Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Frankfurt Christmas Markets ~ A Magical Trip on a Budget that Feels Like Anything But!

If you follow either CherrySue or Stone Travel on social media you’ll have seen that our annual Christmas Markets trip brought us to Frankfurt this year. In true Stone Travel style, I'm here to tell you exactly how much we paid, what we thought of it and how you can visit too! 

Getting there:

We opted for a Ryanair flight to Frankfurt Hahn as they had scheduled flights at the times we wanted; costing €44.86pp including all taxes and charges for the 1 hour 40 minute flight it also suited our budget. Just be aware Frankfurt Hahn is located 120km outside Frankfurt. Depending on the time of your flight you can either catch a train or a bus. 

As we arrived late on Friday night the only option for us was a Flibco bus. I had pre-purchased our tickets online costing €30pp return including insurance. Unfortunately a flight from Tangier arrived into the airport at the same time as our flight so we were delayed getting through passport control. We got to the bus stop with 10 minutes to spare to find they had resold our tickets and about 30 others that were on our flight so we had to wait over an hour for the next bus! Customer service was shocking and the rep was downright rude to anyone who questioned her. The journey time to Frankfurt am Main is 1 hour 45 minutes but on our return journey our driver did it in 1 hour 20 minutes.

Aer Lingus fly Dublin-Frankfurt main airport located just 10 minutes outside Frankfurt. While the flights were over €100pp extra at the time we were booking I think we might be flying Aer Lingus next time! 

Where to stay in Frankfurt:

It’s always a bit of a nightmare trying to find a decent central hotel when trying to stick to a budget so I usually trawl the hotel comparison sites first. That’s where I found Hotel Excelsior a 3* hotel located directly across the road from the train station in the financial district of Frankfurt am Main. The Flibco bus arrives and departs a mere 2 minute walk from the hotel.

Rooms are basic but spotless; we were given a room with a set of bunk beds and two very comfortable single beds. While the rooms and hotel itself are dated it really doesn’t take away from the comfort of your stay as they offer a host of free extras such as free Wi-Fi, free drinks and snacks available in reception all day, free buffet breakfast and a free mini bar in every room that’s restocked daily (I know!). 

Breakfast is served from 5am-11am in a large restaurant on the ground floor. They’ve a wide variety of food on offer as they take influence from breakfasts around the world. You’ve a choice of cereals, breads, crepes, eggs, cold meats, cheeses, smoked salmon, fresh fruit, yoghurts even soup, vegetable noodles or sweet & sour veg with boiled rice so you’re sure to find something you like to fill you up before hitting the markets. We paid €67.45pp for 2 nights B&B; I booked directly with the hotel through their website as they had the best price.

What are the Frankfurt Christmas Markets like?

Dating as far back as 1393 Frankfurt has the oldest Christmas Markets in Germany not only that, they also have the tallest Christmas tree. There are a few different markets dotted around the city: Römerberg, St Paul's Square, Mainkai (Main Quay), Hauptwache and Friedrich-Stoltze-Square.

The main market is Römerberg; this is where the massive Christmas tree is on display, if you can try to make it there on a Wednesday or Saturday at 6pm as they have live Christmas music from the balcony of St Nicolas’ Church. The sights, smells and sounds as you enter Römerberg after dark take your breath away. Rows and rows of wooden stalls beautifully lit with thousands of tiny white lights, a Christmas tree towering above the square, the sound of Christmas music being played by the oversized carousel, the smells of glühwein, cinnamon and gingerbread all with a backdrop of the iconic German traditional half timber buildings instantly gives you that warm fuzzy Christmassy feeling.

In other Cities we’ve been to the same stalls are usually repeated numerous times around the market. Frankfurt is the first market we’ve been to that we actually bought a lot of stuff as the market stalls sell a variety of beautiful and useful products at good prices. We always choose the last weekend in November to visit the Christmas Markets as this is usually the first weekend they open so they’re not that busy, Frankfurt however is the exception as it’s the most visited market in Europe, it’s always busy. 

