Hard Drive Fails + Mom Wins.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

About a week and a half ago I was sitting in bed on a Friday night, sipping wine, churning out blogposts, editing photos, doing readings for my upcoming papers - basically, I was on a roll. 

And then...

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I tried turning it off and on again....no luck...it made lots of unfortunate sounds before the screen would turn black again accompanied by a whining moan. Also, I have no idea why I work in total darkness like I live in a cave or why my immediate reaction was to press the space bar.

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As everyone knows regardless of technological abilities, age, or distance (about 4,000 miles to be exact), the natural next step is to.......call mom - "YES I KNOW YOU'RE ON THE OTHER SIDE OF THE ATLANTIC OCEAN BUT PLEASE FIX IT MOM."

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I went to the Apple store first thing the next morning without an appointment and they squeezed me in with the Genius department an hour later - whew. I showed the employee the video I took on my phone and it took him about .5 seconds of hearing the clicking to say that it was a hard drive failure. They ran a few more tests and also found that my logic board failed. Both would have to be replaced, which meant that my laptop had to spend the next 5 days in the shop and that it would be 100% wiped when I got it back.

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So yes, my trusty laptop that got me through college, years of design and freelance work, the home to thousands of photos, music, and documents is now an empty shell. My 11 years worth of music in my iTunes library, all of my snazzy design software, Microsoft Office and all those things you don't think about until they're gone, and of course the thousands of photos from life, trips, school, family, everything and anything, all of my documents for school. Did I mention I also have three research papers due in about 3 weeks?

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I had been religious about backing it up on a bi-weekly basis when I lived in Texas, but my external hard drive was too heavy for my luggage when I moved to England. Meaning...I had no back up. LUCKILY, when I was home for Christmas I did a full Time Machine back up, but I shudder to think about where I'd be if I hadn't done that. However...that hard drive was still in Texas.

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Not only did my mom wake up at an ungodly hour with the time zone difference to be my emotional support in my moment of sheer panic, but she additionally found my hard drive, drove straight to FedEx, paid a dumb amount to get it here quickly, and wrote a long letter explaining to customs that it was just a student's hard drive and did not contain anything that border patrol would be interested in.

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So, I apologize for the radio silence here on the blog lately but I haven't had a computer to work or nor any of my photos. Keep your fingers crossed that my external hard drive does its job and I'll have all my precious photos, music, and academic documents back at my fingertips soon.

Back up your dang computer. Make room for your external hard drive in your luggage. And always call your mom. 

Eye See London, Eye See...London.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?


Arriving alongside the Thames in 1999, the Eye was originally set up to celebrate the millennium, and is still the focal point for the city's biggest fireworks display on New Year's Eve. Years later, it has earned its spot as a permanent part of the London skyline and tourist attraction as well as now being owned by Coca Cola (something you catch on to quickly with a glance at the gift shop). This once-eyesore is the second tallest viewing point in all of London, coming up behind the Shard, both offering two completely unique perspectives and experiences. Having done the Eye a couple times, I thought I'd share a few tips for anyone thinking of taking a spin. 

Best time to go...
Why pick daylight or night time when you can have both? Book for 30 minutes before the sun is supposed to set and you'll get the best of both worlds. This time varies hugely over the year so I can't really give an exact time, but just Google what time the sun is supposed to set on your anticipated day and go from there. Get there early to take some golden hour photos on the Southbank before boarding your pod. As you slowly begin your decent from the tippy top, the lights of London will ignite as if your journey has been orchestrated and you'll have two experiences for the price of one. 


Best ticket to buy...
It's no secret that the general public agrees that the cost of these tickets are a wee bit steep. My main bits of advice are to always purchase your ticket online and grit your teeth and buy the fast track option. You'll save anywhere from 10% to 20% off your ticket if you book in advance online, so unless it's a completely spontaneous decision, you have no reason not to save a few pounds. Yes the fast track tickets are nearly 10 more pounds, but trust me when I say that it is well worth skipping the monster of a line. Time is money! 


Best seat in the house...
I've been asked this question before so might as well address it. No, you don't have to sit down or pick a spot during your ride. In fact, that would kind of be a waste of money. Stand up, move around, use the interactive screens, and take in the spectacular views. 


