Friday, 21 February 2014

Cocktail Masterclass at the Alchemist, Manchester.


I've looked into doing cocktail masterclasses before but this is the best value one  I've seen by far, you need to have at least 6 people to book a cocktail masterclass here, it is £25 each and for that you get to make and drink 3 cocktails. The cocktails themselves are about £7.50 so for not much more you get to make them yourself. I managed to get 8 work friends to come but we didn't really know what to expect. We thought maybe we'd be in a room separate from the bar, other cocktail making classes I've heard of are just done at the table and the measures of alcohol are poured out for you ready and you just assemble it but when we got there we were told we'd be doing it at the bar.
 We all sat at bar stools down one end of the bar and Ben the barman made the first cocktail that we'd be doing - the French martini apparently the only reason it's called martini is because of the martini glasses this had vodka, chambord (which is a blackberry liqueur) cranberry juice and sugar syrup topped with a pineapple foam and raspberry dust. We all had a taste so that we know what it's supposed to taste like, It sort of tastes a bit like rhubarb and custard sweets it's delicious, very quaffable! So he talked us through how we'd be making it, using the cocktail shaker and using counting to measure out the liquids - which lead to some differences in measures from one person to the next I think some people were intentionally counting slowly!! Next we each got to go around behind the bar two at a time to make the drinks, I was a bit nervous actually I was convinced that I'd drop it or spill it everywhere but it was such good fun, first measuring it out, then then shaking it, then straining it and the last bit you carefully squirt the pineapple foam out of the pressurised container you had to do it carefully, Ben said I had a good technique at that! I was very proud especially when it looked and tasted just as it should and it was great watching the others take turns at doing it whilst we drank our cocktails.
The next one was a passionfruit mojito, Ben told us all about the origins of the drink and the history behind this cocktail. This was one we made it in the glass with crushed ice, it had Bacardi, lime juice, passionfruit sugar syrup, a dash of soda, mint leaves and passion fruit. Then you use a swizzle stick/ spoon to mix the ingredients around the glass then top with more ice and a passionfruit half. I didn't use as much mint leaves in mine because I'm not that keen. It was really nice and refreshing. It would be great for summer.
The last one, 'Smokey Old Fashioned' we didn't really get to make this one, it's prepared for you and then you just pour it into the glass but it's very impressive. It's made using wild turkey bourbon, maple syrup, Jerry Thomas' bitters, oak smoke poured onto an ice ball. The oak smoke is administered by a really cool appliance it's called a smoking gun you put oak chips in the top and smoke comes out of the end. Obviously we weren't allowed to use it but apparently you can buy them (they are around £60). The cocktail was ok, I'm not a lover of whiskey but it was drinkable and I really liked the smokey flavour and it was actually really nice when I had coca cola put in it for me! 

We were so impressed with the cocktail masterclass, the fact that you got to go behind the bar to do it like a professional!, that you get to do a few different techniques, also that Ben spent so much time with us it was about 2hrs in all and it was very informative.

When the cocktail masterclass finished we decided to have a meal there. I had never had food there before but it was really nice and reasonable too. I had a steak sandwich with salt and pepper fries which was delicious and everyone else's food looked really good too and then I finished off the night with another two cocktails ...a Peach Bellini and a Strawberry Bellini, needless to say I was a bit tipsy by the end of it! 

It was a good night had by all and I would definitely recommend it,

Thanks for reading! 

Abigail x 

Monday, 17 February 2014

36 hours in Belfast


When looking for a city break Belfast didn't spring straight to mind. Many of my recent choices of travel have been based on how cheap the flights are by searching on sky scanner. After finding a cheap flight to Belfast I had a look into it and it sounded really good.

