Monday, November 24, 2014

The Kate Middleton Shopping Tour (Apologies to my male readers, this one may not interest you!)

Kate in her Reiss dress
Taken at Kensington Palace
The Duchess of Cambridge is, and has been for quite some time, one of my style icons. So when I set off for my first trip "across the pond" I decided to also embark on what I dubbed"The Kate Middleton Shopping Tour." My plan was simple:  I would find Kate's favorite high street brands, and  purchase something affordable at each one.

Because really,what better kind of  souvenir hunt than supplementing one's wardrobe with pieces bought abroad? And who better to copy than Kate? Who can forget her iconic black and white dress from Topshop, worn on her 25th birthday? That dress sold out almost as quickly as the pictures hit the front of the papers. Or what about her white Reiss dress, worn for her and William's official engagement photo (and again on their tour of Canada in 2011)?. Since the beginning of her time in the public eye, Kate has endeared herself to royal watchers as being the sort of graceful, beautiful and kind friend we all want to have. Additionally, she's relatable, wearing clothes you can go into any high street store and buy yourself. You don't need a personal stylist to dress like Kate, you can simply stop into a store like Zara and purchase the blazer Kate wore the day before. 

So, throughout various cities in the UK and Ireland, I managed to find some of Kate's favorite high street brands: Zara, Topshop, Reiss, and Jigsaw. Additionally, I found quite a few "Repli-Kates" at various other stores like Dunne's and Marks and Spencer. 

#1 Zara

Kate's worn tons of pieces by Zara, mainly her trademark navy blazers that she often pairs with skinny jeans and her Stuart Weitzman corkswoon wedges. While a few Zara pieces were a bit out of my price range at the time, Zara has a great line called "Zara Basic" which offers up staple pieces at very affordable prices. 

Since I'm always in need of suit separates (for my other chosen profession), I chose a smart, tailored, and conservative black skirt that I've worn many times. It hits at just the right length and still looks brand new even after almost three years. 

#2 Topshop

Kate's black and white dress was made instantly famous when the paparazzi snapped pictures of her wearing it on her 25th birthday. Right from the start I knew I had to have my own Topshop dress.  Topshop is incredibly affordable and fashion forward. Nearly all the clothes I saw while shopping there have made their way into the mainstream American style. It's like a Maurices here in the 'States, but with a funkier--more London/urban edge. 

I picked up a smart little grey jersey dress at the shop in Dublin. I could dress it up or down depending on the occasion and it looks great with a statement necklace. Most important to me is that it says "Topshop" in the back!

#3 Reiss

I really wanted a Reiss dress, particularly this white one I tried on in the dressing room at their store in Dublin (see photo). It reminded me of the famous white one Kate wore in the picture at the top of this post. 

Unfortunately, a dress like this costs upwards of  300 euros (a bit much for a student on a study abroad trip!). I couldn't resist still trying it on and snapping a photo of me in it in the dressing room. I wanted evidence that I had actually tried on a real, authentic Reiss dress.

However, it all worked out perfectly because I ended up with my  beautiful pale orange scarf that I love and adore. Because I was groggy from travel and a little foggy on the exchange rates at the time, I might have paid a bit more for the scarf than I normally would have (it might be the most expensive thing I own, save my computer). I wear that scarf everywhere now, not just because I want to get my money's worth, but because it's beautiful and I love it--and every time I wear it I'm reminded of my trip, and you can't put a price on those memories. 

#4 Jigsaw

Kate actually worked at the London Jigsaw as an accessories buyer after her graduation from St. Andrews University. Jigsaw is upscale but affordable, with lots of beautiful quality pieces. You definitely feel like a VIP while shopping there. 

I found an adorable royal blue tank top at their store in Chester, England for about 12 pounds. It has beautiful lace accents that looks amazing under any top. 

Thanks for reading! Do you do any shopping when you're abroad? What are some of your favorite stores?

Don't forget to follow me on Twitter @CalleySoFalley 


Thursday, November 20, 2014

"A Healthy Obsession With Mailboxes" Postboxes of the UK

Have you ever been to the United Kingdom and seen these striking red pillar mailboxes? Do you know the story behind each one? When I was staying in Bangor, Wales, I went on a mission to find each different mailbox in that city. Why you ask? Because each mailbox is unique, and each one represents a different time in the history of the UK. 

My friends were rather puzzled when they caught me taking pictures of every mailbox I found in Bangor. "Why are you taking pictures of mailboxes?" they'd ask, faintly annoyed/fairly assured I was crazy (after 5 weeks of traveling with me, I'm sure they thought I really was crazy!).

I would then proceed to point out exactly why I found each one so fascinating. I'd draw their attention to the elaborate and curvy letters and Roman numerals on their front. "You can tell how old each one is," I'd explain, "by seeing which monarch's name is on it." 

