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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Difference Between Museums in London and Paris

You may not think so, but Eric and I are really into going to museums when we travel. I feel like it gives us a little bit of insight into where we're traveling, and they can be fun and interesting. It's cool to see the differences in them when we go to different places, but nowhere was it more apparent than when we went to London and Paris. 

London has tons of museums and many of them are free. In fact, we went to three free museums in one day when it was rainy and we were looking for ways to spend the day since we missed our trip to Stonehenge due to a hurricane in the night (yeah, we must have brought that with us) that delayed or stalled all the trains. We were disappointed, but we made the best of it. We probably wouldn't have made it to any of those museums if not for missing the train. 

Tate Modern
Okay, maybe I just don't "get" most modern art, but I was really confused by how most of the pieces in this place are considered art. In one part, we walked into a pitch black room that had a projection of a lady sitting in a chair complaining about life. What the? We stood in line for 10 minutes to look inside some light boxes that turned out to be...three different colors of lights. Eh? Heaps of scrap metal in one room constituted a "sculpture"? Yeah, I was totally not into it. The best thing in the place was a Picasso that was much smaller than I expected and the hilarity of someone who thought a starfish wearing a Barbie high heel was worth wall space. If you like such things, Tate Modern is cool. If you're not, then maybe skip it, even if it IS free. The walk across the Millennium Bridge was worth it though.

Victoria & Albert Museum
I had been wanting to visit the V&A for a long time. I have a thing for textiles (aka clothes, rugs and tapestries) and heard this one had a great selection. You can't beat free, so we headed over there after the disappointment of the Tate Modern and a thoroughly delicious Indian lunch. I could have easily spent all day in the Victoria & Albert. It was divided into sections by parts of the world and had an amazing array of items, like those mentioned above, plus artwork, sculptures, pottery and so much more. and if you love a gift shop, you'll be in heaven. Of course, most of what is in there is expensive, but it was still fun to look at. 

The British Museum
You should go to the British if nothing else than for the awesome entrance. The featured exhibit is in a round room and the museum space around it is topped by a fantastic glass ceiling. Of course, the featured exhibit requires admission, but the rest of the museum is free. I loved looking at the Egyptian pieces, including real sarcophagi and heiroglyphics. Much of the rest was taken up by Greek and Roman structures and sculpture, which were rather large and stunning. There's even Chihuly glass sculpture in the lobby, which is amazing. Go there!

Imperial War Museum
Generally, I don't like anything to do with war, but I had some sort of compulsion to visit this museum, especially since the Britain at War Museum closed. It took some walking to find it, which would have been easier if we had gotten off at the right Tube stop, but we learned not to trust Google Maps after that. We were treated to some cool cannons, warship guns and a tank! Did I tell you that I have always wanted to drive one? Well, I still didn't get to, but it was awesome anyway. What really got my attention was the Holocaust exhibit that they were holding here. It was free to get in and taught me so much I didn't know about the rise of Hitler and concentration camps. So sad, but a very important part of history to know about.

In Paris, almost all the museums charge a fee and even more if you want to see the special exhibit of the moment. If you want to hit up more than a couple, buy a Museum Pass, or else you're wasting your money. Make sure you will be able to visit enough museums for the cost though. Unfortunately, the museums aren't all open all year and many are closed during certain weekdays. We didn't get to go to the Salvador Dali museum, because it was closed for months for refurbishment. There are also a ton of museums that you have to get to right when they open or wait in interminable lines, like the Louvre (which we didn't visit) and the Musee de Orangerie, which we also didn't get to go to, because we got there at opening and the line to get in was over two hours. So much for getting to see Monet's pinnacle piece. Instead, we went to these museums:

Notre Dame Archaeological Crypt
Though we also hit up Notre Dame - how can you not? - we went underground to check out the archaeological crypt where we saw what Paris used to look like and learned how it turned into the city it is today. It's pretty cool, actually, however, I probably wouldn't do this without having the Museum Pass. It's nothing that you can't just read about online, even if you have the chance to see parts of walls, doorways and other ancient city parts.

