Originally, 72 hours in Switzerland was meant to be filled with Spring skiing in Verbier.
But alas, it was not meant to be.
First there was a spike in temperature, followed by a customs mishap with our ski gear….
We took the hint and made it a Geneva weekend instead thanks to our thoughtful hosts, Ashley and Bo.
We arrived Thursday evening and filled up with pizzas at Luigia, my dream pizza come to life. It wasn’t too thick or too thin….it was just right.
The next morning, I knocked out as much work as possible from Bo + Ashley’s flat in the Eaux-Vives neighborhood.
The view didn’t hurt.
By lunch, it was time for an adventure.
We picked up a couple baguettes sandwiches to eat on top of Mont Salève, but once we arrived at the base, we weren’t allowed up.
Instead, we made our way to Lake Geneva to chow down by the water.
Followed by a walk up to the Old Town…
Where we could easily view The Alps’ bleak ski conditions.
We circled our way through the tiny streets, steep stairs, and hidden courtyards in Old Town, taking in all of the medieval beauty.
Although the hike never happened, we covered significant Geneva terrain that afternoon and rewarded ourselves with a little afternoon delight in the form of crepes and rose.
Some initial thoughts from that first day…
The Dr. Seuss looking trees with stubby branches are around every corner. They’re one part unique, one part creepy, and will end up looking beautifully manicured when they’re in full bloom.
One thing you must know before going to Switzerland is that the regions are very different depending on if they’re closer to the French, German, or Italian borders. Due to it’s proximity to France, Geneva is very much a French city in language, culture, and personality. Parfait!
Public transportation works on the honor code. This means that you don’t scan a ticket to ride the bus, but in the very off moment that the police come on board and check tickets (which they didn’t for any of the 5 or so times we rode the bus), you’ll need to show proof of purchase or pay a fine.
Ashley and Bo selected a phenomenal spot for Friday night’s dinner: La Crise. Although it’s an exceptionally lively and quirky restaurant, the food is classic French and dishes change frequently.
And the wine flows very freely. Something we learned the hard way and had me doing hand stands later in the evening.
I ended up losing all my photos. So there’s that.
Saturday we arose ready to see the Swiss countryside.
Montreux, situated an hour and change north at the tip of Lake Geneva at the foot of The Alps.
There was a bit of a Spring explosion along the water…
And the fog misted from the mountains.
Then it was castle time.
We spent a couple hours exploring Chateau de Chillon. It’s hard to imagine a more perfect setting, what with the lake and the mountains…
Felt a bit like the Little Mermaid castle.
It’s quite a deceptive castle. There were two or three times when I thought we had seen it all, only to be surprised by another secret passageway or back staircase that took us to more hidden rooms.
We made a quick stop in the town of Laussane for…McDonalds.
I can’t even believe I’m typing these words, but it was the nicest McDonalds experience of my life.
Sudden hunger hit us hard en route back to Geneva and we had heard such great stories about their McDonalds being so different, so good, so….je ne sais quoi.
So we went for it and ended up spending 5x the amount we would have in the states for what is apparently locally sourced, “high end” McDonalds.
I’m still shaking my head with guilt.
It must’ve hit our stomachs hard because we fell into a food coma on the train fairly quickly, missing out on all the beautiful sights.
Following some brief R&R in Geneva, it was time to hit the town.
As this was our first trip to Switzerland, Joel and I had one requirement: fondue.
Once again, our hosts hit the nail on the head with the very traditionally Swiss Restaurant Les Amures, one of the oldest in Geneva.
We didn’t stray from restaurant’s theme - it was a super Swiss evening.
Naturally, there was wine, but there was also cured meats and raclette, a Swiss dish based on heating cheese and scraping off the melted part onto potatoes.
Then it was on to the main event…
I could barely contain my excitement for all the cheese.
When the fondue is almost all gone, you’re greeted with “religieuse”, the crusty cheese that remains at the bottom of the pot. I learned that this is the real deal, the creme de la creme, the big cheese, if you will.
With our bellies full of cheese, we called it a night.
On Sunday, most of Geneva shuts down.
Sure, everyone is out and about at the lake, in the park, or at the market, but shops and restaurants take the day off.
We found one of the handful of cafes that is actually open, Le Coupe de Giraffe, and tucked in for the most simply perfect breakfast “assiette”, include a hardboiled egg, quiche, toast, orange juice, jam, butter, and brownie.
Sunday’s weather was the best of the trip, so we did what we do best….we walked.
And walked some more.
First up? Lake Geneva because, well, when in Geneva….
We spent time reading and people watching in the park (fun fact: did you know Geneva is called “the city of parks”?)
The park was filled with families..
And people who were minutes away from making families of their own.
Then we simply explored the neighborhoods.
It’s so funny how different all the buildings looked with the shining sun and blue sky….how vibrant they seemed.
We also went to the farmer’s market and stocked up for what was an epic dinner.
We made out pretty well.
Sunday night wound down in the best possible way with a beautifully prepared meal by Bo, some mindless TV, and a good night’s sleep before an early wake up call to return to London.
