Travel | The Cotswolds

There's a distinct genre of grime produced by an international flight. The ghosts of recirculated air, a sleepless night, and microwaved curry dinners always seems to haunt me for days after any length of time on an airplane. After hundreds of flights, I think I've found the cure for the air travel grunge: three days in the Cotswolds. 

A few weeks back I landed at Heathrow and hopped in a car bound for Gloucestshire. I felt a tinge of sacrilege in deferring an immediate visit to beloved London upon arriving in the UK, but I was quickly convinced that the Cotswolds was the place to go. Some friends and I rented a crooked stone cottage in the honey-colored village of Winchcombe, around which I kept expecting to find a Weasley or two. After a cup of tea, we wandered through velvet green fields of wildflowers and grazing sheep, past the local castle, and through the storybook town center. Nothing makes you feel cleaner than cool grass and late summer breezes in the dusky English countryside. 

As the jet leg settled in, I sat on the downy white bed and watched a gentle rain put the village to sleep. I was overcome with an irrepressible, incandescent happiness to be back in my misty, merry England.

We spent the next morning at Hidcote Manor, a National Trust site with one of the Cotswold's most beautiful gardens. We wound through the grounds for hours and basked in the English quintessence of tangled flowers and thatched roofs. Every acre held a distinct little universe – hollows of ferns, fields of billowing wheat, huge hydrangea beds, and stone paths lined with pale roses – all wonderfully alive and just a bit wild. I don't spend enough time in the company of flowers and an afternoon at Hidcote reminded me of what great friends they can be. (If you'll be in the UK for more than a week, look into getting a National Trust membership. You'll get to see a ton of magical sites for one low fee.)

We soon found ourselves in Broadway and, using some type of built-in sweets radar, immediately located Hamilton's Chocolates. After some tea and Victoria sponge, we ambled the winding lanes of the tiny town. 

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Driving through the Cotswolds felt like hopping from oil painting to oil painting. Every twist in the narrow roads brought a new panorama of rolling hills or wildflower fields, grazing sheep or villages built of glowy amber stone. We marveled at every perfect scene en route to the bustling market town of Chipping Campden, where we went full-British with a Sunday roast at the King's Hotel

In the UK businesses close shop fairly early, especially on Sundays. We hurried around Chipping Campden in an attempt to leave no bookstore or antique shop unexplored before the "Closed" signs appeared. The Covent Garden Academy of Flowers and Cherry Press stood out among the cuteness.

As the daylight dimmed and the rainclouds rolled in, we rushed to find one lasat Cotswolds experience for the day. The National Trust index led us to Crickley Hill where we stumbled upon a breathtaking view of the countryside. I've always thought England looked like a perfect patchwork quilt when viewed from above. Crickley Hill let us see the full spread of emerald and jade patches, stitched together by crooked stone walls and dirt roads. We drank in the soul-nourishing scene until the rain finally won and we escaped to the cozy fireplace of our Winchcombe cottage, where a Princess Diana Netflix special and leftover Chinese takeout awaited.

Our final day swept us away in a whirlwind tour of what seemed like every village in the Cotswolds. Our first stop was Burtron-on-the-Water. We walked along the canal and through the residential streets, where we stumbled upon my drug of choice: a locally-made ceramics shop! We then popped over to both Upper and Lower Slaughter and as we walked the public footpaths, we contemplated how such beautiful villages could have such gruesome names. Hilly Burford also made the itinerary and introduced me to my first ever bookstore-hat-shop-combination-platter, The Mad Hatter. I bought a copy of Sense and Sensibility, which I lost within ten minutes.

My very favorite stop of the trip was the Daylesford Farm Shop. Farm shops are universally delightful, but the Daylesford Farm Shop was particularly perfect – bright, airy, and crisp. The shop was filled with delicious local foods, gorgeously understated home goods, and fresh flowers. The store also had a workshop space for beekeeping and flower arranging courses. If I disappear for a while, you know where to find me.

