CHRISTMAS IN THE SAND

December 28, 2016

After spending Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in the cold northeast, my family and I flew down to Florida where we are soaking up the sun through the New Year.  I don't love the cold weather, but I was happy to get a taste of "white Christmas" before heading to 80 degree weather.

Our plans here in Florida have been kept to a relative minimum which has been a great break from the craziness of the holiday season (which was combined with a hectic transition period after returning from living in London for the semester).

This morning my dad, my sister Kendall and I set our alarms to watch the sun rise on the beach. I wouldn't consider myself a morning person, but anyone who knows me could tell you that I would do just about anything not to miss a sunrise or sunset. The early wake up was brutal but worth it. There is something so therapeutic about the beach in the morning.



After a relaxing morning, we went out on a fishing charter, something that has become a family tradition when my family is in Florida. I spent the better half of the afternoon tanning with my mom and watching everyone else fish.  Kendall and I chilled on the bow of the boat and posed for pics.



My brother Jackson was on a roll and caught enough fish for dinner. Leave it to me to catch a cowfish, one of the only inedible fish on the Gulf Coast of Florida. But at least it was pretty!


We had a low-key night otherwise, grilling the fish Jackson caught and listening to Jack Johnson on the Amazon Echo. We did manage to catch the sunset from our deck which I was excited about. Looking to forward to the next week of R&R in LBK!


CHEERIO LONDON

December 18, 2016




What a semester it has been! It is incredibly hard to believe that over three months have flown by and I am currently packing my bags (well, attempting to) and preparing for a 9 hour flight back to the USA. While I am definitely excited to get home to see my family and dogs just in time for the Christmas festivities, I am going to miss London more than I can say.  It is truly an amazing city and it was so easy to make myself at home here, despite the fact that I would not consider myself a "city person."

There were so many moments abroad I had to pinch myself because I couldn't believe how amazing the experiences I was having were-- whether it was stunning scenery, fun times with my friends or just amazing meals (of which we ate many). The amount of times I said "wow" is probably upwards of 1,000 by now.  Living abroad, I not only gained the practical skills (such as learning how to cram 5 days worth of clothes into a backpack or how to survive all the ridiculousness that accompanies a $20 RyanAir flight), but in all seriousness I have gained a deeper appreciation for life in general. The world is a beautiful place and I am so grateful I got to experience it in such an amazing way.

This post is dedicated to my parents for making my dreams of traveling the world a reality. I can't explain what a great gift it has been to study abroad and I couldn't have done it without their support. (Below photo taken at the top of St. Paul's Cathedral with view of London skyline.)


While traveling around Europe was fantastic, I was happy to be able to relax and spend the last few weeks in London soaking it all in. Here's a peek into my last month in London:

Visit from Dad

Since my mom came over with me to London, I was excited that my dad got the opportunity to come over for work and spend a few days with me. He stayed in the trendy neighborhood of Shoreditch which I was excited to spend time in since I had only been once. We had some amazing meals, went to the Tate Modern art museum and strolled around the mural-lined streets. It was so good to hang out with him and show him around the city.

   


 Winter Wonderland at Hyde Park


London at Christmastime is spectacular. Hannah visited Winter Wonderland with her boyfriend Nate when he came to visit and she told Abby and I it was a must.  It is located in Hyde Park (basically London's version of Central Park). There are rides, amazing food and a Bavarian Christmas market with hundreds of stalls for Christmas shopping. The main reason we went was for the ice skating. We didn't last too long on the rink but it was lots of fun. Our experience was complete with this awkward professional photo that makes us look like just another happy couple skating the day away haha.



Afternoon Tea at Kensington Palace

We decided to conclude our study abroad experience the most British way-- with high tea at the palace! While there were no sightings of Princess Kate, it was still a success.


 


Kate often takes George and Charlotte for walks right here in Kensington Gardens but she was nowhere in sight...


