I saw that Birchbox had launched in Selfridges on Oxford Street in London at the end of this month, so I went to pick out my own samples. The box cost £15.00, which is slightly more than the monthly subscription fee and postage. The box came in an exclusive Selfridges design with pink and purple stripes. (Sorry for the poor photograph below as the box suffered in the torrential London rain.) Only two months ago, I had cancelled my monthly Birchbox subscription because I was not getting the samples that I wanted to try and was receiving repeat samples.

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I was surprised to see quite a selection of products to choose from. Visitors could select two beauty products, one skincare product, one hair product, one body care product, and one lifestyle item. Each selection was four options, except for the beauty option which was a selection between eight items.

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I had actually tried all of the make-up items except for two, so I choose those items. The choice was a little straight-forward on the other products, except I did have a little problem with the body care product.

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Here's what I selected to try:

Stilla blusher in Lillium: This is the lightest shade of the blusher to give a hint of colour on my pale skin. A close-up of the colour can be seen below.

Wild about Beauty gloss in Louabella: This is a nude summery shade of gloss. The other options were too bright for me, and I have similar bright colours which I don't wear often and don't think suit me. This is a subtle colour, and it is not too sticky.

Embroylisse creme concentrate: This product promises to hydrate the skin, and it does seem to do the job. The product is absorbed into the skin and does not feel greasy or heavy, so I am a fan of the product.

Trilogy Everything Balm: This is a classic balm that is an all-rounder. I could not go wrong in picking this product to use on my lips or anywhere on my body that needs some extra TLC. I like this product as it is multi-purpose.

Philip Kingsley geranium Elasticizer: I was not wowed by the hair products as I've tried them all before, but I decided to give this product another go as I did not do well with it previously. However, this has the geranium scent, and I had not tried that before.

Regenerate Enamel Science toothpaste: I had the choice between two lavender sleep sprays, but I have tried them before without success. I decided to try this enamel-building toothpaste as the last three years, I've not been too kind on my teeth. This seems like a well-forumated paste, so I hope it makes a difference.

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Have you been to Selfridges to pick out your Birchbox items yet? 

A new sculpture has appeared in a roundabout near Trafalgar Square. The sculpture, a pair of white fingers pointing at each other, is called "You" and was created by Mexican artist Jose Rivelino. Apparently, the scultpure represents "the highly significant issue of equality between human beings", according to the artist (1). Despite the rain, I saw a few tourists lining up to photograph the piece, which I can believe will be extremely popular to photograph in better weather.

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Evening Standard. Giant Fingers By Mexican Artist Go On Display in Trafalgar Square. http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/giant-fingers-by-mexican-artist-go-on-display-in-trafalgar-square-a2919441.html [23 August 2015].

I had a quick trip to London on a very rainy and wet Bank Holiday Monday. (Anyone who lives or has ever lived in the UK knows that it nearly always rains on Bank Holiday Mondays, and the one at the end of August is normally wet.) I've been wanting to try the "create your own" Magnum pop-up shop that has been in place most of the summer with hashtag #MagnumLDN. I'm not currently based or working in London at the moment and am finding making a trip to the city to be a difficult in the past couple of months as I've also got to do some travel outside of the country, so a lack of warm and sunny weather was not going to stop me from creating my own ice cream.

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I actually arrived at the pop-up shop at 10:35 in the morning, and I had to wait a little while for it to open at 11:30. When I arrived, a man and a child were already waiting for it to open. So, I took my space and waited. Actually, despite the weather, quite a queue formed. I saw what I could see through the windows, including some sculptures of Magnums that were made of crystals and London typography at the back of the shop, which was made out of the wooden sticks.

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When the doors finally opened, I was asked to pick three toppings. They had everything: almond pieces, coffee, brownie pieces, coconut shavings, strawberry pearls, silver and black pearls, rose petals, dried raspberries, pistachio, hazel nuts, meringue, sugar-cinnamon, and so much more. I picked the cinnamon-sugar and the silver/black pearls, before being punched in the legs by the tenth time that morning by the impatient and unruly child behind me, and I just blurted out 'strawberry pearls'. I wished I'd had the coconut, but nevermind as the strawberry pearls tasted nice, although I already had the silver/black pearls. Nevermind.

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These items were placed into a shaker, and I walked around the counter to where the staff asked me if I wanted chocolate or vanilla ice cream. I opted for vanilla and watched as she opened a Magnum ice cream in its wrapper, but the ice cream had yet to be dipped in chocolate. I then choose to have the vanilla ice cream dipped in dark chocolate. My photographs of this turned out to be blurry. 

