Thursday, April 17, 2014

Tintern Abbey and Tea

When we last left off in our British wanderings, we were admiring the Wordsworthian daffodils outside Tintern Abbey.  But we hadn't yet looked at the ruins themselves.  What do you say, should we step inside?

There's something so inspiring and magical about exploring old ruins in Europe.  It's like stepping into the past.

Tintern Abbey was a Cistercian monastery founded almost 900 years ago.  The cloisters and church were built in the 13th century, and for years this was a hub of activity in the Wye River Valley until it was dissolved by King Henry VIII.  Around the regency it became a popular tourist spot to visit.


I stopped to mail a postcard at the cheerful red box across the street then went in the great old doors.  There is an entrance fee - it's about 4 pounds.

I was reading somewhere that when the romantics (like Wordsworth) came to Tintern Abbey, it looked quite different.  The ruins were more picturesque and untouched; nature had taken over, and ivy and greenery grew everywhere.

I guess I'm not sorry they've cleaned it up, as it's better preserved and surely safer!

With the overcast sky, the still-bare branches of early spring, and the fragments of stone everywhere, the world seemed all colored in grey...

It made the grass and patches of green stand out that much more!


Your imagination gets a work-out when exploring ancient ruins.  Not only do you try to picture the life that once went on here, you also try to picture the structures...

With your mind's eye you build up walls and columns and rooms, travelling into the past glory of the Abbey.

But then again, it has a unique glory even now.  There's something breathtaking about a grand church with soaring columns and a grassy green floor, a roof open to the sky, and the trees peeking in through the paneless windows.

Those mountains rising up behind the ruins were so gorgeous!

Maybe it was the weather or the time of year, but I had Tintern Abbey almost all to myself.  It was so peaceful and beautiful, wandering through the old columns, humming an old hymn to myself, trying to imagine the Abbey echoing with the voices of the monks chanting or singing...

There are informational plaques situated here and there (with text in both English and Welsh!), telling you about how the monks used to live and work here.


After exploring my fill, I was feeling like a hot cup of tea might be nice - it was misty and wet and cold as well as grey!

The Anchor Tea Rooms were nearby, but when I went in, it turned out to be more of a restaurant than a tea room.  I really just wanted a cup of tea and a maybe a piece of cake, not a full meal, so I went across the street to buy a postcard and decide what to do.

The White Monk looked like just a regular gift shop, but it said Tea Room on the awning, so I asked and was directed down some stairs through a low doorway...

This was exactly the sort-of place I was looking for!  It was a cheerful little room with brightly checkered table cloths smiling against the stone walls.  There was a table full of cakes and tea treats in the middle.  There were no servers or seaters to be found, and the man at the counter in the gift shop advised me to just call into the kitchen with my order.  I was promptly brought out a pot of tea and a thick slice of chocolate honeycomb cake.

Absolutely the perfect afternoon restorative! :)

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Where in WDW: Elegant Lanterns

Happy Windsday, my friends!  Ready for some new Where in WDW trivia?

This week it's very colorful: have you ever spotted these oversized yet elegant lanterns somewhere at Walt Disney World?  Post your guess in the comments!

Lots of you guys recognized the cavernous space in the last trivia find it in the queue for the Little Mermaid ride in New Fantasyland!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

What's in my Disney Park Bag

There are a lot of things you need to plan for a Disney trip: which parks to go to, which rides to ride, which restaurants to eat at, which Fastpass+ to get, etc. etc.  Having a strategy is a good idea when you're headed for Walt Disney World...not just for your touring plans, but for your purse as well!

The bag you take with you for a day in the parks is going to stay with you the whole day - you want to travel light but not forget anything important you might need.  This post includes the things I like to bring along in my bag - be sure to chime in in the comments with your park purse essentials!


The "What's in Your Purse?" is a popular tag on youtube, so of course I had to do a vlog for the Disney version!

As I mentioned in the video, if at all possible, it's actually good not to bring a bag.  The security lines can be very long, and being able to breeze right past them and go through the "Guests with No Bags" entrance is pretty darn sweet.  Sometimes I'll pare down my park essentials to the bare minimum and just use a small wallet or clutch that will fit in my pocket for bag check.

That pink one is a Dooney and Bourke wristlet that I really love.  The Mickey Balloons are D&B as well - technically it's a small makeup bag, but add a wriststrap and it works great in the parks!  The Cinderella wristlet has made an appearance on here as's the perfect size, and I love the quote and how elegant Cindy is!  (Do you like the mini Minnie cupcake keychain I added?)

