Brussels, Belgium: Solo Interrail Part 2

Seconds after writing this and publishing it, I found out that Brussels airport and metro have been attacked in the last couple of hours by terrorists and it’s still unfolding.  I am completely shocked and disgusted that this has happened.  Nobody deserves this but Brussels is such a lovely place, nothing bad should ever happen there.  I hope everyone can get to safety and that they catch the monsters responsible.  Terrorists are so utterly evil, but how could even they do this?  What has Brussels ever done to offend anyone?  I am crying right now because this is so shocking.  My heart goes out to everyone in Brussels and all of Belgium right now, and everyone affected by this in any way.

Okay so I may have gotten one tiny detail wrong last week.  I didn’t get straight on a train with the intent of going to Belgium from Paris.  The Parisian Lecher was basically trying to get me to stay in Paris with him and I told him that if there were no trains to Venice then I would just go back home, and I bought a reservation to Calais. After making myself feel less disgusting in the train bathroom I pored over my maps of Europe and tried to work out a route over the Alps to Italy. I wasn’t going to let one bad experience ruin the whole trip.

I jumped off the train at Lille (France) and continued to Mons (Belgium), which was the interchange to Brussels.  As soon as you get into Belgium it’s really obvious that you’re not in France any more, because the Belgians are really big on their art-deco style, and you can see it everywhere.  It’s so classy and 1920s, and it’s very easy to see why this is the land of Hercule Poirot.  I was relieved I didn’t have to go all the way back to Calais, and after the stress of Paris, Belgium was just delightful.  From the moment I stepped off the train in Brussels and saw signposts in English, I knew I was somewhere friendly.

From my travel journal:

“…They have an open tourist information centre, which is in the train station (which has a shopping-centre-like layout map) and it can reserve hotel rooms and give you area maps.  It’s dead good.  So I’ve had a long, thorough shower, changed my clothes and am sitting on an actual bed in an actual hotel room.  And there’s a delicious box of Belgian chocolate truffles in reaching distance.

This evening I plan to have a meal out then plan my next move – likely to Luxembourg or Stuttgart,maybe Cologne.  I won’t continue to wax lyrical about Brussells.  All I will say is firstly, Belgium deserves its reputation for food and chocolate (they even make the vegetables taste amazing)*  I ate a boiled chicken and seasonal vegetables meal with a creme brulee dessert.  Secondly, the architecture of Brussells is way underrated.  The city’s up there with the big tourist centres as a really beautiful place – only Brussells is totally friendly.  I am staying at the Argus Hotel near Metro Louise, amongst the high-end shopping area (Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Sonia Rykiel etc), and it’s tariff says E110 on the door but I paid significantly less.

Later still:  I have looked over my map and decided to go to Stuttgart tomorrow from Bruxelles (via Frankfurt) aiming to be on the 11:59 (lmao) train from Bruxelles Midi Station (just in case I forget tomorrow).  This will give me plenty of extra time to buy a necklace and also to postcard-shop and take some photos, although if I keep snapping I’ll run out of disposable cameras!”

*At the time, I wasn’t the biggest fan of specific vegetables.  Looking back, I genuinely have no idea what I was eating.  Fast forward 6 months and vegetables were all I ate, because I went vegan!!

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brussells2
The Art Deco dining room in Bruxelles’ Argus Hotel, showcasing the main drawback of old fashioned film-cameras – you had to wait until the picture was developed before you could see how (or if) it had come out.
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Somewhere in Belgium – Belgium was full of rather delightful architecture.
brussells4
This was a stunning light and water display in a shopping centre in Brussels. Once again the disposable camera didn’t quite capture the moment.

What I learned in Belgium:

One of the things that really surprised me at the time was how lovely Belgium is, and it’s completely underrated among the under 30’s.  Having seen more of the whole country now, I think it’s a delightful destination and well worth a visit if you like a classy travel experience (rather than a non-stop party).  If that sounds duller than a dry white wine,  Brussels (or Belgium for that matter) probably isn’t the place for you.  I did actually go back to Brussels in 2014, when my husband and I just dropped into Brussels for dinner (we were hungry, and I’ll link the story here when I get to it), and I still think it’s an incredibly sophisticated destination with unparallelled food.  In terms of ambience, it’s probably how Paris was forty or fifty years ago and it makes for a good romantic getaway because it’s not packed with tourists but it’s still very ambient.

