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As May is a month of bank holidays, why not hop across the Channel to enjoy a lovely getaway week-end in London?

Away from the beaten tracks, we take you down secret alleys  and well-kept locations to discover a London you know nothing  about.

 

From a medicine garden in Chelsea to coffee in a former public loo in central London, from the open ponds of Hampstead Heath to a “Bullshit tour of London”, discover a side of the city you never imagined by reading the following article for 101 unusual and unique things to do in London, curtesy of TimeOut .

http://www.timeout.com/london/things-to-do/101-things-to-do-in-london-unusual-and-unique

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April Fool’s Day, as it is known, is a day when people play practical jokes on each other and spread hoaxes. Sometimes, jokes happen between people but sometimes, newspapers, magazines and other media publish fake stories, with an apology rectifying things the next day.  april-1-fool

Yet, the origins of this day are quite obscure. One of the most prominent theories is that in 1582, France adopted the Gregorian calendar which moved the first day of the year from April 1st to January 1st. But some people continued to consider the 1st of April as the first day of the year. Little by little, these people were mocked and pranked. And so the tradition started.

Other people argue that it is derived from early pagan renewal festivals to mark the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring.

What is sure is that there have been references to a day of merry making in other cultures like India, or other times like Roman Empire.

The style of April Fools’ pranks has changed over the years. Sending the unsuspecting on pointless errands was an especially prized practical joke in those earlier post-Julian days.

Although the style of April Fool’s pranks has changed over the years, sending an unsuspecting person on a pointless errand is still a strong favourite.

Young mechanics are regularly sent to ask a more senior colleague for a tube of elbow grease, young doctors for a bucket of dehydrated water, and young carpenters for a bag of rubber nails.

So next time someone asks you to get a left-handed screwdriver, a tin of striped paint or a glass hammer, check the date. You might have been pranked!

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Oxbridge boat race

 

Amongst the popular sporting events occuring between March and April in the UK, is the ever popular Oxbridge boat race, a set of annual rowing races with eights, boats with 8 rowers, between Oxford University and Cambridge University boat clubs. It takes place on the River Thames in London either on the last week end of March or the first week end of April. The course is 4.2 miles long (6.8kms) between Putney and Mortlake.

The members of the teams are known as blues since Cambridge rows in light blue while Oxford rows in dark blue. Team members must be students of their respective universities and although they are all amateurs, their training schedule, 6 days a week for 6 months before the event, is very intense.

The first race was held in 1829 and has been an annual event since 1856, with the exception of war times. To this day, Cambridge has scored 81 wins against 79 for Oxford. A dead heat was recorded in 1877.

The race is now a British national institution as more than 250, 000 people watch the race live from the banks of the Thames each year and another 15 to 18 million also follow the race on television.

The tradition was started in 1829 by Charles Merivale, a Cambridge student and his friend Charlds Wordsworth, an Oxford student. Cambridge challenged Oxford to a race at Henley-on-Thames and promptly lost the race. Oxford rowed in dark blue as 5 of the crew members were from Christ Church College, Oxford, whose colours are dark blue.

The second race in 1836 took place between Westminster and Putney. The two following years, the place of the race gave rise to many disagreements and in 1839, the race moved officially to London.

The tradition continues today with the loser of the race challenging the winner to an annual rematch.

 

 

 

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We couldn’t talk about Ireland without mentioning one of the most famous Irish drinks.  Here are 10 facts about Guinness that you might not know.

1 Guinness is an Irish dry stout (a stout is a type of beer). It is brewed in almost 60 countries and is available in over 120 countries world wide.

2 Annual sales of Guinness total 850 million litres. In comparison, that represents the yearly wine production of the Veneto region in Italy.

3 The burnt flavour of the beer comes from roasted unmalted barley, which was introduced in the middle of the 20th century.

4 The thick creamy head of the beer comes from pouring the beer through a special tap. First, the waiter holds the glass at a 45° angle below the tap until the glass is three quarters full. The beer is forced at high speed through a specific plate at the end of the tap which creates small bubbles of nitrogen. The initial pour is left to settle and then the waiter fills the rest of the glass until the head is slightly domed over the top of the glass.

5 Nearly 40% of Guinness is consumed in Africa. Guinness owes 5 breweries worldwide and three are located in Africa. Nigeria, which boasts one of these breweries is the world’s second-largest Guinness consumer. Ireland comes third, Great Britain first, and Cameroon fourth.

6 Guinness is rich in iron and antioxidants and yet a pint of Guinness only brings 210 calories, about the same as a pint of orange juice (220 calories). For your information, a pint of full fat milk brings 320 calories while a pint of coke brings 232 calories. Guinness might after all be good for you!

7 To pour the perfect pint, it is said to take 119.5 seconds.

8 What we know today as the Guinness book of records was created in 1955 as a marketing giveaway.

9 Guinness is not just good as a drink. It is also fantastic added to your cooking. It has found its way into Irish stew, in sauces and even poured on top of vanilla ice cream for extra flavour.

