Inspiring Travel Books: Babel No More

I love learning new languages.  I grew up studying French and later went on to live in Italian- and Spanish-speaking countries, which allowed me to quickly pick up new Romance languages.  I’ve also got a little Japanese under my belt and am occasionally trying to learn Russian (primarily by watching music videos on YouTube, it’s true).  What I didn’t realize was that there is an entire community of people out there who are much more dedicated to learning languages than I am.  Their goal?  To become hyper-polyglots, or people who speak many languages (the usual definition is twelve or more!).

babelBabel No More by Michael Erard seeks to understand these awesome/insane individuals.  Erard traveled the world, in the process exploring the legacies of history’s famed (or, supposed!) hyper-polyglots and meeting contemporary language lovers.  It seems that some people use language learning as an excuse to avoid communication (“Sorry, I can’t come out tonight, I have to study Ancient Greek…”) while others learn languages to broaden their opportunities to communicate.  Regardless of why you love languages, I highly recommend this book!

Weekly Photo Challenge: On Top


This week’s photo challenge is all about being on top.  When I arrived in Romania my first stop was Iași, not too far from the border with Moldova.  I’d been sleeping in hostels for the past couple of weeks and decided to book into one of the city’s nicest hotels (if not the nicest hotel!), Hotel Unirea.  When I arrived late at night, rather unkempt after a long bus ride and suspicious border crossing (four travelers arrived at the Romanian border, two had diplomatic passports, only three of us made it across!) the hotel didn’t reject me as a slovenly backpacker.  Instead, the man checking me in asked, “Would you like to be moved to a top-floor room with views of the city?”  That night I went to bed with the twinkle of the city’s lights before me, and I awoke to views of the entire city that I would later explore.

Unboxing: Topbox April 2014


I received the April 2014 Topbox yesterday!  That was pretty fast shipping- they promise to ship on the 15th of the month, and it arrived on the 15th too!  Unfortunately, the fast shipping was the highlight of my April Topbox experience.  While the value of this month’s box wasn’t necessarily low, the samples themselves were exceptionally underwhelming, especially compared to the Ipsy box that arrived the day before.


The first thing I found in my Topbox was a folded-up piece of cardboard containing a foil packet of “PREVAGE® Anti-aging + Intensive Repair Eye Serum”.  I enjoyed typing that more than I enjoyed opening the 2-ml sample.  Apparently the full size product is 15ml and sells for $155, which makes this sample worth $20.  However, if the full size is only 15ml, one would expect to get more than one treatment out of this 2ml sample.  In that case, it should really be packaged in a resealable container.  I’m not convinced that I’m going to get my $20 worth from this sample.  (Also, does a twenty-nine-year-old girl really need $155 eye cream?  That’s why I like Ipsy- they at least take my age and beauty preferences into account when packing my monthly beauty bag…)


The next thing I pulled out was a little bottle of “pure-delicate gentle soy milk cleanser and makeup remover”.  This cleanser has been in a few other beauty boxes (for example, the January 2013 Beauty Box 5) but I haven’t tried it.  It is supposed to be very gentle and seems popular with those who have reviewed it.  This is the only thing from the box that I’m looking forward to trying, and it’s worth $11.


Next up was some LA Splash nail polish in a shade called “Curfew”.  I wasn’t able to find this shade on the current LA Splash website, so I’m not sure if it’s a new shade for spring (unlikely, given its deep blue shade) or a discontinued shade (more likely, but please feel free to prove me wrong!).


It’s snowing here today, so I wore one of my toasty warm winter sweaters.  Coincidentally, it is the exact same color as this polish.  The last polish I got from Topbox was also an old shade from the autumn of 2012; I would really like some seasonally-appropriate colors once in a while!  LA Splash polishes apparently retail for $7.50 but I have never actually seen them in stores in my own area.


The last item in my April 2014 Topbox was this eyeshadow palette from BH Cosmetics, another company I have never heard of.  Apparently the “California Collection Palette” retails for $18.95, but when I searched the company website for “California” I didn’t get any results.  What I did find was that individual shadows are currently selling for ninety-eight cents each, making this trio worth $3 (if they are full size?).  While I might occasionally use the purple shadow as a liner, I’m not excited about the other two shades at all.

