Sunday, 31 August 2014

Who's in my sidebar... August Edition

Welcome to the August edition of ‘Who’s in my sidebar’! Lipsticks and Lashes now offers advertising packages, and I am beyond excited to introduce this month’s sponsor, Shivon whose You Tube channel is shivonmakeupbiz’. I love sharing other bloggers and you tubers I come across, especially when their channels are as fab as Shivon’s!
What Shivon has to say...
A creative You Tube channel dedicated to make up tutorials, reviews and fashion posts. I'm 19, a Gemini, love purple eye shadow and live in the South-East of England!”
I have spent a ridiculous amount of time checking out Shivon’s videos and I though id share with you my top 3...
I love a smokey eye, but am terrible at applying without looking like I’ve been punched in the face! Shivon’s tutorials are so easy to follow and she is really clear about what she’s doing. I am definitely planning on having a go at this one myself!
If you only have time to only watch one of Shivon’s videos then please, please check this one out! It pretty much sums up my love of makeup and why I’m a beauty blogger!
My favorite beauty vloggers are ones who make their makeup look like a piece of art work. It inspires me and I adore the looks they pull off. This is one of the first videos of Shivon's I watched, inspired by sunsets she uses this to experiment on her eyes and the result is stunning!
If you’d like to advertise with ‘Lipsticks and Lashes’ in September check out my sponsor page for more details and any questions please get in touch!
To celebrate Lipsticks and Lashes second birthday and reaching 1000 bloglovin followers, I am now offering a 50% discount code for anyone who decides to advertise with us during the next month! Just email for the code.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Book Club: What a Girl Wants by Lindsey Kelk

The Blurb
Being arrested in your own bedroom is never a good start to the day. Tess Brookes really needs to sort out her back-stabbing flatmate – and her life
Should she gamble all on the new photography job she’s landed, or snap up the offer from long-time crush and best friend Charlie to start up on their own – in more ways than one? There’s just one small thing she hasn’t mentioned. Or rather, one tall thing. He’s handsome, infuriating and called Nick…
For the first time, Tess has to choose between the life she always dreamed of and a future she never imagined possible. From London to Milan, with high fashion and low behaviour thrown in, she’s going to have to make up her mind what a girl really wants…
The Review
I feel so unbelievable torn!! There's nothing worse than a book coma, when you finish a book and you don't know what to do with yourself as you were immersed in a story with amazing characters and then it's all over and you’re not sure you'll ever find a book to compare. Hence, I love a series, it's crap those few months (or in some cases a year or more!) that you are waiting for the next instalment but you feel so relieved that it's not over just yet!! I want to feel that way about this book, it's number 2 in this series and I am in a severe book trauma state, wanting to know what happens next, happy there is a follow up but gutted I've got to wait till next year!! Boo! Are you following my rambles so far?!
Anyway, enough of my emotional state, let's get back to an actual review of this book. I have such a girl crush on Lindsey Kelk, her books are all fab, if you've not read her I heart series I can only assume you've been living under a rock. As I mentioned above this is the second book in this series, the first titled ‘About a Girl’ saw Tess high jack her evil flatmates identity after losing her job in advertising and sleeping with her best boy mate, Charlie. She hightails it under her new identity to Hawaii and pretends to be a fashion photographer for a week, whilst falling for the charms of the gorgeous journalist nick. Check out my full review of about a girl here.
So 'what a girl wants' picks up Tess arriving back in London and follows here taking photographs in Milan for the lovely Al who she met in Hawaii. Our Tess is in a quandary with so many decisions to make from choosing  to continue a career in advertising to pursuing a new avenue in photography. She also needs to decide on her leading man, team nick or team Charlie?! For me this is the biggie!!
Dear Lindsey, of by any chance you see this review pretty please let her end up with nick, he may have emotional issues but he is so perfect for Tess! Charlie is a wet blanket who doesn't appear to give her fanny gallops!! Lots of hugs gem x
There are also plenty of laugh out loud moments mainly brought on by out leading ladies eccentrics pals, Amy and kekipi. Both eccentric and fun in their own way, I really enjoyed that we got to see a whole lot more of them in this book and got to know more of their back ground.
How much do I want to visit Milan right now? Lindsey does an amazing job at making the reader feel like she's experiencing the location of wherever here book may be set from New York, Hawaii, London to Paris. She didn't fail here either, she really made me swoon for Milan from the fashion shopping to the food!
By the end of the book you feel like Tess is sorta getting her shit together. She's starting to put herself first and figure out what she wants rather than putting everyone else first. However I do have that awful end of a tv series, cliff hanger, ridiculous need to know what happens next! I might have to start a petition for the next book to be brought forward!
PS if you haven't started reading these books yet, go get involved! It's a fab, funny read that will have you giggling and crying along with the emotional ups and downs of our heroine!

Friday, 22 August 2014

2nd Blogiversary & a few things i have gained from blogging!

I can’t believe I’m sat here writing about my 2 year blogiversary! Two whole years of blogging have just flown by! I’ve definitely had my ups and downs over those years, but I still love ‘Lipsticks and Lashes’, my happy little corner of the interweb. So to mark this very cool milestone I thought I would share with you what I have gained from blogging over this time….

