Inspiring Travel Books – The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden

the girl who saved the king of swedenI almost missed my train out of Yekaterinburg because I decided I was going to the bookstore, no matter how far away it was.  It was pretty far, and Yekaterinburg is sliced in half by the Iset River, requiring me to walk further out of my way (in both directions!) to find a bridge that could get me from my hotel to the bookstore.  When I finally arrived I asked, in broken Russian, “Books in English?” and the cashier shook her head no.  I sighed and headed for the door, but then a customer yelled at me, in broken English, “Lady!  Lady!  Up!”  So I went upstairs and found a small selection of English-language books, including Jonas Jonasson’s The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden.

Book in hand I ran back to my hotel and then jumped on a bus to the train station, arriving a mere twenty minutes early (I usually liked to get there thirty minutes early, but most normal people get there five minutes early) and headed for my seat in platzkart.  This was the only time I traveled third-class in Russia: bunks are stacked three high in an open carriage with space for fifty-six travelers.  There was no privacy and I was worried the passed-out drunk guy above me was going to pee himself (and thus me), but fortunately I had a good book to take my mind off things!

Anyways, back to the The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden.  This book tells the story of an illiterate, but highly intelligent, girl from Soweto named Nombeko.  It follows her through an early childhood in which she uses her cunning to her advantage, and through her later years as an immigrant in Sweden who finds herself caught up in a truly crazy plot.  The story is humorous and heart-warming from start to finish, and I thought the translation into English was wonderful.  I was smiling and laughing (to myself) the whole time I was reading, which I’m sure made the other travelers in my cabin think I was a crazy foreign girl!  This would be a perfect read on the airplane (or the train!) and a great gift for any avid reader this holiday season.


New Horizons!

AsiaAir Online Booking

I’ve finally got some travel news!  I’m so excited to announce that I’ll be visiting some exciting new (and old!) destinations in the upcoming months!  As you can see from the photo above, I’ve just confirmed a trip to Asia for next July and August.  I had to use up my AirMiles before they started expiring at the end of 2016, so I decided to cross one off my “not-bucket list”, and go to Bali.  However, it was really hard to find flights that were accepting AirMiles, so I ended up having to fly into Singapore.  This changed my routing a bit, and now I’m thinking I will spend about two or three weeks in Thailand first, followed by the rest of the time getting back to Bali and some of the nearby islands.  I liked booking with AirAsia because they had this fun screen where I could pre-select my onboard meal and decide if I wanted a little treat too (I do!).  After going through the terrible AirMiles booking process I was also really happy to log into Delta’s website and upgrade a few of my longer legs; their website was easy to navigate and I thought the prices to upgrade to “comfort” class were very reasonable.  I think it’s going to be a great trip!

View of Barcelona

Another fun one on the horizon is Barcelona, which is a city I haven’t visited since 2005.  It has a special place in my heart because it was the first overseas place I visited on my own.  I originally visited from November to January, then later returned the following summer.  I’ll actually be going back again over the Christmas season; fingers crossed for no snow!

Ottawa, Canada

And last but not least, it appears that I will be going on my first-ever work trip this spring!  In my field there isn’t much need to travel, so other than our CEO attending conferences and things like that, we don’t often get to leave our city.  I have been asked to join the executive team in Montreal and Ottawa for a week (pending being the successful bidders on a contract), and it looks like there will be a fair amount of time to explore should everything fall into place.

Sorting out all of that has been one of the main reasons I haven’t posted much lately, but I’m excited about sharing more in the upcoming weeks and still maintain a busy presence on both Twitter and Instagram if you’re wanting more!

Mealtime Monday – Medovik

medovik russian honey cake

I have stopped for afternoon cake before (like here in Turkey), and find it an especially appealing option when the weather makes walking outside too unpleasant.  When I was in Perm, Russia, this summer it rained non-stop for my entire visit.  There’s not much to do in Perm other than walk around the city center (and maybe head out to the Gulag Museum, if you can find some other people to join you) so I wandered aimlessly in the rain for a few days, stopping every now and then for healthy, Indian-inspired vegetarian food at one restaurant… followed by cake at another!  I actually think I may have opted for medovik (a soft, creamy, multi-layered honey cake popular all across Russia) both times, as medovik is such a traditionally Russian treat and it’s so different from what we can get in my home country.  What is the most delicious cake you’ve tried in your travels?

