Posts filed under get out of town

Get Out of Town | Isle of Wight

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My childhood home back in Texas was one of those houses amongst my friends that we retreated to after many nights out. (And by nights out, I obviously and only mean awkwardly standing around our cars talking to guys in the Starbucks parking lot, wandering the grocery store in my mom’s giant poofy ballgowns from the 80’s, or wrapping/toilet papering someone’s house. Yes, I was super popular. Thanks for asking.) It wasn’t an especially grand home, but there was always a space for us to be there, no matter what else was going on, and there was always miraculously an endless supply of homemade treats mysteriously perched all over the kitchen. And the best part was, there was no unofficial barter that required us to hang out with my parents in return. (Though, being the late-blooming academic overachievers that we were, we actually did it anyway because nobody was gonna tell us that PaReNts~ArEnT~kEwL.) But there was something really special about coming home there as a student- both in high school and in college- with my friends…. Lucky me to have grown up in such a home.

Fast-forward a decade (or... two? Who’s counting), a few kids and a transatlantic move later… I no longer have that house to bring my friends back to here in London. And to be honest, I hadn’t really realised how far removed we were from that perk of life until we visited the Isle of Wight last weekend. 

My sweet friend Ruth invited us to visit her parents’ house with their family…. in April. So we finally found a date that worked in November (which I say less to brag and more to expose how regretfully overbooked our lives are) to celebrate Bonfire Night with them. 

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When we arrived, I immediately melted into that cosy feeling of HOME. Okay, not my home, obviously- but just a home that you’re really welcome in. (And okay, being a charming 17th century house in the countryside doesn’t really hurt.) The kids got right to work playing in the garden and wandering around the playhouse under the apple trees, while the ladies got busy on the enormous homemade chocolate cake and a giant pot of Earl Grey tea that was awaiting us. 

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Each bed had clean duvets and sheets puffed over the tops… and chocolates for us and wrapped presents for the kids. There were stacks of fresh towels, a baby monitor ready to use and baby gates that slid in and out of the wall to keep little ones from tumbling down steep stairs.

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We spent the weekend living as if we were family. (Thanks to friends that treat you as warmly.) Our kids played great together, the adults stayed up late by the fire drinking tea and chatting about any random thought that are brains come come up with after big days and enormous homemade dinners. Breakfast was warm breads from the Aga and a rainbow of homemade jam jars filled with treasure from past seasons in the garden.

On Saturday, we headed out to the blustery Compton Bay, where we found a surfing competition in full-swing. The waves were crazy from the weather, but a crowd of RVs with friends and family perched out the backs turned it from ordinary to extraordinary. The scene was complete with kids with wellies on and giant mugs of tea cheering on their dads below, judges chatting and laughing in their chairs as dogs climbed in and out of their laps, and friendly locals coming up to chat about our kids and where we were from. (Definitely not in London anymore…) My kids just stared off at the surfers below in the awe of the unordinary. What may have felt as normal as anything to everyone else there, felt exotic to us. 

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For lunch, we ate at The Cow. Like its name implies, the restaurant feels like a bit of a roadhouse and makes great burgers and beef dishes- like beef stew. (There are also veggie options, too. Actually, there’s just a lot to choose from!) I’d recommend doing the Burger Sharing Platter- where you get three of their smaller sized burgers and two sides. We shared between three people. In anticipation of a slice of chocolate cake back at the house when we returned, it was the perfect amount of food. We didn’t stay around for it, but there is a massive indoor/outdoor kids play centre. It’s got soft-play, giant jumping areas, and anything else that you need to occupy your kids and wear them out enough to fall straight asleep at bedtime. 

The next morning, after breakfast (warm, pain aux raisons from the oven, if you please) we headed to church in Ryde at St. James where they were having a special service for the 100th anniversary to the end of World War One. The church was really sweet and they were fabulous with the kids. (Viola walked out of Bible class with her own artistic rendering of a Leviathan, after they had talked about Job.) Afterwards, we had tea and custard creams in the church hall while we were chatted to by the regular members. 

The good thing abut going to the Isle of Wight from London is: it’s really an easy trip! Because our ferry wasn’t until 6 p.m., we had the whole day to linger over a homemade Sunday roast- complete with three roasted chickens, bacon-wrapped sausages, all the veggies… and a homemade cheesecake. The afternoon got drizzly, but that didn’t stop people from wandering out on a walk through the surrounding property, while others of us stayed back with babies, flicked through the endless cookbooks from the kitchen for recipes and ran loads of laundry with the main goal of getting to finish them off in their massive tumble dryer.

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The ferry ride back was easy and uneventful- only 40 minutes- and then it’s a two-hour drive back from there to London. All in all, it’s three hours to get you from London to the Isle of Wight making it a perfect weekend getaway for anyone looking to do something a bit extraordinary… without an extraordinary amount of travel. White cliffs and rolling hills await you. (Though I can’t guarantee that you’ll be lucky enough to have one of Granny Ali’s pots of tea and cake waiting for you, too.)

Though you can book a stay in the part of the property that we stayed in- The Brew House. It’s all attached to the same property and is really cute and cosy. It has two bedrooms, and the second has two twins and a baby bed. (Dream scenario for us!) You’ll find books and toys and a kitchen with everything you need in it to really settle in for a few days. 

Not only can I not wait to come back someday, but it also ignited in me the desire to have a home that can be such a warm glow of hospitality someday. Places like that are such havens in my memory, and I’m so grateful for the people who not only open their homes to others… but do it so beautifully. 


LOOKING FOR MORE OF THE BEST WEEKEND TRIPS FROM LONDON? 

Check out my other posts here or browse my travel guide to England.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on November 19, 2018 and filed under get out of town, england, travel.

