Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Cyclists of Amsterdam

After a month of living in the Netherlands, with a Sunday off stretched in front of me, I sat down to a bagel based brunch, Earl Grey in hand, to ponder the topic of my first blog post as an Amsterdammer. I thought about the things that have stuck out about my time here thus far, the things that amazed me when I first arrived. While I thought about a great many things, there was only one group deemed worthy of first post fame, and that group, my dear friends, is the cyclists of Amsterdam.

While bikes remain a great symbol of the Netherlands, I never truly appreciated what a lifeline they are to residents of the city, young and old. Yes, they are an impressive sight en masse, standing row upon row outside Centraal Station or chained decoratively to the bridges which span the canal, but, more than that, they are what connects the lives of every Amsterdammer. Home with work, work to play, person to person. 

Its not only a mode of transport but a way of life.

The first time I experience 'rush hour' in the bike lanes, I was amused, terrified and in awe in equal measure. I was walking home from work, past the famous Vondelpark, when I was confronted with the Spaghetti Junction of bike lanes

Four lanes converge here and the result to the untrained pedestrian eye seems sure to result in confusion, terror and, ultimately, carnage. While there are, admittedly, a few 'bike rage' altercations and the odd near miss, the whole operation runs fairly smoothly thanks to the cyclist's unwritten code, unknown to us mere two legged mortals.

NOTE: If a cyclist yells HALLO at you, do not wave in greeting. They are not trying to get acquainted, nor do they wish to be your friend. The unwritten code rates HALLO high on the list of profanities (comparable to F*** OFF or GET OUT OF MY F****ING WAY)

If you are ignorant enough to be HALLO-ed, don't be disheartened. Once you become more aware of the cyclist/pedestrian heirarchy, your observations of cyclists will become a source of great amusement and, often, amazement.

A comprehensive list of my favourite cyclists of all time:

  • The It Girl about town who rode past me in 6 inch heels with a Starbucks in one hand, her phone in the other, steering with her knees.
  • The woman who continued to cycle valiantly on despite the raging temper tantrum her two year old was having in the child seat on the back of her bike. Steering straight when a child is kicking you repeatedly in the back is no mean feat.
  • Every suit and tie wearing business man I have seen cycle past me in a mad rush, briefcase in basket.
  • The man who installed a full on trailer on the back to his bike to transport his beloved pooch.
  • The drunken revellers wobbling home singing loudly with passengers on the back screeching.

Cycling is in the blood here in the Netherlands and the joy it brings people is infectious.I love nothing more than seeing the crowds cycle past the hotel where I work. Even sitting here in the care, the crisp autumn sun glinting on newly brown leaves, the day wouldn't seem half as magical without the couple cycling hand in hand past the window.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Brunch Talk |1: Transition...on being in limbo

These days I'm rarely up early enough to call my first meal of the day 'breakfast' so brunch is usually the order of the day. While some consider brunch to be for lazy people who have nothing better to do than meander through the morning, it is better regarded (by those in the know) as the epitome of efficiency. Who needs two meals when you can conveniently merge them in to one, if slightly lengthier, affair? 

While I'm pretty sure my love affair with brunch will continue, being able to indulge in it as a daily ritual is time limited. I thought I'd set a little time aside now and again to have a chat over brunch in this, my little corner of the internet. I see Brunch Talk as becoming a life musings sort of series or simply a space for the things that don't fit anywhere else. 

Today I want to talk about the weirdness that is limbo. My particular limbo is this endless summer I've found myself in - the one after graduation before work starts and let me tell you its a STRANGE place.

But first things first...

Step one: Brunch.
In our household, we've recently had more than a slight flirtation with French Toast. Topped with bacon, with cinnamon and brown sugar or just plain and simple, but always served with steaming hot tea (in my case, the Lady Grey variety).

Step two: Talk.

Limbo is an altogether confusing yet wonderful place. Some days seem to crawl, often tediously so, but others fly by unchecked and undervalued.

These are hazy days - unformed, to be bumbled through with no particular aim or direction, to be appreciated for, sure as hell, their presence will be fleeting.

