Winter blues: Craving the sun on my skin

Right now, I’m looking back on December a little wistfully. According to my (unreliable) memory, December 2016 was a lot milder and drier than January 2017. The last couple of weeks in London have featured some really bone-chilling weather and, despite the facts of the matter, I don’t see any longer ‘stretch’ in the evenings.

I miss the sun.

I know many people in this part of the world will be thinking something similar right now. But a conversation with a friend earlier this week really brought it home to me. Turning my face up to bright sunlight and sitting still in its rays is one of my most favourite things. I’m really impacted by my physical surroundings, for better or worse, and sunshine is something I’ll always move towards.

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Soaking up some sun on the last day of our visit to Tokyo, November 2016.

After spending time in the sun, I feel a wonderful mixture of recharged and relaxed. It’s like I’ve been literally ‘topped up’ by the solar energy and given a boost, but also a calming pat on the head.

Getting some more sun has been a priority for me over the last year. I mean, what’s the point of being your own boss if you an’t take off and soak up some rays when the weather’s good? Last year’s travels to Spain brought it home to me – the sun is good for me, I feel better when lying in the sun and so, I shall get more of the sun.

Every time I catch a glimpse of sunlight recently, I’m brought back to the long weekend I spent in Sitges by myself. Prepping for a few days of work in Barcelona, it was the perfect opportunity to unwind, lie on the beach and be alone with my thoughts.

In between my thoughts, or the occasional few minutes reading something on my Kindle, there was nothing by lying back and feeling sunshine on my skin, listening to the waves hit the shore and remember to occasionally roll over to avoid getting burnt.

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The utterly gorgeous Platja des Balmins in Sitges, Spain. In quieter times, last year. 

I also found some fellow travellers on that beach. People who spent the day there on their own, doing nothing but lying back and relaxing. They weren’t kicking footballs about, playing music or making noise. It seemed like they were there for some quiet appreciation of the sunlight and warmth – and, of course, to work on their tan.

We exchanged brief conversation from time to time, acknowledging each other’s solitary status and looking after each other’s belongings when one of us decided to take a dip in the sea to cool off. There was a mutual appreciation, I think, that we were here for the sunshine, in as pure a form as possible.

A couple of local people looked at me with a kind of sadness when I explained I live in London. “You must be so happy to see the sun” neatly summarises their response. “Yes,” I replied, grinning like I’d won the lottery.

And it’s not all about getting the chance to go ‘au naturel’ on a naturist beach. Yes, that’s nice, as I especially dislike seeing tan lines on my body. And swimming in a warm sea unencumbered by shorts is addictive once you start.

But also because sunbathing naked is my version of going against society’s grain and doing something most people won’t. My token act of rebellion each year. But you can’t do it everywhere, no matter how many World Naked Bike Rides are organised. And I don’t want to feature on the front page of the Evening Standard or be added to some kind of police register.

No. As the photo above illustrates (taken by @FrankDJS in Tokyo last year), I’ll sit in the sun whatever the temperature and whatever I’m wearing, just to turn my face up and close my eyes for a few minutes. To absorb a little sunshine and feel that little bit more energised.

So now, in the middle of a very cold and damp January, I’m craving sunshine and a solar recharging of my batteries – both physical and psychological. I won’t get to a beach until April, which seems very far away, so I’m hoping upcoming business trips to Barcelona will allow for the odd coffee in the sun. To tide me over. And I’ll sit there, eyes closed, face upturned and relaxed, just letting it wash over me.

In the interim, I’ll have to make do with long sessions in our apartment building’s sauna, frantically pretending the heat is coming from above and that I’m on a quiet, sunny beach.

Some intensive Sitges beach therapy

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After another night of interrupted sleep, I had a pretty tasty breakfast and headed straight to the beach. Well, not straight. I had about four large cups of coffee to reactivate my brain and packed my bag for the journey home first.

It was disappointingly cloudy this morning. Especially when I spent yesterday’s sunny and hot day indoors working in Barcelona. But we persisted, staying on our loungers and after about na hour, the sun had burnt through the clouds and it was just gorgeous.

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I even managed a swim in the sea. On October 1st!! I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. Yes, it was a bit brisker than when I was last in Sitges, but it was still bearable and very relaxing.

