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apuskiduski

apuskiduski
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Member since: 18.02.2009

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      21.06.2009 10:22
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      Much more than a musical!

      Sing It and Say It- a Bookful of Ancient Greece, is a piece of musical magic in my opinion, written by Sara Ridgley and Gavin Mole, a professional partnership since 1999.

      Sara writes the lyrics and Gavin is an absolute genius with the melodies.

      With qualifications coming out of her ears, Sara is also a member of the Society of Authors, the National Union of Journalists, the Poetry Society, the Royal society of Literature and Women Writers' Network.

      Gavin has been a professional musician since he was a whippersnapper at the age of 11, so he's well qualified and the music in their collaborations proves it. His main passion is music in education and using music as a confidence builder in all children, enabling them to work together as a team to produce something worthwhile.

      For anyone who's a Primary Teacher, especially in Year 6, this production is absolutely spot on for two reasons;

      Firstly it fulfils most of the objectives in the National Curriculum history unit 14: Who were the Ancient Greeks? but in such a lively, memorable way even you will be singing the tunes in the shower and secondly because if introduced immediately after SATs in May, the kids don't realise they're about to leave primary school, they are so engaged in the whole thing, the days and weeks roll by and the 'I don't have to do nowt now' mentality never sets in! It is a true lifesaver for Year 6 teachers for the summer term.

      Having said that, it could be used anywhere, not just in school.

      ============
      So, what's in it?
      =============
      The musical is made up of three fabulously funny acts.

      Act 1 Thoughts and Theories
      Act 2 Myths and Legends, Heroes and Heroines
      Act 3 Stories of the Gods

      You don't have to all of the 10 minute acts. Each one starts and ends with the 'Sing it and Say it' theme tune which is a rousing starter and in it's finale version an even better ending. It's immediately appealing and gets the show on the road perfectly.

      ======================
      Act 1 Thoughts and Theories
      ======================
      This act is all about the daily life of people in the agora, or market place, with a trio of famous thinkers who pop in to say hello. In this act the ensemble get to grips with the Greek alphabet, and I never thought I'd say it, but when University Challenge is on and Jeremy Paxman says "What's the eleventh letter of the Greek alphabet?" My class would all be screaming at the screen, as the clever ones from Downing confer, "Lambda, woolly fellow" because the song is so very memorable.

      The three thinkers are Archimedes, in his bathrobe accompanied by his sister ( usually a boy in our case), Pythagoras clutching his little abacus, surrounded by circles, squares, pyramids and cubes ( only year sixes want to sing 'pubes' for some galling reason) and Socrates with a dimwit kid who mistakes an idea for a deer, quite hilarious from the audience's viewpoint.

      We are taught about displacement, which can then be tested in a science lesson, the rules of right angled triangles which can be drawn, cut out and measured in a maths lesson and finally having ideas and opinions which can be discussed in a class debate in philosophy sessions - yes, primary schools do cover some elements of the subject believe it or not!

      =====================
      Act 2 Myths and Legends, Heroes and Heroines
      =====================
      The second act introduces the children to a doomed Hyacinthus and her dreamboat Apollo stalked by the evil Zephyrus ( the Greek god/spirit of the west wind).

      Icarus is introduced next, along with Daedalus (his dad), Minos (King of Crete), Ariadne (his daughter) Theseus and the Minotaur. It's a brilliantly written song with each member having to work with everyone else in order to 'pull it off'.

      After a quick scene change, we meet the vampish Medusa and her gorgeous sisters (again played by boys) who are having extreme difficulty in finding boyfriends. This scene is incredibly funny and one of the highlights of the whole performance.

      Finally we have a song about the constellation Pegasus: a fitting finish to the second act before moving on to the all action final section of the production.

      ==================
      Act 3 Stories of the Gods
      ==================
      This act is set primarily in the studios of Olympus News, the TV News programme of the year at the time no doubt. The programme introduces what's been happening to "All the Gods of Ancient Greece, their comedies and tragedies".

      We start off at the Apollo ballroom where Paris, Prince of Troy has to choose one of three stunning goddesses to win the golden apple, but unfortunately this gentile scene is interrupted by sudden 'Newsflashes'.

      The Newsflashes are firstly the story of the Typhon - who's eating maidens hand over fist, but who is conquered by the mighty Zeus, King of the gods, looking remarkably like Elvis, to be honest.

      The second is the sad story of Persephone, who's been captured by Hades and is being forced to dance at his entertainment establishment, The Underworld nightclub. Here Costas the roving reporter interviews Demeter (Persephone's mother) who tells her tale of woe, just before Elvis.... Sorry, Zeus returns to save the day.

      Thankfully, amidst all this news chaos, the beauty contest finally comes to a successful conclusion and Paris chooses Aphrodite, goddess of beauty and lurve. (She promised him Helen of Sparta by the way, that's how he made his decision!)

      The final lines of the performance are "And so the Trojan war began, but that's another story"

      I have to say that in all my years of primary teaching (that's 22) I've never quite enjoyed a musical performance so much. The beauty of Sing it and Say it is that every child in the ensemble - and we're a two class year group - can have a part. There are fabulous opportunities for teaching the complexities of music such as four part harmonies and also chances for the children to show off their talents in solo roles.

      There are masses of creative opportunities in the production too. We have two sets of children performing gymnastic/dance routines to two of the songs and they have had to put hours of effort into choreographing these themselves.

      Not only is the production fabulous (dahling) for all the singers and dancers, but there are vast opportunities for set, costume and programme design too. We produce invitations for parents and other classes to come and watch us in school and the children also create the slide show that provides the scenery on the massive screen behind them.

      We invite the local paper for photographs and write letters to some local dignitaries to also attend, so you could say that this is far more than a musical event. It really brings the class together to achieve something that is staggeringly successful.

      Having said all that, one downside is the fact that you really need a very proficient pianist. I'm taking Grade 5 currently and cannot play these pieces. Thankfully, we are blessed with four Grade 8+ teacher-pianists at our school so we have been able to rehearse as much as we need to whenever we need to.

      All of the ideas I've talked about are given explicitly in the book. Everything is included: lyrics for children to learn, manuscript for the pianist and oodles and oodles of thrilling ideas for teachers to develop if they want to. Of course you can always add your own ideas to it too. There's nothing saying it must be done this way, or that!



      ==============================================
      Sara Ridgley and Gavin Mole have also written other Sing it and Say it productions for Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, France, Asia and Festivals. The Egyptian one is also fantastic as I've done this with Year 4, I have two of the other books, but haven't tried them out yet.

      A link to their publications is:http://www.music-at-school.co.uk/
      Details for this book:

      Sing It and Say It (Can Anyone Play It?) - A Bookful of Ancient Greece
      3999A £7.99
      ISBN: 1-85909-389-2

      Book & Tape Pack
      6754A £12.99

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        19.06.2009 00:49
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        Dune know what you're missing?

        This review is about sand. Lots of sand. So, if you are eremikophobic, turn away now!!

        The lots of sand to which I refer is the biggest pile of sand I've ever seen - the Dune du Pilat. Or could that be Pyla? The dune is located near Pyla-sur Mer, so Dune du Pyla is often used, and both are accepted in these days of dumming down, but officially the correct name is the Dune du Pilat.

        Bet you didn't think France had any major sand dunes. I never associated France with vast desert scenes either, but it has the biggest sand dune in Europe, measuring, for all those figures people, 3km long (North to South) and 500m wide (West to East). It varies in height, according to when you go and what you read, between 100m and 117m above sea level. There's a massive 60,000,000 cubic metres of sand buried beneath the surface of this baby ( according to Wikipedia) and when you climb it you really will be "King of the (sand) Castle"

        It was formed partly by the westerly winds, whose actions pick up and transport the sand from a giant sand bank, the Bank of Arguin, just off the coast and deposit it on the 'beach'. It grows at a quite remarkable 1-4m a year (3-13 ft) and provides a home for a variety of plant life, including convolvulus, sea holly, gilly flowers and of course beachgrass. It's come a long way since it was measured at 35m (114ft) high in 1855.

        I've been to a couple of sand dunes in the Canary Islands, one in Gran Canaria and the other in Fuerteventura. Neither of these can hold a candle to Pilat in terms of sheer size, stature and spectacular views when you reach the top. But where exactly is it?

        =======
        Location
        =======
        Pilat is situated about 60km west of Bordeaux and 8km south of the Arcachon Basin - more of which later.

        It's quite easy to find from Bordeaux, taking the E70 towards Arcachon, Exit 22 to Biscarosse on the A660, then the N250 and the D259. Google maps is a great help however, or better still a Satnav, which we have yet to invest in!!

        You could go without Satnav, however, because as you approach the coast, a colossal mountain of sand looms up out of the pine forest that you're travelling through. If, as in our car, you have kids in the back, don't think of playing 'the first to spot the sand dune gets a Euro', as everyone will win it at the same time. There's nothing difficult about spotting this one.

        =================
        Climbing the Dune
        =================

        We parked in a large pay and display car park, with an attached picnic area and camp site, so there were lots of facilities nearby including toilets/showers, cafes, restaurants and gift shops - all selling objects made of sand believe it or not. We managed to acquire Petunia, a sand cow as my eldest has a passion for all things vache. It weighed a ton!

        My advice is to save the buying for the return journey as it's a long way up 117m of sand.

        Through a very pleasant shaded area a footpath leads to where the forest meets the sand, and the full height of the dune is appreciated, with a few dropped jaws on the day I visited I have to say.

        Thankfully for some of the people I saw climbing, who were decidedly unfit, there was a flight of steps attached to the dune. I really think this should go on one of those "How do they do that?" programmes, because this dune is constantly moving inland at around 7m a year according to some sources. At least it's moving in the right direction I suppose.

        The pine forest that surrounds it had to be planted to try to halt the speed of the dune moving and it seems to be doing a fairly good job at the moment. But how the steps manage to cope with the shifting nature of the sand amazed me.

        There were eight of us who climbed Pilat on one of the sunniest, clearest days of the summer last year (four oldies and four young spritely teenage girls). None of us knew what to expect as we were all new to the area but when we reached the top, I can honestly say it was the most magnificent, breathtaking view I had ever seen and I mean ever.

        I'm a very spiritual person and there's nothing that makes my heart bounce more than a spectacular landscape or a view from a mountain top. The view here was so good I remember giving God 10 out of 10 on this particular day. I was totally blown away, and I suppose I could have been, literally, as the wind does whip up a bit on the top.

        When you finally reach the top - the steps are the best way to get up - you acquire commanding views of the majestic Atlantic Ocean ahead of you, the Foret de la Test to your left and behind you and the strange triangular shaped Arcachon Basin with Cap Ferret on the opposite side of its 'mouth' to your right. And, as it was crystal clear that day, we were also amazed to see the Pyrenees far off in the distance along the Silver Coast to the South.

        We sat there, on this mountain of millions of cubic metres of sand, and realised we'd forgotten our buckets and spades! What a letdown. But we had brought everything else we could have carried in a couple of little backpacks. We had taken plenty of water, suncream, sunhats and sunglasses - without any of these our visit would have been unbearable.

        Us old girls sat at the top sunbathing on our towels, listening to everyone puffing and panting as they climbed up the Eastern side of the dune. They obviously hadn't seen the steps. The hubbies and the young kids decided that they wanted to roll down the western face which slopes more gently down to the Atlantic shore. So they did. They had the best time a kid could have - and the girls enjoyed it too!!

        Climbing back up was a little more difficult for them though and it was only then that the teenagers became the moaners, especially the one in jeans!!

        While we were there I had time to have a really good look around with my binoculars and I wasn't looking for fit French men either!!

        The view of the bay of Arcachon and the Bank of Arguin is so outstanding that Yann Arthus-Bertrand used an aerial photo of it in his book The Earth from Above, which contains some other spectacular awe-inspiring natural wonders.

        The Arcachon Basin, and particularly the Parc Ornithologique du Teich, is a haven for tens of thousands of birds all year round, but in summer patient twitchers might delight in a rare sighting of the bluethroat if they are lucky - don't ask me what one is - a friend of mine was beside himself as he'd seen one there two years ago!

        There are lots of more common species there including over 1000 couples of common heron; some migratory birds such as the greylag goose and the spoonbill as well as winter visitors such as the teal and dunlin. Botanists will love it too!

        One really strange feature of the Basin is the huts or houses on stilts in the middle of the water. Presumably used by fishermen, they obviously need a boat to reach as they are so far from the water's edge. I suppose it could be like an extreme French shed!

        We noticed lots of small boats criss-crossing the Basin. There are a few ferries and motor cruises that provide a regular service, Transbassin is a public ferry( not sure if it takes cars though) that sails between Arcachon to Cap Ferret saving you 62kms or one and a half hour's drive around the basin if you have a rushed itinerary.

        There are some other smaller boats, called pinasses that are quite speedy and are brilliantly designed to navigate the water at its shallowest. The sandbanks are often covered up by shallow water when the tide goes out. The Basin loses three quarters of its 370 million cubic metres of water at low tide, so navigating the sandbanks is quite a tricky occupation.

        Another amazing sight was the yachts in the basin. There are obviously lots of sailing schools, or outdoor activity centres nearby where sailing was a very popular activity.

        Some people, on jet skis had left the calm of the basin and powered their way up to the sand banks of Arguin for a walkabout, somehow mooring up the jet ski for a while. I would have been worried the tide would come in and separate me from the jet ski, if I'm honest. But in the hour we sat there, nothing much seemed to happen to the sandbank.

        After our lovely adventure on Europe's highest sand dune, we had to leave and head back down to the car. There was no option of going down the stairs for the kids. They'd rolled down the other side, so they were going to do the same or break out into a run, on this side. I, being the wimp that I am, went down the stairs and regretted it. I was going to climb them again and roll down after they'd all survived, but time was marching on and we had to be off on our next adventure in Mimizan, a pleasant 2 hour drive through the forest, South, along the coast.

        To say we only paid a few Euros for parking the car, in the shade, with public toilets on hand, I think the Dune was one of the highlights of my fab fortnight in France last year. I had been thrilled with the culture and beauty of Bordeaux, but for the sheer power of nature and spectacular seascape I will always be grateful that we decided to visit. If you are in Aquitaine, in the Gironde, make the time to see this amazing feat of nature. You'll always be pleased you did, especially if you catch a sunset there!

        For some spectacular pics of the dune: http://www.worldphotolocations.com/ and search for France and Dune du Pilat

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          30.05.2009 08:53
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          The wheels on the car go round and round, round and round, round and round....

          For those of you that have read some of my more recent reviews you may know that I enjoyed an epic journey from Barnsley to Benidorm (and back) by car this Easter with nine other family members, in two cars.

          I suggested the title of journeys to Dooyoo almost as soon as I returned and now that I've finally got the category started-not particularly the title I would have chosen- I'm hoping that I've opened the floodgates to some extremely entertaining tales of adventure, endurance or just sheer extravagance that we can all get our teeth into.

          I really wanted to write about my experience because I found the whole journey to be something of a learning curve. It was only 48 hours or so each way, which is nothing in the grand scheme of things but I learnt new stuff about my family, myself - particularly as a navigator - and my fellow Europeans that I wouldn't have if I'd sat on the sofa and watched telly all weekend - certainly if 'Britain's Got Talent' had been on!!

          So here goes! I hope I don't bore the pants off you - you can always skim through the headings and read the bits you fancy I suppose, I'll wake you up in about ten minutes!

