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Five favourite beers? Just FIVE favourite beers? I suppose I can narrow it down a bit, but you have to bear the following in mind: 1 - I live near the greatest pub in the world (you are entitled to disagree, but I just won't believe you :), Norwich's Fat Cat, where "every day is a beer festival" and there can be twenty or so real ales on pump or gravity at any one time. I try to remember the ones I really like, but after a long night drinking four or five pints of your own, and supping everyone else's, how are you supposed to remember the names? Especially when they don't appear again for weeks (or ever). And that's just due to the number of beers sampled, before you factor in the alcohol! 2 - I probably go to the off licence twice as often as the pub (just chillin' at home with a beer, NOT a Bud...), so my selections are biased towards bottled beers. Okay. Beers. 1. Badger Golden Glory. Oh yum. If you like the sweetness and fruity smell of Golden Champion, then try this. I'd rather have this than champagne any day. When you drink it, it's like you've been Tango'd by the summer, and then you get to the crispness of the beer. Who needs mass-produced lager just because it's hot? Badger's usual brown bottle sports a pale shiny yellow-green label and large dark writing for this one, if you want to look out for it on the shelves. 2. Charles Wells Banana Bread Beer. Bit more of an autumn/winter beer here. Dark and rich, smooth and velvety, and with just enough of a whiff of banana to make your nose sit up and take notice. Not at all sweet, sickly, or "banana flavoured". Bonus points for having a banana bread recipe on the bottleneck. Half of those points taken away because the recipe contains unbelievable amounts of butter and your arteries harden as soon as you read it. Dark brown bottle, dark brown and yellow label, and of course the recipe tag. <br>3. Enville Ginger Ale. I've only had this on tap, but it's a gorgeous light beer with a smidgen of gingery spiciness, and not so much of the sweetness found in Badger's Blandford Fly (also a gingery beer). Incredibly drinkable - light enough to be a summer pint, gingery and warming enough for a night by the log fire. I've never even seen a pump tag for this, so can't help you identify it! 4. Fraoch Heather Ale. I have only ever seen this in Waitrose, although it may be more widespread. You may have gathered by now that I like my beer with a bit of a taste of something else (only a hint, mind, and they have to taste of beer too - I'm not an alcopop girl!), and this has the flowery-and-slightly-woody scent of heather on top of a light, slightly hoppy beer. The heather comes out in the aftertaste, and makes for a "different" taste in that it's obviously not beer, but not sweet like other flavourings used in this kind of beer. Look out for a tall brown bottle with a conical-type neck (like Kronenbourg bottles). 5. St Peter's Suffolk Gold Ale. St Peter's is a small Suffolk brewery, but Tesco for one stock their beers in most areas. Most St Peter's are a good bet (apart from the Honey Porter - tasted like burnt wood ash when I had it), and they do grapfruit, spiced apple and cinnamon, and lemon and ginger in the way of flavoured beers. However, I like the clean, uncluttered taste of the relative newcomer, Suffolk Gold. No cloying aftertaste, hardly any bitterness, just a nice smooth beer. Keep an eye out for the typical oval St Peter's bottle in green/brown, with parchment-type label and a neck tag.
While I heartily agree with many of the suggestions made by others in this category, my current pet rants are about things which are already forbidden by law, it's just that nobody ever enforces it! So here they are: 1. stealth cyclists You're already one of the most vulnerable road users, so why do you choose to make it worse by wearing dark clothing and not having any lights? How many times have I (as a cyclist too) had to swerve around idiots who are trying to audition for the part of the Cycling Milk Tray Man? GET SOME LIGHTS YOU TIGHT GIT! *Ahem*. It's not just yourself you put at risk - imagine the mental effects on the driver who knocks you over, or, if you are terminally selfish, imagine being put in prison for a couple of months because the cyclist who swerved to avoid your invisible self on the cyclepath was run over and killed when he fell into the road. This has happened. 2. pavement cyclists Okay, I said you were vulnerable, but that doesn't give you the right to ride on the pavement. If the road's "too busy", find another route, or another time, or just get yourself a reflective jacket and learn to cycle assertively. There's no excuse. Pavements are for people without wheels. 3. pavement poopers Why should I have to slalom round fido's latest offering? Why should I have to walk with my eyes permanently glued to the pavement? If you have a dog, you have to deal with poo. Get over it and learn to clean up, or buy a wooden dog with wheels. This goes double for the idiot who lets their dog crap in the middle of the road near my house. I'd like to thank them for the opportunity to choose between splattering myself with dog deposits and swerving into the path of the oncoming car. 4. school runners Okay, I know the school run itself is not illegal. But driving without due care and attention is, as is parking on double yellow lines and school crossing zigzags. Note to
driving parents: other people exist outside your metal-and-glass case, you know. I think some parents would park in the classroom if they could. No wonder their little Chloes and Jacks are rather rotund. 5. noisy neighbours There is a law against playing music at club volume in a normal terraced house. However, the local council do not want to know unless they have months' worth of diaries and letters sent in triplicate. The police do not want to know unless there's a "disturbance". Hello? I'm having to shout down the phone and ask you to repeat everything, and there's no disturbance?? 6. litter louts Why is it so hard to hang on to your crisp packet until you find a bin? Conversely, why is it so hard to find a bin when you need one? Is it so hard to put one at each end of a well-used path to the shops? Maybe so, but it's a lot easier than picking up the litter after the grass mower has chopped it all into a million pieces. That's what I call hard. Which is probably why nobody bothers to do it. Can we have a law against not enforcing the perfectly good laws that already exist?
The Ostrich in Colnbrook may have a formidable history, and a big stuffed ostrich to boot, but my friends and I weren't really that impressed when we dropped in for Sunday lunch on our travels. First of all, it was rather quiet in that vaguely worrying "is this place any good?" sort of way, but we were getting towards the end of lunchtime, so dismissed it. Secondly, it seemed rather dim and dingy, but we put that down to the amount of old wood and small windows. We spent a while looking at the menu on the wall (not particularly long, but a fairly good selection) only to be told that Sunday is roast dinners and nothing else. Ho hum. Well, the food was okay for six quid, there was plenty of it at least, the meat wasn't too fatty, and the veg weren't cooked to a pulp. It was your average pub fare, really. Unfortunately there were several flies buzzing around, and waving them away rather detracted from the pleasure of eating. While waiting for our food, we witnessed the service two women were getting at a neighbouring table. Well-meaning is the best I can think of. They ordered desserts, one of which was crumble, and requested ice-cream as opposed to cream. The fruit crumble duly arrived with... chocolate ice cream, as there was no vanilla left. This was sent back as being too bizarre. When a dish of plain crumble finally arrived, the women were scooted out of the way so that someone could be let out of the front door, which they were sitting against. The table the other side fared no better. After about three tries they finally all ordered something which was still available, but one dish came with lashings of cream when they'd asked for cream on the side, and the last portion of one dessert was split between two people who had ordered it. I think the waiter did reduce their bill, though. We skipped dessert. Overall, the pub is great to see just because of its age, and so it's worth st
opping for a drink. To be fair, we went in at the tail-end of lunchtime, so maybe didn't see it in its best light, and with it being a Sunday we were denied the chance to sample the full menu, which did look tempting. Sadly, but I appreciate this is far beyond their control, the planes roaring over from Heathrow every couple of minutes didn't really add to the ambience, and maybe this is what really disadvantages it compared to other, more rural pubs I've been to. But I really felt that the food and the service didn't quite do justice to the history of the place, which was a shame.
