Thanksgiving: London Edition

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Thanksgiving. That day where there’s the smell of a turkey roasting and family gathers from near and far, might just be my favorite. There’s something about the festive beginning to the holiday season…maybe it’s all the delicious food around, but I like to think that it’s the knowledge that you get to see your family every few weeks in the upcoming months. This year, I’m not surrounded by my incredible family members in the gorgeous Napa Valley – because I’m away in London on this once-in-a-lifetime adventure. While I’m not there to tell my family what I am thankful for this year, I thought I’d put it in writing.

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Every Thanksgiving I can remember starts with my dad and I up early and preparing the turkey to be put in the roaster while sipping on hot coffee or some tea. We usually spend a few nights up in St. Helena at our family home and have the chatter of family life going on all around us as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade blasts from the main room.  Sure I’m feeling a little homesick today, especially because I don’t get to be involved in the hub-bub of thanksgiving day, but this adventure I’ve been on for the last few months has been one I wouldn’t trade in for the world. Thanksgiving is all about recognizing what you’re thankful in life, because most of us don’t realize how good we have it until we’re forced to really think it through.

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While I’m not with my amazing siblings this year, I’m extremely thankful for the relationship that we have and knowing that we’ll be together in just two short weeks. Nothing compares to the love of family. And specifically with siblings, there’s no one else I’d rather bicker with and then later make up with a hug and an ATV ride through the vineyard. It’s pretty silly to be sitting here in the library with a grin as wide as the ocean thinking about my family, but what can I say – I love them pretty dang much.

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Not many people get the opportunity to move 5000 miles away to a new city in a new country and have the time of their lives. This adventure is everything and more I could have asked for. I’ve made friends I know will last a lifetime, memories that will never fade, and traveled to places I’ve only ever dreamed of. This may all sound cliché and cheesy, but I don’t know when else I can get away with putting my thankfulness in writing.  This little London family I’ve come to know will make it impossibly hard to leave my study abroad home, but I’m fortunate enough to know that I’ll be back to explore soon enough.

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Speaking of adventure, I’m so amazed by the places the last three months have taken me. I could not have made it to the other side of the world to continue adventuring without the help of the other study abroad friends I’ve made here. This experience has gotten me out of my shell and made me realize that the great big world really isn’t all that big and hard to get to. The knowledge that the globe is filled with incredible places waiting to be experienced is one of the most major things I’ve taken out of this time. So thank you to the girls and guys that I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and travel with – you’ve really made me feel a little bit more at home in great big London and I hope we travel to see each other when we’re back home in the states as well.

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I came here completely alone, not knowing a single soul. It’s pretty amazing that I’ve had little to no homesickness and even crazier to think that in two short weeks, I’ll be reunited with my family. I know I talk about how much this adventure has truly meant to me a little too much, but I simply can’t recommend a study abroad experience enough. It’s changed the way that I view the world and view myself – knowing that I have what it takes to pack up and go exploring is some of the most liberating knowledge I gained from this. So, thank you Mom and Dad for giving me the experience of a lifetime – I’ll be forever grateful.

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Knowing that I return home to the states in a few weeks makes me realize how amazing California is. I’m so thankful for the friends that have stuck with me through my crazy years and for the home I’ve made in Seattle.  To my Sacramento friends, I can’t wait to see you shortly and thank you for always being there to cheer me up.  To my Seattle friends, I can’t help but quiver in excitement for the reunion that comes so soon! That city on the Sound is near and dear to my heart, and I really can’t wait to be back in January.

IMG_3433The sun is setting soon on this study abroad experience, but as you can see I’ve had the time of my life. I’m sad to think that I have to leave this incredible city – it’s comforting to know that when I come back, I’ll have a little group of friends to visit and make some new memories with. Happy Thanksgiving to you where ever you are in this crazy world – have a double serving of pumpkin pie for me!

What are you thankful for this year?

Love,

Laura Reed

 

Tunesday: LydieMarie

It’s been a hectic Friday night over here in London. I’ve been attempting to start on a economics research paper and then found a mouse running around my room – only to find it disappear, eeeeek! After a a few hours of vacuuming and cleaning my room to make sure no mouse traces remain, I was in desperate need of a calming night of music. Lucky for me, my flatmate Lydia across the hall has been working extremely hard on a new cover of Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud”.  Often, I’m lulled to bed by her strumming her guitar in her room and it makes the best study music on rainy and stressful days just like this.  If you’re in the mood for a few minutes of musical relaxation, give Lydia’s cover a listen – because she deserves all the attention!

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For the few people who see this blog, I would love nothing more than to share a bit of great music with you. Click here to hear more songs she has recorded over on SoundCloud – follow her to get updates when she posts!  Please give her all the love in the comments and share it with your friends if you’re feeling particularly incredible!

