Friday, 22 September 2017

#TreatYourself - special offers that caught my eye

Gingerbread Baking Kit at BakerLou 
September has nearly passed us by already and, with Halloween and Christmas both looming into view, my thoughts are on sweet treats with which to Treat Yourself this month!

If you spend as much time on Twitter as I do, you might have noticed that it is #cupcakeweek! Louise Ward at BakerLou is certainly celebrating it and is offering 20% off her cake and biscuit making kits for the duration. A perfect gift idea, these kits are a great way to get children baking or for people with busy lives who love the idea of baking but don't have time to search out ingredients and recipe. Ingredients come pre-weighed, individually bagged and presented in a gift box with tissue paper. There's a a wipe clean recipe card too! Use checkout code CUPCAKE to get your 20% discount.

Kitchen Accessories at Ethical Superstore 
I'm excited to see the New Autumn Kitchen Range at Ethical Superstore, especially as the retailer is offering £10 off orders over £70 plus free delivery as standard with orders over £50. The Kitchen Range includes fair trade and eco-friendly items for dining and entertaining, cooking and food prep, kitchen accessories and appliances, plus essential home composting. There's even a section of picnicware although I think we might not be doing much more picnicking this year! Use checkout code X10TMY to activate the discount.

The Glasgow Soap Company has a great multi-buy deal on its Cocktail Lip Balms - 4 for £10 - so I think I will stock up to get us through the winter. Boozy flavours include Mojito, Margarita, Prosecco Bellini and Strawberry Daquiri (and there are non-boozy choices too!). All the Lip Balms are made from high quality Coconut Oil, Shea Butter and Beeswax and have a natural SPF of 15. The natural oils and butters sink into the skin, helping to soothe, moisturise, hydrate and condition your lips. Plus they do not contain any artificial sweetener as this causes you to lick your lips which can worsen dry conditions.

There's still just time to take advantage of a pair of tea and coffee offers at Whittard Of Chelsea. Both require spends of £60 in order to get free rewards. You can get yourself a free Pao Mug and two packets of tea if you use the promotional code DISCOVER or a brew stick and two packs of coffee with the promotional code WILD. These offers expire at midnight on the 24th of September though so click through now!

Finally I want to show you these only-slightly-Christmassy tea cups and saucers at Emma Bridgewater. I love the little robin design which is subtle enough that they could be used all year round! A boxed Joy Angel Tea Cup and Saucer usually retails for £34.95 and they are currently reduced to just £20.95 - a saving of 40%. There aren't many sets left and this is a discontinued design so buy soon and stash them away!
Tea Cup and Saucer at Emma Bridgewater 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Vienna: the Wiener Prater and the Hundertwasser House

Prior to visiting Vienna, a little of our research was watching the classic Orson Welles film of Graham Greene's The Third Man, filmed in the war damaged city in 1948. Of course there aren't piles of rubble everywhere now, but the iconic ferris wheel still stands in the Wiener Prater. This area of the city is now a large park - partly green space with sports facilities and walking/jogging trails and partly a funfair with dozens of terrifying-looking rides. Fortunately Dave and I think similarly about being flung upside-down dozens of feet up in the air so we stayed firmly on the ground while everyone else screamed above us!

I was a little disappointed by the lack of street art in Vienna. The city is built on a grand scale and has glorious avenues of impressive buildings, but mostly lacks the little streets and alleys where guerrilla artists hone their work. There are unexpected public sculptures though and I liked this army of bird boxes - Warten auf Vogel IV (Waiting for Birds IV) by Josef Bernhardt. It is part of an Art For All initiative which has artworks installed in odd locations. This one is on a wide street corner in an unassuming neighbourhood.