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After the chocolate was dipped, the toppings in the shaker were placed on top of the Magnum. I was then asked which kind of chocolate (dark or white) to have drizzled on top, and I opted for white chocolate.

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I was asked one final question about which branded 'Magnum' chocolate button I wanted, and I opted for the milk chocolate over white chocolate, and this was carefully placed on top of the Magnum ice cream with a pair of tweezers.

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I was told to wait about a minute before eating the Magnum so that it could be left to dry into the perfect ice cream. I did wait, and I enjoyed my Magnum ice cream in the shop. I would love to visit the pop-up again before it leaves, but I am not sure that I will be able to do so. There's a close-up of my "create your own Magnum" below.

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The Magnum ice cream pop-up shop can be visited until the middle of September. It is located in Covent Garden and is next to the entrance to the Royal Opera House. It's open from 11:30 in the morning.

Last week, I managed to secure weekend tickets to Banksy's new art exhibition in Weston-super-Mare (near Bristol, where Banksy's based): Dismaland. This new Banksy exhibition has been widely-reported in the media and tickets have been sought-after. The art exhibition takes inspiration from theme parks, and it's not difficult to see that Disney is the brunt of the jokes here. The typography and name of the attraction, the fact that its staff wear ears that similar to mouse ears, and some of the attractions (such as the castle) inside are close to what is seen at the Disney theme parks. The exhibits inside the park did not poke fun at Disney but poked fun at and challenged society. (Note before you continue reading and scrolling below: Don't view this post if you're easily offended or easily-disturbed.)

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As we struggled to find a parking space for about half an hour and then had to queue for fourty-five minutes in the wet weather (we did have the first slot of tickets, which was at 11:00, but I think people in the later slots queued early), we did feel pretty dismal. 

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At least I did not have to queue up for three or more hours like the Banksy exhibition in Bristol Museum in 2009, but when we arrived at 10:15 in the morning, people were already in queue for the walk-in. A notice put up mentioned that the ticket sales for the walk-in group would not be open until 15:00. Perhaps some of those people took their place at 7:00 in the morning.

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The guy on the right hasn't yet been told that smiling is forbidden obviously

As our queue snaked around quickly to the entrance, we came to the entrance of the park. The staff we saw at the entrance were looking very dismal, frowning, being rude, and telling people not to smile. The first task was to get through security just inside the door. This consisted of fake security and depressed-looking and rude staff. I saw a pair of handcuffs and hand-scanners, CCTV cameras, walk-through scanners, and computers made of cardboard.

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Security

Inside the park, it was already very busy. I think that they just let everyone who had a ticket in. I reminded myself of the 'South Park' episode about the 'Line Ride'.

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The souvenir programme seller ran out of programmes

Something that I noticed was that a lot of adults were bringing a lot of children and babies in strollers. There's not a lot of room and uneven surfaces meant that these just got in the way. Also, the subjects in the bemusement park are not really suitable for children (in my view). Well, I don't think I'd bring my offspring there as I think a few of the exhibits would have frightened me, and I was never easily frightened. 

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Abandonment and disuse was one common theme around the bemusement park. Scattered around were various of those old children's toys (the kind you put a coin in and it moves or plays music) abandoned and broken. This is disturbing like some post-apocalyptic world. Music was also played throughout the theme park, but the music was 'broken' and also sounded disturbing. On occassion, the speakers would 'squeak' and also a voice would mumble some wit about society. This seemed a little bit like "Big Brother" (or "The Prisoner" 1960s television series) in some ways.

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Dance of Death

One of our first visits was another queue to get into a sheltered exhibition room, where we waited to watch "The Dance of Death". This involved the grim reaper (a.k.a, Death) on a bumper car (US English) / dodgem (British English). Disco music by the BeeGees "Stayin' Alive" was playing as disco lights lit up the floor and the grim reaper's car kept bumping into the wall; I was worried his scyth was going to come off the top of the car (the electric pole) and go into the crowd. Now, I found this moving spectacle slightly frightening even as an adult.

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Caroline McCarthy uses everyday items to create artwork

I had a wander around the other artwork on display in this area. This consisted of work by Banksy, Damien Hirst, and several other artists whose work was showcased.

