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Jamie Oliver is pretty hard to miss these days - he must be one of the busiest people in the UK! In 2008 he launched "Jamie's Italian" a chain of local restaurants designed to serve authentic Italian cuisine which was affordable and tasted amazing.
There are currently 14 restaurants around the UK, the Liverpool branch opened in June 2010 and is located in the Liverpool One shopping complex. The restaurant is very modern and contemporary - the lower floor has glass doors which can be pulled right back on sunny days, the inside is very chic - furnished in wood, leather and stainless steel.
As you can imagine it gets very busy at Jamie's Italian - bookings are only taken for parties of more than eight people, otherwise you just have to turn up and wait. We went at 6pm on a Saturday, we were given a pager and waited in the bar, this is quite small and you can't leave as the pagers don't work outside. We waited about 15 minutes before being seated.
The menu is extensive - there are a selection of breads and nibbles to start then antipasti - either a meat or vegetable selection or a selection of individual dishes. We had a selection of handmade bread with oil and vinegar for dipping - these were delicious especially the "snappy music" bread - almost like a giant popaddom flavoured with rosemary and lemon. I then had crispy squid with garlic mayonnaise which was possibly the best I've had - light crispy squid with rich garlicky mayo and my friend had arancini - deep fried balls of risotto rice with mozzarella and a great spicy arribatta dressing. The pasta and risottos come in either a starter or main size portion and there are meat and fish mains as well. My prawn linguine was flavoured with garlic, chilli, tomatoes, rocket and fennel. The pasta was fresh and tasted wonderful, the prawns were juicy and the veg were cooked perfectly. My friend had the lamb lollypops which were cooked to her taste and were juicy and melted in the mouth. After all that we were almost too full for dessert but managed to squeeze in the pannacotta and chocolate and espresso tart which was recommended by the waiter as the best dessert on the menu and certainly lived up to the description. Famlies are welcomed and there is a childrens menu available.
The staff were very friendly and the service was attentive but not intrusive. There were no long waits between courses but despite the fact that it was a busy Saturday night they didn't try and hurry us out the door. The atmosphere was lively and fun. Our meal with wine was £70 which I think represented excellent value for the quality of the food. I would prefer to be able to book a table and the bar area is quite small - I can imagine it gets quite crowded when the restaurant is busy. I can't wait to go back again!
Pesto is a small chain of Italian restaurants - there are currently 2 in Manchester and 1 in Liverpool with plans to open a 4th in Glasgow later this year. The Liverpool branch is based in the Liverpool One shopping complex and has 2 floors so plenty of capacity. Pesto is different to a traditional Italian restaurant - the menu is based on piatinni or small dishes to share with your fellow diners - basically an Italian version of Spanish tapas.
We went with a large party (15 of us) so we had a set menu which is available for parties of 8 or more but I did sneak a look at the main menu - there are over 40 dishes ranging from bread and olives to meat dishes as well as rice and pasta based options. Individual dishes range from £2.45 to £3.95, I imagine most people would order 2 or 3 each.
Our menu was priced at £14.95 each which offered good value as we had plenty of food. We started with bread and olives then Insalate Caprese (buffalo mozzarella, tomatoes and basil). We had 2 pasta dishes, one was suitable for veggies - farfalle with basil pesto - this tasted fine but was nothing special, the other was spaghetti with meatballs and these were great - very succulent with a lovely rich flavour and fresh tomato sauce - I'd happily have taken the leftovers home if there had been any! The other veggie dishes were Arancini - deep fried balls of risotto rice with mozzarella in the centre which were delicious and pizza margherita which tasted as good as the pizza I had in Italy. It was maybe a little plain for those that prefer more toppings on their pizza but I loved it. There were supposed to be sautéed potatoes as well but these never appeared - it does say on the website that the menu may vary at different locations and we didn't really miss them as there was still plenty to choose from. We also had chicken wings substituted for a chicken breast in white wine dish but again these were delicious and the substitution wasn't a problem. Carnivores also had calamari - I was a little disappointed with this as its one of my favourites but it was a little greasy and chewy and the aioli wasn't garlicky enough - and skewers of chicken wrapped in ham which were lovely.
The set menu made dining in a big group much more straight forward than all ordering individually and although the dishes weren't exactly what I would have picked there was something for everyone to choose from. The food arrived quickly and staff were attentive though it did take a while for them to take our drinks order when we first arrived. We stuck to beer and soft drinks but there is an extensive wine list and a cocktail menu too. I finished with a cappuccino but several people had desserts which looked lovely - the menu had Italian favourites such as Tiramisu and Panacotta and everyone who had one seemed to enjoy them.
So while our experience wasn't outstanding it was above average and I'm looking forward to trying Pesto again and sampling some different dishes - with a menu this extensive it will take a while to work my way through them all!
Night Work, released in June 2010 is the third album by the Scissor Sisters. Written largely by Jake Shears during a hedonistic stay in Berlin after discarding their first attempt at a follow up to second album Ta Dah as it sounded too pedestrian, Night Work is everything we have come to know and love from the Scissor Sisters - infectious, energetic pop/disco that will soon have you dancing and singing along. It has heavy 80's influences - think the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure and the Bee Gees rolled in to one, in fact Neil Tennant was one of the people Shears consulted during the making of this album.