A wonderful space where I can write to my heart’s desire – one of my aims in starting this blog was to improve my writing as one of my ambitions is to write a book one day. My love of writing has only soared since starting ‘Lipsticks and Lashes
My confidence has sky rocketed! I used to be a huge worrier, I still am to an extent but I now care less about what people think and am so much more happier. Doing my ‘Motivational Monday’ posts every week has definitely helped with this!
One of the things I appreciate most is the awesome blogging community. I love being part of such a supportive network, via twitter and all the blogger chats you can join in with. They really inspire me and give me a kick up the bum when I’m in a rut. Then there are the wonderful folk who stop by here and comment or email. Not forgetting The Bloggers Snail Mail Project (Shameful plug, have you signed up yet?!). All of the above have led me to interact with some fab people in the blogging community.
Through my blog I’ve also improved my juggling skills (not the circus variety!). I am ten times better than I used to be at juggling my time and commitments thanks to my blogging. I am still by no means organised (I would love to be one of those people!) but having to create a balance between 2 jobs, a social life and blogging I have had to learn and have made huge improvements in this area.
Before I started ‘Lipsticks and Lashes’ I was in dire need of a creative outlet, I just didn’t know what form that would take. Then blogging came along and has allowed me to be creative in so many ways! I think this also links back to my previous point around confidence. Being able to do things I love and be as creative as I can has definitely put me in such a happy place. I am much more confident and relaxed compared to 2 years ago!
I also just want to say a massive thank you to every one of you who pop by, spares the time to read my waffle, and those who then spare the time to comment, tweet and email me. It really does make my day and never fails to put a smile on my face!

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Nails // DIY Glitter Tips

For someone who is obsessed with painting her nails, mainly because it stops me from biting them, I am pretty unadventurous. This makes me feel a bit ashamed really when there are so many cool nail art products out there, I think I worry they will look awful and tacky.
However this week I decided to be a little creative and decided to attempt doing my own glitter tips. For the base colour I used Models Own Hyper Gel Polish in Lilac Sheen, this is one of my favorite colours this summer and has become my go to nail colour. I put on two coats of this polish and let it dry.
When it was fully dry I used a sponge makeup brush (you can pick these pretty cheap in places like Superdrug) to dab on the glitter. For my glitter polish I used another Models Own polish in Southern Lights. It’s quite a fine glitter and very pretty and colour so I thought it would complement the lilac. I just dabbed the glitter to the tips of my nails but if you wanted you could easily do more or make patterns.
I am pretty impressed with my handy work and have had some lovely compliments. I think next time I am going to use the same technique and attempt ombre nails!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Lets talk about depression

Today’s post is something that’s been playing on my mind for the past week or so, it’s very different to what I would usually post on here. It is a step away from the usual positive vibes I try to spread but I hope that it has some sort of response and gets people at least thinking.
On the 11th August one of my favourite actors passed away, Robin Williams, a truly talented actor and warm soul. He sadly took his own life and was suffering from depression. Since his tragic passing it has raised a lot of talk around depression and I have been shocked as I have seen numerous negative and uneducated comments about the subject. It has riled me and made me want to talk about it, so here I am.
Now I am no doctor so I can’t pretend to know the scientific or medical explanation of depression, but as someone who has lived with people who have / had severe depression as well as working with young people who have a variety of mental health issues including depression, I feel strongly about the issue.
Depression is the worst kind of illness, it’s not something visible, and you can’t stick a plaster on it and leave it to heal.  It’s something that makes the strongest person fragile. It creates an all consuming darkness so the person can no longer remember a better time.
Depression can’t be solved by fixing a particular problem and all will be well again, it takes you to a very dark place and there is no light. Its horrendous for those around the person suffering as if doesn’t matter how much good you think they have in their life, how much love they have around them, in the depths of depression it doesn’t matter. It’s heart breaking.
Depression is very real and according to stats it affects one in three of us each and every day. So today I would like to ask you to take a few minutes to be more considerate of every one you meet today, for you have no idea what silent battle they may be facing and one kind gesture can go a long way.
I’d like to end this post with the most heart warming tribute I’ve seen to Robin Williams, a man who spread happiness throughout the world and will be sorely missed

Monday, 18 August 2014

Motivational Monday #24

I can’t believe its Monday again already! How fast has the past week gone?! I can’t complain though as my past week involved a trip to London to see my sister, lots of catching up with various friends and a wedding! All in all a pretty fab week, which I hope will continue into this one!
I love today’s quote, it means so much to me at the moment. I am terrible guilty of being laid back / lazy and just letting things happen rather than taking control myself. Over the past 6 months I feel like I have had a bit of wake up call and have realised if I want to achieve the things I would like to do, it is completely down to me to do that. Each and every one of us makes big and small choices every day and they all have consequences. These choices make us who we are.
I think we can all blame others for things going wrong etc but at the end of the day we made those choices. My aim at the moment it is to be a more positive person to achieve my aims and goals, this will involve making choices and being responsible for those decisions. If I am unhappy with my choices then I need to take action!! I am determined to get to where I want to be!
Happy Monday Lovelies!

