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Hyde Park - Winter Wonderland 2007
At Christmas 2007, we decided to take the family to Hyde Park for the Winter Wonderland Experience. It had been very well advertised and the flyer portrayed an image similar to what you might expect in Austria or Germany during the festive season. The website looked impressive too, so how could we not go and enjoy the festive delights of London.
Hyde Park is One of London's finest landscapes, covering 350 acres of park land. In the summer months, there is something for everyone with over 4,000 trees, a lake, Princess Diana Memorial Fountain, a meadow, horse rides, abundance of street entertainers and the obligatory ice cream van; it is easy to forget you're in the middle of London. Bearing this in mind and with the advert looking so promising, I was eagerly looking forward to making that journey from Basingstoke.
This year (2007) during the 'Winter Wonderland' event from 19th November 2007 through to 6th January 2008, Serpentine Road, Hyde Park will be inaccessible to all traffic. A huge safety bonus for pedestrians like us with young children.
*** HOW TO GET THERE***
We left the car at Hillingdon Station and took the train straight through to the park. Children travel free into London at weekends so it was only my hubby and I that bought tickets. The ride in only took 40 minutes and the trains were all on time. Travelling on a Sunday was so much easier and there was hardly any crush to fight for a carriage or a seat, even the car park at the station was free on Sunday.
As a station, I would not recommend Hillingdon for cleanliness (the toilets were foul), but for speed and convenience it gets full marks.
With virtually no parking facilities I would recommend the following routes in:
Lancaster Gate & Marble Arch - Central Line
Hyde Park Corner & Knightsbridge - Piccadilly line
North London: 6, 7, 10, 16, 52, 73, 82, 390, 414
South London: 2, 36, 137, 436
West London: 9, 10, 14, 19, 22, 52, 74, 148, 414
East London: 8, 15, 30, 38, 274
*** OPENING TIMES***
The park itself is open from 5 am till midnight daily but the Winter Wonderland is open from 10 am until 10 pm. It was closed Christmas Day. There is easy access into the park for disabled and pram users but some rides might not be suitable.
Cameras and video recording equipment were allowed inside as far as I know. I wasn't stopped with my camera so I presumed it was permitted.
*** FIRST IMPRESSIONS*****
The toilets are situated just by the subway close to the park entrance. It was here we all headed first especially as this was one very cold afternoon. The toilets by the way are kept very clean and there is CCTV for your safety. You do not pay for using them either.
It was around 3.00 pm we arrived there and it was just getting dusk so hence the lights were about to turn on. You do not get the full wow factor until it's really dark and its then that the trees along the Serpentine Road will sparkle with thousands of neon Christmas lights high- lighting the avenue of Hyde Park. With its plethora of colours, the trees looked quite mystical and enticing.
There is no entrance fee to get inside and no security checks either which I found a bit daunting. However there are many police roaming about, mobile and static CCTV plus security guards watching your every move.
***** THE EXPERIENCE*****
The first point of call as you enter the park is the Ice Rink. Even David and Victoria Beckham were snapped on here by the tabloids and from the paper it looked good fun and very large. Oh dear, how deceiving press photos are and also the advertisements.
On approach there was a long covered marquee type outlet where people were grouping in order to put the ice boots on. You were allowed to use your own skates but speed skates were not permitted. The queue was horrendous and people were pushing and shoving. With only subdued lighting by the rink, little ones were being pushed and it was hard to depict where the queue started and ended.
Skating is booked in sessions of 1 hour. Sessions were available on the following times:
10.00 - 11.00
11.00 - 12.00
12.15 - 13.15
13.30 - 14.30
14.45 - 15.45 16.00 - 17.00
17.15 - 18.15
18.30 - 19.30
19.45 - 20.45
21.00 - 22.00
For £30.00 per session, Ice guides were available to escort you on the ice.
Each Ice guide looked after 15 skaters and was exclusive to your
group for the entire 1 hour session. If you were brave enough to go it alone then tokens had to purchase from the token booth which was situated next door to the ice rink. It cost 7 tokens per person and one token was equal to a £1. Please ask at the time of booking if you require a coach for the 2008 season.
There is no minimum age for children and wheelchair users were also permitted on the ice. If you hurt yourself though, they will not accept responsibility.
I decided at this point it just was not worth the effort to even get my kids on there, they were not fussed either and were quite happy to just view. Many people were crowding around the edges of the open air rink and viewing was quite difficult. The rink was very small compared to the website picture and advert in the Uxbridge Leader. There was hardly any room on the ice and it was not practical for complete novices like us, it would have been a disaster if we had managed to get on. Nearly everyone seemed competent and I felt that wobbly skaters would not have been welcome. Above the chattering, you could just hear the background music of a few Christmas Carols, nothing very festive so far.
From the ice rink there is a raised platform where Santa sits on selected times. We saw no sign of him, obviously too cold to sit on his golden throne all day. The platform looked pretty enough, just a shame there was no Santa there to greet the children. Once again this was token entry only but as with all the tokens, they are universal and can be purchased at the other booths situated around the Winter Wonderland.
Alongside where Santa supposedly sat was a miniature German market. With its quaint wooden huts and heavy aroma of mulled wine, the crowds accumulated round here for hot food and drink.
There was probably around 30 or so huts selling handy crafts, even deer fur jackets (didn't think that was allowed anymore), crazy woollen hats, wooden cuckoo type clocks, German food and hot beverages. Food and drink would set you back at least £5 a person and this place took cash, not tokens.
My little girl left her gloves on the train and of all the stalls selling woollen items; we could not find any that had children's gloves. In the end we bought handmade knitted socks and placed them over her freezing fingers much to her delight.
Coming out of the corner where the German "market" was situated were the rides. Not that many to get excited about, just a handful which included 2 virtual rides (watching a film inside a moving pod). The films were B movie and the Snowman. A large carousel, a children's smaller carousel, a miniature roller coaster for under 10's, a dragon ride, a bungee trampoline (dome), a haunted castle ride, a toboggan slide where you sit in a doughnut and slide down and an octopus for both kids and adults. After that there is nothing, the experience ends and the vast remainder of the park looks dark and uninviting. It took us less than 30 minutes to take a slow stroll through, it would have been quicker if it wasn't for the vast amount of visitors.
*** THE WHEEL ****
This must be the star attraction and admittedly it looked amazing in the dark. The entire 180ft wheel was dressed as a snow flake, bathed in beautiful white lights. It was very similar in appearance to the London Eye and had the same check in points but not the queue as with the Eye. This ride was also £7 per person, payable by token again and each gondola or pod held 6 people in each of the 40 pods. Yes the views were amazing but the ride is over so quick, unlike the London eye, this observation wheel does move at a speed you can feel but not as fast as a traditional fairground wheel. I saw no wheel chair users or prams on board a pod so better ask if you go there next year prior to paying for the ride.
*** TOKENS ****
All attractions except the German market needed tokens as payment to go on the rides. There were about a dozen token booths dotted around the park and all took cash or credit card as payment. There is no cash point in close proximity to the park so make sure you have enough cash with you.
In exchange for your money you were given a printed piece of small square paper similar to a receipt with a token value on it. We bought ours in batches of 2 per receipt. The majority of rides were a minimum of 4 tokens each; some smaller kid's rides were 2 whilst the wheel was 7 per person.
*** FOOD AND DRINK***
Apart from the German market, there was also an ice bar close to the rink but full to bursting, a few huts selling sandwiches, hot dogs and drinks and a marquee which was also packed the tent pegs with customers trying to keep warm. A sandwich cost £3 upwards and a hot dog around £4. With no seating and freezing temperatures it was not worth the effort.
We decided therefore to not fight our way through the masses and set the tom tom to pedestrian mode where it found us an "Ask" restaurant 1 mile from the park, a welcome relief.
If you really want to put yourself through it and visit the park next winter, you can pre-book tickets for attractions such as the rink and the wheel. To be honest the token booths didn't have masses waiting there, so I would buy when you get there are avoid the booking fee. However the details are for advance bookings as taken from the website for 2007 season:
Tickets available from:
0844 847 1771 0871 231 0824
When we were there, the majority of toilets in the park itself were locked. You had to use the public toilet just by the subway but close to the main gates. It was very clean and well maintained.
Once is definitely enough and we will not be returning again. There were not enough rides or attractions, as with most of London it's expensive, not that many festive lights and no sign of Santa.
If you live right on top of the park, then maybe have a stroll over there just to see how pretty the trees look when the lights go on, but if not then don't bother wasting your time and money. All in all it was very misleading and a huge disappointment to my children.
Wishing you all a happy new 2008.
Mar Ola Park Hotels /Apartments ( I and II)
Playa de Las Americas
I cannot find a direct web address or site to this hotel but the links below should help if you decide to book there.
In August 2007, we booked a package holiday through Thompson online for an all inclusive 3*/4 in Tenerife, staying at the Mar Ola 1.
We have never been to the Canary Islands before and wasn't quite sure what to expect. Of course the website over exaggerates the pictures and they never tell you the full story, so I hope my warts and all review will help in your decision for next years holiday.
These twin hotel/apartments are very popular with British holidaymakers. A suitable choice with families, couples or groups throughout the year, this place never shuts as we were told by a member of staff called Mac. The complex is separated into two buildings which are adjacent to each other and guests are encouraged to use both hotel facilities.
Our rep from Thompson neglected to tell us this however until the last day of our holiday. Guests may be allocated a room in either building where the standards of facilities are almost identical.
The flight from Southampton was 4 hours and 30 minutes. Getting through passport control was quick and there were no problems with our cases. The coach took around 30 minutes to get us from the exit of the airport to the hotel reception. We were the first to disembark.
The coach dropped us off in the middle of the busy high street and at first all I could see was what looked like masses of flats and bars. It was a nightmare trying to cross the road with cases and three young children, even on a Zebra crossing the cars just ignored us. Fortunately the rep took his life in his hands and just waded in the road halting the cars from going further and allowing us to cross.
From the front the Mar Ola is not impressive, there is no sweeping driveway with palm trees lining the pathway, just a plastic canopy flapping under the warm breeze.
Checking in was easy, we were given our room keys upon receipt of passports. It is a regulation of the hotel to get copies of all the guests' passports for security, you can have them back after 3 or 4 days. I must admit I was apprehensive about handing something over like a passport to a complete stranger, especially in this day and age where identity theft is rife. Unfortunately you have no choice though if you want your room key.
If you are all inclusive you are all given the customary coloured bracelet before you go upstairs.
We were given two rooms next to each other on the second floor. A well maintained lift takes you and your luggage upstairs safely and securely.
The key to the rooms were box standard mortice keys and were a pain to use. There was a knack to opening the doors and eventually I got the hang of it after standing outside my door for ages juggling with the handle and lock. The doors were of normal size, not wide enough to accomadate a wheelchair.
Inside we noticed that even though we had booked the all inclusive hotel package, we were actually given an apartment complete with kitchen, large balcony and a TV.
With three children, it was a welcome sight to have all this extra space.
The room was clean and tidy with just the necessary basics. There was no trouser press, hair dryer or air conditioning unit. Thompson had also said there was air-conditioning but when I questioned the rep, she said there was, but just not in the bedrooms.
There is a safety deposit box but that is payable to reception for the combination number.
The electric sockets looked rather old and dated and some of the wiring was on show. There was only three plug points inside our room and I felt rather uneasy about using them, especially when I attempted to plug an adapter inside.
The beds had a sheet and cotton cover over the top but unfortunately we all had only one very flat and hard pillow each. I was grateful I had taken my squashy pillow in the case. No spare pillows were in the room and no extra covers either.
The bathroom could have done with a severe make over, though clean, it still put me off as the décor was so dated and in need of repair. The floor tiles had dirt down the cracks and once wet, they were a safety hazard. No soap is provided so bring some from home but you are given two glass cups for your toothbrush and not much else.
One thing I noticed that after a bath and the water was running slowly down the plug hole, a horrid stench of ammonia would waft its way through the whole of the bathroom. It was putrid and we soon learnt to have a quick escape route of there.
Towels are provided and are changed on alternate days, however these are not permitted on the poolside so please remember to pack your own.
The TV was a small 14" with a rather large black box attached to the side. The box was where you inserted your euros' if you wanted to watch just one 2 channels in English. It reminded me of the old electric meters in the 1970's where you placed you 50 pence coins in before the lights went out. I had some change and decided to see what was on for my children whilst I unpacked. My money was devoured at a rate of knots and the timer ran faster than a cabbie's meter. I guess I wouldn't be using this too much then. If the money ran out the screen would go to grey fuzz and there were no free channels to watch at all. Rather mean of the hotel I thought and very misleading of Thompson who described the rooms with having satellite TV but with no mention of a pay per view box next to it.
My balcony was huge, stretching the whole length of the room with two large French doors to exit out from. There was a clothes mule in the corner, a mop, bucket and a table with two chairs. The view was of the high street and Mount Teide, the volcano of which I have pictures. Like the bathroom tiles, when wet, these tiles are also very dangerous when the water was dripping from the washing, it made the surface feel like an ice rink.
According to the brochure, an in-house entertainments team arrange a selection of activities throughout the day and evenings. Well yes there was some entertainment, but blink and you'll miss it. Entertainment is none existent but Neil and Baz did their best.
The "entertainment " consisted of during our stay there:
1. A pool table in the outside bar which some of the children used as a climbing frame. Once during the day one of the staff would wander round shouting " Killer Pool" for kids and the under 18's could battle it out for the title of winner for that day. No prize given.
2. A dart board in the corner of the outside bar for adults only and for " Killer Darts" in the afternoon. Just the one match, blink and you'll miss it.
3. Volleyball net brought out in the pool by late afternoon for a non supervised game.
4. A parrot show in the main bar on a Monday night which as long as don't get caught by the keeper and photographer is quite an enjoyable hour's entertainment. If you want to hold one of the birds from Lora Parque it will cost you the price of a photo which was £10 payable immediately and in cash. The photo will get delivered in just a plain manila envelope to your hotel the next day or so, no fancy commemorative frame attached. If you try to take your own picture of the birds with the family, a member of Lora Parque will block your lens in order to stop you.
5. A casino night on Thursdays. This consisted of mobile roulette tables and poker tables being placed in the inside bar and the prizes were bottles of wine, tickets to an attraction on the island etc. The first few chips were free, after that you paid. Kids were allowed to gamble too but I refused to let my children join in and instead we went to bed for yet another early night.
6. Karaoke - enough said!
7. Movie night , a DVD playing on the large flat screen TV also in the main bar.
8. Internet access in the reception. A monitor, keyboard and a pay per surf box . It was on dial up speed, very slow except for the meter that chewed your money.
Both hotel blocks have a large free-form swimming pool with a separated children's section. Not sure if this pool is heated in winter but during the summer it was painfully cold. Unfortunately we were not blessed with the weather during our stay, it remained grey and overcast for the majority of the time so this did not heat the pool at all.
However the pool was great fun with my kids and the holiday is what you make it, not the hotel or its staff. I enjoyed splashing about with them whilst the music played from the bars speakers in the corner.
The children's pool was pretty bad though in that it was not as clean as the main one and it was situated right at the far end of the complex, away from the main pool and the parents. Neither pool is supervised and has no attendants. The shallow end starts at 4 ft.
Sun beds are plentiful and free of charge. There was never any mad rush to get to the pool early as beds were always available. Once again, the floor was very slippery when wet. The pool was cleaned at 9pm each day and no one is permitted to swim after that time. Toys such as blow up balls and air beds were allowed in the pool and some of the previous residents had left their inflatables for future guests, just as we did when we left.
One nasty thing you must be prepared for are the Cockroaches, they are rife on the island and not just the hotel. You will see more than one in the evening and they will crawl over you if you are not aware. Do not squash them with anything as this releases the eggs, you have to inform a member of staff who will remove them safely. They are quite large and dark reddish brown, a bit like an over grown beetle.
The hotel reception will loan you (heh it's free at last) a can of repellent for your room and you have to spray it before you leave for the evening. To keep them out of your room you have to close the doors, which in the humid heat of the hotel walls is unbearable. If you see one in your room either call reception or have a can of hair lacquer ready, then spray the cockroach as this kills them instantly without releasing eggs. Then just pick it up in the sieve which should be in the apartment and flush it down the loo. Do not step on them, apart from making a hideous crunch underfoot, you might end up with more than you bargained for. They also crawl into drinks at night, so keep yours in full view, not on the floor.
Toilets are flushable like home in the complex and loo roll can go down there too. Water is not drinkable at all costs, not even for teeth rinsing. The bar will give you as much bottled water as you need.
Even though you are in Playa de Las Americas, the road on which the Mar Ola is set is not such a great location, with nothing but a multitude of noisy bars and restaurants to walk to in the evening. Sleep is impossible in the evenings as you cannot shut the patio doors due to the humidity. There are no fans in the room to cool you down.
