A Sparkly Day Out in Cambridge

Blogcademy babes, [re]unite!

I spent this past Saturday in Cambridge where the oh-so fabulous Caroline, of Sparkles and Crumbs, hosted a mini Blogcademy reunion. She a promised a day full of fun, processco, dresses, and chocolate, too! The itinerary made me crack a smile, and I was quite happy to be back in the UK after a short break to California.

Fellow Blogcadette Lucy J Loves and I met up Saturday morning in Kings Cross station. One of the best parts of going to Blogcademy was making new friends in London. It was great to have a travel companion on the 45-minute journey; we caught up on recent travels, and what we’ve been up to since seeing each other last. This was Lucy’s first time in Cambridge, but I’d been about two years ago. I found Cambridge really nice the first time, and I was really looking forward to what local Caroline had in store for us.

First up was lunch at Stickybeaks Cafe where we met the rest of our crew: Caroline, Xandra, Amy and Anita. Poor Lucy and I had a mini-tour of the center of Cambridge before we found the cafe, but it was well-worth the detour. The decor was simple and chic with daffodils on the tables, and tiny Easter chicks dotting the cafe, and the food was super tasty. I had a chicken breast marinated in pomegranate juice, which was not only tasty, but really juicy and succulent. The lunch was quite light, only coming with a few salad greens and shredded carrots, , but was still well worth the £7.

After Lunch, we hit streets of Cambridge. First, Caroline took us to a lovely little market where vendors solds all sorts of lovely trinkets from braclets to rings, to coasters and funky clocks. No one from the group bought anything, but I do think Caroline was tempted by this apron.

Aren’t we a fabulous bunch of blogger babes? Photo by Miss Sparkles and Crumbs.

We were then off for a quite a wander through town. We stopped to see some of the sights, did a load of blogger poses, and took masses of photos. Wandering around was a really great opportunity for me to get to know Anita, of Trawler Girl, and Amy, of Disguised by Zebras, better. Both girls were in the same Blogcademy session as me, but I barely had a chance to talk to either, so I was really happy to get a chance to have a better chat with both!

Photo by Amy.

After an hour or so of wandering, we were off to the main event: trying on designer dresses at GD Designer Style Hire. This place was amazing. Not only did Susan and Georgina let us try on their dresses, but they treated us to mimosas! I found a few dresses to try on, including a lovely coral colored dress, a chic blue number, and a really nice Michael Kors dress. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of an upcoming occasion which required a new dress, otherwise I would have been really tempted by the last two! Prices for dress hire were quite reasonable, and included cleaning in the fee, and they’re even happy to send the dress to you if you don’t live in the immediate area. How awesome is that?

Isn’t Fashionably Light blogger Xandra Bee adorable and super-photogenic?

To wrap up the day, Caroline took us wandering a bit further through Cambridge before we ended up having pre-dinner snacks at The Vaults. I don’t know about the rest of the ladies, buy my mini-sized portion of meatballs turned out to be dinner-sized, and I didn’t need to eat anything else once I returned home!

In all, I had a fantastic day meeting up with these ladies, and would like to thank Caroline again for being such a great host!


Dublin in a Weekend

My husband and I spent the past weekend in Dublin to celebrate my 30th birthday. I asked a Dublin-based colleague for some ideas, and these were her suggestions:

  1. Guinness Storehouse
  2. Trinity College–Book of Kells
  3. Christ Church Cathedral
  4. Dublin Castle

She also recommended buying a ticket for the Hop On-Hop Off Bus Tour.  It turns out that there are two different companies offering these tours, but they seem to take very similar (if not, the same) route, and cost the same amount of money (€18). We took the City Sightseeing Dublin tour, which turned out to be quite good in the end. Check the website–they seem to offer discounts occasionally if you book online. They also offer discounts at many of the tourist sights when you show your ticket, but it may be worth checking to see if booking those online is more cost-effective too.

