Stuff I see, which you might not.

New York, New York

Here are some more pics from my New York days – a range of everyday (or not so everyday) sparks that caught my eye as I wandered around.

An important discovery – Trader Joe’s chocolate covered peanut butter pretzels.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

The best toy shop in the world. The best.

You can even adopt a baby at FAO Schwarz. The staff in this area wear white coats, like all good dolly doctors should.

Oh, the things you can do with duct tape…

So, I found this amazing. And other people were taking photos in the Macy’s bathroom too. That’s the tap in the middle, the soap on the right…and the hand dryer on the left.

Serious table tennis players in Bryant Park.

And in upstate New York, a cool way for kids to travel (and be distracted) during the weekly grocery shopping trip…

It’s a drive thru kinda country. This is a drive thru bank in upstate New York – ATM on the left, deposits & human (voice) interaction on the right.

And if you’re tired of your Snuggie, maybe it’s time for a Footsy – the throw that’s a treat for your feet!


New York’s finest fro-yo

Really, I just like how people say fro-yo: a much cooler way to say frozen yoghurt, making it sound edgier and not at all like the low-fat alternative to ice cream. There are a few competing fro-yo chains here, but my cousin took me to the newest (and, according to most of the locals, the best) addition to the fro-yo scene here in NYC. It’s called 16 Handles, so can only presume they’re Molly Ringwald fans. Either that, or they are just very literal folk – there did appear to be 16 flavours of fro-yo.

I’ll let the creators explain what it’s all about, this “hands-on revolution”: 16 HANDLES is mixing things up and at the center of our frozen playground is you: an uncontainable, independent champion of your own taste. More of this, less of that—you want frozen yogurt your way and we’re all about it. With 16 rockin’ kosher certified flavors on tap daily, we provide you with a twisted canvas, your own fat-free backdrop of calcium, protein and probiotic goodness. At our mammoth toppings bar, you’ll find a world of possibilities, from wholesome berries to decadent sauces, that you handcraft into something uniquely yours. Welcome to the hands-on revolution.

Some of the 16 handles of flavours (and one of the topping bars).

Basically, you get a cup and fill it with whatever flavours you like by pulling the handles. Then, you can go to the topping bars and add whatever toppings you like – healthy things like fruits and nuts; or badder things like candy corn, peanut butter cups and gummi bears. It’s pretty much what I imagine heaven to be like at dessert time, to be honest (although with ice cream handles, rather than fro-yo).

Some of the handles – I tried peanut butter, apple pie, coffee and birthday cake. I could only actually taste the apple pie.

The fruit topping bar. I did take some maraschino cherries and chopped almonds.

I promise that I only took little chocolate-covered peanut butter cups from here. And only because they matched the peanut butter fro-yo, of course.

My creation.

So, the verdict: the consistency was fantastic and I really like the whole self-service concept and especially the topping bars. But the flavours weren’t strong, with the exception of the apple pie – which is maybe why they offer so many different toppings, so you can add flavour to the otherwise fairly tasteless low-fat fro-yo. Although that probably defeats the purpose, I guess. Anyways, I liked it and would definitely return, although the weather is starting to get chillier now so it feels more like time for ho-cho (that’s my cool new word for hot chocolate) rather than fro-yo.

The end.

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A sunny day in New York

I have a few things that I do when I come here – traditions, if you will. Here are some of the things. I like to go to Starbucks and get a seasonal flavoured drink (with whipped cream, as I’m on holidays) – yesterday I tried the Peppermint Mocha, it was very tasty. Today I may try the Gingerbread Latte. I like to eat at a diner, because it reminds me of American TV shows from when I was little and I really love the way they come around and re-fill your coffee, just like on Happy Days. I like to walk and walk and walk and put off catching the subway for as long as possible – this way I can (almost) justify the Starbucks and the diner food and the Ben & Jerry’s and the chocolate covered peanut butter pretzels. And stuff like that.

A sunny day at Rockefeller Center.

