Winter on Lake Monona

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With all this beautiful weather we’ve been having, I had to get outside so I took a long glorious walk down by Lake Monona last weekend. I feel so lucky to live right on the isthmus (the best geographic term, right?) and to be so close to both of Madison’s gorgeous lakes. Winter has been a tough time to move to a new city – everyone is in hibernation and there’s not so much going on – but this little thaw we’ve had has gotten me so excited for Spring. After being away from the Midwest for so long I’ve forgotten how much the cities come alive with the weather!

I didn’t expect my walk to turn into a photography expedition or else I would have brought my big camera but I had to share some snaps I took on my phone while I was out. How crazy is that ice?! I’m such a sucker for that sort of thing so these are only a few of the like billion photos I took of it.

Anyway, I hope you have a wonderful Tuesday and soak up the sun while we have it for a moment. 😎

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Snowy Days in Madison

Although I woke up to a wet morning today, Madison has sprinkled some gorgeous snow on the city on and off over the last few weeks. After living in Ireland where it maybe snows once a winter it was really fun to see everything coated in the white stuff. These photos are from the first snow back in December, but I wanted to share as a reminder that winter is still magical (and not terrible because there’s no sun and it’s freezing and everyone’s in hibernation)!

Haha okay it’s true – I’m so ready for spring, but I know soon enough I’m gonna be wishing it was chilly and cozy again. So here’s a little taste…

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Summer Vacation Part 2: Berlin

Part two of our trip was a stop in beautiful Berlin. My friends had really hyped Barcelona and it was definitely so fun, but I just totally vibed with Berlin. The crisp air, the sense of history, and the low-key atmosphere of the city were right up my alley. Barcelona was exciting, but Berlin was truly relaxing. My favorite moment was simply walking around and experiencing the city with good people and warm coffee. Sometimes that’s all you really need…

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Where we stayed: We skipped the AirBnb this time and stayed at the Grand Hostel in Kreuzberg, which we had a good experience with. Clean rooms, cheap drinks, close to several good restaurants, and a minute’s walk away from the MĂśckernbrĂźcke U-Bahn station, which came in handy. We also rented bikes for around 10 euro through the hostel and met some fun people to go out with, so it was a great home base throughout our trip.

The Kreuzberg neighborhood was recommended to me by my friend, Anna, who lives in Berlin and was really lovely. You do have to take the U-Bahn to all the big tourist sites, but it was worth it for the quiet room and relaxed vibe of the area. I bet an AirBnb around there would be gorgeous.

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What we did: We did less specific sightseeing in Berlin and a lot more walking around and taking it all in, which was lovely. We had beautiful weather for strolling along Alexanderplatz, Museum Island, and the Brandenburg Gate.

On day 2, we rented bikes from our hostel and made our way to Tempelhofer Feld, an abandon airport that has been converted into a park. It was honestly the coolest thing. The entire structure is still standing and we biked along the runways and discovered small planes tucked away in the brush. We grabbed a soda at one of the little stands with my lovely friend, Anna, and spent the afternoon catching up and enjoying the beautiful weather.

On our last day, we did a walking tour of the city, which I highly recommend. I know some of Berlin’s history from my contemporary history class back in the day, but it was so interesting to hear about it all while really being there. Our tour guide was knowledgable and warm and it was nice to see all the major spots in one afternoon: The Brandenburg Gate, The Berlin Wall, The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and The East Side Gallery. I definitely have a new appreciation for Germany’s fraught history and have been cueing up the Cold War documentaries on Netflix ever since.

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What We Ate: While we were in Barcelona, we kept joking that we were on a “foodie holiday” because we always managed to find some really great grub. Berlin was no different. Our first night we stumbled upon Blue Nile, an Ethiopian place right near our hostel, which was super delicious. We gorged on an enormous platter of meats and veggies while sipping on passion fruit Dju Dju beer (which I seriously want to find again, it was so good).

Other dinner highlights were Burgermeister, where we had seriously epic burgers and fries (pictured below) after a day of bike riding. We also tried the local fare of currywurst, which is bratwurst made with curry spices and smothered in curry ketchup – sounds weird but is actually delish. But the real MVP were Berlin’s kabobs, which were all incredible no matter where you went, especially after a night out… We tried to hit up Mustafas because we kept hearing it was the best spot around only to run out of time since the wait was an hour and we had to catch our flight home. So if you go sometime, let me know if it’s really worth the wait! I was so bummed!

