Rainy Day Attractions to Beat The Winter Blues

Posted on: January 31st, 2011 Posted by

Does anyone else feel like this winter has lasted forever? With no end to the cold, dull and dreary days in sight, and the February half term looming, you might be wondering how to keep your children entertained without having to face the rain and wind. Fortunately for all you frustrated mums and dads and bored kids out there, we’ve put together a list of great, indoor attractions which you can enjoy even when the weather leaves something to be desired.

* Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

The award winning Our Dynamic Earth exhibition takes visitors on a journey from the Big Bang to present day. The state of the art museum combines scientific fact with a healthy dash of fun, presenting a series of 14 interactive galleries which tell the story of our planet and her varied environments. Discover the chill of the tundra as you watch the breathtaking Northern Lights flicker overhead and come face to face with dinosaurs when you travel back in time to prehistoric Earth.

* Jorvik Viking Centre, York

Jorvik Viking Centre is a world class museum and visitor attraction in the heart of York. The recently refurbished centre offers a glimpse into past, with a reconstructed Viking village providing the main focus of attraction. Lifelike animated figures, sounds and authentic smells create a realistic atmosphere, perfect for inspiring the imagination of your youngsters.  The museum also tells the story of how the Viking village was uncovered by archaeologists in the 1970s, with authentic artefacts, video and audio displays.

* Blue Reef Aquarium & IMAX 3D Cinema, Bristol

Spend the day on an underwater safari at the Blue Reef Aquarium. The aquarium is home to dozens of fascinating species, from the reef sharks, which glide around the giant ocean tank and can be viewed from the underwater tunnel, to the colourful tropical species which dart around the coral reef tank. A daily schedule of events includes feeding demonstrations, talks and 3D film showings, so there is plenty to keep everyone happy.

* London Dungeons, London

Not for younger children, or those of a nervous disposition, The London Dungeons is a ghoulish attraction which is perfect for families with hard to please teens. The spectacularly spooky tour covers 1000 years of history, with 2 spine chilling rides and 13 shows with live actors. Those who are brave enough to face the darkness will meet horrifying characters like Jack the Ripper…the blood thirsty murder who was never brought to justice. Blood-curdling sound effects, unnerving special effects and horrible smells bring the darker side of England to life at this unique attraction which draws around 2.7million visitors each year.

* Pemberton Chocolate Farm, Carmarthenshire

At the charming, family run Pemberton Chocolate Farm, visitors can learn about the art of the chocolatier, during a 45 minute tour which includes a chocolate making demonstration, audio tour and the opportunity to have a go at making a hand-dipped chocolate truffle. Also at the farm is the Chocolate Cinema, where a short film is shown, describing the history of chocolate, plus the “Little People Gallery” – a quirky exhibit of comical dolls. Don’t forget to stop in at the farm shop to stock up on the award winning chocolate goodies which the farm is famous for.

* WaterWorld 2000, Stoke-on-Trent

No time for a beach holiday, but the kids want to swim? Don’t settle for your local leisure centre’s boring facilities, visit the tropical paradise of WaterWorld2000, one of the most popular attractions in North Staffordshire. The exciting indoor aqua park has something for all ages, and levels of swimming ability, with a wide variety of rides, flumes, a dynamic wave pool and spa bubble areas. With a café bar and restaurant offering a varied selection of quality snacks and refreshments, parents can relax, and imagine that they are on holiday somewhere sunny and warm!

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it is time to start planning a romantic break and surprise that special person in your life. While Paris is a traditional choice for many couples, this year, why not step it up a level and opt for somewhere a little more imaginative. Read on to discover five top romantic destinations with a twist, and make your Valentine celebrations stand out from the crowd.

* Spend a weekend in the Northern Italian city of Verona, the city where Shakespeare’s tragic love story Romeo and Juliet was played out. The bustling ancient city has been inhabited since 550BC and is home to numerous of examples of well preserved Roman and Medieval architecture as well as museums and art galleries. Take your sweetheart to Juliet’s House(Casa di Giulietta), where couples traditionally post love notes on a nearby wall, and have their picture taken with a statue of Juliet. OK, so this attraction was built in the 21st Century, and is considered by some to be a tacky tourist trap, while others find a truly romantic atmosphere in the cobbled courtyard.

Approximately 15 minutes from the centre of Verona, you’ll find the idyllic Giardini Giusti.          The renaissance gardens are a popular picnic spot, with hidden grottos and meandering            footpaths leading up to the peak of a small hill with magnificent views of the city.

