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5 Things to Do in Dublin This Bank Holiday Weekend

5_things_to_do_in_Dublin

Hate to scare you folks but this is the second last bank holiday before Christmas. Oh yeah, the “C” word! So time to shake off the FOMO and take advantage of the last long weekend of summer and do something a bit different. Here are my 5 ideas for making your weekend a little less ordinary:

DUBLIN LIVE MUSIC TRAIL
Organised by Failte Ireland and Dublin City Council, the city will play host to whole heap of top emerging acts in Ireland, who will perform 20 minute, unplugged, pop-up gigs in Dublin’s most unconventional venues including, museums, bookshops, and coffee shops. The concerts are completely free and run on Sunday and Monday. Check out the Dublin Town website for the deets.

ACCENTS COMEDY EVENING
If you haven’t been to Accents Coffee & Tea Lounge yet, this weekend is the perfect opportunity. Open every night until 11pm (except Sunday, 10pm) and located just off Grafton Street, its cosy atmosphere is a great alternative to pubs for meeting up with friends. Every Saturday from 8-9.30pm, there is a free comedy night. Perfect if you want to take it easy on the weekend.

KAYAKING ON THE CANAL
Have you ever kayaked? Have you even considered it? Well if not, why not? Embrace the fact that we live at the sea and avail of all the opportunities that it brings us lucky duckies. Beginner’s kayaking is great for wusses like myself who can’t even swim! There are a number of beginner’s courses that go along the canal Saturday mornings/afternoons, and provide you with all the necessary bits to keep you above water. If you want to take it up a notch, you can go on the Liffey itself, around Killiney, or Skerries Island. Prices range from 15-25 yoyos depending on which company you go with. You can get more info on the surfdock website, or meetup.com (just search kayaking dublin)

HOWTH JAZZ & BLUES FESTIVAL
After a wee break of 15 years, the jazz festival is back to Howth big time. Bars and restaurants in the harbour will host live concerts from tonight until Monday. Combine it with a gentle stroll on the pier, a somewhat more heebee-jeebee cliff walk, visit the market, and finish off with some gorgeous seafood in any of the numerous restaurants on the pier, and you have one great day sorted! More info can be found here.

AFTERNOON TEA AT BROWN THOMAS
How absolutely fabulous does that sound! Afternoon tea is available in the recently refurbed BT restaurant from 3-6pm every day and costs €28 per person, and includes such beauties as Chocolate hazelnut tortas and almond macaroons. Sure, you’ll be the envy of all your instagram followers! Who cares if your bestie has just done a Facebook check-in at some tapas bar in Barcelona. One well-lit photo of a chilled Mimosa and carefully positioned Strawberry Shortcake, and you are back in the game, girlfriend! Go on, check out the menu yourself and get those Chanel-lined lips smacking!

So step away from the Netflix, and experience life. Nobody ever died regretting they hadn’t watched more boxsets. Have a great weekend everyone!

Top photo courtesy of citykayaking.com
PLACES

Bloomin’ Brilliant

Bloom-Festival-Dublin

I’ve always shied away from going to Bloom Festival every year, thinking it rather middle-aged. Middle-aged not in a demographic sense, but in a mentality sort of way, if you get my drift. However, this year I succumbed after being flooded with Bloom “propaganda” on TV and, potentially more influentially, my Facebook timeline. So I took myself, and my favourite middle-age survivor, the Mammy, to the Phoenix Park on a positively scorching Sunday afternoon. After following the arrows to the red car park for what seemed like an eternity, I took the example of my fellow drivers and abandoned my car on the grass, with the added bonus of having my own personal Ban Garda providing surveillance. Result – fiver saved! After a good ‘aul trek in the searing sun, we finally arrived at the red car-park which, who knew, was situated directly beside the entrance to Bloom! The moral of that story folks is, at Bloom, as in life, always follow the arrows until the nice Google lady tells you “You have reached your destination”. Or alternatively, some lad in a high-vis vest.

So with tickets scanned (buy them online – you’ll save 2 yoyos), we entered the vastness which is Bloom. There is soooo much to do and see. And humans of all ages, and not just the middle-aged, gardening variety. Although if you are that way inclined, you will be well serviced with the plant village, floral art exhibition, floral village, and garden expert stage, where the who’s who of horticulture in Ireland share their wisdom and tips. For the uninitiated like myself, it was simply a joy to saunter through stunningly beautiful flowers and plants, and brilliantly creative floral arrangements. The show gardens themselves are an inspiration as to what can be done with a relatively small space, many being scalable for the urban garden. In addition to all that, there was entertainment on the mainstage with bands such as Buffalo Sunn and The 4 of Us adding to the festival atmosphere (or should I say vibe).

