On the lead up to Christmas things always get pretty hectic. Last year was no exception. On the Thursday night I had double booked, but as I had committed to the Blogger Dining Club first, I cancelled my other plans and stayed loyal to my virtual and not-so-virtual friends. I finished work, but had to run some last minute errands in town. Of course I had to do them on a day when it was chucking it down. And of course on the day it was chucking it down I had to forget my umbrella at home. And of course the one day I was going out for a fancy meal after work I forgot to pack some spare shoes to dress up my work clothes with.

So when the time came to join the group at Don Giovanni’s, I looked like an absolute mess. My hair, my bags, my coat… all were soaked and as I walked in to a restaurant filled with Christmas parties my heart sank at how unglamorous I was. All those times Mo has lectured me about making an effort to look half decent, well I really wish I had listened this one time. But I had nothing to worry about as I headed to where the others were waiting at the bar and Georgie, our chief hostess, swiftly took my bags and coat and ordered me a drink (non-alcoholic obvs) to relax, assuring me I looked fine (lies but I appreciated the gesture) and that now that I was here I should just relax and enjoy.

And that, is exactly what I did. There were familiar faces and lots of new ones too. Some full time bloggers, some part-time bloggers, Georgie had got together a pretty great mix of talent and after lots of talk on how crazy December had been we all headed to our specially decorated party table.

Georgie and the team at Don Giovanni’s had done an exceptional job of putting together a magical looking table for us to spend the evening at. The flower decorations by the Flower Lounge were gorgeous and gave our space such a cosy feel, everything from the place cards to the menus had been thought out and beautifully arranged. We had some lovely gifts on the table too, few boozey treats – not my cup of tea for obvious reasons, some honey water from Just Bee and a gorgeous gift box from Kiehls. I’m not a beauty blogger, but I am currently going through a skincare upheaval so it was very much welcomed and I’m currently putting them to the test…

 

 

My seat was right at the end, and I enjoyed the company of new friends that night Donna (I’ve actually met Donna before but it was nice to spend proper time together), Alice and Laura. After gushing over our gifts, crackers and getting the photographs done and dusted, it was time to sit back and do what we were here to do. Try out the food. Well that and make new friends, but I feel we’d already accomplished that part.

I had been excited about my meal for days and I was right to be. For starters I chose the JC Octopus – Ricotta mousse topped with grilled octopus, pickled radish, micro basil and slow roasted cherry tomatoes. For mains I couldn’t resist the Ravioli Aragosta – Homemade ravioli lobster in a lobster bisque with a touch of chilli.

 

 

The octopus was probably the best I’ve had in the UK, coming second to what Mo and I tried at Ocana in Barcelona. It wasn’t chewy in the slightest, perfect texture and I loved the sharpness of lemon with the cherry tomatoes and ricotta. The homemade ravioli was equally as good, the portion was quite generous though so I was struggling to get through. I’ve mentioned before that there is no shortage of Italian restaurants here in Manchester, Don Giovanni was one that had slipped off my radar, which is quite surprising as I don’t work too far from it. But the service was fab, the food was good and the atmosphere was cosy and intimate. I definitely want to take Mo back for him to try the octopus. Literally can’t wait to eat that again!

 

 

The evening ended with some festive tipples and Georgie, bless her, had made sure that the bar prepared an exciting non-alcoholic treat for me to enjoy. It’s things like this that really touch me, when people go out of their way to make sure you’re accommodated. One of the things about being in the UK, wow drinking is a really big deal here. But thankfully being a non-drinker is becoming just as popular these days, meaning people like me who remain alcohol-free can still go out and have a lovely evening with friends without feeling left out. And you know what bloggers are the best bunch, because we all have so much in common! We’re all some kind of super cool girl boss. We’re all practically running our own businesses and we’re all trying our best to balance life and make a difference.

2017 was the year I realised that no matter how well or how little I know my fellow bloggers, I do genuinely love being around them. They motivate and inspire me to push forward and hey, it might seem like all we do is take pictures and chat on social – well in actual fact the good thing about blogger events is we all know the drill and we can help each other get all the important stuff out the way so we can sit back and do exactly what we did that evening… just enjoy being together.

