Bubbles & The Royal Ascot, UK

There are many wonderful things I could tell you about my trip to London for the Royal Ascot. I could tell you about my awesome friends Erin and Alex, who rounded up a big crew to experience one of their favorite pastimes. I could tell you about the Queen, the horses, or the amazing dinner we had at the hotel in Kensington the night before the races. And instead, the story I am going to tell you is an honest and sloppy one. Because apparently bubbles and horse racing go hand in hand, almost as tightly as gambling and big, fancy British hats. I’d never been to the races before, and so I didn’t quite know what to expect. My friend Erin, who frequents the races and makes intricate and stunning derby hats, prepped me accordingly. The Royal Ascot is the crème de la crème of horse racing. There is a strict dress code, a rich history behind the event, and even the queen herself is present! I expect a major fashion event, opulence, and spirited gambling. What I did not expect was the sheer amount of champagne consumed before, during, and after the event – to put it politely, it was a royal shit show. Continue reading



Nat is one of my awesome UK girlfriends. I’ve told you about her previously, when we popped into Granger & Co and caught up over scrambled eggs and strong coffee. She’s a doll who has been a good a friend since we both worked at a summer camp in Maine, way back in the day! As she now lives in the UK, I wanted to squeeze in some Nat time on my most recent London trip. Turns out, Nat had a rental car for a few days over the long holiday weekend, so we booked in a mini road trip to the seaside.

When I go to London, I rarely escape. I love eating out, fancy cocktail bars, a billion shopping options, and of course soaking up as much friend time as humanly possible. I’ve never really ventured outside of London to see the likes of Windsor or St Albans, both of which are on my bucket list. This time around, Nat suggested we head over to Southend-on-Sea, an adorable seaside town in Essex, England. It’s a short drive east from central London, and boasts of the longest ‘leisure’ pier in the world. IMG_6604The sky was grey, which in my opinion only made the day more beautiful – I LOVE taking photos when the sky is overcast. Also, turns out there was a big motorcycle convention in the Southend that day, which meant lots of big burly men walking around in leather (and women too!) and loud motorbikes screaming in every direction.  Continue reading

Brick Lane Colors and Tacos, London

After the long holiday weekend, most Londoners returned to business. However, I had Tuesday off of work (three days in London is never enough!) and so I decided to roam the streets of East London with my camera, doing some vintage shopping and eating copious amounts of street food along the way.IMG_6660

Brick Lane got its name in the 15th century, when brick and tile were manufactured from local deposits. Today, Brick Lane is populated with a large Bangladeshi community and is THE place to go to in London for a mind blowing curry. The area is also world-famous for its graffiti. It’s clear to see that from the local shops, markets, and colors that Brick Lane is an art and fashion hotspot in London.  Continue reading

Villandry, London

One of the many reasons I love London is because they freakin’ rock the brunch scene. In my opinion, a good brunch menu should have a handful of healthy options (think hearty salad, fresh fruit, homemade muesli, yogurt), the absolute breakfast basics (croissants, jam, fresh bread, porridge), a selection of morning cocktails (especially mimosas), some classics for the mainstream (eggs benny, buttermilk pancakes), and a few ‘wow’ entrees that go above and beyond your average breakfast expectations. Bakers and Roasters and Little Collins tick all the boxes here in Amsterdam, but otherwise, an exceptional breakfast spot is hard to come by in the ‘dam. However, in London, almost every brunch establishment knocks it out of the park – inventive mimosas, flaky croissants, and all.

On my last Sunday in London, Roshni and I popped out to meet up with Emily. The three of us lived together in Leeds, and haven’t all been in the same room since 2010! And what’s the best way to reconnect? Over brunch of course! We set off for Villandry on an ironically wet morning.

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Scotland Adventures

Wednesday was my last day working at 180. I’m bummed because I really enjoyed working there. We had some great clients, we made some great ads, and the people at 180 were (are) truly awesome. But it was time for a change. Agency life is like dog years. Three years at an ad place is like fourteen or twenty-one years spent working in the real world. In advertising you often work 80 hour weeks, you solve endless problems, and you spend more time with your colleagues than with your family. So to keep things fresh, you need to move around. You learn more this way, and you encounter new clients, challenges, and people en route. So as of today I’ll be working at Sid Lee, another killer cool agency in Amsterdam.

I always imagined that in between jobs I would have a month or two off of work. I would chill out at home, explore Amsterdam, catch up on sleep, and maybe even take up a new, short term hobby. Between-jobs is supposed to be like summer break for adults . . . but unfortunately, that’s not how the cards fell this time around. My last day at 180 was on Wednesday, and my first day at Sid Lee is *drum roll* today! So I had four precious days off in between jobs, and B and I chose to spend that time in Scotland, catching up with the clan :)

