- Premium reviews
- Express reviews
- Reviews rated
- Ratings received
I decided last year that it was about I time I jumped on the digital band wagon and bought a camera that you don't have to wind on when you've taken a shot.
I did a lot of research and entered into it knowing that if I could I would get a Sony as I've always considered Sony to be the best and most reliable make. I'm not going to go against that now either. However I wasn't willing to spend Sony prices and quickly ruled them out as an option.
Instead I took a lot of interest in Kodak. It's true to say that most of the Kodak camera's that fell into my price range were ugly and brick- like. I wanted a camera that was a relatively high spec and a good price, but not at the expense of style. I found the Kodak Easyshare C340 met all my requirements and a few months on I'm still delighted with it.
It's a 5.0 megapixel camera which for those of you yet to enter the digital revoltuion means that each picture that you take is made up of 5 million different dots. Obviously the more dots, the more detailed (better resolution) the picture will be. To put this into context, you can get camera's with 7 and 8 megapixels, but the best phone cameras might give you 2 megapixels. For the photography that I was interested in and the pictures that I would be producing I decided 5.0 megapixel was more than enough as this gives you pictures of upto 50cm x 75cm without losing detail.
The camera contains all the things we have come to expect of a digital camera. It has optional and automatic flash, red eye reducer, multi zone automatic focus and a 4cm x 3cm screen for reviewing your shots. It also contains a 3 x optical zoom which allows you to adjust the lens to shoot things quite a distance away. On top of this there is a 5 x digital zoom which enhances the optical zoom further (however image quality may be reduced depending on the shot).
You have an option of 13 scene modes to choose which basically give you diffeent pre set light and motion setting to get the most out of the shot. These scene modes include automatic, portrait, sports, landscapes, claose ups, night portrait, beach, snow, fireworks (which produces some spectacular shots), self portrait, back lihgt children and party. Then there are 3 colour modes - colour, sepia and black and white. You can even take TV quality video with it for as long as your memory card permits.
The camera doesn't come with a lot of memory (64mb internal memory) which will only allow about 10 shots. However you can buy memory cards separately (I got a 512mb SSD card from EBay for around £30) to hold more photo's and video's on.
Below is a more comprehansive list of spec details for all you techno-geeks:
Aperture f/2.75.2 (wide), f/4.68.7 (tele)
Shutter speed 41/1400 sec.
LCD 1.6 in. (4 cm) high resolution (72 K pixel indoor/outdoor color display
Burst mode 3 fps, up to 3 pictures
Video mode continuous motion JPEG video with audio capture/playback
Video resolution VGA (640 × 480 pixels) at 13 fps; QVGA (320 × 240 pixels) at 20 fps
Video length continuous up to 80 min. limited by capacity of external memory card; or 5-, 15-, 30-sec. clips
Video format QUICKTIME MOV (motion JPEG compression)
Auto focus TTL-AF
Auto focus selection multi-zone, center-zone
Focus range Standard23.6 in. (60 cm) to infinity
Landscape32.8 ft (10 m) to infinity
Close-up wide528 in. (1370 cm)
Close up tele928 in. (2270 cm)
Sensitivity ISO equivalent 80160 (automatic, still), 80200 (sports) and 80,100, 200, 400 (manual)
White balance auto, daylight, tungsten, fluorescent
Exposure metering center-weighted
Long time exposure 0.74 sec.
Exposure compensation +/-2.0 EV in 0.5 EV step increments
Ease of use features
Built-in flash auto, red-eye, fill, off
Flash range wide211.8 ft (0.63.6 m); tele26.9 ft (0.62.1 m)
Review options 1X8X magnify with pan, slide show, multi-up, fast scroll, protect, album
Favorites on-camera picture storage
Auto picture rotation Auto picture rotation with EASYSHARE Software
Software KODAK EASYSHARE Software
PICTBRIDGE compatible print directly from camera
Storage 16 MB internal memory*, SD/MMC card expansion slot
Self-timer 10 seconds
If you're starting out in digital photography then good luck in finding out what all that means. If you know a thing or two about digital photography then you'll see that this is not a bad camera.
I've recently enjoyed playing with the long time exposure setting to experiment with different shots (like those night time ones of traffic that shows a stream of light as cars have travelled through the shot) You see, you can experiment like that with digital because you can instantly see the result and if you don't like it then you can get rid of it without the costly expense of more film.
I can honestly say that I've really got into photography since I bought this camera. Mainly because it gives you he flexibility to experiment, but also because it has so many added features that beyond the expectations that people have of every day digital cameras.
I love this thing, and would definately recommend it, especially if you are starting out, but also if you were one of the first on the digital band wagon - then maybe this would be a useful, but affordable upgrade.
Please note though that if you dont't buy rchargeable batteries, it wont be long before you have spent the cost of the camera on Duracells!
Let me tell you about a revolution in the world of flossing (is there a world of flossing? Well if there is there has been a revolution in it!)
Now, I've known for years that I'm supposed to floss. Lots of people (none more so than my own mum!) tell me that if I dont floss regularly then I run the risk of suffering tooth decay or gum disease or even mouth cancer or heart disease! So you would think that with such warning in mind, I would be persuaded to floss the recommended amount (daily, I think).