Can’t wait to see everyone again next month 🙂

 

 

*** Big thanks to Georgie for inviting me to the Blogger Dining Club and to her and Don Giovanni’s for organising such a wonderful evening. Of course all pictures are my own, apologies for them not being so great again, I was having a real battle with my own shadow that evening as it kept ruining my shots! ***

 

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There’s so much to do in Manchester these days. So many different experiences and fun outings for friends and families to enjoy. But did you know that Manchester is in fact home to the first IMAX Virtual Reality gaming centre in the whole of Europe. Not just the UK, but Europe!?!

Technology in gaming is advancing at a crazy rate, and VR centres are popping up all over the place. My sister and G recently went to a VR cinema when they were in Amsterdam and although it wasn’t as interactive as they expected, they enjoyed the experience.

After scoffing a home cooked meal, the four of us ventured over to the Trafford Centre to enjoy an evening exploring another world, another dimension in fact. I talk about and visit the Trafford Centre quite a bit, but that’s because they really do know how to have fun. Shopping is something I am not at all a fan of, but this isn’t just a centre to buy things, it’s a great place to be entertained. And now, up by the Odeon cinema, sits the brand new IMAX VR.

 

 

It might not look like much, looks like a pop up in fact, but there is no need for fancy frills when what you’re paying for is not real.

Think of this as a cross between a cinema and an arcade, where you are well and truly in the driving seat. There are currently 8 VR games on offer, across 10 pods. We didn’t try them all, but between us we tried enough to get a feel for the different scenarios. Adam walked us through and explained the game concepts and how they worked, the whole team there are great at gauging which games suit what you’re after. Some experiences are seated, some are standing and fully immersive.

 

 

After our grand tour and a quick watch of the safety video, it was time to get stuck in. Bit unsure myself, I decided the boys could be the first guinea pigs and we sent them on a space flight.

 

 

I knew VR would be an experience we would all enjoy, but I did not anticipate how enjoyable watching someone play VR would be. My sis and I were in hysterics as we watched the boys shoot off into space and explore the zero gravity world around them. It was laughs throughout actually, as even if one person is immersing themselves in a game, there are screens where you as a bystander can follow what they’re doing, while watching them act crazy in the real world. There were so many hilarious moments, I feel I need to apologise for the lack of decent imagery. I was swept up in wanting to go virtual I kind of ignored everything else. Luckily I recorded some video footage whilst we played, I look forward to sharing that later.

Between us, we tried the following:

 

Space Flight: Orbital Emergency

This is pretty much what it says on the tin. No real gaming involved here, this one is purely a VR experience, a great place to start if this is all new to you. Sit down, strap in and enjoy the trip away from Earth. You’ll love the view!

 

Justice League

Ever wanted to experience life as a superhero? well now you can. I took it upon myself to test out this mammoth responsibility. I started out as Wonder Woman, took me a few minutes to adjust but once I got my bearings those parademons didn’t stand a chance. I also tried to be Flash, but that didn’t go so well. You want a tip? Don’t skip the tutorial, it could be the difference between running like Flash or continually crashing into lorries and trains.

The boys tried life as Batman and Superman, there was a lot of competition in this part of the VR world… lets just say the topic of high scores caused some fun dramas 🙂

 

Star Wars: Droid repair bay

There you are far away in the galaxy. You are tasked with repairing Poe Damerons’s BB8 and his droid friends. Do I need to say more?

 

Star Wars: Trials on Tatooine

Ok if I told you spending time with BB8 and his pals was enough I was wrong. Because when you suit up and head over to Tatooine you get more. You get to feel the FORCE. Ok not the force, but it’s pretty close. Here you can fire up a light sabre and use it to defend yourself against storm troopers. Once again, do I need to say more?!?

 

 

Archangel

Want to shoot and experience life as a transformer? Well then this is a game to try. Four of you can play at once, you’re not all playing together but you can actually see each other within the game, it’s quite bizarre. This is a game that involves tactics, there’s a fair bit of shooting and some serious explosions. Amongst the group, it was one of the favourites.

