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Here are some of my favourite attractions in Atlanta, USA . . . -Piedmont Park- We visited Piedmont Park after having a walk down Peachtree Street in Atlanta. It is easily accessible from there and clearly signposted from the street so you'll have no problems finding it, although it is downhill so bear in mind that you'll have to walk back up the hill afterwards! it was actually recommended by our guidebook as a place to visit and I'd recommend it too as it is a lovely large green space in the city. You can walk around all the areas of the park easily enough although we decided to be proper tourists and rent a tandem bike to explore. There is a place right outside the park gates called Skate Escape where you can rent skates and bikes by the hour and day for a reasonable price. You need need photo ID (preferably a passport) to be able to rent anything though. Bikes are $6 per hour and tandems $12 per hour. We loved cycling around and it is really easy to do because the pavements and paths through the park are nice and wide so there is plenty of room for everybody. There are lots of huge fields where you can play sports and there are a few nice little play areas and things for the kids. They have thought of everyone (well everything actually) at Piedmont park as there are also two areas that are gated off for dogs to play in (one for big dogs and one for little ones) complete with playground type things for them to explore and waste disposal units. We thought this was particularly good because it meant that there wasn't any dog mess anywhere else in the park. The park was indeed extremely clean and clearly well maintained which was nice and so it made for a very pleasant place to spend the afternoon. Definitely recommended. -Zoo Atlanta- I don't generally go to a lot of zoos, but when we were in the states, there was a lot of talk about Zoo Atlanta because of their brand new panda babies. Like many others, I couldn't resist and so we visited at the end of our Deep South road trip. I'm glad we went because the zoo is a nice one that is well laid out and just enough exhibits that you can see everything you want without overdoing it. We went on a weekend and although it was busy, we didn't feel like it was overcrowded which was nice. The exhibits are nice and big so there are actually lots of different viewing platforms and areas for each exhibit. They have all the big hitters here including lions and tigers. Our favourite enclosures wwere the massive gorilla and orang utan ones. They have quite a few gorillas (including a couple of babies) and it is fascinating to stand and watch them either from the inside viewing area or the many outdoor ones. Unfortunately we didn't actually get to see the panda babies because they were too young to be out in public view but there s a pandacam where you can see them and the older ones are out so you can see them. Something we liked about the zoo was the amount of educational information that was available all the way around. The signs all the way around are interesting and brightly coloured so they'll appeal to all ages and there are lots of question flip cards so you can test your knowledge. There are plenty of places to get some food and, as you'd expect, the prices aren't cheap. I was surprised actually to find that the gift shop prices weren't too high though in comparison. The entry tickets were what you'd expect, but I'd say that the zoo is worth the money. Recommended. -Centennial Olympic Park- The Olympic Park, as you might have guessed by the name, is the legacy left by the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta Georgia and is a lovely place to go and relax in the middle of the city. If you are visiting any of the city's main attractions, such as the Aquarium, The World of Coca Cola and the CCN Centre, you'll not miss the park because it is right there in the thick of the action, offering a bit of calm in amongst the artificial lights and queues that come with the other sights. We spent a lot of time in the park, either walking through it or sitting and eating lunch, and it is a perfect place to do both on a lovely day. There are lots of little different areas within the park and most of them have something interesting to look at. We particularly enjoyed the stones that listed all the winners in the games and the canopy of national flags. There is a nice little rock garden and water feature that has bridges and so on so will provide a bit of adventure for the kids and there are a couple of nice big grassy areas for ball games. There is a little cafe near the entrance of the park and there are lots of seating areas if you have your own food. There is a bandstand where up and coming musicians come and play for people whilst they are enjoying the sun which we loved. The best thing about the park though is the interactive fountains which are shaped like the five Olympic rings and dance to music and lights at night. During the day you are free to play in them which lots of people did during the whether. The park felt completely safe at all times of the day and evening. It is very clean and well maintained and it is free to enter. Definitely recommended. So this just proves there is plenty to do and it doesn't have to cost the earth.
One of the things you should absolutely do when you are in Atlanta is visit the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site. The man himself spent much of his life in Atlanta which was actually his birthplace and where he followed in his father's footsteps by becoming preacher at the Ebeneezer church. The complex includes lots of interesting areas and the whole thing comprises to give you a good insight into the man behind the legend. I have to admit that I knew shamefully little about Martin Luther King Jr before I visited, but I found everything about the site fascinating and well presented. I didn't think it was too over bearing especially for a novice like myself. I particularly enjoyed wandering around the visitor's centre where there is a sort of timeline of events that King was involved in and I was amazed to see just how many times he was arrested throughout his life. There is also an exhibit in there on both Rosa Parks and Ghandi who were both involved with King at some point. You can also see his Nobel prize, which I thought was a bit underwhelming actually! Outside the visitor centre you can see the tombs of King and his wife in the rather calming reflective pool. Down the road you can see the house where he was born and in the other direction the church were he was minister. In all, the site is well worth a visit. Definitely recommended.
I suffer from terrible heartburn and I think it is down to eating a lot of bread as it seems to get a lot better when I cut down on eating it. Nevertheless I do like bread so I have had to find an alternative solution. I have tried pretty much every indigestion tablet known to man and I always go back to the Rennie ones because I like the chewy ones that they do. They come in a multi pack of twenty four tablets that are split into three packets so they are handy for sticking in your hand bag or whatever. This is one of the reasons that I like them so much because the packs are just like packets of sweets rather than being in those blister packs that look like medicine. The twenty four packs cost around £3.25, so they are not cheap at all. The other problem with them is that they are now discontinued in the UK for reasons that are not immediately clear. On the plus side though, they are available from places online and, at the time of writing, i found them on pharmacy2u for the price mentioned. The sweets are chewy and they remind be a bit of those spearmint chews that you used to get in pick and mix sweet shops that come in the white wrapper with green writing on. They are individually wrapped within the packet. They have a nice minty smell like the original Rennies tablets do, but they actually taste really minty as well which is an added bonus. The are as fast acting as the original ones too and I find that my heart burn has pretty much gone by the time I have even finished chewing the sweet which is fantastic and obviously the most important benefit. The other reason that I like them so much though, and the reason I prefer these to the original ones is that they don't have that chalky texture that the hard tablets have. This means that they are actually quite pleasant to eat and that you don't have to vigorously chew on them to get rid of the taste and texture like you do the other ones! The only problem I have had with these sweets is that they are quite soft at the edges and if you leave them in your bag for any length of time they do tend to melt and become very sticky. When this happens, they are still edible and they work just as effectively, but they do become messy quite quickly so just be careful not to put them in your bag and forget about them! Overall I would definitely recommend the Rennies Chewy sweets because they are effective and nice tasting which is not two phrases you often put together when you are describing medicine! They only lose a star for the fact they are so hard to get hold of and that they melt easily!
