A Weekend in Chicago

The Windy City has plenty to offer, especially during the holidays with fun displays full of festive cheer.  From art and shopping to food and culture, there is so much to enjoy!  I recently got my city fix in for a weekend, and it was honestly the perfect little itinerary for a short and fun getaway.  While I am nowhere near an expect on the city, here is where I suggest you eat, shop and explore in Chi-town.

Shopping

The Magnificent Mile on Michigan Ave is the place to go for shopping in Chicago.  Being one of the most famous streets in America, the glamour doesn’t disappoint.  Glitzy designer flagships align the street among large global chains and huge department stores, meaning there is something for everyone.  The window shopping is first class too!  For the holidays, the street is all decked out with fun little displays outside, in addition to amazing window decor from the designer stores.  I was there on Black Friday, and although crazy, the hustle-like atmosphere from the crowds was exciting and exhilarating, almost like out of a Christmas movie.  All of the department stores are worth checking out and, while not as large as their NYC counterparts, stores like Bloomingdales, Saks 5th Ave and Nieman Marcus prove to be alive in the holiday spirit.

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The scene at night of Michigan Ave on Black Friday

Perpendicular to Mich Ave is Oak St. which houses more designer stores, among nicer brands such as Barbour, AllSaints, and Madewell.  The area serves as a bit of an escape from the crowds of Michigan since it’s a little less grand and a little more quaint.  I recommend walking in and out of the surrounding streets to explore more of what’s around off of the high street.

Art

It is easy to make a day out of the Chicago Institute of Art and Millennial Park since they are right next to each other and I would 10/10 recommend doing so!  I was surprised at how vast the collections were at the art museum.  They literally have every sort of art imaginable, all wonderfully curated and displayed with countless masterpieces from artists of every time period.  Besides the more famous American art and impressionists collections that everyone goes to see, the museum has a super cool gallery of European armor from as early as the 7th century.  I can be a bit of a history nerd, so I found the display extremely interesting and well done.  They also have an exhibit of miniature rooms, like doll houses, that show scenes from different time periods and locations.

Down the street from the museum is the classic instagram famous mirrored sculpture otherwise known as the Bean.  I really wanted to check out the bean for the soul reason of getting a picture, but I ended up being more fascinated in it than I thought I would be.  Yes, it is touristy and crowed, but that is all apart of the fun and allure.  The shape of the sculpture creates many different illusions with the bean-shaped mirror that changes at every angle and location.  You can move anywhere around and you’ll get a totally different shot.  It also reflects a beautiful and well-positioned image of Chicago’s sky line, making it a delight for both tourists and locals alike (and of course insta-worthy!).

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Food

Like any major metropolis, Chicago has a wide range of cuisine and food specialities.  I’m honestly not a big deep dish fan (prefer NY pizza for sure, sorry Chicago), so I opted for other indulgences such as donuts.  Stan’s Donuts is a serious must try.  They are located right on busy Michigan Avenue, but have 8 other locations throughout the city with their cute little cafe-like shops also serving coffee and gelato.  I tried the nutella banana filled donut and the blueberry cream cheese pocket donut which were both amazing.  Honestly though, all of Stan’s array of classic and unconventional donuts looked fabulous (I’m that person that would try everything); I doubt you can go wrong.

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I checked out Eataly Chicago which was the first time that I’d gone to an Eataly.  Eataly is a food concept department-like store that specializes in imported authentic Italian food with the idea that food is a celebration and an essential part of culture.  The first stores started in Italy and they are now in many major cities around the world with Chicago being one of four in the US.  The indoor market has different stations serving up Italian specialities such as gelato and made-to-order cannolis.  There are different casual restaurants and many bars that allow you to “bar-hop” throughout Italy.

For a fun Sunday brunch, Luxbar in the gold coast neighborhood is classic and fun with signature entrées and delicious almond croissants.  And for a nice dinner, Brindille proves to be a fantastic dining experience with decadent and modern french cuisine.  Honestly, the highlight of the meal are the amuse-bouch potato beignets which taste like ridiculously good tater-tots.  The desert menu is also spectacular with options such as a plate of freshly baked cookies that will make you feel like a little kid on Christmas.

Culture

Both the Willis tower and the Hancock tower offer impressive views of the city and a different perspective from above.  You have to take a picture at the sky deck on top of the Willis tower.  Little clear capsules perturb out of the building making it seem like you are suspended above.  It is a little frightening, but super cool to look down (people with a fear of heights: beware).

Walking around the city during the holidays is an experience in itself, but to really get your Christmas fix, head down to Lincoln Park and see the Zoo Lights.  Every year from Black Friday to Christmas, the zoo puts up an over the top display of lit up animals and trees, complete with light shows to music.  It’s totally free and fun for everyone.

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Your Guide to Scottish Cuisine (What and Where to Eat)

My trip to Scotland brought me all over the country which allowed me to experience a wide range of cuisine and foods.  Scottish food is underrated.  People seem to associate the “only” quality British cuisine with London, and while London is a huge culinary capital, Scotland is overlooked, especially as they provide so much industry and agriculture to the foodie world.  Take smoked salmon: the delicacy is a favorite in much of the world.  The best smoked salmon?  Scottish smoked salmon, fished straight out of the North Sea and prepared to perfection.  I recommend eating all that you can if you find yourself in Scotland.  And that isn’t all.  Scotland is known for its meats and game, along with cheeses, seafood and hearty breakfasts.  If you want to know exactly what foods to try, check out my post for Spoon University here! 

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Great places to try across Scotland:

Luigi’s (Dornoch, Scotland):  Dornoch is a tiny town up in the Highlands with a world famous golf course that attracts people from all over.  The best restaurant in the town is Luigi’s which is an excellent Scottish/Italian/seafood restaurant serving fresh oysters, lobster, and pasta.  The seafood here is amazingly fresh, and this is definitely the place to try fabulous North Sea oysters (which are, by there way, delicious).

