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10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas (or not do)

10 Festive Activities To Do This Christmas (or not do)

Happy Monday friends! Has your week started off the way you had hoped? Tired already? ‘Tis the season for constant tail-chasing after all which can often lead to us forgetting to just be and enjoy everything wonderful the festive seasons brings along with it. There is a lot of pressure, especially on parents I think, to have the most-absolutely-amazingly-fun-Christmas-ever turning moments that are supposed to be fun and light-hearted in to this mess of forced memories we are intent on making for ourselves.

How about instead of rushing around trying to tick off a crazy festive bucket list, we make time for the wee moments and not berate ourselves for missing out something that would have stressed us out? Don’t feel guilty if you don’t make it to the big Christmas light switch-on (crowds of people gathered in the freezing cold ain’t for everyone) or feel like standing in queue for another freakin’ grotto (for a photo that will probably scar your child). How about doing something that won’t stress you out or your family?

I’ve created a list of things I know will personally bring me a wee bit of happiness in between all the shopping and innumerable social gatherings (I am even socialising midweek now!). Feel free to take a few ideas for yourself but remember, don’t put the pressure on to do it all. Think about why you’re doing it and if you’re not doing it for the pure joy of it then strike it off the list.

Go Ice Skating

It’s not for everyone but I love the adrenaline of trying to stay vertical while giving my thighs the biggest workout they’ve seen all year. It’s fun (to me anyway) and is a real winter novelty that I have no shame in indulging in. For those local to Belfast there is always the trusty Dundonald rink that I’ve been going to since I was a youngster but there’s also a rink opening for a few days over the winter break at the SSE Arena OR if you want to go really crazy, grab some tickets for the Winter Wonderland at the Clandeboyne Estate which would be a real festive treat.

Christmas Crafting

For me, making a homemade wreath or crafting presents to hand out to my loved ones is something that can bring the most happiness at this time of year than anything else. It’s a quiet time for just me amongst all the noise which is imperative for me to keep my sanity (while making a complete mess).

Sing Carols

I am no singer and not a church-goer and yet there is something hauntingly beautiful about attending a carolling service. If you’re not part of a church like me then try something different like attending a night at the orchestra at the Ulster Hall? My favourite is ‘Fall On Your Knees’ all because of Home Alone, of course.

Local Christmas Markets

The Belfast markets can be complete madness and can actually be more stressful than fun. However smaller local markets can be just as enjoyable and filled with tasty treats that you don’t have to queue an hour for. Have a wee nosy at the Discover NI website to see when your local market is next on.

See a Pantomime/Play/Musical

Local theatres are packed with festive productions which we should make the most of getting off our couches to see. I have the best memories of sitting on the floor watching a pantomime at my local leisure centre as a kid (while losing all feeling in my ass). I’m trying to find children to borrow so I can see this musical otherwise I’ll be the eccentric lady on her own who brought her own snacks!

Watch old Christmas movies

You can do this at home of course with the fire lit and the family cocooned in a mass of duvets but some cinemas play the classics which can be a fun way to see the old favourites. I love watching It’s A Wonderful Life in the Queen’s Film Theatre each year. The theatre is a Belfast institution and has these old vintage cinema seats that feel about a hundred years old (probably because they are). They also cater for people with disabilities (dementia, autism) so everyone can delve in to a bit of nostalgia on the screen.

Celebrate the Solstice

Step back in time and celebrate the arrival of the Winter Solstice at the Navan Fort centre in Armagh. My hometown is steeped in ancient Celtic history and the Navan Fort are mirroring the customs of our ancestors through a morning of traditional celebrations followed by a lantern-lit walk up the fort were re-enactors will welcome the breaking of the dawn. The whole event is free unless you want to nibble on a bit of breakfast afterwards which you can enjoy for 4 quid – bargain!

Make homemade mulled wine

Or cider! Here’s an easy recipe for mulled wine that will scent your house like a friggin’ Christmas perfumery. Make a batch and keep some for the visitors that stream through the house. Not too much though or they’ll never leave.

