London is Pink’s Guide to Holland Park

One of my absolute favorite neighborhoods to get lost in is Holland Park.

Holland Park is the genteel, quieter neighbor of the wild and colorful Notting Hill. It’s like the older sister who grew up, settled down and decided to buy a few nice things. But, even though older, she’s not afraid to show the fun side. Let me walk you through some of my favorite landmarks of this lovely neighborhood.

I start my walk from Holland Park tube, walk down the hill and take a right onto Portland Street. Lined with colorful doors, and one of the London is Pink landmark doors, the Hill & Friends pink googley eyed door.Holland Park door HIll and Friends

You will approach a courtyard with some lovely shops at Clarendon Cross. Don’t miss The Cross and Summerill & Bishop – both lovely and gorgeous.

Head down Penzance Place for a glimpse of another London is Pink landmark, the tall pink house.

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Walk back towards Holland Park high street on Princedale Road. I always swing by Daunt Books for a quick peek at their books and to pick up another tote bag, because you can never have too many tote bags. Melt Chocolates is a great place for a hot chocolate or cheeky chocolates, and I love Hop Like a Bunny  – a gorgeous children’s lifestyle shop.

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Next up, Holland Park mews is a great place to take some photos, especially during wisteria season. The Beckhams house is a stones throw away, and I’ve even run into Mr. Beckham himself at the local cafe, so keep your eyes peeled if you’re into football stars!

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Take a walk through the Holland Park to admire the peacocks, and if you’re in the mood for a tour of a beautiful historic home, I can’t get enough of the Leighton House Museum. The recently opened Design Museum is also a great place to explore on a rainy day, and the gift shop is one of the best in London.

You’ll be in Kensington now, but I can’t end this post without a mention of my favorite local pizza place: Pizzicotto. Get the margherita DOP, and thank me later!

 

Southern Spain: 6 reasons why it’s the perfect February holiday

IMG_9009If you’re looking to avoid sweltering heat and crowds, here are six reasons why you should consider southern Spain in February (February half term holiday, anyone?).

  1. Off-season = Lower costs and easier to book. We had a lovely stay in both of our airbnb’s in old town Marbella and in Seville (right across from this gorgeous hotel). Costs were outrageous (sub £100/night for 3 bedroom properties!) and we booked just a month ahead of time without worry.IMG_9144IMG_9636IMG_9082
  2. Empty beaches. Marbella’s crowded beaches were all but empty. With temperatures reaching 24 C a few days in Marbella, it was warm enough to slip on our swimming suits and play on the beach. Sure, it may have only been us and a few other Brits enjoying the warm (to us!) weather, which made it all the more special. It is the Costa del Sol, after all!IMG_9022IMG_9027
  3. Shorter queues for all the good cafes and restaurants. We never waited long to get into some of Seville’s hot spots, including our favorite tapas place, La Brunilda, and my favorite place for quick tapas and churros con chocolate, the buzzy Bar El Comercio.IMG_9132
  4. People-free photos of El Alcazar and Plaza de Espana. IMG_0109
  5. Perfect season for exploring. For this American-turned-Brit, I’ve grown accustomed to the cooler temperatures and me (and my kids + husband!) cannot handle the heat anymore. Anything over 27 and we all wither like a sad little flower. Daily temperatures from 20-25 left us happy on our city walks. Enough Vitamin D for it to feel like a sunny break, without the heat exhaustion. Our drive from the coast to Seville took us past mountains and valleys dotted with fluffy blossoming almond trees and beautiful craggy olive trees.IMG_9242IMG_9637
  6. February or not, you can’t miss Ronda, located about an hour up a very windy mountain road towards Seville. Even though it is higher in the mountains, we didn’t come across any snow (though we did see snow in Grenada from our airplane). The mountain air was refreshing, and the views of the bridge are SO incredible. We only stayed for a couple hours, but it was one of the most memorable parts of our trip. IMG_9145IMG_9147

Top tips: Definitely rent a car for Southern Spain if you can. We’re already thinking of returning to visit Nerja, and staying among the olive groves (I have my eye on this stunning place). Also some touristy spots, like the Alhambra in Grenada, book up weeks or months in advance. We couldn’t get tickets for our trip, but we’ll make it there next time!

An American in London: My experience

78D25C55-5DDE-46BB-9B67-A1C3D006ABF4I don’t normally write personal posts, but I’ve gotten so many messages from you all about what brought me to London and what my experience has been, I thought I’d share my story.

One of the biggest questions I get asked is “how can I move to the UK?”

The short answer is: it’s complicated!

We were moved here for my husbands job. This meant a big change for us, because we were both working full time, had a 1 1/2 year old, a car, a (small) house, and family nearby. But we were excited for the chance to live overseas, so we went for it. His company paid for our move, sponsored visas for the whole family (including a visa allowing me to work in the UK, too), and paid for relocation expenses, helped us find a place to live, etc. After talking with MANY other expats about their experience, I feel we got a pretty middle of the road to generous package. Other experiences I’ve heard from friends include companies that pay for your flights and basically wish you luck, while still others will pay for living expenses (including rent, car expenses, etc.), trips home, private school tuition, the list goes on and on.