-Boath House (Nairn, Scotland):  Boath House is a hidden gem; slightly off the beaten path, but wonderfully rewarding.  It has a very Scottish menu with most ingredients coming from the estate or nearby farms.  Everything taste extremely fresh and high quality.  The duck was one of my favorite dishes that I tried in Scotland since it was prepared perfectly and served with amazing foie gras.  The smoked salmon is also a thing of beauty.  Boath House is considered one of the top restaurants in Scotland outside of a major city and it is easy to see why.  It’s a great find and a great experience.

Scran and Scallie (Edinburgh, Scotland):  I talked more about this restaurant and the next one mentioned in my previous post about Edinburgh, but it’s worth mentioning them again due to their impeccably high quality Scottish food.  Scran and Scallie is where I tried haggis, a momentous occasion, and it is also where I had these dedacant savory pies.  You have to try haggis at some point, and a gastropub is the perfect place since they prepare in a gourmet fashion.  Scottish savory pies are really delicious in the most comforting of comfort food ways.

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The Wedgwood (Edinburgh, Scotland):  The Wedgwood is one of the top restaurants in Edinburgh, but what makes it really great is that they make an effort to serve true Scottish cuisine in a gourmet setting.  Ingredients include foraged mushrooms, Douglas fir pine, venison, pigeon, and sea spaghetti.  They put on the ultimate display of Scottish food to showcase the potential it holds.

Tail end (Dundee, Scotland):  You cannot go to Scotland without having fish and chips (unless you’re vegetarian, of course), and although the classic dish can be found in any pub, I recommend seeking out more contemporary chip shops that specialize in locally sustainable fish.  Tail end in Dundee does just that.  They take great pride in their “handsome halibut” and their delicious homemade tartar sauce.  The place is cute and trendy, making it the perfect spot to enjoy true Scottish seafood.

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-The Drouthy Cobbler (Elgin, Scotland):  Another mandatory experience in Scotland is going to a pub.  They are everywhere, but it can be a little difficult to a find a really good one that truly cares about the food they serve.  The Drouthy Cobbler is a little known hidden place in the small town of Elgin.  You can’t even access it from the main road, finding it instead in a little alley way.  The atmosphere is quaint and trendy but still feels pub-like and they serve solid Scottish food like smoked trout and salmon, sausage rolls, and bangers and mash.

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How to Spend 48 Fabulous Hours in Edinburgh Scotland

Hi there!  I just recently returned from a 10 day trip to Scotland where I pretty much road tripped from the Highlands all the way down to Edinburgh.  The whole journey was amazing, and I felt like I was really able to see the whole country.  However, more on that later (look out for a Scottish food post!).  One of my favorite places that I spent time in was the last place, Edinburgh which is a surprisingly bustling metropolitan center full of history and culture.  The last weekend was spent there, and although I definitely could have spent at least another day exploring the city, I was able to pack a lot in those two wonderful days.IMG_7297

Edinburgh isn’t very big in size and population compared to other landmark European cities, but the number of noteworthy sights, neighborhoods, and, quite frankly, tourists make the city feel larger than it is.  It takes on the vibe of a smaller and slightly less stylish London that is easier to walk around and harder to get lost in.  I arrived late in the afternoon on Friday having just played golf nearby.  The immediate cosmopolitan atmosphere of the city center, where my hotel was, made me realize that this place was different from the rest of Scotland.  Our hotel was very modern and stylish, as one would expect from a nice city hotel.

For dinner that first night, I ventured across town to the neighborhood of Stockbridge which is a hip high-end area bustling with coffee shops and gastropubs.  I went to a recommended restaurant called Scran and Scallie.  Nothing in Edinburgh is that far away, so my taxi ride to Stockbridge was an easy ten minutes and it easily paved the way for a light walk back to my hotel.  Scran and Scallie is a very popular gastropub serving traditional Scottish fare in a gourmet manner.  The clientele is young and fun, echoed by the quirky takes on traditional Scottish decor.  The menu appears very traditional with practically any pub fare you can think of available (meat pies, haggis, fish and chips), as well as some more contemporary options.  My Dad and I both opted for classic British entries, while I tried a Scottish specialty and he had an elevated Caesar salad for starters.  My haggis appetizer was a bit risky since I had never tried it before, but it was really good (the texture is oddly comparable to falafel) and I felt as though I was truly embracing the culture.  Our pies (mine was a seafood pie and he had a steak and ale pie) were deliciously comforting and really hit the spot after a day of golf in the rain.  The seafood pie, in particular, eluded flavor with salmon, cod, and shrimp mixed in with mashed potatoes.  Scran and Scallie is really the perfect place to indulge in local cuisine prepared beautifully in a fun atmosphere.

 

The walk back from Stockbridge was surprisingly easy and very pleasant.  The city feels very safe at night, and it is super cool to see all the sights and buildings lit up.  The famous hilltop castle that overlooks the city gleams brightly in a slightly eerie manner to the bopping crowd below.  Back at the hotel, my dad and I went to go check out Bar 1, 1 Square, and although my dad felt a little out-of-place, I found the Bar to be super trendy and cute.  They specialize in fancy schmancy gin and tonics (the hippest drink if there ever was one), as suppose to the traditional scotch collection that is found in most Scottish bars (more my dad’s cup of tea).

