Thursday, January 28, 2016

Expat Talk: Sometimes, You Just Need a Little TLC

I hate it when John travels for work. Hate. It. You'd think I wouldn't mind, since 2.5 years of our relationship were spent over two different continents. But I do. I mind.

Last week, he was in Geneva and Zurich. This week, he's in the U.S. Next week, he's ... I can't actually remember (and I don't know how he does).

Don't get me wrong: European travel is fine. We FaceTime at bedtime, fall asleep while talking, and wake each other up with mutual duvet rustling. And sometimes, I even tag along.

The U.S. travel is a killer. When he's in New York or Boston, the 5-hour time difference doesn't bother me that much, but when he's on the West Coast (which is, ironically, where I'm from), the 8-hour time difference is noticeable. Very.

So what did I do? Called my mother-in-law. Asked her to stay with me for a while. And she did.

Not only did she stay over: she had piping hot, home-cooked meals ready for me as soon as I walked in the door from work, made me cups of tea in the morning, de-scaled my kettle (what is it with parents and de-scaling kettles? My parents do it every time they come over!), stayed up watching crappy TV shows with me, and cleaned everything while I was at work. I'd creep past the guest room in the morning, trying not to make a sound, only to hear her chirp, "Good morning!"

It was so nice to be looked after - especially when I still felt residual sadness over my parents leaving after Christmas. My mother-in-law's visit reminded me that, even as an adult, sometimes you just need a little TLC. And that it's okay to ask for it when you need it.

It also reminded that I hit the jackpot when it comes to mother-in-laws! So thankful.

Do you visit your parents or in-laws when you're in need of some TLC?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Cult of Pizzeria Pappagone, Finsbury Park

For all the years my brother-in-law Tom and his partner, Cristy, have lived in Finsbury Park, the name "Pappagone" has been bandied around in nearly every conversation we've had about their weekend/weeknight plans. And now that they're parents to our adorable 2-year-old niece, Dorothy, the force of this North London pizzeria has never been stronger. Photos of her laughing as spaghetti dangles from her outstretched hands and tomato sauce sweetly decorating her cheeks frequently appear on the Tumblr devoted to her adorable antics.

So, I knew that Pappagone was a well-loved restaurant. What I didn't realize, however, was that it is - in fact - an institution of Italian family-style dining. After celebrating Dorothy's 2nd birthday there this weekend, it only took two photos uploaded to Instagram and Twitter and bam! The comments came flooding in from followers: "I was just there with my entire family yesterday! You missed us by a day!" and, "Pappagone is the BEST Italian restaurant in London, in my opinion!" and also, "I've been wanting to go for ages! How was it?"

I can see why it's so popular - it's loved by Arsenal football fans en route to match day and families out for Sunday lunch alike. Once filled, the cavernous space becomes jubilant and convivial, and the XXL pizza oven provides much entertainment for little ones (my niece included!).

Also: the portions are generous. I underestimated the serving size of the bruschetta (despite my Tom's forewarning) and placed an extra order for foccacia as well, which was a fantastic accompaniment to the two bottles of Montepulciano on table.

Before long, my linguine alle vongole arrived, the pasta perfectly al dente and the sweetness of the clams wonderfully juxtaposed against the white wine, garlic, and chilli. Bellisimo.

Okay, so before I get too carried away with my Eat/Pray/Love style Italian (awful, awful movie, btw, but so good when you're sick and sniffling on the couch!), the lowdown on Pappagone is: friendly service ("They greet you like an old friend!" my brother-in-law likes to say), delicious Italian food, at very reasonable prices.

Get over there - now.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Travel Talk: The Sisterhood of World Bloggers

A bit like the sisterhood of travelling pants, but blogger-related instead. Gianni of acrossthehogsback nominated me for this blogging chain (thank you!) Whether you're a blogger or not, I hope you'll find at least some of my answers interesting! (I've also taken the liberty of rephrasing some of them - oops!)

Your all-time favorite destination?

So difficult, but I think it's a tie between Thailand and Sri Lanka. I know I'm cheating by not picking one, but Thailand is like Disneyland for adults: luxurious pool villas, white sand beaches, crystal clear blue water, hour-long massages for something like £12 and pad thai to my heart's content ... what's not to love? 

