Lisbon Treat

Have you ever blinked twice and two moths were gone? That’s how I feel. It’s March already and a new post is long overdue. So here it is!

One of the most pleasant things to happen so far in 2017 was a recent trip to Lisbon, Portugal. I have to say, going to a sunny place in February while living in Ireland, is a brilliant idea. Even if it’s for a few days, getting away from this cold grey weather  feels luxurious. It also shows that following the advice of ‘less stuff, more experiences’ from my gift guide is totally worth it!

On top of that, I tried to make it a valid sustainable trip and here’s my rundown.

The upsides


Thanks to I chose an ‘eco’ hotel for our stay. It wasn’t necessarily my preference but it did have the second best customer rating and offered a good deal so why not! Hotel Neya Lisboa market themselves as a sustainable hotel in the heart of Lisbon and they deliver on that promise. Room design using mostly natural light, no single-use toiletries, towel/sheet washing on request only, low-pressure water taps and recycling receptacles in the bin. Very little waste in the breakfast buffet also – almost no single packaging and they claim all unused food is distributed daily to a local charity.  


Lisbon is very accessible. We were close enough to the city centre, not quite walkable but the public transport system in the capital was clean, frequent and reliable. Despite it being recommended in every single guide, we didn’t take the historical trams, they were pretty cute though! We did take the occasional taxi – lazy Sunday mood and all. But the best part was the bikes hired in the hotel for free. We spent an afternoon exploring the city like pros… (Note: Lisbon is a properly hilly city. Also, there is a fair amount of not-so-cyclable steps in the old city.)

Shopping & Eating

There weren’t many big supermarkets in the area we stayed in but a few small independent shops which were great for getting loose produce, basically any fruit and veg you can think of. They had the basic groceries and even though these were mostly packaged, there were olives and pickled fava beans (I think) to be had and also unpackaged local cheese. They insisted on a plastic bag but I was quicker with my Frusack and used it instead.

We also visited the famous ‘Thieves’ Market’ Feira da Ladra. I can promise you if you were looking for any odd, random and peculiar thing, this is where you would go. Have a look yourself…

There were lots of famous Portugese pastelerias and basically any cafe you go to sells a variety of pastries and cakes – anything a pastry-lover could wish for. I’d love to include some pics but the food was always gone before I could take out the camera!

We had no problem getting tap water in the restaurant. Only once did I get a plastic bottle. In comparison to that, all the juice bottles were made of glass. Lesson learned, juicy refreshments consumed.

One of the highlights of the trip for me was a visit to the local bulk store, Maria Granel. I found it through this handy website. Coming from a city with no package-free shops, I came excited and equipped. I brought a few cotton bags and even some jars as I planned to stock up on spices. Let’s just say that once you become aware of the obscene amount of packaging in a normal shop, walking through all the bulk bins is very soothing. So I stocked up! On lentils, spices and snacks. Because, why not. The lovely girl in the shop kindly helped me with the Portuguese names and also let me take some pictures. Have a look!

The downsides


Since we live on an island and ferries to the continent take ages and aren’t very cheap, we flew to Portugal. I offset our carbon footprint which cost €6 for both of us. It’s less than a pint each and I felt better.

Refuse system

The one thing I found lacking were the organic waste bins. I loved them in Barcelona and even though I’ve seen glass banks in Lisbon and bins for paper, plastic and metal, there were none for organic waste. I was reluctant to throw out our organic waste (mostly fruit ends) in a general bin. I was going to ask the restaurant staff to put it in their organic bin but somehow I felt they might not bother and it would end up in a general bin anyway. I was probably wrong but I ended up bringing it back home. Yes, I realise I might be slightly weird.


The only other ‘downside’ was the constant presence of plastic bags in all shops and kiosks. I really liked the compostable bags we came across in supermarkets in Sicily and would love to see more of them in other countries. Portugal is a coastal country and I am sure they are aware of plastic ocean pollution. Hopefully it’s just a matter of time until they either ban them, tax them or make them biodegradable.