But no. I wasn't persuaded. You see, the idea of me squeezing flossing into my already packed 'get out of the house before the idiots get onto the motorway' morning routine was about as feasible as taking a couple of weeks off work for a holiday to Jupiter! What on Earth possesses people to stand with their fist in their mouth in the morning trying to manouvere string between teeth and through gaps that simply aren't there in the morning. Even if the gap is there you end up cutting your gum to pieces. My underlying theory always was that if I can't get this string in the gap between my teeth then I won't be able to get tartar in there either so I'm ok!
Anyway, for all you dentists out there reading this (and you mum!) you'll be pleased to know that I have had a change of heart. It all happened when I was looking for a new toothpaste. I saw this ...thing on the shelf that didn't look like a toothbrush but also didn't look like aything else either. I was intrigued and took a closer look. It was the Oral B Hummingbird. It was what the world has been waiting for so as make flossing a realistic possibility.
It costs around 7 - 8 pounds and was advertised as a flosser. It was obviously electronic for some reason of which I couldn't work out at first. And it contained in the pack some strange pointy and catapult type things as well.
I continued to investigate as I looked around to see if anyone else had noticed that I had made this amazing discovery of something alien to our world - right there on the shelf in Tesco!
It works like this. The 1 and half inch base has a button on it in the middle and a neck at the top. The neck is for attaching the pointy (tooth pick) heads onto and the catapult (Y shape flossers) onto. The button is to make the heads vibrate or pulse gently increasing the motion of the head, powered by a regular AAA battery. So when the head is on and you place the floss between your teeth, press the button and not only does it ease the floss into the gaps that I thought never existed (gently so you avoid gum cutting), but it has a gentle abrasive effect on the in between bits of your teeth removing plaque, tartar and any bits of food that have been rotting there since Christmas Dinner! Amazing.
When I bought the hummingbird it came with a couple of tooth picks and a couple of flossers. To be honest I can't see what the tooth picks are for because they really are too big to get between your teeth. I only use the flossers but realised that the two that came with the pack would not last long. I returned to Tesco to buy a pack of replacement flosser heads. Theyr'e not cheap and price up at about £5 for 15 (similar price for toothpicks. I don't suppose you have to replace the head everytime you floss but even then if you floss every day you'll do well to make them last a month.
However, this marvelous invention has enabled me to start flossing every other day which is a massive achievement (and I still get to the motorway before the idiots!) so £5 per month is more than worthwhile. The secret behind the hummingbirds success is how easy it is to use. It is quick, convenient and it can all be done with one hand! It takes about 2 minutes to floss your whole mouth (mind you I suppose that depends on how many teeth you have) and it's very easy to keep clean.
I fully rcommend this product and challenge you to find a more convenient way of doing such an inconvenient thing!
This is such an amazing piece of software I had to write a review for it.
For those of you reading this who do not know what Earth Google is then this is for you, and I assure you that if you have any interest in anyhting at all, you will quickly become completely obsessed by it.
I'm a Geography teacher and I can honestly say that this is the one thing that has never failed to capture every pupils attention in my classes. It is the most compelling piece of software on the Net regardless of your interests.
So, it's time I told you what exactly this software is. Well, Earth Google allows you to view any part of the Earth that you wish by use of a number of satellite images, and in parts, with remarkable detail.
You can dowload the software for free from http://earth.google.com/ It is very easy to install and depending on the speed of your internet connection can vary in the length of time it takes to complete installation. However regardless of the time, stick with it as it will be more than worth while.
The software starts up with a view of the globe from space. However, with the tools available that allow you to zoom in and out, rotate the globe through 360 degrees and spin it around fully on its axis, you can go where you want, when you want, whenever you want. The tools are extremely easy to use, with a vertical slide toggle for zooming, a 'grabbing hand' cursor to shift the globe the way you want to and rotation icons to rotate the globe through 360 degrees.
Once you start to use the tools you can zoom in to each country. When you zoom in it is literally like falling from the sky, with the Earth becoming more detailed as you do. Admittedly, depending on the specification of the machine that you use, it may take a little time (seconds rather than minutes hopefully!) to increase the detail of what you are looking at, as you need a decent processor to refresh the screen quickly.
Depending on where you go you can view places with amazing clarity and detail (down to about 3000ft in height which will give you the kind of view that you'ld expect from a plane as you come into land on a clear day). Find your house - Its amazing!
The areas with this kind of detail and resolution tend to be cities and surrounding areas, especially those in USA but all major cities in the UK are presented in this quality of resolution and most in Europe are as well. Other regions in the world will give you less (but still impressive detail).
That is the general concept of Earth Google which in itself is impressive enough. I can't begin to imagine the work that has gone into this software as no place on Earth has been missed out. However, there is more!
You can enter any location in the world into the search facility and the globe will spin, rotate and zoom to get you to the place you entered (most of the time anyway. This facility can be a little unreliable for lesser known location!) And the search engine doesn't only recognise countries and cities either. You can enter geographical features such as Mount Saint Helens or the Grand Canyon and it will tae you to them as well.
When you arrive at a location there is a tilt facility that out of this world! Go to the aforementioned Mount St Helens and tilt the Earth so that you swing down from birds eye view to ground level view and you are presented with the topographical feature of the volcano. Now again, this does not occur for all features but is worth the anticipation when you find it (The Lake District works well).
