As much as I love London, there is a large part of me that still longs to explore more of the United Kingdom. While daydreaming about my upcoming trip, I asked Alex for some good suggestions for a day trip, and the literary nerd in me was thrilled when the prospect of Oxford finally became a reality.

Every street in Oxford is beautiful, charming, unique and worthy of having its portrait painted. Alex and Megan and I arrived mid-day, making our first stop, my most anticipated: The Eagle and Child. This pub is where C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien named themselves the 'Inklings,' and encouraged each others' works of art in writing. The place is still a frequented spot by locals and tourists alike, and it was just like any other pub I'd been to in England. Not to say it was a let down, it most certainly wasn't. The food was great and I drank the first beer I'd had in two years here: the best. It was a little more comforting to know that this was just as if me and my friends were discussing my life's work over a table at a favorite coffee shop or some great Italian chain restaurant we love. 

After lunch we walked through the university, gaping at every angle, gawking at those on campus who were just going about their daily business as if being in a place like this were normal... We headed into the School of Divinity, a place Alex prefaced as one of her favorites in Oxford. I walked in and was immediately struck with a familiarity I couldn't place, but finally realized with complete assurance that this was the filming location for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire's dance lesson scene with Professor McGonagall. I turned a corner and, low and behold, my suspicion was correct: a poster telling just that fact with production shots from the movie.

The room was heavenly, the ceiling carved with such impeccable skill, the light streaming in the windows and the glass distorting the ancient buildings around the school. No idea how I would have ever concentrated on any classes if I'd been a student. Too much architectural distraction.

We continued to see idyllic scene after scene as we moseyed around the university. We made a visit to the university church, where C.S. Lewis first delivered 'The Weight of Glory' in 1941 to a congregation of future Oxford alumni. Several other notable speakers have preached there, but let's be honest. We were there for Lewis.

Alex led us to a little shop hidden on a backstreet called Objects of Use, where we perused a carefully curated group of items that were both practical and pretty. Ceramics, fairly expensive everyday sundry items like matchboxes and rolling pins. It's worth a visit for the visuals alone: the place is very well done. 

Because no trip is complete without some sort of garden, we visited Oxford Botanic Garden, which housed some of the best greenhouses and wildflower mixes I'd yet seen. We walked (sometimes barefoot) through the beds, picked our way through the greenhouses and I geeked out at all the insectivores. The true Pokémon, I guess.

We kept walking and taking in the beauty of the forgotten backstreets, finding our way to Chiang Mai Kitchen, because I can never eat enough Thai food and others like me being there as an excuse to try some exotic cuisines. The curries and coconut soup we ordered were incredible, and I glimpsed a whiteboard completely covered in Thai script as we left the little alley that hosted the dive.

This place transported me back in time and out of time to a year when I was a student at Oxford. I lived in a beautiful old row house and spent my time in between classes eating Thai food in back alley ways and biking over cobbled streets to class. Also I sat in fields of grass and took the bus across town for Ben's Cookies and bookstore shopping.


Back in February, one of my closest friends in the world came and visited me in Chiang Mai. Alex has been living in Reigate, Surrey for a couple years herself, and since I was already crossing a couple oceans to return to America, I decided to stop and chill with her for a few days. Let me tell you: one of the best travel decisions I've made. From the moment she met me at the airport, this gem showered me with hospitality, welcoming my frantic and jet-leggy self, listening to me rant on and on about Thailand and willing to do touristy things again and again because I'd only be in town for a hot second.

Spending time at her place was heavenly. The light in her and Jana's apartment ALONE was enough to make me never want to leave. Jana has plans to be in England for a little longer, so she had invested in making the place look homey and downright beautiful. The two of them grow herbs in their front yard, fill the flower beds with lavender and their flat looks like something out of a Hugh Grant movie.

Speaking of lavender, the second day that I was in town we headed to Mayfield Lavender Farm, an incredible farm filled with purple. We walked and took photos and I enjoyed the (to me) freezing breeze. There were bees everywhere, so I conquered some fears walking in and out of the rows of lavender blooms. We ate fairy cupcakes and drank lavender lemonade at the café before leaving. Never have I visited a farm so visually stunning. 

On the first full day, Alex, Jana, Fairlight and I visited Hever Castle. I'd never before explored a castle, and Anne Boleyn's childhood home didn't disappoint. The grounds were lovely, gardens and floral displays out the wazoo. The exhibits themselves were fascinating, centering on Henrys and Annes and Catherines and Katherines. The history of this place really was astounding. 

