Wednesday, 19 April 2017

MacNean House ~ Culinary Delights in Co.Cavan!

A visit to MacNean House and Restaurant has been on my list for years but every time I went to book the only available dates were months and months away. I was overjoyed to receive an email a couple of weeks ago advising me of a cancellation for the following Friday, not only for a meal but also an overnight stay! I immediately called Sue to let her know to cancel her plans, and my husband to ensure he’d be working close to home that day so he could get home on time to mind the children. I collected Sue from work on Friday afternoon & we set off up the N3 like Thelma & Louise. 

What is MacNean House and Restaurant?

Multi award winning MacNean House and Restaurant is where celebrity chef Neven Maguire shares his passion for food. Not only is it a restaurant, it’s also a guesthouse and a cookery school where Neven shares his top tips and recipes. He personally teaches each class so you’ll be learning from the best. The restaurant has been in Neven's family since 1969; 16 years ago Neven took the reins and has transformed the restaurant into one of the most successful restaurants in Ireland, well and truly putting Blacklion on the map. 

Where is MacNean House & Restaurant?

If, like me, you’re Kildare based, or anywhere south of Dublin, be prepared for a drive as MacNean House is located in Blacklion, Co Cavan, just a stone’s throw from Enniskillen.
It was perfectly fine with me though as time spent on a road trip with my favourite sister catching up is time well spent! (I'm her only sister but I'll take it - Sue)

Our Experience at MacNean House & Restaurant

From the moment we checked in we knew we were in for a special evening. Each member of staff we encountered was so lovely and welcoming. Our opulent room for the night was fabulously decorated with muted tones, complete with an ornate chandelier. There’s even an option to change your pillow for a goose feather pillow. In hindsight, taking them up on that offer is our only regret from the entire experience. 

As soon as we arrived at the restaurant we were seated and presented with our menus. Neven’s signature tasting menu comprises of eight courses of the finest dishes made from locally sourced, quality ingredients. There’s also a vegetarian menu. You are free to choose your dishes from either menu, as we did as some of the vegetarian dishes were mouth-watering.

We both opted for the wine selection; the Sommelier did a wonderful job pairing each dish to a specially selected wine. Each course was well thought out, perfectly executed and presented superbly. Truly, this was the only meal we have had that we literally couldn't keep up with the wine. In both volume and quality, we were floored. 

They certainly don’t do things by halves at MacNean House; breakfast is yet another example of this as it’s a magnificent lavish affair. It’d be a pity to go for dinner and leave without having the full MacNean experience. By including an overnight stay you get to enjoy a sumptuous breakfast fit for a queen. 

Though we're usually a little sceptical about waiting lists as long as your leg, it's easy to see why this Blacklion gem is booked out months in advance.

How much does it cost?

Neven’s signature tasting menu costs €85pp, €135pp including wine selection. Overnight stays start at just €55pp on a bed & breakfast basis, mid-week. We didn’t pay for our experience as I was lucky enough to have a gift card, but rest assured this didn't make one iota of difference to the service or our experience. The atmosphere in the dining room on both occasions was incredible, with audible appreciation from every table for every course; a definite first for us.

As an aside, the dining room atmosphere is, without doubt, one of the reasons this was one of the best meals we've had. It felt intimate & conspiratory, as though we were each in on a secret that no one else knew, part of something special. Tables conversed easily with one another or between themselves and the noise level remained comfortable and comforting. No mean feat for a room filled to capacity.

My Top Tip for MacNean House

My Stone Travel Tip would be to keep an eye on the cancellation section on their website HERE and do yourself & a loved one a solid by leaping on the first available booking you can find.

Have you ever been to MacNean House? Maybe you've completed a cookery course with Neven Maguire?

What did you think? Please let us know!

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Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Newgrange ~ Visiting Ireland’s Ancient East!

Newgrange in Co Meath is somewhere I’ve wanted to bring my kids for a long time, as I remember really liking it when I went on a school trip many moons ago. We tried to visit a few years ago but only got as far as the visitor centre to be turned away as all the tickets were sold out. They limit the amount of tickets sold per day for conservation reasons. 

Tickets are not available to purchase online so it’s first come first served, we needed to be there early if we wanted to secure a place on a tour. That meant booking an overnight stay in the area and in the hopes that there wouldn’t be too many people visiting Ireland’s Ancient East we went off season.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Monday's Moments ~ 27/03/17

Leaving the house early this morning in hazy sunshine with the heat already rising, I thought it's been a little while since I've shared some Monday's Moments. If you're new around these parts since my Truzee's Snapchat takeover today (more on that below) Monday's Moments are where I take a minute to recognise five moments from the previous week that chase away my Monday Blues. It's ridiculously cathartic & I can't recommend it more. 

