Intro to India: What I Loved (And Didn’t Love) About India

Intro to India: What I Loved (And Didn’t Love) About India

I’m super excited to blog about India, but first let me to say, India is far too vast and diverse a country to sum up in a blog post. So please note that I am only reporting on my personal experience in Northern India; these observations in no way apply to India as a whole.

While life in Northern India was trying at times, overall I enjoyed my six weeks in India.

What I loved most about India is that it’s so rawly, uniquely Indian. On my travels I’ve found globalization and modernization have diluted much of the world’s culture. India, though it has been affected, is still so Indian. And with nearly 5,000 years of civilization, would you expect any less?

Indian people have a uniquely Indian way of doing almost everything, from to dressing to dancing to worshipping. I could’ve spent years in India and barely scratched the surface on its extraordinarily rich and diverse culture.

And truly, India was the adventure of my life. Out of all the 38 (!!!) countries I’ve visited, India was by far the dirtiest and poorest, but also the most colorful, spiritual and fascinating.

Here’s what I loved and didn’t love about India.

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What I Loved…

How Easy It Is to Connect with Locals

Overall Indians speak fantastic English so it’s fairly easy to meet locals. I was surprised that even in rural areas of India most people spoke great English!

Also I love how Indians speak; their speech is peppered with everything from British colonialisms like “bathing costume” to direct translations of Hindi phrases like “what to do” (kal kare) and English bastardizations like “prepone” (as in we’re going to prepone, or move forward, this meeting).

I even miss hearing- “You know what happen?”

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Beautiful Traditional Clothes and Jewelry

As anyone who has ever wandered an Indian neighborhood or seen a Bollywood film can attest, Indian women dress beautifully. I loved spotting women in saris gathered together; it was always such a blend of emerald green, saffron and other technicolor shades.

Along with beautiful clothes, Indian women wear lots of gorgeous jewelry. I wore a silver anklet the entire time I was in India and before leaving bought fistfuls of anklets for friends back home. (Setting aside no less than four for myself, ha.)

Also I found it interesting that women can expose their bellies in India but not their legs, the sartorial opposite of the west. The one day I wore a knee-length dress in India I got a ton of attention and sent the dress home soon after!

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Delicious Food

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A home-cooked meal in Delhi

Oh my. Indian food, as everyone knows, is delicious. I fell in love with everything from baingan bharta, a Punjab eggplant dish, to batata poha, a Gujarati breakfast dish made of potatoes and rice flakes.

While admittedly I did get sick of rice and lentils, I swear I could eat paneer butter masala all day long.

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Chapati, or roti, our daily staple for six weeks.

What I miss most? Chai. While in India chai is really sweet (I normally ordered it without sugar), it’s so spicy and flavorful. Yum.

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Hindi Music

Confession- I love Indian music, from traditional sitar to modern-day pop.

One song we all couldn’t stop singing was the “Pani” song. Listen at your own risk- it may be stuck in your head for the rest of your life.

One song I never want to hear again is Party All Night, which our bus driver played no less than 12 TIMES IN A ROW while driving hairpin Himalayan roads. Yeah.

The Extraordinary (And Cheap!) Massages

Move over, Thailand. India is where it’s at for inexpensive, life-changing massages.

While in India I treated myself to weekly $12 massages. My masseuse specialized in a blend of Ayurvedic and deep tissue, and I won’t lie- at times it was painful. When I asked for a softer massage, he retorted, “But I’m already doing it medium! Don’t worry this is good for you.” And considering how many knots he worked out of my back, he was probably right.

Learning about Hinduism, Yoga and Spirituality

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Performing a puja ceremony in Rishikesh

While I will write on this at length soon, Hinduism was a huge part of my experience in India; after all I was studying yoga in a holy city on the Ganges! During my four weeks in Rishikesh I learned to sing countless Sanskrit hymns and meditated daily under the stars; I have so much to share about how my own spirituality has changed.

The Incredibly Low Prices

India is by far the cheapest country I’ve ever visited; it even makes Southeast Asia look expensive in comparison! I especially miss my daily fresh-squeezed mango juice ($1) and paying $2.50 per person for a dinner of  fresh-squeezed juice, an appetizer, naan, three main courses and tea.

The Adorable Cows

While I had mixed feelings about the cows as they contribute to the flies, filth and foul smell of the streets, they sure are cute. There are tons of cows in the streets in India, and they often wander into shops or block doorways; it’s like they’re aware of their own holiness.

Though I do wish I could herd them all up to a Himalayan pasture where they could feast on grass, not trash!

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And as for the things I didn’t love?

Lack of Food Hygiene

If you visit India, never, ever, ever, take a peek inside the restaurant kitchens. Just don’t. Because the food hygiene standards are often horrendous.

In general, I’m the least germaphobic person ever. I live by the motto, “What’s the worst that could happen?” and have loved everything from dirt-cheap seafood stalls in Chile to napkin-littered holes-in-the-wall in Vietnam.

But India is in a class of its own. For example, one morning a friend and I were enjoying a leisurely Western brunch. I ordered an omelet, she ordered a crêpe. My friend’s crêpe came and had several long, black hairs inside. And then I noticed my omelet tasted a little funny. So I called the server over and said, “Sir, I think these eggs are rotten.”