We recently spent a few days in Washington DC at the end of a holiday in the USA. I had heard mixed reviews about the city before we visited; one of my friends absolutely loves it and has been a few times, but Dave Gorman painted a horrible picture of the place on his stand up shows! As it was, we really liked it. I don't think I'd go back because I didn't fall in love with the place, but it was brilliant to see some of the most famous places in the world all in one city. ***Getting There and Getting Around*** We actually flew into Dulles airport, which is a good way out of the city and so costly to arrive from. They are in the process of building some kind of rail link to the airport but until then you'll have to make do with the cheap but very slow bus, organise a slightly more expensive but slightly quicker shuttle or settle on the much quicker and much more expensive taxi. We went for the latter and paid sixty dollars each way including tip. If you are flying into Reagan International, it'll be much quicker and cheaper because the centre is only a few miles from the airport and there are many, many more options. In fact it is worth considering this when you are booking your flights; we went for the cheaper flight option of going into Dulles and were stung on getting into the city, so just bear in mind that what you save on flights might cost you more in transfers - plus it obviously takes longer to get there too. Getting around the city is easy. It is not so big that you can't do most of it on foot really, as long as you don't mind pounding the pavements. If not there are literally hundreds of options for organised tours and hop on hop off type buses. The other option is the subway system which is quite inclusive and fairly cheap to use. It is quite complicated although we got the hang of it in a couple of days and the staff at the ticket booths are very helpful. Maps at each station make it even easier and it goes to all the main sites. ***My Washington Must Sees*** The White House - The most visited residence in America (and probably the world actually), you can't not visit this when you are in the city. You can't actually go in unless you have pre requested permission and even then it is only allowed if you are part of an educational group or something like that. You can get surprisingly close to it though and it is easy to get a good picture from both the front and the back. I was actually a little underwhelmed by the building though because I somehow thought it would be much bigger. It is a big old house, don't get me wrong, but it just didn't seem as intimidating as I thought it was going to be and it literally is slap bang in the middle of the city! Arlington Cemetery - OK this one isn't actually in DC because it is across the Potomac River in Virginia, but it is an easy journey to make and well worth it, in fact we actually walked there one day and it took us about an hour from the White House. Arlington is arguably the Us's most famous cemetery and there are many famous people buried there. JFK is there with his family and there is an eternal flame by his grave. The tomb of the unknowns is one of the most popular parts of the cemetery and is guarded 24 hours a day. It is very moving. We found the sheer size of the place somewhat overpowering and depressing although it is meticulously maintained and very respectful. There is a visitors centre at the entrance where you can get a map of the cemetery. Whilst you are over here, you should make the effort to go around to the Iwo Jima monument which is worth a visit and much bigger than I thought it would be. Even if you don't think you know what it is, you will have seen it in books or on the internet it is a very iconic statue and brilliant to see. The Capitol Building - This was my favourite building in the city actually and although it does look a bit like an over indulgent cake, I loved it's over the top grandeur and pomp and circumstance. It is easy to get to - just keep walking past the Smithsonian museums and it is there sitting proudly at the top of a small hill, presiding over the world's most powerful city. Worth a look. ***Where To Eat*** As with any big city, there are literally thousands of places to eat, whatever your tastes, budget and preferences. Every (and I mean every) single nationality is represented a hundred times over. There are, of course, untold numbers of fast food and takeaway shops. We loved all the independent bakeries selling delicious donuts and cupcakes (our waist lines did not). I would highly recommend in particular a few restaurants in the Dupont Circle area where we stayed. Firstly Kramerbooks and Afterwords is a bookshop that has a musician playing quietly in the background and has a restaurant at the back with a very chilled out vibe that sells good food and excellent puddings. We went to a Thai restaurant, rather ingeniously called Thaiphoon where we got delicious food and excellent service for not a lot of money. The tables were a bit cramped but the atmosphere was good and the portion sizes meant that we shared food and so it was cheap. We went to Mandu to try Korean food, which was lovely and very interesting. The service was good and they explained the food so you knew what you were eating. They had a happy hour from 4 until 7pm with half price drinks. For Italian food we went to La Tomate, which is has a very reasonably priced set menu and the best Sacher torte I have ever eaten If you don't have breakfast included in your room rate, I wouldn't bother about it and I certainly wouldn't pay extra for it because there are so many places all over the city that offer every type of breakfast going so you'd be better heading out of the hotel for a cheaper breakfast on your travels anyway! ***Where To Stay*** We stayed in the Dupont Circle area at a hotel called The Normandy, which offered excellent value for money and is in great location. If you are staying in Washington DC, bear in mind when you are booking that it is MUCH cheaper to stay at the weekend when all the politicians have left town. A lot of hotels have special offers and packages on at the weekend so you can get a good deal. If not, do have a look at the Normandy because it is a lovely hotel in a quiet area of the city but within a thirty minute walk of the White House and all of the main attractions. There is a subway station about a ten minute walk awa and no end of eateries and restaurants very close by. The standard of the hotel is excellent as is the service, and it was considerably cheaper than others in the city. ***The Monuments*** One of the biggest draws to the city outside of the White house are the many monuments that dot the place and you should make a big effort to see as many of them as you can because they are varied and interesting. Depending on what interests you, there are many, many different statues and buildings that you can visit and all of them are fascinating. If you are interested visiting the war memorials, there are a few and they are all within walking distance of each other so it is easy to do. These were the ones that I found the most powerful and moving. I am an army baby so things like this do tend to pull at my heartstrings a bit more, but they are pretty good. The two world war memorials are grand and show just how much patriotism the Americans have and how proud they are of their war heroes. The Vietnam memorial is simply a list of names of those who suffered engraved into a wall. It is a very powerful reminder of just how much life is lost during wars, especially when you consider how small the writing is and how big the wall is. The Korean war memorial is different again and was the most interesting in my opinion. It is a garden that has statues of soldiers in it, presumably on one of their missions. It has an odd eerie calm to it which is quite something in the middle of such a huge and busy city. The monuments to past presidents are plentiful and suitably grand (not trying to sounds patronising, but the Americans really don't do anything by halves) and they are scattered around the city. All within walking distance, but it will be a nice long walk. The most visible is George Washingon's rather phallic looking obelisk, doubtless leading many people to ask what he might be compensating for. The most famous is probably Lincoln's memorial - something I have wanted to see since it featured on The Simpsons! You can touch his foot any more, but you can walk into the big marble building that houses the statue of him and the words (his words) etched on the inside are moving. We particularly like Jefferson's statue in the title basin around the corner that is much quieter as it is off the beaten track. Franklin D Roosevelt's memorial is more like a statue garden than a monument and is good in its own way. All of these are free to visit and, with the exception of Jefferson's, are covered by organised tours. There are some other statues worth visiting that don't fall into these groups. Near to Roosevelt's statue garden, you'll find the white carving of Martin Luther King Jr and across from Lincoln's memorial, you'll see the rather funky statue of Einstein sat on some steps. This was my favourite by far as it was a wonderful depiction of the somewhat scatty looking genius! ***The Smithsonian*** No visit to Washington DC is complete without visiting the outstanding Smithsonian collection which is a series of free to enter museums founded for the diffusion of knowledge. There are a great number of museums and libraries in the collection and, unless you want to spend a week looking around them all, you'll probably want to pick a couple that will be of most interest to you and spend your time in them. The museums are handily all located in the same area so walking between them is easy. There is a turetted building in the centre that is the visitors centre and is a wealth of information. We went to three museums; The National Air and Space Museum, The Museum of Natural History and The Museum of American History. I'd recommend paying a dollar for one of the floor plans available in each museum - they are really handy and make great souvenirs. The National Air and Space Museum is probably the most popular so I'd recommend getting there early to avoid the busy periods later on. We arrived at opening time and it was quiet for the first half hour or so and then got steadily busier. I can see why it is so popular because there is some really fascinating stuff in there including the Wright brothers' first aircraft, The Spirit of St Louis and various spacecraft. The museum is well laid out with lots of massive open spaces and is easy to walk around in an organised fashion so you can see the timeline for flight and space exploration. Things are brightly coloured to keep children entertained and there is an experiment room that that kids (including my 42 year old big kid of a husband) absolutely loved. They have a food hall and plenty of souvenir shops in here too. The Museum of Natural History is like a zoo full of stuffed animals and will please children. The areas are split into different zones (marine, land, air etc) and so it is again, very well laid out and easy to get round. We enjoyed seeing the world's largest diamond and the Egyptian area complete with mummies. In the dinosaur area, scientists are working in glass laboratories and they actually have little signs in the window telling you what they are working on. The Museum of American History is very interesting too and I particularly loved seeing Dorothy's shoes from the Wizard of Oz and the original Kermit the Frog. This museum isn't as big as some of the others and you can easily see the highlights in an hour or so. They have an exhibit about the first ladies of America on at the moment and it is surprisingly interesting. Don't miss the original Star Spangled Banner either. ***Recommended?*** The thing I loved about Washington DC was the fact that there is literally so much to see and do. It was ridiculously clean and there is no shortage of places to eat. The problem for me is that I saw and did everything I wanted to in the few days that I was there, so I don't feel the need to go back. I am sure that if I did go back and would see something new and different every time, but I don't want to. I didn't feel a vibe from the city really, much as I liked it, it felt very formal and sometimes superficial. There are some amazing things there, but it did have the culture and old world charm that I like to see. It seemed very new and what you would perhaps call 'up and coming', which is not really my bag. Don't get me wrong, I loved my few days there and I would absolutely recommend it to every one, but I won't be hurrying back.