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Saturday was an early morning since there is so much to see and explore.  After a breakfast of Scottish smoked salmon (literally the best stuff ever) and black pudding (which is surprisingly delicious), I walked up castle hill which is a super cool walk to use my prepaid online ticket to Edinburgh Castle at 9:30.  On the way, there was a cute little farmer’s market that, if I was a local, I would totally be shopping at.  The castle is admittedly a tad touristy and you have to arrive right when it opens to beat the big buses, but it offers great views of the city and has a very interesting history.  I recommend going straight to the crown jewels exhibit since that line gets long very quickly and it’s probably one of the more impressive parts of the castle.  The castle takes about 2 hours, depending on the crowds, but you can totally condense it and choose to see less or more.

 

Tourist central of Edinburgh is the Royal Mile which you are fed directly into from the exit of the castle.  At first, the crowds are a little overwhelming but they filter out, and if you ignore all the street performers and touristy shops, the wide street is definitely worthwhile to walk down.  St. Giles Cathedral is a highlight and a must-see.  The Cathedral is huge and full of beautiful stain glass windows.  The tall blue ceiling is enough to take your breath away.  Farther down the mile, the crowds disperse and it’s fun to look around the admire the buildings and spirals.  The street finishes at the Holyrood Palace which is an official residence of the Queen.  It is fun to tour the palace and check out the old Holyrood Cathedral ruins since the place is rooted deeply in history.

 

After the mile, I, being a die-hard Harry Potter fan, wanted to check out some notable Harry Potter sites in the city, notably Victoria Street and the cafe where JK Rowling wrote the first couple books.  I grabbed a quick lunch at a little cafe and continued to venture across town back towards the castle, but, this time, instead of walking up the mile, I walked on the edge of old town which is bordered by a valley with the train station underneath.  The views from there are great and there is a park that lines the street.  Victoria Street is the most “aesthetic” street of Edinburgh and claims to be the most photographed.  It is also the street that JK Rowling based “Diagon Alley” after, and really looks like it is out of a movie.  The shops are super fun along the curved street too! I then made the pilgrimage to Elephant House which calls itself the “birthplace of Harry Potter” to take some pictures, and I also photographed “Tom Riddle’s grave” in the nearby Grey Friar’s graveyard (creepy I know).

 

By this time, it was already mid-afternoon, so I ventured over to New Town to walk around and shop.  A highlight of New Town is the Scott Monument and park, a huge gothic steeple that distinguishes itself from the Edinburgh skyline.  Dedicated to the author and thinker Sir Walter Scott, visitors have the ability to climb the monument which I opted not to do since I wanted to get over to the shops.  I enjoyed a couple of hours shopping at British and European shores (including Topshop, Zara, and Harvey Nichols, a fabulous British luxury department store) while also in search of a quilt, being the cliché tourist that I am.  Shopping around Edinburgh is delightful, and there is a surplus of great stores that are harder to find in the US.

 

For my second night in Edinburgh, I went to Wedgwood Restaurant which is a widely considered one of the best in the city complete with a Michelin star and four rosettes.  That being said, the restaurant is nice and simple with a modern atmosphere that isn’t at all stuffy.  The food is centered around local game and seafood with very Scottish ingredients prepared in an elevated manner.  I had a douglas fir smoked salmon dish and an interesting savory bread pudding which was to die for.  My dad had a seaweed vongole pasta starter which was very unique and venison with haggis for his entry.  The highlight of this special meal was the very sticky toffee pudding, a celebrated Scottish dessert and a must try for anyone traveling to Scotland.  Wedgwood is a great restaurant located conveniently on the Royal Mile where you really get to appreciate Scottish produce and fine cuisine.

 

That wrapped up my stay in Edinburgh as I had a 10 am flight the next day.  Overall, I found the city to be delightful and could have definitely spent another day there.  Alas, I was able to squeeze in a lot while I was there.  Highly recommend exploring this city for yourself, even if it is only for 48 hours.

7 Trendy Essentials for a Stylish Spring Break

Spring Break- otherwise known as escape week… to a sunny hot destination with a beach where you can relax, recuperate and get very sunburn (the inevitable).  To prepare for the beach, a destination for most spring breakers (especially college kids), here are 7 essentials to bring on vacation to ensure a great and stylish week.

  1. A favorite trendy and fun swimsuit
    • Swimsuit styles are all the rage this year with many brands branching out to create fun and different trendy styles.  One of the most popular brands is Solid and Stripe who are making a splash with their bold styles and cool vibe.  One-pieces are huge all of a sudden, along with high-waisted bottoms, ruffle tops and off-the-shoulder sleeves.
  2. The perfect beach-proof scandals
    • I absolutely love my Jack Roger Boat Jacks which are a casual take on the classic Jack Roger flip-flops.  The sandals are waterproof, super light and can easily muster sand and dirt.  They look super cute and can even be worn outside of the beach or pool.  For me, they are much better than the typical plastic flip-flops since they offer a dose of color and style to any beach get-up.
  3. A  stylish straw hat
    • The sun can be merciless, especially if you are not used to it (like me) which means that you need to protect yourself as much as possible.  A hat is a great way to protect your face and head from the sun while looking stylish and beachy.  Straw hats are super trendy and make for a much more enjoyable (hopefully sunburn-less) vacation.
  4. Salt spray for hair
    • I swear by Lush’s Sea Spray to keep my hair from looking too rattled at the beach.  The spray makes my hair have that beach wave look but helps keep it together.  I spray it on before spending a day at the beach to create texture and embrace the inevitable.  Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 8.59.19 PM
  5. An Insta-worthy pool float
    • Big colorful pool floats are taking over Instagram (you know, the pictures of blow up donuts and unicorns), and you can get them too from Sunny Life, an Australian lifestyle brand that sells all sorts of blown up shapes.  Who doesn’t want to relax on top of a blown up pineapple?

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      Yup, you’ve seen these, everywhere.  They are from SunnyLife.com and are amazing durable floats that make any pool (or beach) fun!

