Thanks, Home Office! My UK visa application experience

I've always been an inconsistent blogger, but this takes the cake -- it's now been four months since my last post! There's been a lot going on, and while the blog's never been far from my mind, I wanted to write about my UK visa application experience before I dive back into my stack of post ideas.

The Background

Some of you (hello friends-who-lurk!) may know that I've been in the UK on a Youth Mobility visa (aka the YMS). This has allowed me two years of working in London, travelling to various European countries, and buying a shit-ton of beauty products that were difficult to access in New Zealand (although I have basically been on a low-buy since November. I'M SO PROUD OF ME).

 Two year's worth of love evidence (i.e. bank statements and utility bills)

Two year's worth of love evidence (i.e. bank statements and utility bills)

My visa expires this month, and since Will is here on an Ancestry visa, I'm lucky enough to be able to apply for Further Leave to Remain and switch into being a dependant on his visa. This hasn't always been possible: historically, switching to another visa type while in the UK on a Youth Mobility visa wasn't allowed -- you had to go home to apply. However, the immigration rule changes in October 2013 -- specifically rule 196(A) -- now allows for switching into a dependant's visa as long as you're not originally on a visitor's visa or on temporary admission as an overstayer.

We'd been aware of this, and knew enough people who were in exactly the same situation (unmarried Tier 5 youth mobility visa holder switching into a being a dependant on a UK Ancestry visa) to know that it was possible, as well as what was involved. We'd had a free consultation with an immigration lawyer (who confirmed that it was possible but then advised us to use the wrong form...), checked in with a friend who practices family law and has dealt with immigration cases, Googled for advice on immigration forums -- everything pointed to "Yes! You can stay! For a bit longer!" So it was a little... stressful when I rang up UKVI and was told that I had to go back to NZ to apply. Twice, with loads of attitude from the staff both times. Going back to NZ was not ideal -- £900-ish flight home, at least a month's leave from work -- so...

The Application

Screw you, call centre staff. I went ahead and started prepping the application. Since we're not married, we had to prove that we'd been "in a relationship akin to marriage or civil partnership which has subsisted for 2 years or more" (rule 194). I couldn't find anything in the current Immigration Rules or the website on what officially constitutes evidence, though, other than this piece of guidance from 2012 (which also says to refer to another thing if applications are made after 2012, but that other thing doesn't say anything about evidence). Unofficially I'd heard and read advice ranging from the six pieces of evidence referred to in that last link to two bills or statements addressed to each of you for each month of those two years.

I went for the latter -- in other words, complete overkill and a source of unwarranted anxiety (Will you're missing stuff from May 2015! Why and how did I accidentally change to paperless bank statements?) -- and I don't know if that helped or hindered my application. Below is my main file, which has as many bills and statements as we could gather and separated by tabs into each month for the two years I've been in the UK. The application guidance says to photocopy your documents to help speed up your application, so as a compromise I picked out some key pieces of documentation, copied those, and then flagged those pieces throughout the file with Post-Its. 

 "The Love File"

"The Love File"

Apart from the main Love File (I know someone who calls it the Love Book, but I think I prefer the irony of the more clinical choice) I also put together another file with some pre-UK evidence. My worry was that since we were slightly borderline with the two full years, and considering the fact that Will arrived in the UK more than a year before I did, it was helpful to have the older stuff. 

As of July 2016, when I made my application, the FLR (O) application cost £811. We opted to apply in person at the Premium Service Centre in deep dark Croydon, which gives you a decision on the same day; I've heard of cases where the applicant was still waiting for a decision and their passport after five months. This cost another £500, plus I had to pay £200 for the Immigration Health Surcharge -- at the time of paying online and booking my appointment the costs added up to £1511. 

I'm really, really broke.

 Some soppy photos to break up the block of evidence from "The Man"

Some soppy photos to break up the block of evidence from "The Man"

The Appointment

Booking the appointment was another source of stress. The guidance and other people's experience said that you can book 42 days ahead, but when I tried to book there definitely weren't appointments 42 days ahead. I wanted a date in August as close to my original visa expiry date as possible to give us that full two years' of evidence, but I wasn't able to obtain an appointment until the last week of July. This was after ringing up the UKVI helpline a third time, where once again they weren't particularly helpful. Ongoing problems with the online booking system, apparently -- there's stuff online which suggests it's been this way for several years. 