I have tried all kinds of freezer and food bags in my time. I am not brand loyal in any way, shape or form - I simply go for what is cheapest or what is available. I have had the Value freezer bags in the past, but they weren't fantastic, so I decided to go for these ones instead. They are alright actually. They do the job for which they were intended and they don't cost the earth. They aren't the best ones I have used though and I probably won't bother getting them again . . . ===What Is Good About Them?=== The bags have a fold over top (a the name suggests) which has a bit of sticky stuff on it to seal it in place once you have folded it. They are really easy to use and the sticky stuff is quite effective although it isn't so sticky that you can't undo them again easily. They are a decent size. I am not sure of the exact measurement of them, but I find that I can fit two whole sandwiches in them, made with standard sized bread, quite comfortably so that should give you some idea. You get 75 for £1.30 which is pretty good value for money in my opinion. That makes them just under two pence each and the value version are just over a penny each. These are more than doubly good so, like I say, good value. They are suitable for freezing things in as well and I often use them to split up larger packs of meat when I have bought in bulk, so that nothing is left unopened if you see what I mean. They have a little panel on them so that you can write things on it in biro or marker. The bags are see through so you don't need to write the contents on their obviously, but I guess it is a good idea to write dates on them. ===What Is Not So Good About Them?=== Well the main problem I have with them is that they aren't air tight. I often take yoghurts to work and I put them into a freezer or food back in case they burst in transit. I have found that this has happened when I have used these bags and that the contents have still spilled out of them into my lunch box, which was a total nuisance and kind of defied the point of them for me. The other thing that is not so good about them is the fact that they are not reusable. When you get ones with a zip lock top, you can obviously reuse them as long as they are not dirty. Not so with these because of the sticky bit that is useless once it has been stuck down and then undone once. I also think that these are pretty thin so they wouldn't stand up to reuse even if they didn't have the sticky top. ===Recommended?=== They are a good budget option and they are a decent size, but I don't think that I would use them again because of the fact that they are no airtight, so not recommended I am afraid.
I am one of those fairly rare breeds of women in that I am not really into bags and don't often carry one - I find it much easier to give everything to my husband to carry! Having said that, when I went to New York the year before last, i had in my mind that I wanted a 'brown bag' from Bloomingdales, the department store that is based over there. I saw it more as getting a souvenir of my visit rather than buying a bag as such, so it was different in my eyes, which is how I came to own the zip top version of their Medium Brown Bag. There is a complete range that includes lap top bags, purses, make up bags and indeed small, medium and large brown bags. They are all brown of course, although they do a pink range too which I think is to do with breast cancer awareness and so some of the profits go to that. The bags are PVC and the medium one is about 16 inches by 12 inches in size. They are traditionally open shopping style bags, although the one I have is the much more useful zip top version. I really like the bag actually because it is a decent size which means that I can use it a lot more. i use it as a hand luggage bag when I go travelling because it is big enough that it can hold all the things I need to entertain me on a long flight and the things that I don't want to risk leaving in checked in luggage. To give you some idea of the size, on my last trip I fit my iPad, Kindle, camera, tickets, passports, money wallet, a magazine, a newspaper, my purse, an untold amount of pens, my diary, a pad of paper, my phone and several packets of sweets. It all fit comfortably even though it was ridiuclously heavy. It is pretty simple in that there are no internal pockets or anything, which offer both pros and cons - pros in that you can fit all the aforementioned items in, cons in that it is a real pain to find anything, especially the smaller items, once everything is packed in. The zip is essential for me because it offers more security and means that everything doesn't fall out when I put it down. To be honest, I am not sure why anyone would bother buying the one without a zip because I don't know what you would use it for. The handles are pretty sturdy and they bag is quite clearly well made. The fact that I cart that much stuff around in it is testament to that. The only issue I have with it is that the handles are very narrow so that when you do fill it up, they can did in a bit. The handles are long enough that you can use it as an over the shoulder bag, but short enough that you can carry it over your wrist too in that show offy kind of way that celebrities carry their latest 'it' bag. Other benefits of the bag are that it lasts well - I have used and abused mine for three years now and it still looks as good as the day that I bought it. The fact that it is PVC means that it is also easy to clean (should you feel the need to) and that it is also OK to use in the great British weather (ie rain!). I got my bag for $30.00 in New York although it is available online at www.bloomingdales.com for just under £30 at the time of writing. There is a shipping cost to add to that if you don't spend £100 in one transaction (when you qualify for free shipping - it is an American site after all, so your bag won't be delivered!) and the website advises that it'll be 'shipped' in two days. It is obviously better to get one in the US if you are there, but the UK price is pretty good value for money too as far as I am concerned because it is roomy, looks pretty good and lasts well. Recommended.
Nashville was one of the first cities we visited on our recent road trip around the Deep South of the USA and, I have to say, that it was my favourite I think. This is quite an accolade because we visited some really cool and interesting places, but Nashville just had a great vibe and was a generally welcoming place. It has obvious and famous links to country music and although I am not a massive country music fan, I'd definitely head back if I got the chance. ===***Getting There And Getting Around***=== Nashville is the state capital for Tenessee and so is a fairly major city that is well serviced by US and Canadian airlines. The airport is Nashville International airport which is big but not massive (it was the US's 34th busiest airport last year). The airport is a hub for Southwest Airlines and is also serviced by American, United, Delta and Air Canada amongst others. I don't think that you can get a direct flight from the UK into Nashville, (certainly not from the north anyway, maybe one of the London airports does) but the fact that so many US based airlines goes there means that you will easily be able to get a connection. We arrived by car from Memphis, which was pretty easy because the city is connected by a couple of Interstate roads (what we would call motorways) and driving on them is fairly straight forward and similar to here, once you get used to driving on the wrong side obviously. Aside from that, you can get the bus (Greyhound for example, but it is slow) and that is it because rail connections in the Deep South are surprisingly poor There is a train line and station in Nashville but it is freight only and there is no Amtrak line in the city. Getting around the city is fairly simple. I'd recommend doing most of it on foot because it really isn't big and the major sights are fairly closely located so it is the best way to do it. There is no subway system or anything like that because it just doesn't warrant it. There are regular and frequent buses which are cheap and easy to use, but again I would say that they probably aren't worth the bother. ===***My Must See Sights and Areas***=== '''The Country Music Hall of Fame''' has got to be the most famous thing in Nashville. The city is nicknamed Music City for a reason and that reason is country music, which was born here and still thrives here today. The Country Music Hall of fame tells the history of the