Oh my heavens, it’s been more than a month since I’ve blogged.  Good Lord.  Summer’s been busy, but not THAT busy.  I need to get my act together, and FAST.

So, among the gazillion other things I’ve been doing, I went to London with my mom recently.

In short: I finished school on May 15th or so, had Abigail’s bridal shower a couple days later, and then started my internship one week after that.  Along the way, we hosted friends for Memorial Day Weekend (and visited Niagara On The Lake–would have blogged if I’d taken more pictures…), then went out of town for a Pittsburgh Pirates game and Goo Goos concert, followed the next weekend by Abigail’s wedding!  Seven days later, my month-long internship was suddenly over and I was in a car driving 8 hours to DC, only to jet off on a plane the next day with mom.

So yeah, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind.

Mom and I have been trying to get on a trip together for a few months now, and trying to fly Space A in June is always a bit dicey.  She’d been checking the loads and, of course, the flight was oversold by the night I arrived.  We said a prayer and chanced it the next day anyway… We had to sit in economy (the horror!), but  seriously, we were glad to get on.


Six hours later (plus another 5 with the time change), we landed at 6:30 a.m. local time.  I’m not much of a plane-sleeper, so I think I managed a whopping 45 minute cat-nap after watching XXXXX.  In-flight movies have really come a long way…remember when they only had one selection and there were just a few screens scattered around?

We hit the coffee shop on the way out of Heathrow before hopping on the Tube into London.



Mom booked us a room the St. George Hotel, on Gloucester Place.  It’s near Marble Arch and totally walkable to most of the big stuff, and she even scored  a sweet discount on the room.  (Every little bit helps…London is NOT cheap!)


After dropping our bags and freshening up, we were off to enjoy our first day in London, and all before lunchtime!


As we all know, Londoners drive on the opposite side of the road, which is a bit hard to get used to.  Thankfully, most of the intersections are marked with directions on which way to look for on-coming traffic.  I’m not sure when the decision was made to provide written instructions, or why–perhaps to inform the myriad tourists or because those Brits are just such a polite bunch–but I’ve always found it fun.  I still remember taking this same photo when mom took me the first time when I was 15. (Good gracious, that was 16 years ago!)

Initially we thought we might catch a changing of the guard, but decided not to waste time fighting a crowd at the palace gate just for a glimpse of the ceremony.  Instead, we followed a company of guards on horseback to the palace, then took a Rick Steves’ (my trusty travel companion) Westminster Walk to see some of the sights.  Mom’s been flying to London a lot lately, so it was neat that she totally knows her way around.  The walk took us to Big Ben and Parliament, situated on the River Thames (pronounced ‘tems’), as well as Westminster Abbey and Whitehall.  We posed next to the iconic red phone booths and even took a peek at the private residence of the Prime Minister.



The walk ended at Trafalgar Square, home to the National Gallery, an art museum home to many well-known European artists like Van Gogh, Leonardo and Rembrandt.  Mom and I toured it, I bought their well-priced collection book to take home to Andrew (it’s our traditional souvenir from all the big art museums), and then we headed back toward our hotel.


This post wouldn’t be accurate if I didn’t devote some space to the British attraction in which mom and I spent an INORDINATE amount of time…PRIMARK.  Mom heard about it from some other flight attendants and she hasn’t looked back.  It’s kind of like a nicer Wal-Mart for clothing and accessories.  There are two of them in the city, and it appears everyone–tourists and locals–flock there daily.  Within an hour or so of opening each day, it’s a madhouse.


We popped in on the first day and I picked up a few items, but because the line for the fitting room was so long (and people were still waiting in it!), mom and I decided to buy and try on at the hotel later.  (Apparently she has this whole ‘buy/try-on/return’ thing down to a science…)


They have a great souvenir/t-shirt section of front, so I picked up some cute pieces for 3-4 pounds (1 British pound is equivalent to $1.70 here), as well as longer tops to wear with leggings (something I’ve been trying to find for awhile now).  On subsequent trips, I might have gone a little crazy and started grabbing anything that looked cute, like a pair of silky, loose-fitting gaucho pants, a one-piece romper and floral skinny jeans.  I came home with a BAGFUL of stuff (2 pairs of jeans, 1 pair of jeggings, 1 romper, 1 dress, 2 pairs of leggings, probably 10 tops, 1 pair of gaucho pants and 1 scarf) for like $180.  I mean, at J.Crew that would have been 2 things.  Mom didn’t hold back, either, and–even after she bought a larger carry-on at T.K.Maxx–out suitcases were absolutely stuffed.