Title track Night Work sets the scene for the rest of the album - "the weekday nine to five shift is over" and it's time to party! Electro pop at its best and Jake Shears' falsetto is in fine form. The album is off to a great start.
Whole New Way has an 80's synthesiser sound and typifies the campy lyrics full of double entendres that make the Scissor Sisters who they are.
Fire with Fire was the first single released from the album - it starts sounding like a piano driven ballad but becomes a crowd pleasing anthem complete with rousing chorus, perhaps showing the influence of producer Stuart Price who also worked on The Killers Human. This track is certainly a crowd pleaser but isn't hugely representative of the rest of the album.
Any Which Way - another pounding bassline which could get anybody bouncing along. As you might expect if you are familiar with the Scissor Sisters sex features highly in their lyrics and this song typifies that. Ana Matronic's spoken interlude is fantastic and the first time she really gets to stand out so far.
Harder You Get - this track show Jake Shears' lower register is just as impressive as the high notes we are more used to hearing him hit. The rhythm of the backing track allows him to almost speak the verses before leading into the catchy chorus.
Running Out - Lowering the mood for just a minute Running Out considers what might happen if this party world the band have created was to come to an end. The track starts with the heavy breathing of someone exhausted by keeping up with the party, Jake and Ana then trade lines about the things they are missing before concluding that the best thing to do is carry on partying!
Something Like This - feels a little like filler - more synth sounds and electronic beats but nothing that isn't done much better on other tracks.
Skin This Cat - Ms Matronic's solo vocal on this record, it sounds very seductive although the imagery isn't the most pleasant.
Skin Tight - the closest there is to a ballad on the album, a beautiful melody but still manages to feature an upbeat chorus.
Sex and Violence - another 80's sounding track this song continues the slower tempo but for me doesn't really fit with the rest of the album. It's not a dance number and is pretty dull to listen to once you've heard it for the first time.
Night Life - inspired by Ana Matronics first visit to a night club and escaping a dull life in the suburbs in this exciting new world. This quickly builds to an upbeat must get up and dance song with an infectious, sing along chorus.
Invisible Light - the best track on the album! It starts off sounding like War of the Worlds and features a monologue from Sir Ian McKellen. The electronic sound is shown to its best here and although detractors may say that the Scissor Sisters are a one trick pony they certainly do what they do incredibly well.
Overall this is a strong album, having seen them in Manchester on the day it was released I can definitely say that this album sounds even better live - 8 tracks were played from it that night and even with the band on a post Glastonbury come down it sounded amazing.
Situated on bustling Long Street in the centre of Cape Town the Grand Daddy is a 4 star hotel with a hip, funky vibe. This is typified by the trailer park on the roof of the hotel - 7 Airstream trailers each decorated with it's own particular theme. We stayed in "Dorothy" - a standard size trailer with 1 double and 1 single bed and blue and white polka decor. It was certainly one of the most unusual places I've slept! The trailers are small but contain everything you will need for a couple of nights stay - we had a fridge stocked with drinks and snacks (though as with all hotels these were quite expensive), a kettle and tea and coffee provided, a small wardrobe, satellite TV and 2 chairs. The trailers are ensuite though as you may expect the bathrooms are small - anyone over 5'10 may find it difficult to stand up in the shower! The trailer was clean and comfortable though could maybe do with a fresh lick of paint. The trailer park has its own bar - being downtown there are several tall buildings around the hotel so the view isn't that special but if you catch the right angle you can see Table Mountain! The Pink Flamingo open air cinema is also situated on the roof - they show films twice a week and a certain number of tickets are allocated to hotel guests, unfortunately our stay didn't coincide with a movie showing. The hotel also has 2 suites with their own patios and lounges and regular rooms too - these look great on the website but having not being in them I can't comment on whether or not they live up to it.
The Daddy Cool bar on the second floor is well known in Cape Town and open to non residents as well. We visited mid week as our room rate included a free drink, there were a few people there but it can apparently get quite busy at the weekend and there are sometimes guest DJ's. Breakfast was also included and served in the restaurant on the ground floor. There was a buffet of fruit, cereals, yoghurt, bread, muffins and pastries. This was all very fresh and tasted great, a selection of hot items was available made to order, though we never had any of this, and tea or coffee as well (though if you wanted a latte or cappuccino these were extra). The restaurant was also open for lunch and dinner, we ate dinner one night and found the food to be of a very high standard - it's also available as room service.
One of the hotel's main assets is its staff - everyone was very friendly and helpful throughout our stay, breakfast was included in our stay and as we were due to check out before they started serving we asked the night before if it was possible to get takeaway , expecting to maybe be given a couple of muffins. Half an hour later we were delivered a selection of fruit, muesli, yoghurt, muffins and croissants which certainly kept us sustained during our bus journey the following day. Staff were also very knowledgeable about the local area and made some good suggestions of places to visit.