The main thing I learned though was that there’s a reason people don’t use disposable cameras any more. At the time, I thought it was the amount of space they take up.   Actually, I didn’t learn about the photo quality difference for several years – I have always believed that film-cameras are way better than digital, and I think I was right until the last couple of years, when digital cameras finally started having a good enough resolution (number of megapixels) to be able to produce better pictures, and we finally got a unified digital storage method (SD cards) with a reasonable amount of storage per card, at an affordable price.  There was a long time when there were so many different types of memory cards for different cameras and devices, that it was pointless buying either cameras or cards because as soon as they stopped making the cards, the camera was useless, and as soon as the camera broke, you had to buy a new set of different cards for the new camera, it was all the most ridiculous situation because of compatibility (and that’s if we don’t get started on those stupid wires we had to use to upload stuff – how many different connectors does the world need?  I’m so glad that 99% of everything uses a micro USB these days).

There’s a world of difference between a disposable camera and a regular camera, however, and one of the key differences is aperture.  Disposable cameras (and those cheap non-disposable fixed focus 35mm cameras that everyone used to have) have a fixed aperture that’s optimized for daytime holiday shots in the sort of light you get in the Mediterranean.  That’s why these tend to come out acceptably on them.  But they’re really not useful at all in low-light settings such as evenings or indoors in certain places.

Nowadays, I use a DSLR camera and I have a bridge camera as my backup.  Yes, a DSLR is heavier, and OH MY GOD it was so expensive, but it’s worth it to get stunning pictures first-time-every-time when I’m on a once in a lifetime trip or at a concert.

Read part 3 of my Interrail journey here
To see my articles on photography, click here.

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Three Classic Lara Croft: Tomb Raider Hairstyles

Today’s video is a hair tutorial showing how to do three classic Lara Croft hairstyles from the video game and film franchise Tomb Raider.
In this video, I show you how I did the original video game bobble braid, how I did the pigtail bobble braids from the first level of Tomb Raider: The Last Revelation (and those Irish levels from Tomb Raider: Chronicles) and how I did the Angelina Jolie French Braid (with my short hair…) from the first film.  Which one’s your favourite?  I love the French braid in the middle best, and I think the pigtails didn’t suit my angular features at all!

Lara Croft Tomb Raider cosplay fancy dress tutorial hair
The title card from today’s Lara Croft hair tutorial video.

Also after a lot of thought about my longer-term Youtube plan I have decided to drop back to one video a week rather than two, now that my backlog of finished videos have all made it onto Youtube. I had a period of time at the start of the year when I was very active at making videos and I wanted them to all get onto Youtube sooner, so I’ve been updating twice a week since the New Year, but now I’m back to my usual update schedule of one video a week.
I had so much fun doing this video and when I recorded the shower scene at the end I just couldn’t stop giggling, I had to re-take it about 12 times with the shower door open and my tripod half in the bath and my bathroom floor got soaked!! It was one of those “THIS is why I make Youtube videos” moments.

You can watch the latest video here

I’ve also changed my update day to Thursday because I think it’s going to work better with the rest of my schedule.
I’ve also stopped embedding my videos onto WordPress because I want to keep track of how many views they’re getting and I can’t tell if anyone’s clicking the play button or not on here; if no-one’s actually watching my videos when I link them on WordPress, there’s probably a better thing I could use a full day’s post for. It’s still one click to get it to play, and it’s still going to take pretty much the same time to load, it’s just now it takes you to Youtube when you click the link so you can do Youtubey things.

When I see other people link their videos in WordPress I always prefer to go to Youtube to watch the video so I can like the video over there and comment on it. Let me know if you preferred it when the videos were embedded in WordPress or whether you like the new system better!

I know I haven’t written a beauty post in a little while but don’t worry, I’ve got some doozys* coming up in the near future that I’m so excited to share with you!!

* What’s the plural here?  Is it doozies or doozys?  They both look wrong.

Beautiful Saturday: Primer Review

So I got Smashbox’s Photo Finish Primer recently.  I have been using Avon’s Anew Primer before, because it was the best primer I’d ever found, and before that I was using Clarins’s primer, which I received as a gift for Christmas 2013 and mistakenly thought it was an eye cream until I read the packaging in more detail.  I thought I’d do a review of them all because I thought they were all so very different.

