Erin came to London town for the quickest work trip in history. Fortunately, we snuck in an afternoon of catching up at the Newman Arms, famous for their traditional English pies.
In case you were wondering, they were phenomenal.
During Jen’s whirlwind trip, we camped out at Anglesea Arms in South Kensington for pint after pint. After pint.
I saw Melanie at the tail end of her London trip. When she informed me she had yet to have a Full English Breakfast, I remedied the situation at Charlie’s Cafe in Notting Hill, followed by a stroll through Portobello Market, which, yes, is far much manageable on a Sunday vs Saturday.
During her visit, Emily and I saw the Queen, amongst many other fun adventures. I let her be in charge of photography, so you can wait with baited breath to read about our adventures.
Rediscovered my Ireland iPhone photos (I forgot about them). It was perfect timing as we’re plotting a return trip with Joel’s family this Spring.
Our Aussie friends, Tristan and Jen, had us over for dinner and schooled us on everything down under. And us, in return, on everything American.
The menu included boeuf bourguignon and pie because they remembered that we served pie, instead of cake, at our wedding. It was so touching and another reminder of how lucky we are to have met such wonderful friends in London.
Returned to Borough Market (read about my first visit here). This time I went for the most adorable little quail eggs, a German bratwurst, mulled wine, and my very first taste of raclette (i.e. melting oozing cheese over potatoes.)
P.S. Joel grew out a moustache in support of Movember.
"Is Thanksgiving or Christmas the biggest holiday in America?"
An American friend and I debated this question last week. She voted for Christmas, I voted for Thanksgiving.
Maybe it’s because Thanksgiving doesn’t exist on this side of the pond, but last Thursday, I felt strongly that I was missing the biggest “family” moment of the year and for a couple hours (particularly while I was working away at the office), I turned into a bit of a grinch and experienced a tremendous pang of FOMO (fear of missing out).
Then Saturday rolled around, and along with it, our Expat Thanksgiving/Friendsgiving. With a snap of a wish bone and a sprinkle of pumpkin fairy dust, all was right in the world.
Still feeling the turkey buzz, I figured I’d write a little poem to commemorate the special evening.
Alex and Barlow graciously hosted 20+ of us at their beautiful South Kensington flat,
Book/wine club members, former schoolmates, friends of friends of friends, we are all American expats.
For hours we mingled with bourbon cider, wine, and beer,
Even though there was a Brit in the room (and a Canadian!), it was full of American cheer.
Each guest prepared a dish to warm our souls and fill our plates,
While our hosts tackled their first ever turkey, which was epic and first rate.
The decor was pure Autumn - deep yellow, orange, and red,
As we indulged in pure ‘Merica gluttony, pushing us straight to the gourmet/waistband edge.
There were speeches and toasts, a true reminder of how lucky we are,
And we raised our glasses to a clink, toasting to the USA from afar.
And just when I though the night had hit its peak,
It was festive props + group photo time, making the evening truly unique.
Now I’m coming up to my ‘living in London’ four month mark,
And yes, there have been times that I’ve felt in the dark,
But how thankful I am to have met this amazing expat crew,
And kick off the holiday season the way only us Americans can do.
I returned to Windsor Castle last week to show Emily around (read about my first trip here.)
My spirits were particularly high since I knew that the Changing of the Guard was set to take place, an event that only happens on select days.
As this was Emily’s first trip to the UK since early childhood, I knew she’d appreciate the pomp and circumstance.
But I could have never prepared myself for what was to come…
We exited the train station and made our way to town where I immediately knew something was off.
The crowds were way too large and lining up much too early for the 11am changing of the guard. I moseyed up to the nicest security man in existence to see what was what.
Me: Changing of the Guard isn’t until 11am, correct?
Security Man: Yes ma’am, but the Queen is in residence today…
Me: SHE’S AT THE CASTLE TODAY?!?
Security Man: Well yes, but she’ll be driving through town…
Me: WE’LL GET TO SEE HER CAR DRIVE BY?!?