In no particular order of deadliness this week: 

1. Announcing this week that I'll be hosting the Blogger Panel once more at Blogger Conf. On May 20th in the Mansion House, it's one of the most practically valuable conferences in Ireland right now, if you've ever been you'll know what I mean. 

You'll know why I'm thrilled to the taking and/or dropping the mic once more too. (Are ya coming?) 

2. Aaron made my year this week when he arrived home with the most perfect earphones for my tiny lugholes. 

I've been searching forever for a decent pair, that fit & perform. These are Sennheiser, noise cancelling, full base GODSENDS! 

3. Managing a last minute Mammy's Day glass of wine with Stone Travel & our Momma because Corrina got back from her trip early!

4. Having a MARE with Stila's new Metallic shadow in Smouldering Satin, not only did it COVER my face in glitter and survive two subsequent showers but, while interviewing a client today - by the time we finished up HE had glitter on HIS face!

5. Doing ALL the talk about Motherhood in Ireland today to kick off a week of #TheMumBrigade in aid of Crumlin over on Truzees Snaps today. 

The reaction has been phenomenal! Be sure to tap in during the week to see some truly inspirational Mamas share their stories too (mine is live now HERE 

Tell me, what's been one Moment this week that's chasing your Monday Blues away? I'd LOVE to hear? 

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Friday, 24 March 2017

Things That Rustle My Jimmies ~ 24/03/17

I tried to let a week go without unrustling my jimmies but you know, PEOPLE. 

There are many, many incidents of assholery this week, to name but a few: 

1. People that share graphic pictures of those injured in terrorist attacks

2. Youtubers using ever more ridiculous implements to put makeup on their faces... A condom covered Beauty Blender, A BOILED EGG?!

3. The 'People You May Know' section on Facebook consistently being dolts I've spent my entire life avoiding ...

4. Trusting the March sunshine in Ireland 

5. Old American men that infest the Facebook comment threads on women's rights in Ireland!

Tell me, can you relate? What's been rustling your jimmies this week. Release that Kraken!

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CHiPS - Movie Review!

Who's In It?

Dax ShepardKristen BellVincent D'Onofrio, and Michael Peña

What's It About?

An undercover FBI agent is paired with an ex-motocross rookie officer to take down a ring of dirty cops in the CHP (Californian Highway Patrol).

Any Good?

CHiPS seems to have tried to go the route of 21 Jump Street with a more 'R-Rated approach' to comedy, and completely failed.

I can kinda see what it was trying to do, but it just kept devolving into screams of homophobia and making fun of a guy who's wife is cheating on him. It's not even like they're the main offending jokes - they're two of maybe four or five IN THE WHOLE MOVIE.

I'm not quite sure what to say about the acting, because there wasn't really a wide range on display. Dax Shepard is therapy-quote spouting man shouting about homophobia and Michael Peña is sex addict man shouting about not being homophobic and his partners wife having sex with others. I guess Vincent D'Onofrio is good as the leader of the dirty cops, but that's just because he's still Kingpin sized and is really threatening.

My best guess is that the studio wanted a new 21 Jump Street and after reading Dax Shepard's previous (they're all pretty interchangeable) scripts they thought it could be the right stupid style film to have him shine, but it just came out the same AGAIN. 

It's not even a Beerfest or Eurotrip type of trash movie (that are incredibly enjoyable) - it's just boring.


Tuesday, 21 March 2017

A Weekend in Warsaw - How To!

Due to family commitments we had to take Sue’s annual birthday trip a week early this year but by mid January we still hadn’t decided on a destination well that was until we were invited to the Polish Embassy in Dublin to sample the wonderful hospitality of the Polish people. 

While we were there we learned a lot about Poland as they showcased some of their beautiful cities. We decided there & then we were going to Poland so I started researching the best city at the best price for a visit in early March, I quickly realised Warsaw was our destination!

The Best Way to Visit Warsaw on a Budget:

My first port of call as usual was Skyscanner; it took me less than 2 minutes to work out that Warsaw was the cheapest to visit in March so I booked return flights from Dublin to Warsaw costing just €55.38pp flying out on Friday 10th March at 17:15 returning Sunday 12th March at 21:45.