We went back each day and every night tried on our purchases, then returned the rejects the next morning…and shopped some more.  It was, perhaps, the most fun I’ve had shopping with mom in a long time.  It was so neat to experience this little ritual of hers.

For dinner, we headed to a local pub within walking distance and near the hotel in which she stays when she works a trip here.  It’s called the ‘Windsor Castle’ and looks just as you would expect a pub to look, except that it serves Thai food…and fish and chips.  I was completely tickled when we walked in and were seated, and then the hostess asked if my mom wanted what she had last time she was in.  My mom is a local in another country–how cool is that?!


We turned in early that first night since I was going on 1 hour of sleep in 2 days, and subsequently falling asleep in my food.

I slept until 8 a.m. the next day (10 hours of sleep–unheard of!), and we enjoyed the breakfast in our hotel.  If only I could find REAL muesli here…  Each morning, mom and I enjoyed cereal, yogurt and toast with ham, cheese, hard-boiled egg and tomato.  Mom brings her little International (haha) Delight coffee creamers wherever she goes…


We took Rick Steves’ ‘West End Walk’ our second day, which led us to various shopping districts: Carnaby Street, Regent Street (the high-end shopping district with stores like Longchamp and Michael Kors), as well as Oxford Street (more ‘regular’ shopping, like Apple or H&M) and Covent Garden, which is an open-air, enclosed mall featuring both flea-market booths, upscale stores and dining.

Oxford Street:

(My friend, Regina, sent me on a mission to find some specific makeup items for her, so mom and I visited a few different stores, including Superdrug and Boots, to find her goodies.  So fun!)


Piccadilly Circus (think a smaller NYC Times Square):



Carnaby Street (think NYC’s SoHo):


I popped into Liberty of London and picked up some stationery (I couldn’t resist), which was probably the only thing I could afford in the entire store!  I spied a teeny, tiny leather coin purse for a whopping 65 pounds!  Suddenly, it made that large Longchamp bag I was lusting after (priced at 86 pounds but about 300 times larger than the coin purse) seem reasonable!

Regent Street:


Covent Garden:


Somewhere along the walk, we stumbled upon this familiar gem (but notice the change in lettering!):


Mom nabbed a pair or Chaco sandals and I was super jealous! Of course, we couldn’t find any in my size…

That night, we went to another Thai favorite of mom’s, Busaba Eathai, a local chain and also a Rick Steves recommendation.  We went light and ordered salad-type dishes–the salmon and coconut rice for mom, the chicken satay for me.


Then we headed off to our show!  We purchased tickets earlier in the day to Miss Saigon, one I’ve never seen and always really wanted to.  There are so many theaters and shows from which to choose…  Do we see Les Mis again?  Do we see Phantom again?  Do we try a new show that just opened?  I’m glad we stuck to a classic, and mom hadn’t seen it in awhile, so it was fresh for both of us. Our 27-pound last-row seats were fantastic in the small theater.


The next morning, we rented bikes (2 pounds for a 24-hour period as long as you dock the bike after 30 minutes of riding) and tooled around Hyde Park, which brought back memories of my first trip with mom.  Apparently, she says, I fell while we were rollerblading in the park at some point…I have no recollection, but it sounds like me.  I’ve never been good with things with wheels!  (Seriously–teaching me to ride a 10-speed was nearly impossible, yet I felt completely comfortable on a giant horse.  Go figure.)



The park is huge and people were out in droves riding (bikes and horses), walking, running, rollerblading and sunbathing.  Times like that always make me long for my running shoes!

