Highlight Travel Guide: Sydney, Australia

21 Aug

Sydney, like any major city, has no shortage of unique experiences and unmatched options. I want to highlight a short list of best things I experienced during my time down under that I think you would be hard-pressed to find elsewhere.

I am sure it is a given, but I would be remiss not to mention it. Go for a show, go for a tour, go simply to admire the architecture, or to check it off of your bucket list. I don’t care why you go to the Sydney Opera House, but go.

Sydney Opera House Sails Up Close Australia

Sydney Opera House AustraliaUntil I was right beneath it, I didn’t realize that the sails are tiled.

Sydney Opera House Sails Up Close Sydney AustraliaSydney Opera House Sails Sydney Australia.jpgAnthony and I bought tickets in advance, packed our Sunday best and went all in. Before heading into the concert hall, we snagged a few seats at the Bennelong bar and grabbed a drink and a few delicious small bites.

Bennelong Menu Sydney Opera House AustraliaOne of the first things we did in Sydney, was headed to the Quay (pronounced like “key”) and hopped on a ferry. Regardless of where you go, the the panoramic views of the Opera House and the harbor were worth the price of admission. Anthony was intent on seeing Koalas and Kangaroos in Australia so we took the ferry to the Taronga Zoo. Entering the zoo from the ferry was a whimsical experience: after disembarking we were whisked up the top of the hill to the entrance of the zoo via gondola.

Taronga Zoo Sydney Australia.jpg

We opted not to do the Sydney Harbor Bridge Climb and enjoyed the perfect view from our first hotel instead. We also walked across the bridge. If you decide to walk across it, check the opening times for Pylon lookout. Sydney Harbor Bridge.jpg

Park Hyatt Sydney from Syney Harbor Bridge Australia

Early one morning, we hopped on a bus and headed to Bondi Beach before the crowds.

Bondi Paviliion.jpgThe ocean was (hyperbolically) freezing, so we opted for a dip in the slightly less chilly pool at Iceberg’s instead. Watching surfers from the oceanside pool was as cool as it sounds.

Icebergs Oceanside Pool Bondi Beach Sydney Australia.jpg

Icebergs Bondi Beach Sydney Australia

Take the stroll to Mrs Macquarie’s chair. The site itself is filled with some unique history, but the view along the way is possibly the best of the Sydney skyline.

Mrs Macquarie's Chair Sydney AustraliaSydney Skyline copy.jpg

If I could only point you to one restaurant in Sydney I would emphatically tell you not to miss the Grounds of Alexandria.  It is unlike any restaurant I have ever been to.  It’s a farm to table restaurant, patisserie, craft coffee roastery, flower market, and garden all in one. It is a casual place of the highest quality. From the coffee menu, I would highly recommend the affogato with house made tiramisu ice cream and pop rocks. Be sure to meet the animals on the property like Kevin Bacon the pig, and Russell Crowe the rooster.

The Melbourne based chocolatier, Koko Black sold me the best truffle (hands down, no contest) I have ever eaten: their liquid caramel truffle was heaven in a bite. Stop by one of the two Sydney locations in the Strand Arcade or the Queen Victoria Building (pictured below).

Stained Glass Queen Victoria Building.jpgA few other noteworthy places we ate:

If you’re look for fine dining, Quay has ranked in the top 50 restaurants in the world for eight years running. Anthony and I opted not to spend the approximately 225 USD per person, so I cannot speak to the value or experience.

My favorite Louis Vuitton city guides pointed me to Eau de Vie, recommending the Aviator, so I ordered just that. The pink cocktail is served with a blue “cloud” of cotton candy and a paper airplane on top. All the other drinks looked just as fun. When you walk into the small, award-winning bar, you will feel like you stepped back in time 100 years.

I do not like apples, and I do not like whisky, but I ordered a pressed apple and rye at the Baxter Inn, and found a new favorite drink. They juice the apples after you order and pour you a tall, frothy, green glass mixed with Tennessee Whisky. The Baxter Inn is tucked away down an alley which just so happened to be on the same block as our second hotel. When you finally find the basement bar, you’ll feel like you stumbled on Sydney’s the best kept secret hideout.

