#1926 | Mocha Monday: Vientiane Special

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All photos taken on the Nikon Df on a 35mm lens.

imagesVientiane, Laos.

Mocha Mondays is a new and semi-regular feature on cafes and how workable they are, for freelancers or students looking for a place to park themselves at while getting work done. It may or may not actually feature mocha.

Hey guys,

So, Vientiane, Laos, was surprising to me – in that all the pre-trip research I did showed a chill sorta city, with not much by the way of bucket list sorta attractions. You know the type: 10 things you must see in XXX, 25 awesome things to visit in XXX, und so weiter. Nothing anywhere told me that the city would be a hotbed of smiles, a budding cafe-lover’s dream, a dusty bank of sandy sunsets. But it was, and so here I am. For this week’s Mocha Monday, I thought I’d do a Vientiane special on a few cafes I hit up while in the city which I personally enjoyed, all of which are conveniently located walking distance from one another!

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imagesComma Coffee

We hit Comma Coffee first because it was the top listed cafe in Vientiane. It was the place where I learnt that Vientiane was a sort of coffee mecca, with home roasted beans and premium brews. Laotian coffee, as I mentioned in my Luang Prabang BSG, is an intense sort of concoction, but that’s their traditional brew – most cafes in Vientiane serve their cuppas in a much more familiar western style of Latte, Flat Whites, and Cappuccinos.

The coffee itself was smooth, and I would imagine – a hit with tourists or travellers keen on the safer options after spending some time experimenting with the kick of traditional laotian coffee. I had a flat white, which was recommended by the barista, and I can’t decide if I liked that or the beautiful atmosphere with gorgeous natural lighting better. What sealed the deal for me though, was the friendliness of the barista there – easily the friendliest of all the cafes we hit. He grew up in Wellington, New Zealand, and cheerfully informed us that his best friend was one of the dwarves in the Hobbit.

And isn’t that the best part of travelling? Meeting new people, exchanging stories? We spent a good hour and a half just relaxing in the cafe, chatting casually with him and amongst ourselves, after which he pointed us in the right direction to the best spot in town for catching the sunset. Score!

Comma Coffee
Setthathirath Road
Opposite Lao Development Bank, Vientiane 01000, Laos

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imagesLe Trio Coffee

The thing I remember most of Le Trio Coffee: it was a much needed caffeine slap on a day we were exploring Vientiane mainly on foot. It was probably the best coffee i had in all of Laos, to be honest. Laos used to be colonised by the French, so it’s no surprise that the French cafe influences still remain in pockets throughout the city. In this case, I’m so glad – because I really, really needed that kick. I had a piccolo latte and to me, it was perfect.

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I don’t know why i am doing this when i actually hate the show but ok.

Another thing of Le Trio Coffee – while I was waiting for my piccolo, I ended up conversing with another waiting customer in German. He was from Austria, and in my broken German I pieced together that he came specially to Vientiane whenever he was in the Laos-region just for the coffee at Le Trio. The owner is apparently a French born expat who started Le Trio primarily as a roasting company (100% Laos Arabica and Robusta coffee blends!) and then added some chairs and tables to serve coffee as well.* If that isn’t a great recommendation, i don’t know what is.

*Please make exceptions for errors in translation mainly because my German is very, very basic and I may have misunderstood him at some points..

Le Trio Coffee
Setthathirath Road, Vientiane, Laos

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imagesNaked Espresso

Naked Espresso is very, very new. It’s so new we basically stumbled upon it instead of seeking it out – it’s not really listed prominently in any location based recommendations app so far. But I’m so glad we walked in! It was like one of those magic tents in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – the further in we walked, the larger and more spacious it got. Seriously though, this place looked like a tiny hole in the wall from the outside, and the inside was huge.

I like that Naked has great informative chalkboards around the cafe which double as beautiful decorative pieces. They’ve got this huge chalked poster detailing main coffee growing areas around the world spanning one wall, then frames that teach you what the different types of coffee are or what kind of latte art are common/ available. I requested a peacock after looking at their boards (the peacock design isn’t pictured in this board):

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Not bad, huh.

I had a macchiato, but I have to say, though, that their iced mocha deserves a sort of special mention. It was really.. quite remarkable. It was icy but not dilute in the least, it was the kind of gao milo-dreams are made of, it was a pure shot of chocolate. I loved it. Definitely order this if you’re going to be in the area.

Naked Espresso
Dongpalan Road, Vientiane, Laos

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Sunnies: Tens, Necklace: By invite only store, Watch: Daniel Wellington Watches | Top: Topshop, Pants: Bangkok

imagesCommon Grounds

We came to Common Grounds because it was very, very highly rated on tripadvisor – and to be sure, the coffee was so good that I actually bought their own house blend roasted coffee grounds back to Singapore just so I could keep having it. However, there are a couple of things that detracted from the coffee for me. The lack of latte art, for one, is a dumb complaint to have but a valid one when most cafes rely on the new word of mouth – instagram – for a steady stream of new customers. Secondly, the interior was nothing to shout about – plus points for their little playground catering to customers with kids, but some parts of the cafe were severely fly / mosquito infested, which can really be a huge minus because a large part of cafe culture is the atmosphere of the place. So – great coffee, maybe better for takeaway?

Common Grounds Cafe and Bakery
Chao Anou Road, Vientiane, Laos

Bonus round! Not a cafe in the traditional sense of the word, but…

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imagesHouse of Fruit Shakes

This cafe sells the best fruit shakes in town. Do I know this because I tried every single fruit shake shack in town? No, I know this because it said so on google. And we all know that whatever is on the internet must be true…

Seriously though. The fruit shakes here are extremely affordable, and they do serve coffee / coffee blend options too. I had a banana-coffee shake which was very interesting, but the mint-lime concoction you see above was a hands down winner. It was refreshing, delicious, and extremely photogenic. So perfect after a day in the hot Laotian sun. Love!

House of Fruit Shakes
Th Samsenthai, Vientiane, Laos

Alright, that wraps up my Mocha Monday Vientiane Special! I hope this helps anyone headed to Vientiane, and otherwise, I hope it inspires you to one day put Vientiane on your radar of destinations within Southeast Asia. Thanks again to the Unravel Travel SG team and Changi Airport Group for sending me here, and here’s to more adventures to come. This trip was a sort of prelude to the Unravel Travel competition held shortly after my trip’s end, and you can view the teams and their videos/entries here. I also filmed a couple of episodes of a Laos travel series for them, which you can watch below:


Till next time!

