Feeling Festive

7

Christmas time is finally here and let me tell you, London takes the holidays very seriously. From the end of October on, it seems like there’s been a new Christmas decoration up on a corner or more lights hung from the streets. I’m so used to having the Christmas season just in December – so this extremely long festive time has been an absolute treat! I’m always the kid in the house that stresses the importance of having our lights up the day after Thanksgiving along with the stockings on the fireplace and giant nutcracker in the hallway. I feel like my senses have been overloaded with time I’ve had to see Christmassy sights and I’m honestly completely okay with that.

6

Just a 15 minute walk from my flat is Trafalgar Square.  We ventured over the Hungerford Bridge the other night for the Oslo Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony and were treated to a few carols and a speech by the mayor of Oslo. For the last 63 years, Norway has given a pine tree to England to thank them for the aid they received during the wartime.  We were frozen to the bone by the time we were back, but it was fantastic to see the lights be turned on and the carol singing helped with making everyone feel a little more festive.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

There’s so much to do in London on a regular day, so when it comes to the holidays – it’s kind of insane. Winter Wonderland is this amazing festival located in Hyde Park that is basically a German Christmas market transported to the middle of London. There’s rides of all kinds, booths filled to the top with gifts and too many pots of mulled wine to count. Izzy, Ashton, Rebecca & I found ourselves there on Tuesday night and ended up walking around the entire park before ending the night with some hot chocolate and plenty of souvenirs.

4

Closer to my flat is the South Bank Christmas market that runs alongside the Thames and has close-up views of Parliament and the London Eye.  It’s so strange being able to walk home from campus and casually stop by the Christmas market for a few last minute presents. This particular market is a little bit smaller but still has the tons of booths with gingerbread, fudge, mulled cider and gifts. I am just a tiny bit in love with everything in my area – leaving in just a 5 days makes each walk back bittersweet. Bittersweet because I’m excited to get home and see my family and excited for the many trips (and hopefully a more permanent move) back to England, but the idea of not seeing the friends I’ve made here for at least the next 6 months is kind of hard to fathom.

1

Anyways – back to Christmas markets and the holiday spirit! Really, there’s not much better than seeing the holiday cheer on people’s faces as you walk by… sure, that sounds extremely cheesy, but what can I say – this season is definitely my favorite. I can’t wait to be home and forcing the family to have all the decoration up within an hour of my being home (you better expect it, Mom & Dad) and the sheer thought of making dozens and dozens of Christmas cookies and haystacks makes me jump in my seat.  To be honest, I’m actually wrapped up in my duvet with the heating on because London has decided to freeze everything in its path.

9

There’s several reasons why I love being a student at Kings College and currently, the ability to go ice skating at Somerset House during class breaks sits right on top. Like, how cool is that?! Ice skating at a famous London landmark, right along the Thames all within 30 steps of my campus. I was rather impressed with my ability to stay skating during our time on the rink. Other than the speed demon who completely ran right into me – I had no falls, woohoo! I definitely don’t go ice skating often, so this was certainly a treat.

3London has done its job and has made me feel comfortable with living 5000 miles away from family, but California is calling and in just 5 short days, I’ll be flying back. There will certainly be teary goodbyes and many days in the future of looking back at these amazing experiences I’ve had – but for the rest of my time here,  I’ll take advantage of this wonderful city and all it has to offer.  I certainly hope that one day, I’ll get to call London a part-time home, because this city has taken a part of my heart and I’m really excited for the adventures back!

Love,

Laura Reed

Thanksgiving: London Edition

IMG_3426

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.

IMG_5229

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.

IMG_3099

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.

IMG_8850

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.

IMG_1061

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.

IMG_1391

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.

IMG_2916

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

 

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

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.

IMG_2783

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.

IMG_2804

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.

IMG_2789

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.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

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.

IMG_2815

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!

IMG_2849

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.

IMG_2845

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

Weekend Trip: Dublin

It’s so strange having a fall break this early on in the semester. Of course, I’m used to the first break of the year including a big roast turkey and pumpkin pie.  With it being just the end of October, I guess a trip to Ireland will have to do.

