Why I can’t wait to go to the Belfast Christmas Market

merry christmas garlicThe lights went on across Ireland several weekends ago signalling the start of the festive season. Is it just me or does Christmas seems to be coming earlier every year? Every night I arrive home to more and more seasonal lights adorning my neighbour’s houses. And then there’s me. No lights. Not even a tree. Although it is only the first day of December, I feel as though I am very behind at Christmas even though the best of the season is still before us all.

With the fate of my Christmas tree hanging in the balance due to some Christmas Day travel this year, one thing remains absolutely certain: it’s time for my annual pilgrimage to the Continental Christmas Market in Belfast.

belfast christmas market

This market has set the Christmas Markets standard for me. Every year the green in front of gorgeous city hall plays host to a quaint village of wooden huts. Each selling a different and exciting treat or curiosity. Although it doesn’t change much year after year this market is consistently beautifully presented and complete with all the seasonal vibe you’re looking for. As you can imagine, I was super excited to hear that this year it has expanded to include 20 additional stalls outside the front of the market. The seasonal fervour must be building!

A trip to the market is not cheap – never cheap. Sometimes it is just best to do a calculated slow loop, looking at everything and then pick up a snack. Snack? I hear myself saying. The tasty treats on offer accounts for about 90% of the reason I am so excited for this year’s market. Check out the Progressive Dinner Menu at the end of this post!

As if I hadn’t said enough already, here is why we cannot wait for the Belfast Christmas Market!

Tiny pancakes

Tiny pancakes are an Ennis Family tradition dating back to 2012. The only time we have not had Belfast Christmas Market tiny pancakes has been when we were living between Manila and Auckland. But I spent a lot of time thinking about them in their absence.

Tiny pancakes have a name – pofitjes. They are of dutch origin and they are to die for. Served piled high on a paper plate, dusted with icing sugar and coated in at least two of your choice of toppings. Good job we took a picture – they didn’t last long!

tiny pancakes belfast christmas market

Predatory meats

You can find almost the entire tri-nations in burger form. I’m serious. Kangaroo. Impala. The world meats you can get here are notorious. Wouldn’t you love to say you’ve eaten an Alligator? That would soar you right to the top of the food chain! Aside from burgers, there are plenty of other things to eat. Huge sausages (as opposed to tiny pancakes) seem to be really popular every year. They come in ‘eat me now’ and ‘take me home’ varieties. My mouth is watering…

sausages christmas market stall belfast

So many kinds of fudge

Are you picking up on my food theme? Basically, Tiernan follows me stall to stall as I drool. That’s our entire market experience. There are several stalls offering fudge and nougat in all the flavours imaginable. They’re even better than the Berty Bott’s Every Flavour Beans from Harry Potter because they have only the good flavours – but ALL the flavours.

fudge belfast christmas market

I also saw a stall selling giant chocolate kisses. The bullet shaped delights boast a similar plethora of flavours. I can’t believe I managed to walk away out of there alive.

Beard care

When I am stuck for gift ideas I always end up going to the quirky. Bird feeders have been an attraction for me in past years. They make a mean bird feeder in Belfast. Sometimes it’s worth delving deeper into the market to find something unique. Ceramic garlic grating dishes, figures made or metal, or the gift I got for Tiernan – BEARD BALM. Although the photo I took was of the Beard Oil…

beard oil belfast beard company

For all those bearded men out there The Belfast Beard Company has a stall dedicated to caring for the beard. They even sell beard baubles – now too cool to be hipster. All of their scents are named after some extremely Belfast phrase. We chose a balm scent called craic. Delicious.

So much soap

When you’re a Belfast Christmas Market regular you really start to pick up on the trends. You know there is going to be a soap stall. Normally Belfast Soap Company (see a theme) but they sadly closed their doors earlier in the year. I’m not sure who the replacement will be, but there will definitely be soap at this year’s market.

lavendar belfast christmas market

I love a bit of soap, myself, but am not a big user of the traditional bar. It’s the smell of them that I like. Is that weird? The relaxing power of lavender, my friends, it’s a real thing!