 Lunar House, Croydon

Lunar House, Croydon

And that's not all, folks. We booked the earliest appointment we could (9.50 AM), but even so, it took us six hours to get out of there -- there were issues with the Biometrics system, not to mention the fact that they could do with a whole lot of process refinement.  Oh, and, AND I HAD TO PAY ANOTHER £200. The IHS is actually £200 for each year of your new visa, and in my case, my visa is dependent on Will's which has another two years on it -- there was no way for them to assess that when I made the online application, so I'd mentally prepared myself for it. But still, when the call came through while I was in the waiting room...

Did I mention I was broke?

The Tips

I'm grateful, really. There are plenty of people on the YMS who would have loved to stay longer than their allocated two years, and our case was relatively straightforward (dodgy advice by the UKVI helpline notwithstanding). It's not quite over either, because my Biometric Residence Permit has mistakes on it that still need correcting (apparently I'm male). The whole experience has just been a wee bit stressful, so hopefully this post will help anyone in a similar situation. Here are some miscellaneous tips:

  • Start thinking about this shit long before you need to, and make sure you don't accidentally change your bank statements to online only :( Give yourself that time to build up the evidence and save up for the fees.

  • My bank (Lloyd's) ended up printing out "original" statements which are addressed and formatted as they would have been if they'd been sent by snail mail.

  • Go for the premium service if you can afford it. It's expensive and it may take all bloody day, but you won't be without your passport for months on end.

  • Double and triple check your application for the bits and pieces you need. There's a check list in there for the documents and photos to be included -- remember your partner's passport as well. Include photocopies of key bits of evidence. 

  • Photocopy the actual application form once you've filled it out. I didn't -- the only thing I didn't back up -- and now that there are mistakes on my BRP I wish I had a copy to confirm. Again, this is a part of the process that could do with refining... UKVI, are you reading this?

  • You can only check in at reception fifteen minutes before your appointment time when you're at the Premium Service Centre. Also make sure you allow enough time to get through security (similar to airports), particularly if you're coming later in the day and there are potential queues.

  • There are very long waits in between each stage of the premium service appointment. There is a cafe on the same floor, but it's also a good idea to pack snacks -- while are shops nearby, you'll need to go through the security checks again if you go out. Bring books too, although I was too nervous to concentrate for very long.

  • The process:

    • Registration - your main details are typed in to the system. This took fifteen minutes or so, then I had more than an hour's wait.

    • Biometrics - be prepared to have your photo taken. Then there's another hour's wait.

    • They'll check your biometric details against previous applications - this was pretty quick.

    • Awaiting consideration - over an hour,

    • Under consideration - over an hour.

    • Call back to the final desk where you're given your decision letter and verbal confirmation. Before this I got a call asking me to pay the extra IHS. It took another half hour after I paid online for me to get called up. 

  • Ask for advice, look up stuff on immigration forums... but maybe don't bother with UKVI's helpline.

  • There is the suggestion that two year's cohabitation is not strictly necessary. See the case Senayt Okubay Fetle v The Entry Clearance Officer, Nairobi [2014] ) -- this appeal was eventually rejected but they successfully argued that "a relationship akin to marriage or civil partnership which has subsisted for 2 years or more" does not require strict cohabitation.

Usual online disclaimers apply: IANAIL (I am not an immigration lawyer), IANYIL (I am not your immigration lawyer), TINLA, OMG WTF BBQ.

On becoming my own #fitspo

Happy new year folks! 

The past 18 months or so have been good to me. I've regained a lot of the confidence I lost in the previous years (basically a huge chunk of my twenties), I'm happy in my job, and I still can't believe my luck when I think back on the holidays I've had exploring bits of the UK and Europe. 

Part of getting my mojo back has allowed me to become a lot more content with the present and what I have, and to let go of certain toxic thoughts. A big part of this? Unfollowing people on social media whose content makes me feel bad about my body.

