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I have visited Las Vegas (Nevada, USA) twice. The first time was in 1995 and we stayed at Circus Circus hotel. This was the last leg of my backpacking trip and money was tight, so 4 of us shared a room. At that time, the Luxor was the newest casino/hotel in town. When I revisited in 2004 it was already a lot more built up and the Wynn was just about to open. We had hired an R.V and stayed at the Circus Circus RV Park as it was the only one on The Strip (technically just behind it). I can only imagine what the city is like now – I wonder if the recession had much of an effect on the development.
I enjoyed the buffets in the hotels, and if you do your research you could find a reasonably priced, decent, place to eat. The city is quite expensive so drinks and 'nice' restaurants are pricey. The big attractions are expensive such as the aquarium or the Titanic exhibition (both are within casinos), as are the big shows. We went to a discount ticket booth and got good prices for 'Divas' Drag show which was very well done. We also enjoyed free attractions like watching the performance outside at Treasure Island or the fountains at the Bellagio. We also went to visit the penguins at the Flamingo. I love penguins, and you don't normally expect to see them in the desert!
It is nice to have a walk around the casinos and admire the themes. We didn't gamble at the tables, but I budgeted $20 for the slot machines during our weekend, for a bit of fun, and won $100!!
We also got a cab to Fremont Street to watch the overhead light show and to have a wander about.
You can get excursions to the Grand canyon also. We drove there when I visited the first time, but on our second visit we got a flight and coach tour trip.
I would not rule out a return visit here for a short break, but there is still a lot of the world to see.
In 2013 I visited Istanbul in Turkey for a long weekend break. I thought the city very interesting and really enjoyed my stay. I stayed in a reasonably priced standard (3 star) hotel, which was just two tram stops from the main sightseeing attractions. You could also walk it if you wished.
Some of the favourite things I did and saw included:
The Sultan Ahmed (Blue) Mosque – A 17th century large mosque that is highly decorated with amazing tiles and in excellent condition. You may have to queue to come in and is closed during prayers.
Hagia Sophia – An amazing museum that was formally a church (some 1000 years ago), and later a mosque before becoming a museum. The architecture is beautiful and has some impressive mosaics, which are still being restored. It doesn't look as well maintained as the Blue mosque (next door) but it is several centuries older.
Topkai Palace – One of my favourite museums ever, and was once the palace of the former Ottoman emperors. Some interesting architecture, artefacts and lots of history here. Get a guidebook so that you can be sure to see everything and learn more about the history of the palace.
Bosphorus Cruise – We took a boat cruise down the river to view the city from a different perspective. You can do day cruises, but one that takes just a few hours will suffice for most people.
Basilica Cisterns - Ornate Byzantine cisterns, under the city. Just a small attraction but well worth a visit.
The main airport is easily accessed by public transport, and flying time is just under four hours from the UK.
I visited the Everglades National Park, south and west of Miami, Florida, USA, a few years back whilst exploring Florida and SE USA. The main part of the park is marshland, swamps and mangroves. The area was designated a National Park to protect this eco-system. There are a number of species of bird and mammal life here, but mainly we came here to do a safari on an airboat* (open-sided hovercraft – you may have seen them on the TV). We saw glimpses of alligators and crocs (one of the few places where both creatures live), and lots of water birds on the safari but were not successful in seeing any big ‘gators for any length of time (they get up to 3-4m in some cases). I did see a baby in a type of alligator orphanage though.
The region is can be very hot (tropical) and quite unique so is worth visiting if you are in the area. You can camp in the park, but as I recall we camped just outside. Bring mozzie repellent! Facilities are pretty basic here, so packed lunches are a good idea too. The best way to access the park and get around is by car (and then part by foot) so you will need private transport, but I am sure you can get organised tours out of Miami or other nearby towns.
*Airboat companies are privately owned so operate outside the NP designated area, but still plenty of wildlife to see, as well as a fun experience.