Weekly Photo Challenge – Careful in Zipolite, Mexico

corriente peligrosa warning zipolite mexico

A few years ago I holidayed in Zipolite, Mexico.  This a beautiful beachside town (fortunately far south of Hurricane Patricia’s wrath this evening) that is famous for its forceful, unpredictable undertow that has claimed the lives of many locals and tourists.  Some say the name actually translates to “beach of the dead” in the local dialect.  There is a small, protected cove at one end of the beach where you can wade into the water or have a little float, but all along the main stretch of sand it’s imperative that you be careful and avoid going in the sea.  What to do instead?  Sunbathe in the nude, visit Shambala resort for yoga or healthy foods, or take a shared van to one of the nearby villages where the beaches are much safer.

Mealtime Monday – Vegetarian Buuz Time in Mongolia

Vegetarian Buuz Dumplings in Mongolia

In Chisinau, Moldova there is a bar called Booz Time.  In Mongolia, on the other hand, it’s always buuz time.  Buuz are the probably the most commonly-served dish in restaurants and cafes around Mongolia and Buryatia.  They are steamed dumplings typically filled with meat.  I had pretty much given up hope of ever getting to try them, until I found Luna Blanca restaurant, and its vegetarian buuz, in Ulaanbaatar.  Located inside a Buddhist center, this cafe serves up all of Mongolia’s most favorite dishes, but entirely without animal products.  I enjoyed this vegan interpretation of buuz, full of leafy greens and fresh herbs, with a salad and cup of amazing tea made from ginger, brown sugar and sesame seeds (does anyone know the recipe?).

Empties – October 2015


Preface – I made some quick updates to Feminine Hygiene Around the World today!  This list of pad and tampon availability around the world has been getting more and more press lately, which is great!  If you would like to share information please use the official form, as it is difficult to make updates based on the comments.  To date, the form has been submitted more than 125 times!

Before I went to Russia this summer I had a small collection of empty beauty products that I’d meant to review, and then when I came back the collection kept getting larger and larger!  Now that we’ve had our first snowfall and it’s clear that winter isn’t that far off, I thought I’d clear out all my summer empties and start the new season fresh.  Here’s what I’ve used up since May!

Paris Hilton Perfume.  I didn’t use it up, but I’ve had it for ages, I don’t like it, and I’m not going to wear it.  Into the garbage it goes!

Roc Micellar Cleansing Water.  I love using this stuff to clean my face like a French girl.  I’ve already replaced this bottle with one twice as large!

Sebastian Volupt Shampoo.  I got this in a beauty box (remember when beauty boxes used to give out full-sized products?).  It did volumize my hair, but I would have preferred to be able to try it with the matching conditioner.

Gilette Shaving Cream and a very old Bath and Body Works “Holiday” Soap.

The Body Shop Brazil Nut Shower Creme.  I like this body wash when paired with gourmand perfumes.

Simple Moisturizing Facial Wash.  I often keep a tube of this facial cleanser around, and this was replaced after being used up.  I think this is a great one for travel, as it cleans thoroughly without stripping your skin.

Bumble and Bumble Surf Spray.  This came as part of a set of favorite beauty products from Sephora.  It didn’t do much for my hair, which is surprising as my hair is naturally wavy and I thought this was designed to enhance that kind of natural texture.  Definitely would never repurchase.

Laura Mercier Facial Scrub.  It has the microdermabrasion-y texture that I like, but it was nothing special.  I prefer Exfolikate.

St. Ives Apricot Scrub.  I always travel with a little tube of this, because sometimes my face just needs a scrub.

Herbal Essences Hello Hydration Shampoo.  I also like to travel with a little bottle of this shampoo and the matching conditioner; it’s heavy but it smells amazing!

The Body Shop White Musk White Hot Summer Perfume.  This is one of my favorite scents of all time.  It was discontinued years ago, but I stocked up on eBay (after using up this bottle I cracked open another, and I still have two more in storage).  This is the perfect summer scent.

Lancome Genifique Serum.  I didn’t notice any improvements after using up this entire serum sample.

A bottle of “designer imitation” perfume.  It was a gift, and it’s the thought that counts (actually, Paris Hilton was also a gift…).

Two bottles of Secret Deodorant.

Clinique Repairwear Laser Focus Serum.  This was a very large sample, which was nice (in theory).  I didn’t see any improvement to the look or feel of my skin while using this, and actually found that it caused some unpleasant peeling on the coldest, driest winter days here.  Definitely will not repurchase.

Benefit Dr. Feelgood.  This is a mattifying balm that I bought a long time ago, when I was still in the post-pubescent shiny skin phase.  It did provide temporary mattifying, but I didn’t use it often, and now it’s old, so I’m throwing it away.  In the future I’d stick with blotting papers.

Nuxe Bio Beaute Body Exfoliant.  I loved the scent of this body scrub, but don’t need or want any more body scrubs.