If you’re looking to go a little further off the beaten path, I loved venturing to Precinct 75. Society Inc. by Sibella Court and InArtisan are great local shops for a non-touristy souvenir. There is also a darling print shop whose name is escaping me next door to Society Inc. A ginger IPA at local brewery Willie the Boatman was a surprisingly delicious first. We also got a kick out of people watching at Maniax, an axe throwing bar (because drinking about yielding sharp weapons are the perfect pair?)

Home Decor Shop Sydney Australia

HELPFUL HINT: Before arriving in Sydney I heard nothing but sarcasm and negativity surrounding their public transportation. Coming from Austin, Texas where we have nothing more than Uber and city buses, I found it to be fantastic. Once we arrived at our hotel, Anthony and I got everywhere we could dream of going without once hailing a cab (though we do tend to walk more than the average traveler).

 

If you want a more comprehensive list of places we went or wanted to go, head to my Sydney Map. If you have specific questions or want to share your memories of Sydney, please chime in in the comments below.

 

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Highlight Travel Guide: Machu Picchu

1 Jun

Machu Picchu Peru in CloudsBefore our trip, everyone asked, “Why Peru?” The easy answer: Machu Picchu. And while that wasn’t our whole answer from the time we set out, it’s a good place to start the story of our maiden voyage to South America.

Friday morning, the day before we left Peru, we set out on one of the most anticipated parts of our adventure: we boarded the Belmond Hiram Bingham train and headed for the world wonder. Belmond HIram Bingham Train Machu Picchu Peruvian Dancer

Since we went to Peru in April, during rainy season when no trains run from Cusco to Machu Picchu, we took the Bi-Modal Hiram Bingham service to Aguas Calientes. From our hotel, we headed to Poroy station, where we were greeted by traditional Incan dancers in colorful costume and loaded into a van while being serenaded by very ceremonious live music.

Hiram Bingham Train to Machu PicchuAt the Belmond Hotel Rio Sagrado, we transferred to the luxury train. I could not have anticipated what I was about to experience. While their website details live music in the observation car, Pisco Sours in the lounge car, and full lunch in the dining car, those strings of words don’t capture how appropriately grand Belmond makes the journey to the fabled ruins.

Belmond Hiram Bingham Train Machu Picchu Bar Car

No detail was unattended. The first course of lunch included smoked Andean trout and cornbread baked in a husk made from Peruvian corn. Before disembarking, we were given water for the trek. The bus ride up the mountain, admission tickets for the citadel, and an English speaking guide was included in our fare. We stamped our passports and it was official: we made it to Machu Picchu!

Machu_Picchu_PeruI won’t attempt to recite the theories our guide told us about why Machu Picchu exists. I’m not writing this as a history lesson, but in hopes this post inspires or emboldens you to go, and helps you plan your travel.Machu Picchu Peru CloudyI would strongly suggest if you visit Machu Picchu, hire a guide. Our guide did a great job and explaining the significance of what we were looking at when we walked through the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Condor or passed the Intiwatana Stone. I was so impressed to learn the details of the thoughtful construction that I would never have picked up on wandering on my own.

Machu Picchu PeruMachu Picchu Peru in the CloudsTo punctuate our time at Machu Picchu, we enjoyed a very hearty afternoon tea at Belmond Sanctuary Lodge, the only hotel at the entrance of Machu Picchu (also included in our fare). We wound back down the mountain on a bus and perused the market before boarding or train back toward Cusco. To save on costs without sacrificing experience, we took the Vistadome for our return journey. Our arrival at Ollantaytambo truly added adventure to our trip (more on that here), but I wouldn’t trade the story for a taxi driver with my name on his sign. ____________________________________________________________________________

Knowing what I know now, I would probably stay overnight in Aguas Calientes, go back to Machu Picchu for a morning hike up Huayna Picchu, Machu Picchu Mountain, or to Sun Gate, and then return to Cusco. If you do that, keep in mind the trains only allow a small bag, so pack just enough for an overnight trip, leaving the rest of your luggage at your hotel (or a hostel) back in Cusco.