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A frown, Damien Hirst's beach ball suspended above blades, Paco Pomet's funny cookie monster with terrorists, unknown

One room contained the 'Aftermath Displacement Principle' by Jimmy Cauty. This piece shows a model village in a moment of civil unrest, and there's a lot of police cars and ambulances attending scenes of crime. The lights flash, and noise is of sirens from this installation.

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Jimmy Cauty ADP piece and Lush

One of the interesting pieces in the room (before I exited) was a snake eating a famous mouse. This is a Banksy piece.

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Banksy 

Next up, I went into the tent showcasing 'gothic' art. Inside the tent were a large selection of artwork. Inside were grotesche wedding cakes with teeth, stuffed rabbits, tin cans that looked made of flesh, a stuffed unicorn, and a large selection of dishes with teeth and fingers.

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Ronit Baranga's plate feast; Damien Hirst's unicorn

The game areas were also a dig at the state of the world and perception. One featured a take on the duck fishing game, and the ducks were swimming in tar with a large sculpture of a bird covered in tar. Another featured 'Topple the Anvil' and people queued up to throw small plastic balls at the anvils in attempt to knock them over.

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Tar

Other items around the theme park showcase the unfairness of society, which is depicted in the below street art piece featuring politicans.

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One interesting installation featured migrant ships in the sea off what looked like the white cliffs of Dover. These speedboats kept bumping into each other and the sides of the pool. There were also some migrant bodies in the pool.

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Banksy migrant boats

One of the most prominent installations at Dismaland was the two semi cabs placed together with twisted metal tubes. This installation, by Mike Ross, is known as 'Big Rig Jig'. 

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Mike Ross 'Big Rig Jig'

The working carousel also had an art exhibit on it. The subject of this installation was the horse meat scandal that hit the UK a year or so ago. A butcher is sitting on the carousel with a carousel horse hanging up like a piece of meat behind him, and the boxes that the butcher is sitting on read 'Lasagne'. A lot of the products that contained horse meat were minced beef, such as lasagne. I believe that this is another creation by Banksy.

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Horse meat scandal

One of the funniest installations features a subject that anyone who has ever been to the seaside knows about: seagulls. There are countless stories about seagulls attacking people or stealing their food right from their hands. This installation features a woman on a bench being attacked by the birds while one stands nearby. 

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Banksy - woman attacked by seagulls

One artist's work was featured in a kiosk for loans.

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Another area showed Punch & Judy puppet shows, but these were not for children.

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Dismaland also contains a giant pinwheel sticking out of a giant sandcastle, which was commissioned by Banksy. Ben Long constructed a stallion out of scaffolding poles.

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Ben Long's stallion and giant pinwheel

And around the pond, which was also designed by Banksy, was another dig at the inequality of society.

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Un-f--k the system

On the other part of the pond, a police armoured vehicle is transformed into a water feature with a slide.

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While we waited in another queue to get inside the castle, we saw balloons being handed out by staff. The balloons read "I am an inbecile."

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The main feature of Dismaland is the fantasy castle, which looks like it has seen better days. In front of the castle is a statue of a mermaid. Both are Banksy contributions.

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Mediocre

Inside the castle was another Banksy installation. When we walked in, Cinderella was showing on a television screen, and she was leaving the wedding in the pumpkin carriage. Inside was the wrecked pumpkin carriage and carnage while the paparazzi did nothing except stand and take photographs.

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At the opposite end of the park is another Banksy sculpture featuring a whale jumping out of a toilet into a small pool.

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Next up was an exhibition labelled 'Cruel', which took an age to get in to see. The exhibition featured items relating to today's society about various government and company issues that cannot be trusted.  Next to this was a library.

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Around the corner was a fire pit where books are burned.

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Visitors could take selfies of themselves surrounded by a white wall.

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Last but not least, we exited through the git shop where more souvenir guides and t-shirts were being sold. Unfortunately, they did not have any postcards for sale. "Exit through the gift shop" was the name of a past Banksy exhibition.

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How do you get tickets? I read on the website a week ago when tickets would next become available. When tickets were due to go on sale, the website 'crashed'. I believe that this was a ploy to the dismal experience, so I kept checking for tickets throughout the day. (There are a couple of other areas in the theme park that were not working quite right, so it is all a part of the 'dismal' experience.) I must have been one of the first to see the tickets when they became available because I could have selected any time slot for any day.

I read on the website (http://dismaland.co.uk) tickets are going on sale for next week on Wednesday. Also keep in mind that someone has set up fake tickets on other websites, so do buy your tickets through http://dismaland.co.uk only and do not get caught out.