Get Out of Town | Widbrook Grange, Bath

Well, well, well… look who has moseyed herself back into blogging after a nice little break? This girl. Life has been busy and full, and in the sake of full disclosure, a bit overwhelming for me. Traveling husbands, kids with chicken pox, a huge workload leave along with all the other invisible work that we do (groceries, meals, cleaning up boxes of puzzles) have left me crawling into bed at night. Thanks for always making me feel so okay to walk away from blogging when life needs it- I have always felt so comfortable to leave this space quiet when I need to and am always so grateful to come back to an engaged and friendly space. (I’m the luckiest girl with the best readers, truly.)

Anyway, in the midst of me wading through a few busy weeks, Viola’s school had their half-term break. (Culture lesson: In England, the school runs through the end of July, so we have a “half-term” break half-way through the term with a week off in May. It’s very strange to think we still have 6 weeks to go when everyone back in the US is getting out of school for the summer!)  We were busy with work and life, so we kinda dropped the ball getting anything formal together.

Thankfully, Tyler is a kind man who can read between the lines on my forehead. On Thursday, he booked us a night away for a quick little adventure and a nice break from regular life and, on Friday, we loaded up the car and headed west. 


WIDBROOK GRANGE

WHERE WE WENT

Out in the tiniest little corner of the Cotswolds, over by Bradford on Avon, there is a tiny little country property called Widbrook Grange. The property is a sweet little country manor that has been renovated into a pretty little escape complete with gardens full of roses, little ponds to throw pebbles in, secret nooks with tables for sunny mornings and unruly paths to explore with little ones. 

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The rooms are nice and comfy- we had a big king-sized bed with a sofa and a baby bed. We all fit into the room easily and had our choice of a bath tub or walk in shower.

WHAT WE DID

After we dropped our bags in our room, we spent the early evening exploring the garden trails. They climbed on an old tractor, picked flowers and wandered back to the far end of the property…. until a thunderstorm quickly had us running back to our room. 

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Back in the room, we fed the kids a little 5-course dinner we had picked up from M&S before arriving to the hotel (sandwiches, mango, yoghurt, crisps & a tiny Collin Caterpillar chocolate cake.) Spreading out dinner on a giant towel in a hotel for them is something that they really love…. And I hope that they continue to do so for a long time to come!

It definitely took way too long to get them down for bed. Like 1.5 hours. They were jumping and being SO crazy as we tried to get them to sleep… but eventually, we claimed victory and headed out the door for dinner in the restaurant hotel.

The staff at check-in gave Tyler a monitor that would work between our room and the dining room… along with a reservation for dinner for whenever we could make it over after bedtime. What a relief! Normally, I am so stressed trying to get kids down and then sneak away for something to eat, but this was so stress-free. 

And all the kids snoozed through dinner and it was just, well, it was really lovely. The summer sun was glowing even at 9:30, so we got to eat in the sunny remnants of the day and catch up on all the big and small things that seem forgettable in the chaos of everyday life. You know, the non-essential conversations that contain nothing logistical or relay nothing of functional importance.  We just had some some of those side conversations with details that flavour so much of why you liked each other in the first place. Talking about what we liked about certain books and movies. Talking about funny things people said to us. Talking about what we were excited to do on our vacation this summer. I needed some of that spice sprinkled in. That Ty spice. Haha! It sure makes a constant intake of daily grind gruel a bit more palatable, doesn’t it?

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The next morning we ate a sunny breakfast of warm croissants, eggs, bacon and fruit. We ventured out to soak up bit more of the garden life that we were so craving: roly-poly chasing, wall climbing & random singing were all on the agenda.

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After that, we checked-out and loaded up for lunch in Bradford on Avon. We fell hard for this gorgeous little town- it’s out of a fairy tale. We explored the churches, chased Harrison along the river and sipped Elderflower cordial. 

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This was an easy escape from London. It was two hours from our place there, and is a new spot that we can add to our list for simple getaways that work for the whole family. Next time, we’ll be ready with our swimsuits and hit up their pool!


Find more of my favourite places outside of London here on my England travel guide.

Or come along on another getaway to the Cotswolds via YouTube!



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on June 11, 2018 and filed under england, get out of town, marriage.

Get Out of Town | Canterbury

The medieval town of Canterbury is filled with cultural history. Geoffrey Chaucer wrote about this gorgeous little English town in The Canterbury Tales, although there is no record of him ever actually visiting. When I think of a quintessential town on the English countryside, this place comes to mind. Cobblestone streets, massive stone walls, green grass, and cosy little bookshops. Sometimes there is even a little market set up on the street for fresh fruit and vegetables! And it’s a great day-trip option as the train runs regularly from London Victoria Station and is just under 2 hours.

 I thought I would jot down just a few of my favorite spots in this quaint little country town. 

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CANTERBURY CATHEDRAL | This cathedral is a highlight of Canterbury and has been one of the most-visited places in the world for ages. It is the house of the Archbishop of Canterbury. I recommend taking a guided tour through the cathedral. In addition to the fee for entrance (£10.50), the cost for the guided tour is £5 more… but let’s be honest: the guided tour makes the visit way better. Otherwise, who is going to point out the Disney stained glass windows to you? (Seriously! There are some!)

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DANE JOHN GARDENS | If you’re looking for a space to spread out with little ones, this is a nice spot tucked by the main city walls. With playgrounds, plenty of green space to roam (without the fear of traffic), and even a little maze to play in- this is a great escape in the nice weather. Bonus points for it being free, too.

WILD GOOSE | Enjoy eating small local dishes (think: bubbles & squeak, roasted shallots with goats curd over toasted bread, and lamb cutlets with pea puree) in Canterbury West Train Station alongside the Michelin-recommended restaurant, The Goods Shed. The converted train station has a  fresh update from its Victorian roots that makes the setting bright and lively.

STATUE OF GEOFFREY CHAUCER | This statue of the famous author of The Canterbury Tales is on the corner of High Street and Best Lane.

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TINY TIM'S TEA ROOM | A quintessential English tea room on St. Margaret Street... this place is perfect for a break after walking around Canterbury. They serve good tea and the biggest scones!

