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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"

 


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*images to Aspiring Kennedy

 

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

Pack Your Bags | Belfast (with Kids!)

If you’re looking for a fun place to get away to- and not have a ton of hassle- I’d like to suggest Belfast. It’s often forgotten, but with easy and frequent flights from London airports- it makes for a fun weekend getaway. And since the tickets are cheap and flights are short- it’s especially great to bring the kids along, too. 

Here’s my quick and easy guide for a great weekend in Northern Ireland’s famous capital city, Belfast.


WHERE TO STAY

THE FITZWILLIAM BELFAST | This hotel is gorgeous and has a great location in downtown Belfast. We’ve stayed in other places in recent years, but have made this our official favourite in the city. It’s just so nice and so well priced. Annnnnd, for any Game of Thrones fans, it’s where the cast and crew was living for a few months this fall. (And we got to share the lift with several of them!) If you’re going with kids, it’s worth it to upgrade to a larger room or suite for the extra space. You can also book an adjoining room here. Breakfast is fantastic, and staff is lovely.

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WHAT TO DO

TITANIC MUSEUM | You can’t go to Belfast and skip a visit to the Titanic Museum. Situated on the site of the original shipyard where the Titanic was built, the Titanic offers an amazing view of the history of chipmaking in Belfast, the actual building of the Titanic, and the heartbreaking single voyage of the ship. The cafes on-site are really nice and the whole experience is very kid-friendly. (And if you don’t have kids, even better. Ha! You may be able to glean more information than we can.) Either way you do it, it’s pretty much a must-do when you’re in the city.

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ST. GEORGE'S MARKET | Every town needs a great food market, and Belfast isn’t an exception. St. George’s Market is open over the weekend and offers food stalls, eats and the occasional live music performance from musicians. It’s indoors, so it’s a place you can go and not worry about it getting rained out in bad weather. Plus, it’s located in downtown, so it’s an easy walk from everything.

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THE GIANT'S CAUSEWAY | So this place isn’t exactly a playground or theme park, but it’s great for kids in the fact that they can roam/explore and you won’t be too nervous for their safety. The rocks are like little steps and easy to help them navigate by holding their hands. The coast is there, but it’s so far out that they can’t run there too quickly without you noticing. The visitor’s centre has some nice children activities and, when all else fails while you’re teaching them of the folklore surround Finn McCool, there are sheep that graze along the fences of the property. Voila. All you really need for a fun day out. 

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The Giant's Causeway is about an hour and ten minutes from Belfast. It’s an easy drive, but you will need a car. 

BUSHMILL'S INN | While you’re out at the Giants Causeway, plan to stop for lunch at the famous Bushmills Inn. With cosy nooks and hearty food, it’s a great stop. The inn may look tiny off the main road in Bushmills, but when you wander back- you’ll see how expansive the site really is. Also, if you go on a Sunday- you’ll be there for their legendary roast. It’s served on a buffet… and MASSIVE. Your plates will be piled higher than Christmas dinner. It’s insane and so, so good.

BELFAST CHRISTMAS MARKET | Each year, we end up being there at the start of the Christmas market, so for us, Belfast has a great holiday feel to it. With windy weather and dark days, the Christmas market is a great way to end the day for our little family. I mean, any time I can feed my family without going to a sit-down dinner is a win. Plus, it’s so cheap. Definitely recommend going, if you can!

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WHERE TO EAT

MADE IN BELFAST | This is our favourite place to eat in Belfast. We typically try to sneak away from the hotel (if we have our au pair) for date here, but if that’s not possible, we bring the kids for a lunch time meal. The interiors and locally-sourced menu make if too good a spot to miss. We go to the City Hall location, as it’s the closest to our hotel. Reservations needed,.

FRATELLI | This is a great Italian restaurant dishing up massive bowls of pasta and warm Italian dishes. It would work great for adults only or for the family. It’s got a big dining room, but I’d still recommend booking a table due to it’s popularity. For a rainy day in Northern Ireland, this place is not only warm and cosy… but super tasty. 

What a fun city! We are already planning a return visit in April, and I’m excited to see the city in springtime. Maybe next time, we won’t have to be so bundled up.

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(These coats are all Boden - one of the best British brands out there. Our family is perpetually wearing Boden because everything looks great, can stand up to the crazy weather and stands the test of time between kids.)

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ONE | TWO | THREE | FOUR | FIVE | SIX | SEVEN | EIGHT | NINE | TEN | ELEVEN


Looking for things to do in the rest of Ireland? Check out my guides to Dublin and Ireland.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Pack Your Bags | WILDE in Dublin

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I met my friend, Orlagh, a few years ago at a press breakfast when we were both huge and pregnant with little boys. She was so nice and we just kinda clicked. We’ve kept up with various meet ups, but when she moved back to her home of Ireland last year… well, I was a bit sad. (How many times have I complained about friends moving away from London on this blog? Only 357? Okay!)

Anyway, I’ve changed my mind that her being gone is bad now that I realise I have a friend to hang out with in Dublin. And not only a friend- Orlagh is super hip and just…. the nicest. (Also, how many times have I waxed poetically about my love for nice people on this blog? Only a million? Great. It’s true- I love sweet people.) She held Edie so I could eat and just loved on her as if she were family. 

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Orlagh met me for lunch at WILDE and it was such a dream. The restaurant is bright and airy with pretty pink throws on the backs of chairs. There’s greenery hanging over you and crawling up the walls, and I have to say- the surrounding tables of Dublin’s finest femmes make it a gorgeous place to be!

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We had lunch and before I even tasted a bite, I knew I’d still come back again. The staff were SO sweet and every time our waiter came to the table, he chatted to Edith (calling her by name) and speaking to her as if she would actually place an order, too. Ha! They were all so sweet.

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(For those that have asked about my shirt, yes! It is a nursing shirt, and yes- it is fantastic. It’s so not frumpy and I wish they had a million colours of it. Plus, its only £32.)

But luckily for me, the food was KILLER. I had a chestnut and apple soup (this girl can never resist chestnut soup in the winter) and the most perfect salad of all times: rocket (or “arugula,” if you’re in the US), fresh figs, goats cheese, beetroot, truffle oil… and maybe some kind of nut? Hazelnut? I can’t remember. I’m pretty sure I blacked out. They whipped me up a little pear and almond mocktail that was so refreshing and light. The whole experience felt exactly like you’d hope a girls lunch would feel. I think WILDE is one of the best lunch spots in Dublin, especially if you’re with someone fun.