He replied matter-of-factly, “Yes, they are rotten.”

I was indignant. “WHAT? Then why did you serve them to me?”

“It is not my fault. The man who was supposed to bring the eggs this morning did not come.”

The rotten egg aftermath? I went home right away and had food poisoning all day, and my friend decided to meet friends and consequently threw up in a bush. Good times.

The Rampant Monkey Problem

Monkeys are kind of like the evil squirrels of India; they’re everywhere. From nearly being attacked by teeth-baring macaques on a morning run to having monkeys jump into our classroom, I became a little too acquainted with monkeys while in India.

The monkey below? I took his photo after he banged into our bedroom window one morning. Actually my roommate and I were routinely woken up by monkeys slamming loudly against the window.

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This monkey is a gray langur- they’re actually no trouble at all. It’s the dreaded macaques you have to watch out for!

The Filth

There’s no two ways about it- India is dirty. And it smells. And there are lots of flies.

Here’s how it happens; cows are sacred, so they roam the streets unharmed, eating trash and leftover food. They defecate and flies lay their larva in the cowpies. The flies hatch from the cowpies.

And the smell? Just imagine how cow shit and rotting trash smell on a 110-degree day, and there you have it.

Naturally, there’s lots of air pollution. I noticed my eyes were unusually dry in India, and resorted to using eyedrops multiple times a day.

Overall the filth didn’t bother me too much, I just avoided going outside from 12pm-4pm every day as that’s when it was hottest and smelliest.

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The Poor Infrastructure

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Traffic is also a problem at times! Talk about gridlock.

The infrastructure in Northern India isn’t great. The roads, power outages and lack of waste disposal all take a good dose of patience, especially at first.

A few examples: Our taxi ride from Delhi to Rishikesh took about six hours, even though it’s a mere 140-mile drive.

The power at our hotel in Rishikesh went out 10-15 times a day. Sometimes there was no hot water, and sometimes there was no water altogether. It got to the point when the power was out so frequently I would shower in our windowless bathroom in pitch blackness. Honestly I found it kind of relaxing.

The Unhealthiness of the Food

I was very surprised by how unhealthy Northern Indian food is. I learned first-hand that just because food is vegetarian does not by any stretch of the imagination mean its healthy! In Northern India cooks use a lot of ghee, or clarified butter, and much of the food is deep-fried. Also I found many foods were far too sugary for my palate.

The Gender Inequality

After a particularly trying day of street harassment I wryly remarked, “The social hierarchy in India is men on top, then cows, women and foreign women.”

But jokes aside, India has a long, long way to go when it comes to gender equality. Days after I left India, two teenage sisters were murdered, allegedly gang-raped and hanged from a mango tree in Northern India. A few months later, two more teenage girls were killed in the same fashion.

Most of the attention Indian men paid me was harmless. Usually it was no more than, “I like your dress, madame,” which happens in any country.

But once the attention wasn’t harmless. I will write about this soon, but a group of men circled two friends and I in a park in Delhi and it was among the scarier things that’s happened to me on my travels.

Have you been to India? Would you be interested in going?

French Eating Habits I’m Taking Home With Me

French Eating Habits I’m Taking Home With Me

One of my favorite things about the French is that they tend to be well-rounded: The French dress fashionably, travel, read a ton, keep abreast of politics and quite famously, eat well.

Collectively I’ve spent about a year and a half living with French families so I’d like to think I know a thing or two about French home-cooking. But returning to Paris this year reminded me of so many French eating habits I have yet to work into my daily life.

While there are many French food customs I’ll never get on board with- like oeufs en gelée (blergh) and small, sweet breakfasts, there are others, like a salad with every meal and good wine that I’m more than behind.

*Note- not every French person or family does these things, these are just food customs I’ve observed personally.

A Salad with every meal

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Salad is truly an art form in France. In fact I never liked salad until I lived there.

When I lived in France, I made a simple green salad every day to accompany the main dish at dinner. I loved how it wasn’t a question- at dinner you always have baguette, and you always have salad.

You start with fresh, butter lettuce that you wash and dry with a salad spinner three times. It’s usually from the farmer’s market and speckled with dirt so it’s important to wash thoroughly!

Then you always, always, always make the vinaigrette from scratch. (I’ve never even seen bottled dressing in France!) Here’s my recipe.

And voilà, you have a delicious salade verte!

Yogurt after every meal

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After dinner in France we would bring out an assortment of yogurts: mousse au chocolat, lemon and strawberry, among other flavors. In my opinion, yogurt is the perfect low-key, weekday dessert, and boasts plenty of health benefits as well.

Sadly, this is one French food tradition I sadly won’t be replicating in America as American yogurt is sugary, processed and terrible for you. You might as well just eat half a candy bar.

Also, if you’re ever in France, the above yogurt, Fjord, is the yogurt of dreams: thick, tangy, creamy, addictive. As in like worth smuggling through US customs.

Apéro dinatoire

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Interestingly enough, there’s actually no viable English translation for apéro dinatoire! Cocktail party with snacks? Drinks and finger food?

Essentially an apéritif dinatoîre is when you invite guests over to drink and snack on an assortment of hors d’oeuvres. You don’t “officially” serve a meal so it’s not a dinner party; it’s more of a casual, often weekday gathering that lasts late into the night.