  6. A cute beach bag to carry everything
    • To go along with the straw trend, find a casual straw bag to carry everything to and from the beach.  A great bag is perfect for carrying water, sunscreen, magazines, books, sunglasses, and snacks, all things that are needed for a day out in the sun.  Look cute with a fun and colorful straw bag!
  7. The perfect casual coverup
    • To top off any beach look, the perfect cover-up is needed!  Solid and Stripe has some cute ones that double as casual wear.  I have a blue seersucker dress from them which is perfect for the beach.  Lilly Pulitzer has a great collection of brightly colored elaborate cover-ups which scream tropical paradise (it is Lilly!), and you can always covert an oversized tunic or casual dress into the perfect beach look!

A Foodie’s Guide to US Bank Stadium-Home of Super Bowl LII

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The glass walls of US Bank Stadium reflect the glistening Minneapolis skyline in the background while entrapping the sheer excitement of fans.  Even on a normal game day, the atmosphere is one of grandiose amazement.  I can only imagine what the stadium will be like on February 4th.

While the newly completed stadium is a sight to behold, the experience of attending a game is not second best.  Local eateries and chefs have put in a great deal of effort to curate to fans for the ultimate game day experience; one that is still overpriced, but one that will not make you feel like peeling over from eating too many crappy nachos at the end of the game.  One thing is certain, the stadium and the NFL will be pulling out all the stops for the big game.

Most older stadiums tend to serve only overpriced deep-fried American “classics” which don’t always settle well in the stomach.  While chicken fingers and nachos are typical, and they are available at US Bank, most of the food in the stadium is thankfully pretty gourmet and tasty.  With changing eating habits and an emphasis on healthier foods, American fans are sick of the classic hot dog and beer combo.  Celebrity chef and Minneapolis native Andrew Zimmern, who is revolutionizing game-day food through his successful restaurant stands in Minnesota stadiums, said that “People expect better food these days” and “We put our best foot forward, not despite the fact that it’s a stadium, but because it’s a stadium” (The Star Tribune). It’s true.  The food is still overpriced, but I know that I’m personally much more willing to pay more for something that I’d actually like than something that I’d never eat out of a stadium.

Here are some of the best foods found at US Bank Stadium.

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The roasted chicken sandwich at AZ Canteen.  This booth is one of Zimmern’s ventures and serves up many different carnivorous options that are sure to delight any meat lover.  The chicken was juicy and tender while tasting great with cajun spices.

 

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Smoky Chicken Nachos from Twin Cities Foodie.  These serve as an upgrade to the fake cheesy classic nachos that seem to have embedded themselves into stadium fare.  They are spicy but flavorful.

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Fried Chicken Sandwich from Revival.  I guess that chicken seems to be a common theme, but it is so good at the Stadium.  Revival is a popular Minneapolis-based southern fried chicken restaurant that has transferred their well-known chicken sandwiches to the football stadium.  This was my favorite as the fried chicken was paired perfectly with mayonnaise, tomatoes, and pickles.  Also available in Tennesse-style hot (tasty but a challenge to finish).  Delicious!

 

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Frozen Hot Chocolate from AZ Canteen.  This unconventional desert is a must try for a chocolate lover.  I would describe it as a frozen chocolate mousse paired with white chocolate covered cereal on top.  It is sort of like ice cream, but better than what stadium ice cream is usually like.

 

 

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Bomboloni from AZ Canteen.  Ok, this canteen place is really good.  I feel like anything there would be worth a try.  Before the game, my family shared these beignet-like donut holes for breakfast.  They are just as good as they look and sound!

Overall, the best places…

  • AZ Canteen:  Gourmet meat sandwiches and bbq along with unique desserts and drinks.
  • Revival Fried Chicken:  Fried chicken exemplar, enough said.
  • Minneapolis Foodie:  Focuses on gourmat food options that are targeted to more sophisticated fans.
  • 612 Burger Kitchen:  A classic burger stand serving well-made burgers with fries and tots.
  • Curds ‘N Cakes:  If you really want to pig out, indulge in some fabulous beer battered cheese curds.

Find out more here

 

Inside the Newest, Most Insta-worthy Twin Cities Coffee Shop- Cafe Astoria

Not even established enough to have its own website, Cafe Astoria sits at an unassuming street corner, across from a hospital on St. Paul’s Grand Ave.  However, Cafe Astoria isn’t your typical independent neighborhood coffee shop that tends to inspire the basic minimalistic cup of a Millenial’s dream.  The coffee, which is the farthest thing from minimalistic, is attracting people from all over the cities (particularly teenaged and young adult girls) with its golden, rainbow, over the top creations that scream “I have to post this on my Instagram story!”.

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The café opened this past spring, intending on becoming just a small local shop for the downtown St. Paul neighborhood.  When pictures of the coffee started to surface on social media, everyone started to head to St. Paul to check out the hype.  The place is perfectly made for social media, and from a marketing standpoint, platforms, such as Instagram, have worked wonders for the shop, skyrocketing its popularity while continuing to curate towards the internet.  They have already needed to expand the shop to fit the overflow of customers.  Cafe Astoria has a typical menu of artisan drinks, both cold and hot, but then, there is the secret menu which contains creations such as the 24K Gold Latte, the Campfire Mocha, the Rainbow Matcha Latte, the Crême Brulé Latte, and the Rainbow Mint Mocha.  All amazingly beautiful; it is difficult to take the first couple sips of the drinks out of sheer fear of messing up the designs.  However, the taste of the coffee and the subtle sweetness allow for a very enjoyable experience.

  • Rainbow Matcha Latte: A nice sweet mix of warm green tea and milk.  The colors of the rainbow drinks change every day, so one day the drink could be blue like mine and pink the next day.  Either way, they are beautiful and unique.