Speedo anti-fog spray for goggles is the best investment I've made since starting to swim regularly. Although I've always bought goggles that are labelled as anti-fog, the protection seemed to wear off after about 3 months, and no amount of spit would stop them steaming up after barely half a length. So I would throw them away - goggles are no good if you can't see out of them! Then I discovered this anti-fog spray, lurking with the goggles in a large sports shop (JJB Sports I think). At £4.99 for 60ml, it was cheaper than most of the goggles, so I thought it was worth a shot - I was right. Following the pictorial instructions on the back (ah, multinational packaging), I think I got it right - spray the inside of each eyepiece, smear the stuff around with your fingers to make sure it gets everywhere, then wipe off the excess until it's just dry. Bingo - non-foggy goggles. I find one application does one swim easily, but the effectiveness can be reduced if you dunk the goggles in the water too much. The first time I used it, I thought the spray would simply replace the anti-fog coating that was on the goggles originally, but it wasn't so permanent, and does need reapplying every swim. Also, on the very first application, the spray seemed to react with the original coating, leaving a dry-feeling film which I had to scratch off with my nails, or rub very hard, in order to be able to see through the eyepieces. Subsequent applications have been problem-free. The spray contains "only water and esters" (I didn't do enough chemistry to know what that means!), and is of course safe to use near the eyes. One time I forgot to wipe off the excess spray, and did find my eyes were uncomfortable enough that I took the goggles off, but it was only a slight stinging, which abated as soon as I removed them (the goggles :). With only two squirts needed for every swim, even 60ml should last for quite some ti
me, and will save me buying another pair of goggles until these start to leak! Definitely a worthwhile purchase.
Swimming didn't used to be easy for me. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but the nearest pool was a couple of miles away with an infrequent bus service. Add that it was almost £3 a session to change in grotty changing rooms and swim in a crowded 25m pool, and you can see why I didn't go much. That all changed last September with the opening of a shiny new SportsPark, complete with 50m/2 x 25m pool, next door to the university where I'm a student. Well, September was when it opened - it took me until November to actually visit the place! But when I finally did - I was hooked. With going to the other pool, I'd almost forgotten how enjoyable swimming could be. I don't want to get into all the calories-burned, muscle-groups-used, high-resistance, low-impact stuff, firstly because I don't really know any of it, and secondly I've never found it that important to be honest. My main reason for going is because I enjoy swimming. I count lengths, and I know I come out feeling tired, but good, and not hurting anywhere. That's as scientific as I get. Before leaving for university, I used to go swimming with a friend, and comfortably swim 60 lengths in an hour at our local 25m pool. However, when I started again last November, I was dismayed to find I could barely manage 20 (with lots of breaks) before I was completely knackered! Still, I persevered, and this is where I found out perhaps the most encouraging thing about swimming - you can improve quite quickly, at least as a beginner. In a couple of weeks I'd progressed to 30 lengths, done in 5 sets of 6 with a break in between; soon, I was doing them non-stop, and moved up to 40, then 50... now I do 64, which is a mile, and takes about 50 minutes (on a good day), which is as long as I want to be in the pool! My next stage is working up to more lengths of more intensive front crawl/backstroke, as opposed to my usual breaststroke. I know it's not brilliant in
the grand scheme of things, but I can see myself improving, so I'm very happy! What I do find difficult to improve is the quality of my swimming. I know my technique isn't that great, but there don't seem to be any "adult improvers" classes. There are clubs for kids and teenagers who want to swim competitively, and beginners' classes, but not much for those of us who want to sort out the bad habits we've picked up. So I'll keep on the lookout! Motivation can sometimes be a problem. If I go with friends, I either talk to them (taking longer to do my mile), or ignore them and feel antisocial. I usually go on my own now, around lunchtime when the pool is quieter and I can use the deep water lanes (clubs use them in the evenings), and I use the time to think through things that are going on - it's amazing how many work problems I've solved while in the pool! But even though I've seen improvements in terms of my weight and fitness levels, without friends to cajole me it can sometimes be hard to work up the energy to go. So I've found something that really helps - getting sponsored. It was April when I noticed the posters for the "Sharron Davies Channel Challenge", this year's Swim For Life initiative. It all seemed quite simple - swim at your own pace, over the whole year, but pledge to do some multiple of 22 miles (the distance across the English Channel). Get people to sponsor you for this, and raise a whole load of money for the Muscular Dystrophy charity. What could be better? Get fit, lose weight, take some time out from the stresses of the day, and raise money for charity as well! I signed up for 66 miles, which I worked out I could easily do by swimming twice a week, but with the lower limit of 22, almost anyone can join in (that would work out at half a mile, or 32 lengths, a week over the whole year, with some "time out" for holidays or illness into the bargain
!). I reckon that by the time I've finished, I'll have raised well over £100 for the charity, all by doing something I want to do anyway. Of course, having a good pool so close by (and only paying £1 a swim, since I bought a student membership and I go off-peak) makes a big difference - even if I had known it would be this rewarding, I simply couldn't have got to the other pool more often. But if you've been wondering about going, waiting for that little shove in the right direction, I hope this opinion will provide it! ** For anyone wanting to sign up for the Swim for Life challenge, call 01382 451146 for an entry form.
I'm sorry, but after I'd seen Maporama's directions, I didn't want anything more to do with the site, so this is not a comprehensive review. I was directed there after (foolishly) Asking Jeeves for directions, which I only did on the advice of someone else who said it would be good for a laugh. Laugh? I nearly cried. Geographic information is my thing, y'see, but even if it weren't, these directions would be incredibly bad. Unfortunately, this may not be obvious to someone visiting a place for the first time, so I thought I'd write a warning! Everyone knows the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. However, when it comes to traffic, that's not always the quickest route... you need more main roads, that kind of thing. Am I being obvious here? Maporama wouldn't think so. Giving my starting point as a rather non-specific "Norwich", the site chose an arbitrary roundabout on the ring road, rather than the centre as you might assume. From there, it got worse. Down the backstreets it took you, giving distances in metres (who can measure 497 metres in their car?), making plenty of turns across traffic and other pootling manoevres. Sure, the roads form a direct-looking route on the map, but they're residential streets, many of them traffic-calmed. Then came the corker. At the point where you should be heading down a B-road to the southern bypass, Maporama decide to send you THROUGH the University. Which is a silly idea because (a) you need a card to get in from that side, and (b) the bit they tell you to go out via is actually one-way - the other way. After that, at the point where you should be on the dual carriageway hurtling towards King's Lynn, the directions have you messing about in some unstated village (on "Church Lane", which is definitely not the A47). Similarly, at the end of my test journey, the directions ignore a perfectly good B-road
in favour of some very narrow country lanes. In fact, the only correct bits in my test journey were the many-kilometre stretches of A-road. Getting to and from those would be a nightmare with the directions given. Finally, the map given is extremely basic and I couldn't find a way to zoom in, so most of the detail was totally obscured by the thick, lime-green line showing your supposed route. Useless, for all practical purposes. In summary, avoid this route planner like the plague. You'd be better off using the AA (theaa.com), buying a road map, or just following your nose. If I could give it 0 stars, I would.