Sure, I didn’t get a chance to check off skiing in The Alps from my bucket list, but our first trip to Switzerland was a wonderful entree filled with new friends, new memories, and an excitement to return soon.
Five of the past eight weeks have been spent on the go. It’s been a wonderful whirlwind and to avoid crashing, I’ve tapped into my inner energizer bunny, pushed fatigue to the side, and tried to seize every opportunity.
When I’m not catching up on my Zzz’s, I…..
Attended March Book Club at Kelly’s gorgeous flat in South Kensington. I actually hosted February’s Book Club, but famously forgot to take photos.
Indulged my craving for Saturday morning dim sum at Jia.
The price and the taste were just right.
Explored Hampstead Heath, nicknamed “Country in the CIty” and it’s classic manor, Kenwood House, one of my favorite spots in London. Me thinks Lady agrees.
Speaking of Lady, she’s been coming to work with me almost every day.
It’s all about the work/paw balance.
Went for a run with Joel for the first time in…wait for it…five years. That last 1/4 mile was rough.
And finally, met baby girl Sienna. Just a couple weeks ago we were toasting her mummy and here she is….
The pressure was on to return the favor and ensure their first trip to the city of lights was filled with unlimited “joie de vivre”.
Here’s how we spent our 48 hours in Paris…
"But Paris was a very old city and we were young." - Hemingway
After a quick snooze on the Eurostar, we arrived in Paris ready to eat and drink our way through the city.
With not a minute to spare, we dropped off bags at our classically Parisian (albeit with a splash of modern art) Airbnb apartment in Saint Germain. The five flights of winding stairs made our thighs tremble, but the views (and the calories we burned) were worth it.
First agenda item? Lunch.
We took the Metro north to the Marais and wandered down the side streets away from the busier, central restaurants and opted instead for Chez Camille, an unpretentious cafe serving very classic fare. A plate of steak frites and a couple glasses of Bordeaux and rose later, it was time to explore.
The streets of the Marais were packed, as was Place des Vosges, and rightfully so - you couldn’t have ordered better weather.
After an hour or so of people watching and a quick trip around Bastille, we refueled on Nutella crepes…
Before making our way back west for a cafe crawl of sorts.
For every sight we saw, we rewarded ourselves with some vino.
Hotel de Ville?
Ile St. Louis?
Another cafe visit…
By the time we arrived at the Louvre, we picked up our own bottle of wine for some on-the-go refreshments.
Very American of us.
Just before sunset we took a stroll across Pont des Arts.
Where Dean and Sarah added a lock of their own.
Joel and I reminisced about the last time we were in the same exact spot almost three years ago.
I dug up the photo for memory’s sake :)
With throbbing feet and perhaps one too many glasses of wine, we bid adieu to the musicians and returned to the Left Bank for a much needed nap.
As night fell, we gussied up for dinner in the Latin Quarter at Le Coupe Chou.
This was everyone’s all around favorite meal of the weekend.
The restaurant is tucked away on a quiet street and is separated into several small, intimate stone rooms as if you were dining at someone’s house. The service was very warm, helpful, and attentive and the food was impeccable.
Boeuf Bourguignon, Marget de Canard, Lamb Chops - it was classic French to a T.
As if a grand-mere made it.
Typically, I’d finish a meal like that by immediately getting horizontal in bed.
But it was almost midnight in Paris….
So we took our dancing shoes to Hotel Costes to hear their renowned DJ.
I admittedly don’t know a thing about “cool DJs” and end up feeling like the lamest person in the room at sceney places, but I had so much fun on Saturday night jumping to my feet and dancing to the oldie remixes.
Oh, and the people watching itself was worth the trip.
Somehow we managed to make our way back up those winding stairs (without falling) and caught a couple hours of sleep before the alarm shocked us awake at 9am.
We kicked off the day the best way we knew how - with croissants, pain au chocolates, and multiple cafe cremes at the brasserie across the street from our apartment.
True story - as soon as we left, we swung by boulangerie to pick up another croissant each.
Thankfully, we had an active day ahead of us and spent the next five hours cruising by some of the biggest city sights.
With such limited time in Paris, we focused our experience on seeing as much as possible without actually standing in the lines and going inside. Naturally, a bike is the best way to do this.
And yes, I do feel like a spokesperson for city bike tours as this was my THIRD in a month. (see Madrid here and Copenhagen here).
We stopped for a quick lunch in Tuileries Gardens, which were bursting with color.
Curious what we ordered?
Let me give you a hint…
There was baguette. Cheese. And more wine.
After a full day of sightseeing, we patted ourselves on the back and rewarded each other for a job well done with…..more wine.
The laissez faire cafe lifestyle was high on our priority list, but this time we experienced it left bank-style in Saint Germain.
My mom has had Scandinavia on her bucket list for quite some time. Her admiration/enthusiasm for the region is so great that she talks about their politics, lifestyle, and design aesthetic as if she was a born and bred Dane.
She arrived in London last Friday for an extended visit and in less than 24 hours I did what any sweet daughter would do….
