Saturday, June 30, 2012

Warning: Skip if You're Not Interested in Shopping. A LOT Thereof.

Well, where to start. The week after I returned from Japan, I went into the new-ish ESPRIT store on Kärntner Str. for the first time. I actually found it rather strange that an H&M branch had been replaced by it and in general I'm not a super-big fan of this brand. Yes, the quality is good and prices are decent, but it is not terribly exciting, either. I have to thank them for introducing the perfect and most comfortable pair of slouchy chinos in my life. It was on sale as well:
Ever since buying that first pair in a coral tone, I was on a mission to find another pair in my size on sale somewhere and went into every ESPRIT store I happened to pass (and no: they didn't have that style online). Accidentally, I found it at Kastner&Öhler dept. store in Graz two Saturdays ago. It was not as reduced as the first pair was, but I would have bought it full price as well. So now I have it in a very nice shade of blue, too:
I actually made another purchase at the ESPRIT outlet in Parndorf, a nice skirt the same colour as the red chinos, but the more spectacular bargain was this cotton/silk summer dress from René Lezard, a brand I find too expensive to shop at normally. Well, this beauty was reduced to €99 from €499. Not bad, eh?
Very different in style are those two neon (btw: one year ago and I would have SWORN you'd never see me again in anything remotely resembling a neon hue: I had had my neon-phase in the 1980s. Or so I thought) pieces from H&M that I picked up en passant in a Friday after-work stroll with the Gazelle. They look cool with my tan/neon-yellow sandals that I got back in April:
These are the sandals in detail: I love them and have worn them a few times already now that the weather is definitely sandal-y:
Duty Free shops at airports are dangerous places, in particular when your flight is delayed. When my flight to VNO was delayed for 2 hours, I just *had* to buy something. I ended up picking my favourite Chanel eyeshadow duo ever. I actually swapped it for a Bobby Brown palette with the Empress when I visited in Paris and only realised how much I missed it after that. We are now reunited and I love these two shades ("misty-soft") more than ever:

Same airport, following Monday: I bought the Guerlain travel blush brush I had discovered the previous week. Limited Pucci edition with blue bristles and a nice case:
At Sofia airport I discovered the perfect Longchamp travel bag. Like the Le Pliage series, just not actually foldable, i.e. missing the requisite press button. Ever since using my purple Le Pliage bag for work in Sydney every day, I knew that it was great for travelling as my work Macbook fits in perfectly. As you (might) remember I also got an orange one, like the previous one with frequent flier miles. Well, as the purple one is rather wintery and the orange one clashes with many colours, I was looking for a nice light, summery one. I don't like beige and the white in the traditional fabric would be impossible to clean. Enter this bag from the "metallic" line which has a sleek surface that should not get as dirty. After circling it in the DF shop for 15 minutes or so, I decided I had to have it and whacked out my credit card:
Not only are DF shops dangerous, business travel as such is, too. I discovered a very nice shop in Bulgaria, Capasca, and decided it would be rude not to get something from their summer sale:
The trousers (super lightweight cotton with elastane, I wore them today in 36° heat) have really cool detailing:
Unlike the first time when I visited Sofia and shops were full of slutty high heels, plastic shoes seem to rule in summer. Just the type of plastic shoes I regretted not getting a pair of in Nice two summers ago. Well, they were much cheaper in Bulgaria anyway. I picked up this cool (but incredibly smelly) pair of shoes for about €10:
Today, I went to the Gabor outlet near Villach with my Mum. She now has a card that gives you an extra 20% off the outlet price. Again, it would be rude not to... I was reminded that I didn't yet have a two-toned pair of ballet flats. Ta-daaaah:
Well, this is about it, apart from some bits and pieces I bought in Vilnius. The picture was taken in my hotel rain the day I bought everything. The crips from Marks&Spencer are now long gone, as you can imagine, but the pretty linen scarves are still going strong. The other tidbits are from cheapo store Tiger (Danish, but has a branch in Vilnius). The plasticky smell there was almost as bad as my pink shoes.
So much for the highlights of the recent weeks' shopping exploits. Lets see whether I'll fall into some shopping traps in Warsaw...

Friday, June 29, 2012

When the Postman Rings Twice

I received my lovely Glossybox summer edition box today - the colour-scheme of the packaging not being pink/black, but sand/blue for a change. It's full to the brim with really nice products and they seem to have read my mind that I was actually going to buy a teal nailpolish. The eye-shadow ("Tropical Tutu" by L'Oréal) looks very decent, too. Aaaah, nothing beats the excitement of unwrapping a present, even if it's one that you paid for yourself...

