Time to Travel

I haven’t blogged in a very long time and so I have missed recapping several adventures. So this is a whistle stop tour of what I have been up to over the last few weeks.

DAY TRIP TO DUBLIN

Recently myself and my culture club mates decided to take in a play in Dublin. After breakfast at St. George’s Market, we hopped on the train from Lanyon Place station to Dublin. The train was packed but we managed to get seats close together and after two hours we rolled in to Connolly station.

The River Liffey

After a cheeky pint (or two) we made our way to Smock Alley Theatre, right on the edge of Temple Bar. The play we were seeing was the matinée showing of Colin McPherson‘s St. Nicholas. The one-man-show featuring Brendan Coyle, tells the story of a disgruntled theatre critic whose life begins to unravel when he becomes infatuated with a young actress. When it seems he has hit rock bottom, he meets the enigmatic William, who just happens to be a vampire.

Smock Alley is a fantastic space with the stage nestled at the heart of raised green leather backed seating; the result is an intimate and at times unsettling experience. Audience members were seated in touching distance of Coyle as he paced the floor whilst recounting his tale. It’s testament to how powerful his performance was that once he delved into the world of vampires you unquestioningly went with it.

St. Nicholas is an absorbing tale that illustrates McPherson’s skills as a storyteller and Coyle’s superb talents as a performer. From start to finish I was gripped, and every so often I had to remind myself to keep breathing.

After escaping from the dark world of McPherson’s creation, we had time for dinner in Porterhouse, Temple Bar before getting the train back to Belfast. With another helping of culture a mere train journey away, this definitely will not be the last culture club day trip to Dublin.

Smock Alley Theatre, Dublin

24 HOURS IN LONDON

I love London, there’s something about big cities that get my heart going, and so when the opportunity arose to attend the PPA Independent Publishers conference and awards in the city, I jumped at the chance. Although the conference and awards were taking place on the Friday, I arrived on the Thursday and had a chance to see some of the city. After dumping my bag at the stunning Hilton Bankside Waterloo – also the venue for the conference and awards – it was time to explore.

First stop was The Marquis of Granby on Rathbone Street. The former haunt of Dylan Thomas and T. S Eliot, this traditional pub has a unique character and was bustling with people enjoying the rich history and eclectic atmosphere. A short walk from here was Siam Central on Charlotte Street. It been a while since I had Thai food and this eatery had me questioning why. We were seated in the basement area, which was still bright, airy and welcoming. The menu was extensive and had something to suit all moods. I ordered the pad thai which was a generous portion and I honestly savoured every mouthful. To round the night off it was to The Toucan in Soho Square. The Toucan is an intimate Irish pub that specialises in Guinness and whiskey and once featured a remarkable gig from Jimi Hendrix in the basement.

The following day saw an early start for registration at the conference. After coffee and networking, we were invited to take a seat as we listened to talks from such industry experts as Juan Senor, President, Innovation Media Consulting/ Author of the FIPP Innovation Report and Catrin Griffiths, PPA Editor of the Year for 2018. We also had the opportunity to participate in roundtables, getting to chat to professionals who gave key advice on dealing with different challenges affecting publishers.

After the scintillating conference we were invited to a drinks reception whilst the room was transformed for the awards. Once complete the conversion was so impressive, especially in such a tight time frame. The awards, which were presented by comedian Stuart Mitchell, were expertly run, the food was delicious and the atmosphere was superb. After the winners were announced, it was straight to the Tube to head to Gatwick and make my way back to Belfast.

Although a speedy visit, my 24 hours in London have got me wanting to return for a proper visit as soon as possible.

A WEEKEND IN TORONTO

It’s not every day you can say you spent the weekend in Toronto. But last weekend I could say just that. I was invited to visit the city by Tourism Toronto to explore what is on offer in this part of Canada throughout the winter. The answer is a lot! I’m writing a complete review of my journey for Ulster Tatler but I thought I would share some of my picture highlights here. From the light installations at Ontario Place, the Christmas tree light switch on at Nathan Phillips Square, and the Christmas Market at the Distillery District, this was the perfect place to kick of the festive season. In addition to food and drink tours, art at Royal Ontario Museum as well as Graffiti Alley, and the chance to see local NBA team Toronto Raptors wipe the floor with Miami Heat at Scotiabank Stadium, my time in Toronto was very special and I would return in a heartbeat.

For my full review, check out the January issue of Ulster Tatler.

Posted: 2/12/2018

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From Dippy to a Hole in One

This week I had a lot of firsts, from family fun to nights out. Here is just a snippet of what I got up to.