And Sri Lanka is just ... magical. There is so, so much to do and explore, but since we were only there for a week, it didn't feel like we had enough time to see everything we'd wanted to. I'd love to go back and explore the Cultural Triangle, for example, and visit the tea plantations. I loved everything about Sri Lanka: the people, the culture, the food, and the scenery. Gorgeous beaches (seeing a theme here?) and unbelieveable wildlife.

Which post are you most proud of?

That post is still in draft, and I haven't had the guts to publish it yet. One day. 

Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?

A bunch of (mostly) old, (mostly) white men, basically:

- Sir David Attenborough, who wrote me back when I wrote to him when I was in college, and who sent us a lovely handwritten letter for our wedding (yes, really);

- Squadron Leader Geoffrey Wellum, DFC, who wrote this incredible book about his experience in the RAF during World War II, and who also replied with the kindest letter when I wrote to him after reading said book;

- Poet Derek Walcott, whose poetry about the post-colonial Caribbean experience was the basis of my undergraduate thesis, and who I met at the Globe Theatre last year;

- Author and poet Sherman Alexie, who's also from Seattle (or, like me, roughly from Seattle) and whose work I've admired for many, many years. And who once told me at a book signing that he knew exactly how to spell my name because "his best friend spelled it the same way too";

- My dad, because he'd love to chat with all of the above;

- John, because he'd also love to chat with all of the above;

- Also, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie because she writes, thinks, speaks, and dresses beautifully. And is beautiful. And is so, so intelligent. And because 'Americanah' was the best book I'd read in a long, long time.

So, a pretty eclectic mix, I think.

(Btw, if you think my answers are bizarre, I asked John the same question while writing this post and his answers were: "Julius Caesar, Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell [but not sitting next to each other], and Abraham Lincoln.")

Do you have a favorite travel app?

Instagram. I love capturing the memories of my travels in snapshots and sharing them with my friends and family.

What's your favorite and least favorite thing about blogging?

Favorite: your comments. I love them. Every single one.

Least favorite: the bullshit. Those of you who know, know.

Is there anything in particular that you like to do when you visit somewhere new?

I love getting up to the highest point - whether it's a rooftop bar or the top of a clocktower or a trek up a hill (notice I said "hill" and not "mountain" - gotta draw the line somewhere) and surveying my surroundings below. It puts things in perspective for me.

Which destination have you visited that has surprised you the most? 

Vietnam. I started out curious in Ho Chi Minh City, became a little overwhelmed during a train ride from HCMC to Da Nang, and ended up falling in love with Hanoi after a rocky introduction. I remember being really panicked and irritated by the traffic in Hanoi (there aren't really any sidewalks and motorbikes whizz past you in a constant stream in high speed, leaving about a centimeter between your ankles and their wheels) and having a full-blown argument with John on the street because I was getting so anxious. Then I went back to the hotel, had a bit of an attitude adjustment, and sat outside with the locals until midnight drinking beer. After I relaxed a bit and went with the flow, I enjoyed myself much, much more. Hanoi made me feel alive. It had such a terrific verve.

What's your pet peeve?

In general? People who are unkind. It takes more effort to be rude than to be kind, so be nice.

What's your most treasured possession? 

Right now, it's my Olympus PEN camera. I got an additional lens for Christmas and I love using it, especially when I travel. It's a bit of a cheat from the Canon DSLR we have, but I can't resist its easy-to-use functions, and I'd be lying if I didn't admit to also loving it for aesthetic reasons ...

Thanks so much for nominating me, Gianni! This was fun. I'm tagging three of my favorite travel bloggers: Rebecca, Sandy, and Chiara.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How Well Do You Know Your London Landmarks?

My mom's addicted to this jigsaw puzzle game on her iPad (so much so that she's taken over my dad's iPad because she ran out of storage space on her own!) and will, every so often, send me an email with the subject header, "Recognize this?" It's usually a London landmark which I'm supposed to guess correctly - and I always do.

