#ScrumptiousSunday – Family Dinner & Beef Wellington

Nothing beats a family dinner, especially a home cooked one, so whenever Derek and I get the chance to invite family for a meal, we jump at the chance. 😉 A few months back, my Dad’s brother Norbert and his wife Birgit (who happens to be my wonderful God Mother) came to Ireland for their first visit in many many years. As a part of that visit, Derek and I wanted to host them and my parents, in our little apartment that we had at the time, for dinner. There’s just something special about playing host to family members, who always hosted you as a child.

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Of course we wanted to serve up something very special, so we went with a recipe created by the man himself – Gordon Ramsay.

We found his very popular Beef Wellington Recipe online, after seeing it served over and over again in his various TV shows, and tried our best to recreate that for dinner for our family. The challenge? My parents don’t eat carbohydrates, so we needed to find a way to cook for them that didn’t include the usual puff pastry wrapping.

Original Recipe here: https://www.gordonramsay.com/gr/recipes/beef-wellington/

We followed the recipe precisely for my Aunty and Uncle and ourselves, but had to get creative with the dish for my parents. We wrapped the roast and mushroom layer in another layer of parma ham instead of puff pastry and then wrapped the whole thing in baking paper, which we tied tightly with oven safe string. This allowed the beef, flavours and mushroom layer to cook beautifully, at the same time as the normal Wellingtons, while keeping in all the juices and flavours, without burning the ham layer (and keeping it completely carb free 😀 ).

We served the Wellingtons with mashed potatoes (mashed cauliflower for my parents), chilly string beans and sautéed garlic mushrooms.

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For dessert? Chef Ramsay’s no-bake cheesecake (with the ground digestive biscuits replaced with fresh fruit, and the sugar replaced with Stevia sweetener for my parents). I regret that decision now… because now I can’t go to my Dad’s house for dinner, without having to make that dessert. 😉 hahahaha

It was a wonderful evening, and we had loads of fun recreating some of these iconic recipes. The preparation was actually really simple and yet the flavours so rich and complex, that the evening was a complete success. If you’ve ever struggled to find a show stopping Sunday recipe, this might be for you. 😀

 

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Control your dog!

So, there are unspoken but universally accepted rules to owning and walking a dog. Most of them, I thought, were inherently obvious such as “pick up your dog’s mess” and “keep your dog under control”. Apparently these things are not as obvious to other people as they are to my dog owning friends and myself, though. 😦

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Here is today’s tale: There’s this lady in our neighborhood in Belfast, with an oversized white fluffy dog; I know its name but for privacy reasons let’s just call the dog “D”. It’s a giant teddy bear of a thing, I can’t quite judge it’s breed, but he’s friendly as all things; he just has zero manners and she is 100% NOT in control, always getting dragged behind him like a rag doll.

A few weeks ago there was an incident where he was so rambunctious, that he tore his own leash, leaving her to wrestle him by the collar. My Derek, being the gentleman that he his, leant the lady our spare leash and told her to just bring it back once she’d bought herself a new one. She was all grateful, we got the leash back, no problem – end of that story.

However today, as in 30-ish minutes ago, I was walking Riker and saw her; today I have lots to do and do not have the patience for the leash tangled mess that always happens whenever we bump into them so I choose a different route. At the local main attraction though, where all the dogs go walking, I’m talking to my Mum on the phone, via my headset so that I have free hands for puppy, when suddenly my headphones are ripped out of my ears by Riker’s leash getting tangled in them as he tries to hide behind me!!!!

“D” was OFF LEASH and his never-in-control owner was about 60m away, near the street! Now, “D” wasn’t being aggressive or anything, but he’s 4 times the size of Riker and off leash, trying his best to get his nose right up in Rikers ass for a good sniff! Riker can’t get away fast enough and I’m completely tangled in leash, cable and foreign fur!!!

I call out to her asking for help; her reply? “Just stay still! It’s what dogs do!” I yell back that she has to control her dog and come help me, she says “I am!”… (?) … She then gets to us and pulls her dog away, so I say “if you can’t control your dog he belongs on a leash, that’s why mine’s not allowed off leash yet!” What does she reply? “Well maybe you need to train your dog better.” with a sneer.