Official Christmas Market Progressive Dinner

The best way, in my humble opinion (heh), to get the most out of this market is to do a progressive dinner. Start with some sides or snacks then make your way around the market in search of the next course. Here are some of our top suggestions:

Sides: Consider some pommes frites from one of the sausage dealers, some sweet potato fries, or even a small serving of muscles.

Mains: Of course there is pizza and those huge European sausages in bread. But what you really need is one of those strange meats in a burger. Maybe a bit of paella (which doesn’t exactly go at all – but who cares, right?). Definitely bring some friends. Buy options and share a bit of each.

Wash it down: the mulled wine stall will be back. You can also find gourmet hot chocolate to inspire you on towards dessert. Did you know the market has two pubs? Because it does. Lavery’s has a traditional Irish pop-up pub right across the footpath from a continental style beer hall.

Dessert: Everyone struggles at this part. There are too many options! Crepes with almost any topping imaginable, churros with Nutella or my favourite, TINY PANCAKES (get in me).

To take home: Get a bag of that fudge or wrap up a chocolate kiss to take home for later!

Where would you say are the world’s best Christmas Markets? Tip me off in the comments. Also please let me know how you’ve liked this inaugural post of Celt & Kiwi!

Belfast Christmas Market will run until 6pm on Thursday 22nd December 2016. For full hours, see the Belfast City Council Website.

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Goodbye Halloween! It’s the end of the year already?

I cannot believe how fast this year is going! It’s really gotten away from me. Somehow Halloween has been and gone. Only a couple of local munchkins knocked on our door this year. So I still have a full back of dairy milk chocolates in the cupboard if anyone wants to come over…

Next thing you know Santa Radio will be blaring, I’ll have Fairytale of New York on repeat and I’ll be finding out just how much Ed will hate our Christmas Tree (I’m predicting – a lot).

But back to Halloween. The Halloween Break is not a holiday in the North as it is in the South, but with the wedding season still upon me (personally), I got to avail of some further days off that happened to coincide with the haunting season.

Tiernan and I were invited to a Halloween wedding! The dress code was black and the attention to detail, unbelievable. If you’re going to do a Halloween wedding you have to go all out, right?

img_7497

Heres a picture of us in our black. Taken by our friend Ash!

So the cat went back to the cat hotel (for the second time this month) and I drove down to the same hotel Tiernan and I had our Irish wedding in. This wedding was a lot bigger than our so it wasn’t in the Old House but in the massive ballroom at the other end of the complex.

I collected Tiernan in Dublin and we headed for Naas, arriving just after lunch the day before the wedding. I had the great idea to book a spa treatment at the hotel with the idea of spending the day relaxing before checking into the hotel. An hour of hydrotherapy – which basically means warm water and being pummelled by jets and – was followed by the longest massage I have ever had! An hour and a half of exfoliating (the lady told me I had really smooth skin and I was like “thanks, you did it”), rubbing me with bamboo and oils and I know not what else. I think I even fell asleep at one point. It was the best. Meanwhile, Tiernan went to the bar and started on pints.

At half four I slunk out of the spa very reluctantly and Tiernan and I went to check in. We had to queue for ages before getting to the desk. Then, when we said our names, the lady said there was no booking for us. They took a lot of responsibility, checking other names and stuff, but then I realized. I had originally booked the hotel for the nights of Halloween – the 30th and the 31st. I had forgotten to change it to the 29th and 30th (for some reason the couple weren’t able to have the wedding on the 31st). With another wedding that day there were no last minute rooms available and we had to slink back to Dublin for the night.

Tiernan managed to console me with a huge steak for Cafe 31 in Cabinteely (a favourite restaurant of ours) and a long Pokemon hunt on Dun Laoghaire pier. But it was not a hotel stay. It was OK in the end, though. We simply went back the next day, pre-dressed in out black best, and checked in then. We always have a wedding drama story and this one was a cracker.

