Saturday, 30 May 2015

What I Actually Packed for 4 Days in Spain

Closet Content Analysis: Items for a 4-Day Trip  

Choices: Things I Didn't Need

NICE          NECESSARY          NEED

We left Spain on Friday, after four days of Rioja wine tours, tastings, long lunches and pinchos/tapas for dinner. It was cooler than we had hoped for. Checking the weather is very important for short trips and limited baggage space.

I wrote about my planning and packing in a previous post. This is what I actually packed and the "bullets" suggest that I either didn't wear it or it could have been optional for this particular trip:

travel clothes to Spain: skinny blue jeans, white cotton sweater, black loafers 
black North Face "Summit Series" hooded jacket 
black skinny jeans
• black knee-length walking shorts
• beige/camel linen wide leg pants 
black v-neck short-sleeved t-shirt
white v-neck short-sleeved t-shirt
• 2 striped Armor-Lux tops 
black blazer
• black sleeveless sheath dress 
cashmere shawl
• cotton jacket-length bathrobe
black loafers
• black sandals
beige loafers
return travel clothes: black shorts, striped Armor-Lux top, black loafers

I didn't wear the black sleeveless sheath dress because we never went to any upscale restaurants. Perhaps if it was warmer I could have worn it when we went for "pinchos" (AKA tapas) one night but that might have been considered overdressed. I didn't need the two striped tops, even though I did wear them both, one would have been fine. I did wear but really it wasn't necessary to have my shorts, but that was because there was definitely a spring coolness to the breeze when the sun went behind the clouds. I never did wear my sandals. I only wore the beige pants once because after the first wearing the olive oil couldn't be camouflaged and so I probably won't bother with them for such a short trip.

NICE: I was glad I took a blazer, it made me feel comfortable in the higher end bodegas. However I would take a patterned or coloured blazer next time because I had too many black pieces.

Photo Source: North Face
NECESSARY: I definitely needed my North Face jacket and my shawl. Mine is in classic black and I wear it in the spring, summer and fall and layered in the winter. This is one of the best purchases I have ever made.

NEED: Because I had so much black, I definitely needed some scarves for colour. Next time . . . 

Packing and Wearing Travel Tips:  

1. If you take white or beige pants, plan to wear them on the last days of your stay. I wore mine the first day and for our pinchos tasting in the evening. By the time I arrived back at the apartment, I had two moderate splotches of olive oil on both knees. Obviously the tiny paper wipes (you can't even call them serviettes) did not serve me well while eating pinchos.

2. For those who are a tad squeamish, wear closed in shoes when you go for pinchos in the evening. The slips of paper wipes end up on the floor around the area where people are standing, eating and drinking (that's right - no containers for garbage). As I noted the debris up against the bar, I did think of an acquaintance who probably would not have been very comfortable with the prospect of a stranger's serviette being tossed upon her manicured toes. Everybody's "grunge tolerance" is different.

3. If you are traveling by car or train between places, choose dark clothing that is easy to wash as your travel clothes and use them only for that purpose. It depends on your number-of-wears-comfort-zone but at least this way you will know that you will have a set of relatively clean clothes for your travel days.

Friday, 22 May 2015

The Perfect Fit

Last year while in France I gained 6 kg in 6 months. Mon dieu - OMG - but when I returned to Canada, I embarked upon a previous regime that served me well and while in Canada for five months, I lost it. Now I'm back in France for 9 months this time. I will not do that again. I can not do that again. 

One of the first things we did this time was join a gym. It proved to be a bit of a shock. We paid more for two people for 6 months than both our memberships cost for an entire year in Canada. And the gym in Ste. Foy La Grande is adequate but comparatively speaking, mediocre. It's not open civic holidays or Sundays and closes at two in the afternoon on Saturdays. With North American gyms open from early morning to late at night or 24/7, it took some rethinking on our part to accept these very French hours of operation.