          ======================================
          1. Road signs look different in the dark.
          ======================================
          We had rehearsed the journey like we were doing the Italian Job, everything was set, watches were synchronised between the two vehicles and phones were fully charged. But, somehow as we drove off the ferry at Dunkirk, at 5.15am, in the pitch black, the roads didn't ring any bells with my dad (who'd done the journey three times in the past by the way) and my mum's fab advice was just to "follow that lot, we did last time and that seemed to work". So we did.

          It was only about twenty minutes later we realised that all the cars had Polish number plates and were heading in the wrong direction. Totally! This added an hour to our journey time plus the stress of finding our way back to the A1 signs.

          Lesson learnt: Follow signs, not Poles, when you get off the ferry.

          = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
          2. Paris Peripherique promotes panic - apart from the professional driver types!
          = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
          On several occasions around Paris I thought I was being towed by the vehicle in front. On several others I thought that we were towing someone else. Either way I realised that the French, particularly those in the Paris area, want to be "close to you". We even played it on the CD to try to have a laugh about it! My dad has a strange set of CDs ranging from the Carpenters to the Dubliners: A vast array of tunes for any travelling circumstance. My mum plays him "Seven Drunken Nights" to remind him to leave the car in the garage!

          When we left the Peripherique I was quite proud of the fact that I'd 'got through it' without panicking too much - my dad only had to speak to me harshly once after I took an obviously sharp intake of breath and retorted "Bloody 'ell Angela do you think I can't drive? I'm a bloody professional for Pete's sake!!" Enough said I thought. Then my mum pipes up from the back. "Bill, you're retired, and if you don't slow down I'm never stepping foot in a car with you again!" She obviously hadn't noticed the 12,567 other drivers taking part in the Paris Grand Prix. But, never mind - a full scale domestic on the Paris ring road could only add to the drama.

          So, half an hour later, when they'd both chipped in their final twopenneth, imagine my disappointment when I discovered I hadn't been around the Paris Peripherique at all, only the Peripherique Exterior. I can't imagine the madness that the true version would entail; I would definitely have needed valium for that one! My mum as well. There were two kids in the car with us who slept right through the whole escapade.

          Lesson learnt: Do the Peripherique at night and when everyone in Paris has gone on holiday!

          ================================
          3. Tiredness kills. Tiredness can also kill tyres!
          ================================
          We were knackered by the time we got round Paris. So we had the first of our "I'll have to stop or I'll crash" stops. We pulled up at the side of an "Aire" and tried to get our heads down for a while. Well, I say we, I had to swap seats with my dad as it's impossible for someone 6'2" to sleep behind the wheel of a Shogun, comfortably. OK, so you might just be able to nod off on a really long straight run but you can't have a deep power nap.

          Imagine my dad then with his feet all over the dash board and the seat reclined trying to get some shut eye when we hear this almighty thud just off to our right, loud enough to wake most of the Members of the House of Lords!

          A silly French woman had driven her car over the first row of anti terrorist concrete blocks in a row of two, trapping her front left wheel between the said blocks. How she had succeeded in doing this I do not know. In exhausted tuneless unison we all agreed "She's over tired!"

          Unfortunately, I never slept with all the excitement and I actually got out to see what this woman could have been thinking to do it. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. She was definitely asleep!

          Lesson learnt: Sleeping whilst driving can be dangerous!
          ========================
          4. Where are the cones in Europe?
          ========================
          We travelled approximately 2800 miles on our journey and guess where all the road works were? Mostly, around the Dartford Tunnel. I suppose it's par for the British course. It was amazing though that we could actually travel at 110 km/hr in France and Spain and stick to that. When we were planning our route, we knew we could achieve that as an average.

          On return to Britain we did 30 miles in our first hour from Dover and about the same for the second hour. Britain's roads are a disgrace! Enough cones to start an ice-cream franchise and not a single person working there! Plenty of people standing around and looking important, but no work! Why? I might like to put cones in my Room 101, but I'm in the wrong review.

          Lesson Learnt: Cones are best with ice-cream and a flake!


          =======================
          5.My dad has criminal tendencies
          =======================
          After 24 hours of weary travel we stayed at a fabby cheap Etap hotel in Bordeaux. We felt refreshed and some of us had a stunning night's sleep, others of us just continued the insomniac tendencies they always have. Anyway, we parked our car in the hotel car park which had a barrier on the entrance and exit.

          When we left Bordeaux, we had to negotiate the car park exit barrier. By negotiate you'd probably think 'put ticket in and drive under' but it was more like this:
          This is my dad talking, not me by the way "10 Euros is way too much for a stay in your car park, will you accept less? No? Well sod you then, I'm not paying! In fact neither of us are paying, and we won't pay either when we come back. And if you ask me it's a bit bloody stupid only having half a barrier. Better get it fixed or everyone's gonna be driving round it!"

          I couldn't help thinking that my dad was driving a tad faster than before and that the Gendarmerie were after us all the way to Spain, but I believed him when he said he'd get rid of them in a tunnel in the Pyrenees, or a man he knew would!

          Lesson learnt: Jumping the barrier may lead to increased petrol consumption.

          =================================
          6. Hurricanes are a pine tree's worst nightmare
          =================================
          Last year I stayed in the South West of France and we did part of this journey on our holiday. Bordeaux to Biarritz is one of the straightest and most boring stretches of road I think I've ever come across. It's basically a straight dual carriageway that passes through acre upon acre of pine forest. Tree after tree after tree. And then some. More pine trees than you can shake a stick at.

          However, what made it a bit more interesting this year was the aftermath of the hurricane in January. I say interesting, but not in a light sense, we were completely taken aback by the sheer amount of whole fields that had been stripped of trees and the huge piles of logs that had had to be cut down and transported away from the site.

          It was quite frightening to think that mile upon mile upon mile of trees had been 'executed' by nature. Something almost as damaging as humankind then. Very frightening to think of the oxygen we've lost and the carbon we've gained from one freak weather situation.

          This was quite a sobering section of the journey and one we spent very quietly I have to say.

          Lesson learnt : Boring can be beautiful!


          ===============================================
          7. My mother has an unwavering faith - mine is patchy in places
          ================================================
          We had successfully driven over the Pyrenees with a little stop near Pamplona and a half hour in the glorious sunshine. After a coffee and an ice-cream, we generally felt like these were indeed our holidays. Hurray.

          An hour later - don't the hours whizz by when you're having fun?- my brother overtook us, mouthing the words " I'm desperate for petrol". It took us another two attempts to understand him. My mum then mouthed back, "It's Ok love we'll find some." She'd clearly had her head in a magazine for the last hour as we could have been on the set of "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly". This was Spaghetti Western country extraordinaire, with nothing, apart from the odd hundred wind turbines, in sight. We pulled off the dual carriageway and stopped on the hard shoulder of a slip road.

          Mother: "How desperate are you?"
          Brother: "Desperate - might do another 20 mile"
          Mother: "It's Ok love, we'll find some"
          Me: "Mum, it's 20 past 5..... on a Sunday.... In Spanish Bandit country!"
          Mother "Oh ye of little faith! Seek and ye shall find" and other prize quotations from the Good Book.

          Well, we took a slight detour to find a tiny village, where two little old angels were sitting on a piece of cardboard on a metal bench ( DIY comfortable seating) outside a church. They actually had halos. But they didn't speak a word of English.

          Time for GCSE Spanish daughter to get practising I thought. And, hey, the girl done good! 8 kms down the road was a garage that was open until 6pm she said. We couldn't thank the little old women enough. We only stopped hugging and kissing them when they got the pepper spray out.

          At two minutes to six, with both cars filled up and a wave of relief flooding over the passengers, we were back on the road again. My mother really enjoyed saying "Told you so" and went on about it for the next two hours.

          Lesson learnt: Petrol is important. Don't run out!


          ===========================================
          8.What do you mean there's more than one road to Alicante?
          ===========================================
          I had successfully navigated my dad around the Zaragoza ring road, back on the road to Alicante, past Valencia and we were becoming more relaxed at the prospect of our journey being over in the next two hours. We would be at the caravan in time for a pizza. Yay!

          We kept following the signs for Alicante and I momentarily nodded off, only to be woken up by my dad saying, "Angela, which Alicante, which Alicante?" as there were not two, but four road signs emblazoned with the word. The map was on the car floor, I was drooling like you do when you're partly comatose and in my dream Clint Eastwood was putting petrol in the wrong end of my car!

          Needless to say, I unwittingly made the wrong call on this one and two hours later we were in the dark, nowhere near Alicante at a petrol station (how do they always manage to get in there) that was still open. Tempers were frayed. Lots of calming words had to be said and we asked the girl at the checkout how to get to Benidorm from here, hoping for the best.

          We weren't too far away as it happened, it just meant we weren't going to get there for a pizza. Booo!

          Lesson learnt: Don't ask Clint Eastwood to fill your car up!

          ================================
          9. Our kids are absolutely amazing
          ================================
          In all of the four days that we were trapped in two vehicles travelling the 2800 miles or so, our five girls were truly angelic. If anything, they taught us adults how to behave. From them I learnt that it's better to sleep around the Peripherique, it's better to bring a Nintendo DS and say you can't read a map and the best thing to do on a long journey like this is to watch Friends, back to back.

          There were the two youngest kids in the bigger car with me and the grandparents, while the three oldest were in the smaller, hotter car with the trendy uncle and auntie. They never argued once, with us or between themselves, they never complained about the length of the journey or the heat in the smaller car with no air-con and they never really bothered us. No one said "are we nearly there yet?" cried or threw up - which is a minor miracle with my youngest daughter's history.

          In fact, all in all, they were almost too good to be true. Or they were concocting some plan to get money out of us during the holiday - which they did, come to think of it, quite successfully, and they stayed up really late and got to do lots of fab things. Ingenious I'd say!


          Lesson learnt: When kids go quiet, they're usually after your money!

          ===========================
          10. I'll be there for you...
          ===========================
          The beauty of modern day travel is the gadgetry that you can now plug into a car. In the back of our car alone we had mobile phones, Nintendo DS paraphernalia and a DVD player. The last of these three was worth its weight in gold as it kept the kids glued to the screen when they weren't asleep or glued to another screen. (Some European countries might class this as child cruelty I'm sure.)

          Well, to cut a long story short, again, I managed to learn the exact timing of a Friends episode almost to the half a minute as every 24 minutes 48 seconds or thereabouts there'd be another rendition of :

          So no one told you life was gonna be this way - ev-ry-bod-y-clap
          Your job's a joke, you're broke, you love life's D.O.A,
          It's like you're always stuck in second gear,
          When it hasn't been your day, your week, your month, or even your year,
          But, ill be there for you, (when the rain starts to fall)
          I'll be there for you, (like I've been there before)
          I'll be there for you,
          'Cos you're there for me too...... (guitar sounds now)dangdangadadangdangdangadadannnnnnggggggg.....!

          Lesson learnt: Friends should always be there for you, especially on a long, long, long journey to Spain!


          ================================================
          It had been a tremendous journey and one I'm sure to do again (seeing as I can't afford any long haul, luxury these days.)

          To say we were glad to arrive might be an understatement, but the journey itself had been a fantastic experience for me, one that I had laughed, cried and felt frantic on. It's an amazing privilege to have the freedom to embark on such an adventure and one that some people can only dream of.

          When we safely arrived in Spain my mother kissed the ground, in true Papal style. Thankfully the beds were made up which we crawled into, without brushing our teeth can you believe and were zonked for the next two days, almost. The kids woke me up for some money I think!

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            15.05.2009 22:09
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            The cheap place to go for a base in Bordeaux!

            This Easter I embarked on an epic journey to Espania with nine family members. Mad you might think, especially as it wasn't forced upon me but something I chose to do, with relish!

            I live in Barnsley and Benidorm is 1400 miles away, roughly, so we decided that although the two male drivers could drive the wheels off a car, the kids would need to stop somewhere on the journey, as they all have serious hair-straightener addiction. Bordeaux was about half way and as I'd raved about it so much since last summer when I visited, everyone agreed on this as the half way straightener house.

            ================
            Eeeasy to book?
            ================
            I checked out www.accorhotels.com and quickly found the Etap Bordeaux Centre Bastide which was close to the city and at the bargain price of 43 Euros per room for three people. Breakfasts were 5 Euros each so we booked 4 rooms for the ten of us, for a grand total of 222 Euros. A brilliant price to pay for a Saturday night in a vibrant city I thought after reading the only review I could find of it on tripadvisor.com.

            Booking was simplicity itself. No money was taken up front, just credit card details in case of a no-show and we could cancel up to 24 hours before arrival without charge.

            I then repeated the process for our return journey. This was a midweek stopover, for which we paid the princely sum of 48 Euros per room plus 5 Euros breakfast each; so, 242 Euros in total for ten people. Averages are pretty good, wouldn't you agree?

            ==================
            Eeeasy to find?
            ==================
            As we approached Bordeaux, on one of our many "I've got to have a kip or I'll crash" stops, I rang the hotel for detailed directions from the Rocade (Bordeaux's ring road).

            The receptionist parled only a petite peu of English, but somehow my pidgin French got me to understand second left and behind St Mary's church. Easy! I was quite proud of my French listening skills, map-reading and relative calm when we actually found ourselves on the right side of the Garonne river, heading towards the Bastide area. There were even road signs confirming my linguistic brilliance.

            Then, from out of nowhere, an idiotic French woman cut between my dad and brother and the plan went to pot and we lost him at a traffic light. After a few minutes of panic, blocking the narrow road waiting for him and some choice expletives, we found ourselves reunited, sans idiotic French woman fortunately, but unfortunately, lost! We were so close, yet still so far.

            In a deserted area of the Bastide, a bilingual woman just managed to appear out of a door and I quickly accosted her, begged her to ring the hotel, speak to the receptionist and help us get to our beds. We had been travelling 23 hours by this stage. She could tell I was deranged.

            Generously, she took my mobile phone and robbed the kids. No, just kidding, she spoke to the receptionist and came to the quick conclusion that "that woman does not speak very good French" so it had indeed been a miracle us getting thus far!

            Well, 24 hours after leaving home and thanks to the stranger's kindness we were standing, bedraggled, befuddled and speaking like blithering idiots in the reception of the hotel. It was a slow process I have to say. Four separate transactions later and with key pad codes issued, we found our rooms on the second floor of this cosy little hotel.

            ==================
            Eeeasy to feel at home?
            ==================
            I think I would have been grateful for a cardboard box on the street I was so travel-weary. I'd taken so many Pro-Plus I'd developed a nervous twitch, but I was also starving hungry. This hotel had no restaurant. This was bad news. We decided to push through the pain barrier and go out and find a restaurant.

            Getting ready for an evening out in one of these rooms is interesting. Basically the room is a box with a TV, desk and chair in one corner, a bit of a shelf and a hanging rail in the other and a double bed with a single bunk taking up the bulk of the space.

            There's also an interesting shower pod feature with a door that leads directly to the room; so no privacy for a mother/auntie from her daughter and niece then. We were all girls together so that was one blessing.

            Another blessing was the shower itself. Absolute heaven I have to say and worth every Euro.

            I suppose you could use the small toilet cubicle for changing in if you didn't have a phobia of changing in potentially germ-ridden confined spaces.

            There was also a sink in the room, between the toilet and shower cubicle and the hotel provided two towels. I couldn't face asking for a third, so we used our own.

            An electrical socket, shaver socket, good lighting, including bedside lights, two soaps and two beakers was the extent of the 'extras' here. You get what you pay for.

            For 43 Euros for three people it was clean and also had air conditioning - this didn't work however and out of the eight rooms we booked, only two did, so try not to stay at the height of a heat wave is my advice.