More from my trip to Peru including highlights from Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Lima coming soon.

Have any specific questions about our experience in Machu Picchu or on the Belmond Hiram Bingham? Fire away in the comment section below. Have stories from your own trip to Peru? Do share!

Guest Room Refresh In Progress

25 May

You see, the thing about décor for me is that, while I love it, it isn’t typically a financial priority.  I’d rather pay down my mortgage than redo my kitchen, and I really really would love a new kitchen. I would rather take an annual trip or two than have my house decorated to the nines, and I sincerely enjoy having a nice home to come back to. Everyone has to make choices and these are mine.

That, my friends, is why my guestroom, while always ready to welcome out-of-town guests with fresh sheets and towels and a comfortable mattress, has been furnished with hand me down furniture for the past four years. I don’t think most people mean four years when they say good design takes time.  I have no excuses for it remaining beige for so long, on the other hand.

I finally decided it was time to sink a few dollars and a few hours into the guestroom. Here is how it looks today:

Calm and Colorful Bedroom

I’m still trying to decide on brass frames for the Yago Hortal prints I searched the world over for. Don’t mind the masking tape; just keepin’ it real. I still need to borrow my mom’s sewing machine to turn the handwoven fabric I picked up in Peru into a pillow (yep, just wrapped around a pillow right now).

You want a glimpse of the before?

Caramel and Burnt Orange Bedroom

It is pretty incredible what a coat of paint and a pair of matching nightstands can do. The only other thing I bought was the curtain rod below (at the West Elm Outlet). I pulled the duvet cover out of the linen closet and had the white Ikea curtains in another room.

Side note: the Louis Vuitton City Guides ^ are wonderful and probably the least expensive things in store!

NightstandsBench (not pictured) | Curtain Rod

A Guide to Buying, Displaying, and Storing European Blown Glass Christmas Ornaments

25 Nov

One of my favorite Christmas traditions from my childhood was getting a new Christmas ornament from my stocking each year. For years now, I have been collecting European blown glass ornaments, and my mom continues the tradition of adding an ornament to my collection each year. I’ll be honest, I can’t help myself and I add to my collection too.

If you don’t know where to look, finding high quality, European glass ornaments outside of Europe can be a wild goose chase, but I’m here to share my secrets! These tips come from years of collecting, a little bit of research, luck, and even some travel.

First, I’ll break down brands to look for: searching for specific makers helps tremendously! Then I’ll go over some of my favorite places to hunt, both in store and online. After that, I’ll cover some tips on displaying and storing the fragile ornaments to keep them safe and secure on the tree at the holidays and stowed away the rest of the year.

Brands:

  • Christopher Radko – Christopher Radko is really the brand that popularized intricate blown glass ornaments in America and can be found at department stores and boutiques alike. These ornaments are made in Poland. They tend to retain or gain value for years to come and are quite popular on secondary markets, like Ebay.

    Weihnachtszierde – Weihnachtszierde, literally translated means “White Night Ornament” or Christmas Ornament. This Polish brand makes some unique, numbered, limited edition glass ornaments painted to look like tin toys.

    Tin Toy Monkey Ornament

    Weihnachtszierde Tin Toy Glass Monkey

    De Carlini- These free blown style ornaments are made in Italy. De Carlini most often makes figures or animals of glass with mixed media props.

  • Wiktoria Morawski –W. Wiktoria-Morawski, another free blown maker, isn’t likely a name you’ve heard, and chances are you wouldn’t come across the name easily either. I owned many Wiktoria-Morawski ornaments before I knew the name from purchases at various stores, where the ornaments came unmarked. It wasn’t until I bought my favorite souvenirs in generic white boxes with a tiny stickers at a shop in Munich that I learned of the company. These Polish gems are some of my absolute favorites for a couple of reasons including shapes blown into clear glass domes and a clip-on selection better than any other maker.

