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As you can probably tell from looking at my reviews, I'm a bit of a travel addict. Nothing kills a holiday faster than taking ill on the plane on the way out. After my asthma inhaler, my top "must have" medicine to take on holiday is a menthol inhaler to keep the aerosinusitis and sinus barotrauma at bay.
As it happens, I usually end up with a Vicks inhaler, though this is simply because Vicks is one of the most widespread, being available in most pharmacies. That said, I have never noticed any significant difference between this brand and any other - I find that menthol is menthol and they all work in much the same way.
It is available from Boots at the moment for £2.45, with similar prices in other pharmacies and bigger supermarkets.
==What is it?==
It is a decongestant, meaning it clears stuffy noses and sinuses. It is used to treat congestion, allergies, sinusitis.
The stick says that the ingredients are 125mg menthol, 50mg camphor, 10mg Siberian pine needle oil and methyl salicylate. So, for those of you who like their remedies natural, this is a good one for you.
==What dosage can you have?==
This particular brand of menthol stick says you can use as often as you like (this struck me as a little bit odd, because other brands often recommend only having them a certain number of times a day, but perhaps they have other active ingredients).
==How do you take it?==
It comes in a little cylindrical tube about 2.5 inches long and half an inch in diameter. You take the lid off, put the stick up a nostril, pinch the other nostril closed and inhale. The act of breathing in causes a release of menthol fumes. There is no aerosol involved, so you don't have to spray.
==What if I can't breathe through my nose at all?==
Yeah, that happens. Annoying, isn't it? This type of treatment isn't much use if you can't breathe at all. I find using a menthol chest rub or a tablet decongestant instead helps, then I can switch over to a menthol stick when I can breathe again.
==How long does a dose last for?==
I find that although it works very quickly, it also wears off much faster than tablet based decongestants - on bad days, I need a sniff every half an hour to an hour!
==How long does it last?==
I find that losing them is actually the main reason I need new ones - I've found that menthol sticks keep well and last for years. It's usually quite easy to see if they have worn out, because they don't smell any more.
The stick is small and very light, making it easy to have one in every bag so that I have it to hand if I need it.
==How well does it work?==
I find that it helps to clear the nose and relieves rhinitis quite well, but doesn't really address sinusitis at all, though at least it stops you getting some of the nastier sinus complications that happen when you fly (ruptured sinus membranes, which is unbelievably painful).
==Who can have it?==
The inhaler does not state if it is suitable for pregnant women. It does say that it is suitable for adults and children over the age of 6.
==Is it safe for asthmatics?==
Talk to your doctor/nurse if concerned. I personally find that it does not trigger my asthma (even though I have salicylate-sensitive asthma). But this is one of those things that depend on the individual - it contains salicylates so it may be problematic for extremely sensitive people. My GP told me that inhaling menthol vapours can be a bit kill or cure (it's always a bit alarming when they go "Try it and see, it might be helpful or it might set it off, we can't tell").
One other issue that I have notices is that it can actually make me sneeze, although almost every inhaler and perfume does this to me, so I imagine that most people would be fine!
This inhaler is much better than most decongestants in terms of only having minimal side effects. I'm usually kept up all night by most decongestants, but with menthol, I don't notice much in the way of a stimulant effect (though that could well be because I have "immunised" myself by having far too much coffee!) According to a medic friend of mine, because of the way that decongestants work, they can all side effects like having too much coffee - e.g. palpitations, anxiety, a racing pulse, insomnia etc. They suggested that I try menthol as being least likely to cause it because it acts locally not systemically (i.e. it only affects the local area whereas a tablet would affect all your body).
I often find that it can feel a little bit uncomfortable after inhaling - it gives a burning, aching sensation like breathing in on a very cold day.
The other main problem from having decongestants is that they cause rebound congestion, meaning that after they wear off, then your congestion comes back much worse than before. So I make sure that I only have them when I really need them - usually in the run up to a plane trip or in the first few days of having a cold.
It recommends storing it below 25 degrees C.
I think menthol sticks are great for their targeted purpose, but they have a few downsides that mean I usually cope with congestion rather than bothering. I recommend these very strongly for travel purposes, but I don't think that they're the kind of thing I want to take all winter or all hayfever season. The Vicks inhaler is as good as any other that I have tried on the market.
As anyone who has met me a few times will know, I'm a bit of a tea addict. I have Firm Opinions on what makes a good cup of tea. However, unlike many people with Firm Opinions, I do actually like a wide variety of different teas, whether they be fruit teas or theft (get it? Proper tea is theft?)
One of my favourites is Lady Grey, which I find ideal for a soothing cuppa in the mid afternoon. It's far too weak and feeble to be a morning caffeine fix (that's when I drink the strong black coffee that I could stand a teaspoon up in), so I only start to drink it when I want to start mellowing out so that I'm not up all night with insomnia.
It comes in tea bags, which many true aficionados would throw their hands up in horror at. Me? I'm a little bit lazy - loose leaf tea is a luxury for when I am at home. At work, I have bagged tea for ease.
It is described by Twinnings as being "A pale golden tea infused with refreshing citrus flavours".
This tea is named for Mary Elizabeth Grey, the wife of the eponymous Earl Grey that tea drinkers will be familiar with. Not Lady Jane Grey the executed pretender to the throne.
The box says that it contains tea(!), Orange peel, lemon peel and flavouring.
==How to make it==
If you know how to make tea bag tea, then this is much as you would expect - 1 bag per person if made in a pot, otherwise one bag per mug. This needs to brew for a little bit longer than a regular tea bag (about 3-4 minutes). You serve it black or with orange/lemon.
Purist's answer: No! Do not pollute the tea with milk!
Actually, if you absolutely must have milk with your tea, then you'll be fine putting milk in this, it doesn't curdle or anything awful. It's just that there's very little point in bothering to have Lady Grey if you are going to cut it with the white stuff, because it will overpower the bergamot and citrus flavour. It will end up tasting like slightly perfumed weak tea.
In terms of aroma, it is very similar to Earl Grey, with a slightly musty but uplifting smell to it. I find it quite hard to tell the two apart by smell alone. The smell comes from the rind or oil of Bergamot, which is a type of citrus fruit.
If you are familiar with Earl Grey, then this will seem a little bit like having a watered down Earl Grey with lemon in it - it has the same musty bergamot taste, but with an added lighter citrusy fresh-tasting zing. Although bergamot is citrus, I don't find regular Earl Grey to be particularly citrusy, whereas this definitely is. I do, however, find that the lighter tones make it to be a little bit on the bland side if you like a strongly flavoured tea.
A key difference of this tea over other black teas is that it is not very bitter, so you can drink it without sugar even if you find regular black tea too harsh.
Even though it is a black tea, it falls foul of some of the problems that fruit teas have, in that it smells stronger and more appealing than it tastes. Don't get me wrong, it is pleasant enough, it's just that the smell promises more than the tea delivers.
I find that this is pretty staining to my teeth (and mug), making it one of my dentist's favourite things. I try not to let it brew too long so that it slightly minimises the amount of tannin that gets deposited in my mouth.
This is fairly similar in caffeine content to a cup of Earl Grey. It isn't anywhere near as strong as a cup of coffee or a cup of proper tea, so it's not too good as a morning wake up cuppa. Equally though, it's too strong to have as a post-evening meal beverage, as it will keep you awake.
This costs about £4.40 for a box of 100 and £2.37 for a box of 50, though you can also get it in smaller quantities to try - I've seen it in selection boxes. So it's a little posher than many black teas, but accessible to the purses of us mere mortals.
Lady Grey is a very popular and accessible tea that is commonly available in larger supermarkets. Don't expect to find it in most small corner shops though.
One of the important things to know about tea is whether or not this is the kind of brutal in your face tea tea that you can stand a spoon up in and use to clean drains, or whether it is a delicate blend of purest perfumes but of no real substance. In other words, would I serve this to the plumber or to an elderly relative with a delicate stomach who had come to afternoon tea?
This really is more of the latter. It is marketed as being "zesty and bright" and whilst I've never been one for coming up with elaborate descriptions of delicate bouquet, I think they've hit the nail on the head here.
==How well does it keep?==
Boxes of tea rarely last so long in my house that aging becomes a significant factor. However, I have tried some that was a couple of years old and I can report that it still tastes drinkable when it is out of date. But it isn't really at its peak by that point, so whilst I wouldn't advise binning it, I'd make an effort to keep it fresh.
A perfectly pleasant tea that is good for having when I'm in the mood for it. This is more of a tea suited to a sedate gentile afternoon tea than to have all the time. It is pretty accessible to even non-tea drinkers, if perhaps a little bit on the bland side.
I have been using a cineworld unlimited card for about six months now and am overall pleased with it, but do feel that it is rather limited in many ways. I suppose that they decided that "Unlimited" sounded more appealing than "Rather limited and occasionally annoying".
The concept of this card is that you pay a flat rate monthly (or annual, but it works out as exactly the same per month) fee and then you are issued with a membership card which has a picture of you on it. You present your card in person and they check it to see that it really is you and give you a free ticket for whatever film you want to see. If it hasn't sold out, that is (see disadvantages). When you present your ticket at the door, they once again check it against your membership card to make sure that you aren't sneaking anyone in.
If you go to the cinema more than twice a month, then it works out as more cost-effective to get an unlimited card.
The current prices are 14.99 per month for a regular card and £17.99 to get you a card that will be valid in West End cinemas.
You then have to pay a £1.50 surcharge per person for watching 3D films, but 2D films are free.
In theory, I would get to go to special member only screenings. Unfortunately, I've never found out about these in time, so I've never had the chance to take them up on this offer. There are partnership deals with various eating establishments near to Cineworld cinemas to offer special deals on food; however, my cinema is not one of these.
The two biggest disadvantages in my opinion are 1)You cannot book a ticket online using your unlimited card and 2)You cannot book a ticket in advance, it has to be on the day itself.
Put these together and this means that you never get to see a popular film on the opening weekend - this seems a rather foolish way to treat members. At the Picturehouse cinema chain, members get special offers and the ability to book various films early, which is much better in my opinion.
I live and work on the other side of town from the cinema, so I often have to take pot luck in what film I get to see. I appreciate that they are doing this to cut down on the amount of fraud that goes on, but I don't think it creates a very good relationship between a business and a customer to put all these extra checks on your members because you don't trust them to use the card correctly!
==All day film marathon==
On the plus side, you CAN get tickets for more than one film at once, it's just that they have to be on the day itself and the films must not overlap. So I have had an occasional weekend where some friends and I have had a film marathon and gone to several films one after the other.
==How hard is it to get?==
If you go for this offer, I strongly advise you to apply online. This took me about ten minutes and gave me a piece of paper I could use until I got my membership card through. I needed my bank details and a recent passport-style digital photo. A few months earlier, I had tried to join in person and they refused to do so because "It's Saturday, we're too busy". In spite of the fact that there was nobody around. They then changed that to "It's too complicated, we need a bank statement and separate proof of your address so we advise you to apply online because it can be verified electronically instead". When I tried to present these, it was then on to "The system is down".
==You can use it in Ireland as well==
I discovered at the weekend that I could use my card in Ireland, which was an unexpected bonus.
==Would I recommend it?==
If you have a nearby Cineworld and enjoy going to the cinema often and don't mind if you can't see a film at the opening weekend, and don't want to book any tickets in advance then yes, this card is good. But if not, then I wouldn't bother because it ties you in to a single chain and you don't always get to see the film that you wanted.
As many of you who have read my food reviews know, seeking out dairy free food is a dull but necessary chore for me, because I'm an asthmatic and (as is quite common for asthmatics) my body is not equipped to handle dairy. In this review, I discuss various types of dairy intolerances and other hypersensitivities, including lactose intolerance, milk protein intolerance and allergy. Most of this is based on my own experiences and reading on the subject after diagnosis (i.e. I have no medical training). I would strongly advise anyone who believes they may have a dairy intolerance or an allergy to talk to a medical professional about it.
If you look at the adult population of the entire world, then tolerance of dairy is unusual, being an adaption that only occurred after humans started domesticating animals. Sadly, since I live in Western Europe, dairy is ubiquitous in the Western diet and is rather hard to avoid.
To most people, the terms "lactose intolerance", "dairy allergy", "milk protein intolerance" and "dairy intolerance" are synonymous, but they actually cover a variety of conditions, which I will cover briefly in this review.