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Leaving you with a face that sums up the experience of Dismaland

Tickets can also be purchased on the day, but those who were in the queue would have got there very early (before 10:15), and they were faced to wait until 15:00 when they let some of them in. At that point, it is a one-out-one-in policy. However, the park was very full when I visited, so it can accommodate a lot. Bear in mind that getting decent photos is a little difficult as the park was very busy, and we had to wait around a lot to see some of the other exhibitions.

Over Easter, I paid a visit to Yorkshire and the Yorkshire Dales with the bloke. Our last stop before we headed home was to the city of Ripon, which is officially a city but it is the size of a small town and one of the smallest cities in the UK. The city is close to the UNESCO world heritage sites Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Gardens, and one of the main attractions is its large cathedral.

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First, we parked the car behind the market square and had a quick wander around. However, not a lot was open in the town as the day was a Bank Holiday (Easter Monday). Market day is on Thursdays, and the city also holds a special parade with people in fancy dress and floats parading the area based on a tradition dating from the early 1100s.

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The city also has a horn-blower tradition; a horn is blown every morning in the market square, and the horn is the symbol of the city. 

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We discovered an attractive street with nice views over Ripon Cathedral. There's also an attractive canal through the city.

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Ripon Cathedral dates from the 7th century. The history of the cathedral can be read here: http://riponcathedral.info.

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One of the features in the catacombs of the cathedral is a small shrine that is meant to represent the place in Bethleham where Jesus was born. 

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I took a few more photographs in the cathedral and had a look around before we had to rush off to go home so that we could get home at a decent time and ready for work the following day.

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Have you ever visited Ripon?

Drinks at the Queen of Hoxton

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A year ago, my friend Natalie and I went to the Queen of Hoxton rooftop bar in Shoreditch in London. She had come from Bristol to London, and we decided to meet up for drinks. We got through a lot of glasses of wine and good chat. In the summer months, the rooftop bar is re-designed for the summer months. Sorry that I do not have more photographs!

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There is a restaurant, and we had chicken kebabs with our many glasses of wines.

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In the evenings during the summer, the rooftop bar shows films. This is Rooftop Cinema. The film showing was "The Goonies", which is one of my enjoyable movies from my childhood. I wanted to stay and watch this, but we were kicked out.

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I've wanted to go to Rooftop Cinema for a couple of years now,  but my life is far too busy. I hope to go to something next summer. Friends are welcome!

The Summer Ireland Road Trip

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Early last summer, my parents and the bloke and I went on a road trip around Ireland. We started off in Belfast and went around the island of Ireland counter-clockwise, taking in some beautiful scenery and ancient monuments. The road trip lasted thirteen days in total, and we were a little rushed for some aspects and could have had a couple of more days added on to the journey.

Part of the problem for some of the rush was that many of the places that we stayed at had breakfast included, but breakfast started at 8:00 in the morning. I prefer early mornings for travel so that we could cram as much travel time into the morning and use the 9:00-17:50 hours for visiting the monuments. I would have preferred an earlier breakfast. Also, I did not factor lunch into the stops as I generally skip lunch and have a breakfast and then a larger dinner (after 17:00) when I travel so that I can plan seeing as much as possible in a day, but my father is now a diabetic and needs to have regular meals, so I did not factor this in. If I were to do the trip over, I would have made some adjustments or tried to add at least a couple of extra days. I'm reluctant to say that I would have missed any place from the trip off as we saw so many wonderful places. 

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Generally, I felt that the trip was a little bit rushed because we were not able to get an earlier start and we had to then factor in lunch along the way, which was not always easy in some of the more remote places. In the UK, you can generally find a shop or a cafe somewhere, but this was not the case in some of the remote areas of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

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Now, with this in mind, I will describe my iternerary in case any of my readers which to adapt it to their needs. The timings are pretty accurate here, and I'll explain any areas where we ran in to problems.

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Day 1:  We flew in to Ireland on a morning flight. We were booked into the Ibis Belfast Centre Hotel, which is a walk to the tourist sites for a weekend in the city. My impression of Belfast is that it was a small city. On the first day, we walked to the Titanic Quarter, which was the most distant area from the hotel. If I were to do this again, I would get a taxi back and get a taxi between a couple of the sites as it was a long walk from the Titanic Museum to the Titanic Pump House. Read more about my visit to the Titanic Quarter, which included the Titanic Museum, SS Nomadic, and the Titanic Dry Dock and Pump House.

