Tuscany Day Trip | Bonassola on the Italian Riviera

When I was 19, I was introduced to the Cinque Terre. After traveling to Italy several times before, something felt unique and untouched about this place. It was charming with tiny streets, dramatic beaches smashed on the Mediterranean, and the pesto… oh, baby. It was lush. Tyler and I would sit on the rocks in Vernazza with picnics at sunset and jump off the rocks of Manorola and feel like this was as good as cheap thrills can get.

Since that first time, I have to say (as many other would agree), it’s not really the same. It’s been blown up by tourism in a way that is both like winning the lottery for some locals and devastates a place of its natural charm. We visited Vernazza this summer and, literally, waddled along the main road trying to walk with so many other tourists alongside us. (To be fair, it was July and it was the day a cruise ship docked.) 

A few weeks later, we were at dinner with our friends, Grant, Georgette & Nico in Florence. I asked them where they went for a day out to the beach. Without skipping a beat, Georgette & Nico (who are married) said: "Bonassola!”

They explained that it was just beyond the top town of the Cinque Terre, just beyond Levanto. They said you could drive, you could rent chairs on the beach, that it was stuffed with Italians and, of course, pesto-covered focaccia. We were sold.

A few days later, we loaded up the kids for the 2+ hour drive there. We got takeaway cappuccinos (“a porta via”) and pastries from the best little spot, Laquale, near where we stay.

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We packed up the kids and a million other things (floaties, clean clothes,  water bottles, snacks, sun cream, laptop for Tyler, and, seemingly, every other random other thing we have ever owned.) As we started our mountainous decent from Levanto to Bonassola, we realised how special this place was. It’s a little bay where Italians come to spend August. You can tell that the people there are families that have come back to the same little apartments and beach clubs for years. There are friendships there that are so obvious and so charming. Yet, we still felt the perfect balance of being unnoticed outsiders and friendly experiences. 

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You can rent a beach chair for the day for about €15 per chair. I rented chairs for 6 of us, but it was honestly, a bit of a waste of money. I think for the 7 of us, I could have only rented 3, as for the most part, we were coming and going to the water. 

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We grabbed pizzas from a tiny local spot that had a giant line snaking out of, which obviously meant I wanted to try it, too. We had a sandy little lunch eating pizzas and peaches from the local market what spills right out from the beach front. I met men from Burkino Faso selling gorgeous blankets and grabbed one as a souvenir from the day.

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The water was clear and pretty- as you would expect the Italian Riviera to be. A dead jellyfish floated up and some kids pulled it ashore and played with it for hours. When Viola told me she had been playing with a jellyfish, I definitely didn’t believe her, but our au pair, Camino, laughed and said it was true. I wandered down to see it in person and found about ten kids squatting around it, playing with its tentacles. 

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As the sun started to set and the beach chairs started to gradually become empty, we packed up and wandered into town to find a place for dinner. The tables of the cafes were all filled with families and friends sipping aperitivos, eating pizzas and watching as their kids ran around the fountains by them.

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And as they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans. So we sat down and ordered as our kids ran free. They climbed up on the steps, the climbed down, they made friends with the family playing by them and ended up eating the kids crackers, at their mom’s kind offering. It was nearly dream-like.

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I kinda love to keep places like this a secret, because it makes me nervous to think that one day, Bonassola will be just like the Cinque Terre. Overexposed and haggard, but I kinda think that maybe if we spread out a bit, took a chance on other places and tried something that wasn’t just listed in every single tour book//blog, maybe we’d just disperse the chaos a bit better than we currently are doing. Well, that’s my hope at least. Maybe there is actually enough of great spaces for all of us to enjoy, if we don’t feel the pressure to fight for a space in the well-known ones. Because let me tell you, this was not settling for a consolation prize. This day trip to Bonassola was the jewel in the crown of our time staying in Florence.

And if you go, look for me. I’ll be the one on a beach chair- buried under kid’s floaties and empty boxes of pizzas- with a very content look on my face.


Find more of my favourite easy day trips from Tuscany or browse my Italy travel guide to help plan your trip.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

My Paris | Aux Merveilleux de Fred

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I can’t go to Paris and not stop by for a loaf of warm brioche at Fred’s, or, as it’s officially called “Aux Merveilleux de Fred.” Now, what made me initially fall in love with this place was it’s incredible delicate- and remarkably inexpensive- “merveilleux.” Imagine if you will, meringue cookies, topped with the lightest flavoured fillings, and rolled in chocolate shavings and toasted nuts. Oh baby, they are so good.

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BUT… their brioche is actually better.

There, I said it. But it’s true. One day, I turned my gaze in the shop from the jewellery-box like display of tiny cakes and watched the bakers pulling warm loaves of brioche out of the oven. Then I noticed smart French women waiting, not for the pastries, but requesting “les cramiques,” or the loaves of brioche. I quickly swapped lines- because you ALWAYS follow the lead of smartly dressed French women- and bought a loaf.

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I brought it out to the street and sat down by Tyler. I looked at him and said something along the lines of, “I think this is about to blow us away. I just have a feeling about it.”

And the next thing you know, we took a bite of the warm bread and crunched down on the tiny sugar pearls that were candied over… and we blacked out with happiness. We ate the entire loaf in under thirty seconds- it was like a warm Krispy Kreme donut. Then we went in and bought a second loaf. I can’t remember if we ate the entire loaf then and there, too, but I’m not saying we didn’t.

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This little chain is from Lille, but now there are a few locations in and around France, with a handful in Paris. Which makes it the absolute must-bring-back souvenir for us whenever one of us goes. Its always the last stop we make before the Eurostar- because the fresher the loaf, the happier the spouse.

Definitely don’t miss the chance to go. We like the location in the Marais- near the river, just a few minutes from the Saint Paul Metro station. Not only can you get a great treat, but you can also walk down to Peloton Coffee (about 50 yards away) and get a great coffee to drink with it. This is one of my very favourite place to go when I’m in Paris- whether I’m stopping to grab one for a snack on a quick day trip or lucky enough to pick up a loaf in the morning for breakfast during one of our longer stays.

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Oh! And a very important note: I know the chocolate loaf looks like it would be better. But it’s really not. Time and time again, we have strayed- but those crunchy, perfect sugar pearls always win. Don’t be fooled to step up, when your true love is waiting right in front of you.

