Sunday, 22 October 2017

My First Four Weeks Of Language Learning

When I started learning Spanish at degree level (from beginner level, I need to point out here) four weeks ago, they warned us that we had to get used to feeing uncomfortable; and four weeks down the line? No truer word has ever been spoken. My life now is a flurry of vocal words, anxiety at the idea I might be picked in my grammar class and wondering how the fuck I am ever going to be able to pass this exam come January. There's nothing more rewarding than learning a language and there's also nothing I've ever faced that's quite this soul-destroyingly hard.

(not actually learning through the open university but ANY degree level book is helping right now)

You know in University there are those lectures that you come out of and, no matter how good you are at your subject or how hard you've worked and prepared, you feel as though you probably know less than you did going in? That's exactly what all of my seminars have felt like so far. At this point in my life, I'm starting to feel as though I don't actually know anything about speaking, listening or reading comprehension in English, never mind Spanish. The girl next to me is on her way to speaking 5 languages fluently and I still struggle to tell the difference between ser and está (that's a joke for all you Spanish students out there; you need all the laughs that you can get). I'm struggling to conjugate some words in English, I'm just adding letters and hoping for the best in my second language.

But the weird thing is? I love it. I love being challenged every week, I love it when I get picked on in that aforementioned grammar class and I get the answer right (nearly always by fluke, rather than method), I love it when I know the work for something, when my Spanish pen pal can understand my crude sentences, when I don't have to google translate the words for any of my sentence. I love feeling as though I can measure how far I've come, I love watching Gilmore Girls with completely different voices to the same people, I love listening to Bomba Estereo and singing along (probably incorrectly).

The fact is - gone are the days of doing now work, turning up to seminars unprepared and guessing what happened in the plot of books; this time around I have to have learned my grammar rules in advance, I need to constantly keep on top of my vocabulary, I need to be able to ask general, every day questions fluently, and answer the in return. I have to work 24 hours a day at this, or at least I feel like it, until I'm not uncomfortable with it anymore, until Spanish speaking isn't just a wall of noise with the occasional recognisable words, until my messages to Spanish friends on tandem aren't 99% corrections by the time they've finished with them.

Right now it's a love hate relationship with language learning - but if you've learned a language at degree level I've love to hear your experience. If not, I'll keep you updated.

Sammy xo.

Friday, 20 October 2017

My Top Travel Picks For Prague

I can't believe we've been back from Prague an entire week by the time that this post goes live; it's gone so quickly and it seems like weeks ago that we were wandering the Charles Bridge and eating traditional gingerbread (okay, I brought some home so that definitely wasn't weeks ago). We crammed so much into four and a bit days in Prague and there are bits I've already forgotten off the top of my head; but it's such a fascinating city that I definitely came away from our adventure there with some firm favourite things out of everything that we did. If you're heading to Prague, buckle in and get a list ready, because you're definitely going to want to see most of these things.

1: Sex Machines Museum
This was a weird thing to do on holiday, mostly because if you've never sat in a room with seven strangers watching turn of the century porn, it's definitely an experience that you won't forget. Having said that - there's a lot to be said about what can be learned within the Sex Machines Museum. Far from just having a lot of sex toys to marvel at (though there really are a lot of them) there is a lot to be done here, from reading about women's hysteria and it's treatments, to watching tiny dolls houses that work via crank to show pornographic scenes. 

This is a strange little museum right next to a Starbucks that has everything sex related that you can even begin to think of; but it's definitely worth a visit. It's pretty expensive and 200czk (around £7 per person) for a museum that'll maybe take 2 hours depending on how long you stay in the erotic cinema, but it's definitely worth splashing out on to spend an hour. You do, of course, need to be over 18, but with valid ID students can get in for 150czk (£5, give or take. No pun intended).

