Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Amazon Echo Dot

I love gadgets, but I have to admit that I get bored quickly. Gadgets get unplugged to make way for the newest addition to the family and sit at the back of the shelf gathering dust; I'm not proud of it, but as someone who likes to keep on top of the tech trends, we simply don't have enough plugs to use everything we have, and many things we don't use when we're finished with the obsession with the gimmick. When Amazon offered to send us an Echo Dot I thought that this was going to be a similar story; I knew I was going to like, but how good could a glorified Siri (which I don't use on either my phone or my laptop, I'd like to point out) really be?


It turns out, Siri pales in comparison to the all powerful Alexa, something that became clear just seconds after plugging in the tiny disk. Not much bigger than the palm of my hand, this tiny gadget packs a serious punch, and though it's annoying with it's extension lead (surely a charge system would be better, to allow for a better aesthetic?), Amazon have seriously created a tiny masterpiece here. Gone are the days of shouting at Siri and getting random answers back, Alexa is all but perfect at understanding my accent for the most part, she's reactive no matter how softly I talk, and the activation word (Alexa, though it can be changed to a few other alternatives) has her springing into action to help you to order goods off Amazon, listen to the latest podcast, or play the charts through Spotify.

But if music and online shopping isn't your thing? Well, never fret as Alexa has it's own app with an app like store of all it's 'skills'. Want to install Ocado so you can order your shopping from your bed, or want to play rock, paper, scissors? It's as easy as downloading the skill on the app and then using the trigger word to have Alexa ordering your yoghurt, or helping to figure out a tough decision. With Alexa so personal to each household that the echo dot is in, it's hard not to fall in love with this as a gadget; it grows as I grow, as my skill base gets bigger, I can ensure that hers does too - meaning that Alexa is probably always going to be one of the perfect gadgets for me. As more and more companies add skills to the Alexa app, it can really only go from strength to strength.

Are there downsides? Of course there are, to anything there is - I hate the fact that this is a plug in device, I find it ugly and unnecessary for a product that would otherwise we really aesthetically pleasing; I find the buttons on the top completely useless when you can trigger Alexa with your voice, record using a voice command and change the volume by just asking her to do so, there are some voice commands that are difficult to do and require specific wording that is uncomfortable to use (mostly the inbuilt alarm, I find). However, this is £50, it's a gadget you can constantly work with to fit your life, and it's useful for everything from basic every day tasks, to more specific tasks that are  important to you as an individual - for me, the positives definitely outweigh the negatives.

I thought I was going to find this mediocre but I really would recommend an Amazon Dot - and now with inbuilt calling and messaging features, it's becoming something Katy and I rely on more and more.

Sammy xo.
Contains PR samples/items gifted to me by companies - however all opinions are my own. Please view my disclaimer for more information.

Monday, 16 October 2017

4 Apps That Changed How I Travel

As two people that rely heavily on the internet, says the girl posting her first blog post in however many weeks as starting a new university is a lot harder than you might imagine, it goes without saying that technology and our phones play a huge part when it comes to Katy and I travelling. There are a huge amount of apps that we use when we're away, but there are some that have completely changed the way that we travel, and so I'm here to depart some words of wisdom upon you, and give you some apps that need to be on your phone home screen; you're welcome.


Holiday Pirates
This is a bit of a cheat one as it's not all that helpful when you're actually already on a trip; however, this has changed the way I look at travel. Holiday Pirates, if you've never used it, gives offers on hotels, full holidays, or flights - and inspires me regularly to travel within the UK, look at flights to places I've never considered and find good deals for holidays I maybe wouldn't book otherwise. It's definitely not changed the way I travel after I've gotten off the plane, but it has definitely changed the way I travel when it comes to getting out of my 'holidays-must-be-in-europe-and-in-an-airbnb' mindset; so I'm definitely allowing myself to add it here. 

Google Translate Camera
Google translate is just about everyone's holiday staple. right? But, the app has another little trick up it's sleeve that cam prove invaluable when you're in a rush translating huge chunks of text (like those on skincare bottles, for example) or faced with symbols that might not be readily available in your language. This is, essentially, a pack that you download in your chosen language (this is a saviour for Polish, trust me) and then when you hover your camera over passages in the chosen language, it'll show up on your phone screen in English (or your native language, I suppose?). This is far from perfect, and especially for long chunks of text it can sometimes be a little hit or miss, but it definitely is still worth downloading to help to get you out of a jam.