 

Eagle Flight multiplayer

We ended with this game and what a game to end with! So the best thing about Eagle flight is all four of us could play together. Teams of two, against each other. It is pretty epic. I must admit I was pretty rubbish at it, I thought the game was like quidditch, but it’s actually probably more like capture the flag. You embody the form of an eagle soaring over the streets of Paris protecting your territory. I’ve mentioned many a time that I have an issue with flights, so this experience was absolutely liberating. It was bizarre being able to face my fears, knowing I still had my feet firmly on the ground.

We all thrived on this game, being able to see and compete against each other really took this whole VR evening to another level. We soared, we dived, we crashed… the flying was so realistic I actually left that evening with a bit of motion sickness. I need to point out – it was totally worth it.

 

So, the question is, is it worth it?

When I first looked at the pricing, pretty much paying a pound a minute for some games, I thought it seemed a bit steep. After experiencing it though, I wouldn’t think twice.

VR is becoming ever more popular these days, Samsung offer out headsets with their phones, consoles offer home kits and companies even use them as selling tools. But the quality varies substantially. There’s the kind of VR where you are stationery in a moment exploring a set, following a pattern or there are adventures like this IMAX VR where you are completely immersed within a fantasy.

 

 

Seven minutes does not sound like a long time at all, but the seven minutes of game time once I had embodied Wonder Woman, felt long enough for me to actually feel exhausted from a full combat experience. As Adam helped me kit up ready for the game the image of myself looking strange connected to a bunch of wires immediately vanished the moment I put on the head gear and a new world appeared around me. ALL around me. My brain actually adjusted to being in that game, and no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t envisage what I might look like from the outside.

There’s so much talk these days about not getting out enough, not enjoying the fresh air, kids being stuck inside glued to screens all day… hey I’m one hundred percent one of those people who don’t like to encourage too much screen time. But that doesn’t mean I’m totally against it, and that we still can’t enjoy entertainment such as this. In fact, after a robot inspired day at MOSI I remember reading an article by Marc Palaus, a neuroscientist at Spains Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, where he had investigated whether games changed the brain. Some of their research proved that video games actually contributed to the correct functioning of our brain and in some cases can even improve it.

So maybe it’s time we all get rid of our prejudices on video games and gamers and accept them for what they are: a truly great source of entertainment.

 

 

*** Huge thanks to IMAX VR at the Odeon and of course Adam, Cam, John and Connor for looking after us that evening. The passion and enthusiasm you showed really added to our experience and you can guarantee this won’t be the last you see of us, we’ve got some high scores to beat ???? ***

 

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bents winter food market

 

I moved to the UK back in 1999 and boy were things different here. Well compared to what I was used to anyway. Streets were different, houses were different, days out were different. One of the strangest things I remember the first year of our return, was learning that a trip to the garden centre in England, was not actually just a trip to a garden centre… it was a day out??

Does this happen anywhere else in the world? Or is it just a UK thing I wonder?

Honestly, I came to realise that nothing is more exciting than stumbling across a new garden centre and I’m not even any good at gardening. Garden centres to me usually mean… a nice hearty lunch, lots of beautiful plant life, great gift sections and home and garden ware that’s ready to be the envy of all your friends and family.

Sorry… wait, I take it back. There is something more exciting than stumbling across a new on. And that is, taking a trip back to an old one!

The best ‘old’ one of the lot? Bents.

Ahh Bents.

Many, many years ago my dad took my mum to Bents garden centre and ever since my mum has taken countless friends and of course her family to experience the joy of a day out in Bents. A few weeks ago I was invited to the launch of their new Winter Food market, a brand new venture they had decided to embark on after many years of contemplating.

For me, no trip to Bents is complete without taking mother in tow, so Mo was left at home that evening and instead Mum and I scheduled some quality time together. It had been a long time since my last visit, thinking back it must have been at least 6 years (at least). When we pulled up into the car park I was literally gobsmacked by the sheer size of it.

 

 

Was it always this big? Or perhaps the addition of hundreds and thousands of tiny fairy lights made it seem so much grander. We drove into the vast car park and found ourselves walking through the food market entrance. Yes the food market. The last time I visited Bents the food section was quite small. A few counters, few shelves… but now there were fresh patisserie counters, a whole freezer section, fresh fruit and vegetables… and of course no area of Bents is complete without fantastic displays interspersed amongst it all.

