Hello from London: a Vlog with Aspiring Kennedy

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On a crisp, sunny, beautiful London day last December, I wandered around Kensington Palace and gardens with Lauren Bryan Knight, otherwise known as Aspiring Kennedy. We had lunch at The Orangery at Kensington Palace and ended with tea and scones at Candella. Pretty much the perfect day. And my sister, who now lives in London, joined us at the end! 

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I first met Lauren in London a few years ago, and she's one of those people that you instantly connect with. She also happens to be really funny, a mom to three adorable kids, and wife to her great husband Tyler. Lauren also really gets travel, and she takes her kids all over Europe. She's also what I consider to be a real influencer (#overusedannoyingword), because people trust her. I work in travel and media, and know hundreds of travel journalists and agents - and while many of them are awesome, I'd take Lauren's recommendations first. (If you're going to London, use her guide! I always do. And here's my England/London guide, just in case.) 

We went on a lovely walk and talked travel tips, with and without kids. Here is the full 14-minute chat! 

Beautiful Wengen & the Bernese Oberland

 View from the Beausite Park Hotel, Wengen. 

View from the Beausite Park Hotel, Wengen. 

We spent a picture-perfect summer week in Wengen in the Bernese Oberland this summer. It's a magical car-free town with views of the Jungfrau, one of the highest mountains in Europe. Little Wengen, with its cute main street, wonderful restaurants, and mountain town clothing shops, is also home to one of my favorite hotels in Switzerland - the family-owned Beausite Park Hotel Wengen. You wake up to views of the valley and the Jungfrau, enjoy the most delicious breakfast buffet and dinners, fantastic coffee in the cozy lounge, live piano music at night in the bar, and true Swiss hospitality. I loved seeing all the American, British, and Swiss families gather at the dinner tables on their vacations. It's so, so lovely. 

The must-do's in the Bernese Oberland: hiking, cheese, and wine. Here are some more of my highlights: 

  • A wonderful family-owned cheese shop, Chäs Gruebi in Wengen, that stocks lots of Alpenkäse (Alpine cheese) and Swiss wine. The essentials.
 The Chäs Gruebi shop in Wengen (on the way back to the Beausite Park Hotel). 

The Chäs Gruebi shop in Wengen (on the way back to the Beausite Park Hotel). 

  • Dinner outside at Da Sina (behind the Hotel Schönegg) for pizza, pasta, and salad. It was such beautiful, cool weather and the light on the Jungfrau looked fiery and ablaze as the sun set. Eat on the patio if it's nice, but the inside is super cozy, too. 
 Dinner outside at Da Sina. 

Dinner outside at Da Sina. 

 The Jungfrau ablaze near Da Sina. 

The Jungfrau ablaze near Da Sina. 

  • An Aperol Spritz on the terrace at the Hotel Caprice - stunning views, perfect weather! 
 On the terrace at Hotel Caprice. 

On the terrace at Hotel Caprice. 

  • Hiking from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg: a 1.5 hour walk, slow descent, doable for almost anyone. The fields of wildflowers (blooming in late June/July only), the rushing waterfalls cascading down from the glaciers, the views, THE AIR. You take the gondola from Wengen to Männlichen and then the trail is well-marked, like most trails in Switzerland. In Kleine Scheidegg, I loved eating at Restaurant Grindelwaldblick. You can either hike back to Wengen from Kleine Scheidegg or take the train down.
 En route from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. 

En route from Männlichen to Kleine Scheidegg. 

  • A slice of homemade apricot cake at the restaurant at the Wengenalp train station - German/Austrian/Swiss baked goods are hands-down my favorite in the world. They're not as sweet (you won't find enormous cupcakes or brownies), there's a big focus on fruit (like the apricots), and they're often topped with a giant blob of lightly sweetened whipped cream. 
  • Lunch at Hotel Alpenruh in Mürren after hiking from Lauterbrunnen to Mürren (amazing views of the Jungfrau, Eiger, and Monch mountains). Take the quick tram from Lauterbrunnen (across from the train station) to Grütschalp and set off from there. It's mostly flat and really beautiful - you'll make friends with all the cows along the way. Best done on a day that isn't too hot - there isn't a lot of shade. 
 Lunch at Hotel Alpenruh in Mürren.

Lunch at Hotel Alpenruh in Mürren.

  • A note on trains: Not all mountain railways are included with your Swiss Travel Pass, a must if you're taking a lot of trains in Switzerland. Seat61 has a great overview of train options in Switzerland, but know that you will probably be shelling out extra for gondolas and other regional trains in the Bernese Oberland. 

What's Your Cocktail?

