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chcouper

chcouper
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Member since: 10.02.2008

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      07.07.2008 22:44
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      Recommended but won't change your life

      Clearasil Ultra Deep Pore Treatment Pads are designed to "fight spots and reduce redness to give you visibly clearer skin in just 3 days". The product is clearly marketed at teenagers with problem skin - the adverts on TV for Clearasil products usually feature a teenager getting ready for a party, realising that they have a spot, getting despondent that the spot will ruin the party, being advised to use Clearasil and applying it. By the end of the advert the viewer sees the spot fearing teenager at the party surrounded by attractive people of the opposite sex - which we know would not have happened it they still had that awful spot! I usually lack sympathy for the teenagers featured in these adverts - they're teenagers and therefore are meant to have spots. However, it's a different story when you reach the grand old age of 26 and still have skin worse than most teenagers.

      I've tried many different skin treatment products over the past fifteen or so years but my skin refuses to clear up. The latest product that I've been trying is Clearasil Ultra Deep Pore Treatment Pads. The pads come in packs of 65 which cost around £4.99 and are available from chemists and most supermarkets. The packs recommend using the pads twice a day - once in the morning and once in the evening. That's a cost of £60 a year if you use them every day as directed. I think that's quite a lot personally and probably more expensive than most other facial cleaners.

      The pads are quite wet and sometimes slightly difficult to separate so you can end up using more than one by accident (make that £65 per year!). I would prefer that the pads were slightly less wet as when you first start using them you don't feel like there is enough friction against your skin to do enough cleansing. The pads are quite rough and once they have dried slightly they have an exfoliating effect on your skin. After using the pads your skin does feel very smooth and clean but quite dry. I always apply a moisturiser after using the pads to try and minimise the drying effect. Some cleansers I've used before really dry your skin out but make your skin produce loads of oil shortly afterwards - this doesn't happen with these pads however which is great.

      The pads are however, quite harsh so I wouldn't recommend them for anyone with sensitive skin. You need to be careful that you don't scrub too hard or you end up with red patches that won't disappear for hours. The pack tells you not to use near your eyes, your eyebrows or your hairline. I ignore this advice because I usually wear mascara and want my cleanser to remove this as well as cleansing the rest of my face. It's fine if your eyes are completely shut but once or twice I've got a little bit of product in my eyes and it is very painful so you should definitely follow the advice on the pack!

      The pads smell quite inoffensive when in the pack, the smell isn't strong at all. However, I do find that they leave a slightly unpleasant smell on my skin after using them. This is another reason to use moisturiser after using them to try and mask the smell.

      So, does it work then? Does it meet its claim that your skin will be visibly clearer in three days? Well, I suppose my skin is usually clearer within three days but then most spots don't last forever so you would expect that after three days they might have diminished somewhat even if you don't use any special treatment on them. I do think that the product is quite effective on smaller blemishes but completely ineffective on larger spots. I would say they are slightly more effective than other cleansers that I've used but then different cleansers are going to suit some people more than others.

      Overall, I would recommend them but don't expect them to work wonders.

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        01.07.2008 20:14
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        Excellent value in Berlin City Centre

        My friend and I went to Berlin earlier on this month for a short break to get away from the bad Scottish weather. We were away for three days and four nights and were looking for somewhere cheap but comfortable to stay. We ended up staying at the Holiday Inn Express City Centre West.

        Cost
        Cost is always my prime consideration when making any purchase so I was delighted with the price of £27 per person per night for a twin room at the Holiday Inn Express, especially given the poor Euro exchange rate for tourists. This was a special offer from one of the many websites that offers good deals on hotels. The special offer gave 25% off the standard price so the standard price would be £36 per night. This is still pretty good value I think, for the reasons listed below in my review...

        Booking
        As mentioned above I booked through a website (of which I can't remember the name). No deposit was required when making a booking which was great.

        Arrival
        On arrival we were welcomed by a member of staff and asked how we wished to pay. When we said cash it was requested that we pay in advance for our full booking. This surprised me slightly as I've never had to pay in advance for a hotel and we had already provided credit card details to provide a guarantee (in case we trashed the room). Anyway, we handed over the cash and completed our check-in. This was about all check-in consisted of. We weren't given any more information about the hotel eg where breakfast was served. However, the member of staff was friendly and if we had had any questions then I would have felt free to ask her.

        Room
        Our room was on the first floor and we made our way up in the lift. The room was compact but very light and airy considering its size. The décor was very modern and it looked like the room had recently been redecorated. The room had all the usual facilities - hairdryer, TV, phone, wi-fi, kettle etc. The TV was a wide screen and had about 30 channels in various different languages. The en suite was very compact but exceptionally clean and modern. My one complaint was that there were no free biscuits in the room! It wasn't luxurious but then you wouldn't expect it to be when you're paying £27 a night!

        Location
        We had been looking for a centrally located hotel that would give us easy access to the sites of the city. Given that we were only in Berlin for three days we didn't want to spend half our holiday on transport. However, we discovered that Berlin doesn't really have a centre. There are lots of mini centres all over the city and our hotel was situated in one of these. It is situated on Kurfurstenstrasse, which we found to be very central. There is a U-Bahn station within five minutes walk of the hotel which gives access to the whole city. There were numerous restaurants and bars within easy walking distance of the hotel which was great in the evenings. There is a large shopping centre with a variety of shops to suit all budgets about ten minutes walk away and the city zoo is about a five minute walk away.
        We felt quite safe walking around in the evenings in the vicinity of the hotel but you didn't have to go too far from the hotel before you were in an area that wasn't quite so safe feeling.

        Breakfast
        The hotel offers a continental breakfast which is included in the room rate for the night (which I think is becoming more and more rare these days). The breakfast includes croissants, cereal, rolls, orange juice, tea, coffee, eggs and toast. The breakfast is self-service and you are free to help yourself to as much as you like. There is no restaurant in the hotel.

        Staff
        The staff were helpful any time we had any questions but they were not overly helpful. In most hotels the staff will smile when you approach reception but not in this hotel!

        Atmosphere
        The atmosphere in the hotel was relaxed. There is a small area in reception where there are seats and you can have a coffee and there is also a small bar. There is also internet access in the reception area. There were a variety of guests staying at the hotel - from young families and groups of friends to elderly couples and businessmen.

