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Sep 29, 2013

From Barcelona With Love – Top Ten Things!

Me and the Bloke went on our holliers to Barcelona. And I’m happy to report that we had a grand ol’ time! There was eating. There was drinking. And there was some touristy stuff too. As well as shopping, swimming, dancing, singing, reading & laughing. We stayed in the Blokes’s mate’s gaff (thanks Carlos) in Barceloneta, a salty part of the city with the port on one side and the beach on the other. Nice!

Day One, we left Dublin at silly o’clock for the red eye to Barcelona. On arrival we were sufficiently dazed and confused to order a taxi. We sunk into the welcoming leather and silently watched the suburbs whizz by. Once in Barceloneta, we rendezvoused with our man at the local tapas bar and got the keys to our new abode. The area is all tall, skinny houses and our apartment was at the top of a tall, skinny stairs.

After our first go on the “stairs of doom”, all seventy of them deep and dark, (we never got used to them) it was siesta time. Bliss. We woke up to dinner at Jai Ca, the buzzy place around the corner. Traditional tapas served by hip staff. We munched tortilla (omlette), tomato rubbed bread, grilled sardines, ham croquettes, Greek salad and mixed olives. All washed down with Estrella beer, fresh from the taps. Off to a good start…

A walk along the beach revealed Barceloneta to be a place of many different faces. Originally a fishing district, housing port workers, it retains it’s old skool charm while also presenting an ultra modern beach and promenade. Beside the tavernas, bodegas and tapas bars are sophisticated seafood restaurants. Joggers, skateboarders, bike riders and dog walkers share the slick waterfront with locals and tourists.

Frank Gehry’s giant fish, made of stone, steel and glass shimmered in the early evening sunshine. We stopped by Ice Box for some artisan ice cream, what else (everybody knows there’s no calories in posh food). Made with real banana and vanilla, away we licked… The local supermarket was next for supplies of bottled water, juicy nectarines and, of course, beer. Then a shower, cuddles and dreamy, snoozy time.

Okay, so I’m not gonna do a blow by blow account (ooh er, Missus), as we were there for ten days. But rather a “good things to do in Barcelona” or – here’s one we made earlier. I found Barcelona to be such a diverse city, with something for everybody. Whether you’re rich, poor, a bit alternative or just an ordinary Joe. I’ve never seen so many shops in my life. Or cafes. Or bars. And more art than you can shake a stick at. So, here’s the Top Ten things we got up to…

1.) Gaudi. You really can’t do Barcelona without Gaudi. The legendary Catalan architect embodies the spirit of Barcelona in his fantastical designs and his buildings are among the top tourist attractions in the world. Colourful and unique, Gaudi’s work broke the mould. I remember seeing his masterpiece, the towering basilica La Sagrada Familia, on a family holiday when I was 18. And I never forgot that awe.

La Sagrada Familia. It was a super hot day and of course the queue was around the block. We didn’t go inside, but there was no need as the Gaudi designed church is a sight to behold from the ground. Construction of this magnificent architectural beast began in 1882 and continues today. Gaudi was ambitious in combining Gothic and Art Nouveau forms, with improbable spires that reach for the skies.

Park Guell. Another Gaudi gem. Built for Count Eusebi Guell, the park was inspired by the English garden city movement. However it is anything but quaint. Built over a steep hillside, Park Guell undulates wildly like a sort of Alice in Wonderland playground. Exquisite tile mosaics shimmer above the columns and over serpentine seating in the court. The fountain “El Drac” is its most famous feature. There was live music too!

Casa Batllo. La Pedrera. Palau Guell. Casa Batllo and La Pedrera (Casa Mila) are both situated on the grand Passeig de Gracia, home of some truly magnificent architecture. Palau Guell is tucked in off La Rambla, you can’t miss its quirky chimney pots on the skyline. All feature Gaudi’s whimsical touch, including twisted balconies and curved roofs. His interiors are just as magical, Willy Wonka crazy.

2.) La Rambla. We hit Barcelona’s main thoroughfare several times during our stay. The energy of this area is infectious with street performers, live theatre, market stalls, newspaper stands and flower shops all jostling for the attention of tourists and locals. The main drag stretches from the Monument a Colom (Christopher Columbus) on Port Vell up to Place de Catalunya in the city centre. La Rambla is a metaphor for life.