Where to stay in Warsaw:

I completed the usual search of hotel comparison sites like Trivago, Hotels Combined etc but it was on that I found a great bargain. Two nights B&B for two at the four star Hilton Warsaw Hotel for just £117/€134. The hotel is fabulous; it boasts numerous bars & restaurants along with a swimming pool, spa & gym also onsite. We had a spotless, deluxe room on the 19th floor with beautiful views over the city.

They were so kind to us and sent a bottle of wine to our room when they learned that we were celebrating Sue’s birthday. The bathroom was high end luxury complete with separate enclosed shower unit & bath. Breakfast was one of the finest spreads I’ve seen in a hotel way outstripping other Hiltons we’ve stayed in around the world. The Old Town is a 20 minute walk from the hotel or grab a taxi from the rank at the front door of the hotel for 17zł/€4.

How to get from Modlin Airport to Warsaw:

There are numerous buses operating from Modlin airport, you can buy a return ticket online or directly from the driver for roughly €16pp return for the 45 minute journey. You can also get an Uber but be careful as flights arrive in Modlin the prices increase drastically likewise the wait times. We priced a taxi and were quoted approximately 320zł/€76 by one driver even though taxi fares are supposed to be fixed from the airport. 

Luckily another driver overheard and offered his services for 160zł/€37, having given him sufficient side eye, we arrived to our hotel in style in a luxury blacked out Mercedes van. I made sure to get his card for our return journey, Zbigniew Kolacz, Tel: 0048 512007960 or mail to book - Tell him the crazy Irish ladies with the side eyes sent you!

Out and About in Warsaw:

Warsaw is not a city that you fall in love with at first sight you have to learn about its history and then you’ll have a deep compassion for the city & its people. We did just that on an Orange Umbrella free walking tour. It’s a very unusual city unlike most other European capitals. The New Town has a wonderful skyline that could easily compete with parts of New York for the amount of skyscrapers in such a small area. 

The Mermaid of Warsaw, fabled to be a Sister of the Copenhagen be-scaled one keeps watch over Warsaw
The Old Town is actually not that old. It was rebuilt less than 65 years ago by the people of Warsaw under Soviet influence after 85% of its buildings were raised to the ground during WWII. The Old Town is now the youngest UNESCO listed Heritage Site, due to the diligence of the restoration!

In the heart of the Old Town you’ll find Market Square and the monument of the Warsaw Mermaid the city’s symbol. Our guide Martyna was a fountain of knowledge and she held everyone’s attention for the full 2 hour tour of the Old Town. You'll see a clip of our tour HERE. There are lots of other tour routes and indeed other companies that run walking tours of Warsaw but one thing is for sure, you’d be mad not to join one!

On Sunday we visited the Uprising Museum located a 5 minute walk from our hotel. The museum tells the history of the events preceding, during and after the uprising in Warsaw with hundreds of photographs, film footage from eye witnesses and a 3D audiovisual recreation of the destruction of Warsaw during WWII. 

As soon as you enter the museum the sights & sounds transport you back to 1944 Poland. They’ve an impressive amount of artifacts and a replica B-24 Liberator. With men & women recounting their own tales of rebel fighting and their entire city rising up, if you want to learn about the determination of the Polish people this should be on your list of places to visit. Normal admission is priced at 20zł/€4.66pp, entry is free on Sundays.

Where to eat and drink in Warsaw:

During our tour Martyna told us all about milk bars that you’ll still find dotted around the capital, they are small, inexpensive restaurants serving traditional Polish home cooked meals costing about €3 for a 3 course meal. Pop into any bakery for Polish cakes and coffee costing less than €4 each.

We stumbled upon a Bobby Burger joint and decided it looked good for lunch, it was delicious. We had burgers, fries & beers that cost us just €15 in total! 

We were lucky with the location of our hotel as Tapas Gastrobar was right next door; it was so nice we ended up dining there twice with our bill never topping €20 for oodles of Tapas & wine. 

The Pierogi (dumplings, a popular Polish dish) are superb in Karmnik a trendy bar/restaurant in the Old Town. It’s a bit more expensive because of its location but still reasonably priced at €16 for two servings of Pierogi and two drinks.

Well that was our wonderful weekend in Warsaw, have you been? Did we miss anything?