WINE TASTING AT TITANIC HOTEL

I love wine, but know nothing about it, and so when I found out that Laithwaites were hosting a wine tasting at the Titanic Hotel, it seemed a fun way to spend an afternoon. Accompanied by mum, dad and big sis, we arrived to a welcome glass of Prosecco and a brochure detailing all the wines (and spirits) that were being showcased on the day. As we made our way around the room, sampling as we went, it was lovely to soak up the buzzing atmosphere in the Hotel’s Drawing Room. We also had the chance to explore a bit more of the Hotel and the wonderful exhibitions on display throughout, as we sipped our way through the days offerings, finding a few favourites along the way – I’m looking at you La Fonte D’oro. This was definitely something a little bit different; we had a great giggle, consumed a lot of cheese from Fivemiletown Creamery, and a few purchases were even made.

For more information on upcoming events from Laithwaites, visit: https://www.laithwaites.co.uk

DIPPY THE DINOSAUR

Excitement has been building since word came that Dippy the Dinosaur was making a visit to Belfast. We couldn’t wait to see the Natural History Museum’s iconic Diplocodus skeleton. It’s free to visit the exhibition at the Ulster Museum but you need to book a time slot. When we arrived you could see why. Dippy is clearly a draw but the allocated time slots ensured that you were able to take it all in – and snap a few pix – without excessive crowds overshadowing the experience. Dippy is truly a wonder to behold and definitely worth checking out, whatever your age.

To book your tickets to see Dippy, visit: https://bit.ly/2On2CtH

THE LOST CITY ADVENTURE GOLF

Myself a few of the ladies of work have been trying to find a few fun activities to try out after work. After a checking bowling off the list – where I am sure I broke a record for the lowest score – our next quest was golf. Not the Rory McIlroy variety, but more the crazy golf kind. We decided to try The Lost City Adventure Golf at Citywide Leisure and Retail Park. Containing two separate 18 hole indoor golf courses, this turned out to be a fantastic way to spend the evening. Each hole varied in difficulty but it was great fun from start to finish, whether it’s a hole in one, or a putt that takes nine attempts. Whatever the weather this is a fantastic outing for young and old alike and I will definitely be back.

For more information: https://www.lostcityadventuregolf.com/belfast/

Posted: 13/10/2018

Bao Bun, Belfast

Last night I enjoyed a long overdue sisters’ night. As it’s been a while since we grabbed a midweek bite to eat we decided to try somewhere different: Bao Bun.

Located on Botanic Avenue, this Bring Your Own establishment – which is ideally located for students, workers grabbing a quite fix during lunch breaks or catching up with friends in the evening – offers the option to sit in or take away.

Bao offers Taiwanese street food that’s fresh, tasty and healthy. The menu, located behind the counter, is clear and simple, meaning ordering could not be easier. The first step is to pick your base; although fries, rice and salad were on offer, we both wanted to sample the Bao Buns. Next up you pick your filling; we went for chicken but you could also select beef, pork or – for vegetarians – tofu or jack fruit. Next you pick your combo, which is a mixture of sauces and garnishes, which top off the creation; I went for the Mild combo (Hoisin, Asian Slaw, Pickled Cucumber, Coriander & Spring Onions) on both my Bao Buns whilst Gail settled on BBQ (Korean BBQ, Lettuce, Pickled Cucumber & Peanuts). We also decided to split a portion of Katsu Fries between us as well.

Your food is prepared in front of you, so you know exactly what’s gone into it. It’s prepared quickly, but still looks good, and before long we were tucking into our Bao Buns. They were light, fluffy and bursting with flavour. The buns are made with moderate gluten and so they were satisfying without leaving you with that uncomfortable bloated feeling. The Katsu Fries were also a gem of a find and we savoured every last bite.

As we were finishing our meal we were offered fried Bao Buns coated in cinnamon and sugar served with chocolate dipping sauce. They were amazing; I am drooling just thinking of them!

Bao Bun, Belfast is a superb eatery which offers fast food dining with a twist. Along with mouth-watering food, which can also be vegan friendly, it’s flexible allowing you to mix and match dishes or to order one of the meal deals on offer, meaning there’s something to satisfy all appetites. The staff are incredibly professional and welcoming and the interior is intimate and inviting – oh, and did I mention the food is amazing? I am already plotting when I can return!

Posted: 12/09/2018

Tipsy Tea at Babel

Kellie enjoying Babel’s Tipsy Tea

I first had Tipsy Tea when I visited Frankie, my friend – and sister from a different mister – in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. The concept of sweet treats paired with China teapots brimming with cocktails had me from the offset. I loved that experience so much that when I heard Tipsy Tea was coming to Belfast courtesy of Babel – the roof top bar of Bullitt Hotel – I was dusting off my tea cup in excitement. Of course, the only person to sample it with, was big sis and my afternoon tea accomplice, Gail, who had got me a voucher to try it a couple of months back for my birthday.

With the agreement to make a day of it, and to get our glad rags on, I couldn’t wait for a girl’s afternoon of pastries, cocktails and a long overdue gossip.