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Where We Drank: Similar to Barcelona we stuck with pre-drinks at the hostel since beer was cheap and the people were fun so we didn’t do much bar hopping. Our first night, though, we did head out to Mein Haus am See, a 24-hour bar over by Rosenthaler Platz, for a couple of pints and some atmosphere; I loved the weird art on the walls and the ultra-hip bartender. It was definitely more chill than the clubs, if you’re looking for something a little more laid back.

The highlight for me, though, was discovering a fabulous riverside bar with deck chairs and cold beer. We spent a few hours sunbathing and watching the boats cruise by – it was some serious vacation vibes. Couldn’t have asked for better weather or company.

In terms of clubs, we hit up Tresor, a big popular club, and Golden Gate, a gritty spot underneath a train stop. Both played similar trance-electronic music and involved a lot of people standing around smoking cigarettes on the dance floor – I was clearly not cool enough to be in either of these places. We didn’t have any trouble getting in, but if you’re worried, get your best grunge look on, don’t say much and try to speak German to the bouncers. The whole thing wasn’t really my scene, but it was certainly an experience.

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Berlin is definitely a spot I want to go back to. I was blown away by the history, the art, the people, and the laid back feel of the whole place. Nothing better than crisp, sunny weather, great beer, and wonderful friends, right? Barcelona was good fun, but Berlin takes the cake for me this trip. Till next time!

Summer Vacation Part 1: Barcelona

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After finishing my dissertation, a few friends and I jetted off for a few days of vacation and, man, did I need it. I’m the kind of person that takes a long time to decompress from long term stress, but I discovered that changing my surroundings did wonders for my relaxation – it really helped me realize that my dissertation was actually over! Woohoo!

First off, we headed to beautiful Barcelona. I’ve been craving hot weather all summer since summers in Dublin are typically mild and wet so this leg of the trip totally hit the spot. The city has so much energy and the siesta life is definitely something I can get on board with. I tried to unplug for the most part (so I didn’t take a ton of photos), but wanted to share some of my favorite bits from the trip.

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Where we stayed: Our beautiful AirBnb was perfect. A 3 minute walk from La Rambla, spacious enough for everyone to hang out and eat dinner or play cards, and had glorious air conditioning in each of the main rooms. The only complaint I would have is the stairs: you have to walk up 5 flights of stairs to get the apartment, so definitely not accessible, if that’s a consideration. Other than that, though, we had a wonderful time staying there and between the 5 of us it was about 20 bucks a night, which was cheaper than the hostels!

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Where we ate: La Boqueria is the market off of La Rambla and was hands down the best food we had the whole trip. I would not shut up about how amazing the oysters are – the shopkeeper literally cracks them open and hands them to you to eat with lemon and tabasco. Heaven. We also got fresh fruit smoothies, prosciutto sandwiches, cheese croquettes, and cups of aged ham for cheaper than anywhere else. Best food no matter your budget.

Other great places we ate were: Makamaka was perfect for post-beach burgers and beer since it’s so close to the ocean. And you have to get the truffle parmesan fries, they might be the most delicious things I’ve ever had. Another great spot we went to was Story, a chill, hip spot with great homemade pasta and unique tapas. Think bearded hipster waiters and classic 1950s tunes – great atmosphere.

We totally caved and ate dinner at one of the touristy outdoor restaurants along La Rambla, but I would recommend going once. Great people watching and they have all the tapas and paella you could want. And order the black rice paella, it’s seriously the best!

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Where we drank: Since we were on a budget for the trip, we opted for the cheapest drinks humanly possible and oh did we find them. Two of my friends had stayed at the Kabul Hostel the last time they’d come to Barcelona and, although we weren’t staying there, they welcomed us to their dirt cheap rooftop bar. Like €2 cups of sangria and €1 shots dirt cheap. Obviously these aren’t the most delicious drinks ever, but when the clubs and restaurants charge €12 for a beer, it was a relief to find somewhere affordable. Plus, Kabul does fun bar crawls every night if you’re looking to go out and meet some new people.

In terms of nightlife, we joined Kabul on their bar crawl on the first night, which was great since we hadn’t really planned anything yet. Although the “free shots” and “party games” were a bit lame, it was nice to not worry about where to go and just go along for the ride. We also had a great time at Opium along the beach, but I would steer clear of Bling Bling which was unreasonably snobby and overpriced.