Some people may prefer to stay at the waterfront but Long Street is a good alternative - the hotel is 1 block from the tourist office and bus stop for the open top tours, there are lots of bars and restaurants nearby and it feels very safe.
I would definitely consider staying here again, the trailers are great fun though quite small so not suitable for families and I imagine they could feel claustrophobic for a longer stay. I didn't pay for our stay but as I recall it was 3600 rand for 2 people for 3 nights including breakfast which at current exchange rates is just over £300 - great value I think.
The British Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in London with over 6 million visitors annually. Located in Bloomsbury it is easily accessible by Tube - Tottenham Court Road or Russell Square Stations are a 2 minute walk away. The museum is open daily from 10am till 5.30pm and is free to all visitors - they do suggest a donation of £4 per visitor.
It is worth taking a minute to admire the building before you go in as it is quite spectacular in its own right - it emulates classic Greek architecture especially the columns and the pediment above the south entrance. The courtyard in the centre of the museum was originally designed as a garden but had been taken over by the Reading room and library storage until it was redesigned in 1997 and opened to the public in 2000. This is now a huge light, airy space which houses the information desks where you can pick up maps and audio guides in 10 languages, one of the museum's shops and a cafe.
The museum is enormous and you could easily spend several days exploring it, I, like most people I suspect was principally interested in seeing its most famous exhibits - the Rosetta stone, the Elgin Marbles and the Egyptian Mummies. The Rosetta stone is easily identified by the large group of tourists around its glass case! It is situated in room 4 which is immediately off the Great Court. The stone is roughly 1 metre high and covered in tiny writing so you will need to get quite close to appreciate it. The discovery of the stone enabled Egyptian hieroglyphs to be understood for the first time - the writing consists of hieroglyphs, demotic - the everyday language of ancient Eygpt and ancient Greek all translating a decree passed by the council of priests. There is also a replica in the Room of Enlightenment which you can touch and photograph more easily as there is no case to reflect the camera flash and far fewer people.
The Elgin Marbles are situated in the next gallery. Embarrassingly I expected to find some large round stones but the term actually refers to the sculptures retrived from the Parthenon by Lord Elgin when he was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire between 1801 and 1805. The most impressive are the central friezes that would have sat at the top of the columns, these stretch along the walls of the gallery and the statues of the Greek gods that would have sat in the temple. Even without an audio guide there is plenty of information about the exhibits to help you get the most out of what you are looking at. There are also free tours of the Ancient Greek exhibits at 11.30 daily and of other galleries at various times. The sculptures are controversial as the Greek government have campaigned in recent years to have them returned - the museum do a good job of stating the case why they believe they should remain in London.
The Egyptian mummies are on the upper floor - the gallery explores ancient Egyptian funeral rights and belief in the afterlife. As well as the mummies there are coffins, funeral masks and items buried with the dead . Having been to the Egyptian museum in Cairo this exhibit is quite small by comparison but interesting none the less and certainly seemed very popular.
Currently the museum is also working with Radio 4 on its A History of the World in 100 objects series. Even if you haven't caught it on the radio you can pick up a leaflet in the museum and follow man's development over 2 million years from stone tools to credit cards. There are also temporary exhibits which you have to pay extra to see. Currently there is a display of Italian Renaissance drawings which would have cost £12 to visit.
The British museum can seem overwhelming at first as it is so vast but it is well laid out and easy to navigate around so don't be put off visiting. As it is free you can make as many trips as you want which is great as I personally can't manage more than half a day or so before I need a change of scene.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog was published in 2009, having been translated from its original French. I came across it in Waterstones where it was part of their 3 for 2 offer, the cover boasted that it had sold 2.5 million copies, been serialised on Radio 4 and received multiple favourable reviews and so I decided to give it a try.
The story is told from what initially seem like two very different points of view - Renee is the concierge of an apartment block in Paris which is home to the wealthy and influential . Very few of the inhabitants pay her any attention other than when they need her services which suits Renee for although she appears to be a typical uncultured concierge she is in fact formidably intelligent with interests in literature, music, philosophy and art. Paloma is 12 and lives on the 5th floor of the building. She is determined not to become another member of the bourgeois elite like her parents and older sister whom she despises and so has decided that on the day of her thirteenth birthday she will commit suicide and set fire to the family's apartment. Before she dies she endeavours to leave behind a journal with her thoughts on life - this tells her part of the story which helps to easily differentiate her chapters from those of Renee.
Of course this would be a fairly dull novel if they both succeeded in their objectives without any interference and both characters experience life altering events when one of their neighbours dies and his apartment is sold. The new inhabitant is a Japanese gentleman who is quite unlike anybody the building's residents have ever encountered. He realises that both characters have more to offer beneath their seemingly unfriendly exterior and encourages them to interact with the world and people around them.
The author Muriel Barbary is a lecturer in Philosophy and this is quite evident in her writing style - some of the passages are quite tough to read - lasting several pages on the way someone might move a particular way or the beauty of art - fine for a text book, not so much for light holiday reading. More interesting are the interactions between Renee and her only friend Manuela - who provides an interesting down to earth counter point to Renee's more lofty ideas and Paloma's descriptions of her family and neighbours.