Sunday, 17 August 2014

L'oreal L'Extraordinaire Liquid Lipstick by Color Riche in Fuschia Drama



I bought this product late one night whilst being ridiculously naughty and browsing the boots website for treats I can’t afford. I am meant to be saving but am absolutely shocking at it! My excuse that night was that I needed to order some sunscreen and bits for my upcoming holiday at the end of the month. So I got all the bits I needed as well as a few other pieces! Whooops!
So when I’m talking about ‘this product’ its L'oreal L'Extraordinaire Liquid Lipstick by Color Riche in Fuschia Drama, when I ordered it I was expecting to receive something along the lines of Rimmels Apocalips, however when I started using it, it soon became clear that it’s not a lipstick, I repeat, ITS NOT A LIPSTICK! It is in fact very much a lipgloss.
I want to feel cheated and lied to by the name of name product, however, errrr I kind of do love this product! I hate saying ‘product’ but they’ve called it a lipstick when it’s not, so I shall say ‘product’, can you tell this annoys me?!
I am a fan of the old lipgloss, let’s get it back in trend!! Matte lips just ain't my style. Fuschia Drama is however the one thing that is true however I would rename it Fuschia Dream, I love a pop of pink and this doesn’t disappoint. It goes on a lovely shade of glossy pink and isn’t sticky and stays put. The perfect LIPGLOSS NOT LIPSTICK!! I also like the packaging, its very sleek and smart.
So if you are looking for a lipgloss with a pop of colour I would definitely recommend this range. It’s a really good quality product, one that’s already become a go to lip product of mine!


Friday, 15 August 2014

The Autumn Bloggers Snail Mail - Sign Ups Now Open!

Welcome to the Autumn round of The Bloggers Snail Mail! Way back at the beginning of March I launched the first ‘The Bloggers Snail Mail’ and this is now going to be the third round!! I’ve had so much positive feedback from the first two rounds that I just had to keep going and do another!
So here is how it works:
A quarterly gift exchange where you can meet other bloggers from around the world and spread a bit of positivity! People get paired up in March, June, September and December. During the sign up period, every participant will be paired with one other new participant and you’ll spend a few weeks becoming BFFs (i.e. reading each other’s blogs, sending happy e-mails, you name it!). After that, you’ll send your partner a gift from your country that you think they may like from the info you now know about them. There’s a £5 limit on the gifts to make this project as affordable as possible. Be as creative as you can and make it meaningful! Motivate them, tell them all the beautiful things you learned about them, and make them feel special! We could all use a little encouragement, especially from our new friends. Also, each package should include a postcard (or a letter if you can’t find one!) with some motivating love or positive words of wisdom written all over it.
So to sign up for the ‘The Bloggers Snail Mail’ you just need to send an email to, title it ‘The Bloggers Snail Mail’ and include in it your name, where you are from, and you blog! Sign ups will be open until the Friday 29th August. I will then randomly match you all up aiming to make sure you are with someone from another country or at least in another area from you! I will then let you know by Monday 1st September who your partner is and you then have 4 weeks to get to know them! So the week of the 29th September, you can then send your new buddy their Snail Mail!
Once you receive your gifts, write a blog post about your experience, sharing what you gave, received, and learnt through this being part of this and meeting your new pal.
If you want to tweet about this project, use the hashtag #TheBloggersSnailMail, You can also tag me @GemmaMarieJames and ill retweet your post, so everyone can share your experience!
Please only sign up if you definitely are willing to take part and if you want to be match with someone from the same country as you to save on postage then please let me know!!

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The Summer Tag!

I love a good tag post, I think it’s a really fun way to get to know the blogger a little better! So when I came across this ‘summer tag’ on the lovely Tori’s blog ‘Welcome to a Wonderful World’ and realised I cant actually remember the last time I did a tag post myself I thought it was the perfect one to do!

1. Favourite bronzer for summer?
The Body Shops Shimmer Waves or Bourjois Paris Cream Blush Sun 05 in Pink Sunwear
2. You're relaxing in a hammock, on a tropical island. What are you sipping on? (Favourite summer drink)
A tropical cocktail or an ice cold beer!

3. Favourite summer lip product?
L'oreal L'Extraordinaire Liquid Lipstick by Color Riche in Fuschia Drama
4. Pool or Beach?
            Pool if I want to sunbath and be extremely lazy and just chillax, beach if I want to play around. I love being in the sea!

5. Summer = crazy hair! What's your must-have styling product?
Morroccan oil as my hair dries out so much in the heat and this stuff works wonders! I have recently had blonde bits put in and am so conscious that it will add to the dryness so I’ve been trying various products to redeem it a little, so far I am in love with the Aussie range! It smells lush and is keeping my hair in fab condition!
6. Sun bathing or fake tan?
Sun bathing! Fake is great for sorting out my pale pins but if I can have a natural tan then so be it!
7. Favourite summer nail polish?
I am working my way through the Gelish summer collection which is full of fab, fun bright colours.

8. Any summer traditions?
Ummm no traditions as such, I just try and make the most of this time of year and see as much of my friends as I can, go to the beach, long bike rides and lots of BBQ’s. I try and have as much fun as I can and enjoy the sunshine before we all hibernate for the winter!

9. Favourite summer scent?
 I know this question probably means a perfume but I am going to answer with my favourite summer smells which are freshly cut grass and sun tan lotion!

10. Favourite BBQ food?
BBQ chicken, nom nom! I also love BBQ Banana with syrup, so unbelievable yummy!
11. What's your favourite summer-proof product?
Benefits They’re Real Mascara, I tend to wear very little makeup during the summer but can’t go without mascara! This works wonders in the heat as doesn’t melt off or smudge, happy me!

12. Any summer vacation plans this year? No plans? Tell us about your dream summer trip...
I have just got back from Malta which was perfect, but now I am debating what to book next... I get itchy feet if I don’t have some sort of trip booked on the horizon! Im hoping to go to Australia for a friends wedding next year which would be pretty awesome.
I tag you all to have a go at this tag! What do you love about the summer?

