Thursday, May 26, 2011

Berlin Wall East Side Gallery

One of the highlights of my recent visit to Berlin was the fascinating East Side Gallery on the Berlin Wall.  Rather than enter into lengthy discussion on visual art and history I will let the pictures speak for themselves.  Each mural tells a thousand words.....

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Observations in Berlin

 I headed to Berlin for a first look at the German capital back in February and for some reason have still not managed to do a Berlin blog!  There is heaps to write about the city, but as my visit was short and sweet and now fading into memory and filed away photos, I thought I would be as true to my initial thoughts as possible.  Straight from my notebook here are some very quick observational jottings I made in -of- Berlin!  Mental notes thrown down as a fleeting first impression. 

City space is wide, spread out, lacking a social clustering or hub.
Very little to add colour to this city in winter.

Very clean city with minimal litter.  There is a lot of graffiti along metro lines, some good, some bad. 

Alexanderplatz square-the city centre- is massively expansive, a little grey,  mixed architecture serves as a stark reminder of war, while techy type structure such as the world clock and other modern installations point to a forward-looking, progressive nation.

The famous Berlin television tower is better viewed from a distance as part of the city scape.  A trip up will give you a great view of the city, but it is over-priced and under-rewarding as you struggle to peer out over the shoulders of throngs of tourists.  Skip. 

The Brandenburg gate is impressive and its history, which you can read at information points near to the gate, is very interesting. 

The East Side Gallery on the Berlin Wall makes a fascinating walk.  We visited on a week day and it was refreshingly not thronged with visitors, just a couple of people checking out the murals.  It only had one tiny little souvenier shop so the whole tourist experience was, surprisingly, not spoiled by, well, tourism.  

Generally very helpful locals.

Metro system is excellent.

You will see locals opening can of beer on the metro home from work on Fridays.

Nightlife is brilliant, with lots of really good bars and some huge mega clubs, particularly for lovers of dance music.  Good bars can be found throughout the city's many districts, but they are spread out nestled within otherwise quiet streets. The same can be said for restaurants.  There doesn't seem to be any definitive nightlife destination zones, streets or areas.  You can wander about to find somewhere, but window shopping as such can be a little frustrating when it feels that few are far between. 

Recommendations and a little research go a long way in this spread out city. 

Some nightclubs open for the entire weekend so this is a serious destination for clubbers and should not be missed!

Live-music in many bars for those not into nightclubs. 

Asian and Italian cuisine is very popular. 

 Streets are very quiet in the evenings, however the city feels relatively safe, even late.

There is good shopping with lots of big high street shopping centres, as well as a  more underground, but thriving vintage sector.   

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Royal Wedding Party-Checklist

Whether you are in London or not, Friday 29 April is unavoidable.  The first royal wedding since Diana and Charles has flung Britain into a tizzy of excitement.  Spectators have flocked to the city in their thousands, tents have been pitched as close as possible to the proceedings, an array of tacky memorabilia flies from trucks to shelves to person t home and drips from the rafters in anticipation of the big event.  Britain, the media, the world are all waiting for Will & Kate.  

Now I'm no royalist.  And I'm not British.  But I am a festivalist and this event is a festival free for all.  OK so it is just an excuse to stray from the desk for a glass of bubbles on a Friday morning, but give me an inch and I'll take a mile.  I now on the eve of this event find myself the eager host of a Royal Wedding Party!

If , like me, you fancy a fun Royal Wedding themed themed day off, then here is a top ten check list of what you need

1. Guests.  
No point putting on a party without some pals to enjoy it!

2. Dress code
It is not every day you go to a wedding.  Ask your guests to dress to impress.  A touch of Britain  in a court shoe or a string of pearls perhaps....

3. Lots of seating around a decent, reliable Telly
Dedicated coverage on the BBC begins at 8 AM and ends at 1:40 PM

4.Endless supply of tea

5. Token cucumber sambos (make sure to cut off the crusts!)

6. Scones, Cream and Jam

7. A spread of cakes
Victoria sponge, fruit breads, cream buns......

8. Strawberries and champagne

9. Pimms
Pimms punch always goes down a treat

10. Bunting, mini flags, other random memorabilia

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

AdVANtage Living

You may have noticed its absence  from the roads. Its confinement to driveways in Dublin estates or the back of country homes. Like a vacated Granny flat, its motionless mobile space fading and dating and depreciating over anniversaries of abandonment.  It rests and rusts for years.  Eventually pragmatism wins out over nostalgia and it is sold on to an online bargain hunter or dumped at some final cruel reunion with its cousins, where,  in a neat row for the last time, the unwanted caravan queues for death.

Banishing the caravan is much like putting the family dog to sleep. The need for action and call to action take over as you remove the spent family treasure from the home. Guilt and sorrow take hold when you return alone.