Stow-on-the-Wold is perhaps the Cotswolds' most well known market town, so it seemed like the best place to end our brief but sweet stay. A piece of Pimms cake at the Old Stocks Inn and a lunch of figs and burrata at England's oldest pub (in that order) rounded out our wonderful weekend away.

We made it halfway back to London and decided an hour in Oxford might help ease us back into city life. Now that I've found the cure for international flights, I need to find a cure for leaving the Cotswolds.

Travel | Oahu

 

I was afraid we might run into Santa coming down our chimney this Christmas just gone. My sister, mom, aunt, and I awoke to 3:50am alarms on the morning of the 25th to make a 5:30 flight to Hawaii. I didn't unwrap any presents this Christmas, but I still got some pretty great gifts – sand and sunshine and a purple lei around my neck at the Honolulu airport.

After meeting up with my cousins and grabbing a Loco Moco at Zippy's, we scooted our tiny white rental cars up the eastern edge of Oahu and would later laugh at the breathtaking views we whizzed by in total ignorance during the late night drive. We stayed in a perfectly simple, newly renovated, neon colored Airbnb house perched right on the tip of Laie Point, a craggy finger of land that reaches into the agitated December Pacific.

Jetlag shook us awake in time to catch the sunrise, which came with a rainbow between bouts of sideways rain. We then met up with cousin Will, whose wedding gave us the excuse to visit Hawaii, and ate breakfast in cute Kailua at the Nalu Heath Bar & Cafe . Each day since I have dreamt of those acai bowls with a wistfulness I've rarely known. They changed my life.

We wandered around hip Hekili Street, which is a fantastically fashionable place to spend time and money. We also saw a girl sharing a table and plate of crepes with a wild chicken which I considered my personal Christmas miracle. At a nearby beach we watched the waves toss wind boarders here and there. Barack Obama was reportedly staying a few miles away, but he didn't answer my texts to hang out.

 
 

Skydiving (spectating, not participating) was next on our agenda. Watching blood relatives jump from an airplane is equal parts entertaining and stressful. We eased our nerves with a stop by the insanely crowded food truck park in Haliwea. Outside of New Orleans, Dat Cajun Guy had the best po'boys and red beans and rice I've ever had. We also visited the Snow Factory truck for "snow" (a shave ice/ice cream hybrid), the wonders of which we discussed in depth almost every day of our trip.

Wild Laie Point didn't exactly show off the famous Hawaiian sunset, but we found it the perfect place to watch the day fall asleep. As the clouds rolled in and the wind whipped up and the waves churned harder, we reflected on the enormous blessing it is to feel small next to a big ocean.

And then we watched Hallmark movies and fell asleep at 8pm, because vacation is still vacation.

 
 

The North Shore becomes the surfer's Mecca in December, so we laid down towels on Banzai Beach to sit and watch the men and women worship the enormous winter waves. You know those big waves that get so tall and curl in over themselves so that a surfer can glide through the inside tube? We saw those!

Shark's Cove, a naturally enclosed pool of ocean, was our afternoon spot for wading and people watching. As we got lunch from the North Shore Shrimp Truck, I pondered if it was acceptable to be receiving 75% of my meals from the window of a vehicle. And then I got a rainbow shave ice. From a truck.

 
 

Will and Carissa's rehearsal dinner was wedged between emerald mountains and turquoise shoreline at the Kalama Beach Club. Under twinkling lights, we ate and drank and laughed and prayed in celebration of this upcoming wedding. 

The next morning took us to Waimea Bay, a gorgeous semicircle of sand and sea dotted with enormous rock formations. Several rapid, intermittent showers brought us a rainbow, which inspired lots of cartwheeling. Just across the street, a gorgeous walk through the lush Waimea Valley, a reserve full of indigenous flora, brought us to Waimea Falls. 

Rain-soaked and mud-splattered, we realized the late hour and rushed home to get six women ready for the long awaited wedding! Of course, we weren't in too much of a rush to miss out on another acai bowl from (you guessed it) a food truck.