Bloom-Festival-Dublin

And if all that wasn’t enough, there was food, lots of food! Sponsored by Bord Bia, the event hosts a plethora of Irish food and drink producers whose wares can be sampled or purchased. And with the weather as beautiful as it was yesterday, there were numerous seating opportunities (both indoors and outdoors) to enjoy your nosh and soak up the sun. If all that wasn’t enough, a whole posse of well-known chefs such as Nevin Maguire, Catherine Fulvio, and Paul Flynn took to the stage over the course of the festival to give cooking demonstrations.

Bloom is genuinely a great day out for all ages – there is plenty to amuse the little humans as well. I will definitely be making a return visit next year, and if you haven’t gone yet, give it a go next year. It’s not just for proper grown-ups!

Bloom-Festival-Dublin

PLACES

Tourist at Home | Malahide

Malahide Castle

At the start of the year, I made a pledge to myself to see more of my home city. View it like a tourist as it were. So this weekend, instead of hitting the shops again, and seeing as the weather was dry n’all, the Mammy and myself drove out to (in guidebook lingo) the picturesque coastal village of Malahide. Malahide village is 16km north of the city if you’re buying petrol, or a mere half an hour trip on the bus or DART from the city centre. Within the village itself there is a plethora of independent shops and restaurants plus a couple of schneaky little sightings of a Starbucks and Boots (oh well). Donnybrook Fair have also recently opened up a new fancy schmancy supermarket to keep you stocked up on macarons and asparagus spears. From the village, you can walk along the sandy beach which leads to the neighboring beach in Portmarnock, or listen to the jostling of the boats in the marina (I’m really getting into this guidebook lark).

Walled Gardens at Malahide Castle

On this particular day, we focused our visit on Malahide Castle and grounds. The Mammy had never been, and despite initial ambivalence, was positively enthusiastic (although that could have been the sight of an Avoca Cafe). The 270 acre grounds are beautifully maintained and would make the perfect location for a picnic on a sunny day. The grounds also host manicured walled gardens and a small but perfectly-formed Victorian glass house, similar to that in the Botanical Gardens in Glasnevin. Over €12 million was spent on the Castle and gardens to create a more enjoyable tourist experience, and this is particularly evident in the Courtyard visitor centre which hosts a souvenir shop, bike rental, and the Mecca of all yummy mummies (and actually just yummies) – Avoca! As our tour of the castle was not due for another hour, we took the opportunity to have our Sunday dindins in one of our favourite eateries. As with all Avoca restaurants, the noise level is equivalent to the decibel whoosh you get when first entering public swimming baths. Lots of kids, lots of chatting, but somehow that’s all part of the Avoca experience. The Cafe in Malahide is self-service with the specials made to order. I ordered the Lamb Tagine with couscous and flatbreads, and the Mammy had the fish cakes with salad. Both dishes were a triumph and the portions, as always, were huge and at 14.95 each, very good value. And of course, it would’ve been rude not to finish off with a slice of vanilla cheesecake with caramel. So, in the interests of politeness…

Lamb Tagine at Avoca, Malahide Castle

With our bellies full, we made our way over to the castle for the beginning of the tour. Our tour guide was Mary, who took us through the history of the castle and its original owners, the Talbot family (they of Talbot Street and Talbot Bridge fame). Somehow I don’t think her real name is Mary, just as the call centre rep. who called from Bangalore last week, probably isn’t really called Steve. Anyhoo, “Mary” was charming and informative, and engaged her audience with genuine interest in her subject. The enjoyable tour took us through the rooms of the castle and lasted 45 minutes, and finished off with a copy of the Proclamation of the State, as it was the 1916 commemoration day. Tickets for the tour cost €12 for adults and €6 for children. After the tour, we took a leisurely stroll around the gardens, and further down to the truly delightful village which was just closing its doors for the day, ready for the pubs and restaurants to take over the evening shift.

Why not make your own pledge this year to take in all that Dublin has to offer. Take a trip out to Malahide this summer. You know where it is!

Main photo courtesy of www.malahidecastleandgardens.ie

PLACES

Easter in Madrid

Madrid

For some inexplicable reason, I had never been to Spain. Real Spain I mean, not the Majorca tourist version I visited as a child. So himself and myself sought to end all that, and booked ourselves a flight to Madrid on Good Friday. Despite my fears that lots of places would be closed for Easter, Madrid was certainly open for business! We stayed at La Posada del Dragón, a gorgeous boutique hotel in La Latina district. Our room was compact, but with great design features such as a waterfall sink and twin head shower. The modern bathroom and toilet were somewhat open-plan with glass doors and walls (partially clouded where necessary). Now I know such a thing normally instils panic in your average female, but fret not, with a bit a strategic planning, and a reliable set of headphones for your fellow traveller, any unwanted displays or sound effects can be kept private. Breakfast was served in the hotel’s restaurant, La Antonita, and offered an excellent selection of high-quality local and home-made products. And, big plus for moi, freshly squeezed orange juice made to order! Having read previous reviews, we made sure to get a room not facing out onto the street, which is advisable as the hotel is located on a busy street filled with lots of restaurants and bars, but that makes it all the more desirable.

