Thursday, November 24, 2011

TGIBF: Thank God It's Black Friday!


We interrupt this regularly scheduled "travel thursdays" programming to bring you this "thank God it's black friday" post.

It's unseasonably beautiful out and if I can manage to venture outside and avoid a crazy shopper armed with pepper spray or anyone resembling that psycho Target lady, it should turn out to be an amazing day.

Shop safe out there people!

All it takes is a few moments each day to reflect and recognize that no matter where you are in your life, as long as you're breathing, there's something to be thankful for.

10 things I'm thankful for...
1) Deep sleeps in my cozy, comfortable bed
2) A year of incredible growth
3) Living in a time of cars...I LOVE driving! And I'm way too impatient for horse and buggy...although riding a horse to the market for farm fresh groceries could be cool.
4) Living in a place where I can:
 -wear what I want, when I want
 -say what I want, when I want
 -go where I want, when I want
 -essentially do what I want, when I want
 -walk outside without the constant fear of being harassed, kidnapped, tortured, bombed, raped, or killed.

Seriously though.
I feel incredibly lucky I happened to be born on a part of the map where these things aren't as common as coffee is here.

5) Having loving parents and lovable sisters
6) Having friends that allow me to be completely vulnerable without the fear of judgment
7) Steaming hot showers

8) Being young and healthy enough to dance, sing, do the neurotic NYC speed-walk, play softball (though not nearly as well as I used to), run up subway stairs, and of course, drive.
9) The freedom of being able to just pick up and go anywhere
10) Never settling
11) BONUS: Still breathing

Even the little things make a healthy difference, so next time you're wrapped up in BS and not feeling particularly thankful, take the time to acknowledge a few things and notice your mood change like magic.

And if all else fails, be thankful you're not a friggin' turkey...

Happiest of Happy Thanksgivings!

I'm so incredibly thankful you've taken the time to read and support littlemissmojo.
I hope you've gotten even half as much from me as I have from you. 

Have a kick-ass weekend!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Travel Thursdays (5): Comunicación

The first thing I had to do after settling in was buy a phone. Apparently there was no reasonable way to adapt mine to be used abroad. This, of course, was before I had my beloved Iphone.

They use a completely different system in Europe so even global plans can have issues with data and roaming charges.

The consensus was to buy a local phone that worked on a SIM card. On a suggestion from a fellow traveler, I went to the post office to get one. So weird.

Had to stop several Barcelonians to help me find my way...99% were super friendly and even the ones who didn't speak a lick of English tried to help and apologized if they couldn't.

Found the post office and the challenge continued - I don't think anyone in there spoke English - but somehow I walked out with my pay-as-you-go, itty bitty Bic phone...yup, Bic, the same company that makes disposable razors. Bizarro.

Took everything but a chainsaw and blowtorch to get the plastic off, but once I got there, it worked. 

I could refill my minutes at any Orange store, their equivalent to Verizon or AT&T...or at most news stands. Pretty cool.

Of course, the first call I made was to my mother to tell her I hadn't been kidnapped by human traffickers. She tried to get me to watch Hostel and Taken before I left, two movies about travelers who get tortured, kidnapped or killed abroad. No thanks mom.

The second call was to an old high school friend. A few weeks before leaving, I reached out to her on Facebook. I knew she was living in Barcelona with her fiance while he finished international business school.

We agreed to meet up later in the week and it was really comforting knowing she was there. Doesn't matter who it is or how long it's been, when you're traveling to foreign places, anyone you know becomes a lifeline.

That first night in Barcelona was awesome. On a recommendation, I went to dinner at a warm, cozy place not far from the hostel.

It was great just to sit there, sip my Spanish wine and take in the fact that I was really there. 
The waiter recommended a cheese plate with fig spread and honey...amazing! Never made the connection before but I now drizzle honey on cheese all the time. So damn good. 

When I got back to the hostel, I met a few travelers hanging in the entrance area and made some fast friends. 

Great people, most traveling alone...pretty reassuring to know I was among like-minded people. Bonds form quickly between travelers. There's an unspoken rule of camaraderie.    

Besides being a melting pot of different people from different places, hostels are wells of information.