==What is the "bad" stuff in the dairy?==
There are three common things in dairy that your body may not be able to process: lactose, whey and casein. People who cannot have dairy may have problems with any or all of these, and you may need the help of an allergist to diagnose which it is.
Lactose is a sugar that many people do not have the right enzymes to digest. This condition is called lactose intolerance and is by far the most common reason that people cannot have dairy. Happily, this condition is partly controllable for some people by the use of lactase tablets and by avoiding milk. Many people find that they can tolerate small amounts of lactose, and that they just have to make sure that they don't have too much.
Whey and casein are both dairy proteins and can trigger the immune system to react. Depending on which part of the immune system responds, you may be diagnosed conditions called "Milk protein intolerance" or "dairy allergy". These conditions are much harder to treat, other than by the complete elimination of dairy products.
==What is the difference between an allergy and an intolerance?==
A food intolerance is where your body reacts in a negative way to normal, harmless foodstuffs that are not toxic. Although many people refer to such an intolerance as being allergic to a food, this is not really the case.
An allergy is a very specific type of hypersensitivity reaction where your body produces ig-E antibodies to something harmless. It does not necessarily mean it is a severe reaction, nor does it mean it is a permanent one (as evidenced by the large number of snuffly wheezy toddlers who grow out of it). There are a number of other ways that your immune system can react to food, so although these may not be a true allergy, they can still be very dangerous.
Some tests that can help to diagnose that dairy is a problem include blood tests and skin prick tests. However, these will not detect lactose intolerance, delayed immune reactions or non-ig-E mediated reactions and an elimination diet may be needed to determine whether dairy can be tolerated or not. A really good allergist can spot a dairy intolerance or allergy through the pattern of symptoms alone.
==What are the symptoms?==
This depends on whether your body cannot have lactose or dairy proteins. The most common symptoms after eating a dairy product are digestive problems such as bloating, cramps, stomach upsets, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. These can happen for lactose intolerance, dairy protein intolerance and dairy allergy alike.
In people for whom the immune system is involved (whether this is a milk protein intolerance or a milk protein allergy), the immune system attacks other organs as well, leading to inflammation and mucous production. Commonly, this leads to persistent eczema, hives, "hayfever", asthma and migraines. More rarely, it will cause persistent acid reflux, affect joints, and even cause anaphylaxis.
==Can you grow out of it?==
Lots of children have problems with dairy and then grow out of it when they are older. But generally, over the world, dairy tolerance decreases once you reach adulthood, so this is usually something you grow into, not grow out of! Many lucky people of Northern European descent have inherited an adaptation to be able to eat dairy as an adult (dairy tolerance has a prevalence of 85-95% in Britain where I live), so if you are lucky enough to be dairy tolerant, then consider yourself one of the fortunate few!
==Can it be treated?==
Sometimes, depending on severity and how many organs are affected - really, this is something that you need to discuss with a specialist. If it is just your digestion, you may be able to manage with reduced dairy consumption, consuming low-lactose milk, switching to goat milk or taking digestive remedies. Some people with slight allergies can get away with just taking an antihistamine or topical steroid product (e.g. an inhaler). Generally, milk protein intolerance and dairy protein allergy can only be treated by complete elimination of dairy from the diet, with the assistance of a dietician to make sure you keep your diet balanced.
==What dairy products can non-dairy people have?==
If you are cooking for someone and you don't know the answer to this, then PLEASE assume the answer is none because it is better to be safe than sorry. People with milk protein intolerance and dairy protein allergy can't generally have goat's milk, low-lactose milk, sheep milk, cream, ice cream, yoghurt, butter or cheese. People with lactose intolerance often MAY be able to have some or all of these, depending on the severity of their condition and how "under the weather" they are at that time, and it may fluctuate a lot.
==What alternatives are there?==
Happily, there are a large number of replacements to dairy products that can be consumed instead so that you don't need to make extensive changes to your diet just because you have to give up dairy. There are a large number of non-dairy milk alternatives, including soya, rice, oat, quinoa and coconut. Many of these are fortified with calcium.
Other soya alternatives include soya cream (yum), soya yoghurts (yum) and soya cheese (yuk!).
One of the main reasons you should talk to a nutritionist is to make sure you get enough calcium in your diet and enough vitamin D and K so that your body can absorb it. Calcium is essential for healthy teeth and bones. My advised amount is 1000 mg of calcium a day, though you should check this independently as it depends on your age, sex and whether you are pregnant or breastfeeding. Although many green leafy vegetables contain calcium, it's pretty hard to get enough calcium if you don't eat dairy unless you plan your diet carefully. Plus, who really wants to eat six heads of broccoli a day? I personally take a dietary supplement and make sure that I eat a lot of calcium-fortified foods.
Watch out for hidden dairy in processed foods - a large number of biscuits and chocolate contain whey powder. Allergy warning panels are very helpful, whatever it is in the dairy that disagrees with you.
==Some surprising safe foods==
Surprisingly, many foods are actually safe. Many brands of jam doughnuts, chocolate bourbon biscuits and 70% or greater chocolate are non-dairy.
Although it is a frustrating experience to be unable to eat dairy, there are a lot of alternatives available these days, so it isn't the disaster it once was. However, there is still a long way to go. Next time you eat out, why not ask whether the restaurant or cafe you are at has anything non-dairy (or even vegan)?
Lifeventure all purpose soap is a concentrated general purpose antibacterial liquid soap that you can use as a shampoo, a body wash, to wash fruit and vegetables and to clean your clothes.
It comes in three sizes: 100ml, 200ml and 350ml.
==How much is it?==
A quick look online says that the current price is about 5 pounds for the big bottle, 4 pounds for the medium and three for the small bottle. I bought mine when my local camping/outdoor gear shop had a 3 for 2 offer, so it was a little cheaper than that for me.
It is readily available online, and I have seen this brand in several outdoor pursuits stores in the town where I live, including Blacks, Rohan, Army & Navy, Open Air, Millets, and the local travel clinic.
==How long does a bottle last?==
I've had my 200ml bottle for several years, although I only use it when I go backpacking abroad or when camping, not as an everyday product. I reckon on using a quarter of the bottle for a fortnight's trip. I find that because it is concentrated, I use a lot less of it than I would use of my regular wash products. Its main advantage, however, is in the space it saves in my wash bag by needing fewer bottles.
==What is it like?==
The soap was a little thinner than I expected it to be - not at all "gloopy", which was surprising for a concentrated product. It lathered well and doesn't have a particularly perfumed smell to it. The squeezy bottle was designed in such a way that it was very easy to dispense the right amount without it going everywhere. In the several years I have had it, it has not leaked once all over my wash bag, which is more than I can say for my conditioner!
==Works even if you don't have fresh water==
It claims to lather in both brackish and fresh water, though I have never tried it in brackish water. I can confirm that it lathers well in fresh water, and I have never had any problems rinsing out salty garments after going in the sea.
I found that this was a bit harsh for a shampoo and left my hair feeling a little on the dry side. But my hair is prone to dryness, so I find most general purpose shampoos to be overly drying to the hair. It was easily corrected by making sure that I had a good conditioner. I imagine that most people with normal or greasy hair would be fine with this as a shampoo. I have given it only 4/5 rather than 5/5 because I still need to take a conditioner with me.
Where I have found that this product works best for me is as a shower gel. I like it because it does not have an overly strong perfumed smell to it, so it is suitable for both men and women. My skin is dry and sensitive, but I did not have problems with this. It lathered well, and I did not need very much to get clean.
==Does it wash clothes well?==
This was pretty good at washing clothes. It worked well at stopping my clothes from smelling, but I found that it did not get out really tough stains when I have used it to hand wash my clothes. However, I find that to be a common problem when hand washing clothes using travel detergents (I've tried a good few).
The one slight issue that I had was that compared to the amount I used on my skin, I needed to use quite a bit of the soap on my clothes to get a good lather (without the lather, I couldn't really tell how much of the clothes had detergent on them, so it was easy to miss bits!). Overall, I'd say it works at least as well as any other brand at getting clothes clean, but I have not yet found my elusive perfect clothes detergent that would remove even tough stains at a low temperature. It has a huge advantage over other detergents in that it is kinder to the skin. It did not irritate my hands, so I could wash the clothes without gloves.
==Does it leave a residue on fruit?==
It is branded as being good to wash fruit and vegetables with. I haven't noticed it leaving a soapy tasting residue (I tried it once to see!), but I don't generally bother using soap when washing fruit when I'm at home and I rinse it very well afterwards so that any residue is long gone!
It is antibacterial, so I suppose I should trust it to disinfect fruit in countries where I don't trust the local water. But in countries where you have to disinfect or peel fruit before eating to avoid tummy bugs, I would generally much rather peel rather than wash the fruit to be on the safe side, so I personally wouldn't generally use this product for this purpose.
This product is 100% biodegradable and pH balanced, so it is better for the environment than most detergents and soaps.
This is a good all purpose soap that I recommend for taking on backpacking holidays abroad, and for camping. It is fairly gentle, though I recommend also having a good conditioner for your hair if it is prone to dryness. It is excellent value for money, and frees space in my wash bag. I wouldn't use it as an everyday item at home though, as it is a little bit too drying for my hair for everyday use.
Colpermin peppermint oil capsules are antispasmodics that act on the gut to soothe the abdominal cramps of IBS and related disorders. These are one of a few types of antispasmodics that you can buy from a pharmacy without prescription and are preferred by many people because they are based on peppermint oil so seem more "natural" (though they have a huge list of ingredients).
==Why would I take it?==
I was recommended these by my GP as an add-on to regular medicine to treat severe abdominal cramps. They told me to alternate taking these with either mebeverine or buscopan, because either on their own was not strong enough and wore off before you were allowed the next dose. They are also recommended for other IBS symptoms, such as bloating, diarrhoea and constipation.
You swallow one-two capsules three times a day (not immediately after food, not at the same time as indigestion remedies). Each tablet contains peppermint oil B.P 0.2ml.
These cost £6.12 for a pack of 20 from Boots at the moment. This is middlingly expensive compared to other antispasmodics available (Buscopan costs £3.89 for 20 tablets and Mebeverine costs £4.99 for 15).
==Is it natural?==
Inasmuch as it is processed plant, then I guess as far as medicines go that it's fairly natural if that is important to you. I don't subscribe to the notion that natural is automatically better. Belladonna is natural, but I wouldn't want to eat that! Just because something is natural doesn't mean it doesn't have any active ingredients - this product DOES contain drugs, but if you are happy because the drugs come from plants then this product will make you happy.
A word of warning though - these contain peanut oil, so watch out if you are allergic!
==Couldn't I just have peppermint tea?==
My personal view is that since I like peppermint tea, I'd rather have that most days. But these tablets are a lot stronger. Taking the tablets rather than the tea means you know exactly what dosage you are getting (although my doctor did tell me I didn't need to worry about overdosing on peppermint tea).
==Does it work?==
I find that it offers a little relief, but quite often if my gut has got into a really bad state, then I don't actually digest the capsules well enough for them to take effect properly (the same goes for all antispasmodics, not just this brand). In those instances, I find that simple peppermint tea works just as well.
I personally find that Mebeverine works a lot better on me than Colpermin, but my doctor said that many people had to try quite a few types before they found one that was the best for them.
==Does it have side effects?==
Because it is a muscle relaxant, peppermint can worsen acid reflux (because it relaxes the muscle opening the stomach).
==Should I see the doctor first?==
The leaflet has a huge list of reasons that you should see the doctor (practically everyone it seems!). E.g. if tummy issues last more than a couple of weeks, if you are over 40, or pregnant, or symptoms change.
The leaflet says this also contains gelatin, colloidal silica, E171,E132, Eudragit L, Eudragit S, triethyl citrate, ammonia, monostearin, polyethyleneglycol 4000, talc, purified water, beeswax, refined arachis (peanut) oil.
Offers relief from the pain of gut cramps. I prefer proper drugs over this brand but this is good for a "top up" dose when my regular medicine wears off.
The Lloyds allergy reliever is a complementary treatment which claims to relieve the symptoms of hayfever using infrared light therapy administered via nasal probes.
I bought this complementary treatment for hayfever to try to reduce the amount of drugs that I need on a daily basis. I've had the traditional atopy "triad" of hayfever, asthma and eczema since I was a child.