X
♥jem

#1925| How I edit my Instagram Pictures

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Hey guys,

First up I just wanted to pop in and say thank you for the overwhelming response to my last post. It was incredible – I got emails, askfms, and private messages from people I haven’t heard from in forever. It seems that these issues affect people more deeply than I realised. A couple of people emailed me saying they broke down and cried, which I assure you, was not the effect I was going for.. but still. The piece has also since been picked up by two sites and reposted with permission, on Get Klarity and Madereal SG.

In any case, even if I haven’t had the chance to reply you guys individually, please know that I’ve read every single one of your emails and comments and messages, you guys are very very sweet. Stay golden.

Anyway, I’m back on the blog today with a super simple, more light hearted update – it’s something that a LOT of you have been asking me to write about for awhile now. So, here we go:

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Instagram: @jemmawei.

How I edit my Instagram Pictures!

I have to first clarify that my pictures aren’t super professional because hey, I’m just one girl instagrammin my way through life, am I right. I took the chance to write up this post now because as most of you may know, I’m basically in the most photogenic city on earth during it’s most photogenic time, SAKURA SEASON IN TOKYO! I know, I know, I’d hate me too.

So, Frequently Asked Questions:

1. What camera do you use to take pictures for instagram?
I use either my iPhone 5s or a DSLR. Right now, nearly my entire Tokyo photoseries on instagram was taken with the Nikon D5500, which is a fantastic entry level DSLR with WIFI! Convenience at its best.

2. How do you instagram when abroad?
I usually either get a local SIM card, or use a wifi device. For Korea last year and this trip to Tokyo, I’ve been using y5buddy which has super 4G connection for up to ten devices.

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hiding out in my traditional japanese room – check out airbnb.com/jemma for more info

3. The most perplexing question- how do you get all your photos to be in “Square mode”?
GUYS I don’t know if you realise this, but you can take your pictures in square format on the iPhone. It’s a built in function on your camera app. And if I’m using the DSLR, I gauge it according to the grid lines that appear when I’m trying to take a picture, to get an idea of what my stuff will look like when squared.

4. What are your favourite photo apps?
My primary babe is Afterlight for iPhone. It’s the best 99c I’ve ever spent, and I always buy the in-app updates and filters because they’re always just that good. They have Afterlight for Android too, and I’ve tried it, but it’s a little slower. The iPhone version is better, for now.


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This is what it looks like. Basically it’s got a bunch of the best filters ever, and my personal favourite is the glen at about 70%, followed by cascade at about 50%. Both these filters are under the Wander Pack. What I like about afterlight is, beyond all the standard lighting and exposure tweaks, you can stack filters, and even create your own so you can keep using it whenever you want to.

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See the difference? The filters give it a warmer, but more mellow tone. It’s a little surrealistic, which is what I like. I don’t want my pictures too clarified or sharp because it looks a little too ‘professional’ for my taste – I want my pictures to look a little like what I feel reflects my own style. So there you go.

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Usually Afterlight is enough for me, but here are some of the other photography apps I have on my phone. Let me just run their main benefits by you, so you know what they’re best for:

Snapseed: best for brightening one specific part of your picture. Just in case something is in the shadows, or whatever.
Pudding cam: it’s just a vanity selfie camera that produces grainy dreamy pictures. Might delete this soon.
Photowonder: I like that you can use it to make collages, remove spot blemishes, and that you can use an in-app pen to doodle on your pics!
Meitu Pic: The english version of the originally very confusing MTXX, which was all in chinese. Best for brightening your entire picture with a dreamy tone. Really good filters for portraits.
VSCO cam: best for photo transferral between computer and phone. If you plug in your iPhone to your macbook, you can actually drag and drop pics from your macbook straight into VSCO itself and it’ll appear on your phone. It’s under APPS in iTunes.
Party Party: Photo Booth app, takes cute videos with kitten sounds lol
Perfect 365: isn’t that great an app, I downloaded it to play with the make up function but it’s not very flexible and keeps turning my cheeks purple.
WMU Nikon: WIFI APP FOR TRANSFERRING PICS STRAIGHT FROM NIKON TO PHONE!!! BEST APP EVER.
Layout: Instagram’s new collage app. It’s alright.

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The ones to look out for are Snapseed, VSCO, and WMU if you have a Nikon. Reason being Snapseed always comes in handy when you least expect it and doesn’t compromise your photo quality, VSCO is incredibly useful for transferring pics to and fro your computer without requiring an internet connection, and WMU is perfect for instant DSLR to IG updates.

Alright, so actually that’s about it. It’s super simple, really.

Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions here or over at askfm, and I’ll try my best to answer them / add them in here along the way!

X
♥jem

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Find me on Instagram at @jemmawei.

#1924| Learning to Love Yourself

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Hey guys,

So this is a post that has been requested many, many times from all of you. More, since I started ask.fm over a year ago. Variations on the question: How do you find it in yourself to be confident and love yourself? The unspoken tail end of the sentence – given how you look?

I left all those questions unanswered in my inbox after the first few, mainly because I didn’t know what to say. It struck me recently how impressionable some of my younger readers are, given the questions and responses I’ve gotten from them over the past year, and I didn’t want to say the wrong or unconsciously damaging thing. Yet, as the number of questions in my inbox increased, it started weighing on my mind more and more, which is how I ended up where I am again, here, in front of a computer in a quiet place, tapping thoughts out freely and hoping for the best.

A while ago, Grand Hyatt Singapore invited me down to stay in one of their rooms. Catch a break from writing my thesis, take a dip in luxury, und so weiter. I’ve worked with them before, and I only have fond memories of the Hyatt – I used to carol in their lobby, I stayed there on my prom night, and now I’m friends with the Hyatt girls. So yes – Martin and I took the opportunity to orchestrate a fun, pastel themed shoot. Before we went down, he sent me mood boards of pastel coloured skirts, candy, lipsticks. I did my hair and he went to Fairprice. We checked in and scattered candy everywhere. We took photos. We cleaned up after ourselves.

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When shooting these photos, a fleeting thought crossed my mind: what are people going to say when they see me holding a bowl of candy? This is no frivolous concern. I have a lot of kids following me on instagram, and I have a lot of vocal followers. I get a lot of intrusive questions. And I thought to myself: I’m just inviting criticism – people are going to say that I’m advocating an unhealthy lifestyle again. Hey, it’s happened before. People actually find it okay to come up to me online and comment on my cafe pictures to tell me I shouldn’t be eating my eggs ben. Do you know how many calories there are in that thing?

And then I thought – this is a chance to talk about something I’ve been wanting to talk about for awhile now. Fine. I’ll talk about it.