There is so much delicious food to choose from as you peruse the markets, for lunch Sue decided on a bowl of chilli & I chose a bowl of beef goulash both came with fresh crusty bread for dipping and were priced at just €5 each. For dinner we needed a sit down as we were on our feet most of the day so we chose one of the many restaurants with outdoor seating around the old square. While they didn’t have heaters they did have blankets for our knees, 4 large beers and 2 pizzas cost us just over €33

Any Stone Travel tips?

If you’re feeling the cold and/or just want a sit down I’d highly recommend a visit to Galeria Kaufhof, it’s a huge department store right beside Hauptwache market. I bought my most prized possessions of the whole trip there, two huge nutcrackers for a bargain price of just €12.99 each(!). 

Not only is it great for a spot of shopping the rooftop bar & restaurant on the 7th floor is the perfect place to sit and recharge your batteries while enjoying a spectacular view of Frankfurt’s skyline. The glühwein is actually cheaper than in the market at €2.50 a mug, or you can opt for Prosecco at €2 a glass. They’ve heaters and a DJ on the decks. Pizzas start at €7, while warm ham & cheese pretzels are a mere €2. What’s not to love?! 

Have you been to Frankfurt Christmas Markets? What did we miss that we need to do next time?

Were you following along on Snapchat? Anything you loved or anything you'd like to see more of? We're taking notes before we fly out to Highclere Castle this month for the Downton Abbey Christmas Fair (Eep!)
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Thursday, November 24, 2016

Things That Rustle My Jimmies ~ 24/11/16

I've been somewhat MIA online of late, that's what happens when life happens - I won't be apologising for it though - feeling the need to rustles my OWN jimmies. Here are 5 other things that have been rustling all on their own though....

1. 'Hey, could you call me, I want to ask a favour...'

2. Discovering a puppy accident in brand new slipper socks

3. Missing Christmas events, family get-togethers & ya'know LIFE for never ending overtime...

4. When the course presenter pops up a slide saying 'Role Play'

5. Money grubbing Black Friday 'deals' ANYWHERE but in the USA...

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

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Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Legoland & Sea Life Manchester!

Last week I told you that we went to Manchester for my son’s 5th birthday instead of an expensive party (GENIUS if I do say so myself..). This week I’ll share our experiences in Legoland Discovery Centre and Sea Life Manchester!!

Where are they located in Manchester?
Both are conveniently located beside each other in the intu Trafford Centre which is serviced by numerous buses from Manchester town centre. The journey took us 25 minutes on the X50 bus from outside our hotel, the Premier Inn, Portland Street. We bought the Dayrider group ticket on the bus costing £7/€8.14 for 2 adults & up to 3 children for unlimited travel until 4pm the following day.

How much do tickets cost?
We were invited so our tickets were complimentary. For the best rates book in advance online, tickets are priced £9.95/€11.04pp for entry into either Sea Life or Legoland with an option to buy a combi tickets £17.50/€20.34pp for both attractions. Under 3’s are admitted free of charge.

What’s in Legoland Discovery Centre?
Legoland Discovery Centre is a much smaller condensed version of Legoland Windsor and the admission fee reflects that. It’s aimed at children aged from 3 to 10 years old so it was a perfect fit for our gang, in saying that our 2 year old had a great time too at the numerous Lego building areas. 
There are 12 different zones including a soft play area, 3 rides, Miniland and even a 4D cinema. They recommend allowing 3 hours for a visit, we found spending 3 hours there was great as it allowed us to do everything without rushing. 

All 5 of my children loved it; their favourite bit was Kingdom Quest which was essentially a laser blast ride even the baby managed to hit a target once or twice!

Is it worth paying a visit to Sea Life?
Absolutely, I wasn’t too sure about Sea Life as the children weren’t hugely impressed with Sea Life in Bray when we had visited a couple of years ago. Sea Life Manchester is in a different league, it’s massive with 15 themed zones. The kids get a dive log book at reception to complete with stamps as they make their way around and can collect a reward at the gift shop at the end for a completed book. The lady at reception was lovely with the children and when she saw Cillian wearing a birthday badge she gave him a huge Sea Life birthday badge, he was delighted with himself. 