AUX MERVEILLEUX DE FRED | 24 Rue du Pont Louis-Philippe, Paris 75004 


Find more of my favourite places in Paris here or look at my travel guide.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on October 3, 2018 and filed under my paris, paris, eat.

Pack Your Bags | Glendalough & Wicklow National Park

The very first day of my very first semester working with students overseas involved me picking up a new group from the Dublin airport and taking them via private coach to visit the Celtic monastery, Glendalough, set in the gorgeous Wicklow National Park. Well, at the time, I didn’t know it was gorgeous. I had never been. I spent the entire semester guiding the group to places that were new to them.. and me. But there was something about it that gave me such an excitement- just like they had- to experience the place. It’s hard to replicate the first time you experience a place- and the joy/eagerness Tyler & I both felt wandering those ruins was pretty huge. (I think we were both marvelling at the thought that “this” was actually a job.)

Years passed and for some reason, we moved that day off the Ireland itinerary because it just felt a bit soggy during the dark days of November when we were going. We freshened things up a bit… and it got removed. But this spring, it felt right to add it back in during a trip that would bring us through in late spring. When we got there, it was all blue skies and bright yellow flowers lining the trails. 

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We got to see the incredible ruins and walk out to both of the lakes (about a 25 minute walk each way). Edie even took a killer nap- despite the struggle it was to push her stroller along the gravel path. Admittedly, I looked pretty pathetic- opting for a carrier or heavy-duty stroller the next time around! 

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This is such an easy day-out from Dublin. Be adventurous and rent a car to make the most of the day. If it were me, I’d recommend heading out in the morning and go there first. (You don’t need a reservation to visit the ruins, but the visitors centre can be crowded. If so, don’t worry- you’re not missing much. Unless it’s pouring rain, and then its a nice shelter.

Walk out to the two lakes, if the weather is nice. The views are gorgeous and will check off any boxes you have of cliche Irish scenery. It’s all you’d want- green, rolling hills  and serene lakes. Ah. Stunning! You’ll more of less feel like Hillary Swank in P.S. I Love You. (I make my students watch this movie on the bus ride the day before. And I still cry every single time, in case you were wondering.)

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After you’ve seen it all, you can either drive to the Wicklow Heather nearby for a pub lunch surrounding by relics of Ireland’s great writers or you can opt to drive a bit further on to eat in the cafe at Powerscourt Estate. The food is killer, the shops have so many great Irish brands and treats to take home, and the views of the gardens from the outdoor terrace are stunning on a pretty day. It definitely is my favourite option, in case you were curious.

If you’re looking for more of my favourite places in Ireland, look in my travel guide to Ireland for ideas and places we love!



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on October 1, 2018 and filed under ireland, travel.

Swiss Wedding Wows

Sometimes you sneak away for a little getaway, and sometimes you splash it all over Instagram like it’s the 4th of July. For those of you not following on Instagram (come on, though, you should, we have fun on there) you may not know that this weekend, Tyler & I left town for a crisp 48 hours away. We went to Switzerland for my dear friend Annie’s wedding to her Swiss mister, Alex. (You may remember the incredible day out on Mount Rigi we had together in June.)

With how crazy the last week was for us and how hard it is to leave the kids, it took us some time to get into the groove of getting away. The flight was delayed, the weather in London was meh… but once we finally got on the train in from Zurich’s airport into Lucerne- I starting getting really giddy to get out and show him all the best spots. (The Lion Statue! The Chapel Bridge! The boat ride out to Mount Rigi! Mill’Feuille for breakfast! Max Chocolate Shop!)

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We made the most of our time there: site-seeing, eating really well, spending Saturday at the most gorgeous wedding in the history of all time (this is a fact, sorry, not open for discussion), and staying out way too late for people in their 30’s with kids, and waking up to do our monthly budget on Sunday because we are people in their 30’s with kids. 

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I know, I know, that getting away with little kids is really hard. It was our first time to just make something with the two of us happen since we went to Hawaii in 2017, so I can’t really pretend that we get to practice this very often. But, it is really good and such a treat. It’s worth the hustle, pushing aside the extra money to cover childcare, and the endless-schedule arranging to make that time together actually happen. I can only tell you: it does wonder for your relationship to discover something new together away from the ordinary of the everyday. 

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Ooh! And as I write that, I realise that this is a perfect time to announce something new here. If you’re starved for time together and want to get away- Tyler & I are actually hosting a couples trip this May! I’ve only announced it on Instagram stories at this point, but want to share it here, too. We’ll be headed to Normandy from May 18-23rd. We are renting a giant chateau, seeing all the great D-Day and Norman sites, kinda acting like we are B-List celebs with a private chef, and splitting up the cost so we can all recharge and hang out together. There are a few rooms left, so if you’re interested, hopefully, you can join us. Hang out with us. Have a great time somewhere special that guys and girls seem to equally like. Enjoy getting away together with just the two of you. And make some new couple friends, too. (Who couldn’t use a few new friends at this stage of their life? I could!) The rooms are given away on a first-come, first-served. All are welcome. (Just be nice and normal, please. Ha!)

*Sorry, no kids on this trip! It’s for time-starved couples that need to reconnect… like us. Ha! (Italics)

For more information, email lauren@aspiringkennedy.com.

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Read more posts from our travels in Switzerland or look in my travel guide to Switzerland here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on September 27, 2018 and filed under switzerland, travel, marriage.

My Florence | Breakfast at Villa Cora

As our schedule seems to typically fall, we are often traveling over my birthday. Because of an early August birthday, I’ve been able to celebrate birthdays in some pretty lush places. Being the good man that he is, Tyler knows that the thing I love to do most when ushering in a new year of life is to find the prettiest breakfast possible to celebrate. It just feels like the biggest treat to me. 

While there may have been many fine hotel beds and bathtubs that made me swoon, what really seems to stand out to me in thinking back on great hotels is the breakfast. There’s just nothing more indulgent than waking up in a pretty room and wandering down to a pretty table and pretty, homemade food and hot delicious coffee. Its in those moment that I feel my brain get the warm fuzzies of complete travel bliss. 

