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Things to get up to over the festive season in Belfast


Belfast is an amazing, vibrant city and a great place to visit for a weekend over the holidays. Ireland.com recently contacted me and asked me to give some of my "must visit" places in the city.

Full of culture, food and fantastic shops, I’ve highlighted some of my favourites to make your weekend away a little easier. If you're a local, I hope these ideas inspire you too!

See
Culture is abundant in the historic city with an array of museums and theatres to pick from. The classic city centre Grand Opera House is a stunning location to go and see the Christmas pantomime. This years offering comes in the form of Aladdin. It’s always sure to bring lots of laughs with Belfast’s beloved May McFettridge celebrating 25 years of panto giggles. The Lyric Theatre located on the Stranmillis Road is offering two shows- Sleeping Beauty for the family and Mistletoe & Crime for those looking for some Northern Irish humour. The MAC located in St. Anne’s Square (which is also full of fabulous restaurants) is showing the Christmas Mystery Palace- a mixture of theatre and magic! The MAC also has numerous galleries that are worth a look around.

If history is your thing, take a tour of the Ulster Museum and a walk round the stunning Botanic Gardens where it is located, just next door to Queen’s University Belfast. Whilst your there, you might even want to catch a movie at the QFT (Queen’s Film Theatre). Showing iconic blockbusters and independent harder to find films, you are sure to find something to suit all tastes.

Shop
Huge high-street offering come in the form of Castlecourt and Victoria Square. Castlecourt is home to stores such as department store Debenhams, Gap and Dorothy Perkins whereas Victoria Square is home to LK Bennett, River Island and Topshop. Victoria Square is also a great place to visit to get something to eat, catch a film at the Odeon see Belfast lit up at night from the “Dome” on the top level of the centre.

St. George’s Market is the perfect spot to visit for handmade gifts and delicious cake treats. With traders such as The Lily Pink Bakery and Belfast Times, all the things the market has to offer along with the fun banter from the numerous market traders will make you understand why Belfast is such a unique place. Get down early on a Sunday morning, sit with a coffee and soak up the atmosphere.

If you are in the mood to do some serious shopping and take home some goodies that are hard to find anywhere else, then the Lisburn Road is a must visit for you. A road filled with independent traders, stores such as Harrison, Blush and Déjà Vu are filled with fashion offerings and interiors come in the form of Maven that stocks a treasure trove of Irish home-wares.

Eat
Food is really precious to the city and most of the great restaurants use locally reared produce. Ox and James St South are great examples of this and have been highly rated by food critics across the UK. If some local catch is more your thing, the Mourne Seafood Bar will delight your taste buds. The oysters are legendary and the restaurant is hugely popular because of them. The Mourne Seafood’s sister restaurant, Home, located yards away from City Hall is also a fantastic place to visit, especially if you are vegetarian or vegan as they offer an array of hearty and different tastes. If you are in a rush and want a coffee, Ground Coffee Bars are a locally run company and their new Purple Dragon blend coffee is sure to keep your body fuelled for some serious shopping. Co Couture is also a great pit-stop shop for all things chocolate- the truffles and brownies are not to be missed. Finally, if you’ve had a hard night on Irish whiskey, a lunchtime visit to Boojum for a burrito the following day is sure to make your sore head feel just that little bit better.

For more ideas, deals and offers, click over to Ireland.com


I hope you enjoy your time in Belfast. Be sure to tweet me @GemmaLEBond and let me know your thoughts on your visit.

Christmas Gift Guides: Beauty Gifts & Stocking Fillers


Christmas time brings so much joy but often, a little bit of stress over what to buy people. It seems everyone has a friend (or five) who literally has everything. Here's a selection of gifts that I know any girl would love to receive as a gift. 

For stocking fillers, I love small beauty gifts. A few Christmases ago I made my best friend a little beauty bag filled with lots of handbag essentials which she really liked. Stocking fillers can be thrown together to make a really nice, personal gift. Below are the new Crystal Couture Nail Polishes from NYC which are available in Superdrug for a bargain £1.99. They are super glittery and the gold shade (11 Fashion Queen) is perfect for the party season. NYC have made your life easier by making the "Strip Me Off" base coat, £2.99. It essentially act as a barrier that allows your glitter polish to be peeled off (I get such satisfaction in doing this!). 

A great investment for those who love to constantly change their nail colour. Another fab cheap but amazing product is the Wet n Wild Comfort Zone Palette. Retailing for £5.99 and available in selected Medicare Pharmacies here in Northern Ireland, it provides all the shades you would need for a day to night look. I travel with this palette and it makes my life much easier! Finally for stocking fillers, I spotted this stunning little palette in Marks and Spencer for £12.50. I am a big fan of the Autograph makeup and this reminds me so much of the Charlotte Tilbury/Tom Ford palettes. The shades are stunning, wearable and packaging looks pretty swish in your handbag too!



I've always been impressed by the Topshop makeup range and they have their own festive offerings. I thought that the Smoky Eye Kit (£22) would make a great gift for a friend who loves makeup or is just getting into it. 


My favourite tan (both because it is amazing and made locally), Vita Liberata, have their own set out for Christmas. Each set includes a full size Body Tan, Face Tan and Tanning Mitt, beautifully presented so you won’t even need to wrap it! Available at www.vitaliberata.co.uk, the set is £22.50 meaning huge value for money. I'm tempted to stock up for myself!


A brand I've fallen in love with this year is Yon-Ka. The spa products are luxiourous but not too heavy for my sensitive skin. I fancy the Limited Edition Yon-Ka Pillow mist Brume D’Oreiller, £17.50 which aids a restful sleep. I definitely need this with all of the Christmas partying. I think this would be a really thoughtful gift for someone who is having a tough time- whether they be a new mum or just struggling with something in their life right now. 



