Sunday, July 26, 2015

Two Great Discontinued/LE Matte Brown Eyeshadows and Potential Dupes

These two midtone matte brown eyeshadows have been on heavy rotation in my makeup routine lately. Sadly, you can't easily get your hands on either of these shades anymore and they were both part of palettes that I depotted. On the left we have a shade from the Wet n' Wild Vanity 6-Pan Palette that is now discontinued. On the right is the shade Teddy Bear from the Too Faced Enchanted Glamourland Palette from Holiday 2010. I've had both of these shadows for ages but I didn't really start using them much until I depotted them and popped them into a separate palette with all my everyday neutrals.

I use both of these shades in the crease to blend out my lid color. If my eye makeup is more warm toned, I'll opt for the Wet n' Wild shadow and if I'm using cool toned shadows, I'll choose the Too Faced shade. I've swatched both shades above so you can see they are very different in tone. Both shadows are buttery smooth and easy to blend. The Wet n' Wild shade has a tendency to kick up powder but for the price, it was a great buy. Too Faced matte shadows are phenomenal and almost creamy to the touch.

Since you can't get your hands on these shadows anymore, I looked through my eyeshadow collection to try and find some comparable dupes.

I turned to my Lorac Pro Palette because I knew there were some matte midtone browns in that palette. Taupe looks mildly similar to Teddy Bear although it leans more warm in the pan. Swatched on the skin, it looks pretty similar although Teddy Bear has a hint of purple to it. Lorac's Taupe eyeshadow is more pigmented and even creamier than Teddy Bear but it also produces more fall out when you dip your brush in it.

In the Lorac Pro 2 Palette I thought Light Brown looked somewhat similar to the Wet n' Wild shade. But when I put the two side by side, I could already tell Light Brown has a mauve undertone to it. Sure enough, when swatched side by side, the Wet n' Wild shade leans much more yellow and warm.

To find something more warm and yellow, I dug out my Urban Decay Naked Palette and wondered if Buck was close to the Wet n' Wild shade. Buck is a smidge darker and not quite as yellow as the Wet n' Wild shadow. Also, I realized that the Wet n' Wild shade actually swatches much creamier and evenly than the Urban Decay shadow. You can even tell by the arm swatch above how patchy the Urban Decay color is.

I wasn't able to find a straight up dupe for the Wet n' Wild shadow but I guess I have enough midtone matte browns to define my eye socket for years. Once the shadows are on the eyes, it doesn't make a huge difference. I was more curious than anything else to see if I had any similar colors to the two I've been reaching for a lot lately. Do you have any suggestions as to what shadows could possibly mimic the two discontinued and limited edition shadows I think I might hit pan on eventually?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Becca X Jaclyn Hill Champagne Pop: Thoughts & Swatches

I don't think I often succumb to limited edition products but I quickly surrendered to the hype around Becca's newest Shimmering Skin Perfector in Champagne Pop. Many of you will probably know that Becca collaborated with Jaclyn Hill to create this shade and the constant exposure to raves and swatches of this on Instagram finally compelled me to place an order soon after this went up for sale on Sephora's website. I've swatched the other Becca Shimmering Skin Perfectors in store and always made a mental note of getting one so this wasn't a totally impulsive buy.... At least that's what I tell myself.

Champagne Pop is a beautiful golden highlighter that looks very bright when a light source hits it directly but can look quite orange and tan otherwise. This looks lovely on my summer bronze skin and on anyone darker than me but can look possibly look orange on very fair people. The texture of the powder is lovely and you need the tiniest amount to get a full-on glow.

The Becca Shimmering Skin Perfectors are much larger than their blushes which I find quite strange since the highlighters are so pigmented that you really only need a tiny bit. The Becca Mineral Blushes contain .2 oz of product and retail for $32 whereas the Shimmering Skin Perfectors contain .28 oz of product and sell for $38. Yes, I cringed a little when I realized how much I had paid for a shimmery powder. I really wouldn't mind if Becca made the highlighters the same size as the blushes and dropped the price a few bucks.

I don't think I've added a new highlighter to my collection for quite some time which is one of the reasons why I felt it was forgivable if I bought Champagne Pop. The closest highlighter I already own is the Balm's Mary Lou Manizer and even then, the two are noticeably different. Champagne Pop is darker and has more of a rose gold tone whereas Mary Lou Manizer is a white gold.