And indeed that's true, each of these upright bright red pillar mailboxes bear the initials, or  royal cypher, of the monarch during whose reign it was cast and installed. During my  week-long visit to Bangor, on the northwest coast of Wales, I found a total of four monarchs represented: Elizabeth II, George (presumably V, due to some internet research), Edward VII, and (most exciting to me) Victoria.

So, depending on which royal cypher is on each mailbox, you could be standing next to an almost 150 year old letter repository. Or you could be standing next to a mailbox that held letters to the boys fighting in WWI or WWII. 

I like to think about all the words and thoughts and hopes and dreams that have landed in these mailboxes and all the history these have witnessed. I could imagine walking past this mailbox (see left) bearing George VI's cipher, eager to hear how the Allies were faring in WWII.  That one is located right outside the post office in Bangor where I bought my stamps to mail my postcards back home. 

However, I was most thrilled to find, on my way to my classes at Bangor University, a visibly old and worn (but still jaunty!) red mailbox bearing the letters "VR" in a regal curly script. Instantly I knew that the "VR" stood for Victoria Regina, and therefore had been cast and put in place during Queen Victoria's reign. If I'm not mistaken, I believe that the "VR" mailboxes are the oldest around, being the first to bear the sovereign's royal cypher. 

After I showed my friends and traveling companions that particular "VR" mailbox and explained to them what it meant, they fully understood my fascination. "Are you serious?" they asked. "So, this mailbox was here when QUEEN VICTORIA was queen?! That is so cool!" (See, once you hear my reasons, I don't sound crazy at all!)

Even more phenomenal is the fact that many of these centuries old mailboxes are still in use today! Each one bears a sign denoting various  pickup times. So you can drop your letters and postcards to family and friends back home in the same mailbox that Queen Victoria's subjects deposited their mail. For some reason that really thrills me...maybe I am crazy after all!

The one at the beginning of this post, the Edward VII-era mailbox, is sadly no longer in commission, having it's pickup times scribbled out. I nearly dropped some postcards to my family in that one before I realized that there would be no more pickups at that location. Imagine my postcards sitting in that mailbox for all time, only being found once the mailbox was dismantled!

Additionally, there are still  new mailboxes going up everyday, bearing the current monarch's royal cypher, "EIIR" for Elizabeth II.  The one in the picture below was inside Morrison's, my favorite place to shop while in Wales. This "EIIR" mailbox is certainly more shiny than the older ones along the streets!

Further, since we were in Wales, the mailbox bore both the official English "Royal Mail" designation as well as the Welsh translation of  "Post Brehnhinol." This added an extra special element to my mailbox scavenger hunt, knowing that this was a feature unique to the Welsh mailboxes. 

So the next time you're in the UK, stop and take a minute to look at the mailboxes. How old are they? Is there an "EIIR" or a "GR" or a "VR"? What kind of history do you think these mailboxes have witnessed?

Have any pictures of these mailboxes yourself from your journeys? Tweet them to me @CalleySoFalley!!! I'd love to see them!

Up Next: I'll figure it out soon!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Five Of My Favorite Travel Photos

I, by no means, claim to some great photographer. But I do have a few photos that I'm extremely proud of. Ones that I've taken that I've looked at later and thought “Wow, that’s a good photo,” or “That is exactly what it looked like at that moment!” To me, an element of any great photo is the memories contained within it. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and these pictures hold, for me, a thousand memories. So I thought I would share five of my favorite travel photos from around the world, and share a few of the memories that go along with them.

#1 Ashford Castle from the Ferry

This is without a doubt one of my favorite travel photos. I took this photo while on a ferry from an island heading back to Cong, in County Mayo, Ireland.  Sometimes I can see a great photo and when, from the railing of the ferry, I glimpsed Ashford Castle (once owed by the Guinness family!) in the distance and the Irish flag blowing in the wind, I knew this could be a great shot. It took me several tries to get a fully unfurled Irish flag in the shot, but the result was so worth it. 

# 2 Galveston at Dusk

Galveston will always hold a very special place in my heart. When I was there in 2013 I was visiting someone very special to me who is no longer a part of my life. But whenever I look at this photo I'm reminded of that time when everything was perfect, everything was sweet and everything was exciting. I can still feel the rush of wind from the shore and hear the waves weaving in and out. I can still feel the excitement of finding a hermit crab in the sand. 

There was something magical about that beach, with moments devoid of space and time and circumstance.  I loved the way the sandy-brown fades to the frothy white of the ocean waves to the grey of the water to the purple/pink/gold/blue layers of the sky. That moment that I managed to capture only lasted a few minutes, but the memories...those memories will last forever. 

