A Year in London (#1)

Maybe you’d never think to compare London and Florida, but they have something in common: they both feel like places where magic dwells. London has that historic, industrial edge; Florida has its swamps, its storms, the encroaching ocean. Magic. Maybe that’s why people always get drawn back.

I’m a few weeks into my second semester in London, and I’ve been putting off this post. It’s so much easier to write about a place when you’re just passing through. Where to start?

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Is the weather as dreary as they say? Yes, but it doesn’t rain as often as you’d think, and when it does, it’s rarely more than a drizzle. After you’ve been through Florida’s rainy seasons and a hurricane or two, London’s weather doesn’t faze you.

Is it as diverse as people claim? Yes! TV & film tend to portray London – and the UK in general – as a place that’s mostly white, but it’s really not.

Is it as exciting as they say? Absolutely. There’s always a show to see, an event to attend, a new restaurant to try. I got to experience my first Bonfire Night and Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park, among other things.

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a walk down brick lane

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If you want to have a quiet stroll, going at your own pace and taking time to look around at all the little details — stay far away from Brick Lane on Sunday.

If you want bustle, color, variety, and noise, then there’s no better time to visit Brick Lane than a Sunday, when numerous street markets set up shop along its length, and hordes of clamoring people flood into the narrow road.

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Bonfire Night 2016; Fireworks in East London

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Bonfire Night in London is an extravagant affair. Upwards of twenty different fireworks displays are put on over the course of the weekend, many of them accompanied by fairs and music. Others skip the fireworks in favor of flares, donning Guy Fawkes masks and joining the annual Million Mask March against capitalism and corporate greed. News and social media streams end up with a disorienting mix of images: cheery, colorful fireworks alongside eerie shots of masked protesters silhouetted against smoky lights.

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a little indulgence

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I just had the prettiest cup of hot chocolate I’ve ever experienced in my life, and I had to share. If you’re in London, get thee to Dark Sugars on Brick Lane straight away.

You can’t tell from the pic, because the chocolate had already started to melt by the time we sat down for a photo session, but they put a literal mountain of chocolate shavings in your cup. As it melts into the hot milk & water, you end up with a rich, textured, filling drink, perfect for a damp and dark London afternoon.

I don’t believe they have wifi, but luckily I didn’t need it to get some writing done. But, fellow chocolate lovers, beware: Dark Sugars also sells individual chocolates and truffles, displayed beautifully in large open bowls. With a range of unique flavors and styles, you’ll be hard-pressed not to fill up a plastic baggie to bursting, which will get pricey.

But… worth it? Quite possibly. I stuck with the hot chocolate, drank every last drop, and by the end was so full I couldn’t even look at the truffles on the way out. I’ll be making a return trip for sure, though, and then? We’ll see how my wallet fares.

yes, you do need travel insurance, and here’s why

screen-shot-2016-10-30-at-3-58-57-pmI was a travel insurance skeptic, but I’m also a naturally cautious person. That’s why, when I decided to embark on my 3-month backpacking trip through southeast Asia, I took the recommendation of some big-name travel bloggers & signed up for World Nomads insurance.

Best. Decision. Ever.

My insurance for the whole trip cost about $260. That investment saved me $2500.

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a day in notting hill

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-11-09-58-pmBeing a full-time student doesn’t leave many opportunities for touring around the city, even when that city is London, which seems to have something exciting happening around every corner. I took advantage of a free day, though — no classes, no work that couldn’t be put off until tomorrow, no other commitments — and checked off one of the many items on my London bucket list.

Although you’d never guess just from looking at it, Notting Hill is the site of one of the world’s biggest street festivals once a year, an antiques & fashion market each Saturday, and the filming of a famous movie (you know the one). There’s much more to this charming little neighborhood of pastel-colored townhouses and cute shops than meets the eye.

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4 Days in Kyoto + 1 Day in Osaka

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-9-04-51-pmI miss Kyoto intimately — not in the way you miss a place, but in the way you miss a good dream the moment you wake up and feel yourself forgetting it.

Compared to the rest of the world, Kyoto seems to exist on an elevated level of beauty. It’s not only the way it looks, but also the way it feels — or maybe that was just the magic of autumn leaves, the chilly prelude to winter in the air.

Kyoto is a medium-sized city, filled with all the shopping streets, food options, and conveniences that come with the territory. It’s also retained its historical and cultural aesthetic, though — mostly because of the temples. Temples and shrines are everywhere; there are over 1600 in the city. You can literally* walk in any direction and you’ll bump into a temple eventually.

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-9-03-27-pmThis city seems to have the best of both worlds — it’s modern and decidedly urban, but boasts plenty of green spaces, walking paths, beautiful architecture, and easy access to nature.

Did I mention that I miss it? I’m still not over Kyoto’s autumn. The colors. I swoon just thinking about it.

But since I won’t be getting anywhere near Kyoto for a long, long time, I’ll have to settle for reliving it via blogging.

Here’s what my itinerary looked like:

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You Can Always Go Home

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One thing traveling has taught me, above all else, is that no matter how old I get I’ll never stop needing my mom.

I’m a fairly independent person. I left home for college at 18, and for the next five years, I never spent more than two or three consecutive months in my parents’ house. I’d visit on occasional weekends, and I’d spend most summers there. Then, when I went to Korea, I didn’t see my family in person for a year and three months.

In between my return from Korea and my recent departure to grad school, though, I moved back home and lived there again full-time, for eight solid months. Leaving after that was harder than ever. As you get older, you start to be more appreciative of time with your family, and you start to realize how special it is, in a way you didn’t when you were a teenager eagerly fleeing home for the glamor of university.

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Buddha, Blossoms & Miracles: 3 Not-to-Be-Missed South Korean Festivals

During my time in Korea, it seemed like not a week went by unmarked with a celebration or holiday of some kind. Or maybe I felt that way because everything was new and exciting; every event was a chance to learn something or make amazing memories.

Festivals in particular are a special experience. They’re vibrant, exciting, and fun — but if you take the time to research the history and context behind them, you often wind up with a better understanding of a place and its people.

So here’s a quick overview of three iconic Korean festivals, each well worth experiencing if you ever have the chance:

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