Moments Of Bliss

When the weather is as unrelentingly wet as the British summer has been this year, it can be hard to remember that we are meant to be in the brightest and most glorious of the seasons.

The downpours and humidity can be a dampener on my mood and things can be a real drag, leaving me feeling downright exhausted and out of sorts.  On those days, flicking through previous holiday pictures of warm, balmy technicolour days is an antidote to my general malaise and reminds me that there are moments of bliss to be gained from even the smallest of pleasures.

At the beginning of June my husband and I were lucky to be in Ireland during a sunny Irish bank holiday weekend.   My husband is a Dubliner who moved to England over ten years ago, and misses his home so much.   We don’t go as often as he would like, so on this trip he wanted to show me one of the most beautiful places near Dublin.

One of his favourite childhood traditions was to go for long walks through the Rhododendron Gardens of Howth Castle and so that is what we did.  These Gardens date back to the middle of the 19th century, and are spread across rocky cliffs that overlook the sea.  May and June are the best months to see the hills burst into flame with pink and purple rhododendrons.

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Donning a pair of good walking boots, we set off from the Deer Park Hotel and Golf Course, following the steep woody paths and steadily ascending the hills to the summit.  At every turn, I was faced with vibrant rhododendrons in shades of mauve, pink, purple, red and white.

The summit was my moment of bliss, facing the spectacular view of the golf course and the sea, with a cool breeze and the blue skies and sunshine up above.   It was the perfect time for quiet contemplation and mindfulness, away from the over-stimulation of the outside world.  I even found it joyful to stumble across an abandoned pair of sunglasses on top of the rocks and see the world reflected from its electric blue lenses!

After sunning ourselves at the summit, we continued down into mysterious green woodland, strewn with bluebells.  It felt very much like a journey in a fairy-tale world, trekking along soft ground twisted by old tree roots and dappled by sunshine.   Even though we were not far from the city, we felt shielded from the urban rush in this lush forest.

We made it full circle back to the golf course, feeling totally energised.  One of the consequences of this little trip is that I’ve resolved to try to go on more walks in the country, to enjoy seeing the beauty in all things great and small and to take time out from the rush to be mindful.

PS: Here are some of the other moments of bliss from this trip, down and around Howth Pier!

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My New Orleans Shopping Haul

It has been two months since I came back from New Orleans, and, having done a huge shop there, I’ve been itching to write about the goodies I picked up.  I’ve been so busy though, what with family birthdays, a trip to Ireland and starting a new full-time job! So now, without further ado, let me share my lovely haul with you…

 

Mika Rose Skirt

First up is this ditsy little skirt by Mika Rose, from the National World War II Museum store in New Orleans.  The great thing about this cute number is that it is so easy to wear and has tons of retro appeal with its mini floral print.  I paired it with this coral top by Darling, from Cambridge boutique Lilac Rose.

 

Sterling silver bellflower pendant and earring set

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I couldn’t leave NOLA without satisfying my passion for sterling silver jewellery.  This bellflower necklace and earring set from Sterling Silvia, was designed by Silvia herself and is bang on trend with the current vogue for botanicals.  I was so tempted to buy the bellflower ring too, but it was all getting a bit matchy-matchy.  I love this set and have worn it almost every day!

 

Sterling silver water meter ring

One of Sterling Silvia’s bestsellers is the ubiquitous water meter ring, which I featured in my last blog post.  Every time I wear this, I just can’t take my eyes off its detailed art deco design.

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Gold seashell necklace

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She sells seashells on the seashore… Golden sands and blue skies is what this beautiful seashell necklace embodies.  It made a great present for my sister, who loves gold jewellery.  Made of gold-plated brass on a delicate chain, I found this treasure at Zele, an indoor artisans market on Magazine Street, which also sells other lovely things such as…

 

Turquoise pottery bowl

…this handmade pottery bowl in deep turquoise, a good gift choice for my mum.  It’s so soothing to look at, especially when its filled with still water and pink rose floating candles.

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Sea urchin trinket box

This aqua sea urchin-shaped trinket box from Magazine Street boutique Peony, complete with a gold coral-shaped handle, was an impulse buy.   It’d be great in the bathroom for holding cotton wool balls, although right now I’m using it to store all my spare clothes buttons!

 

 

Ruby Slipper tee shirt

I collect tee shirts like badges, and I couldn’t resist this retro tee from New Orleans eaterie Ruby Slipper Café.  It is dark grey and printed with a glitzy red stiletto, that’s so tantalizingly hot right now that the Wicked Witch of the West is dying to get her hands on it!  Plus, it has got an egg frying on it.