[see update re. refurbishment!] UEA is blessed (?) with no less than five bars and one entertainment venue on campus, and another venue in town*. Sadly (perhaps like many university bars), their attempts to cater to the masses leave plenty for the lovers of cheap alcohol ingested quickly, and not much for those who like to socialise over a quiet pint, or (perish the thought) no alcohol at all. There's also the problem of there being simply too little room in campus bars, such that on popular nights, there'll be a queue regulated by bouncers. * [update] As of the summer of 2002, the Pub and Back Bar are closed for massive refurbishment. This work is also bringing the old, terminally-dire Breakers "fast food" restaurant into use as more bar space, so there should be no more queueing outside on busy nights! I'll endeavour to update this review as soon as possible (hopefully before the freshers arrive and trash the place :) [end update] I'll go through the on-campus venues first, then the city one. --The Pub-- Imaginatively named, this is the biggest dedicated bar, although still not actually that big. It probably holds 4-500 people if packed, but I don't know that for sure. There are several areas of built-in seats around the edge, and a selection of wobbly chairs and sticky tables in the middle. Games machines and pool tables account for a fair bit of space too. The crowded atmosphere is not helped by the smokiness (despite recent "improvements" to the extraction system) and the incredibly loud jukebox - shouting-induced sore throat guaranteed. Not the place to go for a chinwag. The bar is usually reasonably well staffed, although the drinks they serve are awful. The lager and "bitter" (nitrokegs such as John Smith's) often taste metallic or watery, any real ale they have is either run out or just off, the coke and other postmix drinks taste either syrupy or watery... at least they ca
n't do anything to bottles and cans. Pints are often short as well, despite the pumps being metered. Prices start at £1.50 for the cheapest pints (Fosters, John Smith's), £1.60 for bottles (unless there's a special offer), and £1.50 for spirits + mixer. At lunchtimes, there's a limited range of sandwiches, and there's Golden Wonder or McCoy's crisps to choose from. Oh joy. --The Back Bar-- At the back of the pub, this was supposed the be the quiet chat venue that UEA so sorely lacks. There is no smoking, no music, no games...there are even comfy sofas. Lovely. So why, why do they insist on having satellite TV on all the time? Big sports matches? Okay, fair do's. The Simpson's? Hmm, student classic, so okay I guess. Random MTV, or bar staff channel-hopping? No thanks! This (along with the crap drinks served as in the pub) has put me off the back bar. --The Hive-- Serving coffee, sandwiches and snacks as well as booze (same stuff and prices as the pub and back bar), the Hive does a roaring trade in term-time during the day. There are those with few lectures who will sit there all day, earning the title of Hive Bunnies. The TV is usually a little quieter here, but the chairs aren't so comfy, and like the bar, it's really smoky. You can sit and watch the world go by, though, as you passive-smoke yourself to death. This is also the only place that allows you to eat your own food, but it shuts in the evening unless there is something special on. Gee, thanks. On club nights (see below), the Hive hosts a second DJ - they even installed a special cage recently... not sure what that says about the venue! --The LCR-- Maybe I shouldn't count this as a bar, as it's only open during gig and club nights - but it does serve booze and more booze (no nancy coffees here, thank you). Seats? Nope. Tables? Ha ha ha. the only other thing to note is that they hike the prices on gig nights, but as I don
39;t usually buy drinks then, I don't know what to. The LCR is the main entertainment venue on campus (and, as far as live gigs go, the main one in Norwich), holding a maximum of 1400 people. It's hosted the likes of James, Oasis, Echobelly, Toploader, Embrace, and it has its regulars such as Jools Holland (who plays an excellent gig around November each year with his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra) and Abba tribute Bjorn Again (who seem to come about 5 times a year and are horrendously overpriced). It is hit and miss though - last term offered only Deacon Blue and Gary Moore in terms of "bigger acts". Other, smaller bands tend to play the Waterfront (see below). The LCR also sees many a club night such as Miss Moneypenny's, the legend that is Club Retro (60s/70s/80s stuff, DJed by the man who used to do the announcements on the waltzer at your local fair, you'll swear), and the Thursday chart-cheesefest/meatmarket that is "The LCR Disco". The odd comedy night and university production completes the LCR's repertoire. As a venue it's incredibly sticky-floored, smoky and hot... but most students seem to grow to love it. On the plus side there are plenty of security staff, but I'll admit I've never been on a club night - I hear that there is occasional trouble between locals and students, and the usual kind of minor drugs problems. --Graduate Students' Club-- Hurrah - some measure of sanity here, at least as far as drinks are concerned. £1.40 for a pint of real ale (usually Hen, Polly's Folly, and another local brew), and frequent happy hours (although constantly changing) bringing it down to £1 a pint/bottle/spirit + mixer. The bar staff are friendly, there's a better range of snacks including pork scratchings, Nik-Naks, and chocolate products from the otherwise-banned bad boys of Nestle - the GSC is not under the power of the boycott-happy Union, thank goodness, and lets grown adults make their
own choices about which baby-murderers to give their custom to. Pool, darts and foosball are provided for entertainment, and occasional quizzes and live music also spice things up a bit. The best thing is the folder of takeaway menus behind the bar, and selection of cutlery with which to eat your feast when it arrives. Unfortunately, aspects of the kiddies' bars have made it up here. While the satellite TV isn't projected onto a screen and made impossible to ignore, it is often left on, with the bar staff aimlessly channel-hopping while you try and chat to your mates. The jukebox often gets turned up way too loud, and the bar is also ridiculously smoky. As most of the people in there are postgrads (it's members and signed-in guests only), you'd think they'd know better. But we can't have two bars, so it has to stay as a smoking area. It does still get crowded on busy ents nights (e.g. Club Retro), but I'll take it any day over the awful drinks and atmosphere in the Union bars. The main downer in the summer is that they are only licensed for consumption on the premises, so if you want to sit out in the square of a summer's evening, it's kiddies' bar beer for you. [update] Recent redecoration means the bar is now eye-popping red and orange, there are no sofas, and they've inherited the tatty tables from the downstairs bars' refurbishment. [end update] --The Waterfront-- This is the Union-owned city venue, situated down by the river (you'd never have guessed, would you?), currently fairly out of things, but once the King Street bridge is built over to the Riverside complex, it'll be a bit more accessible. At the minute, it's a taxi ride (about £4 from the uni), or a bus ride to the centre and then a 10 minute walk (through the red light district). It hosts everything from barely-heard-of bands to more established acts (like Sparklehorse, Less Than Jake and the Divine Comedy), plus frequent club ni
ghts of all persuasions (UK Garage all-nighter, and the Thatcher Years 80s night to name two). The presence of two main rooms and a couple of chillout areas makes for quite a cosy feel, but this converted warehouse often feels dingy and cramped, especially during a gig when everyone is in the main room. Then, the low ceiling and lack of a ramped floor or lowered pit makes for very poor visibility for about half the crowd. As at the LCR, security staff are numerous and visible. Bar prices are well above campus prices - I haven't been for a while so can't put an exact figure on it, but you're nearing £2 a pint, certainly. [I recommend andydennis's review for more information.] Well, there you go. If you're a clubbing freak who loves to get drunk on cheap, crappy alcohol, then you'll like UEA's bars and ents. If you're into live bands, you'll have a half-decent selection, but if you like good beer, then you'll have to rely on the grad bar. But to be honest, Norwich is blessed with so many good pubs where the music is quieter (or non-existent), the smoke extraction is better, and the drinks are certainly better, if not cheaper, that it would be silly to put up with the campus facilities if you're not happy. Especially as you move off-campus, you'll probably find yourself using them as a meeting point prior to other destinations - and if you ask me, that's for the best.