The next morning, after another muesli-filled breakfast, we took the ‘City Walk,’ which encompasses the one square mile surrounding St. Paul’s Cathedral and is now the financial district.  It starts on The Strand, which turns into Fleet Street, and Rick had us stop at lots of small landmarks along the way, including:

The Royal Courts of Justice (where high-profile cases are tried; regular Joes go to what’s called the ‘Old Bailey’ up the street):


View up Fleet Street (complete with red double-decker buses):


The Original Twinings Tea Shop (with tasting room in the back):


King’s College:


St. Paul’s Cathedral:

By this time, mom and I were past tired and hungry, so we passed on seeing Shakespeare’s Globe Theater and the Tate Modern (an art museum just across the river from the cathedral with a handy bridge right there) and opted to find some grub.

We hunted down a Rick-recommended pub, The Black Friar, and sat ourselves inside.  


We started with hard ciders (that were MUCH bigger than we had anticipated…):


And we split an order of fish and chips:



And a summer berry pudding with ice cream:


We continued the walk and ended up starting at London Bridge:



We ended up walking to the bridge to see it up close, then realized it was getting late and we were VERY FAR from where we wanted to be…  So we took our lives in our hands and rented those bikes again, only this time we were riding on London streets in rush-hour traffic, on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, and without helmets.  I was terrified, mom led the way and thought it was exhilarating, and all I could think was how horrified my dear friend, Emily, would be if she had been there.  She would have refused right there on the spot.  Obviously, we made it out alive, and just in time to dock the bikes within the 30-minute limit and grabbed our umbrellas before it started to rain!

We ended the night packing up in the room and watching British TV before heading to bed.  The next morning we ate our last breakfast (goodbye muesli!) and jumped on the Tube back to the airport where…


(I’m not sure why we were so excited by this…mom, dad and the boys often get first when they fly, and I’ve flown in first before, but we were jazzed.  And the gentlemen in front of us actually wanted to sit next to each other and asked US if it was OK that they moved seats!  Sitting next to each other BOTH ways flying Space A? Unheard of.)

And, OK, first class international is NOTHING like flying first anywhere else.  It’s like a gourmet dinner, a luxury hotel and a sleepover–all in one!  Seriously…I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so pampered, and I was on a plane.  I can barely wrap my head around the fact that this kind of service goes on all the time…miles above me….and that my own mother (famous for such lines as ‘It’s the maid’s day off,’ and ‘Your fingers aren’t broken,’) provides this service to countless others–strangers–every week!  Mind blown.


We sat in our seats, which really are the size of an office cubicle, and were handed a menu:


Silly me, I was busy trying to decide whether I wanted  the spring roll, soup OR salad…until mom said we get ALL THREE!

They start you off with a beverage of choice while still on the ground, so mom and I toasted with some champagne.


She said they serve better champagne once we’re in the air, so I made sure to sample that one, too, with the nuts they give and we shared a ‘Flake’ bar we’d gotten in London.  The Cadbury brand (like the Easter eggs) is the chocolate of choice over there, and apparently these bars are popular.



After three separate courses–spring roll, soup, salad–all served to each passenger when he or she was finished with his or her course, my dinner came:


The photo doesn’t do it justice (I chose one that showcased everything from my feet propped up to the white table cloth and the movie in the background); I chose the coconut curry tilapia and wasn’t disappointed.

Once I finished my dinner, the flight attendant came around with a cheese cart:


I couldn’t help but think of Andrew’s dad, who loves cheese and ordered the ‘international cheese plate’ each night we were on the cruise a few years ago.  I enjoyed a sample of a few cheeses and crackers with some port.


And then an ice cream sundae cart!


A fresh ice cream sundae on an airplane?!  This girl was in heaven!


After all those courses, they finally give you a break and let you settle into whatever you’d like to do for the remaining five hours or so.  I finished my first movie, The Monuments Men, and then took a little catnap before starting another movie, The Grand Budapest Hotel.  Mom, unfortunately for me, wasn’t much of a travel companion on the way home as she slept just about the entire way!  It’s also fun to see her chatting with some of the flight attendants she knows from years back.  You’d think they’d all know each other if they fly the same routes, but they don’t.

An hour or so before landing they wanted to feed us…AGAIN.  At first I declined–so full–but I wanted to sample everything on this amazing flight and I figured it might be awhile until we had dinner, seeing as we were landing at 3:30 p.m. and still had customs and DC traffic with which to contend.

I spied the fruits and veggies on another plate and promptly ordered one for myself!