For my 34th birthday (34!!!), we headed to Villa Cora below Piazzale Michaelangelo in Florence. We passed it a few nights earlier driving with a friend: it glowed on the hillside with pretty lighting and had an ambiance that made me wish I had a slinky ballgown to go dance on the terrace in. When I asked her what it was, she replied that it was called Villa Cora and was a gorgeous hotel. Call it fate, call it destiny.... but I knew then and there that was the place we needed to try this year.

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And I can’t say that it disappointed in anyway. The service was incredible, the setting was Florentine posh in all the best ways, the food was a mix between the Italian finest and made-to-order requests. (I mean, goodness, they serve their fruit on columns of ice.) The terrace to eat on overlooks the fountain and gardens and it just feels.... decadent.

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We for a couple of hours- no kids, no problem- enjoying every bite and sipping coffee and fresh cold press juices and any other item we had a whim to try. The staff was so sweet and didn’t rush us one bit.

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Afterwards, we were invited to explore the villa and gardens, enjoy a takeaway coffee and felt like we were actual hotel guests. 

We wandered down into the garden and sat on a white couch and Tyler obliged me by spending the next hour doing one of my other most beloved activities: financial planning. Ha! How fun of a date am I? But seriously, I love having time to chat through big picture ideas and after a a nice, relaxed morning- it was the perfect time to go through it.

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Would I recommend going to Villa Cora for breakfast in Florence? Yes! It’s €35 per person and a great option for a celebration or girly morning out. I’d recommend calling before you go to get a table reserved on the terrace, as that really is the best seat in the house and seating is quite limited.


VILLA CORA | Viale Machiavelli, 18, 50125 Firenze FI | +39 055 228790


Find more of my favourite places in Florence in my travel guide.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on September 25, 2018 and filed under florence, italy, marriage, my florence.

Tuscany Day Trip | Collodi + Pinnochio Park

Today, we were leaving for Lucca when a friend mentioned that we should stop by Collodi and show the kids the town that is famous for it’s connection to the famous Italian story, Pinocchio. (Apparently, the author’s pen name was “Carlo Collodi,’ which he chose as a tie to his mother’s native village.) 

After a great day biking around Lucca and eating small mountains of gelato, we hit the road for Collodi. When we pulled up on a late August afternoon, it felt as if this town had been long-forgotten, but with several shops overflowing with Pinocchio toys and a giant statue of him welcoming us into town, we parked and wandered around to see what awaited us.

We soon stumbled upon the Pinocchio Park, which seemed like the best option. After all, we had already paid for parking, got the kids out of their car seats and strapped them in. As we stood in the empty ticket area with faded murals on the walls around us, we forked over €44 for the 5 of us to enter with the feeling that we were overpaying for what we were about to experience. 

We walked in and looked around. None of the rides were currently running, as there was a puppet show in progress. One single employee ducked behind an old stage and performed (in Italian) the story of Pinocchio for the small crowd sitting out in the audience. 

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We cringed and continued on taking note that we had just paid a chunk of change to to enter a park that is completely in a timewarp. The park consists of, literally, three tiny, vintage rides- each kid can ride each one twice, a small playground, a little trail to follow with a zipline, a few dusty caravans to walk through, a little craft hut and a snack bar. There are some bronze sculptures dotted around and a giant shark/whale feature. 

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BUT- we spent two and half hours there and our kids loved it. It was simple fun. They rode a little Venetian-themed boat carousel of gondolas. They tinkered inside the music garden on little coloured pipes. They coloured hats in the craft shed with a kind worker who assembled and decorated little accessories to complete their efforts. Edie, meanwhile, happily got filthy playing the dirt during their fun.

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It wasn’t what we had expected, and I wouldn’t recommend this stop for anyone who is crunched for time in Tuscany. However, if you’re in the area for a while, I would say- go for it. Make a day in a tiny town that has lived beyond its prime- but you’ll love the sweet reminder of your own childhood as you watch your kids play there. (I mean, I didn’t have a childhood in Italy, but Tyler & I both commented on how much the experience felt like our own memories.) It’s not fancy, but it’s a sweet way to let them explore and have fun- and when they’re little, that’s kind of the goal, right?

If you’re need help finding Collodi by public transport, you can either take a train to nearby Pescia and bus in, or train to Lucca and take a bus directly from there to Collodi.


 

Find more of my Tuscany Day Trips here or check out my Travel Guide to Italy.
 



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on September 4, 2018 and filed under italy, traveling with kids.

Tuscany Day Trip | The Leaning Tower of Pisa

The Leaning Tower of Pisa is something that we both saw years ago and- while we liked it- had removed from our list of “must see’s” upon returning to Tuscany in the summers.

However, with kids, it’s an easy and fun option to do out for Florence. Plus, it was just under an hour door-to-Tower for us, so it makes for a great option for spending half the day out and half the day being lazy/doing something else.

You can take a train from Florence to Pisa really easily- they run often from Florence’s main station, Santa Maria Novella and are cheap. (Maybe €6 the last time I took it?) Once you arrive to the station, you can either trek across town following the signs or hop in a local bus or taxi. But we had a car, so we opted for driving right on up, parking in a paid lot about 300 yards from the tower and cruising in.

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What’s great about the tower is that you can visit it for free! Take all the classic “holding it up with one finger” pics that your heart desires for not a single penny. However, to climb the famous tower- you’ll need to reserve a time slot and pay €18. I’ve been there probably 8 times and never climbed up... and to be honest, I don’t feel like I’m missing out at all. (Do chime in below if you have climbed up and think I’m wrong!)

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We took loads of pictures- most mainly bad and hilarious. Then wandered down a side street stuffed with tourist shops and cafes in search of something along the frozen-dairy category for a great. We got popsicles at a little cafe and scooted back to the tower to enjoy them on the curb. (Fine dining with a view, of course.)

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After about an hour all in- we decided we had enough of the Pisa experience and headed out to the car park. A million men selling random trinkets will, of course, try to intercept you. We ended up with a hot pink fan for €1 for a certain 5 year old, and hit the road.

This is a really fun, cheap and easy day trip when you’re staying in Florence. With a gaggle of little kids, having a car made it really easy on us- but if you had a small baby or older kids, a train would be a fabulously simple route to the iconic tower, too!

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Find more of my favorite day trips in Tuscany here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on August 22, 2018 and filed under italy, travel.