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Day 2: On the second day, we walked around the city and visited the town and grounds of the city hall (we could not get inside due to an event) and St. George's Market. After having a wander around the market, we walked to Belfast Botanic GardensWe tried to book a taxi tour to see the murals, but this did not work out, so we walked back through one of the side-streets and got some photographs of Belfast Murals. Afterwards, we walked back in the opposite direction, had a quick look at the oldest pub, and we went to the cathedral quarter and looked inside Belfast Cathedral - St. Anne's before it closed for the day. 

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My additional posts cover the weekend in general:

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Day 3: On the third day, we checked out of the hotel in Belfast and took a taxi to the airport. I did not realise that there were two airports in Belfast when I researched, so we went to the wrong one when we went to pick up the rental car and had to wait for another taxi to take us to the other airport, which resulted in a loss of time at the other places we planned to visit. After we picked up the rental car, we went to the Ulster Folk Park and then went across the street to visit the Ulster Transport Museum, which is on the same site. The Ulster Transport Museum has an excellent exhibition on the Titanic and some items found on the wreck the ill-fated ship. We spent most of the day at the Folk Park, which we found really interesting exploring the historic buildings and way of life. 

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After our visit, we drove along the coast to visit Carrickfergus Castle, which is a very intact castle museum that we could explore. The castle was not too busy, so we were able to make the most of it.

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After the castle visit, we headed toward Ballycastle. On our way, we stopped off at the Dark Hedges, which is used in films, including the 'Game of Thrones' television series. This was extremely popular when we visited in the evening at sunset. Our bed and breakfast was located in Ballycastle, and we walked into town in order to have dinner and explore the seafront and the attractive village.

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Day 4: The fourth day was a busy one for us, and we managed to get an early start. Our first stop was the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. I was a little worried about the heights, but the rope bridge was not an issue at all. In fact, we had an early morning pleasant 15-minute walk to the rope bridge, and we were the first visitors and had it to ourselves for a short while.

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After the visit, we drove a short way down the coast in order to visit Giant's Causeway in order to see the natural rock formations and to learn about them.

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Afterwards, we drove up the coast again and stopped at Bushmills Distillery and had lunch and a tour of the whiskey distillery here.

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Our last visit along the Causeway Coast was to Dunlace Castle ruins.

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Afterwards, we headed in to Londonderry, where we stayed the evening. We had a quick walk around part of the Londonderry city walls (we had to finish the tour the next day), and we enjoyed dinner here.

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We also saw the Bogside Murals, which documented the history of Londonderry only a few decades ago, and which is still a major aspect of the city.

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Day 5: After our nice bed and breakfast in the Bogside area of Londonderry, we drove to Inishowen Peninsula and stopped off at Glenvin Waterfall, saw Crandonough Cross, went to Malin Head, and went to Gap of Mamore. There are many other attractions on this peninsula to visit, but we were only driving through to explore as much as we could.

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After our visit, we headed back from the peninsula and stopped off at Grianan of Aileach, which is an ancient fort with amazing views.

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Our final stop of the day was a quick drive through Glenveagh National Park and visited Glenveagh Castle. We loved the gardens of this castle, and if we had time, we would have walked as it would have been a pleasant walk along the lake. However, we got thr bus as the walk would have taken about an hour each way. I recommend the castle grounds, and we felt the castle tours were not as nice. 

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Day 6: We stayed in Donegal on the night of the fifth day, and Donegal is the location where some of my ancestors came from. We stayed in a nice bed and breakfast with lake views. In the morning, we explored the small town and the ruins of the abbey. We walked along the harbour and went to Donegal Castle.

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After we had explored Donegal, we drove to our next stop, Belleek Pottery (a quick stop) and Marble Arch Caves. If we had had some time, we would have toured the Belleek Pottery museum, but we did stop at the shop. On the way to the caves, we actually got a little bit lost on our way here as it was not sign-posted well.

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Had we had the time, we would have explored the towns of Sligo and Cong, but our next stop was Galway, which was a fair drive away, and this is where we stayed for the night. 

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We had a quick walk around the town of Galway before the shops closed. Galway is a very touristy town, and it seemed slightly souless due to this. Although, the Spanish Gate was attractive, and the town has many tourist shops and pubs. This is a popular tourist destination, and the majority of the town catered for tourism.  

Day 7: As we did not have breakfast the next morning, we were able to make an early morning start to drive an hour to Clonmacnoise ancient monestary. We were the first to arrive to see the attraction, and a large tour group turned up afterwards, but we were able to see quite a bit before they turned up.

