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Lush Walrus
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Member since: 28.12.2004

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    • More +
      12.05.2007 14:47
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      Fantastic hotel...If you are going to Ipswich don't miss a chance to stay here!

      It seems that these days all I ever write about are hotels!! So, another trip away and another hotel. I have to say, in many ways this hotel has now become my all time favorite…Sadly as it is located in Ipswich it is unlikely I can find too many reasons to head back there, but maybe if I try hard enough, I might well manage it!


      A little bit about Ipswich

      Well, this was my first trip to Ipswich, before that I had only ever heard that it is a strange place, and after visiting I have to say I agree. Strange probably not in the way you may now be thinking! Strange due to it’s buildings, they are literally from every era! Not only that but all mixed in together, along any one street you can quite easily see a Tudor building, next to a Georgian building, next to a Victorian. Very unlike any other town I have been to, where rows of certain eras are more the norm. It’s a town that seems to be going through some additional 21st C changes, with a lovely new marina development. Ipswich is well worth a visit if you are passing through that part of Suffolk, although if you want to see inside the shops, don’t choose a Sunday!

      The other side of Ipswich is the marina, which is currently under going a huge redevelopment with lots of new plush apartments being built.


      Price

      I always find that with these reviews it is best to get the bare facts out before progressing too far, and the most important bare fact has to be price! The Salthouse Harbor Hotel is a 4* hotel and located in the UK you would expect to pay well over £100 per night to stay there and yes it is possible to pay over that for a night. As it is pitching itself for the business clientele a standard twin room with bed and breakfast as £145 per night Monday – Thursday, with a reduced rate of £135 for one person staying in the room. They then have a prestige room at a rate of £160 per night and penthouse suite at £200. Weekend rates (that run from Friday night to Sunday night) are slightly lowered. One person on their own will pay £100 per night, where as a standard twin is £130. Interestingly the price for a prestige room remains the same at £160 per night and the penthouse suite rises to £230 per night. My guess is that although it pitches itself for mid week business clientele, its other top end aim is for wedding functions that invariably are at the weekend and are most likely to want to book the best rooms for the occasion.

      Sounds expensive? Well that is the great thing about this hotel, it is possible to lower the weekend rate considerably through their special deal. If you opt to eat in their restaurant and stay at the hotel between Friday and Sunday and spend more than £50 eating, the room rate is reduced to £60 per night. Not at all bad value for the standard you will be staying in!


      Location

      So anyone who has been to Ipswich will know it is a pretty small town and where ever you are in Ipswich is never very far from somewhere else you may wish to walk to. This hotel as the name may suggest is located on the harbor and forms part of the refurbished marina area of Ipswich. From the hotel there are fantastic views out over the marina and it really is the most idealic of locations for a relaxing break. From the hotel it is an easy walk into town if you wish to look at the local shops and can break yourself away from eyeing up the impressive amount of yachts!


      Facilities & Service

      The hotel was converted from it’s previous warehouse use in 2003 and has managed to keep the brick charm of the warehouse and compliment it with modern art and a fresh contemporary décor.

      As you may expect from a converted building, it does not have facilities such as saunas and swimming pools, but faced with a marina and the beauty of the building you really will still manage to get that relaxing feeling!

      The hotel has been split into 43 rooms on 5 floors and the penthouse above that. I didn’t stay in the penthouse so I can’t comment on that but judging by the style and standard of the rest of the hotel I am sure anyone who does will not be disappointed! Our rooms were on the 5th floor and as much as I hate to give this away incase I do return, but these are amongst the best rooms and if I were to book again I would probably request one on this floor. The reason is that although they are located side on to the marina, these all have balconies and with the height and this location you get a fantastic view out over the marina in one direction and the roofltops of the town to the other. Truly fantastic view day or night! The rooms are all spacious, bright and luxurious with huge beds. All have En-suite facilities containing both a bath and a separate shower, which personally I prefer as a shower person I never really take to the shower over bath options most hotels seem to opt for, so it was nice to see a spacious shower tucked away. The En-suites contain all of the usual shower gels etc, and in the main bedroom tea, coffee and biscuits are left out for you to consume. All rooms also have dressing gowns, writing bureaus with paper and pens and a copy of the latest Suffolk magazine for a quick flick through.

      Other than the rooms, there is also a lounge area, again beautifully and tastefully presented, which is intended as a relaxing place to sit and chat or to ponder over a drink from the bar and it fits that purpose brilliantly. We also used it as a meeting place to gather the 6 of us before heading elsewhere. If you are visiting in order to host a meeting, there is a separate meeting room available, again decked out in fresh décor and plenty of eye catching art to stop you drifting off!

      On the ground floor the bar/restaurant is located, which is open to residents and non-residents and is the location for breakfast. With it’s high vaulted ceilings and large windows it is a pleasure to sit and relax in. On a warm day there is also the option of sitting outside the restaurant with a coffee or wine and just taking in the view. If this were a restaurant without the hotel, it would still be an absolute find! We ate in there twice during our stay, and I have to say the menu beat some of the top restaurants I have visited before. All of the food is simple ingredients but cooked in a way that I am sure would suit any tastebud. The menu is varied everyday and if you want to have a look at a typical menu there is one located on their website at http://www.salthouseharbour.co.uk/default.asp?MIS=94 Typical prices are £5ish for a starter, £15ish for a main course and £5ish again for a desert. There seemed to be something for everyone on the menu and a couple of options for vegetarians. The food was served piping hot and cooked just the right amount (without veg being overcooked!). Six of us ate there and all 6 were happy with their choices. If I were to pick complete hole the only place I could is in saying that it is not somewhere to go if you are starving hungry. Although portion sizes are the right size, as I suspect the food is all cooked fresh it does take a little bit of time for it to arrive at your table. Service was perfect and without any feeling of robot in site! We probably stayed in the restaurant for 2 or 3 hours and did not once feel hurried by staff to grab our table.


      Breakfast:

      Breakfast as I said earlier is served in the main restaurant and in keeping with the level of delivery of the evening meals is served to you at your table from a choice of options. As always there is the option of a full English breakfast served with tea or coffee, but besides this there are other options, from memory there were things like smoked salmon on there somewhere.


      Would I recommend the hotel?

      I am sure this will come as no surprise but yes I would most certainly recommend the hotel and am scratching my mind for an occasion to go back there myself! Everything about the hotel is perfect, the staff are all polite and capable without giving the machine feeling to everything they do! The location is excellent, the rooms stunning, the restaurant and food inspirational. As an independently owned hotel I really wish it the best of luck, it certainly deserves to succeed.


      Link to the site

      http://www.salthouseharbour.co.uk/default.asp?MIS=1

      Address
      Salthouse Harbour Hotel
      Neptune Quay, Ipswich, Suffolk IP4 1AX
      t 01473 226789, f 01473 226927
      e staying@salthouseharbour.co.uk

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      • More +
        19.02.2007 15:00
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        Well located and polular hotel

        So, another year passes and another trip to Germany’s Christmas Markets now firmly in the past, it’s time to report back!


        A little bit about Leipzig

        Forming part of the Former East Germany, Leipzig is a city of transformation. Although 500 years old, the biggest changes seem to have been happening in the past 15 years. It has seen a lot of the architecture associated with communism removed, while much of it’s heritage is refurbished and transformed. There are still elements of communism and those times remaining, strangely one of the sites is opposite to the Marriott hotel! But, as it is currently in the stages of refurbishment, you will have to be quick to catch it! For those who are unfamiliar with the history of the Peaceful Revolution of 1989 and subsequent re-unification of Germany, this is where it is all believed to have started. One thing worth a visit are the secret police headquarters, of course not so secret in present times, but interesting from a historical point of view.

        The city itself is simple to get around and about the right size to be able to wander without getting too bored. It’s also a very easy place to leave from if you are wishing to travel throughout Europe, with the largest train station in Europe located in the town and plenty of buses, coaches and trams. If you fancy a trip to Colditz, its about 30 mins on a coach and if you do make sure you opt for the guided tour.

        For many it’s most famous moment was the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach and unsurprisingly the musical theme has continued throughout the years with the Gewandhaus Orchestra, Leipzig Gewandhaus.


        Price

        Well before I go on, I thought it would be best to tell you how much the hotel costs, after all value for money has to be one of the best methods for judging the hotel. The rate per room presently varies between 125 euros per night for a week night and 153 for a weekend. At the current exchange rates it works out approx £90-£110 per night. If you want a little bit extra it is possible to opt for an executive room, which starts at 190 euros.

        We stayed in the executive rooms, but the actual rooms are not so different, it’s the extras ( I will explain later) that make up the price.


        Location

        Location wise the Marriott suits all needs. It is situated a short walk across the tram lines to the central station (and you have never seen as many shops inside, so definitely go in!) and the main old town where all the hustle and bustle of the Christmas markets were in full force. Opposite the hotel is the Museum of Leipzig, which again is worth a visit, the tourist information is on the same road. All of Leipzig is walkable, but the only point I would make is do not expect to get a beautiful view from your room, the hotel is surrounded by a slow re-development and as I mentioned before quite a lot of the ex East German architecture still surrounds it. Interesting to see, but not to be described as beautiful. After a good wander around, we spotted all of the other mayor chains, and I have to say I still preferred the Marriott’s location.


        Facilities & Service

        The hotel was built in 1997, so everything is still pretty new, but in Marriott’s style of lot’s of wood and has a very traditional feel to it. It has 231 rooms over 7 floors, 35 of those form part of the executive suites on the top floors. It also caters for disabled people, with 5 rooms specifically designed to meet their needs. As an American chain the rooms are all non-smoking and the main restaurant is too, but if you smoke there are little other areas that can not be smoked in.

        If you have driven to the hotel, parking is available, although not free to residents and at 18 euros a day there are cheaper options off site. The hotel is geared up for both business and private clients, with a choice of 3 restaurants a huge ballroom which double as 4 conference rooms. Each room has all of the normal facilities including a desk & chair, wireless internet connection, climate control (although you do have the option of opening the windows too if you are adverse to air conditioning), hair drier, TV with satellite, iron and ironing board and mini bar (all water is free for all guests, while the other items are added to your bill at the end of your stay). In addition a daily newspaper is delivered, depending on your nationality (we received The Times) and every room has a bathrobe and slippers (which come in very handy if popping to the pool).

        All rooms also have a free safe with clear instructions on how to operate and as with most places are well worth using for peace of mind and are accessed via a door key that also actions the power to each room.

        In addition, there is a sauna and swimming pool that have pretty decent opening times. Although as a warning for those who are slightly self-conscious, to get to the pool there is a special lift in reception that just shuttles between the lower ground spa area and reception. So in effect you have to come down in one lift from your room, get out at reception and wait for the other lift to take you down a floor! Not a problem in itself, but if you do not like to be stared at in your dressing gown, it may make you re-consider! Towels for use in and around the swimming pool and sauna are provided for all guests use at Spa level.

        All rooms have an En-Suite as is normal for hotels, ours was spacious and included plenty of free miniatures, topped up daily.


        The rooms are cleaned daily, with very wise housekeepers who didn't once knock on our door, but timed the cleaning event to perfection. Cleaning the room was a very hassle free experience, and very thoroughly carried out.

        Amazingly, it is also possible to bring pets to the hotel, for an extra 10 euros a night you can have whatever pet you like staying with you! Seems like good value and an easy solution if your pet has a passport!


        Breakfast:

        Breakfast is served in the main restaurant on the 1st floor from 6am till 11am and includes an absolutely huge choice! We had absolutely no complaints about breakfast, and there really is something for everyone, from those who wish to have fish, to traditional British fry up, muesili, porridge, huge amounts of fruit both fresh and dried, every bread under the sun, toast, sweet cakes, the list really did go on and on. All self-service so you can have as little or as much as you wish! Coffee and tea is served by waiting staff at the table, but again a huge amount of choice can be found in the buffet area, including pro-biotic drinks! There really was nothing to complain about apart from the amount of effort it takes to try and decide what to go for every morning!

        All of the staff we came across was polite, helpful, efficient and spoke perfect English.

        What extras do you get with the Executive Rooms?

        As I stated earlier for one reason or another we stayed in executive rooms, which do come at a premium price, but equally include quite a few extras! On the 5th Floor of the hotel is a room dedicated to those staying in executive rooms, accessed via your room card it is open from 6 in the morning till 12 at night and for us (a party of 8) proved to be the perfect meeting place. The room itself has free drinks, tea, coffee, water, fruit juice, wine, beer and from 7pm onwards free spirits. Also throughout the day food is left as snacks, and ranged from cakes to finger food all beautifully presented and very tempting!.

        For those preferring to drink in their room, the mini bar is also free. In theory, spirits were meant to be charged for, but I think it is up to the discretion of the staff at check out as to whether you are charged or not. We had one or two spirits and they told us we wouldn’t need to pay for them. All chocolate and snacks from the mini bar were also free. Every day new fruit was delivered to the room, with chocolates delivered at a different time. Aswell as the daily clean that all rooms received, the executive rooms are checked twice more throughout the day, when sheets are re-tucked, pillows puffed and towels replaced if wet.

        If you wished, it was also possible to eat breakfast in the executive lounge, with your own personal waitress and plenty of choice.