You get the inside track on where to go, what to do, and what might not be worth your time, just by listening to other travelers sharing their stories.

When the beer and wine were all gone, a few of us agreed to meet the next morning to go to La Boqueria, the most famous market in Spain and one of my favorite places on the trip.

After that, we'd spend the day at Le Parc Guell, one of Antoni Gaudi's masterpieces. I didn't know anything about Gaudi before Barcelona except that he was an eccentric artist.

It's one of the most enchanting parks in the world and part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.

That's next!...

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Travel Thursdays (4): Viva Barcelona!

Travel Thursdays...Part 4: Viva Barcelona!

Wish I could bIame it on some technical glitch, but no excuses...just plain late with the post.

If you're just tuning in, the last few weeks I've been revisiting the build-up to my European vacation last summer.

To start from the beginning, take a look here...

If you've been keeping up, read on...

After a lifetime of dreaming and mere weeks of planning, I was finally on board my flight to Barcelona!!

I'd been hearing for years about what an amazing city Barcelona is and now I would finally know for myself.

It was so unbelievable to me that I was actually doing this...and doing it alone for the most part.

The flight was uneventful except for a little scuffle I got into with an airline attendant who guilted me into switching my seat...which I accommodate a couple who were sitting apart. Luckily they reimbursed me for my troubles with those mini bottles of wine.

We touched down at Barcelona International, a gorgeous, modern airport.

As a bonus, it was fully staffed with gorgeous Spanish men...good start to any trip.

I took French in high school and had only I was anticipating some challenges in the language department.

I had a pocket dictionary and aside from that, the plan was to wing it...and hope the Spaniards were English-friendly.

I took a bus from the airport to the city center. The first thing I noticed was all the Vespas!!! The streets and sidewalks were filled with them.

I loved seeing middle-aged women in dresses and men with briefcases riding away on their bikes. I learned later they call it a "moto."

One day I'll own one...I'm mildly obsessed.

My first test of Spanish...asking around for the street where my hostel was. I looked around and couldn't find the street signs anywhere.

I knew I was jet-lagged, but this was ridiculous. I went back and forth from corner to corner looking for a sign and there was none to be the street.

Second thing I noticed about Barcelona...the street signs aren't on the streets, they're on the buildings.

Thankfully it was just a block or two away.

Best thing about growing up in NY is that everywhere else seems more manageable.

Thank God, cause I was so exhausted...don't think I could've dragged myself or my suitcase much further.

I was definitely nervous about staying in a hostel. The last time I did was almost 10 years earlier when I studied abroad in Australia. I didn't know if I could be as tolerant as I was back then.

I found Somnio hostels online and it got solid reviews, so I was hopeful.
I remember going into the building and taking an elevator that just barely fit me and my suitcase and had to be manually closed. Scary.

I got off the elevator, realized I was still alive and met my temporary home for my time in Barcelona.

It was a cute little space; from what I could see it was friendly, clean and modern.

There were single, double and dorm rooms. You get a locker for your luggage and the bathrooms are first-come, first-served.

It's a little like college, but that can be a good thing when you're traveling.

I negotiated my first night in a single room and the rest of the time I'd stay in the dorm. I pretty much dropped my luggage and passed out.

The best part was that it was in the heart of the city, right near Las Ramblas and Passeig de Gracias, two famous streets.

Later on that day I grabbed my camera and headed out to explore. It was still early so I had most of the day left.

It was the first time I was really using it. At first it felt kinda, not the camera. It was the newest Canon Powershot...small enough for my bag but packing enough power as an SLR. Got it right before I left and it was really the first time I ever had my own camera to walk around with. Strange to say it now but I really never had anything worthy of carrying around.

I didn't know what to take pictures of. By then end of the trip I couldn't put it down.

I couldn't walk a block without seeing something worthy of taking a picture. I still see things that way and it's something I'm really grateful for.

I realize now looking back how amazing it was to be starting the trip and my relationship with photography on that same day. I've been neglectful lately but I'm definitely in love.

Here are some pics I took that first day. It started raining but that didn't stop me from admiring the scenery.

I promise they get better...

really, floral sidewalk? - I think I'm gonna like it here

 The architecture was absolutely amazing!

