Tuesday, July 12, 2016

New Website Lists Manchester Salsa Calssses

In the past few months I have been salsa dancing in Manchester. I love it! I am losing weight, it helps with insomnia and I am meeting lots of new friends. One of whom is Dan: he has just opened a site which collects all the different classes and socials in one place and lists them: Salsa Classes Manchester

The thing with salsa is that you meet so many people. I am quite happy to go alone, which is unusual for me (I used to have social phobia). It is certainly a past time which I recommend to anyone. In fact it was my parents in their mid 60s who got me to go (after many years cajoling). There are people there in their late teens and early twenties too. I am somewhere in the middle :P

Anyway that is all today- I really just wanted to recommend the Manchester Salsa website as it has everything in one place. And to recommend salsa dancing to anyone everywhere. It is really is fun and great if you are a bit unsociable like me- it is the easiest way I know of to socialize.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Portugal - a Beautiful Place to get Married

This summer I attended a wedding in Portugal. What a great idea! It was held late September which in the UK is when summer has already finished and autumn has begun. But it Portugal it was still hot and sunny every day.

The genius in having the wedding towards the end of September is that the hotel prices and flights were much cheaper than just a few weeks before, when it was the school holiday time. The weather wasn't overbearingly hot too- maybe a few degrees cooler than at the peak of summer. I prefer it this way- it was very pleasant.

The wedding ceremony was help on top of a cliff and there was a nice outdoor seating area for the reception. It was a perfect spot with great view. I found the video below which looks like it may of been shot very close by. There was a sea breeze but it was not too much- I heard no complaints from other women.

After the reception there was some entertainment like fire dancers, fireworks and one or two other things for the kids. Then we all went down from the cliff to the disco. I don't remember how we got there actually (there was lots of wine flowing lol), so I am not sure if the bar was next to the place that the reception was held. I think we walked though so it must of been fairly close by.

The bar where the disco was held was amazing- the dance floor was on a deck outside, overlooking a small beach cove. It was like a private beach nightclub. The 50 or so guests filled it up nicely but I assume it could be used for big events if the whole beach was utilized. A few of our party took a dip; one ended hilariously when a guest tried to do a running handstand in the water, lol.

The event was a great success and I would say 100% of the most important invitees were present and maybe 90% of the rest (not immediate best friends or family) also made it out. We pretty much took over a hotel and got a good deal. Others hired a villa.

The Algarve has excellent restaurants; you must try the Chicken Piri Piri (barbecue chicken with salad and fries). I forgot the name of the restaurant we went to but it was superb- they put together the longest table I have ever seen for our party, plus we used it for take-away another day.

Hiring a car is essential. You need to print out your reservation - one of our party just had the confirmation email on his phone and that wasn't enough. There are taxi companies but we found them to be very unreliable- like taking 2 hours instead of 10 minutes for the official Wedding Brunch. Which was held by the sea in a superb location.

The wedding was photographed and filmed by Bloom Imagery Algarve Wedding Photography who seemed to do a great job i.e. staying out of people's way and coming up with some excellent ideas for photos. We are waiting for them to edit all the images and video and can't wait to see what was the best wedding I have been to.

If you are from the UK, Ireland or anywhere else in Europe- I highly recommend choosing the Algarve just outside of the busy summer season. It guarantees great weather and the cheap flights to Faro meant that it wasn't much more than a UK wedding.

The hosts gave us well over a years notice, which meant that many of us used it as our summer holiday and stayed on a little longer. It also gave the few who were coming from all over the world a good chance to make travel arrangements in advance. I spoke to one of the Bloom Imagery guys (very friendly and English) and think they would be a good place to start if you need advice on locations, especially if you use them as the wedding photographer too.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Is Filipino Food the Next Big Thing?

I have done my fare share of travelling, all over the place. From The States, all over Europe, India and Southeast Asia, Australia and even Fiji. Therefore I have sampled lots of different cuisines. I was surprised at many, such as in India where the food is very different to our India restaurants in the UK, meat is very rare and dahl is used a lot.