If you like a hotel that's reasonably quiet during the day with not much entertainment, then this will be ideal. The beach is just a bus ride away and the bonus is that the stop is almost outside the reception area. The airport is close by, just 20 minutes by car or taxi. Shops are and the markets are also about 20 minutes away. There are a handful of small expensive gift shops and the only thing I purchased was a newspaper each morning. The newspapers incidentally are delivered on the same day of publishing, unlike other Med resorts and cost around £1.50 sterling. English magazines were ridiculously expensive so avoid them until you get home.
FOOD AND DRINK FOR ALL INCLUSIVES:
Even if you are paying half board or B and B rates, the times for the bar and restaurant still apply. The bar was quite expensive with prices ranging from £2 sterling for a soft drink. The only difference with not being all inclusive is you have to pay for food and drink.
With all inclusive you just help yourself to everything except the spirits behind the bar. The staff will always serve you. Wine, beer, cola, lemonade and Fanta are self serve by the pump. Plastic glasses are at the side and you simply pour them yourself. The wine is foul however, more like vinegar and the beer not much better. I was hoping for a Stella but it tasted more like one of the supermarket value brands, cheap and nasty.
Breakfast served from 8 -10am, Continental breakfast is served (with coffee tea and juice between 10-11.30, lunch from 13.00 - 15.00 and dinner from 18.30-21.00.
Tea & Biscuits are served in the restaurant everyday between 17.00 - 18.00.
Wine, beer and soft drinks, coffee and tea are available all day and with lunch and evening meal. All locally produced alcoholic drinks are served which include Bacardi, whiskey, gin, vodka and cocktails. Branded label drinks are available at a cost.
Burgers, chips, hot dogs etc are served between 10.30 - 22.00 in the outside bar. In the 'Mexican Corner', alternative themed snacks are also served between 16.00 - 18.00 daily.
The bar staff were excellent, a big thanks to Jason, James, Kitch, lovely Janet, gorgeous and totally edible Tommy, (how I wanted to bring him home with me), Neil and Big Baz.
Mac started off friendly enough, he is the one that always hovers in the restaurant. Though he clears the tables and helps the newbie's settle in, I had the distinct impression he was watching those that didn't have a bracelet on incase they were helping themselves to wine, beer and cola. In the end I decided to stay clear of Mac, nothing more than a proper job worth at the end of the day .
Anyway buffet food in the restaurant was mostly edible. Plates were stacked at the side and you could have unlimited amounts . Each night there was a different dish with both a vegetarian option and one for meat lovers. Examples included chicken curry, rice, roast pork, paella, prawn curry, lasagne, salad, meat balls, etc. The deserts were nothing special so I opted for either double vodka as a pudding or a kid's ice cream. Food could be eaten on the veranda outside or inside, but not at the pool unless it came from the bar.
The children had their own section for food and this always consisted of chicken nuggets, chips, fish fingers and baked beans.
During the day the pool side bar kept us going with tuna or cheese toasties, huge burgers, hotdogs and chips and ice creams.
After 11pm the bar was no longer free and only remained open for a further hour.
Disabled access into the restaurant is fine as the floor is level, the only problem you might encounter is the pool and poolside bar/restaurant. The only way to both of these is via some stone steps with no hand rail or slope.
To be honest I don't think we had a cheap deal after comparing prices with other customers. We paid in total for one week £3,700 all inclusive for 3 children and two adults. We flew from Ringwood airport as it was nearer and less stressful than Heathrow or Gatwick. Parking the car there for a week was a bargain at £30 and well worth every penny. This I did online too.
I booked the holiday online and paid £250 deposit and the remainder to be paid 12 weeks (not 8 like some companies) before departure. The tickets arrived normal post a week before the holiday. In hindsight I have come to realise that Thompson are not reasonable and appeared to distort descriptions of accommodation. This price did include the flight but it was with " Shambolic" airways and not even an in-flight meal unless you paid for it.
Would I return? To the island, yes but not to the hotel. The decor was drab and as for health and safety, well this was really non existant. Not only are the bathrooms dangerous when wet, the pool area and balcony are too. I didn't like the fact that to get to the pool or poolside bar, you had to encounter some steep and uneven steps. These are dangerous at the best of times but even more so when there is no hand rail either side.
However, I could have endured these faults a bit longer if I was bringing Tommy home! From his smouldering dark looks , wicked personality and deep Irish accent, I wanted him as my au pair. Tommy however told me after many years of living and working in Tenerife, learning to speak Spanish, he was not about to return to overcrowded England.
I am pleased only had a week at the Mar Ola, two would have been dragging the time away. Thankfully I packed lots of books and the kids had their PSP's, otherwise I would have been bored in the evening. It wasn't as if you could watch TV in your room either.
What made the holiday were the English staff, they were brilliant and a good laugh albeit one of the members. The Spanish owned complex only offered the real basics and even simple things like playing on the pool table was pay per play. From the parrot show to the pool table, the Mar Ola milks the parents for every penny and this was an all inclusive deal!
Also the grey and overcast weather let us down and the location was at the back of beyond. The sun really shone when we went on the Free bird Experience, which I recently reviewed on here but other than that, it was just like England.
There is a vast array of hotels on this island and I should have researched more other than just booking the first one I saw.
Happy holidays for 2008.
Castillo San Miguel
http://www.castillosanmiguel.com in English, Spanish, French and German.
Whilst on holiday in Tenerife this summer 2007, our tour representative did a reasonable job on her sales pitch by convincing me to book another of her excursions. Not only had I just booked a Catamaran cruise for an afternoon but I had now also paid my euros to spend an evening at the Castillo San Miguel (Medieval Evening).
If you are ever holidaying on the island of Tenerife, then please read on before you commit yourself to a very different evenings entertainment.
*** Object of the Evening***
Castillo San Miguel covers approximately 6,000 square metres and is constructed of Canarian stone, towering more than 16 metres high.
The Castillo San Miguel or fort as it is also known by the locals, is home to the Count Don Rodrigo and this daughter the Countess who are played by actors naturally.
The idea of the night is that both of them are here to enjoy an evening of fun and games (no frivolity) performed by their own colour coded knights. These tourists tournaments are held four times a week, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday, all year round. During the summer season there is a further show on Fridays.
You can either book via your tour guide/rep or hotel reception. Alternatively without paying the middle man commission, you can also arrange your tickets over the internet and calling them direct. The cost is 45 euros for each adult and 22.50 euros for children. In comparison, I paid 60 euros for each adult and 35 euros for my children, but that did include the coach pick up and return to the hotel. Also in the price is your dinner and unlimited wine or soft drinks which I will talk about in detail further on.
Telephone number: Tenerife + 34 922 700276
*** Our Night of Pleasure****
The clean and well presented coach collected us from outside the hotel at 6. 00 pm. After other pick ups on route, we reached the destination at 7.30 pm. The show starts at 8 pm. It was rather weird approaching a castle close to a residential block of holiday apartments. I was expecting to be driven down some long and winding road in the back end of beyond, how wrong was I.
Our friendly rep for the evening Damien, introduced himself and told us what to expect. He said he would be serving our drinks but would only keep returning to us if we shouted the loudest when cheering on the knight colour coded to our group. Air Tours had apparently won for the past six consecutive weeks and they wanted to keep the tradition going.
When we disembarked from the coach, there were masses of people waiting to get inside. I was relieved that our rep was there to guide us in as otherwise we would not have had the faintest idea where the entrance was. Standing by the pillars on the pavement were two beautiful horses and their knights, all dressed in full battle gear. You are allowed to take pictures but the crowds push and shove their way to get the best photo.
Our rep handed us all a blue tabard, similar to what I used to wear when playing netball at school, many years ago. One size fits all adults apparently but anyone on the cuddly side might find it difficult to pull on. Children have a smaller one. The tabards are colour matched to one of the knights in battle and its dependant on how loud you scream and shout at your knight to see how fierce he becomes in the arena.
You have to queue in single file to get inside and I must admit the entrance is pretty impressive. The dimly lighted hall is decorated with armour, chests and swords for a really authentic medieval look.
As we were all shuffled inside like a herd of sheep, the Count (who happened to be extremely handsome) and his daughter greeted us individually with a hand shake. This was a photo opportunity for the company, you are not allowed to take your own photo as I found to my error by some rather rude Spanish lady standing guard and pushing my camera lens down to the floor. How dare she humiliate me and on principle now I refuse to buy the pictures. So for a family of five, each picture will set you back 18 euros, they will not take a group photo, only one person at a time with the Count. Half way through the show, another member of staff will come to your allocated seat and let you see the photos and perhaps purchase them. If you decline, the photos are collected again. A complete rip tourist rip off.
The daughter stays sitting on her throne, barely acknowledging you, it was her father who does all the work. Once the photo is done, you are then ushered by more staff into the main hall and arena and given a ridiculous paper cardboard crown to display on your newly made hair do! I have lots of hair, most of it natural dark curls and with this crown perched on my head, it felt like I was parading a birds nest. I was really trying to get into the spirit of the evening but so far it wasnt happening.
The arena is dark inside and regardless of the Tenerife heat, quite cold that evening. There is row upon row of wooden benches of which you have to spend the next two hours or so. On each row of benches there are no gaps, so if you are right at the furthest end and need the toilet, every one sitting on that row will have to get up like a deck of cards to let you pass. If you are a contortionist, then you might be able to climb over the back of your bench and onto the walk way without disturbing fellow guests. Needless to say I declined on using the toilet as we were situated right at the furthest point and hardly drank any liquid for fear of needing the loo.
In front of you is a narrow wooden plank on which you keep your drink, food and elbows. No soon as you have sat down, another miserable staff member comes up to you and tells you to move up, cramming in as many people as possible. Suddenly you become intimate with a complete stranger, very uncomfortable and so close you can taste their breath yet alone feel it. I was beginning to panic incase I had an attack of wind because the entire bench might feel the tremor!
The Count was seated at the far end of the arena to us, we were just above where the horses come thundering in. The coloured seating around the tournament room is tiered so that all of the Counts guests have a great view of the arena and it is only when he is seated that the show begins. Loud cheers are very welcome when the knights enter the arena to introduce themselves to you and begin the performance for the night.
Our blue Knight was called Fabien, aka Lord Delfont. The female who grabs his eye from the blue team is thrown a red rose. Fabien was more than pleasing to the eye and made up for the cramped and uncomfortable seating conditions. Needless to say out of all the females seated in the blue area, it was my young 4 year old daughter who grabbed his attention and won the rose.
I also took a fancy to the purple knight Lord Temple aka Alex. Things were looking up on the eye candy stakes. So many fit young men all with long flowing black hair and all under the same roof. I even found myself drooling over the villain of the evening, the notorious black Knight, Lord Iofre Santa Creu aka Felo.
As the Knights rode back under the large velvet curtain, we were then entertained by a fire eater and juggler. It was at this point that the rep brought round bottles of drink to each party. The liquid refreshment consisted of bottled water, lemonade, a bottle of fizzy orange with a most vibrant colour similar to Jodi Marshs suntan, a rich yet pungent red wine and a sour dry white wine.
My children and I stuck to the water whilst my husband downed the wine and soon became quite drunk. I was too nervous to drink as I dreaded the prospect of trying to get up to go to the toilet, so only sipped during the entire show. I advised my children to do the same.
As soon as we were trying to work out where to place the bottles without knocking them off the planks, another staff member comes along pushing a trolley full of stainless steel bowls. A banquet of soup, chicken and jacket potato is served throughout the competition which must be eaten medieval style. The soup is drunk from the bowl and the rest of the meal is eaten using your hands. The meal is finished with dessert and drinks and no hand wipes.
The soup was hot and very lumpy. Not safe enough or cool enough to devour instantly and by the time it is cooled and redeemed safe, the bowl is collected. I just had time to chomp on the bread roll. Needless to say I had none and fearing of the mess my children would get into, they didnt have the gloupy liquid either.
Along come another trolley and this time a medium sized roasted chicken is literally thrown onto your plate. The grease spattered from the carcass of the bird as it was dropped onto the stainless steel dish. Fortunately I had my tabard on to save my top.
Within seconds of the chicken landing, a jacket potato is then thrown at you, also covered in butter and dripping with grease. With this meal, you are expected to just tear the chicken apart and scoop out the potato with your bare hands. Remember to wash them before you go in or even better, grab a plastic knife and fork from your hotel and smuggle it in your hand bag. Children are given chicken nuggets and chips unless you request they have the same as you. From my experience, stick with the chicken nuggets for kids.
Another photo opportunity but this time its a family one for 25 euros. It is presented in a memorable cardboard frame and this time I gave in and purchased it. You can only buy the photos with cash, credit cards were not accepted for this.
The last course is a mousse, nothing medieval about this, just a box standard out of the freezer plastic tub. At last you get cutlery in the shape of a plastic spoon. As you have no other means of wiping your greasy hands, I had no option other than using my tabard. For any readers tempted to go in this night out, a word of advice take a packet of wet wipes along with a knife and fork.
In about 45 minutes, all is cleared away apart from the drink. It is now the show gets underway and the Knights battle it out in your honour. Firstly they have to hit targets whilst on horseback and then they fight each other.
The commentary was in Spanish so therefore I had no idea what was going on. After the initial 20 minutes it became tedious and boring. The majority of the audience who were now on the way to getting drunk were all screaming the team colour over and over again, hoping that their knight would hear and put in a bit more effort. My son screamed so much he lost his voice.
The green Knight gave what I thought was an inappropriate gesture to his opposing audience, he circled round and gave the middle finger salute to a row of children. I know we live in a ridiculous world of political correctness but this I felt was way out of order and should not have been allowed.
When the tournament is over, the loosing knights are either dragged out of the arena shackled to a horse cart or suspended from the ceiling in a metal cage. The Count Don Rodrigo gives the winning Knight his daughter and they ride out of the arena together, happily ever after or until the next show.
The Count then invites his guests (in Spanish) in to the ballroom where you can end your night out with a dance on the stage and then enjoy a performance of Spanish Ballet, Comedy or Acrobatics depending on the evening. We had no idea where to go so just followed all the other sheep.
*** Part Two ****
When you leave the arena you will find yourself in the main hall where the shop is. If you want you can purchase t shirts here, DVDs of the show, books or even miniature knights on horse back. Take my advice, walk away and just find the toilets of which there are only two selections. It appeared everyone was in desperate need of the loo and the wait was horrendous on both sides.
The second part of the show has no free bar, if you wish to carry on getting drunk at no extra cost, have as much as you can in the arena and smuggle out an extra bottle under your cardigan. There is a disco and everyone is invited on stage to have a dance. When the second part of the show is about to begin, you are told to leave and sit down in anticipation.
I wasnt sure what to expect so imagine my surprise when a group of half naked men came on beating drums. With their waxed and wash board chests, they quickly removed their loin cloths to reveal a skimpy thong type garment underneath. I thought I was in for a night of strippers and quickly climbed the table for a birds eye view pardon the pun. I was disappointed at this point as the thong type item stayed firmly in place and the men began fighting instead. The moves were incredible, the man next to us said it was a Hindu form of martial art and I was mesmerised. It made my sons Karate seem tame. After 30 minutes of entertaining us, the men placed on the loin clothes and slowed the pace by having a dance and inviting the children and reps on stage.
At 12.30 exactly, the coach was ready for departure and out we go again in the hustle and bustle trying to find the numbered coach for our hotel. It was chaotic as not only was the car park in darkness and badly lit but nearly everyone was well and truly bladdered at this point, my husband included and he nearly sat on the wrong coach.
Would I go again? Well to be honest, no. It is an experience I can say I have done but I wont be repeating again. It was expensive, some of the staff was rude and I hated being treated as if I was in a cattle market. The seats were uncomfortable and cramped, I felt very claustrophobic. Too many people in too little space, it is a health and safety issue waiting to happen.
The show was ok, nothing to rave about. Perhaps if it was in English and not just Spanish it would have been more interesting.
As for disabled customers, I didnt see any specific facilities for them and I did not see a disabled toilet either. Saying that there could have been one tucked away but with the huge amount of people inside the complex it was impossible to tell where I was or if there was indeed one. The main toilets were nothing to shout about it, no toilet roll, bit pungent and lots of wet splashes on the seats and floor.
There was no vegetarian option given for the meal either. Before booking I would call them direct as the tickets are not refundable according to our representative.
If only you could see the pictures of the food, you have to see it to believe it!
Freebird One A Luxury Adventure
*** WHAT IS IT? *****
This summer (2007), my family and I holidayed on the island of Tenerife. We wanted to experience a bit more than the hotel facilities, so after attending the Reps welcome meeting, I decided to book the Freebird One Experience.
