Update to my photo blog shanemcdonald.me

Update to my photo blog shanemcdonald.me

I have been running a photo blog since 2010 on www.shanemcdonald.me .Over the past 3 years I have not given it as much attention as I did at the start. With this in mind, I have just redesigned the whole layout of the site.

New Photo Blog additions

Firstly the homepage is a full screen photo. This is important to show off my photos. For years I hated the fact that the photos were not as big as they could be. The front page also scrolls to give more information about the photoblog and my photography.

The blog pages are a bit nicer to read now. I stripped out a lot of widgets which added little to the user experience. The next step for the blog pages is to increase the content. I hope to have a weekly post now for this photo blog section.

The Instagram section is back up and running. A previous plugin stopped working and no longer displayed my @shanesphoto Instagram feed. Not it looks a lot better and pulls live images from my Instagram.

Photo Blog Design Challenges

One of the problems I had when I first redesigned the site was size. Google rated it as zero on the mobile friendly grader. There were far too many requests and the images were too large.

By adding some caching software, minifying plugins and an image optimiser the site was suddenly rated a lot better. It is now at an acceptable rating on Google but some extra tweaks in September should see it improve further.

Future Improvements

I hope to add a new gallery and some other features to further enhance the site. I have a lot of photos not uploaded so there’s plenty of content to come.

If you wish to view the new site it is at www.shanemcdonald.me

 

A Day in London – Travel Guide

A Day in London – Travel Guide

I recently had a full day in London with no plans other than to explore areas I had not been to before. The city is a wonderful spot to visit and I have been there about 23/24 times before (not really sure to be honest).

This time I wanted to see parts of the city I had not seen so I started with a walk.

What to Do in London

Kensington Gardens

I had been to Hyde Park before but this time I entered from the Queensway side and on this entry you get to see Kensington Gardens. It is a really nicely laid out house and gardens, with cafe and a tour of the house. At times you would hardly believe you are in London or for that matter a capital city as the pas is very much reduced. The the gardens with fountains are well worth seeing as they would be in full colour during the summer, even in Mid April they were impressive.

Kensington Gardens
Coffee and Cake in Harrods

Harrods

A friend told me about the cafe at Harrods, saying that they served Arabic Coffee (something I have only had once but wanted to try again). I entered Harrods and was bombarded by an air of opulence and I could feel the money in my wallet shake with nervous tension. I made my way to the first cafe I could find, on the 5th floor, couldn’t see Arabic Coffee so ordered cake and a cappuccino. It was only afterwards I found out that there are 5 cafes in Harrods and the one I was looking for was called the Mezzah Lounge … so maybe next time!

What and Where to Eat in London

London has many find eateries, with thousands of restaurants to choose from. Below are 3 of my favourites which I tried on this trip.

Joy King Lau

Located just off Leicester Square this authentic restaurant is normal full of local Chinese families enjoying lunch. The selection of Dim Sum and authentic Chinese dishes is excellent. Note that Dim Sum is only served until 5pm and after that there are 2 dim sum platters only available. The service can come across as abrupt but in reality it is just the level of efficient service required with the level of business they get. If you are going, try the grilled Cheung Fun or the Steamed Pork Buns – delicious.

Eat Tokyo

I discovered this place by accident on the way to a West End show. The menu is very authentic and covers everything from ramen to sushi and sashimi – if you are enjoying a meal here, ask for the recommended plum wine which is all the way from a small town in Japan.

Pho

I last tasted good Vietnamese cuisine in Melbourne and finding Pho was a really enjoyable experience. The dishes are very enjoyable whether in a broth or as a stir fry. Before you leave you have to try a Ca-Phe (or Vietnamese coffee) it is a real eye opener and now my absolute favourite coffee.

Cocochan

This restaurant is located in a really trendy part of town, James Street just off Bond Street. Cocochan serves asian fusion and has a wide range of Dim Sum and main courses. if you are eating here, try one of the amazing cocktails or cocktails as they really compliment the food. I love the duck spring rolls here.

HomeSlice

Located near seven dials in London, this pizza spot is amazing. Prior booking is probably needed on weekends. Without a booking you may need to wait anything from 60-90 minutes at peak times. It is worth the wait. The pizza is very good and you should try the half and half.