But what if it rains?
As we've all learned a time or two, the weather in London is very unpredictable so do your best to nitpick the weather forecast and try to avoid a foggy or rainy visit. I've heard people still enjoying their visit during unfavourable weather, but they don't do any sort of reimbursements in the case of weather. They'd go broke if they had to refund tickets every time it rained in London!


Is it really worth a visit?
Another question I've gotten from visitors. Well - it depends on your definition of "worth it". Do you enjoy looking at a city from above for 30 minutes? Do you enjoy it enough to pay for it or would you rather go somewhere like a bar or restaurant with a view of the skyline? You can spot a lot of London landmarks and it gives you a good idea of the layout of the city - apparently on a crystal clear day you can see as far as Windsor Castle. It's not something I do on a regular basis, but if you're brand new to London or hosting a visitor I think it's an experience worth having.  


More than meets the Eye...
While this iconic wheel of sorts is the dominating structure on the Southbank, don't hop back on the tube without exploring the rest of the area. Squeeze your way through the crowds and see what else there is to offer on this side of the river. Now through July, the Udderbelly is one of favourite spots for a pint - it was a regular spot for my friends and I when I was studying abroad and brings up a lot of nostalgia! A quirky beer garden complete with picnic tables and giant games paired with a comedy festival...did I mention it's set by a giant purple inflatable cow? Going inside the cow (....) requires tickets but entrance to the beer garden is free!



^^^ Throwback to 2012, my fellow Texan roommate and I finding comfort in the heaters. 

Does any Londoners know if the Eye is going to be permanently lit red now? I know Coca Cola owns it and all that but I kind of miss the other colours...


Have you ever been on the Eye? Or are you Team Shard?

London Through My Fork.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Not too long ago I did a post about my weekend eating adventures in Brighton, where I made a very clear disclaimer that I am no food blogger - but I think it went over alright. I love reading restaurant reviews (how did anyone ever go out to a new restaurant without the internet?!) and gush over dreamy photos people manage to take. I tend to chicken out at the table and try to take a photo or two before burying my phone away in my handbag, looking around to see if anyone is rolling their eyes at me. Plus by the time my food arrives, my stomach tends to take priority over my camera.

While giving my parents my personal tour of London, there were a handful of restaurants I had to take them to - old favourites mixed in with new places I've read about on blogs and have been dying to try. Considering my big meals out are usually between Nando's or Gourmet Burger Kitchen, I was sufficiently stuffed by the time they were on the plane home. Here's a few things my fork and knife got up to while in the big smoke...

First up, Bob Bob Ricard in Soho - an Instagrammer's holy grail. On my mom's first night in London, we decided to go somewhere special and I had seen photos of this places scattered about on every social media site possible and gave in to its art deco charm. After being seated into one of the plushy booths that comprise the entire restaurant, we set our sights directly on the drinks menu - much deserved after her long day of traveling and having to experience Piccadilly Circus at rush hour *shudders*


She went for the Raspberry Collins (Russian vodka, Chambord, raspberries, lemon, soda) and I opted for the rosé champagne. These were paired with bottles of water that were refilled by the attentive staff so swiftly and often that we couldn't help but giggle towards the end of the night - one poor waiter probably refilled my glass about 15 times. At least we didn't leave thirsty!


I went for the lobster mac and cheese which is deceivingly rich. The pan may look small but each bite is brimming with buttery lobster piled with noodles and dripping cheese, I waved the white flag of surrender 3/4 of the way through. Mom went for the baby chicken, refusing to utter the word "baby", so I naturally cracked up when it arrived as a nearly intact chicken on her board. We shared sides of french fries and mashed potato. Bellies bursting in a comfort food coma, we debated the puddings menu for a solid 10 minutes and accepted defeat, knowing we would be rolling home if we had one more bite.


I didn't want to do it...but OKAY I DID IT. I took the classic/cliché BBR picture and enjoyed every second of it.

While we didn't opt for dessert at our first dinner out, we couldn't finish our venture around Harrods without a trip to Ladurée. We split a box, carefully selecting 4 flavours to call our own. Strawberry candy will always be my go-to and I was surprised at how much the rose macaroon tasted like...rose. It wasn't bad but we agreed that there was no other description other than it really did taste like you were chewing a rose plucked from a garden. Mom's first ever macaroon and favourite flavour went to pistachio.