P.S. If anyone knows of a great hip-hop club in Barcelona, please let me know! We were searching for this place that the boys had been before that played great rap and r&b music, but struck out. We’re still so curious, though!

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What we did: Believe it or not, we did more than drink on our trip and actually got some sightseeing done while we were there. We visited the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, which had a beautiful collection, and walked around the deserted Olympic Village, which is just behind the museum. We toured the completely beautiful Sagrada Familia, which was my favorite because I’m a sucker for big, elaborate churches. And on our last afternoon, we rented paddle boards from a beach side shop and had the best time floating along (but mostly falling into) the ocean – just look out for jellyfish!

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Definitely a successful first leg of the journey! Although pretty steeped in tourists given it was the high season, we still had a great time – a good mix of relaxing, sight seeing, and partying. Just what the doctor ordered after a summer stuck in the library… Keep your eyes peeled for the Vacay Part 2: Berlin, coming at you very soon!

Galway & Cliffs of Moher

I’m back y’all! To say this month is crazy would be an understatement – between finishing my master’s degree, having friends come to stay, going on vacation, and prepping for a big move life has been nuts! But before I even begin to think about wrapping things up here in Dublin, I’d like to share a few of my recent adventures…

For the last two weeks, our good friend Mario has been staying with us and before embarking on our trip to the Continent (which you’ll be hearing about soon) we decided to show him a little bit more of Ireland. So we hopped on a bus and headed out to Galway and the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.

It’s amazing how quickly you realize that Dublin is so different from the rest of the country – rich, green landscape with houses scattered along country roads is way more the norm here than life in the Big Smoke. It’s my biggest regret that I haven’t gone out into the country more, but glad to have finally checked the Cliffs off my list!

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We first stopped in Galway for a little walking tour, highlights include: Galway Harbour, drinking cappuccinos on the main street, and discovering that the one-armed pan flute player (pictured above) had moved to Galway! He’s our absolute favorite street musician – I even bought his Christmas album – and we’ve been wondering where he went so imagine our surprise!

This is my second quick trip to Galway (see my last post here), but this time around the weather was WAY more beautiful and the whole town seemed so lively. We were told several times about the numerous festivals in the area, so if you’re headed out that way make sure to check out the festival schedule. Would love to stop by the oyster festival some time… 😋

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After leaving Galway, we took a few rest stops on our way towards the cliffs for photos and some delicious pub food. We used the Dublin Tour Company for our trip, which was good and ran us about 50 euro for the whole day. I’ve also taken Paddywagon Tours before, which is a little cheaper, but seemed generally the same, if you’re in the market. I do wish we’d brought our own snacks and water, though, because the rest stops throughout the day were by far our biggest expense.

None of that mattered though when we reached the Cliffs of Moher, themselves. They were as striking as I’ve been told and you seriously have no concept of how tall they are until you’re really looking over them. Some people were crazy getting super close to the edge despite the fact there was a huge landslide just a few weeks before… But even from the safety of the path, the views are spectacular.

From the visitor center we went toward the tower to see the Right Cliff first, which was smaller but very beautiful. It’s also an easier and shorter walk than the Left Cliff, if you’re not up for a hike. Then we walked along the Left Cliff (pictured directly below), which is the more popular of the two sides. Although the weather was beautiful, it also brought along the crowds, especially around midday when all the tour buses arrive. I would recommend staying nearby and getting there early if you want to avoid the masses.

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But seriously though, no complaints here. It was totally amazing and I’m so glad I got to see one of the most iconic landscapes in Ireland. Unreal stuff.

On our way home, we took another quick photo opp at The Burren, which is a national park in Ireland with a particularly unusual landscape. So unusual, in fact, that NASA used to bring astronauts to it to simulate the surface of the moon. A gorgeous spot with its bumpy rocks and jagged shoreline and kind of refreshing amongst all the lush, green landscape.

All in all, our trip took 14 hours so it was a day. And I may or may not have come home and worked on my dissertation for another 3 hours afterward. Great time management there, Maddie… But it was definitely worth the time, so if you’re looking for a great day trip out of Dublin I would definitely recommend it!

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Weekend Roundup: Party Time

How was your weekend? We had a couple of birthday/house parties on tap and I have to say it was kind of glorious sleeping in and ordering late night dirty takeout. Would love to get a few pages of my dissertation done this evening, but let’s be honest… I do really need to buckle down this week, though, so I’m mentally preparing for long days in the library and too many cups of coffee. Wish me luck (I’m gonna need it)!