Freebird Sailing was founded in 1994, specialising in cruises aboard a luxury 30-seater catamaran. They proud themselves with the title of being the largest catamaran service in the Canary Islands and whilst in Tenerife I witnessed no other catamaran passing us on the Solent. There is also a Freebird 2 and a 3. The Freebird Two is about 25 metres long and has a passenger capacity of 126. This catamaran has six large netting areas at the front.
These nets have nothing underneath and resemble a trampoline, except underneath is the deep blue sea, which if you look down at can be a bit daunting. For some passengers this area is ideal for lying upon to soak up the sun and it was a bit like the Harrods sale the minute we were allowed on board.
Freebird Three and Four both measure 16 metres and holds 56 guests. These two boats are used for private hire and the A La Carte service as well as for holidaymakers.
The service is joint British and Spanish owned, supported by a friendly team of 35 experienced crew members. There are also office and transport staff. The cruise specialises in 3 and 4 ½ hour whale and dolphin sight-seeing trips off the Canary Islands beautiful coastline. They operate all year-round with regular daily sailings, weather permitting of course.
*** HOW TO BOOK****
The only way to book a cruise is through your tour rep or local travel agency. If you are travelling without the service of a tour rep, then it is worth enquiring at your hotel reception.
You will need to pre book in advance. Do not approach the company direct as they do not take indivividual bookings unless it is to charter the whole catamaran for a company or private party.
The main office in Tenerife is situated in the marina of Puerto Colon, in Playa de las Americas. All of the Freebird Sailing catamarans depart from the busy marina at Pontoons 9-11.
Tel: 922 716 864 (remember the international dialing code first)
Fax: 922 724 052
I am not sure what the individual price is as we booked for a family of five. We paid a total of £200 for the 3 hour sailing and this included the coach pick up and return to the hotel, a buffet lunch and unlimited soft drinks or beer and wine. You can pay in Euros or credit card direct to your rep.
**** DISABLED USERS/ BABIES IN PRAMS***
Disabled passengers are welcome aboard but must have some degree of mobility in order to climb the boarding steps.
The crew will help but will not lift passengers onto the boat. Wheelchairs and pushchairs can be stored safely on board but cannot be sat in. The toilets are down a narrow and dangerous flight of stairs that are almost vertical, this would be impossible for a disabled user to attempt. There are also no disabled toilets on board, just basic facilities.
*** THE DAY OF DEPARTURE***
Our rep told us the coach was picking us up from the hotel foyer at 11.30am giving us time to have breakfast, something which my eldest was going to regret later on.
I do not travel well on boats of any sorts so played safe and had nothing but a drink of tea. I remember taking two travel pills at 6.30 am; I was unable to sleep due to the stress of what lay ahead for me. The only thought getting me through this was that my three children would love it and it was an experience like no other. I was doing it for them. At 10.30 I took a further 2 Sturgeon travel pills and my stomach was in knots.
When the company coach arrived (which I secretly hoped had broken down), a member of staff gave us all a boarding pass. The coach ride from Playa de las Americas took only 30 minutes with a few extra pick ups on route.
The coach itself was very comfortable, a double Decker with air conditioning and plush fabric seats. Every window on the lower floor had sun lotion or sweaty skin marks from the holiday makers that had rested their arms against the glass. Other than that, the coach was remarkably clean.
At the marina we were told which point to board the Freebird and where to pick up the coach on the way back. The Freebirds are unmistakeable in that the staff uniform, décor and even large sail are all navy and white. The Freebird logo is very prominent and distinct on the flag at the rear of the vessel.
**** ON BOARD****
You board the Catamaran via a wooden bridge with some steps. It is quite safe as there is a hand rail either side but pay attention that younger sailors do not fall through the gaps or trip getting onto the Freebird due to a small space between the steps and the Catamaran. The Captain welcomes you aboard and is very polite and friendly.
Once aboard its a first come first served for seating. There was a group of young people who literally pushed their way through to the netting at the front of the boat and claimed all the pitches, spreading themselves out in readiness for a suntan.
At that time I was furious, without any consideration for others; they all stripped off to next to nothing and covered their skin in heavy duty cooking oil. I am sure there would have been children aboard who would have liked to sit there but never got a chance. However, they will regret their eagerness later on when the Cat gets moving.
There are seats available where the captain is at the top, the middle deck where we were and then also inside by the bar. Dont be over confident and think you can stand alone, once the Catamaran takes off there is no way you can, even with a pair of heavy duty sea legs.
The Captain introduces himself and the crew. We had a very entertaining cameraman called Roger, he was a bit like Eddie Murphy cloned with Lenny Henry, absolutely hilarious but always in your face with his camera filming you and the voyage. Though I was still nervous, he made me laugh and took my mind off the moment.
Rogers DVD that he was making would cost you £40 to purchase and they send it to the UK. If you want a copy then you have to give him your details and Euros before the trip ends. There is also another member of staff who takes your photo as a group just as you board and then returns with the pictures just before you leave for the coach. These cost us £10 sterling for each 10 x 8 photo you buy, they usually take two posses and these are presented in a glossy folder. Even if you take your camera it is worth having one of these special pictures as a keepsake.
The Catamaran is very luxurious and as the vessel slowly takes off out of the harbour, music is played through the loud speakers. It was a selection of 1970 and 1980 hits, mostly Soul with a bit of Tom Jones thrown in.
You are advised to not over do the alcohol (even though it is free and unlimited). It is best to sip small amounts of lemonade according to the boss himself as the fizz combats the nausea. The captain also informs you that is anyone feels ill they must report it to a member of the crew who will attend to your needs. This means they spray your face with water and give you a black bin bag to deposit any contents in.
After hearing this and feeling the Cat gain power, the ride became more like a rollercoaster. The end of the Cat was dipping so low that sea water was coming in. It was at this point that I swallowed another 2 tablets and crossed my chest in the sign of a Crucifix, hoping that my Lord would help me get through this. Looking back in hindsight, I realise this was foolish as I had now overdosed on the pills. I do not recommend this to anyone but boy did they kick in. Within minutes my fear waned and I could not stop laughing. I felt so chilled I even walked to the front of the Cat to see just how close it was to the sea.
After about 20 minutes, the dolphins were spotted as well as a whale and large dead squid. The Captain dropped anchor and we stayed at this point for about ten minutes to get pictures. One of the crew hooked the squid out to show us, not a pleasant sight but I couldnt care less at this stage, I even laughed at that!
Off we go again, a bit further out now, still with the dolphins alongside. The sail goes up and the Cat gains even more speed. Oh this is wonderful, I am savouring every minute. The sun is beaming onto my shoulders and I can feel the tan taking shape, but hey where is everyone? I looked around and the large group of teenagers who pushed their way onto the nets to hog the best seats have gone, the girl in the bikini who wouldnt let anyone else sit in the crows nest bench had also gone. Oh well, Im off to get a lemonade at the bar.
Low and behold what do I see on the lower deck, three quarters of the passengers all with black bags over their faces and calling for God and Hughie. I know it was cruel but I fell about laughing, I really had no care in the world. This was until I saw a crew member mopping up a huge pile of vomit that was all over the floor and the bar wall and then my eldest son and my husband sitting next behind. It was my son that did it and my husband had flakes of food all over his trainers.
I did warn my son not to eat much before the trip but he insisted on full English. I also thought that my children would be ok as none of them have ever had sickness travelling before, only me.
I took my son back up to the top deck and gave him a travel pill and also my husband. My other two children were having a whale of a time (pardon the pun) as the top deck was almost clear of roasting bodies and both were sitting in the crows nest bench getting their feet wet as the Cat dipped in and out of the Solent.
It was now time for lunch and surprisingly there was hardly a queue. My husband declined food as did my poor son, but myself and my other two children thoroughly enjoyed the buffet.
The selection at that time was small jacket potatoes, cold potato salad, paella, bridge rolls, salad, and tuna in mayo, ham, salami, cheese and coleslaw. I found it very delicious and for the first time in my life, I was eating on a boat! My bridge roll fell off as the boat dipped up and down and I started laughing again.
My poor son was huddled in the corner clutching his bin bag as if it was his only possession. My husband refused to look at me whilst I was eating and I could see him taking big gulps of air whilst looking for more dolphins. Still hungry, I went back for more, well no point wasting it.
After lunch, the Cat took off again to a beautiful secluded bay. It was half an hour since my hubby and son took a tablet and both looked decidedly better. It was at this point that the passengers could jump off and have a swim in the ocean. Infact the captain recommended it for all of those who had been ill, as long as they could swim.
The back of Cat was opened and then it was just a free for all. My son only put his feet in whilst still holding onto the rails, he didnt fancy the swim. His sandals were full of vomit and this was a welcome relief. My husband cannot swim and he was happy to just sit down with my daughter. However, my middle son and I jumped straight in and it was amazing. Trying not to think of the squid I had seen an hour ago or Jaws 1,2 and 3, the swim was very pleasant. The sea was actually quite cold but we enjoyed it.
The crew all watch you just incase someone gets into trouble and they turn the music up for a party atmosphere. Oh boy this is the life; do I really have to return to Basingstoke???
After a 20 minute swim, its time to get back onboard for the leisurely sail back to the island and the waiting coach. There are no changing rooms onboard and the deck becomes very slippery. Engle Bert Humperdinck is singing his heart out as we all prepare for the slower sail to Tenerife. More people emerge from the bar, still clutching the bags but looking better.
These are at the bottom of the Cat and to gain access to them, you have to tackle some very dangerous and almost vertical steps. As the boat rides the waves it is difficult to hold onto to the rail.
The Ladies loo is on the right and the Gents on the left. There are no baby changing facilities.
The corridor leading to the toilets is clean and pleasant, with flowers (plastic) and nautical ornaments by the port hole. It is when you reach the toilets that the stench hits you. Nearly all of them and blocked and overflowing, there is splash marks on the walls and doors. The toilets are similar to those in a porta loo.
The Captain did give some advice about using the toilet but obviously no one listened. These points were:
1. Before flushing, open the door and reach over to the handle, leaving a good space between you and the toilet bowl otherwise you will get splashed.
2. Do not put toilet roll down the pan, only in the bin provided as the loos will block. He said imagine you are in Greece doing a pooh!
3. Do not throw up in the toilet, only in the black bags as the vomit resurfaces as you flush and could splash you.
Would I go again??? Well almost for certain I would. I loved the exhilaration, the feel of the sun on my hair and my skin, the sights of the whales and dolphins and the swim after lunch. I never thought I would ever say this but I enjoyed every minute and didnt want it to end.
However I will only get onboard again if I have my Sturgeon with me, these travel pills were fantastic. I also recommend you give one to all of the family members, just incase.
I dont think the Cat is suitable for young babies and disabled customers even though the Freebird Company say different. As you are not allowed to keep babies in the pram or buggy, it is down to the parent to hold the young one for the entire journey and still hold on for dear life.
It is rough, even if the sea is calm. As soon as the sail goes up the boat dips and dives like a runaway train but if I can do it, anyone can. This is one tried and tested holiday experience that I loved.
Thanks for reading.
The Palace Diaries
Written by Sarah Goodall and Nicholas Monsoon
Written in 2006 and published in 2007, this 318 page hard back book had me gripped in almost every chapter. Hailed as Racy, outrageous and hilarious - there's never been a Royal book like it. The Palace Diaries is a unique insiders view of what really went on during the most tumultuous period for the British monarchy, since the abdication of Edward VIII. On the cover is Miss Goodall, looking slinky and sassy in a Audrey Hepburn type pose, complete with Corgi. Her adoration and respect for Charles is paramount but I think this mostly comes from her loins, not from her heart.
To be honest, I had never heard of this Miss Goodall. This book came upon be by pure chance whilst browsing through a leading book website. It was on offer at 75% off the retail price and as I was about to embark on a holiday, I decided to buy it for a bit of easy reading.
Sarah was born in 1964 into a very privileged family and was raised in Shropshire. She went onto study chartered surveying at the Royal Agricultural College of which she eventually ran away from as well as her latest love interest. Life as a farmers wife was not for her.
In May 1988, she was employed as a secretary for an auction house in London, living in a flat share in Fulham. This too became boring for her and was badly paid so it was then she approached a job agency in the city. Her details were forwarded to Kensington Palace for the role of a Lady Clerk.
*** The Story Behind the Book***
From the beginning of the book it is clear that she has grand affection for the younger male Royals. The flat which she rented overlooked the house of Viscount Linley and she would often peer over to his bedroom window and watch his silhouette against the curtain with his then partner Susannah Constantine, Trinny Woodalls other half in the series What Not to Wear. From her comments it is obvious she wished it was her in that bedroom whilst she was playing at peeping Tom.
The role of a Lady Clerk in laymens terms is an administrator come secretary. Prince Charles has quite a large congregation of Lady Clerks in his employment and Sarah was to be given the task of reading his fan mail and dealing with as she deemed appropriate. This position gave her a meagre salary of £162 per week, just £1000 more than her previous role. However it was the title and working for Royalty that made her accept this job, only after she signed the Official Secrets Act.
Sarah started at the bottom of the Lady Clerk ladder and eventually she was given extra duties and moved her way up to the point that she accompanying HRH as she always calls Charles on many trips abroad and social events. Her nervousness at meeting Prince Charles sound diminished over the years and she even felt relaxed enough to fall asleep in his cinema room after her poured her a long alcoholic drink. Charles trusted Sarah in that he would give her the responsibility of looking after not his two children, but his dog whenever she stayed at a Royal residence.
It is clear that Sarah in madly in lust of HRH. There are many sentences such as I gaze into his beautiful blue eyes and have to muster my self control. Oh please, this is Charles, he might be a prince and possibly the future King of England but he is no Robbie Williams look alike. The amount of lovers she writes about in her palace diaries book is quite vast, this is obviously a lady who likes sex and has a strong appetite for it. This naïve and some what immature young woman certainly does lie down and think of England, for her Prince and country no doubt!
When she joined the Palace, Charles was still married albeit unhappily with Princess Diana. Diana hardly acknowledged Sarah as she was employed in Charless camp and that area was a no go zone for the Princess. The animosity between the pair was already very apparent as Sarah would notice at the staff Christmas parties. For example, Diana would arrive through another door looking absolutely stunning as she always did and only mingling with her direct staff, ignoring Charless section. Charles hardly acknowledged his wife and she would leave earlier than him, also through a different exit to her husband.
Sarah seems to be definitely a Charles supporter and in her book never has a bad word to say against him, just lots of love and admiration. Even his affair with Camilla Parker Bowles did not deter her loyalty, just her curiosity as to why he could ditch such a beautiful young wife for a married mother of two. I am sure half of the nation still does not understand it to this day. She claims however that Diana was no dutiful spouse and James Hewitt was not the only stallion in her stable, a comment that makes me laugh whenever I remember it.
Clearly she is no fan of Dianas; even stating that she was mentally unstable and manipulative. She does however not has a bad word to say against The Duchess of Cornwall, even if you read between the lines that Camilla was said to be jealous of the closeness between Sarah and his lusciousness!
From 1988 until 2000, Sarah Goodall remained in employment with Charles. Obviously she was not in it for the vast salary as the wages were pathetic, she found it impossible to survive on what she earned and so mummy and daddy had to subsidise her and the increasing overdrafts and bank loans. The bank decided enough was enough and refused to lend her any more but fortunately daddy was on hand to help out. Sarah enjoyed the grandeur of working for Royalty and mixing with aristocracy and even though she was incurring huge debts, she just couldnt leave the role as a poorly paid Lady Clerk. She had ideas above her station and in the end her world came crashing down. HRH or his Lovingness showed no support for Sarah at the very end, he could have saved her job but declined and carried on living in his own glass bubble.
As always with the Royals, she was treated coldly for all the years of service and hardly a healthy bank balance to show for it. The poor girl suffered the humiliation of being escorted out of the palace by security as if she was some sort of criminal, not a long standing lady Clerk.
I do not wish to give too much information away and spoil the book for any impending buyers, but if you like gossip with a mere hint of Royal scandal, it really is a good read. Little hints are given towards the end of the book which set the alarm bells ringing in the back of your mind.
One such paragraph was about Prince Harry and the debate about who his father is. Now come one, if you put Harry alongside James Hewitt and his Royal Loveliness, as Sarah would say, who would you pick as his biological father? If looks are not enough, then look at Harrys personality/characteristics. It will not take you long to decide who his real father is, as he is the mirror image of him.
The section that Sarah wrote in her book about this debate about Harry highlighted the fact that the Royal family have an understanding about members of the family who are not related biologically. They accept a member regardless of whose genes they carry as their own in order to stop scandal. Hmmmmm., enough said.
This book also showed, that just like Diana and Sarah Ferguson, when you become surplus to requirements within the Royal circle, you become redundant and pushed away. The Palace Diaries offers a lively portrait of everyday life in the Royal Family and I feel is great value for money.
What lets it down is the lack of photographs. There are some pictures in the middle of the book but nothing personal. The pictures are taken from media clippings, not from Sarahs own camera.
