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Postcards From London: Day Three

By our third day in London (and 7th day of the trip) we were tired and were in need of a relaxing day (well, we tried to have a relaxing day anyway). We slept in a bit and then headed straight to the Tower of London and the Tower Bridge (not to be confused with the London Bridge). I highly recommend taking one of the Beefeater’s tours of the Tower. Yes, that is their name. They are the folks still in charge of protecting the crown jewels and the tower (which is more of the historical royal palace of London, established by William the Conqueror) and historically, were the only men given beef to eat. This signified their status and is how they got their name.

After the Tower we headed to London’s most famous bridge, the Tower Bridge. It was a chilly and overcast day, but it was worth it to snap some pics with one of London’s most iconic sights.

After doing our tourist do diligence, I took Nicole to Fortnum & Mason, which is one of my favorite shops in London (I have also done afternoon tea there, which is lovely… and don’t let the name fool you, afternoon tea is a lot of food!). We sampled chocolates and purchased lots of tea and truffles. To walk everything off, we stopped by Buckingham Palace to say a quick hello to the Queen and mock some guards (did you know it used to take one bear to make each of those ridiculous hats!).

Since I had already done tea at Fortnum & Mason, we decided to try the afternoon tea at the hip and funky Sketch. The best part is that the Sketch tearoom is entirely pink! Not only was everything from the walls, to the linens, to the furniture pink, the walls were covered with cheeky illustrations, and don't even get me started on the bathrooms. They were individual egg-shaped pods! The food was creative and delicious and the tea was excellent as well. I highly recommend it. It was truly an unforgettable experience (make sure to reserve online).

After tea, we decided to rest a bit in the hotel, not before checking out another famous London store – Harrods. We did some serious window shopping (and dreaming) before going back to the hotel to freshen up for our big evening out. That evening we headed just west of London to meet some old friends for a pub-crawl in their neck of the woods. Did you know that lots of bars in London have prosecco on tap? Highlight of my trip... just kidding, kind of.

I really wanted to make it to Portobello Road, but sadly we just didn’t have enough time. And the following morning we left for Dublin!

You can read more about my adventures in London here and here, and my adventures in Paris here, here, and here. Stay tuned for Ireland!

Ashley B
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Outfit: No Shrinking Violets

denim jacket (old, similar) // peplum top // pants // sandals // purse 

Ah, spring has sprung in Florence! And I didn't realize just how nice it has been until I spent this last week in Berlin, where it was cold and rainy. I am happy to be returning to Florence today where it will be sunny and warm.

I feel like all I have done recently is travel. I ended February in Prague, traveled to Paris, London, and Dublin the following two and a half weeks, and then ended March with 6 days in Berlin. It was an amazing month, but I am tired and ready for a little rest and relaxation in Florence.

I don't think I have ever really experienced a true spring. In Florida it just goes from cold to hot. So I am trying to learn how to dress for a proper spring -- lighter layers and jackets. I couldn't wait to wear these open-toe nude sandals from Zara. Although, a couple Italian ladies gave me some disapproving looks for wearing sandals so early in the season (a lot of Italian women refuse to show their toes or take off the puffy jackets before May). But I didn't care, I love everything about this outfit and it was perfect for last Monday's gorgeous spring weather (I will admit I was a bit cold as the sun set).

My favorite part of this outfit is definitely the flowerpot purse. It is just too adorable! It is colorful, whimsical, and even includes a little idiom, "no shrinking violets." It is surprisingly spacious, and while it isn't something I can carry to work or conferences, it's perfect for a little weekend or weeknight fashion fun!

What is your favorite spring accessory?

PS - You know your bestie and family love you when they send you Kate Spade and J.Crew in Italy.

Ashley B
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Postcards From London: Day Two

outfit details here

For our second day in London, we got another early start to visit the mummies and the amazing collection of ancient statuary of the British Museum. I know I said that the Louvre was my favorite museum, but the British Museum is a very close second. When you add in the fact that it is free of charge and you can come and go as you please (no queue!), it comes very close to surpassing the Louvre!

You can also have a bit of fun inside the British Museum. Unlike the Louvre, it has a very relaxed and interactive feel. In fact there are several interactive stations set up throughout the museum that allow you to touch various artifacts (you can’t touch everything, just what they let you). Thanks to this relaxed vibe, we let our hair down and had a lot of fun taking goofy pictures. Who says museums are boring?

After several hours of mummy gazing, we departed the museum and headed to Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery. Back to back museums, can you handle it? But again, it is free (although all the museums ask for a donation, which I am happy to give) and you can come and go as you feel. This really keeps the museums from feeling daunting and like a marathon (I am looking at you Louvre). After strolling through the galleries, we made our way to the colorful and lively Carnaby Street for lunch and some strolling.

Next up was St. Paul’s Cathedral. The cathedral is nice, but the main draw for me is the excellent scones and clotted cream served in the crypt (after 3 pm, but don’t go too late, they often run out of fresh scones).