==How much was it?==
I bought this as part of a special offer with things that I was going to be buying anyway, so it "only" cost me ten pounds. Currently on the Lloyds web page, it is on offer with an ioniser for £19.97.
==Does it contain drugs?==
No, it is not a drug based treatment.
==What do I have to do?==
As the picture suggests, the device consists of a small box that has a wire leading to a pair of light emitting probes.
You put the pair of probes up your nostrils and activate the device. This then delivers a timed session of red light therapy to the inside of your nose, switching off at the end of the session. You repeat this treatment a few times a day.
Basically, you're sticking lights up your nose. This makes your nose glow, much to the amusement of my family. Not just a little bit either, bright red. Like Rudolph the red nosed reindeer.
==Is it comfortable?==
Not massively, no, but it isn't as bad as a nasal exam.
==Did it improve my symptoms==
I used this twice a day for several weeks and I have to say that it did not improve my symptoms in the slightest. In fact, sticking the probes up my nose makes me sneeze, so if anything, it made the symptoms worse.
==What trials have been done?==
Looking on the internet, I found the paper: Neuman I, Finkelstein Y (1997). "Narrow-band red light phototherapy in perennial allergic rhinitis and nasal polyposis". Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol;78:399-406
The paper concludes that positive results were obtained on a small sample of patients who had uncomplicated rhinitis. It didn't work on patients with sinusitis or polyps.
This information was not made apparent to me at the time I purchased this device. If it had been, I would not have bought it, because I am severely atopic and have sinusitis and nasal polyps, so it was never going to work on me.
==Would I recommend it?==
Based purely on my personal experiences? No, because I do not recommend products that do not work for me.
I found this product to be disappointing as it did not work for me. I feel that more information should be provided on the box about what trials have been done, and for whom the product will work.
As many of you know from reading my reviews, I love to travel. I go abroad to the other side of the world most years. Yet somehow, no matter how many times I do it, every time I am going away for more than a week, I get so worried that I have forgotten to pack something that I have to have a trusted friend on hand to physically escort me from my flat and frog-march me to the bus stop?
You can picture the barrage of questions now: Did I pack my inhaler? Did I remember my passport? How about my tickets? Did I switch off the gas? Was the window open? It's nothing short of a miracle that my friends haven't murdered me yet, given the silly questions I ask en route!
What really helps me is list making. Then I can tick everything off the list with trusted friend, and then I know I've checked everything and packed everything I need. Or at least everything that would be disastrous to forget. I have to keep telling myself that they do actually sell most things in other countries too.
At New Year, on a trip to Russia, my luggage was delayed for three days, and I got to appreciate what things really are indispensible. These are all things that I would advise to pack in hand luggage, because you never can tell when your luggage will get there. Travel as light as you can do, and remember that you can buy things like clothes and toiletries if you need them.
Obviously, if you are going on a specialised hiking holiday in the Himalayas, you will need specific equipment that is not included here. This list is not exhaustive, and is intended for a typical holiday.
By the time I get to the airport, I have checked my passport at least a dozen times. Just in case it vanished into thin air since the last time. It never has. Yet.
2)Cashcards and cash
Always have at least one spare card kept out of your main wallet in case of emergencies. And try to have cards of several "flavours" (visa, mastercard, maestro) - I've lost the number of times I've had to try three or four cash machines to find one that has the type I need.
I've found that carrying notes of a strong currency is vital when travelling - for tips, in airports en route, and in countries where the local currency is weak, for everyday use. I found that in general, it mattered much less what the currency is (I've been fine with dollars, pounds and euros) and much more that the cash you have is in bills, because coins can't be changed at a bureau de change. Since the US dollar has the lowest value bill (the 1 dollar bill, equivalent to about 50-70p depending on exchange rates), it's generally the most useful. Even (I was surprised to find out) in Russia!
As a student, I made the mistake of taking travellers' cheques to Poland on the advice of my bank who assured me that there were no cash machines in Poland (this was 1999). Big mistake. Nowehere would change them; since I was an impoverished student, I had cleaned out my account to get them, so couldn't get cash from the ubiquitous cash machines (the banks were wrong). After trying over a dozen banks and information centres, my Polish travel buddy found somewhere to change it: a very... specialised... establishment located in a plush ballroom with chandeliers in the top of a hotel that looked nothing at all like a bank. It was full of people in very expensive suits and sunglasses who had briefcases of money. I thought it best to just change all my cheques and not ask too many questions.
3)Travel insurance documentation/tickets
Keep a photocopy of your travel insurance and all your other travel documents (passport, tickets) somewhere separate from your original. Ideally, email yourself a copy as well in case you get separated from your luggage.
4)Medicine (with doctor's letter and spare prescription)
Keep at least a small amount of your medicine on you at all times. And ensure that you have enough in your hand luggage to last your journey. Be very careful if travelling with codeine that you have a GP letter (and any other authorisation you may need from countries you visit or travel through), or you may find yourself in prison for drugs smuggling!
5)A Kindle (or other e-reader)
Books are heavy. Kindles are not. You can fit a lot of books on one kindle. I discovered on my holiday to Russia how great my kindle was: through it, I got free internet access! See my kindle review for more information on how fabulous I think my kindle is.
6)Spare change of clothing
In my hand luggage, I carry two spare sets of underwear, a clean t-shirt and a skirt/pair of trousers. You never can tell when your luggage will get lost. Russia at New Year with no luggage would have been a lot worse if I hadn't had the change of clothes. Plus I had the foresight to wear my merino layers and my down jacket on the plane.
7)Chargers with adapters
Nothing is more frustrating than losing power on your electronic equipment. Make sure you have the right kind of adapter with you, and at least one charger for everything.
8)Camera with spare memory cards and battery
One of the most important things when I travel is my camera. No matter how many memory cards I take, I always fill them all and beyond. I've had to buy extra cards in Queenstown, burned CDs with my pictures at tiny hotels in Darkest Peru, and previously come home with about 20 rolls of film from Switzerland (having taken 10 with me).
I always wear my hiking boots on the plane with me, because the thought of the pain of breaking in a new pair of boots when on holiday just does not appeal to me. Don't bother with too many sets of footwear - I've managed the world over with a sturdy pair of boots and a pair of sandals. Although I suspect I will never win any fashion contests when I'm out there.
Yes, they do sell it abroad. However, the last thing you need when you arrive in a sunny country is to have to track down the nearest pharmacy. Far better to take at least a small amount with you (remembering that you need little bottles if you are carrying it in your hand luggage).
So, there we go - my top ten. It was hard limiting it to only ten, but now I've managed it, next time I travel, I will be able to look at this and think "Do I really need to take this kitchen sink? No! Of course not! They sell kitchen sinks in $countryX don't they?".
One of my recent food discoveries which has turned into a must-have purchase in my household are the Nature Valley crunchy bars. If you've ever spent much time in the US, you'd know as granola bars, but where I'm from, you'd call it a cereal bar. I've been put off these for years because at £2.50 a box, I thought they were far too expensive compared to other cereal bars. Once I did get round to buying some though, I was converted.
Looking at the golden brown oaty bars, I expected them to be a bit like a flapjack, but they were a lot closer to an oaty biscuit - brittle rather than chewy. They are much lower fat than flapjacks or most biscuits though, which I found a benefit.
===How many bars do you get in a box?===
Each bar is about 2 inches wide, five inches long and half an inch thick. The boxes come in six foiled sealed packs with two of the bars in. Each variety pack has two twin-bar packs of each flavour in. The box is advertised as 12 bars in a box, which I think is a little bit cheeky. You really only get six lunch boxes worth from a box, because once you've opened the wrapper, you're hardly going to stop at half of it are you?
I can disrecommend eating only one bar of the twin pack - I did try this once and put the second bar back in its wrapper in my bag for afternoon tea, but that was a disaster - each bar is thin and brittle, so the second bar fragmented all over my bag and I had to spend ten minutes picking oat shrapnel out of my kindle. Not recommended!
The variety pack of crunchy bars has three flavours: oats and honey, maple syup and roasted almond. I've found that not many stores in my part of the UK actually stock the variety pack - packs containing just the oat and honey seem much more common option. In all honesty, there seems little variation in the actual flavour though - they mostly just taste of sweet toasted oats. I find it pleasant though, and although it is a little bit on the sweet side for my taste, it's much less so than most bars.
I'm not at all fond of marzipan, so I thought I'd hate the roasted almond flavour. But it tasted just like the oat and honey bar, but a little bit nutty. I can just about identify which is the maple syrup one and which is the honey in a blind taste test (they are both very sweet, but with a subtly different smell and the maple syrup has a bit of an after-taste), but again, neither of these flavours comes through particularly strongly, so I'd describe it more of a generic "sweet" taste than whatever it says on the label.
I'm recovering from dental surgery at the moment, so I'm looking at the texture of my foods very carefully. I found these bars required a lot of chewing, because as the name suggests, they are very crunchy and brittle. But because they are made of oats, when they fragment, they do so in a crumbly way and break into pieces that aren't too sharp. Unlike some other cereal bars, I didn't find they got stuck in my teeth, which was a plus point. Small children and the elderly may struggle with these as they are very hard, but most people wouldn't have a problem. If they are too hard, breaking off pieces to eat is an option, but I found that they crumbled when I did this.
===Are they filling?===
A resounding yes to this! By the time I've worked my way through one of these, my jaw hurts and I'm half way to being full.
There are 194 calories per twin-pack of the oat and honey flavour, so this compares very well with a bag of crisps or a chocolate bar. But this is much more filling. It'll never be a replacement for a proper lunch, but it's definitely good for elevenses or a hiking snack. Most of the calories are from carbs (29.6g per 42g twin-bar with a whopping 11.3g sugar). There was more fat than I expected (6.8g, of which 0.8g saturated).
These are a snack food. You can pretend to yourself that they are healthy because they are wholegrain if you like, but they're still full of sugar, so don't make the mistake of thinking you can just keep eating them and the calories won't matter! They're great for an energy food when out playing sports, but I found they were a bit fragile for taking hiking unless kept in a lunch box.
As you would expect, oats made up more than half of the bar, meaning they aren't suitable for coeliacs (because they have gluten), followed by sugar, sunflower oil, honey (for the honey bar), salt, molasses, soy, and sodium bicarbonate. Additional ingredients for the other bars in the variety pack are walnuts, almonds, pecan, peanuts.
The allergy panel warns of gluten, soy, almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts and pecans in all products. They are vegetarian but aren't vegan because of the honey, but they are non-dairy, which means I personally rate them higher than the vast majority of other cereal bars (which typically have dairy in them).
Would I recommend them? If you're going to buy snacks anyway then yes, these are good! They are a bit more expensive, but not massively so on a per weight basis - each twin-bar is a lot more filling and than most cereal bars. And they have the added bonus of not having dairy in.
As a bit of a geek girl, I have many gadgets. My current favourite is my Amazon Kindle, which I got given a few months ago for my birthday (my family have such good taste, though they might have been carefully guided in this specific instance to get me vouchers so I could order it myself!). I have the 3G version and not the wifi only one, so my review covers that model only.
==What is a kindle?==
A kindle is an e-book reader. For technophobes amongst you, don't worry, it's a very simple and convenient way of reading books electronically. It's not at all like reading a computer monitor - no eye strain here, and the screen is very similar to reading paper. It's very light and can store thousands of books and other documents, which makes it great for taking on trips.
==What does it look like?==
The kindle is a rectangular tablet device, dark grey in colour with a large pale grey screen taking up most of the device. A tiny, fiddly keyboard is below the screen. At the base is a sliding switch to turn it off and on nad a headphone socket and miniature USB socket to connect it to the computer.
==What size is it?==
It weighs only 241 grammes (about half a pound), which as they proclaim is less than a paperback. However, if weight is an issue you will need to pick your case carefully - some of these are pretty heavy in comparison.
In size, it is 190mm x 123mm x 8.5mm (about seven inches by five by half an inch deep) with a screen that is six inches at the diagonal. The rest of the device is taken up with the keyboard.
The 3G model of kindle costs £149 (to be compared with the wifi only one which is £109). If you get the 3G version, it gives free 3G access for immediate download of books without a contract or monthly fees.