Unfortunately I found both the main characters quite unsympathetic - even considering she is 12 Paloma is incredibly self centred and her whining really does get annoying - she is completely unable to appreciate how many opportunities she has available to her. Renee's backstory gives some insight into the reasons for her attitude but she is still incredibly pretentious and seems to enjoy looking down on her employers as much as she berates them for looking down on her! The smaller characters are created with varying degrees of success - Kakuro Ozu is incredibly charming and funny and his great niece provides some light moments in amongst the philosophising. Others are one dimensional and add little to the story - Paloma's sister Colombe appears to be there simply for her to despise.
This novel didn't grip me and I am unlikely to read it again, there were too many dense chapters considering the meaning of life and the beauty of art which distracted from the story and felt like a chore to read. There are some funny moments and an unforeseen twist in the tale which meant that reading it wasn't a complete waste of time but I am hesitant to recommend it.
Cupcakes have become increasingly popular over the past few years and there is now a huge range of cupcake recipe books available. If you have ever wanted to be able to make cupcakes in the shape of a penguin, an alien, a Christmas ornament or a snow globe then Hello Cupcake is the book for you.
There are some basic recipes included in the book both for cakes and for frostings but they recommend the use a of quite a lot of ready made ingredients and packet mixes - apparently because the results are more standardised. The book provides a few options for customising packet mixes to more unusual flavours such as pumpkin or gingerbread and options for homemade vanilla, chocolate, lemon, carrot or almond cakes.
The first few chapters cover the equipment needed and the techniques used through the rest of the book. As this book is aimed at people who don't necessarily have a lot of previous baking experience there is no fancy equipment used - ziplock bags for icing, a couple of spatulas, tooth picks for holding things together and brushes to decorate with. Simple step by step instructions with lots of pictures demonstrate the basic icing techniques used in the book - how to ice fur onto the animal shaped cakes, how to make leaves and petals, how to draw patterns with frosting and assemble the basic shapes.
The rest of the book is divided into themed chapters - April Fools (cakes which look like other foods), Party Animals, Happy Birthday Cupcake (mostly for kids parties -party princess and slumber party cakes), Hostess with the Mostest - cakes for other occasions such as baby showers or even weddings, Nightmare Before Thanksgiving - Halloween and Thanksgving themed cakes and Holiday on Icing for making Christmas cakes.
Each cake has simple step by step instructions which are very clear and easy to follow, there are lots of pictures of different stages and the finished article so you can see what you are aiming for. The measurements are all American - some things like cups are fairly universal now but others may require googling - I certainly didn't know how much a stick of butter was equivalent to (4 ounces apparently).
Most of the ingredients are easy to find - as well as butter icing you will use a wide range of sweets and biscuits in the recipes - the only things I found it difficult to source were doughnut holes and cookies for making wings for my penguins, none of the options I could find were a suitable consistency. In the end I left them out and the penguins looked fine. I found the cakes very sweet - there is lots of icing holding everything together as well as doing the decorating - but they look brilliant and are definetly a talking point.
This isn't a book for complicated recipes but the cakes are fun and easy to make. If you want to make elegant looking cakes I would go for the Hummingbird Bakery or Primrose Hill cupcake books but if you want novelty cakes this is a great book to use.
You can buy Hello, Cupcake! for £5.99 on amazon. There is also a website with new recipes (www.hellocupcakebook.com) and a fan page on Facebook!
Fat Face are a clothing company originally started by 2 friends to fund their skiing adventures in the French Alps. As you would expect their clothes are mainly based on a sporty, outdoor lifestyle. I have been wearing Fat Face clothes for about 6 years - 75% of my wardrobe is Fat Face and I have something of theirs on pretty much every day - so safe to say I would recommend them!
So why am I such a Fat Face fan? For a start I can always find something I like - most of the clothes are casual but there is also a new range called Fat Face Premium which consists of dressier clothes although probably still not smart enough for the office. The clothes look great - a great mix of patterns and colours and fit well - they come in sizes 6 -18.
They update their collections regularly so there is plenty of variety. You can get a complete outfit here - there is a great selection of shoes, bags, jewellery and other accessories. There is a range of technical clothing as well - mainly skiing and boarding clothes. I haven't worn any of this so not sure how it performs in relation to other technical clothing but it certainly looks very cool!
The clothes are very comfortable and easy to wear, I still have the very first top I ever bought there - slightly bobbled now but still very wearable. They are also easy to look after - almost everything is machine washable and keep their colour and shape well. Some of the newer items have been slightly less hard wearing however and in the past year or so they have seemed to have moved away from the more casual end of the range.
Fat Face sell also sell men's and kid's clothes - again I haven't ever bought any of these but they look fab!