Excuse me? I need to train MY dog better?? We just got accosted by YOUR beast and it scared the wits out of both my Riker and me!

She then has the audacity to pull her dog away, proclaiming loudly for all to hear “come on “D”, clearly that doggy’s not allowed to play.”

It took all my self control to not to start an all out screaming match. I was livid; still am!

I knew I was going to get ugly if I stayed, so I stormed away, cutting poor Riker’s walk short.

How dare she? Clearly she didn’t recognise me or Riker, because she normally plays all cute and coy when we meet her… good to see what people are really like when they don’t know who you are!

Lessons learned? Other people are still assholes; don’t let a coy misdemeanor fool you.

Please please please, if your dog can not be vocally controlled leave them on their leashes. It’s not safe for them (traffic, rivers, other maybe not so friendly dogs or dog owners) and it’s dangerous for other dogs and people. Some people and other dogs, can be terrified by your dog, have allergies or react aggressively in defense.

Please remember that not all dogs like to be approached like that! I’m lucky because Riker is very social and he didn’t react aggressively but that could have easily turned ugly and I blame her 100% for all the risk!!!

Here are two great little posters I found online that outlines safe dog approach rules, if you’re a dog owner, or live near dogs, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with these guidelines.


I really hope that this insane lady, gets a better grip (literally) on poor Big “D” before something awful were to happen to him. I am terrified that he might run into traffic, or the water or antagonize the wrong dog… it’s not his fault his owner doesn’t know how to handle him. 😦

Riker and I are now curled on the couch, where he’s sleeping off the small shock.


Thanks for reading and thanks for being responsible dog owners. xx 

Taste of Titanic – A Review 

Tonight, the famous Titanic Belfast visitor centre hosted it’s first ever “Taste of Titanic” event. They promised a “guided journey through the Titanic Galleries; learn about the fascinating story of the world’s most famous ship and sample culinary delights from the era.” And it delivered on that promise, even though not to the degree I was expecting.

For those who want the raw data; it was interesting, competently presented, and the 2 costumed guides made an excellent addition, but for £20 more than the usual ticket price, it was way too fast, skipped too many interesting parts of the gallery and offered very little actual tasting. I give it 3 out of 5 stars. (And I think that’s just because of how much I liked the costumed guides.)

“I am very glad that we tried this because I can say with confidence that costumed guides make all the difference to the overall Titanic experience and I would be happy to pay a little extra for that; however…”

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Now, for more detail.

I have been to Titanic 3 times before and am an avid fan of the exhibition.

We were greeted with glasses of Prosecco, had a souvenir picture taken and were given handy portable radios that we could use throughout the tour to better hear the guides; we were off to an amazing start. My husband I commented to each other on how beautifully the foyer had been decorated with standing tables, a bar and drinks being set up and we got really excited to mingle with the others guests over some more (presumably paid extra, but that’s okay) drinks at the end of the tour, and were well impressed by the effort Titanic Belfast had clearly put into this.

IMG_2221The first gallery boasted the event’s new addition of a Belfast born and raised local from the era who told us all about the linen industry, his uncle who works at the yard, the arl gantries and the local food. He was also available to answer questions and make funny jokes about not knowing what a phone is, so he was wonderful!

The first sampling we got was milk in a tiny bottle with a paper white and red striped straw. We weren’t told the significance of this, but it was quaint and cold, so I liked it.

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Then we got the first bite which was a nod to the famous Ulster Fry. A Cold Potato Farl, topped with bacon and some black pudding. The black pudding was tasty, but for those of us who know an Ulster fry, hardly impressive, unfortunately.

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We then moved up the gantry, completely skipped my favourite part of the whole exhibition (the ride) and on to the next snack a “Belfast Clanger” served with brown (more manly) lemonade (which was actually quite nice) and Belfast Ale. I didn’t really understand the significance here either… I didn’t feel like anything but the brown lemonade was explained in a way to suit he history.

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At this point we were almost immediately beckoned into the newly decorated viewing room for the slipways without any time to explore the charming interactive exhibits that highlight Titanic’s construction (or the newly decorated room for that matter.)

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We were then offered champagne, but they ran out of glasses half way through serving, so while the next costumed guide (a second class English lady) was waiting for us and chatting away in the next room, people were left waiting for a drink and wondering whether to just move on without one.