But swatched side by side, the differences in shade are minimal. The two swatches look almost identical and when you wear these on the skin with a light hand, you'll be hard pressed to spot the difference. However if you swatch these heavily on the skin, you will easily notice that Champagne Pop looks more natural on the skin whereas Mary Lou Manizer looks stark and not as refined. Mary Lou Manizer is significantly cheaper, retailing for $24 and containing a bit more product at .3 oz. The Balm also does 50% off sales a few times a year so it's a budget friendly highlight. These two aren't dupes and I have to say I like the texture of Becca's highlighter more but considering the price difference, you're not missing too much if you have the Balm's Mary Lou Manizer already.

Becca's Shimmering Skin Perfectors are cult favorites for a reason. They illuminate the skin without highlighting pores and imperfections and the shade range has something for everyone. I'm very happy with Champagne Pop and I'm glad I got my hands on it. Is it a total must-have for everyone? No, not really. But it sure makes a nice collector's product that I can use to my heart's content and still have a heaping pan of.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Nars Audacious Lipstick in Carmen: Swatches & Red Lipstick Comparisons

I was almost named Carmen. So I was this close to having a Nars lipstick with a shade in my name. Granted, I probably won't ever come across anything with my name on it but that doesn't stop me from appreciating shades of beautiful lipsticks. This is my long overdue review of the Nars Audacious Lipstick in Carmen, a true classic red. The Nars Audacious Lipsticks launched last summer and every blogger and their mom has raved about the formula. I purchased two shades, Carmen and Julie, back in March but somehow lost sight of these in my collection.

What everyone says about the Nars Audacious Lipstick formula is true. The lipsticks have an opaque, demi-matte finish. One swipe and you have a hyper-pigmented pout. Another great thing about this line is that there are over 30 shades to choose from. Carmen is one of the Barneys-exclusive shades in case you were trying to find this at Sephora.

In terms of lasting power, this lipstick lasts at least three hours on me without fading but if I eat, it will wear slightly. I have no problems applying lipbalm over top and reapplying the lipstick though. The lipstick doesn't feel very drying but it can feel slightly tight after a few hours so I recommend prepping the lips with a balm beforehand.

The lipsticks are packaged in a weighted black case with a metallic closure and I like that they didn't put their signature rubber packaging on the outside. I one of Nars' regular lipsticks and the case is very grubby because it scratches easily and attracts dust and shimmer.

I pulled a few red lipsticks from my collection to give you an idea of how Carmen looks compared to more cool or warm reds. From left to right we have Make Maraschino Cherry, Marcelle Amour, Nars Carmen, Wet n' Wild Red Velvet and Holika Holika Tomato Red.

Each of the swatches above is one swipe straight from the lipstick bullet. I tried to position the lipsticks from cool to warm going left to right. You can see Nars Carmen sits in the middle. Whereas Marcelle Amour has a shiny, wet finish and Holika Holika Tomato Red has a flat matte finish, Nars Carmen straddles between the two extremes and looks vibrant yet not glossy at all. It's really a perfect red in my book. 

I'm a fan of Nars' Audacious Lipstick in Carmen as it's a classic red that will work on so many people. If you're looking for an investment red lippie to treat yourself to, check out Carmen. I don't wear it nearly as much as I should but when I do, I always tell myself I should wear it more often. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Scandinavia Travels 2015: Soaking in Stockholm

The highlight of this recent trip was definitely Stockholm and I'm glad we saved this city for last. We had a little more than four days here which I thought was the perfect amount of time to get a feel for the city without feeling like you're walking in circles. We stayed on Kungsgatan which was really near to the main train station with access to the airport shuttle and still within walking distance to the rest of the city. 

We arrived in the afternoon and ate at a nearby restaurant that would probably be more appropriate for lunch. But since the sun doesn't go down until way after my usual dinner time, it pretty much felt like I was eating lunch. I had an open faced sandwich that had so many toppings piled on that you can't even see the bread. It's really common to eat open faced sandwiches with small shrimp, smoked salmon or both.  