 Google image search results for "fitspo" :/

Google image search results for "fitspo" :/

I get it: for some people, seeing photos and videos of gym selfies, sculpted bodies, progress shots and pithy quotes is motivating. External motivators can be useful! And I don't think it's wrong to want to look a certain way. I still have a few friends in my feed who post quotes and progress shots, and for now I'm ok with that -- it's their journey, and I'll do my best to just scroll on by. But for me, I'm over the constant comparisons to others -- I need the motivation and inspiration to come from within. I still want to shift some body fat because I don't feel like I'm at my best health. But I've become much less focused on what I look like; I'm now more focused on what my body can do.

I've never been much of an athlete, but I have always been fairly active. I think it was even what kept me going at my lowest points -- I'd always try my hardest to make it to team games, and I still get a wee bit emotional when I think about some of my yoga sessions which were, in a word, transformational. 

For about four months towards the end of 2015, I worked with Tel, an amazing trainer (who's also a fitness model but since he's a massive dude I'm way less likely to compare myself to him. Guy is CUT though). As a result, I'm a lot more confident in the weights area in the gym, and I'm proud of what I've now achieved. I can deadlift more than my bodyweight! I can do actual press-ups on my feet! Although press-ups plural is maybe stretching it a bit -- I can do, like, a handful. But I couldn't do any six months ago!

And just quietly, when I was at the doctor's the other week for a worrying cough, he took my vitals and complimented me on my BP and heart rate. Is it weird that I'm proud of that? I don't care.

I think everyone deserves to be happy with the body they have, regardless of their activity levels or food intake, whether they're fat, thin, a little bit lumpy, or, you know, just NOT SHAPED LIKE A VICTORIA'S SECRET MODEL. It's funny that it's a radical thing, that fat people can be happy and healthy, or that thin people can have invisible illnesses -- I won't go into it, but I would highly recommend Everyday Feminism for discussions on body image and other issues. I particularly like this comic on judging health by appearance and their (timely) piece on 50 body acceptance resolutions.

The thing is, I've lost a load of weight before, and I was just as unhappy as I was before I lost the weight. Losing weight wasn't a magical solution to all of my problems; in fact getting to that point had me rebounding -- hey presto, all my weight's piled back on, and my head is still as fucked as ever! I've come to realise that it's important to sort my underlying issues out, unpack the complicated relationship I have with food and my body, and get into the scary parts of working on my mental well-being before I go doing other stuff. 

I could definitely stand to put more nourishing things into my body -- less cake, more greens -- although sometimes cake can be a nourishing thing too. And that's the thing: it's about taking care of the body that I have and giving it what it needs, and sometimes that body needs a cupcake. I've found that the more accepting I am of what my body is, and the more content I am in myself, the better, less destructive choices I make when it comes to food. I still load up on "treats" when I feel bad, but I'm getting better at realising that eating an entire bag of chips won't necessarily make me feel happier or make my problems disappear.

I still have days when I say hateful things about my body, join in on the bullshit women say about themselves regarding their fatness, or point out my flaws before someone else can. I still constantly compare myself to other people -- my self-esteem is a work in progress, and probably always will be. Maybe one day I'll be able to look at photos of perfectly sculpted bodies and say "you do you" and scroll on by without any reflection on myself. But for now, I've unfollowed the fitspiration, "strong is the new sexy" (that's not helpful either), bikini body babe accounts, and I'm working on being my own motivation and inspiration.

///

I hope you don't mind me going off-piste a little bit. No makeup talk today! But my relationship with beauty products has always been about using makeup as a way of enhancing and expressing myself, rather than obscure the parts of my face that I hate, so I feel like body image talk has a place here on the blog. This has been a little scary to write, but I hope there are bits that you've maybe found useful or have identified with. Happy 2016, if you're into all that new year new start stuff! If not, as you were. 

Twenty-four hours in Athens: a vague itinerary for the non-planner

For some reason Will and I had a little mix-up on the timings of our trip to Greece. We found ourselves with an extra day and a bit to explore Athens, and not a lot of time to plan due to limited Internet access -- Greece isn't on the Three Feel At Home list -- and the fact that we figured this out on our first evening in Athens prior to leaving for the islands. So, we winged it.

