2015: A Year of Wander

2016 has arrived and everyone’s looking ahead  to new beginnings, fresh starts, and wish lists for the upcoming year. I am too - but I’m a little behind, and I can’t fully move on until I take a long pause and reflect on all that 2015 was before I catch up with the rest of you.

Some years slide by us, and as the calendar flips to January, it just marks the passage of time. Then there are some years that are so life-changing and momentous and exhausting yet exhilarating all the same that as that last digit changes, you try to peer out of the wild haze you are surrounded in, wondering aloud, “Did that just happen?” That was this January 1st for me. And because of that, more than anything I need to recap it all for myself so one day in the future I remember what was built in the tumultuous year of wander that was 2015.

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Shoreditch Street Art Tour with Alternative London

I’ve been drawn to the colorful streets of Shoreditch in London. I love visiting this neighborhood when I’m in town. It’s always changing, with new art popping up as well as interesting shops and restaurants entering the scene. It never gets old to me, and since I never tire of exploring artsy Shoreditch, it’s what made me narrow in on this particular neighborhood to stay in last time I was in London this past April.

I think it’s safe to say one doesn’t need to go on a tour to see the street art of Shoreditch. Once you arrive, all you have to do is walk around. You barely need to be an observant person. It’s everywhere. But this last trip, I decided to check out the Alternative London street art walking tour. The tour is “free,” meaning that it’s meant to be accessible by all. The guides are super passionate about leading others around and exploring street art in London together, though they expect to be tipped in a way that reflects how one values the tour, or what one can afford to give. It seemed like a great way to learn more about this art that I love, and provide an introduction to Shoreditch to my sister-in-law and her friend who were visiting London with me, lest they thought I had chosen to stay in some strange gritty section of town far from “London proper.”

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Afternoon Tea fit for a Queen: Goring Hotel, London

My sister-in-law has taught me how to enjoy the finer things in life. She took me to get my first pedicure and even patiently provided a pair of flip-flops when I lacked the understanding that those were needed (it was winter, after all!). I had always wondered what it would be like to have a sister to share clothes and accessories with, and the few times I’ve forgotten items on visits back to the US, she’s hooked me up with things much trendier than in my own wardrobe.

It follows then, that my first high tea in England would be with her. The truth is that I’m pretty cheap when it comes to spending money on myself. I had been interested to attend a classy afternoon tea time, but the price tag has always made me think twice. With Yumchaa as my go-to tea spot in London, I can get a personal pot of tea for a few quid - a far cry from the price tag of a proper sit-down experience. But as we planned for a fun week ahead in London with Michael’s sister and one of her friends, we figured our last hurrah (for now!) in London should include this bucketlist item. And who else to go with than the queen of class herself, Miss Dawn.

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Breaking the ice with London

Do you ever have that feeling when you’re at a party, and there’s someone there that you want to meet, but you’re too intimidated to just put yourself out there? Wishing you had a friend in common to give an introduction to break the ice?

Well, if the party is Europe and you’re staring down London from across the room -- I’ve unwittingly become that friend in common to give an introduction to get things started.  I got my own introduction with a two-week college course on theater and since then I’ve had the pleasure of introducing the city to many of my friends and family (starting with my husband -- London was our first European vacation as a married couple).

Now, I’d like to give you an idea of how to look London in the eye and say “How you doin’?” by way of recounting my most recent London introduction: to my brother, David.  One never knows where he is bound to show up, and so it should come as no surprise that somehow it worked out in our last few months in Europe that David’s business trip to London aligned perfectly with one of Michael’s work trips there. It was David’s first time in London, and he had an afternoon between business meetings to spend with me in England’s capital.

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My Method on How to Select the Perfect Airbnb Accomodations

How people travel is shifting. With sites like Airbnb, more and more people are moving away from staying in traditional hotels and towards a more local experience of renting apartments/houses or shared spaces with residents. There are lots of pros to using Airbnb for lodging - it’s often less expensive than a hotel (especially when split among a larger party, and if there is a kitchen that allows self-servicing some meals) and allows for a more local-feeling experience. There’s a lot of great material already written on this - like Adventurous Kate’s How to Use Airbnb and Have a Great Experience for a detailed explanation of the site, or Expat Edna’s post on 6 Airbnb’s I Loved Around the World to give some inspiration on the cool places you could stay worldwide. 