If I'm only bringing what will fit in my pockets, here's what will be in my wristlet:

1. My Wallet: These days I've been loving the campus double id wallet by Vera Bradley.  It's so tiny but so cute!  A small wallet is the way to go - the main cards you don't want to forget are your room key and park ticket - unless you've already got those on a MagicBand!

2. My Cell Phone: I was just remembering the days when my family would bring walkie talkie radios to use in the parks - and you'd see plenty of other families with them too!  Sometimes you would overhear the funniest conversations.  These days everybody has some sort of cell phone - mine is an ancient cheap flip phone which can make calls and send text messages and not much more, but it gets the job done!

3. The Strawberry: You guys know the strawberry!  It's my iPod touch 5.  It' basically an iPhone that can't make calls - but as long as you have free wifi (which is pretty much everywhere at WDW!) you can do everything else with apps and the internet and photos and videos.

I absolutely adore the strawberry - it was such a good purchase, especially for travelling and Disney trips.  You can check the MDE app for wait times and Fastpass+, you can use instagram and twitter and upload videos to youtube, you can use iMessage to text people.  If you ever can't find bars on your cell phone, using iMessage through the free wifi is a great back-up means of communication!

The only drawback to using the strawberry so much in the parks is that it runs out of battery fast.  On one of the early trips when I was using the strawberry, I carried a wall charger around and kept scavenging for places to plug it in.  NOT. FUN.  Which brings me to a fourth essential item to stuff in your Disney wristlet/purse:

4. A Portable Charger: the portable charger I use is made by Jackery - you do need to bring a cord along to connect your device to the charger.  I've been really pleased with it so far; it doesn't run out of charge, it powers the strawberry fairly quickly, it's small enough that I can usually squeeze it even into my wristlet.  Mainly it is SO wonderful not to worry about the strawberry running out of battery and having to search for a wall outlet, sit there, and wait for the thing to recharge when there are so many other things to do!  I would definitely invest in some sort of portable charger for your trip.

If it's going to be a long day, and you don't want to have to worry about your wallet flying out of your pocket (That has happened to me.  Twice.  On Tea Cups and Big Thunder.  Luckily it didn't fly too far either time.), then a purse can be more convenient.  My go-to Disney Parks bag at the moment is...

The Vera Bradley Mini Hipster in Midnight Mickey!  Having a bag with some Disney character representin' is kinda necessary... ;)  Look - Minnie's shoes are on the front!

And Minnie herself is on the back!

I originally purchased the mini hipster because of the pattern, but I have since come to love the layout and design of the bag itself!  It has a built-in wallet, several zippered closures, a deep open pocket on the back which is perfect for slipping the Strawberry in and out for easy access - just enough pockets for organization but not so many that you can't find anything!

SO.  Shall we get to what's inside the bag?

5. Your MagicBand: This is a no-brainer, and probably you'll have it on your wrist already.  When I don't want it on my wrist, I just hook it onto the strap of my purse to keep it nearby.

6. Spare Trading Pins: Maybe you'll finally spot the final pin in that cupcake set you've been collecting... ;)

7. Shiny Pennies + Quarters: Disney pressed penny machines deserve really shiny pennies.

8. Extra Memory Card: If you are a shutter bug like me, you do not want to be caught with a full memory card during a busy Disney day.  An extra camera battery might also be a good idea.

9. Hand Sanitzer: No one wants to get sick at Disney, and this is a very public place with plenty of germs.  Whenever we're sitting down to eat at a Disney meal, someone will ask, "Who has the hand san?" and we'll pass it around.  Super convenient.

10. Nail Clipper: You might be scratching your head on this one - no, you will not need to clip your nails in the park.  But you never know when you might need a small pair of scissors - to cut a tag off something you just bought, etc.  I was once travelling with my Aunt in Amsterdam, and we were about to set out on a bike ride, when we realized a cord had gotten hopelessly tangled in the tire of one of the bikes.  We used a nail clipper to cut it off and were on our way in no time. :)

11. Small Notebook + Pen: I always need to have writing implements on me - you never know when someone is going to say something utterly hilarious that just has to be written down.  Also if you've read The Scarlet Pimpernel you'll know that you should always have paper and pen on you.

12. Trip Mascot: If you've read my trip reports, you'll know that I think trip mascots are pretty fun.  Something really tiny - like Rapunzel the LEGO princess - works perfectly!

