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?

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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

Viktor Wynd’s Museum of Curiosities | London

The Last Tuesday Society

Halloween is creeping up on us so what better time to take you to a dark basement in East London, right? More precisely, we’re going to Hackney. There’s this strange-looking pub on Mare Street, with a black front and curious knick-knacks haphazardly displayed in its window. Inside the atmosphere is suitably lugubrious. On the ground floor, the Last Tuesday Society is a pub like no other. As your eyes get used to the poorly lit environment, you may notice that patrons may look rather strange… Yes, you’re seeing that right, it’s a rather menacing stuffed lion wearing a top hat sat at that table! Now as much as this is definitely the most intriguing drinking institution I’ve been to, I’m actually here to tell you about what lies beneath it…

The Last Tuesday SocietyThe Last Tuesday SocietyThe Last Tuesday Society

Mention the museum to the bartender and you will be shown to a gaping hole on the ground where a staircase spirals down to a red-glowing mouth. Hold tight to the banister, a few more steps, please, please mind that one, and you’ve landed in Viktor Wynd’s Museum of Curiosities. There, a couple of rooms are lined with glass cabinets filled with so much stuff you don’t know where to start. There’s a lot of taxidermy as one expect from such places but the specimens are arranged in strange scenes, sometimes placed alongside surprisingly mundane objects. For instance, there’s this striking stuffed two-headed lamb standing right next to Dora the Explorer.

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The associations are mesmerising, you feel like you’ve just tapped into Viktor Wynd’s stream of consciousness. His interests are strangely intertwined behind the glass windows: tribal art, erotica, taxidermy, celebrity culture, Happy Meal toys and the flashy world of dandies. With his personal collection mixed with donations, Viktor Wynd wishes here to “recreate a 17th century Wunderkabinett with 21st century sensibilities”. The idea is not to educate but to leave the visitor with a sense of wonder. Undoubtedly, some pieces are awe-inspiring such as the perfect dodo skeleton, the precious glitter suit of celebrated dandy Sebastian Horsley or the predator bones lurking behind the bars of a cage at the back at the museum.

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But mostly, this little shop of horrors is deliciously facetious. A closer inspection to the book covers will make you blush, with titles like The Naughty Nun or Mrs Thompson’s Water Domination (!). And look at that angry stuffed chihuahua taking cover under the giant crab! It’s also well worth reading the labels on the various pots and jars exhibited on the shelves. There are some very puzzling spontaneous donations such as Russell Brand’s pubes (which are actually beard trimmings sent by his hairdresser), Amy Winehouse’s (fake) poo and Russell Crowe’s (actual) wee. The world of Viktor Wynd is undoubtedly fascinating but what you make of it is the added reward.

The Last Tuesday Society
Practical Information

The Last Tuesday Society,
The Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities – website

11 Mare Street
London E8 4RP

Opening Hours
12pm – 10.30pm (Wed-Sun; same hours as the pub)
Tours are also organised

Admission
General £5 / Concessions £3 (includes a cup of tea & a guide book)

Bus
26, 48, 55, 106, 254, 388

Memories from Mojácar | Spain

Mojácar

As I’m about to fly to Spain this week, I was reminded I had a few pictures of my Spanish adventures last year to share here. I’m going to be honest I had written off most of the coast as a sterile destination full of overdeveloped sea resorts. There are certainly quite a few of those but let me tell you, I had to eat my hat hard.
While travelling along the South Coast, I was completely blown away by the variety of landscapes: from towering sea cliffs to green valleys via miles of desert (it’s no wonder that the old Hollywood crowd used to come here to shoot some of their classic Western movies). It dawned on me that this would be the perfect setting for an epic road-trip. Besides these, there are adorable villages of white-washed cube houses resting on top of hills. Like, for instance, Mojacar. It’s just too charming and I thought it had a certain air of Santorini.
But Mojacar is not only a pretty face, it is an important historical crossroad and it also has the strangest legend involving America’s most famous figure of all time.

MojácarMojácar

Located in the province of Almeria, the old pueblo of Mojacar is nestled at the top of a hill facing the Mediterranean sea and the tourist resort of Mojacar playa. It is thought to have been populated since the Bronze Age. It’s been under the rule of the Greeks, Rome and in the 8th century, the Moors took over. The town was actually once on the frontier with the Christian civilisation to the East which led to many invasions and blood baths in the 15th century. Up until a pact of free association was agreed between the local Moors, Jews and Christians at the fountain Fuento Moro, which you can still visit today. Locals regularly come here to fill up plastic bottles.

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Mojacar bloomed for centuries as it welcomed diverse traders inside its walls but ultimately it fell into decay in the 19th century. In the 1960s, the local mayor reversed the trend by giving away pieces of land to a community of artists. Today the town is an interesting combination of different architecture styles basked in a bohemian aura. Amongst the expected souvenir shops, you’ll find arts and crafts shops as well as vintage sellers.

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It’s better to explore the meandering alleyways by foot, you can pick up Mojacar map from the tourist centre. You’ll notice along the way many beautiful details: iron-wrought doors and windows, potted plants, vibrant bougainvillea, blue tiles, orange trees and the Moorish pebble-covered paths which were thought to be beneficial for the back. You will also notice that several house-fronts sport a match-stick man carrying a rainbow. This is the Indalo (or Mojacar Man), a drawing from the Bronze Age found in a nearby cave and thought to cast off the evil eye and bring good luck. This symbol of Mojacar became so popular that it now represents the whole province of Almeria. The town also features a couple of miradors which boast spectacular panoramic views stretching to the Mediterranean Sea. Mirador del Castillo is the highest point of town, you shouldn’t miss it!

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Now onto that bizarre local legend… Rumour has it that Mojacar is actually the birthplace of Walt Disney. I know, crazy, right? It is believed he was the child of an illegitimate liaison and emigrated later in the US. The Guardian has an interesting article on the subject if you’re into your conspiracy theories *grins*

Irish Summer Checklist Revisited

Irish Summer Checklist Revisited

Since we’ve just entered the month of September (sigh), I thought we could look at my Irish Summer Checklist from last year again and see what I’ve managed to do so far!

Irish Summer Checklist Revisited
✓ Go on hikes around Dublin
I did the Howth Cliff Walk and went up the Hellfire Club. The Bray Head hike is next on my list!
✓ Taste Murphy’s ice-cream (Dublin)
I went for the classic Brown Bread and Dingle Sea Salt flavours.
✗ See the mills in Skerries (Dublin)
✗ Visit the Burren Perfumery (co. Clare)
✗ Get lost in Russborough’s maze (co. Wicklow)
Irish Summer Checklist Revisited
✓ Visit Drimnagh Castle (Dublin)
You can read on my visit to this Norman castle here.
✓ Photograph the roses in Saint Anne’s Park (Dublin)
Click here to read my account of the day.
✗ Go back to Killruddery to do a tour of the house (co. Wicklow)
✓ Wander in Mount Usher Gardens (co. Wicklow)
I’m giving you a tour of these spectacular gardens here.
✓ Stand in the lavender field in Kilmacanogue (co. Wicklow)
More on this little patch of Provence in Wicklow here.

6 out of 10 is not too bad I reckon! Of course I might have updated my list but I’ll keep that for a new version next Summer. The month of September is often a good one here, weather-wise, so I’m hoping I can cross off a few more these coming weeks!

On an unrelated note, I wanted to say a huge thank you to those of you who voted for me in the Littlewoods Ireland Blog Awards competition, The Art of Exploring has made it to the finals! I’m completely floored by your kindness, thank you from the bottom of my heart!