Tilt down in the same way over one of the major American cities and you can use another feature that will also blow your mind. Presented with a flat 2D view across the city, you won't be impressed, but click on the 3D buildings option and watch the individual buildings in that city sprout from the ground in front of you obscuring your view of the other side and you will not believe your eyes. Then use the tools to fly through and around the buildings and you'll feel like Peter Pan himself!
Is that enough for you to fall in love with this software. Well it doesn't end there!
There are many features that you can switch on and off by using tick boxes in a scroll options bar. For example, mark the airport of a country or city. Find the locations of pubs and restaurants. Even locate the major earthquakes of a region. Possibly the most functional feature of all is the overlay facility of road networks. Switch this on and turn the screen you are looking at into a satellite image/map hybrid. Road names and numbers will pop up in front of you allowing you to identify routes and locations far easier than a traditional map! Fantastic.
There are lots of other features that will take you an age to discover and exploit and to be honest thats all part of the fun. And that is exactly what this piece of software is. Its, practicle, fascinating, intruiging, but most of all its fun and it leaves you feeling like you have genuinely visited a place that you have never set foot on in your life before.
I mentioned that the detail is not evenly distributed across the globe. In fact I even heard thet the people responsible for producing this found themselves in trouble with North Korea as they felt that instant access to satellite images of their country on the Internet jeapordised their national security. Rest assured though that Earth Google automatically updates itself and its quantity of detailed areas so, despite that fact that it is already the best thing since sliced bread, it is getting better all the time.
Finally, when you use it, understand that the images that you view are archived satellite images. Don't make the mistake that one of my Year 8 pupils made when I showed it to them, by asking 'if I go out into the playground and wave to the sky, will you be able to see me on there?' It took him 15 minutes in the playground waving at the sky to work it out for himself - that I lied when I said yes, yes we would! Meanwhile we were all sat in the classroom in fits of giggles!
Well, we are deep within the age of music downloading and becoming even more submerged. It doesn't seem long ago that I declared my cassette Walkman an antique, but now I have firmly classified my Discman in the same group! Basically, you are behind the technological times if you have not got an MP3 (digital music) player and a piece of software that allows you to download songs, organise them and play them on your PC/Laptop...or at least thats what I am told.
This is where I Tunes comes in. I am sure you have all heard of the Apple I Pod range and in conjuction with these, Apple released I Tunes. I Tunes is a piece of software that can be downloaded from the Internet for free. It takes up approximately 63mb of memory which (depending on your machine) is the equivalent of a speck of dust on your computer screen (please not that your music will take up more memory on top of this).
I Tunes is an excellent piece of software that can be used in a number of ways. It is worth pointing out though that it is completely compatible and can be used on any machine (not just Apples) and with any MP3 player (not just I Pods).
Once you have downloaded I Tunes you will be presented with a very stylish screen that will become the hub of all your music organising. The software allows you to do all kinds of things with your music and in doing so is extremely user friendly. Heres a summary of its main features:
Library - The centre of I Tunes is your music library. Music can be added to the library in one of 3 ways. You can download music from the I Tunes Music Store (see below), you can import your CD's into the library (which effectively turns your CD music into MP3), and you can transfer MP3's from PC to PC, from MP3 player to PC and vice versa.
The library then allows you to sort you music according to a number of factors including track name, artists name, year made, most played etc etc. You are in control of these factors and can have them classified however you want. There is a feature on the library that allows you to rate your tracks out of 5 and classify them according to this as well.
You can also use the library to organise groups of songs so that you can hold albums on your PC or even create your own mixes.
Party Shuffle - This feature uses the tracks in your library and plays them randomly. It allows you to see the up coming tracks from your library and can even be programmed to play your more highly rated tracks more often.
Music Store - This is where you can buy your music. It holds a lot of variety with a number of older albums/artists as well as the mainstream newer material. You can search the music store and find artists and tracks easily with their respective prices. Downloading is quick and simple with a click of a button, but does require you to set up an account with financial details so that billing is carried immediately on purchase of the tracks.
I have been told though that the songs that you download from I Tunes are not necessarily the best quality compared to other sources of download music, although I have to say I have never noticed this myself.
Once the tracks have been downloaded they immediately appear in your library.
More recently I Tunes has acquired the facility to play podcasts (downloads of radio extracts, from interviews to whole programmes) and music videos. And I Tunes automtically updates itself from the Internet so that you don't miss out on the new features. On top of this there is a list of radio channels that can be played through the software but from experience these seem to be all American.
So there we have it. In summary, I am not by any means declaring I Tunes to be the best music software in the world, in fact it is only 1 of 2 pieces that I have used and the other is the basic Microsoft version that is already installed with your Windows software. In fact there is a wide variety of this kind of software out there. However I am stating a fact when I say that I Tunes is stylish, easy to use and versatile. And what's more, and I can't explain why, but I am a lot more interested in music since I downloaded I Tunes and started to organise my music digitally. Maybe its the techno-geek in me but I Tunes inspires me to listen to and buy more music, which is great.
If you're looking to enter the world of digital music then take a look at I Tunes and you won't be isappointed.
I don't like flying. And I don't think I'm being irrational in saying that nobody should fail to have a fearful respect of flying.