I feel like this isn't really a museum, but they claim it is, so there you have it. We got in with our Museum Pass, like everywhere else, and wandered around the religious building. They were currently in the process of refurbishing parts of it, including the spectacular dome, so there were a lot of things about that to read. In the basement crypt were the remains of greats like Voltaire and Braille (yup, that smarty-pants who invented a way for the blind to read!). Actually, the crypt was far more interesting than the main floor, even though it was somewhat creepy and cold. 

Centre Pompidou
By far, this is one of my favorite museums and I feel like I would enjoy returning and spending more time in it. I'm sure you remember my blog post on it. It has more of a pop culture vibe and even the "modern" bits were pretty awesome. There are like five floors of crazy good art to check out, with some interactive pieces. You will need to use your Museum Pass here as well, or pay an admission, but I assure you this one is worth it. If you want to see the special exhibit, purchase your tickets downstairs or be pissed when you are on the top floor and they tell you that you need a ticket and you can't purchase one there. It also seems like this is the only museum in Paris that's open after 5pm.

While I enjoyed our time visiting museums in both London and Paris, I feel like London has the right idea by letting the public view art for free and asking for a charitable donation. I might feel differently if the cost for admissions in Paris were more reasonable, especially if I have to wait in line for two hours to view a few notable works of art. I mean, if you only have a few days in the city, it's hard to see more than a few, especially when they all open at the same time and you have to get their super early, or they are only open on some of the days you are in town.

{See more about my London vacation at IvBeenThere. It's a fun and easy way to share your trips with friends and other travelers and you can link it to your Facebook account.}

Do you have a favorite museum? Or feel differently than I do about Parisian vs British museums?

Saturday, April 26, 2014

5 Easy Ways to Pare Down Your Beauty Products

5 Easy Ways to Pare Down Your Beauty Products

When you travel, every inch of bag space is precious. Carry-on bags don’t have unlimited room, but they are essential if you are trying to save money, time and our luggage possibly getting lost by the airline. Packing light isn’t always easy and those 3-1-1 bags aren't that big, especially when you're flying during the summer and have to squeeze sunscreen in there, too. While you can buy it once you get there, many resorts, theme parks and grocery stores have outrageous prices on these items. A better way to pack and avoid checking a bag is by streamlining your beauty routine to take fewer products and those that are multipurpose. Here are five ways you can find room in your travel bag for sunscreen and still look great in all your pictures.

Tinted Moisturizer - You may be used to taking your foundation wherever you go, but a tinted moisturizer can do double-duty as a foundation and a moisturizer. Most have built-in SPF, so you don't have to bring a second sunscreen specifically for your face.

Powder Foundation - Avoid taking two products and opt for just one with a powder foundation. Not only does it save space, but a good one, like Philosophy Supernatural Airbrushed Canvas, will be long-lasting and give you a flawless finish over your moisturizer. This can be paired with tinted moisturizer to give you even more coverage.

Tinted Lip Gloss - Get a fresh summery look by bringing along a tinted lip gloss that also moisturizes. It enables you to leave your heavy lipstick at home and you won't have to tote around a tube of lip balm. Smashbox O-Gloss brings out the natural hue of your lips, plus it gives you a slight shine and locks in moisture. Sugar by Fresh is a lip balm that has a coverage a bit lighter than a full lipstick.

Trial Sizes - Those fun trial sizes that you get with makeup purchases are your best friend on vacation. Save those tiny tubes of mascara, lip glosses, and eye shadows, and pack them in your travel bag. 

Shampoo bars - Shampoo and conditioner can take up a lot of room and could contribute the most to spillage in your bag. There's nothing worse than getting to your destination and having to wash off everything in your 3-1-1 bag because your shampoo or conditioner exploded. Shampoo bars don't ever have to go in your liquids bag, they never spill and are simple to use. They work just like a bar of soap and have all the benefits of a great shampoo. You can also get solid conditioners which will leave your hair silky and manageable.