Most fun is an inventively decorated apartment block known as the Hundertwasser House after the artist who designed it, Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He worked with architects Josef Krawina and Peter Pelikan to create a wonderfully quirky structure. The Hundertwasser House is actually a residential building so visitors aren't allowed to go wandering around inside, but we loved being able to see the outside. Fab details include mosaiced pillars and an undulating cobbled street on which several selfie-taking tourists struggled to balance!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The glorious Schoenbrunn Palace in Vienna

Another of our most memorable visits while in Vienna was our excursion to the Schoenbrunn Palace. This massive residence was once home to the ruling Habsburg dynasty and has to be seen to be believed! It is now a UNESCO world heritage site with much of the grounds and parkland open to the public for free, and part of the house viewable for a price. The two house tours are both accompanied by audioguides. The Imperial Tour takes visitors through 22 rooms and the Grand Tour takes in 40 rooms. We chose the Grand Tour and were glad to have done so because the most interesting room decor was in the later rooms after the two tours diverged! Photography within the house is forbidden so I can't show the sumptuous interiors here - although a quick Google will no doubt give you the idea!

Schoenbrunn Palace was originally built as a hunting lodge in the mid-1500s. Maria Theresa had it rebuilt and extended in the 1740s after she received the estate as a wedding gift and her family continued to occupy the Palace until the last Habsburg emperor was deposed in 1918. It has been a museum since the 1950s although only a few of the 1441 rooms can be seen. The audioguide is quite good albeit brief so we found there were artworks - tapestries especially - in some of the rooms about which no information was given and staff were few and far between. The overriding impression of the Palace for me was of a family spending more and more money to stave off depression. For all their power and wealth, I didn't hear of one actually having a happy life and many died young or were murdered.

The parkland was lovely to walk around and we enjoyed strolling the shaded avenues as we visited on a pretty hot day. Areas such as the Palm House (pictured) and its companion Desert House require additional payment to enter, but their architecture - the most impressive aspect for us - can be admired for free from outside! I also liked the brightly coloured floral displays immediately in front of the Palace. Their swirls and serpentine borders reflected the gilded ornamented ceilings we had seen in almost every room of our house tour.

Numerous sculptures are dotted throughout the park. Several are anonymous, but we learned that the Roman-style folly entitled The Ruin Of Carthage was designed by Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg and built in 1778. It features the river gods of the Danube and the Enns as sculpted by Wilhelm Beyer. There is absolutely nothing authentically Roman about the work. Even its ruined appearance is the result of Hetzendorf's design although recent renovation means it doesn't look quite as ruined now as it did a decade ago! Apparently the Habsburgs saw themselves as the natural successors to the earlier Roman conquerors so having The Ruin Of Carthage built in their garden was essentially propaganda.

Also a magnificent sight within the gardens is the Neptune Fountain - another Johann Ferdinand Hetzendorf von Hohenberg and Wilhelm Beyer collaboration. Commissioned by Empress Maria Theresa, it was intended to be the crowning glory of the gardens and I would say it fulfils that purpose! Started in 1776, the Fountain was completed just before Maria Theresa died.

Thursday, 14 September 2017

Exploring Vienna - trams and horses

Our three-city epic citybreak is so busy that my blogging about it is way behind schedule! I apologise for that! You can read my Prague posts here which was the first of the trio and from where we got a train to Vienna. Our Viennese Airbnb studio apartment was excellent so I am happy to recommend it. If you need accommodation for one or two people in Vienna, book into Christof's place! It had everything we needed, was conveniently located and was pretty peaceful too. If it had been available in 1899, I am sure Mark Twain would have loved it! (I spotted this plaque on the building where he did stay in Vienna, but forgot to note down the address and now can't remember! The sojourn might have formed part of his A Tramp Abroad research (my book review here)

We started with a circuit on the Ring Tram which was a great way to learn about the historic buildings lining the Ringstrasse. The half-hour tram ride is €9 and this includes an audioguide in various languages for which headphones are provided. We got a good view of everything from the distinctive yellow tram and taking the journey helped with getting our bearings when later exploring on foot. The only downside was the Mozart-interspersed narration meant I kept humming the Marriage Of Figaro overture for the rest of the day!