After a delicious Indian lunch of chicken Korma (sorry, not sorry), we finished up castle-wandering with a bout through a hedge maze, another new phenomenon. The center of the maze was a simple obelisk, but finding it was really the prize, this was no easy maze. Some of the dead ends weren't quite dead ends, and you totally could have squeezed through a few of the rows if you tried hard enough.


We barely had two days in Budapest. I can say with full confidence that though we did have a blast and fall in love with this place, our time here was not nearly enough to fully experience Budapest. Maybe it was the cold that kept us ducking into shops and speedily taking pictures before finding a warm spot, but our lovely time here only makes me want to visit again in the spring.

When we arrived (on a flight headed to Minsk with 17 of our closest friends), we navigated the billion forms of transportation like pros, found a little wi-fi to let folks know we were alive, and walked to a nearby restaurant to try something to warm us up. We got skewers with turkey and roasted veggies, and some traditional Hungarian food: bean soup and garlic soup, both of which blew our minds.

After dragging our suitcases through the snow to our Airbnb, we settled in and eventually headed to the Szechenyi Thermal Baths. I'd never experienced anything like this before. Hundreds of people, locals and tourists alike, running between buildings in the snow in their bathing suits to pool after pool. The most comfortable were inside, ranging between 25 and 40 degrees Celcius. The outdoor pools were the most breathtaking, the steam from the water rising up off the surface and filling the air like something out of a movie.

Exhausted but very relaxed, we finished our first day. The next morning we headed out early, and we ended up conquering more of the city than we expected, starting with the Pest side and making it to the Buda side by lunchtime.

Pattie and I ended up having dessert for breakfast, but in a place like Book Café, who cares? The old department store has a beautiful parlor-ballroom on the top floor that is used as a coffee shop, while the two floors beneath it house thousands of books, mostly in Hungarian. Pattie was in heaven.

Before continuing our marathon of sweets, we stopped to see St. Stephen's Basilica, a Roman Catholic basilica named for the first King of Hungary. The intricacies involved in the construction and decoration of this building is impressive beyond description.

Right outside the basilica is a little shop called Gelarto Rosa. It won't surprise you, then, that they serve their gelato in the shape of a rose. The shop was adorable, well lit and full of cute details and trinkets, the staff all young and extremely charming. It may have been below freezing outside, but when in Budapest, I guess.

After a chai latté at Starbucks (hey, they don't have them in Asia) we passed by Cake Shop, a cute little bakery where we watched the expert bakers prepare sweets while we picked out which macaroons we liked best. I got poppyseed, and it was to die for. The shop also had an array of cute cards and paper goods for sale. Only adding the icing to the... Okay. I'll stop.

We crossed the Danube over the Chain Bridge before lunch, heading up the funicular to Buda and spending a little time shopping in the little souvenir stores before we got hungry. The Buda side of the city is so starkly different from the Pest side. It feels more like a cute village, or a small downtown. Preserved for historical value. On this side you'll find the castle, Matthias Church and the Fisherman's Bastion, all of which add to the perfect beauty of Buda.

For lunch we had looked up Pest-Buda Bistro, a favorite for years in this part of town. It definitely didn't disappoint. It's not too big, but it was full when we arrived, and for good reason. We ordered a few things to share including a special pumpkin soup, chicken paprikash, and these divine parsley potatoes, a food I would never have expected to describe as divine, but it's true.

En route to Ruszwurm Confectionary, an amazing dessert spot, we passed Matthias Church, lit up to show all the great detail in the architecture. I was impressed by the mosaic rooftops, which is something I'd never seen before Eastern Europe.

Pattie and I ordered tea and tiramisu from Ruszwurm, the cozy atmosphere of the bakery-café and the quick drop of the sun making us think it was way later than it actually was. We got back to the Fisherman's Bastion just before it was swarming with adventurous Hungarian students, the snow around the white stone creating a picture I'll never forget. The Parliament building across the river was shrouded in mist and looked eerie from our outlook, but I couldn't enjoy it too much after I slipped on the deceivingly icy floor of the balcony I was looking from.

We bussed our way back to our part of town, grabbing a delicious (and very western) dinner at Selfie, a grill by our little flat. We traveled a couple of bus stops away to get kürtóskalács, a very European snack that looks a little like a giant cuff made from dough and covered with cinnamon sugar. It was huge, and unbelievably delightful. We heard Molnar's was the best in town.

Our sad departure from Budapest came rather early the next morning. By the recommendation of our Airbnb host, we tried Fekete, an adorable coffee restaurant about two blocks from us. The coffee was delicious, the space was cute, and the croissants flakey. Done.

Thanks, Budapest, you were amazing. It's obvious your people love you, why else would every single wi-fi password be "budapest?" Can't wait to visit you again in some warmer weather.