Colourful places in the world

Colourful Places in the World

Today is World Colour Day so I thought it would be fun to look back on my travels and pick the most colourful streets, villages, towns or cities I encountered. Some of these are as bright as bright can be but some other are definitely more pastel.
So here’s a top 10, in no particular order, for your peepers to hopefully brighten up this very grey start of Spring.

Colourful Places in the World

1. PRAIA DA COSTA NOVA IN AVEIRO, PORTUGAL

Costa Nova is one of the beach towns of Aveiro in Portugal. When I went to Porto, I made a point to make the hour and a bit journey to this cheerful little place. I was so curious to see these colourful huts with my own eyes. I’m happy to report the place looks as glorious in real life as in pictures. The candy-striped houses on the promenade gave me so much joy. The whole thing looked like a film set!

Colourful Places in the World

2. AZROU, MOROCCO

Morocco has some colourful cities. The blue city of Chefchaouen often comes to mind. But other places have caught on with the limewashed trend. I was told that it was only recent that Azrou had started coating its walls with colourful pigments. While Azrou is not as high-profile as a Marrakesh or a Chefchaouen, I do think it should be on your list if you like colourful places. The old quarter is a delightful mishmash of mint green, marigold yellow and salmon pink. My favourite part was the beautiful street art of fish swimming upstream on those long stretch of stairs.
(The rainbow stairs on the cover of this post also belong to Azrou).

Burano Island

3. BURANO IN VENICE, ITALY

If there was a prize for the most colourful place in the world, let’s face it, Burano would probably win it. Walking in Burano is like being sandwiched between a canal and a rainbow. It’s an oddly pleasant sensation, I would recommend it 100%!

Read my post on Burano here

Colourful Places in the World

4. CATALAN BAY, GIBRALTAR

When I visited Gibraltar, I certainly didn’t expect to find nice beaches. On the east side of the isthmus, you will find a couple of seaside villages. One of them is called Catalan Bay and let me tell you, it is an explosion of eighties colours. I’m pretty sure I had an outfit that looked like that as a kid.

Colourful Places in the World

5. NOTTING HILL IN LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM

Of course, this London’s neighbourhood does not need an introduction. There are fewer places in the world I’d rather be than wandering Portobello’s colourful streets on market days.

Le Puy-en-Velay

6. LE PUY-EN-VELAY, FRANCE

Le Puy is a medieval city in the French volcanic region of Auvergne. It is famous for being one of the starting points of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. It has an old-worldly charm to it, the narrow alley-ways, the pastel-coloured blinds that adorn the windows, the steep streets that lead to the towering cathedral. Le Puy is truly an enchanting place.

Read my Quick Guide to Le Puy-en-Velay here

Colourful Places in the World

7. CASTLE HILL IN BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

The castle district is one of the most touristy area of Budapest. There you will find the Fisherman’s Bastion, Matthias Church and of course, the castle. One thing you should also do is walk on the cobblestoned streets of the historical residential area. The baroque houses are so pleasing to the eye.

Colourful Places in the World

8. NIKOLAIVIERTEL IN BERLIN, GERMANY

Nikolaiviertel is the historical heart of Berlin. There, the majestic houses are pastel in colours and feature interesting rococo designs on their facades. They look like a beautiful layered cake out of Mendl’s from The Grand Budapest Hotel. Just dreamy.

Colourful Places in the World

9. DINGLE, IRELAND

In Ireland, where there’s a village, chances there’s a colourful row of houses. Many towns or cities could have made that list but for me, the little port of Dingle in county Kerry shone the brighter! (I do want to give a special mention to Cobh in county Cork though and while I’m here, I’d also like to specify that I haven’t visited Kinsale yet!)

Colourful Places in the World

10. PORTO, PORTUGAL

I know, I hear you saying ‘another Portuguese place?!’. Forgive me, but I couldn’t not mention here Porto and its tetris cube houses bearing proudly the colours of a crayola box set.

Now tell me, what are the most colourful places you’ve visited? Which one should I visit next?

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Russborough House & Parklands | co. Wicklow

