Wednesday, October 22, 2014

We went to Paris

Last week was our one year anniversary of moving to London, and this weekend is our 2 year anniversary of being married!! It's hard to comprehend the life that we have built over these last two two years: getting married, moving abroad, traveling to 10 different countries in our second year of marriage, LOVE... It's everything I've ever wanted and more.

With our anniversary approaching, I thought it would be appropriate to tell you how we spent our first anniversary. Our first of many trips to Paris.  We have a guest host for today's post... Brett has had many cameos on the blog, but this is his first post! Take it away Brett....

Actual Date of Event: October 25-27, 2014
One of the best things about being an expat in a city like London is the entire continent of Europe being at your finger tips. At a moment’s notice you can book a weekend getaway to places that would take months to plan (much less afford!) if we were still living in the States. Our first experience doing just this was the second week after the move when we went for a short week to Paris for our one year anniversary.

After work I met Mary at St Pancras train station for our 6 o’clock Eurostar train under the Channel to Paris. After a short wait in the queue and security check for the Eurostar we were seated on the train, bottle of wine and homemade sandwiches at the ready and on our way to Paris! 

I had been to Paris while on a study abroad trip in college but this was to be Mary’s first time so we actually had quite a busy weekend planned trying to get to most of the main sites. We stayed at the Westin Vendome in a beautiful room with views over the Tuileries gardens all the way out to the Eiffel tower.
After dropping our bags we headed out for an evening stroll towards the Latin Quarter where I spent most of my nights while in college and even came across the doner kebab shop I so badly missed. After ordering one kebab (Mary “thought” she was going to share mine) we grabbed a beer and walked back towards the hotel, passing through the Louvre’s impressive courtyard and fighting over the next bite of kebab the whole way back.

Saturday morning we had breakfast at the hotel and then headed off through the gardens to tour the Louvre. For anyone that’s been to the Louvre they know it can be VERY exhausting. This experience was no different. However for everyone that says “meh” to the Mona Lisa due to the crowds, there is still something awe-inspiring and majestic about being able to see a painting first hand that has memorised us for 500 years.
Upon leaving the Louvre we were in desperate need of fuel; both alcohol and food. We meandered over to the St Germain area and grabbed an outdoor table at a café just off the Blvd St Germain, where we proceeded to spend the next 2.5 hours drinking, eating, people watching, and trying our best to be Parisans. The rest of the day we spent walking through the Latin quarter and checking out Notre Dame Cathedral.
Sunday was all about checking out the Eiffel tower and again, relaxing in cafes. We did however have a pit stop to make! After breakfast we began the 3ish mile walk along the Seine to the Eiffel tower however it being our anniversary Mary had a surprise up her sleeve. She had brought a lock with her and wanted to add our lock to the infamous Ponte des Arts. After scavenging the bridge for an open spot we locked the lock to the fence and tossed the key in the river. We even re-located the lock seven months later when we visited Paris with my parents!
We spent the afternoon taking in the Eiffel tower and even took a small nap in the park around the base.
After our little afternoon and siesta we pulled ourselves together for a lunch and walk back to the hotel to get ready for our anniversary dinner at Les Ombres. This was a beautiful restaurant on the roof of the Quai Branly Museum at the base of the Eiffel tower and offered incredible views of the tower lit up at night. Although, to be honest, the food was not very good but the company more than made up for it!

After a romantic evening we awoke bright and early Monday morning in time for the 7 am train and arrived back in London by 8; just in time for me to get to the office like we had been in the city the whole time!

It is trips like this that make me really appreciate living in London. And while we haven’t don’t enough of them we have both made it our goal to do more weekend trips in year two!



Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Monaco, France: The lives of the rich and famous

Monaco, France
Actual Date of event: Early June

On our second day in Nice, we took a train to visit the city of Monaco. A city know for the rich and famous, the city is most well known for their world famous F1 race- the Grand Prix, their ultra fab casino- the Monte Carlo, and their banks- known to harbour foreign money. 

We visited Monaco, the day after the Grand Prix, while the stands and the track infrastructure were still in place.  