 

 

It was so hard not to spend all our time shopping for groceries, but we wanted to visit the market first before spending time looking around (I had just come straight from work and food was very much required).

Heading out into the outdoor garden section, there in the corner sits the new Winter Food Market, a collection of mini huts, picnic tables, outdoor heaters and of course lots of Bents decorating touches. We walked into the evenings private event and took a stroll around the food stalls on offer. When the Christmas Markets come to Manchester, a year can not go by where I don’t indulge in a fresh crepe on a cold evening. So I was glad to hear this market revolved around food.

But not just any food, food for everyone. Yes to my pleasant surprise I have finally found a market where I can queue up and order a HOT DOG. You have no idea how good that feels. And yes ok it’s a vegan hot dog, but you know what, it tasted damn good! If vegan hot dog doesn’t take your fancy, there is an incredible pulled mushroom roll you need to buy and try. Truth be told I do not like mushrooms. And yet, here was a sandwich full of them and it was the most delicious thing I’d eaten in a very, very long time! There was a sweets stall with fresh waffles – and crepes and of course one dedicated to drinks. Again, even the hot drink section, instead of just brewing mulled wine like every Christmas market does, there was also a non-alcoholic apple toddy, infused with ginger and cinammon. Oh but you have to try the hot white chocolate – up there with my favourite Slatterys one, thick and creamy but not overly sweet.

 

 

It was pretty busy that night, tables were full but we spotted a couple of picnic table end seats available and the family on the other side of it invited us to perch and enjoy our meal sat down. We happily accepted, my mum completely drawn in by their beautiful baby girl. As it turned out, they were members of the Bents family. In all my years of coming to Bents, I had no idea this was a homegrown family business. In fact, Bents are celebrating their 80th year and we learned that family is an important part of everything they do. If Mum and I didn’t love Bents before, we certainly have an extra soft spot for it now. The hospitality and friendliness demonstrated not only by the famous family but also the staff on the night really blew us away.

 

 

There was entertainment playing on the stage in the corner, the lights twinkled, we were surrounded by flowers and plants, there was a lovely atmosphere. The Open Skies Glass House at Bents has one of those magical roof systems, where the panels can open to let in the fresh air, the cool crisp chill of winter. But unlike the markets in town – as soon as the rain decides to fall those panels can close right back up keeping you safe and dry and allow you to crack on with your evening.

 

 

Before we knew it, closing time was upon us. What we thought would be a quick visit to the markets turned into a whole evening out. Time had flown and it wasn’t long (a week later to be precise) before we were back to properly explore the store and purchase the odds and sods we needed. Return visits are so important, I’ve mentioned before people are always quick to point out to me that I must only receive good service when people know I’m a blogger. Well you know what, if people want to be rude, blogger or not they will be rude. I’m a firm believer that so long as you treat people with respect they will return the favour. And anyway, I can’t ever remember anything BUT good service at Bents, so the fact that we are still receiving it should be of no surprise.

It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the happenings of the city, I feel so guilty having neglected places like Bents over the last few years. The opening of the food court is a real game changer, Mo and I recently bought some frozen pastries to cook for guests we had staying over and they were fantastic! Although my top food court tip – Honey dew pomelo fruit is absolutely AMAZING. You will not find a pomelo this beautifully sweet in a normal supermarket, if you find it at all!

All in all, I’m so glad Bents decided to follow their dreams and finally open this Winter Food Market experience, I think it’s a great addition to the centre and gives us just another reason to return.

Who am I kidding, like we ever needed another reason 😉

 

Fan of Garden centres? Do you treat it as a day trip too? Have you been to Bents? 

 

Few details:
The Winter Food Market is open now until 22nd December.
Mon – Tues 12-5pm
Weds – Frid 12-8pm
Sat 12-5pm
Sun 12-4pm

 

*** Thank you to Bents for inviting my mother and I to taste the goods at the Winter Food Market. The hospitality we were shown was exceptional. Of course all opinions and photos are my own ***

 

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sky high afternoon tea with Roberts bakery

 

Man I hate heights. Really really hate them. I remember walking along the top of a castle wall in Harlech crouched down to ground level because I was scared of swaying and falling off. I remember the time we tried to make it to the top of the TV tower in Rotterdam and I had to hold G’s hand up the stair because the wind was so strong and at the top I plastered myself against the wall to once again, stop myself from falling off. It’s funny because I LOVE a good view point, I love climbing to the top but somehow the moment my mind concocts a way for me to tumble to my death… then the knees turn to jelly and I physically struggle to move or enjoy myself.

