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ACCS Conference, Wexford 2011

Not the best position for up and down

The best way to start an ACCS conference is with a round of golf and when Rosslare Golf Links is the venue it takes a lot of beating. There was quite a good turn out and the threatened rain did not appear, however the off shore “breeze” made for some interesting approach shots.  The bunkers also made a deep impression!

The conference was held at the end of March in Whites Hotel in the centre of Wexford town and it is certainly to be commended for both service and food.

The SOS Stand

We always enjoy this conference as the delegates are a really friendly crowd and the officers and staff of the association  are a pleasure to work with.

It is a time to catch up with many acquaintances that one only sees once a year, both clients and other exhibitors.

The first day ended with an excellent dinner followed by the inevitable poker school.  As usual we hjad to borrow a deck from reception as nobody had thought to secrete one on their person!

Of course the highlight of any conference is the Gala Banquet on the second and the hotel did us proud with a superb six course meal. A copy of the menu is displayed here. No prizes for the error which was missed by most people, including me, until well after the event!

A few horth speeches followed,   the Bishop making a definite play to be considered for a spot on Comedy Club, and these being completed the music department of Gorey Community School entertained us . Both the choir and musicians were absolutely outstanding and would have held their own om any professional stage.

Of course the evening ended with another obligatory poker school in one corner and a ceili in the bar.

We had decided to stay on for an extra couple of nights so, once the conference was more or less wrapped up on Saturday morning we took off on a tour to our old camping haunt at Carne Beach. I used to leave Josephine and Maggie Shore and the two children there, in a tent, for August and commute at weekends.

Carne beach

The Lobster Pot

Another landmark of the area was the Lobster Pot restaurant and this appears not to have changed to any degree in the past 23 years!

Kylemore Quay

Following this we motored on round the coast to Kylemore Quay for lunch and then back to Whites for a snooze before venturing out for dinner.

We had chosen a French restaurant, Jacques Bistro, at the Greenacres gallery just around the corner from the Hotel.

It is unique in as much as many of the tables are set in the wine shop so one is surrounded by racks of wine! The food and wine were excellent, though the cheapest wine on the list was €29!  I went for one of the specials, a Casoulet of Toulouse sausage, pork belly and duck on a bed of beans – unbelievably filling!  Josephine picked another special, Black Sole Muniere.  Needless to say I managed their Crème Brulee.

Jacques specials

Altogether a most satisfactory few days.

The Silver Fox, Kilmore Quay, Wexford

Kilemore Quay is a picturesque heritage fishing village on the south east coast of Ireland about 22km from Wexford Town and has been an RNLI lifeboat station since 1847.  With it’s thatched cottages, harbour and views out to the the Saltee Islands bird sanctuary and St Georges Channel it makes an ideal spot to stop off and explore a little of the local history, and have a bite of lunch of course.

We picked on the Silver Fox restaurant, from about half a dozen possibles, as the ideal spot and it turned out to be a good choice, although Josephine reported that the tea was an awful grey colour and tasted the same; but then if you will order tea when there is wine and cider available I have little sympathy!

Crab Claws & Prawns

Josephine only wanted a scone but I could not resist the Crabs claws and tiger prawns in garlic butter with a side salad.  They managed to serve the claws so that you do not spend a great deal of time and effort attempting to dig the flesh out so it was a double treat!

We finished our visit with a visit to two “craft” shops along the front. Although they had one or two nice pieces most of  their offerings were definitely geared to the lower end of the tourist market. If that is what sells who can blame them.

Altogether a very pleasant trip out.

 

Holi – Festival of Colours, Belfast

Enough Said!

Holi is an ancient pre christian Indian rite celebrating of the coming of Spring and was originally thought to have been performed by married women for the well being of their families.

Arts Ekta has been been producing the Belfast version of this festival in St Georges market since 2008, however, due to catching a clip on Radio Ulster this is the first time we have had the pleasure of attending.

We were surprised by the popularity – this being obvious by the length of the queue to gain admission.  At £1.00 a head it is really good value for money.  Find me anywhere where you can take the kids (Grandchildren) out and keep them entertained for that, plus drinks pressies and the usual add-ons mind you.

Of course, this being an Asian festival, there were a lot of Japanese stalls selling macramé and the like for the tsunami victims. My youngest granddaughter now has a collection of paper roses and vases!

St. Cecelia’s Dance Academy

Ther were the usual stalls offering various styles of food and I  was surprised that there was only one offering curries and Indian “tapas”.  Unfortunately they ran out of Nan bread and when I got to the head of the queue there was a 15 minute wait for rice.  I settled for pakoras and samosas which were very tasty.