That is all the weddings and special holidays completed until after Christmas now. I feel a little sad. Perhaps I can look forward to the Christmas Dinner for work (that I still haven’t put my dues in for – what’s the bet I’ll miss my space on that, too?). AND next week we are going to buy a sofa that turns into a bed and then all the major items of furniture will be complete. Swiftly to be followed by that house video. I feel like that’s a major milestone for me. A furnished house.

Anything coming up for you guys before Christmas?

Ed the Cat’s Baby Album

We’re at the pet stage. We’ve reached that point.

A few months ago I posted about how I found a kitten at work and took it home. That cat is Ed and he is one of a crisis of feral cats in Ireland. But this post is not about that. This post is where I share his limited baby photos from the last four months.

When I brought Ed home in June he was about 6 weeks old. Really too small to leave his mother and siblings but circumstances meant the kittens needed to be removed as quickly as we could catch them. So getting Ed was not like buying a kitten or even getting one that had been fostered. We had a baby feral cat who was too scared to come out from his covers except to eat.

baby ed kitten

To keep him safe and calm, we made him a nest inside of a puppy cage. Ed lived in the corner of the sitting room so he could get used to us coming and going.

It was a couple of weeks before he started sleeping on top of his blankets. Fortunately, at the same time, we moved to our new home. This home was super kitten friendly and entirely devoid of furniture. We started to see more of Ed.

ed chair kitten

Taming Ed was quite difficult. We had a couple of really scratchy, bitey, spitty months and I wasn’t sure if he would ever be a good boy! I had to really grow a pair while he was small to encourage him to be handleable. With treats to hand I spent a small amount of time everyday training him to associate hands with nice things.

This was a really good decision because I was getting sad about how fast he was growing! And that he was unphotographable (due to being hidden under blankets). I wanted to take some photos of Eddie and me for scale. My brother Jack got behind the lens and we managed to keep Ed from wriggling just long enough to get a couple of good ones. Next week will hopefully be the week for the reshoot!

ed kitten and rachel in ireland

ed kitten and rachel in ireland

Inevitably we had to start acquiring furniture. Getting a sofa didn’t help the training process because Ed decided that (after napping on it) he would rip it to shreds. We had some intensive scratching redirection to go through. The sofa now has cat scratcher corners which has solved that problem – even if the corners are already totalled. Thank goodness for cheap IKEA furniture.

ed kitten sofa

He also went through a phase of wanting to be fruit.

ed fruit bowl cat

But the softly, softly approach seems to have worked out. Some time during the Olympics, Ed decided he quite liked being a lap cat!

ed olympics kitten

Nowadays Ed doesn’t claw me at all (although he loves the taste of Tiernan). Everyday when I come home from work he is sitting in the window, watching the world. Then he spends the rest of the evening lounging about behind me on the sofa, watching whatever I am watching on TV – at the moment it’s Gilmore Girls.

ed sofa cat

And the Stockholm Syndrome is complete!

Hope you’ve enjoyed the album – I’ll try to stay in touch! I am going to do a video counterpart next week. I wanted to do it in a now kind of way but I’m sick. I has the cold. And not the sexy, husky kind. The tears, the porridge and the no one is putting a camera within five feet of me kind of cold.

Rachel x

When I share photos of the Edster on Instagram, look for the hastag #EddieandMe I love Instagram. I love looking at other people’s travel photos mostly. They make me so mad and happy at the same time (which Tiernan would say is a normal day for me).

Belfast Cost of Living Update

*** THIS POST HAS BEEN MOVED! Head over to Celt & Kiwi to read it in full***


For a while we were operating out of two houses; aptly known as the ‘Belfast House’ and ‘My House’. We have finally and completely moved out of Belfast, into a smaller house in a small town, and no one thinks we own a townhouse and a country estate anymore.