Monday, 11 August 2014

Motivational Monday #23

I’m home from Malta!! Well actually I arrived back just under a week ago, which feels like forever ago now! I have the most lovely, relaxing time ever and suffering severe withdrawals from not being able to sit on a lounger by a pool every day. Boo!
However saying that I came home to the most exciting news.... Lipsticks and Lashes hit 1000 followers on Bloglovin! Can you believe it?! I sure as hell can’t!! I think I am in shock, I still can’t get my head around the fact one person would stop by and check out my ramblings let alone follow and now for 1000 of you to be doing just that, I feel humbled. So a massive THANKYOU!! I’m not sure that even covers how I feel but for now that will have to do, I think maybe another giveaway will be coming your way as a proper way for me to say thanks!
So I digress, as usual! Back to today’s motivational Monday post, this quote completely sums up my feelings at the moment. To say I have a severe case of wanderlust would be an understatement! I have this desperate need to travel but due to severe lack of funds, my back packing dream is currently on hold. However that’s not stopping me from planning mini adventures, at the moment I already have a holiday booked to Turkey next summer and it looks like I’m 80% going to Australia next November, hopefully with a few other adventures in between!
I can’t explain my love of travelling, I have been so lucky that I have been able to do quite a bit of travelling already. The worlds this huge, amazing, interesting, intriguing place and I want to immerse myself in it, to see as much as I can. I think it helps you grow as a person and there’s nothing quite like it! My dream would be to live as a free lance writer and to travel all over the world, just wandering from one place to the next.
Do you want to travel?
Happy Monday!

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Argan Dew's Intensive Replenishing Hair Mask

A while ago the lovely people at Argan Dew sent me a ton of samples of their ‘Miraculous Argan Oil’ and the ‘Intensive Replenishing Hair Mask’. I have been using the Replenishing Hair Mask weekly lately, because the recent humid weather has really dried out my hair.
If you regularly stop by ‘Lipsticks and Lashes’ you will know that I am a bit of a fan of Moroccan / Argan Oil, and am yet to come across a product involving it that I don’t like! Argan oil contains Vitamin E, squalene, beta carotene and fatty acids, all of which works wonders at preventing hair damage.
I use Argan Dews Replenishing Hair Mask after I have washed my hair, instead of conditioner, I coat the ends of my hair in it and then faff about in the shower, shaving my legs etc. whilst it soaks in for 5 minutes. You then need to rinse it out.
This mask claims to repair dry, damaged and colour treated hair, well my hair ticks all three of those boxes! After the first use I really noticed the difference, my hair felt so soft and the dry scraggly ends looked a hundred times better! You know how when you come out the hairdressers and your hair is so soft and shiny and all you want to do is touch? Well this is the result I keep getting whenever I use Argan Dews Replenishing Hair Mask! It’s a proper DREAM!
As I said earlier, it has become a regular part of my routine now and I use at least once a week. I definitely recommend it if your hair needs a little pampering!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Book Club: Strings by Kat Green

The Blurb
The rise of the Black Eagles was meteoric, from band practice in the garage to global stars almost overnight.
And Melissa Webb, the beautiful girlfriend of the front man, appeared to have it all.
But when Luke Black disappears without a trace and Melissa wakes up in a hospital bed after a savage attack, her perfect world is shattered and their lives are plunged into a potentially deadly crisis.
Where is Luke, and can he be found before it is too late?
The Review
When Melissa meets Luke the lead singer from the band black eagles, not only had she got to deal with the usual relationship ups and downs, but as the black eagles rise to fame she is thrown into the spotlight. Throw in a crazy stalker and this book hooks you in right from the beginning!
The author, Kat Green, mixes it up by jumping from current day where Melissa is in hospital to flashbacks to how they all got into the situation they are now in. The book starts three quarters of the way into the story so you begin by seconding guessing the plot! Towards the beginning I thought it was a great read but that it may be a little predictable but there were so many curveballs and plot twists that thought was quickly thrown out the window!
Melissa is the main character and you can't help but warm to her. She's so down to earth and you find yourself really rooting for her. There is a wealth of supporting characters that all add to the story and are so relatable! Not only is it a great love story it also looks at friendships and how important they are.
I don't want to give too much of the plot away, as I think it's one of those books that if you knew too much about the plot before you started, I do t think you'd enjoy it as much. It's a bit of a guessing game which I really enjoyed!!
If you always dreamt of having a passionate relationship with a rock star or love a good thriller or passionate romance then this is the book for you!!
I can't wait to read Kats next book and see what she comes up with next!