After indulging in too much clotted cream, we made a mad dash to our hotel for a quick touch up before meeting some friends out for drinks at Madison (which has amazing views of the cathedral and city) and dinner at the new and hip Brasserie Zedel (you will definitely need reservations, all of London seems to have discovered it!).

You can read more of our adventures in London here!

Ashley B
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Travel Hack: Dresses as Skirts

First Outfit: dress (similar) // sweater (similar) // shoes (similar) // tote
Second Outfit: dress // sweater // coat (similar) // clutch (last seen here)

Wearing dresses as skirts is one of my favorite travel hacks (that and placing your shoes in disposable shower caps, seriously brilliant!). Not only does it allow you to wear your favorite dresses again (and in new and exciting ways), it really helps cut down how much you need to pack. If you ask me, it is a win-win. I re-wore two of the dresses I had worn in Paris as skirts in London (polka dot dress here and houndstooth here). I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it, dresses are just as versatile as separates!

I’ve found that this technique works best with dresses with well-defined waists paired with slightly cropped sweaters (optimum cropping will depend on your height and torso length). You can also layer a button up ontop of the dress and under the sweater for even more dimension (and/or warmth).

I found this cropped black sweater randomly in Dillards last fall. I hesitated buying it, not sure what I would wear it with. I am glad I made that impulse purchase, because I have worn this sweater constantly in Italy. It seems to easily layer over just about anything when I am cold in my apartment or running around town. I wish it was slightly better quality (it is BCBGeneration), because I fear I will wear holes in it at some point! Moral of the story, always scoop up versatile cropped sweaters in neutral colors, especially if you are on the shorter side and like to layer them over dresses.

I don’t know about you, but because of my height I really struggle to find sweaters with the right proportions. Any brand recommendations are welcomed!

Ashley B
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Postcards from London: Day One

We departed for London Wednesday morning via the Eurostar. We both really enjoyed our Eurostar experience, and if you ask me, it is so much better than flying—less stress, quicker (when you factor in airport wait times, not to mention delays), and more confortable. I couldn’t believe how quickly we went through the Chunnel, just 20 minutes! Not only is the train more comfortable, you arrive in the center of London (so much better that Gatwick) and it is fairly easy to grab a tube to your hotel. We had quite a few bags, so we opted for a taxi.

After settling into our hotel, we hit the ground running, since it was already the afternoon by the time we arrived and got settled. First on the agenda were Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. Of course, Big Ben never disappoints. I am pretty sure it is the image everyone envisions when they think of London. We were especially lucky to have a bit of blue sky, which can be something of a rarity in London this time of year.

I think the best place to capture Big Ben in a picture is across the river on the west side of the bridge. This spot give the best view the tower and adjoining parliament building. Of course the London Eye also gives great views of the city, but I have never been a fan. The wait times are ridiculous and it’s incredibly over priced.

Following a photo session with Ben, we headed west to Westminster. I love Westminster Abbey; it is a beautiful church with so much history. For almost a thousand years, this church has served as the coronation and burial site (and more recently the marriage venue) for English and, later, British monarchs.

As the sunlight started to fade, we made our way to Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street. Piccadilly Circus is a circus (ha!) but it is like Times Square, you have to see it. We also indulged in a little retail therapy along Regent Street. I finally got my J.Crew fix (there are now 5 in London)! Unlike Paris, however, the J.Crew in London has the same price point (although it’s pounds not dollars, so you are still paying more). While I wanted to buy the store, I behaved myself and just purchased a dress.

After a bit of shopping we found a nearby pub, the White Lion (very good), and downed a pint. Well, Nicole downed a pint, I sipped prosecco. That evening we stayed in at the pub attached to our hotel (The Mad Hatter, another great hotel find) and chatted with some locals and tourists. Apparently Swiss people think most Americans are not very intelligent, but that could have been the beer talking lol.

All in all, it was a great first day in London. Cheers!

Ashley B
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Outfit: Petite Beret

beret (similar options 1, 2, 3) // dress // jacket (last seen here) // pendant (also available as earrings)

Like I said, I am a whimsical dresser. So naturally, I could not resist wearing my petite beret in Paris! I received this adorable little headpiece as a birthday present two years ago (during my fascinator phase) and I rarely find an occasion to wear it. Unfortunately, the Canadian woman who made it doesn't seem to be producing them anymore. The website still exists, but doesn't look like it has been updated in a while, so proceed at your own risk (le sigh). I could tell that the Parisians really appreciated it, because they couldn't stop staring. Although one Parisian lady did stop me to compliment me on it, which made my day.

It is so hard to decide which of my three Suite dresses I packed for this trip was my favorite! I loved the girly roses of my first dress and the graphic polka dots on the second, but if I had to choose, I think this houndstooth number would win by a hair (it doesn't hurt that it went perfectly with my petite beret!).