I've lived in London for nearly 10 years now, but I'm still addicted to its skyline and its monuments. I won't walk past Harrods without snapping a photo on my phone. I don't care if it makes me look like a tourist. I'm also partial to a sunset over Greenwich. Who isn't? When friends come to visit, I take them to Duck & Waffle for a bird's eye view of London, pointing out St. Paul's, the Gherkin, the Globe Theatre, Tower Bridge (which is always mistaken for London Bridge), and other favorite landmarks.

Hull Trains have created a quiz based on how well you know London's famous landmarks - and I'd love to know how you score! I took the quiz myself and - ahem - did pretty well.

Ten questions, four possible outcomes. Even if you don't live in London, it's fun to play.

Let me know how you did in the comments!

This quiz was created by Hull Trains - Britain's best-loved rail operator. Hull Trains runs 90 direct services to London every week, and offer savings of up to 60% on advance bookings. This post was sponsored by Hull Trains; all opinions are my own.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Before and After: Our Dining Room

I think the greatest challenge in decorating a new home is ensuring that the pieces you've picked - whether it's furniture or decorative objects - work together. I read somewhere that a few, quirky antique pieces can work well in a modern decorative scheme, but that too much can look like a mish-mash, and this is something we have been careful to consider when putting together our dining room.

Before we moved in, the dining room was ... bare. The previous owners had moved overseas for over a year before deciding to sell their house, but left quite a lot of their furniture behind. The walls had been painted in a sort of yellowing cream, and the decorative scheme seemed to be wood, wood, and more wood, which didn't seem to make the best use of the bright, airy feel of this room.

As soon as we completed, we hired decorators to come in and give everything a lick of fresh, brilliant white paint. We figured that it was a good starting point and, that if we didn't like it or decided that it was too boring, that we could always re-paint it in a different color later down the line or put in some funky wallpaper (the guest bedrooms and the master bedroom are painted in light grey and blue). But the important thing was to freshen it up - a lot.

Having owned a glass-top table in the past (albeit a simple, little round one from IKEA), we knew that we liked the spaciousness a glass table affords. The fact that our dining room opens out into the garden made us certain of our choice, since the light reflects off the table during the day, giving the illusion that the room is bigger than it is. Originally, we'd seen a table by Calligaris in Heal's that we really liked and almost bought, but I happened to find a near-match on for a fraction of the price. I've always been obsessed with the idea of putting a rug under the dining table (we had one in our home when I was growing up), so we found a durable, but neutral rug from IKEA, which we wouldn't mind accidentally dropping tomato sauce on!

We'll probably replace the chairs at some point (which I literally found on the side of the road near our old flat in Angel), but for now, they work.

The soft furnishings/decorative objects were the hardest parts to get "right" in this room! Neither John nor I are interior design experts, but when we bought this house, I was armed with a new subscription to Living Etc. (a birthday present from my boss) and I must have bought a new issue of 25 Beautiful Homes every time we went to Homebase! I also had an unhealthy addiction to Pinterest. So I knew that we wanted to make the wall a feature wall - we just couldn't decide whether to use art or mirrors.

Again, mirrors give the illusion of a bigger room, and because the dining room is open and light, we decided to use a mirror here instead of making it into a gallery wall. Originally, I'd wanted a mirror just like this (but smaller) from West Elm for the guest bedroom. When this one from arrived, it was huge. Way too big for the guest room. So we tried it in the dining room and ... it seemed to work! I was worried that the geometric shape would look a little too much like a portal to another dimension in a sci-fi movie, but lots of people have asked me where I bought it from when they've seen it, so I'm taking that as a good sign!

The sideboard is a very recent purchase from ... our local garden centre, Lancasters! We love a few of the antique furniture pieces that they stock, and John spotted the potential in this sideboard right away (even though I didn't), which has since replaced our small IKEA drinks cabinet. It's also perfect for storing Scrabble and Apples to Apples, which is fun to pull out after dinner when we've got guests!