Russborough House
One golden afternoon in the late Autumn, I took the 65 bus to county Wicklow. I got off at the end of the line, in a town called Blessington. It wasn’t my first time here, actually. I had stayed here for a couple of days in the Avon Ri Lakeshore Resort a few years back. It is a group of self-catered townhouses on the shore of the Blessington Lakes. I have fond memories of the place and I would totally recommend it if you’re looking for a base to explore Wicklow or if you simply want an escape from the city. The lakes are the perfect setting for invigorating country walks.
Coincidentally, the Avon Ri is also the start of the Greenway Walk, where I was headed that morning. This is the trail that leads directly to Russborough House. This Irish Stately House had been on my list of places to see for a really long time. I had read that it was one of Ireland’s most beautiful houses and I was dying to see it for myself.
Greenway Walk
The Blessington Greenway trail is a pleasant one hour and half walk (one way) on flat, well-maintained paths. They follow first the shores of the lakes then they go through wild woodlands. Half-way through, I felt my shrivelled urban lungs expand and fill themselves with the crisp cold Autumn air of the morning. Dry leaves were crunching under my feet and the pine trees wrapped me with their musky silence.
At the end of the trail, a stoned arch marks the entrance to the Russborough demesne. It opens to a long avenue bordered with trees which leads directly to the 18th century house. Its 210 metre-long facade (the longest frontage in Ireland) embraces a phenomenal view of valleys, mountains, lakes and, of course, sheep.
I sat down on a bench to take it all in (and to recover from the previous long walk).
Revived by my surroundings, I then headed to the ticket office and booked a tour inside the house. The tour was to start in an hour which left me a bit of time to explore the house’s grounds.
Russborough House
The courtyard is home to many artisan and craft stalls: a blacksmith, a candle-maker, a woodturner and a ceramicist. There, you will find also Ireland’s Bird of Prey Centre and if you’re lucky you might catch a show of falconry. It was a bit late in the year so I wasn’t. I didn’t feel too lucky either when I found out that the walled gardens were closed that day.
Nonetheless, I continued my exploration, walked by the maze and stumbled upon one of the previous owners’ grave, the 4th Earl of Milltown and the Countess. I also found a fairy trail and admired Lady’s Island where a little red Japanese bridge spans over a delightful brook.
But time was a-ticking and I headed back to the gift shop where the tour was to start. A friendly lady with a mellifluous germanic accent took our small group in the first room of the house. The dining room.
Russborough House
There, the long mahogany table had been laid out with silver candle holders, gilded porcelain plates and tiny crystal glasses for the sherry. Our tour guide set the scene and depicted the lives of those who once called Russborough home. It all started with Jospeh Leeson, 1st Earl of Milltown who asked Richard Cassels to design and build the house in 1741. Richard Cassels was one of the most prolific architects in Ireland of the time. He was a master of the Palladian style of which Russborough is a fine example.
The estate stayed in the Leeson family until 1914. It passed in the hands of a couple more owners then was finally acquired by Lord and Lady Beit. They were looking for a place to house their vast art collection.
The couple resided here until their final days (Lord Alfred Beit: 1994, Lady Beit: 2005) but they opened part of the house to the public, in the late seventies.
The life of the Beits at Russborough was eventful, to say the least. They’ve gone through: 4 robberies (one of them was even labelled ‘the biggest art robbery in history’ at the time), 1 forced occupation by the old IRA, 1 fire and 1 ghost. But not everything was gloom and doom, the couple actually had mostly a happy life here. They were renowned socialites and received many illustrious guests. Mick Jagger, Marianne Faithful, Jackie Kennedy, Fred Astaire and Coco Chanel to name a few.
Having noticed some books on the Mitford Sisters in the gift shop (I used to be obsessed with them!), I asked the tour lady if there was any connections with Russborough, could they have been guests here too?
To my absolute delight, she informed me that the sisters were actually cousins of Lady Clementine Beit!
Russborough House
Russborough House
Russborough House
While learning about the life of the Beits, we had moved from one room to another. We passed the boudoir, the entrance hall, the reception room and my favourite, the library. As it happens, the favourite of the lady of the house too! Lady Clementine was a “mad bibliophile and adored being surrounded by books“. I couldn’t have thought of a better place for that as the walls were covered in books and the sofa near the chimney looked ever so inviting.
One thing that really impressed me throughout the whole visit was the ceiling and the wall plasterwork. The flamboyantly rococo stucco work was a speciality of the Lafranchini Brothers and if you see some in a Palladian house in Ireland, chances are they worked on them.
Russborough House
Russborough House
Russborough House
We climbed the equally ornate staircase to access the second floor. There the rooms are more plain, the showstopper here is undoubtedly the mesmerising view from the bedroom. My eyes got lost on the horizon and I couldn’t help thinking about the person waking up to this, every morning. They must have felt the luckiest human in the world!

Looking for more Wicklow gardens to visit? Head to my Wicklow section 

Russborough House

RUSSBOROUGH HOUSE PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Russborough House & Parklands – website
Blessington
co. Wicklow
Ireland

Opening Hours
see website

Admission
General €12 / Concession €9 / Child €6 / Under 5 Free

Bus
65

BLESSINGTON GREENWAY WALK PRACTICAL INFORMATION

The trail starts at the Avon Ri Lakeshore Resort and ends at Russborough House. Distance one way is 6.5 km which takes about 1.5 hour to complete. The trail’s grade is easy.

Best in Travel 2017

It’s been a while and I’ve been missing writing here. I’ve plenty to tell you about, so many places in Ireland and elsewhere, I want to share with you.
But first, if you don’ mind, I thought we could look back on last year. I’ve made some great travel memories and discoveries at home and on the European continent. I really want to document them here.
Without further ado, let’s jump in my 6 favourite travel moments of 2017!

Best in Travel 2017

CROSSING THE MARGARET BRIDGE AT DUSK

It was a cold January evening in Budapest and I was crossing one of the city’s many bridges to get to the Buda side. I was hoping to get night pictures of the Hungarian Parliament there. I was working against the clock and rapidly losing light so I stepped up my pace, blinded by the cars’ headlights coming my way. It was rush hour, the city people were eager to get home.
Underneath my feet, the Danube was flowing steadily, taking in its stride numerous ice patches. A frozen Danube, an extraordinary sight to behold I was told.
Despite, the traffic noise, I could hear voices coming from under the bridge, I looked over the handrail and to my utter amazement, two locals were having a casual conversation, standing on a giant ice sheet in the middle of the river. Uh?! I waited a few seconds to see if anyone needed help but they carried on talking like they always meant to be there.
I looked up and as the sun just hid behind the horizon, it set the sky ablaze with a thousand pink shades. Despite the biting cold, I removed my gloves and placed them in my faux-fur coat, retrieved my camera from my bag. For each step I took, I snapped a picture of this view for the sky was quickly changing and the parliament buildings were glowing brighter and brighter.
Buda felt like a distant memory, I didn’t care about getting to the other side of the bridge anymore nor about losing any sensation in my fingertips. What mattered was there and then, and that magical pink sky.