If you want to treat someone to a taster of Yon-Ka, the gift sets in Belle De Jour/Nuit would be a good place to start (£56.74-£69.50). I would also suggest a voucher for Deborah Harper in Helen's Bay for a Yon-Ka facial- I had an amazing experience with her earlier in the year which you can read about here.



My biggest brand love of the year is definitely Too Faced. From their Better Than Sex mascara to their Chocolate Bar Palette, they have become a staple of my daily routine. Their Christmas range would be a welcome edition to any girl's festive gifts. I love the shades in the  Beauty Wishes & Sweet Kisses palette (£32 from Debenhams).


And if you are really stuck for ideas for the beauty and fashion obsessed girl in your life, tickets are now available for the Spring 2015 shows for both the high street and designer nights at Belfast Fashion Week. I love giving gifts were you can make memories together! Check www.belfastfashionweek.com for dates and tickets. 



I hope this inspired you to inspire you Christmas shopping. Whether you are braving the crowds or doing it online, best of luck!

Festive Glam at the Women in Business Awards

I was honored to be invited to the Women in Business Awards last night in the Culloden Hotel. As a young woman, I walked away feeling so inspired by the stories of the winners and the fantastic speech by Dr Linda Papadopoulos about body image. Body image is something I struggle with (and people always found that ironic considering I'm a blogger!) so I felt it was a very timely lecture for me to hear!

Thursday night events always mean getting ready pretty quickly for me. I had spent most of the day glued to my laptop doing work so getting ready felt like a treat. I tonged my hair and left the hair in big velcro rollers to cool. I sprayed the hair with lots of hairspray and then removed the rollers. A bit of backcombing in the front area ensued then I clipped it up. I felt a bit like Princess Anne but I was ensured it was more Elizabeth Taylor! I love my hair up off my face but I need to make sure my makeup is flawless!

I kept my makeup pretty simple and smoky. My foundation was L'Oreal True Match with MAC Strobe Cream underneath which always makes a great combo. I used lots of Maybelline Fit Me Concealer (a great Nars dupe!) under my eyes to hide the bags! I filled my brows in with MAC's Mystery and used the Too Faced Chocolate Bar for my eyeshadow. I followed this with lots of Too Faced Better Than Sex Mascara (yes the lashes are all mine!) and a run of By Terry Ombre Blackstar in 13 Brown Perfection along the bottom lash-line. My lipstick is Wet n Wild "Bare It All" which gives the perfect nude pout.

However, the real show stopper of the night was my jumpsuit. I had people guess where it was from- Topshop and Biba were the top suggestions but it is in fact from George at Asda and costs £20! It's been a long time since I've worn anything strapless. This is boned and sits up very well (with some help from a good strapless bra!). I will admit that it runs quite small but that may also be due to my enormous height of 5ft10! I teamed my red jumpsuit with my black glitter Insolia courts from M&S and a very glam pair of statement earrings. They were a £4.99 bargain from New Look and remind me of many of the Kenneth Jay Lane pairs that I love. I threw on my trusty white blazer (M&S SS14)  to stop me from feeling cold.

Links:
Jumpsuit (only black or blue left online)
Shoes

Overall, an inspiring evening with lovely people. Maybe I'll be up on that stage on day... a girl can dream!

#HiddenGems: The Underwear


Yes, you now all can see what size I wear in a bra. So what!? I've been thinking for a long time about the often un-glamourous things that we use but in so many instances, really need. That's why this week I've been taking about my #HiddenGems.

I thought I would leave the underwear until the end- the best for last!? Namely, support underwear. I'm a big girl. I'm 5ft10 and a size 14. I also seem to carry all of my weight around my stomach which is a bloody nightmare. So, if I'm wearing something like a clingy dress, I go in search of a pair of big knickers. We all have them. Spanx, granny pants etc. They're unattractive but boy do they make us feel just that little bit thinner. I had a reader email me recently asking for advice on the very issue. I have a preference for Pretty Polly knickers which are seam-free. They look great under almost everything. I pick mine up in TK Maxx for around £7 for 3 pairs. 

However, sometimes you need to bring out the really industrial scaffolding. At the recent CIPR Awards, I wore a beautiful but very fitted lace dress from M&S. To go under this, I got a Shaping Slip. Essentially a bra with a dress made of supportive fabric attached, the garment smooths out any lumps and bumps. I must admit, although I did look and feel thinner, it was a little uncomfortable! I know this is true of so many support underwear items but you just have to suck it up and go on.

Any underwear secrets? Share them below!

#HiddenGems: The Moisturiser


If I had my way, I'd coat myself head to toe in Creme De Corps from Kiehl's, all day everyday. But since I'm not Beyonce and not made of money, I've found an amazing alternative.

I suffer with dry skin especially on my legs. My skin also would break out in a rash from time to time  with high levels of stress. I'm painting a glam picture here. Most regular moisturisers don't do anything for my skin so La Roche-Posay has been a game-changer. The brand ethos is to treat skin issues and Lipikar Baume AP+ has literally changed my life. The special anti-irritation formula was a blessing when I was struck down with the shingles in September. One application of this every morning and night has really helped my dry skin- so much so that for the first time in my life I've been able to use mouse tan! Hooray! Lipikar sinks in quickly and has a luxurious texture despite the price-tag. The pump dispenser is also really handy. I imagine this moisturiser would be great for babies and adults who suffer from psoriasis or eczema.

Secondly, Cicaplast has been fantastic for my handbag for during the day. Perfect for hands, lips or small dry patches, the intense hydration formula works quickly. I also love to use Cicaplast on the soles of my feet then wrap up warm with cosy socks!

La Roche-Posay is a brand I am slowly falling in love with- let me know any LRP recommendations in the comments below.