Friday, February 28, 2014

Paris Trip Part 2: The Happy Parts

So, I went to Paris for a weekend late February and my time was both good and bad. Luckily the bad parts were solely dependent on the people I walked around with, not the tour or Paris itself.  So, this part will be the good parts, essentially, of Paris. I will include some criticism, but not my personal problems. That will be in the next part mostly as a form of Catharsis.
The trip into Paris was fine and so was the hotel (I stayed in the Ibis on Rue Clichy). Also as part of the tour we had an hour or so long panoramic tour of the city which was very nice to go on and help with understanding the size of Paris and the orientation of the areas within the city. I would recommend one of these tours, and not to drive yourself. The French are crazy drivers.  We then went to the Louvre in the evening. The Louvre is free to students under 26 on Friday nights so this is a great option for students. The Louvre is magnificent, and stunning, and so overwhelming and beautiful. The Mona Lisa was underwhelming; it is very small and under 6 inches of bullet proof glass which tinted it blue. You also have to stand several meters back.  It honestly wasn’t that crowded for me and so I looked. But, if it’s crazy just see the Giorgione Pastoral Concert in the same room and then move on. The other areas of the museum were not crowded at all. The Greek and roman marbles are gorgeous and worth the stop on the way to the Mona Lisa. The upper levels were even less crowded.

The next day after the Louvre I went to see Notre dame which was beautiful, free, and I didn’t really have to wait to go in. The stained glass is gorgeous and so in the wood carving. I then went on a river cruise down the Seine which was very pretty and nice, but unfortunately cold for me because it was only 12 degrees Celsius and windy.  Near Notre Dame there is the latin quarter (named after the universities that used to teach latin). This is a great place for cheap food and souvenirs.  I then shopped on the Champs Elysses which was quite nice. The shops aren’t anything unique specifically, but it’s nice walk toward the Arch du Triumph. I went into the Sephora, H&M, and some other ones. Also as a side note, many places you have to pay to use the bathrooms and many restaurants do not have one. Your best bet is always McDonalds. Everyone I’ve been in have free toilets and they don’t even check you bought food. There are two on the Champs Elysees.
After the Champs Elysee I went to the Rue l’opera for more shopping and stopped at Pierre Herme for macarons. They were 2.05 euro each which is a bit expensive, but I think worth the splurge.  I got slated caramel (which was good but not as fantastic as the review make it out to be), rose (which was delicious), and Passion fruit, rhubarb and strawberry, (which tasted mostly like passion fruit and was the best thing I’ve ever eaten).

The next day I went to the Eiffel Tower and took the elevator up (which took like 2.5 hours to get on). I then went up to the top level. The 2nd floor wasn’t very cool because it was open and windy and the very top was also windy. But, the first place you get off at the very top is enclosed, and I enjoyed the view a lot. Just as a note, you need to buy a special ticket, or two tickets, to get to the top floor.
I then took a walking tour through Montmartre and saw the Sacre Coeur cathedral. It was pretty from the outside (you had to pay to get in) but the trek up was so long and steep and there honestly wasn’t that much to see and the food was overpriced, so I wouldn’t do it again. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

My Trip to Paris Part 1: The Eurostar

From the 21st to the 23rd of Febuary I was in Paris, France for a vacation trip. This trip was arranged though my school in London, CAPA and Proscenium Tours. This is probably going to be three parts; the first being talking about transport to and from London and Paris. The type of travel we used was the Eurostar from London St. Pancras to Paris Du Nord.
To get to St. Pancras you simply take the tube; it is attached to several lines, I think it’s Piccadilly, Victoria, and Northern. I took the first train on the district line from where I live and then switched at Victoria onto the Victoria line until I hit King’s Cross.  As a note, make sure to check the TLF website before you have to leave if you must take the first train (for me 5:09 am) because not all stations open at the same time because I had originally planned to take the Piccadilly line, but the TFL told me to take Victoria. It turns out later that the Piccadilly doesn’t open until 5:30 or something, so I would have been a bit late for my meeting time for the train.
You take the tube to King’s cross (maybe get there early for a Harry Potter picture at 9 ¾?) and then follow the signs for St. Pancras and then to the Eurostar which are all very obvious. I then waited for my group for the tour and then went through security and border control. Security is that you simply put your bags and coat on a conveyer belt and then step through a basic metal detector. Since there are no liquid regulations or anything it is really quick. Border control is also very chill; you go through French control on this side and they just check your passport and go through.
You then wait for your train to be boarded and get on.  The seats are pretty comfortable and roomy.  The trip itself was 2 hours and 15 minutes. The train ride was very comfortable and I had no problems with nausea; which I have on the plane. The only “uncomfortable” thing is that you go through the tunnels your ears tend to pop.
The way back to Paris was the Eurostar again, and getting on the train was much more stressful.  Part of this was that we were all tired from walking all day, and part was that my personal trip time was unfortunate. When we got to Du Nord (we took the metro there; I think it was 13 to line 2 and got off at La Chapelle?) we found out that there had been an overbooking of a previous train and everything was backed up for two trains. These people were then prioritized and all 70 something had to wait. And then, we found out that since we are non-EU citizens our process was quite long. We had to wait in an extremely long line, since there were almost 80 of us, and they had only two lines open from UK border control. They later opened up a third line, but not all of the officers worked the same. The line I was in was the slowest, of course. Our officers somehow took so long to put people through that the guy next to him put through 3 or 4 people. All they did was look at our passport, tickets, and entry letter printed by our university. We also had to fill out a landing card stating our name and address in London.