    Penguin Snowscape Ornament

    Morawski Penguin Glass Dome

  • Eric Cortina- Eric Cortina makes some of my favorite quirky and whimsical ornaments such as my French bulldog wearing a top hat, bowtie and a spectacle, and my clip-on of Santa’s boots sticking out of the Chimney. He also makes my crown tree topper.
  • John Huras – This guy’s story is really neat. Accustomed to the gorgeous and traditional trees of Poland, he originally started making ornaments for orphanages whose trees he wished could bring more cheer to the children.John Huras Russian Santa Ornament
  • Jay Strongwater – Jay Strongwater ornaments are on my wishlist, not my tree. The designer’s glass ornaments are pricier than most, with a very distinct enameled look.
  • Patricia Breen – I don’t own a Patricia Breen ornament (yet), and while the more traditional themes aren’t typically my style, the detail on each ornament is magnificent.
  • Landmark Creations – Landmark Creations is best known for their ornaments of, well, landmarks. Artist Michael Storings has a line made by Landmark Creations of lovely hand paints bulbs, typically of different holiday scenes in New York City.

    I Love BG Taxi Ornament

    Landmark Creations Michael Storings Bergdorf Taxi Ornament

  • Krebs Lauscha and IMPULS are German and Polish companies, respectively, that make some of the widest variety of more readily accessible European glass Christmas ornaments.
  • Inge Glas – Inge Glas is one of the oldest German-based glass blowers. These little treasures are usually more reasonably priced than other brands.

Stores:

  • Bergdorf Goodman (New York, New York) – Bergdorf Goodman has many exclusive ornaments with at least five themed trees each year. Their in store selection varies from the limited options you see online, but contact the store and you can shop through pictures via email. They will ship internationally, but if you’re in New York City for the Christmas season, I highly advise a stop on their 7th floor where their Christmas room is set up.
  • Neiman Marcus (multiple locations)- Neiman Marcus boasts of the widest variety of European ornaments I can find locally in Austin year after year. They have excellent buyers who select many ornaments made exclusively for them each year. Be sure to shop in store because like Bergdorf, their sister company, the majority of their exclusive ornaments are not available online.Russian Doll Ornament
  • Last Call (multiple locations)- Neiman Marcus Last Call can be hit or miss, but often during the holidays you will find a small selection of last year’s ornaments that didn’t sell out at Neiman Marcus or Bergdorf Goodman.
  • Tuesday Morning (multiple locations) – At Tuesday Morning you can find a few different brands, including Radko’s from last season at up to 75% off! Most of what you find will be IMPULS, found in those pale yellow boxes.
  • TJMaxx/Marshalls/HomeGoods – Most years these stores carry something, but there is no telling what. Brands and selection vary greatly from store to store and year to year. On a couple of occasions I’ve scored a Radko for under $10! Again, many of the ornaments will be IMPULS.
  • Dillard’s (multiple locations)- Dillard’s is one of the few national department stores that carries Radko in store. Go and check out the quality for yourself!
  • Mia’s Christmas Gallery (Ocean City, NJ) – I haven’t been here myself, but based on their sister website, DaPolonia, mentioned below, I hope to make it here eventually.
  • The Christmas Store (Fredericksburg, TX) – If you’re in central Texas, this is a great little shop for any time you need Christmas fix as it is open year round. They are one of the few retailers in the United States that has an entire room dedicated to Radko ornaments. If you’re out-of-state, give them a call, and they’ll help you hunt down what you’re looking for.

    Wisdom on Display Ornament, Signed

    Christopher Radko Limited Edition Owl Ornament from The Christmas Store, Fredericksburg, Texas

  • World Market – Cost Plus World Market usually has a small selection of ornaments made in Poland. Their quality isn’t always superb, but I’ve got some fun additions like a hamburger, stand mixer, and Big Ben.
  • Pier 1- Pier 1 has a very limited selection of European blown glass ornaments, but you can count on them to have one or two each year.

