Travels with Mom

Today is my mom’s 75th birthday. It’s kind of bizarre to think of my mom as 75 years old because she definitely doesn’t seem like she’s 75 to me. Maybe what she always says is true — “my kids keep me young.” You’re welcome, Mom.

I have my mom to thank for my love of travel. I can’t think back to a summer when we didn’t go on a vacation. And that’s pretty incredible. All of my friends didn’t go on annual summer vacations, but we did. What a lucky kid I was.

The earliest summer vacations I remember are when my mom, grandma, sisters Julie and Jennifer and I would pile into our Ford Granada and drive to Aunt Marge’s in Miami. That was the late 70s/early 80s, so of course there was no such thing as a seat-back TV. We had coloring books and “travel” versions of games like Connect Four. I can still remember that horrid hot-but-not-quite-melting crayon smell. I was prone to car sickness, too, and would usually throw up at some point along the way. Those trips are chock-full of memories — my first time stepping on burning hot sand, the taste of salt water, the feeling of waves crashing over my head.

And when I got a little older, we frequented Branson, Missouri. Those trips were usually with my mom and dad and sister, Julie. It was a much shorter drive, as compared to Florida, and I don’t recall ever getting carsick! I vividly remember staying at a place called Twelve Oaks Inn in Branson, which was brand new back then. We’d spend our days at Silver Dollar City (and eat our fair share of funnel cakes) or White Water Park. And Julie and I would swim in the hotel pool until we had prune hands.

My mom was good about making sure we always went somewhere. As I’ve gotten older, I love taking trips and making new memories with my mom. And oh, some trips we’ve had… Interestingly, she’s always the one throwing up now, usually after she’s eaten something seemingly normal that just didn’t agree with her.

In honor of my mom’s birthday, the one who instilled in me my love of travel, here are some of my favorite travel memories with her.

Branson, Missouri, 1983

I went to Branson many, many times as a kid. Those trips were the rare times that my mom would break out her swimsuit and play in the water with us. She never went to the pool with us at home, but she always did on vacation.

Wave pool at White Water
Wave pool at White Water (that’s me in the water wings and Mom in the black swimsuit, in the center)

The Cotswolds, England, 2002

One of my mom’s best friends from high school, Sandy (a.k.a. sandyloveslondon, her email alias), loved London. She went all the time and in 2002, my mom decided to join her group of travelers, and my sister, niece and I tagged along. It was my first trip to London and it was love at first sight. While there, we took a day trip via coach to the Cotswolds. The coach made stops at lots of villages in the Cotswolds and we had our share of traditional English pub fare. This is when my mom’s travel tummy troubles began. Thank goodness someone had a paper bag full of souvenirs — quickly emptied and handed off to Mom!

Cotswold Arms
Cotswold Arms

Bar Harbor, Maine, 2005

Shortly after I moved to New England, my mom and sisters came up and we road-tripped from Providence, Rhode Island, to Bar Harbor, Maine. My mom always wanted to go to Maine, and it was such a great pick. Although our plans were to be leaf peepers, Mother Nature had other ideas in store, as it rained nearly the entire weekend. Still, we didn’t let that stop us from exploring. This picture is my favorite memory from that trip — shopping in downtown Bar Harbor in crazy rain and wind.

Rain day in Bah-Habah
Rainy day in Bah-Habah

Scottsdale & Sedona, Arizona, 2007

I’ve been fortunate to have visited some nice spots thanks to work trips, including Scottsdale, Arizona. My mom came and met me on this particular trip and we spent a sunny afternoon in beautiful Sedona.

Scottsdale AZLondon, England, 2008

London with Mom, take two. I was living in London at Thanksgiving in 2008, and there was no way I was going home (couldn’t afford it, plus I was moving back to the States a month later), so my mom was nice enough to come to me instead. We had a great few days wandering around London together again, like we had done years before. And since it was nearly Christmastime, we saw the magical lights along Regent Street and in Covent Garden. My favorite memory from Mom’s visit was taking her pubbing after work one day.