If you visit Stockholm, I highly recommend taking at least one of the free walking tours. I found Free Tour Stockholm online and it looked interesting so we gave the City Tour a try. Our tour guide was Ryan, a cool guy from Australia who has lived in Stockholm for three years, and he did a good job of explaining the historical landmarks and important locales and weaving in some humor. I liked the tour so much that we did the other two tours available during the next two days. We had a different tour guide each time and Zenith was also a really chill guide who I hope you have the fortune of meeting if you go on one of these tours. It sounds a bit cheesy to do a walking tour with a hoard of other tourists but it actually didn't feel weird at all (and this is coming from someone who usually hates tours).

It was through the Söder tour that we stumbled upon Monteliusvägen, a walkway with incredible views of the city. I was trying to look for this path using a screenshot of Google Maps because a blogger I follow on Instagram was in Stockholm at the same time and took a great photo from this location. If I had tried to find Monteliusvägen on my own, it probably would have taken me an hour of wandering. It's not the most obvious place so you definitely have to look for it.

The food was generally great in Stockholm. The prices are way more reasonable than in Norway and similar to what you would find in New York. It's by no means inexpensive but being used to paying $10 for a measly sandwich for lunch in New York, I can deal with Stockholm pricing. We had a really great lunch at a restaurant called Tures in the Sturegallerian which is a mini upscale mall. I had the roast chicken which was delicious albeit even a bit small for me. You probably can't tell but that chicken was pretty tiny!

Stockholm is a picturesque city and much more photogenic than Oslo. If you avoid the main tourist streets that sell souvenirs, you'll find some pretty cool buildings and nooks. 

For a few dinners I wanted to head north of the city to some of the more residential restaurants. This is the pasta I had at Linguini, a small Italian restaurant nestled in a quiet part of the town where I think more locals eat. The pasta was perfectly al dente and the portions were generous. If you get a little tired of smoked salmon and the usual scandinavian fare, I would recommend checking out Linguini.

Stockholm felt like a mix of Paris and Amsterdam to me. In the old part of the city, Gamla Stan, you find narrow streets with skinny buildings. But in some areas you have wide swaths of open city like in Paris.

We had a lovely traditional Swedish meal at Gastabud, a restaurant in a small street in Gamla Stan, away from most of the crowds. The wait was about an hour but the food was good and the servers were nice. In general, all of the waiters, waitresses and service people were kind throughout our trip. Above we have some swedish meatballs with mashed potatoes and lingonberries. 

This appetizer is a little more daring. The meat tasting plate consisted of elk, reindeer heart and wild boar. Don't quote me on this but I think the sausage was the wild boar and the darker meat on the left was the reindeer. They were all quite game-y but interesting tastes to try.

On our last full day we purchased unlimited 24 hour public transportation passes because I was curious to see the subway stations. Stockholm's subway stations are essentially art exhibitions. A few of the stations have particularly one-of-a-kind paintings and decorations like the one above. There are actually walking tours of the subway stations but they only offer them on certain days of the week and by the time I realized this, it was already too late to join. 

On the weekend we were in Stockholm, Nike coincidentally had a 10K event going on. I had been seeing these events going on in other European cities on Instagram so it was pretty cool to be in Stockholm when this happened. Obviously I didn't participate in it (I'd be happy if I could run 1K) but they had Icona Pop perform and spectators were free to watch if they wanted to. We just happened to be walking by this area when they were about to perform so it was really lucky timing.

Stockholm is a beautiful city and one that I wouldn't mind visiting again in a few years if I'm checking out Copenhagen or a nearby city. If you're planning a trip to Scandinavia, allot yourself a few days in Stockholm as it's a classy city with a lot of intriguing history. That wraps up my three part Scandinavia travel trip! Hope you enjoyed the photos and let me know if you've visited these places or if you're planning a trip here in the near future!

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Scandinavia Travels 2015: One Full Day in Oslo

For the next leg of our journey, we traveled from Bergen to Oslo by train which took about seven hours. Seven hours sounds like a long time but the train was comfortable and time flew by quickly. For the first few hours you'll be on the same track as when you go from Bergen to Myrdal and throughout the ride you'll see amazing views of mountains, valleys, lakes and lots of sheep and cows.

