My heart goes out to all the passengers and their families of the flight MH370 that was bound for Beijing from Kualua Lumpur. It was supposed to have reached its destination yesterday at CST 6:30am, but has been missing ever since. Life is indeed extremely fragile and unpredictable, but I'm heartened to see how many countries are chipping in to help! God bless them and all the efforts in trying to track them all down ♥
Friday, 7 March 2014
As a district in the heart of London between Drury Lane and St. Martin's Lane, Covent garden reminds me of one of the many European piazzas, the town square that is bustling with never-ending activities and splendor. And true enough, the place never fails these expectations - especially so on a sunny summer day.
Walking along the cobbled streets near the Apple market, you'll catch glimpses of the Covent garden market's former glory days, with the snapshots of old times being frozen onto brass plates nailed into the walls of the various wings. Since 1835, the market became the cultural landmark and heart of the city, especially so for the fruit and vegetable section in the Central square. Now, these have been revamped and modernized into popular shopping belts and iconic luxury boutiques in the North, with open spaces dedicated to street performers in the South. Since 1907, the Covent Garden tube station on the Piccadilly line has been faithfully serving the markets.
Nearby buildings are occupied by landmarks such as the Royal Opera House, the London transport museum and St. Paul's church. These are all worth checking out (especially the majestic St. Paul's church!), and the Covent garden square and market. The Apple market holds many handmade treats, such as the likes of independent label phone covers and jewelry. Even if you're no luxury shopper like myself, it's quite an experience to just walk around and busk in the merry spirit of the district - in summer, many of the Brits were perched on the sideways enjoying the sunshine.
There's almost a street entertainer at every corner pulling in the crowds, and even if you can't see them you'll still be drawn in by the crowd cheers! I've read somewhere they perform at scheduled time slots at designated areas such as the South hall courtyard, North Hall and the West Piazza. They're quite a joy to watch and many of them are really talented, with their respective skills and injection of British humour into their interactive performances. At the end of which, they'll usually pass around a hat for tips, giving a pound will be nice.
St. Paul's covent garden (or fondly known as Actors' Church) encompasses an intimate interior that houses only about 300 visitors, a small number compared to the main churches in Europe. It is tightly linked to the theatrical community of London, and many memorial plaques are hung around to pay tribute to many respected members of the community. Strolling into the blossoming courtyard, I stumbled upon a wind orchestra performance and was delighted to have sat in for a walk-in afternoon concert. (St. Martin in the fields at Trafalgar square also has such concerts, would be great to check them out)
The Apple market is a Neo-classical building from the 1800s and now sells handmade artsy goods.
Sunny days in London are quite a sight, even in summer - love how it busks everything in gold, such a contrast with the blue winter days! Ciao ♥
Thursday, 6 March 2014
After using Hada Labo's hydrating lotion 2 years ago, I have never looked back! It indeed surprises me on how a shelf-displayed facial product can be so effective and yet not traumatized my sensitive skin, brought it along with me to battle the London winter blues and dryness - and it has since been a travel necessity of mine, definitely hope to find time to review that one day. But for today, I'm reviewing another product of Hada Labo: the 3-in-1 arbutin whitening perfect gel.