Other Miscellaneous Shenanigans 
Abby and I took one last trip to Big Ben for old time's sake (ha get it? time? clock? big ben? lol). We actually waited in the tourist line in front of this phone booth because its the best way to get Big Ben and the phone booth in one picture. Despite being embarrassingly touristy, we both had an emotional moment concluded that we would miss London (and Big Ben) so so so so much. 

 

Can't forget about Clerkenwell-- our little postal code within London. Gotta love the EC1M. It has been so good to us and is such a charming, quiet little area. This beautiful door is right across the street from where we live and I am obsessed with how they decorated for Christmas!


Another cool Clerkenwell thing we found out literally the last week we were here is that we were living on top of history all along! The land where our building is used to be St. John's Gate. There is a museum (The Museum of the Order of St. John) that we walk by all the time located in the only part of the gate still standing (see photo), and we decided to visit at the end out of curiosity. We took a tour and found that King Henry VIII, Shakespeare and Charles Dickens had all frequented St. John's Gate and had actually sat in the room in the museum we stood in! Oh and the Queen has been there too. Ahh. SO British and SO cool.


Finally, a bunch of brunch... Since arriving in Europe, I have adapted the lifestyle that "brunch is not a destination, but a way of life." We became cult followers of the Instagram account @breakfastlondon and essentially followed it around London as a sort of brunch bible. The account's recommendations obviously did not disappoint. The last few weeks we have continued this tradition and if anything, have amped up our brunch consumption. Hence, I have put together this collage of some of my favorite brunches we have had. Trust me, there are many more brunches not pictured (the collage app only allows for 9 photos) but available upon request.


Top row (left to right): Pluk//Amsterdam, Modern Pantry//Clerkenwell, Eggbreak//Notting Hill.
Middle Row: Modern Pantry//Clerkenwell, The Breakfast Club//Shoreditch, Cereal Killer Cafe//Brick Lane.
Bottom RowPrinci//Soho, Hubbard & Bell//Holborn, Caravan//Exmouth Market.

If ending my final Laur In London post on a collage of brunch is wrong, I don't want to be right. 

These have undoubtedly been the best 3 months of my life. Thank you for reading along! Now that I'm back to real life I will continue to blog on my website, www.blessedbrunette.com, so please feel free to follow me there and on my blogging Instagram, @blessedbrunette.

Cheers! xx,
Lauren


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COUSINS, CAPRESE & CHIANTI

November 30, 2016


Ciao!  For Thanksgiving, I visited my cousin Kelsey in Florence, where she is studying abroad. To make the weekend even better, her entire family-- my cousins Kaela, Brendan and Luke and my Aunt Jeanne & Uncle Brian, were there for the occasion too. It was such a great way to spend the holiday and I had such an amazing time there.  So good to be with family!

cousin lovin'!!
On Wednesday when I arrived, we climbed up to the top of a lookout where we could see all of Florence-- most importantly the Duomo and the Ponte Vecchio-- the two most prominent buildings in the city.  The sun was just starting to set, making for picture-perfect views on my first day in Italy.



After the big hike to take pictures, we stopped at a bar at the top to reward ourselves with mojitos before we headed to dinner.


I ate more pasta than is humanly possible on this trip, but how could I not? No matter where we went the food was ridiculously good-- the food in the airport was better than some of the best restaurants back home in the US, not even kidding. (Here's an awkward family photo of us eating the best sandwiches of our lives.) My second day in Florence, we decided to go to a museum that housed paintings of Leonardo da Vinci along with several other famous Italian artists. There were also many perfectly preserved marble sculptures from centuries ago. While we appreciated the art, it was very entertaining hearing my younger cousins' commentaries as we walked through aisles upon aisles of naked marble people who weren't leaving much to the imagination.

 
Thanksgiving dinner did not disappoint. We may not have had turkey and stuffing pies this year, but we certainly did not go hungry. Between many rounds of antipasti, Chianti by the bottle, pasta to boot and a massive Florentine steak shared between me and Kelsey, we barely had room for dessert - but where there's a will there's a way, so we squeezed it in.