Look out for others

Without sounding like a TV ad, this time of year can be tougher on those who live alongside us, especially the elderly who can be a tad more vulnerable in the colder months. We’re lucky to have Maureen as our neighbour and while she’s fully capable of looking after herself (she looked at me like I was mad when I asked if I could help her with the 10kg box of washing powder she was lugging in to her house the other day), it’s still good to check in once in a while. I would hate to think of my Granny on her own with no one looking out for her so it’s nice to treat those around us with a little more care.

Forage for decorations

We can all go a little crazy with the decorations this time of year which is the last thing our wallets need. To try and save pennies I’ve been bringing a few things back from my winter walks. A wee bit of holly, some ivy or even pine cones to roast in the oven (an idea I stole from my friend Caoimhe, you can find a way to do it here). I’ve been decorating the fireplace, the dining table and coffee table with these foraged finds which feels a bit more special than wasting money on another garland from a chain store.

 

Oh writing this list got me a little bit excited! What about you? What festive activities are you hoping to do this year??

 

8 Books I’m Reading This Autumn & Winter

8 Books I’m Reading This Autumn & Winter

I have known some amazing people in my life; people who have broadened my mind and taught me life lessons that no classroom ever could. There was once the young heroine who travelled between parallel worlds, using a knife to cut through the curtain that separated them. And the girl who shared the power of language with adults at a time when the world was falling apart.  Oh! And the boy with autism who solved a mystery about a murdered dog!

And while admittedly none of these people were actually real, they existed so vividly in my mind that they became familiar, like someone I had known forever. It never ceases to amaze me how I can fall in love with/detest/fear/pity characters that are purely fictional and yet, while I am reading the pages their world is contained in, I am so engrossed that they become a part of my own little world.

Yes, this is the magic of a good book. It pulls at your heart, making you feel a longing that you didn’t know existed. A good book will leave you in mourning for weeks.

Naturally, there are a lot of blog posts around this time of year full of book recommendation as we prepare for the season of hibernation. Books provide an escape, an adventure that we are denied during the darker months when things are slower and a little safer. There are thousands of stories that we can read that will scoop us up from our couch and transport us somewhere entirely new and exciting but for logistical reasons I am choosing eight for the autumn and winter that should just about see me (and hopefully you) through to spring.

My taste in books doesn’t discriminate; you’ll find a mix of genres here so I am confident that you will find one that you can add to your list. And, as always, I am open to lots of suggestions so please share with me the books you are choosing for your dormant hours.

La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One – Philip Pullman

If you haven’t read Philip Pullman’s epic ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy then you have been missing something truly magical from your life! Although the series was marketed to young adults, the themes of the book speak to all ages with elements of fantasy, philosophy and theology all thrown in. It’s been 17 years since the release of the last book in the series, a book which made me cry at the age of 20 and I, along with the an army of fans, have been waiting a long time to meet Lyra again. The new trilogy is an “equel” as it is both a prequel and a sequel all wrapped in to one with the first book released today. I’ll be waiting by the door like a giddy child until it arrives in my hands!

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot

This is a non-fiction book, not my usual cup of tea but the story was so tragically fascinating that I couldn’t put it down. The book tells the story of Henrietta Lacks and the immortal cell line, known as HeLa, that came from Lacks’ cervical cancer cells in 1951. It sounds heavy because it is, not just because it involves some medical jargon that you might need to read slowly but also because it addresses the painful history of racial politics within medicine. Despite this, I still think it’s an important read because the author doesn’t just throw out scientific facts but bravely tells the story of a woman who, unbeknownst to her family, changed the course of medicine and scientific research. A powerful read but one that might take a while to get through.

All The Light We Cannot See – Antony Doerr

I have just started this and have already fallen in love. It tells the story of Marie-Laure, a blind girl who along with her father has taken refuge in a coastal city while the Nazis invade Paris. Her story collides with Werner, a German orphan who is fighting for Hitler Youth and who are about to face attack from the American bombers. I had read about this book after it won the Pulitzer prize back in 2015 and suggested it for my book club in work so I have high hopes that there will be positive reviews all round at the next meeting!