We saw lots of sea creatures from coral to sharks; they really loved the tunnel where the sharks were circling overhead. My daughter Aoife was enthralled with the seahorses and learned lots of new information about them including a fact that amazed her; the male seahorse gives birth to the babies after the female places the eggs in his belly. Orla’s favourite part was at the end where she got to rub a starfish, Cillian tried a couple of times but he just couldn’t bring himself to touch it!

Is there anything else to do in intu Trafford Centre?
With hundreds of shops you could spend days in the Trafford Centre, they’ve also lots of restaurants & bars to refuel. If you’re pushed for time you can shop online before you go at intu.co.uk and collect your purchases at the Customer Service Desk. Your children can also join the Kids’ Club at the Customer Service Desk and they get a lovely little gift bag full of surprises. There’s lots more entertainment including adventure golf, laser quest and a 20 screen cinema, you’re sure to find something that suits all the family.  

Have you been to Legoland Discovery Centre or Sea Life? What did you think? Let us know below or on my Twitter!!

*Disclaimer ~ we received free admission to Legoland Discovery Centre and Sea Life Manchester, as ever free tickets will not in any way sway my views. They did not request this review. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

How to Swap your Child’s Birthday Party for a City Break without Breaking the Bank!

A couple of years ago I found myself totting up the money we’d spent on a couple of hours in a play centre for my twin daughters birthday and realised that we could get a family weekend away for the same price. So we decided there and then that every second year we’d swap their birthday party for a family weekend city break. A couple of weeks ago saw us do just that for my 5 year old's birthday, we took ourselves off to Manchester for a fun filled weekend.

How did we get there?

I used my old reliable Skyscanner to search out the best prices for the dates we wanted. I bagged a flight to Manchester with Ryanair for just €82.58 for 2 adults and 5 children return including all taxes and charges.

Where did we stay?

After a hunt around the usual discount hotel sites I decided to book with Premier Inn directly as they had a better rate. I booked Premier Inn Manchester City Centre (Portland Street) for 2 nights B&B for 2 adults and 2 children for £175/€197 as it was slap bang in the centre of Manchester. Our room on the 3rd floor was huge with plenty of space even after a king size bed 2 single beds a roll out bed and a travel cot set up. The ladies on reception couldn’t have been more welcoming and even gave Cillian a packet of cookies and a sachet of hot chocolate when they found out it was his birthday.

How did we get from the airport to the hotel?

Easy, it’s a 5 minute walk from the terminal to the train station and we got the train directly to Oxford Road train station which is a 3 minute walk from the hotel. Tickets cost £5/€5.63 for adults and £2.50/€2.82 for children one way, under 5’s travel free. We didn’t get return tickets as Sunday off peak prices were cheaper at £4.80/€5.41 for adults and 50p/56c for children.

What’s to do in Manchester?

Manchester had oodles of things to see and do, so much so that we had to cross some things off our list, we simply couldn’t do them all. We went to the Imperial War Museum, the Science Museum, the Transport Museum, Manchester Art Gallery, Manchester Museum, Trafford Centre, Legoland Discovery Centre and Manchester Sea Life. We managed to pack in lots of culture including a trip to China Town which was right around the corner from our hotel and educational things as well as the fun stuff.

Did we use public transport to get around?

While Manchester has a constantly expanding tram system it doesn’t go to the intu Trafford Centre so we used the bus as the bus stop was conveniently located right in front of our hotel. The cheapest ticket for a family is the Dayrider Group ticket which can be purchased on the bus costing £7/€7.88 for unlimited use across all bus routes. It’s valid for 2 adults and up to 3 children, under 5’s travel free, it expires at 4pm the following day so it suited us perfectly.

Anywhere in particular we’d recommend in Manchester?