Ashley B
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Top Five Most Overrated Destinations in Italy

This may be something of a controversial post. But, in my opinion, there are several destinations in Italy that are highly overrated. Maybe it is because of advertising or pop-culture, but these cities have managed to convince everyone that they are the premier destinations in Italy. Now, I am not saying they aren't great, or not worth a visit, just that I feel they are a bit overrated, causing tourists to spend too much time there at the expense of other amazing destinations (don't worry I will also be sharing my top 5 underrated destinations). Of course, this is just my opinion. You may disagree and I would love to hear why if you do!

Ok, let's start with the one I will get the most flack about. There is no denying that Venice is unique and amazing, but it is also small, overrun with tourists, and overpriced. You don't need a week in Venice. You can honestly see everything in a couple days, and I know lots of people who do it in one. Thanks to movies, Venice is highly romanticized. If you have unlimited time and money, than a relaxing week in Venice is perfect for some high-end shopping, dining, and living out your cinematic fantasies. But for your average traveler, you will spend a lot of money to stay on the island and eat second-rate food. I am not suggesting skipping Venice, just allocate your time more wisely.

Lake Como
I blame George Clooney for this one. Americans are always excited to go to Lake Como, but I have seen the disappointment when they arrive firsthand. There just isn't much to do there if you are not staying in a villa or luxury hotel. The towns are cute, but tiny. And unless you go in the peak of summer, it will likely be chilly (it has always been overcast when I have visited). The lake itself is not the best for swimming, so many of the hotels offer pools. But at that point, why not head to a beautiful seaside village?

San Gimignano
This little medieval city wins the award for most successful PR campaign. I don't know how they did it, but everyone seems to know about this tiny little town. The town is really neat and has a fascinating history--it is known as "Medieval Manhattan" because of all of the Medieval towers that remain standing. But again, it is tiny, and once you have taken pictures of the towers, eaten a gelato, and purchased ridiculous souvenirs, there isn't much else to see or do. Instead of making it your destination, I think it simply warrants a quick stop along the way to somewhere else (like this tour).

The Island of Capri is another super famous destination, but, like Venice, insanely expensive. Most travelers can barely afford to eat on Capri, much less stay there. And while the blue grotto is amazing, it is only open when the weather and tides permit. Instead of focusing on Capri, head towards the Amalfi Coast in general and take the ferry out to Capri for a full or half-day.

Millions of tourists flock to Pompeii to walk among the volcanically-preserved ruins of this famous Roman city. Like Venice, Pompeii is something you should still see, but what people don't tell you is that almost all of the excavated items (pottery, plaster casts of people, sculptures, art, etc.) is actually in the archeology museum in Naples, not on site in Pompeii. So if you visit Pompeii, you are really only seeing half of the city! If you are interested in the excavations, and ancient archeology in general, make sure you also make time for the archeology museum in Naples.

I am curious to see if anyone agrees or disagrees. Also, if you have traveled to Italy, which destinations did you think were overrated?

Ashley B
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Postcards from Paris: Day Three

For our last full day in Paris, we headed to the Eiffel Tower first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, the weather was supposed to be overcast all day and get worse as the day progressed. So, we decided to bite the bullet and get up early in the hopes we might get lucky with the weather. We did not. But that’s ok, we ended up getting some great shots with our bright pink umbrella.

After taking a ridiculous amount of pictures, I mean ridiculous—selfies, individual portraits, artsy umbrella shots, and scenery, we decided to stroll down boulevard Saint-Germain-des-Prés. We stopped at a great little café called Malabar along the way that made the most delicious (and giant) cappuccinos. Once caffeinated, we strolled to St. Sulpice before continuing all the way down Saint-Germain until we reached the Latin Quarter (so called because it was, and still is, the central area for higher education and Latin was once the lingua franca of higher ed.) Today, the area is stull full of students, but it is also known for its lively atmosphere and quaint bistros.

For our final stop, we headed to the lock bridge. We put aside our single, cat-lady bitterness to visit the bridge dedicated to love (insert eye roll). Love lucks have become an international phenomenon in most major cities (there is also a spot in Florence), but they seem to have gotten their start, or at least earned their fame, in Paris. Basically, a couple writes their names on a padlock and locks it onto the bridge. They then throw the key into the river, in this case the Seine, as a symbol of their undying love (holding back the eye rolls). Several bridges in Paris have locks, and many have been removed, since they have become so numerous they pose a threat to the bridge's structure. Today, the majority of love locks seem to be congregated on the Ponte de l’Archevêchè, so that was where we headed. Instead of celebrating a significant other, we cracked open another box of Ladurèe macarons and toasted to our love of French pastries!

After a long (and chilly) day of walking we rested in our hotel a bit before heading up to Montmartre for dinner. Montmartre is a great area for dinner and drinks and I highly recommend the funky fondue restaurant Le Refuge des Fondus (make sure you book ahead).

The next morning we headed by train to London...

Ashley B
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