Speaking of parcels: this was what awaited me when I returned from my 4 days in Ljubljana: ooops. Looks like someone is quite fond of online-shopping...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

SOF: With Compliments

Hello from Sofia, where I have spent the past 3 days. The city looks considerably more welcoming than it did on my last visit in December 2008. However, some of the decaying, crumbling buildings I took pictures of last time have continued to fall apart and what I don't remember noticing last time are the crazy pavements or lack therof. I really pity old and frail people, wheelchair-bound citizens and parents wheeling about prams: I have never seen, nor walked on more destroyed pavements anywhere else, least of all in another EU member country. Here's a very mild example (I felt a bit self-conscious taking pictures of the more extreme examples of frost-bitten slabs of concrete) that's also not right in the middle of the path, but there were really some veritable holes in the ground plus random rods of rusty iron sticking out that would be fenced in with a warning sign or two elsewhere:
I spent the first night in the decadently oversized "Panorama Suite" of Central Park Hotel that offered a prime view of what - in my humble opinion - is one of the ugliest buildings in Sofia, the National Palace of Culture:
Even after I had moved to a "normal" room with only one as opposed to two TVs and no complimentary fruit bowl, I still had a room maid knocking on my door at about 7 p.m. uttering "Veeez compliments!" and pushing a chocolate and a card with the following day's weather forecast into my hands. Nice gesture!
All in all, I really enjoyed this last stop in my "roadshow" although I have to say that it did get a bit repetitive to deliver the same presentation for the sixth time (2 slots per city) and I'd have to lie if I said I wanted to hold it again anytime soon.

Sofia is much livelier than both Ljubljana and Vilnius. Definitely not prettier, nor cleaner, but more "southern" and "balkanesque". It reminds me of Istanbul in many ways (just as many yellow taxis cruising around), which might be partly due to the centuries of Turkish rule here. In fact, Bulgarians seem to be much fonder of their Greek neighbours because of this historic legacy and my Bulgarian colleague took us (another, Polish, colleague is visiting as well) to a Greek restaurant last night that far exceeded my expectations. I'm not a big fan of the type of Greek food you get in Austria and don't think I have ever been to a Greek restaurant in Vienna, but if you are ever in Sofia, I can really recommend dining at Yamas.
Said Bulgarian colleague actually seemed to think his visitors were in imminent danger of starvation and therefore embarked on (force) feeding us well. It makes SUCH a difference if you have a local to take you out as opposed to just eat at the first place you pass that has an English menue (my cyrillic reading skills are at best rudimentary). On Monday, our host took us to Motto (no relations to the place in Vienna of the same name, I'm guessing) for lunch, where he got us to order the traditional shopska salad as a starter. Again, not something I would have ordered as I assumed it to be very onion-heavy and I'm not a fan of cucumbers at all. I ended up getting it without any onions and the cucumbers were very fresh and "digestible". The cheese on it was divine as all Bulgarian cheese seems to be!
Tonight our sleep-deprived and overworked host asked to be excused from entertaining duties and the Polish colleague wanted to watch football (I can hear people cheering outside as I'm writing this), so I went for an extended stroll in the city centre, up to Hotel Maria Luisa near the old market and the Synagogue, where my Mum and I stayed last time. I also followed the many signs for good old BILLA supermarket, where I was amused to see they also gave away collectible stickers and asked whether you were a cardholding member. One difference was the two security guards by the doors - definitely not something I have ever seen at an Austrian supermarket. I didn't feel like a proper fancy dinner so fed myself at McDonald's where the Filet-o-Fish Menu set me back less than €3. Bulgaria is actually very cheap in general and I also did some shopping. More about my retail exploits from several cities soon.