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All in all, it was a nice couple of  days spent in a country where no one seemed to be too rushed or under stress but instead smiled and enjoyed the life.



Barcelona unwrapped

Shortly after returning from Sicily, the travel bug bit us again…so  we spent the Hallowe’en weekend in Barcelona.

I just love this city. There is no better way of putting it. My best friend lived there for a couple of years so I had the privilege of going to visit often and felt little bit less like a tourist. My friend moved out though and I haven’t been there for a while. I almost forgot how magical it can be! Lovely weather, the beach, great people and ambience, Spanish food and drink, do I have to go on? Well, let’s just say that I (and my boyfriend as well) really enjoyed it.

This time around I also looked for the sustainable side of the city and their approach to greener living. I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised.

First of all, I never really realised how active people living in Barcelona are. I took a walk from the hotel we stayed in to the city centre alongside the beach and the amount of people participating in some kind of sporting activity was surprising! Rollerskates, bikes, skateboards, snakeboards were everywhere – people jogging, running, swimming, playing volleyball, hacky sack, football…you name it! A resounding ‘Yes’ to spending time outdoors doing stuff!


Bikes were particularly notable. They were everywhere and it was also possible to rent at lots of locations. In addition to the red & white Barcelona city bikes, there were a lot of touristy hourly rental places. The prices were reasonable and even though we didn’t try any, it’s definitely a great way to get to know a new city!


Barcelona ‘bicis’ (and a rollerskating dude)

We were there for only a couple of days but I got the feeling that making greener choices and living with less waste would not be that difficult there. Take food shopping for example. One of the places I always go to in Barcelona is the main food market on La Rambla called La Boqueria. It’s basically  bulk shopper heaven. Yes, it might be a bit more expensive (a smallish bag of mixed nuts cost me about €8) and you still see quite a lot of plastic packaging and yes, you do have to plough through tourists and locals. But, it’s worth it. If nothing else then just for the spectacle.


Plastic cups and straws anyone? :(((

I’ll let the pictures tell the stories…and mention only one of mine – La Boqueria was the place where I first tasted fresh figs years ago -and fell in love! That sweet slightly crunchy taste and freshness. Therefore, every time I’m there, I get a few as a tradition. This time, I asked if I could take only the fruit without the plastic box which I said they can reuse. The lady totally got it and said it was great I had my own bag…because otherwise it’s ‘plastic, plastic everywhere’ as she said. I like to think that I made her consider some alternatives for her stand if only for a second. Well…

So, here it is..



It was the Hallowe’en weekend after all…


Appetizer anyone?


Beautiful wild mushrooms…


…more mushrooms…


…and even more. You guessed right, I do like mushrooms.




I can smell snack.


Yep, there it is. 


Carnivores also can find their stuff…


My boyfriend’s favourite.


They were as tasty as they look.


A picture of the figs, fuzzy from excitement 🙂


But yes, plastic…


…plastic everywhere.

Spanish cuisine is one of my favourites. Even if you are looking for a small bite, you can easily find a gem…we were looking for something small to tide us over till dinner once and randomly walked into a lovely brunch place called Petit Pot. Not only was the food absolutely delicious, I also got a smoothie and actually remembered to ask for no straw and the napkins and paper place mats they provided were from recycled paper. An added bonus! I didn’t use the napkin as I brought my own but couldn’t really avoid the placemat. But, since it was plain brown paper, it can be composted and I will keep believing that it actually was.


Petit Pot’s delights

Another zero-waste friendly food effort was well prepared by the hotel we stayed in. The breakfast buffet boasted glas bottles for water, juices, milk, glass yogurt and condiment pots, all the bread unpackaged with minimal use of single-portion foods with filled jars and bowls instead. Oh and they had a juicer so that you could prepare your own juice. I’m not mentioning it because it was zero waste but just because it was pretty damn good. These little things made the breakfasts extra tasty!