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The second guide was lovely and, while gossiping about the ship’s elite passengers, she lead us to afternoon tea, which consisted of several delectable looking treats. There was just about enough for everyone to try one; which would of course be fine if there weren’t five to choose from and you’re left wondering what the other four tasted like. A strange choice for a taster evening… (I was cheeky, I must admit, and took a second one once everyone else was gone, because the first one I tried, a “French Fancy” was just too ghastly sweet.)

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IMG_2257Finally I was awstruck as we entered the section that used to describe the passengers and cargo and at which harbour they joined/were loaded, because it had been completely reimagined from the last time I was there. Snow white walls covered in photographs from each harbour looked incredibly interesting and inviting, but alas, even these were skipped.

I wish I could tell you more about it, but once the (very funny) guide told us her story we were moved on to yet another new addition to the exhibition, a recreation of the promenade deck. (OMG this was easily the most impressed I had been all night!) Here they served small samples of dinner (prawn cocktail & a chicken dish of some sort).

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Following this, we briskly made our way through the (sombre and respectful) gallery dedicated to the tragedy and the victims, accompanied by a very well spoken and modernly dressed young guide who clearly knows her Titanic history. We were offered hot chocolate (as the survivors would have been offered aboard Carpathia) and walked through the history of both the legal inquiries and the movies dedicated to Titanic.

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Regrettably here even more of the exhibition was skipped, completely missing Dr. Ballard’s story of finding the wreck and the discovery theatre movie. We were shown the glass floor (under which you can see the whole wreck in a fascinating constructed image) and were then lead out, completely skipping the final marine science gallery.

In conclusion, I am very glad that we tried this because I can say with confidence that the costumed guides make all the difference to the overall Titanic experience and I would be happy to pay a little extra for that pleasure any day; however, the food samplings felt uncreative and like there simply weren’t enough; it felt incredibly rushed at key points of the gallery, while we were left standing and waiting awkwardly in relatively empty spaces at other times.

I am devastated for any tourists who came to Titanic for the first time today, because there is no way they got to enjoy even half of what the amazing galleries actually have to offer, missed out on key points such as the ride, interactive galleries, the audio files that come with the projected characters, the 3D tour of the ship, Dr. Ballard’s discovery and the discover theatre. We all payed £20 more than the usual price and I am afraid that those people will go home, not having enjoyed half of what I can see on any other day for £15 (or even £10 if I get the early bird special).

As a final stinger to all of this, the included “souvenir photo” felt like an afterthought as they were handed out at the end, and it turns out that the beautiful decorations and bars we were admiring when we arrive were for a completely separate (and private) event that going on in the foyer as we left. It smelled of succulent BBQ, with mingling guests happily sipping at sparkling glasses of wine, beer and water, playing games and chatting away as we (strangers) awkwardly apologized our way through their midst to reach the doors. Very soon my husband and I ended up back at home on our sofa, cooking a dinner because we were exhausted and starving.

Like I said, fascinating, interesting, a great idea – but not fully thought through and in my humble opinion, not worth £35 per person.

(Even though I am happy to have made the experience and I had fun with my hubby… but I enjoy almost everything we do together, so I guess that doesn’t count. 😉 )

Thank you for reading and take care. xoxo

Castle Hotels of Ireland – Munster

It’s been ages since I took the time to make on of these, but here we go, the Castle Hotels of the Irish province of Munster. The included counties are:

  • Waterford (1 Castle)
  • Tipperary (1 Castles)
  • Cork (4 Castles) (1 Castle hotel and 3 honorary mentions)
  • Kerry (1 Castle)
  • Limerick (1 Castle)
  • Clare (4 Castles) (1 Castle hotel, 1 honorary mention, 2 imposters)

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Waterford Castle, County Waterford

“The current castle is a Gothic-style house in built 1895 for Gerald Purcell-Fitzgerald (1865-1946) which incorporates the fabric of an earlier (pre-1845) house, and parts of the medieval (pre-1645) tower-house. The designs were prepared by Romayne Walker and supervised by Albert Murrary (1849 – 1924). The construction is in unrefined rubble stone with fine cut-stone quoins and window frames and topped with Irish-style battlements.” –  (Wikipedia)