Our favourite diner in NYC is called The Red Flame – it’s around Times Square and it is just what I think a diner should be: reasonably priced, good food, nice staff, pies for dessert and lots of booths. Though on this visit, I am having some troubles with The Red Flame. I had the great idea of buying one of their caps for my brother (who also loves this diner) as a Christmas present. The staff all wear them, so I figured they probably had a stash out the back and they’d sell me one for $20 or something. Alas, they are protecting their hats for their workers – they will not let me buy one. So, it’s become a challenge for my holiday now – I need to get one of those hats. My plan at this stage is to either (1) get a job there, or (2) take one off the head of the waiter who looks like the slowest runner (with the cleanest hair). I will keep you posted.

Diner & Coffee House, but not Hat Sellers.

Just a little sandwich at the diner.

The city is gearing up for Christmas – even though there’s still Thanksgiving to get through next week. There are crazy sales on everywhere, decorations are going up, the ice rinks are full of skaters and the Christmas markets are opening in the next week or two. It’s unseasonably warm here at the moment (not hot, obviously, but not too cold) and yesterday I saw some people walking around in t-shirts (and trousers). It’s an absolutely perfect time to be wandering around, taking in all the sights and sounds and smells (but trying to avoid the horsey smells around Central Park) of what would have to be my favourite city in the world.

I’m glad they pointed out these were dyed. Otherwise, I was seriously considering a trip to see the Mongolian cows.

OMG! I don’t have a calculator handy, but that seems like a GINORMOUS saving if you buy the fake bracelet, yes?

Getting the ice ready at Rockefeller Center.


New York State of Mind

I’ve timed this trip really well, weather-wise, as I’ve been fortunate to miss ‘Frankenstorm’ Sandy and her follow-up act, Athena. There was some snow on the ground at JFK airport (courtesy of Athena), but it was neatly piled into frozen hills, rather than all over the runway. There are still people in New York without power (two weeks after the initial hit) and the nightly news shows heartbreaking pictures of a lot of homes and businesses damaged by flooding.

No real sign of it in the part of town that I’m in, though – the only real sign of the storms that I’ve seen so far has been the giant trees in Central Park that were uprooted and have been cut into pieces and cordoned off with police tape. It gives you an idea of how powerful the winds must have been – although, as a couple walked past behind me and looked at one huge upended tree, the lady said in a fairly nasty, disapproving voice, “Well, I can’t believe those roots were holding up that tree – look how shallow the roots are.” So maybe it was the trees’ fault, after all.

The weather has been beautiful – a nice chill in the air in the evenings, but sunny days that are perfect for walking around. Which is good, because I’ve discovered Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Pretzels. Here are some pics from my trip so far…

Really mild November weather, so lots of people out & about in Central Park.

All that remains of the snow storm in Central Park – kids were still trying to have fun with it, but failing as it’s now really just grey ice.

Nice tag line for the new Cinderella musical on Broadway.

Ah, Times Square. Daytime in the nighttime.

A whole world of M&Ms.

I know it’s a cliche, but I really LOVE this city.


There is no place like home. Except when there is.

So, here’s my last travellin’ post for a little while. A collection of some of the pics from my final days in Ireland – after a fortnight of mostly perfect weather, these last few days have been rainy and pretty chilly, so it’s a good time to head home to the sun. Always tough to leave here, but I have had a fantastic holiday and it has been great to be able to catch up with old friends and check out some of my old haunts. There’s a line in that John O’Donohue poem (‘For the Traveller’, which I posted a few weeks ago) about old friends making it seem like nothing has changed since you were last with them, and that is exactly how it’s been. Whether it’s five years or ten years since I’ve seen some of my Irish mates, they’re the kind of friends who fit like a glove. Some people don’t have any place that feels like home – I know I’m super lucky to have two. Waa waa waa – here are the photos!

Beautiful day for a run in Phoenix Park, Dublin. I tried to get a photo of the herd of deer that live in the park, but from this distance they looked sort of like a pile of logs, so I didn’t think you’d believe me anyway.

