FOOD & DRINKS
First of all, I can not stop eating in Barcelona.
Before my latest trip to Barcelona, a lovely gentleman who lived in Spain for a while recommended Can Paixano for tapas and people watching. When I got there, it was just starting to get busy and I was increasingly concerned about the exact etiquette for the place. Do I just loiter around the bar? Can I help myself to more bottomless pink cava? Am I meant to share with my neighbours (even if I don't want to)? Should I practice speaking in Spanish? The answer to all were: yes. No one cares.
After helping myself to five glasses and six croquettes with almost no guilt (for less than four Euros), I decided that I secretly prefer sitting down and eating. So I walked towards Passeig de Gracia and found El Nacional, which has a similar vibe to The Ned in London, where you can sit on a bar stool, eye up all the food you want to try and enjoy more cava and tapas. Very fancy, but not expensive at all.
The sad thing about traveling solo in Barcelona is that most restaurants serve paella for two people, so unless you have a friend, a doggy bag, an unnaturally massive appetite, or are happy to experience severe guilt from wasting a lot of freshly cooked paella, I suggest you go to places like Santa Anna that can be bothered to make small portions of paella (at a price), which is not too far from the infamous Sagrada Familia.
The first time I went to Barcelona, my friend and I went to a club near the beach on La Barceloneta called Opium and quickly realised at 10pm that the party does not start until another two hours in Barcelona. We were surrounded by rich people sitting and consuming too much Shisha for one evening, along with young adults and some teenage boys trying to get with anything that wore a skirt. The drinks and Shisha were very expensive, however we discovered that the Tequila shots were not (hurray).
No doubt, it was a heavy night, and at some point I walked out for fresh air and found myself on the beach, which was actually quite nice, even though they almost didn't let me back in as I didn't have a wrist band. The shore and lights curved around the sea which was pitch black, blending in with the black sky.
Las Ramblas is the obvious choice for tourists to wander around during the day and night time, being the central boulevard at the heart of the city centre. I went there with my friend, alone and with my dad on three different trips and had a great time, every time.
For those who like a bit of luxury, the W hotel has a rooftop bar with some great views, right at the end of the beach. Drinks are not cheap, but it is worth checking the opening days and times (I turned up one afternoon and it was not open until later that evening). It is walking distance from the Gothic quarter, the Picasso museum, several little roads with tapas restaurants and more and there's a nice long walk or cycle ride along the beach to and from the hotel.
If not, then you can hire a bike and take in the city at your own pace. Alternatively, the Metro (underground) is pretty easy and cheap to travel on. Uber is fairly cheap but not available everywhere.
To get to the city centre from the airport, the Airport Bus cost me around 6 Euros and I was in town within an hour with no issues at all. Just follow the signs at the airport and save yourself some cash.
WHERE TO STAY
Save some more cash and consider staying in a hostel (Hostel World can help). I stayed at Primavera Hostel in the Eixample area, an area buzzing with bars, shops, walking distance to all the tourist spots, and it cost me 15 Euros for one night. It was very clean, comfortable and homely (they also have hotel rooms, if sharing a room with strangers is not your cup of tea). I did enjoy being woken up by a musician strumming her guitar and singing something in Spanish... unusual.
Alternatively, most hotels are reasonably priced and have a rooftop pool (good for Summer). As long as you are staying near a Metro station, it will not an issue to get to the main parts of the city or city centre.
It is totally worth learning a bit of Spanish, if not already. Even if the locals look unimpressed when you speak, may not understand what you may be saying, or reply in English, they (usually) appreciate the effort. Having said that, also be prepared for responses in English if a) your Spanish isn't the best (like mine) and/or b) you clearly look like a tourist. Most people in Barcelona seem to speak perfect English anyway.
top 10 things to do (i.m.o.)
someone whom one does not know or with whom one is not familiar.
Usually in life, strangers mean nothing to us once they have come and gone to and from our lives. Then there are times when they become friends or more. But sometimes, you may meet some strangers who you probably (and in some occasions: hopefully) will never meet again, but they could somehow manage to help you make a decision, or even leave a lasting thought in your head.
Here are five strangers who have either helped or enlightened me at various stages of my life so far.
1. IMMIGRATION OFFICER: TRAVELLER
You may think that this was small talk, but the Immigration Officer in Paris, before I hopped onto the Eurostar, didn’t just look at some stamps on my passport and call me a traveller. In fact, he told me:
Did you know that your name means: Traveller?