I (along with Joel) forced my sleep deprived, jet lagged mother onto a flight to the “happiest country in the world”: Denmark.
First things first - we scoped out our Danish digs, i.e. our Airbnb with these dizzying plank stairs, which I loved.
Even though we were staying in the city center, our spacious flat overlooked this quiet courtyard. It was pure serenity and a reminder that Airbnb is the way to go when traveling.
Our first activity was a late morning stroll through Torvehallerne, a glass/steel food market surrounded by more bicycles than I’ve ever seen (did you know 50% of the population commutes on bike?!) and brimming with all sorts of local delicacies…..
Including Smørrebrød (open faced sandwiches on rye bread)…..
Heaps of seafood (especially one of my favorites, herring)….
And, of course, danish pastries.
There was no doubt for my mama - it was love at first sight with her cinnamon + cardamon danish.
Her face literally froze when the flaky, doughy pastry hit her mouth.
We sat down to slowly enjoy our breakfast and people watch. A couple things we observed immediately:
- Copenhagen is super expensive. As in, I still can’t wrap my mind around it. I’d been warned about this, but I figured since I used to live in New York and now call London home that I’d be of numb to the sticker shock. I was wrong. $8 for a coffee? $5 for a pastry? $12 for a basic beer?
-I’ve never seen so many children in my life. I don’t know what the deal is, but there was 1 child for every 3 adults. This stroller is one of the 1,000 I saw in a couple hour period. I asked a local about this and he simply stated that it’s not that Danes have more children, it’s just that the recent generations are very ‘inclusive’. This extends through to their children, which they bring with them everywhere. He also noted that this is the reason for all the playgrounds around the city - there are a ton. But I’m still going to go with my impression that they must have a significantly higher birth rate :)
-Not only are there a lot of children, but they’re also tremendously well dressed in folksy outfits and full body puffer onesies with furry pointed hoods that make them look like gnomes. I wish I paparazzi’d the little kids for you to see….absolutely precious.
-Danish people are quiet (which, again, I had been ‘warned’ about). Torvehallerne is Copenhagen’s version of Madrid’s Mercado San Miguel, which I visited last month. Both food halls are extremely similar (lots of wine drinking, local food eating, socializing, etc), but the volume level at each couldn’t be more different. I guess it’s a good reflection of each country’s culture?
We then set out on foot to see as much as possible. Copenhagen is fairly spread out, so we had a ways to go.
Our first stop was Christiania, a commune of sorts that currently has around 850 residents. The neighborhood’s heyday has obviously come and gone and the result is weathered and run down. People stood in long lines to buy their marijuana and then sat outside at picnic benches to relax. I was expecting an oasis of sorts….I was wrong. Photos aren’t permitted, but you can get a sense of Christiana here.
While walking along the river, we passed one of the many playgrounds. This one was the best I’ve ever seen because it had…wait for it…..trampolines!
I tried to challenge this little girl to a jump off, but she was too adorable to be bothered with my shenanigans.
We stopped for lunch at Bodega, a cafe recommended by the head chef at Noma (the world’s #1 restaurant). I had a herring craving that needed to be filled and Bodega knocked it out of the park with their “Herrings 3 Ways” dish.
It has to be said that their $8 latte (still can’t get over that $) was the best of the weekend.
We wrapped up the afternoon in Nyhavn, the 17th century waterfront/what everyone expects all of Copenhagen to look like (myself included).
The colorful buildings really are straight off of a postcard. It’s easy to see why Hans Christian Anderson called this home….must’ve sparked so much fairytale creativity.
The wool blankets sitting on each cafe chair was a warm reminder that, brrrr, Denmark is chilly! But likely only for us. Most everyone else soaked up the sun and slightly above freezing temperature, the best weather they’ve seen for months.
Following a much needed nap (that 4:30am wake up call was not lovely), we had dinner at Madklubben, which I had found online in a comparison review to Noma since they have a multi-course, elevated gourmet dinner, for a severe fraction of the cost.
The place was PACKED (in a good way) and was buzzing, literally. Somehow we managed to score the one table with a window overlooking to chefs, who we watched like a hawk for the remainder of our evening.
I can’t recommend this spot more.
Sunday in the “City of Bikes”” started in an obvious way…..with a 3 1/2 hour city tour with this colorful guy, Bike Mike.
I had read that seeing the city through his eyes is “unique experience”, but nothing could have prepared me for his over-the-top personality, fascinating stories, and quirky insight into Danish life.
Did you know that Denmark leads the world in meat consumption?
Or that in the 1940’s, plumbing still wasn’t standard for the general public.
Or that the water quality is now SO good that many locals swim in their city harbor (can’t even imagine doing that in the Hudson or Thames River).
Or that their public bikes are free?
The palace was one of my favorite stops on the tour. The royal courtyard is surrounded by several mini palaces (maybe 3-5?) and each royal member has their own.
And even though Mike told us that it was the nicest/warmest/sunniest day of the year so far, I was still freezing and couldn’t comprehend all the convertibles we passed with their tops down.
It was also love at first (orange) sight for Mike and my mom.
Well, for him at least.