Thursday, 7 August 2014

Nougat Naturals Nourishing Hand Cream & Refining Body Polish*

Nougat Naturals are a brand I’ve heard a lot about lately, they make a range of natural, fragranced bath and body products which are made with essential oils and nourishing ingredients. I am all for natural products, as find my skin reacts better to them and I also a sucker for essential oils!
I was lucky enough to be sent a couple of their products to try and I have been using them for a couple of weeks now and am really happy with the results! Therefore I thought I would share my views with you lucky lot!
First up is the Nougat Naturals Refining Body Scrub, it’s part of their ‘Calming and Relaxing’ range which is made up of eleven essential oils – Palmrosa, Jasmine, Sandalwood, Cedarwood, Benzion Resinoid, Clary Sage, Rose Geranium, Lavendar, Mandarin, Ylang Ylang and Roman Chamomile. The scent is to die for and reminds me of one of my fave lavender bath bombs from lush crossed with the aroma of a luxurious spa.
I am a huge user of scrubs, especially in the summer when you’re all hot and sticky. I think you can’t beat a good body scrub and this one hasn’t let me down. The beads are a good size, not too many so your scrubbed raw but enough to leave your skin feeling clean and smooth. I will definitely be making a purchase of this when I run out! Its £18 for a 200ml bottle which is a lot more than I would usually pay but its good quality and I have pretty sensitive skin and it’s worked like a dream for me. It hasn’t dried out my skin and has left me feeling smooth and refreshed.
Next up is Nougat Naturals Nourishing hand cream, part of their ‘Uplifting and Reviving’ range its £14 for a 100ml tube. It is made up the following essential oils – Grapefruit, Bergamot , Lemon Myrtle, Ginger and May Chang as well as sweet almond oil, shea butter, borage oil and glycerine to repair and moisture skin. All together it creates a really summery, refreshing smell and is gorgeous.
I suffer with dry hands so was keen to see if this product would do what it says on the tin. When applying you only need a small amount as a little seems to go a long way. So putting the £14 a tube into context, it may seem a little expensive but I think it will last you a long time making it worthwhile. This is then emphasised by the fact it doesn’t leave your hands greasy at all, a HUGE pet hate of mine! It sinks in pretty quickly and after a few uses I really noticed that my hands were a lot softer and the dry patches I tend to get on my fingers have disappeared! SUPER IMPRESSED!!
Nougat Naturals are offering all of ‘Lipsticks and Lashes’ lovely readers 20% off all their toiletries products during the whole of August! How exciting is that?! All you need to do is visit their website and use the code B3UTY20 at the checkout. Remember you only have till the end of the month to use it and is only valid for one use per customer! While you’re on their site id also recommend having a browse of their gorgeous clothing range. Swoons!
Make sure you let me know if you treat yourself to anything!

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Makeup Revolution Salvation Velvet Lip Lacquer in 'Keep Crying For You'

This is my third and final Makeup Revolution review, for now anyways! This was the last item that was added to my basket when I went on my mini spree on their website a few weeks ago, it being Makeup Revolution Salvation Velvet Lip Lacquer in 'Keep Crying For You'.

It’s packaged in a tube like a gloss with a sponge applicator and goes on as a liquid then dries as a matte. It’s easy to apply and I was impressed with how it looks when it dries. It’s also pretty smudge proof which is a plus for me, although you do need to top it up every so often as I wouldn’t say it’s particularly long lasting.

I can’t resist a pink lippy so this was right up my street! I have say in my view it’s a very good dupe of Rimmel London’s Apocalips Lip Lacquer and is very similar to the shade Stellar! For £3.00 it’s a pretty decent product, one that’s already become a regular in my handbag!


Sunday, 3 August 2014

My Favourite Destination: Becki from Bags of Style

I have two main loves in life, shopping and travel. Having grown up in a travel loving family who can't keep still, I've been jetting about since I was months old and have currently been to 54 countries, so you can see where I get that passion from. Shopping on the other hand, no idea, I just love fashion and in particular, bags! I review bags I buy and already own on my blog,, with a mixture of high street and brand names, so check it out! Having already been to 54 different countries with lots more of the world’s amazing sites still to see, there are two absolute favourites of mine that stand out.

The first is St Maarten, part of the Netherland Antilles in the Caribbean. I visited the small, 36 square mile island back in 2005, have been back 3 times taking various different friends and family with me, and I’m jetting back there again next May!

I’m sure that if you’ve heard of St Maarten before, you’ve heard about Princess Juliana Airport and the low landings…? Standing on a white beach with crystal clear water lapping over your feet, and the sun blaring down on you, while a jumbo jet lands just feet over your head, is one of the best things you’ll ever experience in your life. The Sunset Beach Bar, located on the beach right by the airport, is perfect for just hanging out and taking advantage of the beers and cocktail menu, while live music comes and goes and crab racing randomly pops up on the beach! In fact, last time I went I spent a whole day just watching the world go by and the planes come in. It’s just so perfect it’s hard to leave!

Every time I’ve been I’ve stayed in a time share, the Simpson Bay Resort and Marina, and have always visited around September time, which is hurricane season so absolutely brilliant if you like to be the only person beside the pool! I think self-catering or bed & breakfast is a must as there are so many restaurants along the bay you’re spoilt for choice. Everywhere is packed with charm and character, from Jimbo’s gourmet Mexican, with an amazing pool and bar in the middle of the restaurant (below left) and margaritas to die for, to Pineapple Pete’s, who serve some of the most amazing food on the island (below right) and have the best live music every night.

Another thing that makes this island so easy to go back to, from a slightly greedy point of view, is that there are quite a few other islands very close by. From St Maarten I’ve been to St Kitts & Nevis, St Barts, Antigua and of course Anguilla, my favourite day trip. But one of the most notable things about the island is how friendly everyone is. Al at the pool bar keeps the frozen Daiquiris coming, Ziggy Chang in Pineapple Pete’s makes sure you’re fed like a King and Soc from Island 92, the island’s radio station, lets you in his studio to request a few songs on air! I think I was won over by the island’s way of life from day one I know the place so well it’s really like a home from home now. If you love sunshine, music and cocktails you’ll come home with the same infatuation as me!
The second of my favourite places to be in the world is Rome, a slightly different angle, but the city has left just as much of an impression on my map as St Maarten.
I first went there in 2010, which started as a surprise birthday present for my other half and quickly got quashed by that pesky ash cloud from Iceland, but we managed to rebook. Having never been there before but being a fan of Italy, I took a shot and it paid off. We loved it so much that I had to show my parents and sister how incredible the city is in 2012, and its no surprise that they fell in love too.