What separates the two is the nature of their design. The animate is destined to die. The need for action-freeing them from pain-is real and kind. The inanimate however is a different story. It is a call, rather than a need for action, that results in its disposal.

The call usually comes from the younger members of the family, who find the permanent mobile home attached to their permanent home a point of irritation and embarrassment. It is an eye sore, a hick, grotesque, useless waste of space. They nag until their complaints, along with a begrudging self-admission that the wanderly wagon wanders no more, become too difficult to deny and the decision is made to vanish the van.

The demise of the caravan as an Irish family holiday institution from the early 90s onwards is largely attributed to a general increase in disposable income and the introduction of low-fare airlines. Foreign travel became affordable and easy. It grew in popularity as people were swayed by exotic destinations that could guarantee good weather and new experiences. Spending two weeks with the family in a leaky, cramped caravan, in a wet, cramped caravan park in West Cork, did not trump two weeks at a holiday resort in Italy. Under Celtic Tiger conditions, other categories bar Cost could hold weight on a trump card.

And so, tugging your accommodation behind you and setting up camp alongside like-minded families fell out of favour. Caravans, like caged birds, were left to sit and ruin at the side of the house until the now teenage children convinced their parents to ditch the last remaining badge of their pre-Celtic Tiger existence, and get an extension.

Our national dismissal of the caravan was reinforced by popular culture programming coming from the Uk. Television shows Top Gear and Brainiac regularly explored inventive methods of destroying caravans.

Ironically it is the very same generation of children , who campaigned against the family caravan, that are now reclaiming the mobile home as their own. The caravan is replaced by the camper-van; a more compact, convenient and well, cooler, set of wheels, particularly if it is a vintage 70's, retro, pseudo retro or hand painted model. The passengers/inhabitants are groups of friends rather than families. The destinations of choice are predominantly music festivals, although vanning is also popular with surfers.

The new wave of vanning has been sparked by the growing number of successful music festivals popping up around Ireland over the past ten years. Veteran festival goers, who have tried and tested the circuit , decide to invest in a van that will take them around and around again in relative comfort and style. Testament to this trend is the introduction in 2010 of Vantastival in Co. Louth, a free spirited festival aimed specifically at van enthusiasts, although all are welcome.

The camper-van has become the ultimate accessory for the festival elite. Anyone can wear floral wellies or a mac or novelty shades and pretend to fit in. But the camper-van is the secret nod between true, devout festival goers; an emblem of their commitment and subscription to the weekend hippy club.

It's not a mainstream club, but it is growing. The lifestyle appeals to a range of people, generally over 25, who can afford to buy a van and escape the higher rate of insurance applied to those below this age. They are usually leftist but often apolitical, well educated, free in spirit but not of commitment people, who combine watered down hippy sentiment with the festive Irish session at weekends and on their 21 days of annual leave.

Depending on their owners the vans can occupy two places during the week. They are parked in front of their parents' relatively new extension: an eye sore , a waste of space, a flag marking the fact that the 27 year old unemployed son is a permanent fixture of the permanent home. The van may also be found outside a brand new duplex; with crumbling walls and faulty plumbing; an over-priced, undervalued anchor for the good time machine. If only it was a time machine.

The latter group are moving on camper-van style: They arrive to the alter in the back of a vintage Volkswagon classic, upgrade their own van with the money they make from the wedding; slap a Baby on Board sticker on the back; and park next to the like-minded young families at the festival-themed weddings of their like-minded friends. Blindly, blissfully they follow in the tracks of the previous generation.

And then from nowhere, a glimpse, a flicker; the slow creeping elevation of the caravan as vintage gold. The retro tin-home-tug-along making its comeback on the organic pages of blogs and as a celebrated motif in underground art circles. Those who resisted the movement to expunge the caravan may soon find themselves the much envied owners of a now 'priceless' vintage classic.  Hands off kids.  Better still, they can now milk their van for political kuddos; a badge that they, unlike their neighbours, family or friends, did not lose the complete run of themselves during the Celtic Tiger;  A badge that says 'I did not vote Fianna Fail'.  

The campervan is mainstream and slowly the caravan returns. Watch that space at the side of the house.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Top 10 European City Destinations

The votes have been cast, favourite European cities have been chosen and now the results are in!  Starting with the most popular here are your Top 10 European City Destinations in 211! 