Online:

  • Ebay – Ebay is a vast resource for ornaments. Searching by brand or generically searching for “Polish Glass Ornaments” or “German Glass Ornaments” will return tons of results. I often brose the seller, xmasworld, who sells a great variety of mostly Krebs and IMPULS
  • GiftsbyKasia – Gifts by Kasia is a Polish owned shop that sells the largest variety of Wiktoria Morawski ornaments I have found online. Join their e-mail list. They have occasional sales and even send out giftcards!
  • Christopher Radko – In very recent years, Christopher Radko has made their annual collection available directly from their website.
  • Amazon – Amazon is more difficult to navigate when it comes to searching for ornaments, but if you find a specific ornament you like, pop over to Amazon for a price comparison.
  • Horchow – Horchow is the sister company of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, and usually has a similar selection to the two stores on their website. They carry Eric Cortina, De Carlini, Christopher Radko, and Jay Strongwater.
  • Bronner’s – Bronner’s online stocks a simply enormous variety of Christmas goods. The site can be overwhelming, but if you click on “Christmas Ornaments” and then “European-Made” it narrows down the scope to a manageable number of pages. Most of what you find here will either be IMPULS or Krebs.
  • The Cottage Shop – The Cottage Shop sells the widest variety of De Carlini ornaments I have found on the world wide web as well as a smaller selection of Polish ornaments.
  • Dapolonia – Da Polonia is a pricier resource overall, but they have a truly unique selection. I’ve been eyeing the unavailable “Girl with a Pearl Earring” ornament for a couple of years now. They have some makers I am unfamiliar and some Wiktoria Morawski ornaments.
  • Silverado – Shipping at Silverado costs approximately $50, but their ornaments are so well priced that if you are looking to buy a handful or more, you end up saving in the end. Silverado carries the best selection of Weihnachtszierde brand ornaments I have found
  • ABC Home – I have had less than stellar experiences with ABC Home’s customer service, but I have found a few Wiktoria Morawski clip on ornaments that were worth the trouble on their site. Shopping in the beautiful store at the holidays is pure magic if you happen to be in New York City.
  • Gracious Home – Gracious Home is another lovely NYC home store you can shop online. They stock a selection of Radko and Morawski ornaments as well as a few IMPULS options.
  • Bloomingdale’s – Bloomingdale’s carries a handful of Landmark Creations ornaments each year including a few Michael Storings’ baubles.
  • Dillard’s is one of the few department stores that carries Radko in store. Go and check out the quality for yourself!
  • RogersGardens – Roger’s Gardens sells the best selection of Eric Cortina ornaments I found. They also stock Christopher Radko.

Non-European ornaments are not always sub-par I have a few treasured ornaments that were made in China. Sometimes you just find an original concept or design that makes up for lesser quality and sometimes the quality and detail are equally lovely. Old World Christmas ornaments are made in China, but if you are looking for a specific shape or theme, Old World Christmas is a high quality go-to. Anthropologie occasionally carries blown glass ornaments that are unique and worthwhile. I also have a few ornaments on my tree that are travel souvenirs made in China, such as a bearskin soldier I bought in London. Waterford’s blown glass ornaments are typically made in China, but the detail on my Waterford ballerina ornament rivals that on many of my German and Polish made ornaments.

Waterford Ballerina Ornament

Waterford Ballerina Ornament

Display:

Generally speaking, glass ornaments are better displayed on an artificial tree because real trees have moisture that can damage this finish over time. The likelihood of this causing any significant damage in your lifetime is small, so If you prefer to celebrate with a real tree, you do you.

I highly recommend purchasing Sure Grip Clips for displaying your fragile favorites. You can find them online, but they are pretty pricey. Hobby Lobby carries them in store for a song in comparison. I replaced all of the clips on my ornaments in 2014 and feel like they insurance my collection’s safety. There have been accidental shakes and bumps of our tree without shattered glass.

Storage:

While plastic is typically not advised for storage of precious blown glass ornaments, for moisture reasons, I use Snapware to store all of my ornaments. I just don’t trust cardboard not to get crushed. I try to control moisture in other ways which I will share in a second. Another bit I have learned is that the Snapware storage boxes are the same size as the Christmas boxes, available year-round, and usually priced lower than the green and red holiday variety.