(Fun fact- did you know no one says hors d’oeuvres in France? It’s an antiquated word.)

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Gougères, or cheese puffs, I made for an apéritif dinatoîre last year. They’re surprisingly super hard to make- this was my third batch!

Sparkling water

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Sparkling water always makes me feel kind of fancy. Plus, if you’re trying to cut out pop, it’s a healthy carbonated alternative.

Always using a tablecloth

Another thing that makes me feel a little more put-together? A tablecloth. The French never sit down to eat without one.

Epic, five-course dinner parties on the regular

Oh god. French dinner parties are so much work yet so worth it. Here’s the drill:

1. Decorate your house beautifully, with a fresh tablecloth, flowers, chic stemware and your best china. Your best china isn’t just for holidays- it’s also for impressing your guests. And turn on some music!

2. Wait for your guests to arrive- they’re always a little late. Once they arrive greet them with a kiss and serve them hors d’oeuvres and cocktails (kind of like an apéro dinatoire but with a lot less food).

And don’t forget to thank them for their gift, usually a bottle of wine or flowers. In France it’s rude to show up empty-handed.

3. Sit down to the table for the first course (entrée in French. Yep, it’s backwards from English!)

4. Serve the main course. It is imperative for everyone to rave about the food- in France people talk a lot about food. Points for serving more exotic dishes like tagine or goulash.

5. Serve the cheese course. Ideally you will have at least 3-4 room-temperature cheeses on a plate- here’s my guide on how to serve a good cheese course.

5. Serve dessert. Also, this isn’t a throwaway course- it’s a lot of work. Ideas: financier with a berry coulis, omelette norwegienne, a poached pear in a salted butter caramel sauce.

6. Serve coffee.

7. Chat about politics/sex/family life until as late as three a.m., serving up plenty of wine.

 8. Wake up mildly hungover and wash about 8,000 dishes. Each of those courses had a fresh plate, remember?

Buying good wine

Once I grow up (ha) I vow to never buy Yellowtail again- good wine is worth paying extra for, in my book. Unfortunately, good wine in the states is pricey, but in France you can pick up a decent bottle from 3-5 euros!

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Also, someday I will have a badass wine cellar like my host dad in France with a gravel floor and a million wine bottles. #seriously

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Farmers markets

Ah, I love a good farmers market, especially in France. Most French farmers markets are open two-three days a week, and serve up all the good stuff: charcuterie, seafood, cheese and fresh produce. French_Eating_Habits_Farmers_Market

More picnics

Um I think if I mention one more picnic on my blog you are all going to kill me, but really- I never have them in the states. Picnics=the best.

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A cheese course before dessert

Because… cheese.

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Eating healthy on the weekdays and indulging on weekends

This is one healthful custom I’ve observed in France. The French often eat simple foods during the week, and on the weekends indulge in pastries for breakfast, barbecues for dinner and sinful desserts. It’s the perfect mix of abstinence and indulgence.

Omelets for dinner

I’ve actually never seen anyone in France eat an omelet for breakfast! But we did often eat them for dinner with chives and other fines herbes on top. Yum!

More cheese and butter in my life

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And especially more goat’s cheese.
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My actual favorite food in the world. Also it kills me that this cost literally two euros.

Which French eating habits would you like to adopt?

Back to Paris, My Home Away From Home

Back to Paris, My Home Away From Home

After my five-week Eurotrip across Italy, Switzerland, England, Wales and Spain, I knew there was one place in Europe I still had to drop by- Paris.

As long-time readers know, I spent a year in Paris working as an au pair, drinking cider on the Seine and becoming the oh-so-clichéd American expat in Paris. I made a lot of close friends during that year, both French and foreign, so I knew I had to pay them, as well as the city I called home, a visit.

My week in Paris felt… exceedingly normal. A friend even commented, “Honestly, it feels like you just never left and still live here!”

And as I remembered, there is nothing like spring in Paris. Between the pollarded trees and the plentiful picnics, a huge part of me just wanted to say, “Forget the rest of the world trip! I’m not leaving!”

Here’s how I spent my week in Paris.

 

 

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The view from my friend’s apartment! Pas mal !

Seeing Friends

As I’ve mentioned before, this year’s visit to Europe was all about seeing friends. And see friends I did, from picnicking in Parc Monceau and the Bois de Vincennes to partying until the dawn in Oberkampf and getting a ride home on a French guy’s motorcycle. Let’s just say not much had changed.

While some nights I crashed at “The Cupboard”, my friend’s shoebox apartment, I spent most of the week with my friend Vens at his place in Puteaux. Vens was an excellent host, and we spoke about 80% French- exactly what I needed to brush up!

IMG_1617 A weeknight picnic in the Bois de Vincennes with my former au pair family. Ah, just look at those rillettes! IMG_1640 Pre-gaming on the Seine like old times. Though I have to say, the Seine’s a lot busier in summer!

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Picnicking and painting nails in Parc Monceau on my last day in Paris. Wahhh.

New Sites Around Paris

Although I tried my damndest, somehow I still have not seen all of Paris’ sites. So this year I checked a few more of my list: Sainte-Chapelle, a tiny Gothic chapel, the Promenade Plantée, a railroad track turned park, and Musée Carnavalet, a museum dedicated to the history of Paris.