Stumbled across the Sample store, which is an online store which distributes sample and allows us to find suitable products in the easiest way! It's free to sign up so no harm trying it out ♥ I love the concept because I've always been a fan of sample-sized products for its ingenuity of allowing consumers to do a try-before-we-buy (learnt it the hard way when I recently bought a Les soins Bio Plante system makeup remover which was a huge no-no for my sensitive skin) and also because samples make amazing travel accessories, especially with the not more than 100ml rule on airplane cabin bags. And when I saw an opportunity to collaborate on a Hada Labo review on a different product, I was pretty happy! I was given a retail-sized pot of Hada Labo perfect gel (3-in-1 whitening gel) to try out, and it arrived in a nifty yet gorgeous re-sealable bag - plus points for packaging, I was really impressed because it seemed more like a gift than anything ♥
It was also bubble-wrapped all over for extra protection and to ensure it that the product remains intact:
How the gel looks like in store shelves:
Hada Labo's skincare philosophy stems from its name of Perfect x Simple, where their facial product range brings beauty back to the basics - perfect, simple and confident. Akin to one of my favourite other products, Dermalogica which originated from the US, Hada Labo also believes in a stripped down approach of "Nothing more, nothing less" where more ingredients does not mean it's beneficial for our skin. I love how they believe in emphasizing simplicity in its skin care processes, and their products don't have the unnecessary additives, colourings fragrance and mineral oils that many other shelf-brands claim to not have but secretly possess. Originating from Japan, it is definitely suited and compatible with Asian skins - plus their products are effective yet don't burn a hole in your pocket.
The product itself is a translucent gel and looks pretty unassuming like any other moisturizer or serum, I love how it's translucent because I simply can't deal with opaque moisturizers (more about that later in the post). There is also no smell, unlike other moisturizers in the market. The consistency is in between a hair gel and a runny moisturizing lotion, so you can easily scoop it up from the pot. A small scoop like this is perfect for a thin layer over the entire face, and I use it mainly after my afternoon shower so it gets absorbed easily! It can also be used as a night gel so it works its magic when you're asleep :)
After applying some onto my hand, the gel is absorbed extremely quickly after a few seconds and leaves no residual. However, after a few minutes I feel as if a thin layer has formed over my skin, and it feels like it's tightening - not too sure if you can see the difference in both my hands below (pardon my veins) but there's a slight difference: the left seems more hydrated, eve though I haven't tried it long enough to review on its whitening properties. But in terms of hydration for Hada Labo, I'm always a fan! I wasn't a fan of the thin layer formed though, so I would not wear this out without some powder.
(out of 5)
Tip: But of course, I have extremely sensitive skin as mentioned, so before I start using any products, I usually carry out a mini experiment to make sure that it does not contain any paraffin, silicon or is too rich in oil for my skin to handle. A small tip from my dermatologist is that most moisturizers which are opaque still do contain a minimal amount of oil because it needs that's the only way the base emulsifier can work on - so if you have combination or oily skin, it's best to go for moisturizers that are clear (e.g. collagen or hydroluronic acid based).
Apart from doing a patch test on either the tip of my ears or my arms near the elbow, I'll put a small dap of the product on a piece of paper and leave it overnight. Through the night, the product will ripple into a bigger blob and I read it somewhere on a magazine that the oil present in the product will diffuse outwards, so you can use your own judgement call to see if your skincare product is too rich for you. For demonstration purposes, I tried comparing the gel with Dermalogica's active moist - a moisturizer I loved about 5 years ago until I realized that it caused me breakouts, and you can see how much more oil Active moist has as compared to the gel.
After a day, the center of the blob will contain some residue. Here, the Dermalogica sample felt like a thick concoction of oil and lotion while the Hada labo one felt like sticky melted plastic, which I later found out from the ingredients list that it may be hydrolyzed collagen.
Hope this was useful, head down to the Sample store to get your free sample while stocks lasts! Hada Labo (Singapore) is also having a Hada Labo 3-in-1 Arbutin Whitening Perfect Gel Snow Princess game on their facebook page to stand a chance to win this product. Or you can head down to their retailers at BHG, Guardian, NTUC, OG, Robinsons, Sasa, Unity and Watsons and get it at $38.90 for an 80g retail product.
Monday, 24 February 2014
Stepping into Budapest (pronounced as Buda-pesht) felt like I stepped into the dusty pages of a vintage fairytale. Perhaps it was the snow that blanketed the city in a white wash or the amazing architecture of the former Austro-Hungarian empire that shone through the white specks, Budapest indeed has a peculiar charm that is majestic yet soft-spoken. Much like a golden silence, but I can't quite put my finger to it. Walking down the wide cobbled streets and ascending creaky wooden staircases, it's easy to pretend that you're transported back in the days - and I love it. The central European feel hit a cultural sweet spot for me (especially since prior to this I was in touristy Brussels) so it was very intriguing the city acclaimed to be one of the most beautiful places in Europe.
