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There’s been a big movement away from single-use plastic in recent years, and one way to do that is through your beauty products. solod Recently they contacted me and offered to send me some of their solid shampoo & conditioner to test out. They have a range of products for different hair types, and to help you decide there’s an interactive questionnaire. My hair is pretty ‘normal’, and I ended up choosing the Pinkalicious shampoo bar and Wonderbar conditioner.

When they arrived, I was surprised to see that the shampoo bar was almost twice the size of the conditioner. I always finish conditioner much faster than I finish shampoo, . I’ll be interested to see whether this happens with these solid products like with liquids. Ethique also gave me an in-shower container that allows water to drain whilst keeping the bars protected from the stream of the shower.

Ethique In Shower container has slots to allow water to drain away from the bars

Pinkalicious solid shampoo is made for people with normal hair types, with ingredients such as coconut oil and cocoa butter. Pink grapefruit and vanilla give it a delicious fruity scent. Wonderbar conditioner is the ideal pairing, designed for slightly oily-normal hair. Interestingly it can also be used for shaving or as an in-shower body moisturiser. I haven’t tried doing that but maybe I should!

Using the bar is pretty straightforward, it’s a bit like washing your body with a bar of soap. Ethique’s directions are as follows:

  1. Wet your hair and the bar. Slide the bar from root to tip 3-4 times.
  2. Put the bar down and lather shampoo into hair.  It will foam! 
  3. Rinse and follow with conditioner if you need to.
Ethique solid shampoo and conditioner in the In shower container

I was pleased that it foamed, as I’ve tried other SLS-free products that don’t foam and my hair just never felt fully clean. I know that you don’t NEED that foaming action to clean your hair, maybe it’s psychological, but it just didn’t feel right. My hair looks and feels great when using Ethique, either when blow-drying or air-drying my hair.

My hair washed with Ethique products and then air dryed

From an environmental perspective, Ethique are doing great things. The bars come in cardboard boxes which can composted or recycle. They offset their carbon emissions, don’t use any palm oil, and even their offices are zero-waste. So many companies greenwash their products, and act as if they’re environmentally friendly when it’s all just marketing, whereas I truly believe in the ethos behind Ethique.

In terms of pricing, they are a bit more expensive than I’d usually pay for haircare as I’m a supermarket kind of girl most of the time. However, they say one bar lasts as long as 3 bottles of liquid shampoo, and approximately 5 months with regular use. It’s too soon for me to say how long they last but based on that the cost is fairly reasonable.

Ethique also offers a number of other solid products such as body wash, deodorant, and even a dog shampoo! I’m intrigued to try their body scrub, as you all know how much of a quest I’ve been on to avoid plastic microbeads in any of the beauty products that I use.

If you’ve got any questions about what it’s like using these solid haircare products, leave them in the comments section below! Lena xo

The post Ethique Solid Shampoo & Conditioner appeared first on Lena Talks.

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Lena Talks by Lena - 2M ago

Hello friends! It’s been a while, hasn’t it – 5 months to be precise. Whilst I’ve still been posting regularly on Instagram, I haven’t written any actual posts until last week’s post about Croatia. In my almost 5 years of blogging I’ve never gone that long without writing a post, but life has been hectic. Time for an update on what I’ve been doing!

At the end of August I changed jobs, within the same company. It’s been a challenge, having to learn a lot of new things, and I was coming home just knackered. I’m very happy in the role, despite the difficulty at times, which is good. I’ve changed jobs a couple of times in the last few years and it always takes a lot out of me. Outside work, I’ve had a lot of fun going on though. I’ve still been able to attend quite a lot of events with brands and launches which are always exciting. In recent months I’ve been to quite a few concerts – Sam Smith, Six60, and best of all Florence and the Machine.

With Nicky of The Style High Club at Jacobs Creek Prosecco Spritz launch at The Lula Inn
Walking Stars Half Marathon

My coworkers and I walked a half marathon (21km) to raise money for the Cancer Society. In total, we raised $4700, with $592 of those donations coming via me. Training for the event occupied so much of my time in the months leading up to it. When I signed up, I was seriously out of shape and was worried about whether I’d make it to the end. In true Lena fashion, once I set my mind to it I went hard. I followed a training program and walked a least 4 days a week. It was a great way to build up my fitness and in the end I managed to do the walk with no trouble whatsoever. I’m proud of my achievement, both with the fundraising and also improving my fitness. At work I see people with cancer every day, and it’s touched my own family too, so it felt good to know the money we raised will have made a difference.

Before the Walking Stars event commenced New house

In January I moved house, which was a big undertaking. I have moved house three times in the last three years and am well and truly over it! Our flat was breaking up so I didn’t have much choice in the matter which made the holiday period stressful as I looked for a place and packed up. In the end I found a really nice place and am now pretty much unpacked. It was good timing with Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up series coming out, it inspired me to do a serious decluttering. Angela was a godsend, she had to be tough with me, especially when it came to my nail polish collection. After years of beauty blogging my product collection was excessive. We culled so many expired lipsticks, foundations that didn’t match, and dried up mascaras. It was so freeing!

Wedding fever

In November my younger brother got married which was very exciting for our family. He’s the first of any of my siblings/stepsiblings to make that leap which seems so very grown up! How happy do he and his gorgeous wife look?

Of course, I busied myself with beauty appointments in the week preceding it – manicure and brows done at Index Studio (very important that my nails looked good in the photos when I was signing the register as a witness), and a facial at Elizabeth Arden boutique. On the day mum and I had our makeup done at Mecca Maxima in Albany, and hair at Servilles in Takapuna. All the appointments paid off though because I looked and felt amazing.

