HAPPY TIMES indeed! I’m delighted to tell you that my blog has been nominated for best travel blog in the Littlewoods Ireland Blog Awards! I’m not going to lie the competition is tough, so many travel bloggers with great talent out there but if you would like to support my blog, you can go directly to this link and give me a little click. Voting will be open until this Tuesday, the 23rd of August. Thank you <3
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.
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.
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.
Here is the second and last part of my trip to Auvergne last Summer. During my stay in Saint-Julien-Chapteuil, my friends and I spent an afternoon in Le Puy-en-Velay. This medieval town is famously known to be one of the starting points of the Camino de Santiago. And what a spot to start a pilgrimage, the city charms with its cobbled stones and its pastel blind-cladded windows. We wandered in its alleyways on that hot afternoon of July, with no real plan but as fate would have it we got to experience some of Le Puy’s greatest features.
LE PUY CATHEDRAL
Without a doubt the star of Le Puy-en-Velay, this monument that sits up above the town. Hence, it is a bit of a steep climb to get there, especially the stair part but believe me it will be all worth it. The cathedral offers stunning views over the city’s rooftops and you get to walk in the steps of the Camino de Santiago‘s pilgrims. This is where they start their journey after getting released through the cathedral’s doors and being blessed in the morning.
Other points of interest in the cathedral include the 12th century cloister and the Black Virgin, Our Lady of Le Puy, which is the object of another pilgrimage celebrated every 15th of August (2016 is a big one as it coincides with the jubilee that happens every 11 years).
Next to the cathedral is the Hotel Saint-Vidal which is the designated reception centre for the pilgrims who are looking for information, accommodation or a place to gather and socialise. It hosts Le Camino, a museum on the pilgrimage history, as well as Le Cafe des Pelerins, which has the most enchanting little courtyard. My friends and I ordered much needed refreshments after the dreary cathedral’s staircase and sat there for a while, enjoying the calm surroundings. Added bonus, the bar staff was super friendly and answered all our questions on their role in welcoming the travelling pilgrims.
THE “RENAISSANCE” MURAL
It’s completely by accident that we stumbled upon Patrick Commecy’s mural. His trompe-l’oeils are pure magic, maybe you’ve seen his work on the Internet before? He paints realistic scenes on boring blank city walls that fit into their surroundings so well. He also likes to incorporate details that evoke the place’s history. Look closely to “Renaissance” and you’ll spot all Le Puy’s specialities: the green lentils, the lace-makers, the verbena liquor Verveine, the pilgrims and “Le Roi de L’Oiseau” (literally the Bird King), the yearly renaissance festival for which occasion the mural has been commissioned.
NOTRE-DAME DE FRANCE
Notre-Dame de France is a giant statue of the Virgin Mary that dominates the city. Its peculiar rusty colour is due to the fact it was made from the cannons brought back from the Crimean War. It is located on the Rocher Corneille, a volcanic formation from which height you can enjoy panoramic views over the city.
THE POUZAROT QUARTER
The Pouzarot is the oldest neighbourhood in Le Puy. It goes back to the Middle Age when it was built after the discovery of a water source. This part of town feels like a village inside the city. The facades are adorned with exposed bricks and greenery abound in between the cosy cottages.
Le Puy is a lively and culturally rich place, we barely scratched the surface. For instance, I wish we had time to climb to St-Michel d’Aiguilhe, a chapel located on another volcanic rock in the North of the city. But even lacking a plan or a map, this welcoming city opens its arms to the pilgrims and the tourists alike without any resistance.
Last Summer, I went to a tiny village nestled among the volcanic hills of Auvergne called Saint-Julien-Chapteuil. I was to spend a week there with my friend and her sweet little family who had recently relocated from Belgium. I was especially eager to finally meet their adorable baby. Two trains and some seven hours later, Brussels far far behind me, I was sitting in her van in a middle of an intense catch-up session while she was driving us to the village I had heard so much of already.
The week spent there was one of the most peaceful of my life. Every morning, I’d be woken by Saint Julien’s bells. More often than not, I would ignore them and fall back asleep. We were living on baby schedule, time before noon was slow and cosy, you would probably find me in the kitchen window stuffing my face with apricots. We had bought a whole crate for a ridiculous price at the end of the market. In the afternoons, if the sun wasn’t too hot, we would go on hikes in the mountains surrounding the village. The volcanic region offers some interesting rock formations like “basalt organ pipes” not unlike the one you can see at the Giant’s Causeway.
The views over the valley were breathtaking and the air so pure. So was the water, can you believe the tap water tasted better than bottled?!