Apart from the tiled pedestrian walkway, featuring a Joan Miro mosaic, La Rambla is a busy boulevard lined with many shops. It opens into the Barri Gotic on one side and La Raval on the other. We found La Boqueria, Barcelona’s famous food market, half way up. I found Escriba (I’ve a nose for cake), a beautiful pasteleria with an original art deco shop front. Le Gran Teatre Liceu is the grande dame of La Rambla, but there’s plenty of impressive architecture to admire as you, um, ramble.

3.) Tapas. If you like eating, go to Barcelona. There’s endless cuisine on offer, but it’s traditional Catalan fare that tastes best. We got lucky in Barceloneta, being fish fans. Our local joint, Jai Ca, fed us a few times and we brought a pal from Dublin along for a feast. Fresh calamari, pork bomba, fried cauliflower, grilled green pepper, tuna filled pimento. Everything on the menu is homemade and totes delish.

One of our favourite meals was at local bodega, L’Ectricitat, which looks totally un-posh from the outside. But the food… Squid and octopus, raw white fish, crab and eggs, pickled anchovies, two different red wines. None of which we actually ordered, but were brought randomly, by the mad man in charge who urged us on in babbling Catalan. Brilliant. Everyone sat in rows on benches, eating and chatting by candlelight.

We decided to get all dressed up and dine on the port front one night (well, it was our anniversary) at Toc de Mar. Paella was on the agenda and this bad boy came big and bold with king prawns, mussels and squid. I made a good stab at it while the Bloke struggled. Some seriously yummy Rioja helped our cause though. Restaurant prices in Barcelona are very decent and you’ll get good food and wine, as well as top drawer service.

One thing I couldn’t help noticing was the amount of cake shops. And ice cream. And chocolate. Catalans like their sweets. Baluard, a gorgeous bakery conveniently situated next door, was a fave of mine. Fresh pastries with all kinds of fruit, baked cheesecake and cute things with custard. Try churros con chocolat, basically dipping skinny doughnuts into thick hot choc. What’s not to love?

Now, if I can talk a little more about food. Tapa Fina, where tiny open sandwiches with every combination of topping sat on the counter like foodie jewels. Vioko, where chocolates came in gold, silver and sparkling pink. La Rosa Negra, where we gorged Mexican food (homemade guacamole, Sweet Lord) and mojitos. El Nou Ramonet for gazpacho, charcoal grilled sardines, Rioja potatoes.

4.) Barri Gotic. The true centre of Barcelona, this sprawling labyrinthine area dates from medieval times. Mostly pedestrian, Barri Gotic is wonderful to just mill around and let things find you. Shops, bars, cafes and plenty of history. We explored Barcelona Cathedral (Santa Eulalia), Basilica of La Merce, Church of Santa Maria del Pi, Casa de la Cuitat (City Hall). Holy stuff is a big theme in Barcelona, obviously.

Punctuated by squares – Placa Sant Jaume and Place Reial being two of the liveliest – Barri Gotic has many hidden gems in its back streets. Off the main drag, Portal de l’Angel, which is home to big brands and national department store El Corte Ingles, are tonnes of little boutiques. Some cool, some kitsch, some trad. There’s something for everybody. Me and the Bloke actually enjoyed shopping together.

I liked the vintage stores, the shoe shop Kokua which displayed it’s many coloured flats like delicate cakes, the stationery shops (geek) and the jewellery shops. Himself liked the knife shops. We both liked the souvenir shops that sold figurines of famous folk pooing. Y’know, pants down crouching over a mini turd. The Pope, Queen Elizabeth, Obama, Madonna, Angela Merkel. Even Bono! Didn’t buy one…

After dark, Barri Gotic comes alive with myriad bars and cafes. Tucked away in its alleys are some very cool drinking dens. We frequented Manchester Bar, where the vibe was – you guessed it – Manchester music. Who knew The Smiths sounded so good, when off your face on cocktails. I hadn’t been drunk in a long time, the Bloke got quite a kick out of it. But those mojitos were too damn tasty… There are loads of tapas bars in Barri Gotic, so you can fill up before getting tipsy!

