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I recently visited Edinburgh zoo during a trip to that city. One of the highlights was a chance to see the only pandas in the UK but I thought the zoo had a lot to offer as well. I do recommend booking in advance if you wish to see the pandas - there is no extra charge but you can only visit on certain time slots as they are a popular attraction. It was great to see them but they were rather shy and it is not guaranteed they'll be doing much (I don't think they ever do much!). Both were asleep in separate enclosures when I went, if you're lucky they'll sleep somewhere you can get a good photo.
Koalas are another exclusive (in the UK) and my friend was very taken with them the most. I also really liked the big cats and the monkeys, who can often be entertaining. The cats were mostly keeping a low profile though.
Penguins Rock is the penguin area, and the penguins are supposed to parade around the outside of their enclosure once a day. It seems they couldn't be bothered the day I went, but I didn't mind as I got excellent views of the juvenile pool, with some very photogenic young penguins. It is one of the better penguin enclosures I've seen.
There are a number of snack and restaurant stalls. Food isn't cheap but it was varied and portions were generous. There is a good size gift shop with a variety of animal and Edinburgh related gifts at all price points.
Zoos can be an expensive day out, but I thought this one was done well.
I visited Wellington, in New Zealand, for just a day or two whilst travelling through the country in 1995. Wellington is the capital and is situated at the Southern end of the North Island. With a country with such amazing natural scenery, we weren't inclined to linger in an uninspiring city (both Christchurch and Auckland had more to offer, in my opinion). It is also a good access point between the North and South island. It does have an international airport but doesn't handle long-haul flights - Auckland does that.
One of the iconic buildings here is the Beehive, which is the parliament building, but we really enjoyed the Botanical Gardens, and it is worth driving up to Mount Victoria for good views of the city. We were travelling during the New Zealand summer, but the weather had been quite cool and overcast, so we were lucky that we had a clear sunny day to visit the gardens and the viewpoints. The weather here in January/February is quite typical of a British summer - so fairly unpredictable.
Also worth a visit is the Ta Papa national museum. There are the usual city attractions like a zoo as well as some pleasantly maintained green spaces and the waterfront is quite well developed now offering lots of shopping and eating opportunities.
We stayed at a campsite just outside the city on our way South and in a hostel on our way North. There are, of course, a range of hotels to suit most budgets and is a god stopover destination, rather than the destination itself.
I read the award winning novel 'Life of Pi' by Yann Martel many years ago, it took me a while to get round to watching the film, which was also highly acclaimed.
We meet Pi Patel living in Canada and talking to a writer about his story. We then see his story in flashback, starting with him growing up in a Zoo in Pondicherry, India. When the zoo closes some of the animals are sold and shipped overseas, along with the family who are moving to Canada. The ship sinks and Pi finds himself in a lifeboat with a zebra with a broken leg, an aggressive hyena and a sweet, gentle orang-utan. Oh, and Richard Parker. Who is a male Bengal tiger. What could possibly go wrong?!
It isn't much of a spoiler to say that sooner rather than later it is just Pi and Richard Parker in the boat. Pi needs to find away to keep them both alive until they can be rescued. You would think that a film that is mainly a boy and a tiger on a boat (or makeshift raft alongside boat to allow for Richard Parker's need for personal space no doubt) would be a bit dull, but actually it is quite interesting and watchable.
The film, directed by Ang Lee, is made with a lot of CGI (and a few real tigers) but at very few times do you think the tiger doesn't look real.
Cast wise, there are a few actors you will recognise, but mostly is supporting roles. Suraj Sharma plays the young Pi, and did an excellent job when you consider he dia most of his scenes alone in a boat, in a studio with a green screen I suspect (he never met any of the tigers).
I do recommend giving this film a watch.
Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death is the first in a series of Agatha Raisin 'mysteries' written by MC Beaton. It is also the first I have read.
Agatha Raisin is a newly retired PR executive, who has upped sticks and relocated to a picturesque village in the Cotswolds to live out her dream. However, whilst everyone is freindly, Agatha struggles to make friends and finds not a lot actually happens. She decides to enter the Quiche competition in order to get herself known within the village. However as Agatha has never made a quiche in her life, she decides to buy one and pass it off as her own. However when one of the villagers dies after eating her quiche, village life livens up somewhat, but not quite in the way that Agatha expected nor wanted!
