Monday, 23 June 2014

Best Places for the World Cup

Whilst England's World Cup chances have gone (again), there's still a couple of weeks left of the World Cup and then of course we have the Premier League kicking off again, which gives me another chance to feel deflated watching Newcastle flirt with relegation no doubt.
Oh England, you've gone and done it again...

With the timing of the World Cup games leaning more towards the West, many of the matches were played during work time, but for those games you can catch outside of work, here are my top places to watch football out here, in no particular order:

Beaches (the Old Dog House in Grand Harbour)
Whilst the draft Caybrew isn't as good as it once was, and the food quality has suffered recently, it still remains one of the better places to watch football (or any sport). There must be over 20 screens which ensures that if there's a clash of fixtures, you should still get your match of choice showing there. 

Fidels
Now the Triple Crown has changed to Craft which prides itself in a huge selection of craft beers, Fidels has taken the crown for pub of choice for football. It does a great Irish breakfast, decent Guiness and is dark and dingy just like any pub should be! I think there's only two or three screens in total, but there's usually a good crowd of supporters down there.

Lone Star
We watched the England -v- Italy match down at Lone Star, and it had a great atmosphere. They have around 10 screens plus a projector (though with it being outdoors, the screen is pretty washed out). Decent food such as smoked brisket and ribs as well  as deals on beer buckets makes this a solid option. It is more geared towards the American sports though, so don't be surprised to find the baseball on instead of the match.

PD's (Pirate's Den)
The pub side of this venue could be any pub in England, decked out in dark woods etc. and about 5 screens behind the bar. Due to the size though, it can get pretty crammed in there. Why not then go to the restaurant side and comfortably sit in one of the booths. The beer is good and the food is great (and pretty reasonable).

The Club House
Now I've not been here for quite a while, but the last time I went, they had screens everywhere. Individual screens in the booths, a huge 100" projector as well as about eight large TVs behind the bar. The food was fairly decent too. Note that this has closed and reopened since, so I can't vouch as to whether it's still the same.

Camana Bay
There's no shortage of options for the World Cup in Camana Bay, and given that it's well suited to kids too, they can be soaking themselves in the fountains as you watch the match in Karoo! They've made a great effort for the tournament and decked out the main street to great effect.

Camana Bay

Over Time
A final mention for a new bar which I've heard is worth a visit, lots of screens, all day breakfasts and in the convenience of the Strand plaza.

If there's a place you'd recommend watching the football that I haven't listed, then let me know as I've got 40+ games to watch next season!

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Heating Up

The 2014 hurricane season has kicked off here in Cayman, and typically we're in for a lot more humidity, thunder storms and heat over the next few months. Hurricane season is a great reminder to stock up on your long life products - cans, packets etc. and we still need to review our hurricane kit to check what needs topping up or replaced. Still, usually tropical storms remain a fairly minimal risk to Cayman until later on in the season - August/September.

We've had a busy month or so with a trip to Tampa - a mere 90 minute flight from GCM. We promised the kids a trip to the US (haven't taken them in two years of being here), and Busch Gardens was the place of choice.




It is great to get off island once in a while, it's good to see some tall buildings, expanse and different scenery from Cayman - but only temporarily!

It also gave us an excuse to get some well needed shopping in, the variety (and price!) of clothes in the US is outstanding compared to the equivalent here, hence a lot of people will fly over to Miami for the weekend to top up. Given the generous duty allowance that Cayman offer, it makes sense.

We had a great trip there, we loved Busch Gardens, and it really gave the kids a first taste of a theme park. They're screaming out for Disney, but I think we may need wait a little while before we can afford that one!

LOST WEDDING RING - REWARD IF FOUND SAFELY!

Yes, it really happened, after nearly 9 years of marriage and sanctity, on Monday I lost my wedding ring in the Caribbean, somewhere between the sea trampoline at Cayman Beach Suites (the old Hyatt) and half way toward Royal Palms.
Truly a horrible feeling as I got out after an afternoon swim, went for the familiar twist of metal on my finger and just felt skin and bone. Despite going straight back in with snorkel and mask and a further attempt from Kim, it's nowhere to be found.
Why not then put the popularity of this blog to good use. If you're swimming or snorkeling in that area and come across a wedding ring, there will be a reward for its safe return. Email: fakegeordie@gmail.com. As unlikely as it is to be found, I can't just sit and do nothing.