Charles had his chance to help his senior Lady Clerk when she requested a one to one meeting with him prior to her sacking. Instead he became oblivious to her being unemployed and waffled on about his plants. One good thing on Sarahs side is the fact that she peed in his Royal Lust Buckets bushes at Highgrove, whilst he walked passed oblivious to the fact she was crouching just inches from him with her knickers round her ankles.
Good on you girl and so it goes on. A very modern, rather daft yet great fun book. Ill bet Prince Charles will fall about laughing if he gets to read it, or is allowed to. xx
WHsmiths High Street Stores
Price: RRP £12.99
******How To Get There: ****
Admission is normally free, unless there is a pre-arranged craft or show event there. There is ample parking right outside the gates and that too is free.
At the Black Dam Roundabout on the A30 London Road, take the 2nd exit following Ring way south and signs for A30, Andover and Winchester.
At Hackwood Road Roundabout take the 2nd exit continuing to follow Ring way South.
At Winchester Road Roundabout, take the 1st exit along Winchester Road.
At Brighton Hill Roundabout, take the 4th exit right following the signs to Down Grange Playing Fields. Pass Homebase on your left and join Pack Lane.
At the brown Walled Garden sign, turn left into the sports complex. Follow the road that runs past the athletics track, pass the Hockey club on the left and drive into the car park. The Walled Garden is easily identified by the large ornate front gates.
*** What Is It? ****
The fully enclosed walled garden is situated in Basingstoke, Hampshire.
The land used to part of the historical Down Grange Estate in 1800 and originally served as a kitchen garden to The Down Grange House. As you approach through the entrance gates, it resembles something from Narnia, this is truly a delightful secret garden that you least expect to find, just off Pack Lane.
Today Basingstoke and Deane council own operate and maintain the Walled Garden as a public garden and wildlife area. Original features however still remain such as the yew hedges, croquet lawn and beautiful gothic style gates.
It contains a good display of demonstration allotments, beehives (run by the Basingstoke and District Beekeepers Association), plus a wildlife and picnic area. This little known haven of tranquillity is ideal for taking the children on a nature walk and just relaxing in the summer sunshine. Though not overly large, do not expect Hampton Court size gardens, there is still enough to keep the little ones amused for an hour or so.
It really is back to nature for entertainment value and set in safe and secure surroundings, which is not situated near a main road. Walk around at your own leisure (believe me it wont take you that long) and admire the scenery and the different aromas of lavender and herbaceous bushes.
For example you or the children can try pond dipping, water permitting. With its wooden bridge over the top, children can look down and see water snails, frogs, etc. Not too deep, just over a foot of water is usually present but adult supervision is required at all times. Take a jam jar and an old kitchen sieve, then see what they can scoop up and observe. My friend and I were there just this week and even with all this rain we have had recently in 2007, there was hardly a covering of water below the bridge. Perhaps the council should look into drainage.
You can also go bug hunting amongst the fauna and flora. In the Early Learning Childrens Shop there is an ingenious gadget that costs no more than £5 but allows the little ones to search for mini beasts and then place them inside the bug catcher and observe them close up through a magnifying porthole. When they have finished with this particular bug, they are easily released and returned back to their home.
The Garden is perfect location for wedding receptions and private functions. The flat and immaculate kept grassy area is large enough for a marquee. Incase you are wondering where the food for an event can be kept, well there is a small building called The Bothy. This has public toilets with disabled access as well as baby changing facilities. There is a small kitchen area too inside this building.
Unfortunately you cannot rely on The Bothy being opened and if you need a toilet, you will have to walk to the Down Grange Pub/Restaurant about half a mile away.
Its in the garden that they often host a series of popular family events such as craft shows throughout the year. Also school trips are accommodated but you have to arrange it prior to coming. As this is a nature and conservation area, it really does make it ideal for school visits.
On the last school trip I attended here, all the equipment was provided for pond dipping and bug catching plus The Bothy was kept opened for the children to wash their hands afterwards. Unfortunately there is no water tap anywhere else in the garden, so as a tip, go prepared with wet wipes for cleaning. You also have to take your rubbish with you as I did not see any facilities for litter.
However, for older children this place soon becomes tiresome. There are no swings, no slides or climbing frames. It really is just various hedgerows, immaculate lawns and allotments. Please remember do not touch the vegetables or herbs; this is not a pick your own allotment, everything grown here is for show purposes in the autumn. Figs, pears, apples and beans are growing slowly but surely at the present moment.
There are no benches to sit on, so take your own picnic rug or if travelling by car, I suggest a fold up deck chair. Its not a place to spend the whole day, no more than a couple of hours at best. Shade is limited and the majority of it is by the compost heap enough said! Be prepared on a hot day with sun hats, sun cream and lots of water.
There is a sign outside that states no dogs but the Basingstoke and Deane website states that dogs are allowed in with a lead. Each time I have been there I have seen no dogs inside. I am sure if dogs were permitted inside, the lawns would have yellow patches not be such a deep vibrant green.
In clean and pleasant surroundings, I would recommend this garden, especially for wheel chair users as this place is completely level. Its worth a visit but not for too long, even adults will get bored. If you live within a mile of this place make the effort to see the gardens, if not then save your petrol.
Remember there is a pub within walking distance!
Contact Details to hire the garden: 01256 844844 and ask for the events coordinator.
Shilpa The Biography
Written by Julie Aspinall
Born in June 1975 to a wealthy Indian family, Shilpa Shetty is a beautiful, glamorous and well educated young woman. Though famous in India as a Bollywood actress, England had no idea who she was.
Obviously an ambitious young woman seeking to boost her career, Shilpa accepted to be a contestant for the 2006 Celebrity Big Brother, along with a variety of other celebrities. None of them were A list material.
After leaving the privacy of her black Mercedes ready for her imprisonment in the Big Brother house last year, everything was about to change.
THE BEGINNING: -
I purchased the paper back book at a bargain price of £1 in Poundland. The cover looked glitzy with Shilpas name covered in stars and a very attractive picture of her on the front and the rear. The description on the book is clear but very misleading, it was just a carrot dangled in front of this willing donkey to spend money.
The book is written by Julie Aspinell, but I was left wondering who this writer was. Dont get me wrong, but isnt it usual to devout a small paragraph to the author somewhere inside a book? There was nothing in here about her or how her information was researched.
In total there are 15 chapters. Chapter one is entitled Beauty and the Biggots. The book goes straight into the verbal racists rants and attacks caused by Jade Goody, Danielle Lloyd and Jo OMeara inside the Big Brother House. I am sure that even if you didnt watch the live coverage on channel 4, there is hardly anyone who hadnt heard about the worldwide repercussions this series caused.
The treasury minister at that time, Mr Ed Balls was quoted as saying he was ashamed of what happened and the image this projected of Britain around the world. Shilpa was subjected to venomous remarks and bullying by this trio of young women and the furore started over something as mundane as an un-cooked chicken.
The first 7 chapters are devoted purely to what happened in the BB house, all old news unfortunately. I found I was skip reading the majority of it as I had witnessed it on the TV and read the media coverage.
From chapter 8 onwards, the author talks about Shilpas films all 51 of them. The first few movies were flops and did nothing to enhance her acting.
There is a few brief paragraphs on her childhood and that of her sister who is equally as talented as her sibling but has taken the modelling route. Shilpas mother nearly miscarried her daughter twice during the pregnancy but she had a vision that showed her baby would survive and be something special in years to come.
The Shetty family live in the kind of style that is only available to the unfeasibly rich, when Shilpa made the comment that her servants did everything for her, this was further ammunition for the racist bigots in the house.
The book mentions this but gives no detailed description of her home, which is a huge flat in Mumbai, or her surroundings, basically her home life in general. There is a brief glimpse into how strict her parents are, Shilpa at the time of writing this review, is still single and any male admirers have to be interviewed by her father before she is allowed out on a date. Even if they meet his requirements, she still has to be chaperoned by a body guard and her sister.
We are told that she was so well educated, that went she left Podar College; she was able to speak seven languages and gained a black belt in Karate. However it was at this stage I was beginning to doubt that Shilpa was even consulted or interviewed for this biography as this information is available on a host of websites.
Chapter 11 is about Shilpas father, Surendas arrest over allegations of a modelling contract in 1998. The dispute was over payment and that Shilpa was not given her full amount. The modelling company claimed they had paid in advance and refused to pay a further rupee. A warrant was issued for both parents arrest on charges of extortion.
A taped conversation was printed on the next few pages, written in Urdu and translated into English underneath. I thought this was incredibly confusing to attempt to read and furthermore of no relevance, other than to just pad the book out.
As the book draws to a close we are told that there is possibility of a film being made between her and Hugh Grant as her popularity with the British public has grown to immense proportions. We are reminded again about the impact of Big Brother and that Shilpa was the outright winner, she took a big gamble and it paid off.
Sometimes you find a book that you just cannot wait to get into. I had high expectations of this biography but was deeply let down. I expected this to be as flambouyant and colourful, just like one of her Bollywood movies.
There was no content; there was no intrigue, no insight into the Indian culture and no scandal. It was dull and exceptionally boring. Even my review is small in comparison to my previous work, there really is just nothing special or exceptional to report back to Ciao members.
There were no family pictures of Shilpa growing up, just glossy magazine shots taken from the Big Brother experience. These pictures were already seen by millions thanks to the press coverage when all this hype was at its peak. We have seen it and heard about it all before.
Thankfully I only paid a £1 as I would have felt ripped off if I had purchased this at full price, £7.99. This is available at all major book stores and Amazon.co.uk as well as the Poundland stores.
I have read this still not knowing anything about Shilpas life in detail. I am sure there is more to this fascinating woman than this vague biography depicts. Take my advice, save your money and avoid this at all costs.
Web links to Shilpa: http://www.shilpa-shetty.com
Published by John Blake Publishing in 2007
Thanks for reading.
With no reference to the book, I have just found some hot news on Miss Shetty. It appears she has made the headlines in one of the tabloid papers last week by having an affair with a married man, according to the gentlemans wife. Wonder how she got avoided the body guards?????
**** A SNIPPET OF HISTORY ****
The name Toblerone is Cockney Rhyming slang for On My Own.
In 1867, Theodor Jean Tobler, a Swiss chocolatier, opened his first store in Bern, Switzerland.
In 1908, the same gentleman and his cousin, Emil Baumann developed a unique and distinctive chocolate bar, which was called Toblerone. The name is a mixture of Tobler (the founder) and Terrone, meaning honey almond nougat in Italian.
On the packaging an eagle is displayed as part of its logo.
In 1909, the chocolate becomes the first patented confectionary with the ingredients of almond and honey. In this same year, a young Albert Einstein is employed at the factory.
In 1920, the eagle is now replaced by a bear. Products from Switzerland were not allowed to advertise using any emblem from within their country.
In 1970, the logo changes again, this time they are permitted to use the Matterhorn. This is still used today. By this time, a white chocolate and also a dark chocolate Toblerone has been made and on sale to the general public.
In 1982, Jacobs Kaffee merged with Suchard-Tobler to form Jacobs Suchard in Europe.
In 1992, Kraft General Foods acquired Jacobs Suchard, making it number one in the leaders in the confectionery market.
By the year 2000, the chocolate has gone from strength to strength and now in production are the toblerone minis and a filled toblerone bar with a navy blue wrapper.
**** SO WHAT IS INSIDE ..*****
Honey, almond, nougat, sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, glucose syrup, egg white, vanilla flavouring and emulsifier aka Soya lecithin.
A 100 g bar gives you 530 kcals, which is incredibly high.
Not suitable for those with a nut or Soya allergy, though it doesnt state this on the packet. Most of the writing on the packet is in French.
*** APPEARANCES ******
Please note I am reviewing the milk chocolate version, not the white chocolate or plain chocolate. I find the newest bars quite revolting and sickly and refuse to purchase them again.
So lets unwrap the yellow and red cardboard case by pulling the perforated edge at the end. Inside is a foil covered chocolate bar which is revealed only too easily by tearing at its covering. The outer packing is suitable for recycling.
In the 100g bar which I ate with great excitement tonight, there are 12 triangles of milk chocolate heaven. On either side of the triangles which measure at 3 cms at the widest point and 3 cms high, are the singular letters of T O B L E R O N E. There are three spare triangles, one at the front and two at the rear without lettering.
There are small pieces of white nougat scattered throughout the bar and each individual triangle.
On a hot summers day, the best place to store your chocolate delight is in the fridge or even the freezer.
**** SMELL ****
Actually compared to the taste of the bar, the smell is very sickly and sweet, quite overpowering. I struggled to get a whiff of the honey as the nougat and cocoa is so strong and domineering.
**** TASTE and TEXTURE *****
The solid triangles are hard to bite and its easier to tear off one segment at a time. If you continue to bite then the roof of your mouth becomes sore and uncomfortable.
As you eat the first piece, your first taste will be the nougat and you can sense it around the back of your throat. It is a similar texture to eating a Cadburys Crunchie. These small pieces of white nougat actually take some chewing, another good reason not to stuff too much inside your mouth.
Once the nougat becomes softer and more palatable, the honey and cocoa come through to tantalise your taste buds.
The taste is addictive but sickly sweet, however hard you try though, one piece is not enough and even to the point where you feel quite sick, that one last chunk just has to be eaten.
However, these bars melt incredibly fast in warm hands, so if possible do not handle unless necessary.
I have sensitive teeth and over doing it on the chocolate front can mean a night of misery and painful teeth. Toblerone is a culprit of this, so fellow sufferers please take care and eat slowly. Brushing with Sensodyne prior and after eating this alleviates the pain quite considerably.
Just about any food retailer will have this bar on the shelf somewhere. I know that Sainsbury, Tesco, Woolworths, Morrisons, Somerfield, Ikea, Pound Land and COOP stock this. Prices vary from £1 for the 100g size to £1.79 for the larger bar. The best deal I have seen is from Pound Land, 4 100g bars for £1. With an extended shelf, its worth stocking up at these prices. The bar I purchased and devoured today has an expiry date of 06/2008.
However you can also purchase it online from:
http://www.swissbymail.com. This website not only sells the chocolate but various other Swiss delicacies, ranging from cakes to jams. Prices are converted to sterling.
http://www.giftshopcafe.com not just Toblerone but a variety of other chocolate gifts and flowers.
**** TOBLERONE ON TOAST *****
Well not quite, this is something I havent tried I must add.
I have however melted half a bar of toblerone in the microwave for 20 seconds (850 watt oven) and sandwiched it between 2 digestive biscuits, which are also zapped in the microwave. Then add a scoop or two of your best Cornish Vanilla Ice cream and enjoy. Tastes something like the American chocolate Oreo cookie but not as rich in flavour.
TOBLERONE CHOCOLATE MOUSE
I found this recipe on the internet a long time ago and havent stopped making it since. Forget the calories, just enjoy, its worth every mouthful. Do not make the mistake I did after having this as a pudding, I drank white wine as an accompaniment. The two do not mix and my desert was recycled in the big white telephone shortly after.
250g PHILADELPHIA Cream cheese, light or full fat, must be softened
1 cup castor sugar
2 cup cream
4 eggs, separated
2 teaspoon gelatine dissolved in 1/4 cup boiling water
600g Toblerone melted via the microwave for 20 seconds.
Single or double cream to serve with
1. Beat the cream cheese, sugar and cream till smooth. Add the egg yolks, gelatine mixture and melted chocolate, mixing until combined.
2. Whip the egg whites to soft peaks, gently fold into chocolate mixture.
3. POUR into 6 small dishes and chill for 4 hours. Garnish with double or single cream.
This is not suitable for pregnant women due to the raw eggs and soft cheese as ingredients. I find this serves around 6 good portions.
Another desert using Toblerone, is to grate a 100 g bar over a large dish of strawberry angel delight. Do not eat the whole dish, it is meant to be shared. You can also use it grated over hot frothy coffee.
***** CONCLUSION *****
Today, Toblerone is exported and sold in many countries around the globe. Compared to when it was originally launched, the varieties are now numerous. Specialty chocolates are available during the holiday season including those marked with the letter k to symbolize the Jewish dietary laws and at Christmas and Fathers Day. The current logo is To Indulge go on be a devil.
Considering this bar is nearly 100 years young, this is still popular and the taste has not changed over the past century, just the variety. Toblerone insist they use the finest quality cocoa beans, milk, and sugar. The powdered milk still comes mainly from Switzerland today.
I find this bar incredibly tasty, addictive though somewhat sickly. The calories are high but this is a treat all us girlies need at least once in the calendar month when only chocolate will suffice.
The price is competitive and to be honest I really have to give it the thumbs up on the recommendation front. Try it, you will enjoy it, suck it and see, this really is a rich and unique Swiss chocolate.