While so many people are telling me to enjoy this golden time of few responsibilities and even fewer constraints (on my time, on my energy), the suspense of limbo is sometimes excruciating.

You know that feeling you get when you're approaching the big drop on a roller-coaster, the feeling just before your stomach turns over - a kind of butterfly anticipation. That's the limbo feeling - that being on the edge of something bigger, something new, something exciting. That's all well and good, new adventures are on the horizon after all, but that's exactly the point - they're on the horizon rather than round the next bend. Since when did the body find it apt to prepare for the plunge this far ahead?

Add to this the endless possibilities. In my experience, it's dangerous when your time is suddenly your own - there are all those projects you've stored for all this time, things you've actually wanted to do with your time, things that you silently tucked away in the corner of your busy little mind. Now that you've got the breathing space to complete them, they are all jostling for room, all shouting pick me. Indecisive me has been overwhelmed by the freedom of choosing how to spend my day. Structured me is crying out for something to do, but indecisive me can't choose. This battle of wills usually results in not doing very much at all.

Two months of this and you can see how, at times, limbo can be testing, sometimes akin to madness!

Keeping the hazy days of limbo punctuated with the events of a summer to remember is the new challenge.

Have you ever felt the limbo feeling? What did you do to shake it off?


Saturday, 30 May 2015

What's in a name?

I'm always intrigued as to how bloggers name their little corners of the internet. Such a creative group of people are represented by such an amazing array of names and the stories behind them are always my favourite thing to read on About Me pages.

But before I explain how 'Between My Passport Pages' came to be, there is something you should know about me: quotes are things I hoard ceaselessly. An endless source of inspiration, I'm pretty sure I have one a selection for every occasion - scribbled in notebooks, pinned to Pinterest boards, underlined in books, taped to the walls. There is something about the magic of words; the way they reflect a time, a place, a person, a feeling. But even avid collectors of quotes are surprised sometimes. Once in a while a quote sneaks up on me, like it was laid there in wait, hidden on the curve of a page until its time came. 

At the end of my university career, I found myself at a loose end. Having put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard very little in the last year (other than for lengthy essays or for rapid scribbling in the exam room), the concept of going back to writing for pleasure seemed a little alien. Having left the blogging world by the wayside a year ago, I was hesitant of the prospect of getting back on the horse. My old blog name seemed redundant - how could I start to write again if I couldn't even decide on a name for the space that was supposedly mine and mine alone?

Then, from the depths of Pinterest, came this:

I am a frequent traveller and have been ever since I left school at the age of 18. I've made homes in Chile, Spain, Russia and Portugal and will soon be moving to the Netherlands for a nine month stint. Some of my fondest memories come from between the pages of my passport and people I've not seen for a while always ask 'So where in the world are you this time?'.

I am often living out of a suitcase and that's what people have come to expect of me. This expectation helped me to understand the quote from two different angles: of course, from travel comes memories but also that there is more to a frequent traveller than their travels. 

While I don't deny this blog will often document trips and travels, it want it to be a little more than that; otherwise what will happen to this space when the passport is tucked away and the luggage stowed? As well as travel tips and expat stories, I wanted this space to reflect the other side of me too, the girl behind the heavily stamped passport pages - the one who likes to sew, to cook, to drink wine and to have afternoon tea.

From this, a blog was born.

'Between my passport pages'  will be a space for travels but also for the girl behind the passport. I hope you stick around!

Does your blog name have any special significance? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.


Monday, 26 May 2014

The Patios of Córdoba

If there's one thing that Córdoba is famed for, it's it's patios. Every year the inner courtyards of the city's traditional andalusian homes burst in to bloom and open their doors to the thousands of visitors who pass through during festival time. The patios competition is fierce with almost 60 of the 65 open patios competing in various categories. So come, walk with me through some of my favourite patios.
Keep an eye out for the next in my 'One day in...' series to see what I got up to for the rest of my flying visit to Córdoba!

Friday, 23 May 2014

El Garlochi, The Semana Santa Themed Bar.