  • Campfire Mocha:  Just imagine a s’mores turned coffee and you have a Campfire Mocha!  Great for chocolate lovers and anyone craving something fun and sweet.  Just look at that giant marshmallow!

  • 24K Gold Latte: A wonder to behold.  I mean who doesn’t want to drink eatable gold leafs?  Boujee and beautiful, the 24K Gold Latte is what made Cafe Astoria into what it has become.

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Coffee aside, Cafe Astoria has a great insta-worthy and trendy menu that is perfect for both breakfast and lunch.  The signature smoothie bowls are swoon-worthy art-pieces full of fruit, seeds, and great flavors.  Healthy and delicious, they have 4 different kinds ranging from “Beehive” to “Berry Berry”.  In addition, the café offers both savory and sweet crêpes which truly makes the place feel like a modern Parisian café.  They are very simple but definitely hit the spot for a quick meal.  There are also homemade pastries, including great scones, as well as sandwiches and an elaborate list of funky oatmeals.

  • Smoothie Bowls:  Full of fresh ingredients and nutrients, these bowls are just as pretty as the coffee at Café Astoria.  The super trendy health craze is thanks to a lot of Cafe Astoria’s popularity (other than the coffee) since people are clamoring to try the newfound smoothie bowl concept.
  • Crêpes:  Try classics such as banana with Nutella or any of the delicious savory sandwich-like options.  Make the trip down to St. Paul to relax, drink a fancy-schmancy coffee, eat a crêpe and a smoothie (if you really want to go all out), and enjoy.  Instagram crazy or not, either way, Cafe Astoria is a greatly enjoyable experience where the visible appeal of the food is just as important as the taste.


 Address: 180 Grand Ave
Saint Paul, Minnesota 55102

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CafeAstoriaSaintPaul

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Exploring London Part 3: What to eat

Here I am, at the last stage of sharing my trip to London, and lamenting the fact that it is already October.  Personally, I believe that London food is very underrated.  I question why it has a bad rap when I look at the amazing diversity of quality food and restaurants the metropolis has to offer.  Seriously, why does everyone roast British food when it holds the distinction of creating Fish and Chips and Afternoon Tea Time, two of the most amazing things ever invented, among other classic additions to culinary culture (Beef Wellington anyone?).

Being a mega european financial center, giant tourist destination, and mecca for performing and fine arts, London has a vast array of great restaurant options.  You can practically find anything you want in the city.  This being said, it might be hard finding places that truly capture the local culture of the city.  I did extensive research to find restaurants that were unique and original British eats.  Below are some suggestions on what and where to eat while visiting the amazing city.

Breakfast:

  • Duck and Waffle (In the Heron Tower): There is nothing quite like eating a fabulous brunch on top of a skyscraper while gazing out at the city of London through transparent glass walls.  From the moment that you are whisked into a restaurant owned glass elevator, you know you are about to have a one of a kind breakfast.  Be amazed at the view while you enjoy freshly prepared unique breakfast food.
  • The food ranges from a traditional scrumptious english breakfast to a spicy ox stuffed donut.  The donut is a most try.
  • The Greek yogurt was some of the best I have ever tried.  I had the honey one which was coated with honey comb along with other sugary sweets.  The pastry board was a worthwhile starter.
  • The view from the restaurant.  Be prepared to be amazed.

Tea:

  • While a lot of hotels offer fine afternoon teas, it is always fun to try something a little out of the ordinary.  I am personally convinced that tea time is the greatest invention by man, so for me, I will enjoy anything with the name tea in it.  However, if the stuffy tradition is not your forte, an unconventional choice such as the Mad Hatter’s Tea is a fun way to enjoy the english specialty.  Located in the avant-garde Sanderson Hotel’s courtyard, you will truly feel like you fell down the rabbit hole upon entering the vicinity.
  • The fun interior of the Sanderson, which makes it a very subtable location to host an Alice in Wonderland themed tea.
  • The tea leafs are presented in little flasks to help you smell what tea you want before ordering.  The flavors are very flavorful and unique.  Brought to you on a tier, the little candies and desserts are shaped into fun themed items such as mushrooms and hearts.
  • The tier also has the cute little savory bits and the “drink me” potion, a tiny sweet strawberry purée and marshmallow drink that looks as trips as it sounds.  Fresh scones accompany the tea with the traditional pairings of preserves and clotted cream.
  • As a special endings to the tea, you are given a flower pot filled with chocolate mousse and edible “dirt”.  Also pictured is the teapot that the tea comes in.

Lunch:

  • Because of my hectic nature and desire to see a lot in a limited time, I didn’t really have actual scheduled lunches while in London.  Instead, I ate at “pit-stop” like places while shopping which included places in the food halls of two great department stores.  In London, the department stores take selling food to a whole new level with in store cafés, and freshly prepared to-go items.
  • Fortum and Mason has a great little place nestled in the back of their famous food hall.  You overlooks the aisles of tea and delicacies while enjoying classic British dishes such as gravlax smoked salmon, scotch eggs and welsh rarebit.  The place is perfect for a quick comfortable eat while in the middle of hustling and bustling around the crazy high streets.
  • The food halls in Harrods are known world wide to be immense and extravagant. They are also very convenient if you need a quick pick me up while roaming the overwhelming collection of clothes the store has in stock.  I got a smoke salmon and cream cheese “pillow” and a roast beef and cabbage salad to go, along with multiple elder flower sparkling cordials.  It is a super easy delicious place to grab gourmet food on the go.

Before dinner drinks/bar:

  • The Shard is the tallest building in western Europe while being a architectural wonder to the London skyline.  There are many restaurants in the building, in addition to a luxury hotel.  There is also a high end bar near the top of the building that provides some of the best views of the city.  The gourmet cocktails are all designed to represent a famous movie director and their movies.  There is a Harry Potter cocktail for David Yates, along with two floating neon colored Star Wars ones for George Lucas.  It is fun to check out all the funky creations while enjoying the breathtaking view of London from up high.

