Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Barcelona

I am kind of in shock that it's already been two weeks since we got back from Barcelona, it honestly feels like we landed too days ago...jet lag is for real folks! I'm finally getting down to business though and have put together the following recap of our trip and to share the wonderfulness that is Barcelona.

First off a quick shout out to AMA for helping us out and organizing a fantastic trip that ran smoothly from start to finish. If you're a regular follower of the blog, you may remember my moment of rage when initially trying to get things sorted out, but that has all but been forgotten. 

Traveling overseas is always a bit of a hassle because of the crazy long and painful flight, but we flew KLM and were really impressed. It's still just plane so keep your expectations moderate, but all of our flights were perfectly on time, and they feed you, like a lot, and even offer free booze. Perks! There's no free WiFi, but the on-flight entertainment had a big selection of movies and games. There's a direct flight from Edmonton to Amsterdam (that has been available for really low prices so keep your eyes open), and then it was just a quick flight to Barcelona. The Amsterdam airport is pretty big, and we had a bit of a layover on the way there to explore but our connection on the way back was tight so we had to hustle...the only stressful part of the flights. 

Once we got to Barcelona we jumped on the bus (they have a cheap airport shuttle that went right close to our hotel) and went to our hotel to get settled. We stayed at the H10 Urquinaona Plaza which I have no qualms about recommending to anyone. It was only a couple of blocks from 'Las Ramblas', which is the big touristy spot in Barcelona, and we were able to walk to almost everything we wanted to see. Our room was also pretty spacious with a king size bed and a small balcony with a beautiful view of the Plaza. If you happen to stay at the hotel I would request a room that faces the square instead of one of the interior rooms as those looked to be much smaller. 

Boring stuff over, now onto all the sights....and all the pictures :)

Barcelona is known for it's architecture and Sagrada Familia is by far the most famous so of course we had to visit. I actually studied some of Gaudi's work in a random art history class I took in University but trust me when I say that pictures do not do this place justice. The details in the stonework are ridiculous, the ceilings are so high and it's so bright and open inside compared to any other church I've been in. We went on an organized tour (with a guide who looked like a young Robert De Niro) and it included a trip up one of the towers. There's an elevator that takes you 65m up and then you climb down a tight staircase back down to the ground. The views on the way down are beautiful (top right and bottom left below) and make it a worthwhile add-on. Sagrada Familia is still under construction (has been since 1882) but they are hopeful it will be finished in 2026 (the 100 year anniversary of Gaudi's death). I would love to go back when it's all completed to get another look. 

The second organized tour we took was up to Montserrat, a monastery built up in the mountains on the side of a cliff. We did a tour that included the cog train ride up, which was pretty cool and looked to be an easier ride up than the bus. We did however bus back down and the road is steep and twisty; I'm known to get car sick sometimes but survived the trip and was happy to do it. The views are beautiful and the monastery itself is an impressive feat...how they built such an intricate building in that location blows my mind. Make sure to grab some cheese from the sellers along the road, we brought a couple of blocks back home with us (so delicious!) 

We also had to pay a visit to Park Guell, another attraction that showcases Gaudi's unique architecture. It was crazy windy the day we went, but that didn't take away from the whimsical design that is featured throughout the Park. There is a free access area with hiking trails up in the hills, but you really want to buy tickets and get access to the monuments section to really get the full impact. I loved all the detailed mosaics, they're so colourful and fun.






We had a total of eight days in Barcelona which sounds like a long time for one city, but we were busy every day and never ran out of things to see. On our second last day, we actually did a hop-on-hop-off double-decker bus tour so that we could see all the sights we hadn't made it to. We did the tour on a Sunday which worked well because the city really grinds to a halt on Sunday with most businesses closing up, but all the tourist attractions are open. The tickets were kind of expensive, and you could easily use public transit (the bus or metro) to make your way around the stops, but the bus tour made things easy and efficient. Here are just a few highlights we made stops at: 