*** WEBSITE INFORMATION ****
Switzerland Ltd, CH-8032 Zurich.
Last week I was privileged to be a parent helper on my daughters pre-school trip. The destination was not far from our home address yet I had never heard of this place before. Not only was I able to spend the day with a lovely group of pre-schoolers but I was able to take in some breathtaking scenery and fresh air.
What a thoroughly enjoyable day lay ahead for us all and this park deserves a review to encourage (hopefully) more visitors. Situated within easy reach of both the M4 and M3, the park is open daily and is well signposted from the A33.
*** PARK DETAILS***
Wellington Country Park
Berkshire RG7 1SP
Tel: 0118 932 6444
**Opening times as of 2007: **
The Park is open daily from February half term to early November. The times during 2007 are:
10th - 25th February 10.00am 4.30pm
15th - 31st March 10.00am 4.30pm
1st April - 30th September 10.00am 5.30pm
1st October - 4th November 10.00am 4.30pm
Last admissions are one hour before closing. Entrance gates will be locked one hour after closing. The campsite is open daily from 15th March to 4th November.
**** Prices as of 2007****
Adults - £6.00
Children (3 -15years) - £5.00
Senior Citizens - £5.00
Family (2 adults, 2 children) - £19.50
Under 3 years of age free
Cash, cheques or credit/debit cards are welcome. Groups of 20 or more receive a 20% discount, therefore ideal for school trips.
*** A Little History*****
Wellington Country Park was established in 1974 by the Eighth Duke and Duchess of Wellington. Their kind intentions were to provide a large area where the population of the Thames Valley could enjoy outdoor activities, educate and discover natural history and more importantly develop an interest in the countryside itself. I think they succeeded in their quest with what I witnessed at this park.
** What to Expect ***
As you approach the park, you will notice that it is very well sign posted. Follow the woodland trail into the vast car park amongst the Conifer trees. It is a very shady area and ideal for leaving your vehicle. You will need a car as I saw no bus route into the place. It is free to park your vehicle.
However as with most places in todays world, do not leave your car unlocked and remove or hide all valuables, such as a Sat Nav.
The reception area is where you pay for your entrance to the park. It is a large pine building with heavy double doors. As well as paying for your entrance, there is a cafeteria, very small and expensive shop and toilets.
Once you have paid your ticket, you continue through the automatic security gates into 350 acres of beautiful Hampshire countryside. There is so much for the family to explore, with lakes, parkland, and open spaces, woodland areas all connected by nature trails, comfortable and somewhat clean picnic sites and vast play areas for the children. You will be confused to know where to begin.
The areas for children are: Play Trail, Snakes and Ladders, Enchanted Forest, Water Play, Sand Pit, Mini Railway (costs £1 per person), Adventure Playground (older childen only), Crazy Golf and next to the reception the Toddlers Play Area. All of these are scattered around the park but you are given a map to show exactly where to go.
When we got there, my daughter and her friend ran straight towards the wet play and sand area on the left hand side. The wet play is separate from the over sized sand pit. In the wet area, the children are able to pump water up and down the wooden channels and then see it flow over the edges back into the tray underneath. Lots of splashing with hands and wet arms, but thats all they can get damp.
The pump is suspended above a long wooden channel and it is too narrow for the little ones to actually climb in.
They all seem to have great delight in seeing the endless water pump through the tray and back again to the bottom trough. Behind them is a beautiful view of the lakes. With lots of seating around this section, just sit down and relax whilst they get their cuffs soaking wet. The sand pit next door has a selection of mechanical machinery for the little ones to dig with. Play in the sand and let them build a stream for the water to flow along and then disappear under the sand again. Just this area alone will provide endless entertainment.
However I would imagine on a hot weekend, this would become packed and heaving with youngsters fighting to get to the pump first. We were lucky being able to visit during the week when most people were at work and children were at school.
Further along is yet another small area where children can run through large concrete pipes, climb on an immobilised and ancient blue tractor, jump aboard a small wooden train and encourage pretend play or just sit on a mini size bench and watch their friends enjoy themselves. Around this section are more picnic benches and seats for mum and dad too so you can keep a watchful eye.
Another favourite area was the Snakes and Ladders. Walk past the large dinosaur T Rex hiding in the undergrowth and you will see an area situated on a hill of just slides and ladders. In the middle is a massive slide which is unsuitable for under 5s as they need to climb a large wooden ladder to gain access to the top. Once at the top, the slide curls its way down through an enclosed tunnel and out onto the floor. The remaining slides are a bit tamer.
Unfortunately as this area is adjacent to the lakes, the wildlife seems to enjoy resting here and the grass is full of bird excrement. I am not talking pea size here, these are large piles of green pooh and its everywhere. Its like walking in a minefield. I never saw any ducks, swans or geese as the children played but I expect in the evening when the visitors have left, they probably nest under the benches and eat the remains of the picnics that are dropped on the grass.
Next to the slides is the Crazy Golf. Pick up your childs club by the door in the reception and grab a ball inside the basket and let the children try to work their way over small slopes and hurdles. When I was there midweek, there were several small marquees erected around the crazy golf section but I had no idea what they were for.
Many species of birds have become residents since the lake was opened. These include Canada Geese, Coots, Egyptian Geese and Great Crested Grebes. As the park is surrounded by lakes, you will easily spot some of these and the remains of last nights food.
Remember you are not just here to let the kids let off steam. Take time to enjoy the nature trails that are all signposted, these are called:
The Woodland Trail Blue
One of the shorter walks. This trail leads you through a grove of mature conifers and some large mature oaks.
Water Fowl Green
A level path runs along the lakes and embankment, making this ideal for wheel chair users. Many more picnic areas in this tranquil trail as are the Canada Geese and their droppings so be warned. Fishing is allowed here so please respect the anglers around the waters edge.
This takes about an hour to stroll around but this is where the deer are situated. Unfortunately when we were there they didnt want to come out of hiding and we only spotted a handful before they darted inside the tall dark pine trees.
Bird Spotter Yellow
Meander through coppiced birch, beech trees and conifers and breathe in the pungent smells of the forest. This is where a beautiful
Red Admiral (butterfly) rested on my toe whilst I was standing still admiring the size of the conifers. I had never seen one so close and it didnt appear to want to leave my foot.
You wont be able to get yourself lost as the trails all have a pathway to follow and an entrance and an exit. As long as you stick to the rules, youll be fine.
Dogs are allowed inside the park and should be kept on a lead if possible, especially on the Antler Trail. All responsible dog owners should pick up their dogs pooh and this park is no exception. There are pooh bins situated around the park but only by the reception area is where you can obtain your free pooh bag. You can buy a season ticket allowing you and your pooch unlimited access to the park for that season.
**** The Café*****
Situated inside the reception area, you would have noticed it coming in. I took a picnic and only purchased a tea, an ice cream and two cold drinks from here so cannot comment on the food quality. From what I saw the prices ranged from £1.00 upwards depending on what you had. Ribena juice cartons were £0.99, an ice cream was £1.80 and a tea in a polystyrene cup (yuk) was £1. The pine seating area inside was clean and comfortable.
To be honest, take your own picnic. Its more enjoyable eating in the great outdoors and its cheaper too. Unlike Moors Valley Country Park which I also reviewed, this place has litter bins all over the place for your rubbish so you dont have to take it home with you.
Only one set as far as I could see and these were in the entrance by the café. The Ladies loo is hidden in the left hand side of the café, took us a while to find it. The Gents is right in the middle of the building with a massive great arrow pointing towards it.
The toilets were cleanish, nothing beyond the call of cleanliness, just bearable. Very dark and subdued lighting inside but has adequate washing facilities and hand driers.
*** Forthcoming Events *****
n July the following will be happening:
Queen, U2 and Earth Wind and fire perform a concert on the 7th. Not the originals of course but one of many copy bands that tour the UK.
A family fun dog show on 8th
Bootleg Beatles on 14th ( I have seen these and they are excellent, well worth the ticket price), The Secret Police and Motown Show.
Firework Spectacular on Saturday 3rd November.
As far as I know, the tickets are bought at the same place where you bought your park entrance tickets or direct online via http://www.marvellousfestivals.com. Please check the website or call the customer info line prior to the day.
Camping is permitted here but in a separate section to where the public walk around. As you approach the park, instead of turning left into the car park, take a sharp right where you will see a large green gate that is always shut but not locked. This is the campers section.
Facilities are for touring and motor caravans, up to 26 and tents. Electricity is supplied on pitches, but is not supplied to the tents. Ladies and Gents washing facilities comprise toilets, showers, hot and cold water, shaving points and the essential hair dryers.
I have never used this part of the park so cannot comment. Fees vary depending on the season so please call 0118 9326 444 for more detailed information and booking conditions.
Apparently there used to be a small holding with various animals here, but for the time being it remains closed to the public.
From what we saw and did here, I would say this place is good value. There is something for all ages and because most of the woodland has been landscaped, it provides easy access for disabled visitors and those in buggies.
I cannot comment on the staff as they were few and far between, it seems everything and everyone is centred around the entrtance. I saw no Park Rangers that day but then it was quiet and perhaps no need for them to patrol the grounds.
The one disadvantage was the amount of bird pooh and secondly, the lack of toilets further down the park. If you need the loo whilst in the red zone, its a long way back to the entrance.
Unlike Moors Valley Country Park, this place does not allow bikes inside. Only childrens bikes are permitted and they must be small or have stabilisers. Skate boards and wheelies are also banned.
Dont let that put you off though; its a great place to spend an afternoon.
The Departure Lounge Café
THE PLACE WITH THE PLANE
**** WHERE IS IT? *******
Tel: 01420 80111
No official website as far as I know yet.
Open seven days a week from 10 till 4.
Sunday 7.00am - 9.00am Takeaway for Car boot Sale only
***** WHAT IS IT? *****
I found this place completely by chance and how pleased I am to have bothered to stop in the car park. I only came down for the car boot sale and low and behold saw this gorgeous little eatery tucked away in the corner.
This little known café has only been opened a year so everything inside is still relatively new and shiny. Situated inside the HILLSIDE NURSERIES car park, it is easy to pass this completely without realising what a little gem Alton has on offer for food and drink.
When you enter the car park for the small and barely advertised nursery, turn right and drive all the way to the end of track. It is here you will see the wooden decking and blue banners saying Departure Lounge Café and Bikers Welcome. Dont let that panic you, this place is in one of the most peaceful and tranquil settings of Hampshire I have ever seen.
The entrance is on the left and opposite is a spectacular view of Hampshire countryside. The open fields are where car boot sales occur each Sunday, Tuesday and Bank Holiday Monday. The lush green fields are so vast that children can play there quite safely and in peace. Just remember to bring a ball as there are no climbing frames or swings by the front entrance.
*** WHAT TO EXPECT ON ARRIVAL ****
Once inside you are greeted by a rather large pilot holding the menu board (dont worry hes not real). Next to him is a smaller butler type character with his arms outstretched offering you a paper to read. There is also a large menu on the wall directly in front of you with all prices listed.
After a long scan down the chalk board, I noticed the prices are more than reasonable. Most dishes are around £5 with drinks under £2, depending on what you order. There is a good selection of herbal teas, coffees, squash and canned drinks. For lunch there is sausage and mash, or a jacket potato with a variety of toppings, Caesar salad, mushroom or cheese omelettes served with home made deep fried chips, a traditional ploughmans and thick chunky sandwiches with your choice of filling.
I can recommend the cheese omelette, one of my favourites now I have found this place. The omelette is thick, not paper thin like most establishments offer and oozing with melted cheddar. Along with this are a salad and the most delicious thick cut chips you could imagine.
Childrens menus are priced at £2.95 and the usual are on offer, i.e. chicken nuggets, fish fingers. The one dish my daughter chose however was sausage and mash in onion gravy, served with peas. The peas I noticed were fresh, not tinned or frozen.
Her plate was almost an adult size portion and she devoured the lot, only leaving a small portion of mash for me to try. The mash had chives in which gave the food lots of flavour but not too much, it was just right. My daughter didnt even notice them. Drinks are not included in the price for your child and neither is the desert. However for £2 they receive a good bowlful of creamy ice cream in vanilla, chocolate or strawberry.
If you dont fancy a meal, then how about some chocolate fudge cake with cream at £2.95 or my favourite, apple, blackberry and rhubarb crumble with custard. All deserts are the same price. There are also flapjacks on the counter, muffins, biscuits etc. Everything is covered and extremely hygienic.
Once you have decided on what you want, just go up to the till and place your order. They only take cash or cheque as payment. As soon as you pay for your food, it seems like only minutes that a waitress is coming to your table with your order. There are no table numbers so just point as to wear you are going to sit.
There are three seating options, at the front entrance on the decking and with the beautiful hillside views, at the rear by the fountain and garden centre entrance or if the weather is bad, inside the departure lounge itself. I prefer the seating near to the nursery and water feature as they have a childrens slide and roundabout here. Perfect for my 4 year old but not suitable for the older ones. It is quite safe as there is a padded floor covered with bark and wood chips. There is huge umbrella type canopy covering most of the seats in this area, giving you ample shade whilst still enjoying the summer sun if it ever arrives.
The tables and chairs are chrome and are quite comfortable. Each table has a cutlery holder with a selection of sauces, napkins and sugars. If for some reason your table does not have one, there are always extra supplies on the window sill by the nursery entrance.
What amazed me is just how shiny and clean the table tops were. No soon as a customer had left, the staff were there to clean and polish. Great for the summer with the onslaught of wasps and flies.
Everything is geared for young children inside. They even have a play section with foam shapes and other toys to keep them amused in bad weather. There is a large container at the back of the café full of chunky and unbreakable plastic knives, forks and spoons in this most vibrant of colours. Just help yourself. The plate mats inside the cafe are what you would find in an aeroplane, the instructions on what to do in an emergency, laminated. For a nervous traveller who has yet to fly, I would recommend you turn this over.
*** THE PLANE ***
Not only is the café designed to look like a departure lounge with its red, white and blue patriotic colours, its secret lies in the garden. None other than half a jumbo jet without the wings. Unfortunately you cannot eat your cheese baps in here, this is just for the younger guests who are celebrating a birthday.
From age 4 to 13, they will entertain your child, feed them and provide a cake and party bags for under £10 a head. For two hours you can then sit with the other parents and enjoy a latte and cream scone if you so wish. If the weather is good, the staff will take your child and their guests outside on the grass for fun and games.
For such an unusual party see a member of staff as soon as possible as the place books up quite quickly. You will need a deposit of £25 and thats it until the day. Please note they dont take credit cards as yet.
**** THE TOILETS*****
Whenever I write a review, I always inspect the toilets. Unfortunately this is where the café is let down somewhat. The toilets are situated outside the café but the top is covered by plastic sheeting . The toilets are shared by the car booters, the garden centre as well as customers for the café.
I cant speak for the Gents but in the Ladies there are two toilets and the disabled is shared next door with a baby changing unit. Both toilets are in dire need of a lick of paint, good clean and better ventilation. There was no soap, just a flake of what used to be some sort of cleaning material for your hands. They are better than nothing I suppose, but compared to the restaurant next door, they are a huge let down. Please note the disabled and baby unit room has no locking door which can be very embarrassing.
**** PARKING ****
Parking is free but is shared with the nursery, the aquatic centre and the car boot customers. There are no disabled bays. However due to the amount of over hanging trees there is plenty of shade.
You will need a car to get here as I noticed no bus stops or any passing buses along this main road.
I cant recommend this place enough, the prices, the views, the staff, the food are all first rate. So the toilets arent up to scratch, well its not as if you are eating your dinner in there, its just a quick drip, drop and go after all.
The staff are so polite and friendly, you are made to feel welcome not a hindrance. Whether you tip them or not, is your decision but I feel they all go that extra mile in politeness and good service.
If you want to do a car boot sale, then just turn up at 7am and its £5 for either a van or car. Pay at the café or the attendant when you arrive.
*** THE NURSERY AND AQUATIC CENTRE ****
After your meal, why not have a quick stroll around the garden nursery and an even quicker one around the aquatic centre. Both places sell limited stock but its worth having a look at the fish and the two parrots in the garden centre.
The parrots at Hillside are a mating pair and the female has just laid eggs. If you walk up to the large cage/shed situated outside, the parrots depending on the mood they are in, usually come and greet you.
Dont get too close though, they could peck but guaranteed they will drop something white and wet through the bars in your direction.
*****Baby Bjorn Changing Bag*****
For anyone due to have a baby, a changing bag is a necessity for the next year or more of your childs life. I have been blessed with three wonderful children and also had the honour of owning three different types of baby changing bags.
My first child had a bag that matched with his pram from Mamas and Papas, but the bag lining split so was sent to the recycling centre. My second childs bag came from Argos, nothing special just cheap and cheerful but it lasted a good year before that too made the recycling centre. My daughters bag was a gift and it was the Baby Bjorn changing bag which I still have today and after 4 years, it looks pretty good.