One thing is for sure though; Warsaw was the first of many visits to Poland for this Travel Writer!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Spike Island - 1300 Years of History on “Ireland’s Alcatraz”

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Spike Island is prison, as it is said to be “Ireland’s Alcatraz” but peel back the layers of history and you’ll be surprised lies beneath. We’ve been to Cobh many times as Cork is one of our favourite counties to visit in Ireland. Every time we go though I am drawn in by the Titanic Museum or the Titanic Bar & Grill or some of the other superb things to see & do in Cobh. This time however we left Kildare in Mammy Van with our sights firmly set on the mysterious Spike Island.

We’ve a grá for Irish History, Irish military history in particular & it’s rubbed off on our children so they were really excited to be finally getting to go out to the Island. My husband Colin writes articles for Military magazines all over Europe so I was thrilled when he told me we’d been invited to Spike so he could photograph the military base.

We arrived just in time for the 2pm sailing and were warmly greeted by Tom O’Neill & John Crotty who gave us a brief overview of the intriguing island. The view of Cobh from the harbour is beautiful, rows & rows of brightly painted houses & shops with the cathedral dominating the skyline. As soon as we got ashore on Spike we were warmly greeted by John Flynn, boy does he know his history. I was thrilled to discover we would be brought on a private tour of the island. John can tailor the tour to your tastes so if there’s a particular part of Cobh’s history you’d like to learn more about just ask he is a mine of information and historical facts. He’s so enthusiastic and passionate about the island it immediately sparked an interest in our children. They hung on every word, he was fantastic at throwing in a nugget of historical information that he knew the children would be interested in.

John took us through 1300 years of history on the island, from a monastic settlement in the 6th century through a defence installation on to a prison and now a heritage site and tourist attraction. We got to explore the abandoned village and learned about Little Nellie. We visited the 1980’s cells complete with an exhibition on the 1985 riot. My husband loved visiting the newly opened gun park as it is chock full of artillery pieces including a military vehicle on display. We stopped for tea and fresh cream cakes in the cafe on the island before John brought us to see one of the two 6 inch coastal defence guns that are still in situ.

I stayed up on the ramparts to enjoy the amazing views out over Cork harbour where Titanic was anchored back in 1912 while Colin took the children down to the gun gallery to explore. Lastly we visited the Governor’s office to learn all about how the British got to retain the use of Spike Island along with two treaty ports during the 1922 negotiations. On foot of another treaty the British vacated the Island on 12 July 1938, on that day the Union Jack was lowered after 150 years flying on Spike to be replaced with the Irish Tricolour.

As we were getting ready to leave they were setting up for the after dark tours so John brought us in to have a quick look at the set up, I’d like to think I’d be brave enough to do one of these tours as they look and sound brilliant especially as they are currently working on extending the tour down to the previously sealed dungeons! 

We had a fantastic tour of the 103 acre island, my only issue is that we didn’t have enough time to explore more and hear more of John’s fascinating stories for those reasons we’ll be making yet another trip to Cork this summer.

Tickets cost €18 for adults, €10 for children and a family ticket for 2 adults & 2 children is €45. They advise booking online in advance to get the best prices and to guarantee your place during summer months. For further information visit their website.

*** Disclaimer: As advised above we received complimentary tickets to Spike Island. As usual all thoughts are my own, I was not asked to write this review. As ever neither free services nor payment would ever sway my opinion. ***

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Things That Rustle My Jimmies ~ 02/03/17

It's Thursday, Thank Christ it's Thursday ~ here lie the top five jimmie rustlers of this week - that's not to say there haven't been MORE ~ these are just the top (bottom) five: 

1. Passing the same walkers twice on every single lap of the park

2. People waiting on the Luas that stand IN the doorway stopping everyone from getting off!

3. 'Well *I* think Bloggers should...'

4. When it's Work ID photo day & it's CLEARLY not Davis Factor behind the camera...

5. When the glorious stretch turns into THE APOCALYPSE 10 minutes before you clock off...

Tell me, can you relate? What's been rustling your jimmies this week? 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Mid-term Road Trip in County Clare!

While looking for places to go with the children during February mid-term I stumbled upon a great deal on, just €159 for 5 nights in Lakeside Holiday Homes in Mountshannon Co Clare. Immediately I thought of the Aillwee Caves and the Birds of Prey Centre as we’d been a few years ago and that visit  inspired a passion for birds and bird watching in my daughter Orla so I knew I’d found our ideal mid-term destination. Now all I had to do was pack up Mammy Van for a road trip in Co Clare!