Mom in London

Seville, Spain, 2008

While Mom was in London for Thanksgiving, we decided to take advantage of where we were and take a weekend trip to Spain. I specifically chose Seville because the weather was typically nice that time of year. Mother Nature got in the way again, though — it just so happened to be an unusually cold weekend. Oh well — good excuse for us to buy new scarves!

momseville

My mom still travels on a regular basis, luckily. It doesn’t take much to get her to make a trip to come see us in Chicago (although let’s be honest — Nora is the real draw), and next week our whole family will be together at a beautiful lake house my parents rented for the week. I like to think we’ll get a London v3 trip squeezed in at some point, too!

Happy birthday, Mom!

Wanderlust Wednesday: London, England

Starbucks London mug

Every now and I again I get super nostalgic about my days in London. When I lived there — on Peter Street in the heart of Soho — I went to Starbucks nearly every morning for a taste of home… which is actually very unlike me; typically I try to be more like a local, but I didn’t get on the Cafe Nero bandwagon and something about Starbucks just drew me in everyday.

London Calling

Falkland Arms, the Cotswolds’ Hidden Gem

Oh don’t I wish London was calling. It’s not, but it’s top of mind, of course, with the Queen playing Bond girl and the opening of the Olympics.

And even more so this morning, when my husband showed me this story. He and I spent a night at Falkland Arms in the Cotswolds three years ago on our British summer invasion, en route to London.

Falkland Arms

I’m not gonna lie; there was some colorful language used when navigating to the charming inn. We had been in Painswick staying at another cute boutique hotel and Falkland Arms was going to be a stop on our way to Oxford. The narrow, winding roads of the Cotswolds weren’t on our side (no pun intended).

But once we got there, a calm set over us because the place is just so darn cute and peaceful — truly a hidden gem. We were a little perplexed, though, because the inn was all closed up and the doors locked, yet we had dinner reservations that night.

So we made do by taking in the gorgeous scenery.

Falkland Arms grounds

Alas, the staff arrived and opened up shop and we got a few pints to enjoy on the back patio before dinner.

Guzzle, guzzle, guzzle

It really is a great place for a pint. It’s just so… British. The back patio overlooks rolling hills and it’s just so quiet and still, except maybe for a cow mooing nearby.

We could’ve spent all night on that patio, but a girl needs some nourishment.

The food in the restaurant was again, quintessentially British, natch. Think heavier things like beef, potatoes, mushy peas, shepherd’s pie and the like.

Falkland Arms dining room

We were beyond stuffed when we finished our meal. Maybe we were trying to make a statement — it took us this long to find the place, and we’re going to make it worth our while, dammit! We wanted to stick around and have another pint, but my mouth refused to let me put another thing in.

My genius idea was to take a stroll around the grounds, you know, to aid our digestion. Only, I clearly had a memory lapse. We were in the middle of English countryside. There were no street lights. We walked out the front door and it was pitch black, literally. We had no other choice but to turn in for the night.

Our friend who smartly recommended this cute little inn went on and on about the great food. Interestingly, he never mentioned staying overnight, but that’s what we had planned.

Being typical American travelers, we had two massive suitcases with us, which we had the pleasure of lugging up a teeny, tiny, rickety spiral staircase. Claustrophobia immediately set in when we ducked into our room. Well, I didn’t duck, but Kalyana certainly did; old English inns aren’t necessarily designed for 6’2″ giants.

Did I mention that the room was teeny tiny? It was also hot. Yes, hot, in England.

Falkland Arms

Thank goodness for that little fan and those little windows.

Falkland Arms guest room

They say travel is all about the adventure, though, and sleeping with my 6’2″ guy in that little bed for a night was certainly an adventure.

Moral of the story — definitely worth a trip for the pint(s) and the food. Period.

Happy Anniversary, London!

Big Ben and Houses of Parliament

Today marks the four-year anniversary of my move to London. I was sent there for work for six months, but managed to squeeze one more month out of the deal and returned to the States just before Christmas in 2008.

So in honor of this momentous occasion, I share with you the top 20 things I miss about lovely Londontown.

1. My office and home away from home were both in Soho, which is such an eclectic and energetic part of the city. I’ve been told time and time again how no “real” Londoner lives in Soho, but I’m not a “real” Londoner, nor have I ever claimed to be. Soho definitely has an edge. Some of my neighbors just so happened to be sex shops (but a church, too!).