Historically, Budapest was originally a Celtic settlement before the Hungarians arrived in the 9th century and took
over the lands. The word 'Budapest' is a composition of the two cities of 'Buda' and 'Pest', which later were united in 1873 to form the capital of Hungary we know of today. This is easily distinguishable by the Danube river, which flows right through the center of the city and divides the hilly Buda and flat Pest. I'm also told that while they differ geographically, they both have differing cultures as well. Buda, houses the grand Buda castle and heritage site and has an imperial aura of settled wealth, and offers gorgeous panoramas on Castle Hill. On the other hand, Pest seems more commercially populated and
also seems to house most of the famous landmarks of the city. It offers a wide array of restaurants, bars and cafes to try the Hungarian cuisine from.
Renting an apartment in the heart of the city on 24 Nádor street, we stayed on the side of Pest. This was walking distance of Lajos Kossuth Square and the Hungarian Parliament Building, and a stone's throw away from St. Stephen's Basilica and Széchenyi Chain Bridge. Albeit slightly chilling to step into the interior dilapidated courtyard and dingy surroundings,
it was quite a comfortable stay.
Unfortunately, my camera lenses were damaged from the Barcelonetta beach sand and had to be sent for repair. Hence, the pictures below were all taken by a secondhand iPhone4, pardon the vignette as my phone cover was coming off and often blocked the lenses. Such a mistake to have left my film SLR back in Singapore, couldn't really get used to R's Olympus.
Switched on the television and was rather bemused by a live psychic reading programme where viewers could call him in real-time to seek 'enlightenment' on life woes and issues I presume. The psychic would then proceed to flip a few cards and fiddle with his candle before making certain predictions.
The Hungarian Parliament was just round the corner, opposite which there were old school telephone booths and ATMs to press money from. We spent a great deal of time trying to work the money machines because the machine got jammed and sucked our card in - I later went to google our situation and found that many foreigners had the same problem too. Nonetheless we managed to get the card back (without our bank security breached as we played it safe and called the bank), the bank rates were much better than the money changer exchange rates!
St. Stephen's basilica was a majestic sight as it was one of the tallest building in the city at 96 metres, matched by the Hungarian parliament building to represent the equal importance of governance and spiritual thinking, or so a travel journal I read recently scribed. The church which was named after St. Stephen I the first Hungarian king, spots a Neo-classical architectural style and has a designed floorplan of a Greek cross. The two bell towers at the side of the building makes it stand out from the other European churches and demands an attention-seeking presence from far away.
A gripe of travelling in winter (apart from the biting cold) is that the snow may be rather hazardous. Despite the wide avenues that Budapest has, clumps and blocks of snow alike kept sliding off the top of many buildings....and potentially onto ignorant passerbys. While there were warning signs erected below certain buildings, there were many others that were left precariously hanging to prey onto an unknowing passerby.
Recognized as one of the World heritage sites, Andrássy avenue is iconically graced by the line of trees on both sides of the pathway and features shophouses and cafes. Walking along, you can find Neo-renaissance styled residences and luxury boutiques. The oldest metro line in Budapest, Line 1 can also be found on the avenue and is in itself a valued UNESCO world heritage site.
At the end of Andrássy avenue lies Heroes square (Hősök tere), one of the major and most iconic squares of Budapest. Little did I know that it was filled with such historical and political significance, for the Millennium memorial pays tribute to the leaders of the 7 tribes that founded Hungary in the early 9th century, as well as other historical figures that had a part to play in Hungary's history. Different from the other squares that are commonly bustling with activity, the memorial grounds was dotted with visitors yet sparse to maintain the defined solemnness of the landmark. But of course it's Europe and love is perpetually in the air; so I had to stumble upon a couple locking lips at a quiet corner behind the memorial.