Overall, the “retail” value of my April Topbox is about $42.50 and I paid $12 for the box.  However, retail value is meaningless if the products aren’t going to get much use, and I have no interest in anything other than the cleanser.  I know that some people will be selected to receive a Murale box this month and it will be interesting to see how those boxes compare to the one I received.  On the plus side I received a great Ipsy box yesterday and am happy to try out my new Urban Decay, Starlooks and Dr. Brandt products!

Unboxing: Ipsy April 2014


My April 2014 Ipsy box arrived today!  I’m super-excited because once again it shipped all the way to Canada in a timely manner.  Ipsy isn’t a Canadian beauty box, but it does arrive at my door before it reaches some of its American customers.  Thank you, Ipsy!

Because I’m impatient I checked out the Ipsy website a few days ago and looked in the Glam Room section to see what would be coming in my box.  Thus, I knew that I would be receiving a Dr. Brandt microdermabrasion-inspired exfoliant, a Coastal Scents eyeshadow brush, Urban Decay eyeliner, Starlooks lipliner and Elizabeth Mott eyeshadow.


Here’s a look at the exfoliant, the shadow and the brush.  I am obsessed with exfoliating, to the point where I turn my gym steam room into a hammam, so I was hoping to receive the Dr. Brandt product.  This is a finely-grained treatment that will gently remove dead skin cells to reveal your freshest new skin beneath.  This sample is worth $9.75, compared to the full size that sells for $120!  Wow!  I’m not familiar with Elizabeth Mott products at all, but it would seem this full-size Champagne eyeshadow retails for $13.  I have to laugh at the Elizabeth Mott website, which still advertises that their products are sold on (an infamous, now-defunct Canadian beauty box that ripped off thousands of customers).  Should I feel inclined I can apply this shadow with the Coastal Scents shadow brush that I also received; its value is about $2.50.


And here are the two pencils I received.  The Urban Decay liner is supposed to be a new formulation that seriously stays put.  I always have trouble lining my lower lashes when I’m doing a smoky eye, so I’m hoping this will help!  It’s a travel-sized liner worth $15.  I know it’s not cool but I actually love lip liner, and this Starlooks pencil looks like a great neutral that I’ll be able to wear with any number of nude lipsticks and glosses.  The liner sells for $12.

I paid $15 US for Ipsy, including shipping to Canada, and this month I received five products- that I will actually use and enjoy using- valued at about $52.  As with past months I feel like Ipsy consistently takes my feedback into account and actually endeavours to match my bag to my preferences.  That’s why I’m going to maintain my subscription, and I’d encourage you to sign up too!

Mealtime Monday: Co-Ed Naked Austrian Cake Buffets


Just outside Vienna you will find one of Austria’s hidden gems- a massive water park with Austria’s longest indoor water slide, more pools than you can count, and a co-ed adults-only spa area with all manner of saunas, steam rooms and mineral baths that can only be partaken in by those who dare to bare it all (and speaking from personal experience I can tell you that those who dare to bare it all are nearly all grandparents).

Connected to this waterpark via underground tunnel is Thermenhotel Kurz, a family-oriented hotel with tennis courts, a bowling alley, free bicycles and a cake buffet.  Yes, you heard me.  Your full board includes a hearty Austrian breakfast (during which you’ll be asked to select a dinner entree, one of which is always vegetarian), a buffet lunch, the aforementioned three-course dinner and a mid-afternoon cake buffet.  It’s surprisingly stressful: you might find yourself naked in the steam room next to an elderly man rubbing local wine-infused lotion into his buttocks when you hear the clock strike three, signalling the commencement of the cake buffet.  What to do?  I was once so harried by the call of the cakes that I threw on my robe and scurried back to the hotel, realizing only midway through the connecting tunnel that I’d actually forgot to put my swimsuit back on underneath the robe.  I was faced with a tough decision: go back for my swimsuit and miss the first fifteen minutes of free cake, or continue onwards and hope that my robe didn’t snag on a corner of the buffet table.  What did I do?  I’ll never tell…

What Does Your Pinterest Page Say About You?


This afternoon I took at my Pinterest page.  I looked at the boards that I had built about my favorite topics, like backpacking, luxury travel, beauty and global cuisine.  There was certainly nothing enlightening about that.

Then I took a look at some of my busiest boards.  What had I been pinning lately?