        So all in all, for an extra 30 euros plus a night, they insure that you will not be hungry or thirsty all day! For us it was great just to have a meeting place to get together every day, but if you don’t have that need then unless you plan to stay around the hotel its probably not worth it.


        Would I recommend the hotel?

        Yes, most definitely would. Although to be honest, if the Radisson Hotel had a sauna and swimming pool I would have preferred to stay there again. We didn’t feel the need to venture into any of the 3 bars, as all were a little too American for us (not that there is anything wrong with that, just that you don’t visit Germany to experience America!) and just didn’t really appeal. But, all in all the rooms were lovely, staff and food great.


        Link to the site
        http://marriott.com/property/propertypage/lejdt


        Address
        Am Hallischen Tor 1.
        Leipzig, Saxony 04109 Germany
        Phone: 49 341 9653 0

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        • More +
          25.11.2006 13:43
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          I can only give it full marks!

          Sometimes you hit upon something in life that you know suits you to the ground, The Bel and Dragon in Reading is one of those something’s for me. After first visiting in 2004, I’ve been back at every opportunity. It’s hard to put into writing exactly what it is about the place that I like so much, yes it has nice food, nice ambience and is close to where I live, but somehow there is more to it that draws me back time and time again.


          History of the restaurant

          It first opened in roughly 2004, after converting a previously disused building. It originally formed part of the Bel and Dragon group, but in recent times the small chain has been sold, with the founding couple keeping only this restuarant.


          Location & Building

          As with most good restaurants I find, it’s slightly off the beaten track. For anyone who knows Reading, there is a very definite town centre with plenty of shops, restaurants and bars. Combined with the newest shopping centre The Oracle, it has plenty of choices, but for me the extra trek is more than worth it for the Bell and Dragon.

          Although a short walk from the centre, it’s a little tucked away, and if travelling by car through the one way systems of Reading, if you miss the discrete sign then back round you go, so take a map with you and call ahead to find the exact route to the car park. As it is next to the river, you can navigate yourself by following that as you can see it clearly from there.

          The building itself is beautiful, with the conversion to a restaurant done incredibly sensitively in a modern colonial style. There is a small bar area at the entrance, that is nice to pop into for an afternoon Irish Coffee with the main restaurant beyond in a larger space. The layout is generous and open. No two tables are close enough together to hear each other’s conversations, even though there is no music. A small terrace outside adds an extra 10 or so tables on a nice summers evening.

          Internally, most of the walls have witty etchings on them that are worth a glance and read of. All of them are based on Reading and the people within it, but even if you do not know the history of Reading or anything about it I am sure you will enjoy the wit.

          The photograph, really does not do it any justice!


          Ambience

          As the space is open, its probably not the restaurant to choose if you want a cosy romantic meal. There are some little booths tucked away but the atmosphere is much more suited to families during the early evening, and groups of friends and couples looking for good food in the later hours. There is no music played, but there is a steady hum of conversation instead. Buzzy and upbeat would be the words I would use to describe it rather than the cool icy space that many restaurants style themselves towards at the moment.


          The service

          I thought this might be the place to fit this part in and get it over with. I hate to say it as I love the place so much but the service although efficient, is much to be desired. It’s a very strange thing, but although the bar staff are polite and appear happy in their work, the waiting staff are, well to put it politely, not happy in their job. We have probably been to the restaurant to eat in excess of 15 times in the last year or so, its amazing that every single time the waiting staff have been so lacking in finesse. Yes they can all answer your questions about anything on the menu, and yes they can most certainly serve hot and delicious food, but why they are all so miserable maybe only the owners know.

          The staff seem to be mainly travellers passing through the area from Oz and are provided with accommodation on a little boat moored outside if they require it, so maybe they are all just sick of the location by the time they come to work.

          Efficient and bearable is how I would describe the service, but I can honestly say is the only downside of the restaurant. The service is not included so you do have the option to not leave a tip if you wish, for some reason we generally do, which is probably just encouraging the waiting staff to continue as they are.


          The food

          Absolutely gorgeous just about sums it up!
          We have tried a whole variety of the menu and have not come across something badly cooked yet. The food is cooked freshly on a wood-burning oven, rather than re-heated so it can take a little time to get your food, but as the atmosphere is lovely this really isn’t a chore. The food is always served piping hot, well presented and plenty of it. With regards to style, really it falls into modern British food, with a good mixture of fish, meat and one or two vegetarian options, so something for everyone. If you opt for a meat or fish dish, then you can pretty much guarantee that you will be able to taste the fish or meat, rather than have that feeling where the taste is so bland that it could be any animal you are eating! As the menu changes quite often, it’s hard to really recommend a dish, but generally you will find lamb, chicken, beef, duck and pork presented in some form or other on the menu. I have never felt that I made the wrong choice so try what you fancy I am sure you will love it! Most of the dishes come with veg and enough on the plate to provide a suitable meal. There is a good selection of side orders, but I would really recommend asking the waiting staff what comes with any meal you fancy ordering as we have found that 99% of the time there is enough on the plate to rule out any side orders.

          Once the meal has been served potatoes are brought around separately and served again piping hot.


          Average Prices

          Whenever we go we have the feeling that this is a treat rather than a way to fill up. Although in reality it isn’t very much more expensive than some of the other places we don’t blink at eating in, perhaps it is something to do with the requirement to book that gives us the impression that it is more expensive than it is or the fact that it is a place that you linger in rather than eat and go. The average price for a main course is in reality about £12-14, but there are always meals on the menu that go above £20 and some that are below £10, so really there is something for everyone’s pocket. As the portions are generous, its not really possible to eat all 3 courses unless you have starved yourself completely! Generally, we eat either a starter or a dessert and a main course.



          Booking Procedure

          If there are two of you late on a Saturday or mid week, then probably you can be fitted in somewhere without booking. But any more than two people and you really do have to book, and earlier than just the day before. We often go with 4 plus people, and generally find that if we leave booking till 2 or 3 days before we can only get a table after 9, and sometimes not at all. If you know the date you are going to be visiting then you can not book early enough. As a rule we book 3 or 4 weeks before if we want the peak time of 8ish on a Saturday and about a week before if we are not too bothered what time of the evening we eat.


          Opening times

          The bar is open traditional pub hours 11am-11pm Mon to Sat, 11am –10.30pm on Sunday.

          The restaurant itself is open for lunch 12-2.30pm each day, re-opening at 6pm with last food order to be placed before 10pm. It then seems to stay open until the last few people have left, we have certainly been in there still past 12. But, really I would only do this when there are a few tables left as although the waiting staff are grumpy, it’s still not nice to keep them waiting!.


          Contact details:

          Blakes Lock
          Gas Works Road
          Reading
          RG1 3DH

          Tel: 01189 515790
          Fax: 01189 515791

          Website:

          Take a look as it generally have a sample of the menu available and some more pics that will give you a better idea.

          http://www.thebelatreading.com

          As you can guess from reading, I really think this restaurant is worth a visit, so if you find yourself in the area pop in at least for a drink.

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          • Mustek Scanexpress A3 USB / Scanner / 74 Readings / 69 Ratings
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            04.09.2006 17:19
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            If you require A3 scanning it is worth considering Mustek

            If like me you work mainly in A3, I am sure you have discovered that although cheap A4 printers are two a penny, there is a distinct lack of choice of A3 scanners, or at least affordable ones! So with a budget of less than £100, I had a choice of, well, one scanner….So needless to say I went with that one, the Mustek ScanExpress A3 USB!


            Appearance

            Well, although not attractive it is very compact! Only marginally larger than an A3 sheet, I can’t see how it could be any more space saving, well other than a vertical scanner I guess!

            Although it’s a new model (based on the Mustek ScanExpress A3, non USB version!) it is only available in computer beige, so Mustek appear to be lagging behind a bit and missing the whole grey computer revelation, which is a bit of a shame when you consider most scanners sit on a desk in full view. Never mind, I’m sure it will become retro cool one day!!!!!

            As with most scanners, progress while scanning can be viewed via a strip that allows the scanner light to be seen through a green glass, so as the light progresses internally down the scan, it is reflected externally.

            Other than that, it is plain, detail free and gives the impression that it is more than robust enough to cope with being dropped!. What more do you want from a scanner!


            Price & Availability

            Luckily, as this is the only A3 colour scanner available for less than £100, it is widely available, and invariably in stock with most retailers. The only real difficulty with it is its mainly available on-line as apose to kept in store, but most stores will enable you to order them and collect them in store if this is your preference. The cheapest, brand new option appears to be via Amazon, where it can be brought for £79 or if you fancy buying a second hand one, which might be a good chance to try the quality at least then they are available for approximately £30-£35.


            What do you get with the scanner?

            Well, besides the scanner itself you also get both leads required to start using the scanner, which as my only spare USB lead had already been donated to my new printer (that came without the lead!) this was a god send!. There are also all drivers you require included on CDs and an instruction sheet, although I have to say it is so straight forward without any assembly required that the instructions are really superfluous. In the box is also a one year warranty, so keep hold of that incase you do get any prolems.


            Installation

            This is the part that I think I should give a quick warning, that may well make you think twice about buying the scanner. This is not the first Mustek A3 flatbed scanner I have had, it is infact the second. Although the previous scanner worked perfectly well for about 4 years, the problems started once my computer was upgraded to xp, suddenly the old scanner driver wasn’t compatible. Not a problem in itself, but unbelievably no update was ever actually available, to put it bluntly it appears that Mustek had decided they were not going to write any more software to allow the changes in operating software. Personally, I find that pretty surprising especially considering that at the time the same model was available to buy! So, within that one upgrade, my scanner became obsolete and out I went to buy an exact replica, well from the outside anyway just so that it would work with the system! Perhaps with this version of scanner there will be more upgrades available for future progress, but bear in mind that Mustek may well decide not to and lumber you with having to buy a new scanner!

            Ok, so outside of that potential risk, installation is very straightforward. Insert the installation disk, follow the on screen instructions and the driver is installed within a few minutes.

            As the name suggests, this printer connects to USB ports, so make sure that you have a USB port free to connect to. It is possible to network the scanner via a printer, if you do not have space on your computer for a connection, although of course the printer needs to have space for a scanner to be attached.

            So once you have decided how you would prefer to network, plug the scanner in and away you go!


            The software

            Although the scanner comes with great promise in regards to the specification, the software really isn’t up to much. Although it shows great promise by providing options such as image enhance to aid brightness and contrast and filters, the software isn’t really sensitive enough to carry out the task. One slight tweak of the brightness and suddenly you get a scan of a white page!

            It is however perfectly capable of carrying out tasks such as rescaling the image, which I find useful and providing different scan modes, so its not all bad!. Under resolution you can choose anything between 50dpi to 9600dpi. Of course unless scanning an image the size of a pin head that you want to enlarge later, there really is no need to scan anything above 400dpi, as of course the higher the DPI the longer the scan takes.

            If you do have photoshop, then I have found it is best to use the scanner via that, rather than via its own software. It just appears more stable via that method and less likely to crash.


            Using the scanner

            Well, very straight forward. Chose the settings you require (either via their own software or via photoshop, which automatically installs the dirver too), press preview and a basic scan of the image will appear. Then by dragging the fence, you can adjust the scan to cover just the area you require. Then simply press scan and away it goes, well that’s the theory!

            In practice, if you have not used the scanner for a while it requires a 40 seconds warm up time, which can be avoided by just pressing skip on the box that appears on screen, as I generally do! To be honest having tried both pressing skip and leaving it for the 40 seconds I really do not know what the difference is, either way it seems to produce the same quality of scan and to be honest I am not convinced that during those 40 seconds anything actually happens other than the seconds count down annoyingly slowly on your screen! There are no noises, no lights, no nothing, so skip it!

            As the scanner is top loading and opens via portrait rather than landscape it is pretty easy to position the image on the glass. There are also guides to help you to check if it is straight, so that you can get it as straight as possible before asking it to preview.

            The length of time it takes to scan, very much depends on the size of the image and the DPI you are scanning at. Of course the smaller the scan, the quicker it is, and the same with the resolution.

            While the scanner is in use, it tends to freeze your computer momentarily, but as this is only for part of the scan rather than the whole scan it isn't such a problem.

            Sound wise, its pretty quite and hard to really hear over any bustling office, or at home behind the whiring of a computer.


            The results

            Well, having used both expensive scanners and cheap ones I still find it to be that you very much get what you pay for. This scanner is cheap, and therefore the results are not incredibly sharp and can be subject to contrast problems. But, both problems are easily fixed by either getting used to the scanner and pre-empting how it will react to images by adjusting the contrast, brightness etc. Or by using a programme such as photoshop to do the final touches.

            I have generally found that it scans better in colour than it does in greyscale, why who knows but it does also mean that it is also better at images than it is text. But as I say, if you do have software to correct things such as this, then do not be put off.

            Overall, I am happy with the scanner. I wait to see what happens when new operating systems come out, but to be honest even if it does become out of date and only stays current for the next few years it is still good value for money for an A3 scanner. If however you only really ever scan up to A4 then I would still say you are better off with a slightly higher spec A4 scanner than you are with one of these.

            Cheap, cheerful and readily available this scanner is still a pretty good buy.

