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Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The great iphone 6 photography experiment

Re-wind two years ago and I used to rave about my iphone camera - all of my blog photos were taken on my iphone (some were better than others) as I didn't know any different. However buying my Nikon D3200 last year was a real game changer for me and I now use this for about 90% of all of the photos you see on this blog. My Nikon produces beautiful images that are far superior to anything my iphone can take, however it does have it's draw backs  - the main one being that it is big and heavy to carry around so I don't always have it on me meaning that photos at the park don't usually feature on my blog unless I have specifically taken my Nikon with me. I do ALWAYS have my iphone with me though, so when Mandy Charlton Photography selected us to take part in her great iphone experiment I was intrigued to see the results (Disclaimer - Mandy does not normally take portrait photographs with her iphone - this was simply an experiment to see what her phone could do).


We met Mandy at Heaton Park one hour before sunset (Mandy is a professional photographer and photographs children for a living - I was kind of hanging off her every word! Tip 1 - The hour before sunset is recommended as a good time to photograph children as the light will usually be good).

Mandy was prepared and arrived with her brand new iphone 6 and selfie stick. I sat back and let her do her stuff! Mandy is a natural with children - getting them on her side and making them naturally laugh which is something I wish I could do! (Tip 2 - Don't ask children to pose, simply talk to them and make them smile as you snap away)

iPhone Photographs




The above two shots were taken with an iphone - they are perfectly acceptable to print and shock horror I would even use them on my blog!

We then decided to put the iphone's burst mode to the test - this is perfect for taking photographs of children who like to run about and those all important action shots. The iphone 6 takes an impressive 10 frames per second in burst mode. Here are the results:-


I love this photo - it is just  shame Heidi's face ended up blurred - to be fair, this happens when I use my Nikon in sports mode a lot too, I imagine if we tried a few attempts, the iphone 6 would eventually get a shot where all of their faces are in focus.



I also love these black and white images and I can't believe they were taken on an iphone! In fairness a lot of this is down to Mandy's wonderful editing skills (Tip 3 - Lightroom and Photoshop are what the pro's use to edit their photographs).

Professional Photographs


The following photographs were taken with Mandy's professional Fuji X-pro1 and I can honestly see a huge difference. The X-pro just seems to capture a sparkle in my children's eyes that you just don't get from iphone photography and the clarity and depth of field in much more apparant. I just love these photographs of my children. Although I have a professional camera myself, and take a lot of photographs of my children myself, I am not a professional photographer (and always use my camera on auto mode?) and I just don't have the ability to capture my children the way Mandy can. I think Heidi looks like an Angel!




Mandy has really captured our children's personalities. Harry's nick-name is Mr.Sensible:-



Jack is the known as the crazy child which again has been perfectly captured:-



Mandy then used the 'burst' mode on her X-Pro which actually shoots less frames per second but I think the results are crisper than the iphone and all of our children's faces are in focus this time:-



Conclusion


I'll be upgrading to an iphone 6 next month and when I do I am certainly going to try and take more 'everyday' photographs with it. I think the iphone has now got to the point where it can produce quality images that with a bit of editing would be fine to upload to instagram or print and frame. However I think you really can see the difference between what the iphone can do and a professional camera can do so I won't be hanging up my Nikon for blog photos anytime soon!

Special offer with Mandy Charlton Photography


Book a 30 minute session with Mandy at either Jesmond Dene, Heaton Park, Saltwell Park or Tynemouth Longsands for only £25 and receive a 12x8 print of your choice for free. You will also have access to a web gallery for 30 days and 15% off any orders in your first week. Offer valid until 30/4/15.

Contact Mandy Charlton here and quote North East Family Fun to book.

I would not hesitate in recommending working with Mandy. She is professional yet informal and fun and will be happy to chat through some basic photography tips with you during your shoot.








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Monday, 30 March 2015

Afternoon tea at St Mary's Inn, Northumberland

When it comes to choosing a pay day treat I have a list as long as my arm. We have been wanting to return to St Mary's Inn since our visit last year and after seeing countless photographs of their beautiful afternoon tea popping up on my instagram feed, I knew I could not put off our return visit any longer and booked us a table on a Friday afternoon.