==What is the difference between 3G and wireless versions?==
With the wifi version, you only have wireless access to downloading books if you are in the range of any wifi networks that you have access to. And if you are not at home, this is likely to cost money and may be few and far between. And books can also be transferred via USB cable in either version.
However, if you have 3G, then you have wireless access in much the same way as your mobile phone does - think of the kindle as a bit like a mobile phone but instead of making voice calls or texting, you can download books instead. It has a backup signal of the GPS network. The coverage varies over the world, but in the UK I have found it to be comparable to my telephone. I will update my review with my findings as I travel. Unlike your phone however, the kindle does not have any monthly fees for downloading books or browsing the web. However, it is easy to accidentally spend money other ways by buying too many books!
Being able to download books for free internationally was a big selling point for me, I am crossing my fingers that I will be able to use the web browser internationally as well!
==Setting it up==
I ordered it from my amazon account which meant it was pre-set up with my details, though they are very simple to change via the options menu as I found out when I was setting it up with email addresses.
Most of the instructions were in the online manual rather than a paper one - all it had with it was a small concertina-folded piece of cardboard with some basic options on it. The online manual is immense and I still find myself looking things up on it.
All I had to do to start using it was charge it up and switch it on and I could order books over the 3G connection. I added several amazon vouchers to my account to fund my book purchases. Credit card is the normal way, but I try to limit myself as I have poor impulse control. To my never ending shame, it only takes a glass of wine before I think it's a fabulous idea to download the latest Dan Brown! That's what I tell my friends anyway!
The wifi setup is a little bit frustrating if you have any non-alphabetic symbols as they are so fiddly to enter. The additional characters available are very limited and in one case I found that it did not have all the non-alphabetic characters needed for a wifi key. But I have succeeded in connecting it to two of the three networks I tried to. The third was running an incompatible wifi network.
Moving about the screen is via 4-way cursor keys with a central selector to highlight or enter to the side of the keyboard not via a touch screen. It moves a few cm each time if it is in web browser mode or a row at a time if it is in home/menu/book mode. Moving between pages is via the page forward and back buttons to the side of the kindle.
The home page is the start point. It contains a list of all the books you own. Because they quickly run over multiple pages, I have put mine into collections which sit at the top of the list. From here, to read a book, just navigate down using the cursor keys. All I do is navigate down to the book I want and hit enter to open it, where it opens it at the point I left off.
There is a menu accessible via its own button that changes its content depending on what you are doing at the time. It offers special kindle options, a link to the kindle store to buy books, functionality to jump to a certain point in the book, view book marks, and switch off wifi (saves the battery).
Buying books is a function enabled on the menu of most pages. It takes you to the kindle store at amazon, which is a simplified version of the amazon website with pages containing the kindle books, magazines and newspaper optionss. It is only too easy to buy books - just pick the one you want and click the buy option (selected by default!) and you've bought it. Fortunately it has an undo option if you click on the wrong one! There are many free books available from Amazon (which has its own free book section). Also many books are out of copyright and can be downloaded freely and legally from places like the Project Gutenberg website.
Usually when I buy a book, by the time I have gone back to my home page, it has finished downloading (in a few seconds). When the signal is very bad, it has taken a couple of minutes.
==Cost of books==
Prices vary for the books - there are many free ones, but most you would pay for especially if they are in copyright. The most expensive book I have bought so far was about 10 pounds. Most of the books I read are the most recent books still in hard back for about 8-10 pounds, but most books that are more than six months old are still usually about 5-6 pounds.
I think they might have priced themselves a bit high in this regard - I find this to be quite expensive compared with charity book shop prices for paper versions of books given that you don't get a paper copy. I think that if they were 2-3 pounds a book I would end up spending much more overall as I would not even think twice about buying a book speculatively and so would just buy it! When it is 8 pounds, I check to see if it is a book I would really like first before I buy it and get far fewer. Plus I can't easily and legally swap books around with my friends or loan them to people in the same way I would do with a paper copy, which means that books from new authors are less likely to spread amongst groups of book lovers like at present.
I don't use any of the subscription options (for blogs, journals, newspapers etc) that they have which cost a few pounds a week each - you can get electronic versions downloasded to your kindle automatically. But when I had paper versions, I never would get through them either, so it just seems like a waste of money for someone like me!
I have found the keyboard very hard to use. The keys are extremely small and round. Only the main keys and a few symbols are on the keyboard. The rest of the symbols are accessed via a symbols button bringing up a special screen, which you have to navigate via the cursor button.
I found that typing anything which needs lots of numbers or symbols (e.g. a web page URL or a wifi key) is an exercise in frustration and takes two or three goes!
The feel of the device is rubbery and has an almost gritty texture, which makes it non-slip. I found the tactile sensation to be a little unpleasant at first, but I did get used to it. Putting it in a cover fixed this problem!
The screen has an E-ink pearl display. It is a light grey in colour and the words appear on it in black. It has anti-glare technology meaning it can be read even in bright sunlight.
As mentioned in other sections, it does not have a touch screen that you can use to navigate. I have covered it with screen protectors because all my friends like to poke the screen because they assume it is like their iPhone. I think the usability of the kindle would be vastly improved if it were to have a touch sensitive screen.
The kindle has a 3GB capacity for books and other material (4GB total including the OS and software) and can contain over 3000 books at one time (books and text are pretty tiny in general), and amazon backs up all your purchases that you make from them on their servers, so if you have ten thousand books, you can keep most of them on their server and re-download them as and when needed.
==Reading a book==
I found reading a book to be its best option (just as well really!). All I needed to do was select it in the list from the home page, click to open it, then press the page forward (or back) buttons to the side of the device in order to change page. It has both forward and back buttons on each of the right and left side of the device, which several of my friends found confusing (they thought it should be forward on the right, back on the left).
When you change page, it makes the screen go black then displays the next page. I found the flickering as this happened very annoying at first. When you navigate on the web browser or on the home page, it does not do a complete refresh meaning you get a lot of ghosting.This method of displaying and updating is part of the E-Ink technology which is integral for its long battery life.
==The experimental web browser==
As it does not have a touch screen or a mouse, the experimental web browser is rather difficult to navigate and hard to operate. Which is presumably why it's marked as experimental! However, it is currently free, and if you have 3G enabled kindle, this means that you can do free web browsing anywhere there is a phone signal in the UK at least. I have found that navigating web pages uses up the Kindle's battery very quickly, because each page I need to get to needs three or four redraws to get through each screen.
==Reading Spanish books==
One of the things I use my kindle for is to read books in Spanish for my evening class. I bought an additional dictionary which I set up the kindle to use as its primary dictionary. Now when I read the book, if there is a word I don't know, I just cursor to it and it automatically looks it up in the dictionary and displays a translation at the top/bottom of the screen. This proves very handy in class!
However, the lack of ability to do accented characters is a MASSIVE drawback in my opinion. Without accented characters, searching does not work! So the ability to search books in foreign languages (something I do a lot in Spanish class) is pretty dire.
You can annotate the books you read with comments. All you do is scroll to the right place and select it with the cursor keys, then use the keyboard to write your notes. It also lets you share comments with other people and see the comments other people have written. I don't make much use of this facility, but it is handy to have it.
==The reading voice==
One of my favourite things to do to make friends laugh is to set the E-book to the voice mode and get it to read out poetry, something it is terrible at. The voice makes that of Stephen Hawking and the worst railway station announcement sound harmonic, smelodic and rhythmic in comparison. It comes in a male version and a female version and there is little difference between them in terms of their acting performance.
It does not come with a case, so you will have to buy one separately (or make it yourself). The cases are a bit on the pricey side in my opinion - a leather one with a light costs 50 pounds! I got a natural hemp one for less than half that price.
==Changing size of text==
The kindle has the option to switch between several different sizes of text. On kindle azw formats, it will re-wrap the text properly and increase the number of pages of the book.
However, when it is a pdf format, it does not re-wrap. Instead you zoom pages. This means that to read a pdf, I found that I need to set the screen of the kindle to display sideways and view half a page at a time. As well as sideways and right way up, you can also set the display to show up side down. I do not use this upside down function much.
==Synching on other media==
I also have an iPhone, and have the kindle app on it. I find it really useful to be able to just open the same book on either device and just be able to start where I left off - it automatically synchs with the server when I open it on the other one and tells me that it is doing so. I played around with it and it is only the furthest in the book you have read that it synchs, so if I flick back, it stores the further one.
When you buy books, you send them to one device only. It can be a bit annoying to have to force it to download the books on the second device.
==What else can I read on it?==
You can transfer PDFs over to it by emailing it to a special kindle account. These are downloaded to your kindle over wifi for free, or over 3G (this costs money). Or you can also transfer them with a USB cable to the computer.
One option is to convert PDFs to AZW format automatically via their conversion service. However, if the document has formatting or any pictures, this automatic convert is pretty terrible!
As well as the amazon kindle format (AZW), it also supports doc, HTML, txt, pdf, audible, MP3, unprotected MOBI, and several image formats. I find though that this is only if you transfer the documents with the USB lead or email them to yourself - just navigating on the web browser gets you an error message, which I find really frustrating!
The kindle does support MP3 music so you should be able to listen to your music as well as read your book. I find it a little big for a music player so do not really use this functionality.
==How have I found it to use?==
I found that quite often I would not read it for a few days and then discover that the battery was so completely and totally dead that it took half an hour of charging just to get it to switch on! Rather different from a book! But if I remember to charge it regularly then each charge lasts a fairly long time if I am just reading - a 3 hour train journey took up about 20% of the charge.
I found the claims that it would last 3 weeks with wifi on or a month without to be far-fetched for mere mortals like me who put it in their bag and forget about it. I've never got it to last that long even when I haven't been using it much! I would love to know what kind of tests gave those idealised results.
I found the way that the screen would go black when changing between pages to be annoying at first. But I soon got used to it and stopped noticing it except when other people pointed it out to me.
So in short, I would say that it is excellent as an e-book reader, and a poor choice compared to a smart phone for most other things, such as browsing the web. I suppose that making navigation better would reduce the battery life and make it much more expensive.
I found that having its main instruction manual on the device itself was a good idea - the paper manual that comes with it just offers a few getting switched on hints.
I can confirm that the Kindle worked as advertised and gave me free internet access in Russia, Denmark and Switzerland
I found this an excellent birthday present and would recommend it both as a gift to give and to receive. I definitely recommend the 3G version over the wifi option - it's just so much easier to be able to get books anywhere, and it's much friendlier for technophobes. Drunk book buying is however a major drawback of this product.
Judging by the large number of chocolate bars that I've eaten and reviewed over the years purely to help all you readers out (why does nobody believe that?) I was somewhat amazed when Lindt 70% reviews started popping up and I saw that I hadn't already written a review on it. Bizarrely the icon on dooyoo for this product is of the 85% but it's listed as "lindt-dark-chocolate-70-cocoa", so this is where the review is going.
Doubly odd that I haven't already reviewed it given that this is the bar of chocolate that I eat the most often. No, I'm not posh or elitist about my chocolate or anything, it's just that it's one of the cheapest and most readily available bars that don't have dairy in which means it's safe for the likes of me. Plus it tastes pretty good too. So I'm not quite sure how it got missed out from the reviews before now, but I'll take any excuse to eat a bar of it that I get.
Also this chocolate is from a Swiss chocolatier who have been in business since 1845, factors that I find are usually promising in a chocolate. That's more optimism on my part than snobbery though - I had no idea from the taste that this was originally a Swiss chocolate. I find that the quality difference is less apparent with dark chocolate than with milk as the cocoa percentages are so much higher anyway.
==Obtaining the chocolate==
I'm not sure how much the actual SPECIFIC bar of chocolate I ate to review cost because I stole it. Well, half of it anyway. From a friend, I hasten to add, not from a shop. And they still think I'm fabulous even though I ate their chocolate, so all is well in the world. But I buy this brand quite often and I know the price varies between about £1.50 and £2.50 depending on how tree-huggingly hippy/small the shop you buy it from is and whether it is on special offer. Currently it's at £1.78 for a 100g bar in Tesco. I've seen it at most health food stores, large supermarkets and many corner shops and newsagents as well - it's very often the only non-dairy bar which shops sell.