Facilities & Features

“With a beautiful setting on the River Suir, the luxurious Waterford Castle Hotel and Golf Resort is on a private island completely detached from the mainland. The castle boasts elegant rooms and suites with stunning views. These individually designed rooms offer also offer free WiFi, goose-down quilts and complimentary tea and coffee delivered to your room. Contemporary lodges are also available and include three and four-bedroom semi detached properties with a spacious open-plan kitchen/dining area and adjoining living room. Access to the island is by a private car ferry which operates throughout the day. Ferry crossing takes 3 minutes, and can be arranged at the hotel. Drive up the beech-lined drive to reach the castle and its 800 years of history. Local activities include golfing on an 18-hole course, clay-target shooting, a driving range, archery, tennis and croquet. There are also several nature trails and walking paths to explore.” (Booking.com) Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 7.28.10 PM

Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 7.53.24 PM Lisheen Castle, County Tipperary

“The castle is owned by the Everard family who have spent 5 years painstakingly restoring this historic castle from total ruin. After being totally destroyed by fire in 1921 during the final phases of the war of independence,  Lisheen Castle once again now stands proudly as a luxurious castle thanks to the care, dedication and hard work bestowed on the building by the Everard family. Lisheen Castle offers its guests a unique visitor experience; a taste of Ireland’s past, a traditional Irish welcome and the luxury of a high-end self catering vacation home. The castle has nine bedrooms in total, 6 double rooms all with bathroom, 2 singles room and a twin room which has 2 single beds.” (Lisheencastle.com)

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Castlemartyr Resort, County Cork

“The castle from which the village of Castlemartyr takes its name was first built in 1210 by The Knights Templar, who were one of the most famous of the Christian military orders under the leadership of Richard Earl de Clare, more commonly known as Strongbow.” – Official Homepage

Facilities & Features

“Set adjacent to the ruins of 800-year-old castle, this 220-acre estate has a 17th-century manor house where guests can enjoy far-reaching countryside views and a stylish spa centre which includes an indoor swimming pool, 10 treatment rooms and a fitness studio. Cork International Airport is 23 miles away. The spacious rooms feature free Wi-Fi, an en suite bathroom, luxurious furniture and a flat-screen TV. Some rooms have stunning views of the resort. The award-winning restaurant The Bell Tower offers gourmet dining as well as a traditional afternoon tea menu including Smoked Salmon on Irish Soda Bread and home-made scones made with fresh, locally sourced produce. The Castlemartyr Resort includes an 18-hole, link-style golf course. Guest can also enjoy a carriage tour of the estate, including a visit to the historic chapel, the tomb of the 4th Earl of Shannon and Mitchell’s Woods.” (Booking.com)

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Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 8.15.19 PM Blarney Castle Hotel, County Cork (honorary mention)

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 11.07.00 AMThis one is sadly a bust, but get’s an honorary mention because it has “Blarney Castle” in the name. It has that because it is located near the famous Blarney Castle … you know, the one you kiss to obtain the gift of eloquence (locally known as “the gift of the gab”) … it looks like a wonderful hotel and seems like a great option to stay near the famous castle; but is not actually a castle itself.

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Blackwater Castle, County Cork (honorary mention)

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 11.31.19 AMThis castle is unique, in the sense that it offers accommodation for private hire of the whole castle. It is not a hotel, but it getting an honorary mention on this list, because it is a castle and it does offer accommodation, just not of the hotel variety. As stated on their official website: “While the Castle is generally let as a private rental on an exclusive basis when availability permits we are happy to take groups who would like a Guesthouse or B&B experience in a Medieval Castle. Contact us with your particular requirements and we will try to work something out with you.”

In case you’re ever looking to book a whole castle (wedding perhaps?) this might just be the place to go!

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Castle Townshend, County Cork (B&B, honorary mention)

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 11.51.38 AMHonorary mention number 3 for County Cork is Castle Townshend. According to the official website: “The Castle (pictured left) has always remained the home of the Townshend family, as it has been passed down through the generations. The present family who live here are the Cochrane-Townshends, Mrs Cochrane-Townshend being a descendant of the original Townshends who came here in 1649.”