Phoenix Park – it’s one of the largest enclosed parks in Europe. Yes, I did double check that fact online.

About 30% of the Phoenix Park is covered by trees, which are mainly broadleaf parkland species such as oak, ash, lime, beech, sycamore and horsechestnut. Yes, that’s from the PhoenixPark.ie website too.

Now THAT’s a Banoffee pie. With about 10cm of cream on top, at Avoca cafe.

The first rule of Cake Club? Talk to everyone about Cake Club, I’d say.

Ah, modern pharmaceutical art. From an exhibition at a Wexford art gallery.

It’s a Jedward chocolate bar. A twin bar, to be precise. The side of the packet says, “FULL ON, CRAZY, JEADLEY!” Yes, really.

Some of the locals saying hello in Wexford.

One of the many pretty thatched houses in Kilmore, Wexford.

Kilmore, Wexford.

Great name.

Ah, country life. Stuck behind this big guy for around 20 mins as it made its way along the narrow roads to the farm.

It’s real and it’s in Dublin. I was too scared to go in, though, so I can’t tell you any more about it.


Hello, my name is…

Here are some pics from our morning walk in Dun Laoghaire, back in Dublin. (You pronounce it Dun Leary, in case you’re ever in town and want to sound like a local.) Really though, no one could really blame the non-Irish for mis-pronouncing Irish words and names – things here are rarely as they seem, so I generally ask before I try to pronounce. For example, test yourself on these Irish girls’ names: Caoimhe, Cliona, Ailbhe (yes, that’s right: Quee-va, Clee-na, Al-va); and then there are these Irish boys’ names: Daithi and Feidhlim (yep, Dah-hee and Fail-im).  There’s also a boy’s name that sort of sounds like you’re clearing your throat – Cathal (sort of Co-hol). Sometimes I used to think that my Irish friends were making the names up just so they could giggle as I tried my best to sound authentic.

An overcast day at Dun Laoghaire.

Dun Laoghaire walk.

Sure, just more ancient ruins on an emerald island.

And although he isn’t part of the natural beauty around Dun Laoghaire, I couldn’t resist this pic of Crocs Man, in the window of one of the shops there. Unfortunately, he’s not for sale. Although he probably wouldn’t fit in my suitcase anyway, so I think it’s for the best.

Hello, Crocs Man.

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London colours

This is the last short post from London – just wanted to include some of the more colourful photos that I snapped as we wandered around.

Tights for sale at Notting Hill. Legs not for sale.

Notting Hill houses – some look like the result of a neighbourhood dare.

An old guy was out on the balcony of the bottom floor apartment here – love that he has brightened up the bland council housing with an amazing garden.

Van? What van? There’s nothing parked here, officer.

Wen-Bao, you are a peculiar looking baby, being sold by the mean book man at the Portobello Market.

And to finish, the world-famous EverydaySparks photo of bumble bees in Holland Park. Well, someone contacted me to ask if they could post it on the Holland Park Facebook page – technically, that makes it world-famous!

Buzzing around in Holland Park.

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Honey, I’m home

First of all, a big shout out to my virtual pal Emma of the fantastic blog Out of the Birdcage who first told me about this amazing shop in London via a post on her blog. Even the name suggested that I was going to like it immediately: Drink, Shop & Do. Located near Kings Cross Station, it’s a combination of shop, cafe, bar and craft workshop. And it’s incredible. I want to live there. Although, when I told the girl at the counter that, she just laughed nervously and glanced towards the door.

Started by two high school friends, it’s pretty much the place I would love to open if I had the courage and cash to open a place. Set in a large open space, with a shop selling funky designer crafty stuff and a range of sweets (painstakingly weighed out on an old fashioned scale). And then there’s the cool cafe/bar area – with an extra function room at the back, complete with some sort of tents and a giant disco ball. There’s a sky light and some colourful fiesta-style paper chain action on the ceiling. There are also colourful kites all over the walls. And some crazy furniture. I’m sure you’re getting the idea now. During the day, they offer a wide range of cakes as well as afternoon tea. And the staff are all very pretty too.