Finally, we put up a pair of breezy curtains in a natural color over the French doors, just to give us a bit more privacy in the evenings and also to soften up the room a bit. It's funny how a little change can make such a big difference. We bought a simple, wooden curtain rod at Homebase and the pair of curtains from IKEA - I dusted off the sewing machine I got (and had asked for!) for Christmas last year and spent about an hour learning how to thread it before hemming up the extra-long length. When we open the doors in warm weather, the curtains blow softly in the breeze, which is lovely and relaxing!

We really wanted to make our home as cozy and relaxing as possible, without it looking frumpy or dull. It's been a challenge finding our "style", but as we've carefully shopped for furniture and art, I've learned to relax a little bit and remember that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to interior style.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Bruges: Where to Stay, What to See + Eat + Do

"OHMYGOD," my friend said when I told her we were going to Bruges before Christmas. "You will LOVE it. Bruges is like a f*cking FAIRYTALE. A f*cking FAIRYTALE." Expletives aside, Bruges really was like a fairytale: swans glided gently down the canals, people sipped mulled wine on stone footbridges, and the Christmas lights were out in full force. A glittery, shimmering, fairytale - one that even I'd be inclined to use the f-word to describe.

We stayed at the beautiful Hotel de Tuilerieen - a former 15th-century patrician house that's now been transformed into a 45-room luxury hotel in the center of Bruges. Although this Small Luxury Hotel of the World won major points on the room and decor front, the service didn't do it justice: we received a disappointing, less-than-friendly (read: utterly rude) reception upon arrival. This bizarre contradiction continued throughout our stay, with half the staff being wonderfully helpful, and the other half acting like our simple requests for a robe or directions were exhausting inconveniences. Never mind.

Bad service aside, the rooms were utterly gorgeous. We stayed in an annexe off the main hotel, so we basically had a "house" to ourselves, with my parents and brother occupying a suite on the top floor and John and I in a spacious room on the bottom level.

The decor was clean, fresh, but homely. I adored the hotel bar and sitting room, which - with their roaring fires and cushy seats - were the perfect spots to cozy-up in before and after dinner. In fact, the rooms were so comfortable, it was nice to just relax and watch some TV after our slightly more high-octane trip to Paris (in fact, I'm super glad that we planned it this way around!). There was also a small pool and sauna, but we had forgotten to pack our swimsuits - darn!

Bruges at Christmastime is magical; all that was missing was snow. Horse-drawn carriages trotted tourists through cobblestone streets, stalls sold famous Belgian fries and waffles in the main square, and chocolate shops were, of course, on every corner.

Every shop has its own unique decor and speciality. We browsed at least ten different stores before splurging on chocolates and truffles from Galler, which supplies chocolates to Belgium's Royal Family. As the saying goes, if it's good enough for them ...

You can't visit Bruges without indulging in a Belgian waffle. We skipped the ones in the square in favor of these XXL homemade waffles from Lizzie's Wafels (Sint-Jakobsstraat 16, 8000 Brugge). They're a little on the pricey side (I think ours was around €15 with fresh fruit), but so worth it. The owners are lovely and friendly, plus the waffle house itself is a pleasure to sit in - very Instagrammable.

I'd advise sharing one with a friend because they are HUGE (like, twice the size of my head). Even so, John and I both wolfed this down in no time, as we were starving and it hit the spot!

Soon afterwards, we ventured next door to Espressobar for a proper hot chocolate ... and more pastries. When my hot chocolate arrived, I was a little confused - why had I been served a glass of steaming milk? But then I saw the little cup of chocolate chips and understood: pouring the chocolate into the glass, they instantly melted as I stirred and I was rewarded with the thickest, most delicious hot chocolate I've had in a long while.

If you're looking for Christmas decorations for next year, the family-run Kathe Wohlfahrt (Breidelsstraat 4, 8000 Brugge) is famous for their array of glass and wooden Christmas decorations. They cost a pretty penny, but I had no qualms about nearly departing with €80 of my hard earned cash on a gleaming Nutcracker, a shiny candy-house, and Santa before John snapped me out of my reverie and made me pick one. Like a grumpy dad.

For dinner, my mom and brother weren't feeling very well on the first night we arrived to Bruges, so while they rested in their rooms, my dad, John and I headed to Est! Wijnbar, just a stone's throw away from Hotel de Tuilerieen. It's teeny tiny, so I'd advise booking ahead.