Best in Travel 2017

CELEBRATING BLOOMSDAY IN SANDYCOVE

2017 was the year I finally ticked off the big Dublin touristy events. It only took me 9 years, go me. I saw the St Patrick’s Parade in the capital for the first time and in June, I celebrated Bloomsday. Bloomsday, for those of you who never heard it, happens every 16th of June, it’s a day where Dubliners relive the events of the day depicted in James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s a brilliant way to experience the book, even if you’ve never read it, and also get to the very essence of the city.
On that day I took the Dart to the seaside town of Sandycove and Glasthule. This is where the opening of Ulysses takes place, in the Martello Tower. You could argue that taking a train to a Dublin’s seaside neighbourhood could hardly qualify as a travel memory but to me, discovering that a local gem can create wonder in your heart at home is worth a million memories made on the road.
Sandycove is pretty much a postcard village but on Bloomsday, it turns into something quite electrifying. Chairs and tables are laid on the main street, set up for the annual lunch. People of all trade and ages are dressed in early 20th century garbs. Horses dragging carts, are clippety-clopping on the macadam. Ladies are adorned with wide-brimmed hats and Edwardian dresses, men wear tiny round glasses and elegant boaters. It’s astonishing how many true James Joyce doppelgängers roam the streets on that day! My own boater in hand, I ascended the path to the Martello tower, surrounded by a group of women in billowy white dresses. Midway, I stopped at the Forty Foot creek to admire the brave swimmers. Despite being the month of June, it’s nowhere near swimming weather in Ireland.
Once inside the Martello, we all squeezed ourselves at the windy top of the tower, listening to Ulysses read by actors and looking out to ‘the sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea‘.

Best in Travel 2017

WANDERING IN THE EMPTY GARDENS OF THE NEW CASTLE OF ANSEMBOURG

As soon as I walked under the baroque gilded gate and laid my eyes on the rose garden, I knew I was in for something special. It was a humid Summer afternoon and my Dad and I were road-tripping across Luxembourg. On our way to the capital city, we stopped at the New Castle of Ansembourg to stretch our legs. Luxembourg is very much known for its castles and I could not pass up seeing one of them. This 17th century beauty does not allow visitors inside unfortunately but the gardens are free to roam. So many features enchanted us that afternoon: the mysterious hedge tunnel at the back of the land, the golden eagle fountain, the maze, the elegant white-marbled statues standing tall on the garden’s avenue, a bicentenary tree (the tallest in Luxembourg!) and of course, the fragrant rose garden.

Best in Travel 2017

HIKING IN GLENDALOUGH

Another ‘big Irish thing’ I ticked off last year was Glendalough. Despite being one of the most visited Irish sites, this valley in county Wicklow was terra incognita for me. The reason was the sole bus service only does one return trip a day there and I thought it would frame the exploring to a tight schedule. So last Summer, I decided to rent an Airbnb for a few days in the area. Perfect plan, right? Yes perfect plan if it wasn’t for the fact that it was kind of a hike already to get to the starting point of Glendalough’s several hiking trails. I completely believed in my capacity to go from couch to 20km a day. Eh, no. Needless to say that Day 2 was a rest, I-can’t-move-from-the-bed, day. But the following day I was thankfully back on my feet. Even though it took me a few attempts, I finally ascended the climb that starts at the mining village on my last day. This glorious view over the lake (and the fragile sense of achievement for little couch potato me) was of course worth any stiff legs and wobbly knees. I want to do it all over again already!

Best in Travel 2017

ADMIRING LADIES VIEW IN KILLARNEY

Back in September, a friend came to visit from Belgium and we embarked on an epic road-trip across county Kerry. This was truly the nicest surprise! One of the many, MANY, highlights of this trip was to finally see, with my own two eyes, the view that had adorned the walls of my childhood bedroom. Ladies View in Killarney National Park. I had blue-tacked a postcard of this majestic landscape at the foot of my bed and every time I looked at it, it would lift my heart. For me, it encapsulated everything I had hoped to find in Ireland.
Fast forward to last year, the daydream became a reality and it didn’t disappoint. It can get tiring to live in Dublin, what with its constant business, its high cost of living, its grey weather but that such treasures are on my doorstep (or a bit further), it is pretty special. Now could we a have a decent transport system across the country please?

Best in Travel 2017

WATCHING THE SUN SET ON THE DOURO RIVER

Oh Porto… sigh… if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you know I’ve got a mad crush on Lisbon. Well, it turns out Porto had a similar effect on me, granted they’re very different cities with different atmospheres. On the first evening of my trip to Porto back in November, I already had stars in my eyes. My feet had naturally carried me to the banks of the Douro River (Douro means Gold in Portuguese… the Golden River, how poetic!). I crossed the Dom Luis I Bridge and sat on a bench on the Vila Nova de Gaia’s side. From there, I watched the sun set on Porto, on its colourful house blocks. The sky lit up in vibrant colours for the last day’s hurrah. The weirdly out-of-place looking local boats were coming back to port. Above them, thousands of seagulls were hovering in a synchronised sway. Apparently, I like a sunset!

Irish Summer Wishlist 2017

Irish Summer Checklist 2017
Bray, July 2014

I really want to make a tradition of making little wishlists every Summer for places I want to visit in Ireland. Summers always feel like they’re full of possibilities here, more than any other places I’ve lived in. Probably because the Winters are so long and dreary, you feel lucky and so emboldened as soon as the sun shows its first rays. You really owe it to yourself to make the most of the brighter days. I made one of theses lists back in 2015, and used it through that Summer and the next one. Actually, I still have a few items I need to tick off so I will definitely go back to it (go have a look at it if you need activity ideas, I reviewed the ones I have done). But I also wanted a fresh one for this new Summery chapter. If you’ve been a regular reader of this blog, it won’t surprise you that this lists feature a few grand houses and nature spots. Also, most of the places are close to or easily reachable from Dublin. Here they come, the 10 things I most aspire to do this sweet Irish Summer.