At the end of the tour he informed her that although he is married, he believes people fall in love instantaneously with several people in a lifetime and after having met my mom, he had met his life match. (Don’t worry, Michael - she brushed him off easily.)
P.S. Watching my mom get awkward when a man hits on her is one of the most amusing things I have experienced.
We certainly earned our lunch at Aamanns, a smørrebrød restaurant created by the former chef of, where else, Noma. (Side note, we didn’t know this beforehand. They’re simply really well known for their smørrebrød and actually recently opened a restaurant in Tribeca. If you live in NYC go and report back.)
A walk in the park and another nap later, it was time to eat again.
Seeing as it was Sunday night, the streets were pretty much empty. As were the wool covered cafe seats. To say this city shuts down on a Sunday would be an understatement. (Still can’t get over how empty the streets were in the morning, too.)
We dined on morels, boar, and profiteroles at Peder Oxe, a restaurant that instead of caving to modern Danish design pressure, celebrates the country’s, well, countryside and farm roots.
Even the waitresses sport the region’s folkish attire.
Did Copenhagen seem like the “happiest” place on earth? I’m not sure, but I do think it’s a city you have to live in vs visit to even begin to somewhat understand and appreciate. Plus, it’s really clean.
With adrenaline pulsing through our veins, clear air filling our lungs, and a true sense of quiet and calm, we enjoyed one last slumber in Copenhagen before saying “Farvel”.
Maybe I’m living under a rock, but why don’t people talk about Bruges more?!
Considering how infrequently I’ve heard anyone talk about the wonder that is Bruges, me thinks it’s under the radar, but really, it should’t be.
First, let me back up.
48 hours in Belgium kicked off with 16 hours in Brussels. I visited the city eight years ago, didn’t like it then, don’t like it much now (except the beautiful Grand Place).
Friday night’s dinner at Amadeus was a really nice surprise. Although a local friend of a friend had recommended it, the restaurant is technically an ‘all you can eat’ rib joint, so my expectations weren’t high. I was happy to be wrong and take pride in the fact that I was the last one still eating at the end of the meal.
Following dinner we taste tested the local beer and strolled around the Grand Place, the main square, which, when lit up at night, is simply stunning.
Saturday morning we explored a bit more, but kept finding ourselves back at the Grand Place.
Or taste testing waffles because, you know, when in Belgium…
At noon we hopped on the hour train north west to Bruges.
The town welcomed us with cloudy skies and rain, but I didn’t mind one bit because I was in storybook heaven.
When my friend Ashley recently visited Bruges, she raved about it, referring to it as the real life version of the Beauty and the Beast town.
I can’t think of a more accurate description (in fact, I kept singing this song as I wandered the streets.)
I’m assuming Brothers Grimm spent most their time here while brainstorming their fairytales.
Bruges now sits toward the top of my favorites list as one of the sweetest place have ever visited, a Flemish town completely suspended in time that preserves its early heritage tremendously well.
First things first - we loaded up on Belgian mussels, fries, and beer at a cavernous underground cafe De Bierbistrto.
And then spent the afternoon doing what we do best…
Exploring and taste testing more waffles.
After spending the entire day on our feet getting lost on side streets and canals, it was nice to curl up with loads of red wine in front of a fire place and taste even more local food (for me, meatballs in a pear sauce) at Maria van Bourgondie, a restaurant we found simply by passing by away from the center of town. I 100% highly recommend it.
Sunday thankfully brought with it blue skies and pure sunshine.
We found a picture perfect cafe, again out of a storybook, Patisserie Servaas Van Mullem, where I devoured the most decadent vanilla bean custard pastry.
Just take a moment and to observe this thing of beauty.
Then it was time to further explore the perfectly preserved medieval town, some of us by boat, some of us by bike. I became utterly lost in the city because it really feels as if nothing has changed since the 16th century.
At 6pm we jumped back on Eurostar and returned to London.
Total Flemish win.
Currently back in London trying to catch up on my zzz’s and prepare for this weekend’s voyage…..Denmark and Norway!
Last month I saw this Huffington Post article detailing the little differences between America and the rest of the world. I read through, nodding and laughing along, and decided to compile my own list.
Without further ado, here’s a list of things to know before moving from the US to the UK.
(*Side note: this is heavily NYC -> London focused as that is my experience.)
Apartment Hunting: Or should I say, flat hunting. If you previously lived in Manhattan, you’ll be fine as the letting costs (i.e. rental costs) and Estate Agent/Broker process are similar, minus the 15% annual rent fee (although Estate Agents have a reduced version). Unless you’re a bajillionare, rents will be high, flats will be small, and 95% of conditions will be “charming” (i.e. older and not in tip top condition). In case you don’t want to move your furniture across the Atlantic, you’ll be happy to know that many flats come more or less fully furnished (although the quality varies…tremendously).
Setting Up Your Flat: Sign up for internet and tv as soon as possible. It can take two weeks for providers (i.e. BT, Sky, Virgin) to hook you up.