Agatha is an interesting character. She isn't very nice to most people, being a bit grumpy and abrupt, but her heart was in the right place most of the time. I still quite liked her as she had a bit of spirit about her, even as she thundered about rubbing everyone up the wrong way. The only other characters we really got to know was Roy, one of Agatha's former colleagues, and Bill Wong a local policeman who befriended her. The other villagers are interesting enough but sometimes border on caricatures. In a short, light book like this it didn't actually bother me.
The mystery aspect is entertaining enough and there is a fair amount of amusing moments caused by Agatha's 'nosey-parkering'. It isn't a dark thriller or twisting mystery, and in some respects reminded me of Mma Ramotswe if the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency - except not set in Botswana. The story is as much about the people as it is about the mystery.
I would definitely read another book in this series again and recommend it for those looking for a quiet read.
Love Happens is a romance film starring Aaron Eckhart as Burke Ryan. After losing is wife in a car accident he wrote a book about coping with grief and is now a sort after self-help guru, holding seminars for other grief sufferers. He returns to Seattle, his late wife's hometown, and realises he still has some issues surrounding his wife's death that he needs to deal with. It is whilst he is there he meets local florist Eloise (Jennifer Aniston), who helps him on his journey. This is pretty much it as far as plot is concerned.
Considering the main cast I was expecting this to be more of a rom-com, but the comedic aspect is poor, I don't think I cracked a smile, let alone laughed. It's not even that romantic, nor much of a drama, it is a bit of a flat film to be honest, and not one either actor is likely to be proud of.
The film was written by Brandon Camp (who also directed) and Mike Thompson. I'm not sure what their motivation was or what they hoped to achieve (other than a hot movie, presumably). I found it a bit of a nothing movie, by the end when we hear Burke's sad story I had lost interest enough to not even be moved. I was very disappointed as both actors can give better performances. I also didn't feel any chemistry between them.
If you like rom-com movies than I don't suggest watching this one as it is far from a good example. Maybe OK for fans of these actors, but as mentioned, it isn't their best work.
Pitch Perfect is a fun musical chick flick, seemingly inspired by Glee.
Beca is a freshman in Barton college and would rather be in LA where she hopes to become a DJ. Under pressure from her father she has to join a group and get involved in college life for a year, before he will support her decision to drop out. She joins the Barton Belles, an a capella singing group, who compete at national level. However they are considered a bit of a joke after one of their soloists was sick on stage. There are four a capella groups in the college, but the Treblemakers were the main rivals to the Belles.
Anna Kendrick takes the lead role and she was good but I liked Chloe (Brittany Snow) and Aubrey (Anna Camp) with their uptight spats as characters more. Rebel Wilson as Amy was always playing it for laughs. Skylar Astin and Adam Devine play some of the treblemakers.
The Belles sing a variety of songs and there are often mash-ups and sing-offs with other groups to keep the pace of the film using both modern and classic 80s or 90s songs. They don't sing original songs. No one warbles spontaneously in the canteen or sings to camera or anything like that - it is all within the confines of the choir. It isn't the most original film I've ever seen but I don't think you watch a film like this for originality and plot twists - it's comfort viewing for when you can't concentrate on anything else.
The first film has been out a couple of years now and a sequel has been released. Thus you could get a good deal when purchasing this film, or wait for it to appear on TV soon.
I visited Venice, in Italy, for three nights a few years ago. As many will know, this small island city can only be explored by boat or foot bridge. It is a labyrinth of alleyways and canals, and half the fun is getting a bit lost. The city is famous for the gondola rides, but they are extremely expensive, so we didn't do this. I preferred to travel by Vaporetto (a water-bus/ferry - much like a normal bus, but actually a boat).
The main part is St Mark's Square which is the place to go to get to the cathedral (Basilica Di San Marco), the tower (Campanile) and the Doge's palace (Palazzo Ducale). This square is too expensive to eat and drink in and is always thronged with tourists. I would advise getting here early in order to see these sights, especially in the summer months. Then walking back out a few streets for lunch/drinks.