5.) El Born / La Ribera. A really cool part of the city, this is where to go to find the edgier shops, cafes and bars. Along with the upper part of La Raval, we found it easy to just wander and find things we liked. Santa Caterina Market stands out with it’s rainbow coloured roof. Santa Maria del Mar Church, along with the Picasso Museum, are hives of tourist activity. We took one at the queues and stayed outside!

But what a beautiful area. Unlike the Eixample, east and west, there are no fine avenues or designer shops. Passeig del Born cuts through a jumble of tiny streets and lanes, with alternative boutiques, vintage stores, little cafes and trendy bars all making for a hopping atmosphere. I totally got the Barcelona vibe here. It’s an outdoor city, where balconies hang over the hustle and bustle of daily Catalan life.

We visited the old El Born Market, which has just opened as a cultural centre, and viewed excavations of the original city from a gallery. There was also exhibitions showing how Catalan life was back in the day. The Bloke, being fascinated by all things revolutionary, got a thrill out of taking part in National Day of Catalonia. The streets were packed. We checked out nearby Museum of Catalan History too.

6.) Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. The building alone is worth seeing. Housed in the Palau Nacional, high up on Montjuic, MNAC is heralded by an impressive sweep of steps, a waterfall, fountains and pillars. Spectacular when lit up at night. It had a been a long hot day for us, and the cool confines of this gallery were welcome. Sweating out the excesses of Manchester Bar, the night before, I demolished a fresh lemon granita, before our next culture injection.

MNAC is split into four sections – Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Modern. There are some amazing Romanesque religious art works, a lot found in rural churches and of such antiquity. This important collection of Catalan heritage is unique to MNAC. The Gothic collection is surprisingly colourful and by contrast the Baroque quite dark. Finally, with Himself losing the will, we hit the Modern art section.

We perked up though, with Picasso, Joan Miro, Ramon Casas and Antoni Tapies. A very well curated collection. He loved the photography gallery, which featured some very cool black and white Civil War shots. I loved the furniture collection, which included zany Gaudi pieces, stunning Art Deco glass work, amazing silk velvet chaise and ornate mahogany cabinets. Far more glamorous than our Ikea world.

7.) Fundacio Joan Miro. One of my fave artists since my art school days, Miro’s colourful creations are at times childlike, at times complex. Set on the rolling idyll of Montjuic, the white building, and example of Rationalist architecture, is a perfect backdrop to Joan Miro’s work. It’s freshness made up a little for the lack of air conditioning on a hot day, but we persevered. We began with the Joan Miro printmaking gallery and sculpture on the outdoor terrace.

This is the world’s most complete collection of Miro, but also houses work by other artists, both contemporaries of and tributes to the master. For me, Miro truly represents the spirit of Barcelona. A sort of carefree joie de vivre. His ceramics, sculptures and paintings have a distinct Catalan flavour. Fundacio Joan Miro really got my art brain ticking. It also has a brilliant art book shop and chic open air cafe.

8.) La Boqueria. And now for some more food. When in Barcelona… The city’s largest food market, La Boqueria is a treat for all the senses. Centred around a fresh fish market, this food emporium fans out to encompass all manner of edibles. Purveyors of fruit, veg, meat, nuts, cheese, sweets, cakes, bread and spices are punctuated by busy tapas bars and fast snack vendors. Let your mouth do all the work!

We munched salmon bomba and calamari, cooked at a fish stall. Vegetable tortilla (omlette) and courgette pastries. Marshmallow in every flavour you can think of (I picked ten). Fruit juices, laid out ready to drink. So refreshing, we slurped on strawberry and banana and pineapple and coconut. Bring your goodies out back to the Eden-like gardens of Hospital de Sant Pau. It really is another world.