When it comes to recycling and finding the appropriate bin in public, it’s a totally different story to my Sicilian experience. Huge recycling bins are everywhere and people actually use them. Glass, paper/cardboards, metal, organics. Also, check out the handy tin smasher and recycling stops at the metro stations.



As a goodbye, I would like to share a picture I took on Barceloneta of what I wouldn’t mind my future looking like. Distant future that is!


Have a great weekend (long, if you are in the US) and watch out for my next post which will be about  gifting! Yes, the season is upon us.

On the road…to Sicily

With the November cold creeping in, it’s nice to remember the (late) summer trips that we made in October…it’s hard to believe that only a few weeks ago we were enjoying the sun and swimming in the sea!

First we went on a family trip to Sicily…I tried to keep as zero waste as possible but when you go somewhere for a short period of time, you might not get the chance to find all the alternatives you’d like. Also, being a part of a large group calls for some compromises…but I did my best and touched on how to be a zero waste Sicilian!

Here are a few pictures from our trip showing my attempts…

Sicily (and Italy in general) is famous for its cuisine and we opted for an apartment accommodation so that we could eat out in local eateries, enjoying local food and not international hotel cuisine. It turned out to be a good call!! I was pleasantly surprised when ordering beverages for a large group (we were 10 adults and 3 kiddies), as they offered a bulk bottle rather than a lot of small ones. As a bonus, these often are glass bottles!

We didn’t eat out every night and sometimes cooked our own meals in the apartment. The traditional base of Italian cuisine, bread and pasta, were easy enough to find packageless or in recyclable packaging. Pasta in cardboard boxes, ready-made tomato sauces in glass jars, lovely fresh bread and pastries in paper bags. It was a bit more difficult with meat as the few times we tried, the meat counter was closed. Oh, you lazy siesta culture!! Fruit and veg were also pretty easy to find in bulk in small stalls throughout the village and the owners were happy for me to use my own cloth bags.

What I saw for the first time and was really impressed with was a glass ‘cork’ in a wine bottle. When the owner of the shop told me it was from glass, I first thought I hadn’t understood. But I actually had! Of course, I took it home not only as a souvenir but as a lovely wine bottle topper! (Mental note: the local wine Nero D’Avola is pretty tasty.)

During the trip, I found the Sicilian ‘relationship with waste’ quite peculiar. First of all, there weren’t many recycling bins around. I know it was a small village but still, it had all the other infrastructure so I would expect at least some responsible public waste services. Instead, I saw a lot (and I mean a lot) of waste bags hanging from balconies. Yes, you read it right (see the pics below if you don’t believe me!).

Now, I am not entirely sure what it’s all about because I didn’t ask (people nor google) but my wild guess is that they hang it out so that it doesn’t smell inside…but then I cannot guess if these will be collected by a someone to dispose of or the residents will take them somewhere next time they’re out. If anyone knows, please enlighten me!

Despite the fact that the supermarkets replaced normal plastic bags with the biodegradable sort (yay!), I again didn’t see many organic bins. There were a few though and I did use them for our apartment food waste even though it meant going for a walk :)). I also made the point of bringing the recyclables with us when we went for a trip and found some recycling bins (probably belonging to some residents but hey, it wasn’t much!) and sorted the carton, glass and plastic packaging which we couldn’t avoid.

What also struck me was that despite the country and scenery being so picturesque, the public effort against littering was very lukewarm. During a walk on top of a cliff, I couldn’t believe the rubbish that hemmed the footpath. I mean, it’s not really a very touristy place but still. Pick it up and put it in a bin!!

But it wasn’t all bad! There were a few more green things to be seen. Even in the small village of Balestrate, you could rent a bike – an electric one which is understandable with all the hills – but the user guide was only in Italian so I couldn’t tell you the deal…They looked nice though!


On the right track…

In Palermo, on a short stretch of a road, we passed at least 3 libraries or used book shops which were cool. Also, a book about veganism had a prominent place in one of the bookshop windows!

Upcycling seemed to be getting a bit of traction here and there…


Make and mend. 

