Portable chargers – so handy for travel!

If you like to travel and haven’t discovered portable chargers yet – I highly recommend you get one!  Portable chargers, also known as external batteries or power banks, easily fit into bags or pockets and allow you to charge your phone, tablets or mp3 players while you are on the move.  It’s especially useful for smart phones that drain energy quickly.

I currently have two.  My first is a 5000 mAh mobile power pack that I purchased from Amazon two years ago.  It’s small and handy and charges my iPhone twice.  I often keep this in my handbag with an extra cable just for daily use.  It was quite helpful for travel, such as very long flights or even in hotel rooms when I couldn’t be bothered to dig out the plug adaptor.  It’s easy to charge via a laptop or wall USB charger.  Laptop charging is significantly slower than a wall charger.apc-charger

Although it’s nice and small, just a little heavier than my iPhone, I felt I wanted something… beefier, and longer lasting.  I had to keep re-charging the portable charger after charging my phone twice.  It was fine for emergencies, but I was charging it up too often for my liking.

Which led me to my second purchase in June this year, the Poweradd Pilot 20000 mAh Portable Charger.  Four times the juice!

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I have this blue one, and it is available in black too.  This is noticeably heavier than my first charger, however, it is also noticeably more useful!  It does take a long time to charge, so it’s ideal to leave it plugged in to the wall overnight before you think you’ll need it.  And after that, you won’t need to charge it for a very very long time.  I’ve gotten at least six full charges for my iPhone on one full battery charge, and at least a couple of full iPad mini charges from a separate full battery charge.  This thing is rarely drained.

It was very useful for my long flight from London to Thailand, and the long train ride from Chiangmai to Bangkok, and many other long journeys when my iPhone and iPad both ran out of power.  I just made sure this was in my handbag that I kept with me.  It was also handy when I was sharing a hotel room with two friends and plug sockets were limited.  I quite often choose to charge my phone or tablet straight from this rather than a wall plug.  And unlike my first charger, I don’t often worry it it’s running out of charge.

I do like gadgets, and these portable chargers are certainly useful for day-to-day use or traveling.  I always keep one of my portable chargers with me for any long journeys, and I intend to keep doing so!

 

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Dublin! A memorable trip to Ireland.

I remember going to Dublin many years ago, but I can’t remember a single thing about what I did there.  I do remember that I enjoyed it very much, so I was happy to join a couple of friends for a 5-night trip.

Sunday

Flights were a mere £40 return from London Gatwick by Ryanair.  We took a taxi from the airport which came to around €40 to Jury’s Inn hotel on Parnell street.  This was a really wonderful hotel with excellent and friendly staff.  Our room wasn’t huge, but still very comfortable and the occasional biscuits near reception were often appreciated.  Breakfast was very adequate, with wonderful cooked options as well as cereals, bread and pain au chocolat.

We took it easy in the afternoon.  We had a little wander around and were thrilled to discover we were right next to China Town!  Our hotel receptionist had recommended a Korean restaurant called Kimchi and we were very impressed.  I had the beef bulgogi, which I’d happily eat again any day.

Monday

After breakfast, we walked to the Celtic whiskey shop on Dawson street which was recommended by our friendly taxi driver who’d dropped us off at the hotel the day before.  By this point, it was clear that Irish people are significantly friendlier than Londoners, and the shop staff were no exception.  We were given some free whiskey samples, including Teeling and Tullamore Dew.  One of my friends even got a hug from Dave, he was happy to oblige!

We had lunch at a French restaurant called Chez Max near Dublin Castle.  This is a nice restaurant with French staff.  I did enjoy my moules frites, despite the slight feeling of paranoia that maybe they weren’t fresh or cooked properly.  This is no fault of the restaurant – it just happens to be a slight phobia of mine that I decided to face that day.

After lunch, we joined a free walking tour with Sandemans.  I’ve been on a few of the Sandeman tours in Europe and would highly recommend them.  There were about 15 tourists or so and Lisa was a great tour guide.  We walked at a very leisurely pace around Dublin Castle, the Chester Beatty Library, Christ Church Cathedral and through the Temple Bar area.  She gave a lot of handy tips, like don’t drink (too much) in the Temple Bar area as it may cost you an arm and a leg.

Tuesday 

Having walked past it the day before, we returned to the Chester Beatty Library as it sounded so amazing.  It’s free to enter, and a real treasure trove of history, especially the religions section.  It was also very factual and unbiased.

We had lunch at the Queen of Tarts. I wasn’t too impressed with my over priced (but tasty) sausage roll.  The blueberry scone was ok.  I think this place is better as an afternoon cake stop than lunch.