The BB is the Rolls Royce of nappy bags as it costs a hefty £50 plus. Is it worth the money or a waste of credit card funds? Read on and decide before you try.
***** Specifications ********
o Changing mat included
o Thermal bottle holder included
o Zipped pocket for mums valuables
o Magnetic lock on lid
o Four Metal stud feet
o Odd shaped designed zip
o Hard construction outer shell in waterproof material
o Wipe clean polyester
o Wipe clean shoulder strap
o H28 x W32 x D19cm
**** First Impressions ******
The bag resembles a small weekend bag come tote. The design and style is nothing like the traditional baby bags on the Mothercare shelf and neither is the tough outer shell. Think of Samsonite in a smaller scale and this is the Baby Bjorn bag.
Before it is even filled, the BB is quite heavy but not too bulky. The Baby Bjorn logo is in silver and this is the cover of the magnetic clasp. With its clip on the front, the bag can be opened by one hand thus enabling you to hold or restrain your baby whilst accessing the contents easily.
As the magnetic clasp is released the bag panel (there are two sections) falls down. The first panel has eight sections of various sizes. There are four sections purely for bottles with restraining sections, two elasticated pockets; (one is split in half) that measure the full width of the bag and two outer pockets. This section also has a thermal bottle holder in coordinating fabric.
The second section of the bag has an elasticised pocket in mesh, a zipped compartment and two further partitions which are just divided in half. It is in this part of bag that the changing mat lives.
Underneath there are four strong metal studs on the base.
The weight and design of the bag keeps its contents upright whilst the side you want is easily accessible and faces towards you with everything on view.
**** The Mat ****
Made from wipe clean plastic and comes in white. This is slightly padded. To be honest I dont think the little one will be too comfortable on here so best make it a quick change. It is very light and almost weightless.
When unfolded it measures just under 70 cms in length and 35 cms in width. It folds up easily into four sections as there is a rigid spine down the middle.
**** The Strap*****
Almost 4 cms in width and quite long. It fits over your shoulder and the pram/buggy without any problems. The strap is long but adjustable with the press studs, enabling you to use it as a hand bag or to extend out and drape over the bars of your childs pram. It is housed in a strong metal D rind on either side of the bag and can be pulled out completely and washed down.
On the negative side, when full this bag hurts and eventually cuts into your shoulder , so best not to carry it for long periods of time.
**** The Colours *****
Only available in Navy (mine) or City Black. The interior is colour matched to the bag. I like the navy option as apparently the black bag shows every little scratch in more detail and is a dust magnet. I must admit my Navy bag looks as good as the first day I used it, no scratches and no colour fading.
**** The Plus Side****
Your contents dont get squashed and the bag stays upright. Spacious, easily identifiable compartments.
The milk does not leak.
Its strong, washable and durable.
Looks sophisticated and not a Disney logo in sight
Pockets are suitable for mums phone, purse and keys.
**** The Down Side *****
Its expensive at around £50.
Its too cramped to carry around extra clothing for the child. Clothes will become creased.
Its heavy and cumbersome on the shoulder.
**** Stockists ******
www.ebay.co.uk (mine is on there now if you are interested)
Mothercare stores and online at mothercare.co.uk
*** A Little Bit of History on the Company ****
Björn Jakobson founded the business in Sweden in 1961. BABYBJÖRNs headquarters are today in Danderyd. It started and still is a family company and is dedicated to developing new but unusual products for both babies and toddlers.
From the beginning, BABYBJÖRN has set high standards on its safety, quality, function and style. The company liaises and works closely with top designers, medical experts and test centres. The rapidly expanding and affluent company exports to many countries and has a reputable reputation.
Personally I would not pay such a vast amount for a baby bag, I preferred my Argos £10 carry all bag. Yes it lasts and yes its durable but I felt limited as to what I could carry with me. I felt restricted using this and still carried my hand bag with me, thus defeating the object of the bag itself.
If you want to take just the necessities with you and not worried about the budget, then this is ideal. If you like to carry the kitchen sink and beyond and save some pennies, then this isnt the one for you.
Milestones Living History Museum
Come and discover your past inside a make believe town that never rains or has traffic congestion. Milestones was built to house over 21,000 objects either made or used in Hampshire and dating back to as far as the Victorian era. Milestones is managed by Hampshire County Council and also Basingstoke and Deane .
On approach to the museum, the building looks more like an aircraft hanger. You wouldnt think that this ultra modern steel and glass building would house so many old and ancient artefacts. Milestones has been in Basingstoke since November 2000 and was opened by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.
By car - Milestones is only 3 miles from the M3 on the Basingstoke Leisure Park site and is clearly sign posted on approach. There is ample parking and its free. Disabled bays are situated at the front entrance.
If you are coming from Junction 6 (M3) follow the brown tourist signs for 'Leisure Park', driving clockwise around the ring road. At the Thornycroft Roundabout you will see Milestones ahead of you. Take the first exit into Churchill Way, go all the way round the next roundabout. Enter the Leisure Park at entrance B and turn right. The museum lies straight ahead. If you take the turn off at point A, dont panic. You can still get to the museum. Drive past the Bowlplex and Gala Bingo, keep going straight until you see the KFC Drive Through. From this point you can see the building and just keep going straight on.
From Junction 7 of the M3 take the A30. Follow signs to Basingstoke town centre and brown tourist signs for 'Leisure Park'. At Winchester Roundabout, follow the brown tourist signs for 'Leisure Park', driving clockwise around the ring road, to the Thornycroft Roundabout.
By train and bus - Basingstoke Station is just two miles from Milestones. This is a reliable and frequent single deck bus service that runs during the day between the station, town centre and Leisure Park stopping outside the museum. The Leisure Park name is prominent on the reader above the driver. I have never used this service so I cannot comment on how much it will cost.
As you walk through the automatic double doors, you will be greeted with a birds eye view of the museum via the gallery. The receptionist seated on the left by the desk takes your payment and gives you details of what to do if this is your first visit. Its worth having a look at the leaflets situated by her desk as these inform you of forthcoming activities inside and outside of the museum in the main field.
On the right hand side is a gift shop. Full of lots of interesting memorabilia that will no doubt take you back to your youth. You will find items ranging from fridge magnets to a laminate poster showing the original Ford Cortina and its hairy chested owner in flared trousers. Prices here start at £1. It is worth taking a look even if you do not make a purchase. Credit cards, debit cards and cash are taken as payment.
Next to the gift shop is a cafeteria. With its darkened glass windows, this is a great place to sit down for a cup of earl grey and a cheese sandwich and just watch the world go by. Prices are reasonable but to be honest, as there are so many grassy areas surrounding the museum, take a picnic and enjoy the views. You can park quite close to the building so leave your cool box inside the car. Food is not allowed to be eaten inside and there is no smoking.
To gain access to the museum you have to enter the lift and go down levels. The lift is easy to operate but once inside it is quite dark and stifling. Fortunately it does not take too long to reach the lower floor. There is also a staircase if like me, you find elevators claustrophobic.
The middle floor is for educational purposes and is mainly used by schools. It is on this floor that school children are allowed to eat their pack lunch, sitting at tables and chairs with excellent cleaning facilities for little hands. The museum caters for all ages from primary school right up to KS2 and provides set tasks for the pupils to complete. I thoroughly enjoyed my time there with my son as a parent helper going around in set groups with a clip board.
The cost as of 2007 is as follows:
Disabled, Students and OAP £6.50,
Family (2 adults & 2 children): £21,
Under 5s free
Discounts for schools and groups, please call the staff for details
Annual Pass for unlimited free visits during the year is Adult £14.50
Disabled/Students, OAPs £13
Payment can be made by credit, debit card or good old reliable sterling.
***** Opening Times *****
Open all year, Tuesday to Friday
Bank Holiday Mondays 10am to 5pm
Weekends 11am to 5pm
Last admission 4pm.
Closed Mondays, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year's Day.
***** Audio guide*****
When you reach the lower level, situated in front of the lift doors is a large desk. A member of staff is always present and will offer you a large handset. This is your audio guide and it is worth taking with you if this is your first visit. Though quite long, it isnt heavy and cumbersome and comes with a wrist strap for your convenience. If you dont want it, then you can refuse, it is not compulsory to have this. The audio guide is included in your entrance price, you will not be charged any extra.
Though they look clean and well maintained, I am not sure how often these grey handsets are sterilised, if at all. I always carry baby wipes with me and always give them a good swipe over. After all, you never know just how much bodily deposits are in that ear piece.
The set is easy to operate. All you do is look for the numbered label by the displays and type it in using your keypad. Press the big arrow button to play. You will then hear a commentary on that specific display which lasts around 5 minutes or less. There is a volume control on the lower left panel with + and and also a pause button. When you have finished your tour, remember to return the guide to the same desk by the lift doors.
For those hard of hearing, there are video screens all around with subtitles.
***** The Museum *****
The majority of the floor is cobbled, so high or spiky heels are not recommended. Flats or trainers are perfect for a stroll around each display. You are a given a map when you pick up your audio guide and this shows the complete layout of the floor and the relevant numbers for your handset.
There are so many points of interest and pictures are allowed to be taken. The way in is via Taskers Works and its introductory gallery. There is no specific route to this museum, roam and visit at your will but this is the only way in and the only way out.
There are too many exhibitions to review in detail but a brief selection consists of the following: Taskers Works, Mottisfont Paint Works, Chesil Street Station, Wallis and Stevens, Agricultural Showground (its here you will find the stuffed Jack Russell relieving himself against the vegetable stall), Finches Yard, Sawmill, Council Yard, Victoria Place, The Thornycroft Works , Collections Corner, Gas Works, Tram Shed and Exhibition Court.
My favourite selection has to be Collections Corner and the Fire Station. If like me you grew up in the 70s, the amount of memorabilia here is amazing. It is like going back into your childhood. Everything from hairdryers with hats attached to a Tricity top loader washing machine that my mum used to own. I saw the original Chopper Bike, the first Cindy doll and even the slot meter for the electricity. How I hated that machine, you had no idea when it was going to turn off the electric and plunge the house into darkness. Money was tight in those days and mum couldnt afford to keep filling it up with 50 pence pieces so she would always wait for it to go off before adding more. It always seems to happen in the middle of Crossroads or Starskey and Hutch.
The Fire Station has a large display of Fire Fighters outfits from 1930 onwards and there is even a fireman on the roof. My late grandfather, who I regard as quite a hero of his time, was a fireman in 1940 and a replica of his suit is inside one of the cabinets. There is also a selection of oxygen tanks they had to wear, alongside the horrific gas marks that everyone had during the war.
At lunchtime on weekends and bank holidays there is a pub called The Baverstock Arms and its open for customers. You can drink a glass of real ale in a reproduction Edwardian pub. The pub itself is very small and dark and the seats very uncomfortable. Wheelchair users might find it hard to manoeuvre inside. I have never had a drink in this establishment so cannot comment on the prices or the types of ale available.
Opposite the Baverstock Arms is a sweet shop and just like the pub, is open on specific times selling the good old fashioned confectionary such as Rhubarb and Custard, Sherbert Lemons and Gob Stoppers. The sweets are placed in a paper bag just like they used to and charged according to the weight you have, on old fashioned scales.
**** Dressing Up *****
Close to the Agricultural Showground is a marquee where there is a good selection of childrens dressing up outfits mainly from the 1930s era. Children are allowed to try on and take pictures of their new clothes, but please remember to return them and not walk out of the reception door. On busy times the clothes are always taken, so if possible avoid peak days. Children love to dress up and its good fun but on the negative side, the clothes really could do with a bit of a laundry service.
**** Toilets ******
These are situated on the lower floor by the audio desk. The toilets are immaculate and well maintained. There is baby changing facilites here and disabled toilets.
**** Disabled Facilities*****
This place is so easy to get around as everything is on the one floor. There are no steps to climb, no ramps to tackle, just a cobbled high street near to the stuffed Jack Russell. The lift is a good size and takes seconds to reach the displays.
Wheelchairs and motorised scooters are available free of charge, all situated on the same floor by the audio guide desk. This really is an access friendly attraction.
Members of staff are plentiful and all wear the same polo shirt with Milestones logo on the front. From the employees I have met during my few visits here, the staff are very friendly and always willing to stop for a chat and share their knowledge of the displays and the history. If a child is lost, they will broadcast the details via their walkie talkies to the main reception and are always on hand.
**** Conclusion *****
I personally feel this is great value for money. Once inside you are not rushed to leave, you can walk around at leisure. The place is friendly with a fun atmosphere. It is like walking into a time warp. Every one of all ages will enjoy an afternoon or morning here, but to be honest you couldnt spend a whole day here. You can cover the majority of it in a few hours. It is easy to get to and with ample parking, a motorists dream.
During the year they have various activities such as on May 28th 2007 there is a large vintage steam rally in the field outside. If the weather holds, this a great day out. You can spend the morning around the steam engines and vintage cars, then the remainder inside the museum. On June 23rd there is Festival of Fire Engines and in December there is usually a Victorian Christmas evening complete with Santa and carols.
On the same site is a KFC and McDonalds Restaurant and Drive Through, Bowlplex, Gala Bingo, an indoor Aqua Drome with splash pool and an ice rink, all within easy reach.
*** Contact Details*****
Milestones - Hampshire's Living History Museum
Churchill Way West
Telephone Milestones on 01256 477766.
Hope to see you there.
Moors Valley Country Park and Forest
Tel: 01425 477880
Looking for something a bit different for a Sunday afternoon stroll, then this place could tick all the boxes. Moors Valley covers 750 acres in the Valley of the Moors River. Not easily sign posted until you are right on top of the entrance, a Sat Nav device could prove invaluable to get you here.
However, if you type in the above postcode on the RAC route planner website (www.rac.co.uk), it will find the place for you and can print off directions for a return route home. There are no admission charges. Opening times are from 8 am to dusk all year round except Christmas Day and a few days in January for cleaning the site.
For public transport links contact East Dorset District Council for more information. I saw no bus stops or signs close to the park entrance and none inside.
^^^ PARKING ^^^
On approaching the entrance you will notice four ticket barriers, two for the entrance and two for exit. On busy days there is usually quite a queue. As you approach the barrier, press the green button and you will be issued with a parking ticket. Do not loose this as you need to pay before exit. If the ticket doesnt issue or the barrier does not life, there is a speaker phone direct to the information centre where rangers are on hand to help you.
To pay on exit, either place your ticket in one of the three machines just outside the entrance or hand it to the receptionist/park ranger at the desk in the information centre. You pay by the hour and charges are very expensive, on the same level as an NCP. If you are there for the afternoon, expect no change from your £10 note. Paying is by cash and most denominations of sterling are accepted. There is no ATM machine in the park that I am aware of, so make sure you have enough cash with you.
Parking on busy days can be a nightmare. Visitors are here in their masses when the weather permits and if you get here later than mid-day, be prepared to park quite some distance away from the park entrance. With no allocated parking bays, this is really just a free for all.
Pedestrians and dogs are everywhere and have no regard to motorists trying to park. Be extra observant and alert and keep to less than 10 mph around the wood. On the occasions I have been there, no assistance is given to those trying to park. Even though there are signs inside the park saying there is 24 hour security, I have never seen a security patrol around the car park, so lock or take any valuables with you.
The car park is literally in the wood, so do not expect any tarmac roads. Its uneven in places but has lots of chippings scattered around to stop slipping in bad weather. It is still accessible for wheelchairs and buggies though.
Most importantly, as this car park is vast, try and remember a landmark as to where your vehicle is. Car spaces have no markings and one tree looks the same as the rest. Leave well before dusk otherwise you might not find your car again.
^^^^ THE INFORMATION CENTRE^^^^^^
With no steps to climb, disabled access to the park should be no problem and to the information centre. This is huge barn, converted to a cafeteria, shop, toilets and information point. As you walk inside, there is desk situated on the left in the corner. A park ranger is always on hand to help you and for your safety, they are all first aid trained.
Its here at the desk where you report lost children, pay your car park ticket, book your day pass for some course fishing and purchase some of the beautiful prints for sale at the entrance. Please note that course fishing is seasonal so please call the centre prior to arrival. There are many leaflets by the desk to take, giving you details of forthcoming events at the park and the surrounding areas.
We only use the cafeteria for tea and coffee as we always pack a picnic. As like anywhere you visit now, nothing is cheap. It is self service but the pine tables and chairs are wiped down and clean. For just under £20 you can get cake and soft drinks for an average family. To be honest, take your own food. The barn is exceptionally hot and dark in the summer months and quite uncomfortable. Its much nicer to sit outside in the fresh air and enjoy the Hampshire views. The Café takes bank debit cards and cash for payment.