IMG_1062

Ireland has been on the top of my travel list for a very long time. I’ve always wanted to visit the land of four leaf clovers and green as far as the eye can see. Despite the stereotypical idea I had in my head of Ireland, the time I’ve spent here has lived up to every expectation I had regarding this trip.  Saturday morning had Hannah, Rebecca and I leaving Stamford Street for Heathrow Airport (at an ungodly hour for them, but just the morning for me).  The tube was empty and we actually got seats for the hour ride to Heathrow Airport. A quick breakfast at the cafe and then on to the airplane, jetting towards yet another adventure.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

When we landed, we were so giddy with excitement and the customs officers were laughing at us as we cheered when another stamp marked our passports. We took the AirCoach bus to the city center of Dublin, for only 12 euro round trip – it was definitely easier on our wallets than the emergency taxi we took on our delayed Scotland flight. Hannah went running down the road when she spotted her friend and their reunion was so priceless…made for a movie, even. We had a great hot lunch at KC Peaches, across the road from Trinity College, before making our way to the area of Rathmines, where we were staying in a Travelodge hotel just across the road from Molly (Hannah’s friend from the states).

IMG_1099

A much needed pick-me-up coffee was at TwoFiftySquare, a cute little cafe around the corner from our hotel in Rathmines. Although the flight to Dublin was only 50 minutes, any day of travel makes me more tired than usual, and we had a night at the pubs ahead of us.  Caffeine was an absolute must.  I was prepared for a bustling nightlife that resembled London – but Dublin has a much more relaxed pub life.  Sure there was the loud music, mingling groups and many “sláinte”s to drinks around the room, but it seemed more intimate and you were certainly able to simply talk with your friends if that was what you desired. On top of it all, the Irish guys were actual gentlemen – they were there to socialize and share a drink with their buddies (although that accent didn’t hurt much).  Fast forward to 1 AM, when Dublin had daylight savings and I became confused when I left to go back to the hotel at 1:40 but got back at 1:10 – definitely took a while to notice.

IMG_1120

Come morning, I left the sleepy heads to their morning slumber and ventured for a walk into city center. I passed along St. Stpehen’s Green and Merrion Square as the parks were being unlocked and the city was waking up on the chilly Sunday morning.  There’s something so refreshing about walking around when nothing is quite open yet.  Seeing an area wake up teaches you a lot about the way it works – whether its busy or sleepy, young or family oriented. Dublin is so much smaller than London, in the height of the buildings, the amount of time it takes you to walk from one side to the other and the number of people living in it.

IMG_1160

My friends joined up with me at Trinity College, after I had done some souvenir shopping up and down Grafton street.  We took a short walk to the Temple Bar area, which is a young and vibrant slice of Dublin, and crossed the Ha’Penny Bridge, that separates the north side of Dublin from the south. Much like everything in London, everything in Dublin is very old and has seen so much history pass by.  It’s still such a new concept for me to grasp – these bridges existed before the states had even declared independence… how strange.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

We took a bus over to the Guinness Factory at St. James’ Gate. Founded in 1759, Arthur Guinness had such a large vision for his brewery that he signed a 9000 year lease for the land.  It was definitely worth the 14 euros to take a tour through the brewing process – the hops, barley, water and yeast that are used in crafting the perfect pint.  Speaking of crafting a pint, we went up the fourth floor after learning how to properly taste the qualities of Guinness to take a stab at pouring a pint at the Guinness Academy.  All three of us came out with a certificate…kind of reminds me of those participation trophies they hand out in recreation soccer; but no matter, because we did it!

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

The day ended with a dinner at Portside Pub in the temple bar area for a traditional Irish lamb stew in front of live music being played by what can only be described as a rock flutist. Like no kidding, live flute and rock music combined. I had no idea that genre of music even existed. For day one of our reading week trip, it was pretty darn good.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Little to our knowledge, we picked Ireland’s Bank Holiday weekend to come visit. Apparently the population of Dublin doubles during this weekend, as the marathon runs through city center and most of the smaller towns shut down for the day.  I spent a few hours in the morning catching up on some journaling in the cafe down the road and by the time I was caffeined up, the sleep head brigade was waking up and ready to go explore. We made our way back to Grafton street in search of Claddagh rings – traditionally worn as wedding bands symbolizing love, friendship and honor, and now more commonly worn.  It’s been an item on my list for a while; to purchase a Claddagh in Dublin – really can’t get more Irish than that.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