In order, then:

Clarins Instant Smooth Perfecting Touch:

What it looks like in the packet:  It comes in a screw top jar that’s really tiny.  It’s unusual for a primer, because it’s solid.  I found it a bit like putting butter on my face, but it did melt in nicely and provided a reasonable base for my foundation.

What it looks like on my face:  I used L’Oreal True Match and Benefit WOW Oxygen foundations with the Clarins primer.  I did find that they sat on top of it rather than settling in, which I thought was normal for primers at the time because I’d never used one before, but now I know better I don’t think I’m as happy about this.  A finishing powder is a must with this primer.  Also it didn’t fill in the potholes.  You know, the pores you get in summer.  It kinda made them worse because it sat on the higher bits so exaggerated the pores making me look old and haggard.  At 26 that wasn’t really what I wanted from a primer.

What it looks like when you wash it off:  It made no difference to how the make-up wore or came off, it didn’t prolong the wear of the foundation.

clarins primer

Overall rating:  It was my first, and my least favourite primer.  At the time, I didn’t really think it was useful as an addition to my make-up routine since I hadn’t tried any other at that point.

Avon Anew Skin Transforming Primer

What it looks like in the packet: It came in a pump action cylinder.  It’s a thick white creamy substance that has the consistency of frozen soft serve ice cream.  It’s not this one, it’s a different range, and it’s NOT an eyeshadow primer either!

What it looks like on your face: It fills in the surface and smooths out the summer pores nicely, I also found it covered up fine lines quite well and provided a good base for both foundation and eyeshadow.  The foundation sank in slightly but not enough to dry out or form a crust (if you have even slightly dry skin and have ever been fooled into using powder foundation on bare skin, you know what I’m talking about).

What it looks like when you wash it off: I find this primer makes it easier to wash off any make up I wear, leaving far less residue than any other primer, or foundation with no primer.  I also find it isn’t remotely moisturising, so it’s important to use a proper day cream underneath, especially if you’re trying to preserve your youthful vigour for as long as possible before any of the obvious signs set in.  I would certainly say that while it has no “anti-ageing” properties in the scientific mumbo-jumbo kind of way, it certainly creates a good visual and makes you look more flawless.

avon anew

Overall rating: I only bought this for my wedding, because I was an Avon rep at the time, but I’m still using it (long after I quit being a rep) and really love it.  At £9 I thought it was a bit expensive, but I got it at £4.50 and when I think about how much the other two primers cost, I think I got one heck of a bargain.  Avon’s usually VERY hit or miss but this primer is a big hit.

Smashbox Photo Finish Primer:

What it looks like in the packet: It’s a squeezy tube.  When I first opened it, there was this very greasy fluid (like, the exact opposite of viscous, it was about as fluid as acetone) that went straight down my hand and reached my elbow before I could wipe it off.  After that first time, it’s always been a see-through colourless gel like silicon, almost like the lubricant we used to use on the milkshake machine at McDonalds.

What it looks like on your face: It goes on like silicon as well, so I would guess that it’s probably made of mostly silicon.  It provides a phenomenal base for foundation and when I used it for a music video this week it made the foundation look totally flawless and that foundation stayed put all day on both days of filming.  It also gave a good finish with the pigmented finishing powder I used (foundation alone tends to make one look pasty when you’re filming with bright lights) and this was the result:

smashbox primer provides a flawless base

smashbox primer provides a flawless base

What it looks like when you wash it off:  It really lets itself down here.  Maybe I’ve been spoilt by the Avon primer, but this one did something to make the foundation into a highly pigmented emulsion and it took over 10 minutes to wash it off with warm water and a sponge.  Cold water just beaded off it.  I guess that this is the flipside of using silicon.  I didn’t use soap because soap is designed to get rid of oil-based things (such as most dirt) rather than silicon.

smashbox primer

Overall rating: I really loved the perfection this one created, it really did a good job at making skin look great on camera, and I would not hesistate to recommend the Smashbox Primer for anyone working in film and photography because underneath foundation and finishing powder it’s the best primer I’ve used for this purpose.  I wish I’d had it for my wedding.