Delhi is India’s capital city and was my gateway city for my holiday to India in 2008. It is accessible by direct and indirect (I went via Doha, Quatar) flights from the UK. There are plenty of independent and chain hotels in the city to Western standards. I stayed near Connaught Place, which is at the heart of the city's business district. We did have access to private transport to get around I wouldn't want to drive here - it is crazy). The city is divided into old and new parts, but a surprising number of old buildings were on the new side.
Highlights of my visit were Humayun's tomb, which a 16th century tomb, built for the Mughal emperor Humayan, and was the first ‘garden’ tomb in India, a precursor for some of the other amazing buildings in the country. The garden here was neatly laid out and well-maintained, and whilst not as well-known as other tombs, such as the Taj Mahal, it was still a stunning building, in beautiful grounds.
Another highlight was the Qutb Minar, which is 73m tall and one of the tallest free-standing minarets in the world. Construction started in the 12th century and the final story was added 76 years later. Obviously it has seen some restoration, and the whole complex is in very good condition and very impressive.
The Red Fort is another must-see, if you get the opportunity in Delhi. In contrast, the city has a lot of modern buildings (not as yet like the very tall buildings you see in European cities), and there is an obvious rich:poor divide.
The city also has a lot of poverty and families living on the streets, and you will see lots of beggars which is never pleasant, especially when there are small children or disabled. Most are in begging 'gangs' and the money does not go to them.
It is an interesting city with a lot of history and a good gateway into the rest of Northern India.
I visited Brussels, the capital of Belgium, many moons ago, when a group of friends and I, took a car across on the ferry to Zeebrugge. You can fly, of course, or go by train, direct on the Eurostar. We spent two nights in the city staying at a youth hostel. On the first morning we did a free walking tour of the city where we got to see the famous Mannekin Pis which is a small fountain of a little boy urinating. Usually the statue (which is naked) wears a costume and when I visited it was in Scottish national dress. You can see the naked version in DY's picture.
The Grand Place (main square) is a good place to head to, to start, and we enjoyed exploring the bars and restaurants around here. At 10pm (on a Saturday) there was a light show on the buildings to a classical soundtrack, I have no idea if they still do that, as we didn't know to expect it, but thought it excellent. The city is clued up for visitors, and many restaurants had a tourist menu in the centre. You may have to look carefully for a more authentic experience.
The Atomium building is also a famous Brussels landmark. It wasn't open when we visited but I think it would be worthwhile. While this is very 'space-age' (built in the 1950s) I found a lot of the architecture in central Brussels to be more classical (18-19th century). I think a weekend in Brussels will appeal mostly to those with an interest in history and gastronomy.
Auckland is New Zealand’s largest city and I spent three months working in the city some years ago, before exploring the rest of the country. It has a good sized international airport which is well served by public transport.
Queen Street is the main street leading down to the harbour with all it had to offer: bars, restaurants, fireworks, boat trips. The main central shopping was down here, but now more out of town centres have popped up. the Sky Tower is the tallest structure in the Southern Hemisphere for views over the city and you used to be able to rappel down it.
It was a long time ago but I recall that the Auckland Museum had a very good Maori exhibition, conducted by Maori guides and sometimes with dance performances (although to be fair, you could see that in most touristy places). I also enjoyed my time down by the wharf and getting the ferry across to Devonport for a day out. Whilst there I also got to see some international tennis and some international bands such as the Rolling Stones and REM as part of their world tours.
Nearby the Bay of Islands and Coromandel Peninsula are a short distance for weekend breaks. The city is a good starting point for exploring the rest of the country. It has a good climate (similar to UK) and doesn't get too hot in summer.
The city had a good range of restaurants and bars, and was always very clean. There were often lots of free concerts and talks going on and I would imagine it was a great city to live in.
Many years ago I used to work for John Lewis, in their head office, and I have always been loyal to the store where possible.
They have over forty branches (some are small station concessions, or At Home stores only) dotted around the country, and the majority are in London or the home counties.