With hot chocolates in hand, because dang Dublin is cold, we made our way through the Iveagh Gardens.   It was the perfect spot to spend some time outside when most of the shops were closed. There were a few statues throughout the park and locals were walking through with their dogs and enjoying the bank holiday outside.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetFor the first two days of our trip to Dublin, I would vote it as pretty successful. Dublin is an enchanting city – small yet busy.  Our trip continues with a day trip to Western Ireland, so keep an eye out for the update this weekend! Each trip I take makes me fall a little bit more in love with living abroad.  I’ve learned so much about what I want out of adventure from these 6 short weeks – hopefully it won’t be too long until I’m moving back a little more permanently.

 

Camden & Primrose Hill

My obsession with finding bookshops has gone out of control.   I find myself planning day trips or even weekend trips just to go cross off another of the book shops listed on the 20 best in the world, because they’re all around London.  I woke up early on Sunday morning and felt the need to buy yet another book that would add to the already overweight suitcase I’m planning on taking back to the states (note to parents: please bring extra bags). Word on the Water is a floating bookshop, an actual book barge. When their twitter notified me that they would be near King’s Cross, I woke up Hannah with just a few messages detailing our plan for the gorgeous Sunday it was looking to be.  I’m hoping one day, my early morning habits will rub off on my neighbors so that we’re up at sunrise already exploring.

IMG_0697

We hopped on the tube heading to King’s Cross and were excited when we realized that Harry Potter ran through the wall at Platform 9 ¾ and the tourist spot was there.  This was the one line I wasn’t too bothered to stand in – I mean, we were going to Hogwarts! We did the tourist picture, running at the wall with the wind blowing our scarves back (the trusty helpers holding them out of frame). It was a childhood dream come true – we used to dress up and attend the movie premiers at our local theater and we may have made a few homemade movies years ago.  Now I know that visiting the Warner Brother studios is a must in my time left in London.

IMG_0676

The book barge was only a five-minute walk from King’s Cross and the atmosphere when we walked up was amazing.  Two jazz musicians were atop the barge playing some classic tunes while families gathered on the steps next to the canal listening and socializing. As you walk on to the boat, you descend a few steps under a sign that says “Please Your Mind – Mind Your Head”.  Clever, right? The collection of books was everything from Grace Kelly biographies to London tour books to children’s tales. I went with a fictional tale of London’s petty theft ring and – of course – another copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  You simply can never have enough copies of your favorite series, and I was definitely still excited off the high of being near the infamous platform.

IMG_0713

It was now nearing 3 pm, so we walked off to the west and came across Camden Town.  A pitcher of Pimms and a burger at their local Weatherspoons was a great midday break and lunch.  Hannah and I ambled through the many different booths that Camden had to offer – everything from a jerk chicken stand to crepe booths and octopus cafes.  It’s a diverse collection of stand up booths that are alive with the energy of tourists and locals.  The canal was dotted with people sat on the side eating take away boxes and listening to the street musicians.

IMG_0747

We grabbed a crepe to satisfy the sweet tooth craving and walked off in search of Primrose Hill and Regent Park on the glorious sunny Sunday evening. I’ve been checking the weather religiously, waiting for the day when the weather forecast was completely devoid of chance of rain so that I could catch one of the the rare and fantastic London sunsets. It was nearing the early winter sunset time and we found ourselves walking through the cute and residential area of Primrose Hill. The little elementary school and law offices reminded me of scenes out of a film.

IMG_0752

We came across the London Zoo, but with the 20 pound entrance fee and setting sun, we decided to continue along the road to the bottom of Regents Park. Autumn colors were everywhere. The trees were still holding on to some of the beautiful summer green and the yellows and oranges were glowing with the evening light.  Dogs were running after tennis balls, kids were laughing and barrel rolling down the hill and couples were sitting on blankets drinking bottles of wine.

IMG_0777

The sky had a few big fluffy white clouds which caught the wonderful yellow light as we made our way to the top of the hill.  I’m absolutely in awe of moments like this…when you feel like everything is going right in your winding path and life just feels so good. I knew it would be a challenge coming to London without knowing a single soul, but meeting friends like Hannah, makes the nerves seem long ago – we will always remember the times that we traveled the world with best friends made after only a month of knowing each other.