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            • More +
              29.08.2006 17:59
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              Best Epson I have owned!

              So eventually the torture is over, I’ve bitten the bullet and brought another A3+ Epson after one too many torturous moments of trying to cajole my Epson 1520 into action! Following past Epson experiences I didn’t expect to ever be persuaded to buy another one, but somehow it just happened! With a lack of choice in the A3+ inkjet printer affordable ranges, I reluctantly invested more money into the Epson empire. Although, now that I have this one I have to say my thoughts have changed. Sometimes it’s worth giving that second chance in life…. Even to printer manufacturers!


              Price:

              There seems little point in telling all of the ins and outs of a printer, without first telling you what it will cost. As with all things, its best to scour around for the best price, but most seem to range between £330 and £360 for this printer. Its relatively new out, so the price may drop a bit, but when compared with other A3+ inkjet printers this one is pretty good value for money.


              What you get with the printer:

              Well unbelievably, not everything you need!
              Opening this printer took me straight back to childhood and the sad memories of receiving a toy for Christmas ripping open the box only to discover I couldn’t play with the thing as batteries were not included. In this printer, Epson have done the printer version of just that. Although they have happily provided a power cable, set up guide, all of the printers add on paper holders, all 8 cartridges and even some sample sheets of paper they did not provided a USB cable.
              So after all of the unwrapping, assembling and excitement of the new printer arriving I ended up having to head over to a stationary shop and purchase a £3 lead! Why Epson, why?

              So take heed, if you are changing over printers and the old one did not connect via a USB port, then put in an order for a USB lead when buying the printer!


              Compatibility & Installation:

              This printer as with all Epson printers, is compatible with PC or Mac.

              NOW, with regards to installation, before you connect the printer, Epson recommends installing the printer driver included with the pack. I’m not sure what would happen if you plugged the printer in first, but if you do it the Epson way installation is pretty straight forward. Put the CD in and an installation box opens with easy to grasp instructions and bright straight forward graphics. There are two types of installation, ‘easy install’ or ‘custom’. Personally I opted for easy, which was exactly that. Within 2 minutes the printer was installed, a prompt appeared to request the printer to be plugged in, a new icon appeared in the printer folder, and the printer was ready to be used.


              Appearance

              As with all things computer related these days, the old and uninspiring beige is gone, replaced by the oh so fashionable grey/black tones that just blend into our modern world and inspire confidence that this is a modern addition to any computer network.

              Overall the printer has a robustness about it, everything is chunky, the buttons large enough to locate the red flashing light of error from a distance and the feeder trays sturdy enough to hold an ample stack of paper.

              The only area which is slightly weak is the output tray, or really lack of one! After printing the paper is designed to come out of the front of the printer, supported on what can only be described as an unsubstantial flap, which is neither strong enough, nor long enough to be able to hold even one A3 sheet. So if you do not fancy the flap breaking or your beautifully printed paper falling straight onto the floor, then desk space at the front of the printer is an absolute must. As printer is top loading, thankfully no additional space is required at the back of the printer.


              Print Sizes:

              As with all A3+ printers, it is possible to print A4 landscape and portrait, A3 standard size paper or roll and A3+, which is really useful if you require an image or document to be printed to the absolute boarders of A3. The real addition on this printer is its ability to print directly onto CD disks via a special slot in the front of the machine. This must be used with specially coated disks that can be printed onto though, such as Sony or I think TDK, there may be other CD manufacturers out there but the important part it to check that the CD is compatable.


              Loading the Paper:

              As I mentioned, this is a top loading gravity feeding printer (unless printing onto a roll, in which case there is a point for the roll to be attached at the back of the printer). The printer tray is telescopic to offer support for A3 sheets, when not in use this closes up to act as a dust stopper. The printer also comes with a special attachment that clips onto the attached paper support to aid printing onto matt paper. There is also a back loading option for individual sheets.

              The only real inconvenience of this printer that I hadn’t considered till buying it is that unlike other A3 printers I have had it isn’t really a good idea to leave cheap paper on the printer tray during long breaks between prints (well if this goes into days more than hours). As the printer is top loading, gravity tends to distort the shape of the paper when left ready to print for long periods. Not really a problem in itself, but if like me you are used to leaving the paper in the feeder tray, you may have a habit to break!


              Performance/Print Quality

              As an inkjet printer, blocks of colour are of course not as good as they would be on a laser printer, but then you would never find a laser printer for the price of an inkjet, so it’s a bit horses for courses really.

              Personally, I have found that the quality of the output of this inkjet is as good if not better than any other inkjet I have used. If the printer is set to the maximum print quality of 1440dpi and gloss paper is used then the appearance is perfect. If you are printing text or like me mainly lines, then the printer produces immaculate documents at a pretty fast rate.

              One thing to definitely mention is that in my experience if you really do want the best quality prints from this printer then you really do have to shell out for Epson’s cartridges rather than the cheaper alternative of compatible cartridges. If however you are likely to be printing just in black and white and basic prints then compatible is fine.

              Although I am very pleased with both the speed and quality of the printer, the best thing about this printer is its silence, set it to print and you will not hear a peep out of it, bar perhaps a small low sound that unless sitting on the printer you really have to strain your ears to even here over the noise of any computer.


              Running Costs

              As I mentioned this printer uses a grand total of 8 cartridges, which if replacing them all at once would really hit the pocket. But as the first set of cartridges are courtesy of Epson unless you prefer to bulk buy cartridges you are really very unlikely to face buying them all at once.

              Again as with the cost of the printer, the price of the cartridges do vary from supplier to supplier. The cheapest I have found so far for Epson’s own brand of cartridges is £10.50 for each cartridge. Strangely, unlike other printers the black cartridge isn’t any cheaper than the coloured ones, but as the price is quite competitive then it doesn’t really effect the overall running cost.

              The fact that this printer does use 8 separate cartridges, rather than opting for one black and one combined colour also means that the rate of replacing colour cartridges seems to decrease. Due to the fact that each colour can be replaced on its own if you tend to print images with a lot of yellow for example (such as I do with my yellow logo!) then it is possible to replace just the yellow rather than have to bin all colours once the yellow runs out.


              Reliability

              Well all I can say is so far so good. I have been using the printer now for about 3 months and it hasn’t had a single mis-feed so far. And considering on average I print about 20 plus prints a day I don’t think that’s too bad at all. I haven’t tried using the roll yet, but have tried everything else without a single hitch (well other than the human error of not putting paper in the printer!).

              So to sum up, this printer is definitely on my highly recommended list! It’s a reasonable price to buy, the cartridges are pretty reasonable too and as they are individual allow for one colour to be replaced at a time. Whether it lasts the test of time, well only time will tell but so far so good!

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              • More +
                01.08.2006 09:44
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                A lovely hotel in a lovely location

                It's strange how we are all creatures of habit, year after year when considering a short trip to somewhere in the UK I have opted for either the far north or the far south and rarely considered anything in the middle. This year the habit was broken, and faced with a map of the UK, I decided that rather than use the middle bit as a route through, I would spend the time exploring there. So coast was a must and after a bit of deliberation Norfolk was chosen, a recommendation from a friend led us to Blakeney, Norfolk and the Blakeney Hotel and I have to say if you don't mind spending the money saved on a flight (or less petrol in our case) the Blakeney Hotel is money well spent!.


                A little bit about Blakeney

                If you are looking for a little rest and relaxation in a beautiful location, then Blakeney is probably going to interest you. Located on the North Norfolk Coast, Blakeney forms part of an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, so is without a doubt centred in an area of breath taking scenery. Between Blakeney and the sea are deep salt marshes intertwined with salt water leaking from the sea. From Blakeney you can also either take boat trips to see seals in there natural habitat or indeed if you are feeling sprightly walk the two miles through the marshes, which I would really recommend. The village itself is tiny, as you might expect with two hotels, a very friendly local pub, a couple of convenience stores and a few houses scattered around. A few miles either side of Blakeney and you will find equally beautiful villages and some very nice desolate windy beaches! A perfect get hideaway for anyone needing a real break, looking for somewhere to take beautiful walks, those seeking nature or even those looking for a place to play golf!.


                Price

                Hhhhm, well this is the bit that you may not like and finding the price as with most hotels is quite a complex process!

                Even in low season (Jan-April), the Blakeney Hotel is not cheap, but I have to say in this case you really do get what you pay for! As with most hotels the price varies according to which part of the season you visit, January till the start of April is the cheapes, April till the end of July the middle ground, peaking at the end of July till the middle of October (when the hotel closes down for winter). The rooms also have four categories, category C is the cheapest, A* the most expensive. There is also an additional charge of £10 for rooms, which look onto the estuary that is well worth the money (but before you panic and pay the additional cost, read on). The tariff also alters according to how many nights you stay, stay one night and the price per night is at its highest and includes breakfast only, if you stay 2 or more nights then dinner is thrown in (but to reduce the bill you can ask for just bed and breakfast). And the final complication is if you stay only 2 nights, try to cram them in between Sunday and Thursday when the cost is lower.

                Ok, so as you can see there are a lot of variations, but to give you a rough idea of the range prices the cheapest price for one night per person for a room is £77 per night (between January and April), the dearest £89 per person . But as I said there is then an additional charge for a view over the estuary.

                BUT, my tip is if it isn't during school holidays or a Saturday night, take the risk and turn up at the hotel the day you want to be there, which is exactly what we did in the middle of June. By doing that we managed to get the best room in the hotel, which was complete with a balcony looking onto the estuary (only 4 rooms have this and out of those 4 there are only 2 that have the large balcony!) for the base price of £85 per person. This room would have been £115 per person if we had booked, with the additional £10 per person for the view. So, its worth taking the risk. Our room is on the website, so if you have a look you will see exactly what I mean! http://www.blakeney-hotel.co.uk/accommodation-gallery.html

                If you want the full breakdown, take a look at http://www.blakeney-hotel.co.uk/tariffs.html but I warn you, although they have laid it out as simply as they can, do keep a pen and paper handy!


                Location

                Well I've probably already covered this earlier, the location can not be faulted. Sat directly on the estuary the hotel oozes tranquillity. You really can't go wrong on the location!


                Facilities & Service

                The hotel is a privately run independent hotel, but don't let this conjure up a Faulty Towers image, the hotel is ran to complete perfection, with a full range of very professional and polite staff (complete with concierge), none of which could be faulted.

                There are 60 rooms in total, although not all are located in the main hotel, which include family rooms and single rooms so something to suit everyone. To complement this is ample parking that we didn't ever see full to capacity.

                In addition, if you fancy staying inside the hotel, there is a huge sun lounge, which overlooks the estuary, a lounge on the ground floor, a cocktail bar (that surprisingly didn't charge huge amounts for the drinks!), two saunas, an indoor swimming pool, a mini gym, a Jacuzzi and a games room in the basement, so plenty of things to do indoors. If the weather is nice, then there is also a small external terrace that you can take drinks and snacks out onto. The main restaurant doubles up as the morning breakfast room (breakfast is inclusive for all residents). Of course this room also makes the most of the view and as the hours of breakfast are long, at pretty much any time it is possible to get a seat by the window. For no additional charge, you can ask for breakfast to be served in your room, not something we personally did, but it did seem to be quite popular with our neighbouring rooms.

                The breakfast is a mixture of help yourself and cooked breakfast, and the selection to choose from is huge, yoghurts, fresh fruit, bread, rolls, pastries, etc that you can help yourself to and then a choice of a cooked breakfast, fish etc to be served at your table. We found that the breakfast was more than large enough to keep us going till late afternoon.

                If you do stay more than one night and therefore have dinner inclusive or you opt to have dinner (a set meal of three courses is £22.00) then you wont be disappointed. The style is very much English food, cooked beautifully with a varied menu.

                The hotel can also cater for conferences, but as we were there for pleasure I haven't seen the facilities.

                A standard room consists of a TV, En-suite with bath and very powerful power shower, which I personally couldn't resist being in for at least an hour at a time! If you are like me and love to take the shampoo's etc home with you, each bathroom more than ample supply of little bottles of shampoo, shower gel and soap that is refilled every day (of course only if you use them or pack them into your case as we did!). In the room a complementary pair of slippers and bathrobe is left, which as with the towels if you want them to be replaced then leave them on the floor for the cleaners, if not hang them up.

                As I mentioned our room was one of the best, so I cant really comment for the standard room, but I can tell you that our room was huge, complete with a queen sized bed (that we both slept like babies on!), and a bathroom far bigger than my main bathroom at home with a power shower and full sized bath.


                Would I recommend the hotel?

                Well if you haven't guessed from the glowing review, yes I most certainly would. It's not cheap but I really couldn't fault the hotel, the staff or its location. It's a 3* hotel, so I did expect it to be quite good quality, but it did out do my expectations in most areas. Personally, I don't think it is the place to take children, unless they are very well behaved. Most of the guests do appear to be in retirement, but that could also be the time of year we visited, so children would stand out a bit. So if you are visiting Norfolk, its worth looking in, and if the hotel is too expensive, then there is no harm in heading to Blakeney anyway if only to see the seals.

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                • testandvote.com / Internet Site / 69 Readings / 64 Ratings
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                  07.04.2006 12:52
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                  More ways to earn a little treat...