The evenings were spent cooking with good wholesome food. Sometimes we would set our table on the terrace, facing the mountains where the sun would eventually lie, lighting the sky orange and violet. And as the stars shone bright in a star-gazer’s perfect dream, we would play cards until our eyelids felt heavy. I would fall asleep to the song of cicadas, sometimes punctuated by the cymbals of thunderstorms.
Ever since I left Saint-Julien-Chapteuil, I’ve been thinking of its slower pace of life (certainly enhanced by our lack of wifi) and its wonderfully old-fashioned events like the soapbox races and the Soup festival where people from the surrounding villages would come and gather in Saint Joseph’s school courtyard to eat cabbage soup, drink wine and dance to the old French tunes sung by an old lady with a quivering voice. For a long time, London has been on my mind but as I grow older, I feel ready for a change of pace.
What about you? Could you see yourself living in a village in the middle of nowhere or are you a city person through and through?
Next week, I’ll show you Le-Puy-en-Velay where we spent an afternoon. This picturesque town is famous for being one of the starting points of the Santiago de Compostela’s pilgrim route.
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.
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.
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 PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Kylemore Abbey – website
co. Galway, Ireland
General €13 / Seniors €10 / Student €9 / Children under 10 Free
9.30am-5.30pm (Every Day, Mar-Nov)
9am-7pm (Every Day, July-Aug)
10am-4.30pm (Every Day, Nov-March)
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.
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 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.
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’ PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Mount Usher Gardens – website
Ashford, co. Wicklow, Ireland
10am-6pm (Mon-Sun, all year)
General €7.50 / Reduced €6.50 / Children under 16 €3.50 / Children under 4 Free
133 Bus Eireann (from Dublin)
I’ve well and truly been bitten by the Springtime bug, fawning over every bloom I pass on the streets, getting teary-eyed over shedding cherry-blossom trees and sniffing lilac like there’s no tomorrow. Spring in Dublin is magical but I have to say I get a teeny pinch in the ticker when I see all the flowery London snaps on Instagram. I mean, have you seen the #wisteriahysteria hashtag?! And did you know that the shops in Chelsea are decked with hundreds of flowers in honour of the Chelsea Flower Show? I can’t help being a tad jealous of the floral fete London is experiencing at the moment. So I thought it would be the perfect time to reminisce over a lovely Sunday morning I spent at the flower market in East London last Summer.
It was my first time visiting the Columbia Road Flower Market despite seeing it featured countless times in blogs over the years. Truth is, waking up early on a Sunday morning was rarely on my list of priorities in my twenties. Especially when visiting my favourite city. But with the thirties come wisdom… or at least a great urge to see flowers arranged neatly in buckets.
The flower market is a great little slice of London life. You’re surrounded by the colourful accents of the sellers hollering at the passersby, elegant women who look like they could single-handedly organise a party of 150. Others who quickly scan the stalls like resolute captains of their gardens and then there are the girls who look for a little bouquet to brighten up their small rentals. When the clock strikes 11, the street gets so crowded you can hardly move. I managed to go up and down Columbia Road a few times to take these pictures. It was one of the most intense photographic exercise for me. There’s people literally everywhere, the sun was shining bright on one side of the road while the other was plunged in the dark, shaded by the street houses. I generally like to take my time when I take pictures but I had to act quickly, constantly changing settings and trying to be discreet in order not to disturb anyone. I enjoyed snapping the pretty posies – roses, peonies, sunflowers and hortensias were in season – but also the patrons carrying their loot and their cute dogs!
Becky from the blog ACCOOOHTREMENTS shared her brilliant Londoner tip in the comment section: “if you get there between 3-3.30pm, the sellers that are left are often doing very good discounts (last week I got 2 gorgeous bunches of tulips for £5!) :)“
The market is not the only appeal of Columbia Road and its area. There’s a cute flea market in a nearby courtyard and so many beautifully curated shops on the street itself. Three especially got my attention: A Portuguese Love Affair which will remind you of a minimalist A Vida Portuguesa if you’ve ever been to Lisbon, Mason & Painter offers a great mix of vintage and new homeware, I absolutely adored their aesthetics and finally Choosing Keeping, a very chic stationary shop that made me want to have an army of pen pals.
There’s also a great selection of eateries, bakeries and places to get refreshments. If you’re in need of coffee, which let’s face it is more than likely seeing the market’s time window, I heartily recommend the little coffee stall located in The Royal Oak‘s backyard. I’m not a coffee connoisseur by any means but their flat white was so smooth I completely skipped the mountains of sugar I usually dose my caffeinated beverages with. The pub itself is actually a great spot too, I loved its old London charm and creaky floors.
