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.

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

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.

The Last Tuesday SocietyThe Last Tuesday SocietyThe Last Tuesday Society

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.

The Last TuesdayThe Last Tuesday SocietyThe Last Tuesday Society

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

Drimnagh Castle | Dublin

Drimnagh Castle

Did you know that the only castle with a flooded moat left in Ireland can be found in Dublin? You’d think with such a title, the castle would also be ‘flooded’ with tourists. Not quite. It is a bit of a locals’ secret probably due to the fact that it’s located rather far off the tourist track. In fact, the castle was completely unknown to me despite having lived in Dublin for 8 years! It is located in the capital’s South West suburbs, in a residential area called Drimnagh.

Drimnagh Castle

Case in point, when I finally visited this Norman Castle earlier this year, I practically had the whole place to myself bar a group of kids from the primary school next door. I had unfortunately just missed the tour guide but the helpful volunteers in care of the grounds kindly let me in and provided lots of information.

Drimnagh Castle was built around 1215 by the De Bernivale (sometimes spelt Barneville and later anglicized as Barnewall). They had received the land in recognition for their services during the Crusades and the invasion of Ireland. They resided here for 400 years.

See also: Love Irish Castles? Check out this Norman Castle just outside Dublin

Drimnagh CastleDrimnagh Castle

The castle you see today had been updated throughout the years: the main castle on the right of the tower dates back from the 15th century, the tower was built in the 16th, the porch and the stairway in the 19th and various buildings were added during the last century.

It also holds the title of being the longest inhabited castle in Ireland but by the mid-1980s it had completely fell into ruins. Thankfully the local community and An Taisce (The National Trust for Ireland) intervened and brought the place back to its old glory. They even added a beautiful 17th century-style garden.

Drimnagh CastleDrimnagh Castle

Inside the castle, the piece de resistance is without a doubt the Great Hall. It has a gorgeous red and black tiled floor, an imposing mantelpiece and curious carved oak figures adorning the walls. Back in the day, the hall had a dual purpose of sleeping quarters cum living room. During the day, the mattresses were replaced by tables and benches.

Drimnagh Castle is certainly a charismatic place and it won’t surprise you that it was used as a shooting location for several productions among which The Tudors and Ella Enchanted.

See also: Killruddery and Powerscourt Estate were also filming locations for the TV show The Tudors.

Drimnagh Castle

DRIMNAGH CASTLE PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Drimnagh Castle – website
Long Mile Road
Dublin 12

Admission
General €4.50 / Students & OAPs €4 / Children €2.50

Opening Hours
9am-4pm (Mon-Thu)
9am-1pm (Fri)

Bus
18, 56A, 151

 

Rose Festival & North Bull Island | Dublin

Rose Festival & North Bull Island

It was a hot afternoon in July, I had just come back from London, right in time for Saint Anne’s Park Rose Festival. I had been wanting to visit the park and its yearly floral event for a quite a while now. Every July, for a weekend, the beautiful rose gardens are celebrated by the local community. Families gather the time of a weekend, to enjoy the festivities. The cheerful atmosphere actually reminded me a lot of the Bloom Festival. Plant sales, craft stands, food stalls were lined up in the park’s paths while a band was giving the crowds a soundtrack for that happy Summer day. The kids were flying mini kites or queuing for a ride on the carrousel. And let’s not forget the star of the weekend, roses in their different shape or colour were admired in one of Dublin’s best rose gardens.

Rose Festival & North Bull Island
Rose Festival & North Bull Island
Rose Festival & North Bull IslandRose Festival & North Bull Island
Rose Festival & North Bull Island
Rose Festival & North Bull IslandRose Festival & North Bull Island

St Anne’s park is located in the north of Dublin bay, between Clontarf and Raheny. It offers many interesting features, aside from the rose garden. Most prominently, many follies in decay but also a walled garden and a clock tower, as well as the Red Stables which houses an arts centre, a cosy little cafe and markets on the weekend. And last but not least, there’s a line of oaks that bears a striking resemblance to the Dark Hedges from TV show Game of Thrones. This park is so fun and its diverse landscape made me think of my childhood grounds, le Parc Solvay in Brussels. This might just be my new favourite park in Dublin!