* Indulge your senses with a trip to Granada, in the Spanish province of Andalusia. While Granada is probably best known for the intricate Moorish architecture found at the Alhambra Palace, there is much more to the city than history.

Treat your taste-buds with the gastronomic delights served in the bars and restaurants of the         city. Cookery in Granada is influenced by the fresh produce available from mountainous           regions and Mediterranean coastline. Hearty, rustic stews of beans, meat and vegetables play    a major role in cuisine, while seafood and catch of the day fish dishes offer a lighter option.

Escape from the hustle and bustle of city life and discover the Hammam, Arabic Baths.     Located near Plaza Nueva, the baths are a haven of tranquillity, where you and your partner     can relax, rejuvenate and revive yourselves.

* Whisk your partner away to Cyprus, where, legend has it, the goddess of love and beauty, Aphrodite rose from the waves. Aphrodite’s Rock, off the coast between Pafos and Limassol marks the spot, and folklore tales suggest that if you were to swim around the rock at midnight at full moon, you would be granted with eternal youth.

Cyprus is one of the warmest countries in Europe, and in February, you can experience the             first signs of spring: meadows of wild flower blossom, bird song, and sunshine. Drive into    the Troodos Mountains and wander the marked footpaths, where you might even be lucky         enough to spot a Cyprus Mouflon – a type of sheep, unique to the island.

If sightseeing doesn’t suit your mood, there are plenty of spectacular sandy beaches, ideal for       lazy days, cocktails and perhaps a little surfing?

* Of course, you don’t have to travel overseas to find a romantic destination that’ll charm your beau. Scotland’s capital city Edinburgh, exudes romance, with its old world glamour and hidden mysteries. As seen on TV’s Most Haunted series, you can discover Edinburgh’s spooky past with a spine-chilling guided ghost walk through the haunted Underground Vaults, where you’ll meet some of the city’s supernatural residents and haqve some guaranteed scary moments!

If braving the ghouls that lurk in the darkness doesn’t appeal, go for a light-hearted option and take your date to Edinburgh Zoo, located a short distance outside the city. The popular attraction is home to dozens of different species, and isn’t just for kids. Be sure not to miss out on the zoo’s famous daily “Penguin Parade”, when the comical birds enjoy playtime on the penguin lawn.

Seasonal British Cookery For January

Posted on: January 17th, 2011 Posted by

Many of the UK’s top fine-dining restaurants have now realised the benefits of using seasonal (and often locally sourced)  ingredients to create their gourmet menus. By using ingredients when they are in season, you are capturing them at their very best, and you don’t have to be a Michelin-starred chef to do so. Make the most of this seasons top ingredients and add some award winning style to your kitchen.

The chilly, grey weather of January calls for cookery which is classic, homely and warming. Fortunately, many of the ingredients which are at their most abundant lend themselves well to traditional British dishes which will satisfy your appetite.

Leeks are one of the symbols of Wales, and are worn on St David’s Day. No-one knows why this particular vegetable was chosen, although some believe it relates back to a historical battle which took place in a leek field. Legend has it that wily King Cadwaladr of Gwynedd instructed his men to wear a leek on their helmets in order to identify themselves from Saxon invaders. Whether or not this tale is true, the leek is a front-runner in the vegetable world, with its mild onion flavour making it a useful ingredient in many dishes. Health-wise, leeks are an excellent addition to the diet – they are high in fibre and contain vitamins, calcium and folic acid, and are known to have anti-arthritic properties. Buy firm, fresh looking leeks, with dark green leaves and white bulbs, and prepare by trimming and washing thoroughly to remove any soil. One simple and delicious recipe idea for leeks is a rich and creamy winter soup, but more adventurous cooks could try combining sautéed leeks with Welsh rarebit for a tasty baguette or toast topping.

Over recent years cauliflower has been rejected by many, but the delicate flavour and texture can add a new dimension to many winter dishes. Cauliflower is actually a flower, and has been cultivated in the British Isles since the mid 16th Century. Cauliflower “curds” are usually white, although new varieties have been created through selective breeding and purple, red and even yellow versions can be purchased. When you choose a cauliflower look for healthy firm looking curds without any marks and store in a cool dry place, with the stalk downwards to prevent humidity getting caught it the florets. Preserve that unique texture by steaming the florets instead of boiling, which can cause the cauliflower to become water-logged.