Surrounding the square are seemingly unassuming yet important buildings of Budapest. The Museum of Fine Arts showcases foreign art collections from all over the world while the Palace of Art has the largest modern art exhibition in Hungary.
Found an empty field of flawless powder snow surrounded by security fences, so the rebels in us started throwing snowballs in before attempting to run away after thinking that we set some alarms off....good times.
I don't advocate the philosophy of 'must-sees' during travel but the thermal baths of Budapest was definitely one of the highlights of the trip! Hailed as the land of thermal waters, there are many baths speckled over the city to fill you up wit warm bliss to chase away the gloomy winter blues and it's also the perfect solution to a traveller's aching feet ♥ I'm a huge fan of hot spring waters, having visited the public baths in Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and Indonesia - so this was definitely very exciting for me!
We visited the Széchenyi bath at 1146 Budapest, Állatkerti körút 9-11 as it fit into our walking route from Andrassy avenue and is the largest medicinal bath in Europe. Established from way back in 1913, the Széchenyi bath has a Neo-baroque architecture exterior and houses 12 thermal bath sections decorated in various themes (Roman, Classical, etc.) as well as 3 outdoor pools with temperatures varying from 30-42 degree Celsius. Some of the sections had really grand palace-like interiors, which makes you forget momentarily that you're in a public bathhouse. The outdoor pools were really satisfying because it the weather was so cold but the waters really help to warm you up!
We paid about HUF3800 for an afternoon ticket to the baths, which included a towel and locker use. There were different changing rooms for females and males respectively, but you could rent day cabins to store your belongings and change in for additional privacy. The baths are accessible via Metro Line 1.
The baths are located in the midst of the gorgeous City park, of which you can walk to the Vajdahunyad castle. The winter sun was almost setting by the time we left Széchenyi, peeking behind the silhouette of the trees and baths, so we decided to move on with our dinner plans. It was great being back in the cold but feeling slightly warmer from the thermal waters!
Of course, I had to be distracted by the aroma of freshly steamed corn on the way to the metro and we bought one to share....realized that we got ripped off (forgot how much she charged us) but it tasted exceptionally good after the baths.
Following a recommendation by E, we decided to dine at Két Szerecsento, a restaurant that was close to the Opera so we could hop over for the show we reserved tickets for earlier in the day. Paired it with some Hungarian wine (not a good idea before a long Opera show) and it was probably the best meal we had in Budapest that we even contemplated returning back the next day ♥ Price wise, it was also definitely more affordable than eating out in London, as with most Eastern european / Central european cities. This probably costed us sandwiches and drinks in London... Két Szerecsento is located at Nagymezo u. 14.
As mentioned, earlier in the day we popped into the Hungarian State Opera house and scored some reservation tickets for an opera show that night. It was an easier process than I imagined, because we practically walked into the opera house office and one of the clerks told us that she could give us seats close to the stage for a good price in a hush-hush. I thought of the corn incident back at the entrance of the baths, and we didn't do much research to begin with - it must have showed on our faces because she gave us another set of seats at a better price and we walked off with last minute 6 pound tickets to the night show. Does anyone know if these were worth it?
We returned back that evening after dinner for the show, and the Opera house shone in its Neo-rennaissance splendor, being lit at night. The interior was overwhelming, with its ceilings adorned with opulent frescoes and hallways laced with sculptures. Majestic chandeliers complemented with the red carpet fashion truly juxtaposed our lack of dressing up for the event!
The Opera show was an experience in itself, because we didn't know that it was going to be a German opera show and hence didn't understand a word spoken, and also because the locals themselves also started falling asleep one by one in the span of the 3 hours...
Will continue the travelogue in another post, ciao! ♥