While Snapware comes with dividers, I buy Ikea Drawer Dividers. If you buy the Christmas Snapware, you will receive more than enough cardboard dividers. If you buy the storage variety like I do, you will only receive enough plastic dividers for one tier. That’s just fine by me though: Ikea Drawer Dividers are the perfect height and are far more customizable, so you can arrange them to fit the stranger shapes and sizes.

In order pad the ornaments and combat moisture, I use Archival Shred that I buy from the Container Store. I also add Silica Gel packets to the bottom of each tier in order to trap any moisture that might make its way into the boxes.

Do you think I’m crazy yet? Do you know of any stores or brands available stateside that I’m missing? Do you collect a specific type of ornaments?

Get more Christmas inspiration from my holiday PInterest board!

Paradise Found: Kona, Hilo, and Waikiki

26 Jul

I have experienced something magnificent and unique in every place I have ever visited. Throughout my most recent trip, spare maybe the Grand Canyon, I was more moved by nature than I have ever been. For my mom’s fiftieth birthday, my family traveled to the big island (Hawai’i Five-O, get it?).  Where else can you experience the power of the ocean, witness glowing red molten rock sputter out of a crater and be humbled by astronomy?

If you find yourself heading to Oahu or the Big Island, I’ll breeze over some favorites, hoping you find my experiences useful. If you’re not going anywhere for awhile, I hope the pictures provide a quick escape or motivation to start planning your next getaway.

After spending an afternoon at Punalu’u Black Sands Beach, we grabbed lunch at the  Ohelo Cafe on the way to Vocanoes National Park. If you’re short on time, walk through the Thurston Lava Tube and stop at the Jagger Museum overlook where we saw lava sputtering out of Kīlauea crater.

Punaluu Black Sands Beach HawaiiPalm Trees at Punaluu Black Sand Beach Hawaii Big Island

We rounded out the day with a guided night snorkel with manta rays. I hope to add photos of the dive to this post soon, but I used a waterproof disposable film camera, so they are currently being developed. I feel like I time travelled a decade just typing that.

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Magical Places in London

7 Jul

November 2015. Paris is heinously attacked. The U.S. Department of State issues a travel alert for Americans travelling to Europe. We have flights and train tickets and hotel rooms booked to visit five cities with plans to do precisely what the government was advising us to avoid.

Concerned, Anthony and I discuss cancelling the trip we had long been anticipating. We were nervous (and so were our parents). I read horror stories of not being able to cross borders at specific locations we planned on using. The government advised against visiting open air markets; the main reason we chose the cities we did at Christmastime. What if we got stuck in one country or another? Or worse, what if the attacks earlier in the month were just the beginning of the terror?

I definitely did not throw caution to the wind. We enrolled in STEP. I sent my itinerary including hotel contact information to my dad. I printed out multiple copies of the address and phone number for the nearest consulate and/or embassy for each city we were visiting.

If you haven’t already guessed, we went. I was constantly alert and surveying my surroundings, as if I were walking to my car alone at night, but eventually my nerves settled and the trip quickly became one that had the je ne sais quoi of “the trip of a lifetime.”

London was the first of the five cities we visited. It was not originally on the itinerary, but we had to fly through Heathrow and opted to book an overnight layover. I had been once before, but Anthony had never. We arrived with just under 24 hours to cram in the sites he couldn’t miss and a few new experiences for me.

I am sure I have said it before: I almost never choose going to a place I have been over visiting somewhere new. However, there is something magical about return travel. It is like a strange memory game, flipping over cards you know you have seen before, remembering some precisely, and getting others entirely wrong.  It is also curious to see what has changed and what has remained exactly the same, or maybe even how you have changed since you last stood in the same place.

When booking our hotel, I felt compelled to stay at the place I stayed at with my British Literature class in college: The London Guards Hotel. Only, the very plain but conveniently located London Guards Hotel had turned into the very stylish, but reasonably priced Arbor Hyde Park. I couldn’t have hunted down more ideal accommodations: a well designed, central location with easy tube access and relatively inexpensive rates.