My Barcelona | El Nacionel

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Before I dive in to this incredible spot in Barcelona, can I just say: I LOVE SPAIN. It’s got so much of what I love about France... just cheaper, it has incredible architecture, the food scene is top notch and *cough* it has friendlier natives. (Sorry, Paris, you’re beautiful but can kinda be aggressive and emotional.) It just feels like how I remember what Europe once felt like... a bit less run over, a bit less homogenised. The Spanish culture still feels so incredibly in tact. (Or should I say Catalonian, since we have been in Barcelona?)

But enough about how incredible Spain is... let’s talk about a good place for lunch or dinner when you find yourself in Barcelona.

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My parents actually lead us to this place- “a market to eat in.” I had something like La Boqueria in mind, but when we turned off the main thoroughfare of Passeig de Gràcia  towards the tiny passageway to El Nacionel, I realised we were in for a total treat.

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While this is a bit like a market, it’s not the standard hodge podge of farmers and artisans selling food. It’s more like a posh food court with various places to eat in it.

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Get some delicious Italian, fresh seafood, French brasserie food or grab some Spanish tapas at their various little restaurants. Whatever you’re up for, there seems to be a pretty option for you there.

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The interior are perfect and the whole atmosphere is just airy and relaxed. The clientele is a nice mix of locals and tourists who look like they know what they are doing. Overall, I’d say that El Nacionel is a great spot for lunch in Barcelona after you’ve been wandering along and shopping along Las Ramblas. 

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When you’re done, don’t forget to grab an ice cone before you hit the road. The coconut is pretty delicious, if I do say so myself.

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Find all of my favourite places in Spain here in my travel guide.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on August 17, 2018 and filed under spain, travel.

My Barcelona | Hole

While we were in Barcelona, Tyler & I passed a cute little breakfast spot with people spilling out the front door and chatting over tiny tables sitting on cushions along the windowsill and wooden crates. Sunlight was pouring inside the cafe and the sound of espresso being made wafted out the open door. The scene seemed so pleasant and happy... and we wished we had time to stop and be a part of what was going on.

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But we had our kids with us and were marching along with our family to La Sagrada Familia, so on we went.

The next day, we waited (and waited) for our driver to arrive to take us to the port for our cruise. The driver called and was not going to be there for another forty minutes, so Tyler grabbed me and asked me on a lightening speed coffee date/run back to the place from yesterday.

My mom kept Harrison, we put the two girls in a stroller each. (Viola loves not having to walk when she has the luxury of a stroller at her disposal- ha!) And off we popped! As it always is the case, it ended up being about twice as far away as we remembered but we got there, ordered, got to hang out for a bit- enjoying the fact that we had actually pulled off making it back and trying the place that had looked so good to us both when we had past. I love that Tyler and I still have those moments after all the years and places we have been together. 

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And I think, maybe all those places and moments have fine tuned us a bit because Hole (the name of the cafe, as it turned out) was one of those really good spots that you’re glad to discover. The owner was nice, the coffee was good, they made incredible fresh squeezed juices that glowed bright happy colours, pancakes sat fluffily on top of each other with Nutella plopped on top and people chatted happily amongst themselves- just as we had thought the day before. 

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And then hoofed it back to the hotel in time to load up our bags.

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It was a nice little spot to discover and next time, I’m hoping to stay for a bit longer!

HOLE | Carrer de València, 352, 08009 Barcelona


Find more of my favourite places in Barcelona in my Spain guide.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on August 15, 2018 and filed under eat, spain, travel.

Country BBQ (English Style)

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School is out! At last, Viola is finished with her school year. I can’t believe she is through Reception. (Our version of “kindergarten” that they start at 4.)

She finished school last Friday and then Saturday we got to celebrate the summer kick-off with a day at a barbecue at our friend’s lovely house in Oxfordshire.

Now first things first: a “BBQ” can be confusing. When we first moved to England, we got invited to a barbecue and I was like like: “OH BABY! YES! Finally!” I showed up to the barbecue salivating over the idea of brisket, spicy polish sausages, ribs, and was completely shocked to find burgers. I soon realised that when someone barbecues here, it simply means “grill out.” So if you’re a new expat, you’ve been warned and you can adjust your expectations accordingly. 

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But luckily, my expectations were in line for this party... and I knew that a day our in Oxfordshire at our friends house would be nothing short of lovely.

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And it was! Especially with seven black lab puppies to cuddle. My kids were smitten, and so was I as I watched them lug the sleepy little puppies around. It was so cute!

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Also, Edie decided it was her day to start really walking- so she got her first real steps in that day and it was hilariously cute watching her big thighs waddle around and plop in the grass. 

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The day was so fun. We left around 5:30, stopped at McDonalds on the highway and let the kids get Happy Meals... which, to our dismay and relief, they really only wanted for the toy.  

I’m not really sure what my kids will remember of days like this, but I’m hopeful they stack up as a hazy collection of imperfect days made up of lots of happy memories. Because as crazy as they may feel at times in the moment, I know that’s what they actually are!

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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

My Paris | A Private Tour of Versailles

 

You know that feeling you have when you're traveling and you stumble across some place new... there's a sense of excitement that pulses through you and, if you're like me, you feel like you need to start running, or finding the best restaurant or peeking into real estate offices to begin your new life here.

I love that feeling, and it wasn't until I found myself wandering through the city of Versailles last week that I felt it again for the first time in a long time. To my surprise, the feeling came back and I realised how long it had been since I felt this incredible feeling of the unknown. Most of the places we go to are familiar... like the feeling of seeing an old friend. It's a happy feeling, but a very comfortable feeling.

Anyway, I was in Versailles and we ended up walking 10 minutes past the Chateau and into the heart of town. There was a huge daily market and gorgeous cafes and streets. I couldn't believe I had been to this town so many times and, yet, actually had never seen the cute town here.

But I didn't realise the new view of Versailles had only just begun...

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VISITE PRESTIGE | VERSAILLE'S PRIVATE TOUR OF THE KING & QUEENS APARTMENTS

Okay, so there's a visit to Versailles and then there is THIS VISIT. I was traveling with a private group of clients and they jumped at the opportunity to splurge when I suggested this private tour of the king and queen's private apartments inside Versailles. I had never been on it before, but knew that a guided tour was a must- as the standard lines are just horrific; however, I had my socks officially knocked off by this incredible experience.