We stayed on the beach until about 3:30pm, so I got a good four hours of beach therapy. At least, that’s what it felt like. Just wearing my swimming shorts (as we weren’t on that beach this time), sand between my toes and sunshine on my skin, all set to a musical backdrop of waves crashing on the shore. I felt every ounce of tension evaporate from my body.

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These photos don’t do it justice. Probably because when the sun made an appearance I was too busy lying sprawled like a seal, trying to absorb as much sunshine and warmth as possible. Taking sunny pictures wasn’t one of my priorities.

I’m not typically a beach holiday kind of person. I don’t like days in a row spent doing nothing but lying by the sea. But a few hours every so often is just perfect.

It’s a shame that by the time I’m in Spain for business again, it will be November and I doubt it’ll be nice enough to get onto the beach like this. That was probably my last beach visit and my last sea swim for 2016.

I’m just glad it was so lovely. Definitely a day to remember.

Sleepless in Sitges…

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I’m back in Barcelona for business today, but spent yesterday afternoon and evening in Sitges, just a little down the coast. What started with a lovely walk by the seafront, followed by some delicious tapas at L’Avinyet, ended with me kept awake half the night due to noisy neighbours in the hotel.

It was one thing after another, including some idiot who had managed to lock himself out on his own balcony, as well as other guests arriving back to the rooms (loudly) at 1am, 2am and 3am. I’ve not stayed at this hotel and don’t think I’ll be back. While the staff are friendly and it has some nice facilities, the walls seem to be paper-thin and it’s just too noisy to get any sleep.

And I like my sleep…

My alarm this morning went off at 6am, but to be honest. I’d been awake since 5:30am. Which, in UK body clock time, was really 4:30am. Ugh. No opportunity to grab a coffee before I got the train from Sitges to Barcelona Sants, so I made sure I swung by the Starbucks closest to my client’s offices before coming in. Cue one very large Americano – the first of many today, I fear.

(I didn’t even care that the Starbucks barista called me ‘Richie’… )

There’s a reason they use sleep deprivation as torture… Still, I get to spend today with some really amazing people, before heading back down to Sitges for another evening. And hopefully, some more sleep…

Nudity: the great leveller

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I’ve just spent the past few days here in Sitges, outside Barcelona. My hotel is right next to the Platja de Balmins, which has the distinction of being ‘clothing optional’. I’ve been several times before and so knew what to look forward to: a small, sheltered cove, clean sand, a well-stocked bar and a bathroom within strolling distance. All good.

Oh, and dozens and dozens of naked people from around the world.

I freely admit I come to this beach due to a combination of laziness (it’s by far the closet to the hotel) and my well-documented naturist tendencies. If it’s warm, and it’s legal, I’ll strip down and soak up some rays. I’m long over any hang-ups about the size and shape of my own body and really couldn’t care less what yours looks like either.

I have a body. I’m on the beach. So like it or not, I therefore have a beach-ready body.

Continue reading “Nudity: the great leveller”

The views from above

I took a few photos from my flight home from Barcelona on Thursday evening. After my unexpected and very welcome free upgrade to business class (thank you, British Airways!) I got seat 1F and had wonderful views out the window.

In the right weather, you can get some amazing views over Barcelona as you leave. Flight ago out over the sea and then loop back over the city. While the sun’s still up, you get a superb panorama of the city and its surroundings.

I snapped the pics below as we left, then took a few more as we were on approach to Heathrow. Seriously – if you were designing a city from scratch, could you pick a better location than Barcelona’s?

Again, the lighting and the angle were just right and I could even see our apartment building as we passed over Canary Wharf. (Yes, I know – it’s a real case of ‘I can see our house from here!’)

I love how you can see the bends in the Thames as it snakes through this part of the city.

More than anything, though, I’m impressed with what the iPhone’s camera managed to record – given the speed we were traveling and the altitude.

The upside of business travel: Barcelona sunshine

I’m in Barcelona right now, for work. I’m here most months these days and over the last year, have fallen a little in love with the place. And Sitges, too!