            =================================
            Eeeasy to find nosh, dosh or posh nearby?
            =================================

            Thank goodness there was a pub at the end of the street. The Central Pub had a great atmosphere and reasonably good food. Friendly banter with the waiters and a decent selection of wines/beers as well as a stunning view of the Pont Victor Hugo and Place de la Bourse meant that we had an enjoyable night out on my parents' umpteenth wedding anniversary. We got two meals free as they were later than the rest and the garcon gave us too much change, so we had a brilliant time!

            Not only is it easy to find food at the pub, you are next to a CarreFour supermarket and a small café. There are plenty of cash points almost next door, a tabac and a cinema if you're interested in watching films in French.

            The next hotel down is the Ibis which had rooms for 81 Euros a night. The rooms are doubles, so I considered we got ourselves a good deal.

            It would be very easy to walk into Bordeaux from the Etap Bastide. I'd say 15 minutes maximum and you would be in the heart of the city.

            ==================
            Easy to sleep?
            ==================
            The kids slept like logs, but I struggled I have to say. However, out of the ten of us, only two didn't have a perfect night's sleep. My brother found himself wandering the hotel looking for water at 3.15am - there was a vending machine in the entrance hall that charged an astronomical amount for a very small bottle. I thought you could drink French tap water though, so I did! 5/10 for sleep tonight.

            On the return journey, I never slept at all, much. My senses were under a three-pronged attack as the air-con made a racket, it had Blackpool illumination- worthy lighting and we were given smokers' rooms on the first floor on our second visit. Everyone else managed to turn into Rip Van Winkle though! They made me sick! 2/10 for sleep tonight.

            On both visits I found the rooms' soundproofing to be pretty average and so if I went again I'd definitely take ear plugs. (An eye mask for the aircon light and some lavender room spray wouldn't go amiss either on the smoking floor!)

            ===========================
            Eeeasy to get a good breakfast?
            ===========================
            The small buffet counter is indeed small. About two metres small to be honest. However it's not the size that counts, it's what you do with it. There were two types of cereal, five types of bread/brioche, a toaster, lots of stuff to put on your toast and a small fridge with puree, yoghurts, president butter and brie, brie, brie and more brie. Brie-lliant!!!! The coffee was first class and there was also plenty of delicious orange juice from a machine, the best I've tasted at the press of a button.

            What the buffet lacked in size it made up for in quality and the room had a fab view of the Bastide style buildings around the square (think long rectangle here) outside.

            We were all in agreement that cooked breakfast was not missed and we had our 5 Euros worth each and every one. In juice alone!

            ==================
            Eeeasy to park your car?
            ==================
            There was plenty of on street parking in front of the hotel but it was taken. In fact the street was full both times we stayed, so we parked in the relative security of the Carrefour car park, which is underground behind the hotel.

            This was supposed to be 10 Euros for an overnight stay but as the barrier was 'broken' we found ourselves keeping the cash in our wallets both times we stayed. A small miracle I think! If you're thinking we jumped the barrier you might be right, but don't tell the gendarmerie!

            =================
            Eeeasy to recommend?
            =================
            For the cost, location and ease of getting in and out of the city I would certainly recommend this hotel. (We found it twice as quickly on our return)

            As long as you ask for a non smoking room in your much better French than mine, you're onto a winner. It's an ideal base to explore Bordeaux and perfect for three nights I'd say.

            I have to say though that there's nothing like a bit of luxury in a hotel and this is nothing like luxury in a hotel! You pay for what you get, remember!
            =============
            Eeeasy to go again?
            =============
            If we do the long drive to Benidorm once more, I'd certainly book this hotel again. Bordeaux is a beautiful city, but having been three times now, I'm going to try somewhere new for my next French lesson.

            I hope you manage to go, though. If you do, keep our barrier shenanigans a secret!

            I've also written a rough guide review to Bordeaux if you're interested, called 'Bored? No!! This is Bordeaux!' It was fairly good - it has a gold hat!

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              13.05.2009 18:48
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              Oleron, go quickly before the secret's out!

              As part of our fab fortnight in France we splashed out for three nights and stayed in the Novotel Thallasso Oleron in Saint Trojan Des Bains, on the Ile d'Oleron, or Oleron according to the locals.

              "Oleron? Where's that?" I hear you ask. It's not many people I've talked to who've actually heard of it, so if you have, consider yourself a true Francophile.

              Oleron is France's best-kept secret if you ask me. It's a blissful little island off the south west coast of France, south of Ile de Re, an hour and a half from La Rochelle (cheap flight destination) and two hours from Bordeaux( cultural heaven). I say little island but it's actually the second largest island in France next to Corsica.

              It's actually about 30kms/18miles long and 6kms/3.6miles wide and is separated from the mainland by the Straits of Antioche and Maumusson- highly dangerous stretches of water- but connected to it by a spectacular bridge, more of which later.

              I really didn't know what to expect when I booked, but I'm glad I did and the three days I stayed there left me wanting to return....soon.
              Here's my rough guide to this paradise in the Atlantic that you've never heard of and the ten reasons why I'll be going back.

              ==========
              1. Beaches
              ==========
              The island is an absolute haven for all beach lovers. Having two distinct halves, the wild west coast (La Cote Sauvage) and the calmer eastern coast, the island is perfect for every kind of energetic water sport you could think of. Think of it and you'll see it. We enjoyed our late afternoons body-boarding and messing about with a wooden skimmer in the shallows, but there were professional types with their kite surfers, Malibu boards and windsurfing kits who were making us feel decidedly envious of their skill and fitness.

              The Grande Plage, near St Trojan on the SW of the island, seemed endless and had the best waves on the island when we visited.

              On the calmer eastern coast there are sheltered bays, with many a blue flag flying, perfect for families with children where the water is much safer. These beaches are spot-on for sunbathing and just chilling out -something we would definitely do more of next time.

              The best part about the beaches was that they were relatively empty in August. Also car parking wasn't a problem and it was free which is unheard of in Britain.

              ========
              2. Weather
              ========

              As we queued to get onto the island, and here I mean queued spectacularly - like 2 hours of queueing, we couldn't help wondering why everyone else wanted to come on holiday with us. It wasn't until we arrived at the hotel that we finally understood.

              The receptionist told us that while the rest of the south western coast may be having fairly dismal weather, Oleron, with its own micro-climate, tended to have glorious sunshine. In fact it is called the ile lumiere (island of light or Sunshine Island) because of the number of sunshine hours it receives in a year. We had been in Hossegor the previous week and had been thoroughly disappointed with the weather which was set to continue, but Oleron magically brought the sun out for us which we revelled in.

              The best part about Oleron is the totally amazing, awe-inspiring sunsets. There's no doubt about it that sitting on a 100ft high sand-dune overlooking the Grande Plage at sunset was the highlight of my summer holiday. Oleron offers perfect sunsets, in spades.

              ====================
              3. A trio of historic buildings
              ====================

              As you drive onto the island, you cross a most spectacular 'pont-viaduc' as the Oleronaise call it, or a bridge to you and me. Hubby, the civil engineer, wanted to stop and take in the technical intricacies of the project, but as we'd been in the car 8 hours since leaving Hossegor I put my foot down and said 'sod off, look at it on the way out!'

              It was fantastic though and at night, with it's elegant curving structure lit up, it really is worth a closer look. For the record, he discovered that it's 2 miles long and 10.6m/35ft wide, built of pre stressed concrete and is very minimal in style. It stands on 45 piles, rectangular in section. The central spans are 79m/259ft wide and stand 23m/75ft above the high tide at its highest point, ever. Don't panic, the water cannot reach you! There are two carriageways for cars, two cycle lanes and two pedestrian walkways.

              It's a brilliant bridge, as bridges go and since 1966 it's been the only way on and off the island unless you've got a rubber dinghy of course. That way it's just a short distance across a stretch of water amongst the most dangerous in the world. Easy!

              The second building is the engineering miracle that is Fort Boyard.

              If you ever watched Fort Boyard, with the busty Melinda Messenger, in the 1990s you may have wondered where it was set. I always imagined it to be somewhere in the Caribbean, but no, it's in the Atlantic, just off the eastern coast of Oleron.


              It's a very impressive structure, almost like a ship itself. Instigated by Louis XIV, but left unfinished until Napoleon III, the weaponry it was trying to defeat had already advanced so much it was clearly never going to be of any use - other than as a prison. So, the Communards - Jimmy Summerville not included - were incarcerated here. Always a good thing to do with Parisian, or any French, workers who rebel I feel. The French authorities should bear this in mind when there's another French fishermen's blockade!

              Although Fort Boyard is closed to the public, you can sail closer to it in high season, leaving from Boyardville. But better still, you can take a half hour helico-peter ride over the famous fortress and see the inside of the prison from above -far better than sailing up to it, but quite expensive. Last summer it was 65 Euros each.

              You can read more about Fort Boyard and its history on
              http://www.ambafrance-nz.org/article.php3?id_article=1459

              The third structure is the lighthouse at Chassiron, (Phare de Chassiron) at the northern tip of the island. This black and white lighthouse dates back to 1836 and has 224 fairly dodgy narrow steps to climb to the top. It's a one way system I'm afraid so it can be very interesting when it's busy. If you're afraid of being stuck at the top of a 46m high lighthouse, or have a fear of narrow, fairly steep steps, give it a miss.

              If you are interested in seeing a marvellous panorama of the Ile de Re, the Ile d'Aix, La Rochelle and the rest of Oleron of course, then it's worth every tentative step! It's open 10 am to 8pm in July and August and cost 2 Euros for adults and half price for kids.

              =====================================
              4. I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike.....
              =====================================

              As the island is almost completely flat, it's absolutely perfect for cycling. We hired bikes from our hotel for the day, and there are other hire shops dotted all over the island and we thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the southern end of Oleron.

              There is the most amazing network of cycling tracks on the island that are just begging to be explored. We were astounded at the simplicity of following the signs and routes on the map. Most of the routes are away from roads, but are two way systems passing through acres of pine forest, across farm land, around oyster beds and into towns and villages. We very rarely had to use the roads but where we did they were extremely quiet. Often the routes led us into small villages which made brilliant stopover points for a baguette, a drink or a full blown three course meal. We only had to negotiate one roundabout and even there, the bike lane was clearly marked around it.

              Our teenage kids had the best day of the holiday on their bikes and they were quite proud of the distance we'd travelled by the end of our journey, if not a little saddle sore.

              ======================
              5. Food, glorious food....
              ======================
              If you've never tried oysters then Oleron is the place to go for your first experience. Far better than out of a packet from M&S I'd say and even better when it's on the wooden verandah of a tiny oyster hut, sipping a glass of the local Pineau wine (17% proof) - but not such a good idea if you're on your bike tour!!

              As well as oysters, langoustine and mussels are a speciality. In the village of St Trojan, we found several eat and drinkeries that sold fantastic food at very reasonable prices and all the kids loved what they had. They even commented that this was the best food they'd had all holiday.

              ================================
              6. The laid back feel of the island
              ================================
              If you are a barefoot beach bum, like me, then this island will definitely appeal to you. I found it remarkably relaxing, as if I'd passed through a time warp and was in 1970s Cornwall. No commercialism, no crowds and no noise. I felt I was in slow motion for the few days I was there.

              This truly is a fantastic place to relax. There are no rows of sunbeds on beaches like in major tourist destinations, so it's a take-you-own-stuff-to-the-beach type holiday. You are on the sand on your towel, unless you're posh with a fold up lounger.

              The restaurants we visited were also laid back. They weren't rushed off their feet even though it was the most popular week of the summer holidays and therefore they gave you enough time to have a relaxing meal. I could also say they were a little too relaxed, especially in bringing the bill - they perhaps wanted to us stay and drink some more, who knows.


              ================
              7. I need therapy
              ================
              The hotel we stayed in has a thalassotherapy centre where you can receive salt water treatments for a variety of different ailments. The spa was full to the brim, so we didn't benefit from any of the treatments that we could have had (at a fairly hefty cost I have to say) but the way people seemed to float out of the therapy-centre in a trancelike state, I'd say their 'treatment' had worked.

              We did have access to a salt-water pool, hammam and solarium as well as a gym and very healthy locally produced meals. We didn't go for much of that though as we like our fats!

              I'm not sure if you have to be resident to enjoy the treatments, but it would be worth enquiring. More details:
              http://www.novotel.com/

              ========================================
              8. Great for learning/practising your French
              ========================================
              We found that there was very little fluent English spoken in the places we went so it was fantastic for us and the kids, moreover, to practise their modern foreign languages. I'm quite keen to try out my French but there were some members of the party, namely my posh friend from Edinburgh's husband, who were quite miffed that no-one spoke English. "Bloody French!" he was heard to mutter a few times.

              I felt like I had definitely spoken more French during the time on Oleron than during the three days in Bordeaux or the week in Hossegor that had gone before it. All in all it had been an adventure and I loved it!

              ===========================
              9. Le Petit Train de St Trojan
              ===========================
              This is a miniature railway that takes you 12km from St Trojan to the beach through the fragrant pine forests at the south of the island.

              It's something we didn't get to do, but it would have been ideal when the kids were smaller. At the station in St Trojan there's a little buffet where you can enjoy a meal and a drink before or after your journey. You can combine the steam train, a day at the beach, a walk through the forest and a drink back at the station. A really enjoyable day I'd say.

              =================
              10. Camping
              =================
              If you have a tent, or want to book a caravan/tent/mobile home type place to stay in then there are lots of places on Oleron for your delight and delectation. There are camp sites that are near to the beach or in the forest. You really can have an Atlantic dream island for a fairly reasonable price if you plan ahead well enough.

              The next time I go to Oleron I won't be paying hotel prices, but will be renting a mobile home for a fortnight. In fact I'm googling it as we speak. Well almost, obviously I'm typing just now.

              For some more details try out:
              http://www.campings-oleron.com/index.php?id_site=2
              http://www.campingfrance.com/camping-directory/oleron-camping.htm
              http://www.camping-holiday-in-france.co.uk/

              There could be an eleventh reason why I'm going back, which would be the number of nudists, sorry naturists, on the island. I never saw any, but apparently they are there. I'd probably see the wrong kind though knowing my luck.

              So I've finished my ten reasons and I'm sad to be leaving Oleron again, if only on paper. But not to worry, it won't be long before I catch the first glimpse of the bridge that will take me back to my Atlantic paradise, I'm sure.

              And as I leave, I haven't even touched on the small villages on the island or the island's capital, St Pierre d'Oleron. I'll leave them for you to discover when you go and fall in love with this magical place, a place you've never heard of, but somewhere that will capture your heart!
              ================================================


              How to find Oleron:
              1. Look on a map and drive the route recommended by Google/AA route planner or similar
              2. Fly to La Rochelle and hire a car
              3. TGV to La Rochelle and hire a car
              Car worked for us I have to say but we drove from Hossegor, near Biarritz.
              Avoid a long journey onto the island in August on a Saturday. Try to go midweek.

              Whenever you go, however you go, have a great time!

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                10.05.2009 22:19
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                A brilliant base for a blast in Bordeaux.

                Last summer we had a fab fortnight in France and we started our adventure in Bordeaux where we spent three nights at the Novotel Bordeaux aeroport.

                I find it interesting that Dooyoo spell Bordeaux for this hotel without an 'a', but the Bordeaux I visited definitely had an 'a' and the hotel I'm reviewing earned an A too for several reasons:
                =====================
                The simplicity of booking
                =====================
                We had a tight budget to stick to as our holiday comprised of several chunks and this needed to be a cheap chunk. We looked on www.accorhotel.com for hotels in Bordeaux, found this one, booked a couple of rooms for the eight of us and the deal was done. We paid up front by credit card, as it was a 'no changes' offer, but we figured at the price we paid, it was worth it.