If you’re a huge fan of Airbnb like I am, you may not need convincing why to consider using it. The next question may be the how - how to land on the perfect place to rent and have a successful stay. This is the how to effectively use Airbnb, following my method on how I sift and select where to stay.

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London: My Gateway to Europe

Change is hard. But so necessary. If we were to always be in our normal rhythms and safe comfort zones, we wouldn’t experience all the lessons that new challenges hit us over the head with at times.

As I prepared myself for my move from Paris, I started trying to mentally prepare myself to leave this city that I loved so much. And something else unexpected came out of those months of turmoil. I realized that I needed to also have closure with London.

It sounds a bit weird, I know. Why would I feel compelled to bid adieu to a place I never lived? A place that I wrote about just last year when I was in a slump and wished I were in Paris instead- why now take away valuable time from Paris to spend it there?

I needed to go to London because for me, London was where it all began.

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Canvas-Worthy Europe, 2014 edition

Last Wednesday I shared my round-up of my favorite photos taken in Paris in 2014. Now it’s time to see the year in review through a collection of my canvas-worthy contenders from our European travels outside of Paris. Here’s where I traveled to during the year!

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Simply Sara Eats: and Sips in London

In the "Simply Sara Eats " series, I recount the my favorite food and drink discoveries.

This year London keeps beckoning me over to visit. And if you've ever taken the Eurostar between Paris and London, you know you can get easily from one city to the next in about 2.5 hours. Between my winter stint in London in January, my impromptu girls' getaway in the spring, and my long weekend with friends in June, it's been hard to stay away from England's capital. 

While there, you can be assured that I've discovered some great spots to relax over a beverage. Whether you like tea, coffee, beer, or cocktails, you can find it all on my top 5 list of what I've been loving in London these days:

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Spotlight on London

Bon lundi!

Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.
— Samuel Johnson

I don't think I could ever get tired of London, and I've been there three times this year (and counting!). This week I want to take you to some of my favorite places in the city, and hopefully dispel the myth that the food in England is bad! 

Shoreditch's Street Art (London)

Every time I visit London, I'm reminded just how big the city really is. It can take 10 minutes (maybe more) to walk to a tube stop and a trip across town can easily take 45 minutes or more via public transportation. 

This also means there are lots of neighborhoods to discover in London that are varied and diverse from one another. And one that I've really enjoyed exploring more is the artsy section of Shoreditch. 

There is so much to say about the cute boutiques, hipster hangouts, and bars in this neighborhood. For now, I'll just leave you with photos of the cool street art that brightens the streets:

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Girls' Getaway to London

few months ago I was in London exploring the city solo by day and eating Indian food with Michael by night. The Eurostar makes travel between Paris and London an easy* 2 1/2 hour trip so I knew I would be back at some point. I just had no idea how soon the next opportunity would come to visit again.

Fast forward to two weeks ago: I set off to my husband's office to meet up for lunch, and got the surprise of my life. My brother and his sweet girlfriend flew in for a short vacation in Paris and the Loire Valley. David had to go back to New York after that whirlwind weekend, but Carissa had plans to continue on to London. And I was generously invited along for a girls' getaway in London.

That's about all the context you need and then some. Spring was in full bloom, sunshine abundant, and we enjoyed spending time together in this cool capital.

Without further ado and more unnecessary ramblings, here's our three-day excursion in pictures:

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Spring in London

Bon lundi!

My silence last week was due to a series of wonderful, unexpected events. When my brother and his girlfriend showed up unexpectedly for a visit, the adventures didn't end with a weekend in the Loire Valley. After he left, Carissa stayed and the two of us set off for a girls' trip to London.

And London was quite hospitable, with generous sunshine and warm, spring weather. As you can get a taste of from our walk through St. James Park with a view of Big Ben.

More to come on all the travels, I promise! 

A Day in Shoreditch (London)

As I mentioned previously about London (from past Monday and Wednesday posts), this trip was all about discovering smaller sights and exploring new corners of the city. One day in the Shoreditch neighborhood of London I did just that. There is much to see and eat in the east side of London, a much ignored area by tourists for its lacking in big-ticket sights.

Here's how I spent a Sunday in Shoreditch, with some interspersed tips from additional trips made to the area during my trip. I couldn't stay away from this cool neighborhood (despite staying on the opposite side of town)!

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