9.) Parc de la Cuitadella. Sitting on the edge of the Old Town and right above Barceloneta, the city’s main park is an oasis that houses Barcelona Zoo and the Parliament of Catalonia. It’s foremost features are the Cascada, a spectacular waterfall of the most clear blue water, and the lake, in which young lovers can boat away a romantic afternoon. Me and the Bloke simply sat on a bench, eating juicy apples, and soaked up the sunshine. Barcelona is a city of small pleasures…

The park is designed in a series of winding paths, that almost seem like a natural trail. It was alive with dogs and kids having fun, as well as happy tourists milling about. We saw a group of French lads having great larks on their motorised mini-scooters. A nice breather from the city centre. We made our way from here up to the imposing Arc de Triomf, which was linked to the park by a wide tree-lined pedestrian boulevard.

10.) Barceloneta / Port Vell. Two different areas of the city really, but linked by their ties to the sea. Barceloneta, where we were based, speaks of earthy Catalonia. Not a salubrious neighbourhood, it was constructed in the 18th century to house those displaced by the building of the Cuitadella. So it started off as a ghetto, developed into a thriving fishing community and is now a chi chi beachside haven.

The beach itself is clean and welcoming, with turquoise Mediterranean waters. Barcelona, despite its costal location, was not open to the sea until this area was revamped, along with the appearance of the Port Olimpic marina for the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games. Now it’s an urban beach with plenty of cafes, bars and nightclubs adding to the cosmopolitan mix. We enjoyed a dip in the cool, calm ocean. Heaven.

Port Vell is the face of wealthy Barcelona, with glistening yachts lined up for miles and massive cruise liners sitting in the bay. But it too was a run down area before the urban renewal of twenty years ago, when I first saw it. The old Customs building leads on to the Rambla del Mar bridge which links the city to Maremagnum, a thoroughly modern mall featuring posh shops, restaurants, an IMAX and the world’s largest Aquarium.

Barceloneta, on the other hand, offers old world charm in the folds of its narrow streets. The port side is brash with seafood restaurants and international cuisine. If you walk further down the cable car to Montjuic is a fun way to see the city. However, we were lucky enough to discover the true Barceloneta. Don’t stay here if you’re shy, the neighbours can see right in the window! It’s a lively place indeed…

We mooched around Barceloneta Market, which was just behind our gaff, and scoffed tapas in El Bar Del Paco. Eggs, patatas, Manchego cheese, olives and tomato rubbed bread. Next door was New Orleans Cafe, which does every kind of tea you can get. Normal tea was what the Bloke wanted. I got chocolat, natch. We sat at the counter, a great spot for people watching.

On our final night, we took a moonlit stroll through our little neighbourhood. Taking a fancy to something spicy, we found Mar Brava. An unassuming Indian place, it was the best Ruby we’d had in a while. Hot Madras with juicy prawns and creamy raita, all washed down with San Miguel. On telly, Barca were giving Ajax a lesson in football at Camp Nou. We’d seen the Dutch team leaving training the previous night. Footie is a way of life here and FCB make it look so easy!

What can I say, Himself fell in love with Barcelona. Me too. The lifestyle is super chilled. Although a busy city, and full of tourists, the Catalan capital keeps a cool, calm rhythm. It’s not exclusive in the way London or Paris can be. Barcelona plays by its own rules. You can have a good time here, whatever your budget. And we loved being by the water, when tired of the heat. Dare I say, it’s totally different to Spain. That’s its USP. We learned so much about Catalan culture and would love to explore more. Barcelona is one stylish city.

Photography by Glenn Brown

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Sep 4, 2013

Decibelles – Molloy & Dowling

A Friday evening with friends, what could be nicer? The addition of pizza, that’s what. I met the gang after work (well, for them. My office is casual. Ahem) in Chaplins on Hawkins Street. What a lovely pub. Unassuming. Traditional in a non Paddy-whackery way. Purveyors of a fine ten euro pizza and pint deal too. I went for a scoop of O’Hara’s and a margarita. Down the hatch! The rest of them munched away.

It was a flying meet up before my next engagement, but good to see my chums for a bit o’ banter. I was off to Molloy & Dowling on Kildare Street for a party in an opticians. A what in a where, you ask? That’s right. Funky eye wear dispensers, Mssrs Molloy & Dowling host regular events in their Aladin’s cave of a shop. The two gentlemen share a wonderfully eclectic taste, with their own art on display throughout.