Like I mentioned at the start of this post, the most frequently recurring question I get online is how are you so confident? I don’t believe that any of these questions asked are borne from malice – fine, maybe one or two are, coming from the odd troll – but most of the time these questions reek with sincerity. They really want to know how it is possible to love or at least be comfortable with oneself if said person deviates from the cookie cutter mould. And that’s painful, because it shows one thing: that most of these girls (or boys, lots of the askers are anonymous so I don’t know) genuinely feel like it’s impossible to maintain a base level of confidence unless you look a certain way.

This is, of course, a lie – it’s difficult, nearly impossible, to maintain a base level of confidence no matter how you look. It is a problem, a uniquely first world problem, where in absence of proper, real crisis, we pick ourselves apart and project societal expectations onto our own bodies. Part of it is the media, telling us how we should look. Part of it is society. We generally don’t feel up to standard. But if you take a look at successful actresses and models, people who make a living based primarily on the currency of physical beauty, a lot of them talk freely about their insecurities. It is confusing: how can someone so obviously beautiful feel insecure? But they do, and their feelings are as valid as anyone else’s. People are entitled to feel however they want to feel about their bodies.

This may not do much for you, but it does prove one thing – you can be insecure no matter how beautiful you are. Ergo, it is not about you, in the physical sense of the word. People know this, but they don’t understand it. Why?

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Let me first be clear: I am fully aware of my privilege. I have been teased but never outrightly bullied in school. I know that for someone working in the media, I am unusually celebrated or accepted for who I am. I very frequently get girls coming up to me telling me how (their perceived levels of) my confidence inspires them. I don’t get as many haters as I honestly expected to when I entered the industry two, three years ago. People as a whole seem happy that there is some form of diversity being represented in the scene, and they do their best to inform me of their feelings. They tell me that I should never ever lose weight because that’s what makes me special. (Someone told me this to my face in a very well meaning and nice way.) You go, girl. Keep doing what you’re doing. How are you doing it again?

At the same time, although I don’t get as many trolls as I expected to, they’re still there. They pop up once in awhile, and find it completely acceptable behaviour to leave comments or send me anonymous emails asking me You really think you beautiful ah? Do you honestly think you’re pretty? Go lose some weight first lah. The assumption being, of course, that being confident or at least, being comfortable with posting pictures of yourself online, means that you believe you’re physically attractive. Sometimes people leave really jarring comments about me on my videos – most of the time the Clicknetwork team curates and deletes it before I see it, but sometimes I do. It is invariably about my physical appearance. Once, just once, I’d like to see someone comment and tell me I’m incredibly incoherent, or really dumb. I wouldn’t believe them, but at least it’d be a change and a good laugh for once.

And then there are the people who look at me and get offended – not at me, but at the viewers or readers or followers, for claiming that I’m some sort of plus sized inspiration. After I did the Plus Sized Budget Shopping episode with Qiu, I got a lot of these comments. But she’s not even a real plus sized girl! Okay guys, sorry I’m not … big enough?

I don’t know why people think it’s okay to say something incredibly negative about another person to him or her. Maybe it makes them feel better. Maybe it’s because they don’t think I’m a real person to them in the way someone you read about in books or see on the net doesn’t seem real to you. I don’t know. And I don’t care. Their mental well being is not my concern. My concern is the rationale behind these statements.

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People seem to think that because I am not a slim, doe-eyed, symmetrical-faced girl, I’m some sort of automatic advocate for the new age tagline: Everybody is beautiful. This, I assume, is what offends some people – but she isn’t beautiful! – and what inspires some people – it is totally possible to be unconventionally attractive even if you are not traditionally pretty! Both camps are entitled to their opinion. But I side with neither.

It has become uncomfortably trendy to repeat these well-meaning yet completely ineffective statements at one another: You are beautiful. You are special. Everybody is beautiful.

Again, another lie. Not everybody is beautiful. Some people look weird. Some people are plain. Some people have a unibrow they refuse to thread. You know it, and I know it, but we feel okay parading this statement to every single person. I am speaking about beauty in it’s most widely accepted definition: physical beauty. I get that beauty is subjective, but level with me guys: there’s a certain level of physical attractiveness we all concur is beautiful. Inner beauty or beauty of character – ok, that’s a different topic. It’s not what you guys have been asking me about. We’re not going there today.

I take issue with the phrase Everybody is beautiful! because 1. it’s a lie and 2. it’s problematic. We say Everybody is beautiful and expect people to translate this to Love Yourself! But doesn’t that tie loving yourself to the very idea that you have to find yourself some form of beautiful to do so?

Let me phrase it simply: We are not stepping out of the box. Our discussion regarding self esteem and confidence is still circling around the brackets of physical attraction and beauty. Why?

When we say You should love yourself because all bodies are beautiful, tall or short, thin or fat, curvy or flat, you are still centering your discussion around physical attributes. We are still placing the need to feel beautiful at the centre of our universe. Now, I am not saying that physical attributes aren’t important. I recognise that we are all drawn to beauty. I myself often daydream about swopping bodies with Emma Watson. We all find physical beauty important. I am just saying that it should not be the most important thing in our damn lives.

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Every single photo in this post is un-retouched. What does this mean? Martin photographed me, and we sat down at night to go through the pictures. We edited the pictures for lighting and color – that’s basic post processing. And sure – I’m wearing make up. I buy and use a lot of beauty products on a regular basis. Skincare, conditioner, moisturiser, eyeliner, you name it! But right here, right now: not a single one of these pictures are edited to remove any blemishes or lines, to make myself look skinnier, sharper, better.

Why? So that you can understand what I mean when I say what I’m going to say next..

Do I find myself beautiful? No – not because I find myself ugly, but because it is not something I think about too much. It’s probably a matter of upbringing. My parents never taught me to think of people as beautiful, not beautiful, thin, fat, porcelain skin, acne. I don’t remember them ever commenting that another person was beautiful or pretty in my presence as a child – but I did hear them talk about how kind someone was, or how talented, or how nice. Ergo, I grew up being unable to tell if a friend had an outbreak of pimples overnight or if he/she had put on some weight over the June holidays. It simply didn’t register in me. People just looked like people. It wasn’t very hard.

As I grew older, I started becoming more and more aware of how people looked specifically. I had a very Mean Girls moment in Secondary School, when I heard a classmate complaining about how low her nose bridge was. You know that scene where Cady’s in Regina’s home and she sees the Plastics bashing themselves up in the mirror and she thinks: I used to think there was just fat and skinny. But apparently there’s lots of things that can be wrong with your body? Yup.