Both times I’ve stayed in a hotel a couple of hundred yards away from the Colosseum which is a brilliant location if you’re looking to see the sights on foot as there are places of interest in all directions. One of the main attractions to Rome is how many fascinating things and beautiful scenes are just waiting for you to stumble across them, some not even on maps as though they’re trivial compared to the main tourist spots.

Obviously all the usual sights are a must. The Vatican and Sistine Chapel are unquestionably worth a visit, but I’d strongly recommend going with a tour or you’ll most certainly get lost! The Trevi Fountain is impressive, where the buildings are closer than you’d imagine as though Rome had run out of room when it was built, but incredible all the same. The Vittorio Emanuele II Monument (the big white building by the Colosseum!) allows you to take a lift to the rooftop where you can take in the almost untouched, picturesque, 360° views of the city.

But one of the most vibrant places, aside from Piazza San Silvestro where we watched Italy beat England in the Euros (which got us some free pity drinks!), is certainly Piazza Navona. Artists and their masterpieces surround the fountains in the centre and it’s the most wonderful place to avoid the traffic, absorb the sunshine and unwind, sipping on a glass of Italian wine in one of the many beautiful restaurants it has to offer.

Considering Rome is the capital of Italy, you’d never guess. It’s a fairly low city with no sky scrapers or tall blocks in the centre, and there are ruins and traditional Italian buildings around every corner. I love how modest Rome seems, and every time I stroll down a narrow street which opens up to reveal the Colosseum at its end, I feel like it’s the first time I’ve seen it, and it’s always as striking. I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of this dazzling city, and I’m so excited to be going back again in September!

I think wherever you travel you take lasting memories away with you, but these two destinations have made a lifelong impression on me. Enjoy traveling and making memories, and I’ve certainly got plenty of recommendations if you need a nudge in the right direction!

Friday, 1 August 2014

My Favourite Destination: Nixie from Nixie Dust

Todays amazing guest post comes from the beautiful Nixie who blogs over at Nixie Dust. I hope you all enjoy this post as much as I did!

A couple of years ago, not long after I’d had a life-changing accident that left me with extremely limited walking ability, I decided to stick my middle finger up at the world, and go on a three-stop tour of Italy, alighting at three cities that have always resonated through the romantic fibres of my hopelessly melodramatic soul. Rome, Florence, Venice. Titans of civilisation, art and culture; bricks biting deep into the past. It was, technically, a walking tour, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to manage that, but I was determined not to let a little thing like not being able to stand for more than a few minutes at a time get in the way. Cleared with the group leader, who was more than happy to let me soak up the sun in a piazza whilst they all went walking, I packed my bags and shuffled off to St. Pancras, equally excited and full of newly disabled dread.

The Might of Rome

After one night in Paris trying to cram in the Italian dictionary, we speed through the Italian countryside to Rome. Past rolling, sunburnt hills and tiny, crumbling farmhouses, a waxing moon ghosting through the afternoon sky. I’m immediately bowled over, almost literally as pedestrian crossings are merely suggestions here and a roman driver isn’t going to let a little thing like a walking aid persuade him to drive any slower, by the death-defying ballet of vehicles and resulting cacophony of horns and swearing. As I unpack, I am serenaded beneath my window by the sound of Italians nonchalantly reversing into one another. We meet for dinner in the hotel restaurant, where a man with a nose so throughly Roman he could be swung around by his ankles and used as a pickaxe attempts to poison us with undercooked veal. I keep getting terrible sensations of vertigo, swaying in my chair as though I were pitching about in the Bay of Biscay. I’m quickly reassured that it’s merely the result of shooting backwards at 300 kph all day, and not, as I first suspected, an aggressive brain tumour.

