Sunday, 28 August 2016

Leicester Skyride and fantastic food

Well, I specifically remember saying that I was done with #staycation posts for this year after I reached my peak with Tropical Birdland. However, it's the bank holiday weekend and of course Leicester could never disappoint in that regard so I have to share the fun I've been having today with you all. It's not a staycation, it's just the benefit of living in Leicester. Fun stuff - all the time.

So it's been a number of years we've enjoyed the Skyride in Leicester. We've got to explore places we perhaps haven't been before and, for a regular cyclist like myself, we get to go to places on our bicycles that we don't normally. To be honest, I didn't think that we could top the year that we got to cycle through the Curve theatre, that was really fun. However this year (and I probably should have known this was coming) we got to cycle through the King Power Stadium. Yes, the hallowed theatre of dreams whilst awesome drummers played. Super funky.

The city centre's road network was pretty much shut today as we all cycled round - the whole of Leicester's populace represented in terms of age, sex, creed and colour. And we're a diverse bunch so that's a fascinating picture of language, riding style and what have you. But we were all Leicester and we were all on bikes.

So there was all the usual randomness happening at the various stopping points. Cycle training, art activities, BMX demonstrations, and the sprint test. Plenty to keep you going, although we got all of our stamps done at the points around the route but were not able to pass back to the handing in spot, so no competition prize for us.

All of the 'one in a million' doodad marketing whatnames all relates to the fact that they are expecting the millionth person to have joined the Sky Ride today. I don't know if that's just in total over all of them because I've certainly done at least three, so I don't know if you'd actually be the 333,333rd person. But anyway, it's always great to see people of all ages enjoying a ride around the city. I hope more people stick with it.

After we had ridden the 6km course (I did not get a medal and I'm a little bitter about that) we headed on up with so many other cyclists to Gelato Village. They had just put out a pan of freshly made mojito sorbetto, so it would have been pretty rude not to try that. Overall the mint flavour was delicious.It was kind of like a mojito slushie, but beautifully smooth in texture and full of flavour. Completely decadent, but well earned after both our cycle into the city and then around the whole course.

After that it would have been rude not to duck into the Parcel Yard, who were holding a special Reggae Reggae event. We enjoyed sampling the food from Leave it to Esmie, the mutton curry in particular being an absolute triumph, the very best that street food in this country has to offer. 

To accompany that we had a dash of sunsine, a backdrop of reggae, ska and dub beats and an all round awesome friendly social atmosphere. And if you're reading this on the evening of 28/08/16 or the early hours of tomorrow I can be pretty confident in telling you that it's not too late to attend this free event. Goodness love The Parcel Yard.

Pretty sure I love this little city. What a great place to live.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Welcome back to Leicester, Jessops!

Jessops, the photographic retailers, are a bit of a Leicester institution. Their first store opened here in 1935 and it was with great sadness that the Leicester store closed three years ago. Having traded online, and being rejuvenated by Dragon Peter Jones, they are now happily back with us, opening their new store in the Highcross shopping centre last week. And they celebrated in style with a glitzy launch event including a recreation of a photograph from the opening of their original store! Super cute.

The opening of the first Jessop's on Oxford Street, Leicester in 1935. Photo courtesy of Jessops

The opening of the Highcross Leicester store, 2016. Photo courtesy of Jessops.

As you can imagine, bloggers and camera stores go together like bees round a honey pot, so I was keen to check it out and see what they had on offer. They have everything nicely categorized so it's easy to find what you want - lenses, compacts, SLR systems, even drones! I don't know why drones. But y'know? Drones with cameras on.

I particularly liked the little twisty display stands which allow you to take a good 360 look at the different cameras, and even take a photo with one hand whilst examining with the other. There were plenty of helpful staff on site able to answer all your questions. This is one of the things I, and talking to friends and colleagues, everyone, values most about having a photographic shop back in the city. The advice is irreplaceable. Buying cameras and even accessories can still be a big financial commitment and sometimes it can be hard to be certain when buying online that you are getting the right thing. Face to face discussions help to resolve that - and they even offer one on one 'classes' to help you get to know your specific camera - whether you bought it at Jessops or not. I love the internet, but there's always a place for real people in my world.

Photo printing services are available
On that note, I did have one person tweeting me on the day saying how they received terrible service and the prices were a lot higher than online. Upon questioning them it seemed they just had a bit of an anti-Jessops vendetta, whicih is fine - each to their own. They hadn't actually visited the new Leicester store (which had only been open for an hour when I tweeted!) so weren't in a position to comment on the staff who I found to be excellent. However, their comment about price prompted me to investigate further.