Cocochan

The Emirates Greenwich Cable Car Experience

The Emirates Greenwich Cable Car is an exciting new attraction in London. The cable car flies between the Greenwich Peninsula and the Royal Docks. The relaxing cable car trip takes just over 10 minutes, however, during peak times it’s a bit faster. The gondolas accommodate ten people but at less busy times you can usually get one for your group. A new gondola arrives about every 30 seconds. You can use your Oyster card (best way to do it) a contactless payment card to pay for the trip. It cost me £7 for the return trip. Note, you must get off and re-queue on the other side when paying by Oyster or contactless Card.

After 7pm, enjoy extended ‘Night Flights’ are a bit slower and more relaxed. There is a music backtrack as you watch the sunset over London, during the day there is a commentary.

Emirates Air Line Cable car is accessible to wheelchair users and cyclists and is open seven days per week. Don’t forget to arrive early and try the Emirates exhibit at the Greenwich side which does much about the airline industry.

Where to Stay in London

Finally, if you are looking for a nice spot to stay for a few days, I recommend the following London hotels;

  • Mercure Bloomsbury, London  – Excellent Service & Staff
  • Hilton Doubletree London Victoria – Nice Hotel, Excellent Service & excellent Location 3 minutes from Victoria Station
  • Park Plaza Hotel, Victoria – Similar location to the Doubletree
  • Grosvenor Hotel, Victoria – Really plush high class hotel with good value rates in low season

I find Victoria a great location as I usually arrive via Gatwick and the Gatwick Express terminates at Victoria, so I like the convenience.

 

Map

I have outlined all the places in London which are mentioned above on this interactive map.

Joy King Lau

Joy King Lau

Address: 3 Leicester St, London WC2H 7BL, United Kingdom
Phone:+44 20 7437 1132

Pho, Covent Garden

Pho, 65A Long Acre, London WC2E 9JD, United Kingdom

Eat Tokyo

Eat Tokyo

Address

27 Catherine St, Covent Garden, London

Kensington Gardens

Kensington Gardens, Hyde Park, London

Harrods

Harrods

Address
87-135 Brompton Rd, Knightsbridge, London SW1X 7XL, UK

Cocochan

Cocochan

38-40 James St, London W1U 1EU, United Kingdom

Homeslice Pizza

Emirates Cable Car Terminal

The Master of All Polls

The Master of All Polls

I’ve decided to run a poll, indeed a series of polls below, with interesting questions. The results will be posted later in the year. The poll will be open for a few months so please feel free to share your views. The poll covers everything from topics in the news at the moment, to topics which people may ask from time to time.

The poll is one vote per person and Its and cookies are used to ensure a fair result. If you want to add anything to the debate or poll results please feel free to comment.

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Do you think the Irish Language is dead?

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The poll results will be published later in the year.
Don’t forget to share the page on social media for others to take part.

Top things to do in Stockholm, Sweden

Top things to do in Stockholm, Sweden

Things to do in Stockholm, Sweden

I visited Stockholm in October 2016, it was my first time there and there are some highlights you should not miss.

Stockholm, the capital of Sweden, is part of a Baltic archipelago which has about 24,000 islands. Stockholm itself only stands on 14 of these islands. The city has over 50 bridges with cobblestone streets, multi-colored buildings and amazing architecture.

The Vasa

This is one of the Top Tips on TripAdvisor for Stockholm. The Vasa was a Swedish warship built between 1626 and 1628. The ship sank after sailing about 1,500m into her maiden voyage on 10 August 1628. The ship was built on the specifications of a previous ship which had a row of guns. The King at the time wanted 2 rows of guns on the Vasa, This made the ship very top-heavy without any changes being made to the design. In the 1950s and 60s the ship was raised and the museum today shows how this was done. The Vasa now sits on full display, restored to its original glory. When I was visiting I thought this was just going to be a ship and a story… I was very wrong. It is so impressive to see and you could easily spend a few hours here.

If you are at the Vasa when you are in Stockholm, you might want to visit the ABBA / Swedish Music museum which is also nearby.

Djurgarten

Djurgården or the Royal Game Park is one of the mentioned islands in central Stockholm. It is easily accessible and you could easily walk it from the central train station in about 25 minutes. Djurgården has historical buildings, statues, monuments, museums, galleries and so much more. There is even an amusement park Gröna Lund. The walks through the area are very impressive and you get good views of the city from there also. It is extremely popular as a location and over 10 million visitors per year visit Djurgården.

Try Herring from a street cart

When I heard that there was a cart in Stockholm selling herring and that it was very popular I was sceptical. Firstly I had never actually tried herring. Secondly, it was from a cart. So, on trying the first bite I was hooked (excuse the pun). It is served with a type of mustard sauce and is on toast. Within a few minutes it was gone but worth trying. Since tasting the herring in Stockholm I managed to get it in Ireland, more or a Polish version, but still as tasty. If you are in Stockholm you must try herring.