# 3 Up Ahead, Giant's Causeway

This photo captures that moment before you round the bend and officially hit Giant's Causeway. These rocks are not the famous hexagonal stones you think of when you think of Giant's Causeway, but they are no less beautiful. You come across this spot as you're walking to the official Giant's Causeway. The view, for me, from this spot was spectacular.
My friends and I easily spent an hour just exploring these rocks before we moved on to the hexagonal ones. You can easily hop from rock to rock and explore this place further and further until you reach the sea. 

# 4 Under Big Ben

At some point, I intend to do a whole post (or maybe 5 posts!) on London, but I thought I would share this photo with you all now. This has to be one of  my favorite photos that I took while in London because it so accurately shows what I saw, and it gives a view of Big Ben that not very many people get to see. Plus, it was a beautiful day in London, so I'm really glad I got to capture such an amazing blue sky.
When I got to London, I was going to be happy if I got to see Big Ben from a distance. To actually stand under it, and experience it like THIS,  like a local, was way more than I could have asked for. 

#5 Sleahead

As you can probably tell, I loved this photo so much I made it the background of my blog! This picture was taken at Sleahead along the Dingle Peninsula. I'm always amazed at the almost "unrealness" of this photo in terms of all the colors. But this photo captures EXACTLY what I saw that day. This is a completely raw photo, I haven't altered or retouched anything!
If there is a more beautiful place than Sleahead, I haven't found it yet. This was without a doubt the most beautiful place I've ever been.  Snapping this photo was way worth getting left behind by my tour bus and having to run after it! 
Fun Fact: The Nicole Kidman/Tom Cruise movie Far and Away was partly filmed here. The movie looks like it was filmed in early spring or fall so the colors aren't quite as vibrant as these, but yes, it is indeed Sleahead!

Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed and I hope this will inspire you to take more of your own travel photos! You can always Tweet me yours at @CalleySoFalley!!! Can't wait to see them!!!

Up Next: #TBT
ETA: Thursday

Friday, November 14, 2014

#FBF: St. Stephen's Green

There are days—like today—when it’s cold and things just aren't going my way and I want to be back in Dublin, sitting on a bench in St. Stephen’s Green…

Likened to Central Park, St. Stephen’s Green is a countryside getaway in the middle of the city. Located right off Grafton Street (Dublin’s shopping hub), it’s a beautiful expanse of greens, trees, ponds and flower gardens, with fitting memorials to Ireland and Irish independence interspersed throughout. Even though I had limited time on my own in Dublin, I spent a lot of time exploring (and photographing) St. Stephen’s Green. You can get completely lost along its many walkways, and sometimes that is exactly what you need.
I was really excited to see the ducks and the swans in the many ponds in the Green. I remember I didn’t have any bread in my dorm where I was staying, but I did take along a tortilla (yes, I had tortillas in Ireland!) and that worked just fine. The swans didn't really appreciate it, but the pigeons and the other birds did! And there are lots of pigeons…hundreds! All beautiful and shiny and grey. You could be lulled to sleep by their gentle cooing—in fact, I saw several people doing just that, taking an afternoon nap under a tree next to water.

St. Stephen’s Green is a great place to come, pick a spot, throw down a blanket and just relax. There’s such a perfect balance between busy and peaceful in the Green that you can people-watch and still feel fairly anonymous. You can throw a Frisbee around, feed the ducks (and pigeons) or, as I mentioned before, take a nap. Or you can lose yourself walking and discovering all the beautiful things St. Stephen’s Green has to offer.

For those interested in Ireland’s history, St. Stephen’s Green is like an Easter egg hunt. Scattered throughout the Green are various statues, fountains, memorials, and other artwork that lets you in on various aspects of this country’s amazing history. One of my personal favorites was a fountain depicting the Three Fates given to Ireland after World War II by West Germany. Surrounded by a pool of water, the Three Fates sit, holding someone’s fate in their hands. Is it your fate? Or Ireland’s? I was at a major transitioning point in my life at the time of my visit and I remember being struck by these three women, holding fate in their hands. It was an almost holy spot, a place that you could feel connected to the Fates somehow, and ask them to be kind to you.

Another one of my favorites was a memorial to Thomas M. Kettle, the famous Irish poet and home-rule advocate that was killed during World War I while serving in the Royal Dublin Fusiliers.* Also a political journalist, Mitchell called attention to the horrible conditions in which Ireland’s poor were living—a cause that he also advocated.* Those causes can be witnessed on the bottom of his memorial, as it reads, “Died Not For Flag, Nor King, Nor Emperor. But For A Dream Born In A Herdsman’s Shed, And For The Secret Scripture Of The Poor.”

If you’re a plant enthusiast, there are plenty of species of plant life to discover while walking around. There are numerous beautifully tended flower beds hosting a variety of striking and different plants and flowers. The flowers provide a striking pop of color against the grasses and shrubbery, making for excellent photo opportunities.