Decibelles, featuring live music from some super cool bands, was in aid of the Women’s Therapy Centre Ireland. A counselling and psychotherapy service for women, the centre enjoyed a successful fundraiser at Molloy & Dowling on the night. WTC Office and Fundraising Manager, Claire de Jong told me that she was delighted with the turnout and thanked the bands involved for volunteering their services for free.

My 15 euro ticket price got me some vino, a couple of Kit Kats and plenty of top sounds. First up was Revelry for Beginners, a one woman show and debut performance for the enigmatic Grainne. Interspersing her act with poetic vocals, self deprecating one liners and lots of la la la, Revelry for Beginners was original and surprising. I liked. Cave Ghosts were next with a melodic rock pop vibe.

Three edgy girls and a guy, they tried out new song ” All My Life”, a little slice of summery guitar choon. Little xs for Eyes filled up the stage with six players on myriad instruments. Theirs was a rich tapestry of jangly sounds all melded together with wistful vocals. Very nice. We swayed along, all smiles and rainbows. The final act of the night was the less winsome, more femme punk five piece September Girls.

I had spotted these chicks kicking back, earlier in the night, looking hot and being cool. They were no different on stage, turning out fuzzy garage rock with spiky charm. All eyeliner, back combing and plectrums these girls have a good thing going on. Their drummer was a powerhouse with sticks, with the front line strumming away in rhythm. Watch out for their debut album, coming out early next year.

With the music over, the fun kept on coming with Tina Maguire, Counselling Psychologist with WTC, opening the hat for their raffle. Prizes included books, DVDs, wine and vintage glasses. Yours truly didn’t win, but I was like a child with the excitement. Molloy & Dowling is such a brilliant venue. Quirky and intimate, I love what they’ve created. WTC were thrilled to announce they raised 936.59 euro.

www.womenstherapycentre.ie / Molloy & Dowling, 18b Kildare Street, Dublin 2

Jun 6, 2013

VintageIreland – Something Old, Something New

Shopping for old clothes. That doesn’t sound right, but it feels right. I love vintage fairs. There’s something so satisfying about finding a diamond in the rough. I get the same feeling in TK Maxx! My romantic view is thus – that special dress will find me, if only I’m in the right place at the right time. And this time I was at the Davenport Hotel on Merrion Square, a stone’s throw from I Love Saturday HQ.

It was a boiling hot day in the city but still there was time for a mooch. There always is! First I browsed Vintage Belle, who had a lovely collection of old skool summer dresses. Just the ticket for floating around Dublin Town. Great accessories too – leather satchels, satin clutches and some cool sandals. Then a scan of the jewellery merchants, who’d laid out their stalls like bling sweet shops. Magpie love…

My hit list included a Great Gatsby style black velvet feathered headband with jet detail, emerald set silver earrings and a cream silk chiffon 1950s gown (yes, I know what you’re thinking…). But I struck gold, literally, with a stunning pair of Rupert Sanderson heels. Gold t-bars with bottle green velvet detail – Cinderella shall go to the ball. Super stylist Maria Fusco was delighted to re-home these beauties.

Fashion glamour puss Maria and I happily chatted away about clothes and creative style. Her ethos is to have fun with fashion. And always look fabulous, even when buying a pint of milk. Maria’s eclectic array of designer threads and objets d’art captured my imagination. VintageIreland is all about fantasy and I often daydream the history of a garment. Perhaps it was worn to a Royal wedding or Studio 54…

vintageireland.eu / mariafuscofashion.blogspot.com

May 6, 2013

Rare Vintage – Fabulous Darling!

Rare on Dawson Street has been a local haunt of mine for some time now. Regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of bargain threads. A girl can live without BTs when there’s so much great clobber to be found around town these days. Rare Clothing Company trades in pre-loved clothes, with lots of worn once, labels on and ex fashion shoot. This savvy shop showcases designer, high street and vintage.

Main men Paddy and Martin run a smart ship, offering menswear and children’s clothes alongside women’s styles. The deal is that they’ll swap your stuff, dry cleaned by them, for Rare shop credit, online purchases or from other shops or straight cash. I’ve made some great wardrobe upgrades, without even leaving Rare’s door! And now, to keep me hooked, they’ve brought vintage into the mix.