        Overall, we both really enjoyed our stay at the Holiday Inn. Because the hotel was such good value I was worried that the hotel was going to be unclean and generally not very nice. But, I was wrong. The hotel was very pleasant, offered exceptional value and I would highly recommend it.

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          28.06.2008 23:00
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          Recommended

          The Checkpoint Charlie Museum is one of Berlin's main tourist attractions. It commemorates the Cold War period in Germany when Berlin was divided in two by the Berlin Wall, with East Germany being controlled by the Communist Russian regime while West Berlin was controlled by the combined control of the French, British and Americans.

          Entry to the museum costs Euro12.50 for an adult and you can also buy an audio guide for an additional Euro3. Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more. The museum is open from 9am to 10pm daily as is the small coffee shop situated at the museum. The museum also houses a public reference library which focuses on post-war history and the Cold War.

          The museum was opened in 1962, in a different location to its current position, and moved to the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie in 1963, nearby to one of the most famous border crossings on the Wall. From the house the escape helpers could view all movements at the border crossing, make escape plans and welcome recent escapees from the East. While the Wall was still standing the museum was a central point of the fight against the oppressive regime in East Germany.

          The museum has exhibitions on the history of life on both sides of the Wall, the building of the Wall, the fall of the Wall and the attempted escapes from West to East Berlin. A large section of the museum is devoted to an art display of Cold War related art exhibits. Some specific artefacts include some of the weird and wonderful methods used by people to attempt to cross the border.

          The entrance to the museum is a bit confusing. We knew from a friend who had previously been to the museum that audio guides were available, but this wasn't advertised very well at the main entrance. There is actually a separate entrance a few metres away from the main entrance where the audio guides can be purchased. When borrowing the audio guides you have to leave a piece of photo identification.

          When we went to the museum at the start of June it was very crowded and overheated. But this was probably due to the group of 50 Japanese schoolchildren who were having a tour at the same time as us! We managed to find a spot on the floor where we could sit and listen to the audio guides which made the heat a bit more bearable. The layout of the museum is a bit confusing - it is not always clear which direction you are meant to be taking, but this adds to the authenticity of the museum which grew room by room.

          The audio guides were also a bit confusing. You are meant to press the number on the guide whenever you see a number on the wall. The numbers are not always that easy to see and we found that we missed some out. The narrative on the guides was really good - there was a lot of information but it was difficult to tie the narrative to the artefacts in the room. There were around one hundred points on the tour and I have to say we only made it to about twenty before we gave up. The audio guides were very informative but did go on a bit, especially given that there was detailed narrative next to all of the artefacts. The artefacts contain plenty of personal stories as well as historical facts which really brought the history to life.

          Overall, I would highly recommend this museum to anyone visiting Berlin. You really could spend a whole day there if you had the time and were interested enough. The price is probably in line with most other museums these days. The audio guides are very cheap at Euro3 and I would definitely suggest using these - they added a lot to my experience of the museum.

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            02.06.2008 22:06
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            Could be worse

            My hair is naturally thick, stubbornly wavy and turns to frizz the moment I step out the door. For years I have spent ages every morning blow drying my hair and then straightening it with hair straighteners. I had always felt that straighteners were bad for my hair because they are so hot and was fed up of the amount of time it took me to get ready in the morning - at the same time as being frizzy my hair also gets greasy very quickly so I don't have the option of not washing and drying my hair every morning. It was with great joy that I saw an advert on television for a hairdryer that straightened my hair at the same time as drying it. I was hoping that the hairdryer would be kinder to my hair than the straighteners I was using and also save me a bit of time in the morning.

            I rushed out to my local Boots and forked out £29.99 for a Babyliss Beliss hairdryer. At £29.99 this hairdryer is at the upper end of the market but I figured that as it was a straightener as well as a hairdryer it was actually quite good value. The hairdryer is purple in colour and comes with two attachments - one for blow drying and one for straightening. It is about the same size as a normal hairdryer and looks quite modern and stylish.

            My tactic was to rough dry my hair using the blow dry attachment and then to start straightening. The hairdryer itself is not as powerful as other hairdryers that I have had in the past and my hair took longer to dry than I was expecting. However, the hairdryer does operate very quietly which is a bonus. There are two settings - slow and fast. I've never really given the slow setting a go because I had already found that the fast one wasn't that powerful.

            After rough drying my hair then I switched to the straightening attachment. This is a difficult manoeuvre to perform as the blow dry tool gets very very hot while the hairdryer is working - you need to be very careful to not burn yourself while trying to change attachments. The attachment is a brush with about five prongs which are very thick and are have ceramic straightening irons on either side. Hot air is pushed through the brush which dries your hair while the hot air also heats the ceramic plates which (supposedly) straighten your hair. The straightening tool is a bit difficult to operate becuase of the angle you have to hold it at but this gets easier with use. However, I haven't found the straightening attachment to be very effective at all. I acknowledge that my hair is very stubborn and that it takes a lot of make it straight but this straightening attachment did next to nothing for my hair. It does a good job of drying your hair but I found that my hair was only marginally straighter than if I had just blow dried it normally.

            I didn't keep using the straightening tool so can't comment on any damage that it does to your hair, but I'd imagine that it would be better for your hair than most straighteners because it seems to be less hot than other straighteners that I have used in the past.

            I have kept using the hairdryer attachment and it's kept working for more than nine months now but the straightening attachment has stayed in my cupboard - even if it takes longer to use a separate straightener I'd rather have my hair actually be straight. However, I have taken this on holiday with me sometimes when space is at a premium and I don't want to take a haridryer and straighteners. If you have thin hair that straightens easily then this might be a good alternative.

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              22.05.2008 23:46
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              Good but overpriced

              I first visited the Culloden Battlefield back in the days of my youth and when in Inverness recently visiting a friend we decided to go for a nostalgic trip to the field. On my earlier visit to the Battlefield, that was pretty much what it was, a Battlefield and not much else. Nowadays, it's a different story. The visitor centre has recently undergone a refurbishment and there is now a lot more to see.

              Culloden is on the Eastern outskirts of Inverness and a five minute drive from the A96 main Aberdeen to Inverness road. If you're driving it's easy to get to but if you're relying on public transport then it wouldn't be the most convenient place to get to.