You can shop in store - there is a store locator on the website www.fatface.com - all the stores look quite rustic and alpine - there is quite a lot of wood used. The staff are very friendly but not overly attentive - they are always available to help if you need it. Alternatively you can shop online - the website is well laid out and easy to use, postage is quite reasonable - around £3.50 a time and returns are free if it doesn't fit or you don't like it when you try it on. (You will have to pay to return sale items though). There is also a Fat Face outlet at the Cheshire Oaks retail park - this is my favourite place to shop as there are usually discounts of at least 25% and sometimes 50 or 75%.
Fat Face clothes are quite pricey - trousers and jeans usually are around £50, tops range from £20 - £40 and some of the premium range can be up to £80. I usually buy stuff in the sales - there are quite regular reductions - or at the outlet store. However they are good value as they last and are hard wearing. If you are looking for some great looking, comfy weekend gear get to your nearest store.
*** What did you do in 2009 that you have not done before? ***
Climbed Snowdon, visited Chicago.
*** Did anyone close to you give birth? ***
A few Facebook friends but no-one I'm really close to.
*** Did anyone close to you die? ***
*** What countries did you visit? ***
America (Chicago) and Austria (skiing)
*** What would you like to have in 2010 that you lacked in 2009? ***
*** What dates will you remember from 2009? ***
There are a few events I'll remember but no specific dates.
*** Did you suffer illness or injury? ***
Nothing major luckily.
*** What was the best thing you bought? ***
My laptop, gig tickets and magazine subscriptions - so much cheaper!
*** Whose behaviour has merited celebration? ***
All those in the armed forces.
*** Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed? ***
The people that made a huge fuss over Russell Brand/Jonathon Ross without even hearing what they said in the first place!
*** Where did most of your money go? ***
On my house - boiler died so that was expensive plus some other bits and pieces.
*** What did you get really excited about? ***
Finally seeing Green Day after 14 years waiting! My sis and I had tickets to see them on tour in 1995 but it was cancelled and I've been waiting ever since. They were fab!
*** What song(s) will you remember from 2009? ***
Green Day - Know Your Enemy
Bon Jovi - When We Were Beautiful
Lady Gaga - not cause I like her but just because she was everywhere!
*** Compared to this time last year are you . . . happier, fitter, or more productive? ***
Happier I think - last Christmas I was really grumpy!.
*** What do you wish you had done more of? ***
Saved - my best friend moved to South Africa this year and I really want to go and see her.
*** What do you wish you had done less of? ***
Less time wasting would have been good.
*** What was your favourite TV programme? ***
Lost (can't wait for season 6) and American Idol - much better than X factor.
*** Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate last year? ***
The b*****d that stole my bike.
*** What's been the best book of 2009? ***
I read Slaughterhouse 5 for the first time and loved it. Also really enjoyed The God of Small Things.
*** What was your greatest musical discovery? ***
Imogen Heap and Ryan Star.
*** What did you want to get in 2009? ***
Guitar Hero, a new mountain bike.
*** What did you want and didn't get? ***
Would have liked to see U2 but dates and locations didn't work out.
*** What is your favourite film of the year? ***
Don't think I can just pick one - Milk was awesome, Up, 500 Days of Summer, Sunshine cleaning. There were some great summer blockbusters too - Star Trek and Terminator Salvation especially.
*** What did you do on your birthday and how old were you? ***
I was 32 and that was the night I saw Green Day.
*** What political issue stirred you the most? ***
Barack Obama being elected - I watched his inaguration and it seemed like a really momentous occasion.
*** Who was the best person you met? ***
The new girl who started at work - she's ace.
*** Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2009? ***
Don't sweat the small stuff!
This summer my friends and I decided we were going to climb Snowdon, we were looking for somewhere to camp and Llyn Gwynant was a perfect choice as it is situated at the base of the mountain.
The site consists of 5 massive fields, even though we were there on one of the nicest (and therefore busiest) weekends of the summer we had no problems finding a pitch and there was plenty of space between groups. One field is reserved for large groups and although you can drive to most of the site one field is car free. If the weather is bad then access to other parts of the site by car maybe restricted to prevent the grass being damaged. If you arrive after 11pm you are asked not to drive further than reception to avoid disturbing other campers.
There is no need to book ahead unless you are in a group over more than 20 people or are bringing a caravan as only 10 are allowed on site (15 on bank holiday weekends). It costs £6 per adult per night or £8 on bank holiday weekends and between mid July and the end of August, £3 per night for children and £1 per night if you bring a dog. Although it is a very busy site the atmosphere at Llyn Gwynant is very relaxed and quiet - radios are not allowed and wardens patrol in the evening and after 11pm will ask any groups still outside to keep the noise down. You are allowed campfires but must use a firepit and only burn wood bought from reception. I love this as so many campsites don't allow fires but I really think it completes the camping experience.
The facilities are fairly basic but adequate - there is a stone building housing male and female toilets and showers, a disabled access toilet and dishwashing facilities, there are also various recycling bins. In summer there are extra portaloos around the site and there are multiple taps in the fields which supply drinking water. Reception is located just beside the main gate on to the campsite. Here you can buy firewood, recharge appliances and refreeze freezer packs. There is also information about the local area, walks and other activities, weather information which is updated daily and a public payphone - essential as no mobile network gets any coverage here!