Thoughts? I loved both Sainte-Chapelle and the Promenade Plantée but would give Musée Carnavalet a miss.

And on my next visit I still need to see the Picasso Museum and the Catacombes. Good God there are way too many tourist attractions in Paris.

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Paying Saint-Germain-en-Laye a Visit

I couldn’t very well visit Paris and not stop by the town where I lived, now could I? I popped over to Saint-Germain-en-Laye to visit my au pair family and was pleased to see not much has changed. The château still stands proud next to the métro, the rôtisserie chicken still turn in the streets and the teenaged girls are still rocking the I’m-so-effortlessly-thin-and-gorgeous-I-don’t-even-have-to-brush-my-hair look.

I can’t help but miss my snooty but stunning little town. IMG_7577 Paris blog1

Eating French Food

While in Paris, I ahem, attempted eat light- did you see what I scarfed down in England and Spain? I still made room for lots of my Parisian favorites: duck confit, gâteau basque, baguette, my favorite yogurt ever and steak frites with a glass of red wine.

And although I’m far from a pastry lover, one morning I even had pain au chocolat. Because, Paris.

IMG_7681 Cardiac arrest-inducing duck confit with potatoes and salad. Why are salads in France SO delicious?

IMG_7558 Gâteau basque with a pistachio filling IMG_7647 The obligatoire pain au chocolat IMG_7691

Discovering My New Favorite Bar

While I admit I filled my week with lots of unblog-worthy things, this one is worth sharing!

Blog readers, meet Café de l’Industrie. If Hemingway were still alive, this is where he would hang. From the neo-colonial décor to the inexpensive wines by the glass, it’s everthing you want in a Parisian café/bar/restaurant. IMG_7766 Paris blog

Overall writing this post and seeing these photos makes me sad- I have no idea when I’ll next see Paris, a city where I’ve made some of my fondest memories. But I’d like to think I’ll be back soon enough- there’s too much calling me back not to visit.

Have you ever returned to a place where you lived abroad? What was it like?

Thank you to Vens, Laura and Rach for letting me crash! Come visit soon!

A Long Weekend in Madrid: A Photo Essay

A Long Weekend in Madrid: A Photo Essay

Madrid was a weekend of small pleasures. Of leisurely waking up over coffee, of snapping photos in the rain, of eating every local specialty I could get my hands on.

While I already wrote about my Madrid experience via Instagram, I wanted to share my SLR shots. I also wanted to tell you about our Madrid Food Tour with Lauren from Spanish Sabores, because um, holy deliciousness. While I love Spanish food and have lived with two Spanish host families (in Granada and Mallorca), there were still a few Spanish specialties I hadn’t tried.

New favorites? Campo real olives and bacalao. How I dream of that crispy, salty, flavor-dense fish…

Along with fantastic food, it was a weekend of great company. I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed so much in one weekend, and crashing with Amanda, Julika and Jessica in our travel-themed Go With Oh apartment was one for the books. Or, for the blog, rather.

Without further ado!

Classic Spanish clothes in the Plaza Mayor…

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Faux angulas, or baby eels, in the Mercado de San Miguel, our first stop on the Madrid Food Tour… IMG_7205

Vermouth (on tap!) with quail eggs, boquerones (white anchovies) and campo real olives, which are marinated with thyme, garlic, fennel and oregano. ¡Riquísimas!  IMG_7212

Revisiting some of Spanish favorites, gazpacho and pintxos. IMG_7227

Other patrons of the Mercado de San Miguel, enjoying the tapear or tapas crawl. IMG_7233

Waiters at Mesón del Champiñon, literally the inn of the mushroom. IMG_7237

Pimientos de padrón, fried green peppers. IMG_7245

Tasty stuffed mushroom caps. IMG_7253

My favorite eat of the whole trip, fried bacalao, at Casa Revuelta. IMG_7271

More pintxos!

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Walking off our food coma the next day in the park… IMG_7309

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Stopping for coffee and churros con chocolate at Chocolatería San Ginés. IMG_7377

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Sampling Madrid’s craft beer scene at Fábrica Maravillas. An awesome spot if you’re in Madrid! IMG_7434

Have you ever been to Madrid? Did you eat amazing food too?

A big thank you to Madrid Food Tour and Go with Oh for the complimentary food tour and apartment stay. As always, all opinions are my own.

Gorse and Goodbyes: A Week in Scotland

Gorse and Goodbyes: A Week in Scotland

I have wanted to write about the week I spent in Scotland for years now, but never knew where to start.

Because Scotland was a lot of things. Scotland was a week of new love, saying goodbye to an old friend and discovering a beautiful, wild and wind-whipped country. Scotland was finally figuring out that your travel life and personal life will collide sometimes, and that the result can be complicated.

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I quickly booked a place to stay and headed to Edinburgh to meet my childhood best friend and her boyfriend. I was about to study abroad on Mallorca and figured, why not squeeze in a trip to Scotland beforehand?

Back when I was 20, I wasn’t happy. My long-distance relationship was crumbling and my family situation was intolerably hard. But much of my discontent came from inside; I was stuck in a rut. And despite my valiant efforts, I felt I would always be overweight and unhappy.