We were sadly underwhelmed with the Museums Quarter although the cafe there has an amazing tiled ceiling, but did find other artwork around the city including this Rachel Whiteread sculpture outside the Jewish Museum. Having first encountered her work only three months ago at Houghton Hall I easily recognised it again in and this Viennese Library is a particularly powerful piece as every book on its shelves represents a Jewish lifestory that was cut short by the Holocaust. 65,000 Viennese Jews were murdered by the Nazis.

More sculpture was on show at the Theseus Temple in the Volkspark. This replica of an Athenian temple was originally constructed in the 1820s to house a statue of Theseus slaying the Minotaur. That work was moved to the city art museum and now the space is used to display a single large sculpture each year. For 2017 the work is Bacchante by American artist Kathleen Ryan. The polished concrete grapes did fit with the ancient Greek theme of the setting but it did look a bit lost under the high ceiling!

My high spot of visiting Vienna was seeing the magnificent Lipizzaner stallions of the Spanish Riding School. I had a book about this School in my younger pony-mad days so it was the culmination of a childhood dream to actually get there! We didn't see the full show, but it is possible to buy tickets for the Morning Training which is two hours of groups of horses being put through their paces and practising some of the high dressage for which they are famous. Photography is absolutely 'verboten' and my camera probably wouldn't have been up to the task anyway so I have found a YouTube showing the horses and their beautiful riding school. All the riders in the video are male, but women have joined their ranks since 2008 and several of the riders we saw training were female. All the horses are still male though!

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Top Five Etsy Finds - Fabulous Capes

Angelica Cape by beksiesboutique 
I started September by reading C H Clepitt's new novel, Everything Is Better With A Cape (my book review here). It's a fun post-apocalyptic fantasy tale and the title got me thinking. Is everything really better with a cape? If so, should I get myself one? With autumn underway and Halloween on the horizon, now would certainly be the time to do so!

There are far more handmade and vintage capes on Etsy than I actually expected to see and, for sensible purchases, there are sturdy outdoor capes in tweed and wools, or delicate shrug capes for wedding wear. I wanted something more eyecatching for this post though so here are five of the most Fabulous capes I found!

The Angelica Cape made by beksiesboutique in Brighton might only be short, but it packs a lot of sparkle! Turquoise suedette is teamed with beautiful iridescent sequins sent from unicorn heaven to shower down upon the shoulders of mere mortals. The cape is lined with purple and ice blue shot 100% silk Dupion, resulting in a shimmering luxury piece.

The Angelica Cape is for sale at £150 plus shipping.

Woodland Fairy Cape by folkowl 
Angela Shannon at folkowl in Whitstable is the creator of this green felted Woodland Fairy Cape. Made from hand dyed wools and silks in shades of dark green and mossy green, these capes are made to order, the process involved and the individual details ensuring that each one is unique. The cape fastens with a corset-style closure across the front so is adaptable for most sizes. I think it would be a gorgeous addition to a fantasy cosplay outfit as well as being ideal winter outerwear in its own right.

The Woodland Fairy Cape is for sale at £125 plus shipping.

Reversible Rainbow Cape
by MadWagCostume
This vivid Reversible Rainbow Cape is 'made with madness' at the MadWagCostume studio in Bristol. One side is the rainbow print as pictured or the cape can be worn inside-out with the rainbows inside and a vibrant scarlet (as can just be seen in the hood) on show to the world. This is a real extroverts' cape! To complete the full dizzying look, matching crop tops and leggings (or meggings for men) are also available. For maximum comfort these capes have been designed with 2 ties to support the weight of the cape across the chest and not the neck. All capes are made with the highest quality of spandex and have 2 finger loops to enable hands free flying.

The Reversible Rainbow Cape is for sale at £94.99 plus shipping.

Sari Cape by
Hannah in Leicester creates her eyecatching capes from vintage saris and other sourced materials. Her Etsy shop is called IamtheGarageFlowerGB and she is inspired by 1960s and 70s bohemian and psychedelic style. Of the capes Hannah had available at the time of writing I think this orange and purple toned Sari Cape is my favourite. I love the detailed print on the fabric. Each cape is free sized so it should fit anyone from a size 8 to a size 16.