If you're wondering what the towel in the background is all about, we ate these snuggled up in bed with a bottle of wine after devouring a Franco Manca takeaway pizza. We had spent all day on our feet in the drizzly London weather and I'm still convinced that it was the perfect evening! Little did I know that at that exact moment, my dad was flying over the Atlantic to surprise me the next morning. Sneaky parents...

For a crackin' start to the day, I took her to my tried and true spot a few blocks away from Oxford Street, the Riding House Cafe. I adore this place - from the light/airy art deco interior complete with taxidermy squirrels on the walls, to the friendly staff, to the fact they take online reservations, and of course to the food that I've yet to be disappointed by. I went for the classic fry up and thoroughly freaked out my picky eater companion with the black pudding.



It may not look like much, but she is STILL talking about them to people back home in the states. Brioche french toast with maple syrup and a mound of vanilla clotted cream. Oh man, I could not resist swiping spoonfuls of this stuff.

Another breakfast favourite that I've briefly mentioned before is Tom's Kitchen in Chelsea, although there are 3 other locations in London and another spot in Istanbul. Affordable, takes reservations, bright interior, and consistently delicious.


My mom insisted on this photo of me with the menu. You can practically see the socially awkward panic in my eyes.

The first meal with my dad was afternoon tea at Fortnum & Mason's Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon. I had booked in advance for 2, but the smiling staff at the reception had no problem adding my dad to the reservation upon arrival - whew! We discovered that 2 hours of sitting combined with pure sugar consumption was maaaaybe not the best way to fight off jet lag, and my tummy was still in butterflies after being thoroughly confused and emotional that morning, so we didn't even make it to the infamous cake cart! As delicious as the treats were from head to toe, I can't help but compare every place I go to the Tea Birds here in Bristol - their hot scones and cream/jam are second to none and an absolute bargain at 4 quid with a bottomless pot of tea.


Afternoon tea in London is a real treat for a special occasion but I honestly enjoy a simple cream tea just as much, especially if you are on a budget or a time crunch.



^^^ My good side.

Last but certainly not least of the documented food comes from Duck and Waffle. I snagged an Easter morning reservation months ago and called immediately to try and amend the booking after the shock of my dad's appearance wore off. Initially the answer was no, and then maybe at a different time, and then yes of course no problem. Third time's a charm? Zipping 40 floors up the Heron Tower, we were greeted with ice water in the bar as we waited for our table, taking in the incredible views. Having seen photo after review after rave about this place, I was worried that maybe the hype was just that, hype.


I had to go for the duck and waffle - when in Rome, right? 

Spoiler alert: This place earned its hype. Great food, great service, great views. *Ticks off imaginary boxes in the air* 


My dad was more interested in eating his food than photographing it, but my mom managed to sneak this shot before he dug in to this first full english. Which didn't have baked beans! Probably horrifying to some Brits, but I personally hate beans so this looked like my ideal full english.


Staying true to form with her sweet tooth, mom chose the toffee apple waffles and dad mimed something about eating ice cream for breakfast.






Thanks for the extra gym sessions I now I have to squeeze in, London.

Do you have a favourite restaurant in London I should give a go next time or one that you're itching to try? 

How To Survive A Bank Holiday Weekend in London.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

London is a busy city regardless of the season or day, it never ceases to amaze me how many people are out relaxing at cafes, snooping through art galleries, or sprinting to catch a train. While the hustle and bustle of the big smoke is enough to test the sanity of any city goer, Easter bank holiday weekend is no joke. While these much loved days off occur on a regular basis in the UK, Easter brings not one but two days off, giving working Londoners and tourists alike a four day weekend on top of students enjoying half-term break. Throw in some sunshine and you'll have about a 3ft radius of free space to sit in Hyde Park. My mom (and dad's) visit to England happened to overlap with this weekend as I am a student so it was Easter break for me....meaning I was technically part of the commotion but when you've lived here for 8 months and get the big-headed mindset that you are no longer a tourist, you pick up habits such as passive-aggressively huffing at people who stop at the top of a busy underground staircase. Seriously people, please don't stop in the middle of a busy walkway.