And that, folks, is the story of my trip to London with mom.  I’m so glad I made the time and went; it was a long-overdue time of bonding and ‘getting away from it all’ for both of us, and it made me realize I need to do more traveling–with or without her!  I have the rare opportunity to experience foreign destinations at a reduced airline rate, and I need to take advantage of it while I still can!

a valentine/anniversary getaway

As luck would have it, I had a four-day weekend that encompassed Valentine’s Day, the 12th (!!!) anniversary of the day Andrew and I began dating, and President’s Day (a.k.a. two days off of school).  Suffice it to say, we decided to take advantage of the long weekend and get away.

And away we got.  (Except that we managed to see Andrew’s dad–TWICE–on our trip.)  But other than THAT, we got away, and let me tell you–it was a blast.

We chose Ithaca, NY, as it’s just three hours away and somewhat of a ‘destination.’  (Not really, but it was to us.)   Ithaca is a college town, home to Cornell and Ithaca University, which means there’s tons of yummy ethnic eateries and fun things to do.  We scored a great room at the local Marriott, borrowed some snowshoes and started scoping out where we’d eat.

Disclaimer:  We’ve actually been to Ithaca before (myself only a couple times and Andrew has been tons) as his father is from there and his grandmother still lives in a nursing home there.  But, we’ve never really ‘done’ Ithaca, so it was mostly new to us.

And can I just say–Ithaca is my new favorite place.  It’s close, you can’t beat the college town atmosphere, Cornell is absolutely gorgeous and the food options were endless.  I’m already counting the days until we make it a trip in the summer.

We arrived in time for dinner, and as it was Friday, decided to order pizza.  We brought it into the room and watched HGTV on a king bed while sharing a half-hawaiian, half-banana pepper and sausage pizza and birch beer.


I came prepared each morning with things to do in the 2+ hours between the time I wake up and Andrew wakes up.  Necessities include: coffee creamer, snacks, devotions, schoolwork and workout gear.


I’d called ahead and found the local YMCA to be just minutes from our hotel and FREE to me as a Buffalo Y member.  I swam 2,000 yards in 40 minutes before I dashed back to the hotel with wet hair in a snow storm!


We headed to the Ithaca Commons, which is the cute downtown area with shops and eateries, to explore and eat.


Our first stop was Collegetown Bagels, which is part of the Ithaca Bakery chain.  I got a Cayuga Cocoa (hot chocolate with coffee) and a strawberry cheesecake brownie (in honor of Valentine’s Day).  I didn’t need it but every bit was worth it!  Andrew snacked on a cappuccino and TWO bagels.


All day Saturday was the local chili taste-off, in which restaurants brought out vats of different chili and offered tastes in exchange for tickets.  We didn’t taste any, but man, did it smell good outside!

We stopped into multiple outdoor stores (Ithaca is know for its gorges and trails and hiking and such), an organic home store (Ithaca is also pretty crunchy-granola, if you know what I mean) and a paper store.


For a late lunch, we stopped into the famous Moosewood Restaurant, a vegetarian place that is just fantastic.  I can’t say Andrew was their biggest fan, but my meal was wonderful–lasagna with olives and capers!


Andrew did, however, help me with their famous fudge brownie with homemade ice cream.


OK, he did more than ‘help.’


Afterward, we decided to try a walk around Cornell’s campus, but were hampered by a white-out as we drove around.


After some aimless driving around, we decided to stop at the footbridge and brave the snow anyway.


Good thing we did; the snow stopped and we were able to enjoy a (chilly) walk to the famous clock tower.
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So, Andrew thought it would be funny to take pictures of me trying to walk through the snow in my Uggs (who knew I’d need my Sorels to walk around downtown and then on-campus?!)…

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Cornell truly is beautiful.  The architecture is stunning and–as much as I hate to admit it–blows Penn State out of the water.  I can’t wait to go back and really walk the campus.


After a visit with Andrew’s dad, Aunt Kathy and his grandma, we decided Thai would be our cuisine of choice Saturday night.  We tried Taste of Thai and were not disappointed.  In fact, Andrew has already said he’d go back on a future trip.