              For those of you who are interested a brief summary of the events at Culloden is as follows:
              The Battle of Culloden in 1745 was a turning point in British history. It marked the end of a long campaign to restore a Stuart king (Bonnie Prince Charlie) to the British throne. Defeated by the Duke of Cumberland and his Government forces at the Battle of Culloden the Jacobites, led by the Bonnie Prince, were to give up the fight for their cause and Governmental authority was restored to the nation.

              Cost
              The visitor centre and battlefield cost £10 for an adult to visit. Now, I might be a cheapskate but to me, that's pretty expensive, although there are some good deals available for families and larger groups. Parking at the centre costs £2, which seems a bit steep as parking isn't exactly restricted in remote parts of the Highlands. If you are a member of the National Trust for Scotland (for which annual membership costs £33) then you get in free. In a state of shock from the amount I had just had to pay I entered the centre with a high sense of expectation.

              Centre
              The centre takes you on a journey from the beginnings of the historical events that led to the battle at Culloden and culminates in a tour round the battlefield itself. There certainly are a lot of cool gadgets in the centre (which I imagine my astronomical £10 entry fee paid for). It's the kind of place that would be really appealing to kids. There are lots of interactive computer displays with bright colours and flashy graphics.

              The layout of the centre is a little confusing - the centre is designed in a chronological order but when you reach a corner then it's not always clear which direction you are meant to go in. At one particular point of the display the visitor is led through a narrow corridor with the voices of the Government forces sounding on one side and the Jacobite soldiers on the other. This sounds like a good idea to make you really feel as if you are actually at the battle, but in reality the result is confusing - the noises from both sides of the corridor overpower each other and you can't hear either properly.
              There is also an audio visual display which depicts the events on the day of the battle. The display is viewed in a room with screens on all four walls. Throughout the display different images appear on each of the four walls (presumably again to give the impression that you are in the middle of the battlefield at the height of the action). However, again, I found this section of the centre to be slightly confusing. There is too much going on to concentrate on any one of the screens. A further reason for my complaint is that there are no seats in the audio visual room - this wouldn't make it ideal for anyone not at the height of good health.

              The centre is very educational though - by the time I reached the end of it I had learned a great deal about the battle and the historical events surrounding it. I don't think that the snazzy technology added that much to my enjoyment of it however.

              Battlefield
              At the end of the centre the tour of the battlefield itself begins. As you would expect, there isn't that much to see on the battlefield. There are some red flags to represent the position of the Government forces, some blue ones to represent the Jacobites, a monument to those who died which was erected in the 19th century and some sites of mass clan graves. Instead of having a guided tour of the site, you are provided with a sat nav system which pings (or is supposed to ping) when you reach a particular point of interest on the tour. The sat navs are very cool, but they do have their problems, if you're not the most technologically able like me. My friend's sat nav broke about 30 seconds into the tour and then we ended up out of sync for the rest of the tour. There were poor instructions for using the technology - nobody explained that you had to stop when the machine pinged so my friend and I kept moving and then missed out several of the points of note on the tour.

              Overall
              A very interesting site to visit but overpriced and a lot of the technology is a bit of a waste if you ask me.

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              • Made of Honour (DVD) / DVD / 49 Readings / 46 Ratings
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                17.05.2008 23:37
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                Worth seeing

                Tom, in his own words, has it all. He is a serial philanderer who has a set of rules which rule his love life - he never has a date with the same woman two nights in a row and never has more than two dates with the same woman in a week. His emotional needs are met through his relationship with Hannah who he has known since his college days. Hannah is sent to Scotland for six weeks for work and while she is away Tom realises that after all these years it is Hannah he wants to be with. Unfortunately for him, while in Scotland Hannah meets and falls madly in love with Colin, a Scottish Duke. She comes back to New York engaged with the wedding set for two weeks' time. Hannah asks Tom to be her maid of honour and he sets out to convince her that she should leave Colin and be with him instead. I won't spoil the ending for anyone but, suffice to say, that it is a typical chick flick ending.

                The film is a predictable chick flick but it is a good one for the most part. There are some very funny moments in the film, such as when Tom (played by the very dishy Patrick Dempsey) is dressed for his participation in the Highland Games in a kilt that sits about ten inches above his knees. There is obviously a lot of word play surrounding the fact that Tom is a male maid of honour and this is very well done.

                All of the main characters, with the exception of Colin (who is just the perfect man on paper), have depth and the viewer is made to really care what the outcome is. We really feel for Hannah as she weighs up whether to opt for the dependable Colin or for the more risky Tom.

                However, the film does have its flaws. My first issue is with the title of the film. The title suggests that Tom is engaged in an honourable task to get the woman he loves but in my book it isn't honourable to try and ruin your best friend's wedding.

                Secondly, there were some seriously unbelievable parts to the plot. Obviously most chick flicks are completely unbelievable and I could suspend my disbelief in the name of art and accept that the main plot wasn't at all realistic, but there were numerous sub plots which had no reason to be unbelievable. For example, it is not until the day before Hannah moves to Scotland that she mentions that she will be moving to Scotland to live after the wedding. If it was my best friend that announced they were marrying someone from the other side of the world then the first question I would ask would be which one of them was going to be moving to live together. However, in this film, this issue isn't mentioned until a couple of days before the wedding. There are several other parts of the plot that just didn't make sense either and the credibility of the film suffered as a result.

                Thirdly, now, although I'm not an expert in the art of cinematography, I couldn't help but notice that there were some flaws in the film. For example, in the opening scene set in a coffee shop the timing is all wrong. Tom orders his coffee then approximately two seconds later his coffee has been served and he is chatting up the woman in front of him in the queue. Also, some of the jokes in the film fall a bit flat and I think this was often due to either the music being inappropriate or the camera shots being not quite right. I can't be specific in what exactly was wrong because I don't know enough about film making, but it just felt like something wasn't quite right.
                Fourthly, and finally, being Scottish, I objected to the stereotypical representation of all of the Scottish people in the film. All of the Scottish people in the film have very broad accents, live in the middle of nowhere, go hunting and fishing, and wear tartan. There were quite a few times that jokes were met with a stony silence in the cinema in Scotland I was sitting in while watching this film! That said, I probably would have found the jokes hilarious if they had been directed at the English!