If you’re not quite ready to start your week, yet, here are a few procrastination friendly links…

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Would love to see an entire play made up of scenes like this.

If you’re in Dublin, everyone’s favorite hangover cure, Deliveroo, is offering free delivery for the next two weeks. Too tempting.

Literally something I’ve always wondered this but was too embarrassed to ask.

This Lisa Frank clothing line is what my 3rd grade dreams were made of.

Have you been following the Kimye v. Taylor drama? I’ve always found T-Swift pretty disingenuous so I’ve been lapping up everyone’s hilarious twitter shade.

Putting so many of these YA books on my (ever growing) post-dissertation reading list.

Eyeing these Vince Camuto boots for fall – will be putting up my favorite Nordstrom Sale pieces up this week (even though shipping to Ireland is ridic 😭). Keep yo eyes peeled.

(Photo from my instagram. The Barge is always in full swing on sunny days.)

Dublin on a Dime: My Guide to Doing Dublin on the Cheap

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So I love to travel and living in Dublin has been one of the coolest things I’ve done in my life. But as we all know, traveling can get expensive so even just pinching a few pennies here and there can really help. As part of my quest to be more cost-conscious, here is my (by no means comprehensive) guide to ballin’ on a budget here in Dublin:

Places to Eat

The Buttery – Tucked away on Trinity College’s front square is a little spot called the Buttery (just to the left of the Campanile if you enter from the front gate). You can get a hearty lunch of thick stew or fish & chips for about 5 euro. The Buttery (as well as the Arts Block Cafe) also has sandwiches and coffee for the cheapest I’ve seen – 3.65 & 1.15, respectively.

KC Peaches – Although not as good a value as The Buttery, KC Peaches makes up for its prices in portions. For less than a tenner you can get a large salad box, which you can stuff as much food in as possible since it’s a set price, not priced by weight. Available in cold (salad, pasta, chicken) or hot (shepherd’s pie, curried veggies, baked potatoes). And they have a 10% student discount with a student card.

Mama’s Revenge – Another solid student card deal, get a basic burrito (essentially all the fixins minus pica de gallo and gauc) for 5 euro. Or a veggie with gauc again for 5. I literally just ate one and may never eat again.

Lemon – Looking for brunch that won’t break the bank? Lemon on both Dawson and South William Street will be your cheapest option. Coffee and a crepe or hearty breakfast sandwich for under a tenner is hard to beat.

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Places to Drink

Pygmalion – If you’re visiting Dublin during the week and want to get a good buzz on, check out Pyg’s 2-for-1 cocktail menu. I believe they’re 13 quid so basically 6.50 a pop for whiskey sours, espresso martinis, and more. And you certainly can’t beat the energy of a night at Pyg with DJs most nights and people spilling out into the street.

The Shakespeare – A great pub (and Korean restaurant) on Parnell Street. The Shakespeare has Guinness for 4.20 and you can get a loyalty card, which I’ve literally never heard of anywhere else. Something like 6 pints and you get one free – challenge accepted.

The Pav – Located on Trinity’s campus, The Pav is generally the student bar, but they serve a solid pint on the cheap. The real pro tip here, though, is if you’re around on a particularly nice day and everyone is sitting outside on the grass (as pictured below) go to the Centra across the street from campus and buy 4 cans of Prazsky for 5 euro. Come back to the pav and enjoy the atmosphere at half the price. Just make sure it’s a brand of beer they serve at the Pav (like Prazsky) or else they’ll know you’re BYOB.

Note: Across the board, Foster’s will be the cheapest pint you can get at around 3.50, depending on where you are. Guinness will also be quite cheap since it’s local. Most places also do a Zaconey (a bourbon based spirit) and coke deal for 5, which is decent too if you’re not a beer fan.

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Night Life

Dicey’s – If you’re looking for a night out on the cheap, the infamous Dicey’s will have you handled. On Mondays and Thursdays, they have a 10 euro cover but pints are 2.50 or cheaper all night so you’ll be set for a night of drinking. Pints are also 2.50 every night before 10, if you’re looking to turn up early. (Just beware this is PINTS only, not shots or cocktails, which will be crazy overpriced. Trust me, I have made this dire mistake. Don’t be me – drink your beer.)