genre through a series of well-presented and interesting displays housed in a huge, modern museum. Even for a non-fan like myself it was well worth the visit. I loved that everything was in bite sized chunks as it were and it wasn't too overpowering. I was amazed at just how many people I recognised in there and how influential country music is. I was also amazed at how little there was on Dolly Parton who is arguably country music's most famous star. Perhaps because all the best stuff is in her nearby (ish) Dollywood theme park, I don't know. What I do know is that I would strongly recommend a visit to the museum because there is some fantastic stuff there. I really loved the wall that was completely covered in silver, gold and platinum selling albums plaques. There were fascinating temporary displays on various stars including Taylor Swift and a lady I have never hear of who is apparently the 'Queen of Country'! The best thing was the actual hall of fame itself which has plaques of the inductees and their likeness in busts. I was surprised at how few people have been inducted actually. The whole place is really easy to get round and is so big and airy that, even with thousands of people in there, there is plenty of space and you never feel crowded. They have a great souvenir shop as well obviously, although you'll find most of the souvenirs cheaper in the shops around the city. '''The District''' is where you'll find all the Honky Tonks, bars and restaurants and is the absolute soul of the city. Literally all day and all night you can hear country music booming out from the many places on the street and it is all live. Up and coming stars perform here and there have even been cases of the mega stars coming back to their roots and playing impromptu 'gigs' in the bars in this area. It is totally easy to lose track of the time here, but that isn't a bad thing at all. The shops in between all the bars are filled to the brim with Stetsons and good quality, genuine cowboy boots as well as all manner of country themed tat, so you'll enjoy that too! '''The Capitol building''' is worth a look because it afford fabulous view over the city and is a change of pace from the root tootin' noise of the district. We walked up there one day and it almost feels like you have gone deaf as you move away from the noise! Nashville is on the Cumberland River and you can take a nice walk alongside it to get up to 'capitol hill'. There are lovely fountains and things around the area and great places to relax. Behind the capitol building is the farmer's market which is a fabulous place to get fresh food. We did this, grabbing a lovely and huge salad and sitting and enjoying it in the nearby park which is surrounded by an interesting marble wall that is inscribed with the various events and things associated with Nashville and its history. '''Centennial Park''' is further out of the city a little but is still worth a visit. I say it is further out, but we walked from the centre of downtown to the park in about an hour and we were glad we did because it is a lovely green space. Right in the centre of it is the '''Parthenon''' which is an exact replica of the one in Athens. We didn't actually go in, but if you want to it costs $6. The park itself is nothing special but more it is a regular park that is used by people in the city. We loved sitting there people watching and whiling away a few hours in the sun. If you are going to do this, I can strongly recommend an ice cream shop nearby that lets you choose various ice creams and toppings and mixes them together for you . . . it's amazing! ===***Eating and Drinking in Nashville***=== Eating and drinking is the heart and soul of Nashville and is the best way to enjoy the music. The most obvious place to head is The District, where you'll find all the country music bars. You can listen to music, eat huge portions of food and drink all kinds of beer. The most famous of the honky tonks here is Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, which is an absolute institution. It is the place where all the greats onc played and it is the place where some of them return even now. The walls are absolutely covered in graffiti from patrons and visitors over the years and in between there are pictures and souvenirs signed by the likes of Dolly Parton. It is really atmospheric and the snack and drinks are reasonably priced. You can also get a souvenir of your visit from behind the bar. It is only a small place though, so getting a seat isn't easy and you'll certainly be sharing a table with others, but this seems to be par for the course in these parts. We also enjoyed Honky Tonk Central, which is a much bigger establishment so you are more likely to get a place to sit. I'd recommend the nachos, but they are HUGE so wear your loose fitting pants! There isn't much chance for fine dining in these parts; in fact I'd go as far as to say there isn't any chance. The best thing to do is to forget the diet and get stuck in to the huge portions of home cooking. Demo's is an excellent value, no frills restaurant where you'll have to queue to get a table. It's worth it though because the food is good and the prices very low. Add to that the fact that the service is very friendly and you get free soup or salad to start and you really can't do wrong! If you have had enough of country music, there is a sports bar in the middle of the District area that has about fifty different beers on tap, booths a plenty and no music at all. The service isn't as friendly as elsewhere but it is quiet and chilled out. Head to Savannah's as well at some point to marvel at the sheer number of different kinds of sweet treat they have - candy beans, salt water taffy, candied apples, fresh fudge, home-made ice cream, hand crafted chocolates. The smell is amazing and you should try a 'gopher' which is basically a lump of soft, delicious caramel dipped in walnuts and covered in chocolate. Like a Snickers but soooooo much better! Like I said, it is best not to think about calorie counting in these parts! ===***Where To Stay***=== We stayed at the Best Western Music Row which is, as you might have guessed from the name, located just near Music Row. It is a good budget option, because the prices are low as it isn't in the middle of downtown. Having said that, we really liked the location because it was about a twenty minute walk to the downtown area and about fifteen minutes' walk to the Country Music Hall Of Fame. There are lots of other benefits to this hotel as well - free parking, free wifi, free breakfast, free coffee and tea all day. The air con is loud and the hotel is a little bit dated, but the mattresses are memory foam so we got a couple of really good nights' sleep! The staff are really nice too. ===***Other Places***=== '''Music Row''' was a bit of a non-starter for us really. We walked down it but you can really see anything. This is apparently where the music happens, but in reality it is a bunch of offices for recording studios. Granted it is a really nice tree lined boulevard and there are signs at either end, but basically it is just a street with offices on. Apparently you can go into some of them and record your own song though for not much money! '''Grand Ole Opry and Opryland Hotel''' is world famous apparently. I have to be honest and say that I had never heard of it before. The Grand Ole Opry is a long standing music venue though and is apparently very popular. Some would say it is an institution. It is located about fifteen minutes' drive out of the city and is worth a visit for the nearby Gaylord Opryland hotel if nothing else. The hotel gives Vegas hotels a run for their money in size, opulence and unnecessary features (indoor riverboat cruises anybody?). If you are wanting to see a show at the Grand Ole Opry (and I am lead to believe that they are exceptionally god fun) then you can easily find out information on their website or book tickets at the ticket office at the venue. It is also possible to do a tour of the venue when there is no show on, but the price of it put us off. ===***Recommended?***=== A visit to Nashville is absolutely recommended by me because it is a really cool place with plenty of heart and soul. Sure there are no big hitting sights, but it is more about the experience and feel of the place. You get the good old Southern hospitality and food by the bucket load (quite literally in the case of the latter) and it is virtually impossible not to find yourself toe tapping and knee slapping the day and night away. Absolutely recommended.