                In summary, I would recommend this film, but I though there were several flaws in it that could quite easily have been remedied.

                The film is rated 12A so those under the age of 12 can only see the film if they are accompanied by an adult. There is a lot of sexual innuendo and I would have thought that a higher age limit should have applied but I guess the rating is in line with most other films.

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                • More +
                  11.05.2008 00:25
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                  Best cleaning product I've ever come across

                  Now, I'm not usually one for writing reviews about cleaning products - anyone who has seen my flat, my car or even my desk at work will know that cleaning is not at the top of my list of priorities. However, I just had to write about this fantastic product. It's perfect for people like me who hate cleaning and don't like getting their hands dirty.

                  I had previously used other Cillit Bang products, such as their kitchen spray. I'd been impressed with the cleaning power of these other products so decided to give the toilet cleaner a go too. The thing I hate most about cleaning the toilet is that even after using bleach or most other toilet cleaners you still have to scrub the toilet after usin the prodcut, but not any more! Cillit Bang toilet cleaner does all the work for you! I expected that this toilet cleaner would be good, but was amazed at how good it actually was.

                  I applied the cleaner to my toilet, in the same way as any toilet cleaner would be applied and then left it to do its job for about an hour. I flushed the toilet and got out my gloves in preparation for the detestable task of scrubbing the toilet. However, much to my amazement (and joy!) once the toilet had finished flushing, there was no work left for me to do - the toilet was completely clean!

                  From my viewpoint, this makes it the perfect cleaning product. However, there are some downsides.

                  Firstly, the product is expensive - it costs around £3 for a bottle. The cleaner is of a thick consistency and as such, you need to use quite a lot of it for each application. Most cleaning products are cheaper than this but, in my opinion, the extra cost is worth it.

                  There are also some nasty ingredients in the product which I am sure cannot be good for your skin or for the environment. Most of these ingredients are found in the majority of cleaning products but with a cleaner as effective as this, I'd expect that the ingredients are more powerful, and therefore probably more harmful than the ingredients in most other products. I'm sure you've all seen the adverts on TV where the Cillit Bang removes all of the rust from a coin - that kind of cleaning power doesn't come from natural ingredients!

                  However, for me, the positives far outweigh the negatives - never again will I be forced to dirty my hands by scrubbing my toilet!

                  Bang, and the dirt is gone - trust pink!

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                    20.04.2008 21:45
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                    Great for a couple of days, but no more

                    My friend and I stayed at the Days Inn in Niagara for two nights in May at the start of our tour round Eastern Canada. We'd booked this as part of our Globespan holiday so I don't know how efficient the booking process was. The hotel was three star and we certainly didn't pay over the odds for our stay, although I don't know exactly how much we paid.
                    Arrival

                    We arrived at the Days Inn at around 3am Canada time, or 8am according to our body clocks! We breathed a sigh of relief as our bus finally pulled up outside the hotel (our flight had been delayed quite a bit so neither of us was in the best of form by this stage!). I'd heard great things about the friendliness of the Canadian race from friends who had been to Canada before so was expecting a nice warm welcome from the hotel staff - you'd expect those in the hospitality industry to be the most welcoming to tourists. Unfortunately we didn't get the welcome we'd expected. The man behind the desk didn't say anything as we came in - he just stood there and waited for me to hand over our booking reference. All he said was "Your room's on the first floor, the stairs are behind you". He obviously hadn't noticed the size of our suitcases, but fortunately we managed to locate the lift - there was certainly no question of asking for assistance with our bags! No information re hotel facilities or restaurant was given on arrival.

                    Location
                    The Days Inn is less than a five minute walk from the Niagara Falls which was really convenient. Most of the hotels in Niagara seemed to be in the same area. This made it really easy to get to the Falls, especially in the evening when we went to see the Falls lit up. The hotel is also really near to the touristy area of Niagara, which was like a slightly up market Blackpool promenade. This did mean that there was a bit of noise at the hotel because it was so near to the nightlife, but it wasn't a big problem.

                    Room
                    Most of the rooms in the hotel are situated around indoor courtyards. This means that the only windows in the rooms are facing out onto the courtyard - there is no natural light. This makes the rooms, which aren't particularly roomy, very dark and gives them a slightly oppressive atmosphere.
                    The hotel is in the process of being refurbished and the rooms are furnished to a very high standard. Our room had a fridge, bath, shower, TV, coffee maker and computer. The room was also supposed to have a hairdryer and iron but these were both missing so we had to ask reception for them. (By the way, the ironing board which we eventually received was one of the funniest things I have ever seen - it had the cutest little legs that were approximately two inches long! Not the easiest thing to use for ironing, but worth it just for the comedy value!)

                    Hotel Facilities
                    The hotel has no restaurant within it. We were slightly surprised by this when we arrived but were later to discover that this is the norm in Canada. There is a restaurant which is affiliated to the hotel however. It's called Perkins and its entrance is approximately twenty feet away from the main hotel entrance. You get a 10% discount in Perkins if you show your Days Inn room card. If you're a fat pie (like me) then you will love Perkins, but it certainly won't be helpful if you're on a diet! The prices are really good - I ordered a full breakfast on the first day and was astonished by the amount of food that I received - the waitress arrived with a massive tray with three plates loaded with food. All this cost only $15 (approx £7). What a bargain but I dread to think how many calories were in it! The restaurant does an all day breakfast, lunch and dinner but everything on the menu could definitely be described at stodgy, and I don't think you would want to eat there more than once a day. Its opening hours are long - 7am to 11pm.
                    The hotel is also affiliated to a swimming pool. The pool is connected to the Days Inn (and three other hotels) by a walkway. It's probably better described as a leisure centre - it's not the kind of pool you'd go to for a proper swim. It has loads of chutes and would be a great place for taking kids for a day out. I had assumed that the pool would be free for hotel guests, but how wrong was I! A day pass for the pool cost around $40 per person which seemed pretty steep to me. We gave the pool a miss but heard lots of other guests speaking very highly of it, despite the high prices.