It really gets on my nerves when people say 'oh don't be silly, it's one of the safest modes of transport.' It's also one of the most bloody catastrophic when something goes wrong you studip people!!! You don't hear of the driver of a Boeing 757 walking away from the cockpit with shock after flying into a mountainside! No, I am definately not being irrational. Irrational is when somebody states confidently 'I really don't mind flying, it's boats that scare me.' WHAT IS ALL THAT ABOUT!!! Boats? Boats!?! You're suspended 30000ft up in the sky by 2 man made jets that could fail at any time and you think you have more of a problem on a boat? I'll take my chances trying to survive floating on water, over trying to survive a 30000ft freefall any day of the week, thank you very much!
Anyway, given the circumstances and my 'slight' fear of flying, if I say that Thomas Cook are a good airline then I mean it. If I can express anything positive about anything associated with flying then really, you've got to take with both hands!
I've flown with Thomas Cook from Manchester to 2 Greek Islands, 2 years consecutively and I can honestly say that it has done a great deal for my concerns over the 'safest mode of transport.' On both occassions the airline has arrived on time outbound and inbound. The staff that are in charge of the plane are always very well presented and extremely polite. Admittedly, I've never seen them under great amounts of pressure but I'm always confident that they are in control. The cabin is always very clean and tidy as well, which you might say you would expect, but often it is not the case with other airlines.
One thing that can put an uneasy flier at ease is the sound of a friendly, confident pilot on the intercom before the flight. Regular updates are always welcome as well and with Thomas Cook you do get these.
In flight entertainment is the regular short haul film whereby you can only access the audio belonging to it by buying earphones and the unique adaptor for the sockets that don't seem to be used anywhere in the world other than on planes.
Food is always great on flights regardless of the airline, in my opinion. Being a very belly orientated person I appreciate most food and although I am aware of the fact that in flight food is by no means a fantastic culinary achievement, I do think that Thomas Cook make a good job of it. I mean you would expect them to with their name...Cook...get it? Never mind!
Anyway, in summary I really like Thomas Cook to the point where, when I fly I make a point of trying to get one of their flights. Yes, yes, this could well be a psycological way of comforting myself but that can only stem from a good service, otherwise that comfort wouldn't be there.
If you find yourself presented with a choice of airlines, even if Thomas Cook are not the cheapest, give them great consideration at the least, because I like them and as I outlined above, that's worth alot!
Anybody who has played any of the Championship Manager games will know that it is not a game that you simply dip in and out of when you feel like it. Oh no. Once you load it up, thats pretty much the rest of your day over. You are just so compelled to play this game that all other things go straight out of the window - social events, toilet breaks, food, sleep, appointments at the hospital for emergency open heart surgery! It is just so addictive!
If you havent played this version yet then fear not, you are not about to be released back into the cauldron of chaos known as the outside world. No way. You are bound to stay locked up in your house 'just one more hour' in an attempt to get Rochdale up to League 1 or Manchester United to the FA Cup Final 5 years on the trot!!
This game has been slightly adjusted from the last version. The player and club details have naturally been updated. But along with this there are changes to the playing screen, the tactics and the training. The playing screen is constantly open so that while the game is loading up the latest fixtures, or results etc you can carry on managing your team. I thought this was a great idea at first and saved on me having to find things to do with my time in between pressing the continue tab, but I soon realised it is a nightmare. Due to the power of my machine (or lack of it)it can take 10 minutes to load up the next part of the football calendar and I soon ran out of things to do with my club.
The tactics compensate for this somewhat as they are alot more detailed than they have been in previous versions. Your individual positional options are greater and you can really see the difference it makes by using the optional real time match facilty.
The match facility now allows you to view the game from 45 degree side on angle and gives you the option of a variety of speeds to view the game at (make sure you download the patch from the CM5 website as this option isn't on the original game). You can also view just the highlights but I find you have no idea hat has gone on in the game if you don't watch it at least a little fater than realtime.
Training is alot more detailed as well. In fact it is so detailed it is lost on me as there are far too many options available. Instead, I have found myself reverting to the default training schedules as they are already done for you.
All in all to give you an indication of the timescale involved in this game, I have not completed a season yet and I have owned the game (playing it for approx. 10 hours a week) since July!
I fear for the relationship I am in. Referring back to the 1st paragraph of this review ALL things go out of the window and unfortunately that includes my girlfriend! Now, this isn't a confession to murder you understand, merely an acceptance that she hasn't a cat in hells chance of getting my attention while this game is in existance. And that fact is not because she is boring, or doesn't engage me in the way she once did. It is simply due to a chain of events that take place in a mans brain when football is mentioned, that women will never understand as long as they are on the planet.
You see, when a man is exposed to football, he automatically and subconsciously turns on the judgemental switch in his brain and starts to assess every player, manager, referee, assistant referee, fan that he sees. He questions what they have done, analyses the outcome of what they have done and feels the need to suggest how they could have done it better. It is a control thing that 99% of the male population are guilty of doing.
Why have I rambled down this route? Well, the thing about Championship Manager is that rather than giving the man the opoortunity to judge others in what they do, it allows them to take control of others and what they do. In other words they don't have to judge because everything that happens in the make believe (based on fact) world of Championship Manager is directly related to something they have done themselves. And once you have given a man that kind of control it is very difficult to take it away!
I must confess that on occassions I have actually become confused between the latest result on Championship Manager and the real football results from the weekend, because I have been so absorbed. I know its very sad. I'm not proud of it. This is part of my counselling!