Map For Atlas Obscura
This isn't the official app for Atlas Obscura but does seem to include most of the tourist attractions that you can find on the site itself. If you've never used Atlas Obscura, it's essentially a list of unusual things to do within a country, and we've done many an interesting thing purely based on things that we've found on this site; including an incorruptible body and a bone church. The map, though, is a lot more helpful as you can see the points plotted on a map which enables you to see the closest exciting thing to see to you at any real given moment. Though the direction function works with Apple Maps, it can be a little hit or miss - it's worth using it to find hidden gems really near to you, though, even if you the have to map them separately.

Apple Maps
Specifically Apple Maps is my one true love when it comes to navigating round new cities. I know people say that you should take it I your stride and getting lost is part of the adventure, I know, people tell me all the time - but when you're on a time constraint and paper maps just aren't cutting it, it'd be ridiculous to forgo the obvious benefit that our technology gives us; instant maps. I always stick with Apple Maps as it updates faster, adds new roads regularly, works alongside public transport in many countries and stays on your home screen when you lock your phone - sorry to say it, Google, but apple maps is definitely the superior map app.

So there are the four apps that changed the way I travel. There are far more country specific ones (Delivery Hero, Uber Eats, iTaxi) but these are definitely the ones that work I most countries that we have travelled to and have changed the way that I travel myself, or perceive travel. If you have apps I should definitely download for future trips, do leave them below!

Sammy xo.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

The Best Netflix Originals To Catch Up On This Autumn

Some of you may know that I'm working on my degree lately and that means practising my Spanish and trying to take on board as much vocab as humanly possible. This, as it's turned out, means watching a lot of Netflix. That isn't me procrastinating, for once, but rather a tactical way to learn the language as most Netflix originals often have both audio and subtitles in other languages - so, I've finished a fair few Netflix originals in the last few weeks. As such, I feel as though I can start to discuss some of the best offerings that Netflix have put out there with their own name attached to them.


1: You Me Her
I had to put this at the top because I finished both seasons and then ended with that fantastic feeling that something was sorely missing in my life now that I'm done with it which, as we all know, is the true sign of a good TV show. This is a really heartwarming show about polyamory, coming to grips with a new relationship and the effects that it can have on the world around you, and the relationships within it. There's also a very interesting contrast between the concept of sexual idolisation and relationship realism here - and though it isn't perfect, I certainly don't feel as though it falls down that trap that Netflix Originals all too often do of being not well enough researched. This is definitely one to binge watch on a rainy weekend.

2: The Good Place
This is bizarre, and I really like it. It's sort of an elaborate show that depicts a version of heaven and the very blunt effects that karma can have on your life. It's funny, it pokes fun at some ideas that many of us hold, and it's genuinely just one of those shows that you can stick on in the background and go about your daily business. Is it going to be my new favourite programme? I mean probably not, but it definitely is good, and I will be looking forward to a new series. If you like The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, this is probably a pretty solid choice when you've finished up all of the episodes that you might have left.

3: Casting Jonbenet
I don't really know where to start with this one because it's just such a good documentary. I can't wait for the actual documentary that this is casting to come out, but I almost feel as though it won't be as good as this offering. In essence, this is a lot of people looking to be cast within a programme about Jonbenet Ramsey's murder, all from her hometown. Not only is this a look into how people think about documentaries on true crime, but this also looks much deeper into the case, and the beliefs of the people who lived within the area at the time. Eye-opening, frank and almost scary - this is one not to be missed, for sure.

4: Coin Heist
This is a kids version of a real heist movie, and I actually really like it. This is targeted at young teenagers, but don't let that put you off; it's clever, full of tense moments and it has the added aspect of humour - it's definitely a good adaptation of the traditional heist that we've become accustomed to. It's got a good cast, a nice little romance plot, a cool school prom and a lot of random additions to the plot - definitely worth a watch if you want an easy film.