Bank vs. Flat: Here’s a head scratcher for you: in London, you need a bank account before you can apply for a flat. You also need a permanent address in order to apply for a bank account. How’s that for a riddle?
999: This is the official emergency telephone number in the UK. I actually didn’t know this until recently and had a moment of “Wait, what do I do in case of emergency…..?”
Tube > Subway - The Tube is much cleaner and runs exceptionally more frequently, even during off peak hours (average wait time is 2-3 minutes). On the flip side, it closes around midnight and there aren’t as many stops so you often have to walk further to get to your destination.
NYC Taxis > London Taxis - Not only are London taxis exceptionally more expensive than their NYC counterparts, but outside of central central central London, they’re also not as prevalent. If you think you can just run out of your flat and hail a cab on the street, think again. (Unless you live on a major road). In addition, the vast majority of black taxis (the ones you hail on the street vs. ones your order via an app) don’t accept credit cards.
London Bus > NYC Bus - Even though it typically takes longer, I actually prefer the bus to the Tube. However, the only real reason London wins this is because of the double decker advantage.
Cell Phones: You’ll need to ensure your phone is “unlocked’ before arriving in the UK. Otherwise, your American phone wont work over here. Most companies don’t want to do this unless you’re near the end of contract. AT&T and Apple tried to pull this nonsense with Joel and me so I went into defense mode until they finally agreed.
You can order your UK sim card online and have it sent to a UK address for your arrival and then simply add your plan (online) once you’re settled. I use Giff Gaff for my personal phone (the absolute cheapest on the market - only £12/month for unlimited data, unlimited texts, and 250 minutes) and O2 for my work phone. I’ve heard some people experience not so great service with Giff Gaff, but mine is just fine 99% of the time and requires no contracts. Win Win.
Credit Cards: What’s a sure fire way to immediately show a stranger that you’re American? Whip out your credit card. The Brits (actually, I think it’s most of the non-USA world), use credit cards with a small silver chip and pin. I continued to use my non-foreign transaction fee US credit cards for the first couple months I lived here and every.single.time I used it, the cashier looked at me with a blank stare as if to say “What am I supposed to do with this magnetic strip, swipe, signature card?”
According to the above HuffPo article, the electronic identification chip/pin credit cards provide greater security and would have prevented the recent breach at Target that exposed 70 million customer records. The problem is, it’s a wee bit tricky to get a British credit card (i.e. some nonsense about having no proof of UK credit, yadda-yadda-yadda.) An easy work around is to ask for a British version of one of your existing credit cards. I did this with AMEX, demonstrated proof of residency, and received my very own chip/pin credit card within two weeks. You can of course use your new bank card, too.
Wine: When ordering a glass of vino at a bar in the States, I’d mentally pray for a “good pour”, i.e. heavy pour. The fact is, you never know if you’re in for a baby pour or generous pour. The Brits figured out a system for this. At the majority of pubs, you can either order a Small (125ml) or Large (250ml) glass. (Side note - 250ml can be as much as 1/3 of a bottle). It’s all part of the government crackdown on binge drinking, but I have a feeling that even though there’s an option for a smaller glass, most people still end up ordering the large version. Why? Because really…why wouldn’t you?
Time: This is a given, but they do 24 hour time here. And everywhere else in the world. BUT, it reverts back to 12 hours time when speaking. Rule of thumb - Writing: 24 hours. Speaking: 12 hours.
Bills: Electric and water bills are served up quarterly, not monthly. So just when you think “oh maybe they forgot to send us our bill since we just moved here?”, think again.
Eating In vs Take Away: When grabbing a sandwich at a UK cafe (i.e. Pret, Pod, etc), you’ll pay a higher price if you choose to eat in. I’m not sure how many restaurants/cafes this affects, but apparently, a court ruled that since the level of service is minimal when customers take their food to go, it should be exempt from extra VATs (i.e. tax.) The price different is typically around 50 pence.
Weather: The good news? I’d wager to say London’s reputation for constant rain isn’t entirely accurate. The bad news? London isn’t know for sunshine, either. In fact, a recent study revealed that the UK suffers from a “Vitamin D deficiency epidemic” with 2/3’s of people classified as severely lacking. Long story short, be prepared for days of grey, grey, and more grey.
Medical Insurance: One of the first things you will need to do is to register at your local surgery (doctor’s office). Find one here. You can simply walk in and register - you’ll need to bring proof of address (i.e. a copy of your rental agreement or bill) and your passport (including your Visa) with you to the GP’s.
You must have the right to work in the UK in order to get need a National Insurance Number and you must have a National Insurance Number in order to work. Request yours by clicking here.
Airport Transportation: Know your options when traveling between Heathrow and central London. I’ve listed the estimated times and costs, which each have pro’s and con’s depending on your luggage and timing situation. (Getting to Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, and City Airports are a whole other story).
-Regular black taxi (not pre-ordered): £50-£80/30-90 minutes depending on traffic
-Pre-order taxi: £30-£40/30-90 minutes depending on traffic (I use Airport Executive)
-Heathrow Express: £20/15 minutes (The train arrives and departs from Paddington Train Station. It’s really modern and nice and makes the Newark Airport train look 200 years old.)