We made a quick stop at Christ Church Cathedral where we paid €6 to see the crypts and the famous mummified cat and rat.

Sadly, the Old Jameson Distillery was closed at the time of my visit, so we visited the Whiskey Museum for the VIP tour that cost €17 with a discount from the Sandeman tour. It was a short experience and felt over priced.  I felt a little conned, especially after the free and friendly service at the Celtic Whiskey Shop.  The VIP option included a 4th shot and a cute shot glass to take home.  I wouldn’t recommend this tour, unless you like over-priced touristy attractions.


Dinner was at Wok Inn, a small unpretentious ‘restaurant’ with minimal seating and food served in cartons.  It’s almost a take away.  I thought it would be cheap and crap, but it was a surprisingly tasty green chicken curry that I thoroughly enjoyed.  A classic case of ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’.  This is definitely good for a quick dinner.


We joined the €12 Sandemans Pub crawl in the evening, which started at 7.30pm at the Workman’s club. It included a free half pint of cider, Heineken or Guinness at the first bar, as well as offers at each of the bars on the crawl.  There was a nice and friendly crowd throughout the evening.  We enjoyed many drinks at a few of the bars and left early to enjoy a drink back at our hotel bar.

Wednesday

A little rough around the edges after drinks.  Change of plan – the visit to the Guinness Storehouse took place in the afternoon instead of the morning!

After a lie-in, we had lunch at Madigans O’Connell Street.  I really enjoyed the bacon, cabbage and mash dish, very filling.  The staff were so friendly and we enjoyed some ‘craic’ (banter) with our meal.

We walked to the Guinness Storehouse, which took about 30 minutes (later realised that the tram might have been easier).  It’s quite a substantial ‘museum’ – there’s no tour as such, but a lot to see and walk around. The tasting session was really cool, and included a mini serving of Guinness.  This was really appreciated as I did want to have some Guinness but wasn’t sure I could stomach even a half pint of it.  The tasting was enough for me.  Entry actually includes a free drink, such as a pint of Guinness, at the Gravity bar with amazing 360 views.  There weren’t many seats available so we ended up sitting downstairs at the  regular bar instead, with our glasses of Fanta.


One of my friends carried out some extensive research to ascertain the best restaurant in China Town.  Dinner at Lee’s Charming Noodles was fantastic.  Great pork and cabbage dumplings – a tasty and generous portion. Very tasty braised beef noodles, but I struggled with the chilli!  I was very sad to leave most of the dish behind, it was simply too much food after a big hefty lunch.  I’d love to go back to this place.

Thursday

The jail had been highly recommended to us by many people.  We booked our tickets online in advance – this is advisable given there was no availability for a couple of days.  This was a really good tour, very informative and interesting.  Seeing the jail cells and hearing the stories made everything feel very ‘real’.

There are quite a few museums to visit in Dublin, including the Museum of Modern Art which is just around the corner from the jail.  I ended up going to the Archaeology Museum which has an interesting array of relics that includes arrow heads and mummies!  I didn’t expect to see any mummies.  The cafe at the museum was convenient for lunch.  I had the beef and Guinness pie with noodle and potato salad, which was tasty but expensive for what it was.

Instead of enjoying more culture in the other nearby museums, I decided to go shopping on Henry street.  There were loads of High Street shops and I was surprised to see that most of the prices were higher than in England, even taking into account the recent drop in value of the pound.  I still loved looking around and bought myself a handbag.  What a great holiday souvenir.

In the evening, we had dinner at O’Neills on Suffolk street.  This was also recommended to us by many people and it was very busy.  The food was delicious and the prices were great.  Despite the good value, the place was packed and uncomfortably hot.  It was really hard to find a table, and getting food involved wading past tables to the carvery, which is separate to the bar (so two trips required).  I had a delicious lamb shank but missed the whole restaurant ambience aspect because it was too busy and hot.  We made a quick getaway after eating.  I wonder if dinner here on a Monday or Tuesday would have been a more enjoyable experience…


The quick getaway ended at the hotel bar with pear cider.  Almost the end of the trip already…

Friday

Friday morning was pretty relaxed.  We wanted to go back to Lee’s Charming Noodles for lunch, but as it hadn’t opened yet, we took a chance with lunch at Kanoodle.  In principle, the food here wasn’t bad.  But after being spoilt with so much great food in Dublin, I found that the Tom Yum noodle soup wasn’t my favourite meal of the week.

With a heavy heart, I took the number 16 bus to the airport for only €3.30!  Very reasonable and only 40 minutes away – it made me even sadder to leave Dublin.  I was charmed by the friendliness and variety of things to do and places to eat.  A very interesting and friendly city.