Gray Line tours looks like a good way to explore, but make sure you get a booking confirmation! - Advantages: Can book online at www.coloradograyline.com, , they offer a variety of full and half day trips at reasonable prices, other Gray Line franchises are excellent (e.g. Niagara Falls) - Disadvantages: You could be left waiting, thinking you have a booking when you don't, although they run tours on weekends, there is no-one in the office if you phone
Bit of an odd combination, this category - I guess it's intended for sports clubs, rather than sport facilities, as well as non-sporting societies. I can't say much about UEA sports clubs, never having been a member of one - I do know that there seem to be hundreds, and you can do everything from climbing and fellwalking (those clubs have to venture out of Norfolk, naturally) to competitive team sports such as football and hockey, plus individual events like golf and equestrianism. Add in scuba diving, fencing and korfball, and you've got quite an eclectic mix. I have heard that some clubs can be quite snobby, and not very welcoming to novices (being more concerned with good players to aid the quest for BUSA victory), while others are positively geared towards those with no experience. You do get to interrogate the committee at SportsMart (held every September and January, when new students arrive), and hopefully get a bit of a feel for things. One thing that most sports clubs have benefited from is the new SportsPark, not actually part of the university (I believe, although it's unclear), but adjacent to campus, and therefore close enough for the university to convert their own, rather old sports facilities into research space. It deserves a review of its own, but briefly: it boasts a 50m pool, a large indoor hall for badminton, basketball, etc., squash courts, a well-equipped gym, a climbing wall, a running track, and all-weather pitches. Worth knowing if you are good at a particular sport, and want to be sure that the university you pick has good facilities to let you continue. Anyway, that's it for sports. Hopefully someone more knowledgeable will write a more in-depth opinion on those. What I want to write about is the non-sporting societies at UEA - if you're interested, I write as an ex-secretary and ex-president of one of them, the Photo Society, so I've seen it from both sides. I've also had close friends w
ho are heavily involved with other societies ranging from ballroom dancing to peace and environmental action. Just from that little list, you might guess that, as with sports clubs, there's no shortage of societies for you to join. Should you feel that the likes of juggling, skating, wine tasting, bellringing, folk music, DJing or conservation volunteering don't cater for your particular pet activity, then you if you can gather 30 like-minded folk who are willing to pay at least £3 for the year, the Union will give you some cash, and voila, you have a society all of your own - hence some of the more exotic groups. There are also societies for many religious and political groups. A full list can be found from http://www.stu.uea.ac.uk/ --Choosing and joining a society-- At SocMart (the societies fair, at the same time as SportsMart) the plethora of people willing to take your money can be quite overwhelming. There you are, disorientated by the loud music (I use the term loosely) from the turntablists or the alternative music people, reeling from a couple of freebies at the wine tasting stall, all ready to sign up for the Officer Training Corps because you like men in uniform (the armed forces societies, incidentally, have to stand outside as they are considered discriminatory and therefore against Union regulations)... stop! Put your cash away! The best thing to do is to go round everyone you think you might be interested in joining, have a chat, get a flyer, or at least find out the date of their first meeting, and then go back to your room, make a cuppa, and think about it. If you're heading to Cream or Home on Saturdays with the clubbing society, can you really make conservation volunteers at 9am on Sundays? Do you really want to go on demonstrations with the Socialist Workers, or would you prefer to be watching Teletubbies? Decide what you really want to do, whether you're going to get your money's worth, and then
either go to a meeting or contact the committee direct. They all have a pigeonhole, and most have a contact email - some even have a website. Hopefully you'll be in time for the first social, which are usually timed to catch those who missed SocMart, and then you can meet people, have fun, learn something, and all the rest of it. Societies are also happy to take members throughout the year, so don't worry if you suddenly find in week 9 that your ideal soc exists - just contact them, and take it from there. --How to get the best from your membership-- Because you've thought about the socs you're joining, you'll be an enthusiastic member, right? I hope so! Speaking as a committee member, nothing is more disheartening than seeing a sea of faces at SocMart, a few less at the first meeting, and hardly anyone at subsequent events. Committees don't take on all that work for their own benefit - they do it thinking that the other members will benefit from it, and enjoy being in the club. So, if the meetings always clash with something else, let them know. If the events aren't quite to your taste (say, training is too basic, or the pub crawl always goes to the same places), let them know. If you've always wanted to try something, but haven't had the chance, let them know... you get the picture. You've paid your fees, you're a member, a part of the club - you're entitled to your say! After all, there are probably others in the same boat, and the committee should be doing their best to help everyone get something out of the society. --What sort of events are there?-- Of course, this depends on the club, but these are just some of the events I know of. The photo society holds training for novices, on taking photos as well as on using the darkroom, and also runs trips to photogenic places (e.g. Cambridge, Cromer) and interesting exhibitions. Ballroom and Latin dancing offer classes for everyone, from comp
lete beginner to competition standard, and also travels to competitions around the country. Conservation and wildlife offers the chance to do practical conservation work (heath clearance, fen management) and hear talks from wildlife photographers and other professionals. Drama soc put on various productions, and offer both acting parts and behind the scenes work, including training. The environmental action group have been involved in protests and blockades as well as positive environmental action on campus. Most societies will have meetings, pub crawls, curry nights, Christmas meals and suchlike... and if yours doesn't ever do anything - ask them why! Or get involved yourself... --Can you recommend any society then?-- I could recommend photosoc :) Seriously, it's difficult to make suggestions, since the committees change every year - sometimes they're good, sometime's they're not. Often there is at least some continuity in committee members, but since they tend to be the most experienced people in a society, a committee can often be 100% final year students, leaving a gap the following year. A good mark of quality can be simply whether they are organised/bothered enough to attend SocMart. Not everyone does. But as I said above, if you join one and it's not great, you can either complain, or get involved yourself - it may be that the committee are horrendously overworked. Remember, it's the members that make the society, and whatever soc you join, it should be working for you. There's enough out there that there should be something for everyone, so go and find yours!