                  So besides writing reviews, my other favourite activity on the Internet is filling in surveys. Now, before you start to think that internet surveys are the route to making your millions, they aren’t but they will give you a little extra money in your pocket and give you an opportunity to have your say about new products that are coming on the market, or ideas that are coming out of various head offices.


                  One of my favourite sites is Test & Vote. Although not particularly the most frequent supplier of surveys, there is a pretty consistent flow. The surveys can be quick to complete, interesting and the real bonus are the additional features of being a member, which other survey sites do not offer.



                  How to sign up

                  So as it is an online survey site, it is not surprising that signing up is online! The website address is www.testandvote.com, if you want to join either head direct to the home page and click on the top tap titled ‘registration’, or if you are convinced then just go direct to http://www.testandvote.com/inscription.php?, either way you will come across a short questionnaire, which is promised to take 2 minutes. To be honest it probably takes less, its just a matter of entering standard details such as contact details, date of birth, selecting a username and password and a few further details to help them categorise you. Don’t forget to tick the box that states ‘I would like to participate in surveys’, if you don’t tick it you wont get any and will block a whole line of earning opportunities!!


                  Once all of your details are in, an email will be sent from test and vote to verify that you are a person who can click a link back to the site, rather than a virus sending random information to their site to create problems. All pretty standard stuff.



                  Why join?

                  Well, why not was my initial reasoning, but now that I have been a member for the past couple of years the reason I stay is because there are lots of opportunities to collect points, which can then be changed into an actual value in rewards. At the moment the rewards a pretty limited, well actually very limited, your choice of redemptions are either £10 Amazon vouchers, or you can use your points to enter into a prize draw where £1000 can be won. The level of choice is definitely where test and vote falls behind some of the other survey companies, but most people can find something they want on Amazon, so ultimately its not such a bad way to justify a treat!.


                  Once enough points have been earned (currently 40,000 for Amazon vouchers and 1000 for entries into the draw) you can cash them in. The results of the prize draw are announced on the site and updated after every draw, if you do choose to cash in your points for entries, the number of entries is only limited by the number of points you have, so multiple entries are possible should you wish. Personally I haven’t ever chosen to enter the draw, well apart from the free entry after registration, so I really cant vouch for it either way. I always opt to change my points into Amazon vouchers, sometimes when I reach the 40000 sometimes I wait to order more than one set at the same time (never a bad idea if you want to get free postage on Amazon!). But whatever you choose the vouchers will arrive in your inbox pretty quickly, normally in a day or two. All of the vouchers are valid for a year from the date that they are sent to you and are valid for Amazon.co.uk so are in pounds. I just checked through my history on the site, and to give you an idea of the amount you may be able to accumulate, in the past 6 months I have order 4 sets of Amazon vouchers, which equates to £40. So like I said not a huge earner, but not bad for a little bit of effort.


                  If you check around on the forums, a few months ago test and vote did receive quite a bit of bad press from their members, after test and vote decided overnight to change the amount of points you needed to accumulate in order to claim your voucher. I agree it wasn’t brilliant as so many people were within 100s of collecting their reward to log in one morning and find the goal posts move. To be honest I don’t think it was anything more sinister than test and vote updating their system, and all of the surveys I received after that date were for far higher amounts than previously, so it was quite proportional. The problem was, most people (me included) had filled in previous surveys under the old rate that weren’t cashed without any warning or adjustment to make things fare. So a bit naughty and really a little bit of communication from test and vote to its members would have settled people a bit. But, at the end of the day most members accepted the change and got on with accumulating points!


                  The key is to remember that not only do surveys get sent to your email address, but there are always lots of points to be picked up on the site itself. So keep checking back on the site to see if there are any points knocking around that may help you get to that 40000 points. Personally, I generally check about once a week, there is normally something to pick up some points around. So half a second logging in is normally worth it.



                  I’m registered now what?

                  So now you are all signed up, its time to explore a bit. The website is pretty straight forward and is limited to exactly what it needs to have on there, rather than pages and pages of waffle explaining the company! But, as there are points to be picked up all over the site, I will take you through each section, so that you don’t miss a trick!.


                  Once you are registered you are immediately given a free sign up bonus of 1500 points and a free entry into the prize draw. But unlike other companies you don’t need to now sit back and wait for the first survey to arrive, your chance to earn points starts right here!


                  1. Personal Area (pick up 6500 points plus 5000 bonus)

                  The first thing to do is to fill in what test and vote call their ‘theme-based profiles’, all of which can be found under personal area. There are 13 profiles to fill in and each takes probably 2-5 minutes to fill, so quite a substantial amount of time. But with 6500 points to gain, it really is a must, with a little bit of effort you are more than an 8th of the way to collecting your first voucher. These personal profiles surveys are used for test and vote to assess whether you will be suitable for different surveys, so if you don’t fill them in do not expect to receive too many surveys in your email account.


                  The topics of the theme-based profiles are as you might expect, designed to cover all aspects of life, from motoring to finance to lifestyle. If you don’t have the time to fill them all in, its not a problem, just pop back to the site when you have some free time and complete the rest. BUT do complete them all, once they are all completed you will receive an instant 5000 points. So without having to wait for one survey you now have 11,500 points…..So not a bad start!


                  2. Quick votes

                  Next to the ‘Personal’ tab is a rather mysterious tab titled ‘Quick Vote’. So what does a quick vote mean? Well to you it will mean another site based area to earn points, to test and vote these offer the opportunity to get specific information that they may require either to further profile you for future surveys or to find out the mass feeling on a specific question. The question is displayed on the page, if you click onto the question a new page opens with one question and a selection of possible answers. A typical question may be ‘Do you have a webcam’, when the new page opens there is simply a choice of yes or no, click on the one that suits you and then close the page, and 15 points will be credited to your account. Small I know, but every little bit counts and really for half a second its not really a huge effort!


                  Generally, these are updated quite randomly and left on the site for far longer than they probably require them to, so you may find that some of them already show the results without a chance to input your answer. One improvement that the site have made in the last couple of months is that it is now possible to distinguish between the questions you have already answered or have closed and the ones you can answer. Closed questions have writing that appears in light blue, questions that can be answered have black text. So unless there is a question that you are interested in the results of, only click on the black text questions. Otherwise you may spend a lot of time filtering through!


                  There are normally 6 shown on the page, but keep refreshing your page and they all rotate, so you may reveal plenty to answer and collect your 15 points for! As test and vote are ultimately a French company, sometimes some of the questions are in French by mistake, but as they are always quite basic questions its easy to stab in the dark at which you may select!


                  As with the profile surveys, your points for the quick votes are added instantly.


                  3. Test Area

                  Like the quick votes, the test area is an easy place to get a few extra points. For each test you register for 75 points are awarded. Just click on the register button next to the item to test and a new page will again open with two questions to answer 1. have you heard of this product 2 have you used this product, or something to that effect with a yes or no option for each. Of course in the ideal world you will be selected to actually test the item in question. But, so far I’ve never managed to be selected, which is a real shame as there are always some really good things to test, if you do get selected then you get to keep whatever is sent!. At the moment there are 5 underway:


                  1. Mint and chocolate tea (ok not brilliant but still something to test!)

                  2. Motorolla Razr V3 mobile (now we are talking!)

                  3. Coffeemaker Senseo – Philips (well who wouldn’t want a free coffee machine!)

                  4. Electrostimulation AB Gymnic (could be funny to test)

                  5. Puma rugbyboll (well maybe not my dream thing to test but Im sure someone would love to!)


                  So as you can see there can be some good things to test, but I think there are only ever a few tests sent out and quite a lot of us answering the same two questions to register our interest. So it’s a bit of a lottery, but who cares you get 75 points regardless, and if you do end up getting something to test too, then that is a bonus!


                  So that covers all of the areas to pick up points on the site, the last way to earn points is through the surveys, which as I said earlier are sent directly to your email address. Simply click on the link and fill it in. Generally I have found that all of the surveys I have started I have been accepted into, rather than the trick that some surveys use of getting you to spend ten minutes filling parts of a survey to suddenly be told that you don’t fit their profile! Test and vote appear to have already ensured that you do fit, as I said I personally have found that every survey I have started I have finished so that is a tick for test and vote.


                  Survey length, well it really is a case of how long is a piece of string I’m afraid! Most are around 5-10 minutes I guess, but I have done some that have taken much longer. But the rewards are fair, the lowest number of points I have received is 5000 points which equates to £1.25 (I think!) while the most is 25000, which is roughly about £6. So not bad!


                  The topics are varied and so far I have enjoyed them all, so again worth doing. Topics can be regarding shopping habits, credit cards, cars, movie clips, well just about anything!.


                  But all said although I really like test and vote, they are not perfect. One problem can be the length of time it takes to receive the credit for a survey. Unlike the tests and quick votes, the surveys are not paid out immediately, and the length of time it takes to receive the credit can be months, or can equally be days, it varies that much! So keep a list of the surveys you have completed and just check that you are getting credited (eventually) for your input.


                  So, I would say go for it join up, don’t forget to check on the site for extra points and enjoy the surveys! And if you do start to enjoy the site and surveys, get some friends to join and receive another 500 points for them joining!



                  Contact Details
                  Website: www.testandvote.com
                  Email: question@testandvote.com
                  Phone Number: 1-800-262-5974

                  Address
                  To Luna
                  204, Rue de Crimée
                  75019 Paris
                  France

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                  • More +
                    20.03.2006 10:05
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                    A great day out for all...

                    With all of the continuing controversy regarding where lottery money should and has been spent, I can honestly say that this time the lottery funds have been allocated to something worthy. With its 300 years of history and today a beautiful nature reserve, the Royal Gunpowder Mills is an asset that has been open to the public since the mid 90s. As the name suggests it is the site originally used to make gunpowder, which was later used for research. Many of the original buildings have been preserved, while others restored to their original condition. Today the buildings are used to house an extensive collection of guns, war memorabilia and historic documentation of the buildings original use, while the land used to test gunpowder has been left in its derelict state that since research ended became home to many animals and rare plants which remain preserved today. Despite the theme even I as quite a girly girl enjoyed the visit and would whole heartedly recommend others to visit too.


                    The History:

                    Originally the site is believed to have been used and developed by local Monks (from the Abbey that still remains in the centre of Waltham Abbey) as a mill for cloth production, who used the water of the River Lea which neighbours the site too power the mill. During the early 17th century, the mill is believed to have been converted to produce vegetable oil, before being turned over to gunpowder production by the mid 17th century. As the mill continued to grow, the Deputy Comptroller at the Royal Laboratory in Woolwich (the crowns major gunpowder production mill) voiced his concerns regarding security and felt that the site should be purchased by the crown. In October 1787, he got his wish, and the crown purchased the site and remained the owners for the next 200 years, until 1991 when the site was closed for operations and sold.

                    During the 200 years that the land was under the ownership of the crown, the sites primary use was for military, with the gunpowder used to fire in guns or for demolition. The gunpowder also had its uses outside of the military, where it would be sold for use in engineering, construction, quarrying and mining. The demand for gunpowder in the 1900s was huge, expanding the staff numbers initially to 3000 staff and then during the years of WW1swelling to 6230. As the war was surging most of the employees at the mill were infact female, most recruited from the local area of Waltham Abbey.

                    During WW11, the government called for new factories to be opened to produce gunpowder. The staff from Waltham Abbey, were taken to train throughout the UK. In 1943, the mill was closed. By this time the site had developed to include an intricate series of locks and canals, which were used to move gunpowder from the production area to the River Lea.

                    In 1945, the mill was re-opened, but this time as a research centre where military propellant, explosives and rocket propellants could be developed and tested. The testing was possible due to the expanse of the site, and the canals that had previously been used to move the gunpowder to the River Lea. Concrete testing booths were also erected on the site, along with a series of outbuildings to enable testing to be carried out in a safe area within the grounds, but far enough away from the mass of the main buildings.

                    The Mill continued as a testing and research centre until 1991, when the doors were closed for the last time and the mill was never to be used again. By 1994, applications were being made to the Heritage Lottery to try to establish funding to enable the buildings to be publicly accessible and for the public to be able to go inside what was previously a secure top secret area of development and research.

                    By the late 90s the work was complete and with the aid of volunteers the site remains open for the public.


                    The Site:

                    In total there are 21 buildings on site and 175 acres mainly dedicated to a nature reserve, although do not feel overwhelmed by this number as all of them are relatively small, single storey buildings. All of the buildings are within a relatively small distance from each other and form a route through the site, which can be navigated simply through either following the suggested route on a A4 sized visitor map, or through a route of your own choice. The first exhibition is the key to understanding the rest of the exhibition and setting the scene, but as this is part of the entrance, it is unavoidably the first place you will visit. After this the route that you take is really purely down to choice as each building is independent in its exhibition to the next, so it’s possible to understand each regardless of route.

                    Many of the exhibitions house guns, uniforms, war memorabilia all of which have been donated to the museum. The remaining exhibitions explain the history of the site through a variety of mediums, including a tiny cinema showing historical films from the period when the gunpowder factory was in use. Lots of the exhibitions surrounding the history of the site are interactive and aimed at communicating the history of the site simply to visitors, with many games and puzzles for children to enjoy.