If you are a fan of just about any outdoor activity you will find it here - you can walk up Snowdon directly from the site or if you fancy something a little more gentle there are plenty of other walks to choose from. Guided walks leave from reception at 9am every day or grab a map and head out on your own. You can kayak and canoe on the river bordering the campsite or try rock climbing or abseiling - instruction for all of these can be arranged at reception. Mountain bike tracks can be found at Coed Y Brenin and Beddgelert or you can ride one of the bridleways up Snowdon if you are feeling really brave! There are restrictions on bikes on Snowdon in the summer though so check out the rules before you go. The lake from which the site takes its name is also available for more leisurely recreation - you can hire boats or just chill on the beach.
The site also has camping barns and a 4 person caravan available for hire, there was a wedding happening when we were there which looked great - certainly a beautiful background for the wedding photos.
If you prefer not to camp then you can make use of the site's facilities as a day visitor.
The nearest facilities are 2 miles away in Gwynant where there is a shop/cafe and 2 miles in the other direction is the Pen y Gwryd hotel and pub. A bigger selection of facilities are available in Beddgelert 5 miles away or in Llanberis.
It is possible to get here by public transport - the Snowdon Sherpa bus runs past the site and you can then connect to other buses and trains but the service is limited so we found it much more convenient to come by car. The site is situated just off the A498 and is easy to find but do use the instructions on the website as getting directions from multimap or similar may well direct you to the wrong place!
I found this site really friendly, it had all the facilities we could need and the location is superb. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it to anyone wanting to climb Snowdon or explore the local area.
For more information go to www.gwynant.com
After playing a nearly 100 date tour in support of 2007's Lost Highway album Bon Jovi had planned to take some time off for a well deserved rest. There was to be a greatest hits album and a live DVD but no new album from the guys. However when Jon Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora got together to record a couple of new songs for the greatest hits record they found that the world's current economic and political climate inspired them to write enough songs for an entire album and so The Circle was born.
Prior to its release Bon Jovi described The Circle as "uplifting" and a "big rock n roll record" after the country influences of Lost Highway and it certainly doesn't disappoint on either score. The sound is typical Bon Jovi - big rousing choruses, catchy melodies and some fabulous riffs and solos from Sambora but with a slightly modern twist.
First single We Weren't Born To Follow gets the album off to a great start - it has an instantly catchy hook that leaves me humming it all day. The lyrics follow familiar themes - facing adversity and bouncing back. It reached number 25 in the UK top 40 - the band's highest since Welcome to Wherever You Are from the Have A Nice Day album.
When We Were Beautiful was one of the songs originally intended for inclusion on the Greatest Hits record. It is an amazing song - beautifully understated with poignant lyrics "the world is cracked, the sky is torn/ so much less meant so much more". I expect when this is performed live on tour next year that you will be able to hear a pin drop no matter how big the stadium.
Work For The Working Man has a bass line reminiscent of 80's hit Livin' On A Prayer, having heard an acoustic version of this song before the album was released I wasn't hugely impressed but the album version is a big improvement. Some critics have questioned the sincerity of the lyrics as the band are now multi millionaires but I do believe that Jon remembers his roots and that is what he is reflecting in this song.
Superman Tonight doesn't sound like the title of a love song but that's exactly what this is. With a great guitar solo and amazing drumming it fits with the rock and roll vibe of the record with simple lyrics about unrequited love.
Bon Jovi are certainly an album band - they don't neglect the tracks that are never likely to be singles and so the middle of this album is just as strong as the opening. Bullet is a commentary on increasing inner city violence and war around the world and features a great guitar riff. Thorn In My Side is one of the faster paced tracks on the album, Jon's vocals sound great and there is another fabulous Richie solo. Unfortunately there is a low point in Live Before You Die which is my least favourite song on the album, it tells the story of a young boy growing up and meeting the love of his life. Sticking to a signature sound is one thing but this song offers nothing that hasn't been covered to a better standard on previous albums.
Brokenpromiseland though is a triumph and one of the best songs on the album - it has a rich full sound showing off the talents of the whole band. The verses are slower and softer and it then builds up to a rousing chorus. Generally Love's The Only Rule is as good as the rest of the album - a stadium ready anthem but I do cringe every time I hear the line "wouldn't it be cool, if love's the only rule"
Fast Cars brings the pace back down again with a beautiful melody and Happy Now showcases Jon's songwriting with some great lyrics before the album closes very strongly with Learn to Love which has an understated beginning and builds up to a crescendo in the chorus and a positive look to the future.
For me this is the best Bon Jovi album in 10 years and I haven't stopped listening to it since it was released a month ago!
The deluxe version of this album includes the When We Were Beautiful documentary on DVD. Filmed at the end of the Lost Highway tour in 2007 it follows the band as they play their final shows in Europe and prepare for 2 nights at Madison Square Garden and a free show in Central Park. There are interviews with each band member though the focus is mainly on Jon and live footage from the featured concerts. The documentary is very interesting if you are an avid fan but for the more casual listener it's probably not worth the extra cost.