Athens, as you might imagine, is soaked in history, much like how my clothes were soaked in sweat in the stifling Greek heat. I really can't hope to do it justice (the city, not my sweaty clothes), so here is a rough breakdown of what we did in our bonus holiday time. I hope you find it useful if you're actually reading this in advance of planning a trip!

9AM: Our group returned the boat to Alimos Marina, I booked a cheap hotel on Last Minute, and we caught a 20 minute taxi to the Apollo Hotel (Metro: Metaxourghio), a perfectly serviceable place which was £40 a night at the time. This included what turned out to be a slightly lacklustre breakfast -- we ate like kings on the boat, whereas this stuff probably came from giant catering tubs. We cleaned ourselves up, napped, then wobbled downstairs on our sealegs. 

12PM: I started scribbling over a free tourist map while frantically Googling things like "Athens must do". By this stage I was getting hangry, so we walked a few blocks towards the Psirri district through kind of a rundown looking area. There was some amazing street art, most of which was of a political persuasion. Lunch was moussaka, salad, souvlaki, and my new favourite dip, taramasalata (which is also super fun to say, especially if you pretend to be a pirate).

Nikitas Athens Lunch

1.30PM: My Googling had turned up Melissinos, the Poet-Sandal Maker of Athens. Stavros Melissinos' literary work is taught around the world, but his day job was working as a sandalmaker, and now his equally-accomplished son Pantelis has taken over the tiny, colourful shop. The service is pretty great, despite the swarms of tourists hemming and hawing over which of the 30-odd designs to have custom-fitted to their feet. Bob Saget has a pair, and a photo with Pantelis on the wall. Sarah Jessica Parker loves her No.22 Prince style so, according to a poster featuring her face. (FYI I got the No.26 Thebes.)

 Trying on my Thebes. They adjust the straps and hammer them down for you.

Trying on my Thebes. They adjust the straps and hammer them down for you.

 Inside Melissinos.

Inside Melissinos.

3PM: Monistiraki Flea Market (Metro: Monistiraki) is the place to go if you're wanting souvenir t-shirts, key rings, and painted icons. I'm sure there are legit shops full of wares made by artisans, but it's hard to get past the hordes of tourists, literally and figuratively. Head for the hills! Adrian's Wall and the Agora are nearby, or even better, the Acropolis Museum (Metro: Acropoli). This was a refuge from the heat and the crowds, and well worth the €5 entry fee, with some great exhibits for a Classics novice like me. You also get a really great view of the Parthenon. 

 She was sketching <3

She was sketching <3

 That light!

That light!

5PM: I convinced Will it would be a good idea to see a Greek play, so we waited around for tickets at the foot of the Acropolis. This took a while -- the ticket office didn't quite get around to opening when it said it would -- and by then it had cooled down enough for us to tackle the Acropolis. This was, as you can imagine, pretty spectacular! 

 You've all seen photos of the Parthenon but have you seen the Cats of the Parthenon?

You've all seen photos of the Parthenon but have you seen the Cats of the Parthenon?

7.50PM: Sunset. People clapped.

Athens Sunset from Acropolis

8PM: Time to head to the Odeon of Herodes Atticus (or the slightly more catchy Herodeon). We'd gotten cheap tickets to Ajax by Sophocles, which, by the way? Was all in Greek, funnily enough. Two hours of it. BUT IT WAS AWESOME LOOK AT US SITTING IN AN ACTUAL GREEK AMPHITHEATRE. (N.B. I think performances end around October, and this may have been the tail end of the Athens Festival.)

Odeon Herodes Atticus Selfie
 Will took this sneaky shot at the end of the performance.

Will took this sneaky shot at the end of the performance.

9.30PM: We were pretty tired by this stage, and I really can't remember where we went, but we must have caught the Metro to Syntagma because I took a photo of the Greek Parliament.

Hellenic Parliament Athens

10PM: Most of the bars we came across were pumping, but we really weren't up for drinks -- the heat had taken a lot out of us. So we stopped for a quick souvlaki at a joint somewhere on Ermou, I think. 