Security Man: She’ll actually be driving to that church (points 1 block away) to view some new stained glass. So they’ll be a little ceremony if you want to watch.
Me: [Breaths deeply] Two questions. One - is she really getting in the car only to drive 1 1/2 blocks? Two - can we just go stand by all those other people behind the barricades over there? (Pointing across the street to the growing crowds.)
Security Man: Yes ma’am, for security. And instead of standing with all those people far away over there, why don’t you just go down there (points to small side street with secret access)? You’ll be much closer to the Queen.
Me: THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!
We skipped our way down the road and found ourselves with the best seats in the house right next to the press. (Side note: THANK YOU FOR THE TIP, SECURITY MAN!)
And then the magic happened.
The Queen’s car pulled up directly in front of us.
As in, 20 feet away.
Liz made her way into the church with Prince Phillip a couple paces behind (because he has to…)
The doors closed and I tried to explain to Emily that this was a really big deal.
Once in a lifetime, even.
My step mother and I still talk about seeing the Queen drive by us during our visit to London in 2000.
And then ten minutes later, she emerged again…
Smiling ear to ear in her royal blue (get it?!) suit.
I like to think we made eye contact and she sent me the mental message of “You’re such a lovely ex-pat, Casey”.
Same goes for Prince Phillip.
Doesn’t he look like the definition of a cheeky fellow? (yes, that phrase absolutely applies here).
And then it was all over.
What a moment!
It’s only been 106 days since I moved to the UK, but I finally saw the Queen.
Our large group took over a converted 17th century country manor that can only be described as out of a Jane Austen dream…..if Jane Austen book’s took place in Ireland.
The resort was incredible and, fortunately/unfortunately due to Ireland’s not so great economy, is a very affordable luxury. I only wish we could have stayed longer!
The resort’s extensive grounds include a farm, woods, rolling hills, even a castle, and I was eager to explore them.
But just when I think life couldn’t get any better…..it did.
Earl and Countess, sibling irish Setters, are residents at the manor.
But their responsibilities don’t just include welcoming guests….
This beautiful pair are also tour guides.
So while the 60 other people in our group slept in recovering from the previous night’s village pub shenanigans, I pulled Joel out of bed (literally) to have Earl and Countess take US for a walk.
At first, I was completely confused by the idea.
Me: So how do I know where to take them?
Concierge: They’ll take you.
Me: I’m sorry, what?
Concierge: They know exactly where to go and when to turn around.
Me: But, how, why, that’s so cool!
So off we went….
And it was astounding - they knew exactly where they were going and didn’t allow anything that deterred them from their training (i.e. stopping for photos…turning around for a photo once they had returned the manor…as is evidence above.)
I don’t even care that this is cliche, but….
Castle and manor aside, the whole experience was a dream and only reinforced my feeling that I’m so much happier in the country and wouldn’t mind leaving city living sooner rather than later.
Lady would obviously be on board with the idea, too.
Between the NYT “36 Hours" feature and my one colleague who raves about it non stop, Hampstead has held the #1 position on my "London neighborhoods to explore" list.
Although it’s located in north London, when you arrive in the region, the only thing reminding you of your proximity to a dense city are the views.
The New York Times captured it better than any of my attempts:
"Start with Montmartre. Add a cupful of Beacon Hill, a shot of vintage West Village and a splash of Hollywood. Combine with London’s most beautiful hill, and garnish with one unwelcome McDonalds. Here in Hampstead, London’s worst-kept, high-altitude secret, the ghosts of Sigmund Freud, T. S. Eliot and Robert Louis Stevenson mingle with Ricky Gervais, Ridley Scott and more Madonna-accented American expats than you can shake a Land Rover key at. But we’re all equal when it comes to losing ourselves in the charming lanes of Hampstead Village and the joyfully directionless expanse of the Heath, a metropolitan mini-wilderness that may be Europe’s finest city park. Welcome to Hampstead, as serene, green and lovely as ever."
