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Soleil is an award-winning blogger, food and lifestyle photographer based in Austin, TX. 

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2022 Travel Dates

Travel

Education

Personal

My first trip abroad since COVID. My first trip abroad in two years.

LET THAT SINK IN.

How ironic it was that the last city I was in before COVID was London and thus, as go the natural circles of life, it was my first city to visit after a year of quarantine. The same old city but as a whole new person. 

It felt surreal, fantasy-like, having been so long confined to our own countries that the yearn to explore beyond it became stronger and more out of reach each day. When that bridge was finally crossed (with care and consideration for the necessary rules of traveling during a pandemic), it felt freeing. A reminder that the other side of the world, and the people that make it up, isn’t so far away. 

Truthfully writing these days seems more of a chore than a celebration of things, especially since I have moved on from my travel blogging days in pursuit of other creative outlets, but I have to remind myself of the reason I started documenting. To capture my favorite moments and tell my kids about the adventures I am so privileged and grateful to have gone on.

With a little less than a ticket there and more than our fair share of COVID test and England entry requirements, we decided to rent a car and do a little sightseeing from the countryside which in partnership with the most perfect fall weather, couldn’t have been the more perfect family getaway.

Bath

The first stop was a mom stop, mostly because I didn’t have much of a prenotion about what was in Bath. After a bit more research, Bath is the largest city in the county of Somerset, England, known for and named after – you guessed it – its Roman-built baths.

About an 2.5 hours west of London and 45 minutes from Stonehenge, Bath a compact and pleasant town known for it’s Roman Baths, museums, beautiful park and gardens like that of the Royal Victoria Park, and common Jane Austen stomping ground. A great way to walk the town with a bit of historical commentary is to book a free Bath walking tour. If you’re looking for something a bit slower, grab a homemade pastry from The Provenist and shop the small boutiques intertwined with bites and museums in the center of town.

After you finish your walking tour, make sure to make reservations at Corkage, an award-winning independent wine restaurant with wonderfully sourced wines and delicious plates like curried cauliflower, caper sole and brown shrimp, and a fine wine to pair. After dinner, head to the Bath Brew House for a beer in a colorful beer garden and enjoy the night.

Cotswolds

The English countryside in a postcard. That’s how I would describe the vast, rolling range of hills and serene collection of quaint villages – 113 to be exact – west of England. The Costwolds Hills rise from the upper Thames meadows all the way above the Severn Valley and are best known for their market towns and medieval villages as well as many nature trails and lakeside getaways.

With many of these quaint cities 10-20 minutes away from each other, we were able to cross of a few off our list; Castle Combe, Tetbury, Burford, Cirencester, Burford-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold. The best way to get cozy in Costwolds is to stay at a local bed and breakfast like this Castle Combe Airbnb that we loved.

For a comprehensive list of the prettiest Cotswolds villages, check out this list.

Oxford

As we ended on the northern end of the Cotswolds, we planned to head straight to Cambridge. Alas, if none of my family had ever been to Oxford and we had to pass right through it, we decided to take it as a sign to make a pit stop in Oxford.

Oxford is a college town, but in the sense that it is the town for one of the number one universities in the world. Did I feel smarter just for walking down the cobblestone streets? Maybe. Did my father try to convince me every hour of in Oxford to apply for a Master’s at Oxford University? Absolutely.

I would say our one night in Oxford was by far our favorite night for a few reasons. Both my friend and a stranger had recommended we make our way over to the famous 12-century Turf Tavern, a historic pub located in the alleyways of Oxford University. While a mainstay for Oxford students, many public figures have dined or drunk at the tavern including C.S. Lewis, Richard Burton, Elizbeth Taylor, Stephen Hawking, and Margaret Thatcher.

What started off as a simple evening drink after a walk around campus, turned into a joyfully chaotic party- between my father’s new Grenadier Guards brothers having a reunion, a few Oxford grads having another reunion, and the Roths sandwiched between the two celebrations. With shirts flying off and ciders spiling, it was such a reawakening to the people I have yet to meet and don’t yet know, the people from different cultures and stories, a step away from the turmoil of America, and the freedom we all took for granted to grab a drink in a bar, meet a few strangers, and have fun with new friends.

The next morning, we grabbed a delicious coffee at Brew, brunch at Gees Restaurant and Bar, took a tour of the Natural Museum of History and headed to our next stop on the English university tour.

Cambridge

To provide an equal comparison to Oxford, it’s only fitting that we toured Cambridge.