The Ladies, Gents and Disabled Toilet are situated just outside of the information centre. They are sign posted from inside the barn. Do not expect anything spotless and tidy; remember you are in a wooded area. The toilets smell, the seats are splattered with urine, but there is running cold water and if you are lucky, some soap in the dispensers. If you are desperate, you will use them but dont hang about. I did not personally see any baby changing units inside the Ladies toilet, though that is not confirmation there isnt one. So just incase, take a changing mat with you as there are many picnic benches situated around the area to place your little one on if need be.
^^^^^ THE COUNTRY SHOP ^^^^^
Called a Country Shop but with its abundance of plastic snakes and lizards, there is not much country about this place. Quite a quaint shop, situated inside the Information Centre, filled to the ceiling with toys, jewellery, sweets and other souvenirs. They must have had a few shop lifters in there as the assistants eyes are watching every customers move. If your child so much as touches a toy, you are pounced upon and they place the toy back in the original place. The Manager waits at the door, not to greet you but scan you up and down and thats before you go in. Not exactly a most welcoming outlet and the prices are over the top.
I did like the coral bracelets though but at £3.99 decided against it. A basic plastic horse that I last saw in Pound land was on sale for £2.50. However, the Chrystal collection is very pretty and not too over priced if you really have to buy one souvenir. Prices vary but start from £2 for a small piece.
There is limited room inside as the aisles are so tightly packed, so buggies and wheelchairs would not be able to manoeuvre sufficiently. I also recommend not taking young children inside otherwise the shop assistants might have heart failure.
^^^^^ AL FRESCO ^^^^^
For the sake of your bank balance and the goodness of your health, enjoy the fresh air, beautiful surroundings and eat your own picnic. With an abundance of picnic tables littered just about everywhere, there is no shortage of somewhere to sit. I have never seen portable BBQs, so I would not recommend you take one without ringing the information centre first.
The main picnic area is by the lake, not far from the entrance. Swans and ducks pass by but do not intrude in your eating. Pack some extra blankets, lots of hand wipes, flask of tea, a cool box and enjoy. Many families go that extra mile and bring along tennis nets, foam bats, footballs and swing balls. I personally dont as its extra to carry and there is ample for the children to do without taking half of your garden toys with you.
On the down side, there is no shade and no litter bins anywhere on site, due to the safety of the wildlife the park claims. As I havent much wildlife, except at the lake, I would say it is to reduce the workload for the staff. As you have to take your rubbish with you, pack a few spare carrier bags, you will need them if you are eating out. This is a pain admitted and can be quite smelly in the boot of your vehicle. There are no bins in the car park either so do not bother to hunt one down. You really do have to take your rubbish with you.
^^^ DOGS ^^^^
Dogs are allowed in the park as long as they are on a lead. You can let them off once inside the main forest, away from the public. Dog bins are supposed to be situated around the park to dispose of waste, but I havent seen one yet. Perhaps they are hidden in the bushes ..
I have seen a few pink nappy sacks thrown into the bushes with its dark brown contents bulging for all to see. Not all owners pick up after their dog and the further you go into the wood, the more likely you are to walk in something smelly.
I havent see any outside taps to give your pet a drink but there are on occasions, plastic bowls situated by the gift shop, information centre and train station filled with water. Dont rely on these being here and play safe by bringing your own water for your pet. Pets at Home sell a portable water bottle with a trough underneath, perfect for woodland walks for about £10.
^^^ LOTS TO DO ^^^^^^
This place is vast and there is plenty to keep you occupied for the good part of the day. Children have two amazing adventure parks to play on. One is for the younger kidlets with a sand pit enclosing it. The Play Trail is a multitude of wooden play structures ranging from a wooden ants nest, a spiders web, snakes and ladders and mazes. This gives the children the chance to climb, crawl and generally have a wonderful time. It does get busy as this section is a real crowd puller. The floor is padded and covered in chipping, so is quite safe but as some of the frames are high, be aware of your children at all times to prevent an accident.
The miniature steam train offers rides lasting around 10 minutes, taking you through a replica station where you have to change for the next train. To purchase tickets you have to go to the lake area and buy them from the ice cream hut next to the station. The ticket master punches your ticket and you climb into the small open carriages and sit astride the wooden bench, griping on for dear life as the train hurtles through the tunnels. The carriages have enclosed sides so there is no fear of falling out but it is unnerving climbing in as the carriage rocks on the small tracks.
This is good fun and the little train is immaculate, a real enthusiasts dream. If there are not too many crowds, your children can have their picture taken with the driver too. For two adults and three children, a ten minute ride cost just under £8. Not suitable for disabled users and buggies are not allowed as are wheelchairs.
The tree top trail is a 200 metre walkway through the tops of the trees and not for those with a fear of heights. Amazing views but not recommended for small children or disabled visitors.
Go Ape has to be pre- booked on www.goape.com or call them on 0870 444 5562. I have never done but according to the leaflet, there is a high risk of danger attached to this activity.
You are instructed by a qualified member of staff but are not accompanied around. An adult must supervise a child over 10 and it is your responsibility to get around the course safely. Open from Easter through to the summer. Basically it is a high wire adventure where you spend over two hours suspended in the air literally like an ape. You will be 40 feet up! Not for the faint hearted but according to the picture on the leaflet, a safety harness is provided.
The price is £25 for adults and £20 for ages 10 to 17. Payment for this can be made via credit card and debit card and a booking fee will be added. Personally I would rather sit on West Wittering beach and admire the views from a deck chair, but each to their own.
On a gentler note, there is a four hole family golf course, plus an 18 hole par 72 course for the more professional golfer. This is payable at the information desk prior to using. Please call them for a price on 01425 479776.
There are various walks available; most of the woodland has a concrete path unless you venture off course. The way marked walks include the Lake and Riverside walk. Approx ¾ mile and takes about 20 minutes to complete. This is an easy stroll, with benches and no hills to worry about.
The Look out Walk is slightly longer at 45 minutes as a guild line. This is a gravel and dirt track but takes in some of the most beautiful scenery around. There are steps here and the ground is uneven.
Park and Forest walk is 3 miles and will take around 2 hours to complete as will the Long Forest Walk. This is for the professional rambler and not recommended for young children. There are picnic benches along the way.
Because you share the park with cyclists, be very aware of them as sometimes they do not warn you of their approach until it is too late. With the noise of the outside environment it is hard to hear them and the tarmac paths are not wide enough for both pedestrians and cyclists alike. I appreciate they have to ride somewhere but I really feel it is a safety issue to have both pedestrians and cyclists together on the same route.
^^^^ CONCLUSION ^^^^
Whether you want to cycle, walk or orienteer, this is quite an amazing park to spend a good part of the day. Even with the lack of rubbish bins and dirty toilets, this is still worth a visit. I wouldnt drive out of the way just to see this parkland but if its less than an hours drive away, take a look, you might be pleasantly surprised.
Restaurant Reviewed: Stag and Hounds
(next to Comet and Home Base)
The Harvester chain of Restaurants have over 2000 outlets across the United Kingdom and owned and operated by Mitchells and Butlers, who claim to be the UKs leading operator of managed pubs, bars and restaurants. Harvester claim to offer healthy eating, drinking and entertainment in one reasonably priced outlet.
**** Parking and Getting a Table *****
As with most of the Harvesters I have visited, there is usually ample free parking at the rear of the establishment. However on Saturday evenings and Sunday lunch times these places are heaving with customers, so avoid the crowds, go early and if possible ring and reserve a table. The Stag and Hounds is no exception but fortunately there is an over flow car park used by travel lodge customers next door.
The entrance is usually through the bar. Just before the restaurant entrance is usually a waiting area; its here that a waiter or waitress will show you to your table. You will be greeted by the obligatory have you been to a harvester before question as you walk to your seats and the help yourself to salad.
The waitress will hand you over a large menu (these things are over 40 cms in length) and as you try to juggle it open without knocking over a strategically placed wine glass, she or he will take your drinks order before returning to take your food order. Depending on how busy the place is, you will be given around 10 minutes to choose but if you are not ready, just say so and she will return.
The menus use a large and clear font size, they are easy to read and also inform the customer of dishes suitable for those with allergies and vegetarian options.
You are not committed to order a starter. To be honest, as you are allowed to eat as much as you want in salad cart, I would avoid the starters altogether. The salad cart is more filling and tastier than the starters and best of all, completely free.
Bowls are situated next to the cart and tongs in each separate container. The majority of the time they are clean but one tip is to always rub your finger around the inside first. On one occasion there was a dried mayo sauce which though you couldnt see, I could feel it.
Allegedly Fresh rolls are placed on top of the cart to also help yourself. The rolls taste like the pre packed baguettes that you could when required, hopefully not full of preservatives but definitely not fresh and steaming that you buy from the bakers.
The salad cart contains a good varied selection, including potato salad, coleslaw, cous cous, Florida salad, cucumber, grated carrots, croutons, bacon bits and at least three different jugs of dips. One to recommend is the blue cheese but dont over do it as too much is overpowering and ruins the flavour of your salad. The mayo and thousand island are rich and creamy.
****** Menu as of Feb 2007 ******
As with all menus they are subject to change according to season and prices. Starters are priced at just £5 each. I have tried most starters but to be honest, along with your free salad, a starter on top of your main meal is too much.
The kitchen is open plan and you can inspect your chef for the night, hes the stressed out guy listening to radio one with a white hat on in case you cant spot him.
Crackerjack King Prawns - Hot and spicy, crunchy-coated king prawns with a sweet chilli dip on the side.
Nachos - Nachos served with guacamole, salsa, melted cheese and jalapenos with sour cream. I found these quite sickly and not very tasty. Also comes with the option for two of you to share.
Chicken Wings - You will receive a large portion of chicken wings cooked on the flame-grill. They are then basted in either BBQ sauce or a very hot & spicy chilli and garlic marinade. You should receive an extra pot for more dipping. I hate anything hotter than a ginger nut, so always opt for the BBQ which is absolutely divine. The sauce could do with being slightly thicker as it has a tendency to drip - usually down a crisp white blouse.
Greek Lamb Skewers - This is one of my husbands favourites and this receives his full marks of approval. You will receive 3, though small, lightly spiced minted lamb skewers with red onion and chilli all served in an iceberg lettuce cup. This is served with mint & sour cream dip. Yum !
Crunchy Breaded Mushrooms - Quite soggy and very small, about 8 or so mushrooms coated in bread crumbs with the standard garlic & herb dip.
Satay Skewers - chicken skewers marinated in a satay sauce, with red onion and chilli and served inside an iceberg lettuce cup. Similar to the lamb skewers above.
Soup of the Day - The waitress will usually tell you as she sits you all down at the table.
Prawn Cocktail - Cold water prawns, iceberg lettuce, tomato and the delicious Marie Rose sauce, served with slices of buttered brown bread. Absolutely delicious though the prawns are in small supply. I counted 6 the last time I chose this.
Chinese Platter - Crispy king prawn crackers, duck and veggie spring rolls and chicken wantons, enough for one person but they do pass it off as for two to share. The spring rolls are quite small, but with a crisp outer shell and succulent vegetables they are extremely Moorish.
Harvest Festival for 2 to share. BBQ chicken wings, chicken fillets, breaded mushrooms, corn on the cob and soggy onion rings. Served with the harvester sour cream & chives dip and BBQ sauce.
If you eat during the week before 6.30pm, including lunch times, its known as the early bird. The restaurant is usually quieter and the food prices are considerably less, up to a third off each dish. Remember that on Saturday this offer is only valid until 5 pm. Early bird menu prices range from £4 to under £10. Just because you pay less doesnt mean they cut back on quality or portions, its just as equally appetizing then as it is later on in the evening. Eating later on in the evening you can expect to pay at least £10 for a main meal.
The main menu is geared towards the chicken and steak fan; there are not many vegetarian options available. The selection is varied and I have listed a few of the dishes on offer at the time of writing.
The Original Spit roast
A seasoned fresh spit roast chicken served with BBQ dip. Comes with an accompaniment of chunky chips and a small corn on the cob. The chicken is moist and falls off the bone, not too filling but rather tasty. The sweet corn has always been cooked to perfection but beware, it does drip when you bite into the cornels.
Lemon & Herb Spit roast
Half a spit roasted chicken again but this time drizzled in a light lemon, parsley & thyme butter sauce, with crisp seasoned fries and corn on the cob. Only a hint of lemon, infact it was so light I couldnt even taste it. I dont think there are many differences between this dish and the original spit roast above.
Piri Piri Chicken
Flame-grilled chicken breast topped with a tomato & roasted vegetable sauce with a kick of Piri Piri chilli, served with Cajun rice. Absolutely delicious, a firm favourite. Nothing as succulent as Nandos version but it still ranks high on my recommendation list.
Chicken and Bacon Stack
Flame-grilled bacon steak and Emmental cheese sandwiched between chicken breasts, topped with sticky sweet plum sauce and served with new potatoes and steaming hot garden peas. The bacon steak is too salty and it takes what seems forever to chew. I enjoyed the chicken and the Emmental cheese combination but this meal is nothing special, quite bland actually.
The Cajun Chicken Big One
Flame-grilled chicken breast dusted with hot Cajun spices and served in a soft white bun with mayo, crunchy iceberg lettuce and tomato. As with most dishes, it comes with fries unless otherwise stated.
Fish & Vegetarian
Smoky Joe Tuna
A grilled, lightly breaded tuna steak, served with Cajun rice & tomato salsa. Revolting, too chewy and tasteless. I only managed a quarter of this before pushing my plate away in dismay.
Fish, Chips and Peas
Chunky battered fish with seasoned fries and juicy peas that have a tendency to catapult themselves off the plate as soon as you stab them. This is nothing like the traditional fish shop offering but my children rate this quite high. You have to ask what the fish is as sometimes it has been Cod and other occasions, Haddock. The fish is not boned so if younger children are eating this, please make sure you cut the flakes up for them. The fish can be quite soggy but the meat is usually pure white, no grey bits which children hate.
Scampi and Chips
Crunchy breaded scampi served with fries, peas and half a lemon. Full marks on this one, though the scampi pieces are few and far between, just like the prawn cocktail starter. No soon as you get into the scampi, its gone. A very crunchy coating on the outside with succulent fish in the middle.
Totally Stuffed Mushrooms
Juicy open mushrooms stuffed to bursting with creamy leek and cheese. Served with buttered new potatoes, peas and a revolting grilled tomato. Apart from the tomato, this is rather yummy. Ideal for the smaller appetite.
Chips are not compulsory, you can ask for either a jacket potato or new potatoes. The jackets are micro waved, making the skin soft not crispy and the spud is no bigger than a small tea cup.
*** Side Dishes ****
Priced at under £3, you can choose from button mushrooms, corn on the cob, extra chips, potato wedges, garlic bread, onion rings and extra sauces. Most of it you get when you order your main meal apart from the garlic bread, so check to see what is included before you order extra.
*** Desserts the best bit *****
Just a selection of some puddings available and priced at under £5.
Raspberry Trifle Sundae
Soft vanilla sponge, raspberries in jelly and vanilla ice cream laced with raspberry flavoured sauce, topped with cream and chocolate fudge pieces and just as good as homemade even if the cream is fake. You do receive a good sized portion in a tall glass dish.
Bramley Apple Pie
Deep-filled, with cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg, served warm with hot custard or vanilla ice cream. Full marks on this one even if the slice is somewhat small and the custard is no more than a drizzle.
Choc Mallow Muddle
Thick chocolate mousse with soft marshmallow, crunchy nuts and chewy toffee on a chunky biscuit base. Served with chocolate flavoured sauce and whipped cream. Once was enough, too sickly and too chewy.
Raspberry New Yorker
A creamy New York style baked vanilla cheesecake shot with raspberry fruit pieces and served with fluffy whipped cream. The cheesecake slice looks miniscule, especially when there is a Rocky Horror alongside. However once you start digging in, it becomes apparent that the allocated portion is more than enough. The cheesecake is so rich and gluttonous that is sticks itself to the roof of your mouth and you spend the next ten minutes trying to remove it from the top of your palette. Its ok once in a while but not one I would choose again.
Warm chocolate fudge cake topped with vanilla ice cream, whipped but synthetic cream and crunchy chocolate fudge pieces. This resembles a gold fish bowl and is packed full of cholesterol laden ingredients but so what, this is delicious and comfort food at its best. This has to be the ultimate Harvester desert.
Ice cream Sundae
Vanilla ice cream covered in your choice of butterscotch, chocolate, toffee-fudge, raspberry or strawberry flavoured sauce. My son ordered this and couldnt make up his mind about which sauce, so the waitress gave him a bit of everything.
The Big Double Dipper
Marshmallows coated in coconut flakes, strawberries, chocolate brownie chunks and light profiteroles all dripping in chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream. Incredibly sickly and too over powering, not one I would recommend.
