Travel Series: London Town

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“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” –Samuel Johnson

London is definitely one of those cities I will visit as many times as I can in my life. From the lively theatre scene in the West End to the cultural significance of Westminster to the grand tradition of afternoon tea, the sights and sounds of this historic city captivated my heart. Being an English major and a lifelong fan of British lit, I was truly inspired.

Like last week’s travel post on Paris, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide; instead I’ll be sharing specific insights, experiences, and things that I enjoyed. Also, in honor of the Royal Wedding this weekend, I will be sharing our visit to Windsor Castle, which is where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be married.

Theatre

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First of all, it had always been bucket list for me to see a play at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre (pictured above). We saw Much Ado About Nothing and absolutely loved it (for more info on this play, check out my first blog post).

A bit of advice: I studied quite a bit of Shakespeare in college, whereas my husband, who majored in the sciences, hadn’t been exposed to any Shakespeare since high school. So in order to prepare for the play, we read it together before our trip and also watched the Kenneth Branagh film adaptation. Since Elizabethan English is quite different from modern English, I highly recommend doing this, unless you’re a Shakespeare expert or quite familiar with the play you’re going to see.

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We also saw Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre and Phantom of the Opera at Her Majesty’s Theatre. Both musicals are longtime favorites of mine. I admit that I cried at the end of Les Mis, despite that I know the story and songs very well. And though I’d seen Phantom live in the US on four previous occasions, it was an entirely new experience to sit under the famous chandelier when it drops.

We would’ve loved to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child as well, and even though we tried to buy tickets months and months in advance, they are so hard to get! However, we did have a magical (pun intended!) Harry Potter experience at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour.

Harry Potter Studio Tour

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Growing up, I was a Harry Potter fanatic (hmmm where was my Hogwarts letter?). When each new installment was published, my parents would drive me at midnight to a nearby bookstore so I could be among the first to read the latest book (I would definitely be a Ravenclaw).

Anyway, visiting the gorgeous sets where the Harry Potter movies were filmed made me feel like I was ten years old again and seeing the movie for the very first time. They truly transport you to the Wizarding World and beautifully illustrate how the costumes, sets, and special effects make the magic come alive. Allow at least three hours here, especially because the line to get into the Great Hall, where the tour begins, can get quite long (even if you purchased tickets in advance like we did).

Pictured below is my husband staring up at the huge, intricate model of Hogwarts, which is what they used to film many of the panoramic shots of the castle.

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If you’re even a moderate fan of the Harry Potter universe, I still think you would enjoy this; if you’re like myself and are a Hermione-level expert of all things Harry Potter, then this is a must.

Westminster

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The area of Westminster includes the famous sites of Buckingham Palace, Parliament, Big Ben, and Westminster Abbey.

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In addition to watching the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace, we were able to tour inside the State Rooms (no photos allowed inside, unfortunately). From late July through September you can purchase tickets for this tour. I’ve heard that the dates can vary slightly from year-to-year, based on the Queen’s summer travel plans (since it’s available to tour when she’s on holiday elsewhere). For more up-to-date info visit the Royal Collection Trust’s website.

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We purchased our Westminster Abbey tickets in advance and greatly enjoyed visiting this iconic church. When I was in college, Prince William and Kate Middleton were married there, and I remember staying up late to watch the beautiful ceremony and marvel at Kate’s stunning Alexander McQueen gown. I also very much enjoyed “Poet’s Corner,” where many renowned writers, poets, and playwrights have been buried or memorialized (Shakespeare, for example, has a monument there, though he was buried in his hometown of Stratford-Upon-Avon).

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The telephone booths in this area are also ideal for photo-ops!

Shopping at Harrods and Afternoon Tea

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Simply put, Harrods is shopping heaven. The exterior particularly dazzles at nighttime and beckons one inside to the opulent grandeur. Their gift shop is also a great spot to bring home souvenirs for yourself and for loved ones.

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My husband and I had afternoon tea at The Georgian, an elegant restaurant inside Harrods. I’ve always been more of a tea drinker than coffee, so this was a special treat for me (also: Pink champagne! Tea sandwiches! Pastries! Yay!). We booked our tea time on their website several days prior so we could get the exact time we wanted.

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Windsor

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This 11th century castle feels like something out of a fairy tale, and is one of the Queen’s official residences. We visited first thing in the morning when it opens and really enjoyed wandering the beautiful grounds and touring the State Apartments.

