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

Monday, 2 December 2013

Running Scared

Yesterday (December 1st) was the annual Cayman Marathon, where around 1,200 people get up at 4am in the morning to start running at 5am.

The marathon has a number of options:
  • those (insane) people keen on running the full 26 miles
  • those that want to run the half marathon and;
  • those that want to run in a relay team of 4 x 10km
Having trimmed down a bit in recent months, I felt I could be in with a chance of completing one of the 10km legs in the 4 person relay.
Training outside here is tough, yet essential for acclimatising to the sizzling heat of the Caribbean. I started in October, managing just over a mile, and every week I got a little bit farther, a little bit faster and a little bit fitter.
However, I still hadn't managed a full 10km (or 6.2 miles), the best I'd managed was 5 miles the week before the marathon. So I was nervous, very nervous in fact - even though we knew there was no chance of us winning the relay, there's still that bit of pressure to do it in your best time.

I ended up doing the first leg, the main advantage is the temperature, it's more like 78 / 26 degrees, whereas once the sun rises, the temperature quickly follows.

Setting my alarm for 3.45am was a little unpleasant, and despite being very tired, I got the usual case of struggling to sleep because I knew I needed to sleep - just what you need the night before a big race.

Heading into George Town at 4.30am, I was amazed by the atmosphere, hundreds of people had come down to support, despite it being in the middle of the night.
At 5am on the dot, the race started. I'd been warned by other more experienced runners not to fall into the trap of keeping pace with other runners and collapsing after a mile, so I was very conscious of keeping to my own more serene pace.

It was pretty strange running at that time, and the route takes you all the way down the main road from George Town to Spotts. Despite driving up and down that road hundred of times before, there were occasions when I had no idea where I was as it was so dark.

Leg one of the relay is from the Start to the Turn Around point (far right)
At every mile there's a water station allowing the opportunity of well needed re-hydration. These are all themed differently, we had an Indian theme, a Paparazzi theme, a Tea Theme and many others.
By mile three, I started to enjoy attempting to cool myself down by throwing the cup of water in my face.
Seems sensible, but this was a grave error, at mile four I grabbed a water and again chose to throw half of it in my face. Except it wasn't water, it was Gatorade. Not quite as refreshing as water, and twice as sticky.

Passing our road, I was greeted by Kim and the kids clapping me on, this really helped spur me on for the last couple of miles.

Poor quality shot of me running, probably around 5.50am, still dark!
Getting to the turnaround point and passing the time chip to the next team runner was hugely satisfying. I managed to do the race in 66 minutes which I'm over the moon with. It's given me a huge incentive to build on that.

At the end of your race, you're asked which water station you felt was best. The winning water station all get a prize, I believe it's flights to the US which is pretty good!

After an hour or so, we all headed into town to see the finish, the atmosphere was great and the team were duly given their runner's medals.
One of our team running the fourth and final leg - notice the difference once the sun came up!
The Finish line - a sight many would have appreciated
It seemed completely the right decision to then head to Fidels Irish Pub and have a full Irish breakfast followed by a beer - despite it only being 10am.

I never cease to be impressed by the organisation of events here in Grand Cayman, and the Cayman Marathon is no different, an excellent event and one which I'll look forward to being involved in again in 2014.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

It's 4 o'clock somewhere...

Guest Post from Kim.

To be honest I can't believe we are approaching 2 years in the lovely Cayman Islands and there is no post entirely dedicated to booze; I just had my birthday and as approximately 50% of the cards made some reference to wine, it's clear it's about time!

Thankfully alcohol is not in short supply as it's a very popular form of entertainment. For the first few months it was incredibly difficult to accept you weren't on holiday and treat yourself to a gin and tonic at 4 pm on a Tuesday!

The thing that spurred me on to write this post is the wonderful new change in the licensing laws. The booze shops (liquor stores) can now stay open till 10pm. Yippee!

A Refreshing Change!

The previous situation being that they pretty much all had to close at 7pm which created a rather embarrassing last minute sprint to the booze shop at 6.55pm, where you're guaranteed to meet at least one person you know getting a crafty bottle of wine or 6 pack! I haven't actually been to the booze shop after 7pm yet, but the point is you can!