Afternoon tea is served between 12-5pm Monday-Friday and is priced at £14.95 per person. I'm sure there was probably enough food on our stand for Jack to share with us as he did at Jesmond Dene House however he loves Fish and chips so we ordered him a portion from the children's menu and he was happy.


You really are spoilt at St Mary's Inn and your tea stand is filled with three (all be it mini) scones each. These are the best scones I have ever tasted (and Hannah from Mumsdays agrees). I will whisper when I say this but I even think they are better than the ones we had at JDH. Scones are accompanied by traditional clotted cream, homemade jam and soft butter. Perfect!




There is a good selection of sandwiches available including salt beef and mustard and cheese and pickle. All served with their crusts removed and generously filled.

Tea and coffee is unlimited and we were asked if we would like a fresh cup/pot three times during our meal. They even asked the table opposite us if they would like a fresh drink when they had finished their meal which shows just how welcoming St Mary's is - there is never any hurry to 'turn tables' and it's the sort of place you can sit and relax for as long as you'd like.

After polishing off three scones and a handful of sandwiches I wasn't sure I could face the cake course. Luckily, Jack had just about finished his fish and chips and was keen to help us.



The cake stand is very similar to that served at Jesmond Dene House and featured lovely apple crumbles tarts, a miniature rhubarb fool, chocolate brownies and macaroons. All perfect bite sizes that ended our meal perfectly.

The above is taken from the St Mary's Inn website - note that it states they are unstuffy and informal and don't mind lots of crumbs. I can 100% verify this is the case as we handed Jack a macaroon and he decided it would be fun to crush it all over the table. Nice! The staff did not mind at all though and completely put me at ease telling me that they'd seen much worse. Phew!


Afternoon tea at St Mary's Inn receives the thumbs up from us! As we left we again could not help sighing and wishing that we could buy a house there just so it could be our local!

For now though, St Mary's will remain as a little escape for us. You can also stay overnight and rooms start at only £90 for two people including breakfast. We have been reliably informed that the bedrooms have been furnished using a similar luxury standard to those at Jesmond Dene House - it is hubby's birthday in July so hopefully we won't have to wait too long before we get to escape again.


If you have enjoyed this review, make sure you follow North East Family Fun on Facebook and please consider nominating us for a brilliance in blogging award (details here). Thank you :D


Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com
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Friday, 27 March 2015

Baggers Originals - review and Giveaway

I just loved watching Angela and Jessica's story on Dragon's Den in February. The mother and daughter team (from the North East) managed to secure a £100,000 deal in the den and I'm sure are now a huge inspiration to women across our region.


Angela was first inspired to create Baggers 21 years ago to keep her then 5 year old daughter Jessica clean and dry in the rain. The design evolved and the first rainwear to be carried in it's own attached bag was born. Baggers were a huge success - sadly too successful for Angela to keep up with orders and sadly the business had to close. Not to worry though as now 21 years later the company has been resurrected and baggers originals have gone from strength to strength (you can read more about their story here).

We were sent some baggers originals rainwear to put through their paces and we were hugely impressed. The outfits are very lightweight and roomy so I was surprised when they kept my children completely clean and dry during a rather wet trip to the park.






I think the pictures really speak for themselves. The rainwear was completely waterproof, roomy and fun. They are so easy to pack into their attached bag when we were finished (see this video for a quick demonstration) and are nice and compact which means they can easily be stored in the back of our car and used when needed. They are perfect not only to keep your children dry (and let them jump in muddy puddles to their hearts content) but what I found particularly useful was that they kept their clothes completely clean. 

Playing in the park can be a bit messy at times and nobody wants to be the parent who is telling their children to be careful. Baggers Originals provide the solution meaning if you are going out somewhere after the park or a walk on the beach, you don't need to worry about keeping their outfits in perfect condition - just pop a baggers originals over the top.

A Baggers Originals raincoat and waterproof trousers set can be purchased online here for the bargain price of £22.99-£24.99. They are sized to last two years so very good value. The lovely people at Baggers Originals have also given us a set to giveaway - simply enter using the rafflecopter giveaway below. Good luck!