1. Paris

2. Barcelona

3. Rome

4. Amsterdam

5. Venice

6. London

7. Dublin

8. Berlin

9. Madrid

10. Prague

Friday, April 8, 2011

Ireland's Summer Festivals 2011 Calander

The festival season is fast approaching and what a season it looks set to be!  We Irish just love to party and will throw up any old excuse to warrant a celebration. There is an array of micro-festivals happening across Ireland over the coming months, with almost every small town in the country flying flags for some reason or another. Add to this a considerable number of top international festivals and you have an impressive fixture of events all condensed into one relatively small island. Colourful, yet compact, the Irish festival circuit has us spoiled for choice. Check out this chocolate-box calendar of summer festivals and then try tell us you're not tempted!

18th April 0 1st May 
Price: €85 3 day camping 
Music and camper-van enthusiasts gather fo a chilled and cosy celebration.  
Click here for website

Dublin City Soul Festival
26th - 29th May
Price: Free
Feel-good celebration of music, art, food and laughter.

Life Festival (Belvedere House, Park and Gardens, Co. West Meath)
27th - 29th May
Price: EB* WC* €99
Hybrid of dance music and performing arts.

The Forbidden Fruit Festival (Grounds of the Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin)
4th - 5th June
Price: Day ticket €49.5, 2 day €90
Sponsored by Bulmers, this inaugural festival, contained within the shape of an apple, fuses music, art and fashion across four distinctly fruity entertainment zones.

All Ireland & International Sheep Shearing Championships (Cillin Hill, Co. Kilkenny)
4th & 5th June
Price: on the day
Show, trade exhibition, market.

Westfest (Aghamore, Co. Mayo)
4th & 5th June
Price: WC €120
Mayo's answer toOxygen (capacity 5,000).

Sea Sessions (Bundoran, Co. Donegal)
24th -26th June
Price: will be announced in April
Music festival on the beach

Body and Soul-Solstice Gathering (Ballinlough Castle, Clonmellon, Co. Meath.)
18th & 19th June
Price: EB WC €99
Focus on atmospheric engineering with quirky nooks and crannies.

Oxegen (Punchestown Race-course, Co. Kildare)
7th -10th July
Price: 4 day WC €244.50
Ireland's largest music festival with headline acts The Foo Fighters, Black Eyed Peas, The Strokes, The Arctic Monkeys, Cold Play.....

Galway Arts Festival
11th -24th July
Price: Free with charge to individual events
International celebration of performing and visual arts, attracting over 150,000 annually.

Castle Palooza (Charleville Castle, Tullamore Co. Galway)
30th & 31st July
Price: EB WC €59
Music and Arts Festival

Killorglin Puck Fair (Co. Kerry)
10th - 12th August
Price: Free
One of Ireland's oldest and most unusual street festivals celebrates the King Pick (make goat) for reasons that have now become blurred...

Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann (Cavan town)
13th - 22ndAugust
Price: Free
National traditional Irish music festival combining competition, concerts, céilithe, parades, pageants and street sessions.

Rose of Tralee (Co. Kerry)
19th - 23rd August
Price: Tickets needed for the live final. But lots of free fun leading up to this.
Festival around an international pageant to select a 'rose' from women of Irish descent

Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival
All of September
Price: Tickets for individual events
Over 150 years old, this month of matchmaking is Europe's biggest singles festival!

Electric Picnic (Stradbally Hall, Stradbally village, Co. Laois)
2nd -4th September
Price: WC €240
Funky music and arts festival, has been described as Ireland's answer to Glastonbury.

Irish Bog Snorkelling Championships (Castleblayney, Co. Monaghan)
10th September
Price: Entry fee TBC
Fun day of mud and mayhem.

Galway Oyster Festival
21st – 25th September
Price: Buy tickets for individual events
Celebration of Oysters Guinness and Craic!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Patrick's Festival 2011

Ireland's national festival of St. Patrick starts today and will run through the weekend until Sunday 20th March. As the one national holiday that is celebrated in more countries around the world than any other, St. Patrick’s Day is the day when everyone wants to be Irish. If you are, or happen to be in Ireland at the moment, then you're in luck!  The festival has a packed calender of events encompassing, film, music, comedy, culture, games and family entertainment, as well as the annual impressive firework production Skyfest, this year taking place in Wexford.  

The highlight as always is the St. Patrick's Day Parade which takes place on Thursday starting at .  This year's Grand Marshall is Dublin boxer and national hero Katie Taylor.  The theme of the parade is based around the short story 'Brilliant' written by Irish author Roddy Doyle for the festival.  The story follows the children of Dublin as they try to chase the 'Black Dog of Depression' from Ireland.  Doyle's story (available to download here) is apt in its portrayal of Ireland as a people under a dark cloud.  The upcoming festival offers some relief from this; it is hoped that a proud and cheerful green will replace black, for the weekend at least. If you are Irish, in Ireland, or just up for the craic, make sure you get it this weekend!   Happy St. Patrick's Day!

For more information on the St. Patrick's Day Festival please visit the Festival's official website.  
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