MONSTER ON THE LOOSE

We had a surprise guest in our house this week, well I say our house, it was actually within the walls. It was Monday evening (yes after an already stressful day of losing my ring), lying in bed, about to drop off and we hear this strange slow yet purposeful scraping sound. Our immediate guess was a crab crawling on the roof, so we popped outside with a torch and tried to locate the cheeky crustacean. No luck so back to bed.
The noise continued a little, but then stopped abruptly. The next day we forgot about the episode, and carried on with our working day. That night though, the noise came back, only louder and more continuous.

We came to the horrifying conclusion that there was definitely something alive inside our walls...

Our sleep was broken, restless and full of strange dreams about monsters of the deep.
At 6am, we could cope no more, armed with only a pair of BBQ tongs I located the general proximity of this monstrous being which was by the A/C vent in our bedroom.
I was severely impeded by the height of Tess' high chair (we don't have a ladder) but despite that obvious disadvantage, with the testosterone pumping I reached up to the A/C vent and tentatively unhooked the latches.
I was met with black eyes the size of footballs, claws the size of a car and a body the size of a house. I stumbled back, but kept my resolve. The battle lasted five minutes at least, and with sweat pouring down my face and quick reactions, it looked like I was going to win. However, this leviathan had a trick up his sleeve and at the last minute he managed to run back into the vent.
Despite trying again twice that day, he'd got the better of me and stayed well away from the A/C grate.

The crab (as I saw it)
A call to our landlord highlighted that one of the groundsmen was an expert in the capturing of crabs and I promptly invited Peter (the hero of this story) to come and see for himself. That night he left a nice mango in the vent and the crab fed well (we certainly didn't want the crab to die in there as the stench would have been truly terrible).
The next morning Peter came back and by distracting it with a torch, managed to snag the beast, and here he is in all his glory.

The crab (in reality)
As you can see, a true monster of the deep. Still, it means we'll sleep well tonight.





Thursday, 8 May 2014

Batabano 2014

Last Saturday saw the annual Batabano carnival here in the Cayman Islands, and it didn't fail to put smiles on the faces of both those that took part, and those who watched.

We took a slightly different approach this year and got ourselves a nice shaded wall at the start of the procession at Seven Mile Beach, in previous years we've gone right to the heart of it in George Town which for a first timer is well worth doing. However it can get a bit intense with the crowds, and let's be honest, by that time a few of the revelers are a little 'tired and emotional' shall we say!




We managed to get a few shots, but for those of you who want a real flavor of the 2014 Cayman Islands Batabano there is this excellent video produced by Robert Ibeh you can view below.


Thursday, 17 April 2014

Time for Change...

These last few weeks (much like the weeks before it) have flown by again in a blur of activity. After the St Paddys' day run, it was time to knuckle down and start packing the house up for our first Cayman house move!
Typically as is the case with any large scale life event that we're involved in, things are never simple and we always end up nearly biting off more than we can chew.. and this time was no different.
With new jobs, visitors and a last minute conference in Orlando, the timing of the move couldn't have been much worse, but we coped admirably (or rather Kim did as I was in Orlando at the time).

It was a completely left field choice moving hundreds of miles from the lazy suburbs of South Sound to the bright lights and hum of "inner city" Seven Mile Beach (SMB) (OK, maybe six miles).

There are a few differences that we've noticed in our short time in civilization:

Firstly, Iguanas are so last year in SMB, so what was a familiar sight every morning in South Sound, has now been replaced with these angry looking fellas.

This photo is courtesy of TripAdvisor

There are quite a few crab holes in our back yard, and in the morning if you're quick, you'll spot them all coming out to play!
Now Duggy the dog used to love chasing Iguanas, but we always panicked a bit as she got ever closer to snaring one, we just never knew who would come off worse.
Watching her interact with crabs in complete confusion has been pretty entertaining. I'm waiting for the inevitable bark of surprise when one eventually pinches her nose though.