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Orlagh is just one of those people who has sincerity washing over her words and her actions are intentional. (Example: I asked when she’d be in London next, and basically she just said she doesn't socialise when she’s there because she needs to keep her trips as short as possible to get home to her kids. Respect.) She makes motherhood look so stylish and I have no doubt that you’ll feel the same way if you follow her on Instagram, @theminipost…. She’s the coolest.

There were so many desserts that I really wanted to try, but I had to peace out and leave on a high note of a well-behaved baby. But next time! And thank goodness I’ll have a sweet friend there to meet me when I go. 


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WILDE RESTAURANT | Harry Street, Dublin 2, D02 CH66


Find more of my Dublin favourites in my travel guide or book a travel consult for personalised help for your upcoming travels.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on November 29, 2017 and filed under ireland, friends, eat, pack your bags.

Pack Your Bags | Dunnottar Castle

If you travel up towards Aberdeen, along Scotland’s eastern coast, you’ll have the chance to view one of the most postcard-perfect castles in Great Britain: Dunnottar Castle. While the castle now lies in ruins, it’s easy to see that it’s dramatic location along the rocky coast was once the home to a really special place.

The medieval castle, which was once captured by William Wallace, now lies in ruins. The history of this site runs deep- all the way back to the 3rd century- but today, the only things happening there are casual exploring of old stones and photos being taken along the way.

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Throughout the centuries, Dunnottar Castle has hosted many famous historical heroes- William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, and the future King Charles II… but it may be most famous for the 8-month stay of a small band of men that held out from Cromwell and saved the Scottish Crown Jewels.

Not only will you get the chance to peek in the partially standing castle rooms to give a glimpse at medieval castle life, but you’ll also be able to get some dramatic views of the coast below. 

The castle opens (in the summer season) at 9am and stays open until 18:00. (Last entry is a 17:30, so make sure you’ve given yourself enough time.) 

I’d give yourself at least 1.5 hours to visit Dunnottar, because the walk down and back up does take a bit longer than you may expect. As you can see, the walk to and from the castle isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires climbing 136 stairs each way… and while you may think that sounds miserable, I can tell you that if I could do it 8 months pregnant alongside a group of German senior citizens, you’ll be fine, too.

While this may be close to Aberdeen, it also makes for an easy day trip from St. Andrews, too. There aren’t many places to eat nearby, by there is a tiny food truck selling decent quality food items (fish & chips, Angus burgers, homemade fishcakes, etc). I’d recommend either packing a picnic, eating there… or heading on to the tiny town of Stonehaven for a picnic on the beach.


Looking for more places to see and stay in Scotland?

 

Find my previous posts here, or look in my Scotland travel guide.


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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

PACK YOUR BAGS | An NHS Maternity Ward!

A few weeks ago, I started this post, planning to share it long before our new little lady made her entrance... but life had other plans! Here's a peak into my pre-Edie state of mind- and a few tips about what to bring to an NHS maternity ward.


Well, the time has come… I’ve officially hit the state of pregnancy where I feel compelled to bring my notes everywhere I go (a weird NHS thing I’m going to explain in an upcoming vlog!), plan a childcare schedule with friends in those “just in case she comes early” scenarios, actually put together the baby crib by our bed… and pack my bag for the hospital. At 36 weeks, my stomach feels more like I swallowed a squirrel with peg legs than the sweet bumps and flutters that once tapped around inside me. You can easily identify body parts: foot! bottom! back! The time is coming near, and I gotta get my act together.

So first things first… when you are headed to your third trip to the hospital, I’ve learned to focus more on what I’ll enjoy having post-hospital trip rather than those few days in there. You see, the first time around- I was shelling out cash on items that would be useful for those few days in the hospital without much care to beyond those walls. A cute hospital gown, fancy coming-home outfits that I paid way too much for, nice slippers to waddle around the hospital in, etc. This time, I’m putting that money into items that I can enjoy long after I get out of the hospital. So here we go… what’s going in my hospital bag to have a baby through the NHS in London.

I’m working alongside WAREMAKERS for this piece, as their very cool artisan-led company inspired me into putting this kind of post together. After all, there are tons of places I could go with gorgeous handmade-items… but something felt especially right about walking into the unknown of the birth of a baby as a big adventure. So while it’s just a London hospital, I always feel like I’m going into uncharted territory. 

If you’re looking to support a great company with a great mission, and hey- actually fantastic looking items!- WAREMAKERS is going to be right up your picturesque European alley. It took me one glance at their site to get their mission, love their cool aesthetic and become a big fan of the artists and brands they bring together. I have a feeling you’ll love what they are doing, too. (Especially, if you’re like me and have a weak spot for those If-George-Clooney-were-a-bag leather bags that just get better with age that you know will be with you on holidays for years to come.)


ONE | TWO | THREE | FOUR | FIVE | SIX | SEVEN | EIGHT | NINE | Ten | eleven

HOSPITAL BAG | I think for my first delivery, I literally rolled into the hospital with my things in plastic shopping bags. Ha! But as you know, third times a charm or however the saying goes. I actually didn’t have a good overnight bag (all of ours seem to be enormous roller suitcases), so this time I got an actual bag to take with me. The bag is from La Portegna  which is an incredible brand handmade in Spain- but also with a store here in Marylebone! I’m excited to remember this as “my hospital bag,” but really excited to take it with me on other adventures outside of London, too. (Also, check out their company history for the wildest inspiration you’ve ever heard of. Spoiler: It involves an exotic gift from Hemingway.)

ROBE | I like having a robe to wear in the hospital, it kind of allows for covering up all the lumps and craziness happening underneath it… especially when you have friends come by to meet your baby. It somehow adds a bit more dignity to the moment… but I always buy a cheap robe that I won’t fall in love with for ever. This is for two reasons. First, they’re going to get trashed with so many… fluids. Sorry if that’s gross, but it’s true. Secondly, I always buy up a size or two, since I’ll be wearing it in weird-post-baby-still-have-a-bump time. I bought a cute, soft-touch robe here for £10… plus, it has a cute pattern to help create a diversion from my post-delivery stupor.

SLIPPERS | Speaking of slippers, I’m still buying some. Just some really cheap ones I can throw away the second I walk out of that hospital. You see, having an NHS baby means you share recovery rooms… and bathrooms. And I have to say, the bathroom I had after Harrison was born kind of traumatised me. Not because they weren’t clean and kept up… but maybe, the potpourri of 8-10 post-delivery women and all their output was too much. So slippers are needed to go around in the hospital, but I want nothing to do with taking anything that has touched those floors back into my home. Again, I buy cheap and simple ones like these.