I had a truly awesome time in Dublin and I look forward to going back.  Soon.

 

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A trip to the Tate Modern #London


It’s always a pleasure to visit the Tate Modern, especially on a sunny London day with a viewing level!


I must admit that I didn’t really pay attention to the artists’ names, I just like to wander around and see what catches my eye, like this money tree:


There was a great range of different art works, plenty to keep me occupied for a few hours!

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The Hive in Kew Gardens #London

The Hive at Kew Gardens is a unique installation that is connected to a real bee hive.  The lights light up based on real interactions taking place in the bee hive.  It’s big enough to take a walk inside and really beautiful after sunset.  A friend and I went and enjoyed a cocktail and chat on the grass before going to investigate properly.  Great for a chillaxed evening. 

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Vaughan Town: A fun week volunteering in Spain

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I love Spain and decided to join the Vaughan Town program for the third time in my life.  This time I went to Aranjuez, about an hour away from Madrid.

The aim of Vaughan Town is to teach English to Spaniards, and this week focuses on building fluency in English.  There is a group of Spanish students and a group of ‘Anglos’ who are the English speakers.  The only rule is to speak English the whole time.  Accommodation and meals are covered for all of the English speakers.  It also gives the Anglos the opportunity to spend time with Spanish people in a different part of Spain, as well as meet people from around the world.  The week is fun and light hearted, with plenty of conversation at meal times and evening entertainment.

I joined the new ‘Fifty Fifty program’ where students have classes for part of the day as well as one-to-one conversation time.  The English speakers don’t need any teaching experience, our part is to allow the students to speak English and increase their fluency as well as hone their listening skills.  One benefit for the English speakers is more free time compared to the regular program.

Aranjuez is a beautiful place and popular with Spanish people.  The palace was right opposite our fabulous hotel, and the gardens and nearby town were perfect for conversational practice.  The one-to-ones are low key and informal – some of mine were accompanied with beer or gelato!

Having done the program before, in Gredos and Valdelavilla, I’m still a fan and would certainly consider it again for the future.

Link to Vaughan Town for volunteers: http://volunteers.grupovaughan.com/what-we-do

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The Landmark Forum – NY

I decided to attend the three day Landmark Forum course (three and a bit days technically) while I was visiting New York.

Reviews have compared it to a ‘cult’, but I think anyone who has been through it will know that it’s not. It’s just the result of people having major life realisations over a period of just a few days – which makes it pretty exciting stuff so they keep going on about it!!  I think the best description, having completed it, is a course in ‘life skills’.

I didn’t really know what to expect, and the decision to actually sign up was in the spur of the moment.

The whole course takes place in a large room with screens and whiteboards at the front and a speaker who leads throughout. The hours on Friday, Saturday and Sunday are long: 9am – 10pm with a total of approximately 2.5 hours break per day.  On Tuesday evening we only needed to attend for a few hours.

I felt exhausted by the end of day 1, but strangely energised at the end of days 2 and 3. We learned SO much, more than I had ever expected.  I learned about my own negative patterns with certain people, and as I thought about it longer I was able to spot more patterns with other people, issues that I hadn’t even been aware of. The course encourages you to accept responsibility for your part in negative situations or relationships, and make amends where possible.  It also helps you to put the past in the past for all aspects in life and leave you free to move forward.  It was wonderful to see people on the stage sharing their ‘breakthroughs’. One person called a parent they hadn’t spoken to in 15 years. Other people finally made their peace with horrible experiences from their childhood or adulthood. Relationships on the brink of breakdown were brought back together.  (Sharing is completely optional, and apparently very therapeutic)

I learned a lot and I’m sure it will be having a positive impact on my life and how I deal with people and situations in future.  I’m glad I went and it was a great lesson in self improvement that I won’t be forgetting any time soon!

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A wonderful weekend in Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

So I can confirm that the joy of being in Costa Rica isn’t necessarily living in the capital San Jose, but more visiting the beautiful beaches and forest areas that Costa Rica is renowned for!

I went to Manuel Antonio last weekend to visit a couple of friends, and had a really wonderful time.  It takes about 3.5 hours by bus to get there.  I stayed at the hostel where my friend works and met lots of wonderful people.  I visited some of my favourite restaurants and bars there (Barba Roja, Salsipuedes, Tiquicia and Z bar) as well as the beach and the Feria market.

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At the Feria market in Quepos2016-03-12 02.59.04

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Manuel Antonio beach2016-03-13 17.28.34

I’m really glad I went and it was a good reminder to get my travelling shoes back on!  I’m making plans to visit more of Costa Rica soon…

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