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  • The Wingardium Leviosa from the Director’s Bar.

Dinner:

Amaya- An Indian Restaurant

  • Due to the heavy influence of Indian culture in England, London plays host to some of the best Indian food outside of India itself.  Everywhere you look there are different types of Indian restaurants, and you really cannot go wrong.  It just depends what you are looking for.  The Indian place that I went visited this time was a very contemporary fine dinning place called Amaya.  It is the sort of place where the Indian community goes for special occasions, and locals and tourist go to experience a high level of Indian cuisine.  The dishes are not totally what you expect from an Indian restaurant, but every dish is extremely tasty and beautifully prepared in the visible kitchen.  The atmosphere is dark and chic, making pictures slightly difficult…
  • Freshly prepared paneer (Indian cheese) with seasoning and a ton of flavor.  A traditional Indian dessert that was simply amazing.
  • Smooth and creamy grilled goat cheese with pomegranate purée.  Deliciously prepared grilled oysters in a creamy curry sauce.
  • Naan (otherwise known as the best bread ever) comes with a beautiful selection of curries and sauces.  A plain yogurt Lassi which is a delicious sweet drink.  At Amaya, it comes with eatable flowers on top.
  • It should also be known that Amaya had literally the best Biryani I have ever had.  It came with a sweet yogurt pomegranate sauce, and it literally melted in my mouth.

Bellamy’s- A classic French, with British influences, bistro

  • Bellamy’s is a small local bistro that echoes a traditional Parisian fine dining experience.  Very popular with the locals, it is a simple place that serves very well prepared traditional fare in a classic old-time setting.  The place also takes on the claim to fame of being the Queen’s favorite restaurant.  It’s easy to see why since it’s a bit hidden and out of the way.  This is a place where people dress up nicely for a good solid meal.  It was really refreshing to see everyone in semi-formal clothes and suits to enjoy dinner, something that is unfortunately hard to come by in America.
  • The dimly lit interior of the restaurant echoes an old-time feel with pictures of movie stars, and classic french posters.  A simple but divine split pea soup.
  • I chose to eat a classic meal of oysters and foie gras.  Both were excellent with the oysters being very fresh, and the foie gras being paired with apricots and great bread.

Harwood Arms

  • I had an amazing experience at Harwood Arms, a gastropub located in the quite residential neighborhood of Fulham.  Again, this is clearly a place that locals know of and cherish.  The place is very unassuming, being located in a cute little blue building, and having a very British pub like interior.  However, Harwood Arms is the only pub in London to hold a Michelin star, a premier distinction that guarantees a special dining experience.  The atmosphere is different, but it is very refreshing to experience high quality food in a classic casually British atmosphere.  What is more, the pub distinction makes for a more reasonably priced Michelin starred experience than most restaurants that share that distinction.
  •  As you can see, the atmosphere is very open and welcoming.  As bread, the Harwood Arms serves homemade Irish soda bread with gourmet butter that is to die for.  It’s a great start to dinner.
  • I personally adore Scotch eggs in general, but the venison one at the Harwood Arms was one of the best things I have ever eaten.  If you go here, make sure you order one as a pre-starter.  It will seriously change your life.
  • The bar is very eclectic at the Harwood Arms with a big buffalo head perched up on the wall beside it.  For an appetizer, I had the trout tartare which was brilliantly prepared with vibrant colors.  It tasted amazing.

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  • One of the desserts that I tried.  It was a brown bread ice cream with scotch whisky jelly and raspberry.  It sounded very weird, so naturally I had to give it a shot.  It was surprisingly delicious, and it kind of tasted like bread pudding in ice cream form.
  • Another dessert that was simply amazing.  I had the lemon curd filled donut holes with earl grey cream, enough said.  For my entrée, I had the pork belly which was covered with bacon marmalade and apple.  It had to have been the best pork I have ever tried; prepared to perfection and extremely tender.
  • I also tried the beet salad with goat cheese which tasted like summer, and the Cornish sole which was tasty and light.

Well, there’s that!  All the great places I ate at in London.  I hope you enjoyed this guide full of great suggestions from the British capital.

  • Duck and Waffle: https://duckandwaffle.com
  • Mad Hatter’s Tea: https://www.morganshotelgroup.com/originals/originals-sanderson-london/eat-drink/mad-hatters-afternoon-tea
  • The Shard: https://www.the-shard.com/restaurants/
  • Harrods: https://www.harrods.com/en-gb
  • Fortnum and Mason: http://fortnumandmason.com
  • Amaya: http://www.amaya.biz
  • http://www.bellamysrestaurant.co.uk
  • Harwood Arms: http://www.harwoodarms.com

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Exploring London- Part 2, When/Where to Shop

Hello again!  Yes, I love shopping, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that I spent a lot of time while in London exploring the famous department stores and street side boutiques.  I happened to be in London during their bi-annual sales week which occurs towards the end of June.  That being said, pretty much every store had a large selection of clothes 50% off and more.  Department stores, such as Harrods, went all out.  The annual Harrods sale is the only one they have a year, meaning that yes, the place is mobbed, but they dedicate a whole floor to sale items, along with sales up and down the rows of designer collections making it well worth the visit.

This might just sound like heaven in a shopper’s paradise, and it pretty much is.  However, I knew that the sales would draw crowds to prime shopping areas near my hotel in Knightsbridge.  It was true, and I definitely noticed more people on Saturday than Friday, but I took advantage of the limited shoppers on Friday and shopped all over the city.  Below, I have compiled a list of my favorite, along with the best shopping that I experience while I spent time in London this summer in celebration of London Fall Fashion Week starting this weekend.