I used the price information I had captured on my photographs to compare with online prices. Obviously you would expect online stores to be cheaper to a degree on account of the lower overheads. Here is what I found:

  • Olympus TG-Tracker Green £279 in store, and £279 online! The only cheaper one I could see immediately was the black version through Ebay at £265.39 - but I can't comment on the seller because it was an American seller shipping to the UK.
  • DJI Phantom 3 Advanced Drone £699 in store, £616 - £765.56 online at various retailers - so a good average price in that regard.
  • Canon E0S 700D Twin Kit £509 with £40 cashback in store, and £479 - £699 online - so a great deal with the cashback.

I've done everything I can there to compare like with like so I hope I've got it right, but I'd say the prices are surprisingly competitive compared with buying online.

Finally we got to sneak into the academy room for a quick chat with the manager. We found out all about the various academy's that are available - learn basic photography skills, how to handle your camera, go on photo walks and even learn to photograph various types of wildlife - these sessions really would make great gifts. (Hint. *cough* Hint)

Academy room - with bloggers in!
So, yet another happy addition to our city, or is it a re-introduction? Thanks to Jessops for inviting me along and also giving me a super spiffy canvas of one of my favourite shots that I took in Porto earlier this year, I am very grateful! Let me know your experience of the new Jessops store in the comments below!

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

#Staycation: Tropical Birdland

We've had Leicestershire, we've had Nottingham, but I've saved the best staycation post for last because you are going to love Tropical Birdland, near Desford, Leicestershire. Plus, it's a bank holiday coming up this weekend, so I hope this will give you the heads up of where you need to be heading!

We were made to coordinate.

Tropical Birdland is truly a Staycation classic for me. It's less than 8 miles from my house, and we could easily have cycles there on any pleasant day. I knew it existed, I thought it sounded good. But in my 12 years in Leicester I have never been.

Gimme yer nuts!
So as part of our programme of activities this summer (that makes it sound a lot more formal than it was to be fair) we made our way across. As soon as we entered, we were welcomed by two small green parrots, begging for treats by the entry booth. Just wandering around, touting for peanuts. They were super cute. And there were some lovely spacious aviaries for some beautiful owls, in particular the Snowy Owls caught my eye - absolutely gorgeous.

And then, as you'd expect, it's a lot of brightly coloured and interesting birds! First you follow a trail around a large number of aviaries and you can also follow a 'Woodland Walk'. Make sure you arrive with a pocket full of meal worms to give to your new feathery friends, or you can buy a bag of treats upon arrival.

Gorgeous Kookaburra
There were a huge number of birds, some in perches that they can easily take themselves in and out of, like the large macaws and the military macaws, some which are too fragile and flighty to have ready access to the outside world. I absolutely loved seeing the Kookaburras - birds which I remember from books in my childhood but have never seen in real life. Getting up close and personal with the emus was also amazing - they make the most spectacular growl. I'm pretty convinced, having seen two in real life, that they don't exist. In fact, so sure am I that I pointed out to them they aren't real. They bellowed.

This bird does not exist. I took a photo of it as proof.
The walk in aviaries are lovely too and if you're lucky you might have a sweet parakeet or cockatiel visit you and try to steal your jewellery. Which is an excellent way to support charity. I also really liked looking through the window of the nursery where all of the baby birds are being cared for. I had a particularly adorable ET/Sistine Chapel touching fingers through the glass moment with one baby parrot. Needless to say I wanted to take him home.

Meeting of minds.

Then it's on to the Parrot Walk, where there are a whole range of different species, just hanging about waiting for you to interact with them. They will also try and steal your jewellery, or in my case, your Def Leppard badge. Some of them are a little more shy, or perhaps full of peanuts, but they're generally pretty happy for you to give them a little bit of a cuddle. We had a nice chat with one, consisting of:
Genuinely attention grabbing stuff. I also got wolf whistled by one tiny bird. He was my favourite. Clearly an avian of impeccable taste.

They are big into their selfies.
Look how happy I am! SO HAPPY!
There's a cafe and it's all kinds of fun throughout for any age group. We were all over 30 and had a fabulous time. If you don't have your own transport the bus into the city runs about 5 minutes walk from the sanctuary and doesn't take long at all. Plus all of your lovely entrance fees will help support the birds - including those rescue animals that they take fantastic care of. I 100% guarantee that if you visit you will enjoy it. I want to go back. Every day.

Just gonna leave this here. When you see it...

Saturday, 20 August 2016

Western Park Beer Festival

I warned you it was coming. I told you about the Secret Beer Club. I told you how good it was and reminded you not to miss out on the Western Park Beer Festival. And it's here! We went! And best of all you haven't missed out. Cross out whatever you have in your diary for this evening - 20/08/16 - you are going to the last night of the beer festival.