Gaudi's Casa Mila (La Pedrera)
Gaudi's Casa Batllo
MNAC - Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
1992 Barcelona Olympics Flame
Parc de la Ciutadella
Barcelona Cathedral

Arc de Triomf
A must visit (another one) in Barcelona is the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Bouqueria, which is a huge food market situated along Las Ramblas. If you're any sort of foodie or just like to eat this is the place to be! It's overflowing with local vendors featuring everything from fresh sea food to cured ham, to handmade marzipan. You HAVE to grab one of the fresh juices (lots of stands have them), and the displays look so stunning with their bright colours...I may have had two, and if I could bring one thing from Barcelona to Edmonton, it would 100% be those juices. There's also a bunch of tapas restaurants within the market, and it's a great way to grab a quick bite. 

When you travel with a guy with a not so slight obsession with fish tanks you have to make a visit to the aquarium. It wouldn't ever be at the top of my must-do list, but I was actually pretty impressed. There are a ton of tanks featuring all sorts of fish and sea animals and a huge underwater tunnel with sharks and stingrays. And they had penguins, who doesn't love penguins? 

One of my favourite things about Barcelona were all the tiny, intricate alleyways in the Gothic Quarter that are lined with shops and restaurants. You could walk for hours (and we did) up and down alleyways and never find your way back to where you started. It's such a unique layout for a city (nothing like the big wide, non-pedestrian friendly streets of North America) and I absolutely loved the old school charm. There's also graffiti art painted on many exterior doors so even when stores are all locked up it still feels really welcoming. 


Probably the only part of Barcelona that was a bit of a let down was the food. I shouldn't be surprised though as Spain is known for its Paella and that's just not really my thing. Obviously, we ate some, and it was tasty but even the best Paella in the world won't make it to my top foods list. They did, however, have giant jugs of Sangria, and you can't go wrong with that. We also ate our body weight in tapas over the trip, and I became hooked on the croquettes that you could find everywhere. This isn't to say we didn't have great meals during our stay, we had some really yummy sushi and a delicious burger at an Irish pub (because sometimes when you're hangry after a long day of exploring you just need a burger).

Phewf, longest post ever! To sum up, Barcelona is awesome...go visit!

Friday, 25 November 2016

Keeping Up With Christmas


Well hey guys, it's been awhile! I've been out of the groove since I got back from vacation and finally have a few minutes to sit down and write. I'm also working on a re-cap of our trip to Barcelona but am still trying to sort through my many, many pictures! 

Anyways, it felt like Black Friday was the perfect time for us all to have a little chat about Christmas and it's crowded shopping malls, overspending and January denial....


I'm kidding, mostly, and I am in no way above all of those things, so there's zero judgment here! Up here in Canada, we don't take Black Friday nearly as seriously as our Southern neighbours. But hey, you do you America...we'll just chill up here in the great white North with our polar bears, not so controversial politicians and add extra letters to words. Off topic, let's get back to it. I'm not here to tell you to stay away from Black Friday sales, in fact, I think it's a good time to sift through the sales and buy those gifts you are going to be buying anyways. Just make sure you stick to your Christmas list and aren't buying crap just because it's on sale. I actually checked the bf off my shopping list this morning by picking up his much desired Nespresso machine at a great price on Amazon. He was also given a not so subtle hint about a low price on a robot vacuum that would make me very happy on Christmas morning...because I'm old and a vacuum is where it's at.

I love everything about Christmas; the decorating, the parties, the gift giving, the gift getting, the food...so good. But to save yourself from the January hangover it's important to keep yourself organized, stick to a strict budget and don't get carried away with the season. There are plenty of ways to show people you care without having to splurge on expensive gifts. A small token, a coffee date or even a sweet card will often be more meaningful to your friends and family that that hot ticket item. I find this is more and more true the older I get because I really just don't need that much stuff. My preference would almost always be a nice dinner out or tickets to a show instead of a new outfit I likely won't wear or another kitchen gadget to clutter up the counter. 