  • Liberty’s and Regent Street
    • Liberty’s was my personal favorite.  The building itself is charming and perfectly reflects British culture.  Although known for its famous prints,   Liberty has a great collection of mid to high range British designers out of London.  The sale there was particularly good with an entire floor half off.  They also have an array of home goods and decor.
    • Regent Street is very popular for mid to high price range chain stores.  It can get very crowded, however.
  • Bond Street and Burlington Arcade
    • A little window shopping never killed anybody, and this rings true to this glitzy area.  Bond Street is home to flagship stores of both British and international Haute Couture houses.  The well-heeled crowd is fun to watch, and who says you cannot have a look around.  I personally love doing that, in order to find inspirational from my dreams.
    • The Arcade is famous for its jewelry and watch displays, and it is worth a visit to experience the quaint yet grande architecture that fills the narrow strip.  There is also a Ladurée shop at the end which sells divine macaroons that do actually live up to their hype.
  • Fortum and Mason IMG_7704
    • Very close to the high streets of Mayfair, Fortum and Mason is a food haven.  The department store specializes in delicacies, and has an immense display of speciality tea.  I’ll admit it, I’m a tea snob, so their food hall was paradise for me.  I had stopped here to grab lunch at their great café, and ended up spending over an hour such gazing at all the delicious preserves, candies, and groceries that they had.  In addition, I smelled and tested every kind of tea until I had them package a special one for me.  An amazing experience if you are into food shopping.
  • Harrods and Brompton Road
    • Probably the most famous department store in the world, Harrods doesn’t disappoint.  The massive over the top fashion mecca is stocked full with any high end designer and fashion house possible, along with middle market British brands, cosmetics, jewelry, and accessories.  The food halls are a whole other story with each room filled to the brim with different gourmet produces. They actually have a lot of decent take out options that can be eaten on the go (my hotel was right near by, so it was super convenient to grab food here), in addition to sit down places.  On this particular trip, I visited Harrods twice for multiple hours at a time, and I still didn’t feel like I saw close to the whole thing, but the size is amazing to gawk at!  Tip: go early in the morning and not on the weekend, when the tourist haven’t arrived yet.  It might still be crowded,  but the crowd will be either locals or actual interested shoppers, making the experience more authentic.
    • Brompton Road surrounds Harrods, and hosts large flagship stores and British chains.  There’s a huge Zara and Topshop for fast fashion fans, in addition to a flagship Burberry, Ted Baker London, and All Saints.
  • Sloane Street and BelgraviaIMG_7961
    • Another area that is optimal for window shopping; Sloane street is adjacent to Brompton Road and is lined with designer labels.  Harvey Nichols is another department store that calls Sloane Street home, and while I heard it is worth while, I didn’t get the opportunity to explore it on my trip.  Alas, something to look forward to for my next visit.
    • Right near that, there are a handful of side streets in Belgravia that have a lot of local ateliers and boutiques that are super fascinating to go into.  I was amazed by the fact that these tiny unassuming store fronts could produce masterpieces with fabric.

It seems like I cannot get enough of British fashion, and I couldn’t help to love everywhere I shopped in London.  I hope this guide’s helpful for fellow fashionistas!

Exploring London- Part 1: What to see

Hello world!  I write to you from my dorm room in upstate New York relishing this brief period of free time that I currently have.  School has been going well, but more on that later.  Right now, I’m reminiscing on the amazing summer that just “ended” yesterday.  One of the highlights from my last high school summer included a once in a life time trip to London.  My grandparents took my brother and I on a 7 day journey across the Atlantic from New York to Southampton, England on the world-renown ocean linear, the RMS Queen Mary 2.  The voyage was a super relaxing and fun opportunity, but, for me, the anticipation to arrive back in my favorite city made me so excited to get to England.

I had been to London once before when I was younger, and my lasting impression of it was that we did not spend even close to enough time there.  This time around, I had the same feeling of un-satisfaction that I had the first time I visited the city.  I don’t know what it is about London, but it sure is a hard place to leave even with its infamous cool dreary weather.  It might be the lively atmosphere, or the enduring charm of the storybook buildings, or, better yet, the quirky, yet attractive culture of tradition mixed with modern sensitivity.  If you cannot tell, I love London, and, because of that, I will be sharing tips and suggestion from my trip in a three-part series while I desperately try to grasp onto the last glimpses of summer.  It might take a while since I’m still trying to adjust to my new surroundings, but I hope to continue writing while in college.

When I arrived in June after a 2 hour drive through rolling hills of green, the city was a sweating thermos.  Supposedly, the day before we arrived, the temperatures were the highest they had been in 40 years.  Who knew we’d be complaining about the heat in London (of all places)?  Still, we took advantage of the dog days of summer by walking around the bustling streets, and sipping away at delicious elderflower cordials from Harrods (a refreshing must try).

 

 

Walking the London streets has to be one of my favorite feelings.  I probably looked like an idiot while I observed the walls, doors and iron work of the buildings, but, believe me, there was no way to prevent myself.  Even though I was there for only 5 days or so, I made a habit of strolling around in the morning.  I swear by the steps on my Fitbit, and it gave me much satisfaction to see myself easily crushing my 10,000 step goal early in the day.  Between the quaint residential streets, and the majestic parks such as Hyde Park, there are plenty of fabulous places to explore.  I highly recommend taking some time to observe the wonderful London surroundings when visiting the city.

 

 

The museum scene in London is rich with plenty of unique options ranging from culture, history, art, and science.  This time around, I visited the Imperial War Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Both were extremely well done and insightful.  The War Museum has an amazing interactive exhibit on World War 1 that walks you through the details of the war from the start to armistice day.  There are many more exhibits throughout the museum, but I didn’t get the chance to explore due to the sheer amount of time it took to get through one massive exhibit.  The V and A is a classic London museum that plays host to an immense collection of 3D art and design; all preserved in an old beautiful Neoclassical building.  The renaissance tapestries and ancient sculpture galleries are wonders to behold, and I loved the British fashion history exhibit which showcases important work from both english and european designers throughout history.