We were extremely grateful to be offered super special VIP access which gave us top access to all the fun. It all kicked off with an introductory beer and food matching session from the excellent Mark Tetlow of The Beer Hub. There was a succinct history of brewing and beer, followed by a range of tastings - both complementary and contrasting flavours. It was a great way to get to taste some of the beers on offer and to have a bit of a chinwag about beer. I was really surprised at how well the pizza match went and we also had some lovely Sparkenhoe Red Leicester - a fantastic local product.

Look at th'ead on that! Don't worry, the Cannonball settled down later on in the evening.

Then it was on to the festival proper, with 35 beers, 6 craft kegs and 6 ciders. The Magic Rock Cannonball on the craft keg bar was an instant hit with many festival goers and I could see why. Hugely hopped but still with a lovely fruity sweetness, it was a really big IPA and at 7.4% I was glad I stuck to a half!

The Wild Beer Company have had their praises sung by me before and their Millionaire did not disappoint. Mark Tetlow had already flagged it up for us in his tasting, where he had matched it with a delicious chocolate brownie, so it would have been rude not to go back for a cheeky half. A gorgeous salted caramel stout it had just a hint of creaminess and did exactly what it said on the tin

I also enjoyed the Sadler's Hob Bomb and was lucky to get the chance to try the very delicious Sadler's Boris Citrov even though the keg exploded, much to the consternation of the WPBF team! Luckily the ever lovely Josh from West End Brewery hightailed it down to lend a hand and everything was soon back on an even keel.

For those who fancied a break from the beer, there was also a Prosecco Pedlar and a Burleigh's gin pop-up bar which seemed to be going down a treat. We also enjoyed the traditional festival samosa, just the right amount of deep-fried spicy stodge to keep us going. The perhaps unsurprising hit was Flaming Mo's woodfired pizza - get in quick because it's so popular that waiting times soon built up.

Look! It's Twitter superstar Edd!

The room was buzzing with happy people having a great time. The local beer Twitterati were out in force and it was great to chat with generous event sponsors from companies like Bulb Studios and GR8 Security, without whom the event would not have been possible. The whole thing was tied together by some great acoustic tuneage from a range of local artists, although they were really quite overshadowed by GB winning the hockey final which was streamed on the big screen above!

What can I say? A fabulous event put on in support of Menphys - helping to care for children and young people with disabilities in the city and county and to support their families. If you don't go tonight I think you'll probably regret it forever - or at least until next year. Thanks once again to the festival organisers for being super dudes and also for inviting us to enjoy the festival. A pleasure and a privilege to be along for the ride.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Staycation in Nottingham

Our staycation continues. I've already given you the round up of some of the exciting things we got up to in Leicestershire and now here are a few more ideas if you're struggling to keep the family entertained in the last throes of the summer holidays! Of course if you are looking for inspiration, there is plenty more food for thought on my summer 2016 ideas post as well.

A day out in Nottingham is a cost effective way to do something different. When we visited a day return from Leicester on the train was just £10.80, although I hear rail fares are being put up once again so it's probably about £10,000 now. Ah well, you can always get the coach, it only takes 50 minutes. For any newcomer to Nottingham the castle is the obvious stopping point - it's a beautiful area, there are interesting galleries to see and the gardens are beautiful. When we visited there was a special exhibition of Leonarda Da Vinci sketches from the Royal Collection which is of course quite a treat.

When you're done with the castle of course you must take the obligatory selfie with the Robin Hood statue. Robin Hood is of course Nottingham's answer to Leicester's Richard III - steeped in medieval history, intrigue and excitement. Except Robin Hood is fictional of course, but still, you can't have everything can you Nottingham?

Keeping in your Crusades frame of mind, it's then just a short walk down the hill to visit (possibly) the oldest pub in England - Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, propped up against and occasionally carved into Castle Rock. As well as being jolly old and having lots of interesting little room to explore, you too can enjoy the wonders of the pregnancy chair and the Super Dusty Model Ship (it probably has an official title) which legend has it causes mysterious death in those who try to clean it. That's my kind of antidote to housework. You can also take a tour around the caves under the pub which were previously used as a brewery. I love this pub and try to stop in at least for a pint whenever I'm in town, although the pub grub is always popular.

It must be time for something to eat and Nottingham is filled with great options. To be fair, on our visit we were all starving by the time we got off the train, so dived straight into the Canalhouse bar for some simple homecooked fare and nice view of the boats outside. It also has a boat inside which is a talking point at the very least. They have a great selection of real and international ales as well so it was a good choice for The Boy.

However, if you're looking for something a bit more gastranomic, then I'd recommend trying out The Larder on Goosegate (with 15% off a la carte for Great Food Club members) or Yamas Meze while you're there. If you really want to push the boat out and you're willing to travel a little further, you can also try Restaurant Sat Bains in Lenton. I must confess I haven't been there myself but the reviews are consistently good and the wine list is excellent if you have a spare hundred quid or so burning a hole in your pocket.