                The details were e-mailed and I printed those off as well as a map for my 'holiday project' file. One of these days I might get a degree in tourism with my thesis-like folders I take on holiday!
                ======
                Cost
                ======
                The brilliant thing about this hotel was the cost. We booked in January for August and it was 79 Euros a room including breakfasts. This was cheaper than a youth hostel in Britain at that time.

                So, 79 Euros meant less than 20 Euros apiece a night and breakfast thrown in. (Lunches too therefore - me being a kleptomaniac in that department haha!)

                I've checked the website today and the most up to date price is 89 Euros for exactly the same deal. I don't think 10 Euros a night extra is that big an increase considering the economic climate at the moment. I'd pay it again.

                =================
                Location and locality
                =================
                We landed at Bordeaux airport and the hotel, being only 1 km away, was very easy to find from the website instructions and the ones I'd printed from Google maps. (Got to have a back up in the file!)

                It took us ten minutes in our hire car from airport barrier to hotel door. The hotel provide a shuttle bus service to and from the airport from 7am to 11pm, which might be worth noting.

                The hotel is located in a typical 'near airport' environment: lots of business units, other hotels and restaurant chains. We visited the Buffalo Grill down the road where we were well and truly ripped off. So my advice is to avoid that one!

                There is a bus that stops right outside the hotel drive which takes you to the tram stop where you can go into Bordeaux. The whole journey took us 45 minutes thereabouts and was a great way to see how the locals live. Cheap too.

                The immediate vicinity isn't worth exploring I have to say. Better to get in your car and park in Bordeaux (15 mins drive away) or do as we did and have a laugh on public transport.

                ========================
                First Impressions of the hotel
                ========================
                The hotel was exactly as pictured on the website and had a sweeping drive with the obligatory ornamental feature in the middle. We were really pleased to have found it so quickly as the previous year in France our hotel finding skills - even with a BMW GPS were useless! So, it looked good to us.

                Our friends who arrived from Bergerac airport had a tougher time finding it than us and it was a real sight for sore eyes for them.

                Inside, the atmosphere seemed relaxed and casual. We received a warm welcome from reception and I had a feeling that the next three days were going to be great, as there was a very sociable 'buzz' about the place.

                Our rooms were ready and we were given all the information needed about meal times, room service and use of the pool.

                We were also given a security code for the car park barrier so that we could sleep soundly knowing that some French chavs weren't breaking into our oh so luxurious Laguna estate car!

                I sensed that Bordeaux was going to be brill! But, hang on, best get to the room first!

                ===========================
                What about the Rheum?
                The Rheum?
                That's whet I said you feul, the rheum!
                (Think Clouseau and you'll understand)
                ===========================
                The rheum, sorry, the room was big enough for a family of four not a family of five like us- lucky we 'persuaded' our friends with one daughter to go then, so we could palm one of our kids off on them! It saved us a packet. But, I digress.

                The room was great, with a king sized bed and a very comfortable bed settee that was easy to fold away for more space each day, a TV, phone, trouser press, bedside lights, mini bar, air con, wifi access and safe.

                The bathroom( which included a hairdryer) was pristine with all the usual bits and pieces and a shower that could be used to keep an unruly crowd under control! Worth every penny on its own. I love my hotel showers.

                Between the bathroom and the main room was a dressing area with plenty of hanging and other storage, which could be shut off for privacy. This is something the teenagers appreciated. They especially liked the full length mirror too.
                The room was perfectly adequate for four and the facilities were excellent, generally.

                However, we had an interesting morning on Friday when my hubby messed around with the safe one too many times and it needed an engineer to replace it.

                Someone had to wait for the engineer to arrive - I felt this was a job for me as I knew my hubby didn't speak too much French. I was genuinely surprised to find the male engineer was young, in uniform and extremely good looking. And he spoke no English at all. Oh my!!

                The others had a fun-filled morning at the pool while I just waited for him to get the right combination, mutter in French a bit, speak to his mate at HQ and look bemused. I couldn't believe my luck!

                And before you start thinking the worst of me, for most of the time I was reading my book, not drooling! Either that or looking out of the ground floor window at the kids and dads playing in the pool. My friend, the posh one from Edinburgh, kept popping in to see what was happening....with the safe of course!

                Anyway, it was fixed in a couple of hours - when my husband does anything he doesn't muck about and breaking a safe was no exception thank goodness - and my encounter with the safe French engineer, sorry, the French safe engineer, was over. But well and truly logged.


                =====================================
                Good night, sleep tight, don't let the bed bugs bite...
                =====================================
                I have to say that Novotel have certainly improved the standard of their beds since the days I used to stay at the one in Bradford for my husband's Christmas dinner dances. I can't remember hitting the pillow at all in Bordeaux.

                Maybe this was alcohol induced or maybe it was sheer exhaustion from two hectic days walking around Bordeaux. But either way, everyone agreed that the beds were fab - sofas included. In fact this is the only time the kids have not hijacked our bed and we've ended up on the pullout! Hurray!

                And no bed bugs!!!

                The air con was silent but worked well, keeping the room at a steady and comfortable temperature.

                ===============
                Twisting by the Pool
                ===============
                The hotel's main attraction was that it was cheap. But it also had a fantastic little pool set in a pleasant garden area with a deep end no less!
                We had a dip every day and enjoyed the evening sun on the first night on the sun loungers that are provided. It is very safe with a security gate and the hotel was quite strict about parents supervising their children at all times.

                One disadvantage was that it wasn't heated so great in August but don't be expecting to go for a dip in the middle of February!

                ===============
                Food, glorious food!
                ===============
                As I said earlier we made the mistake of going to the Buffalo Grill one night. The other two nights we ate at the hotel restaurant and I have to say that everything we ate: starters, mains, desserts and "lovely cheese Gromit", was fantastic. Main courses ranged between 10 and 15 Euros and the perfectly palatable house wine was about 14 Euros a bottle. The children were adventurous enough to try steak or duck but they also tried a couple of varieties of pasta that they wanted more of the next night.

                We were very pleased with the overall value of the meals here. I'd definitely recommend them, especially the duck.

                The best bit about the restaurant was the fact that the terrace is completely covered so when a thunder storm rumbles over the horizon at lightning speed, you are well covered when the heavens open. I did feel the odd drip of rain though, but it was only me in our party funnily enough. Maybe I was being punished for the safe repair man.

                Breakfasts-
                These were very informal, buffet- style affairs offering the usual continental items as well as a limited selection of cooked food. The bacon, egg and sausage tasted great to me, and the cheese, ham and selection of bread tasted even better at lunch time in the little park in Bordeaux! Coffee was divine, (especially when accompanied by two croissants and three pain au chocolate) and there was an extensive choice of teas on offer. Everyone was stuffed after about 20 minutes and had plenty calories to last them for hours.

                The Saturday morning was much busier than the previous two mornings, so I would recommend getting in early that day.

                ========================
                Fancy a nightcap?
                ========================
                The bar was just off the reception, near the restaurant and was a very cheerful little spot with a TV showing Sky Sports, there was some big event on or other but I wasn't that interested. I was more interested in the wine list (great prices for a hotel.) We paid 13 Euros for a brandy, a beer and a glass of wine.

                =========================
                Travelling with children
                =========================
                Not only did this place have a pool( with a deep end though), kids menu and a few TV channels they could watch while you got ready, it also had a little play area indoors with a couple of Playstations and toys for the younger ones. This was a well used area of the hotel, especially as it's in sight of the bar. Wide corridors, a lift and easy access into the garden meant that pushchairs aren't out of the question either.

                ==========================
                Travelling with a wheelchair
                ==========================
                Easy access to the pool area and terrace for dining outside, ramps everywhere - although the one at the back to the car park was pretty steep -meant that anyone using a wheelchair was catered for to a certain extent.
                Actually accessing the pool would be difficult I would imagine. There was a tricky little gate and a foot-bath at the entrance to the pool that to my mind would make it difficult for a wheelchair to get beyond. No access to the pool other than steps with handrails.

                =======================
                Was this hotel good value?
                =======================
                Absolutely. No doubt about it. We stayed at another Novotel which I shall be reviewing shortly which was 215 Euros a night, so 79 sounds like a pittance wouldn't you agree? At Youth Hostel Prices with a pool, great food and easy transport links to Bordeaux, this was certainly one of the best value places that I've stayed in.

                However, there's one thing that made it even better value for me and that was its close proximity to the airport. It meant that we found it very easily. But it also meant that lots of pilots, in full uniform, often walking down corridors in threes, found it easily too.
                I'd landed in uniform heaven!

                And in case anyone thinks I'm just concentrating on the men, there were plenty of female cabin crew around, I just never noticed them as much. Get it? Got it? Good!

                =============
                Would I go again?
                =============
                Is the Pope Catholic?

                =====================================================

                For more details of this hotel, which has 137 rooms - 122 non smoking, 4 wheelchair accessible

                * 80 Avenue J F Kennedy
                * 33700 MERIGNAC
                * FRANCE
                * Tel (+33)5/57531330
                * Fax (+33)5/56559964
                * E-mail H0402@accor.com
                * Hotel Manager :Mr Patrick DUFOURMANTEL
                * GPS. N 44° 50' 8.46'' W 0° 40' 59.08''

                If you do go, enjoy the uniforms for me!

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                  26.04.2009 19:51
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                  The Hotel Pinewood earns its 4 stars for me.

                  The Hotel Pinewood or Pinewood Hotel whichever you want to call it has nothing to do with film studios or celebrities. It's the hotel we chose when we spent five nights in Rome during last year's Easter break.

                  We are a problem family I have to admit. There are five of us you see and hotels tend not to do five. They often do two, three and four at a stretch, but five - you are asking the impossible, especially in a city like Rome, surely. Surely not as it happens.

                  I searched on Trip Advisor for a hotel that would meet our needs and found Hotel Pinewood, read a few reviews, and then looked for prices. Considering we would have had to book two rooms everywhere else, and pay extra for breakfasts (10 Euros each invariably) I thought the 1250 Euros that we spent for five nights was fantastic value for five people. 250 Euros a night was only 50 Euros each - a bargain in my eyes when everywhere else was going to cost me at least 300 for two rooms, plus brekky. This price included a buffet style, eat as much as you like, breakfast which the kids thought was fantastic - an even better bargain! Us Yorkshire folk are so easily pleased.

                  =============
                  Booking
                  =============
                  The booking process was a doddle. I typed in my requirements on www.booking.com, printed off the receipt and that was that. No money was taken at the time - we paid when we checked out and this would have been even better with a couple of towels snaffled away but we resisted temptation- I want to go back you see. Having looked on this site again, I've checked availability for the same suite in October half term and it's now 240 Euros. It's got me quite tempted actually.

                  ==============
                  Finding the place
                  ==============
                  I printed a map off the official hotel site as well as the detailed instructions when flying into Rome. As it happened we never needed them as we ended up in a luxury Mercedes blacked out windows style limo taxi van thing at the airport.

                  Taxi drivers were touting for business and us being a bit useless in Italian didn't fancy negotiating the train and tube system with luggage, so we were reeled in so to speak.

                  For 10 Euros each we had a small group tour of Rome with three other people, right under Constantine's arch and around the Colloseum as well as a bit of history from Marco, our highly amusing chauffeur - he'd spent years in Leeds so he even knew what a Yorkshire pudding was and had excellent English. He told us all about the Vittorio Emanuele monument - the wedding cake - in the centre of Rome which became Mussolini's headquarters and also his thoughts on the upcoming Man U v Roma match in the European Cup. It was the best introduction to Rome we could have had!

                  I was happy as I'd had a 40 minute relaxing journey, if you can call that speed relaxing, a guided tour and had only spent 2 Euros over the odds on the train journey, lugging those cases about. I bet it was Marco who stopped the first escalator we had to climb up, just to get us into his taxi! Well worth it though.

                  I obviously can't offer you any advice on getting there apart from heading towards Termini station by train from the airport and from there head to Cornelia on the tube.

                  The directions given by the hotel actually work as we followed them to the letter after our first little jaunt out that evening.

                  ===============
                  Locality
                  ===============
                  The Hotel Pinewood is located opposite a large green area called the Sachetti Pine Wood. This was a place for joggers, early morning dog-walkers and horse riders. A little bit of the country in the city then. Well not quite, it's also just down the road from a major bus terminal, which makes transport links excellent, and a built up urban area which may not be to everyone's taste.

                  We loved it as it gave us a taste of how locals live. We enjoyed our early morning walk to the tube station and we didn't come back until late afternoon to get ready for our evening meal. There were very few restaurants in the nearby vicinity but with a good guidebook it was easy to find excellent, and cheap, restaurants in several areas of the city. We felt safe with our three girls the entire time we were there.

                  It was interesting to note that we arrived in the build up to an important election. There were bill posters everywhere sticking their adverts over their rivals'. Eventually the posters became so thick they could no longer hang up so they were all over the pavement and another round of bill posters began. These huge piles of paper were hard to negotiate on the footpath I have to say. It would never happen in Britain I suppose, with our totally apathetic approach to voting.

                  So, the pavements were a bit interesting but the entrance to the hotel seemed very welcoming with a small fountain as you approached the main doors. It was lovely to walk back to at night too with fairy lights in the trees. Very romantic indeed! Secure too as you had to prove who you were when you returned.

                  ==================
                  First Impressions
                  ==================
                  I knew we were going to have a fabulous stay when we were welcomed, in perfect English, by a rather good looking chap I have to say. He was very charming, efficient and had the tightest shirt I'd ever seen on a man. Lots of muscles underneath it too.

                  My husband had to peel me from the reception desk after we received our keys. I blamed this on exhaustion with such an early flight and the unseasonably hot weather for April. My husband blamed my mother. And my daughters told me he didn't like girls anyway, which was a bit of a shocker.

                  Anyway, the reception area was quite lavish, with lots of sofas - quite low to be honest - tables and a bar over to one side looking deserted. (It looked deserted throughout our stay actually). Lots of marble about and everything done in a reddy gold combo. It was quite classy looking but a bit over the top for me. I'm more of a modern minimalist.

                  We needed to use the lift to go down a half floor to our room and we were literally 10m from the lift on this lower ground floor. Lucky for us we were also a very short walk to the breakfast room so we could be first in every morning.

                  So far, so good.

                  ===================
                  What about the room?
                  ===================
                  The thing that had attracted us to this hotel was the fact that the kids could be in the same room as us and we'd only have to think about looking after one key - this is not our strong point I have to say.

                  The 'suite' was made up of a large room with a King sized and a single bed, lamps, TV, sockets, phone etc, like your regular hotel room. It was well decorated, clean and fresh and had a patio door onto a, you've guessed it, patio. Well a slab of paved area with no chairs and a very uninspiring view. Never mind. We weren't going to be in the room for too long anyway, never mind on the patio. We had a very action packed itinerary to get through before Friday.

                  The large room was connected to a smaller room, where you first came in, by a narrow corridor housing a large mirrored wardrobe, which in turn housed the safe. Very simple to operate unless you're a complete goon like me. I managed to programme it wrong but thankfully there was nothing in it and it was easily fixed by the brains of the family. The 11 year old!

                  Opposite the mirrored wardrobes was a sliding door to the bathroom, which we were very impressed with. A Jacuzzi bath, that worked, with one of those super jet-water-gets-you-from-every-angle showers, toilet, bidet, plenty of free toiletries that were half decent and a hairdryer too. As well as all this they had even thought of the women in the party and had provided a stool to use for when you're painting your toenails! It was everything the holiday doctor ordered.