Cauliflower is delicious served as an vegetable side dish, and Cauliflower Cheese is a popular meal for many families. Tantalise your taste-buds and change your usual cheese sauce for a spicy curry sauce, which will give an Indian flavour to this old favourite. Another exciting way of using cauliflower is to make Cauliflower Mash, as an accompaniment to meat or fish.

The sunshine colour and acidic flavour of oranges can be used to brighten up your cuisine and add a burst of vitamins to your diet. Sweet Oranges were introduced to Britain by Portuguese Merchants and are well known as a source of Vitamin C, one of the vital antioxidants which can help to build the human body’s natural defences. Most of the worlds oranges are now grown in Brazil, and at this time of year they are their most ripe and juicy. Select firm, bright looking fruits and store in a refrigerator for up to a week.

Oranges are a popular snack, but don’t let this season’s citrusy treats get away without adding them to a few recipes. Add some extra zing to your families Sunday Roast by marinading a large chicken in orange juice and covering with orange slices, then drizzle with honey and season well. Remember that you can freeze orange peels to use later, in any recipes which require orange zest.

Venison is the name given to deer meat, the very best of which is sourced wild in the Scottish Highlands. The meat has a hearty flavour and is low in cholesterol and fat, which makes it an excellent choice for anyone following a healthy diet to counteract the excessive consumption during Christmas. It is believed that venison has been consumed by humans for longer than other meat types such as pork and chicken, so take a tip from the ancients and swap your usual Beef Stew for Venison. Buy fresh venison steak from a reliable butcher and cook with tasty vegetables : carrots, swede or turnip, parsnip and onion – you could even add a leek or two. Serve with a fluffy, buttery mash and enjoy the taste of the wild. For those who’d like an even simpler option, go for one of the delicious brands of gourmet venison sausage available, and enjoy a good old fashioned Sausage and Mash with a contemporary twist.

A Holiday In The Highlands of Scotland.

Posted on: January 10th, 2011 Posted by

Choosing self catering accommodation for your holidays in the Highlands of Scotland is a great way to ensure you have the freedom and flexibility to see the wide range of attractions which can be found in the area. It is recommended that you hire a car for the duration of your holiday as the public transport system is fairly limited, particularly in the more rural areas.

From the bustling capital city of the Highlands, Inverness, to the mesmerising wilderness of John O Groats, the Scottish Highlands are rich in culture, with rugged landscapes and fascinating flora and fauna.  It would be impossible to see everything in one vacation, so selected some of the best places to visit to give you a taste of real Scotland.

Inverness is an excellent place to set up your base camp. Many different types of self catering accommodation are available in the area from basic, backpacker type hostels, to luxury farmhouses with all mod-cons. Keen shoppers will be pleased to know that there are several shopping centres in the city, with many UK top brands to choose from as well as an abundance of restaurants, from the ever present McDonalds to more refined eateries where local specialities and fresh ingredients are the focus. While visiting the city, be sure not to miss out on a visit to the tiny pub known as “The Market Bar”. Always popular with locals, with regular live music, the bar was one of The Proclaimers favourite hang-outs before they got famous.

Of course, no visit to the Highlands would be complete without an attempt to spot the world famous Loch Ness Monster. Take a drive along the banks of the loch to the picturesque village of Drumnadrochit  which is 22km south of Inverness and home to several exhibitions dedicated to “Nessie”, just in case you don’t have any luck in spotting her yourself.

Include a visit to The National Trust-owned Urquhart Castle during your visit to Drumnadrochit. The medieval ruins are located on a headland, with majestic views over the legendary loch and its surrounding mountains.

Those who want to learn more about Scotland’s turbulent history will enjoy a visit to the Timespan Museum, a Four Star Scottish Tourist Board rated attraction. Located in the sparsely populated Sutherland,  the fascinating museum with its recreated croft, smithy, byre and shop, will appeal to all ages. The museum also features a Gallery of art from local artists and craftspeople, a perfect opportunity for anyone looking for a unique souvenir.

Scottish Highlands are home to one of the few surviving areas of ancient Caledonian Pine Forests. Visitors who would like to get closer to nature and wander in these wild woods should be sure not  to miss out on a trip to Glen Affric, near Cannich. The mixed woodlands contain fine examples of Birch and Pine Trees which provide a natural habitat for indigenous species including deer, red squirrels, foxes and Scottish wildcats as well as abundant bird life. If walking is a little too sedate for your tastes, there are many other outdoor activities that you could try during your break : how about white water rafting on the River Findhorn, snow-boarding on the Cairngorm Mountains or sea-kayaking from Skye.