The Happiness Trap – Russ Harris

I’m going to sound extremely American here but…. My psychologist recommended me this book! I started seeing her about a year 6-8 months ago because it’s something the Cystic Fibrosis team encourage us to do since it can obviously be a bit stressful living with this nasty illness. The thing is, I hardly ever discuss CF and we mainly chat about the day-to-day stresses that all of us experience because these are the most consistent worries we have. This book encourages the reader to move away from the belief that we must be happy all the time in order for us to live a fulfilled life. In fact, the more we strive for happiness the more we will suffer in the long term. The author provides mindfulness skills on how to escape the “happiness trap” that will reduce stress and worry. I’ve just started it but can’t wait to learn a new way of thinking that could possibly change the way I live – no pressure of course!

Oryx & Crake – Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood has gained recent notoriety after her book ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ was turned in to a TV show this year and shamefully, I hadn’t read any of her books before hearing about her. This will soon be remedied though as Andrew bought me this book as a birthday present and I can’t wait to get stuck in to it! The author has described the story as “adventure romance” which sounds like a mixed bag but I’m totally down with it. It was also shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize back in 2003 and has great reviews to support which sells it even more.

All The Pretty Horses – Cormac McCarthy

Cormac is well known for his bleak themes that dominate most of his work (The Road was not an easy read!) but this book is a little more romantic and hopefully a little easier to digest. I’ve started reading it and while the dialogue is a little different, I quite like the approach since it feels like I’m getting inside the character’s head. The book tells the tale of John Grady Cole, a 16 year old ranger who grew up on his grandfather’s ranch in Texas who runs away after learning that the ranch is to be sold. A wild western book that will surely feel a lot different to my life in Belfast!

Rising Strong – Brené Brown

I’d heard about Brené Brown at a recent blogger’s retreat when the speaker, Mel Wiggins, quoted her in one of her talks. The quote was,

“Unused creativity is not benign. It metastasizes. It turns into grief, rage, judgment, sorrow and shame.”

Wowza. Hearing that quote stirred something within me and I knew immediately I had to hear more words from this woman so of course I went straight on to Amazon and ordered a copy of Rising Strong. In this book Brené discusses how the process of rising after a fall, regardless of its magnitude, teaches us the most about who we are. It sounds fascinating and I can’t wait to get deep in to it in the depths of winter.

The Christmas Chronicles – Nigel Slater

Odd to throw a recipe book in to the mix but this isn’t just your ordinary cookbook. Nigel is the most delicious writer and this book his is ode to winter; the season for crisp mornings, candlelight and promise of snow. It was released today and I have pre-ordered it in time for the holidays when I maybe need inspiration more than any other time of the year. I can’t wait to snuggle up with it by the fire and no doubt drool all over it.

 

Happy reading!!

 

If you like this article, then give this one a whirl if you’re struggling with finding time to read or this one if you are in need of finding a new bookshop.

Bali: A Guide to Canggu & Uluwatu

Bali: A Guide to Canggu & Uluwatu

I am one of those travellers’ that researches relentlessly before a trip. I want to discover hidden secrets, places to eat in that locals rave about, beaches that won’t be crowded all because I’m terrified that I’ll miss something fantastic. This might take the joy out of it for some people but it’s almost my favourite part of a trip, to get to know a place before I even put my feet on the ground.

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Hindu blessings which decorate the streets all over Bali

Canguu (pronounced chan-goo) was where we decided we would begin our Balinese adventure since it was known to be a bit more chilled out than it’s noisy neighbour Kuta. Kuta is a popular spot but is renowned for being full of drunken Aussie’s and having mopeds bumper to bumper so we thought we would keep our distance and seek solace at a safe distance.

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I had mentally prepared myself for Canggu before we left, imagining surfers walking barefoot down the street, surfboard in one hand and chai latte in the other. I imagined trendy shops selling clothes that were too cool for me and yoga studios filled with flexible tanned bodies. And while all of this was definitely true, I hadn’t expected to love it quite as much as I did.

