Sunday, 27 May 2018

12 summer holiday essentials perfect for your next holiday

I'm not going to lie, I have the biggest case of wanderlust right now. The last travel piece I wrote was on Gran Canaria here -and that combined with a Madeira Tourism event I attended last week has only intensified my desire to hop on a plane. But where should I go and write about next? (suggestions in the comments below please!)

One of the things I enjoy most about going abroad is planning my holiday wardrobe and how you can wear things you may not be able to back home. For instance, I wouldn't exactly go for lunch in London dressed in just a bikini. When I'm away, I'm a lot more care free about about how short my dress is, needing a bra, or how deep a plunge my swimsuit or dresses have. And you know what? It's liberating.

One of my go to places for stocking up on summer essentials is Forever 21. It's an affordable way of doing so (as you'll see from the prices I've quoted below) with some great fashion forward pieces. And just so you know, this feature is in no way sponsored by or in collaboration with Forever 21. I just wanted to share some of my favourite pieces I've seen on the site lately and also a discount code I found recently on Mail Online which offers 30% off any 5 items or more purchased from the site, rendering already affordable prices, even more affordable. Read on for the discount code and for my top summer picks

Foliage print maxi dress £35 £24.50
Satin floral maxi dress £52 £36.40
Seaform striped playsuit £15 £10.50

Whenever I travel to a warm destination, I always like to pack a few maxi dresses. They are great for the evenings when the temperatures start to drop and I love wearing something a bit dressier for dinner. I fell in love with this satin floral maxi dress with its plunge front, open back and high cut slit. Admittedly it's a little on the pricier side for Forever 21, however with the 30% discount code, this was more my sort of price. The foliage print maxi dress is a little more day time I feel, and something I could visualise wearing back home too. 

Another one of my summer holiday essentials is a playsuit. How beautiful is the blue off the shoulder playsuit? It comes in other colours too (red, and black & white), but I was drawn to the brilliantly named "seafoam" version (as pictured). And again with the stripes (obsessed much?!), I adore this red and white striped pool cover up. Perfect for coming out of the pool and heading to the bar for a much needed cold drink.

Red bustier swimsuit £26 £18.20
Grey striped cover up £35 £24.50
Red & white striped bikini £28 £19.60

Again with the red and white stripes (in fairness I wear my red and white striped breton top all the time!). In true Where's Wally / Where's Waldo style, no one would lose you on the beach in this red and white striped bikini. Further to the red and white pool cover-up (above), I was drawn to another striped cover up, but this time in the form of a longer grey and white one. Because grey. And whenever I travel I like to take a mixture of bikinis and all-in-one swimsuits with me so I'm ready for any occasion. I love the colour mint so this mint coloured swimsuit really spoke to me (plus mint looks incredible with a tan!). And how different is this structured red bustier swimsuit? It also comes in nude, but I personally love the red. It's a bit Baywatch, but with a difference.

Brown longline cardigan £22 £15.40
Planet graphic tee £10 £7
Red polka dot dress £18 £12.60
Red shirt dress £20 £14

I love the back of this red polka dot dress. It's a good day trip dress and something I'd happily wear back home post-holiday too. And the same goes for this red shirt dress. I adore a shirt dress (something that has been long imprinted in me since finding this berry shirt dress). And how amazing does the brown cover up look over a simple white tee and denim shorts? It adds a little something extra don't you think? And everyone who wants to visit every inch of this planet needs this cute "love your planet" tee in their lives. When I pack for a trip I always make sure I have some round neck tees and sensible shoes as I love going for hikes and long walks. Even if you don't use the 30% discount code, £10 for a t-shirt is not bad going!

What are your favourite items?

I ordered a few of the above as well as a pair of sunglasses (down from £4.40 to a mere £3.15!), but these sunglasses have now sold out and I can't link to them sadly. If you wish to make use of the discount code yourself, order 5 items or more from the Forever 21 site by 31st May and apply GSG5430 at checkout for 30% off (you're welcome!).