Soho, London

2. itsu and I had a borderline dangerous relationship. Really. There was one at the end of my block, which meant it was close to home and work. Sometimes we’d get takeaway from there for lunch and I’d also get it for dinner on my way home. And this would often happen multiple times per week. Luckily I didn’t end up the way of Jeremy Piven.

3. Black cab drivers put U.S. cab drivers to shame. These brilliant folks spend years studying to be a cab driver and it’s worth it. They literally know every single street in London and they never play the, “what route should I take” game.

4. Carnaby Street is a great little area that was within blocks of my flat. There are loads of restaurants, cafes and shops and they have the best Christmas decorations.

Carnaby Street Christmas decoration

5. The Crown and Two Chairmen was a popular after-work spot for my colleagues and me. The used to have a Tuesday special, Two for a Tenner. That’s two bottles of wine for 10 GBP. Don’t mind if I do…

6. Another favorite spot for my work colleagues and me was Couch, just down the street from Soho Square. I believe it was torn down to make way for a bigger, better Tube station in preparation for the 2012 Summer Olympics.

7. Wahaca is the best Mexican restaurant in the city. Period. The food is fresh and fast and the margaritas go nicely with a Friday afternoon lunch. I went there way too many times when I lived in London, most often indulging in the delicious Sonora salad with chicken. I make sure to stop here every time I’m back in London.

8. The Green Park is essentially Hyde Park’s little sister. When I first moved to London, I was living in temporary corporate housing right on Hyde Park, in Knightsbridge. And everyday (okay, most days) after work I would go for a run through the park and tell myself how incredibly lucky I was to be living in such an amazing place. Then I moved to my flat in Soho and thought, now where will I run? The Green Park became my alternative.

The Green Park

9. Admittedly, I didn’t even know Ben’s Cookies when I lived in London, but discovered them while visiting there the summer after I moved back to the States. There are Ben’s outposts in Covent Garden, on Oxford Street and I’m sure elsewhere. They’re best when they’re still warm and the milk chocolate is nice and gooey. (And they deliver! Sadly, not to the U.S.)

10. Living on the top floor of a four-story walk-up, grocery delivery was a must so Ocado and I began a lovely relationship. It only got weird the one time when the delivery man asked to use my toilet.

11. I’m not a big museum person, but every gal needs a little culcha now and again. And whenever those moments struck, I usually went to Tate Modern.

Tate Modern

12. The National Portrait Gallery was another go-to for when I was in the mood. Before I left London, there was a pretty incredible Annie Leibovitz exhibit that I’m glad I got to see.

13. The Sanderson Hotel is one of the coolest hotels I’ve stayed at, but the bars there are equally impressive, especially The Purple Bar. It’s a chic spot for a glass (or two) of bubbly, as is Long Bar.

14. When we were feeling fancy, friends and I would go to Refuel Bar at Soho Hotel for bubbles after work.

15. By no means am I a connoisseur of dim sum, but Royal China Club gets high marks in my book. Not only is the dim sum delicious, but the service is superb. I have many fond memories of this place, but one from a sunny Friday afternoon when some colleagues and I had a nice, leisurely lunch, then made our way to Charlotte Street for bubbles al fresco. I’m certain our office was closed for the afternoon and we weren’t just ditching.

16. Scribbler is a great little shop with some really cheeky cards. Always fun to send a little U.K. humor to friends and family across the pond.

17. Why oh why don’t more cities have something like Heathrow Express? It’s a genius way to get into central London from the airport — and fast.

18. Christmastime in London is unlike most places in the U.S., at least in terms of how they dress up the streets. Decorations are spectacular, but not in a tacky, Clark Griswald kind of way.

Covent Garden

19. I think it’s safe to proclaim Maynard’s Wine Gums as my favorite candy ever. And it’s the particular Maynard’s variety that are the best. Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of others and they’re just not the same. Between my friend in Soham and my husband’s work trips to London, I’m kept in wine gums without even living in London anymore.

20. Whenever I started to seriously think I might get mercury poisoning from the number of times I ate at itsu any given week, I would mix things up by going to Hummus Bros instead. A whole restaurant devoted to one of my most favorite foods? Don’t mind if I do.