They do a good range of home appliances and such products are competitively priced in stores (they have a never knowingly undersold policy, so if you can find it in a shop - not online- cheaper within a few weeks, they will refund the difference). I like their home furnishings products and whilst the under-sale policy still applies, they don't sell cheaper brands. I bought some Orla Kiely cushions from here and whilst I couldn't find them cheaper anywhere, even online, you can buy cheaper cushions from other brands. I often think John Lewis is a good place to go for ideas and inspiration for colour schemes and styles for the home.
They have a fashion floor with their own brands and other brands such as Reiss, Jacques Vert, Oasis and Jigsaw. Again, there are cheaper brands available elsewhere. I have noticed them doing some cheaper brands like Warehouse and Miss Selfridge. Obviously they have a menswear range, to but I don't have much cause to browse that section.
I do like their fashion accessories section, and Radley handbags or Dune shoes. They also have a good range of designer sunglasses for when you are feeling flush. Like all department stores they have a perfumery counter with mostly premium brands available, but you can also buy some lower priced but more exclusive brands that you wouldn't see in Boots or Superdrug, for example.
I also recommend their Place to Eat for a meal or shopping break.
I initially used to shop here only occasionally and spent quite a bit as I was trying new/different products. However, getting increasingly frustrated with poor stock levels and long queues at the till at the other supermarkets in the vicinity, I started to shop here more often.
As I no longer feel the need to try new products each time I go, my weekly shop is not as expensive, however it is worth keeping an eye out for offers. However I have noticed that my local branch has also suffered with being out of stock (particularly with stuff on offer) and queues are longer (and a few self-checkouts added). I also struggle to find a staff member if I require assistance sometimes. Saying that, every time I return to my local Tesco I leave swearing never to go back, so it is a lot better.
Price wise, I think Waitrose is getting more competitive with branded products, but doesn't always have as many offers as its competitors. If shopping in bulk for a family, I think you would make better savings elsewhere. I have a My Waitrose loyalty card but I have not yet many benefits from it (if spending over £5 you can have a free tea or coffee or newspaper). Discount vouchers tend to be '£6 off a £60 shop' which I never do as I live alone. If you are flexible and stock up on items then you can make some good savings.
The 'Essential Waitrose' own branded range has a lot of good products that are of a good quality and I have no hesitation in purchasing from this range.
Overall, if you tend to avoid Waitrose as being a bit pricier, I think it is worth trying it and seeing if the savings available suit you.
Whilst billed as a drama, this 2013 blockbuster hit is as much an acted documentary of what is supposed to have happened between September 11 2001 and the killing of Osama Bin Laden in 2011. Some aspects are well documented facts (the 7th July attacks on London, terrorist attacks on the Marriott Hotel, Islamabad) a lot of what went on behind the scenes in a case of joining the dots. The film was nominated for Best Picture Oscar (lost to Argo) and feels very 'worthy' if not an easy watch. Director is Kathryn Bigelow.
Maya (Jessica Chastain) is a highly acclaimed CIA operative (and may or may not have existed) who is convinced the leads she is following will lead to where Osama Bin Laden is hiding. Her superiors are not convinced and she has to be very persuasive in order to follow these leads. Obviously it is a known fact that the operation was successful, but the events leading up to it are not known (and part fictionalised in this film). A large part of the film is hand-held camera footage taken in the dark of the actual raid of the house. I thought this bit went on a bit too long, if I am honest.
Chastain gave a convincing performance and thoroughly deserved her Oscar nomination. She was ably supported by Jennifer Ehle, Reda Kateb and Jason Clarke amongst others.
At over two and a half hours long I thought the film was pretty long and some editing of the final scenes with the squad raiding the house could be useful. The film was broken into 'chapters' dependent on date and event and that helped move it along as otherwise you would not get 10 years worth of story into the film.
Overall I enjoyed the film but it isn't a slick, thriller drama but a jumpy series of events (after all, we know the operation was a success). I do recommend the film, but it will not be everybody's cup of tea. Scenes or torture are also shown. I watched the film when it was on Channel 4 recently, so cannot comment on any DVD extras.
