A Little Taste of the Cotswolds in Castle Combe

20180823_160248You can never go wrong with narrow streets, quaint houses, cafes, and great pubs.  Castle Combe – a veritable Shire –  did not disappoint.

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Logistically, it is not the easiest place to get to, but we managed.  If I were to visit again, I would probably rent a car.  Still, there are bus connections most days of the week – you just really have to watch out for the times because they are infrequent.

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If you are looking for excitement, you won’t find it here – but that’s okay.  It is enough just to be, to wander the cobbled side roads and wooded paths, enjoy the mossy green surroundings, and perhaps stop for a great pub meal or two and a cream tea.

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Bath

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Of all the places we visited on our trip to England, I think Bath was my favorite.  The stunning architecture and scenery took my breath away from the moment we stepped off the train.

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We started off with a lovely afternoon tea at the Jane Austen House.  I felt like a fanciful Mrs. Darcy as I not-so-elegantly stuffed scones with clotted cream into my face (yum!)

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After our spot of tea, my sister and I went to the Thermae Bath Spa to soak in the thermal waters that initially drew the Romans into the area when the city was founded.  Talk about a perfect day!

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We watched the sun fade along the water, walked by the abbey, and did a little souvenir shopping before catching the train back to our place in Bristol.

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Bristol, U.K.

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After exploring London for a few days, my husband, sister, and I decided to base ourselves out of Bristol so that we could explore more of the English countryside.  While it’s a great base to see places such as Bath or Stonehenge, Bristol in and of itself is a very cool city worth a visit.

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I am a huge fan of street art and Bristol has it in spades.  Home to the famous street artist and political activist, Banksy, the street art scene there has exploded in recent years.

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In addition to a cool street art scene, there is a big demand in Bristol for people to shop local; as such, there is no shortage of unique shops and restaurants to discover.

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Words to live by!

 

London

20180817_161836-EFFECTSAs a self-proclaimed Potterhead, London has been on my bucket list for as long as I can remember.  How it took me this long to get there, I have no idea, but I was lucky enough to finally make it happen and even luckier to have my sister along for the ride.

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We stayed in the adorable neighborhood of Hackney – highly recommend!

This was her first big international trip and I was so excited to share the experience.  We hit the ground running after she landed with all of the main tourist sites and started the next day with a very cool (and very nerdy) Harry Potter walking tour, where we got to see various film locations and the parts of London that inspired some of the magical locations as well (shout out to the real-life Diagon Alley!).

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The street that inspired Diagon Alley!

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…and Knockturn Alley!

I had really hoped to catch a show while in London, but alas – the two shows I wanted to see most were sold out.  I still grabbed photos of the venues, if somewhat bitterly.

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We met up with a good friend and former colleague for some drinks at a super cool roof top bar, indulged in Cornish pasties, wandered through as many neighborhoods and parks as we could manage, and shopped until we dropped (I don’t think I will ever see a bookstore that tops Foyles!  They really had everything!)

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It was a really great start to an awesome adventure.

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A Lovely Week in Sicily

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I just returned from a fabulous week in Sicily with some dear friends of ours and their adorable little girl.  I am officially on summer break and I couldn’t think of a better way to kick it off than a week of sunshine, beaches, Mediterranean villages, great food, wine, and good friends.

For such a little island, Sicily has a LOT to offer – easily two weeks’ worth of sightseeing.  We didn’t get to see everything, but we saw a lot of great highlights.

Taormina and La Riviera dei Ciclopi

Our first stop was  the little beach town of Taormina.  Though it is very crowded and full of tourists, it’s not hard to understand way.  Idyllic cliffs dotted with colorful Mediterranean houses tower over turquoise water.  We browsed the cute boutiques, had an incredibly picturesque picnic, and indulged in some delicious canoli.20180616_161640.jpg

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From Taormina, we moved on to La Riviera dei Ciclopi (The Riviera of the Cyclopes) where we enjoyed the views of the strange rock formations, enjoyed some cheap beers on the marina, and listened to a local band festival.

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Mount Etna

On our second day, we decided to head up to hike Mount Etna, an active volcano.  It was a little rainy, but stunning nonetheless; however, we had not expected it to be so cold. We all showed up in our shorts and t-shirts only to be met with wintry temperatures.  Still, the views were spectacular.  It reminded me a lot of our honeymoon in Iceland!

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Siricusa

Siracusa (Syracuse) is a lovely coastal town surrounded by ridiculously blue water, white marble architecture, and loads of sunshine.