IMG_0785

I’m off on yet another adventure come this weekend – this time to explore Ireland for four nights. It seems impossible that all of these day and weekend trips are so close to my temporary home. Six weeks in and I’m still constantly in awe of the opportunities presented by this adventure. It’s impossible to ever have an empty bucket list; mine has only grown in the time I’ve been here.  More adventures to come in this crazy journey of life.

Lots of love,

Laura Reed

 

Weekend Trip: Edinburgh

I know that it’s been 10 days since my last update, but the autumn weather that has landed in London has called for copious amounts of tea, working on essays and a new binge-watching marathon on Netflix. I’ve been snuggling in my blanket, constantly putting more water on to boil, researching memorials in Berlin and attempting several times to write this entry on my trip to Edinburgh.  So I’ll apologize for this being nearly a week late, but the break from the internet has felt absolutely lovely.  I know that there will be a time in my life when I look back at the journaling I did during my time abroad and be grateful, but this little break has been exactly what I needed to get my head straight with the adventurous times I’m having.

IMG_9919

Train to shuttle to plane to taxi, we finally arrived at 48 London Street (a bit ironic, right?) in New Town Edinburgh for a weekends worth of exploring and touring.   We were welcomed by our landlord with a great tour of our little flat that was in walking distance to all the places on our to do list for the weekend. Edinburgh is a beautiful mix of historical and modern. It’s definitely a quaint little town that attracts a lot of tourists. I woke up in my lovely bedroom complete with a floor-to-ceiling window and fireplace and padded into the kitchen to turn on the kettle for a wake-me-up cup of tea. It was an enchanting feeling to have space to actually walk around while not leaving the tiny dorm room I’ve been living in.  I had a few too many cups of tea and when 9:30 rolled around, I woke up the sleepy travelers in the only way I know – I guess being the youngest child just teaches you the most effective way to say good morning.

IMG_9966

After leisurely getting ready, we walked out our flat to the Bake Shop, a quaint shop that served us the much needed lattes, bowls of porridge and pain au chocolat.  We continued on our way through blue-skied Edinburgh past the Balmoral Hotel, Scott Monument, through the Princes Street Gardens and finally ending up at the Edinburgh Castle.  Apparently, it’s completely normal to have a 12th century castle towering above the city that is both small and widespread.  We made our way to the top viewing point of the castle grounds and were astonished with the ariel views of the little town on the bay.  About 10 years ago, my best friend visited Edinburgh and brought back a package of Castle Rock, a sweet chalky candy, as a souvenir – I obviously bought another pack to bring back those memories.

IMG_0112

After the amazing views at the castle, we were a bit cold from the chilly autumn wind making it’s way in from the water. We walked along the Royal Mile that was full of cashmere shops, whiskey tasting rooms and beautiful churches like St. Giles Church.  I knew that bag pipes were Scottish, but was not prepared for the people playing on each corner in traditional kilts. I’m constantly in awe of the amount of history that the little British towns have – and I know it’s because I’m not used to walking past 15th century buildings that house the new cafes on each corner, but I thought after five weeks of living abroad, I’d be getting acclimated to all that the UK has to offer.  Definitely still amazed each day with what there is to explore.  As we continued walking, the wind finally reached our bones and led us back to our flat where we had a wee bit more of tea while watching the last night’s episode of X Factor.

IMG_0120  IMG_0156

A much needed break was in order after a day of touring and the day before filled with traveling. So post-nap, we got ourselves presentable enough to go up Broughton Street and find a small place for dinner. Perhaps our best decision of the night was crossing the street to Smoke Stack, a small pub-like atmosphere, that served me one of the top five dinners I have had in my entire life.  We laughed over a glass of wine, talking about the month of adventures we’d already had – yes mom, I’m legal here! – and when our steak and ale pies came out, I forgot how to talk while I had the first few bites.  It was heavenly. If you’re planning a trip to Edinburgh any time soon, you must pencil in Smoke Stack as a dinner spot, because it was such a wonderful dinner and the ambiance inside was incredible.