                  The small room, which I think is really a sitting room, had what looked like a made up double sofa bed in it, a flat screen TV, another phone and a coffee table. It was almost perfect. I say this because the youngsters nabbed the best room and us old 'uns ended up on the sofa bed. Typical. Their excuse was that none of them wanted to share with the snorers can you believe?

                  ============
                  And so, to bed!
                  ============
                  Well, after a thrilling day out near the Spanish Steps and the Trevi fountain, we stuffed our faces with pasta and pizza, washed it down with a fine bottle of Chianti and meandered back to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

                  And I have to say that a good night's sleep it was - until about three in the morning, when I am usually in my deepest phase of sleep. Suddenly, and for no reason that you might be thinking, the bed leg basically fell off and the corner of my side of the bed fell to the floor. Unfortunately it was the head of the bed, but fortunately it only woke me for a second and I went straight back to the land of nod, only at an angle. My husband never blinked! I woke with a rush of blood to the head and then we all collapsed in a heap laughing at the situation.

                  I was quite thrilled actually because I could take the broken bed leg back to the nice young man at the desk and drool awhile enjoying the rolling of his Rs.

                  This I did and when we returned later that day the bed was fixed. Hurray.

                  So, all in all a good first night's sleep as were they all. The room was quiet, save for a few American and Spanish school kids that were all in bed by 12 anyway, maybe half an hour after we got back. Our floor was mainly taken up by a large Japanese party who were extremely quiet. I think this hotel must offer bargains for large parties as, apart from us, there were very few families around.

                  The room was kept at a comfortable temperature by an excellent, and silent, aircon/heating system. I was grateful for this as it was hot during the day but a bit chilly at night.
                  ===========
                  Facilities
                  ===========
                  I think I've covered everything that the room had, apart from wifi access (chargeable).
                  There are specially adapted rooms for wheelchair users and a special lift down to the breakfast room.

                  There wasn't a mini bar in the room when we visited, but apparently every room has one now.

                  They have also introduced a 'wellness' element to the hotel meaning you can book a treatment if you need destressing. This is all new to me so can't really comment.

                  ===============================
                  Tuck in - you're in for a long day in Rome
                  ===============================
                  Breakfast was the only meal provided by the hotel and I have to say that on the first morning I was a little disappointed, but by the Friday I was glad that it wasn't a big cooked affair as I had eaten so much great food while I'd been there I couldn't handle anything at breakfast.

                  There was an option to have scrambled egg and bacon made for you specially, like the Japanese visitors had bought into, but this was an extra 5 Euros so we gave it a miss.

                  We enjoyed the fruit juice, tea, coffees (both cappuccino and espresso), cereals, a wide range of bread, croissants and pastries and the obligatory meat and cheese as well as some fruit for the health conscious.

                  It was a great way to start the day and breakfast started at seven for those who wanted to make an early start to their day. You could also order breakfast in your room, but this may have had a supplement. I might have paid the young man to bring it though.

                  We all enjoy buffet breakfasts and the kids often have to restrain me in my kleptomania as I can't resist the urge to fill up a bag and make some nice meat sandwiches for lunch. It was no different at this hotel. Sad but true.

                  =====================
                  Was it value for money?
                  =====================

                  Having researched all the hotels on offer there was nowhere else that offered a room for five when we wanted to go. It was much better than having two rooms and we felt that we did indeed get value for money. The hotel had a touch of luxury to it and the Jacuzzi bath and reach-every-spot shower were worth the room fee in themselves.

                  1250 Euros isn't cheap but it was quiet, enabling us to have complete rest between our hectic days.

                  ====================
                  Would I recommend it?
                  ====================
                  I would recommend the hotel for families of five with teenagers like us, but not necessarily younger children as you have to negotiate the 10 minute walk to the tube station and then a 15 minute journey into the centre of Rome.

                  It's fantastic for the Vatican area however as that's only 10 minutes away by bus and the bus stop is virtually on the hotel doorstep. We took the bus a lot on our five day travel card and were highly delighted with the service.

                  It's a fantastic place for business people who know Rome and also for those attending events at the Olympic Stadium.

                  Honeymooning couples might want something in the centre of the city, I know I would.

                  It was brilliant for large groups of people obviously as there were three large parties there during the course of our stay and they all looked to be having a great time, especially the teachers of the school trips!

                  All in all I would go back to this hotel as I felt like a local, not a tourist.

                  And as for the young man at the desk, I had just one more chance to bat my eye lids at him when we inadvertently, can you believe, locked the room key in the room on the very last morning! He very suavely reached over, took another key from the hook and handed it to me, with a gorgeous grin on his face.

                  A great ending to a great stay in Rome.
                  The hotel address
                  Via Della Pineta Sacchetti 43
                  00167 Rome
                  tel: +39 06 66.36.546
                  fax:+39 06 66.34.941

                  e-mail: info@romehotelpinewood.com

                  Web site: http://www.romehotelpinewood.com/index.htm

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                    25.04.2009 00:44
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                    For once - a good looking Octopus!

                    Bees: can be annoying and frightening according to our misplaced fear of the creatures. Some are perfectly harmless, with no sting, spending all day digging holes in the ground, buzzing around and working miracles in the natural world.

                    Others are more social creatures, living in complex communities working together harmoniously to create something magical, something rich, sweet and delicious. Honey.

                    The Bees that I speak of are not irritating, don't sting and to the best of my knowledge can't actually fly. (I think) But they do create something magical, something rich, sweet and delicious. Musical honey.

                    =============================================
                    Where can you find this precious commodity, you might ask?
                    ==============================================
                    The band, known as the Bees over here and the Band of Bees across the pond, hail from Ventnor, on the glorious Isle of Wight. A haven of musical profoundness that has spawned the likes of Level 42 and The Waltons (although the least said about this punk band the better) so you could say that the Bees are definitely the best band from the Isle of Wight in a long time.

                    This is a band that you love, but didn't know you knew. Some of the tracks from their first two albums have been used in big advertising campaigns for Magners Cider, Citroen Cars, Sure deodorant and Sainsbury's to name a few.

                    They have supported Oasis and Madness in the past, so some big bands know and love their product too!

                    ==============================
                    So, who makes the honey, honey?
                    ==============================
                    The Bees are a six piece band with lots of hair. The members are, according to Wikipedia:

                    * "Paul Butler - lead vocals, guitar, piano, saxophone, trumpet, clarinet, mandolin, drums, various percussion instruments

                    * Aaron Fletcher - bass guitar, guitar, piano, drums, percussion, lyrics, vocals

                    * Michael Clevett - drums, bass guitar, percussion, hammond organ, vocals

                    * Tim Parkin - trumpet, bass guitar, piano, rhodes, percussion, vocals

                    * Warren Hampshire - hammond organ, celesta, acoustic guitar, percussion, jew's harp, vocals

                    * Kris Birkin - guitar, vocals"

                    That's a lot of instruments!

                    ==============================
                    What does musical honey sound like?
                    ==============================
                    Well it's hard to describe the product really. It's a mash up of an unusual number of styles ranging from reggae to garage rock; from psychedelic to jazz. There's country, blues, soul and ska thrown in for good measure. In short, this band creates a type of music that defies classification and they seem to enjoy it too.

                    This album, Octopus, is their third 'studio' album. Well, I say studio, but the first album 'Sunshine Hit Me' was recorded in the garden shed of the front man, Paul Butler, which was met with some acclaim and a nomination for a Mercury Music prize.

                    The second album 'Free the Bees' was recorded in a studio -perhaps the most famous of them all - Abbey Road. But it was rushed in my opinion as they recorded it on a tight schedule, and budget.

                    This third album has a holiday feel to it as it was recorded in the newly built "Steam rooms"(looks like a sauna and the name seems to have stuck) on the Isle of Wight , where the band members can relax, have a laugh, play with each others....instruments and generally perfect their product before recording it for the masses to lap up and get addicted to .

                    Here's what I think to some of the best tracks:

                    ===========================
                    Who Cares What the Question is?
                    ===========================
                    This is one of the best opening tracks I've heard on an album for a long time. It took me right back to a sunny seaside holiday mucking about on the beach in Cornwall. Don't know how. A little bit hurdy-gurdy, a little bit country and folk. A bit weird to be honest. Too much going on on the first listen but by the hundredth you've heard it all: all of it, every single layer and ingredient. Your speakers are on fire!

                    =====================
                    Love in the Harbour
                    =====================
                    Overtly country - I think. Great harmonica and geetar. But it also gets a bit rocky in places, so once again they're at it with their mish mash "we're not being pigeon holed" style. It's got that something that just urges you to move around and there's something about the song, and the whole album actually, that is yelling "Suimmertime, beach, barbecues, parties, or all of the above!"

                    =====================
                    The Left Foot Stepdown
                    =====================
                    Think The Specials - Ghost town- and you might be somewhere near. It's eery but cheery. Gloomy but boomy. It's the equivalent of a musical Pot Noodle. A very curious mix. Sensational syncopated rhythms and a fair old menagerie of sounds. Magical brass, piano and Hammond organ as well as heavy bassline that together make for a brilliant addition to the album.

                    =================
                    Got to Let Go
                    =================
                    A real jazz fest and as bold as brass. They don't muck about these boys. They like to blow their own trumpets- and hard! (Now then, settle down). You can imagine a real big band (well six of them at least) with their trumpets, trombones, cornets, whatever they've got pursed tightly between their lips pointing them skyward all swaying together. Fab!. This gets carried away, but it gets you carried away with it. Excellent forte piano sections. Some might say repetitive, but I can't get enough of it.

                    ==================
                    Listening Man
                    ==================
                    A track pushed by Radio 2 when it was released in 2007 and my favourite track from the whole album. Maybe I'm influenced by the Video for it though. He's listening to the girl, "yaddayaddayadda" she's going onandonandonandonandon and he keeps listening and keeps listening. Just listening, not saying or doing. Until in a revelation he decides its time for a snogfest. Yes, and a great snog fest it is too. She shuts up and smiles then. She snuggles up to him and they snog a bit more. God we need more snogging in the world!

                    You can hear Bob Marley in this, some Van the Man Morrison and dare I say it Marvin Gaye? Well it's clear they've been influenced by all three.

                    ===========
                    Stand
                    ===========

                    Another jazzy smokey joe ska track. Moody and pulsing this still has you moving along despite your best efforts to sit still. A bit darker than the other tracks, this indie jazz track has a ring of something else I've heard. As with all the other tracks, you can hear influences but can't quite place them. A bit of the Coral maybe, or perhaps the Zutons.

                    ====================
                    (This is for the) Better Days
                    ====================
                    All the best about jazz and funky stuff rolled into one. It's music for a sunny day. But even on a rainy day, listening to this would indeed make it a better day. Smooth, stylish and technically brilliant Hammond organ once again. Freestyle playing that makes you want to sell your soul to the devil to have that skill. How do they do that?

                    ====================
                    The Ocularist
                    ====================
                    A sentimental little latin number here that makes you think he can actually speak the language. Don't think he's a native speaker though. I think the words might have been on a sheet, or a white board or a music stand at least. "The incredible perceptions that the ocularists see." I'm also not sure what someone making false eyes has to do with anything. So I'm not sure about this number at all. Except for the fact that it is another brilliantly catchy number and being about the sea, reflects their roots well.
                    ===========
                    Hot One
                    ===========
                    "I've never lifted the morning blanket like I did when you first stayed." This is obviously a boy thing as I haven't a clue what they're talking about, but I bet it's rude! This is another bouncy, rocky, jazzy tune with echoes of the 60s and there's even a Lalalalalala that almost sounds like the Banana Splits. Wow, how do they manage to get all this stuff into their tunes?

                    ==================
                    End of the Street
                    ==================
                    They're definitely having a laugh with this one. Lasting less than two minutes, it's cheeky, catchy, bouncy, weird and leaves you wanting more. Using every sound effect they could squeeze in to a song this short, it sums up their style perfectly. Oh, what was that again? Oh yes, a mish mash; eclecticism at its very best.

                    Oh, that's it I've gone through the whole album and it's all over too quickly - just like the real thing. So sad it has to end, but glad to have a repeat button.

                    We were listening to this collection of tunes as we drove back from Spain the other week. My dad was driving and he was asking for a repeat performance by the end of it. He's not a jazz fan but he loved it. He's not a 60s fan but he loved it. He hates ska, especially the Specials, but he loved this. He wants me to buy it him for Father's Day or his birthday. He's 67, who'd have thought it -a record that crosses the generational boundary? He likes the country feel to it I think and some of the soul influences.
                    I just love it. Full stop.

                    This summer, as you begin to get into a flap about the bees, think twice about swatting, squishing or drowning them.

                    Instead, take a deep breath, walk inside, reach for your copy of Octopus, insert into the CD player, turn the amp to loud, return to your sunbed than enjoy this quintessentially summer album. But set it to repeat. It's way too short!

                    You can learn all about The Bees and hear all their happy tunes on:
                    http://www.thebees.info/

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                      19.04.2009 23:10
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                      Could have been a terra for mi ticker, but it failed miserably!

                      ~~~SO, WHAT WE DOING TODAY THEN?~~~

                      While I was at my parents' place in Benidorm this Easter we took a family trip to Terra Mitica, a theme park situated up in the mountains behind the busy resort.

                      I visited six years ago and wanted to revisit for the thrills and to let my youngest daughter finally have a go on the rides she'd been too small for in 2003.

                      ~~~GET THE MAP OUT~~~

                      It's fairly easy to get to by car, taxi or bus. We travelled from Albir on the N332 onto the CV70. The park is very well signed up.

                      Cars cost 5 Euros for parking and there's a drop off point for taxis and buses.
                      I believe there's a free bus from Benidorm centre but as we travelled by car you would have to research this. Buses 21 and 22 take you there from the centre of Benidorm too but pay the driver - there might be a Spanish Inquisition if you don't.

                      ~~~HOW MUCH?~~~

                      I was shocked to find that I was going to have to pay 34 Euros per adult to get into the park. And, even more shocked to find that adults were over 12 for this park! Aargh! So, for us four over 12s, I'd have a grand total of 136 Euros to pay. Seemed a lot of money to me.

                      My parents are pensioners though and know where to go for the best deals in Benidorm and told me that we had to take a trip to Round Town News - a little tourist information office, with holidaymakers and expats in mind, down the road into Benidorm from Benidorm Palace, on the Avda. Doctor Severo Ochoa.

                      My parents often book their bargain airport transfers at Round Town News and we found another bargain here for Terra Mitica. Booking in advance got us a discount to cheer about. Adults were now 26 Euros and children (the helpful customer advisor told me my youngest daughter was definitely still 11) were 17.50. So, four of us paid 95.50. My parents bought tickets as pensioners as they're both over 60 (17.50 again) and didn't have to try to prove their age - because they do look like spring chickens I've got to say - as they would have had to at the gate. Carrying passports around a theme park is not a good idea!

                      It was very simple. I paid up by credit card and a receipt was printed which acted as our entrance ticket. All the details were written in Spanish and this was accepted readily when we arrived at the park.

                      There is currently an offer at McDonalds in Benidorm that enables you to get two for one on the price of tickets if you spend more than 6 Euros on your food. This was never offered to us while we were there and we hadn't the energy to ask to be honest just having driven 1500 or so miles from Barnsley. Pursue it though if you want to save a considerable amount of Euros.


                      ~~~INITIAL IMPRESSIONS~~~
                      The car park offers shaded areas for cars in hotter weather, but these are at a premium.

                      It was Easter Sunday when we went (hope this doesn't offend any devout types out there) and it seemed to pay off because the park was virtually empty when we arrived shortly after 10 am - everyone at Church, see. We also had a full ten hours of adrenaline rush to look forward to - giving us plenty of time for all that queueing that you do in theme parks like this.