My parents intended to name me after a stanza in Indian classical music, which is also pretty cool. And then after almost three decades, I got to discover another meaning to my name.
It’s almost like my parents knew #SRTRAVELS✈ would happen!
2. GYPSY LADY: DON'T RUSH
I was on the Metropolitan line, when a chatty and friendly Gypsy lady sat opposite me and started to talk to me. She was heading to Gypsy Hill (no joke) and was talking about her husband and how they met. Before getting off the train, she told me:
Whatever you do, don’t rush into anything.
I am not too sure why she said this to me, but whether it is about relationships, work, fitness or other life goals in general, I (try to) listen to her till date.
Rushing could result in missing important factors that could become an issue at a later date, when it may become more complicated or difficult to deal with, as opposed to dealing with them at the beginning, or early stages, when things are still mouldable, changeable, fixable or avoidable.
As humans, sometimes we may have been trained to being part of a race of some sort, to achieve things. Achievement feels great, no doubt. But in my opinion, it’s always worth taking regular breaks to re-evaluate the situation and your long-term strategy (sounds very business-like, sorry), instead of speeding away, having tunnel-vision and possibly missing out on other good things that could further enhance the final outcome.
I like the word: sustainability i.e. having a long-term approach to projects and life.
3. DRUNK MAN: [INSERT YOUR CHOICE OF ABUSE HERE]
I was walking back home in the afternoon and got followed, verbally abused and then pushed by a drunk man.
I was obviously scared, but tried to be calm and walked over to an old couple who were stood outside their house, and asked them if they could help me call the police. The drunk man got even more aggressive and pushed the old man as well, until other neighbours came out and one particularly strong neighbour thankfully rugby-tackled the man and pinned him down. Eventually, the police came and arrested the man.
What I learnt:
We need to trust ourselves and others to be able to deal with tough situations (even if we're scared).
4. CHELSEA FAN: DUMP HIM
I was on the train with someone I had been on a few dates with, but wasn’t quite sure about him, for a number of reasons.
At some point, a group of middle-aged drunk Chelsea football fans got on the train and decided to sit next to us and have a chat. Oh goody.
They were all in a good mood, so I assumed they won the match. One of these men interrogated the guy I was with, just like my dad probably would, and before getting off the train, told me:
I won’t lie, it helped me make my mind up. I may even support Chelsea if I ever watch a whole football match.
5. STONED MAN: GOOD PEOPLE
I got on a bus on my way home, balling my eyes out at a time when I wasn’t feeling particularly happy about how someone in my life had treated me. I walked through the bus, passing people who had perfected avoiding eye contact and pretending that others don’t exist, proper London-style.
I sat at the back of the bus and a man with dreadlocks (just picture Bob Marley, for ease), who appeared to have consumed plenty of things to make him pretty stoned, asked me if I was okay. I was close to giving him a hug, but I controlled myself.
He told me:
Surround yourself with good people who wouldn’t hurt you on purpose.
Frankly, at that point I was hoping that whoever upset me disappeared from the planet, but eventually what this man said to me sunk in.
Till date, I am attracted to people who are inspirational, interesting, fun, happy, etc. but are fundamentally good natured. If I have a quick scan of people who are in my life today, I can tell you that they’re all amazing people in their own rights and aren’t the sort to intentionally hurt someone.
move from a higher to a lower level, typically rapidly and without control.
We take many things for granted. But when you’re lying on the carpet in your living room, because you can’t move, all you really want is to be able to sit up, or stand, or get yourself a snack, or reach for your phone to check your Instagram, or the remote to switch on the TV, but you can’t turn around to even face it.
Suddenly, you start worrying about what will happen when you need to use the toilet. Can you get up? If you do, can you walk to the toilet without pain or passing out? When you make it to the toilet, can you sit? Can you get up? Will you be able to pull your trousers back up? Will you need someone’s help? Do you have anyone around who could help?
When I fell and injured myself, I was fortunate enough to have my mum and dad at home, helping me out in their own ways.
Dad’s way of helping:
Mum’s way of helping:
Seeing my parents' faces shadowed by worry for their child, made me feel even worse than how the pain in my back felt.
All sorts of thoughts went through my head, while I lay on the floor.
Thinking about whether I’ll get back to normal, if my life could change and whether I can do all the things I love doing again, made me emotional. What about all the places I want to travel, can I travel on a wheelchair? Can I keep my job if I can’t sit or stand?