Love from London,

Laura Reed

Weekend Trip: Eastbourne & Brighton

Coming to London, I was completely expecting living in weather very similar to Seattle. Rain everyday and always carrying a rain jacket with you.  So far we’ve had a few gray days, but for the most part, it’s been days with blue skies albeit the arctic wind gusts that chill you to the bone.  The cold weather brought autumn to London very quickly, around mid October, and now it’s nothing but winter. They days are only light for 8 hours and my daily walk across Waterloo bridge leaves me with teeth chattering in need of a hot drink. When the opportunity to get out of London for the weekend came in the form of my flatmate Jess, I was packed and ready to adventure to the seaside in five minutes flat. I’ve gotten so used to moving around every weekend, that God forbid I stay in one place for more than two weeks.

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On Saturday afternoon, I met Jess at Victoria train station where we caught a 3:45 train to Eastbourne, the town she’s from.  Once you’re out of the congested buildings of London, you get the most scenic views of the countryside (of course, I didn’t realize this until on our way back… thank you 4:30 pm sunsets). We were met at the train station an hour and a half later by her dad, and had a quick drive to her family home. It was the most amazing feeling to set foot inside a home again – to have the noise of family interacting and something cooking. I felt refreshed in the ten minutes I had been there. Jess took me on a night time drive past Beachy Head, through the South Downs, and back along the Eastbourne sea front.  Even though it was dark and hard to see, we parked the car and stood on top of the hill that had a beautiful view of the town lights – it was invigorating to feel the crazy wind almost blowing you off your feet and feel the salt water in the air. We had an incredible homemade risotto dinner and cups of tea before heading off to sleep.

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The next morning came with gray skies that showed promise of turning blue and pain au chocolat in the oven. The family crowded around the breakfast table as we planned our day trip to Brighton.  Around 10 AM, we drove off along the beginning of the Seven Sisters cliffs on our way to Brighton.  Jess, her sister and I ventured down the lanes until we bumped into Chockywockydoodah, a stunning and quirky chocolate shop that has a cafe upstairs. The decadence of the hot chocolate we had filled us up for another round of roaming the streets that led to the Brighton Pier.

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I know that I often write about how this experience wasn’t one I had high expectations for – I didn’t have expectations because I knew that as the four months dwindled down, I would find my own way and travel at my own pace. Little did I know that I would add people into my tiny family of friends, ones I hope to visit time and time again and keep for a lifetime. Jess and the other girls in my flat have made me feel a bit more at home, despite being thousands of miles away from the place I grew up.  I think the biggest thing I’ve come to realize regarding friends, is that each one made connects you to something you’ve experienced – and the girls in London will forever be a part of the time I explored the world for a few months.

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I’ve had Brighton on my bucket list for a while now, ever since finding out about the beautiful seaside town in a video a few years ago.  Coming up to the pier was breathtaking. This art installation was so stunning – it’s composed of holes in a large sheet of metal and what ever the background is you’re looking at makes the intended art work seen. Pretty cool, especially when later as we were watching the movie Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging (trust me I was definitely giggling when they said the title to me too), we saw this piece as they walked along the pier.

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The pier extends out into the sea and has beautiful railings along the planked pathway.  The salt water regularly rusts the beautiful designs, but the maintenance crew does a good job of repainting over it all to make it look fresh and new. If you head inside of the building on the pier, you are immersed into a world of arcade games and a carnival atmosphere. We were on a hunt for the vintage-inspired stores in the North Laines so we opted to turn back after a short amount of time. I can imaging if you were traveling with young children, this would be the highlight of their trip.

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We left the pier and headed past the Brighton Royal Pavilion that was build by a young Prince Regent in 1787 as his seaside home. It was magnificent in design, and unfortunately my pictures of the palace didn’t turn out as I was oblivious to the smudge on my lens (cue mad blogger).  Anyways, the North Laines are winding pedestrian roads that have everything from leather goods shops to house goods to coffee shops and costume stores. An eclectic mix, I guess you could call it.  I was in love with every single store we walked into – but was constantly reminded of the already big challenge I have of packing up to head back to the states. I did buy a few postcards to add to my ever-growing collection of places I’ve visited in my lifetime, so at least those don’t weigh much!

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Jess’s family headed back around midday and left us to continue wandering through the city.  A few hours later, when the hot chocolate calories were being burned off, we were feeling hungry and settled for a ginormous spread of salads, olives, dolmas, and three kinds of dips. Scrumptious! I’ll definitely be experimenting with making different kinds of dips when I’m back to having all of my own kitchen supplies, because the beet and mint puree was pure ecstasy. We sat there until it was sunset and then made our way to the main street where we caught the Brighton & Hove bus back to Eastbourne – only about an hour ride through the most scenic views of the sea.

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When we got home, we watched Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging – which as I mentioned earlier, featured a lot of Eastbourne and Brighton in between the adorable preteen plot to learn to kiss. By 7 PM, the family was downstairs with the addition of Jess’s Nana for a traditional Sunday roast dinner. It felt like a miniature Thanksgiving meal.  Roast pork, cabbage, green beans, potatoes, gravy.. basically everything you could ask for. Even better was the flapjack dessert that reminded me of my Mom’s famous oatmeal and raisin cookies that can put a smile on the saddest of faces. I didn’t realize how much I missed being in a home-like atmosphere until I had taste of it in Jess’s home. I’m extremely excited for the remaining five weeks of my time in London, but pulling into Gold River once again will be a welcome sight. The next morning we took an early train back into the hustle and bustle of London – feeling refreshed from the weekend away, the buildings made me excited to be back in one of my favorite places.