10 This last fact is for you, my Vegan friends. I am sorry to say that Guinness isn’t vegan friendly. You see, the manufacturing process of Guinness involves isinglass. This is a product used as a finishing agent to settle suspended matter in the beer vat. Although you don’t normally find it in the beer since it is at the bottom of the vat, some traces might end up in the beer. And unfortunately, isinglass is made from fish.

 

 

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Irish Stew is a lovely, warming dish made with meat and potatoes. Traditionally, the meat used was mutton. Nowadays, people replace it with lamb or beef. Once eaten only during festivals like St Patrick’s day, it is now eaten more regularly.

There are many many variants of the recipe.  In fact, each family has its own recipe handed down from generations. There is a huge controversy over the addition of vegetables other than potatoes. Personally, I like to add carrots and onions and occasionally other vegetables too.  The following recipe includes carrots and onions.irish-lamb-stew-754

Ingredients

1 kilo of meat (traditionally lamb is used but beef is a good substitute)

650g of floury potatoes (for baking and mashing)

650g of waxy potatoes (like red skinned ones, that hold their shape after cooking)

1 kilo of carrots

2 onions

Lamb stock (or beef stock if you are using beef)

½ teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves

Chopped frech chives and parsley.

Recipe

  1.  Cut the meat into large chunks.
  2. Peel the potatoes (keeping both types separate) and cut into pieces of similar size to the meat.
  3. Put the two different types in separate bowls of water.
  4. Peel the carrots and cut into slightly smaller pieces.
  5. Slice the onions into thick rings.
  6. Put the meat in a large saucepan.
  7. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil. Skim off the surface regularly.
  8. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 10 minutes.
  9. Add the floury potatoes, carrots and onions.
  10. Season and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  11. Add the waxy potatoes and thyme.
  12. Simmer until the meat is tender. This should take about 15 minutes.
  13. Remove from the heat, cover and leave to stand for 15 minutes at least. The stew can be made the night before and reheated on the day.
  14. Season and serve.  And enjoy of course!
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dublin1Since Saint Patrick’s day takes place in March, we decided to go with an Irish theme and thought you would appreciate a little visit to Ireland.  For those of you who have never been there before, here is a list of ten locations to visit while in Dublin.

1 Trinity College Dublin

Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, Trinity College is Ireland’s oldest and most famous college. The college boasts a long list of famous alumni such as Samuel Beckett, Jonathan Swift, Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde. The college is most often visited because of the renowned Book of Kells, housed in the college’s library. This illustrated version of the four Gospels of the New Testament was created around 800 A.D. by Celtic monks. The manuscripts’ pages are illustrated with bright Celtic designs and depictions of Christ and his followers. And for you Star Wars fans out there, you will be interested to learn that the Long Room, in which the book is held was the inspiration for the Jedi archives room in “Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones”.

2 Guinness Store House

Ireland is renowned for its Guinness and although it is no longer produced in the Guinness Storehouse, you can learn all about the history of Guinness and the brewing process by visiting the place. The core of the building is shaped like a giant pint glass and you follow the brewing process by walking up the seven floors of the building. The top floor, housing the Gravity bar, offers visitors a complimentary pint of Guinness while enjoying the spectacular views of Dublin. Some people say it’s worth the price of the visit.

3 Kilmainham Gaol

Although this isn’t by any stretch of the mind, one of the happiest places in Dublin, it is a must-see if you are passionate about history. Kilmainham Gaol was famous for its brutal treatment of prisoners which ranked from petty thieves to famous politicians and Irish nationalists. Wandering around the prison, you get a real sense of what being imprisoned here must have been like. Tours of the prison are available, starting with an audio-visual presentation and there is also an extensive exhibition describing the prison’s penal and political history, from the 1780s to the 1920s. It is advised to arrive early to avoid disappointment as tickets are sold on first come first served basis.

 4 Phoenix Park

This park is the largest urban enclosed park in Europe. Spanning three miles (and encompassing more than 1,700 acres), Phoenix Park features plenty of lush green lawns, shady wooded areas and cool, clean lakes.  This park is full of things to do: it houses the Dublin Zoo, the third-oldest zoo in Europe, the Farmleigh House, a large Edwardian house with a working farm, and food market. The house is full of period furniture and decorations. The Visitor’s Center is also housed in a 17th century castle so it is well worth a visit. The park is also home to the residence for the President of Ireland, Áras an Uachtaráin, which is open for free tours on Saturdays. If you can’t have tea at Buckingham, why not try a pint of Guiness at Áras an Uachtaráin?