The Circle is currently available to download on iTunes or the physical CD is available from Amazon, Play and other retailers. The standard version is £8.45 on Play and the deluxe is £12.99
I have always thought of myself as having quite oily skin and so never bothered spending very much on moisturiser. However recently I had a facial as part of a birthday pampering treat and the therapist commented that my skin was very dry and was absorbing products as quickly as she could apply them! Of course she recommended some of the moisturisers on sale in the spa but I decided to see if I could find something suitable on the high street (and spend a bit less on it!)
So I headed to a big branch of Boots where there were many skincare brands to choose from, remembering the good press the No 7 Protect and Perfect serum had received I ended up at the No 7 counter. I was looking for a product for dry skin so picked up this cream from the Advanced Hydration range which is packaged in a pale pink box with No 7 in gold and the rest of the information in dark print. The jar inside is heavy glass with a twist off lid so you need to put your fingers in the pot rather than squeeze it out. Although it is labelled as a day cream it promises 24 hour moisturising, has SPF 15 protection, is hypoallergenic and has been tested on people with sensitive skin. It also contains ceramides and pro vitamin B5 which are supposed to be good for the skin and help with aging - but doesn't offer an explanation about what these are and on reading the ingredients they appear right at the end of the list so I'm not sure how much is actually in there.
The cream itself is nice and thick, it has a mild flowery smell which is quite pleasant. It is applied after cleansing and toning the skin and should be rubbed in small circles to aid absorption. Although it is a thick cream it doesn't feel greasy at all and absorbs really well. My skin feels lovely and soft when I have used it although I do have to apply it twice a day despite the claim that it moisturises for 24 hours. I have been using this moisturiser (and other products from the range) for about a month now and have definitely noticed an improvement in the condition of my skin and have had fewer spots and breakouts.
Boots website lists this moisturiser at £14.50 for a 50ml tub which is a reasonable price as I have had it for a month now and it is only around a quarter empty. I will definitely be buying this again.
Cae Gwyn (White Field) is a small campsite in southern Snowdonia near the village of Bronaber. As you would expect the scenery is stunning - in fact the site was voted one of the UK's top 10 most senic campsites by the Guardian in 2007. It is ideal for outdoor enthusiasts being in the heart of the National Park and has facilities which specifically cater to bikers and walkers.
I stayed here as we were mountain biking at Coed-y-Brenin forest which is 5 minutes drive or you can access the trails directly from the site. There are also plenty of footpaths for walkers, when you book accommodation you receive a free walking guide to the local area which is usually priced at £2.99 and for fishing enthusiasts rights to Afon Eden which runs through the farm. Cae Gwyn is a working organic sheep farm and the site is run on eco friendly lines - there are recycling bins for glass and cans, the waste water is discharged onto the farm and so all soaps and detergents provided are environmentally friendly and biodegradable. It is also part of the Cors Goch Trawsfynydd Nature reserve which is a designated site of special scientific interest (SSSI) intended to protect and promote rare wildlife. The reserve can be explore directly from the farmyard.
As well as camping in tents or campervans, the farm also has a camping barn which sleeps 10, bed and breakfast and a furnished caravan to let, although unfortunately there is no room for you to bring your own caravan. Although the site accepts small numbers of campers they are not short on space - each pitch is well spaced out so the chances of being disturbed by your neighbours is very small. Only prebooked guests are accepted so do make sure to arrange your stay first - all bookings are done by phone although they will answer other queries by email. Camping costs £7.50 per adult per night, inclusive of using all the facilities. Children under 14 are not permitted on site so this isn't the place for a family holiday and as it is a working sheep farm dogs are not allowed either.
The facilities are first class - there are plenty of showers and toilets which are always clean and there is never a shortage of hot water - just the thing after a long muddy bike ride! Campers have access to a fridge and freezer and microwave oven as well as washing up rooms with hot running water and eco friendly washing up liquid provided. There is a clothes drying room in case the British summer is living up to its reputation and a jet wash as well as a secure lock up facility for bikes. There are electrical power points for pluging in hair driers or mobile phone chargers although hook ups are not available in the camping fields. There is also wifi available in the farmyard - ask the owners for the password. Portable and reusable barbeques are allowed as long as they are far enough off the grass not to scorch it but disposable barbeques and open fires are not permitted.
If you don't fancy sleeping under canvas for what ever reason the camping barn is a good alternative. We swapped our booking to the barn on our second visit as it had been raining for about 2 weeks solid and we didn't really fancy pitching tents in a quagmire! The barn sleeps 10 on camp beds, pillows are provided but bring your own pillow case and sleeping bag. The toilets and showers are located in the farmyard but the barn has its own kitchen facilities - a fridge, freezer, microwave, toaster, kettle and 4 ring hob. Plates, cups and cutlery are also provided and there is a DVD player though no TV reception. The barn was really warm and comfy, it is one big room though so not much privacy - you can book the whole barn but if not then there may be others sleeping there too. If you have 5 or more people in your group it costs £10/pp to stay in the barn, otherwise it is £12/pp.