                      As we walked through the main entrance gates, into the Egyptian area of the park, we were all astounded by the attention to detail that had been given to the pillars, pyramids and obelisks around us. The painting, carvings and decoration was superb. I could almost be in Ancient Egypt with a miniature lighthouse of Alexandria and Egyptian barges on a mock-up of the Nile. Quite amazing. Certainly nothing like Blackpool Pleasure Beach - way more cultured.

                      But we hadn't paid almost a hundred Euros to look at the paintings and admire the scenery. Oh no. It was time to get on a ride and put the knuckles to the test. Whose would be the whitest we wondered?

                      ~~~MOAN NUMBER ONE~~~

                      Two of the party were a bit miffed as soon as they walked through the gates, however, because they knew there was going to be nothing there for them. My dad, with his bad back, couldn't face going on anything that would shake him about and my sister-in-law who goes an unpleasant shade of green at the sight of contorted metal had already lost her very slight tan!

                      I know you could say what are they going for then? But, they felt that a Blackpool wristband system would have been fairer to them. You know the system. Get on the ride if you're wearing a band; sit with the bags if you're not!

                      Still, the other eight of us were happy and once we had found our maps from the information centre, near the entrance, we were all set.

                      Look out for this information point as you go through the first entrance as there are no other map points and you'll end up coming back later.

                      Strangely, you think you've gone through the entrance where we would have paid, but there's another entrance further inside the park, to the right, as you climb the hill towards the rides. I'm not sure what the point of this is as we were just waved through after handing over our green ticket.

                      ~~~~MOAN NUMBER TWO~~~~~
                      Poor old dad had to go back to the car though with the cool bag as no food or drink is allowed into the park. Yes you read right. NO FOOD OR DRINK is allowed into the park!! We thought this was tremendously mean spirited as there were several cosy little picnic areas in the shade with tables and chairs set out for family gatherings.
                      But never mind, we had a few bottles of water snaffled away in handbags and they would suffice.

                      ~~~MOAN NUMBER THREE~~~~
                      We decided to get a hand stamp out and go and have our picnic by the car. This saved us a packet as the cost of food was astronomical. There were plenty of fast food outlets and restaurants -both self service and full waiter service but the price was beyond our budget, 'specially with a bag of Carrefour stuff in the boot!!

                      So, three moans and I'm back on track. Let's get on a ride and scream a bit, eh??

                      ~~~SCREAM IF YOU WANNA GO FASTER~~~

                      The park is arranged in six zones: Egypt, Greece, Rome, Iberia and The Islands as well as the new area to me, Ocionia. (I wondered if they meant Oceania but that's how it's spelt on the map)

                      In each of the areas there are rides on that theme. Apparently. So, in Greece you have Kinetos' Temple, Triton's Fury and The Icaruses for example.

                      In total I managed to have 21 rides, some were multiple rides. The only reason for this being there didn't seem to be that many people willing to shell out 34 Euros for a day in a theme park. Mind you it was the first decent day of sun for a while, so everyone might have been on the beach.

                      Here are my top five rides:

                      1 Inferno - weird metal coaster
                      This is a new ride opened last year I think and is one of the best I've ever been on. Imagine a letter C in parallel bubble writing with plenty of space in the bubble and a dip in the top - draw one in fact to help you. A spinning carriage with four passengers- pairs sit back to back - on each side of the track, starts at the bottom of the letter C, it rises up the left hand side and then free falls around the rest of the ride, the carriages turning as they go.

                      If you and a very light person sit on a carriage with two heavy people behind you, it's a very weird ride as they tip you up and you spin like mad! I've never spun vertically around a roller coaster before and the fact that it only lasted about 40 seconds meant I had to go on again, again and again. 6 times actually. Then I thought something else needed a try.

                      2. Rapids of Argos - best rapid ride ever!
                      This was in The Islands section of the park even though the Argonauts were Greek. Weird. Anyway a totally hilarious ride especially when eight of you are effectively trapped in a tyre. There's just nowhere to move to when you meet the wall of water that tumbles down half way through, soaking two of you to the skin. Poncho or not; nothing's keeping that lot out. Needless to say, you spend the next hour or so drying off in the Benidorm sunshine. Hopefully! Or get on number 3 for a quick dry.

                      3. Flight of the Phoenix - more like Icarus!
                      This is the equivalent of dropping ten storeys from a Benidorm hotel window after a drunken night, but in a seat with a safety harness. Thank goodness! Brilliant though it was I was a teeny weeny bit scared and in the words of Julia Roberts at the opera on Pretty Women "I almost peed my pants!"

                      4. Synkope
                      This is a giant spinning pendulum, similar to one I've been on at Drayton Manor. A great belly-tickler. Not for the easily queasied if that's a word.

                      5.Two water rides take joint fifth - the log flume style Falls of the Nile and a boat ride (holding 16) named Triton's Fury. Both of these were soakers and brilliant in hot summer weather I would imagine.

                      The giant wooden roller coaster, Magnus Colossus, was awful in my opinion. I tried it twice, just to see if the second ride would be better than the first. Nope. Shook my brains round in my head so much I thought I'd end up with some sort of damage!

                      I was horrified to see a family of Spanish people leave their too-small-to-go-on boy with the attendant here, while they got shook to death. Some folk have no shame!

                      Apart from these seven rides there are a few mild rides- a mini coaster and a pirate ship effort as well as some traditional swings like I've seen at Alton Towers, but there's nothing here that's remotely in AT's league in terms of white knuckle, adrenaline junkie rides. Nothing compares to Stealth, Nemesis Inferno or Colossus at Thorpe Park either. In short this is a theme park with a few good rides. Not worth the 34 Euros that we might have paid. We only had good value on this particular day because it was quiet.

                      There are some indoor rides - a simulator presentation all in Spanish, so not brilliant for me, which shook you about a bit and wasn't worth the unusually long queue and a shootout/ghost train style ride where there are horrendous queues in the summer apparently - often more than an hour.


                      ~~~"DID YOU ENJOY THAT?'~~~

                      This might be something you could be asking your little nippers when they get off the 15 or so kids' rides that are all miniature versions of the adult ones. The mini log flume is great fun and there were little ones just riding this continuously because they could that day. The others are perfect for under 7s I'd say although my 7 year old went on quite a lot of the bigger water rides 6 years ago.

                      ~~~FACILITIES AROUND THE PARK~~~
                      @ Wheelchairs and mobility scooters for hire
                      @ Stroller pushchairs available too
                      @ Vending machines for the drinks you can't take in with you - 1 Euro so not too bad
                      @ Lockers
                      @ Lost and found
                      @Plenty of clean, spacious toilets with disabled and baby facilities - some of the best I've seen in a theme park.
                      @ Retail therapy opportunities and shopping collection points so shop, leave your stuff and collect on your way out
                      @Afternoon tickets available at reduced rates after 2pm (check on the website for the rates for these)
                      @ Children under 4 are free; 5-10s are 17.50

                      There are some extra activities that they've introduced into the park which have a cost attached and these are Atalaya which is a Go Ape style of activity where you're attached to trees, zip wires and tarzan netting - all shout with me Aaaarhahaaaaahahahaaaa like Johnny Weissmuller!

                      And there's The Battle of the Pyramids which is an indoor paintballing experience. Not my idea of fun really.

                      There are plenty of attractions that I have not talked about. We didn't see any shows as we were probably in the wrong place at the wrong time - despite the park being a lot smaller than somewhere like Alton Towers.

                      ~~~WAS IT GOOD VALUE?~~~

                      By the way, my dad and sister in law managed three rides between them so they had the worst value day out of the ten of us. Between us we had 155 rides. We paid 226 Euros, so that's 1.46 Euros a ride. Good value? Maybe. The two non- riders wished they'd taken earplugs or ipods though as the music - think constant Zorba in the Greek area, was a trifle annoying to say the least.

                      ~~~SCHIZOPHRENICA~~~

                      I have a feeling that Terra Mitica is suffering an identity crisis. It's a schizophrenic I think. Too many regions and periods of history and not enough cohesion to pull off the real feel of a theme park. Someone needs to give the place an overhaul before it goes bust. There was a rumour that the Spanish Government had to bail it out over the Easter period to keep it open and after its turbulent financial history, I might believe it.

                      If you want to go to a theme park in the sun, Terra Mitica might not be there for too long considering the global financial crisis. So, get a ticket while you can to say that you've been there, seen it, and got the tee shirt. But take sun cream when you go!

                      More information to do that on: http://www.terramiticapark.com/


                      Ironically enough the tagline for the park on all the publicity material is Disconnecta (Switch Off). It soon might be.

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                      • More +
                        18.04.2009 16:57
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                        Join the Rotary Club. It'll have you in a spin!

                        You may know from visiting my profile or from reading my reviews that I have three daughters. You may also know, or be able to imagine, how much washing said three daughters might create. Well, triple that and you could be somewhere near the amount of laundry I get in a lather over every week.

                        It has decreased somewhat since I enforced the pyjama rule, however. This rule involves the changing of school uniform into pyjama - type clothing as soon as the little monsters put their feet on the welcome mat. Well, almost.

                        I don't mind them lounging around, like the Royle family, in their slobby gear as it means they can do it a few days on the trot and because no one irons Royle family clothes, I also have less ironing to do too! Hurray!!

                        However, my laundry woes used to be far more intense when the little nippers were really little nippers. I would say my peak period for washing was when they were five, three and two as a whole new lot of school uniform had just been introduced and, ever the house-proud housewife working full time as a teacher myself, wanted my daughter to attend school with the whitest shirt and neatest pinafore imaginable. As you do.

                        So I have experienced a lot of washing over the years. On top of the kids' wash- baskets, my husband produces five shirts - all on a similar blue stripy theme I have to say - every week and there's also my washing which at one time used to be horrendous. Read my Sweaty Betty review to learn how I managed to go through fifteen tops every week!

                        But through all the trials and tribulations of the laundry kind, my trusty Brabantia Rotary Airer AKA Billy Brabantia has been a solid, faithful and reliable companion. He has stood through all weathers, temperatures and garden upheavals for 21 years in September. In fact he will be having a celebration on the 5th to mark the day he was first 'planted' in the first soil that we ever (nearly) owned. We've had two small gardens at our houses, so we had to have a compact, space-saving washing line. Little did we know the action Billy was going to see!

                        ~~~~WHAT IS THIS TRUSTY DEVICE? I HEAR YOU ASK~~~
                        A rotary airer or dryer, when fully extended, is like a giant spider web strung between four equidistant 'arms' on a central pole for want of a better description.

                        They come in different sizes - 30m, 40m, 50m and 60m of washing line spider web.
                        I have the 50m version and it's been perfectly adequate for the heaviest of washing days.

                        You load it up with your wet washing and it spins beautifully in the wind, round and round, round and round, round and round. You get the picture. An hour or so later, depending on the British weather, you take the dry clothes off the rotary dryer and bring them into the house where, if you're like me, they sit around in piles, screaming "Iron me you lazy trout!"

                        ~~~INSTALLING THE CONTRAPTION~~~~

                        When you first take ownership of this workhorse of a washing line, it arrives in a protective 'sleeve' which is its cover. Ours is green so as I unzip it and dump it unceremoniously on the grass, I cannot get Henry VIII's lyrics out of my head:

                        Alas, my love, you do me wrong,
                        To cast me off discourteously.
                        For I have loved you well and long,
                        Delighting in your company.

                        (From Greensleeves - get it?)

                        But before you can start hanging your washing out you have to install the garden 'spike'. This is a metal tube that sits beneath the surface of the grass into which the airer pole fits.

                        It has a cap on top if ever you want to remove the pole, say you're having a barby or mowing the lawn for instance. It's handy having a cap as it prevents very small animals, kids' toys, chair legs or hot dog sausages falling down the hole. But, be warned though, we once removed the pole and covered it up for the winter. It took us three days to find it again in the Spring, especially after the grass had grown!

                        As I have a civil engineer as a husband, he concreted ours in like it was just another job. "That baby's going nowhere" he quite proudly announced when we arrived at our first house. Thank goodness he put it where the sun shone that's all I can say!

                        It would have been difficult for me to do, but you really need to secure it into the ground or the pole won't last long- especially fully loaded with a heavy North-westerly blowing!

                        On moving house, we had to purchase another garden spike - this is easy to do online.

                        Replacement parts for your Airer can be bought at reasonable prices from:
                        http://www.philipmorris.uk.com/

                        ~~~~WHY IT'S GOT ME IN A SPIN~~~

                        I have to say that of all the purchases I've made for my house and garden this has been the best value and most reliable. Brabantia have certainly chosen the right word in 'solid' to attach to their products.

                        In the 21 years that we've had it, the four green 'arms' have remained green. There is no rusting on the chrome parts to the dryer. The lines have remained strong, straight and untangled with no breakages at all. The cover is seeing a few holes here and there but these are minor and it will probably see another 9 years of action. Maybe I'll buy Billy a new cover for his 30th birthday!

                        Having had small gardens and lots of kids playing in that space, it's been ideal as it's not strung across the garden waiting to garrotte someone and it can be removed easily at serious play-times.

                        It's extremely easy to lift. Lift-o-matic says it all. Just squeeze the release catch at the base of the pole ( a bit like an umbrella) and push up, to raise the dryer to the exact height you want it (132cm to 179cm) and it's as easy as that.

                        I have a bad back, so I put a garden table next to mine when it's opened out, put the wash basket and pegs on the table top and the job's a good 'un. No bending, walking or dragging a basket around. Just move the line to where I am and start pegging out. So, perfect for lazy people too.

                        I'm always amazed at how much washing it will hold. I often get four or five loads out at once, if I'm methodical hanging the smalls at the centre and large things like towels and sheets on the outside. This rarely happens though. I tend to hang a load out and then bring them in as and when they're dry replacing them with wet things when the next load is done.

                        On days when the weather's playing silly beggars with your laundry queen mind though, it's not so good. If you've got five loads out and the heavens open, boy do the inside things get wet!

                        You'd think that the things on the inside wouldn't get as dry as those on the outside as they're shaded but it's not the case.

                        I am in a total spin about this contraption and I hope that anyone who's considering replacing an old line thinks about this brand of rotary dryer.

                        For facts and figures boffs: It's 2m tall, 160mm deep and 160mm wide when covered and has a diagonal span of 317cm when opened and comes with a 5 year guarantee. Enough figures already.

                        I couldn't be without Billy Brabantia, he's my hero!

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                          17.04.2009 19:37
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                          A ferry comfortable journey from Dover to Dunkirk.

                          In January, in what can only be described as a moment of madness, I suggested that we (my three kids, mum, dad and myself) embark on an epic journey to spend two weeks or thereabouts at my parents luxury apartment ...ahem...caravan, in Benidorm, Spain.

                          This plan was hedonistically passed by the travel committee - said members listed above - and another member, my niece, was formally welcomed onto the trip. Seven go to Spain in a Shogun, was to be the title of the adventure. Big bucks at the cinema no doubt.

                          However, the title soon changed when three other members of the family jumped on the Bandwaggon. Ten family members go mental in a Mitsubishi wouldn't work as we couldn't fit ten in. We needed two vehicles now and it became "Barnsley to Benidorm - or Bust!"

                          Please note the absence of my husband in all these arrangements. He was either too chicken for the endurance test to come or he just couldn't possibly envisage sharing a caravan and an awning (26ft though it is) with ten others who can fart and snore for England!

                          ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

                          So, now the return journey has been completed and 3000 miles later I live to tell the tale - which I might tell if there's an 'epic road trip' section on Dooyoo.