Not only will these tips help you pack lighter, but having fewer products will help you get ready faster each morning and look less made up. Spring and summer is the perfect time to look fresh-faced and natural when you’re out and about, so lighter applications that are extra moisturizing will give you that dewy beach look you want while protecting your skin from harmful rays of the sun.

What are some of your favorite travel beauty products?

Sephora.com, Inc.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Just Say Hello!

Just Say Hello!
When you travel to a new country that doesn't speak your language, it can be really helpful to learn a few key phrases. As much as I know many people speak English wherever I go, I don't expect that to be the case at all. So, while I enjoy learning about new things and cultures, I also try to brush up on some local words. Nothing will get you so far as a smile and at least attempting to speak the language. Start with the easy things, like how to say hello. Here are 21 ways to say hello around the world.

21 Ways to Say Hello

Explore more visuals like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

Have you found that learning some of the local language when you travel has helped you?

Saturday, April 19, 2014

My Williamsburg Wish List

My Williamsburg Wish List
In the fall, Eric and I will be heading to the East Coast to spend some time in Williamsburg, Virginia, Washington, DC and Virginia Beach. It's been over 20 years since I've been to Williamsburg, so I'm quite excited to return to places I visited many times when I was a kid and show Eric around an area that I spent a good chunk of my childhood. Here are some of the things on my list.

This photo of Busch Gardens is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Busch Gardens
I used to go here every summer. Though it is a theme park with fun rides, I love the international aspect of it and it's probably why I love EPCOT so much. You can visit several European countries in this park. I remember the drive up to it smelling of the Budweiser factory across the parking lot, which might be a funny way to remember childhood memories, but every time I see a brewery, I think of those (beer-free) summers.

This photo of Colonial Williamsburg is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Colonial Williamsburg
It can be fun to take a step back in time. I remember being incredibly interested in watching the blacksmith and the basket weavers. So many old-timey jobs are either done by machines now or totally unappreciated. As are modern conveniences and technology. Aren't you glad you can just pick up butter at the store now instead of having to churn it for hours?

This photo of Historic Jamestowne is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Historic Jamestown
The very first English settlement in America is found in Jamestown. You can view the fort, the museum and the excavation site and learn about what it was like to live in the 1600s. I always feel like interactive tours and exhibits are better than a regular museum. Even the kids love Jamestown.

This photo of Public Hospital Museum is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Public Hospital Museum
This is a place I've never been to. It claims to be the first mental institution in North America. You can see how the mentally ill were taken care of in the 1700s. I'm sure it won't be uplifting at all, but it's always interesting to view how far we've come (or not) in hundreds of years.

This photo of Craft House is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Craft House
Who's interested in Colonial items? I am, obviously. If you are, too, you can head to Craft House and pick up some reproduction historical goods to take home with you.

This photo of Haunted Dinner Theater is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Haunted Dinner Theater
I'm a fan of eating while being entertained. This may take some coaxing into, but I'm not sure who can say no to a fun night out with a buffet of delicious food. 

This photo of Yorktown Battlefield is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Yorktown Battlefield

While not actually in Williamsburg, Yorktown is close enough to immerse yourself in yet another piece of history. The battlefield gives you a sense of what the war must have been like, and a tour guide will explain more about it and even demo a cannon for you! For a few bucks, you can purchase a driving tour CD and take a self-guided tour as well. 

Have you been to Williamsburg? If so, what are your recommendations for our visit?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Visiting Las Vegas with Kids

It’s called Sin City for a reason, but Las Vegas is not just for grown-ups. You don’t have to bet against the house to be a big winner. Away from the casinos and hotel pools there is a jackpot of family fun just waiting to be had.

Seigfried & Roy Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat
There’s so much kid-friendly fun happening right on The Strip. The Mirage is home to the big cat collection of magic act Seigfried & Roy. Walk through at your own pace, admiring the tigers, panthers and other felines and then watch dolphins frolic and play right next door.

Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame Museum
What kid doesn’t like to play a video game? Bring them down to E. Tropicana where they can both see some of the greatest pinball machines from the 1950s to 1990s and also play with pieces of history. This 10,000 square foot museum is open daily and is totally non-profit. All quarters you pay to play that don’t go toward upkeep go to various charities, like the Salvation Army.

Circus Circus Adventuredome
Among the hopeful thrills of slots and table games are more certain thrills at the Adventuredome amusement park at Circus Circus. Big kids have a choice of roller coasters and other adventure rides, while little ones can ride more tame rides and experience fun 4D movies. And if you’re looking for more affordable activities, Circus Circus holds free circus acts throughout the day.

Fremont Street Experience
Not all the glitz and glamour in Vegas is reserved for the casinos. The Fremont Street Experience downtown is seven blocks of entertainment, lights and more. Fremont Street had the first hotel in Vegas and the first paved street and now features one of the most popular attractions in the city. Live performances compete for attention with a four-block-long lighted canopy that uses 12.5 million LED lights to create patterns and videos to music once the sun goes down. Plus it’s all free!

If the rest of Fremont Street hasn’t quite delighted all their senses, then perhaps ziplining above the crowd will do the trick. Zip 110 feet from the ground, soaring over the heads of the visitors and right under the lighted canopy of the Fremont Street Experience.

Mob Museum
If you’ve ever wondered how Las Vegas got started and it blossomed into the city it is today, you’ll be surprised to know that it never would have happened without the mob. The Mob Museum is located directly across the street from Fremont Street, spans three floors in a former federal courthouse and U.S. Post Office. Kids will learn the history of the mob while also learning fun facts about how the mob works and how they spread across the country. There are some graphic images here and quite a bit of reading, so this may not be suitable for small children.

Shark Reef Aquarium
Just like the zoo, almost everyone enjoys a trip to the aquarium. The Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay has over 2,000 underwater creatures, including 1,000 sharks of 15 different species. Come face-to-face with exotic fish, reptiles and the rare golden crocodile. The aquarium has a touch tank – which all kids think is exciting – and two walk-through underwater tunnels to experience marine life all around you.

Mardi Gras Show in the Sky
Who doesn’t love a party? Multiple times per day the Rio throws an amazing Mardi Gras party for guests with floats that run on a track along the ceiling. Kids aren’t allowed on the casino floor, but there is a fabulous view from the balcony of the second floor where the shops are located. Dance to the music and maybe even score some beads, without having to take off your shirt.

All cities can be family-friendly if you look for attractions suitable for the different ages in your travel group. With the addition of endless buffets and pools to choose from, there is something to make everyone happy in Las Vegas.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review: eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior

Review: eBags TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior
When you travel, do you ever wish your carry-on was a bit more versatile? I have shoulder bags that I also wish had convenient handles or could be carried crossbody or as a backpack. Unfortunately, most bags don’t have as much versatility as we would like, making it difficult to carry up stairs or over on cobblestones or down the aisle on the airplane. Don’t get me wrong, I love a rolling bag, but they can’t really go everywhere and the rigid structure can make it difficult to get into the overhead or under the seat in front of you. eBags wants to give you a bit more organization, while giving you a more traditional carry-on bag, but with a lot more flexibility.

The TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior is a soft-sided bag that is not a full-size carry-on, but holds as much as one and still fits under the seat on the plane. It can be carried like a briefcase, a backpack (with hidden straps in the back) or a shoulder bag, with the padded and adjustable included strap. Who doesn’t like such options in a bag?

With the way we travel, we might be spending days in the big city and bringing our bags from the airport to the hotel on the subway/bus or we may be dragging our belongings with us to somewhere in the rainforest or other equally non-metropolitan destination. Roller bags don’t really work on unpaved paths and may need to be carried over mud or streams. The Mother Lode Weekender Junior is a perfect option, because it doesn’t have bulky wheels and can be carried in that variety of different ways, making it more convenient for those who do more than just one kind of traveling. With the manageable size, it allows you to bypass baggage fees as well.