There are also plenty of art galleries and small museums in the city. I quite enjoyed walking around the city on foot and seeing what I discovered, I also enjoyed taking the water-bus up the Grand Canal and along other routes and looking at the buildings. You can also visit the other islands such as Murano where they make the famous coloured glass, Burano where they make lace and San Michele, where the cemetery is.
If you are flexible you can stay on the main island for a reasonable price - some hotels offered shared facilities or no air-conditioning in some rooms. We got one with air-con and a shower room though, but such hotels tend to offer better rates overall, so don't ignore low star ratings.
Dean Koontz is an American author of modern fiction. He tends to write mysteries and thrillers with male protagonists. This one is no exception. I have read quite a few of Koontz's novels in my time, but none for a while, so decided to revisit with this book which had been on my shelf for a good few years.
Billy Wiles is a barman with a past and a fiancée in a coma. One day he leaves work and finds a note on his car telling him that if he goes to the police and elderly woman will die, if he doesn't a schoolteacher will die. He informally approaches a cop friend who believes it to be a hoax. The schoolteacher is murdered and Billy has to take on the mystery killer without the police as he has been set up.
Of course the book is far-fetched - a super organised sociopathic killer doesn't torment random barmen for no reason. However I did find Koontz's writing style engaging as he weaves an intriguing web of connecting events to ensure Billy has very few appealing options. Therefore the reader is curious as to what Billy will do and continues to turn the page.
If I am honest I wasn't entirely gripped with the book until the last quarter when the story became more urgent and dramatic. At times it had been slower than I had expected from the author (and a book called Velocity). I can't say I loved it, but it is a good, easy to read for long journeys or the sun lounger when you don't require anything that will make you think.
Easy A is a watchable teen flick starring Emma Stone as the lead character of Olive. Pressurised by her best friend she makes up a story about having lost her virginity. Unfortunately she is overheard by school gossip and bible bitch Maryanne (Amanda Byrnes) and rumour spreads, provoking Olive to swear at her and get detention. She then meets a kid in trouble for fighting because he was gay and they come up with the idea that they are sleeping together so other kids leave him alone.
It basically snowballs as she helps unpopular kids become popular by saying they slept with her in exchange for gift vouchers. This backfires somewhat and Olive ends up with a terrible reputation in the school leading to much bigger problems than she could have anticipated.
The film attracted a great supporting cast in Patricia Clarkson and Stanley Tucci as Olive's parents. Lisa Kudrow, Thomas Hayden Church and Malcolm McDowell were her teachers and principal respectively. All are established and respected actors in their own rights, so was surprised they would pop up in supporting roles in a teen movie. However this is definitely one of the better teen movies (admittedly I'm not a teenager, so probably aren't that qualified to judge) as Olive is a strong character who is not easily beaten down, she is bright, witty and likeable. It is quite a mature teen movie, so is watchable by older adults too.
I think this was an entertaining drama (with a bit of comedy - but not laugh out loud) and recommend for an easy watch
I had started to get a few nasty spots on my back, at the top, from either hair products, general sweating/stickiness from hot cars or packed tubes (ewww) or scratching due to other irritants (neck labels, itchy knits, seams in clothes). This was recommended as tea tree oil and antiseptic will help it. The RRP is £12.50, but offers are available (I paid £8.15 online).
Tea Tree Oil is a natural essential oil and can be used for its antiseptic, fungicidal and antibacterial properties. It is also a good mosquito repellent. The skinwash contains 2% tea tree oil.
My 250ml bottles comes in a chunky pump-action dispenser.
The product has a distinctive camphorous smell, much like Olbas Oil, which I know isn't to everyone's taste. To use twist the pump head to activate it and press down. Two-three pumps onto a bath puff or mitt should be sufficient, as the skin wash does lather effectively. It rinses off easily and the smell doesn't linger on my skin afterwards. The scent did linger subtly in the bathroom for a few hours, usually if I'd used lots of the wash.
When I first used it I did not moisturise immediately after, so I could see that my skin mostly felt soft, smooth and not dry.