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Today, if you ask me, I’d tell you that there are a lot of things I’m dissatisfied with about my body that I would not have even registered back when I was a kid. My eyes are not symmetrical – one is bigger than the other, and I have one double eyelid and one single eyelid. Same goes for my eyebrows; one is higher than the other, and it was pretty obvious till I recently had them properly embroidered at Erabelle. My mouth is too big for my face. I’ve had this weird rash on my arm since I was a kid that doesn’t itch or hurt, but that just won’t go away. And don’t get me started on my chin! My jawline is ridiculous. That’s why I always wear my hair down – my face is just too round for buns or ponytails. And I never, never take straight on, non angled, face first shots without my face being completely framed by hair flowing about to give me some sort of shape. Even when I go for photoshoots, the photographer / make up artist is always pushing hair around on my face, trying to hide bits of my face, make it look smaller, more angular, whatever. I don’t blame them. It’s their job to make me look good.

Today, when I post a picture, I edit it on the computer for lighting and color, then on my phone I tweak it with my million little photo apps so it gets rid of the shine on my nose, it sharpens my jaw, it smoothens my skin. Nowadays photo applications are insane – I can even add on eyeliner or blusher if I want to. The point is, before I post up a photo, I want to fix myself. Not because I hate myself. Just because I can. But not in this series of photos. Why?

Martin convinced me, but it’s my first time taking a face on picture with my hair up like this:

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Do I feel insecure about having this photo up? Yes. Am I completely happy with how I look in the photo, or in the mirror, for that matter? No. My jaw has no definition! My nose bridge looks non-existent! You can see the sun-spots I have from irresponsible beachside frolicking without SPF50! I fought the urge to retouch my face every inch of the way. If only I could just remove that spot on my face..

Does this mean I hate myself? No.

We are back to the perennial question, the one that sparked this whole post. How? How do you not hate yourself if you look like .. this? How do you find it in you to be confident?

Everyone knows that beauty is cultural. Have you walked into an art museum? Greek goddesses are often depicted as round-bellied, pasty, and kinda lumpy at places. I mean, Venus had back fat, you know? Maybe stick-thin people living in that era felt like shit. I don’t know. But what I do know is this – if you base your entire value system and self worth in a culturally cultivated structure that shifts and changes with the years, will you ever really be happy?

Let me quote the two queens of comedy.

In Tina Fey’s Bossypants, she says:

Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. And from that day forward, women embraced their diversity and realized that all shapes and sizes are beautiful. Ah ha ha. No. I’m totally messing with you. All Beyoncé and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have:

Caucasian blue eyes
full Spanish lips
a classic button nose
hairless Asian skin with a California tan a Jamaican dance hall ass
long Swedish legs
small Japanese feet
the abs of a lesbian gym owner
the hips of a nine-year-old boy
the arms of Michelle Obama
and doll tits

The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes. Everyone else is struggling.

Amy Poehler’s Yes Please puts it a lot more simply:

Decide what your currency is early. Let go of what you will never have. People who do this are happier and sexier. I decided early on it was not going to be my looks.
(…)
Hopefully as you get older, you start to learn how to live with your demon. It’s hard at first. Maybe a day even comes when you are getting dressed for a fancy event and it whispers, “You aren’t pretty,” and you go, “I know, I know, now let me find my earrings.”

Did you get that? Let me say it again. You will never look exactly like how you think society wants you to look. (Unless you are Kim Kardashian, in which case, hi Kim K!!!! Welcome to my blog lololol.) It is difficult to be able to look at yourself and openly qualify yourself as 100% beautiful, given the expectations society and the media place on us. And it doesn’t matter. Decide what your currency is. Fight for it. People who do this are happier, and sexier.

Do what makes you happy. If you want to wear make up, by all means! If you want to get something surgically done on parts of your face or body, it’s your choice. If you want to go to the gym and work out everyday until you look like Keira Knightly, make your own call. I myself wear a shit-ton of make up and spend a lot of time grooming myself to be presentable on the streets and on the screen. My made up face still doesn’t match up to your standards? That’s okay. I will do what I want – and you do what you want – but the key is to know why you are doing it. Because it makes you happy? Sure. Because you’re vain? No shame in your game, girl. Because you feel like you cannot love yourself if you don’t look a certain way? Maybe you need to think more seriously about what you tie your love and value system to, and reevaluate it.

Found what makes you happy? Great. Now, don’t impose your standards on others. What makes one person happy can be radically different from what makes another happy. Be happy on your own terms, and remember that that’s exactly what it is: your own terms. Not your mother’s. Not your best friend’s. Not that random acquaintance you have that you feel would be much better off living on your terms. If you feel empowered and confident upon realising that natural beauty is the best, good for you – but nobody else really wants to hear it, especially not the girl who loves her daily eyeliner fix. Don’t be hating on the guy who goes to the gym everyday and drinks protein shakes if it makes him happy. Leave the classmate you know who got her nose did alone. It is important to find what makes you happy and valuable on your own terms, but it is equally important not to oppress others with your newfound standards of value and happiness.

One last note on Beauty and Value. There is no shame in wanting to look better in the same way that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be smarter, more well read, or more charismatic. But too often we fuel this desire to get better with the most convenient fodder around – insecurity and self-hate. No. You don’t have to and you shouldn’t beat your current self up to get better. You can be satisfied with who you are and still work to improve. This is the philosophy I have tried to live by and I would say I am about 1/10th successful. But I am trying. And so should you.

Go forth. Learn. Learn to love yourself. And do it for you.

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Photography: Martin Hong | Location: Grand Hyatt Singapore | Hair: Jean Yip.

X
♥jem

#1923 | The Broke Student’s Guide to: Accommodation in Europe

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Hey guys,

A lot of you have been asking me for more general trip-planning advice because grad-trip season is upcoming. So! Here I am being all guidebookey again.

When planning your trips to Europe (or anywhere, really), there are a few fixed costs you have to look out for, especially when you’re on a budget. Generally, flights and accommodation are a must, and everything else is variable. But as one would have it, those two are usually the most expensive parts of your trip, and this is nothing if not a Broke Student’s Guide, so.. here we go.

Types of Accommodation

I’m writing this with Europe in mind, having had the most experience in that region, but please feel free to export anything I say to other parts of the world and adapt accordingly.

There are generally five tiers of accommodation options. I list them below from most to least expensive:

1. Hotels
2. Airbnb Apartments
3. Hostels / Guesthouses
4. Couchsurfing
5. Taking advantage of existing friendships.

All of them require some form of exchange, whether in cash (like paying for a hotel) or in service (hanging out with / cooking for your couchsurfing host). The last option, taking advantage of existing friendships, is only applicable if a) you have a friend living in the city you’re looking to travel to and b) you don’t mind being annoying and imposing on his/ her life. Otherwise, you’re definitely looking to book somewhere and stay in a completely foreign apartment, and this is just to give you a run down of how things look and work.