  • Visit the handweaving mill at Avoca (co. Wicklow)
    I would love to see how Avoca’s colourful blankets and throws are made  They are some of Ireland’s most famous exports and this mill is said to be the oldest one working in the country! I’m hoping I can combine the tour with a visit to its neighbouring Knockanree Botanic Gardens.
  • Tour Ardgillan Castle (co. Dublin)
    There’s nothing that makes me happier than visiting a period house and its gardens. Especially when those come with impressive sea views. Bonus point, this castle is in county Dublin so it should be easy enough to get to it!
  • Pick raspberries at Lamberts Fruit Farm (co. Dublin)
    I can’t think of a more summery activity than picking fruits in a field! Located in Rathfarnam, Lamberts Farm open its door to the public for a couple of months just as their berries (strawberries, gooseberries and raspberries) get ripe for the season.
  • See the puffins at Great Saltee Island (co. Wexford)
    Up until recently I thought you could only see puffins on the West Coast of Ireland, which is not that easily accessible for me. But it turns out, and it looks like it’s a bit hush-hush, there’s an island off the Wexford coast, where hundreds of puffins (and other birds) like to spend the nesting season. It’d be a dream come true to take a little boat trip there! (granted it is done with respect to the local wildlife).
  • Finally tick off Glendalough from my Irish bucket list (co. Wicklow)
    Yes, I’m not proud of myself, I have been living here for 9 years and I still haven’t visited this Irish nature wonder which attracts thousands of people from all over the world. Don’t ask me why, I’m as confused as you are.
  • Meditate in Victor’s Way Garden (co. Wicklow)
    This garden is said to be contemplative, it is full of Indian statues, some of them looking rather strange. Definitely not your typical Wicklow garden!
  • Buy a 99 with flake at Teddy’s Ice cream (co. Dublin)
    Last year, I finally tasted Murphy’s ice-cream. I think it’s time, this year, I tried this Dublin institution. I’ll probably go to the original Dun Laoghaire location, as I’ve been meaning to explore this sea town again. It looks like it changed quite a bit since the last time I went.
  • Eat at The Happy Pear (co. Wicklow)
    I’ve been meaning to eat there for aaages, I’m just a klutz when it comes to read opening hours. This Summer, I’ll tattoo them on my arm! I would also love to make more of an effort to eat vegan when I’m out. Do you know of any great cafes or restaurants that have an interesting vegan menu?
  • Walk in Talbot Botanic Garden (co. Dublin)
    This garden is located on the grounds of Malahide Castle. Last time I was there, albeit a long time ago, they were closed for renovations. It would be nice to see what they did with the place and it would be the perfect occasion to finally take a tour of the castle!
  • Visit Castletown House (co. Kildare)
    I promised myself to explore county Kildare this year. It is a direct neighbour to Dublin and quite well-served by transport, so really there’s no excuse to my vast ignorance when it comes to this county. I would love to start with Castletown House as I love the Palladian architecture, also it hosts a very cute market every Sunday!

What are your plans for this Summer?

6 Places Where to Stop and Smell the Roses in Dublin

Places in Dublin Where to Stop and Smell the Roses

I’m sure you have all sorts of busy plans for this Summer, jet-setting here and there. Or maybe working throughout the whole season. With a busy schedule, it’s all the more important to stop and smell the roses. Especially as we have so many fantastic places to do just so here in Dublin. Heck, we even have a festival dedicated to the pretty posy.
And because roses are repeat-flowerers, it means you’ll have until early Autumn to maybe take a few minutes for yourself in one of the places below where roses rule as queens.

Places in Dublin Where you Can Smell the Roses

1. IRISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL GARDENS

If I had to pick one place to come to see the roses in Dublin every year, this will be it. There’s something about the architecture that makes me think of the Roaring Twenties. I can imagine a glamorous flapper being serenaded here under the moon light, one warm Summer night. The roses are spread around a concrete pond in two sunken gardens on both side of the Stone of Remembrance. Four granite bookrooms holding the names of the Irish soldiers who died during WWI stand majestically on both of the rose gardens’ entrance.

Places in Dublin Where You Can Stop And Smell The Roses

2. IVEAGH GARDENS

The Iveagh Gardens are known as Dublin’s secret garden. Located just next to Stephen’s Green, it lives in the shadow of its bigger and more famous sister. If you’re looking to escape Stephen’s Green’s crowded lawns in Summer, this is here that will find your peace and quiet. The Gardens counts whimsical, at times wonderland-esque, features: a yew maze, two striking fountains, a cascade and, you’ll have guessed it by now, a rosarium. The smell inside the arches is so potent you’ll want to bask yourself in it for hours.

Places in Dublin Where you Can Stop and Smell the Roses

3. ST ANNE’S PARK

If you have any interest in roses and you live in Dublin, chances are you have heard of St Anne’s Park in Raheny. This large park facing Bull Island has the biggest rose garden in the city. It even holds a yearly rose festival on the month of July.  It’s a joyous, familial event where you can of course admire the roses in full bloom (I especially love the canopies) but also mooch around craft and food stalls. If you want to know more about the event, you can read my coverage of it here.