The bar comes as a foil-wrapped cardboard-encased thin slab about eight inches across and four inches wide and a quarter inch deep, making it incredibly flat and thin and so very, very breakable. I lose track of the number of times in the past that I have bought a bar of it as a present for a friend but accidentally dropped it and smashed it and had to eat it myself. Sometimes I had to accidentally drop it two or three times to get it to break, so the quality in that regard is very variable.
Each bar is formed of 10 squares of thin chocolate about an inch and a half square. As well as the grooves between the pieces, they are scored faintly with lines diagonally across the chocolate which means they have favoured directions in which to break and if you do try to break a piece off, you often end up with a triangular piece and shards of chocolate flying every which way.
Be very careful though that you don't drop crumbs of it on yourself - it's quite brittle and when you break it it has a bit of a habit of having bits fly off and landing on your clothes. If you don't notice and brush yourself down immediately, these bits can melt into your clothes and are a nightmare to get out again.
As would be expected for a dark chocolate, it is a very dark brown, almost black colour. If your bar looks lighter than this, see the separate section in this review on bloom and what to do with the chocolate.
The thing I like about this bar of chocolate is the taste - because of the high cocoa content, it tastes intensely of chocolate, but isn't horrifically bitter because it's got a lot of sugar in. Not really high enough for my taste, but there isn't a readily available 50-60% bar of chocolate around which doesn't have dairy in. It has hints of a vanilla taste to it, but (hint hint to anyone from Lindt who is reading this) - I reckon they could get away with making the taste even more vanilla-rich. It also has a fabulously rich chocolatey smell to it which really adds to the eating experience - too often when I have a cold, I can't actually taste the chocolate because I've lost my sense of smell.
I find that the taste signature of this product can be a little bit variable - perhaps this is because it gets overwhelmed by the sugar? Overall it has a very gentle taste compared with the 85-99% cocoa (which can be far too harsh for me!) and I find that the smooth texture and the sweetness dominate in the mouth-feel. The usual high-cocoa chocolate hints of cinnamon are present, but I can't detect much of a citrus tang to it. The salty coffee-like bitterness of the 90% variety is almost entirely absent, leaving just a gentle hint of peppery bitterness to counteract the sugar which is something my delicate stomach appreciates (but which my more refined friends find unappealing). Comparing it to the 90% is like comparing a latte to an espresso - they both clearly come from the same plant, but one of them is like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer and the other is mass-market - easier on the stomach, doesn't require sophistication to appreciate. If you want a jolting taste explosion to overpower your bitter taste buds then go for the 90%. If you want a smooth, velvety-rich delicate chocolate that even children would like, go for the 70%.
It also has a high enough cocoa butter content that it is extremely smooth, which gives it a very rich creamy taste even though it has no dairy in - a big thumbs up for the texture from me. Unlike a lower percentage chocolate though, there is no cloying after-taste or after-touch and the chocolate leaves the mouth completely rather than coating and sticking to the teeth and tongue.
Unfortunately for my waistline, this sweetness and texture combination means I could easily put away a whole 100g bar over the course of the day unless I ration myself.
I find that the large squares really help in this regard - I just break a couple of them off and put the rest of the bar away and that generally gives me the chocolate "hit" that I'm after. In my opinion 70% is good in this regard because you need the high cocoa to get the chocolate taste and feeling of eating delicious chocolate, but equally the sugar is important to give me a much-needed mid-afternoon energy boost.
The ingredients of the chocolate bar are cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and natural bourbon vanilla beans. It states that it may contain traces of soya lecithin, hazelnuts, almonds and milk, presumably because it is on the same production line as these. I can't speak for the safety for the very-allergic, but I have asthma that's brough on by dairy and I've never got ill from it, so I can definitely endorse it as good for most of my non-dairy type friends, but do take care.
It's actually very hard to get a good vegan chocolate without soya lecithin in, so I'm not quite sure how they managed to get this to emulsify properly. Voodoo? I suspect it must be something like this, because how can something taste that good?
Per 40g serving (four squares of the 10 square bar) it has 208 kcal, 3.2g protein, 16g fat (9.6g saturated), 13.2g carbohydrates (11.2g sugar) and 24mg sodium. Obviously this doesn't fit well with a diet, but I find that the higher cocoa chocolate leaves you satisfied sooner than a cheap milk chocolate bar.
==What does the 70% mean?==
Short answer: It means it tastes nice, isn't hideously expensive and doesn't have any dairy in!
Chocolate afficionadoes have Firm Opinions about chocolates based on the percentage listed. Me? I base my opinion on the taste, but I know that I like 70% chocolate and am not keen on anything above this, unlike my afficionado friends who think the higher percentage the better. I'm sure they know much more than I do but they are very dull at dinner parties.
In this case, 70% means that 70% of the weight of the product is cocoa solids that derive in one way or another from cacao beans. That includes cocoa butter and cocoa mass (from the cocoa liquor). You don't want to confuse these because they really are there for different reasons - the cocoa butter is fat and gives it the smooth creamy texture that melts at around body temperature (which is why it melts in your mouth and tastes smooth and nice) whereas the cocoa mass is what flavours it. So chocolatiers do have to look carefully at how much is cocoa butter and how much is cocoa solids when working out if it's a proper posh chocolate or not. Personally though I don't care - I just scoff it down no matter what!
==What's the other 30%?==
Mostly sugar. Which might sound really awful, but it makes the chocolate taste better. And milk chocolate is even worse in this regard - as well as the milk, milk chocolate generally has a lot lower percentage cocoa and more sugar added to it.
==What's this odd white colour on the bar?==
Assuming it isn't more than a few months after its best before date (which in my experience you can largely ignore), that's bloom from at least one of the sugar or the fat and means the chocolate has not been stored correctly (depending on which, it has either got damp or the temperature got too hot). It's perfectly safe to eat, but can affect the taste or texture.
To tell what to do with the bar, try brushing the surface - a surface bloom will brush off and the chocolate underneath is usually fine and still tastes good. If it doesn't, it may be brittle all the way through because the chocolate has melted and re-set. If that has happened and you don't like the texture, then use it as cooking chocolate.
==My 70% chocolate tastes crunchy/waxy/of nothing! Is it safe?==
Again, yes, it's safe. Unless by "crunchy" you mean foreign objects like razorblades or something, in which case no it's not safe, someone is trying to kill you. Don't eat those, go to the police.
What has generally happened if it's got a funny texture to it is that your chocolate got too hot and started to melt a bit and when it cooled, it set in a different way to before and its new melting point is higher. The creamy taste that you get from chocolate is because it melts in your mouth. Your chocolate won't melt in your mouth now and you may as well be eating a big lump of sugary wax. I figure at that stage that I'll get the same nutrition from it (calories and fat) but it doesn't taste very good, so I don't really see the point of eating it even if it is safe. Time for baking!
Did you leave it in the sun? Did you put it in a pocket next to your skin? Is it the middle of summer in a hot country? If so, that's why. If not, make a note not to go back to that store again and go to one that does know how to keep chocolate properly instead.
==How long will it keep for?==
Why on earth would you want to keep it? It's not a fine wine! The shelf life of this bar is generally at least a year - my bar is best before November next year. But I've had emergency bars in the cupboard that have ended up well past their best before date and you can really tell as and when they aren't fit even for baking purposes any more. If it hasn't turned to powder, I figure it'll be fine.
The longer you leave it, the more it turns crystalline. If that happens, I bake with it. My suggested easy cooking tips are either a)turn it into fondue with cream or b)grate it into hot chocolate or if you are really keen, then c)take a rolling pin to it and bash it to bits and put the chunks into fairy cakes or muffins or similar.
As a vegetarian type, I am under orders (from my medical doctor friends) that I have to boost my iron levels and that dark chocolate is a great way of doing this. No, I've never been anemic in my life, but this way I will stave it off, so I'll listen to them as long as they are telling me to eat chocolate.
==Is it good hiking food?==
It'll do as hiking food, but it's not ideal. The bar is too flat and thin for this, which means it always ends up melted, broken and and in fragments at the bottom of my bag and I'm picking bits out for weeks afterwards.
If anyone fancies getting me a random bar of chocolate, this is the one I tell them is best to get. It's easily available from supermarkets and health food stores, isn't too expensive to buy, but still has a nice posh feel to it which I think makes it very good value, especially for a non-dairy chocolate. I would give it five out of five stars, but I actually find that 70% is a little bit too high cocoa for me and I'd rather a 50-60% range one because they are sweeter still.
It isn't very often that I'm idly playing around with one of my reviews and look to the bottom of the page to see a "Products you may be interested in" item and think "Oh yes, I've stayed at that particular luxury hotel, haven't I?". But that's what has just happened to me - my eye alighted on the Millennium Hotel, Rotorua and I noticed it had had no reviews yet. Splendid.
I went here on a group touring holiday last year. My friends keep pointing out to me that anyone who finds when they are taking part in conversations on holidays to New Zealand and has to specify which trip to New Zealand it was needs to seriously reconsider their green credentials. So yes, last year when I was holidaying with my mother, we stayed in luxury hotels like this; this year when I was travelling alone, I stayed in hostels.
This hotel is a green (eco-friendly) four and a half star deluxe hotel with 227 rooms of which a small number (eight according to their website) are wheelchair accessible. It's a bit of a hike around the building but lifts do go to every floor, which was just as well as we were up on the fourth floor!
Before I tell you about the hotel itself, I feel I should set the scene a little, so you get some idea of where in the world this hotel is. The Millennium Hotel, Rotorua is (as the name suggests) located in Rotorua, a medium sized city in the middle of New Zealand's North Island located on the shores of a large lake also called Rotorua. The hotel is in a very central location within the town, only a five minute walk away from the lake front and is also situated conveniently close to the Polynesian Spa. This part of town has very quiet roads - it's a bit of a cul de sac area and the main rat runs through town are quite a few blocks over. This makes it a peaceful neighbourhood which you would struggle to find unless you had been given specific driving instructions. Or, of course, if you were on a driven tour of New Zealand like we were - no tricky navigation for us, just door to door service.
One poorly kept secret that you might have heard already about Rotorua is that it stinks. I'm not saying for a moment that it's rubbish, nasty or boring or anything like that, just that the area is very geothermally active and has a rotten egg smell that pervades the air much of the time due to hydrogen sulphide gas emitted from the vents and springs. Some parts of the town are definitely worse than others - if you can see a plume of steam rising from a garden then that's usually a sign that there is a spring, vent or other similar feature there which will smell.
After a while, I stopped noticing the smell as much anyway. A chemist friend tells me that if you can smell rotten egg smell then it's not poisonous, it's only if you stop smelling it that it means it's reached toxic levels and you are about to die. However, I'm still here, not dead, (not undead either), which means that either I've destroyed my nose or you do just stop noticing the smell after a while. Either which way, the area immediately around the hotel was not too whiffy, but I wouldn't like to be there with car sickness or a hangover.
==The service on arrival==
When we arrived at the hotel, tired out from a long journey in a minibus, our tour hosts dropped us at the entrance and set off to park the minibus in the hotel's car park. In the meantime, we had to wait ten minutes or so to check in - not ideal, but could have been worse by a long shot. The problem was that there were just too few people on reception to deal with more than three or four people arriving at a time. But once we got to the front, the staff were very civil and polite. A little distant, perhaps, but I think they cater more towards the business market where the clientelle do not want to discuss their life story. So compared to the rest of the holiday, it was a bit of a break from the norm (the rest of the time the questions about where I was from seemed incessant).
Our rooms were ready and we were given some detailed instructions as to how to navigate the rabbit warren of corridors to get there as well as our electronic room key cards. We had to walk through several buildings (joined by covered walkways) and then take the lift, then follow some more corridors to our rooms.
The one downside of being part of a group booking was once we got up to the rooms and discovered that they had mixed up the rooms - my mother and I had ended up in a room with only one bed. But that was soon sorted out within the group without having to go back to reception. Which would have been an epic hike indeed!
When I was in New Zealand, I stayed in quite a few Millennium hotels. This one was much the same as the other ones. It was large, neat, tidy, well-appointed, had an excellent range of facilities ranging from a television, iron, ironing board, telephone, alarm clock to a kettle and variety of complementary teas and coffees. Plus, of course, air conditioning.
The small fridge in the room was amply stocked with chocolate and beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic at exorbitant prices that I'd never consider paying on account of how I'm a total cheapskate.