10.30AM: We checked out of the hotel, left our luggage, and set off for Anafiotika, a tiny neighbourhood built by workers from the island of Anafi in the 19th Century. Apparently they were working on the King's palace, and sneakily built their own digs in in this prime location in their down-time. The whitewashed houses are seemingly stacked on top of each other on the hills above Plaka, with loads of cats loafing about in the shade of the bougainvilleas. You can also make your way to the Acropolis from here -- a calmer, more scenic route compared to going through Monastiraki and the Agora. 

Anafiotika houses
Anafiotika bougainvillea house
 This way to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This way to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

12PM: We were boiling by this stage, having climbed up and down the streets of Anafiotika and the Plaka, and were about to stop for a drink when we ran into a couple of friends (also Kiwis living in London). Pretty nuts! Bars and restaurants are a little overpriced in this area, being a popular spot with tourists and well-heeled Athenians. The shopping options here are a bit more upmarket compared to Monastiraki, including quite a few art and design shops. I kept to my new tradition of buying a towel from holiday destinations (see my Sicily pick in this post), and picked up one of these guys from Pestemal

 Cafes, bars, and restaurants all spilling out into the Plaka terraces.

Cafes, bars, and restaurants all spilling out into the Plaka terraces.

1.30PM: It was time to hoof it back to the hotel and pick up our luggage to head to the airport. A note about Athens Metro: it looks like they've changed the pricing and structure slightly as of September 2015, just after we were there. For a quick stop in the city, all you would probably need is a €4 daily ticket which is valid on basically any mode of transport except the airport Metro, or maybe a €10 five-day pass if you're there for a little longer. A single ticket costs €1.20 and is valid for any mode of transport within 70 minutes. For the airport, the best option is probably the €8 one-way Metro ticket (€14 for two people), or you could go for the €20 3-day ticket for everything, including a round trip to the airport.

 I dropped those sunnies down a dirty toilet shortly after this :(

I dropped those sunnies down a dirty toilet shortly after this :(

I wish we could have spent a bit longer in Greece. It was a really affordable place to travel, the food was amazing, and there's obviously so much more to explore and learn about the country. I would love to hear your recommendations if you've been before, to Athens or elsewhere -- I'll definitely be heading back!

 Photo by Will

Photo by Will

Barcelona: views and travel tips from a first timer

I like flying at night. You see the lay of the urban landscape in a way you just don't during the day -- the streetlights lining the arteries feeding the beating heart of the city, the dimly lit limbs leading to outer hotspots.

It was a fitting end to my week-long trip to Barcelona, because it's a city that seems to come alive at night. The heat is a little oppressive during the day -- it didn't help that we were there during the first week of July, like dumbasses -- and the pace is quite slow and quiet, particularly if you're away from the tourist hot-spots. At night, though, the plaças and ramblas fill with friends meeting up, families walking their kids and dogs (so many cool dogs!), and of course all of us tourists, all until well after midnight.

Interestingly, a lot of people have been surprised when I told them that we stayed for a week. I think it's a nice way of travelling though, because you start to feel at home, like you're a part of the city. You're also not rushed off your feet trying to fit everything into a weekend, which is ideal during the height of summer. There is also so much going on in Barcelona that you won't struggle to find things to do...

Accommodation

 Daily Zen-out in the pool

Daily Zen-out in the pool

We stayed in an Airbnb in El Poblenou, a beautiful neighbourhood a little way out of the centre of town (approximately 20 minutes by Metro). Our accommodation had a pool, so we could escape the heat of the late afternoon when temperatures reach their peak without having to trek to the beach (a five minutes walk away, what a hard life AMIRITE) and deal with the sun and the sand and the umbrella rentals (which we did splash out on during our first day because we had to wait to check in). Also our hosts had a dog (LOVE U COCO) and some brilliant recommendations. 