The first day I went to the Green, it was slightly overcast (surprise, surprise), but, on my second visit, the sun was out in full blast and allowed me to take some pretty amazing photos. I was so lucky to be there that second day, as I saw quite a few things I missed and even got to see this giant fish (see picture below) that was so close to me I could have reached in and grabbed it! 

For me, St. Stephen’s Green is must for anyone visiting Dublin. After a hard day shopping on Grafton Street (and you will shop—trust me!) stroll through the archway at the entrance to the Green and reward yourself with a little relaxation. And of course, don’t forget to bring some bread along for the birds!

 Thanks for reading! I hope you enjoyed, and I hope this made you want to visit St. Stephen's Green!

I'll try to get back to posting on Mondays and Thursdays, now that I'm not ill!


Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: “The Best American Travel Writing: 2013” Ed. Elizabeth Gilbert

Hello everyone! So sorry for the delay, but I’ve been pretty ill—I came down with walking pneumonia—so please forgive me! I hope you enjoy my latest (belated) post!

I’ve been waiting to do this book review for quite some time…like from the second I bought the book! I picked up 2013’s edition of “The Best American Travel Writing” at a library sale for 50 cents. I was overjoyed when I found it, especially since it was edited by Elizabeth Gilbert of “Eat, Pray, Love” fame.

This book is like a whirlwind RTW tour, introducing you to no end of fascinating people with equally fascinating stories. There’s a trip to visit in-laws in Cuba, there’s a delightfully refreshing and determined run with the bulls in Pamplona, there’s a nonchalant dentist appointment in France. Then there’s a fun foodie adventure in Vietnam, on the hunt for a mystery recipe to the perfect cao lau noodle.

What I loved most about this book was the fact that it introduced me to places and cultures I had never thought of visiting before. Before I read The Bull Passes Through, I’d never wanted to run with the bulls, but author Kevin Chroust gave me that little itch. I’d never had cao lau, but after reading Vietnam’s Bowl of Secrets, I wanted to.

My favorite piece of all had to be Blot Out, a highly moving piece by Colleen Kinder. I found this piece extremely thought provoking. Kinder’s story centers around her experience as a woman in the Islamic, male-dominated city of Cairo, and her desire to, as she puts it “pass invisibly” without being harassed as a Western woman in an Eastern world. Thus begins her quest to venture out into the market of Cairo—dressed in the traditional (and highly controversial) niqab. The niqab, which was most recently banned in France, is that all-covering black sheath that Americans were so violently introduced to after 9/11. With only a small screen for seeing, the woman inside the niqab is completely covered, and completely hidden. Together with a friend, Kinder ventures outside to one of Cairo’s more famous everything-including-the-kitchen-sink markets, disguised in niqab. Instead of being stared at and cat-called for being a Westerner exposed, Kinder and her friend move through the crowds with relative invisibility, blending into the everyday scene of Cairo. Without walking around completely exposed, the two are able to move through the market, observing and shopping like local women.

The scheme goes well enough for a time. However, even with the cover of niqab, Kinder proves that even local women are not free of harassment. Towards the end of her experiment in the market, Kinder is “ass-grabbed” proving that women in any dress can be harassed on the streets of the city.

What I liked most about Kinder’s story was the ability to blend into another culture, totally unseen, without that invisible billboard that shouts “Westerner,” or, even worse, “American!” to the rest of the world. What would it be like to walk down the streets of any city, not just Cairo’s, and be able to totally blend into the scene? It reminded me of the time I tried to make my way through the crowds in a pub in Ireland using my best Irish accent. Unbeknownst to me, the crowd was a group of American tourists. “Oh isn’t she cute?!” crowed an American lady, thinking a very polite Irish girl had just tried to not knock her pint out of her hand. I felt a similar thrill when reading Kinder’s piece. The thrill of blending in, or, in Kinder’s words, “blotting out.”

There’s so many different experiences and places chronicled in this book. Like I said before, it was like a mini-RTW trip, exposing the reader to a potpourri of sights, sounds, smells and tastes from the comfort of the couch (or a booth at Panera, where I read Bombing Sarajevo and The Mad Dogs of Istanbul). Unlike a lengthy travel memoir (which, don’t get me wrong, I love!) this collection offers up enough of a tease that makes me want to go off and do my own exploration and fill in the next chapter of the adventure.

I’m now on the hunt for all the “Best of American Travel Writing” installments, because this volume made me want more and more stories to devour, because that is what you’ll be doing when you read this book, devouring each and every adventure that comes along, and become even more eager to make your own.

Post Script: Interesting note, my copy of this book appears to have been spirited from the library of a Viking River Cruise ship. I must not have been the only reader who could not part with their copy after they read it!

Thanks for reading everyone! And I'll do my best to have a new #TBT on Thursday!!!