2: Prague Nightmare Horror Bar
If you plan on heading to see Fred and Ginger (more commonly known as the dancing houses) then this is a stop that you should definitely take. In fact, even if you're not visiting the nearby attraction, this is worth a trip in itself. This is a tiny little bar with the doors and windows completely blacked out and when you step inside, it's a wonderland full of horror memorabilia that will have even the bigger horror enthusiast marvelling. Sit in between dummies of famous horror villains, grab a drink and enjoy the music - they even have horror scenes replaying on the TV screen by the bar.

With drinks that'll cost you around 140czk (just around £5, though some are cheaper) these aren't to be sniffed at; and we all know I love a gimmick so the fact you can order a drink that relates specifically to a film (The Re-Animator, The Leprachaun's Revenge...) and have it come in a glass that has a vinyl sticker of the films scenes on the side it just something I can definitely get on board with. Be aware when going into the toilet that the red lighting relies on motion sensors and so it looks for all the world like you're walking into the pitch black surrounded by life sized models of fictional murderers. It's definitely worth visiting for the photographs alone.

3: The Museum of Alchemists and Magicians of Old Prague
Make no mistake that this museum is kind of crap, but you can get a joint ticket for this and the Ghosts of Prague Museum (hilarious, also kind of crap) that I think works out about £8, and this is worth it for one reason alone. In an unassuming courtyard there's a room full of stories of alchemy and when you finish these stories, one of the staff will lead you up the steepest, scariest and most dangerous steps you've ever been up; and what lies at the top is the true magical experience that makes the ticket worth it's price based on this alone.

At the top of this stairs lies a loft with a fake dragon egg and multiple scenes set up to show you about the alchemists that cam before that once called this loft home and the stories that they had to tell. The one story I think makes this worth the money? This is supposedly where Shakespeare found his inspiration for A Midsummer Night's Dream - and you can definitely feel his presence there - mostly because there's a huge dummy version of him towering above you. This place also has a really cool bar, and if you do the toy, as they'll consistently tell you, you get 10% off the cocktails which they call 'elixirs' to fit with their theming.

4: Sedlec Ossuary 'Bone Church'
This is by far one of the most amazing things that I've ever seen. I've cheated a little here because this is actually outside of Prague, but you can get an express train to Kutne Hora, where this is based, for around £16 return and it takes just an hour (worth the time and money, trust me). Whereas Kutne Hore's city centre is tiny, idyllic and filled with nice cafes, restaurants and bars - there is a part of the town that's a little more interesting in my humble opinion and that's definitely the Ossuary. This is an absolutely beautiful church with a basement completely decorated with human bones; think skull chandeliers and radius tombs. 

You can take photos here, but it seems very inappropriate when you see people taking selfies with skulls and so that's definitely worth thinking about if you're that way inclined, but this is amazing and I've really never seen anything like it. You have to pay 90czk to get in here (around £3) but all money goes to the upkeep of the church, which still has a functioning chapel upstairs that you can also visit should you wish. There are some more cathedrals and cool things to see in Kutne Hora and you can get conjoined tickets that will save you a little bit, so if you want to see them all and plan on spending the day there

5: Grotta
This is one of the most beautiful places that we visited in Prague and we were so lucky that it was literally on our doorstep due to the Airbnb location we had picked. If you're staying in the centre of Prague, this is a little further out than most other tourist attractions as it's in Prague 10 - but a taxi here will cost you around £3 and there is plenty of public transport options to get you here too. This is basically a fairytale grotto in the centre of a park in the middle of a thriving district in Prague 10 and it's truly worth seeing.

From the outside, this essentially looks like an abandoned mansion with a fountain too, but head inside and up the stairs and you can find links of interconnected caves that look like a mix between an abandoned crumbling mansion's bedrooms and something out of Star Wars. This is something fun to explore, nice to do on a beautiful day and is great for photo opportunities. Whatever I say won't do it justice, but a single visit there definitely will; there's also gorgeous ponds and bits and pieces in the park to visit, so definitely take a picnic and soak in the surroundings.

So there are my top favourite things that we did in Prague, though there is so much to do that I really did struggle to cut it down to just 5. If you've been, I'd love to know what you'd recommend (I might just have to go again in order to make sure I see everything...)

Sammy xo.

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.