Although I did see someone walking around with a Starbucks paper cup, I much prefer local coffee-shops and discovered a really nice and inviting looking one round the corner from my hotel. They also sold very authentic looking baguettes. I ordered the first thing that jumped out to me at the menu that I could decipher, being a лате макиато (latte macchiato) and pointed at one of the cookies at the counter. Again, this was super cheap and I paid less than €2 for both. The place is called Ma Baker and looks like this:
I'm afraid Sofia won't win a beauty contest anytime soon (least of all the "best pavement award" or best public transport one: the trams and buses mostly look as if they are only held together by grease and paint), but I still like this city. People (I've met) are really friendly and the atmosphere is very laid-back and there are some pretty buildings, too. What I find very shocking is the visible poverty on the streets: lots of people who are dressed in rags rummaging around in bins and old grannies standing at street corners with some bunches of scraggly wild flowers in empty yoghurt cups. This truly is a sight that breaks my heart and I want to buy all their offerings. Behind the main boulevards many residential areas look rather shabby and not even all sights are anywhere near photo-perfect condition. The Alexander Nevski Cathedral looks pretty impressive by day and by night:
A best-of my recent international shopping exploits coming up, probably before my next business trip: Warsaw on Monday...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

VNO: Hot Chicks in the Vatikan of the North

Vilnius was definitely the one stop on my "roadshow" that I was most excited about. I had never been to Lithuania, and, frankly, knew little more about this country than that it was one of the Baltic states and had a very unusual language. Having been exposed to it for 3 days, I find the language even more fascinating. Did you know it is the most archaic Indo-European language, with strong ties to Sanskrit?

Language apart, I was more than pleasantly surprised by this lovely city, well: town. I joked to my Lithuanian host that in the vein of calling every other place the "Venice of the North" or the "Paris of the East", Vilnius should really be dubbed the "Vatikan of the North" due to the incredible amount of churches.

What I found very noticeable, and this might sound a really strange coming from a woman, was the high percentage of exceptionally pretty girls. And I mean really pretty in the sense of model-material. The men were nothing to write home about, read: average, but the girls! Model scouts will have a field-day in Vilnius and, as my host aptly pointed out, they are really set apart from their Baltic and Slavic sisters by their dress-sense: not slutty at all, but very stylish and laid-back, making them look more Scandinavian or Dutch with their (mostly) dark-blonde , (mostly) long hair and blue eyes. 

Related to this style-topic, I noticed that you can find most international brands here (incl. M&S with a small "real" food section that sells more than just tea and crisps) plus several Scandinavian ones that haven't made it to central Europe. I went a little crazy in a Lithuanian store specialising in linen and bought several scarves. Prices were amazing and the quality and colour-range very good. Overall, prices are very competitive and below European average: at one of the many local coffee-shops (Starbucks doesn't have a branch here yet, I was told), such as Coffee Inn, you pay the equivalent of € 2.5 for a small latte and cookie. The only time I was not treated to dinner, I just wanted to grab a quick bite and ended up at the Finnish chain Hesburger, where I paid less than € 3.5 for a kebab (I know, very strange choice for me as I would never order that at home, but it was the only option I could see in a different type of bread than a classic burger-bun - I don't like burgers and their salads didn't look very inviting) + small drink + small fries.

So here are some pictures to show you a bit of Vilnius. Being much more Northern in geographic location than Vienna, the days were noticeably longer and the sun shone until 9:30 p.m. I will definitely be back to Lithuania - if not on business, then as a tourist.
Vilnius Cathedral with bell-tower 

Girls dressed like this are actually the minority...
Hot-air-ballooning is big in Vilnius
Vilnius Castle by dusk is a popular spot for couples
View from Vilnius Castle
One of the local answers to Starbucks
I really liked the DIY concept of this frozen yoghurt store: choose from several flavours, toppings and syrups and then pay by weight: mine came to about EUR 1.5
Example of what the Lithuanian language looks like

Thursday, June 21, 2012

You Can't Have Everything

Before I go ahead and tell you about my crush on Lithuania's capital in my next post, some observations on hotels and the comfort you can expect there. I'm not an expert in this matter at all, but have visited a fair share of hotels ranging from 2 to 5 stars within the past months. One thing is for sure: a Japanese ** hotel that comes with complimentary pyjama, toothbrush-set, slippers, kettle, very decent breakfast (I'm talking about the Comfort Inn chain) and all other amenties that you could could need for a very attractive price is waaaaaaay superior to any **** hotel in London that offers ridiculously little for a seriously OTT price.