First on our tour of Dublin was the Hop On-Hop Off bus tour. We caught the bus outside St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and did almost an entire circuit, only getting off the bus once it arrived at Christ Church Cathedral. It was a good way to get a lay of the land, and take in some basic history of the city. Christ Church Cathedral was excellent, mostly because we splurged an extra €4 per person (it was my birthday, after all!) to take a guided tour of the bell tower where we got to ring the bells.

Christchurch Cathedral, Dublin, Ireland

After the cathedral, we headed back to the Temple Bar area to find lunch. Dublin is a fun city to wander through, and we stumbled upon several shops that specialized in the sale of American candy (not too surprising considering the number of American accents overheard during our visit). While we stopped to have a browse, I showed great restraint and did not purchase anything.

We eventually made it to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. I had a difficult time getting excited about this one, but loved the Long Room in the library. What’s most disappointing about the Book of Kells exhibit is that it’s €9 per person for a self-guided tour that will take you less than an hour. I’ve done better tours including audio guides here in the UK for £8. If you’re visiting in peak tourist season, forget it–I’m sure it’s an absolute nightmare. Walk around Trinity’s campus instead.

Sunday was dedicated to touring the Guinness Storehouse. Price of admission was €15.50 per person with the Hop On-Hop Off bus ticket (though would be even cheaper if booked online), and included a pint of Guinness in the Gravity Bar at the end of the tour. This was probably the highlight of the trip; I cannot resist a decent beer, and I love a good brewery tour, and considering this was self-guided, it was really well put together. It was also the first time I ever tried Guinness, and to my surprise, I found it quite lovely.

Part of the exhibit explaining the role of Coopers.

Finally, as our tour of the Guinness Storehouse took only a few hours, we poked around the shopping district a bit more, and visited a yarn shop called This is Knit so I could pick up some yarn or a project as a souvenir. I couldn’t find any patterns in the shop for the Irish yarns on offer, so instead opted for a shawl kit they were selling which contained a ball of yarn, the pattern and a crochet hook packed in a cute little burlap bag for €18.95. Perhaps a bit pricey, but it should keep me entertained in the next few weeks.

Dublin is a great mini-break destination. Below is a map to help you get a lay of the land, and a better idea where the sights are located. Take a look at my Dublin Yelp list for reviews of all the sights and more!

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Five Reasons I’m Excited about 2013

One of many lovely vistas in San Francisco on a sunny day.
1. I’m moving back to California come Hell or high water, earthquakes or wildfires

This has been a long time coming. I’ve been unsettled in London for most of the time I’ve lived here, and have decided upon returning from my most recent trip to America that I do not need to deal with this anymore. Maybe it’s homesickness, or maybe my heart never left (the reason I like to believe). Often shrouded in fog, and surprisingly chilly in summer, San Francisco is my favorite city in America, if not the world. It’s absolutely gorgeous in the sunshine (if you find yourself there on a sunny day, admire the views from Twin Peaks or Buena Vista Park), is awesomely diverse, and has some of the best shopping and food the West Coast has to offer.

San Francisco isn’t my only draw back to the Bay Area. I loved driving in the hills surrounding the bay, going to the beaches (even if they were a bit foggy and cold sometimes!) driving along Highway 1, and drinking in all the amazing scenery (and wine) the area had to offer.

I’ve only been back once since I moved to London, but it’s the only place that’s felt like home in the past three years.

2. I am going to find a job/career about which I am truly passionate

I have been in a rut. While moving to London to work was an amazing opportunity, the mistake I ultimately made was making a completely lateral move that offered no significant opportunities to challenge myself and really push me out of my comfort zone. By which I mean, my job was almost the same, but working with a European team rather than an American team. Hence, I’ve been in a rut.

Over the past few months, I’ve been chatting with colleagues, and networking in attempts to find a new job here in London. That, in itself, has been challenging, but also a bit suffocating. Yes, the people I’ve talked to have been lovely, especially the colleagues who have suggested exercises to structure my job search, but as an expat on a Tier 2 visa, I’m limited to looking for jobs within my current company. Opportunities in Europe are few and far between, and those that do exist either don’t match my interests, or I don’t fit the qualifications. It’s quite unfortunate, really as I am truly excited about the tech industry and what it has to offer, and I really felt I could have picked up some excellent experience and skills more quickly if I stayed in London.