Yesterday evening, I was able to spend a couple of hours walking around the city. Even at 7p, the sun was still out, it was 30C and not a cloud in the sky. Gorgeous. I retraced an earlier walk, down the Avenguda Diagonal, down the Rambla de Catalunya, round Placa de Catalunya, back up Passeig de Gracia and home via the Diagonal again.

All in all, it was about 6km (according to my Apple Watch) but it passed very quickly and the sunshine was a joy. But after an early start, a long day of work and this walk, I dropped plans to eat out and simply had room service. It was just as well, because bucking all Spanish trends, I was in bed and falling asleep by 9pm.

Right now, I’m back at the airport – where I’m basically on first name terms with the security staff! – waiting for my flight home. Once again taking some time out in the ‘Sala VIP’ (it’s so not ‘VIP’, but the sandwiches are good), looking forward to getting home.

Don’t mistake this for a gripe or a moan. I’m intensely aware that my job takes me to interesting places and the experiences are well worth the travel hassle and the nights away from home. It’s just that sometimes, an evening of Barcelona sunshine is what it takes to remind me of all this.

I could so easily be chained to a desk in an anonymous office, doing something I hate, 40 hours a week. I have the job of my dreams!

I’m back over again in three weeks, and next time I’m extending the visit to take in a weekend back in Sitges. Can’t wait to hit the beaches, wander round town and chill out in the sun again. Summer in London has been disappointing to say the least, so I’m taking every opportunity possible to grab some rays and warmth before the dreaded Autumn arrives.

Better than any medication

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I got to work from Sitges, Spain for a couple of days this week and my overall conclusion from the whole experience is that giving me access to unlimited sunshine is better for me than any meds I’ve been prescribed by a doctor!

Despite it being a work trip, I managed to get some time on the beach next to the hotel – Platja dels Balmins – and the combination of sunshine on my skin and time spent jumping through waves in the sea was like flicking a switch in the brain. All thoughts about my epilepsy disappeared, along with the residual self-pity. It was like a positive jolt of energy and enthusiasm.

Fantastic.

The beach, while small, is just lovely. Sheltered from the wind and prying eyes, it’s ‘clothing optional’. And as we all know, I got over my self-consciousness about getting ‘desnudo‘ in public in Japan a couple of years ago when I visited the onsen. Nudity is the great social leveller. It leaves you with no idea as to what someone does for a living, where they’re from or any other social cues our clothing sends out. And, let’s be honest, it is also from time to time absolutely hilarious.

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No thumping music and nobody smoking. A couple of cafes within steps of my lounger. Nobody trying to sell cheap tourist tat. My kind of beach.

Total relaxation. I didn’t put earphones in my ears once, and left my phone in my beach bag. It was just me with my thoughts and the sounds all around me.

I’m convinced that putting me out in the sunshine for a few hours at a time has done more for my mental health and attitude than any other intervention I’ve tried this year.

Bring on the various neurology tests – I’m just looking forward to another trip to Sitges and time spent lying naked on the beach and floating in the sea. Maybe I’ll reward myself with a weekend there in August once all the tests are over.

And the parker of the year award goes to…

This guy. He somehow… and it looks like he did this on purpose… somehow managed to park so that he took up four parking spaces in our hotel car park in Sitges.

I was at once both impressed and incandescent with rage, as the car park was packed when we arrived. I hopped out of our car to take a photo, as a verbal description just doesn’t do it justice. What an absolutely, grade-A tosser.

A weekend in Barcelona and Sitges

I’ve just arrived back from a fabulous weekend in Spain. Even though I travel to Barcelona for work monthly, I don’t really know the place. I fly in, do my work and fly straight back out again. After a lot of prompting from clients, I finally booked a weekend in Sitges to follow on from a business trip – and it turned out to be the best travel decision I’ve made this year!

I flew in to Barcelona on Thursday afternoon and worked until about 5pm on the Friday. I got a taxi back out to the airport, where I picked up @FrankDJS and our hire car and a little over an hour later, we were checked into our hotel. It was the first time I’d been to Sitges and I’d imagined it a little bit like Soho-on-Sea. It has a reputation for being a gay resort, but it’s so much more than that.

Continue reading “A weekend in Barcelona and Sitges”