                    Staff
                    This was my main problem with the hotel. Staff were really quite unhelpful. We had quite a few queries to ask at reception such as - where can we get breakfast, how do we get to the Falls from here, can we have an iron please, and can you order us a taxi. Each time we asked a question it felt like we were being an inconvenience and we were treated as if we were idiots for now knowing the answer to our question already. For example when we asked about getting breakfast we were told simply the name of the restaurant - how was that supposed to help us find it!
                    Two members of staff were often malingering behind the reception desk but both were often dealing with the same query, even when there was a big queue behind the desk. We often had to wait a long time before being served.

                    Overall
                    The Days Inn was fine to stay in for a couple of nights (and I don't think many people would want to stay at Niagara for more than a couple of nights). It was cheap and really conveniently situated but didn't offer much in the way of customer service.

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                      30.03.2008 23:14
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                      An excellent example of du Maurier's work

                      After falling in love with Daphne du Maurier's "Rebecca", I've read a lot more of her work. I've not been disappointed with any of her novels, and "My Cousin Rachel" is no exception to the usual high standard of her work.

                      Ambrose, Philip's guardian since the loss of both parents at an early age, travels abroad to Italy for the sake of his health where he meets, falls in love with and marries "my cousin Rachel". Months later, Philip receives a disturbing letter from Ambrose concerning the state of his health, which also hints at Rachel's involvement in his illness. On travelling to Italy to investigate, Philip finds Ambrose dead, and Rachael has departed.

                      Philip returns to England to take up residence in the estate which he has now inherited from Ambrose. Shortly thereafter Rachel invites herself to stay with Philip in the house which she would have shared with Ambrose had he lived. Philip accepts, with the intention that he will question Rachel on her involvement in Ambrose's death and mete out her punishment accordingly. However, on meeting Rachel, Philip becomes enthralled with her and will entertain no doubts as to her character and honour. The remainder of the novel follows the developing relationship between Philip and Rachel as Philip comes of age and therefore, into full ownership of Ambrose's estate.

                      Throughout the entire book the true reality of the situation remains elusive. Told through the eyes of Philip, the reader can only guess at the reliability of his perceptions and observations. Two main questions dominate the book:
                      1. Did Rachel murder Ambrose and does she try likewise to murder Philip?
                      2. Does Rachel love Philip or is she using him for her own financial gain?
                      These questions remain entirely unanswered, even at the end of the book where the reader remains uncertain as to the guilt or innocence of both Rachel and Philip. Du Maurier teases the reader with hints on every single page, but in the end the reader is left to make up their own mind.

                      The book could be read as an anti-feminist novel, based on Rachel's use of her charms to manipulate both Ambrose and Philip to her financial gain. However, the book also has more subtle feminist tones. Rachel can also be seen as a victim. The world in which Ambrose and Philip live is male dominated (for example, their home is staffed only by male servants) and both men can be seen to use their financial wealth to control Rachel. Philip is, in the end, willing to give up his entire inheritance in order to secure Rachel's hand in marriage. The premise that Rachel has killed Ambrose is turned on its head at the end of the book by the suggestion that Philip is responsible for Rachel's eventual death, successfully reversing the implication that Rachel, or the manipulative woman, is the guilty party, and transferring the guilt to Philip, the male figurehead.

                      The book can be read on two levels, either as a simple story of female guile and manipulation, or as a more subtle work. I would highly recommend this book to anyone. The book is a typical du Maurier novel which exemplifies the author's masterful use of suspense.

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                        25.03.2008 14:00
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                        Highly recommended

                        I've just got back from a long weekend in the Lake District. You might question the wisdom of going to the Lakes for a weekend of watersports and outdoor activities in wintry March, and you'd be right to do so! However, the gale force winds, hail and snow were made bearable by the excellent Hillthwaite House Hotel where we were staying. The hotel was an absolute haven!

                        Basics
                        The hotel is a family run business and has about thirty rooms. We were staying on a special weekend offer and paid £185 each for three nights, including bed, breakfast and dinner. The hotel is in Windermere and is about a fifteen minute drive from the M6. It has a swimming pool, sauna and steam room.

                        Getting There
                        The hotel had sent a brochure after I booked on the phone and the brochure had a map on the back so I wasn't expecting any navigational issues when getting to the hotel, but I was wrong. The map, however, was pretty useless so we ended up having to ask for directions from the tourist information office. The hotel was a two minute walk from the centre of Windermere so was ideally located, however, the only problem is that the hotel is situated on top of a very steep hill, the road to which is only wide enough for one car at a time. I wouldn't have wanted to attempt ascending that hill in the dead of winter!

                        Restaurant
                        My review has been a bit negative so far, but that is all about to change! Dinner (which was included in the price we had paid) was served every night in the restaurant. There were no less than five, yes that's right, I said five, courses! We pre-ordered dinner during the day which meant that there was no fuss over ordering and we didn't ever have to wait for ages to get served. Each night we were at the hotel there was a completely different menu on offer, and all the dishes my friends and I had can only be described as exquisite! Most of the food had a French theme and would probably be described as being quite fancy but I couldn't fault it. Portion sizes of posh food are often on the small side for my liking, but not in this restaurant. The service was fantastic too - all of the staff were friendly without being over-familiar. My only slight issue with the restaurant would be that it was exceptionally quiet - background music does play in the restaurant but very quietly. It was hard to have a conversation at a normal level of volume without feeling that everyone else in the room could hear exactly what you were saying. Most people dressed for dinner but you still wouldn't feel out of place in jeans and a t-shirt.

                        Rooms
                        We were staying in basic rooms (hence the cheap price!) but they were more than adequate. Decoration was tasteful and the rooms all the features you would expect - TV/phone/hairdryer/bath/shower/tea/coffee etc etc. The room I was staying in was really near to reception so there was a bit of noise, but it's not the kind of hotel where you get large groups of rowdy nightclubbers coming in at all hours, so it wasn't really a problem. Superior rooms are also available - these boast stunning views of Lake Windermere and have Jacuzzi baths.

                        Staff
                        Service in the hotel was of an excellent standard. Reception staff were really helpful and always willing to go out of their way to assist with directions or with suggestions of what to do in the area. We hadn't brought a map with us and the staff were happy to lend us one. There was a really friendly atmosphere in the hotel - probably due to the fact that it is run by a family.

                        Value for Money
                        The price we were paying worked out as £60 per night which was exceptionally good value for a hotel of this standard. We felt like we were staying somewhere really posh but the price didn't match this. I would have expected to pay at least £30 for a meal in a restaurant of this standard so that meant we were getting our rooms for only £30 a night.