Big sis and afternoon tea accomplice, Gail.

When we arrived at Babel, we were warmly welcomed by a member of staff who showed us to our table and then discussed the menu with us. Babel take care of the food so the only decision you need to make is which cocktail you would like; the gin cocktail Tipsy Tea is £29.50 pp or if you need some bubbles in your life the champagne cocktail option is £44.50 pp. We both went for gin with Gail selecting The Pickford Twist (Monkey 47 mixed with a variety of fruit infused flavours for a sweet and complex concoction) whilst I went for the Borrough’s Rose (Beefeater 24 combined with rose, lemon and camomile flavours for a refreshing finish).

The Pickford Twist gin cocktail.
The Borrough’s Rose cocktail.

The service was swift and we were promptly served our individual pots of ‘tea’ alongside our shared double tier afternoon tea stand filled with all kinds of delights. With sandwiches with chicken, brie and beef fillings, paired with coffee and lemon mini eclairs and, my favourites, salted caramel and chocolate donuts, the food went down a treat. The only thing I did miss was a good, old fashioned, scone, but that’s just me.

Babel is somewhere I definitely recommend for a visit. Boasting an excellent outdoor space with stunning views of Belfast as well as a chic and inviting interior, and the fabulous living wall behind the bar which ensures cocktails are freshly garnished, it is ideal for any occasion. And, while there, do give Tipsy Tea a whirl, whether just out for a girly catch up or for a celebration, it really is the perfect way to catch up over a very special cup of tea.

Posted: 31/08/2018

End of an Era

Goodbye to Queen’s Students Union

Whilst I was studying at Queen’s University, Belfast – many years ago -my second home rapidly became the Students’ Union. During this time, I made so many memories in the enclaves of this building, from lunchtime pub quizzes in the Speakeasy to late night gigs in Mandela Hall. It was the place where friendships flourished; from hanging out with my childhood bestie, Helen, watching music videos and sipping alcopops as her sister Heather tended the bar, to solidifying new friendships during our traditional Thursday night sessions with our ‘uni friends’ Suzan and Adrian who introduced me to Keith (who I quickly realised was more than a friend but had no idea he would become my husband years later).

My love for the Students’ Union did not stop once I graduated. I’ve been to countless gigs there since; I became a huge fan of Air Punch when it launched over two years ago and succeeded at making power ballads cool again; and I’ve worked up a sweat in the Snackbar on a regular occurrence during weekly zumba classes with Jade Rodgers. And so August has been an emotional month as the Students’ Union I know – and love – shut it’s doors for the last time. The building, which has made a mark over the past 50 year, is scheduled to be demolished to make way for a new construction which will open in 2021. Although this will be great for future generations, my heart hurts to think of all the memories that will get buried in rubble.

And so, it seemed only right to say a proper goodbye to the building that formed such a monumental part of my formative years. When it was announced the last Air Punch (the Pride Edition) was to be held in Mandela Hall on the 4 August, I had to get a ticket. From cheap drinks to amazing anthems, it was a night of pure celebrations. We laughed, we danced and we sang along and once home time rolled round, the chant of ‘one more tune’ could not be ignored, with the music ratcheting back up with Meatloaf’s ‘Bat Out Of Hell’.

https://youtu.be/UPHtp9Ah_K4

The DJ played hit after hit, the stage was stormed by members of the Students’ Union staff and as the sounds of Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family’ brought the festivities to a close, it was the perfect ending to a remarkable era.

Goodbye Queen’s Students’ Union, thank you for the memories.

Posted: 27/09/2018

Portrush Road Trip

Several months ago I attended an event by Tourism NI to celebrate the Causeway Coast (and Belfast) being named the number one region to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In addition to celebrating all that’s great about our wee country – and there’s a lot – I was super lucky to win a night’s stay for two in one of the Causeway Coast’s hidden gems, Blackrock B&B in Portrush. With this week’s long weekend we thought there was no better time to visit and enjoy a change of scenery.

HOW TO GET THERE

I always over-estimate how long it takes to get to Portrush but by car it only took us an hour an 15 minutes. Blackrock B&B, which is Portrush’s first 5 star B&B, has car parking facilities on site but is also located a stone’s throw from Dhu Varren train station, making it incredibly easy to get to if you don’t drive or you fancy leaving the car at home.

THE ACCOMMODATION

The Ramore room at Blackrock B&B

The award-winning Blackrock B&B offers boutique accommodation with an interior that fuses a fresh and modern style with a nautical vibe that makes you feel immediately at home on the coast. The B&B is owned by Nicola Neill whose attention to detail and overall hospitality is second to none. She welcomed us on arrival and offered to help with our bags. Once we were checked in she showed us to our ensuite bedroom, which was called Ramore as it boasted an amazing sea view on Ramore headland in addition to West Strand Beach and Portrush Harbour, before giving us a tour of the property including the snug – which has a gorgeous balcony perfect for lapping up the view – the dining room and the guest lounge which has Sky TV, cosy seating and – my favourite – an honesty bar!

