Maldives and Vilamendhoo Island Resort

Writing about my holiday has started to become a bit of a tradition (for those that are worthy of such time and effort!) which seem to start when I went to Bali last year. I find it's a way to pass the time in airports and flights when making the return journey home. So here's another one...

Sun, sea, sand and a beach facing hut with an open roofed bathroom... Yes, I have arrived at the Vilamendhoo Resort tucked away amongst the many other beautiful islands of the Maldives.

I’m not supposed to be here...

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Entrance

If I told you our holiday location and resort was in fact booked by mistake, you’d probably think I was lying. But that’s exactly what happened. Originally, the holiday was supposed to be at the Preskill Resort in Mauritius. I can almost understand the travel agent getting “Mauritius” and “Maldives” mixed up, but how can the resort name “Preskill” get misconstrued with “Vilamendhoo”? Yes, I haven’t quite figured out this conundrum myself. Obviously, the travel agent had other plans and we were both talking on deaf ears. In fact, I have a tendency to fall deaf on hearing two words: “All inclusive”. :-)

It was only upon being emailed the confirmation and itinerary of the holiday, I did not get what I asked for. But being the type of person who is a great believer that there are no mistakes and everything happens for a reason through the twists and turns in the grand journey we call life, I carried out some research on my new destination and was indeed impressed what my I saw.

The Maldives

I’ve seen the Maldives through the visual haze of TV, internet and brochures. - All of which never truly sold the destination to me as I deemed everything always seemed too perfect. I think we all have experienced in the past where promotional pictures look nothing like the real thing. Thus never really planned on ever making a visit any time soon.

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Shoreline

This could not be further from the truth.

The Maldives is one of the god given gems that needs to be witnessed in reality. This only becomes apparent when you hop onto the propella powered plane from Male airport as you soar over the infinite blue seas and islands naturally formed in all shapes and sizes. Your eyes are in for a visual treat and will salivate in glee!

The only variable is the accommodation you come to choose and Vilamendhoo did not disappoint.

Getting there

I was flying from the UK which encompassed:

  • Flight from Gatwick to Doha.
  • Connecting flight from Doha to Male International Airport.
  • A Maldivian domestic flight.
  • Small bus ride to the coast.
  • Speed boat ride that has multiple drop-off points to other island resorts depending on the number of people you’re with.

Due to my lack of geographic knowledge and overall preparedness for this trip alone, I was quite naive in comprehending the effort involved. Getting to Vilamendhoo could have been a lot more straight-forward if I opted for a sea plane transfer from Male, something that only came to light after speaking to other holiday-goers. Paying extra for sea plane transfer alone saves you around an hour (excluding waiting time) of additional travel time.

Villa Air Flight

Male airport is the central hub and  for providing various transport to the final leg of your trip depending on where your final destination resides. Trying to find the connecting transport was a little confusing and lacked clarity. But the people there are more than happy to guide and help with queries.

It’s a no thrills airport that lacks free Wi-Fi (a standard staple by todays standards) where you’ll need to make your own entertainment, so make sure you get some films and books downloaded prior to pass the time. Or, you could get your first glimpse of what is in store by sitting outside and watching the sea planes and yachts pass by as they float over the blue sea.

Due to the effort alone to get here, I would recommend you plan on staying in the Maldives for a minimum of 10 days to make it more worthwhile. Next time I plan on staying longer... if my work lets me. ;-)

Greetings - Vilamendhoo Style!

Upon arriving at the dock by speed boat, you hear sounds of a beating drum as you are greeted by one of the representatives and make your short walk onto the island. After some quick form filling and introduction on over a refreshing mocktail at reception, we’re good to head on over to our accommodation.

No Shoes, No News

What I found immediately different at Vilamendhoo compared to the other resorts I’ve stayed at before is their motto: no shoes, no news, which is evident both by the workers and holiday-goers. You can literally walk around the island, enter reception, restaurants in bare feet! All floors surfaces (excluding spa and your hut) have a thick layer of sand. It’s just like walking on a beach everywhere you go! Being the Indian I am, I still walked around with flip-flops as some areas were a little to rough for my sensitive feet.