But as always, travel alleviated my sadness if only briefly. As always, travel gave me respite from my worried head.

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Instead of thinking about life back home, I threw myself into enjoying Scotland. And Scotland was easy to love; it was Celtic and gorse-covered and gorgeous.

When I think back on Scotland I remember the wind whipping my hair across my face while climbing Arthur’s Seat…

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The starkly beautiful expanses of land on the train ride north…

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Stumbling upon a rainbow AND a castle on the Isle of Skye…

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Meeting a kind and hilarious Australian with whom I’d spend the summer with across Europe, in Paris, Rome and Sardinia.

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When I remember Scotland my heart stings as it was the last time I ever saw, or will probably ever see, my childhood best friend. While we had fun in Scotland, things quickly fell apart once we got home. But on some level, I’m glad our friendship ended the way it did. As high-schoolers we had always dreamed of our trip to Europe, so it was an apt and poetic ending for our friendship to finish abroad.

But more than that, Scotland taught me that compartmentalizing travel and real life is a fruitless endeavor.

Before Scotland, I equated traveling with freedom and discovery and bliss, and my home life with all that is banal and sometimes painful: bills and grades and and friendships that just aren’t working anymore.

In Scotland I learned it’s impossible to saunter around unmoored from reality. Because no matter how far you run, you can’t escape the things you inevitably carry with you: your insecurities and your history and your shame, your fears and your friendships and your heartbreaks.

So thank you Scotland, for helping me grow up. Thank you for giving me a beautiful week with my friend and someone wonderful to spend the summer with. I’m sure (or I certainly hope) that I’ll be seeing you again.

Eating the Delicious East End

Eating the Delicious East End

Over my three weeks in London, I finally settled upon my dream neighborhood- the East End. The East End is everything you’d want as a twenty-something; it’s packed with street art, cute cafés, lively bars and some of London’s trendiest restaurants.

The East End also has hundreds of years of history. For centuries it was synonymous with poverty and over-crowding, and Huguenot refugees, Irish weavers, Ashkenazi Jews and Bangladeshi immigrants have all called it home.

So when Eating London invited me on a food tour of the East End I was totally on board- as both a foodie and history buff how could I pass up the chance?

And if I haven’t already convinced you that London’s a foodie town, prepare yourself, dear reader.

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St. John Bread & Wine // Bacon Sandwich

Our first stop? St. John Bread and Wine. Featured on my favorite travel show ever, No Reservations, St. John is known for its nose-to-tail dining approach, which as an offal lover, I’m all for.

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This bacon sandwich was near perfect: thick, cut-with-a-spoon-tender slices of bacon slathered with a secret ketchup sauce and held together by grilled white bread. And what’s neat is that both the bread and bacon are baked and cured in house.

And while normally I prefer American-style bacon over English, this was the bacon sandwich to rule them all.

The English Restaurant // Bread and Butter Pudding

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What’s that you say? Who eats bread and butter pudding at 10 a.m.?

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Well at the English Restaurant, you can! Between the creme brûlée crust and the luscious crème anglaise sauce, I was literally sighing with happiness over my bread and butter pudding. And plus, the English Restaurant had the most cozily English atmosphere- I could’ve nursed a pint there all afternoon.

Androuet // Cheese Platter

To my delight our third stop was Androuet, a little French cheese shop! We tasted two of my favorite English cheeses, cheddar and stilton. And from the first mouthful of perfectly ripe cheese I was in fromage-ophile heaven.

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The young French owner explained that Androuet was started in Paris in 1909. I also learned that the owner and I are cheese twins; both of our favorite cheeses is Sainte-Maure de Touraine, an unpasteurized, full-fat aged goat’s cheese with a piece of straw through the middle.

 

Poppies // Fish and Chips

British readers, please skip this paragraph. But to my palate fish and chips is overkill- why pair fried with fried?

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But the fish at Poppies was light as fried cod can be, and was especially delicious when doused in vinegar. I also loved the throwback American diner interior and kind of wanted to play Elvis on the jukebox.

Pride of Spitalfields // Ale

Next it was time for drinks, so we headed to Pride of Spitalfields for an ale tasting.

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While I love beer, my inner hipster hates that I can’t get myself to love ale- it’s just too lukewarm and still! And although I sadly hadn’t been converted into an ale-drinker by the end of the visit, I’d definitely return to Pride of Spitalfields for its cozy, red-plush interior and dozens of beers on tap.

Aladin // Indian Curry

Would a tour of the East End be complete without stopping by Brick Lane? Probably not.

Brick Lane, also known as Curry Mile, is home to a large Bangladeshi community that immigrated to London in the 1970’s and 80’s.

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The chef served up three curries for our visit, and all were scrumptious- I especially loved the lamb curry. But by this point I was so stuffed even the tastiest curry could hardly entice me.

(But don’t worry, I made room. You think I’d let a lamb curry go to waste?)

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Street art by Stik on Brick Lane

Beigel Bake // Salt Beef Sandwich

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There was quite a line outside Beigel Bake, and from my first bite of this salt beef sandwich I could see why. The fatty, melt-in-your mouth meat paired with the yeasty bagel and dab of sharp yellow mustard made for a perfect fatty-acidic taste combination.