It's not so much that I want to lose any weight at this time but I certainly don't want to gain and I want to eat foie gras, rillettes de canard and creme everything! I want to have apero and enjoy the white wine and the red wine and the rosé. I also want to eat baguette and cheese after I have already had two courses . . . and then there's dessert. But of course, there's pain au chocolate for breakfast; how could I forget? So you see, the gym membership is worth every penny. There's also a scale there and I can weigh myself once a week so that I can keep on top of it. Last year I just kept eating and squeezing into my clothing claiming that if I could get a particular item on, then I was OK. Wrong! I did not account for the stretch factor nor did I pay attention to how tight everything became. I could still zip it up or pull it on, even though I feared that seams would burst while I was shopping for camembert made from lait cru (raw milk).

That's the ticket - the fit. When something fits perfectly, you look good and feel good. Even at 6 kilos later, I was able to zip up my pants, but I did have waistband imprints for the rest of the day after half an hour of wearing them. But you see, I could still zip them up so I rationalized saying, "well of course, a pound or two will do that". No! Ten pounds or so will do that!

Very often I have heard women say that "nothing fits right" when they are out shopping for new clothing. The problem is, of course, that these women are trying on clothing that is simply too small. It probably was the size they last bought, and instead of going into a larger size, they just give up and say that nothing is fitting properly. Forget the numbers is probably the best advice to follow. So if you were a six and now a ten, suck it up (maybe don't suck it up, I tried that) and wear clothing that fits at the size ten that you actually are. In that way you will feel beautiful and comfortable and not like a stuffed sausage. You will look better, feel better and enjoy everything you do rather than looking as if you squeezed yourself into a size or two smaller, are barely able to bend over, and thereby feeling every bit of the excess weight. 

It is quite remarkable how much better you feel and look if your clothing fits properly. In the meantime, I don't plan to go shopping for awhile, instead I will remain in my easy-to-put-on clothing and maintain the comfort of the size in my present closet. 

3 Month Update (August 11, 2015): 
Going to the gym regularly except when we have guests.  
Haven't gained any weight. (Yay!)  
Eating what I want (most of the time). 
Enjoying the south-west of France.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Preparing for an Itinerary of Tasting in Spain

There are always space limitations when you travel and that applies to other transport vehicles besides planes. We will be taking a rental car of moderate size to the Rioja area of Spain at the end of May. There are two significant factors to consider: there will be four of us therefore space for luggage is limited and the intent of the trip is to buy wine. Since we will be in France, this time for 9 months, we will be buying in cases not in single bottle designations. Less luggage, ergo more room for wine.

The weather should be wonderful during our time there so the focus of the research as we get closer to the date, will be the morning and evening temperatures. The general weather conditions up until May 25th is forecasted to be cloudy and rainy. A break is expected on the 25th. How opportune! We are leaving the south-west of France on the 25th and even though month long forecasts are not as reliable, the suggestion is that it will be in the mid-20s with partial cloud the following week. 

Sounds like perfect weather for wine tasting. Too hot and that activity becomes, if not impossible, downright dangerous. The chemistry that takes place in our bodies creates accelerated dehydration even if we drink water to compensate. Add extreme heat temperatures and you become even more dehydrated. There's also this to consider - peripheral blood vessels near your skin dilate and that means more blood and heat flows to these vessels. (This is why you see inebriated blokes prancing about in shirt-sleeves in minus 0 weather.) Add accelerated heat flow to the dehydration and the heat that you are absorbing from the environment and you have the conditions for heat exhaustion and even heat stroke. Calculate your weight into this formula, the less you weigh, the less alcohol it can take to dehydrate. My solution or at least my attempt at keeping hydrated is to drink a glass of water before drinking alcohol, alternate water and alcohol and then a glass of water with electrolytes, to replace sodium and potassium, before going to bed. This is all well and good if you remain relatively alert and conscientious. But the purpose of this blog is to assist in deciding what clothing to take rather than how much alcohol to consume.

Wearing Burberry in Turkey, Spring. Photo by JoyD.
It is still spring and although the day temperatures are summer-like, the morning and evening temperatures may require long sleeves and even a jacket. My lightweight North Face Summit Series jacket, which rolls up to a very small size, my black blazer and my cashmere shawl should keep me from any chill that is in the morning or evening air. An all weather jacket or coat such as my old Burberry 3/4 length coat should be taken as well (if rain is in the forecast) - not much for style but great functionality.