Xico – On Monday night, Xico is the place to be – half price drinks! That’s 2 euro tequila shots and 2.50 pints. Once again, Xico has a cover but it’s worth it if you buy like 2 drinks. And they’re music selection is one of better spots in the city.

Workman’s – With no cover and lots of loud music every night, Workman’s is a solid choice if you’re looking to save a few bucks. They usually have a 5 euro cocktail special and reasonably priced pints.

Temple Bar – The famous bar scene comes alive in Dublin essentially after noon with lots of places having traditional music at night, if that’s something you’re after. For the price of a pint and the hassle of finding a seat, you can settle in for a night of live music and fantastic people watching. Whelan’s on Camden Street also has great (arguably better) music, a lot of which is free as well.

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Shopping

A general tip for shopping in Dublin, if you’re a student or recent graduate, is that most shops in the city centre have some sort of student discount. Levi’s, Office, TopShop, and a lot of other brand name places do 10-20% discounts for showing a student card.

Harlequin Vintage – If you’re looking for something a bit more unique than Zara or H&M, Harlequin Vintage is a great spot to find some treasure. The upstairs is a big sale section and I’ve found gems like AllSaints dresses and an Escada sweater for 10 euro. (Another great spot is Lucy’s Lounge in Temple Bar, check out their enormous basement!)

Penneys – If you’re a bargain queen then you must check out Penneys (the Irish version of Primark). It’s like target on crack. Of course the quality isn’t spectacular, but I’ve found adorable shoes for like 12 euro, as well as cute home goods and trendy clothes for huge discounts. It’s bomb.

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Sightseeing

The nice thing about Dublin is that it really is a walking-around-and-drinking sort of city so you won’t miss out on much if you skip the tourist sites. The biggest trap by far is Guinness, but if you are gonna go use the card machines to the right of the long line inside and get a student ticket (over 18) regardless of whether or not you are, they don’t check and you’ll save a couple quid.

Kilmainham Gaol – One of the more interesting historical tours in Dublin and definitely the cheapest: students are 3 euro and regular adults are 7. Just flash an old student card and you’re set.

National Botanic Gardens & Glasnevin Cemetery – These two spots are literally connected to each other and are both entirely free and open to the public. I’ve done a couple of posts (here and here) on them and why they’re my favorite spots in the area. The Botanic Gardens, especially, are totally amazing. Bus fare will run you about 5 euro round trip or make an afternoon of it and walk.

Science Gallery – On the far end of Trinity’s campus there is a little museum that merges the science and art worlds together. With some of the most interesting exhibits I’ve seen anywhere, the (entirely free) Science Gallery is definitely worth checking out.

The National Gallery of Ireland – A small but mighty art museum, the collection has pieces by Caravaggio, Monet, and Picasso and often houses interesting smaller exhibits throughout the year. And it’s completely free.

National Museum of Ireland, Archeology – Home to the famed ‘bog people’, this museum on Kildare Street is a tour through time in the form of decorative objects, craft art, and incredibly preserved dead people. And once again, admission is free.

Other free outdoors spots to check out, if the weather is good, are St. Stephen’s Green, Merrion Square, Trinity’s Rose Garden, and Iveagh Gardens. All great spots to sit outside for lunch or spend an afternoon reading. Just bring an umbrella because, well, you’re still in Ireland.

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This is by no means the be-all-end-all guide to cheap things in Dublin, but when I’m tight on cash or have people come into town who want to stay on a budget these are the things I recommend. As you can tell, most of my suggestions are in the city center because that’s where I live, but, generally, if you get out of the busy parts of Dublin you’re likely to find a lot of cheaper pubs and shops. Moral of the story: if you’re considering coming to Dublin but the price is stopping you, know that there are plenty of ways to enjoy the city on a budget without feeling like you half-assed your trip.

I’ll also be putting together a guide of my favorite spots in Dublin regardless of price, since I get a lot of (real) adults and relatives who ask me for suggestions who aren’t necessarily on a tight budget and probably wouldn’t want to end up at Dicey’s on a Monday night… So keep your eyes peeled for that!

And if you have any other specific questions about things to do or life in Ireland, please let me know! I can be an anxious traveler myself so I totally understand how helpful it can be to get all of my random and seemingly useless questions answered. Plus I totally love talking about my time here, so fire away! And if you’re from the area and I’ve missed something in this post, definitely let me know! I’m always on the prowl for a good bargain myself.

Thank You, Bow & Pearl!