 Our host, Coco&nbsp;

Our host, Coco 

Tourist-ing

  • La Sagrada Familia. Buy tickets online to avoid queueing up in the hot Spanish sun (€19.50 for an audio or tour guide, but we went for the cheapass option of €15 without guides. It's an extra €4.50 to go up the towers). Keep in mind that tickets sell out fast for the next day, particularly the morning sessions, so I would plan ahead! I would also recommend the museum underneath the church, which is full of information about Gaudi, design details of the church, and the history.
 Goosebumps

Goosebumps

  • Park Guell has some stunning examples of Gaudi architecture -- I loved the hypostyle "room" with the columns and ceiling mosaics. This is another one where it's good to book ahead, but it's pretty affordable at €7 for a regular ticket; this gets you into the "Monument Zone". We didn't go into the rest of the park which is freely accessible. The gift shop is possibly the most interesting looking gift shop you'll ever see from the outside, but I wouldn't bother spending much time inside. If you're really keen, go to Gaudi Experiencia down the hill -- this has a gift shop with much of the same products, along with a statue of Gaudi where you can #selfie to your heart's content, plus some pretty good aircon (hey, it's hot, I sweat a lot).
 Under the viaducts at Park Guell

Under the viaducts at Park Guell

 Ceiling mosaics in the pillar room&nbsp;

Ceiling mosaics in the pillar room 

upload.jpeg

For something a bit different -- look out for events on posters, through word of mouth, and googling.

  • La Fira del Poblenou (Poblenou Craft Beer Festival) was on that weekend. You paid for a glass, and could then try beers for €2-3. Plus there were street food stalls and music.
  • The monthly Palo Alto Market features arts and crafts, music, street food, and booze, which all takes place in an abandoned tyre factory turned lush garden and events space.
  • Piknik Electronik is one for the electronica fans (and even those who aren't really, like me) and even has a family-friendly picnic area. The heat got to me that day though and I had to leave early :(

Food and drink

My favourites in Poblenou:

  • Can Recasens' foyer is filled with racks of wine, hanging cured meats, and boxes spilling over with fresh local produce -- they really take pride in the provenance of their food. Go there for the massive wooden platters of cured meats and cheeses, and the awesome salads.
 Fusta d'Iberico&nbsp;

Fusta d'Iberico 

 Wine selection at Can Recasens&nbsp;

Wine selection at Can Recasens 

  • El 58, also known by its French name le cinquante-huit, was a recommendation from our host Sandra, and holy crap I'm so grateful. It's popular and you may have to go on the little chalkboard wait list, but it's worth it. They serve tapas with some clever French and Asian twists, along with some great service. The cerviche was a revelation.
 Good looking AND tasty cerviche&nbsp;

Good looking AND tasty cerviche 

 Sipping my Aperol Spritz

Sipping my Aperol Spritz

  • El Tío Che has counters and an internal seating area that opens out onto the cross street. We ate our totally excellent gelato on one of the giant traffic island things all down Rambla Poblenou with seating and space for stalls.
 Totally excellent gelato from El Tío Che

Totally excellent gelato from El Tío Che

Elsewhere:

  • Can Paixano was another host recommendation, and it seems to be a bit of a Barcelona institution. It's a tiny bar with standing room only, where the team behind the counter serve tourists and locals alike with curt nods and barked orders. Bottles of cava are €5-7, and most of the menu is under a fiver. 
 interior of Can Paixano&nbsp;

interior of Can Paixano 

 Cheap and cheerful cava at Can Paixano&nbsp;

Cheap and cheerful cava at Can Paixano 

  • La Boqueria was crowded, colourful, and fun -- get a fruit juice for €1, a cone of jamon, and maybe some cheese to takeaway (we also got some cured meat which we had for breakfast for a few days afterwards). We sat down at Casa Guinart, one of the restaurants on the edge of the market, and had a tasting plate of Iberian ham, patatas bravas, and the first of my Barcelona gin-tonics.
 Sweets at La Boqueria&nbsp;

Sweets at La Boqueria 

 La Boqueria chocolate stall. That reminds me -- I've still got nougat to eat

La Boqueria chocolate stall. That reminds me -- I've still got nougat to eat

 First of many gin-tonics&nbsp;

First of many gin-tonics 

  • Speaking of gin and tonics -- the Spanish seem to be really into them! I didn't get to any dedicated gin bars, but most places will serve several brands of gin and tonic, along with flavour additions like cloves, basil, juniper berries and the like. I REALLY LIKE SPAIN CAN YOU TELL.
gin tonic beach barcelona
  • Brunch culture isn't big in Barcelona (see nightlife notes above), but if you're craving a bit of home, try Federal Cafe. Kiwis and Aussies will be familiar with the format (it's owned by an Australian) -- counter full of cakes, decent eggs on artisan bread, good coffee, smoothies, etc. I really liked my cold quinoa porridge thing. Solid. 
 Brunch offerings at Federal Cafe&nbsp;