After a surprisingly deep night’s sleep, we head out into the city the next morning. Rome is drenched in pale sunlight, and I sit happily by the Trevi fountain with a strong espresso whilst the less mobility-challenged folk scurry about in alleyways full of tiny cafes and haphazard parking. A multitude of tourist and student groups with several languages between them are all trying to meet here at once and the resulting chaos provides me with an hour or so of  entertainment. I soak up the sparking, sexy atmosphere; the very air here seems to vibrate, to pulse with a raw life force I have never experienced in quite the same way before or since. I fight a pressing urge to unbutton my shirt and shout ‘Quick! Somebody grope me behind a fountain! Come on, people, I can’t do everything around here!’ I refrain, partly because I do not want to frighten the modest, bespectacled Chinese teenagers earnestly sampling Gelato.
Usually, I try not to play the comparison game with other women, it’s a pointless cul-de-sac, no matter how hard-wired. In Rome, though, the women are so impossibly beautiful it’s hard not to feel as though you’ve just fallen out of a hedge even when dressed in your best. They glide about like stylish storks, easily negotiating the cobbled streets in slim heels, taking incredibly fast into chic little phones and endangering the eyesight of several passers-by with the business end of a cigarette. I discern late into the day that their contract with beauty is a Faustian one; the flawless skin and bed-tossed highlights, the firm, tanned boobs and taut buttocks, are somehow countered by the need to carry around monstrous squashy leather handbags in a variety of shades, which thankfully do not interest me. Italian men, on the other hand, look at me a bit like my maths teacher: 4/10, could try harder. The Romans are unabashedly sexed up, as lit candles blaze in every church and the Rosaries swing around their necks, it is a frank acceptance of the dual nature of ourselves, the ape and the angel, getting busy in the heaving lanes of the city, in the back seat of an anonymous cab as it hurtles past the Spanish Steps.
The next day I am determined to see as much of the city as I can, because we are going to The Forum. I haul myself around with my able-bodied peers, negotiating ancient stones with my walking aid. The Forum hits me, an out and proud history lover, right in the feels. It feels surreal, as though it is not me touching the huge, flattish, white stones where they burned the body of Julius Caesar, but someone I’m watching in a film I’ve always wanted to be cast in. I wander slowly, very slowly, past bronze temple doors now vibrant green with the patina of two thousand years, past the ruined temple of the Vestal Virgins, whose walls provide a little shady respite from the blazing midday sun. I walk the ancient streets where history I’ve only read about, trapped lifelessly between the pages, took place, every cell of me alive and awake to the marvel of following all those dead footprints winding through the very heart, the great foundations, of Rome. I stare up at the top of Palatine Hill, imaging the five storeys - five storeys! - now long gone into the dust, of Caligula’s great palace. We head to The Colosseum; still so high and imposing, a marvel of architectural cunning. If I strain my hearing I can *feel* the roar of the crowd echo off the walls, as though it were a vast stone shell with all the sounds of this shrine of death trapped within it. It’s unnerving in the extreme. I peer over into the depths of the place, the columns underneath the stage where men going to meet their violent end would have waited, and imagine being hit with that bestial wall of noise.
In the evenings, escaping the stuffiness and merry crashing sounds of my hotel room, I slowly wander the back streets, stopping off at this or that pavement cafe or restaurant, sampling pizzas and pastas and wine. I am not the world’s most delicate eater, and lost count of the times I regretted wolfing delectable balsamic vinegar and cherry tomato sauce whilst wearing a white top. By the end of two full and exhausting days, I have perfected all the basic Italian I might need, which largely consists of how to order another glass of Bianci/Rosso/Rosato.

The City of Flowers

We leave the brash, bold strumpet of Rome behind, and go to meet her quieter, sophisticated sister, Florence. Like the freshness of the earth after a sudden rainfall, her soothing, shaded streets are a gasping relief after the heat and clamour of the capital. The centre of the city is dominated by the Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, usually simply known as The Duomo, a faithful masterpiece that gleams in the sunlight. Around the cathedral a continual river of people sit drinking tiny coffees, reading books and newspapers on the steps. As I walk steadily on my crutches, refreshed by the dramatic change of pace and atmosphere, I can feel the very pores of my skin opening to let the personality of the city in, a soft breath of culture and devotion.
Armed with a wrinkled tourist pamphlet, I set out on a solo expedition as the group go for a longer hike. Ambling through the cool streets, I hear a voice declaiming something passionately, well, even more passionately than usual around here. I follow the sound and find a street performer, dressed in a long red robe, with white paint upon his face and leaves woven in a crown around his head. He is Farfarello, and has a mind so remarkable that he has memorised the entirety of Dante’s great masterwork, the Divine Comedy from beginning to end, Inferno to Paradise. He comes here every day to perform of it under the stern gaze of Dante’s own stone face. The great, heavy book is propped up on a stand in front of him, and all a curious passerby need do is open it, point to a verse, and watch him reel it off from memory. I am amazed at his talent and obvious love he has for the poetry, and we talk a little after he has finished for the morning, sipping coffee and chatting about our lives. He is older than I first suspected, the greasepaint working into the lines of his face; but his eyes are intense and fiercely youthful. I get that weird fizzing feeling you experience when you meet somebody truly extraordinary, and cannot yet define how you feel about them. He packs up, hands me his card, and I wander off to find lunch with the rolling melody of his speech in my ears. I run into a protest march making its way down one of the slim streets, furious with the depravity and excesses of Berlusconi. I watch them go by with sympathy, although holding a sign that reads ‘Italy is not a Bordello!’ is, to my mind, asking for a snarkfest of hackneyed stereotypes.
Later, in my hotel room at the Santa Maria Novella Hotel - a friendly, lush place to stay with a truly amazing marble bathroom - emboldened by glasses of red wine, I pull out the crumpled card from my pocket and dial the number. He sounds surprised, but would like to meet me for a drink the following evening. I hang up and hug my pillow to my chest, saying ‘What have I done? What have I done?’ I’m a semi-crippled, socially awkward plain jane in one of the most beautiful cities on earth, and I just asked Dante on a date.
The next day we all set off for the stunning Tuscan city of Lucca, nestled behind huge, and intact, Renaissance walls, Lucca is the perfect place to explore on foot; secret little piazzas and cafes are dotted everywhere, tempting you in for just one more coffee after walking its pretty cobbled streets, searching for a glimpse of the traces of its ancient Roman amphitheatre in the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro. During lunch, a wonderfully rustic affair rich with tomatoes and marinaded meats, I feel my phone vibrate, it’s Dante, telling me he’ll meet in the Piazza de Santa Maria Novella at seven. The group, who are by now agog with the gossip and already know far too much about me thanks to my tongue-loosening 5-a-day wine habit, wish me luck. I overhear one of the ladies I haven’t really connected with muttering ‘No, this one’s definitely a man.’ and the whole table turns to look at me as I defiantly swallow an after-dinner shot of something unbelievably sweet and alcoholic. Having confirmed my reputation as the group’s resident bisexual perma-drunk, I amble to the train station with the one other mobility-challenged adventurer, who has a dodgy knee. He and his wife, from Scotland, have fast become my best new travel buddies and, having partaken liberally of the sweet wine, we all have a merry time getting lost on the way back in a giant flea market crammed with vast antique picture frames larger than me, so that I feel a little like Alice after the ‘Drink Me’ potion.
Our train rolls in at 18.30. I have precisely half an hour to look presentable and sober up. I hotfoot it, as much as one can on crutches, through the Piazza back to my room and spend a frazzled 30 minutes painting on wonky eyeliner and shouting ‘Bloody men!’ as I wrestle with top of my perfume. I needn’t have worried. We have a lovely, understated evening eating pizza, I discover that Monty Python’s Life of Brian is his favourite film, and later, when it gets cold, we sit on a chilly stone bench, locking eyes - my jade-ish green to his Mephistopheles brown - and I finally, finally get to kiss someone again for the first time since losing my ability to walk. The next morning, I wake up with the interdimensional sensation of a medium-sized hangover, and go for an early stroll. The sunlight is just turning from pale to a full-bodied gold; it plays over the rooftops and long steps pitted with a hundred thousand feet. The cafes are just beginning to open their doors, and the quiet streets, already familiar to me, are suddenly filled with a rush of scent, bitter beans and baking pastries. I sit on a low wall with a buttery, flaking croissant in one hand and an espresso in the other, silently giving thanks to some higher power for this chance to feel alive again, here, in the City of Flowers.
Walking the Labyrinth.