Overall Comparisons:

I don’t think there is any situation where the Clarins one would win.  It just doesn’t do anything very well.  I guess if you want something that’s 100% plant-based, you might want to give it a look, but I’m really scraping the bottom of the barrel for a positive because I’m not convinced on the provenance of the ingredients.  See my article “what’s all natural and what are chemicals” for more explanation on this.  I would ALWAYS use the Smashbox primer for moving pictures, and any time I want to make a Youtube video from now on I will use the Smashbox Primer because it is really phenomenal at what it does.  However, for a day-to-day primer if I was to get a job where I needed to wear makeup every day, I would not choose this one.  Instead, I would pick the Avon Anew Primer.  Why?  Because it washes off easily, and when I’m working in a job where I have to wear make-up (professional ice skater, entertainment host, make-up sales rep, receptionist; all on my CV, and all GENERALLY jobs where you will get frowned upon if you don’t wear make-up) , my biggest pet hate is spending up to fifteen minutes trying to get the day’s foundation and mascara off, when I could be in bed getting more sleep.  I’d rather look a bit less HD ready for day to day life and save the Smashbox stuff for filming.

ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN THURSDAY: BEARD TUTORIAL

So it’s ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN THURSDAY!!!
That means… I can post about anything.

Since I uploaded a youtube video today showing the world how to do a better makeup beard (I already did a more simple tutorial here for the less adventurous), I thought I’d share it with y’all since I know you’re all dying to get a beard like this one:

beard pic2

Watch and enjoy:

Let me know what you think, I’m really excited about the results and think this beard eyebrow combo could pass off as a guy from even a face-to-face encounter, which makes it perfect for street theater, film, television or fancy dress.  Or you could just wear it around the house…

Do you have a “go to” beard for character work and cosplay?  Let me know!

International Window Tinting Laws for Cars Driving Around the World

Tinted Windows In Europe and Around the World (updated Feb 2016)

So you’ve worked out how to get petrol when you’re abroad.  Next on your list of vehicle considerations is how to stop light getting into where you’re sleeping.  If you’re thinking of doing a longer term driving expedition, you need to know about the worldwide laws surrounding tinted windows. It’s probably occurred to you that it would be a Very Good Thing if you could sleep in your camper conversion without having passers-by staring into your lovely portable home while you sleep. Other people like the UV protection, and women drivers say they like being able to avoid unwanted attention of men in countries like UAE or Iran.  However, while the EU has passed a decisive law on the matter, individual EU member states have still made their own laws about it. One country has completely outlawed any tint. And then there’s the rest of the world; beyond the EU, in Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey and Ukraine, for example, it’s very difficult to find out what the legalities are for tinted windows. The other complication is that, for the most part, these laws only apply to citizens of the country which made the law, so if you’re passing through, you’ll probably (but not necessarily) be able to get away with it in a UK registered car. Once you’ve stayed in the same country for more than 180 days, it becomes a legal requirement to follow their car maintenance and tax laws, and remember that your car will still have to be fully road-legal for the UK before you drive onto that ferry home, as well.

Here’s a breakdown of the tint laws, ranked by percentage tint.

100% Black tint on all windows – not legal, anywhere. In Britain it was outlawed for front side windows in 2003. It reduces the distance of your visibility and has been shown to increase the chance of an accident (although this could be something to do with the fact that drug dealers etc tend to have tinted windows, and they don’t exactly drive carefully, so perhaps they should be cracking down on drug dealers, not tinted windows).

Rear Windows:

100% black tint on rear window and rear-side windows (after the B post) – UK, Germany (must have a manufacturing approval number at least once on each window, and you must carry a document explaining who did the tint and with the same approval number on it), Spain (same paperwork as for Germany), Belgium (but must be certified by the Glass Institute and if you’re putting any tint on rear window, you must have two wing mirrors), France (providing it doesn’t deform or reduce visibility, and has been certified), Czech Republic (but must be certified), Italy (must be certified), Russia, Spain (but film must be approved for use in Spain and certified), Poland (same as for Spain).  From people’s experience, lots of travellers found it impossible to get tinting film that was approved for either Spain or Poland, because they haven’t actually approved any that are reasonably available to buy at the time of writing.