One place that has always had a bad rap for their national cuisine is the Philippines. It tends to get compared to nearby countries like Thailand and Malaysia, which have much more spicy dishes with very flavoursome sauces. The food in the Philippines is a more subtle blend, with influences from various places like Spain. Complainers say it is too sweet, too salty or too bland.

I must admit that street food in the Philippines is not my favourite thing. I generally disliked the local cafe's food, whereas in Thailand it was usually very good wherever I went. But a mid-range Filipino restaurant was always very enjoyable in my experience and I soon got some preferred dishes.

Actually I would say the Philippines have two dishes in my top 10 dishes in the world ever- the delightful Bacolod Chicken and the spicy and creamy Bicol Express. Bacolod Chicken is barbecued with garlic rice on the side and a dipping sauce of calamansi (mini limes), soy sauce and chilli. I have tried the best Piri Piri barbecue chicken in Portugal, which is superb, but the Filipino marinade is the best for me.

Bicol Express is more like a curry, the sort of dish you imagine would be cooked in Asia. Small pieces of pork are cooked in coconut milk, ginger, garlic and chilli. The one ingredient which takes this dish to another level is bagoong (fermented shrimp paste). It adds an amazingly salty and fishy level of taste. This dish is cooked until almost dry and then simply served over plain rice.

There are some excellent soup based dishes in Filipino cuisine too. These include Bulalo- very slowly cooked beef on the bone with bone marrow, which is simple and delicious. Nilaga is a pork one with cabbage and green beans, again quite simple but very tasty. Tinola is another favourite which is chicken in a ginger broth. Sinigang is the one that really stands out as being very unique. It features tamarind and other strong flavours. At first I hated it but soon learned to love it, Sinigang is quite bitter (or something) at first, it is usually served with large shrimps.

There are lots more Filipino dishes and many of us have wondered why there aren't many Filipino restaurants. Especially in a city with many thousands of expats from the Philippines like London. I have a feel that Filipino food could well be the next big thing for world cuisine. As long as care is taken the food can be delicious.

Anyway the reason for this post is to spread the word about the newest Filipino restaurant in London. LUZON Restaurant is the creation of someone I have known for many years. She is the biggest foodie that I know and a perfectionist when it comes to hosting. We visited her home last year and tasted the best Pork Binagoongan ever. Then one night we had a formal dinner in an awesome dining room, with everything perfect from the candle to the serving etiquette to the lovely crockery and silverware.

Our friend is not cooking at the new restaurant, that is being left to head chef Rex, who will surely be excellent. A few of his dishes can be seen in the photo below. Anyway they will be opening at first for 13 weeks starting 6th August 2015 on Thursdays and Fridays. Visit www.luzon.co.uk for bookings and more details. It is located in Russell Square, London. I have seen photos of the interior and it looks stunning,

LUZON Restaurant Filipino London

Monday, April 27, 2015

3 Best Places to learn English in the UK

English is the undisputed number 1 language in the world. It was created in the UK, where it has developed over many centuries into one of the most complex and dense languages. The scores of world renowned books by authors such as Shakespeare have helped shape a language which is comparable only to Russian when it comes to literature and poetry.

According to The Global Language Monitor there are currently 1,025,109.8 words in the English language. Shakespeare himself invented 1,700 of these. When considering where best to study English, history, culture and most certainly literature should be included in the decision making process.

With this is mind my first pick for the best places to learn English in the UK is Shakespeare's Stratford-upon-Avon. Stratford-upon-Avon College is a good place to enquire first.

Here you can really soak up the literary culture and history that Shakespeare left behind. The town is a manageable size for those not too interested in nightlife and all the trappings of a modern day metropolis. There are plenty of wonderful old buildings to visit, including of course the residence of the great author himself.
On the other hand, if a small traditional town is not what you have in mind; London is the polar opposite. In the capital city you will find everything you could wish for. From West End theatre, to pulsating nightclubs, to sight-seeing and national heritage unparalleled. 