Accommodation - Beach Villa

Vilamendhoo has varied accommodation based on where you’d like to be situated on the island and most importantly price. There are four options to choose from (ordered by cheapest):

  1. Garden Room
  2. Beach Villa
  3. Jacuzzi Beach Villa
  4. Jacuzzi Water Villa

The Garden Room and Beach Villa offer the same amenities with the main difference being the location as highlighted by the name. If you can afford to pay a little extra definitely go for the Beach Villa, you won’t regret it. How can you afford not to? You basically have a little slice of your own beach front paradise meters away from the sea. I found this to be the most exceptional location if you’re fond of snorkelling.

When I think back to my last years holiday in Bali where to access the beach was a 5-10 minute walk, the Beach Villa’s close proximity is a priceless gift that takes the headache out of a casual swim in the sea. It’s also worth noting at this point, you won’t be hassled by anyone trying to sell you anything whilst you lounge on the beach, which was a regular occurrence in Bali.

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Jacuzzi Water Villa

Talking about the Water Villa’s would cause me too much mental anguish as I have seen how truly amazing they are situated in a prime location over the water in the lagoon. The Beach Villa’s might be close to the sea, but the Water Villa’s takes things to the next level with private sundeck and stairs to the sea. Who knows... maybe next time?

I stayed in one of the many Beach Villa’s dotted around the coast of the island. My Beach Villa faced the south side where you will see much boat activity and if you gaze further into the distance you’ll see Dhangethi island (it’s the one with a massive satellite aerial sticking up). The upside of this location is its closeness to the reception, restaurant and bar. However, I would recommend the north side with its calmer waters due to little to no boat activity and its slightly lusher sands (I swear it feels different!). 

The villa is clean, simple and very comfortable with its tropical decor, controllable air conditioning and king size bed. At 55 sqm you have a lot of space to move around and at no time do you feel cramped. TV is an important factor wherever I go on holiday for times when I just want to do nothing. Luckily, you are provided with a 32 inch cable TV with access to a wide range of channels. I found myself watching a film every night before bed. Now thats what I call luxury!

One thing you’ll find very different is the bathroom. It’s slightly outdoors, or “open air” as Vilamendhoo like to call it. So you’ll find yourself either looking up at the sky, surrounding trees or the mini garden that forms part of the bathroom during a shower or toilet time. It feels very liberating! You’re literally one with nature as nature calls.

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Bathroom Garden

The included shower gels, shampoo and creams are exceptional. I’m an absolute snob when it comes to resort/hotel provided washes as they are just dirt cheap, but I was pleasantly surprised by the naturally derived Healing Earth collection. So feel free to leave your own toiletries behind as (like myself) more than likely will not be using them.

Dining - Food Glorious Food!

If you’re an “all inclusive” customer you will not go hungry. It’s worth every penny - I’ll be talking more about this further down in this post.

The main dining area is the Funama Restaurant housed on the south-side at the centre of the island, making it easily accessible wherever your hut is.

On your first day entering the dining area you will be given a table that will be your assigned seating throughout your stay which I originally thought would be quite restrictive. I was wrong. It’s efficient and you get a sense of familiarity with the staff who serve you. It’s at this point I have to make a shout out to our waiter - Ilham. He provided first class service, gave me a plaster for my cut toe (yes!) and shared his wealth of knowledge of the resort and made recommendations throughout our stay. Miss that guy! He deserves a promotion!

The variety of food on offer is astounding that spans across breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a buffet each day. Every evening the food on offer is based on a theme, such as (to name a few):

  • Maldivian
  • Indian
  • Italian
  • Chinese

If you’re not too keen on an evenings theme, there are still other dishes on offer that might be to your liking. It’s impossible for you not to be content with whats on offer.

The food is outstanding across all meal time with a lot of variety. We were tempted to dine at the Asian Wok, but the quality buffet suited us perfectly. All the chefs really do deserve a lot of gratitude just due to the sheer quality and quantity of the food. The service runs like clockwork. As soon as one dish is all consumed in the buffet area, it’s quickly refilled.

The desserts are pure bite-sized art forms.

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Desserts

From looking at a handful of other reviews, some have commented on the ambience of the dining hall and the dim lighting. Ignore the naysayers. I quite like it!

Excursions

Being my first time visiting Vilamendhoo Island and the Maldives, I didn’t actually partake in many excursions for the sole reason of feeling an overwhelming sense of contentment. You are surrounded by serene beauty wherever you look. Judging by the serendipitous chain of events where the stars aligned, going to the Maldives has been a long time in the coming - I just didn’t know it.