The Duchess is a 2008 biopic depicting the life of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, who lived in the 18th century. In the film she is played by Keira Knightley. At a young age, she is married off to the brusque, powerful and extremely wealthy Duke (Ralph Fiennes)who has a high social standing, but no social skills. She makes a friend in Lady Bess, who she meets in Bath, and who encourages her friend in her 'crush' (or whatever the 18th century equivalent is!) on her old friend, politician Charles Grey. However, Bess went on to betray her making Georgiana very lonely and isolated.
The book is based on the biography by Amanda Foreman. I've not read it so cannot comment how faithful it is, or how much artistic licence had been taken in bringing her story to the big screen.
Cast wise, when Ralph Fiennes takes a lead role, then you are know you are going to get a world class performance. I have never been a fan of Knightley, but I have to admit that she did do a good job here. I also enjoyed Charlotte Rampling's role as her mother, advising her on her duty as a wife. I was pleased to note that Dominic Cooper was in the film (Grey) but I was a little bit unconvinced by him and the chemistry between him and Knightley. Hayley Atwell as Bess also put in a consistent performance.
Overall I enjoyed the film and thought it a good introduction to the life of an 18th century aristocrat and I would be interested to find out more via the biography. At 110 mins long it is enough to tell a story within Georgiana's life without getting bogged down in everything else. The film has a 12A rating which is fair - there was one scent of sexual violence which was unpleasant but barely any nudity.
The foundation costs £25 for 30ml which is about the maximum I would be prepared to pay and is about average for a Clinique foundation.
This foundation comes in 27 shades! I’m not sure how readily available they all are and they come in quite a broad spectrum. I’ve never had a problem with my shade being out of stock. I am quite pale, and use #4 Cream Chamois (an uninspiring name if ever there was one). The range starts with an alabaster and carries on to an Espresso so most skin tones should be catered for.
Clinique recommends you apply after using their Three-Step routine (cleanse, tone, moisturise), but I tend to just fast-track to the moisturise stage in the mornings.
The foundation comes out of a narrow ‘nib’ at the end of the tube. It is recommended to apply with a foundation brush but I prefer to use my fingertips, in order to blend the foundation The coverage is even, it is easy to blend around my chin/neck/hairline as it is a good match. There will be some residue on your hands, which will need a good wash to remove it.
The foundation doesn't completely conceal all my freckles but they are less noticeable unless you are up close. My skin tone looks even and loses its early morning blotchiness. I also feel my skin looks brighter than it does naturally, more radiant, which is another big plus. It also looks fresh and natural – I don’t look overly made up or false. Because it is light and gentle it has not caused me any breakouts.
How long it lasts on my face depends on the day – at weekends I think it lasts pretty well, but not so well midweek. If I am going out again in the evening I feel the need to ‘touch up’ my foundation a bit after work. I suspect I spend most of my working day with my head in my hands! For the record I usually apply a translucent loose powder on top of the foundation to help ‘set’ it and make it last.
To remove I like to use a cleanser or scrub with water (personal preference) and a face cloth or muslin square and it comes off easily.
A Good Year is a 2006 drama directed by Ridley Scott and based on the book by Peter Mayle.
Max Skinner (Russell Crowe with a ropey English accent) is a high-powered stockbroker. His uncle Henry passes away and without a will, Max is heir. He really can't be bothered to sort out his uncle's affairs but reluctantly flies out to arrange the sale of his house and vineyard. Whilst there, he remembers happy times with his uncle when an American girl called Christie turns up looking for her father (Uncle Henry). Could she make a claim on the farmhouse and affect Max's inheritance? Alongside this development, Max also meets local girl Fanny (Marion Cotillard). Will he reconsider?
Crowe's ropey accent aside the film is well acted with convincing performances by them all. Tom Hollander, Rafe Spall and Archie Punjabi also take roles as Max's London friends and colleagues, giving a bit of contrast to the idyllic, yet rundown, French farmhouse. I can't really fault the direction or writing, and although you may think it will be predictable, the writers have made efforts to ensure that the outcome is never guaranteed. Saying that there is no real tension to the story, although there is a light comedic element. Essentially this is a charming drama that makes great Sunday evening viewing, preferably with wine!