London has more schools and universities than any other city, more to see and more to do. However it also has more people, crowds and traffic. It can become overwhelming if you are not careful.

Also prices can be extortionate compared to the rest of the UK. Nevertheless if you want options, London has a great many educational institutions to choose from. It also has many communities from countries around the world, which can offer a much needed social support network for many first timers in the UK.

 If the bright lights and high prices of London seem overwhelming, a happy medium would be Manchester. This is a city rich with history, culture and nightlife. It lacks the immenseness which can make London overbearing sometimes and it is certain much cheaper. 

Manchester is known by many to be a friendlier alternative to London too. At least one Manchester English school I know of gets rave reviews for being a more laid back and friendly place than the often larger institutions in the capital. I found that my time studying in London meant miles to travel between classes and rarely the same people in different lessons.

If you are still unsure look up the Wikipedia and Wikitravel pages for each place. They can all easily be visited in a couple of days by train if you wish. See the locations on the map below:

Friday, April 24, 2015

Boracay Island Review 2015 compared to 2005

I recently took a short holiday on Boracay, which I first visited back in 2005. Quite a lot has changed in that time so I thought I would do a kind of review combined with a comparison between now and then.

First of all for those that have not heard of Boracay; it is an island fairly centrally located in the Philippines. This means it is hot most of the year, with clearer skies between December and May. The rest of the year is rainy season, but I believe it can be sunny for a week or you may even get caught in a typhoon.

The main drag is called White Beach and the name is prefect. The sand is very white and the water very inviting, with an azure color thanks to the lack of seaweed or coral, and a shallow depth in most places.

I went in March and this is not the perfect time, due to algae. This is especially unpleasant when the tide is out. Take a look at the photo below which I took near Diniwid beach, just north of White Beach:

Algae on rocks north of White Beach 2015

The algae seemed much worse than in 2005 and other years that I have visited. It used to just be a strip of green perhaps 2-3 meters wide at the shore line. This meant you could swim through it or walk around if there was a gap. However this time the algae seemed to be evenly spread in the water, making swimming very unpleasant compared to the past.

The biggest change that we noticed is that north of White Beach is eroding big time! The beach has disappeared in some places, threatening some villas and resorts. If it continues like this the north end of White Beach will soon be very different and some resorts will have to close or at least move back.
Boracay White beach seems to be sinking

The restaurants and hotels that I remember from the past are generally still there, but there is a noticeable increase in larger, more high class resorts. There is also plenty of construction going on. The main area felt rather tired because of this, it doesn't have the fresh feeling of yesteryear.

One thing we always do on the island is take a sunset cruise on a sailing boat. This time we managed to get a spot on the Tamarind, which is a real yacht. Click sailing Boracay for more on this yacht. It is highly recommended as there was around 20 people on board, plus drinks which made it a lot of fun.

Sunset sailing is great on Boracay
Overall we really enjoyed our trip, although Boracay does seem to be a little overcrowded now. The erosion on Station 1 was not a pleasant sight too. Perhaps there is too much development? 

Nevertheless Boracay is still a wonderful place to visit. Next time we shall avoid the algae season (February to April). When it comes to options of accommodation, food and activities, Boracay is by far the best place in the Philippines and still one of the best destinations I have visited in the whole world. Click here fore more about Boracay.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Happy New Year from sunny Dubai

Happy new year readers, I am determined to make 2015 my best year yet and I discovered the best way to do it: help other people. That is right, all you have to do is help other people and the best part is that it doesn't matter how you do it.

If you don't believe me try it and see. I gave a homeless man a larger than usual amount the other day, I felt amazing as I walked away imagining how happy he would be and what he would spend it on. Maybe vodka, but who I am to judge.

I got the idea from research I found in a TED video. In case you haven't heard of TED, it is a platform for people who have something to say, to say it via a public talk. This is then filmed and put on the website. Sounds boring doesn't it? That is why I have ignored TED for so long, but recently I have found lots of really interesting talks. I recommend you start at the happiness section as that is something we all want more of: https://www.ted.com/topics/happiness

Besides watching TED videos I have also been travelling. I saw the tallest building in the world in Dubai and I saw the amazing Palm Islands from the plane. It is so cool what they have done with Dubai. Visit Bling Dubai to discover more about amazing Dubai.