                          The section I want to focus on just now is the ferry journey from Dover to Dunkirk. And particularly our experience of Norfolk line ferries with whom we booked.

                          My parents have had three successful return trips with Norfolk Line from Dover to Dunkirk, having taken two caravans and a car to Benidorm in the past two years, and cheaply too. So, it was agreed that we would see what the ferry company had to offer for this trip.

                          ~~~~~PRICE~~~~~~

                          In our hedonistic phase of the arrangements we hastily booked a car and six passengers and this cost a very reasonable £82.80, sailing at 2.00am on the first Saturday of the Easter holidays, returning two weeks - less a day - later. Friday 17th April at 4.00am to be precise. The original price for a car and four passengers was £52.80 return which I thought was ridiculously cheap! The extra two passengers cost £7.50 each, each way.

                          In the next phase of the booking, my brother booked another car and four passengers for £52.80. That's a total of £135.60 for two cars and ten passengers: what a bargain!

                          On average, then, each person cost £13.56 return, ignoring the two cars. That's £6.78 each way. Can you tell I'm impressed by the cost?

                          All the booking was done online from the Norfolk line website. We just had to print out the booking confirmation as it's a ticketless booking system, helping to keep costs down for the savvy traveller.

                          ~~~~CHECKING IN AT DOVER/DUNKIRK~~~

                          No problems here, we just had to pull up to the toll booth style window and present our documents and passports. We had hoped to sail on the 1200 midnight ferry but the queue was astronomical it being the cheapest sailing at the start of the Easter holidays.

                          Once we had been given our boarding pass and rear view mirror tag stating what lane we had to queue in, we got in line and waited for boarding. While in the queue there isn't a lot to do to be honest. It was pretty cold at midnight so we stayed in the car and either nodded off or stuffed our faces with chocolate - always a good thing to do towards the end of Lent I feel. (It was Saturday and they don't count in Lent anyway!)

                          There are some toilets and a shopping area within walking distance as well as a couple of fast food outlets and a cash machine. Nearer to the car was a vending machine for coffee and another set of toilets.

                          There were some decidedly dodgy people hanging about I have to say - not your typical families going on holiday that is; lots of people in large vans going on the 'fag and booze run' as my dad put it. Well, each to their own and as long as it's for their own personal use, who am I to judge?

                          The facilities at Dunkirk are somewhat less inspiring only open during the daytime and not every day of the week either. The website gives more details.

                          At Dunkirk there is a Border control that we didn't encounter at Dover and this was a smooth process with a very polite and efficient Customs official in the booth, commenting on the cool nature of my niece's Sir name (Bond).

                          ~~~~BOARDING~~~~
                          I was totally amazed by the sheer size of the ferries that we travelled on (Maersk Dover and Maersk Dunkerque) and how quickly the boarding staff turned a standing car park on the dock side into a floating one.

                          As Norfolk lines are predominately freight handlers there are two decks for lorries, large motor homes and cars with caravans and one deck for cars and other light vehicles ( the lightest we saw was a tandem).

                          No coaches or foot passengers are accepted on Norfolk line ferries. I shared a journey back from Calais a couple of years ago on a P & O ferry with a gazillion school kids and it was like being on a school trip, so the no coach rule looked like a bonus to me.

                          ~~~~~ONCE ON BOARD~~~~~

                          As I walked onto the first of the two passenger decks I was astounded by the feel of the ship. I knew that this was one of three new ferries that had been brought into commission in 2005 but I couldn't actually believe I was on a ferry as it had the definite feel of a cruise ship to it. Sleek glass and metal trims everywhere, minimalist lines and a great aesthetic mix of furniture and fittings. It was a pleasure to walk onto.

                          It was incredibly busy however, and it being the 0200 sailing there were people in sleeping bags everywhere. And I mean everywhere. As there were ten of us we were worried we wouldn't find seats together but we managed it, with enough space for a few of use to stretch out and sleep.

                          Others amongst us, like the shopaholic women types, wanted to first buy some food and drink, some chocolate, perfume and face cream as well as look at the bargains on wine if there were any.

                          ~~~FOOD~~~
                          We weren't disappointed. With a restaurant, snack bar, bistro café bar as well as a lounge bar and fast food outlet, there were enough places to choose from and none were snarled up with ridiculous queues. My dad had his trusty snap box though and felt on higher moral ground that he hadn't cost himself a single penny or euro whichever you choose to spend.

                          There was a vast choice of food in the Panorama café too from cooked breakfasts to steak and ale pie, chicken curry and rice, tuna steak or traditional fish, chips and (garden) peas. You could get a wide range of drinks from tea and coffee to wines and beers too. There was something here for every taste. Even a good range of cheeses and crackers! We enjoyed a breakfast going out and a traditional meal on the return journey. I paid £8 for a substantial individual steak and ale pie, chips, carrots, peas and gravy and it was delicious!

                          ~~~SHOPPING~~~

                          The shopping area was light and spacious, had a strict no under 18s without an adult policy and offered some pretty good bargains like 6 bottles of Blossom Hill Wine for £11. My mum told me she could get a litre of decent stuff in a box from Mercadona's supermercado in Benidorm for 33 cents so that put my purse firmly back in the handbag! Molton Brown was on a 3 for 2 offer which I took advantage of for Father's Day coming up. And who can resist those giant Toblerones? Not me! Gone in 60 seconds!

                          ~~~TRAVELLING WITH CHILDREN~~~

                          If you had children on board there were two areas dedicated to them. A soft play area for kids under six and another area with video type games and 'educational' type activities, but well screened off from the other passengers so they could play in peace under adult supervision of course.

                          There were two toilets with baby changing areas and there were options for kids' food on board too - our youngest had a kids' breakfast for less than £4 and it was good enough for me so I sent her back for another!

                          There was an array of TV sets playing the latest - or recent at least- music videos in the area we sat in, with rolling headlines from BBC News 24. These were interspersed with promotions and offers from the shop.

                          ~~~~TRAVELLING WITH MOBILITY DIFFICULTIES~~~~

                          For those using a wheelchair, there was lift access directly from the car deck - no awkward steps to negotiate, toilets with dedicated facilities and enough space to move a wheelchair around comfortably on board. I didn't see any wheelchair users on board on either of my journeys but Norfolk line advise that given as much notice as possible, staff will locate your car in the most accessible position for the lifts, with greatest space to open your car doors etc.

                          ~~~WANT TO FEEL PAMPERED?~~~
                          I was tempted, when booking, to pay £10 extra per person to get a seat in the executive lounge. And regretted not doing it when I couldn't sleep properly for the hour that I wanted to.

                          By paying £8 in advance (the price has dropped since we booked in January) or £12 at the Reception desk on board, you can have access to very comfortable seating, free tea, coffee, soft drinks and biscuits as well as complimentary newspapers. You can have any paid meals you order served to your table, with a complimentary half bottle of wine, and a 'welcome' reception with a free glass of wine. So, plenty of free wine then!

                          But that's not all. There's priority boarding and discharge off the ferry too, so you're one of the first on the road towards your destination. Perfect for business or the posh types amongst us! No under 8s allowed here though.

                          As well as this first class lounge there is the chance to visit the chill out zone where you can enjoy a 10 minute miracle massage, which will help you start you journey feeling refreshed. This seemed a bit steep at £10, but then I didn't try it so can't say if it was worth it or not.

                          ~~~FREIGHT DRIVER FACILITIES~~~
                          My dad was a driver for GIST before he retired and knew people who sailed on Norfolk line, saying their facilities were top notch. And, indeed most of the upper passenger deck seemed to be dedicated to truck drivers. They have their own TV lounge with relaxing seating, a restaurant with one free meal for every four that they purchase. 15% discount on sailings they make with their car, a discount card on the shopping deck and a separate relaxing lounge.

                          ~~~~OTHER FACILITIES ON BOARD~~~~
                          Bureau de Change
                          Gambling Machines
                          Wifi
                          A Corporate area for business travellers
                          Sun deck
                          Smoking area on the outside deck
                          3 lifts
                          4 sets of toilets
                          Facilities for taking your pets, with their passport

                          I'm trying to think if I've missed anything from my two brilliantly smooth sailings across the Channel. I can't think that I have only to say that the journey, at two hours, seemed to whizz by. My only niggle would be that there ought to be a sailing every hour, but I have a feeling that these ships are so large that they don't actually need them.

                          When we returned on Thursday evening on the third day of the French fishermen's dispute, we were updated for the 36 hours prior to our sailing, by phone message. I had to phone them obviously so there was a charge, but the messages were short and to the point.

                          We arrived in Dunkirk at 9.00pm seven hours before our booked sailing was due to depart. They had efficiently caught up with the back log on cars to the extent that they could let us on that ferry, much to our delight.

                          I can't say the same for freight however, there seemed to be an 'operation stack' in place here and they were making every effort to catch up with the trucks that were standing at the port. Although very congested looking, it was nothing like I'd imagined after almost three days of disruption.

                          ~~~~DISEMBARKATION~~~
                          This, for us was also smooth, there was a Customs/Border Control to drive through at Dover when we returned although I didn't notice this at Dunkirk - but I could have been asleep - it was 5.45 am after all.

                          ~~~ADVANTAGES OF NORFOLKLINE~~~

                          I suppose this is more an advantage of travelling to and from Dunkirk with Norfolk line actually, because there's no where near as much traffic as there is in Calais. The roads in the area are less congested and there is only one ferry operator using the port - Norfolk line! Dunkirk is a little known secret I think, but one that more passengers are catching on to - 2 million last year or there abouts.

                          I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed my journey on the Cross Channel ferry ( more like cruise ship)from Dover to Dunkirk and back. It was an overnight sailing on both occasions, one extremely busy, the other almost empty of cars and therefore family passengers.

                          I would always use this company now that I realise I can get a lot of luxury at very little cost.
                          Well done Norfolk line, you deserve your 2008 Best Ferry Company award at the 2008 Guardian, Observer and guardian.co.uk Travel Awards. You certainly get my vote!

                          There are other routes that the company operate and these are all available on their website at:

                          http://www.norfolkline.com/ferry/homepage.aspx?src=nav

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                          • Odaban / Antiperspirant / Deodorant / 100 Readings / 95 Ratings
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                            17.04.2009 11:38
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                            The solution to my problem - no sweat!

                            If you have an aversion to armpits, sweating or body odour then this might not be the review for you. Before I begin, I want to make it perfectly plain that this is not a pleasant subject that I'm talking about.

                            If you have a problem and are desperate for a solution to your armpits, sweating and body odour than read on because this product might just save your life as it did mine.

                            Since the age of about 30 I have had a real nightmare with the problem of excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis as I discovered through my doctor.

                            Hyperhidrosis is the condition of over perspiration caused by some failing or other in the body's physiology.

                            In my case, I was sweating when it was freezing cold, actually making me colder. I was sweating when I was in bed, having to shower at ridiculous times of the night, often having to change the sheets. I had to make sure I bought three of the same top for school each day - I teach Year 6- so that each day I could change the one I arrived in twice so nothing looked untoward. I would sweat so profusely, I became afraid of speaking in public - such as in assemblies or at parents' evenings or performances and would become physically sick in some other way causing me to have time off work.

                            The curious thing in all of this is that I never had body odour. I would ask family and close friends, who knew of my condition, regularly, if I smelt, as you do when you become paranoid about such things, and nobody said "Oh good Lord girl, you stink!!" So I had to count that as a blessing.

                            I also had to be grateful for the fact that I only had a problem in the underarm region.
                            I had to constantly think myself lucky that I didn't have facial, hand or back sweating and that my feet didn't drip as I walked down the school corridor. But the wet blouses, tops and shirts - right down to the waistline - that now had to be bought in black or white, were becoming a curse. I sank into a kind of sweaters' despair. I felt like every drop of sweat was instantly visible and that the kids were all comparing notes on my sweat pattern - "OK on Mondays, could do better by Friday" kind of thing.

                            I had seen my doctor several times after every deodorant or antiperspirant showed no sign of touching the problem. Triple Dry and Mitchum - recommended by a concert pianist friend of mine - never even made a dint on the problem; in fact they either made me itch like mad or produced a curious odour when mixed with perspiration. Not good my friends!

                            The doctor had given me various aluminium mixtures that basically took my underarm skin off. It was becoming a total nightmare.

                            What I was most worried about was the thought of my three young children - then only four, two and one- growing up with a totally Sweaty Betty mother who only ever wore black or white. I could never go out and buy a lovely purple, orange or green top and certainly never anything other than cotton because I knew that my bodily functions would first create twin maps of Africa under my armpits within thirty seconds of wearing it and eventually kill the top off with a unique crustiness only associated with this condition I believe. Buying nice clothes was inconceivable - they had to be bought with sweating in mind.

                            I became very desperate in the summer of 2005 - so at least 10 years of sweating then - when I had some sort of physical breakdown and needed a long time off work. It wasn't caused by the sweating I have to say, but believe me, the problem wasn't helping.

                            My posh friend in Edinburgh kept telling me that women who sweat a lot are expelling all those toxins that cause cellulite and funnily enough I began to think that was the case. So, no sweating would mean the start of cellulite and maybe I should after all embrace the problem.

                            Thankfully, my mother slapped me out of thinking that way and told me to search the Internet for a solution to the problem that had even stumped the doctor.

                            So, that's what I did and I discovered Odaban, an amazing, life changing product originally from Australia.

                            I also discovered a mountain of information about not only my problem of hyperhidrosis but a myriad of other sweat related problems from their excellent website.

                            Without even batting an eyelid, I made a secure online purchase of a 30ml bottle - now selling for £6.84 including Postage and Packing- and waited its arrival with eager anticipation. You may be sitting there screaming "HOW MUCH?" at the computer but I have to say that this product seemed to be worth every penny to me.

                            The package arrived promptly and I was disappointed to have to wait until that evening to start using it.

                            Detailed instructions were in the box and a slimmed down version are on the bottle.

                            Here's what is says on the bottle:
                            1 Application usually required just once or twice weekly.

                            2. Ensure the skin is perfectly dry before applying Odaban, a light dusting of talc may be required. Delay application after bathing for at least an hour.

                            3. Apply only one spray last thing at night when relaxed. Women and those with sensitive skins should talc and apply very sparingly on cotton wool.

                            4. The next morning bathe and dry the treated areas. Never apply Odaban during the day.

                            FOOT PROBLEMS

                            Use daily for one week to eliminate odour, itch and scale - thereafter once or twice weekly. Occasional use will help prevent sports blistering and other problems of wetness and 'chafing'

                            DO NOT USE ON BROKEN SKIN OR WITHIN 24 HOURS OF SHAVING UNDERARMS.

                            Contains 20%w/v Aluminium Chloride 6H20, 1% v/v Dimethicone Copolyol(193), Ethanol B (100) to 100% v/v

                            CAUTION
                            Keep away from naked flame.

                            BRACEY'S PHARMACEUTICALS
                            209 Menlove Avenue
                            Liverpool
                            L18 3EF

                            I used the product exactly as it had said spraying one spray of the clear odourless liquid from the pump dispenser onto a facial pad and then applying that to the lower half of my armpit area. I never did the talc part though - I'm allergic to that - and after four days, my problem had disappeared. It was a miracle from God no less!

                            I can't express the emotion I felt on the first day I did not have to change my blouse at 10.30am. I was like a lunatic actually. Giddy as a kipper definitely, having been given a new lease of life and a licence to shop for different coloured tops. This was noted by several pupils I have to say. One even commenting, "Wow, nice tops this week Miss"

                            Odaban doesn't have the power to take the problem of hyperhidrosis away. It has the power to give you your life back. I now use this religiously as a set routine. During term time I use it on Saturday and Sunday nights and have the power of coloured tops during the week. If I have an important, somewhat stressful occasion looming, I use it for the two evenings prior to that and it's one less thing for me to have to worry about.