                    Besides the exhibitions, there is also a nature trail which navigates through the acres of nature reserve. There is also a land train tour, which is a tiny little bus that travels a specific route through the site complete with guide to point out any significant areas or indeed any wildlife. Its worth going on the bus aswell as wandering around to get a feel for the sites previous usage and to hear about where otters nest, to spot Herons and to use their keen eye and knowledge to ensure that nothing is missed.

                    To walk around the site completely you need to allow about 3 hours for the round trip, along the route there are other routes which are shorter so that if you do not have the time you can easily get back to where you started!

                    Most days the volunteer staffs are dressed in military uniform and all of them are very knowledgeable about anything military, and very friendly!


                    Facilities:

                    There are plenty of WCs dotted around the site, all of which also have disabled facilities. However, the major downfall has to be the café. Although located in a beautiful old building and quite well priced, the food itself is very basic. There is a small range of sandwiches, a small range of drinks and two or three choices of hot food, each of which appear to run out pretty early into the day. There are however picnic benches throughout the site and plenty of nice spots to put down a blanket throughout the 175-acre site, so the best method is probably to bring your own food and drink.

                    There is also a shop towards the site exit that has quite an interesting selection of historic books, including as you may expect military books, local history books and books looking into the history of gunpowder. Alongside this there are some lovely homemade jams, honey and biscuits which are worth considering, and of course small gifts for children such as pens, pencils and little toys.


                    Opening Hours:

                    As the whole site operates solely on volunteers, the site is only open at limited times of the year. This year it is open every weekend from 11am till 5pm from April to October (including bank holiday Mondays), but outside of this time period there are also a few special events open. Schools are also allowed to visit on a Wednesday for this period. They are hoping that if visitor numbers increase then they may be able to open for more days during the week.


                    Location:

                    As the gunpowder factory is within a short distance from junction 26 of the M25 its pretty accessible to most close enough to circumnavigate the motorway. There is plenty of safe parking on the site and also coach parking and bike storage areas. However, via public transport as it is located in a small town, its slightly more tricky. Approximately 1 mile from the nearest overland station, which has trains from London to Stansted, the best option is probably to walk from the station rather than opt for one of the twice an hour buses!. If you do come via train and opt for walking then simply come out of the station (Waltham Cross) and head towards Waltham Abbey. Its one straight road to the museum so its impossible to get lost!


                    Admission Prices:

                    Unfortunately, although the project was funded the running costs of the mills are not, and as such a charge is made for entry. The entry costs provide the funding for basic needs rather than to enable huge profits, so personally I can’t begrudge the cost at all. The whole site is run by volunteers, including the shop. As the site is a charity, the tax for the entrance fee can be refunded to the site, but only if you fill in the gift aid form, which is then submitted to the tax office to reclaim the tax. Don’t worry too much about remembering about that though, as there are always staff on hand to remind you.

                    Prices for this year are:

                    Adults £6
                    Children £3.25 (Under 5 free)
                    Concessions £5
                    Family ticket £18.50 (for 2 adults and 3 children)

                    To be honest, although this does sound expensive, in terms of value for money I don’t think its at all bad. The site is huge and besides the buildings that house all of the exhibitions there is a further 175 acres to wander around. So visiting is an all day event. Every weekend there are also shows and events that take place, which can be anything from re-enactment groups to the national Bee Keeping Society! So quite a strange combination of guest exhibitions. On any date which is of national significance to anything military then the extra exhibitions revolve around this.

                    Personally, I think the Gunpowder Factory has something to appeal to everyone. When there is good weather it’s a great place to spend some time wandering around outdoors, when the weather is bad there are plenty of things to do inside which will occupy all for a couple of hours. As its quite local to me I’ve been back a few times now, but for anyone travelling to it you can see everything you will want to see in one day.

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                      16.02.2006 13:16
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                      A lovely hotel....To sleep in

                      Despite what everyone says about turning 30, for me it’s turned out to be quite a nice experience! Not only was I treated to a trip to Germany before Christmas, but also my lovely boyfriend had secretly booked a long weekend away for February. Sadly all treats are now gone! But for any of you thinking about going to Vienna, I would definitely say GO.


                      Booking

                      Now as I mentioned, my boyfriend booked the hotel for me, so this is all based on second hand information. As with many hotels, it is possible to book this hotel through a city breaks complete package, after a bit of research we have discovered that most of the big package tour providers do include this hotel in both their winter breaks to Vienna and their summer city breaks. Interestingly, we have also found that all offer a discount via number of nights. Some offer 2 nights get one free others, 3 nights get one free, but its worth looking into the prices they charge prior to booking the flight, the hotel, the transfers etc independently.

                      Booking on-line is a simple procedure, but be warned there are no special deals, no discounts for booking in quite periods so do check elsewhere before going for this method.

                      To book on-line they have managed to provide one of the simplest methods of booking that I have experienced. Simply check availability first from the hotels homepage, put in the dates you are considering arriving and departing and a small list appears to confirm what rooms are available. There is no requirement to input how many people, how many rooms or any further information that many other hotels insist upon. Therefore within a couple of seconds you are aware whether this hotel will suit your dates or not, without effectively starting the booking process that so many hotels force you into!

                      So assuming that the dates are available and you still wish to go to the hotel, then simply click on the box marked online reservation. The site then confirms again the availability, so click on book and off you go. Within a couple of minutes the whole thing is booked, and a receipt sent through to your inbox, it really couldn’t be simpler.

                      For the non internet buying sort of person, the telephone numbers are available next to the hotels address and a quick call to the fluent English speaking receptionists and the process is completed.

                      But, as I say, check that there are no cheap package deals available at your local travel agents at the time you want to go.


                      Price

                      As mentioned before the price via the hotel is fixed all year around at 230 euros per night for a double room and 175 euros per night for a single room. The hotel does not accommodate specific executive or business rooms so double or single are your only choices. For those with children it is possible to request another bed be placed in your room. But for this there is another charge of 45 euros per night.

                      So check check, check what the travel agents have on offer. Personally I am the type of person who always books everything separately, but this example just showed that infact sometimes it is worthwhile to go with a travel company as you might get the whole thing cheaper!


                      Location

                      Now be careful with this if you are out lost or travelling from the airport to the hotel that you ask for directions to K & K Palais Hotel and not just K & K Hotel. The reason for this is that there are two K & K Hotels in Vienna, one Palais and one called the K & K Hotel Maria Theresia, so if you are not specific then you could end up heading to the wrong hotel!

                      This one is close to the river, and about 20 mins cab ride from the airport. Despite its appearance from the river side, it is in fact in the centre of Vienna and forms part of the 1st district. There is a metro stop very close to the hotel, but to be honest if you are planning to do anything in central Vienna you really ought to walk as every major museum, opera and parliament building are found clustered together within a very short walk. I would guess that within 30 minutes comfortable walk (in the right direction) and you can be anywhere that you may wish to be. There are many interesting sights much closer than that ranging from the shopping area to a very sweet street market but that is probably the furthest point you will ever find yourself walking back from. Our attitude was we were there to see, so there was no way we were going to do anything other than walk, but if you do have plans to do something on the outskirts of Vienna, or a short trip somewhere then the metro is a couple of steps away.


                      Facilities

                      Hhhm well this is where the hotel fell down in my opinion when compared to the Raddison. As we all know Sundays in most of Europe mark the day when everything is shut, Vienna is no exception to that, so as we were there at the weekend, really it would have been nice to have been in a hotel that would occupy at least part of the day with a sauna or swim or a drink in the lobby. But, this hotel lacked facilities (although costing very similar to the Raddison!), there are no sauna’s swimming pools or even meals available outside of breakfast! The hotel is purely geared to have a pleasant end to the day and start, the bit in the middle is for you to fill in outside!

                      There is a bar in the lobby area, which seems to be unmanned for the majority of the day, infact in the four days we stayed there, we only once saw a couple drinking a coffee at the bar, and even then the barman was no where to be seen! So it certainly was not a sideline for the hotel to get extra revenue, luck or perseverance is the only way you will get anything from that bar!

                      Also in the lobby is an area where you can gain free internet access, tucked away it didn’t seem to be a facility that was heavily used! Next to that is something they call a business lounge, which contains free tea and coffee, another computer to check emails and a printer. It would make a great place to wait before a meeting, with expensive leather modern chairs and its panelled walls, but again this lacked any form of usage or atmosphere, it was just a desolate well decorated room!

                      The only other public space was the breakfast room, which was exactly that only for breakfast, it does not serve snacks, lunch or dinner, although it is possible if you do get peckish to order room service from 6am till 10pm so if desperate that is your option.

                      The hours of breakfast are possibly the longest I have ever seen, breakfast is served from 6am till 11.30am, a massive 5 and a half hours. For this reason the breakfast room was always nearly empty although capable of housing perhaps half of the 66 room occupants at one time, we seemed to always be in there with one or two other couples. But, the service and food was fantastic, easily possible to fill yourself till evening. With choices of numerous fruit juices, smoothies and even champagne to drink, there is also a continuous flow of staff wandering past checking you have enough tea or coffee.

                      To eat, well they had everything there, fresh fruit, dried fruit, cereals, musilli, cold meats, hot meats, eggs in various guises, a huge choice of breads that could be toasted or eaten as were, rolls and every day a new type of cake, which was my favourite. Chocolate cake, strudel, tarts of all sorts absolutely lovely. Everything was completely fresh, if for nothing else its worth a visit just for the breakfast.

                      The rooms themselves are again finished to a high quality, from carpets to doors to showers; everything was modern, clean and high quality. Our room was large, with two double sized beds, TV, large area to hang clothing, two chair and a breakfast table and plenty of space to move around. The bathroom was similarly spacious with a deep bath and powerful shower. Everything was spotless, and cleaned daily. As with many European hotels, it was possible to have either a smoking or non smoking room, which seemed to be located on the top two of the four floors.

                      Externally, the hotel carries the old distinguished hallmark of many of Vienna’s buildings, while internally everything is modern yet comfortable. Staff were always polite and helpful and all of them spoke perfect English! Overall I would recommend the hotel, but warn those who like to potter around a hotel that this is may not be the one for them.

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                        23.01.2006 10:07
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                        Something for everyone all in one place!

                        So can anyone ever give truly unbiased advice on how to save money, how to get out of debt, which mortgage is best and how to use your money? Those were the question I asked myself when I first stumbled across www.moneysavingexpert.com more than two years ago. By that stage I was so used to the fact that whoever I asked, there was a bias to the answer I received, ask a high street bank and they will inevitably push their own most profitable product, which for me as the consumer will only end in having to pay more. Ask an independent financial advisor, and most will again push the products that they receive the best commission on. Ask a friend, and they will give you an honest response, but as they are not necessarily the best informed their view may again be warped.

                        So when I first visited moneysaving.com, although I felt I have nothing to loose in looking through the extensive list of articles, I was still filled with trepidation. So can a website such as this provide what I have been searching out for years? Well all I can say is two years later, it’s a site I visit daily and I personally feel has provided something unique. So could it be that this is the place where truly unbiased advice can be sort?




                        The founder – Martin Lewis

                        I joined the site 2 years ago, and at that stage, Maritn Lewis was a name I and most others had never heard of. A journalist, with no financial background and in his early 30s, thinking back it was a strange person to be seeking advice from. But, after leafing through the site, I soon found that the journalist side of his nature had lead to great research. I soon realised that his thinking behind the site was one of reason, he was searching for the same thing I was, a way to play financial institutions at their own game, a way to find ‘find the best deals and beat the system’ as he stated in one of his opening pages.
                        Today, he has a following well into the thousands, two best selling books behind him (The Money Diet), a weekly TV programme (Make Me Rich), a weekly column in The Guardian and a Radio 2 monthly programme and the offers keep coming. The website now has a team working on it and is in a continual growth.



                        What makes me think its unbiased advice?

                        Its obvious after a read through a couple of the articles on the site that Martin Lewis has financial knowledge, but the real seller of his advice is the fact that the site is a non profit site. The site is free to join, and there are no adverts, no affiliations with any financial institutions. Recommendations are made on all aspects of money, from debt to mortgages to loans to savings, and all are completely independent. All information is the result of detailed journalistic research, rather than a tidy pay off!
                        I have found that every piece of advice in the articles consistently better deals than any I have found in any league in the paper, any other website or on the high street. If you sign up to the weekly email service (Ill tell you more about that later) you will not receive anything more than what you are signed to, ie a weekly letter from the site. No spam from other companies, nor anything untoward from the site itself.



                        If the advice truly is unbiased and without adverts, then where does the money come from?

                        The only form of income for Martin on the site are from affiliate links to some banks and institutions present in his articles. Now, I’m sure this has made you all suspicious of the advice, but I can guarantee that in a lot of the articles it is the non affiliate links that come out top of the chart. So the site by no means pushes a select number of institutions. Also if this is something you do not wish to encourage, then alongside every affiliate link, you will find a non affiliate link to exactly the same bank etc. So, the choice to help fund the site, always comes from you the user.

                        Do I have to become a member to access the site?
                        In short, no all parts of the site can be accessed as a guest, and therefore you can if you choose spend the whole time you are using the site as a non identifiable user. If you want to receive the weekly emails, of course you do need to sign up to get them delivered to your inbox. However, if you just want to pop by the site and read the weekly advice, then every week the non emailed version is available on the home page, with past weekly updates archived and easily accessed.