I know that there is still a long road ahead to achieving this, but I do hope that moving to back to America, reconnecting with former colleagues and friends, and getting back to Silicon Valley will help me find something that ticks all the boxes.

3. This blog is getting a makeover!

Before I went back to the US for Thanksgiving, I was surfing the Internet, and came across what I thought would be an amazing opportunity: to attend one of the Blogcademy workshops in London. In early November 2012, I attended a professional development workshop, the Women in Business Superconference, and found it really motivating and inspiring. It was a group of about 100 women networking, learning strategies to improve networking skills (I’m looking forward to trying my 60-Second pitch at the Blogcademy), finding new opportunities internally, and generally moves to boost one’s career.

I’m hoping Blogcademy will be equally inspiring, and will finally give me the tools and motivation I need to take my blog more seriously. Blogcademy was set up by Gala Darling, Kat Williams (Rock n Roll Bride) and Sauna Haider (Nubby Twiglet)–each truly talented in their respective fields–to inspire bloggers, increase readership and develop a blogging brand among other things. All are elements I’m interested in and excited to learn about in the next few weeks.

In excitement and anticipation, I’ve already set a goal to post at least once a week, and I’ve got ideas for a blog redesign and content overhaul in the coming months–writing about expat life after I’ve moved back to the US might be a bit silly. Hell, if this all goes swimmingly, I might achieve that dream of finding a job I love, or using new skills to find a job I love!

4. Europe is my oyster, and I plan on seeing more of it before I leave

While moving back to California doesn’t mean that I will no longer venture this side of the Atlantic, it does mean it will be a bit trickier to plan trips to other countries and cities here. Even though the year has just begun, I’m already heading to Dublin next weekend, hopefully to Edinburgh in February and Prague anytime between now and my move back to America.

The first year I was in London, I was incredibly cash-strapped. I had my suitcases packed to the brim, enough money in my US bank account to get me by for a month, and just enough money to cover my expenses after that. It was rough, and meant that I was limited in travel options. However, I did manage to visit my husband when he was working at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, Amsterdam (I still don’t know what all the fuss is about) and Brussels, Belgium (for work, but ended up being good fun as I was there over a warm, sunny weekend). The second year here, I ended up falling terribly ill, and this past year felt I’d spent enough money on a wedding and had ventured to Australia for the honeymoon (not to mention this past summer was the one to be in London).

Excuses for previous years aside, I will see more of Europe before I move to America.

5. I’m going to become a “badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody”

The last few years, and the last year especially, have been a real chink in my armor. Before I moved to London, I saw myself as quite confident and self-assured. But over the last year, I’ve really felt my confidence wain. Maybe it’s because I’m not nearly as fashionable as the other girls walking down the high street, or maybe it’s because I’ve been looking for a job for months with no success, but I don’t feel I have the confidence I once had, and as a result, I’ve become less and less happy with my life.

So this year it ends. I think one massive change that will make a difference is getting back to California where I hope I can reconnect with friends and former colleagues. One thing that’s made London incredibly difficult for me is how difficult it is to make new friends here. The best chance most expats have at making new friends is befriending fellow expats, but as it’s an ever-changing community, one quickly finds all her friends are gone in the blink of an eye.

Another way I’m attacking confidence issues is to continue giving my wardrobe an overhaul. London is most definitely a fashion city, and I’ve felt pretty out of place for a long time. After being well and outgrowing must of my old clothes, I decided it was time to start dressing more like the woman I want to be, but still being true to myself. I’ve not gotten too far in this mission, and after spending many consecutive weekends on Oxford Street, Chelsea high street and in Westfield White City, I decided it was time for a break (not to mention that shopping areas are mad between mid-November to early February).

Really, this one is all about restoring my confidence and remembering, I AM a “badass mother who don’t take no crap off of nobody!”

If you’ve not seen Cool Runnings, you should–it’s totally badass.
So that’s it–five reasons why I’m excited for 2013. Anyone else excited for the year ahead?