I guess it’s about someone starting a debate…leading by example and not being afraid to change things. I am already looking forward to going back in a couple of years to see if it has changed…because the potential is there.

Next week, I’ll tell you about a trip that followed this one…to Barcelona!

Bee aware

Share from Pixlr(1)Summer usually means holidays, relaxation, sun, sand and sea….all things nice. Even if you live in a country where the classic four seasons don’t really happen, summer is the time when all outdoor things are much more pleasant. The rain stops for a couple of days or even weeks, temperatures are reasonable and with a bit of sunshine, there is even a bit of ‘hot’ air around here and there. This might not last long, every year I forget how short the Irish summer is…at the beginning of June everybody jokes that the week of sunshine is all we’ll get. A month and a half later you realise that was actually ‘it’. There might be an Indian summer coming in September (please and thank you!) but despite the warmth, the air is different, with a leafy aroma – a hint of what’s to come. That is my favourite time of the year, even though I am sad that the real summer is gone.

A reliable cure for the Irish pseudo-summer is a holiday abroad. This year, as we were busy with moving house and all, we chose to go for a relaxing week to Slovakia. I went back to my childhood school holidays times, with hot air, scorching sun and evening thunderstorms from the heat. You may have seen the highlights of this trip from my zero waste perspective on my Instagram. As you might remember, my parents have a big vegetable garden and this is now abundant with produce. You name it, it’s probably there. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, garlic, potatoes, pumpkin, carrots, parsnips, beans, corn, poppies, grapes and more. It’s amazing to see what loving gardener’s hands and favourable climate can achieve in a few months. When I was there in April, the ground was bare and the seedlings were just getting ready in the greenhouse. But it’s all go now. My Mam regularly preserves the produce and makes it into pickles, compotes, purees, frozen goodies and dehydrated snacks. It was a totally aspirational trip and I came back relaxed and encouraged to make and create. The climate might be different but the principle stays the same. Grow it, harvest it and use it up to the last bit.

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The garden in summer

When I think about the change in their garden in a mere couple of months, I am fascinated by the power of nature. How everything works perfectly, how all the pieces create a flawless puzzle together, how a little seed can, in time, turn into a tall plant heavy with fruit. How nature organised everything conveniently to its benefit. I am amazed by its design and how people sometimes take it for granted even though they really shouldn’t. I do my best to get back closer to nature, even though I’m in an urban setting. It happens sometimes in an unexpected way.  

Some time back, I came across a small artisan food producers from Brookfield Farm in Co. Tipperary here in Ireland. They had a stall with their honey and beeswax produce. Beside the delicious honey, they were selling bee hive shares. I really liked the idea, being a part of something so nice and beneficial as keeping bees even if you don’t have the resources to do it yourself. (I am not sure how our neighbours would take to swarming insects out in our backyard…). Therefore, I was so happy when I got one of these hive shares as a present for my recent birthday!

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Brookfield bees

On top of receiving a certificate and some sample hive goodies and being kept informed about all updates about your hive and seasonal farm happenings, you are invited to attend a Honey Celebration – a harvest festival where you can visit your hive and meet your beekeeper (and collect your honey). So, the Sunday before last I did just that.

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Beekeeping paraphernalia!

After some initial car trouble which wasn’t the best start and being late as a result, I eventually arrived to the beautiful Brookfield Farm in the middle of Irish countryside. A lovely welcome in the form of a typical ‘cuppa’ and a piece of cake followed by an interesting introduction into the life of bees. During the afternoon we were shown the apple orchard and farm where they have the best conditions for their work – Ailbhe, the beekeeper and farm owner, has sown about 11 acres of wildflowers just for the bees. A special mixture of seeds for bees blended with winter barley which makes bird feed in the winter. Amazing. I love the fact that there are farmers that are not all about profit but about giving something back to the nature.

Along with the bees, there are also organic pastures for sheep and lamb on the farm. They have a great space for roaming and they seemed pretty happy about it 🙂 We saw some magic well :), a fully-grown mini-forest with its own ecosystem, some bee boxes and bat boxes – wooden structures encouraging animals to move in and make a new home for themselves, contributing to the natural balance on the farm.