I wanted these shoes before Christmas, but after getting shoes and clothes for Christmas in previous years and then finding them available for half price or even less the day after, hubby and I agreed that, in future, we would wait until after Christmas to buy things. This turned out to be a good move this time because they were half price the day after and so I snapped them up. I have obviously only had them a couple of weeks, but I have already worn them at least three or four times (thanks to the party season!) which is about as many times as I have worn other shoes that I have bought before. ===***The Shoes***=== The shoes are amazing, even if I do say so myself! I know they are not a lot of people's idea of an amazing shoe, but I love my shoes and I particularly love quirky ones like these that are white with huge blue and purple skulls on them. They are from a range by Iron Fist, which is a fairly new range I believe (it is certainly one that I haven't heard of before) and they are available in places like Schuh as well as online. I am a big fan of Irregular Choice shoes from Schuh and this range is very similar to that in terms of quirkiness, so if you love Irregular Choice, you'll love Iron Fist. The shoes have man made uppers and an 11cm heel. They are available in UK sizes 3 to 8, I would say they are a true fit - I am size five and the fives fit me perfectly with no pinching at all even though they have a pointed toe. ===***What Is Good About Them?***=== Well the best thing about them in my opinion is the design because they are so unique and eye catching. They have a bit of an Alexander McQueen or Vivienne Westwood look to them (although obviously not the price tag) in that they are a grungy style shoe but also very feminine. I have worn them I think four times now and every single time at least one person has commented that they love my shoes (and that is worth their weight in gold to me anyway, because I am very much a shoe girl!). The shoes are described as being black and white although I would say they are actually white and a sort of dark bluey purple colour! This does work in their favour though because it means that they go with a lot more. If like me, you dress from the shoes up, you'll find that these are great for mixing and matching. I wore them once with a white dress and once with a dark blue dress with light blue spots and they went perfectly with both outfits. I have also dressed them down a bit with both blue and grey skinny fit jeans and, again, they go well with both. I actually prefer them with jeans because they stand out more with a simpler outfit like that. They are ridiculously comfortable too actually for high heeled shoes. Again, I know that some people will never find high heeled shoes comfortable to wear, but if you do wear them regularly, you'll have no problem with these. They do have an 11cm heel, but I think they feel much lower than this. When I am wearing them they feel a lot flatter which is brilliant for comfort because I don't feel like my feet slide down to the front of them which can cause that pinching feeling. I also find that they don't rub at all anywhere, even after wearing them all night, because the material they are made out of is lovely and soft. I have very narrow feet and they fit wonderfully, but I would imagine that they would mould nicely to wider feet too because they seem fairly bendy. This is not to say that they aren't good quality because they are easily as good as the best of the other shoes I have bought (and believe me, there are many of them!) and I can see me getting bored of them before they get anywhere near worn out, which is a good sign! ===***What's Not So Good About Them?***=== Not a lot really. As you might be able to tell, I love these shoes! There are a couple of minor things about them that you might need to think about if you are considering purchasing them. Firstly, they have a very narrow stiletto type heel, which will obviously wear down a lot quicker than the rest of the shoe. I have worn the shoes for at least a couple of hours each time, although I haven't done a massive amount of walking in them and they are showing no signs of wear yet, although I don't expect that to last that long. To help, the manufacturers have kindly included a spare set of heels, which is great because it obviously doubles the length of them. It would have been nice to have four or five spare sets though, if I am being cheeky! Secondly, they are quite striking, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing because you get the initial pleasure of everyone saying how lovely your shoes are, but then they are very memorable, so you have to space out the wearings otherwise people will think you are always wearing the same shoes (even if you aren't!). ===***Availability and Price***=== At full price these are £50 and I would say that they are worth that because they are very comfortable and well made and the obviously quite unique. I actually got mine in the Schuch online sale for £29.99 including free post and packaging, which I am obviously very happy with because I'd have paid the initial price. They are still available in every size in the Schuh sale at the time of writing so if you fancy them, I'd go and get them now. If you miss the sale, they are available in various places online for about the original £50 mark. When googling the shoes, I also noticed that there is a whole range of clothes that match the shoes including dresses, tops and skirts. If you want to investigate, just search for Iron Fist Third Dimension. I'm off to look for more crazy clothes and shoes! Definitely recommended.
One of my biggest beauty related problems is the dark circles around my eyes that I have inherited from my mother. I have tried every kind of product under the sun to help alleviate the problem but to no avail. I was quite expectant at this one from Clarins because it is obviously a premium product and I thought it might succeed where others didn't. Unfortunately I was left both disappointed (again) and even worse, more out of pocket than ever before! The gel comes in a little tube that looks a bit like a small toothpaste tube and it has a long nozzle type thing on the end with a tiny hole in it. This packaging is very fit for purpose because it makes applying the gel very easy and it also helps you control the amount that comes out. A good thing about the gel is that a little does go a long way so it is extremely good that you can control how much comes out. The gel is supposed to reduce puffiness and I'll give it credit for doing that a little bit. Whenever I apply it first thing in the morning, it does, more or less straight away, make my eyes feel less puffy which is nice. The gel isn't great either which is great. It is suitable for contact lens wearers and for people which sensitive eyes, which I can voucher for because it didn't irritate my eyes at all. The gel is available directly from Clarins for £29 for a 20ml bottle. Whilst I think there are some benefits to it, I can't honestly say that it is worth this much, mainly because it did absolutely nothing to lighten the dark circles around my eyes, which is what I wanted it for. For that kind of money I wanted more, not recommended.
I got this moisturising cream as part of a set of travel sized Clarins skin care products that I treated myself to recently and I am pretty impressed with it really. I, like many people, get very dry skin, especially in winter. My usual cream of choice is one of the body butters from the Body Shop. You don't get nearly as much cream in this as you would with one of those, but I do think this one is better. The first thing I like about this product is the smell. It has a sort of aqua type smell to it that has a citrusy overtone. It is very fresh smelling and it is quite subtle so it doesn't smell overpowering and it doesn't irritate all day. The cream itself is fairly thick and I have found that you don't need much of it at all. I'd say a little finger tips worth to be honest and that, I find, is enough to moisturise my whole face quite generously which is obviously very good. Somehow it always manages to come out of the tube feeling cool to touch which is lovely and soothing. When I am on holiday somewhere hot, I tend to keep it in the fridge to keep up that soothing and cooling feel it has to it and that works a treat. I use it after the Clarins one step facial cleanser, which I find tends to dry out my skins a bit, so this is ideal because it really is quite moisture rich. I have also noticed that my skin feels smoother since starting to use it which is nice. It is suitable for normal to dry skin and is supposed to intensively moisturise your skin, which I think is a fair summary really. The cream costs £34 for a 50ml container which is very pricey really and I'm not sure that it is worth that much to be honest. It is soothing and leaves my skin feeling nice but I am not sure that it is worth three times the amount of my body butter to be honest. It does last quite well though ; I have a 30ml bottle that still feels like it has got plenty in after a month of daily use.
I got a bottle of this one step facial cleanser in a travel gift set of miniature Clarins products that I treated myself to a while ago and I actually think it is pretty good. I was a bit dubious about the one step bit of it and I'll concede that it isn't perfect, but overall I like it as a product. The product is one step, which means that it is a toner and cleanser in one and also that you don't have to rinse it off afterwards, which is a great time saver. I find that it is very effective actually and that it is very gentle. You need to shake the bottle well before using it because the lotion inside separates when you leave it. The bottle top has a very small hole in the top so that you don't end up pouring loads out at once. This has the added bonus of making it last a lot longer. I pour a little onto some cotton wool and then rub it around my face. It is quite frightening to see just how dirty my face is actually! You don't need a lot and it goes a long way. It takes a bit more effort getting mascara and eye liner off, but I have found that it is gentle enough to use around the eye area (even mine, which are super sensitive!). The cleanser has an orange fragrance to it from the orange extract inside, it is a very subtle smell which is actually very pleasant and helps with the refreshing feel you get after using the product. I have found that my skin has actually felt less clogged and lighter since using this, which is good. The only thing I don't like about the cleanser is that, whilst you don't need to rinse it off afterwards, it does leave my skin feeling quite dry. Nothing that a little bit of moisturiser won't fix, but it kind of detracts from the one step idea! The cleanser is available directly from the Clarins website for £19.50 for a 200ml bottle. My bottle is 100ml and it has lasted me a month do far. It is getting very close to empty at the moment, but I still think it represents good value for money. Recommended.
I got this Beauty Flash Balm as part of a travel set that we sell at work and I have to say that it is one of the products that I am most impressed with actually. I am not big on balms, creams and treatments really; I have always thought that they were both over rated and over priced. This isn't cheap (but then Clarins products seldom are), but it is a good product that I would recommend. Beauty Flashy Balm is a primer (which basically means that you put it on before make up to hold the make up in place for longer as it were). I am not really sure how it does this and I was a bit sceptical that it could, but it does. In the past I have found that I have to reapply makeup at least once during the day or it just looks like I have none on after a couple of hours, but since using this product I have found that this isn't necessary. It seems to really work in this respect and makes my make up last a lot longer, which is obviously very convenient. You are supposed to apply it without rubbing it in, according to the bottle. I haven't quite worked out how to do this; surely it is impossible not to rub it in at least a little bit, but it still works well even when I do! The product is also supposed to give you brighter, smoother and more radiant skin. It's a lot for one little bottle to promise, but I did feel like it made my skin feel better. It blends in really well and it does make my skin feel smoother which is pretty impressive. I am not sure about the radiance thing, but in all other aspects it is good. I also like the smell of the flash balm. I have often found that products like this can smell a bit clinical, but this isn't the case at all with this one. It has a lovely fresh and flowery smell that seems to last through the day which is nice. It isn't in any way over powering, in fact I'd say that the smell is almost like talcum powder - very light. Like I said, the balm isn't cheap. It is available directly from the Clarins website for £29 for a 50ml bottle, plus postage. I haven't really looked anywhere else for it but I imagine you can probably get it cheaper. I'd have thought it would be worth looking out for it at the airport when you go on holiday too! The price isn't too bad when you consider how long it lasts. My bottle was a 15ml bottle and it is still going after a month even though I use it almost every day. In fact I would say that I still have about half of it left. Overall I would recommend the cream because, although it is pricey, it is pretty good value for money because it does a good job of making your skin feel good and making your makeup last longer. Recommended if you fancy treating yourself!