On to a spot more culture and it's always nice to see what's doing at Nottingham Contemporary. They boast free admission to a range of shows by internationally renowned contemporary artists. I'll be honest, it can be a bit hit and miss as to whether you find something that suits your tastes, but you can guarantee you'll definitely see something that provokes a reaction! 

While we were there the current shows were Yelena Popova, with seemingly blank canvases giving up eerie shadows and details the more you examined them and Michael Buetler's 'Pump House' transforming the majority of gallery space into a living installation-cum-workshop crafted of different textures and colours of paper. Buetler's work had immediate visual impact and was clearly a hit with younger visitors who enjoyed exploring the DIY space.

Time for a beverage and I was eager to get across to Veeno, an Italian wine bar and cafe just over the road from the Contemporary. I've heard a rumour that they may be coming to Leicester soon and as a good blogger I like to get the jump on such information. Born from an Italian family, the Veeno founders have created a relaxed and stylish venue where they promote the laidback 'aperitivo' culture of early evening nibbles and drinks with friends, serving wines from their family vineyard. The fresh food and produce we saw looked amazing, but I was only in it for the wine and I have to confess I was not blown away by the quality of the vino, or indeed the service we received. Fingers crossed they bring a slightly tighter ship to Leicester as I adore the concept and the visual statement of their brand.

If you're still feeling thirsty, trying one of the ales from the many local breweries and even hopping on a brewery tour would be a great way to round off a day in the city. Sadly we didn't have time, but look up Blue Monkey Brewery, Castle Rock or even head slightly further afield to Lincoln Green for an interesting mixture of breweries of all sizes and styles. Some have tours, some just shops, but all are worth a look.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Summer Food Fest at Highcross

We've been enjoying the Summer Food Fest at the Highcross Leicester this week with free samples, offers and special talks. A small group of bloggers were also invited down for a very special meal to celebrate the festival and I was pleased to be one of them.

We began at Pizza Express for our starters. There was a great selection of treats on offer for us to pick at - just the way I like my food, shared with friends! There was a crisp calamari, pesto bruschetta and antipasto. Oh, and it wouldn't be a trip to Pizza Express without dough balls of course! Those little warm pillows of doughy goodness really go a long way toward making a good evening out.

I was quite taken with the antipasto selection - the selection of cold meats with assorted spicing along with the piquant Roquito peppers went really well with the mild South African chardonnay that I selected. A really excellent start to the evening and conversation was in full flow at this point.

On to the next venue, ladies!

But of course time waits for no man and so we were off to Bill's for our main course. We were welcomed by a really lovely team who explained their menu selection for us. It was the signature fish finger sandwich, something which has been with Bill's since the very beginning, but has gradually evolved from a quickstop snack into more of a gourmet treat - with soft, flaky fresh cod in a dark crisp crumb, served on toasted bread with rocket, ketchup and homemade tartare sauce. A great comfort food dish and absolutely huge, the portion size is amazing, it's a real feast.

We also took the opportunity to sample their cocktail menu - I went for an old favourite, the espresso martini.This was a delicious choice, with a great hit of good coffee flavour and the light creamy froth on the top making the difference from similar cocktails I'd had in the past. Great texture and flavour in that one.

By this point we were naturally pretty full so we were pleased to hear that it was on to Ed's Easy Diner for a shake for pudding. Ed's is somewhere I've enjoyed visiting in the past - both when it opened for a review and relatively regularly for lunch since then - so I had been looking forward to this part of the evening!

There appeared to be some crossed wires though, so they had actually prepared Bubba bacon and cheeseburgers for us as well as our shakes! Of course we couldn't eat it, but couldn't waste the food either, so we had them all packaged today. I enjoyed mine for dinner this evening and can confirm that the burgers are still juicy and nicely cooked!

On to the main event, with the Reese's milkshake and it is everything you are wanting it to be - thick, creamy and absolutely peanut butter packed. Definitely more than enough for a dessert, the milkshakes are served in a metal can which easily pours two glasses.

Plenty of foodie treats on offer then and a real joy to be able to  try a few places in the same evening. I'd definitely recommend trying it if you fancy something a bit different, with so many restaurants so close together around the Highcross area it's really not a lot of hassle to have a main in one place and a starter or pud somewhere else. 

What a lovely bunch!
If you missed the Highcross Summer Food Fest this time around, it's still not too late to take a bite of the action by downloading the Highcross Plus app - it's just been revamped and as well as giving you access to information, special offers and invitations to VIP events you will also get access to some exclusive freebies. It's a free cookie from Millie's at the moment. Can't be bad!

Many thanks to Highcross for inviting me to this lovely evening and to Pizza Express, Bill's and Ed's Easy Diner for making us feel so welcome!
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