IMG_0131

The next morning, my cold decided to turn up the dial a bit, so I slept in until 8:30 – whhhhaaattt?!?! I slept in! It’s a miracle! Instead of wasting the precious hours of daylight we had left, we opted for another morning at the Bake Shop for porridge. Before I head back to the states, I’ll be figuring out how they make porridge so velvety and delicious. Definitely a new favorite.  We walked over to the Royal Mile once again to pass towards Greyfriars where the famous Elephant House cafe is.  J.K. Rowling was living out of her car and visited this little cafe each day where she eventually conceived the idea for her multi-million dollar series Harry Potter.  The graveyard next to the cafe was closed, but apparently there is an actual tombstone there for Tom Riddle, where she got the inspiration for He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named himself.

IMG_0239

The day was coming to an end and our hours in Scotland were ticking down, so we decided to walk back to New Town and climb up to Calton Hill. Although it’s not the tallest of the seven hills in Edinburgh, you get a spectacular view over the city and of the tallest hill, Arthur’s Seat.  The monuments on top of the hill are so interesting – we climbed atop the acropolis looking towers to get the highest view of the town we could. I will definitely be visiting this town again, because there is loads more to explore and see.

IMG_0374With our bags packed once again, we waited for our taxi to take us back to the airport.  Once we got through security, we had the greatest surprise – a delayed flight until 1 in the morning!  Four hours later, we were finally leaving out of Edinburgh and craving the tiny single beds back in our dorms. If you’ve ever been curious, Gatwick airport is really empty at 3 in the morning. Luckily, we had it on our minds to book a taxi to be waiting when we landed and what a welcome sight it was to have “Laura Heck” written on a name board as we groggily walked into arrivals.  Another hour later, I was quietly unlocking my door and falling asleep almost instantaneously after the long, long night of delays. IMG_0205I’m having my first weekend actually in London this time round and I’m so excited to have a proper morning of sleeping in (well as late as my biological clock actually will let me sleep in).  In just a week, I’ll be heading to Dublin for a few nights of exploring and crossing off another bucket list item, so if you have any tips – leave them in the comments below! For now, I’ll go back to dreaming of the morning light coming through my beautiful Edinburgh window with a cup of tea in hand as I plan my next trip.

Lots of love,

Laura Reed

 

Stormy Days + Marylebone

IMG_9755

I think autumn has come to stay in London. Each morning I wake up to cool winds and slight fog. Some people get depressed in this kind of weather – not me, this is my absolute heaven. I think I was made for days exactly like this.  There’s just something so wonderful about being bundled up while walking the streets, even if there’s a little rain mixed in, it’s not so bad if you get a hot cup of coffee at the end.  So when the forecast was 80% thunderstorms all day, I chucked on my heavy raincoat, loaded my pockets with tissues for my DayQuil resistant headcold and headed out for a new adventure in London.

IMG_9760

Of course, Michael Buble’s ‘A Foggy Day in London Town’ was playing in my earphones as I made my way to the tube station. My two ultimate favorites, cold weather & the crooning king, made for a good start to my (sickly) day. I was off to Marylebone to check out the High Street and find a little coffee shop to hole up in while I read my course book – see Dad, I am doing school work! So when the stop before Marylebone was Baker Street, I jumped off to see the Sherlock Holmes Museum. Do yourself a favor and go watch Sherlock if you haven’t already. It’s fantastic.

IMG_9771

The museum was fun, relatively cheap and included the set from the BBC series exactly as it seems on TV. I was just waiting for Sherlock to walk through with some solved crime spilling out of his mouth. From there, I headed further north and came across a little hidden gem. The Paddington Street Gardens were just a little gate on – you guessed it – Paddington Street, and it was a nice green space to take a break from all the large buildings in the area. The garden was created in the 18th century as extra burial space for the old St. Marylebone Parish, where over 80,000 graves were dug. It is still consecrated ground, although the tombstones have been moved with the exception of the mausoleum due to its tasteful design.

IMG_9811

As I turned on to Marylebone High Street, I ran right into Daunt Books – store I found on a list of 20 best bookshops in the world. Of course, I was going to spend a good chunk of time there. There’s something about bookstores… the time that you can lose just flipping through a good travel book or finding the perfect novel for a cozy evening of reading. The roof of this store was all glass, and I kid you not, the second I set foot in the store, the clouds began to release all their rain. It was magical. I sat there and listened to the rain with a big smile on my face because at that moment, life was pretty darn good.  