My handsome brother and I
Healthy lifestyle

Over the last couple of years I’ve undergone a big lifestyle transformation. I’ve continued the weight loss journey that I started thanks to My Food Bag. 

March 2017 to December 2018

To date I’ve lost 25kg and I’m feeling fantastic. I didn’t realise how much my life was being affected by the excess weight I was carrying. If you want to try it, use my referral code LENAD001 and save $40 off your first order. Weight loss aside, the food tastes amazing and is so nutritious.

I always have the best lunches in the office

To complement what I’m eating, I wanted to step up my exercise to help me lose the next 25kg and get to a healty weight. I was lucky enough to win a 3 month membership to Classpass when they launched here in Auckland. Classpass is a service where you pay a monthly membership and you can use it to do classes at a wide range of boutique fitness studios. I’ve used it to do yoga, barre, dance fitness, spin, and more. I find group fitness much more motivating than simply working out in a gym on my own. So far my favourite classes are Westward Cycle’s RhythmRide and Barre Fix at Habitat for Fitness Newmarket. Use my link to save
$30 off any Classpass plan

Classpass launch at District Fitness
What’s next?

Up next in my life is some more travel! I’m off to South East Asia, visiting Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand which I’m very excited about. It’s my first time to that part of the world, and my first time travelling alone. Well, not completely alone since I’ll be on a tour for most of it, but I won’t know anyone else. I’m travelling with Intrepid Travel and they’ve been fantastic so far, organised everything for me including flights and transfers. I get to Ho Chi Minh City a couple of days before my tour starts so I’ve booked into an Urban Adventure Discovery day-tour which will show me the main sights of the city. What a way to spend my 28th birthday!

Intrepid Travel The Real Cambodia tour map

So, that’s what I’ve been up to during my absence! I’m hoping to start writing more regularly as I have a lot of ideas, however it is only 3.5 weeks before my trip so that will take me away from here for a few weeks.

Love from Lena

The post Life update appeared first on Lena Talks.

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After our whirlwind Trafalgar tour mum and I continued our travels to Croatia. My maternal side of the family is all Croatian, but I’m the third generation to be born in New Zealand. Growing up, I didn’t know a great deal about the country, despite having half my ancestry from there. This was a great opportunity to meet some extended family and learn more about the place where we came from. On top of that, Croatia is a beautiful country with a lot of interesting history so it was great as a tourist destination it it’s own right.

Dubrovnik

We took a short 1 hour from Rome to Dubrovnik on Vueling. Vueling is the European equivalent to Jetstar, a low-cost airline which did have some bad reviews but everything ran smoothly for us. To be honest, I was asleep the second we got on the plane and remained that way until the wheels hit the tarmac in Dubrovnik – we had been up late partying with our tour friends the night before and had to get up at around 4:30am to get to the airport!

View of the harbour and Dubrovnik city walls from Mia Apartment

We were picked up from the airport by our hosts from Mia Apartment. The apartment was relatively no-frills, with two single beds in the way European hotels seem to do it, a bathroom, and small kitchenette. It was all we really needed, and my favourite feature was the little patio with an incredible view down to Dubrovnik harbour and the Adriatic sea.


Gradska Kavana Arsenal – restaurant in Dubrovnik

Once we’d settled in, we walked a few minutes into old town Dubrovnik and had a much-needed breakfast at Gradska Kavana Arsenal. The food and coffee were great, and the harbour-side location was absolutely beautiful. One thing we discovered in Croatia is that there isn’t much of a brunch culture, or even really going out for breakfast. We developed a way to tell, by looking at the size of the tables. If the tables were small, it was just a ‘coffee and cigarette’ cafe, but if they were restaurant sized, we were in luck! On the cigarette note, everyone smokes absolutely everywhere which is something I struggled with, being a non-smoker.

Walking around the old town of Dubrovnik

There are a lot of activities to do in Dubrovnik, from harbour cruises to tours of Game of Thrones filming locations, but we were pretty content to just chill. After an activity-packed week on our tour, we were worn out and so we had what we called the Dubrovnik Detox (also recovering from many nights spent enjoying local wines). We caught up on sleep, swam in the sea, wandered around the old town, and just enjoyed exploring the town.

I noticed a lot of cats around town in Croatia, and it turns out I’m not the only one – Terri from Female Solo Trek did too. I wonder why there’s so many of them? It was a fun activity to spot them all. On the topic of animals, the region of Croatia where Dubrovnik & Split are is known as Dalmatia, and legend has it this is where the Dalmatian dog originates from. I didn’t see many of them though!

Our view from the bus as we travelled up the Dalmatian coast

After a couple of days, we continued our Croatian adventure by catching the bus to Split. It was much cheaper than flying and we also had the opportunity to see more of the beautiful Dalmatian coastline. We booked our bus tickets online with GetbyBus – you can buy tickets at the bus stations but it was easier for us to book online as the information was all in English. People in Croatia generally can speak English especially for tourist activities but there can still be some language barriers.

Dalmatian coast in Croatia by Lena Talks Split

In Split we stayed in the charming Guesthouse Vrlic. Our hosts were delightful and the location was wonderful. It was less than 10 minutes walk to the harbour and near to shops and markets. We didn’t have a kitchen but didn’t really need one, the only thing we made in our room was coffee! Despite being a coastal town, the beach in Split isn’t amazing, but we still had a good time swimming at Batvice Beach.