The entertainment was in the form of various dance troupes and bands, including the dance academy from St Cecelia’s in Derry.

 

Birmingham/Punjabi

It says something that the Punjabi folk dancing troupe, Balle Shava, are from Birmingham and the spectacular Bollywood Fusion Dancers are all Scottish born!

Probably the most spectacular were the Desi Brave Hearts, a Bollywood fusion troupe all of whom were born is Scotland. their energy and co-ordination was perfection.

Having said this all the acts were very good.

Desi Brave Hearts

South Asian Dance Academy

The actual highlight of the afternoon, the throwing of coloured powder on your family, friends and strangers, was a bit of a disaster as the stewards failed to make sure everybody was in the designated channel.

We were lucky to get into the arena as they ran out of powder sachets about 4 people behind us and, having queued for 45 minutes this must have been a bit of a let down. The reason given was the unprecedented number of people participating. I suspect that they will learn their lessons and next year will be better organised.

Mar 18, 2011 - Around the World    No Comments

Ballinvreena & the Mustard Seed revisited

Ballinvreena is probably not a place one would be in the habit of visiting on a regular basis.  I was last there in ’09 to investigate the possibility of putting some retractable seating in the Community Centre.  The centre is perched high up on the side of a hill equidistant from nowhere in particular.  Having said that they draw in up to 200 for their dances and their theatre performances are also well attended. In the spring and summer they lay boards in the adjacent field for Crossroad Dancing, one of the original Irish dance formats  which was banned by the church in 1935.


Across the road from the main hall is a small thatched cottage which a certain Davy Quish, a local character famous for walking his donkey to market in Limerick and running a shop from the kitchen, bequeathed to the community on his death.

The whole area is steeped in history and the more one travels round the more one discovers. In Ballingarry there is the ruin of the De Lacy’s 13th century castle, now incorporated into a farm boundary wall.  The de Lacy family were dispossessed of their lands during the Cromwellian and Jacobite wars and formed a part of the Flight of the Wild Geese to France in 1691. from there they went on to serve in various European armies.

We spent the night at the Mustard Seed situated close by and found the service, food and wine to be as good as previously. The fact that there were 17 booked in for dinner on a Tuesday says something about its popularity as a gourmet experience. The room rates are a little over the top however.

We fitted in another couple of calls on the way back, Meath County Council and the Ardee Concert Band.

Feb 12, 2011 - Around the World    No Comments

London Town

Trafalgar Square by night

How to spend a weekend break in London. As usual Julie-Anne of Oasis Travel organised everything in her inimitable manner including a “surprise” hotel which turned out to be the Cavendish in Jermyn Street and you don’t get much more central than that.

We went directly from Gatwick to the BETT  exhibition in Olympia. This grandstands educational technology which is an important aspect of  my business.  It is amazing to see what is available to the modern teacher and the enthusiasm with which many of them enter into the spirit of it.

Anyway, having completed my imperatives and had a general swan abound the stands we headed off to the hotel to prepare for an evening out with my old (by way of length of time) friends Les and Dot Jones.

The hotel is excellent, positioned directly opposite the rear entrance to Fortnum & Mason, and the service could not be faulted, with one exception which I will mention later.

The Chandos

We decided to walk down to St. Martin in the Fields where we had arranged to meet up in the Chandos Bar a well known hostelry which does a nice line in John Smiths for £2.00 a pint.  This is amazing if you are used to Belfast bar prices!

Great place for a chat and a bit of craic with other clientèle.

Jacksons & Joneses at Veeraswamy's

A couple of pints later we headed off to  Regent Street and the Veeraswamy Indian restaurant, the oldest in the UK having been in the same location since 1926.

For a more detailed account of our visit try this link.

From here we wandered up towards Picadilly for  a nightcap before parting from our friends.

Of course we stopped in the Cavendish lobby bar for a couple before retiring.  Their prices are what one would expect in a hotel anywhere, but, to give them their due, the spirit measures were better than the usual English offering!.

Breakfast the next morning was somewhat of a revelation and our one issue with the service.  One leaves ones name with the maître d’ and sits and reads the paper, Daily Telegraph is free to all, until there is a table free.  This can take up to half an hour.  I had a chat with the said maître and he told me that the only way to miss the “rush” was to be down before 8.30 (or after 11.00 – they serve until noon) or use room service. The choice is excellent and the quality unbeatable, however, they ran out of scrambled egg and it took nearly 15 minutes before a refill arrived.  Of course all eggs are free range they were worth the wait.