My two non-negotiable rules for the festive season are:

  • Make a REASONABLE budget. Don't short change yourself and make it impossible to stick to but know your limit and let your frugal side rule.
  • No do-overs! Your budget is set, and stone and there are no exceptions based on the adorableness of that ornament. 

If you haven't made a Christmas budget yet then go do that now...I'll wait right here :) Then add up any purchases you've already made and let's hope you're not already in the red and have to sell your cat. Rules are rules! Now that you've got a spreadsheet running your life you'll be able to knock off those last few Christmas gifts and enjoy that post-shopping bliss. 

Instead of falling for the materialism of Christmas let's remember what it's really about...spending time with your loved ones and eating all the food ;) There's no need to be the house with the most Christmas lights, or the tree with the most presents, or the person with the fanciest dress at the office party. Make your own traditions that don't cost a dime, and you'll find yourself more content and less stressed out when December 25th comes around. 

If you're looking for a few ways to reduce your Christmas budget, you can check out my '10 Tips for a Money Savvy Christmas' post from a few weeks ago. 

Thursday, 17 November 2016

10 Gift Ideas for Gals


Yesterday's post gave you a few suggestions on what to buy for the men in your life, so that means tonight we're switching focus to the lovely ladies you have on your Christmas list. Here are a few of my very best gift ideas to treat your moms, sisters, wives or girlfriends to a little luxury on Christmas morning.

Cashmere Blend Cardigan
Let's be honest, wrapping yourself up in cashmere just makes everything better and helps you survive the long cold Edmonton winter. I love the shorter sleeves on this sweater, and the long length is really popular (and extra cozy) this year.

Classic Box Set
If you've got an avid reader to buy for there's a pretty good chance she will be a fan of Jane Austen. This box set includes all of Jane Austen's classic novels, and the illustrated covers would be a beautiful addition to any book lovers bookshelf.

Tea Mug
I'm a big tea drinker in the colder months, and the mugs from David's make drinking loose leaf tea super simple with the included strainer and the lid that doubles as a drip tray for the strainer. I especially love this colour blocked version with the pretty turquoise and gold finish. Wrap up this mug with a few tea samples like this set, and you're good to go.

Diamond Nail File
A nail file? Really? Actually yes! This is no standard nail file (hence the price), and I can guarantee that it will be used over and over for many years by the lucky lady you gift it to. I've had my diamond nail file for over five years now, and it's still in perfect condition. It makes quick work of filing my nails and can just be rinsed off for the next use without ever getting dull and useless.

Lipstick Set
Sephora does Christmas right, and their gift packs are a great way to try out new products at a discount. Smashbox makes a really good lipstick, and this pack has a good variety of colours that will get you through any occasion.

Delicate Necklace
Jewelry is never a bad option, and if you stick with simple, delicate pieces, you really can't go wrong. Jen Ellis Designs makes really gorgeous jewelry that is well made but also affordable. I bought my mom one of her necklaces last year, and she wears it ALL the time. This triple ring version is one of my favourites from her current collection.

Spa Day
Another gift that is always a good choice is a gift certificate for a spa day or specific spa treatment. I don't think I've ever met a girl that doesn't dream of spa day. Find a local spa with good reviews and treat your lady to a day of being pampered.

Unique Art Print
The prints from FauxKiss are really affordable and would make a perfect gift. They are all done on pages from vintage dictionaries, and there's a huge selection, so you'll be sure to find something for anyone.

Microfiber Sheet Set
I'm obsessed with my microfiber sheets and probably missed them more than anything else (ok, except my critters) when we were traveling. They are as soft and cozy as flannel sheets but much more breathable, so you don't end up overheating. They also dry much faster than regular sheets and come out of the dryer with no wrinkles. Good sheets are one of those things that are wonderful to have but always feel like a luxury you don't want to spend money on.

Robotic Vacuum
If you're buying for someone, who has fur babies you might just become their new favourite person if you gift them a robot vacuum. It can be a real lifesaver to keep things clean and pet hair free when you're just too busy (or lazy) to haul out the real vacuum. This is a great starter option as it's much cheaper than other options (even the cheapest Roomba is $400) but still, has really solid reviews.

