Friday, 28 June 2019

When In Rome... Take No Notice Of The Street Performers

Having already visited Krakow earlier in the year, Philip and I decided Rome was next on our hitlist, and so we booked five days in the Italian capital. Neither of us had visited before and had heard mixed reviews from those who had been. However, we were more than happy to make up our own minds.

We arrived on a Monday after two flights; Belfast to London, then London to Rome. The heat hit us right away, and we were in for a swift taxi ride into the centre of Rome where our hotel was located. On arrival at the Valadier hotel, we were excited to see our room after a day of travelling, however our excitement was quickly extinguished when we realised the room was basically a shoebox. We debated whether to ask to be moved, as two people and two suitcases rammed into a space no bigger than a prison cell presented many an obstacle. However, Philip and his space saving skills decided to close his belongings into the wardrobe so it was just my suitcase causing a health and safety issue by lying on the floor. In all seriousness, if there had of been a fire, we would have both been chargrilled chicken breasts.

After settling into our shoebox, we went straight to sleep in order to be up bright and early for our Colosseum tour the following morning. We trekked around the landmark in 30 something degree heat listening intently to our tour guide, an archaeologist who was trained in all things ancient Rome, and informed us she had recently been excavating ruins in Syria but unfortunately had to evacuate due to the war. She was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about the history of Rome, and this made it all the more enjoyable.

She also guided us to the Roman Forum, where the ruins of many important ancient buildings are. It's quite surreal walking around and trying to picture what life was like back then, seeing the excavated marble floors, and crumbling walls. Not only is it full of historical ruins, it's extremely picturesque and Italian with all the trees and beautiful flowers. We were also able to look down on the famous Circus Maximus from Palatine Hill, one of the most desirable neighbourhoods in ancient Rome.

The Colosseum itself is pretty impressive especially when you take into consideration the manpower it must have taken to build. I studied Classical Civilisation at school, so it was a great experience to be able to see it all in real life. Thankfully Philip had purchased tickets for the tour online prior to our holiday, so we didn't have to face the ridiculous queue outside. He comes in handy now and again.

After our early rise and our trek to, round and from the Colosseum, we sniffed out a rustic Italian restaurant where we couldn't wait to get stuck into some authentic Italian pizza. Quickly followed by the most amazing Tiramisu; both delicious, and both nothing like anything I've had at home.

We did some more wandering around, exploring and dodging Fiats, until I spotted a Bershka. There aren't many shops you would actually buy things from, apart from the international brands such as H&M, Zara, and Sephora (which I had to visit three times). Later that night we headed to Life, a restaurant Philip had been recommended to try. All was fine and dandy, we were seated outside, given complimentary prosecco and were lapping up the Italian atmosphere. The latter being intensified by a man with a violin playing at the end of the street.

Fabulous, until he finished and made a b-line for me bypassing every other diner, and began begging me for money. I of course declined, saying I had no change and when he became irritated, I laughed it off, however he wasn't having any of it and began mocking me. He then said he plays every night 'for intelligent' people... I don't think that included me, but he eventually cleared off (thank goodness!). I feel like we take the friendliness of us Northern Irish people for granted sometimes, and expect all countries to offer the same, when in fact it's quite rare.

Anyway, the following day was the Vatican tour. Again, Philip had booked tickets online for the tour so we could effectively skip the huge queues. Fabulous, Philip. After arriving five minutes late for our 10am tour, we were told we'd missed it and would have to wait until 11, so we sat in a café round the corner and paid about 15 Euro for a coffee and orange juice. The Pope knows how to rake in the cash.

We were guided around the Vatican by an intelligent Canadian, who knew anything about everything. He gave us a crash course in the details of the Sistine Chapel and St Peter's Basilica. I did enjoy the tour, however there were a lot of art displays we had to navigate through beforehand and because there was something on that day, the halls were packed and it took a lot longer than expected.

The Sistine Chapel was not how I expected, it was loud, full of people and not as serene as I had anticipated. You also have to have your shoulders and knees covered, so I wore a midi skirt and carried a cardigan. Of course, no photos are allowed in the chapel and so you are expected to take it all in while being told to move along by the guards. They do attempt to hush everyone, but that is of course impossible when there are so many tourists who all speak different languages and are talking amongst themselves.

I think the most impressive part of the Vatican was outside, where it's modelled on the idea of Heaven, with its huge pillars, fountains and statues. Regardless of your religious beliefs, or lack of, it's easy to appreciate the architecture and I am pleased I can now say I have been.

On our second last day, we spent our time just wandering around and it was nice not having anything planned. We sat outside the restaurant next door to our hotel and had a couple of cocktails, did some shopping, and took a few more touristy pics. And on our last evening we ended up in what we thought would be another fabulous restaurant. We were wrong.

The staff basically ignored us, took so long to take our order that the man who I presumed owned the place, had to tear himself away from scrolling on his phone to take our order. When the food did come, it was basically flung onto the table in front of us. There was no atmosphere, and the tables all had a bottle of wine on them, so when you arrived and sat down, they sneakily tried to pop it open so you'd have to pay for it at the end. Philip was quick to inform them that neither of us drink wine...

After we had finished, I thought it would be quicker to get up and pay rather than wait for a waiter to acknowledge me. Again, I was quite naïve, as one waiter in particular walked right by me, ignoring me when I asked could I pay. When he eventually decided to tend to me, I was told the card machine was broken, it looked like it had never actually been used. So I had to walk to the end of the street and use an ATM that charged me three Euros to take cash out on my Monzo card. At this stage I was a bit fed up, and could tell the staff were probably expecting a tip, but I waited for my change and Philip and I made a swift exit.

When we got back to the hotel, we searched reviews of the restaurant on Trip Advisor. Many others had the same experience, if not worse, than ours. There were also quite a few comments on how the staff asked for tips, took customers' change and put it in the tip jar, and how the chip and pin machine never seems to work. If you are planning on visiting Rome, just beware of such places.

On our last morning, we had some Euros left over so decided to visit Babington's Tea Room, a quirky little place we'd spotted situated right beside the Spanish steps. It was founded by two British women but can only be found in Rome. It's basically a really fancy café, but the tea was great and the service even more so. I even bought some to bring back with me, and of course I had to get a cat mug.

All in all, we had an interesting few days. Our flights ran smoothly, our hotel was clean, if a little small, we saw so many sights and packed a lot into our stay. We did encounter a few bumps along the way, with substandard restaurant service, and rude street performers, but we didn't let that ruin our time there. I probably won't hurry back to Rome, simply because we did everything we wanted to do whilst we were there, I am just happy to tick it off my bucket list.

P.S. Watery Eye Update

If you follow me on Instagram, or have read my previous blog post, you'll be aware of my watering eye struggle. I finally conquered it following a visit to the optician, however when I was in Rome, my eye watered for two whole days pretty much none stop. I don't know whether the dry air on the plane was the blame, or the heat in Rome itself. However, I did some quick research via Google, and many articles stated that yes, the recycled air on the plane can contribute to drying the tear film.

I bought eye drops when I was over there and tried in vain to use a hot compress, but we didn't have a kettle and the water from the tap wasn't near hot enough. It eventually subsided on the second last day, and of course then I was worrying about flying home again. It didn't water on the way home or any of the days after though, surprisingly. I'm not completely sure what caused it, but it's definitely something to think about if you too suffer with dry eyes and are going on holiday this summer.


Friday, 7 June 2019

Solved: The Case Of The Watery Eye

I have been plagued with a watery eye for such a long time, too long in fact. My left eye seems to cause a lot of fuss and drama any time make up comes into close contact, so much so that I went days without wearing any eyeshadow or mascara to see if it would surrender. It did dry up on a few occasions, only to become teary again the day after. I became accustomed to carrying my trusty MAC Teddy kohl pencil in my bag, ready to touch up the 'circle of doom' that would form on my outer corner. Of course, anyone who suffers from such an annoying condition knows that fixing an area under your eye after it has been watering is virtually impossible.

I tried everything, antihistamines, eye drops, nasal spray, not wearing makeup, only using certain eyeshadows, changing my mascara, deep cleaning my makeup brushes, throwing out my old eyelash curler... You name it, I tried it.

I convinced myself it was an allergic reaction to a red colouring found in the majority of eyeshadow brands, especially those that produced purple, deep browns and plum shades. I stuck to neutral, beige, light brown colours and honestly, as dramatic as it sounds, I didn't feel like myself. I am used to sporting a super smokey, deep plum eye, and there I was with a taupe eyeshadow and the slightest touch of mascara.

One day, at the end of my tether I decided to phone the doctor. Many of you may think this is a 'first world problem', and that a watery eye isn't something that should hinder your everyday life, but it did for me. The constant watering not only ruined my blending, my eye became stingy, irritated and the skin around it began to dry out and turn red. So enough was enough, the doctor was my only option. The receptionist suggested that since appointments were few and far between, an optician may be able to help sooner, so I rang my nearest Vision Express and was booked in for an eye test at 2pm that afternoon.

The lady in Vision Express obviously tested my eyesight, something which I haven't had done in probably about 20 years. I was then taken into another room with an optometrist, where I explained my issue and she suggested a couple of possible causes. She of course had all the machinery and gadgets to get to the root of the problem, by studying the surface of my eye through what seemed to be a huge, very technical looking microscope.

After confirming the back of my eyes were 100% healthy, she checked the moisture levels and was able to tell straight away that there was an issue. The close up was able to show the water in my eye was disappearing in a matter of seconds every time I blinked, something caused by a lack of oil. We all have a mixture of oil and water in our eyes, the oil seals in the water to stop evaporation, and because I was lacking in oil, the water that was supposed to be keeping my eye comfortable wasn't able to do its job, and was escaping through the outer corner, hence the constant watering. Interesting!

So what causes this? Well, the lack of oil in my eye was due to blocked oil glands along the lash line. The optometrist said she could see, through the microscope, some black substance along where the oil glands would usually expel their oil from. This may be a build up of makeup that I thought I had removed, and over time it had formed a layer, blocking my oil ducts and causing mayhem. Also, using products in the waterline is a big factor in causing such a blockage, especially if it's a waterproof product that will not let the oil penetrate through.

How do you go about fixing it? The optometrist explained that although it's easy to fix, it can take a lot of patience and daily eye compresses to solve, and that it may be a matter of weeks before I notice a difference. She also recommend buying flaxseed oil to take as a supplement, and after doing some research on the matter, I realised how many studies there are highlighting the benefits of flaxseed in solving eye issues like mine.

I quickly hotfooted it to Holland & Barrett and picked up a bottle of flaxseed capsules (1000mg) and I now take two every morning. I have also been religiously using a face cloth dipped in warm water pressed over my eye for around five minutes every evening, then massaging the area to push the oil from the glands. The hot compress helps to loosen any matter that may be blocking the glands, therefore making it easier for the oil to get back to doing its job. I wasn't expecting miracles, but apparently they do happen.

I was slightly sceptical to begin with, having tried so many different things to curb the problem. However, after one night of using a hot face cloth and massaging below my lash line,  I  noticed a difference. I had a small amount of watering in the morning when putting on my makeup, but after that it stopped and remained dry for the rest of the day. Over the following days I noticed when I woke up in the morning, my eye didn't feel as dry, or irritated on the outer corner. Whether it's the flaxseed or the hot compress, I am extremely pleased and grateful that I finally have an answer. I had been hassled for so long by my watery eye and it became the norm, when really I didn't have to put up with it.

Of course I may always be susceptible to having a dry eye, but if that means having to take flaxseed and use hot compresses for the foreseeable future, then so be it. I looked into makeup that can block oil glands, and basically eyeliners and mascara are the worst culprits, especially those that are waterproof. I used a waterproof mascara for years so this may have contributed to the problem, and I use kohl pencils and waterproof gel liners that are probably doing more damage than good. It is annoying that I may have to be careful with the products I use around my eyes, but it's a small price to pay for having comfortable eyes again.

I also queried the use of dry eye drops with the optometrist,  as I had spent a clean fortune trying various brands and formulas. Apparently they are a quick fix, but will not get to the root of the problem. They can be good used in the morning to give your eyes a moisture boost, but using them long term probably doesn't have any lasting effect.

I have still been able to use eyeshadow and a pen liner on the top lash line, so far without any watering, and I am slowly reintroducing products back into my makeup after casting them aside thinking I was allergic to them.

I must also mention that while doing my research on irritating makeup ingredients, I came across numerous chemicals that are used in all sorts of makeup that are listed as eye irritants. So if you find you have a watering eye, and a hot compress doesn't do the trick, maybe start studying the ingredients lists of the products you're using. It's quite scary to see what companies can get away with using in their eyeshadows and liners, and extremely surprising to see that a lot of products for use around the immediate eye area are packed full of potentially irritating ingredients. I am also accepting of the fact that I may use an eyeshadow one day that just annoys my eyes, and they may begin to water, but it's simply trial and error.

Anyway, if you have a watering eye issue I hope this has been helpful for you. I am extremely happy that such an annoying problem had a relatively easy solution and now I can enjoy wearing eyeshadow again. Long may it last!

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