Monday, October 24, 2016

Sunday strolls in the Wicklow Mountains

Sometimes I forget that I have THIS on the doorstep.

However every so often I take myself off up the Wicklow mountains and am reminded of the glory of nature, and each time I tell myself that I really should do this more often. 

And then inevitably I come home and forget all about it. 

This particular walk took us from Lough Tay (the Guinness lake) to Lough Dan.

It's a spectacular start, and then a beautiful countryside walk through hills and fields for about an hour, until you reach the silent and beautiful lake.

Once there it's time for a pause for reflection before heading back along your tracks to the car. 

A well-earned pub lunch naturally follows, and then home for Sunday papers by the fire. 

Pretty hard to beat it in fairness. 

I really should do this more often...

Thursday, October 20, 2016

How to be a (good) bank manager

I've been meaning to blog about this for awhile but life has a habit of getting in the way.

Anyway, let me introduce you to Kiva.

Kiva allows you to become a virtual bank manager and give micro loans to people all over the world.

You have the opportunity to choose a sum, choose an actual person to lend it to, and then watch as your beneficiary grows their business and pays you back bit by bit.

And then you have the opportunity to lend the sum to another well-deserving candidate (or cash it in if you'd rather).

One of the wonderful things about this project is that you see exactly who your money is going to - and it's not a donation - it's a loan, that can be re-loaned time and time again.

I signed up in April pledging just $25 and then sat down with the kids to choose who we would lend the money to.

Together we chose Rosalina in the Philippines. Rosalina was looking for a loan of $300 over 10 months to help her buy materials needed in her business.

Kiva says -

Rosalina, 40, is a married woman with seven children, five of whom are in school. She is a very hardworking entrepreneur.

Rosalina has a broom-making business in the Philippines. She has been in this business for 20 years.

Rosalina requested a PHP 13,000 ($300) loan amount through NWTF to buy bamboo sticks, bamboo leaves, and other materials needed in her business.

In the future, Rosalina would like to save enough money so she could afford to send her children to college.

Pretty well deserving of a helping hand no?

One month later, in May, I received a notification to say that Rosalina had made her first repayment of $4.66.

Every month since then Rosalina has made further repayments, and I'm almost ready to choose who gets my same micro loan next.

There's no limit to the number of people you can lend to, or the amount you want to put forward - so you can just continue to lend within your own budget.

Pledging a sum to Kiva would make an amazing Christmas present - for both the borrower and the lender. It's also a really great way to get the kids to see and think about how others live around the world.

You can read more about Kiva, how it works and where it works at

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Amsterdam in Autumn

Visiting a new city when you have zero sense of direction is always tricky, so it was fortunate that I had not just an experienced guide but members of his lovely family who live there to show me some of the behind-the-scenes scenes. 

My thoughts of Amsterdam pre-Amsterdam were canals, bicycles and dodgy coffee shops, and while none of these disappointed, there was plenty more to experience too.

For culture we took on both new and old. First - Banksy.

I went in feeling a bit condescending at his clear 'selling out' once he hit the big time. Had he become a victim of his own success? The butt of the joke for 'real' graffiti artists? The exhibition was good - thought provoking and funny. The documentary 'Exit through the gift shop' played from a projector on a loop as you entered, and at the end you exited through the actual gift shop, where others queued without irony to buy his products. Hmm.

I left feeling more than a little mocked by his clever images ('I can't believe you morons buy this shit' was a particular favourite) - and also confused as to whether in fact he had had the last laugh at our expense after all.

Bloody Banksy.

He's still funny though
Next up was the Rijks museum where you could spend hours and hours walking the boards from Rembrandt through to Vermeer and Van Gogh.

Stunning but tiring. Time for a pint.

Hill Street Blues
The bars, pubs, coffee shops and restaurants are many and diverse, with something for everyone. 

Enjoy your nights out, but be sure to bring your own Solpadeine - weed, hash, sex and alcohol may all be legal but Codeine? Not a chance. 

Make of that what you will.

Strolling or cycling through the streets of Amsterdam is a joy in itself - you could easily spend your whole weekend admiring monumental buildings, ancient history, modern architecture, canal boats, bridges and crooked houses. 


With a jam packed weekend filled with great restaurants, family football, museums, galleries, exhibitions, pints, adventure, coffee and much more - we only skimmed the surface.

I'm looking forward to the next instalment already.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

School Reviewer - An unmissable FREE resource for UK parents

If you are a parent chances are your questions and worries about what school they will go to, how they are getting on, what the next step will be... began long before you signed any registration form. As parents we worry and we question, that's our job.

For parents in the UK there is now a wonderful resource to help you not only choose the right school for your child, but also chat to other parents, watch invaluable videos on specific exam paper questions, view catchment areas, buy and sell uniforms and other items, find tutors in your area and much more.

School Reviewer previously provided a database of detailed profiles, academic data and OFSTED reports. The number of establishments currently covered is apporx 40k. is the only site in the UK that not only gives parents the invaluable stats and knowledge about every UK school at every level,  it also lets them know which homes fall into which catchment areas.  

The site allows parents to talk with other parents on school forums, both individually as single schools and nationally.

It’s also the only site with walk through question by question downloadable videos for GCSE math’s, SATS and 11+ papers.  The only one to show how a 100% A+ grade can be scored on all papers. It's an impressive resource. The mathematics consultant is a maths teacher at Surrey University who has over 30 years experience in teaching all levels of maths, and who currently sets and marks the national papers such as SATS and GCSE.

It is also the only site with a unique buy and sell section that allows parents to sell old, outgrown and no longer needed school items - something that almost all of us could do with after totting up those back to school costs.