Canggu has an atmosphere that immediately relaxes you. Everything is slow-paced (sometimes a little too slow-paced for my hungry belly) and you never have to stray too far to find delicious food and even more delicious cocktails. We were also surprised by how spread out the area was even though it still had that surfer-village feel to it making it fun to explore on our moped in the evenings. In fact, we loved it so much we ended up coming back to stay on our last night in Bali!

Where to Stay

During our first time in Canggu, we stayed in this Airbnb which served us very well. We had a pool right outside our door which was shared but we only ever saw one other person there so it felt very private. The staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, even dropping us to a restaurant one night to save us walking around looking for a taxi.

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We stayed there three nights and found it very handy to walk to nearby restaurants and cafés. They didn’t serve breakfast but this made us get up early and explore the area more in the mornings (always a good idea when you’re feeling a little jet lagged like we were).

My favourite part about this place was the bathroom which sadly I didn’t take a photo of. It was huuuge! The shower was open and in the middle of the room and the water felt like heavy rainfall which was perfect for washing the sand out of some tricky areas if ye catch my drift.

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On our second trip to Canggu we stayed in this joint for one night which was a little closer to Kuta than before. It was a bit tricky to find on the moped but that meant it was super quiet at night. We had our own private pool here, kitchen, two bedrooms and a massive bathroom that was probably the same size as our whole ground floor of our house!

We had staff come in and cook breakfast for us in the morning and the late check-out time meant we could swim in the pool and soak up the morning sun while we could. I loved it here and wished we could have stayed a little longer. Next time I guess!

Where to Eat & Drink

Scouting out places to eat is the best activity on holidays, isn’t it? And my oh my were there plenty of choices in Canggu!

Here are a few of my favourites:

Little Flinders

A great spot for a Nalu Bowl (I didn’t know what it was either until Bali but it’s the most colourful and delicious way to eat breakfast!). It’s an Australian-owned joint which has been finished beautifully so definitely an Instagram-worthy spot if you are that way inclined.

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Betelnut Café

Another healthy stop to un-do all the cocktails you had the night before. The upstairs area is open which makes it a great place to cool off and enjoy some kombucha or vitamin-packed smoothies. No one needs to know that you were actually a rum-swigging, table-dancing minx the night before.

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The Grass Terrace

We ate here soon after we arrived at our villa like a pair of ravenous hounds. The food was simple but really yummy and satisfied our weary bodies immensely. They also do an all day happy hour meaning 2 for 1 cocktails ALL FRIGGIN’ DAY. You can’t say no to that, can you?

Finn’s Beach Club

We spent most of our last day here drinking cocktails and watching the sun set in to the ocean which was a perfect finish to our trip. Unfortunately there is an entrance fee (around £15 for the whole day) but our accommodation gave us free passes which meant we didn’t have to pay in. The club has pools, a gym, spa and multiple restaurants to eat in as well as being right in front of the famous Berawa surf break. The waves in front of the club are easy to learn in which is what Andrew did while I read by the pool drinking multiple margaritas!

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Warung Dandelion

This was an authentic Indonesian restaurant with the friendliest staff we encountered in Canggu. The restaurant is beautifully decorated and feels very romantic with candles flickering everywhere. The food is just as lovely, I inhaled my tuna which was cooked in a banana leaf in about 5 minutes! This restaurant is a good choice if you fancy somewhere with a relaxed atmosphere that serves excellent local food.

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Potato Head Beach Club

Andrew and I were recommended this place by his friend who has been to a Bali a few times and we went along for dinner one evening, not too sure what to expect. What we didn’t expect was a swanky beach club bar that blew our little tourist socks off. To be fair, the prices here are a little more than what we were used to but it is very cool and we loved the laid back atmosphere. We found a day bed pretty easily as it seems to be quieter in the evening and dined like royalty for the night. It was definitely one of the most expensive meals we had but we both thought it was worth it, especially the cocktails which were divine!