13. Purse Hanger: That's what the thing with the Minnie bow is!  I actually bought it at WDW - they sell one with Mickey's hand too.  It's just a fun thing to have to use at restaurants to hang your purse from the table.

14. Pill Box: This one is actually not in the photo - I stole the idea (like lots of my best ideas) from my mom.  She often carries a really tiny pill box that will fit a few Motrin - a minature first aid kit, if you will.  But probably not with bandaids - you can always pick those up at first aid.  They have really nice big giant bandaids for blisters!

15. Ziplock Baggies: Handy for wet rides if you want to protect your electronics.  Also handy for restaurants when you're too full to finish that last Mickey waffle but know you'll want it later. ;)

I didn't include my big camera on this list - a Canon Rebel XT - because I usually just carry it over my shoulder.  I use it too often to keep it in a bag anyway.  Also don't forget your sunglasses - but those you'll probably be wearing.  And if you forget them then you'll have an excuse to pick up a cute new pair with Minnie Mouse polka dots in the gift shop. ;)

Some other things not on my list: bottled water.  Stop by any counter service, and you'll get a big tall cup of ice water for free, no need for mugs or bottled beverages.  When it comes to sunscreen, we usually lather up at the resort in the morning and don't cart around the big bottle in the park, though we might bring a mini stick or tube.

I might bring a small umbrella if rain is threatened, but then again I might not.  Florida showers often pass quickly, and I'm not really a poncho-sort-of girl.  When we had a little one in a stroller, our Disney Park essentials were entirely different.  We would bring a whole bag of ponchos and all sorts of extras and then just pile them on the poor pack horse stroller.  But it's pretty nice travelling light these days!

SO.  Now I want to know: what's in your Disney park bag?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Viking Coffee and Team School Bread

There are some Disney desserts that get really hyped.  The dole whip for example.  Or the classic mickey bar.  Or the bread pudding at OHANA.

Or Norway's School Bread.

I absolutely adore Kringla Bakerij og Kafe at Epcot (where you'll find the school bread), and I've posted about their delicious cloudberry (or troll) horns, their creamy rice pudding...but never the school bread!  I figured we'd better fix that ASAP. :)


Does anyone else get excited just thinking about the Norway pavilion?  It has so much great stuff...Maelstrom, Laila, all those trolls...

You know a Norway vlog was necessary.  I saw Elsa walking through the Puffin's Roost!  Probably she had a treat from Kringla waiting for her back in the palace. ;)

Here are some little trolls, peeking out a storefront window: "Can we get some of that school bread?" they ask.

Nope, it's alllll mine.  The school bread is a sweet roll filled with sweet cream, covered in toasted coconut and topped with an extra dollop of cream.

Confession time: I don't like coconut.  It can be a dessert deal breaker for me.  But I really like the cream and the bread parts of this dessert, so, yes, I scrape off the coconut.  I know you're judging right now.  C'mon.  Stop judging. ;P It comes off pretty easily, and then you're left with pure deliciousness...

It's got just the right ratio of cream to bread, and they go perfectly together.  The cream has a nice vanilla-y, custard-y flavor, but is so much lighter than custard - more like whipped cream.  The bread is soft and chewy.

The coconut is a no-go for the rest of my family, so they went with a troll horn and some lefse on our last Kringla visit.


Mmmm...lefse.  But there was one more touted treat I wanted to try...the viking coffee!

Isn't it cute??  I love the little mug it comes it (although I'm somewhat surprised they give you a hot beverage in a plastic cup...).  You can order viking coffee hot or cold.  It is alcoholic - it has Kamora, coffee liquer, and Bailey's Irish Cream.  They'll ask you if you want whipped cream. that even a question?  YES!

It was creamy and coffee-y with a kick, definitely tasty!

Have you ever tried the viking coffee?  Are you team school bread?  Did you know school bread even has its own twitter account??  Share your thoughts in the comments!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Pre-California Shopping Adventures

In just about a week, I will be headed to California for a family wedding and a quick jaunt to Disneyland!!  I am super excited...and naturally I have been combing through my wardrobe deciding what to wear.  Want to help me plan and pack?  I have some fun shopping stories to tell too...

The other day I found myself in front of a White House Black Market (am I the only one who calls it Black House White Market by mistake all the time??), and this pretty pink pleated skirt in the window pulled me in.