For breakfast, we chose a caramel macadamia cheesecake. As you do when you’re on holidays. We figured that with the calcium, protein and all-round energy provided by this breakfast treat, it was practically the same as a bowl of Special K with skim milk.

They also offer afternoon tea – and there’s even a special ‘manly’ afternoon tea, if scones and darjeeling just aren’t your thing. (It features beer and pork and some sort of pie, I think.)

For the ‘do’ part of the shop’s promise, they offer a range of activities including musical bingo, adults only scrabble, colouring competitions and other creative options. Most of them are based around cocktails, which sounds like a pretty clever idea.

I really could go on all day about this incredible place, but I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, so will leave it at that. There are more photos and info on the Drink, Shop & Do website here. I highly recommend a visit (and the caramel macadamia cheesecake) if you’re in London.




No, I’m not jet-lagged. Choccywoccydoodah is the name of a very cool chocolate and cake shop in the UK and we visited its London store for afternoon tea. If you can imagine Willy Wonka and the Cake Boss joining forces and then increasing their over the top-ness by the power of 10, you’ve pretty much got the idea. It’s a bit crazy.

Here are some of the cakes that were on display. Yep, they’re all cakes.

And then there was the upstairs cafe, with another giant cake on display (the rose one in this picture) along with a huge range of amazing-looking cakes on sale by the slice. Pretty much enough to induce a sugar coma just by looking at them. Most of the cakes were made of several layers, with a whole heap of marshmallows or sweets on top for good measure.

Like this one. It was a chocolate, gingerbread, coconut cake. But you can’t really see it, because the huge slice appeared on a plate under chocolate drizzle and ice cream. We also ordered a chocolate flapjack, in case one piece of cake wasn’t enough. We hadn’t realised the one piece of cake would be as big as my head.

Needless to say, we rolled out of the shop after eating as much as we could. Which really wasn’t all that much.

You can have a look at the amazing work of Choccywoccydoodah here. And just a tip – if you’re going for cake, don’t have breakfast, lunch or dinner that day.


Things wot I saw in London

Here are some more pics from London – this time, less of the touristy postcards & more of the EverydaySparks.

Firstly, Wimpy Bar. I thought the name was funny and there was a certain sense of irony that the wimpy bar had closed. Then a man sidled up to me while I was taking the photo and said that the Wimpy Bar used to be the McDonald’s of London, back in the day. (The day before McDonald’s, presumably.) He said there were still a few Wimpy Bars around the UK,  but most had closed as they couldn’t keep up with the bigger burger chains. I nodded and smiled at him, because in my experience it’s a fine line between a helpful stranger and a crazed lunatic. He must have sensed my disbelief as he grabbed his jumper where there was some sort of logo and said, “I’m a tourist guide with [somewhere]”. Oh, alrighty then, must be true – thanks Wimpy trivia man.

And here’s a great – if a little slow – way for your wedding party to get around London. The driver appeared to be a little underwhelmed by the festivities, but am sure he perked up when the tipsy guests started singing Land of Hope and Glory on their way home from the reception…

It was actually Fashion Week in London and we passed quite a few wacky looking outfits, but I’m not sure if they were fashionistas or just crazy loons. I think this lady with her incredibly bright pink hair was just a London local going about her business on a sunny day. You go, girl.

And just a tip – if you’re going to St Paul’s Cathedral, pay heed to the signs that warn you about the climb to the viewing spots. Even though I didn’t wear my trusty running shoes The Pinkies, I thought I’d be fine to climb up the stairs to reach the top…but it was hard going and we decided that 2/3 of the way to the top would be fine for this visit. Here’s a photo of the view from there – feel free to use it to show your friends and relatives to save yourself the climb.

And finally, if you’re in London and you see these machines, don’t believe them – they’re quite misleading.

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