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Old Man’s

We just had a few drinks here after dinner at Warung Dandelion but this was still a fun place to check out for some dancing and people watching. It’s a popular haunt for the surfer’s who drop by here on their back from the waves so it has a very chilled out atmosphere, perfect if you fancy going somewhere in your flip flops and shorts!

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Where to Explore

We only had two full days in Canggu so we didn’t have an awful lot of time to explore. On our first day we had a late breakfast and had a nosy through the many many shops that are dotted on the main streets before spending a few hours down at Old Man’s Beach paddling in the waves and drinking some very tasty Bintang (when in Rome, eh?).

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In the evening we were hoping to catch the sunset at Tanah Lot temple but we hadn’t anticipated the sun setting so early and so we actually managed to just miss it! I was a little gutted that we missed the opportunity for photographs but the sky was still a dusty pink and we were able to take a few just before the sky darkened. The temple is Hindu and is perched on a rock that becomes an island when the tide rolls in. It is definitely worth a visit if you want to see a temple that is hundreds of years old, much older than the hundreds of temples that are lived in by families throughout Bali. There are also markets on the path to the temple so it’s very handy for picking up a few souvenirs if you’re visiting towards the end of your trip!

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What I loved most about that evening was the drive there on the back of the moped with Andrew driving. As the sun was going down the colours around us seemed to deepen with the rice paddy fields turning this vibrant green. The air was warm and I just remember smiling and telling myself to never forget that feeling. I have a few videos from that drive which I will re-watch forever!

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The following day we took the moped down to Uluwatu which was a little more of a trek than we had realised. The traffic in this part of Bali is crazy and it took us a good two hours to get from Canggu to Nyang Nyang beach which was only about 20 miles away. What I would definitely advise if you’re renting a moped in this area is to invest in a mouth mask because the fumes are difficult to breathe and my lungs were impacted from not having one – rookie error!

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We also had a little scare when we thought Andrew’s wallet had been stolen from our bag which I had been wearing on the back of the moped. Luckily for us, Andrew was just having a senior moment and had forgotten that it was actually in his pocket (this was after he nearly had a meltdown as we were buying litres of water for the beach) but it served as a lesson because it’s very easy to get pick-pocketed on a moped. We were also sure to keep our hands close to us while we were trying to work Google maps on our phones because it’s so easy for someone to just take it out of your hand and scoot off!

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Despite the few hiccups, Nyang Nyang beach made it all worth it. There are no signs so you will have to use your phone and there’s also a fair climb down the cliff to get to the beach but the views are so beautiful you can stop as much as you want. There are people selling water and snacks along the walk but we brought our own because we’re stingy and were terrified there wouldn’t be enough snacks.

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When we reached the bottom we were greeted by a herd of cows who were taking a break from the sun under the trees like they too were on their holiday. The beach itself was practically empty and we found a spot to relax and take in the turquoise waters. We spent a few hours here, bringing the sensation back to our asses (mopeds are not kind to the derrière) and going back and forth from the water.

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There just so happens to be a boat wreck at Nyang Nyang beach which just so happens to be covered in colourful graffiti which had absolutely no reason for my decision to bring Andrew there at all. Promise. But since we were there I thought we might as well have an impromptu photoshoot where I skipped about like a so-called model and had no shame in posing since there wasn’t a soul to judge me (apart from Andrew which he definitely did but he took the photos anyway – what a guy).

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Not an ounce of shame there – spot the bikini line?!

After the photoshoot we started the climb back up the cliff, taking plenty of stops because we were sweating buckets, and then hopped painfully back on the moped to make our way to Uluwatu Temple. The temple is quite touristy and is famous for it’s beautiful sunsets so we tried to find areas that were a little quiet. Unfortunately there didn’t seem to be any English guides and we missed out on learning a bit about the temple but it was still beautiful to walk around and see the views from the cliffs.

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There are a few rascals about the temple that we encountered and actually watched thieve a pair of sunglasses right from a man’s head. The monkeys are fairly brazen so I wouldn’t recommend visiting the temple if you are a bit skittish. They didn’t bother us but we were careful not to wear anything on our head because we didn’t want to give them an opportunity!