From breakfast we headed out to Forntum’s for a quick look round their sale. Suckered into buying an apple cake and Christmas sweets (will be in date for next year) and a jar of cognac cream (which was confiscated at Gatwick).

From there we walked up Picadilly to Liberty’s, my favourite London shop, beats Harrods into a cocked hat. I acquired three new Liberty Print bow ties at a saving of £120 from the retail, happy days indeed. Unfortunately the shirts I liked only came in slim fit and, as  those of you who know me will vouchsafe, that is not a fitting to which I could aspire.

Real Ale list at the Clachan

All this shopping gave us a bit of a thirst so we walked round the corner into Kingly Street and were confronted by the Clachan Bar a Victorian Pub with a huge array of real ale and a very appetizing Great British Lunch menu which, but for our late breakfast, we may well have partaken.

Refreshed we wandered on and Josephine found a nice pair of boots in Canvas and I invested the money I had saved in Liberty’s plus a heap more in a pair of Russell and Bromleys casuals.

Caffé Concerto

We found ourselves back in the Nash Arch and outside the Caffé Concerto.  One cannot pass this patisserie; it has a magnetic force. So that was a millefeuille and juice for Josephine and the soup of the day and a Pinot Grigio for me.

We retired to the hotel and had wash and brush up and a couple of hours rest before heading off once again.  This time for dinner at the Café des Amis in Hanover Square which is the subject of a separate post.

From here we walked the short distance to the Lyceum Theatre to see the Lion King. I am not a musical fanatic but this was spectacular, if not for the music then for the technical brilliance. There was a row of kids behind us who were up and down like Jacks-in-a-box until the curtain went up – then mesmerised into silence. In my book well worth the money.  Pretty good reviews all round.

We walked back up to the hotel and nipped into the bar where we got into conversation with some other guests so a pleasant end to a busy day.

Unfortunately the fire alarm went off at about 7am so we were all evacuated into the courtyard.  Long way down the stairs from the 9th floor. Apparently it was triggered in a room on the 10th. Finally got back in after 20 minutes waiting for the fire brigade to clear the building. Could have been worse.

Due to the usual breakfast debacle we had to leave to catch our flight without food but made up for it at the Armadillo in Gatwick.

Flight home on time concluding a very enjoyable weekend.



Jan 31, 2011 - Around the World    3 Comments

MSC Magnifica, Magnificent for Mediterranean meanderings

Magnifica in Rhodes

This was our first “proper” cruise, not counting the Nile and Rhine so, even with the help of Cruise Critic we were a little apprehensive. Arriving at Venice was fairly simple but the “cattle market” mayhem of the arrivals lounge was a little overwhelming.

Bored already – scrool down to the end of the post and see the slide shows!

Sahara Bar

Having negotiated this hurdle we were suitably impressed by the standard of the Magnifica and our cabin, sea-view with balcony. It is a credit to the line and was immaculate in every sense of the word. The mirrors, which meet you at every turn, sparkle, the brass-work gleams and everything is spotless. The staff throughout were pleasant, courteous and helpful. We took breakfast and lunch at the 13th deck buffet rather than one of the restaurants and found the selection and quality of a really high standard. This is definitely continental European fare with an Italian bias, but this is what we like so it was not a problem. Zac and Vivien, one of the couples we dined with commented that it was the best ship they had ever been on but had the worst food – I feel that this was because of the style of cuisine rather than the standard because we could not really fault it.  Dinners were generally six courses which always included 2-3 starters, 2 soups, a salad, two pasta dishes, minimum of 3 mains + vegetarian and a choice of sweets. I never got through more than 5!  Quality generally very good.

An eclectic dinner group

There is little formality vis-a-vis dress at dinner; most people making the effort to put on a jacket and tie for gala nights but it was not de rigueur. The entertainment was generally good and the participation show and dance good fun all round.

Passing St Marks

Passing St Marks

The excursions we took were well organised and informative.  The only down sides we encountered were embarkation and disembarkation but we note from the “Cruise Critic site” that these are common gripes!

A bit about the cruise. We sailed out of Venice as dusk was settling and headed off towards Bari, on the heel of Italy, where we arrived after lunch on the following day.

It is a typical medieval Italian town and is the capital of the province of the same name. It is also the capital of of the Apulia or, for wine buffs, Puglia. It is a fascinating maze of small streets and boasts the Basilica of St. Nicolas which was built in the 11th century to house the bones of the saint, and where they remain in the crypt to this day.