The location in France is stunning, and very much a 'picture postcard' of a typical provincial town. The atmosphere and lighting have also been sympathetic to a French summer.
I recommend this for older family viewing (I don't think it has much to offer younger viewers).
Trance is a gripping British thriller directed by Danny Boyle.
Simon (James McAvoy) works for an auction house and is assisting in the sale of a valuable Goya painting, estimated to reach £25m. When robbers try and steal it, Simon quickly follows procedure. However as he attempts to put the painting in a secure vault, he is stopped by one of the robbers (Vincent Cassell), who hits him and knocks him out.
Simon gets amnesia and not all is as it seems, as it appears he is on cahoots with the robbers, but they don't have the painting, Simon has hidden it elsewhere. Trouble is, he doesn't remember.... The gang hire hypnotherapist Elizabeth (Rosario Dawson) to help him get his memory back and she becomes part of the gang but Simon isn't alone in having feelings for her.
The film is set in East London and is very slick and a bit dark in directional style. At first, the plot was easy to follow, and didn't try to be to clever, however, I felt that when it started to twist again, you remained in the dark for a while and not everyone was as you first thought. Loose ends are tied up at the end, and there is very little ambiguity.
Overall I enjoyed the film, it kept my attention throughout apart from as one point when it seemed to get a bit confusing. I can't fault the directing or the cast, who gave excellent performances and were convincing.
It is a 15 film which surprised me due to nudity, violence and sexual scenes. At just over 100 mins it is not too long either
Please note I watched this show on Netflix, so did not buy the DVD so cannot comment on the extras. However, the show is what it is all about and for me, this is a winner.
Following a successful election, congressman Francis (Frank) Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is passed over for Secretary of State position he had hoped for. He plots revenge in order to get a prize seat in the White House, to this end he is helped by his wife Claire (Robin Wright). He also manipulates Washington Post reporter Zoe (Kate Mara) who he has an affair with. The plot is very clever and you don't need to have an insider's knowledge of American politics to follow it. Frank is quite manipulative and even evil in some respects, but you have a begrudging respect for how he so often ends up on top, even if things didn't quite go to plan. At odd times Frank may address the camera so the audience gets an insight into how he is thinking. I didn't like this at first, but it is easy to gte used to and usually only happens occasionally.
The cast is superb, even though I was only familiar with Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright prior to this (although I have spotted supporting cast members in a number of subsequent dramas now) and I cannot fault the acting, production or direction. It is a slick, political drama without being over-done and 'too slick'.
I have to say it was one of my favourite TV programmes of 2013 and I loved watching it.
I first saw this in the cinema and have subsequently seen it on stage. I have probably seen the film a few other times since then as it is very watchable. It is set in Baltimore, USA in the early sixties. Tracy Turnblad (Nikki Blonsky) is a local schoolgirl who loves the Corny Collins music show, and dreams of dancing on it. However, being a larger sized girl meant she didn't get on, as bitchy Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer)makes sure of it. However when Corny himself (James Marsden)sees her dance, he makes sure she gets in and she soon become very popular and a rival to Velma's daughter Amber (Brittany Snow). Meanwhile Tracy becomes aware of the racial segregation that affects the show and is upset that she cannot dance with her black friends.
Whilst the show has a moral message against segregation, there is a little romance with Tracy and lead male dancer Link (Zac Efron), as well as a sweet scene between Tracy's parents Wilbur (Christopher Walken) and Edna (John Travolta). Yes, you did read that right. John Travolta is in drag and a fat suit and still has all the moves.
The songs are mostly upbeat and catchy, the slower tracks are still good sing-along type numbers. The final number 'You Can't Stop The Beat' is a real toe tapper.
The film brings a smile to my face every time I watch it and I love all the songs. Performances (including those already mentioned, as well as Queen Latifah and Amanda Bynes) are slick and professional. The dancing is always immaculate. If you saw the ropey vocal performances in the film adaptation in Mamma Mia, then you need not worry - this is a classy and slick production.