SOCKS | While I do want to throw away the hospital slippers as soon as possible, I do think it’s nice to have splurge on some pretty socks to keep your feet covered while sitting around with a new baby/random hospital staff/etc, so this time I’ve got a hand-knit pair of wool socks from the English designer, Jules Hogan. (I actually think for what they are, they’re worth every penny. I can’t wait to take them to Iceland, too.) So yes, skimp on slippers, but spend on some socks that you’ll love to wear during your stay.

PAJAMAS | Now, I have to have a caesarean because of previous deliveries, so I’ll actually be given a gown to wear from the hospital, but if you are having a straight-forward delivery… you deliver in your own clothes! My friends have given birth in their husbands XXL t-shirts or bras… Obviously, these are clothes that they plan to get destroyed, so if you want to buy anything new- go cheap. (I typically do a Primark run before the hospital to get all of my hospital loungewear.) Again, don’t forget to buy up a size or two from your pre-baby size. You’ll be in weird territory between maternity and regular clothes for a few days, so some cheap items that you can easily loose after are nice.

BABY (HEAD) GEAR | I’m not sure why, but this surprised me the most: a hat for my baby. I suppose that because all US- born babies get the traditional striped-hat, I was expected the same when I gave birth here. But, no. You bring your own baby hat into the delivery room.  So yes, finding a cute hat is on my mind… and harder than you think. So many are enormous and I really want a small stretchy, jersey-like one. In the meantime, I've settled for these  but am still on the search via Etsy for something handmade. (Recommendations/hand-me-downs welcome.) We used a really sweet one of Tyler’s when he was a baby for when Harrison was born, but I’d like something a bit less boyish for this little girl. First-world problems, I know.

Do you need anything else for right after they are born? They do wrap them up in a little plain white blanket/towel after delivery- but you’ll need your own swaddles and clothes for them as soon as… well, you want them dressed. 

*Since I’ve had some crazy deliveries, can anyone else weigh in on what a “regular” delivery would call for? Do you give them their first diaper/nappie? The hospital has always put that on them for us after weighing/checking them… and they even put clothes on the girls in the NICU, which was sweet, but I know not standard. Any of your experiences would be so great to hear below in the comments!

Also, is now a good time to tell you- they don’t bathe your babies after delivery. They wipe them off (mostly) and then hand them over. They say all the gunk is really good for them, and that their skin will absorb it. (Which, I have to say- has been true of my babies… and neither really had cradle cap badly. Maybe God does know what he is doing afterall! Hey!) Did I read somewhere recently where this is becoming more common in the US, too?

NURSING BRAS & TANKS | First of all, I need to say: Welcome to the next year of your life. Go ahead and splurge on these, friends. They’re going to be on your body forever and ever from this point on. Want a tattoo? Maybe do a test run and see how you like wearing the same thing everyday (like a nursing bra!) for a year to see how you like the idea of permanency on your body. Also, the longer the nursing tank the better. These are pretty good and long!

ENTERTAINMENT | Maybe you get cable in American hospitals, but after you deliver in the NHS- you’re in a shared room with curtains separating you from other new moms. It’s a free system, so I can’t complain… but you can get real bored real quick. It’s good to bring your own forms of entertainment. Some people may brings books and small hobbies like knitting, but I’m planning on vegging out completely. I’ve already started downloading movies on my Netflix app and can’t wait to pop in my headphones and zone out. (These are things moms dream of when they have impending hospital stays, amiright?.) This amazing earbud case from the Danish company, Ham/Lerche, is so cool. This simple leather pouch keeps the tangled web of earphone tragedy from happening in my bag. Plus, it’s really nice leather that just looks cooler and cooler the longer it is around. 

On this note, don’t forget chargers of any sort that you may need…. And maybe bring a portable/battery one, if you have it? That way, if you get stuck in some random room waiting for a while, you aren’t stuck without an outlet? (Not sure this has ever happened to me before, but I’ll probably toss mine in this time just in case.)

WATER BOTTLE | I have to admit, I’m a bit jealous of the hospital swag that my friends/sisters get when they have a US-born baby… especially in the form of those giant water bottles., In the early days of nursing, when you have that obscene thirst dry up your entire body as you nurse, I always think of how nice it would be to have 835 oz of ice water next to me. But we don’t get them in the UK, and we don’t even have ice… so, you know, whatever. I have purchased a water bottle or two with each kid, and leave them upstairs and downstairs so that wherever I find myself perched- I have water nearby. Bring one to the hospital, because they’ll just bring by small jugs of water and styrofoam cups for you at random.

DISPOSABLES | If you thought the above text was glamorous, just wait until we dive in here. At a NHS hospital, you bring your own party favours… as in, your own breast pads, pads/diapers, underwear (in my case, the higher the better to avoid contact with the incision), and any other type of disposable item you may also end up needing to use at home- you bring of your own to the hospital, too. 

Oh, and of course- that doesn’t just stop for you. Don’t forget your baby! They’ll need newborn diapers and cotton balls/wipes. Just make it easy and do one giant shop for it all and have it delivered to your house around 34 weeks. I also buy all the baby shampoo, nappie cream, etc at this point, too.

REGULAR PACKING ITEMS | Now that you have all the other stuff you’ll have to have, don’t forget to pack the regular items that you’d spend the night away from home with: clothes (to come home in), toiletries, makeup, etc. I had my entire bag packed and then realised I hadn’t actually packed any clothes to come home in or my toothbrush. And on that note, don’t let your husband forget to pack those kind of items, too. They don’t offer beds to them, but they can sleep in the chairs, if they want… and most new dads do want to stick around and see the baby, I’ve learned. Better to have a few items to make their life better, too, with fresh contact solution, a toothbrush and a fresh shirt or two!

I am packing all of my essential makeup items (waterproof mascara, French face cream, toothbrush, deodorant, lipgloss that never goes away) in this pretty French linen pouch from Catherine Dang. I’ve been looking for a simple pouch to put in my backpack/travel bag for ages, and this is honestly such a great find: no obnoxious glitter words on top, great design with French linen and the perfect size for stashing in a slightly larger bag, and- to be candid- a much better price than the comparable “designer” ones I found with a similarly pretty aesthetic. 


There we go. I feel like that is a pretty honest breakdown of all the “essentials.” Having a baby is cute and amazing… but it’s not always glamourous. (Though, Tyler did used to work for a Dallas-based hospital system that served champagne & lobster to new mothers in their maternity unit, so maybe it actually IS in the US suburbs or in private healthcare!) I’m sure a few more items will make their way into my bag before we leave, but I’m not sure Nutrigrain bars and outdated bags of Cadbury eggs from Easter should make the official list.