So don't see Championship Manager as merely a game. It is not a game. It is a lifestyle and one that you will find extremely difficult to shake off once you have opted into it, so think carefully before you buy it. Think very carefully! Are you ready for marriage?
PS I've heard that Football Manager is even better, but I hear bigomy is illegal.
Holiday destinations are always difficult to write about because they are often a matter of opinion. Greece is a particularly good example of this kind of problem. It is a country that holds some of the most fantastic scenery in the world, but some people can't get past the inadequate sewerage system. It is a country with some of the friendliest people in the world, but people can't get past the maniac bus drivers! It is a country with some of the best food in the world, but people can't get past the basic accomodation. See what I mean?
I personally love Greece but have had some 'below standard' experiences myself, but on the whole I think its a great place and I therefore intend to write a review of this particular island that does it true justice.
I went to Santorini with my girlfriend in August of 2005 and stayed in the resort of Perissa. This volcanic island takes a new moon shape with Perissa and the other large resort Kamari on the outer Eastern edge of the island, divided by a mountain range (on the top of which is a Greek military base). Thira, the capital is on the inner edge of the new moon looking into the crater of the volcano from high on the cliff side. The airport is on the other side of the mountains from Perissa (close to Kamari) and therefore doesn't cause any noise pollution.
Perissa is a fantastic resort with what I regard as being the best beach on the island. Now be warned. As the island is volcanic the beaches are composed of black sand but you musn't let this put you off, in fact see it as an added bonus - I find black sand sticks to your feet less than regular sand!
Perissa is made up of 2 main roads (Main Street and Beach Road) which meet at the top end of the beach at the church, close to the foot of the mountains dividing this resort from Kamari. The main street is lined with bars, tavernas and shops, stretching from the beach for approximately a kilometre inland. The beach road is lined on one side with tavernas and bars whilst the other side meets the beach itself. Follow this road along the beach and eventually you will find yourself in the next resort, Perivolous, which is dominantly populated by Italian tourists. We often took a stroll up there just for a laugh, observing enthusiastically the cutural differences between the English and the Italians. A very interesting people study that I would definately encourage. However it must be noted that as the beach becomes more Italian, it also becomes more commercialised and although the change is gradual it is very noticable.
Now don't get me wrong. Perissa has its commercial side, but the thing I liked about the resort is that it is not in your face. It can be as commercial or as quiet as you want it to be. You can go out for a nice meal and drinks, stroll around the shops for the evening, or find a lively bar and lose all memory of the night by means of cocktail after cocktail!
At this point I should recommend some taverna's and bars, but to be honest when I go to a place like this, part of the fun for me is trying somewhere new every night. But as an assurance to any would-be visitors to Perissa, I can guarantee that wherever you go for food and/or drinks, you will like it, and thats regardless of your taste for food. I'm quite open minded when it comes to food and will experiment, but if you are not that way inclined, it's fine as there are always English options on the menu. Its worth noting though, that as the island in general has had such an Italian influence, the menu's that you'll find do reflect this (and for the better I say!)
Outside of Perissa there is lots to do. There is a good bus service to help you around the island and it appeared that all routes end in Thira (the capital) which is approximately 20 minutes from Perissa. Alternatively there are many car, scooter and quadbike hire shops, although everyone we spoke to advised against the latter two.
If you make it to Thira then what you will find is something completely different to Perissa. There is no beach and it is quite hilly (its on a cliff face) so I would recommend that it is only attempted at night as summer temperatures can reach 40 deg C in the day, making it difficult to walk around the town. There are lots of shops (beware, products are quite expensive, inflated due to the number of cruise passengers that stop off in the capital), there are also lots of resaurants, but follow this very worthwhile tip: arrive a little earlier in Thira than everyone else (7pm should do it) to ensure you get a seat in a restaurant that is located on the cliff side itself and therefore looks out over the crater of the volcano. Not only will you be looking at a still active (well dormant at least) volcano that has sprouted from the crater, but you will see one of the best sunsets you are ever going to see in your life.
We did this ourselves but were fortunate in that on the night we went, there was a celebration of the 50 year anniversary of the last time the volcano erupted. To mark the occassion fireworks were set off from the volcano itself, once the sun had set. The fireworks were designs and placed to look like lava flowing down the mountainside. It was absolutely spectacular and all completely free (apart from the swordfish and Mythos that I was consuming at the time. I had to pay for that!) The whole event was rounded off with traditional fireworks and we were left completely amazed by the spectacle.
The following day we went on a Kamari Tours trip to the volcano itslef and walked to its summit. A guide gave us a tour and lots of information about the history of the volcano which was extremely interesting. Later we sailed around the back of the volcano to a natural hot springs. The boat couldn't go into the springs as they are too shallow so we dived off the boat and swam to the shore to soak in the warm volcanic waters. I couldn't help but laugh at the picture that an over head plane must have had of all these people jumping from a boat and swimming ashore. It must have looked like we had run aground and were swimming for our lives!
If you choose to do this trip you must look for one that sets off early morning though. If you are on the volcano in the midday or afternoon sun, the temperature would almost definately take away from the enjoyment of the experience.
