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.

IMG_7012

IMG_6978

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.

IMG_6915 “Kissing Coppers” is now covered in glass which I found sad- who would want to paint over it? IMG_6913

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.

IMG_6945

IMG_6950

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

Brighton

IMG_6960

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.

IMG_7038

IMG_7047

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.

IMG_7077

IMG_7062

IMG_7049

IMG_7064

IMG_7067

 

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.

IMG_7095

IMG_7108

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.)

IMG_7114

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.

IMG_7126

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.

IMG_7143

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.

IMG_7146

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

IMG_7154

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?

If you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it! Also, I’d love to keep you updated on my adventures both at home and abroad so feel free to subscribe to Ashley Abroad by email in the sidebar or connect with me on TwitterFacebook or Bloglovin.

Celebrating a Blogiversary – Ashley Abroad Turns Two!

Celebrating a Blogiversary – Ashley Abroad Turns Two!

Hey guys! So today I’m excited because my blog jut turned two. (And yes, I do refer to it as if it were my child.) Who would’ve guessed I’d still be blogging after all this time? I certainly wouldn’t have!

BlogBirthday

Anyway, a lot’s changed since last year’s blogiversary and in short, I’m really proud.

I’ve worked with a lot of great companies in the last year, from Best Western to Skywings Paragliding, and even hosted my first giveaway and started offering sponsorship. And recently a journalist from Forbes.com interviewed me which made the parents happy.

My traffic’s never been higher, and my page views have more than quadrupled in the past year- in one year this site’s gone from 6,000 uniques and 15,000 page views to 13,000 uniques and 64,000 page views!

(For the record I still have troubling believe this.) Ashley_Abroad_Traffic Honestly though I’m happiest that I’ve managed to connect with such a great group of readers, regular commenters and real-life friends- you guys are really the best. Your support, particularly on more emotional posts, means the world to me.

I started this blog with four main goals: to improve writing and photography, make friends, earn a living and secure freelancing jobs. Four for four, I guess!

And just for the sake of strolling down memory lane, here’s are some of my favorite posts from the last 12 months.

Most useful: How to DIY A Budget Yoga Retreat in Bali, How to Start a Successful Travel Blog, How to Plan an Inexpensive but Awesome Trip Abroad

Most confession-y: Back Home, But What Next?, Why Working As a Digital Nomad is Not For Me, And Then Everything Changed in Vietnam, Why I Honestly Came to Bali

Best photos: Carnevale in Venice, In Awe of the Temples of Angkor, Magnificent Macau

Most adventurous: Canyoning in Dalat, Vietnam, Paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland, Climbing Mount Batur, Bali’s Most Active Volcano Best Food Porn:

My Top Eats in Singapore, Authentic Thai, A Very Tasty Guide to Vietnamese Food

My personal favorites: Tiny Paradise: A Week on Gili Trawangan, What I Miss About Bali, A DIY Trip Down to the Mekong Delta, Practicing Gratitude Wherever You Go, What I Miss (and Don’t Miss) About Living in France

And even though I’m ready to be a bit more settled, I’m still really excited to see where this blog takes me. Thank you guys for coming all for the ride.

Always,

Ashley

So now I’d love to hear from you! What would you like to see more/less of on Ashley Abroad?

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.

IMG_6663

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.

IMG_6670-001

IMG_6683

IMG_6680

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.

Aberystwyth_Pier

IMG_6706

IMG_6691

Aberystwyth_Royal_Pier

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.

IMG_6722

Wales

IMG_6742-001

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.

IMG_6747-001

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.

IMG_6771

IMG_6760

IMG_6799

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.

IMG_6487 IMG_6471

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

IMG_6534

IMG_6498

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

IMG_6595

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.

IMG_6597

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

IMG_6644

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?

IMG_6493

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

IMG_6543

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.

IMG_6642

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.

IMG_6632

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.

IMG_6219

The Train Ride

IMG_6173

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.

LR RTW Europe2

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

NorthX1

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.

IMG_6268

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

IMG_6312

IMG_6342

IMG_6345

to strolling down the narrow street called The Shambles…

IMG_6398

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.

IMG_6445 Ashley Abroad1 IMG_6465

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.

The Best of London Food Markets

The Best of London Food Markets

Okay, world. Here’s my personal declaration: London is now a foodie town. In my humble opinion, you can find more creative and diverse food in London than you can in Paris or Chicago.