I’m really grateful though for the opportunity have such amazing (and kind!) doctors take care of us. What we have learned is: if you have a straightforward pregnancy, you’ll find no frills care without a lot of handholding… because they know that this is a really natural process and the general checkpoints along the way will get you to having a healthy baby. But for people that need help and hand-holding (Hi!I I’m Lauren, and I’m traumatised by delivery!), you’ll get the help and care you need. Being a “bells & whistles” case is never the situation you want to find yourself in, but I can tell you- when you’re there, we’ve found that the staff will be some of the most attentive and gracious people. 

For more information, you can find a list that the NHS has provided on what to pack for you hospital bag here on their official site



*Images original to Aspiring Kennedy.

*This post was made in part by sponsorship from Waremakers.

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

Pack Your Bags | Luss on Loch Lomond

Well, here we are- up in Scotland for the week! On our way up to the west coast, we stopped at the famous Loch Lomond for a few hours in the tiny town of Luss.

When we arrived, Viola informed me that she was going to let our coach driver know that "in English, we call a 'loch' a 'pond.'" Luckily, as most Scots seem to be, he is a good sport and thought it was pretty funny. (And to be honest, I kinda did, too.)


LUSS, SCOTLAND

This small lakeside (or "lochside?") town offers travelers heading to the West Coast and Isle of Skye a scenic stop on their journey. While the parish church may have an original baptismal font dating back to the 5th century, the truth is- there's not a huge historical drive to see the town. What makes it worth the time then?

Well, to put it plainly: she's a looker. With tiny cottages lining the street covered in bright flower boxes and huge bushes of fluffy flowers lining the path- Luss merges a stunning lakeside view with a perfect little town.

If you go, expect to spend 1-2 hours walking to the pier, grabbing a coffee (I like St. Mocha on the pier, personally), visiting the picturesque village church and chatting the kind man who welcomes visitors there daily, and getting a baked treat from the Luss Village Shop before you leave. Try one of their various homemade cakes or treats with a cup of tea before you go, like their homemade Gypsy Cream. (It's cookie sandwich comprised of oat & ginger cookies smoothing together a massive hunk of vanilla icing in the middle.) 

homemadegypsycreamlochlomond

Should the day allow for time for a meal in Luss, head to the town's Loch Lomond Pub. It's a cosy in spot to settle in and enjoy an afternoon.

lochlomondluss.jpeg

 

(Also... when did I get SO pregnant. I saw the picture Tyler took below and couldn't believe I actually look that big. Third times a.... whale of a time?)

aspiringkennedypregnant
violaknightscotland.jpeg

 

CONTINUING ON...

From there, you can continue on your trek West. Soon after, you'll pass by the unexpectedly grand Inveraray Castle settled beside the quaint seaside town of Inveraray. (This town could be a good lunch option, too.) 

And further on, make sure you make time to stop by St. Conan's Kirk- a tiny jewelry box of a church perched along a gigantic Loch. The church is one of Scotland's smallest, but boasts big character. It has gorgeous (but small) gardens that surround the property that make the visit even better.

Then from there? Keep going. Stops liken Oban and Fort William await. If it were me, I'd go all the way to Fort William to get to the Jacobite Train for a Harry Potter-esque journey up towards Skye.

 


Looking for more posts on Scotland? Check out my travel guides to Scotland & Edinburgh here, or find my last posts on Scotland here.

You can also search some of the best spots to stop in Skye with my Instagram hashtag, #KnightsSkye.



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on June 6, 2017 and filed under scotland, eat, drink, pack your bags.

Pack Your Bags | Denver, Colorado

If you ever want to quickly educate your urban-raised, public transport-riding children on what life in America with a car is really like, strap them in car seats and keep them in the car for 15 hours as you drive from Dallas to Denver.

You'll most likely experience some screaming, chants of "Get me outta here!" and slow- rising mountains of trash from snack wrappers that you would have never dreamed possible... 

But there are perks to such extreme trips- like stopping along the way in cute towns, having Chick-fil-A more often than appropriate to admit and saving the $$$$ that it would have cost you to fly.

We spent a bit over a week in Denver with Tyler's sister and family for New Years. While, as you know, much of the time you have with family is predestined and arranged long before your arrival- we did manage to sneak a few extras into the week and get a really good feel for the city. 

A big thanks to everyone who kindly suggested places to go/see/try while we were in town. And thanks for the kind welcome to Denver- it's a great place and we love it more every time we are there.


DENVER BISCUIT COMPANY  | This spot was recommended by SO many people that we couldn't ignore it. Thank goodness we went, because it lived up to everything we had heard. Try the Franklin for our favourite: fried chicken, bacon and gravy on an enormous biscuit. If you order one of their cinnamon rolls to start (because you really should), you can easily share the sandwich between two of you. But I won't judge you if you each want your own.

VOODOO DOUGHNUTS | This "eclectic" donut shop hails from Portland, but their location in Denver seems to share the same magic. Open 24/7- Voodoo succeeds at making really great classic donuts (the chocolate glazed is outstanding) and some quirky new options. This shop should be rated PG-13, so just know that with young kids you'll either get some questions or you can leave them in the car with dad when you run in.... which may work best as parking is non-existent around the shop.

CART DRIVER | Head to this cool spot for really good pizza. Thin crust, a healthy mix of normal toppings with hip toppings like kale and it's friends. Booths are tiny, so best for date night or lunch with one (maybe two) smaller kid(s). Dress hip here. Even though it's relaxed, the crowd is cool.
 

TABLES | We went to an adults-only dinner here one evening and it was really great. This place marries all the qualities you want in a night out: cosy interiors, a menu that uses approachable ingredients to do yummy new things and a kind wait staff. The food was delicious (goat cheese, apple & fennel salad) and don't miss the skillet cinnamon roll with ice cream for dessert. Oof!
 

ACE | Ping pong tables. Great Asian food. Cool decor. Family friendly, but best for suited for tinier tots at lunch or early dinner. The name sums it up- all around Ace.
 

STEUBENS | This is the sister restaurant to Ace and while the menu and decor are different- you'll find a familiar coolness that runs between both places. The menu at Steubens is all around solid: fresh sandwiches, smart salads, soups,  fish and daily specials that will pique your interest. The bar is pretty, too. We went for lunch and the Philly cheesesteak was enormous and everything I wanted. Also, you'll find no finer a kids meal in all the land than at both Ace or Steubens.

LINGER | The first thing you should know (and that people will tell you) is that Linger is on the site of an old mortuary. The next thing you need to know is that it's really good. We went here as a group and each ordered a couple of items to share with the table, as the menu lends itself to smaller tapas-sized plates from a variety of categories and flavours. The food is delicious, the experience is unique and the view of Denver from the rooftop is perfect. A fun date spot or place to go with a small group. Reservations recommended.
 