If you'd like even more ideas you can check out my 2015 gift guides:
Holiday Gift Guide: The Guys
Holiday Gift Guide: The Ladies
Holiday Gift Guide: The Kiddos
Holiday Gift Guide: Little Things
Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

10 Gift Ideas for Guys


It's already the middle of November, and that means that the countdown to Christmas is already on. Usually, I'm pretty on the ball with Christmas shopping but not so much this year. If you're in the same boat, I'm putting together a few gift guides to help you (and me) get things rolling. What do you guys have on your shopping lists for this year? 

First up I've got 10 suggestions for the men in your life that cover a variety of tastes and budgets.

Concert Tickets
I love the idea of buying some an experience instead of a material gift and a concert would be perfect for a music lover. Coldplay is currently touring, and they've got a tour date here in Edmonton next September with tickets still available. If that's not your thing, there are plenty of other acts coming to town, or you could go for a hockey game or comedy act instead. 

Jersey
A new jersey for your man's favourite sports team makes a perfect gift, and if you're feeling extra generous, you could even pack it up with tickets to an upcoming game. 

Christmas Sweater
A red sweater is just festive enough for Christmas dinner but will also get lots of use for the rest of the winter. No tacky light up reindeer noses here. The button-up high neck on this one is a little different and works for the coldest days. 

Warm Scarf
Scarves are an essential accessory for our cold Alberta winters, and if you buy a nice one, it can also add that extra little something to your outfit. This option from Simons is really soft and cozy, and the muted colours will match with just about anything. 

Messenger Bag
I don't know about your dude but my bf uses a messenger bag for work every day, it's a less formal and easier to carry option instead of a briefcase. This is a nice looking, reasonably priced option that is big enough to fit a laptop, bagged lunch, and all his other accessories. 

Cologne Sampler
Fragrance is a great gift, but unless you're a mind reader, it can be nearly impossible to pick one out for another person. Shoppers Drug Mart has a brilliant system where you can but a sampler pack of some of their most popular fragrances and then there's a coupon to redeem for a full-size version of any of the options. Tough decision solved! 

Board Game for Grown-Ups
Who doesn't love getting together with a group of friends and spending an evening in with a few good board games? The Voting Game poses a bunch of different questions (i.e.,. Whose Google search history would you most like to see?) and vote for which player you think is the most fitting...hilarity ensues. 

Nespresso Machine
I'm not exactly a coffee connoisseur but we had a Nespresso machine in our hotel room in Barcelona, and it really is leaps and bounds ahead of any of the other single serve machines I've tried. It is certainly not the most economical option as both the machine itself and the cups are more expensive than other options, but if it can limit the Starbucks trips, then it might just be worth it.   

Nintendo Classic Edition Console
Ok, this isn't exactly the best option at the moment because the consoles are currently sold out but if any pop up before Christmas you could be a hero. I know one of these classic Nintendo units is at the top of the bf's wish list 

Series of Books
If you've got an avid reader on your shopping list, then the Gentleman Bastard Sequence by Scott Lynch could be just what you're looking for. The bf is hooked on these books and has recommended the series to just about everyone we know. This set includes the first three books and will provide many hours of reading enjoyment (they're long books) for whoever you buy them for. 

If you'd like even more ideas you can check out my 2015 gift guides:
Holiday Gift Guide: The Guys
Holiday Gift Guide: The Ladies
Holiday Gift Guide: The Kiddos
Holiday Gift Guide: Little Things
Holiday Gift Guide: Stocking Stuffers

Thursday, 3 November 2016

10 Long-Haul Flight Essentials

As you guys know I am heading off to Barcelona right away and am busy getting some last minute details organized and finishing off my packing. Today's chore was packing up my carry-on, so I don't forget anything and can have the most comfortable flight possible. I am not the best flier, I find it nearly impossible to fall asleep on a plane (or car, train...pretty much anywhere that isn't my bed or couch), and overnight flights always seem to make me feel queasy and just plain gross. Since that is the situation, I'll be dealing with this time I'm hoping that with a little advance preparation (and maybe a sleep-aid) I'll be knocked right out for the majority of the flight and won't even need any of the entertainment options I'll bring along. 