Rare Vintage comes to us courtesy of the fabulous Rebecca Boon. Sourcing her one-of-a-kind pieces from all over the globe, there are gems from London, Paris and New York. Rebecca’s collections span the decades, with 50s, 60s and 70s outfits being my faves. She has some stunning dresses, including babydolls, maxis, minis and chic fitted numbers. Whether you like colour or love an LBD, it’s all here.

I got chatting to Rebecca, she’s at Rare every Sunday, and found out all about her retro style. Always something of a magpie, Rebecca started out as a buyer for a friend’s shop and developed her eye for the eclectic. She told me that there’s something about the history of a piece that gets her imagination ticking. Was it bought on Carnaby Street, or worn to a Beatles concert? Every frock has a story to tell.

The beauty of vintage, says Rebecca, is that you can style it with designer pieces or go head to toe for a more daring look. The appeal, we agree, is the uniqueness of each garment. Nobody else will be wearing it. And in a sea of samey high street fashion, there’s something to be said for owning a special one-off. Rebecca rocks the vintage vibe effortlessy and is happy to offer her stylist service to customers.

A fellow fashionista was delighted to find a Biba original and, as Rebecca hand picks her stock, she filled us in on the origin. Some items are even like new, as they came from shop stockrooms or unworn from wardrobes in Italy, the Netherlands and Germany. My must-haves included a Dollyrockers fuschia maxi, a Diolen 60s scooter dress and an Audrey Hepburn-esque black satin dress. What to choose…

Rare Clothing Company, 53 Dawson Street, Dublin 2

May 5, 2013

Cocoa Atelier – Let Them Eat Chocolate!

There’s hot chocolate. And there’s Cocoa Atelier hot chocolate. The Bloke had nipped into Cocoa Atelier on Drury Street to buy me some lovely chocolates. No reason, that’s just how he rolls. Lucky me! And while he was at it, a nice assistant pointed him in the direction of what is quickly becoming known as Dublin’s best hot chocolate. A bottle of the stuff, to take away, which he duly snapped up.

Cocoa Atelier began when Marc Armand, a French chef and founder of La Rousse Foods, wanted to bring a little slice of Paris to Dublin. A proper chocolaterie, that offers something to the connoisseur, within a sleek boutique setting. High cocoa content is the key when it comes to top quality chocolate. Cocoa Atelier combine theirs with continental flavours, like lime, earl grey, whiskey, mango and vanilla.

The shop is a joy for sweet tooths (hands up!) with beautifully crafted goodies on display. French patisserie include traditional chocolate creme eclairs and macaroons in every colour of the rainbow. Treats are packaged in chic black boxes, perfect gifts, and bars are available in squares of varying darkness. Jars of chocolate and caramel sauce are perfect for desserts. Mmmn… Now, where was I?

Cocoa Atelier, 30 Drury Street, Dublin 2

Mar 22, 2013

The Loft Market – Secret Treasure

Powerscourt Townhouse is one the hidden gems of Dublin. Tucked away between South William Street and Clarendon Street, it’s a great showcase for alternative Irish retailers. I’ve always been a boutique shopper and with Grafton Street becoming ever more commercial, I find Powerscourt the perfect refuge from the ubiquitous faceless multinationals. And it’s the home of my fave treasure trove The Loft Market.

Last week the Madre and me were enjoying a loaf about town. First off a Tom Collins in Brooks Hotel on Drury Street, then to The Loft Market to see what we could see. Jean Cronin Vintage had got in some old skool wedding dresses – don’t get any ideas! – that Mama simply had to see. We had lots of fun picking from a cute 60s silk maxi, an 80s lace Madonna number and a 70s boho broderie Anglaise.

Frolics aside, Jean Cronin Vintage always serves my sweet shopping tooth. I picked up a buff silk 40s style dress, an electric blue embroidered number and a gorgeous little beaded sequin cardi. Those, like me, who don’t do high street fashion – get here! Mama is mad for anything Irish and handmade and her eclectic taste was met with a pink Heather Finn scarf. The girls working here give great style advice too.