SNOOZE | While the lines can be seriously awful for a table, the menu is really fanstastic for breakfast. With great eggs and creative pancakes (pineapple upside down, please) and mugs of coffee- you'll be happy you stuck out with the wait once you have a seat!

BROWN PALACE AFTERNOON TEA | When we are back in the States, somehow afternoon tea often ends up being on the itinerary. Fine by me! But to be candid, most of them are... well, rubbish. I wasn't expecting much from this afternoon out- besides good company- but was really pleased with the tea. The hotel is a historic gem in Downtown Denver and the afternoon tea is actually like one you might have in England. The tea blends are strong, the scones are the right crumble and, if you ask, you can even get a second plate of sandwiches when you finish the first.

LITTLE MAN ICE CREAM | While the line can be daunting, trust that it exists for a good reason. The portions are small, so a single will be surprisingly huge. Solid standby flavours like salted Oreo aren't too be missed,   But don't shy away from the seasonal gems like the summery Peach Cobbler.


Reader Recommendations 

While we didn't get to try all the great places you'd told us about, here are a few that sounded especially tasty. 

@lhwellsy: "...eat at Cho 77! My fav!"

@dirtymartinidiaries: "As a born and raised Boulder girl, one of my favourite foods on the planet is the breakfast burrito from any of the Santiago's mexi restaurants. Their chain started in my town and they are heaven on earth."

@rs_wing: "Breckinridge Brewery is a really neat atmosphere and friendly with children. The one in Littleton is farm style with a huge fire pit, bocce ball, horseshoes...  I always get the fried chicken salad and the apple pie skillet for dessert."

@katiekloberdanz: "I have tons! ... Snooze for pancakes, Voodoo Donuts, Benny's for green chile rellanos, Lola for tableside guac..."



*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

Posted on January 11, 2017 and filed under denver, travel, drink, eat, pack your bags.

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
 

Pack Your Bags | Iceland's Golden Circle

If you haven't seen by now on Instagram, we are in Iceland. We've been here for a week now and have a little under a week left. We've been exploring non-stop. My head is buzzing with so many thoughts: logistical (do we have the food allowance sorted? i need to tell the students what time we leave in the morning!), parental (i need to buy more snacks for the bus. remember to get Harrison's shoe out from under the seat.), tourist (whoa - Iceland is exploding with people. things change quick when there is a tourist boom!) and personal (I realllllly want to buy a new wool sweater. and some OmNom chocolate).

In the midst of such chaos, I thought it might be good if I jotted down a classic day-trip from Reyjkavik for you. This is really THE day-trip that most people make. It's called the "Golden Circle" and features three main sites: Thingvellir National Park, Geysir & Gulfoss. Expect to spend about 4.5-5 hours in the car of driving plus the time you're going to spend visiting each of the sites. Plan to give this outing a full day of your time in Iceland, and you'll definitely want to have your own car to get you from place to place as there is no public transport.

While those are the three main anchors of the Golden Circle with a few "tier two" options you can add-in, I'm adding in a few extras of my own that I think really make the day all the better.

 


ICELAND'S GOLDEN CIRCLE DAY TRIP

 

THINGVELLIR

 

This is the first stop you'll make on the Golden Circle is at Thingvellir National Park. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is worth visiting for a few reasons.

1. It is the meeting plate of the North American and Europe/Asia tectonic plates. In between the two plates there is an enormous rift valley that offers a stunning view of how these two pieces of the world fit together.

2. It is the site of the first parliament in Iceland was held here, which earns it a place as a UNESCO World Heritage site. In 930AD, Althingi was held here at Thingvellir. There

3. You can scuba dive between the two plates in a fissure. Not only does this just sound amazingly cool- a dive between two tectonic plates!- but also, the water is stunningly clear. Don't expect to see loads of fish and sea life, but a chilly dip down into a gorgeous piece of the world.

 

SKAHOLT

In between Thingvellir and lunch, we had an hour of time to kill. We headed to Skaholt- a tiny stop that was about 20 minutes away from lunch. There we visited the tiny country church of Skaholt. A modern-ish church that is bright and airy inside. While the church is quaint and sweet to see, the visit is made more worthwhile to a visit downstairs where you can see the sarcophogas of a Bishop from the 1500's. Also, outside the church is a replica of an older Icelandic church- complete with grass and flowers growing on the roof.

 

FRIDHEIMAR

When the idea of stopping in a greenhouse for lunch was suggested, I was a bit.... ho hum at the thought. However, I'm glad I was convinced to go because we had such a great time. When you visit Fridheimar, you can get an introduction to how this small family-run greenhouse manages to sustain year-round growth of such high-quality tomatoes. But the fun doesn't stop there.... eat lunch at the restaurant for the full experience! For the basic version (what we did), eat the homemade tomato soup and fresh baked bread. Eat as much as you like of both- alongside fresh butter, creme fraiche and cucumber salsa.... oh, and fresh basil you can clip right off the potted plant at your table. (Book a table in advance so you don't have to wait!)

If you have time to visit their stables, it is also really fun. They did a show for us where they showed us all the five gaits of the Icelandic horse and then had tea & coffee for us in the stables afterwards. We drank coffee in the sunny September light and met the stars of the shows in their stables. It was casual and perfect.

Find out about booking a table, a horse show and all the rest on their site here.

 

Geysir

From Thingvellir, you'll want to continue on to Geysir. This is where we, in English, get the term geyser. It's a hot spring that, for years, was spitting out water ever few minutes. The classic Great Geysir has slowed down in recent years, but fortunately for the investors who built a massive and luxe visitor's center- the neighbor Strokkur Geysir is still going strong.  Go by and watch it blow hot water into the air, and then duck into the visitor's center for some coffee and a kleiner (homemade Icelandic donut). The gift shop is massive and full of great things, but notoriously more expensive than the same shop's offerings in Reykjavik- consider it a tourist tax?

 

GULFOSS

This waterfall, which translates from "Golden Falls" for the way the sunlight hits it in the summer evenings, is a great stop if you can only make it out of town for one waterfall. It's massive and easily accesible, and the various spots to view the enormous waterfalls are varied around the park, so you can migrate from far-off vantage points all the way up to the side of it where water will mist you will cold drops.

 

The scene is stunning- complete with rainbows scattered throughout the area from the constant mist and, with full admission, a considerable amount of fellow tourists. (But for good reason, you'll have a great time!)

 

HESTHEIMAR

After you've finished with the main attractions, head to Hestheimar for an evening ride on an Icelandic Horse. This small, family-run stable offers gorgeous trail rides throughout the day. (Fortunately for people like me, they work with people of all skill levels!)

