Reflecting on London

You know you’ve gained something from an experience when it’s almost unbearable to see it end.  Living in London was very surreal – I’d visited England for the first time in 2007 and knew that one day I wanted to come back and live more permanently. Even after living there for 3 months,  I have still have the desire to move back on a more permanent basis. London is part of the greatest adventure of my life so far, but the wonderful people I met while there really made this experience one I’ll never forget.  I can’t thank the girls of Flat 23 & 24 enough for all the hospitality and making London a second home for me.  Nikita, Izzy, Chloe, Rebecca, Hannah, Maddie, Lydia, Cory, Cecilia & Jess – you’ll always be a part of my little London family and hopefully we will make many more memories in the future together!

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When I first found out I was accepted to King’s College London, I was so incredibly excited that my dream of living in London was coming true. During my orientation at University of Washington, there was one thing that really intrigued me.  The counselors reminded us that moving 5000 miles away from home doesn’t come easy – that there will be a period of uncomfort with the new culture, potential homesickness, finding stability in your new city, and uncomfort for the first few days back in the states. Personally, I only felt a little homesick around the fifth week, when I was sick with a nasty head cold (earned from endless weekends of travel), but I credit the girls of my flat for truly making London a second home for me.

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I think that’s why a week after coming back to California, I’m still longing for the small rooms and loud neighbors – because those girls are a part of something that’s over for now.  With my bags on the curb of Stamford Street and my flatmates waiting with me (even though it was 8 AM), I tried with everything in me to not cry as I hugged them one last time, because I knew that once the tears started, they wouldn’t dry for a while. As soon as the car door shut, the driver turned around to me and said “no tears yet?” and then the dams broke. Happy tears that London had been everything I’d ever wanted from studying abroad – I think that the pain I felt when leaving, only meant that the adventure I’ve had was truly one for the books.

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With each adventure, you learn something. Over the past 3 months I’ve learned tremendous amounts about myself. I’ve understood that family is with you no matter how far you venture. I’ve learned that I am independent and enjoy adventures with no set plan – just a place in mind and a map in your back pocket (especially with no cell phone data when out of London!)!  I’ve learned that trying to cross things off your bucket list only leads to adding more. I’ve learned that different perspectives in teaching (whether that be nationality or where it’s taught) can expand your mind in ways you didn’t know was possible. This list goes on and on, because honestly, London taught me more than any other experience I’ve had so far. For anyone considering venturing abroad for a semester, I highly recommend it. For anyone else, I suggest stepping outside your comfort zone and experiencing life while you’re vulnerable to new experiences – there really isn’t anything that beats it.

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11 ½ hours flying, 3 hours driving and I’m back in my home surrounded my pets galore. When I stepped off the plane and eventually got through customs, my Mom and Dad were waiting outside arrivals with a big welcome home sign and cheers that made my smile impossibly big. What a weird feeling it is to be back in California and have the holidays so close to being celebrated. The morning after I flew in, I woke up wondering if I’d ever even left – but the scattered clothing, bags of souvenirs and the fact that it was 2 AM (thank you, jet lag) reminded me of all the great adventures that I’d had. It’s hard to have it over, but exciting to see new opportunities to explore come together for the future!

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I promise there will be no more emotional London posts, because I know it can get a little boring for readers – but this has been on my mind this week and I thought writing it out would do me some good. I’m going to take a break from blogging for a few weeks, so I can enjoy the holidays and get everything organized for my trek back to Seattle and UW in early January. Until then, catch me here on instagram. I can assure you that I’ll be back with new recipes, adventures and stories very soon! I’ll end with a quote that aptly describes how my mind has been working the past few days – thank you for bearing with me through the my adventure blogs!

“The voyage never ends…the mind can never break off from the journey” – Pat Conroy

Love,

Laura Reed

Feeling Festive

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

 

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

 

 

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.  

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!