                        Overall - definitely recommended!

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                        • FlyGlobespan / Airline / 55 Readings / 51 Ratings
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                          21.03.2008 15:04
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                          Cheap and cheerful

                          I've just got back from a holiday in Canada which my friend and I had booked through Globespan. Our tour included Niagara Falls, Toronto, Montreal and Quebec.

                          We paid £735 each, which included the following:

                          *return flights to Toronto Hamilton from Glasgow
                          *ten nights accommodation in 3 or 4 star hotels
                          *a sightseeing tour in Quebec (including transport to Quebec from Montreal)
                          *bus transfers between the airport and hotels
                          *five hour return train journey between Toronto and Montreal

                          That's a real bargain in my book!

                          Booking
                          We found out about Globespan holidays through the Scotsman newspaper. I filled out a request for the brochure of their Canadian holidays online and the brochure promptly arrived a couple of days later. They offer a great choice of holidays in Canada including city breaks, Toronto and Niagara Falls, Eastern Explorer (Toronto, New York and Niagara Falls), Eastern Highlights (that's the holiday we went on), Western Canada (Vancouver, Calgary, Banff, Jasper and the Rockies), and loads of other variations on the above.

                          Initially I had little success getting through to the Globespan phone line - I rang about four times at different times of the day and the phone just rang out. However, when I finally did get through, they couldn't have been more helpful. The holidays on offer were really flexible. The brochure indicates the standard holiday and the cost thereof but there are loads of things you can make changes to. There are eleven airports to choose from, including airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland. You can choose exactly how many days you want to spend in each location and the order in which you visit each place. You also get to pick which hotels you stay in. The operator was really helpful - she was more than happy to let me try out different options and check what the cost was.

                          I had expected that we would be sent an itinerary for our trip before we set off but all we got was a book of vouchers for our transfers which didn't state any times.

                          Flights
                          The holiday didn't start exactly as hoped. We arrived at the airport in time for check-in only to discover that our flight had been delayed by about two hours. We went for a coffee and returned to the check-in desk about half an hour later to find a queue which was almost out the door! The queue moved at a snail's pace and we had to queue for well over an hour.

                          We were travelling on the no frills option - i.e. no leg room, no food, no extra baggage allowance and no choice of seat. The plane was a standard six seat to a row plane, but the leg room wasn't great. It would have been OK for a shorter flight but for seven hours it wasn't that comfortable and was made worse by the inconsiderate people sitting in front who reclined their seats throughout the entire flight!

                          The flight on the way back was an hour shorter which was great but we had the same issues with lack of space and being stuck in inside seats - very annoying when you need to get to the toilet and the person in the aisle seat is asleep!

                          Boarding the flights seemed to take ages on both flights - everyone boarded at the same time which meant that it took ages for everyone to find their seats. There wasn't enough room for everyone's hand luggage either - it would be better if they either gave more room for baggage or reduced the allowance for hand luggage. It really annoys me when people get on flights with those huge bags on wheels that leave no room for anyone else's bags!

                          Bus Transfers
                          On arrival at Toronto the Globespan desk was just outside of the arrivals lounge so there were no problems finding it. The bus to Niagara took about half an hour to arrive. The Globespan representative confirmed all of our future transfer times. Our next transfer was from Niagara to Toronto (door to door from hotel to hotel). The only issue here was that the bus company had no record of our booking. It wasn't a problem in this case as there were other people from our hotel travelling on the same bus, but it would have been really annoying if they hadn't turned up for us. There were several other people we went to collect on the way to Toronto whose bookings they didn't have record of either and some of them ended up having to wait for a later bus.

                          Our next transfer was on our return to the airport. We ended up having to sit for four hours in a hotel lobby tied to our luggage while we waited for the bus. Also, the bus company had put our transfer time back by an hour without informing us. We still had plenty of time to get to the airport but it would have been nice to have been informed.

                          Train Transfers
                          The train transfers went extremely smoothly - the trains left on time, had loads of legroom and a very cheap food trolley was circulating the train throughout the journey.
                          Day Trip to Quebec

                          This part of the holiday cost just over £40 each which was excellent value. It included a six hour round bus trip, a walking tour through Quebec city and a photo stop at Montmorency Falls (which are actually higher than Niagara Falls!). The atrocious weather in Quebec somewhat spoiled this trip for us, but it offered excellent value and was really handy to have pre booked through Globespan.

                          Overall
                          The holiday was truly excellent value. There were several annoying things about Globespan's service - lack of legroom on plane, unreliability of bus transfers and delayed flight but I didn't feel justified in complaining too much when I was paying so little for the holiday! I'd definitely recommend Globespan to anyone who's looking for a cheap holiday so long as you're not too fussy! Globespan isn't for people who want five star service round the clock but offers fantastic value and a great holiday if you're not so fussy!

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                            12.03.2008 23:58
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                            Cheap and cheerful

                            I stayed at this hotel for a week last summer. My friend and I were looking for a cheap, but comfortable hotel that would be a good base from which to see Rome. That's exactly what we got from the Pineta Palace.

                            The Pineta Palace is situated in the north west of Rome, has 200 rooms, is about 5km from the city centre, has a restaurant, an indoor bar, an outdoor bar and a business conference centre. For a one night stay, a room costs around 40 euros, but if you're staying for a week there's quite a good discount.

                            Getting There
                            The hotel is about a 25 minute taxi drive from Rome's main airport. We had pre-booked a taxi which cost about 20 euros on the way there. The taxi on the way back at the end of our holiday, however, which we booked from the hotel, ended up setting us back 50 euros, so it's definitely a good idea to book your taxis in advance.
                            Getting around Rome from the hotel was really easy. The hotel has a shuttle bus service which runs a service into the centre of Rome with a bus leaving approximately every half hour (from approx 7am to 6pm). Tickets are about 2 euros for a day pass. The pick up points in the city are designed to suit tourists - one of the stops is right next to the Vatican City. It was a pity that the shuttle didn't run in the evenings though, as it would have been nice to be able to travel into the city in the evening without having to fork out for a taxi or struggle with language problems on the local bus system.
                            The hotel has links with a bus tour company. The bus tour people will come and pick you up from the hotel for free and take you direct to where the bus tours starts from. This was really handy - there was no issue of getting lost trying to find the tour start point and not having to get a taxi saved the purse strings. Tours offered included Pompeii, various trips around Rome itself and the countryside surrounding Rome.