Right off the bat, I'll just say Oslo didn't impress me. Granted I only had one and a half days in the city but it's not nearly on the top of my favorite cities list. Maybe if I had a few more days to wander around and familiarize myself with the city, I would have liked it more.

The Oslo Opera House is a must-visit landmark in the city. It's definitely one of the more unique public spaces I've been to. How many buildings let you stomp all over it? The chalk white marble and granite juxtaposed with the reflective glass is an aesthetically powerful combination. I actually liked the view from the bottom of the building looking up at the glass tower rather than looking down from the upper deck.

Visitors are welcome to stroll into the lobby of the Opera House to take a gander at the circular wooden stairs. I imagine this building looks rather magnificent during the night time as well although in the summer months you don't get much of a chance to see that.

For dinner, I dragged my parents north to the neighborhood of Grünerløkka, essentially the up-and-coming hipster area of Oslo (or so the Internet tells me). I believe it's near a university so there were a a noticeable number of young people although the area was generally quite deserted. I combed through restaurant reviews and eventually settled on Kolonihagen, a rustic farm-to-table type of eatery with Scandinavian influences and quality food.

If you have a spectacularly large appetite, Kolonihagen isn't for you. If you indulge in presentation, delicate flavors and the idea of eating in an room with exposed brick walls excite you, you'll like Kolonihagen. The menu is entirely in Norwegian but our friendly waitress patiently walked us through the offerings in English. My dad opted for the four course pre-fixe menu of which the first course was a smoked salmon dish. The salmon was very mild and not fishy at all but the dish wasn't particularly memorable to me.

I wasn't very hungry that evening so I shared an appetizer and entree with my mom. The pasta appetizer was my favorite dish of the evening. The pasta is made in-house and had a great chewy texture. To be honest I forgot what the cubes of meat were and Google translate is unable to tell me what "oksekjake" is from the menu. If anyone knows Norwegian, please let me know what I ate.

My mom chose the pulled pork wrap which was a huge portion but I didn't like the taste of it much. There wasn't anything wrong with it but I wasn't particularly hungry and it wasn't a very dinner-y dish. The presentation and size of the dish didn't quite match the rest of the items on the menu or the feel of the restaurant itself.

I did sample a few of the other dishes that we ordered including the cauliflower soup and a cheesecake dessert. Only the pasta wow-ed me but I had an enjoyable dining experience nonetheless and would highly recommend grabbing a bite here. If you're a fan of craft beer, you'd also be pleased to know they brew their own beer in house.

For our full day in Oslo we had nothing much planned so I decided that we should get Oslo passes to explore the city's museums and attractions. Many cities in Europe have day passes that grant you free or discounted entry into museums and other areas of interest with unlimited access to public transportation. The 24 hour Oslo pass is 320 NOK which is about $40. It's quite pricey but consider that most museums are $10 to enter and I didn't want to deal with the hassle of figuring out how much we would need for several bus and tram transfers.

We took a bus out to Frogner Sculpture Park which is one of the most popular attractions outside the main city area of Oslo. There are over 200 nude statues depicting men, women and children in various poses. Many of the statues are very dynamic and have an almost violent or troubled disposition but I'm no art critic so take my views with a grain of salt.

There were lots of tourists gathered around the statues but I was pleased to see many Norwegian school children on trips as well. Apparently they were tasked with an assignment to practice their English so lots of elementary to middle school aged students were approaching strangers and interviewing them in English. Nobody approached me but I overheard some conversations and was impressed by the level of comprehension from the children.

The park itself is gorgeous and a lot larger than I had expected. You can't tell from the photo above but the park spreads out on either end into what seems like endless green fields where you can picnic and lounge. There was also a nearby public pool which seemed quite popular given the extremely sunny weather. I totally regretted not bringing sunglasses with me on this day in particular.

For the rest of the day we hopped on city buses to take us to a few other museums including the Viking Ship Museum, Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, the Fram Museum, the Kon-Tiki Museum and the Resistance Museum. I was museumed-out by the end of the day and semi regret jumping around to so many. The Viking Ship Museum was pretty cool because of how well preserved the ships are and it's insane to imagine how these huge pieces of wood were bonded together and made to float hundreds of years ago. I have a fascination with WWII and that whole period of time so I tend to find resistance museums worth a visit. The Norwegian Museum of Cultural History is an open air museum similar to what Williamsburg in Virginia is to Americans. The Fram Museum and the Kon-Tiki Museum were a bit random as the first is about Arctic exploration and the latter about a Norwegian explorer and his travels via reed rafts.