1st Prize - One set of Baggers Originals rainwear in the colour/size of the winner's choice up to the value of £24.99. Prize must be claimed within 6 months. UK entry only.


If you enjoy reading our blog, please consider nominating us for a Brilliance in Blogging award (best travel) - details here. Thank you :D

Family Fever
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Thursday, 26 March 2015

A weekend in Marrakech

Marrakech has always been high on our list of places we'd like to visit so a few years ago for hubby's birthday, we decided to visit (child free) for the weekend. I booked a package holiday as our budget was limited. Flights and an all inclusive hotel worked out a lot cheaper than booking everything independently. We did not use the all inclusive facilities of the hotel to their full but it was nice to know we had the option if needed. Our hotel was the Riu Tikida Palmierie which was located just outside of Marrakech. There were free shuttle buses into the centre and taxi's were very reasonable. The hotel was fantastic - it had a lovely luxurious feel which is what you need when you are having a weekend away without the kids!


Arriving into Marrakech is like arriving in another world and was definitely a bit of a culture shock. My eyes were like saucers during our hotel transfer as men and children bathed in outdoor fountains, hundreds of people gathered outside numerous mosques dotted along our route to prey, donkeys pulled carts full of chickens and livestock (and several children were catching a lift) and there seemed to be a make shift fruit stall on every corner. The heat was intense and we could hear the call to prayer echo around the streets from the mosques. I couldn't wait for our Morrocan adventure to start!

                           

On our first day, we headed straight to the Majorelle Gardern for it opening. This garden is one of the most unique garden's I have ever wandered around. It was so tranquil and peaceful and some of the plants on display were truly stunning and unusual. There is also a small museum included in your entrance fee and a stop off in the courtyard cafe is a must. The drinks prices are very expensive but there is no way I could visit the garden and not enjoy a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice whilst taking in the views.



Feeling thoroughly relaxed we left the gardens and had already decided we were going to take a traditional horse and cart ride to the medina. We negotiated a deal (as is the norm) to about £50 for an hour which I thought was reasonable. I had heard stories about how you can be ripped off but we have to say our driver was lovely. He pointed out areas of interest and even took our photo for us. It was a fantastic way to gain some local knowledge and see some of the sights of Marrakech.



We were dropped off next to Jemaa el Fnna which is the main square in Marrakech. It was July when we visited and the temperature was 50C! Our visit also coincided with Ramadan so we were mindful not to openly eat or drink in front of locals and made sure we were well covered up. The square is huge but is much quieter through the day than the evening (could be something to do with the heat). We browsed the stalls and avoided the snake charmers and monkey handlers! It is true what they say, they have crazy dentists in the square too selling second hand teeth! We did not get hassled or feel bothered at all. I had read about the henna tattoo women being pretty persistent but they didn't bother us at all. We loved the orange juice stalls and stopped for a drink before heading into the medina.



The medina is located just behind the main square and is a labyrinth of narrow streets all lined with colourful stalls. Everything is for sale here and you may get your eyes opened! Moroccan leather stalls sit next to live chickens for sale, bright jewels next to mis-shapen veg. There is probably nothing you couldn't buy from the medina. We did get lost a few times but found our way back to the main square with the help of a few locals (who by the way do expect a tip). You don't get pestered by stall holders and shop keepers but you do get harassed by boys trying to be your guide. If you don't require this service just ignore them and they soon get the message. By this point in the day we were sooooo hot and gladly headed back to our hotel to cool off for a few hours before heading out at night.

Marrakech by night is a completely different experience. We organised a taxi with our hotel and the same taxi waited for us all evening and took us back to the hotel when we were ready which was nice. Jemaa el Fnna at night is just so busy and alive with activity. Crowds of people gather around traditional storytellers, snake charmers show off their skills and there are lines and lines of street food stalls for you to try. We wandered about for a bit and took a seat at a stall that took our fancy. The food wasn't the best we have ever sampled but that didn't matter. The atmosphere was just electric and it was lovely sitting back, enjoying Moroccan food and watching everything that was going on. The staff kept us entertained too.