  

We capped off the night with a ride on the merry-go-round in Florence and headed back to the Airbnb for our last night in Florence.

 

The next day, we headed to Milan. I didn't really know what to expect but we were all pleasantly surprised by its charm and eclectic mix of the old and the new architecture. The Milan Duomo was amazing to see- we got to go inside it and walk around and it was absolutely beautiful.

  

We also went inside a huge fancy shopping center, kind of like the Short Hills Mall on steroids. It was fun to look around and see all the Christmas decorations, but Gucci and Prada were not in the abroad budget. We finished the night with a late dinner (more pasta) and prepared for an early wakeup to catch our various flights (I was going back to London out of one airport, Kelsey was headed to Paris from the other airport and everyone else was USA-bound).


I am so beyond grateful to have had the opportunity to spend Thanksgiving the way I did with my amazing cousins, aunt and uncle. So much amore for mia famiglia! Arrivederci, Italia! 


IRELAND FOREVER

November 29, 2016


outside the cute blue door of our airbnb

Éirinn go Brách! I have always been proud of my Irish roots and have been blessed with many opportunities to travel there with my family several times-- in fact, before arriving in London for the semester, the only place in Europe I had ever been was Ireland.  That said, I jumped on the opportunity to return when Hannah and her high school friend, Katie, who is studying in Barcelona, asked if I wanted to come to Dublin with them. 

We hopped on the short RyanAir flight --which was terrifyingly turbulent-- and landed in Ireland late Thursday night. The next morning, we woke up and left our Airbnb in time for a traditional Irish breakfast (minus the black pudding).

Despite having already been to Ireland, I had never actually seen Dublin and was excited to visit the many historic sites and churches located there. It is such a cool city because it combines history and Irish heritage with modern artsy vibes and good shopping- right up my alley. We spent the first day wandering the streets and cramming in sightseeing. 

Trinity College Library
   

Christchurch Cathedral
   

St. Patrick's Cathedral
 

Temple Bar
  


This is a cool artsy area of Dublin, complete with cool wall murals and trendy pubs/bars playing live music. It is also home to Dublin's famous pub, The Temple Bar, which we stopped in to get drinks before dinner and listen to a fun quintessential Irish band.


The Guinness Storehouse
The next day we were all excited to be visiting the Guinness Storehouse. While Katie and I were certainly more open to the idea of drinking beer than Hannah (strictly a wine girl with the occasional mojito-- can't blame her), all three of us were pumped to pay a visit to this Irish landmark and it did not disappoint. Complete with a full museum which detailed the history of Guinness in Ireland, the factory was both fun and educational.  My personal favorite part of the museum was the advertising exhibit, a display of Guinness's iconic advertising over the years. 


  

Once we moved past the educational part, we reached the beer. We started with a tasting where we learned the proper way to enjoy a Guinness, followed by a mini workshop where we learned how to pour the perfect pint. We all passed with flying colors and were recognized with a certificate and our personal pint to enjoy. A little apprehensive to try Guinness (I was disgusted by it when I first tried it the last time I was in Ireland in 2014), I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that my taste buds had matured beyond restricting their appreciation of beer to frat basements, and I was actually enjoying it. #adulting

 

Cliffs of Moher

After getting our fill of Guinness and Dublin, we ventured early Sunday morning to meet a tour bus bound for the Cliffs of Moher and the Atlantic Coast. I was very excited for this day because this is the area of Ireland where I have spent a lot of time with my family. We actually drove right by the home of a family friend where we stayed for 2 weeks last time we were in Ireland. It was a long bus ride away from Dublin, but the views were worth the trip.  We got to spend 2 hours at the Cliffs of Moher, one of my absolute favorite natural wonders that still astonishes me every time I see it. 

  

Thank you Ireland, go raibh maith agat! Until next time!