**** Childrens Menu *****
Children are made welcome in these establishments. Not only do they have their own menu to choose from but they are entertained at the table by drawing and colouring. This is such a bonus as it is very difficult to keep little ones from fidgeting whilst waiting for the food arrive. Dont worry if they get though the sheets of paper before the dinner comes, your waitress will only be too pleased to give you more. Dinners are under £6 and no drink is included.
Children are offered, tomato Pasta , ( a vegetarian dish), Spaghetti Bolognaise, Jacket Potato with Tuna Mayo, Sweet corn & Spring Onions, Fish and Chips, Chicken Dippers, Beef Burger, Spit roasted Chicken, Sauce ages, and half rack of Harvester Ribs.
Avoid the sausages at the Basingstoke branch, twice I have returned my childrens meals as they were undercooked and oozing with meat juices. Even when cooked the children said they tasted revolting enough said.
All childrens dishes come with either chips or jacket potato and peas or beans. Extra dips are available and if your waitress doesnt offer them, just ask. A trip or two to the salad cart is included for little ones as is the dessert. Not from the main dessert section but is usually an ice cream or a jelly. Unlike other fast food outlets, they dont receive a toy at the end of the meal, perhaps a balloon if there are any available.
Try to persuade your child to have ice cream as the jelly is just a box standard jelly in a small plastic tub, similar to the Rowntree version that is mass produced. Far too runny and over powering in what appears to be artificial colouring. I know that Harvester promote healthy and nutricous eating, but what ever was in this jelly had my three year old bouncing off the walls for the remainder of the evening.
*** General service and Appearance ****
Most harvesters offer cosy and comfortable surroundings with its wooden beams, there is a rustic farm house feel to the place. It is not compulsory to eat a meal, you are more than welcome to just have a drink at the bar and relax in the faux leather chairs. It is not just beer and wine, soft drinks and spirits are available. Bar prices start from £2.
Fruit machines are seen flickering in the corner of the bar, normally next to the cigarette machine. With its jaw dropping jackpot of nearly £20, do your wallet a favour and ignore it. Piped back ground music can often be heard but is never too loud so you can still hold a conversation. There isnt much privacy at the tables but the lights are dimmed and unobtrusive.
Inside the bar and restaurant, all disabled and wheel chair customers are welcomed, ramps are outside and disabled toilets are available. However, depending on what time of day you are visiting, these establishments do become packed and it could prove difficult for you to manoeuvre in comfort.
Tables are wiped down before you are shown to your seat and clean utensils are laid out for you. Always do a quick check yourself though. These places are cheap and cheerful with the emphasis on bring them in but push them out just as quick. I never feel 100% sure about the hygienic element, so to be on the safe side I always inspect.
Staff should be polite, courteous and helpful at all times but we all know that in this real world, it doesnt always happen. Most waitresses have gone the extra mile for us and I reflect my gratitude in the tip at the end of the meal. Tips are entirely up to you.
If you feel you have received a poor service then let it be known. There is always a duty manager available to hear your complaint and the head office details are found on the website.
I think the uniform policy varies as some Harvester staff in other branches have all looked immaculate and dressed identically. Unfortunately in this specific Harvester that I am reviewing, this does not apply. Staffs all appear to wear black bottoms with a white top, but not a set uniform just a colour code. Wearing their own clothes does not portray a smart appearance. They do wear name badges and a small apron, but other than that no other distinguishing marks sets them apart from customers.
Now onto the personal subject of toilets. Its obvious after eating and drinking, at some point you will want to visit the W.C. Toilets should be clean and immaculate at all times, however not in the Basingstoke restaurant. I have to name and shame this place as the loos are revolting, full of filth and dried excrement. The paint is peeling, the light fittings loose, the place wreaks and the carpet is thread bear and bulging in place. It is an accident waiting to happen. Inside the cubicle it is so dark that you can barely make out that puddle of urine left on the seat. Apparently the gents next door is worse. I sincerely hope that all the stains left in the toilet are not the remains of a Harvester dinner.
Paying for your meal is either by cash or credit card. Some take cheques but always ask before you sit down and order. Not all branches have cash machines either but those present are not free ATMs. The bill is brought to you by the waitress and its at this point that you can decide to reward her or not with a small tip.
**** Sitting Outside ****
Most places do have a beer garden and seating outside but not many have play facilities for children. It gets busy during the summer season and the same rule applies as the restaurant, get there early and avoid the masses. On numerous occasions I have seen dogs outside but always on a lead and never allowed to enter the building unless a guide dog.
Ok, granted that the place is not palatial or pristine but it is cheap and cheerful, like an upmarket Mac Donalds. If you want a la carte then Knightsbridge have some exclusive eateries, if its quick and local, then a Harvester will always be found close by. Conveyer belt food at its best, I dont feel it is as fresh and nutritious as Harvester claim but its edible. The kids enjoy the change of scenery and above all us girlies get a night off from the kitchen.
Harvester have their own website on www.harvester.co.uk. There is a branch locator which uses your postcode and then shows you a map to the nearest restaurant. You can also apply for jobs via this site and send feedback or comments.
Paris-Est Nogent sur Marne
Quai du Port
After a recent visit to Disney land Paris (December 2006), we stayed at a Campanile Hotel in Nogent sur Marne. It is situated just outside the city, along the river Marne, in the countryside near Paris.
We had no idea what the hotel would be like until we arrived but I was assured it was at least a 2* establishment. The tour company gave me the name and address prior to leaving the UK but I could not find many detailed photographs on the internet. www.expedia.co.uk gave a view of the front of Campanille and the descriptions given on various sites were mostly the same, Modern with restaurant, coffee shop and bar; multilingual staff; situated in the city near public transportation. Apparently there are rooms for the disabled but these have to be pre-booked as well as the family rooms.
The Campanille group are quite large chain, with hotels in England, Scotland, France, Germany and Italy and have a network of 380 in Europe. Though I have personally never heard of them, I have since found out that Campanille are celebrating 30 years in the business. The company chairman Barry Sternlicht boasts that he is doing his best to provide comfort and hospitality in his network of economical hotels. So lets see if his word is his bond ..
*** FIRST APPEARANCES*****
After a very early morning pick up from Hampshire and 13 hours later on the coach, we finally arrived at Nogent Sur Marne. The first appearances were pleasing. The hotel was large, quite well kept and all rooms had large bay windows looking out onto the river Marne. Décor wise, it was slightly over board with the lime green paint but none the less a quite impressive residence from the view of a tired pair of eyes and a coach window.
Situated on a very busy main road, it was difficult to cross. Once on the path, there was a flight of about 15 steps up to the main entrance. Fortunately there was also a ramp just around the side of the building.
The doors into the hotel were heavy and non automatic so disabled visitors would find it difficult to enter.
The lobby and reception were like entering a 19750s time warp. I thought the description said modern! Once again the lime green paint was in abundance, except this time it was paired with mustard too. I think the walls were once painted Magnolia but with all the heavy cigarette smoking going on, the paint has discoloured to mustard. Plastic flowers were situated in just about every nook and cranny, all with a good layer of dust. The smell of cigarettes hit you in the face where ever you go.
I am pleased to say the reception manager was dressed in a more modern style of white shirt and brown trousers, which seemed to be the standard uniform of all staff. He was very polite and gave us a warm welcome and made a big fuss of my children throughout our stay.
On our arrival I was hoping that after such a long and tiring coach trip to Paris we may have been greeted with a tray of some sort of refreshment but instead we were given our keys to the rooms and directed to the lift. By the time we got there, all of us were spitting feathers we were so dry.
The reception is open 24 hours/ 7 days a week but dont guarantee getting a beverage late at night. It depends on which member of staff is working the late shift. After returning from Disney land very late on New Years day (we were dropped off by the coach at 2.30 am), we were desperate for some snack food and a drink. We were told the bar was closed and shuffled up to our rooms empty handed.
***** LIFT OR STAIR CASE *****
There were 8 floors in this hotel and our rooms were situated on the second floor. Bearing in mind that 48 passengers were all in the lobby area, we had a long wait for this one elevator to make its way back down.
The lift, like the hotel was quite antiquated and only 4 people could squeeze in comfortably. I am rather nervous of lifts at the best of times and I did not feel secure or safe in this tin box so opted for the stairs, leaving my husband with the cases.
Luckily the stair case was adjacent to the elevator but the fire doors were hard to open. The stairs on the lower ground were just stone and the lighting was extremely poor, making it dangerous and very unsafe. However, once you reach the first floor carpeted stair case, the lighting improves considerably.
***** THE ROOMS*****
All 84 rooms accommodate two people comfortably, or three at a push. The third bed is a pull out mattress underneath the main double bed. Doors are opened by the traditional method of lock and key, no swipe cards and electric tagging here.
My husband and my two boys were in the room next door and my daughter and I shared the double bed. Smoking is allowed but you can ask for a non smoking bedroom as I did at the time of booking. The corridor wreaked of smoke as did most of the hotel.
Both rooms were decorated the same, neutral colours, no lime green anywhere except in the carpet. Just like the rest of the hotel, the rooms were very dated and in need of some drastic modernisation.
They were exceptionally clean and tidy but only the basics for furniture. Other than the bed and one wooden chair with a wobbly leg, there was no other seating. A small dressing table occupied the site by the window and a single wardrobe. There were no coat hangers inside but an extra pillow was placed on the bottom.
Tea and coffee facilities consisted of just two tea bags, two packets of Nescafe, two biscuits and two small portions of long life cream. No sugar, just sweeteners. The kettle was just big enough to make one cup but to be honest it was so revolting with the long life cream I only drank cooled boiled water whilst I was there. There was no advice about not drinking the water but we decided to buy bottles of Evian and kept this in our room just incase.
Each room has a TV but unless you speak French then it will be just there to provide back ground noise. Limited channels, there were just 7 and there is no point trying to tune in for other channels as the button has been removed from the remote control.
I had no idea how to turn on the small wall heater and no instructions were given either. Fortunately it wasnt that cold and the hotel was generally warm anyway.
The bathroom consisted of a bath with shower attachment, basin sink, toilet, and extendable mirror. Once again it was spotless. Yes the tiles had seen better days and the bath had lost its shine but the room was immaculate. Not a stray hair in sight from the previous occupants.
Plastic sealed cups were left on the shelf along with two packets of shampoo and a small bar of soap. I also found a large pile of freshly laundered white towels on the heated rail, warm, welcoming and incredibly fluffy. These are changed daily with room service.
The beds had crisp white sheets on with comfortable pillows and a firm mattress. I must admit it was very quiet which so aided restful sleep.
Apparently they do provide travel cots but you must pre-book these prior to your arrival.
*** RESTAURANT/ Nos recettes de saison ***
The restaurant received full marks from us, the food was delicious. You can either choose from un choix de menus (a range of set menus) or from the buffet which is the centre piece of the restaurant. Even the children had their own menu if required.
The menu given to us was in French, they had none printed in English. The hotel claimed that its staff was multi lingual but our waitress did not understand English so it was down to me to translate as best I could in my pigeon French.
The dishes were varied and you could have a set menu from 13 euros. Starters were priced at 5 euros, main meals from 17 euros and deserts at 7 euros. To be honest the buffet works out cheaper as for 15 euros you can eat as much as you like and that includes your starter, main meal and desert.
Items from the menu included burger and chips, steak cooked in red wine, omelette, chicken and new potatoes and the only vegetarian option of ravioli. The burger and fries consisted of a small piece of steak, cooked rare, no bun, no salad but delicious chips, cooked to perfection. Children could order burgers, chicken courgons or fish fingers. All served with fries naturally and comes with a small ice cream tub of Hargen Dazs. This is priced at 9 euros.
However my children eat healthily and they all opted for the buffet, which works out better value as you get three courses and choose exactly what you like. My husband ordered the burger but as it was cooked rare, he wasnt too keen on eating it. I asked for it to be cooked further but the waitress told me at that time the kitchen was not open.
The buffet plates are situated by the cheese board. There are ample French loaves to cut and eat as you please, just help yourself. The starters consist of pate, two varieties of soup, melon, fish and some continental meats. The main meal is a good selection of coleslaw, salads, with cous cous, rice, more pate, cold pasta and slices of cold meats. The red cabbage, apple and sultana salad was divine, very sweet more like a pudding than a main meal.
However the best bit has to be the deserts. All laid out on a bed of ice, the plates were full, ready for your consumption. I was a complete hog and ate three! I can firmly recommend the crème brulee, apple tart and chocolate cake. My children all had the banana and pineapple cake, covered in syrup and the plates were licked clean. Of course for those watching the calories there are cartons of low fat yoghurt and bowls of fruit salad. I did not fall into that category whilst there which my waistline now shows.
Bottles of chilled Evian are available for your table as are a good selection of soft drinks. There is a bar situated in the hotel reception. There are not many choices of alcohol but they served Bacardi, Vodka, Heineken and a good selection of red or white wines. Prices were from 5 euros.
You cannot set a tab up and charge the evening meal or lunch to your room, it has to be paid for there and then by either credit card or euros. They do not accept sterling. Service charge is not included but a tip is expected.
Breakfast is included in the price of your room and this is buffet only. Because the buffet selection is situated on a wooden platform in the centre of the restaurant, it becomes somewhat hectic. There should have been a one way system in place as it was just one massive free for all and as a result very hectic.
Breakfast items included three selections of cereals which you pour out of canisters, yoghurts, fruit, dry cake similar to Madeira cake, croissants plain or chocolate, dry toast, bread rolls, cheese, hams, crackers, biscuits and fresh orange juice. If you want tea and coffee, its make your own by placing the tea (and there are many bags available) or coffee granules into a cup and pour in the hot water from the jugs provided. The milk is fresh and unlike the stuff in the hotel room, it tasted delicious with my Earl Grey. Just like the buffet in the evening and lunch time, everything is on a bed of ice and chilled to perfection. You can eat as much as you like but the minute the restaurant shuts, everything is removed within seconds, including your plate if you havent finished.
The opening times are: morning 6.30 am to 9.30 am, lunch 12 2pm and dinner 7.30- 10 pm. It is best to get to the restaurant at least an hour before closing otherwise you will be turned away.
The waitress service was actually quite comical, it reminded me of the BBC comedy show Faulty Towers. The poor girls were rushing around the tables like little ants, watched by the manager aka Basil Fawlty. I appreciate the restaurant was always busy but the staff were so accident prone. We lost count the amount of times glasses were dropped, plates were smashed, flowers were knocked over and waitresses skidded on the floor. No dinner was dropped whilst we were there.
I must admit I really enjoyed the buffet food but what let the restaurant down was the amount of smoking allowed here as well. There were no designated areas for smokers and we were sitting right amongst the fumes. It was quite choking and there was no ventilation regardless of the hotel having air conditioning, which I saw no sign of at that time of our stay.
*** THINGS TO DO THERE*****
Apparentley you can use the facilities next door which included a swimming pool and bowling. However everything was shut whilst we were there and to be honest the hotel offered nothing to do and was absolutely boring. Even the river cruises were closed and these were situated opposite the hotel.
We just stayed at the hotel as it was part of the Disney Land package tour and it was somewhere to rest our heads at night. To be honest where the hotel is situated and what the establishment has to offer was absolutely nothing. I would not stay there any longer than a few nights as they offer no entertainment what so ever, a weekend is long enough.
The train station is close by which is a 20 minute ride away from the centre of Paris, but there are no shops or facilities within walking distance of the hotel and believe me we did try to find something on New Years day.
If you bring your own car, Disney Land is an hours drive away. There is parking facilities on site but I had no idea where.
*** TO CONCLUDE***
This Campanile hotel offers an economical stay on the outskirts of Paris, with easy access to the city centre and the train station is within easy walking distance. The bus line 114, 120 and 210 also takes you into Paris.
For a tourist rated 2 * hotel the place is very clean and tidy, with daily room service. Though very dated inside, it is quite good value for money but I would not stay there any longer than necessary. If you just want somewhere to sleep and shower for a few nights, then this place is ideal. The staff are polite but certainly do not go that extra mile for their guests, especially when the restaurant is busy.
Watch out for any flying crockery!
Useful Information and Websites:
www.xe.com/ucc/convert.cgi - for up to date currency conversion
If you wish to book a room either use the websites listed or call the hotel direct on Reservation Number 0164 62 4646.
Payment can be made by credit cards, travellers cheques or gift vouchers. At this hotel there were no cash tills.
One night in a double room low season is 78 euros per room 1 Euro equals 0.65 pence as at the time of writing. However in the summer the price drops to 69 euros per person. Winter is extremely popular due to the Christmas parade and New Years Eve fireworks at Disney.
Rates are quoted per night per room exclusive of taxes and meals unless otherwise specified. Some rates may require special identification. Extra persons, children, roll-away beds may be subject to additional charges. This information was taken from http://online.allrez.com/hotprice/paris.
Thank you for reading