We spent the first two nights of our UK trip in Edinburgh with B’s brother and sister-in-law. They live on the same street as J.K. Rowling, which is pretty badass, but I was more taken by the ponies. Across the street from their house is a big field, where an adorable herd of Shetland horses live.IMG_9405On Thursday morning I wandered over with my camera, in hopes of meeting the ponies. I found and introduced myself to the owner, and after some small talk she kindly invited me into the pen to say hello to the horses.IMG_9388They were stubby, shaggy, and cute. And turns out two of them, Nina (below) and Daisy-May, have been proud prize winners at miniature horse shows!IMG_9403Shetland ponies have the most adorable, stumpy trot and are incredibly gentle and kind. After following them bashfully around the ring for some time, I finally built up the courage to pet a few who were passively grazing on some hay.IMG_9401Their winter coats were matted and thick, ready to protect them from the cold, Scottish elements.  IMG_9408IMG_9390I would have happily fawned over the ponies all day long, but B trekked across the road to drag me away. From there, the day could have gone downhill. I mean, I spent the morning playing with miniature horses!! But B’s brother suggested one of the few activities I love more than playing with little ponies – taking a trip to the sea :)

A few years ago, when I was studying at the University of Leeds, my mom came over to the UK for a visit. Together we traveled down to London, and then explored our way back up to Scotland. We spent a long weekend in Edinburgh, and were sure to see all of the cliché tourist attractions during our trip. We explored Edinburgh Castle, we drank strong whisky, and we toured the national museums. If you had told me then I was going to marry a Scotsman, I never would have believed you!

Since then, B and I have made dozens of trips to Edinburgh. We’ve hiked Arthur’s Seat, we’ve picnicked in Princes Street Gardens, and we’ve spent many afternoons sipping coffee under the Scott Monument. But somehow I’ve never seen the Edinburgh cost, an ideal jaunt for a foggy, Thursday afternoon.

IMG_9452B’s brother knew just where to go, and he gave us the grand tour, dodging into inconspicuous parking lots that revealed lovely back bays and fast flowing saltwater rivers.IMG_9413

IMG_9441 IMG_9433 IMG_9421IMG_9430After a while our stomachs demanded lunch, so we drove into the city centre.IMG_9463When I travel to the UK with B, he’s in charge. This is his hometown and we’re visiting his family, so I’m happy to take the backseat and let him choose where we eat, who we visit, or what we see. But on this trip I did have one *small* request. I needed to satisfy a guilty-pleasure-craving I developed way back when studying in Leeds. I needed an all-day English breakfast. And this was non-negotiable!
IMG_9499B’s sister-in-law had suggested we check out The Tron, a traditional British pub located just across the street from its namesake building, the towering Tron Kirk Church.
IMG_9469IMG_9470We checked out the menu and confirmed that, yes, they did indeed serve an all-day English breakfast!IMG_9498An English breakfast is traditionally served with eggs and toast, but that’s where the American familiarity ends. Sure, you’ve heard of bacon and sausage. But the bacon in the UK is thick cut and lean, like a nice slice of American ham. And breakfast sausages in the UK are not the small links or round patties. Rather, British breakfast sausages are comparable to US dinner sausages – large, thick, and filling. Add some baked beans, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, and some chips or hash-browns for good luck, and you have an amazing, delicious English breakfast, best washed down with 12 packets of ketchup and two cups of tea. IMG_9480In British pubs, you can usually order breakfast all day, hence the menu item ‘all-day English breakfast’. This meal is serious brain food. It got me through a master’s degree and a lengthy dissertation, and will always hold a warm and loving place in my nomadic fat-kid heart.IMG_9484We all ordered breakfast, and soon the table was filled with a greasy, aromatic smell, only to be found in the UK!IMG_9488IMG_9486IMG_9493We spent the rest of the day walking off said breakfast, shopping, and drinking coffee.IMG_9515Edinburgh is a beautiful city. I’m secretly hoping that one day B will turn to me and request that we move back to his native country. To which I would gladly say ‘ok’ :)IMG_9518IMG_9506IMG_9531IMG_9522IMG_9529One of our favourite places to stop in Edinburgh is the Costa Coffee on Princes Street.

IMG_9545It has a second story lounge where you can watch busses fly by and pedestrians scurry across the road . . .

output_0CMEz2. . . and all the while you sip a bowl of mocha, served with a large dose of British love.IMG_9555 IMG_9560We made one more stop before heading back to the house. An obligatory walk around the base of Arthur’s Seat, just as the sun set . . . . not that you could see the sun through the thick, grey Scottish fog.IMG_9581Arthur’s Seat is the main peak of Holyrood Park, situated about a mile east of the city centre. Arthur’s Seat rises above the city and provides excellent panoramic views. It’s easy to climb and makes a lovely afternoon hike.
IMG_9576 IMG_9590As our time was limited, we strolled around the flat green and pond at the base of the mountain.IMG_9621I crouched down to take the below photo, and when I looked up, two huge swans were standing casually on either side of me. IMG_9626As I slowly backed away, they just stared at me . . . . as if I were a new friend or a familiar fixture. I think I still smelled of pony, which is possibly why they decided not to break my arms. Perhaps this is just an old wives’ tale, but I would prefer not to find out first arm, erm, hand ;)IMG_9604The day started with ponies, ended with swans, and included some lovely sights and snacks in between. Edinburgh has a small piece of my heart, foggy skies and all :) More UK adventures to come!

xo Ali