5: Death Note
Last but by no means least. I know so many of you out there are screaming at me that 'IT'S NOT AS GOOD AS THE ANIME AND THE MANGA' and I don't disagree, but it feels so different that it deserves a place on here. It's dark, confusing and exciting to watch - and if you've ever seen the anime or the manga, it's definitely a lot easier to catch up on and keep up with. It's a film rather than a series which I feel lets it down a bit, but the story is definitely there, and it's definitely a good enough one that I'm recommending it to you, here!

As always, if you have favourite Netflix Originals, please do let me know!

Sammy xo.

Monday, 18 September 2017

A Story About Kat Von D Lock-It Setting Powder

If you read the introduction to this in the voice of the Jane The Virgin narrator, I assure you that it will be considerably funnier than reading it in your own voice. Trust me on this one. If you do it in the voice of Lemony Snickett in the new Series Of Unfortunate Events, that would also work.


Whilst reading this review, you may be fooled into thinking that it's a positive review; you may even be fooled into thinking I like this product. Rest assured that this is not the case. In the way that the fact you're not suited to your partner sometimes creeps up on you in the form of a three month itch, this literally caused me a reaction that I wouldn't like to repeat anytime soon. Nevertheless though, I'm getting ahead of myself. To understand, you need the full story - and so let's start with me ripping this open whilst we were decorating. By the way, as I've realised reading back I didn't tell you, this is about the Kat Von D Lock-It Setting Powder.

I love a good baking powder - I usually use Vichy Dermablend, but I'm open to any suggestions that don't cake up and so, when I opened a tiny version of this I was absolutely thrilled; although, a little pensive as this thing is hella yellow, and as you might be aware, I'm quite pale and very, very pink. Nevertheless, I set to work with this and it's pretty solid - it's not as yellow as it first appears, and it definitely does seem to be translucent. A little bit of this seems to go a long way towards a bake, something I'd expect for $30 per pot, and it's easy to use, brushes away nicely, and is thick without being cakey - which is just about everything I want in a powder. It's sifter is also in the shape of a star which is just so cute.

This has a slight smell, which reminds me of real old fashioned cosmetics - it's not offensive or particularly strong but, especially when you open the tub, it is noticeable. Having said that, you can't smell it when it's on your face, and so it's definitely not a deciding factor for me, though it is worth noting if you're sensitive to things like that. I put this on with a wet sponge, which seems to work really well. Though I can't vouch for it's use with a brush as I avoid them whenever possible, I would imagine this would be harder to really pack onto the eye - but again, that's more a preference thing.


So, Sam, what is the aforementioned problem! I hear you shout from the back rows. Well, let me take you back to Manchester airport, which is the first time that the issue really dawned on me. Find me in the queue of terminal 3, gate 54 with my antihistamines in hand, eyes streaming and snot free flowing - and find yourself in the midst of my lightbulb moment. What I am suffering from, and what I have been suffering with on and off for the last few weeks, is not hay fever that is suddenly cured by taking my make up off - it's an allergy to the best powder I have ever used. Since, I have tested this theory and - sadly for me - this does seem to be the case. I'm not a particularly sensitive person either, so definitely be aware of this.

So there you go, a sad tale of my allergy to the best powder ever. If you've had issues with this I'd truly love to know!

Sammy xo.
Contains PR samples/items gifted to me by companies - however all opinions are my own. Please view my disclaimer for more information.

Sunday, 17 September 2017

(Just Shy Of) 48 Hours In Paris

Katy and I are the queens of the short trip. We like to city hop, fit in as much as we can into tiny amounts of time and then fly back and head back to work like it was nothing but a slightly long dream - but Paris was stretching it, even for us. With travelling, the flight times and everything else that we had going on, we barely had 48 hours to enjoy Paris and get as much of it done as humanly possible (or at least the things we had in mind that we really wanted to), and that's a bit of a challenge even for the most seasoned traveller. So, without further ado, here's what we got up to in 48 hours during my first trip to Paris.


We had to do about an hour of extra travel to get from our airport (Paris Beauvais) to Paris city centre, and so after this it was already after 5pm on our first day - so we head straight to do the big things whilst it was still light. We got an uber straight to the Eiffel Tower just as the weather was finally clearing up, and got some great photos, took a wander round and uploaded our first Instagram pictures. From here, we decided to make the most of the already slightly fading light and head off to the Arc De Triomphe (my first time in Paris definitely called for all of the tourist sites). Again, we got a lot of photographs, stored some future Instagram pictures and head off to the Champs-Élysées, which we knew was both close and had a Paris Saint Germain shop which Katy wanted to sneak a peek inside of.