Last week in Ljubljana, when I felt a cold coming on, I really longed for a bathtub and kettle to nip the symptoms in the bud, as I would have been able to at home. Well, unfortunately, my room offered neither and so I was all the happier to see that my hotel in Vilnius (Novotel) greeted me with a tea and coffee set, yay! I always bring some bags of my beloved ginger&lemon tea and am therefore self-sufficient on the tea-bag front, but I don't go as far as travelling with my own kettle and so really appreciated this:
I also loved the way that the room had a bathtub, but shower-wise (in particular if you intend to wash your hair), the contraption was pretty useless, with a wall-fixture at knee-height. Hmmm...shower for visiting pygmies perhaps? The "rainforest" shower in Ljubljana was way better than that.
The hairdrier was also one of those sad fixed-to-the-wall contraptions that manage to scald your fingers while not drying your hair. The Plaza in LJU gives you a nice "independent" hairdrier that actually does the job.

Both hotels have free and pretty fast Wi-Fi, which is not standard even in 4* hotels in Japan, surprisingly enough for this high-tech country.

Well, sorry if I have bored you with my mundane ramblings, but these hotel-room experiences almost make me consider a career-move to the hospitality business and draft the perfect hotel (according to MY taste, needless to say). Must-haves: fully-functioning bathtub AND shower, windows you can open (rarely the case), AC that you can switch off if you want to (and I always do want to), a proper hairdryer and a kettle.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Weekend Kaleidoscope VIII

I could have spent 2000 words or more on how truly and utterly awful (never mind unfair) it is to have a cold in (almost) summer and to be a pile of snot and phlegm eager to recover until Monday when the next adventure (Vilnius, Lithuania) awaits rather than make optimal use of the great weather and go swimming outdoors as usual. Ah, well. In order not to bore you more than usual, I've decided to just show you some pics instead.

One more PS on my visit to Ljubljana: Slovenians obviously are not a superstitious people: unlike most airlines who simply don't have a row 13 on any of their planes, Adria Air does! I only noticed this as I was assigned seat 13A and was rather surprised that this existed. Well, I totally agree that it's usually not just one row that crashes and it doesn't make much difference where you sit, but it must be the only airline that does that. Thankfully it was Thursday the 14th and not Friday, the 13th...

1. Saturday excursion to Graz: beautiful shadows on a building in Annenstraße
2. Yep, lovers locks are all the rage in Graz, too
3. I don't mind birthday cake even if it's almost 5 months later! We had lunch at a good friend of my Mum's whose son turned 40 in May and she baked a cake for us two old "kids", yay! She also gave me vouchers that are valid for several shops, including Kastner & Öhler, Austria's most stylish department store by far.
4. After lunch, we drove to Maria Straßengel, which is dubbed the "small St. Stephen's", meaning Vienna's famous church. Mum's friend's daughter got married there 10 years ago and in fact wedding pictures were being taken as we visited.
5. Provence? No, just a lavender patch in Vienna's Märzpark, where I sat on a bench reading on Sunday afternoon.
6. I'm rocking the irridescent look and got a set of three nailpolishes from Asos. The green one is aptly called "Beetle Juice" and really is reminiscent of a stag beetle...
7. The inexpensive birdie ring came with the same Asos box and is by French Connection (I got it on sale). Oh, and the skirt (Esprit, €10) is from last Saturday's excursion to the Parndorf  designer outlet with 2 colleagues...and not the only thing I got there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

LJU: Under Construction

So. I've officially survived day 1 of my "Grand Tour" and had good feedback for the training I gave. Unfortunately, either the airconditioning in my hotel room has made me sick (I have a sore throat) or I cought the nasty Angina virus that has been going around in Vienna - I blame the plane and should have used my long-haul flight "magic potion". Anyway, I got to experience a new part of Ljubljana as I'm staying at this shiny new hotel that not even the taxi-driver at the airport had heard of. Unfortunately, my stylish room neither has a bathtub (although the rainforest shower is very nice) to fight off cold symptoms, nor a kettle for making tea, although I really, really would have loved at least one of these amenities. However, they make really nice coffee:
The hotel, where also the training was held, is located in the middle of a not-so-nice (architecture-wise) commercial district and when I returned, feet soaking wet from heavy rain, from a walk around that area on Monday night, I saw the light on in the top floor of the hotel (see picture below). I knew exactly why. Somebody needed to put in a nightshift as the conference floor was nowhere near finished when we were shown around that afternoon. On Tuesday morning, everything was in perfect shape and there were no technical glitches, either.
The room - those that are finished and in working condition - are nicely decorated. I could have sneaked in some extra slumber-party guests as I have a spare queensize bed:
I got quite excited on Monday night when I discovered some of the shop signs at the mall opposite the hotel, but unfortunately, the M&S was tiny and didn't stock any food and the Bata didn't have any interesting stock either. Well, good for my wallet!
I went to quite a few of those malls, but a) I wasn't really in a shopping-mood after basically a whole day at the McArthur Glenn outlet in Parndorf - an experience which always makes me age a decade and feel more exhausted as I had run a marathon and b) I didn't want to pay full-prize for any brands I knew I would be able to get on sale in a few days time. The only things I bought were two faux leather belts for a total of €12 as I quite like Bershka for cheapo finds and we don't have that shop in Austria. I'm always reminded of my weekend in Amsterdam with the Mermaid and Coco years ago when we had to hunt "the perfect black pair of skinny black jeans" in Bershka for the Mermaid. She didn't buy it right away in the first branch but then we didn't find that one again and it took us a while until another one materialised...