                            Food
                            There is a wide choice of food on offer at the self-service breakfast, although, it has to be said, there aren't many healthy options. Even the croissants are coated in a thick layer of sugar.
                            We ate at the hotel's restaurant in the evening a couple of times during the week. The food was good (healthy portion sizes and plenty of choice) but a bit more expensive than I would have expected (many main courses cost around 20 euros, which seems a lot when you're only paying 40 euros a night to stay at the hotel).
                            If you get bored of eating in the hotel, there are two restaurants a stone's throw away from the hotel. Both of these were cheaper than the hotel and were frequented by locals as well as those staying in the hotel. The restaurants were really convenient as it meant not having to travel into the city in the evening. As well as the restaurants there is a supermarket about a two minute walk from the hotel.

                            Staff
                            Most of the staff have the usual brusque Italian exterior, but once you get used to the abruptness they are actually quite friendly. The shuttle bus driver insisted on attempting to make conversation with us every day, despite it being blatantly obvious that we couldn't understand a single word he was saying! In fact, the limited English skills of quite a few of the staff gave us quite a lot of entertainment throughout the week!

                            Rooms/Cleanliness
                            Rooms were small, but relatively comfortable, and pretty much what you'd expect from a hotel in this price range. My room had a satellite TV installed, but unfortunately it didn't work.
                            Cleanliness, however, is one area on which the hotel could improve. I know that different countries have different standards, but the toilets did leave a bit to be desired (see if you can guess why we nicknamed the hotel the "P" Palace!). That said, it's definitely not the dirtiest hotel I've seen in Italy.

                            Clientele
                            The majority of people staying in the hotel were part of large groups on bus tours of Europe, most of whom were of a certain age. Because most of the residents were part of tour groups, it meant that there wasn't much going on in the hotel in the evenings. The bars were nice, although slightly on the expensive side, but were deserted after ten pm every evening.
                            Overall, "Palace" probably isn't the most appropriate name for the hotel but it's got a really nice atmosphere and offered great value for money. I would highly recommend it to anyone who's looking for a cheap and cheerful place to stay in Rome.

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                              10.03.2008 01:03
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                              Disappointing

                              I chose this book because it had been nominated for the Man booker Prize and the author, Kate Grenville, had previously won the Orange Prize. I don't know enough about the world of literature to understand if these awards are prestigious in the bigger scheme of things, but was presuming that it meant the book couldn't be all that bad.
                              The critique of the novel on the back page declares is as a book "everyone should read" and describes it as "compelling", "magnificent" and "brilliantly atmospheric" amongst other things.

                              My disappointment in the book started on the opening page. The book opens with "In the room where William Thornhill grew up, in the last decades of the eighteenth century, no one could move an elbow without hitting the wall or the table or a sister or a brother. Light struggled in through small panes of cracked glass and the soot from the smoking fireplace veiled the walls." In my opinion the text just sounds too crafted and as if an awful lot of work went into it - this style of language continues all the way through the book. I found it hard to concentrate on the plot at times because the crafted style of the language was just too distracting.

                              The plot centres around William Thornhill who in the early 19th century is convicted of theft and, saved from the noose at the last minute, is subsequently deported to a convict station in New South Wales. Will is accompanied to Australia by his long-suffering wife Sal and their growing family.

                              Grenville portrays Will as a man who, destined by the poverty into which he was born, has no choice but to be a thief. Without spoiling the plot too much, Will and his family prosper in New South Wales and the book concentrates on the decision Will must take as to whether to remain in Australia or return to their old life in London.

                              My other main problem with the book, in addition to the overworked style, is its moral ambiguity. Will is, according to the author, "a man no better or worse than most". I could accept this in light of the destitution which Will and his family would have faced had he not resorted to theft while in London. However, Will does not learn his lesson, and to cut a long story short, indulged in more theft which Grenville appears to justify from a kind of Robin Hood perspective - he's stealing from the rich so it's OK. Although this is potentially justifiable, what cannot be justified, are the atrocities committed against the native Australians who are threatening to halt the progress of civilisation in the new colony. Grenville makes no comment on this, and even continues to praise Will as a man of the people.

                              Conclusion - not that bad really, but I expected more because of Grenville's nomination for literary awards and the critical acclaim on the back cover. Recommended for a holiday read you can pick up and put down again, but in my opinion, it sure ain't literary genius! Don't be fooled by the awards!

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                                28.02.2008 14:40
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                                Probably quite good value for money

                                Before going to Dublin for a long weekend with friends we had been warned that it was an expensive place to visit. This was proved to be true when I started looking for somewhere for us to stay. We were looking for somewhere affordable but a bit posher than a hostel. My search led me to the Ripley Court Hotel. The reasons I chose it were:
                                - proximity to O'Connel Street
                                - availability of a triple room
                                - breakfast was included in the price
                                We had three nights (over a long weekend) for 500 Euros which I thought was pretty steep for a two star hotel, considering that all three of us were sharing a room. (Hint: staying from Saturday to Tuesday instead of Friday to Monday would have saved a fortune - week day rates were only 20 Euro per person!)
                                On arrival we noticed that a train line ran right outside the hotel so my immediate concern was that we were going to be constantly disturbed by trains going past at all times of this night. Thankfully, however this proved not to be the case.

                                The façade of the hotel is slightly dated but not run down in any way. The décor in the reception area is quite traditional and looked like it had been redecorated relatively recently.
                                The welcome we received from staff was warm and we promptly made our way to our room. The first thing we noticed about the room was that it was freezing, but apart from that the room looked nice enough. Closer inspection however revealed quite a few flaws. The side of the bath was falling off, there were numerous dubious looking stains on the carpet, there were holes in the wall and quite a bit of rust in the bathroom. We put the heater on straight away and headed out. On our return to the room that evening it still hadn't heated up properly but had become bearable.