We actually ended up spending most of our night walking the Champs Élysées - the shops here stay open pretty late and so it's definitely a great option if you're getting I pretty late like we were. We ate sitting on the street side, wanted through the biggest Sephora I've ever seen and marvelled at Louis Vuitton and Cartier (which was closed off as a celebrity was inside. How fucking glamorous.) I've never been anywhere quite like the Champs Élysées, and I definitely could have spent more time there, but around 9pm we head off back to our hotel which required heading to Disneyland and then back to the Kyriad on a shuttle bus. Luckily for us (and you, if you're heading to Disney but going to Paris first!) the RER A Line that we needed goes straight from opposite the Arc De Triomphe, and you just need to stay on until the last stop.


After getting to the hotel, we saw the goats (the Kyriad is a Disney partner hotel and has a farm!) and then head to bed for an early night, because the next day we spend the whole day at Disneyland. We saw both parks and went on all of the rides that we wanted to in one day; get there for opening and don't leave until closing to get the most of your money and make sure that you get everything that you want to do, out of the way. We ate in the park, which meant that when we got back we could pack, throw some pyjamas on, sleep and get ready to head back to the airport, which we pretty did immediately the next morning, doing the same journey in reverse (back to Disneyland to get to the station, then the RER A back to the Arc De Triomphe), and then spent an hour wandering through Porte Maillo, where we got our coach back to the airport from.

48 hours in Paris was magical, crammed full and still much too short - but if you only have 48 hours, a lot can definitely be done. Please do let me know what you'd do in 48 hours in Paris so I know what to get done next time!

Sammy xo.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Battling Cold Weather Chapped Lips With Balmkind

Where I live, it feels like we've skipped Autumn completely and landed slap bang in the middle of Winter. Okay, okay, I'm being dramatic - but we've definitely hit a seriously cold snap that has me bundling it and plying my skin with as many moisturisers as humanly possible; and so when Balmkind offered to send me their lip balms, I jumped at the chance. In hot weather and cold weather, my lips are always the first parts of my body to really suffer, and so I was happy to put something billing itself as being intended to, 'nourish, soothe and protect' to see if it could help to tide me over through the winter.


First we have to talk about the packaging - perhaps the least significant part of this post, but always good to know if you're going to be pulling this out in front of your work friends day in and day out (this is quickly reaching innuendo levels, my bad). Think dusty pink, high end, and a tube like the gel version of Carmex; they're definitely bordering on looking high end, and for £14.50 you would definitely want this to look high end, but it's just so pretty that I felt as though it was probably relevant to mention this. The applicator, however, is that slanted top with a hole in the middle - I know some people don't work with these very well, and so that's worth taking into consideration if you're looking to purchase this.

Balmkind have put all of their eggs into one basket with this product, and it's the only thing that they currently sell; however, I really don't feel as though this is a bad thing at all. All of the focus from this brand has gone into one product, and though it's expensive at £14.50 for a lip balm, I almost feel as though it deserves to be. These are suitable for vegetarians, not tested on animals and packed full of good ingredients, and the focus taken to make this the best lip balm it can possibly be means I wouldn't at all be pissed to lay down £14.50 on this. I can read and understand most of the instructions, I feel as though it's been well thought out and beautifully designed.


I have to say - there's one fatal flaw for me, but its definitely a personal thing and that's the rose scent (Well, actually, Alpine Rose and Lysine). I find this to be just a little too much, I find rose a powerful scent and not one that I really like to smell or, in this case, taste. Having said that, I can almost forgive the scent because I'm so fascinated by the product. As a long term Carmex user, finding something that sinks into my lips and genuine seems to cure that quenched feeling, as opposed to that petroleum sitting-right-on-top-of-the-lips feeling, something really special. I feel as though this does what a good lip balm should, and it took me trying it a few times to realise that although this is exactly what I envision a lip balm should be, I can't think of any that are even vaguely similar in feel.

All in all, I have to say that I'm actually pretty excited about this; which is something that I didn't see myself saying about lip balm. Instead of applying lip balm that feels greasy on my lips every hour in winter, I might be able to throw this on every few instead and get a much better effect. I have to say, this is worth the money and Balmkind are definitely a brand to keep an eye on (though please, guys, come out with a scent other than rose!) As always, if you've tried the product or have any alternatives to share, please do so below.