 

You of course have to go see a show in London!  There are plenty of broadway-esque shows playing in the west end theater district which are fabulous to see, but a lesser known secret is Shakespeare’s Globe on the south bank.  The theater is a complete replica of the original with cheap standing room seats, basic scenery and balconies.  The vibe is super fun, and the theater does a great job showing adaptations that appeal to younger audiences.  I attended a performance of Romeo and Juliet which was super well done despite it being unconventional.

 

My favorite day in London was spent at the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio which is located right outside of London.  Being a crazy Harry Potter fan, I felt overwhelmed being on all the sets of my favorite movies.  The tour is quite intensive, carrying you through multiple sets, both inside and out, and takes about 3 hours to complete.  One big highlight is the butter beer that is available for purchase midway through the tour.  They also have butter beer ice cream that I highly recommend as a way to cool off on a steamy summer day.

Suggestion:  If you go visit Warner Bros studio, take the train from Euston station to Watford, a suburb about 20 miles outside of London.  It’s fairly cheap and fast compared to a taxi.  Once you arrive in Watford, shuttles will take you directly to the exhibit.  For more details visit https://www.wbstudiotour.co.uk/getting-here.

 

 

Alright, next time, which hopefully will be a little bit sooner now that I’m starting to get the hang of this college thing, I’ll write about my shopping experiences and London fashion.  Stay tuned!

 

My recent adventures- Singapore

Hey everyone!  As promised, I’m back to share insight from my recent trips.  Over Spring Break, I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel to Singapore as part of a school trip.  It was an amazing experience, and it marked the first time that I’d traveled to Asia.  Singapore is a very unique place, even for Asia since it’s considered a true melting pot of cultures.  It’s sort of like the USA in that there is a huge range of ethnicities and cuisine.  However, unlike America, its culture is very distinct.  The city (which makes up the whole country) is by far the cleanest place that I’ve very visited.  It might come to a shock at first to find out that chewing gum is illegal, but as soon as you hit the streets, you’ll realize the immense impact of the intense ban.  Everything is spotless and crisp, making it a very refreshing place to travel to.  Here, I’ve complied a list of great things to enjoy in Singapore from my experience.

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This was the view from the Marina Mandarin hotel (the hotel I stayed in).  

Please take time to admire the view- The architecture is incredible as the city truly combines old, new, and futuristic together.  The bay, marina, and skyline are all worthwhile to gaze at.  Many hotels offer views, and the famous Boat Hotel (Marina Bay Sands Hotel) has an observation desk that will blow you away.

 

 


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Go to the Merlion park- The mythical merlon figure is the official symbol of Singapore.  One of the most popular places to visit is a park that has a huge sculpture of a Merlion.  It happens to be the most photographed picture in the city, if that tells you anything about it’s importance.  It’s worth visiting just for a picture.  You can even take a historical bum boat to the park which is a ton of fun!

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Raffles Hotel- This famous hotel was the spot of the first european settlement in Singapore.  It is named after the country’s colonial founder, Sir Stamford Raffles.  The hotel also marks the spot where the Singapore Sling cocktail was invented, among other claim to fames.  The hotel operates as a luxury hotel today, and visitors are welcome for pictures.

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Take a street tour on a traditional trishaw- The streets of Singapore are extremely fascinating.  Everything is so colorful, vivid, and lively.  There is no better way than to tour them then on a trishaw.  The most well known tour is the Trishaw Uncle co.  The uncles are super fun, and really embrace the friendly nature of Singaporean culture.  They play music, crack jokes, and show you around the city they love.

 

 

 

The Singapore Zoo- Thanks to major conservation efforts and state of the art enclosures, the Singapore Zoo has become world renowned.  It’s massive, and believe me, kids and adults alike will enjoy it.  Many exhibits are in open spaces where the animals can roam around without an enclosure.  At night, you can take a safari ride through a separate park showing nocturnal animals.

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The light show at Gardens by the Bay

Gardens by the Bay- This massive park is a wonder to behold filled with futuristic super trees and enclosed landscapes.  You can climb up and around the trees to gaze out at the city, in addition to taking in a magnificent light spectacle at night complete with dinosaurs and music.  Fun fact; the Super Trees are powered by solar electricity, representing the many ways that Singapore is committed to sustainability.

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The fabulous super trees

 

 

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The Orchid garden at the National Botanical gardens- This garden holds one of the best collections of unique and rare orchids in the world.  Orchids, which are native to Southeast Asia, are the national flower of Singapore.  The garden showcases that in an amazing display with some of the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen.

 

Chinatown- One of the many examples of culture displayed in Singapore is the extensive village of Chinatown.  It is full of street bazaars and temples.  The Buddhist temple, located in the heart of the area, is gorgeously decked out in gold and red hues.  It is a great place to visit and learn more about the world’s religions.

 

Hawker’s Markets- These elaborate yet cheap food halls are full of various local and international flavors.  Take some time to look around the many choices of food at the different stalls.  Chicken rice, the national dish, is located at pretty much every one.  This is worth the try, although it wasn’t my favorite due to the fact that I’m not big on chicken.

 

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A dessert of shaved ice, coconut cream, and fruit found at a Hawker’s stand

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Delicious native fruit of Singapore. I loved trying these exotic produces.

Singapore is an amazing place to check out, even if your just stopping through.  I loved the culture and class of the place, making everything super pleasant.  The food is exotic, the architecture unique, the people friendly, and, did I mention, english is the national language, making travel simpler and stressless for American tourists.