Absolutely, if you’re looking for somewhere for breakfast, lunch or afternoon tea I highly recommend a visit to the Sculpture Hall Café in Manchester Town Hall. The Victorian Neo-gothic architecture makes you feel like you’re walking onto a set for a Harry Potter movie. The setting is stunning, leather seats with crisp white linen and sculptures all around, nestled in the middle of a historic building that was completed in 1877. Do you want to know the best bit? The prices are amazing. It cost us just under £30/€33.79 for drinks, fancy cakes for all and a glass of wine for me! I just wish we’d gone there for breakfast; they had my favourite breakfast Eggs Benedict on the menu priced at just £3.95/€4.45. It’s located just across the road from the Art Gallery a stone’s throw from our hotel.

Is there anywhere we wouldn’t recommend?

Unfortunately yes, when we were in the Trafford Centre we decided to go to Mardi Gras (Wetherspoons) for lunch. Let’s just say save your money and go somewhere cleaner with better service.

Cillian had a blast, he was thrilled when they announced it was his birthday on the flight over and he got to see the cockpit when we landed. I let him wear his birthday badge for the weekend so lots of people wished him a happy birthday which he said made him feel famous! Check back next week when I’ll tell you all about Legoland Discovery Centre and Manchester Sea Life.

Have you been to Manchester? Is there anywhere you’d recommend?

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Monday's Moments: 14/11/16

How do, lads, how do indeed. I've been bursting with Monday's Moments of late so couldn't let the day get away from me without thanking the universe for all she's doing for us (aside from the pre-apocalyptic jazz happening in the States right now. Obvs.) 

1. Catching a very early preview of A Monster Calls last Monday. Granted, I'd have preferred to watch it alone in PJs with a bottle of wine, such is the ugly cry potential, but it was one of the most cathartic movies & cathartic cries I've enjoyed in a very long time. 

The entire cinema openly weeping was novel to say the least but the follow up Q&A Patrick Ness was truly special. You'll catch Aaron's review HERE & you'll catch it in Irish cinemas on New Year's Day - Do NOT wear makeup. 

2. Working with Bord Gais Energy this week for the Movies vs Musicals element of the Student Theatre Awards! Aaron & I went to Ghost the musical to compare it to the movie (one of my faves). 

I'll have a full post up on their site very soon but I genuinely have to pinch myself that I get to work with such large brands doing truly enjoyable work. That's thanks to each of you reading, tweeting, following & snapping. I'm so grateful to you, and them, and Aaron. 

3. Co-Hosting the Blogger panel at Blogger Conf this weekend with Darragh Doyle! 

We had a #JustOneThing theme and asked each of our experienced panelists to share just one thing they'd tell other bloggers. It was quickfire, it was interactive & it was truly one of the best received segments in any event I've worked with. 

You'll catch some cracking tweets under #BloggerConfL2G still. You'll also see just how engaged the crowd in the room on the day were. Incredible stuff. (do lemme know if you were there!) 

4. Finally getting to open post yesterday morning & realising one press pack was a cozy blanket & fluffy slipper socks. I mean how apt is that for a Sunday after a hectic week? 

Of course there were slippers in there too - Baxter's eyes were like saucers - speaking of Baxter....

5. How could I let one more week passing without officially introducing the fuzzy peanut that is Baxter Jordan. A teenchy weenchy rescue rottie, he has turned our lives upside down. If you follow on any other platform you'll see he's growing at a rate of knots. 

I was in no way ready for another madra, still now I can't speak openly about losing our Heidi in such quick succession after Diesel but I'm a firm believer in energies having purpose and crossing our paths for a reason. 

I truly believe Heidi & Diesel sent us this little loon to love and to mind because we couldn't have them any more. They're looking down at us trying to save our slippers, I know it. 

Tell me, which of your Moments this week is chasing away your Monday blues? I'd LOVE to hear ...
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Friday, November 11, 2016

A Monster Calls - Movie Review!

Who's In It?

Lewis MacDougallFelicity JonesLiam Neeson, and Sigourney Weaver

What's It About?

As a boy's mother is dying of cancer, a giant tree monster promises him help if he listens to three tails, and tells the monster the fourth.