Places in Dublin where to Stop and Smell the Roses

4. PORTOBELLO

Portobello is undoubtedly one of my favourite neighbourhoods in South Dublin and it truly comes alive with Summer. Dubliners love to sit along the Grand Canal to sunbathe and roses add colourful touches to the typical cottages’ front gardens. Some of my favourite streets to admire the local blooms are Arnott Street and Portobello Road along the canal but wander aimlessly and you’ll be rewarded! And if you want to make a pit stop for a refreshing drink and a slice of cake, you’ll be spoilt for choices as Portobello is the home to so many great cafes. Bibi’s, Love Supreme, Little Bird, The Greenery, Meet Me in The Morning,… to name a few.

6 Places in Dublin Where You Can Stop and Smell the Roses

5. NATIONAL BOTANIC GARDENS

If you keep on your left once you enter the gardens then cross the Tolka River, this is where you’ll find the rose garden. I’m mentioning this because even though I visited these gardens many times, I’ve always missed it. It’s certainly easy to get distracted in this beautiful place. The rose garden has the traditionally circular shape and its centre you’ll find one of the garden’s two sundials. The roses there are a joyous multicoloured bunch, there’s even a deep purple species which is something I had never seen before!

Places in Dublin Where you can Stop and Smell the Roses

6. DUBLIN’S FLOWER SHOPS

Dublin has some amazing flower shops and stalls, I would highly recommend visiting them to bring a bit of rose magic in your own home. You can find two of my favourites only a few meters from each other, in Dublin’s creative quarter.
These beautiful rainbow roses were sold by Appassionata Flowers when Ireland said yes. Their display is always a joy to look at, no matter the season. A few minutes away, you’ll find The Garden in the Powerscourt Townhouse’s hall, spilling their lovely posies on the building’s majestic steps. Inside the shop, the beautiful collection of plants, pots, candles and stationary fill the Georgian entrance with breathtaking grace.

How To Travel Solo When You Feel Anxious

How to Travel Solo When You Feel Anxious

I feel like solo travel has the same effect on people the way bungee-jumping does. Some live for the thrill of it and others shudder at the idea. While I value the lessons that solo travel can teach, I probably belong to the second category. Although I don’t see it as a jump in the unknown anymore: I was pushed in the figurative ether at 15 and since then, I don’t think twice about navigating myself in a foreign land in a language I barely know. What I still find paralysing is the thought of having no one I can turn to and share with while having all these new intense experiences on the road. This can get crippling to me and I’m sometimes guilty of wasting days locked in my hotel room watching familiar TV shows and trying to forget the big new world outside. I’m not as bad as I used to be as I picked up a few tricks to get over this anxious feeling along the way. I thought I would share them with you today, for those of you who feel like travelling solo is an unsurmountable mountain. I promise you, it really is not.

1. PREPARATION IS KEY

I think you’ll agree with me that a lot of the anxiety lies in the unknown. Prior to your trip, get to know your destination. You can read your guides, make lists of the places you want to visit, or even better pin them on online maps. I find it very helpful to visually see the city I’m about to explore beforehand. There are countless apps now which allow you to do just that, Google Maps even released a similar function. My personal favourite app is Mapstr which is brilliant for customising (you can use different symbols and colours for restaurants, museums, cafes and so on… so you can find what you’re looking at a quick glance) and it works offline! Make sure you pin your accommodation and the transport stops near it as well. You’ll find that once you’re on location, it will have the added bonus of saving you time because you’ll naturally start exploring by area, not fussing with transport as much. It’s great to be organised but do leave some room for spontaneity though, that’s what’s travelling is for after all!

2. BLEND IN WITH THE LOCALS

The very first thing I do when I get to my destination is to explore the surroundings of my accommodation. I generally try to pick a hotel or an Airbnb in a friendly neighbourhood. Even if there’s no major attraction in the area, I make a point of visiting the local cafes, parks and getting my groceries in the nearby supermarket. It gives you a sense of belonging which ultimately makes you feel like you’ve got this, this is your ‘home away from home’ and there’s no reason to feel lost.

3. FIND YOUR ZEN

Touristy attractions can be a daunting place to start your trip with. I don’t know about you but the thought of mixing with crowds tend to make me want to curl up in a ball and forget about everything. That’s why if I’m on my own, I would generally start by visiting a botanical garden or a famous park first. Especially after a day of travelling, I crave to be surrounded by nature. It makes me feel more centred and keep the anxiety at bay. Nothing beats a peaceful place to find your peace within.

4. DO WHAT YOU DO AT HOME

It’s thrilling to experience a new culture but there’s nothing wrong in also seeking the experiences in which you find joy in your hometown. It is a failsafe and it brings you back to familiar territories. For instance, for me, it means looking for the best falafel and browsing local flea markets. It might not feature in your tourist guide or be the typical thing to do but it sometimes leads to hidden gems and ultimately, it makes you happy in a comforting, familiar way.

5. CARRY YOUR OWN SAFETY BUBBLE EVERYWHERE YOU GO

Sometimes, the crowds, the noises, the smells, it can get all a bit too much. When I’m out and about and feel like I want to block it out, I pop on my headphones and listen to a podcast. I generally opt for Judge John Hodgman because it is the one I fall asleep to at home. Not only do I associate it with the security of my own bed but it is also hilarious, so it helps me completely rid of travel nervousness.  This trick can work with anything that brings you back to a safe place whether it is a Whatsapp group chat with your family and friends, a sniff of lavender essential oil or your loved one’s perfume, an engrossing book or your favourite album. It is good to have a transportable haven when you’re on the road.

BONUS TIP

There’s another thing that I can credit my newfound confidence on the road to. It is this very blog. I don’t ever feel alone when I’m travelling anymore because I now can share what I learnt on the road here or on Instagram. It pushes me to get the best out of all my trips so it can be useful to someone, I feel like my exploration has now a concrete purpose. So I’d definitely recommend to open a blog or an Instagram account if you haven’t done so already, especially Instagram as the sense of community is instant and really helpful.