-Tube: £5.50/60-70 minutes…depending on where you’re going.
Chain Store Equivalents: Whether you’re trying to find the right supermarket, drugstore, or favorite department store alternative, here’s my take.
-Boots: Duane Reade, Walgreen’s, CVS
-Primark: An even cheaper version of Forever21 and H&M.
-Supermarkets: regional food stores in the UK are all different, but if you were to rank UK supermarkets from best (i.e. nicest produce and meat selection) to worst (i.e. best for quick last minute shopping), it’d be this order: Waitrose -> Sainsbury’s -> Tesco.
-John Lewis: Nordstrom or Bloomingdales
-Marks & Spencer: If Target and Macy’s had a love child. And sometimes sold food. Kind of.
Have any additions? Think I’ve gotten something completely wrong? I’d love to see any and all suggestions.
After two weeks of non-stop travelling, intense work changes, and an abnormally full social calendar, I’ve been given the best present in the world - two full days of “me” time.
Joel is in New York City (kind of perfect timing), so the vast majority of the past two days has been spent sleeping, reading, drinking wine, eating cheese, and cuddling my dog. I actually added “RELAX” to several hour long blocks on my Google Calendar so I wouldn’t get wrapped up in the ever growing to-do lists of real life.
After laying horizontal on my sofa for several house, this afternoon I decided to put on real clothes (i.e. pants without an elastic waist band) and geek out for several house at The Wallace Collection, a former family residence in Marylebone. Turns out, the family’s biggest hobby was collecting English and French 18th century paintings, furniture, and porcelain…..my favorite period.
If you’re also inclined toward the Georgian and Louis/Versailles era, I’ve got two words for you: TREASURE TROVE.
I understand that this wouldn’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but for me, taking the time to slowly stroll from piece to piece and chat up the curators for background stories is my version of utopia.
Because it’s a former residence, the stunning works of art aren’t the only aspect to admire. The ballroom, bedrooms, boudoir, and even the grand staircase all have stories of their own. It’s easy to take a seat on the tufted chaise, look out passed the satin curtains, through the windows into the courtyard, shut your eyes for just a moment and get lost in it all.
And just when I thought the experience couldn’t get any better, I learned that it has the largest collection of Marie Antoinette’s furniture in the world.
As in more than Versailles. To say i’m intrigued by this era would be an understatement (I took a class a the Sorbonne devoted solely to Versailles creation and development. Nerd alert.) Apparently the family royally cleaned up during the French Revolution auctions…
If you love 18th century English and French art, lifestyle, etc, I can’t imagine a more perfect place to spend an afternoon. Since admission is free (as are many London museums), it’s even easier to return time and time again.
When we first moved to the UK, Joel and I daydreamed about sitting around on a Thursday night with no weekend plans and booking a last minute trip. We almost pulled the trigger a couple of times, but ultimately, it’s a bit too intense/anxiety ridden to take a trip that last minute.
While it wasn’t super last minute, we lived a bit spontaneously and scheduled a trip to Madrid with one week’s notice.
This was actually our first trip since we got married….just the two of us.
With all the changes in the last year, there was never a time for a honeymoon (it will happen…eventually) and even though there have been a handful of trips in the last six months, none were just….us.
And boy, did it feel good.
Friday night kicked off with 8pm drinks at Meson de la Guitarra. Considering Spain’s late night dinner lifestyle (as featured in the NYT earlier this week) mixed with the popularity of the bar (we received a ton of recommendations to go here), we figured drinks from 8-10pm would be normal.
We were wrong.
For two hours we had Meson de la Guitarra to ourselves, a pitcher of sangria, some tapas, and a couple of musicians.
At around 10pm, a couple people began trickling in and by 1030, the place was filling up.
You live, you learn.
At 11pm, we arrived for dinner at Bocaito, a quintessential Spanish restaurant (in terms of food and ambiance), which came recommended by a local colleague of mine.
It was here that we fully understood the late night Madrid culture…
At 11pm, the host was quoting 1 and 1/2 hour wait times and the rooms were packed with guests of all ages.
Saturday morning we woke up to rain, rain, and more rain. The timing was rather perfect since our goal for the day was to go on a culinary adventure at Mercado de San Miguel.
The indoor market is stall after stall of tapas, particularly seafood. And wine. And jamon….which is hanging everywhere.
Three hours later we emerged with grins from ear to ear…..partly from all the wine, partly from our full bellies.
We then went for a bit of a walk, cursing the rain along the way…
And decided it was time to soak up more culture, i.e. try more food.
This time we went with churros and chocolate.
Following a siesta, we emerged to explore the Salamanca neighborhood with stops at The Whitby and St. James.
But the best part of the weekend? Easily our bike tour with Bravo Bike.
Kaspar took us on a three hour ride throughout the city explaining the history, sharing local facts, etc. We cruised through parks, passed by palaces, stopped for a cafe con leche and pastry, curved around tiny alleys, and finished down a big boulevard that was empty of cars thanks to a protest. Kaspsar also doubled as a paparazzi, snapping our photo around every twist and turn.