Friday, 18 May 2018

The no nonsense guide of how to have the perfect picnic


FREEZE YOUR DRINKS

On a really hot day, the freezer comes into its own. It doesn't matter whether your beverages are alcohol based or alcohol free, pop your drink of choice into the freezer pre-departure. It'll melt gradually en route to your picnic spot, whilst at the same time keeping the rest of your food chilled. I love a glass of rosé on a hot summer's day and I find that Mateus always really hits the spot.


This Portuguese wine is not sickly sweet (unlike some other rosés I've tried) and I find the taste very similar to that of a light red wine. The reason for this could be through the different way in which they make this particular rosé (they use similar techniques to those used in white wine making, but by prolonging contact between the must and skins, it acquires its distinct pink colour). I love how unique and instantly recognizable the bottle is when you spot it in the supermarket. Did you know that its unusual shape is inspired by the flasks used by soldiers in World War 1? So if you are more of a red wine drinker and aren't usually into rosé, Mateus could be the one for you!


MAKE IT WORK

We'd all love to have a picnic on a beautifully sunny day, but sadly the sun is a rather shy little scamp. If it rains or is cold outside, make it work. For the latter, pack soup and hot drinks into a thermos. If it rains and the ground is all soggy, sitting on the grass is not the one. Recent rainfall crushed my notion of a romantic picnic sitting on a picnic blanket on the grass. So instead we relocated the party to my dining table and chairs set (a wedding gift from my sisters). Not so much a picnic in the traditional sense... but still alfresco dining. It still counts, right?


DON'T BE FANCY

I could have easily filled this feature with affiliate links on the perfect picnic accessories. However I am not going to coax you into buying a £70 picnic basket because it's romantic and Instagram pretty. The reality is that as lovely as wicker baskets are, they just aren't practical.

Ok, let me elaborate. They are practical in the sense that they are a storage facility and can hold your crockery and nibbles rather than you having to resort to using plastic bags (I try to avoid these where possible). However have you ever tried going out out on a long walk, scoping out the perfect picnic spot with a wicker basket handle on your wrist?  It pinches. It leaves a rather fetching cross stitch pattern on your skin. It's fine to carry initially. You feel all whimsical like Red Riding Hood going into the woods to deliver whatever it was to her Grandma. But if you have a fair distance to go (which FYI is where the best picnic spots are), or if you are going to be walking around all day with said basket, don't do this to yourself. I can't justify spending all that money on something that would quite honestly be a bit of a faff to carry around.

If you are venturing further afield, how about a cool bag? Considerately cheaper, easier to carry, and usually insulated well for hot or cold foods (something wicker baskets are less good for). They may not be as aesthetically pleasing as the traditional picnic basket, but nowadays there are some lovely designs out there. My point being: don't feel the need to go out and buy ALL THE PRETTY THINGS for a picnic. Food is an inevitable cost (whether you buy it or make things yourself), but don't feel you have to splash out on a fancy blanket, basket and crockery for the 'gram. Screw Instagram.

CONSIDER YOUR MENU

Picnics are all about the finger food. Avoid gigantic things (oh er), crumbly things or messy things. Think bite-sized. If you're organised (i.e. not me), making as much of it as possible yourself will help save on costs. In hotter weather I gravitate towards nibbles and dips. Hummus is one of my favourite things. I picked up x3 varieties (standard hummus, red pepper and lemon & coriander) and served with sliced peppers, cucumber and carrot sticks. And since having a wine picnic without bread and cheese would be criminal, I also picked up some rosemary focaccia and mozzarella. I love Mediterranean flavours so paired the mozzarella with olives and also some cured meats like chorizo and prosciutto - the latter of which goes beautifully with a rosé like Mateus.


STAY COOL

Pretty sure I've already touched on this with my cool bag comment above and also point 1.... but do keep any perishable goods as cool as possible and protected from the heat. Particularly things like meat, fish or dairy which can turn pretty quickly. Eat these sorts of things as soon as possible once you've reached your destination. But until you get there, wrap them well and nestle in a cool bag between ice packs and pre-frozen drinks for good longevity.

