Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Scenes from an Amsterdam Coffee Shop

Amsterdam. The city of water. The ultimate contradiction combining regimented canals and identical streets with it's blase attitude and penchant for weed.

A photo posted by Vicki Maitland (@vickimaitland) on

It's hard to believe that it's been over a month since I visited this beautiful city. It feels like no time at all and all the time in the world has passed, which, coincidentally, is how the city feels. Amsterdam manages to hustle and bustle in the most relaxed way of any major city. There is always movement but it's at a pace which doesn't disorient. I think that's partly to do with the amount of bicycle traffic - things feel busier than a pedesterianised city yet not as hectic as a capital where cars pump poison into the air. The ring of a bicycle or tram bell is less imposing than the blare of a car horn or the clamour of tube trains which rumble beneath the pavement. If you get the chance, I recommend renting a bike and cycling around the city for a day. It allows you to experience life as the Dutch do - with ultimate right of way over the roads - and Amsterdam is small enough that you can cross it numerous times in one trip. On our bicycle adventure we cycled out beside the Olympic rowing lake and through a small forest to get to an amazing pancake house (a bonus of visiting the city with a boy who grew up there).

If you do know a local I'd really recommend visiting the city with them. The fact that Kyle knew his way around the center really helped us not to get lost in the maze of canals. They really all do look the same, although by the end of the week I like to think I could indentify the Keizersgracht from the Prinsengracht. 'Like to think' being the operative phrase in that sentence.

You won't be short of things to do and see in Amsterdam. If you have an afternoon to spare, I'd really recommend visiting the Rijksmuseum. It boasts a massive collection of art from the 1600's to the present day, and is well worth spending your time over. I found the pre-renaissance art especially hilarious - in particular these chaps who are all sat on each other and look confused at your judgement of them, or this guy who looks an awful lot like Rowan Atkinson.

I'd also strongly suggest spending some time in the Anne Frank House - although be warned about the queues. Me and Rosie stood in the line for two and a half hours to get into the house, but it was worth the wait. Obviously I don't have any photos from inside the house, but I was struck by how bare it was. At the request of Otto Frank (Anne's Father) the rooms have been emptied of all furniture. I have conflicting opinions of this, as it simultaneously made the house feel very clinical and very large. With furniture I think the rooms would have felt a lot more cramped, yet it would also have felt homely. I was most struck by the pictures Anne had taped to the walls. It reminded me of how very young she was - just a teenage girl sticking pictures to her wall, writing in her diary about her life. Anne was remarkable but also completely unremarkable, which is what is so sad about her. Her name could be replaced by countless others and the story would still be filled with sorrow. Yet, I am glad that we celebrate the life of this young girl, and her spirit against adversity.

Here, I am going to take a moment to remember Anne, and the millions of others who died at the hands of the Nazi's.

Picture obtained from www.annefrank.org

Yet, if Amsterdam is a city bound by its history, it is also a city bound by the present - and one glance down the Red Light District is enough to show that. It's a peculiar place and not at all what I was expecting. The girls in the window (although as scantily clad as I had expected) looked... bored. Most of them were on their phones, or painting their nails. They looked like shop girls stuck on the till during a particularly dull evening shift. It made me feel really uncomfortable, but at the same time it stopped me from dehumanising them. Sex workers are very easy to disregard - and are often done so in the media. Sex is a business in Amsterdam, and it is treated like a transaction. Thinking of it in such clinical terms is odd for me, but somehow makes perfect sense in this city. The girls look like their on a boring shop shift because they are, and whether or not they enjoy their line of work is neither here nor there. Personally, the fact that the female body (and it is the female body) is being sold more male pleasure (and it is male pleasure) makes me very uncomfortable. At the same time, walking around those streets, I found it hard to criticise.