We had a fantastic dinner at Uje oil bar, which served a modern take on traditional Dalmatian cuisine.

Snicelu u tocu (dumplings) and manistra prsut

On our second day in Split we did a boat tour exploring the islands off the coast. This was one of the highlights of my trip, as we got to see so many stunning places. We chose Toto Tours  from the many operating in Split which wound up being a great decision as our guides were incredible. We first went to the Blue Cave on Bisevo Island, which was just unreal. The water is so bright, which is caused by the sun hitting the sand in the underwater cave.

The entrance to the Blue Cave on Bisevo Island Inside the Blue Cave – I’ve never seen anything so cool!

After the Blue Cave we took a break at Komiza, a fisherman’s village on the island of Vis. Komiza was one of the filming locations for Mamma Mia 2, along with Stiniva Bay which we visited next.

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Historically, I have been one to avoid washing my hair, because drying it was such a chore. My hair is very thick, and I always found that blow-drying it took so long and left it frizzy. I tried a lot of different anti-frizz products, but mostly I just let my hair air dry which was a very slow process. Until one day earlier this year, when I won a Remington Radiance hair dryer pack from Verve Magazine. From the very first blow dry, I knew that this was what I had been missing all along! It seems hair dryer technology has improved somewhat over the years and it was time to join the 21st century. The first time I used it, someone commented on how shiny my hair looked and thought I had been to the hairdresser. I think that’s the ultimate endorsement for how good this is!

Me after my first blow dry – excuse the pajamas and bare face!

Included in the Remington Radiance hair dryer pack is a cosmetics bag, a paddle brush,  and a Truzone Argan Oil shampoo & mask. It took practice to get used to juggling the brush and hairdryer, but it’s good to direct the flow of the air more closely. I always use my hair dryer with the concentrator nozzle on (as pictured) but it is removable. The shampoo wasn’t terribly memorable, but I’m still making use of the hair mask. I think it really helps my hair to be hydrated which has enhanced the shine factor.

The contents of the Remington Radiance pack

My hair drying routine goes like this – When I get out of the shower I wrap my hair in a microfibre turban, and leave it up for about 10 minutes while I dry off and get dressed. Then I take it out and comb my hair with a wide tooth comb. I put the Pureology Intense Smoothing Cream through my hair, or spray on Schwarzkopf got2b guardian angel heat protectant, then it’s time to get drying. Both the speed and the heat are adjustable, with 3 settings for each of them. I start with it on a medium heat and a low speed, to get it dry without having wet hair whipping around – that causes split ends and frizz which we do NOT want. Once my hair is mostly dry, I bump up the speed and heat and start using the brush to guide the heat down the hair shaft. At the very end I give my hair a blast with the cool shot button to set and smooth my hair.

Look how glossy my hair is!

And now for the nitty gritty specifications, the ‘2300 watt AC motor and conditioning ionic technology’. I’ll be frank, I didn’t really know what any of the above meant, but I have since done some research! The greater the wattage, the greater the power consumption and the greater the speed the fan rotates. This means your hair will dry faster, which is particularly ideal for those of us with thicker hair. AC refers to the type of motor which is a larger and heavier motor, and it makes for a more powerful and longer lasting hair dryer. Ionic technology helps the water molecules in your hair to evaporate faster, which is exactly what I want. It is also ‘keratin and argan oil infused’ but I have absolutely no idea what that does, and can’t find any articles beyond those promoting the product, so I’m yet to get to the bottom of this. I have a sneaking suspicion it’s more of a gimmick or marketing point of difference, but I’m willing to be convinced otherwise if there’s some solid research behind it. I mean hey, part of the reason why I like it so much is the pretty red colour, not everything has to be a science experiment.

I honestly never expected myself to have become someone who not only washes their hair before it absolutely needs it (as shown by the sheer number of times I’ve mentioned dry shampoo) on this blog! Truly though, nothing looks as good as freshly washed and blow dried hair. I’ve been using my blow dryer approximately 3x a week for the last 3 months or so and haven’t noticed any damage to my hair.

Now for the important question – where can you buy your own from? In New Zealand you can buy one from Noel Leeming   with an RRP of $159.99, and on sale until 25th September 2018 for only $77. In the USA: Target and in Australia : Myer.

So if you’re in the market for a hairdryer, this is one I highly recommend. And now – I’m off to wash (and dry) my hair!

The post Remington Radiance hair dryer – get your hair dried super fast & super smooth appeared first on Lena Talks.

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Athleisure is a fashion trend that’s not going away any time soon, and I for one love it. Comfortable fabrics, fun colours, what could be better? Outside of work, I swear all I wear is leggings these days. Finding cool plus size active wear has previously been an issue for me, with the major sports wear stores in NZ not stocking above a 16. However, since discovering Rainbeau Curves, all my dreams have come true! Rainbeau Curves makes clothing ranging from workout gear to more of an athleisure hybrid for plus size women. I bought my first pair of their leggings a few months ago and have worn them non-stop this winter. Imagine my delight when Rainbeau Curves reached out and not only gave me a promo code that we all can use, but they also sent me a package of their clothing to post about? I practically screamed. I’ve been wearing them over the last wee while and have my thoughts on them, as well of lots of pictures of how they look on.

Grace Bra

First of all, I liked the styling of this bra. It’s a racer back with a keyhole, and a zip closure at the front. Whilst it’s not a wired bra, it still separates and lifts my breasts comfortably – no uniboob like you might have with a simple crop style sports bra. So far I’ve worn it for brisk walks and for yoga, and it kept everything secure. It’s made for medium impact activity, so you may want to wear something different if playing sport or going for a run.