This Saturday Prince Harry and Meghan Markle will be married at Windsor inside St. George’s Chapel. I will definitely be staying up late to watch it on TV, and I can’t wait to see her wedding gown!

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What to Pack

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Red Top: Pleione (similar here and here) Black Ponte Pants: Jolt (similar)  Striped Shirt: H&M (similar)  Lace Top: Rose and Olive (similar here and here)  Trench Coat: Ellen Tracy (similar here and here)  Bag: Longchamp Small Le Pliage Tote  Scarf: Burberry (similarUmbrella: Burberry (same style, but in red)  Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Clubmaster

As I’ve mentioned in my previous travel posts, staying within a neutral color palette is my personal preference for packing versatile outfits. Adding a dash of color helps mix things up (red and maroon tones always look great with black, white, and beige, as illustrated above).

The other way to add interest to an outfit is with textures and prints (lace and stripes are classics). For London, I brought both my Burberry scarf and umbrella, as the iconic print evokes timeless British style. Given their cloudy, damp climate, a water-resistant trench coat is vital.

P.S. Just wanted to mention that I had such a wonderful time viewing the rare books and manuscripts at the British Library Treasures (they have a copy of the Magna Carta, a Gutenberg Bible, Shakespeare’s First Folio, Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales, and many other historical texts). If you’re a bookworm like me, this was a real treat.

I didn’t discuss any of the London museums we’ve visited, but the British Museum and the National Gallery are especially stunning and overwhelming. If you enjoy history, give yourself as much time as you can at the British Museum in particular. It’s MASSIVE. Next time I would really like to spend longer there.

(The photo below was taken just a few blocks from the National Gallery. I couldn’t resist a picture with those beautiful flowers!)

Are you going to be tuning in to the Royal Wedding this weekend? Let me know in the comments! Hope you all have a great week!

Travel Series: Paris, Je T’aime

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All trains are going to Paris! My favorite sign in all the world is located in the train station near Versailles. As Audrey Hepburn famously once said, “Paris is always a good idea,” and I’m inclined to agree. The City of Light has a certain irresistible magic, from the historic sights and art, to the incomparable fashion and exquisite cuisine.

Paris has so much to offer–countless books, films, and songs have been written about this iconic city, and it would be near-impossible to cover it all in a single blog post. As I mentioned in my previous travel post, this is not intended to be a comprehensive guide; instead I’ll be sharing specific insights, experiences, and things that I enjoyed. Since there is so much to see and do in Paris, I’ll be breaking this post into two sections: sights and shopping/fashion.

Sights

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It’s hard to capture in words or even pictures what it’s like to stand underneath the Eiffel Tower. Though it’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world, I was always a bit afraid that once I finally saw it with my own eyes, it would somehow be less than I imagined it to be. But truthfully, my fears were quite unfounded. I felt blissfully overwhelmed beneath the massive structure, as it stood tall and proud against the vibrant blue sky.

58 Tour Eiffel

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River Cruise on the Seine

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Our first day in Paris was my birthday and my darling husband surprised me with dinner on the Tower at 58 Tour Eiffel, followed by a river cruise on the Seine. I highly recommend both–though make sure you give yourself plenty of time for dinner, as it’s multiple courses.

We hit it off with the sweet couple at the table next to us, who was celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. Somewhere between the champagne and dessert and coffee, we completely lost track of time and missed our boat! Thankfully we could just wait half an hour and go on the next one–though I must admit there was something kind of romantic about dashing from the Tower to the Seine at sunset in a desperate attempt to catch our boat!

Arc de Triomphe

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One blustery afternoon we climbed the 284 steps to the top of the Arc de Triomphe and were greeted with a gorgeous, panoramic view of Paris. It was also the perfect vantage point to see the roundabout within which the Arc is located and the twelve streets that sprawl from it.

Sainte-Chapelle

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There were several things in Paris that surprised me. The first is that I preferred Sainte-Chapelle to Notre Dame. Of course they’re dramatically different in size and style, yet we visited these churches back to back on the same day. As such, it was impossible for me not to compare them. Though far smaller than Notre Dame, I fell in love with the elaborate stained glass and gilded grandeur of Sainte-Chapelle.

The Louvre

The second thing I was a bit surprised by is how underwhelmed I was by the Mona Lisa. Though I don’t consider myself an expert, I’ve seen quite a bit of art over the years on our travels. Masses of people are crowded in the room to see the Mona Lisa because it’s such a famous work, and honestly? It was just okay. It’s a must-see if you’ve never been, of course, but there were so many other pieces in the Louvre that I enjoyed far more (such as Raphael’s La Belle Jardinière, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, the Apollo Gallery–all pictured above).