The wedding was perhaps the most beautiful celebration I've ever attended. The evening was as lovely, organic, and authentic as the bride and groom. Sparkling lights, long banquet tables, delicious food, warm ocean breezes, LOTS of cake, crowns of greenery,  and a getaway vespa trailed by tin cans. A night can't get more perfect than that.

 
 

Classic Hawaiian Tourism was the theme of the following day. After an unsuccessful visit to the inordinately crowded Diamond Head State Parkwe scooted over to famous Waikiki Beach because it is, of course, required. Ever the entertainers, Natalie and Shannon rented a surfboard and took turns riding some "waves". We grabbed lunch at a nearby foodcourt (SO MANY Asian meal options, which I loved), then headed to Hanauma Bay.

During my last visit to Hanauma Bay, the water was a nearly oversaturated shade of blue, so I was a little disappointed that December had stolen some of the bay's colors. With only 45 minutes left to rent snorkeling gear, we grabbed our equipment and floated out as a little glob over the gorgeous coral reef. That shivery, giggly afternoon was my absolute favorite. I even saw an eel, which was both thrilling and damaging.  

 
 

I was sad that we visited Hukilau Cafe in Laie on our last full day in Hawaii. If we had discovered it sooner, I would have eaten their coconut pancakes for at least ten different meals. Top five pancakes of my life – and I've eaten a lot of pancakes.

We swung by Oahu's incredibly beautiful, jungly Macadamia Nut Farm which offered free samples galore and even allowed visitors to try cracking their own macadamia nuts! 

A breathtaking drive through the misty green mountains brought us to Pearl Harbor, my favorite Oahu destination. A kind of peaceful, quieting veil rests over Pearl Harbor. A mind can't quite reconcile that the glittering Hawaiian harbor is the gravesite of thousands. The pristine USS Arizona memorial powerfully conveys the story of December 7, 1941, and I could have spent hours pacing its length. The wreaths laid by President Obama and Prime Minister Abe the week before still stood at the front of the memorial.  

 

We skidded our Nissan into the Dole Pineapple Plantation just in time to grab a Dole Whip before their early New Year's Eve closing time. We obviously chose the ice cream over the plantation tour because we have our priorities in line. The Whip didn't disappoint.

As our late night return flight loomed near, we made one final stop in downtown Honolulu to see the Hawaiian State Capitol, which is reminiscent of a very stylish volcano.

We stopped by Iolani Palace, the only palace on U.S. soil, and gave a wave to the Queen Liliuokalani statue. After a quick swing from the branches of a banyan tree, we faced the reality that our Hawaiian holiday was coming to a close. 

Our plane was somewhere off the coast of California when the clock struck midnight on New Year's Eve. Shannon tapped me on the shoulder from her seat behind me and we gave a little cheer to 2017.

Travel | The Lake District

Sometimes I get so focused on checking new countries off the imaginary list in my head that I ignore the very place I call home – beautiful England! An entire planet of landscapes seems to have wrapped itself around these little British Isles and, after a recent weekend in the Lake District, I am newly inspired to see as much of this place as I can.

The UK has these magical things called Bank Holidays. I don't exactly understand why they exist, but they roll around every few months and we all get off work for reasons unknown to me and I LOVE IT. Some friends and I made the most of the late May Bank Holiday and (along with every other licensed driver in England) followed the motorway signs pointing to "The North."

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Despite booking in the eleventh hour, we found a great converted stable Airbnb in the teeniest little village called Renwick, which was just a little cluster of houses in an enormous expanse of pasture. As we drove, I kept imagining what the Lake District must look like from above – a patchwork quilt sewn with every shade of green, intersected by stone wall stitches and dotted with scraps of an old floral-patterned dress.