The layout of The Loft Market allows customers to mix and match clothes, jewellery and accessories. It’s easy to while away an hour, acting the magpie at Chupi, Perk Up Vintage, Aliquo, B Fashion Design and Lark Vintage amongst others. Large dressing rooms with multiple mirrors add to the “dressing up box” feel of the place. For a girl who loves her shopping, The Loft Market is chic, fun and stress-free.

The Loft Market, Powerscourt Centre, 59 South William Street, Dublin 2 / www.powerscourtcentre.com

Dec 7, 2012

Siopaella – A Dog’s Life Kilo Sale

Once I got word of Siopaella’s Kilo Sale in aid of animal charity A Dog’s Life, well I just had to do my bit for the furry ‘lil fellas! Conveniently around the corner from the Bloke’s place – Siopaella has two shops, one on Crow Street, the other on Temple Lane South – I’m oft to be found flicking through the rails. Owner Ella De Guzman’s two adorable mutts love to sit in the corner, watching us bargainistas swoon.

Siopaella first popped up in the corner of its Crow Street location last year and I was hooked straight away. Ella takes in top quality designer and high street fashions, with a little vintage in the mix too. Clothes sellers take home 40% of the sale price, while shoppers get gorgeous gear at a fraction of the retail price. Everyone’s a winner! And Siopaella’s boutique service is a lot more glam than trawling Ebay.

Previous finds of mine include a boxfresh leather Chesneau bag, a silk Monsoon dress and a pair of suede Dune heels. The Temple Lane South store is home to high end designer labels – perfect for a little Christmas Chanel to self… Last Wednesday I picked up a St Martins dress, two silk LBDs, a cute jacket, cord skirt and a pair of Levi’s. Just 20 euro! And over a thousand raised for A Dog’s Life. Woof…

Siopaella, 8A Crow Street & 25A Temple Lane South, Temple Bar, Dublin 2 / www.adogslife.ie

Oct 30, 2012

Nothing To Prove – Seamus Bradley

Last Thursday afternoon was spent mooching about Temple Bar – a fave pastime of your whimsical reporter. First stop was Siopaella, my current top fashion hunting ground. Watch out for their charity sale on Sunday 4th November in aid of A Dog’s Life. Next up was a book launch at Connolly Books on East Essex Street, Seamus Bradley’s debut tome “Nothing To Prove”. Welcome refuge from the cold.

Connolly Books is best known as a peddler of radical literature, a treasure trove for lefty readers. It’s also the lobby for the totally alternative New Theatre and I’ve always found it a very creative space to be in. Vino, salty snacks and oatmeal cookies were on hand to celebrate Seamus Bradley’s opus on capitalist culture. In “Nothing To Prove” he explores our wants and needs in a world dominated by profit.

Questioning society’s obsession with material wealth, Bradley goes back to basics by looking at our simple needs – food and shelter, as the bedrock of happiness. Already examining his own relationship with status and career, it was an overheard conversation in the pub that inspired Bradley. “Nothing To Prove” was born of the frustration that many of us feel in the wake of the global economic meltdown.

A sort of “what’s it all about?” Bradley breaks down societal norms, like giant supermarket chains and food exporting. How did such changes in attitude grow from our traditional ideals? He explained how consumer competition has damaged community and on a worldwide level how it has divided nations. Bradley says this has led to an unbalanced world where the natural order of living is consistently defied.

The new order encourages a lack of independence and the adoption of a herd mentality. This was evident in the Celtic Tiger property bubble that brought Ireland to dire financial crisis. Common sense and a responsibility for ourselves was forgotten about in the trample to be upwardly mobile. Now in the aftermath, Bradley says we have an opportunity to redress the situation and explore new possibilities.

I’ve only begun reading “Nothing To Prove” and I’m struck by Bradley’s positivity. He is minus the scaremongering and lamenting of high profile tomes by well known pundits, as he’s not just talking money. But spirit, pride and the freedom to enjoy life. One of the biggest modern killers is stress so it really is in our personal interest to reject lifestyle aspirations, and the mad rush to the so called top.

As far as my own two pence in concerned, I think we’re on the brink of the Age of Aquarius. Upcoming generations are not buying into marketing hype as we did, and the implosion of organised religion in the western world has seen people looking to their inner strengths for sustenance. Bradley joked that he might be preaching to the converted in Connolly’s but “Nothing To Prove” has something to say to all.