IMG_2888Being so far away from home forces me to get out and explore this beautiful country I get for a short time. I’m encouraged by the people I’ve come to be friends with and am so excited to start planning future adventures (hint, hint – planning a little trip for next summer)! What gives you the motivation to explore the world, or even your own town? I’ll end this post with a little quote that used to seem cliché to me but now makes a lot more sense after some very unexpected and joyful trips.

“All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware” – Martin Buber

Lots of love,

Laura Reed

Western Ireland + Cliffs of Moher

I’m not so sure I agree with the list of the seven wonders of the world. Sure, the places listed are incredible and I truly hope to visit each and every one of them one day – but what defines wonder? The dictionary says “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unfamiliar, unexpected or inexplicable”.  If wonder is taken as in this definition, then finding a place that elicits these emotions must be pretty personal.  I’d say that there are a lot of places in my life that have caused me to feel full of admiration for nature.  At age 20, my list of wonder-full adventures is already lengthy, and this most recent trip to western Ireland certainly earned a spot on the growing archive.

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It astounds me how rural parts of Ireland are. The drive to the other side of the country took us a mere three hours – you can’t even get across California in that amount of time.  Throughout the rainy drive, there were pastures of cows and sheep, small cottages and very little traffic on the roads; then again it was around 8 AM on Tuesday morning. Our first stop was to Kinvara, a small fishing town in Galway Bay.  This pit stop was only about 10 minutes long, because the town consisted of a few ships in the water, some closed shops and a little spread of houses in the surrounding fields. Regardless of the small amount of time we spent there, the views of the Atlantic Ocean were really beautiful. Clumps of seaweed floated along the coastline and a couple ships were sailing out to the ocean – this quiet, little town was full of wonder to me.

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About twenty minutes further down the Atlantic Way are the ruins of Corcomroe Abbey.  When I think of ruins, I typically picture of old churches that are full of really old graves. This abbey was certainly old but some of the graves there were not from too long ago.  The collapsed ceiling and the aged stone was shining brightly from the cloud covered sun.  While walking around the abbey ruins, I found several little doors and windows that were so tiny and being ever-curious, I took it upon myself to climb through each and every one.

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Our tour group was fairly small, just around 20 of us exploring around the ruins. There were pastures just outside the gate of the abbey, filled with rolling green fields and not much else. Again, these vistas were making me realize just how rural western Ireland truly is. After living in the bustling London city center for a month and a half, these rural towns were so refreshing to be in.  Getting away from the concrete jungle and finding a little bit of space in these towns.  Especially in the grey weather, the vibrant green of the hills was illuminated even brighter – Ireland kind of reminds me of Washington in a way.  It looks so beautiful in the dull weather that can sometimes drown a city.

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We went driving down the Atlantic Way a bit further through the colorful Burren landscape. It’s known to be full of smaller versions of the ultimate destination, the Cliffs of Moher. Sure enough on our stop off in this area, I walked right out to the cliffs and sat down to witness the depth of the sheer cliffs. One of my favorite views was the waves continually crashing over the rocks sitting out of the water.  Salt water filled air is among one of the most refreshing feelings.  The mist that was being sprayed up along the cliffs made the cool wind more brisk, so the fifteen minutes spent outside of the bus was just enough.

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The wind was whipping along the coast line when we arrived.  There were hills rising next to the ocean that were void of trees and littered with large boulders. In fact, Burren (or Boireann in Irish) means ‘great rock’ and this massive landscape spans 250 kilometers across Ireland. The glaciers that once dominated the landscape, around 10,000 years ago, are responsible for the rocky grounds and the large boulders the area is named after. It’s well known for having colorful flora and fauna – hues of red, green, yellow and blue sprinkled along the vast views.

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After a lunch in the small town of Doolin, we made our way to the pinnacle of the day… the Cliffs of Moher! On my growing list of wonders, the impressive 700 foot cliffs along the Atlantic coastline certainly earned their spot.  The pictures don’t do nearly enough justice of this incredible view.  In a moment of true jaw-dropping astonishment, I hardly could speak. I’m even having trouble writing about this moment now, lost trying to find the right words so I can convey the sense of beauty I found in this place.  Alongside the fenced pathway sat a pasture of Irish cows; they really do live in a small slice of heaven.

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What would a day on top of Ireland’s famous cliffs be without playing a joke or two? After climbing over the gate that conveniently had a plaque memorializing the people who have died over the side of the cliffs, we dangled our feet over the edge and I fell a little bit more in love with the enchanting area. No need for the heart attack, there was at least three feet of ledge underneath me before the 700 foot fall. Despite the gut-dropping feeling when you’re looking at some pretty sharp rocks that far below you, the view was absolutely incredible.

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What places give you a feeling of incredible wonder?  Let me know in the comments below!

Lots of love,

Laura Reed