January came around and filled my Instagram feed with vacation photos, it looked like everyone I know is by the sea somewhere,cue the serious case of beach envy. However an impromptu vacation seamed like such an unreachable goal, so I made myself agree with the thought that place don’t matter and I do not need a beach or sea or sun to feel good. The long bargaining process with myself was complete and by the time I have convinced myself that the bathtub with the sea salt is just as good as an actual sea my bf wrecked the game with he astonishing news aka $200 tickets for roundtrip to PR and back.
Now, I don’t know how this happened exactly, but Puerto Rico been slipping my mind this whole time, despite the fact that it has everything you need for a great vacation and I mean everything - it’s close (I live in NYC) it has palm trees, there’s Caribbean sea and practically unlimited amounts of rum and great, hospitable people. Still somehow I never made it there. Later on I realized that I have all these miles on my Delta account so I could get tickets for the trip practically free. The decision has been made - my bathtub can wait, we are going to Puerto Rico!
Neither me nor my boyfriend has ever been there, so we had no idea what to expect, where to go and where to stay, all we knew is that we wanted to stay as far as possible from San Juan, because it seamed like the most touristy part and we didn’t want anything along the lines of big resort where all you get is a very groomed up and distilled picture. We each picked a spot we wanted to visit - I chose Rincon, because I read that it is known for it’s sunsets and I am a sucker for a good sunset, my man chose Isabela because “it looked good on a map” (still not sure what it means btw) and we found a nice hotel we wanted to try out there.
It truly turned out to be a really beautiful place, rightfully known for sunsets. It is located on a edge of the western point of the island, so the sun sets right in front of you. I was a bit of a mad sunset collector, arranging activities in such a way, so to see sunset in a great spot every night, turned out the best place was our hotel all along.
It also could be called a surfer’s town with the younger crowd hanging out on the beach and at the little dive bars around. The whole atmosphere reminded me of Bally in a way.
There’s a cute lighthouse close by - Faro Punta Higüeras with the nice outdoor bar where you grab a drink or a bite and enjoy the surroundings. Keep in mind that the bar is cash only.
Bar is overlooking Playa Domes known for it’s competition level waves that attract countless surfers. It is worth stressing that this beach is strictly for surfing purposes, the waters are really choppy and there are riffs all around, so no matter how confident you are in your swimming the undertow is so strong, you really wouldn’t want to take any chances.
Curiously enough this beach used to house nuclear reactor and you can still see the dome, that gave the beach it’s name, peeking out.
Okay, so I didn’t know much about Puerto Rico prior to my visit, but one of the things I did know was Flamenco Beach, also known as one of the most beautiful beaches in a world. Naturally visiting it was high on the agenda, we booked a day trip and eagerly waited for the day to come. It indeed turned out to be the Trip. You see the Flamenco beach is located on a near by island of Culebra, where you can get by boat, leaving from Fajardo - charming place on a eastern edge aka exact opposite of Rincon, where we decided to stay. So in order to make it on time for our boat we would need to wake up at 4 a.m. and drive for 3 hours straight, if that seems like a lot add into the mix the sleepless night and some kind of stomach bug, that of course had to happen the night before big outing, multiply this by a 45 minute ride on a speedboat and you will get one of the most memorable rides in my life.
Still there are no worlds to describe how beautiful that place is and no matter how uncomfortable getting there part was - it was well worth it. I think it was one of the most magical experiences - the powdery white sands, making you feel like you are walking on a cloud, crystal clear, calm, warm water, all the shades of blue and turquoise, sky dipping into the sea - Heaven on Earth, no less.
Our trip also included the snorkeling part - but sadly I spotted very few fish, practically nothing compared to say Hawaii, which I think says a lot about the state of coral reef and serves as a very clear message of a responsibility we need to take to be conscious of our environment.
Speaking of which, i brought a bag of reusable straws with me on this trip and was annoying every bartender with my non-straw requests, but it starts with baby steps, I guess …
Even though the trip turned out to be and amazing experience - waking up at the crack of a down and driving well before sunrise have proven to be really challenging, so on our way back we decided not to do the planed El Yunque National Forest excursion.