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Why?

Why is this post necessary? Isn’t this common sense? Most people will ask. Well.. I will have you know that most people, myself included, assume that hotels are common fare when traveling abroad. This is a painfully Singaporean mentality that reveals our privilege. We don’t couchsurf here, and we regard backpacker hostels with a kind of curious, distant stare. Most of the time we’d assume hotels are our first accommodation option when travelling, but har-di-har. If you’re made of moneypants, sure, but this post isn’t for you. I actually thought that when going on exchange, I’d spend seven months exploring different hotel rooms in Europe.

Lets all take a moment to laugh at me.

Done? Great. Let me just put it out there now that no, hotels are not common fare for the budget/ student traveler. They are a luxury. If you’re looking at tripping across Europe for under 3k, flights included (totally possible btw), then get used to the idea that hostels are going to be pretty much your best friend. Okay? Okay.

But anyway, Hotels

Hotels are generally the most expensive option when travelling Europe. Perish the thought unless you’re a business traveler or a rich kid – but as everything, there is always the odd exception to the rule. If you can get a great credit card deal, you might be able to snag a room for a super cheap rate – that’s fine. Otherwise, some cities have boutique hotels that may work out pretty decent when divided by the number of people you’re willing to snuggle with. One such example is Citizen M in Amsterdam.

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Citizen M is basically a budget-ish hotel that tries to pass it’s budget status as something quirky and unique. This is the reason why it does away with a lot of frills – no check in counter, you do it at an automated computer booth, a glass toilet in the middle of the room thats meant to be ‘sexy’ but really serves to save space, and so on. This is all great and works out fine for you because if you’re staying with a few people of the same gender, you can all squish up on the big bed and split the cost. We did Amsterdam rather spontaneously so most of the good airbnbs were snapped up already, and this was the next cheapest thing.

Citizen M has also branches in Paris and Glasgow, and you’ll do well to keep a look out for ’boutique’ hotels like these that serve group budget travellers pretty decently. But unless you have a credit card deal or some sort of weekender deal for the hotels, you’ll probably be wanting to look at airbnb or hostels.

Citizen M Hotels
Citizen M Hotels
Tip: if you sign up for their free membership, you get 15% off your booking.

Airbnb

Now, I’m not going to beat about the bush. Most of you know that I work with Airbnb now – but when I was in Europe, I was paying for all my stuff myself, sans when I worked with individual hosts. And I hope that those of you who’ve been with me for awhile know that I’m not one to bullshit you guys about what’s worth it and what’s not, and that I maintain as honest an approach as possible when coming to the table. What I am trying to say is – I try my best to be objective, and I trust that you guys understand that. So, now that that’s clear..

Airbnb: it surprises me that some people still are unfamiliar with the concept of airbnb. I was at dinner last month and someone at the table said he hadn’t heard of it before. Whaaaat? Airbnb saved my ass multiple times in Europe, and I suggest that anyone traveling in a group read up on it pronto.

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My Parisian Studio Apartment

Basically, you pay to stay with a host, which makes it more personal than a hotel, but you have the option of having a private room / renting the whole apartment, which keeps it a step up in terms of safety from hostels. What I like about it is the connection you get with a host – this works two ways, first, you get to make a local friend who can bring you around or share secret tips with you, etc etc, and secondly, more pragmatically, if anything goes wrong, you have someone definite to deal with. You know that the only two people who are in contact with your room/ apartment are you and the host. It simplifies things.

I suggest that you look at Airbnb if you’re travelling in groups of two, three, or more. I think you only really start to save when you travel three people and up – if you’re travelling alone or with just one other person, it may work out cheaper to get a hostel bed in a mixed dorm. This is because you pay for Airbnb by the room/ apartment, not per pax. The more people you have the cheaper it gets.

Things to look out for when booking an Airbnb apartment:

- Verified Photos
Most people still don’t know this, but Airbnb offers a free photography service to hosts. They send their own photographer down to the listings to shoot the pictures for the hosts to use on their sites, and this doubles up as a sort of guarantee that the place at least looks pretty true to the pictures – Airbnb has, at least, verified it. You can tell if a place has verified photos by clicking through the photos in the listing:

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Taken from the listing I stayed at when I was recently in Bangkok

See that little grey Airbnb sign in the top right? That means it’s verified.

- Reviews
Please be diligent about reading your reviews. A host cannot delete a review, which means that these are real-people, honest-to-goodness community sourced reviews. They are not edited, and a host cannot delete the ones that make them look bad. So read them, and only book those with relatively good ratings.

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Once again, from the listing I stayed at when I was recently in Bangkok

- Conversation
Message your host before booking with them to express interest and sound them out a little. Generally, if a host sounds okay, he should be okay. They’re bound by an agreement with Airbnb so if they back out on you last minute, Airbnb guarantees your refund, but all the same it’s nice to touch base with your potential host to get a feel of whether you want to stay with him/her or not.

- Location
I find that most Airbnb are quite well located, because they actually belong to people who live in the city and know where is convenient for commute and so on. I mean, if you’re renting a room in someone’s apartment, they probably would have picked the best possible location for their budget given how they also have to live there, which is good news for you too. At the same time, do remember to search with location in mind – and balance out the expenses saved staying somewhere further out with the cost of commuting into the city. Generally, I try to pick somewhere you can walk to the city centre from.

- Facilities

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Airbnb-ing in Florence

Basically by facilities, I mean a kitchen and washing machine. This goes for hostel picking as well. If you’re travelling Europe especially, eating out is insanely expensive, and you’d be much better off picking a place that has a kitchen so you can do groceries and cook. This is also why I suggest staying near the city centre – so you can pop back, make dinner, and still pop back out to keep on roaming. Not feasible if you stay too far out.

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My apartment in Paris

A place with a washing machine should also pop up somewhere towards the middle of your trip. When I was backpacking Eastern Europe for three weeks, I planned it such that on the 11th day (Istanbul), we would be in an Airbnb apartment which had a washing machine we could use for free. Look, you just cannot carry a month’s worth of clothes around with you without washing them at least once, okay? For both practical and hygiene reasons. Some places (be it Airbnb apartments or hostels) charge you a small fee to use the machine, so look out for that too.

