How to Spruce Up A Less-Than-Brand-Spankin'-New Temporary Home

Let's face it. It's inevitable. At some point in your life, you're going to have a crappy room.

I've mostly been lucky on this front. I'm on my fifth room at the moment and although most of them have been tiny, they've come fully furnished with sturdy, lasting furniture and quick access to Target.

...this was not so much the case with my room at Oxford.

We stayed at Stanford House, an ooooooooooooooold, old, old maze-like haven that spans across four or five buildings. Did I mention it was old? It's leased from Magdalen College, so Stanford's not allowed to mess with it renovation-wise too much, although there is a massive renovation going on right now. The spanning-across-buildings thing meant that in some rooms, there are very obvious signs marking the end of one building and the beginning of another - different colored walls, sloping floors, ceilings of different heights, etc.

I loved Stanford House. I loved my room at Stanford House. It had character, a lot of history, and had pink walls. And as prime a location as you could beg for. But it wasn't without its problems. Namely, disgusting walls with grease stains and smudge spots and holes of all different sizes. The furniture was rickety and battered. The floor was slanted (see how far and weirdly our wardrobe leans). Upon moving in, Lauren and I performed some quick magic and turned it into something people described as "homey" and "cute" and "adorable." Here's what we did...
1 // Keep the place relatively uncluttered.
One of us was more successful than the other (and it wasn't me). We stuffed suitcases and bulky items away (the one you see above was lurking there after some traveling). Keeping the floors and desks clear kept our room looking bigger and cleaner.
2 // Pull back the drapes... with belts.
The curtains were looking a bit dingy when we moved in. Questionable stains and lots of ripped, teared spots. We pulled them back with the only things we had - belts - in an effort to give it a more lived-in touch while also making sure that I didn't need to touch the darn things in my sleep. This meant lots of sunlight in the daytime and a cool breeze in the nighttimes, but nothing we couldn't handle!

Similarly, we tried keeping the windows as open as possible to let in fresh air and let out musty air. And so we could stick our heads out and admire our pretty view of the garden.
3 // Utilize what you already have.
Our priority was sprucing up the walls so they didn't look so rundown. Therefore, we decided that our plan of action was to cover the walls up as much as possible. To do this, we bought a box of push pins (impossible to find, by the way) and liberally pinned things all over the place. Jewelry, scarves, and other common accessories played double duty. (This also made them easily reachable, which was a plus!)
4 // Buy cheap and fun little decorations.
I brought with me two rolls of washi tape, which amounted to something ridiculous like four buckaroos. The 4x6 patterns and prints you see mixed in along with pictures came in a little booklet full of cute sayings and whatnot - for a grand total of $3. Bring Target with you

5 // On that note, bring home with you.
Pictures, treasured notes, books, trinkets. Bring them and scatter them all over the room so you feel right at home, right away.
6 // Buy things that will make it feel like home to you.
We went to the British equivalent of the Dollar Store and Target and bought teacups, plush blankets, and other cheap things that we thought would comfort us on a rainy day. Because ... they were all rainy days. 

7 // Hop in bed right away and start watching your favorite TV show.
It's akin to bringing along a teddy bear or the blankie you've had since you were in the womb. 

And Then The Oxen Crossed The Ford, So They Called It Oxford

- High Street from Magdalen Tower -
- St. Mary's church from High Street walking towards Cornmarket Street -
- Radcliffe Camera -
- Brasenose College - the one that I was associated with. -
- a slice of Stanford House -
I half felt like a fraud putting this post up with these pictures in the first place. Don't get me wrong, I was smiling the entire time I went through and edited these photos. They bring to me so much joy. But at the same time, I look at them and other, somehow truer images fill my mind - silent little films that flash briefly, so briefly that I'd miss them if I let my mind wander for a split second.

These pictures that you see, I took them the week before I left. After a whole three months of putting off taking my camera around and snapping candid moments, I decided on a whim one afternoon to do it before it was too late. So I grabbed my camera and spent two hours walking around the central part of Oxford, trying to capture some of the sights that I saw every single day. Oxford is the most special place - it is its own distinct blend of academia, tradition, old world charm, and history. You arrive thinking you're on the set of a period film (they are in fact frequently filmed here).

That afternoon couldn't have been more beautiful. The sun was shining - a rare moment - but not harshly at all. It was more like a gentle kiss on the hair, just warm enough to absorb without it being overbearing. The grass was lush and bright after a winter's endless storms and ready to be grazed upon by the deer parks' own. The rivers had finally lowered, so the sidewalks were un-muddied. I explored parts of Oxford that I hadn't had a chance to before.

But the thing is, as picture-perfect as that afternoon was, the pictures that I treasure the most are actually those brief mental flashes. Of cocktails in lounge chairs and meeting new friends, of meals in old, historical dining halls - although I am happy to have left the tasteless peas and carrots and cabbage behind - of coffee runs every single morning and milkshakes in the afternoon (including one in which I fell down a mini flight of stairs and managed to keep my coffee from spilling), of wanting to rip our hair out while essay-writing, but finding it okay because we were in the middle of a library older than our entire country. I cherish the evening trips to go hunt down Kinder Buenos, and movie snuggles, and the half price sushi at Itsu. It's the countless photographs captured carefully not by a lens but by my mind and my heart. That's Oxford to me.

24 Hours In Paris

Notice anything new?