It has been suggested that Santorini is the location of the lost city of Atlantis. With the knowledge of the volcanic history in mind and what we saw on the second trip that we made on the holiday, it most definately is a possibility. We were guided around the museum in Thira to set the scene of the volcanic history of the island and to be introduced to a place called Akrotiri in the south of the island. There are many artifacts that have been found in Akrotiri displayed in the museum, including ceramics and paintings. Why? Well the special thing about Akrotiri is that it is completely submerged by volcanic ash and has only been discovered in recent times. It is a Greek Pompeii but amazingly, is 3300 years old! They have excavated 3% of it and it is suggested that it was populated by the Minoans. Having had warning from the volcano itself of activity, they fled in a hurry and left the town and their possessions to be found by archaeologists.
We were taken to the site and guided around it after the visit to the museum. It was breathtaking. Unfortunately, I heard on the news 5 weeks after our visit of an accident there. The roof that had been erected to protect the site and the workers from the sun had collapsed and killed a man. Subsequently the site was closed and when it will open again, I don't know.
To round our day off we were taken to Volcan Wines - one of the many Wineries on the island. A guided tour around the museum told us of the history of wine making on the island and we finished the day with a wine tasting session, which admittedly was a marketing ploy by the company, but who cares, the wine was free and delicious!
The holiday for us was as enjoyable as we could have hoped for. Some days we lay around the pool in the apartment block, others we went down to the beach, whilst on other days we went on the trips above. There is something for couples of all ages as well as families (as long as you don't want to be able to drop your kids off in the morning at the crazy crocodile kids club! - because this kind of things just doesn't exist on Santorini) We went, knowing that it was a special place, but didn't have any other expectations. Knowing that Greece can be basic we had an open mind and were rewarded with a spectacular setting for an amazing holiday. We came back relaxed, happy and feeling like we had really experienced a special place.
Having spoken to the locals and read up about the island on the Internet, I would warn you that Santorini is changing. I suspect that if we went back in 5 years time it would not be the island that we visited last summer. The more people that write reviews like this one, the more people will want to go there. Thats the unfortunate downside of being a beautiful place I suppose!
Do the honourable thing and preserve it by not going! But if you can't resist it then get there as quickly as possible before it's ruined!
Im a bloke. I hate shopping. Thats the way it goes right? Wrong. I USED to hate shopping. Id run round a supermarket as if my backside was on fire and the only bucket of water was at the other side of the store. Id curse every old woman who dared to push her trolley out in front of me, every mother who had the cheek to presume her own son or daughter was more important than what I wanted to do and every shop assistant who decided to stock the shelves up despite the fact that it was probably the supermarket equivalent of rush hour! Before long I was becoming the Victor Meldrew of shopping and Im only 23!! Imagine how degrading that felt. How humiliated I was to think of myself in the same way as everyone in that store saw me! I was ashamed. ASHAMED I tell you! Id like to think that Im the only person who can relate to these experiences and that the rest of the shopping population are relaxed, chilled and at one with themselves whilst taking their leisurely stolls around Tesco to get their weekly shop, with not a care in the world. But I know Im not the only one. You may not raise your hand if I asked you to, but I know youre out there, hiding, pent up with frustration, arguing with yourself about the levels of logic and common sense that the total population of one Tesco store must hold - 'Im telling you its only 5%. No its not it HAS to be more, thats impossible'...and so on. I know youre there and its because I know you are there that I am writing this. I am here to SAVE you. YES YOU. Live on and let me introduce you to Tesco Direct! Tesco Direct is an absolutely wonderful tool, and I dont say that lightly. It has removed all the stresses and frustrations I have told you about from my life. It has reduced my blood pressure and made me happy again. This is how it works. You go to the website www.tesco.com/register/ and you will be presnted with a registration page. Follow the instructions and be patient as this is the onl
y time you will have to go through this process. Honestly its better than waiting in a check out queue now isnt it! After that you may be inclined (and forgiven noneless) for thinking that I am a fraud as the first time you shop on Tesco Direct will take a very, very long time indeed. You will search menus and categories of food just to find the tinned pilchards. There will be no shop assistants to ask where something is kept and there will be no useful signs hanging over the aisles directing you to the marmite. But alas you need to be patient because after your first time, once you are no longer a Tesco virgin, the pleasures and practicalities of this fantastic service will reveal themselves to you. You see everything you buy will be stored as a favourite. Obviously when you begin you will have no favourites but the more things you buy the more favourites will be added to your list. Then when you go shopping next week, unless you buy completely different things every week (and if you do do that then you deserve for your shopping experience to be hell!) then you simply go to 'My Favourites' and find all the goods you have bought in the past listed and categorised by food type. Amazing! Trust me, within weeks youll be on there for 15 minutes tops! Of course now and again you will need something you have not ordered before and will have to search the departments accordingly. But the departments on the whole are categorised in very logical fashion...yes I said in a very logical fashion. You can even edit the favourites list and delete items you think you will never buy again to cut down on the items you have to sift through, hence further reducing your time online. 'But what about the disadvantage of not being able to look at something, for example a piece of meat so you can see how much fat is on it, or what kind of weight it is?' I hear you ask. Well with all items that vary in size a weight marker is attached to the order form so