The en suite bathroom was large and came supplied with a standard set of toiletries that were the same as all the other Millennium hotels I'd stayed at - shampoo, conditioner, shower cap, shoeshine brush, soaps and more towels than you could ever use. If you had no qualms about that sort of thing, you could supply yourself with all the travel sized bottles that you could want for a lifetime and just refill them when you get home. No matter how many times people tell me "Oh they just bin those half-full little bottles, you may as well take them", I still think "No, that's terrible, I couldn't possibly take them, they're not mine! That would be wrong!". Anyway, you make up your own mind on that one. From the website, apparently the bathrooms are recently refurbished in marble and are fitted with baths now, which is quite a rarity in my experiences of New Zealand where showers are much more the norm.
What marked this room out as being one of the better rooms in the hotel was that it had a stunning view of the lake and a balcony. The grid-like nature of the rest of the town means that the other rooms must have had a very disappointing view of boring roads and identikit buildings. As we were on nearly the top floor, it means that our views were not affected by any of the other nearby buildings and could instead get a full view of the lake.
Breakfast here was absolutely top notch. Or should that be top nosh? Either which way, there was something for all tastes here. Most food in New Zealand is not ideal for vegetarians, and if (like me) you can't have dairy either, you may as well forget the idea of an interesting or varied dining experience. But breakfast bars in hotels are the one exception to this and I found that I could cope just fine with the inevitable salad for lunch and salad for dinner once I set my mind that breakfast was the main meal of the day.
They had a wide selection of cold foods (meats, cheeses, fruit, cereal, yoghurt and the like) as well as a good range of cooked foods (sausages, bacon, grilled tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, beans, hash browns, fried potato, scrambled eggs and many more things). They also would cook to order - I asked for some poached eggs and they didn't bat an eyelid but just brought them to my table when they were done together with our pots of breakfast tea. Add in the cakes and breads (bread, a toasting machine, muffins, bagels, croissants, pastries) and you may get some idea of how I managed to put on three kilos during this this holiday.
This was pretty typical of my breakfasting experience in New Zealand hotels in general actually - they really know how to make a good breakfast that sets you up for the day. But this breakfast bar was particularly pleasant as it was in a light airy room right next to the hotel's indoor pool.
As well as breakfast, which was included in the cost of our room, there is also a bar and restaurant available in the hotel with lunch options ranging from 14-26 NZD (about 7-10 pounds) and dinner from 17-65 NZD (about 8-30 pounds). We did not eat at this restaurant because we were enjoying a hangi meal over at Mitai Maori village instead.
Checking out was completely hassle-free. Since, like most hotels, the room keys were electronic swipe cards, all we had to do was give our room number and say that we were leaving and they verified we didn't have any outstanding bills to pay (no items from fridge, no phone calls) and that was that.
Sadly, on a whistle stop tour, there was little opportunity to sample all that the hotel had to offer in terms of its facilities. So we did not try the laundry, the spa, the fitness centre or the swimming pool through lack of time. Such a hard life, eh?
On this holiday, we had with us neither computer nor any time to use one, so I can't verify the computing facilities first hand. According to the website, there is broadband internet access in the rooms themselves, wifi in the public areas and there is a guest computer room for business use, though it does not specify how much each of these cost.
The hotel seems very geared up for business clientelle. As we were there on holiday, we did not make use of the conference rooms available in the hotel. However, they were there and could cater to between 6 and 350 guests should you so wish.
According to their website there are several facilities for children here - from mountain bike hire to child minding facilities. But in all honesty, I'd find it hard to imagine taking children here - it just seemed so corporate that I'd be afraid they'd break something expensive!
As mentioned elsewhere, the hotel was a network of interconnected buildings with a covered walkway between them. Surrounding the walkway was a central garden area, which was a pleasant surprise. Apparently this is also used for growing herbs for the restaurant.
When I was there, I was on a tour-type holiday so I did not have to worry about the cost of the room. I just had a play on their website, imagining that I was going to travel in February (I wish!) to find out some of the latest prices and offers. I see that the prices range from 99 pounds a night if you book online in advance to 198 pounds per night "rack rate" room only. I did find a link to a special offer which says that if you stay for three nights, rates drop to "from" 100 dollars a night (about 45 pounds).
Those people who know me know that my usual haunts are youth hostels, camp sites and staying on friends' sofas. If I hadn't been on a tour, there's no way in the world I would have spent this much at this hotel especially when I knew I wouldn't have time to make use of its facilities. I enjoyed it very much when I was there and I do see that the facilities are good and offer added value and that the hotel isn't overpriced for a luxury business hotel.
But the thing is that if I'm travelling alone then I usually figure that I can stay in a private en suite room in a hostel for a quarter of the price and just use my own soap and bath towel. When I'm travelling, I usually just use the room I'm staying in as a base from which to explore the local area rather than the point of my holiday and so I really don't need all those added extras. Of course, if I could get one of the 100 dollars a night deals, was travelling with a buddy, and I had the time then I'd be back here like a shot for a nice pamper break!
Just a block away from the hotel is the world-famous Polynesian Spa and staying at the hotel I was at got us a discount! I strongly recommend that you take a trip here if you get the opportunity. This spa is my idea of going bathing. Sitting in a hot mineral pool for hours, chatting to your friends. Just be sure to take off any metal before you get in as it will tarnish!
The hotel kindly lent us some additional towels for use in the spa. Which I thought was good service because the minerals in the water made the towels really nasty afterwards.
==My opinion of the place==
In short, it was everything that you could expect from a room in an upmarket hotel hotel and provided exactly the same items and experience as in all the other hotels in the same chain. In that regard, there is nothing at all to complain about - you get what you expect from a Millennium hotel and what you get is a good standard and suitable for business users.
So, why do I feel like there's something... missing to my stay? Ah yes. The ambience. The place had no soul to it. Everyone working there was extremely civil and polite and offered good service, but where was the good-natured banter that I experience on my hostel stays? Where was the evidence that I was in a hotel in New Zealand and not an identikit hotel in London or Manchester? Really, I felt I could have been anywhere and that I honestly could have written much of the details of this review on any of the Millennium hotels I was in on my stay.
I hope I have provided a balanced view of the hotel. I rate it as four stars for its facilities which were excellent, but they lost the final star because I found it so same-y and not really for the likes of me. I think it offered a good service and the cost of the room was appropriate for what you would expect to pay for a room in a hotel of that quality. It's just that I'd rather spend my money backpacking round hostels and camp sites - which is normally the only way that I get to visit such far-flung places.
White Island is a stratovolcano in the Bay of Plenty of New Zealand also known by its Maori name, Whakaari (meaning "That which can be made visible"). It is New Zealand's only active marine volcano, which makes a day trip out there very popular for tourists and adventure seekers alike.
As a geology student, I figured that it was important on my latest trip to New Zealand that as well as doing my same old sports involving jumping off tall objects, I really ought to broaden my horizons a little bit and visit as many sites of geological interest as I could do.
I had this great plan before going on the trip: visit volcanoes, especially active volcanoes. Sounds fabulous. Bubbling magma pits spewing liquid rock into the air. Amazing.
Turns out that I should have done more of the geology course first (volcanoes were book two which was several months later) because that's not quite the experience I had - not a single one of the dozens of volcanoes I saw on my trip had any magma at the surface - wrong type of volcano, plus not currently active enough.
White island is located in the Bay of Plenty 30 miles offshore of New Zealand, off the east coast of the North Island. If you picture the North island as having two prongs pointing north west and north east, it is in the bay between these two prongs. Boat excursions here are with a tour company called PeeJays and leave from/return to Whakatane, a coastal town on the eastern side of the island facing out to the Pacific Ocean.
When I arrived in my youth hostel in Whakatane, I asked them to book the trip for me (booking excursions is something that most hostels and hotels will do). They sorted it all out for me, all I had to do was turn up early at PeeJay's offices on the docks the next day and pay at the booking office. The hostel manager even volunteered to give me a lift over, which made it easier still. I was travelling in late summer (February) which made booking a lot easier; during peak time you need to book up to a week or so in advance to guarantee a place. Make sure you pick the right tour - PeeJays also do nature trips, so be sure to specify "White Island Tours"!
Peejays is the only company that offers boat trips out to the island. For the ultra-rich, helicopter tours are available, but at many hundreds of pounds per person were out of my budget!
==Checking in for the trip==
As with so many adventure activities in New Zealand, the first thing you have to do is sign away your soul. This is pretty much a formality and a book-keeping exercise since the flip side of the laws, rules and regulations that mean you can get free treatment for accidents in New Zealand hospitals mean that it's very hard to sue in case of accidents. You get a boarding pass for the boat and wait around on the dock until it is available.
The wharf at Whakatane is on the mouth of river just as it meets the sea, which makes it fairly well sheltered by a big headland. At the river's mouth there is a large statue of the Maori maiden Wairaka, a local hero.
The boat we were to be travelling on was a 60 footer with seating both inside and outside and plenty of space on decks for people to stroll around and get fresh air. Even on a calm day, I like to be outside so I do not get sick.
The boat ride over took about an hour and a half, during which time they brought around refreshments. It offered plenty of scope for relaxing, photography, and wildlife spotting. We even had some dolphins join us for a while. But I was mostly just impatient to see the island! Round the front of the boat we had views of the island from a great distance away.
For the trip, we were issued with a respirator. Very sexy! But, wait, it gets even better: when we got to the island we got orange life vests for the inflatable dinghy ride over to really create the ultimate chic outfit.
==Arrival at the island==
After arriving at the island, we donned life vests, hard hats and respirators and disembarked in small groups on a dinghy that took us over to a pier. Here, we had to climb a ladder (tricky in rough weather) to get up to the main part of the island. At least at that point, we could divest ourselves of our charming orange life vests.
The tour guide explained how to use the respirator - you wear it around your neck most of the time, then hold it up to your mouth if you need it. If you need it for long periods, you tighten the straps so you don't need to hold on. The charcoal filter to the respirator gave the air a nasty taste to it - it was pretty unpleasant to breathe through it. So most people just covered their mouth close to the vents. We were also given boiled sweets to suck which helps keep the irritation down.
==Walking into the mouth of hell==
Steeping onto the island made me think I was walking into hell or a den of dragons. Or possibly had been transported to Io. Poisonous sulphorous fumes were visible rising from many vents and fumaroles around the island as if some vast supernatural beings were lurking just out of sight and waiting to pounce.
The rocks around us were such a range of colours - from a dull grey for the bulk of the rock to deposits on the surface of the brightest of colours - yellows and reds and whites and greens mostly. The surface appeared barren, desolate and bereft of life, with the exception of driftwood that had washed up the beach. But looking at the rocks up close and the mineral deposits were delicate, almost frilly in places. Hard to imagine they weren't plants really.
On our tour, we walked through the unstable grounds on a big loop that took us up to to the main crater lake and back again over the course of an hour or two. As we walked, our guides pointed out sites of interest and special features. The ground is honeycombed with voids beneath our feet, meaning we had to walk only where the guides did a la Good King Wenceslas. Apparently, every few years, a tourist will put their food through the ground, though most escape with a minor sprain.
We stopped to pose for photos in front of a huge fumarole. The trick here is to take a deep breath, walk over, pose for the picture and walk back,*then* breathe. Breathing near the fumarole is like breathing burning acid - you will cough and splutter and your lungs and nose will be irritated. Sucking on sweets helps a little of it, but the only real solution is to wear the respirator all the time, which I soon did.
Up at the main crater lake, the waters were boiling and bubbling away. They were a vivid shade of green, quite beautiful. Although I couldn't get my bubbling magma pit, the sight of a vast lake of water boiling away was nearly as cool and I was definitely satisfied that this was a REAL, proper volcano. Not like some of the ones I visited which were more like big hills.
I must confess that I was a little sad when the tour came back to the jetty. I hated the smell of the fumes, but the majesty of the place was like nothing I've seen before or since. It was a real reminder of the power of the earth, quite a sobering thought. Definitely worth the money I had spent!
Next to the jetty, there are the twisted and wrecked remains of a sulphur mine here from a century ago. A lahar killed all the workers there in 1914 and no further mining has been done since. Now the island is home to birds.