My first attempt at finding this bar was a complete and utter failure. Of I went, my lovely girls in tow, to the address Lonely Planet had down and found nothing but a residential building. Cursing that damn book for the umpteenth time, we abandoned our search in favour of tapas and sangria in the nearest bodega.

Determined, I searched the bar on Google, and who came up trumps? None other than ever faithful Trip Advisor! New address scribbled in a notebook, it was Richard's turn to come on the Garlochi goose chase.
But praise the lord, we found it and, as promised by the reviewers, it was WEIRD AS! On an unassuming back street of the Alfalfa district, THE area of town to be seen in after dark, El Garlochi is a true marvel as Seville's only Easter themed bar (as far as I'm aware, anyway!).

Semana Santa (or Holy Week) is the lifeblood of Seville. Having experienced the fervour of the Holy Week Parades first hand (read about it here), it was strange to be catapulted back in that world of pained and sorrowful icons, heavy musk of incense and the sounds of the bands striking up - it was even stranger that this time it was on a social level.
Styled entirely with reclaims from disused churches, all of these icons and oddities once graced an entirely more sanctified corner of Seville. From their new homes in the nooks, crannies and corners of this tiny bar, they watch over the drinkers. Their sorrowful faces almost look at you with distain, like they are disappointed with you for choosing this path over something more holy. 
You would think that a place like this would be an exclusively tourist affair but we found entirely the opposite to be true. We got strange looks in the dim light not only from the statues but from the locals who prop up the bar and frequent the low slung tables, deep in hushed incense and spirit laced conversation (the liquor kind, not the holy kind!).
Jesus presiding over Richards neat vodka's right shoulder.

The drinks menu is limited to spirits or beer. There are two house special cocktails, the constituent ingredients of which are whisky and vodka, and are aptly named Christ's Blood and Water of Seville. Not wanting to stagger back to the bus, I opted for a CruzCampo, but do regret not giving one of the two concoctions a go. I also regret not asking for Jesus to turn some tap water in to a glass of wine for me - what's the point in him being in a bar if he's not going to show us his party trick?!

All in all, not the kind of place I would go for an evening drinking session, or even a quiet one to be honest. Would I return? Most probably not. Whilst it has its charms, it felt like we were treading on the regulars toes a little. A strange atmosphere with an even stranger decor - its one of the oddest places I've been in a long time, though, to my mind, there is no other city in the world where this bar would 'work' like it does.

Seeing is believing, a must visit if you're ever in town.

El Garlochi
26 Calle Boteros

Monday, 19 May 2014

One Day in Málaga.

When Rich came to visit, he flew to Málaga. Not only were flights more regular than those to Seville, the route was available from his local airport (Bristol) and the tickets were cheaper - an all round win! He arrived on a Wednesday night and I got the last bus to Málaga after work to meet him. With Thursday being a national holiday (weird I know), we decided to take advantage of my day off to explore the city before I introduced him to my new home town.

After a late night for both, we slept until we woke up - alarms are not for holiday!! Our bed in the Juanita Inn was particularly comfy, so by the time we ventured the 10 paces to the main shopping area we were just in time for an early lunch...whoops! Not a great start if you're packing a whole town in to a day. But perturbed we were not! We made a pit stop at the tourist office for maps and attraction opening times, before settling in a bar just around the corner. Deciding it was heresy to order anything but seafood whilst by the seaside, this was the resulting order.
So a garlicky chicken kebab might have snuck its way in too!

Over lunch, I said that we should set out a plan for the day. Richard automatically replied 'where are we going then?' Any one who knows me or has been on holiday with me knows that I'm a serial planner. Daily itineraries, down to where to eat and what time we should get the restaurant (I know, such a loser!!). However, as Rich had ridiculed my planning when I'd asked him about where he wanted to visit in Seville a few weeks earlier, I had made a conscious effort not to. When Rich clocked that I hadn't even looked at what there was to see in Málaga, he was slightly taken aback. Full of surprises me!

Paying the bill we wandered off in the direction of the cathedral which towered above a pretty restaurant lined, befountained square (I know its not a word, but now I've made it a word, SO THERE!).  
 'I think it must be this way..'
 In all its sunlit glory

Before we managed to find the entrance, we got side tracked by Málaga's finger painting maestro who positions himself right out side the gates.
...intrigued?! Check out my post on him here.

After paying our entrance fee (£5 for adults and a fairly sizable discount for students), we were greeted by some fairly fabulous plaster work, ornate icons and beautiful carvings in the choir area. Though many trip advisor reviewers complain about the entrance fee (some leave reviews to moan without even being inside) I think its vital to help preserve what you have to pleasure of viewing on your visit. That's what your entrance fee does people, so stop your whinging!!
We took a little stroll in the Cathedral garden afterwards which is home to a mix of fairly traditional sculptures with some modern installations. 
Next stop was the Alcazaba. Visit Málaga dubs it the most emblematic monument of the city and who were we to argue? It seemed like a solid enough recommendation to us. 

Right in the city centre, elevated on a series of levels, the Alcazaba was built before the Battle of Hastings even began! Testament to the Moorish past of Andalusia, the Alcazaba was built primarily for the protection of the city but secondly as an Arabic palace. With many tranquil patios to explore, walls to climb and unrivalled city views to capture on film, the Alcazaba makes for a nice afternoon wander. At only 2.20€ for regular entrance and only 60cents for students, the bottle of water that will be a much needed companion in the afternoon heat will cost you more than the wander!!
After a good couple of hours scaling the fortress, a beer was more than in order (mainly because we forgot the bottle of water for the hike!!). We stumbled upon a rather bustling bar on the nearest corner to the Roman theatre, being the only one with a free shady spot, we settled in for a quick drink. Then this guy came along:
Robert, the bar owner, who wouldn't stop talking long enough for the photo to be taken. 

A one man whirlwind, this guy is willing to give you his opinion after knowing you ten seconds...conversation gets deep and personal in a matter of seconds but his 'I've been there done that got the t-shirt and have the answer to everything but I'm not cocky' style made him instantly likeable. One pint turned in to two (hindsight tells us we should have gone for the 10€ beer jug) - You should defo pop in for some life lessons if you're around!

Next and last on the agenda was Picasso. Born in Málaga, he left when the city was a young man and never returned, though his work (in a purpose built museum no less!) and his childhood home stand as proud reminders of his seaside Andalusian roots! 
As a huge Picasso fan, the museum with its hall after hall of works was a treasure trove. Rich mainly went to appease me I think! We ended up playing a fun game of 'Name that painting'. Anyone who is familiar with Picasso will tell you that its often hard to distinguish what the hell it was supposed to be in the first place (no disrespect of course!). The names of works in the museum are mostly descriptions of the subjects so it was hilarious trying to identify them without looking at the tag first. Could be a game translated to many modern art galleries around the world. Whilst the art museum was a wonderful place, I found Picasso's family home and the exhibition hall attached a bore to put it nicely - stick with the main event and you won't be disappointed.

After another (slightly disappointing) fishy dinner which took us past sunset, we decided that we should probably see the ocean, as we hadn't set foot near the water all day. So off to the marina we went. 
 After circling the marina, lusting over the multimillion pound yachts and rolling our eyes at the horrendously overpriced restaurants, we turned the corner at the lighthouse to find ourselves at a near deserted Málaga beach.
 After sitting on the sand, listening to the crash of the waves and watching the cruise ships and fishing boats bob along, we decided it would be heresy not to order the famous BBQd sardines with and ice cold CruzCampo.
 Followed by a 1€ cornetto and a feast...
A round of drinks at 'Gin Tonic' bar formed the end of a perfect if packed day in the city. 10 guesses what this bar's principle tipple is. 
The bar staff are certainly gin experts, from the different low notes of the gin, to which is the best kind of tonic to put with it - they sure can teach you a thing or two! Word of warning...they don't speak a word of English! Best pointing fingers at the ready!


Saturday, 10 May 2014


Essential equipment for Feria, CHECK.
Now how the hell do I get that flower and comb to stay in my hair...?!
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