The handful of excursions I did get involved in consisted of:

  • Kayaking
  • Tour of Dhangethi Island
  • Spa (can I class this as a excursion?)
  • Sunset Punch Cruise

Kayaking

If you’re not 100% confident in going further out to sea or extreme water sports, kayaking is the way to go. You can take your time and go as far out to sea as you feel able to within the 45 minute session. Vilamendhoo Island is deceivingly small and if (like myself) you decided to kayak your way around the island, this can be done in around 30 minutes with time to spare for a little messing around.

Tour of Dhangethi Island

Dhangethi - Boat HullDhangethi is a is a 20-30 minute boat ride away - the island with a massive phone antenna you can see over the horizon from the south-side of Vilamendhoo.

The island is home to a small population of Maldivians with its primary infrastructure involving fishing, construction, boat building and tourism. Some areas you will have the chance to see for yourself during the guided tour of the island along with the local schools and hospital. For me the highlight was viewing an under construction hull of a ship. An image doesn’t give justice on the sheer scale.

At the time of the tour I wasn’t very impressed with the island visit probably because I was expecting something different, but my opinion has somewhat changed as I look back and adjusted my expectations. It was a fascinating insight looking into the culture of the locals and history.

The only thing I would say is the trip was 30 minutes too long. Myself and others found ourselves lingering near the dock waiting to leave.

I wasn’t too interested in the souvenir shops as there wasn’t anything of interest to me, however I heard the goods were a lot cheaper when compared to the Vilamendhoo’s own shop.

Sunset Punch Cruise

The Sunset Punch Cruise is a late afternoon boat trip that takes you further out to sea and immerse yourself in the tropical sunset with a glass of Vilamendhoo’s “special (non-alcoholic) punch”. You may even encounter some dolphins along the way. It was uncertain to whether we’d actually see any dolphins as the cruise from the previous day had no such encounter so our expectations were kept to a minimum.

I am glad to report that luck was on our side and what we experienced wasn’t just a brief encounter, it was a close encounter of the third kind! Not only did we see shoal of dolphins but they were also swimming up close interweaving around the bow of the ship for quite sometime in all their splendour, to the amazement and awe to all on the cruise. Sometimes I question myself on whether I really did see those dolphins and I wasn’t on some form of hallucinogenic trip from the “special punch”. Thankfully, I can confirm I was of sound mental state as I have photographic evidence such an experience did exist. :-)

Even though the likelihood of seeing the dolphins is little hit or miss, I would still recommend this excursion just to have a chance of seeing these wonderful creatures in a close proximity.

Go All Inclusive!

Vilamendhoo Island Resort - Asian Wok Restaurant At Night

If you are able to get an “All Inclusive” package at a good price, just go for it! It’s freedom! You know from a cost perspective you will not have to spend a penny more as long as you stay within the confines of the inclusive package. All in all, it’s a good value as you will also get some excursions free or at a discounted rate.

As humans we have a natural instinct of wanting more and there is always a hint of disappointment when you find some red tape when in this case “All Inclusive” has some limitations. I would list the limitations out but they are so minor it isn’t really worth mentioning.

It would be nice is Asian Wok was part of the inclusive package or offered a few meals, but I can understand why they don’t offer this as it lacks the table capacity unlike Funama Restaurant.

Final Thoughts

Going to the Maldives is what I can only call a proper holiday. You have an excuse to just relax and take life at the pace you wish. You could spend all your days being very active scuba diving, windsurfing and snorkelling through the crystal clear waters. Or just sit back on the sun lounger with a couple drinks to hand letting the days pass by. Generally, when on holiday I find myself feeling the need to explore the local surroundings to make the most of it - not here. While away your days guilt free!

Vilamendhoo is small island of paradise that puts a spell on you from the very first moment you step onto the dock to the sound of the welcoming beat of the drum.

Year In Review - 2018

At the end of 2017, I made a new years resolution: make more of an active effort to blog. Not only within my own website but to also do a little writing elsewhere to try something a little different. Generally, I fail to stick by my resolutions, this year was different and I have to give myself a pat on the back for the number of posts I managed to crank out over the year.