Once we actually got on the train, we had waited so long we had to board right away, it was fine. And of course getting home was fine on the tube even though I was very tired.  

Monday, February 24, 2014

Food Review: Starbucks® Discoveries-Caramel Macchiato

Starbucks has really amped up its refrigerated bottled drinks. I have tried most of their single serve bottles, but have recently been able to get the large container caramel macchiato. This drink comes in a large cardboard container much like milk. It has a screw cap on the side for easy pouring (mine somehow got dented in though so pouring isn’t that easy.)
Each container has 50.7 fluid ounces (about 1.5 liters) and costs a little under $5 at my local Walmart.
It is supposed to be a “chilled espresso beverage” and is a mixture of espresso, milk and flavoring. While a normal caramel macchiato is a layered drink (caramel sauce on top of milk on top of espresso) this is all mixed together into one dark brown drink.
The drink is not bitter, in is in fact quite smooth and drinkable, and has a milky but not fatty flavor. The caramel, though, is not very noticeable. There is just a slight hint of richness barely recognizable as caramel. No slurping bits of sauce up here.  Basically it is sweet, but not overly so, and actually does taste like coffee.
Since this is in a carton, there is no taste of aluminum as found in some other iced coffee drinks. Also, it is quite a good deal at under $5 (around the price of a grande actual caramel macchiato).
So, does this remind me exactly of a caramel macchiato? No. Does it replace that starbucks experience for me? No.  Is it good? Yes.
Overall, while this will never replace an actual starbucks beverage, this is a good, relatively cheap option for iced coffee drinking at home. I find it is so easy to just pour out a glass of this in the morning and get my iced coffee caffeine fix. And at only 120 calories for an 8 oz. glass, I can control my consumption of coffee calories.  This beverage comes in two other flavors: vanilla latte and cafĂ© mocha.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Eating on a Budget: London

While I normally have a food plan at school, in London I am on my own when it comes to food money and budgeting. My mother is putting money in my account every once in a while, but I want to keep on a strict budget for food as to not spend a lot. My max budget for food and entertainment is $2000 because my normal food plan costs about that much. This equates to about 80 pounds a week. So, I want to spend the least amount I can on food, but I also need my meals to be simple, because I am often tired and cannot be bothered to cook a complicated meal, and I also don’t want to have many ingredients  because they raise costs and I cannot often eat off of it before it goes off.  I also have limited tools.
My current meals consist of ready meals and a simple pasta dinner. I can already tell that my fruit intake is down, so I’m trying to eat fruits like apples and bananas for snacks and drink juice.
My ready meals consist of the chilled microwavable meals that both Sainsbury’s and Tesco sell. Tesco’s are about 95 pence and Sainsbury’s are about 75 pence but appear to be a bit smaller and they have less variety.
The varieties I have tried so far are the Shepherd’s Pies (very good!), banger and mash (not very good; the sausages are half filler), mac and cheese (good), and spaghetti Bolognese (good). I have also just bought chicken curry and rice and creamy chicken and rice but have not eaten them yet. These meals are about 400 grams and are a good size, but if I’m really hungry I’ll make a vegetable (frozen brussel sprouts or peas) to go with them.
The pasta meal I like to make is super simple and delicious. To make it I use a small bowl full of farfalle pasta (a 500 gram bag is like 95 pence and is a quite large bag) and boil until cooked. At the same time I cook frozen brussel sprouts (1 pound for a kilogram aka very large bag) in some water until tender. I then sauté the sprouts and cut them in half in a bit of butter. I then add some butter to the pasta and mix them together with salt, pepper, and parmesan (something like 75 pence for a small shaker of grated parmesan).
Other cheap choices it to have eggs and toast or soups.
If I use this logic and pattern I can eat two good meals a day for under 15 pounds a week. For an extra few pounds I can also afford tea, bread, and jam for breakfast. I understand that this is not a grand or really feasible way to eat your meals for months at a time, but I find it workable for short bursts with the occasional treats of drinks and eating out. Also, if you are a fan of sweets like me, Tesco brand biscuits (cookies) are good and cheap (45 pence for a decent sized sleeve/package). I find very little to no difference between Tesco and the name brand biscuits.
For where to shop I recommend Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s; they are the cheaper stores (many foods for under a pound and many value sales and offers).These stores may be cheap, but they are good quality, surprisingly do. The small one (express and local versions) they aren’t that great, but the big stores have super nice bakeries, fish mongers and the like. I also heard that ASDA is a cheap food store, but I haven’t been to one.  Waitrose is another common local store, but from what I can see it’s a bit more expensive.