It is also the only site that is also recruiting tutors for free on its site so all parents will have access to the right and nearest tutors to help their children again through their educational journey.

Clever doesn't even come close!

The site's main aim is to guide parents through the whole school experience - from rating available schools in their catchment area, to discussing tips and issues with other parents, to sourcing or selling on related items, to getting the very best grades for their child. It's a wholesome approach that takes on an impressive amount of details in order to provide a one stop site covering everything parents may need.

The site is constantly being updated and improved, with new resources being added all the time.

Whether you're starting out on the educational path, or nearing the end of your school journey - it is well worth a look.

Even Baroness Karen Brady thinks so. You can see her interview live on School Reviewer website now.

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. 

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Puglia Part 2: Alberobello, Polignano a mare and Matera

The one thing I love about travel blogging is that you get to revisit in your mind all the places you actually visited when you were off gallivanting wherever you were. 

My Italian adventure was quickly receding into memory, reduced to a faded picture of me lying by a pool in the long gone sunshine. But now it's all back in the forefront of my mind, thanks to rummaging through my camera roll for this post *happy face*

So, Puglia. 

We stayed in Noci - in this little hideaway. Following a day or two of lounging by the pool at our perfect trullo, we took to the winding streets to visit some of the must-see towns around. First up - 


Alberobello is famous for its trullos. We strolled the narrow streets spotting them every so often, before stumbling across a whole host of them clustered together on the other side of town. Many of the trullos are still homes, with lots of them converted to shops, bars, wine cellars and even hotels. 

As far as the eye can see

It's a stunning and unique place and well worth a visit.

Next stop on our day trip itinerary was the drop dead gorgeous -

Polignano a mare

We arrived the week before the Red Bull Cliff Diving competitions. The high boards were already set up and when you stand on the cliffs opposite, believe me - they are high. 

We hopped around down here plucking up the courage to jump a pathetic few feet - and still managed to leave blood on the rocks.
Check out those camera-shy Italian boys

No thanks

As the clouds rolled in and the winds picked up the coast line changed dramatically to moody, danger-filled cliff tops.

The town itself is filled with little streets and open squares with bars and restaurants in abundance. A fab day out. 

Our final day trip was spent sheltering from a thunderstorm in - 


Built on a cliff side the whole town is developed from a series of caves that became local homes. Prior to the 70's whole families and their animals including chickens and horses would live in these cramped caves. Eventually the government forced them to leave, providing proper housing, but in recent years the old caves have been redeveloped into houses, restaurants and hotels.

It's an impressive sight, even if you are huddled under a parasol slurping your remaining wine as the rain pelts down and the thunder rolls through you.

Every place we visited had incredible food for bargain busting prices. One three course meal with wine cost €30 - for the two of us. Our most expensive meal out was €60 and that was in a beautiful traditional restaurant that served us up six main courses to get through - plus starters, wine and dessert. Greedy much?

If you're considering Italy for a holiday in the near future you'd be wise to at least think about Puglia - it's the only holiday you'll ever go on where you spend less than you expected to. Just watch that waistline...

Thursday, September 1, 2016

An Italian hideaway

Ever dream of running away? Ditch the kids, jump on a plane and have a proper holiday?

Well I can tell you now - I'd highly recommend it.

I'm just back from a week of perfect peace at the stunning Masseria Tinelli in Puglia, Southern Italy.  

It's an unbelievable find - one of those almost-to-good-to-be-true-maybe-it-doesn't-actually-exist places on Airbnb. The ones that you close your eyes, click confirm and hope to god it'll be there when you touchdown. 

And fortunately I can confirm that it does. 

Surrounded by olive groves and fig trees, Masseria Tinelli offers the choice of staying in a small private trullo or a larger apartment in the old house, all based on a working farm that our host Marina and her parents still run. 

Our trullo was perfection. Quiet, secluded and recently renovated just last year. The design and build mean that it remains cool on those melting hot days and warm on the colder ones. 

The stroll from the trullo to the pool runs through the olive groves, and you can pick ripe fruit from the trees as you go. The communal pool was almost always deserted, with the occasional other guest passing through from time to time. 

Staying on a agritourisma site allows you to see parts of Italy, and meet wonderful people that you wouldn't normally get the chance to. We took full advantage of their Italian cooking class - followed of course by a huge traditional meal where we got to meet other guests, locals and family during a wonderful evening. With our party covering every age from 2 to 92 it was an unforgettable experience. Grandma's cooking was some of the best we ate over the whole week (and we ate A LOT). And Papa's homemade wine was rich and smooth with not a touch of a hangover the next day. You can't get better than that. 

Our lovely host Marina
Dinner by the pool
The farm is a 1k walk from the nearest town, which is lively but almost entirely devoid of tourists. The food is unbelievably good and almost insultingly cheap. Among the best dishes we sampled (did I mention that there were many, many dishes..?) were - wild boar pasta, lamb casserole, seafood linguine, aubergine parmagiano, courgettes with mint and lemon, pizzas, pizzas, pizzas, wine, wine, wine and of course always ice cream to finish.

We rolled home each night thinking of hot, strong coffee and fresh fruit by the pool the following morning. The most taxing task of the day being lifting my book a little higher to block out the sun's glare. And so the days melted into each other and the stresses melted away.

If you think you could handle non-stop eating, drinking, sunning and relaxing, I'd highly recommend it. Tell Marina I sent you, and don't believe her brother about his Dad's wine. No hangovers, promise.

Useful Info: 
Ryanair fly from Dublin to Bari
Bari to Noci is approx 1 hour by car
Airbnb link to Masseria Tinelli

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