We started off the day by walking along the track and then up to the palace where Prince Albert II and Princess Charlene live. This was quite a view to be had as on either side of the palace was a beautiful vantage point for pictures of the city, landscape and the harbour.
Through Brett and my travels this year, we are a firm believer is always maintaining the proper level of food to alcohol to sightseeing ratio. If we sightsee for too long… endless museums, too much walking…. The day quickly turns from “this is the most amazing place I have ever been” to hunger, irritation and general tiredness.
After our hike to the top of the palace, we headed down to enjoy a refreshing drink and some food to prod us along. After a much needed refuelling, we visited the outside of the Monte Carlo. Entrance to the casino costs 10 euros and there is a requirement to have a jacket to enter. As we were just casual travellers, we forewent going inside.
Front of the Monte Carlo
Back of the Monte Carlo
Total days required to see Monaco: 1 Day
After a quick lunch, we jumped back on the train and headed back to Nice where we were staying for one more day.  Everything in Monaco is expensive, so I don’t think we would stay here again, but it was a really beautiful city to visit as a day trip.

Until next time-

Monday, October 6, 2014

Nice is nice

Location: Nice, France
Actual date of event: Late May

A costal town along the Mediterranean Sea, Nice is a beautiful city where hiking to the top of a vantage point or sharing a bottle of house wine are the only items on the itinerary. With the picturesque buildings all in a different shade of orange or pink, it is a dream to an expat with a DSLR.
Our first day in Nice, we walked along the boardwalk and took in the scenery. We enjoyed a casual lunch, along the cobblestone streets of the old town, with house wine and Napoli-style pizza.
One of my favourite parts of visiting cities in Europe is their old town areas which include, narrow cobblestone streets, quaint 10 table restaurants and more cafes than one can count. Where drinking a glass of wine at 11am is normal and the pace of life seems to move much slower. Like for example in Nice, one morning we were enjoying our morning pastry and café and the gentleman next to us was drinking a glass of red wine while reading the paper and wearing a dinner jacket. To which we then said "When in Nice..." and shortly thereafter got ourselves a glass of wine as well.  
There are a few staples that we look for when visiting a new city- the local deli and cheese shop, the local bakery for freshly baked bread and pastries and the local wine shop. Although it is easy to think that a city like Nice is only inhabited by tourists, there most often is a very lively local community that depends on those shops. Another perk is that these shops are not very often frequented by the tourists. Our first day in Nice, we found a cheese shop and a wine shop where the house bottle of wine cost 3.25 euros. We enjoyed cheese and wine while we cleaned up and got ready for dinner.

We went to dinner that night at a small restaurant called Papayou, where we dined on pate, homemade mushroom ravioli, seafood pasta and lots of wine. There is some saying where dinner is about the people and that the food can only complement the company and conversations being had. So the company was perfect (Brett’s parents), the atmosphere was perfect (Nice is nice) and the wine and food were perfect, hence a perfect evening in the south of France.

Wine shop: Caves Caprioclio 
Pastry Shop: La Fougasserie
Dinner first night: Papayou
Dinner second night: Bistro de Antoine

Until next time-


Thursday, August 7, 2014

Bombers in London

Shoreditch is a neighbourhood in London, that is known for their eclectic variety of anything- be it street art, food or vintage clothing. Typically I rock a solid Taylor Swift wardrobe... classic and contemporary, but every time we head to this neighbourhood I channel the Brooklyn stylings of my best friend to find a pairing in my closet that would be deemed appropriate for that neighbourhood.

One weekend a while back, Brett and I were browsing the markets when we stumbled upon a starter jacket from Brett's high school in Cincinnati.

I could say it was unbelievable that we found this jacket, hanging so perfectly perched in the corner of the market, but honestly so many weird moments like this have happened to us, that our initial reaction now is "sure... standard". I can't tell you how often I run into people from Ohio while traveling- Most recently- Clifs of Moher, Ireland; Clifs of Dover, England.

One customer I had at the butcher shop grew up not 10 miles from me in my home town outside of Cincinnati. And when we first moved to Clapham, we bought a second hand coffee pot off craigslist from someone who graduated from our Alma Mater, without even knowing that they were American beforehand.

Just goes to show you how small the world is! Too bad, it takes forever to see it all.

Just a short post today, but it was a really special memory for us, that I wanted to document. Go Bombers!

Cheers- Mary

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Challenges of speaking a different language- English that is...

Brett and I were keen to move to London due to the big city life, close proximity to mainland Europe and most of all... that they speak the same language as us! Or so we thought....

95% of our languages are the same, however there have been a few instances where both parties are waving the white flag of defeat because neither of us can understand each other.

The other day, I tried to ask for salmon on my salad- the waitress and I went back and forth three times before we realized we were having communication problems, at which point I did my best Queen Elizabeth II impersonation, stuck my nose up and prestigiously pronounced "salmon" the way a Brit would.  The link below has both the UK and the US versions of this word. Same thing for tomato and zed (for the letter z). Don't even get me started on the pronunciation for zebra.