Dianne Legging

These are the leggings that my love of Rainbeau Curves started with! They are so comfortable, I have been living in them this winter. I’ve never worn patterned pants before and thought it might be ‘unflattering’ but it’s totally not. I get so many great compliments on them too. The fabric is a jersey, which makes them nice and warm. For that reason I wouldn’t wear them to the gym as I’d get too hot and bothered, but they’re great for walks on a chilly evening, or to a weekend brunch. I’ve been really impressed with the quality. I’ve worn and washed them so many times yet they still look and feel as good as they day I bought them. An awesome feature is the tiny key pocket inside the waistband. To be honest, I never noticed it, until just today my friend Victoria  told me to look for it, as I was telling her how annoying I found carrying my keys when out for a walk! Life changing.

Wearing the Grace bra and Dianne leggings

Curve Basix Compression Legging

As a contrast to the bold print of the Dianne leggings, the Curve Basix leggings keeps things pretty, well, basic! That’s not an insult, they are a great simple option. They’re certainly form fitting and I felt the compression but it wasn’t uncomfortable. I’ve worn them with activewear like in the photo below, as well as with casual clothing. I think they’d even be decent office wear with a tunic or dress. The waist is nice and high which means no visible butt crack if squatting. On the note of visibility, it was pointed out to me that the white print on my underwear was visible when I was bending over. It was only very faint but if you’re particularly concerned about that I’d suggest wearing black underwear. Having said that, they are certainly vastly superior in the opaque stakes compared to leggings from your average fast fashion store.

Bel Air Zip Up top and Compression Basix leggings

Bel Air Zip-Front Top

This top is over-sized which is a nice contrast to the skintight workout tops I usually wear. I wore it to a Spin Class that was organised for the NZBloggers group, and it was good because when I was bent over my bike I wasn’t exposed at all. Below you can see me with my friend Laura of Life with Laura blog, wearing Rainbeau Curves too! She has on the Eva tank in burgundy and Florence print Capri.

Laura and Lena wearing Rainbeau Curves

I like the wide neck of the shirt, it means I can show off the back of a cute strappy sports bra. The rolled sleeve is another nice detail, to give some interest to a top that could otherwise be fairly plain. It’s quite long, which is good for those of you who are taller than me or have longer torsos.

Morgan Bomber

Although I get warm when walking, I like to start with a light jacket, especially in the evenings. I’ve been going on a lot of training walks in preparation for the Walking Stars half marathon for the Cancer Society and wearing this Morgan bomber every time. The mesh means it’s light, yet I’m protected against the wind.

According to the information on their website, it is moisture-wicking, however I’m yet to exercise enough to test that out! The styling is nice enough to wear out for a coffee and still feel sleek.

Fit note: I wear a 2X (18-20) in all of these garments. I typically wear those sizes in clothing, and my measurements are exactly within those of the size chart. Since everything is stretchy if I was on the edge of a size I’d size down, except maybe for the bra as it needs to be able to zip up – don’t want to be busting out! I’m 165cm or 5ft 5 and the leg length was perfect for me in both pairs of leggings.

If you want to purchase this awesome activewear, the links are below – to save 10% you can use my discount code LENA10 on the Rainbeau website:

Grace Bra $24.95 USD ( approx $37 NZD at time of writing)
Dianne Legging $49.95 USD (75 NZD)
Curve Basix Compression Legging $29.95 USD (25 NZD)
Bel Air Zip-Front Top $34.95 USD (53 NZD)
Morgan Bomber $59.95 USD (90 NZD)

Rainbeau Curves is based in the US but ships worldwide, yay! Alternatively, ASOS stocks Rainbeau Curves and it’s usually with free shipping. Closer to home, Sama and Kiki stock selected Rainbeau Curves items, and they even have a store in Hamilton so you can try before you buy.

If any of you purchase anything by Rainbeau Curves, I’d love to know what you think!

Lena x

The post Rainbeau Curves – the coolest plus size activewear around! appeared first on Lena Talks.

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In recent weeks, an ASOS Curve jumpsuit has taken Twitter by storm. My friend Nat posted about it, saying how comfortable and stylish it was, and before the week was out at least 5 of us had bought them. Once we got ours and realised how incredible they are, even more people bought them! Now we’re a matching jumpsuit group, spread out across New Zealand. It’s kind of like the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, except we all have our own. Introducing the ASOS DESIGN Curve wrap jumpsuit with 3/4 sleeve. It comes in size 12-28 which is a good range, extending from the higher end of the straight sizing range, to the plus size section.

This jumpsuit was a nice gentle transition into wearing something I’d never tried before. In a lot of ways it reminds me of the Lady Voluptuous Lyra dress – short sleeves, cross over V-neck top, and a nice emphasis on the waist. The legs are straight cut with a tighter band at the bottom, but I wouldn’t describe it as clingy.

I’ve styled it in a couple of different ways now – it can be casual, worn with chucks or ballet flats, or it can be dressed up more. So far I’ve worn it to a casual brunch, as well as to a pub quiz. At first I felt a bit overdressed but really it’s not too different to just wearing pants and a top. Trying something new is always a bit scary, which is why I went with a safe black in a style that I know suits me, rather than getting toooo out of my comfort zone with a more figure-hugging style or a bold pattern.

In the below picture I’ve paired it with black strappy Nine West heels, and a black & gold handbag. The change of accessories instantly elevates the outfit to be more dressy, even though the fabric is a jersey. I probably should have added some more jewellery to the look as well, looking at these photos now. I’ll know for next time though – I’m still learning how to be a fashion blogger!