I only saw a small bit of it, but I’m already in love.
I met some friends in Belsize Park and we began the walk north towards the Hampstead Heath, navigating all the brick lined streets and peak foliage along the way.
We soon arrived at Parliament Hill, the southern tip of Hampstead Heath.
And made our way up to through the trails…
All for the worthy views.
Before heading down the hill toward the market.
While all the pooches waited patiently for a taste.
We rounded out the afternoon the best way we know how…
Although the Cotswolds’ winding roads provide excellent views, there’s an even better way to take in the scenery: on horseback.
After lunch in Winchcome, we drove north east to Stanton, a sleepy village in the Worcestershire hills.
We saddled up at Jill Carenza’s equestrian centre and had a quick demo, perfect for our group as we had a variety of riding experience.
While we waited, I noticed this woman riding sidesaddle, something I thought only existed centuries ago. I soon learned that riding aside vs astride still exists in a niche market and provides an extra challenge for female riders as its forces you to use a different group of muscles.
Talk about impressive!
I also spotted this little equestrian fashionista. Also, very impressive.
We began our hack (i.e. a trail ride) through town and up the hills….
And just in time, the clouds parted and the sun broke through revealing rolling hills, the likes of which I have never seen before. It was as if we were standing in front of a green screen.
Two hours later, we dragged our tired legs east to Broadway, a town known as ‘The jewel of the Cotswolds’.
Ale, lager, cider - all our pints were very well deserved.
In other words, it’s one of the most beautiful places in the country. Period.
Elysha, Pascal, Lady, and I hopped into the rental car and watched Joel’s first attempt at driving on the opposite side of road.
All in all, success!
Two hours and gorgeous view after gorgeous view later (85% of the drive from London to the Cotswolds is one lane countryside), we arrived in Winchcome, a historic market town with honey-colored stone houses that we would soon learn is a very typical Cotswolds aesthetic.
Frankly, the town of Winchcome felt like a storybook, a phrase I continued to use throughout the whole weekend.
Lunch had to be at a pub, naturally, so we chose The White Hart Inn after reading about it Conde Nast Traveller. We had a big sporty afternoon ahead of us, so we filled up.
Bangers and mash, dumplings, and sausages - oh my!
After a stroll through Winchcome, we were off to our next Cotswolds adventure!
Attended the Jaguars vs. 49ers football game at Wembley stadium where everyone rooted blindly for the “home” team, the Jaguars, who were down 30 points by the time we left.
It was a pretty special moment when they sang the “Star-Spangled Banner” and “God Save the Queen” back to back, rippling the respective flag following each.
Also, fun side note: the tagline for the NFL in London was “Awesome has Arrived” because “awesome” is the most American thing you can say in the UK.
Treated myself to my first manicure since arriving. It was more than double the cost of a NYC manicure and nowhere near as good. If you have any London nail recommendations, please send my way. My hands will thank you.
Took Lady on her first bus ride to east London to visit a friend. TFL (Transportation for London) are significantly more pro dogs than the NYC MTA and don’t even require a bag for pooches on the Tube or bus.
Finally figured out the best AM and PM bike routes for my work commute. The evening one includes a cruise down this block, a daily highlight.
Attended a Pub Golf/Crawl event which forced everyone to wear Hawaiian or animal prints. Not much more needed to say than that.
Received a beautiful bouquet of lillies from my husband. I asked him to put them in water. This was the result…….
Attended a work event at Skyloft. The views alone were worth attendance.
Celebrated a new friend’s birthday with a proper Sunday Roast at The Orange, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite spots.
Enjoyed my fair share of flat parties. In case you’re wondering, my favorite ones take place on Mews.
Spent hours getting lost in the National Portrait Gallery.
Grew more accustomed to my bi-weekly adventure out of Paddington Train Station. And by “accustomed”, I mean I no longer run around like a chicken with its head cut off.
Speaking of biweekly train adventures, the trip to Bradford on Avon is a dream.