I think the key when you travel solo is to do it at your own pace, it doesn’t mean you have to go all out and have your meals on your own in a posh restaurant. There’s nothing wrong with bringing your groceries to your room… actually it’s one of the things that I enjoy the most after a long day of wandering!

The Best Places to See the Cherry Blossoms in Dublin

The Best Places to See the Cherry Blossoms in Dublin
I hope I’m not jinxing it by it saying it out loud or rather writing it here but it feels like Spring is finally in the air. The last few days have shown more blue skies than I’ve seen for the last 4 months and the sun has felt distinctly warm upon my skin. The snowdrops have come and gone, to be replaced by the cheerful daffodils and a few shy bluebells. Some trees have already adorned their branches with some tiny fluffy pompoms and magnolia buds are getting stronger and stronger. Every year, the change of the seasons and the feeling it springs in my heart catch me by surprise. Maybe it’s because I’m getting old, maybe it’s because the Irish Winters are the most miserable I have known but come Spring I feel like, I too revive. From a lethargic state, I suddenly turn effervescent and I have this burning desire of witnessing every single blossom in the city quiver in the Spring breeze. Alas, the beauty of this season also lies in its ephemerality so I thought I would compile a list of the best cherry trees in Dublin so we can enjoy Spring without wasting any precious minute.

The Best Places to See the Cherry Blossoms in Dublin
SAINT STEPHEN’S GREEN

Saint Stephen’s Green is a prime location to observe the change of the seasons in Dublin. It’s no wonder that the expression of the Irish Spring reaches romantic heights here. Walking along its paths planted with cherry trees is just poetry.

The Best Places to see the Cherry Blossoms in Dublin
TRINITY COLLEGE

A few cherry trees shadow the walkway next to the cricket pitch of Trinity College. Their petals fall like snow on the constant flux of students going back and forth from the university pub, the Pavilion Bar. Come Spring, the whole area is energised with a wind of change.

Best Places to see the Cherry Blossom Trees in Dublin
IRISH NATIONAL WAR MEMORIAL GARDENS

It is widely known that the War Memorial Park is a breathtaking place to be in the summertime when the sunken gardens are filled with fragrant roses. However the grassy patch next to the temple packs a punch in April and May. The trees look like fluffy cotton candy and as the season goes, they turn the lawn in a joyful pink blanket.

The Best Places to See the Cherry Blossoms in Dublin
HERBERT PARK

This is probably my favourite spot to honour the Japanese custom, Hanami (literally meaning, flower viewing). The reason is, despite a few unfortunate recent chops, the park holds the highest concentration of cherry trees in Dublin. Also, the location is far enough from the city centre that it still feels like a special secret place.

The Best Places to see the Cherry Blossoms in Dublin
FARMLEIGH

I couldn’t make this list without mentioning Farmleigh in Phoenix Park where Experience Japan Festival takes place. Every year, when the cherry trees are in full bloom, this Japanese festival welcomes Spring with a host of fun family activities.

More information on Experience Japan Festival here.

National Botanic Gardens
NATIONAL BOTANIC GARDENS

You’d make a serious mistake not take the 83 bus to the National Botanic Gardens in the springtime. The place beams with colours and fragrances, it is a heavenly treat for the soul. It would be difficult to pick which is the star of the show among the cherry trees, magnolias, the little enchanted bluebell patch, the clouds of azalea or the rainbow of tulip beds.

Looking for more seasonal recommendations? Watch 7 Things to Do in Dublin this Spring

My 5 Favourite Travel Moments of 2016

2016 really did a real weird number on us, didn’t it? Wham is on autoplay on Youtube as I’m writing this and it’s a bit heavy-hearted that I’m looking back on the year that has been. Focussing on the travel part, I think this was a good one for me though. I visited Germany for the first time, finally reconnected with my roots in Morocco, did my annual trips to Brussels and London and went back for the second consecutive year to Spain and Gibraltar. My only regret is once again, I didn’t set on exploring Ireland beyond Dublin and county Wicklow. I badly need to rectify this in 2017. For 2015’s recap, I compiled the best places I visited but this year, I want to do something a bit different and reminisce the moments that took my breath away while travelling. I think you know the ones I mean, those that make you want to pinch yourself, quit your day job and be a constant joe-on-the-road. So here come my five favourite ones.

Favourite Travel Moments of 2016

1. Browsing a German flea market under the snow

Back in January, I woke up one Sunday in Berlin to find out that the world outside my window had been covered by a bright fluffy blanket. I had one super fun day planned, it started with brunch at Aunt Benny’s and was to be followed by a long list of markets. You see, Sunday is flea market day in Berlin and I was adamant to visit as many as I could that day. First one was on Boxhagener Platz, located only a few streets away from my Airbnb. Just as I started browsing the stalls, the first snow flurries started to fall and I looked around and felt I had been transported into a snow globe. People were holding cups of glühwein, children were dragged on sleighs and dogs were greeting each other. I kept repeating to myself ‘this is so romantic, this is so romantic!’ and the snow fell heavier and heavier…

Favourite Travel Moments of 2016

2. Entering the Voltaire Room in the Sanssouci Palace

During that trip to Berlin in January, I took a train to Potsdam to visit the Sanssouci Palace. You know my love for rococo and baroque so it was a real treat to see with my own eyes the crazy Summer home of Frederick the Great. I gasped at many gold features and chandeliers but upon entering the room he had specifically designed for his friend and mentor Voltaire, I basically lost my sh**. The whole room is painted and furnished with the same striking marigold yellow throughout. The wall panels are covered with wood carvings of flower arrangements and fruit garlands while exotic birds seem to be frozen in a playful banter. It was nothing like I had ever seen before.