The inside of the bag is an organizational dream. The large compartment gives you the option of using a partition to divide it into two separate spaces. I love this, since it can keep everything from scrunching down to the bottom when using it as a backpack. I put my heavier items on the bottom, like my toiletry bag, shoes and pants, and then my lighter items in the top portion.

There is a nice removable pouch inside the main compartment that can be used for smaller items you don’t want to lose, makeup or, as I used it, my roll of accessories and jewelry. Once at your destination, you can unsnap it from the inside and toss it in your day bag.

Going to the beach or like to keep particular items separate? Slip them in the flat mesh pocket to keep them away from your items in the main compartment. I use it for unmentionables and my swimsuit, just to keep them from getting mixed up with the rest of my clothes and making them easy to find when I need them.

This bag has a back compartment for carrying your laptop. You can fit even the largest laptop inside. As you know by now, I sometimes travel with a 17” laptop, which is huge, but also necessary at times, because I blog from the road and do other work. Not only will it fit inside, but a smaller one will fit just as snugly, thanks to the adjustable laptop sling inside the pocket, so your expensive computer doesn’t get jostled around and ruined while in transit. The back is padded, so you won’t even notice that it’s right against your body while carrying it around.

When I leave on vacation, I don’t always have my bag totally full, which is sometimes a problem with a bag like this, because it can cause everything to slide to the bottom and get all jumbled up. The Mother Lode Weekender Junior has compression straps, to keep your items in place even when it is tossed around.

Bought items on your trip? Not to worry! You can loosen the compression straps and add more space to your interior by almost two inches with the zippered expansion gusset. This is a really important feature for me in a bag, because I always come back with more than I left with and need the extra room.

This bag also features internal clips that allow you to place the tie-down straps higher up than usual, making it easier to layer your belongings inside in multiple layers, without unnecessarily squishing those on the sides of the bottom.

Now that all your main items are packed and organized, you can organize all the other little things you need to take with you. The exterior pocket has room for guide books, smaller electronics, change, writing implements and more. I used it for my Kindle, passport, mobile and even fit my netbook inside. Even with all that, it wasn’t bulky at all.

Don’t want to wrestle getting your 3-1-1 bag in and out of your bag? No problem! There’s a great top pocket that you can slide it right into. Of course, it can be used for anything you want, but it’s a fantastic place to store your liquids bag for ease through security. It’s the ideal size!

Keep your travel docs close at hand with the handy little zipper pocket on the front of the Weekender. It’s not large, but it can fit those things you like to have easy access to, like your boarding pass(es).

As soon as I get on the plane, I’m thirsty or hungry…or want just about anything else that is annoying when it’s packed away in your bag. If you have the same issue, this bag makes carrying around your bottled beverage and keeping your hands free easy. There’s a hidden bottle pouch on this bag that can be adjusted to fit many size drinks (even those giant waters you want to buy, but don’t because they are hard to carry around) or even snacks. When not in use, you can shove it back into its small zippered compartment.

I’m really looking forward to using the TLS Mother Lode Weekender Convertible Junior on my next trip, as it can fit everything I need for a two-week vacation and is just the right size for me to carry on my own. If you are looking to get away from the structured bags that have become the norm, that don’t always work for all your travel, this could definitely be the bag that works for you, too.

More information
Size: 19” x 14” x 9”
Colors it comes in: Celestial Bronze | Green Envy | Tropical Turquoise (shown) | Blue Yonder | Eggplant | Sinful Red | Solid Black
How much is it?: $119.99 (though now on sale for $59.99 & $74.99)
Where you can buy it: eBags website or Amazon
Other specs: 840D & 900D Twisted Poly that repels water and oil-based spills, 3 lbs 5 oz, 41.6 liter capacity, self-repairing zippers with lockable sliders and D rings for added security

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Disclaimer: I was provided with the TLS Mother Lode Convertible Weekender Junior for the purposes of this review, but all opinions are 100% mine.
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