 

Peaches Records tee shirt

On the subject of retro tees, I plumped for this juicy number from NOLA record store Peaches Records.  What a peach – so nicely snug and soft!

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Emerson Lake and Palmer record

Of course I didn’t just go into a record store to buy a tee shirt, I had to get a record too! I got my prog rock fix with an American 1971 pressing of Emerson Lake and Palmer’s self-titled first album.  Despite the prices being so cheap, the record was in such good nick.   Plus the Peaches Record store is so damn cool, based on the facts that: a) the staff are so welcoming and friendly; b) they give you a free root beer whilst you browse the store; and c) I got a free Peaches Record sticker after buying my goodies.

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Yes Fragile Record

I got not one but two records on my NOLA trip, this second one from Frenchmen street music store, Louisiana Music Factory .  Because I’m currently obsessed with prog rock giants Yes, I got their Fragile album (US 1972 pressing) for a very good price, and in such great condition too.

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So there you have it, my NOLA shopping haul!

The New Orleans Crescent Meter Box

You will realise the appeal of a lowly water meter cover when you visit New Orleans.  Yes, it is just a water cover at the end of the day, but this beautiful lid is unlike any other water cover.  Adorned with the crescent moon and a burst of stars, it has become a historical and cultural symbol of New Orleans.

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The crescent meter cover was made by the Ford Meter Box Company, hailing from Wabash, Indiana.  Edwin Ford filed a patent application for the Ford Meter Box in 1898, a method of preventing customers from wasting water in Hartford City, Indiana.  The meter box is essentially a pit containing the water meter, outside the house, and is covered with a metal lid.  Ford gradually began supplying meters for other cities, including New Orleans, and after visiting the Crescent City, came up with the famous crescent moon and stars design for the lid covering the meter in 1921.

Traditionally found covering water box meters in the ground throughout New Orleans, the Crescent Meter Cover gradually became rarer as they were coveted and then stolen by many people.  Over time, due to the extensive and notorious theft of these beautiful lids, the New Orleans Water Board replaced these covers with plain ones, so that now it is quite a feat to find any of the original covers within the city.

Today the design is used in other forms – in jewellery, art and ceramics.  I was very much taken with this unique design and bought this design in various souvenir types.

This cute sterling silver ring from Sterling Silvia is just so cool and unique.

This lovely ceramic clock from Derby Pottery will be great for the kitchen or the bathroom due to its deep aqua tones and watery associations!DSC_0018

We got two trivets – one for my dad from Sterling Silvia on French Market and one for my brother-in-law from the Roux Royale shop.  They have a hook in the back so can be hung on the wall, as well as being used for hot things in the kitchen.

I was fortunate enough to find and photograph these water covers in situ – the photo at the start of this post as well as this one near the Lafayette Cemetery.

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My trip to the Crescent City – Part 2

New Orleans is heaven for foodies.  The cuisine is a melting pot of French, Spanish, African, Creole and Cajun influences so there’s plenty of spice and richness.  So what better way to experience traditional cuisine than to embark on a food tour?

We booked our food tour with Destination Kitchen and opted for the 6-hour walking tour, the NOLA Foodie for “A” Day.  With our lovely friends from Atlanta, who came to see us specially, our guide Mary Eshenour led us through the sights of the historic French Quarter, providing an educational and culinary commentary.  Along the way we stopped off at various points for little bites to eat.  Some of my faves include eating a delicious Italian sandwich called a ‘muffuletta’ in the French Market, and settling down to a bowl of home-cooked gumbo at the New Orleans School of Cooking as well as enjoying the delights of a refreshing Pimm’s cup.

We dined at some remarkable places in between, such as Restaurant R’evolution, Cafe Amelie for its fantastic ambience, and Felix’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar for spicy oysters.

The legendary French Quarter is worth a big mention for its historic architecture, party atmosphere and jazz bars.   Swamped with vibrant local art and talented street musicians, its not uncommon to pick up the party buzz with a cocktail in your hand as you walk the streets, bar-hopping and browsing eclectic boutiques.  There’s the French Market for scrummy eats and bric-a-brac souvenirs, and the neighbouring Cafe du Monde for sugary beignets.

We headed to the infamous Bourbon Street within the French Quarter.  Love it or hate it, you can’t miss the 24/7 party here, with its bars, neon lights and sleaze.  We enjoyed a snack of breaded shrimp and fries with a tasty cocktail at the Desire Oyster Bar on Bourbon Street.