Favourite Travel Moments of 2016

3. Standing on my ancestors’ land in the Middle Atlas

This Summer I made a last minute trip to Morocco to attend to some family matters. Unexpectedly, it turned into a magical tour of  my great grand-father’s old stomping ground. He owned quite a sizeable chunk of land in the Middle Atlas which holds so many dear memories to my family. It was amazing to hear everyone’s stories and anecdotes of growing up there. One day, we sneaked into the ruins of what was once my grand-mother’s childhood home. It stands on a cliff and if you go right up to the edge, you’re met with the most incredible view. Beneath our feet, a lush valley of cherry trees stretched for miles and miles. I’ll hold that sight with me forever.

Grateful that #yayoikusama shared her eternal love for pumpkins with #London 🎃 #instakusama

4. Being locked up in a mirrored room with glowing pumpkins

One thing I didn’t want to miss during my annual trip to London this Summer was the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at the Victoria Miro Gallery. I had seen her work displayed at the Tate before and I wanted to experience her universe once again. The exhibition was a bit more intimate this time but just as successful (hence the long-winding queues outside the door). The highlight of the exhibition was the room called ‘All the Eternal Love I have for the Pumpkins’. As soon as you step in the cubic room, the attendant closes the door behind you, and you have a whole minute to yourself surrounded by luminous pumpkins. What did I do in there, you may ask yourself? I took a selfie… Not sure it was the best use of my time but it certainly was one of the most memorable minutes of 2016.

Favourite Travel Moments of 2016

5. Exploring Catalan Bay in Gibraltar

It was October and I was holding on to that Summer feeling in Gibraltar. That afternoon, I had set on exploring the East Side of the isthmus where the sandy beaches are. More specifically, Catalan Bay. I was dying to see the famous candy-coloured houses stacked against the Rock. Even though it was well into Autumn, the temperatures were high in the twenties. I cursed for not wearing a swimsuit under my clothes but nevertheless, life was good, I had the beach practically all to myself. I sat there looking out to the horizon and from to time checking on my right if the thousand of seagulls behind the hotel were planning any attack, Hitchcock style. I seriously had never seen that many seagulls gathered in one spot! When it got too hot, I carried my espadrilles in one hand and wandered bare-foot in the village’s alleyways. It was the perfect afternoon!

So that was my 2016 in a nutshell. Did you travel much this year? Tell me about your favourite memory on the road in the comment section! 

My 10 Favourite Travel Instagram Accounts

my 10 favourite travel instagram accounts

There’s no denying, Instagram has taken the front seat of many of my online habits. Especially when it comes to travel, whether it’s to actually plan an upcoming trip or armchair travelling, the app is always my first stop. Let me tell you, it was hard to narrow down this list to only 10 accounts. There are hundreds I follow who give me major wanderlust on an every day basis. As you’ll see below, I have a soft spot for photographers who capture the pretty details of city life over epic wild landscape. And as a general rule, I tend to prefer instagrammers who explore the nooks and crannies of their own turf rather than those living the nomadic lifestyle… But of course there are exceptions! But without further ado, here are the 10 accounts that make me want to pack up and go on a new adventure!

Favourite Travel Instagram Accounts
1. @themodernleper

Thomas is my current top Insta-crush, his shots often stop me in my track when I’m mindlessly scrolling my instagram feed. His tones are warm, crisp and a little spicy… a little like a gingerbread biscuit! He is based in Hamburg and he’s definitely put the German city on my radar. I now long to see the baroque facades and the winding alleyways with my own eyes.

Follow @the modernleper (and if you enjoy his feed, check out kieselle and eskimo, they’re also from Hamburg and just as dreamy!)

Favourite Travel Instagram Accounts
2. @sezgiolgac

The pictures Sezgi shares on her feed are colourful poems, striking tributes to her city, Istanbul. I especially love the old buildings she finds on her urban explorations and the way she captures the city under the snow. It is magic. She travels quite a bit too and I couldn’t recommend enough for you to check out her banging snaps of Cuba. Ouch.

Follow @sezgiolgac

Favourite Travel Instagram Accounts
3. @lilyrose

Lily Rose is one of these instagrammers that never seem to stand still. One day in the Maldives, the next in Morocco, she never fails to capture her surroundings in the most vibrant way. She also stages some killer flat lays!

Follow @lilyrose

Favourite Travel Instagram Accounts
4. @helloemilie

Wherever she goes, Emilie seems to always travel inside a perfect bubble of golden hour and bokeh. Her self-portraits where she gazes into breathtaking views while wearing a boater hat have become a bit of an Instagram institution. She embodies wanderlust to a T.

Follow @helloemilie

Favourite Travel Instagram Accounts
5. @ancienm

I simply adore the soft, feminine, muted-pastel-toned vignettes of Ravza’s life in Istanbul and elsewhere. But recently she made my jaw drop to the floor when she documented her pilgrimage to Mecca. Her female photographer’s perspective on the experience is one rare precious gift.

Follow @ancienm

Favourite Travel Instagram Accounts
6. @adampartridge

Adam’s pictures make my heart swell with nostalgia. He specialises in photographing the South of England, more specifically the county of Dorset. I holidayed there when I was 15 and every time one of his blue-toned, tranquil pictures pops up on my feed, I wonder why I haven’t come back there yet.