Pea soup. It's what I remember most about the Hoover Dam from my visit. Not *actual* pea soup, you understand, but the colour of the Colorado River behind the dam. Apparently they've had a lot of algae this year, and with the algae living near the top of the water, and the intake towers emptying water from the bottom, it's got a bit concentrated. Concentrated to the point where the water is completely opaque, and very, very green. Anyway. The dam. It brought work to thousands during the Depression, it prevents flooding on valuable agricultural land downstream, it supplies electricity to Arizona, California and Nevada (someone has to power all those slot machines!), and it's a damn (sorry) good stop for tourists. Approaching the dam from the east, there's not much to see. Just road and rocks, like almost everything else in Arizona. Then you hit the edge of the canyon, and begin to zigzag down to the level of the top of the dam, and you think... it doesn't look *that* big. You see, the top is only 45 feet wide, and somehow the jam of cars and lorries crawling across it (up to 20,000 a day apparently) makes it look even smaller. (This traffic can also lead to large delays in summer, of up to an hour or more.) Then you notice the drop on the far side, and although you can't see it all, you do notice the size then. In fact, the dam is 726 feet high (about 60 storeys) - perhaps it's just as well you don't get the full effect straight away! On the Nevada side is the whole visitor centre and car park complex. The tourist experience starts here, and that means you have to pay. Parking is $3, although you do get to park in the shade, in a multistorey car park built back into the canyon walls. It's still not cool, but at least you don't leave the car in the sun. Don't forget your hat, sunglasses, suncream, water bottle (it was 110 degrees fahrenheit when I went in late May) and camera. You can take a ba
g, but you will have it X-rayed (like at the airport) on entrance. Cameras are no problem, as long as they are for private use. Entrance fees vary according to what you want to do (no, really). They range from $4 for exhibits only (a bit dull), to $25 for the full "Hard Hat Tour" - full details can easily be found on the website linked from this category. My friends and I went for the whole shebang - a Hard Hat Tour, to take us into the depths of the dam and get the works on, well, the works. These are timed tickets, however, so you may have some time to kill before your slot. Also, make sure your whole group orders their tickets together - you can pay separately, but order together to make sure you get on the same tour. Cheaper, shorter tours are available - these are non-timed, in much larger groups, and you don't get a hard hat to keep! Killing time is done by checking out the exhibitions. These comprise: an interesting 20(ish) minute film on the construction of the dam, some information boards on the same subject, and more information on where the water goes, who uses the most, and also recreation opportunities around Lake Mead (formed by the dam and stretching 110 miles upstream, it holds enough water to flood New York state to a depth of 1 foot). There's a viewing platform, where you can be frazzled by the sun as it bounces off the concrete, and get a little dizzy looking down to the boiling turbulence of the exiting water. Overall, there's nothing amazingly whizzy or interactive, and you may well get rather bored if you have a long wait for your tour. If you want a drink, snack, or souvenir, you'll find them up by the car park, which means going out of the secure area, and queueing again for security and to show your tickets. So, you've waited and waited... time for the tour. Everyone's feeling a little silly in their regulation blue hard hat, but there are no exceptions! Also, you are recommended a
t several points not to wear open shoes, but I did the tour in sandals and found no difficulties. Apart from a few steps, there is nothing I saw that made me think about my footwear, although I would certainly not recommend heels! The steps and confined spaces also make the tour inaccessible to wheelchair users. The final safety point is that you're given some gorgeous foam earplugs - ours were an attractive shade of green, and I'm sad to say I saved them and re-used them on the plane home (they worked very well actually!). You only need to wear them at one place on the tour, though. The guides range from old guys who look like they helped build the thing through to young whippersnappers. Several of them are bilingual - our guide also spoke Spanish, according to his badge. The tour lasts about an hour, and involves a reasonable amount of walking, but not too much. You get to see the turbine halls, the turbines themselves (hence earplugs), some of the tunnels in the rock, and even walk down a ventilation shaft to look out of the face of the dam itself (pretty amazing). I found it fascinating - I was amazed by the sheer scale of everything, and tried (and failed) to remember all the information that was thrown at us, but it gave me a good feel for how the whole thing works. The tour was accompanied by a running commentary full of facts and figures, trivia (like the dam's appearance in films such as National Lampoon's Vegas Vacation), the odd bad joke or two, and even a couple of pop quizzes! Children under seven aren't allowed on the tour, but the commentary is pitched at a level suitable for older children, so they shouldn't get too bored. I'm not sure it's "cool" enough for a lot of kids to enjoy, though. The fact that NO-ONE is entombed in the concrete of the dam was heavily stressed to us, and having seen the information film, you understand - the maximum loads of concrete that the cranes could
lift at that time were not enough to bury a man, being only 5" deep when spread over the block being worked on. Would you lie there and wait for five more loads of concrete?! Ninety-six men did die, however (mostly from being hit by falling rock), and coincidentally, the last man to die was the son of the first. The final lift journey is *very* squished as it uses an original tourist lift, whereas the trip down is in a newer, smoother-riding one. For this reason, as well as the journey through some relatively small tunnels and into the turbine room, I would not recommend the tour to anyone not fond of small spaces (or lifts!). Once at the top, you're disgorged onto the pavement on top of the dam, and left to run the gauntlet of traffic to get back to the car park. A quick word about the facilities. The toilets were clean, although not spotless, and there were plenty of water fountains around. The cafe was nothing to write home about, selling the usual food (burgers, hot dogs, nachos, fizzy drinks) at the usual tourist prices. The souvenir shop is fairly large, and seemed to have a good selection of the usual tack, from postcards to t-shirts, and any souvenir gimmick that they could write "Hoover Dam", "Nevada" or "Arizona" on. About average, I'd say. And that about sums it up. The facts and figures sprinkled in this review are from the excellent website, which I thoroughtly recommend looking at before you visit, if only for the information on prices etc. There's nothing about pea soup though.