I have been to Cambridge once before a few years ago when I was visiting a friend in England and I fell in love with it. Wanting to share the magic with my parents, we did some of my favorite things in Cambridge like taking a Cambridge punting tour, walking around King’s College, roaming Jesus Green park, and just enjoying our time together (and debating against my dad whether to apply for Oxford or Cambridge first).

Little to my mom’s awareness, would she stumble upon what was one of her bucket list items in Cambridge; the Corpus Clock. I have never seen my mother as excited as she was about this grasshopper clock. The Corpus Clock is the largest mechanical escapement mechanism outside of the Taylor Library made by Dr. John C Taylor OBE.

Apart from the most elegant porridge of my life for breakfast at Hot Numbers Cambridge and a flavorful, seafood-forward dinner at Trinity Restaurant, another noteworthy stop in the town is to the Cambridge Gin Laboratory, a shop, with classes, dedicated to all lovers of gin that you’ll be sure to end up purchasing one or a few bottles of gin to take back with you.

Brighton

Sitting on my England hit list and further encouraged by multiple friends’ recommendations, the last stop before London was spending a night on the seaside town of Brighton. It’s the English version of a beach getaway, along the vibes of a British Santa Barbara, and the only true place you’ll want to eat fish and chips (specifically at Melrose Restuarant, sitting on the patio overlooking the Brighton seafront).

Strolling through the Lanes, you’ll quickly find anything from quaint coffee shops to independent designer boutiques to local home and garden stores, this historic quarter is a place to get lost with your curiosity and credit card. A few noteworthy spots nestled in these twisted alleys are 17 Grams, Flinthouse Brighton, and The Ivy in the Lanes. If you head a few streets further up, make sure to grab a coffee and warm pastry from Bond Street Coffee.

For Brighton’s main attraction, head towards the neon sign marking Brighton Pier. Take an evening stroll along the dock lit up with arcade lights, laughter, and the smell of all fried bites. A perfect place for a date, a night out with friends, or watching the beach go to sleep from the sea.

London

The last time I was in London was October 2019. The last time my parents were in London was when I was 6 years old and broke my arm, ended up in the hospital, and cut my parent’s trip short to play toy cars in a hospital bed. Suffice to say, there was some making up to do this trip to London.

The culture, chaos, and diversity in London shares similarities with New York City though London’s proximity to Europe, cleanliness, and fascinating mix of ease and energy makes it above New York City on my list. London is also a hub to any other country and airport in the world so if you’re deciding on a long layover somewhere, London is a top option!

Without wasting anyone’s time and saving myself some, here’s a mini list of places to add to your London itinerary:

Breakfast/Coffee:

Stoney Street by 26 Grains

Omotesando Koffee

Kaffeine

The Buttery

Lunch/Dinner:

Dishoom– Imagine being transported to 1970’s Mumbai with palatable Iranian dishes – a few locations around town so you don’t have to venture to far either!

Rovi– When in London, you can never go wrong with an Ottolenghi restaurant! Veggie forward in the most creative and delicious ways.

Imad’s Syrian Kitchen– There are so many incredible Middle Eastern restaurants in London and I highly encourage getting out of your regular food zone and trying something new!

Bao– If you love Bao, this is your place!

Neighborhoods:

Shoreditch, Knotting Hill, Soho, Fitzrovia

Activities:

Afternoon champagne on the champagne floor of Harrod’s

Scoping out the fresh product and market eats at Borough Market

Shopping in the streets of Soho

Picnic at Hyde Park or Regent’s Park

Grab a beer at The Mayflower Pub (or any pub really)

On my flight to London, there was a college student sitting behind me on the plane. As we were offboarding, I overheard him saying it was his first trip abroad, and he was headed to London to start his study abroad experience (one that I assume was not without its hiccups getting to in the time of CO-VID). Without too much excitement, I gave him the unsolicted advice of not studying too hard, to invest in your relationships with people from different places, and that he was about to have the best time of his life. When asked if I had studied abroad before, I said with a smile on my face “yes”, and that I was actually on my way to see a close English friend that I met on my study abroad almost 5 years ago. This small encounter was a sweet reminder that after the trips and fun has come to a close, that the friendships and memories together will continue to remain.

To my adventurous and life appreciating parents, to my dear friend across the pond Alex and his girlfriend Rosie, to the wonderful group of strangers from Brazil, Columbia, Mexico, Italy, Spain, and England that one night at a university pub, cheers to you and the travels that bring us together again.

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