You may think this is small news but it's irritating enough that you have to go to a separate shop for your booze and not just get it in on the Tesco shop! (Obviously being forced to buy 6 bottles to be economical and get the discount!)

So moving on to going out and drinking, there's plenty of choice. A lot of cocktails to be had, they are available at pretty much any drinking establishment.
I suppose the most famous over here is a mudslide. Not really a fan myself, but many of our guests have enjoyed sinking them down. Drank on the beach at Rum point, good times.

Recently I have partaken in some yummy 5 dollar Martinis at Karma sutra Wednesdays. Particular favourite the Happi-tini, not quite so good a tea based one that my friend ordered, yuk! Tea and alcohol not the best combo in my opinion.

I am also a big fan of a Mai Tai at Tiki Beach, especially with accompanying sunset.

Mai Tai - Check. Sunset - Check. Tiki Beach - Check.

Side Bar at Grand Cayman beach suites does a cracking happy hour every day with all drinks half price, of course, this requires hubby to order posh rum previously out of budget!

You can have booze with breakfast on the weekend (personally not that tempting, except possibly Christmas Day) but it's fairly commonplace here. Obviously there's brunch too, but that's an exception!

Jonny demonstrating that champagne and waffles make a winning combination

One of my favourite drinking occasions is Friday afternoon with the girls (and kids). We feel good about getting the kids together for a swim, scoot, bike ride, play and pizza and thus treat ourselves with a glass of wine or two. The perfect weekend introduction!

I'm no beer expert but have been assured that the beer from the Cayman island Brewery is most palatable. You can even buy one that saves sharks! Drinking beer to help wildlife what could be better! They also create a special beer for Pirates week; Pirates Gold.
Arrrr Me Hearties

There's definitely a more casual attitude to drinking and getting in the car here than in the UK. (This from the people doing the drinking and not the law, I have witnessed the police roadblocks checking people on a Friday night. ) This is not something I would do or would say any of my friends do but definitely an attitude I have noticed.
One thing I miss from the UK is a traditional style beer garden, it would be great here especially as the weather is guaranteed. Maybe I'm missing the point though and the reason a British beer garden is so great is because people delight at the fact the sun is shining for once creates a wonderful camaraderie and atmosphere.

One other thing to miss of course is the cost! The irony that some of the best and most reasonable bottles of wine here come from Australia and South Africa you would hope there could be some decent and reasonably priced stuff coming from South America ....... But no!

I literally could talk for ever on the good places to drink but as it's nearly Cocktail week (yep a week dedicated to drinking cocktails) I must go and partake, it is 4pm (somewhere).......

Monday, 30 September 2013

Back to school

As we say goodbye to the Summer, it's time for everything to kick back into motion again in Grand Cayman. Those who deserted the island over the hot months have returned, the kids are at school, and as such the traffic on the roads has increased ten fold.

With this being Jonny's first school, we had some big decisions to make in terms of which he should attend. There are a great number of very good schools on island, some of which follow the British curriculum, others that follow the American system. For us, it was a case of "go with what you know", so we focused our search on schools that follow the British curriculum, that narrowed the search to two schools: Cayman Prep and St Ignatius.

Both schools have a great reputation on island, we found that everyone had their own story to tell (good and bad) about experiences both as students and parents with children at the schools. In the end we opted for St. Ignatius - he and we are very happy with that decision and he's doing great so far.

Our weekends are now structured around extra curricular activities with the fantastic Cayman Rugby Juniors kicking off again on Saturday mornings (no lie in as it starts at 8am, not that we got one anyway!). We started sending Jonny last year and he loves it. Great coaches, very structured, and most of all the kids seem to love it too.
Bulldog at Cayman Rugby Club

Now he's coming up to five, we've signed him up for the Sunset FC junior football program which runs every Sunday. We've only been down twice so far due to inclement weather, but it's very impressive so far and he's really enjoying it.

Warming up with some jumping jacks at Sunset FC

We've had a fairly quiet hurricane season so far, but with bad weather heading our way later this week, it's a stark reminder that we're far from through it yet!

With October being mere hours away, the focus is soon going to be on Halloween, then comes Pirates Week and of course Christmas. Shocking how quickly 2013 has gone by!