80% tint or 20% VLT (visible light transmission) on rear window and rear-side windows (after the B-post) – Austria (and 20% tint (80% VLT) on front windows),

65% tint or 35% VLT – Australia (all windows)

60% tint or 40% VLT on rear window and rear-side windows (after the B-post) – Denmark.

30% tint or 70% VLT on rear window and rear-side windows (after the B-post) – Finland, Hungary.

Front Windows:

25% tint – 75% VLT – on front windows and front windscreen: UK, Denmark, Finland, Hungary, Russia,

30% tint – 70% VLT – on front windows and front windscreen: Belgium, Malta, United Arab Emirates,

No tint whatsoever on front windows or front side windows forward of B-pillar: Italy, France (you’re allowed a low tint on sides but nothing on front), Spain,

65% tint – 35% VLT – Australia (all windows).

Total Tint Ban:

0% Tint – all windows must be 100% transparent – Portugal, Belarus, Libya, Kuwait, Bolivia, Iraq, Kenya, Pakistan. Almost all of these are recent law changes and are due to violence and the ongoing threat of terrorism. Except Portugal. They’re just being silly for such a hot country. Egypt and Cyprus – unless it’s the actual glass rather than a tinted film. Tinted glass appears to be fine at any transparency in Cyprus and Egypt, but tinted film is totally banned.

Unusual Exceptions:

Greece – they state that all passengers and driver must be visible at all times, so some tint is probably OK but dark tints would not be. I would be a bit concerned about taking a tinted vehicle to Greece because they’re not very specific.

Tunisia – they say tints are allowed but should not be so heavily tinted that it is not possible to see into the car from outside, but they don’t specify a percentage.

Tajikistan – no tinting at all unless you buy a tinting “licence” to own tinted windows – at about $500 per vehicle.

India – total tint ban for film, but if it’s come from the manufacturer, it can be 30% tinted – so 70% VLT – in front and rear windows, and 50% tinted on the side windows.

America – state vs federal law in the USA, and a similar thing in Canada, appears to over-complicate the tinting requirements depending on which state you are in. This helpful article explains it all (near the bottom): http://www.ritrama.com/ritrama/userfiles/file/prodotti/Car_Window_Tinting_Laws.pdf

Turkmenistan – Window tints are totally illegal, but Turkmenistan deserved a separate entry because the following are also illegal: 2 door cars, engines over 3 litres, cars older than 5 years of age, black coloured cars are also banned and so are any kind of sports cars.  Source here (about halfway down the article): https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-strange-things-banned-in-countries

Notable lack of information:

There was no information despite hours of detailed searches for the following countries: Romania, Morocco, Mongolia, Iran, China – apparently some tints are illegal in China, but there’s no specifics (see the only reference I could find)

Tanzania – taxis and buses should not have tinted windows but there’s a distinct lack of information regarding the legality of private vehicles.

Got any inside info on countries I could add to this article?  Let me know in the comments!

References:

France: http://www.connexionfrance.com/Tinted-car-windows-ban-Pechenard-90kph-80kph-15171-view-article.html

Bolivia: http://www.carthrottle.com/post/the-10-most-awesome-cop-stories-youve-lived-through/

Kenya: http://allafrica.com/stories/201405161523.html

UAE: http://www.thenational.ae/news/uae-news/transport/drivers-face-fines-and-seeing-their-cars-impounded-but-they-still-want-tints

Egypt: http://www.med.navy.mil/sites/namru3/Staff/Documents/WELCOME%20ABOARD%20BROCHURE%20Update%20AUG%2012.pdf

Libya: http://www.tripolipost.com/articledetail.asp?c=1&i=7778

Tunisia: http://www.ediplomat.com/np/post_reports/pr_tn.htm

Sudan: http://catholicradionetwork.org/?q=node/7211

Tajikistan: http://www.eurasianet.org/node/63670

China: http://www.scmp.com/article/376926/tinted-window-law-not-tough-enough

India: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/From-Friday-any-tinted-film-on-car-windows-will-be-illegal/articleshow/12956949.cms

Pakistan: http://centralasiaonline.com/en_GB/articles/caii/features/pakistan/main/2013/03/28/feature-01

Any other countries mentioned: http://www.ritrama.com/ritrama/userfiles/file/prodotti/Car_Window_Tinting_Laws.pdf