While eating out and buying certain foods like meats can be very expensive in London, it is not impossible to eat decently on a very tight budget. 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

USA vs UK: Jam

From watching TV I have gleaned that the British do not have Jelly in the American sense, they only have Jam. I have also heard on QI that Americans call Jam Jelly, which is not true as they are two different things for us.  So, now that I am in the UK I bought a jar of Jam (which seems to be one of the two main choices of fruit spreads, the other being Marmalade). The kind I got was Hartley’s seedless raspberry jam which is supposed to be “Britain’s favourite jam!” It has a thinner consistency so it is easy to spread a thin layer on bread without ripping it up.  It also doesn’t have any bits of fruit in it and is also more translucent than American Jam.

Overall, I found that UK jam is a sort of Jam/jelly hybrid, but easier to spread than both. I actually like this better than American Jam or jelly. I look forward to trying Marmalade, because some of their marmalade looks like there is no peel which is a bit strange. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Review and swatch: Revlon just bitten kissable balm stain in honey

I was quite curious about the whole “chubby stick” lipstick phase, and one of the most popular ones are the just bitten kissable balm stains. Leighann (leighannsays on youtube) always raves about the balm stain in honey, so when I went out to get one of the new matte balms I picked this up too.
This balm stain is a chubby stick style tinted lip balm like product. It comes in the screw up pencil form which makes application easy. It has a slight minty smell and tingle.  The color honey is a mauve pink tone; it is pretty similar to my lips.

When wearing this color, my lips don’t change that much in color, instead it evens them out and gives the illusion of plump, even, lips. The balm leaves a bit of gloss behind. When earing this it is extremely natural, my mother even commented that she was surprised I wasn’t wearing any lipstick; and I was wearing his!
When I first got this I was slightly disappointed; there didn’t seem to be much purpose for this color that was so natural, but after wearing it several times, I quite like it now. Since it doesn’t dry out my lips, it is great on days I don’t know what lipstick to wear or don’t feel like bothering with it.

This normally retails for $7.99 at Ulta, but with coupons and deals, it cost be under $4. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Adagio Tea Review