                        What elements make up the site?

                        The site contains tips on anything from the obvious such as Credit Cards, Savings and Investments, Banking & Loans, Insurance and Mortgages, etc to the less obvious of Travel and Holidays, pensions, and the Cheapest Roadside Recovery.

                        Most of the suggestions are to change minor things in your life, with the theory that look after the pennies then they will look after the pounds, although there is a section dedicated to where to start with problem debts, for those of us who feel pushed under by the debts that surround us. If you do have a problem with debt, I would really suggest reading this section. I fortunately at the moment do not, but read this section out of curiosity and found the advice quite uplifting.


                        · Weekly emails – As I mentioned to receive these you do need to sign up and become a member of the site, which is free. If you do not want to sign up, then the emails are produced every Wednesday without fail and go onto the site on the same day, so simply access the site, and on the homepage you will find a scrolling banner which links to a web version of the email. The topics in the email vary from week to week according to what deals Martin and his team have found and some link over to the forum and deals which the members themselves have found and posted up. To give you an example of content this weeks email contained information regarding a deal Barclays were offering of a £100 incentive to open and credit with a £1000, on two consecutive months (now closed), details on an update to a best mortgage article, a cheap breakdown article, a credit card deal, a list of freebies from different companies and how to get them, cheap phone calls to abroad and a warning regarding tax returns. So as you can see, there really is something for everyone in the emails!


                        · Articles – On the home page there are links to all of the current updated articles on the site. Some are new, and some are articles which are constantly being updated. Again the coverage is vast, from how to get the best advice on mortgages, to low cost petrol, car insurance, cheap DVD rental, switching gas and electric suppliers, internet shopping, cheaper home insurance and mobile phones. The list above is just a small snip bit from the articles on the site. The information in the articles revolve around how to get the best price for everything in life focused on each specific area. Some articles tell you directly where to go for a specific deal, while others tell you how to adjust your life to achieve something. These are a fantastic source of information and basically by pooling information, cut out the need for individual research. Of course, these articles can be outdate, just as things change so fast so always check that the information is still current, but generally 90% of it is and therefore forms a fantastic basis for anything!



                        · Forums – These are linked to from the main homepage, and are once again possible to access without signing up to the site. All of the forums are heavily used, and cover all areas of life once again. As the member base is so vast now, you are pretty much guaranteed to find someone with the right information about any topic imaginable. The mix of people to be found on the forums varies from stay at home mothers to top end professionals, to those in debt and considering bankruptcy to those who are retired and want to share some knowledge. Post any question and someone will answer and a debate will start. To detail the forums to give it credit would need a review of its own. My advice would be to pop by and give it a go. People are friendly and as the mix is so vast, someone will be able to offer advice regardless of your individual situation. There are people who know all of the tricks of ebay and selling on Amazon, people who have found freebies, or tricks to get free money from gambling sites, or cashback sites, people who know all there is to know about savings accounts, or have found a good deal on a mortgage or travel insurance, seriously there is something for everyone. To post a question or to respond to one of the current threads, I’m pretty sure that you do need to be a member. However to access and read you can stay on the peripheries and just read and read! There is only one warning regarding this part of the site though, this really is addictive and you will find yourself visiting the site daily and reading, commenting for hours on end!!!. Ine other thing I will say about the forum is that advertising something on there is strictly forbidden and will be removed. As the ethic of the site is for non advertising, this follows through to the forum, and any form of advertising or self publicity is very fronded upon. IF you do risk posting it, I guarantee that it will be removed from the site at break neck speed, so don’t try it!



                        Who can benefit from the site?

                        In short, everyone! Literally this is true, from those in heavy debt and need to find a solution to help them readjust their life to pay their debts and get the best deals, to those who have plenty of money that they want to stash away and get the maximum return from it, to those who are searching for a new mortgage, loan etc. But even if you are not planning to make any changes there is even advice for you on how to save more money without making any changes to your lifestyle. The site is not about going without, but about making the most of your personal situation and gaining in whichever form is appropriate to your stage of life.



                        What do I feel about the site?

                        Well I’m sure that it will come as no surprise that I adore this site. I have found this site to be very useful, and the articles non-patronizingly written. Saving money or preventing debt is a topic that most people have some form of interest in. This site is somewhere where all of the research and thinking is done for you, and wrapped up together.

                        The site is by no means beautiful or flashy, but is very easy to use and navigate around, which is by far more appropriate in a topic such as debt! The site is non-profit so a definite bonus of the site is that there are no adverts (although there are referrals in some places). The focus of the site is pure information built up by the founder of the website and the people in forums. How you use the site is very much up to you, the range of information on the site is extensive, but well ordered. It is possible to dip into specific areas that you may wish to save money on, or an area which you may think you waste money. Or else you could of course systematically trail through every topic and pick out points specific to you along the way.


                        I personally think it is a fantastic place of interest, whatever your situation, in debt or out, there is something for everyone on there. Have a look and see what you feel.

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                          20.01.2006 17:07
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                          A fantastic insight into human nature.

                          Fed up with the daily grind of reading the bad news in newspapers, I decided that there really must be more enjoyment of my daily commute. After years of buying only the serious reads, I ventured into WH Smith with the approach a bit similar to a ram raid, grab the first cover that looks like fun and escape. Not particularly the most sane or rational of approaches to book buying, but after finding this gem of an author, I’ve stuck to the method!.


                          Who is Adele Parks?

                          As the author of a girlie book, as expected Adele is female and similar to many of her characters, is roughly in her early 30s. Old enough to have experienced a bit, but young enough to still remember!

                          She graduated from Leicester University following a combined English Literature and Language degree into what seems like a mini adventure! Teaching English in Italy, then embarking into a career in advertising, then heading to Botswana, designing and building a house, getting married, becoming a mother, getting divorced, actually you name it and she has done it! But in 2000 I think she managed to find her real calling in life and started knuckling down to writing. Now six years on, her pace doesn’t appear to have altered with six books under her belt, which equates to one a year average, she must work on steam!

                          Still Thinking of You, was published in June 2004, and features at number 5 in her speedy production line!

                          If you want to have a read about her, or check her various titles, I would suggest her home page as a good starting point at http://www.adeleparks.com/


                          Writing Style

                          Before I tell you about the actual book, I thought it might be best to warn those who are searching for the answers to life, or an intellectual read to not even consider this book. This as all of the others in the series focuses on the real ingredients of life, people, friendships, relationships and what goes right and wrong. There are no hard and fast lectures on how to live, or indeed how not to, its all based around a short introduction to a period of life for the characters in the book. As with all of Adele’s books the text is written in first person.

                          There are no intellectual challenges, the language is simple, easy reading, a light refreshment rather than a full hearty meal! If you are looking for a book to remove you from your dreary commute to work, then this is it, but be warned keep a watch out for the pending saucy bits! The pace is fast and the emotions high, the character’s are described so well that you will feel as if their actions directly effect you. If that sounds like your sort of read, then keep going and I’ll tell you some more!


                          The Plot
                          Do you remember that moment when you first met your boyfriend (or of course girlfriends) friends? That moment where you feel as if you are becoming something more than a newly formed couple? The feeling of fear and excitement of what are the people who the one you love really like, you have listened to all of those hours of group anecdotes, and feel as if you already know them, but still at the mention of meeting them you are filled with the fear of what ifs. What if you don’t like them or worse what if they don’t like you. Well this is where the story starts, after being introduced to Tash and Rich, the newly engaged couple at the centre of the plot, Adele Parks swiftly moves the reader into the cusp of Rich’s old life and the friends he has left behind following meeting Tash. Tash is excited and dying to get to know them, visualising the whole experience as only a positive one, ready to embrace them and make them her own friend.

                          Rich sees his impending off the wall wedding at a skiing resort as the perfect opportunity for introducing Tash to his well loved old Uni buddies, an idea which Tash continues to embrace even when her friends all drop out. All united on the plane with the addition of a friends sibling, the story starts; seven days, six characters and one wedding. The story twists and turns through all of the emotions only those who are close can feel, friendship, sentimentality, obsession, love, hate, until each of the characters face the biggest changes in their lives.

                          Each of the characters are developed to reveal all of their facets who they truly are and who they project themselves as being, nothing stays hidden for long. Be prepared for some shocks, some predicted moments and to experience the journey of those 7 days in great detail. Adele Parks specialises in managing to reveal and describe each of the characters in such depth that as the book absorbs you, you feel as if you are an add on to the events. Each of the emotions the book reveals, you as the reader can feel. Every moment a character experiences the reader is drawn into. All of the characters become as human and recognisable as your own.

                          The writing is clever, the human observation is outstanding and the plot forms an interesting and well researched back drop to a story which is intrinsically about human interaction. Chapter to chapter weaves through character to character, gradually revealing a picture which is far more pleasant than initially feels, you will warm to and hate exactly the same character.


                          Would I recommend it?

                          Most certainly, it’s a brilliant book by a brilliant author. Adele Parks and this first introduction has changed my negative feelings towards girlie books, and in one fair swoop pulled me into an addiction in a new genre, that I had previously refused to touch.

                          Its definitely worthy of any train journey and beyond. There were stages in the plot where I really didn’t want my journey to end, just because I wanted to know what happened next. Be prepared to go through nearly missing your stop, having a train fill around you while you are totally oblivious, sneaking a quick read in the park before work, starting to wish for unsociable lunches on your own to read! I can truly say that when I reached the end of the 600 odd pages I was actually devastated, I wanted it to go on and on!


                          Price and Availability

                          The book retails for £6.99 and is available in most bookshops online or on the high street. Personally I brought mine from WH Smith where it or others of Adele Parks novels can often be found on special offer (buy one get one half price).

                          If you shop on Amazon, there are plenty of used ones for sale starting at 50p, most in very good condition. Or if you are planning to buy it new, prices appear to start at around £3.00.

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                            09.01.2006 10:21
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                            Great value and a fantastic location

                            After becoming slightly obsessed with the idea of visiting a traditional Christmas market, this year I finally managed. Finding the destination wasn’t easy, of course the obvious choice had to be Germany, but as I had such high expectations of what to expect I had to get it right! Eventually with the help from some friends and the added incentive of a Ryan Air cheap flight destination I decided on Luebeck in North West Germany and the Radisson SAS Senator Hotel.


                            A little bit about Luebeck

                            As Luebeck is still to be discovered by us here in Britain, its impossible to write a review about the hotel without providing a little bit of encouragement as to why anyone should visit Luebeck. Well as I mentioned getting there is easy now that the tiny airport has been turned over to tourism with Ryanair as their carrier. About 10 minutes from the airport you find yourself transported into this beautiful Medieval town, full of friendly people and lots to see. The best time to go has to be close to Christmas, it is brimming with activities especially in the evening with dozens of little Christmas markets which serve in the day as places to buy stocking fillers and by evening the hub of entertainment, street life and the German equivalent of Mulled Wine. Now before you get the image of a drink ridden yob filled town, this is anything but, infact it could be one of the safest feeling places I have ever travelled to, people are laid back, friendly and traditional. All to the shame of us speak English many along with French! Although drinking is a national pastime, especially in the winter the culture is for family and as such groups of youths getting drunk do not exist and are replaced by groups of families drinking steaming wine and chatting the evening away. Luebeck is also the birth place of Marzipan, so anyone with a sweet tooth will be more than happy to peruse the many exquisite chocolate shops! Also, for the past three years it has been host to the worlds ice sculptures, which is a fantastic sight to visit full of intricate sculptures from sculptors from around the world with an ice rink to boot! Only tip for anyone who hasn’t been to Germany before If you aren’t convinced to go, what have you got to loose when you can pick up a flight for 99p!


                            Price

                            Well before I go on, I thought it would be best to tell you how much the hotel costs, after all value for money has to be one of the best methods for judging the hotel. The rate per room presently varies between 120 and 125 euros per night, which at current exchange rates works out about £85 per night, which includes a buffet breakfast, internet in your room, TV, free parking under the hotel and use of all facilities. Personally, I think its pretty good value, at £40-£45 per night each (if you are sharing a room) you will get to stay in a spacious, clean and well groomed hotel.


                            Location

                            As with most of the Raddison hotel chain, the Raddisson SAS Senator Hotel in Luebeck is perfectly located and is serviced by two airports, Hamburg International Airport (approximately an hour from the hotel) and Luebeck Airport (approximately 10 minute car journey away). The hotel sits on the banks of the River Trave (if you fancy a walk the sea is within approximately 10 miles of this point in the river), with fantastic views over the river and the town of Luebeck on the opposite banks. Set back from the road, the hotel inside is absolutely void of any traffic noise and with the views of the river it feels like you are on an island, when infact cross the bridge and you are in the heart of Luebeck town which is complete with many boutiques, familiar chains, markets and historical buildings.


                            Facilities & Service

                            The hotel has 224 bedrooms, of varying sizes, with a choice of smoking or non smoking (we had a smoking room and unlike any previous experience of a smoking room, it did not smell of days old smoke but as fresh as the non smoking rooms). As mentioned if you do drive over to Germany, the hotel provides a safe place to park your car under the hotel.