Purple Lug Bag for Weekend Travel. Photo by JoyD.
I'm not going to bother packing shorts at all since we are in a city setting and will be tasting wine at bodegas. If anything I will take a skirt but two pairs of pants should service this trip well enough. My LBD is questionable. It will depend on whether we will be formally dining or just grazing on "pinchos" AKA "tapas" in the evening. I'll need at least four or five tops along with the other need-not-mentionables, and a couple of pairs of shoes (a pair of flats and a pair of dressier sandals). Since the four of us are renting an apartment together, I do need something that is acceptable and comfortable to wear in front of others. My cotton "shirt and pants" pyjamas along with a short (jacket length) light cotton robe will be appropriate. All will fit into my Lug bag and I'm good to go.

It's not hard to decide what to take when the itinerary includes eating and tasting and not much else.

Take a look at what I eventually packed by clicking here, "What I Actually Did Pack for Four Days in Spain". 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Retro . . . No Thanks . . .

Closet Content Analysis: Two 1970s Trends  

Choices: Won't Do It Again!


Several publicity emails have arrived celebrating the retro looks of the 70s which are apparently the trend for the spring and summer of 2015. I once read or heard an expression that if you have lived through and embraced one particular trend, do not wear it the second time around. I agree completely. I don't think I could bring myself to wear bell bottoms again. I have written about re-doing trends before, when I re-visited platform shoes

Tom Ford Bell Bottoms, 2015. Photo Source: Holt Renfrew
Check out Holts Muse for more Retro Looks. Can you believe we ever wore bell bottoms? And can you believe they, whomever they is, want us to wear them again? Sigh . . . I do not know what it is, from a strictly analytical point of view, but I just don't like the design. I must have been 11 or 12 when bell bottoms first became popular and I pestered my mother until she acquiesced. Now that I am older than my mother was at that time, I can understand her hesitation completely. Yet I cannot tell you exactly what it is about them that I do not like.

Photo Source: Michael Kors
Then there's the crocheted dress. Another "no thanks" for me. I never liked them in the 70's and they didn't come back much better. However, as with most trends there are those who love how Michael Kors has brought back the crocheted dress. Of course, it would be cute on a teenage body - I'll give it that and I suppose it is for those whom the trends are meant.  If you love the crocheted dress, it's best you visit another site like the Independent with their 10 best crocheted dresses post.

My husband suggested that I might want to stop writing at this moment because all these thoughts may insidiously lead to macramé and tie-dying.

Sunday, 3 May 2015

My Favourite Accessories to Pack & Duty Considerations

NICE: The following five accessories are with me on most trips abroad. In this post, I have provided some Canadian duty questions to consider, particularly on "designer" items.

1. In my April 26th post, I identified my favourite clothing to pack when traveling and in that list I included the two pairs of shoes I feel I must always take - my ballet flats and my Jimmy Choo heels. I wish I had kept my Jimmy Choo receipt from Holt Renfrew (you'll see my concern when you read #3); however, they are worn and do not look "brand new" anymore so I doubt I will ever have any customs official ask me about them.

Holt Renfrew Cashmere shawl. Photo by JoyD.
2. My Holt Renfrew cashmere shawl which serves as blanket on planes, a coverup for a cool spring or summer evening or a head covering and scarf in the winter. It's always in my carry-on no matter where in the world I go or what season it happens to be. It's old enough and worn looking enough that I do not worry about any customs agent asking me about this item either. I know I couldn't produce the receipt but I do know that I bought it in Vancouver in 2012 or was it 2013? The HR logo also establishes that it was made for Holt Renfrew for sale in Canada and most likely purchased in Canada.

Photo Source: Swarovski
3.  My Swarovski slake bracelet which does have the receipt indicating where and when I bought it. After having travelled to many places with several accessories bought in foreign locations, I now make sure I enclose my receipts with my "designer" pieces. I have never been questioned in this way but have heard that others have had experiences similar to the following. A friend's dad, from Calgary, was returning to Canada from the United States. He was wearing a designer brand cashmere pullover. The customs agent questioned him and asked if he had a receipt for it. The answer was that it was a sweater bought previously in Europe and not on this particular trip. Again the agent asked for a receipt. He didn't have one and so, taking all the factors into consideration, he took the sweater off and threw it in the garbage. It was old enough that it didn't owe him anything and damned if he was going to pay more taxes on an item that was previously purchased elsewhere. Now I'm not exactly sure (at least at the time of this writing) but if an item is more than six months old, you do not have to pay duty on it, even if it was purchased in the country from which you are travelling. In other words, anything I buy right now in France and return to Canada with in February will not require me to pay duty . . . but I have to prove it with a receipt. In the case of my friend's father, how many people keep receipts on older items? Not many, that is before they have read this story. Of course, the agent could have kept the sweater, his dad may have found the receipt at home and then sent it to Customs and the sweater would have been returned. Having the receipt is the clincher.