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After this visit, we headed back into the opposite direction in order to go to the Burren area of Ireland. We headed through some attractive villages here before visiting Ailwee Caves and Doolin Caves and Kilmacduagh monestary ruins. My preference between the two was Doolin Caves because of the giant rock formations inside. It has the largest stalagmite in Europe. 

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Before heading to our hotel, we went to the Cliffs of Moher. We did not have long before the tourist area closed, but we were able to see a little of it. Afterwards, we walked along the sides of the cliffs for some nice views. However, I have seen better sea cliffs and views, so these were a little under-whelming.

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Day 8: We really enjoyed our hotel in Doolin, but the next morning, we had to check out in order to drive to Bunratty Castle and Bunratty Folk Park.

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The castle was too busy with tourists, but we really enjoyed the folk park, which was similar to the Ulster Folk Park. We had light rain on this day, and it did get a little harder at times.

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After the visit, we headed to Kilfenora to have a light lunch at the cafe in the visitor's centre, a quick nip around the corner to see high crosses at abbey ruins, and then we met up with Tony from Heart of Burren Walks so that we could get a little taster of what the national park has to offer us. We followed Tony to a location in the Burren and saw a rare bee orchid as well as other plants and geological features; we were told a little bit about the history of the Burren. We got caught up in the rain off and on, but we still had a nice visit.

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I would have liked to have driven past "Father Ted's" (the television series) house, but we did not have time as we needed to head toward Dingle Peninsula in order to get to our bed and breakfast. I'd struggled to find a closer place to stay. I ideally wanted to stay in Adare and also explore it, but we only had time to drive through. This town looked like a great place to explore, and I'd booked ages ahead and still could not find availability in a hotel or bed and breakfast, so this may be on the list of places to visit next time.

Day 9: We stayed on a farm (bed and breakfast) at the entrance to Dingle Peninsula. It was actually more like a bed and breakfast and less of a farm, and it also catered to mini-buses full of tourists. Our first plan for the day was to drive up Conor's Pass, but there was a cycle race going on which shut the road, so we had to re-plan. Instead, we decided to follow the road around Dingle's coast. We drove counter-clockwise.

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Our first stop was Gallarus Oratory, an early church. Afterwards, we continued to follow the coast and stopped off at a couple of nice areas with sea views before ascending the mountains. I would have loved to have gone to the beehive huts along the road, but we did not. We admired more views and headed back into the town of Dingle where we ate lunch at a pub and enjoyed an ice cream.

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After lunch, we took a boat trip around Dingle harbour to see Funghie the Dolphin before heading out of Dingle and driving up Conor's Pass on our way to our next destination, Kilarney.

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We arrived in Kilarney in the late afternoon. Whereas Dingle was warm and sunny, Kilarney was completely the opposite. We were met with downpours while we stopped off at the ruins of Muckross Abbey.

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After the visit to the abbey, we explored Killarney National Park and drove up to Torcross Waterfall for an amazing view of the waterfall and then up the mountain to Ladies View, where we saw a beautiful rainbow. We had dinner that evening in Kilarney. We had to drive to the centre as the hotel was too far to walk there, and we did not see much of Kilarney; the town itself is very touristy and not the most attractive town.

Day 10: Our plan for the morning was to visit Skellig Michael island to see the beehive huts. I'd pre-booked the boat, which left at ten in the morning, so it was an early morning start. However, the weather was again very wet and rainy. I really want to go to Skellig Michael, so we will have to visit again and pray that the weather is nice. When we got to Portmagee, we were told that the boat trip was cancelled due to the bad winds and weather. So, we continued to drive the Ring of Kerry.

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Kenmare was our lunch stop, and we also walked to the stone circle close to the centre of town. We then headed back to Killarney and stopped off at Ross Castle and took ride on the jaunting cars first and took in the beautiful national park and some history. After our ride, we visited Ross Castle.

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Our next stop was to the Gap of Dunloe, and we arrived in the early evening as the jaunting cars and hoards of tourists had left. I could see that the place is a popular one. It is a beautiful place. We drove up the hill to see the beautiful views and then back down. At the entrance of the Gap of Dunloe is a restaurant, and this is where we ate dinner.

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Day 11: We stayed in Kilarney again, and the next morning, we had another early start to visit the villages of Kinsale and Cobh before heading into Cork. Kinsale was our first stop, and it is a quiet harbour village. We ate breakfast here before driving to Cobh, which is the last port that Titanic sailed from. There's a Titanic exhibition here, a cathedral, and a beautiful Victorian garden seafront. I also saw many cats in Cobh. After we had seen enough, we drove to Cork for lunch and had a quick wander around the market.