- Buffer Time
Depending on the area and season, you’re going to want to book your Airbnb apartments early. Paris and London are notorious for running out of good places very fast, especially in the summer. So I would say if you’re looking to go in the middle of the year, you should start looking now and make a booking within the next month or so. If you’re going somewhere less popular, or making a short trip to a country nearby, you can afford to keep your options open and book up to two weeks before departure. For Phuket, I actually booked like two days before flying because.. yolo.

A note on cost-calculation:
The amount you see quoted per night isn’t the final amount – there are a couple of hidden costs. Airbnb has a service fee, which usually varies with the cost of your accommodation. This is basically accommodation insurance – if your host doesn’t turn up, or tries to suddenly raise the price upon arrival, airbnb’s customer experience team will sort it out for you and guarantee your price/ refund/ etc. Some hosts require a security deposit of up to 200Euros, which can be a little daunting. And some hosts have a compulsory cleaning service that they charge you for. So remember to factor all these in when making a decision, because they can all add up – especially the cleaning service, that can get rather expensive.

You can also generally get discount codes for Airbnb quite easily – here’s my discount code for any of you looking to travel.

Traveling tip: get $35 off with Airbnb referral links.

Okay, moving on!

Hostels / Guesthouses

Like I mentioned before, if you’re travelling alone or in pairs, hostels (or ‘youth hostels’, as they’re known in some places) can very well become your best resource. The prices of hostel beds can vary with the season, but you can be looking at a bed for as cheap as ten euros per night in some places, off peak. I realised quite belatedly that I don’t have any pictures of hostel rooms because I never took any – they’re quite unphotogenic hahahaha. So here is one from google images:

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This is basically what a standard bed in a mixed dorm will look like. The cheapest beds are always in a mixed dorm. If you want one that is gender segregated, the price goes up. If you want one that is relatively private – just you and your friends – the price goes up. So usually the absolute cheapest you can get is a bed in a thirty bed mixed dorm. If you’re going to stay in a private room in a hostel, it can cost as much as or more than a hotel, which kinda defeats the purpose, so I’ve always opted for the cheapest bed in hostels in Europe.

So what do you get when staying in a hostel?

A safe for your personal belongings, one per bed.
This is quite standard. You absolutely have to lock up your belongings when you sleep or when you’re out of the room – with twenty other people going in and out, it’s really better safe than sorry. This safe is generally not very big and suited for cabin sized luggages or duffel/backpacks, so if you have one of those ginormous 30kg luggages, BUY A LOCK FOR IT.

A communal shower.
So if you’re booking a bed in a hostel, bring slippers. I always forget this, and it gets very annoying. Don’t be icky about using a communal shower, most of them are rather clean and also, #lifeexperiences am i right.

A rented towel.
Some hostels provide this for free. Some only rent them out. Make a decision based on your backpacking space and finances. What I suggest is bringing a small sized towel that you can use if the hostel won’t provide one for free.

- A communal kitchen
Same thing goes for this and for airbnb selections – pick a hostel with a kitchen. You won’t regret it.

BREAKFAST.
Hurray – a lot of hostels throw this in, and a lot of terrible budget backpackers like myself pack sandwiches to noms throughout the day so we don’t have to buy lunch when out and can spend more on a nicer dinner. This is technically not allowed but they tend to close one eye. Heh heh. Budget travelling tip right there. Don’t expect some hotel-standard buffet spread – it’s usually a cereal bar and some sandwich options, but hey, it’s free, so whatever.

WIFI.
So many hostels offer free wifi nowadays that you really shouldn’t be looking at booking one without wifi offerings. With wifi in the hostel, you can at least survive without having to buy a sim card. Lots of travel apps can be used offline nowadays – ref: Guide to Top Five Free Travel Apps.

You spend very little time in your hostel room itself – it’s generally quite crammed and squeaky, especially if you go for the cheaper option. But what I love about hostels besides the student-friendly price point are the friends you get to make there! Hostel-travellers tend to be all in one vein – they’re open, friendly, and they want to know everything there is to know about different cities and cultures. That’s part of why they’re roughing it out. I’ve spent a lot of time lounging around in hostel common rooms and making friends to hang out with, and it’s been awesome.

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A friend I made in our Prague Hostel who turned out to be AN ACTRESS FROM AMERICA lololol

Some hostels also tend to organise activities for you. There are dedicated party-hostels in Budapest, where they bring you bar hopping and partying either for free or for a small fee. A lot of free walking tours meet by hostels. And you can always rely on the hostel front desk to give you the down-low on recommendations in the area, much like airbnb hosts.

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Attending a free cooking class in Prague organised by the hostel and learning to make bramboraks, an extremely unhealthy and delicious traditional Czech dish

So how do you decide which hostels to book and how do you find them? A few sites do this for you. These are some common ones:
Hostelworld.com
Hostelbookers.com

My favourite is Hostelworld. It’s got a huge base of hostels listed, it’s very easy to use, and there are no booking fees – it just holds 10% of the total cost on your card as a guarantee. This can be refundable or non-refundable upon cancellation depending on whether you pay for it to be. But overall it’s a pretty good deal.

This is generally what your search/ booking process will look like:

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Input your city, dates, and number of guests. They will immediately list all available hostels plus its rating, number of reviews, price point, and a short write up. Don’t be lazy about reading reviews. You really need to know what you’re getting yourself into here. Also, when they say Dorms from $xxx, what they usually mean is of the three nights you’re staying there, the lowest price is what’s stated, and then the others are slightly more expensive. The prices per night vary based on the season and whether you span a weekend.

What to look out for (in addition to the things listed above that should come with any hostel):

- 24/7 check in reception.
If you’re travelling budget you’re likely to take some train into the city that arrives at an unholy hour when no one is awake to receive you, and thats when a 24/7 reception desk really comes in handy. Also, train/bus delays are relatively common in Europe so you don’t want to be stuck arriving unexpectedly after the desk closes.

- Washing machines
Same reason as what I listed in the airbnb section.

- A good location.
GOOD LOCATION = LESS COST ON TRANSPORT. Nuff said.

Hostels can generally be a hit or miss – I’ve had my fair share of horror stories (london, lol) and wonderful experiences (prague, obviously). Overall they’re a great way to meet new people and super for the budget, but I think you need to weigh it up against safety as well. In certain cities I feel like you definitely should look at more private accommodation like airbnb or cheap hotels because hostel theft is common – in southern Italy or Spain, for example, I would always opt for an Airbnb or private room. But for most cities, hostel-ing is quite the essential backpacking experience. I enjoyed my hostel experiences in Prague, Budapest, and Switzerland very much, and I met a lot of new people that I still keep in contact with till this day! And yes, it can be a bit of a gritty experience, but hey – you’re young. You can take it.