The architecture of the building is absolutely incredible - once used for the loading and unloading of cereals, its rickety structure now houses a wine bar and restaurant, with a seasonal menu and extensive wine list.

I had a delicious pasta entree while my dad and John enjoyed a platter of smoked fish - which looked *very* tasty. We marvelled at how impossibly tiny the dining room was upstairs (you can request a table upstairs - it's magical!), and the history of the building.

On the last night of our stay, we were in search of moules frites, so our hotel booked a table for us at De Vlaamsche Pot - a restaurant serving traditional Flemish cuisine. The exterior was so charming, tourists snapped photos outside as we walked in!

But once we were inside, we were in for an even bigger treat: a toasty, warm fire and this Christmas tree, which barely fit the restaurant's low ceilings (it was wedged in).

We loved the food (the portions were ENORMOUS - John and I could have easily shared) but the atmosphere was something truly special.

The next morning, we visited a local market before we left for the train station and stocked up on cakes, pastries, and some delicious hot food for the road. Everyone seemed to know each other and I enjoyed silently observing the interactions between stallholders and customers while I waited in line. Such a lovely little community, with a warm and friendly spirit.

I'm glad we got to experience the magic of Bruges together as a family; I'm not usually into "Christmas towns", but being there and seeing all the decorations really got me excited about heading back to London for the real thing!

Have you ever been to Bruges? What did you think of it? I'd love to know in the comments below!


Monday, January 11, 2016

Paris: Where to Stay, What to See + Eat + Do

Right before Christmas, we took a short trip to Paris with my family and we had so much fun! I love visiting Paris in December and we were especially lucky as the sun was shining for our stay!

John suggested that we pick a hotel in the 9th arrondissement to be within walking distance of all the major department stores and most of the tourist attractions (my mom and my brother had never been to Paris before), so I booked Hotel Opera Faubourg - part of the Best Western Premier collection.

It turned out to be the perfect location: within 10 minutes walk of Galeries Lafayette and a similar distance from lots of terrific restaurants as well. The rooms were small, but comfy, and they came with an amazing balcony view. One morning, John and I woke up early to watch the sun rise together. It was so lovely.

My dad (who loves to sketch) spent hours on that balcony sketching the Parisian rooftops! But most importantly, the hotel was about 2 minutes away from a wonderful little boulangerie: John and I would head out when it opened at 7:30 in the morning to buy freshly baked croissants, pain au raisin, and pain au chocolat.

So worth the early start.

Our Eurostar arrived late to Paris on Friday night, but I still managed to book a restaurant for 9:30 pm prior to our arrival.

We had no idea what to expect when we stepped through the curtain at Les Saisons (52 rue Lamartine, 75009 Paris): the dining room seated only about five or six tables downstairs, with an estimated three more upstairs. But oh my goodness - the food was so, so good. Possibly the best dinner I've ever had in Paris!

The ingredients were delicious and fresh;  the menu small, but well curated. We had an excellent view of the tiny kitchen, and we all watched in awe as the chefs whisked, sliced, tossed, and seared with effortless precision. Head Chef Jonathan Lutz served us several of the dishes himself, beaming when we congratulated him on the delicious entrees and happily chatting to us (in French and English - though John's flawless French is always invaluable!).

If you're planning a trip to Paris soon, I'd highly recommend booking a table at this fantastic little restaurant. It's a gem.

On our "shopping day" (and you can't plan an itinerary in Paris without a shopping day!) we paid a visit to Galeries Lafayette to see their beautiful annual Christmas tree, which I love to see. This year's tree was no disappointment:

We browsed the food hall of Le Bon Marche (which was absolute mayhem, btw - everyone was stocking up on caviar, truffles, and fois gras a mere five days before Christmas!) before indulging in a bit of a shopping spree on Champs Elysees, where my mom became the proud new owner of a beautiful Longchamp handbag and my parents splurged on not one, but two pairs of cufflinks for John at Montblanc as his Christmas present - lucky boy!