CHARITY SHOPS | Canterbury is full of charity shops with good finds for really cheap. The British Heart Foundation and Emmaus are two of many, but from my personal experience- keep your eyes peeled for some old Burberry trench coats, mismatched tea sets & antique books all priced for next to nothing.

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THE WALL | Be sure to note the stone wall that trails around Canterbury leftover from it’s medieval days. It is not a bad walk at all and the views of the city below are magical. (Plus, as it sits alongside the train station- it makes for an easy route into town.)

BURGATE BOOKS | This cosy little book shop right next to The Elves and The Shoemaker is a gem. It is so fun to browse through the books by British authors. You’ll be able to find some of your favorite classics here for probably less than £2!



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on April 13, 2018 and filed under england, day trips, get out of town, travel.

Get Out of Town | A Sunday Roast in the Cotswolds

There are some days when the routine of things just makes you feel a bit itchy. Or maybe it’s the appearance of a guest that gives you the motivation to do something a bit beyond ordinary.

Whatever the reason, we felt that urge on Sunday after church. We hopped in the car to head home and decided to hop on the motorway and head out an hour to a tiny pub we love in the Cotswolds.

If you arrive to Beckley (snuggled nearly to Oxford), you’ll find a few streets of dream-like cottages and homes lining its few streets.

Along the main road sits the Abingdon Arms, a pretty pub that was nearly forced to close in 2016. Luckily, the community residents saved it and have turned it into a treasure within the local area.

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With a sprawling garden with grassy areas for kids to explore and enjoy in the winter (complete with fairy doors hidden on the bottom of tree trunks), it’s a total win for a day of great weather lounging in the sun.

But on dark weekends in January, I’ll gladly say it’s still worth the trek for its cosy tables piled up with Sunday roasts because their beef roasts really are the best I’ve ever had.

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My cousin, Austin, is in London for the week so we did our best to set him up for the experience. He imagined it to be like an American pot roast kinda situation walking into the place. Though a roast dinner will vary from what mama made back home (most notably for me, with Yorkshire puddings in lieu of yeast rolls), he likened the afternoon and meal to a warm home-like feel. Though not like my home because I can’t make gravy that good. 

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I forgot to take a picture of the massive plate of “veg” that came alongside this one. Buttered peas, roasted parsnips and carrots.... mmm.

Also, look at Edie! She’s grown so much and is the best little girl. I think I must kiss and call her “the sweetest little lamb” approximately a hundred times each day. I’m smitten with her. 

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So is her dad.... which is nice because they basically share the same face.

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So here you go. One of my favourite little hideaways. I promise if you take a trip out there from London, you won’t be disappointed. Just make sure you call ahead to book a table so you aren’t broken-hearted when you arrive.

The Abingdon Arms | High Street, Beckley OX3 9UU

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Find the rest of my favourite places outside of London on my guide to England here.

Or come along on our getaway to the charming New Forest.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on January 19, 2018 and filed under eat, england, get out of town, day trips.

Get Out of Town | Greenwich

Bus. Walk. Train. Repeat. I wish I had a little trail that I could track of all the places I’ve been in this city just to see how much of it I have covered. While I have no doubt that I’d have some impressive coverage of the city of London over the past 7.5 years leading groups, I get a certain kick from traveling off the beating path. And when you’re traveling on the Thames, it’s definitely not the traditional way to get around town.

If you wander down to Big Ben, you can hop on a Thames Clipper and head down the river to Greenwich. While it’s a tiny village feel, it still has tube access, London city buses and a view of the skyline in the distance. It’s very much part of London… just kinda on the outskirts. I got back tonight from a great day there, and I figured I’d share what our itinerary of the day so that you can copy it sometimes when you’re itching to get out of the city. Or you know, almost out of it. 


GREENWICH 

08:45 | Meet at Westminster Pier to get tickets for Thames Clipper
*Just outside Westminster tube station, Caffe Nero just there so you can buy a coffee before you go!

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09:14 | Depart for Greenwich via the Thames Clipper
*Check the Thames Clipper website for updated timetable information

10:00 | Approximate arrival time to Greenwich

10:15 | Visit the Cutty Sark Tea Clipper
*Buy tickets on arrival. Get the combo ticket for the Cutty Sark + Royal Observatory

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11:30 | Depart Cutty Sark. Wander up to Royal Observatory. Stand on the Prime Meridian!
*Give yourself a bit longer to walk up here than expected. That hill takes some time to wander up!

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INSERT PHOTO OF COLUMNS/PARK

12:30 | Have lunch in town
*The Greenwich Market is a favourite place because of the endless food stalls and cheap eats, but if you’re feeling up for a real British treat, try the iconic Goddards for British pies, mash & pies as a really affordable price.

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13:30 | Head to the Maritime Museum (free!) or wander through the shops. Don’t miss Joli’s! This is a great vintage shop with cool art pieces, furniture and clothing.. and the prices are perfectly reasonable. 

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15:00 | Walk to the Fan Museum for afternoon tea. Go ahead and pre-book your table, and make sure that you’re coming on a day when they serve tea. You'll be in a gorgeous setting enjoying one of London’s cheapest afternoon teas!

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16:30 | Walk back to Thames Clipper and head back to London!


Have a great time in Greenwich. What am I saying? Of course, you will. It’s gorgeous in the fall, and that view of London from the Royal Observatory! Ahhhh, you’re gonna love it.


Find more of our favourite spots in England here, or jump along on some of our days on my Youtube channel!



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Bath with Coffee | Mokoko Coffee

Last week, I took a group to Bath for the day. This little town is definitely one of my very favourite day-trips from London. It’s three hours away, so it’s definitely a bit further than I’d like- but if you aren’t up for driving, a train can be an easy way to get there mindlessly.