For the last three months, I’ve been working as a social media intern for the local Dublin boutique, Bow & Pearl. I’ve done everything from take product photos to organize stock takes to analyzing data from our social media platforms. I’ve also been working sales on the shop floor, so the whole experience has really given me an idea of what it takes to run a small independent business. I’ve always been drawn to the idea of working for myself and in some ways it’s never felt more possible, but you have to be so passionate and dedicated to your business – not sure I’ve found that fire quite yet. But I feel like it’s getting closer!

I wanted to share of few of my favorite photos from my time at Bow & Pearl to celebrate my last week. It’s amazing to think of how much I’ve grown in this experience – it feels like the time has both flown by and yet I’ve learned so much.

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So a big thank you to the whole Bow & Pearl team, especially my boss Bronagh, for taking a little grad student in and making her feel at home. I’ll miss the shop so much! Thank you!

13 Looks Perfect for Summer in Dublin

I know I’m always going on about the weather here in Ireland, but it has seriously hit me the hardest this summer. I’m used to long, hot, muggy Chicago summers where you wake up sticky and put on as few clothes as legally possible. Dublin is just so different. I’m currently wearing jeans, a long sleeved shirt, and a jacket and I’m still cold – plus the persistent rain doesn’t help either. It just gets a little tiresome dressing for the same season all year round, you know?

But instead of harping on about how shitty it is, I’ve decided to pull a few of my favorite street style looks that are perfectly suited for summer here in Dublin – still fun and fresh for summer, but a little more covered up and practical. Things are looking sunnier already!

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Obviously I’m into all things layered and quirky, but still put together. I think personal style is so cool and love that it really seems to be making its way to the forefront. And just a little side note, some of my personal style inspirations are Jenny Walton, Chiara Ferragni, and Leandra Medine. They are totally fearless and true to their visions of style – they’ve all reached some sort of personal style nirvana. Workin’ on it.

London Travel Journal

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If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that last weekend we did a quick trip over to London! I have to say, we really made the most of our three days there: hitting up museums and local markets, spending an afternoon in the country, and drinking and eating our way through several parts of the city. Of course there was so much we didn’t get to do, especially sight seeing wise, but we ended up having a totally lovely weekend. So often quick trips feel like more work than vacation, but we really hit the right balance this time.

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Our first stop once getting into the city (from Stansted Airport) was the South Bank where Ian had a quick business meeting. While he chatted fantasy sports, I took the opportunity to do a speed tour of the Tate Modern’s newly opened Switch House! The gallery spaces are mostly dedicated to conceptual art and preserving past performance pieces – there was even a small performance going on during my quick visit, which totally rocked my weird art world.

My overall highlights were original photos of Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0, a Cy Twombly-esque piece by Julie Mehretu, and the artist room of Louise Bourgeois, who is definitely my fine art spirit animal. Also, a conceptual work that was literally a piece of string intended to be held by two people and exploring concepts of intimacy and space – too good😂. I could go on forever about this sort of thing, but I’ll spare you and just say that if you’re interested in conceptual art or performance art from the last couple of decades then the new Tate Modern building is a must.

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Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0 exhibit. Photo from here.
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Part of Louise Bourgeois’ 10AM is When You Come to Me. Photo from here.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of wandering around the South Bank and making our way through the city to Covent Garden, where we chowed down at Jamie Oliver’s restaurant Union Jacks.  Along the way we stopped at the South Bank Centre’s food market for Pimm’s cups and duck fat french fries with garlic mayo (thanks for recommendation, Burke!) and took a ride on the London Eye. The views were fabulous, as you can imagine, and, despite the price, it was fun to get a little touristy while we were there. Afterwards, we walked by Big Ben and the Parliament Building and made our way along the Thames to dinner.

After a much needed meal of gourmet pizza (can you say braised brisket & artisanal cheese?), we headed home for an early night of late night British TV and room service in preparation for our trip out to the country the next day. The weather was a little spotty our first day in town, but we didn’t mind the incredible rainbows that accompanied the on-and-off showers. Seriously, they were the most vivid ones I’d ever seen – photos didn’t do it any justice!