Yep. I wrote it.

Don’t believe me? Read on to learn all about London’s best food markets I discovered during my three weeks in the Smoke.

I ventured to all of these markets under the shrewd guidance of my friend and fellow travel blogger Amanda. Amanda knows all about where to find the best eats in London; she’s even writing her dissertation on London’s up-and-coming craft beer scene!

Netil Market L

What’s up: Netil Market is a tiny market located nearby larger and more frenetic Broadway Market. Its aesthetics are delightfully hipster-friendly with clapboard stalls, green pinstripe awnings and picnic benches. And despite its small size, Netil Market has lots of great eats.

What I loved: Um, this bao from Bao London. The only dish on the menu, this classic gua bao is filled with slow-braised pork belly, pickles and cilantro, and dusted with peanut powder.

It took everything in my power not to order a second one. IMG_6825

Also, the market offers lots of childhood classics like cupcakes and grilled cheese (which kind of goes with the hipster theme, no?). And I always thought grilled cheese was an American thing! IMG_6815 IMG_6827 Where to find it: Every Saturday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. at 23 Westgate Street, E8 3RL. Websitenetilmarket.tumblr.com

Broadway Market

What’s up: Craving London’s best ethnic food? Get ready to queue up at Broadway Market, the sprawling market located only a stone’s throw from London Fields.

The market offers up quintessentially British eats like Scotch egg and stilton cheese, as well as a kaleidoscope of ethnic cuisines, from Italian to Indian.

IMG_6840 L1 IMG_6859

IMG_6849

What I loved: At Hanoi Kitchen I had some of the best Vietnamese I’ve had outside of Saigon; I was in heaven over my barbecued pork and my beloved Vietnamese coffee. I even went back for a second coffee… whoops.

IMG_6870

IMG_6845

IMG_6866 Amanda seemed to enjoy her first taste of Ghanian food quite a bit too!

We finished off the meal with a bit of caramel New York cheesecake in London Fields. While it didn’t quite compare to the cheesecake I’ve had stateside, it was still a nice taste of home. IMG_6871

Where to find it: Every Saturday 9:00 a.m. – 5:oo p.m. at Broadway Market, E8 4PH

Websitebroadwaymarket.co.uk

Brixton Village v1

What’s up: Brixton Village is a covered arcade market boasting the kind of fresh-off-the-boat fare that foodies dream of, from jerk chicken to traditional Japanese. It’s located in Brixton, a rougher immigrant neighborhood that’s a bit out of the way; but this food is worth the hike, I promise.

What I loved: We beelined to Okan, a tiny Japanese eatery for my first taste of okonomiyaki. Um, yeah, how have I never had this AMAZING dish before?

Okonomiyaki is a savory pork and scallion pancake topped with fish flakes and spicy mayonnaise. Drool. And because it’s always beer o’clock in Ashley and Amanda world, we cracked open some icy Japanese brews to accompany. v

As we wandered around the market after lunch I cursed my stomach for not having more room; everything looked so good! I did find space for some frozen Greek yogurt that I tried in Greece a few years ago. It was as delicious as I remembered! IMG_1448

Brixton Market also seemed like a great place to buy inexpensive groceries; I saw tons of fishmongers and vegetable stalls in the area.

Where to find it: Brixton Village is open 8 a.m. – 11.30 p.m. every day except Monday, when it shuts at 6 p.m. The directions are complicated so check the website below.

 Websitebrixtonmarket.net/brixton-village/

Borough Market

What’s up: Borough Market is a food market located in Central London, right on the Thames. Although a bit pricey, it’s the perfect spot to stop while sightseeing. The baked good selection is particularly tempting!

And as I so eloquently wrote last year, spit roast pork sandwiches, chocolate chip cookies and sangria all in one sitting? Yes please.

IMG_2779

IMG_2820

IMG_2794

IMG_2838

IMG_2827

What I loved: While in town I stopped by Borought Market on at least four occasions. But the best thing I discovered this year was La tua pasta, a pasta stall that sells some of the tastiest black truffle tortellini in existence. My mouth is literally watering just writing about it.

IMG_1190

Where to find it: Borough Market is open for lunch Monday and Tuesday (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.) and offers a full market Wednesday and Thursday (10 a.m. – 5 p.m.), Friday (10 a.m. – 6 p.m) and Saturday (8 a.m. – 5 p.m.). It’s located at 8 Southwark Street, London, SE1 1TL, right outside the London Bridge tube station.