But I wasn’t going mindlessly, I was planning a class, chatting with students and taking care of a baby on our coach trip there. When we got there, the combination of a long bus trip and early AM start had me sliding into that blur of fatigue. Luckily, our first stop (the Roman baths) was within reach of some coffee. Some might fine coffee, at that. 

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MOKOKO, BATH

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This coffee shop sits just in the Abbey courtyard in Bath- giving it prime real-estate by the city’s two largest attractions: The Roman Baths & the Bath Abbey. Mokoko is, originally, a Bristol-bron shop, but has grown into Bath. 

Expect expertly-made coffee… with all the hipster trimmings. An oat-milk flat white, you say? No worries. They’ve got you covered. (I jest, but that was actually my order. Ha! Takes one to know one, I guess.)

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But what good is cool, delicious coffee if it goes unmatched with something delicious to eat? Good question. Luckily, Mokoko has window(s) full of homemade cakes arranged very alluringly. Try their Hummingbird Cake. It’s just so dang good. Or just go ahead and try them all. You probably won’t regret it.

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But you may regret not snagging one of the picnic tables outside on a sunny day. What a place to sip some coffee, eat some cake, and smooch your baby. Lucky me!

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MOKOKO | 7 Dorchester St, Bath BA1 1SS, UK

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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Outlander + My 5 Favourite Castles in Scotland

I had planned to get my nails done before having Edie, but, alas, she came early and so me and my overgrown hooves had to deal with not looking their best during her first few weeks of life. Fast-forward one month and I managed to sneak away for a trip to the cheapest nail salon in our neighbourhood to finally get my nails done. Since I was wedging this between a trip to the fabric shop and Tyler taking the kids to the park, I didn’t have an appointment. When I walked in, they told me it would be 20 minutes before they could help me, and I gladly parked it until it was my turn.

With my phone dead and nothing else to do, I glanced around to find something to read. All of the magazines were at least a year old- literally, the newest featuring Princess Charlotte’s first birthday, but I found a copy of a DEPARTURES magazine that wasn’t entirely from another century. I grabbed it and spent the next hour absorbing every single letter within that tattered and faded issue. I skimmed ads for luxury cruises, read about trends in Shanghai’s food scene… and, eventually, landed on an article where an editor journeys around Scotland to trace the steps of the scenes from the show, Outlander. A show that I had previously assumed to be included motorcycles and ponytailed men in chunky metal-toed boots. (Why you ask? I honestly have no clue. Was there some old TNT series that had a similar name and premise? I digress.)

To my surprise, the editor’s description of Outlander totally captivated me (historical fiction + art-like costumes) and I can’t wait to submerse myself in it as soon as possible. On top of the fact that the plot sounds incredible, I have to say: I was mostly excited to read about all the Scottish settings that the show features…. Many of which I have been this summer.

One of the places the editor talks about is the town of Falkland- where I just so happened to spend the morning a few weeks ago. It’s one of the cutest little towns that I’ve been to in Scotland, complete with a palace, an antique shop full of affordable treasures and a small handful of cafes and pubs to keep you fed during your day there. It’s charming, and after being quite taken with Falkland after my day there, I included it on my list of “5 Scottish Castles to See.” 

Take a quick look at my latest video where I walk through (literally) the 5 castles that I recommend to see when you’re in Scotland. You’ll also get a glimpse of some pretty scenery and an abandoned castle below. The great news for you is that, if you do find yourself in another castle in Scotland, chances are it’s going to be pretty great, too.

Now, can any of you that have seen Outlander weigh in below on whether or not I should watch this show? Win me over, please. I’m really hoping this can be a new favourite. And do guys like it, too?. Hopefully, I can get Tyler interested, too!



Find more of my favourite places in Scotland here in my travel guide.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on August 10, 2017 and filed under scotland, get out of town.

St. Andrews | Balgove Larder

Hello from baby land! I'm sharing a few posts that I wrote this summer, but thought I'd save for a rainy day... and by "rainy day," I obviously meant a day where I'm hanging out with little kids and family rather than blogging. So while we do our newly-expanded-family-thing, here's a taste of a great day from earlier this summer.


I was walking through St. Andrews today and came to the realisation that, since we first started coming here seven years ago, either I've become more refined or the town has become a bit more posh.

The places we always used to go are still around but look a bit (cough) dated. And now, there are new spots that have captured my attention... luckily, these spots are bit more polished than my first round of picks and, if I'm honest, make a much higher grade of food.

For example, Balgove Larder. This farmshop + Cafe + Steak Barn make for a great foodie destination throughout the day. 


BALGOVE LARDER

While the evening and lunch are popular for the tasty Steak Barn, the morning has a bright breakfast being served in the farmshop cafe.  

This morning, I headed to Balgove (located a bit down the road from the Old Course Hotel) for breakfast. I got there around 10, and snagged a table along the counter by the window.

What makes Balgove a special stop is that the food is either grown on-site or sourced locally. And while it's perfectly pure in many respects, it's not obscenely priced.

A FEW THINGS TO TRY...

One of their (four types of!) homemade scones. These are served fresh and warm from the oven when ordered. Choose from plain, fruit, cheddar or cherry. These are one of the most popular items coming out of the kitchen, and they're worth trying!

The homemade granola served with local yoghurt and fresh fruit.

A bunch of flowers from their flower stand to take home with you when your tummy can't fit anymore in it.


To be honest, everything is pretty great at Balgove. I'm not sure you'll go wrong with anything off their well-groomed menu, so feel confident that what you're ordering is going to taste great... and treat your body kindly.

BALGOVE LARDER | Balgove Farmhouse, Strathtyrum Farm, St Andrews KY16 9SF, UK | Open 9AM-5PM


Looking for more of my favourite places in Scotland? Check out my posts here and my Scotland travel guide for more.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on July 24, 2017 and filed under eat, scotland, get out of town.