==Don't drink the water!==
About halfway to the lake we crossed a stream and the guide said to us: dip your finger in the water just *here* and put it against the tip of your tongue. Which I did. It tasted fizzy just like sherbert. "Hmmmm, an acid..." I thought. I took a look at the yellow rocks all around us, thought "Hmmmm, sulphur...". I put two and two together, and reached the logical conclusion. "Did you just get me to drink sulphuric acid?". The guide grinned cheerfully and said that yes, he did.
I spent the rest of the day looking at my fingertip suspiciously to see if it would blister and touching my teeth to see if the acid had burned through them. Fortunately, all was well. But it went down in my life as "The day someone got me to drinking sulphuric acid". Funnily enough, I got a LOT better at saying "NO!" or at the very least "Why?" to guides for the rest of the trip.
Most of the area we walked around was in a big crater with steep sided cliffs that felt like they could collapse any moment. The walls of the volcano don't go all the way around and we entered at a part where it was much lower. The side we entered was presumed to have exploded away many years ago - it is very active and has been so in the past. This means that although most of the island is steep and inaccessible, the part we were in was only perhaps ten metres above sea level, so we just got to look at the big mountain not climb it - not too tiring, but you do need good balance.
The island is at volcanic hazard level 1. This is pretty low for an island that volcanically active, but it's pretty far off the coast, so it doesn't pose much of a risk. If Ruapehu on the mainland were that active, then the hazard level would be much higher indeed as it is closer to civilisation, thus more dangerous.
If time permits (which it did for us), you can jump off the side of the boat into the water for a swim. If you are sensible, you'll change into your bathing costume first! I've never jumped off the deck of a boat before, so I landed in the sea a couple of metres below with an almighty splash! The water was cool for the most part, but swimming round we soon found that there were warm currents leading away from the island which were much more pleasant to swim in.
The lunch that they provide on the boat ride back from the volcano is all vegetarian about half of which was vegan. I asked and it was because it's easier for them to produce a single "one size fits all" package and a fair portion of the customers were vegetarian.
If you like bird watching then you are in luck - the boat trip takes you all around the island and you can see lots of them. For the rest of us it afforded us an opportunity to look at the geology some more, read a book or just take in the sun for a bit before we headed back again.
We were lucky enough to see dolphins on both the way out and the way back. They swim along with the boat and jump out of the water every so often in an unpredictable manner that is exactly unideal for photography. But if you were lucky enough to get a good shot, I bet it would be stunning.
The island has a resident dinosaur. No, seriously, if you don't believe me, google "White island crater latest" for the web cameras on white island and look at the pictures. To the bottom right, there is a dinosaur. It must be very patient in waiting for its prey, because it doesn't move from one shot to the next.
Oh, OK, it's not real. A prank was played some years ago and a small toy dinosaur was glued in front of one of the cameras! It has been there for few years and still hasn't eroded even in the harsh fumes of the volcano. Guess what they say about all those plastic things you put in the landfill being there in years must be true - if it doesn't break down here, where will it?!
The weather can affect the trip. It was perfect and calm when I was there, but when a friend went, they had such weather that they had to be practically thrown up onto the landing pier! Because you have to arrive on the island by dinghy, it can happen that the weather is too bad to land, in which case according to the website, you get your money back.
==How long does the trip last?==
It is supposed to last for about six hours. However the lifestyle in New Zealand is very laid back so do be prepared to be flexible: when I went there, we didn't get back for about 8 hours.
The day trip costs 185 NZD per adult. That works out as about 85 pounds per person, which isn't particularly cheap for a day trip, but as an adventure sports fanatic on holiday on the other side of the world, that's pretty typical for a day-long activity. Children are only 120 NZD (about 55 pounds) apart from at peak season in summer (that's the Christmas period).
The tour isn't very good for people with limited mobility or for small children or pregnant women. The ground is pretty rough, the air is poisonous and you are on your feet outside for a couple of hours with no loo breaks. But they leave the decisions up to the individual. Although the ground is pretty uneven,the climb isn't at all arduous - if you can scramble around rocks on a beach then you can probably manage this.
They have a shop back at the main office for you to get memorabilia. I picked up some odd-smelling sulphur soaps and a T-shirt to remind me of the day.
A great day out for tourists and geology geeks alike, I can't recommend this highly enough. Shame that we have to go all the way over to the oter side of the world. Active volcanoes are lots of fun and this was particularly good trip. Like so many companies I did excursions with in New Zealand, they had the classic Kiwi combination of being both professional and fun and friendly.
I've been a contact lense wearer for about four years now, and for three and a half of those four years, I've been wearing Specsavers' easyvision range of contact lenses that I can leave in for a month solid (before that, I was on their daily disposable range). Hence the name "All Day All Night".
These are a type of soft contact lenses that you wear for a month and then bin, which is perhaps not very environmentally sound, but means that you don't need to worry about protein buildup or complex cleaning rituals with nasty solutions that don't play nicely with the eyes.
Specsavers do their own version of several types of contact lenses and just slap their own branding onto it. So if you were to shop online, you would find that identical lenses would be available from different manufacturers. From reading around on the internet, I discover that they are also available as the brand name Biofinity.
They go through branding changes every so often. The ones I have are now called the Easyvision Opteyes brand, which are silicone hydrogel lenses that allow a great deal of oxygen to the surface of the eye. These lenses are designed to be worn long term and can be left in for an entire month. If you go to your optician and ask for lenses that can be slept in and left in for weeks at a time, they will know what you are talking about regardless of what the current branding name is this year!
Yes, you read that right, an entire month, solid, lenses left in your eyes without changing or cleaning. I wake up in the morning and can open my eyes and see. It's fabulous and liberating.
The lenses are a very standard size - diameter 14.0, base curve 8.6, power -2.25. They do go up to pretty high power (from -12 to +8), but for someone with only mid-level correction like me, these are pretty thin and small. Like most manufacturers of lenses (whether contact or glasses), at the extreme ends of the power range (i.e. for very short or very long sighted people) they are only available in half diopter increments meaning very short and long sighted people don't have their eyes corrected quite as well, but from -6 to +6 correction, you get your lenses to the nearest quarter diopter correction - just like you would your glasses.
The ones I have are not toric lenses (suitable for astigmatism). They do have some similar lens brands available (leave in overnight) with toric lenses which cost a little bit more.
==What are they like?==
They changed the type of lenses supplied slightly to a lighter, more flexible polymer a few months ago and the improved version of the lenses are amazingly light and comfortable. Like many lenses, they have a very faint blue tinge to them so that you can see them on your eye when you are fishing them out.
Although they are designed to be able to leave in for a month, I'm supposed to take them out and clean them about once a week to stop the build up of oily secretions. If this happens, the lenses get a bit smeary and it's like looking through dirty glasses. However, I find that unless it's the middle of summer or I go to a bonfire or similar then I can generally leave them the full month without them getting smeared or uncomfortable. In fact, until they changed the polymer used in the lenses a few months ago, I could tell I was due for a new pair because they felt a bit itchy towards the end of the month. Now, I actually have to set an alarm to remind myself to change them otherwise I forget. The last eye checkup I had, I'd had them in for six weeks solid, to the absolute horror of the optician, who did admit that my eyes were absolutely fine with them!
The lenses come to you in two boxes of three lenses (one box per eye), with each box containing three sealed lens containers that are about two inches long, an inch wide and half an inch deep. At one end, there is a reservoir of buffered saline and in this reservoir sits a lens. These lenses are very flexible, very light and almost invisible. Which means to get them out, you fish around in there with a scooping motion, wait for the fluid to drain from your finger and see if you have a lens stuck to your finger tip. The lens will be in the reservoir somewhere, but it can take two or three scoops to find it.
Next, you sit the lens on your finger tip and hold it up to the light to see if you've got it the right way around - it should look cupped like a bowl. If the edges point up, it's the right way around. If they point out to the sides, it's the wrong way around. If you've got hard lenses or ones made of a more rigid polymer, you might imagine this is easy, but with these lenses being so flexible, it really isn't at all easy and sometimes you just have to guess. If you guess wrong, your eye itches and you take the lens out and try again.
Then you put the lens in your eye. I use the technique where I put the lens on my fingertip, I hold my eyelids steady and then place it gently on my eye with my index finger, look up, down, left, right, shut and open my eyes. By this point, it's either snugly in place or it has folded up and is either on my cheek or is on my lower eyelashes. As this polymer is so flexible, it can take two or three goes. I'm pretty rubbish at putting them in, which is one of the reasons why I have ones I can leave in for a month!
Every three months, a box containing my lenses arrives through my letterbox. Simple as. Every six months, I go for a contact lense checkup. Every two years, I have an eye test. If I need any extra checks, all I need to do is to call them up and they have routine appointments within a week or so, and emergency appointments pretty much imediately, as soon as one of the opticians has a gap.
Because these are leave in for a month, they do not come with solutions. This means that occasionally, I need to buy a bottle of cleaning solution. Sometimes, my optician gives me a small bottle for free, but they generally are available for less than five pounds for a bottle that is small enough that it can be taken on a plane (100ml) and you can use any variety that is suitable for soft contact lenses. My tip if you only use the solutions occasionally is to write on the bottle the date that you opened it in marker pen, because otherwise you'll never remember how long it's been open for and when it needs binning!
At the routine six monthly check-up, they check that my prescription hasn't changed using an eye chart, then look at the fit of the lenses on my eyes (meaning I need to have had them in for an hour or two), then I take the lenses out and they put fluorescein in my eye (a yellow stain that shows damaged areas under UV) and inspect my eyes under UV light. Then I pop the lenses back in and am good to go. Very easy.
The solutions that are used for soft lenses like these are ones that only have a single cleaning stage - all you need to do to clean them is put a bit of solution in the palm of your hand, put the lens in it, rub it both sides with a clean finger, then either put them straight back in your eye or fill up the the little lens container that comes with the solution and put the lenses in it to store them e.g. when you go swimming. Dead easy. What I usually do is to put solution in the tiny container, then carry it around with me all the time in my glasses case, then I don't need to carry a bottle.
The contact lens wearing comes as an inclusive package, where they charge me a fixed amount per month and then all my eyecare, including regular eye tests, six monthly contact lenses and my lenses are included in that fee.
The lenses I have cost 15 pounds per month. These ones are a special silicone hydrogel range that are very breathable and can be left in, which makes them more expensive than regular monthly disposable lenses. But I figure that it is well worth the extra fee to be able to wake up being able to see.
In theory, I am entitled to up to two replacement lenses per year, in case I drop them, lose them or break them. In reality, I rarely need to make use of this service.
I'm also entitled as part of this package to a reduced price on my glasses - I get one pair of half price standard Pentax single vision glasses or sunglasses in the ranges that are betwen 69 and 125 pounds. In reality, I've never actually bothered because my prescription changes so slightly, so I just use my now very old and very out of fashion glasses.
When I was a teenager, I couldn't wear ANY type of lens in my eye as it would go red and inflamed immediately. But most of the time, I can easily manage these contact lenses and they act as a barrier to pollen and to the irritants that are released when chopping onions, so it usually means LESS eye irritation than without them in. The solution that the lenses are packed in is a very slight irritant to my eyes, as are the cleaning solutions. Which means that I find myself in the somewhat odd position where my lenses become more comfortable the longer I leave them in for! Almost any slight irritation is sorted by a good night's sleep wearing my lenses.
However, it wasn't all plain sailing. Last year, in hayfever time, I did manage to get allergic inflammation of the eyes which meant that I woke up one morning and my eyes had clouded over and one of my lenses was lost round the side of my eye. Once that has started, it can rapidly get much worse if the lenses are left in. I had to go a month with no lens wear that time. But once it eventually got better, I've been fine since.
That was a really nasty experience, as I found myself unable to see near or far even with my glasses on, and I couldn't see well enough to get the lenses out especially not when one of them was lost! In the end, I phoned my optician in a bit of a panic, who fitted me in for an appointment that very morning, which I thought was great service (especially since they were cool, calm and professional and didn't laugh at me too much). They checked my eyes out, determined that it was just a simple allergy that would right itself a few days after the pollen lessened and that my vision would return in a couple of days, which could be speeded with buying some Sodium Cromoglycate eye drops over the counter.