Website: http://boroughmarket.org.uk/

 

Here is a map I made to help you find all the markets!

View London Food Markets in a larger map

What’s your favorite London food market? And if you’ve never been, which one entices you most?

Living in London: My Sun-dappled Three Weeks

Living in London: My Sun-dappled Three Weeks

Honestly, my time in London makes me sad to recall- it was that perfect. It was one of those rare stretches of time when I was completely, uninterruptedly content, with nary a worry in sight.

Which may have involved a few factors. For one, day after day of sunshiny spring weather. In March. In London. Is that normal?

And two, thanks to Amanda (a fellow foodie and Michigander) I was able to live in London (or rather, the charming town of Richmond) rent-free. I even had my own room, and an soft, sprawling white bed to call my own. And yes, this is rare enough on my travels to worth noting.

And three? My three weeks in London coincided with my little brother Andrew’s semester abroad, so we crammed in as much sibling bonding time as possible. Obviously.

IMG_5965

IMG_5964

I spent my three weeks in London in the best possible way. Hanging out with my little brother in Regent’s Park with a backdrop of ducks and daffodils. Brunching in the sunshine. Exploring London’s street art-filled East End. Picnicking in the middle of the week on manchego and merlot in Hyde Park. Sipping champagne atop Hampstead Heath.

Isn’t funemployment the best? London

And okay fine, I did see a few tourist attractions: The Tate Modern, The British Library, The Museum of London Docklands.

But I mostly neglected my long list of attractions because, guys, the spring weather was so nice. And why would I be inside the British Museum when I could be at a food market? Or a friend’s garden? Or… anywhere outdoors, really?

Here are all the reasons I’m still cursing the strict British visa laws, and why I so adored my three weeks of pretending to be a Londoner…

Brunching on the (Near) Daily

While I cherish lingering over all meals, lingering over brunch may be my favorite. Eggs and soldiers, smoked salmon with cream cheese, a plate of poached eggs and toast? Yes, yes and yes.

And there’s something just satisfyingly naughty about brunching on a Wednesday.

IMG_5958

IMG_5959

Cooking at Home

While I’m traveling I rarely have a kitchen so cooking at home in London was a gift!

I tried to offset the heavy meals I was eating out by preparing healthy French salads (think salade niçoise and chèvre chaud) at home. IMG_6000

IMG_5975

Frequenting the Local Pub

My favorite things about England are pubs, banter and medieval history. And yes, probably in that order.

So naturally I fell head-over-heels in amour with Amanda’s local pub, the White Horse, during my stay. Between lazy afternoons over IPAs and raucous Wednesday quiz nights, the pub was the perfect place to kick back regardless of the hour. IMG_5987

And America, I beg of you- can we PLEASE have at least one proper pub here? Without 12 TVs to a wall? And perhaps a little charm? Or maybe peace and quiet? #endrant IMG_5992

Picnicking In All of London’s Parks

During my stay in London few parks were safe from my epic picnics: London Fields, Hyde Park, Regent’s Park and Hampstead Heath included.

And these were no ordinary picnics; I lived in France, remember? I’m kind of a picnicking expert.

These were feasts of pungent, barnyard-smelling camembert, round loaves of wheat bread, port and duck pâté, slices of oily manchego and endless bottles of cheap wine.

When in London, I suppose? IMG_6032 IMG_6050 IMG_6052

Getting to Know London Better

It’s no secret I love London- I’ve even considered moving there! But it was such a joy getting to explore more of the city.

I’m now hugely in love with Shoreditch (post soon!) but I also enjoyed spending time in just about every other neighborhood I set foot in, as well as just soaking up all the daily life taking place around me. IMG_6093

IMG_6130

IMG_6154

IMG_6109

IMG_6116

And okay, okay, it wasn’t all clotted cream and cupcakes. (Though who are we kidding- it mostly was.) When in London I do occasionally feel judged for being American- talking on the tube made me slightly uncomfortable. (And plus, everyone’s silent!)

That aside, my three weeks in London were perfect- and I of course intend to return.

Have you ever spent a (somewhat) long period of time in London? Did you enjoy it?