St. Andrews | Afternoon Tea at The Old Course Hotel

On my last work trip before this baby arrives, I headed up the East Coast of Scotland for a long weekend trip to St. Andrews and beyond. While we were headed to some lovely sites outside of St. Andrews, I have to be honest; I was the most excited about this portion of the trip. I absolutely love St. Andrews, and have gone through silly trains of thought that have nearly made me relocate there just for the sheer pleasure of residing in that sweet coastal town in Scotland. (Okay, Tyler wouldn’t really ever let this happen… but if I weren’t married to him, who knows where I’d be.)

Since the group that I’m with is all females, we opted to have afternoon tea at the Old Course Hotel with them. At £20 per person, this is one of the most reasonably priced teas that I know of… and it’s setting in the airy conservatory along the golf course with the sea alongside it is just, well, perfect.

The conservatory is slightly ethereal and the crisp design of the space makes it feel extra special. The actual afternoon tea is really yummy, too. Warm scones, fresh jam, homemade cakes and pastries crowning the plates of little sandwiches just feels perfect. The hotel also boasts some great teas to choose from, too. 

After the tea, my colleague and I tucked into the hotel’s incredible Kohler Spa. Ever since staying at the hotel when I was first pregnant with the twins, I’ve been dreaming of trying out the spa. (It was fully booked when we stayed at the hotel!) So a week in advance, I called in and got us treatments booked for after our afternoon tea. 

The spa experience there was all I hoped it would be- with Kohler owning the hotel, the water fixtures are impeccable. Every aspect is perfectly done- because they have such great water fixtures. Expect fantastic showers, expansive pools and steam rooms, a rooftop hot tub overlooking the golf course and relaxation rooms to sit in all along the way

I had the NEOM pregnancy treatment.  It was a massage + body scrub for 80 minutes. It was only £90, which felt like a steal compared to the prices for luxury hotels in London. The treatment was lovely, and is something I’d definitely recommend to all my pregnant friends. (Find their complete listing of services and treatments here).

After my session, they brought me into the Deep Relaxation Room and tucked me in (literally) on a little reclining chair with a cosy blanket, got me a drink and some nibbles and left me to it. I spent another two hours in the spa- relaxing there, taking a long shower and lingering doing extraneous grooming that I never have time to do at home (like shape my eyebrows and shave above my knee). It was glorious and I felt entirely unrushed. It was how all spa treatments should be, in my opinion.

So while the spa at the Old Course Hotel in St. Andrews is one that is a bit too far away for me to enjoy on a regular basis, I can definitely say that it is completely worth visiting when you make it to St. Andrews. Not only was it one of the best pregnancy massages I’ve had, the entire spa experience made it feel even more enjoyable.


A FEW TIPS 

Book in advance of your stay to avoid disappointment. You can email to book at reservations@oldcoursehotel.co.uk

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Bring a swimsuit. The spa has so many great rooms, pools, sauna/steamroom- you really miss out if you don’t have a swimsuit to enjoy them.

 

Give yourself a good buffer of time before and after your treatment. You’re going to want to enjoy the spa for all it has to offer.


Pregnant and feeling like you need a spa break? (You probably do!) Find my reviews of other great UK spas here:

FOUR SEASONS  |  BAGLIONI HOTEL  |  COWSHED SPA  |  ROSEWOOD LONDON


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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Overnight Train to Scotland (A Vlog!)

It’s been a long time since I did a vlog… like maybe 3 years, but for some reason, I’ve been in the mood lately to switch gears a bit and add this format to my site. I think because I’m starting to love the idea of falling down the rabbit hole of Youtube channels, it feels right to join the fun.

And besides, I thought for certain things/topics- well, it’s really just a more effective format of communicating.

So a few weeks back, I headed up to Scotland on the Caledonian Sleeper train. It runs nightly from Euston Station to Scotland. It leaves late (like midnight!) and gets in early (like 7am!), so you really have full days wherever you are coming/going from to enjoy without loosing much to travel.

I’ve taken it a few times before, and I’ve always liked it…. And I thought, since so many people seem to want to know what the easiest way to get to Scotland is from London, it may help to just show you what way I prefer. While I’ve done the others (drive, fly, train) many times before… and, to be honest, will continue to do in the future, I can’t help but prefer the sleeper train over the rest. It feels nostalgic and efficient to me… and when I’m not with my tiny kids, it’s the best way for me to get to Scotland.

So without further adieu, my vlog of my overnight sleeper over-party-for-one on the Caledonian Sleeper train. Enjoy!

And make sure to subscribe to my Youtube channel so you don’t miss any of my upcoming adventures. (Hmmm… maybe my “nesting” phase involves creating new blog projects, because I’ve been lining up so many of these for the weeks to come. Don’t miss out on what’s in store!)

Have you traveled between Scotland and London? How did you get there? Weigh in with your experience below and share what you liked/disliked about how you traveled. It’s always so helpful to share your experience, so please do!


Find more of my posts on traveling to Scotland here, and check out my full travel guides to Scotland & Edinburgh.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Pack Your Bags | Isle of Skye

Back in the day, you’d often find the two of us on the Isle of Skye each summer. In the days before kids, we would find ourselves enjoying the long summer days up on the Western coast of Scotland… and, to be honest, we made some really sweet memories. It’s been a few years since we made it up there- but this summer, we came back up for a few days to help with one of our student groups and we got to see just how special this place is with fresh eyes again.

The Isle of Skye isn’t the easiest place to get to if you visit Great Britain. For example. It’s not an easy day-trip from a major city… you’d need at least 4-5 days, in my opinion, to get up there and really make it worth your time. It may not be the best trip for a first-time visitor to the UK, but if you’re a repeat visitor looking for a way to experience this gorgeous country a bit deeper- this may be the perfect spot.


HOW TO GET THERE?

INVERNESS TO KYLE OF LOCHALSH |  The easiest city to use as your base for a trip to the Isle of Skye is Inverness. You could fly easily from London or take the cool Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness. From there, you’ll want to rent a car. (Luckily, there is a Hertz just outside the main train station or rental agencies at the airport to make this breezy.) Now, I don’t normally recommend renting a car if you visit Britain- as trains/public transport are so good- but this is area of the country that just can’t be done without one. The good news is: the roads are so empty, you’ll not feel overly stressed if you are used to US driving.