Basilica of St Nicolas

That evening we sailed again for Rhodes, about 600nm away.

Evenings throughout the cruise took a similar pattern. We were booked for the early dinner sitting at 6.00pm. The second sitting was at 9.00 which is, for us at least. far too late for a large meal. So, given that it took about and hour and a half we were ready to move into the lounge for coffee and a dram and still have plenty of time for the nightly show in the theatre (seats 1200) at 9.00.  These were themed variety  shows lasting about 30 minutes.  Given the large number of ethnic tongues on board you may guess that they were all visual and musical and did not rely on any verbal dexterity save from the compere.  They were all very good.

L'Ametista Lounge

From there we moved in to the L’Ametista lounge where there was a combo playing each evening followed by party games run by the ships entertainment team. The dancing continued after this but by then we were on our way to our cabin.

One thing that it took a couple of evenings to get used to was that one side of the lounge is for smokers! There is an extremely efficient extraction system and one could not tell there was any smoke at all on the other side of the dance floor.

Cannonballs in the moat

Following a day at sea, which consisted mainly of eating and drinking, we arrived in Rhodes the following morning.  Once again it was only a short walk into the city.  It really is impressive and, as it was only just coming to life at 9.30, we decided to walk round the walls which are exceptionally well preserved. The moat, which apparently never contained water, was littered with piles of cannon balls.

There seemed to be something new, or rather old, round each corner and it is exceptionally easy to get lost in the myriad side streets.

A good buy

Of course on the way we encountered a number of very fine craft shops and Josephine was lured into buying a beautiful fused glass platter by Efrosini. Money well spent.

We finally ended up in the main square where we sat and partook of a beer before heading back to the ship to start on our next leg.

Pompey's Pillar - Old & New

Onward to Alexandria where we had booked a tour of the Roman heritage.  There were excursions to Cairo and the pyramids but we did not fancy spending 6 hours of the day on a bus.  It as a totally different experience from Luxor which was definitely very Egyptian.
Alexandria is more Greco Roman with a smattering of Egyptian thrown in.  We started at the Serapeum or Temple of Serapis, built by Ptolemy III, which dates back to the 2nd century BC.  It  housed part of the famous Alexandrian library. It was destroyed by a mob in 391AD but whether they were a Christian crowd or Roman soldiers depends on the account you believe. From here we went to the Kom El-Shouqafa catacombs an impressive private tomb which is accessed by a spiral staircase of 99 steps around a central shaft down which the body was lowered. It was later used as a public burial ground on three levels.

Modern women

The rest of the tour took in the new library of Alexandria, the Kaupay fortress which occupies the area where the great lighthouse once stood and the Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi mosque. An interesting day in a very modern Egyptian city as the picture of the ladies with their mobiles depicts.

New Years Eve

New year was spent at sea with parties and midnight buffets held in all the bars and discos. Needless to say we did not do much on New Years Day!

We arrived in the Greek port of Katakolon on the 2nd of January.  This is about 30 minutes from the site of the first games at Olympia and was the second of our organised excursions. Our guide was fantastic running a commentary in fluent English and Italian vernacular.  Her name was Pipi or something to that effect.

Pipi

One has to be impressed by the organisation that went into those and subsequent games.  Practice grounds, baths and of course the temples to the relevant gods.  Every winner had a stature carved but unfortunately all these have been destroyed. One of the best preserved is the plinth of the statue of Marcus who came second in a boys event.

The Olympic Track

The actual athletics field, which seated 40,000, still has the start and finish lines and the victors podium. It is interesting that running events were up and down the stadium and not around the circumference.

Following this we went to a taverna for a meze and an exhibition of Greek dancing.  The food, wine and ouzo were fine but I was disappointed in the dancing which bore no resemblance to any I have seen anywhere else in Greece; more like a glorified conga.  Ah well you can’t have everything. It didn’t rain on us either.

There was a karaoke in the bar that night.  I thought it was only on X Factor that people got up who couldn’t sing.  One girl could not even follow the words, not to mention the music!

We arrived at our penultimate port Dubrovnik, the well known Croatian gem on the Adriatic, the next day. Somebody had told us that the old city was “just down the road” from the berth.

This is not strictly true, it is an hours walk a lot of which, if you do not know the short cut, is straight up.  Still, it was a bright sunny day so we enjoyed the exercise.

The way down

Having reached the top of the hill we found a path down to walls, we did not count the steps but there were an awful lot of them.  It was well worth it. We entered the city by the Pile Gate which is the main tourist entrance on the West side.