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Day two started out with a train ride out to Bicester for an afternoon of driving. Well, Ian driving and me timing laps and taking photos… But all the same, the countryside was totally beautiful and the lambos were pretty alright too. 😉

If you’re in Europe or planning to visit and want to do some sort of driving experience, I would recommend TrackDays. They’re really the only company that does one-day test drives with driving instructors, which is what we were looking for. There are a lot of other companies who will rent out sports cars for full track days or do super luxury weekend long driving trips (😍), but if you’re looking for more of a casual thing this totally fit the ticket. Well, as casual as driving a Ferrari can be…

After lots of planning and attempting to keep the trip a secret (as it was a surprise graduation gift from Ian’s lovely parents), it was so great to see the whole thing come together. Even as we were driving up to the track, I was so nervous it wasn’t going to be what I had thought, but it really turned out to be perfect. Seeing Ian get to blow off some steam after working his ass off for a physics degree was awesome – so grateful it all worked out!

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I will keep the grainy, embarrassing, proud-girlfriend photos to myself but seriously the whole thing was so cool! I thought I would be bored watching, but I actually got super giddy seeing him fly around the track in each of the cars. I even got to ride in the ‘hot lap’ car at one point, which was driven by a pro – I felt like I was on a roller coaster those things get so much speed! Ian’s report card: the Lamborghini got the A for drivability and top speed.

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We ended our day by heading back to the city in time for happy hour, grabbing a bottle of rosĂŠ for our hotel room as we got ready. We got a quick dinner at the hotel restaurant, which Ian totally won by ordering the grilled tiger prawns, and headed out for drinks.

We were feeling fancy so we hit up Gong in The Shard for cocktails. The whole thing was an experience – from the 45 minute wait in the lobby to the heated toilet seats in the bathroom (I have seen heaven) to the drinks that come in birdcages – but be ready to have a good sense of humor about the whole thing. It was pretty pretentious and the cocktails themselves were, like, fine, but it’s really nabbing that window seat that makes the whole thing worth it. So dress to impress, be persistent, and steal a Vogue magazine from the toilets.

If you want the same view without the hassle, I believe you can book in advance at The View from The Shard, which is a champagne bar at the top. I think it’s a little more touristy, but has student ticket discounts and you will have a reserved time so you don’t have to creepily wait around the lobby…

From there we headed into Soho for some late night bar action and I honestly couldn’t even tell you where we ended up. I basically remember being creepily hit on by an old dude, hugging the bathroom attendant, and freaking out when Toxic by Britney Spears came on. I remember 4am samosas and chips were involved and I was coherent enough to take this photo of the sunrise from our hotel room. If you have more information about my night, please contact me.

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Sunday obviously began with sleeping in, a long hot shower, and a real solid hangover. But we didn’t let that get us down – we spent the day wandering around Marylebone and exploring some of my favorite little spots in town. One of my oldest friends, Janine, used to live in the area in high school and I got super nostalgic walking around the streets she used to take me down, showing me all the little shops and the best places to eat. I remember the whole neighborhood seemed to have some sort of magic to it and, even thought I’m old and jaded now, it still sort of feels like it does.

We were luckily enough to be staying in the middle of the neighborhood at The Marylebone Hotel, which we loved. Our room was small, but the service was outstanding; seriously, one of the best hotel experiences I’ve ever had. They just had all the little things that make a vacation feel luxurious, from turn down service to fuzzy slippers, and were so helpful throughout our whole journey lending us umbrellas and holding our bags the day we left – even charging our phones while we were out. Total pros, highly recommend.

We got Daylesford suggested to us for brunch and it was certainly worth the wait with their light, refreshing bloody mary’s and delicious eggs benedict. The whole place is really into all-natural foods and has a pretty incredible little food shop attached to the restaurant. Seeing all the fresh veggies, beautiful cheeses, and cured meats made me want to have a picnic real bad.

My next go-to was my favorite of all bookstores, Daunt Books, on Marylebone High Street. A little independent shop organized by region with just the most beautiful architecture; I could literally stay in that place for hours. I picked up this book while I was there and so far I’m loving the lyrical prose and the way the whole narrative feels steeped in regret – will keep you updated once I finish it.

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The rest of our afternoon consisted of sitting outside drinking cocktails and beer and watching the world (and the fancy cars) pass us by. Then before we knew it, it was time to catch our train back to the airport and our flight back to real life, but not without a stop at the Liverpool St. Station Krispie Kreme first…

A huge thank you to Ian’s parents, Kathy and Jim, for making our weekend so totally special. We couldn’t believe how much of a full vacation just three days away felt, especially only a 45 minute plane ride away. Just goes to show that you don’t have to go too far to really get away. 😘