Room at the Posada del Dragon

There are so many things to see and do in Madrid, it’s impossible to squeeze it all in on a short trip, especially with so much eating and post-eating recovery to be done. With any city, I always recommend doing a open-top bus tour first. It may be über-touristy, but it’s the best way to get a feel for the lay of the land, and identify spots to be re-visited later. I tend to do the complete route in one go – none of that hop-on, hop-off malarkey, thanks!

Prado Museum, Madrid

MUSEUMS
The museum for which Madrid is most famous, is undoubtedly the Prado. Considered to be one of the world’s greatest art museums, it houses around 7,600 paintings, 1,000 sculptures, 4,800 prints, and 8,200 drawings, so don’t expect to do a lap in 30 minutes! Admission is 14 yo-yos, but as with other attractions in Madrid, it is highly recommended to buy tickets online beforehand, as queues can be Amazonian in nature. Alternatively, go between 6 and 8pm, on Monday-Saturday and it’s free! If you want to go into arty overload, Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, and the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, are all within close walking distance and feature works from the art world’s headline acts.

If you fancy a bit of grandeur, and who doesn’t, make sure to visit the Palacio Real. Although rarely used by the royal family anymore, many of its rooms are open to wander around and gawk at its soaring ceilings, tapestries, frescoes, and countless gold chandeliers. We’re talking serious lighting fixtures here! In addition to the palace, the Royal Armoury situated in the palace courtyard hosts an impressive collection of ceremonial armour. I realise that description is unlikely to elicit a “must make a note of that” response, but trust me, it’s really worth a visit, and, unsurprisingly, himself absolutely loved it. Entrance to the palace is a very worthwhile 11 euros.

Parque del Retiro, Madrid

PARKS & RECREATION (ok, just parks)
I love a nice park, so I do. And Madrid has more than fulfilled the brief on this one. Little factoid for you: Madrid is the European city with the highest number of trees and green surface per inhabitant. Not bad, eh? The two main parks of interest are Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid, an 8 hectare botanical garden situated next to the Prado, and Madrid’s largest park, Parque del Retiro, practically down the road. This stunning park is an absolute must-see, filled with a myriad of sculptures, monuments, and a beautiful rowing lake. But best of all, is to soak up the atmosphere. This park is very much alive and bustling with locals and tourists alike, taking advantage of the beautiful and relaxed surroundings in the heart of the city.

Mercado de San Miguel, Madrid
FOOD!!!!!!!
I won’t lie, one of our top priorities on this holiday, actually any holiday, is the consumption of vast quantities of fabulous food. And in Madrid, ’tis fair to say, the mission was accomplished! The list of eating possibilities in Madrid is endless. A particular highlight though, is the Mercado de San Miguel, a 100 year old iron-pillared indoor food market, restored and reopened 7 years ago. Situated beside the central Plaza Mayor, the Mercado is a veritable gourmet tapas market, with over 30 different vendors offering a mouthwatering selection of hams, seafood, olives, cheese, and cakes. Oh, and Sangria, lots of lovely Sangria! (As I write, I’m actually salivating as I recollect the creamy burrata from the Mozzarella stand, and the crispy fried octopus, and…). The market is open until midnight Sun-Wed, and until 2am Thurs-Sat, so time is not a constraint on the amount of face-stuffing to be enjoyed. Other worthy mentions for calorie consumption are the Mercado San Antón, El Tempranillo, and Casa Lucio. The latter being a well-known Madrid institution which has hosted the likes of Bill Clinton, Penelope Cruz, Kofi Annan, and of course, my humble self!

Ham Shop, Madrid

So if you have a long weekend to spare, book yourself a cheap flight, and explore this beautiful and wonderfully vibrant city. Your weighing scales might not thank you for it, but your bucket list certainly will!

FOOD NEWS PLACES

St. Patrick’s Festival Foodie Events

St. Patricks Day Foodie Festivals

St. Patrick’s Day has come on from the old days when it is was just a convoy of floats from various alarm companies and supermarkets with their chosen (and frozen) employees waving to the bewildered public. Now, it has upped the steroids to Tour-de-France levels,  stirring up every molecule of national pride into a frenzy, and bringing much-needed tourism yo-yos into the national coffers. It is quite simply epic! So celebrate what’s good about our fair land and take part in some of the foodie events happening this week in the capital:

DUBLIN BAY PRAWN FESTIVAL, HOWTH

Howth Dublin Bay Prawn Festival
Running six years now, this extremely popular festival in Howth has been moved forward to Friday, the 18th to Sunday the 20th, to coincide with the St. Patrick’s festival. Howth’s best restaurants and bars all serve up an array of delicious seafood in a variety of different ways to suit every palate. There will also be cooking demos, street entertainment, amusements, and fireworks. If you’re not a fan of seafood, you can always pick up some delicious nibbles at the farmer’s market on Saturday and Sunday, and just soak up the fabulous atmosphere. For more information, visit their website dublinbayprawnfestival.ie/


THE IRISH BREAKFAST: AFTERNOON TALKS

Irish Breakfast Talks
Learn about the past, present, and future of Irish breakfasts. Find out what goes into black pudding, and learn about the tradition of smoking fish. This afternoon of talks and tastings takes place from 12-3pm on Saturday, March 19th 63 Merrion Square, home to The Royal Society of Antiquaries. There will also be a mini market in one of the drawing rooms with products from Alchemy Juice, Broughgammon Farm, Arun Bakery, McNally Family Farm and Burren Smokehouse. Tickets cost €15 and are available from stpatricksfestival.ie

IRISH CRAFT BEER & WHISKEY VILLAGE

Irish Craft Beer & Whiskey Festival
This festival has actually been running for five years and is a true celebration of beer, cider, whiskey, artisan food and live music. Housed indoors in the RDS, you don’t have to worry about the weather  The festival runs from Wednesday, the 16th to Saturday, the 19th and is open until 11pm weekdays, and 11.30 on Friday and Saturday. Tickets cost €10 which includes, wait for it, a festival pint glass! Tickets are available at the door on online from irishbeerandwhiskeyfestival.com

GUINNESS STOREHOUSE

Guinness Storehouse
Or why not take a trip to the home of the black stuff? Trust me, this is well worth the trip and the entrance fee, and no better time to go than this week! The Storehouse festival runs from 09.30-18.00 between the 16th to the 20th. There’ll be marching bands, céili dancers, and live music from Na Fìanna. In addition to the usual samplings of Guinness brews, there will be complimentary tastings of Guinness infused food. The views over Dublin from the Gravity Bar are worth the trip alone. Tickets can be bought at the storehouse or online from guinness-storehouse.com

 

PLACES

Concourse Luxury in London

Grosvenor Hotel London

As I travel to London for business quite a bit, I’ve had the pleasure of staying in quite a number of lovely hotels around the city. On this particular trip in January, I needed to get an early flight from Gatwick at stupid o’clock, so I was dreading the thought of having to faff about looking for a taxi or underground to Victoria, while simultaneously losing out on some much needed kip (I hope you’re feeling my pain, folks). So I focused my search around the Victoria Station area, even if it meant coughing up some extra moola. After a quick trip to Google and my trusted friend Trivago, I came across The Grosvenor Hotel which alleged to be a mere 3 minute walk from Victoria Station. Now, as you know, hotels estimations of how long it takes to walk somewhere tend to be more on the Hussein Bolt end of timings, but this my dear people, was no lie. In fact, if anything, it’s less, because wait for it, there’s only a door at the side of the reception into the frickin’ Victoria station concourse!!! How off-the-scale great is that! All that lovely extra kip to be had! What joy!

The hotel itself is gorgeous. The Grade II listed building has undergone a multi-million pound restoration which has maintained its 19th century grandeur, but with the addition of modern detailing. I booked a standard single room for two nights, and got the special rate of £120 per night including breakfast. Upon arrival, the genuinely friendly receptionist upgraded me to a deluxe single room (oh, don’t you love an ‘ole upgrade). The room, while small, had everything you need in it, down to a Bose iPod docking station, and a two-pin socket for all the non-UK & Ireland travellers. The wardrobe even had a proper iron board and iron (because let’s face it, those trouser press thingies are a complete waste of time!). The bed was lovely and comfy, which would apparently be due to the fact that it was a Hypnos bed (a quick trip to Google informs me that Hypnos are the Beyonce of the bed world, having won the Bed Manufacturer of the Year Award no less!). And if that wasn’t enough, there was complimentary bottled water in the fridge and a couple of posh Jammie Dodgers! Quality!

hotelmontage

The breakfast, served in the Grosvenor Arms dining room, was a beautiful buffet of hot foods (your usual English/Irish breakfast contestants), an array of delicious pastries (their pain-au-raisin could easily rival my favourite from Pret-a-Manger), as well as fresh fruit and cereals. Once again, staff here were faultlessly efficient and friendly, but in the same genuine way which the receptionist had welcomed me the evening before. Unfortunately, on the second morning, I couldn’t partake in the breakfast offering as it began at 6.30a.m, but feeling refreshed from all that lovely extra kip, I passed through the magic door into the bustling Victoria concourse, armed with the aforementioned Jammie Dodgers in my pocket, ready for the journey home.

If you’d like more information on the Grosvenor Hotel, check out their website, for more photos, videos, and special offers.