We spend the rest of the vacation indulging in a truly vacation behavior - lounging around on a beach and drinking pinã coladas and it was the most perfect end to the spontaneous and much needed get away. I did tipped into the adventurous part of me and rode a bicycle, which may seem like a nothing to you, but I haven’t ridden a bike, since I was 11 years old, so i felt, like quiet a risk taker, when I suggested we ride some bicycles around.
There are many reasons to come back to Puerto Rico or visit for the first time:
People are very kind and welcoming, even though most of the road signs, advertising banners, grocery store labels are in Spanish, most of the people speak english and it is easy to get around and even if they don’t speak english, they would do anything they can to help you, like a really nice lady, who rescued us at the gas station, when we had trouble with making the damn pump work. The general mood of the people we met around was happy and relaxed. When you are greeted with the smile wherever you go, you can’t help but smile back.
Now, I understand that I only visited couple of places and I have heard different stories about cars being broken in and so on, but I haven’t met someone with malicious intent… and I think that if you follow simple “don’t be stupid” rule you will be fine, same can be said about NYC btw.
The food is great, really fresh and flavorful. Try the local dish called mofongo which is some sort of plantain mash usually served with some meat and sauce.
Pop in Cafeteria Progresso,if you are in Isabella, where everything is equally deep fried and delicious. Ask for a relines de papa, crunchy shell reveals mashed potatoes mixed with corn and some other veggies with the minced meat center, kinda like a meat raffaello. Average dish is $2.50 with the most expensive item $4.50 - it is a steal. To be honest that was the cheapest place we found around, because usual prices are similar to the once in NYC, drinks are cheeper tho.
The Reef in Isabella is also a really nice place with yummy, fresh sea food and a mean sangria.
Rincon is full of small dive bars and grills. Mahi mahi tacos were delicious in Calypso. In general you can rely on a google when looking for a place to eat, since now they include every spot, that’s how we found literal grill stand on a side of a road, humble surroundings - great food.
If you are planing a visit (and I think you should) keep in mind that most of the activities/attractions such as Flamenco Beach, El Yunque, Bioluminescent Bays etc all located closer to the east side of the big island, so you might want to find accommodations closer to that part.
All in all Puerto Rico turned out to be unexpectedly amazing and I would definitely love to come back again and explore more.
01.01.2018. The dust of 2017 just settled down and 2018 is just starting, so this seams like a good time to glance back on what this year has been. I am not super consistent with my blog and to be honest, I am not even sure if people want to see/read it, but writing things down helps me put my thoughts in order, solidify experiences and reflect on things. It is the way not to miss anything, when I write something down I get to relive all these moments one more time. So here we go.
Like any other year in anyone’s life it was a mix of up and downs, but I guess that’s what life is, it’s a wave and waves don’t die … People surprised me times a million and there were a good and bad surprises all together, some times I was left simply puzzled, not knowing what happened, how did it end this way, it’s like you want to ask all these questions, only there’s no one to ask. So i decided to just let things be and accept that it just the way it is, no chasing, no questions, no demands of explanations.
Lessons hopefully learned and I choose to keep focus on all the great moments of 2017 and there were plenty.
Last year January 1st i spend on a beach, the Brighton Beach - so no bikini necessary. I joked that I am like everyone else in my FB/IG feed and “blessed” because I am living this beach life, I was a little jealous of those who got to spend winter in sunny, warm places, ok, not little, let’s just say it - I was jealous, we all are… Little did I know that at the end of January I get to visit Bali! Looking back at 2017 now I am realizing that there’s sort of the theme to it. It is a year when many of mine long forgotten dreams came true. You know there’s a list of places you wanna visit, things you want to do and some of them you are wishing for for so long, that it moves to the back of your mind, because you think that it may not even happen, so you don’t think of it all the time, not to upset yourself. Bali was one of those thing and I still can’t believe how lucky I got… You can read more about my trip to Bali here - bit.ly/2zZZnMJ
Another awesome thing that happened last year happened in Los Angeles. I got to visit the Universal Studios and Six Flags. Growing up in Russia I wasn’t exposed to huge theme parks, I lived in a teeny tiny town after all. The only thing I knew about was Disney Land and only because they played the commercials before "Chip and Dale" would come on or "Duck Tales”, the commercials were always along the lines of - collect 10 yogurt cups for a chance to win a trip, etc,etc. I loved yogurt, I loved Disney cartoons but I never won…
So as far as Universal Studious goes, I couldn’t even want to go there, because I didn’t know that “there” existed. When I came to America, I learned about it, but I thought that I am too old to be bothered. I was wrong, a lot, like really wrong.