It was so flowy and long; so when a salesgirl asked if I wanted to start a fitting room, I said yes.  She asked if I was shopping for anything, so I said I was going to California.  Normally I say I'm just browsing to keep the sales speil to a minimum, but what can I say, I was excited!  She took the skirt while I browsed around the rest of the store - mostly in the sale section, let's be honest. ;)

All the dressing rooms were empty of customers when I went over looking for my skirt - three had nothing in them.  The fourth and last dressing room had two salespeople in it and a bunch of clothing.

Then I realized one of the salespeople was the girl who had been helping me.

Then I saw the pink skirt was there.

And I'm just like: "UMmmmmm."  

The store was quiet, and the girl said she had had some fun and picked out some things to go with the skirt...

Like, a whole new wardrobe to go with the skirt.

I know it was a sales gimmick (a really smart one!), but it was also really fun!  The salesgirl was so nice and not at all pushy, and I felt like I was in one of those movies where they bring out a million different beautiful outfits for your inspection.

Usually in said movies the girl has just married a millionaire or become a rock star or something, but it was still fun to pretend and play dress-up for a little bit. ;)  And the things that the girl picked out were all really cute!

Like this formal floral top.  I wouldn't normally pick up something like this - I don't really do sleeveless.  But it actually went perfectly with the skirt.  And of course the salesgirl had remembered to put in a pink sweater.  But see, this is the fashion industry tricking you into buying a shirt and a sweater, when if they just gave me a shirt with sleeves to begin with I'd be good.

You can't even see the cutest part of this shirt.  It's not the beads, though I do like them.  It's not the stripes - usually I stay away from those, they can make you look wide.  There's a little black bow on the back of the collar with ribbons going down your back.  It's so funny how one little detail like that can really make a piece of clothing!

I reeeeally wanted this polka dot clutch.  It was the perfect size - it would even have fit a small book!

Alas, the very clever sales tactic was wasted on me.  If I could've afforded it, I would've been glad to buy all those pretty things, but the skirt was the only thing I could even contemplate finding room in the budget for.  It looked absolutely lovely on - one of those things you know you'll be wearing for years - and I did end up buying it...although I went and used the wifi at the mall to find a coupon to use on it first. ;)

Cause that's how I roll.  Gotta love RetailMeNot!  White House Black Market doesn't seem like one of those stores where they have a huge 30% or 40% off everything sale once a month, so I didn't think waiting would do much good.  There are stores like that though, where I never want to pay full price, because I know there's a sale right around the corner.

Old Navy seems to have lots of deals that come and go, and I've been waiting for a good one before I get this cropped denim jacket I've had my eye on.  I'm thinking it would be fun for the trip and a good back-up for any cold weather.  Fingers crossed!

I would also love a new swim dress for playing in the Pacific, like this one from Athleta, but I don't think there are any sales coming up.  Why are there not more classy swim dresses out there?  Athleta caters mainly to athletes, but it's also perfect for girls looking for more modest swimwear!

With Easter and the wedding, I have been in the market for a pretty floral dress.  Actually I'm always in the market for a pretty dress, but they can be difficult to find.  There are three things I need from any dress:

1. A Swishy Skirt
2. A Flattering Waistline
3. Sleeves

Sadly, dress sections often dissapoint me.  Maybe I find a dress with sleeves, but it has no waistline and a sheath shape.  Or I find a dress with a swirly skirt and good waist, but it has no sleeves.  I'm pretty convinced the fashion industry has a secret conspiracy to produce only these two types.  Think of how much cheaper a dress must be to produce when you don't have to worry about the shoulder seams and sleeves...or when you forget about a waistline and make a sack and call it a dress.

I like sleeves.  I'm pretty sure I look better with sleeves.  I also like a good waistline and swirly skirt - get them right and they give you a perfect shape...even if you've been eating a few too many cupcakes lately. ;)  So it baffles me when the fashion industry tries to tell me that these two essential slimming and figure-flattering features are unnecessary.

Maybe you love sleeveless / sheath dresses.  Maybe you look great in them.  And I'm sure those types of dresses will always be around.  I just want more dresses with sleeves and waistlines to choose from.  Right now there are so few. :(

Oh dear, I'm ranting, aren't I?  Will you even believe me when I tell you that I did find one and on sale??

It was at the Gap.  The photo doesn't even do it justice - it's so pretty!  And it's lined (when dresses are made of paper thin fabric and aren't lined...but I won't even start...).  And I adore those sleeves!!

It came in yellow too, but I went with the navy.  And I had a coupon that worked on top of the sale price.  It was the best day ever. ;)

Have you been doing any spring wardrobe shopping lately?

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