‘There’s nowhere like Venice.’ They kept saying to me. Even our long-suffering group leader, who makes a living walking the globe followed by a load of wide-eyed newbies like imprinting ducklings, noticeably lights up when he talks about it. ‘Nowhere in the world like it,’ he says over our hasty breakfast before catching the train. ‘You’ll see.’

We alight at the Santa Lucia station around lunchtime, and have only a short hop over the bridge to the Hotel Carlton on the banks of the Grand Canal, a wonderful, hospitable stay in an incredible location that I heartily recommend to anyone. The sun twinkles off the busy water, alive with the chugging of the vaparetta and the ponderous journey of occupied gondolas. The sharp salt sea breeze jolts me into grateful wakefulness. They were right, all of them; anyone who banged on about Venice being a jewel, a wonder, incomparable, incredible. This is the place my mother stayed when she was pregnant with me, enduring the attentions of excited Italians who would come up to her in the streets and touch her belly, exclaiming ‘Ah! Bambino!’ as delightedly as if it were their own. I was blessed by this place, by the hands of its populace, twenty years before I ever set foot here. Although the last week has cemented that idea that Italy is one of the least disabled-friendly countries I have ever seen, I am filled with quiet pride in myself. It hasn’t been easy; I’ve struggled, slipped, cried; been wheelchaired around a cathedral, cursed the train stations, but I have done it. I stand on one of Venice’s myriad bridges as the church bells chime and think, ‘Whatever else happens, whatever the doctors say, I got to do this.’

How in Gods name can you even begin to describe this city? It’s built in a lagoon, for heaven’s sake. It’s an impossible place, a faerie tale. The streets are merely thin byways alongside the canals, where you can watch the morning deliveries being made if you’re up early enough; a jam of boats filled with sacks and barrels all swerving around each other with the panache of pirates, greetings and curses flying across the water. The buildings are crumbling, little by little, into the turquoise streets slowly taking back the city. ‘See it before it sinks,’ they say, and good advice it is, too. The lanes themselves are a maze; a labyrinth leading to tiny squares and hidden restaurants, stylish little shops and churches busy at any time of day with the hum of the faithful, the smell of candle wax. We dine out in quirky little places so crowded and full of laughter and rapid chatter it’s hard not to believe that these tucked away family eateries aren’t the central hub of the city. Everyone knows everyone, and their children and their grandchildren. I am lost in bliss, walking much farther than my original expectations allowed, resting on the steps of the Rialto, or in the chapel of some obscure saint. I want to see everything, I want to drink this city in until the tides of its river roads flow smoothly in my own veins for the rest of my life.
I pay for my lengthy excursions later, in the hotel bar with ice packs around both agonised tendons. But why sit at home and suffer when I can suffer beautifully drinking Bellini’s on the Grand Canal? I wake the next morning to a text from Dante, for whom I still appear to hold a strange fascination. I sigh, devilishly attractive and interesting though he is, he comes from a country where the women are chic, demure, self-disciplined and mysterious. They do not crawl around the room at six in the morning with wine stains down their top, looking for their glasses and bra.

It’s getting to that time, that sad time we’ve been trying not to think about as we go out for our last dinner, our farewell to Italy. The Scottish couple who are now my erstwhile drinking pals (and who, by the way, are pushing 70) stay a while longer with me as the main herd head back to the hotel. We end up travelling there in a water taxi, which, although expensive, is the most amazing thing ever when you are nineteen sheets to the wind and probably when you are sober, too. Attempting to pack in the corridor the next morning is a special kind of hell and it’s only due to the muscular arms of a burly Glaswegian guest holding the edges of my case together so that I can zip the damned thing up that I make it onto the train at all. I have a few minute’s grace before we need to board, so I look out for the last time over the sparkling water, listening to bells across the city chime the hour. My legs are fiery with pain, but my heart is lifted clean away from my ribcage, free to wander this country where for me, the soul of art resides; this place of visceral, violent history; passion and invention; of gilded splendour and poor saints, forever.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...