 

We always spend the night out there and get dinner before the ride. It's always served in their cozy kitchen and is homemade and hearty. Think: homemade lasagna or roasted meats served hot bread from the oven and followed by warm apple cake and mugs of coffee. There are cabins available for rent, if you really want the full experience. (And by full, I of course mean, a misty morning in the Icelandic country and a hot breakfast of eggs and homemade pancakes covered in Nutella and powdered sugar.

 

*   *   *

 

Looking for more tips and guides for Iceland? Check out my Iceland travel guide for all our favorite tops or my popular "Perfect Iceland Itinerary."



 

*images original to aspiring kennedy

 

Pack Your Bags: Tel Aviv


Last year, I was at a press event where the hotel manager from the Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv was speaking. He spoke so enthusiastically about Tel Aviv- claiming it was electric- like the Las Vegas of the Middle East. I remember thinking how cool it sounded... and yet, how unlikely it was that I would actually be there anytime soon.

Fast forward a year, and what do you know? My family went to Israel for my dad's 60th birthday. Complete with my uncle and cousins + their spouses, needless to say- it was a party.

We arrived to Tel Aviv on an EasyJet flight direct from London. (£275 each way for all four of us + 3 bags + priority boarding/seats). The 4.5 hour flight was easy and non-eventful. We arrived to the hotel around 11:30pm on Thursday, worried that we might have missed our window for dinner.

Little did we know, Tel Aviv is a city that doesn't sleep... well, at least until Friday's when Shabbat rolls around and puts the country at a quiet standstill But Thursdays? Well, consider it their Friday night... and dinner at midnight? No problem at all.

We spent 5 days in Tel Aviv, and all I can say is- everything that I had heard at that event all that time back was spot on. The city is every bit as exciting as they say... and more. It's absolutely worth visiting. Think great food, great people, rich with history... and, of course, perfect weather.

Here are some of our favorite places for your trip to Tel Aviv.

 


STAY

 

DAVID INTERCONTINENTAL: Since I more or less was introduced to Tel Aviv by the manager of the Intercontinental, it only seemed fitting to start there when planning our trip. I figured it would be fairly similar to the other hotels in Tel Aviv, but after going, I can only say: it is above and beyond the BEST spot to stay. Right on the beach, gorgeous amenities, friendly staff. Just trust me. You'll be regret staying anywhere else if you veer from this advice. (We did on our last night in town when other plans had been made for us... and we all were very sad about it, especially the "other" hotel's disregard of air conditioning.)

When you're there, don't miss spending an afternoon by the pool. Not only will you have some luxe respite from the heat, but you'll also hear some of the most fascinating conversations from the guests around you. I was having the best time people watching while munching on a giant plate of watermelon. It was one of those unexpected moments that happen in a trip that you never forget.

 

 

EAT

MESSA: This place is beautiful. And the clever menu featuring entrees of veal baklawa and carmelized salmon in coconut milk meets the gorgeous decor perfectly. For dessert, don't miss the Sarkozy... named after France's former president upon his recent visit.

SOCIAL CLUB: This is the restaurant that welcomed us to Israel. It was the first place we went to and it opened our eyes to how alive Tel Aviv was. Everything about this place was cool. Tyler tried the waiters suggestion of the prime rib, and it was without a doubt the tastiest steak I have ever eaten. We were shocked. Not a place for kids, but definitely a place for great conversations and late nights.

ABRAGE: If you're looking for something that feels classic, this is it.  Grab a table outdoors in the 6th century square where Abrage casually sits and enjoy having the friendly staff of this Jaffa gem take care of you. We spent our last evening in Israel here with all our family and it was a truly special setting atop historic Jaffa.

 

DO

JAFFA: Along the beach of Tel Aviv, you'll find the ancient city of Jaffa. (Where Jonah set out to sea before his whale encounter.) Definitely not one to miss for great history, cool eats and excellent sunsets.

CARMEL MARKET: This busting market offers a great glimpse of life in Tel Aviv. You'll also hear it called "Shuk Ha'Carmel," but regardless of what language you speak- you'll find loads of things that will catch your eye. Expect to find everything here from designer knock-offs to religious knick-knacks. Save a lunch for eating here and grab a spot at the tiny eateries dotting the market for a real, local treat. (I'd recommend Bar Ochel for amazing grilled meats and roasted vegetables. Don't miss the homemade lemonade to wash it down.)

 

EXPLORE

AMIEL TRAVEL: We were spoiled to have amazing guides take us around Tel Aviv and all of Israel. We got to see things and experience Israel in a way that would have been really impossible to do as unexperienced travelers to the country. Our driver and two guides, Yossi and Monte, unpacked the history in Israel and the cultures mingled there now in a way that has touched Tyler & I profoundly. (Warning: You may not want to ask us about our trip, because we can't be anything but longwinded in our response.)

Go to Israel. Have your eyes opened to the rich history of this small, unique place... and I'd really recommend to have Amiel take you there to make the most of your trip!

 



 

*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

 

 

Posted on July 29, 2016 and filed under israel, travel, pack your bags.

Pack Your Bags | La Rotonde at Le Negresco, Nice

I wrote this post on May 6, but hadn't had the chance to edit the photos for it until this week. When the Bastille Day attack happend in Nice, I was sick to my stomach. The attacks were in front of the Negresco Hotel, and the rooms we were in and took hilarious pictures of Harrison were now triage areas for the wounded victims of this senseless event.

While I don't speak about these kind of events online, please don't mistake that for a lack of recognition of what is happening in the world around us. I endlessly read and observe what is taking place. When I wake up to these horrific headlines, I feel them deeply.

And while I do feel fearful at times and unsure of being in certain places, I realize that fear is a bigger enemy than any terrorist group. So I keep going. And I want to encourage you to keep going, too. Keep living lives that are full and joyful and rich. Keep exploring God's gorgeous world without the fear of "Yeah, but what if?" And, please, go to France. Enjoy la vie en rose at a cafe in Paris, the coastlines of Normandy and the light-heartedness of the Riviera. Don't let dark times snuff out the brightness of great cultures and places. And if and when you find yourself enjoying the sunshine of Nice, I hope you'll find joy in this place like we so recently did, too.


 

Our semester in France ended in Nice, on the dazzling coastline of the French Riviera. Nice definitely lives up to its name. From the sunny climate, the lush gardens and easy-going culture which feels, unsuprisingly due to its location on the border of Italy, somewhat of the love child of France + Italy- Nice lends itself to a rather pleasant place to find oneself.

After the last official day of the semester, we found ourselves with one last day in town. With nothing other than unwinding on the agenda, we decided it was time to treat our kids to something special. (After a few months of having them submit to our crazy schedule, it was the least we could do.)