Even though I have blogged for over 11 years, I found setting myself setting a new years resolution to write more has increased my overall confidence in writing as well as enjoyment. I now find myself using writing as a release to organise my thought process, especially when trying to grasp new learning concepts. If what I write helps others, that's a bonus!

I highly recommend everyone to write!

Popular Posts of The Year

This year I have written 24 posts (including this one), ranging from technical and personal entries. I've delved into my Google Analytics and picked a handful of gems where I believe in my own small way have made an impact:

  • Reducing The Number of 'Crawled - Currently not indexed' Pages
    One of the most common crawl message everyone experiences when viewing their Search Console. There isn't an exact science to resolving this issue, so decided to investigate a way to reduce the number of crawl errors by looking into the type of links Google was ignoring and submitting these links into a new sitemap.
  • ASP.NET Core MVC Numbered Pagination
    PaginationHelper class that renders numbered pagination that can easily be reused across any list of data when called inside a controller.
  • ASP.NET Core - Render Partial View To String Outside Controller Context
    A nice helper method to easily allow for partial views to be rendered as string outside controller context in .NET Core.
  • Powershell Script To Clear Old IIS Logs
    A Powershell script to clear out old IIS logs that can be run manually or on a schedule.
  • The Journey To Kentico Cloud
    Originally written for Syndicut's Medium channel, I write about my experiences using a headless CMS from past to present - Kentico Cloud. When posted to Medium, I was very happy with the responses from the Kentico community as well as the stats. Since posting, it one of the most active viewed posts on the Syndicut Medium channel.
  • "Invalid response for blob" Error When Making XHR Request
    This year I started learning and developing my first app using React Native. I have much more to write about the subject next year. This post detailed a bug (now rectified in the new version of React Native framework) when an API endpoint returns an empty response.
  • Cloudflare API - Purge Files By URL In C#
    I've been using Cloudflare's CDN infrastructure to improve load times and security for my website. I developed a C# method that uses Cloudflare's API to clear cache from the CDN at code level.
  • My Time At Melia Bali Hotel
    A completely out of the ordinary post - a post about travel! Writing about my time at Melia Bali is the highlight to any of the posts written this year. I was testing the waters for a different writing style and hoping to produce more in a similar format. Definitely got the creative juices flowing!

Site Refresh

Throughout 11 years of owning and running this site, I have only ever refreshed the look around three times in its lifespan. It's always been a low priority in my eyes and in October I released a new look to my site. It's not going to win any prizes, but it should make my posts easier on the eye with some added flair and professionalism. I've also worked very hard on implementing additional optimisations for SEO purposes.

Guest Writing

I made a conscious choice this year to use other places to write outside the comfort of my own website to do some writing. When writing outside your own personal blog the stakes are higher and makes things a little more challenging as you need to cater your content to a potentially different audience.

Out of the 24 posts I've written this year, 4 of them are what I categorised as "Guest Writing"... I need to come up with a better name.

Currently, I've written a post for C# Corner and the rest on Syndicut's Medium channel. This is an area I wish to grow in. I am actually in the middle of writing a piece (nothing to do with coding and more to do with fiction) for film/entertainment website Den of Geek. What attracted me to write for Den of Geek is not just their content, but their award-winning mental health campaign.

Statistics

When comparing my statistics to date over the year to last year, I have an increase in 25% in page views and users. Bounce rate I still need to work on - currently decreased by 4%. Google Search Console statistics are looking promising - average page position has improved by 5 pages and total clicks increased by 110%.

Syndicut

2018 will mark eight and a half years working at Syndicut and this year like always has been filled with many challenging and exciting projects. If it wasn't for the diverse range of projects, which required me to do some interesting research, I don't think this blog would be filled with the content it has today. It's been a year filled with headless CMS's, consulting, blog writing, e-commerce, Alexa, ASP.NET Core, Kentico 12 and more!

Bring On 2019!

Bring on 2019 and some key areas I wish to focus and grow in...

Public Speaking

If I had to choose one thing I need to do next year, is to present a worthy technical subject for one of .NET Oxford's Lightning Talks. For those who do not know .NET Oxford - it's a great meetup for .NET Developers discussing anything and everything in the Microsoft Development industry.

Every so often, they have lightning talks where developers can present their own subject matter. Even though I am familiar with presenting in front of clients through work, a technical conference is a completely different kettle of fish! After all, what you present needs to be useful to the people in the same industry.