After two years in Belfast, I have now put my little brother on a plane back to New Zealand and am able to wrap up our time with one of my favourite post-types – a Living Cost Wrap Up! The Philippines (Makati) version has proved popular and I have been waiting with bated breath to revisit the numbers!

I love sharing these costs with prospective travellers. It’s hard to know what moving to a new city and country is going to cost you, so I decided to share my actual cost of living with the internet in hopes of helping other prospective migrants plan! This is probably going to be a window into my soul for the people in the North who know me. Don’t judge me by my junk food!

I would like to think we are average kind of folk, Tiernan, Jack and I. Not too extravagant, but not really frugal either. We like to eat, we like to use the internet (of course), and we rely on our phones (well, two of us do). Could you do this cheaper? Probably. Would we have done it? Nup.

Be aware, these prices are correct as of Sept 2016 and I since they represent my real living cost from 2014-2016, they will not get updated later on.

Let’s dive in!

Rent

Rent (monthly spend): £525
We lived in a two-bedroom, two-reception room mid terrace house in BT9. Approximately 30 minutes walk out of Belfast City Centre, on the Metro 9 bus route, and in the midst of the upper Lisburn Road shops.

Looking for the rest? This post has been moved to our new website – Celt & Kiwi. Head there now!

Belfast Trojans v. Dublin Rebels: My Opinion on the Shamrock Bowl 2016

Unfortunately for the Trojans, I arrived at the Shamrock Bowl knowing a little more about the sport of American Football than previous years. I brought with me a small kiwi contingency including my Aunty Bev and my friend Brigette. And our honorary kiwi – Tiernan. I acquired a curry chips and settled in to watch the 30th Shamrock Bowl sandwiched between a young family and a group of Rebels fans that notably included a girl with blue hair.

Teams ran out on to the immaculately presented Tallaght Stadium, which shone brighter in the wake of last years’ Shakespearian tragedy. This year the Belfast Trojans were facing off against the Dublin Rebels – looking for five in a row. The ‘strive for five’ some have said. Sadly, I don’t think the Trojans will find this write up quite as hilarious as last year.

From the very beginning it was clear that the Rebels were here to play some extremely competitive football.  They came with a sharp offensive line up and although they only have a couple of key players, they found the ball every time, ultimately scoring the first touchdown of the game.

The veteran Trojans were not prepared to acknowledge the inconsistencies which had plagued them all season. Ineptitude was clear, communication a thing of the past. Players passed the ball back and forth like rugby (or perhaps piggy-in-the-middle) before inevitable fumbles and interceptions. Set plays were lost with key players not being where they were supposed to be and the team was left to scramble to make something from nothing. How they managed to respond with a touchdown before the end of the first half, I have no idea.

By the second half I was on my feet and screaming random things (I like doughnuts, etc). Somewhere about this time Tiernan figured out the game as well. The dawn of understanding was reflected in his face as he realised that the Rebels were about to launch a final offensive campaign which would ultimately win them the game. He started screaming too.

The game had been played overwhelmingly in Trojan’s territory and it is a huge credit to the Belfast defense that the Rebels were denied again and again for 23 minutes and 30 seconds. You see where I am going with this.

With 6-7 in the Trojan’s favour on the scored board, a couple of things happened which plagued me all Sunday night. First, Belfast were playing their only strong offensive of the game. They had gained over 30 yards of territory when they were overcome by what I can only imagine was overconfidence. In trying to keep the ball running they flopped the ball backwards and forwards between themselves on a second and ten rather than allowing the tackle, accepting a little loss of yards and having another go. The Rebels were there and ready to make something as a fumble was intercepted and the ball turned over to give the Rebels their last chance to get winning numbers on the board.