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We visited the Louvre on a Wednesday, during their extended evening hours, which I definitely recommend because it’s way less crowded (and look how the lights of the pyramids glow during twilight!). You can actually get close to the more popular works without having to wait very long. I loved wandering through the Louvre and can’t wait to go back, as it’s one of those gigantic museums that you could truly spend days and days in.

Monet’s Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie

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The third thing is something that I was very pleasantly surprised by: how much I adored Monet’s Water Lilies at the Musée de l’Orangerie. Monet spent the last thirty years of his life painting this exquisite work, and he designed the curved rooms that they’re housed in himself. I could’ve spent hours sitting before these tranquil, ethereal images.

Versailles

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Simply put, the palace of Versailles was beyond my wildest dreams. I had never quite fathomed how truly vast the palace and grounds are until we tried to walk it all in the pouring rain!

After the beautiful palace tour, it was unfortunately raining buckets when we exited to explore the expansive grounds. Despite being Oregonians who are quite accustomed to the rain, once our boots and “water-proof” jackets were soaked through, we decided to call it a day. I was pretty disappointed that we didn’t make it out to the Petit Trianon (Marie Antoinette often resided there), but we were sopping wet and quite miserable.

On our next trip we will be a little more flexible with our schedule and hopefully be able to visit Versailles on the sunniest day that we’re there. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from travel, it’s that something will invariably happen that is out of your control (inclement weather, holiday closures, strikes, renovations, etc.), but you have to make the most of it and do the best you can. As the French say, “C’est la vie!”

Shopping and Fashion

Chanel

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Something that was bucket list for me was shopping at the Chanel Flagship boutique on 31 Rue Cambon. Gabrielle Chanel first opened this location in 1918, and it had long been my dream to purchase the Chanel classic flap in the black caviar leather. Fun fact: this location is the only Chanel boutique in the world whose shopping bags are white with a black font (normally it’s the opposite: black shopping bag with white font).

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We also enjoyed perusing the Champs-Élysées. We had lunch at Fouquet’s next door to Louis Vuitton (by far the biggest Vuitton store I’ve ever seen!). The food here was excellent (I had the steak-frites), and the terrace seating was an ideal spot for people-watching on this famous boulevard.

Ladurée

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We also stopped at Ladurée for tea and dessert; not only were the macarons incredible, this famous sweet shop was absolutely beautiful. If you like macarons and pastries, this decadent place is a must (they also have multiple locations in the US!).

Christian Dior Exhibit at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs

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Another fashion highlight for me was visiting the Christian Dior Exhibition at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs that celebrated the 70 years since the renowned fashion house began. Seeing the evolution of Dior over the years was incredible; being so close to some of these elaborate dresses, you truly could see the immense craftsmanship and detail that goes into making couture designs. Unfortunately this exhibition was for a limited time and ended in January of 2018.

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What to Pack

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Beret: H&M  (similar) Striped Shirt: H&M (similarGray Topcoat: Zara (similar here and here)  Bag: Chanel (similar here and here)  Striped Dress: Monteau (similar here and here)  Lace Top: Rose and Olive (similar here and hereSunglasses: Chanel (similarWatch: Marc by Marc Jacobs (similar)

Of course this would vary depending what time of year you visit, but above is a sample of what I would pack (most of these items I did in fact bring on our trip). As I’ve said before, it’s easier when traveling to stick with a neutral color palette. Choosing pieces that have a variety of textures or prints helps add interest and detail (such as lace and stripes), yet staying within a classic palette makes it easy to mix and match.

The gray wool beret in the top left corner I recently purchased from H&M–I definitely regret not buying one in Paris! I saw so many girls wearing berets there, and I wish I had purchased one. Ah well–next time!

The Chanel classic flap pictured above is my beloved purchase from Paris. I linked some lovely similar options that have a comparable structure and shape.

This Friday I’ll be wearing some of these same pieces and doing a special post for Mother’s Day Weekend: outfit ideas for brunch with the moms in your life, great last-minute gifts, Paris-themed book recommendations, and a selection of my favorite black-and-white striped dresses that are currently on sale.

Thank you so much for stopping by! I would love to hear in the comments what you guys enjoy doing in Paris or what you hope to one day do there!