Anyway we are living here for a while because my partner wants to build property for an investment. We have been searching for contracting companies in Dubai for the last week and finally found the perfect one yesterday. We met some real scoundrels but that last firm we met were great so I have included a link. We both took an instant liking to the contractor, whereas many were quite brash or false looking.

Anyway now that we have found a company to build the villa, we can enjoy Dubai. I don't know why I had to go along to help him choose, it was so boring. But apparently he thinks I have a sixth sense when it comes to sizing people up.

From that standpoint it was kind of interesting as I felt like the main guy in The Mentalist whilst we were speaking to all these contractors. I did get a bit paranoid that they thought I was looking at them funny a couple of times but they generally ignored me.

Next it is time to enjoy some shopping, rest and relaxation in Dubai. Our hotel is lovely and great value compared to London or New York. Anyway my phone camera isn't working well so instead of a photo of Dubai, I will put in a great TED talk I watched last night.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Choosing a Care Home for Elderly Parents

This past month I have been doing the unenviable task of finding a care home for my elderly mother. She moved into a bungalow 2 years ago but at 83 years old she can now no longer look after herself. There were one or two incidents in the past few months which convinced me that now was the right time to consider full time residential care in a nursing home.

My search started in the area she lives. I began with some recommendations from her GP and also included nearby care homes found on a care homes directory and Google. I am the sort of person who researches things online far too much. For things like gadgets I often think this is a waste of my time, but in this case I obviously wanted the very best. So I had no issues with spending hours and hours searching for reviews and any comments I could find in discussion forums and blogs.

After calling 11 homes in the area I decided that I wanted to view 4 of them. So I visited and had a chat with the manager at each. I was shown around the homes and the rooms. One of the homes was very drab, another wasn't really suitable and the two left were about even. One was slightly more modern but the staff I encountered in the other seemed nicer.

In the end I settled on Agnes and Arthur Care home in Chell. This home wasn't the most impressive from the outside but the interior was great and the staff seemed very friendly. Also the residents themselves seemed in good spirits which is one of the things on my little checklist (see below).

Anyway we are just tying up loose ends now and have Mum booked in to Agnes and Arthur soon. After a lot of searching around I feel like we have found her the ideal place to reside in a safe and friendly environment. In case you need to find a care home I have pasted in my checklist which I used to make notes on for the homes I called and visited.

Choosing a care home checklist

  1. Suitability of care - different homes offer different types of care e.g. dementia so this is the first thing to ask about. I was able to immediately cross a few homes off my list by calling and asking about what types of care they cater for.
  2. Reviews and ratings - Not many people leave reviews of care homes but if you search hard enough online you will fine some feedback in places like care home directories, Google reviews and possibly forums or blogs. Obviously you need to take reviews with a pinch of salt sometimes as some may be fake, so I only really take note if there is a variety of opinions about a place. This can be a good way to highlight specific problems though e.g. I learnt one home had poor plumbing.
  3. Accommodation size - This one speaks for itself, I wanted somewhere which wasn't too big like a hospital or hotel which I imagine would have less of a cosy and community feeling.
  4. Nursing and care quality - Do they have full time nursing staff or just care assistants? Are they using new technology to improve health care? e.g. from my research I found that there are now more efficient computer and machine based medication dispensing and tracking methods.
  5. Attitude of staff - Are they helpful and friendly and happy to answer any concerns?
  6. Residents well-being - Do the residents seem happy and well looked after?
  7. Cost - Private sector only or public funding too?
  8. Location - Close enough for friends and family to visit?
  9. Activities - Does the home have a comprehensive range of activities and sense of community?
  10. Facilities - Are the furnishings modern and clean? Are there any useful mod cons like flatscreen TVs and stair lifts? Is there a nice garden area?