Our vowels are harsher than the British, therefore our speech at times can be unrecognizable, especially when speaking to people where English is their second language and they learned British English. Similar to Americans learning Latin American Spanish verse Spanish Spanish.

Growing up in America, I always had these preconceived ideas of what the English were like. Most of these notions came, I'm sure, from Mary Poppins. Before moving over here, I didn't believe the Brits would say things like: "... skip to the loo", "Jolly good", "Top of the morning", "Bloody hell", "Cheerio", ect. ect. ect. Because it was so stereotypical English! But guys, I have heard them all! And every time I hear someone use the term "Blimey!", I get overjoyed thinking that Austin Powers was an accurate reflection of the English.

If you recall, I worked at a butcher shop temporarily before finding my permanent job in the city. And due to the grotesque nature of the business, I was sometimes shocked by what I saw in the butcher shop. Do you know what phrases this well educated and sophisticated American (gag) taught these English blokes? "Oh. My. God" and "Holy crap". It's like when the English first encountered the Native Americans and blessed them with smallpox. To this day, when I walk into the butcher shop, the guys greet me with a cheerful "Oh my God, it's Mary! Holy crap!"

I created a quiz on Sporcle (a quiz and trivia website- or what I like to call, senior year of college) to demonstrate some of the differences I experience between UK English and US English on a daily basis. Have a go at it if you are bored, and let me know how you did! The link is attached below.

Link below:
Can you pick the US equivalent to the UK word? - Sporcle Games & Trivia

Cheers/ Ta- Mary

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bike ride along the Costa del Sol: Malaga - Part 2

We had perfect weather on our last day in Malaga- Sunny, clear skies and 80 degrees. Malaga has a beachfront path that is around 12 miles, so Brett and I rented bikes and spent the day trolling up the beach, stopping every so often to refresh with a cold beer and a few tapas.
 We stopped to relax on a secluded beach towards the end of the path, and sat underneath a palm tree to get out of the sun for a bit. My Irish skin does not lend nicely to direct sun for prolonged periods of time.
For lunch, we stopped at this great spot just towards the end of the path, El Tintero. This restaurant is in many tourist books, but there are still a lot of locals here, as it is a bit of a hike from the Malaga port where all the tourists stay. We ate everything from grilled octopus, to paella, fried fish of some type. The restaurant is kind of like Chinese dim sum, in that waiters circle the restaurant carrying various dishes, and you get can choose from anything they are coming around with.  Unfortunately no pictures of this place, but I thought I would mention it anyway.  
Then on the way back down the coast, we stopped to eat some of the traditional grilled sardines.
Sorry for the awkwardness of this picture, we had quite a few people staring at us, trying to eat these guys.
And since this is my last post on Malaga, here are some of my favourite pictures we took while in Malaga:
And no trip to Spain would be complete without churros...
xoxo- Mary

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Rainy day activities: Malaga, Spain

After spending three days in Seville, we took a short train ride to Malaga, which is on the Southern tip of Spain, on the Mediterranean Sea.

Although Malaga is one of the oldest cities in the world, (evidence dating back to the eighth century BC) it only recently has become tourist destination. The implementation of the high speed train connecting Madrid to Malaga in the 1960's put Malaga and the rest of the Costa del Sol on the map.

Being that we were on the "Coast of the Sun", Brett and I were expecting to soak up the rays and enjoy the rare opportunity to do nothing!

But ironically enough, it was rainy and cold the first two days we were on the "Coast of the Sun". And it wasn't just sprinkling. We get that type of rain every day in London. It was pouring! Which made it difficult to just toughen it out.

So what did we do when it rained on vacation?

Wine Tour
I honestly can't think of a better way to spend a rainy day on vacation, than drinking and eating Spanish tapas all day on beautiful vineyards! 

We hired a semi private tour guide/ car hire to drive us the 60 minutes from Malaga up the winding mountain to the Rhonda region. Only one other couple joined us on our tour, so the tour was still very intimate.
We went to three vineyards:

Bodegas Garcia Hidalgo:

Our favourite of the three vineyards, this winery is 100% owned and operated by as a family business. We were greeted for a private tour by the owner and winemaker himself (apologies, but I forget his name). The winery produces a very small amount of wine each year, and it is evident as all of their barrels and current stock fit in a storage room no bigger than a household basement. The owner does everything from trim the vines, to making the wine, bottling and labelling. The only time of year he requires assistance is during harvest.