A clean, spacious, well-decorated room with en-suite shower. Tasty, generous breakfasts. A beach mere metres away. A genuinely warm, friendly welcome. What more could you want in a B&B? How about a conscious effort to reduce their (and your) impact on the environment? At the Stra'ven Guest House, that's exactly what you get. Not only do the owners, Mac and Marian McCool, give you a warm and friendly welcome, but they encourage you to think about the resources you use while staying with them. A good number of B&Bs (at least the ones I've seen) now have a sign in the bathroom asking guests to consider reusing their towels, rather than having fresh ones each day, and Stra'ven is no exception. This is great - it saves water and detergent, and of course it also saves the establishment money. However, it's other touches like energy-saving lightbulbs, and a request to separate recyclable rubbish, that set it a little apart from the rest. The welcome notice in the room explains all this, and also asks for consideration in things like turning lights and the TV off when not in use, as well as returning any reusable tourist leaflets. It's not much to ask, and it's not done in a preachy way, but just think what would happen if every B&B did it! Also, as mentioned on their website, efforts are also made to choose suppliers and other businesses who share Stra'ven's environmental commitment, and the impression I got as a guest is that is is just that - a genuine commitment. Indeed, thanks to their efforts, Mac and Marian are the proud holders of the Gold Standard award from the Green Tourism Scheme. Other things to note about the guest house are that it's entirely no smoking, and they do not cater for children. Both of these are just fine by me, but might be unsuitable for others. The "green" aspects of Stra'ven, however, are really the icing on the cake. It is a
lovely place to stay, despite being a good 15-20 minutes out of Edinburgh by bus (served by a frequent route, though, that runs until late). The distance is further offset by the fact that the B&B is effectively nextdoor-but-one to a nice, sandy beach, which runs along to Portobello and beyond, and seems to be quite clean and well-kept. It's perfect for evening walks, as the sunset is directly along it (at least, it is in June...) Upon arrival we were greeted warmly by Mac, and throughout the stay, we got the impression that nothing was too much trouble. There's even a supply of change for the exact-money-only buses. The house itself is immaculately kept, with fresh flowers in the hallway, and (breaking my mental "mould" of a B&B), a distinct lack of chintz and flocked wallpaper. Our room was simple but comfortable, with everything we needed - ensuite shower and loo, hairdryer, tea and coffee facilities (with Cadbury's hot chocolate, and biscuits no less :), a big wardrobe, and a comfy bed with enough pillows to hold the world pillow-fighting championships. Even the rather uninspiring view from the window, a white-painted wall, had been enlivened with bedding plants. If I was to make any complaints at all, there would be two teensy ones: one, the towel rail wasn't big enough to hold two towels and let them dry, and two, the over-bed lights were a tad harsh. But if that's all I can find, then (a) the B&B is really good, and (b) I'm really picky :) Okay, that's bed; now for breakfast. I say breakfast, but in fact we barely needed lunch after eating it! There is no shortage of food. Fruit juices, about six different cereals, yogurts, tinned grapefuit/oranges, and even prunes were all available to help yourself. You're welcome to unlimited toast, too, with real butter and a choice of two jams on your table. The cooked breakfast is ordered the evening before via a form you leave at the front d
esk, and covers all the usual: eggs, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms, and "tattie scones" - these are thin discs of a potato mixture, which have been cooked along with the breakfast. I guess I was thinking of the more traditional sweet scones when I imagined them to be larger. It was all irresistibly delicious, brought out fresh a little while after we sat down, with unlimited tea or coffee to wash it down. Served in the sunny, pastel-painted dining room, with the strains of Enya playing softly in the background, it was a great way to start the day. (Unless maybe you don't like Enya... :) So, given the excellent, friendly service, good food, and the standard of the accommodation, we thought we had a bargain at £24 per person per night. If it's nightlife you're after, it may not be the place for you, but for a great B&B in a peaceful location, with easy access to Edinburgh, you'd be hard-pushed to beat the Stra'ven.
--Buses-- Denver has a bus service. Okay, you can pick yourself up off the floor now. Yes, Denver is an American city that's actually heard of Public Transport. There are plenty of routes, and plenty of buses, from the wee small hours until, well, the wee small hours, some routes at least being 24 hours. Travel is cheap, too - $1.25 at peak times, and $0.75 at other times, no matter how long your journey. And if you need to take more than one bus to get where you're going, just ask for a "transfer", a little green ticket that will get you on the next bus free (and, pretty much, any bus all day, but sshhhh :o). Airport buses (or Skyrides, all have routes beginning with A) are $4 or $8, and again you can get a transfer. The buses are big, some being the jointed ones that pivot in the centre. The driver also has a PA to announce the stops, both of which are helpful for foreigners travelling from the airport like I was (as long as the announcements are clear). Watch out for buses with an L after the route (e.g. 15L as opposed to 15) - they make only limited stops en route. Also, when you want to leave the bus, you signal by pulling on the cable which runs along the windows (I spent ages looking for buttons!). It's clear that the buses are primarily designed for commuters who know the route. You'll be lucky to find timetable information at a stop, and lucky to find a shelter as well, although thankfully the regularity of many routes makes that less of a problem. I wouldn't like to wait in winter, though! You can call free for bus information on 1-800-366-7433 (6am-8pm weekdays, 8am-8pm weekends). Also, many buses have paper timetables on board, so you can at least check out your return journey, and often find info on another route. There's a website too (www.rtd-denver.com), but if you don't know the city, be prepared to spend hours working out what route you need to get and where you
need to change. However, actually having a site with maps and timetables for *every route* is a 100% improvement on all bus companies I know in the UK. Things to watch out for include the fact that timetables read across, not down, and that they don't use the 24hr clock - the first stop after 12 noon on any one bus is shown with a P (likewise after midnight is an A), but after that, they're unmarked. --Denver International Airport-- The main thing to note about DIA is that it's not actually that close to Denver :) It's about 10 miles away, out in what is currently the middle of nowhere, but I guess that will all be built on in time. The relatively new DIA is probably the nicest, most welcoming airport I've arrived at, and certainly beats the dingy St Louis, where I changed on my trip from London. Three very light and spacious concourses, plenty of pale green seats, and lots of phones, even free internet terminals! A clean and roomy metro system will whisk you to the main terminal, along tunnels lined with bizarre cutouts of hammer-wielding arms (miners I guess), and cool little propellors which turn in the draught from the train. There's incredibly cheesy electronic jingles played before each stop, which just made me laugh - just what I needed after about 12 hours of travelling with tonsillitis, actually! Coming out of the metro, you find yourself in the enormous tent-roofed main terminal. A huge fountain plays in front of you, meaning the building is cool and fresh, and it feels absolutely massive after being stuck in a tin tube for several hours. As a first impression of Denver, it's fantastic. In this building you can find baggage reclaim, as well as all the shops, cafes and check-in desks. The concourses also have a couple of restaurants and shops apiece (Mickey D's, Sbarro, etc. plus newsagents and gift shops). To get to/from the airport/downtown, you need to get a taxi (about $45), a shu
ttle ($17 or so, such as Super Shuttle (303) 370 1300, or Wolf Express (303) 333 4000 (I didn't try them, so don't take it as a recommendation!), a courtesy bus provided by your hotel, or take the Skyride as noted above (there are a number of routes). All buses leave from both sides of the main terminal building, and are well signposted (and the public ones have timetables!). Getting to downtown will take the best part of an hour, depending on whether you need to change, and where. If you have a friend to meet you/drop you off, there is plenty of parking, and short stay is $1.20 per hour. It doesn't matter if you miss the signs as to which airlines leave from which terminal (East or West) as they are simply two sides of the same relatively small building! --Other transport-- Downtown has a limited tram route, which I didn't use, and frequent, free buses plying the length of the otherwise-pedestrianised 16th Street Mall. Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains both serve Denver. --Summary-- Denver is well ahead of all the other parts of the USA I've visited with regards to transport. The public transport is frequent and cheap, and the airport is well-organised and welcoming. It all helps make your trip that much more enjoyable.