If you followed our France time on Instagram, you'll probably have noticed my kids have a thing for carousels. Like a really big thing. At almost every town square of France, you'll find DNA from one or all of our family who have touched the carousel there.

 

So when we heard that the Negresco Hotel had a restaurant decorated as a carousel, "La Rotonde", and we also heard that they had a great lunch offer... and, thus, we deemed it serendipitous for how to spend our last day in Nice.

 

 

We went at the end of the lunch rush, which was good because it was nearly empty and our kids were a bit strung out. None the less, it was sooooooo lovely. (Does it make me sound less professional if I add endless "oooo"s to my adjectives? I'll deal with it. It fits the mood of this dreamy spot.)

 

 

The set menu was a great value- 2 courses for €25, but you are limited to only one option for your main course. The setting and food live up the famed Michelin star of the hotel chef, Jean-Denis Rieubland. Definitely a stop not to miss after a sunny day wandering along the Promenade or lounging at the beach.

 

 

Find more of my favorite places in Nice here, as well as in my France travel guide.

 

LA ROTONDE BRASSERIE, NEGRESCO HOTEL | 37 Promenade Des Anglais. Nice, France. 06000.  +33 4 93 16 64 00


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*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

 

Get Out of Town | England's Jurassic Coast

 

Last weekend, we trekked out to Dorset for our friends' wedding. It was a classic British wedding from start to finish: adorable little country church, women crowned with enormous fascinators and hats, and a tented reception sat amongst a well-groomed garden... with a wedding singer blaring Robbie Williams, "Angels."

 

The only thing missing from my expectations was Hugh Grant bumbling his way through the Best Man's speech. Otherwise, it was the complete experience.

 

 

While I was hopeful for all of the English wedding cliches, I didn't have much in my mind about what Dorset would be like. We were headed to the Jurassic Coast, and- if I'm honest- I was not expecting much. I mean, I've been to Britain's beaches. While they may be nice, they really don't compare to so many other places.

But the day after the wedding, we woke up at our tiny B&B, Crawford House. We spent a lazy morning over homecooked breakfasts then packed up our bags and hit the beach to have a picnic with the newlyweds.

 

 

We parked the cars and took a ten minute walk down towards the beach, Durdle Door. When we walked up to the overlook of the coastline, my jaw dropped. I started yelling at Tyler to "COME HERE. YOU'RE GOING TO FREAK OUT. COME HERE." Was this really in England? Or had we been mysteriously transported to somewhere to Spain? France? Italy?

 

And the other element that upped the experience was that it full sunshine and over 90 degrees. I was loving every moment of it. (Minus the 20 minute hike back up to the parking lot. Woof!)

 

 

Can you believer this gorgeous place? As much as I think I've uncovered England, moments like this remind me that I have so much more to discover. What a refreshing look at a country that I've become so comfortable with over the years.

Any other hidden gems that you know of in England? Please share them below!

 



 

*images original to Aspiring Kennedy

 

Pack Your Bags | Domaine de Fontenille, Provence

Wow. It has been a while since my last post. Whenever I say that, I always feel like I have some pretty good reasons to back up my absence... you know, like traveling Southern France to wrap up our semester in France, packing up our place in Paris, moving into our new place in London, visiting friends in Germany on their way back from deployment in Afghanistan, grading endless stacks of papers and finals, living without wifi. You know how it goes. Life is busy!

But before the London summertime absorbs all my brain space, I wanted to share a few special places that we stumbled upon towards over the past few weeks. They're really too good not to share, and I hope that, someday, you can find yourself there, too!


When I was looking to book a spot for us to stay in Southern France, everyone seemed a bit overwhelmed at the idea of switching to a new hotel every night during our Provence trip. In search of a place that could be more central and a home base for our time there, I scoured Tablet Hotels. (One of my favorite places to find hotels!)

Domaine de Fontenille showed up in the search and the prices were really reasonable- €160 per room. Compared to staying in the city centers of the major Provençal towns, this seemed like an easy swap... and the upgrade on the quality of the hotel was a no-brainer.

Once we arrived, we all dropped bags (and jaws) and wandered around this gorgeous retreat tucked in the hills of Provence. I could go on and on, but I'll try to just hit you with the highlights and some photos to do it justice.

WHAT YOU'LL WANT TO KNOW:

-The hotel is situated in the countryside and will require renting a car. This will allow you to explore the surrounding towns easily and give you freedom to get out during the day, even if just into the tiny nearyby town of Lauris.

- The hotel has a Michelin-starred chef overseeing the food at the hotel and it is amazing.

- The hotel staff is very friendly and exceptionally accommodating. The hotel manager came and personally made the bed in the baby cot in our room.

- You can book a massage with the front desk, as well as request use of the hamman area for complimentary use of the sauna.

- Breakfast is worth waking up for, make sure you try the homemade croissants with a big smear of butter and the apricot & lavender jam. A bite of that lovely concoction may be my lasting memory of our stay there.

Also after breafkast morning, some photographers shot Viola playing out in the garden. I figured it was for the hotel website or a travel blogger at work. LIttle did I know when I asked if they could take some photos of her that it was for ELLE Magazine. Who knows if they will use the photos, but man- if they end up running the pictures of her, it will be a really neat keepsake!

We had such an amazing stay at Domaine de Fontenille, and I really do dream of getting back there sometime soon. I have no doubt that if you find yourself there, you'll not only find it to be a great hotel for exploring Provence, but feel that hits that tricky target being of approachable yet luxurious.

 

Find more of my travel favorites for France in my France Travel Guide.

 



 

*images original to Aspiring Kenendy

 

Pack Your Bags: The Perfect Normandy Itinerary

Over the weekend, we went with my students to Normandy. What started as a regular group trip evolved into an epic getaway when my friend, Stacy, hooked us up with a stay in the Chateau de Servigny. As you may have imagined, my students heads nearly fell off when we rolled up and they saw our accommodations for the weekend. 

Luckily, the fun didn't stop there. We had a day in Bayeaux- eating at our favorite spot and seeing the famous tapestry, touring the D-Day beaches, visiting Mont St. Michel in all of its Easter Sunday madness, frolicking through the port side town of Honfleur and wandering through Monet's garden in Giverny.

Normandy isn't the easiest place to get to from Paris, but I'm going to make it a little easierby doing a suggested itinerary for a few days there. In exchange, you have to indulge me and see a slew of pictures from our weekend away. If it's any consolation, most were taken by Stacy (who just happens to be an amazing photographer) and they are really pretty.

 

THE PERFECT NORMANDY ITINERARY

 

DAY ONE | DEPART FOR NORMANDY

You have a few options to get to Normandy- either rent a car at Hertz in Gare du Nord or train from Paris to Caen. From there, rent a car and drive from there.