You also cannot escape weed in this city. The smell of it drifts by down the canal and through the park. Clouds of sweet smoke escape from coffee shops. It is as integral to the city as it's waterways are. I really admired Amsterdam's attitude to drugs. There is etiquette about where to smoke (not in shops, not around children) even more so than Britain's attitude to cigarettes. Even if you don't want to participate, I'd recommend sitting outside a coffee shop with a glass of fresh mint tea and enjoying the atmosphere.

A photo posted by Vicki Maitland (@vickimaitland) on
I stayed at Hostel Orfeo, in between Museumplein and the city center. It was as you'd expect from a hostle - ie simple breakfast, simple rooms, simple beds, simple shower. It was comfortable enough, though, and the staff were all very helpful (some slightly too helpful - I fully realised I was bad at drafts and didn't need to be explained how to play, thank you!). I couldn't fault it's location.

In short I had a thoroughly good time in Amsterdam, and it is one of the few major foreign cities I could imagine myself living in (partly because the Dutch speak such good English). I'd love to go back some day, and pick up some of the delicious cheese!

A photo posted by Vicki Maitland (@vickimaitland) on

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Le Tour De France (2015)

** Some of the images in this post contain blood and gore **

It's that time of year again. The sun is shining. The birds are singing. And 190 or so men have donned their lyrca, picked up their bikes, and began the most epic sporting event of the year. Le Tour de France!

A photo posted by Le Tour de France (@letourdefrance) on

As its the second (and last) rest day of the race, with another week left of biking to do, I thought it was about time for my annual gushing about the event.

The racers have dropped from 198 to around 176. The number of dropouts include two yellow jersey holders, the first (Fabian Cancellara) after he somersaulted over his bike and fractured two vertibrae. The second (Tony Martin) after he crashed and broke his collar bone. Both men finished the stage before the doctors ordered them to abandon the race.

A photo posted by Le Tour de France (@letourdefrance) on

Many men race on through their injuries, however. Indeed, none of the riders can hope to come out of the race unscathed. One rider, Romain Bardet, rode with sun stroke, vomiting every few miles, and the next day came third on the stage. Another, Jean-Christophe Peraud, took off a vast amount of skin, and found himself (heavily bandaged) in the breakaway the next day.

A photo posted by Le Tour de France (@letourdefrance) on

These men are hard core.

A photo posted by Le Tour de France (@letourdefrance) on

The dedication to their sport is why I love it. They put their bodies through torture every single day, and for many the reward of crossing the line on the Champs-Elysee is enough.

The work the domestiques put in (often to their own detriment) in order to get their team leader in the coveted yellow jersey is epic. It is over twice as hard to ride on the front of the pack than on the second wheel, so these men put themselves in front of their main guy in order to save his legs, whilst they work themselves till all they can do is swing off and slide down to the back. It says a lot about the skill of Geraint Thomas that he is in sixth place whilst his team leader is in first - few domestiques can rank so highly after spending an hour protecting Chris Froome up a 6% climb.

They race at speeds averaging 40kmph. Even uphill. The motorbikes can't keep up with them on the  descents.

Its hard not to have respect for those men who race clean and push their bodies to the limits for the love of the sport. When urine was thrown in Chris Froome's face the other day it was hard not to be furious. When Mark Cavendish gave his post-stage-win interview it was hard not to smile with him.

This is a sport that inspires emotion. You only need look at the 10-12 million fans who line the backroads of France to get a glimpse of the race to see that.

A photo posted by Le Tour de France (@letourdefrance) on

If any of this has stirred anything in you, I urge you to tune into ITV4 at 7pm, if nothing else than to hear Phil Liggett's dulcet tones.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Book Un-Haul

Moving back home meant moving all the books I had acquired at uni (whether for my course or for pleasure) back onto my already straining bookshelves. This meant I had to do the most difficult thing for a book lover to do and get rid of some of my books.

I reconciled myself with the thought that if I get rid of books I don't want to re-read then I can fill up my shelves with new books that I do want to read!