I can’t believe how inflated every little thought became. However, thanks to all the self-help books I have read over the years, even at this low point in life, I needed to think of my options and possible action plans.
When I finally got up because my dad said I will have to and can’t eat until I forced myself to get off the ground, even when I stood up, I couldn’t believe it. Considering the excruciating pain I was in just half and hour ago, for several hours.
This made me appreciate two things: small successes and having loved ones around you when in need. Basically: don’t give up.
I also appreciated the strength in my arms for being able to support the rest of my body when it couldn’t move. Well done arms!
It’s arguable that falling down the stairs or injuring myself was my fault, but as wise people say:
Don’t regret the past, learn from mistakes and move on gradually.
Basically if I run down the stairs again and fall and injure myself, that would be me learning nothing from the past and being a bit of an idiot.
I have also started to take people’s advice and will be looking into making some small and gradual lifestyle changes, such as occasionally replacing high intensity workouts with those that are good for joints and posture e.g. swimming, yoga and will also get myself some physiotherapy. Most importantly: I need to be patient with my recovery.
The purpose of this article was to demonstrate that when we fall in life, sometimes we learn how to appreciate what we have and open our minds to other ways of living our lives. The main thing to remember is to be as positive and as patient as you can be in every situation, don’t give up and celebrate every little success or progress since you were down (pun intended).
My parents met and got married in Kolkata (previously known as Calcutta) and it is basically 'where we are from' if someone asks us.
The name changed to Kolkata, along with several other major cities in India in 2001 to be called how the locals call their cities. Frankly, I thought Calcutta sounds nicer, but whatever. Kolkata was India's capital under the British Colonial times between 1773 and 1911. Today it is known for its grand colonial architecture, art & culture, food, pollution (sadly) and is also known as the City of Joy.
Despite the chaos of Kolkata, everyone seems to work well within this strange system of no system. The cars, people, rickshaws, cycles, buses could look like they are all going to collide into each other at any point, but they usually do not. I have seen quite a few indifferent old people casually walk in front of cars to cross the road, without a hint of being afraid. The vehicle drivers do not seem to care about the pedestrian crossings either, so to get to the other side, unless you fancy standing for a long time, you will need to brave it.
The main spoken language is Bengali. This is the same language, in its purest form, as the national language of Bangladesh, but the dialects in Bangladesh over the years have evolved to sound completely different. It is one of 22 languages spoken in India. Other languages spoken include Nepali, Oriya and Hindi as well as some others that I can't even pronounce.
history and landmarks
Before New Delhi, Calcutta was the capital of India and still has an obvious essence of the British colonial times. Victoria Memorial, built in memory of Queen Victoria, is one of the main landmarks (it looks a bit like the Taj Mahal), surrounded by serene gardens, students reading under trees, lovers chilling by the ponds, and a line of horse carriages (Tangas) waiting outside the gates to charge tourists extortionate amounts of money (in local standards) for a ten minute round trip.
Note: negotiation is common in Kolkata, despite being pretty cheap. You pay what you think you can get away with, there is a standard few minutes of haggling, followed by a final price, somewhere in the middle. Depending on how foreign you look, you are more likely to be overcharged. But even after being overcharged, you will probably think it was money well spent.
Having said that, it is a lovely ten minute ride, especially in the evening when Bengali songs, play on the loud speakers attached to the street lamps. You are almost taken back in time, and you could close your eyes and pretend to be a rich Bengali prince(ss) on a horse carriage from the colonial times. Or you could just keep your eyes open and enjoy the ride.
Other places you should check out:
When you are done with the ride, you can pick and choose between all the street food stalls, including Phuchka (hollow crispy balls of flour, stuffed with spicy potato, dipped into minty water and served really, really quickly). Customers circle around the phuchka seller, and are served one at a time on disposable environmental friendly mini bowls, made from dry leaves. Sometimes I may not have finished one and I am served my next one, and they keep serving until you hold your hand up and /or tell them to stop. It amazes me how the sellers remember how much each customer owes them, how many they had. I struggle to remember my own! It is also common to have phucka-eating competitions in Kolkata... 20... 30... 50! My PB is 15, and working on it.
In terms of food in general, as long as you are careful with where you eat (to avoid stomach problems), I personally think Kolkata has some of the best variety of tasty food: from Chicken-Egg Rolls (link), to Biriyani at Anarkali in New Market (one of the oldest shopping areas in Kolkata), or Indo-Chinese food in Park Street (check out Oasis Restaurant).