Are pyramids your thing? Can you walk like an Egyptian? Can you tell your Cleopatra from your Nefertiti? Well, whether you can or you can't, the Luxor is worth checking out, and, if you can, checking into. This is a bit of a mammoth review, but it's a bit of a mammoth hotel! Now, I hardly made an exhaustive survey of all the Vegas hotels, so you'll have to see this as an isolated opinion, but I loved the Luxor. For a start, who can deny that a pyramid-shaped hotel is cool? We were lucky and got a room in the main pyramid itself, rather than the boringly cuboid West Tower, and I just loved it, despite banging my head on the sloping window every time I looked out. Let's start from the start. A big Sphinx forming a covered entrance. Free valet parking, complete with friendly exclamations of dismay that my friends' little Beetle had been driven all the way from Arkansas, and someone to relieve us of our bags. So, unencumbered, we walked into the hotel to check in... and I really felt like my jaw hit the floor. The place is *huge*. It looks big from the outside, sure, but inside it's just amazing. The rooms are in the "wall" of the pyramid, leaving the space inside as, well, 30 floors of space. Some people find that boring, but I really liked it. Inside that space is the buffet (in the basement), entertainments (upstairs), and the main gaming floor, which greets you on ground level in a dazzle of lights and wall of bleeping, chinking sound. Neatly avoiding the machines (for now), we went to one of the many check-in desks, and in a few moments, had keycards and directions to our "inclinator". Ah, inclinators. Built to travel up the four corners of the pyramid, they of course have to travel on a slant - most people, when they first take a ride, are almost thrown off-balance by the unexpected sideways motion. So hold on! Also, the four inclinators each serve different floors - 2-8, 9-16 and so on. We wer
e a bit disappointed to note that our room was on the opposite corner of the pyramid to the inclinator that served our floor, but at least on floor 22 it's less of a trek round than, say floor 3. Baggage service to the room was very fast, and although they lost one bag, it was brought up a few minutes later with a sincere apology and an assurance that it had never left the baggage room (it was only dirty washing, so hardly stealable). The bellman who brought it was extremely chatty, and gave us a few tips about the hotel, including the fact that if we went one floor down on the adjacent fire escape (non-alarmed, thank goodness!), we would find a much closer inclinator to whisk us to the lobby. The room itself was huge, with plenty of space to spread out all our stuff... nothing hugely special, but very nice nonetheless. In the bathroom, the shower cubicle was *massive*, and the free toiletries smelled fabulous (kind of fruity-spicy). So much for home comforts - what about the rest of it? Well, we managed to spend just about a whole day in the hotel (and not playing the slots, at least not all the time :), which is great when it's 115 degrees fahrenheit outside and you can't face walking anywhere. After a rather dismal breakfast in the buffet ($9 for food that most roadside chains would be ashamed to serve, just greasy prepacked stodge), we spent the morning by the pool, signing out huge towels to the room, and bagging a spot in the shade while a couple of people went off for "yard-long" margaritas ($13). They're not a yard long, and they're not very nice either - too much margarita mix, ice and lime, and not enough alcohol, dammit! Avoid them and just get regular or frozen margaritas (about $7) from the waitresses who pass by. Disappointingly, the pool didn't open until 9am, and closed at 7:30pm, which we thought was a bit off for the city that never sleeps. It got really busy about 11am, which was when we
began to think about getting out of the sun and heat. Heading inside, we went for the "museum" ($5), a reconstruction of Tutankhamun's tomb, complete with audio guide - it was a bit short considering the price, not exactly in-depth, and of course you spin out into the gift shop, but this is a casino, not the British Museum! Worth checking out if you have a bit of time to kill, but not really a priority. In the afternoon, my friends checked out the spa, which was about $20, but included free drinks and fruit, as well as steam rooms, saunas, plunge pools, showers, and all that stuff. Massages were available, but about twice as expensive as any normal place (I don't remember the exact amount), so they declined. Not being a spa kind of girl, I went to see an Imax film ($8), something I've never done before. The Luxor actually has a choice of films, including the 3D show-off piece I saw (no real plot, just lots of cool effects, including 3D Simpsons and sequences from Antz and A Bug's Life), and a "ridefilm" where the seats move about as you tear off in an Indiana-Jones-style search for some lost Egyptian treasure or something. My tip is to get there early - I arrived 5 minutes before the start of the 3D film, and had to sit on the lowest row, so got a bit of a crick in my neck watching the 7-storey screen, not helped by the heavy headset. You really want to be at the top or in the middle. We did leave the hotel in the late afternoon, once the worst of the sun had gone, and wandered down the strip to the New York, New York hotel and casino. Actually, I lie, we took the air-conditioned monorail shuttle to the Excalibur (next hotel along), and walked from there, using the footbridges over the road which (of course) have escalators. Why the New York? We just *had* to ride the Manhattan Express - a $10 rollercoaster that zooms around the hotel's New York skyline front, and includes a couple of big drops, a loop and a
corkscrew. Re-rides are $5 - I could happily have gone again :) It is hard to find the entrance to the coaster in the maze that is the New York casino, but persevere and you'll get there. After that, it was back to the Luxor for dinner. The previous night we had treated ourselves to the all-you-can-eat buffet at Bellagio, further up the strip, and had been extremely impressed (everything from wild boar to sushi, and the desserts... ohhh... chocolate tart that just melted on your tongue), but since that experience hadn't been repeated at the Luxor's own buffet at breakfast, we went to the Japanese restaurant, Hamada. We were not disappointed. It was my first taste of Japanese food, and I'm hooked! I began with a delicious chicken teriyaki ($5), and somehow managed to handle it with chopsticks - maybe the fact it was so good helped me to avoid dropping any! That success continued with the main course, where I chose shrimp and vegetable tempura ($19). Unlike the chicken (which had been sliced), some of the pieces were a little large for chopsticks, but for the most part it was manageable. I remember onion rings, mushrooms, sweet potato, and other veg, plus big, juicy, tasty shrimps; all this came with grated white radish and a dipping sauce, and was preceded by miso soup and a salad. Sake was $5 ($10 for "premium"), and pretty essential to the whole experience I guess. After that, of course we played the slot machines. There are hundreds, arranged in confusingly similar, disorienting patterns (although less claustrophobic than, say the New York or Bellagio), and varying between video-based and traditional "bandits", and from 5 cents minimum to $1. Cars and motorbikes are suspended tantalisingly over some, usually the higher stake ones. For the serious gamblers there are tables of all kinds, but unsurprisingly we stayed on the slots. We played on the 5c ones to make our cash go further, and somehow I managed to fin
d myself one that was "in the mood" for paying out, and after putting in $10, I cashed in $22.50 - all in nickels. My tip? Well, after watching my friend (who also won), and from my own experience... On most machines, you can play between 1 and 6 (or more) coins on each spin - bet the maximum amount, to win the maximum when the reels do line up, and you also seem to win more often if you play larger amounts. You can build up a hefty number of credits this way if you're lucky. I have to admit, I kept cashing in every credit I won, mostly just to hear the coins hit the tray! It's a noise that surrounds you in the casino, and it can feel like everyone is winning but you, so you want to put more in... ooh, slippery slope. I just took $10 and left the rest in my room, just to avoid temptation. One last thing - you can't imagine the state of my hands after feeding coins for an hour or so! Grey, smelly... there are moist towelette things by the cashier booths, but you really need to attack your hands with soap and water to get rid of it. The taste of metal seems to fill your mouth too, but happily the waitresses are on hand serving free drinks to all players. Oh, they'll do anything to keep you there, spending your money! Other things that we didn't take advantage of, but that are there to take advantage of, include the Ra nightclub (with girlie dancers), a theatre which is currently showing the Blue Man Group (from the Intel adverts), a food court including Mickey D's and the like, and a whole bunch of shops selling things including general schmaltzy Egypt-themed gifts, sweets, alcohol, fresh pearls and Egyptian artifacts. Definitely plenty to keep everyone occupied, as long as you have the cash to part with. Speaking of which - room rates. I'm afraid I don't know how much it was, as the stay was a gift and it's rude to ask, but all I will say is check for special offers (e.g. on Travelocity), go out of seaso
n if you can (apparently the rock-bottom cheapest time is between Thanksgiving and Christmas), and try to stay midweek - I do know the price for our stay was lower on the Thursday night than the Friday. Overall, it's definitely worth checking out, even just to see the sheer space inside the pyramid. Everything else just adds to the experience - if you have the cash!