Convenience is something we never really had in South Sound, only the petrol (gas) station was walkable. Where we are now is just metres from liquor stores, shops, restaurants and bars, we can walk pretty much everywhere. Though with the accessibility of these comes the unavoidable increase in noise and traffic, but nothing a few rums can't sort.

Of course, the main lure of SMB is having this just a few short steps from the back door (the beach not the dog).



Tuesday, 18 March 2014

St Patrick's Day!

Yesterday saw the annual St Patrick's Day fun run - a 5km run around the Britannia Golf Course. This is the first time we've been and it was a great event.


You wouldn't get this sight on a Monday evening in Dublin

I was very impressed by the number of kids who took part - most of whom comfortably beat me!


Over 1,100 people took part of all ages and sizes and what an excellent atmosphere!


Runners limbering up for the start

Whilst the race was relatively short at a little over three miles, it was in tough conditions - the sun was blistering, there wasn't a breeze to be felt, tight corners, lot's of little hills and hundreds of people (and kids!) to try to evade on route!

The route

Despite the above challenges, I was pleased with my time at around 27 minutes, it's given me hope that I can get my 10k down to less than an hour with some dedicated training!

Me - a little red in the face



Jonny making friends
After the race there was a prize draw with 65 prizes - ranging from gift vouchers for restaurants to whiskey, mobile phones and more. Alas, we came away empty handed, but we'll try again next year for sure!

February flew by in a blur of activities and visitors, and we're already in mid March. Where is this year going?

First there was the Cross-Island Relay where a team of six each run a four mile leg around the islands.
Both Kim and I captained our respective teams and coordinating team names, favoured legs, kits and registration kept us fairly busy. The day was great fun though and both of us got PBs with our time.

We've never been to Taste of Cayman before, but had heard lot's of positive reviews. This also took place in February at the Festival Green in Camana Bay. It was a lot of fun, there was a real festival feel to the whole event, we had an Abba tribute band - hmmm, fireworks, plenty of food to try and then the alcohol.
Popular (with us) were the Agua hog sandwich, the Mac Attack burger from Waterfront and bizarrely enough, the free patties from Island Taste Patties, which funnily enough got more popular as the night went on and the booze flowed freely!

We then had visitors in the guise of Kim's parents for a couple of weeks which was lovely. Lot's of trips out to the beach, sunset cocktails and meals out. I think they're already planning their next trip out.

We have more visitors to come next month, and we're also moving house so lot's to pack before the big move in a few weeks!

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Top 5 burgers in the Cayman Islands

It's been a tough challenge this, sampling succulent burgers in torrid conditions...
Burgers of the Caribbean


...but what can I say, I'm a true professional.
We've been here just over two years now, and in that time, I've certainly seen my fair share of waist expansion as a result of my continued strive to find the best burger on island. And I think I've finally found it.

First though, a quick rundown of my favourites - let's be clear though, I'm not including any fast food eateries - any place where you don't have to get out of your car to pick up your food is off my list! I've linked to each of their websites so you can check the menus out yourselves.

#5 - Lauren's 

This little cafe is run by husband and wife Link and Lauren, hidden in the top corner of Buckingham Square, it's easy to miss. Great friendly staff and delicious food, I think almost all of it, including the bakery are cooked from scratch.
Only one burger on the menu, but this is a case of quality over quantity. The Link's Angus Burger is a good sized quality burger and comes on a beautiful home made bun with caramelised onions, Swiss cheese, sauteed mushrooms and house salad (I'm sure you could carb up if you went for the fries option).
I was really surprised (in a good way) when I tasted it, price wise it's a little more than the other choices, but still about average for a burger in Grand Cayman. If you're looking for a good lunch option then this could be the place for you.

#4 Burger Shack

Now there's no glitz or glamour about this hole in the wall eatery, an extensive menu and hundreds of options allow you to really customise your patty to your choosing. Set in the Marquee Plaza just in front of Al La Kebab, it is a bit of a popular joint with the late night drinkers desperate for some subsistence, but just like its neighbour Al La Kebab, the quality of food is so good that you'll happily have it for breakfast.