After a few weeks I wasn't seeing much improvement, One time I switched to a scrub instead and found my back was slightly more itchy than it had been after using the wash. I started using the wash again and found that it definitely soothed my skin and it was less prone to irritation, meaning I was less likely to try and scratch it and inflame it more.
As far as the spotty back was concerned, well a month later and it is still there and in fact got slightly worse for a time. There could be various reasons for this, and none of them to do with this product. After that, I have exfoliated a bit more and followed up with this wash after the exfoliation and this reduced the irritation and itchiness.
This appears to be a quality product from natural ingredients – It has soothed my back, even if some irritation is still occurring. It isn't a miracle product but I think it can certainly help those prone to sensitive skin or similar problems, as long as you don’t expect 100% results overnight.
This is quite an old film which I watched after it had been on TV. Samuel L Jackson was the lead actor in it and I was both pleased and surprised to see him in a straight role - these days I tend to associate him with comedy parts or action-comedies such as Die Hard or Kingsmen. The second string role is played by one Kevin Spacey, who I always find to be an excellent actor and very watch-able. There are a number of supporting roles with actors you would recognise if you ever watched CSI (Las Vegas) or Breaking Bad. It's a male-centric action film with few female roles.
Jackson plays Danny an experienced and respected hostage negotiator. After his partner Nathan takes him into his confidence about corruption in the force, Nathan is shot and killed. Danny suspects this is connected and starts to investigate, but meanwhile it seems the true villains have framed Danny and set him up to take the blame for Nathan's murder. This leads to a few connected events and means Danny then is the one holding hostages. He requests Chris Sabian (Spacey) to negotiate with him whilst he continues to uncover who set him up.
I found the beginning part a bit slow and it lagged a bit but once Spacey joined the cast the film took on a more dramatic (and action packed) edge. This is not the best action film I've ever watched but I did find the middle/later part entertaining and enjoyed the performances. You will have to suspend your disbelief a bit, but that is par for the course in films of this nature.
Overall I recommend this film for a lazy evening movie night.
We've been using this printer in my office for about two years now. I can't say how much it cost as I wasn't involved in the purchase. I also wasn't involved with the set up but it seemed pretty straight-forward as I recall, even for our IT department! In fact any technical issues we've have had tended to be network related - connection being lost and whatever. As that happens with the PCs too, I'm assuming this is caused by network issues rather than the printer having a hissy fit.
It is a bulky printer and takes up a fair amount of worktop space, and is heavy to move. It isn't as quiet as some, I can usually hear it where I am seated 'around the corner' from it. It requires four ink toners: yellow, cyan, magenta and black. It is best to buy them as a multi pack to save money and I would strongly urge you to buy the official inks - we have had nothing but print quality problems when we experimented with various refills and non-branded compatibles. It was a false economy. Using the genuine inks we have seen that the colour is consistent and we don't get patches and shading. Due to the nature of our business it is important to get a good colour representation and for this to be consistent.
It does not scan or colour copy - it is just designed to be a standard colour printer. It prints A4 only as far as I can tell, and the feed tray has coped with regular paper, Avery labels and thin card with no problems or jams.
Depending on the size of the file, it can sometimes take a while to 'see' that it has a print waiting, but this could be down to our company network. Normal text documents print in no time at all, it is colour photos and diagrams that are slower but I would expect that.
Overall I think this printer was a good choice - it seems reliable and print quality is good (with genuine inks)
Initial set up is simple and you will need a Gmail account, but you can add other e-mail accounts anyway.
Calling is straight forward, I thought reception was clear and the other person can hear me clearly also. The phone is touchscreen but I found the on-screen keys to be quite small compared to previous phones, and mis-hit letters regularly.
The usual apps are present – Facebook, WhatsApp, BBC News, Kindle. The usual stuff you can get from Google Play store which is pretty comprehensive. You have to add a credit card or link it to your mobile bill to purchase – even a free app.
As a Sony phone, the Walkman app comes pre-installed and I find it easy enough to use. The music sounds clear and is not tinny, I was pleased with it, even via the supplied headphones.