Book a table.
Restaurants that take reservations are increasing in London and when your stomach starts to rumble the last thing you want to do is stroll up to Homeslice and find out it's a 2-hour wait for a table – which has happened to me on multiple occasions during any ordinary weekend. Some of my personal favourites that take breakfast reservations (my most crucial meal of the day) are Tom's Kitchen in Chelsea, the Riding House Cafe a few blocks away from Oxford Street, and of course Duck and Waffle in the City if you're feeling swanky. When all else fails, pick a nearby takeaway and eat in your pajamas. Franco Manca do cheap takeaway sourdough pizzas in a jiffy and have multiple locations dotted around London.

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Book anything you can, actually. 
Regardless if you're playing host or tourist, any place that offers advance ticketing should be taken advantage of. Fast Track options are worth the 10 extra quid or so and online purchases are usually cheaper to begin with, so if you know you are visiting a major tourist attraction, anticipate the crowds and get your hands on tickets beforehand so you can sheepishly smile as you stroll past the poor souls waiting in the initial queue to purchase tickets.

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Follow transport accounts on Twitter.
Something has possessed Transport for London and National Rail to go about major engineering and construction works smack dab in the middle of holidays this past year. I heard horror stories about the train nightmare that happened over Christmas and groaned when I saw advertisements about the Easter weekend scheduling changes. We walked away mostly unscathed other than our train from London to Bristol getting diverted due to signalling issues (which could probably be turned into a drinking game by this point) and the Jubilee Line being down...again. I'm going to start making a tally for every time I take a visitor to Abbey Road just to get stranded in St. John's Wood. Most transportation companies have a Twitter feed full of service updates, which are usually quicker and more helpful than fighting your way through a crowd to ask an employee. Bottom line, be aware of what is closed and what's not, and keep bus info handy or know when to wave the white flag and signal a cab.

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Be aware of museum demographics & go early. 
So many amazing museums in London don't cost a dime...er...pence. Anyway – they're free and a perfect day to spend the day off. However, keep in mind who likes to visit whatever museum you have in mind. For example, the Natural History Museum in South Kensington is stunning and is an easy place to spend the afternoon with their many categories and interactive activities. With half-term in full swing and parents with the day off, this was more of an indoor playground than a museum. There were hyper kids with sticky ice cream fingers and strollers running over my toes, making me just want to get in and get out as soon as possible. I took my mom to the British Museum in the late afternoon on another day as it's one of my favourites, but the Rosetta stone mosh put and ironically not being able to budge nor breathe in the mummy room chipped away at my enjoyment.

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Remember it's okay to not do everything.
You're probably out enjoying the bank holiday because you're free from work or school. Finally, you don't have to set an alarm and have the whole day to yourself! Not being able to partake in daytime activities on a regular basis may instil a sense of urgency to go out and do as much as humanly possible – something I am most certainly guilty of. I have a habit of wanting to squeeze every fun activity into a single day that I wind up tearing holes in my socks. Go have a leisurely brunch, stroll through the park, peruse a museum or a shop, but try not to go overboard and end your holiday more exhausted than a day at work. Take full advantage, bounce ouuta London and take a day trip elsewhere. Or heck, stay home, order delivery, and do nothing – it's your day off!

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Don't go to the Topshop at Oxford Circus.
"Show mom the flagship Topshop, I said. It will be fun, I said." Those bank holiday deals will be just as good at your local, manageable sized store as well as online.

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What do you do during a bank holiday weekend or any other national holiday? Stay in or go out?

April So Far | Spring Hath Arrived!

Friday, April 10, 2015

It's been a minute since I've typed away on here hasn't it?

During the entire month of April thus far (aka the past 10 days) I've been playing host to a very special visitor - my mom! She booked a trip across the pond back in February and I have been feverishly planning meals, places to go and things to see for weeks. She's never been to England let alone outside of the United States so I had full control of the itinerary and I wanted her trip to be amazing. There's nothing I hate more than sitting around during a vacation going back and forth saying "What do you want to do today?" "Ohhh I don't mind, just whatever" "Well how do we get to _____?" "Where should we eat?" *shudders* No, no, no - I need a plan! As I've also mentioned recently, I'm not one to lounge about whilst on a trip. My days must be jam packed with activities - why spend all that time, effort, and money just to sit in a hotel room and watch TV?