The Rebels made their way slowly but surely back up the field. With a little over 20 yards to the goal line, they were looking to make 10 yards and go back to first down. This is where things get… well just a bit dodgy in my opinion. Fourth down needed to land right in front of me to get the Rebels that chance at another 10 yards.  And it didn’t. It wasn’t even a little bit there. In fact, the stretching out the player did to ground that ball was a little dubious in itself in relation to where his knees hit the ground – but I’ll spare you the detail. There may or may not (except there totally was) a certain sideline ref who took a massive step to the left that was not exactly (or at all) appropriate (do I sound bitter?).

Alas, the decision was made to walk the chains out. You know how I don’t like to blame the ref, but if this line ref were competing on the beam in the Olympics she would have been the one to snap her leg. Like a drunken sailor, she listed that chain to the right and when it was ultimately laid down – surprise! – the ball was exactly at the marker.

This was absolutely crucial to the game because the Rebels went on to touchdown from the next set of plays – building the score to 12-7 with only 10 seconds to go. The Trojans reformed admirably and did what they could with their final ball, fumbling it into full time.

So it was a massively heart-poundingly disappointing game to watch as a Trojan’s supporter. I can only imagine the Rebels heartbreak had they lost after playing so confidently all game. Fortunately for them, that is not something they have to think about now they are carrying their Gold medals back to Cabinteely and Sea Point Rugby Club (which is, ironically, nowhere near the sea).

Photos to come – my expanded hosting has expired.

We Rescued ANOTHER Kitten! And a Campaign for Feral Cats

Ireland, in general, has a feral cat crisis. Northern Ireland has the worst reputation in the entire United Kingdom for abandoning and abusing animals according to local charity 7th Heaven.

You may remember this post from last year about the kitten I caught in a bush. It appeared to be the last of the second litter of kittens to be produced since I started my current job.

Well, it appears to be kitten season again. It also seems that the feral queen producing them did not meet a rubber fate on Portaferry Road as we had thought, but has been prowling the woods thoroughly in season.

When I got to work on Thursday I was told that yet another litter of kittens had appeared; looking very similar to the last two lots with at least one kitten with a splodgy moustache. There seemed to be somewhere between three and six kittens. I have only seen three personally: black & white, ginger & tabby and tortoiseshell.

Two of the kittens decided they wanted to move into a car engine. Even though the car hadn’t been anywhere it was dark, enclosed and sheltered from the recent rain. Car owners using that car park were quickly advised to inspect before driving off. One woman checked her car on Saturday evening and, low and behold, there were two kittens sitting on her engine. This was very quickly deemed inappropriate and a great kitten extrication mission was launched.

A small group of colleagues, including one man from a neighbouring farm who parked his tractor and came to help, formed to contain the feline situation. The farm man dove straight into the engine to try and coax the kittens from underneath it. The little black and white kitten escaped and I, leaving my ‘just in case’ gloves behind, nabbed it as it was climbing the wheel of the tractor. He chomped down on my index finger, puncturing it nicely, but I had him.

While I was being given first aid, the kitten was boxed. Unfortunately, the other one was wedged in nice and tight. We had to call it a night, hoping the kitten would come out on its own. I don’t know if it escaped but have a funny feeling it might have ended up squished on the road…

At least we had one kitten! He was taken to a neighbouring house for some overnight care. After going home and talking to Tiernan I was pretty much convinced that this time was my time. I was going to adopt at least one of the kittens and the caught kitten had basically nominated itself. Perhaps I’ve missed my calling – I should have been a cat lady!

Let me introduce you to Eddie. He is the half or more sibling of Poirot (my esteemed colleague’s cat from a June 2015 litter) and the half or more sibling of the bush kitten from last October. He’s not very happy about this photograph. Well, he’s not really happy with people in general at the moment. But this is the baby picture for the mantlepiece in the new house.


When he does become a little less feral he will be camera ready! Get ye-selves prepared for a new hashtag on my Instagram feed – I’m going to take over #eddieandme

I owned a feral cat in my childhood – much to my parents dismay – and kind of love their independence. At least this little guy will be vaccinated and fixed even if he remains a little timid.