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The tour consisted of a private tour through the closed doors of Versailles. We had a docent walk through with us and a second person who carried the ancient keys to unlock the doors and open the shutters inside these dark, closed-off rooms.

You're walked into Marie Antoinette's bedroom where she would hang out with her friends during the day getting dressed and relaxing in between court appearances, you see the bathroom of Louis XIV and the spot where he took his baths and had his face shaved every morning. You see the fluffy bed inside Madame du Barry's apartments... whee the king would come down to visit his beloved mistress. 

You sit in the private opera house to discuss details with the guide, you wander around hidden stair cases and dawdle through empty corridors. 

You are lead and given access to places that you can only imagine. Away from the hustle and formality of the state rooms where events were held, you get to wander through the quiet spaces where they actually lived the meaningful moments of their lives.

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Meanwhile, we never saw another human during the entire two hour tour. We almost began to see the palace as our own... until it ended and found ourselves in the middle of the hoards of tourists. We quickly felt ruined by our incredibly posh beginning so rushed through to the gardens.

Oh man, what an experience. Definitely not the cheapest way to visit Versailles (the tour is €1000 and can include up to 20 guests); however, for a special occasion or a larger group it is an incredible opportunity to see Versailles in such a special way.

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And if you don't get that butterfly-travel-excitment from this day out in Versailles, well, I don't know what to tell you. 

 


Looking for help on a day-trip to Versailles from Paris? I've made it easy in my Daytrip to Versailles post here. Find more of my Paris favourites in my travel guide to Paris.

 



 

*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

 

My Notting Hill | Chucs Westbourne Grove

If you're looking for a great lunch spot in London, I have a little secret spot that is too good to miss tucked away in plain site in Notting Hill's Westbourne Grove.

I met my friend Amber at Chucs in the tiny pristine garden one day for lunch, and it was the perfect little spot to spend a couple of hours catching up over yummy food with zero pressure to move fast. (To be honest, the same can be said for the wait staff at times. We'll just chalk it up to Italian charm.)

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The restaurant inside is sweet, but for a pretty day- it's hard to beat cacio e pepe, paper-thin chicken paillard and fried zucchini with a pal.

I think this spot could be a total winner for a brunch to celebrate a soon-to-arrive baby, sneak away to on a weeknight date, or just do what we did... meet up with an old friend and enjoy the day/food/pretty setting.

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CHUCS  |   226 WESTBOURNE GROVE  +44 020 7243 9136

 

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FIND MORE OF THE BEST PLACES TO EAT IN NOTTING HILL                                                         IN MY TRAVEL GUIDE TO NOTTING HILL.



 

*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Little London | 5 Places to Splash & Cool Off Around London

I grew up in Texas with a pool. I could swim from one end to the other by the time I was three. 

However, my children live in London. The closest thing they have to a pool is a bathtub, and they still love their floaties very, very much. (And so do I.)

Another thing that is different than my Texas upbringing is the lack of air conditioning. When it gets hot, it gets HOT like its so gloriously been the last stretch of weeks here in Britain. While we don't have access to a pool, there are some great spots around London... most come with a view and even better- most don't cost a dime.

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And if you're going to get familiar with this scene, you'll need to adopt the term "lido" into your vocabulary. Swap out "swimmin' hole" or whatever you called it back home and opt for this posh and very English term ("LIE-DOH"). It means an open-air swimming pool or bathing beach.

(Go on and drop that term to a local and feel very cool.)


DIANA MEMORIAL FOUNTAIN | This fabulous memorial is a giant water feature near the Serpentine. Kids can wander the circular water feature and play in the rapids. It can be a bit treacherous for tiny ones in spots, so plan to wear shots to escort them through those spots. 

*I just checked the website and it says that it asks people not to walk on the memorial... but I assure you that hundreds do this daily anyway and they have staff to supervise?

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THE V&A MUSEUM | In between the museum and the cafe of the V&A, there's a little pond/pool area. It's a bit deeper than your ankles and has a few fountains dotted around the side. In the hot days, you'll find kids splashing and playing in their diapers and underwear here. It's a great spot, as the cafe is just to your side to make it an easy spot to spend a few hours in... and with water so shallow you don't have to continuously fret about drowning. I would say that, as this is primarily a museum, make sure your children are changed and dry before re-entering the museum to avoid making a mess! It would be very uncool of you. 

 

RAVENSCOURT PARK LIDO | This is a neighbourhood gem in Shepherds Bush. Set in the back of a grand Victorian park, this lido is perfect for little kids (not too deep!) and is sandwiched between a playground and a sand pit. Just outside the lido gates, you'll find the massive park to enjoy and explore. 

 

KENSINGTON MEMORIAL | If you're looking for a splash pad, this is a great place to go. It's tucked back in Notting Hill in the neighbourhood that was devastated by the Grenfell Tower tragedy. It's very local and feels like a little trip back through time when you enter by it's tiny snack shack. When the kids are tired, they can play on the playgrounds just outside the gate with areas perfecter big kids (zipline and giant climbing frame) and a for littles  (smaller climbing frame and sand).

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DESIGN MUSEUM | Just off Kensington High Street, the new Design Museum is a very cool (free!) museum. Just outside that very cool museum, there are some fun fountains that they allow kids to play in. It's not very crowded and makes for an easy stopping point near Holland Park or running errands on Kensington High Street.

 


 

Though I've never tried them myself,

my very normal & cool friends like these places, too:

SERPENTINE LIDO (HYDE PARK )

LONDON FIELDS LIDO (EAST LONDON)

 PARLIAMENT HILL LIDO (HAMPSTEAD HEATH)

 


 

FIND MORE FUN THINGS TO DO WITH KIDS IN LONDON HERE.

 



 

*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

 

Little London | Thames Path in Richmond

 

I often get parents of small kids over for a visit, and they gush about how they wish they could have their kids grow up here. YES. It has some amazing advantages: culture, history, cool accents. I love the childhood my children have most every day of the week, but I also feel like I always need to be honest. (Because trust me, I glazed over city living with kids for a long time... before I actually lived with kids in a city.) The fact of the matter is that living in a major city with a young family comes with some huge downfalls: no space (seriously, like ever), long journeys of schlepping in bad weather or on crowded transport, somewhat difficult social boundaries to break through. 