My friend Lou of So Long Marianne  has also bought The Jumpsuit, and she’s put her own twist on it. The blank canvas of the black gives a lot of room to jazz it up with bold accessories.

Lou has styled it with more bold accessories

The jumpsuit also comes in a black and white spot and here you can see Nat, the starter of this trend, wearing it below.

Like I said in the caption of my instagram post about this – the only downside is going to the loo! It can get a bit chilly sitting there in your bra with your entire outfit around your ankles. The less I say about wearing one in a public toilet in a shopping centre, the better. Moving right along….

I’m still learning to not cut off my feet when taking photos

I’m sure by now you’re desperate to get one for yourself, so in terms of sizing, I recommend to size down. According to the sizing chart I was on the border of sizes 18 and 20, so I chose the 18 and I’ve very happy with the fit. It feels comfortable in my tummy area, the waistband doesn’t dig in at all, and the legs are a good length. For reference, I’m 164cm (5’4.5″) and usually wear a 20-22 in bottoms and 18-20 in tops.

This hot little number cost me $61 NZD ($45 USD) with free shipping, and took about a week to get here. Not bad for coming from the other side of the globe! Sometimes parcels take that long to get across New Zealand. So head to ASOS and get shopping. If you buy one, send me a photo, I’d love to see you in it.

Lena x

The post One jumpsuit, worn two ways: ASOS DESIGN Curve wrap jumpsuit appeared first on Lena Talks.

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If you follow me on social media, you will have seen that recently I travelled to Europe. I had never been before, so there was a lot I wanted to see. Given that I only had a limited amount of time off from work, I decided a tour would be the best option. Contiki is a company that many of my friends have travelled with, but it’s restricted to people aged 18-35. Given that I was travelling with my mum who is (slightly) outside that age range, we needed to find another option. Trafalgar had great reviews online, and offered an itinerary that ticked off many of the cities on our list. We booked the 8 night European Traveller tour, which started in London, then visited Paris, Lucerne, Venice, Florence, and Rome.

We flew with Qatar Airways, taking the world’s longest flight from Auckland to Doha, Qatar, then following on to London. It was a mammoth flight but we were prepared and found it not too bad. The staff were great, they had good entertainment systems, and we both managed to sleep a fair bit. Before the tour started we had 3 days in London where we saw some sights and recovered from our jetlag. We stayed at the Park Plaza County Hall  – search it on Booking.com using this link, and if you stay there you’ll get 10% back (and I get a credit)! It was fairly pricy but the location was great, walking distance to major attractions and right next to a tube station. The hotel was recommended by Trafalgar as it was where the tour started. However, we booked with the hotel ourselves rather than through Trafalgar as it was cheaper. It always pays to compare these things! We also booked our tour ourselves rather than through a Travel Agent and it was very easy with good communication before the trip.

On London Bridge

From the minute we were picked up at our hotel to begin the tour everything went smoothly. We adored our travel director Brent, as well as our driver Carlo. Brent is very experienced, having been a director for 32 years! He knew the best places to tell us to go in every city, whether for shopping, coffee, or scenic views. Since we had limited time, it was great to always have someone who could make sure we got to tick off everything on our bucket lists.

We were up at 6am most days and did spend a fair bit of time driving, but we stopped regularly to stretch our legs, have a coffee or meal, or use the bathrooms. Brent made the drives interesting, telling us local history, funny stories, and tales from his 32 years on the job. He also had local music he would play on arrival to a new city or country. This made the travel entertaining as well as informative. We also learned the important things like how to order a coffee or glass of wine in the local languages. Carlo was a great driver especially on the windy hills of Switzerland or the chaotic streets of Rome. The coach was comfortable, with wifi, charging ports, and decently spacious seats. There was room for our hand-luggage on the coach with us either at our feet or above. It was much more comfortable than the majority of aeroplanes.

Mum and I in front of the Eiffel Tower

There are included activities on the tour, as well as optional experiences that you can pick and choose from. We chose to do almost all the optional experiences and this came to €543 each (approx $940 NZD). Trafalgar gets good prices on activities though, as our tickets to Moulin Rouge would have been considerably more if buying them ourselves, and seats probably not as good. The biggest benefit of travelling with Trafalgar is never having to wait for things. We got entry into the Vatican over an hour before normal visitors. That meant that not only did we not have to queue up for hours, it was less crowded inside. We didn’t have to queue for the Colosseum, Eiffel Tower, we had the first booking of the day for Stanserhof mountain which meant we were alone up there for almost an hour. Brent even arranged Louvre tickets for those who wanted them for our group. This meant we were able to do far more activities per day than we could do if travelling alone. A real benefit when you have limited time to see so many places.

The view down to the city of Florence

People always ask me what the highlight of the trip was. It’s so difficult to answer, but one of the best things was being serenaded on a Gondola in Venice. I thought it might be a bit cheesy but the singer was incredible. He had such a powerful voice, which reverberated off the buildings in the narrow canals. It gave us an opportunity to see a bit more of Venice beyond the larger canals. We started that day by going up a mountain in a gondola in Switzerland and by the afternoon we were in a different sort of gondola in Venice! Yet somehow it didn’t actually seem rushed – we got an hour to wander at our leisure and sip a hot chocolate enjoying the view from the mountain.