you can increase or decrease the size. As well as this, against every item there is a note pad symbol whereby you can attach a note for the helpful assistant who is going to pick your order, for example 'very lean joint of beef please' etc. This can be carried over to all items and is very useful when the possibility of your selected item not being in stock arises. If this occurs then in a shop you would simply make another choice or leave without it wouldnt you? Well Tesco Direct try to substitute your item with something very close to it - recently I ordered 2 trout fillets and received a rainbow trout instead. Close but not close enough. If you order two small packets of cheese they might replace it with one large one. Not ideal. So you can simply write a little note on an item such as 'if out of stock do not substitute' and so on and you avoid the mishaps. Genius. 'But what about special offers?' These are flagged up on the site as well and not only that but you are actively encouraged to take them rather than missing them as is often the case in the shop. 'BUT WHATS THE CATCH?' 'THERE IS NO CATCH!' 'THERE MUST BE!' 'WELL IT COSTS £5 SERVICE FOR DELIVERY! 'OH.' But come on, £5 is nothing when you think of how many more happy years you will enjoy in your retirement as a result of the reduced stress! OK, OK, if you really are that tight then do what I do and shop for two weeks instead of one! This way it only costs you £10 a month instead of £20. You can choose your order time too (within reason of course, 2am is probably not a reasonable request) but you select a 2 hour slot on a particular day for your shopping to arrive. OK so here IS a catch. I have experienced a few problems with delivery. Allow me to explain. Firstly, around Christmas and Easter time everyone will be shopping so your delivery will often be late, but get this, the driver phones you and lets you know how la
te hes going to be! This doesnt just happen at Christmas and Easter, but is quite rare at other times of the year. But the delivery team are committed and I know this for the following reason. A couple of months ago my delivery was so late it rolled over to the next day. It was also late that day as well and feeling like a hermit sat in the house all day waiting for my delivery, I phoned the store and kicked up a bit of a fuss. Driver absence, illness, very busy and the usual excuses are what I was told. Still no shopping. Further fuss. Until at 9pm the store manager arrived at my house in his Porsche Boxter with a back seat full of shopping! Now if thats not going the extra mile I dont know what is! So. Have I sold it to you. Go Direct. Any rational human being can assess that the pros definately outweigh the cons and BLOKES - you need to get doing this or youll end up like I was if youre not there already. Be saved and shop on! Amen!
This month the 17th Commonwealth Games come to Manchester and the city will host the largest multi-sport event in the UK since the Olympic Games were held in London in 1948. I am hoping that this will act as a guide to the city not only in terms of its suitability for hosting such an event, but also as a guide to what is such a widely diverse, changing, and somewhat recovering metropolis. Manchester has suffered in the past, what with the decline of many of its chief industries right through to the more recent plight that resulted from the IRA bombing in 1997. The character of the city though, is reflected in the way in which the city and its people reacted and recovered to become what is one of the most exciting cities in Europe if not the world. I have sat and watched Manchester change before my very eyes in recent years – a new building on the horizon, seemingly having sprouted overnight; new road networks developed in a variety of areas; an excellent ring road motorway making all sides of the city easily and quickly accessible from all sides of the city; two major railway stations newly refurbished; a Metrolink tram system which, although the city failed to meet its deadline to extend the system to Sportscity in time for the games, covers an extensive area; and an international airport developing gradually, growing in size and stature constantly (with a recently built 2nd runway and new plans to build a fourth terminal). These developments have been endured by local people for what has seemed like a lifetime on occasions, but it has been to our own, and now the rest of the worlds' benefit. The city is now ready as a result of all this improvement and regeneration to host the Commonwealth as its guests not only for the duration of the Games but beyond that as well. So for the visitor coming to Manchester for the first time, what can you expect? Well just about everything! Shopping - From the regular high street shops found in the Arnda
le and on Market Street to classier locations around St Annes Square and Deansgate, from Marks and Spencers and Harvey Nicholls (still being built) to Department Stores such as Debenhams and Kendals. Then theres the Trafford Centre a couple of miles out of the centre easily reached by bus - youre spoilt for choice! The splendour of the various museums (go to the Urbis - you cant miss it, its a huge glass triangular building) libraries, galleries, monuments and town squares can keep you busy in the day if you not a shopper. At night there is something for everyone. If you want a quiel night at the pictures then go to the Printworks, where youll also find bar/restaurants and theme pubs. You can go to numerous bars on Deansgate, Castlefield if you want a classier setting along the canalside or Canal Street (or the gay village) which has a friendly, carnival atmosphere all year round. There are comedy clubs (I highly recommend Jongleurs but make sure you book a ticket in advance), theatres (the Palace will always have a big production on), concert venues (the Apollo or the University Academy) and clubs scattered all round the city - You couldnt possibly get bored! And just in case you were wondering where you would sleep for the night after all that - Me ma does a cracking fry up and charges minimal rates! No seriously Manchester over the last 2 years has seen in excess of 15 new hotel developed and thats aside from the numerous that were already standing. In such a short opinion I cant possibly do the city justice but trust me Ive lived here all my life and the place is just getting better and better. You'ld be missing out if you didnt experience it as it really is a dynamic place to be at the minute. I hope you enjoy it if you come - and give us a wave while youre here!