Follow @adampartridge

Favourite Travel Instagram Account
7. @sixsevensix

Whenever I feel uninspired by Instagram, a look through Robin’s profile is often all it takes to light my spark back. Not only does he finds the best facades in London but his angles make London even more cinematic, if that’s possible!

Follow @sixsevensix

My Favourite Travel Instagram Accounts
8. @dagmara_ch

I’m going to throw it out there, it might be a tad controversial, but I’m not the biggest fan of Paris. Yes, it is one pretty city but I find the place way too stressful to ever really enjoy my surroundings. I think Dagmara is slowly making me realise that there might be a more peaceful, green and charming side to Paris that I managed to miss during my previous visits.

Follow @dagmara_ch

My Favourite Travel Instagram Accounts
9. @neumarc

Marco is probably the instagrammer I have been the most loyal to. Even after seeing Venice with my own eyes a couple of years ago, I still go back to his feed with the same anticipation I felt when planning my trip to La Serenissima. Venice is small but she has many faces and moods which Marco captures in the most sublime way.

Follow @neumarc

My Favourite Travel Instagram Accounts
10. @theprettycities

The Pretty Cities does what it says on the tin, that is showcasing charming urban scenes from all over the world. The account is curated by insanely talented @siobhaise, whom I would have totally put on this list had I not already featured another London ‘grammar

Follow @theprettycities

And there you have it my 10 favourite travel Instagrammers. Now it is your turn, who tickles your wanderlust on Instagram?

You can follow me @theartofexploring on Instagram.

Gibraltar Botanic Gardens | Gibraltar

Gibraltar Botanic Gardens

I can’t hardly pretend it’s ‘business as usual’ over here. Like many of you I’m sure, I feel stunned, confused and sad right at this minute. I’m generally of the mind that my travel blog is not suited for politics but with recent events, it’s getting harder and harder to hope for the best and just keep going. I want to talk about what’s happening to us and those who represent us. I just might, I don’t know, I need to tidy up my mind, it’s all jumbled up and raw in there. I think travel can open our minds and horizons, change our definition of what it is to be human and to belong. The topic is obviously close to my heart but I keep wondering if what I write here is enough, in a world that seems to be dominated by the fear of the unknown, I feel like I should push myself to write about travel in a way that brings us closer. I’ve no idea if I have it in me or what shape it is going to take but I’m going to work on it. Anyways, in case you need a bit of escapism, here is the post I had planned for this week.

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I spent a couple of days in Gibraltar last month. It actually was the second time I visited the Rock (the isthmus, not the wrestler) and these pictures actually date back from my previous trip. Gibraltar Botanic Gardens, also known as the Alameda Gardens, were on the top of my list of things to see. You know me and my Botanic Gardens! Once, I crossed the Spanish border and the airport runway, I made a beeline for the gardens. In 15 minutes, I had walked the entirety of Main Street (Gibraltar High Street) and found myself standing in the car park where the cable car that goes to the top of the Rock is located. Very conveniently, the garden entrance is just next to it.

Gibraltar Botanic GardensGibraltar Botanic Gardens

The gardens were built in 1816 by the governor as a place for locals and stationed British soldiers to take a break and wander. They’re still a splendid place to do just so but they’re also a great source of education today. A great array of plants from parts of the world with a Mediterranean climate are displayed on terraced beds while facts pertaining to them are beautifully written on tiled boards. My favourite section was the succulent and cactus area, those weirdly shaped spiky things really thrive in the Gibraltar salty air.

Gibraltar Botanic GardensGibraltar Botanic Gardens

The location of the park is in itself worth the detour. One one side, its high position offers impressive views over the bay where huge tank boats go about their business. On the other, it is overlooked by the majestic Rock Hotel hanging on to the… well… Rock! Its Art Deco architecture evokes so much 1920s glamour, it’s difficult not to imagine the lavish parties that must have taken place there.

Gibraltar Botanic Gardens

The gardens has a few interesting features to explore. For instance The Dell, a mysterious staircase surrounded by orange trees or the typical red telephone box that looks wonderfully out of place, lost in the foliage. One thing that made me stop in my tracks is a statue of Molly Bloom. Let me tell you I didn’t expect a James Joyce character in such an exotic place but had I gotten over the first few pages of Ulysses, I would have known that Molly Bloom is a native from Gibraltar and the Alameda Gardens are actually mentioned in the Irish classic. Funny how some things follow you in the most unexpected places!

Gibraltar Botanic GardensGibraltar Botanic Gardens

Another great surprise for me was to find the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park at the back of the gardens. You see the week I was visiting Gibraltar the cable car was under maintenance which meant I couldn’t go up to  see the monkeys to my utter dismay. Luckily, the conservation park had a few Barbary Macaques as guests that day. They care for native species that are considered for reintroduction to the Upper Rock Nature Reserve. But their main vocation is to offer a haven for animals who were rescued from illegal traders and raise awareness against the issue. When I visited, they had parrots, rabbits, tortoises, bats, peacocks and a couple of otters that were having a full conversation over the wall separating their pens.

Gibraltar Botanic Gardens
Gibraltar Botanic Gardens
Gibraltar Botanic Gardens

Gibraltar is really small so there’s no excuse for you to miss this beautiful haven. You can easily walk there from pretty much everywhere but in case you were feeling pressed by time, the nearby bus stop is served by all the lines (except the 8).

ALAMEDA GARDENS PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Gibraltar Botanic Gardenswebsite
Red Sands Road
Gibraltar GX11 1AA

Opening Hours
8am – 9pm (or Sunset if earlier)

Admission
Free

Alameda Wildlife Conservation Parkwebsite

Admission
General £5 / Reduced £2

Opening Hours
10am-5pm