View from Skinnarviksberget

In every city you will have a good viewing point. Paris has the Eiffel tower, London her the Eye and Stockholm has Skinnarviksberget. To get to Skinnarviksberget by metro you will need to get to the Zinkensdamm metro stop and from there it is only a short walk to the viewing point. There is a small climb so having decent shoes will help – heels, probably not a good idea !

Skinnarviksberget will give you wonderful views over the city and if you are a photographer, it’s very good near the blue hour!

Visit Old Town

The Old Town in Stockholm is also known as Gamla Stan. This is the historic heart of Stockholm. The Old Town is one of the favorite areas of Stockholm with it’s medieval streets and the Royal Palace. Much of this area is car free so it is a joy to walk around and enjoy. Gamla Stan is actually 3 of Stockholm’s islands, namely Stadsholmen, Riddarholmen and Helgeandsholmen. Stadsholmen being the largest of the three islands. This was one of my favourite parts of Stockholm.

It is a great place to enjoy Fika which is a concept in Swedish culture basically meaning “to have coffee”. Best when accompanied with pastries. In Sweden these pastries such as cinnamon buns are often referred to as fikabröd or “fika bread”. One of my favourites was a cardamom bun or Kardemummabullar. Delicious!

Place to Stay

If you are looking for a hotel in Stockholm I highly recommend the Radisson Blue Viking Hotel. It is very central, right by the train and bus station. It also has excellent staff and the very best breakfast – a real Swedish style start to the day.  The Radisson Blu Viking is also only minutes away from all the major shopping areas such as Drottninggatan, Bibliotekstan, Stureplan and the iconic NK department store.

The Radisson Viking also has a wonderful Skybar with great views of the city.

If you have time you can also take in a ferry cruise, which will bring you around the many areas of the archipelago.

Stockholm is a wonderful city with so much to see and do. I will certainly be back and I would love to see the city during the summer as it gets quite chilly in late October.

iPhone App to help you diet and lose weight – MyPlate

iPhone App to help you diet and lose weight – MyPlate

Everyone likes to look their best but sometimes that extra chocolate bar or those movie munchies catch up on us. The extra pounds can be a lot harder to shift than they were to put on. When I noticed that I was a few kg heaver than I wanted to be I said I would do something about it but I knew my diet was good to start with.

About 3 years ago I was around 1.5 stone (or 20 pounds) heaver than I wanted to be. Thats when I started using a diet app called MyPlate to help monitor elements of my diet. I have to admit I only used it intermittently, for a few months at a time but I saw results in about a month.

The app asks you to enter in everything in your diet – anything consumed that day. It computes the calories in your diet and deducts any exercise you do. The phone will detect any walking when the phone is on your person or you can add exercises later from a very well defined list. It then tells you, based on your diet goals, how your calorie intake is doing. Your goal can be simply to maintain your weight or to lose a certain number of kg per month.

You can see the breakdown of your sugar, carbs, protein and water intake. Remembering that an increased sugar in your diet (e.g. soft drinks, sweets and cakes) will make your body store more fat, the sugar intake is the tricky one to maintain. This app can help with this.

Some initial setup is required, entering gender, current weight, height and the mentioned weight goals. After that, just start entering your daily food and drink intake. There is a huge database of foods already there or you can enter your own food. Obviously some honesty is required in order to use the app but if you use it well you will see results.

I think part of the reason it works is that you start thinking, ‘Do I really want this?’. It makes you accountable for the things that you eat and makes you think about your diet. Plus, you can enjoy the treats but then you need to work them off. So if you go 60 calories over your limit, a fast paced 20 minute should burn that right off.

 

MyPlate Diet App Screenshots

You can see the screens below on how it tracks calories, fat, sugar, carbs and weight. Overall I ended up losing the 20lbs I needed to lose and wasn’t miserable doing it (I still have a sweet tooth). It’s a very good app and if you have good will power it can help you lose weight.

MyPlate Calorie Tracker on the App Store

MyPlate is the fastest and easiest way to diet, lose weight and improve your health! Join millions who have lost weight with LIVESTRONG.COM’s MyPlate Calorie Tracker — the most user-friendly way to track your food, diet and exercise on your iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. MyPlate makes tracking calories and getting the proper nutrition easy.