Head to Bayeux (approximately 20 minutes from Caen).

Lunch at La Moulin de Galette (get the Galette l'Aure - but sub out the chicken for ham. It's incredible.)

Spend the rest of the day enjoying the tiny town of Bayeux: visit the Bayeux Tapestry, explore the town, or wandering through the town's stunning cathedral.

Stay at the Hotel Churchill, Reine Mathilde or the pricier (but equally central), Villa Lara Hotel.

 

DAY TWO | D-DAY BEACHES

Wake up. Have breakfast in Bayeux.

Explore Utah Beach. 

Drive to St-Mere-Eglise. Explore the Paratroopers Museum there. See the "paratrooper" hanging in memory of the US soldier who survived German fire by playing dead as he hung, stuck on the village's church steeple, during the chaos of D-Day. Eat lunch. Visit the tasty bakery in town.

Drive to La Pointe du Hoc. Visit the stunning place dotted with craters from explosions and explore German armories. 

Visit Omaha Beach & The American Cemetery above the beach.

Return to Bayeux. Relax for the evening in town.

 

DAY THREE | MONT ST MICHEL & VILLEDIEU-LES-POÊLES

Breakfast in Bayeux- at the hotel or from one of the nearby local cafes.

Depart for Mont St. Michel. (If you're not up for driving. Hotel Churchill offers a daily shuttle from their hotel to Mont St. Michel at an affordable rate!) The drive is two hours from Bayeux, and you'll have to either take the shuttle bus from the parking lot or walk 30 minutes to the famous rocky village.

Explore Mont St. Michel. Eat in town, do some souvenir shopping, explore the Abbey on top of the town, and enjoy the views offered from the top. You'll want about 2.5 hours to explore the town after you reach the base of it.

Depart Mont St. Michel. If you leave early enough, you can stop for lunch in Villedieu Les Poeêles. This tiny town is not only really cute with lots of cafes, shops and bakeries, but it also is the home to Mauviel copper cookware- the fancy kind that you can buy for 3x the cost in Williams-Sonoma.

Drive on to Honfleur, spend the evening eating in one of the endless restaurants dotted around the tiny seaside town.

 

DAY FOUR | HONFLEUR, GIVERNY & RETURN TO PARIS

Wake up in Honfleur. Shop around the town. Eat lunch in a cafe around the main port in the sunshine. Wander through the little streets. Visit Saint Catherine's Cathedral to see the naval-esque architecture of the fishing town.

Depart Honfleur for Giverny. Wander through Monet's family home, manicured gardens and legendary water garden. 

Drive back to Paris in time for dinner and an evening settling back into the City of Lights.

 

 

So there you have it- your Normandy getaway all planned out. Check out more travel advice in my France Travel Guide or contact me for a personalized consult for your vacation.



 

*images original to Aspiring Kennedy by L'Amour de Paris

 

 

MY PARIS | Popelini

 

Before we got to Paris, my friend Stacy & I made a standing date for Friday afternoons. Our goal: was to spend a couple hours at the end of every work week exploring some of the sweetest places Paris has to offer. There's only so much time I have here- I want to max out my time!

Our first week here, we checked out Popelini- a cute Parisian bakery that specializes in gorgeous choux pastry filled with a variety of amazing cream flavours. The tiny shop isn't a place you'll be able to sit and stay, as there are no seats- so we got our boxes, arranged like a brightly colored jewelry box, and headed to my place.

After dinner, we pulled out our lovely boxes for dessert and all enjoyed a tasting of their amazing assortment.

My favorite was definitely (and surprisingly to me) the passion fruit. Other crowd favorites were the banoffee, salted caramel, citron, dark chocolate and coffee. Basically, the odds are in your favor that you'll order one that you love.

I'd recommend a box of these for a pretty afternoon in with friends or sitting along the Seine for a picnic with a crowd. They're not too small... but not too big where you need to make a big production of serving them. Eat them off a plate or out of your hand!

Popelini has two locations and (I learned the hard way on my way home from work today) are closed on Mondays: 

29 rue Debelleyne, 75003

44 rue des Martyrs, 75009

 




*images original to Aspiring Kennedy


Posted on March 14, 2016 and filed under eat, paris, pack your bags, my paris.

Pack Your Bags: Granada, Spain

This morning, I work up really early and headed out to Heathow. One almond croissant, three beverages, and two flights later- I landed in Granada, Spain for a work trip.

The weather is sunny, the skies are blue, my work friends are here... and the living is easy.

We hit the ground running with a huge lunch and then went to visit the Cathedral of Granada. It was spectacular, and very worth visiting- if you're in Granada. The contrast of light white walls and ceilings with the gold ornamentation is really striking. I've never seen another church quite like it.

This afternoon was spent catching up over coffee, hot chocolates and one giant plate of churros that cost €2 shaded by giant orange trees. 

And now? Well, we're headed to Arabic Baths for a little swim and hamman massage.

To be honest, if you're ever going to leave your family at home for the night... this might be the best way to do it. It's always a weird feeling to leave family, but you know... also nice to get some space to remind you how much you love them being around. (And because you don't have to share any churros with them either.)




*images original to Aspiring Kennedy


Posted on February 7, 2016 and filed under travel, spain, pack your bags.

Pack Your Bags | Iceland Into the Glacier

We have an awesome group that we work with to create our annual Iceland trip. They are amazing at getting the details sorted for us so that we can arrive and just... go. This year, though, I was looking for something new. I had been seeing photos that made me want to add a bit more of an adventurous element to the trip. (I know... as if glacial lagoons and superjeeping up snowy summits wasn't enough!) 

We decided we need to add an ice cave to the itinerary. Oh man. Great choice. We went to INTO THE GLACIER, a man made ice cave that is dug straight into a glacier. It's one of the most stunning things I have have ever done. The endless maze of tunnels is lit with colorful LED lights, and the experience is one you'll never forget.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:

The glacier is located about an hour and half from Reykjavik, to the North.

You'll be driven up on the glacier to the entrance on the biggest machine you'll have ever seen. It's shocking, and it will carry you up to the start from the base of the site.

You'll be given clamps to wear on your feet to give traction to you throughout the caves.

The tunnels are a bit drippy.... wear waterproof shoes to keep your feet dry.

There's a chapel inside the tunnels- and it is awaiting its first wedding. (Can it please be someone who reads this?)

 

FIND ALL OF OUR FAVORITE ICELAND THINGS TO DO & SEE HERE

 





*images by Ashel Parsons for Aspiring Kennedy


Posted on November 12, 2015 and filed under iceland, travel, pack your bags.