Dealt with a squirrely situation.
The story goes that Mr. Squirrel jumped down into our terrace and, presumably, couldn’t get out because of our extra high walls. Mr. S felt trapped and started going crazy, as was Lady, who spent hours on end watching his grand failed attempts to get out, ninja-style. We called animal control, our landlord, anyone who would listen, but essentially we found out the hard way that we’d have to help Mr. S ourselves. That, or else Lady had plans to massacre him.
We tried to give him something to climb to get out, but our metal broom didn’t provide enough traction and he simply kept sliding down.
Finally, Mr. S slid right into our bag and we took him to the nearest park to set him free.
He has yet to write us a thank you note.
Fell sick with a viral infection in my throat, which meant I got to finally experience NHS, the UK’s health system, which is radically different from the US.
I had previously registered with them and was pleasantly surprised by my experience. I gave them a ring at 8:30am and they were able to fit me in at 10am same day, and I was home within thirty minutes. Also, because it’s neighborhood based, my doctor is only a short walk away.
All in all, not bad.
And Lady stayed on my lap for three days straight while I recovered.
With our move to London scheduled only five days after the wedding, we delayed a honeymoon and instead spent the day after saying “i do” saying goodbye to the people we love.
Joel’s Aunt and Uncle generously offered to host an impromptu post-wedding BBQ at their vineyard for our nearest and dearest who were able to stick around for even more festivities.
July/August 2013 was a whirlwind (ending our time New York, leaving a sweet job, getting married in California, saying goodbye to my favorite people, moving to London….all within 18 days), I look back on this time and cherish how we were able to end such a memorable chapter.
It was very serendipitous that I was introduced to her via Tumblr (gotta love this small world), just in time for our Engagement photos in New York City, as she was about to move to Napa Valley, just in time for our wedding.
Timing couldn’t have been better.
Then we met and it clicked.
Elisabeth believes in seeing past all the details and capturing the moments with the people that matter most to you, ones that can’t be pre-planned in a shot list or forced into poses.
Looking back on the photos, I hardly remember her being there for many of them. She simply took a step back, sometimes even hid behind trees, and captured us being us.
Nothing less, nothing more.
And on top of all that, she is sweet as honey and ended up being so much more than a “vendor”. In fact, I remember breaking it down with her on the dance floor and more than one person told me that night “your photographer is the best”… and it had nothing to do with the photos.
I know this blog has become all wedding pictures all the time, but here are just a couple more of my favorite moments, captured by, who else, Elisabeth Millay.
My favorite part of our wedding? The ceremony, hands down.
Those 30 minutes were the happiest of my life. We created the service from scratch with our officiant, which resulted in a beautiful mix of tradition and personality. Here’s a glimpse into how we said “I do”.
Thank you for hosting such a memorable, personal evening. Over two months later and I’m still in awe over all the thought and energy you put into making the welcome dinner (and the whole wedding!) so special and unique.
I’m honored and humbled to call myself your daughter-in-law.
All my love,
Imagine a quiet backyard beer garden…
Add a wine country buffet overflowing with seasonal food (Tomato panzanella salad? Strawberry Shortcake? Check) and more wine than we knew what to do with.
Top the picnic tables with lantern candles and childhood photos that you forgot existed.
Invite guests to write the bride and groom a message and place it in the anniversary bottle of their choice - 1, 5, 10, 25, 50!
Welcome guests and try to express your gratitude, even though words will never express how thankful we are for our family and friends.
Listen to the Father of the Groom give a speech that would rival the best.
*Sidenote: Joel’s father is typically a man of few words, but he proved that he knows how to use them exceptionally well. He told the humorous story of how at one time early in our relationship, due to a prank, he thought Joel and I were engaged (when in fact, we were not). His touching portrayal of how he wished the prank was reality brought tears to my eyes.
Laugh out load and feel your heart swell as five more toasts round out the evening.
Get a taste of what it would be like having a mini me companion during the following night’s toasts.