With the owners still living here, they have reserved “7 guest bedrooms that are let out for bed and breakfast. These are all ensuite with bathroom or shower room and most of them have lovely sea views.”

Discover more on their official website (linked in the title).

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Ballyseede Castle Hotel, County Kerry

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 11.54.30 AM“Ballyseede Castle, one of the best known Castle Hotels in Ireland, has a history dating back to the 1590’s. Set in 30 acres of native woodland Ballyseede has been wonderfully transformed into a luxury hotel for you to enjoy.  One of the most unique & special luxury Tralee Hotels, this Castle Hotel offers you formal and casual dining, 23 en-suite bedrooms and 3 beautiful private rooms complimented by enchanting formal gardens.” – Official Website

Facilities & Features

“Take a step back in time with a hotel steeped in history that offers luxurious surroundings within 30 acres of private gardens and woodland. The Doric columns that lead to an elegant oak staircase in the lobby are indicative of the grand decoration throughout the hotel. Impressive drawing rooms with ornate cornices, adorned with marble fireplaces provide an ideal setting for afternoon tea or morning coffee. Elegant accommodation, fine dining with traditional Irish cuisine, rooms that tell a story and the picturesque natural setting, will all comprise make your stay at Ballyseede Castle an unforgettable one.” – Booking.com

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Adare Manor, County Limerick

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 12.01.11 PM“The Manor Hotel Ireland bedrooms all whisper a hint of Caroline and her penchant for luxury and splendour. All of the bedrooms in this 5 Star Hotel Limerick are individually designed – each with its own personality and proportion – many featuring the little details and additions lovingly added by Lord and Lady Dunraven in the 1800’s. Expect carved headboards, expansive adjoining bathrooms and original fireplaces – each room telling its own version of a story. Guests can choose to dine in the comfort of their own rooms with our in-room menu appealing to any time of day. Boudoir seating and ample table space mean that one need not leave their room at all!” – Official Website

“Situated in the heart of Adare Village in County Limerick, Adare Manor is a luxury 5-star hotel and golf resort steeped in history and surrounded by medieval ruins. Set in an 840-acre estate, the hotel offers unique rooms with ornate, luxurious furnishings and free Wi-Fi. Guests can enjoy the best of contemporary food in the 2 restaurants at Adare Manor, and the Tack Room pub has an open fire and live piano music. The estate is home to a championship golf course designed by Robert Trent Jones Senior and offers superb trout fishing on the River Maigue. Guests can stroll through the stonewalled gardens and winding woodland paths, discover the colourful history of Adare Manor and its story-filled walls. ” – Booking.com

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Dromoland Castle, County Clare

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credit: booking.com

“The present building was completed in 1835. However, the first building constructed here seems to have been a tower house built in the 15th or early 16th century and is recorded as being erected by Thomas, the son of Shane Mac Anerheny. There were at least three houses on the site, at various times, called Dromoland. While Dromoland later became residence of eight generations of the O’Brien family, early records suggest that the area was also occupied by other local Gaelic families, such as the McInerney family during the 16th century. According to the historian James Frost, Dromoland translates as the “Hill of Litigation”.” – Wikipedia

Facilities & Features

“A pretty lake, championship golf course, and sweeping grounds surround this magnificent 5-star castle. It dates back to the 5th century, and guests can dine in an elegant restaurant with high ceilings, relax in the spa, or try falconry and archery in awe-inspiring surroundings. Approached by a long drive that winds through acres of pretty lawns, Dromoland Castle was originally home to Gaelic royalty. Now guests can stay in large, traditionally furnished rooms that boast modern features like a flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi. Afternoon tea is served with freshly baked pastries and bread, and the old library has been converted into a cocktail bar where guests can sit beside an open fire and take in picturesque lake views. There are restaurants for formal and informal dining, with wide-ranging and innovative menus. Dromoland Castle Hotel is only 20 minutes’ drive from Shannon Airport, and the city of Limerick can be reached in 30 minutes by car. The rugged Cliffs of Moher are one of the most striking sights in Ireland, and are less than an hour’s drive from the castle.” – Booking.com

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Bunratty Castle Hotel, County Clare (honorary mention)

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 6.14.27 PMJust like its cousin the Blarney Castle Hotel, this hotel is situated very near a famous Irish castle; in this case Bunratty Castle & Folkpark (where they serve a magnificen medieval banquet) but the hotel itself is not part of the castle. As such, it earns its honorary mention.