So, naturally, when the WeBloggers decided to meet up and experience afternoon tea on a sky high platform suspended by a crane, I happily accepted (poor them right?).

My fear of heights has always been a bit of a running joke amongst friends and family, as most of them have had the pleasure (for them, not me) of experiencing my comical solutions to dealing with my issues. I decided this was a great opportunity for me to spend time with my WeBloggers who I hadn’t seen in yeeeears, to enjoy some good food and drink and to show my friends and family that I could do it.

I arrived on time, bumping into a new blogger friend Kirsten, from the LIFB Issue, where we came off the tram and saw this mysterious sky high dining table in action. Didn’t look that high, what was I so worried about?

 

 

Great. On we went to registration, where we were briefed by some of the Roberts Bakery team, the event organisers. Have you heard of them? I hadn’t and couldn’t believe that considering how much I love bread, I had never seen them in the supermarkets. This was a great opportunity to learn more about the brand, and judging by the way of their brand promotion… I liked what I saw.

 

 

Wristbanded. Boarding pass in hand. Security brief completed. Valuables locked away. Off we went.

It had started to rain so we all gathered close around the table, under the canopy and I just happened to be stood by a corner seat. A second later I was somehow being strapped into said seat, whilst the security chap chirpily pointed out that I had the best seat in the house as I could turn all the way round to enjoy the view.

Yes you heard that right, turn all the way round.

No thanks was the thought that came to my mind, and after asking him to return and re-tighten my harness and tuck my chair closer to the table so I was well and truly wedged in, I waited for all the others to take their place.

All safe, the infamous opening track to Star Wars bellowed around us as we rose gracefully into the air. It was beautiful. Magical. The views as I turned were spectacular and…

It’s lies.

 

 

At the start I was terrified, not even the excitement of having my favourite opening sequence song made me feel better. The wind didn’t help and being on the corner left me feeling very vulnerable. Internalising a whole load of fear and anxiety whilst trying to be a cool-I-can-handle-anything blogger was harder than I thought. But I think I pulled it off 😉

I say it’s lies, but actually it did become the truth. It was quite magical being that high up and surreal to be doing it at a dinner table looking out over Greater Manchester.

 

see I did calm down eventually 🙂

 

Roberts bakery knew exactly how to put us at ease too, by serving up a scrumptiously innovative afternoon tea. Their exploratory had created a range of new flavours and the meal presented to us was created using some of their hot off the press and a number of secret squirrel items…

 

 

As soon as the food landed in front of me I started to relax and enjoy myself. It was so nice catching up with fellow bloggers, Diane, Holly, Kat, Jacinta and Laura. We worked our way through the tiers, Roberts bakery hosts explaining their new creations as we went on, they were so good at making us all comfortable and they kept the tea flowing!

 

 

The marbled red pesto and pink peppercorn was the most unusual one I tried, we enjoyed trying to work out the spices and tastes, sharp pepper flavour definitely was a bit of a talking point. There was even mini loaves with turmeric and ones with cheesy centres!

If I had to pick a favourite there is no question whatsoever that the sticky toffee scone with soft fudge and sticky dates (doesn’t it just SOUND amazing?!?!) was my winner. I could’ve eaten a whole pack and I will most definitely be purchasing some the minute it hits the shelves! (I look out for it all. the. time.)

The sky high afternoon tea was one of the most memorable dining experiences I’ve had to date, and it was so nice to share it with such great company too. The hospitality we received from Etihad and Roberts Bakery was fantastic. Their campaign was tailored around #EmbraceTheNew and they sure had found a way for us all to do just that!

Once back on firm ground we were all quite excitedly chatting about how nice it was to do something different, without having to leave Manchester! I called my fantastic four team hoping to hear words of pride – which there were some, but my plan backfired a little as I was faced predominantly with words of upset for not including them ????.