This route will take you by the famous Eilean Donan Castle that sprawls out over the gorgeous loch. You’ll be able to stop here and see the famous castle that has been pinned over and over again on Pinterest in person. Along the way, you’ll also get to enjoy the scenic lochs. Stop by Fort Augustus for a ride on Loch Ness to spot Nessie, too. If you take this way to Skye, you’ll be able to cross the bridge from the mainland to the southern part of Skye and then drive up.

 -  or  -

FORT WILLIAM & THE JACOBITE TRAIN | If you have a Harry Potter fan in your house, this is the option for you. First, take the overnight train to Fort William… or you can go during the daytime via a bit of a longer route. This tiny town has a cute high street tucked with small eateries and charity shops, but the main draw is the Jacobite steam train that departs every morning. This train, often referred to as the “Harry Potter” train, will chug you up along a scenic route to the coastal town of Mailleg. You’ll cross over the Glenfinnan Aquaduct (from the HP series), and land in Mailleg where you can eat lunch before hopping the short ferry to Armadale, Isle of Skye. 

Once you arrive, you’ll need to coordinate getting a rental car to meet you in Armadale. There are local “car hire agencies” that offer this service, and make it easy for you to arrive by ferry and leave with a newly rented car.


Once you arrive, you’ll have one of the most stunning landscapes to explore. (Find ideas on where to go on my previous Skye posts or my travel guide.) When you’ve had your fill of roaming in the wilderness, taking photos of hairy coos and cuddly lambs along the roadside, and stopping to climb along waterfalls- you can either relax at a country hotel (like the Flodigarry Hotel, where we stayed) or head into the main town of Portree for some socialising. 

The summers on Skye are magical, but be sure that you book early if you plan to visit. (Seriously, at least six months or you’ll find yourself scrambling for something decent.) 


If you're looking for more posts on the Isle of Skye, look here, or find more in my travel guides to the Isle of Skye and Scotland. Or take a trip through our Instagrams under my hashtag #KnightsSkye


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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Tuesdays with Tyler | A Day in the Cotswolds

This season of life isn't one that leans itself to exotic getaways for long periods of time. Okay, I say that with full acknowledgement of our trip to Hawaii in January-  but let's be honest, those trips that used to be logistical breezes are now achingly painful to execute. You can only do them for big occasions, like, you know, celebrating ten years of marriage.

However, old habits die hard. When we have the chance, Tyler & I love to sneak away for a little of grown up time. Whether it's as simple as going to buy sour cream at Tesco or big like a day out in another town, we connect best when we are on an adventure. 

This week we had the chance to train 1.5 hours out of London to the Cotswolds for a meeting. We would only be there for 3ish hours, but we went for it.

The train ride was quiet. We got coffee from our old favourite in Paddington Station before we left. I slept like an old lady on his shoulder. We sat in the Quiet Carriage as respected fellow passengers, rather than obnoxious child-carrying rejects. 

When we got to Moreton-in-Marsh, it was (to our delight) Market Day. It was a sleepy little market day- full of produce and grey hair. We got paninis at a little tea room called Martha's and took them outside to eat on the WWII monument in the middle of the square.

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No plans were made for the day. We just planned to relax and enjoy what we stumbled upon. After lunch, we headed to the office where we had our meeting, and when it was finished headed to the pub for some fries, drinks & a view of the fire before our train back.

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On the way home, we ate snacks, talked about plans we hope that could come to fruition, got annoyed at each other when we had differing views and then cosied up to each other to listen to music for the remainder of the ride home. I loved it and I hope we always can squeeze in impromptu days with Tyler to reconnect... no matter how crazy life may be. 


Just so it is actually said and doesn't just rest in my head where I assume everyone agrees.... Life in pretty places can often seem perfect. The pictures bring gorgeous moments together in a way that seem less mundane than elsewhere. Well, let me remind you... life isn't perfect even in pretty places.

No matter where you go, life is still just life. It's still made up of normal people doing normal things. Don't chase the illusion of getting somewhere for life to begin being good... it starts here. Wherever you're at. Take it from me, I've been to so many of those jaw-dropping sites. Until you can love and appreciate people around you in the mundane,  you won't enjoy them in a prettier place. And if you love them there, you'll have an adventure with them wherever life brings you.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy 

Posted on March 17, 2017 and filed under tyler, get out of town, marriage.

"Nollaig Shona" from Galway, Ireland

No matter where you're from, Christmas just feels especially right there. I have grand visions of Dallas at Christmastime in a way that makes no logical sense-as we didn't have snow, cultured outings to make annual traditions of like the Rockettes, or any distinguishing factor besides it being home. (And as they say, there's no place like it at the holidays.) 

But sometimes you stumble upon a place that feels perfect- like you've walked into a real Christmas card. And while it may not be your home, it's easy to imagine why someone would be proud to call it theirs.  

That's how I felt when we arrived in the cheerful coastal Irish town of Galway a few weeks ago. The brightly coloured houses all sparked with Christmas cheer as shop owners mingled outside chatting to each other and hung decorations and painted Christmas scenes on the glass panes of their windows.

Sparkly lights twinkled "Nollaig Shona" across the street- wishing those who walked below a Merry Christmas in Gaelic.

So while I'm not sending out Christmas cards this year- I hope you can enjoy this Christmas card-esque view of this special town.

Find more of my posts on Ireland here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on December 22, 2016 and filed under travel, ireland, holiday, get out of town.

Little London | Kew Gardens

When I shared about our day out with Fiat, I realized that I actually didn’t really share anything that we did on that day. I mean, in broad strokes, yes… but the actual details of the day were washed over by the bliss of having our own car to get around.