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For anyone who wants to come over to the UK on a work sponsored (tier 2) visa – and I do think this is the best way if you’re seeking a more permanent relocation – it is all about negotiation. Know what’s important to you before signing anything, making sure you tick off the checklist of important things.

As an American, the best/easiest way to come to the UK right now is to find a firm you want to work for with offices in the US and UK, discuss transfers during any interview processes, and hopefully that will be a way in!

If you’re after a more temporary living situ, I’d recommend embassy/government work or applying to university/graduate school. You can also get a visa by marrying a Brit, but hey, let’s not get too drastic, ok??

IMG_6330Visa laws were tightened right before we moved here, so to make it crystal clear – if you want to move to the UK as an American you have THREE options:

1) work for an international company with offices in the US and UK, get transferred to the UK office

2) go to university and come on a student visa – I think you have 6 months from graduation to find a job, and I know people that have done it successfully and others who couldn’t manage to find anything. I think it varies by profession.

3) marry a British citizen (even this is not as straightforward as you would think!)

It is actually illegal to move here without a job, with the intent of job searching. If you get caught doing this you could face some hefty penalties or even risk losing the ability to ever get a UK visa! So go through the right channels, even though it can be frustrating. And who knows what will happen with the Brexit negotiations, things could change down the road, though this is the current reality.

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Because I get a lot of questions on expat life in the UK and how to choose a neighborhood, I want to give a little bit more of my story that hopefully can be helpful!

We stayed in temporary housing for about 6 weeks. It was great to have a landing pad when we got here because that first week was very disorienting!

I think it was on day 3 or 4 of living here, we were taken around London by a housing specialist to view properties. We’d identified a few neighborhoods we might want to live in on our measly American budget which we didn’t understand at the time was quite small! Looking back, I really wish the specialist would’ve recommended like-minded neighborhoods in our budget. Maybe they did and I didn’t want to listen – that sounds more like me.

After an exhausting and stressful day of house hunting in neighborhoods we couldn’t afford, we found an adorable 2 bedroom flat on a quiet street in Highgate, a little leafy village in North London. We signed a year lease, but after the first 6 months, I was miserable. I didn’t have any close friends, I couldn’t find a job, and I went through some very very difficult personal things at the time. Add in the dark winters – it felt like we made the worst decision by moving to London. Oh, also my husband broke both of his arms in a bicycle accident on his commute home one rainy evening. We were miserable, to put it mildly.

But, we stuck with it. I realized that maybe Highgate – with all its charms – was a bit too far removed from the city life I had been used to living in D.C. (and before that Manhattan). So, I turned to Instagram. I found a few friends who lived in West London and started going down there a couple times a month to meet up for play dates with our children and visit the lovely parks and museums. I felt like I had found our place. I convinced my husband that we needed to go on a long walk around a few West London neighborhoods, and that’s how we ended up walking through Brook Green and feeling completely at peace in this cute little village.

IMG_2479.JPGWe found a new flat, just in time so I could nest and get ready for the impending arrival of our baby girl. And I think the rest is history! This area of London is full of expats, people from around the world, and lots of friendly families. Now I can genuinely say we love London, have made some of our happiest memories here, and the homesickness only comes around every 4th of July and Thanksgiving, if I’m being honest. Some days we long for a more quiet life, but with young kids that’s not really a reality for us anyway, so we’re embracing this stage of city life. Who knows what will lie ahead.

Living in London wasn’t an easy transition for us, but once we figured out how to navigate it, I feel like it’s easier to live here than any place I’ve lived before. A few things that save us in the city: online grocery shopping and delivery, amazon prime, babysitting swaps with friends, gorgeous green parks everywhere, an amazing transportation system that means we don’t need a car, and museums that the kids love.

We also just went through the process of Indefinite Leave to Remain (ILR) which was a very long process, and perhaps I’ll share in another post. But this means we can stay in the UK for as long as we would like. How long will that be? Only time will tell!

 

13 best activities for kids in London

56679AE0-0172-421B-B4D2-8F026E85502DThe lovely thing about living in London is it caters to whatever you need, and the same goes for families. We feel lucky to raise our kids with London as our playground. Endless parks, museums, kids clubs, restaurants, and friendly people (and pups, of course) to make any outing enjoyable.

These are some of our favorite places, tried and tested, and always hard to leave!

IMG_1046 2The Best Museums for Kids (and my tips for each)

Natural History museum – Use the exhibition road entrance, and have a plan for what you want to see. It’s always crowded, but you can find some more peaceful spots in the wildlife garden (open during warmer months) or the gem and minerals hall. Don’t forget to walk upstairs to the very top for that famous view – one of my favorite viewpoints in London.

Science Museum – Wonderlab opened last year catering to kids all ages featuring hands-on activities, including three slides to educate kids about friction. Amazing. Day passes at £8. Downstairs is a another interactive learning space, The Garden, with water play and plastic boats, building blocks, and other fun perfect for babies – 5.