You can drag-and-drop other music tracks from your computer onto your device by USB or purchase directly from Google Play.
With a 20 megapixel camera, I had high expectations. I just want to take simple photos, and the occasional video, usually in low light settings. It can do this well, but I found it slightly more complicated at first. It isn't as intuitive as some. However quality is good. The front-facing camera (selfie) is only 2.2 MP but I find it adequate for such a purpose.
Sony claim the battery can last two days and I find that this is possible providing usage is relatively low – I switched off mobile data msotly, so only surfed via wi-fi, but I did play some music, send texts, make (short) calls and generally faff about with it as it was a new toy. Overall usage would be pretty low, but I guess that is subjective. There are ways to save your battery in the settings menu, so have a look and see if these methods suit you.
I probably charge it most days, but it is nice to know if I don’t have time, it won’t die on me on a night out. The exact amount left is clearly available on the home screen in percentage format.
I have got to like this phone. Android was a new operating system to me but I have got used to it quite easily. There are things on this phone that I prefer, and some things I like better on the old one, but I suspect I’ll get used to it.
For a compact phone there appears to be very little compromise compared to the full size one that a friend has, and it seems to offer better battery life, camera etc than other similar compacts on the market. If you are looking for a new smartphone and want to keep it compact then I highly recommend you consider this phone.
I wasn’t going to review this country at the moment, but I have fond memories of my time there, just a few months before the troubles started, that I wanted to share them.
Two years ago, when I visited, the country seemed to be proud of its independence after many years of being under the control of the Soviet Union (some parts of the Western Ukraine had also been under control of other countries prior to this). I started in the pretty town of Lviv before moving on to Ternopil and Chernivisti, two smaller towns in the West of the country.
After a few days in Moldova we arrived in Odessa before travelling onto the Crimea. We stayed in Yalta but whilst in the Crimean region we did visit a former Soviet nuclear submarine service place in the hills around Balaclava and saw many Russian vessels in Sevastopol harbour (five times as many as Ukrainian). We were told about the agreement the Russians had with the Ukrainians to leave their vessels here, but of course had no idea how this would dramatically affect the region some six months later.
After the Crimea we got an overnight train to Kiev. I found the city to be very vibrant and interesting. there is a lot to do here. The main square, which was photographed a lot when the problems first occurred, was very different - full of street entertainers such as fire eaters, not protesters clashing with police.
This is a peaceful Ukraine and I hope the country will be like this again soon.
I've been ordering a Graze box on and off for a few years now. At £3.99 a box (4 snacks) they are not the cheapest snacks but they offer a pleasant change due to their variety and are nutritionally balanced - much better for you than a packet of crisps. At work I always eat fruit in the mornings as a snack, but I am usually peckish again long before lunch. These snacks help me bridge the gap that the banana failed to do.
As mentioned - the variety are great and if you have specific needs - such as wanting low calories, high fibre or protein then the website clearly tells you which snacks are the best and you can rate then, so you can get your favourites more often.
There is no guarantee what you will get in your box so it is worth going through the snack list on the website and taking out anything you don't like. Most snacks are vegetarian and quite a lot are vegan. I have my preferences set as vegetarian so I don't get the beef jerky - they can also adjust it for those that are gluten intolerant or prefer no nuts (all foods are prepared in the same facility so cross-contamination could occur if you have a severe allergy.
Some of my favourite snacks are the savoury and spicy ones such as the Veggie Sushi Plate (ginger and nori peanuts, wasabi coated peas and Japanese seaweed rice crackers), or Sesame Garlic Crunch (oat sesame sticks, garlic sesame sticks and multi-grain soy rice crackers). My sweet preferences include Sticky Chocolate Pudding (milk chocolate drops, green raisins and jumbo raisins). There are also olives or microwaveable popcorn and tea infusions. I don't like the latter but anything can be opted out of and the system recognises that you may have 'binned' a product and may ask you if it is because you don't like a certain ingredient. if this is the case you can the choose to bin all products with that ingredient (as I have done with coconut), so you don't need to worry again.
Although it is a pricey way to snack healthily, it is convenient - recreating similarly interesting snacks yourself at home isn't going to be easy.