The day finally arrived, I hopped on a train to London and anxiously awaited her arrival with a coffee in hand at Paddington station, scanning the crowds exiting the Heathrow Express platform until I saw a familiar face and leaped into each other's arms. I couldn't believe she was actually here! She's not quite up to the idea of her face being splashed in HD all over the internet so forgive me if photos with our cheery faces together in them are sparse. We had an amazing 10 day whirlwind in London and the West Country with a surprise visitor that made me ugly cry in public - but more on that later ;)

I'm feeling quite overwhelmed with hundreds of new photos sitting in my folders on top of that post-vacation feeling, the one that sets in after going nonstop for 10 days and suddenly here I am sat in my in my onesie with an unfortunate illness that snuck in overnight. I'm going to take to my notebook and scribble some plans for posts, but in the meantime, here are some miscellaneous cheerful things that made me smile recently.


Happy April Things

1. This post by my lovely friend Sara on why she didn't "Travel More" during her time in the UK. I get asked on a regular basis when I'm going to "travel Europe" or "spend a weekend in Paris", "GO somewhere", etc. While I am absolutely planning on taking advantage of living a puddle jump away from mainland Europe and had a blast traveling from country to country in the past...my answer to these questions is that I have gone lots of places. I've adventured to tiny country villages, strolled through ancient ruins, and hopped on ferries at sunrise to tiny islands - all in my own backyard. There is SO MUCH MORE to Europe than the big cities. Do I hope to make it to Prague, Marrakech, Innsbruck, and much more in the future? Yes! Yes, please! Do I want to look back on my time living in England and say "I boarded a plane every weekend and never really learned about the place I called home"? I hope not. I love the culture of England and I promise you that 90% of my adoration for this country has been outside of Zone 1 in London.

2. My favourite local tea haunt, the Tea Birds have brought back their homemade ice cream in time for Spring & Summer! Anna, one of the adorable and friendly owners informed me that they have unleashed a "cream tea" sundae consisting of vanilla clotted cream ice cream with bits of raspberries or strawberries and a wafer and some other dreamy things that I can't remember because my brain exploded with glee as soon as I heard "vanilla clotted cream ice cream". I'll report back on this soon for um...blog...research....purposes....yeah that's it.

3. Getting a much needed snip + colour alongside some eyebrow threading at Melanie Giles Salon in Bath. Ugh, I love that place. I feel like a brand new human each time I leave.

4. My birthday is around the corner and while I'm not that great at celebrating my birthday (I get really into celebrating other people's and shy away when it comes to planning anything for my own) so while my mom and I were in London I was treated to an early birthday gift from Selfridgeà la Charlotte Tilbury. Drool. 

5. This weather lately. THIS WEATHER LATELY. The past few days I have hung my coat up in the wardrobe and even shoved up the sleeves of my jumper. I've been wearing tights underneath shorts, mostly to keep from blinding anyone, but England is officially in bloom and I'm diggin' it. Sadly I think my days of lounging in my fluffy onesie are coming to an end (the whole no A/C thing makes me rely on the outside weather), but the tulips and sunshine surely make up for it.

6. So, back to that surprise visitor I mentioned above.... A few days into my mom's trip, we were up not-so-bright-because-it-was-cloudy but early for a tour of Westminster Abbey. We were casually standing in the queue as you do for any London tourist attraction, especially during a double bank holiday weekend, chatting away and twirling around looking at the other London landmarks in the area. At one point mid-conversation I turned around and saw none other than MY DAD strolling towards me with a big goofy smile on his face. My immediate reaction was confusion, crying, and then a near-anxiety attack, probably making everyone in the queue around us extremely uncomfortable. After I was done hyperventilating I demanded answers of how they managed to pull the wool over my eyes. We had just had a chat about how expensive plane tickets were for June and I was getting fussy about the idea of not seeing my dad until Autumn at the earliest. Apparently, a week before my mom left for the UK my dad had a serious case of FOMO and a gap in his workload that he decided to book a plane ticket and hitch a ride on the vacation train. I can't think of very many times in my life where I have been surprised other than a birthday party my family organised for me when I was younger when I walked in the backyard to see a group of my friends smiling from the swimming pool, but WOW this was a surprise and a half. Kudos to my parents for pulling this one off! My dad had also never been to the UK so it was a real treat getting to play tour guide and I think they really enjoyed their first visit to jolly ol' England.


What's made you happy in April so far?

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