Thursday, May 18, 2017

8 Unique Things To Do in Berlin

I recently spent 5 days in Berlin and wanted to share some of the best hidden gems in the city! The city is super edgy and cool and definitely has no shortage of unique things to do. Hopefully you will add some of these to your trip in addition to the must sees. I received a Berlin Welcome Card for familiarization purposes so I will add a note if any of these activities will receive additional discounts with a Berlin Card.


1) Drinking in Public

This may seem like a weird thing to start off with, but I love being able have a beer and stroll in public! Canada is so strict that we can't even buy alcohol from grocery stores! So the fact that I can get a beer for 1 euro at a convenience shop and then walk around to check out the famous landmarks was one of the highlights of the city!



2) Street Food Thursdays in Markthalle Neun


A really fun activity that happens every Thursday is a food market at Markthalle Neun. If you are a foodie, you will love this place! I only saw two traditional German food stands, but there are about 40-50 food vendors featuring food from around the world! All the prices are quite fair as well, approximately 6-8 Euro will get you a dinner! There's no entry fee so you can spend your money on the food and drinks!






Address: Eisenbahnstraße 42-43

Closest U-Bahn station: Görlitzer
Closest S-Bahn station: Warschauer Straße 

It is also nearby the East Side Gallery so it's a great combo to do together! We just walked along the wall on the outside, but there is also a museum if you have further interest. The Berlin Card gives you a 25% discount off the 12.50 Euro admission.

3) Grocery Shopping at ReWe

It's hard to stay healthy while traveling, so I have a habit of finding local grocery shops to buy cut fruits and easy to eat veggies. Since restaurants in Europe all cost money to have water, I feel like I'm permanently thirsty. So I also go to grocery stores to stock up on water as it's usually only 1/5 of the price of in restaurants.



I also love looking at what types of unique liquor they have. I tried out a German liquor called Kleiner Feighling and it's now my new favorite! It's a fig flavored liquor and it has the cutest packaging!


4) Drink with a View at Strandbar


I feel like it's starting to be a theme that all these tend to involve drinking. I wanted to check out this spot as it was right across from the Bode Museum. It's a really neat spot as the river and the museum is in front of you. The beers were around 3 euro which is average for Berlin. You can find this bar by walking across the bridge at the tip of Museum Island. The actual bar looks a bit like a shack, and then you can take your drink and sit anywhere you'd like.



If you come here at night, I believe there's dancing lessons as well! We saw the dance floor during the day but it was much quieter.

Address: Monbijoustraße 3b
Closest U-Bahn Station: Friedrichstraße
Closest S-Bahn Station: Oranienburger or Hackescher Markt


5) Bare it All at Liquidrom
Berlin is all about being yourself and there's no shortage of unique things to do. Liquidrom first caught my eye as I thought it was similar to a float room but techno music will be playing! But after more research it seems like it's a more of a Sauna but each hour, there's a different theme such as fruit infusion and salt peeling.


However, to use the saunas, you have to be naked! It's also a co-ed sauna which adds to the interest. I didn't end up going but my friend did and really enjoyed the various treatments. 2 hours to the sauna & bath is 19.50 Euro while a day pass is 29.50 Euros. There's also a discount available with the Berlin Card! If you are brave and looking for a unique adventure, this should be at the top of your list!

Address:Möckernstraße 10
Closest U-Bahn Station: Möckernbrücke
Closest S-Bahn Station: Anhalter

6) Test Your Agility at the Deutsches Spionagemuseum

We felt a bit bad that we didn't visit any of the 200+ museums in Berlin, so we decided to walk into the Spy Museum which is right near Potsdamer Platz. The highlight of the museum is this laser room where you try to make it across without touching any of the lasers. The picture below is the easy level which I never even made it through! There's also medium and hard.


The rest of the museum showcases spy weapons and you can learn about how spies operated during the various wars Germany was a part of. There was a good explanation on the ENIGMA machine too. Normal admission is 12 Euros and the Berlin Card will give you a 25% discount!

Address: Leipziger Platz 9
Closest S+U Bahn: Potsdamer Platz

7) Rest at Berlin Cathedral

The Berlin Cathedral is my favorite building in Berlin. The blue domes can be seen across the city and you can really feel its importance. In front of the cathedral is a large grassy area. It's a wonderful spot to stop for a quick snack or just to lie down for a rest. The location is perfect too as it's on Museum Island so if you are tired from walking around, this is a beautiful spot to sit down and soak up some sun!



8) Take a walking tour

I've started to really enjoy taking walking tours in each new city I go to. I find the tours usually give just the right amount of historic information to allow you to appreciate the sites more. It also helps to orient and point out places of interest to visit later on in the trip! We went with the Famous Insider Walk by Insider Tours. It is normally 14 Euros but only 10 Euros with the Berlin Card.


Our guide was very informative and had some pretty clever jokes up his sleeve as well. There were approximately 30 people in our group but we had no issues with hearing what he had to say.