5 National Gallery of Ireland

For you art lovers, here is something worth seeing. Th entrance to the gallery is free and the collection includes around 2500 paintings and around 10 000 other works. There are numerous works by famous artists such as Caravaggio, Van Gogh and French Impressionists but also Ireland’s masters such as William Leech, Roderic O’Conor and Jack B. Yeats. In addition, the museum also hosts regular travelling exhibitions and concerts and lectures. What more could a culture vulture want out of one place?

6 St Patrick Cathedral

Dublin’s largest cathedral and the National Cathedral of the Church of Ireland, St Patrick cathedral was founded in the 12th century. Built on the site where St Patrick was said to baptize converts, the cathedral houses the tomb of Jonathan Swift, the author of “Gulliver’s Travels”, who was the dean of the Cathedral from 1713-45. The towering vaulted ceilings are a thing of beauty as are the many delicate details of the Gothic style on display there.

7 Leinster House

This is the home of the Irish parliament. Originally the ducal palace of the Dukes of Leinster, it has been housing a complex of buildings which is home to Oireachtas Eireann, the Irish parliament, members and staff. Visits of the impressive building are free and you can book a free tour.

8 Dublin Castle

This massive structure — which acted as the center of British rule in Ireland for about 700 years – is well worth a visit. You can visit the State Apartments, and the Chapel Royal as well as the 13th Century Record Tower. Not to be missed is the Cester Beatty Library which houses some of the finest collections of Eastern art. Alfred Chester Beatty, an American mining magnate, moved his collection of Easter art to Ireland in 1950. There is also a police museum within the castle walls. Best of all? Admission is free!

9 Croke Park

This is the headquarters of the main sporting body in Ireland, the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), who are in charge of  hurling and Gaelic football. Since 1884, it has been used to host Gaelic games. It is now the third-largest sports stadium in Europe and the spiritual home of Irish cultural nationalism.  And if you’re curious about hurling, check David’s earlier post about this strange sport.

10 O’Connell Street

This is Dublin’s main traffic artery and the widest urban street in Europe. There are many statues and monuments along the street and very large houses used as shops for the most part. The most famous building in O’Connell street is of course the General Post Office, a Georgian building which was the headquarters of the Rebels who started the Easter Rising in 1916. Shelled by artillery and ravaged by fire, it was rebuilt some years later when the Irish Free Government came into power. The façade is the only original feature remaining. A bronze statue of Cuchullain reminds the public of the fallen heroes.

There are plenty more places to visit but these 10 are must-see.  So when are you going to Ireland, then?

 

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st-patricks-day Everyone has heard of St Patrick’s day, a day to drink and have fun, especially if you are Irish.  But do you know the origins of this festival?

St Patrick’s day, celebrated on March 17th has been an official Christian feast since the Seventeenth century, commemorating Saint Patrick (c. AD 385–461), the patron Saint of Ireland and the arrival of Christianity in this land. Nowadays, it is also a celebration of Irish culture and heritage.

People attend public parades and festivals and normally wear green and shamrocks. It is said that St Patrick used the shamrock to explain the Holy Trinity to pagan Irish. The shamrock became associated with him and the festival. In fact, green has been associated with Ireland for a long time, at least since the 1640s when the Irish Catholic Confederation adopted a green flag with a yellow harp.

On St Patrick’s day, Christian people attend church services and during that day, the Lent restrictions are lifted and people are free to eat and drink.

Saint Patrick’s feast day, as a national day, was already being celebrated by the Irish in Europe in the ninth and tenth centuries. In later times, he became more and more widely known as the patron of Ireland. In 1903, Saint Patrick’s Day became an official public holiday in Ireland. The first Saint Patrick’s Day parade held in the Irish Free State was held in Dublin in 1931.

In the mid-1990s the government of the Republic of Ireland began a campaign to use Saint Patrick’s Day to showcase Ireland and its culture.  The first Saint Patrick’s Festival was held on 17 March 1996.

 

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Looking 'pro' for your interview

Looking ‘pro’ for your interview

Do you remember your last job interview? Was it a ‘walk in the park’ or a ‘nightmare’?

If you are planning or hoping to have another interview, here are the first 3  tips (suggestions) from job specialists, Monster.

Practice Good Nonverbal Communication

Show that you are confident: stand up straight, make eye contact and connect with a firm handshake. That first nonverbal impression can be a great beginning — or a quick ending — to your interview.

Dress for the Job or Company

Today, many companies have a casual dress code. This does not give you permission to dress as “they” do when you interview. It is important to know what to wear to an interview and to be well-groomed. Whether you wear a suit or something less formal depends on the company culture and the position you are seeking. If possible, call to find out about the company dress code before the interview.

Listen

From the very beginning of the interview, your interviewer is giving you information, either directly or indirectly. If you are not hearing it, you are missing a major opportunity. Good communication skills include listening and letting the person know you heard what was said. Observe your interviewer, and match that style and pace.

If you want more suggestions, click on this link and read the rest of the article.

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