The walls are one of the great attractions, but as Josephine tends to suffer from vertigo and the stone staircase is near vertical with only an iron handrail she decided to give this a miss.

The square

I did venture up and there are some magnificent views.  I did not make the complete circuit though. we wandered through the streets, round the towers and fountains and found the ubiquitous Irish pub. There would have to be one wouldn’t there! Needless to say we didn’t venture in.  We caught a local bus back to the ship to save our feet.

From there it was back to Venice and the long drawn out process of disembarkation.  Will definately book an early excursion next time.  We spent the day in Venice and found on e of the best local restauants serving Venetian food that I have come across in my many trips there.

We made our way to St Mark’s Square and caught a water taxi back to the left luggage and from there took the final coach to Marco Polo airport.

Altogether a great experience and a wonderful way to see in the New Year.

SLIDE SHOWS & PICTURE GALLERIES

Miscellaneous

 

Venice to Bari

Rhodes

Alexandria

Katakolon – Olympia

Dubrovnik

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La Rosa Dei Venti, Santa Croce 164, Venice

Unfortunately I do not have a photo of this most Venetian of Venetian trattoria. Do not confuse it with the B & B of the same name. It located on the Fondamenta Minotto, not far from the railway station.  It is the place of choice for local workers to take their lunch. We had just been given a table when it was suddenly inundated with with a variety of customers from immaculately suited city types to shop assistants. They do not stand on ceremony and if you like to have space to yourself than make sure you are not there between 1 – 2p.m.   The tables are for two but are set together to form rows of two or three and they fill them as customers arrive. Had we know we would probably have picked the days specials, which seemed to be what everyone else did, as the waiters just read a list of their pad.  We were given menus. We shared a plate of pickled sardines with a green salad and followed it with pasta.  Josephine chose the lasagne whilst I had a spaghetti with an chilli oil dressing. Both were beyond reproach.  We washed it down with a half litre of the house red.  Great staff with adequate English and big smiles. Bill for the lot about €40.

Armadillo, North Terminal, Gatwick

If you are passing through the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport and fancy a bite you could do worse than try Armadillo. It is on the mezzanine floor with the rest of the eateries in the terminal. Those of you who know me will be aware that I am not an American food fan but we stopped in for breakfast on the way out and on the the way back from a cruise as the place looked clean and tidy and the staff were smiling. Their bacon and eggs on a toasted muffin are 5 star!  The eggs are cooked “easy over” and their bacon first rate and grilled so that the fat is just crisp. Try their Armadillo juice, mango, passion fruit and that something extra that bites into the taste buds at 7.30 in the morning.  Their tea and Americano coffee are good too.  They offer a speedy menu if you are short of time.  The staff are friendly and efficient.

Dec 5, 2010 - Around the World    No Comments

O’Neill Park, Newtownabbey

Winter Stream

Took the dogs for a trot round the park this afternoon, 5 December, with the temperature hovering around zero. Plenty of other people out with their dogs as well.

Under the Cave Hill

The pond at the Valley mostly frozen over but enough water in places for the swans, cygnets and ducks to get a bit of a swim.

cygnet and ducks

Shadows on the pond

All in all a crisp, clear, sunny afternoon ideal for a brisk walk.

Bramshill Hunt, Arborfield, Berks

The Bramshill Hunt

The last time I was in the Bramshill Hunt was illegally, as a REME Junior Leader, around 1962.  The staff certainly have not been there since then, much to young and pretty.  Apart from this I do not really remember it at all, just the sneaking through the woods to get there.

One thing that did confuse me a little were two banners outside emblazoned with “come on you Irish”. Never did get to find out what they were in aid of!

It is now part of the Green King Group and, I believe, under new management. Barry Johnson had dropped them in the orders a couple of hours before we were due to arrive so at least they were forewarned that about 30 people were going to descend on them.

In general they coped pretty well although a couple of people had to wait an inordinatley long time, probably due to the fact that they only had staff available for a normal Saturday lunch time.

Some Ploughmans!

I had picked the cheese and ham ploughmans lunch and I can say that it would have been hard to beat.

The cheese was a chunk or real cheddar and the ham actually tasted of ham. Add pickled onion, Branston pickle and a section of french stick and you have the perfect accompaniment to red wine or a gin and tonic (Josephine got the last of the red wine in the house!)

I think everybody else was suitably impressed with their choice and, at just over £10.0 for two of us it was indeed value for money.

Unfortunately it is unlikely that I will be in Arborfield any time again soon.

Old pals!