Which of these ideas would you most like to do on your next trip to Berlin? Let me know if you have a similar traveling style or if I just sound like an alcoholic ;)

My Berlin Welcome Card was kindly provided by Visit Berlin but all other expenditures are my own.

Monday, May 15, 2017

How to Spend 12 Hours in the City of London (Square Mile)

I don't know how I landed myself with only 12 hours to sightsee in London but if you're ever in London in a time crunch as well, here are my picks of some of the best things to do! My train of thought was that there was no way I was going to see everything so I had to pick my battles.


Since I knew I would have to come back to London, I decided to just explore the City of London really well as my place was in that area. 
This guide focuses on things to see, eat, and photograph mostly around the City of London which is also known as the Square Mile! I did quite a bit of research as I wanted to make sure I had a good plan and I’ll share some of the tips I wish I knew! Hope you'll feel like a friend giving you a run down of what's good and what's not!  

11:00am Gatwick Express

There are a couple of options for getting from Gatwick Airport to the center of London. I chose to go with Gatwick Express as it seemed the fastest and most hassle free as there are no transfers or stops. Oh also there's free WiFi on board! To save money, you can buy your ticket online, I did this and it was pretty easy to pick up my ticket at the platform.

If you arrive in the north terminal, first follow the signs to baggage and then through customs. From there you'll walk into the arrival hall and you'll see clear signs for the trains to south terminal. Once you are at south terminal there's also pretty clear signs for the Gatwick Express. I was really confused when I got off the plane though as there was no signage in the north terminal.

 

To get on the train, make sure to press the button on the door. I stood on the platform looking silly for 5 mins until I realized that's how the doors open.

Each compartment has an area to store your luggage.
  

Most seats are in twos although each compartment also has a few seats around a table. Your ticket is not assigned to a seat so you can pick where ever you want. I arrived on a Tuesday morning and the train was 90% empty! Also there's no point real difference in first class versus second class, so just save your money!


The Gatwick Express will end at the London Victoria station and from there you'll see signage pointing you to the Underground trains! I found the train to be a smooth ride and worth the extra money. Especially after a long flight, it's so nice to just sit and be able to use WiFi and not worry about transfers!

12:00pm Cheap Eats at Bow Lane

London is notorious for expensive food. I wanted to grab some take out so I can make the most of my time in London. There are quite a few quick serve restaurants at Bow Lane. They cater towards working professionals on their lunch break, so the service is usually really fast and you can take the food out with you on the go.

Refreshing mint water from Simple Health Kitchen
    
I went to Simple Health Kitchen and you can pick to have 2 salads and a protein (I got peri-peri chicken) for 6.90 pounds. Some other good choices in the area are Pull'd and Bep Haus.

It was really neat to see the hustle and bustle of a real day in the life of a professional in London. Also, I really enjoyed people watching and listening to the "British Accent". (Do I sound like an ignorant tourist yet?)

I sat on a bench outside the cathedral to have my lunch and take in the sights and sounds

You can take the food and walk 5 mins west to St.Paul’s Cathedral where there is a nice outdoors area that you can enjoy your food.

1:00pm St. Paul's Cathedral

The church was very important to society in London in history so it’s nice to learn a bit more by visiting the St.Paul’s Cathedral. You can see the cathedral dome from across the city as the top galleries are so high up and a definite landmark! Unfortunately when I was visiting, the top galleries were closed for repairs so I wasn't able to see the view from the top, but I'd imagine it to be spectacular! I was also in a rush as there was a special service that day but most of the time it is open until 5pm.


Once you get in, there’s an audio guide that is available which is helpful to learn more about the significance of the cathedral. You can also go up to the whispering gallery which is designed so acoustically you can hear whispers from all the way across the gallery!

This was the first Cathedral I stepped into in Europe so I was definitely in awe with the details on the ceilings and the sculptures. 


Photo courtesy of St.Paul's Cathedral

Afterwards, go to The Wren for a coffee. This coffee shop is set up inside a church and has a beautiful mosaic at the front and high ceilings. Unfortunately when I was going, it was also closing early and I was only able to get a coffee to go. But I'd imagine having a coffee and a break in here to be a great experience!

Such a pretty and unique place to take a break, the coffee is delicious too!
  
3:00pm Museum of London
I actually didn’t know much about the history of London at all, so I thought it would be helpful to pick up some facts! The Museum of London is a quick walk away and is free to enter although a 5 pound donation is suggested.

There were  a ton of artifacts and the exhibits are set up in a chronological time line. I think I just get overwhelmed in museums though as there’s so much information! I did learn about the big picture progression of settlements in this area which was enjoyable. The other fun part was seeing the remains of the Roman Wall right outside the museum.


If you are interested to learn more about the history of London, schedule an hour to visit the museum! I didn't look too in detail but at least now I have an understanding of the timeline of the city. I found the City of London to be really interesting as this is the area where the Romans settled as Londonium. 