Pizza East // Salted Caramel Tart and Tea

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And the grand finale? Dessert at Pizza East! I fell in love with Pizza East for two reasons- first, the uber-chic, warehouse interior which oddly enough we weren’t allowed to photograph. And secondly, this salted caramel tart was possibly the best thing I had all day- decadent, chocolaty and topped with coarse sea salt.

My only regret- I wish I would’ve had room for pizza as the pies coming from the kitchen looked to die for!

Final remarks on the tour

As you may have guessed, I absolutely loved the Eating London food tour. I loved that the tour guide, Nicole, provided so many interesting facts about the East End’s history and culture- I was jotting down facts on my iPhone during the tour. And as I’ve mentioned, the food was bar-none.

And my favorite eat of the day? It’s a two-way tie between the bread and butter pudding and the salted caramel tart.

. . . . . . . . . . .

After lunch I burned off a fraction of the calories I had just consumed by combing the East End for street art. Sigh… I love London.

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Have you ever eaten in the East End?

A big thanks to Eating London for providing a food tour in exchange for a review. They in no way insisted that I write a favorable review, and all opinions are (as always) my own. If you’d like to join the Eating London food tour, here are a few tips: don’t eat breakfast, bring a camera, show up on time and DEFINITELY wear loose-fitting pants and comfortable shoes.

Brighton: England’s Coolest Seaside City

Brighton: England’s Coolest Seaside City

Due to growing up in Michigan, the seaside has always been a treat for me. Around the world I’ve loved all kinds of seaside towns from grungy port cities like Valpo, Chile, to upscale and elegant Biarritz.

But Brighton is special. Brighton is like the San Francisco of England with a Victorian seaside flair. Young, colorful, LGBT-friendly and on the sea; what’s not to love?

This March I took a day-trip to Brighton with Amanda and by the end of the day I was swooning.

Here’s what I loved most about Brighton.

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Spotting My First Banksy

I love Bansky and have followed his work for years. So right after alighting from the train, I beelined for the famed “kissing coppers” piece, conveniently located near the train station.

Needless to say, mysterious Mr. Banksy did not disappoint.

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Window-shopping

While I wasn’t in the market for a $400 pair of heels or a pearl ring, hey, I still had fun window-shopping. I even spotted lots of my favorite French stores in town: COS, Comptoir des Contonniers, Maje and Sandro.

For the record, COS, H&M’s high-end spin-off, is kind of amazing. It’s where I’ve bought some of my favorite clothes, including a backless black dress I purchased in my Paris days.

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And even if you can’t afford to buy anything, the colors of Brighton make it worth a gander. How cute are these doors?

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Riding Roller Coasters on the Pier

As a lifelong lover of roller coasters (Cedar Point, anyone?) I jumped at the opportunity to ride a few on the old-fashioned pier in Brighton. And while the rides cost £4 each, Amanda and I had great fun careening over creaky rails with the sea directly beneath us.

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And you have to love the ever-so-English touches from the candy floss stand to the fish and chips takeaway. The views of Brighton Beach weren’t so bad either.

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Exploring the Royal Pavilion and The Lanes

Brighton does not lack for quirky architecture. First we stumbled upon the Royal Pavilion, a former royal residence built in 1787 in the Indo-Saracenic style. (A.k.a. revival Indo-Islamic designed by British architects. You know.)

As far as architecture is concerned, there’s a very fine line between whimsical and downright tacky and I’m not really sure where the pavilion falls on that spectrum.

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Next we headed to The Lanes, adorable little alleyways filled with shops, cafés and restaurants. I loved the red brick streets and narrow buildings and kind felt like I was wandering Diagon Alley. (Sigh- if only.)

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Enjoying the Seafood Dinner of my Life

I’d like to think I’m something of a seafood connoisseur. Between working at an oyster bar in San Francisco and dating a Chilean for years (Chile being the seafood capital of South America, in my humble opinion), I know good seafood.

Which is why I was surprised to have the seafood meal of my life at Riddle & Finns, a local Brighton restaurant.

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I ordered smoked mackerel on a bed of colcannon, drenched in a sauce reminiscent of my beloved New England Clam Chowder, topped with a poached egg and crispy prosciutto. Heaven.

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And Amanda loved her crispy-skinned sea bass with polenta and eggplant purée. In fact we kept trading dishes and arguing about whose was better- it was really that good.

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And have I mentioned the ambiance yet? The restaurant was snug and intimate, with tiled walls, old fishing photos and antique candelabras. Swoon.

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By the end of the day Brighton had taken top-spot for my favorite city in England, and I’d go as far as to say one of my favorite cities in Europe. I can’t wait to visit (and order the entire Riddle & Finns menu) again in the not too distant future. And because Brighton is only an hour south of London, it’s luckily an easy day-trip.

Have you ever visited Brighton? Would you want to someday?

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Aberystwyth, Wales’ Sweet Seaside Town

Aberystwyth, Wales’ Sweet Seaside Town

I love seaside towns; they’re some of my favorite places to spend the day when I travel. From Valparaíso, Chile, to Brighton, England, there are few things I love more than a colorful coastal city. (Preferably with really good seafood, of course.)

Which is why I was so excited to day-trip to Aberystwyth, a university town in Wales where my friend Liam went to college.