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Sunday morning, I awoke and went downtown for a massage I’d scheduled.  When planning our weekend, I told Andrew I wanted two things: to swim laps and a massage.  And to go snowshoeing.  Guess that’s three.

After the massage, I grabbed bagels and a blueberry muffin to-go at another Ithaca Bakery location on the way back to the hotel and we enjoyed brunch in bed, with a little HGTV/Food Network.  Our next stop: Hal’s Deli for corned beef before our afternoon of snowshoeing!


Now, I cannot tell you how much I love Reubens.  They are, hands down, my absolute favorite sandwich ever. Perhaps my favorite menu item ever.  It’s pretty hard for me to pass up a Reuben.  So, when we hear of a Jewish deli in town, it’s a must-try.  Between the perfectly not-too-sweet Dr. Brown Black Cherry soda, the tiny waitress who kept calling us ‘honey,’ and the sandwich, I was quite the happy camper.  Andrew liked his sandwich and was a huge fan of the coleslaw–not too creamy with a hint of vinegar and sweetness.


Afterward, we headed out to find a trail for snowshoeing.  Neither of us own snowshoes yet, but I see them in the (perhaps very) near future.  So much fun!




We trudged around, and even up and down a hill, in the woods outside Cornell’s campus.  I really like that its something Andrew and I can do together that doesn’t really take much skill, has almost no risk of injury and requires little equipment or cost.


The local ice cream joint, Purity, is currently undergoing renovations, so they scoop under a red awning out front on the weekends.  Talk about hard-core!  I just about froze while I was waiting for my cookie sundae–I can’t imagine how cold the girls get who have to stand out there for hours!

Andrew surprised my by getting something other than vanilla or the hot apple crisp sundae; he chose Boomberry (a fruity ice cream) in a waffle cone.


We ate the ice cream in the warmth of our car while driving up to Taughannock Falls to see the frozen waterfall.


We would have hiked up to it, but between thawing out after our snowshoe and then eating ice cream, we were done with the cold weather.

After warm showers and naps (that cookie sundae did me IN!) back at the hotel, we got dressed, paid another quick visit to Andrew’s grandma and then headed back to the Commons for dinner.

This time, it was viva Taqueria, a local Mexican place that makes their own chips daily.  THOSE were worth every calorie, I can tell you that much!  Andrew opted for the fajitas (his usual) and I chose a combo platter so I could try an enchilada and a tostada.  You know what the best thing about going for Mexican with Andrew is?  I get his sides!  He doesn’t eat the refried beans, rice or guacamole, all of which always come with fajitas.  My problem:  I like everything, and sometimes what I want doesn’t come with gauc or rice or beans.  We’re just a match made in heaven, aren’t we?


Still feeling full from the night before, I headed down to the hotel’s workout room Monday morning to study and elliptical before we headed back home.  I’ve pretty much become a pro at reading while stepping.


Our last stop before hitting the highway?  Ithaca Bakery–AGAIN.  I wanted to make it three-for-three, and when I was in the day before picking up bagels, I got a huge craving for an eat-in, toasted bagel with veggie cream cheese.  I had to have it.


Cutest little bakery ever.  I tell you what–if we lived in Ithaca, I’d be there all the time.  Andrew got a sticky bun, an everything bagel and a cappuccino, while I opted for a fun coconut-almond americano with a ‘california’ bagel (whole grain, seeds and raisins) topped with veggie cream cheese.  I think I inhaled it.


We had an hour before we hit Corning, NY, which is home to the Corning Museum of Glass (of Pyrex fame) and somewhere I’ve wanted to visit since I used to pass through on my way to visit Andrew from Philadelphia.  Out came the binder again.


At the glass museum, we were able to see displays of glass through the ages:

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We also saw glass-blowing, breaking and flame-throwing demos.  It takes the glass-makers 4-5 years just to become proficient.  It was pretty neat to watch.


We had one last stop before home: the Babcock Ladder Co. in Bath, NY.  Yes, that is my husband examining ladders in their office.


Actually, it’s pretty neat.  Babcock is one of the last-remaining all-wood, family-owned, good-ole’-made-in-the-USA quality ladder companies around.  We’re down a couple step-ladders (the metal ones just end up breaking after awhile) and their prices were incredibly reasonable.


