somewhere to have amazing tapas you NEED to go to Bardot Barcelona. After resting at the pool we decided to head there for dinner. Fiona and me ordered all the potatoes, all the cheese and all the meat (see evidence here), washed down with a bottle of Catalonian red wine. Needless to say I slept like a baby. 

More BCN photos coming soon!

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Thursday, 19 May 2016

How To Be Alone Part 3: Little Solo Adventures

Let's face it. Most of us have spent an aimless Saturday night endlessly scrolling through some travel bloggers Instagram wishing that you could just pack it all in and go travelling.

Alas, I have council tax to pay and a job to go to. I've moved around a lot as a teen and so I'm actually very content with being settled and growing my roots in Wales. My parents also live somewhere fairly exotic so I try and see them as often as possible.

But even I get itchy feet sometimes. Sometimes I want to pull down my suitcase from its hiding place on my wardrobe, and just throw everything in and head out. Sadly holidays and lack of funds means this isn't always an option.

What I'm trying to do instead is appreciate what is right in front of my doorstep, which in this case is the green mountain of Caerphilly.

Mini solo adventures are actually a great way to get out of the house and keeping yourself busy. It's easy to be sat at home overthinking things and getting down, but being in the fresh air seems to shake the cobwebs off.

Caerphilly is a quick train ride away from my house and on a beautiful clear day climbing to the top of the mountain is a good way of working up a bit of a sweat. Once I got to the top I rewarded myself with a thermos of tea and a breather.

Just being out of the house lifts my spirits. 

Little explorations outside of my own front door are a great way to be out and about but also feel like you are discovering something new. It might not be the Maldives or Thailand but this is my home country and exploring more of it makes me feel closer to it.

Do some research, see what's in your own back garden, pack a bag, put your trainers on and just get outside. You'll feel all the better for it.

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