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And as soon as we arrived I could see why Aberystwyth was once a summer destination for the well-to-do, and is still popular with tourists. Aberystwyth seems almost seems transplanted from the Victorian era with an elegant promenade, Royal Pier and pastel-colored buildings.

Hey, it wasn’t nicknamed the “Biarritz of Wales” for nothing.

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Aberystwyth may be tiny but it doesn’t lack for ambiance. From the crying seagulls to the old-fashioned arcade I felt I had stumbled into the Welsh version of Boardwalk Empire.

When I asked Liam what Aberystwyth was like in summer, he replied  “It’s chockablock.” Which for all us Americans, apparently means crowded.

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And as this is a Welsh town there is naturally a castle in town. Or rather, a castle ruins. Liam recounted that he and his friends used to have “epic NERF battles” there in college.

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As an American that is something that will never cease to amaze me, the idea of playing a game on a castle ruin. It’s surreal.

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Next we headed over to the harbor.

One of the boats was named, “Taid’s Out”, which Liam noted was clever as “taid” means grandfather in Welsh but sounds like “tide.”

And as usual in the U.K. the weather was a bit brisk and I kept feeling cold, warm and then cold depending on if the sun was shining. The sea breeze wasn’t helping.

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As we had already been to York to see Lauren’s college town, it was fun seeing Liam’s as well. As we walked past his former house he pointed out which room was his, just as Lauren had done.

And as we looked out over the Royal Pier, watching the waves crash to the pebbly shore, Liam asked, “So Ashley, how does this compare to the rest of the world?”

I laughed and replied, “Well, this is pretty special.” IMG_6804

Have you heard of Aberystwyth? Would you want to visit?

9 Things I Didn’t Know About Wales

9 Things I Didn’t Know About Wales

When I arrived in Wales I knew almost nothing about the country. I knew of Wales’ tenuous history with England, that the Tudors were originally Welsh and of course, had heard a few bawdy jokes about “sheep-shagging.”

Beyond that I was clueless.

But luckily we had a local to show us around. Liam, my friend Lauren’s boyfriend, grew up in Wales and offered to host us for a few days at his home in northern Wales.

So one rainy morning the five of us (me, Lauren, Liam and two of their friends) set out from Lincoln and drove across the Peak District, whose wet, lonely moors made me feel I was a character in Jane Eyre.

Soon the moors became beaches, the signs featured Welsh and we were in a brand-new country.

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I quickly learned that Wales is kind of like the Shire but with more castles, beaches, mountains and slate houses. In short Wales is a country that is equally quaint and striking, with a unique kind of Welsh charm all its own.

1. Wales is beautiful

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Wales is an undoubtedly gorgeous country. As we drove south along the sea I marveled at the landscape: miles of blond-sand beaches, gorse clinging to the mountainside, ivy-clad stone sheep paddocks, rows of slate houses looking out over the sea.

And there were so many lambs! Sometimes the sheep were so far away they just looked like cream-colored dots on a hill, but up close I noticed their wool was blowing in the strong wind and that many were spray-painted with little blue circles.

 

2. Wales has tons of castles

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As you drive in Wales it seems there’s about a castle every mile- it’s incredible.

While the only castle we visited was Harlech Castle, it sure is a beauty. Harlech Castle is a UNESCO World Heritage site that UNESCO declares is “the finest examples of late 13th century and early 14th century military architecture in Europe.”

I loved snapping photos of the corbelled towers and crumbling staircases- the castle was straight from a medieval fairytale.

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What’s neat about Harlech Castle is that locals get in free. Liam joked that everyone would be able to get in free if it weren’t for the elephant in the room, “Ashley’s American accent.” Whoops.

Liam also told us tales about how the local high schoolers sneak into the castle and drink there. Why did I never party in a medieval castle in high school?

3. People die on Snowdon

As my friend’s town is so close to Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales, I proposed that we hike it. But apparently it’s not for beginners; hikers get lost in fog there and sometimes die. Next time?

4. Everything in Wales is made of slate

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After I got over the medieval castles, I noticed the abundance of slate. Apparently the slate industry has been important in Wales since Roman times and considering how many slate mines we drove through, must still be.

Can we talk about how charming slate houses are?

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5. Welsh is spoken more in the north than the south

While not everyone in the north of Wales speaks Welsh, the majority of the population are bilingual. To me Welsh sounded like the sloth from Ice Age was speaking Martian; a lispy, consonant-filled language like none I’ve every heard.

Also, fun fact- “popty ping” means microwave in Welsh. As Liam explained onomatopoeia is a big thing in the Welsh language.

6. Lots of common last names are Welsh

Did you know Morris, Williams and Jones are all Welsh surnames?

7. Harlech is adorable

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I kind of fell in love with Liam’s tiny Welsh town on the sea. Along with an unpronounceable name, Harlech has a population of less than 2,000, a sea-breeze scent and the freshest tap water I’ve ever tasted.

As we walked about town I realized that Liam literally knew everyone in town which definitely gave me small-town envy.

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8. The Welsh sea is cold in March

Well, I suppose I could’ve guessed this.

One night we headed to the pub and after several pints, I convinced everyone to walk to the beach. But alas the glacially cold water foiled my plans to swim- I only made it to my mid-calf and decided to put my leggings back on!