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I pretty much went from freezing to sunburnt in the matter of a day!

Cefalu

Cefalu was a lot like Siricusa, but with more laid back beach vibes.  There was a ton of public beach space and the view from the sea was magnificent surrounded by cute houses and big, green mountains.  Drinking cheap summer shandy while floating in the water didn’t hurt either.

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This past school year was incredibly rough.  I’m so grateful to have spent such a wonderful time with my husband and good friends and to have started summer on a much more positive note.  Italy is ridiculously good.

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A Quick Break in Kosovo

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We made the last-minute decision to head to Kosovo this weekend to celebrate my husband’s birthday.  The moment school let out on Friday, we threw together a couple of backpacks, booked a hotel, and we were on our way.

So, why Kosovo?  Several reasons, actually.  First of all, the tickets from Istanbul to Pristina were incredibly affordable and the flight times were perfect.  Secondly, everything we read about Pristina mentioned that the cafe scene there is top notch – a fact that this coffee nerd can now attest to.  We spent most of our time in the city trying to find the coolest cafes and testing out all the coffee.  The city’s specialty is an espresso machiatto latte – and my god they were delicious.  I’m not normally into milky coffee, but the quality of the milk and the ratio of milk to coffee made this drink an exception for me.

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Not only did all of the cafes serve incredible coffee – they were also incredibly quirky and charming!

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In addition to an amazing cafe scene, Pristina has an up-and-coming food scene as well.  I was really surprised by the quality of all of the food we ate there – especially considering that we didn’t do any research about the food at all; we pretty much just wandered into whichever restaurants seemed appealing in the moment and were not disappointed.

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The whole city has a funky, eclectic vibe that will probably only get cooler with time.  It’s kind of crazy to visit a country that is only 10 years old.  Pristina has updated their iconic Newborn sign to reflect Kosovo’s 10th anniversary as a country.

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Kosovo’s ever-changing face is evident in its confusing mix of architecture.  Old, abandoned churches stand next to newly-built mosques; modern cafes line the streets next to Communist-era structures that look like the backdrop of a creepy sci-fi movie.  It’s very weird – in a good way.

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Another quirky-cool highlight for us was the Museum of Broken Relationships.  We actually wandered into it by accident, but decided to check it out and it was 110% worth the 2 euros!  It was very unique and surprisingly moving.  If you’re planning to visit Pristina anytime soon, definitely check it out.

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We really loved our little getaway to Pristina!  I highly recommend it as a very cool and budget-friendly destination.  With only two weeks left of school, I am already getting pumped up for more adventures very soon.

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Seriously though…how crazy is this library?

 

A City Break in Berlin

20180421_200854.jpgWhat does one do with an unexpected three-day weekend?  Check Skyscanner for cheap getaways.  Unfortunately, my husband was stuck on duty for this one, but I was grateful to have a lovely weekend to myself to explore a new city.

20180422_193258.jpgThe weather was unbelievably perfect the whole time I was there.  My first evening was simply spent watching the sun set at Brandenburg Gate with a beer and some currywurst.  After all, I needed to fuel up for my walking tour the following day.

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The tour began at Brandenburg Gate, where we learned about the Prussian period of the city.  Shortly afterward, we moved forward in both time and distance at the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  The monument is made up of about 2,700 cement blocks, each made with different dimensions (perhaps intended to symbolize the unique beauty of each individual that was killed).  The monument is beautiful and interesting, but also very sobering.  Berlin does not have an uplifting history.

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I was also fascinated by Berlin’s Soviet history; though admittedly very dark, it was interesting to hear about how people managed to escape into West Berlin, how unceremoniously the wall came down, and how the divide impacted the city in terms of culture and architecture.  Honestly, I can’t recommend SANDEMAN’S tours enough.

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After my walking tour, I decided to explore a bit more of the city on my own.  I headed for the East Side Gallery, a strip of the former Berlin Wall that is covered in artwork, followed by a journey through the lively Kreuzberg neighborhood.

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Something that struck me about Berlin is how many green spaces can be found in the middle of the city.  There were picnics happening EVERYWHERE and it was amazing.  If I had had more time, I would have run to a supermarket and joined in on the fun.

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If I had to sum up Berlin in just a few words, I would call it a city in transition.  It has a varied and tumultuous history, though it is now one of the most progressive cities in the world.  It has changed very fast in a short amount of time.  I think my tour guide said it best when he said “Berlin is always in the process of becoming Berlin.”  It was a city unlike any other I’ve been to.  While it has a pretty dark past, it also has a very promising future.

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