My travelling companions were pretty eager to try out the Down Under restaurant, having seen it listed on the web as having good, unusual food and wine. Seeing as they had scored hits with Cafe Pasqual's and the Guadalupe Cafe in Santa Fe, and the Beaver Street Brewery right here in Flagstaff, we were looking forward to another great meal. Sadly, we were a little disappointed. Although the web page had advised booking, the restaurant was nearly empty when we arrived (a Wednesday). It was attractive, high-ceilinged and spacious, but it was practically deserted. However, for some reason, the hostess seated us around a little corner, somewhat out of the main part - okay, it was nice and quiet, but it was a little inconvenient when trying to catch the waitress's eye, and we felt a little abandoned. It was also a little cramped round there , and we ended up moving the table a little so the waitress didn't have to squeeze past us all the time. So far, not so good. After an age, our waitress arrived to take drinks orders. My friends both asked for a kir aperitif, which I'd never heard of (it's white wine with blackcurrant liqueur, apparently). Now, I'm a beer-swilling student, so I think my ignorance is just about understandable. I'm not sure what the waitress's excuse was. She ummed, ahed, asked what it was, then decided they didn't have any. Not too impressive really. Then when she brought the wine, she had no opener with her, and when she got one, proceeded to pour rather, um, erratically. In such a posh-looking restaurant, we really had expected better service - maybe it just wasn't her day. Another long wait before the food order was taken, although the long wait before our meals arrived was expected, as the menu warns that everything is prepared freshly when you order. That being the case, you'd think they'd be more responsive in taking the orders in the first place. Also, the starters were on
the verge of being lukewarm, so perhaps they had been forgotten somewhere after being freshly prepared, but we were starving by this point so tucked in regardless. Although not piping hot, they were delicious - my hoki fishcakes ($7.50)with chilli dipping sauce were divine, and the portions generous enough for a main course. For my main course, I chose duck with pineapple plum basil sauce, which was again not that hot, and while it was fairly tasty, it was nothing special, which I had rather expected for $18.50. My two friends both had lamb kebabs (or kabobs, as they spell it in the USA, which still looks hilarious to me), but thought that they had made better at home. Happily, dessert (some 4 hours later, or so it seemed) redeemed the place slightly. Traditional New Zealand Lamingtons were available (large, cube-shaped sponge cakes covered in chocolate icing and shredded coconut, and filled with cream), and are apparently very tasty, but I chose the pavlova ($4.75). It was delicious. It was a large portion, but just the right balance of fantastic gooey-centred meringue, fresh cream, and tangy passionfruit, and I scraped my plate clean. I agree with the people at the Taste of Flagstaff (some local foodie magazine I think) who awarded it Best Dessert. It was only a slight redemption though, and our tip was not very generous - and in the USA, that really says it all. Good food, good wine, nice atmosphere, badly let down by odd seating patterns and slow, slow service. I would recommend it to a friend, but only because (a) I'm generous and believe in second chances, and (b) everyone needs to try the pavlova.
I did my entire final year dissertation on beavers. The mess those little beggars can make of the landscape, yeesh... but not as bad as the mess that this place will make of your waistline. Beaver Street Brewery is a pub as well as a brewery, and it serves food. Pub food, but good food. Wood-fired pizzas, home made bugers, Things That Are Fried. It also does a mean line in fondues, believe it or not. And of course, it brews beer. Served in Imperial pints if you like (a mammoth 20 fl.oz for $4 compared to the usual wussy American measure of 16 fl.oz for $3.50), there's four or five beers all made on the premises, and all pretty tasty. I didn't sample them all (long day coming up and all that), but the Railhead Red was a decent, average coppery ale, and the Bramble Berry Brew was very good indeed, if maybe a little too fruity. They slipped down easily enough, anyway. Being the adventurous souls that we are, my friends and I all had pizza. Just the right amount for one person, without too much uncovered crust (my pet hate if there's nothing to dunk it in, which there wasn't), there were enough slightly exotic toppings such as marinated chicken, portobello mushrooms and walnuts to keep us all happy, and at $7-8 apiece, they were a bit of a bargain. Cooked in a wood-fired oven for that genuine smoky taste and charcoaly fingers, too. There's a disappointingly small selection of uninspiring desserts (4), so we were daring and ordered the Whistle Stop Fondue ($10) to share (all the railway references are due to the proximity of the railway line, if you're wondering). I've never had fondue before, so can't comment if it was a good or bad example, but it was enjoyable, if a little too much. The savoury-winey-just-about-liquid cheesy stuff came with a sweetish, dryish beer-bread, sliced red and green sharp-tasing apples, and grapes, all of which went fairly well with the cheese. It was just so filling! Definit
ely recommended for at least four people, even if they haven't had pizza beforehand. We couldn't finish it. As for the atmosphere, it's quite bright and open for a pub, although quite busy and noisy. There's an obvious crowd of regulars by the bar, watching sports on TV, and plenty of tables for those eating. You can watch the pizza makers at work if you don't like TV sports, or check out the old photos of when the place was a "groceteria". Although our waiter looked too young to be working there, he was very good at recommending beers and at remembering what we'd ordered, so full marks I think. And the final touch? There are newspaper pages pinned on the walls in the immaculate (ladies') loos. I like this place :)