And while I was shaking sand out of my boots the next morning, the glittering stars and empty beach were worth it.

9. The Welsh language is in danger

Sadly, I think I could’ve guessed this too.

I chatted with a local Welsh guy about his perspective on the Welsh language. “The biggest mistake is that,” he said, pointing to the elementary school. “The Welsh government is forcing kids to speak Welsh at school. But if you force them, they won’t want to speak it.”

As you guys know, I’m kind of a linguistic freak and love learning about local languages. And while language preservation is something I’m very passionate about, it’s kind of an awkward cause because you can’t donate to it.

Anyhow, the Welsh guy said speaking Welsh was very important to him and he wanted his children to grow up speaking Welsh. And while he doesn’t speak Welsh with everyone in town, he said he couldn’t imagine speaking English to the WWII vet down the street.

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As an aside I wanted to thank Lauren, Liam, Steve, Dylan and Liam’s family for showing me such a great time in Wales. Diolch yn fawr!

Have you ever been to Wales?

Finally Journeying to the North of England

Finally Journeying to the North of England

I’d wanted to visit the north of England for years. Maybe it’s because most of my English friends are northern, or because I’m obsessed with medieval British history or heck, because I love Game of Thrones (the Starks, anyone?). Regardless, I knew I’d have to venture north during my three weeks in England.

Going north also meant visiting Lauren, one of my good friends from my Paris days! (You may remember her from posts such as this one and this one.)

I found a lot to love up north, from the incredibly friendly people to the winding medieval alleyways of York.

Here were my highlights from my long weekend in the North of England.

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The Train Ride

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The train ride up north was as quaint as a train ride through the English countryside ought to be.

I scribbled down notes as I gazed out the window: Back and white magpies flying low over barren fields, bales of hay stacked like wine barrels, work-horses with muddied legs, a man in a black blazer walking a small white terrier.

Also, blessedly, there were no billboards. America, we need to follow suit.

 

A Hilarious Night Out NorthX

While in Lincoln we had a fantastic night out which featured pre-gaming with Cards Against Humanity, swing-dancing to metal at a trashy local club called Cubes, scarfing down kebabs in the street at 2 a.m and me declaring one poor girl the next Margaret Thatcher. (My drunk brain thought this was a compliment, evidently.)

Also I really enjoyed playing Cards Against Humanity because I won like five times, and when I play in the states all of my jokes are fails. Clearly this is a sign, guys.

 

Crumpets for Breakfast

So, crumpets are a real thing. Who knew? And they’re also the best thing ever- like spongy English muffins that soak up buttery beautifully.

 

My First Cream Tea

Is it weird one of my travel goals was to have cream tea in England? Whatever.

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It turns out cream tea is every bit as good as I expected: piles of buttery scones, moist lemon cakes and the best smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches ever. And for only £9, what a steal! (Good luck finding cream tea in London for that price.)

Plus, the tea shop we visited couldn’t have been more adorable; a quaint, timber-framed address with views of the river.

 

Exploring Lincoln and Visiting the Cathedral

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When I arrived in Lincoln, I was surprised to see it was as flat and green as my native Michigan.

And though I had somewhat imagined a Billy Elliot-esque town, Lincoln is a small, well-to-do city with an 11th-century cathedral jutting above the other buildings.

Fun fact- Lincoln Cathedral was the tallest building in the world for 238 years (1311–1549). #nerdalert

One must-do in Lincoln: Trekking up the Steep Hill to reach the cathedral. (Plus, Steep Hill looks just like Hogsmeade.) And once you’re inside the cathedral keep an eye out for the Lincoln Imp!

Relaxing with Friends

Sometimes when you travel you crave the mundaneness of  la vie quotidienne.

Which is why I relished the normal things in Lincoln: grabbing Indian take-out, eating duck ramen at Wagamama’s, spending a lazy Monday seeing the (fantastic) Grand Budapest Hotel, doing nothing but watch War Horse and Orange is the New Black one day when Lauren was at work.

Yep, I’m such a good traveler.

 

Day-tripping to York

Being a history nerd, I couldn’t skip out on one of England’s most historically important cities, now could I?

So I was delighted when Lauren suggested driving up north to York on Sunday. York is also where Lauren and our friend Victoria went to college (or uni, as they would say).

As it was Sunday, we had Sunday roast at Evil Eye. And I nerded out about trying Yorkshire pudding for the first time IN Yorkshire.

Overall I enjoyed Sunday Roast, but I won’t lie- I still think Thanksgiving dinner trumps it by a mile.

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I enjoyed every second we spent exploring York. From peeking into a few shops… IMG_6278 To shooting a fake band album cover at the York Minster… IMG_6324

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to strolling down the narrow street called The Shambles…

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To retreating for tea at the House of Trembling Madness, or as it is known locally, Delirium Tremens. Delirium Tremens is a medieval drinking hall, the first Norman house built in York in 1180 and constructed with 12th century ship beams.

Also, everyone was incredibly cavalier about the fact that we were drinking tea in a 12th century drinking hall. I love England.

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Have you ever spent time in the North of England?

I used thetrainline.com to book my train to Lincoln and it only cost me £ 11.25 for a one-way ticket- so inexpensive! Just to note this is not a sponsored mention- I was honestly so surprised by how cheap it was.