I recently went skiing in the resort of Borovets in Bulgaria. We went as a school party (but thats another story) and this opinion is written based on my own personal needs. We stayed at the Hotel Rila which is classified as a 4 star hotel, however knowing the economic plight of the country I didnt hold out with much hope and went with low expectations. This was probably the best strategy in the end as when I arrived I was more than pleasantly surprised. The hotel is huge. It hosts a very large bar/lounge area, a TV room, a nightclub and numerous small gift/convenience shops. The rooms are more than basic, they are indeed spacious, tidy, clean and modern looking - the four things that I judge a room by initially. All in all this was looking very good and started the trip off well. Unfortunately the snow was lacking as there had been a turn in the weather for the 2 weeks previous to our arrival and snow had not fallen in a long time. This changed after two days but alas did not help in my dire attempt to sail down a mountain on two planks without hitting anyone or anything! When I did attempt this I stopped in Borovets again, removed my skis and found it to be quite a quaint little place. It has a very party like atmosphere and the streets are lined with shacks selling all kinds of tat. Yes tat is the word - copied CDs, copied sportswear, in fact everything you can imagine is available in fake form. Be careful walking down the street though - thieves are rife and do not under any circumstances change your money with anyone on the street, go to a authentic exchange shop as Bulgaria recently changes its currency and there are some who will change your sterling for the old, invalid currency. The food in general is superb....but then having been compared to Homer Simpson in the past it is fair to say I am easily pleased, so if you are remotely fussy about your food it may be difficult to get used to. The food in the hotel
(for our party anyway) was buffet style and although you may not recognise everything it was quite tasty. If that doesnt appeal to you then walk down the main street in Borovets and a bar owner will invite you in to their place in no time (probably offering you a free beer to coax you as well). If all else fails try a kebab from the hut across from the Rila - these are no regular kebabs. Id never liked kebabs before until I tried a fresh chicken, onion and salsa variety. Gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous...but remember what I said about Homer! In general the people aere very friendly but I always got the impression (and this may be unfair) that they aere friendly because they are relying on the industry, not because they liked you! The waitresses in the hotel incidentally did not have this ability to pretend - they were just down right rude!! And that brings me onto the final point - prostitution. Prostitution is perfectly legal in Bulgaria hence the reason there are numerous heavily made up girls in the Hotel Reception looking at all the men. Occassionally they will approach you and ask you if you are interested in sex. The answer is not yes! Their pimps (the three largish men with shaven heads in the centre of the room) watch keenly waiting to take 75% of their earnings apparently. Ill let you judge as to whether you should risk it or not!! Oh and talking of sex Borovets is crawling with sex shops, erotica bars, strip joints - in fact in the Hotel Rila pole dancers enter the stages in the nightclub at 11pm every night so beware (especially those on school parties!!) So to summarise the trip was extremely enjoyable with excellent facilties in general - it really is an experience so if you want something classy dont choose this country, nevermind the resort. However the prostitutes and never ending sex joints made it very uncomfortable for the staff! That may well be a plus point for some though! And it was VERY CHEAP!
I recently visited Ayrshire (april 2002) and found it to be absolutely fantastic for what we were looking for. We stayed in Colmonel which to be honest is not the representative hub of activity for Scotland but does serve as a good centre to visit the region and beyond. Going at this time of year meant that the roads were not too bad, and so the majority of the South Western coast line was easily accessible as well as a large chunk of Western Dumfries and Galloway. Visits to The Isle of Arran and Port Patrick were well worth the journey and the Galloway Forest was superb. If you want clubs and endless drunken nights then you shouldnt touch it with a barge pole, but for a weeks walking etc it was perfect. The people on the whole were very friendly however, there were some frowns noticed and snide comments made when our Manchester accents were heard in the city of Ayr! Obviously tourists are not a common occurence in that neck of the woods so dont impose too much. Its worth taking a note though, that wherever you are staying make sure you either have a tele or balls of steel. The roads in the day are bad enough so at night...well I cant comment because I was too scared of trying them! The Pheasants dont help in making the roads safer either - Kamikaze isnt the word! I went to Ayrshire with no expectations having no idea as to what it would be like. The only presumption I made was that the weather would be awful and I was horribly wrong. The week we went gave us better weather than the Mediterranean at the same time and so all in all I would strongly recommend it to those who want what the region has to offer - Landscape, Walks, History and Peace.
Oh to be a student again. I went to the University of Liverpool between 1997 and 2002 and can honestly say I loved every minute of it. I stayed in Rankin Hall on the Carnatic Site in the first year and despite the bare plaster walls, the aluminum, temporary (since 1971) window frames and the 3 times-a-week fire alarms it was a great place to be. Theres a massive sense of community on the Carnatic Site - a feeling thats much needed for poor, trembly freshers who are missing their mums cooking and that coupled with a fantastically, almost rural setting its a brilliant place to start your Uni life. The food isnt great but the idea of all students eating tagether turns it into a social event to a certain extent which is important if youre going to meet people you can nick beer and cigs off when your student loan runs out! Carnatic Bar, surrounded by the lake, well its more of a moat actually(make sure you dont fall in on your way out!) is a great place for the nights when you havent got enough to get into town to the Union etc - its quite cheap and always, always busy. Surprisingly enough I wasnt put off the halls the night I looked out of my bedroom window (top floor of block D next to a tree) to find 2 blokes at the bottom of the tree staring up at me. Think they were casing the joint but nothing materialised. As for the Uni itself, the staff are brilliant and on the whole are very friendly. The facilities are fantastic and the expertise is to match. The town centre is a short 5 minutes walk away leaving easy access to shops and bars and clubs - Hoorah! If youre a student pondering which Uni to go to this year then Liverpool is an excellent choice if you like the city but want a small community within that city to help break you in a little - thats what Carnatic will do for you.