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And that’s the guide for Canggu, with Uluwatu thrown in for good measure! I hope you can make use of the advice but all I can say is ENJOY EVERY MOMENT. Bali is a place with extraordinary landscapes and beautiful people that will make you glow from the happiest part of your belly.

Have fun!

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What Not To Worry About #37

What Not To Worry About #37

Happy Tuesday friends, the last Tuesday in September… How did this happen?! Despite writing this from a hospital bed, I am feeling more invigorated than ever after a weekend full of creativity and inspiration. It is truly amazing how things land in our lap in abundance when we need it most and what I needed more than ever was to feel inspired in this little moment of vulnerability.

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I was admitted to hospital on Wednesday evening and although it’s never a nice experience being hooked up to an IV drip or to sleep on a squeaky plastic mattress, it has been a restorative week and I am feeling more like myself again. Thankfully I am not chained to the bed and I’m allowed to ‘escape’ for a few hours during the day to inhale real fresh air (man, hospital air can drain the very moisture from your bones) which has saved me from going a bit mad.

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And so I took myself off on Friday evening to the streets of Belfast and decided to explore everything Culture Night had to offer. For those of you who maybe aren’t local to the city, Culture Night is a one-night-only event that happens every September and sees Belfast come to life with over 250 free events taking place in venues scattered across the city. The organisers were expecting up to 100,000 people to attend this year and I think they might have been about right as I squidged myself between hoards of people carrying maps in their hands, hunting down the next event they wanted to get to.

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The night was a real success and walking through the streets reminded me of the reasons why I love Belfast. It is a city that is at it’s best when celebrating diversity and rejoicing in the unique. Over the space of a few hours I roamed from a cathedral hosting a youth jazz orchestra to watching a swing dance competition, to listening to psychedelic rock in a hairdressers bathed in red light, to an Afro-Caribbean festival, to a drag queen street concert.

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I went on my own as a last minute decision which was possibly the best way to experience the night since I could wiggle my way between the crowds and pick and choose what I wanted to see while stumbling upon events I had no idea were happening. It was a fantastic night and could possibly be the most positive and happy event the city has each year.

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Keeping in tune with my new love affair with Belfast, I visited the Tesco Taste Festival at Custom House Square with my cousins on Saturday. A love of food is in our genes and we fully encouraged one another to eat as many samples as we could fit in our bellies – not an ounce of shame between us! The scale of the festival was a real surprise, I hadn’t expected such variety and there were Michelin chefs cooking for an audience live – not something you see every day!

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And then Sunday happened, a cherry on the top of a weekend that made my soul happy. Emma who writes the Life at Littlewood blog (beautiful writer – go read her work!) had organised an event for other bloggers called the ‘Country Blog Retreat’ which was aimed at bringing a group of creatives together who are perhaps needing a little inspiration with their blog or in any part of their lives. We can all struggle with believing that our voice has the right to be heard and the event was full of like-minded people who had this common desire to create something of meaning to themselves.

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As we found our seats (and practiced some self-control with the gift bags) there was a collective murmur that descended within the room. People began exchanging advice on where they were at with their Instagram account, how they were struggling with photography, how disillusioned they sometimes felt with writing blog posts and whether they should be writing at all. There was an immediate atmosphere of support and it felt like a community had just been created within that room that only strengthened as the afternoon wore on.

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The knowledge the speakers had was invaluable and I know that it definitely shook me out of the ‘creative coma’ I’ve been feeling for a number of months. I had been struggling massively with writing good content and feeling a little adrift in terms of what I wanted to be writing about so when Mel Wiggins spoke about writing for ourselves, writing content that we would want to read, it felt like a switch went off in my head!

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So here I am, feeling rested, inspired, invigorated and ready to write more than ever. As well as that I have a few more worries that I will be leaving behind this week. Here they are:

Knowing how to cool down a cup of tea – I am one of those people that leaves their tea for a few minutes so it’s just warm and then I drink it all in one go. The danger in this is that I often forget I have the tea to drink and when I go to drink it I’ve left it too long and it’s like dishwater – the horror! I recently read this article about lessons readers had learned and I found that adding 2 ice cubes is perfect for cooling down tea quickly – who would’ve thunk it?! Read the article for more ingenious insights and lessons.