                            I remember having to leave an interview before I actually was called for because I was so worried about the sweating, I was sweating even more and couldn't face going into the room to greet the interview panel. Not anymore!

                            If you have a problem with any form of excessive sweating I heartily recommend this product. I have read all the information on the aluminium debate and have to say that in my case, using the product is a lifesaver. I buy one bottle a year it lasts so long. The website provides a vast amount of help and information about other treatments for sweaty problems, so if you are anything like I was and are suffering with this nightmare, find out for yourself at http://www.odaban.com/#

                            The £6.84 that I'm going to spend this week is a fantastic investment for me - I only wish I could get it on my prepaid prescription!

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                              03.04.2009 13:59
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                              Crikey, cobber, this one's a beauty!

                              ====Why is a grown woman watching this?=====
                              As a primary school teacher, I'm always looking for ways to inspire and enthuse my class of 10 and 11 years olds - especially when they've got their SATs approaching at a fair rate of knots.

                              During our topic on Australia recently we looked at various aspects of the country including the wildlife. During one session, a child asked if we could investigate the facts and figures of the snakes that inhabit Australia as part of the topic. Oh no - my worst nightmare! I absolutely detest all things snake and began to feel my flesh crawling at the prospect. Give me koalas and kangaroos any day!

                              However, true professional that I am, I agreed to some time - maybe two sessions from six weeks- being devoted to snakes, but no real snakes would be harmed in the production of the pieces of work you understand!

                              Having searched the internet for facts and figures, the kids came back with an array of pictures, wiki answers and websites where you could buy your own. No thanks!

                              The best idea that came in was a copy of Steve Irwin's DVD called Snakebite: the Ten Deadliest Snakes, which I agreed to view and vet accordingly. Well, I was pleased to find that it would indeed be worth watching and took it in to start a week's unit on snakes the following Monday.

                              ====But, Who's Steve Irwin?===

                              For those of you who may not have heard of Steve Irwin, he was a khaki-clad, quirky Australian known as the Crocodile Hunter following a series of TV documentaries he made in the 1990s. He took over the reins of his parents' wildlife park, Australia Zoo, around that time and this has become a resounding success.

                              He was part wildlife expert, part entertainer and was also well known for his phrase "Crikey". But mostly he was acclaimed for the way he brought wildlife to the masses, enthusing a generation of children to get involved in conservation and protection of animals previously reviled.

                              It has to be said, however, that he is not without his critics. Some people, including Jacques Cousteau, argued that he provoked and exploited animals unnecessarily for entertainment value.

                              In 2004, a barrage of complaints came in when he held his baby son whilst feeding a snapping crocodile, accusing him of endangering his child. Amazingly, Steve-o got away with it saying his child was never in any danger, he knew the croc and having been raised with them since the age of 8 (more than 30 years) his son was just experiencing what he had as a kid. Several camera angles were used in his defence showing the baby was not as close as first thought. No charges were filed.


                              Sadly, Steve Irwin died in 2006 when he was filming another of his dangerous documentaries off the Great Barrier Reef. A giant sting ray barbed him in the chest and possibly as a result of him removing it, he died that day of heart failure.

                              Personally I think he's kind of a Marmite guy - you love him or hate him. The kids in my class loved him I have to say.

                              ====The DVD====

                              This documentary shows an epic journey Steve makes across Australia and Tasmania to find the 10 most deadly snakes. Now there may be some academic argument about which snakes are the most deadly but the ones on the DVD are:
                              1 Fierce Snake
                              2 Australian Brown Snake
                              3 Taipan
                              4 Eastern Tiger Snake
                              5 Beaked Sea Snake
                              6 Riesvie/Reevesby Tiger Snake
                              7 Western Tiger Snake
                              8 Giant Black Tiger Snake
                              9 Death Adder
                              10 Western Brown Snake
                              Here, the higher the number the more venomous the snake.

                              It lasts 45 minutes thereabouts showing the viewer some of the natural environments, behaviours and diet of each snake starting at number ten, ending with the most deadly. I'm not sure if there were any special features on the disc as the main show was the main priority for me.

                              ====My opinion====
                              I thoroughly enjoyed the DVD I have to say, although the American narrator is quite annoying and Steve Irwin's voice does tend to drone on a bit. I'm not into snakes in the flesh but this DVD helped me to get over my fear of them on screen a little.

                              I got the impression that he didn't want to annoy these creatures, but obviously enjoyed handling them. He carefully demonstrated how to handle them too. He clearly emphasised the need to "Live and let live" with snakes, informing the viewer that if you do, in fact, treat a snake with respect it's more likely to slither off somewhere and leave you alone.

                              I particularly enjoyed the way Steve Irwin found the snakes. He obviously was an all action guy, abseiling down to inaccessible ledges, scuba diving and clambering under houses and car bonnets to seek out his subjects. I had to admire his true grit and guts in his quest too. How anyone can lie so still and let the world's most venomous snake crawl up.... Well I'll not spoil it for you; I'll let you savour that one for yourself.

                              Accompanied by original sounding Ozzie music, this is well worth a viewing especially if you are into wildlife and deadly snakes in particular. I will be purchasing my own copy from Amazon (less than £5) so I have it ready for our topic on Australia next year. The work that came of it was outstanding. We had fact files; poems entitled "Crikey"; illustrated Guinness pamphlets of most dangerous snakes and letters to the Australian Zoo. Phenomenal! I've found something that works with a bunch of prepubescent "Am I bovverds".

                              So it was an all round success. I just need to buy a snake now, to kill the rat that's under my shed. Any sellers out there?

                              ASIN: B0007KI8WK

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                                02.04.2009 16:12
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                                The new Uncle Wrinkle cream was a hit - Hurray!

                                Those of you who have read any of my other Clarins reviews, will know that I love the stuff.

                                I am especially enthralled by their extra firming products, as I am, there's no doubt about it, knocking on a bit now - well 43 but I feel old.

                                And, if I'm old, my husband who's five years my senior is even older. So, us girls -myself and three daughters- held a meeting about the state of Daddio's skin. It was unanimous that he needed a make over or at least something more powerful than Vaseline intensive care body cream, which he had been slapping on his face for the past umpteen years.

                                We decided that, as it was fast approaching Father's day, we would club together and buy him a bottle of Clarins Men Total Wrinkle Control. We thought his wrinkles totally needed controlling, definitely. So, armed with the £25 or so we thought it was going to cost, we headed off on our quest.

                                We had spied this product on one of our many shopping missions to Debenhams in Meadowhall, Sheffield. It's a good thing I take an extra three pairs of eyes with me though as I would have been oblivious to it. I have a one track mind when it comes to the Clarins Counter.

                                However, when you actually look at the men's section, there are a vast array of lotions and potions and rub-a-dub-scrubs you can invest in.

                                There are four main categories of men's products which are:

                                Wash/Shave
                                Essentials
                                Targeted Areas
                                Hair/Body

                                In spite of this though, the men's is not nearly as big as the women's department but hey, nothing's perfect in this world.

                                The actual cost came in under budget, but not much. And now, two years on, I think the going rate at Debenhams is about £27.00 for the 50ml bottle. So, pretty expensive then. Would it be worth it we asked ourselves.

                                "Happy Father's Day, Dad!"

                                The day had arrived and Daddio was beside himself with glee. Not!
                                I really knew he wanted to be pleased but it was not going to be easy breaking his notion that Swarfega was the best thing in skin care.

                                He opened the box, read the instructions and said "Are you trying to say something?" Typical! I might as well have bought him incontinence pads!

                                He looked at the bottle a bit more and noticing the manly white and blue design, with a hint of red MEN ( in bold solid lettering) he kind of resigned himself to the fact that it was time for a change.

                                Well, that all seems a long time ago now, he's on his third bottle of "Uncle Wrinkle Cream" as the kids call it - they think anti-wrinkle is sexist - and it has definitely done what Clarins say it was going to do:

                                Reduce the appearance of fine lines caused by stress and the ageing process.

                                He follows their instructions rigorously - just as he would with the Swarfega - and applies it every morning after shaving and every night before bed. He gently squeezes the pump action dispenser and then massages it into his face and neck, but prefers his masseuse to do it if I'm honest. Most of the time he has to settle for me though!

                                It's light to the touch, absorbs into the skin easily and gives instant moisturising. No fun with bristle though, so follow that instruction.

                                ===Yes, we have a result!!===
                                We have all seen a definite improvement in his skin tone. He has much healthier looking skin now, less saggy and very radiant if that's an appropriate word for a man.

                                He has also seen the benefits of using this non -comedogenic formula too. Ha, knew that would get you. Non-comedogenic is something that doesn't block the pores of the skin, so it allows the skin to breathe, causing less spots or pimples.

                                It smells gorgeous. You know the scenario. Freshly shaven man, ready for a hot date, wife gives him a kiss and says " Have a nice time dear." (Just kidding.)

                                The only way to describe the smell is the most expensive aftersun product you could imagine with a hint of baby lotion, fruity and buttery all rolled into one.

                                ===Where does this gorgeous fragrance come from?===

                                The Clarins website outlines the ingredients thus:

                                "A patented complex of Bison Grass, Chinese Ginger and Purslane plant extracts: energise, soothe and purify the skin.

                                -Plum extract and Ao Nori green algae: tighten and smooth the skin which in turn helps to soften the appearance of lines, especially on the forehead and between the brows.

                                -Papaya extract: helps boost the rate at which skin renews itself, a process which slows down with age, and it also protects against skin-ageing free radicals.

                                -Olive extract: stimulates the production of skin-firming collagen.

                                -Caffeine: helps detoxify and drain excess fluid.

                                -Shea Butter: soothes and protects against dehydration.

                                -Lemon extract: refines the skin's surface and evens skin tone. Clarins Anti-Pollution Complex: forms an environmental buffer on the skin and stimulates the skin's own natural defences."

                                ====Would he recommend it? ===

                                It's a wonderful mixture of ingredients and it's done the trick with Daddio to a certain extent. I would say, though, that he contorts his face into such unimaginable poses that he does nothing to help himself. He doesn't realise that facial expressions are ageing and that watching Match of the Day every weekend -twice- isn't going to help!

                                But, he now enjoys going to the Clarins counter and treating himself to this and a few other products - reviews to follow no doubt - so he is obviously hooked. I would recommend it because your man smells divine after he's used it and it's not often I can say that about my hubby who works in a sewage treatment works for most of the time! He can't smell it bless him, but he likes the effects!

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                                  02.04.2009 12:16
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                                  Thirst Quenching stuff for your skin.

                                  My skin is dry for most of the time - I do a lot of outdoor activities at school as well as playground duties; then in my spare time I like hill walking, lots of swimming and gardening. All of this combines to play havoc with my facial epidermis and I'll try anything to help alleviate the problem.

                                  I have a history of using Clarins products since my 20s - I blame my posh friend for this whose husband worked in Holland for twelve months commuting every week, passing the duty free - when it really was duty free -Clarins counter on the way. Where most people bring fags and booze back, he would have a Clarins cartel going down!

                                  Well, back to the point. I use a variety of age-defying products that Clarins claim will make me look like the girl of my youth and buy a few more than I should if I'm honest. I particularly like their extra firming products for dry skin.

                                  Lucky for me, then, that I was given a sample of Clarins Thirst Quenching Hydra Balance Serum in a goody bag when I bought some of their other products.

                                  Mine is a half sized version of the larger 30ml bottle; identical in all but volume.

                                  So what's in it for you if you buy this little beauty?

                                  ===Promises, promises===

                                  The leaflet inside the packaging claims that even the most dehydrated skin will be brought back to life.

                                  It goes on to declare that it's lightweight, comfortable and thirst quenching
                                  - no don't drink it! - for the skin.

                                  Long lasting results are promised with your skin's freshness and suppleness restored.


                                  ====Awards and Accolades for this product===

                                  I couldn't actually find if this particular product had won anything other than my approval, but safe to say Clarins is one of the top 'posh' brands of Skincare in the UK and France so you are in safe hands.

                                  Some of the 'posh' people who use Clarins products are Madonna (hand cream); Kylie Minogue (Self Tanning Milk SPF6) and Cindy Crawford who uses the sun care range; so, good enough for me then.

                                  ====Hey, good looking====

                                  This product, like all Clarins products, looks reassuringly expensive.
                                  The serum comes in a sturdy, clear bottle revealing the aqua blue liquid within. The usual Clarins livery is there - red print on the bottle with a classy gold trim around the bottom of the pull-off lid. Once removed, a spray pump is revealed.

                                  ====I just want you to use me====

                                  The instructions on the bottle recommend that you shake the bottle before use and that you apply the serum morning and/or evening before your regular treatment cream.
                                  Their website also says you can use this as and when you need to as a 'pick me up'.

                                  So, let's shake it up and have a go then.

                                  Simply press the pump two or three times onto your fingers and then apply to your visage.
                                  I only need two/three squirts, but I suppose this is down to individual needs. I would imagine any more might leave your skin greasy.

                                  The aqua serum moves easily across your skin and quickly absorbs with no residue. Everything about the application is deliciously refreshing.

                                  You can apply your regular moisturiser almost immediately afterwards.
                                  I noticed a lovely rosy glow to my skin as soon as it was applied. Hey, pinkish cheeks - I'm normally pale and interesting, so this is an added bonus!

                                  The fragrance is divine. Very fresh, like a walk through a pine forest in the rain. Well, not quite but definitely piny if that's a word. And the lovely thing is that the freshness lingers on your fingers! Oh, it's bringing the poet out in me now!

                                  ===Long lasting?===

                                  Most of the Clarins products have a shelf life of twelve months due to their heavy reliance on marine and plant based products.
                                  The ingredients for this - I know some of you like this info for allergy purposes - are:
                                  - Lima bean extract
                                  - Extract of Himanthalia Elongata
                                  - Extract of Pinus Lambertiana
                                  - Extract of Lapacho
                                  - Cactus
                                  - Sweet White Lupine

                                  Personally I've only heard of the cactus but it all adds up to something that does have an effect. It's all hypoallergenic too.

                                  === And here are the results of the apuskiduski panel===

                                  I would say that this product does what it says on the bottle. All promises are kept and it has the added bonus of making those fine lines caused by external dryness and internal dehydration less obvious. It's like you've given your skin a good drink indeed. A true Thirst Quenching Serum. Well done Clarins.

                                  I've not been transformed into Kylie or Cindy Crawford - wouldn't want to be Madonna actually - but I can definitely see and feel the difference.

                                  ===Would I buy it?===

                                  This has been a valuable little freebie sample. It's half the size of a standard bottle which comes in at about £35 RRP, but it can be found cheaper than that undoubtedly.

                                  I would definitely invest in this as it's a reassuringly reliable product that makes me feel fantastic.

                                  I have been laid up with Vertigo these past couple of days and testing this out again has given me a glow in the cheeks I haven't seen for a few days. I'm feeling better already!

                                  ===Does it come highly recommended?===

                                  I think you might have got the drift that I love this product and that Cindy, Madge and Kylie love its relatives. I would recommend it whole heartedly, especially if you can grab it as a freebie as I did!

                                  It definitely comforts, replenishes and hydrates my skin. It makes the dry lines that I develop with dehydration less noticeable and gives my skin a smooth, glowing touch that makes me feel a bit more bouncy!

                                  So, highly recommended!

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