ANTI BACTERIAL GEL

Need I say more? Napkins are great for any spillages, but there is nothing worse than wiping your hands and still feeling a bit sticky and urgh afterwards. Which is something anti bac can help with. It cleans, it protects against germs, and it usually smells pretty damn nice too. I had a watermelon one once, so I could eat watermelon and then clean up my sticky mitts after (which for the record still smelt like watermelon, but hey, watermelon is pretty nice as smells go). Picnic or no picnic, I always carry anti bac around with me.


OOTD

For the perfect picnic outfit, opt for something suitably summery and avoid anything too clingy (there is nothing worse than getting too hot, overeating and feeling like a stuffed sausage!). I like something off the shoulder where possible so I can sun myself and attempt to get some colour. And I usually do get some colour. Just not the colour I hoped for (lobster pink still counts as a colour, right?!)

USE PROTECTION

... with that, skincare is so important if your picnic is during the hotter months. I'm guilty of being out in the main heat of day (be careful between 12-3pm kids!) and not taking proper care of my skin. Recently I've been using Altruist Dermatologist Sunscreen which is exclusively available on Amazon as a cream or a spray. I tend to use bottles more than sprays as I tend to get a bit spray happy and then the floor sees more of it than my skin, but I digress...


Altruist is running a #howmuchisenough awareness campaign to encourage people to use suncream more and help reduce skin cancer, which I really wanted to get behind. Alarmingly research from Cancer Research UK paints a horrifying picture of how skin cancer has doubled since the early 1990s and further studies have shown how people are applying less than half the sunscreen advised (or sometimes none at all!), meaning that skin cancer is on the way to becoming one of the prevalent forms of cancer.

Sunscreen can be expensive and I have been guilty in the past of using it sparingly or at times, not at all. Altruist's founders wanted to produce effective UV protection for the lowest possible price so that everyone can afford to apply the correct amount of sun protection and be safe. The Altruist formula  contains micronized titanium dioxide (which offers UVA protection that goes beyond the EU standard) and Tinosorb A2B (apparently the most advanced sun protection ingredient of the moment, offering more protection than the usual UV spectrum). What I found interesting was that reportedly sunscreens sell for close to £10 -£15 per 200ml which results in people applying less and having a ‘make it last’ mentality.

I wanted to share Altruist's guide to the suggested amount of sunscreen to use. I was shocked by the amount needed for the body as it sounded little, but the emphasis here is that with quality sunscreen brands like Altruist, you don't always need as much.


Know this: I have sensitive skin which reacts to EVERYTHING. The real appeal of Altruist for me was that their products are developed for sensitive skin and are hypoallergenic and perfume and paraben free. I would describe application as like that of a moisturizer. It glides on super smoothly, absorbs quickly and is non-sticky. It's also water resistant which is another big fat tick as this means this is something I can take on holiday with me and use in the pool.


* Mateus rosé gift set and Altruist sun screen very kindly provided for review purposes, but as ever, all opinions are my own

Mateus are at The Big Feastival in the Cotswolds this summer and I can see why - it's the epitome of the perfect summer drink! Taking place between 24th - 26th August, there will be three days of Mateus Rosé Accoustic Picnics where the wine will be accompanied by Mediterranean food delights and feel good summer music. Fun fact: Mateus Rosé was a favourite of Jimi Hendrix so it's only fitting that Mateus should be at a music festival!

And do look Altruist up on Amazon here. As well spreading awareness to try and help prevent further diagnosis of skin cancer, proceeds from each bottle sold are donated to the charity Under the Same Sun who work to protect children in Africa suffering from Albinism. So as well protecting yourself, you could be helping to protect others which I thought was a really lovely idea!

Whether you picnic or not, remember to take care of yourselves this summer!