When you first get lenses fitted, the optician makes jolly sure these are the right lenses for you and aren't damaging your eyes. So when I first switched, I had about four or five appointments in the first month, then after another month, then three months then finally six months. Now I'm on a six month checkup. Occasionally, they'll say that my eyes are a bit dry and that they want to keep an eye out (geddit?) on the surface of my eyes and make me come back a month later just to make sure that it's OK. So I really feel that they keep a close eye (oh dear!) on me.
==Can you wear them swimming?==
No. This is a pain. Well, you can wear them as long as you don't get any of the pool water in your eyes. But I never manage that, so I just take them out if I'm going to be doing any "proper" swimming. For a bit of splashing around in the pool on holiday, I keep my head above the water. And when I'm on the beach, I just scrunch my eyes shut when the big waves hit.
==Can you wear them on a flight?==
Yes. They aren't recommended to do so, but I've worn them on flights to New Zealand even, and you don't get longer than that. Take some eye drops (making sure you have ones that are compatible with contact lenses) and make sure you've got your glasses with you in case they do get too dry.
==Do they fall out?==
No. In fact, as these are a soft, flexible polymer, they stick pretty well to the eye. Indeed, it can be a bit of a bother getting the wretched things out some times as they get a bit of suction and you have to carefully peel them off!
==How well do I see with them?==
Amazingly well in fact. In low light levels around sunset, it's amazing how much difference they make to my vision and its clarity compared to wearing glasses. The other main benefit is when I'm using a telescope or binoculars, when I don't need to take off my glasses to see properly and get my eye up to the eyepiece.
==How hard is it to get used to wearing lenses?==
Well, put it this way, if I can do it then anyone can! I'm rubbish with eye stuff generally and yet I can manage to put these in and take them out. It's definitely a lot easier now I only have to do it once a month! But even someone as rubbish at lenses as I am can get through the whole ritual in less than five minutes: wash hands thoroughly with soap, rinse to remove residue, dry hands, take lenses out, put new lenses in.
My tip for switching lenses is to do one lens at a time. You get used to having perfect eyesight the whole time, so if you drop a lens when you are putting it in, then you have a fair chance of finding it if you still have one lens in. If you've taken them both out, you will likely never find it again!
==What if they get lost in my eye?==
First things first, don't panic. Are you sure they are still in your eye and the lens hasn't fallen out? Roll your eyes all around to try to get it to come to the front. If that doesn't work, next step, wash your hands thoroughly, get the contact lens case and solution handy, find a bright light, a mirror and get a bike light or other torch.
Your lens CAN'T end up behind your eye, but it can end up in the parts that are normally covered by your eyelid - you know the bits that the optician looks at by making you look right down or left or right or up, then pulling gently on your eyelid. So, what you need to do is carefully have a look around the whole outside of your eye and gently hold your eyelids back. If you are doing it right, this should NOT hurt! What you are looking for is something that looks a bit different from the rest of the eye. Hopefully you'll be able to see the tint, but if you try that and you still can't, that's where the bike light comes in. Shine it back and forth over your eye and keep an eye out for something a bit shiny in your eye - that's the missing lens. Once you found it, gently tease it over to where it is supposed to be. It will probably be pretty dry by now as your tears don't reach so well round there, so you'll probably need to take the lens out and put it in solution.
I need to play hunt the lens about once every couple of months. So you do get used to doing it, but it doesn't happen very often.
==Do these lenses stop me crying at soppy films?==
No they don't. I still cry at soppy films. Like when Theoden dies in Return of the King. Or the whole last half hour of the Time Traveller's Wife. But I can PRETEND that it's the lenses that are making my eyes sore so I do not lose my macho street cred. However, that excuse wears thin if I start actually sobbing.
==Can I use medicated eye drops with these?==
No. This is a bit annoying really. You can't just put your hayfever eyedrops or similar in your eyes whilst wearing them. But I find I rarely need them because my lenses protect me from the irritants.
I really get along with these lenses and have found the service offered by Specsavers has been excellent. It gives me near perfect eyesight without having to bother with wearing glasses or with complicated lens cleaning procedures. All for 15 pounds a month.
Fashions come, fashions go, but through them all, the classic Doc Marten boot, the 1460 Air Wair brand, remains virtually unchanged. It's hard to believe that this classic boot is now fifty years old! But that's where it got its 1460 name from: the date of its introduction to the UK on the first of April 1960 (1/4/60).
Once the mainstay of the working class, the Doc Marten 1460 boot has somehow managed to become a cultural icon of the past fifty years. Not bad given that it was the footwear of choice for so many subcultural and countercultural groups over the years - skin heads, punk rockers, you name it, they adopted it. Generations of young people came across and decided it would be their rebellious footwear of choice, which makes it almost a rite of passage into adulthood.
Somewhere along the way it has managed to become mainstream and even the most archetypical, conforming pastel-cardigan-wearing grannies can find something in the Doc Marten range to suit them (possibly not this particular style though). Though if they have any common sense, they shouldn't let that fact on to the younger generations because the teens might suddenly come to realise that their older relatives are tricking them into wearing sensible footwear and that would never do!
The Doc Marten boot, or DM as it is usually called for short, comes in a variety of styles. The 1460 look is the best-known one - eight hole high boots that come up to the lower shin. The boots have a rubberised sole stitched to the leather upper with yellow stitching and a big clumpy boot look to them. At the very top of the boot at the back, there is a tag about two inches long, looped round and sewn in with the logo "Air wair - with soles bouncing" in their iconic yellow coloured writing embroidered writing into black fabric. The sole of these boots is about an inch thick and has a very slight heel to it - I'd say that it is a good choice if you want to be a little bit taller, but don't fancy wearing platforms or wedges.
I have a set of "Cherry reds" which I wear to work nearly every day in winter. These are the most iconic brand of DM boots and were the original version to be released way back in 1960. Although I wasn't even born at the time, I gather that in the late 1970s, every punk rocker worth his or her salt had a pair of cherry red boots. The cherry reds are a fairly deep red colour, not too lurid, just bright enough to give my outfits a bit of colour. They came with a set of black laces and a set of yellow ones (which match the stitching), so I put the yellow ones in just to give it a bit more character. I had to buy a special cherry red dubbin to polish them, which can be a bit hard to get hold of.
The 1460 DM boot is branded as unisex, though they do have some colours that come under the "women's" section. Usually these are a bit smaller and feature some more feminine colours (read: very brightly coloured). The ones branded as for men are much more subdued in tone - mainly blacks and browns.
I suspect that due to its yellow lacing and clumpy style, this style of boot may not be deemed appropriate in an office that you have to wear suit and tie to, but you can always paint over the yellow stitching to make them look a bit more conservative. Or consider one of the more fashion-conscious range of DMs - there are many styles of boots with high heels and a number of shoes as well.
The basic 1460 boots cost 75 pounds from a Doc Marten shop. It may be possible to get cheaper on the internet, but I figured that if I bought from their shop then I wouldn't end up with one of the many imitation brands. The DM shop I went to was in Camden and they swore blind that half the other retailers selling DMs in Camden for 50-60 pounds were selling fakes. I've no idea if they were telling me the truth there, but the boots I tried on in the other stores did have a rather different feel to them and seemed to be of a slightly different cut - they pinched my big toe on one of my feet, so I went with the ones from the DM store which were comfier but more expensive.
Doc Martens comes in an unimaginably large range of colours and varieties and going into a dedicated DM store is something that people prone to migraines should be careful about because you just get hit with such a mixture of bright colours that it can be hard to cope with the visual assault and you'll certainly struggle to decide what colour to go for if you don't already have a good idea. As well as solid-colour boots of what seems like every colour under the sun, there are also a plethora of patterned boots from victorian floral designs to tartan motifs. Several of them are available in patent leather, but most are a more muted colour of regular leather.
I half imagine that if I had been born 50-100 years before I was, the chances were that someone of my station in life (British, female, office worker) would never have been seen in this sort of thing - I imagine that bovver boots would have been far too indelicate and improper. Or at least, that's the image I have in my head anyway and certainly, when visiting elderly relatives of mine as a teenager, they always managed a wry smile about my clumpy boots (their sensible alternative to looking shocked). But chances are I probably wouldn't have been wearing hiking trousers or jeans and a t-shirt to work everyday either. As it is, thank goodness I was born when I was and can manage both "geek chic" and "hiking chic" in the office. No, I know, not exactly the epitome of cool, but it's definitely comfortable and practical.
I've been wearing DM boots since I was a teenager in the late 1990s. In that time, I've got through about half a dozen pairs of boots. I reckon each set lasts me on average about 1-2 years being worn for 3-4 miles several times a week in the winter. For my everyday footwear, I only buy shoes or boots that I can walk at least four or five miles in and DMs manage this comfortably after their breaking-in period
==Breaking in a new pair==
Some people swear that these are the most comfortable footwear they ever had and that they could just put them on and wear them all the time no worries. That wasn't my experience. Once I've worn a pair in, they are very comfortable and I can walk a fair way in them (3-4 miles typically), but the breaking in process takes a couple of weeks during which time my heel is one big raw blister no matter how many plasters I use. It definitely helps to lace them up tightly in this initial period. I recommend wearing them indoors for a few days and go for a few walks around the block before you try wearing them out for any length of time!
I find that the basic pair lasts me a couple of years, after which they crack at the heel and in a line across where the big toe sits. However, I have just found from their website that you can get a special brand of 1460s called the "for life" brand for £110 that will be replaced by Doc Marten when it wears out. I'm strongly tempted to go for these next time, though they don't have them in as wide a range of colours as I'd usually go for.
Pssst, whatever you do, don't tell your teenagers about the practicality aspects. Just let them keep on thinking that they are all rebellious. That way they won't bother with the torture instruments that are fashionable sandals. I mean, come on, most fashion shoes should be banned under the Geneva convention: who else but fashion companies could persuade people to attach a six inch spike to their feet and wrap their feet up in a few pieces of cheesewire? And pay lots of money to do so!
So anyway, back to the DM boots and how much more practical they are than other footwear...
Comfortable soles - The Doc Marten boot comes with a specially developed sole to them called "Air Wair". This provides a cushion of air to the feet and gives them quite a "bouncy" feel to them. Whilst you won't quite be walking around like you are on the moon, this padding does make them very comfortable to wear for long periods of time.
Resistant soles - as well as being comfortable, the rubberised soles are designed to be very resistant too. They are branded as being tough wearing, oil and fat resistant and to give good grip in slippery conditions.
Good ankle support - being a boot that comes up well above the ankle, you get excellent support. This means that the feet are held extremely well in place and even if you have rather narrow heels as I do, as long as you lace your boots reasonably tightly, your feet don't "rattle around" or fall out of the boot, which is what happens to me with most fashionable footwear. It's also good for people who like me have slightly weak ankles that have a bad habit of suddenly giving way. With these boots, I haven't been catapaulted into the road when my ankle turns, which I usually manage about two or three times a week otherwise!
Toe protection - several of the brands of Doc Martens have steel toe caps and are actually considered proper safety boots. But don't assume that they all do - you will need to check it specifically to make sure that it is ANSI/OSHA certified as some of the steel toe cap designs are there as a fashion article not safety boot.
The manufacturing process gives the DM boots its classic stitched yellow stitched rim appearance. According to their website, this is due to a special process that is unique to Doc Marten products whereby the boots are "Goodyear-welted" which apparently involves stitching the boots together (rather than just glueing which is what other brands sometimes do) with a special z-welt stitch and giving it a special heat seal.
Sadly, there are no longer vegetarian/vegan friendly varieties of Doc Martens readily available, though they did used to make non-leather versions, which I found did not last anywhere near as well as their leather counterparts. If you hunt around, you may be lucky.
==A bit of history==
As already mentioned, the DMs arrived in the UK fifty years ago. But they had been around for a couple of decades before that and were developed as an orthopedic boot in post-war Germany by Dr Klaus Maertens. He came to design them following a skiing injury when he discovered that bouncy soles were much more conducive to healing. Fashion-sensitive teenagers will be no doubt horrified to know that before they came over to the UK their initial main consumer of 16 hole high boots in Germany were housewifes because they were so practical and comfortable and made good stompy footwear for all terrain. Then they were discovered by Griggs, a UK manufacturer of shoes who brought them over to the UK.
Not really very rebellious any more. But still hard wearing, sturdy, come in a range of fun to funky colours and well worth a buy. At about 75 pounds a pair, these are a mid priced boot but I think they represent good value and are certainly extremely comfortable to wear.