All in all, Columbia Road is one of the most charming areas I’ve visited in London and I would love to go back, maybe this time on a weekday so I can give more attention to all the beautiful shops and the street architecture.
Columbia Road Flower Market – website
London E2 7RG
8am-3pm, every Sunday
26, 48, 55 (Queensbridge Road stop)
8, 388 (Barnet Grove stop)
67, 149, 242, 243 (Kingsland Road Waterson Street)
Bethnal Green (Central Line)
Spring has finally arrived! Well kind of, the temperatures are still on the cold side of the mercury here but the weather cast promises a full week of sunshine ahead. I wanted to celebrate this with a video featuring my favourite places to visit in Dublin during Springtime. Hope you enjoy the video!
My last day in Berlin was a Sunday which is flea market day in the German capital. So many markets happening every single week, I’m a wee bit jealous of you Berliners! They’re my favourite things to do on holidays so I made something of a military plan to cover as many of them as I could. But first I needed some fuel for the busy day ahead!
I went to the uber popular brunch spot, Aunt Benny, which was just down the road from my airbnb. I would lie if this didn’t majorly factor into my choice of accommodation (that and the cat of course). The place was already packed by 9.30am and as it was too cold to sit on the benches outside, the lovely waitress suggested I sat in the shoebox-sized adjacent bar. I ordered the quiche with a cup of sweet chai. It was simple but fresh and well executed. I also sampled the bagels and the homemade cream cheese, which gave me a whole new appreciation for the combination. And because I was still reeling from the previous night’s cheesecake fiasco, I may have had a naughty slice of New York cheesecake. So good!
The first flea market of the day was actually a couple of streets away from Aunt Benny and my airbnb. On Boxhagener Platz, the cute stalls were peppered around the square park and the little kiosk. As I got closer to the first stall, the snow started to fall heavily. I was having a real pinch-me-now moment. Everything looked so bright, kids were being pulled on their sledges by their parents between the stalls. It looked like a romantic film set, up until the path turned into an ice-skating ring and standing up straight was a matter of life and death… for my butt. I’m glad to say no damage was done and that I jumped on the tram for my next flea in one piece.
Mauerpark is like the mother of all flea markets. I can’t believe how big it was! Rows and rows of cardboard boxes full of junk, you could literally spend all day digging through old stuff. Once again, I was solely attracted to crockery so I reluctantly cut the research effort short knowing that it would be hard to bring anything back home. Nonetheless what a lovely way to spend a Sunday. If old stuff is not your cup of tea, there are lots of food stalls and crafted gifts. On a nearby snowy hill, kids were having a ball, sliding down on their sledges. Very picturesque! But the afternoon was getting on and I still had one flea market to check out.
Rathaus Schoneberg had a completely different vibe. Located in a quiet area in the West of Berlin, the market stalls were spread on the cobbled-stoned square facing the town hall. It was definitely not as busy but quite neighbourly. I had a quick browse and walked back through the snowy park to the U-bahn station where the train would take me back to Friedrichshain.
There, I had a little play around with the iconic photoautomat booths next to the train station before heading to the vegan supermarket. This might have been my favourite supermarket experience. What a wild statement. I love how fun the food was there. In the freezer, there was a whole fake turkey! With a limited luggage space, I had to settle on a couple small items so I picked white strawberry chocolate and vegan salami. They were so convincing. Next time I need to bring an empty suitcase to stock up!
For my last meal, I could not not have falafel. Luckily, I was standing a few meters away from Mustafa Demir’ Gemuse Kebap. It’s a hole in a wall kind of establishment so don’t expect comfort or chairs for that matter, you’ll have to dine on the pavement. But their falafel wrap is pretty amazing. I’d go as far to say that it was the most creative in terms of toppings I’ve had. So much going on between the flat bread, I couldn’t make out what half of it was but it was bursting with flavours, no greasy sauce needed.
That’s a wrap (!!) on my Berlin trip. Unfortunately, it was cut shorter than anticipated as Aer Lingus changed my night flight to a morning one the day after. I wish I had the time to visit the Charlottenburg palace and had it been warmer I would have definitely gone to Templehof Airfield and Spreepark, the abandoned theme park. I definitely need to plot another visit to Berlin. I hope the last few posts inspire you to do the same. One word of advice if you go, plan your trip during the warm season as I felt the city truly reveals itself while aimlessly wandering.
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!
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.