A bit dazed from our shopping extravaganza, we soon found ourselves lining up at the famous Chartier restaurant (where they play up the rude French waiter stereotype, when in reality, they're all really very nice!) for escargot and this yummy sorbet I had for dessert:

By the time we headed off to Gare du Nord for the next leg of our trip to Bruges, I'd felt like we'd really "done" Paris properly: from browsing the famous Marche Richard Lenoir food market for local foodie must-haves to making a late-night visit to see the Eiffel Tower, we'd truly made the best of our pre-Christmas visit.

Lots of wonderful memories there. Do you have a trip to Paris planned this year? What are you hoping to see/do? I'd love to know!

Friday, January 8, 2016

Happy Friday + Five Things I'm Obsessed With Right Now

Happy Friday. I don't know about you, but this week seemed to drag on ... and on ... and on. Once lethargic from slumping on the couch watching Real Housewives of New Jersey re-runs and making difficult decisions like which chocolate to eat next from the Thornton's Premium Collection Box, I now found myself lethargic simply from commuting to work.


To cheer me (and maybe you?) up, I've rounded up five amazing things that have made me smile this week, namely:

This caramel pretzel cheesecake from Hubbard and Bell at the Hoxton Hotel, Holborn:

It tasted every bit as epic as it looks.

This embellished clutch from Accessorize, an after-Christmas sale find for under £20:

Come spring, it'll be jazzing up my usual uniform of black/grey/navy.

This cozy, softer-than-anything, oversized cocoon of a sweater from COS - a gift from my mom:

It's pink, and it feels like I'm enveloped in a cloud. The only downside is that it sheds on everything. EVERYTHING. But I still love it. It's like a hug from my mom.

This watch and bracelet from my parents:

The Cluse watch was a birthday present, and the bracelet from Gas Bijoux was the result of a shopping trip to Galeries Lafayette in Paris with my mom. I'd been looking at Larsson & Jennings and Daniel Wellington watches for a while, but the watch-faces were too big for my freakish, bird-like wrists. Cluse's Minuit collection was made for wrists like mine - hurrah! (p.s. see how this sweater sheds? It sheds.)

This perfect burger from Blixen, Spitalfields:

We met John's dad for lunch at Blixen on New Year's Day and I was Grumpy McGrumpster. Seconds after this photo was taken, I realized that it was because I was HANGRY. Once I bit into that burger, I became talkative, animated. Everything was golden. That juicy burger (drizzled with raclette, dontcha know), plus the grilled bun, lettuce, sauce, and crispy, cold pickle (not to mention THOSE CRISPY, PERFECT FRIES) was just ... heaven. John looked longingly at my plate and I said, "Nope. Sorry. Going to finish every last bite of this." And I did.

So, those are five things that have been cheering me up lately. What's been at the top of your list?

Have a wonderful weekend. xo

Monday, January 4, 2016

The Best Housewarming Gift. Ever.

My parents saw (and stayed in) our house for the first time over Christmas, which was so, so lovely. "Wow!" my dad said, as he sat down at our dinner table and took it all in. "I've seen this place so many times on FaceTime, but it's the first time I can really feel what it's like to be in it!" My mom quickly acquainted herself with the kitchen and, before I knew it, had tidied up all our drawers and descaled the kettle. Go, mom.

As a housewarming present, my parents had offered to buy us a new set of dinnerware, which we needed since our previous set consisted of a bunch of mismatched Habitat/IKEA/John Lewis plates and bowls leftover from our shared housing/university days. So, we went to Heal's, picked out a set and carried it all home together.


The best gift? The best gift we received was this selection of six sketches, which my dad had made during previous trips to England. He reproduced them in the States using high-quality printing (and paper) to resemble the original works in his sketchbook, before bringing them over during their visit last week. When my parents arrived, we took them to a framing shop in Walthamstow and picked out the frames and mount board together (apparently, the shop assistant was so impressed by the sketches, he asked who the artist was when John went to pick them up!).

My dad carries his sketchbook with him whenever he travels. I like to think of it as keeping an illustrated diary! Sometimes, in order to get the "right" angle, he'll stand and sketch for two hours straight, leaning against a building (which he did in Bruges)!