Look around and see the faces of your family and friends who are like family.
Illuminate the night with twinkle lights and heaters (Napa Valley gets freezing at night!)
Continue the celebration and wish that time would just stop.
Pinch yourself and realize you won the family, friend, family-in-law jackpot.
In the last couple days, the temperature dropped drastically and even as I type this, my numb hands shake as I was just biking and stupidly didn’t wear gloves. This is a huge difference from last Sunday, perhaps the most glorious day in the history or Autumn days (or, at least, that we’ve seen so far this year).
The temperature hovered in the high 60’s, the sun shined bright and strong, but there was still a slight crisp in the air, making sure you didn’t forget it’s Autumn. In short, it was a great day for an alfresco lunch.
We traveled east to Islington (another “cute” neighborhood topping my list) and wandered into Maggie and Augustin’s backyard oasis.
Augustin fired up the BBQ and the next 4-5 hours flew by in a mix of wine, salad, kebabs, cheese and cakes.
Lady stayed busy with Maximus, who greeted her….
And didn’t waste a second “getting to know her”….
I think she’s found her new boyfriend.
Back at the table, the humans enjoyed lunch.
Naturally, Lady had to sneak her way into the situation.
Just in time for cheese.
Side note - you’ve gotta love a meal where cheese is it’s own course.
And where there are two dessert options.
As I’ve learned, no meal in London is complete without a cup of tea, and it’s even better when it’s served in royal commemorative mug.
Cheers to the end of early Autumn and the perfect send off.
Eccentric Afternoon Tea (and the Most Unique Bathroom in London)
Friends and family got very creative when it came to my Bridal Shower last June. Since Joel and I had a transatlantic move on the horizon, my mom’s great friend, Rachel, surprised us with a truly special gift to welcome us to our new home…
Afternoon tea at Sketch!
A salon that feels like one part Mad Hatter, one part fairy tale forest, one part surreal wonder emporium, and one part spaceship art gallery….
To sum it up - Sketch is sensory overload, in the best way possible.
Our table was in the Gallery, the modern wonder emporium space of Sketch. I brought Elysha along, as Joel isn’t much of a tea man, but if the over the top scene at Sketch was any reflection, no other men in London are, either. However, instead of a typical ladies who lunch/drink tea tea crowd, the funky salon was jammed with an edgy fashion crowed.
The menu took a more modern artistic approach than you’d expect at traditional afternoon tea, including caviar and quail egg or salmon roe and creme fraiche finger sandwiches.
These were all a total win in my culinary book.
Surprise to no one, the assortment of pastries were as fantastic as one would imagine, particularly the fig custard tart.
But my favorite was the surprise dessert addition, this passion fruit and blackberry cheesecake cup.
Fluffy scones rounded out the meal, topped off with two made in house berry preserves.
We had such a difficult time deciding which one was better that we continually tasted one then the other then the other and so on, essentially running in circles on our taste buds.
But as good as the afternoon tea was, it was completely upstaged by the bathroom, an experience until itself.
It’s hard to say which is more unusual…..
The technicolor ceiling or individual pod toilets?
I actually hate starting new jobs because I get really awkward meeting so many new people and don’t know how to act for the first couple weeks. I try to be “myself”, but I find that as soon as I get overwhelmed (which feels like every 5 minutes during a new gig), I tend to forget who I am.
Anyone with me on this one?
I was a bit nervous before day 1 and a friend said “Just act like a bad ass and everyone else will think you are, too. Perception is everything.”
I’ve been following this lesson and every morning I look in the mirror before I walk out the door and say ‘You are bad ass. You are a rockstar. No one can mess with you.”
On day two, I was sent off to Bradford-on-Avon, a storybook looking town two hours due west of London. To give you a better sense, it’s the red flag on the map below.
I think the conversation with my bossman went a little something like this:
Boss: Would you fancy going to the countryside on your second day?
The fast train wasn’t very conducive to taking photos (and the other passengers didn’t enjoy me getting camera happy), but these will hopefully give you a taste of the gorgeous scenery.