While the four of us and the owner split three bottles of different varieties, the owner's wife, Isabel, continuously brought out homemade tapas: Iberico Chorizo and Manchego, tortilla (potato omelette), Mini Chorizo sliders (probably called something more romantic in Spanish). Guys, this was the best food I have even eaten in my life! Well that might be a stretch, but the atmosphere, the people and the wine all made the food taste even better.

We bought three bottles of wine to take with us back to London- all under 10 euro, which is remarkably cheap if you compare that to a bottle from a vineyard in Napa.

We bought two bottles of the Zabel, a full bodied red wine similar to that of a Zinfandel or a Cabernet. In his broken English he explain that he named the bottle after his wife, Isabel (pictured above), as a romantic gesture for his love for her (queue the awes and tears). Break my heart!

Here are the other two vineyards that we went to that we also very nice, small and quaint. However on a 10 hour boozing wine tour, the last vineyard is never going to be your favourite. By the last vineyard I was probably 2 bottles in for the day, so my memory isn't very good and the wine was going down like water.

Arab Bath House/ Massage 
On the second day it rained in Malaga, we tried to toughen it out and make it around the touristy spots, however, our 3 euro ponchos, mixed with torrential downpour and cold weather made the efforts not worth it.

So we cut our losses and decided to spend the day "at the spa", which we quickly learned was not like any spa we had been to in the States.

A Bath House, whether it be Roman, Arab ect., is similar to a sauna or steam room at the gym, where the room or rooms are super humid, and you just bake for an hour at a time. Contrary to what I thought... there is no pool or Jacuzzi, to which I was severely let down to find out.

So we signed up for an hour in the bath house and then an hour couples massage. What was quite different than our spa experiences in the States was that, although there are plenty of signs that tell you to keep your towel on, this practice is not always applied. Considering that the baths were coed, Brett and I got quite the "show", as we were the only ones who kept their towels on.  There are a few images I will never be able to erase from my brain (shivers). 

But overall it was a really fun way to spend a rainy day in Malaga, and I am glad we have that experience to add to our European travels list. 


Although we would have preferred an all sunny time in Malaga, our rainy day activities actually were some of my favorite/ most interesting parts of our vakay.

Also the world cup starts today, and England is super pumped about it. And Wimbledon is coming up as well! Exciting stuff on the horizons for London Summer!


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Semana Santa- Seville, Spain

Semana Santa is the religious celebration leading up to Easter. The celebrations are carried out over the month leading up to Easter and they occur all throughout Spain. Holy week in Seville, however, is the largest, most well know of the celebrations.

(Tip- watch the processions from the Dona Maria Hotel rooftop bar. Access to the bar is free, and it apparently wasn't very well know, as we got a seat right up against the edge.)

The core events are the processions of the brotherhoods, through the streets of Seville, from their home church or chapel to the Cathedral and back.

A procession can be made up from a few hundred to near 3,000 Nazarenos and last anywhere from 4 to 14 hours, depending how far the home church is from the Cathedral. The largest processions can take over an hour and a half to cross one particular spot.

Each procession includes two ornate floats which are the main attractions. The first one being of Jesus in a scene from the Passion, and the second float is typically of Mary. Each float can weight over a metric ton, and are physically carried by 12-15 strong men. This is why the processions take so long, because even if their church is only ¼ mile from the cathedral, the men have to take frequent breaks due to the weight of each float.

Why don’t they just put the floats on wheels?I asked the same question! Carrying the float symbolises the pain and suffering Jesus incurred while carrying his cross. Carrying the float is considered a small sacrifice to what Jesus endured.

Strictly speaking this is a religious festival, but for most of the week it is a major party- however not a party like freshman year of college, more like a family reunion. Entire families of Sevillanos, including grandparents and small children, will hang out at the bars all day long and into the early mornings, 3:00 or 4:00am. Brett and I were walking back to our hotel one night at 12:30 and walked by many older women 80+ years still hanging out at the bars.

What is with their crazy outfits?!

As most of my followers are American, I am sure that these pictures are quite shocking to see, as it reminds us of a very negative part of our history. Seeing a white hood and a white cloak spawns similar feelings as the swastika.

However this tradition of the hood and cloak has existed in Spain for hundreds of years. So we know that it carries a completely different meaning in Spain than it does in America.

The cone shaped hood is supposed to symbolise a rising toward the heavens and therefore bring their presence closer to the heavens. Additionally, their covered faces symbolise a united mankind.

Seville was amazing and I highly recommend going during Semana Santa as you really got to see Spanish culture at its finest. For the most part, the spectators were all Spanish, which proves that this is a very proud festival for Spaniards.

Have you ever visited Seville? What was your favorite part?
Thanks for reading guys! 
Cheers- Mary