#3 Sunshine Grill

For the first 12 months of our time here in Grand Cayman, this was a place we came time and time again. It's great for families, relaxed and claims to have the best burgers on island. For me, it's a close one, especially when you throw in their chopped salad or Sunshine Scramble. The staff are friendly, the cocktails are big and then comes the burgers. Huge they are, cooked to your liking, there are six options including sliders. My favourite is the Old Fashioned, a simple classic with cheese, pickles and salads. Kim prefers the Baby Blue with blue cheese, fried onions, arugula and bacon. I've never had a bad meal here and it's great for visiting guests too.

#2 Pirates Den (PDs)

No less than eight burgers, the Jerk being the one of choice here. If you happen to want something different, couldn't recommend the wings or ribs any higher if I'm honest. It's a sports bar, so don't expect views over the ocean or candles on your table. Back to the burger, the Jerk is no nonsense and no frills, but it's exceptional. The spices from the homemade jerk sauce, the quality of the meat to the bun and accompaniments are all top notch and all for less than $10. All these factors make this the second best place to get a burger on island.

#1 Mr Burgers

The winner of my best burger in the Cayman Islands award goes to... Mr Burgers!
Nestled in between the delights of the industrial park and the airport, this is not a place with much passing trade so it requires a special trip to get to, but believe me it's worth it. Inside this unassuming restaurant, you're met with red and chrome everywhere, it feels a little like an American diner from the 50s. The staff are friendly, the place is relaxed and despite it being a little out of the way, always has regular patrons. 
Before I get to the main event, let's talk milkshakes - Jonny and Tess are huge fans of the strawberry and Oreo shakes, made from scratch and served in a classic glass, they really are amazing, but we're not here to talk about shakes, we're here to talk burgers. 
With 20 choices, I've yet to scratch the surface, but I will strive to get through them in time. My favourite here has to be a tie between the New Yorker and the Superbowl, the meat is top quality, cooked to perfection and the bun, oh my word the bun, being that I'm watching my weight (you may find that ironic considering the subject of this blog post!), I'll often leave some of the bun to avoid too much carbs, but not with these bad boys, sweet doughy goodness. It's also the cheapest out of all of the above (though only by 6 cents), they deliver over lunch too, and if burgers aren't top of your list then breakfast is great (amazing Eggs Benedict) and they have a great pasta selection - though as with most places on island, I really don't get why pasta dishes are always the most expensive on the menu.



So that's our top five places to eat burgers on the island, some may disagree, and as a stalwart burger fan on a mission, I'd love to hear of other suggestions. These are after all just personal preferences. 

Now, I best get some exercise done to burn some calories to make room for my next visit.

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Flying North for the Winter

We spent Christmas 2013 in the midst of our family and friends in the chaos of the UK. What we've realised following several returns to England is that it's never really a holiday or vacation, it's more a visit - where you schedule to meet everyone, but actually get to speak to no one (in detail anyway). An hour here and there for friends gives nothing more than the scratching of the surface and small talk. It was great therefore to get dedicated time with a few of them, and catch up over a long evening - usually involving drinking too much.
Our trip consisted of several legs, we flew from Grand Cayman to Atlanta and then onto Manchester from there. The flights with Delta both ways were great, and Atlanta Airport is a much better experience than its counterpart Miami. So then, what did we do:

Manchester - 19 Dec - 21 Dec

We stayed with my parents in Hale, Cheshire - I've lived in and around this area almost all of my life, in fact up until our move to Cayman, Kim and I lived only a couple of miles away in Timperley.

That night despite the jet lag, I managed a night out in Chorlton, Manchester with a good friend. The next day it was off to Manchester centre to meet a few people, take in the delights of the German Christmas Markets. In all honesty the markets haven't changed much (if at all) since I last visited two years ago, the usual array of spicy sausages, pancakes, mulled wine, wooden toys and produce, but it's still a great place to get into the spirit of Christmas. We also hoped to get on the Manchester Big Wheel as this would be a great experience for the kids, unfortunately it was still being erected, so we missed out on this opportunity.
That evening Kim caught West Side Story at the Palace with friends and I caught up with another good friend for a bite to eat and some drinks (mainly drinks). After two brief days it was onto our next (and longest) destination.