We have been really lucky and are so grateful for our little life here. We have all our needs met... and beyond! 

But last summer, we were feeling a bit claustrophobic. Tyler finally broke down, jumped through the hoops to get his UK license and we added a (very used! very cheap!) car to our family after 7 years of living without it. We hardly use it still walk and scoot most places during the week. But on the weekend, we get a little crazy and get the itch to get out of town with the kids and give them room to explore.


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For Edie's birthday, we wanted to do something simple. Since those first few birthdays are really for the parents, these parents decided that the best thing for us was to go easy on ourselves. So, when an extravagant party isn't an option, hanging out in a pretty place is the next best thing because it still feel really special.

We headed to Richmond, parked the car, unloaded the kids and went down towards the river. Along the Thames there is the cutest little river walk- which is just a small part of the the Thames Path National trail that stretches 180 miles from Greenwich to north of Oxford.

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The place we went to stretches between Richmond and Hampton Court and comes complete with boat & bike rentals, cafes with people dotted around the tables, grassy areas with people napping or lounging together, and cute little bunting to guide you along the way. We LOVED it!

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We found a little spot, tossed down our picnic blanket, lit a candle on a cupcake and sang happy birthday to sweet Edie.

After they gobbled down the icing and abandoned the cake part of the cupcakes, we watched Harrison scoot up and down a long ramp until we could no longer stand the heat.

 

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It was a perfect little escape from the crammed city routine we often do, and I can't wait to go back and do more picnics... and, when Tyler's feeling up for some arm work, going in one of the row boats. 

 

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You can easily reach Richmond by car or public transport (trains from Waterloo into Richmond or the district line to Richmond). There was some nice detailed instructions on this site. But basically, just get to the High Street in Richmond, and you're just a street or two away.

 

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This is a great day out and makes those tough stretches of being in London with kids feel less stressful and so, so lovely!

 

LOOKING FOR MORE ABOUT LONDON WITH LITTLE KIDS? CHECK HERE.

 



 

*images original to aspiring kennedy

 

Littles in London | The UK School Year

It’s creeping towards the end of July and I’ve spent the evening responding to PTA meeting emails and making a list of what items I need to bring for Viola’s last day of school festivities tomorrow. 

Wait, it’s the end of July and we still have one day to go? What the actual heck?

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The English school calendar is comprised of three terms (autumn, spring & summer). Each term is 13 weeks long and has a one-week break in the middle of it. This is called, unsurprisingly, “half-term.” The autumn term ends at Christmas, where you get a 2-3 week break. The spring term ends at Easter, where you get a 2-3 week break, and the summer term ends in late July where you start your summer. Does that makes sense?

Here it feels so normal to still be in the wind-down to school, but when I FaceTime family back home who are lounging around the house on a Wednesday or see the swim parties and late nights kids are having in the States- it reminds me of how DIFFERENT the school schedule is between where I grew up and where my kids are growing up.

For me, summer was 3 months that seemed to have no end or horizon- just an abyss of endless time that gave kids the chance to truly transform and dissolve from the confines of the previous school year. Do you remember as a kid coming back to school in August and seeing someone that had really, really changed into an almost unrecognisable version of who they were in May? 

Well, here it’s a six week leap from the end of July through the start of September. August truly is the untouchable month where families flee Britain and head to sunny spots around the continent. It’s less of a time to dork around with your neighbours and stay up late riding back and playing flashlight tag as it is to go to your grandparents house in Cornwall or France. It’s less back-to-back weeks stuffed with driving to your grandparents, Disney trips, and summer camps and -instead- more camper trips to the beach and longer-term vacation rentals somewhere far away. 

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The thing about it is that it’s just short enough that parents can take the time off, too, for the most part. It’s a big family time- but the length of it seems to allow for one big trip rather than the sporadic and endless activities we have in the states over 3 months. I remember forecasting my summers in weeks: The first week we are here with my grandparents, the next week I go to camp, then I’m at home for the week and it’s my dads birthday, then we have our family vacation, then we come back to Dallas for (insert school-forced choir/band/drama “camp,” and then school starts. Is that still more or less how it happens?

To be honest, I’m not entirely sold on the English system entirely because I really loved my childhood summers… but it’s where we are and the amazing school we are in makes it so worth it, so we are keeping on and carrying on the best that we can to acclimate to sports days, summer school fairs & all-school performances rolling on through June and July. (Luckily, it's all be a lot of fun!)

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And while we are on the topic…. Go ahead and list the summer you came back to school with the biggest transformation. Mine was, in my 7th grade opinion, definitely when I arrived back with braces and my ears pierced. I truly wondered if people would be able to recognise me. Ha!

 


Find more of our life with kids in London here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Pack Your Bags | Iceland Western Fjords

 

After good stint of doing the Southern Coast in Iceland every September, we felt it was time to shake things up a bit. Why not push ourselves out of our comfort zones and try the Western Fjords in February?


Well, I’ll be honest- if you saw the picture of the #beastfromtheeast in London, you may be able to imagine how that would translate into Iceland winter weather. Our experience in Iceland included a lot of stops for lack of visibility, crazy views of snow covered coastlines and sleepy small towns living life as normal in the midst of some of the coldest weather we had ever experienced!

So the weather was cold and we struggled a bit with the intense snow... but does that mean we wouldn't do it again? No way. And in fact, we are adding this trip to our new trips for the winter. It's too good to miss- so I'm sharing my itinerary with you below if you're looking for something a bit out of the ordinary routine along the Southern Coast for your trip to Iceland.

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Day 1- VENTURING WEST TO BOGARNES & STYKKISHOLMAR:

From Reykjavik you take Highway 1, into a tunnel with an entrance fee of 1,000 krona (as of Feb ‘18 and roughly $10 USD)  that takes you under the Whale Fjord. It’s about an hour drive from Reykjavik to this slightly remote part of Iceland. Drive to the oldest house in Iceland, called the Settlement Center, in the small town of Borghanes on the Sneiflesness Peninsula.

