Category Archives: Art

Colouring pencils


Yesterday on a spontaneous trip to El Corte Inglés (large Spanish department store) we ended up somehow in the middle of the stationery and crafts section. They had all kinds of gorgeous notebooks, writing sets, cards, every kind of paint, bright chubby crayons and a glistening display of perfectly sharpened colouring pencils which quickly became a necessary impulse buy. I want to draw!

But I could never draw. Ever. I know this very well. My brother was always the one with the artistic flair, drawing video game characters and making his own comics.
Blatantly ignoring this fact, I was pretty excited about these pencils (Staedtler, to be more specific) and when I got home and started doodling random things, overlooking their quality, it was quite relaxing. A benefit in itself really!

On the other end of the spectrum, before we returned home we took our bag filled with newly purchased pencils, pens and moleskines to the ground floor supermarket where we picked up bottles of Cardhu single malt scotch and Tanqueray gin.

A weird combination but needless to say, I’m happy with all purchases.

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Madrid is roughly a two hour drive from Salamanca – when we have guests who are a little nervous about getting the express coach from Madrid Barajas (the city’s airport) it calls for a road trip up to Spain’s capital. Instead of doing the drive in one day, it’s nice to take time to explore the city, and the city of Madrid is one of my favourite cities in the world. The reason being that whether you’re there for a few hours or an entire day,  you feel comfortable almost instantly. There doesn’t seem to be any part of exploring where you feel a little out of depth in your surroundings.

It’s a huge melting pot, that in parts reminds me of my native Dublin, some of Paris and a lot New York. The picture above was taken overlooking the lake in Parque de Retiro, a park that spans 33 million square metres. Retiro reminds me a lot of Central Park, watching people drift by in little rowing boats, bordered by the park’s boathouse. Joggers pass by, one-footed pigeons perch a little close for (my) comfort by the little kiosks that serve tapas, beer and wine and the sound of saxophones float on the wind. Despite the wind, it was quite a warm and pleasant day – not bad for the beginning of February.


We stayed at the Hotel Gavinet, located on Calle Toledo. A stones throw away from Madrid’s  square (Plaza Mayor). If you’re travelling to Madrid by car, it’s the perfect choice. €19.00 per day for parking, but once you’re a guest, even if you’ve checked out, they have no problem with you leaving the car there to go and explore at no extra cost. The hotel was clean with really dependable free Wifi, a cheap bar, cheap breakfasts and a cheap rate – €55.00 per night. It was the only one I could find with guaranteed set price parking in close proximity to the square and the Plaza del Sol, a buzzy area with plenty of shopping, cafés, bars, the occasional protestor and a lot of costumes and fancy dress.


Simple and colourful paintings in the hotel lobby of the Hotel Gavinet.


Shots of a quiet Plaza del Sol, a few hours after we arrived last Wednesday.


PINTS of vodka and mixer advertised outside Ulysses bar just off the square. A good price in Madrid considering the bar’s location. Your wallet will thank you. Your liver won’t.


A very small traditional bar with interesting wine, strange dolls and Madrid’s answer to Julio Iglesias.


Penelope Cruz and a very futuristic-looking ATM outside Hotel Gavinet. I couldn’t resist taking a picture!

The next morning after work (hours of undisrupted online tasks on the impressive WiFi I mentioned previously) a breakfast of freshly squeezed orange juice, coffee and pastries (for under €3.00) we spent the day exploring the city until our guest’s arrival at Madrid airport that evening. The airport is about 20-30 minutes from the centre, depending on traffic. Driving in the city is a bit hectic, with a lack of road markings on roundabouts, plenty of pushy drivers with no patience for traffic, so be careful if you choose to drive…and don’t even think of visiting without a GPS (you can thank me later).


Although I couldn’t get shots of the food, the above image is a market filled with cheese, ham and stalls with various kinds of flavoured peanuts, almonds and cashews. It’s also home to a gin bar, that serves every gin infused drink imaginable, with big fluffy seats to boot. If you don’t mind the potent smell of strong cheeses, you might enjoy staying longer than we did!