After dropping our bags, we headed out to Sketch for lunch. It was on my shortlist. Sketch is Wonderland: I cannot think of another place as full of whimsy. I could feel my imagination expanding as I walked in through the black curtained hopscotch path.

I ordered the souffle and giggled at the phone number seemingly scrawled on my napkin.

Sketch has different dining rooms serving different menus, open at different hours. Peer in all of them and find an excuse to use both restrooms.

Sketch London

Sketch London Pink Dining Room India Mahdavi Interior Design

Sketch London Dining Room

After quieting our gurgling stomachs, we hopped around to a few of the typical sites. If you have not been to London and have only a short time, you cannot miss Buckingham Palace, the House of Parliament/Big Ben, Westminster Abbey where royalty is married and crowned and where many greats are buried, and Tower Bridge which many mistake for London Bridge. Anthony also checked fish and chips off the proverbial list.

Buckingham Palace LondonBuckingham Palace Gates LondonRed Telephone Booth LondonWestminster Abbey LondonWestminster Abbey Courtyard Stained Glass London

A proper high tea was another “must” for me. Anthony obliged my desire to splurge on the Berkeley’s Fashion Tea in the Caramel Room which we reserved well in advance (bookings available 90 days out). These were moments of very meticulous magic. By our 5 o’clock tea time, I was bone-tired. And yet, we stayed up until the morning hours, returning to our hotel with just a few hours to shut our eyes before catching our flight to Salzburg.

Best Tea in London Berkeley

After the surprisingly hardy tea sandwiches, scones, and savory bites, we nibbled on a couple of the stunning sweet treats and they boxed up the remainders in a darling neon purse-shaped box. I should also mention they had my name on a shoe-shaped place card when we were seated. The details were delightful!

Fashion Tea at The Berkeley

Fashion Tea at The Berkeley London

Harrods was a short walk from the Berkeley, so, silly me, I thought we could just pop in.

Harrods London at Night at Christmas

We sampled Charbonnel et Walker chocolates at the counter and ogled at the variety before settling on champagne truffles in a Union Jack box.

Charbannel et Walker Harrods London

I wish I would have captured better photos and videos of the animated window displays: teddy bears popping a holiday cracker to reveal Louboutin shoes, a strong man pressing purses, and background singers dancing in flapper dresses.

The last stop before our late night nap was for a night cap at Savoy Hotel’s Beaufort Bar. We ordered cocktails from their pop-up menu (request if not offered). Jetlagged, we sat in one of the gilded alcoves, relaxed a bit, and relished in the fact that we chose a daring adventure over nothing at all.

On my next trip to London, I refuse to miss Selfridges, Fortnum and Mason,  Victoria and Albert Museum, and Bob Bob Ricard. To see other places I’ve been or want to go in London, check out my custom map.

 

 

 

 

Dining Room Updates

6 Jun

Slow progress, as promised. It wasn’t an intentional makeover or a quick redecoration done in a weekend. I hardly noticed it changed, until I was updating the home tour page for another room and realized the dining room IRL didn’t mirror the dining room on the blog.

Dining Room with Copper Mirror Gusto and Grace Blog

One weekend, we painted the ceiling, another weekend, the walls. I gradually added plates to the collection over the curio, and got new glasses to fill it. I picked up a book here and some containers there and eventually styled the alphabet chest. At some point, I gilded the mirror’s frame. It seems like forever ago that I spray-painted the chandelier my coworker discarded and moved the picture frames that used to hang above my stairway. I can’t even pinpoint when I turned the table (cue Adele) 45 degrees.

Astier de Villatte Paris Large Adelaide Bowl

Green and Copper Dining Room

Just as a reminder, here is what the dining room looked like when I photographed it last. Woah!

Zebra Cowhide Rug White and Black Dining Room

Proof. Small steps toward the vision make a big difference.

For more inspiration, check out my H is for Home Pinterest Board!

Highlight Travel Guide: Seattle, Washington

19 May

Seattle surprised me. For a city so full of culture, delicious food, fantastic museums, interesting architecture, and rich history, it was easily explored over a long weekend that felt laid-back and entirely unpretentious.