Another great thing about this park is that it’s facing the seashore, more precisely the entrance to North Bull Island. I had never been there so I decided to kill two birds with one stone while I was in the area and pay it a visit.
Rose Festival & North Bull IslandRose Festival & North Bull IslandDublin Rose Festival & North Bull Island

The road to the island crosses salt marshes which holds a UNESCO protected bird sanctuary. Dublin is actually the only capital city which has an entire biosphere reserve within its walls. At the end of the causeway, you’ll find dunes and the man-made beach Dollymount Strand. It’s a beautiful sandy beach which offers great views on the Dublin bay, on one side, the Poolbeg Chimneys stand tall while on the other side, Howth head lies on the fluffy sea.

Kylemore Abbey | co. Galway

Kylemore Abbey

Seeing Kylemore Abbey roll out over the horizon when you drive down the N59 is something that must be experienced once in a life-time. A few years ago, My friend and I were road tripping in the Connemara when we both simultaneously gasped and squealed at the sight of the castle standing majestically over a mirror-like lake. This is the kind of stuff fairy-tales are made of.

You can visit the ground floor of the castle where you’ll learn of its history. It was built in the 1860s by Mitchell Henry, a wealthy London doctor, for his wife Margaret who fell in love with the region. They lived there very happily and had 9 (!) children. Alas, their story took a tragic turn when Margaret died of a fever during a trip to Egypt. Inconsolable, Mitchell built a Gothic Church and a mausoleum in honour of his wife, which you can still visit today in Kylemore. He left the premises, pained by the memory of his wife too present there. The castle was then acquired by the Duke and Duchess of Manchester who had to let it go a few years later due to gambling debts.
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore AbbeyKylemore Abbey

This brings us to 1920 and the current owners of the estate, the Benedictine nuns. They were looking for a new home after their Belgian monastery was destroyed in World War I. They found it in Kylemore Castle which then became Kylemore Abbey. They still live there today, living off admissions, donations and the handmade goods they sell at the gift shop.
Kylemore AbbeyKylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey

Unfortunately, I wasn’t as enthralled by the rooms of Kylemore Abbey as I was for its outside. For me the true gem of the estate is the Victorian Walled Garden. Nestled between hilltops, the abbey gardens are a stunning example of Irish landscaping. Inside the stone walls, you’ll find a vegetable garden, orchards, glasshouses and the Head Gardener’s house. The latter’s period rooms are beautifully laid out in pastel hues. I can’t start to imagine the life led by those who took care of this land, an oasis between lake and mountains.
Kylemore Abbey

KYLEMORE ABBEY PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Kylemore Abbey – website
Connemara
co. Galway, Ireland

Admission
General €13 / Seniors €10 / Student €9 / Children under 10 Free

Opening Times
9.30am-5.30pm (Every Day, Mar-Nov)
9am-7pm (Every Day, July-Aug)
10am-4.30pm (Every Day, Nov-March)

Mount Usher Gardens | co. Wicklow

Mount Usher Gardens

Can you believe this picture was only taken a couple of weeks ago? That’s the magic of maple trees bringing you Autumn in the middle of Spring! The Mount Usher Gardens in county Wicklow have a beautiful maple walk and more than 5000 different varieties of trees, shrubs and plants in which you can happily wander.