Barrow-upon-Trent, Derbyshire, 21 Dec - 28 Dec

Being one of five children, each of whom have their own respective families, it became apparent several years ago that we'd never be able to spend Christmas all together in one of our modest houses. We made a pact therefore to meet up every two years and spend a week somewhere rural in a rented house that could accommodate us all. Every month we each send a small amount to a Christmas account (between £30 and £50 depending on the size of the family), and after two years of saving, we have enough to rent a house during Christmas week which is big enough for the 22 of us, all the food you could possibly eat, all the booze we could possibly consider drinking and enough money leftover to go on a day trip out with this kids. It's a great way of saving enough as the regular outgoings are barely noticeable over such a long period of time.

This time we were staying at The Hill, a large 9 bedroom country house in Derbyshire.


Having been out of the bosom of the family for a good while, I'd forgotten how noisy and hectic it can be when all of us are together!

Not the quietest lot my family...
Each night a different couple would don the aprons and cook for the entire family, the cleaning up was a military operation.

Cooking for 22 - no pressure then.
Bottles of wine were counted, re-counted and stock rotated to ensure optimum spread across all nights. Cheese, pâté and crackers were consumed at a light speed rate, and of course Port being the perfect accompaniment that too. I think we got through two and a half bottles of whiskey, around eight bottles of port, hundreds of beers and nearly 50 bottles of wine - and that was only the first night!
Some of the grounds - perfect for exhausting hyper kids
Christmas isn't Christmas without some Holly

Entertainment was expertly provided in the form of Sardines for the kids in the huge grounds of the estate, casino night for the grown-ups, dance-offs, magic shows from the kids, a day trip to Calke Abbey and a chance for Tess to sample "real" snow for the first time (at The Snowdome so as close as we could get!).

Jonny and his cousin Chaya enjoying a bit of tobogganing at The Snowdome

A small selection of presents

It was a brilliant opportunity to catch up with my family, but all to quickly it was time to pack up the car again and move on to the next leg.

Newcastle 28 Dec - 31 Dec

Next up the North East to see Kim's family, this was actually the most relaxing part of the holiday, time to recharge the batteries, sitting in front of a log burner, catching up over long evenings and drinking (more) wine over the course of a few days. As we were still exhausted, we didn't try to do too much, with only a brave trip to a retail park to buy some new running gear.

Leeds 31 Dec - 2 Jan
Our second to last leg was to see some good friends, we spent the day at Stockeld Park which was excellent fun, a huge maze was the first port of call, we managed to lose Jonny twice - he was as cool as a cucumber whilst we were panicking like mad.
This map proved very useful in the ongoing search(es) for Jonny

Then a bit of ice skating for those interested (not me thank you very much, never have, never will).
Tess - Braver than me.

A walk through the Enchanted Forest was up next which was a really magical place for the kids, talking trees, dragons, witches coves and fairies - what more could a two and five year old want?!

New Year was a serene affair which was just what we needed after a hectic couple of weeks, although I continued on my 13 day drinking streak. We were looked after exquisitely by our hosts - thanks to the Cashs!

Finally a quick stopover at Manchester, with over 800 miles on the hire car we were shattered and then another night of drinking for me! We had some emotional goodbyes, wishes of good health for 2014 and then back to Atlanta.

The return to Cayman involved a stopover, we chose the Renaissance Concourse - the view over Atlanta runway was excellent, really interesting watching the constant landing and taking off of planes.



Kudos to our kids Jonny and Tess who despite having to sleep in five different beds and places, adapted well to it (and the cold!).

So that was that, back to Cayman - to the rain would you believe! It was a great trip back, but it's fantastic to be back in Cayman and to catch up with everyone we missed over Christmas. Finally credit to those who kindly allowed me to use their photos on this blog, unfortunately the majority of our pics were dreadful!
A warm (if a little wet) welcome back to Cayman