We ended the afternoon with a giant goody bag and Kirsten and I shared a tram ride back to the City as it was back to work for me.

I was a little bit disappointed that none of us were able to get a photo of us actually suspended up there, but as it turns out a friend of Mo’s in Leeds shared a tweet from his friend in Manchester – who managed to take a pic of us up above the Etihad! (credit for this pic goes to @thegingerwig)

 

 

My mum came to stay over the weekend and it was the perfect opportunity to crack open the Roberts bloomer loaf and give it a try. I’m not usually one for seeded bread but this was delicious! We caned the loaf within a few days, it worked perfectly on it’s own or teamed up with Mo’s marvellous masala egg.

 

 

Looking forward to seeing some of the new and exciting flavours on the shelf in the near future and it’s time to hunt for a new experience to challenge myself with…

The sky’s the limit! (right?)

 

 

What’s the most unusual dining experience you’ve ever had?

 

 

*** Thank you to Roberts Bakery and WeBlogNorth for inviting me on this very special afternoon tea. Of course all opinions and photos are my own (unless stated) ***

 

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When the ever so fabulous Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) in Manchester invite you to the launch of Manchester Science Festival, there’s not a cat in hell’s chance my crew and I are missing out. Actually, regardless of whether it’s a launch night or simply a new exhibition or installation, it doesn’t take much to entice me to this venue.

Over the last few years one of my top blogging conferences, BlogOn, has been held at MOSI ensuring that I am guaranteed at least a couple of visits. If you have not been it’s definitely a destination you need to add to your list of must-see’s – whether you’re a local or a visitor.

But this time – well all my attention could be focused to the subject at hand, and in this instance that subject was that of artificial intelligence.

YES.

How exciting!?!? What an interesting, relevant, futuristic issue to learn about. I was extremely excited to see what they had in store for us and needless to say I was not disappointed…

Robot dancers, electronic sets, I don’t drink beer but there was a robotic arm that was serving it, it was all go when we walked in.

 

 

After settling in, grabbing a couple of drinks and a tasty noodle snack that was very kindly being passed round, it was time to preview the headline act – the robots.

It’s funny, because what I didn’t realise was how far back robots actually date. It’s always seemed like a thought of the future but it’s very much an idea of the past and the present.

The curation of this exhibit is fantastic and the robots themselves are sensational. You can learn about current research… interaction (you have to meet pepper!)… the various uses….

 

 

Now the last thing I want to do is drone on and on about everything I did and saw. I created a mini highlights video at the end of this blog post which gives a glimpse into it, but honestly the best thing to do is get online here and book tickets. If you’re even remotely interested in the technological advances of robots (the ethics of the situation interested me) then this is a great day out for big and little kids.

Also open for preview that night was interactive spider inspired installation known as ‘Tape.’ So stating the obvious, the whole thing is made from tape (what are the chances). Hearing about it all I thought, ok this could be cool and would be interesting to see. What I didn’t gather was the sheer scale of it and I had no idea before the night that we could actually climb INTO it. Yes, you can tap into that spidey-sense and crawl into the tape web to envisage the life of an arachnid.

 

 

Rewinding back to before we made the leap up into tape, we visited the spider activity area upstairs where a specialist had on display a number of creepy crawlies. They were pretty amazing to look at to be honest, definitely worth a trip up the stairs.

 

 

The Science Festival is only on until Sunday 29th October – there’s absolutely loads on and I’d recommend you check out this link here to see what’s happening.

BUT

If you don’t have the chance to make it to any of the festival events, don’t worry because ‘Robots’ is on until April next year 🙂

Robots and science festival aside, MOSI is a great destination point if you’re looking for something to do within the City. Manchester has a fantastic history of innovation and tech creativity and most of it is documented at this museum. The main collection houses parts of the first commercially available computer (the FIRST?!) and some models used by John Dalton to demonstrate his atomic theory.

It’s an inspiring place for everyone and best of all, it’s super entertaining too!

As promised I’ll end this post with my video highlights from last week, and please do let me know what you think if you do decide to go and visit!

 

 

Have you been to MOSI? What’s your favourite museum thats fun and educational? 

 

 

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