They provide a guided tour through the house that walks you through the early history of Iceland. It is very interesting and the people are very friendly. The house welcomes children, but if I'm honest, little ones probably won't be very captivated in hearing the history of Iceland. The museum is interactive and even had an exhibit where you can get on a moving boat and feel like you’re a viking! From the Settlement House, you can stop for lunch at the famous (in Iceland) gas station “N1”, a place with hot food comparable to a full-service gas station in the United States. Don't think day-old hot dogs rotating along warmers. Thing more along the lines of a burger joint that cooks food- like lamb stew, burgers, salads, etc- to order. 

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Then, head out to the Shark Museum, which is a 20 minute drive out of Stykkisholmur, and if you’re brave, try the fermented shark! Right outside the shark museum they have a bunch of Icelandic horses that they’ll usually let you pet. Remember to be respectful, stay a good distance from the fence (they’re usually electric), and don’t feed them!

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On the drive, look out for Eldborg Crater, the salt column walls, and the lava fields.

If you’re traveling in the January-February, the peak of winter, be sure to check the road for adverse conditions and closings and stay flexible. 

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DAY 2- EXPLORING STYKKISHOLMUR:

Stay at Foss Hotel, a comfortable hotel in the small town of Stykkisholmur, about a 20 minute drive from the Shark Museum. Foss Hotel has amazing dinners every night and breakfast buffets every morning. The population is 1,000, but its as cozy as it gets in Iceland.

You’ll want to spend some time in these smaller, rural towns that embody the aesthetic of every Hallmark movie you’ve ever watched at your grandparents house over Christmas. From the hotel, it’s easiest to walk across the street and up to the church on the hill, where you’ll have a view the entire town and over the water.

From the hotel you can walk down the very picture-esque harbour filled with colourful boats, this is actually where they filmed the part of a Secret Life of Walter Mitty where they said they were in Greenland, that’s some movie magic.

If you walk past the harbour you can hike up a cliff (hike is a strong word given that there are stairs all the way up but sometimes they’ll be covered in snow and that can make it a challenge!) to the small, red lighthouse on the hill.

This is the highest point in the town and you’ll have the best view. Visit the Volcano Museum called Eld Fjalla, it features an original Andy Warhol painting and will give you amazing insiders to the various eruptions all throughout Iceland and even some from Central America!

Eat at an adorable little cafe called Narfeyarstofa, they offer lunch options, hot beverages, and a beautiful view out to the town and over the harbour! If you want to take a quick trip out of Stykkisholmur, you can take a forty minute drive out to Grundarfjordur where they filmed the majority of the Secret life of Walter Mitty.

After you’re done with a day in Stykkisholmur, load back up into your rental car and drive two hours to Husafell for the best chance at seeing the northern lights and to prepare for an adventurous day three.

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DAY 3- HUSAFELL, INTO THE GLACIER & REYKJAVIK:

Wake up fresh at the Hotel Husafell offers breakfast, and it’s worth your time to work it into your schedule! The breakfast is buffet-style with a line of hot foods like scrambled eggs, sausage, etc. and a line for pastries and other bread. It was very fresh and clean, and there was always a waiter or waitress there to help, refill your coffee or replenish the food.

The “Into The Glacier” tour meets right outside the Hotel Husafell at Meeting Point Husafell. Make sure to reserve your tickets beforehand. The tour offers snowsuits and winter gear at the Meeting Point for those who came less-prepared for the bitter cold. The inside of the glacier is cold, but not terrible. At 36 degrees Fahrenheit, our tour guide called it “rather cosy” when wearing an Icelandic wool sweater. The tour guides are a team of men who are very well-equipped for leading you into the glacier, and they make jokes that make you forget what a bumpy ride it is. The ride up to the glacier is intense in the huge super jeep glacier vehicles, especially at the peak of winter, but they’re used to this.

Upon your arrival, they take you into a tunnel which leads into the glacier. It’s an incredible experience that you won’t forget. The views make it feel like another world. It is the largest man-made glacier tunnel in the world and the 2nd largest glacier in Iceland.  On your way back down the mountain, they provide you with chocolate milk and kleiners, two Icelandic specialties. For more information on the Glacier, see post at Into The Glacier. Once back down the mountain, you can stop for lunch at Husafell Bistro right there. It is a buffet-style meal with bread, soups, pizza, and noodles located right next to the entrance of the Meeting Point where you departed.

From there, you can hop onto a bus for a tour through Vidgelmir Cave, the largest cave in Iceland. The bus will take you right to the office of the Cave and they’ll give you hard hats with lights to get you ready for your trek. It is a bit of a hike out to the entrance to the cave. 

The views are amazing, the stalagmites are massive, and the experience incredible overall. You have the option of an hour-long tour which will take you through the parts of the cave that has a path cleared, or a more extensive, four-hour tour that will walk you through all of the cave if you feel equipped and balanced enough to explore without a man-made path. 

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Once you get back onto your bus, be sure to make a quick stop about 10 minutes up the road at Lava Falls Waterfall. End your day by driving back to Reykjavik.

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Et voila! There you have 3 really good days spent in the Western Fjords of Iceland. This itinerary is perfect for the repeat visitor to Iceland who is looking for a bit more than the standard Southern coast offerings.


 

FIND ALL OF MY FAVOURITE ICELAND THINGS TO DO & SEE in my Iceland guide

 

Check out MY PINTEREST-FAMOUS "PERFECT ICELAND ITINERARY"

 


Follow Aspiring Kennedy on Bloglovin


*images to Aspiring Kennedy

 

Posted on July 2, 2018 and filed under iceland, pack your bags.

My London | Highlights of the Natural History Museum

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In conjunction with my other post on The British Museum, I've decided to walk you through the best of London's museums and create an easy to follow series to help your trip planning. The next up is another of London's greatest museums: The Natural History Museum!

Not only is the Natural History Museum pretty to look at on the outside- decked out in its Victorian splendour- but it is also a treasure chest inside. The Natural History Museum is home to over 80 million specimens and has 36 free galleries. As almost all museums in England are, admission is free. No pressure to see it all or get your money’s worth- you really can browse and visit as you enjoy… or just go in to have a reasonably priced cup of coffee in a fabulous setting. (I do that often!)

Since this is such a great spot to take children in London, I wanted to make sure it made my new series of museum guides in London. It’s definitely the museum that my children know the best, and it is a place that I’m sure many people have special childhood memories. (Any of you have any you’d like to share?) 