Universal was a blast and a splash and a hoot and a half. I loved all the rides and the studio tour, you are never too old for that,since it is simply magical and I got to be a child, who smiles so much his cheeks are hurting! Six Flags was a first too, but I was hot and scared and then hot again too many times to get the thrill of it. Still so happy I finally get to check it out.
I got to fly to Hawaii and even though I only spend a little over then 24 hours there, I still count it a huge win, because I just love it there…
My friends got married this summer and it was all together so special to me, because I introduced them to each other, what followed was totally there magic, but it makes me so happy that I, in my small way, helped them find each other, seeing them is seeing love in action and it always fills my heart. Moreover I got to be the flower girl at there wedding. Here is another dream, I didn’t know I had, come true. Again in Russia (I say that a lot) we don’t have a flower girl as a concept and later on I learned that usually it’s a role little girls from the family play, I was a 5 foot 10'' flower girl, not your ordinary wedding, huh? but considering that the groom wanter to ride in on a camel, anything goes. That’t one of the many reasons I love those guys, they live there truth and do what makes them happy. The camel didn’t happen though, the very tall, asian, twirling flower girl did :)
I got to ride in a fire department car and blow a horn! One more long time wish come true. The fact that it topped the end of amazingly fun and warm bachelorette weekend, was an icing on a cake!
I saw a super bloom at Antelope Valley, California. I grew up in a very remote town in Far East Russia, where winters are long and trees are skinny… Blooming anything was never a thing, so I am getting super excited every time I see a flower on a tree, or Good god an apple growing on a tree, to me it’s like a miracle, so seeing the whole valley of flowers, that was like magic.
I received Presidential Service Award and Letter of appreciation from President Barack Obama for my volunteering with New York Cares. I write about volunteering a lot. You can find other blogs under volunteering tag or read more here - bit.ly/2qKblGo
I got to practice art of Japanese Tea Ceremony and share my love and passion for it with my friends and family. bit.ly/2C63Lf8
I got to see The Metropolitan Museum before it opens to public. Walking through empty halls, chasing morning light is a wonderful feeling…
I reconnected with my homeland and discovered Moscow in a new light -bit.ly/2lDbFFG
I went to Spain at last. Barcelona… a dream,that I had since I was a teenage girl finally came true … - bit.ly/2C6i17N
I peeked at Vienna - a six hour layover, but still managed to find the absolute best beer and stuffed pita place, that was explained to me as a pizza with a hat on …
Even writing this list down I am overwhelmed by how good this year was and I owe many of these moment to my wonderful partner and I am thankful for him being in my life.
Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of hard moment, a lot of sadness and uncertainty and some times doubt and fear, but I want to remember last year by all the glorious moments and I hope you would do the same in your life… Put a magnifying glass to all good that happen to you, relive it, feel it, multiply it.
I wish that 2018 will be a year full of amazing travel, adventure, new experiences for all of us, I wish it would be full of life, great worth living life.
In the long list of places I dreamed of visiting Spain was one of the firsts. I remember being in school and seeing Sagrada Familia in one of the traveling shows, back then in my tiny hometown in a far, remote and snow covered part of Russia, Spain and Barcelona and Gaudí creations seemed so impossible and unreachable, so the desire to see it all with my own eyes existed inside of me, but in a very faint way… like the thing that might never happen, something you are hoping for, but never truly allow yourself to give into.
Later on, when I was already living in NYC and after traveling for a while, world no longer felt like a stranger to me, many things that seemed impossible before were now a reality to me, yet Spain, although no longer an unattainable dream, still would not come thru, even tho most of my model friends ended up traveling there for work, it just never happened to me that way and it still was a tiny dream, carefully tacked away in my heart.
Years passed by “Vicky, Christina, Barcelona” came on the big screen and this might be cheesy, but it gave me a new wave of desire to visit the city that was always there on a back of my mind. I could feel the warm breeze of a lazy evening on my skin, I could practically hear the Spanish guitar, I already loved the city I have never been too.
Few more years passed by and finally I made it to Spain.