Venetian Gondola Serenade - YouTube

Most of the people on our trip were 50+, but there were a number of people in their 20s like me, usually travelling with family members. Despite the age differences within the group, everyone naturally bonded. There were a few nights where we enjoyed the local wines, perhaps a little bit too much. That being said, it wasn’t a party trip and those that didn’t drink or drink much still had fun.  Some people on the tour kept to themselves, and others were very social. Mum and I were somewhere in the middle, we enjoyed spending time with our trip friends but also took time to sight see on our own. We were sad to say goodbye to our new friends at the end of the trip. It was a bit like being on a school camp, you form friends fast just by virtue of spending so much time together.

Me at the Colosseum

After the tour, Mum and I had another week travelling on our own. After doing that we were really able to appreciate a trip where everything was organised for us. Organising things yourself is so much harder, and you can’t get the good deals that huge tour companies can get. On our tour we stayed in 5 star hotels and had incredible buffet breakfasts every day, when travelling on our own we didn’t have the same level of luxury. As someone who spends their work life doing admin for people, as well as planning group events for #NZBloggers, when I’m on holiday I just don’t want to have to think. The convenience factor is worth every penny – we would both rather save for a couple more months and pay for Trafalgar than try and do it ourselves.

I would 100% recommend taking a group tour with Trafalgar. It doesn’t seem like the exact tour we did is available. but there is a trip with the same destinations just visited in reverse, the European Dream . That is actually what we originally looked at booking, since it’s a good itinerary. Now that we’re back I’m already thinking about where I’d like to go next, and I like the idea of Thailand

Have you ever taken a group tour? Is there anything you’d like to know about the Trafalgar tour experience? Leave a comment below. Lena xx

The post Travelling with Trafalgar – my trip around Europe appeared first on Lena Talks.

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This post may have a dramatic title, but it’s true – My Food Bag changed my life.  Until last year, I had been really stuck in a rut – single and living in a flat where we mostly did our own meals. Cooking for one can be tricky, resulting in eating the same meal for days on end, or wasting lots of ingredients. I ended up eating fast food most of the time, and felt like I’d made a big effort if I cooked pasta and added a jar of sauce! I knew some basics of how to cook, but wasn’t very motivated or skilled enough to cook anything challenging.  

Needless to say, this was not great for my health or my bank account! I had been steadily gaining weight and my doctors were starting to get concerned. I was struggling to do things like fitting in seats at concerts, or buying clothes that could fit. My knees would hurt just walking around the shops with my friends. I might have looked like I was fine being “plus size and fabulous”, and I did try to be confident regardless, but honestly I felt terrible mentally and physically.

Then I started a new job, and moved to a new house close to my work. The change meant that I had more time and more of an inclination to cook, partially because there were no fast food drive-throughs near me! A few people at work had been getting My Food Bag delivered and suggested I give it a try. Ever the coupon user – I found a discount code and ordered my first My Food Bag box and loved it! The food tasted amazing, like nothing I’d ever cooked at home before (see below for my fabulous discount code for you to use).

Everything they send you is really fresh and are top quality ingredients, with most of the components needing to be made from scratch aside from a few pre-prepared sauces that they provide. It’s always fun and like a new adventure receiving the delivery and opening it up to discover what’s inside. The only downside was that when I first started out, everything took me FOREVER to cook, but slowly I got faster. I used to curse that five “Nadia minutes” were the equivalent of twenty “Lena minutes!”

The contents of a Classic For Two box – enough for 8-10 servings

Instead of dreading dinner time I started looking forward to it. Every night I had a delicious meal to look forward to – a lot of the food I was cooking for myself tasted better than some meals I’d paid for in restaurants! Another bonus was that I always had enough left over for lunch and my colleagues were always impressed and even envious of my lunches.

Before long, people started commenting that I had lost weight. I didn’t even realise it, since I hadn’t been trying to diet in the slightest! All I did was cook My Food Bag meals and have them for lunch and dinner most days.  Another thing I noticed was having money left over at the end of the week – I’d actually been spending less while eating better!

I decided I might as well kick things up a notch, so I ordered their Fresh Start meal kits. Fresh Start works the same as My Food Bag in terms of sending you a box of ingredients and all the recipes for them, but it’s aimed at people looking to lose weight. The meals have 450 calories or less compared to 500+ for the Classic My Food Bag. They also have fewer carbohydrates and the carbs they do include are more wholegrains and unprocessed. The meals are still just as filling – I never finish a dinner hungry or feeling like I’m restricting myself. My previous attempts at dieting had been short-lived because I just made dreary salads or microwave diet meals, which are not very satisfying however I always feel satisfied and full after one of the Fresh Start meals.

It has now been a year since I first started getting My Food Bag and I’ve lost 18kg! (Edit: as of October 2018 I’ve now lost over 25kg!) During that time there’s still been a fair few dinners out, takeaways etc, but most of the meals I’ve made at home have been from My Food Bag. Eating better has given me so much more energy, which has made me feel more inclined to go on a walk or do something active. My knees and feet have less pain, which meant I could walk all around Europe with no problems. I could even fit in plane seats and do up my seat belt easily. I haven’t counted calories at all, but I have made an effort to cut down on junk food and I always try to plan better snacks to take to work (that’s not to say that I can resist the office birthday shouts!).

Then and now – March 2017 and June 2018

I have now signed up for the Fresh Start Programme, which is a 12 week plan that includes additional support as well as rewards. The winter months are hard to stay motivated with the temptation of comforting foods that are super high in calories. If I stick to this, in another few weeks I will be under 100kg for the first time in at least 4 years. The Fresh Start Programme is a new thing, and to celebrate the launch of it they held a group walk. It was really fun, AND I got to meet Nadia Lim which was so awesome. Nadia won Masterchef, is a qualified dietitian, and one of the co-founders of My Food Bag. She was really nice and so proud of me when I told her about how much My Food Bag had changed my life.