We visited a Starbucks for a quick coffee and to see how it compared to Dublin. We aren’t fans of Starbucks coffee at all, and there aren’t any franchises in Salamanca. I was surprised to see so many in the city – the Spanish have such fantastic and cheap coffee available everywhere, so why Starbucks? The coffee was in fact a lot better, however the prices were quite high and the WiFi wasn’t free. The highlight of the stop for me was the cute Starbucks cup cookie pictured above. Cute, but certainly not worth €3.00 when Häagen Dazs cross the road were selling baked marble cheesecake for a similar price.


The walkway we followed on our way to Madrid’s National Library


The National Library looked incredible – like so many other buildings in Madrid. Every building is so grand and impressive, it’s a pleasure walking around. No visual pollution here!


This entrance to Parque de Retiro is beautiful. Sorry for the crooked photograph – a lady was tugging at my arm offering reeds for luck.


A weird footed pigeon in Parque de Retiro (possibly) looking for some pickled onions, pickles and olives.


Del Prado Museum – featuring the best of European art and sculpture.


A church nearby the museum. We then started walking back toward the hotel for lunch, taking pictures and stopping for coffee along the way.




Plaza Mayor, Madrid

We went for lunch at Los Galayos, a restaurant in the corner of the square. The bottles of water we ordered was one of those deep blue thick glass ones. I find they really brighten up the table and I remember them at long lengthy dinners in the south of Spain as a child. I’m glad we decided not to order starters, as the waiter brought us warm bread rolls, olives in garlic and their own scrambled egg creation – eggs, fish, peas and spiced mayonaise, which was delicious.


N went for the grilled crayfish with lemon, butter and herbs. I went for the deconstructed beef tenderloin burger, which I’m glad had no bun, as after the bread roll it would have been uncomfortable. The burger came topped with crispy bacon and brie with  side of caramelised onions, their own mustard dressing, ketchup and fries.


The only other table occupied was on the left hand side – full of ladies who lunch. We went during siesta, so the restaurant was quiet. After taking our plates away and sweeping our crumbs with a little brush and silver pan, the waitress brought us coffee and shots of the Los Galayos digestif, along with the bottle if we wished for more. I didn’t, as I had driving to do and it was a little sweet but nice all the same – alcohol, fermented peaches, melon balls and cinnamon, served with what tasted like danish butter cookies.


The restaurant also had their own wine cellar downstairs. There was cleaning going on at the time, so I couldn’t photograph it, but below is an image from their website.

Screen Shot 2013-02-12 at 16.33.35

Madrid city has so much on offer it would keep anyone busy for days. Shopping, eating, drinking, sight-seeing, theatre, street performers, strolls in the park. Highly worth a visit and prices range depending where you go, but it’s a very affordable city destination for a short break. There are also two theme parks nearby, ‘Parque Warner’, the Warner Brothers Park with themed rides and Warner characters, and Parque de Atracciones. Both are very affordable with hardly any queues for rollercoasters.

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Mono Village


A New Year and a fresh start is great. Buying fresh new beautiful stationery to plan and document your promising year a head is even better. Every year Paperchase is top of my list for my notepad needs; it’s a paper haven of wall to wall goodies that has the ability to lift even the grumpiest of moods. Think really grumpy Father-on-a-shopping-trip holding bags, until he sees this.

Usually opting for some variation of a bird/cupcake/cat/teacup/flower notebook with a ribbon page marker (I can confidently say Paperchase always carries such a hybrid) it was starting to form as tradition. However, on a trip to Awear on Wednesday, I saw this Mono Village beauty, that changed my view on stationery FOREVER. A little dramatic, but true. By the till on a little stand sat a little bounty of stationery and iPhone cases. The cases were garish and gaudy, so lets forget those. But this notebook…(see for yourselves below in the images) is just beautiful. It’s well made, the paper is thick so no ink shadows can be seen, it’s filled with different layouts for note-taking and it’s filled with watercolour images and each page is different. I had to share it because it’s very original, very cheap (€6!) and the covers come in a variation of colours – Mustard, tan and royal blue. I went for the mustard, in my latest efforts to stop my habit of buying all things dark.






Isn’t it a dream?

These notebooks would make a great gift for you or a friend, or even family member, the design and construction is timeless. There are plenty in stock in both Awear Swords and Awear on Henry Street. I would love to get my hands on more, but can’t find them online anywhere, not even Awear’s own website.

If anyone knows if Mono Village can be ordered online or in another store, please let me know, I would be very grateful.

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