Four tropical beaches and a beach in Ireland.  I can’t say I’d really given much though to Irish beaches before!


I think that’s Iceland’s Blue Lagoon.  A floating hotel room in Moorea.  The Bahamas.  A swing-set at the beach.


A luxurious pool in Italy.  Sandbars in Hawaii.  A pool in Morocco.

Are you starting to see a trend?

It would seem that my pinning habits don’t reflect my actual travel trends.  Even though I lust after these pictures of beautiful beaches, clear seas and cloudless skies I still end up booking trips to Peru in the dead of the South American winter.  I love the water, I love swimming, I love snorkeling, I’m a certified scuba diver but I still end up booking holidays in sketchy Eastern European towns and Andean mountains.

I know that I’m a bit dissatisfied with my life in general at the moment.  I haven’t bitten off more than I can chew with working full-time and being a full-time grad student, but at times I feel like I’ve bitten off something that I don’t want to chew anymore.  I wonder if spending a few days submerged in turquoise waters might be just what the doctor ordered.

With that in mind I’m going to issue myself a challenge.  I hereby pledge to visit a warm, sunny, tropical beach location sometime in the next 365 days.  I pledge to wear copious amounts of sunscreen, see a sea turtle and drink my own body weight in piña coladas.

I would love for you guys to share a link to your Pinterest pages and also to reflect on what they say about your own life!  Reply in the comments or blog about it and comment with the link!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Monument


This week we’re talking monuments.  The Torre del Caballito is a skyscraper in Mexico City.  In front of the building stands the monumental sculpture Cabeza de Caballo  (“horse’s head”) by designer Sebastian.  I’ve always loved this statue, perhaps because it reminds me of one of the artist’s other works which was located just a few blocks from my old Mexican apartment.  I think that growing up in a rainy climate means that I am especially appreciative of the beauty of a vivid, man-made color against a bright blue sky.

Travel Ethically, Beautifully

Natural Beauty Products for Your Next Trip

Have you heard the uproar about the environmental impact of those little exfoliating beads that are so common in body wash today?  It’s bad enough that in our quest for perfectly-exfoliated skin we are destroying our own lakes and rivers, but to think that travelers might be sullying the Amazon River, the Plitvice Lakes or the Great Barrier Reef?  Inexcusable, especially when there are so many effective natural products on the market today.  When you’re traveling to a delicate natural ecosystem or a developing region without the most modern water treatment stations you owe it to the world to pack your beauty bag properly.  Here are some products that I recommend:

Jason Sea Kelp Shampoo and ConditionerThis duo contains no lauryl or laureth sulphates, parabens or phthalates.  The shampoo is designed to gently refresh your hair with one lather, or deeply cleanse (removing residue) with two.  The conditioner hydrates and fights frizz but doesn’t ever weigh down your locks.

Weleda Wild Rose Creamy Body Wash.  This is rich and creamy and smells like heaven.  It’s also sulphate-free, as well as being free of artificial fragrances, colors, preservatives and raw materials derived from mineral oils (it will hydrate your skin courtesy vegetable-derived oils instead).  This is another product I use regularly (I alternate between the Wild Rose scent, which is very feminine, and the Pomegranate scent, which is more gender-neutral).

Alba Lavender Enzyme Deodorant.  I use this pretty much every weekend as a break from my workweek aluminum-fest.  This is not an anti-antiperspirant and won’t keep you dry, but this natural deodorant will leave you smelling as fresh as a daisy (as fresh as lavender?) all day.  It contains no preservatives, propylene glycol, parabens or aluminum.

Josie Maran Argan Oil.  This is a great, all-natural skin care product that you can use to hydrate dry skin anywhere on your face or body, or even apply to your hair to prevent split ends.  There’s no need to pack separate lotions and creams when you’ve got this in your bag.

bareMinerals Original Foundation Broad Spectrum SPF 15.  No parabens, no sulphates, no GMO, no petrochemicals.  Just five easy ingredients working together to even out your skin tone while protecting from the sun’s damaging rays.  I’d recommend grabbing one of the company’s kabuki brushes to buff this foundation to perfection.

Korres Lip Butter.  Paraben-free and full of healthy ingredients like shea butter, safflower seed oil and rice bran wax.  In six shades, including one that is completely colorless.