                            Check in is a simple procedure, where all facilities are explained. Rooms are designated, but are officially available from 3 on the day of arrival. In practice, rooms are available much earlier. We arrived at 9am and all 3 rooms were ready for us by 11am. In the meantime we had a wander around and were able to leave our luggage secure in a room at the rear of reception.

                            A standard room consists of a TV, En-suite with bath and very powerful power shower, which I personally couldn’t resist being in for at least an hour at a time! If you are like me and love to take the shampoo’s etc home with you, each bathroom tray has 7 little bottles of shampoo, shower gel and soap that is refilled every day (of course only if you use them or pack them into your case as we did!). In the room a complementary pair of slippers and bathrobe is left, which as with the towels if you want them to be replaced then leave them on the floor for the cleaners, if not hang them up. A really nice touch was a chocolate left on each pillow every day, of course with Luebeck’s links to marzipan the chocolate was of course filled with marzipan which was gorgeous and even if you don’t like marzipan give it a try as it is very different and less sweet than any I have tried before.

                            The rooms are cleaned daily, with very wise housekeepers who didn’t once knock on our door, but timed the cleaning event to perfection. We was not once disturbed and didn’t once return to our room to find the cleaner in. Cleaning the room was a very hassle free experience, and very thoroughly carried out.

                            To access the rooms all located, along short corridors in three blocks, there is a choice of stairs or lift. To activate the lift, you need to swipe your bedroom card on entrance and exit. This is s little inconvenient and a case of trial and error to get the key in the right way around and at the right time. As all rooms are on the first and second floor, most people tend to walk once luggage has been delivered.

                            Now an important point for you, if you require a double bed, ask when you book in as standard rooms come complete with 2 large oversized single beds. There are some standard rooms with double beds, but time your visit well and if you request a double bed, you may well be upgraded to a business suite. There were six of us and out of our 3 rooms, 2 were upgraded to a business suite, so not bad odds!

                            The hotel facilities include a small swimming pool on the ground floor, 2 saunas of varying intensity and a steam room. Loafing around the hotel is very comfortable experience. The large reception area is complete with leather sofas and staff that are attentive and leave their respective bars to serve snacks, tea, coffee and any alcohol to you, rather than requiring that you enter their specific areas to order and eat / drink your refreshments. It’s a perfect place to wait for your group or relax and watch the world go by. As Germany is a place where many still smoke, you can smoke here too.

                            Besides this there is also a bar, which is open from early evening till the last person leaves, and two restaurants both serving excellent, but quite pricey food.

                            Breakfast is included and served in the main restaurant. The choice of food at breakfast is staggering, there is definitely something for everyone’s taste and diet. Self service it consists of the normal English fried breakfast, a huge variety of fruits, breads, meats, yoghurts, fruit juices the list goes on and on Hot coffee is served to your table on arrival, and tea can be found in the main serving area.

                            I could not fault any of the services in the hotel, all staff were incredibly friendly, spoke immaculate English and the hotel was beautifully clean throughout. As we were visiting close to Christmas, the hotel was fully decorated and looked stunning.

                            Would I recommend the hotel?

                            Well if you haven’t guessed from the glowing review, yes I most certainly would and Luebeck in general too. We found the hotel to be brilliant value for money (including the drinks), friendly and a relaxing place to be in. I have stayed in some very good hotels and some very cheap hotels and I do class this one amongst my favourites. As a chain they can be found throughout the world, so I will definitely check if there is a Radisson at my next destination.


                            Link to the site
                            http://www.radisson.com


                            Address

                            WILLY-BRANDT-ALLEE 6
                            LUEBECK, 23554
                            49-451-1420

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                              09.12.2005 09:23
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                              Worth the money, but its not the ritz!

                              A couple of months ago, we had an opportunity to exhibit at Excel on the Docklands for a 3 day weekend. The exhibition itself is a whole other story, but as we were going to be at the exhibition from 8am till 10.30pm even though we are both London based the idea of a 40 minute drive either way just didn't appeal. After a full day of promoting, talking and selling a drive is the last thing we wanted, so we decided to find a cheap local hotel. After a quick hunt on the internet for a cheap, basic and local hotel we found the Travelodge in Docklands. Complete with a hotel car park, it appeared to be the perfect solution, what could possibly go wrong!


                              Booking

                              As with many chains of hotels these days booking via the internet is heavily promoted. With Travelodge, this appears to pretty much be the only option, at least if you have located them via the internet, any form of telephone number or booking direct with the hotel is pretty hidden. Only a tiny mention of the direct number appears, which of course infact is not direct but a high rate number linking to a central database starting with 0870. An added incentive is given by discounts while booking online, via what Travelodge refer to as 'web rate'. For this reason, combined with the fact that we were already on the internet with no specific extra requirements, we booked on line. A simple process of finding either the area or the name of the hotel and inputting your required dates, brings up the availability in the hotel. Generally I've found that two options are given at this point, either a double room or a family room, the cost of which are either the same or an extra £2 for the family room. In the same box as the availability details appears the option to 'book this room'. By clicking on the link a new box appears to confirm the dates, type of room, cost and number of people. The process then continues in the normal fashion with a request to enter your card details etc. Once completed, an invoice is sent to your email address and you are ready to go. One thing I would say to watch for though, as this is what caught us off guard is this receipt does not have the address of the hotel anywhere on it. Stupidly, we assumed it would and printed the receipt realising our mistake when it was too late and we couldn't find the hotel. So make sure that you don't make this assumption and simply write down the address directly from the website either at the point of application or before you leave. The penalty for not taking the address down is a rather fruitless search without aid or (well and) a call to a high rate line to ask for directions!!!!


                              Cost

                              Travelodge charge per room as apose to per person, which is a definite plus if you are part of a family. We paid £26.00 per night, which is incredibly cheap for anywhere in the country, let alone the Docklands! On the website it states that this is a special web rate and that the normal price is £50 per night. But as I haven't tried booking direct I'm not sure if anyone ever really gets charged the full rate. I've checked back a few times and this price appears to be pretty consistent regardless of the day of the week you are wanting to stay. The price does vary slightly, my guess is according to how booked the hotel is or expected to be. For example if you look to book at Christmas the price goes up to £40 per night, and if you book for the next day it can vary in price.


                              Location

                              So as I mentioned, we were visiting Travelodge purely for its close proximity to the Excel centre. The Docklands Travelodge is in fact located just over a mile away from Excel just off of East India Dock Road, for those of you who know Telehouse, it is directly opposite there. For that reason on arrival you are bizarrely faced with a security barrier, therefore before you can even approach the hotel and their property you need to speak into a microphone and state that you are visiting Travelodge. I'm sure the extra security measures are there to ensure that those visiting the street are monitored for Telehouse (which houses most of the servers for the UK internet) rather than something put in place by Travelodge! But none the less, although slightly inconvenient it doesn't have huge effect on your approach to Travelodge. Once outside of the Trvelodge, you then face another barrier which leads into the car park, again something I found strange for a hotel! But I found out what this is for later on, those of you who have used Travelodge before may well already know!!!


                              Facilities

                              Well, to be frank I didn't expect much for that cost. Wanting somewhere clean, basic but the real reason we chose the Travelodge was due to its promise of a car park. When we arrived however the car park was well, more than full. Cars were spilling out everywhere, parked up verges, double parking, blocking each other in, a mad house!! We couldn't find a space at all, but as we were arriving there at gone 11, I'm sure that everyone who was staying in the hotel had already beaten us. As you cant park on the road outside, we had to dump the car blocking the road to ask what to do in reception. The receptionist told us to simply park behind where we can, blocking whichever cars were parked in the spaces and come back in.

                              Personally, this is not something I felt particularly comfortable with, as if a car wants to leave in the night or early morning we were almost certainly going to be called to move the car. But at that time of the night with limited options, this was all we could settle for!

                              After a simple process of telling the receptionist our name, the keys were handed over and we were directed to our room. Its possible to have either a smoking or non smoking room, we chose non smoking but mistakenly left the stairs at the wrong floor and wondered along the smoking floor to find our room. Now I'm a smoker, but I can only advise at all costs do not opt for a smoking room. The smell emanating out of that floor was the most awful smell I have smelt in a long time, stale smoke times 50 is the only way I can describe it. Don't do it!!!!

                              So once we found the right floor and the right room, the door is opened with the generally used card devise as apose to an actual key. The electricity is not linked to the card, so you can turn the lights on without fixing the card into a further devise.

                              The room itself was spotlessly clean, with the window open which I thought was a nice touch. The room itself was completely tired, all appearing to have had one too many people stay in the room!

                              The room had a TV, kettle, bed, storage cupboard, mirror and a couple of bedside cabinets with a door leading to the bathroom. The bathroom again was basic, shower over the bath, WC, two towels and wash hand basin but once again very clean. My boyfriend at this point decided to use the toilet and this was where the true cracks appeared. While washing his hands he discovered that not only were the taps loose and impossible to turn off but the sink itself was coming away from the wall!! At this point I didn't know the instability of the wash hand basin as for once my boyfriend has chosen to close the door (probably the excitement of being in a hotel!). But after what he later told me was a struggle of holding the wash hand basin to stop it coming off the wall, while simultaneously trying to turn the loose tap off the whole thing failed and the tap stayed on!

                              Wanting a bit of assistance from me, he tried to open the bathroom door, only to find that the door handle came off in his hand after using the normal low force anyone would. Sitting on the bed, I heard a faint cry coming out of the bathroom and after pinning ear to door in an attempt to hear what he was saying over the sound of water, I realised he was trapped inside! The door opened inwards so the only way in was to throw myself against the door in a comedy sketch fashion. After 5 to 10 mins (that seemed like eternity) the door released and he was out!!! By then the hot tap had became so hot that we tried everything to get the thing to turn off, the whole bathroom was humid and steamy, more akin to a sauna than a bathroom after someone has simply washed their hands. Four hands proved better than two and eventually we turned it off with the aid of towels to stop the tap or sink burning our skin! We spent the rest of our stay washing our hands in the bath and leaving the bathroom door wide open. So my advice is definitely do not close the bathroom door in here unless you are completely confident that the knob wont come off!

                              Besides the room the only other facility on offer is a small bar/ restaurant / breakfast room. Strangely considering they offer smoking rooms, this is non smoking. We had a few drinks in here to laugh off our experience so far and the day in general! And the next day had breakfast, which is not included in the price of the room. £5.50 per breakfast is charged there and then. The breakfast is fine, self service and the food is hot and plentiful, just what we needed when about to face another day. But when choosing your hotel factor this into the price and the room starts to go up in price to match some of its competitors.


                              Booking out

                              Again a simple process, hand over the key and you are done. For us we felt that we should mention all of the rooms problems, not because we wanted to get any money off, but because we were sure that the room would be used again that night and would hate to see someone else getting stuck inside. Who knows if they fixed the problems as the room turn over is so fast, but at least we did our bit!

                              While stood at reception we noticed that there was a notice up regarding charges for the car park, £50 for loosing your ticket and an hourly charge. Neither of which was mentioned on the website (if it were it must be very discrete) or when we booked in and had to literally abandon our car! Personally I find paying for a car park when you are already a guest pretty outrageous and the fact that we were not made aware and there was no space even worse! We of course could not find our ticket anywhere and after checking in the car were resigned to paying £50, that was until we noticed that the in barrier was lodged in the up position while maintenance men headed back into the main building. Feeling like rebels we took this as an opportunity to leave, and didn't pay for the parking, well in our case £50 fine. I don't feel any guilt about this, as this is something we should have been made aware of, but be warned if you do go to this hotel there is a charge and don't loose your ticket as you may not find an out like we did.


                              Overall I would say its an example of getting what you pay for in life! The cleanliness was up to standard, but the hotel really needs a bit of love and care applied here and there. I think I've made my opinion on the car parking situation clear so I wont mention that again! Overall I would say the hotel is fit for purpose, no frills, well located and clean. Just don't close the bathroom door…EVER!!!

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                                28.10.2005 15:46
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                                Shame the opportunity to really amuse was missed!

                                Early for my train, I found myself on my usual time wasting exercise of perusing the books in W H Smith, not really intending to buy anything, but somehow Hotel Babylon jumped out of the shelf. Probably due to the modern interest in seeing into everyone elses life was what really sold it to me, combined with the consumer savvy irresistible offer of buy one get one half price!

                                On the back cover there are the promises of the insight to come, underlined by the statement of 'All of the following is true….more than a decade is compressed into twenty-four hours.' Having worked in the service industry myself at this point I could only imagine what would be contained within the cover!! Based in London, before even opening the pages I was second guessing which 5* hotel was the real identity of Hotel Babylon, Savoy, Ritz, Landsdown? which could it possibly be.

                                Written by Imogen Eswards-Jones, a successful journalist and the author of My Canape Hell, Shagpile and The Wendy House, the real knowledge base comes from a guy only ever described as 'Anonymous'. The thoughts were racing through my head, if he wants to hide his identity then this really must be a good gossip filled expose! But in fact the reality is the guy having spent 15 years working in London's luxury hotels, he is still working for them and so whatever he says would need to be unidentifiable to him, after all would you employ someone who has correlated all of his experiences into a book?