Andrew’s souvenirs:


Holly’s souvenirs:


And, no trip would be complete without the pizza-in-front-of-the-TV-dinner!  Hadrian was too tired from playing at puppy camp all weekend to even beg!


NYC: Sunday

We awoke Easter Sunday in time to go to the early service at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on 83rd and Amsterdam.  Before we went on the trip, I’d messaged a friend from college who used to live in the city and is on staff with Campus Crusade for Christ for a recommendation for a church.  She recommended Redeemer and also mentioned that Cafe Lalo, the one featured in the movie ‘You’ve Got Mail’ was just down the street.  So glad I asked her.

So, we quickly grabbed bananas and coffees at the downstairs awful breakfast (which was packed even at 8 a.m.) and headed to the subway.

We had perfect timing and were blessed to hear a sermon by Dr. Tim Keller, who heads up the three-location Redeemer Church.  He was only preaching at the first service that morning, so I’m glad we were early birds.


Notice the hot-pink scarf: an Easter gift (a.k.a. Italy trip gift) from Andrew.  So glad I brought my trench–it was the perfect light jacket for Sunday morning and I felt so classy 🙂

After the service, we walked about a half-block to Cafe Lalo and were seated right away:




The photo really does not do it justice; it was decorated with French dancing posters and was bright and warm and welcoming.  My friend admitted to me that it had become a ‘date night’ spot for her husband and her, and I bet it would be ours’ if we lived in the city.  I think Andrew loved it more than I did!




We ordered a belgian waffle with cinnamon whipped cream (Andrew) and the ‘Lalo Special,’ a berry-topped frozen-yogurt bowl with a scone of my choice (me) with coffees.  (Note: Andrew liked the cinnamon-whipped cream so much I whipped (haha! I’m so punny) some up this morning to top our pancakes. It’s fantastic–try it with your breakfast carb of choice next time!)


After breakfast and on our way back to the hotel, we had a bit of an adventure on the subway: we got separated!  I knew it was going to happen some time…  Andrew hopped off just as the doors were closing and I couldn’t follow him!  Thankfully, it wasn’t terribly difficult for me to grab another train back and in less than 10 minutes we were reunited.

Our last stop of the trip (sniff, sniff) was Bouchon Bakery:


It’s one of Thomas Keller’s establishments and I’ve been to his Bouchon restaurant in Vegas before.  I just had to have a macaron. Or three.


I chose a three mini-macarons so I could try different flavors: pistachio, chocolate and cassis (kinda like blackberry/raspberry) with a lemon filling). I got my treats to go and we rushed back to the hotel room with just enough time to give each other our Easter baskets:


…and pack up before heading home.

For lunch, I ate a hot-cross bun from Bouchon (hey, it was Easter) with an apple and a cheese stick.


And that’s pretty much where the health-kick ended.  I started with my one Reese’s egg that Andrew got me:


…and munched my way home on jelly beans, popcorn and all sorts of snacks. I blame a too-small lunch and boredom.

I did, however, exhibit great restraint and ate only ONE of my mini-macarons.



If you haven’t had a real macaron before, they are DIVINE.  Seriously.  Lightly crunchy on the outside, and the filling and the inside of each ‘sandwich piece’ is a bit fudgy…oh my.  However, I have no idea where to get one in all of Buffalo.  I’ve had them in Paris and New York City.  Up next on my life ‘to-do’ list: learn how to make macarons.  (Incidentally, those heaps of lightly browned coconut, sometimes dipped in chocolate, are called ‘coconut macarOOns.’)

We got in at about 6:30 on Sunday night and quickly unpacked the car and vacuumed (Andrew) while I ran into Tops for groceries.  However, we quickly found our favorite pizza place was closed (it was Easter Sunday), and just about everywhere else, too.  It was a refreshing reminder of the holiday, after being in NYC where it wasn’t even a blip on the radar.  We settled for one of the only places open–Jim’s Steak Out–and took our cheesesteaks to go and relaxed in front of the TV for the rest of the night.

It’s been a whirlwind week since then, and I still don’t feel like I’ve truly recovered.  In fact, Andrew had a cold all week and now I feel like I’m coming down with it…fantastic.  Why can’t vacations really be vacations?