Missha Super Aqua Refreshing Cleanser.  I loved this sample face wash and tried to repurchase at a Missha store in Russia, but was too overwhelmed by the choices to remember which one I’d liked!

Cover Girl Clump Crusher Mascara.  Cover Girl products remind me of being in the seventh grade, so I wasn’t initially excited by this mascara (which was a free sample).  Of course, it turned out to be awesome, and I’ll definitely repurchase if I ever run out of mascara samples!

Cailyn Lip Gloss.  From a beauty box.  This one arrived with red and white streaks inside the tube; it looks like the pigments haven’t been mixed properly.  I have enough nude glosses not to worry about tossing this straight into the trash.

Avon Lip Gloss.  A discontinued shade from one of the last Glossybox Canada beauty boxes before they went out of business (it’s been a year or two and now Glossybox USA serves Canadian customers).  This tube had Polish and Arabic writing on it, and Avon reported that they were not associated with Glossybox in any way.  Into the garbage it (finally!) goes!

Rania J. Perfume in Rose Ishtar.  I’m into rose scents at the moment.  Sadly, this perfume sample arrived damaged, and I never had a chance to smell this one.  The other samples in the order arrived in good condition, though, so hopefully I’ll have more Rania J. empties soon.

This Works Plus Pillow Spray.  From a UK beauty box, this natural linen spray included a blend of essential oils designed to make me sleepier.  Regardless of whether or not it worked, it smelled amazing, and if I win the lottery I will repurchase in a heartbeat!

Kiehl’s Calendula Deep Cleansing Face Wash.  A perfectly acceptable face wash, but nothing to write home about.

Missha Super Aqua Marine Stem Cell Intensive Facial Serum. I like typing that.  It didn’t do anything, but maybe I just don’t have the kind of skin that is problematic enough to warrant using a serum yet.


WPC – A Grid in the Patarei Prison


To me, nothing says “grid” like a prison and its bars.  And nothing says prison like the abandoned Patarei Prison in Tallinn, Estonia.  Some years ago the Estonian government decided to close this prison by simply walking away and leaving everything behind.  Today, most of the prison remains untouched (except for a bit of graffiti), and for a tiny entrance fee you can explore the entire inside and outside of the facility, including all of the old furniture, decorations, medical equipment, technology… and shoes.  If you’ve ever been tempted to break the law, a visit to Patarei Prison might make you reconsider!

Unboxing – Ipsy September 2015

ipsy-september-2015 It’s been so long since I’ve done an unboxing!  Two Ipsy bags arrived while I was out of the country, and I was so excited to open them that I forgot which items came in which bag (I mean, I know I could check my Glam Room to get it all organized, but I am using the jet-lag excuse!).  I’ve actually already started using some of the things I received over the summer, such as an Ofra lipliner in a beautiful wine shade, but was especially excited to receive my September 2015 Ipsy bag in the mail today!


The first thing I discovered in my Ipsy bag was a limited-edition NYX eyeshadow palette designed just for Ipsy.  The colors are shimmery champagne, warm medium brown and deep chestnut, which will be great for fall (especially if I can extend my tan a little bit longer!).  Similar palettes retail for about $5.

Next, I found a City Color City Chic lipstick in Je T’aime.  This is a neutral shade that leans slightly towards the warmer side of things, and also retails for about $5.

The third product I found inside the rose gold Ipsy bag was a sample size of Formula X nail polish from Sephora.  The deep red shade is called Ignite, and it is actual a perfect match for the pedicure I got on the weekend, so I can use it for touch-ups to keep my toes looking beautiful for a few more days!  Full-size polishes sell for $13, so this is another sample that I’d value around $5.

Up next I found a Not Soap, Radio hand and body lotion in a scent called Liquid Freud. It claims to promote positive emotional well-being through a scent of coconut and mango.  I would have loved to receive this in the spring, so I could have paired it with my summer scents.  I’m not sure if pairing coconut-mango with my winter perfumes is going to promote emotional well-being or just sensory overload!  It’s hard to price out this sample, but based on the per-ounce price of similar products on the brand’s website I’d say it’s worth about $1.


The last product in my Ipsy bag was my favorite: a Laneige Water Sleeping Mask.  I find Asian beauty products interesting and inspiring, and while I’m not addicted to them on the level of some bloggers, I do love the way Asian brands are combining fun packaging with reliable results.  I haven’t tried a sleeping mask before, but I’m excited to try this gel-based version.  The sample size of this product is worth about $6.