                                The book is narrated by 'Anonymous' himself, a fixture in the reception, the all seeing, all hearing centre of any hotel. The layout of the book itself is very simple, set over 24 hours each chapter represents an hour, an hour in the life of a hotel receptionist working a 24 hour shift. Of course the events of the 24 hours are infact a compilation of a lifetime dedication to reception work. The text itself I found aggravatingly large (a personal dislike of mine!), so large infact that if you are sitting next to someone on the train you will be able to comfortably read every word along with the book owner!

                                Chapter one represents the start of the day and the start of what will turn into a very long day for the narrator. Set at 7am-8am, the narrative gets straight into the mood for the book, the narrator fresh to work is feeling far from fresh and launches into what will become one of many recollections centred on the hotel and staff. Let the gossip begin!

                                Pretty soon chapter one turns into chapter two into finishing the book. As the day evolves comes another introduction to more staff and customers, all created to represent what 'anonymous' feels to be a typical of its kind. The author aims to describe two things throughout and in my opinion manages it quite successfully. The first is to describe the working conditions of the staff and how the typical person gets through it and interacts, while the second is a description of all of the characters that go to hotels and their reasons for being there. Along the way, each type are characterised and fitted into their appropriate time slot, for example the cleaners really come into play in the dead of the night, and until then remain unmentioned, the chiefs are fitted into the evening slot and so on. The same occurs with the typical type of customer, the businessmen have a mention in booking in, the prostitutes appear in the dead of the night and so on. Along with this are mentions of crazy things that have happened at other hotels, and interestingly these are mentioned by name. I'm convinced that by process of elimination if you jotted down each hotel mentioned you would sooner or later hit on the actual hotel Babylon is representing!

                                The character descriptions are really aimed to describe the characteristics of a typical barman, manager etc and as such bar one or two characters the book avoids trying to build a physical image of any of the characters. However this is only really something I have realised in retrospect!

                                Humour is present throughout, sometimes covertly others the reader has the impression from the outset that something is being mentioned purely for the comedy value of that event or person. Every now and then a famous name is dropped and an example of that persons bad behaviour at such and such. To me these parts although short, were the books main weekness. They added nothing more or nothing less than any tabloid speculation would and were no more convincing or interesting! I'm not totally sure what the aim of including them was, it could purely be to place the book in a timescale that we all can identify with but if this were the case I think there are other more effective methods of getting the same result.

                                The combination of short chapters, basic narrative, anticipation of something good coming around the corner and large writing not only keeps your attention on the book but prevents you from putting it down.

                                Personally overall I enjoyed the read but it was more the anticipation which was enjoyable than any particular part of the book. It is a very light read, with a degree of amusement rather than one that will have you holding in the laughs to stop yourself laughing uncontrollably. There is not enough depth or details to really tempt me into reading it again, and I think the author has missed quite a few tricks which could have made something more of it than it is. The topic is of general interest to most I would have thought, especially with the promise of an insight. Unfortunately all too often there is not enough depth and I cant help but feel the author with a topic such as this has missed the chance to turn what is a mediocre book into an infamously hilarious one.

                                This is a book purely for those moments of wanting a light relief. Im still unsure as to whether I should recommend it or not, the truth of the matter is yes I did enjoy it but I cant help but feel that after all of the promises on the back cover I may deep down have a tinge of disappointment in me.

                                Borrow it from your library or a friend rather than search bookshop to bookshop for it. Its available in paperback and hardback and priced at £7.99 for the paperback there is better value reads out there so make sure if you buy it you get it on offer.

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                                • Fiat Panda / Car / 49 Readings / 46 Ratings
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                                  22.09.2005 21:38
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                                  The Panda has been brought back to life

                                  I didn't think the day would come when I would gleefully write about the death of my Punto. But alas, two months ago while passing a Fiat garage with a large 0% finance sign gleaming in the sun, the idea of a new car sprung into my mind. 0%, can I possibly go wrong I mussed?

                                  So in I popped with all intentions to upgrade my x reg Punto for a brand new sparkly Punto. At least that was until I spotted the reincarnated Panda sat beside what then appeared to be a rather clumsy big brother Punto!

                                  A small amount of sales chat and a couple of forms later, I became the proud owner of a bright blue Panda. I know what you are all thinking, wasn't the Panda the poor cousin of the Uno of the old Fiat empire of the pre Punto era? Well yes it was, but things have changed, the rackety little tin box of bygone years has been brought back from the dead with a new shape, a new spec, a new set of colours but most importantly a new engine capacity that for a car that size is hard to resist!


                                  Price

                                  In any car decision this has to be the most important factor, after all I can want an E type Jag as much as I like, but if the money doesn't stack up then I'm not having one. Well if you are looking for a bargain car that will nip around town, this has to be in the running. For £6,500 you can buy a basic Panda with a rather respectable base spec. Once you start to add on any of the extras the price can shoot up pretty quickly, I think just to have metallic paint would straight away add an extra £500. There are some little benefits that come with the car as standard, AA cover for a year and a 3 year warrantee (two years provided by Fiat then an extra year on top). But as I have said before if you do find yourself in any garage at the mercy of a car salesman make sure you strike a bargain, try for some money off and failing that ask for something else to be thrown in, in the past I have had anything from car mats, free insurance, additional spec added for no cost, etc. If they won't budge on the price, go at them with another request for something you might want. Just one other point regarding the price, if you are thinking of buying one and are not too concerned about the colour and spec, then ask around the garages to see if they have any which have been pre registered. My car had been a showroom car prior to me buying it, as I didnt mind the fact that it had been sat in a room doing nothing the garage I brought it from gave me a discount of £800. As an added bonus it also had a lot of features which are not part of the basic model, including Cd player, roof rack thrown in, metallic paint etc. So worth asking, at certain times of the year garages are more likely to have cars like this to others, so if you dont mind waiting, dont mind the colour etc then ask around and get your car even cheaper!

                                  My bartering was somewhat restricted this time around due mainly to the fact that Fiat are running a pretty good finance deal that I wanted to take them up on. I'm not sure how much longer it is going to run for, but Fiat running a promotion of 0% finance for 3 years, with no deposit. And although it appears as if quite a few makes of cars are running similar, they actually all have more catches than Fiat, some request half of the cost of the car paid upfront then provide the rest of the money at 0%, some let you pay 0% for 3 years but somewhere hidden in the small print are details stating that after 3 years the car will only be half paid. So slightly at a tangent, but I think a useful one, be careful of the 0% deals, make sure you understand what they are really offering you.


                                  Choice

                                  If you are buying brand new then there is a basic range of colours, some of which are unique to the year that you buy the car. It seems to be the pattern that every year there are 5 colours are the standard non metallic colours all pretty bright and cheerful as Fiats generally are, then a more subdued selection of 5 metallic colours. As I said earlier, if you want the metallic then Fiat do charge extra. There are an equal number of interior colours to choose from, which can be combined with any of the range of paints.


                                  Performance

                                  Now obviously I'm not going to pretend that a Fiat Panda is a match for any of the super cars or in fact a high spec Golf but baring in mind the size and lightness of the car the engine is more than ample to let the Panda hold its own on any motorway. Infact, the Panda's base engine is actually the exact engine used in the basic Puntos. So baring in mind that the Panda is substantially smaller and lighter, it is more than capable of outperforming a run of the mill Punto! With a 1.2 engine I have found that the Panda is a nippy little rascal, brilliant for jumping in and out around town, and more than capable of keeping the pace on A roads and motorways. So far I have been pretty gentle on the car, but it seems more than happy to chug along at 80mph on the motorway with room to accelerate up for a short burst of overtaking. The top speed I've probably sat comfortably at is about 85mph, but I did still feel a bit of acceleration still in there.

                                  Around town, its size is its advantage, easy to park, easy to manoeuvre and fast to accelerate away from traffic lights. But if you do fancy a Panda but want something faster then there is quite a range to choose from, including believe it or not a rather sweet 4 x 4!


                                  What features does it come with

                                  As a standard, every Panda comes as a 5 door, 3 door cars just don't exist with Pandas. Probably due to the size of the car, it would be pretty uncomfortable climbing into the back of the car if it were to have 3 doors. A base Panda also comes with front electric windows (wind your own in the back) that as a nice little touch allows for the driver side to whip straight up and down in one fair swoop with a slightly different press of the button. It also has driver and passenger airbags, which the passengers can be switched off if you wish to have a baby chair in the front. Also a height adjustable steering wheel which comes in very handy, central locking, a remote door locking key, Blupoint stereo (cassette for the real base model but for little extra or a good barter this can be changed for CD) and Fiats version of ABS breaking which seem to do the job very nicely!.

                                  Now the best feature of all, which I am so pleased has been brought over from the Punto is the power steering. I know that power steering is pretty much standard for all cars these days, but Fiat have devised a very useful variation on this, called 'Dueldrive'. Basically Fiat have realised that there are two types of requirements for steering, firstly steering when driving, and secondly when parking and have basically devised a two part power steering which allows for both to be carried out at ease.

                                  On the dashboard of both the Panda and Punto is a button marked 'city', now this button is the answer to everyone's dreams in getting into difficult parking spaces. By pressing this button a whole new world of parallel parking opens up! This switches off the normal power steering which is your run of the mill drive around town light steering, and turns on the ultra light steering for parking, accessed through the 'City' button. 'City' only works when you are travelling at 5mph or less, so even if you switch it on and forget (very hard to do as it is so light), it will automatically switch itself off. No one can mange to park badly with this feature, like a feather the steering releases to a level that you can get a full lock with the movement of a finger. Brilliant, I would even go so far as to say go to a Fiat garage and try this feature on a test drive even if you have no intention of ever buying one!


                                  Fuel Consumption

                                  Another all important part of the car especially when considering the continual hike in fuel costs. The Panda is fantastic, although a petrol car (diesel version is possible) the petrol really does go a long way! I think approximately 39 miles per gallon in town conditions, 58 miles per gallon when on a motorway. To fill the tank it seems to cost between £35-36.


                                  Insurance

                                  If you aren't convinced by the fuel consumption, then consider the other largest expense linked to cars, which is the insurance. Pandas fall into Group 3, which is one up from the lowest bracket. Obviously, if you do opt by one of the Pandas further up the range then it will vary and could be in the higher insurance brackets, but all 1.2 Pandas are in Group 3.
                                  To give you an idea what this means in regards to cost I've been driving for 10 years, without making any claims and have just insured my Panda for £250 fully comp with protected no claims. Obviously this varies according to where you live and whether it is garaged or not. But I think this is as cheap as you are going to get for a new car.


                                  Comfort and Trimmings

                                  With regards to internal features I haven't found a reason to complain so far. Fiat don't appear to have cut back in many areas from the spec of a Punto, although the one thing I did notice (which I found a weird place to save money) was on the mirrors. Either have to be positioned externally, without any internal levers, not really a huge problem or reason not to buy the car, but it does mean that moving them while driving is pretty inconvenient. The seats are padded, comfortable and clad in a plain but modern material. Both front seats can be contorted into a huge variety of positions, although as the car is small if you do wish to have the front seats at their furthest back position, it does tighten up the space in the rear considerably.

                                  The radio is high in the middle of the dashboard, and forms part of the molded dash. Underneath that is the heating system, which consists of a dial to choose hot or cold or whichever setting in between and a lever to choose which location you would like hot or cold to blow out of at any one of four speeds. The gear stick also forms part of the dash as apose to the more common position coming up from the floor. Fiat have chosen to position the gear stick on the dash in order to give maximum elbow room to both passenger and driver, and I've found that it does the trick and really does give the illusion of a spacious interior. There is a mirror over the passenger seat for those who want to do their make up in the car and a large storage space. All cars come with a car lighter, removable cup like ash tray that if you wish can sit in any of the cup holders (in the dash and central to the rear) The trims on the doors come in the same fabric as the seats, and again are padded with pockets the perfect size for an A-Z and some sweets!

                                  Standard on some of the higher spec Pandas or an extra with the basic model is the roof rack. As a rule I would never suggest that a roof rack could be a must have car accessory, but on the Panda it really does look sweet, and sort of finishes it off. As it isn't a sporty looking small car, the roof rack seems to add a robust healthiness to the car, and gives it almost the image of a baby range rover. Have a look at the ones on the road, with and without the roof rack and you might see what I mean!


                                  The awards

                                  So if I haven't convinced you maybe the plethora of awards the Panda has managed to bag in its two years since re-launch will. Since 2004 it has picked up award after award from Auto express (car of the year, in 2004 and 2005), won best city car from What Car, and best budget car from Top Gear, there are some others too, but these should convince you to at least consider the car!


                                  Reliability

                                  Well this one is hard to test so far, as I've only had the car a couple of months, but so far so good, and having spoken to people who have had the car since its launch you can safely say that 2 years and you should have no problems.



                                  So I think that about sums it up really, a good reliable, cheap run around with an engine that can cope with a motorway. They are available from all Fiat dealers, as they have only been around for less than 2 years, second hand Pandas are still pretty rare and are holding their price.

                                  If you want to have a look at the car Fiat have dedicated a site to the new Panda at http://www.newpanda.co.uk go and have a look, see if you agree with me!

                                  Ive just noticed, ignore the picture on Dooyoo as this is the old Panda photo rather than the new Panda!

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