So how about this time around, I give you a bit more detail so that you can craft your own day out in at Kew Gardens, too. (Because I lived here for 6+ years without going, and no one else should wait that long.) We were lucky enough to go with friends who are annual pass holders, so they took us straight to the good stuff. I’ll try to be that friend for you, too, and get you right to what you want to know.


A DAY OUT AT KEW GARDENS | What to expect

 

ALL-NATURAL EATING | If you’re going to head out to Kew, I’d recommend eating there, too. There are so many food options on-site, that you can really make a day of it and have lunch there. We opted for lunch in the Orangery and were so pleased with the gorgeous food being served there. It was hard to resist getting one of everything!

If you’re on a budget or restricted by dietary issues, you could also pack a picnic and sprawl out somewhere on the grass or under a tree, too. Heck, if the weather is nice- it may just be the perfect space to plop your kids with their food and not worry about crumbs and spills.

If nothing else, just promise me that you’ll get a slice of cake and a hot beverage and sit somewhere for a while with a view. You’ll inevitably have some curious things wander your way… whether it is a proud peacock who struts over your way or a over-the-top Englishman decked out in tweed and wellies feeling just as smug.

BEE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE | You definitely don’t want to miss the Hive when you visit Kew. This is an enormous modern structure that was built to mimic a real-life bee hive. The sounds are supposedly based off what a real hive would sound like, if you were a bee. Standing in the middle of it and looking up and down feels amazing. (And I promise, your kids will think it is very cool.)

 

GO GREEN | You’ll definitely want to stop and visit the greenhouses along the property when you visit Kew. Trust me.

Not only are the muggy interiors a nice relief from the chilly weather, but the insides are just stunning. With tropical plants growing up and down the interiors of these historic greenhouses, you can actually visualize what so many of the spices that we daily use start as… and get an aerial view of the greenhouse when venture up the wrought-iron stair cases.


So there you have it… a day out at Kew Gardens. Expect a posh-but-curious crowd and plenty to keep you entertained along the way. I guess you could say the same thing about our ride, too. Getting to check out the Fiat 500 Lounge was seemingly straightforward, but each time we hopped back in the car- we seemed to find something else we liked about it. Whether it was being able to sync our phones up to the Bluetooth in under 30 seconds (seriously- is it ever that easy? Not for me!), quickly folding the rear seats down when we needed to run car seats between our friends house and ours, or just the unexpected amount of leg room we had in the front!

Our friend Reuben expected to feel crammed in the front, but even he was pleasantly surprised by how roomy it was when he drove it! 

So all in all… well, it was a day that packed a punch. It might haves seemed small and insignificant to zoom out of the ordinary weekend routine with Fiat, but it ended up being such a great day. I guess it all comes back to the old adage that good things really do come in small packages.

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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
*this post was sponsored by Fiat

A Day (& Some Knights) With Fiat

Having a family in London gives us access to so many wonderful things-  world class museums, some of the finest eateries, and endless opportunities to experience major events in person (Wimbledon, the Olympics, the Royal Wedding, etc.). Sometimes I think about the things my kids have seen or do on a normal basis, and it blows my mind a bit. What seemed foreign and exotic to me at 25 is everyday life for them before they’ve even started school. London is an incredible place to have a young family in so many ways.

But the truth is, life in the city with kids is also physical in a way that I can’t explain. Every outing comes with the challenge of physically getting us there. Each fun weekend plan comes with nearly equal parts of transport to get us there- which normally results in a cocktail of buses, trains and ubers that is pretty exhausting.

We are finally at the point in life when we crave to get out of the city in free time- hoping for some space to run free and explore with the kids. Just at the same point in time that we’ve been seriously talking about getting a car, Fiat offered us one of their iconic Fiat 500 series cars to drive for a day. We, in all our middle-aged-yuppie delight jumped at the opportunity faster than you can say “Organic flat white” and started scheming up how we would spend our day gliding around without fussy bus drivers or uber drivers crunching on potato chips as they drive you.

We opted for heading to Kew Gardens- which, until this moment, had felt like too much of a hassle. Google Maps has it as an hour away from our home by public transport… or a measly 20 minutes by car!

When our car was dropped off, we all stared out the window at it non-stop. I could hardly get the kids dressed, but finally- we had all our clothes on, tossed some diapers and snacks in a bag, tossed our stroller in the boot (read: “trunk, ” if you’re American) and cheered as our friends pulled up to join us on our day out to Kew.

And then from there? Well, I wish I could give you a monumental break-down of the journey there. but the truth Is, it was just really easy. The kids chattered and sang in the back, I navigated and played DJ, and Tyler drove.

Because we had a car, we suddenly had the best of both worlds- access to an amazing city without the standard hassle of doing them. Plus, when you’re in a cool car like a Fiat 500- getting there becomes a fun part of the adventure, too.

It was tiny enough to squeeze into a small parking space on our street, and yet roomy enough to fit in two car seats and a stroller. Oh, and you can get an automatic car… which is really handy if you’re an American and/or need a free hand for trivial things like passing juice bottles back to kids in the back. It was the perfect fit for our family to get out and go.

And while it may not have broken our backs to get out to do something fun this time, it may have just been the final straw to break the proverbial camel’s back and push us into finally getting a car! (Because let’s be honest…. Going out with kids has enough challenges and it’s nice to take a shortcut when you can!) 

Looking for an escape from the urban burden of public transportation? Check out the Fiat 500 line here!



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
*this post was sponsored by Fiat

 

Posted on November 18, 2016 and filed under get out of town.

Pack Your Bags | York's Teddy Bear Tea Room

Hello from a train to Edinburgh. The rain drops on the windows compete in number to the fingerprints of my children. Ha! Only 46 minutes left, but who's counting?

I wanted to share this adorable stop in York that has become a favourite on mine in the past few years: Stonegate Teddy Bears. While the store downstairs will lure in children with its shop windows stuffed with, you guessed it, teddy bears- the tiny tea room upstairs is what will get mom & dad to gladly stick around.