There was something Jon Skeet said in one of the .NET Oxford meetups in October that resonated with me. He said something along the lines of: everyone should do a public talk and take part in sharing knowledge. Now if Jon Skeet says that, who am I to argue!? I just need to have a ponder on the subject I wish to talk about.

Consulting

I would like to do some more consulting work. Syndicut has given me the opportunity to do that, providing our ongoing expertise to help one of our clients in adopting headless CMS (Kentico Cloud) into their current infrastructure. It was a surprise to me how much I've enjoyed consulting and this is an area I wish to continue to grow in addition to what I do best - code!

Continue To Be Social Network Hermit

I found it refreshing not to invest too much time (if any) in getting distracted by other people's lives on social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram. I will continue the process investing time in my own life and as a result feeling much more productive in doing so.

I do not claim martyr in this area, afterall I am an active Twitter user and this will not change. For me, Twitter houses a collection of ideas from users in an industry I am very passionate about.

Other Bits

I really need a coffee table and desk! It's been a long time coming. Maybe 2019 will be the year I actually get one! :-)


Surinder signing off!

Recovering A Hard Disk Full of Memories - Part 1

Memories are what give life purpose. They allow us to go back to the past, into a time that shall forever be stateless. Most importantly memories are experiences that mould us into the person we are today.

For some reason, when I think about the word memories the first thing that come to mind are pictures... Photos to be exact. I only started thinking how important photos are to me whilst I was having a conversation with my cousin Tajesh. Tajesh popped over this weekend gone by and like always has many fascinating stories to tell. One story in particular got my attention. He told me about an amazing trip he had in Australia many many years ago and how he lost all the photos he had taken after recently damaging his hard drive. On hearing his predicament, I was profoundly moved and imagined how I'd feel if I was in his position.

Even though our brains are wired to remember events and experiences, memories seem to somehow fade away over time and we start forgetting the little detail of images until it forms into a hazy recall. We remember enough to transport us back to a time or a place, but the brain has a strange way of patching together what we once saw. As if they are pieces of a larger puzzle. If your brain is anything like mine where you can only selectively retrieve one piece of the puzzle that is most meaningful, we're missing a vast array of information.

I decided I'd make an attempt to try and recover my cousins lost photos. He handed over his Western Digital Caviar edition hard drive carefully enclosed in an old VHS box, entrusting I'll have it's best interests at heart and keeping whatever memories that maybe locked away safe inside... A damaged hard drive is in some ways like our brains selective recall. The data is stored somewhere but we sometimes have problems accessing them.

I'm no hard disk recovery expert and I am hoping some off the shelf software will help me in getting at least some photos back from his holiday. So what's the game plan?

I'll start with using a piece of software I blogged about back in 2011 - EaseUs. EaseUs provides a line of software ranging from backup to recovery. It helped me then and (fingers crossed) it'll help me now. I'll also need a 3.5 inch disk caddy to allow the hard drive to be connected via USB and start the recovery process.

As it stands, my cousins Western Digital Caviar disk doesn't seem to have any visible damage and there are no noises when run. It just doesn't boot.

Stay tuned for future posts on how I get on.

To be continued...

My Time At Melia Bali Hotel

Family. Family is what comes to mind when I think of my time at Melia Bali. I only happen to come to this conclusion as I checked out on the calm and (strangely) cool evening before having to depart back to the UK.

I don't generally write about my travels (or lack of!). But my time at Melia has energised me to write something and as a result, I scribble away madly trying to make sense of processing my erratic thoughts and feelings during my long flight back. Just so I can write this post.

Melia Bali Coconut On The Beach

I find it ironic I started writing this post about "family", when I happened to visit Bali with people to whom I deem most dear: mum, dad and sister. I feel that family forms centre place to the services they provide.

If you happen to have the privilege of staying at the Melia Bali Hotel for long enough, you'd get a sense of familiarity of the people working there. To some extent I hope I am perhaps familiar to them - The Indian guy with the ridiculously frizzy hair (a result of the climate ;-) ).

These people truly are the back bone of the hotel and make it what it is. Yes, Melia is a pretty place on the surface but it's the people that make it truly shine when compared to the other hotels staggered along the beach shoreline. They are without a doubt amazing at what they do. From the lady who cooks me the most delicious fluffy omelette in the morning down to the lobby personnel who are willing to help with any query or concern.