Any Good?

I think my enjoyment of the film depended on the fact I had context to really show it's heart; the book and film were written by Patrick Ness, finished from the first chapter written by Siobhan Dowd before she died of cancer.

Without context, I found that the conversations were INCREDIBLY rushed. I loved how Liam Neeson was written and voice-acted, but when he says sentences that are at most 5 words long it feels like a bit of a wasted opportunity. 

I did really enjoy most of the performances, with Felicity Jones giving hope to Rogue One and Liam Neeson as the awesome monster - but AGAIN with the fantastic child actor in Lewis McDougall, is it their year or something? I did feel let down by Sigourney Weaver though - it was like she was focusing so hard on her accent that her performance fell a bit flat.

The effects were impressive with the animation for the monster being FANTASTIC, with his face mapped perfectly and Liam Neeson's mo-cap of sitting down actually looked like an old monster doing it.

While I did find the film was a bit flat with it's short dialogue, the performances really pushed it forward and context helped it along even more so. While I thought the film was decent, it REALLY made me want to read the book and see what the dialogue is like without being Hollywood-ified.


Tuesday, November 08, 2016

~Santa Flights from Shannon Airport~

Shannon Airport in conjunction with Ryanair will be operating Santa Flights again this year on the 3rd & 4th of December. Tickets are allotted via a lottery system, and online applications are open NOW.

While tickets are free, there is a booking fee of €10 per ticket - and a portion of this is donated to charity. Our application was picked last year after applying for the previous two years without any luck, as they say third time lucky!

It’s a fantastic experience from start to finish and the whole airport gets involved. Due to severe floods around the region last year we were late getting to the airport as most of the roads were closed; but from the moment we arrived it was full on Christmas spirit as we were whisked over to check-in by the duty manager who was waiting for us at the door.

The mischievous elves were hilarious grabbing my children’s hands for a dance to the festive music that was piped into the check-in area as our seats were promptly allocated and ID’s checked.

As you are taking a flight you will need to go through the normal security checks. We were running late so I left everything in the car including all coats, bags and the baby’s buggy so it took less than a minute to dash through security. Once we got airside it was announced that there would be a slight delay to our flight due to the weather, which we didn’t mind at all as there was plenty of entertainment for the children, with DJ was pumping out Christmas tunes and characters such as Anna and Olaf were there to dance and play with the children.

Every member of staff was fantastic and so jolly, at one stage a flight had landed full of US Army soldiers and my daughter who is army barmy was thrilled - even more so when they joined in the fun and games with the children and got a conga line going that weaved its way through the waiting area! And of course, the husband kept an eye on the children while I had a moment to have a look in Duty Free and made a few purchases!

Flight time is 40 minutes and it goes really fast; the excitement throughout the plane was palpable as we were taking off. Shortly after the Captain turned off seatbelt sign the elves asked some children to keep an eye out their windows for Santa and to let her know as soon as they spotted him. 

A kerfuffle down the back of the plane drew everyone’s attention and all of a sudden Santa(!!!) was there on the plane with us! He had landed his sleigh on the roof safely at 15,000ft above sea level and had just enough time to go up & down the plane to greet every child on board.

After we landed back at Shannon the airport fire department were waiting to let the children sit in the fire engine for a photo, which was a lovely thing to do my sons were delighted! Once back inside every child is given a selection box and there is a photographer there ready to take a family portrait priced at €10.

Our allotted flight was the first flight of the day, and living in Kildare it would have been madness driving down at silly o’clock in the morning so I decided to try and find a deal for somewhere to stay in the region. I found the bargain of the century on hotelclub.com which joined with hotels.com in February 2016 - I booked a 2 bedroom house in East Clare Golf Village for €28 for the 7 of us, that’s including all taxes & charges. Even our Elf on the shelf came with us!

But the icing on the cake for myself was getting to drop into the wonderful Durty Nelly’s beside Bunratty Castle for an early dinner on the way home!

If you’d like tickets you should apply as soon as you can, applications close on 9th November, and I'll post another link to the form below!