Couchsurfing

I’ve written an extensive post on couchsurfing here which I suggest you read if you’re looking to couchsurf in Europe – I did it in Salzburg, Rome, and Slovakia amongst others, and I feel like it’s another one of those quintessential backpacking experiences because you really get intimate with local living there. Still, I understand there are safety concerns, so the next best thing:

Crashing with a friend

Come on – all of us have that one friend who went abroad to do college. Usually this friend is somewhere in the UK, and it’s often tempting to just crash with a friend for the free bed and familiar face. I don’t have much to say about this because it really depends on how close you are to your friend, but I feel like common courtesy still applies in this case: it’s difficult for someone to say no if you ask them to let you crash because it makes them look like an asshole, even though they’re completely entitled to not want you there.

So I suggest you drop them a text if you want to stay with them, saying that you’re coming to town and would like to hang out/ catch up. If they follow up with an invitation to let you crash, then you are good to go. If they keep mum, they probably don’t want you there. Be considerate and don’t impose on someone else, especially if you’re not close to the person. It’s painfully obvious and kind of rude if you’re only being cozy with the person because you want a free bed. Don’t be that person.

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Making Sangria with new friends from South Africa, Dominican Republic, and Juju from Singapore hehe

Okay, that wraps up my post on accommodation in Europe on the cheap for budget/ student travellers alike. I think the most important thing when looking for accommodation options is to evaluate what your priorities are – for me, I want to strike a balance between budget and experience, and so it’s important to me to pick a place where I can get to meet new people. Generally this happens through couch surfing, hanging out with your airbnb host, and hostel-hopping. The people you meet while travelling can really make or break your entire trip – and often, you leave the country with so much more insight into a different culture and perspective when you actually hang out with locals and other travellers! So that’s me. It’s works out great that these social living options tend to be cheaper than hotels as well :)

I know that if you haven’t been to Europe on your own before, options like hostels and couchsurfing can seem quite foreign to you, so I hope I gave you some idea of what it’s really like so you can come to a decision as to what suits your needs best. There are other experiences of course, like sleeper trains, which I wrote about some time ago, but in general these are the options that you will have available to you.

Alright then! I think that’s about it. I hope this helped those of you planning towards grad trips, and all the best – go out, make friends, and have all the fun you can x

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x
♥jem

#1922| Barcelona: The Barca Bucket List

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imagesBarcelona, Spain.

Of all the cities I visited in my seven months under the European sun, the only place I could imagine myself living in long term was Barcelona. It was sunny, laid back, vibin hard, and also the only place that I nearly got pickpocketed. The story goes something like this:

INT. NIGHT. THE COUPLE walks down the steps to the underground metro.

Shane (urgently):
Jem, could you check your bag right now?

Jem checks her backpack and all seems to be in order.

Jem:
What’s up?

Shane:
Oh, nothing. The two women behind you were being suspicious and one of them had her hand in your backpack.

Jem:
WELL WHY DIDNT YOU TELL ME SO I COULD CONFRONT HER AND HAVE MY SHAOLIN SHOWDOWN?!?!?

Baby, you know it. That city had character. Grit. Which, on hindsight, might probably just have been sand. But I loved it – I’ve always sworn vehemently that I’d never venture into teaching with my English degree (cliche! cliche!) but I was sorely tempted by the idea of living in Barcelona for a year, giving English classes by day and wandering down the beach in search of the perfect sangria by night. Mmmm. So ridiculous. But aren’t we all?

In any case, Barcelona remains one of my top recommendations for European summer destinations and a general favourite all round anyway, so I thought I’d pen my favourite spots in Barca down for those of you looking to go!

1. Have Seafood at La Paradeta

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Why is the first thing on my list a food item? Because 1. we are gluttons and 2. this is only the best seafood you will ever eat in your life.

La Paradeta is the kind of place I have dreams about. One thing you should know about me is, prior to La Paradeta I was never really a seafood kinda person – i liked fish a lot, but that was about it. La Paradeta was where I was truly initiated to the wonders of seafood, and it was probably the best place in the world for it to happen – everything was freshly caught and prepared to perfection, and incredibly delicious.

How it works: you basically pick whatever you want, decide how you want it done, and they prepare it for you on the spot. It’s so fresh that your food is literally still scuttling around minutes before it’s served up to you on the plate. The food is charged by the kg, so tell them exactly how much you want or they’ll give you the whole kg and charge you for it. Eg. 100g of mussels in tomato sauce, 150g of tuna seared, etc. We had.. so much, I don’t even know. Every kind of seafood imaginable. And the entire spread cost us less than 50 euros in total – I imagine you’d have a much better time of it coming with a whole gang of friends so you could try a greater variety of stuff and split the bill – but I had a pretty damn good time.

I cannot even begin to emphasise how important it is that anyone who goes to Barcelona eats at La Paradeta. Doors open at 8pm for dinner, but the queue starts forming before that as you can see, so go at 7:30/45 to be safe. It’s near the Sagrada Familia, so you can get your culture fix before or after heading over anyway.

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La Paradeta
Address: Carrer Comercial, 7, 08009 Barcelona, Spain
Phone:+34 932 68 19 39
Hours: 1:00–4:00 pm, 8:00–11:30 pm

2. Spend an entire afternoon by the beach

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Honestly, I feel like the one thing I regretted about Barcelona was not staying there longer. If I had my way about it, I would have spent an entire week there and dedicated whole days to just lounging by the beach. I loved the way the city seamlessly blended into the beach – you could be walking along the boardwalk, admiring the palm tree rows, and then the next thing you know you’d be in the middle of the cheeriest scene known to man: the Barceloneta beach.

As with all tourist destinations, you’ll have to pay for a beach umbrella/ chair. I say go ahead and do it – but come early to make the most of it, because they pack up their chairs at about 7-8pm no matter how long you’ve been on it. Bring a book, an iPod, whatever, and just spend the day slipping into a sort of lazy daze. Men wander the beach trying echoing the siren calls of sangria for 5 euros a glass (price negotiable) and duck under your beach chairs the minute a police boat sails past. It’s all part of the experience, and it’s one of the best beach experiences I’ve ever had. Before Barcelona I always thought of myself as a city destination kinda girl – but now I’m thinking twice.

3. Seek out some sick Paella

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When I instagrammed my touchdown in Barcelona, I got a flood of people moaning enthusiastically about paella all over my photographs. I was confused – what is wrong with people, and what is this paella?!