                                Breakfast the next morning was our next real taste of the hotel. On offer was a full English and full continental breakfast. Basically this meant sausage, black/white pudding, scrambled eggs, bacon, bread and cereal. The food was fine but the set-up in the dining area was bizarre to say the least. First of all you collect your tray and then walk along in front of where the food is served from. The only problem is that there is no where for you to set your tray as food is being passed to you. The same issue arises when you get bread and try to serve yourself coffee. You end up having to balance a food loaded tray in one hand while pouring coffee with the other. This could be easily resolved by the hotel putting a narrow shelf in front of all the food.
                                The hotel also has a restaurant. We didn't eat there, the canteenesque feel of breakfast having put us off. The food on offer was cheap and there looked to be a good selection however.

                                Overall, I felt that the hotel didn't offer excellent value but I think that might have been the case wherever we were staying in Dublin. We had an enjoyable stay there, although that was probably due to the fact that we didn't spend too much time there over the weekend.

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                                • Whittlebury Hall / Spa / 46 Readings / 44 Ratings
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                                  24.02.2008 00:02
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                                  Has its faults, but not too many

                                  I've probably stayed at Whittlebury Hall about twenty times over the past three and a half years when attending work-related courses. (Before reading this review be warned that any of my negative comments about the hotel are probably influenced by the fact that when I've stayed there it's never been for pleasure - the days of boredom I've spent within its walls listening to people talking about IFRS accounting and deferred tax have probably made me more negative than I would otherwise be!)

                                  The first view you get of the hotel is magnificent. As you are driven up the long drive you can't help but be impressed by the style of the two-storey building and the grounds that surround it. The reception area as you enter the hotel is also impressive and quite grand looking - the area has very comfortable huge leather couches and a warm atmosphere. The hotel was built in 2003 I think but still manages to feel a bit olde worlde. Reception staff are always helpful but not overly welcoming. I've never heard of anyone having any issues with bookings being incorrect or rooms not being available.

                                  Straight after check-in is where you will come across the first problem with the hotel - the layout is simply unfathomable! Having stayed there as many times as I have you'd think that I'd be able to navigate my way around the hotel (which is on only two floors) relatively easily but you'd be wrong! The numbering of rooms is strange to say the least - bedrooms on the second floor for example are all in either the 200 or 400 range (who knows what happened to the 300s!) and don't appear to follow any logical order. There are signs indicating where you can find your room but it's a bit frustrating to still need to rely on the signs when you've been there for five days in a row and still can't make it to breakfast in the morning without following the signs! The hotel is built around a series of courtyards (containing outside games such as draughts) which I think accounts for the strange layout. The 'inventive' layout prevents the hotel from appearing clinical but makes navigation difficult to say the least!

                                  The rooms themselves are lovely. Each room has a king size bed and flat screen TV as well as the usual tea/coffee, hairdryer, desk, phone etc that you'd expect. The bathrooms are also excellent - the tiles are marble and most rooms have double sinks. The rooms are tastefully decorated and always spotless.

                                  Once you've finally made it to your room and negotiated your way back to the eating areas you've got a choice of restaurants to choose from. Bentley's is the main restaurant (which I would guess would seat around 300) and there is a smaller more intimate restaurant called Murray's (presumably named after Murray Walker because many of his quotes are inscribed on the walls). The food on offer is of a very high standard, although there is not always a huge choice available. The last time I dined in one of the restaurants there were only five main course options on the menu, and three of those were fish. Each item on the menu always has something fancy in it - there's never just a plain steak or chicken breast. Also, the menu can get repetitive if you're staying for more than just a couple of days. Breakfast though, is fantastic. There is a buffet with all the usual foods on offer - sausage, egg, bacon, toast, fruits, cereals and fruit juices. You can go back to the buffet as many times as you like. However, it can be difficult to get served tea/coffee. Quite a few times I've had to go without because I've been running late and not able to get a responsive member of staff to serve me.

                                  The hotel markets itself as being a spa and corporate events hotel and also makes a lot of the fact that it is located very close to Silverstone race course. I sometimes feel that there's a bit of a contradiction between being a spa and a corporate events hotel. I remember being at the hotel on Valentine's Day a couple of years ago while on a course and there were lots of couples who were staying there on one of their spa deals - most of the couples weren't particularly appreciative of the fact that they were sharing their fine dining experience with several tables of rowdy twenty somethings taking advantage of the free bar tab they had!

                                  Apparently the hotel is the place to stay for the racing drivers when it's race weekend at Silverstone, so if you're a Formula 1 fan then the bar is a great place to hang out if you want to meet a racing star. The bar is decorated with pictures of the some of the many racing stars who have stayed at the hotel, which gives the bar a distinctive atmosphere. The prices in the bar are extortionate though - you're looking at £5 per drink.

                                  There are all the usual facilities at the hotel that you would expect, and others that you wouldn't - golf course, spa, gym,19m swimming pool, aerobic and dance studio, sauna, steam room, tanning rooms. I don't usually have time to use many of the facilities at the hotel when I stay there but I've never heard anyone complain about any of them. The hotel can also arrange other activities such as clay pigeon shooting, dry slope skiing, go-karting, helicopter flights, horseracing at nearby Towcester, horse riding and hot air balloon flights, so there's definitely something on offer for every taste. The hotel often has special events on offer as well - forthcoming events include a Take That tribute evening, an Abba tribute evening, mother's day lunches and murder mystery evenings. There is always a reduced hotel room rate on offer if you're attending one of these events.

                                  My other main complaint about Whittlebury (other than its layout) is its remote location. The nearest train station is at Milton Keynes, approximately a £30 taxi journey away and the nearest airports are Birmingham and Luton. The £60 taxi fare to the airports is very painful! An important point to note is that there's no cash machine or availability to get cashback at the hotel, so you need to make sure you've got enough cash for the taxi back to the airport!

                                  The costs for staying at the hotel are as follows (although a room can cost up to £1,000 if you're staying there on a race weekend so be warned!):
                                  £140 single occupancy during the week
                                  £125 single occupancy at the weekend
                                  £165 double occupancy during the week
                                  £150 double occupancy at the weekend

                                  Now, I think that's quite expensive, but the hotel is nice and I suppose that's the kind of price that you'd expect to pay for a hotel of this caliber.

                                  Overall, I'd recommend this hotel as a place to stay - but probably not if you want to go on a romantic break - the hotel is too big and there are too many people staying there at corporate events to get an intimate atmosphere.

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