While I’m quite interested in tea, I tend to stick with the teas I know I like and not really branch out. Part of this is because finding good teas in my area can be hard, and when I do find halfway decent teas they are expensive.  Through the internet I heard about and their teas.  For black Friday they had free shipping, and I had a $5 credit, so I went to town buying samples.
I bought in total four sample bags, and then received one for free after sharing my purchase on facebook.  Samples are $2-3, each is labeled to makes 10 cups of tea, but I believe it could make up to 15 (though I haven’t measured).  Each sample bag is 0.8 oz, and is a big bigger than my hand. I think this is a decent deal, because at the grocery store if you buy tea bags of a good quality you get 15-20 bags usually for $4 or even a bit more. This way you get looseleaf tea and a large variety to choose from for a similar price per cup.  Each bag is labeled with the name of the tea, its ingredients, and the advised steeping time.
The teas I got are: Ceylon waltz, pu erh spice, irish breakfast, earl grey lavender and, lapsang souchong.
I chose these teas specifically because I wanted I few I knew I would like (Ceylon, irish breakfast), One I thought I might like (lavender), and two types of tea I have never tried and didn’t know if I would like.
Ceylon Waltz:
This is an unflavored black tea from the Ceylon region. This I brewed like I would any other black tea, for about 4 minutes and drank with half a teaspoon of sugar and a bit of milk. It is very good, but not anything exciting.
Pu erh spice:
Pu erh is a special type of tea that I aged and fermented to give it a smooth taste. This blend also includes cinnamon, ginger, and orange along with other spices. I brewed this for 5 minutes as recommended. This tea was surprisingly good. I drank it with sugar and milk and was surprised that I could taste the spice, but it wasn’t overwhelming. It was warming, but not spicy; it was milder than any chai I’ve had.
Irish breakfast:
This is a black tea blend including assam and Ceylon teas. I found it to be a bit stronger than the Ceylong waltz and a bit more “warming”. This was a great, but again not too exciting tea; a great black tea option.
Earl grey lavender:
I like earl grey, and this is it blended with lavender buds and a “cream flavor”. I found the lavender taste to be pretty strong, and I think a bit clashy with the bergamot citrus. I think the lavender would be better added to a plain black tea. Overall, it was ok, but I could not see myself drinking a whole pot. It gets overwhelming after a while.
Lapsong Souchong:
This was the tea I was most dubious about, and rightly it turns out. I have heard of this tea a lot on TV, movies, books etc. but hadn’t really know what is was. The website said it was a type of smoked black tea. Even though this kind of disgusted me, I vowed to try it anyway. When I first sniffed it, I was overwhelmed. It was like sniffing a campfire! It took me a while to work p to drinking it, and the brewing experience was a bit not so good. The smell gave me a bit of a headache. When I actually drank it though, it wasn’t so bad. In fact the taste was fine; bordering good, but the smell was still overwhelming. I don’t know if I’ll drink it again. I would like to note though, I don’t think anything was wrong with my sample or with adagio, I just think I don’t like this type of tea.

Overall, I’m quite happy with my adagio experience, and am curious to try out more teas. It was definitely cheaper waiting until they had free shipping, and when black Friday rolls around next year (or if they have another promotion) I might just have to but more. I still haven’t tried an oolong or rooibos tea yet. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

First Impressions: Camden Markets in London

Recently I took my first visit to the Camden Markets in London. I had heard a lot about these before both online and in tour guides and on TV. The first part was a walking tour with people from my school, and then when we hit the markets proper we were on our own.
We took the tube to Swiss Cottage on the northern line and took a walk through Primrose Hill (a wealthy neighborhood)   and through regent’s park.  We then walked over the bridge into Camden and towards the Markets. The first one we hit has large sculptures of horses in the front. Inside there were many stalls selling both food and general wares. The food was decent (I had Chinese, there was also Indian, pizza, falafel and more), but as I soon came to realize, all the wares were the same. All the stalls had the same dresses, coats, watches etc., and it was also hard to tell the prices because most stalls didn’t label or have signs; you had to ask. Many of the clothes were either touristy or “cheap goth” like a tackier version of hot topic. There was also a strict no picture policy, probably so they don’t get in trouble for counterfeit goods or false advertising. There were also a few “vintage” shops that were essentially way overpriced thrift stores. We then walked across the roads to the other set of markets that had a lot of food again (which looked better actually) and their stalls that had a lot of the same stuff and the first set, but seemed a bit cheaper.  None of this looked very good quality or unique at all. It was only as we wandered into another set of markets (on the first side we were on) that we found some better stuff (though not much) and we saw the entrance to cyberdog. I had heard of this place, but we couldn’t enter because we had drinks with us.
We then were very tired and decided to go back home, to do this we went towards the overground which was over the bridge and down the street, past the Camden tube station, then we went towards the world’s end pub, and then down that road until we hit Sainsbury’s and then just a bit further down that road. On this path we found a set of stalls called “The Camden Markets” which seemed smaller and more like a boot sale/flea market. I saw some signs for Doc Martens etc. that seemed like good used version. I would like to go their next time. I also heard that there was a good vintage shop somewhere; I’ll have to look it up for next time. 

Overall, I was disappointed in the selection because it was all the same and the prices were too high. I also think we fell into the tourist trap places instead of the better markets for those in the know. Next time I’ll research to find the better shop, if there are any. 