4:00pm Find the Unique/Historic Buildings
I was interested in visiting some of the important buildings in this area. It is also interesting to see the contrast of the historic buildings with the futuristic modern buildings. There are a few landmarks and since everything is close by, it may be fun to walk around and try to spot all these buildings

Historic:
-Bank of England
-London Stock Exchange
-Leadenhall Market (If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you must visit this! This is where Diagon Alley was shot)

I felt like I was in heavy! I felt the magic around me!

Futuristic:
-Gherkin
-Lloyd’s (This building has elevators on the outside, it also reminds me of Harry Potter hah)
 

As a blogger, I'm always on the lookout for cute photo opportunities. Unfortunately I was by myself so I didn’t take any photos with me in them but walking around to find cute instagrammable streets would have been fun. I was a bit disappointed with Postman’s Park and St Dunstan in the East as both are highly rated parks but there was nothing special about them.  

5:00pm Tower Bridge

Next, walk east to the place for the iconic London photo, the Tower Bridge! You can walk on the bridge itself and visit the exhibit. But I think it’s a prettier view to walk along the river. To get to it, follow the signs to the Tower of London, and you’ll see the riverside walk way. A lot of people will congregate at the beginning but if you walk further along the riverway there’s less people and you can get a good photo.


Finally asked a stranger to take a photo of me. Sightseeing alone is hard!

7:00pm Dinner + Rooftop Drinks (Canary Wharf)

My friend joined me at this point for dinner + drinks at Canary Wharf. Our main plan was to go to Bokan which is a newly opened restaurant and rooftop bar in the city.

We found a restaurant nearby, Cafe Rouge, which was only okay. There was nothing too special about it but it also wasn’t bad. Bokan however, totally lived up to my friend's recommendation. The view is gorgeous and the drinks come in such neat presentations. Make sure you make a reservation though as there's not that many seats available!


We ordered a few different ones, the Bowspirit which came in a steel tumbler and with basil on top. The Imperator which came in a wooden box. Hendrick's Teapot came with 2 sets of tea cups and the liquor in the tea pot. There was dry ice in the tea pot so it looks like it was steaming. Overall, the presentation was just spectacular!

Hendrick's Teapot which comes with two sets of tea cups and dry ice in the tea pot!

We sat on the inside as it was a bit chilly, but they have another floor where it’s outdoors and it would be amazing to go to in the summer time!

Honourable Mentions:

If your flight arrives at different time frames, it may also be possible to visit Tower of London. The most famous exhibit is the Crown’s Jewels. I would have also loved to witness the Ceremony of the Keys which requires a booking many months in advance!


It was a jam packed day and I was able to see a lot of the sights I had on my list! Hope this gave you some ideas for your next trip!

Complimentary ticket was received from St.Paul's Cathedral

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Benefit Galifornia Blush Review & Comparison to Bella Bamba


The VIB sale is a glorious time for many, and I waited till the sale to pick up the new benefit cosmetics blush in Galifornia! The boxed blushes are some of the most well known products and actually one of my very first high end purchases! When I saw the packaging of the new Galifornia on Instagram, I knew I had to get this one! However, I actually ended up returning this, so find out why!

Basics
Name: Benefit Cosmetics GALifornia
Price: $38
Size: 5g
Available at Sephora.


Packaging: I can't even. This pretty much describes the packaging. Okay fine I'll describe it, it's in the classic benefit boxed blush packaging which is a cardboard box that flips open. There's a mirror inside but it's not big. There's also a brush that's surprisingly good. I absolutely ADORE the color combination and the design of the outer packaging. Oh did I mention, it also smells fruity and lightly sweet!


Shade: It's described as a sunny golden-pink blush which I was very excited to have in my collection for spring/summer. This is where it starts to go wrong. Based on the description and the photos, I was expecting a strong golden sheen to the blush. I much prefer coral/neutral blushes on my cheeks and this ended up being a medium pink (see swatches below). When swatched, the color just isn't very unique and it also isn't a shade I'd often wear. The worst part I think is that the golden overspray is SO thin and is gone after one use. I was expecting a strong gold color to pull through.


Formula: I found some people complained that there is not enough pigmentation in this blush. I used it with the brush it came with and I had no trouble with getting the color to show up. However, it isn't a strongly pigmented product. The product is smooth although a bit dry/hard.


I decided to grab my bella bamba blush to do a comparison as the swatches reminded me of it! And my instincts were right, the shades were super similar! Bella bamba is actually more of a golden pink than GALifornia. I don't really pick up on any golden in the swatch and is more of a true medium pink. You can especially see the difference with two layers of swatches (second photo).

Left: Bella Bamba
Right: GALifornia

Left: Bella Bamba
Right: GALifornia

So I ended up returning this blush as it's just too similar to things I have in my collection and it's not really a color I'd like to wear. The packaging is absolutely adorable though! So if you're looking for a true pink blush and you weren't expecting a golden blush, then you might actually really like it!