Nicola then left us with a bowl of marinated strawberries and fresh cream as well ice cold glasses of lemonade to enjoy on the snug’s balcony; what a welcome!

WHAT’S NEARBY

Portrush is made for exploring so once refuelled we decided to go for a wander. In our room there was a very thoughtfully curated guide to local attractions, restaurants, and activities, as well as phone numbers for local taxi firms, to help you make the most of your time. If that’s not enough Nicola is great at recommending places to dine or to visit depending on what interests you, so if you are new to the area or it’s been a while since your last visit it’s great to have someone to hand who has such a wealth of local knowledge.

West Strand Beach, Portrush

Blackrock B&B is mere minutes from Portrush promenade so you can be paddling your feet on the beach before you know it. We headed this way to enjoy a scenic walk into town. The Harbour, Barry’s Amusements and the town’s Main Street are all within a short walking distance. Nicola had also told us about local artist Adrian Margey who was hosting an official opening of his summer exhibition in his studio on Mark Street. I am very familiar with Adrian’s work as he is a regular face in Ulster Tatler and so we popped in for a visit. We were lucky enough to not only get to see some of Adrian’s work – which are exquisite – but also to get the chance to chat with him and his wife Evana Bjourson, who is also a very talented artist.

Adrian Margey and Evana Bjourson

Portrush is a foodie heaven with so many options to choose from, however after our walk we headed to Kiwi’s Brew Bar which offers simple but delicious food and local craft beers. The atmosphere in the bar was great, with the England vs Belgium match on when we called in and the promise of live music later. This was my first visit to Kiwi’s but I definitely would recommend it.

The food at Kiwi’s Brew Bar

During the evening we decided to head to the Atlantic Bar, coaxed by the promise of an 80’s night. Although the bar’s exterior is a bit run down, it was definitely worth a visit. The bar was busy, the music was great, and there was plenty of space for a dance.

THE BED AND BREAKFAST

When we arrived back to the B&B I was delighted to see Nicola provided a turn down service. I am not a great sleeper when I stay in new places but the bed in our room was so cosy – and with the opportunity to watch the waves crashing on the shore from it – I was seriously tempted to stay there indefinitely. However, I was persuaded to get up by the promise of breakfast. Nicola had kindly given us a breakfast menu on arrival and we could select what we wanted and the time we wanted it and she would have it ready for us – pure luxury. We were treated to a starter of fruit, yoghurt and granola along with our pick of fruit juices, tea or coffee, fresh bread and locally sourced jams and condiments. For our main Keith had the Blackrock fry and I had opted for the Blackrock bap which was bursting with flavour – as well as bacon, egg and tomatoes. The food is beautifully presented and tastes heavenly.

With our appetites fully satiated it was time to return to Belfast. I loved everything about our visit to Blackrock B&B. Nicola is the perfect host and made us feel like family. The luxurious accommodation is simply stunning and the location could not be better. There’s so much more I could say but I think you really need to visit and experience Blackrock B&B for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.

https://www.blackrockbandbportrush.com

Posted: 15/07/2018

Film review: ZOO

If you are looking for the perfect escape in the upcoming weeks, I thoroughly recommend a trip to the cinema to see Zoo.

Last week I had the pleasure of not only mingling with the cast and crew — including Penelope Wilton, Ian McElhinney, Art Parkinson and Amy Huberman who was accompanied by her husband, rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll – but also getting to see a preview of the film during its gala premier at Movie House Belfast.

Pictured top left: Amy Huberman, Penelope Wilton and Brian O’Driscoll

Top right: The young cast of Zoo.

Bottom left: Kellie Burch, Art Parkinson who plays Tom in Zoo, and Gail McNair.

Bottom right: Penelope Wilton, who plays Denise Austin in Zoo, and Kellie Burch.

Zoo, which is based on true events, tells the story of Tom, a young boy who forms a strong bond with Buster the elephant after he is homed at Belfast Zoo. When the Blitz of WWII threatens the lives of the animals, Tom and his friends embark on a desperate quest to rescue Buster.

The film, which was written and directed by Belfast-born Colin McIvor and features an all-Ireland cast and crew, tells a wonderful story that will make you laugh, make you cry but ultimately make your heart soar. Partly filmed on location in Belfast and featuring a superbly talented cast including some young faces who I’m sure will be the big names of the future, this is an important tale about hope, courage and loyalty.

So if the sun is getting too much for you, escape to the Zoo for a tale that will enchant you from start to finish.

Zoo is showing in cinemas across Northern Ireland now.

Posted: 30/6/2018