My only regret is doing the ride toward the end of the trip since we gained such a better understanding of the city and the culture.
Although the thought of eating more croquettes or jamon makes me queasy…
24 Hours in Paris (and the "best restaurant" in Paris)
He leaned over from his barstool and whispered in my ear "This is the best restaurant in the neighborhood. Maybe even in all of Paris."
This week I landed in Paris for 24 hours - one hour for a work meeting, the remaining hours for exploring.
While I returned to some of my old favorite stomping grounds, the reality is that I haven’t lived in Paris for nine years (le sigh) and needed to scope out some new spots.
I took a French class this past Fall to brush up on my Francais and my teacher recommended Les Cocottes. She also suggested it to two of my friends who recently went and raved about it.
Tuesday afternoon I wrapped up my meeting, said “Au Revoir” to my colleagues, and ventured to the 7th Arrondissement. Although the area is home to some of Paris’ most famous landmarks (Eiffel Tower, Musee D’Orsay, Hotel des Invalides), it exudes a neighborhood/village vibe.
I made my way passed Champs de Mars, down Rue Saint Dominique, and found myself in front of Les Cocottes. I had heard rumors of the no reservations policy/long waits, but by my 1:15 arrival, I was seated right away at the bar, which actually seemed to be the prized restaurant real estate.
While some classic Parisian restaurants hold on to an infamously traditional look and feel, it was a pleasant surprise to see how a restaurant could segue into a modern era. Les Cocottes has created a comfortable, yet casual ambiance that feels like 2014, while still maintaing and serving classic, melt in your mouth, what-you-come-to-Paris-for French food.
I started with the Foie Gras (I think the salad dressing was made of crack because never in my life have I wanted to eat more plain lettuce).
Followed by Pavé de cabillaud demi-sel, ragout de pommes de terre et carottes (Cod, potatoes, and carrots).
I don’t even like carrots, but…..wow.
There are simply no words.
I only wish you could smell this photo.
As I paid for the meal and savored my last few sips of wine, an older gentleman entered the restaurant, was greeted by the staff as if he was everyone’s best friend, and sat next to me at the bar.
Monsieur obviously took pride in his appearance and the result was immaculate - tortoise shell glasses, a silk tie, and a silver napkin holder were sartorial perfection, reminiscent of another time.
He asked me if I was enjoying my wine. I replied “mais, bien sur” and that even though it was my first meal at Les Cocottes, it hoped it wouldn’t be my last.
Jean Servot proceeded to tell me that he dines here every week, always ordering something different. He confided that he’s lived in the arrondissement since the 1930’s and then he leans over on his barstool and whispers in my ear "This is the best restaurant in the neighborhood. Maybe even in all of Paris."
The next thirty minutes were spent discussing life, love, France, and the United States (his favorite state is Colorado). Although we spoke only in French, he asked me where I was from originally and was shocked to learn the answer was America. He assumed, based on my accent, that I hailed from Australia or Great Britain. This was no news to me since I was placed in the Aussie/UK group instead of the American group during my “Accent Class” at The Sorbonne. I’m still trying to figure out that riddle….
Finally, it was time for me to go. I told Jean that it was an absolute pleasure to meet him. His response was much more charming.
"Today, President Barack Obama and French President Francois Hollande will meet, but I consider myself to be infinitely more lucky to have had this meeting with you.”
Even the waitresses swooned.
We exchanged cards and said “Until next time”, not “goodbye”.
I arrived in Amsterdam last week for a quick work trip. Although I visited the city once before, it was seven years ago and I didn’t have the best experience.
This time I left feeling completely different and cannot wait to return. I’m thinking Spring time…tulips.
First and foremost - Pannekoek (i.e. Dutch pancakes) are a dream. The doughy, crispy, sweet dish soaked up every sin from the night before…and there was a lot of Amsterdam sin to soak up. I’m very thankful there are no photos from that part of the visit.
I asked the concierge at my hotel to point me in the direction of a non-touristy area to walk around. He absolutely delivered and I proceeded to spend hours getting lost from canal to canal (and that’s not just figurative…getting lost in Amsterdam is a bit tricky). Ironically, while I wandered aimlessly, I was asked for directions four separate times. Who knew I looked so Dutch?
As far as my walk was concerned, the bikes and facades kept me company…
As did this Lady lookalike statue.
The highlight of my trip? Walking passed a school during pick up. The Dutch have taken their love affair with bikes to a whole other level for carpooling….a true sight to be seen.
First and foremost, we had a low key celebration for Joel’s Birthday consisting of pain au chocolat (his favorite), sparklers, and a big ol’ Sunday Roast with friends. The real celebration (a trip) is on the horizon.
Lady started looking a bit too furry…
So we took her in for a little snip snip. With her new bob/page boy haircut, me think she passes for a puppy.
Lady also spent the past month sharing my real estate curiosity. On one of our neighborhood explorations, she sized up her favorite stoops.
She’s also been taking advantage of her frequent bus rides, treating them more like “meet and greets” with the locals.