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P.S. One of our favorite restaurants was Au Père Louis. It was close to our hotel in the Latin Quarter, and if you’re ever in that area I highly recommend it! It’s a charming little place with AMAZING food.

Travel Series: The Beauty of Barcelona

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Tomorrow we will do beautiful things.” –Antoni Gaudí

It’s the first week of May, and, as promised, I’m starting my travel series. I’m kicking it off with one of my favorite cities in the world: Barcelona!

A little context first: with this series I plan on sharing my favorite cities and sites, recommendations from personal experiences, what to pack, and where I can’t wait to go back! Though I’ve checked quite a few places off my personal travel bucket list, there are still many places that I dream of going or places that I hope to visit again and again. I’m so grateful that my husband loves to travel as much as I do, and it’s something that we’ve made a priority in our life together.

Know that I’ll still be talking fashion, style, and some literature throughout this series, but within the parameters of that particular post’s travel destination. This is not intended to be a comprehensive guide; instead I’ll be sharing specific insights, experiences, and things that I enjoyed. For the month of May I plan on sharing some of my favorite spots in Europe. In June, I plan on doing a local travel guide of Portland and surrounding areas (such as coastal destinations and Mt. Hood), and I also plan on covering two additional US cities (more on that later).

So without further ado… Barcelona.

The picture above is of Gaudí’s stunning Park Güell, with its gingerbread-house-style buildings and panoramic views of the city and coastline. I loved Gaudí’s whimsical architecture (Catalan Modernism) and wandering through this truly unique park.

I recommend buying tickets for the park at least a day in advance. On our first day in Barcelona we stopped by the park (without tickets) and would have had to wait all afternoon to get in (they assign you a specific time slot based on availability). So we ended up rearranging our plans and buying tickets for the following day.

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As much as I enjoyed the park, I was in awe of Gaudí’s lifelong project, the Sagrada Familia. We’ve been to St. Peter’s, Notre Dame, and Westminster Abbey–all of which are beautiful with their own styles and historical significances. However, that being said, the Sagrada Familia is my personal favorite. Despite that this church has been under construction since 1882 and has yet to be completed, this stunning basilica has this ethereal, dreamlike quality that quite simply captivated me. Even though there are cranes towering above the spires, I loved the intricate facades, the Gothic influences, and the immense stained glass.

I also was struck by the fact that in Gaudí’s own lifetime, not even one-quarter of the project was finished. It’s bittersweet that he could never see it completed, but also inspiring that he contributed to such a lasting legacy. Allegedly, the church will be completed by 2026, which would mark the 100-year anniversary of Gaudí’s death. We hope to return one day to see it in all its finished glory.

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Something that was particularly special for my husband, who has played soccer since childhood and played in college as well, was the chance to see FC Barcelona play at the famous Camp Nou, which is Europe’s largest soccer stadium. This stadium is massive and the energy was truly electric; we also got to see Lionel Messi (one of the best players in the world!) score a hat trick.

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As for hotel accommodations, we stayed at the Hotel Jazz, a lovely modern hotel in the heart of the city. Our room was spacious and had a great balcony, with a gorgeous view of the Barcelona skyline (shown below). We also very much enjoyed the rooftop pool and bar!

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The hotel is located just a few minutes’ walk from the Ramblas, a famous street that has restaurants, florists, shops, and is great for people-watching. One of my favorite drinks is Sangria (a Spanish classic!), and my husband and I enjoyed cocktails and tapas on the Ramblas and watching the hustle and bustle of this iconic promenade.

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For each destination in this travel series, I want to provide a sample of what I packed. As illustrated below, I like to stay within a certain color palette when traveling because it maximizes outfit options without overpacking! Black, white, stripes, and a dash of red accents were perfect for our trip to Barcelona. As I mentioned in a previous post, the Longchamp Le Pliage totes are so convenient for travel. They’re durable, water-resistant, and fold flat if you need to pack them into a suitcase.

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Floral Skirt: J. Crew Factory (similar here and hereBlack Top: Lush (similar here)  Red Top: Pleione (similar hereBlack Ponte Pants: Jolt (similar hereStriped Top: H&M (similar here)  Scarf: FC Barcelona (similar here)  Tote:Longchamp Small Le Pliage  Sunglasses: Ray-Ban Clubmaster

Barcelona is one of those places I instantly felt at home and truly can’t wait to return. Not only is the city very charming with its eclectic architecture and romantic atmosphere, the people themselves are so kind and welcoming.

Hope you all have a wonderful week!