For our home, I'd chosen his sketches of popular London landmarks, as well as two scenes that were special to me: a flock of sheep grazing in the Cotswolds, where we'd taken a family vacation a few years ago, plus Blenheim Palace, where I'd taken my dad to during his first visit to England.

Before my family left last week, my dad drew up a plan for how the framed sketches should sit on the wall, before he and John measured and mounted them in our entryway. I couldn't believe how amazing they looked! When the sun shines, the glass picks up the reflection from the stained glass on our front door and casts a beautiful, twinkling light on the artwork. We placed the set in our entryway, so that visitors walk past them on their way into the kitchen and living room and can admire the sketches at eye-level.

Every time I walk past the sketches on my way up or down the stairs, it's like my dad saying "hello" to me. They are such a beautiful and personal reminder of the wonderful times we've all shared in England, and a true testament to my dad's talent and artistry.

AND ... now I'm crying, so I'm going to stop! When you moved into your house/flat, were you given a personal gift to make your home uniquely yours? What was it? Please share!


Saturday, January 2, 2016

Travel Link-Up: Favorite Travel Memories from 2015

We're only two days into the New Year, but already John and I have been researching our next holiday options. This year, we'd like to stay relatively local and explore more of Europe. We've always wanted to visit Croatia for its beautiful beaches and Dubrovnik's gorgeous Old Town, so that's on the list. I've had a long, unfulfilled craving for authentic Italian food and wine, so discovering a new part of Italy is a must - suggestions always welcomed! I've also been dying to see Gaudi's architecture in Barcelona, so Spain is another possibility. So many destinations, so little time!

Last year, I visited some magnificent places, and it's been so fun to reminisce through this blog post:

In February, Udita and I took a BFF girls' trip to Brussels - and had the most fantastic time. We spent an afternoon sampling chocolates at Pierre Marcolini and window browsing at some of the beautiful antique shops. We stayed at the gorgeous Dominican Hotel and were treated like royalty! It was our first trip together and it made me realize just how fun it is to travel with a friend.

We're so silly together.

Shortly after, John and I packed our bags and headed off to Sri Lanka for an incredible adventure. We started the trip at the beautiful and peaceful Apa Villas in Thalpe before heading to the historic Galle Fort for massages and lunch at the luxurious Amangalla Hotel. During the latter part of our trip, we stayed at The River House in Balapitiya, which was a life-changing experience for me. Situated in the middle of the Sri Lankan jungle, we watched bats cross the sky at sunset from our balcony, stood stock-still as monkeys swung from branch to branch by the pool, and took a river safari cruise at dawn. I actually cried when we had to leave! We'll be back.

In the spring, my best friends Udita, Kara, and Deborah came to visit me from the U.S. We had a staycation in London, but also visited Oxford and retraced the steps that John and I (literally) took when we were first dating as students. We stayed in Woodstock and spent a beautiful day at Blenheim Palace after going punting the day before.

I thought that Sri Lanka would be our "big" trip for the year, but in August, an unexpected opportunity came up for me and John to travel to Singapore on behalf of Thomas Cook as part of the Singapore Tourism Board's #GetIntoSingapore campaign. I remember thinking that it probably wouldn't happen, but a few weeks later, I found myself swimming in an infinity pool overlooking the Singapore skyline just 20 minutes after we'd landed! It was the foodie experience of a lifetime, and I loved our spontaneous visit.

Finally, in December, my family came to visit me in London and we spent Christmas in our new home. Before that, we took a trip to Paris and Bruges to soak up the festive atmosphere - it was magical! I loved showing my parents some of my favorite stops in Paris and we had a little accidental shopping spree on the Champs Elysees (oops!). Bruges felt like a little Christmas village with its twinkling lights reflecting on the city's serene canals.

What were your favorite travel memories from 2015? Do you already have trips booked for 2016? I'd love to know!

This post was part of January's Travel Link-Up on 2016 Travel Wishlists and 2015 Travel Memories, hosted by Emma, Angie, and Jessi. Head over to their blogs to read more link-up posts! Happy travelling! :)

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