Travel 
The flights from Liverpool to Belfast were good arriving at about 8am Saturday morning and leaving at about 8pm Sunday. The flights were with easyjet and cost us £100 for 2 return tickets.
On arrival at belfast international airport we needed to get the 300 airport express bus to and from Belfast which was about 30 mins and cost £10.50 return each. All in all the entire travel took about 4hr including our drive to Liverpool, dropping the car at the skypark car park ( I booked these using my tesco clubcard vouchers to get £10 off so that cost £15.99) flights and transfers. 

Hotel 
The prices for hotels were a little bit more expensive than normal because of it being half term and valentines weekend, we wanted to stay central but we didn't want to pay too much, there is a travelodge which is usually quite cheap but this was £99 for the night which I found quite expensive. As we only were staying for 1 night I thought we'd stay at somewhere a bit nicer for a bit more. As I'd been searching for hotels I had seen Hotel Europa and been told about about by one of my friends on Instagram it was actually the most bombed hotel and throughout Belfast's troubles it spent a lot of time with its windows boarded up which earned it the name of the hardboard hotel. It looked really nice and I really felt like it's a landmark of Belfast  in itself. I booked the hotel through onhotels.com which by far had the cheapest price for this hotel it was £118 for a double room with full Irish buffet breakfast. 
The room was lovely, it was small but it it felt luxurious. The bed was huge and so comfortable. Each room has a little rubber duck that you can keep. 
The hotel it's self was lovely, at night we went to the piano bar on the second floor later on for a night cap before going to bed it was very nice and busy too. 
The breakfast was amazing. It had a cooked breakfast as well as continental breakfast, cereals and fruit juices. We had the cooked breakfast which included bacon, sausage, mushroom, grilled tomato, fried soda bread, white or black pudding, a choice of fried, poached or scrambled eggs. All the ingredients were locally produce and delicious. Staff were very attentive asking if we'd like more tea or coffee. I was very full by the end! 


Attractions
You can't go to Belfast without going to the titanic quarter. I had planned that we would spend all day Saturday here but we found that we only had time on the Saturday to do the Titanic experience and the Titanic dry dock and pumphouse so we went back on Sunday to do The SS Nomadic.

Titanic experience (£14.75 per person)
The Titanic experience building is amazing and there are great photo opportunities to be had outside, however I was less impressed with the actual attraction. It is a self guided tour which is usually staged entry but we were told it's not too busy today so you can go straight through. The first area was about Belfast the linen and ship building industries and how they grew, there are a few interactive displays which were good but a lot of reading in dim light, it felt far too busy in this first bit which made it hard to look at things also it didn't really flow well because you didn't really know which way to go so you didn't miss anything. The next bit focused on the building of the titanic you saw a part of the arroll gantry which was a third of the size of the gantry that the workers would have worked on, you then get in a lift that takes you to the top of it, and a guide tells you about the conditions for the workers. Next there is a small ride that takes you around the shipbuilding yard. I felt that the ride was a bit pointless and probably were the majority of the ticket price goes to paying for. The next bit was about the launch and for the first time you come out into the light as there are big windows in this bit. Before that I was starting to get a headache from reading in dim light. Next it showed us how the Titanic was fitted out and my favourite bit of the tour was a bit were you stood in a room and a tour of the Titanic was projected on the walls including the famous staircase. Next it told you about how the passengers and the events leading up to the titanics tragic end and you hear the survivors accounts of what happened. Then the next bit was about what happened afterwards, the news surrounding it and the inquiry into what happened. This was all very interesting. The tour finishes in a cinema that shows you the wreckage of the Titanic. I felt the second half of the exhibition was better. I did feel shattered by the time we'd finished the experience but this might have had something to do with me being up so early too. I enjoyed it mostly but I did feel that it was overpriced and having gone to the two other attractions in the titanic district I do think those were better because they were real parts of the history of the titanic.
We went to have lunch in the Galley cafe which was great, we had sub sandwiches which were delicious I had chicken with pesto and Matthew had a salami and mozzarella sub which was so big they were cut into two so we had half each. They cost £4.75 each which seems a bit pricey but the were so good. 