On having regrets – We all have them don’t we? One of my biggest regrets is missing all those lectures in University because I would give anything to immerse myself in knowledge like that again. The lesson is to learn from these regrets and here are some amazing women who have their own thoughts on how to do that.

Attractive physiotherapists – I had a not-too-shabby physiotherapist pop in to my hospital room on Sunday to perform some physio on my chest which would have involved him actually laying hands on my chest. Eh, don’t think so pal! I kindly told him to come back in a while and then promptly did my own physio to avoid any embarrassment and humiliation. Crisis averted.

Having a purpose – turning 29 has made me very contemplative and wondering where I fit in the grand scheme of things. I think this is fairly normal the older we get and it’s nice to know I am not alone in this. I’ll probably write something of my own regarding this communal symptom of age but for now, read this if you fancy delving in to something uplifting.

Hospital food – Because no one wants to have to slice their mashed potato like it’s a cake.

 

Have a great week folks! 

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Dining in James Street South Belfast

Dining in James Street South Belfast

Lots of positive things have happened for both Andrew and I over the last few weeks. We have both been offered new jobs with exciting businesses and both start on the same day! Andrew turned 28 on 16 June (although he may not be a huge birthday celebration person, I am and definitely make up for his deficit). And I was discharged from hospital with lung functions better than they have been in a long while! Yay all round!

 

So as some of you may or may not know, I was born with Cystic Fibrosis. In terms of daily life this means nebulisers, tablets and physiotherapy or exercise. It doesn’t affect me in a massive way because it’s all I’ve ever known and it’s never stopped me from doing the things I want to do. However sometimes it does mean a hospital admission when things begin to slip a bit and that part definitely isn’t fun.

 

I don’t like to talk too much about CF because I don’t like it to define me or what others think of me. But sometimes I have no choice in how it can control my life and it’s hospital admissions like the one that remind me of the unpredictability of life and how little moments should not only be cherished but celebrated! A positive outlook has taken me far and I choose to let that define me as a person instead.

 

Which was why I made a crazy impulsive and expensive decision to book a table at James Street South in Belfast to celebrate the good things that have happened for us recently and also to thank Andrew for being incredibly supportive during the hospitalisation. It’s not easy seeing the one you love vulnerable; it can make you feel powerless and for a control freak like Andrew, I know it wasn’t easy.

 

James Street South is a place I have wanted to visit for such a long time. It comes top of so many lists of the best places to eat in Belfast but because it’s a bit on the pricier end, I had always thought I should save it for a special occasion e.g. this one! With absolutely no trepidation I booked the table and knew straight away we were to have the ‘Taste of Ulster’ tasting menu – sure why not?!

 

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Shameless Selfie Before Dinner!

 

I got very dolled up and Andrew wore a crinkled shirt he didn’t iron (because we don’t own an iron – yes we are peasants). I was so flippin’ excited and for good reason because I had the best meal I have ever had in Belfast that night. I was constantly battling between savouring the taste of one course and dying to get to the next one. It was that amazing!

 

The ambience wasn’t excellent I’ll be honest, I’m not hugely in to that clinical vibe but we sat in a corner booth which created a bit of intimacy. This didn’t really bother me at all though because Andrew and I were too busy enjoying our own little gastronomic paradise, listening eagerly to the waiter explaining each ingredient and where it came from. The restaurant prides itself on sourcing the best local produce for each dish and that is evident in the taste; you’d have sworn they had the cow in the kitchen!

 

I would recommend this place to anyone and everyone who loves classical food served in a way that isn’t pretentious but focuses on taste. I can’t wait to go back again and I’ll be finding anything to celebrate as an excuse for another taste of that dessert. Sheer heaven.