The Sari Cape is for sale at £42 plus shipping.

This fifth cape was actually the first one that caught my eye, but I wanted to save what I think is the most fabulous for last! It's a Holographic Sequin Cape made by koolieskreations in London and I can see it being absolutely perfect for wannabe mermaids. The material shown is a holographic sequin mesh in blue-green tones and the cape can also be made in ice white, silver, gold or black. As each is made to order, customers can also request a hood and that their cape be lined if they want.

The Holographic Sequin Cape is for sale from £60 plus shipping.
Holographic Sequin Cape
by koolieskreations

Saturday, 9 September 2017

A little Prague boat trip

There are quite a lot of different boat trip possibilities on Prague's waterways from large tour boats to slimline gondolas. We chose an hour-long small-boat-and-larger-boat combined voyage run by Prague-Venice Boat Trips. Their ticket sellers are the ones dressed in white sailor outfits hanging around the Charles Bridge. For some reason they are mostly Nigerians! The trip is priced at 340 Czech crowns per person but, as we were a party of five, some spirited haggling (not by me obviously!) got that down to 300 each.

We started out in a private little boat which took us a fairly short distance through back-lane canals to the main tour boat moored atmospherically under a dark arch of the Charles Bridge. There we were offered coffee, tea or beer from the cute bar pictured above to keep us occupied while we waited for the boat to fill up a bit more. The ticket price also includes a choice of ice cream or gingerbread - get the gingerbread, it's delicious! The view below was our starting point.

This boat tour does not go far up or down the river, instead weaving between the bridges' arches in order to give us great views of historic buildings, bridges and architecture on each side of the river. Prague city centre is a bustling, busy place and I enjoyed the slower peaceful sailing away from the tourist madness! Our audio narration was good and interesting and this part lasted about half an hour I think before we returned back under the bridge and were briefly told the historical significance of each of the arch beams above our heads - there's one each remaining from four different stages of the bridge's construction.

The boat trip ticket also included free entry to the Charles Bridge museum. This museum is only small, but gives detailed information about the building of the bridge as well as its predecessor, the Judith Bridge. The extensive model pictured below is fascinating - I do like a good model! - and it was also possible to descend an iron staircase and see the original stonework of both the Charles and Judith bridges.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Prague street art and sculpture

There are bizarre humorous public sculptures in Prague including giant crawling babies and a rotund demon, both made in bronze, and also sobering, serious works such as the pictured ascending steps with disintegrating men which commemorates all the people lost and injured during the oppressive years of enforced communism. Created by Czech sculptor Olbram Zoubek in 2002, this is intentionally a disturbing work to view and think about. The monument is located at the bottom of Petrin Hill, not far from the funicular railway up to the castle. We were lucky to see it in daylight and after dark when its illumination makes the scene even more haunting.

Snakes and owls are frequent sculpture themes on Prague buildings. We guessed they might be the symbols of historic noble families, but I don't know whether this is true! The detailed sculpture pictured below is just along from the communism monument.

The romantic couple in this street art painting are - I think I remember correctly - under the Charles Bridge. The lifesize image is on just around the corner from its artist's studio-shop where smaller prints are available for purchase.

We visited the castle and cathedral the slightly more energetic way by walking up the hill towards them and then getting the funicular railway back down again afterwards. Having previously commented amongst ourselves how quiet other parts of Prague were, the castle site provided an explanation why. It was absolutely heaving with tourists (and litter) here! We only saw the free bits, but this did include the cathedral entrance which its half dozen or so huge stained glass windows. Their colour was even more vibrant than is shown here.

The road leading to the castle is a good place to get a panoramic view across the rooftops of Prague. Someone decided to plonk a Starbucks right where the best view should be from, so this picture was taken leaning over the wall just before that.