You can’t visit New Orleans without heading to a jazz bar.   Frenchmen Street is where its at, musically, and so we got our fill at Rare Form.   When we got hungry and headed to Dat Dog for hot dogs Jazz in Frenchmen Street, we were treated to a real blast of a brass street band, who literally blew us away with their bravado and force.

Our final stopping point of the trip was a visit to the famous New Orleans Cemeteries, distinguished by their above-ground crypts and mausoleums (to solve the problems of burial on swampy land).

 

My trip to the Crescent City – Part 1

Last month I took a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana.  My husband was privileged to be speaking at one of the biggest cancer conferences in the world, the American Association for Cancer Research, hosted in New Orleans this year, and I tagged along for the ride.  This was our first trip away together since we got married and so it was a special one for us.

Whilst 20,000 conference delegates from around the world descended on New Orleans, I vacationed it up, enjoying the long walks, the historic architecture, the scrumptious food and cocktails, the quirky shops, the music and the bonhomie of NOLA’s lovely residents.   If cities were soulmates, then New Orleans would be mine without a doubt.  This city is so vibrant, beautiful and sultry, with a rich history and cultural tradition, and despite the tragedies of Hurricane Katrina it has managed to pick itself up and march on ahead.  The positivity and generosity of the place was so infectious that I came away happier. Truly!

After a 10-hour flight, with a quick stop off in Atlanta, we were exhausted but happy to be checked in to the Marriott Hotel on Canal Street, bordering the famous (and infamous!) French Quarter.  The long day of travelling (and some cocktails! I was on holiday after all!) took its toll on me, and all I was craving a comfy bed and a cup of tea!

The first few days we were so jetlagged (New Orleans is 6 hours behind London during Daylight Saving Time) so after a non-existent night’s sleep, we headed out to the super-popular Ruby Slipper Café at 200 Magazine Street for a good breakfast pick-me-up.  And it did just that! They do great Eggs Benedict in various configurations so I got the one with beef plus a delicious Bloody Mary.  Head there early as it is only open for breakfast and brunch.

The other great NOLA go-to for breakfast and brunch is Daisy Dukes on 121 Chartres Street,  a guilty pleasure of mine.  On one early morning (6.30 am to be precise!), we headed out to this 24/7 café, where I shamelessly took full advantage of the unlimited refills of Bloody Mary cocktails.  By 7.30 am I was on my third cocktail and they even gave me a cup ‘to go’! Nowhere else in the world could this happen, but it felt so right here!  The omelettes were heaven, too.

Aside from scrummy brunches and Bloody Mary cocktails, we visited the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.  This wonderful museum, housed in the old US Customs Building, has a great collection of live and preserved specimens of a variety of insects.  My favourite bit was the walk through the humid Butterfly Gardens, where tropical butterflies flitter from leaf to leaf and butterflies can be seen hatching from pupae.

When my husband was at conference I took the opportunity to take a long, long walk down Magazine Street, the location of many wonderful independent boutiques, art shops and antiques shops.  It is a shopper’s heaven.  Vintage clothing is really big here, and there were so many boutiques selling exquisite vintage designer pieces as well as retro-inspired clothing.   If I could, I would have bought the contents of the shops Century Girl Vintage and Trashy Diva combined!  Grandmother’s Buttons also caught my eye – I really coveted their beautiful antique button necklaces.

There were also lots of lovely gift shops, including the treasure trove of Sterling Silvia, a magpie’s haven for sterling silver jewellery and Peony New Orleans, for beautiful gifts and soft, floaty clothing.   There are lots of art and antique shops on Magazine Street, selling local artists’ works.  Derby Pottery & Tile make beautiful New Orleans-inspired pieces in aqua colours, such as the Water Meter Clocks.

For music lovers, there’s the epic Peaches Records, where the shop assistants were ever so friendly and even offered me a free root beer to drink whilst I browsed at leisure.  It was perhaps one of my favourite moments of the whole trip – the warm buzz of root beer, riffling through a vast record collection, and good cheer.

This good atmosphere extended to the whole of Magazine Street, where every shopkeeper exuded warmth and took the time to chat to me for ages, without once pushing me to buy anything.  Of course, it worked because I bought a hell of a lot that day!

Magazine street is very long, as I think I’ve emphasized already, about six miles in total, and interspersed between the stretches of shops are residential streets, of unique wooden-panelled French-influenced architecture and bright colours.

I’m going to take a breather here – I have so much more to tell you about the fantastic French Quarter, including a NOLA food tour and the jazz clubs of Frenchmen Street in my next post, plus the big shopping haul from my Magazine Street trip!