The Highlands are a great place for a family holiday, simply because there is so much to do. Treat the little ones to a trip to a zoo with a difference- the Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie. The park is dedicated to the conservation of rare and endangered mountain species from around the world, and the animals live in natural open habitats. The unique park is home to wolf, lynx, tiger and even polar bear.

While the kids may be satisfied with animals, adults may prefer a trip to one of the Highland’s famous whisky distilleries. Visit “the Glen of Tranquillity” at the Glenmorangie Distillery where visitors can enjoy a guided tour of the facility, learn how the so-called water of life is made at the modern Visitors Centre and of course, sample the whisky.

However you choose to spend your vacation, it is almost guaranteed, that like many visitors before you, you’ll fall in love with the mysterious and beautiful Scottish Highlands. With so much to see and do, it is likely you’ll find yourself planning to visit again and again.

The Art Of Picnics

Posted on: January 3rd, 2011 Posted by

To have a picnic is to eat a meal out of doors. The idea of having picnics is said to date back to  Medieval England, when eating lavish banquets and feasts in the woods was a favourite pastime for wealthy lords and hunting parties. During the Victorian era, picnicking became an art as hostesses tried to outdo each other by providing more extravagant dishes, more thrilling entertainment or a more picturesque picnic spot.

To this day, picnics remain a popular way of eating, whether you plan a luxurious dining experience or an impromptu meal on a sunny day.

Picnic Equipment

If you have planned a menu which includes cold dishes or drinks, a cool box is vital. The insulated walls of the box help to preserve the temperature of chilled items- a good trick is to include a frozen bottle of water. This help to keep the box temperature as low as possible and will slowly thaw out, leaving you with a refreshing drink!

Make a check list of any special items which you will need to pack for your picnic- nothing is worse than planning a BBQ and realising you forgot to buy charcoal or opening your wine and realising you have no glasses to drink it from.

You can buy beautiful picnic hampers which include bottle openers, cutlery, salt and pepper shakers and cups, however these can be very expensive. If you can’t afford a picnic set, make your own bespoke picnic kit with everything you’ll need in it.

Remember to take a blanket to sit on, or fold up chairs for a more formal picnic party. If your picnic is taking place in your garden you could even take your dining table outside, or use your garden furniture.

Picnic Food

Your picnic menu can be as simple or as complicated as you choose to make it. A children’s picnic party in the your back garden or local park could be basic: cheese and ham sandwiches, fruit, biscuits and milk served up on paper plates. An adult picnic party would be catering for more sophisticated tastes and allows you to be more creative with your cookery.

If you have plenty of time to plan your picnic in advance you can afford to be a little bit more creative. Depending on what time of day you have decided to have your picnic, you can vary your ideas. Three sample menus for different times of day could be;

Luxury Breakfast Picnic : Croissants with jam and butter,  flask of tea or coffee, fruit juice and champagne, fruit.

Charming Afternoon Tea Picnic : Cupcakes, flask of tea, dainty sandwiches with various fillings: try smoked salmon and cucumber, roast ham and mustard or egg mayonnaise with cress.

Moroccan Themed Picnic – Cous-cous salad , Lamb cooked on an open fire or BBQ, flask of hot mint tea, Moroccan bread.

Generally picnic food should be easy to transport and eat, although it all depends on the facilities available at the picnic spot you choose.

Choosing Your Picnic Spot

Decide in advance where you want to hold your picnic and make alternative plans in case the weather lets you down.

Some public picnic areas have a whole host of facilities including toilets and cooking areas, while other places may have nothing at all. It is always best to find out beforehand what is available and plan appropriately : if you plan to have a BBQ for example, make sure that local regulations allow it.

Picnic Entertainment

You may like to imitate the Victorians by providing entertainment to your guests during the picnic. Croquet was highly popular during the Victorian period – players use a mallet to hit a small ball through hoops which are arrange on the playing area.

If Croquet sounds a little sedate for you, why not try Frisbee or Rounders for some energetic action.

You could also try setting up a treasure hunt for your guests. Although this involves some forward planning, it is a fun activity which is especially good for keeping kids occupied while you are preparing food.