Friday, 11 May 2018

The prettiest rose gold headphones I ever did see! // Sudio VASA review

Headphones are an integral part of my life. I can't imagine the morning commute without them. And working in a small and quiet office in the city, I need some form of background noise to keep me sane. However headphones and I haven't always seen eye to eye.

Being a loyal iPhone user for years, I have mostly only ever known the standard iPhone headphones you get. And oh boy. The iPhone cable didn't just tangle, but it got itself into how-is-that-even-possible knots that even the smallest and nimblest of fingers couldn't untie. And I lost count of the number of times my iPhone cable split and the wires were exposed.

After several trips to the Apple store combined with pure and utter sadness of how much they were costing to replace each time (ugh Apple), I threw in the towel. Instead I invested in a cheap and cheerful pair from Amazon which kept me ticking along. I was naively complacent - relieved and impressed that the cable of my new set hadn't split. But I didn't think anything of the sound quality until recently when I tried a pair of Sudio headphones for the first time. And what a difference.


A little about Sudio

With my newsfeed full of hygge this and lagom that,  IKEA hauls and pictures of meatballs and mash, admittedly I've only ever been to exposed to Sweden in a home lifestyle and interiors sense. Until now that is. Enter Sudio. Sudio are a Swedish lifestyle brand that creates designer look earphones with an emphasis on superior sound quality and experience. The name Sudio came about after one of the company's founders saw Phil Collins out and about in New York having issues with his headphones. Unable to offer a better alternative to Phil at the time, he said “trust me I know the feeling". He later named the brand as a nod to Phil Collins and specifically, his track Sussudio.


Packaging and delivery

My order was shipped at the end of one week and I received it promptly and early the following week - gotta love express delivery! I found the packaging very slick and nicely done. The box hinge with magnets gives it an open and close 'book' feel and means it snaps shut in the most satisfying of ways. Inside there are two boxes. One containing the manual and guarantee, the other containing the main event.


Contents:

- Vasa earphones with 4 pairs of extra sleeves
- Owner’s Manual & Quality Assurance Card
- Genuine Leather Carrying Case
- Metal Clip

The extra ear buds are really handy because no two pairs of ears are the same and Sudio have catered to this well. I found that the ones already on the headphones by default fit me pretty well. But it's nice having the back up pairs in case I find another size more comfortable in the future.

I have never had a headphone clip before, but it could come in useful given that the Sudio VASA have a long and generous cable.

The case was a nice touch since headphones I have had before were always getting tangled. I like the fact that the pouch is pocket sized and not too big - it means that your headphones can fit in snuggly without being loose enough to unravel which is great.


Specs

Housing: Composite, Aluminum
Finish: High polished metal parts
Model: In-ear
Weight: 23 grams
Microphone: Built-in mic
Type: 10,2 mm Dynamic Speaker
Sensitivity: 113 dB SPL @ 1 kHz
Impedance: 32 Ohm @ 1kHz
Frequency Response: 18 Hz - 23 kHz

Look and feel

At first touch, there is a nice matt feel to the cable. It's a different sort of cable to ones I've had before and a generous length. My default Apple iPhone headphones (5S model) had a thin rounded wire which snapped easily and I found myself having to replace constantly. The Sudio VASA cable is a little thicker / wider but rather than being a rounded cable, the cable is flat (almost like flat udon noodles!). Sudio list this on their website as an anti tangle cord and I have to say, I haven't had any problems to date.


Fun fact: I have always struggled with finding ear buds to fit into my awkwardly shaped ears. If I had a pound / dollar / euro for every time an ear bud fell out on my way to the station, I would be all kinds of rich. These were the first pair of headphones I have had that have managed to stay put in my - not exactly tiny - ears.

The rose gold detailing is beautiful and doesn't look cheap (always one of my fears of products with a copper or rose gold finish!). Even when I catch the side of the control panel, the rose gold side doesn't seem to finger print heavily which is nice. As I did wonder if I'd forever be buffing finger prints off. Not the case!