Last night, I went to dinner with the Slovenian colleagues. If you're ever in Ljubljana, I can more than recommend the place, CUBO, where we ate. I had the best tuna steak I have ever eaten, preceded by the best pâté (we shared it and I had announced that I don't really like pâté much...well, I've changed my mind), followed by home-made ice-cream in the flavours tarragon (!), apple strudel and almond. Mouthwateringly yummy. We had red (!) sparkling wine as a starter as well.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Let the Roadshow Begin!

I've briefly mentioned before that as of June I have taken on new tasks within the Firm. This new job role comes with frequent travelling, to SLO, LIT and BG in particular. I'm especially looking forward to Lithuania, as unlike the other two countries, I've never been there. Starting this week, I'll be on the road from Mon-Thurs in each of these three countries, one after the other. This week, I'm in Ljubljana.

Guess what I did when I got confirmation of my new role? Yes, I decided I needed one more suitcase fitting the requirements a)lightweight, b)perfect size for 3-5 days and of course c) stylishness. Ta-dah! Introducing this Travelite beauty I managed to get on sale (reduced to €89):
The Australian, on a recent super-brief visit to Vienna, gave me a cool Pantone address tag which I attached to the suitcase for a bit of colour-blocking-shocking:
Stay tuned for upcoming Balkan and Baltics adventures.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Father's Day Gift Idea

Today is Father's Day in Austria and I thought I'd show you one of the gifts I gave my father this year. I found out about it by coincidence, when an Austrian colleague who works in the Firm's London branch mentioned that together with his brother, he had a business selling "sunwatches". As my Dad has a thing for sundials and always takes pictures of them when he sees one on a church wall, I immediately wanted to order one. The nice colleague insisted on giving it to me for free, but as I'm really impressed by this original idea  and find the price (€ 34.9) very decent as well I said I would spread the word. Your father, husband or boyfriend might not be into sundials as much as my Dad, but most men I know are obsessed with watches to some degree and it might appeal to them as a watch they definitely don't have in their collection yet.

Saturday, June 09, 2012


Ever since coming back from Japan, where I ate at least one onigiri every day, I've been craving umeboshi onigiri somewhat badly. It might sound strange and exaggerated, but believe me when I tell you that this would be my "desert island" food. Just as I ate a staple sandwich pretty much during my whole tenure at Coma HQ, I would have no problem eating onigiri every single day. I still love rucola, too, in case you were wondering. 

Well, Thursday was a holiday and I decided to tackle the project. Armed with a rice cooker, Japanese rice, nori sheets in onigiri wrappers and self-imported umeboshi, I found failproof instructions over at the lovely Maki's blog and set to work:
Her method really works and it's easy to form nice triangular onigiri:
I took one to work on Friday and it still was in good shape after a night in the fridge:
Yum, yum! It was really worth the extra time to prepare the rice the way Maki suggests as the onigiri tasted very authentic, even if I say so myself.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

New Hardware

My beloved BREE wallet with detachable coin purse that I got as a birthday gift from Snow White some years ago was looking rather destroyed after my trip to Japan where I had (ab)used the coin purse a lot and carried it in the back pocket of a pair of dark blue jeans whose dye bled.

It was time for a new wallet. Ideally, I'd have liked the same one again, but sadly they discontinued that line and the problem with most wallets is that they have too few card slots for my needs. I eventually found this gator print leather wallet by Braunbüffel (via BuyVIP):
It has plenty of slots for the cards I use most often (I have a separate little wallet for the zillions of loyalty cards I own. Yep, transparent consumer, c'est moi!):
Let's see how long it takes for this baby to become shabby.
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