Back to that feral cat problem. After three litters we are more than obliged to turn our attention to the kitten’s mother. The plan is to humanely trap her, spay and return her. I guess I’ve kind of adopted that as my mission now (as much as I love kittens).

Check out Feral Cats Ireland for more information about the Cat Crisis and how you can help.

We’re going to the Zoo!

MAY THE FOURTH BE WITH YOU!

tucan

Guinness!

It’s been a while since I skipped a week. I’ve been thinking about what next steps I can take with this blog and it’s really been slowing me down. In the wake of indecision, I thought I would bring you some fuzzy-wuzzy animals!

When we visited Belfast Zoo a couple of weeks ago I did not initially realise that would be the last time I would visit a zoo. I was advised to expect a very old fashioned zoo and that was what we were met with.

I used to really going to the zoo and appreciate that a good zoo can do wonders for conservation. But I have been to some really REALLY sad zoos recently. In the Philippines, Tiernan and I saw some of the saddest penguins on the planet.

Belfast Zoo is not a third-world level of bad, although it is in need of some serious investment. It’s nestled into the side of Cave Hill and enjoys a lovely view across Belfast towards Carrickfergus.

tiernan

praire dog

The first exhibited we stopped at was the Prairie Dog. This is the animal I have the most photos of because, as Jack rightly observed, the start is when I am all fired up and ready to shoot before losing interest as we go around. He’s right of course. Good job these guys are super cute! The prairie dogs were one of our favourites because of the way they had a chirp for everything, working together to improve their complex system of burrows.

Jack might have unearthed an annoying thing I do, but there is something that happens to him – every time we go out in Belfast – that is simply unavoidable. Jack will run into someone he knows. Every. Single. Time.

It’s family legend that Dad met a fellow firefighter he knew in Trafalgar Square on a Europe trip with Mum pre-kids. My brother, Jack, seems to have picked up this habit. Every time we walk into the city centre he has a chat, a yell or a nod, with someone he knows. Heck, even Tiernan seems to have this skill and he doesn’t even share the gene pool. Back in New Zealand we would walk into Onehunga town centre and, sure enough, Tiernan would run into someone he knew.

I never run into anyone.

penguin

So the second thing we did at Belfast Zoo was run into an acquaintance of Jack’s outside the Sea Lion enclosure. This Belfast Trojan told us that a baby giraffe had just been born over in the Giraffe enclosure only minutes before.

But we are creatures of routine. We’d made a game plan to walk the zoo anti-clockwise and no baby giraffe was going to wind us in a clockwise direction! So we continued on uphill, passed the lions, tigers and (I kid you not) bears! Setting up for lunch next to the Malaysian Sun Bears and admiring the sweeping ocean views.

tigers

lemur

Trudging back down the other side we finally made it to the Giraffes. Belfast Zoo has a large herd and they were all striding about after this knobbly kneed baby who had only just learned to stand. The little guy looked so bewildered by the world – a bit like the keepers who were patiently trying to coax them all back inside. They were standing about, telling us how we couldn’t go inside because they were trying to get the baby in. They weren’t meeting with much success. The baby was having none of it. Smart baby. He/She was just trotting about outside, enjoying the sun.

baby girafffe

While wandering about, reading the interpretation, we noticed that Belfast Zoo really tries to drive home how humanity is killing wild animals. Unfortunately, it comes across one big guilt trip. Everything is dying and it’s you, the reader’s, fault. But their dirty, concrete squares and iron bars are just as much of a tragedy to me as the consumption of plastics. Sure they are breeding at the zoo, but for what? To pace around the same few, square metres, so kids can bang on the glass at them while the parents sit a comfortable distance away? Some of the exhibits were like walking into a bad pet store; where the mice are piled high in dirty substrate with no toys.

I’m done with city zoos.

I cannot handle another hit or miss.

It’s wildlife parks or reserves from here on out.