IMG_9794

Daunt Books has several locations throughout London, but I think this is by far the most beautiful of the settings. Marylebone has so many different shops up and down the little streets, ranging from high fashion to small and independent. The walk around the area is a great place to get lost for the day, if you must.

IMG_9819

By the early afternoon, my throat was sore and I was in need of a serious pick me up. I had heard of this cool coffee shop, Kaffeine, in a YouTube video by one of the many London vloggers I watch. Only a quick 15-minute walk from the Marylebone High Street, Kaffeine was bustling with a young crowd of baristas and businessmen coming for a mid-afternoon coffee. I sat down with a decadent chocolate brownie and a flat white for a much needed body recharge.  A quick break turned into an hour due to the novel I was reading for my Berlin studies class – Alone in Berlin is a tragic and captivating story of Nazi Germany.

IMG_9826

As their sign says, the coffee made me strong enough to get through the 15-minute walk to Oxford Circus, where I caught the tube back to Stamford Street and a little nap. Days like these are so perfect and fun. Adventuring is my kind of sightseeing – just choosing a point on the map and then figuring out the smaller details as the day goes on.

IMG_9823

In the last four weeks, I’ve found my niche within the city and I’m growing incredibly fond of it. While it’s impossible to not think of the countdown to my flight back to the States, there’s no time for crying, because I’ll just have to figure out a plan to move back here eventually. I’m currently on my way to Edinburgh for a quick weekend trip and exploring with some friends, so keep your eyes peeled for a Scotland post sometime early next week!

Day Trip: Windsor, Bath & Stonehenge

I’m not usually one to take the tours that make you stand out as the ultimate tourist, because half the fun of traveling is to fit into the local lifestyle, right?  This weekend, I gave into the tourist desires and took off on a day trip to Windsor Castle, the city of Bath and Stonehenge.  At 7:30 AM, I met up with four other study abroad students from the US and we started our walk over to Charing Cross where we would catch the tour.  After some troubles with getting our ticket, we were scurrying across the Hungerford Bridge and praying we would be able to snag a coffee somewhere along the line, because it was just too dang early for the speed we were going.

IMG_9305

With a hot coffee in hand, our tour started towards Windsor Castle and the famous private school, Eton.  It was a thirty minute ride and our overwhelmingly enthusiastic tour guide, Graham, filled the time with fun facts about the area.  Did you know that 93% of the current Parliament attended Eton? And the reason the Union Jack flies at all times on the castles is due to the day Princess Diana died?  It used to be that the royal flag was only flown when the Queen was in residence, so there was no flag to fly at half mast when the public heard the news. Now the Union Jack flies constantly, in case there is ever another tragedy.

IMG_9344

We didn’t buy admission to the actual castle, so Hannah, Rebecca, Elena, Westley & I found ourselves in a pub at 11 AM with mimosas as the rain came down.  Around noon, we had to make our way back to the bus through the torrential downpour for the next leg of the tour.  Due to the storm, Graham decided to change our route so that we would see Stonehenge with clear skies – off to the city of Bath we went! It was a two hour journey west and the most beautiful scenery of the English countryside passed by.  As we came into the Cotswolds region, I was astounded by the views – I don’t think it gets much better than the countryside. I can imagine moving to this area with a small house outside of the city and a running a little bakery in the town – whoops, sorry for the daydream.

IMG_9429

In Bath, we first went to the Roman Baths which were built upon a old hot spring that had healing qualities (it cured an Irish prince of leprosy but I was trying to avoid thinking about that… because EW).  The main pool was green from the minerals, but it was so interesting seeing the steam rolling along the top.  A quick walk through was enough for us, so we went exploring into the city streets.  Bath is a very small town, but it has a great combination of modern stores and the quaint countryside shops you would expect.  The Bath Abbey was hauntingly beautiful. The moment I walked in, I was awestruck by the vaulted ceiling with a canopy design.  Churches hold so much history – there were headstones along the walls that told of the many people buried around the Abbey dating all the way back to the 1600s.

FullSizeRender5

FullSizeRender3

As we approached the Salisbury Plain, we saw the Westbury White Horse – during the Dark Ages, ancient people dug into the soil to create a picture of a horse and due to the chalky ground, it is visible from miles away (google it and you’ll be amazed).  It is now maintained by the English Heritage Council. Finally, we made it to the Stonehenge visitors center, where we boarded another bus that would take us up the actual historical landmark.