Our first day was spent village hopping. We began in Grasmere, mostly because the town's famous gingerbread had been recommended by no less than ten friends. The village was precious – shops, galleries, little homes, and a tiny church with a healthy dose of wildflowers. Grasmere Gingerbread lived up to every ounce of hype. It was so good, kind of soft and crumbly and spicy. I still think about it at least once a day. (Writing this blog reminded me of how good the gingerbread was and I just ordered some online because I am a weak person. Help!) We grabbed lunch at a teahouse called Baldry's and I tried the British classic rarebit for the first time, despite being deeply convinced it was a rare piece of rabbit meat. To my delight, rarebit is actually a thick slice of toast swimming in a small lake of melted cheese. The things you learn on holiday!

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Ambleside was our next stop on the Village Tour of Cumbria and offered a bit more hustle and bustle than Grasmere (we are speaking relatively, of course). We browsed all the cute boutiques and wandered up to the village church. We excitedly followed signs to a Craft Fair and began dreaming of all the quirky handmade items we'd buy. The signs led us to the dimly lit gymnasium of a community center. It took us precisely forty seconds to see each and every piece of merchandise available. Empty-handed, we took our exit from Ambleside and headed to Keswick.

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Keswick offered a new slew of shopping opportunities and sweet treats. We wandered the street market, scored some British Tweed mill blankets, and eventually found ourselves in a beautiful public park on the banks of a stunning lake. After grabbing some takeaway, we enjoyed a few hours of soaking in the rare sunbeams and warm air. Photo evidence says I took a nap that I don't remember. With sunset quickly approaching, we hopped in the car and headed to Lake Windermere, which came highly recommended for sunset viewing. After finding a place to park, we ran to a nearby overlook. There, with a small gaggle of wide-eyed strangers, we silently watched pink and violet and orange clouds melt into one another like watercolor.

This show plays nightly. Can you believe we live on a planet that has a sunset every single day.

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A new day began with with bad directions from Alex and great driving by Jana and encouraging words by Liz. After a brake-burning, twisty-turny "shortcut" through the mountains, we arrived at the trailhead to a gorgeous waterfall. (Please listen to me: do not take roads that end in the word "Pass." Tears will be shed by at least one person in your vehicle.) Buoyant with the relief of finishing that awful drive, we took the trail past an ancient church, over a wide brook, and through an absolutely pristine wood. Between the trees, the air was dark and cool and calm. After making it to the waterfall, we hung up hammocks and spread out blankets and allowed ourselves a few hours of simply being.

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In search of food (as always), we decided to drive to the biggest town we could find on the coast – Whitehaven. The place was a bit sad, sort of deserted, but we decided to poke around the marina a bit despite the bum-me-out vibes. To our great surprise, we stumbled on a huge jetty and enjoyed some pretty gorgeous views of sailboats on the glittery English sea.

My brother-in-law Andrew once spoke the words that have made me the woman I am today: "You have a limited number of meals to eat in this life, so you better make sure each one is good." That's some gospel truth, y'all. I want to get it tattooed. With this in mind, we kept driving until we found ourselves back at Keswick and in the booth of a super hip restaurant we'd spotted the day before, Merienda. Avocado fries, halloumi frittatas, corn fritters. Hipster heaven.

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We reluctantly awoke to our departure day and decided to make it to Hadrian's Wall before heading back to London. The morning's drive felt like trespassing into one oil painting after another – endless miles of misty emerald mountains dotted with sheep. We stopped for a scone at Blueberry's Cafe (the cutest name in history) in Alston, then navigated to the Wall, ancient Roman ruins near Scotland that spans the entire width of Great Britain. We walked along it for a while and spotted some of the original sections. We also popped into nearby Lanercost Priory, a beautiful old cathedral that sits half-restored, half in ruins in the north English countryside. After coming to terms that the holiday must draw to a close, we pointed our little red car southwards and waved goodbye to the magical Lake District. Our final stop was the town of Carlisle, where we had lunch and a wander before entering the parade of homecomers that stretched all the way to Surrey.

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