Kolkata feels like a massive market. From food to jewellery, accessories, clothes, shoes, kitchenware to furniture, paintings, miniature models of Hindu Gods, clocks, almost all of these are sold on the streets of Kolkata by small stalls.
There are obviously, bigger shops and quite a few shopping centres with the international and high quality brands, but the real fun is haggling with the street vendors.
Oh and if your shoes or bags break while you are working, worry not: you can pay less than 50p (if that) and get it repaired by the street cobblers.
ENVIRONMENT AND PEOPLE
Now for the two main problem with Kolkata: pollution and poverty.
There is a lot of both and it breaks my heart, because it is one of the most authentic Indian cities, full of character, imperfections, where people experience culture, art, cuisine, shopping, celebrations, diversity and joy. The city of joy.
fun facts about india
(of a person, action, or motive) lacking consideration for other people; concerned chiefly with one's own personal profit or pleasure.
Most people would take the word ‘selfish’ as a negative one, and it often is. However, I believe being selfish depending on circumstances, has its own benefits.
I was sat in my seat right before take off, before 13 hours of binge watching movies and Friends episodes, when the Emirates pre-flight safety video was playing in Arabic, then English. The usual demonstrations of how to buckle your seat belt, where your life jackets are, switching off mobile phones for take off, how to put on your oxygen mask, how to wear a life jacket etc. Although most of us would (hopefully) never get to use a mask or life jacket, there are important life lessons in there of how being selfish can sometimes be a good thing.
LESSON 1: SURVIVAL
Always wear your own mask first, before helping others, including children and those less able.
Basically if you can’t breathe and take care of yourself, you probably won’t do a great job helping someone else. That to me, is good-selfish.
LESSON 2: MIND
Another example of good-selfish is taking care of our mental balance. There is no point in spending hours and days helping others, listening to their troubles, including loved ones, when it’s actually dragging you down and making you feel low or miserable.
When we notice this happening, we should take a break. Now, a break could mean being present physically for someone going through a crisis, but actively not engaging in their emotions. Detachment can help during fragile times. This may sound less empathetic, but when it comes to taking care of ourselves, others can only help so much.
For instance, I don’t think I can have a permanent job at a mental asylum or special needs centre, as I don’t think I would be able to handle my emotions on a regular basis. I therefore have tremendous respect for those who do, and admire their mental strength.
lesson 3: runaway money
I’m all for joint-accounts when people are married or in long term relationships, etc. However, I read something once about 'runaway money'. It’s basically having some extra cash for yourself in case you ever want to run away or take a break from a job, a relationship, a country, a situation... and it’s not because you would necessarily do any of those things, but because of the confidence it gives you that if everything blows up and it's just you left, on your own, you'll be okay. It minimises the need to be needy or dependent, and also releases an element of insecurity.
It could also affect how others think of you. It eliminates the chance of others feeling like you’re a burden (even if you thought they never would) or are overly dependent. They may even get some reassurance that you are with them because you want to be, not because you need to be (at least from a financial point of view!).
How you arrange for this runaway money (legally) is up to you really, whether it’s by using your piggy bank more, investing it in property or other assets, or generous relatives... do it.
LESSON 4: AVOIDING HANGER
I hope you’ve heard of the term ‘Hangry’ (Hungry + Angry). I know quite a few people, including myself, who get hangry if not fed for a long period of time. My mum once said a lot of crime has probably been committed when the criminals had an empty stomach.
Nowadays I carry some food in my bag. I recently went to someone’s house and they were going to serve dinner at 11pm, i.e. my bed time. Needless to say, by 9pm I was grumpy and famished so I calmly stepped out for ‘fresh air’ and got myself a BLT sandwich from Subway. I was a pleasure to be with for the rest of the evening and obviously didn’t tell the host as it may have made them feel bad.
Again, taking care of my self and buying me food when I needed it, meant that the knock-on effect on others was neutral or positive. And no one else had to change their eating timings because of me. Win-win.
We all know what bad-selfish behaviour is like, whether it’s when someone takes the biggest piece of cake from the table before anyone else, skips a queue, doesn’t contribute to projects (but still enjoy the benefits of the outcome)... and so on. Those who are selfish most of the time are probably more often bad-selfish than good-selfish.
It’s therefore nice to know that good-selfish is in fact, completely different. Good-selfish is when the situation requires you to look at the bigger picture and do what you need to do to make sure you’re able to be your 100% and therefore benefit those around you, including: yourself.