Blurry photos or not, it’s safe to say I’ve never seen green so green.
I have also learned the art of lunch drinking. Enjoying a pint (or five…no really) is part of the British culture.
Am I on board?
I got back in the saddle, literally, and gave a London spin studio a try. Definitely wasn’t `SoulCycle…
And accidentally ended up on Regents Street during the NFL in London spectacle.
Almost made me feel like home.
It was a total mad house and I actually lost my friend in the crowds for a couple seconds and had a crazy panic attack trying to find her. Turns out, she was watching me from a couple feet away, enjoying my ridiculous breakdown.
While on the hunt for a perfect trench coat, I popped into Liberty, a Tudor style UK department store located in London’s West End.
My favorite* part of of funemployment? The flexibility to do whatever I wanted to seven days a weeks. (*Auto correct really wants me to add a “u”!)
During my final days as a lady of leisure, I hopped on the 30 minutes train from Paddington Station to Windsor Castle with Jen and Kristina, my friends who are/were in a similar boat and are on the job hunt (but congrats to Kristina who just landed a fantastic gig!)
When we arrived in Windsor, I knew immediately I’d fall in love - it has all the makings of a quintessential English town.
Charming cobblestone side streets and cafes? Check.
Quirky houses, i.e. this “Crooked House” - Check.
Cute shops and pubs adorned with green shrubbery? Check.
The three of us popped into a cafe for a quick coffee before tackling the castle, but had to run out mid-order to catch the soldiers on their daily march through town to the castle.
Once the spectacle was complete, it was time to find Kate….
Er, tour the castle.
As a quick background, Windsor Castle is the oldest and largest occupied castle in the world and the Official Residence of Her Majesty The Queen, although the royals are mostly here on the weekends.
We saw the Union Jack flag flying above and assumed that meant the Queen was in residence…
So the three of us had a minor (or major) freakout, but turns out…
She is only there when the Royal Standard is flying…
Major life fail.
We proceeded to make our way through the gardens, learning bits and pieces of history via the audio guide from the Queen’s husband, Prince Phillip.
The weather was grey and dreary, but frankly, it made the whole experience feel that much more “British”.
These are the Queen’s State Apartments, which, along with the majority of the tour, I wasn’t allowed to photograph, but it was perhaps my favorite tour to date.
To give some context, in comparison to Hampton Court Palace, Windsor is exceptionally more grand and the grounds are exceptional.
And although we entered the Castle with nothing but grey skies ahead…
When we exited two hours later we were greeted with an unparalleled blue sky, which made it feel as if we were viewing a completely different palace.
Before leaving to have lunch in town, I urged the girls to join me in a photo with the guard. Unlike most the other visitors before who were jumping up and down to make him move, smile, react, etc, we had a different tactic.
Right after we took this photo, Jen turned to the guard and remarked that his shoes were massive (in all fairness, they were quite clown-like).
He continued to look straight ahead.
Having no filter, I looked at him and said “You know what they say about guards with big shoes….”
We had a good laugh, but the guard continued to look straight ahead.
As we walked away to retrieve the camera, Mr. Guard stomped his foot and with his hand, motioned for me to come back.
I turned around, audibly gasped, and exclaimed “ME?!?”
The crowds started to form as this was a sight to be seen - the guard, who is technically not allowed to move, react, etc, was doing just that. (In fact, I later checked with a castle employee who confirmed that they are absolutely not allowed to move, unless they are marching.)
Mr. Guard once again stomped and motioned for me to come back by his side.
Who was I to not follow along?
I walked back over to him with wonder and excitement in my eyes…
WHAT WAS THE GUARD GOING TO DO/SAY?!
He proceeded to hold out his hand and show me the wedding band on his finger, followed by a wink and smile.
This was just too good to be true.
I returned the favor and showed him that I, too, am married.
And then, he actually posed for a photo so we could show off our left hands.
Just another day getting royal guards to break the rules….