‘Taste of Ulster’ Tasting Menu

 

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Chilled Portavogie Crab Lasagne, Lemongrass & Brown Crab Bisque

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King Scallops, Parmesan & Connemara Ham

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Country Antrim Beef, Charred Leeks, Peppercorns & Garlic

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Smoked Chocolate, Lime Sorbet & Toasted Meringue

Tips for Belfast in June

Tips for Belfast in June

Evening all!

 

Living in Belfast offers a wide variety of activities to fill our weekends and evenings, especially in the summer months, but sometimes we just don’t realise just how much is going on around us. I moved to Belfast for the first time just over a year ago and have made it my mission to get to know the city as much as I can and be knowledgeable of all the different things to do.

 

June sees the beginning of summer where evenings are spent in the back garden, losing recollection of time as the sun refuses to descend. We’ve already seen the most glorious sunshine over the last few weeks and while the majority of us have resigned ourselves to believing the good weather has been and gone, I am determined to get out of the deck chair and see just what’s going on in the city.

 

I’ve rounded up a few things to do this June – small ideas that will only take up a few hours in an evening and events that might take up a weekend in your calendar. I hope I can inspire a few of you because once we pass the Solstice, you will be hearing everyone telling you that “the days drawing in now” so use the stretch in the evenings wisely!

 

So here’s what’s on this June…

 

Belfast Book Festival

The festival is only in its 6th year but this year’s programme is packed full of events between 9th and 19th June that will interest anyone. There are book launches, readings, a poetry tour of Ireland, music and discussions for everyone to attend for free or at a very low cost. I’m looking forward to going to a talk by Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean defector and human rights activist who’s TED Talk about her life and escape from North Korea has received more than 5 million views online. Find more about the programme here.

 

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Belfast Flea Market

The monthly flea market runs on the first Sunday of every month from 1pm and 6pm and is a little treasure amongst the Union St Bars. Based out the back of the infamous Sunflower Bar, there is a plethora of wee stalls to explore for vintage gems, potted plants, records and general bric-a-brac that you don’t need but have to have. They have a great woodfire oven next to the stalls providing delicious pizzas to fuel the less energised shopper and the less enthused shopping partner. Wash the pizza down with a cold pint and you can’t ask for a better way to end your weekend.

 

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Belfast Blues Festival

Another Belfast festival still in it’s early years, the Blues Festival is on the last weekend of June between 24th and 26th. There’s a ‘Blues Trail’ that you can follow across the city taking in as many gigs as possible ending up at the Festival Marquee in Writers Square. The usual suspects can be found along the way e.g. Crow Black Chicken, Rab McCullough and Pat McManus but there are heaps of other unknown talents to be discovered in the back of a dimly lit pub. Have a look at the line-up here to create your own trail or choose a place to park yourself up with a seat for the day!

 

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Gobbin’s Walk

About 20 miles north of Belfast you can find a dramatic coastline with staggering cliffs that tower over the Irish Sea. One way to truly experience the wildness of the Irish coast is to walk along a man-made path that clings to these cliffs and that would test the bravest of us all. Gobbin’s Walk was re-opened this year and tours are now available to walk the path that was once popular among Edwardian tourists. Have a stroll at the edge of our island with the waves crashing below you and the wind whipping around your face. If you’re lucky you may even get spot some red beaks among the rocks as puffins can be found here at this time of year! Find out more about the walk and how to book tickets for the tour here.

 

Gobbins Path

Photo: www.gobbinscliffpath.com

 

Twilight at Mount Stewart

Mount Stewart is a 19th century manor house and gardens located about 15 miles from Belfast. The site is owned by the National Trust and has the most amazing gardens that are spectacular this time of year. For those of you who are fans of classical music, there is an event on 24th June called ‘Twilight at the Trust’ that will see individual rooms in the house opening up to host incredibly talented musicians. Tickets are £50 and include a canapé and drinks reception with the finale being held in the Great Room with all the musicians gathering together – not too shabby! You can book tickets here.

 

Mount Stewart

Photo: www.nationaltrust.org.uk

 

I hope these ideas give you some inspiration to venture out in to the city and further this June and fingers crossed the sun will return for us again!

 

xx