From the moment I wake up and make my way to the breakfast hall to the moment I enter the lobby at the end of a long day gallivanting, I am greeted with many smiles. You can't help but be infected with a sense of positivity and happiness, something I don't think I've ever come across when holidaying elsewhere.

The lobby statues and wondrous ceiling mural makes for a welcome sight at any time, setting the ambience and standard for the hotel. If you're lucky to be at the lobby during the evening, you'd be greeted by two classically trained balinese dancers dressed from an era of time gone by. As they dance with delicate intricacy to the tune of the rindik, I am reminded of similarities when compared to classical Indian dances - a lost art and cultural heritage slowly eroding with time, making for a visceral experience and something you can't help but appreciate.

Melia Bali Dancers

Melia offers around five restaurants to cater for the guests varying palettes - each with their own theme and cuisines. We found ourselves venturing outside to nearby restaurants as after a few nights as we found the prices a little dear based on the portion sizes of the main meals. Even though the food was very tasty, my western belly expected something more sizeable. When taking into consideration the 21% combined tax and service charge on top of the prices on the menu - not so cheap. There are many fine eateries at the Bali Collection for consideration, just a 5-10 minute walk away.

When there are issues, it is family that are there to support at time of need. We happened to experience some very loud noises from the room above us at an unsightly hour. Spoiling the serenity we become accustomed to. Now this went on for a couple nights. We just happened to make a remark of our problem in passing to one of the workers whilst feasting on the morning breakfast buffet and within a a short period of time this was communicated to the customer service representative who apologised and organised a room change swiftly.

The rooms themselves are all very well maintained, clean and provided nice views from the balcony. Based on our room change, you can expect subtle differences in terms of the what the rooms offer. For example, our first room just had a shower, but the second room had a shower/bath. My only quibble is the shower head position - not a deal breaker. There are generous bathroom amenities, consisting of toothbrush, toothpaste, vanity kit, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, shaving kit and body lotion. All fully restocked daily. The crazy thing is that you get a new toothbrush every day! As much as I like a new toothbrush, I sometimes have to question the environmental impact.

Melia Bali - View from Lobby

Even though our noisy neighbour was no fault of thier own, Melia took us under their wing to ensure our holiday was perfect. We were even given a fruit platter for our troubles. I think what struck a chord with me is before we departed, is that the management seem to know everything about a guests stay to a granular level. The hotel manager hoped we'd comeback again to visit even with the minor inconvenience we experienced.

If I do get another opportunity to visit again, I will consider paying a little extra for "The Level" experience. I have to admit, I was quite envious of all the things I heard about this upgrade when talking to other guests on the beach. I felt like a pauper. I like the idea of having a little more privacy in terms of accomodation and your own space on the beach. More importantly it's adults only. No noisy kids! :-)

Melia Bali - Entrance At Night

I look back at my time at Melia Bali with fond memories that will be permanently etched into my memory. For me, Melia compliments Bali as the wondrous land of Bali compliments Melia.

New Year, New Site!

This site has been longing for an overhaul, both visually and especially behind the scenes. As you most likely have noticed, nothing has changed visually at this point in time - still using the home-cooked "Surinder theme". This should suffice in the meantime as it currently meets my basic requirements:

  • Bootstrapped to look good on various devices
  • Simple
  • Function over form - prioritises content first over "snazzy" design

However, behind the scenes is a different story altogether and this is where I believe matters most. Afterall, half of web users expect a site to load in 2 seconds or less and they tend to abandon a site that isn’t loaded within 3 seconds. Damning statistics!

The last time I overhauled the site was back in 2014 where I took a more substantial step form to current standards. What has changed since then? I have upgraded to Kentico 10, but this time using ASP.NET Web Forms over MVC.

Using ASP.NET Web Form approach over MVC was very difficult decision for me. Felt like I was taking a backwards step in making my site better. I'm the kind of developer who gets a kick out of nice clean code output. MVC fulfils this requirement. Unfortunately, new development approach for building MVC sites from Kentico 9 onwards will not work under a free license.