Me with Nadia Lim and my friend Elise

It’s not all about weight though – if you just want to try cooking some tasty new meals, with ingredients and recipes delivered in a convenient manner, then why not give My Food Bag a go? I know a lot of older people stuck in a rut with their same old dinners have used it and really enjoy the modern recipes and interesting ingredients they send you. This time last year I hadn’t even heard of bulgar let alone cooked with it!

My Food Bag has given me an amazing discount code for my readers – use LENA30 as the promo code when making your first order on either My Food Bag or Fresh start and you will save a massive $40 off! This offer is for a limited time, so get in quick and give it a try. Also, when you use the discount, I also get to receive a discount so it’s a win/win for both of us!

Please let me know if you have any questions – I’m more than happy to answer any you have – plus I’d love to hear your experiences with it. I’ve written about my experiences with other meal kits before and a comparison with the different My Food Bag offerings. You can read that post here

The post How My Food Bag changed my life appeared first on Lena Talks.

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Cleaning my makeup brushes is one of my least favourite chores. It always takes so long, my hands end up going wrinkly, and it’s extremely boring. That leads to me leaving it longer than I should between washes, which isn’t good for my skin, or the smoothness of my makeup application. BUT NO LONGER! For Christmas my parents gave me the StylPro Expert Makeup Brush Cleaner and Drier and my life was changed. This is a device which you enables you to clean and dry your brushes in minutes. The 21st century has arrived when it comes to the chore of makeup brush cleaning, and I am very happy about it. I’ve been using this nifty little machine for the last 6 months and today I’m sharing my thoughts about the StylPro makeup brush cleaner

The contents of the Stylpro expert brush cleaning kit (brush model’s own)

The basics of how it works are like so:

  • Choose the correct collar for your brush, attach it to the StylPro device, and insert your brush
  • Put water in the bowl, and add a small amount of brush cleaner
  • Dunk your brush in the water and turn it on – choose 1 of 2 speeds. One for small and delicate brushes. The second for large dense brushes.
  • The brush will spin around in the water, it feels a bit like using a blending stick to make a smoothie!
  • When the brush starts flashing, take it out of the water and let it spin to dry
  • Your brush should be clean and dry in 30 seconds
  • Tip the water out of the bowl into the collection area, refill, and start again

The StylPro makeup brush cleaner in action

Using the Stylpro device took me some getting used to, and some trouble shooting. I found that you really have to hold the it upright, if it’s on an angle it won’t quite clean properly. The multi-brush tool disappointed me, as many of my favourite eyeshadow brushes were too big to fit in it. However, it does clean a fair few of them at once which saves time. You can’t use double-ended eyeshadow brushes with the StylPro either, and I have quite a few of those. It can be a little rough on brushes, so I don’t use it on my animal hair brushes which are a bit more delicate. Most of my brushes are from fairly cheap brands like Real Techniques and Bdellium, so I’m willing to take the risk if it saves some time. Overall, there are more pluses than minuses in my opinion. I’m much more willing to clean my brushes when it requires so much less elbow grease.

There is an official StylPro brush cleaning solution, but I haven’t tried it. My preferred makeup brush cleaning detergent is the Daiso ‘detergent for puff and sponge’ which has managed to get some very stubborn stains out of some dirty brushes. Another brush cleaner that I have used previously is the Real Techniques Deep Cleansing Gel which was quite effective

The StylPro Expert Makeup Brush Cleaner is NZ$149.99 from Shaver Shop which is quite a lot of money. I think if I was looking at buying one myself I would get the original which is $99.99. Outside of NZ, you can purchase this on Amazon. There doesn’t seem to be enough differences between them to warrant spending an extra $50. Of course, it’s really a luxury item you can live without, but it is very handy. I think the expense is worthwhile especially as it seems it will last for quite a long time, and it makes life much easier.

What do you think about this device – game changer, or gimmick? Have you bought any of the other makeup brush cleaning machines on the market? Leave your thoughts in the comments. Lena x

The post StylPro Expert Makeup Brush Cleaner and Drier appeared first on Lena Talks.

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Living in New Zealand means that if you want to travel internationally, there’s going to be a long flight involved. Even going to Australia, our closest neighbour, means a minimum of 3 hours flight. To the USA is 12 hours, and to Europe you’re looking at at least 24 hours flight time. I’ve just come back from Europe, and we took the world’s longest flight with Qatar Airways. From Auckland, New Zealand to Doha, Qatar the flight is approximately 17 hours. From there, we had another 8 hours to London. More mega-long flights are being launched, so I thought I’d share my tips for surviving such a long flight.

Helping me with this post is my mother/travel buddy. She was a flight attendant for 10 years, regularly flying from New Zealand to as far away as Germany. So she knows all the best advice for getting through a long journey. Most of these tips are applicable for a flight of any distance, but they really come into their own when the flight is very long.

BEFORE THE FLIGHT:

Book seats strategically. We ended up being lucky enough to have a spare seat between us on the way up, and an entire row each on the way back! We booked the aisle and window seats on a row a few from the back. Not many people want to sit at the back, nor do they want to sit between two others if they can avoid it. On our Doha to London flight we had someone who was supposed to sit between us, but we swapped to sit together so he didn’t have to. Take care to not book the very back row as that row is often reserved for the airline crew and you may be moved.