FullSizeRender2

Walking up to 5000 years of history is not something I do on the daily basis, obviously, so as we approached Stonehenge I tried to think of all the things these rocks had seen. It is not exactly clear why the actual Stonehenge was built, however with the new technology they have found that the rocks came from up to 130 miles away around 4000 years ago.  The Roman philosopher Tacitus was the first to document this strange landmark as a temple to the sun.  Modern historians now believe it was constructed as a temple to the moon during the time when the United Kingdom was connected to Scandinavia by glaciers.

FullSizeRender

After an 11 hour day, I was back in my tiny dorm exhausted from a day of traveling and was beginning to feel the cold that I’ve been sleeping off this week.  This day trip was so worth the embarrassment of being a true tourist because of how much we accomplished in the short time we were out.  In the words of our tour guide, it was a “lovely jubbly diddly die tip top pop” day!

Notting Hill & Kensington

This week, my body has finally decided to give into the three weeks of travel and exploration with a nice cold. I’ve been walking to new neighborhoods each day and planning future weekend trips with such excitement, I kind of forgot that bodies need sleep and relaxation every once in a while. Waking up on a Sunday morning with a nasty head cold calls for only one thing – lots and lots of tea. Anyway, enough with the sick talk – on to my wonderful day spent walking around Notting Hill and Kensington.

IMG_9284

Luckily for me, just as the homesickness/what-am-I-doing-in-this-far-from-home-for-three-months freak out happened, I was seeing someone from my home town the very next morning.  Sharing a nice farm-to-fork breakfast and not having to explain where I’m from made me feel rejuvenated and excited to continue exploring.  Daylesford farm shop is a wonderful Slow Food Movement approved spot with the freshest of juices and menu items.  I went for a chia bircher (my new found breakfast item love) and a B-Vibrant juice of carrot, ginger, celery and orange. Tasty stuff, I’m telling you.

IMG_9283

My hometown friend left for work at Whole Foods – the world’s largest and amazing location – and I continued to explore the lovely Notting Hill.  Portobello Road is an amazing antique store filled spot and among the tourist souvenirs are the greatest finds.  I found the Portobello Print & Map Shop that had extremely rare maps from all over the world.  I was so tempted to buy one of the United Kingdom to frame for my apartment back home, but couldn’t find the perfect one to spend one hundred pounds on.  The quaint restaurants and cafes that fill this area are enchanting and exactly the image I had of Notting Hill, thanks to the movies I’ve seen.

IMG_9201

If I hadn’t already had a killer cup of juice at Daylesford, this little stand on Portobello Road would have stolen my heart and tastebuds with fresh juice squeezed right in front of you.  Among little booths like this was the coolest pub on the corner (pictured above). For a few minutes I was trying to figure out if it was an art installation or something, with it’s plant covered walls – nope, just a wonderful little pub! Definitely putting that on my list for future explorations!

IMG_9221

Notting Hill and Kensington are full of the most wonderful rows of homes. If I post enough pictures of this area, will I get to live here some day? Maybe just a little bit of wishful thinking? London and the UK in general have already stolen my heart. I’m planning for the day when I get to move back here and open a nice little bakery…what a life that would be.

IMG_9280

Just a two minute walk from the Whole Foods on Kensington High Street is the breathtaking home of the royals – Kensington Palace.  It’s beautifully landscaped (duh) and on the sunny afternoon, the grounds were filled with locals and tourists sitting down for picnics.  I took the liberty of exploring the grounds for an hour or two and purchased a little souvenir tin of the “palace approved” tea.

IMG_9276

I don’t think I’ll ever get over how many neat things there are just a twenty minute walk from my temporary home.  It’s really intriguing to hear the locals take on a Royal Family – there are definitely those who enjoy the tradition of it, and some who really dislike their position in society completely decided on their bloodline.  Most of all, the tourists are far more interested in their palaces and royal lifestyle than the locals – but you can’t blame us, we don’t see this everyday!

IMG_9281Three weeks in and with a cold brewing, tea is all I can hope for.  The fall weather is here and my sweaters are being pulled out of the closet – so time to hunker down for the ‘study’ part of studying abroad.  I had a wonderful time exploring this new area, and there are definitely trips planned for the weekends ahead, but the top of my list includes a nice little nap and some Netflix to get me back to a healthy state!