I opted for white as I love the clean aesthetic of rose gold paired with white (also my phone is white and I like having everything matching!)  Sudio also offer other colours including black, pink and blue which you can see for yourselves here. The black and blue look particularly striking against the rose gold.


Functionality

Sudio offer headphones that are compatible with iOS or Android (specify which you need when ordering!). Being an iPhone user, I have been testing the iOS headphones. There are three buttons on a smart rose gold panel which matches the rose gold of the ear buds. These buttons consist of volume up, volume down and the middle button is pause. Fast double tap of the middle button is skip. If I received any calls whilst I was listening to music, the middle button would enable me to pick up the call and also hang up afterwards. I also found that when I was plugged into my phone and using Youtube or whatever, if I caught the middle button of the remote, it would call up Siri.

One thing I was pleasantly surprised by was the good sound blocking, meaning that I could easily ignore any noise from my outside environment.


Sound quality

I read plenty of reviews for Sudio headphones which said sound was "good" but when it comes to headphones, I want to know more than just "good". I want to know about the sound quality and how they measure up against other headphones. Whilst I am by no means a sound expert, I ran the headphones through an audio test website to check things like dynamic range, spectral flatness and so on. Here's how the Sudio VASA performed....

  • Bass extension test - this was a measure of how low the headphones could go and how they dealt with bass. Typically for a good set of headphones this would be in the 20Hz sort of range. The Sudio VASA performed well and seemed to meet this.
  • Treble extension test - in contrast this was a measure of pitch and how high the sound could carry. Note that 20kHz is the very highest that the human ear can hear (on the condition of good hearing!). When I performed this test the Sudio VASA were coming back at the 16-17kHz sort of range, which may be down to my ears, but either way was a strong result and not too far away from the 20kHz benchmark.
  • Spectral flatness - with this I was measuring how the volume coped with a frequency sweep test. Despite the test sound sweeping up and down, the volume stayed consistent which is a sign of good flatness.
  • Dynamic range - this was a measure of the sound isolation that the headphones provide. In an ideal world, you would always hear the quiet signal despite your surroundings. You would always hear something - however quiet - not silence. And this was the case.
  • Wiring test - I tested isolated sound from the left ear bud and then from the right ear bud and both were emitting sound from the correct side(s). I also tested to see if when the sound played from both that the sound was nice and central (it should almost feel like it's between your eyes) and it was.
  • Binaural test - At my last job I had exposure to binaural audio (and how this is recorded) which is very clever tech indeed. This is a method of recording sound that uses two microphones in order to create a 3-D stereo sound sensation which makes the listener feel like they are in the same room as the instruments / band / etc. It's very realistic and for advertising with serious topic matter, it can be haunting. The binaural excerpt I tested with was someone knocking on the door. The first sound was emitted from the right ear bud and sounded like someone was trying to break down my door. Then sound came from my left and sounded like someone was pounding at the window. The Sudio VASA excelled at this test with almost cinematic type sound. It was so realistic, my heart was pounding!
  • Other findings - One thing I was amazed by was how many more layers I could hear in my favourite songs. I'd hear instruments and details I hadn't heard before. Music for me has always been about the experience, but now 'experience' takes on a whole new meaning!


Summary

With aesthetically pleasing headphones I always wonder if you are paying for style over substance. But having tested my first ever pair of Sudio headphones, I can confirm that this is not the case! The audio held its own in the audio testing that I performed. I didn’t think there was anything wrong with my old Amazon headphones until I started using these. The sound quality is fantastic and I love hearing many new layers to my favourite songs than I hadn't heard before.