The talented and extra patient Rekita Nicole was the mastermind behind this re-design. I am completely obsessed. She took all of the scattered ideas I was throwing out and turned them into something so very me. I recommend her times a million if you're itching to try something new!

Now, let's talk about Paris.

After Nick left us to go meet up with his parents for a Spanish tour, Lauren and I found ourselves on a 6.5 hour train ride from Barcelona to Paris. We had realized that we'd have about 24 hours there total and despite it being a completely impractical, expensive, and out-of-the-way detour, we decided that Paris must be done.

One Harry Potter movie and nonstop stunning scenery from the French countryside (I felt like I was in the Sound of Music) later, we arrived in Paris.
After checking in to the luxurious Marriott right on the Champs-Elysee {serious Eloise moment}, the two of us navigated the metro system deftly (or something of the like) and appeared in Montmartre. We took our time browsing through souvenir shops and breathing in the sweet, sweet Parisian air.

Until finally, it was time for dinner.

For days, I had convinced Lauren that we must dine at Le Refuge des Fondue. We arrived right after it opened, and snagged quality seats. You guys, this place is a charmer. Years of scribbled messages from visitors all over the world, teeny tiny, and a good amount of quirk, just the way I like it. To get to some seats, people have to get up on chairs and step over tables and really, it's a fun place to spend an evening.

The two options are a beef broth fondue with beef and potatoes or a cheese fondue with lots of bread. Lauren and I chose the beef broth and spent a good two hours mastering our technique. But perhaps the best part... is the wine served in baby bottles.
Don't be discouraged by the surly waiter. I don't think he's a huge fan of Americans, and welp - Americans are frequent visitors, it seemed like. We even managed to befriend two fellow study abroad-ers sitting next to us - two really sweet girls - and traded them a couple of cubes of beef for a couple bites of fromage. Smart deal, yes?

Then, I managed to smash my bottle, clumsy little child that I am. The waiter was not thrilled, but we booked it out of there before he could really reprimand us.

Don't tell him I sent you.

Tummies stuffed and bodies a'waddling, the two of us wandered up, up, up to go and check out the Sacre Coeur. Beautiful church, beautiful views, and a beautiful Eiffel Tower twinkling in the distance.
Ooh, and then upon returning to our hotel, we found a nice concierge and begged him to direct us to the closest crepes.

Although overpriced, it was right across the street and deliciously paired with Nutella and Berthillon ice cream, so there are no regrets there.

The next day, he referred to us as the "dessert girls." I'll take it.

Early in the morning, I dragged Lauren out of bed and made a beeline for Laduree, which was conveniently also across the street. We filled up a goody bag full of macarons and traded bites of each one as we headed towards the metro station. My favorite is actually hidden in the following picture - it was a gorgeous aqua and fittingly named the Marie Antoinette.
At this point, I realized that the sugar overdose needed to be continued - and we used our noses to track down Angelina right after getting off at the Jardin de Tuileries stop. We grabbed a Mont Blanc and some riiiiiiiich hot chocolates and parked ourselves on a ledge between the Louvre and the Jardin, with the giant carousel and the statuesque Eiffel Tower in the distance. 

I remarked, "this is a scene straight out of an indie movie."

If an indie movie was Gossip Girl-in-Paris.
I had visited Paris two months earlier - in the beginning of January - with my family, and was already head over heels for the city. But Paris in the Spring - goodness, it's intoxicating.

Finally realizing that maybe we should fit in some "exercise" before we truly beckoned heart attacks, the two of us started a long walk. First, we wandered along the Seine and towards the Pont des Arts to check out the famous lock bridge.
Then, we continued up the riverside, checking out cool vendors and continuously mentioning how surreal it was that we were here, in Paris

As we were gabbing, we glanced up and look! The Notre Dame!

We tracked down Shakespeare & Co., a bookstore that I had desperately wanted to check out. It was just as tiny and lovely and old-book-smelling as I imagined. 
Still on a mission, we hurried along. Except, 'hurried' really meant 'slow-walked.' We meandered around the back of the Notre Dame, which I personally found to be even more stunning than the front - and then all the way to the Marais neighborhood, which I was completely charmed by.

I think we described it as reminiscent of Manhattan, but cuter, cleaner, and more charming.

Can anyone guess where I was marking as my destination?

This, of course:
Best falafel I've ever had, hands down. YUM.

I was preparing myself to be underwhelmed after all the hype around L'As Du Fallafel, but nope. It exceeded every expectation I had, and then some.

Afterwards, we found Colette and stopped inside for a quick look, but speedily realized that everything in the store was a million times over our budget.

So we made our way to the Avenue de l'Opera and tracked down Pierre Herme to pick out a few macarons to nibble on for our train and coach rides back to London and Oxford. I liked that this patisserie was much less touristy than Laduree, I appreciated the more creative flavors, and I admired how more... French... this place seemed.

But actually, contrary to what so many of my friends thought - I actually preferred Laduree. Just a tad.
Then, as the sand in our Parisian hourglass really started disappearing, we went back to the Tuileries metro stop, arrived at the hotel, grabbed our bags, made our way to the Eurostar, enjoyed a ride through the French and English countrysides - and the Chunnel - and emerged for the last time in a really, really long time - in London. 

Lauren and I familiarly went from St. Pancras to Victoria Station aboard the Oxford Tube (on which nibbling of macarons took place) and sat in silence for two hours as we took in the dark highways leading us back to our temporary home for the last time. 

A day of packing and saying goodbye to Oxford was still ahead of us.

But still. We'll always have Paris.

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