Category Archives: Shopping

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.

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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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A quick trip to the City


Last weekend I was really feeling the effects of cabin fever. Although I’m getting the help I need for my skin as of today, which I’m over the moon about (whatever it was, it was fighting some of the strongest antibiotics and steroids in production!) it does look pretty bad. But I needed to get out, even just for an hour or two, to retain my sanity. There is a life outside pajamas!

I ventured into town with the ladies of my house, my Mam and sister. Mam kindly drove (incredibly nervously) into town, as she figured I’d only have the energy for a couple of hours. She doesn’t like city driving, and I must admit I made lots of unnecessary comments about how slow the journey was, but when you spent two years of your life driving through the city everyday for college, it doesn’t take long until you discover all the valuable shortcuts that cut significant time and effort.

We had fairly simple goals that morning; I was on the hunt for a new handbag, Mam simply fancied a nose around and lunch, and my little sister the TV series and video game fanatic counted herself in for a trip to a comic book store and a free meal.

Although it was quite cold, it was a beautiful day so I took a couple of pictures during the short time we were there. Although I love living in Salamanca for it’s beauty, cheap prices and location (it’s a great base for travelling all around Spain on road trips) I have always adored Dublin city. For it’s pubs, friendly dwellers, burritos, sushi, cafes, concert/gig venues, layout…just everything really. I also love that you can eat where you like, when you like. This is a reoccurring issue for me in Spain. They are pretty traditional with their serving times.

If you haven’t been to Dublin – although quite expensive, it’s worth the trip, I promise!

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Forbidden Planet, 6 Crampton Quay, Dublin 2

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Avoca, 13 Suffolk St., Dublin 2. Avoca is a treasure chest of knick knacks and beautiful things. It also has a cafe and restaurant, which serves incredible food. At the moment they’re selling beautifully crafted editions of Charles Dickens stories and Alice in Wonderland, for only 31.25 in their sale.


Ladurée Macaroons at Brown Thomas, Grafton Street, Dublin 2.

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Before heading home after our ramble, we decided to indulge in some lunch at Metro Cafe (43 South William Street, Dublin 2) one of my favourite cafes in Dublin. It’s got a lovely menu, delicious breakfast treats, inventive sandwiches, tasty salads, interesting specials and incredible desserts. They also do wine and antipasti, a great place to stop by with friends. The staff are incredibly friendly, as is the manager. No matter how busy, they will always find a table for you. You can sit outside or inside, and it’s an incredibly comfortable atmosphere. You never feel rushed. It’s a truly relaxing place. My sister and I had a grilled chicken ciabatta with delicious basil mayo, sun-dried tomatoes and rocket. I usually have the same things on the menu, so I went for this sandwich today and was not disappointed! My Mam had the cajun chicken Caesar salad. Again. (She never changes her order!)

Time to wash it down with a double espresso. It’s hard to find consistently good coffee in the City, but you’ll find it here. My sister had the Death by Chocolate to finish. This cake…is the best. I’ve tried a lot of chocolate desserts in many different places and I can confidently say that this is the best chocolate cake I have ever had in my life! 100% pure fact. You are given the perfect amount, the cake is slightly warmed, soft and brownie like but not too heavy and in no way dry. It is perfect. The best part about eating it? You can move afterward! So you won’t feel full and uncomfortable if you’re up for more shopping, refuelled and recharged.

People of all ages love this place – it’s incredibly chill, so bring whomever. They will love it, and so will you!


During our visit, I didn’t find a handbag. I wanted a patent black bag and didn’t see any to my liking. Alas, some other time! So I picked up some macaroons instead, naturally.  2 vanilla, 2 chocolate, 1 coffee, 1 pistachio, 1 coconut, 1 salted caramel. They’re really cheering me up while I’m not feeling so hot. To finish off my day, I gathered the left over cream from various Christmas feasts, melted some leftover chocolate and marshmallows and made chocolate mousse. A very therapeutic and relaxing day.

You can find the mousse recipe here.

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Do you live in a city or near one? What are some of your favourite places to visit?

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