Despite the rain it was still beautiful.

Much more to come...have a great weekend!!


Thursday, November 3, 2011

Travel Thursdays: (3) D-Day

Packing is an art I have NOT mastered and probably never will. I've gotten much better with practice but it's definitely my least favorite activity.

In this case I was packing for six weeks of travel. The climate would be anywhere from brisk to scorching and I somehow told myself I'd keep it simple and wear white t-shirts the whole time. Right. Amazing how I entertain my own B.S. sometimes.

I believed wholeheartedly in the "minimalist" mantra, but at the end of the day I couldn't deny my true identity as a "better to have and not need than need and not have" kinda girl.

It's a slippery slope, and it wasn't long before I was at the bottom of the mountain under a pile of my entire wardrobe. Shocker.

Even my luggage attempted to cover all bases; it was like a transformer - one part suitcase with rolling wheels and another part detachable backpack.

It had secret compartments and hidden backpack straps so you could carry the suitcase on your back, which was really cool in theory, but never happened.
I decided against one of those traditional backpacks...didn't want to do anything that screamed "tourist" while traveling alone.

I eventually closed my suitcase and wondered how the hell I got to this point. It was an amazing accomplishment...closing my suitcase AND the fact that somehow I had turned my dream into a reality.

As we headed to the airport there was definitely some uneasiness lingering, like I'd forgotten something important.

I pressured myself over every little decision leading up to this day. I spent a nice chunk of change buying things in an effort to make myself feel more prepared.

The truth is I could've bought out the entire travel section of Bed, Bath & Beyond and still felt uneasy. 

We all manage fear and anxiety in different ways but it's always a fruitless effort until we just face the music.

Trying to resist or distract from the fear instead of just being with it usually makes it mean more and linger longer than it needs to.

Looking back I think, "sure, it's going to be scary and uncomfortable at times...and that's ok.

If I wanted to feel safe and comfortable I'd stay home and not experience anything remarkable in life.

I say that now, but in the moment I was a mess.

We got to the airport and I spent a ridiculous amount of time curbside, painfully debating over whether or not to bring a certain sweater.
Should I bring it? Should I not bring it? What if I need it? I'm already over packed. I want it. I don't need it. I should take it. No, I should just leave it.


I was so frustrated with myself. I knew it was ridiculous and yet I couldn't find peace in either decision. That's because it had nothing to do with the sweater.

As my mom did her best to play the supporting role to my soap-opera style drama, the tears welled up and I lost it. The she lost it...and then we both laughed hysterically at my ridiculousness.

It was all hitting me. I was scared shitless. I was leaving everything I knew for a month and a half with countless unknowns looming. About 40% of the trip wasn't set in stone and in that moment all I could see was my fear.

There was no turning back now though. I was doing this and I knew I'd be fine once I got through the doors.

It was so hard to say goodbye to my mom. After a few tearful goodbyes, I finally had the courage to walk away.

By that time I was feeling the need for some liquid courage. I had some time to kill so I found a spot at the bar and took a moment to officially celebrate the start of this amazing journey.

About one hour, two beers and half a Valium later, I strolled up to the gate ever ready to board my flight and instead found myself staring blankly at the status board as the word "CANCELLED" blared over my flight number.

WTF?!!! Are you kidding me?

Remember back when volcanic ash from an Icelandic eruption caused major problems for air travel across half the planet?

Yeah, until that moment, I was one of the lucky ones. No ash in my flight path. My flight was good to go. And then, it wasn't. All flights to Spain were cancelled...indefinitely.

Good thing I took that Valium.

I went back home to an extensive game of musical flights, reserving one and booking another, waiting to see which one, if any, would be green lit to fly.

The initial projection put me a minimum of 4 days behind schedule. Now the fear was in having to cut out a leg of the trip or not being able to go at all, and that was really scary.

With the help of an amazing Continental rep, I boarded my flight to Barcelona the following night, losing just 1 day in my schedule.

It was a little bit of deja vu going back to the airport, but this time I had my fears in check, and they took a back seat to the excitement of knowing that in just a few hours, I'd be in Barcelona.

Next stop...Espana!