FASHION AND BEAUTY CLOTHING

Dress comfortably, but there’s no need to dress like a slob. I wore Postie+ harem pants, which are very light and as comfortable as trackpants or pajamas. On top I wore a loose tank top from SAMA + KIKI with a Glassons cardigan. Darker colours are best due to the fact you’ll be eating and drinking and there’s a high chance of turbulence. Nobody wants to get off a long flight with orange juice stains down the front of a white t-shirt! Whatever you do, do NOT visit the toilet wearing just your socks – those floors are nasty! In that case, shoes that are easily slipped on or off are preferable. 

If your legs and feet are prone to swelling, then you might want to get compression socks. My mum wore them, but I don’t find it necessary. The jury is out whether they prevent blood clots, but they definitely do make a difference to swollen ankles. Wear layers because you never know whether the plane will be freezing cold, just right, or too hot – it’s best to prepare for all temperatures. Take a change of clothes on board, or at least socks and underwear. It’s good to be able to change during the flight or during your stopover as it makes you feel a lot fresher. Ensure all the clothes that you wear on the flight and pack in your carry-on bag are not prone to wrinkling.

BEAUTY

Being a beauty blogger, I was in charge of bringing the beauty/hygiene products for mum and I. The aim was for us to have hydrated skin, look nice, and also feel clean. Some items may be provided in your airline amenity kit, but you don’t want to count on that,

  • Avène Eau Thermale spring water spray, such a refreshing sensation and also feels a bit like you’re washing your face
  • Lip balm – I like Lucas Papaw ointment
  • Intense moisturiser – Clinique Moisture Surge overnight mask
  • Eye drops – plane air is very drying and your eyes really feel it
  • Hand cream – I took The Aromatherapy Company Naturals Wild Iris & Peony
  • For the nail obsessives like me, Bliss Kiss Simply Pure cuticle oil
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste – missing in the photo above, but can’t be missed! It’s nice to brush your teeth during the flight and it’s always nice to brush just prior to disembarking or during your layover in the airport.
  • Deodorant
  • Hairbrush or comb
  • Sunglasses if it will be daylight at your destination.
  • Hand sanitiser – you don’t want to pick up a bug before you start your trip

I only brought a little bit of makeup, and just put it on at the end of the flight. It was nice to go out into the world looking like I haven’t just been up all night.

  • Clinique CC Cream
  • A light lipstick – I took a Rimmel one
  • Mascara  – Urban Decay

TECH/ENTERTAINMENT

Pack noise cancelling headphones, and if they don’t come with one, buy an adaptor that enables you to plug it into the airline’s entertainment system. They’re much more comfortable, have better sound quality, and enable you to tune out the noise in the cabin. Even if people aren’t being noisy, eliminating the drone from the plane is fantastic. We took the Sony MDR-ZX110NC Overhead Headphones which come with an airline adaptor. Buying an adaptor is the best purchase I’ve ever made, airplane headphones aren’t great quality and are never too comfortable. I vastly prefer being able to use my own headphones.

No matter what airline you fly with, don’t rely on their inflight entertainment. Yes, even in this day and age there are airlines and planes out there without seatback screens. Even if you do have one in your seat, quite often they malfunction and if there’s no spare seats for the flight attendants to move you to, you’ll be left for hours with nothing to do!. Be prepared and bring a book and/or magazines – it’ll help keep you sane. On our 5 hour flight from London to Doha we had no entertainment, and I was very glad to be able to read on my Kindle.

COMFORT

I took two pairs of earplugs on board and they were a godsend. We did get them in our amenities kits but it’s always good to have spares in case they fall out while you sleep. An eye mask and a neck pillow are two other essentials, especially for getting a decent sleep. An inflatable neck pillow is better than the microbead variety as it takes up less space in your luggage. I took a Slip silk sleep mask, and it was so comfortable to wear.

Hydrate hydrate hydrate – I was going to say drink, drink, drink but don’t want to give the wrong idea. By all means relax and have one or two alcoholic drinks on your flight if you wish, but in the interest of getting off the flight feeling great, don’t over-indulge. Alcohol is extra-effective at altitude, not only will it dehydrate you, you’ll get drunk a lot faster than you do on the ground and you don’t want to do anything to embarrass yourself! Plus there’s nothing worse than sitting by a loud drunk when you’re feeling tired, grumpy and just wanting to sleep – don’t be that person!

Do drink lots of non-alcoholic drinks though. You’ll feel a LOT better by the end of the flight if you do. Once you’ve gone through all the security screening, go to the airport shops and stock up on water or your favourite drinks – the exorbitant prices you have to pay will be more than worth it. You can also take a water bottle(s) with a built in filter that you can fill up on the plane. Make the most of the airline’s service. Every time you see a flight attendant offering drinks – take one. Yes, with all this drinking, it does mean you’ll need to visit the lavatories more often, and if you’re stuck in a window seat it will possibly mean you’ll have to disturb the person/people you’re sitting beside but trust me, you will feel a whole lot better once you arrive at your destination, and chances are your seat-mate is only resting with their eyes closed.

Photo by Saffu on Unsplash

After 27 hours of travelling, Mum and I got off our long flight to London well hydrated, somewhat-rested, with freshly brushed teeth, combed hair, unwrinkled clothes, a fresh application of makeup and felt more than ready to take on the challenge of navigating our way on the tube to our hotel. With a bit of extra planning, you could too!

The post Tips for surviving a long flight, feeling comfortable and looking good appeared first on Lena Talks.

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