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Our next stop was Blarney Castle, and we spent the afternoon here. We enjoyed the castle and the gardens. Of course, the castle is famous for its 'Blarney Stone', which we saw before heading back to Killarney for our final night.

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Before we headed back to the hotel, we visited the Meeting of the Waters, which was not advertised as a long walk but ended up being a long walk. We saw a deer and nice scenery, but we wished we'd given it a miss as it was not as beautiful as expected.

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Day 12: I woke up on my birthday on this day, and we checked out of the hotel and made our way to Cahir Castle. Again, the weather was rainy and wet for us.

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After the morning visit, we made our way down the road to the Rock of Cashel and Hore Abbey, where we explored the ruins of the ancient monestary associated with St. Patrick. The beautiful monument was sadly covered in scaffolding, so I was not able to get many good photographs, and the weather was dreadful here. Unfortunately, we did not learn much here as the venue was catered for busloads of tourists, and the introduction video was in three different langauges before it played in English; we'd have had to wait over two hours for the English video to be played again. I think that they need to have English subtitles at least. After Cashel, we walked a couple of blocks away to have lunch and then drove to Hore Abbey at the foot of the hillside to explore the ruins.

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After our visit was finished, we drove a little further away to the Rock of Dunmase near Portlaoise. This is the ruins of a hilltop castle, and it is free to visit. We were the only ones to visit, and we had a nice walk around, but we did suffer with the rain.

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After that stop, we headed down to Kilkenny where our bed and breakfast was for the evening. The weather had improved for us when we arrived. We had a walk around the town and climbed one of the only accessible round towers at St. Canice Cathedral. Afterwards, we walked to the town to look in some of the shops, have dinner, and look at the castle. I was surprised with a birthday cake when we arrived back at the bed and breakfast.

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Day 13: We left Kilkenny in the morning to drive to Wicklow Mountains, and our first stop was Glendalough village and monestary. After our visit to this beautiful location of ruins, we drove through the Wicklow Mountains National Park. I was not keen on the landscape of the national park and found it to be too barren.

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We did stop at a small waterfall on the way and then arrived at Powerscourt Waterfall, which is the largest waterfall that we saw on the whole trip.

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After the waterfall, we drove north to Trim Castle, which was used in the film "Braveheart". We had lunch in Trim at a bakery before our guided tour of the castle.

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The last stop of the day, before we headed back down south to Naas where our bed and breakfast was located, was to the Hill of Tara, the seat of the Kings of Ireland and a place of mystery and history. We then drove to Naas and had dinner at a nice restaurant in the town. Unfortunately, this was the worst bed and breakfast as the host was rude to us and asked us not to bring our luggage indoors.

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Day 14: Newgrange and the surrounding tombs were high on my list of places to visit in Ireland, so I wanted to make sure that we had secured the morning to have plenty of time to see them before we needed to head back to Belfast for our flights. We got stuck in bad traffic around Dublin on our way from Naas. On the way to Newgrange on the motorway (a few miles away) on the hottest and sunniest day of our trip, the car tire blew. The car rental company had given us a dodgey car with three normal tires and one winter tire, and the winter tire was several years old and an import from Germany. Apparently, tires from Germany are sold cheaply to Ireland because Germany has tighter regulations on the wear and tear of the thread, so used tires are sold on. 

We were not happy as we missed seeing Newgrange and were stranded on the motorway, trying to speak to the car rental company, Enterprise. We were stranded in the hot sun, on the phone and waiting for call-backs, to expensive international numbers as we were still in northern Ireland. Finally, we were taken to a service station. Enterprise eventually did refund us for the car and the tire that we had to pay for. 

The situation could have been a lot worse, but this left a bad taste in our mouths at the end of a pretty good trip. We were then taken to the airport and flew back to England. I will never rent with Enterprise after the appaling service and lack of duty of care for not checking the tires and making sure that the car was safe. We could have been killed. 

Sometime, I'd like to visit Newgrange as well as the other places that we failed to see. 

A Weekend in Bristol and Dinner at Graze

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A few weeks ago, I went to Bristol to see the 'Shaun the Sheep' charity sculpture trail. I lived in Bath and worked near Bristol for nearly three years, so I know the city, but I knew the city before it was regenerated. I always thought that Bristol was a little bit rough when I lived near it (hence why I lived near it and not in the city), but as I've visited over the past few years, I've found it to be pleasant. I took a lot of photographs during my last visit which show how beautiful the city is.