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Bee Hotel

The farm borders the beautiful lake Lough Derg and I am sure it must be fun to dip in it at the height of summer (it cannot be colder than the Irish Sea :)) Any other time, you could take a boat and try out your fishing skills, the lake is full of fishies! Oh and at least one swan 🙂

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Mystic Lough Derg

After the interesting farm tour (a mental note though, bring wellies next time), all hive-share owners received their honey. But it was a tough year for the bees. Ireland has 98 native bee species and one third of these species are known to be in decline. It is caused by a combination of factors like habitat loss, declining quality of habitat, general decline in wildflowers within the landscape, pests and disease, pesticides and climate change. Therefore it’s so important to help the bees to do their job.

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Honey from my hive share…

The Department of Environment in Ireland actually took the time and calculated that bees are worth €53m a year to the economy, just in case you were wondering about the cold hard cash. But it’s not about money, it’s about the fact that without bees, there would be no pollination and there would be no food. You can fill in the rest. 

We can all help by doing our bit. We can plant a few more bee-attractive flowers, build a bee hotel or support sustainable beekeepers who look after the bees not just for the profit. Who’s with me??



About Tallinn

I like travelling. It doesn’t matter whether it’s down the county or to a country where I’ve never been before. There is always that feeling of anticipation of something new, something different. You get a chance to get another point of view. That’s the point. To get a point of view that differs from your own and teaches you. To be tolerant, to be open to things but also to know what you like and stand for. People everywhere have their ways and I like exploring them.

In the true spirit of Zero Waste, last Christmas I got a present of a trip to Tallinn, the capital of Estonia. Last week then we visited this green piece of land. Nestled between Russia, nordic and baltic countries, the country is a beautiful mixture of all the above – architectonically and culturally. I am not much of a museum nut and would consider myself more of the walking-and-looking-around type. So I walked and looked around. The sunny city was very inviting!

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I wanted to visit the local town market so we hopped on a tram (public transport in Tallinn is reliable and cheap) and found our way to Keskturg (City Market). Definitely charming with a strong Russian feel, we first strolled through the stalls filled with clothes for all ages and sizes, some of a questionable style, some reminding me of my grandma (long dressing-gown style buttoned-up dresses from an unmistakable synthetic material:)). You could also find second-hand clothes and definitely some proper vintage pieces.

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DIY supplies 🙂

We passed by stalls with vintage crockery and glasses, old books, plumbing supplies, chargers for every phone known to man, Soviet uniforms, pin badges, toys, LPs or cassettes. You name it, they probably had it.

When we ventured inside a big concrete building in the centre of the market, it was like we stepped back in time. Imagine a still from an old Soviet movie. Left, right and centre – glass vitrines full of products. We entered the food section of the market. A bulk-buyer’s heaven. You could do your weekly food shop and not use a single bit of plastic. I immediately wished I had this in Dublin :)) People were purposefully walking around buying meat, vegetables, dairy products, pickles, sweets, spices – anything and everything. The best part of it was that they didn’t think about this as a novelty or a recent trend. They have sold and bought products in this fashion for decades.

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Selection of curd cheeses

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National condiment – sauerkraut

Despite Tallinn being a home to a half-million people, the Keskturg felt local. People knew each other and familiarly ran their errands as they did since ever. But don’t read this wrong, Tallinn and Estonia are modern and very European – modern shopping centres carrying world brands are also a firm part of the city. I like the fact though that they stayed loyal to their traditions and ways of life.

Tallinn won me over with its paved Old Town streets, rye bread and elk soup, calm people, unpretentiousness and its folklore of stripes. If you are looking for your next weekend break destination, I wholeheartedly recommend it.

…a few more pictures…

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Dried fruit

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Spices in bulk

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Pickled gherkins

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Suspiciously even-sized strawberries

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If you ever wanted a linen produce bag…