Seattle also shocked me. It was not all pretty pictures. Even coming from Austin, I was taken aback by the extent of their very apparent housing issues.

Travel has a wonderful way of opening our eyes a little bit wider.

IMG_3999.JPG

Pike Place Market Seattle Washington

No exaggeration, I have had some of the best, most memorable food in all my travels at Pike Place Market. We sampled many places, but if you’re looking for the short list of unmissables, I would send you to Ellenno’s Greek YogurtPike Place Chowder, and Piroshky, Piroshky. I cannot stress how good Ellenno’s yogurt and Pike Place Chowder are. I swear I would choose that yogurt above ice cream any given day. We ordered a sampler of chowder, and were not disappointed with a single variety. At Piroshky, Piroshky, go for a beef and cheese, the perfect, warm breakfast (or snack) on a drizzly day.

Piroshky Piroshky Pike Place Market Seattle Washington

While you’re at the market, take a moment to watch them throw fish at Pike Place Fish Market…

Fresh Fish Pike Place Market Seattle WA

…and pick up a flower (or a bouquet of flowers) at one of the stalls.

Pike Place Market Flowers Seattle

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Highlights of Savannah, Georgia

12 Apr

You can say Savannah had me at hello. I feel like every experience I had during my day trip from Charleston last summer was a touch of magic. Savannah filled me with wonder.

Our first stop was SCAD Museum of Art and I was sold. The words that come to mind are multisensory. Rashaad Newsome’s exhibit was auditory while visual while Ling Hongbo’s was visual and tactile. SCAD Museum of Art Colorful Rainbow Paper Guns and Bullets Exhibit

Looking to support some SCAD students? Shop SCAD is a cute boutique with student-filled works.

I am not exaggerating when I say that Chocolate by Adam Turoni is one of my favorite shops in the world.  Each shop is like a room in a fantastical house, the first I visited was a library, a chocolate library. Imagine: glass enclosed bookcases full of chocolate. The staff hands you trays reminiscent of old card catalog drawers. Each truffle or bar variety is labeled, in typewritten font, on library cards.  After visiting the first shop, I knew I had to also visit their second location.The second shop I visited was a dining room, that made you feel as if you had been personally invited to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party. The chocolates themselves are no less whimsical. From a George Milies Trip To The Moon chocolate to a made to order creme brulee truffle, each piece is a handmade delight.

Adam Turoni Dining Room

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Gray, Navy, and Copper Bathroom

30 Mar

It went from bad to worse before it got good, and I take full responsibility. I was so desperate to rid my master bathroom of its beige walls, that I hastily painted them a way-too-dark gray. It completely clashed with the orange-y wood cabinets and the fact that I lacked a big-picture vision when I dove in left me with an unattractive, mood-bending room.

Exhibit A (a.k.a. before):

After deciding on a bedroom color scheme and finding a little inspiration, I settled on reparation plans for the bathroom. It never ceases to amaze me what a little paint and hardware can do.

Behold! (a.k.a. after):

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When I painted the kitchen cabinets, I trusted the guy at the hardware store and went for latex paint and bonding primer. I opted to test out oil based primer and paint this time to see if it would reduce visible brush strokes and hold up better over time. I will report back.

The hardest part was undoubtedly going from knobs to pulls. I have a new found appreciation for cabinet makers. Getting two holes level, centered, and the right distance apart is more challenging than it should be. There may or may not be a broken drill bit still in one of the drawer fronts…

Truth be told, I replaced the standard builder-issued mirror with these wanna-be Venetian beauties some time ago, but they didn’t come alive until the walls were lightened.

Inexpensive Cheap Venetian Style Mirror

While the work is never done, the room just feels good now.

Have questions? Comment below.

Source list- Wall paint: Valspar’s Urban Sunrise from Lowes | Cabinet Paint: Behr Oil Paint color matched to Valspar’s Indigo Streamer from Home Depot | Copper Hardware: Amazon  | Mirrors: Wisteria

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