The total value of my Ipsy bag this month was about $22 USD, or $29 CAD.  It’s no secret that the Canadian dollar is struggling at the moment, and the amount that I paid for this bag (including shipping) $20.25 CAD.  This might not be the highest-value bag I’ve received, but I do know that every product I received will make it into my beauty rotation in the upcoming weeks.  I have cancelled all of my other beauty boxes but am happy to keep Ipsy going for at least another month!

Inspiring Travel Books: Americanah

AmericanahThe pickings for books in English were slim all the way across Russia.  I read a lot of Jack Reacher books that I found in hostel book exchanges (I actually finished two Jack Reacher novels on the bus between Ulaanbaatar and Ulan Ude!).  However, the further west I headed the more likely I was to find a bookstore with a few English selections, and in Moscow I stumbled across Americanah, by Chimanda Ngozi Adichie.  The foreign edition that I purchased actually had a much more evocative cover, but don’t be put off by the simplicity of the printing in my photo… this is a complex book!  It tells the story of Ifemelu, a Nigerian woman who moves to America and achieves many of her dreams… but still harbours feelings for her childhood love, and her childhood culture, in Nigeria.  This book helped me to better understand the experiences of African immigrants in English-speaking countries, but more importantly it got me thinking about the possibility of leaving my current home and moving back overseas.  If Ifemelu could make it work, maybe I can too… I highly recommend Americanah for anyone feeling unsettled in their current environment.  (Also, it looks like Lupita Nyong’o is going to be starring in the film version shortly… you should grab this book before everyone else jumps on the bandwagon!)

Five Things I Was Glad to Have on the Trans-Siberian Express

transsiberian rail lines

I am writing this from Train #075, which travels from Nerungeri (in north-east Russia, the last major stop on the line towards Yakutsk) all the way to Moscow, over the course of about six days. I will only be on this train for part of the journey: about thirty hours from Tynda (in the middle of nowhere, really) to Severobaikalsk (at the north end of Lake Baikal). I’m still new enough to this whole “Trans-Siberian” thing to get to the station an hour early and take a photo of every on-board samovar, but I also feel like after four pretty significant legs of my journey so far I have some insight into what products I’ve been really, really glad to have with me.

Must-Haves on the Transsiberian Express

(In the photo above, my stuff is on the right side of the table, while the stuff on the left belonged to the person I was sharing the wagon with.  That’s not my salami!)

A travel cutlery set. I used this set on every trip that was more than about twelve hours or so, whether it was using the fork to eat instant noodles, the knife to cut fresh tomatoes, or the spoon to scoop up instant soup. The locals also traveled with cutlery, but I didn’t see anyone else with such a small, convenient case.

A huge travel mug. Having a large travel mug means that you can stay well-hydrated without needing to carry around large amounts of bottled water. With a good travel mug you can get all the safely-boiled water you need from the samovar on board the train. You can use the travel mug to brew tea (use two tea bags to better mask the taste of the local water). Leave the lid on for at least fifteen minutes to let it steep (again, to mask the taste of the local water) and then let it cool to the desired temperature. Locals tended to travel with small glass mugs (without lids) but I was very glad to have a big mug.

Carabiners. I tend to be a bit of an over-packer, so there was never going to be enough room in either my big pack or my daypack for the food I needed for long rail journeys. Here’s (one place) where having a variety of carabiners came in handy: I could just clip a plastic grocery bag onto my pack to easily get my food and beverages to the train. I also used them to clip grocery bags closed when I stored food in the hostel fridge; they reminded me which bag of food was my own, and they kept other guests from “accidentally” taking the wrong food.

Protein / energy / granola bars. In general, it was not exceptionally difficult to travel across Russia as a vegetarian. However, some of the smaller trains that I took through more rural areas did not have a restaurant cart. Some other trains have exorbitant pricing (I paid R400 on one train for a vegetable dish that turned out to be half a cucumber, half a tomato and a quarter of a red pepper!). Having some bars with me ensured that I could get at least a little bit of healthy vegetarian protein, and while you might find some local variations in major cities, it looked to me like the ones I’d brought were the more balanced option.

Baby wipes. Even if you’re making lots of stops along your Trans-Siberian tour, you will inevitably find yourself on board trains for much longer than you would normally go without showering (I hope). Some stations actually have showers that you can use (we had a forty-five minute stop in a village today where the station had a shower; it looked quite clean and cost R100), but it’s easier just to take care of your personal hygiene on the train. I used the provided hand towel, along with hot water from the samovar, to wash my face during the ride. I stuck with baby wipes for other parts of my body, doing a quick wipe before bed and again in the morning. My guilt about being wasteful was slightly offset by choosing a brand of baby wipe that claims to biodegrade in twenty-one days.