NB: Not an important part of the review, but kind of nifty. These guys send the box flat packed next to the lip balm so if you want it, you can slip the product in when you assemble the box (it just needs popping into place) but this means that the package can fit through most letterboxes, so you don't need to make an annoying trip to the post office if you're not in to get it!)

Sammy xo.
 Contains PR samples/items gifted to me by companies - however all opinions are my own. Please view my disclaimer for more information.

Friday, 15 September 2017

How To Visit Disneyland Paris Without Breaking The Bank

Katy and I have wanted to visit Disneyland for a pretty long time and, as you'll know if you follow either of us on any of our social media - this week, our dreams came true and we made it into the happiest place on earth. As you also might know; Katy and I pretty much live off of one low paying wage, and so we've had to keep the trip on the cheap - so, I thought that I'd share the tips and tricks that we took to allow us to spend three amazing days in Paris (and one beautiful day within the Disneyland Park!).



1: Find the cheapest transport
This sounds obvious, but was only obvious to me in hindsight. We personally flew into Beauvais, which is around an hour away from the city centre. Though the flights were cheaper flying slightly further out (and it is really only about half an hour further out than Charles De Gaulle) we then had to pay around £50 in return coach fares to get the shuttle into Paris, and so this didn't really work out any cheaper than paying for the 'better' (read; closer) airport. Definitely make sure that you've looked at the options fully, and book anything that you can ahead of time, because this usually also works out a little cheaper and, after all - every little helps!

2: Stay in a partner hotel
I would recommend, for any Disney trip, to stay somewhere with transport links; you have to get up early enough to make it in the park for the 9:30/10 opening time in the morning, and there's no point prolonging your transport links. Having said that, look into partner hotels - they'll usually still have these transport links, be Disney endorsed (providing an assured amount of quality for the most part), they'll be fairly close, and they'll often be much cheaper than a typical Disney hotel. It's true that you don't get the extra magic hours, but getting in there for ten does allow for plenty of time, and the money that you save can be well worth it.

3: Consider a packed lunch
Leading on from the above; most of the partner hotels also offer breakfast included in your package (bonus!) and they also often offer ready made packed lunches to take into the park which can save around £30 per couple, per counter service meal. It also means that you have to take considerably less time out of your day to get your meal, which is good if you're only in the park for a short while. Similarly; if you can't get a packed lunch, or you're determined to grab some food on Disney soil - definitely opt for the counter service restaurants, that can save a small fortune per head compared to sit down meals, or cart food like hot dogs etc. can also be a great option, and you don't have to sit down at all to eat them.

4: Buy at the end of the day
It can be so tempting to step into the shop right by the gate entrance and grab the first cuddly toy that you see because you're 'SO IN LOVE WITH IT'. However, reign it in - some shops hold things that no other shops do and so you want to check them all out first, allowing you to buy only the things that you really want; it's also pretty twofold as you probably don't want to take those huge blue bags on the rides with you and try to cram them between your feet alongside your backpack and everything else. Hold off on buying - you'll thank yourself for it when you come home with money in your pocket (Katy and I actually did, believe it or not!)

5: Consider just going for a day
It's a lot cheaper and you really don't have to scrimp on most things. Admittedly, we didn't get to meet minnie and mickey or the princesses as these queues were too long for just one day; but we did get to do all of the rides that we wanted to - and in fact some we even did twice. You'll nearly always save money when it comes to going for just one day, and it's definitely enough to get a big chunk of both parks out of the way. Conversely, if you're going for more than three days, definitely consider an annual pass, and that means that in the future, any extra trips will be a bonus that almost work out free, depending on the option that you pick.

All in all - Disneyland really doesn't have to break the bank; and including spending money for Paris, the parks and transport, as well as our flights, transfers and hotels, I spent around £800 for two people for three days. It's never going to be the cheapest holiday out there, but it also can be done within a budget. Need it to be lower? Just take spends and buy less merchandise; taking almost £450 off the price above; simple.

If you have tips for keeping Disneyland Paris costs down, do let me know!

Sammy xo.
 
BLOG TEMPLATE BY DESIGNER BLOGS