Weekend Trip: Oktoberfest

Being in London for three months is already amazing enough because of the historic sights within the beautiful British city – but it’s amazing how far you can get with an afternoon flight out of Heathrow.  I took a weekend trip to Munich, Germany for the famous and traditional celebration of Oktoberfest. It’s crazy that in just two and a half hours of flying (with some horrible delays, but I’ll get to that later), I was in a completely different area of the world. After a rude awakening at 5 AM due to a fire alarm being set off in our dorm – I was up and trekking through the congested and crowded Waterloo station, on my way to Heathrow Airport. Despite the sardine-can-like tube I was on, the 5 Pound trip was much better than splurging on a taxi all the way there.

IMG_8888

We had a few delays out of London because of planes arriving late, but finally made it to Düsseldorf, Germany where I was to catch a connecting flight to Munich.  Of course, that couldn’t go off without a hitch, so we ended up on the runway for an hour, making us land way past our estimated arrival time.  This usually wouldn’t be an issue, but I was meeting my Seattle friend who was coming in from Amsterdam.  Let’s just say that after a few panicky conversations with the information desk, we finally found each other and we learned some international travel lessons. Whew! We made it and were so excited to see each other after a summer spent in different states and catch up on all the things that had happened.

IMG_9031

When we got to our apartment complex, we were greeted by our German roommates who we found on AirBNB.  Our room was exactly as it looked on the website and we had a nice little balcony off the kitchen.  The room was great and actually quite big, definitely a nice change from the small dorm room I’ve grown accustomed to in London. The best part about our new little room, was the proximity to the Oktoberfest grounds – only a short ten minute walk with a conveniently placed coffee and pastry shop on the way. If I thought that reading a few blog posts and travel tips about Oktoberfest gave me a good idea of what this weekend was to hold, then I was massively wrong.

IMG_9130

Oktoberfest is something completely different than anything I’ve ever experienced.  It’s a bit like a state fair on steroids. There were rides galore and souvenir booths with immensely cheesy beer related memorabilia.  Let’s get one thing out there though – who ever thought that serving massive steins of beer and then promoting roller coasters was a good idea? Just walking around the venue, you definitely saw your fair share of those who had been less than lucky with that combination.

IMG_9055

It’s incredible seeing how dedicated people are to get into their favorite beer tent. And by tent I mean an actual building, fully furnished with actual decorations.  People arrived at 7 AM to get a spot at their desired tent, and while we only arrived around 10 AM – we were just fine in getting our pick of the venues.  My friend and I visited the traditional Hofbräu tent where they had chandeliers made from hops and an incredible band playing dressed in lederhosen. The beer waitresses walked around holding up to twelve steins, impressing us all with their brute strength and concentration on not spilling.

IMG_9090IMG_8975

These rides were just a few of the more mild ones seen there. There was a large population of young families dressed in the traditional outfits, so these rides made sense for them since they obviously would not be taking their five year olds into the beer tents.  The atmosphere around Theresienwiese was celebratory and full of tens of different accents and languages around, listening and chanting along to the classic German songs.

IMG_9046

The last time I was in Munich was around 12 years ago, on my very first trip to Europe with my immediate family and grandparents. I wanted to find the Eden Hotel Wolff, where we stayed during our trip there all those years ago, and it just so happened to be right near one of the spots where we ended up for dinner. Memories came flooding back of being in the actual Hofbräuhaus in central Munich and being so overwhelmed at 8 years old, that we changed locations to the Hard Rock Cafe just across the street. It was extremely surreal reliving part of the trip that has fueled my insatiable thirst for travel. So, even though this hotel brought me back to a memory from 12 years ago, I just want to say a thank you to my grandparents who showed us the world at such a young age – it has made all the difference.

IMG_8925

We had a stein of beer, ate a bratwurst, bought corny and hilarious souvenirs and ultimately crossed one more thing off my very long bucket list. It was a quick 48 hours, but the experience was worth every ounce of stress from traveling internationally alone.  I may not get back to Oktoberfest any time soon, but hopefully there will be another time in my life where I’m able to come back and see this celebration once again.