A second barn has been converted to provide B&B accommodation - I haven't stayed here but it does look really nice from peering in the windows! There are 4 rooms - double, twin, triple and family all with ensuites, tea/coffee making facilities, wardrobe, TV and DVD player. There is also a breakfast room and communal lounge with wifi available in the lounge. Room only is £21, with breakfast is £27 per person, single occupancy has a £10 supplement. Breakfast is continental only - no cooked option. You can also hire the entire barn and self cater if you prefer this costs £160/night or £900 for the week for up to 7 people, additional people - up to a maximum of 13 - are charged £15/night (or £18 if the hire is for less than a week). There are currently various special offers on the website for winter.
There aren't any pubs or shops that are easy to walk to as the site is just off the A470 which is a busy road with no footpath or street lights but there are 2 villages within a couple of minutes drive, Bronaber, which has a small shop and a pub serving food and Trawsfynydd where there another couple of pubs and a bigger selection of local shops. If you are staying for more than a night or two there are several other villages to explore as well as the towns of Porthmadog and Dolgellau.
This a really friendly place to stay and makes a great base for exploring Snowdonia.
I bought this ready meal from Tesco as I was looking for something quick for tea one night when I knew I was going to be late home. I really enjoy Asian food and when I saw this meal in the Finest range I thought I would try it.
The dish consists of chicken meatballs flavoured with chilli, coriander and lemongrass covered with a coconut sauce, pak choi, mangetout and green peppers and noodles.
It comes in a clear plastic bowl and looks very appetising with a cardboard sleeve bearing the description and picture of the cooked meal and the usual nutritional information, cooking instructions and ingredients list. There is also allergy advice - avoid if you are intolerant to gluten, wheat, eggs or milk. Although there are no nuts in the dish the factory it is produced in does handle nuts.
To cook you remove the cardboard and pierce the film then cook in the microwave for 4 ½ to 5 ½ minutes depending on the strength of the microwave. Once you open the lid you will notice that there is a plastic insert separating the sauce from the rest of the ingredients - this is a great idea as it means the vegetables stay really nice and crispy and the noodles aren't made soggy by the sauce. Remove this insert with a fork and stir well before serving.
I really enjoyed this meal - it had a good combination of flavours (though if I'd made it at home I'd probably add more chilli) and wasn't overly salty like a lot of ready meals (though actually it contains 3g of salt which is half your daily intake!). The meatballs were an interesting variation and the sauce was nice and creamy. I'd like to be able to buy it without the noodles so I could try it with rice instead.
Calories - 555kcal (28% of RDA)
Protein - 37.4g
Carbohydrate - 48.6g
Incl 15.8g sugar (18% of RDA)
Fat - 23.4g (33% of RDA)
Incl 12.8g saturated fat (64% of RDA)
Fibre - 9.2g
Salt - 3.0g (50% of RDA)
So not the healthiest meal around but ok for an occasional treat!
This cost £4 which is pretty expensive but for the quality of the food I thought was good value and would certainly buy it again
Marie Claire is a monthly women's magazine published by IPC magazines.
The current issue (November, with last year's X factor winner Alexandra Burke on the cover) is 338 pages and is priced at £3.40.
I have been buying Marie Claire regularly for the past few years, it tends to have more substance than some other monthly magazines. It has its fair share of fashion, sex and celebrity but there are also intelligent articles in each issue and it takes a green stance where possible - the magazine is printed on recycled paper and any free gifts are attached with biodegradable wrappers rather than plastic. The ratio of serious content/fluff pieces did seem to change when the magazine's new look was launched earlier this year - each issue lost about 50 pages and there was a definite increase in the number of glossy adverts in the new version.
The magazine does attempt to tackle some pretty serious subjects, mostly from the perspective of an individual, usually a young woman who the target readers can relate to. Though the journalism is never going to be very hard hitting but the articles are compassionate, can be thought provoking and provide a useful introduction to a subject. For example this month features victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone who had their hands amputated by the rebel soldiers and the story of a 17 year old homeless single mother who went on to run her own company. There are more low brow articles as well - pieces on beauty pagents, sex toys and plastic surgery - the balance feels about right between the two.
Being a glossy magazine the fashion pages do have an emphasis on designer clothes which are very expensive and way out of my price range but they do look great. There are some features with high street clothes but most things featured will be over £50 so not great for those on a budget. There are also beauty features - again these tend to feature products which are mid range and above but the ideas can always be adapted to suit your budget. There is generally a celebrity featured each issue with an indepth interview - usually someone with a new album or film to promote or sometimes someone who is an ambassador for a cause such as UNICEF or women's health.
Marie Claire's freebies also make it stand out, most issues come with one - this month it was a bar of Devine fair-trade chocolate, previously there have been Body Shop products, hair products and a pair of flip flops.
The magazine is pretty expensive but I recently took out a subscription for £6 for 6 issues which is much more reasonable.
I do think that Marie Claire was better before its relaunch but it is still my favourite monthly magazine.