Now in a frenzy of excitement I totally ignored doing my research before going to Barcelona and just assumed that Uber or Lyft or some kind of similar service would be available there, years of living in NYC spoiled me into believing that everything will be accessible everywhere 24/7. So upon arrival I was greeted with the unpleasant surprise, none of the car services I am trained to relay on were at my disposal. So I scattered and downloaded myTaxi app, which was a challenge in itself, with the unreliable airport wifi, some 30 min later, I finally managed to call a car, only to realize when it finally arrived, that it was from the same taxi company, cars from which were lining outside of Arrivals exit this whole time … Big mistake, don’t be like me. Later I learned about buses that run from airport to Plaça Espanya and Plaça Catalunya, which provide much cheaper alternative - https://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/airport/transport/barcelona-airport-bus-aerobus.html
The thing about Barcelona is that there’s so much to see and do that you find yourself constantly on a run, walking and walking around and then walking some more, so comfortable shoes are a must. My phone was alerting me with “new steps record” notifications nearly every day, which came in handy considering tones of carbs I consumed that week. May be I was doing something wrong, but somehow I found it that in Barcelona you are constantly surrounded by one or other form of carbs, weather freshly backed bread paired with amazing olive oil, or toasted bread with some kind of topping, which makes tapas for 5 euros a pop, or bread sticks or pasta or pizza or rice in paella … Somehow I couldn’t escape the festival of cabs and cured meats … and well, I guess I didn’t mind it … but the 25 000 + steps a day gave me comfort and eased my guilt. I don’t want to say that all the restaurants are carb oriented, I’ve heard of a popular health restaurant “Flax and Kale” for example, I just never made it there.
And there was one more place that stood out to me, the sea food place - La Paradeta http://www.laparadeta.com/en/. It is simply amazing, the freshest sea food possible, it’s arranged in a market style, you chose the sea food you like, choose the way you want it to be prepared and pay for the weight of things. Everything is heavenly delicious… everything is grilled, sautéed, steamed to perfection to crisp, bold, flavors… One of the best meals I had in Spain and one of the best sea food experiences ever, the place is quite popular and line start forming half an hour before opening and although it moves pretty quickly, line never stops, theres always people outside, so I would suggest coming early, also check the website or google for opening times, it works only certain hours a day and it is usually closed on Mondays - FYI.
Speaking of things being closed - all the grocery shops are closed on Sunday, that’s the way Europe is and its something to keep in mind, although worst comes to worst there’s lots of small bodega shops with bare essentials open late and 7 days a week.
Many museums are closed on Mondays as well, something to pay attention to. Another thing to watch out when considering visit to a museum - lines, standing in line turned out to be inevitable - weather in line for a popular tapas place on a saturday eve, or hip restaurant or a museum, somehow you always find yourself standing in line. If you want to cut down line standing to a minimum I would suggest booking a ticket on line. Most of the activities you can book a ticket to with designated time, which makes visit pleasant and hassle free.
In high demand things like:
Park Güell - https://www.parkguell.cat/en/. Ticket 7 euro
I walked for oven an hour, most of the time uphill, only to find out that tickets were sold out for that day, pretty disappointed I was happy to learn that there was a free of charge part of the park, where you can roam around freely, which I ended up doing and enjoying thoroughly. So consider getting tickets on line, to avoid disappointment, it is worth noting that at the moment Nature Square in park is under construction, so there’s a big hole right in a middle of admission covered part of the park.
Sagrada Familia - http://www.sagradafamilia.org/en/. Ticket 15 euro
Do book tickets on line for this one, you would not regret it. It is the same price, as if you were doing it on a spot, but you won’t have to stay in line, tickets are timed, so you will know exactly when to come there plus, I think they monitor the amount of people allowed inside so do not worry about feeling crammed.
Now I know that many people, tourists and visitors have Sagrada as a kind of staple thing, run pass it, take a quick shot outside, cross it of the list and be done with that. I urge you to go inside. It is simply magnificent … I didn’t look at any pictures from inside the cathedral, so the impression was that much stronger when I walked in. Tickets we got were for 5 p.m. and I think it was the perfect time of the day to see it. The sun was at the angle that let the light in through red and orange side of the glass wall (vitrage), it looked like the whole place was bathed in this golden honey light, making you feel warm and comforted… Snow white beams, shooting up, joining at the celling in a intricate pattern, light pods, that looked like something out of space ship, the whole place is amazing and it is overwhelming to think that it was designed all this years ago and to think of a mind who conceived it… I even shed a secret tear of joy, luckily everyone was too busy taking pictures and staring at the phone, so none noticed it… I stood in bewilderment - I am finally here and it is better then I could ever imagine it to be.