Here are a few of the things I'm packing up to help get me through the overseas flight... 

1. Travel Pillow
Ok, this pillow looks weird as heck but it is the most highly rated travel pillow on Amazon, so I am giving it a shot. It actually feels pretty comfortable, from the quick trial I did sitting on the couch. It's air-filled, so it folds up tiny and only takes a few deep breaths to inflate. When you're on the plane, there's a drawstring that attaches to your headrest and also a strap that attaches to your seatbelt, so the pillow stays in place. I'm hoping all the good reviews are correct and this actually gets me some sleep. 

2. Facial Mist
You know that gross, grimy, dried out feeling you get from being on a plane? A facial mist is an easy and refreshing way to make yourself feel more human when you land. I got this one from E.L.F. as a free add-on last month and I actually quite like it. This isn't the kind of product I want to fork over much money for but you can pick this one up for only $3 (or free!) making it an affordable luxury. 

3. Chapstick
Your skin always falls victim to the dry air on planes, and my lips are always the first thing that bug me. Having an extra moisturizing chapstick on hand is essential, and this Vaseline lip therapy is my go to (I've raved about it on here before). I especially like this rosy lips version because it gives a hint of colour while also soothing dry lips (it also smells delish) so you look slightly more put together after climbing off a red-eye flight. Because it's basically Vaseline, you can also use it to as a hand cream in a pinch. 

4. Travel Size Deodorant
No explanation necessary, long flights can leave you a little funky, and since you won't be able to shower until you're at your hotel, it's a good idea to touch-up your deodorant before you land. 

5. Good Book 

I'm a reader, and you'll usually find me powering through a book if I'm stuck on a plane. I'm already behind on my reading goal for 2016, so I'm hoping to play catch up on these long flights. I'm really looking forward to reading Emma Donaghue's new book The Wonder. Her previous book (Room) is one of my favourite books ever, so I have high hopes for the follow-up. 

6. Cozy Scarf
More often than not planes are freezing, and there never seem to be enough airline blankets to go around so I always make sure I have a warm scarf with me that can double as a blanket. This Vinyasa Scarf from Lululemon is a little pricey but the fabric is so soft and cozy, and you can wear it a bunch of different ways.

7. Yummy Snack
Plane food is the worst, but if you are on a long flight you don't always have many options, so it helps to bring your own snack. Trail mix is easy to carry-on and packed with protein to it will help sustain you. We picked up this one from Superstore for a hike earlier this year, and it is a real winner. I love chocolate and coconut (who doesn't?) so having those added to the usual nut/seed mix is a nice change and makes it a sweet and savoury treat. And if surviving long-haul flight doesn't mean you deserve a treat then I don't know what does!

8. Eye Mask
I am prone to distraction (people watching) whenever I'm in public which is a big reason I have such trouble sleeping on planes. Being able to block all of that out and focus just on sleeping will hopefully be the cure for getting some shut eye this time. This one from Chapters is cute too, so that doesn't hurt. 

9. Headphones 

Lots of people recommend noise-cancelling headphones for flying but I don't like using them in everyday life (not being able to hear any background noise freaks me out) so I'm not willing to spend the extra money just for traveling. I've had Bose ear buds for a few years and would never go back to the cheap ones that come with your phone. Even after wearing them for hours my ears never hurt, they stay put even during exercise and the sound quality is excellent. If you're looking for new headphones, I recommend adding these to your Christmas list. The link above is for the Android / Samsung version, but if you're an Apple user, you'll want to grab these ones. 

10. Warm Socks
My feet are always freezing on planes, and no one wants to have to walk barefoot through airport security, so socks are essential. These ones are nice and cozy but not so fluffy that they won't fit in your shoes. Two thumbs up.