Monday, February 10, 2014

USA vs UK: Kettles

In the US it is nearly impossible to find a kettle, especially one at a good price or any type of variety. You can find the stove-top ones pretty easily, but they take a long time to boil depending on your stove. It is the electric ones that are convenient and widely used in the UK.
While my flat here in London doesn’t have much in the way of kitchen wear it does have an electric kettle, so of course, I had to see if tea tasted better in an electric kettle as opposed to microwaving the water to boil it. Essentially, the answer is no. I have not experienced any difference in taste from the water; the taste of the tea is much more subject to the different types of tea and for how long they are steeped.
What I do like about it though, is its convenience. When microwaving the water you have to get to know your microwave to find the amount of time it takes to boil your water without over boiling. When using a kettle, it only heats it to the point of boiling and then shuts off; you need not input any numbers or push any buttons etc. Also, when using a kettle you have your microwave free to do other things.

After this, I really do like the convenience of an independent kettle, but am still stuck at the American price. A kettle is the US cost at the bare minimum $20, usually a bit more than that and up to $40. These also tend not to go on sale because they are not very popular. Kettle in Britain though, can be found for about 5 pounds on sale at Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s.  I might have to try and buy one off amazon or some site like that to find one for ideally under $10. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Trip Review: Stonehenge and Bath

As part of my program I am given two weekend trips, one of which I just went on and was to Stonehenge and Bath.
To get to Stonehenge we took a coach (bus) about an hour and a half south west of London. We passed many of the outer areas of London like Chiswich and some nice British countryside. When we got to Stonehenge we were given a pass to the information center and site and an audio guide. To actually get to the stones we walked a few minutes to the main center and then took a little bus for about ten minutes, the stones are separated from the visitors by a “fence” which is really just some string in small metal spikes. This doesn’t inhibit your view at all and you can walked around about 2/3 of the stones; there is an area you can’t go. The stones themselves were cool to look at; the guide was moderately informative. I heard that the information center was a good place to see, but we were only given an hour and a half to see the stones, and some of my friends wanted to eat, so we didn’t get a chance.

After Stonehenge we drove another hour or so to Bath. The little town had beautiful, large houses made of a sort of pale yellow stone which is quarried locally. All of the houses are made in the same stone and Georgian style. It is very pretty to look at especially the royal crescent building and the circus. We then took a tour of the roman baths which are very cool to see, but the museum set up isn’t very good; you go up and down and side to side, winding around the building. The museum is under construction, so it may be more intuitive later. After this my group and another two hours to wander around town; we went by the river and wandered through the streets, but it appeared to us that bath was very small; we were able to walk around all of the shop area in less than 20 minutes; the rest of town appeared to be houses.  We then stopped into a pub to kill some time and drank some of the local cider which was very good. We then popped by a candy shop in their market, and then headed toward the buses.

Overall, both of the trips were very nice to see; though I wish Bath had more of a quiet, spa town fell. As it was bath was packed with people, cars, and modern shops like Starbucks and Pret. 

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Review and swatch: Wet n’ wild blush in 833E mellow wine

For some reason I’m not really a blush person; it doesn’t really excite me much. But, I only really have one I use (wet n wild’s pearlescent pink) which is a very summery color, so I needed a more winter color.
I decided to pick up mellow wine; it is a reddish pink color. At first glance it appears to be matte, but if you look closely under bright lights you can see a bit of micro glitter. When swatched or applied, the glitter is not noticeable.

On the cheeks it looks like a nice natural flush; like I just stepped in from the cold. I have to be careful, though not to add too much. This blush is very pigmented and can easily go on too strong.
The texture of the blush is the velvety feel that is common in wet n wild blushes and eyeshadows.

Overall, this is a good blush that will see a lot of wear in the colder months and for $2.99 it is a good deal, too. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

First Impressions: London (bus Tour)

The first weekend of being in London we had the opportunity to go on a bus tour. This took us from CAPA in Kensington though the borough, through central London, the southbank, and back to school. I will be going on more specific events and tour later, but I thought I’d do a post about my general impressions of this too.
We started out in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and drove past the Victoria and Albert, The Science, and the Natural History Museum. We continued past Harrods and many expensive, luxury stores until we got to Buckingham Palace. There we stopped for pictures, and continued until we reached central London. We went past The palace of Westminster, and into Trafalgar square. We then quickly stopped by St. Paul’s Cathedral, but we didn’t go inside.  On our trip back across Tower Bridge we saw the London eye, and our tour guide pointed out monuments and parks until we got back to CAPA.

Overall, I think it was a good and interesting tour; it gave me an idea of places I may want to go in the future for trips. I think it is not the same being on a bus instead of walking so I am looking forward for my walking tours in the future.