Casa Batllo. - https://www.casabatllo.es/en/online-tickets/. Ticket 28 euro
This is an another must see. Granted the tickets are pricey, but if you book them on line you pay 23.50 euro plus you get an audio guide and a portable screen where you can see how each room looked like back in a day when Batllo family used to live there. The whole tour takes about an hour and it absolutely worth it both time and money, this house not only amazing to look at from the outside ( like many of Gaudí’s) buildings, it is also absolutely amazing to discover inside, and you get access to everything, every floor, outside patio and rooftop, the place is incerible … attention to details is immaculate, every little thing is in place and for a reason and If you want to feel what Gaudí creations are about - you should visit this house.
Casa Milà (La Pedrera) - https://www.lapedrera.com/en/home. Ticket 22 euro
The most stunning feature of this place is the rooftop it gives you a fairy tail feeling, and as far as I know they hold concerts on the rooftop sometimes and I can imagine this being a transporting experience.
Other then that - most of the building is not accessible, there is a bid with exposition at the mezzanine level, that tells you that Gaudí found his inspiration in nature, but honestly by your second day in Barcelona you know all that and you do not need a sea shell or honey comb in a glass box to convince you. There’s another level - Apartment where you can see how people used to live. You get an audio guide with your tickets and courtyard is really nice, but you should decide for yourself if this worth 22 euro… There’s a bit of confusion on a way in and I feel like most of the visit is you waiting in line for an elevator, if you want to skip the line, just ask where the stairs are - it is 8th floor and people will try to talk you out of it, but it is really easy and much faster then they make it out to be.
The beach. La Barceloneta. - https://www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/attractions/barcelona-spain-beaches.html
One more nice thing about Barcelona is a close proximity to a number of beaches, Barceloneta, might be the most famous(read touristy) one, but really there’s a whole strip of beaches located along the coast. To my disappointment this September was unusually cold, according to locals, so I couldn’t swim … those 4 bikinis I packed never made it out of suitcase, and even if I would put them on all at once one on top of another one, still wouldn’t be warm enough to take a dip … nevertheless the sea is always beautiful and it is impossibly blue in Barcelona … Joining the blue sky - what a sign for a tired heart …
Be prepared to walk a lot. Walking in Barcelona is not a chore, it is in adventure in itself - you get to discover small streets and passage ways, beautiful buildings and cute lunch spots, do wear sensible shoes tho.I stayed at L'Eixample neighborhood, so I walked to every sight. It might make sense to invest into centered location, so everything is close by. El Born is popular, Gothic quarter is touristy, but you will be right in a heart of everything. If you do end up staying further away, I would probably recommend investing in Barcelona Pass - gives you an opportunity to use all types of public transport, which is really easy and reliable.
Book tickets on line, this way you will safe yourself lots of hassle, standing in line and disappointment of seeing a “sold out” sign. You might also save some money, since some places are cheeper to buy on line. Only use the official web sites while buying tickets, like the one I linked to in this post, other places often charge you ungodly commission.
Try to have an earlier dinner, most of the locals have dinner after 9 p.m. so thats when restaurants are busy and it is hard to get a seat at a popular place.
Most of the places people speak english, so it is easy to get around, but make effort of saying few things in Spanish, things like “hello" and "thank you", it is not much, but at least you tried.
Most of the places have free wi fi, they don’t always advertise it, but if you ask, you will get a password.
Cava is a kind sparkling wine and unlike champaign it would not upset your stomach ( or is it just me who have thing problem) Cava is great. Drink cava and be happy.
Be ready to eat good food, drink good 4 euro a bottle wine, be ready to smile a lot, keep your eyes wide open, on a lookout for the next gorgeous building, be ready to be floored by Gaudí’s masterpieces and magnitude of one persons creative ability, be ready not too see everything at once, to have the feeling that you are missing something, be ready to make a promise to come back.