We stayed at the Normandy hotel in Washington DC for a few nights at the end of our recent trip to the US and we had a really lovely stay. Before we visited and when we were booking our stay, we knew that the cost of hotels in DC would be high, but our stay here was pretty reasonably priced and, all things considered, I think we got very good value for money. The location was good, the rooms comfortable and the service good. Sure there are no added extras, but we weren't expecting any so weren't disappointed! ***Location*** The hotel is in a fabulous location and getting there is pretty easy. We actually flew into Dulles airport, which is a good way out of the city and so costly to arrive from. They are in the process of building some kind of rail link to the airport but until then you'll have to make do with the cheap but very slow bus, organise a slightly more expensive but slightly quicker shuttle or settle on the much quicker and much more expensive taxi. We went for the latter and paid sixty dollars each way including tip. If you are flying into Reagan International, it'll be much quicker and cheaper because the hotel is only six miles from the airport and there are many, many more options. In fact it is worth considering this when you are booking your flights; we went for the cheaper flight option of going into Dulles and were stung on getting into the city, so just bear in mind that what you save on flights might cost you more in transfers - plus it obviously takes longer to get there too. In terms of the hotel's location within the city, I really couldn't fault it. The hotel is on Wyoming Avenue, which is very near to Dupont Circle, which is a fabulous and bustling area, full of restaurants, cafes, bars and shops. Dupont Circle has a subway line too, which means that it is great for connecting to the rest of the city, and it is only a five minute walk from the hotel. Despite this proximity to the subway, we opted to walk almost everywhere because everything we wanted to see was within a nice walking distance. For example, the White House was about a thirty minute walk and the National Mall, Smithsonian Museums and all the war memorials were probably a further ten minutes on that. The National Zoo is about three quarters of a mile away and the area around the hotel makes for a nice walk as it is full of gorgeous mansion houses that actually are mostly national embassies (so it is fun to play guess the flag too!). ***First Impressions*** Like I said, the hotel is in a lovely quiet neighbourhood full of characteristic grand old houses and this gives a great first impression. The first thing that struck me from both the outside and the inside was that the place was very well maintained and lovingly cared for. This feeling continues throughout the whole hotel and made us feel very comfortable throughout our stay. The communal areas are very modern but cosy at the same time, which makes it a very nice place to be actually. Throughout the main reception area there are huge comfy sofas and open fires and we enjoyed spending an hour or so resting our feet here at the end of a day sightseeing. The staff are all lovely and very welcoming but professional too which we loved. I am not sure whether or not the hotel is family run but we kind of got that feel from it, which was lovely. There wasn't anything that was too much trouble and no matter what time of day it was, all of the staff had what appeared to be a genuine smile on their face. ***The Rooms*** The rooms are obviously the main thing about the hotel and we weren't let down here either. You get a choice of a king sized bed or two queen sized beds for the same price when booking a room and we actually opted for the latter. Don't worry, this wasn't because we'd had enough of each other after two weeks, but because we had read reviews that said the rooms were small so we thought we'd at least have some room to put stuff on the other bed if we went for a room with two - cunning huh?! It turned out to be a good idea because the rooms were indeed snug. There was room around both the beds and a bit of extra furniture for draping stuff on (is that not what everyone uses that random extra chair for?!), but not masses of space. Having said that, I was pleasantly surprised because there was a decent sized wardrobe, a desk and chair and an average sized TV with a good selection of channels on. There was a free to use electronic safe in the wardrobe that was easy to use. The beds were extremely comfortable and probably gave us the best night's sleep of our whole trip (which is saying something because we had quite a lot of comfortable beds on our trip!). I am pleased to report that there is a plug socket by the beds as well which is one of my pet peeves in a hotel; I hate it when I can't charge my phone over night because there is not plug socket close enough to the bed. The décor in the rooms was very nice as well, quite modern and funky but not too much. I have seen pictures on the website of some rooms that have quite 'loud' wallpaper, but ours was fairly normal. The bathrooms were tastefully decorated too and very well maintained. It was all lovely and clean too which made it nice to use. The shower was nice and powerful and there was warm water at all times of the day. There were a few little toiletries in there, but just the usual stuff and nothing to write home about. There was a pretty decent hairdryer knocking about too. One thing I really like about the bathroom was the fact that there was a sensor light that came on when you went in and the main light was off, which was a brilliant idea and stopped me from keep stubbing my toe on the door step! ***Extras*** They do breakfast in the hotel but it isn't included in the price and it is only a continental breakfast so we decided to skip it. We thought that $12 per person per day was a little bit too steep for some toast and juice really, especially when you consider how close you are to at least a dozen places selling breakfast items. Everything from Starbucks and McDonalds to independent cafes and cake shops is in short walking distance so it really isn't worth paying if you ask me. They have free wi fi apparently throughout the hotel although it was pretty much useless in our room, which was only on the second floor. For some reason it did work if you sat in the bathroom or in the little corridor by the front door, but not in the main area of the bedroom which would be a nuisance if you are here on business I imagine. We found that the signal was excellent downstairs in the communal areas though, which is another reason why we spent an hour or so there at the end of each day! They do a complementary wine hour every evening from 5pm until 6pm which is a very nice touch, although the wine isn't the best by a long stretch! Rather annoyingly they don't have a bar so if you miss the freebie hour, you can't have a drink. I thought, with all the lovely communal areas and comfortable couches and the like, it would have been nice to get a drink in the evening to enjoy them. They do have a coffee machine that works 24 hours so you can get a hot drink whenever you want. There are no vending machines though or anywhere to get a cold drink or a snack. It isn't too much of an inconvenience though like I say because there is so much stuff nearby, but it would have been nice I think. ***Recommended?*** We paid just under £100 per night to stay at The Normandy on a room only basis and, whilst this might seem a bit steep, it actually turned out to be pretty good value for money. When we compared it to the price of other hotels in the city, it was actually very cheap, especially for a midweek stay (when prices are generally higher). It is worth noting that you can make significant savings if you stay at weekends and they actually do package deals on Friday to Sunday stays. When you compare the price to other cities, it is even better. Take our trip to New York for example; we stayed in a far inferior hotel and it cost us £150 per night! The location alone is worth the money for me and I would recommend it for that by itself, however when you add in the fact that the rooms are so comfy, the staff are nice and the hotel is lovely all round, I think I can safely say that I would whole heartedly recommend staying here if you are in the city.