After a lovely long sleep we were ready for another days adventures. We had pre-booked a Morrocan cookery course at Faim d'Epices. This cost us 50E each and was money very well spent. It was  one of the best value experience's we have ever enjoyed. Transport is included in the price and we were collected in an air conditioned mini bus on time which was fab. We collected another couple from the centre of Marrakech and were on our way. It took about 30 minutes to get to the beautiful rural farmhouse where the course was to be held. We received such a warm welcome from our host and enjoyed mint tea in the lounge whilst chatting and getting to know our fellow students.

We were then introduced to our chef Nezha and were all led to our own well stocked cooking stations. We got to work cooking a traditional tagine in the traditional method. It was great to receive hands on advice on how to cook. I'm not a great chef but Nezha was very patient with me and gave me lots of hints and tips. We layered our tagine ingredients and put it on the stove where it was to cook for an hour or so.



While our tagine was cooking, we stopped for more mint tea and were given a spice lesson. This was interactive and used all of our senses. We got the chance to smell, feel and taste the spices of Moroccan cuisine and learned about how they were produced. It was particularly interesting learning how saffron is produced, why it is so expensive and how you can tell if it's real!

After our break it was back to the cooking and now we were to make Moroccan flat bread to accompany our cuisine. Nezha took us through the technique (boxing and stretching the dough) and we then cooked our bread in a pan. I have to say, I was very impressed that I made the bread with my own fair hands! It was delicious. Nezha also demonstrated how to make some delicious Moroccan salads. I loved the flavour combination of the mint and orange salad, it was delicious.


Our tagines were ready and we all sat down together to enjoy our tagines along with our bread and salads. Wine was even included! It was a fantastic end to the day and we enjoyed chatting to other students about what they had got up to whilst in Marrakech. You are presented with a scroll certificate, a collection of recipes and a selection of Moroccan spices to take home which is a lovely touch and way to end the day. You can also buy tagines direct from the farm (which we did) at a reasonable price. Our driver collected us at approximately 4pm and took us back to our hotel.



On our final evening in Marrakech we reserved a table at Gastro MK which is a restaurant situated in a fabulous riad in the heart of the city. It continuously tops polls of the best place to eat in Marrakech and we could not turn down an opportunity like this. They offer a set menu in the evening, it has changed slightly since we visited, you can view current menus here.

With detailed directions provided by the riad we managed to find our way. If we ever stay in Marrakech again, I'm pretty sure we will stay here. The whole place is beautifully decorated with a decadent feel - the plunge pool on the ground floor looked amazing! We were escorted upstairs to the riad's roof terrace where we enjoyed cocktails and canap├ęs overlooking the whole of the city. The sun was just starting to set and we heard the call to prayer from the nearby mosques. It was such an experience to see the city going from buzzing and noisy to deathly quiet as everybody went indoors to break their fast. Then we watched hundreds of Moroccan men in their traditional robes meandering the narrow streets of Marrakech and heading towards their mosques to pray. It was an unforgettable experience to watch and just so memorable! We enjoyed fantastic views of the Koutoubia Mosque in the sunset as well.




When dinner was ready to be served we were escorted to a private poolside dining area which was candle lit and draped with lovely Moroccan fabrics. It was all very romantic. 5 flawless courses of modern Moroccan cuisine were served and we were mostly left to enjoy our food in peace. At the end of the meal, the chef popped over for a little chat to tell us a little more about the dishes and to check everything was ok which is a nice little touch. This meal was probably the most romantic meal we have ever enjoyed together. The service and wonderful surroundings really made it for us.



On our last morning in Marrakech we headed to the hotel pool to relax for a few hours. With 3 children, it is not often you get the chance to chill out on a sun lounger and we wanted to make the most of the Moroccan sunshine before leaving.


Marrakech has been the best city we have ever visited. We did not once feel threatened or unsafe and in fact everyone we met was courteous and friendly. I would not hesitate to take our children to Marrakech (love the look of these luxury family friendly hotels available from Tots Too) and this is now high on our list of future travel plans. There is so much to do, explore and enjoy in Marrakech and it really is a city for people who love to explore other cultures. We crammed as much as we could into our weekend but there are still things I would love to try (some of the spa's sound fabulous). We can't wait to return soon.



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