Victoria & Albert museum – Head to the education desk to pick up a themed backpack with activities to help your kids get creative in seeing the treasures of the V&A. I always learn from the backpacks, too, and there are a range of backpacks geared towards different ages.

London Transport Museum – Home to one of my favorite gift shops, my kids have always loved this museum. Lots of hands-on activities and a big double decker play bus where kids can role play being a bus driver or a chef or a number of other things. We really love it here, and once you buy tickets, they are good for a year.

IMG_4497Playgrounds

You are never too far from a playground in London. Some are hidden away, and some are more obvious like the Diana Memorial Playground with the pirate ship near Notting Hill. This is also where I sat next to Adele while our kids played together and I was too starstruck to say anything to her. Can you imagine?! Here’s my proof. Yes, it’s Adele’s back. You just have to trust me on this one, ok.

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We love the adventure playground in Holland Park complete with roaming peacocks, and when we want to get out of our neighborhood, we’ll head to Hampstead Heath for their fun playground (and paddling pool in the summer) or one of the many playgrounds around Regents Park (our favorite is the playground with the huge slide on the Southeast end of the park).

B49E0C6B-AF5B-4B54-B7AD-17533051297DAfternoon Tea

Feeling like some tea and cake? We’ve experienced some of our favorite afternoon teas with our children (and one of the worst when our three year old was NOT having it – you win some, you lose some).

Our favorite places for afternoon tea are the Palm Court at Langham London (best scones in London and kids get Hamley’s teddy bears) and the Science afternoon tea at The Ampersand Hotel. Or if you just want a quick cake, get to Peggy Porschen for their seasonal cupcake or Hummingbird for the black bottom cupcakes, trust me.

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Off the Beaten Path

Hyde Park horse stables – Book riding lessons in Hyde Park or just pop over to the mews where the horses live and say hello. The staff are very friendly and welcoming to visitors.

Electric cinema kids club – Big cushy armchairs, bins full of sweets, but book at least a week in advance.

Greenwich day out – Ride the ferry to Greenwich, walk onto a real 19th century sailing ship – the Cutty Sark, walk to the top of Royal Greenwich park for the views (and the royal observatory if you have time), visit the food markets, and another favorite museum – the National Maritime Museum.

 

My new favorite skincare line for travel (and home)

I’d been aware of the cult status of Bioderma skin products, but until a few weeks ago hadn’t tried out any of their products. When Bioderma contacted me to try their sensitive skin line, I was excited because I’d been looking for a change in my skin care. IMG_5410.JPG

July was full of travel and as it turned out, a massive lower back injury that put me in the hospital and left me bedridden. On my trip to Mexico, I used the travel-sized versions of the micellar water, which left my skin feeling SO fresh and clean. Because you never know how hard or soft the water is when traveling, it was nice not to worry about how the water would affect my skin since I relied on the micellar water for my sensitive skin.

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I threw my back out last week, a few days after returning from Mexico (great timing!), and it’s been a nightmare. But while I’ve been bedridden, I have been using the make-up remover wipes to freshen up and they’ve honestly been a lifesaver! They’ve made me feel human during this time where I’ve relied on other people for everything. EVERYTHING. It’s nice to have something I can do for myself – a little self care when I need it the most.

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I get the cult status now, I absolutely love Bioderma’s Sensibio H2O line! After trying MANY products, and drying my face out with other make-up removal face wipes, I can definitely tell the quality of this line. From now on, you won’t find me travelling without it.

Wimbledon tea at The Draycott

The Draycott Hotel treated me to truly the most relaxing afternoon tea I’ve had in London, with a beautiful tea based around a Wimbledon theme.

7806CCB7-5FBA-4308-B28C-5255934891EBLocated right in the heart of Chelsea, in Sloane Square, The Draycott is perfectly placed on a quiet street, a stones throw from the famous doughnuts of Bread Ahead and one of my favorite London cafes, Granger and Co. Close to the action, but somehow tucked away on a quiet street the way only Chelsea could do it!

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The hotel is elegant, the staff are superb, and the feeling of the hotel lounge is unlike any other London hotel I’ve been inside: it’s incredibly charming and relaxing. I felt right at home in the comfortable furnishings, and was immediately welcomed by kind staff, and swept away into the drawing room which overlooked a gorgeous and expansive garden. I wouldn’t have believed the busy streets of London were just a 1 minute walk away if I hadn’t just walked up myself.

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The tea was designed to celebrate Wimbledon, and the theme was carried throughout the tea. We were served all courses at once, seated on an incredibly comfortable sofa (where I could’ve had a cheeky nap if time allowed!) and my friend and I oogled and nibbled all the food and sipped our tea while in the most relaxing of settings. We felt like welcomed guests of The Draycott and absolutely loved every minute of the experience. The tea menu brought us finger sandwiches, scones, lemon macarons, cakes, and perfectly ripe British strawberries and cream with tea and pimms served on a cheeky swatch of green tennis turf – how perfectly cute!

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Thanks to The Draycott for having me, and for indulging us in a true afternoon retreat from busy London life.