Is there another all-natural product that you like to toss into your backpack?  Share in the comments!

Mealtime Monday: Oh, Hell No


The “Republic” of Uzupis is not much more than a shantytown full of artists in Vilnius, Lithuania.  If you like seeing garbage bags wrapped around the stumps of tree trunks and tied with twine, you’ll love the neighborhood.  (Okay, it does have a rather cute constitution…)

I usually find the recommendations in the Like a Local guides to be pretty spot-on, but they really let me down when they sent me to Uzupis Kavine for lunch one day.  For the most part I’ve tried to block my meal at this riverside restaurant from my memory, but what I do recall is that they had two vegetarian choices and were not able to make the one I wanted.  Instead they suggested I order “Emir’s Dream”, which their menu describes as “fried aubergine, rice, parmesan cheese, oriental sauce”.  I should have walked away then and there, but I decided to risk it.  Big mistake.  Parmesan cheese, soy sauce, eggplant, rice, olives, canned corn and lettuce were never meant to go together.  Never.  The flavors and textures were horrifying.  I would have been better off untying a plastic bag from a tree stump and eating the plastic bag.

On the plus side the kvass was good.

A Few Empties / April 2014


Lots of beauty bloggers like to share their empty products before they toss them, and since Project Trash 10 / 20 is officially over, I thought I’d jump on the empties bandwagon!

I seem to have this weird habit of avoiding using up products.  When I get down to the last few drops my natural inclination is to stop using the project and save those drops just in case.  For the sake of my bathroom, and my sanity, I need to be more conscientious about using up what I have on hand before buying more.  So, what have I managed to part with recently?

Bath and Body Works Shower Gel in Japanese Cherry Blossom.  This was a gift and I still have quite a bit of the matching body lotion and body mist.  As a body wash this basic fruity-floral was neither hydrating nor drying, and the scent was light enough for me to layer a multitude of perfumes on top after showering.

Clean and Clear Continuous Control Acne Cleanser.  I love this face wash, which contains 5% benzyl peroxide.  When I’m working out regularly I tend to get breakouts on my chest (right along the neckline of my sports bra) and this clears them up almost immediately.  This is an absolute must-have in my shower.

Live Clean Fresh Face Cleansing Wipes.  These came in my Cosmetics Magazine Topbox last fall.  About a year before that I had actually won the rest of the Fresh Face skincare line, but this was the first product from the line that I used up!  I am lazy a fan of cleansing wipes and these were great to have on hand.

Nivea Essential Lip Balm.  This isn’t actually empty, but I’m tossing it anyways.  I received this in a beauty box (I can’t remember when) and I guess I didn’t use it quickly enough, as it seems to have experienced some kind of molecular meltdown and is now chunky and gooey.  Even in its pristine state I didn’t much like this balm- I definitely prefer Blistex Medicated Lip Ointment (in the white squeeze tube) and Maybelline Baby Lips.

Nexxus Youth Renewal Rejuvenating Elixir.  I received this sample in the mail from Shopper’s Drug Mart and was able to get about three treatments from the little vial.  I don’t think my hair is suffering the effects of aging quite yet (I’m not even thirty!) but this did smell wonderful.  If you’re looking for a great-smelling hair treatment this is the serum for you.

Belvada Coconut Lip Butter.  This was another Topbox letdown and another not-actually-empty.  This “lip butter” didn’t have any ingredients on the cheap, plastic packaging and it is not listed on Belvada’s website.  This actually dried out my lips so much that they felt like they were burning, and I read about other customers experiencing the same reaction.  Avoid.

Mai Couture Social Gloss.  Another not-empty!  I received this in a beauty box quite some time ago (maybe eighteen months?) and since then it has dried out and become clumpy.  I know we’re supposed to toss out makeup after a certain point, but I have some lip gloss that is much older than this (for example, a cherry-pink Bourjois lip gloss that I bought in Europe in 2005…) and still wears beautifully.

Joe Fresh Clear Mascara.  This was my go-to brow tamer for quite some time.  It grooms and glosses perfectly, and as soon as I use up the two samples I’ve got going at the moment (one is Benefit’s Gimme Brow, which I really dislike, and the other is the clear brow gel from Anastasia Beverly Hills) I will be re-purchasing this.