Bannatyne Spa Day

Bannatyne Spa Day

This Christmas my sister and I opted to gift each other a shared experience which could double up as well needed girls’ day out. After much deliberation, which saw concerts, boozy afternoon tea and cooking classes thrown in to the mix, we finally decided to try Bannatyne Spa, Holywood, for some relaxation after the hectic festive season. Our package included two treatments and use of the facilities so we arrived early so we could fit in some lengths of the gorgeous pool before relaxing amidst a sea of bubbles in the jacuzzi. To finish off we tried the sauna and steam room to really get the circulation pumping.

As our treatment time arrived, it was time to make use of our spa bags which contained robes, towels and flip flops. These require a £16 deposit at reception on arrival but you get £10 back and you get to keep the Bannatyne emblazoned bag and flip flops. Wrapped up in our fluffy robes, we made our way to the spa where we were shown to the relaxation area. As well as loungers, guests can relax on heated water beds listening to soothing music whilst waiting for their therapist to arrive.

After a brief wait I was welcomed by Rachel, who showed me to an opulent treatment room. After explaining the treatments – I was booked in for a facial and a back, neck and shoulder massage – she left me to get changed. Once I was comfortable on the heated treatment bed, Rachel returned and explained she would be starting with the massage before carrying out the facial. The massage was heavenly; I have a lot of tension in my back and the pressure throughout was perfect – I could feel the knots loosen and fade away.

After I felt thoroughly relaxed, it was time for some TLC for my face which has definitely been feeling the effects of winter. From being dry to suffering a breakout, Rachel promised a treatment which would hydrate and sooth – and she certainly delivered. My face felt soft and looked brighter.

After my treatment, I was presented with a gorgeous Bannatyne Spa toner and hydrating mask to keep. The packaging is classic and stylish and I’ve already had the chance to sample both in my daily routine and would certainly recommend them.

As our spa day came to an end I was thoroughly impressed by Bannatyne Spa. The only fault I could find was that we hoped to toast the day off with bubbles or a coffee but the cafe – which is owned by a different company – had already closed when we had finished our treatments. However, that was soon rectified back at Gail’s house where a bottle of Prosecco was chilling in the fridge. As we sipped on cool bubbles, we swapped notes about why a return trip to Bannatyne Spa was definitely on the cards; the professional and friendly staff, spacious and clean changing facilities, fabulous pool and treatments that bring pampering to a new level, ensured that from start to finish it ticked a lot of boxes.

Posted: 15/1/2019

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Bah Humbug, catch it while you can!

Cast members Sophie Harkness, Alan McKee and Conor Grimes.

Over the Christmas period I got up to a lot but one of my favourite things was a trip to the Lyric Theatre for the annual Grimes and McKee festive production with my culture buddies Andy and Mark. Bah Humbug, which stars Michael Condron as Ebenezer Scrooge, is a Belfast take on the Dickens classic A Christmas Carol. As Scrooge, the richest property developer in Belfast, gets set to launch his latest luxurious development on Boxing Day, he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner Jacob Marley (with the assistance of the cloud based voice assistant Alexa) who warns him than he will be visited by a further three ghosts who will show him the error of his ways. What follows are the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future as you have never seen them before. Combining stark warnings with song and dance, can they convince Scrooge to change and repent of his greed?

Directed by Frankie McCafferty, Bah Humbug is a superb retelling of this Christmas classic. Condron excels in the role of Scrooge whilst Alan McKee and Conor Grimes are hilarious as they take on a number of roles throughout the production. The cast is perfectly rounded off with fabulous performances by Sophie Harkness and Roisin Gallagher. Whilst the message is the same – to be kind to one another – this Belfast version has its own personality. Whilst it elicited real belly laughs (such as Grimes’ mustache that had a mind of its own and the spectacular rendition of Yazoo’s ‘Only You’ as well as ‘tiny’ Tim and the whole Cratchitt family), it also touched on local issues – in an unbelievably humorous way – such as the importance of the arts, the continuing absence of a devolved government and a look at the country’s more troubled past.

Bah Humbug is an incredibly fun night out. Although Christmas is over, it runs at the Lyric until 5 January so why not start your new year by giving your funny bone a work out, you won’t regret it.

Bah Humbug, runs until 5 January 2019. For more information:
https://lyrictheatre.co.uk/event/bah-humbug/

My culture buddies Mark and Andy.

Posted: 1/1/19

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

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