High Above the Alps: Paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland

High Above the Alps: Paragliding in Interlaken, Switzerland

While in Switzerland, I knew I wanted to do more than ski, sled and snowshoe- I wanted to get off the ground. And when sky-diving proved to be too expensive (someday!) I opted to for another sky-high adventure activity- paragliding.

This wasn’t my first paragliding experience- I tried it while studying abroad in Argentina. But as I stood on the mountain, staring across at the impenetrable fog, my heart beat a little faster than I’d care to admit. I mean, I had done this before right?

DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOPRO

I feigned a shaky smile as my handsome Swiss-German instructor, Florian, fiddled with my straps. Soon he was behind me and shouting for me to run. I didn’t have much time to be scared- in seconds my feet were off the ground and we were soaring over the Alps.

DCIM101GOPRO

The sensation was exactly how I remembered- calming, almost meditatively so. As we floated around, I could see the entire city of Interlaken and her cerulean twin lakes separated by a canal. When I looked down at the mountains I half-expected to see mountain goats running between the pines.

And then it was selfie time! Florian instructed me to spread my arms out like a bird while he took a picture with his GoPro. And considering how weightless I felt, it seemed like a very appropriate selfie.

(This was also the moment when I kicked myself for not buying a GoPro before my world trip.Ugh!)

DCIM101GOPRO

For the next fifteen minutes I just floated around in a near trance, awestruck by all the views in front of me. DCIM101GOPRO

DCIM101GOPRO

But soon my fifteen minutes of blissful gliding were up. Florian told me it was time to land. “Run!” He shouted. And suddenly my feet were back on the ground, in one of Interlaken’s park in the center of town.

While I’ve never tried sky-diving, I consider paragliding to be sky-diving for beginners. It’s relaxing, quiet and provides beautiful views. And of course, there’s the whole jumping-off-a-mountain adrenaline rush.

Skywings provided me with hiking boots to use, but if you’re paragliding in winter bring warm clothes, a scarf and mittens. Skywings offers paragliding year-round and the experience costs 170 CHF, while photos are 30 CHF and video costs 40 CHF. The photos came on a USB attached to a little Skywings parachute- a cute touch!

Have you ever gone paragliding?

A big thanks to Skywings for providing a paragliding session in exchange for a review. Skywings in no way insisted that I write a favorable review, and all opinions are as always my own. 

My Absolute Favorite Camera Bag + A Giveaway! [CLOSED]

My Absolute Favorite Camera Bag + A Giveaway! [CLOSED]

So today I want to tell you about my favorite travel camera bag- and yes, give a $100 Jo Totes gift card to one lucky reader!

I’ve written about this bag before- long-time readers may remember I listed it as one of my top ten travel products.

Jo Totes Giveaway

Why I love my Jo Totes bag:

a. It’s beautiful and stylish. See above!

b. It’s well-made. I’ve had mine for a year and a half and it’s in great shape.

c. It’s big. My bag can fit a camera as well as several lenses, and not to mention other valuables like my cell phone and wallet.

d. It’s street-smart. No one knows you’re carrying a valuable DSLR, which is great!

Desktop30

Other Jo Totes selections

This bag has traveled with me around the globe. I used it a ton during my year in France, both walking around Paris as well as jaunting about the continent. I also used my Jo Totes this year on my world trip (although I sent it home after India- tweed doesn’t really suit Southeast Asia, now does it?)

IMG_2994

 

Hanging out in London… IMG_3988-001

Road-tripping down the French Atlantic coast… DSC_5250 copy

Weekend-ing in Strasbourg… (Courtesy of Sateless Suitcase.)

10172728_10152734962475558_1079476787_n

Snapping shots in Madrid! (Courtesy of Sateless Suitcase.)

So here’s the exciting part for you- I’m giving a $100 gift card to Jo Totes way to one of my readers, to go towards purchasing the Jo Totes camera bag of their choice!

To enter all you have to do is leave a comment, follow me on Twitter, share about the giveaway or like my Facebook page. And you can share about the giveaway on Twitter each day for additional entries.

This giveaway will run until 8:00 a.m. on August 4, and then I will announce the winner on my Facebook page. Good luck!
a Rafflecopter giveaway

Twitter: @ashleyhfleck

Facebook: Ashley Abroad

Instagram: ashleyabroad

Jo Totes provided me with one $100 gift card for this giveaway. No additional compensation was given and all opinions are my own.