Brunch offerings at Federal Cafe 

Things to try, in general: biscuits (we came across this place); tapaspintxos (similar to tapas, served on bread and held together by toothpicks); fideuada (a Catalan version of the paella, made with noodles); pan tomaca (thin crusty bread with garlic and tomatoes rubbed over the surface, served with practically every meal); ALL OF THE SEAFOOD. 

 Espresso and biscuits for breakfast&nbsp;

Espresso and biscuits for breakfast 

 Fideuada on the beach front -- it came with a wee woven hat

Fideuada on the beach front -- it came with a wee woven hat

 Miscellaneous Barcelona Travel Tips

  • Tipping seemed to be a similar system to here in London -- you're not obliged to like you are in the States, but it's appreciated; we gave roughly 10%. Be aware also that some places have a surcharge for terrace or outdoor service. 
  • If you're famliar with metro/underground systems in cities like London, Tokyo, and Paris, you'll do fine. I would go for one of the T10 passes (ten trips on one card) as it's better value than the 2/3/5-day passes, unless you have mobility issues and really can't walk everywhere. Walking is the best way to explore the city! You can share T10 passes too -- just leave it on the stile for your travel buddy. Trips within an hour and fifteen minutes count as one trip (I'm not too sure how that works when you're sharing a pass), and the Zone 1 pass (€9.95 for T10) will suffice if you're only going to be travelling around Barcelona and not making day trips out of the city.
  • The Aerobus is around €6 from Barcelona Airport to Catalunya. Alternatively you can take the Metro, which is €4.10 for one-way into Passeig de Gracia, but I think this might be a little slower.

I've got more to say re: beauty shopping and comparisons to the UK, but that'll be a future post! Let me know in the comments if you want to know anything else from a tourist's point of view.

Recent favourites: beauty or otherwise

  • Reading this post by Auxiliary Beauty, and not just because I feature :D Her blog in general is a favourite, and I was so, so pleased to be able to meet up with her during her trip to London. We swatched at various beauty places; I bought one of the new Topshop Lip Ombre duos (which I've still yet to try on!); we had a pretty photogenic/tasty dinner at Simurgh, a Persian restaurant in Covent Garden. (P.S. I'm still so impressed that you identified the maiko. I love finding out about peoples' obsessions!)
  • This pizza from Franco Manca:

The chefs liked us sweaty netball girls, obvs 😨🍕😘

A photo posted by Teresa (@brushandbullet) on

  • Free TV and radio tapings abound in London, and I've been to several -- mostly thanks to my friend Lillian who is amazing at scouting these gigs out. The most memorable have been QI (basically a longer, smuttier version of what you see on the telly), Live at the Apollo, and last weekend's Museum of Curiosity (taped at the BBC, where we took photos in front of that telephone box, and weren't allowed to take photos of the newsroom).
 I've never seen Doctor Who.

I've never seen Doctor Who.

  • Dreaming of living in a teeny tiny house:
 Searching "modern tiny house" will leave you feeling poor and inadequate.

Searching "modern tiny house" will leave you feeling poor and inadequate.

  • I've been making my way through the Rivers of London series by Ben Aaronovitch. They're magical murder mysteries where London itself is essentially a character, and I've learnt so many random facts about the city (did you know about the fake houses in Bayswater?). The main character, Peter Grant, is mixed race, and I've noticed that Aaronovitch identifies white characters as being white -- that's not something you see very often, and I like that the books reflect the diversity of the city. They're witty, and really fun to read. I've also recently come across Aaronovitch's blog, Temporarily Significant -- there's a comic based on the series coming out mid-July!
 Rivers of London -- there are two more books in the series.

Rivers of London -- there are two more books in the series.

  • Planning holidays. Next weekend is Cornwall with friends; I want a cream tea (missed out while in Devon) and to eat at a Rick Stein's restaurant!