Titanic dry dock and pumphouse (£8 for two with tour and free tea/coffee with a voucher from livingsocial)
The dry dock is about 15mins walk from the Titanic experience the weather was on and off showers  and it was blowing a gale so this wasn't a great walk. We had the voucher which entitled us to a free tour which started at 2pm, when we got there there was a massive downpour so we had to wait 5 mins for it to die down a bit as the majority of the tour takes place outside. Luckily by the time we'd been given the tour of the pumphouse the sun had come out again. The tour was really informative and there was only us and two other people on the tour. The tour guide had photographs of the titanic when it was in the dock so you really get an idea of how big the Titanic was. After the tour we had time to walk around on our own and take photos. We got our free cup of tea and coffee when we got back to the pumphouse and warmed back up before walking back.


SS Nomadic (£6.50 each)
The SS Nomadic is the last surviving White Star Line ship. If you see only one titanic related attraction it should be this one, it's excellent value for money you are given a tour which lasts about an hour and then you can stay on and explore as much as you like. You are actually encourage to touch things, try things on and play the games, even the toilets are working crapper toilets! The tour takes you around the boat and through Nomadic's history from being the tender to Titanic and Olympic, then it's uses within the two world wars, then being tender to Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth before being made into a floating entertainment complex in Paris to being bought in a delapidated state and being brought back to it's birthplace in Belfast to be lovingly restored to its former glory.  The tour also features holograms of the crew explaining there jobs on the ship. The tour guide was very good, it was a large group (with wide age range) but she kept everyone engaged and was really informative. We both loved it and would definitely recommend it.


Belfast Landmarks
Belfast City Hall - this is a really impressive building in the centre of Belfast, built in 1906 out of Portland stone, it looks particularly good lit up night. 


Albert Memorial Clock- erected in 1865 to commemorate Queen Victoria consort, Prince Albert.

St George's Market - this building dates back to 1896, it now houses a weekend market, Friday - variety market, Saturday - food & garden market, Sunday - craft, variety, garden & food market.
We went on Sunday morning and I loved it there was loads of things to buy there are greengrocers, a fish stall, a butchers, bakeries, craft stalls, jewellery stalls, local painting, antiques and gifts. There are also caf├ęs and world food stalls. 


Victoria Square shopping centre - I wouldn't normally put a shopping centre on a list of landmarks but this one is well worth a visit it has a huge glass dome on top and you can take a glass lift up to a viewing platform where you can see spectacular views of the Belfast skyline. 


Sampson & Goliath cranes - these are twin shipbuilding gantry cranes that stand on the Harland and Wolff shipyard that dominates the Belfast skyline.


Big fish - This is a 10' long printed ceramic mosaic fish sculpture in Donegall quay. 


The Crown Bar (or Crown Liqour saloon) - the national trust owns this building and you can see why it is an outstanding example of a Victorian gin palace, it is ornate inside and out. In the bar there are private booths made out of dark wood with ornate glass panels. It's like stepping back in time. Upstairs they have a dining room, as this pub was directly opposite our hotel and it was such a lovely place we decided to have food here too. It was really good - I had steak and black pepper sausages, champ, onion rings and the tastiest gravy I've ever had it was delicious. Matthew had the burger and that was delicious too. I think it's my new favourite place!



Everyone we met was so lovely and could not do enough for us, I loved the lovely singsongy accent "would you like a wee glass with your coke" it's so nice and friendly.

I have really fallen in love with Belfast and Northern Ireland and there is so much still that we haven't seen, I'd especially like to do a walk on the Belfast hills and up to cave hill and I definitely want to come back to explore the causeway coast. 

I want to say thank you to my Instagram friends especially the ones who live in Belfast and Ireland who gave me lots of tips and hints of where to go and what to see when I said I was thinking of going it really helped me to make the most of our time there.

Thank you for reading, now I'm off to plan my next trip! 

Abigail x