All of the museums we visited besides the Resistance Museum are located in the same area and if you visit them with the Oslo pass, be sure to catch the ferry for free (with your pass) to get back to City Hall. You get to enjoy a short boat ride which will take you back to the city area much faster than the bus will.

I have some memories to take away from Oslo that I didn't capture in photos including our encounter with an elderly Chinese grandmother who owns an Asian grocery store. She was very sweet and was so excited to see Chinese visitors because she rarely sees Chinese people in Oslo. My parents tend to like to eat Asian food no matter where we go so we ate Vietnamese food at Saigon Lille Cafe. The waitress there was a student from China who is studying in Oslo and we had a nice conversation with her about living in Norway. One of the cool things about traveling with my parents is that we are more likely to end up conversing with Asian people and getting know random strangers as individuals with unique stories.

If I could do Oslo again, I'd probably bring a blanket and picnic lunch to Frogner park and spend at least two hours relaxing in the sun. I'd probably still get the Oslo pass but opt for the Munch Museum instead of the Fram and Kon-Tiki ones. While Oslo isn't a place I'd recommend to others in a heartbeat, it's not a bad place to be by any means. Next up, the third part and final summation of my Scandinavian trip will take you to Stockholm!

Friday, July 10, 2015

Scandinavia Travels 2015: Beginning in Bergen

After spending more of 2013 and early 2014 out of the United States than at home, it felt a little weird that this recent 10-day trip to Norway and Sweden was my first time out of the country since I went to Korea. Gone are the days when I had three-month summer vacations and month-long winter breaks. I guess this is working adult life, eh? My parents and I visited Northern Europe, a region I was interested in going to someday but truth be told, we chose it because I saw the airplane tickets from New York to Bergen, Norway were reasonably priced. Thus, we spent our first four days exploring the second largest city in Norway.

Although Bergen is the second most populated city in Norway and has been a major trading port throughout the centuries, it is still a rather small city by global standards and has a quaint feel to it. Above is one of the views from Mount Fløyen, one of the seven mountains that surround the city. You can easily get up to the viewing area via a funicular (which we opted for) or you can take a 45 minute hike for free. We were struggling with jet lag and airplane-induced jelly legs so we took the funicular. The views of the city were great and there are several hiking trails in this area as well. I didn't get a chance to roam the hiking trails (which I now regret) but I would encourage those of you who like nature to definitely explore on foot.

If you've ever read or heard anything about Norway, you probably know that it's a pretty darn expensive place to visit. Coming from New York, I'm not often shocked by prices but Norway is definitely the most expensive place I have visited thus far. If you want to eat a decent meal at a restaurant, be prepared to spend upwards of $30 to $40 for a main course. This is normal for a rather nice restaurant in Manhattan but Bergen is a much smaller city with very few affordable eateries (unless you want to eat fast food). Our first evening we ate a restaurant near the Radisson Blu Norge and the food was decent but not too memorable. I had mussels in garlic broth so perhaps I didn't choose the most exciting dish.

On our first full day we woke up early to catch the train for our Norway in a Nutshell day-long trip. Norway in a Nutshell is a program set up for visitors who want to conveniently see the natural wonders of Norway and you can customize your trips from the number of days you plan on traveling to the kinds of transportation you want to use. We booked a day trip which started off on train from Bergen to Myrdal.

Myrdal is little more than a small train station but it is where you transfer to another train which takes you to Flåm, a charming little town nestled between the mountains and along a river that spills into the fjords. The train ride was stunning and is a great way to see the scenic views of Norway without having to worry about driving. One minute you'll be looking at lakes lined with forest and in half an hour you'd be in a higher elevation where a thick layer of snow covers everything in sight.

While the natural beauty of Flåm is something special, I can't shake the fact that I was disappointed to see the small town overrun with tour groups. We didn't join a tour group and booked our little day trip by ourself but there were dozens of large buses and hoards of tourists everywhere. It made the experience less peaceful and less authentic. If I were to visit Norway again, I would probably rent a car and explore the country to avoid being around so many people.