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THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE NATURAL HISTORY MUSEUM


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THE BLUE WHALE | When you walk into the Natural History Museum, there is a huge Blue Whale exhibit in Hintze Hall to greet visitors. It is a massive skeleton that hangs from the ceiling, and it is incredible.

Some fast facts about the Blue Whale: The blue whale is the largest animal to have ever lived. With each gulp, it can take in up to 457,000 calories. They can weigh up to 180 tonnes, making them heavier than even the largest dinosaurs. The Museum’s Blue Whale is 25 metres long- thats 75 feet, American friends. You won’t want to miss this exhibit and as big as it is, I don't think you will!

WHERE TO FIND IT | Blue Zone, nearest entrance is the main entrance off Cromwell Road.


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DINOSAURS | The Natural History Museum’s dinosaurs are world-famous. This exhibit includes the first-ever fossils found from a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the skull of a Triceratops, and the Baryonx. With all the dinosaurs around, this is hugely kid-friendly. Stop at this exhibit to learn more about these prehistoric giants and why they died out.

WHERE TO FIND IT | Blue Zone on the Ground Floor, next to the Hintze Hall.


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MAMMALS | This exhibit has cases and cases of mammals and it is truly fascinating to see the diversity of it all! Some of the highlights of this exhibit include pandas, bears, horses, big cats and dogs, and the extinct Diprotodon from Australia. The exhibit compares them to humans and shows you how truly diverse life is!

WHERE TO FIND IT | Blue Zone, nearest entrance is Cromwell Road.


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BIRDS | This section is both incredible and a bit creepy. All of these birds are pinned down so that you can see the anatomy of their wings and bodies, as well as the way that their feathers have grown. My favorite is the hummingbird cabinet. It is literally an array of hundreds of hummingbirds. The Birds exhibit also includes cases of the extinct Dodo Bird, blackbirds, storm petrels, passenger pigeons, and a selection of eggs from the giant elephant bird.

WHERE TO FIND IT | Green Zone, the nearest entrance is the Cromwell Road.


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CREEPY CRAWLIES | This exhibit lives up to its name; it is full of creepy things that crawl! The exhibit includes a live ant colony, a life-size model of a termite mound, an interactive game to build a spider, a cabinet of crustaceans, and more locusts, scorpions, termites, and thousands more Your kids will love it! Try not to hurry past, as it really is a fascinating exhibit!

WHERE TO FIND IT | Green Zone, nearest entrance is Cromwell Road.


HUMAN BIOLOGY | If you’ve had enough of all the animals and other mammals, this gallery is a huge resource to find out more about your own body. From learning about how hormones affect our body to how our brain and organs work together, this gallery is incredible. Be sure to see the giant cell model and the specimen of DNA.

WHERE TO FIND IT | Blue Zone, nearest entrance is Cromwell Road.


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DARWIN CENTRE'S COCOON | This centre is super unique because you can see the museum’s scientists in action behind glass walls. It also takes you through how scientists collect and care for all of their specimens. Exhibits include specimens of beetles, butterflies, plants, tarantulas, and herbs. It opened in 2009, so it’s pretty new. Definitely worth checking out!

WHERE TO FIND IT | Darwin Centre in the Orange Zone, nearest entrance is Cromwell Road.


FUN EVENTS | The museum holds fun events, including a nighttime event called “DinoSnore”, where kids aged 7-11 can participate in a night of making dinosaur T-shirts, explore a torch-lit trail, and attend a science show put on by a Museum scientist. They do activities until midnight and then set up a sleeping area. Breakfast is served in the morning before they leave. Bookings are required. See their website for more details.

The museum also holds an “Airbnb Base Camp”, which is another nighttime event for kids with a special area for sleepovers in the Museum. The sleeping area is next to a 1,300 year old Sequoia tree, overlooking the Blue Whale exhibit.

In addition to all of this, there are movie nights, “DinoSnore” for adults, crime scene live events, and other activities for the night, where you can see the museum’s exhibits come alive from a new perspective.


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COFFEE | And of course, no trip out in London is complete without a stop for a coffee and a pastry. They have some good cafes and bookshops- my favorite is the T. Rex Grill (they have cheap kids meals and very decent adult food), The Coffee House, and the Central Cafe! 


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ADDRESS & HELPFUL TIPS | Cromwell Rd, Kensington, London SW7 5BD

Open Everyday, 10:00 - 17:50

Tube Station: South Kensington (Circle & District Line + Piccadilly Line)

There are three entrances: Cromwell Road, Queen’s Gate, and Exhibition Road. However, be warned: the main entrance on Cromwell Road has crazy long lines (especially on weekends) so skip the long queue and go around the corner on Exhibition Road for a shorter line and a faster entrance. Queen’s Gate is also good, but can be periodically closed.

I hope you enjoy your visit to the Natural History Museum! Find more of my favorite London highlights here. 

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My London | Maggie Jones

What do girls really want? A question asked my many, but I think the solution is simple: pretty lunches with people they like. Ha! Okay, maybe that is simplifying a question that has puzzled many through the ages, but what woman doesn’t enjoy a gorgeous meal in the company of a person they enjoy? 

I can think fondly of so many special meals shared in lovely settings with people that are dear to me. Ahhh…. What is it about being around the table with someone you love that feels so comforting? It’s where physical needs are met with emotional needs and all feels right with the world.

I recently revisited a place I hadn’t been to in a long time- Maggie Jones. It’s a sweet spot that was just down from our old place in Notting Hill, on Kensington Church Street. 

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The lunch was with some sweet travel clients that I was lucky enough to travel with for two weeks this month. The conversation was easy, the service was helpful and friendly, the food was fabulous (oh, that veggie pot pie!) and the ambiance was out of a movie.

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I totally recommend Maggie Jones for a lunch if/when you’re near Kensington Palace. It makes for a sweet cosy spot to share a meal in the middle of a busy city. And seriously- the food! Delicious comfort food in the sweetest setting!

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MAGGIE JONES | 6 Old Court Place, Kensington Church Street, London W8 4PL | 020 7937 6462 | Reservations recommended. 


Find more of my favourite places to go in London under My London series or in my London travel guide.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on June 20, 2018 and filed under london, my london favourites, my london.