Nothing To Prove – Seamus Bradley. Connolly Books, 43 East Essex Street, Temple Bar, Dublin 1

Oct 30, 2012

Ha’penny Flea – The Grand Social

A market in a pub, you say? Well yes! That is the unique beauty of the Ha’penny Flea. Recently re-opened after a Summer holiday, the market features plenty of vintage clothes and accessories, old records, handcrafts and of course a bar. So you can have a pint while you shop. But I must admit I’ve seen more than one bargainista deposit her fella at the bar, while she gets down to serious business!

The Ha’penny Flea has a huge offering of stuff, with regulars and newbies setting up every Saturday. The vibe is a bit San Francisco, a lot artsy nouveau Dublin. The Grand Social is one of those places that captures the capital’s post tiger spirit and runs with it to great success. Shabby chic is the name of game, the perfect afternoon hangout, with gigs on upstairs afterwards if you’re out for the long haul.

As a girl I always dreamed of being a shopkeeper (boutique owner?) and now I have my own little corner of the Ha’penny Flea. Selling my wares is super fun – dresses, handbags, shoes and jewellery at “Love” – as I can chat to people all day long. Bliss! The social aspect is what makes this market stand out from the crowd, as the intimate setting of the pub puts punters at ease and open to a good old mingle.

Charming stalls are dotted all around, not just mine! There’s Junk Orr Gems for vintage clothes and accessories, Lily Loves for quirky cake stands made with antique plates. Hegarty Hats for beautifully feminine handmade head wear, Magpie’s Nest for antique, vintage and modern jewellery. There’s lots of Sixties and Seventies fashion, which I love! The Ha’penny Flea is an antidote to blah high street shops.

Music from DJ Wild Child Will fits in with the carefree feeling – Motown classics and underground Disco. Bazaar life is rewarding too, as I get to recycle and pass my lovely pieces onto happy new owners. As a second hand style maven myself, I appreciate that flutter one gets on discovering a diamond. A silk blouse or a sparkly hat. A Bowie record or a Kafka book. There’s something about the Ha’penny Flea!

Ha’penny Flea – Saturday 12 to 6pm.  The Grand Social, 35 Lower Liffey Street, Dublin 1

Jul 12, 2012

Designist – Uproar V Paul Tierney

Last week I joined the Bruv and his mate for a pre-Stone Roses pint and feed. Against the Grain was the venue with the lads looking for some of the best craft beers in town, and pub grub to boot. We each downed a pint of tasty Howling Gale Ale before ordering falafel, beef and chicken burgers, all with lovely big fat chips. It’s proper man food at Against the Grain with a good veggie selection on offer too.

The boys jumped in a joe maxi and made for the Pheonix Park. I mooched back into the belly of town for some culture action. PhotoIreland 2012 is running throughout July so I decided to check out Uproar V Paul Tierney at Designist. Uproar is a summer-long event at Designist featuing a number of cutting edge Pop Up shops. Photographer Paul Tierney’s “Reflected City” project is their latest exhibition.

The series, shot in various shops throughout the city, documents the ordinary shop, its merchandise and its owners. Displayed in the retail setting at Designist, the collection is cleverly juxtaposed within its subject matter. The pictures themselves are charming, with Tierney using his architectural eye to capture the symmetry of the spaces as well as the personality and purpose of the shops.

Tierney talked me through some of the places he had visited. A cosmetic dentist practice featured an all white decor, while its owner was decked out in a white uniform – Tierney noted that the idea was to convey a clinical feel and the pristine colour of well kept teeth. He also pointed to detail, such as the celebrity magazines on display – an aspirational nudge to clients. The retail environment disected.

Another picture featured a shopkeeper behind the counter of his plumbing shop, proudly at the helm of a highly organised treasure trove of hardware. “Reflected City” highlights the place of individual stores in a neighbourhood, each serving its own purpose. The concept of the shops within a shop works well at Designist, given its own quirky stock of home decor and gadgets. Bite sized prints are for sale.

Designist, 68 South Great Georges Street, Dublin 2 / www.photoireland.org / www.paultierney.ie

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