I had been patiently waiting Spring this year to finally visit one of the most renowned gardens in Ireland. I had first heard of it thanks to Magda’s colourful post and as I’m ticking off my list of things to do in Wicklow, it started to feel slightly wrong that I hadn’t explored one of its star-gardens yet. An hour bus journey or so will take you to Ashford, a little town where the gardens are located. As you go through the car park, you’ll find yourself in a courtyard surrounded by charming little shops. Delicatessen, garden centre and clothes shop,… if you know Avoca you’ll be familiar with the aesthetic. They manage the garden, and in typical Avoca’s fashion, they graced the place with an inviting cafe with a gorgeous vista on the garden’s gazebo. I sat ‘front row seat’ near the window and ordered a peanut butter parfait and a pot of peppermint tea. While I enjoyed my dessert, I observed the rich life of the garden unfolding right before my eyes, insects going about their day and perfectly round robins perched on nearby branches staring right at me.
Mount Usher GardensMount Usher Gardens

At the entrance you’re presented with a map offering a choice of trails. The lady at the desk recommended that I follow the tree trail as they have some champion trees of Ireland and the UK. It was fun to try to guess the varieties according to the leaf shapes and have a close look at weirdly exotic trees from Iran or China. I would have never thought these could thrive on Irish soil. Wild garlic was covering the forest ground, filling it with its sharp fragrance.
But call me frivolous, I think I am more of a ‘flower girl’ than a tree-hugger because the area I enjoyed the most was the ‘Island’, a patch right next to the house where so many posies bloom in eye-catching bursts of colours. I was also lucky to catch the tail-end of the bluebell season. I don’t think there’s something that invites more to the reverie than a bluebell wood. Will you look at that purple blanket, don’t you want to dive in it?
Mount Usher GardensMount Usher GardensMount Usher GardensMount Usher Gardens

Mount Usher gardens were founded in 1868 by Edward pole and stayed in his family’s estate for a little more than a century. There’s an interesting philosophy behind the creation of this beautiful piece of land. The family was greatly influenced by William Robinson, a famous Irish gardener who reacted against the rigid approach of gardening of his time. He believed a garden should grow on nature’s term.
In the Eighties, Madeleine Jay, a garden lover, bought the property and took the Robinsonian style a step further by managing the property organically. A way of doing that is still carried on today by Avoca.

Mount Usher Gardens
The Walpole family’s pet cemetery Mount Usher Gardens

The Vartry River runs through the gardens and I think, instinctively, people tend to walk along it. It’s a pleasant walk, there are beautiful little cascades, suspension bridges and from time to time, a fish burst out of the water to catch a fly or a mosquito. But wander off the river path and you’ll find yourself inside a beautiful Irish oil painting.

Mount Usher Gardens

MOUNT USHER GARDENS’ PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Mount Usher Gardens – website
Ashford, co. Wicklow, Ireland

Opening Hours
10am-6pm (Mon-Sun, all year)

Admission
General €7.50 / Reduced €6.50 / Children under 16 €3.50 / Children under 4 Free

Bus
133 Bus Eireann (from Dublin)

A singing man, a protest and the missed cheesecake | Berlin, Day 4

Berlin, Day 4
I started the day with this little white fluff of happiness, watching the snowflakes falling by the window. If you didn’t read day 1 of my Berlin trip, you might have missed that my airbnb came with a cat. He was such a personality, spending his time either napping or supervising the courtyard.

It was then time to head out the door. Like every morning, I took the U-bahn, aka the Berlin tube, to join the city centre. My airbnb was located just next to a station so it was very handy to explore the city. I quickly snapped this picture as it was the first time I got on one of these vintage carriages. So small and so seventies!
Berlin, Day 4
I decided to go back to Mitte, the city centre where the main sights are, as I realised I had forgotten to check out Gendarmenmarkt, which is often referred as one of the most beautiful squares of Europe. I, for one, think it has nothing against ‘my’ Grand Place but it wasn’t too shabby indeed! On the marketplace, you’ll find the German Cathedral, the Concert Hall and the French Cathedral (the last two pictured below). The guy next to the fountain was singing some Oasis songs at the top of his lungs and I’m not sure why but I found him quite moving. Maybe it’s because he was facing the towering Concert Hall as if he was imploring Listen to me!. I was about to give him my change when it was suggested to me that the cup he was holding was actually his coffee. Awkward situation averted, phew!