The Teddy Bear Tea Room

Perched above the adorable Stonegate Teddy Bear shop in the city centre of York is the Teddy Bear Tea Room.

Wind your way up the stairs to the second floor (well, third, if you're an American) and head to the room on the left. If the table by the window is open, snag it and enjoy the gorgeous views of the nearby York Minster.

The menu has been newly expanded to a range of items that spans across your daily meals- from breakfast, lunch and tea. While there are endless option listed, make sure to ask about the daily rotation of cakes- as they are homemade and absolutely worth getting.

While portions may be bigger than you might expect, don't worry- I can proudly say that a single person can polish off a slice on their own.

The room was decorated for Christmas and Michael Bublé's Christmas album was playing on the speakers. With the cold winter night coming out above the street and the Christmas mood set, I realised that it was officially that time of year. What a way to start the festive season!


My mom heard we were going and offered to buy each of the kids a teddy bear. (Classic Grandma move.) Viola immediately found the most sparkly one with a pink scarf and named her "Cinderella Bear Two," as "Cinderella Bear" is at home on her bed. Harrison grabbed a panda, among 40 other items, but since this was the cheapest and cutest- we decided that was the one for him. He hasn't touched it since.

We love the Teddy Bear Tea Room and it's one of those simple stops that makes traveling to the same place a fun adventure for us... and our kids, too! ;)

Find more of our favourite places in York here, as well as my travel guide to England here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy
 

One Day + One Knight in Paris

This is a post about a trip to Paris... but don't be expecting a ton of tips and tricks. This one was quick and dirty with only time for the essentials- pastries, driving by the Eiffel Tower and going to a rock concert. But that's enough for now, just keep reading for all the random fun.


On Saturday, I woke up to the smell of hot croissants baking in the oven and the sound of Viola dragging her baby doll up the stairs to wake me up. The rain was totally dumping on the roof above our room and it felt so nice to have no huge rush to hop out of bed.

We got dressed and headed to a birthday party for one of our family's favourite little girls. To say it was gorgeous was an understatement. You've probably heard me say it before after my baby showers (first & second) she hosted or her wedding in Hawaii- but my friend, Amber, can host a party like nobody's business.

Every gorgeous detail was thought of, in true Amber style.

I guzzled down a huge mug of coffee, one of her homemade cinnamon rolls, a fruit kebab...ok, fine and part of a bagel, kissed my crew goodbye and headed to St Pancras for the Eurostar.

2.5 hours later, I rolled into Paris, slapped on my favourite red lipstick and headed straight for the Champs-Élysées. 

I, fortunately, was dropped off on the corner by Monoprix who was, fortunately, having a sale. I ran in, surveyed the scene and ran out with a few pieces that are going to get worn really hard this winter.

Then I ran across the street to Laduree where I met a group of my students who had arrived in Paris earlier that morning. We got a table and I ordered us a bunch of desserts and drinks. When a giant silver tray arrived with plates of miniature art pieces arrived, we all felt so excited.... We were in Paris! On the Champs-Élysées! Eating the prettiest food!

When we finished, we walked up to Salle Pleyel where the Panic at the Disco concert was opening its doors. One of my best childhood friends happens to be married to the band's guitarist, Kenny, and they graciously got my students great tickets to the show... AND sweet Kenny chatted with them, was hilarious with them and... even made an amazing boomerang with us. Ha!

With everyone happy and in their seats, I said goodbye and rushed to find a cab. I asked the driver to pass the Eiffel Tower on the way to the station. Well, it wasn't exactly on the way, but I was fine with that. And it was totally worth the detour.

Then, we stopped in front of Gare du Nord with enough time for me to run into McDonalds (no regrets), buy my obligatory box of Fauchon biscuits from duty free and get on the train back to London.

It's one of those days that seems a bit crazy and at the risk of falling apart when one thing goes awry.... but in those glorious moments when everything goes smooth, man.... you're so glad you did it.

Looking for more Paris posts? Find my Paris posts here, as well as my comprehensive guide to Paris here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on November 14, 2016 and filed under france, paris, friends, get out of town.

A Quick Getaway to... 2011

I started my blog in 2010 when I was working in Dallas, and my friends pulled me into this weird/new/online world of blogging- but it wasn't until we moved to Oxford that my blog shifted into the style and feel of what it is today.

When we lived there, I would write (with fresher eyes than I have today) about all the cute and quirky things that we were experiencing together. We lived on a shoestring budget, so everything from booking the cheapest tickets RyanAir could offer (even if we didn't know where that destination was without googling it!) to shopping in "old" produce sections of the market stalls for dinner was a daily adventure.

And while I think that was what gave me something to talk about it- the real fun of our first years here was because of Oxford. While life would seem very normal at times, we would also find ourselves in some of the most gorgeous places with such extra people. The dinners on long wooden benches with the paintings of prime ministers and authors hanging over head, the end of term balls held in quadrangles with Alice in Wonderland-esque fantasy all around us (hookah tents! hot air balloons! servers spray-painted from head to toe in golden glitter passing around trays of drinks & food!)

When our time there ended, our amazing group of friends dispersed to the far corners of the world to do really amazing and great things. We are so proud of them, but oof! We miss those moments when we all were carelessly running around Oxford as kings.

Tyler's class just had his 5 year reunion (you may have seen in on Instagram), and I had been so busy that I hadn't put much thought into what the weekend was going to be like before we went. But when we got there and walked into the quadrangle of Christ Church, time seemed to flip back seamlessly into life back when we lived there. We saw so many of those faces- I can't tell you how much of a homecoming it felt like for all of us!

There really is a special magic to old friendships- friendships that love and get you, regardless of how big or small life may have made you. You just can't make old friends. (And you sure can't beat a place like the old dining halls of Oxford to catch up with them!)


Find more of our Oxford days here and my city guide to Oxford here.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy