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Parisian Christmas trees have style


xmas tree

Every Christmas the French capital gets covered in trees, thousands of them decorate its quarters, official buildings and boulevards. Rosie Khdir has discovered the fusion of fashion and folliage, as Paris shows off some its more high end greenery.

Ever since the 19th century the Ministry of Parks places Christmas trees all around Paris, from the roundabout of the Champs-Elysées and Montmartre to the barges on the Seine.

Parisians are definately fond of their trees and as you all know, are very fond of their fashion and have found a festive way to combine the two. Last week the Cité de l’Architecture hosted an auction of A-list designer Christmas trees, that were anything but natural.

This year auction was stocked with a Louis Vuitton swirled glass creation, Jean Paul Gaultier tree made from white material and some very interesting shapes, as well as a pair of shoes, a tree made from log cuttings, one by Gucci made from gold coloured metal and a wooden crate filled with red baubles by Nathalie Rykiel.

All proceed from the auction will go to Paris’ Sol en Si (Solidarité en SIDA) charity which is dedicated to helping youngsters who are affected by AIDS.

This was not the only designer Christmas event this season. The InterContinental Paris Le Grand Hotel, also held a Fashion Christmas Tree event in its winter garden.

Students from an acclaimed local design school, Ecole supérieure des Arts appliqués Duperré, presented their 30 creations to an expert panel of French designers such as Franck Sorbier, Jean-Claude Jitrois and Gaspard Yukievich and François Lesage.

First prize went to Fusion Glacée, a creation made from plexiglass which emulates snowflakes falling in the shape of a Christmas tree, with a tiny tree embedded in each snowflake.

Second place went to A Livre d’Or, by Sophie Allard and Audrey Speyer which was a tree made from gilt-edged books. Third place went to Recto Verso by Cécile Rolland, a tree made from lino.

Prizes ranged from Eurostar tickets to Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne and all works submitted will be displayed in the hotel’s foyer an in the winter garden until 2nd January 2010.

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Image credit: sociotard

Get Skating in Icy Amsterdam


skater

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of lacing up your skates and gliding smoothly across the ice while the light shimmers and sparkles. And then falling over and starting again, says Tomas Mowlam

From Oslo to Edinburgh and Brussels to Boulogne, most big European towns and cities set up ice rinks during Christmas.

Amsterdam however takes it to the next level and the residents love to skate. If the weather is cold enough the canals will freeze and parts of the city will be transformed.

The local authority will close Keizersgracht canal to boats and allow ice to form and if there’s four continuous days at -4°C or lower then you can skate on it. The large pond in the Vondelpark can also freeze over, creating another skating arena.

With warmer winters this is happening less and less, but do not fear there are plenty of man-made ice skating opportunities about.

The Zuidpool (South Pole) during the summer is an artificial beach for Amsterdammers craving a more tropical atmosphere, but from October they “change sunglasses for goggles and ski suits” and it becomes one of the best ice rinks in town.

It’s at Europaplein 22, Rai and tram 4 runs every 10 minutes from central Amsterdam to the Europaplein stop. It’s open until 1st March 2010 and there are bars and outdoor cafes for you to rest and recuperate after you race around the rink.

The ice rink at the Artis Royal Zoo is very popular. The zoo itself is also a great day out and there is a planetarium, geological museum, insectariums, aviary, aquarium and a butterfly pavilion should you not feel like skating.

Trams 9, 10 and 14 all run to Artis and it’s open from 12th December 14th March. The only downside is the €17.50 entry fee.

Right in the very centre of Amsterdam there are clutch of skating rinks. The Beursplein rink next to the Christmas market is open until 3rd January, the Leidesplein is open until 10th January and there’s also the Museumplein rink in front of the Stedeliijk Museum open until 28th February.

The 400 metre oval rink at the Jaap Edenbaan is very popular with enthusiastic local skaters and it’s the home of the Amstel Tijgers hockey team. It costs € 6.10 for adults, € 3.70 for children under 16 and lockers and showers are €0.50.

If you fancy something a little more chilled why not try the XtraCold Ice Café on Amstel 194-196, in Rembrandtplein. Features over 60 tonnes of ice and it’s been sculpted and styled by local artist Jan des Bouvrie. There’s no chance of a warm beer.

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Image Credit: tpower1978

Hergé Museum


Hergé Museum

Tintin fans the world over will be glad to hear that the Museé Hergé has opened just outside Brussels, in celebration of the life of one of the greatest artists of the twentieth century. Rosie Khdir takes a look around…

In the picturesque province of Walloon Brabant sits a very contemporary building which is now the setting for swashbuckling adventures and political thrillers that are shrouded in mystery. This is Museé Hergé the new home to the curious reporter Tintin and his faithful sidekick Snowy the terrier.

Over 80 original plates and 800 photographs, documents and objects are now on display, and these include more than just Tintin. Hergé was a graphic designer, caricaturist, cartoonist, illustrator and storyteller and this collection of his works is a reflection of his many talents.

Construction of the museum started on 22nd May 2007, to mark the centenary of the artist’s birth and was finished just over two years later. The museum is in Louvain-la-Neuve, a newly created university town 30km outside of Brussels, and the building has been designed by French architect Christian de Portzamparc, the winner of the 1994 Pritzker Prize.

Every four months visitors can come and enjoy a new display, as for conservation reasons, the plates cannot be exhibited for long periods of time. There are eight show rooms and a temporary exhibition area, a video projection room, a cafeteria and a shop.

Born George Rémi, Hergé had his first taste of success with Tintin, who debuted in Le Petit Vingtième in 1929. From then until now, Hergé has sold 230 million comic books in over 80 languages and his success continues over 80 years later, as Steven Spielberg plans to direct a 3-D Tintin film to be released in late 2011.

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Image credit: © Nicolas Borel. Atelier de Portzamparc 2009

The Museum of Bags and Purses


italian-handbag

The Netherlands really is the ideal place for women to visit, with its diamond cities, delicious chocolate and, as Rosie Khdir has discovered, a museum dedicated to handbags and purses!

Handbags made from tortoiseshell, cactus fibre, mother-of-pearl or papier-mâché, decorated with snakeskin, gold and sapphire watches and even peacock feathers – you name it, this museum probably has it.

The Tassenmuseum Hendrikje in Amsterdam was set up by Hendrikje Ivo, who fell in love with handbag collecting after the discovery of a very unique bag thirty years ago.

She was working as an antique dealer in our British city of Norwich when she laid her hands on a leather bag with a tortoiseshell cover plate. She set out to discover its history, and three decades later has acquired quite a collection.

There are more than 3,500 bags, pouches, purses, luggage pieces and accessories dating from the 15th century to the present day.

This unique museum presents the history of the ladies handbag in Western culture and includes anything from a modern Louis Vuitton to a bag in the shape of the luxurious liner the Normandie. There are bags made from all types of leather – cow, goat, sheep, pig, donkey – as well as many other exotic skins such as snake, crocodile, lizard, armadillo, shark, ostrich.

Hendrikje Ivo’s extensive collection is located in a beautiful building which dates back to 1664. This collection of purses and handbags was first displayed in 1996 and expanded so rapidly within ten years, that it had to be moved to its bigger home along the famous Herengracht canal.

Visitors can also enjoy a walk around the period rooms of the house, admiring their carved wooden ornaments, marble fireplaces and elaborate ceiling paintings which depict allegories of Wealth, Music, the Arts, Sciences and Fame.

The Tassenmuseum Hendrikje is a fascinating museum and a real delight for ladies who love their purses. The gift shop is filled with bags that beckon to be bought. Just make sure your New Year‘s resolution isn’t to stop shopping!

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Image credit: huzzahvintage

A European Christmas Dinner


roastlamb23

We might crave turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce but what do our continental cousins tuck into during the festive season? Tomas Mowlam explains.

In the Netherlands there are a great range of sweets; Kerststol, is an oval shaped fruit and nut loaf, with an almond paste in the middle, Kerstkrans is a puff pastry ring filled with fruit and nuts and Banketstaaf is a flaky pastry log with almond paste in the middle decorated with cherries.

There’s also Speculaas, short crust biscuits with cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and other spices. They’re decorated in traditional shapes and are also eaten in Belgium and parts of Germany. Oliebollen are deep fried dough balls dusted in sugar sometimes with fruit inside them.

In Belgium la bûche de Noël, a rich creamy log shaped cake. Belgian’s also tuck into cougnou or cougnolle a sweet bread shaped like the baby Jesus, usually served with a cup of hot chocolate.

In Spain the big meal happens on Christmas Eve, la nochebuena. The main dish is a roast; lamb, cordero asado (above), or a main fish dish depending on the region or taste. There are great starters like white asparagus, Esparragos blancos, and traditional tapas and soups.

There is a wide selection of desserts including turron, an almond nougat, along with los polvorones , soft crumbly cakes, and marzipan figures.

Straight across the channel the French go in for Christmas meals in a big way. The big meal was traditionally eaten after midnight mass, though this is not as common. A roast goose, l’oie, is the main meal but oysters, les huîtres, are served along with salmon and caviar as starters. And of course litres of wine to wash it down.

In Alsatian France slices of Gugelhupf eaten, it’s a sweet dough ring with candied fruit and nuts, and in Provence 13 dessert items are traditionally served to represent Christ and the apostles.

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Image Credit: jlastras

Parisian women can’t legally wear trousers


trousers

After years of being labelled the most fashion forward people in Europe, it seems Parisian women will have to take a few steps back, to a time when wearing trousers was criminal. Rosie Khdir finds out more…

A law professor named Evelyn Pisier has uncovered a decree from two centuries ago, stating that it is illegal for women in Paris to wear trousers; this decree is still technically in force today.

This law was introduced by the police in 1800 to prevent women from dressing like men. This was obviously before any significant progress had been made in the Women’s Rights Movement. Amendments to the decree have been made throughout the course of history but no formal action has been taken to remove it.

In 1892 the decree was changed so that women could wear trousers “as long as the woman is holding the reins of a horse.” Then in 1909 it was altered further to include those “on a bicycle or holding it by the handlebars.”

In 1969, in the midst of global feminism, the Paris Council asked the Police Chief to remove the decree but he refused. The last attempt to abolish the law was made in 2003 by an MP of President Sarkozy’s UMP party who wrote to a minister in charge of gender equality. The minister’s reply was that it was best to simply ignore the decree rather than adapting the law.

It is very confusing why no one is repealing this law when women have been wearing trousers for decades. What is more baffling is the fact that it is compulsory for all Parisian policewomen to wear trousers, but technically if they do, they are breaking the law. Even the First Lady of France herself, Carla Bruni, is counted as a criminal by donning a pair, along with most women in the capital no doubt.

So any of you planning on heading to Paris for your holidays, remember to go sans les pantalons!

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Image credit: _straybullet

Graffiti artists brighten up Spain


Ler-graffiti

A lot of people tend to see graffiti as a negative thing, as a form of pollution, something which damages or defaces our world. In Spain graffiti is an expression, a form of art, as Rosie Khdir finds out more…

As you walk down a beautiful old cobbled street in a Spanish town filled with century old buildings, it does tend to fill you with sadness when you see a spray painted word scrawled across an immaculate wall.

Northern Spain is rife with these marks, either to mark territory or to send a politically fuelled message, but recently graffiteros have been brightening up Spanish towns.

Many Southern Spanish municipalities have decided to hire such modern street artists to liven up their towns and adorn the city’s dull buildings with their colourful artwork.

This new craze has also moved to the north of the country where you can see ugly concrete walls transformed into canvases for surrealist art. Spanish artists, such as Ler, have been creating beautiful murals which are more pleasing to the eye than your average crew signature or political outcry.

Ler has taken his art all over the Europe but he is based in León and has been commissioned to decorate a number of buildings all over Spain. His commissioned pieces this year included decorating the wall of a nursery in Madrid and a high school in León.

All over Europe, people have begun to recognise graffiti as a modern art form instead of a nuisance or and authorities in Spain are now embracing it and making it a part of their society.

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Image credit: Pilar Ponte

Traditional Dutch Christmas


sinterklaas

The Netherlands is beautiful at Christmas, like most of Europe town squares are decorated with lights and trees, there’s the chance of proper European snow, not the slushy stuff we get, there’s Christmas markets amongst Mediaeval architecture, and mulled wine or hot chocolate to keep out the chill.

Where the Netherlands takes a different route is with their version of Saint Nicholas. Ditch the Coca Cola image, Sint Nicolaas or Sinterklaas is not to be messed with. A renowned Dutch saint and patron of sailors he brings more than just seasonal cheer.

He’s tall, thin and dressed a lot like the Pope; a hangover from his days as a 4th Century Bishop in Myra, Turkey. Secondly Sinterklaas arrives by boat to the Netherlands in November, from Spain. Not Lapland note, but Spain.

Sinterklaas’s arrival into port is broadcast live on TV and big audiences turn out to see him and his entourage arrive.

He isn’t necessarily that happy to see you though; accompanied by Zwarte Pieten, his black helpers, he doles out a little corporal punishment to the kids who have been naughty not nice, stuffs them in a sack and takes them to Spain.

The black helper story has several origins; some say he represents the Spanish against whom the Dutch fought for independence during 17th Century, while folklore tells that having triumphed over evil St Nicolas made the devil his personal slave. Their skin is soot black, with red lipstick and mediaeval costume.

He whiles away the month meeting and greeting his terrified public, and 5th December is St Nicholas Day eve. Children who haven’t been kidnapped place shoes before the fire or radiator, they are then filled with small presents, sweets, chocolate letters and gingerbread. Dutch kids also leave out hay and carrots for Sinterklaas’s horses.

The Dutch obviously still celebrate Christmas, although they tend to be quieter affairs, and for the kids the real focus is often St Nicolas Day.

Prettige Kerstfeest people.

Tomas Mowlam

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Image Credit: Michell Zappa

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