Sudio discount code

The lovely people at Sudio are offering my readers 15% off any purchase on the Sudio website and have created an Alice in Wonderland orientated discount code (how awesome is that?!). Apply promo code curiouserandcuriouser15 at checkout for a 15% discount. As well as the headphones I am using (the VASA which comes in an array of colours here), Sudio also have other models such as wireless headphones like the REGENT or VASA BLA if you are anti cables / leads. Sudio ship worldwide and you can find a full list of their headphones here

#Sudio #SudioMoments

* Headphones very kindly provided by Sudio but as ever, all opinions are my own

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

La vie en rose ... celebrating Rose Festival with Cyprus Tourism

I love a festival. Whether a celebration of music, food, or 'other' (read: all else in-between!), I love the community aspect. When I was invited to celebrate Rose Festival with Cyprus Tourism, I was intrigued to learn more.

Turns out this is a festival that is celebrated every May in the rural village of Agros, built on the Troödos Mountains in south west Cyprus. A rose festival is as you would expect - a celebration of the rose. Roses have long been seen as a symbol of promise, hope, and new beginnings, but certain colours have additional layers of meaning. For instance, red roses can represent love. And the Rose Festival for the local Agros community really is a labour of love.

The venue for the event was Alice in Wonderland themed which as you can imagine, I was pretty excited by! With a grass croquet lawn outside, a white rabbit, and roses galore, it was the perfect place to host a rose themed event.


Myself and a few other lucky bloggers were welcomed with the prettiest of cocktails (a rose bellini if you're curious!). We walked through a rose archway into what I called the 'library' with seating and a modern, whitewashed book shelf. But upon closer inspection, the 'books' were in fact staff lockers. Pretty neat, huh?


With a chessboard inspired ceiling AND floor tiles, and the dreamiest chesterfield grey sofa with a hedge backdrop, I immediately wanted to know when I could move into this building and live there for good. No joke.


First on the agenda: a warm welcome from Mario from the Cyprus Tourism Organisation who gave us some background on the Rose Festival and the village of Agros, and then welcomed us into another room (equally dreamy and filled with roses and hedges and greenery), where we were invited to take part in several activities in celebration of the rose.


First stop: flower arranging. I am by no means an expert, nor am I good enough to become a florist any time soon(!) but that being said, I was pretty chuffed with what I created. Peonies were available, but they were a little too big and didn't work in my particular bouquet. Instead I used white and cream roses and used bright pops of pink and sunny yellows to add some vim.


On the other side of the room - behind more rose bushes and hedges - was a makeshift beauty salon where we were offered beauty treatments inspired by Cyprus's Rose Festival.


It all started with a hand and arm massage where rose oil was lovingly massaged into our skin. Forever hunched over a desk and working on computers 24/7, I do experience a bit of RSI and I really feel it in my right hand (my mouse hand!). So having that all massaged out of me was an absolute dream. The rose oil smelt amazing and you know? My hands are still super soft days after. I usually use hand cream in colder weather, but this has made me consider using essential oils going forward.

Feeling deliciously soporific, I then moved across to the nail station where we had the chance to have some nail art done. Embracing the rose theme, I opted for soft pink nails and the clever nail technician delicately painted intricate purple roses on one finger on each hand (we ran out of time!)


In between each activity we were spoilt with a delicious spread of sweet treats. Many were Cyprus delicacies (love how some of these were presented in tea cups!), but there were also rose cookies and some really realistic looking rose cupcakes which had many of us fooled


Now, I thought the welcome drinks were amazing, but the rose mojitos were even better! Some people said they found them strong but I personally thought the rum measure was perfect ;) Although admittedly I was regretting my choice of heeled ankle boots after a few of these!


My only slight criticism of the event... the time went far too quickly! It was really sad to go home, but the lovely team let us take our bouquets home and also gave us each a beautifully presented box of rose orientated goodies.


As you can see, I had a bloomin' good time. Having never been to Cyprus before, it was lovely to learn more about a village and festival that I might not have otherwise heard of. I would love to visit Agros and the Rose Festival in the future -  so am really happy this is on my radar now!


What I really loved about this event was the clever choosing of activities and refreshments which complimented the rose theme well. Thank you so much to the Cyprus Tourism Organisation and Baillie for inviting me!


#VisitCyprus #RoseWater