In total I've bagged up about 30 books and a handful of 'world book day' short stories.

These are books I loved as a teen and am donating to a family friend who is just about to turn 12. Hopefully she will love then as much as I did!

These are books that didn't live up to my expectations. None of them are awful, but I'm not going to re-read them any time soon.
This is my collection of books I had to read for university but I'm not going to read again. In the case of The Pilgrims Progress and Shamela it's because I didn't enjoy them at all the first time round. Swimming Home and The Heart Of The Country were books I appreciated but didn't enjoy. The Story of Art was a book my sister had to buy for her course, but they never used.

This is a collection of books I picked up thinking I'd read but they've sat on my shelf for years unlooked at. It's time for someone to enjoy them.

Finally, this is a miss-match of books I've grown out of or have more than one copy of (in the case of Jasper Fforde).
At first was really hard to sort these books out from books I want to keep, but once I got started it became really cathartic and I feel so much better for de-cluttering.

If there are any books here that take your fancy let me know - I would love to know that they are going to a good home (unfortunately I can't afford postage, but they would be free other than that!!)

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

A Letter To July

Dear July,

You are always the month of exhaustion and optimism. I spent many stuffy school days waiting for release so I could go and play in your warmth. Now I'm an adult, and school has closed it's doors, but you are still filled with the hopes of summer holidays, of barbecues, of languishing in parks and on beaches with best friends and family, and of good books waiting to have their pages turned under your sun.

The exhaustion is still there too. This year, I am filled with the exhaustion of moving. Boxes upon boxes of possessions requiring homes. Drawers filled to bursting with 21 years worth of memories to sort and discard. I am filled with the exhaustion of my impending future. The great unknown that raises me onto my tip toes in the hope of viewing it more clearly. I want so badly to rock back onto my heels, to feel the solidity of earth beneath my feet, yet I totter up here.

July, you are also the month of Le Tour de France. Every year it captures me and sweeps me along in its epic 3 week long madness. This year will be no different, and already as I write this letter to you the men in lyrca are racing on the television screen behind me.

You are going to be different this year though, July. You will forever be the summer I graduated from University. You will hold a special place in my heart, and you will stand out from summers past and future.

July, you smell of hot tiles, beaches, and flame cooked food. And I can't wait to spend the month with you.

Yours, as always

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Summer Sunset Cruelty Free High Street Make-Up

This is the make-up look I have been wearing pretty much everyday. It's super quick, but looks like takes a lot longer. I also think it works great for a day-to-night transition.

I'm wearing Collection Longer Lasting Concealer in shade 1 Fair under my eyes. I've previously spoken about Collection's somewhat dubious animal testing policy, but after trying out Barry M's Light Reflecting Concealer it doesn't match up to the coverage of the Collection one. If you know any good coverage concealers (preferably with a doe-foot applicator) please let me know!

I've dusted a little light eye-shadow over my lids, but that's just as a base for the main event: B. Stunning Vibrant Eye Shimmer in Golden Sand. This is a beautiful creamy eye-shadow that lasts all day, and has a lovely golden shimmer.

To get the lovely warm summer look, I've used the bronzer from Barry M's Chisel Cheeks Contouring pallette. This is the only part of the look that takes any time, and it's just because I really want to blend this shade out so it looks super smokey and warm.

I find that I can't really wear eyeliner with this cream eye-shadow so I make extra effort to curl my lashes before applying M&S All-in-One Mascara.

On my lips I alternate between e.l.f's Lip Gloss Stick in Tikki Torches and Hema's Moisturising Lip Stick in 07. I also use both of those on my cheeks to add a bit of warmth to my face. Tikki Torches is a more orange colour, where-as Hema's lipstick is a rosier colour. Both have lovely golden flecks in them so they really tie the look together.

I finish off with a light dusting of e.l.f's Pressed Powder in Buff just to get rid of the suncream shine!