On the square, there’s also an old-fashioned toyshop with an army of nutcracker soldiers in the window and other beautiful wooden objects. The Christmas decorations were still up so there were loads to look at. Side note, I was surprised to see so many garlands and trees still up walking in Berlin mid-January. Do Germans have a hard time letting go of Christmas? Does anyone know why?
Berlin, Day 4
Next stop that morning was Bebelplabtz which is famous for being the spot where Nazis held book-burning ceremonies. I wanted to see the memorial but unfortunately it was closed for renovations. On the opposite pavement, there was a little second-hand book market which is probably the most a-propos place to sell books, don’t you think?
Berlin, Day 4
On a lighter note, I then made my way to the Mall of Berlin where I wanted to browse the home section of H&M. I’m forever jealous of the other countries where H&M homeware is stocked so I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to browse IRL the goodies that had me dreaming online. In typical ‘Nora’s fashion’, I got overwhelmed and nearly left the shop empty-handed when I spotted a cute marble phone cover by the till so at least that came home with me! I wandered a bit more in the mall and browsed in Zara Home and in the Marriage Freres tea shop.

As I stepped outside, I found myself in the middle of the biggest demonstration I ever seen. I’m not 100% sure what was going on but there seemed to be a lot of discontentment against the power in place. Among groups representing Vegans, LGBT Rights and the Refugees, I listened to speeches shouted from megaphones for a while. I don’t do well in big crowds so I slipped away to a deserted side street and went for a bite in a shabby greasy spoon.
Berlin, Day 4
Going to the Topography of Terror museum wasn’t part of the plan but I ended deciding to go there on a whim after seeing it pretty much mentioned in every Berlin guide I read. It’s located just next to the Martin-Gropius-Bau exhibition hall which is a stunner of a building. It has these pretty gold medallions all over it. I took a good while admiring and photographing it, nearly getting run over by a car in the process. After googling it, I found out that it’s pretty amazing inside too so I really regret not stepping in.

In front of  Topography of Terror, there’s a segment of the Berlin Wall still standing as well as the excavated cellar where prisoners were tortured and executed by the Nazis. The museum is indeed built where the Gestapo HQ used to stand. The Topography of Terror examines the Nazi institutions and the crimes they carried. One thing I would say is that the exhibition is quite static. Chuck loads of information is displayed on white boards so I would probably advise you to watch a good documentary on the subject beforehand and then focus on the areas in the exhibition you’re interested in. Queuing to read the boards can get a bit tedious otherwise. The part that captivated my attention the most was the beginnings of the National Socialist party and how they managed to gain so much power with such a vile agenda. It turns out that voters’ indifference is probably the most powerful political tool. It is a delicate balance achieved by giving something to the people they want then taking away something else and repeat the process. It is scary how that method still rings true today.
Berlin, Day 4
When I left the museum, I headed to the nearest U-bahn entrance. I rode South to the neighbourhood of Kreuzberg. The atmosphere there was probably the liveliest of all the areas in Berlin I had visited so far. The streets there were a pleasant combination of Kebab restaurants and indie shops. In a courtyard, I found the hipster Voo Store where cool magazines, designer clothes and beautiful people drinking coffee formed a harmonious hub. I quickly browsed the thoughtfully curated items on display and made my way towards my last cultural stop of the day: The Museum of Things. How do I describe this museum with this strangely vague name? If you love collections, you will enjoy browsing these cabinets. Objects are displayed according to function, material or colour. It’s incredibly eye and camera-pleasing. As you can imagine, I went a bit snap-happy so no doubt I will expand on this place in a later post.

By the time I got out of the museum, the night had fallen on the city. However, I was in the mood for cake and looking on my mapstr, I noticed that Five Elephant was on the way to my airbnb. It turns out that once again I underestimated Berlin geography. The walk felt long, although the cold and the neighbourhood with the creepy circus and the questionable street-sellers might have had something to do with it. I passed many cute cafes but my heart was set on Five Elephant as it came recommended by Mariell’s blog. She claimed they serve the best cheesecake in history. If that’s not an incentive, I don’t know what is! Unfortunately, when I finally got there, the place was packed. Thick-condensation-on-the-window packed! I turned on my heels and jumped on the bus home.