The need to use Kentico as a platform was too great, even after toying with the idea of moving to a different platform altogether. I love having the flexibility to customise my website to my hearts content. So I had to the option to either refit my site in Kentico 10 or Kentico Cloud. In the end, I chose Kentico 10. I will be writing in another post why I didn't opt for the latter. I'm still a major advocate of Kentico Cloud and started using it on other projects.

The developers at Kentico weren't lying when they said that Kentico 10 is "better, stronger, faster". It really is! I no longer get the spinning loader for obscene duration of time whilst opening popups in the administration interface or lengthy startup times when the application has to restart.

Upgrading from Kentico 8.0 to 10 alone was a great start. I have taken some additional steps to keep my site clean as possible:

  1. Disable view state on all pages, components and user controls.
  2. Caching static files, such as CSS, JS and images. You can see how I do this at web.config level from this post.
  3. Maximising Kentico's cache dependencies to cache all data.
  4. Took the extra step to export all site contents into a fresh installation of Kentico 10, resulting in a slightly smaller web project and database size.
  5. Restructured pages in the content tree to be more efficient when storing large number of pages under one section. 

I basically carried out the recommendations on optimising website performance and then some! My cache statatics have never been so high!

My Kentico 10 Cache Statistics

One slight improvement (been a long time coming) is better open graph support when sharing pages on Facebook and Twitter. Now my links look pretty within a tweet.

I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghost

As I have been writing the last few blog posts, I've been getting the case of "twitchy feet" during the writing process. I normally get "twitchy feet" when frustrated or annoyed by things in my life that I feel could be done easier. In this case, my site has started to frustrate me and felt that adding new posts became a chore.

Over the 10 years (has it really been this long!?) owning and maintaining this site, it's started to become a bit of the beast from the initial outset. I've jumped from platform to platform based on my needs at the time:

  • Wordpress (2006)
  • BlogEngine (2007 to 2012)
  • Kentico (2012 to present)

I feel at the grand old age of 31, I need a platform that nurtures my writing creativity without having to worry about general maintainance and somewhat restrictive editorial functionality. Ever since I tasted the pure nectar that is Markdown, my writing speed has gone through the roof and love having full control through the simplistic editing interface - Markdown is the furture!

I am a certified Kentico Developer (you may have got that impression from my vast posts on the platform) and specifically chose Kentico CMS because it gave me the full flexibility to build the site how I wanted. As great as the platform is, I've come to the conclusion that this site will never grow to be anything more than one thing: a blog. So I want to down-size like a person getting on in his years and move to a smaller house.

Enter Ghost...

Ghost

The Ghost platform has garnered a lot of traction over the years ever since its concept in 2012. I've been keeping an eye on it over the years and never really gave the platform much thought until I noticed quite a few popular bloggers making the move and experiencing the lightening fast performance. This is possibly down to the blogger hosting their instance on Ghost Pro. Could be wrong. I am planning on going down the Ghost Pro hosting route and get everything setup by the very nice people behind the scenes at Ghost HQ, who will lovingly host and look after my site.

I opened up a dialog on Twitter to Ghost who were very kind in alleviating my initial migration worries:

The only thing I will have to get over, which Ghost will not be able to help me with is getting over the mindset that I will not be able to to tinker around with my site to the full extent as I do now. But this isn't necessarily a bad thing and will give me the opportunity to concentrate more on writing quality content. I just hate the thought of restricting myself.

Ghost has put a framework in place that no other platform has done so well - giving power to write content anywhere:

  • Desktop browser
  • Mobile browser
  • Desktop application

Looks like Ghost lives up to its main selling point:

An open source blogging platform which makes writing pleasurable and publishing simple.

What I also love is the SEO optimisation out-of-the-box. God knows how many hours I've spent trying to get my site SEO friendly, not only from an search indexing standpoint, but a social sharing standpoint too with all the open graph tags built-in. No need for extra plugins or development from a code perspective.

Whats Next?

As it currently stands, I am evaluating Ghost through their 14 day trial and need to send an email to their support team before I make a confirmed decision to move. I like what I am seeing to far. Just need to get the time to put a migration process in place to move the 200 posts on this site. Eek!

Ghost is definitely not as scary as I once thought. Cue Ray Parker Jr...

Made The Move To HTTPS!