Lancel Flirt Bag and Wallet purchased in 2011. Photo by JoyD.
4.  My Lancel bag and wallet, which are dated and don't look brand new. are probably two pieces which should have the receipt enclosed since they are higher ticket items. However, I only understood the importance of keeping receipts for previously purchased items after I found out about my friend's dad's experience. If an agent would ever ask me about this bag and wallet, I could identify where and when I bought it without hesitation. Hopefully, along with the wear and tear on the items, that would be adequate and since I did pay duty on these two items in 2011, I imagine that would be on file. At least I hope it would be on file.

Turquoise and large link necklace. Made by JoyD.
5.  My handmade (made by me) turquoise and chain necklace could be another questionable customs issue if it was newly made while I was in France. This one is an oldie but a goodie and so I have no worries. However the following is a new piece of information that certainly is interesting. As far as I understand, again from a friend's experience, if an article of clothing or perhaps a piece of fashion jewellery, does not have a designation of where it was made, Canadian duty is not to be collected on it. The case of my friend was that he had several linen shirts custom made for him while in Thailand. The shirts identified the tailor on the tag but not where they were made. As a result he did not have to pay duty on these items even though they were purchased on this particular trip. My jewellery has no trademark or identifying "made in . . . " reference therefore it should be duty free even if I made it in France during my stay here.

But of course it's all open to interpretation and the last person I want to oppose is a Canadian customs agent unless of course I have proof and know that I am right. I travel too much and want to continue travelling without any grief and so I will be more diligent in keeping my receipts. 

I'm curious . . . if you have any "customs" stories, no matter where in the world you live, please comment; I'd love to hear about your experiences.

Friday, 1 May 2015

Comfort for the Long Haul

Being the spring in Canada, I should not be surprised to see hooded sweatshirts and blue jeans, along with some sort of clunky sandal as the traveling uniform for both male and female bodies in the Calgary airport. Changing location to the Chinook Lounge did not produce much of an improvement. 

After the eight hour flight to Amsterdam and a two hour reprieve in the Lounge at D25 the attire significantly improved. The generalization that Europeans tend to dress better than North Americans is once again evident, irrespective of whether you are milling about the public areas of an airport or in the private lounges.

It seems that the North American obsession with comfort renders us incapable of dressing smartly. Yet when clothing fits well, whether it be a blazer or a hoodie, it should feel comfortable. I have concluded that for the most part, the reason people feel uncomfortable in a blazer is that it simply doesn't fit. We tend to have "good" wear and "comfortable" wear. Because we wear the good stuff less often, we end up wearing certain pieces that we have outgrown. Even a cotton hooded sweatshirt will be uncomfortable if it does not fit well. We buy these items more often and so the fit will always be better. The point is definitely moot.

If I sound judgemental, I apologize. Don't get me wrong, you should feel comfortable on an eight hour flight so do what it takes.

NICE: I often take a "pyjama" outfit with me - a t-shirt and drawstring linen pants/yoga pants/cotton sweats or some such combination and change for part of the long haul. Psychologically you feel as if you have had a night's sleep even if it was only three or four hours or interrupted. For those who say they can't be bothered, there isn't that much to do but sit so why not trick yourself into believing you will have a restful voyage and wake up refreshed.

NECESSARY: An eye mask, ear plugs and socks. Even though I believe my cashmere shawl is a necessity and I had it with me, I didn't use it this time. The airplane temperature was comfortable and I found the airline blanket adequate.

NO THANKS: Anything tight or stiff that feels like it is sticking to you so no thanks to skinny jeans and synthetics in flight.

Bon voyage!