Are you all caught up with my Berlin trip so far? Here are Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3 if you missed them.

Parc Tournay-Solvay | Brussels

I had planned a post on my trip to Berlin this week but I just want to talk about Brussels. Last year when the city was on lockdown and continuously portrayed as a terrorist den in the media, I froze at first and eventually I felt like reacting by publishing a post on the joyful Brussels I know. The terror and frustration of last year have been replaced by numbness and incomprehension after the attacks this week. My heart breaks for the lives lost and broken, for the ones who have to live with the absence and the pain, and for the light-hearted Brussels of yesterday.  I’ve been going through my pictures of last summer which filled me with a painful nostalgia, I long for my city to come back to a peaceful place. As fate would have it, the last post on Brussels I have in my archives is of the most serene place I know of. 

Parc Tournay-Solvay

The Tournay-Solvay park is a secret garden in the South of the Belgian Capital. I haven’t seen it mentioned that often in guides which is a pity because I think it’s pretty magical. Although I might be biased because this place is linked to many memories and formative moments in my life. It is here that my mum would bring me as a toddler to burn some energy as I learned to walk. Later, I would come with my primary school to learn how to recognise trees by their leaves. I made my first herbarium here and saw the life cycles of many frogs, dragonflies and butterflies. I think it’s safe to say that my love for nature stems a lot from this place. When I was a teenager, I would hang here and laze in the sun or play petanque. And finally, the lost young adult I was would escape here to breathe and reflect when things were a bit too much. I would sit on the bench at the foot of the burnt castle that overlooks the ponds while listening to Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible or Patrick Wolf’s Lycanthropy on repeat.

Parc Tournay-SolvayParc Tournay-SolvayParc Tournay-Solvay

This park that was created in the early 20th century has so many beautiful features, it’s well worth taking an afternoon to explore the various parts of it. It has a rose garden, an apple tree orchard, ponds, a walled garden, centenary trees, the ruins of a castle on a hill and rows of rhubarb leaves that look like umbrellas. If you leave through the kitchen garden’s exit, you’ll find yourself in the Sonian Forest’s dried swamps. We’re so lucky that the forest so close to our city has been so well preserved. It’s not unusual to catch the sight of a shy roe and in the summer nights, the fireflies come twinkling over the swamps.

The exit near the ponds will lead you to the Boitsfort lakes which is another fab place to have a walk. And they’re right next to one of the most creative Brussels neighbourhood, the Coin du Balai (literally meaning ‘Broomstick’s Corner’). You’ll fall in love with the colourful facades. The residents love to decorate their abodes with potted plants and various knick-knacks there.

Parc Tournay-Solvay

When I visited the park last Summer, I was surprised to see it in the process of being renovated. ‘My’ bench had disappeared and new areas to accommodate visitors had been laid out. The eerie ruins of the burnt castle had been replaced by a construction site. I’m a tad worried that this park’s old charms will make place to something too new and too shiny for its own good but I think it’ll be interesting to see what they will make of it. This might strengthen its position on the Brussels map. I’m guessing tourists don’t come here too often because it’s a 40 minute tramway journey from the city centre but if you have a thing for green space, pretty architecture and quiet suburbs, head South next time you’re in the Belgian Capital.

Parc Tournay-Solvay
PRACTICAL INFORMATION

Parc Tournay-Solvay
Chaussee de La Hulpe
1170 Brussels

Admission
Free

Opening Hours
Every day from 8am – 6pm (Oct-Mar); 8am-7pm (Apr); 8am-9pm (May-Aug); 8am-8pm (Sep)

Bus
17 (Etangs de Boitsfort Stop)

Tram
94 (Boitsfort Gare Stop)

Train
Gare de Boitsfort