You can discover more about this castle on it’s official website (linked in the title above).

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Both Ballinalacken Castle Country House Hotel and Gregan’s Castle Hotel have castle in the name, but nothing about the building suggest that they had anything to do with castles at any given point. Don’t get me wrong, they are both gorgeous and charming in their own ways, and certainly worth a visit but I think the title of castle is woefully misleading and inappropriate.

I hope that you enjoyed this instalment of Castle Hotels of Ireland. Next time we will look at the final province; Connacht.

If you’ve ever stayed in any of these magnificent accommodations, or have any thoughts to share, please let me know in the comments! 😀

As always, thanks for reading and take care. xoxo

Belfast Bikes – 4 out of 5

There is something awesome to be said about a shared bike scheme, and this month saw the launch of Belfast’s very own Belfast Bikes, operated by NextBike.

IMG_0009Imagine, being able to cycle to work, the market, or just around town for fun, without having the fuss of actually owning the bike.

You don’t have to: find a place to lock it, be afraid of someone stealing it, go back to fetch it, have a place to store it at home (especially if you live in an apartment) and worry about not being able to take someone up on an offer for a lift home, since you won’t have to worry about leaving your bike.

It has larger scale effects as well: it makes city access easier than ever, hopefully decreasing traffic congestion in the long run, making the city fun to explore for tourists (boosting that industry) and generally getting people who hate walking 30 minutes to work and would rather take the bus, consider the more active and healthy route of cycling for 10 minutes instead.

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I think that all in all, it’s a brilliant system.

Belfast introduced 30 docking stations throughout the downtown area and the system itself is fairly simple; you can choose between two types of subscriptions 3-day (at a price point of £5) or one year for a mere £20.

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Belfast Bikes official Website

Once you have selected and payed for your subscription you go to any docking station and enter your phone and pin number. At this point the screen provides you with a unique bike number (as written on the bikes themselves) and you simply have to get the bike and cycle on.

IMG_0008The first half hour of use is free and every subsequent half hour is charged with an exponential increase in price, starting at £0.50/half hour. You can however return the bike before the 30 minutes are up and simply select a new one, restarting the whole cycle and never paying an additional penny.

The “insurance” for the bike, in case of theft or damage, is that NextBike is authorized to take £120 from the bank account with which you signed up, if you neglect to return the bike after 72 hours or it is reported to be damaged after your last use.

Now, I did have a concern about where to park the bike if the docking stations are full, given that I didn’t fancy cycling to the next station in search of a spot. This problem has a unique solution. The bikes are all equipped with standard numeric bike locks, each with a unique code. When you rent a bike, you receive a text message to the phone number associated to the account, verifying not only the bike number but providing you with the lock pin as well. You can use this lock, to lock the bike at the nearest standard bike station, then all you do is call the toll free number, tell them where you have locked which number bike and you move on with you day. A designated crew will come around to collect the bike later in the day.

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The bikes themselves are standard city bikes, with comfortable adjustable seats & handles, easy steering, front & rear lights, as well as a convenient front basket attachment, with flexible stretch ropes for larger items. Both my husband and I, who are built very differently, find the bikes pleasant to ride.

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The system has a few glitches, but I am going to put them down to early system hiccups, such as 3 of the docking stations not actually allowing me to pay for my subscription (forcing me to do it online), the docking stations having faulty pins that occasionally block you from returning a bike and the toll free number taking ages to get through to a person.

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See the little pins sticking out in the lock mechanism?

Other than that, I am very very happy with my annual subscription and enjoy the freedom of travelling by bike without any of the tedious responsibilities that come with owning one.

As an additional bonus, the partnership with NextBike allows members to use their subscription in any of their participating cities, meaning I can also use this subscription to access city bikes in all of these places:

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Pretty freaking sweet if you ask me!

I am giving the Belfast Bikes a solid 4 out of 5 starts, deducting one for the annoying glitches.

So if you’re in the Belfast Area (or are just curious) head on over to Belfast Bikes.

Thanks for reading and take care. xoxox