Such is the sound of ignorance. It turns out Paella is the Spaniard’s gift to mankind. A sort of western take on something resembling asian fried rice, it’s a rice dish prepared with olive oil and supplemented with various ingredients, and presented in a specialised shallow cooking pan. It is also the most delicious rice I have ever had… ever. I’ve always been slightly dismissive of western-style rice dishes, probably a result of my fiercely asian upbringing (RICE IS OUR TERRITORY), but this dish blew me away.

I didn’t even go anywhere special for this. On the long climb up to Park Guell, we ducked into an unassuming little cafe for lunch and ordered the seafood paella with some nachos on the side. It was incredible. Definitely, definitely put Paella on your Barca Bucket List.

4. Local Art

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Barcelona is/ was home to many incredible artists, some obscure, some not so. It would be sacrilegious to visit Barca without popping into at least one of it’s famous museums or parks – and this is coming from someone who had had enough of museums after five months of European history. We visited the Picasso Museum on the way to the Barceloneta, which didn’t allow photography so no pictures there, which was interesting but not the best museum I’d hit. I feel like after the Louvre and Anne Frank’s House it’s a little difficult to find a museum that matches up in terms of character and emotional resonance, even if it does revolve around the sick wonder that is Picasso.

Either way, we also hit Park Güell, one of the major works of Gaudi. The entire place is a strange, strange wonderland reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – all coloured glass and weird sculptures. Still, it was quite a must-do in terms of tourist attractions, so we made our way down to the Park one sunny afternoon in Barca. It’s pretty far out from the rest of the to-dos so you kinda have to dedicate an entire afternoon to getting there and looking around, and if nothing else, it gives you a pretty good view of Barcelona’s cityscape.

It gets quite crowded, so I definitely recommend booking your tickets online the night before. You have to pay first, but at least you guarantee a spot there instead of queuing like the grumpy sunburnt tourists you’ll laugh at on your way in.

Park Güell
Carrer d’Olot, s/n, 08024 Barcelona, Spain

5. That huge gothic structure that still hasn’t been completed

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There is no visiting Barca without visiting the Sagrada Familia. It arguably put Barcelona on the (tourist) map of the world. I didn’t go in, although most people do, but standing outside it and admiring it’s everlasting facade was good enough for me. The best time to catch the Sagrada is probably at sunset – the golden light bounces off the gothic walls and the entire thing glows. It is quite magical. In summer this is about 730pm – we oohed and aahed at it but didn’t get a proper photo as we were rushing to make La Paradeta (see point one), and only returned after dinner.

At night it is majestic, that’s for sure, but we found ourselves still thinking wistfully of the golden magic we saw a couple of hours before. Still, it was pretty incredible. Standing in front of the Sagrada with the full moon conveniently hanging over – there are few experiences that beat that.

Sagrada Familia
Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain

And then you can also go get a burger after if you haven’t had dinner, because Anauco Gourmet is around the corner and serves splendid burgers.

Anauco Gourmet
Carrer de València, 428, 08013 Barcelona, Spain
+34 936 24 07 97
(Very popular, you might need a reservation.)

6. Ultimate tourist experience: light and water magic show.

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Disneyland has their nightly fireworks show, and Barcelona has.. Font Màgica. To be fair though, despite the cheesy name, it was quite spectacular. The nightly show features lights, water acrobatics, music, and if you’re lucky – fire. It draws a crowd too, so be careful with your belongings – someone tried to pickpocket me here, again, and I missed out on my showdown fantasy again because Shane magicked me away before any real harm was done. Boys.

The Font Màgica is located near the Plaça d’Espanya, which was super near where we stayed (check here for more details), so it was easy to catch the show as we walked back to our apartment nightly. The shows run two or four days a week depending on season, but you should check the magic fountain website for the exact schedule before going down. Quite worth it though, I think. You can always have dinner in the area and then walk around after.

SPRING – SUMMER 2014
From 31 March to 30 October (Both included)
Thursday to Sunday, 9 pm – 11:30 pm. The shows start at 9, 9:30, 10, 10:30 and 11 pm.

AUTUMM – WINTER
From 31 October 2013 to 30 March (Both included)
Fridays and Saturdays, 7 pm – 9 pm. The shows start at 7, 7:30, 8, and 8:30 pm.

Font Màgica
Pl Carles Buigas, 1
08038 Barcelona

And there you have it – my favourite things to do when in Barcelona. You’ll notice that I didn’t include any shopping in there, because I felt that the other experiences outweighed it, but shopping in Barca can be pretty damn attractive, what with it being the home Mango and Zara. I actually got a sweater in Zara for 7 euros. 7 Euros! Unbuhlievable. The main street in Barcelona has quite a few outlets, so you can actually dedicate an afternoon to wandering down it and having lunch in the area – I had tapas at Txapela, which was not bad, but I believe you can’t go wrong with food in Barcelona either way.

A short note on accommodation.
Before I leave off, here’s something I think you might wanna factor in when planning for Barcelona, and Europe in general. I know a lot of you follow my Broke Student’s Guide, being.. well, broke students, like myself, but there are exceptions to every rule. Sometimes the cheaper option may not necessarily be the safest. The types of accommodation you can check out are quite extensive for Europe: I wrote on couchsurfing awhile back, and then there are hostels, then airbnb apartments, then hotels.

I don’t know about couch surfing in Barca, not having done it myself, and I’m generally quite game for budget hostel living. Thirty people mixed dorm? Bring it. Usually, I’d encourage you to choose whichever option suits your budget. However, in a few places I definitely advocate getting an airbnb place over a hostel. Southern Italy is one. Barcelona is another. I’ve heard of too many people being pickpocketed and robbed blind while in hostels, and in certain otherwise lovely cities, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Airbnb apartments afford you a kind of privacy and safety that you don’t get in a mixed dorm – and it might actually work out cheaper if you have a couple of friends sharing the apartment / private room with you. Since it charges by unit, it might even work out cheaper than getting a bed in a hostel, which charges you per pax.

I stayed in a private double room on Plaça d’Espanya for only 34SGD/night total (divide that by two, do your math), and I felt like my belongings were safe at all times even when leaving my laptop and all in the room because 1. It was a private room 2. I had the keys to the room and 3. I had a real conversation and connection with the host, so if anything went wrong, I knew who to deal with. I suggest you do this for cities that are known to be slightly more dangerous in terms of theft – Naples, Rome, Barcelona, whatever. Evaluate your finances, read up on your destinations, and make an informed decision.

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I loved Barcelona, sandy beautiful city that it was, and I would return in a heartbeat. I hope all of you headed over to Europe on grad trips look at it as one of your destinations – but remember, keep your belongings close, and eat your heart out. You’re going to love it.

X
♥jem