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The bloke and I walked along the harbour, and we took in the iconic view of Bristol with the colourful houses on the hill. This is a popular and beautiful view of the city.

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Further down is a kiosk (known as Brunel's Buttery) selling breakfast items and drinks. The bloke and I stopped here and had a bacon sandwich here. We've stopped here before after walking for awhile. We watched the ships sail past on this beautiful summery day.

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I have been into the MShed museum in Bristol, which is located on the waterfront. I have never actually spent that much time in the museum, but this is one of the attractions in the lovely city. It is always popular. On busy days, the steam train runs up and down the track along the harbour. On this visit, we saw a tall ship.

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Bristol also has a lot of spires and its university and other attractive buildings, parks, and market squares.

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There's an artist who creates dogs from sand. I've seen him before.

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One of our stops was to the park to look over the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I have been here a few times. Unfortunately, the scaffolding is up on one of the towers. The bridge was engineered by Brunel, who was from Bristol and is highly-regarded as one of its famous residents.

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We walked across the bridge and into parkland with the city of Bristol on the horizon. We did so much walking that I had blisters on my feet.

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One of my favourite areas of Bristol is College Green. There's a lovely green area with flowers and attractive buildings and a lot of shops, cafes, and restaurants in this area. However, you will need the energy to walk up this steep hill.

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After walking around, we had worked up an appetite. We ended up in Graze, a grill restaurant. We started off with a bottle of Prosecco. This was a nice end to the long day of looking for the Shaun the Sheep sculptures. We were blessed with nice weather, so we sat outside.

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The bloke had lamb chops, which came with vegetables and new potatoes. He said that he enjoyed these, but he would have liked more as the portion was small.

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I had the spring poussin (baby chicken). This came with dumplings and spring vegetables. It was also drenched in a very runny/watery sauce, which detracted from the meal. This sauce was not cooked well and it had the flavour and consistency of water. I could have done without it.

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The dessert choice was also good, and the desserts were my favourite part of the meal. The bloke had the chocolate honeycomb. I had a bite and it did taste delicious. I am less keen on the honeycomb/crunchie items, but the chocolate hit the spot.

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I had the lemon and meringue, which also tasted delicious. I could not finish it all. The main course was too small (in portions), and the desserts were too large (in portions).

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We slept in the next morning for a little while, and our first morning stop was to Piano&Pitcher restaurant on the waterfront for brunch on Sunday. I had the cooked breakfast, and the bloke had a bacon sandwich. 

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I had a non-alcoholic cocktail, but it was mostly ice. I was disappointed.

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On the way to continue our journey through the city, we saw locks of love and more boats.

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In the evening, after walking around Bristol Upfest street art fetival, we had dinner at Prezzo, which is a chain of Italian-themed food. The bloke had the mushroom chicken, and I had the bacon and chicken.

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This was soon followed by ice cream and a slice of chocolate cake.

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I do like my visits to Bristol, and I need to make another trip soon so that I can see my neglected friends. My life has been far too busy for far too long now!

Street Art: Pyramid Oracle

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One of the street artists to paint in London at the beginning of the year was Pyramid Oracle. I saw paste-ups of abstract portraits from the artist as well as a large mural taking shape on a wall off Hackney Road. The artist created over a dozen artworks in London, and I'd only managed to see and photograph the ones in Shoreditch and east London. Pyramid Oracle is from the midwest in the USA, and he's painted a lot around Chicago and Philadelphia as well as other cities in the midwest. I believe that this was the first time that the artist produced any work in London, and he had an exhibition in the city in March.

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More information and work by the artist can be seen on his Twitter page: https://twitter.com/pyramidoracle

Street Art: Fin DAC

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Today's post features a popular and (I think) two of the most stunning murals that have been painted in London over the past few years. Fin DAC is a high-profile street artist who started in 2008 and now has a large following, and he's painted in London quite a few times. The pieces included here were painted on Cheshire Street and Hanbury Street off of Brick Lane. Sadly, they no longer exist. His work is charactierised by realistic portrait work with focus of detail on the eyes and face, the importance on the eyes primarily. The murals produced are beautiful. 

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This piece on Hanbury Street did not last long at all before someone tagged over the eyes. I believe that I took the photograph in the summer of 2012.

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For more information about the artist, visit his Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/finbarr-dac/102099492162

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