Celebrated Australian Day with my favorite Aussies. Highlights included Tim Tams, summer clothes (they cranked the heat up to make it feel like down under), and a mechanical surf board ride (Tristan is the champion and lasted 100 seconds…..I lasted 16).
Finally enjoyed dinner at Locanda Locatelli, a wedding present from some friends. It was far and away the most indulgent, gourmet meal we’ve had since moving to London. A cheese plate with bespoke honey for every cheese selection? You better believe we enjoyed every second/taste of it.
Witnessed this intense, breathtaking rainbow while boarding a flight to Amsterdam.
Finally experienced Tayyabs, a BYOB Indian restaurant in East London infamous for great curry, dirt cheap prices, and a packed/mobbed scene. Most people line up to eat, but even with a reservation, it’s typical to wait 30 minutes or so.
Enjoyed a beautiful Sunday pub crawl through Notting Hill and North Kensington with some of my favorite people. I feel bad even typing this considering the weather in the US, but I’m really loving this mild winter we’re having.
The five of us met just six months ago (except Elysha and I who have known each other for 17 years) and now here we are celebrating Hannah…
Celebrating what, you may ask? Her baby girl who will be gracing us with an appearance in just a few more weeks.
We celebrated in the most logical way - with afternoon tea.
The Pelham is the opposite of London’s legendary tea houses. Instead of being in an ornate grand room at a massive hotel, The Pelham is a townhouse in South Kensington and the tea room is an intimate space as if you were getting cozy at a friend’s house.
Their afternoon tea included all the typical fix-ins, although it has to be noted that those peanut butter chocolate bites at the top were the winner and the fruit cake pops in the middle tray were the loser.
I’m of the opinion that you can’t go wrong with finger sandwiches. Realistically, they’re simple and boring, but there’s something about those light bites that I love….
Especially the cucumber sandwich one. It’s the most ridiculous of the bunch, but it’s my favorite.
They served several small scones person person, which helped to maintain the light fluffy texture (nothing worse that a big crumbly dry scone).
And the jam…..perhaps a haiku will do it justice.
Raspberry jam on my scone.
Drizzle from my spoon.
Taste buds dance.
Three hours later (no really, how did we drink tea for so long?) Hannah opened a couple presents for baby girl S.
And we discussed some very deep, meaningful life questions, most important of which is will Hannah deliver in the same room as Kate Middleton? Maybe yes. Maybe no.
Some beach vacations are relax, lay around, snooze, repeat.
My recent trip to Cabo San Lucas was nothing of the sort. (Side note: I’m writing this at the same time I’m writing copy at work and man, that line sounds so British, doesn’t it?!)
Joel and I joined his extended family (27 of us in total!) for a jam packed schedule of fun in the Mexican sun. Thankfully, London’s winter weather to date has been fairly mild (knock on….), but that doesn’t mean the blue skies and 82 degree weather wasn’t everything I had dreamed of and more.
In case you’re curious, here’s how we stayed busy…
Activity #1: Deep Sea Fishing - I may have played the role of observer during this excursion….
But I was a very active participant in the eating of Joel’s Mahi Mahi.
The seagulls weren’t as lucky as they begged for our catch scraps.
Activity #2: Dancing - I assume I inherited it from my mama, but as soon as the Mariachi band arrived at the house, I grabbed Joel quicker than you can say “my hips don’t lie.”
Activity #3: Paddleboarding - I’m the idiot who previously watched paddleboarders and assumed “oh, that must be soooo easy.” One hour and nineteen falls later (that may or may not be an exaggeration), I finally got the hang of it and my core thanked me for the killer workout.
Activity #3: Smores - why? why not?
Activity #4: Ziplining and Rappelling - the Costa Azul canyon is beautiful, but heights continue to terrify me.
Activity #5: Whale Watching - With margaritas, cervezas, and cameras in hand, we hit the Sea of Cortez in search of some extra large flipper friends.
It must’ve been peak time because Willy and his friends were putting on one hell of a show.
However, my attention kept getting diverted to the other boat whale watching along with us. A certain female celeb crush of mine was on board (with her celeb friends) and I couldn’t help but gawk.
Activity #6: Snorkeling - Hard to think of a better way to enjoy sunset than a swim with the fishies followed by a cruise to shore.
Activity #7: Exploring - Art galleries, old cobbestone streets, local breweries, winding mountain roads.
Activity #8: Napkin Design - Ok, not really an activity, but I learned how to turn a regular paper napkin into this fancy rose. Slow clap!
Activity #9: Lounging - because…..well, yea.
Activity #10: Eating and Drinking all the Food - whether it was tasting the local cervezas, toasting the New Year with champagne, or setting records for most margaritas consumed in a day, it’s fair to say that I’m going to be reducing my alcohol intake this month. And thank goodness London isn’t known for their Mexican food. If I see another taco or scoop or guacamole…
Activity #11: Mexican Boom Boom - thank you (I think?) to the man who will go unnamed for introducing us to this local tradition. It’s one part shot, one part kidnapping scare. You can see Joel and Michael enjoying theirs by clicking on their names.
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.