So, I don't really like cocktails. I rarely take a second glass of wine, even though the smell of wine makes my head spin with happiness (other smells in this category include: garlic & onion slowly cooking, lemon juice, cinnamon, and parmigiano-reggiano).

But I found a cocktail I love. The "Mr. Pink" is $28 (not cheap) at The Baccarat Hotel on 53rd St in Midtown - and it is a fantastic champagne cocktail. It is now off the menu, so you'll have to ask for it.

You get giddy and tipsy and if you do order one up, you're sipping in a most gorgeous space - huge bouquets of flowers (I love the big globes of red roses), Baccarat crystal chandeliers and glasses, and major people-watching. When you get there, take the elevator to the second floor/lobby level and sit in the Grand Salon area. The bar is seriously opulent so take a look in there, too.

Mr. Pink: Belvedere Vodka, Cappelletti, Fresh Raspberry Syrup, Lemon Juice, Ruinart Rosé Champagne

Chez Panisse in Berkeley

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My sandals broke on a long day of scouting with NatGeo photographer Catherine Karnow. No time to waste when we already had a packed day. The closest savior? A Walgreens. I trudged in, bought a $5 pair of flip-flops and continued working.

The day went on and we were close to Berkeley, where Alice Waters' iconic restaurant Chez Panisse has held court for 43 years. She was the first to really pioneer farm-to-table eating. Catherine had photographed Alice years ago and had raved about the restaurant as one of her favorites.

I have wanted to come to Chez Panisse ever since I first heard about it, which was probably when I was 12 years old, obsessed with reading any and all magazines. We decided to try our luck at getting in to eat on a busy Friday night.

And I was so mad that I shuffled in wearing my $5 Walgreens flip-flops (later promptly tossed into the trash).

Despite the footwear, we were lucky to get seated as walk-ins for the "cafe" upstairs, which just feels like a normal restaurant (albeit one with a gorgeous open kitchen and bustling, happy diners seated at rustic wooden tables). The "restaurant" downstairs has a prix-fixe tasting menu.

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To say it was exquisite perfection is not exaggerating - but it was so simple. Dessert? Blueberries and two apricots. The salad lettuces were crisp and earthy; the polenta, sweet corn and tomatoes sweet and salty. It is like you are being hugged by the state of California and everything that represents.

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I always thought Chez Panisse was ridiculously expensive. But it's not! It is now one of my favorite restaurants in the world - I could happily eat there again and again. It is an absolute must if you're in the Bay Area (about a 20 minute drive from downtown San Francisco).

What Are You Reading?

What are you reading lately? I feel so giddy and satisfied with reading a slew of great books lately. Books that you can't wait to get back into when you're forced to put them down.

Though I've been less into food lately (more of an "eat to live" mentality rather than "live to eat"), I am absolutely loving David Lebovitz's book My Paris Kitchen. It is so much more than a cookbook but rather an insider look into Paris, French food, the globalization of food, and David's own kitchen and personality. His sense of humor - laugh out loud funny in such a self-deprecating, humble way - and warmth is present in every beautiful page. 

I also have loved Extra Virgin, the cookbook focusing on Tuscan cuisine from Debi Mazar (from 101 Dalmatians! Entourage!) & her Italian husband. I've made nothing from it but the stories are compelling and I can't wait to actually cook from it.

Where'd You Go Bernadette? - If you read one book, make it this one. I laughed out loud the entire book, and finished in three days. There are not many books like this out there! Perfection.

The Light Between Oceans - I can say that it's a heartbreaking & poignant read about a couple who can't have children, finds a baby and raises it as their own. I'd be right. It also takes you to the farthest, remote corners of Australia in such an evocative way. But every time I hear a book described as "heartbreaking," I think "No thanks!" Trust me - this book is so great and thought-provoking. You will not be able to put it down.

The Husband's Secret - Another page-turner. The last chapter wraps it all up perfectly.

The Aviator's Wife - A fictionalized account on the life of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Totally fascinating. Not the stuff you learn about in American history class. And now I'm convinced that Charles Lindbergh had something to do with the kidnapping of his baby boy. Whoa. He was definitely not the nicest man.

Delicious! - If you like NYC, food, magazines and/or simply fun books, this one's for you. I am such a huge Ruth Reichl fan (I never miss any of her blog posts) and loving this spring read. Update: It starts out strong, falters in the middle, and gets better at the end.

Also on my (overly crowded) nightstand...

The Interestings (started it and loving it) & Me Before You 

Plus one book I read but didn't love: Dare Me. A book for young adults set in the crazy world of high school cheerleading? Count me in. Not this one. It's just creepy.