Early last month, I decided to make the move and finally run my site under a secure certificate. This something I’ve been meaning to do over the last year as it became apparent that Google will soon penalise your search rankings if an SSL is not installed. Quite a few of the developer blogs I follow have already made the transition, so I thought I too should do the same. I was surprised how cheap it was to move to HTTPS. For myself, I pay around £25 a year that consists of a basic Comodo SSL certificate and a dedicated IP. This is purely because my website is hosted on a shared hosting provider. It’ll probably be even more cheaper for those who manage their own hosting.

I highly recommend anyone who still has qualms on making the move to https to read the following post by Scott Helme: Still think you don't need HTTPS?. He brings up some very interesting points and benefits that motivated me to make the move.

The transition to making the move to HTTPS was painless and required no major downtime. But I did have to spend time in ensuring all external requests from my site were secure, for example Disqus, Google Ads and some external JS references. However, something a little more pressing caught my eye and got quite a fright when I logged into Google Webmaster Tools yesterday. Unbeknown to me, ever since my site changed to HTTPS, both my clicks and CTR statistics declined drastically over the month. Take a look at the blue and yellow lines:

Google Webmaster Tools Clicks/CTR Decline

At least this decline has not been reflected in my Google Analytics report. The number of visitors to my site has remained stable and have even noticed a slight increase - I don’t think the increase has anything to do with the SSL certificate. So what caused the rapid decline in Webmaster Tools? It seems like I missed something in my haste. I needed to in fact create a new website inside Webmaster Tools that contained my website URL prefixed with "https://". This is because a "http://www.surinderbhomra.com" is considered a different URL to "https://www.surinderbhomra.com". Makes sense when I think about it. I wrongly presumed that as long as I have the correct 301 redirects in place so all pages on my site is served over HTTPS, there won't be an issue.

HTTP and HTTPS Sites In Google Webmaster Tools

John Mueller wrote a FAQ post on Google+ that covers most of the important things you need to know and how to setup Webmaster Tools correctly on change to HTTPS: https://plus.google.com/+JohnMueller/posts/PY1xCWbeDVC.

I won't lie to you, seeing that green padlock in the web address bar whenever I visit my site gives me a new found sense of euphoria!

So I Rebuilt My Site Again

Welcome to my new and improved website built in Kentico 8 and MVC Razor 5.

My old site was crying for an upgrade and now seemed like a good opportunity to make quite a few modifications, such as:

  • Upgrading to Kentico 8
  • Ditch ASP.NET Web Forms for MVC Razor 5
  • Refresh the front-end (designed by yours truly!) ;-)
  • Responsive support using Bootstrap
  • Refactored all code to improve website performance and caching

The new build has been a bit of a pet project and allowed me to put into practice everything I've learnt from over the years since my last build.

Still work in progress and more refinements are in the pipeline.

Goodbye BlogEngine. Hello Kentico!

Kentico LogoFor many years, I've been a happy BlogEngine user. However, recently my website was starting to expand in a way that wasn't flexible enough for the BlogEngine platform. Don't get me wrong, BlogEngine is a great blogging platform and it is without a doubt one of the best out on the market. But the capabilities and features Kentico provides made moving over to another platform an easy decision.

The future of my site needed something that would give me free reign and control on making full customisations myself in a solid framework, and Kentico seemed to fit this requirement.

Having worked with the Kentico platform for quite a few years now, I was impressed by how easy or complex I could make a site. Most importantly, the page perfomance of my site has got quite a boost. For a site that doesn't look like is doing much at face value, it is behind the scenes.

What was the migration process like?

Migrating all my BlogEngine content into Kentico did take some time, but the Kentico Import tool really does take the hassle out of getting key blog post information into the CMS. Just don't be expect tags and categories to be imported in the process. Migrating these facets is a manual job.

In addition, I decided to overhaul the friendly URL's used for my blog posts in keeping with the URL structure provided by BlogEngine. Even to this day, I'm not sold on the way Kentico generates it's friendly URL's for blog posts. For example:

/Blog/February-2013/My-Blog-Post.aspx

When it should be the following format:

/Blog/2013/02/03/My-Blog-Post.aspx

Luckily, it was pretty easy to write a Custom Eventhandler to add additional custom URL paths whenever I update or insert a new post (will add a post in the near future on how to do this).

I still have some additional features to add to this site (and dare I say fixes!) so watch this space...