I am not a big fan of buying what they call 'white goods' because it generally means that the one I had is no longer working and I am going to have to fork out at least a few hundred pounds for a replacement. This is exactly what happened when we came back from a weekend away about eight months ago; we arrived home to find that various lights and things were flashing on our washing machine's digital display, despite the fact we had definitely not left it on. 'Deep joy' I thought to myself. I suggested that we might be able to get it fixed, but hubby said that it was probably beyond repair for some reason (I'll admit, I wasn't really listening) and that even if it was fixable, it'd be a close call on whether or not it'd be cheaper to fix it or just get a new one. So a new one we did get and this Hotpoint HV8B593G is what we ended up with. For the most part I like it (well as much as you can like a washing machine!). There are a couple of niggles with it, but overall I would say it is a good machine that performs well. ===***How Does It Look?***=== We initially picked this washing machine based on the fact that it is graphite. When we moved into our house seven years ago we had all graphite appliances installed because I have never been a fan of the white ones. I personally think white looks a bit clinical and the graphite looked better in our kitchen. I am aware that graphite could be considered a bit of a 'trendy' colour and that trends come and go, but I am still happy with them seven years after buying them and the fact that they are still being made shows that they are standing the test of time. We originally went for the Hotpoint version of graphite because it is a classy looking colour rather than some of the harsher (and, I thought, cheaper) looking silver type ones that were available from other brands. The problem we have found with this is the fact that Hotpoint do have their own version of graphite, the sneaky little devils! I am not brand loyal and I wouldn't mind having different branded appliances in the kitchen if they were cheaper for example, but I do draw the line at having different colours because that would just look stupid. So be aware if you go for this colour that only other Hotpoint appliance will match. My husband actually insists that this one isn't quite the same colour as the others in the same range and I am inclined to say that he is right, but that you would only notice if you were really concentrating. Would have been nice for them to get their own colour right though! ===***What are the Specifications of It?***=== The dimensions of it are, I think, pretty standard. It is 85cm high, 59cm deep and 59cm wide, which makes it exactly the same size as our dishwasher and means that it fits into the space left by the other one perfectly. It is an A+++ rated machine for energy efficiency, which is lost on me to be honest. Hotpoint proudly parade the fact that this means that it is practically as energy efficient as not using one at all, but I don't see it myself mainly thanks to the jaw droppingly long wash times, but more about that later . . . Their own scale goes from A+++ to G with the former being the lowest amount of energy used and the latter being the highest consumption. The specifications on their website say that the machine uses 194 KW of energy per year based on 220 washes at 60 degrees on full and partial loads - I guess that is good but I'm not entirely sure to be honest. If you want to know more, there is a full table of efficiency on the product description on Hotpoint's own website. Interestingly, based on the same statistics, the machine uses almost 12000 litres of water per year which seems like an awful lot to a layman like me. The machine has an 8kg drum capacity which is one of the best features of it because it obviously means you can do much bigger loads in it. We have washed our summer duvet in it quite comfortably and the result are good which is excellent because it also saves on the annual trip to the laundrette that we usually have to make! ===***So What's Good About It?***=== Aside from the large drum that I mentioned, there are a few good things about the washing machine. The first is the number of different wash types that it has. There are 16 in total and I'll be honest, there are some I have never used and there are some I very rarely use but the fact that they are there can only be good for other consumers. There is a Cotton 90 degree wash that I use for doing my white work shirts, which is great at getting them clean particularly under the arms in a way that no other wash seems to be able to. There are also cotton 60 degree, cotton 40 degree and cotton 20 degree washes for various types of clothes. I tend to use the 40 degree one most often because it does a good job of getting a big load of washing looking clean and smelling nice. There is a Woolmark Platinum wash which is endorsed by Woolmark and means that the cycle is much gentler and it is actually really good for washing wools - I don't have a lot of wool things but I generally have handwashed them in the past so this is a nice feature to have and it works well. There are other cylces that are good for specific things like the bed and bath cycle which is excellent for bed linen and towels I find and it keeps my towels nice and fluffy even after loads of washes. There is a baby cycle too that is suitable for big loads of bedding and towels. The best cycle is probably the my cycle function which gives you the option to preset your favourite cycle with any extra functions that you might want to include so that in future you only have to press one button to get it. Excellent for teaching youngsters how to use the washing machine I'd imagine! There are two other functions you can choose too which are easy iron and anti crease. To be honest I'm not sure what the different between the two is because it seems like they are designed to do the same thing. Hubby says things like this are a gimmick so we never use them, but they are obviously there if you want to! Another thing I like about the machine is how easy it is to use. There is a big dial on the front so that you can change your cycle easily and it is very smooth and easy to move. It doesn't click into place like some older ones do but sort of glides there which is nice. There is obviously a guide next to the dial as well advising of which wash is which number so even a washing dummy like myself can use it. There is a clearly marked on button and a start button for when you are ready to go. The display also has a four light panel that tells you which part of the cycle the machine is on as well which is nice, although it doesn't tell you how far through that part it is which would have been nicer! Another thing that is good about it is the spin which is 1500 maximum and it is very effective indeed I think. My mother in law has an old machine where the spin is so rubbish that things come out sopping wet still, but not so with this one I am pleased to report. The spin is so effective in fact that sometimes things come out almost dry which is brilliant for us because we don't have a tumble dryer, so it saves a lot of time. Talking about the spin also leads me onto the final bonus of this machine, which is the fact that it is so bloomin' quiet, which is amazing for something that is clearly so powerful. The noise level on wash mode is 50 decibels and on spin is 80 decibels, which is very low. When we first got it, I actually thought it wasn't working because it was so quiet and I had to keep going into the kitchen to make sure that it was still going round! The sound of the water draining from the machine is actually louder that the wash itself which is brilliant. ===***So What's Not So Good About It?***=== I'll say here that this machine is a good one and that I like it, but it would be wrong to say that it is perfect, however it is pretty good. That said, apart from the little niggles I have mentioned (and they are just that; little niggles), there is only really one thing wrong with the machine and that is the fact that it takes so long for the cycles it is untrue! The cotton 60 degree cycle takes a whopping 200 minutes to complete, whilst the 40 degree cotton takes not much less at 185 minutes (see what I meant by jaw dropping earlier on?!). This means that we have found that we have to actually plan our washes so that it is convenient. Thankfully there are shorter washes which are effective and much quicker at thirty minutes (but then you have to add the spin on to that manually), otherwise it would be a nightmare. It is fine if you know and can plan, but it is worth bearing in mind when you are thinking about buying it. To be honest I am not in charge of maintaining it (I wouldn't know where to start) but judging by the user's manual (which is actually pretty good and easy to follow), it looks like keeping it clean might be a bit of a finicky job, which is obviously not ideal. ===***Price and Availability***=== If you want to get an up to date price, you can head to Hotpoint's own website where they have an option to select 'where to buy it'. It is, at the time of writing, available in various places. We got ours from Curry's where it is currently £349.99 although when we bought it, it was reduced to £299.99, which we thought was a very good price really. A quick look on Google tells me that it is available on there from a bout £225, but I haven't looked to see if that is new or used. ===***Recommended?***=== I am sort of stuck in a cycle with Hotpoint products; thanks to their unique version of the graphite colour, I have to buy them or I would have to replace all of my appliances at once. I don't know whether I am happy with this or not though because I have had varying degrees of success with them; the predecessor to this machine obviously broke down for apparently no reason and my matching dishwasher has been recalled due to a component catching fire in some cases. On the flip side, the fridge freezer we also bought at the same time has performed very well and is still going strong and looking as good as new and this washing machine is looking like it might do the same (fingers crossed). So I think I feel happy in recommending it. Whilst the washing cycles are ridiculously long, it performs well and it is exceptionally quiet. Look for a lower price on it and I am sure you will be happy - I am! Recommended.