From Flåm we embarked on a five hour boat ride through the Sognefjord, the longest fjord in Norway. A fjord is basically a long, deep strip of sea water surrounded by mountains and Norway has more than a thousand of them. I took the photo above near the end of the boat ride when the view opened up and we were in narrow waterways anymore.

It was also about 8 p.m. when I took the above picture. During the summer, the sun sets close to 11 p.m. and we were there for Midsummer, known in the U.S as the summer solstice. Midsummer is actually an important holiday in this region of the world which I was not aware of prior to this trip. Even at midnight the sky was not quite dark and the sun rose at 4 a.m. Conversely, the sun is out for very few hours in the winter time so I suppose it must be rather depressing during the cold months.

Hot dogs seemed to be available on every corner in Bergen and I ate a hot dog a day for three days in a row. They are a relatively inexpensive snack and can be found at Narvesen, the Norwegian convenience store that's pretty much the same as 7-Eleven. The hotdogs are oftentimes wrapped in bacon and some have a cheese filling as well. I think these were about $4 or $5 which was pretty expensive for a hot dog but cheap compared to other foods.

Håkon's Hall is a 750 year old building that was used as a banquet and meeting hall for King Håkon Håkonson back in the day. It's located amongst a few other historic buildings which are now museums. You have to pay about $10 to enter these buildings but if you enter one, you get the rest half off. I went into Håkon's Hall and the Rosenkrantz Tower which are situated next to each other. As a big fan of Game of Thrones, I thought it would be pretty cool to walk around inside real medieval structures that resemble those in the show. Rosenkrantz Tower has multiple floors and many rooms to explore with a few museum exhibits inside so it's rather educational. Håkon's Hall is essentially a large room so I'm not sure I would advise paying the $10 to go inside.

Close by you can find Bryggen, the historic trading wharfs that are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These iconic wooden buildings have burnt down in fires multiple times throughout the centuries so you can only see the reconstructed versions now. I made sure to get a picture without the tour buses in sight but in real life, there are heaps of tourists in this area and all the shops along the waterfront sell souvenirs and touristy wares. The fish market is a popular attraction of Bergen but I personally think it's a huge tourist trap with overpriced seafood.

Throughout our trip we were fortunate to have incredible weather to the point where I didn't pack enough warm weather clothes. I checked the forecast before I left New York and it had said it would be around 60°. In actuality it felt like it was 80° most of the time and my forehead is now three shades darker than the rest of my face. The mountains surrounding Bergen were lush and the sky was the most immaculate baby blue with puffy white clouds. Bergen is a really beautiful little city and I can imagine it would be a pretty sweet place to retire....

I'll end this post with a short review of Naboen, the one memorable meal we had in Bergen. This trip wasn't centered around food (partially because it's so darn expensive to eat out here!) but I made sure to do some research so that we could eat at least one decent dinner whilst here. I had a white fish with veggies and the sauce it came with was very tasty yet light. The little wonton dumpling looking thing in back was actually potatoes. My dad had the lamb sausage and my mom had another kind of fish (I need to work on my fish identification skills) and they both raved about their dishes. My parents are hard to please when it comes to food so I was glad they enjoyed this meal.

Our waiter was patient and helpful and the lady who brought us our check chatted with us and was very pleasant. Everyone speaks impeccable English in Norway and super friendly and willing to help us find directions or figure out what values of the Krone coins. In a country where I cannot for the life of me figure out the alphabet (the little symbols above the vowels are a mystery to me), I am so thankful for polite English speakers.

This wraps up my short summary of Bergen! It's a rather small city and great for if you like hiking and nature. If you're looking for interesting things to do in a city, you might want to find a larger European city because there wasn't too much going on in Bergen. We were here for almost four full days and were pretty bored by the last day because there wasn't too much that appealed to us. I had the feeling that the visitors outnumbered the locals which I wasn't prepared for. At this point I think I'm sounding a bit snobbish but I do think Bergen is still a lovely place and a good place to start your journey if you want to explore Norway through the Norway in a Nutshell program.

Next up I'll show you around some of Oslo but don't get too excited because I was only there for a day and a half. Let me know if you've been to Norway in the comments section and if so, what was your favorite thing about it!