How Much Does Skiing in Switzerland Cost?

How Much Does Skiing in Switzerland Cost?

Skiing in Switzerland is undoubtedly expensive. Like, Dear-God-when-I-pay-my-credit-card-next-week-I’m-going-to-sob expensive. While the lift tickets are cheap compared to the U.S., just about everything else: food, accommodation, transportation, costs more.

While I enjoyed skiing in Switzerland immensely, my eight days in Switzerland were by far the most expensive of my entire world trip. So I wanted to lay out exactly how much a Swiss ski holiday will set you back.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 preset

The view from my $60/night hostel. At least it’s a good one.

How much do rentals/lift tickets cost?

Well, let’s start with the good news! Lift tickets in Switzerland are relatively inexpensive. I paid 110 CHF for a two-day lift pass in Gstaad, which comes out to about $60 USD a day. Comparatively, you would pay around $85 a day in Aspen or Vail.

While I was lucky enough to have my ski rentals comped by a friend, I paid 30 CHF for snow boots (note- not ski boots) and 20 CHF for a sled. And here was the rip-off of the century: when I wanted to snowshoe down the mountain, I paid 30 CHF for a one-way gondola ride. Seriously. That’s $90 USD for a day of SLEDDING, not even skiing!

Also, I rented all of my gear from Intersport and was very happy with the service, prices and rentals.

IMG_0849

 

How much does budget accommodation cost?

IMG_0838

In Switzerland you will pay around 50 CHF for a hostel bunk that you will have to make yourself. Luckily, every hostel I stayed in was clean and provided a complimentary breakfast.

Though I did notice that many of the “youth hostels” were filled with families and elderly people. The hostel where I stayed in Grindelwald, Jugendherberge, was inhabited almost entirely by young families! While that would be fine for older guests, I was looking for a twenty-something scene and felt a bit lonely.

Processed with VSCOcam with g3 preset The tasty free breakfast at Jugendherberge almost made up for the screaming children. Almost.

IMG_0925

My adorable hostel in Interlaken. And the cheapest of my trip- only 35 CHF!

How much does food cost on the mountain? And is it good?

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

The food on the mountain is Switzerland is gourmet. I loved sampling traditional Swiss specialities, from the richest chocolate cake of my life to rolled-up Bergkäse (mountain cheese).

But like ski resorts in the U.S., the food on the mountain is pricey. The soup above cost me 12 francs! Thankfully it was worth every cent- a gourmet traditional Swiss barley soup with buttery kernels of barley and dusted with dried wildflowers.

Tip- bring chocolate and cheese and munch on them through the day to save on food. Plus, how Swiss is that?

Also, is there anything than tasting a light, crisp local pils while watching clouds slowly drift over the Alps?

IMG_0865

While beer is on par with American prices, liquor costs a pretty penny. This “snow bunny” cocktail (Schneehäsli) set me back (or rather, the Swiss man who bought it for me, ha) 8 CHF. And this was an outdoor bar! Skiing

 

What other winter sports are available besides skiing?

Snow-shoeing

Skiing1

Um, I’m just going to go out on a limb and tell you NOT to go snow-shoeing. Because plodding down the mountain while sledders whizz past is maddening. Especially when it costs you $90 a day.

Sledding

Desktop29

Sledding in Switzerland on the other hand is an absolute blast. You take an old-fashioned sled, strap on your snow boots and careen down the mountain at perilously high speeds. Love.

This type of sledding would never be legal in the U.S. for liability reasons- you could honestly fly right off the mountain! Which is obviously why it’s so exhilarating.

Because you use your feet to stop it’s important to use sturdy snow boots- the snow-boarding boots I had made it hard to stop as they are so soft and round.

 

Paragliding

Another high-octane winter activity in Switzerland? Paragliding! While the experience costs around 170-200 CHF, the alpine views and adrenaline rush make it worth every franc. Post on my experience coming soon!

DCIM101GOPRO

 

Overall, is skiing in Switzerland worth the expense?

IMG_0878

Well, I’m not sure. While the alpine ambiance is lovely, I think you could have a similar but cheaper experience in France or Austria.

One huge advantage to skiing in Switzerland over the states is the lack of lines. I waited only a minute or two for each lift- a far cry from the 20-30 minute waits at Deer Valley! Plus, the views of the alpine villages from the slopes is hard to beat.

Would you want to ski in Switzerland?