We started our recent road trip in Atlanta and I have to admit that, before we visited, I hadn't done much research into the city and I wasn't overly looking forward to it. This was mainly because I saw it as just a starting off point and a place that we were resting between a long haul flight and the start of our trip. I knew it was the capital and most populous city of the state of Georgia, but that was it. I was though very pleasantly surprised by the city and, although it wasn't what I was expecting, I loved all the different areas and have to conclude that it was one of my favourite places on our two week trip. ***Getting There and Getting Around*** Getting there is easy because Atlanta has Hartsfield-Jackson Airport which is the international airport. It is actually the biggest in the world based on annual passenger figures and aircraft movement, so you are bound to find a flight that goes into or out of it. It is, as you'd imagine, a massive airport and they have every form of transport you can imagine going to and from it. The airport is well sign posted too. If you are renting a car, you'll actually have to get the monorail to the nearby hire car village, which is free and simple to do. Getting around is fairly easy to because there is a comprehensive bus system and taxis aren't too expensive (mainly because they don't pay the extortionate amount of money for fuel that we do!). We preferred to walk around though and if you get a centrally located hotel (I can recommend the Hampton Inn near Georgia Tech), then you'll find walking to all the various areas really easy and pleasant. I was struck by what a clean city it is and by how many green spaces there are. OK they are all manmade green spaces, but it didn't matter I found because it gave a relaxed feel to what is clearly a busy and popular city. I loved the fact that at no point did it feel overcrowded either which was nice; it certainly gave us a good indication of the laid back Southern hospitality that we were told to expect and we liked it! ***Things To Do*** -For The Tourist- There is so much to do in Atlanta and it all depends on what kind of stay you want and what kind of thing you like to do. I was surprised to learn how many things began in Atlanta, although they haven't, which is why you'll find Coca Cola World and CNN Centre. I didn't visit any of these things because I had read many reviews that said they were almost shrines to themselves which is not my thing at all. Judging by the outside of them, they are garish adverts for themselves and we decided to skip them mainly to avoid paying the huge entry fees. Having said that, there were always queues to get in them and people seemed happy enough coming out so maybe I shouldn't have judged the book by its cover so to speak. If you are a fan of The Real Housewives of Atlanta, you'll probably want to head to Peachtree Street, which is where they film a lot of the show I believe. There are a lot of cocktails bars, designer shops and fine dining restaurants so you might want to blow the budget here and do a bit of 'star' spotting! -For The Animal Lover- If animals are your thing, then there is a choice here too. Aquarium Atlanta was apparently the world's largest aquarium when it opened in 2005 and, with 8.5 million US gallons of water and over 120,000 animals represented, you can see why. The stars of the show here are the beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins, manta rays and whale sharks. Above ground, there is Zoo Atlanta, which we visited, mainly to see the panda cubs that have just been born. The zoo once had a bad reputation but it has clearly worked hard to reverse that and it is now a lovely place that is full of huge enclosures lined with informative displays. It isn't cheap to get in at £25 per person, but it is worth the money I think. All the big hitters are here, but there is a focus and monkeys and bears, with a fabulous gorilla enclosure, a whole area dedicated to the gorgeous giant pandas and a pretty big collection of orang utans. Parking nearby is free but it gets very busy. -For Green Spaces- If you like green spaces then you will not be disappointed at all. Obviously Atlanta hosted the Olympic games in fairly recent history and it's legacy can be found in the shape of the Olympic Centennial Park right in the centre of the downtown area. We loved this park because it was well laid out and there were lots of little nooks and crannies to explore. The centre piece is a fountain display in the shape of the Olympic rings, which are 'interactive' during the day (in that you are welcome to run in and out of them and dance to music and lights at night. There is a music stage in the corner, where you can catch live music from local people. We were lucky to see a couple of performances and they were both very good; it's a lovely place to spend your lunchtime eating a sandwich from one of the nearby food places. There is a nice area dedicated to the Games themselves and you can see all of the flags on a nice canopy or look at the lists of all the medal winners engraved on stone sculptures. Another alternative for relaxing is to head to Piedmont Park which is just of Peachtree Street in the Midtown area of Atlanta. It's a huge park and it doesn't have the cute little areas that Centennial Park does, but it does have huge green fields, wide sweeping pathways and a cracking view of the Atlanta skyline. I'd recommend doing what we did which is hire a bike from Skate Escape, which is a skate and bike hire shop near the entrance to the park. It costs about $6 an hour for a bike and $12 an hour for a tandem (which we got!) and about $5 an hour for skates I think and they are a great way to explore the park, just remember to take your passport because you need ID and they only accept driving licenses from US residents. -For Culture and History- Margaret Mitchell is the lady who wrote Gone With The Wind and she was from Atlanta. You can still tour the house where she lived, which has now been turned into a little museum in her honour. The house itself is well worth a visit; located just off Peachtree Street, it is a splendid example of the antebellum houses that you find all through the Southern states of the US. Atlanta's other (and arguably more) famous resident was Martin Luther King Jr, leader of the national civil rights movement, who was born and raised in Atlanta. Almost every place we visited on our road trip has some kind of connection to King (Memphis, Montgomery and many others) but it his here that you will find the most comprehensive collection about his life and work in the Martin Luther King Jr National Historical Site. The area is well worth a visit if you have an interest in his life and the movement he was so involved in and it is a fascinating introduction if you don't know much about him. His birthplace is here, preserved as it was and both the Ebeneezer Churches (old and new) where he worshipped and preached, following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, are here in the collection of buildings dedicated to him. The MLK visitor centre is the only one that is not Government run (it is run by his family trust) and it is actually the one with the most interesting collection of artifacts, including his Nobel Prize. It is also the location of his and his wife's tombs, which sit tranquilly on a reflecting pool. Well worth a visit and free to enter. ***Finding Somewhere To Stay*** There is no shortage of places to stay in Atlanta and you'll find something to suit more or less every budget. Staying in the Midtown area (around Peachtree Street and the like) is more expensive than staying Downtown. There are pros and cons to both though because Downtown has many of the main attractions, but Midtown has all the beautiful neighbourhoods and the nightlife. We actually stayed in two different places because we were there twice and I can recommend both. The first place we stayed was the Hampton Inn Georgia Tech which we picked for its location. It is slap bang in the middle of both Downtown and Midtown and is within walking distance of both (about 20 to 25 minutes' walk in either direction). The rooms are lovely and the staff are extremely helpful. Make sure you ask for a room with a view of the skyline and take advantage of all the freebies which include good wi fi, a good hot and cold buffet breakfast, tea and coffee 24 hours and a shuttle bus to the local area. The only thing to bear in mind is that there is only valet parking at the hotel and it costs $18 per night. The hotel cost us about £50 per night so was well worth it. The other place we stayed was at Hartsfield Jackson Airport and that was a Holiday Inn with the cheeriest staff I have ever met! It offers free parking, a free shuttle to the airport and free breakfast. There is a safe in the rooms, the beds are very comfortable and there is no noise from the nearby airport. Plus there is a shopping mall right next door so there are plenty of places to get something to eat. ***Feeling Peckish*** America is the home of the big portions and nowhere is this more evident that in The South. There is not a lot of fine dining to be had in these parts although the best of it is probably along Peachtree Street. We ate at the Hard Rock Café on our first night because we'd had a long journey and we just wanted something quick and easy. The service was good, the portions mahoosive, the soft drinks bottomless and the noise level was high. They have Elvis' gold plated Harley Davidson in the doorway too so that is worth popping in for. We also ate at Hsu's Chinese which was on Peachtree Street West in the Downtown area. It wasn't cheap but the food was good and the restaurant is massive so there is plenty of room for bigger groups. I can heartily recommend Mr Tsu's (I assume is the brother of Mr Hsu that owns it!) Favourite Chicken which is packed full of flavour and has a bit of a punch without being too spicy. They give you chocolate covered fortune cookies at the end of you meal too which I liked. If you are looking for a quick bite during the day, as with any city, there is no shortage of fast food places in Atlanta. I'd recommend Jimmy John's Sandwich shop which is a bit of an institution in these parts. It is ridiculously busy and disorganised, but the sandwiches are flipping good. We shared a half sub and it was more than enough for two of us for lunch. ***Anything Else?*** I think that I have pretty much covered everything here and, as you can tell, I would definitely recommend a visit to Atlanta if you are nearby. It is a surprisingly pleasant city. When we arrived in the US, we had a layover in Washington DC and I remember the immigration officer questioning us about our final destination. His exact question was 'what are you going to Atlanta for, is there actually anything worth going for?'. Our answer at the time was that it was the starting point of our road trip and we couldn't really say much about it. If I was ever in that situation again, I'd have a lot more to say and I'd conclude it by telling him to go and find out for himself because it is totally worth it!